A zoo is not merely a nightmare taking shape in concrete and steel. It is the forced importation of wild animals into the no-longer beating heart of the ongoing nightmare—hallucination—that is this deathly culture, this culture that is killing the planet.
Each new creature forced or born into a zoo is a retelling of the story of each human forced or born into this culture. Each new human forced or born into this culture is a retelling of the story of each new creature forced or born into a zoo. It is the nightmare story of the culture itself, the nightmare story of walls closing in.
The modernization of zoo cages and their renaming as “habitat” fits perfectly into the story of our own confinement. Modern cages—the kind in zoos—use fewer bars, not because moats or electrified fences provide more freedom for those encaged, but because they provide the illusion of freedom to those who watch. The fantasy of the consumers of the spectacle, the fantasy of the consumers of the animals—the fantasy that the animals are eagerly awaiting us, awaiting our use—will be slightly less brittle. As the real world is increasingly consumed and turned into artificial habitat, or rather habitat™, for both humans and nonhumans alike, we increasingly attempt to blur the distinction between habitat and habitat™, until multiple authors can state with a presumably straight face that the whole world is a zoo. One zookeeper went so far as to use that as the title of his book. All of this helps us forget what we have lost, and what we are continuing to lose. This helps us to forget who we are meant to be, who we are, and what we have become. As we become increasingly metabolized into the system, as we increasingly forget that we are animals who need habitat, we no longer need bars, nor even moats nor electrified fences, to contain us. We contain ourselves in our offices, in our houses, in front of our television sets, in our cities. And we pretend we are still free. We pretend we are still alive.
For the most part modern zoos provide more “enrichment” than old-style menageries (though of course the animals are still not free). This too has a human equivalent, as those of us closer to the center of civilization have far more “enrichments” to help us pass the time, “enrichments” that are utterly unnecessary when living in the real world.
I do not believe that the pacing bear driven mad would now leave her cell even if she could. If returned to her home she would probably not know what to do. Neither do we. This means the barriers that separate us from freedom can now be more hidden from superficial view.
What is true for bears, penguins, and boa constrictors is true for humans. Just because we pretend our own barriers to freedom are not there does not mean our pretense is real. We are still not free. We are no longer able to interact with our habitat, which means we are no longer who we are. We are no longer human.