“Let us consider some of the implications of the howling of living beings in this time of escalating death”.
This brief post-script is really just a rather breathless recommendation of Deborah Bird Rose’s book Wild Dog Dreaming, Love and Extinction. The author is one of the anthropologists cited by Graham Harvey in his Animism book. She, in turn, relates her discussions of the Dreaming or totemic way of being in the world, in which death and continuity are accepted as core aspects of life, to Harvey’s conception of animism. Her current work addresses ‘the degradation of humanity as a participant species in the community of life on earth’, and the ‘sundering of the life-death dynamic’ on which ecological flourishing depends.
Wild Dog Dreaming is a heartfelt discussion of the philosophical and ethical bases of human ecology. Rose is concerned with both human social justice and ecological justice. She reflects upon the colonisation that threatened aboriginal peoples with extinction, the persecution of wild dogs as a major reason why Australia currently has the highest rate of mammalian extinctions, the loss to humans of co-evolved life in the anthropocene era,, and upon responses to the holocaust -in particular Emmanuel Levinas’ essay ‘Name of a Dog’ that recounts how his work group in a Nazi prison camp was befriended by a dog.
Deborah Bird Rose considers cultural responses to death, firstly as a fact of life, “life is always making and unmaking itself in time and place”, and secondly, in the context of ‘man-made mass death’ that appears to arise from a uniquely human will-to-destruction. She approaches this through the concept of double death, and uses James Hatley’s notion of death narratives -stories that place death in a social (inter-generational) and ecological context. Stories can usefully illuminate human ‘death work’ that ‘cuts across life’s desire’, unmaking the beauty of the world. Rose asks ‘what if the angel of history were a dog?’ En route she draws upon insights from Old Tim Yilngayarri, an aboriginal clever man, Lev Shestov, Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, and Australian eco-feminist philosopher Val Plumwood, amongst others.
Deborah Bird Rose, Wild Dog Dreaming, Love and Extinction, University of Virginia Press, 2011.
See also the website of the Extinction Studies, working group, and a short VIDEO of a talk (including a wonderful story about Albatross bereavement – for an unhatched egg): In the Shadow of All this Death; Keynote Address to Animal Death Conference.
For other animists’ contributions on the theme of Death, see October’s Animist Blog Carnival, at Eaarth Animist
I wonder if it’s possible we’re the only species who consciously will death on other people of all types. Do you think predators think specifically in terms of food, or do they have a concept of needing to kill the animal first? What about two stallions fighting over a herd. Would they be thinking of getting ‘rid’ of each other to possess the herd or would they will each other’s death?
In the first instance I’d say that the animals I’ve seen kill things have made sure they are completely dead and not moving before either being satisfied and moving away or eating them. In the second case I’d say the stallions aimed more for injury and to make the other horse leave.
What do you think?
I suspect that a lot of the harm humans do to other species is more about an ability to dissociate, and disregard their needs, and feelings,e.g when destroying habitat (c.f military training that ensures dissociation from the ‘humanity’ of the enemy), rather than a conscious or specific will-to-destroy other species. Ref other animals, when I watched a female peregrine falcon catching and releasing her prey so that her two offspring could learn how to hunt, there was no mistaking her caring intention, despite the obvious ‘cruelty’ to the pigeon. She had a clear purpose in mind. Of course, when peregrines stoop at up to 200 mph and slash their prey with razor sharp talons, its hard to imagine how there could be any empathy involved. On the other hand, I recall seeing some film footage of a tiger killing a young deer. The act was instantaneous, but the cat then held her prey still for a few seconds, as though very much aware of what had just happened, almost as if waiting for the life to depart from the deer. Compare that with most human meat eaters, who rarely pause to consider the animal they are eating. My impression is that most other animals kill only what they need to eat? When a fox runs riot in a chicken coop, its presumably hoping to cache the bonanza, much as we do in our freezers? Food for thought!