Our theme for the month of March is “monsters.”
We all believe in monsters. Anthropologist David E. Jones, for example, pinpoints the etiology of dragons, which appear in cultural mythologies all around the globe, in the human mind’s “innate fear of predators.” To borrow from the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, humans project themselves onto mysterious others: “Consciousness of God is self-consciousness, knowledge of God is self-knowledge.” Feuerbach was more concerned with the human creation of the divine, but his analysis is true of the monstrous: humans create monsters to believe in.
We must first learn to recognize the monsters we create.
Amazon is a monster. “A monster to be a projection of sorts, an amalgamation of threats to our community’s well-being,” is how Klaas Walhout defined monsters earlier this month, and it’s about as good of a definition available. As such, big corporations necessitate representation—and who could be a better representative than Amazon?
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, in a study last year, noted that Amazon is “potentially directly or indirectly benefiting” from what can probably only be appropriately termed slavery: the forced labor of Uyghurs in China. It’s no secret Amazon has a bit of a suicide problem, exploits American workers with insufficient wages and horrific working conditions, and, of course, has almost monopolized the global market and thus suffocates alternative providers—which, according to textbook capitalism, is a problem. If monsters are an “amalgamation of threats to our community’s well-being,” then Amazon needs an albatross.
In the last decade or so, North America has been witness to and a participant in a rise of white nationalism. With this nationalism, nationalists, as is their tradition, have been appropriating symbols and icons from outside their ideological home, such as Pepe the Frog’s “Kekistan Flag.” But, like their non-nationalist peers, nationalists are also reclaiming their monstrous representation. At the US Capitol siege, for example, the insurrectionists were not embarrassed by but embracing of their Norse (to them, Aryan) iconography and Nazism. The image of the man in the “Camp Auschwitz” shirt entirely captures the sentiment.
Some boundaries shouldn’t be broken, and when they are, the effect of the monstrous should remain intact. Simply put, white nationalism is monstrous.
Too often we identify the monstrous with muscular carnivores that pose little to no serious threat to humans. As Chad Westra notes in his recent musing on Florida walks and alligators, “Though alligators are a natural fit for this month’s theme of monsters, I believe they get a bad rap. … In fact, between 1948 and 2017, there have only been 401 unprovoked alligator attacks in Florida, with just 24 fatalities. Estimates put one’s chances of being attacked at 1 in 3.2 million.” The same could be said of sharks, bears, gorillas, or just about any other typical Kingdom Animalia monster—in my opinion, if the creature stars in any creature features (a sub-genre of horror films) it’s probably essentially harmless.
The mosquito is not. Low annual death counts put the mosquito’s body count around 700,000 globally. Historian Timothy Winegard estimates that the bug has killed a total of 50,000,000,000 people during the Holocene. Statistically speaking, even with the modest readership of our blog, there is a reasonable possibility someone reading this post could die from a mosquito-related illness. There isn’t another animal the same could be said for.
The mosquito as monster, most importantly, highlights the threat to community that most predators lack. The alligator, in almost any imaginable circumstance, only threatens the individual. Mythical creatures like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster also pose threats mostly on an individual level (even if they reflect socio-cultural anxieties). The disease-carrying mosquito, however, can plague an entire country. It isn’t just a monster; it’s an effective monster.
Okay: this one is cheating. The threat posed by the mosquito, technically speaking, wasn’t created by humans. Its monstrosity can be, though. Feuerbach didn’t care about whether or not the divine was actually being perceived by humans; arguably, he didn’t even care if the divine was real. Thus, to apply his thought to the monstrous, which unlike the divine we have empirical evidence for, doesn’t allow for straight translation. Nevertheless, perhaps the mosquito’s monstrosity still reflects human self-consciousness. Aesthetically, it’s no carnivorous predator; it even appears weak, like humanity in reference to the traditional monsters of Kingdom Animalia—but, other than ourselves, it’s the only animal that could even plausibly bring a conclusion to the Anthropocene.