Evolution and the Anthropic Principle
Richard Dawkins vs Ken Wilber
Where Am I
The Cheshire Cat
I Could Have Been a Contender
What I Wish Id Said
Keeping Up with the World
The Flight of the Phoenix
The Power of Fog
Naming the Unnamed
Principles in Art
Spirit and Matter
The Enlightenment Conundrum
On Believing
Water? What Water?
Telling Stories 2
I believe in Rainbows
Whom Can We Believe
Patterns by Paul Simon and Douglas Hofstadter
Copyright Inheritance
Broad Minded
Beliefs Part Two
A Long drawn-out solstice
The Quest for, and the Illusion of, Certainty
To the Ends of the Earth
The Meaning Of Life
We Hold These Truths
There are Beliefs
Music and Language
Circular Thinking
Runaway World
Deep Playmate
An Alchemy of Telling
Cultural Genes
The Joy of Science
The Conundrum of Human Nature
No, The Computer Isn't Smarter than I Am!
A Rant on Religion
The West Wing Turning Right?
The Geometry of Spring
Music as Language
What is Art
Beauty and Spirit
You Don't Understand Us
The New God of Probability
Gene Hackman as President
Being Lifted Out of the Ordinary
The Head and the Heart
Pay Attention!
Music Poetry and Meaning
On Seeking Truth
Perceptions and Reality
The Marriage Bond
Taboo is a Right
Copyright versus Copyleft
Cycles of Transcendence
Ego and Self
The Big Picture
Mindfulness as Larger Mind
The Power of Words
The State of the Union
Out of My Mind
Family Thoughts
One Life
Telling Stories
Small World
Bigger Realities
What Comes Next
Humor as a Higher Level of Consciousness
Sometimes Everything Goes Wrong
Emotional Resonance
Extraordinary Respect
Insight Meditation
Us and Them
Paradox and Paradigm
To Reach
I Don't Know
Don the Romantic
The Guy in the Blue Saab
The Sound of Silence
Eating is an Intimate Act
Evolution of Spirit
On Cloning and Other . . .
Creativity and Psychic Phenomena
Magic in My Life
My Difficulty with Aaron
Mindful & Mystic
Taste of Irony
Music Appreciation
Levels of Consciousness

The Flight of the Phoenix , Redux

As I read William C. Warner’s essay in “Other Voices” (Ann Arbor News, October 7), I was reminded of the 1964 movie Flight of the Phoenix and the character played by Hardy Kruger, whose cold logic infuriated everyone else but who eventually saved the people stranded in the desert. In fact, there are strong parallels between the situation the characters found themselves in and their responses, and the situation we humans find ourselves in regarding the environmental changes we’re faced with.

Mr. Warner reminds us that Earth doesn’t care at all whether we live or die as a species. We aren’t the first species, nor will we be the last, to emerge and disappear. The earth, likewise, has undergone monumental changes in the past, and beyond any doubt will continue to do so, whether we like it or not.

He points out that our view of “the environment” has changed from conservation for the sake of humans to “world-as-it-is-supposed-to-be,” approximately as it was before we began to affect it—(a.k.a. the Garden of Eden?) And he asserts that we can have little or no effect on climate change, so it’s pointless to try. We need simply to adapt.

Like Hardy Kruger’s character in the movie, Mr. Warner discounts the value of emotionally inspired decisions. However, we live not only in an uncaring universe, but in a universe of human values, in which sentiment plays a large part in the meanings we assign to life. That streak of sentimentality is as real as the logic that guides his thinking. Sentiment tells us that we “should” leave the world as good and as beautiful as we found it—individually as well as collectively. That’s not a bad thing, even if the earth couldn’t care less.

Efforts to preserve existing species have an effect on us, even if they are ultimately pointless. How to do that—how to protect the animals while not, in the process, endangering their natural prey—is a worthwhile endeavor, for it makes us more sensitive to the subtleties of the process. If I have compassion for the coyote in the field behind my home, and for the deer trying to cross the road in the glare of my headlights, those animals are not likely to feel a reciprocal kindness toward me but it will enhance my feeling about my own character. And that, inevitably, will affect my behavior toward other human beings.

Mr. Warner is right, in my mind, that we should recognize our tasks in the light of logic. However, to deny that we have been fouling our own earthly nest, or that we can do something to ameliorate the situation, is not only short-sighted, it is deadening to our most precious human values.

In a million years—indeed, perhaps in a thousand—the earth may have forgotten us humans. Paleontologists of some future species may come across remnants of our societies and puzzle over what we were like. It’s pleasant to think that they might judge us sympathetically, but of course by that time I will have blended my personal remains with the ongoing process and won’t care at all. But now I do, and I’m glad I do.


Donald Skiff, October 7, 2007

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