Can’t Get You Out of My Head

Adam Curtis

Can’t Get You out of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World (2021) is a six-part documentary series by British filmmaker Adam Curtis. It explores the challenges and adaptions of power structures from 1945 to the present day with a focus on Britain, the USA, Russia and China. Through extensive archival footage and a haunting soundtrack, Curtis explores how corruption, finance, conspiracy theories and behavioural psychology twist and defy individualism to uphold the interests of the powerful. 

There are six episodes:

  1. Bloodshed on Wolf Mountain – covers growing frustration with the old power structures in the 1950s.
  2. Shooting and Fucking are the Same Thing – examines the failure of 1960s revolutionary movements like the Black Panthers and the Red Army Faction.
  3. Money Changes Everything – the effects of dropping the gold standard, and how money replaced the idealism of the 60s.
  4. But What if People Are Stupid – the alliance between business and politics in the West, China’s abandonment of communism and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
  5. The Lordly Ones – how Britain made mythologies to obfuscate their bloody past.
  6. Are We Pigeon or Are We Dancer? – computers, technocracy and the creation of the world today.
Can't Get You Out Of My Head TV review: Adam Curtis's ...

Curtis presents a gloomy worldview. Idealists might seek to change the world, but power always wins in the end. Eerie sound production – reminiscent of 1980s science fiction and often bizarre or juxtaposed music conjures an unsettling atmosphere – the modern world is a dystopia where our leaders have no ideals or vision of the future and the masses shuffle about in a dull and meaningless existence.

Putin’s nationalism is a façade to shroud the corruption that defines post-Soviet Russia. What the CIA attempted in the West through MK Ultra is realised through the social programming of the internet. China abandoned Marxism in the 1980s and built a totalitarian state based on money, control and little else. As they instil helplessness and suspicion, conspiracy theories ultimately serve the interests of the powerful.

Can’t Get You out of My Head presents its ‘emotional history’ through intertwining narratives of individuals who tried, and often failed, to challenge the status quo. These include both politicians like Jiang Qing – wife to Mao Zedong, and lesser-known, but no less significant figures such as Michael X, Afeni Shakur, Abu Zubayda and Eduard Limonov. A key theme is the struggle of individualism against collective authority and how, in the end, the latter always wins.

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It’s a lot to take in. But, despite everything, Curtis ends on an optimistic note. If we can get ourselves into this mess, we can get ourselves out. What we need is new ideas. The documentary’s strength lies in explaining the way the world is, through an untold narrative that is both unique and compelling. It is not, however, an easy viewing.

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Moses

Biography of Moses, Leader of the Abrahamic Religions

Moses is the prophet who wrote the Hebrew code of laws. He is Judaism’s most revered figure and is mentioned in the Quran more than any other person. According to Jews, Christians and Muslims, Moses led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt and received the Ten Commandments from God.

  • Hebrew: Moshe
  • Arabic: Musa

According to the book of Exodus, which Moses allegedly wrote, the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt at the time of his birth. When the pharaoh ordered the death of all newborn Hebrew boys to quell their population, Moses’s mother hid him in the bullrushes of the Nile. Here the pharaoh’s daughter found him and raised him as her own. Moses grew up in the Egyptian court until discovering his true parentage. He murdered an Egyptian slave-driver and fled to Midian, where he met his wife, Zipporah. 

Instructed by a burning bush, Moses returned to Egypt. He promised the Hebrews a ‘land of milk and honey’ if they submitted to Yahweh, the God of Israel and demanded the pharaoh release his people. He refused, and ten plagues then befell his country. Forced to comply, the pharaoh freed the Hebrews but then sent his army against them, trapping them against the Red Sea. Moses parted the sea and allowed the Hebrews to cross. It then closed and drowned the pharaoh and his army.

God spoke to the Hebrews through Moses, who could see and hear him, atop Mount Sinai and dictated his laws – the Ten Commandments, an eye for an eye. Moses slaughtered the 3,000 who worshipped a golden calf instead then led the Hebrews through forty more years in the wilderness. When the Midianites tried to turn the Hebrews from their god, Moses ordered their destruction. He died on Mount Nebo by the banks of the Jordan River.

 The Quran affirms the Exodus narrative, adding the following details:

  • The pharaoh’s wife, not his daughter, raised Moses
  • Moses offered salvation to the pharaoh through worship of Allah 
  • Moses spoke to Muhammad in heaven

Was Moses real? The Torah claims Moses lived around 1100 BC, but historians have found no evidence in archaeology or contemporary Egyptian records. Most consider him a mythical figure, believing the Hebrews grew out of Canaan’s indigenous population. If a component of their people came from Egypt, their numbers were small. 

‘Moses and Monotheism’ (1939) by Sigmund Freud claims the prophet was an Egyptian nobleman who supported the heretic Akhenaten. This pharaoh had tried to replace the Egyptian pantheon with a single deity named Aten, but when he died, the priests of Egypt destroyed his cult and restored the old gods. According to Freud, Moses escaped the purge and brought his Egyptian god to Israel. There Aten became Yahweh. While mythologist Joseph Campbell embraced Freud’s theory, both theologians and Egyptologists reject it.

According to some Islamic traditions, Moses is buried in Nabi Musa in the West Bank, Palestine.

Sources: King James Bible, World History Encyclopedia

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The Colorado Coalfield War

r/Colorization - Coal miners prepare to confront the federal troops during the United Mine Workers labor strike against Colorado Fuel and Iron, in Camp San Rafael, Trinidad, Las Animas County, Colorado. They hold rifles, with pistols in their ammunition belts, and wear kerchiefs in support of the …

The Colorado Coalfield War of 1913-1914 was the deadliest strike in American history. Union miners challenged the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company for better conditions and pay in a dispute that ended in a massacre.

Wealthy industrialists controlled the coal mines and railroads of 19th century America. They ruled entire communities who depended on them for employment, appointing their own marshals, teachers, doctors and priests. Private armies maintained order and quashed dissent.

In 1903, industrialist JD Rockefeller acquired the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I), the largest coal firm in the American West. In 1907, Rockefeller gave his CF&I shares to his son, JD Rockefeller Junior, as a birthday gift. The Rockefellers ran the entire company from New York. CF&I was Colorado’s largest employer.

The mining workforce were mainly immigrants from Greece, Mexico Poland and Japan. CF&I deliberately mixed them by ethnicity, so the language barrier mitigated the chance of unionising. 

1910 Explosion at Starkville Mine in Colorado Killed 56

Conditions in the mines were poor. To save costs, CF&I only paid miners for the coal they mined. ‘Dead work’, like track laying and mine maintenance, went unpaid. Miners therefore neglected safety which led to cave-ins and explosions, in addition to diseases like black-lung. CF&I workers died at twice the national average. Explosions killed 167 men in 1910 alone. As the sheriffs assigned the juries and the company assigned the sheriffs, miners could find no recourse in the legal system. Before 1914, only one case in 95 found the company at fault.

The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) mobilised in southern Colorado in 1913. Organised strikes earned miners an eight-hour workday, but the company still refused to recognise the union as the miners’ bargaining representative.

9,000 miners went on strike in September 1903, demanding payment for dead work. CF&I refused to negotiate and expelled the strikers and their families from their homes. The union organised a tent colony, half a mile north of Ludlow, Colorado. News spread across the state, and over the next two days, almost every coal miner in Colorado left their jobs to join the union encampments. The UMWA subsidised strikers with three dollars a day, one for women and fifty cents for children.

On This Day in History: Ludlow Massacre

CF&I built an armoured, machine gun mounted car dubbed the ‘death special’ to intimidate the tent colonies. The strikers armed themselves in response. As tensions grew, skirmishes and gunfights became more and more common. Mother Jones, an Irish-born union activist, rallied public support and collected donations from across Colorado. Leading the Ludlow colony was 27-year-old Greek immigrant Louis Tikas.

The National Guard deployed in the strike’s sixth month to ease tensions, but the strikers refused to surrender their weapons. A force of 177 national guardsmen and company militia surrounded the Ludlow colony. After an accidental gunshot, the two sides opened fire. Though fewer in number, the national guard were better armed, with Springfield rifles and two machine guns. Five miners, including Tikas, and one guard, were shot dead while 13 women and children suffocated to death as they hid from the gunfire. The tent colony was now a smoking ruin. 

On This Day April 20, 1914: Remembering the Ludlow ...

Fighting continued for the next ten days, as strikers across southern Colorado sought revenge. The press aroused public outrage against CF&I for the deaths of women and children.

By mid-1914, the coal companies had enough strikebreakers to resume mining. By 1915, the UMWA finally went bankrupt and ended subsidies to its members.

Although the strike failed, the coal company’s response raised public awareness of the working conditions in American coal mines. In response, Congress approved the 1915 Mining Act that laid the foundations for the USA’s eight-hour workday, child labour laws and the New Deal. In 1918, the UMWA erected a monument outside Ludlow to commemorate the strike. By the 1950s ,most of the old mining communities were ghost towns.

Sources: Colorado Encyclopedia, Global Security, Denver Library, Legends of America

Inuit Mythology

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Inuit Mythology covers the indigenous myths and legends of Arctic North America. These myths eschew the creation narratives of most traditions in favour of grisly cautionary tales. They are often as harsh as the environment which made them. Their deities blend the concepts of spirits, humans, animals and monsters.

The Inuit worldview is animistic. Invisible spirits called tornait (singular, tornit) imbue every aspect of the world. Most are harmful and held in fear and reverence by humans. As natural death is so common in the Arctic, respecting taboos and superstitions is essential. Tornait can take the visible form of stones, bears or humans.

Inuit deities resemble powerful tornait, to be feared and appeased rather than worshipped. These include:

  • Sedna, ruler of Adlivun
  • Anguta, her father and guide of dead souls. In some Greenland traditions, he is a creator god.
  • Nanook – spirit of polar bears
  • Malina – spirit of the sun
  • Igaluk – spirit of the moon

Adlivun is the world beneath the sea. Spirits of the dead travel to this frozen wasteland when they die and remain for a year, then travel to the elusive Land of the Moon, where deer roam and no snow falls. Shamans called annagguit may travel to Adlivun in their dreams to appease the goddess Sedna when a taboo is broken.

Sedna is the mistress of animals. She was once a human woman, tricked into marriage by an evil spirit or, in some traditions, a fulmar.

Her father, Anguta, slew the monster and took Sedna back on his canoe. On the way home, however, a terrible storm brewed that threatened to kill them both. To appease the ocean, Sedna’s father pushed her off the boat. When she grabbed a hold of the canoe, Anguta cut off her fingers and sent Sedna to the bottom of the sea. 

Her fingers became the creatures of the ocean – the seals, walrus, whales and fish. She descended to Adlivun, where she transformed into a walrus-like creature that rules the underwater realm to this day.

In the Land of the Moon, ancestral spirits play a game with a walrus’s head. Their movements form the Aurora Borealis.

Malina, the spirit of the sun, was once a beautiful woman. Her brother Igaluk lusted after her and made her flee across the sky. To this day, Igaluk chases his sister, neglecting even to eat. As time passes, he withers until he disappears for three days eat once more. Occasionally, on a solar eclipse, he catches up. Igaluk lives on an igloo on the moon with the souls of dead animals. The legend differs amongst tribes: in some versions, the sister is the moon, the brother the sun.

.: INUIT MYTHOLOGY:.

Legends of tornit -an ancient race of giants– are likely misremembered accounts of the Dorset Culture lived in the Arctic before the Inuit came. Other mythical creatures include polar bears who walk upright and live in igloos, akhlut – wolf-orca hybrids and qallupaluit – hideous creatures who lurk in the ocean and drown disobedient children. 

Sources: Franz Boas – The Central Eskimo (1888), Canadian Encyclopedia, Inuit Myths, Philip Wilkinson – Myths and Legends (2009)

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Māori Mythology

Maori Myths and Legends ⋆ The Sound Temple

Māori Mythology encompasses the traditional creation narratives, legends and folktales of New Zealand. Deriving from the Polynesian tradition, Māori Mythology is among the world’s youngest mythologies. Its stories survive today through accounts recorded by 19th-century British scholars and oral tradition.

Because Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, were never a singular nation, and because their stories transmitted by word of mouth, there is not one mythological narrative. Key details differ from place to place. The most familiar stories come from North Island traditions, many of which British governor Sir George Grey recorded in his ‘Nga Mahi a nga Tipuna’ (1853). 

Ātua are supernatural beings resembling gods or deities. Over 70 in number, they personify all aspects of the living world. Many genealogies trace descent to a particular atua. Some of the most well-known include:

  • Tāne-Mahuta – atua of the forests and birds. In wooded New Zealand, he, not Tangaroa is humanity’s tutelary deity.
  • Tangaroa – atua of the ocean and its creatures. Analogous to Tangaloa/Kanaloa – the sea god of Polynesian mythology.
  • Tāwhiri-matea – atua of the weather. 
  • Tū-mata-uenga – atua of war.
  • Tama-nui-te-rā – atua of the sun. 
  • Rongo-ma-tāne – atua of kumara (sweet potato), cultivated foods and peace.
  • Ruaumoko – atua of earthquakes.
  • Whiro – atua of misfortune.
  • Mahuika – atua of fire.
  • Hine-nui-te-pō – atua of death.
Kauri Coast Waipoua Forest | Tane Mahuta | Northland New ...

Long ago, the Sky Father Rangi-nui and the Earth Mother Papa-tū-ā-nūkū joined in a tight and loving embrace. Their 70 children, the original ātua, lived in the dark and confined space between them. Some wanted to separate the two; others did not. Eventually, Tāne-mahuta wrenched his parents apart with his legs and forever separated the sky from the earth, letting light into the world. To this day, Rangi-nui and Papa-tū-ā-nūkū grieve their separation. 

Our world is one of many, each layered above and below. Some traditions speak of an atua called Io-matua-kore, the uncreated one, who dwells in the highest plane. Whiro, who tried to usurp Tāne, dwells in the lowest.

Each of the ātua bestowed a piece of their essence on the first person, meaning although humans die, we too are divine. 

Māui, a demigod appearing across Polynesian mythology, is one of the most famous figures of the Māori tradition. His deeds include:

  • fishing out the North Island of New Zealand
  • tethering the sun so it passed slowly across the sky
  • stealing fire from the goddess Mahuika and granting it to the world

Hine-nui-te-pō, the goddess of death, shepherds the souls of the dead to the next world. Māui met his doom when trying to defy her.

Te Urunga - The Sunrise Experience - Maunga Hikurangi

Māori myth blends into history with the tales of discovery and migration from Polynesia. There are stories of fearsome ogres, moving mountains, dragon-like taniwha, elf-like turehu, and bloodthirsty sea demons called ponaturi.

As the ātua represent natural forces, they are still significant for many in New Zealand today.

Sources: Witi Ihimaera – Navigating the Stars (2020), Te Ara Encyclopedia

See Also:

Myths and Legends

The Art of the Shahnama

Myths and legends are the sacred narratives of a culture. Like music, they are a human universal. Most myths have ancient origins and are transposed across generations by spoken word or sacred writings. Seldom are they ascribed to a single author. These stories blend religion with history, literature and science. They are the oldest recorded stories in the world.

Myths explain the way the world is through story. Carrying a deeper ‘spiritual truth’, they often deal with the origins of the universe, the deeds of supernatural beings and heroic individuals. Myths encapsulate a culture’s collective values and heritage; they both inform and reflect their worldview. Myths create cohesion and common values across a society and people who have never met.

Yuval Noah Harari, author of ‘Sapiens’:

Fiction has enabled us not merely to imagine things, but to do so collectively. We can weave common myths such as the biblical creation story, the Dreamtime myths of Aboriginal Australians, and the nationalist myths of modern states. Such myths give Sapiens the unprecedented ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers.

壁纸 : Apollo Abducting Cyrene, Frederick Arthur Bridgman ...

Finnish Folklorist Lauri Honko:

Myth, a story of the gods, a religious account of the beginning of the world, the creation, fundamental events, the exemplary deeds of the gods as a result of which the world, nature, and culture were created together with all parts thereof and given their order, which still obtains. A myth expresses and confirms society’s religious values and norms, it provides a pattern of behaviour to be imitated, testifies to the efficacy of ritual with its practical ends and establishes the sanctity of cult.

‘Mythology’ refers to a culture’s collective body of myths and legends. The word myth comes from the Greek ‘mythos’, meaning story.

Examples of Myth: 

  • The Osiris Myth
  • The Great Flood
  • The Ramayana

In modern English, ‘myth’ is sometimes used to describe something commonly believed but untrue. This is not the scholarly definition, however. Experts seldom speculate whether a particular myth is empirically ‘true’ or not. A sacred narrative is the primary definition of a myth.

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Legends, as defined by Oxford Dictionary, are ‘traditional [stories] sometimes popularly regarded as historical but not authenticated.’ Typically, they seem more credible than myths and often focus on heroic or saintly human characters instead of divinities. 

Examples of Legends:

  • The Trojan War
  • King Arthur and the Holy Grail
  • El Dorado

Folk Tales are traditional tales from a particular culture. Unlike myths and legends, folk tales are not religious and focus on ordinary people or magical creatures rather than deities and heroes. While high literature, and epic poetry is often recorded by a culture’s elite, folk tales spring from the oral tradition of the common people.

East of the Sun West of the Moon | Fairy Tale Heart ...

Examples of Folk Tales:

  • Androcles and the Lion
  • Brothers Grimms’ Fairy tales
  • The One Thousand and One Nights

Because myths, legends and folk tales are primarily oral and are retold by different peoples, the same story can have multiple versions, with names and key details varying. Through that measure, they would constantly improve. Most myths and legends do not have an official version.

Most of these traditional stories are thousands of years old. The staying power of myths is a testament to their value. 

Sources: Lauri Honko – the Problem of Defining Myth, Oxford Dictionary, Philip Wilkinson – Myths and Legends, Yuval Noah Harari – Sapiens

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Haida

Haida

Haida are the indigenous people of Haida Gwaii, an archipelago off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, and Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, USA. Traditionally they lived by fishing, hunting, raiding and trade.

Haida Gwaii, formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, consists of two main islands and 150 smaller ones. Biologists call it the ‘Galapagos of the North’. The temperate rainforest that covers the islands includes trees over 100 meters tall and moss seven inches thick. Unique species include the Sitka spruce and Haida Gwaii black bear. Migrating birds from around the world nest, and seals and whales beach in Haida Gwaii. Salmon fill its rivers. Today, the archipelago falls under Haida heritage areas and National Parks.

Haida were hunter-gatherers. In lands so abundant in fish and wildlife, however, they could afford to settle in one place and sustainably forage rather than move from place to place – a rare luxury in hunter-gatherer societies. Haida gathered edible plants, hunted deer, birds and bear, and caught salmon and seafood. From hollowed red cedars, they carved canoes that took them as far as California, where Haida not only traded but plundered and enslaved.

Haida Gwaii

There were once 100 self-governing villages in Haida Gwaii. Their people identified with one of two clans – the raven and the eagle. One could only marry a member of the other. Within each clan were 20 lineages, each of which had economic rights to particular groves, rivers and fishing grounds.

Haida art exemplifies the distinct Pacific Northwest style, with stylised depictions of animals such as ravens, eagles, orcas and bears carved and painted onto wood. Symbolising lineage, these images traditionally decorate Haida canoes, houses and, most famously, totem poles. Haida manga began publication in 2001.

Stanley Park Haida Totem Poles | The rich cultural ...

The potlatch ritualises social and economic ties between lineages and commemorate events like births, weddings and deaths. In these public ceremonies, attendants exchange gifts, perform dances and music and settle disputes. They are essential to Haida culture.

Haida worldview was essentially animistic, with a supreme being at the top. Today most mix Christianity with traditional beliefs. As in Pacific Northwest and Koryak traditions, the trickster Raven is central to Haida myth. His schemes inadvertently create the fabric of our world.

The Haida’s ancestors migrated to the islands at the end of the Ice Age 13,000 years ago when the rainforests emerged. Their customs and folklore bear striking similarities to the Koryak people of eastern Siberia, meaning the two are likely related.

File:Haida canoe.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

When Europeans made contact in 1723, there were around 50,000 Haida. An 1863 smallpox outbreak emptied their villages. By the time Canada annexed Haida Gwaii in 1900, there were only 500 left, a number sustained to this day. Like other First Nations, Haida children were victims of the Canadian Indian residential school system in the 20th century. Today there are 501 Haida, 445 of whom speak the language. The name ‘Haida Gwaii’ (meaning Islands of the People), was restored in 2009.

Sources: American Anthropologist, Canadian Encyclopedia, Coast Funds

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Inuit

An elderly Inuit man, Aarulaq, wearing a duffle parka and ...

Inuit are the indigenous people of the North American Arctic. They live in Greenland and the polar regions of Alaska and Canada. Their ancestors migrated from Asia around 1000, making them the last indigenous people to settle the Americas. 

Inuit means ‘the people’ in Inuktitut. A singular Inuit is an Inuk. 

The word ‘Eskimo’ refers to the related peoples of the Arctic Circle who speak Eskimo-Aleut languages, including Inuit, the Aleuts of Alaska and the Yupik of Kamchatka. Eskimo means ‘snow shoes’ in Algonquin but scholars once thought it came from the Cree ‘askipiw’, meaning ‘eater of raw flesh’. That etymology is now disproven, though Eskimo is still considered derogatory in Canada. Inuit is preferred. 

Eskimos of Alaska construct an igloo, 1924 | Inuit, Igloo ...
Inuit in 1920

The ancestors of the Inuit crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia a thousand years ago. Known as the ‘Thule Culture’, they displaced the Dorset people who came before them and spread across the American Arctic. The Thule had greater numbers and husky-driven sledges which the Dorset lacked. The last Dorset group died out in 1903. Owing to their later migration, Inuit are more closely related to the indigenous Siberians than other Amerindian and First Nations groups. 

Inuit have adapted to the most extreme conditions of any human society. In the Arctic, temperatures can reach -50° and there are periods of 24-hour darkness in winter. There is no wood or domesticable animals. Agriculture is impossible. The traditional Inuit diet was 75% fat and in winter, 100% meat and fish.

Inuit drove sledges, wore fur coats built skin tents in summer and igloos in winter. They fished, and hunted seals, walrus, caribou and whales, and made harpoons from narwhal horns and walrus ivory. Their adaption to polar environments meant Inuit settlers thrived in Greenland while Norse colonies perished. Kayaks are an Inuit invention. 

European whalers made contact with Inuit in the 1700s. By the 19th century, the measles, smallpox, tuberculosis and alcohol they introduced had killed 90% of the Inuit people.

Throwback Thursday: Nunavut up and running | Canadian ...

By the early 20th century, Inuit were hunting with guns and using metal tools. Many made a living selling fox pelts to white traders. Some attended missionary schools but were largely independent of mainstream Canadian society.

The Canadian government asserted control over the Inuit from 1939. Government assimilation policies forced Inuit children into residential boarding schools and assigned them state-sanctioned names. Abuse was rampant. They resettled nomadic Inuit into permanent settlements to lay claim to parts of the Arctic, ended their traditional way of life and integrated them into the modern economy. The decimation of whale populations, melting ice caps and oil drilling has since made the traditional Inuit lifestyle unattainable. 

In the 1970s, university-educated Inuit lobbied for land claims and self-representation. The territory of Nunavut, which is majority Inuit, became self-governing in 1993. 

Map of Canada highlighitng the Nunavut and Nunavik regions

Today, Canadian Inuit live in four autonomous regions, each located north of the treeline.

  • Inuvialuit (Northwest Territories)
  • Nunavut (own territory)
  • Nunavik (Quebec)
  • Nunatsiavut (Newfoundland and Labrador)

Greenland is under Danish sovereignty, with Inuit 80% of the population. As in Canada, the Danish government resettled Inuit into towns and forced changes in diet and occupation. Resettlement, overfishing and climate change destroyed their traditional way of life in a mere generation. Greenland gained home rule in 1979.

Blanket Toss in Utqiagvik, Alaska

Modern Inuit are impoverished minorities in their respective countries. Many live-in isolated communities with little access to roads and hospitals. Canadian Inuit live 15 -20 years less than the average citizen and, in both Greenland and Canada, suicide is six times the national average. 

It is not all, however, so bleak. Inuit culture is seeing a revival across Alaska, Greenland and Canada. Traditional visual art and throat singing is taught across the Inuit homeland, and in Nunavut, most children now learn Inuktitut as a first language.

Sources: Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada, Inuit Tapariit Kanatami, Minority Rights Group

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Swamps, Marshes, Bogs and Fens

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Swamps, marshes and bogs are not the same thing. Strictly speaking, they are varieties of wetlands. This family of ecosystems is a stretch of land saturated with water, neither fully land nor sea. Wetlands may be found on the edges of oceans, lakes or rivers, or be regions unto themselves. They are crucial pillars of the world’s biodiversity.

Wetlands are buffers for storms and strong winds and absorb excess water from rainfall and flooding. They serve a crucial ecological function by naturally filtering chemicals, metals and pollutants in their soil. As insects breed in them, they are also rife with disease. At the bottom layer, wetlands may house coal, while bogs and fens house peat, a valuable biofuel.

World folklore depicts wetlands – swamps and bogs, in particular, as dangerous haunted places, home to real dangers like alligators and tigers, and imaginary ones like witches and bunyips.

There are four types of wetland: swamps, marshes, bogs and fens. These differ considerably by the plants that grow in them.

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A bayou in Louisiana, USA

Swamps are forested wetlands. Wooded plants dominate these regions, growing beneath the water and rising high above it. Saltwater swamps are found on tropical coastlines, freshwater swamps inland. Swamps tend to be humid and rich in wildlife. Famous swamps include the Bayou of Louisiana and the Mangrove Forests of Southeast Asia.

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The Everglades, Florida, USA

Marshes are wetlands dominated by herbaceous plants such as grasses, rushes and reeds. Saltmarshes ‘catch’ pollutants from human settlements downriver and stop them from entering the sea. Freshwater swamps form on the slow stretches of rivers or the edges of lakes. Migratory birds nest in saltmarshes before heading to sea. Famous marshes include the Everglades of Florida, the Mesopotamian Marshes of Iraq and the Okavango Delta.

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Bog in Mukri, Estonia

Bogs are the remains of ancient glaciers which melted at the end of the Ice Age. Unlike swamps and marshes, they are found only inland in colder, northern climates. Rather than trees or grasses, bogs are home to peat, a thick, spongy soil created from ancient, decaying plant matter, which eventually turns into coal. The excess of peat stifles plant growth, meaning bogs are often acidic and low in oxygen. Bogs dominate regions of Ireland, Russia, Scandinavia and North America and take over ten thousand years to form.

Fens form from glaciers but, unlike bogs, are fed by rivers and are alkaline, not acidic. They host both peat deposits and grassy plants. From a distance, fens resemble low-lying meadows. If enough peat develops or it loses access to freshwater, a fen can turn into a bog.

Pollardston Fen, Ireland

‘Mire’ is another word for a peat wetland, like a fen or bog. Human activity threatens wetlands. Rising sea levels caused by climate change can flood coastal wetlands and destroy these valuable habitats. Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have drained wetlands for agriculture and urban development and dammed the rivers which feed them. The loss of wetlands threatens the species who live there and risks losing the protection they offer. Since 1900, half the world’s wetlands have disappeared.

Sources: National Geographic, The Wildlife Trust, WWF

Mirror Test

Meet The Most Narcissistic Monkey On The Planet - Vocativ

The mirror test measures animal self-awareness. To pass, a creature must recognise itself in a mirror. Only 13 species, including humans, have so far.

In the test, scientists place a coloured mark on an animal’s forehead and put it in front of a mirror. Some animals ignore the mirror, others consider it a different creature. A small few will adjust themselves while looking in the mirror and try to remove the mark. Such a response indicates they know the creature in the mirror is them, and act accordingly. 

Gordon Gallup Jr. invented the test in 1970. He put chimpanzees in a room with a mirror. At first, they threatened their reflection but, after a time, started grooming and pulling faces. When Gallup put a red mark on one ear then removed the mirror, the chimpanzees continued to scratch and touch that ear. The test proves animal self-recognition and suggests self-awareness.

 Animals that have passed:

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  • humans
  • chimpanzees
  • bonobos
  • orangutans
  • gorillas
  • bottlenose dolphins
  • orcas
  • Asian elephants
  • Eurasian Magpies
  • pigeons
  • cleaner wrasses (a tropical reef cleaner fish)

Most gorillas fail the test. Eye contact is threatening for gorillas, so they may deliberately avoid looking at the mirror for long enough to recognise themselves.

Only one elephant, an Asian elephant in 2006 at Bronx Zoo, identified the X on its forehead after looking in a mirror. Elephant cognition evolved on a similar path to primates. 

Magpies pass every time. The corvid family, which includes ravens and crows, have the same brain-body ratio as primates. While Eurasian magpies are among the most intelligent animals on the planet, their intelligence evolved from a different source than humans and primates. 

In 1980, behavioural psychologist BF Skinner found pigeons could pass the test after extensive, scaffolded training. Untrained pigeons do not.

Human babies do not pass the test until between 12 and 24 months old. Studies show a discrepancy across different environments.

What do these creatures have in common? Animals that pass the test have a high body-brain ratio, advanced perception and cooperative social structures. 

The mirror test is not the only indicator of self-awareness. Dogs, for example, rely on scent, so instantly discount any image from being them because of the lack of associated smell. That doesn’t mean they are necessarily self-aware, but if they were, a mirror-test wouldn’t tell you.

Without self-recognition, however, there cannot be self-awareness. Distinguishing the animals who pass from their peers is a significant step in unravelling the mystery of consciousness.

Sources: Animal Cognition, Brittanica, Science Daily.