Philosophy Friday… I warned you! 🙂

This last week’s rather challenging conditions have reminded me that there is nothing like twenty-foot waves to let you know that, as far as nature is concerned, we are just another animal.

For much of the Atlantic voyage, my first ocean, I took it terribly personally that the ocean was being so mean to me. Winds would blow me backwards. Waves would tip my boat this way and that, and occasionally right over. Currents would whisk me off course. These things happened so often that I couldn’t believe it was just bad luck. There seemed to be a malevolent will at work.

I tried to figure out what the ocean was trying to teach me, but eventually I realized that the ocean was not rearranging the laws of physics just for my benefit. It is not a sentient being. It was not trying to teach me anything. It was simply doing what oceans do.

This has been one of my lines of pondering recently – where environmentalism meets morality. Given what we are doing to the planet, do we “deserve” to survive?

My considered opinion is that whether humankind will survive or not is not a moral question. Nature does not recognize right and wrong, deserving and undeserving. Our survival is a simple question of practicality. We are fundamentally changing the ecology of Planet Earth. We evolved to survive and thrive in Environment X, but through our own actions we are turning it into Environment Y. And we will get our just deserts, not in a moral sense but as the inevitable consequence of those changes that we ourselves have wrought.

Darwin introduced us to the concept of “survival of the fittest”. It occurs to me that “fittest” is a usefully ambiguous word. It doesn’t necessarily mean fastest, or strongest, or hardiest. It could be interpreted to mean “those that FIT IN best with the conditions prevalent at the time”, i.e. the species that can co-exist best with other species in the climate and atmospheric composition that prevail on a particular planet at a particular time. If you fit in well, you thrive and endure.

But if the prevailing conditions change, for whatever reason, you probably will not thrive or endure any more.

We like to think that we are special, and to an extent we are, but nonetheless we are still a part of nature, and we need to recognize our interdependence with the animals, vegetables and minerals of the Earth. Nature does not exist solely to serve our needs. We currently labour under the delusion that we can continue exploiting it indefinitely, but this take-take-take relationship cannot last. Nature operates on a give-and-take basis. Ultimately, the balance will redress itself.

And that “balance” can be achieved the easy way (from the human perspective)…. or the hard way.

Other Stuff:

Having to pump out all the lockers every morning is getting a bit old. My sleeping cabin, relatively speaking the driest, safest place on the boat, is filling up with refugee objects from swampy lockers – cookstove, gas canisters, foodstuffs, and so on are temporarily stowed here until things calm down a bit.

Hi via Facebook to Alun Rees (kind lender of vehicle in UK) and Ken Scott (kind lender of vehicle in Oregon). Thanks for the messages of support, and I hope to see you both again later in the year. And possibly your vehicles! 🙂

Hi also via Facebook to Lara Avisov. Great to hear from you. I’d love to meet up when I’m back in SF and we can talk Appley things!

Speaking of Appley things, my iPod has been on best behaviour today. All functions working. At least temporarily. So I have continued to enjoy the company of Jamie Fraser via “Drums of Autumn” by Diana Gabaldon. He and Claire are currently establishing their new home at Fraser’s Ridge in North Carolina in 1768. It’s making me nostalgic for a simpler era – or at least it did, until mention of the outhouse reminded me that the 21st century does have certain benefits – like plumbing!

It’s been too challenging to cook in these conditions, so I’ve been living off Larabars and nuts. Lots of them! Looking forward to some calmer conditions, forecast for a few days from now – and much as I love Larabars, also looking forward to some variation in my diet!

Photo: Conditions and boat currently about as different from this as it is possible to be! Sculling in Leeds.

Quote: Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Sponsored Miles: Thank you Kenneth Eddings and Aimee Divine for sponsoring some of those missing miles; also thanks to Kenny Runnderduck, Doug Grandt, Jeffrey Blatt, Andrew Loughhead, Leslie Layton, Alexandra Stevens and Bruce Gervais. Rough weather has the advantage of good mileage!


  • Hi Roz,
    It seems at every turn of our adventure across America we stumble onto things that remind us of you. Either something ecological or something whimsical. Yesterday in Custer, South Dakota we just had to stop and have a piece of apple pie ala mode at the Purple Pie Palace! It was really yummy and we were really sorry that you weren’t there to enjoy it with us. We talked about how good that would taste to you about now.
    You’re in our prayers and we’re constantly pulling for you.
    Ken and Marilyn

  • Hi Roz, “Survival of the fittest” means exactly what you said, ie those who fit their environment. It’s very misunderstood. That’s why where you are the least healthy petrel will do so much better than the healthiest, toughest, fastest camel who ever lived. Seems to suit lovely headstrong ladies too. Glad to know you get these messages, see you soon RGJ

    PS. I see you have seen fit to tell us what you eat on the boat. My mind is at rest.

  • I cannot imagine what the water must be like out there, I am currently looking out at a very angry looking Indian Ocean and even the boat trip between islands is quite hairy (that might be to do with the painted closed emergency exits and the slippery bench seats that get you very close to those around you!).
    I do read and enjoy your blog everyday (or when I have internet) but I thought that this one was brilliant at explaining about fittest as an evolutionary term rather than the fittest person in the gym or even when out raging at a nightclub! 
    Your thoughts about the wind being out to get you are really helpful and so true too, I always had to tell myself that the wind wasn’t out to just hinder me and that was just sculling on the Henley reach, the rage is only increased more by knowing that you can do nothing about it until you have a good talking to yourself and cope with it.  All very minor when compared to what you are achieving!

    PS I keep telling my swimming students about you rowing past their islands (maldives) and to wave every lesson in case you are near! (and to pick up any litter but I think they are sick of me telling them that now!).


  • Roz, I love your untitled philosophizing Friday, it’s fit and apropos. If I may, I think the ocean is simply doing what oceans do: Whacking you over the head to get your attention so you will understand who is boss. Well, I guess that is just another way of saying what you just said … 

    Hey! I saw an extraordinary YouTube video on my FB newsfeed the other day that seems to fit the “fit” theme of the day.  I posted it at the end of yesterday’s blog, but think early today is more apropos … can something be more apropos? This “Open Letter to All Humankind” was posted last Sunday on a friend’s blog … the video which I recommend highly is also accessible at … To give you a flavor, it starts out …

    Please Help Me

    “I am thommo and I am a human being. I write this open request for help to all other human beings on this beautiful planet we share. The world that I am currently living in appears to be broken. It’s not irreparable, but it is not far off. That’s why I need every one to help me.”

    Thank you, Roz, for another superb post.

  • Hello Roz, this message comes with waves of rowing energy for you…your post and your mission is brilliant.  I, however, do think the ocean is an entity, a collective bundle of life force, that we anthropomorphize only because that is our feeble best attempt to understand something so enormously complex it is unfathomable to us…and I do think the ocean is angry right now.
    Be well, be safe and carry on

  • I love Philosophy-Fridays.  It’s like sitting in a coffee shop, becoming slightly over-caffeinated while discussing the pressing issues of the world.  And while I don’t necessarily disagree with you, I also don’t necessarily agree with your prioritization of the things that are going to wipe out mankind.  I believe that “environmental changes” (such as global warming, polution) are extremely important for the long-term, and that actions should be taken to mitigate negative trends wherever and whenever possible.  But I also believe that there is a short list of really more important possible events coming down the pike, that can have a much more devastating effect (on the human race) in the short-term than environmental issues.  Just for the sake of discussion, number #1 on my list of “things I am afraid of” is global economic collapse.  The likelihood of this happening is real, and pressing, and the consequences would be immediate and horrendous.  Jobs and incomes would vanish, hospitals and clinics would close, medicine would be unavailable, the food distribution system would be catastrophically disrupted, and millions of people would die.  Most of the people in the “civilized world” have lost the knowledge and ability to provide their own necessities, instead assuming that things are supposed to miraculously appear in stores.  We … as citizens and members of the human race … have allowed the economic welfare of the world to be taken over by a small group of financiers and speculators whose only interest is their own welfare.  And the recent economic history of the West has shown that these people are willing to take risks that any prudent person would consider unacceptable.  So the number #1 position on my list of things that are most likely to destroy the human race must fall to “global economic collapse”.

    Maybe on some future Philosophy-Friday, I’ll go down the rest of the list.

    In the meantime, keep rowing Roz.  We need you back on land to help solve some of these problems.

    • Rico, hate to admit it, but I agree 100% … have for quite a while now … If Congress doesn’t do something responsible by August 2nd, be prepared to see the beginning effects, and hope we don’t. I sense butterfly wings pulsing.

  • Hi Roz,
    Love your posts – and well done to keep up such a coherent discussion while under such tumultuous conditions.

    i am too selfish to consider the absence of the human race from this planet a good thing but there is little doubt that an objective analysis would suggest that our species has moved into the ‘out of control’ stage. Any other species would have hit a population limit eons ago, yet we have the unique ability among laboratory rats of being able to alter the laboratory.

    There are many organisations and websites oriented towards  the magical panacea of ‘sustainability’ but there does not appear to be very much honest discussion taking place. Sustaining the current population level is dependent upon technology, which requires a high level of interconnected systems, capital and production. To what extent can we achieve sustainability without damaging some or all of those links? To work out meaningful steps involves making decisions on human values and the value of each human. Any such attempt brings about the possibility of oppressive population controls. Is it possible to do this without enforcing bigotted racial, economic, nationalistic or religious policies? If we all agree that 6,775,235,700 is too many human beings (gotta love Google) then who is going to decide how we become 6,775,235,699?

    If we agree that the “developed world” is too greedy, consumption based and unsustainable – and somehow magically fix that – what is to be done about the massively larger “under-developed world”? Would our level of sustainability lifestyle still result in a much higher standard of living – with the result that the under-developed world attempting to bring itself up to that level tips the sustainability scales out of whack again?

    Demographically there is the potential for a huge population “rump” in the coming years. If that scenario plays out, will our descendents be living in smaller groups scattered amongst the litter of our existing cities and infrastructure?

    Would it be fair to say that environmental sustainability cannot happen until there is open, honest and robust discussion of how these social changes can be achieved on a broader scale?

    • Yes, it would be fair to say that environmental sustainability cannot happen until there is open, honest and robust discussion of how these social changes can be achieved on a broader scale!  Have you read Gus Speth’s “The Bridge at the Edge of the World”?  This is just one of many on the subject.

  • Hi Roz, its Janet and Geoff from Oz. We’ve finally found a spare moment after our brilliant sailing adventure to Bali and then cruising East Indonesia and the return sail via the fascinating geography of Ashmore reef eta. And now, after two months of sailing the tropics, we’ve pulled in on our way home to Port Denison just south of Geraldton because its been blowing 25knts from the east and we were getting splashed on out luxurious 40′ yacht. Today’s temperature range is 8 – 17, which I’m telling you so you don’t for a moment think we are just a little bit soft for this outdoor adventure stuff. Many a time in Indonesia we thought of you out there on the open ocean just rowing along – and we rather thought it would be very pleasant – on the nice days, but if I was in you shoes in 8-17 degrees and 25knt winds, it would be miserable. I can see why all the rowies from Freo head straight north! So we are thinking of you often, mostly jealously, but we also know just how tough it can get – exactly why we’re snug in port today! Big hug.

  • Hi Roz,

    I think that is a very sensible interpretation of Darwin’s idea. I am sure Darwin would agree with you wholeheartedly, as the process of adaptation is really at the heart of his ideas, as far as I can ascertain.

    As you say, the best way to survive is to ‘fit in’: integration, interaction, co-operation, adaptation, participation — in fact even a modicum of knowledge of effective and sustainable natural and man-made systems shows these factors to be key ingredients. At a more philosophical and spiritual level, underlying all of these factors is the principal of ‘relationship’. Any relationship can only work sustainably if there is a balance between the individual and the collective — from parasites to politicians (no connection implied), this principal applies. Deviations from this balance (either way) are problematic and we have clearly deviated in the direction of the individual rather than collective, to the extent that our ‘collective’ environment is damaged. The solution, I feel, lies with each individual letting go of their grip on self-interest — to use your analogy, each individual must stop thinking “I must be the fittest in order to survive” and to think “I must relate well in order to survive”. 

    So I am in full agreement with your philosophy here Roz!


  • I do love Philosophy Friday!  The planet seems to continuously respond to everything within its
    own system. Humans tend to react, repeat history and fear change. The earth
    works with what it has on hand. Mankind seems to need to destroy before it can
    create. What time in history did our culture go from a somewhat balanced
    co-existence to the global mess of present day? Possibly because of the
    industrial revolution? When machines replaced labor for production of goods and
    food. I believe that was the beginning of our many challenges we know today.
    Before mass global transportation of food? Each nation produced and consumed a
    majority of every thing locally. Now our culture is on course to return to this
    way of life. The simplest lesson nature has always known and that is always
    available for humans to learn. You can never do just one thing. Everything
    affects everything else. The formula is pretty simple. Most all of what humans
    do each day is a learned, habit. For better or worse. Or advanced species is
    almost completely devoid of instincts. The human mind never makes or comes to
    its own best conclusion. We do what we know, until we change what we know.


    Any chance when you have some flat water days in the near
    future. You can take some of your dental floss or small, long bits of plastic.
    Fill the small holes in the seals? Snug up a nut with a slight turn of a
    wrench?  I suppose it is openings below
    the water line then? Drats..

    The worlds environmental educational rower. Who’s humor and
    patience knows few limits . Caring spirits and up lifting strength comes your
    way. From every corner of this healing planet. Thanks for being you.

    “You can not lead someone to permanent change by doing for
    them, what they can and should do for themselves”.

    “If you have a college degree you can be absolutely sure of
    one thing… you have a college degree”.
    Be safe wave cutter.

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