Heard of the Cultural Cringe? As someone who is half English and half Australian I have an inkling of what it is about, a cultural inferiority complex derived from colonial times when “Colonial” culture was looked down on. Gladly those times are gone (are they?).
Thinking about George Monbiot and the Re-wilding debate – with his branding of current conservation practice as “The conservation prison” and “The Naturalists who are terrified of nature” started me thinking – is George suffering from a conservation cringe?
Is this actually all about feeling an inferiority complex about other countries which have “wild nature” whatever that is, that have rich and complex ecosystems full of – well charismatic megafauna – Lions, Tigers, Wolves and Elephants, to name but a few. I think it might well be.
The truth, whether sad or not, is that we live on a small island that was scraped almost nature-free by ice and floodwater just an Augenblick ago in ecological and geological terms. When nature returned, so did people – people who had most likely already killed off some of those megafauna who never came back (Mastodons, pigmy hippos). People who immediately set about transforming the British landscape long before the Neolithic farming culture arrived. The Wildwood? A romantic fiction. Mesolithic people used fire to create hunting chases to kill off yet more megafauna. Mesolithic People cut down the forest to build houses and fishing platforms.
Yes we can all look to the Tropics and wonder at their unrivalled biodiversity – but then places where evolution has continued for millions of years without being scraped away by ice would be much richer and more complex, wouldnt they. We can make up stories about how “natural” these places are, although these also hark back to Colonial times when the natives and their impacts on those landscapes were an inconvenient truth to be ignored or denied. We can all dream of that prelapsarian Eden and get out the psychic scourges to ease the pain of The Fall into the purgatory of a world where humanity has become the greatest invasive species of our time (all time?).
OR we can accept what has happened, what has been done, by us. And we can try and think about a new path that brings humanity back closer to the rest of Nature, celebrate the Semi-Natural and develop a new understanding of our place within Nature. I think I would prefer this approach, partly because it is rooted in reality – and involves less psychic masochism.