I’ve spent my whole life in cities, London or New York.
So my environment has always been concrete.
I’ve never lived anywhere where absolutely everything, all around you, above and below, is alive.
Years back my wife and I took the children on a safari.
For me, it was another world.
The first thing I noticed was massive anthills everywhere.
All of them over six feet high, many of them built around trees.
I asked our guide why the ants built them around trees.
He laughed and said “They don’t build them around a tree.
They are always carrying things inside the anthills.
Sometimes they carry seeds inside, and the seeds grow.
The anthills aren’t built around trees.
The trees grow out of the anthills.”
I said “But some of these trees must be fifty years old.”
He said “Yes, but the anthills are over a hundred years old.”
And he took me up to one, and sure enough it was as hard as concrete.
This was a different world from the anthills I knew.
Little mounds about three inches tall, that only appear in summer and get washed away when it rains.
Then I asked him about tracking, was that real or just a myth?
He showed me some lion tracks.
He said “Make a shoe print next to it. See how sharp the edges on the track of your shoe print are.
Now, gently blow some of the sand away until it is as smooth as the lion tracks.
Now take a guess at roughly how long it would take the breeze to blow that much sand away.”
I said I thought maybe two hours.
He said “Probably half that. So we know a lion went by here roughly an hour ago.”
Then I asked him something that had always intrigued me.
I said “What’s a rogue elephant?
Is that when an elephant gets a broken tusk, goes mad with the pain, and goes on a rampage?”
He said “No, that’s just the Hollywood version.
Rogue elephants happen when all the older males in the herd have died off, either through disease or poachers.
Then there’s nothing to keep the younger males in line, so they go crazy and start running amuck.
They wreck everything just because they can, there’s no one to stop them.”
I said “So you have to shoot them, right?”
He laughed again.
He said “No, we bring in a couple of older males from another herd. They bash the young ones about a bit, knock them into line, and order is restored.
Then the herd carries on as usual.”
I thought that was a pretty good metaphor for society.
The young ones learn from the older ones, and of course they rebel a bit, that’s natural.
But there is a basic order, and the older males enforce it.
If there aren’t any older males around the younger ones have no role models, no authority figures to look up to.
No limits to what they can do, no one to learn from.
What starts out as freedom descends into chaos and anarchy.
Without older males, the younger ones become rogue males.
And I thought about the concrete environment I’d lived in all my life.
And I thought, in some ways it’s not so different.