Don’t fence people out, fence us in!

Le Monde Diplomatique ran a good article last week entitled “No More Elsewhere” which crystalised a thought that had been rattling around my brain. According to LMD it was a Frenchie named Paul Valéry who first wrote of this back in 1945: The world is finite and we are only just coming to terms with this.

Prior to the 20th century the majority of people lived fairly isolated lives. Most were illiterate and so could learn only from those they met but most did not travel far from home. Those that did considered the places they visited as exotic and different. Whether one was English, Chinese or Moroccan one didn’t think that people on the far side of the globe had much impact on one’s life. There were still great areas of unexplored territory, not only subjectively by this nation or that, but objectively by virtually anyone. The industrial revolution was built on the idea that there was an endless store of natural resources which could be exploited for the good of humanity. Coal, iron, cotton. Industry was about collecting stuff, processing it and using the resultant “products” to underpin a new society.

Our vision of the world was infinite. Perhaps Paul Valéry was the first to see that this vision was outdated but, to my mind, what really finished it off were two things: Cheap air travel and The Internet. Prior to the 1940s there were very few foreign travellers in any part of the world. Today teenagers from everywhere travel everywhere. Not for a once in a lifetime gap year but routinely on annual holidays. Even 15 years ago I was surprised to hear people in mundane super market check outs queues say they might visit Vietnam this year. Vietnam!!! Really!!!?? Vietnam!!!

But of course even Vietnam is now passé and one must go to Laos. Like everything that is easy destinations become something to sneer at and set onceself above somone else. Where should one go? Torremolinos gives way to Thailand. I visited Myanmar a few years ago and biked around the fantastic stupas of Bagan but now Bagan is like everywhere else; crawling with people like me. From the way people accept this as normal I realise that I am something of an oddity. I consider this sort of thing fantastic but also absurd and disturbing.

It is the next generation who have a complete change of mind set. The tragedy is that, while every generation challenges the ideas of the previous generation, they accept the world they inherit because it’s all they know. Whereas my grandparents (born at the start of the 20th century) considerred the world a vast and mysterious place, anybody born at the start of the 21st century considers it normal to view the entire surface of the earth on a small screen kept in their pocket! That the same technology also allows governments and corporations to monitor our entire lives, with the obvious tendency toward control, is ignored because our “lifestuyle” (ugh!) depends on such technolgy.

Perhaps we’re seeing a challenge to this paradyme with Extinction Rebellion but, while they have put ecology on the political agenda, planet Earth is no longer a mystery; it is a system to be understood and brought under control. The LMD article ends by suggesting that we need to “establish global authorities” and this is an attitude which is gaining ground. Ecology campaginers like George Mombiot dismiss fears of overpopulation and instead offer a vision of a world ever more controlled and ever more effiicent – Perhaps we do need global authorities. And Artificial food. And tighter regulations. And the fencing in of “nature parks”. It might work. But adopting authoritarianism to control a planet infested with humanity is a dystopian vision and not one to pursue by choice.

A preferable vision of the future is not to fence in the rest of nature but to fence out the infesting species. A preferable vision is a world with a drastically reduced human population and the planet given back to nature. Pockets of humanity, along with their homes, farms, mines, factories and machines all sealed off behind a wall while untamed nature allows the other animals to enjoy the planet we share. At least when citzens of such a world visited the wilderness it would still hold some mystery.

It seems impossible now but the first stage is to have the vision.

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