Friday, August 9, 2013


The naked wild boy lived on his own, scampering around the jungle between Ahuachápan and Sonsonate, in El Salvador.  Villagers had been aware of him for a couple years, but efforts to catch him always failed.  He was a superb runner, swimmer, and tree climber.  Folks called him Tarzancíto (Little Tarzan).  The lad lived on a diet of wild fruit and raw fish.  He slept up in the branches to avoid becoming a warm meal for hungry predators.

When a woodcutter finally captured him in 1933, the boy was about five years old.  You must understand that Tarzancíto was not, in any way, delighted about his “rescue,” and he took every opportunity to escape.  He was a healthy, happy wild animal, and all he wanted to do was go back home, to the jungle.

He often attacked and bit his captors, but they were civilized people, and refused to let him go.  In their minds, it was intolerable to allow a young boy to be illiterate, unbaptized, naked, and free.  Proper young boys should understand words and numbers, sleep indoors, wear clothing, and eat cooked food on a clockwork schedule.  Tarzancíto hated this.

His life in the jungle had been enormously stimulating, because the land overflowed with an abundance of living beings, all of them fully alive, free, and dancing to the wild music of the big beat.  It was no different from living in paradise, because it was paradise.  Compared to the rapture of life in the jungle, life in a box in the village was crushingly empty, dull, and sad.

I think about Tarzancíto with great fondness.  The lucky lad was merely five years old, but he could live at one with the land, easily, confidently, and happily.  Indeed, the human journey originally began in a similar jungle, long, long ago.  The jungle is the womb of our species, our sacred home, the mother of our evolution.  Nutritious food was available year round, and we could enjoy a wonderful life without tools, weapons, clothes, fire, or cell phones.  We were simply ordinary animals, thriving in pure fairyland.

To this very day, all of our wild relatives in the family of life continue to exist as ordinary animals, living in a state of balance, innocence, and integrity.  Their populations are not exploding, they are not erasing vast forests, they are not poisoning the sacred waters.  Deer continue to live like deer, ducks continue to live like ducks, but most humans have forgotten how to live like humans.

The amazing thing is that all humans everywhere are still born as ordinary wild animals, ready for a thrilling life in the jungle.  Sadly, almost none of them are born into tribes of wild jungle people anymore.  Most are born into societies of consumers, where they are raised to be the opposite of wild, free, and healthy.

Ordinary animals rarely get the respect they deserve.  Exactly what happened to the countless millions of mastodons, wooly mammoths, Irish elk, sabre tooth tigers, cave bears, aurochs, and on and on?  Everyone agrees that they were not driven to extinction by ordinary wild animals.  A number of reputable scholars have concluded that most or all of the megafauna were exterminated by human tool addicts, notably lads with the deadly new stone-tipped lances — creatures that had abandoned ordinary, and had come to live outside the laws of nature.

Long, long ago, our ancestors started farting around with simple tools of sticks and stones.  So did the ancestors of chimps.  The ancient chimps were blessed with good luck, and never swerved into the tool addict lane.  Yes, they used sticks to fish for termites, but this useful trick never mutated into a dependency.  Chimps can still survive perfectly well without termite sticks.  Our ancestors were not so lucky.  Gradually, across long spans of time, our cleverness with tools increased.  Eventually, we became highly addicted to them, and could no longer survive without them.

Our ancestors were not evil.  It was with good intentions that they innocently slid deeper and deeper into the technology trap.  They invented better hunting tools, killed more critters, and ate very well, for a while.  Their numbers grew to the point where they could not all fit in Africa anymore.  Many clans packed up and migrated to other continents, into challenging non-jungle ecosystems where it was impossible to survive without new and improved technology.  We are the only species that wears clothes.

It was inevitable that we would wake up one day with our backs up against the wall — too many humans, not enough wild food.  We started farting around with domestication, and our success with it was the most unlucky event in the entire human journey.  This led to the emergence of civilizations, insane societies obsessed with a single idea — perpetual growth.  These runaway trains doomed the long-term survival of far less destructive hunter-gatherer groups, most of which have now blinked out.

There’s a very important lesson here.  In a number of ways, we remain ordinary wild animals.  Like every other species, humans have almost no powers of foresight, because animals who live within the laws of nature have no need for foresight.  I could be gazing at a group of wooly mammoths right now, if only the inventor of the stone-tipped lance had the foresight to imagine the consequences of giving weapons of mass destruction to a gang of scruffy-looking illiterate longhaired rednecks.  Lions and tigers and bears have no need for long-term thinking, because they live in their natural manner.  They simply hunt with tooth and claw, an ancient time-proven method that doesn’t rock the ecological boat.

Likewise, the first farmers could not begin to imagine the catastrophic changes that their clever new stunt would unleash.  New innovations that provided short term benefits tended to be highly contagious.  If your neighbors adopted guns, horses, or corn-growing, you would be wise to do likewise, in order to survive.  Few hunter-gatherers refused knives, pots, or axes.  Bows and arrows spread to just about everywhere.  In the wake of stone-tipped lances, the disaster of technological innovation snowballed exponentially, and has yet to slow down.

Today, our civilized world is rolling and tumbling into a turbulent era of collapse, downsizing, and healing.  There are far too many of us, living far too hard, but the temporary bubble of abundant energy is thankfully moving toward its conclusion.  The remaining days of extreme madness are numbered.  It would be grand if this led to great awakening, and inspired us to explore better ways of living.  If humans manage to survive the coming storms, they would be wise to remember the lessons of Tarzancíto — live as simply as possible, joyfully.


Riversong said...

Here in rural Vermont, with miles of gravel roads twisting through our mountains, we like to tell wandering flatlanders looking for directions that "ya can't git dere from he'a".

If it were only possible to go back in time and reverse our course. But, just as climate change becomes irreversible after a few "tipping points" have been reached, humanity has crossed too many such thresholds to be able to restore our lost innocence.

Once the Tarzancíto inside of us has been "captured" and tamed, it can no longer find its way home. Once we've tamed an entire planet, there is no more home to return to.

What Is Sustainable said...

Riversong, Sustainable or Bust is about remembering what human means. It's about envisioning a sustainable future, after our way of life wipes out.

The "home" we live in now is running out of time. The future might be anything. We have no option but radical change. Living simply has many advantages, whatever form that takes.