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"Red in tooth and claw"

by (3112) Updated May 25, 2010 at 12:29 PM Created May 23, 2010 at 2:21 PM

There's a bit of a tendency for some of us to romanticize an ancestral notion of "nature" as a sort of harmony, where man flourished in his pure form. This monologue by director Werner Herzog, on "the obscenity of the jungle," reminds us that nature is often violent, predatory, unpredictable, and disordered. I don't necessarily agree, but I find it thought-provoking.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xQyQnXrLb0&feature=related

What do you all think?

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4059 · May 24, 2010 at 12:37 PM

I think that taking anything a First World urban aesthete says about nature after he's just been massively culture-shocked by being dumped into the Amazon jungle seriously is a risky business. It'll be utterly beyond anything he's ever seen before, and the environmental conditions (heat, damp, smells, bugs, riotous vegetation, poisonous snakes, alligators, pirahnas, locals killing dinner, etc, etc.) are going to be a major stressor. Of course he's going to be overwhelmed by the experience.

To the locals, of course, it's just home. They've lived there all their lives and understand the environment and its risks and would be just as stressed as Herzog was if you flew them to a major city and released them onto a sidewalk at rush hour.

Years ago, I owned a log cabin by a lake north of Montreal. One summer evening, I was sitting on the porch with my then wife, a good friend and fishing buddy, and his wife, relaxing after dinner, which if memory serves consisted of some brook trout we'd caught earlier that day. The lake was still, reflecting dark pines and the colours of the sunset. My ex remarked on the beauty of the scene, and my friend replied that it might look beautiful, but under the water a struggle for survival was going on that made the Vietnam war look like a picnic, because at least there Charlie wasn't trying to eat you.

There are a few conclusions about what Herzog and my friend were driving at that I've come to over the past few years, while hunting and fishing and reading up on those topics: the world is not a warm safe fuzzy place and doesn't care about us; our hopes, fears, needs, ambitions, consumerist wants, personal comfort, safety or survival; we only think it does because we live in one of the most safe, sheltered, comfortable, sterile, unnatural environments ever, where one of the greatest threats to our own personal survival is our appetites. This is why so many modern urbanites are so horrified when they're confronted with the reality of where their food comes from.

The world is made of food. You need to eat food in order to live. It sucks to be food. Everybody is food. You are no exception. You might as well just get used to the notion and enjoy the view while you can.

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7709 · May 23, 2010 at 4:46 PM

Awesome.

I think it's very easy to fall into the trap of believing that there is some rhyme or reason or "harmony" to the natural world and "natural" ways of living when the reality is just as Herzog puts it: we are all little bits of life engaged with each other in a daily fight to continue being, a fight that we all inevitably lose.

"Grok" didn't invent fire and shoes and agriculture by accident or for the hell of it.

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4059 · May 25, 2010 at 12:29 PM

Coincidentally, I just stumbled across this review of a book called Deadly Kingdom: When Animals Attack, by Gordon Grice: http://trueslant.com/markdery/2010/05/21/when-animals-attack-on-gordon-grices-deadly-kingdom/

"“A peculiar fallacy accompanies this urge to touch the wild: people feel, somehow, that nature will not hurt them because they are themselves approaching it with a kindred feeling,” writes Grice.

This is the extravagant self-regard of the naked ape, convinced that all of creation smiles on him; that wild nature is his helpmate or playmate, buffoon or bogeyman, raw resource for capitalist exploitation or metaphoric mirror, in which he can see himself and his society more clearly. As Deadly Kingdom makes abundantly clear, that is cosmic presumptuousness, a sometimes fatal narcissism."

I'm going to have to look it up.

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