Interesting interview with Stephen Corry, from Survival International
What is your own background briefly?
I’ve pursued the same goal all my adult life, so there’s little to say here. I have no degree and no formal training (aside from a ski instructor qualification!). I’ve been enormously lucky. I’ve travelled a bit and lived and talked with a lot of people from very diverse backgrounds. I grew up in a violent household with no money. It was good to instill resilience and independence and I’m grateful for that. It wasn’t hard for me, though it was very tough on my mother, who always stood by me. Ah… mothers!
Does it seem like a logical background to what you do now?
We don’t choose our early life, but it taught me to fight, the most important attribute in what I do so, yes.
How was the last 12 months? What were your big wins?
I’ve been the busiest ever and getting busier, with battles on many fronts, but I’ve come to realize that’s when I work best. Survival’s voice is stronger than ever, that’s the underlying and most important “big win.” We’re going to stop the élite destroying tribal peoples, or if they do, at least we’re going to make sure everyone knows who’s responsible! We’re widely hated for that.
Specifically, our voice is a key in shifting the way conservation is viewed in the West – for the first time in 150 years. Notions of “conservation” and “wilderness,” especially in Africa and Asia, are too close to ecofascism. We’re in the vanguard of showing that tribal peoples are the best conservationists, something which lots of people are finally now saying, even though many don’t necessarily understand or even really believe the extraordinary implications.
Thuggery is trying to take hold in many places, like Brazil and India where the governments are bent on destroying all diversity. It’s certainly focussed things, but we’ve had big wins there too. For example, we’re helping block fundamentalist missionaries, of the most extreme and crazy kind, from reaching uncontacted tribes in the Amazon. They’ll destroy them.
"Can we put aside the terrible idea that humanity is a virus infecting the Earth? Biodiversity relies on human diversity. And we have to fight for both.” @Survival’s Director @StephenCorrySvl’s message for #EarthDay ?https://t.co/Hi1VAhflE5
— Survival International (@Survival) April 22, 2020
What would you have done differently?
I’ve never dwelt on this question. Hundreds of things with hindsight, but I lack a gift of foresight! Nothing specific that I can think of, except being more open to the realization that everyone and everything is our teacher. I “know” that conceptually, but often forget it in daily life.
I’d like it to be a kind of background hum to every interaction, which certainly doesn’t mean agreeing with everything or respecting intolerance of course, far from it! I try and learn from my mistakes, but I’ve come to realize that I don’t feel guilt and that – in this society – that’s quite rare: I think it’s pretty common amongst tribal peoples though and in others who live close to the Earth. They have few doubts about who they are.
1 min pitch for what you are doing now?
Fighting against the assault on human diversity which is gaining such traction in so many places and which eventually leads everyone, I mean really everyone, towards enormous avoidable suffering and destruction. Human diversity is the key to antiracism and antifascism.
It’s also the key to life itself. We all know that biodiversity is crucial to the future of the planet, but few seem to realize how much biodiversity depends on human diversity. That’s not a glib soundbite: Human diversity actually makes biodiversity and has always been crucial to an inhabited Earth’s future. If that sounds inflammatory, I’d need more than a minute to explain!
Why did you get involved with Survival International?
When I was 18 and travelled, I saw that I – like most of my peers – had been sold a great lie called “Western civilization.” That was something of a Damascene moment, though I didn’t immediately see all its implications. After my return to the UK, Survival advertised a public meeting around its relaunch. I read about it in the newspapers in 1972 and went along.
I felt “called” (without wanting to sound pietist!) and was certainly relieved at discovering others had seen something similar: Tribal peoples had ideas and ways of life of so much value, including for the rest of us, but they were being eradicated. I wanted to join the fight stop it and volunteered, thinking there was a big team. There wasn’t, I stayed, we’ve grown! All this makes me something of a poacher turned gamekeeper or is it more vice versa?
Not in Victoria, or can’t make it? Don’t worry – you can listen to the interview online now! ?https://t.co/91uy0czUOd
— Stephen Corry (@StephenCorrySvl) April 23, 2020
Why do you think it is such a powerful idea?
If we can see the value in those we think are the most different to ourselves, we’ll have a better chance of respecting our neighbours, who live just as we do but come from a different background or heritage. That would reduce much conflict and hurt.
My question aged 18 was, “What makes people, people?” The answer is implicit in Survival’s work, and it’s the opposite of what many are still being taught fifty years later! It turns out that people are not the inherently nasty brutes some claim, including some social scientists and conservationists whose beliefs are rooted in the 19th century.
Humanity is beautiful, and we’re really designed to be supportive and helpful to each other, rather than harmful. This is so clear, especially with many tribal peoples I’ve visited, it’s clear in what we know of human evolution. Our species simply wouldn’t exist if this wasn’t true. If we all opened to this, it would change the world.
How can people find out more about you personally & your work?
Ask me? I tweet (@StephenCorrySvl) and write articles, though not about me. Survival International is the charity and movement I’ve worked with since 1972. It works, believe me.
“Put aside the terrible idea that humanity is a virus infecting the Earth…
The true key to a new conservation… is to recognise for the first time that
biodiversity depends on human diversity,
and we need to fight for both.”
My call to arms from Italian TV ? https://t.co/V7G5M0lOSx
— Stephen Corry (@StephenCorrySvl) April 23, 2020
Who and where do you get inspiration from?
Oh, the usual suspects – family and friends, people I’ve watched die, and others being born, a stranger’s chance remark, great art… I concur with the poet’s, “I am part of all that I have met!” More personally? Those many I’ve seen and learnt about who are much less lucky than me, but far stronger and more courageous. Some particular tribal people and their direct, unmasked approach to life and the cosmos. Always, the unconquerable indifference of mountains and the distant physical and psychological horizons they can allow us to approach.
The great historical teachers and revolutionaries – political, philosophical, religious, artistic… from different continents. It’s all random! I collect bits and pieces, or perhaps they collect me. The world is chaos but we pretend to extract order. “What fools these mortals be!”
Anything else you’d like to add / we should have asked?
I’m not overly comfortable talking about myself and don’t generally do it; I don’t see why anyone should be interested. But I’ve found the questions provoking, and sometimes been surprised at my answers, so thank you. People often say that what I do must be so depressing, but for me it isn’t at all. It’s wonderful; I don’t know anyone luckier.
In spite of all evidence to the contrary, I’m entirely optimistic about the future. I believe humanity is worth fighting for, must be fought for, and will survive. And I remain just as up for the battle as I was 50 years ago, if anything, more!
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