The Ruricolist is now available in print.


The facts of life cannot be hidden from people whom live among animals. Birth and death are as open and current among them as weather. Human beings cannot learn much from one another; we conceal too much in shame and pride. The short and unreserved lives of animals are the true parables. They enact life back to us on a scale we can grasp. The horse, the cow, the dog, the cat, the chicken (like the llama, the camel, and others) – these are the truly ancient sages.

Sometime in the nineteenth century it became possible for masses of people to live away from animals. Deprived of its foundation in the shared witness of animal life – left untethered – culture became a castle in air.

Victorian prudery came first. Bowdler only becomes possible once he may suppose readers who do not know the way of a dog with a bitch. But his overthrowers were equally unworldly. Freud could only have lived in the city. (Animals, despite their undivided minds, are as neurotic as people.)

But Freud’s city was still a city of horses. When the automobile replaced the horse and left animals with zoos and field trips for their habitats, pathology became derangement. It was the analogies that the observation of animals implicitly afforded us that made reasoning about life possible. We have lost the animals, but we still need the analogies; so we grub them where we can. The machine served until it threatened to master – to remake us in its image, machines, not people. The net may yet make nodes of us.

(Of course analogy is not explanation, but a real explanation would have to explain us all, human and animal: developing a theory of human nature and trying to work animals into it parenthetically is a dead end every time.)

I invite the accusation of anthropomorphism; so be it. The dangers of anthropomorphism are abstract; the dangers of anthropocentrism are practical. It is not a question of dominion; it is a question of definition. We are the rule, not the exception: since we can no longer learn it by observation, we must be told, and trust.