Number 2, Winter 1993 Home page
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Here There Be Dragons
On old maps the areas not yet visited by European explorers were marked "Terra Incognita", the unknown land, and sometimes, by mapmakers with more imagination, "Here there be dragons." In those days we could imagine anything about those places, because we didn't know. We could make up wonderful stories of marvelous beasts, and the stories could be true, because we didn't know. The people who lived in those unexplored lands didn't know about us, and so they too could make up stories about lands across the ocean. Now there are no more unknown lands; we have been everywhere, filled in the maps, written guide books, sent home postcards saying "Wish you were here." Human feet have walked all the deer paths, human noses have poked into every grove, human knowledge has expanded to cover the Earth. We have filed it away in our libraries and databases and made the knowledge available to everyone. There are no more secrets; we know it all.
We know too much. There is no limit to our knowing, to our frantic thirst for more and more knowledge. We think it is our right, or even our duty, to know everything. We cannot leave anything unexamined. If some small patch of Earth was somehow missed in the great explorations, a team is quickly sent to explore it, walk on it, analyze it, and file it away. We can't stand the idea of there being any Terra Incognita. We fear the dragons that might live there.
There are no more dragons on the Earth. We have driven them all away, every one, destroyed their habitat, left them nowhere on this green Earth to live. Dragons live in myth, at the fringes of knowledge; dragons do not live in databases. Take apart a dragon, analyze her structure, and you will find her bones evaporating, her scales melting into doubt and skepticism. Dragons can withstand the furious heat of volcanoes, arrows bounce from their scales, they can live forever on the memory of a devoured knight. But dragons fade in the light of knowledge, fade and are gone, and then we say "Hah! They never were real" and file them away in our libraries under Myths and Legends.
And so all the dragons are gone from the Earth, and along with the dragons went the dodo bird, the passenger pigeon, the sea mink, the great auk, the blue walleye, the whole sorry list of magical beings we have destroyed. Knowing too much we abolished wonder and doubt, fantasy and imagination; and so we impoverished ourselves with certainty. Knowing too much we destroyed the habitat of dragons; knowing too much without understanding we left no room for other beings, no room for other lives.
The Earth is full of humans, over full of humans. We are everywhere. There is no place a nonhuman being can go to be free of us. We have claimed the whole Earth as ours, and allow no trespassers. We build our houses on the coyote's den and say "Go away! This is my land! Go live somewhere else!" We gather in places that cannot possibly support us, more and more and more of us until we starve in our millions, and still we stay. We organize tours to Africa to take snapshots of the last rhinoceros, the final herd of elephants. "Best go this year," we tell our friends, "before they're all gone." Go see them before the light of our knowing destroys them too, like the dragons, as though it is inevitable, as though it had nothing to do with us, as though we had no choice.
Enough of this. Let us put limits on our knowing, deliberate boundaries beyond which we will not go. Let us give the nonhuman beings back part of this Earth, their share of it. We have already proved that we cannot share this Earth in peace with nonhuman beings; we take and take and take, until we have it all, and still we want more. We are only one species among millions; we have no right to the whole Earth. Now, before it is too late, we will have to give. We will have to re-create Terra Incognita, places we never go, places for other beings, places of which we know nothing.
And how do we do that, you ask? We already know all the lands of the Earth; how can there be unknown lands? Yes, we know, but we can forget. There, I've said the heresy. Forget knowledge we've already obtained? Deliberately throw away knowledge? Give up lands we have already conquered? Unthinkable! Well, let's try thinking about it.
To start we will need to set aside large areas of the Earth for Earth's other beings, not as reservations or ghettos, but as homelands, and not just the poor, uninhabitable deserts and rocky islands, either. No, we will have to give up choice real estate if this is going to work. Thousands of acres of prairie, of forest, of mountain and sea, huge expanses of the Earth we now own and live on. Where? Everywhere! On every continent, in every ocean, from pole to pole, in every country. Ten thousand square miles of Saskatchewan and Montana for the buffalo, twenty million hectares of rainforest in British Columbia and Brazil and Equatorial Africa for the trees, all of Antarctica and the surrounding seas for the penguins and great whales, a hundred miles of Mediterranean coastline, half the Himalayas, whole islands in the Pacific: pick the best spots, and give them up, give them back. If we do it cheaply, if we grudgingly give a few acres of clearcut or worn out farmland, it will not be a sacrifice and will mean nothing. Give back the best; there will be plenty left for all of us, if we choose to live right, and thriftily.
Once we've picked the places we will give back, we must all move away from them, all of us. Leave no one behind. Or almost no one; a few of us must remain to destroy all we've built there. A few who cannot bear to leave will stay to eradicate all traces of humanity, tear down all the walls and fences, burn the towers and churches and schools, tear up the pavement and bury it deep in the Earth. We will take what we can when we leave, and those who remain will destroy the rest, destroy it utterly, destroy it with the same zeal we used in building it. They will live to erase all sign of us, and then they will die there, and their bones will return to the Earth, leaving no trace.
And the rest of us, as we move away, we will forget. We will forget deliberately, consciously, conscientiously. We will empty our minds of all knowledge of those places. We will never speak of what we did there, what we built there. We will not tell our children of lives lived there; children born after we leave will not even have stories to spark imaginings. Those places must cease to exist for us, for a time. Later we can make up stories and myths and legends; we can create histories and imaginings; we can tell each other tales of the given up lands, as long as the tales are not true. But for now, until we forget, we will not allow our attention to rest on those lands.
We will need a corps of dedicated knowledge-seekers, not to find new knowledge, but to find old knowledge, and destroy it. They will search the world's libraries, they will access all databases, they will haunt dusty bookstores and government offices, looking for records of those lands. And when they find such records they will destroy them. We will all help them in their search and in the destruction. We will develop in ourselves a distaste for such knowledge, we will weave it into our cultures and religions, we will create new sins and taboos. Yes, there will be those who hoard the old knowledge, but they will soon find that few will listen when they speak of it, or will even believe it to be true. If we all help we can destroy the knowledge of those lands in much less time than it took to gather.
We will not stock the land with species we think will be best there; we will not manage those lands. We will ensure that our pollution does not enter those places, by air or sea or river; we will not in any way interfere with the workings of those lands. And we will never go back there. We will not visit to see if everything is going well. We will not fly over.We will not use our technology to spy on those places. We will reroute satellites, or program them to be blind as they pass over. We will leave those places to develop as they will without us; we will not disturb the nonhuman beings who live there in peace; those places will no longer belong to us, and what happens there will be none of our business.
In fifty years, or a hundred, when the last of us with direct experience of those places has died and there is no human left on the Earth who has walked those lands, the dragons will come back. We will not see them, but we will know they are there. We will know in our hearts, and will not need to go look. We will tell each other new stories, stories filled with mystery and wonder, stories made poss-ible by our not-knowing, and our lives will be richer for being able to point at the blank areas on our maps, and say "Here there be dragons!"