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Know the West

Modern 'civilization' is a doomsday machine


Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

Kieran Suckling: "Our critics talk about "consensus." But a consensus of who? When we had a timber injunction shutting down all logging in the Southwest, a poll by a professional polling company found that every sector of the public supported a complete ban on the logging of old trees. Old people. Young people. Republicans. Democrats. They all said no, we should not log any more big trees.

"When we got cattle off 15 allotments, every sector of the Arizona public - including rural people - favored reducing cattle to protect wildlife. There is already a consensus. It's the ranchers, and the loggers, and their supporters that won't accept the consensus.

"I'm struggling to get to the roots of the ailment of Western culture. That led me to become an environmental activist. I have come to believe that the roots are our historic and unique denial that humans need to communicate with nature and that our fundamental relationship to forests and fish and cactus is a communicative relationship. As I was studying the importance of communication, I realized that our partners in communication are going extinct, which means the possibility of communication is going extinct.

"It's like some of these villages in Nicaragua, where half of the village has been wiped out; after that, the village is completely dysfunctional. That's where we are today. Half of our culture - the forest, the birds, the trees - has been wiped out. Our culture, despite what all the New Age crazies think, will never heal itself by talking to itself. It will only recover by bringing these perspectives back, recovering to the point that they're integral parts of the community again.

"Look at kids - the first thing you do is buy them animal toys. They watch Sesame Street, where animals parade across the screen and talk to them. Even here in the heart of urban America, we recognized the importance of talking to animals. What's really bizarre is that while we realize the importance of that to children, later on we think that as adults we don't need that. We're oblivious to the psychic needs of adults.

"I am an avowed relativist. I deeply believe that "reality" is culturally created, but by a community of all species, not just humans. If all these species are creating reality, what happens when you start knocking them off, one by one?

"We're killing the architects of a building in the midst of building the building, so our building is not going to make any sense. It's not going to stand ... From an evolutionary perspective, the very ability of humans to think of a concept like truth is deeply embedded in an evolutionary history of being a forest creature, surrounded by other forest creatures. What we think of as human ideas, they're as much a product of evolution as our fingernails. Just as our fingernails are shaped by the fact that we need to pick seeds, so are our thoughts and ideas. Just look at language, and the use of metaphor. It is impossible for human beings to think without constantly expressing ourselves in terms of other beings. Look at how we express concepts of wildness through wolves.

"If wolves no longer exist, if you no longer can sit in your house and think there is a wolf out there somewhere, you start to lose that whole concept. I can imagine this crazy future where Phoenix is under a bubble and there are no more wolves, or bugs, or fish, and you've got humans entirely in relationship to themselves. We'll just kill each other. That's not a viable culture."