Of Horseshoe Crabs and Empathy
A must-read by Charles Eisenstein:
“That estuary used to be full of kelp and eels when we were kids,” said Stella. “It was full of all kinds of wildlife. Crabs, clams, horseshoe crabs – there was a mussel bed right over there – one time I was swimming in that pond and came face to face with an eel.”
Stella was talking about the spot where the Narrow River meets the Narraganset Bay in Rhode Island, one of her haunts when she was growing up. It’s a pretty spot, and I wouldn’t have known it was so depleted of life unless my wife had told me.
Neither of us knows the reason why the eels disappeared. We shared a moment of sadness, and then Stella recalled another memory that somehow seemed to explain it. She and her friend Beverly would sometimes visit that part of the beach in the morning on what they called “rescue missions.” At night, someone would come and flip over all the horseshoe crabs that had crawled onto the sand, leaving them to die there helplessly. Stella and Beverly would flip them rightside-up again. “Whoever was doing it had no reason to whatsoever,” she said, “It was senseless killing.”
This is the kind of story that makes me feel like I’ve detoured onto the wrong planet.
We didn’t see any horseshoe crabs on this visit. They are a rare sight here now. I don’t know if that is because people killed too many of them, or because of the general deterioration of the ecosystem. Or maybe it is because of pesticide run-off, agricultural runoff, land development, pharmaceutical residues, changing patterns of rainfall caused by development or climate change… Maybe the horseshoe crabs are sensitive to one of these, or maybe the creatures they eat are, or it could be that the sensitive one is a microorganism that reproduces on a mollusk that lives on kelp serves some important role in the food chain that feeds the horseshoe crab.
I feel quite sure that whatever the scientific explanation for the die-off of the horseshoe crabs and eels, the real reason is the senseless killing Stella described. I mean not so much the killing part, but the senseless part – the paralysis of our sensing function and the atrophy of our empathy.
The Rush to a Cause