The Landscapes of Fear

I’m learning the term on an episode of NOVA , “Nature’s Fear Factor.”

I’d heard the story of how it was first studied, the wolves in Yellowstone took some prey, but changed all the prey’s behaviour and protected some of the plants the prey eats, restoring the habitats in Yellowstone in a way that surprised us all, but I hadn’t heard any theory around it.

Now that I have, it’s clear that it’s exactly the same argument I am making about humans, that there is more to life and evolution than selection. There is now the landscape of fear as an established evolutionary fact and factor rolling out across the world of animal biology. Perhaps that’s the simplest way to say it, or aspect of it, although I haven’t heard Sir David or I guess Elder David (Suzuki) say it, that apex predators serve to protect the food of their prey, maybe preventing extinctions, and certainly acting as a control, as they point out.

I hadn’t had the roundness to put “acting as a control” in context before; one needs to hear the details at least once, the nuts and bolts of it, I suppose. If I’m being kind to myself.

The picture of elk eating and so controlling willows and wolves eating and controlling them, it’s organized enough . . . but then, do the apex predators control themselves through their territoriality and antisocial ways, yes they do, wolves and bears and lions and such do appear to serve this function on their own species as well, fending or killing off the other wolves before all the elk are gone, just as they fend or kill of the elk before the forests are gone. Of course you know where this is going, of course that’s us too, our only control on ourselves is us.

I guess this is a call for war and death, because it seems in that function we have failed, let the world down and given up any control and allowed ourselves to drive all the prey to oblivion. It would be if I were that sort, but I’m not so I will point out that control and death are not synonymous and humans show an amazing capacity (for animals) to control themselves by another means, namely birth control. It is inconvenient that we tend towards traditional forms of control and resist this method, as a social animal somehow, as an antisocial one, we find advantage in ourselves breeding uncontrolled and when we see a need for control we think we need an army of our own children to control some “other.”

It seems lions and I suppose tigers and bears all lack this social rule and follow the larger biological rule of territoriality and when even a mother bear’s cub reaches a certain age or size, it is subjected to this control: find your own space. In this way the world is not covered in bears and other things exist, there are still berries and salmon and honey in the world. I’m not saying we have to run game theory on our kids like they do – but we have to do something, control ourselves; we are the apex predator and we need to grow up and realize that no-one is doing that for us.

But we’re not just wrong or bad. This is happening, so there must be reasons. This is every animal’s, every predator’s world, none of it is new, so it’s not that we don’t have a strategy to control ourselves and not eat ourselves out of house and home. We have one, hinted at already, but controlling the other, in a larger, group game of territoriality has somehow morphed into breeding more and more soldiers on our own crowded territory in order to fend off the other and create some space. It’s an irony that tends not to leave anyone the time or peace in which to appreciate it.

My thing, my argument with the world is that we may blame that other, or our fear of them for everything, but this is our strategy. Their existence may be a “scientific fact,” but all this that we do about it is contingent, in Foucault’s sense, not written in stone. Birth control, again, the apparent alternative, is already sort of available. The problem with the old strategy, the group territoriality, is it has a dark side, an unconscious component that carries on uninterrupted and all of our conscious moral interventions simply attempt to mitigate the inevitable results of that less conscious behaviour.

I suppose the idea breaks down for us, because we have become our whole world in that way, humans are our predator, but also one of our prey. Perhaps the same reversal, our crowding inside our castles to try to control some enemy’s crowding of the habitat, means exactly the same reversal of the effect of the landscape of fear our predator selves creates, that our prey selves are not forced away from overgrazing, but forced into it instead.

I’ll wrap up, but I feel I’ve missed it, or at least that there’s more to learn from this newish idea. I expect I’ll be back to it.


Oct. 26th., 2020

60 today

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