HUMILITY

mutts
(Cartoon from Patrick McDonnell’s ‘Mutts’)

We humans are so dim-witted, so ridiculous. To wit:

  • At least one of the huge out-of-control forest fires now devastating Western Canada was actually set deliberately by the Canadian forestry ‘service’ as a ‘prescribed fire’ to try to clear what they thought was excessive forest floor debris. Oops!
  • The Bush regime, Different Strings tells us this week citing the Washington Post, has now decided its goal in the Mideast is to imbue Mideastern countries with American values, ‘as we did so successfully in Europe in the years following WW2’. I’m sure this will come as a big surprise to most Europeans, and its staggering arrogance and ignorance shows why, to most people outside the sheltered US neocon community, neocon expansionism is a greater threat to world peace than all the Mideastern terrorists and tyrants combined.
  • The recent obsession with privatizing everything, which Blog Baby has been following, our uniquely human perception that our species (and more specifically the elite 1% of our species that has acquired more than half the world’s ‘property’) ‘owns’ everything and every creature on the planet and allows small nature preserves to remain only as long as it’s expedient, is now out of control, as Bush and his corporate buddies declare war on nature and the very concept of shared, public, common property.

We think we’re the Crown of Creation, the pinnacle of evolution. But as Stephen Jay Gould shows in Full House, we are a mere pimple on the evolutionary tree of life, a very recent and unexceptional species very poorly suited to living in harmony with the rest of the species on this planet. So because we were such pathetic losers in the game of life on Earth we decided 30,000 years ago (so recently that on a mile-long histogram of life on the planet, it would show as a single dot at the right end) to quit playing and start our own game with our own rules. And thanks to our stupidity, our belief that somehow we can live ‘apart’ and independent from all other life on Earth, we have destroyed the planet, eliminated most of the other species of life, we are choking in the mess of pollution and overpopulation we have created, and our unsustainable and absurd separation has made us all mentally ill, consumed with fear of nature’s ‘hostility’.

Bruce Cockburn, in his wonderful song Gavin’s Woodpile says ‘I’m left to conclude there’s no human answer near’. It’s a perceptive, ironic statement. The point of my short story The Light Creatures was to show that we, humans, need to learn humility. Millions of creatures coped happily and cleverly with living on Earth before we newbies arrived and messed things all up. We need to study the way geese, beavers, wolves, frogs and other humble species have learned to coexist so well with the rest of life on Earth. I despair at the prospect of us learning it in time. We are not nearly smart enough. We haven’t got a clue.

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9 Responses to HUMILITY

  1. mrG says:

    The record of evolution may show us as dense, but probably no dense than many of Nature’s other creations. We’re not the first to decimate our environment to our own destruction, nor, I expect the last, but there is a difference with humanity: We are highly inventive.This current state of affairs that you cite is not a new situation. Rome, Manchu China, Babylonia, even, some say, the North American Native who, there’s evidence to show, had built up great cities (eg. the cliff-dwellers of the South East), gobbled up the surrounding woods (like we Euros did to most of the British Isles) and found themselves in an unsustainable situation that prompted the later nomadic hunter lifestyle.Most of our cultural records contain a deluge, a ‘flood’ of our own making, that wipes the slate clean leaving only the adaptable ‘chosen’ few to carry on. In the Mysteries of Iamblicus the 2nd Century priest tells his Greek inquisitor that the Great Floods of that region are not limited to the most recent, but that the Egyptian libraries contained reports of at least three such devestations, yet Egyptian culture remained (until Roman times) and the genetic descendents of those Kesmet peoples persist to this day.Thus a sustainable future is all a matter of education, of our becoming clever enough to see — it is said that when Abram “learned to combine the letters” (ie had systematic science of understanding natural Law) he was then called Abraham, injecting the Hebrew letter-concept of “sight” into his name. When we gain that sort of sight that lets us see the world for what it is (a delicate ecosystem) our paths of personal best-results changes dramatically; in Abraham’s case, he founded Judaeism to guide his neighbours into a right-way, a closer and more co-operative association with this Universe in which they lived (whatever his metaphors, the objective of his or any religion are to establish best-practices that can be followed even by those who cannot see the reasoning).Right now, as we speak, there are countless brilliant minds (like yours, Dave) who are wrestling with the growing problems in sustainability. We have unprecidented tools, unprecidented wealth, unprecidented communications to truly bind our minds together into collaborative think-tanks that dwarf anything anyone could do even just a few years ago. We already now see the Cancer Society bearing fruit from the Human Genome Project and announcing the “End of Cancer” within 15 years — that may be optimism, but then, optimism is what keeps us all from dispair.Whatver you might think of the modern churches, St Augustine’s “City of God” is an apt read for troubled times, as are his “Confessions”. All around him, Rome as crumbling, his own Manichean world-view had been shattered, he hit a spiritual brick wall and he hit it hard and fast, but like the world that followed Rome, and like the world that will follow our own, Augustine emerged, elevated and purified by the experience, with a clearer sense of ‘sight’.Nostradamus: “He who was once called ‘seer’ is now called ‘prophet'”Whatever the organized religious connotations since added to Revelations, the story in itself is a useful metaphor: The Lamb does not defeat the whore of Babylon, Babylon defeats itself. The Lamb instead focusses his energies to the final dismissal of those demons that give rise to Babylonia, and in the end is crowned ‘King’IMHO, and if I can wax a little metaphysical here, the whole trick for the rest of us is not to reform the Whore, but to rid ourselves of the Beast, and to just lay low, keep out of the way, persisting in the path we see as leading to the ‘New Jeruselum’. And it does not matter if our neighbour has a different concept of that City, even one that we might abhore, because evolution will not care; we also need to nurture the humility to believe that it may very well be them and not us who are on that correct path, and regardless of our self-esteem, the crown of natural selection only goes to the ones who are ‘right’.

  2. natasha says:

    Minor technical quibble with “we have …eliminated most of the other species of life.”This is somewhat true to say about species that humans usually think about when they think about other living things, but not true by raw numbers of species. Numerically, bacteria, algae, and fungi are the bulk of species, with insects and plants coming in behind. Only then do we get to the larger animals that we relate to.But these animals do constitute an extraordinary rarity, as do the species that depend on them. They’ve been the most impacted, and many of the ripple effects of their passing won’t quite hit us yet for a while. We notice the decline of the Galapagos tortoise, later, we notice the decline of plant species whose seeds won’t germinate until they’ve been through a tortoise.I only point this out because it’s important to be more precise about these things. Better that I mention it now than some Lomborg dittohead later who misses the point entirely.

  3. M. L. Foster says:

    When you look at WWII and what happened to the world after it is clear that large population decimations are not really that bad for the world as a whole. Coupled with the fact that America still had huge sources of natural resources and land that could be farmed more efficiently with irrigation and lives at the latitude that uniquely sets it in a place for dominance just at the time when it was needed.It is easy to look at a ‘bigger picture’ looking back to a time when most people alive today were not directly affected. Much harder to accept the daily facts that most of us just are excess baggage on a world too heavily burdened with people. I go from despair to hope and back to despair again in the matter of moments. Then I go and bury my head in some silly mystery or light fiction to escape even having to confront doing the laundry or mowing the small patch of lawn I have left un-watered for the dog. Drat. There I go feeling sorry for myself and my brothers and sisters again. What gets into me?

  4. Ray Jefferd says:

    Interesting, but I disagree with your last comment, “We haven’t got a clue.” We have got plenty of clues. The problem is we don’t behave as if we do. To quote a saint, “Wanted – reformers, not of others but of themselves.”

  5. Joel says:

    I appreciate your commentary, but it flys in the face of your later post “It’s what I do”. In the animal kingdom, cats hunt, bears gather, deer forage, cattle graze and people think. It’s what we do. We have evolved to the point that we have no natural defense to anything in the wild anymore – save our ability to outwit nature’s peril. We have no real fur, no claws, no armor, no fangs. We think. We invent. We communicate. We cooperate. We build. Does this costs us environment? Of course it does.

  6. natasha says:

    Joel, “We think. We invent. We communicate. We cooperate. We build. Does this costs us environment? Of course it does.”Umm, no. Thinking, inventing, communicating, and cooperating do not cost us the environment. It’s because we do too little of these, IMO, that we end up in the state that we’re in. Even building doesn’t need to cost us the environment, presuming that we think before we act. Your conclusion is unsupported by these observations.We need the natural world and its diversity, not the other way around. We depend on it for our lives, and I don’t mean this figuratively. Food, clothing, air, water, medicine, comfortable climate, for all these things we require other living systems to continue in a reasonable state of health. The implications of what you’ve said above are ‘we prepare to commit suicide as a species,’ and that doesn’t strike me as a particularly sensible purpose.

  7. Dave Pollard says:

    Gary: I’m surprised. I didn’t think of you as a salvationist. There’s evidence that some of the great early civilizations you refer to ended not by calamity but because the people decided that despite their advantages they were unnatural, and just abandoned them, walked away. Our education and our cleverness got us into the current problems we face, and I’m not optimistic that we can use the same assets to ‘push past’ the crises they have caused to a better world beyond today’s. As for the crown of natural selection, I buy Gould’s argument that it goes to the bacteria, who despite our attempted genocide against them, continue to vastly outnumber us, even in global biomass, and continue to do their assigned duty in balance with the rest of life on Earth, a duty we are hopelessly derelict in. The runner-up for the crown probably belongs to the birds and the insects, who outlived the dinosaurs and, according to the book Extinctions are now poised to take over the Earth when we exterminate ourselves from it.

  8. Dave Pollard says:

    Natasha: Thanks, you’re right. I will write ‘I must be more precise’ 50 times on the blackboard ;-) And I agree with your comment to Joel. Don’t see very much on your blog these days on the environment; any reason for that?Marie: Not ‘excess baggage’. Our only hope is people like you. We’re all on the out-of-control train and we have to work together to bring it to a halt before it crashes. The ‘excess baggage’ is those at the left end of the chart I posted yesterday who are oblivious to our current peril and are disproportionately making the situation worse.

  9. Wheels within wheelsIn a spiral arrayA pattern so grandAnd complexTime after timeWe lose sight of the wayOur causes can

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