Monday, 4 June 2018

Wise Words: The Way Of The Wild

Philosopher Mary Midgley, in Beast and Man, describes how Western societies have considered beasts to be lawless and savage, yet studies of animal behaviour show the reverse: that animals lead highly ordered, “lawful” lives. Take the wolf. They are, writes Midgley, “by human standards, paragons of steadiness and good conduct. They pair for life, they are faithful and affectionate spouses and parents, they show great loyalty to their pack and great courage and persistence in the face of difficulties, they carefully respect one another’s territory, keep their dens clean, and extremely seldom kill anything that they do not need for dinner.” In folkloric terms, the wolf is used as an emblem for lawless cruelty, in contrast to humans. The truth, argues Midgley, is rather the reverse. People used to flay wolves alive in medieval France. Do wolves ever flay people alive? Do wolves flay wolves alive? Humans are more cruel to one another and to animals than any other creature, but humans have projected onto animals their own savagery. 

For much of the world, for most of history, Nature was Law—it was the way people organized morality. For indigenous people, Law is in the land and nature is anything but lawless; rather there is a profound core of order within wild nature. “I am the Way,” said Jesus. By contrast, all nature-based philosophies have seen that in Wilderness was Way. American anarchist Murray Bookchin comments that the term Way is universal to all early communities, meaning ethics, rituals, a sensibility and lifeways, as well as universal meaning, an eternal order that rules everything: the sun, the moon, plants and animals, all of nature.

… Wilderness,  nature, freedom and law are all part of this Way, not in opposition to it. Wildness—complex, free, beautiful and only apparently chaotic—is part of a larger, deeper order.

(Jay Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey, Penguin: London, 2006, pp. 274–275)


  1. i often ponder: when and why did humanity (or at least so much of humanity) mentally extract itself from the rest of nature? one might think that instead of "homo sapiens" we might be "homo narcissistus"...


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