Once upon a time, there was a tribe of two–legged beings. They became the dominant species on their planet, prevailing over those with more feet and those that glided like violin chords through water and air. Technology allowed them to dominate even their most powerful brethren.
This intermingling of species was harmonious as long as the dominant one exemplified a spirit of responsibility and kindness and did their best to leave things better than they found them.
As the centuries went by, new motivations evolved. Going by names such as progress, wealth, independence, and profit, technology became a way to extend the range of their dominance. Unmoored from shared values and from the collaboration that had made it possible to realize improvements in the lives of all beings–including the animals whose lives were sacrificed to feed the dominant species–consequences soon arose.
As inequality became a familiar way of being, some individuals among the “advantaged” tribe were treated as if they were “beasts of the field”. Just as cattle and fish—in their natural habitat or bred as food—were confined so that they could be exploited as needed—a strategy emerged that hemmed in all but the most dominant of the dominant tribe–through slavery and poverty.
A profound and increasing schism developed between those with wealth and those without it, with some exploiting a secondary attribute of wealth. The primary aspect of wealth was that it allowed individuals to acquire food, clothing, shelter and education. A secondary aspect allowed individuals who accumulated more than they could spend on their own personal needs to get a leg up on everyone else. With titles such as captains of industry, a privileged few put this excess to work in the casino of illusionary invulnerability. This might amount to increasing the zeros in their investment portfolios, or to shaping–through elections and social media—the channels of commerce, which everyone had to rely upon.
Since profits were more important to captains and influencers than the lives of people and animals, factory farms and feed lots replaced family farms, elections were manipulated, and elected officials were bribed to pass desired legislation. At first, the captains were able to manipulate the system for their own benefit with impunity. For instance, since polluting rivers with industrial discharge and bottling the remaining water was profitable, pollution continued.
Meanwhile a few remembered that their species had once been fish, creatures crawling on land, four-legged animals bounding across the plains, until, standing upright with arms outstretched, their eyes beheld and marveled at the moon and stars in the firmament above.
A few even understood that in their mother’s womb, in the very lifetime in which they now found themselves, they had passed through the stages of larva and fish, preparing for that fateful moment when a first breath and an onslaught of senses suddenly released them to an unbounded environment, wrenching from their ancient being their first lusty cry.
Long predicted by environmentalists and others who paid attention to the state of the world, these lamentable side-effects were eventually seen by all. At first, only those whose circumstances confined them to crowded living spaces experienced the cost of treating the land, water and air as if they were indices on the stock market. But–going by names such as climate change, floods, forest fires, pollution and rising sea levels—soon even the captains became less able to protect themselves and their families from collateral damage. In the largest of homes, the floods, fires and hurricanes that were ravaging the planet eventually reached them too.
As the entire system that allowed private wealth to control events began to unravel, circumstances arose from which even individuals with vast private accumulations of wealth could not protect themselves. With names such as pandemics, asthma, suicide, nuclear bombs—all the great levelers of individual advantage took the stage.
Uneven playing fields, so painstakingly tilted for the advantage of a few, began to slide off their foundations and slip into the rising seas. Water had always been the dominant element, covering three quarters of their planet’s surface, but now, as the polar caps tumbled irrevocably into their planet’s seas, the commons (water, land, air and the efforts of countless hands and hearts working together), which had been available for the advantaged to seize and privatize, were no longer free game for unbridled exploitation.
And as the headlines started taking note of the disasters befalling their world, more and more people could be heard to remark: “Maybe we should have noticed what was happening sooner.”
Would that were more captains who believe we should have noticed sooner. The recent climate bill barely passed against strong opposition.
Writing this blog has me thinking about my earliy life and the world into which I was born 80 years ago. Think I’ll write something about that this week.