Running Wild

By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   June 6, 2023

To most of us, Civilization is where it’s at and – as a general rule – any alternative is less preferable. The alternatives can be categorized either favorably under the heading of “Nature,” or unfavorable ones beneath the label of “Wilderness” – or “Desert.” From childhood I have known that the ancient Hebrews, after escaping bondage in Egypt, wandered and worshiped in the desert for forty years. What I could never figure out was just how they got those warships into the desert.

No doubt you have frequently encountered the idea that “civilization” can be equated with taxation, the earliest taxes probably having been imposed to pay for schemes of water distribution. In fact, by the relatively recent era that we call biblical times, it was apparently taken for granted that people (including Jesus and his family) would travel long distances in order to pay their taxes. What seems remarkable to me is that much or most of the inconvenience, not to say hardship, that all this involved seems to have been undergone voluntarily. We are of course talking about times long before modern record keeping and law enforcement, which even now fail to catch and punish all the evaders. But does this mean that people were more law abiding then than now?

Still, taxes continue to be as notoriously unavoidable as death. And one other idea that many of us have grown up with is that there is something unholy about taxation without representation – as if taxation with representation were otherwise O.K. The truth is that, in this democratic federation of ours, representatives from thinly populated states like Arizona are heavily outnumbered in one half of the national legislature by those from populous states like New York.

But what else does Civilization have to define it, if not to recommend it? An unbiased observer might say that it has, or should have, peaceful ways of resolving disputes. In other words, “Law and Order.” And yet most of the great wars of the past several centuries have been between and among what might otherwise have been considered highly civilized societies.

The notion of a single world government, however, only seems to raise the prospect of more, and more terrible, civil wars.

So, what about the alternative fate for humankind – some kind of retreat from competitive technology into a more “natural” state of simplicity and weaponless mutual benevolence?

There is much evidence of a planet-wide movement towards what might once have been called barbarism. If enough people escape from Civilization, it will no longer exist. But that seems unlikely, and in the meantime we have legally regulated hunting, camping, archery, kayaking, tree-felling, and any number of other pursuits now engaged in for pleasure which can be traced back to our non-regulated ancestors.

Jack London wrote an extremely popular book entitled The Call of the Wild, which has the theme of our essential savagery – only, the hero is not a person, but a dog. This animal grows up in very “civilized” circumstances in California, but then gets taken north as part of the Klondike Gold Rush (which the author himself also experienced). The book ends with the dog falling in with a pack of wolves, which of course represent his own primitive ancestry.

But you don’t have to go to the Arctic or thereabouts to find specimens of tame creatures who have gone wild. In fact, your own backyard, unless it’s securely fenced, may often be visited by one or more of them. Of course, they are dogs and cats – particularly cats – who may once have been somebody’s pet, but who have been able to get away from their owners, with or without permission. (Many cat owners allow their felines out to roam, assuming they will always return to the place where they are fed – but my wife always considered this one of the greatest of sins.)

The term for the wildest of these homeless animals is “feral,” and in many communities whole organizations exist of cat-lovers devoted to dealing with ferals – whom they distinguish from “strays,” depending on their degree of human contact, or “socialization.” One problem they present is their unlimited multiplication.

Some of these groups, opposed to taking lives unnecessarily, as has been the policy of most “humane” organizations, make it their goal to capture these ferals, sterilize or neuter them, and then release them again to the wild.

But many of us still prefer the image of Tarzan, becoming part of a feral community of apes.  


You might also be interested in...