People Are The Tails
It was Wendell Berry who crystallized this point for me: Not only do human beings have the potential to harm nature less than we currently do, but with a proper relationship to the land, we can help to generate healthier and more robust ecological systems than exist without us.
Of course it is not news to any of us that we have unique destructive capacity. Nuclear weapons made this clear, if there were any doubt. Our constant encroachment on ecological systems that we depend on, threatening their integrity, make this clear. We can be, and often are, very harmful to the systems we interface with.
But we have failed to achieve as a common sentiment that we can be a net positive for the world. Likely this is related to the fact that we would have to change our lifestyles — massively — to realize this potential at scale.
But you don’t have to wait to start wherever you are.
There’s an old woman who walks the main road near where we live every day picking up trash. I see almost no litter on this road, save for what is in the bag she carries. I shudder to think how the road will look when she is gone. I might have new daily walks — I hope I can live up to that. Her impact is small materially, yet infinite in its spirit.
It’s not only in ecosystems: human beings can commit the greatest of evils upon our fellow man. Or we can be like a saint to them.
In a probability distribution, we call the extreme events, both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’, the tails. If we could look at the “good and bad” in the world as a probability distribution, we’d see it is us, the human beings, generating the tails. We are the tails.
We need to shift perspectives. We are not limited to doing less harm. We can do good.