Friday, January 17, 2014

On mountains, wolves, allergies and tough questions.

The pithy Latin saying Homo Homini Lupus has been much quoted, most famously by Hobbes. Man is a wolf unto man.

The saying is usually meant to state that people are both predator and prey of each other. Not that long ago fear of wolves was an entirely justified part of the collective psyche. Must re-read Fernand Braudel. Must not get side tracked.

In our city centered culture few people have to deal with predators directly. There is an irony there: because most of us live further removed from Nature, we can afford to take the more holistic view. In the beautiful phrase of Aldo Leopold, we can afford to think like a mountain, precisely because we no longer live on one. 

For those unfamiliar with Aldo's essay, it starts with a young man shooting a wolf, confident that killing a top predator will result in more deer for human hunters. Instead the shortage of wolves leads to an overpopulation of deer. The herd ends up "dead of its own too-much" after destroying its habitat. 
"I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer."

We must remember that the wolf keeps the herd healthy. I once read an aboriginal story illustrating the same point. The Creator has granted the People their wish, and there are no more wolves. But the old and sick caribou no longer get culled. In time the herd sickens and so do the people. The wolves have to come back for the good of all.

Medical science comes up with ever more ways to keep weak and damaged individuals alive. 

CBC this morning had an item on a child with life threatening allergies to eggs and dairy. The mother accuses the school of not doing enough to accommodate her child. The words 'discrimination', 'inclusion', and 'rights' were bandied about.
A blog on the proper use of the word discrimination another time.

The mother wants a ban on the offending foods. No child in the whole school must be allowed to bring a cheese sandwich or any food item containing eggs, for the sake of protecting her fragile girl. The school is already peanut free.

Of course one feels for the family. Of course one understands that the mother is doing what any of us would do for her child. But as a collective, where do we draw the line? What about the rights of a struggling single parent to send her child off with the cheapest protein, which happens to be peanuts?

As a society, we must start tackling some thorny questions. We must dare to at least discuss certain topics without fear of being associated with past horrors. If we are wolves to each other, some of us may end up with the task of deciding when to let herd health take precedence over the care for the weak individual. This is not a position to be envied.


troutbirder said...

Most thoughtful. Perhaps because I'm a retired hunter I'm not a big fan of PETA. But then I despise the NRA crowd....

Ien in the Kootenays said...

PETA stands for People Eating Tasty Animals.