The term “she-wolf” has always seemed a strange distinction to me. Have you ever seen one? Same size and ferocity as a “he-wolf” to my eyes (although nobody says he-wolf), and I imagine if either of them were trying to chew my liver out, I wouldn’t really care if they had a penis or not. Human men and women were like this once too, until very recently in human history. The other day I viewed some footage of Andaman Islanders at the point of “first contact” with civilisation and saw the truth of this. A woman and man, clearly partners, walked naked towards the camera with warning in their eyes. They were side by side, both equally muscled and magnificent. There was no inequality, conflict, domination. There was a confidence and power they each possessed that made me ashamed of what I had become. I felt like a labrador looking at a pair of dingoes. This got me thinking about domesticated dogs, men and women and civilisation, and I started writing these ideas down.
All dogs (including dingoes) are descended from wolves. They used to be wolves, until people caught them, confined their young, trained them, selectively bred them, retarded their brains and bodies with behavioural conditioning, torturing them into the slavering, drooling, stupid “man’s best friend” we see today. This is the domestication process that civilisation perfected on animals, and then later applied to us. We have all been reduced and deformed into the shapes that this self-destructive system needs to sustain itself. Men have been made into lesser beasts, like pit bulls or terriers. Women have been tortured into far worse forms however, as poodles and a wide variety of strange lapdogs. Male and female, we are all unrecognisable from the equally formidable wolf-like beings we once were. We are now shrunken, weak and divided. We did not do this to ourselves, just as we did not destroy our habitat through some kind of naturally self-destructive genetic defect. It is not people who are inimical to the planet, but the civilising systems that enslave us. This age should not be called the Anthropocene, but the Civilocene, or perhaps the Corporatocene.
Our domestication stems from this system they call “civilisation”. Ask anybody what that word means, and they will probably talk about technology, arts, culture, rule of law. But those are things produced by any human community, so what actually separates civilisation from village life or tribal societies? The distinction is simply this – while a village or tribe lives self-sufficiently off the resources of its own bio-region, a civilisation depends upon the importation of resources to survive. Further, the average village remains at a sustainable population of about 150 people, with a stable economy that is able to survive in perpetuity, trading with groups from other regions in a balanced economy of equal inputs and outputs. A civilisation, however, has an economy of unequal inputs and outputs that demands constant growth or it will collapse, and therefore needs an exponentially expanding population to sustain it. The resources needed for this cannot be provided on the homelands of the civilisation itself, which become degraded and lifeless very quickly. Therefore, in order to secure the resources needed for constant growth, the civilisation must take over other lands using either economic or military aggression, or a combination of both.
In any civilisation, the plundering of foreign lands for resources and the murdering and enslavement of people that needs to occur for that plunder to take place requires an illusion strong enough to sever the visceral ties that humans have with land and spirit. Without those ties, we are free to do harm and destroy ourselves and everything around us. We are trained to accept this illusion through the altering of our most core relationships, particularly the one between man and woman…
…we have come to regard the depradations of what we are calling the Anthropocene as a somehow normal, natural part of being human. This is why we call this epoch the Anthropocene, rather than the Corporatocene or Civilocene. We have been brainwashed to believe that it is in our nature to be destructive, that our plight is our own damn fault. Water shortage must be due to our selfish washing and drinking, not the ninety percent of water use by big industry and agriculture! And even though most pollution is done by these same big corporates, surely it is all our fault for not recycling enough of the relatively small amount of waste our communities produce?
When we question our condition, we are told that things have always been like this. That is a lie. Things have not always been like this. We did not evolve with soft skin and vulnerable eyes and massive brains by being stupid and warring with each other, enslaving each other, destroying our habitat. We have not survived for half a million years or more by abusing and dominating and confining our women. We were something else once, not too long ago. Do you have the courage to remember what came before civilisation? It’s not what you’ve been told. My old people tell me what it was like, as they still hold the memories of that time. It was wonderful. The working day was no more than three hours long, and that work consisted of the things that people do for leisure now – hunting, fishing, collecting, cooking, craft.
Communities that do not carry a memory of this freedom and abundance find it hard to conceive of a time when the fish were thick in the waterways, the skies dark with flocks and trees heavy with fruit. Endlessly productive grasslands, pastoralist living, a life focused on spiritual development, ceremony, intellectual pursuits and relationships. This no longer exists, and it is actually not possible to return to this way of being immediately, as the resources needed to sustain it are depleted. It will take a long time to regrow these natural systems and the cultures that sustain them. The ancient Law of our old people has been kept, will continue to be a constant thread held by our Indigenous communities until land and people are healed enough to live those ways again. Until then, a long-term transitional culture is needed.
Make no mistake; this is a time of upheaval and transition. It will last for a long time. We will not be able to switch to an abundant lifestyle connected to land and knowledge and each other immediately, due to scarcity and remnant structures of capital that will continue to deny humans access to their habitat, while wilfully attempting to destroy the last of that habitat. Even with a complete collapse or dismantling of this system, the natural resources will not exist for a long time to support a return to any kind of paleolithic paradise. For the longest time, people will need to be putting back far more than we take. In this culture of transition, where we and our children and children’s children pay the bill for our “civilised” antecedents, we will need cultures, pedagogies, languages, ethics and economies that are grounded in reality and the basic laws of existence rather than the fantastic illusions and agendas of a disconnected elite minority. We need frameworks of being that will allow us to move away from the placeless, uniform, nationalised identities we currently inhabit (also the incipient globalising identities creeping into our hearts) and then reclaim local or regional realities grounded in the land-bases that support us. We need to begin designing those frameworks now.
To return to the metaphor of wolves and dogs; our collars are chafing some of us right now, as we look over the fence we are chained to and wonder what is left for us out there. Is it even possible to reverse this devolution and become the beings we once were again? Probably not. But there is a chance to become something else just as vibrant and brilliant and true as the wolves we once were. As with all transformations of this kind, we must begin with a time of flux, of transition and upheaval. These new ways of transition for the Anthropocene era must be genuinely demotic and organic and responsive in their design. As such, the work is fractal, beginning with the core relationships in our lives, getting those right and spiralling that pattern outwards into our societies and knowledges. This will require shedding the illusory romance of civilisation and reclaiming a foundation of true love. When we know what that is again, when we heal the recently fabricated rift between men and women, then we will know what we need to do. This rift is the most basic unit of our domestication, and we need to end it.
I think about dingoes a lot, and the old people give me story to understand them. Around seven thousand years ago they were brought here as domesticated pets, traded from Asia. They made a hell of a mess in the ecosystem initially. It wasn’t their fault that this happened. As they adjusted to their new reality, once freed from domestication, they did not return to their original wolf-state, but became something else altogether – the incredible native species we now know as the dingo. They took responsibility for the species they had destroyed and took up that niche in the ecosystem, those stories and song-cycles in the Dreaming, healing the habitats they had damaged, over time. They adapted into something wonderful, real and connected, alongside their other uniquely placental relations on this continent – the humans. This is a sacred relationship and a Dreaming of cycles of birth, death and renewal. True transformation. I want to make sure the same kind of transformative Dreaming is available to my descendants. Don’t you?