Thursday, March 15, 2007

"And they came two by two"

One of my utterly all time favourite books is Julian Barnes' 'A history of the the world in 10 and 1/2 chapters'. The book is a series of inter-connected short stories, which stand on their own as well. The first is the 'uncensored' version of the story of Noah's ark told by the one of the few wood worms that have snuck into the ark. The story is complete with the greatest unanswered questions of all time, what happened to the shit? What really happened to the unicorn?, etc. (The image by the way is of termites, similar only functionally.)

The ark has often been thought of as some kind of religious conservation allegory. The en masse saving of animals as creatures of God. E. O. Wilson recently wrote a book called 'The Creation' arguing that religious reasons for conservation are as strong and can be used. As much as the more usually used scientific ones that point to necessity and utility of conservation, through the notion either of interconnectedness or through the notion of sustainable use of a resource bank. It's a need, in my opinion, so urgent, that I don't care what tack one takes as long as more people can be persuaded to care for the planet and its denizens.

John Wilkins disagrees and calls it 'the myth of dominion and stewardship', I think, and points to Tom Hayden's address to a gathering of clergy. The different notions and ideas that are used to promote the idea of conservation and the premises and the consequences of each might be interesting to examine in and of themselves.

And there is a need to promote this idea, it is not self-evident. I was particularly piqued by a statement a friend made during a pub conversation. He suggested that all that the cause of conservation requires is education. I suspect he means indoctrination, cause really, education? Let's see now, the reasons usually suggested for conserving the natural world in a pristine state are stewardship, utility, sustainability, etc. Each of these operate in the longer term, almost always outside the term of a single generation. The changes that occur in the way the world functions as a result of the breakdown of natural ecosystems, the economic shifts take a while to develop. And are indeed exploitable.

Nothing in an education prevents you from optimizing your short-term pay-offs, and saying damn what happens when I am dead. Incidentally, I think an uneducated mind is equally likely to catch this problem. Educating someone merely provides access to information on what might happen if we ignore the idea, it's knowledge. And I'll stop short of saying that realizing the need for conservation requires wisdom. I'll let other wiser, deeper thinkers do that.

PS. Read the original 'Star thrower' essay if you can get your hands on it. The versions that appear on the net are quite shallow and incomplete compared to the orginal.

No comments: