Academic journal article Theory in Action

Gambling with Our Planet

Academic journal article Theory in Action

Gambling with Our Planet

Article excerpt

This article presents an unfortunate story of conservatives and conservation. Unfortunate because it is highly problematic that so many of the reactionary ideas of conservative elites have entered the lexicon of the mainstream environmental movement: an age-old conundrum that can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century, but nevertheless needs to be scrutinized if meaningful and democratic solutions are going to be counterpoised to capitalism's desire to destroy the planet. Previous studies have produced detailed examinations documenting the cynical way in which ruling class elites manipulate green concerns to legitimize class war (Barker 2008; Brechin 1996). This investigation differs from earlier studies, however, in that it traces the influence of three men of mling class stock, whose thoroughbred lives have been as varied and colorful, as they have been intimately entwined by their obsession for all things wild. The names of these three men being: gambling legend cum zoo owner John Aspinall (1926-2000), billionaire financier Sir James Goldsmith (1933-1997) and his brother, the influential deep ecologist Edward "Teddy" Goldsmith (1928-2009). All were bom to a life of plenty, coming together in Oxford in 1949 as friends through their shared addiction to gambling.

ASPINALL'S WILD SIDE

The elder of the trio, and the man whose gambling clique brought the three together in the first place was John Aspinall. A man who was also the first of the three to seriously develop his preoccupation with the majesty of nature untamed. Bom in Delhi in 1926, when just thirteen years old Aspinall was introduced to the novels of H. Rider Haggard, with his entry point into Haggard's opus being Nada the Lily. Nada presented a tale of Zulu witchcraft, wilderness and adventure, which "opened Aspinall's eyes to a world so different from the one he knew, so much more romantic and impressive, on a scale so super-human, that he was entranced." From that time onwards Aspinall's obsession with comprehending Zulu history was second only to his addiction to Haggard's imperial tropes of spiritual fiction (Masters 1989, 29, 30). A lifelong commitment that culminated with him being rewarded with his dedication to their cause by being initiated into the Zulu 'nation' as a 'white Zulu' by King Goodwill Zwelithini.

Living in central London during the 1950s, Aspinall used his backyard to bring a little wilderness into his life of pleasure-seeking and gambling, beginning his erstwhile zoo by purchasing a monkey, tiger cub, and two Himalayan brown bears. "In the presence of these proud, secretive, untameable creatures, he felt moved. " And soon after making these new 'wild' friends, he used the rich dividends from his gambling enterprises to purchase Howletts country house and estate in Kent, and in 1956 he set about creating a private zoo on his new premises. As his biographer added, Aspinall's new found animal friends at Howlett's "strengthen[ed] his belief in elitism and confirm[ed] his distaste for social egalitarianism" (Masters 1989, 84, 131). Such views were de rigueur among Aspinall's ruling-class patrons (Roberts 2012).

With his public wildlife profile growing rapidly during the 1960s, Aspinall was soon courted by the aristocrats of eco-imperialism, the World Wildlife Fund (Barker 2008), and in his first television experience he was invited to discuss whether people or wildlife should be prioritized. Talking on behalf of animals with Aspinall was his good friend Teddy Goldsmith. "Goldsmith thundered about the redundant millions of humans in the world and disastrous progress of medical technique which eliminated many useful natural diseases." Aspinall joined the anti-humanist debacle such that their opponents concluded "that he and Goldsmith were no better than fascists in their denial of democratic advance; [Aspinall and Goldsmith] were happy to agree" (Masters 1989, 139, 140). Perhaps because of such elitist beliefs, in 1970 WWF asked him (for the second time) to become a member of their group of rapacious capitalist funders known as the '1001' Club (Bonner 1993). …

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