Though it is not exactly the story he tells, in his new book The Bear History of a Fallen King, French cultural historian Michel Pastoureau shows how the coming of consciousness gave its bearers power which descendents have yet even now to effectively tame.
In prehistoric times bears were feared, perhaps deified as a result, and thus immortalized on cave walls. Common in Europe they were more than a match for dimwitted pre-humans. Once the light went on however, so was the hunt and the rest, well, history.
By the time of Charlemagne in the late eighth century it was mere sport. He led forays that were responsible for incredible ursine carnage – thousands upon thousands. By the 1200 sightings in the wild had become rare. Bears did however make trifling appearances in zoos, circuses, and traveling minstrel shows. They’re there now nearly extinct.
Reminds me of a roundtable discussion amongst nuclear weapon developers on NPR a decade or so ago. Moderator asked about what had led to a particular cold war multiple level of magnitude increase in throw-weight. Answer? “It was a sweet technological problem. Hee, hee, hee.”
Fortunately, we also are thus far this side of extinction. But cf the ongoing decimation of species, climate change, and pressure of well armed hungry thirsty populations, the all clear is not yet out.
Funny thing though is that, with luck, the significant expansion of North American breeding bear populations might be an indicator of a new coming to conscience. They are messy, destructive, and sometimes violent and deadly. Yet, “The people [in their range] look at these bears as members of the community”.*
If a friend was killed or your kitchen destroyed by Yogi or Boo Boo the incident would not be something of which to make light. However, yesterday was Thanksgiving and maybe we should look with favor upon the fact that these days the response to an initial minor incursion might not be to whack. That there’s maybe an incipient wonder about the cosmic distribution of sentience and consciousness.
*WSJ; 11/21/11; As Bears Multiply, Human Clashes Rise.
**Photo on top of Cro-Magnon painting in Chauvet cave from Smithsonian 12/10