It sounds counter-intuitive but it may be the only way forward.
Regular visitors to Learning from Dogs will know that from time to time I refer to the essays of George Monbiot. I was recently browsing Mr. Monbiot’s website and learnt that in July 2013 he gave a TED Talk on Rewilding. It was called: For more wonder, rewild the world.
Here is that talk. Do watch it first.
Published on Sep 9, 2013
Wolves were once native to the US’ Yellowstone National Park — until hunting wiped them out. But when, in 1995, the wolves began to come back (thanks to an aggressive management program), something interesting happened: the rest of the park began to find a new, more healthful balance. In a bold thought experiment, George Monbiot imagines a wilder world in which humans work to restore the complex, lost natural food chains that once surrounded us.
REALITY IS WILD & FEROCIOUS. IGNORING IT IS INHUMAN.
And Presents A Civilizational Risk.
Princeton is freaking out. Flesh devouring aliens are lurking out in the woods, threatening academia’s fragile thoughts. Krugman:
‘From the Princeton Town Topics, which used to be all about (a) parking (b) deer:
A growing population of coyotes in the wooded area bordering the Institute for Advanced Study has motivated the Princeton Animal Control Advisory Committee to recommend that sharpshooters be hired to help handle the problem. “There is a big pack over at the Institute Woods,” officer Johnson said this week. “I’m having a lot of complaints that they follow people around.”‘
The “Mountain Lion”, is a relative of the Cheetah (erroneously put in the cat family, felis, until last year or so). It has 40 names, in English alone, and is found from the American Arctic to Patagonia, from the sea shore to the high mountains. The weight above is that of the female. Males are heavier (typically up to 100 kilograms). The heaviest puma shot in Arizona was 300 pounds (136 kilos).
The lion/cougar/puma is capable of jumping up twenty feet from a standstill (yes, 6 meters; horizontally, 14 meters). It is capable of killing a grizzly (pumas and ‘golden bears’ were famous for their naturally occurring furious fights to death in California). The feline’s crafty method consisted of jumping on top of the bear, and blinding him with furious pawing. Top speed: 50 mph, 80 km/h. (By the way, there used to be pure cheetahs in North America, recently exterminated by man. I propose to re-install the Asian cheetah in the USA, in a sort of cheetah diplomacy with Iran.)
The philosophical question here is: what is this world all about? Is it about living on our knees, or ruling among animals and wilderness?
Why would Princeton panic about small canids? Because they don’t obey the established order?
Coyotes are totally clever, and not at all dangerous (being so clever). They have very varied voices, when in packs. Going out and shooting them is really primitive, and misses the main point of having nature around. That is: to teach humility, and teach the richness of our planet, visit hearts with emotional diversity, and minds with complexity.
Bears and Mountain Lions are a completely different matter. They are both extremely clever too, but can be very dangerous.
Running and hiking in the Sierra, I got charged by scary bears several times. I view this dangerosity as a plus, but it never loses my mind, and I got scared nearly out my wits more than once.
Once, in a national Park on the coast, I literally ran into two large lions in 30 minutes! Then I got charged by a large elk before he realized I was not a lion. Other high notes were finding a bear cub on the trail in the near vertical mountain side, on the way down, as dusk was coming.
Another high point was the large bear by the trail, who was lying like a bear rug, at 9pm, in an apparent ruse to let me approach until he could jump at his prey, as he did, before realizing that I was not a deer, something that obviously infuriated him. He was torn between making the human into dinner, and the instinct that this would turn badly for him.
In Alaska I was charged by a moose with her progeny… although I did not go as fast as an experienced mountain biker who happened to be there too, the anti-grizzly cannister in my hand emboldened me to succeed in a circuitous move to proceed towards my distant destination, something facilitated by the calf’s crash into some obstacle, drawing his mother’s concern. Mountain running often requires to proceed, no matter the obstacles in the way, when one is too far to turn around.
Bears know rocks, they have been hurt by them, and so they fear airborn rocks (throw the rock on something noisy, to impress; I had to hit, with a very large rock, a charging bear directly, once; it fled; it was killed by rangers later after he caused a flesh wound to somebody else; some will find all this very violent; well, it is, that’s part of the whole point).
Mountain Lions are better charged and/or, roared or barked at. They fear insane behavior.
In general making lots of noise helps, with bears and lions. I don’t have clever tricks to suggest for bathing safely in the murky icy Pacific. Although I assume that the presence of sea lions bobbing on the surface placidly is indicative of the absence of an obvious white shark prowling… In any case the Pacific is so cold, you will probably die of cardiac arrest before you are devoured.
In Africa, there are about 500,000 elephants. 25,000 to 30,000 are killed, a year, to send the ivory to east Asia (China, Vietnam). So African elephants may disappear. This is beyond tragic, it’s irreplaceable. Elephants understand people’s gestures, without any learning (they apparently learn to use trunk gestures among themselves). One is talking about extremely intelligent animals here. (In contrast, chimpanzees have great difficulties understanding human gestures.)
Intelligence and culture are dominant among apex mammals. That’s what makes them so superior. Washington State had the smart idea to shoot full grown adult male mountain lions. Thus mountain lion society and culture collapsed, uneducated teenagers took over, and incidents with humans exploded (something about the quiet macho society!).
A Japanese specialist of chimpanzee intelligence who happens to have a bear in his lab, found that the bear did not underperform chimpanzees on mental tasks (that’s actually a problem with bears; being so clever, they can be unpredictable, one can never know what they have up their sleeve, like the one who mimicked a bear rug, above, or one who drove a car in Tahoe). A number of social mentally advanced animals (sea mammals, parrots) use advanced languages.
So what are my recommendations? The Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies ought to realize that, if it wants to become really brainy, it ought to give our fellow species a chance. They are part of what make our minds, in full.
Elephants and rhinoceroses used to be all over Europe and North America. They ought to be re-introduced right away, using Indian and African species (rare camels too; later, thanks to genetic engineering, part of those could be replaced by re-engineered ancient species, such as the Mammoth). Lions and leopard-like species ought to be reintroduced too.
It can work: in the San Francisco Bay Area, there is an impressive population of mountain lions. I had many close calls (in the most recent incident, a few weeks ago, a lion peed an enormous and dreadfully smelling amount on a trail I was making a loop on, obviously to show me he owned the territory, a total wilderness reserve a few miles from Silicon Valley… especially at dusk).
However, the lions are extremely good at avoiding people (although one got killed by police in downtown Berkeley in the wee hours of the morning). They will all be collared in the next ten years, to find out what is going on. With modern technology (collars!) and sophisticated human-animal culture, there is no reason why extremely dangerous, but clever species could not live in reasonable intelligence with humans.
So rewilding is possible. It’s also necessary. Why? So we humans can recover our hearts, and our minds.
Whether we like it or not, we are made for this wild planet. By forgetting how wild it is, by shooting it into submission, we lose track of the fact human life, and civilization itself, are much more fragile than they look.
And thus, by turning our back to the wilds, we lose track of what reality really is. Worse: we never discover all what our minds can be, and how thrilling the universe is. We are actually bad students who refuse to attend the most important school, that taught by reality itself.
Rewilding is necessary, not just to instill a mood conducive to saving the planet, but also to remake us in all we are supposed to be.
These are the times when, once again, the plutocratic phenomenon is trying to take over. That’s when the few use the methods of Pluto to terrorize and subjugate the many (to constitute what is variously named an elite, oligarchy, or “nomenklatura“, or aristocracy, that is, a plutocracy).
And how is that possible? Because the many have been made into a blind, stupid, meek herd (I refer to Nietzsche for the condemnation of the herd mentality).
How do we prevent that? Nietzsche advocated the mentality of the “blonde beast“. That meant the lion (and not what the Nazis claimed it was; few were as anti-Nazi as Nietzsche). Why lion? Because lions are domineering. I learned in Africa that one could go a long way with wild lions, as long as one gave them respect, and time to get out of the way. However, disrespecting a lion means death.
Lions don’t accept to live on their knees. When abominable forces from the giant Persian theocratic plutocracy put the tiny Athenian democracy in desperate military situations, Athenians fought like lions. And democracy won.
Yet, 150 years later, when fascist, plutocratic, but apparently not as abominable, Macedonian forces put Athens in a difficult situation, Athenians surrendered. They did not fight like lions. Democracy would not come back to Athens for 23 centuries (and only thanks to the European Union).
We will not defeat plutocracy if we do not rewild ourselves. First: Let there be lions.
Yet something else we need to learn from dogs.
The above photograph was taken of young Cleo, just fifteen months old, showing that her innate skills of being in the wild were alive and well, despite thousands of years of dogs being domesticated animals. Ergo, humans could manage just as well.