Saturday, July 31, 2010

Limits, of another kind

I have mentioned in a few posts that there are limits to the human mind. There are limits on cognition, understanding, complexity, interconnectedness, scale and intricacy. Nature is truly complex, truly interconnected, truly intricate and of a magnitude of scales. We cannot comprehend everything, and we will never understand everything. At some level, it isn't worth trying to. We want to know things so we can control them. We want to know various laws of physics and chemistry such that when we want to make a computer or atomic weapon, we'll know how to do it. But there is also a loss of freedom, as Wendell Berry states, of the living species we try to know and understand. Knowing more species of plants and animals, although will give us a clearer understanding of our negative impacts on the planet, can lead to exploitation of their skins and bones, blood and enzymes.

But there is a limit of another kind I'd like to talk about. I started thinking about this after my friend Lydia sent me this picture:

Lydia is a Geology PhD student, and her work takes her to Tibet and Western China. This photo was taken in town of Xidatan in the Qinghai Province of China. She said to me, "This, I would say, is probably one of the cleaner towns we saw. I'm not sure if that truck actually dumped a pile of trash in the middle of the town, but that's kind of what it looks like." Well, Lydia, I think you're right. That looks like a pile of trash to me, in the middle of pristine Earth.

Clearly, our ethic for living on this Earth has been dominion, domination and anthropocentrism. This has left us with no where on Earth that is untouched, unscathed, unchanged or unmodified. Wherever we go, we must leave our mark - our mark through trash. Is there a way to define our limits to dominion? Is there a way to say we will leave a pristine patch of creation (for the religious readers out there), Earth, soil, water and air to itself and the forces of nature? The problem with our communities and societies is that we don't live in a place anymore. We are on the move, always looking for something new, something different, something to change, something to extract. Indeed, if we defined our boundaries, we would have to have greater moral, ethical, social and cultural imagination to make sure our Earth in a particular place can sustain us, the frogs, the fish, the birds and the trees of that place.

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