back to nature

by Andrea Elizabeth

A science guy on NPR said that what separates us from animals, including chimps, is imagination and flexibility. A termite mound has a big population, but a rigid social structure. Chimps have some flexibility based on deeply knowing the individual members of the group, but they have small numbers. Hunting and gathering worked for small numbers of humans, but as the population grew, more sophisticated ways of managing resources had to be imagined. As did religion and trade values to keep order in society. He said these are all fictions which humans alone are capable of producing. Of course he doesn’t give credence to the idea of God speaking to people to tell them what to value.

Anyway, the though of chimps not imagining anything greater than a banana or a stick is intriguing. It makes me think of tribal people who didn’t innovate that much either. Possibly they did not have the populations to necessitate it, but I’ve heard that millions died due to European diseases, so there must have been a pretty dense population before they were invaded by western ways. I’ll not devalue innovation, but neither do I like the idea that those who don’t need much more than a stick or rock to be content are less evolved. I personally love the stone age. I think I could be happy there. On the way back from Big Bend we visited a cactus garden in Langtry, Tx, near the Pecos River, where Judge Roy Bean set up his law shop that has been restored. There were amazing varieties of uses for each local plant, many medicinal. Medicine, however, often seems to be the justification of modernity. I think complex modern diseases probably require complex modern methods. We often think of the high infant mortality rate of Victorian times, but again, I bet that was largely due to highly populated and polluted cities and the diseases spread from there by trade.

Nature has been either vilified or the meaning of the word obfuscated in modern discourse. As a result people are afraid of the wilderness. I think this is very unnatural and ridiculous. But I must not dehumanize the ones who have fallen into the trap, to use a natural metaphor.