The Little Mammals


When I was 6, I made up my mind to become a paleontologist. I loved rocks, fossils, strata, and (of course!) dinosaurs. I was emboldened by the fact that one of the first amateur paleontologists that met with any great success was acutally a woman (Mary Anning).

So during my formative years, I marinated in ancient eras of time, such as the Cretaceous. And naturally was very interested in the sudden die-off of most large dinosaurs. There were many theories back in those days about what caused the die-off; these days the mainstream theory concerns a very large asteroid, along with the eruptions that would have also resulted from the impact, decimating plant life due to environmental smoke and dust lowering temperatures and the amount of daylight reaching earth.

But the mass extinction did not erase all life on the planet. Not only plant life survived, but in a sense dinosaurs themselves survived--as birds. But the most important survivors were creatures that were not cold-blooded. They were an entirely different type of life--warm-blooded. During the time of the dinosaurs, those giants of earth, mammals were small, quick, and had lots of babies that they took care of (the word mammal comes from the mammary glands--this was a very different level of care than dinosaurs gave their offpspring).

Of course, in the eons after the dinosaurs died out, and as the environment became more hospitable, mammals began to grow in size, also, through never becoming quite as big as their predecessors.

It is interesting to me to think about the time when the big dinosaurs co-existed with the small mammals. The dinosaurs must have barely noticed them, and the mammals were much too quick for the dinosaurs to hunt them. They must have been like some small pests, like fleas are to dogs now. But they survived while the masters of the earth did not. The asteroid was coming while the dinosaurs were "eating and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage," so to speak.

I think you can see where I am going with this. Those who belong to the kingdom of God on earth are like those little pesky mammals. We have no great power, and the age of persecution is coming soon, if it's not already here. The powers of the earth--the dinosaurs of the earth today--are mighty, powerful, and almost cannot be resisted. But in this case, the mammals know that asteroid is coming for the dinosaurs; it's just a matter of time.

Rather than engage with dinosaur world, we need to more fully create mammal world. We must create a vibrant mammal society, underfoot as it were. We must be hiding in plain sight and scuttle away if the spotlight turns in our direction. But we must survive, and more importantly, we must successfully transmit our mammal-ness to our children, and they to theirs, so that there may be some who survive the coming of the asteroids.

The writer Paul Kingsnorth has a recent and eloquent disquisition on this:

"In ancient China, the state distinguished between two different kinds of barbarian outsider: the raw (sheng) and the cooked (shu). A 12th-century document detailing the relationship of the Li people with the Chinese state speaks of the “cooked Li” as those who have submitted to state authority and the “raw Li” as those who “live in the mountain caves and are not punished by us or do not supply labour”. But while the raw Li were clearly enemies of the state, the cooked Li were not exactly friends either. State officials “suspected them of outward conformity while slyly co-operating with the raw Li”. The raw barbarians lived outside the walls and the cooked lived within, but neither were really to be trusted.

"What we see here, then, is two potential escape routes: one outside, one inside. Shatter zones do not have to literally be in the hills: they can be within our homes and even within our hearts. My heart soars whenever I hear of some remote monastery or surviving rooted community with no online access or even electricity, whose people know exactly where they stand: outside the state, the better to see God and experience creation. Such places are the work of the raw barbarians, and we need more of them.

"But most people are cooked barbarians. We are, to different degrees, in the state but not of it. Perhaps we look like good citizens on the outside. But if we coalesce as a jellyfish tribe, we can begin to dissociate ourselves from the state, while creating alternatives to it. Plenty of people are already doing this. They create cultures-within-cultures, parallel economies and ways of living. Like small furry mammals running unnoticed beneath the feet of the tyrannosaurs, we can thus build our own little worlds on the margins and wait for the coming of the meteor, which we can already see coming in the very un-sustainability of technological modernity. The mice don’t attack the dinosaurs, and neither do they wait for them to die out: they just avoid them as best they can, and get on with their work.

"In the age of Starlink, eyeball scans, AI bots and digital passports, it is getting harder and harder to find anywhere to hide. But humans are creative. There are countless practical ways in which cultural refusal can manifest in our everyday lives. I am a writer, for instance, who is currently watching the publishing industry being taken over by political puritans who are purging incorrect thoughts from the shelves, while rooting around in the past for baddies to cancel. I can whine about this, or I can support or start new publishers on the margins who do things differently. The same might be true for music, art, academia, food-growing. Everything is compromised; nothing is easy. But building anew, retreating to create, being awkward and hard to grasp, finding your allies and establishing your zone of cultural refusal, whether in a mountain community or in your urban home: what else is there?"

Indeed, what else is there? We must create those small, spotlight-avoiding spaces; we must support different and non-prestigious ways of doing things; we must establish our zones of cultural refusal. We in the CoJC used to be very good at this--heck, we carved out Deseret, for goodness sakes!--but we've lost our touch as the Church has tried to become more mainstream. But that is a losing battle--we are increasingly become less and less mainstream. But instead of lamenting that, why don't we embrace it? Why don't we embrace our identity as "peculiar people"?

While this post is already too long, the agenda is both simple and clear. We must create our counter-culture, carve out zones of refusal insofar as we can technologically and physically, and we must pass our mindset to our children in as intact a form as we can. And we must have children--another point of counter-culture--in order to do that. We need strong homes, and we need a way to create a community from those homes. The ward may be the foundation, but it is also true that basing community around a group of people you see for 2 hours once a week will not be sufficient. There is room for efforts parallel to those undertaken by the Church to build a real sense of community around the ward family. And there's room--at least for the time being--to create such spaces online and overcome the barrier of distance. That is certainly what we have tried to do with the online journal SquareTwo.

Wherever you are, whoever you are, what can you do to help build mammal culture? Think about it.