To Do What We Want

“It is just so beautifully wild out there. Sometimes it is difficult to imagine vast tracts of land that have been minimally touched by the push of human progress – but they are there, and they are amazing. It is a powerful view to look out over forest and hills and not see roads cutting scars across the land. It’s powerful to know that this is what the world really is – it is not cars and buildings and schedules and presentations. The real world is something far more awe inspiring and spiritually massive than anything we can imagine sitting inside a home or an office. There is a feeling of stewardship that arises when you look out over the wilds. Because although we can do what we want with the land–we can lay roads, cut trees, mine ore, and build towns–it is not ours to do as we wish with. And we can feel that in some moments, when we see ourselves as peaceful individuals on a hillside, that we are integral with the rest of the world.”

I wrote those words in a blog entry during my time on the trail. I’ve said it many times–I often struggle to maintain the mindset that I had while on the trail. Words do not fully express the subtleties that go along with thoughts that carry so much weight–thoughts that seem to defile the idea of human progress, or to damn technological pursuit. I think in writing the above words, I failed to see a deeper meaning.

Perhaps value does not lie in the tangible outcome: it does not matter whether we have untarnished wooded plots or complex machine cities. It does not matter whether we have untainted rocky mountains or burnished city skylines. All objects are merely benign matter in the end, and matter itself is not inherently moral or immoral.

And perhaps value does not lie in the processes of our lives: it does not matter whether we destroy, create, preserve, modify. None is inherently better than the rest; they are all necessary modes of interaction with the World. One must be willing to destroy in order to create. One must be willing to modify in order to preserve. They are all just interactions with and between matter, and as such, are not inherently moral or immoral processes.

So perhaps the value lies somewhere else, somewhere beyond matter. Perhaps it lies in our minds–in the motivations and intentions that drive us to influence and alter the World. What is the spirit behind the matter? Do we seek to integrate ourselves with the World, or do we seek to dis-integrate ourselves from it, and it from ourselves?

In writing the above entry, I failed to see that we can do what we want with the land. But we also need to remember that the land, like ourselves, is only a small manifestation of the infinite and eternal cosmos–it is a Mask of God, but without human features: brains and fingers, nerves and culture. It is a Mask made of bark and leaf, soil and rot, mushroom and maggot. It is made of rock and moss, skull and gnat, stinging bee and soothing stream, rising fog and burning sun. The myriad entities of the world arise as something non-human and therefore different from our conception of interaction and communication. But simply because something is non-human does not mean that it is non-communicative. All things have a mind–every single thing is a Mask of God, and therefore, are endowed with a reason for being. Each rock, each root, each grain of sand cries out, “The fact that I exist leads me to believe that I am worthy of existence.” But I also hear the roadways cry this out too, and the buildings, and the machines and the technology that we create and destroy, modify and preserve: “The fact that I exist leads me to believe that I am worthy of existence.”

Thomas Berry wrote that “Every being has its own voice. Every being declares itself to the entire universe.” Just because we can not hear that declaration in human syllables does not mean it is not declared. So our declarations as human beings–our choices to destroy, create, preserve, or modify–must be integrated with the declarations of the matter and minds that surround us, regardless of whether they take up form in the natural world, or in the sometimes beautiful, sometimes terrifying brave new World that we have created for ourselves.

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