It’s Mother’s Day. I’ve broadcast and published on many a Mother’s Day over the eleven-year history of this show and blog, and generally I haven’t had much to say about it, but I think it’s time.
Mothers’ Day has become a “Hallmark Holiday,” an excuse for companies to induce us to spend money we wouldn’t ordinarily spend. Its actual origins are far more noble than that, as most of you probably know. It began as a reconciliation effort after the Civil War, and then was picked up by abolitionist and women’s suffrage activist Julia Ward Howe, who, in a famous proclamation, called for an international congress of women for the purpose of creating lasting peace. We can only guess what Ms. Howe, who wrote
Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.
Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
would think of the woman likely to be our next President, who has made her reputation in part by being at least as fervent a hawk as any man in our government. But that’s not what I’m going to talk about tonight. This is the Deep Green perspective, and I’m here to talk about our relationship with the Mother of us all, the Earth.
To do that, I want to start by talking dirty. You know what that means. When we talk about sex or defecation, we are “talking dirty.” But why, when we call something “dirty,” does it have such negative connotations? Even “a dirty look,” or a “dirty deal,” or “the dirt on somebody,” while they may not have sexual or scatological implications, refer to looks, deals, and information that is not praiseworthy.
But–we are made of dirt. “Human” and “humus,” a fancy name for dirt that’s chock full of living micro-organisms, are etymologically related, as are the Hebrew words Adam and adamah. Adam, of course, is the legendary first human. “Adamah” means earth. In archaic Europe and in Palestine alike, our prehistoric ancestors understood that “dust we are, and unto dust we return.” It seems to me that we could use a lot more of that humbling–another “earth word”–influence these days. While there is a certain admirable bravado in, “I’m going to live forever, or die trying,” decline and death are part of the natural arc of our existence. In my Deep Green opinion, it’s more appropriate to accept this and strive to surf that arc as gracefully and lovingly as possible, than to go down in flames on a mad scientist quest for vastly extended youth and longevity. Besides, the planet could get awfully crowded with very old people if we start extending our lives. The economy might love the extravagant consumers that such an aged population would constitute, but the planet needs us to cycle back through the dirt like everything else that lives.
We are made of dirt. Every atom and molecule in us could exist and not be “alive,” but somehow, when they are merged into our bodies, these tiny flecks of dirt, liquid, and gas become “alive.” This may be a common phenomenon–astronomers now estimate that one in five, maybe more, stars have a roughly Earth-sized planet in their habitable zone, meaning that there could be between ten and forty billion other planets out there that could be kind of like this one. That’s a lot of very interesting potential, but the nearest such planet we’ve found is twelve light-years away, which means that, unless or until we either launch an internally terraformed asteroid colony on a multigenerational cruise, or learn how to create, direct, and step through wormholes, we’re not likely to find out. Across the universe, we may not be so unusual, but for all practical purposes, there’s nobody here but us, and nowhere else to go, so we’d better figure out how to keep this planet livable.
And why haven’t any of our neighbors come calling? I think we’re in the process of finding that out for ourselves. It looks to me as though intelligent species on small planets with limited resources–which, as far as we can tell, is the only place a species like us might evolve–have to walk a couple of fine lines. One is between being merely clever and genuinely wise–in order to survive for very long, the species must be clever enough to learn how to work with what its planet offers, and yet wise enough not to use up those gifts in a blaze of thoughtless exploitation. Considering the speed with which we have depleted what our planet has offered us, we may well be failing that test. If we pull ourselves together quickly enough to prevent our near-term extinction due to global warming at this late date, the generations of us that are to come, and even any future species that might supplant us, will have to make do with a planet bereft of easily extracted metals and fossil fuels. Perhaps it will be better that way.
The second fine line that a species must negotiate is the line between being self-directed, pushy, and aggressive enough to learn and discover new things without being selfish, pushy, and aggressive to the point of seeing the world mostly in terms of “me and mine” versus “them and theirs,” and the concurrent notion that it’s OK to oppress and or kill “them” to keep them from getting “ours,” and to get “theirs” for “ourselves.” This inbred, largely unexamined territoriality on the part of the human species has resulted in untold numbers of large and small wars, with consequent disruption of cultures and destruction of resources, both in the form of the cities and countrysides laid waste, and in the diversion of the planet’s limited resources into weapons for those wars.
I think it is not out of line to suggest that three of the big reasons all those science fiction dreams of humans traveling to other planets and stars have not come true are: World War I, World War II, and “The Cold War.” They are certainly not the only ways we’ve sabotaged ourselves, kept ourselves from setting out and discovering whether we have neighbors, or who they might be. Judging from our own example, it seems that creating a stable high-tech civilization is fraught with easy pitfalls. Those who manage to avoid those pitfalls may be waiting to see if we are wise enough to succeed on our own before they make themselves known to us.On the other hand, we may not have heard from our neighbors because they made the decision that they would rather cultivate the intelligence of living in harmony with Mother Nature at a low-tech level than go to all the trouble of concocting a high-tech civilization.
Mother Nature, yes, talking dirty, that’s where I started. We are dirt, dirt that somehow got organized and motivated enough to move around and become eyes and skins and brains that can not just perceive, but conceive-conceive the realization that we are dirt that learned to move around and become aware of itself. And yes sex is dirty, dirty, delightful wet and muddy mingling of the dirt that constitutes you and the dirt that moves around as me, two clumps of hyper-organized humus touch, mingle, merge, and maybe a third clump springs from that mingling and merging. We are dirt and our sex is dirty and if we are going to come to our senses and our sanity we need to celebrate this, and not be shamed by it.
Every woman–whether child, maiden, adult, mother,or crone, is a small fractal manifestation of the enormous fractal of the world-mother. Every woman is the proper recipient of the honor due The Great Mother, whether that woman realizes Who She Is or not. Honoring and respecting her in whatever manner is appropriate might just be what it takes for her to remember. You just never know.
And so this is the Deep Green meaning of Mother’s day, Mother Earth’s day, “mother” linked to “matter” as “human” links to “humus,” this Earth without which we could not be, conjoined in bliss with that Sun whose just-right warmth contributes as much to our existence on this small, fragile rock as the rock itself, which would be very dark and very, very cold without that nearby, stably burning star. But hey, Father’s Day is next month. Enough about the Sun already. Matter, Mother, dirt. We eat dirt that has been organized by that mystery we call “life” and we add some of the matter, the Mother, from that life to our own lives, and what we cannot use, or can no longer use, comes out our hind ends. If we lived in the harmony of circularity, that excreted matter, that dirt we carry with and as us no longer, would be returned to the earth we live with so that it would keep on cycling through us. The Chinese understood this, and farmed the same fields for forty centuries. We do not seem to understand it. We are disgusted by what we excrete, and yet we excrete it into one the rarest and most precious commodities on the planet, clean water, and then go to great lengths to “dispose” of it in a way that is isolated from our lives so we don’t have to think about it. We want to throw it, and other precious gifts from our Mother we regard as “junk,” “away.” We want to “throw things away,” as if there were a place that is not “here” to which we can banish what we discard.
There is no “away” to throw our poop, or any of the other things that we in our ignorance turn into, or deem as, trash. We are not separate beings on the surface of a planet full of separate beings. We are not a jar full of ball bearings. We are, like lumps in tapioca pudding–a bit more congealed than what’s around us, but not really any different from our environment. Enough of us can evolve into that understanding to change the whole relation humans, walking dirt lumps, have with the relatively large, but cosmically very small dirt lump that gives rise to us. If we do not, our Mother is very wise, and understands that, as much as she loves each of her children, not all of them live to grow up. If we do not live to grow up, our Mother will mourn us for a while, and then turn her attention to the children that survived our brief, wild careen through her life. Happy Mother’s Day.
Phish, “Mother Nature’s Son”
Dar Williams, “The World’s Not Falling Apart”
Sheila Chandra, “Sacred Stones“