PUBLISHED: THE HILL by Cyril Christo, Opinion Contributor March 23, 2020
“Modern man does not experience himself as a part of nature but as an outside force destined to dominate and conquer it. He even talks of a battle with nature, forgetting that, if he won the battle, he would find himself on the losing side.” —Ernest Schumacher, “Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered,” 1973
Because this decade is the last that Nature will allow us to remedy our ways. EM Forster, who prophesied the runaway civilization we now have, would understand stalled cities, empty freeways, lockdowns, empty theaters, the apparent abolition of normal human interaction and discourse as we have know it for the better and bitter part of human history. The coronavirus, like the locusts, like plankton, are Nature’s smallest subjects and yet it is these humblest of creatures that will impact humanity most over the coming decades. It is the workings of Nature’s tiniest armadas that will most influence civilization in the coming years.
“The Machine Stops,” published in 1909, was clairvoyant in its anticipation of the internet and communications we have today. Its main protagonist, Kuno, is living underground, dissatisfied with humanity’s mechanized and sanitized world. The world worships the machine. Technology is master and eventually the life support system needed to live above ground is abolished. Only when the Machine begins to fall apart do the main characters realize that Nature is the only thing that matters. It is a profound warning, this prophetic book.
Can we continue to run the engine of this civilization with the same pace, greed and lack of consciousness we began with the heyday of globalization 50 years ago?
Today we are out of sorts with proportion. With moderation, with reticence. There are plans to carve up the bottom of the sea as we have drilled for oil and coal and uranium above ground for decades. Is this what we really need? Is this virus, this lesion, going to make us rethink the numbing, blinding, machinations of industrial giantism as we have known it? It seems that the virus is David forcing the Gargantua and Goliath of the human frame to slow down. Let the pollution dissipate over China and Italy and find another way to conduct ourselves. Let the fever, the temperature of the world come down before earth asphyxiates. Let us rethink growth. Permanently. Before we pass out.