Humankind cannot bear very much reality: TS Eliot, Burnt Norton
I’ve taken this short paragraph below somewhat out of context from an excellent article on Oostvaardersplassen (OVP), a man-made polder of land reclaimed from the sea by the Dutch in 1968, originally to be an industrial park. When the global economy undermined that plan in the 1970s, a group of ecologists – led by Frans Vera – lobbied to have the area designated as a preserve where nature could run wild and recreate the Dutch landscape as it was before humans began intensively cultivating it centuries ago. Do have a read of the article.
“… the need for humanity to re-conceptualize its relationship with the natural world. It is about increasing our tolerance for sharing the planet with species unlike ourselves, species with interests and agendas different from our own, and who may well pose a danger to us. It is also about recognizing that while we all say we love nature, the harsh realities of nature’s processes (e.g.., predation and starvation) can be fundamentally at odds with our ‘domesticated’ sensibilities.”
I liked the article but it certainly brings out into the glare of the spotlight the complete ignorance and lack of understanding most humans have of how our Earth works; this, in its turn, gives me to think how utterly incapable the majority of humans are to work-with climate change. We, most of us, no longer live lives that have any real connection with the natural world, nor are we taught this at school or even university. We have developed and become addicted to a set of domesticated sensibilities that are wholly at odds with Nature and, in consequence of that, we totally screw up when we try to “do/make things right” as we just begin to realise how far we have raped and desecrated the natural world.
As the article says, if we truly want to help the Earth, learn how to live-with and work-with the climate change we have brought about, we must reconceptualise our relationship with the natural world. And we must do this from bottom to top, inside and out. The normal and nice paradigms we in the Western world live by, our hierarchies, our economics, even much of our belief in right and wrong, must all change. And, we must learn what our ancestors knew in their bones, that death is the other half of life; that you cannot have one without the other, you cannot have life without death. For instance, the Big C, cancer, that most people fear is caused by some cells forgetting how to die, that is very roughly how a tumour forms, the cells keep on reproducing and reproducing to make a huge lump that eventually kills. Too much life causes a horrible death … sound at all familiar?
So, how does looking at this picture make you feel?
It’s the carcass, no the ex-carcass, of a horse carcass that has been picked clean by predators … i.e. that has provided food for other animals and birds (even down to that darling little robin you love on your Christmas cards!) that live there; the horse carcass has also provided food for the soil, and the grass, and the herbs, and the trees too.
Does the sight of animal bones make you feel sad, scared, unhappy, sorry for the horse? Do you even feel that death is somehow unfair? Are you angry at the predators and scavengers who have eaten the horse’s flesh and some of her/his bones? Are you angry at whoever killed the horse?
Or do you see the cycle of life-through-death that enables life to be at all?
For me, giving your no-longer-needed flesh and bones to feed another creature is one of the deepest meanings of sharing. I know that, in spite of all my other mistakes, I’m at least useful in feeding the soil, and the plants, and the creatures when I’m dead.
And I don’t fear or hate death; I completely disagree with Dylan Thomas when he says Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. I have no intention of raging at the dying of the light. Likely I’ll drink and dance hiccough myself into my grave – or more likely onto my pyre – laughing my head off! The only thing I fear about dying is that I hope it won’t hurt this time around 😊.
But I know most people are horrified/terrified, even petrified (it means turned to stone) by the thought of death. Death is so hidden from us nowadays, it happens behind curtains and closed doors, we never take our children to sit with Grandma as she passes. Many people won’t even stay with their cat or dog as their animals is put to sleep but desert them, get them taken to another room by the vet, and won’t even take the body home for a gentle and respectful burial or cremation on the garden bonfire.
I believe all of that, run-away, hide-away, exacerbates the massive disconnect most people have with the processes of the natural world. In its turn, this means that although we maybe say we love wolves we cannot bear that they are going to kill deer in order to feed themselves and their pups. This happened at Oostvaardersplassen. They didn’t introduce any predators into the reserve so all the prey animals just kept on breeding (like those cancer cells) until they began to desecrate the park and become sick. The authorities tried culling, and also allowing starvation as would happen in nature, but the humans couldn’t bear this, protested violently and wouldn’t allow it.
The humans also felt too scared to allow predators into the park as it was so close, twenty miles, to Amsterdam. Again, they completely failed to understand how predators are with humans and feared the mythical “ravening wolves” etc!
If … if … we want to help the Earth, learn to live and work with climate change and all it is already brining to pass then we must change our attitudes. We must learn how the natural world works and learn to think and be like that. That’s going to be very hard as long as we believe we humans are the superior species! We’re not, we’re the youngest species on Planet Earth and currently behaving like spoilt teenagers! We have to learn that even if we can put humans on the Moon and invent the infernal combustion engine that’s absolutely meaningless when it comes to learning to live in harmony and balance with our home-planet. We have to learn that progress, growth, business and economics are opium dreams of deranged head-cases who likely have too much book-learning and are quite disconnected from reality.
Can we do this?
I don’t know. I see very little sign of it, even despite Extinction Rebellion and all the good that certainly is doing. So often the opinions promulgated on social media, the news, politics and down the pub are all based in too little knowledge – which we know from the adage is a dangerous thing. People believe what makes them comfortable, what is not too far outside (if it’s at all outside) their current belief-system; if what they hear takes them into strange waters they usually run like hell to get away and if it actually contradicts a treasured belief then it’s undoubtedly lies and wrong! So, no, I’m certainly not holding my breath on humans being able to change sufficiently or deeply enough to survive the effects of climate change.
I think the Earth herself will survive; after all, she’s been pretty good at it, and at change, over the 4.7-odd billion years of her life so far; but whether we humans will be here with her in the future … hmmm! I don’t know. Some, I think, maybe, perhaps; those who have already changed their whole lives and belief-systems to harmonise with her … but that won’t be many. There are currently some 7.7 billion humans on Planet Earth, I honestly don’t see there being even 1 billion of us in 50- or 100-years’ time. That really isn’t a problem for the Earth, she managed very well and pleasantly for the first 3-5 million years of humanoids, it’s only in the last 10,000 years we’ve completely lost the plot!