WIKIMEDIA COMMONS IMAGE A section of Paul Gauguin’s painting Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Opinion: A world out of balance poses existential questions

Columnist suggests jellyfish may inherit the oceans, cockroaches, the Earth


The Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection is over but the effects of the campaigns and the end result will linger in many ways: friendships strained, political preparations renewed, fake news circulating, garbled social media chatter, and so on.

How many of us were propelled into new ways of thinking by the challenges of issues: some raised which should have been set aside, or worse, critical issues ignored?

My own interest settled into what are we willing to do for Generation Z, eldest now in their early twenties, the generation which has already given us Extinction Revolution school strikes and the formidable Greta Thunberg.

I found myself asking deeper and deeper questions to update my world view, that never-ending work-in-progress which is my personal blueprint for “life, the universe and everything.”

Gauguin’s Tahitian masterpiece, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? still poses the eternal questions that human and artificial intelligence will probably never fully answer. The peculiarly irrelevant discourse stirred up by elections took me into speculation on the subjects of agriculture and domestication.

There is no denying that our world is seriously out of balance from human destruction, so what happened? So far, the oldest human settlement seems to be 50 millennia old, in Australia. Settlements with rudimentary animal husbandry go back at least 15 millennia. Opinion seems to be solidifying that agriculture has been a disaster due to the accumulation of surpluses which led to both wealth acquisition and depletion of soils and habitat. Statistics on current world biomass reveal over 60 per cent domestic animals, over 30 per cent humans and three to four per cent wildlife. As the numbers of larger oceanic mammals and fish reduce, it appears that jellyfish will inherit the oceans. Rapid recent depletion of insects calls into question whether cockroaches will inherit the Earth. Vegans and vegetarians believe that plant-based diets are the answer but have not taken into account the co-evolution of predators, prey and ruminants, which can keep a balance of life so long as humans stop interfering.

I have reached a few conclusions to update my world view. First, I don’t think we evolved to live lives of leisure and I am not enthusiastic about replacing honest, purposeful labour with travelling to gyms and grinding away the results of over-indulgence.

Second, the short period of fossil fuel energy slaves will soon be over and we should be helping Gen Z adapt to self-sufficiency right now.

Third, the urban/suburban lifestyle is dependent on an economic system which has become corrupted.

The futility of political organizing was beautifully described recently in a New York Magazine article about the wealthiest donors to the U.S. Democratic Party, who cannot bring themselves to support Bernie Sanders or the Green New Deal or the other party, the one that chose a confused liar as leader. One of those donors asked the author this pathetic question, “What matters more? My social values or my paycheck?”

I like Voltaire’s final decision, after a life of great influence with people of great power: “I must tend to my garden.”

Marjorie Stewart is past chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at

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