Call it progress or metastasizing, what we have done as a race, a species or a civilization is dumbfounding.
AESOP, the fabulist and slave who, like Scheherazade, may have won his freedom by the magic of his tongue and who supposedly shared the Greek island of Samos with Pythagoras 2,500 years ago, nailed down our fellowship with other beasties of the animal kingdom. Yet we seem to have reached an apogee of separation since then. The problem is, we find ourselves quite ungovernable when operating solo, shredding our habitat, while hugging our dogs and cats as if for consolation and dieting on whole-food calories if we are affluent enough. Google Earth and genome games also lend us a fitful confidence that everything is under control. We have Facebook, GPS apps, cameras on any corner, week-ahead weather forecasts round-the-clock on-screen, repair crews ready to restore “power” if it ever flickers out.
Power to the people is a worldwide revolutionary slogan advancing democracy, but presupposes a more ancient meaning: the prehistoric conquest of every other vertebrate on earth. When I lived on Samos myself in 1965, I heard about perhaps the last wild leopard killed in Europe. It had swum across the strait from Mount Mycale in Turkey, only a mile or so away, presumably a bachelor seeking virgin territory, and when discovered and chased, had taken refuge in a cave, where the Samians promptly walled it in to die of thirst. Wouldn’t you have done the same? I suspect that Aesop, however, might have advocated setting it free to garland the 27-mile long island (and thus Europe) for a few more years with a last whiff of the eons preceeding modernity.
Sadistic flicks, sea rise, assassination drones: are we up to playing God? A tectonic shift in civilization has never happened this fast before, and we’re still part-chimpanzee with double Ph.D.’s in trial and error. Invent pesticides and see what they do to our organs, sell civilians assault rifles and count the schoolhouse shootings, experiment with longevity and economics, friendship and cellphoning. By our own account we’re pigs, yet bearish, owly but mousy, catty and bovine. We beaver at work, hawk merchandise, and ape others by parroting them. We’re lemmings, wolfish, snakes in the grass, weasels, bucks, hens, leonine or sharks. We’re beaky or tigerish, doe-eyed, raven-haired, foxy, chicken-hearted, slow as a tortoise, meek as a dove, sheepish, dogged, old goats, goosey, sitting ducks or vultures. We butt in, bull ahead, change our stripes or spots, strut like a peacock, weep crocodile tears, ram through or swan about. We’re rabbity, calf-eyed, we beat our chests like gorillas, buzz off, or act like a jellyfish.
Aesop would perk his ears, pick up a pen at this thicket of still current figures of speech.
via The New York Times – EDWARD HOAGLAND
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