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Ironic, Jesse thought, that those who generously shared, ran out of food or water or patience faster than the selfish hoarders and the aggressive exploiters, like the taxi operators who had temporarily made a killing charging exorbitant fees to transport people out of town. Maybe he should try to catch a rat for the kitten. He put his hand in his pocket and the animal squeaked and spat and dug its tiny teeth feebly into his thumb.
He swore; he could get tetanus from this damned thing. Maybe he should chuck it in the garbage where it would just have to fend for itself, like everybody else. He had to admire its spunk, though. Maybe he could train it to hunt for him. After all, how long was it going to take to bring things right? Even in the richly resourced US, it took weeks sometimes to get the power back on after an ice storm or whatever. But if they were still living, he pondered as he started to stride along Somerset Street, how basic were in fact those basics?
He could, in theory, hunt. But what happened when his bullets ran out? A rumbling interrupted his thoughts: a pantechnicon, followed by a fuel bowser, escorted by two army trucks, lurched and ground past him, doubtless headed for the big Shoprite parking lot, where there was some chance of distributing what there was without violence. Jesse briefly considered trotting after them, but he figured that by the time he got there nothing would be left; he quailed at the thought of the inevitable riot of desperation.
Maybe he could shoot a pigeon or something. So he headed the opposite way, turning right where the robots leaned, defunct now for a few months already, and headed for his farm home just outside town. The last of the sunset lay in a crimson shawl beneath heavy grey clouds threatening further storms; a solitary wind turbine stood on the gaunt ridge, its vanes buckled and locked.
His stride began to fall into a rhythm. In his pocket the kitten was so still he wondered it was dead. But he did not want to find out — not just yet. This is fiction.
Any resemblance to people living, past or future, is unintentional. Thursday, 1 November No 71 - Saving the Amazon? Sometimes just a brief visit to a place is enough to make one feel deeply emotionally invested in it — in love, even, or at least rivetted with admiration or awe. This has been the case with my own fleeting sojourns in southern Patagonia and in the Amazon forests. But I was instantly, sensuously, in love with the flooded varzea , the sounds of howler monkeys, and the extraordinary sun-patterns of leaves, even with the forbidding spiders and the taste of piranha fish and the military columns of vicious ants.
One of those countries is Brazil, in which the Amazonian basin largely lies. He compares himself to the aggressive and ignorant Donald Trump who himself has spent the last two years rescinding some 76 Clinton- and Obama-era laws designed to protect the US environment — which is also to say, protecting citizens against their own unthinking destructiveness.
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Between the two of them, these leaders constitute a veritable ecological Antichrist. Bolsonaro and Trump, and their supporters, are of course only the latest spearhead to a long-evolving process. If you thought that Trump was transparently biased against environmental health in appointing an Exxon oil exec to head the Environmental Protection Agency, recall that the two Bush presidents did so, too.
The Amazon has been under siege for a long time, particularly in the so-called Arc of Deforestation, a two thousand-mile swathe from the lower south-western edge of the basin to the north-eastern regions abutting the Atlantic coast. This is despite the now manifest problems with such grand, pride-driven nationalistic projects which, from the Colorado to the Ganges, have proven short-lived, destructive and economically inefficient. The US and India have started walking back from big dams, and in January this year an undertaking was made by Brazil, then under Temer, to also slow down on the dams.
Other threats are just as important, especially agrobusinesses: not only logging and mining, sanctioned and otherwise, and not only conversion to pasture for cattle to supply the hungry northern fast-food chains, but also more nominally benign plantations, especially soybeans, manioc and rice. All involve deforestation, desiccation of wetlands, and human displacement on a huge scale: in one estimate, 52 square miles per year. The fate of the indigenous peoples — groups of whom have remained sheltered from the invasion of modernity until very recently — is central to the trauma, and they are also central players in such resistance as can be marshalled.
Reserves intended to protect them or wildlife comprise a tiny proportion of the whole basin. Here is just one passage of many:. The children appeared to know everything about plants and were somewhat taken aback by our ignorance. Shyly at first and then in great bursts of enthusiasm they explained that plants were like people, each with its own mood and story. Cacti sleep by night. Mushrooms grow when they hear thunder, lichens only in the presence of human voices. The solitary blossoms of the open field have no feelings for others.
Delicate gentians fold up their petals in shame All plants have names and are useful This is not just quaint: it is a saving pointer towards an ecology living itself out through us, not being controlled by its human components. Fair enough — but most often they have no choice: their forests, and everything they have ever known, is catastrophically burned, cut or flooded away beneath them with neither understanding nor compassion nor compensation. The most common of these is coca, which in its raw chewed form is a mild stimulant but also highly nutritive, and a crucial element in daily life, from mindset to nutrition, from origin myths to shamanic ritual.
This fine-tuned and entirely harmless dependence on coca has been totally ignored because, of course, coca is also the source of cocaine. Little wonder quite apart from new global drugs-economics the war is failing. The short story, in a highly fragmented and conflictual situation more environmental defenders have been murdered in Brazil than in any other country , is that a massive shift in governmental mindset, policy-making, financial dependencies and enforceable legislation is required.
Though the seeds of more fruitful policies exist, such a turnaround seems unlikely. Benatti makes a rare and gloomy foray into literary philosophy:. This quotation summarises the ideas of Thomas Hobbes , who argued that man in his natural state was individualistic, profoundly selfish, and with insatiable desires for power, which would only end at death. Thus he did not naturally live by cooperation; he was not a social being by nature.
Life in society was a pact, artificial and precarious, and insufficient in itself to guarantee peace. For the pact to be honoured and peace secured, it was necessary for individuals to renounce their right to everything and transfer it to a sovereign with absolute powers.
Even as indigenous Amazonians seem to prove Hobbes wrong in part concerning the first point, it is in modernity that we seem to have voluntarily given ourselves up to superior powers, whether these manifest as a Zimbabwean dictator, a democratically-elected set of idiots, or the mind-numbing addiction to Samsung and Apple. Benatti goes on:. However such a pact of mutual respect can function only if there is a strong absolute State Benatti might be right, even as globally we wrestle with unruly forms of democratisation that militate against precisely such absolutism — and therefore against sufficiently far-reaching moves to save nature, and our better natures.
Varieties of Victorianism
Getting mock-charged a couple of times by an elephant in the Zambezi Valley endows one with a weird kind of affection for the great beasts. So the fruit of my years of interest is not so much a book about elephants, as a book about books about elephants. Biological and conservation studies, coffee-table books, films and photographic essays of this iconic animal abound, but I propose that various literary genres have also played a crucial role in structuring public attitudes towards elephants as to the ecology generally.
Many attitudes now commonly purveyed by YouTube clips or photographic essays originated in those literatures that predated our technological era. Those attitudes have contributed to the practical treatment of actual elephants — especially in the growth of compassion towards them. Some people go to extraordinary lengths to save an elephant. In some estimates, today an African elephant is being killed every 15 minutes. They will not last long unless compassion and respect are much, much more effectively deployed. Literature provides one window onto that understanding.
My study proceeds roughly chronologically, but also by genre, assessing how attitudes towards elephants are embedded in each type of writing. Each genre raises for me interesting questions. So the book goes something like this:. Introduction: What is compassion? Is it different from pity or empathy? How is compassion different for a fellow-human, for a domesticated animal, and for a wild and potentially dangerous one?
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What might be the practical effects of compassion in the physical world? This is, I think, a crucial question about the linkages between the imagination and action.
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However, these attitudes have inevitably been filtered through modern textuality, endlessly repackaged and marketed for current readerships, so they are tricky to assess. Reverence, taboos, food-source — but compassion? Hard to say — or is compassion a more recent invention? Chapter Two: Imperial-age travelogues by European sojourners between roughly and included Sparrman, le Vaillant, Barrow and even Darwin. Many of these travellers had pretensions to scientific expertise on the Western Enlightenment model, while foreshadowing the hunting manias of the succeeding century.
These narratives, like the travelogues, have not much been studied as literary productions, nor the role of the elephant particularly isolated for attention. How far do these accounts go in helping answer the fundamental question: Why do men hunt elephants — and are they as remorseless as they seem?
Chapter Four: Some hunters began to write fiction towards the end of the nineteenth century, often repeating the largely uncaring attitudes of the hunting genre, even as it coincided with the onset of more conservation-orientated attitudes. The chapter mostly covers adult fiction of the second half of the twentieth century, including that of Laurens van der Post, Stuart Cloete and Wilbur Smith.
Jesse Lauriston Livermore
Does fiction offer a particular channel for imaginative empathy? Chapter Five: Attitudes of empathy, bordering on anthropomorphism a much debated notion , emerge more strongly in stories for youngsters than in the adult fiction. Why is this? How have we have taught and currently teach our youngsters about ecology and wild animals through literature?
The chapter concentrates on three novellas for teens, which all raise a further question: What are the connections between imagination, touch, communication and compassion? It begins with Wolhuter and Stevenson-Hamilton in Kruger, and remains popular today. The chapter examines several examples. Chapter Seven: Conservation ethics and increasing biological knowledge of elephants, resulting in a narrowing of the gap between human and elephant consciousness, have brought large numbers of trained scientists or related researchers into the field.
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