Venerate Scavengers

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?

Taken by: Muhammad Mahdi Karim

“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.

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  1. #1 by Dano on July 29, 2012 - 9:02 pm

    Awesome observations.

  2. #2 by Dano on July 29, 2012 - 9:22 pm

    I have always though of flies and other scavengers as important links in the chain of life, not merely the food chain. I think of them as recyclers not unlike the Mexican Scrap Hunters in Chicago alleys who I have always respected, even helped a few times. It’s important work. I myself take pride in the many things I rescued from alleys, roadsides and from others throwaways and turned into useful objects, art or extended their useful life in some way. Crows are scavengers to a degree, we are connected somehow, a story I’ll share sometime.

  3. #3 by Gopher Padfoot on July 31, 2012 - 1:24 pm

    That’s a great point, Dano- that scavengers serve a purpose both in the wilderness and in the polis. For some reason, we tend to see death and decay as bad things. But a tiny acorn is very happy in the rotting flesh of a deceased oak tree. Crows… brilliant enough to scavenge AND play!

    • #4 by Dano on July 31, 2012 - 1:41 pm

      Decay may not be nice to look at or smell but it and the scavengers play an important role in the cycle of breaking down organic material and returning the energy and nutrients to the earth. ON Mother Earth nothing is wasted. We would do well to emulate that characteristic.

  4. #6 by Gopher Padfoot on July 31, 2012 - 1:28 pm

    I’ve had good feedback from this post. Some readers have taught me things I’d like to share:

    1. Wolves and dogs are renowned scavengers. If in fact dog is man’s best friend, doesn’t it follow that we’d scavenge together?
    2. There is already a movement that venerates scavengers- FREEGANISM.

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