Monday, December 31, 2012

Old Fashioned Family Planning

The bubble of cheap energy has enabled a sharp increase in food production, and a sharp increase in population.  All bubbles are temporary.  The coming decades will be a time of huge and turbulent change.  Food production is being threatened by rising energy costs, an increasingly unstable climate, unsustainable water mining and soil mining, and the growth in chemical-resistant pests, weeds, and pathogens. 
We are approaching Peak Food, while population growth continues.  It is most perplexing that population remains a taboo subject for polite conversation among friends and family, and among the leaders of the world.  We are choosing to let nature solve this problem, and she certainly will. 
For most of human history, family planning was just ordinary business — making common sense choices in order to encourage survival and stability.  It’s important to understand that the modern mindset is a strange quirk in the human journey.  In order to gain a broader perspective on our morals, let’s take a quick look at the history of infanticide in some civilized societies.
William Lecky wrote that the Greeks were devoted to the greatest happiness principle.  “Regarding the community as a whole, they clearly saw that it is in the highest degree for the interests of society that the increase of population should be very jealously restricted.”  Infanticide was considered normal throughout most ancient Greek civilizations. 
Infanticide was also common in Rome, during its Empire phase.  Lecky wrote that an ancient law required “the father to bring up all his male children, and at least his eldest female child, forbidding him to destroy any well-formed child till it had completed its third year, when the affections of the parent might be supposed to be developed, but permitting the exposition of deformed or maimed children with the consent of their five nearest relations.”
“Infanticide” means actively killing a child (drowning, strangling, poisoning, etc.).  “Exposition” means setting the newborn down somewhere, and then walking away.  In Rome, exposition “was certainly not punished by law; it was practiced on a gigantic scale and with absolute impunity, noticed by writers with the most frigid indifference, and at least, in the case of destitute parents, considered a very venial offence.”  Lecky added that the abandoned infants were often taken in by speculators “who educated them as slaves, or very frequently as prostitutes.”
With the emergence of Christianity, the elimination of unwanted babies was strongly denounced, but it certainly did not disappear.  There were no food stamps for poor folks living on bread and water.  Much later, Christians built foundling hospitals, where unwanted infants could be left in the hands of the church.  So, far fewer babies died at home, but the mortality rates in foundling hospitals were extremely high.  Some have called this “legalized infanticide.”  Most infants perished from neglect, and many were mercifully put out of their misery by wet nurses.
William Langer noted that in 1860s Britain, dead babies were frequently found under bridges, in parks, in culverts and ditches, and even in cesspools.  He quoted the coroner of Middlesex, England, Dr. Lankester: “the police seemed to think no more of finding a dead child than of finding a dead dog or cat.”
In many civilized societies, female children were the most commonly destroyed, because they were less likely to benefit the family economically.  Edward Moor wrote, “In India, China, Persia, Arabia, &c. there exists a decided preference to male children.  The birth of a boy is a subject of gratulation; of a girl, not.”  Moor described infanticide in India, “Every female infant born in the Raja’s family of a Ranni, or lawful wife, is immediately dropped into a hole dug in the earth and filled with milk, where it is drowned.”
Langer made one statement that I will never forget.  He said, “In the seventeenth century, Jesuit missionaries to China were horrified to find that in Peking alone several thousand babes (almost exclusively female) were thrown on the streets like refuse, to be collected each morning by carriers who dumped them into a huge pit outside the city.”  This practice remained common into the 1830s.
John Cave-Browne noted that infanticide in India was especially prevalent among the upper classes.  The Rajpoot caste was elite, second only to the Brahmans.  In one Rajpoot tribe, the children under five years old averaged 20 girls for every 100 boys.  It was shameful to have a daughter marry a man of a lower caste, and a father lost honor if his daughter remained unmarried.  Whenever possible, daughters were betrothed prior to puberty.  If a suitable groom could not be found, the father felt compelled to pay a man to marry his daughter.  Once his daughter was married, the father lost prestige to the groom, “the very title ‘father-in-law’ (Soosur) is used as a common term of scorn and reproach.”
Because girls were in low supply and high demand, grooms paid large dowries for their brides.  Also because of this high demand, women had a low tolerance for sub-perfect husbands.  Cave-Browne said, “Few women remain constant; it is no merit to do so; many change four or five times in the course of their lives; some more frequently.”  When this happened, the family of the ex-husband demanded their dowry back.  Every time his daughter married, the father was responsible for lavish wedding expenses. 
So, sons increased a family’s wealth, and daughters decreased it.  Sometimes daughters were poisoned by smearing the mother’s breast with an ointment containing poppy, datura, or the Mudar plant.  Some were buried alive.  Some were strangled with their umbilical cords.  Many were drowned.  Dead daughters were preferred to the possibility of diminished family honor and wealth.  Allowing daughters to live could bankrupt the family.
The stories above describe what life was like in some civilizations prior to the temporary bubble of cheap energy and prosperity.  Today, in modern societies, family planning is made easy with readily available contraceptives and safe clinical abortions.  At some point in the future, as the collapse proceeds, this will no longer be an option.  What will life be like when we move beyond the cheap energy bubble?
Prior to civilization, wild cultures also discarded unwanted infants, but they put a far greater emphasis on pregnancy prevention, which saved a lot of wear and tear on mothers’ bodies.  Taboos placed many restrictions on when intercourse was allowed.  Typically, births were few, and widely spaced.  Hunting bands clearly understood how many mouths their land could sustainably support, and they did what was needed to preserve stability.
An essential part of our healing process is unlearning the dysfunctional beliefs and values of an insane culture that is ravaging the planet.  We need to outgrow them.  One way or another, effective family planning is mandatory for any form of sustainable living.

Cave-Browne, John, Indian Infanticide, W. H. Allen and Co., London, 1857.
Langer, William L., “Infanticide: A Historical Survey,” History of Childhood Quarterly, vol 1, pp. 353-365, 1974.
Lecky, William Edward Hartpole, History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne, Longmans, Green, and Company, London, 1869, vol II.
Moor, Edward, Hindu Infanticide, J. Johnson and Company, London, 1811.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Xhosa Cattle Killers

When the Dutch Afrikaners (Boers) invaded the Eastern Cape region of South Africa, the Xhosa tribe fought them long and hard.  Beginning in 1779, eight bloody frontier wars were fought.  In 1806, the British replaced the Afrikaners and continued the struggle to conquer Xhosa land.  In 1853, a lung disease began killing off the Xhosa’s cattle herds.  Problems worsened when a severe drought hit.  Things started looking grim.
Then, in 1856, after decades of terrible struggles and misfortunes, an 11-year old Xhosa girl named Nongqawuse had a vision.  She communicated with spirits of the dead and they informed her that the colonist invasion was being caused by the fact that their cattle had been cursed by witchcraft.  The spirits then gave her some important instructions in order to remedy this situation.
To lift this curse and return to days of peace and plenty, the living Xhosa had to do three things:  stop cultivating their fields, destroy their grain reserves, and kill all of their cattle.  If they did this, the whites would be driven into the sea, the dead would return, and they would refill the granaries, restore the crops in the fields, and bring herds of immortal cattle.
At this point, the Xhosa split into two groups, the believers and the non-believers.  In 1856 and 1857, the believers did as the ancestors instructed them.  They dumped their grain and slaughtered 400,000 cattle.  Having destroyed their food supply, tens of thousands then proceeded to die of starvation.  Tens of thousands were forced to go to towns and take oppressive low-paying jobs.  Only 37,000 remained on their lands, out of 105,000.  By the 1870s, white settlers occupied most of the Xhosa’s lands.  The surviving Xhosa were rounded up and moved to reserves in British Kaffraria.
Many might consider the attempt to crush the British army via spiritual warfare to be a bit crazy.  But the Europeans, travelling thousands of miles to enslave Africans and seize control of their lands, seem rather normal.  They were, after all, civilized people, and they were simply behaving like well-educated predators, bringing progress to people who were doing just fine without it.
The cattle killers remind me of today’s climate killers.  The polar bears are crying, the arctic ice cap is rapidly melting, 2012 is the warmest year in recorded history, and the scientists of the world are virtually unanimous in placing the blame on human activity. 
The climate killers understand that the weather has been bewitched.  To lift this curse, we must borrow like there’s no tomorrow, pray every hour for the recovery of double-digit economic growth, drive everywhere everyday, and fill our garages to the ceiling with consumer products via rituals of recreational shopping.  It’s sure to work!  Our elders would never deceive us.  Ack!
Today’s word is foresight.  Mother Nature was a brilliant designer.  She created life systems so well balanced that foresight was not built into the instincts of any animal — beyond the avoidance of immediate risks (don’t pet the pretty rattlesnake).  The deer did not worry about the health of their ecosystem, or the wellbeing of generations yet-to-be-born.  They didn’t have to.  Wolves would never eat all of the deer.  Beavers would never create vast clear-cuts.  Packrats would never remove the tops of mountains in order to hoard black stones.  Humans would never exterminate the billions of passenger pigeons — before they got into the tool making business.
The tool making business started out slowly, with sticks and stones.  But cleverness and tool making went hand in hand, each stimulating the other.  When we invented cool stone-tipped lances, large slow animals began to disappear forever.  We couldn’t foresee the consequences.  The domestication of plants and animals opened the floodgates to 8,000 years of catastrophes that continue to worsen.  We failed to foresee.  The geniuses of Uruk never imagined that farming would inevitably transform their lush green breadbasket into a barren wasteland.
Ferocious wild aurochs were reduced to dim-witted milk machines, which were imported to Africa.  The Xhosa learned the hard way that confined herds of animals were prone to disease and vulnerable to droughts.  They learned the hard way that creating a way of life that was dependent on milk machines was far less secure than the nomadic foraging of their ancestors.
With the Industrial Revolution, we began mass-producing tools that had nothing whatsoever to do with providing the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter — stuff like automobiles, airplanes, televisions, computers, nuclear reactors, and ships.  One very sad day, ships loaded with insane European murderers washed ashore in Xhosa country.
Like all other animals, humans live in the here and now.  Right now, that shiny Prius in the driveway is an awesome status symbol.  It shouts out to the world that we are big, important people, not bicycle-riding lowlifes, and substance abusers.  The melting icecaps and crying polar bears are pure abstractions, as are the weird predictions of climate experts staring at colorful graphs on their computer screens. 
A way of life that reliably provides a jumbo burger and fries for dinner is good enough.  Regular meals are not symptoms of a problem that requires our attention.  We’ll wash down the burger with fizzy sugar water, and trust that the toolmakers will take care of the future.  They always do.
I don’t believe that it’s impossible to learn foresight.  Imagine a world where seven-point-something billion people felt compelled to carefully contemplate the consequences of their choices.  Our population would deliberately go into free-fall.  Farm country would heal, returning to forest and grassland.  The lights would go out, and our machines would rust in peace.  Civilization’s roar would be silenced, replaced by the sweet music of a recovering ecosystem.
Would foresight drive tool making into extinction?  Would we abandon our tools, migrate to warmer regions, rip off our clothes, and dine on nuts and fruits, lizards and insects?  Could we permanently forget the idiotic notion that humans are the supreme species?  Could we return to the family of life and live happily ever after? 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Civilization and Insanity

Are we living in an insanity epidemic?  Yes indeed, we certainly are, according to The Invisible Plague by Dr. Edwin Fuller Torrey and Judy Miller.  This book provides an illuminating history of insanity, focusing on the last three centuries in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, and the United States.  “Insanity” here refers to two conditions, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder (manic-depressive).  Today, “psychosis” is the proper term for describing insanity and lunacy, but the authors preferred to use history’s word, insanity.
The objective of this book was to convince us that an epidemic of insanity has been growing in Western society, based on a small mountain of circumstantial evidence.  Insanity seems to be one of the many unintended consequences of the Industrial Revolution.  In the four regions studied, the last 300 years have been an era of turbulent change on a colossal scale.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the British Empire had spread to every corner of the world.  The news coming back from frontier outposts consistently reported that insanity was rare or unknown in “primitive” societies, where folks enjoyed a far slower way of life.  Long-term stability was the opposite of crazy.
In Britain, a number of observers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were well aware of a growing insanity epidemic, and some actually linked it to civilization — it was simply an acceptable cost for the wonders of progress, wealth, and luxury.  Living in such amazing times over-excited the minds of those who were mentally fragile, and this was simply unavoidable.  Some even saw rising insanity as a badge of honor, indisputable proof that civilization was thriving.  Lunatic asylums were booming, praise the Lord!
By the end of the story, the authors concluded that insanity was growing at a much faster rate than the population.  In the 200 years between 1750 and 1950, the rate of insanity increased 700 percent, and even more in the US and Ireland.  There is an invisible plague all around us!  What can we do?
A specific cause for the insanity epidemic has not been discovered, but contributing factors might be associated with diet, alcohol, toxins, medical care, and/or infectious agents.  It’s more common in men and immigrants, especially when the immigrants are a small minority in the community.  There is a clear association with the rise of industrialization and urbanization. 
In the British Medical Journal, Marco Picchioni reported that schizophrenia “is more frequent in people born in cities — the larger the city, and the longer the person has lived there, the greater the risk.” 
An observer in 1877 commented that the rate of insanity was growing so quickly that it was only a matter of time before the majority of people were insane.  Hmmm…  Are we there yet, Mommy?
And now, I’d like to introduce you to Jack D. Forbes (1934-2011), the Native American writer, scholar, and activist who wrote Columbus and Other Cannibals.  Forbes also warned us of an epidemic of insanity, which he called wétiko psychosis, the cannibal disease.  It’s a spiritual illness, or soul disease, that causes people to become predators, and to relentlessly consume the lives of others.
When the white invaders washed up on the shores, the Native Americans were astonished by their bizarre behavior.  They were unbelievably destructive whirlwinds who tirelessly raped women, rivers, forests, animals, peoples, and lands.  “An Indian who was as bad as the white men could not live in our nation; he would be put to death,” said Black Hawk.  “I had not discovered one good trait in the character of the Americans that had come to the country!”  Sadly, no one could disagree with him.
Forbes came to understand that the wétiko psychosis began thousands of years ago, around the Fertile Crescent and Egypt.  Later, it also emerged in Mexico and Peru.  This soul sickness was extremely contagious.  It could be seen almost everywhere today, and it continually spreads from generation to generation.  He says, “We are made to be crazy by other people who are also crazy and who draw for us a map of the world which is ugly, negative, fearful, and crazy.”
Wétiko was the essence of European culture, a nightmare world of bloodthirsty vampires and werewolves.  European heroes tended to be warriors, emperors, and a wide variety of assorted thugs, hustlers, and psychopaths.  Their “religion” was something isolated from everyday life, practiced indoors, away from the perfection of Creation.  Their God was indifferent to every form of barbarism, and often encouraged it.  No cannibal experienced the world as being a sacred place.  While they raced to consume others, they were also eating themselves up at the same time!  They had no spiritual connection to life.
The wétiko disease encouraged reckless living and overpopulation, and it flourished amidst consumer hordes.  Most often, males were possessed by the worst forms of the disease — they became monsters.  Obviously, a world dominated by men was not a place of health and balance.  But women were not immune.  The wétiko culture taught everyone to hunger for extravagance and excess, constantly cannibalizing other lands and other lives.  We could never have enough.  We could never find peace.
Is it possible to eliminate the cannibal disease?  Yes.  Will it be easy?  No.  We need to create a just and healthy society, and insane people cannot do this.  Healing must come first — spiritual regeneration.  We must redefine reality.  The goal is to “live a life that is worthwhile, one that is filled with precise acts, beautiful acts, meaningful acts… the path that only a wisdom-seeker can travel.” 
Material things have no significance.  “It is rather the quality of our acts, of our struggle, of our motives, of our love, of our perseverance which are truly significant.”  “The Creator has given all of us good paths to follow, based upon good speech, love, and sacred songs.” 
We must remember profound respect for all life, the ways of our ancestors.  We must remember how to accept responsibility for the decisions we make, and the acts we perform.  We must remember how to live like human beings.  We must return to the red road, the path of balance. 
Forbes generously provided readers with two chapters of guidance for the healing process.  Healing is the most important challenge for the generations now alive — and the generations yet-to-be-born.
Torrey, Edwin Fuller, M.D. and Miller, Judy, The Invisible Plague — The Rise of Mental Illness from 1750 to the Present, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 2002.
Picchioni, Marco M. and Murray, Robin M., “Schizophrenia,” British Medical Journal, 2007 July 14; 335(7610): 91–95.
Forbes, Jack D., Columbus and other Cannibals, Seven Stories Press, New York, 2008 (much better than the 1992 edition).

Monday, December 10, 2012

Stray Dog Blues

There are many glossy magazines on the rack devoted to promoting pet ownership.  Most are marketing organs of the multi-billion dollar pet industry.  Estimates of the world population of dogs are usually in the neighborhood of 400 to 500 million.  In regions that live within temporary bubbles of affluence, pets are four-legged engines of robust profits.  In regions of decline, they can turn into dangerous problems.
PETA’s statement on pets begins with this line: “We at PETA very much love the animal companions who share our homes, but we believe that it would have been in the animals’ best interests if the institution of ‘pet keeping’ — i.e., breeding animals to be kept and regarded as ‘pets’ — never existed.”  They go on to present a number of sound reasons for this position.
A couple of weeks ago, I happened to come across the website of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, and it knocked me over: “An estimated 75% of the world’s dog population are strays.”  Wowsa!  You know, I’ve never seen images of mangy packs of vicious mongrels on the cover of Doggie Style magazine.  Well, grab a beer, and let’s take a little visit to the rarely examined world of non-corporate reality.
In The Tracker, Tom Brown described dog problems in his Pine Barrens region of New Jersey in 1977.  Folks would often drive out into the woods and abandon their unwanted dogs and puppies, which would join packs of feral dogs that congregated around dumps.  From time to time, dog packs would get too large and become a nuisance.  They would kill horses, cattle, pets, and entire flocks of sheep.  One dog snatched a baby out of its stroller, and continued gnawing on its head while two men vigorously kicked it.  Going outdoors was risky, because dogs often attacked people.  The miserable dogs were starving, diseased, and covered with open sores and big ticks.  Tom was hired to shoot the pack, and he did, with mixed emotions.
Today, Detroit is playing a leadership role in the process of urban healing — depopulating, decomposing, and returning to forest.  There may be up to 50,000 abandoned dogs running loose and breeding.  Postal workers are fearful of delivering mail to some neighborhoods, because of the packs of mean dogs.  Many residents are increasingly afraid of stepping outside.
In 1977, an earthquake in Bucharest, Romania killed 1,500 people and destroyed a portion of the city.  Thousands of dogs became homeless, formed vicious packs, and by the ‘90s they had taken over the streets.  Residents were regularly bitten and mauled.  A Japanese businessman was killed by dogs on one of the city’s most exclusive streets.  The reputation of the city deteriorated sharply, as did its tourism industry.
Traian Băsescu was the mayor of Bucharest from 2000 to 2004.  During his administration, the number of stray dogs was reduced from 300,000 to 25,000, and the number of injuries caused by dogs dropped sharply.  Today it is fairly safe to be outdoors in the center of downtown (but not in the suburbs).  This reduction was achieved in a manner that was often mercilessly brutal, producing a loud outcry from animal rights advocates, many of whom lived elsewhere, and did not experience an intense fear of vicious dogs on a constant basis.  In 2004, Băsescu became the president of Romania.  Some estimate that there are two million stray dogs across Romania.
Gardiner Harris recently wrote a stunning horror story about the dogs of India.  “No country has as many stray dogs as India, and no country suffers as much from them.  Free-roaming dogs number in the tens of millions and bite millions of people annually, including vast numbers of children.”  About 20,000 bite victims die of rabies every year, an excruciatingly painful death. 
Joggers and bicyclists are frequently chased, and they defend themselves with rods and rocks.  People walking dogs often witness their pet being ripped to shreds by packs of hungry mongrels.  The mother of a 3-year old child killed by dogs said, “There are stray dogs everywhere in Delhi.  We are more scared of dog bites than anything else.”
Meanwhile, the rising middle class of India is very interested in increasing their social status by paying big money for trendy dogs.  “But many pedigreed dogs end up on the street, the castoffs of unsuccessful breeders or owners who tire of the experiment.”
Poverty is widespread in India, and piles of uncollected garbage provide a steady food supply for assorted scavengers.  But it got to where people were slaying too many annoying dogs, so this killing was outlawed in 2001.  Guess what happened to the dog population.  Some worry that in the absence of dogs, the garbage piles would become the breeding grounds for billions of rats and their fleas, increasing the risk of a plague pandemic.
As we move beyond the temporary bubble of cheap energy, how long will it be before similar scenarios emerge in New York, London, Paris, and your town?  How many potential pet owners are highly confident that the next ten years will include regular employment, a middle class income, and a stable economy?  Do they own several acres of land, free and clear, with sturdy fencing?  Do they have a work life that wouldn’t require leaving pets alone much of the time?
When dogs aren’t adequately fed, they cease being our friends.  In his book, The Plague of the Spanish Lady, Richard Collier described the influenza pandemic of 1918.  The mission boat Harmony had spread the flu virus to a number of small isolated settlements in the arctic.  In the village of Okak, Labrador, only 59 of 266 residents survived.  In Hebron, just 70 of 220 survived.  A village might have 500 sled dogs, and when they got hungry, they would break into huts and eat the dead and dying.  
Mike Davis discussed a similar scenario in Late Victorian Holocausts.  In the drought of 1876-1878, famine killed millions in India, while countless pariah dogs got fat by eating the “skeletonized” and the dead.
Many other cultures have no inhibitions about eating dogs.  In the journal Archaeology, Jarrett A. Lobell and Eric Powell wrote that dogs were part of the regular diet in some Native American societies.  Large quantities of butchered dog bones were found near the Cahokia site, close to St. Louis.  “The Aztecs, whose ancestors were called the Chichimec, or ‘Dog People,’ are known to have bred a hairless dog they called a Xoloitzcuintle to serve at royal feasts.”  Abundant evidence of dog eating has been found at Olmec sites along the Gulf of Mexico.  “Although they had an abundance of food at their disposal, the Olmec ate dogs as part of their regular diet.”
Dogs were convenient livestock.  They remained close to the settlement, didn’t need fences or herders, and they lived on garbage.  During periods of bad hunting, they came to our rescue.  In times of war, when Europeans were trapped in besieged cities, Fido regularly shape shifted into “blockade mutton.”
The pet industry has yet to penetrate large regions of the developing world, and transform dogs into “fur children” and family members.  Hal Herzog reported that in Asia, 16 million dogs and 4 million cats are eaten annually.  In some cultures, dog meat is believed to increase libido and virility (four-legged Viagra).  Don’t tell grandpa.
As the collapse proceeds, growing problems with stray dogs seem very likely.  The issue is emotionally supercharged, and I have no cheap, easy, win-win solutions to offer.  As consumer societies deflate, pet keeping is sure to decline.  We may be near Peak Pets now.
This concludes my canine series.  Thank you!  Have a nice day!  See you in church.

Brown, Tom, The Tracker, Berkeley Publishing Group, New York, 1979.
Collier, Richard, The Plague of the Spanish Lady, Atheneum, New York, 1974.
Davis, Mike, Late Victorian Holocausts, Verso, New York, 2001.
Harris, Gardiner, “Where Streets Are Thronged With Strays Baring Fangs,” New York Times, 7 August 2012, New York edition.
Herzog, Hal, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 2010.
Lobell, Jarrett A., and Powell, Eric, “Dogs as Food,” Archaeology, Sept-Oct 2010.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Beyond Zenith

From the zenith of the Upper Paleolithic, things began a downhill drift.  A number of species went extinct from climate change (ice ages) and/or over-hunting.  Every type of animal had effective survival strategies, like flying, fleeing, swimming, climbing trees, injecting venom, or counterattack.  These strategies were very old, and programmed into genes and instincts.  They worked.  They permitted a survival rate high enough to enable the continued existence of the species.
Clever humans invented ways of outwitting these defense mechanisms, and killing more and more animals.  Part of this was due to continuous improvement in hunting hardware — like spears, lances, nets, bows and arrows, traps, and snares.  We also improved our skills at exploiting enslaved animals. 
“The history of ecological catastrophe begins with the hound,” wrote Paul Shepard.  “The first domesticated wolves were not pets, guards, companions, or meals but fellow hunters.  With dogs, the first domesticated animals, the ‘conquering’ of nature started toward its final calamity.”  Super-sensitive canine noses were powerful assets for our hunting teams, and working in packs reduced the odds of prey escaping.
During my research, I was surprised to find that war dogs have long been used for killing human enemies — by the Romans, Britons, Greeks Babylonians, and others.  When two armies met, dozens of dogs, weighing up to 200 pounds (91 kg), deliberately underfed, would be set loose to attack, terrify, and kill both soldiers and horses.  War dogs were especially effective in the New World, where the Indians had darker skins, distinctive scents, and different attire than the incredibly sadistic Spaniards.  The dogs had an easier time identifying the designated prey, thus ripping to shreds far fewer white dudes by accident.
The trio of horses, dogs, and humans took hunting and warfare to a new and far more deadly dimension.  Marco Polo described Genghis Khan’s process for acquiring wild meat.  There were two flanks of hunters, each having 10,000 men and 5,000 great mastiff dogs.  The line of hunters would extend to the length of a full day’s journey, and no wild animal would escape their dragnet.  These hunts were like a bloody vacuum cleaner.
On the US plains, vast buffalo herds survived because these animals could run at speeds up to 35 miles per hour (56 km/h).  When Indians got horses, the buffalo lost their speed advantage, and became much easier to kill.  And then came the legions of white guys with rifles, on a sacred mission to eliminate all buffalo.
William T. Hornaday was born on the Indiana frontier in 1854, and he experienced the thunderous roar of millions of passenger pigeons passing overhead for hours.  He was of the last generation to know the incredible abundance of wildlife that once existed in the American west.  He witnessed the final conquest of all lands from coast to coast, and then he was horrified to observe a million bubbas with cheap rifles and shotguns blowing away every wild creature they could find, as fast as they could.  He wrote “that nowhere is Nature being destroyed so rapidly as in the United States.”
William M. Tsutsui wrote an essay about environmental impacts in wartime Japan.  By the end of World War II, pigs, chickens, rabbits, and dogs had almost disappeared.  Zoo animals had been eaten.  Many millions of songbirds were netted and consumed.  When allied soldiers landed in Japan, it was extremely rare to see a bird anywhere.  In 1945, the Japanese were clear-cutting almost 50 square miles (129 sq. km) of forest each week to make fuel for the war machine.  It took many tons of pine roots to make a single gallon of oil.  Rapid deforestation created many eco-nightmares.  Could this be a preview of our future?
Humans evolved in a world filled with abundant wildlife.  Wild animals played an important role in shaping what we became, mentally and physically.  Shepard noted that hunters were spellbound when observing wild animals, and could watch them for an hour, in a state of absolute fascination.  But the children of tourists at Yellowstone are quickly bored by the sight of a herd of elk.  These kids suffer from an immense deprivation of healthy contact with the natural world, multiplied by the stresses of living amidst crowds of humans, mostly strangers — not to mention their obsession with techno-gadgetry.
With the explosive expansion of the domesticated world, our children have largely lost contact with the shrinking realm of the normal, healthy, unspoiled wild.  Shepard was a dog owner, and he understood that many owners experience genuine affection for their pets.  But pets can never be, in any way, replacements for regular contact with free wild animals.  “Something is profoundly wrong with the human/animal pet relationship at its most basic level.”  Pets were “compensations for something desperately missing, minimal replacements for friendship in all of its meanings.”
In our daily lives, we are bombarded with countless consumer fantasies, including many from the highly profitable pet industry.  In these fantasies, pets have become living toys, and living toy fantasies are starkly different from the real experience of bringing an animal into your life.  Real live pets have little in common with Disney fantasies, and every year millions of people realize that they no longer want a real live pet in their lives.
For each human born in the US, 8 to 15 dogs are born, and 20 to 30 cats.  In Inside Passage, Richard Manning wrote, “Six million to seven million dogs and cats are killed in animal shelters every year.  The city of Los Angeles alone sends 200 tons of dogs and cats to rendering plants each month.”  Should this bother us more than the chicken industry, or mass murdering cockroaches with toxic poisons?
The pet industry has convinced us that feeding human food to pets is unhealthy, and that commercial pet food is excellent.  Laura Sevier explored the ingredients used in commercial pet food (including road kill, euthanized pets, livestock with cancer, moldy grain, etc.).  “Surveys show that overall pet health is declining almost as rapidly as human health.  Cats and dogs are now developing a vast list of degenerative diseases, including autoimmune diseases, allergies, heart disease, diabetes, chronic digestive problems joint and arthritic problems, and cancer.”  Nearly one in three British dogs are overweight, but thankfully diet pills are available (Yarvitan, Slentrol, etc.). 
One in every three dogs gets cancer, and cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs.  Cancer kills between 60 and 70 percent of golden retrievers.  The average bulldog lives a bit longer than six years, and the breed typically suffers from an unusual number of health problems.  In Thinking With Animals, James Serpell, an animal specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote that “if bulldogs were the product of genetic engineering by agripharmaceutical corporations, there would be protest demonstrations throughout the Western world, and rightly so.”
Imagine what the pet industry could do with your children if breeders were given the freedom to produce trendy, and profitable new forms of Homo sapiens — adorable little kewpie doll critters with big eyes, or heavily-muscled 800 pound security guards.  Whenever I see a miniature dog, I shudder at what humans have done to wolves.
A study by Dr. Claire Corriden of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association concluded that “eighty per cent of dogs have one or more behaviour problems,” including hyperactivity, phobic behavior, separation anxiety, sleeping problems, anxiety, anorexia, self-mutilation, stress, and depression.
Australian journalist, Ruth Ostrow, was fascinated by the growing use of psych meds for pets and zoo animals.  There was a growing pandemic of mental problems in domesticated animals, including humans.  “It has something to do with depression and captivity, or a sense of captivity.”  There was a connection between freedom and happiness.  Healthy wild animals don’t become mentally unbalanced.  “When the soul feels free, a natural sense of wellbeing follows.  The power of freedom cannot be put into a tablet for animals or humans.”  (I love that last sentence!)  Nothing beats freedom!
So anyway, we’ve been reduced from an amazing zenith of total wildness and freedom to a depressing manmade world of domesticated humans and dogs, many overweight, suffering from degenerative diseases, and widespread mental illness.  Luckily, the temporary bubble of cheap energy is almost over, which will force the status quo into a fundamental reboot.  Our grandchildren will not suffer from the same extreme zaniness that we do, but they are sure to have interesting challenges of their own.
OK, your homework assignment is to imagine new ways of living that might become possible after the temporary bubble of abundant cheap energy is over.  Can you imagine paths to genuine sustainability?
To be continued.

Hornaday, William T., Our Vanishing Wildlife: Its Extermination and Preservation, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1913.
Manning, Richard, Inside Passage — A Journey Beyond Borders, Island Press, Washington, D.C., 2001.
Ostrow, Ruth, “Freedom Heals the Soul,” The Australian, September 15, 2012, p. 20.
Paul Shepard, The Others — How Animals Made Us Human, Island Press, Washington, 1996.
Polo, Marco and Rustichello of Pisa, The Travels of Marco Polo, Project Gutenberg, 2004 (Henry Yule’s third edition, 1903).
Serpell, James A., "People in Disguise: Anthromorphism and the Human-Pet Relationship,” Thinking With Animals, Columbia University Press, New York, 2006.
Sevier, Laura, “Should My Dog Eat Dog Food?” Ecologist, March 2009.
Tsutsui, William, “Landscapes in the Dark Valley: Toward an Environmental History of Wartime Japan,” Natural Enemy — Toward an Environmental History of War, Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, 2004, pp. 195-216.