The Horror Story

(Part 1 of ‘After Attenborough: A Science and Myth for People Born of Nowhere.)

We all have stories we believe. Stories shape how we understand this world. Stories guide our imagination as to what is realistic. What is viable. What is possible. The infamous Christopher Columbus was familiar with a story. The story that the Earth is round. With this story he imagined that if he sailed west from Europe, he would reach East Asia. If he had imagined the world was flat, then it is unlikely he would have taken action to sail across the Atlantic. Columbus did not know he was going to encounter a continent in between Europe and Asia. A continent full of peoples.

Settlers from Europe followed. One story has come to define what happened over the following few hundred years. A story that did a lot of heavy lifting to justify these settlers actions. The story was that these peoples of the ‘new world’ were stupid savages. They did not know how to care from themselves, they did not know how to care for the land. They were barely human, let alone civilized.

Stories justify what was and is possible. If you believe the story that your host is fundamentally inferior to you, then you can justify having stolen their land, having forced them into residential schools or murdered them when they resisted. Stories define what we allow ourselves to do, to go along with. They set our horizons and justify our actions, curating what we imagine is possible and how we imagine what we have done and are doing can make realistic sense.

When you believe a story of any kind, whether religious, scientific or a fairytale, ‘the subject’ of a story looks a certain way. If you pick up another story and apply it to the same subject it opens different possibilities. If you keep adding more stories the options multiply and diversify. By contrast if you keep trying to explain life with one original story or solve problems with the same story you will keep imagining the same outcomes, the same world. Hence, if the only story you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.

Having been born into the social order of empire I have the possibilities offered by the story told that justifies this order. And the story of Nature, whether science or myth, is a very important story for justifying empire and my journeys through it. If you assume the story of Nature then it does not matter how many reimagination workshops you go to, or how many new environmental policies you make, or how many direct actions you take: you will just be repeating that story – a horror story – over and over again.

And when I talk about the story of Nature, I am not quite talking about what academics call Cartesian dualism, the division between Nature and Culture, and the canon of literature dedicated to analysing how this division is constructed and harmful. I am also not talking about the story of Nature according to the primitive logic of ‘nature good, people destroy nature, people bad’. Instead the story I am telling is a living story of Nature – how this story is alive today and how its killing us. My belief is that sharing this story may afford something more than a hammer, to help people born of nowhere find the world – myself included.

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