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What can we learn from wombats about solidarity?


In Australia, in the summer season 2019/2020, the fires in the bush were especially devastating. Wombats have apparently saved lives of many other smaller animals by sheltering them in their large and complex burrows. More than a billion of creatures have been estimated to have died in the fires, but not the ones that were hiding underground.

The news of wombats’ kindness circulated wildly in the news and on the social media.
Some scientists felt the need to explain to people, that wombats were not really helping other animals: they have done so by chance, they usually build spacious burrows and cannot inhabit them all...the other animals were just squatting in unused space, so to say. Ah, why is this so  necessary, for certain scientists, to rush to “correct” our intuitive understanding?

Why is it so important to articulate the idea that the wombats were not really being altruistic, solidary and caring for the neighboring species? It is a strange urge, to exclude animals (and other beings) from the domain of morality. Even more disturbing, I find here an echo of a strict Darwinism, a view that the basic principle, that drives the life and evolution in the biosphere is competition. As early as in 1902, a Russian anarchist and philosopher Peter Kropotkin has strongly argued to recognize the strict Darwinist approach as wholly anthropomorphic: a reflection of the human society and our own failings, rather than an accurate reading of the more than human situation. The societies of he had in mind were in a place of a rapid development of a world-wide capitalist system, which was (and still is) based on extraction of value from the natural world and from certain human communities. Our insistence on seeing conflict everywhere, Kropotkin pointed out, only becomes more hypocritical, as we continue to disrupt and exploit the habitats and societies of nonhumans for profit. It was not nature’s violence, but that of man. Kropotkin insists there is solidarity among animals, and that mutual aid and the joy of shared social life are vital: “an instinct that has been slowly developed in the course of an extremely long evolution”. So, mutual aid, an instinct? I like this wording.

To speak of animal solidarity is all but an attribution of human terms and qualities to non-humans. Rather, it is the full acknowledgement that we share a world.


exhibition views: wombat solidarity, Kunstahus Bella Martha, Marthashofen, March 2023


wombat solidarity

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for the exhibition text & notes to the show

(here you will also find the list of books the animals are reading)

feel free to download:

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