When Jamie James’ report of strife and murder over mummified caterpillars in a remote high-altitude region of Nepal reached our office, it exerted a curious, somewhat icky fascination. This was rhino horn and tiger penis territory, but here the irresistible lure of a natural aphrodisiac was ruining human lives rather than endangering animal ones.
It’s another variant of the youth- in-a-jar promise that we seem to be so good at falling for. Whereas the pharmaceutical industry has medicalized erections and turned the human penis into a blow-up device (while undoubtedly bringing relief to men with reluctant members), traditional medicine has always played up the symbolic values of potency – strength, virility, endurance. In short, it has gone for the jugular in terms of the values many men consider ‘masculine’, and inflated and distorted those notions to moneymaking advantage. It’s not just the male peacock that likes to strut.
It is to James’ credit that he sees beyond the way-out aspects of the story and enters the lives of those affected by the trade in yarsagumba with empathy and understanding. Which is what compelled us to publish it.
Another dangerous business is Lebanese writer Joumana Haddad’s publishing venture. She has received rape and death threats for the magazine she brings out which gives Arab contributors a unique forum for sexual expression. Prick hypocrisy and it goes on the warpath.
Last month’s newly introduced Argument section which debated the ethics of buying and selling human organs brought some thoughtful responses – we’ve printed a selection on page 37. This month we enter the thickets of public service cuts which our politicians are peddling as a necessary evil.
Our leading theme ‘Humans vs. Nature’ boils down to a simple question – can our self-obsessed species be stirred to safeguard the natural environment we live in? We’re sure you have a view.
Dinyar Godrej for the New Internationalist co-operative.