“The most radical influence of reductive science has been the virtually universal adoption of the idea that the world, its creatures, and all the parts of its creatures are machines – that is, that there is no difference between creation and artifice, birth and manufacture, thought and computation.”
- Wendell Berry, in the first chapter of Life is a Miracle – An Essay Against Modern Superstition
Back in March of 2020, over breakfast in Yellowknife, my friend the scientist and I were talking. I’ve been musing about parts of that conversation for a couple of years now. One line in particular. Trying to sway me, he said, “Dave, shooting wolves from helicopters is just another tool in our toolbox.”
We are Homo sapiens, closing in on 8 billion strong. You got something broken? (Never mind who broke it.) We got tools to fix it. Here, let’s have a look in the toolbox…
He is a scientist. His religion (face it, we all have one) is Science. The holy trinity of Hypothesis, Data, and Theory. Graphs, equations, and Bayesian bootstrap statistical formulae are his sacraments.
We were all schooled in that faith, but over the years my belief began to waver. Nowadays my heart just isn’t in it. I have continued to drift from the fold. Oh, I still attend services, listen to the sermons, thumb through the peer-reviewed hymnals, mumble the creeds and kyries. (And yes, I am happily and thrice vaccinated.) I just can’t muster the cold fire, the passionless zeal, of the true believers.
Set all emotion aside, they say. Just the facts, ma’am. Feelings, hunches, and intuition are of no help here. We are marching down the bright white road to truth and wisdom. There will be no mysteries left when we get done. Once we reach the promised land every question will be answered. We will have eliminated variables, modelled possible outcomes, and fine-tuned the matrices of the graphs. Marching, marching, marching.
Nah, you better just go on ahead without me. I may catch up, but these days I am more inclined not to march, but to dawdle and meander. And, doing so, I keep catching glimpses and whiffs of things that just won’t compute.
Oh, no, they cry. C’mon. Look here, read the numbers. Up on the barrens north of you, the Cumulative Body Mass Index clearly shows that things are out of whack. Too many kilograms of wolf per kilogram of caribou.
Have a look in that toolbox, will you? Grab the Remington pump and a box of double-ought buck. We can fix this.
Once you’ve got a visual on them swing around into wind and slide the door back. As they scatter, choose and fire. Bang. Bang-bang. Out on the job, tools in hand, hard at work, ever confident, fixing what is broken. (Never mind who broke it.)
NOTE, for clarification: Although there was a (remarkably unsuccessful) trial project of “aerial wolf removals” in late winter of 2020 in the Northwest Territories, that method (shooting wolves from helicopters) has not been continued in the past two years. The debate over publicly funded “wolf control” continues, in many jurisdictions and regions of the world.
Versions and revisions of this post have been stored away in my journal for many months. I am busy with paid work in July and very short on writing time, but I have no reason to consider this post as particularly timely. It reflects a broader theme in my thinking, and I post it here today for that reason. See you in August… Dave.