Mimic nature, can we?

Many people might know that when Garret Hardin writes his theory of lifeboat ethics, he argues against the international food aids and green revolution. In his writing, he refutes the Chinese proverb “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach him how to fish and he will eat for the rest of his days ” and arbitrarily considers that teaching a man how to fish means unsustainable catch and the depletion of natural resources.

As we know, that any proverbs or saying has its background or cultural context. When setting the proverb in the context of Chinese culture, the real meaning to “teach people how to fish” is not only to teach fishing skills, but also to ensure the fish pond in a productive and sustainable state. For instance, among the records of hunting rules in the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC), the principle of the king’s hunting is documented in The Book of Rites. It only allows the king’s hunters chasing preys and besieging animals from three directions and leave one direction for the sturdy animals to escape. The rules are so detailed that they even prescribe that burning forest is prohibited before the insects hibernate dormant under the earth. Other rules such as no fishing before March, no hunting before the winter, no callow animals, no pregnant animals, and so on.

In western tradition, we know that in the beginning people only uses animals as sacrifices for God. Only after the flood, Noah was told that he could eat meat. Can we treat the records historically and regard this as the beginning point of unsustainable hunting? Thus, when human beings gave up this sustainable hunting behaviors is a problem. A research compares the patterns of hunters and fishers with the predatory behaviors of other species, and the researchers found that human beings “kill adult prey, the reproductive capital of populations” rather than as other species killing weak or aged preys. They then define human as extremely unsustainable “super predators” and suggest human beings should mimic nonhuman predators.  (Chris T. Darimont et. Al., 2015)

Some ancient teachings implicate the importance of mimicking nature. For instance, Taoism is eminent in propounding that nature is far wiser than human beings, as it is written, “it is the Way of Heaven to diminish superabundance, and to supplement deficiency. It is not so with the way of man. He takes away from those who have not enough to add to his own superabundance.”

As we can see, mimicking nature is valuable and it has implications for sustainability. Although sustainability is attacked because some people assert that it cannot preventing consumerism from becoming worse, sustainability might be the only choice we’ve got. Sustainability is not safe enough, but unsustainability is definitely a disaster.


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