Anyone watching this recent BBC documentary series? Full of the standard nature porn, complete with small fluffy animals for the youtube generation… But what most caught my attention was the way it describes social relationships and conflicts among other animal species entirely in terms of civilised humanity. I think the purpose of this is to basically legitimise the inhuman power structures which we’re forced to endure on a daily basis by pointing to the ‘animal kingdom’ and saying: “Look, they’re just like us! Everybody acts this way so our chosen way of life (hyper-violent, male-dominated hierarchies) is justified!” Here’s the intro to the fourth episode, titled simply ‘Power’:
Now [after animals 'learn the lessons of childhood, enter the adult world and find a safe home'] they must battle for dominance, because those with power get privileges: the best food, the best territory and the chance to beat rivals for a mate. But only a lucky few will ever reach the top. ([url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p026vhmr/life-story-4-power]http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p026vhmr/life-story-4-power[/url])
They look at kangaroos, meerkats and archer fish among others, but the real propaganda coup comes with the focus on a band of chimps in which one adolescent is trying to ‘rise up the ranks’ and assert his dominance on an existing male leadership. The description is full of loaded words like that, and you almost feel that you could be listening to Attenborough narrating power struggles in the corporate world, with ‘vigorous young go-getters’ taking on the old guard. All the footage is of action, squabbles, conflict, again typical of nature docs. You never see animals snoozing for half the day, slacking off or foraging lazily & peaceably with their peers. I guess the producers would say that doesn’t make for good TV. But crucially it does nothing to challenge the very civilised concepts of resource scarcity, life as a constant struggle for survival, the need to ‘get ahead’ even at the expense of friends and family, the requirement to never let a moment pass and to always be seeking to improve status, expand your own personal empire etc.etc.
Seems to me it would be valuable to collect counter-examples in an attempt to show civilised folks, through the observation of non-humans, that life doesn’t have to be this way. Probably an examination of noncivilised human cultures would be a powerful way to do that too.
Can anyone point me to books, articles, other documentaries that challenge this idea of the whole natural world being rooted in dominance and power? I need to wash Attenborough’s smarmy narration out of my mind…