Birds, toddlers and the phoney laws of profit

Fine-mesh netting to stop birds nesting in trees and hedgerows has recently become a thing in the UK. Apparently it’s been going on for a few years in the leafy margins where town merges into countryside. But it seems to have particularly taken off this spring, and photos have been pinging around social media.

Why would anyone stop birds nesting? Well, if you’re a property developer with a planning application pending, you need to make sure any trees and hedgerows you might later want to uproot aren’t home to feathery families. If they are, it’ll be illegal to displace them and that’s going to cost you time and money. So there you go. A sound business rationale for something quite appalling.

This wouldn’t be the foulest trick in the annals of human mistreatment of other creatures, but it seems to have struck a chord with many people. One of those ‘what have we come to?’ moments signalling unease in the collective psyche. Something which draws back the veil on the price that nature pays for society’s glorification of profit.  Something which reveals how we distance ourselves not only from the rest of nature but also from our own true nature.

Tangentially related in my mind was a news story from London a few weeks ago. A housing estate south of the river featured a notionally communal play area divided by a hedge and wall. On one side, a spacious garden and grounds accessible only to tenants of the estate’s privately owned flats. On the other a narrow strip of playground serving the handful of social housing flats. The development project had been required to include a proportion of social housing units, and communal play provision for small children had been part of the original specification. But now the ‘private’ and ‘social’ children, who wanted to play together, were segregated. So there was a bit of an outcry.

The estate management company embarrassed itself for a few days in the media, defending the indefensible with proprietor’s logic packaged in pathetic PR guff. After all, they asserted, only the private tenants paid the service fees which maintained their children’s VIP play facilities. Yeah but no but. Instinctively we all know that toddlers are exempt from social hierarchy. And in this case, the walls came down. But as it is for toddlers so it should be for the rest of us. Human hierarchies are a social construct, abominable and completely artificial, but like detachment from nature they serve the profit principle well,  so we’re stuck with them. Until people suddenly see right through them.

These two stories are linked for me in that they help delineate what it is we’re up against and show me where to direct my energies. I can’t ‘fight’ climate chaos but I will go out of my way to defy the maladaptive hallucinations (to borrow Richard Reese‘s phrase) that have created and are still driving it. And I can do so in the faith that deep down all of us are on the same side. We’re not supreme over nature, we’re not supreme over each other, and we won’t be blinded by the phoney laws of profit. So there.

5 Replies to “Birds, toddlers and the phoney laws of profit”

  1. It’s sad that people had such anti-life, anti-equality impulses in the first place, but it’s great that people are calling it out and “having a conversation” about it. It’s going to take billions of such conversations if we are going to change the big conversation that keeps insisting that profit and exploitation is a good thing and a sign of success. There’s a danger of taking it too far and the conversations turning into “struggle sessions” but at this point I do believe we have to take that risk, but be on our guard about the kinds of pathologies that can occur in mob thinking. It’s not a danger that I take lightly. It has led to some of the ugliest moments in human history. But it’s a risk we may have to take in order to counter the tremendous power of the profit narrative. What do you think?

  2. Thanks Michelle. I agree these concepts have to be handled with care. The kinds of leaders who ride to power by inciting mob fury all exploit the idea that sinister others are profiting at our expense. For myself, though, I just like to imagine more and more of us calmly calling bullshit on the profit principle (and on hierarchies, patriarchy and cruelty to nature) because it invisibly permeates everything, and in fact is killing everything, but questioning it remains annoyingly taboo!

  3. Sometimes it’s hard to believe how incredibly stupid humans can behave. I’m glad you’re taking a stand to combat these social issues. Funny the differences in mindset. Yesterday as I was moving leaf compost with my front end loader a killdeer was crying loudly because I was probably getting too near her nest. They lay their eggs on the ground in the gravel, which seems a bad place to be on a composing site. But I left off what I was doing and moved away not wanting to inadvertently run over her nest. Random acts of kindness make the world so much nicer!

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