I took this photo in Tanzania in 2019 as the vehicles descended on a group of lions.
This morning I read this article which described the aggressive tourism that is increasingly occurring around the world and its impact on wildlife and the environment.
What really resonated was the feeling I’ve had over the last week as I’ve wandered around the walking tracks of the Three Capes in South Eastern Tasmania, expensively curated with kilometers of duck-boarding, hand rails, safety signs and idyllic viewpoints of the need to keep the humans out of the wild and on the tracks.
I last bushwalked in Tasmania forty years ago, in the days where tracks were tracks, huts were huts and the Franklin Dam Blockade was in full swing around Australia as a whole. I trekked around Tassie with friends, one of whom knew most of the Greenies manning the blockade and who hailed her as we approached on our tourist boat on the river. As a contrast our other friends were those who were working as engineers in the mines and sternly warned us to be very careful about everything we said, particularly when drinking in the Queenstown pub! And we had to take the No Dams stickers off our backpacks.
Memories of those days of the freedom to travel and the freedom to protest were brought back when I watched Franklin the movie which I thought gave an excellent overview of the key political issues of the time which saw the birth of the Green movement in Australia and clearly portrayed both the history and how the various players in the game behaved. The Franklin River was saved, a national consciousness about environmentalism was awoken and Tasmania’s place as a wilderness destination was cemented in our consciousness.
The uniqueness of Tasmania is not just in its natural environment but also in it’s creative scene, the most obvious of which is the Museum of Old and New Art, MONA, where, since 2011, gambling millionaire David Walsh has created his dream museum of quite literally whatever he wants. I first visited MONA shortly after it opened and this time, a decade on, as I wandered around I had a very strong feeling that I was in something akin to West World, and that every step I took, every swipe i made on the MONA App I made, and every cursive glance I took at a piece of ‘art’ would be captured and analysed by Walsh and his curators to tweak my behaviour and that of others as co-exhibits in the museum. It was a delicious – if slightly unsettling – paradox of who / what was observing who / what for whose enjoyment?
This feeling mirrored the one I had walking along the duck-boarding of the Three Capes despite the fact that at MONA I was in a man-made museum.
I spoke to some friends in Tassie about these experiences realising that this is happening everywhere around the world. The reality is that in the age of the Anthropocene it is we homo sapiens that have become parasitic in our behaviours greedily consuming not only things but experiences as we seek to entertain ourselves and reconnect somehow with the natural environment. Therefor, in order to protect that natural environment, which often includes the lands of first nations’ peoples who lived in balance with it for millennia, it is imperative that modern humans be herded, guided and quarantined, allowed to ‘look but don’t touch, but always at a safe distance. I felt this very keenly as I wandered along the duck-boarding, read all the warning signs and was gently chastened by our guides as I stepped too close to the edge of the cliff. I felt a long way from Rousseau’s State of Nature regardless of how free I think I am.
Saving me from myself and saving nature from me.
As a corollary to this is the state we’re all in at the moment, certainly in Western societies, where the serendipity seems to be disappearing in our lives. No longer is it as easy to just rock up to a restaurant and have a meal, or decide to visit a museum or go on an adventure. Just like the curated wilderness we now need to download the app, pre-book our tables and guarantee with a credit card, and pre-state our food allergies or preferences. Again we are being herded and shepherded in to a predetermined experience where some of the surprise and adventure is actually removed in order to give us something that we can trust, that we can know we’re being taken care of and can participate safely from a distance.
My 21 year old self would not quite know what to think about all of this (let alone my parents and grandparents!), but it is all predictable and people have been describing this emerging world for a long time … the Club of Rome, The Matrix and E. M. Foster’s The Machine Stops. We humans are very good at denying the need to change, but also incredibly successful at adapting to it and the next few decades are going to present our species with a greater rate of change than anything in our recorded history. We will see more pandemics, more extreme weather events, more forced migration, more inequality, more autocrats, different conflicts, and more technological change than our intellectual systems will able to cope with. We will see more stress, more anxiety and more apathy, combined with many feeling a sense of loss and enormous amounts of grieving.
But we will also seen unprecedented opportunities to truly change the way humanity lives on the planet (hopefully to benefit not just us but other species we share it with) and a profound redefinition of what humanity actually is.
As we at Intersticia begin our second decade there is much to ponder about who we are, what we do, and how we can constructively contribute to the skills and capabilities of 21st Century Stewardship for the sake of those we serve not for ourselves. We need to ensure that we can stay above the maelstrom and not fall in to the trap of the Red Queen Effect but work to more fully understand the systemic changes from the perspective of the interstice where everything is possible and there is no benefit of falling in to the default of good / bad; right / wrong but realise the advantage of seeing things holistically and systemically and understanding humans as part of the broader Gaia system rather than a parasitic virus that needs to be taken out of it.
2023 is going to be a very interesting year.
(Illustration by Sir John Tenniel from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, 1871)