Forests in the Flame, Ant Mounds in the Flood

This article said, on average, animal populations have declined by 60%. Shock emoji, right? To be fair, I suppose it’s easy to lose track of God’s other critters in all the mid-term election fervor. I mean, who has time for White Walkers when you’re binging a Game of Thrones? It ends with a dire question: how much of the finite amount of biomass and energy on the planet are we going to share with everything else?

Humanity, right? A forest fire of intelligence and imagination and desire. War, industry, dolphins choking on plastic–the whole shebang. Until one day the forest is all gone and there’s nothing left for the flames to lick. Is it any consolation to the forest that the flames disagree on the how to set the table?

Right now, in America, there’s a war for the soul of this country. And it’s as corny as it sounds. We’re in the process, or perhaps we’re always in the process, of defining what America is and how individuals will measure their proximity to it. Soul like an Etch-a-Sketch.

America was once a nation of slave owners with a jones for freedom (or still is, depending on how privately-owned, forced prison labor tickles your fancy). The European colonists were religious Puritans, pirates and convicted felons—sometimes all at once. Christians doled out infected blankets to the “noble savages” they hoped to “save.” I mean basically, American society is totally pyscho when it comes to our values—if those values were ever ours individually to begin with.

It all feels very important to me: a college-educated, liberal arts bachelor, indoctrinated in a certain flavor of American politics. I care if we preserve the hallmarks of our democracy, but honestly I couldn’t tell you why, beyond never straying on the way to Grandma’s house. My political enemies teach their kids the same lesson. I get it—who has the time or money to investigate the reasons for everything they do? Some truths you take based on faith in your community because they seem to work and who’s to say they don’t for you? Which begs the question, if the rain is coming anyway, are our disagreements meaningful or just the squabbling of ants over proper mound-building?

Where is Grandma’s house anyway and who sent us?

Religion tries. Jesus wants you to avoid pissing off his Dad and going to Hell. Allah lovingly made you with free will to worship Him. But if you refuse, sends you to Hell also. The world is a stressful place, so take this Dharma and chill, the Buddha invites us. Hail Satan for fun and freedom. Eliminate your engrams for galactic peace. The goal of the practice is usually in the elevator pitch.

But with nations it’s less clear. Nations, like people, are just trying to survive most of the time by making whatever convenient alliance of worldview and necessity life mandates. They don’t have to sustain particular values or treat their members in a consistent way to be the thing they claim to be. America can fight the “oppression” of socialism in Vietnam and hose negroes in the streets of Birmingham. It can bomb the wrong country for 911 and sell bombs to Wahabis. Or claim to be a nation of immigrants while sending troops to the border to keep refugees out.

Very much like complex organisms, individual parts give rise to something greater than their sum, and replace those parts regularly to ensure the overall health of the organism. Skin sheds. Hair falls out. The body goes on. When it gets really cold, the brain cuts off circulation to the feet. Not every part of the whole bears pain equally. There is a constant tension in each person between individuality and society, just as there is between species and ecosystem.

And meanwhile, the engine of our survival is grinding up everything that isn’t us without any thought to what a nose-less planet might look like.

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