Nature's Embrace?

by Don Boudreaux on July 7, 2006

in Myths and Fallacies

Cynthia Emerlye expresses a wish in this letter published in today’s New York Times:

To the Editor:

Thomas L. Friedman struck a chord of
guilt in me when he suggested that attention is a victim of our
electronics-filled digital age ("The Age of Interruption," column, July
5). I offer myself as an example.

I live in a stunningly
beautiful rural part of Vermont. My studio sits above a flowing stream.
Wildlife regularly pass beside my window. The other night as I worked
away at the computer, I was oblivious to it all.

Then the
electricity suddenly went out (something that happens often in the
country). I groped out of my "cave" looking for a candle, tripped over
the vacuum cleaner, and landed in front of the glass door.

cursing, I looked outside. The sky was blazing with stars, and hundreds
of fireflies danced above the lawn and through the meadow. I opened the
door and walked outside in a trance.

Such beauty and
tranquillity have been available to me every day, every evening, with
only a little attention required by me. Yet I have remained in my
self-imposed lockup chained to a flickering computer screen.

I am hopeful that we will all wake up someday, break these electronic bonds and walk into the waiting embrace of Mother Nature.

Cynthia Emerlye
South Pomfret, Vt., July 5, 2006

Here’s one of my deepest wishes — that one day the likes of Ms. Emerlye and others who romanticize nature will realize that without modern commerce and industry Mother Nature doesn’t warmly and lovingly embrace human beings; she strangles us in a death grip.

Consider, for example, Thomas Babington Macaulay‘s description of life in the 17th-century Scottish highlands — before anything beyond rudimentary commerce and industry reach there:

His lodging would sometimes have been in a hut of which every nook would have swarmed with vermin.  He would have inhaled an atmosphere thick with peat smoke, and foul with a hundred noisome exhalations.  At supper grain fit only for horses would have been set before him, accompanied by a cake of blood drawn from living cows.  Some of the company with which he would have feasted would have been covered with cutaneous eruptions, and others would have been smeared with tar like sheep.  His couch would have been the bare earth, dry or wet as the weather might be; and from that couch he would have risen half poisoned with stench, half blind with the reek of turf, and half mad with the itch.

Thomas Babington Macaulay, The History of England, Vol. 3 (Philadelphia, John C. Winston Co., n.d.), page 279,


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