Songlines reflections

Jack wrote this in August, 2006:

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More on Bruce Chatwin’s, The Songlines.I’ve completed the general re-reading of the Chatwin book I told you a bit about a few entries ago.  Now I’m doing a bit of a mop-up, studying and pondering segments.Chatwin’s main pursuits were archeology and paleontology.  However, he dovetailed into this a lifelong study of aboriginals and nomadic people.

This combination of circumstance and interest led him to investigate a number of fundamental questions about the human condition, and the human being as a biological creature.  Inevitably, some of these questions borderline on philosophy.

For instance, Chatwin’s detachment from modern man allowed him to see with stark clarity some of the fundamental differences between humans and almost every other species in the animal kingdom.  He was present at the time when discoveries of earliest man were being investigated in Africa.  He participated in the quest to learn everything possible about the lives and lifestyles of those earliest humans

In our early schooling we all discussed, considered, and were instructed on matters of how man is unique from animals.  Interestingly, the most obvious difference between human beings and almost every other species is that man kills his own kind. I don’t recall them dwelling on that trait in school.

Homo Sapiens Sapiens does so deliberately, routinely, and sometimes systematically.  He almost never does so as a source of nourishment.  In this regard, humans are almost unique among animals.  Entirely unique among ‘higher’ animals.

Chatwin wondered precisely when, and why, this singular trait revealed itself in early men.  He even examines it from the Biblical perspective of Cain and Abel.  He explores it as a possible result of the great schism of humanity, the shift by fragments from a nomadic lifestyle to an agricultural, static one.

Interestingly, Chatwin and others in their field don’t know when men began slaughtering other men.  Professor Raymond Dart’s work in the caves of South Africa, suggesting the earliest inter-species killing began with Australopithicus was discredited when more sophisticated forensic techniques were developed.  The remains Dart attributed to homicide and cannibalism were almost entirely the work of a particular large predatory cat species with a preference for human meat.

In the end, no one knows when humans began the routine and often systematic slaughter of other humans.  We only know it was an awfully long time ago.

Chatwin argues it began when men ceased being nomads and the concept of material property and possession emerged.  He makes a good case that the further humans traveled the paths of ownership, ease, wealth and static civilization, the more they wielded the sword, the guillotine, the whip, and the chains.


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