This originally appeared on misteragyeman.blogspot.com on October 6, 2014.
“When I was green and blossomed in the SpringAllen Grossman.
I was mute wood. Now I am dead I sing.”
I saw these words a couple of weeks ago. The poem didn’t connect with me, but I thought these lines were very beautiful. Now, I find them vaguely irritating. I feel a growing uncertainty about whether we humans really know what we are doing. A little boy asked me if trees talked; I didn’t know what to tell him. He nodded solemnly as I laid out the different schools of thought, then went and gave a shrub a beautiful right hook.
Stephen Hawking has spoken about what the human race can expect from intelligent aliens. The best-case scenario seems to be a sort of benevolent superiority; as for the worst, it depends. Is death worse than slavery?
There is an interesting psychological explanation for Hawking’s fears. We are apparently projecting our relationship with the ‘lower species’ around us, assuming that a superior alien culture will see us as little more than squirrels or monkeys. It’s this that bothers me- the ‘little more’ bit.
There are animals that make music; some improvise entire songs, some use complex patterns and rhythms. Others paint canvases in the Impressionist style. There are animals that mourn, and love, and dream. But still we say ‘animal passions’. Imagine for a second: if you put people in the savannah to share one lake- the way the animals do, both predator and prey- how long would it be before everything went crazy?
“The meek shall inherit the earth.” Meekness, for me, is a transcendent respect of things. When you value things highly enough, it changes how you treat them. I know people who love gardening and keeping pets, but I reserve a special admiration for people who respect nature so much that they feel it’s rude to lay claim to it. When the Zulus hunt, they tranquillize the animal and apologize to it, explaining to the animal that they need to do this for their families. I doubt PETA gives the same personal attention when they euthanize strays. I used to think the Zulus very noble for this. But these days, I often feel vaguely superior to them because of course, I don’t kill at all. Eating, fine. Not killing. That’s wrong.
Meekness isn’t cowardice. Often the two are mutually exclusive. You know that one friend with the crazy muscle definition who asks you to punch them in the shoulder or stomach? “Come on”, they say, “throw a real one. It’s fine.” It’s turning the other cheek, if you think about it. It depends on how you value your strengths, and how you value others. Largely, our primal world defines strength in terms by how much you could take from somebody in a fight. But real men don’t punch women, we always say; pick on people your own size. So can we have a man so real that he has nobody who is worth his anger? You find them in fiction- then one day they crack, and two thousand people die.
So it takes more strength than our world can fathom to keep walking away, and it’s getting easier and easier to choose to fight. I hope the meek inherit the earth. They are the only ones who deserve it.