Wild Ones: Looking at people looking at animals in the Anthropocene

Wild Ones

Maybe you have to believe in the value of everything to believe in the value of anything.

This is reminiscent of Einstein’s famous dictum that

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.

And of blind Gloucester’s response in King Lear to the question of how he sees the world:

I see it feelingly.

Wild Ones: What an obscure endangered butterfly teaches us about parenthood and being human – Maria Popova’s review of Jon Mooallem’s new book, Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America, Brain Pickings, May 16, 2013:

In the introduction, Mooallem recalls looking at his four-year-old daughter Isla’s menagerie of stuffed animals and the odd cultural disconnect they mime:

“[T]hey were foraging on the pages of every bedtime story, and my daughter was sleeping in polar bear pajamas under a butterfly mobile with a downy snow owl clutched to her chin. Her comb handle was a fish. Her toothbrush handle was a whale. She cut her first tooth on a rubber giraffe.

Our world is different, zoologically speaking — less straightforward and more grisly. We are living in the eye of a great storm of extinction, on a planet hemorrhaging living things so fast that half of its nine million species could be gone by the end of the century. At my place, the teddy bears and giggling penguins kept coming. But I didn’t realize the lengths to which humankind now has to go to keep some semblance of actual wildlife in the world. As our own species has taken over, we’ve tried to retain space for at least some of the others being pushed aside, shoring up their chances of survival. But the threats against them keep multiplying and escalating. Gradually, America’s management of its wild animals has evolved, or maybe devolved, into a surreal kind of performance art.”

All observers are participant observers. In the language of second-order cybernetics, all observers are observing systems (Heinz von Foerster), i.e. they operate on the basis of observations, and at the same time this is how they construct their observations: Observing systems observe observing systems. First-order observations observe phenomena. Second-order observations observe observations, especially how they are constructed.

The problem is that at the moment of observation, we cannot observe our own observation. In other words, we can only see what we see because we cannot see what we cannot see: Existence is selective blindness.

The eye can only see because of its blind spot, which it cannot see. Every observation has a blind spot. What is Jon Mooallem’s blind spot as he observes people observing animals? What are our blind spots as we observe Mooallem observing people observing animals?

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