Ethnology

Is it impossible to avoid personification? In living the human existence, we want to understand through relating. The revulsion of nature as cruel and violent has been a tide slow in turning, due mostly in part, I think, to its often fatal effect on man kind when he is at its mercy. Though we are still very much at the mercy of Mother Nature, humanity has spent a few hundred years living in a state of colonization. Eurocentric views of world domination have included the decimation of the natural world for the greater good of human existence. It’s an old narrative that man has dominion over The Earth- and should profit from its eternal bounty, as some higher power ordained. I think we missed the part about stewarding for all The Earth, for its collective greater good, not just ours.

As humans with big brains always questioning (when given the privilege), we’ve begun to turn back towards Nature for answers. Though in this modern light, she has been IMAXed into a different kind of submission, one in which we view her remotely from our screens. She is “captured” in high definition, bright color, and exciting action. The natural world is entertainment, and for those wishing to study it- yes, this is about Ethology- there’s a heck of a show. Unfortunately, we’re people first, no matter how close we come to living wild with other species.

A famous Ethnologist I’ve been reading about recently is Joe Hutto, famous for his book, Illumination in The Flatwoods, A Season with Wild Turkey– which was made into a PBS special “Living as a Wild Turkey”. What I appreciate about this man’s approaches, is his continual reflection of how humans are separate from wildness- from our struggle with good and evil, as Hutto puts it- “We humans betray the moment in ways animals never do,” he says. “We live so much in the past, or in the future, and forget to be in the moment. Animals can’t do that if they want to survive.” This sums up my belief about people grasping for rewilding, we would have to devolve our thinking, back to primal fight or flight, to be in the moment.

Would you be ready to give up civility for being wild? Could we even comprehend that as an option? For those privileged to walk in the two worlds, yes, for those not able to choose, no. In this age of COVID-19, so much of our civility has been stripped bare, poverty continues to stalk like hungry wolves through our streets, and the ability for man to look his fellow man in the eye has slipped. Those who are intimate with death can attest to the leaving of civility in the act of survival. Yet in many branches of the animal kingdom, social animals do sacrifice for one another to keep the whole alive. We struggle with this concept related to true wildness, and I think we sometimes puzzle over nurture vs. nature, as though the two were at odds (which they sometimes are). Perhaps it could be said, that by delving into the untamed living world, we get a glimpse of what original instructions look like.

Joe with Turkey Boy

As Dr. Hutto learned, Turkeys are born with everything they need to know, and act on it at once through being. Humans struggle to find this “prime directive”, and I think this formation of ethical choice has quite upstaged survival for the security of civility. At the end of Joe Hutto’s story with his flock, one male turkey he has gone so far as to name, “Turkey Boy”, suddenly turns on the naturalist, intent on what Joe hypothesizes is ultimate male territorial aggression- it was going to be him or the bird. As humans, we’ve made a sort of social agreement not to kill each other in the streets over who owns them, though some populations, right here in The USA, act out fatal aggressive territorial displays in drive by shootings or vicious lynchings. One might argue that these actions are more out of desperation than instinct. Perhaps causalities to domestication and wealth accumulation. It is on the alter of money that we now must pray to keep our heads afloat. What folly this has all become in our search for humanity.

Wildness takes us away from the complications of being civil. It acts as a baseline for survival, almost comforting us in knowing we do not have to worry about predators and the scarcity of food- or does it? I ask how many people are living in an elevated primal state, even in tech driven cities, like Seattle, near this forest farm. There is a great struggle with homelessness, and the inclusion of people who have become estranged from civility, by choice or not. What of mental illness? Addiction? Abuse? These are not such common struggles in nature, but constant for humankind. Can it simply be summed up as our curse in being always in the past or future, never present? Perhaps, but in being human, are we not given the enlightenment to see ourselves- beyond simply fight or flight? What I do know as a person, is that even with civilization, wildness cannot be separated from us, nor can we fully survive without it. For a life without clean water, air, shelter, food, without each other to support in times of need, would fail to survive.

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