False Idols

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*Warning*  This post contains an image that some may find disturbing.

First, let me say, that I really do not know very much at all about ranching. I know little of the trials and tribulations which people who choose that lifestyle may or may not endure. I know that, once upon a time as popular culture still tells us, ranching required cowboys, that half-baked American West mythology, which was rather swiftly ground into relative obsolescence by industrial manufacturing in the guise of barbed wire.

Second, let me say, this is not really about ranchers nor ranching. Nor cowboys for that matter. Rather it is a follow up to the thought process which spawned the previous three posts. It is about, first and foremost, my reaction to something that I saw today… but more on that later.

I used to be a vegetarian, was for many years. I have known, and still know, many vegetarians and vegans for that matter. At some point I started eating meat again, and even took up hunting. I have raised and butchered animals for food. While living in Alaska, I more or less, came to terms with trapping. I do not condone it necessarily, but I understand that it is a lifestyle for some… as is ranching, or being a vegetarian.

My point in all of this is that whatever one may think, there is no singular right way. There are too many different people, from too many different backgrounds, living too many different lifestyles, for any one of us to be absolutely right. The closest one can get to that, from my perspective, is to do what is right for one’s self; be true to your own nature, of yourself and for yourself. However, there is a caveat, and a very large and important caveat. Whatever you choose to do or believe, however you choose to think, act, or live, you must respect that everyone else has those same choices. The golden f&%#ing rule, right?

My problem (one of them anyway) is that I believe that respect must also be extended to the world around us. Living in this world, for very many people, is complicated. And I am not talking first world complications of not having the newest, best whatever the hell. No, I am talking about making a living and having to make choices and decisions that will inexorably have some effect on someone or something else as a result. Being a creature of this world requires that one find a balance, somehow.

Consider the rancher, especially since I do not know much about ranching. I can deduce that ranching, let’s say of beef cattle, takes a lot of open space; hence rangeland. I can also deduce that unless one were the only rancher, one would need to delineate the ends/edges of the rangeland which one is responsible for/allowed to use; hence fencelines, previously cowboys. It would furthermore seem that said delineation would thus serve a dual purpose; keep the cows in and other things out. Of course it is not so simple. Fences need continual tending, upkeep and repair. Also, there are plenty of other things out on the landscape for which fences mean little.

Presumably, for a rancher, each “cow” has a particular monetary value. Should one wander off, say through a failed fence, or get stolen perhaps, though I expect cattle rustling is not quite as common as it used to be, or end up dead from some means or other, this would represent a loss to the rancher; financially at the least, but given the benefit of the doubt, also to one’s sense of responsibility. I get that. It is all part of that complicated balance thing.

You find the flaw in the fence and repair it, with any luck the “rustler”, is caught and brought to justice, but the dead cow, well, that is that. Except, there are things on the landscape for which fences mean little. Things that have been known to kill livestock, among other things. The predators of the natural world. And here the balance thing gets even more complicated because of all that stuff I was rambling on about in my previous posts. Let’s say a rancher, back in the day, cowboys and all, finds a chunk of land that looks a good spot to raise cattle; wide open grassland, close to the mountains and a good water source, seemingly uninhabited (I will avoid that morass for the moment…), and decides to set up shop. Just like that the “natural” balance is immediately upset. The introduction of an entirely new population, human and otherwise.

The “locals”, as it were, tend to get run out, in one way or another; hunted, persecuted, destruction of the natural habitat… etc. Deer, elk, antelope, all hunted for food, or simply pushed out to another area. The predators that have relied on those inhabitants for survival are similarly thus effected, particularly if the populations are reduced rather than just displaced. Funny thing though, the removal of those indigenous prey species was of course brought on by the introduction of a different prey species; one that is less agile and consistently constrained. Problem created, problem solved, problem created.

Wolves, coyotes, lions; these individuals are native to this land (bears too, but that is another story). They are meant to be a part of the balance. But I guess it depends on one’s understanding and opinion of balance. If, as previously postulated, one is apart from and seeking control of, the natural world, one desires a new balance; one that favors the cattle. Thus, the predators have no place and so are hunted, to protect the human interest. The balance, sorted out over time by the natural world, is irrelevant.

Now, it gets even more complicated. Looking through the lens that I just presented, it is easy to blame the rancher, for all sorts of things, given one’s inclination. Or, conversely to blame me, for all sorts of things, ignorance and bias not the least. I am not proposing that the above description is any more than my telling of a tale, based (as noted repeatedly) on insufficient knowledge. I am neither rancher, nor ecologist, but rather a thinker of thoughts and to complicate things, a wanna-be writer.

Anyway, taking this a step further, say you are out camping, if you are that sort of person, or perhaps just out having a picnic. Nature can be pesky, no? Flies, ants, mosquitos… to name a few. Most kill them mercilessly because, well, such “pests”, by their nature upset the artificial balance we desire for our given “nature” experience. How about roaches, or mice, or spiders in our homes? Sure, some take the extra steps to follow “humane, integrated pest management”, but most, well, you know how it goes. Hell, weeds in the garden hey?

Nature has this annoying way of disturbing the human sense of balance, whether on our terms or not. The strictest definition of “wilderness” does not permit the building of trails. In some places, that is not a big deal for the casual hiker. Others, well, they don’t call it wilderness for nothing. Point being, a common human perception of nature, is that is can be… irritating. To put it lightly.

So, back to the rancher… or not. Honestly I have no way of knowing who was responsible, nor why. That said, given where I was/am and given the nature of the scene, I presume that someone decided that a certain aspect of nature was an irritant and needed to be dealt with. I understand that, really I do. I may not agree, but it is not really my place to agree or not in this case.

But I do disagree with one thing, and as I stated earlier, to me it is a big thing. Respect. I respect that someone felt the need to kill two coyotes, at some point. I do not respect the, likely, un-instigated slaughter of them, but that is me, and as I said, I do not know the situation that preceded the killing. I do know that they were killed and tossed, like so much trash, on the side of the road. I disagree with the blatant lack of respect for another living creature. Two in fact.

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But then, what does one do with two dead coyote? When I first saw them, I was angry. After all this I am sad and confused, because, when it comes down to it, I do not understand my place in this world. As I stated previously, I have killed other creatures for my own purposes. I would like to say that I have always done so with respect, but that would not be wholly true would it? How many mosquitos have I crushed or put to death with store bought neurotoxin? How many carpenter ants decreed to die the slow death of diatomaceous earth? How many unceremoniously trod upon other insects? Voles with broken necks or backs? Squirrels?

Respect and balance. It is f&@%ing hard to be a human in the natural world. Hard enough in the human world, but those are all our problems. Problems we made for ourselves, problems that mimic our disregard for the natural world. We could fix those, but too often we treat each other even worse. We hold ourselves in such high regard, and while I do not mean to suggest that the human race is a vile, despicable species as a whole, I do wish that we would, as a whole, stop thinking so highly of ourselves and look around at the legacy we are creating. We are not the most important, nor most special or privileged, characters in this silly play; this tragedy of our quest to tame the world. We are our own false idols. We deserve no worship. None given, none received. Our science and politics and religion and societies and history, are all in our heads. They only have meaning for us, but alas, consequence for our surroundings. We are not above, nor have any claim to, this world, nor whatever may be beyond it, if anything. We are a part of this world, why do we have such a hard time respecting it, respecting each other?

*sigh*

 

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A break for nature.

I do not think that means what you think it means…[1]

I guess, since I started down this path, I might as well keep wandering to see where it leads…

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I have been throwing the term “natural world” around and have been thinking that I need to investigate that idea a bit. So, if one googles “natural world definition”, one is provided with this:

Nature, in the broadest sense, is the natural, physical, or material world or universe. “Nature” can refer to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general.

So, it would seem that “natural world” is a bit of a redundancy. So, rather, simply querying “nature”:

the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.

               :the basic or inherent features of something, especially when seen as characteristic of it.

This would seem to imply that the nature of nature, as it were, excludes humans. In so far as we base our understanding on a dictionary definition of the word. However, if we take another step and query “Human nature”:

the general psychological characteristics, feelings, and behavioral traits of humankind, regarded as shared by all humans.

You also get references to a pop music group and the Michael Jackson song, but those are other matters… or maybe not. Either way, another discussion.

Implying that humans are not a part of the “physical world collectively” is, once again, characteristic lofty human thinking; human nature, if you will. I think, therefore I am above it all. I still don’t buy it. Just because we use words that we have constructed to describe our surroundings, does not set us apart from or above them. Does it? What I think it relates to more is first, our seemingly innate desire to differentiate our “selves” from the “other” (whatever that other may be), and second the extension of that desire in the form of characterizing, defining, and compartmentalizing everything. This particular line of thinking is beginning to flirt with a previous discussion on “knowing” from an earlier post. I will try to not repeat myself.

No, rather I am genuinely curious to explore the idea of the human relationship to, or with, “nature”. We are unquestionably, denizens, if not constituents, of the greater physical world are we not? If not (which is absurd) at what point did we cease to be a part of “nature”? The Industrial Era? When we first took up agrarian practices or some other sedentary lifeway? When we first came down out of the trees? Or was it when that one guy ate an apple? Silly. It is all so silly.

Nature has become identified as this idyllic other world; a place to go to escape the “modern world”. Even John Muir types, viewing it as some sort of cathedral suggest this. This is the heart of the wilderness concept. That we, as humans, somehow set apart from the “natural world”, need to have places, segments of that world, to which we can go to “return to nature”. It is insane and we have done it to ourselves. What drives this desire to escape the “world of our making” to return to the “natural world”? By setting ourselves apart, we have made ourselves outcast. This screams again of that free-will catch-22 where we want control but long for freedom from it.

From a dystopian view, “human nature” is centered on consumption; the extraction and over-manipulation of resources to the detriment of our surroundings and thus our well-being. The “wilderness” construct is an attempt to hold that process in check. It deifies this utopian “natural” world and in so doing perpetuates the “nature as other” mentality. Which, sadly, seems wholly necessary to stem the tide of industrial resource extraction (and I include large Agri-business here) driven by greed. Yes, as creatures of the natural world, we humans need resources to survive. Catching a fish, felling a tree, killing an elk, harvesting crops, etc.. But when the extraction of resources becomes driven solely by greed and the desire for power, it creates an imbalance that needs to be checked. It is no longer about making a living, it is about making a profit.

Which of course brings us back to the question of whether humans are part of, or apart from, the natural world. But it is more than that… of course it is. Our society, our manipulation of the world around us, is laboriously complex. Socio-political structures, economics, science and religion, and everything else that is a part of “human nature”, is an intractable morass. It is very difficult to be far sighted enough to honestly challenge our own free-will.

And then the question of what, if anything, does it matter? If certain beliefs about the “nature” of the world and the human relationship to it (not with it, because that implies we are a part of it…) perpetuate the behaviors that lead to the need for such a construct as “wilderness”, arguments over whether or not there should be wolves on the landscape, or if the climate may or may not be changing, will always have an obvious outcome; what is good for me, now, is most important.

But then, perhaps that is in a sense, fundamentally, putting humans irrevocably back into the natural world. Such a mentality implies “every man for himself”, which is troubling enough, but furthermore suggests a structure of “survival of the fittest”, which of course is one of the primary elements of evolution (actually, natural selection, more precisely). Perhaps, left unchecked, our collective behaviors will bring us past the point of balance and our place in the “natural world” will be past suspect and instead subject to collective change. Perhaps, for all our bluster, our science and politics and religions will all prove fruitless and we may be forced to accept that we are in fact constituent elements of the world around us and not so set apart; that we too are subject to irrevocable change.

If we are not a part of “nature” how can we ever have a sense of peace; if we are, by our very nature, aliens in our own surroundings? If the world in which we live is existentially apart from us (or we from it, if you prefer), how can we ever understand it, or our place within it?  How could we not ask after some greater sense of meaning and purpose if we persist in believing that we are not truly a part of this world… in which we live, on which we rely? Persisting to focus our attention on separation rather than connection will be our undoing, but perhaps that is simply our nature. What a bleak and lonely existence.

good times

 

[1] To appropriate a quote from The Princess Bride, and yes I know it is not quite right, but I needed to alter it slightly to refer to the previous quote that is the title of this piece. Points if you know where it is from and why it is a joke in this case…