BookWiseWinter21
WWB Book Wise Club

World Wise Beauty Selects ‘Becoming Wild –How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace’ as the Winter 21 Book Wise Pick

With our culture imploding in the USA, the WWB Winter Book Wise pick ‘Becoming Wild’ is a refreshing book that focuses on the concept of culture within the animal kingdom. You might wonder, what could we possibly learn from animal culture? It turns out quite a bit!

‘Becoming Wild -How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty and Achieve Peace ‘reminds us that all living species whether they be macaw parrots, sperm whales, or chimpanzees, value cooperation and need empathetic  members to achieve harmony and peace. The author Carl Safina and founder of the The Safina Center invites us to change our relationship with the natural world, not just to save them but to also save ourselves.

While dystopian futurist plan the demise of the world by evil doers, perhaps the real possible demise of our world is even more disturbing. We have all been slowly destroying this planet through our choices. We, the people, of our modern culture, have completely disconnected from the natural world we are are apart of, and in that process we have allowed the degradation of our planet. When species after species become endangered, eventually the planet that we call home becomes destabilized. ‘Becoming Wild’ takes you into the world of animals and what we find is a glimpse of ourselves. For better and for worse…

For example, chimpanzees and humans are the only primates that makes tools and hunt in groups for meat, and engage in community against community warfare, and sometimes kill individuals inside their own social groups whom they know well.

Pretty disheartening right? But if you read ‘Becoming Wild’ you will learn there is so much more complexity to the chimp community. There are different social chimp cultures organized by different chimp leaderships styles. And what we observe, is they do live in two completely different worlds. One more violent, and one more peaceful.

It is fascinating to observe animal culture engineered by social learning and the question is–how do we learn from them? Our capacity to recognize the challenges of the chimp community seems to be the way to our own salvation. To be sure, Carl Safina reminds us, many humans achieve mastery over their impulses, and some magnificently even work for a better world. It’s just that our better angels aren’t always in command. This is evident in our modern culture and the chimp community by the way! How do we strengthen our better selves? I’ve always believed the culture directly affects this outcome, and we as individuals shape the culture. It is up to each and every one of us. Let us each be an instrument of civility, peace and love. Read on for a Q&A with Carl Safina and a closer look at the beautiful and complex animals we share this world with.

 

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Laura Connolly, Founder of World Wise Beauty

 

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Lauroly Q- I am honored to feature your book and do this Q&A with you Carl. At World Wise Beauty we talk a lot about bio-individuality but always in the context of culture. My focus at World Wise Beauty is wellness wisdom and culture, and how we can cultivate it individually and collectively.

Early on in your book ‘Becoming Wild’ you prepare us for important insights we will glean from your exquisite portraits of these wild animals. You said “the fact that culture unites groups and divides groups has major consequences for the evolutionary journeys of many species, and for the history of life on earth.” It hit home for me because I have always believed we are all part of nature’s interdependent tapestry.

Culture matters and as we are discovering through your research it matters to all living species on earth.  I love how you chose three themes that we can relate to as humans. Within these stories we can see ourselves and hopefully make connections.

  • Family
  • Beauty
  • Peace

To begin our Q&A I think it’s important to highlight the concept of culture. You say in the book,

 

“Behavior is what you do. Culture is how you learned it.”

 

So let’s start with why you chose to focus on three species. Sperm Whales, Macaws, and Chimpanzees. Why these three species and how does their cultures relate to ours?

Carl Safina: Well I chose them for several reasons. They are three species with their own kinds of behavioral cultures. They differ a lot in how and where they live. And they are well enough studied to have a lot to say about them. Also, very importantly, the people studying them graciously agreed to have me come and visit them in the wild places where these creatures live and where the researchers study them. How their cultures relate to ours is that they have very different cultures, but they have cultures for the same reason we do. We think culture is the material things or customs like religion, sports, arts… We never really ask why we create cultures. What I learned was that the reason other animals have cultures is basically the same reason we do. For them and for us, culture answers the question, “How do we, in our group, live here?” Culture creates groups who understand how things are done. And so they can get together, get along, and cooperate. The down side is that different cultures have different expectations, so they can’t get along easily because they do things differently. Culture brings individuals into groups. But—in other cultural species as well as in our own—cultural groups tend to avoid or be hostile toward one another. Culture brings us together, but culture is what keeps us apart.  

 

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Macaws in Peru


Lauroly Q- Family, Beauty and Peace sound so wonderful and utopian. Most think of Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest principal’ when we think of nature in general. But you say natural “selection” is a misnomer! The environment does not seek, choose, or actively select for anything ;it filters things out. This sounds like another way of saying it adapts to change in the environment but as we read on in your book there is so much more going on besides just adaptation. There is cultural influence and social learning too. Can you give us an example of how this all works in the wild? It’s all in the book, but we are gleaning bits of understanding here for the moment.

Carl Safina: Well it’s pretty much all adaptation. Only humans seem to become maladapted. Few people understand what’s understood by “survival of the fittest.” It means fit, as a puzzle piece fits. In the Arctic, white fur fits. In the rainforest, green feathers fit. Think of it as survival of what works best; that would have been a better phrase for Darwin to use to communicate without so much chance of being misunderstood for a century and a half. Culture is a faster way of adapting than genetic adaptation. So those species with a capacity for culture can adapt with behaviors, more flexibly, than waiting to see who dies and who survives and the slow spread of characteristics that survive each generation. Culture is behavior that is learned socially and flows socially.  

Lauroly Q- Right now we are threatened by a dangerous pandemic, but I think the uncertainty and fear we feel is also because we have become acutely aware of how divided we are as a culture and a society. Your book is so important because it reminds us of the life affirming attributes needed for any culture— even chimpanzees to survive and thrive. Empathy, compassion, and altruism sound like very human traits but we learn in your book that humans don’t have a monopoly on them.  I love the term “collective social soul”. Can you end with one of your stories and lessons that speak to this?

Carl Safina: It’s important to realize that humans are very imperfect practitioners of empathy, compassion, and altruism. We do those things better than any other species and we are also by far the cruelest and most murderous species. Nothing in the world compares to the ethnic and racial hatreds and genocides our species specializes in. Perhaps most instructive for us is how chimpanzees show us that living in groups has benefits but ensures social tensions, and so to live effectively in groups, animals—including us—need skills for reconciling and getting over the frictions and fights that will inevitably happen. Even better are our equally close relatives the bonobos. Their groups are female dominated, and they use their dominance to suppress violence and keep everyone getting along. The difference is male dominance in the more violent and occasionally murderous chimpanzees, and female dominance in the peaceful bonobos, whose answer to social friction is usually to release tensions by having sex.

Laura Closing- What a note to end on Carl! Women offer a lot of wisdom! Thank you so much for joining me and sharing your wisdom learned as a dedicated conservationist. I hope you write many more enlightening books that bring us closer to our natural world and life on this precious earth. I encourage my readers to read more of your books and follow your work at the The Safina Center. Your PBS series ‘Saving the Ocean’ is also something to check out too. I am so grateful for your work –thank you! Let’s make 2021 a breakthrough year for conservation and preservation of our home planet earth! This to me is the pillar and core of wellness culture.

Carl Safina Closing: Thanks so much. It’s been fun to be with you and I share your desire that we respect and cherish this only known living planet, and your wish for a much improved 2021.

 

 

 

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