Sunday, July 5, 2015

Wolf Quest Part XV: Closing Thoughts

The wolf quest about was an experiment, like most of my decisions. I prefer to be surprised from one day to the next and culturally I’m disloyal. I don’t see what other people see in society. I see chaos leading toward the destruction of everything I built. The prospect of living long enough to see everything I participated in either destroyed or underwater can only be ignored for so long. But it’s inevitable so unless I’m really amused by an activity or challenged or entertained, then it’s all academic, history in the making. Human development is too messy for me, too haphazard, chaotic, too much error and too little trial. I recognize that there is no pause button, but there is also no immediate demand for recklessness. That can be avoided, but the tradition is to leap before we look, and the science suggest that has doomed the planet. So, it all comes back to the debate about what can be salvaged from an self-destructive society? Can anything be salvaged? Why? Why salvage anything, any custom or technology? Destroyers of Planets are rare phenomenon so we all need to pay close attention to what is happening around us so if future genetics retain our memories then there’s a chance humanity will develop a collective fear, and that fear will be strong enough not to test.

The current environmental situation demonstrates Ayn Rand’s premise concerning the objectivist philosophy is flawless as long as humanity is flawless. And it’s flawed exactly in the same amount as humanity is flawed. I don’t mean fundamentally flawed because I figure all animals are fundamentally normal, but flawed in the sense of how many mistakes we make. Her philosophy is more of a mental game than practical solution to life. The game was to create a philosophy that would be flawless as long as we accept the premise of a flawless humanity. And since humanity begins flawless and then corrupts over time then Rand is actually making a statement about the process of corruption that turns flawless people into Communists/Altruists. And that was exactly her intention with her attacks on Communism. She wanted to demonstrate that Communism was the philosophy that corrupted flawless people. In the process she created the opposite of Communism philosophy. Communism might be defined as a social acceptance of flaws, so the “less flawed” must assist the “more flawed”. That’s an “Oggy-style” definition but I like it because it cuts out all the messy economics. Socialism accepts flaws in people and strives to balance social power by requiring the sacrifice of the less flawed for the benefit of the more flawed. See? I haven’t been getting enough sleep so my mind is working in odd circles. Who can argue against the Communist argument that some are flawed so can not contribute as much as others, but they should not be penalized for their flaws, nor rewarded, but simply aided? Equality is not a complicated ethic but Ayn Rand turns it into “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” which isn’t the same statement. It’s a similar statement, but it neglects to highlight the source of the ‘need’ and the source of the ‘ability’. I think Stalin used this statement in his propaganda, but I would point out that Stalin was a mass murdering lunatic so why would we need any extra encouragement to denounce his proclamations? We don’t. Stalin was a good tyrant and dictator, but he was not a good representative of Communism although in Rand’s time he was still honored in Russia, so I can’t blame her for going on the attack. These days we are quick to expose dictators and turn them into villains. But Stalin won some allegiance in America at his height. I’m meandering off course, and I repeat that I haven’t been sleeping lately as the doctor froze my face with liquid nitrogen. I’ve been haunted by ghosts. My point is that a good polarization of humanity might come down to the acceptance of flaws and the mitigation of economic inequality…or the acceptance of flaws and the refusal to mitigate economic inequality. Rand doesn’t deny that some people are flawed, but she simply says that isn’t the concern of people who are not flawed. Her argument goes further than that but if you boil it all down the residue is simply that each person is a separate entity, we are not a collective of organisms, so one is responsible only for oneself. If you’ve ever chewed on Ayahuasca vine or drank peyote then you know that Rand is full of shit; not only are people one organism, but all matter is a complex collective organism. Go ahead and drink some mescaline…you’ll see what I’m talking about. But if we accept Rand’s assertion that we are not a collective organism then she has a point; why should the less flawed sacrifice for the more flawed? The easy answer is that if they don’t then eventually there will be a climate apocalypse…and another answer is that they will eventually have the top 1% of people owning more wealth than the bottom 99%. Mind you, this Randian Utopia isn’t realized in a remotely pure state, the percentages of less flawed people never changed, and the top 1% of wealthy did not earn that wealth purely based on their talents. No, it’s a false distribution with some of it based on authentic talent but most of it requiring extortion, exploitation and also the exportation of costs to either future generations or undefended nations. As soon as that happens then you have an immediate disintegration of Rand’s Utopia and her philosophy enters the realm of hypothetical. What actually exists in the world is mindless and reckless exploitation of flawed people by other equally flawed people. The question is simply who will sacrifice the future in order for a brief profit in the present. And the easy answer is many, many people. The future, in Rand’s present  utopia, never comes, wealth exists in a bubble and does no harm. But what if it fixes energy prices and depletes teacher’s retirement funds? What if that wealth doesn’t evaporate, but remains in the flesh and blood of the corrupt? Should not the owners of that wealth demand it back?

That day will come either before or after the climate meltdown, which is the subject of this final essay on my Wolf Quest. My objectives were to raise awareness about the plight of the Arctic Wolf, whose habitat is not only changing, but is under attack by oil companies. So, the very industry that is causing the climate to change is also seeing to change the climate more rapidly by finding oil where the wolf is living. I have no doubt that this will happen, that oil exploration and recovery will continue unabated until it’s confirmed without a doubt that oil exploration is the cause of all the climate problems….at which point oil exploration will actually increase because of the demand for energy to mitigate the climate problems. See, we’re all going to be forced to double down on the climate erosion in an effort to stop the erosion. There will be no time to develop alternatives that not only replace the oil but are more advanced and efficient and effective enough to reverse the climate erosion. It will not be a question of ceasing the destruction, but we will need to reverse the destruction and heal the climate. Imagine giant CO2 scrubbers that are powered by solar panels. Yes, that will happen one day, but those scrubbers will first need to be powered by nuclear or coal or natural gas. And as long as the scrub more CO2 than is required to power the scrubbers then it’s a net gain. Eventually we will embrace the difference between true cost and deferred cost. Right now, Gasoline should cost $14 a gallon based on the actual cost…so about $10 a gallon is being deferred until later. Considering how much gas is used that’s a gigantic debt being pushed into the future. And the likelihood of being able to reverse the climate degradation grows smaller and smaller. Eventually the social stresses overwhelm the mitigation efforts. Or maybe the manpower required for human powered CO2 scrubbers will require the sacrifice of millions for the future. I don’t know.  A species that captures Orca and dolphins for circus acts is so loathsome that it’s not very evolved.

I’ve drifted from the Wolf Story because I’m trying to circle it and see it from all sides to make sure I didn’t skip anything. One day I might edit the footage into something but it’s mostly an odd home movie that doesn’t have enough character interest. Otherwise, I won’t revisit this topic until the reckoning is imminent. I don’t want to ignore the possibility that the climate erosion was merely a ruse to justify more self-destruction. This is definitely in the realm of a manic OCD gypsy adrift in modern America. I was once talking about this quest and I said, “I’m going to find the white whale…I mean wolf.” And we both stopped because maybe I had revealed an inner motive like a land-locked Ahab. This is also possible, this desire to redeem myself for my past suffering by risking life and limb to hunt down my nemesis in the form of the Arctic Wolf. All the climate rhetoric is my self-promoting nonsense. I welcome all analysis but the one I want to highlight is the wolf’s precarious position on Ellesmere Island, and the demand for sensitivity. I do think the life model we should following already exists and is no mystery, but has been marginalized by Rand rhetoric. I do not think technology will be a permanent answer and I know that reckless development is guaranteed disaster, so I have concluded the opposite path should be embraced, the way of the wolf.

 I landed in Nova Scotia in early Fall, the peak colors were well behind me and my plan to drive slowly south with the season was complicated by the fact I had run out of money back in Goose Bay. I was living solely on credit card debt and I had calculated the exact amount of cash I would need to pay the minimum balance off every month while still increasing my debt. It wasn’t much, but I had to go on a strictly debt economy in Nova Scotia. I only spent theoretical wealth from then on. I did hunt for a job harvesting fall vegetables like beans and fruit like Pumpkins and apples, but I fate didn’t cooperate. The few farms I went to were solidly filled with itinerant harvesters. Furthermore, I didn’t have a work visa so everything would be under the table, and since Canada is slightly sane this was not in the best interest of the farmer. They preferred to pay taxes and insurance and pay a low wage to the men in the field, than try to pay me higher amount but risk an immigration fine. There was absolutely no worker shortage so the risk outweighed the benefit. Furthermore, I looked like I had recently stepped off an Irish refugee famine ship, my pants were torn and my hair was blowing all over the place and I had to wear a belt and also suspenders to keep my pants up. So the chances were good I’d pass out in the field of beans and die, which made me even less attractive as a worker. They all passed and hunting for work was costing me future earnings so I gave up and drove south, after playing some guitar at a fiddle jam session that was a mix of a hoedown and an Irish pub. North Sydney, Nova Scotia does host a Celtic music festival in the fall but I didn’t have any money so I drove south through the peninsula.

Even the fact I was broke and driving a 43 year old van with two speeds and leaking windows could not diminish the enjoyment of cruising through Nova Scotia in the Fall. It’s almost delightful enough to justify the carbon emissions.

My immediate destination was the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park. The sailor in St. Anthony was from Nova Scotia and told me that they had Arctic Wolves at that park, and if I didn’t get to Ellesmere Island then I could at least see an Arctic Wolf in a cage. So I tracked down this park a bit north of Halifax and parked my van along with all the other weekend adventurers, mostly families with excited kids.

This park has birds and mammals…the cages are like a normal back yard. An Arctic Wolf can travel 80 miles in a day during hunting season and this cage was about 70 meters long and 15 meters wide. But these wolves were simply pacing back and forth, the males separated from the females. Who am I to project my call of the wild nonsense onto these wolves. Living on Ellesmere Island involves chasing baby Musk Ox, eating lemmings, no shelter, totally at the mercy of the elements and fate, kill or be killed. And in the park the wolf could sleep all day and food was guaranteed at regular intervals, humans were the caretakers and maybe the wolf prefers it. Or maybe the wolf is filled with grief and longing for The Wild. I don’t know what was going through his wolf head because he’s a wild animal who has adapted to every climate on earth, was the most widespread mammal on the planet at one point and who lives in harmony on Ellesmere Island, innocently believing the land is off limits to oil exploration.

I sat near the cage to let the wolf know I was there to watch him but he paced the perimeter of the cage and lay in the grass, sniffed the chain link where the female wolf next door had rubbed against. If I could see the wolf in the light of the moment then there was no danger, but I know the series of events that are being set in motion will lead to an extermination of wolves on Ellesmere Island. Maybe they’ll be relocated to Nunavut, considering there are so few, and the wolf would adapt…some of the wolves would adapt. But should they be relocated for our energy demands? Are they less important that humans? What ethical standard allows us to relocate other animals, to cage them for display, to destroy their habitats? I explored this question for 3 years and the narrative isn’t pretty, doesn’t have a happy ending, may not have raised any awareness about wolves. My story about traveling back from the future to save the wolf amused me and a handful of others but it was short-lived. It takes many people to create something like Borat and I feel I got what I deserved by recruiting exactly no one to help with this project. Either the project was flawed or I failed to sell it. Another way to put it is the world gets the film projects it deserves and in this case it didn’t deserve a documentary about a time traveler searching for wolves in Bell Bottom pants.

As I was getting ready to leave a girl walked past the cage with her parents.

“Look, look at the white fox!” she said because the signage was not at her eye level. It reminded me of the end of “Old Man and The Sea” when a tourist mistakenly thinks the devoured Marlin is a shark. The girl moved on with her parents, who eyed me suspiciously, and then the wolf stood up in anticipation. Then a train whistle blew in the distance, probably a coal train on the way to a Halifax power plant, and the wolf’s ears perked up. The wolf stretched his neck up and howled effortlessly. That’s what struck me about the howl, how effortless it is, how natural and elemental. Wolves don’t struggle at anything, they are comfortable in their fur, long limbed, flowing, and this wolf’s howl was no different. He howled because he thought the train might be another wolf and soon one or two other wolves were howling so this small ceremony lasted a minute or two and then the sound of the train whistle could no longer be heard and the wolves began their pacing of the cage perimeter again. I packed up my camera gear and walked back to the van to reflect.

Life moves on…with or without the wolf. There’s certainly an argument to made against reckless development that alters the climate, but case defending it has won on the strength of pragmatism. The immediate demands outweigh the likely future hazards. Immediate survival has always relied on the latest technology, and now that technology has surpassed the tolerance limits of the Earth and we’ve not yet adapted. Thus is the world and thus have we made it.

I finished a snack in the van as a cold evening wind blew from the north. I decided to walk back into the safari park since I had come so far, but it was closing and the gate keeper said it was too late to allow people to enter. I didn’t argue or explain how far I’d come to see the wolf, or that I only wanted to see the wolf one more time, because that really didn’t concern the safari park employee in Nova Scotia. I simply nodded sympathetically and walked back to the van, started it up, and checked a map for the roads to the Bay of Fundy. I knew I’d eventually try to drive to Guatemala from Nova Scotia but my immediate needs were fixing the transmission (accomplished in NH) and getting a job to fund my trip south (A lobster processing gig).

I’d like to say I could still hear the long howl of the wolf as I drove out of the parking lot but the van makes too much noise. I have to wear ear plugs so all I could hear was the throbbing of the engine as I hit the road heading east.

This short video seems like one of those with a bleak, "Please donate to help abused wildlife park animals" narrative, but I simply could not find a way to get footage without the fence in the frame. Yes, the animals are caged and separated by sex, but they are not abused beyond the indignity of being on display all day long and living a life that barely resembles their kin on Ellesmere Island. If it bothers you that wolves are kept in cages then consider what is happening to the wild wolves of the Arctic. Those wolves will have their habitat invaded by oil exploration and they will be shot as 'a nuisance". That's classic propaganda: these wolves are so far away from humanity that I failed to reach them after three years of effort, but their habitat will eventually be invaded by energy company employees with almost unlimited resources and the wolves will be shot because, gee, the wolves might attack someone. Like, "...we were just minding our own business, drilling for natural gas on this remote peninsula of Ellesmere Island, an area that has been uninhabited for 4 billion years, 4000 miles from the nearest light bulb, when suddenly a wolf came running across the tundra. What else could I do but shoot him?"

Thanks to George Winston for donating the proceeds from his Autumn album to wolf awareness causes. 

Here are links to the installments of the Wolf Quest

Creative Commons License
Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.