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Teddy Bears Were Invented Because We Forgot That Nature Wants To Kill Us

"Bears know who they are, but they often don’t know who you are, which is why they kill you." - Mike Birbiglia

Pretty much everyone has fond memories of a stuffed bear toy they once played with. That’s weird when you think about it, because actual bears are vicious animals that will maul you to death. In this TED talk from March, writer Jon Mooallem has some ideas about why we’ve gotten into the habit of cute-ifying all of our most terrifying predators.

If Jon Mooallem’s name looks familiar, it’s because we’ve written about him in the site before — once as a Twitter Follow Friday and another time while covering his incredible exposé on the amount of damage done to power lines by squirrels. He’s also the author of Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America — so yeah, the cultural connection between animals and humans is kind of his thing.

In the above 14 minute video, Mooallem suggests that prior to 1902 when the teddy bear was first invented, bears were not considered cute at all. Instead as they were very real threats for people on the frontier, to the point where they were even being systematically killed in government-sponsored hunts. But, as everyone knows, the person who inspired the first Teddy bear — Theodore Roosevelt — was also responsible for beginning a lot of environmental and preservation policies, which in turn inspired a lot of romanticizing of nature.

“It seems like we’re always stuck between demonizing a species and wanting to wipe it out,” Mooallem says in his talk. “And then when we get very close to doing that, empathizing with it as an underdog and wanting to show it compassion. So we exert our power, but then we’re unsettled by how powerful we are.”

(via Laughing Squid)

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