We owe it all

…to six inches of topsoil and the fact that it rains.

  I have PC software that makes any image into a puzzle, and I enjoy putting them together in idle moments. One photo I’m particularly fond of depicts the ruins of what was once an elaborate castle perched on the side of a mountain in France. Another favorite puzzle is the Western Wall in Jerusalem, with blocks of stone weighing up to 30 tons. It boggles my mind to contemplate the sheer physical effort required to build these structures, the power of men and animals dedicated to such work; the logistics of supplying the workers who quarried the stones, those who transported them, those who put them in place, the men and women patiently cultivating the food that sustained them. And it is with a sense of unease that I contemplate the power wielded by those in command, those who could order the building of castle, temple and Great Wall, of skyscrapers, cities and empires.

When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization.
 – Daniel Webster

  I have family and friends who self-identify as “Libertarian”. I put that in quotes because they all have different understandings of exactly what that means. About the only thing in common seems to be that they want government – and in fact the rest of the world – to leave them the hell alone. They do not often even begin to examine the consequences should their political dreams come true.

  Reading the Platform of the ‘official’ Libertarian Party, I am struck by the shoddy logic applied to a juvenile grasp of the world, human nature and the randomness of life. I’m reminded of Anatole France’s observation that The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.  (Often misquoted as ‘the law equally permits kings and beggars to sleep under bridges’).
Nowhere is there even an acknowledgement of any obligation to others. It’s all about me.

  Humans are social animals. It’s hardwired into our genes. Our security and productivity, our very survival depend on the group. I realize that it’s part of the ‘American ethos’ to glofify the individual, which is what Libertarianism is all about. I have no problem acknowledging the uniqueness of each individual – I delight in it. But our shared humanity is much greater than our slight differences. We are 1% unique and 99% just like everyone else. Is there any feeling, any thought, any joy or pain or fear that hasn’t been felt by millions before you and won’t be felt by millions after you?
Libertarians, grow up.

  Far too many people are firmly convinced we can maintain our wasteful lifestyle forever, that science and technology will always overcome any difficulty we encounter. They are either not very good with numbers or – more likely – never bother to look at the facts. There are some resources which are effectively unlimited – such as sunlight. Unfortunately, the resources needed to establish solar power in a meaningful way are themselves limited, and the EROI is getting close to zero, the financial ROI is sometimes negative. Science, and for that matter most 1st-world life, is dependent on an incredibly vulnerable infrastructure, and I’m not talking about just roads and bridges, etc. Our world is utterly dependent on computers and the power to feed them, the materials to create them, on dependable electricity and water and food supply, on the ability of people to get to and from jobs. It’s a complex world and anything complex increases the likelihood of failure, and of one failure cascading through the system.
Optimists, grow up.

“You will not be saved by General Motors or the pre-fabricated house.
You will not be saved by dialectic materialism or the Lambeth Conference.
You will not be saved by Vitamin D or the expanding universe.
In fact, you will not be saved.”
Then he showed his hand:
In his hand was a woven, wire basket, full of seeds, small metallic and shining like the seeds of portulaca;
Where he sowed them, the green vine withered, and the smoke and the armies sprang up.
 – Steven Vincent Benet

Progress may have been all right once, but it went on too long.
 – Ogden Nash

We owe it all to six inches of topsoil and the fact that it rains.
And to our ability to behave decently toward each other.

Anyone familiar with agriculture and climate cannot but realize we are on shaky ground.
Anyone paying attention to our polity cannot but despair over our behavior.

  “Look on my Works, you Mighty, and despair!” seems to be the motto of a sizable portion of our polity.

And the wind shall say “Here were decent godless people;
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls.”
 – T.S. Eliot

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