The Stoned Age
January 28, 2007
The next time you think about the “environment” as something foreign and outside yourself, consider these words from Wendell Berry:”The idea that we live in something called ‘the environment’ is utterly preposterous. … The world that environs us, that is around us, is also within us. We are made of it; we eat, drink, and breathe it; it is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.”Berry is a philosopher farmer, a role model for the Jeffersonian ideal of a rustic man leading a rural life, pondering the great ideas. My image of Wendell Berry is of a tall, lanky Luddite plowing his field with a mule and pausing occasionally among the furrows to contemplate the meaning of life. The quiet, contemplative life Jefferson espoused isn’t widely practiced in our hectic age, so it’s important to listen to people like Berry who still choose to embrace it. The conclusion Berry makes about the environment is so grounded in logic it should condition all our thoughts and actions. The reason it doesn’t is because we’ve distanced ourselves from nature through a superiority complex that now threatens the integrity of the natural world… and our species. We blunder along thinking we’re somehow above it all, when we’re not. Our species’ elitism allows us to exploit nature for short-term gain without a qualm for the long-term effects. We choose not to associate ourselves with the natural systems that support life because that would inconvenience our pursuit of material excess and luxury.If you read Berry’s quote a few times it becomes clear we are what we eat, drink and breathe. Existence, as the Beatles sang, flows “within you and without you.” The obvious upshot is that by respecting the natural environment we also respect ourselves, our progeny and our species.That’s a foreign concept because our culture holds us at arm’s length from the unified theory Berry and others advanced. Our separateness from nature comes from an overbearing religious tradition that deifies man while undervaluing the world from which he sprang.Man’s biblical fall from grace banished him from the Garden of Eden. But the resulting fall wasn’t just a one-time mishap; it is perpetuated daily as we continue to despoil the mythic garden through our “intelligence.”According to the late Terrence McKenna, a radical ecobotanist, the apple eaten by Adam was a psilocybin mushroom. McKenna, who advanced the “Stoned Ape Theory of Evolution,” theorized that psychedelic mushrooms imbued primitive man with certain advantages that enhanced his intelligence and pushed him into the hierarchy of vertebrates.In his book “The Botany of Desire,” Michael Pollan describes plants as sentient beings that lure other species into spreading their progeny. Man is merely a vehicle for cultivating plant growth in return for sweetness (apples), beauty (tulips), intoxication (cannabis), and nutrition (potatoes).”We automatically think of domestication as something we do to other species,” Pollan writes, “but it makes just as much sense to think of it as something certain plants and animals have done to us.”If we are, in fact, controlled by other species, then Berry’s statement should go a step further. Not only are we part of the “environment,” we are ruled by the “environment” and should act with proper respect toward our ruler. Famine is one means nature has of thumping us on the head when we stray from the right path, as are obesity, global warming, acid rain, hurricanes, tsunamis, disease, etc. The message from nature is not to disrupt a natural system that’s been working on survival far longer than our Johnny-come-lately species. The gift of evolution is our dividend for involuntary subservience to the dictates of nature. Our biggest challenge, however, is to honor the environment that made us and rules us. Otherwise, that environment will slap us down for the good of all life on the planet.Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.
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