I woke up this morning hungry. I went to the fridge and all I had was eggs and beef- well past their expiration date. I considered putting on clothes, grabbing my wallet, walking to the grocery store to buy fresh food, and then bringing it back up the stairwell… but I was low on energy, so I had steak and eggs well-done.
A voice told me about my ancestor who woke up hungry. He contemplated stringing his bow, tracking a beast for hours, cornering and attempting to kill it, then hauling it back before sunset. Instead, he took a stroll scanning the sky for vultures. He found a carcass beneath them, chased away a few small dogs, then made a fire and took his time cooking the partially rotten meat.
Many people identify with the power of predatory animals like the wolf, tiger, and killer whale. Or emulate peaceful creatures such as the panda bear, horse, or (may I say) gopher. This dichotomy translates into political beliefs- realists who contend life is a competition for resources versus idealists yearning for a more egalitarian society. One thing these foes have in common is their indifference- if not disdain- for the hyenas, turkey vultures, and maggots of the world.
Why are scavengers rarely elevated to the top of the totem?
“Scavenger” originates from the 14th century scawageour, which was somebody hired to clean shit off the streets. Ignoble labor. A century later, the term was extended to non-human animals. The consensus is, whether you a bird or man, you are inferior if instead of hunting or producing your own food you merely pick it up.
But if my intuition or the work of the late Lewis Binford is true, we are mistaken to identify with the noble beasts in the first place; we are useless creatures. It will prove quite useful to consider ourselves as such when facing the future’s problem- having too much shit and nowhere to put it (thanks planned obsolescence).
We don’t need a brilliant plan or policy- we just need more scavengers. Here in Chicago, it’s common to see a Mexican man driving a worn pickup through alleys salvaging “junk” otherwise headed for the landfill. Yesterday, my sister had way too much mulch delivered to her home and she feared being ticketed for obstructing the alleyway until such a man came to the rescue.
The problem is not that we need more economic growth- we need less. Every night dumpsters are filled with enough food to end poverty. Want a proper three course meal? Dumpster dive at Whole Foods.
It might also prove useful to be a spiritual scavenger. When you grow up in the suburbs and lack a deep connection to place and tradition, you need to pull something together out of what you can find. My faith is a conglomeration of the 60s, Taoism, Indigenous Cosmology, and German Idealism. The trouble is doing this authentically. I’ve never been to China, so how can I expect to grasp Lao Tzu? Humility helps, which is something a tiger doesn’t have.