Friday, August 10, 2012

Cheerless Corrective

Pondering the horrors in Syria as, around here, rain drops drip from our tomato plants and all is peace. We both passed through the greatest ever war humanity has fought, and although the mayhem came quite, quite near us, we managed to escape without a scratch. Yet something like Syria is always going on somewhere. Watching the dripping plants—while near me yet two more caterpillars are striving to butterfly-hood—I was reminded of a 1980s book I’d picked up in St. Paul: Peaceable Nature by Stephan Lackner. The book is at best only so-so, but it argues that nature on the whole is far, far more peaceful than would appear if we accept Tennyson’s harsh “Nature, red in tooth and claw” (from “In Memoriam,” LVI). This thought—and that mental reference to Lackner’s book—recurs at intervals. Another expression of that thought, one we often use around here, is to say how lucky we’ve been all our lives. I think it is to humanity’s credit, by and large, that we abhor violence, war, ethnic cleansing, and other evils that our status, as part-time humans, imposes. At any one time, if hard statistics were available, we would discover that overwhelming majorities of humanity are peacefully going about their days. But the mere statistical distribution of a peaceful status quo does not suffice to make us feel good when rumors of wars waft our way.  

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