Chapter Two–We’ve Never Met

You and I have never met, and likely never will. That is because I am an old man now and you have yet to be born. You may be my great granddaughter or grandson, or possibly the children of one of these.  I am thinking of a range between twenty and forty years from right now, knowing that you will be living in extremely tough times. I like thinking of you as a close relative, because that might establish a bond between us, but sharing genetics is less relevant to either of us than sharing a particular attitude toward life and the world.

I am imagining you as an individual very much like myself: naturally inquisitive with a powerful urge to understand yourself in relation to the world around you, but living in darkly opaque times. The world you have inherited from the people of my generation is broken, but I am guessing you are unclear about how it got to be this way. This is where I think I can be some help to you, because I have made a lifelong project out of asking just exactly that question: How did things get to be this way? And this question can be applied to any subject that might interest you. If you ask how the Universe got to be this way– that will take you into intellectual disciplines like astrophysical cosmology, or possibly cosmological mythology. If your interest is in how our own planet Earth got to be this way—that will take you into fields like geomorphology. If you are interested in the relationship between the evolving planet’s geology and chemistry and how these interacted with an emerging biological presence to create a world of wondrous complexity and diversity—well, you have got a fairly large project ahead of you. My point is that at all these scales, the question is the same: How did things get to be this way? Implied in any possible answer to this central human question is a sense of historical perspective–that is: understanding events and conditions as sequential, one thing following another, with some sort of cause and effect relationship also implied, even if that relationship is not always obvious.

My own deepest interest, at least since the age of twenty, has been to understand my own people and their relationship to Nature. It has always been a puzzle to me why the people of my culture seemed so intent on destroying the very world that gives us life. For the longest time I couldn’t make any sense of it–and still don’t at the deepest gut level. But after many years of looking into this question, I do at least have some sort of intellectual understanding of this conundrum. And this is what I want to share with you. My hope is that if the story I am about to tell makes sense to you, you will take it to heart, and will see the wisdom in not repeating our mistakes. But I also have to tell this story for my own sake, because writing things down has always been my way of discovering how I see the world. The act of writing seems to draw out of my unconscious mind an unarticulated understanding, and, by putting this into words, to clarify that understanding to my conscious mind. For me, now, near the end of my life, this will be a summing up—one last attempt to make sense of the world. And, because I have always felt a strong sense of responsibility to give something back for all that has been given to me, this will also satisfy my felt need for reciprocity.

You and I have never met, and likely never will. That is because I am an old man now and you have yet to be born. You may be my great granddaughter or grandson, or possibly the children of one of these.  I am thinking of a range between twenty and forty years from right now, knowing that you will be living in extremely tough times. I like thinking of you as a close relative, because that might establish a bond between us, but sharing genetics is less relevant to either of us than sharing a particular attitude toward life and the world.

I am imagining you as an individual very much like myself: naturally inquisitive with a powerful urge to understand yourself in relation to the world around you, but living in darkly opaque times. The world you have inherited from the people of my generation is broken, but I am guessing you are unclear about how it got to be this way. This is where I think I can be some help to you, because I have made a lifelong project out of asking just exactly that question: How did things get to be this way? And this question can be applied to any subject that might interest you. If you ask how the Universe got to be this way– that will take you into intellectual disciplines like astrophysical cosmology, or possibly cosmological mythology. If your interest is in how our own planet Earth got to be this way—that will take you into fields like geomorphology. If you are interested in the relationship between the evolving planet’s geology and chemistry and how these interacted with an emerging biological presence to create a world of wondrous complexity and diversity—well, you have got a fairly large project ahead of you. My point is that at all these scales, the question is the same: How did things get to be this way? Implied in any possible answer to this central human question is a sense of historical perspective–that is: understanding events and conditions as sequential, one thing following another, with some sort of cause and effect relationship also implied, even if that relationship is not always obvious.

My own deepest interest, at least since the age of twenty, has been to understand my own people and their relationship to Nature. It has always been a puzzle to me why the people of my culture seemed so intent on destroying the very world that gives us life. For the longest time I couldn’t make any sense of it–and still don’t at the deepest gut level. But after many years of looking into this question, I do at least have some sort of intellectual understanding of this conundrum. And this is what I want to share with you. My hope is that if the story I am about to tell makes sense to you, you will take it to heart, and will see the wisdom in not repeating our mistakes. But I also have to tell this story for my own sake, because writing things down has always been my way of discovering how I see the world. The act of writing seems to draw out of my unconscious mind an unarticulated understanding, and, by putting this into words, to clarify that understanding to my conscious mind. For me, now, near the end of my life, this will be a summing up—one last attempt to make sense of the world. And, because I have always felt a strong sense of responsibility to give something back for all that has been given to me, this will also satisfy my felt need for reciprocity.