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Paradoxical book about birds

The wonderful world of birds
We are many who love the birds and know a closeness to these beautiful, flying creatures. Jim Robbins is one of them, and with the love of the birds as a backdrop, he has written the book The Wonderful World of Birds.


It is not the absence of snow that tells me that spring is coming. It is the sudden presence of birdsong. Bird song in the spring gives me a kind of lift in my chest, as if something opens up and makes room for a more airy room inside me. A room that makes me healthier, happier and a little more hopeful. I think: The birds are still here.

Many bird species are in sharp decline worldwide. They get fewer every year, like insects and many other animals – as a result of climate change, habitat degradation and use of pesticides and chemicals. But not yet the silent spring is here.

Anthropocentric. I can't wait to read about the wonderful world of birds. I expect a great reading experience along the lines of  The secret life of the trees by Peter Wohlleben. I expect insights, surprises and new knowledge about how birds interact and live. After a promising introduction in which Robbins writes that the book is about, among other things, research on birds that have shown that panpsychism – a form of universal consciousness – is not as unlikely as science has claimed, expectations are already sinking in chapter one.

The book is not about the wonderful world of birds, but about what birds can do for us.

One of the problems is that Robbins advocates a rather extreme anthropocentric view of nature. Through their interview objects – and a seemingly total lack of critical questions to them – the birds are described as a resource bank that should be available to humans, and that without special ethical concerns we can freely dispose of this according to our wishes and needs. The book is not about the wonderful world of birds, but about what birds can do for us. The birds are mainly reduced to service providers for science and technology, and it is through this that the birds are attributed to value. I think it's a sad read. In addition, the language is felt clichéd, simple, invigorating and uninspired.

Robbins tries to make the story more interesting by seasoning with insignificance and banalities. Like the chapter on feathers where he spends time conveying that the Mother Plucker Feather Company – some feather hunters in the United States – made 60 pairs of angel wings for $ 650 per pair for Jim Carrey and the Academy Award. Or that an emu breeder who makes art of the eggs of this ostrich-like bird was shown his art in the White House and was lucky enough to greet Laura Bush. Stupid digressions like this annoy me, and I feel underrated as a reader. What does this have to do with the wonderful world of birds? It says a lot about the vanity of humans, but nothing about the birds.

Helpful = important? Robbins has made a clear choice – he wants to tell us how important the birds are. Not by virtue of their intrinsic value, but by being useful to us. All information about birds is accompanied by how the knowledge can be used by humans. Flock intelligence – a feature of fishing lessons, bee swarms and bird flocks – for example, will help us gain better control of remote controlled aircraft and understand particle swarms. It should also shed new light on fetal formation, perhaps leading to the invention of drug-carrying nanomachines that can be inserted into the blood vessels and a lot of other. Furthermore, studies of herd intelligence will form the basis for an IT project with 7000 participants that will "utilize metacognition to find a super solution to the problem of climate change". Here, I really miss the writer's critical thinking. I mean: A super solution to climate change? How naive is progressive optimism possible?

The book is full of phrases such as: "The birds serve us in many ways", "(...) nature supports us humans" and "Practically everything from trees to soil and water contributes to our well-being and happiness." Yes, all this is True – we are part of a wonderful ecosystem that allows us to live and at best be happy in life. But are we not destroying this system precisely because we have convinced ourselves as a species that animals, plants, water and resources exist solely for the well-being of man? Where has such thinking led us? Isn't it time to reconsider this view?

Vultures and ecology. Robbins hits better in the chapter devoted vultures. Here he places these birds' lives into a larger ecological context. For example, what consequences did the vultures have lost in India in the early 2000s? The number of vultures was dramatically reduced from tens of millions to around 11. The stock was critically endangered. After three years of intense research, the cause was found – it was the drug Diclofenac, which was given to dairy cows to relieve sores and cracked udders. When cows in India die, they are left on the street. Before that came the vultures – who are renovation workers – and cleaned up. The problem was that when the vultures ate the dead cows, they got Diclofenac. The drug led to gout and kidney failure, and the birds died. The disaster increased in magnitude, because the disappearance of the vultures meant that the number of wild dogs increased since a lot of meat became available around. This led to more rabies, and thus the death toll in humans began to rise. The size of rats also increased, which led to outbreaks of plague. An estimated 000 people died as a result of the vultures' disappearance. Diclofenac was banned for veterinary use, but is still allowed in sales for human use and is still widely used on cattle. The vultures continue to die out. This is an important story – it says a lot about how everything is connected and how vulnerable ecosystems are.

In other chapters we hear about ravens, beetles, pigeons, bluebirds, eagles, falcons, snowbirds and mites. In some of the chapters, Robbins emerges as an advocate for environmentally friendly agriculture without the use of pesticides. It is of course positive, but he always returns to the usefulness of us humans. We learn a lot about how birds interact with humans and how they can be useful to us. We learn that criminals get a better life from being with birds. It's great, but it doesn't say much about the world of birds.

It had fatal consequences for humans that the vultures disappeared in India in the early 2000s.

The book concludes with a small introduction to the indigenous spiritual relationship with birds. The author also mentions the well-known eco-philosopher David Abram and his thoughts that the ecological crisis may be the result of a "newer and collective perception of our own species, a unique form of myopia that we now need to correct." I believe Robbin's book itself is characterized by this myopia.

More of the latest. Paradoxically, Robbins uses the last chapter to approach a shamanistic view of birds by, among other things, saying: "To consider birds as one's family, to enter into relationships with them, to sing their songs, to put on their feathers to be closer to the spiritual world , believe that they are extensions of our thoughts and feelings or messengers, and that we can see the world through their eyes as they fly, may be as valid or perhaps more valid than looking at birds as something we can measure, weigh, count, name, eat and maybe admire and nothing more. "Lately, I totally agree, and had Robbins written with these thoughts as beams – rather than using them as an appendix or apropos – I think the book would have been endless more exciting, magical and radical. I have a feeling that it is such a book the author wanted to write, and one might wonder why he did not. Maybe there will be a book two where he goes that way? If so, I would look forward to it.

Nina Ossavy
Nina Ossavy
Ossavy is a stage artist and writer.

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