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Life Arts


By       Message robert wolff     Permalink
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All that came as a shock. I knew that we are seriously reducing biodiversity now, but I didn't realize we have done that for so long. Nor did I know that it was Europeans, white people, who started it so many centuries ago. And our aggressive destruction of the earth continues with bigger more powerful machines. Cutting at least half of the tropical forest of the very large island of Borneo in order to plant thousands of square miles in oil palms. Mono culture on a scale never before done. Digging for oil always spills oil into rivers that then poison life, including human life. Blowing up the top of mountains in order to get to coal is as destructive.

I had not realized that extinction goes back centuries, albeit for different reasons. Then, we killed because we could; now because we have powerful machines who destroy more thoroughly. The author of Green History doss not mention human population crashes as a consequence of the diseases we brought with us when we, Europeans, "discovered" the rest of the world.. He does have pages and pages of yet another interference with ecologies: the import of plant and animal species that were considered beautiful, exotic, attractive. All of it meddling in a planetary ecology we never considered, knew nothing about; we still don't.

How did my grandparents, and their parents, think about the earth? Very obviously they thought of the planet as something they owned and could shape as they saw fit. Today we continue this grand illusion with the latest refinements. We have learned how to change the DNA of plants and animals. We "genetically manipulate" and then get a patent on a plant the company then "owns." Of course nature immediately sees to it that the pest the GMO plant is made to repel, evolves so that it can now eat the GMO plant. Which makes Monsanto do some more hocus pocus, gets a patent on a new and improved species they now also own.

Games people play.

But playing games with nature, our food and only home, is not only foolish but has lethal consequences.

The kind of intense, totally unequal violence we have sunk to at present was unknown even half a century ago. Wars fought for oil. Many square miles of landscape denuded or blown up to get at coal, diamonds, gold. The overwhelming power of a nation, flying an airplane flown by a computer controlled a few thousand miles away, to kill one man (and the innocents who happen to be in his neighborhood). We are doing what was unthinkable not long ago. Yes, indeed we have changed.

I have spent half my life thinking about why we changed. After studying and reading for many years I see three possible explanations.

One is that in the very last thousand years of the 150,000 years of our existence we have immensely increased our number at the same time that we increased our consumption not only of food but of all the resources of the earth that we need for an ever more elaborate and expensive life style.

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Fifty years ago I attended a yearly meeting of the AAAS (American Associ- ation for the Advancement of Science) where a gifted psychologist, John B. Calhoun, presented an elaborate study of populations. Many scientists experiment with mice that have a shorter life span than humans to make generalizations about humans. His study showed that mice definitely have a culture, a society, that with increasing population density makes individuals more violent, acting un-mouselike, and then always resulting in a population crash. Pandemics also are known to have caused intense behavior changes, violence and then a population crash.

More than half of all seven billion humans now alive live in cities, often in incredibly compressed spaces. in barracks (apartment buildings) or in towers: a thousand people living on top of each other, or in slum cities where a dwelling is 6 X 8 feet or less. However, from what I have read and seen on Youtube the people of those illegal cities are, and have to be, creative, cooperative, and astonishingly non-violent. So perhaps Calhoun's hypothesis that rapid population growth leads to violence, unusual behavior, ultimately population crash, is not the whole truth. Some of the scientists who have studied those compressed cities propose that those people are the future: living almost without money, a minimum of power (electricity). they have to be and are extraordinarily inventive.

A second explanation of why we changed was briefly the subject of science fiction writing in the 80s of the 20 th century. The supposition that human "stock" was experimented on by extra-terrestrial powers. Doing to humans what we now call genetic manipulation. Shikasta, by Doris Lessing, - 1979 comes to mind. Quite a few other books. One of those ideas that may be possible but not provable

The third possibility is what I now think the most likely. My contact with what I prefer to think of as First People impressed me greatly; they changed my life. There was a simple purity about them that from the first made me think that is how all of us were. After the two years when I had an opportu- nity to get to know them I read what others had written about First People in other parts of the world. Probably the first author I read was Laurens van der Post, South African writer, a generation before mine. He wrote three books about who he calls the Bushman of the Kalahari Desert. In one of them he writes that if a Bushman lands in jail he dies; sometimes the first night. Doctors could never determine a "cause of death." Van der Post writes that is because the Bushman is untamed.

By implication that means we are tamed humans.

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First people are "wild" humans. Wild in the sense that nature is wild -- not in our modern use of the word wild as crazy, unmanageable. Living in the wild--a desert, a jungle, snow and ice, a tiny island--requires an intimate familiarity of that wild. And a constant awareness in that wild. A small little girl once held me by the hand when we went to join the others of her group. Every now and then she would stop me for a minute, or walked around some invisible danger. She could not explain why, other than that it was necessary. An adult later explained that she and everyone else learned early to be aware of animals, who they were, what intentions they had. When she led me around an invisible something she probably knew to keep a certain distance from an animal. When she stopped for a minute she gave an animal the chance to get away. To be forced into a small concrete space, totally unfamiliar, is ruthlessly being taken out of a known reality. A wild human cannot live in a human-designed world. Tamed humans could not survive in the wild.

Taming is controlling. Dogs are bred to be man's best friend but here in Hawaii "everyone knows" that if you tie a dog to a very short leash, witout human contact other than being thrown a bone or some food. the dog gets dangerous. What the military call discipline is the same short leash taming. Humans have to be taught to kill other humans. We are tamed, conditioned, to live in our human world, a world completely incapsulated within the larger reality of the planet.

The more I think of that the better it fits. Our entire growing up, our education, our monstrously extended system of laws and regulations, all are ways to tame us and at all cost to keep us tamed. Europeans, white people, who were the first to be tamed still seem to think that all other kinds and colors of humans need some extra taming. And if they cannot, or do not want to, be tamed there is always prison; yet another of our proud inven- tions.

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robert wolff lived on the Big Island, called Hawai'i

his website is He passed away in late 2015. He was born in 1925, was Dutch, spoke, Dutch, Malay, English and spent time living and getting to know Malaysian Aborigines. He authored numerous books including What it Is To Be Human, (more...)

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