Wildlife documentaries and human savagery

Wildlife documentaries bring in our living room a world that to many people looks savage and brutal. A tedious animal existence revolving around the search for food and territory.

What most of the viewers forget is that, as John Gray shows in his work, these are the Malthusian and Hobbesian problems that most of human life and conflict revolves around. Competition for natural resources in a crowded planet and the search for security drive everyday life and modern geopolitical games. The difference between humans and other animals is that humans fiercely deny their Malthusian and Hobbesian existence.

In place of the supposedly transcended forms of what they call animal savagery, humans have invented a truer savagery they can call their own: they kill to make a better world. No animal does that. This I believe is the most profound lesson of wildlife documentaries: the absence of utopia-driven murder.


Watching a wildlife documentary’s behind-the-scenes videos recently, I noticed that in order to film in the jungle the crew had taken an armed local with them. In an encounter with a rhinoceros the armed local pointed his rifle at it, ready to fire, had the animal approached any further.

The rhinoceros could have died so that humans could watch a video of wildlife from the comfort of their couches —an attestation to the peculiar forms of human savagery, unprecedented in the animal world.


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