Update: Welcome, James Nicoll and readers!
Yes, it’s me, the dorky kid in the coat and newsboy cap.
“So I asked myself then,” he said, “what’s the use of going on? What’s the use of dragging it out for a few years? Why prolong a doomed existence of hard work and cold and loneliness? The human race is done. The Earth is done. Why not give up, I asked myself—and all of a sudden I got the answer.”
Again I heard the noise, louder this time, a kind of uncertain, shuffling tread, coming closer. I couldn’t breathe.
“Life’s always been a business of working hard and fighting the cold,” Pa was saying. “The earth’s always been a lonely place, millions of miles from the next planet. And no matter how long the human race might have lived, the end would have come some night. Those things don’t matter. What matters is that life is good. It has a lovely texture, like some rich cloth or fur, or the petals of flowers—you’ve seen pictures of those, but I can’t describe how they feel—or the fire’s glow. It makes everything else worth while. And that’s as true for the last man as the first.”
And still the steps kept shuffling closer. It seemed to me that the inmost blanket trembled and bulged a little. Just as if they were burned into my imagination, I kept seeing those peering, frozen eyes.
“So right then and there,” Pa went on, and now I could tell that he heard the steps, too, and was talking loud so we maybe wouldn’t hear them, “right then and there I told myself that I was going on as if we had all eternity ahead of us. I’d have children and teach them all I could. I’d get them to read books. I’d plan for the future, try to enlarge and seal the Nest. I’d do what I could to keep everything beautiful and growing. I’d keep alive my feeling of wonder even at the cold and the dark and the distant stars.”
I first read this as a teen, and completely missed the import of this passage. Shame on me.
No longer, though. It resonates perfectly with Andrew Klavan’s rejection of Earth Day:
Sunday was Earth Day, and in honor of the occasion, I’d like to say that as far as I’m concerned the Earth can go to hell.
The Earth — for those of you who may have fallen behind on your reading — is a piece of rock trapped in a slow death spiral into a cauldron of exploding plasma which, for lack of a better word, we’ll call the sun. Because that’s its name. There is exactly one interesting or worthwhile thing about this hunk of doomed space debris, and that is: it happens to maintain the conditions necessary for supporting life. (The odds against this would be ridiculously impossible, by the way, if there were no God — so impossible that scientists have been forced to invent all kinds of silly multi-universe scenarios solely for the purpose of convincing themselves that there is no God. But that’s their problem, and neither here nor there.)
So the earth supports life. Whoopee. And there is exactly one interesting or worthwhile thing about life — only one — and that is the mind of man.
“Holy cannoli, Klavan on the Culture,” you may be saying to yourself, or even out loud — because, let’s face it, you’re kind of an odd person — I mean, just look at you. Anyway, “Holy cannoli or even moley,” you may be saying, “how can you say the mind of man is the only interesting or worthwhile thing about life? What about the beauty of the running gazelle? The nobility of the flying eagle? The awesome awesomeness of the spacious skies above the amber waves running to the purple mountains above the fruited plains? And how about those glazed donuts with the yellow creme inside? I love those!”
First of all, stop talking so much, this is my blog. And b, there is no beauty, no nobility, no awesome awesomeness — not even the taste of a glazed donut — outside the human mind. The science is not yet settled, but reality itself may be in part a production of the human mind as there are some aspects of the world that don’t seem to resolve themselves until we observe them. But in any case, the gazelle would be fleet for nothing, the eagle would be a winged eating machine, the skies and the waves and the mountains would be dreams without the dreamer if man were not here to know them.
So screw Earth Day. I would like to declare today — and every day — the Mind of Man Day. Celebrate that — nurture that — glorify that — and the earth, believe me, will take care of itself.
Carl Sagan said it beautifully:
We are a way for the universe to know itself.