Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

When the reprieve is over, what then? - by Nick van der Leek 

The whole world is on a kind've Football inspired hiatus from its problems.  There is a bizarre sense of entitlement to this reprieve, as though we are entitled to a holiday from problems that are our own making.  And then we go back to work, making problems again.  

The good news on the local front is, of course that Jackie Selebi has - GASP - been found guilty of corruption.  That it took 4 years and millions in taxpayers money to find something wrong with a police commissioner hanging around with a convicted drug dealer provides a glimpse at just how far down the rabbit hole of delusion we already are.

In fact during my recent thousands of kilometres long journey through the wilds of the Kruger Park I recognised a distinction that apparently separates us from the animal kingdom.  In the wild every animal has a niche, and this niche has been carved out over thousands and more years.  A giraffe has its place, which differs from a rhino and an elephant, which is different from a kudu and then smaller antelope, all the way down to the hare and the tortoise.  Then there are other animals that have rules of an order of magnitude that are entirely different.  The owl, the crocodile, the aarvark and the porcupine, the leopard.  What's fascinating is how far apart some of these animals are.  One eats ants, another specialises in snakes, another in a particular antelope etc. Then there are all manner of beetles, spiders, butterflies and moths, and don't get me started on birds. All in all, each creature fits into a niche and stays there, does its thing and the system works. It's called balance.

Of course, in the world of human beings, there is no real ecosystem other than rapacious and pernicious consumption.  This isn't even healthy for most human beings, who are commonly unfit and fat, fearful, unhappy and if not depressed then paranoid.  Most pursue wealth, and even ordinary wealth separates the haves from the have nots, so that those who have have a great deal more than they need.  In other words, they have an excess of stuff.  More than enough space, more than enough tools, food, clothes, and often sexual partners and other possessions.  The have nots suffer deprivations associated with lack of food and personal security along with many other scarcities. including lack of access to clean drinking water.  Many just have no idea what the hell they are supposed to do with their time - this applies to the haves and have nots equally.

While some of the depredations and internecine conflicts among human beings may seem barbaric, there is a certain amount of similar activity between other higher level predators.  Lions wipe out competitor prides, and in the case of Chimps, other 'tribes', usually luckless individuals, are 'murdered'.  In human systems it is not always a case of competition that prompts predatory attacks.  It is greed, yes, but something else more sinister often lies at the root of more heinous crimes.  Lack of social cohesion and no sense of place breeds loneliness.  And in a world deprived of real meaning, where value and sense is imbued into things [rather than relationships] it is easy to go from being being functional within a system to being outside of it and immediately dysfunctional and unable to cathect with an apparently uncaring society. In a world where things are found to have greater value than people and creatures similar to yourself, it is easy to begin to treat people with less attachment that one might treat material objects. 

More important, in the manmade world there doesn't seem an easy answer to finding one's place in the world - as a human being.  Perhaps you could argue that one's job description - if one is employed - answers this.  But I am not certain that it does.  In fact jobs seem central to the problem - that we pursue and are paid to pursue profits, even if these are wildly out of balance, out of sync and beyond common sense.

Right now we're seeing a few convulsions taking place as the human component is forced to realign with some of the laws of nature.  Science and technology can take you far, but certain laws, like the law of gravity, will always apply, no matter how rich and important you may think you are.
Energy is one of the most important challenges facing us today.  How we grow our food, how we get our food to ourselves cheaply, and how to prevent our food from becoming increasingly poisonous.  When energy is no longer cheap, this begins to send critical shockwaves through any population.  In this sense, the human population is no better, no different to the plight other creatures face.  Eventually, nature catches up.

I'm told by a farmer that we can expect very high meat prices - lamb and beef - due to the high amount of aborted foetuses caused by Rift Valley Fever sweeping through local food stocks. This is due to catch up to us in September, when these meats are due on supermarket shelves.  At the same time, tomato crops have failed all over Limpopo.  There are also intermittent warning signals coming in from dairy farmers.

When you have a species like ours that apparently operates beyond the rules, that can increase its population on and on without a backward glance to how this relates to the environment, then these various signals -mostly in the form of food price inflation - can become hard to hear or even comprehend.  And one of the prime problems with this lack of social hierarchy, is that no one is charged with the task of looking after our collective interests.  For our mutual benefit it has to be added.  Perhaps that is God's job.  But certainly we have not appointed any authoritative custodians to inform us of our impact and the consequences of our actions - and if we have, we don't pay any heed to them.

Meanwhile, the entire front page of the The Star [June 29] is dedicated to theft – everyone from the new police commissioner, to his deputy, to the ex-president, minister of correctional services, the previous finance minister, the former deputy president, you name it – has been a victim.  The World Cup has been a temporary reprieve from this uninterrupted news-stream designed to bring about depression and cynicism.  But with the World Cup over, Kruger offers constant escape into a world that is pure and good, cruel but also kind.  I am more and more convinced that escape is the only sane way to deal with our current convulsions.  Nobody is listening, all are distracted, and geared towards either stuffing themselves, saving themselves or simply trying to survive - as individuals.  

When the reprieve is over, what then?  I think the answer is rather obvious.  When a reprieve comes to an end, things worsen again.  What did you expect?

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