Tuesday, October 15, 2013

State of nature

We went to an evening of music at AACI performed by American folk-singer, James Durst, who has been touring the world for nearly 50 years (see www.jamesdurst.com) and is now visiting Israel. He sang well and was very entertaining, but I could not escape the feeling that he was way out of his time range, an aging hippie who had taken upon himself to tour the world preaching peace, love, and understanding.

HIs repertoire was nostalgic, including songs of that once-famous group "The Weavers," who had popularized the Israeli song, "Tzena, Tzena," back in the 1950s in the US. He had also met Pete Seeger and told some anecdotes about him. He sang some Vietnamese songs in the original and in translation, which really dated him, who talks about Vietnam anymore. He related the origin of the S. African song "Wimaway," which was originally entitled "wimbube" meaning sleeping lion, and the lyrics of which were written in the US and bear no relation to the original folk-song, for example, there is no jungle in S. Africa and lions don't sleep at night, they are nocturnal. He sang songs from various countries, including one in English, Hebrew and Arabic, and one that he had written himself about mixing up people from all over the world and then they would find that they are really all brothers and sisters.

This kind of peace and love formula from the 1960-70s doesn't seem to fit in an era of terrorism and Islamism, when people have been killing each other in Rwanda, the Balkans and now in Syria. It is based on the concept that left alone, without the negative influence of governments and religions, all people would naturally tend towards peace and love. Unfortunately this is simply not true. People with this view often refer to nature as an ideal state, where without the interference of organized government people would live in a state of innocence (the Garden of Eden).

It was previously believed that animals unlike man kill only for food and never kill each other for any other reason, but this is simply not true. Naturalists have discovered that chimpanzees, that are generally gentle vegetarian creatures, sometimes go on an organized rampage and snatch the babies of other groups of chimpanzees or other monkeys and eat them. Lions and hyenas have a hate relationship, they kill each other for no reason, certainly not for food. Similarly Lions kill cheetas for the same reason. Maybe it is survival of the fittest, maybe it is ancient enmity, but the idea that nature is a pure, innocent realm is nonsense, it is kill or be killed. Watching a pack of feral dogs take down and eat alive a beautiful deer is nature at its most normal.

Similarly this is true in human societies, as we Jews know all too well. As one German told me, when you live among wolves you must act like a wolf. Nevertheless it is nice to sing about the good old days when we were young and innocent and maybe we need people like James Durst to remind us of this.


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