Tuesday, April 22, 2014


I like to think I was wise by the age of five. Perhaps not, but I had already perceived something about the world that even today helps form my personal philosophy of life. I was born in 1966, so by the time I was five the United States was near the peak of its interest in the ecology movement. There was a sense that the way we were living was taking us in a dangerous direction and that we’d better do something about it if we didn’t want to be living in a world transformed by industrial waste. There was a sense, unlike in the 50’s, that technology was not an unqualified good, that science could just as well lead us to our doom as it could to our salvation. And somehow, even at that young age, I could detect the difference between natural and unnatural, and it felt to me the difference between God’s will and sacrilege. It was not an ideology but a feeling, as though the difference between what was healthy and what was not was obvious. What I could not understand was why the world was so willing to embrace that which was so wrong.

I remember seeing an advertisement on the back of a magazine that scared me even though I didn’t know what it meant. It was a picture of a man hooked up to a variety of machines. I asked my older brother what it was, and he told me it was about euthanasia. He said the person was being kept alive by all the machines attached to him and that some people thought that people like that should be allowed to die. I remember my brother asking if it were my dad if I would want him to be kept alive in that way. It was a horrible thought, my dad being in such a state. It was more horrible still, imagining that it was my decision to keep him alive or allow him to die. But I remembered I came to the decision quickly: if my dad were ever in such a position, I would allow him to die naturally than force him to live a mockery of an existence. Many years later, my dad approached me about his living will and asked me if I felt comfortable signing the form. After many years with that image in my mind, I knew that I could do what would be asked of me. I loved my father, but not to the degree of keeping him alive at any cost. To allow him to die was the right thing to do, I believe that now as I did at the age of five, when I was really too young to be contemplating the idea at all.

Perhaps the idea was already in my head because I watched more than my share of horror movies. Horror movies were always good at pointing out the dangers of going contrary to the laws of nature and God. My favorite was Frankenstein, and I knew that there were boundaries not meant to be crossed. Men attempting to create life, to play God, inevitably ended up creating monsters. While I sympathized with the monster, even the creator, I knew there was an inherent wrongness in such attempts. I loved the idea of scientific progress and dreamed of being an astronaut and exploring other worlds, but you just weren’t supposed to go tampering with human beings.

The idea of tampering with man’s nature has been the subject of many a Kinks song, and the first one that came to my awareness was Apeman. Admittedly, I was only four when my brother came home with the 45, so the reason I liked it was that it mentioned both Tarzan and King Kong. But at some level I connected with it. Somehow I knew we were children of nature and that it was not a good idea to start thinking otherwise. I’ve seen so many people adapt to whatever environment they were in, so willing to abandon the essential truth of what they are. Many years later I heard another Kinks song, Artificial Man, and it really brought home to me ideas that had been implanted in my head so many years ago by Ape Man as well as other influences:

Tell the world we finally did it.
Modified the population,
Put your senses and your mind
Under constant observation
Even when you're dreaming.
Replaced your nose, heart and lungs,
So shake me with your artificial hand.
We went and built a master race
To live within our artificial world.


But as bad as it was to modify humans, somehow it seemed the greater sacrilege to change nature itself. If man wished to alter himself—even if it was wrong—he was the victim of his own actions. But it seemed to me then as it does today that mankind is always trying to create some cheap copy of the real thing in order to sell it to the masses. We pollute lakes by building massive parking lots for water parks. I was still young, no more than eight or nine, when I had a dream I was at my favorite beach, a gorgeous stretch of lakeshore along Lake Huron, in the town of my mother’s birth. We were beginning to wade out into the deeper waters, the waves gradually getting us used to the cold water to come. When suddenly it occurred to me as I looked out towards where the great lake reached the sky along the horizon that they had done something to this spot that was so sacred a place to me. The water stretched out beyond me for perhaps another 40 feet, but at the end of it was merely a scene painted on a brick wall to simulate the sky and water that should have been there. They had converted this place of natural beauty into an indoor water park so that they would not have to take care of the lake that was beyond it. They had turned it into something fake and unnatural because that is what they tend to do. They could charge people for access while at the same time hide from the public the damage that they were doing to the larger world. I’m sure I could find song lyrics from the era to describe how that dream made me feel, also. Something like: “tear down paradise, put up a parking lot”.

I grew up in a time where it seemed the problems that mankind was causing through technology were beginning to be addressed. It seemed that people were beginning to look beyond the small worlds they lived in and see the repercussions to the larger environment that their actions caused. Man had lost his connection to nature, and the results could be catastrophic.

But unfortunately, it seemed that not much followed upon the initial awakening that occurred in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Some laws were passed, and some things changed, but then society seemed to turn its attention to other interests. People’s awareness shrunk away from the broader implications of their actions, focused more on the near at hand and the immediate present. We are increasingly becoming lost in little worlds of our own, unaware of our relatedness to the entire earth we inhabit. But we can only stay safe within our little bubbles for so long before the consequences of our actions come smashing through. We look away from the big picture, but it is only a matter of time before our own backyards are affected by ripples that our lifestyles produce. It’s sad to think that adults can hide from truths that are so obvious that even a child can see them. I guess it takes a child’s eyes to see the obvious, and an adult’s mind to be able to train oneself to not see what is so very natural.

Happy Earth Day, everybody.


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