Thursday, October 25, 2007

Idée d’jour

I am not an atheist, but an earthiest. Be true to the earth.

Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire, "Down the River"
As I mention, I am thoroughly enjoying this book. This line leapt out at me because I have been pondering the qualities of human nature of late.

I don't suppose being true to the earth would be the same as being true to our human nature. If the 21st century version of human nature is any indication, humans are about as far from being true to the earth as possible.

Consider: changes in geologic forms take multiple human life times. Changes in atmospheric conditions, at least until the industrial revolution, were similarly slow.

Consider: human nature seems dominated by straight lines, boxes, rectangles, and grids. None of these exist in nature; all relate to a human concept of "perfection" which has held sway at least since Aristotle.

To the best of my knowledge, a "perfect circle" does not exist in nature. Neither does a right angle, or something as perfectly straight as a plumb-line or laser beam. Even the average human body, whether male or female, does not contain a truly straight line or perfectly round circle.

Humans struggle to make life easier. We may not be alone in using and constructing tools (even some bugs use sticks as tools), but we do seem the only species who improve on the tools and methods used by previous generations.

Thus, we move into desert regions, such as the better part of southern California, and we find ways to force streams into the desert, as it were. We do not consider the repurcusions; we act as if the water is an inexhaustable resource.

In our dreams of providence and manifest destiny, we suppose that humans miles away need the water more than the mountain or lake, and its environs.

Perhaps it was when we built the pipelines from lake and mountain. The years of inexhaustable water, however, seem well behind us. The demand, measured by an increasing number of thirsty humans and artificially green lawns, has outstripped the supply. And, many scientists believe, the supply has decreased as well.

I do not judge southern California's city planners, developers, or home owners. I recognize the hubris and short-sightedness because I am also culpable. I have been equally short-sighted and head strong in ways big and small.

The situation in southern California is a striking example, however, of how our human ingenuity has played its part in creating this "perfect storm".


Anonymous said...

Abbey, the morose curmudgeon, coined a term that encapsulates his notions about the evolution of homo sapiens - syphilization. As we know, syphilis was transmitted to humans from sheep (don't ask, don't tell). This came about, obviously, as a result of the domestication of animals. It is that step in cultural and technological evolution that in turn led to large populations living in close proximity - civilization as we characterize it.

It is that point of departure that Abbey credits with beginning a process that has snowballed enormously - the separation of the human from the rest of the living world.

Others would add that this devolution from an intimate relationship with the natural world was exacerbated by the unique creation myth that grew out of the Hebraic tradition. Most creation myths posit either a subordinate relationship to the natural world or, in some, a partnership or coequal relationship. Uniquely, the Genesis story posits a superordinate relationship between humans and other living entities, sentient and not.

But by whatever route or combination of influences, we are far from that understanding of the world that Chief Dan George's character in Little Big Man - Chief Lodgeskins - described. "Human beings [Cheyenne) believe everything is alive, mountains, rivers, rocks, everything." He goes on to observe how it is that the white men only want to kill - "when they see something trying to live, they rub it out", he declares. He also notes that while there only ever been a few human beings, there seems an endless supply of white men.


Anonymous said...

In fact, perfect circles do exist in nature. They are the product of certain physical forces. If a pebble or a drop of water is dropped into a still pool, a wave will spread out as a perfect circle.