There is a tiny zoo in Bamako where I would go with my little boy on lazy sunny Saturday mornings, to see the animals and to get some toddler-walking practice; a rare escape from the house in a poor place with few options. Now normally I am not a fan of zoos; I get no pleasure out of observing the caged – the enslaved – which is why I suppose I’ve never been to Cuba, even after the ‘opening’. But this zoo, run by the Aga Khan and managed by western zookeepers imported ‘to work and keep’ them was somehow an oasis; in a poor land that is perilous for animals a zoo can be a sanctuary too.
Poverty. Poverty is the greatest threat to our natural world. Wickedness can be manipulated to our benefit, evil can be made to capitulate, but mindless pounding poverty knows no reason and entertains no solutions. “Poverty is the greatest polluter”, as Indira Gandhi once said. The other day NBC News published a bizarre little article, titled Science proves kids are bad for Earth. Morality suggests we stop having them. Now this train of thought is not new – NPR, NYT, and other culture warriors of misunderstanding have been pushing hard this un-idea for some time now. And it isn’t wrong, that humanity does the most environmental damage. Their reasoning is of course Petitio Principii, a fact that escapes them – though that should not come as any surprise; their argument is akin to saying ‘There would be plenty of food and no famine if people weren’t around to eat all the food’. In the circular nihilism of modern thought I suppose this represents an ‘aha moment’, a solution of sorts. Forget that we are concerned about animals because we are alive; and that if we weren’t alive animals might be better off; but that would not assuage our consciences because – well because we wouldn’t exist and therefore would have no consciences in the first place to be assuaged. What struck me most about this article was its appeal to morality. Putting the issue of the existence of children as an existential fight between right and wrong, they then went further, “Several years ago, scientists showed that having a child, especially for the world’s wealthy, is one of the worst things you can do for the environment.”
Um, say what?
It’s immoral to have children; and more so if you are rich… Immoral; moral – it is more moral to not exist than to exist. Which then begs the question “Why do we exist at all, if doing so is immoral – if indeed we do exist in the first place?… and since the environmental degradation we cause proves our existence (sort of, Descartes…?), as an existing entity I am either the result of immorality (I was born) or a perpetrator of immorality (I have a little boy), coming as both I and he do at the expense of the animals.” Now we are sailing upon troubled waters indeed. Naturally after the “Do I exist?” question is taken care of, the “Why do I exist?” issue becomes the greatest of all problems, and as such requires an answer, one which obviously must extend beyond the nihilistic ‘morality’ of the unenlightened because “I exist in order to cease to exist, for the benefit of the environment,” is also a bit of a mess. Thankfully, this is what theology and philosophy and the ideas emerging from very beginning of recorded thought are for. Ideas which our know-nothing generation are singularly ill-equipped to entertain, but I digress.
I’ve started a new devotional with my little boy, who is older now, little toddler legs giving way to a little boy mind that asks questions, o so many questions. We are in Genesis, “Where was that garden?” he asked of Adam and Eve, “And what were they doing in that garden anyway?” That question, formulated by a mind innocent of NBC and NPR’s un-philosophy – a place of modern ‘un-thoughts’ where bias and prejudice rule supreme as alternatives for actual ideas and real history – is the right one. So what is the answer? Because it has an answer, it must have because God cannot have put them there in order that they cease to be there, “We were put in the garden to ‘worship and obey’” I told my little boy. A better translation from the Hebrew (and the Greek) make it even clearer, we were ‘placed’ or ‘set’ in the garden by God “to work it and keep it”. Whether you believe the story of Adam and Eve is literal or allegorical is irrelevant; we are on the earth as the original gardeners and gamekeepers.
Then of course ‘the fall’, sin, murder and slaughter and civil war; NBC and NPR – and the messy story of humanity.
Back to my time in West Africa. There are no animals left here – an area much larger than the continental United States. They were not taken as trophies, big game hunting is actually a net positive for preserving the species (oh, I’m not a hunter – but people respond to incentives, and the fees charged for one large kill serve to fund hundreds of rangers who protect the parks from uncontrolled poaching or poverty’s degradation). No, in West Africa they were killed off because they were a nuisance to the subsistence millet farmers; because the pots of the hungry were empty. They were murdered in the endless civil wars; for food or massacred by mindless guerrillas in ungoverned spaces, an orgy of death and blood.
Accentuating this point; the last time to my little Bamako zoo was the day after the terrorist attack on the Radisson. Somehow I knew it would be my last time there; that things would change, that I would never be allowed back – the jihadis who permit no small pleasure to exist outside the radiating hate of their politics wanted to take away even the simple morning walks with my son. I often think about this little zoo. Has it become a death camp of the imprisoned, like the zoo in Caracas has (mindless poverty resulting from un-ideas not too different from NBC and NPR)? Or has the Aga Khan continued his labor of love “working and keeping” his garden of the lost animals of West Africa, until that time as humanity remembers why were put here in the first place?
I surely do hope he has.