East Hampton Star
August 23, 2014
TO THE EDITOR:
For a transitory enchanted moment, man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
Prophetic words from “The Great Gatsby.”
We live in the West, far from the regal East Coast mansions Fitzgerald wrote about in his book. It is by far the “better half” of the country, with its wide-open spaces and its natural, often spellbinding immensities of peaks and sky. Mountain lions still roam in their predatory majesty, the canyons of Utah and Arizona are ineffable, geological marvels explode everywhere, and for color, the sunsets of New Mexico spellbind and transfix. The sequoias still loom large over the world, for now. The Pacific beckons to the other side of the world in impossible vastness.
But it is in the East that most of the decisions that wreck the conscience of dignity and decency are made.
As a consequence of senatorial ineptitude and climate change, global warming pummels the glaciers of Montana, and they are melting. Glacier National Park will soon have to be called Icicle National Monument. The tundra in Alaska is buckling under the weight of global warming. Oil derricks scar the ground from New Mexico to the Canadian border. They are massacring wolves by the hundreds in Idaho for a wretched and misguided notion of manhood, the pioneering spirit, and for the ever-present cow. California and Texas are thirsting as never before in the face of a drought of biblical proportions. Tornadoes are wrecking the Midwest. The corn belt is drying up and impossible downpours have recently flooded Arizona. For those who do not believe in evolution, they might start believing in de-evolution.
We are told that America’s better days are ahead. By what measure of sanity? Only for those who profit from the discombobulation of the soil and ultimately the human soul, which are cognates of each other.
It was another poet, T.S. Eliot, who wrote “The Wasteland” and “The Hollow Men,” who would have best understood the depravity of the profit motive and what it has done to a continent at large and the human species at this time. “Paralyzed force, gesture without motion.” The empty promises to future generations by a government usurped by the sterile immorality of wanton greed.
The weakening of the Endangered Species Act sets the stage for an America fast becoming an immense parking lot, shopping mall, and industrial garbage dump. We need renewables on the East End, but vote and make your voices known in the great outback, and fight for the wolves and the prairie chickens and the grizzlies and every being that breathes. The children will want to hear elks bugling 50 years from now.
In your spare time, raise your voices about the rain forests of Indonesia and the Amazon. If you should find palm oil in the cookies you buy at your favorite coffee megastore, raise your voice. If you should have a neighbor who invests in gold, slap him on the wrist and tell him or her to invest in the future instead. Tell him about algae. Tell him there are better deals out there. Tell the politicians to look at the absolute horizon, as the visionary Vaclav Havel once wrote. If you should leave the confines of this very insular island called America, a landscape of little-seen ecological and social immensities looms large, out there beyond our vision.
Why was this country conquered, Toynbee, in his magnum opus “Mankind and Mother Earth,” once asked, “Shall we murder Mother Earth or shall we redeem her?” Are we truly the land of the free and home of the brave, as children crossing their hearts in school are made to believe? Do we need children to become computer programmers and business executives, or visionaries of a new earth? Why are we so intent on creating a synthetic world of robots and artificial intelligence when we hardly understand the fantabulous organic maze of relationships beneath our feet?
The next five years are critical for a radical reappraisal of why we are here. Philosophy, religion, art, politics will barely help us here. In the outback in South Africa, a researcher working with elephant feeding and migration patterns told us the answers would not come through science, but through poetry!
Machines and algorithms so asphyxiate our lives that we can barely gaze into the eyes of the much larger universe. Technology can only be a byproduct of a much larger awareness. The revolution needed is an empathy revolution for other life forms and cultures different from our own. We have been driven by vanity by one species for far too long. It is time we gasp in wonder and reverence for the countless hundreds of thousands of other species we barely know, before earth becomes a facsimile of “Blade Runner.”
“Society cares more for the products they manufacture than for their immemorial ability to affirm the charm of existence.” — Jane Addams, Nobel Laureate