we don't need to change how we do conservation, we need to change why we do it


Marvel has just released a movie called Black Panther, and this has got a lot of people, myself included, very excited because it introduces a whole new genre that invites us to imagine far futures for cultures and races that, at present, appear only as tokens of ‘diversity’ in white male dominated science fiction. Black Panther presents us, for the very first time in mainstream media, with unapologetic “Afro-Futurism”.

But how far among the cultures of humankind can we extrapolate this trend? Where for instance does hunting and gathering belong in any future worlds, or off-worlds, with highly advanced technology? What does human hunting mean even today, ecologically speaking, when we use high powered rifles with scopes? What will it mean fifty years from now when supremely un-Natural hunters enter the bush with flying drones, sophisticated sensors, and heat-seeking projectiles?

I am painfully aware of the implications of this website’s “non-interference with Nature” message for many indigenous cultures; cultures that are, by definition, grounded in a very long tradition of living “as one with Nature”. This troubles me especially as I think about the many young people who suffer the physical and psychological effects of historical disadvantages; and who, as a remedy, are being encouraged to re-engage with and reassert traditions that seem to support the sustainable harvesting of wilderness. Ultimately, as a life-long student of ecology, who believes in a very different kind of future, I would rather encourage a new generation of indigenous youth to engage with technologically sophisticated methods of “containable” human development (greenhouses, stand-alone power plants, etc.), and I would even submit that this Extremophile Choice is ideally suited to the very conditions found on remote reserves. I also can’t help but think it would be especially appropriate if those cultures that benefit least from mainstream corporate economy, and that have the deepest connection to our human origins (giving them treaty rights to vast expanses of undeveloped land by the way), are also the first to get on board with this view of our human-natural future.

But the problem of integrating tradition and vision remains. For most of us, subsistence hunting and gathering would appear to be a defining element of many indigenous cultures, and yet such unopposed “harvesting” is becoming harder and harder to justify in a high-tech, heavily populated world even now. How then do we imagine a far future for the Anishinabek, let’s say, if there is no future for hunting and gathering? How do we tell a story in the genre of indigi-futurism?

Without getting into the details of The Extremophile Choice hypothesis, I can offer a less technical, more intuitive, reason to be optimistic about the future of indigenous cultures. We can start with the simple truism that no philosophy of humans and nature, and in fact no believable vision of the future at all, can be complete without acknowledging the need to stay in touch with the past. And indeed, at the speed we are now moving into the future, with ‘rootlessness’ becoming increasingly problematic, and scary, we are likely going to need some powerful ceremonial practices to keep us in touch with our roots. Some limited re-exposure to our human deep past—to Nature religion (literally re-ligation)—may turn out to be critical in the far future after all.

And here’s the real key to Indigi-Futurism. The phrase, “keeping in touch” has special significance when we talk about hunting, because our adaptations to hunting go literally “deeper’ than our social adaptations: they show up in the human body itself, in the structure of our feet, legs, hips, wrists, arms and shoulders, which are designed for endurance running and for throwing torque in the application of stone-headed spears to kill less methodically persistent prey. If knowing who we are is the most powerful guiding light in our cultural pantheon, our re-ligation, then learning where our bodies came from is surely important for navigating an uncertain future.

So how would hunting as ritual differ from hunting as livelihood? Imagine a small hunt-camp of Anishinabek “monks”. But in this scenario, the reserve/monastery is meant only to contain hunting-gathering activities so they do not disrupt larger tracts of true wilderness. It is not meant in any way to confine Anishinabek activities within the human sphere. This is a simple extension of The Extremophile Choice shift away from the paradigm of rewilding conservancies within a technological world and towards that of technological reserves within a Natural World. (I’ve argued elsewhere that this is the only long-term practical way to ensure species conservation in the face of human political caprice.) Crucially, we must expect that our small hunt-camp will require a far more rigorous discipline than we generally find among modern day hunters—Anishinabek or otherwise—both in its religious and in its ecological duties. The hunter/monk must be as committed and as well trained as any religious devout. But beyond this basic requirement, the hunt-camp/monastery should also be available to guest/retreatants who then might experience, and reaffirm in a direct way, their original interconnectedness with Nature. Notice also that none of this monastic affirmation need subtract from the broader Anishinabek culture; which, in the absence of subsistence hunting, in adapting to the latest non-invasive subsistence and outreach technologies consistent with The Extremophile Choice, can modify or retain any social elements it likes.

It is an inevitable consequence of technological history that the primal life-and-death intimacy between humans and other animals can no longer be experienced today in a complete and coherent way, except perhaps through the many and varied Nature religions of aboriginal cultures. It is no small matter for species conservation then that these cultures are themselves losing their integrity. But the matter also touches human issues well beyond species conservation and the revival of these beleaguered communities. By formalizing Nature Religion, as a biological compass, to stabilize the unwieldy, and often scary, cultural shifts we are experiencing today or as we are likely to experience in the future (such as The Extremophile Choice), today’s fast-paced technological world might yet regain its roots.

Do we have here the sci-fi back-story for indigi-futurism?

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