Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Wild Free and Happy sample 83 Update: Human Web

[Note: The following is some new and updated material from my rough draft of Wild, Free, & Happy.  It will be included in the revised Human Web section, which was originally released as samples 52 and 53.  The other samples of this rough draft can be accessed HERE.  If you prefer audiobooks, Michael Dowd has been reading and recording my book HERE.]

Magical Thinking

Imagine living in an era when bubonic plague epidemics were common and horrific.  Geoffrey Marks noted that the Black Death arrived in England in 1348, and was followed by epidemics in 1349, 1361, 1363, 1365, 1369, 1371, 1373, 1375, 1378-1382, 1390, 1399-1400 …and on and on… until the Great Plague of London in 1665-1666.  Over the course of several months, the Great Plague killed about 100,000, almost a quarter of London’s population. 

In 1772, Daniel Defoe (author of “Robinson Crusoe”) published “A Journal of the Plague Year.”  He was a young boy during the Great Plague, and had a front row seat on the horror show.  As an adult, he interviewed a number of survivors.  His uncle kept diaries during the nightmare.

The city was a fantastically filthy nightmare.  Sewage was dumped in ditches along the streets.  Horseshit and garbage everywhere.  Everyone had lice, bathing was rare, and great mobs of rats enjoyed a wonderful life. 

When folks heard news of an approaching contagion, anyone who had options (nobility, clergy, physicians, officers, etc.) fled London in a great stampede.  Poor folks were left behind to experience what the fates would deliver.

Efforts were made to slow the spread of disease.  When someone was known to be infected (or so suspected), a red cross was painted on the door, and the dwelling was guarded day and night by a watchman, to prevent escapes, and to provide necessities.  Thus, the entire family was condemned to die.  Folks were infuriated, and there were riots. 

Bell ringers moved through the streets, shouting “bring out your dead.”  They were followed by buriers or bearers who loaded the dead carts.  Large pits were dug in which to dump the corpses.  Defoe wrote, “It is impossible to describe the most horrible cries and noise that the poor people would make at their bringing the dead bodies of their children and friends out of the cart.”

Doctors had no cures, and prayers got no response.  Johannes Nohl reported that during plague years, a number of communities in Europe engaged in ceremonial dances, hoping to drive away the evil spirits.  Hundreds danced until they collapsed from exhaustion.  Folks were overwhelmed with despair.  People rolled in filth, begging others to beat them.  “Otherwise modest maidens and matrons lost all sense of shame, sighed, howled, made indecent gestures, and uncovered obscene parts of their bodies.”

It was obvious to everyone that the plague was killing the clergy at especially high rates (it was their job to visit the dying).  Why did God have no interest in protecting his own special agents?  Many priests lived with concubines, an abominable sin.  Did this mean that the baptisms they performed were worthless?  Many lost their faith.  While large crowds danced, the churches sat empty.   A furious mob of Germans went to Li├Ęge, determined to massacre all clergy.

One tradition noted that in 1424, a lad named Maccaber arrived in Paris, and took residence in an ancient tower next to a cemetery.  Folks believed he had supernatural powers.  He initiated an ecclesiastic procession.  Every day, for months, crowds of men and women danced in the cemetery.  Folks wore scary masks to drive away the evil spirits. 

Over time, in many places, during many plagues, folks experimented with a wide variety of rituals.  Despite good intentions, their efforts failed.  The rats and fleas remained alive and well, and the grim reaper worked overtime.  Blind faith in rituals is called magical thinking.  Unfortunately, beautiful wishes don’t always come true. 

Today, of course, global telecommunication systems and the internet allow magical beliefs and assorted conspiracy theories to spread through large populations at astonishing speeds.  Societies become fiercely polarized, echo chambers roar, intolerance punches, courtesy vaporizes, bullets fly, and daily life becomes a surreal tragicomedy.  Elections no longer have losers — every candidate claims victory!


Many humans imagine that our species enjoys a superior status in the family of life.  Indeed, many hiss and snarl at the notion that humans are animals (!!).  We are obviously smarter, stronger, and greater in every way!  A number of religious traditions assert that humans are something like the glorious crown of creation, the managers of the world.  Earth is our playground.

These beliefs typically emerged in cultures that became addicted to the exploitation of domesticated plants and/or animals — turbulent societies that cleared forests, planted fields, raised birds and herds, and radically altered (and damaged) the ecosystems they inhabited.

Our wild ancestors were far more humble.  They were hunters and foragers, not planet smashing thunder beings.  Peter Ungar wrote that when an anthropologist in Tanzania asked some Hazda hunters how humans were different from other animals, they were completely baffled.  There is no difference.  What a stupid question!  We all eat, drink, breathe, excrete, wander, and reproduce.  Many carnivores think we’re absolutely delicious, and they eagerly enjoy every opportunity for having us for lunch.

Richard Nelson spent time (1976-77) with the Koyukon people of Alaska.  Their often quoted proverb is: “Every animal knows way more than you do.”  They believe that animals can understand everything we say, regardless of distance.  The Koyukon were not a culture of motor vehicles and glowing screens.  They were a hunting culture that had an amazingly deep understanding of nature, and absolute respect for it.  Modern folks have lost this intimate wild connection to home.  Nelson wrote, “We live alone in an uncaring world of our own creation.” 

David Ehrenfeld wrote The Arrogance of Humanism.  It was an aggressive critique of the widespread belief in human supremacy.  He wrote that humanism was “the dominant religion of our time.”  It’s essentially the air we breathe.  Humans are absolute geniuses, and our technology is amazing.  There is no problem we cannot solve.  We have no limits.  As resources become depleted, we’ll readily develop excellent alternatives.  Our children will enjoy even better lives than our own, and the best is yet to come.  Yippee!

Ehrenfeld wrote back in 1978, when pollution controls, if any, were weak, and the air and waters were heavily contaminated with noxious substances.  The entire city of Gary Indiana was hidden in a stinky orange fog of steel mill filth.  The Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught on fire.

In the ’70s, numerous eco-disasters were occurring around the world, but the general mob paid little attention to stuff happening elsewhere — out of sight, out of mind.  Network television avoided the yucky stuff, and hypnotized folks with generous servings of sports, entertainment, and happy news.  School systems tirelessly preached the holy gospel of humanism, and celebrated the age of miracles that students were so lucky to enjoy.

While the thundering human juggernaut was beating the living shit out of the planet, the mob barely noticed.  They were busy polishing their new cars.  Most remained zombie-like cheerleaders of the wonders of modernity, and the beautiful future that laid ahead.

This baffled Ehrenfeld.  Nobody <bleeping> cares!  The poor lad apparently suffered from a devastating incurable mental disorder known as critical thinking.  He was a sick pariah.  Humanist culture has zero respect for hopeless nutjobs, defeatists, misanthropes, oddballs, and doom perverts.

Ehrenfeld shrugged.  “Evidence is growing that the religion of humanity is self-destructive and foolish.  But the more it fails, the greater our faith in it.  We imagine that what we want to happen is actually happening.” 

He was not a misanthrope.  He didn’t hate, distrust, and avoid humans.  Actually, he was an “anti-humanist.”  He detested the ridiculous mass hallucinations — the enthusiastic celebrations of human genius, and the wondrous technological utopia that we have brilliantly created.  We are so lucky to live in the spectacular gushing orgasm of the entire human experience!

Ehrenfeld noted that pure anti-humanists were rare.  Most folks who know how to read have spent their entire lives in fanatical humanist cultures.  We’ve been constantly absorbing humanist ideas for years.  They have deep roots in our minds, and a strong influence on how we think.  It’s sort of pleasant to imagine that we’re on the path to a better tomorrow.  Progress will wash away the pain.

On the other hand, having read a pile of anthropology books, it’s clear that wild folks who lived undisturbed in their traditional way, in their ancestral land, tended to be enthusiastic and shameless anti-humanists.  They seemed to be nearly unanimous in perceiving civilized folks as being absolutely batshit crazy!  How could people be so stupid?  How can they have no respect and reverence for the natural world?  Why are they so aggressive and selfish?

Ehrenfeld wrote that a general rejection of humanism is now long overdue.  It won’t be easy.  Blind faith in humanist hopes and dreams remains strong, and the insanely furious war on the family of life rages on, and on, and on.