The War on Bugs

There are only 20,000 rhinos left in the world. That’s about the same number of people who live in Montrose. Why? Because humans’ appetite for all things marketed is insatiable. We are causing the planet to shift and change, and we are sending species to the brink (and over!) of extinction. Conversely, every day some 400,000 humans are born and around 150,000 die. That means we are creating roughly a quarter of a million consumers each day, and at that rate, somewhere around 90 million a year.

However, these are nothing compared to the numbers bacteria puts up. Bacteria reproduce at a much faster clip than humans, and so my bet’s on them in the long run. There are now ‘superbugs’ that we do not have antibiotics for, and at the rate bacteria morph and change (duck and dodge) when confronted with an obstacle (opponent), it’s only a matter of time until they out-mutate us (win by a landslide).

And in this country, we’re helping them win. (Just as we Perry girls learned to play basketball in the alley behind our house, passing the ball to each other after each shot, “Here you go, your turn.”) We spray, lather and wipe everything down with antibacterial ‘cleaner’ but anti-bacterial soap kills bugs, and we’re made of bugs. Is it coincidence that America uses more antibacterial potions than any other country and yet has the highest rates of cancer? Or perchance, have we gone around the bend with our notion of what it means to be clean?

“If you don’t like bacteria, you’re on the wrong planet.” -Stewart Brand

Years ago, tailgating with my mom and her friend Deb, I dropped a piece of cheese on the ground. We all sat there for a moment, watching it lie in the dirt. As I bent to pick it up, Deb said, “You have to eat six feet of dirt in your lifetime; might as well get started.”

The more I think about it, the more I think she might be right. The healthiest people I know work in and around ranching, undoubtedly eating their fair share of dirt each year. Maybe the secret to good health lies in the actual place we were all born; that would make sense. And maybe the reason we’re all suffering from so many ailments is because we have turned our back on nature, relying instead on sterile labs that manufacture pills for profit. We’re killing the essential nutrients in our soil with chemicals, feeding antibiotics to the animals we eat, and then wiping everything down with disposable anti-bacterial towels; it would seem to be only a matter of time until there are 20,000 of us left.

Pretty dismal, for sure. But what if humans are not the top of the food chain, as we like to think? What if we’re only here to move the bacteria around? This could be very good news, because short of an alien predator making its way to our galaxy, it’s going to be up to the bugs to rejuvenate this place we call Earth.

It may sound cold and unsympathetic, but that’s our M.O. I mean, how else can we go into the grocery store and buy meat, take it home to cook and eat, and then throw away the Styrofoam container it came packaged in? We’ve all seen the videos, we know what happened to those animals, and yet we put it to the back of our minds as we run through the aisles trying to feed our families. I’m merely suggesting we train ourselves to think about humans in the same way. If we think of ourselves as just another species living on the planet, sourcing food and water, building nests and dying in our time, it’s actually quite comforting. And way more meaningful than the shiny— yet phony— portrayal of a larger-than life of excess, as seen on tv.

The trick is to see our existence as everything and nothing simultaneously; to take the beauty and the horror of human beings in the same healing-yet-god-awful-tasting spoonful. Like scoring and giving, growth and death, dirty and clean.

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