Pollan’s influential essay was all about how humans can best express and sustain a healthy respect for animals, especially those destined to end up on our plates. He thinks people like Joel Salatin, at Polyface Farm in Virginia, are onto something important. Could be.
Native peoples, we read, have traditionally perceived animals as co-creators of life, in many ways our betters and (as Eagle Man already taught us) our teachers. But of course, indigenous peoples have always eaten animals. Respectfully, gratefully… humanely and ethically too? Or is eating animals wrong, period?
Well, what would Walt Whitman say?
I think I could turn and live with animals, they’re so placid and self contain’d, I stand and look at them long and long.They do not sweat and whine about their condition, They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago, Not one is respectable or unhappy over the earth.
There are non-consumptive, non-exploitative forms of participation in animals’ lives. Telling stories featuring animal heroes is an example, especially those calling us back to the more elemental and instinctual parts of ourselves. But we’re more comfortable with the Disney version, projecting anthropomorphic stories onto Simba and Mickey and Baloo et al. Great entertainment, but do we ever outgrow the patronizing, sentimentalizing propaganda?
What we’ve really got a case of, apparently, even if biophilia reigns at the deepest instinctual levels, is bio-phobia. We resist the “natural orientation”that would draw all life into our circle of empathy. The Shaman, again, runs interference in “establishing and maintaining a direct relationship between human beings and the animals and plants.” (Remember Ed with his hand in the ground?)
Another of my favorite topics is raised here, the question of how “meaning passes from generation to generation,” crucially distinguished among indigenous peoples by their inherited oral and hunting traditions. Do those of us whose stories are more encrypted, and who do not trap, wrestle, or otherwise subdue our own sustenance directly, have a harder time “coming into being” (i.e., becoming educated about our natural relations)?
“Coyote stealing fire from the shamans” will remind many of us of Prometheus, and the Great Turtle myth of the Iroquois of Gaia. Stay tuned, Stewart Brand and James Lovelock are on deck and in the hole. (Lovelock may actually be in his bunker humming Carole King.)
I’ve mentioned Aldo Leopold‘s “Land Ethic” before, but Cajete reminds us again. It carries a strong indigenous current I hadn’t thought about much: “We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in.” Is that true?
“Multiverse” is a term William James liked, and lately Brian Greene and other astrophysicists, but for neither of them does the term quite mean “multiple realities of which the reality experienced by our five senses is only one of many possibilities,” and in which direct communion with animals and plants might result in knowledge discoverable in no other way. James would have been sympathetic, though, especially if the nitrous was strong.
Do animals have “rights,” beyond interests, even if they cannot defend them discursively or juridically? Peter Singer…
The Navajo concept of ho’zho was engagingly discussed by Chris Phillips…
Ancient indigenous paths and roads are everywhere, even where their traces are hard to spot. But I’ve been motoring up and down one of them for many years to visit my in-laws who live down “the Trace.” Sometimes I park, get out, lace up my Nikes, and participate in a locomotive ritual that owes more than most realize to native design genius in the matter of moccassins.
Finally, and not just because we’re just back from gorgeous Fall Creek Falls: springs and waterfalls are wonderful symbols of healing and purification. They’re powerful, beautiful, inspiring, “memorable.” I don’t think “western science” would or could ever remove its spiritual impact on any honest observer.