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. Read the rest of this entry »