One of my Dad’s favorite phrases was “stick in the mud”, which he’d use to describe an individual who was no fun, who had no spirit of adventure or love of life. “Come on sonny, don’t be a stick in the mud!”, he’d razz me when I was less than enthusiastic about a family outing or some fun group chore he’d cooked up. (I plead adolescence). It’s a great old expression though, one that leaves no doubt about its meaning. And yes, sometimes even now I see that the old stick still stands.
For instance, just the other day I was driving with the radio on, listening to a syndicated scientist I usually enjoy. He was enthusing about the vision of a well-known tech wiz to go to Mars and use nuclear devices to torch that planet’s ice caps in order to free up water to support human settlements and mining operations. Now, don’t get me wrong- I’m not some flat-earth Luddite or opponent of progress, but my immediate reaction was a gut-churning terror, followed by rage.
Being of introspective bent, I noted the intensity of this reaction and engaged in a brief inner triage. This didn’t take long, since the aforementioned factoid had scored a direct hit on one of my pettest of peeves: the insane and suicidal capacity of humans to take the hospitality and genius of Planet Earth for granted, and the arrogance to think that we can improve on Nature, or worse, that we need to transcend it.
The last time I looked, this was the only planet we know of capable of sustaining our kind of biological life. If another had been discovered in the last week or so, I think I’d have heard about it. This is a basic fact we seem quick to forget. Every day, science is discovering new and mind-blowing facets of the interconnected and symbiotic zeitgeist of all of Earth’s systems: its myriad life forms; its weather patterns; its geology; long cycles and rhythms we can only now trace back through time. You’d think we’d be awe-struck into a permanent state of reverence and wonder, but nooooo, like children gleefully tormenting a butterfly, we just gotta mess with it!
I mean, we don’t even know all of what’s at the bottom of the ocean yet! And what discoveries lurk in the hidden depths of ourselves? Our explorations of the subjective sensitivities and pulsing energies of our own inner space are still in the baby-step phase. Yet the blessing/curse of large brains and opposable thumbs drives us on to ever-sillier extremes of innovation, enthralled by our own cleverness, cantilevered off the cliff of the known, teetering over a roiling chasm of potentially fatal fuckup, apparently inspired by old sci-fi, new hallucinogens, and jerk-off dreams of immortality. Perhaps we should question this drive.
We walk around all day in bodies factory-equipped to see, to hear, to taste, to feel, to reason, and have the unmitigated gall to see need for improvement?!? We wake up every morning on the custom-made planet our species has evolved with (or been Created for… they’re equally miraculous…), and we can’t wait to leave?!?
Humans will explore. We will go forth and colonize, plant flags, name things after ourselves, and all that. Let’s just use our heightened abilities to remember the obvious: Earth is our only home, and we are just one of her many life forms, designed to fit seamlessly into the greater whole. Let’s at least recognize where we are before we trash the joint and split. Let’s learn the wisdom to question fantasy for the mirage it can be, and know this fleeting mortal moment for the gift it is.
Yup. Stick in the mud. Born that way.