The Natural History Museum Is A Tomb

The macarbre tombs of Empire. Photo by Laurie Byrne

I went to the Natural History Museum and it’s a tomb now. Perhaps it always was. We were looking at an exhibit of a hundred hummingbirds that some guy had killed and stuffed in the 1800s. The plaque said the colors were faded now. It was next to a bunch of severed heads of toucans and hornbills. “What’s the fucking point?” I thought. Joni Mitchell sang in my head,

They took all the trees
Put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged all the people an arm and a leg just to see ‘em

They at least don’t charge for the museum, though getting into the UK itself is an ordeal. If we want to see the animals or artifacts or books they stole, we have to pay hundreds of dollars and wait months for the privilege. The whole place is a tomb, it’s honestly dystopian. You can find every sort of cuisine wrapped in plastic in a supermarket, costing some hideous amount to eat cold falafel out of a box. People are reading news about inflation and drought and the lead exhibit at the Natural History Museum is OUR BROKEN PLANET. It’s like, “yeah motherfuckers, you broke it.”

The truth is that if they were serious about anything they’d get their Queen and her whole family and push them out on a boat to sea. That’s how angry the gods are. But they continue in their hubris. The sub-heading at the exhibit is “How We Got Here And How To Fix It.” ‘How To Fix It’ largely involves shopping sustainably, eating lab-grown meat, and stopping scary colored people from poaching. It’s a farce. They talk about a very big (literally planetary) problem and then these puny solutions. Nothing involving changing of power, or leadership, or actually giving anything up. And how could they? This place isn’t a temple of science. It’s a tomb of empire.

I walk past a wall and see the names ‘Sackler’ and ‘Rothschild’ written. New drug dealers and old money. The trustees are all Lords and Dames. The various scientists all accept titles and genuflect before the imperialist Queen. These people are the problem. All of their hallowed buildings and institutions are just window dressing. They hold onto all the power and preach personal responsibility to the peasants. Responsible for what? We’re all just puppets on a string.

Even when I watch some Attenborough documentary, it’s like a mausoleum. All of this high-definition footage of things we’re destroying. Then he talks about over-population like it’s our poor black and brown children causing this, and not his people’s insatiable greed. You get people like Jane Goodall saying:

We have to eliminate poverty. Because if people are really poor, they will destroy the environment... So we helped in many ways including providing scholarships for girls and offering microcredit opportunities, especially to women. It’s worked. If you fly over Gombe today, you don’t see those bare hills; the forest has come back.

These preening ghouls have no fucking clue. She flies over Gombe—emitting more than people there will in their lifetimes—and blames the poor for destroying the environment. These are not environmentalists. They’re willing propagandists for empire, which is the real problem. They literally accept awards and titles from Empire and then go out and blame the poor. It’s not enough to take the planet, they have to take the story of the planet, and make even that theirs.

I think about this, bitterly, as I walk through the national museum. My son just plays and looks at the dinosaurs. I feel justified in my bitterness because many if not most of these species will be gone by the time he grows up. We have entombed the natural world before it died, mourned it before it was completely lost, and still done nothing much about it.

Buy some different clothes, blame the poachers and the poor, honestly it would be better for the natural world if the whole place was razed to the ground. People say that science and ‘exploration’ unlock the wonder of the world, and I have experienced it that way. But at what cost? It’s like discovering a flower by trampling on it, by crushing it in a book, by painting it and hanging it on a wall. Couldn’t you just look at it? Or couldn’t you just leave it the fuck alone?

Complementing British Museums is like admiring Ed Gein’s lamp collection. They’re both serial killers.

Being inside the Natural History Museum is like being inside a literal organ of Empire, where it chews up the natural word, digests it as ‘knowledge’, and shits it out as some dim simulacrum of understanding. If we saw something similar on an alien spaceship as they were stripping our Earth we’d be horrified—all severed heads and bones—but because it’s a nominally human civilization, it’s just normal. Good even.

They’re raising ‘awareness’, whatever that means. This corrupt and decadent civilization remains blithely unaware that it should be entombed, and all its vanities burned. Instead, they drink out of paper straws and wear sustainability as a fashion, while the planet itself burns. The world becomes a wasteland, these plunderous museums its tombs.