When I was in sub Saharan Africa for the first time I was in Camaroon in the true wild. The vast majority of places that Americans go to in Africa are not really wild; the animals are used to humans and the interactions that humans are allowed to have with animals are strictly limited, so they aren’t threatened by humans. They are used to cars and the sound of them, to the smell of humans and the fact that humans have never hurt or threatened them. But where I was in Camaroon was really wild, and many of the animals had never seen or smelled (or tasted) a human. It was much, much scarier, and as I learned about the animals around me, about their defenses and senses and habits and strengths that help them survive and thrive, I felt extremely vulnerable. Our little group of 5 or 6 people had only guns with us as defenses, and I was grateful for them. Humans suddenly seemed so weak, with no fur even, to keep us warm. Our senses are not particularly sharp, we can’t run very fast, we aren’t very strong. We have to sleep a good part of the day and are pretty vulnerable then. We don’t seem to have any special physical characteristic in the animal kingdom to explain our fantastic proliferation and dominance of the earth. We are smart, but that alone didn’t seem to me to be enough. It seemed to me, in a profound sort of moment, that we are so successful as a species only because we are so social. The fact that we cooperated with each other in the early part of our existence so incredibly successfully was really our only defense against getting eaten more than we were able to eat.
The fact that humans are such social creatures accounts for the fact that we seem to be taking nature over in a way that is actually potentially self destructive to us. The fact that we care so much about what we have or what we wear or what our profession is or whom we’re connected with, all of the things that drive civilization and “progress,” are driven by the fact that we are so social. We define ourselves so heavily in relation to other people. What they have, what they do, what they think and say. The way I see it, the quality that nature gave us in order to survive doesn’t have an on-off switch, and although our destruction of nature may ultimately be our downfall it can also be credited with our success as a species. Humans have not been around for very long in the grand scheme of the earth’s history.
Nature will probably win in the end.
Posted: Friday, February 11th, 2011