Why I Care About Humans
Choosing a title for this collection of musings proved a trying task. I finally put my paw down and chose “Memoirs of a Culture Stalker” because culture is always elusive. It cannot be caught, but leaves many signs of its going. Further, culture is also dangerous prey, a complicated chimera with many parts. Some of these are benign, others beneficial, and others malign. Stalking culture is therefore dangerous, and the stalker must be careful at all times to keep its quarry in sight. Chasing culture is chasing a rainbow: it is chasing something that exists outside and within at the same time.
Set the stage. You are a person living in a college dormitory/residence. Sometime each morning, you awaken and feel compelled to sit up. Do so. Assess the world around you. Since you occupy physical space, you have to be somewhere. You already know when you wake up that you are lying in bed. That bed is not on the floor, is not made of plastic, metal, or straw but of a mix of natural and synthetic fibres and wood held together with metal screws. Alarms sound in your head. After rewinding your brain, you recall that the alarm is coming from a clock. Tuesday. Unlike a tiger, you are diurnal and walk and eat under the sun. Breakfast is taken on a table, dead and not alive, usually barely resembling the plants and creatures used to make it.
Two hours, at most, have fled since you awoke. Not a single minute, no not one, has been free of human culture’s footprints. Perhaps you sense where I am leading and protest that you could have been on a wilderness retreat, a hermetic journey into a great old-growth forest sentineled by oaks and owls. There, you might think, the stalking ends and your quarry no longer leaves its trail. However, even there the trees are not without names, the sounds of the owls reach human ears, you leave footprints or shoeprints in the ground. When there is no name for a strange insect, you describe it as red, blue, short, long, spiky, good, loathsome. Isolated from others as you might be, you were born of a mother and learned your language, and cannot escape human culture.
Human culture is not merely inward or merely outward. That is, culture cannot be limited to a song, a style of dress, a word, a book, or a method of building a bed. Culture does indeed produce those objects, but culture is not only a set of things. From within the depths of your mind, culture envelops all thoughts, all dreams, all motions, the very way you see. What do you look at? What do you find beautiful? Perception is, in some sense, everything we have. We know nothing that we cannot perceive in some fashion, not with any level of certitude. This is why culture is so important: it is everything around us, and everything in us. Culture is humanity. As a tiger, humans are important to me because they are hunting my kind to extinction, squeezing us out of the world and turning us into their own cultural objects.
Where does the dodo live today but in human culture?
Soon the tiger may exist only in the imagination, in pictures, and in stories. This is why I spend all of my time contemplating and recording these matters. For you, culture is in everything. Interpreting the universe is the work of the human. No other part of creation is capable of doing this, save for the occasional sapient tiger.
Songs on the radio are not accidents. They are made with a purpose. It is the solemn and joyous work of this tiger to help you learn the language of why. Why was this made? Why is it the way it is? Why do I reject or embrace it? This does not mean removing joy, fun, or the immediate enjoyment of the song. It does, however, imply that such reactions are incomplete, that there is meaning in culture and that not all of it is good–or bad.
To borrow the motto of a human writer, we swim in interpretation. Tigers are better swimmers than humans, but we don’t let that get to our heads. Let’s swim together, not drifting in the current or wasting our time pretending we can still go back to shore.