February 25, 2013

A mute gospel?

The theme at Goat Rope these days is the  work of Ralph Waldo Emerson, a preeminent 19th century figure in American life and letters. The focus at the moment is his essay Nature (see last week's posts).

One thing that struck me the first time I read Nature (and every other time) is how totally pre-Darwinian are many of the ideas discussed. This is only to be expected, since Nature came out around 1836 and The Origin of Species more than 20 years later. Still, the gap between Emerson's universe and the modern scientific view of the same is vast.

Emerson believed that there was a deep correspondence between nature and the soul and that natural facts corresponded to moral facts, a far cry from the amoral universe of relentless natural selection.

Consider this passage:

...every natural process is a version of a moral sentence. The moral law lies at the centre of nature and radiates to the circumference. It is the pith and marrow of every substance, every relation, and every process. All things with which we deal preach to us.

Nature is beautiful and all but it is pretty red in tooth and claw. In a living world of prey, predators and parasites, I'm not sure how edifying the sermon would be. It is beyond good and evil.

Then he really steps in it:

What is a far but a mute gospel? The chaff and the wheat, weeds and plants, blight, rain, insects, sun,--it is a sacred emblem from the first furrow of spring to the last stack which the snow of winter overtakes the fields.

Let me just say that if Goat Rope Farm is a mute gospel, it is one that didn't make the New Testament cut. Also, if you think about it farming is kind of the opposite of nature--that's why it's so hard. Creatures want to do their own thing, not the thing of the farmer. They also want to do it where they want, which often isn't where the farmer wants. All cultivated species, whether plant or animal, are a far cry from their original natural state, having been bred over many generations through artificial selection. If that were not the case, there would be no need to farm them.

There's something touching about such a cozy view of our relationship with the natural world but it seems to me to be clearly a relic of another time.

SPEAKING OF DARWIN, here's E.O. Wilson on human nature.

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT. Here's a look at the facts about the minimum wage.

REASON 238128 TO EXPAND MEDICAID. It would help a lot of veterans.


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