Jani Kaaro is a scientific journalist, a researcher and encyclopedist, and he has some of the most insightful columns that I have read, time after time. I'm going to translate a few of his articles, if you have time and interest, check it out.
A World Without Animals
Imagine a world without animals.
No squirrels. No newts. No pidgeons. No blackbirds singing in March. No elephants on the savannah. No dogs wagging their tails. There would only be humans, cars and buildings.
Imagine that a generation would be born without any knowledge of animals. They would not see animals in the nature. They would not see them in books or museums. Stuffed toys wouldn't have fluffy coats or beady eyes. Instead of aquariums there would be touchscreens.
We couldn't tell our children what it means to be strong as a bull. Sly as a fox. Playful as a kitten.
How would we see ourselves in a world like this? What would we know about ourselves?
Our genus was born about two million years ago into a complete world. There were rhinos and stick insects; early bulls and cave bears; geckos and gorillas. We didn't learn to know ourselves by staring at our reflections on the water's surface, we learned by watching the animals.
Years ago I travelled to Canada. There I met a middle aged Ojibway Indian named George. He was from a faraway reservation, one where no roads had led to during his childhood. His father and his grandfather lived mostly by hunting, fishing and gathering. When George moved away from the reservation, his grandfather gave him advice: "If you want to survive, just look at what the animals are doing."
I believe that George's grandfather's advice is the greatest unwritten chapter in man's history of survival. I'm not talking about 'Eat or get eaten', but of our minds. I believe that our entire mental capacity has developed by interacting with animals. When we saw the animals dance, we learned to dance. When we saw them sing, we learned to sing. When we saw animals' tracks, we learned to think symbolically. When we kept following those tracks for days on end, we learned to carry ideas in our minds.
We wore animal furs and feathers; we drew pictures of animals on cave walls and tall rocks; when we looked up to the sky, we saw a bear. The animals were different than us in so many ways, and their difference taught us how we really were.
In modern perspective it's hard to understand how important animals have been to us.
George told me that his father and grandfather talked about animals constantly. So do all other hunter-gatherers. They tell stories, sing songs, ponder their motives and dream about them. They search their behaviour for messages and metaphors to help their people understand their own mythology and their place in it.
Although animals aren't as present in our lives as before, we still carry them inside our minds. In his book 'The Others', Paul Shephard tells of a research where people were shown a line drawing of a tree.
The tree's branches formed a silhouette of a duck, but none of the test subjects noticed it consciously. Still, when they were asked to write any story about anything right after, their writing was full of references to birds, ducks, feathers, eggs and bird nests. Our mind is so used to animals, that it sees them around even when our conscious mind fails to register them.
If there's something I would like to leave for future generations, it would be the understanding of how much we owe to animals. I'm not simply talking about how animals have abled us to live off their meats, skins and coats, or given us safer medicine, cosmetics and joy and happiness, but how they have shaped us into the human we are today.
I don't know how we could ever begin to repay them, but I know we aren't even trying.
I would like to return at least some of the views how many other cultures have seen or see their animals right now.
The Eskimo never talked about eating the animals, as they believed they were eating souls. "The great peril of our existence lies in the fact that our diet consists entirely of souls", goes an old Eskimo proverb. To them, killing animals was as fatal as killing a human, as an unappeased soul might have taken revenge on its killer after being released.
When the Mad Cow panic in Britain was at its highest and the decision was to burn a million cows, the Hindu plead the Brits to bring the sick cows to India. They felt that killing them was not a proper way to treat a sacred animal, nevertheless ones that were already sick. In India they would have spent their last days being respected by man.
I've also read that Japanese slaughterhouses regularly have moments of silence for the sould of all the animals they've killed.
I wanted to write this column to remind us that we need animals.
They were here before us and we have always been just another animal amongst them.
Does Crichton smoke? Does a bear shit in the woods? -Rex
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