Very rarely does a book make you feel good about receiving bad news. Usually, there’s something you fear so much that you want anything but to face it. But if someone is able to explain in clear steps what you must do to face it, and how the other side is indeed brighter, it lessens the burden. With decreased resistance and doubt comes greater effectiveness, and you may emerge with more triumph than suspected possible.
Can Life Prevail? is one such book. Since I was old enough to walk and perceive, it has been clear to me that something is very wrong with our world. Our adults are not focused on the task of living, but on the task of managing their self-image. Consequently, they ignore stupidities great and small. From the dumbness of school to the boredom and fear inherent to the workplace, to the poor design of everyday objects, to the inanity of our public culture and the transparency of our politicians’ lies, adults are oblivious. They are easy to deceive and are so distracted they are “shocked and amazed” any time their children have sex or take drugs, their politicians cheat them, corruption is found to be rife, etc. In short, our civilization is a ship with no one at the helm. Most disturbing is our effect on the environment; we can get more humans if we screw them up, but we’re short on extra earths.
Unlike most environmentalists, Pentti Linkola does not try to talk to us through the filter of denial and distraction. Instead, he levels with us as a Machiavellian scientist would: each additional person takes up space our nature needs, we have too many people, most are thoughtless oafs who destroy eternally beautiful things for temporary cash, and our modern laziness arises from the ease with which we interact with life through machines. In this collection of provocative essays, Linkola targets every sacred cow with an even-handed but unequivocal whittling down of our resistance to the obvious: our species is out of control and needs pruning, and the problem is too many individuals of low intelligence and character. Unlike most “environmentalist” books, this is not a hand-wringing or maudlin work; it is forthright, assertive, strong and also very funny as Linkola probes the ostensible logic behind our decisions and contrasts it with his observations from many years in the field as an observer of birds, fish and trees.
Linkola asserts a number of worthy points:
- Habitat loss is more destructive than pollution;
- Climate change is a vile problem resulting from lack of woodlands;
- We can fix climate irregularities by re-planting forests we killed;
- Domesticated animals destroy wild species;
- Most people are careless and unable to be stewards to nature;
- Democracy will not limit the selfish actions of individuals;
- Human overpopulation is the driving factor behind habitat loss;
- We are too distanced from nature, even the gross aspects;
- Our machine-oriented mentality makes us lazy and weak.
At his best, Linkola is half scientist and half satirist, always nudging us back to a level of reality. If nature were a machine, he seems to say, we’d pay attention to signs of its decline. But it’s too complex for our point-to-point modern mentality, so instead we space out and hope for the best. Each of these essays picks an intriguing angle to its topic and explains it through a clear example, usually backing up observations with factual data from ornithology or the experience of a fisherman. As stated above, it gives hope by giving us a clear analysis of the problem that isn’t mired in ulterior motives or the greatest ulterior motive of all, “don’t rock the boat.” Where most green books offer you what’s basically a shopping guide for “green” products, Linkola goes further — not only by realizing that consumerism and environmentalism are incompatible, even if that consumerism is of a “green” kind, but by striking against our preference for all things human. He makes the point many times that we only consider human emotions and thoughts, and do not stop to observe our world. If it were named Steve and talked with a lisp, we’d respect it as equal. But outside the anthrosphere, nothing gains equality to us brave equal humans.
He brushes by the question of our reactions to, or judgments of, his ideas. Like a researcher he gives us the data and recommendations, and leaves it to us to react in private and then realize our reactions have nothing to do with nature; as history shows us, only what is effective matters. All of our fond notions and egalitarian sentiments, politics and politeness, feelings and validations are entirely irrelevant. What works matters. What is not part of that process is irrelevant and forgotten by time. I find this very comforting because our world normally has a stop-start rhythm where a new concept is uncovered and then we must all wait for the inevitable simian panic, outbursts and finally grudging admittance. This part of our monkey heritage disgusts me the most. There is none of it in Linkola. It is like reading a lab report on the fauna of the North Atlantic. It’s unusual to see humans treated like the other subjects we write about, but comforting in that it is purely logical.
There are parts of this book where I cannot get onboard the Linkola train. It’s hard to tell when he is provocateur and when he is prescribing a medication of lucid sanity, but in most cases, he seems to be serious and it’s hard to disagree. It shocks the average human when he rails on housecats as killers of birds, but when we think back on our own experience, we’ve all seen stray cats slaughter wrens by the bushel. I can handle that, and the idea of being less squeamish about day-old fish, but during the last few pieces, Linkola outlines more of his ideal for a society and it falls short. Primitivism is a neat idea on paper and would solve the problem, but lose so much of what makes us vital. Unlike Linkola, I cannot blame our machines for the fact that most people are thoughtless, destructive, short-sighted and corrupt. I think we need to realize that we like the wrens are biological creatures and just do as our instincts instruct. Perhaps another future thinker will suggest that those humans who do not have such frailties should prevail, and the others quietly go away, but Linkola stops short of calling for world eugenics on that scale.
Most importantly, Linkola says what so many of us think in private moments. There are too many of us, and too many idiots. If we keep growing we’ll kill everything. People sacrifice nature for short-term profit. Because most voters are idiots, we cannot control this process. The instant we try something constructive, a corrupt person will buy a few hundred thousand dollars of TV time and use it to sway the masses of useful idiots to do his bidding. As a result, our current civilization is like a speeding car with no brakes. We’re out of control and cannot stop. As we accept this, day after day, it kills us a little inside. Linkola is the antidote who removes our false pretense and the emotional manipulation of our fellow citizens, giving us instead a clear path to victory that true, must rocket through taboo and the herd fear of a mass of humans whose average IQ is barely 100, but nonetheless can be achieved if cooler minds prevail — and are willing to as relentlessly manipulate the masses as their ideological opposites.
Disclosure: Our author Brett Stevens wrote one of the introductions to this book. It was not reviewed. Our collaborator Vijay Prozak wrote a review here which was not used in the writing of this column.