One of the great killers, leading beyond mere death into extinction, has been the fragmentation of biological communities. Our networks of communication and trade have cut through its living fabric, reducing undisturbed remnants into scattered scraps too small to maintain abundance and diversity. A death by a thousand cuts. Not as dramatic as harpooning whales or poaching elephants or clear-cutting rainforests, but this has been where the day-by-day work of death-dealing takes place, destroying our ecosystem across vast swaths of entire continents. Its signs, like another dead opossum or flattened skunk on the road, so commonplace as to pass unawares.
Enclosure is the historic term for a great push in this direction. A movement beginning in England and then spreading through Great Britain and then out across the world. Connecting habitat fragmentation to enclosure begins to make a connection between a movement intended to enslave a rural population to the ambitions of a new economic and political elite with a wider form of destruction. This was a culminating triumph of the Age of Reason. A drive to rationalize the world, to rape its bounty, to funnel it into the hands of those willing and able to overturn any previously held compunction towards the sacredness of the physical world. Those ready to put their wildest desire ahead of everything had discovered the power to finalize their conquest.
Something we have pretty much forgotten and that I discovered in its most striking and direct form reading Warren Draper‘s essay on the Luddites and Enclosure in Dark Mountain 2, was the way that rural populace – not in Uganda or Indonesia, but in rural England, just up the road in the counties around London, spreading to the North Country – was systematically removed from the land and stripped of their traditions, connections, crafts, and any mutual support they may have been able to provide themselves. They were turned from farmers and craftspeople into workers.
This, at least at first, was such an unimaginable transition that the men had to be “shown” how to do it. They had to be impressed with the “seriousness” of their new masters. Gangs, for that was what a randomly selected gathering of men taken out of the context of their traditional lives were reduced to, were set to digging ditches without a purpose beyond breaking them of their autonomy. Ditches flooded so the men could not stop bailing them out or they would drown – for ten, twelve hours without rest. Their human, animal, instincts to remain within proportion, to do no one thing in excess, had to be bred out of them. Their master’s mania had to be internalized. The rush of greed demanding these new workers toil ceaselessly as if their lives depended on it. With no respite and no place to rest. No place to live.
A place to exist was provided. The growing slums and the first factories were not places anyone moved into willingly. This was no March to Progress but a rout into desperation.
And now we’re all discovering where this has taken us.
Again, there are much more dramatic elements in our social disintegration than the sheer isolation and lack of place we have been reduced to. This collision; social disintegration on top of a biological, ecological, one; is acted out each time an animal attempts to cross a road.
Some drivers feel the need to warn their fellows, “I brake for Animals!” Such a departure from the norm needs a warning sign. What’s normal is a studied blindness, a passive-aggressive paralysis. What it takes to run over a turtle on the road, to fail to slow down – or stop – when a creature hovers hesitantly on the verge. How can we recognize their plight without admitting that we share their fate?
This entire mania to destroy a living world to appease desires without bounds hits us all with the force of our own fragmentation, our own isolation. Fragmentation extending deep within each of us, tearing our awareness from its roots in our own animal organism. Internalizing the forces of violence and abuse so that we become our own oppressors. An isolation we feel extending deep within our own skins.
Violence rends the fabric of life wholesale.
Healing proceeds one small step of reconnection at a time.
Isolation can be repaired.