An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of March 11, 2006
written at Hacienda San Juan Lizárraga
one kilometer east of Telchac Pueblo, Yucatán, MÉXICO

SLUGS, SNAILS & MU

Surprisingly often I receive mail from people I don't know, who don't introduce themselves, and who, without explaining the circumstances, ask me the most curious questions. The other day Ted Campbell of somewhere in Cyberspace sent an email consisting of one line:

"Can you tell me what if any good the slug or snail does."

Well, it's not a bad question to chew on.

For, the whole concept of creatures doing either good or bad invites further questions. Particularly, "What is good?" and "Good for whom?"

"Good for whom?" is the easiest to deal with because I can guess that Ted wants his answer in terms of "good for humanity," or "good for the ecosystem."

I won't touch the question of how an animal might be "good for humanity" because it smells too much of the religious concept that Nature has been created to serve mankind. Because of destructive, unsustainable human behavior encouraged by that notion, I regard it as the most dangerous element of our western, desert-originated religions.

Neither does asking whether an organism is "good for the ecosystem" strike me as appropriate. A prime feature of the Earth-ecosystem -- the biosphere -- is that all its components are interconnected and its living things are mutually dependent. Science is just beginning to grasp how intricate, fragile and necessary these connections are. Therefore, in my opinion, no human is in the position to judge how any living thing is good or bad for the ecosystem. Moreover, we don't know the ultimate destiny of our evolving biosphere, so how can we judge whether the role something plays in it now is "good" or "bad"?

Somewhere, a long time ago, I think I read that the ancient Chinese had a special reply for any question asked from an invalid premise. The reply was "Mu." "What did they say when the blue sky hatched from its egg?" The best answer, shaking your head, is "Mu." "Of what good is a slug to the ecosystem?" "Mu."

So, "What is 'good'?"

"Goodness" and "badness" can be judged only from specific frames of reference. If your frame of reference is living pleasurably without regard for the future, then a thorn in the foot is bad and a stick of chocolate is good. If your frame of reference is the Christian Bible, then -- since I am a native Kentuckian -- my owning a Kentuckian as a slave is bad, but enslaving a Canadian is OK, as explained in Leviticus 25:44.

But, I don't know why the Universal Creative Force created the Universe in the first place, why She keeps it going in such mysterious ways, and what it all means. Consequently, my frame of reference just isn't broad enough for making value judgments about any part of Her Creation, including Her slugs and snails.

Therefore, Ted Campbell someplace out there in Cyberspace, "Mu" to you. Facebook Icon.