Shooting the breeze.jpg

Shooting the breeze

THROUGHOUT THE history of mankind, stories have been told giving birth to legends, and sometimes even hardening into commonly accepted historical fact. Some are remembered, others forgotten; but the action of having been told alone, signifies that a degree of interest existed both for the teller and at least one listener.

People love a good yarn, a truth born out by the millions of novels sold each year. I have just finished John le Carre’s The Constant Gardener. It deals with love, idealism and Western pharmaceutical multinationals. The latter stand accused of carrying out trial experiments with new drugs on socially disadvantaged Kenyans, with the connivance of several governments, in a classic capitalist conspiracy scenario. Africans die, Europeans get rich and richer, while aid organisations are powerless to intervene.

This week, I read in the newspaper that the same thing is supposedly actually happening in Nigeria. Not a headline, just a small article on page 17. That doesn’t surprise me after the recent furore caused by similar experiments carried out on student volunteers in England, with disastrous results. In Africa, no one can complain and death is cheap, often the preferred option to a miserable life. The front page of that day’s newspaper concerned itself with the illegal embalming of Princess Diana’s body following her mysterious and fatal car crash in a Paris tunnel. We live in a callous world in which the truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Even the animals are starting to see through human machinations, recognising zoos and nature reserves for what they really are: concentration camps for the mute and disenfranchised, staging posts on the road to extinction …. The acceptable face of a genocide that has been waged on a species alien to our own for centuries.

It appears that elephants have started attacking humans in revenge for these years of abuse; and who can blame the gentle giants? A study has found that experiences such as poaching can leave permanent mental scars, causing disruption to family groups and thus rendering young animals incapable of forming normal bonds. Basically, post-traumatic stress is brought on by ill-treatment at an early age. Look around you – does this sound vaguely familiar in a different context?  

A research project, conducted in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, has found that the practice of shooting so-called problem elephants, common among wildlife managers, leads to feelings of revenge being developed among remaining family members, bringing about the very real possibility of initiating a cycle of violence. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, not dissimilar to the same condition found in humans, is characterised by neurological and behavioural changes.

In Uganda, poaching has slashed elephant numbers in the Queen Elizabeth National Park by 90 per cent over the last 30 years. Now, only 400 animals are remaining, a third of them under five-years-old. Many herds have lost their matriarch and make do with inexperienced “teenage mothers” who have raised a generation of juvenile delinquents. As a consequence of the combination of these factors, villagers in Bunyaruguru, bordering the park, are too afraid to travel – a herd of elephants knocked down huts and garden plots, while regularly blocking the road to the nearby township of Katwe. The attacks are not new, but were in the past put down to the animals competing for food and land as a result of population explosions or human encroachment on elephant territory.

Latest research indicates, however, that these increasingly violent outbreaks can be directly linked to the premature separation of young elephants from the family tribe, setting free aggression in terms of the aforementioned scenario. Elephants have a long childhood and an even longer memory, just as we do.

The Luddites of tomorrow

A recent survey has shown that Britain is seen, from within and without, as the country with the highest incidence of anti-social behaviour in Europe. It also leads the divorce statistics and has a soaring rate of single and teenage motherhood. The role of the patriarch, it seems, is surplus to requirements. Is it any wonder then that today’s youngsters are revolting and going on the rampage? Can you see the parallel between the earths’ ravaged animal kingdom and the disintegration and decay of our social fabric? And this is only the beginning.

So far I have only referred to one aspect of the chaos that is irreversibly gathering momentum. We are producing a whole generation of traumatised outcasts at odds with their lives and society in general, unable to adapt or assimilate, lacking in education and therefore opportunity. This sub-group’s existence swells the ranks of those already forming an economic underclass, in a world that is constantly widening the chasm between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.  

A small minority of obscenely rich people will find it harder and harder to keep a huge majority of poor people under control, necessitating ever more totalitarian methods, eventually leading to a police state type Western world. Inevitably, a revolution will be the result. The Luddites of tomorrow will seize what they want and need, destroying all that remains in their path. The elite will hide in high security compounds akin to many already in existence in South Africa, surrounded by a temporarily lawless urban jungle. The result? A retrograde civilisation, anarchy and technological overkill – a culture that has grown dependent on sophisticated electronic machinery that no one can maintain or repair.

In time, the situation will give rise to powerful new ultra-religious sects absorbing the disillusioned and lost, waging war against Arab, Asian and African hordes, aspiring to that which has long been lost elsewhere. A meltdown of the global structure and status quo, as we know it, will come about, a new beginning, a cycle that will eventually repeat the previous one. This is a vision, at this point a fiction, but, nevertheless, a story that could very well turn out to become fact – fortunately long after our lifetimes. Society, and above all, individuals, must act now. Change can only come from within and today – never from above and certainly not sometime tomorrow.