“He who dedicates himself to the duration of his life, to the house he builds, to the dignity of mankind, dedicates himself to the earth and reaps from it the harvest that sows its seeds and sustains the world again and again”
Camus wrote these words in the years immediately following the end of World War II. A time when nihilism’s grip was tightening and the reasons for living seemed to be few. His generation had played witness to two World Wars, and would soon experience the atrocities of World powers playing political chess with citizens simply trying to make ends meet. What is poignant about what he writes is the universality of his underlying sentimentality. If you broaden your perception, hear his words at multiple frequencies, you realize he understood the human condition; the mystery of living amongst ever changing patterns of existence and the requirement of contributing to the preservation of a balance.
It is risky to draw a parallel between post-war efforts at material and psychological reconstruction and the need to establish ethical environmental attitudes. At least it feels that way. Yet I read Camus’s desire to establish a morality in living and decision-making and it is hard not to be aware of the current relationship between nature and humans (and yes, I realize I have separated the at this point. They will be reunited soon). Contrary to Camus’s advice, we are in the process of constructing a dilapidated dwelling; a home whose roof is askew and whose walls are porous to the gentlest of breezes. And we are satisfied that we have constructed a masterpiece of longevity. We have not.
But that is my view, and it need not be yours. The truth, as it is with so many conflicts between mighty opponents, is that the idea of protecting nature has become a polarizing concept. The conservation side says either you are with us or against us. The other side (not sure what to call it) has buried their collective heads in unimaginative justifications for the status quo. They both suffer from ego and self-righteousness. It need not be that way.
The realization that we (humans) belong to the earth, and do not control it, is ancient. That we continually disregard this piece of wisdom is ancient as well. That we have a hand in our interactions and that somewhere collaboration rests on the willingness to say “here’s what I need” and to ask, what do you require?” is a diplomatic intercourse that might begin to bridge the gap between respect and control. That bridge could lead to a place where we can make small contributions based on what we define as nature and conservation. A place where we can all agree that we are part of a whole, and that whole is worth efforts to maintaining it. Let’s call that outpouring of effort “autonomy of change”.
Autonomy of change might look like each of us taking a minute to see what works for our community and those around us. It might look like an honest discussion of science and possibility. Could look like simple alternatives to destructive practices. Definitely would have the focus of responsibility and acceptance.
And it might not look like enough. But if we all try it, then maybe something would grow from our efforts.
It will certainly look like getting rid of browbeating those who do not agree with our own point of view. The point is, that something needs to be done. But only half of something will get done if we ostracize half of the people who might help out. So maybe it is time to change the message to something more inclusive. To be imaginative in the way we communicate (the “we” being all of us). I see that as having to start at a different place than we are now. And I see that as a simple step in the right direction.
And if we meet in the middle, we might reap the rewards and find dignity in our sustainability.