31 August 2013

The Ultimate Self-Abuse

Being a wholly unscientific postscript to "Cultivating a Difference" 

One thing about me you can be sure of:

Call me a hopeless Romanticist – at least in the very oldest sense of the word – and I’ll nearly always plead guilty to the charge. A Romantic, that is, in the political sense of Disraeli, and Bagehot, and Burke; in the aesthetic sense of Wordsworth, Keats and Coleridge; in the literary sense of Clare and Cowley and Vaughan (maybe even Shakespeare?). A lover of symbol, and emblem, and figurative speech; of what’s often rather dismissively called tradition, or antiquity; of all sorts of very old things, God- or man-made, that we can never fully know the beginnings of, or come fully to the end of. Like even, I'm told, some nursery-rhymes. But things, in any case, that we can never hope to know (or use) better by despising.

And that includes not a few human things, too, that seem to be of very recent origin. Though we may never guess how deep in fact the roots are until we start pulling at them. Or how closely interwoven are the threads. Like, for instance, a certain "loose" thread we started playing with, and pulling at, called Libya, that very quickly began to unravel a certain shirt called Syria.

Now I know how much a literary preference of, say, Country over Town may seem like an archaism – if not a rude impertinence – in bustling times like these. I realize how much it can go against the grain of an Age which seems to believe there’s nothing nature- or God-made that can’t be humanly re-engineered. And if not consistently for the better, always for the more interesting or exciting. Even a few of our modern environmentalists, as I understand them, seem convinced that Man's nature can be re-designed to make him more eco-“friendly”: almost as if the part of him which longs for companionship with natural things could be excised, and a component inserted that makes him see himself only as Nature’s intruder, spoiler and contaminant. And even here, note how the Man-Nature relationship remains adversarial to the core: only this time Nature holds the "moral" high ground.    
Anyhow, the reason I call myself incorrigibly Romantic is simple. It is this nagging sense I have, and can’t get past: namely, that there are certain things in this world which can only be better understood by – imagine it! – not taking them apart. Like ourselves, for instance.

As for the visible earth beneath our feet, uncultivated nature is, of course, a much more ferocious thing than any human creature can afford to be sentimental about. In short, whatever in nature we haven't yet subdued is always more or less prepared to make a meal, or other mutilated mess, of us. In some brute circumstances it is simply a choice of dissect or be dissected.

Yet the fact remains, whatever we humans have managed to subdue we can also abuse, manipulate, exploit. And terrorize. In a word, even puny, hapless, martyred man can be a tyrant. And not just of other humans. To believe anything less would make us, again, the most uncritical sentimentalists – and this time concerning a species which proves, every waking hour, its descent at least as much from Cain (Genesis 4: 17-24) as from Seth. A species of which there is every reason to believe that, as the saying goes, he’s only just getting started. And the man who thinks nothing of abusing the nature around him will soon think nothing of abusing – dissecting, reconfiguring, “improving” – the nature within.

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