On Meekness

This orig­i­nally appeared on mis​ter​agye​man​.blogspot​.com on October 6, 2014.

“When I was green and blos­somed in the Spring
I was mute wood. Now I am dead I sing.”

Allen Grossman.

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.

Pictured: the world’s lead­ing cause of lead poisoning. 

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.