it, help it along, protect myself from its storms and try to cause
I know there are others who feel this way, and I know there
are those who don’t. It is not a position to be argued from. I
don’t want to try and convince you if you’re not already convinced. If you don’t feel it, you don’t feel it. I do, and I can’t
argue it away.
But here’s my suggestion: this feeling is not an awkward
and embarrassing stumbling block in the way of a rational assessment of the reality of ecosystems. It is not something to be
ashamed of, not something to be dismissed as romanticism or
religion—both curse words in the culture we have made. It is
something else. It is an old, animal intuition that has served
humanity for millennia, from the caves at Niaux onward. And
here, perhaps, is the crux of the matter: those of us who do feel
it — well, we have a duty. We have a duty to talk about it, openly,
calmly, incisively, without recourse to pseudoscience or the
alienating language of established religions or New Age cults.
Why? Because this sense, that nature is somehow sacred,
is widely held across cultural and national boundaries, and is
a potentially powerful defense against the intellectual assaults
of the New Gods, for whom the world is a workshop and wild
nature is a collection of parts to be fitted together in whatever
order they fancy. It seems to me that believing, and confidently
stating, that nature has some intrinsic, inherent value beyond
the instrumental gives us a reason to stand back from the temple, not to enter it, to leave it undefiled.
Is this irrational? Very well, then: it is irrational, but it is no
less true for that. The de-extinctors would have us believe that
we are already gods, already engineers of life, that nature is
gone, the wild is dead, the only future is their beloved “
Anthropocene.” But they are wrong. Humans have radically changed
much of the earth, and we control much, or try to, but we have
never stepped over this threshold before. We have never under-taken the widespread creation of new lifeforms, and the consequent, inevitable elimination of wild nature.
THERE ARE TWO WAYS of looking at a mammoth. In the Black
Chamber we see one. In de-extinction we see another. Which
are we going to choose? Spiritual teachers throughout history
have all taught that the divine is reached through simplicity,
humility, and self-denial: through the negation of the ego and
respect for life. These are not qualities that our culture encourages, to put it mildly. But that doesn’t mean they are antiquated;
only that we have forgotten why they matter.
It seems to me that recultivating values like these, rather
than building toy mammoths in laboratories, is the more use-
ful response to the current crisis of nature, which is at root a
crisis of civilization—a civilization that has lost sight of any
values beyond the quantifiable and the anthropocentric. At this
stage in history, we should at least try to find the words for what
is so plainly missing. This is not an indulgence, but a necessity.
I think there is something in the Black Chamber that we still
need. Science cannot locate it, and art can only circle it, inquir-
ing. For ten thousand years we have built our own domes in
search of it. Now that we have killed God and raised Progress
in His place, we only seem to need it more.
The animals on the walls are the animals in our minds, and
neither have yet faded from view. Stand and look at them long
enough and we may begin to grasp what they meant and why
they matter. Refuse to look and they will stay asleep, like Arthur’s
knights under the hill. But unlike Arthur’s knights in those old
legends, they won’t rise up to save us in our hour of need. Nothing will rise but the roots and tendrils, growing over the remnants of our projects and our wishful thoughts, as they have
done so many times before. And the bison and the ibex will still
be there, deep in the rock, waiting to be found again. A
Support writing by Paul Kingsnorth and other important voices
of our time by making a donation to Orion. Go to www.orion
magazine.org/donate. Thank you.
Mandarin Ducks and
After the painting by Itō Jakuch , 1716–1800, Japan
When one dives, separate from her mate,
death is mere illusion.
She peers through water, assuring this.
When the crippled reeds rehabilitate, begin
their constant arc toward spring,
pain seems impossible. So distance. So change-of-heart. From above or beneath, how
a body will twist, intuiting fear
and replacing it with here-ness, exhibit of
faithfulness. Wordlessly saying, Be not afraid,
Beloved, for the present exalts us!
— Paula Bohince