Daily Archives: July 7, 2005

the Ethics of Nature

Betrayed. That is what has happened to that last awesome marauding warrior. Betrayed by the dirt which he has used for centuries to bring forth yams, to pack the floors of his huts where his children play, to draw maps and designs of future building sites, and finally, to paint his face before a mightily anticipated battle. A battle that he will never see. As he slides slowly with each desperate but eerily patient struggle, deeper and deeper into the dirt, he realizes too late that had he stayed at home and sat this battle out, all of his men would have survived. Now they are all already below him in the quicksand, and the opposing army alive, well, and probably feeling pretty lousy right now at having been stood up.
Betrayed by the same dirt upon which rests the stones in a circle that represent the tribunal of authority in his tribe. At which the discourse of philosophy and law is made. Battles of words fought every day to expand not their musculature but their minds. Battles that, had they been content in their state of affairs, would be continuing today and tomorrow and the next day. Had the conversations not led to the eventual and current waging of war on surrounding territories for their land and power, had the conversation instead headed towards yams, then the warriors and their fearless suffocating leader would be enjoying a delicious yam feast right now.
Their children would play in the dirt, kicking it up, and later sit around a campfire and listen to a dirty old man covered in dirt regale them with stories and dirty jokes about their dirty pasts and dirt-enriched origins. They would later use the dirt to put out that same campfire. Down the dirt path would come a young man, dirt covering his skin to keep the flies from biting, returning from some philosophical voyage and not a warring one. They would play dirty tricks and say dirty words and eat dirty rice.
Surprised most of all by this strange turn of events however, is the Dirt itself.


The Dirt, taken upon wings by an old friend, the Wind, then planned to discuss the matter further with the other natural members.
ìWind,î he did outcry, ìtake me to the top of that mountain. So that I may speak with the Snow and Ice and Sleet, our estranged cousins.î
ìThey are no strangers to me,î replied the Wind, ìfor there is no element of nature that exists that does not accompany the Wind.î
ìBraggart!î the Dirt did tease his brother, ìstop this foolishness then, and if you think so well of yourself and wish to prove it unto others, then by actions and not words bring me quickly to the other members of our natural family, for I have many things to discuss and not all of eternity to get it done in.î
ìQuit your playfulness,î the Wind answered, ìfor I am several million years your senior and there is nothing that you could explain to me so patronizingly that I do not already know. Besides, there is nothing which needs to be discussed with anyone so quickly that there are not several epochs that it may take to get around to it.î He stopped to revise himself. ìFor it is said that a butterfly on one side of the planet may someday cause an earthquake or a tidal wave on the other. It is said that, with patience, a dove with his wing may wear down the tallest mountains. How else does a tiger eat an elephant, dear cousin, but bite by bite?î
The Dirt, impatient as hell, shot back, ìAh, but you do blow from the swelter of desert, my brother. Have you seen my dearest twin, the Sand? What news from the dunes and newly built pyramids?î
ìTalk to me not of those pyramids!î The Wind blustered angrily, ìFor they are not of a natural order! The abominations should be damned to the sea or else consumed by fire!î
ìBut brother, are they not made of stone and sand? Is it not the same if not near-same materials which comprise our friend the mountains?î
ìTeasing is something that I have learned to accept as a matter of course from you, ignorant child, but if you resort to blasphemy, then–î
ìNot at all, friend. In fact, the problem at hand with the flourishing human population is but of one of the many matters that I need to discuss with our brethren.î
Stilled suddenly, the Wind pondered this predicament. Would he be seen as implicated in the trouble that surely Dirt was going to stir? Surely, the Wind thought, it would be fleeting as the problem of man itself was sure to be. And surely, the Wind thought, it would provide some much needed howls of laughter, something that the Wind had been bereft of for quite some time.
ìI consent to your request,î the Wind said, picking up a little as he rose with Dirt in tow, ìand additionally, I will take you to see our other many friends and relatives so that you may discuss whatever blasphemies you have to discuss.î
ìBlasphemies are for people, as people believe in things and punish those with subversive proclamations. Retribution is a human thing.î
ìAh, sweet brother,î the Wind cooed, ìYou will soon see that retribution is universal to all things. However, you are correct that elements of nature do not punish one another for subversive thoughts. At the very least, though, you will make a fool of yourself and quite possibly myself as your accomplice. But I shanít argue, and weíll see which of our brethren dare to. Surely, only a fool takes up a foolís argument.î
The journey was not as long as Dirt would have expected. The Wind, though full of himself, was quite accurate on his claims to the ability to travel almost anyplace instantaneously. For Dirt, who travels at a wormís pace from shore to inland and through the air, this was a well-deserved treat.
At the top of the mountain, congregating randomly and so fast that they all became one, were those insidious sisters Snow and Ice and Sleet.
ìHow dare you come this way!î Shot the Ice, turning a cold shoulder to the Dirt and Wind. Dirt believed at first that she was addressing him, but it became apparent that Wind was the deviant she spoke to when he replied.
ìDear sisters, I have not come to harm you. I am not here to spread you senseless, nor is this a social visit. My friend here, whom you have not seen for a very long time, foolishly brings forth questions of a philosophical nature. Allow me to reintroduce the Dirt.î
ìMy, how handsome. And dry!î Shrieked the Sleet.
ìSomebody cold to cuddle up to on those warm nights.î Cooed the Snow, softly.
ìI think he needs a bath.î Dissented the Ice.
ìSpeaking of your mother,î interrupted the Dirt, for the first time, ìhow far are we from the ocean?î
ìNot far,î replied the Snow, ìyou can see it from these heights.î
Sure enough, off in the distance, a tidal wave was consuming an island nation off the coast. Though there was no love lost between these three sisters and their mother, who with the Wind had cast them up there, they still enjoyed the laughter wrought on by her carnage.
ìIt is good to see others feel the brunt of motherís insanity for a change.î The Ice said, bitingly.
ìI only wish we would get more humans up here.î The Sleet hissed, ìIt just isnít fair. Very rarely is it that we get a chance to freeze any foolish travelers.î
ìI donít know,î the Snow whispered, ìI sort of like the humans.î
ìShut up!î the other two shouted, blowing harshly.
ìIt is just that matter which we wish to discuss with you, however.î the Dirt piped in.
ìReally? Shall we discuss the best way in which to kill a human? Shall we discuss the proper length for keeping them alive? Perhaps the fun of watching them ever-so-slowly decomposing in such cold climates? Why, did you know, up above at the very peak of this mountain, we can keep a human body indefinitely? Isnít that fun?î
ìNo!î The Dirt churned inside. ìI am here to discuss with you the very ethics of such murder!î
The sisters settled down. The Wind, embarrassed, stopped moving. Even the Snow, who was mostly silent, fell a little.
ìWhat was that?î spoke a grating voice from below and above and around them all.
ìWho is that?î cried the Dirt.
ìIt is I, the mountain upon whom you pose such silly conferences. I am the Stone Elder.î
ìI apologize for disturbing you, sir,î stirred the Dirt, ìbut it is of most grave consequence to the benefit of this planet, and to my very own conscience. Hopefully, it shall be for us all.î
ìA conference, you request then, amongst all the elements?î
ìIt is, sir.î
The Stone was silent for a moment. His many stratum contemplating this.
ìWind, do you follow in this Dirtís way of thinking?î
ìHa, ha. My, no, Stony-baby. I thought it would be a lark if I tagged along and rode this one out. Besides, how else was the Dirt going to get a ride out here? Besides on the soles of a humanís shoes, which, aside from complicating the situation, would take quite a long time, as these sisters did say.î
ìYes. Very well. I, too, shall humor this idiot. But if there is to be a conference, (and if I am to be disturbed for it), may we not gather all the elements together? I want them all to share with me in this lunacy.î
ìHow delightfully stubborn of you, dear Stone.î The Wind said, howling with laughter.
ìDonít dare to bring Fire up here!î Shrieked the Sleet.
ìNor our mother!î the Snow gently spoke.
ìNonsense! We must find some neutral ground, where it is befitting for Fire, Water, Snow, and Dirt. Wind, make it so.î
And thus the wind began to shoot about in several directions. He began to spin around and around the mountain until he was a gigantic tornado, whipping the nearby sea about like confetti, dissipating the Waterís tidal waves and grabbing her attention. The Fire, who was meanwhile burning a small village in the jungle, put itself out long enough to get its ash over to the foot of the mountain.
The tornado, more violent now, lifted the mountain up and placed it closer to the beach and the jungle, making a sort of neutral ground, and a sort of courtroom for these elements to confer within. The Wind, though part of the conference within the boundaries of the tornado, kept it going as a sort of barrier, keeping humans and all other life out for this meeting.

The water, it was known well within the group, was quite guilty of crimes against humanity. Not a few centuries prior, it seemed, a great flood had overtaken the Earth, and destroyed most life. At varying intervals, the water had eradicated certain island nations, and an entire continent that the humans called ëAtlantis.í
Fire, a quiet fizzle in the background of the group, could be accused of having been in league with man in many situations. As man learned to cook, as he murdered the families of other men, as he kept himself alive each winter against the Snow and Ice and Sleet. Fire, for this and other reasons, kept his distance from those sisters, as well as all watery elements. And though a good distance from the Wind and Dirt that could easily put out a healthy Fire, it managed to stay within the inner circle of the groupís conversation, as wind has been known to help and not hinder the spread of wildfire.
It was also known, to Dirt and to the others, that Fire was one of the biggest accomplices to the genocide of man. Entire countries and forested areas burned by Fire and volcanic ash. Individuals roasted alive in social protest, and innocent domesticated fires gone insanely out of control. Fire, it could be said, was the fun-loving guy at every party that wants to be your friend, but if you mess with him in a bad way, youíre asking to be burnt.

ìWhat is the meaning of this?î Said the Water, splashing ashore creating a high tide against the mountain.
ìShut up, you.î The Stone Elder rumbled. ìThis is the Dirtís doing, I will let him begin. I shall preside over this meeting, and attempt to guide it, to gird you more untamable elements. Dirt?î
ìYes, ahem, thank you.î the Dirt rasped a little, checked himself, then began. ìAs you all know, the problem of man presents us with quite a little question. We may see it as a threat that has to be ended. As he nets the fish from the Waterís oceans. As he tames the Fire for his own ends. I, perhaps, have the most reason to complain, for I am trod upon every day.î
ìYeah, tell ëem!î Fire cackled.
ìHowever,î the Dirt continued, ìI have adopted the stand that man is of no real threat, as we are not fragile beings, certainly not as fragile as man, and should thus forth let him be. Or at the very least, go easy on him.î
ìMan is a virus!î Shot out the Sleet.
After a moment, the Dirt prodded her, ìDefend your position or else keep it silent.î
The Wind said, ìThough I do not agree with the Dirt, I must say that it is better to stay silent and appear the fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.î Though this had the appearance of having been directed at the Sleet, a little westward blow, of course, let the Dirt know that he was not free from a foolís guilt.
ìThis is nonsense!î waves of Water crashed as she spoke, ìThere will come a day when man will deplete the fish of my oceans so much, and pollute my inlets, to the point where nothing can be replenished. There will be a day when I rain upon the Earth as acid, and the Wind shall blow nothing but smoke.î
ìFurther nonsense!î the Ice cut in. ìThis entire conversation is a silly waste of time. Man will kill, we will kill. Who cares? We are immortals, are we not?î
ìHa!î Said the Fire from the back, ìWas there not a time when this planet was yours, Ice? Did not itís entire surface belong to you? Now it is your motherís, or else it is the Stone and Dirtís.î
ìAnd yet I remain. My point is not that we can diminish, but that we are natural forces that should have no part in this ëman problem.í Dirt, if you do not like being trod upon, or if you do like it for some other masochistic reason, that is your problem. Do not concern us with it.î
ìIf your argument is to leave man alone, then why not do it?î The Dirt pointed out. ìWas it not you who spoke earlier of the fun you had murdering such small creatures?î
ìHad they been elephants, Iíd be no more or less entertained.î The Ice said slyly.
ìNot my point.î Replied the Dirt.
ìNow, daughter,î the Water put in, ìyou know there are no elephants who would go to cold climates anymore.î
ìYes, and whose fault is that?î The Sleet defended her sister.
ìShut up! Elephants are not the point!î The Dirt composed himself, ìThe reason we are here is to determine if it is right to murder man, or if it is better to let him be! You all know my stance, now the floor is open for debate!î
There was no reply.
ìCome now, who will debate me?î
Still no reply.
ìAm I to take this as an agreement that man is to be no longer touched, or a protest against these debates as a ëwaste of time?íî
ìWhy does this trouble you so?î Asked the Stone Elder, after a moment. ìWhat claims have you to the patronage of man?î
ìAh,î put in the Wind, quite sarcastically, ìthe heart of the matter.î
There was a murmur amongst those present.
ìWell, in a way,î the Dirt began humbly, ìWith our transient and presently silent cousin the Lightning, I am responsible for the life on this planet. As a bog mind you. As Clay and Mud, not Dirt, was I molded into the forms of life. With Lightning and electricity and the randomness of the universe for spirit did part of me go into these creatures. The single-celled organisms which became both plants and animals.î He was really stirring now, ìShould I not be proud of my greatest offspring?! Should I not see to the protection of the most advanced carbon life-forms this planet has known?! Am I not the under-credited father of man?!î
The Water chimed in at this point, ìHow can you claim to be the father of man, when you yourself said that only as Mud, and not Dirt, was this deed accomplished? If you are the father of man, and I am not purporting that you are, but let us suppose that you are, then I am the mother of life, part of you and part of I and all of us part of each other. Are the creatures themselves not largely comprised of Water?î
ìSpeak not of motherly love, hypocrite! How many have you drowned? How many infants have died at your hands? How many crops have you destroyed? More, if not the same amount, as those successful rains for the fields? Tell them also, of the unholy unions in which you and I murdered men and women in the jungle. Tell them how you made me a murderous weapon at your disposal, to sadistically sink humans into the ground and suffocate.î
ìDust to dust, dear Dirt.î the Water did reply, ìOur unholy union has resulted in unholy offspring. Another unholy union could easily eradicate such vermin! Do they not empty my waters of fish? Do they not pollute me and stop me up as beavers do, but for not such a benevolent purpose? Is it not on my churning surface that men wage wars and kill each other, tinting me red with rage and ignorance?î
ìAnd besides,î the Fire cut in, ìman can be said to have evolved the way he did as a result of the harsh external stimuli he has faced. Heís better off for it!î
The Dirt, now himself clouded with rage, was cut off from fumes by his traveling partner, the Wind.
ìIgnore his seething stupidity, dear cousins,î the Wind put in, ìThe Dirt has no doubt been persuaded by the idiot legends of such humans with religions. While most of them, if not all of them, worship the sun and the rivers as partial deities, they all dedicate full-time worship to the myth that a God of some omnipotent power fashioned man from Clay and Dirt. That woman resulted from that first man, who resulted from the Dirt.î
ìAre you telling us,î cackled the Fire, ìthat our little son has come to believe in a human God?î
The Stone Elder, however, did not laugh. He sat wondering deeper questions than those immediately brought to his attention.
ìVery well,î he said, ìif no consent can be reached among us elemental forms, let it be argued no further. For I have devised a way to convict man that surely cannot be rebuked by Dirt or any other defendant. As there is no fair jury here, it seems, we shall have to question some of manís victims, so that we gain a broader range of his menace.î
It was then that the kangaroo courtroom, the tornado that housed all these elements, lifted and dropped in a teeming pool of life somewhere. The Wind settled his outer wall, so as not to destroy the animals they hoped to question, as well as to dissipate the barrier between them.
However, when questioned, the animals responded almost unanimously with apathy and nonchalance. The predators did not want to appear hypocritical, as they ate of other animals. The herbivores, of course, did not want to appear hypocritical, as they ate of living creatures as well, the plants, that cannot even run or employ a fight or flight response.
In short, the animals did not mind the competition. For when asked about manís unfair advantage of weapon-making abilities, many if not all carnivores replied by saying that manís mind was the equivalent to a lionís claws or the sharkís teeth. A man, they reasoned, is not particularly fast or strong or even thick of hide like an elephant. As such, what sort of fair play would it be if a man did not have a mind to make weapons? A man, alone in the wild without his mind, could simply stand with trimmed fingernails and huddle into a fetal position, waiting to die.
When told of future events, of extinction and domestications and pollution, animals still did not waver in their positions.
ìIt is the way of things,î they all would say, ìthat certain species die out and others remain. Like the dinosaurs, the elephants and whales and man himself will wane and die out.î
Rabbits, cows, chickens, and other future food supplies for man, when told of the horrors in slaughterhouses that their members faced, would not waver. ìWhy not get fatted and flourish in numbers, even if it is to die for another species? Is that not what we do now when the summers are good? The purpose of each species, if it does not go extinct, is to multiply in numbers and provide food for another so that it may do the same. That is the way of things. If it is done painfully in the wild or in a slaughterhouse should not matter. The pain of death is something that we all must have to endure, be it at the claws of a lion as we die slowly and bleed to death and are eaten alive, or if our beaks are cut off by hot knives and our writhing, living bodies are thrown into scalding waters and breaded. Dust to dust.î

Having not gotten the answers that they wanted, the elements then implored upon the plants to see the horrors that man would soon wreak upon the land.
Surely the plants would be the greatest offended! As certain species of plants are moved about the globe, one new species strangling the other. As weeds from Europe take over trees in South America. As the glorious rain forests are razed to the ground to make room for cattle. As hypocritical vegetarians who refuse to eat living animal meat cruelly boil carrots and potatoes and cabbage alive, then smoke other forms or plants alive for pure recreation. As they kill them en masse for designer clothing and wooden buildings and toys and useless papers for useless news and useless short stories on useless subjects to be read by useless people.
Surely the plants would see that, after logging and pollution and urban development and the eradication of everything from redwoods to cacti to the sad, pathetic weeping willows, surely they would see the menace that man represents. They are, after all, the entire world. The soon-to-be-polluted algae of the oceans. The green oxygen-enriching plants of the world bound by their empathic life force. The elements explained things to them and begged for, at the very least, a poor recommendation on manís behavior.
The plants, however, said nothing.
Theyíre fucking plants!

ìThis does not appease me!î Cried the Stone Elder.
ìNor me,î fizzled the Fire just behind him, ìI fume for death in the streets!î
ìIdiots!î Boomed the thunder and Lightning. ìWas it not I who gave life to man and all life on this planet? Ask not the trees or the animals or even amongst yourselves whether or not this be a menace! I am who am and the origin of all that exists. Pure energy and magnetism that brought together this and all other planets! Enough of myselfÖ enough or too much of any of you, could destroy this planet alone. Should it not be consumed with Fire, or overtaken by Water as it already once was? Could not the earthquakes or volcanoes or even excessive wind eradicate all that lives or does not live on this surface? And yes, with a strong enough electrical plasma charge, I could do away with all of you.î
The thundering paused a moment for dramatic effect, during which all the other natural elements were silent, and when they were about to speak again, the thunderclap cut them off.
ìIs not man but another natural force? Simple carbon! Is he not another resource that may exhaust himself like the oil or the nitrogen? Think of this, foolhardy elements, that the greatest threat to manís future is man himself. All of your most awesome powers combined pale in comparison to the power which man wields against himself.î
ìBut that is exactly the point!î The Stone Elder rumbled, but to no avail over the deafening blows of thunderous speech.
ìHoweverÖ I should think that if natural elements such as ourselves could randomly create life once, it could be done again and again. If I decided, with Mud and primordial ooze, to fashion another set of creatures to evolve, I could do so. If man killed off himself and all life around him on this planet, the Stone and Water and Fire would remain. Polluted, tainted, perhaps, but remain you all shall. Thus we would begin anew and persevere as we have for all eternity. Look at man already, as he digs deep into the ground for iron, and accomplishes great feats of metallurgy. See as he harnesses the atom and a mastery of outer space travel. They are a self-eradicating problem. They are an autoimmune problem. They are nullifying. They are a transient nuisance at best. A minor rash that will pass, my friends, before our conversation is over.î
Sure enough, it seemed, the human problem had already begun to solve itself. In the several millennia or so that these elements had been busying themselves with the arguments and debates on ethical and philosophical questions, manís numbers had waned to inconsequential numbers. All this without the harshness of nature, as the natural elements were too busy with their quarrels to dedicate full animosity to the human beings. Mankind had had it easy, it seemed, for the past several thousand years, and had still managed to do away with themselves.
The sad irony of it, was that man attributed this kindness to a gentler, kinder God. The sad irony of it, was that if man had been too busy defending against natural elements, his technological progress would never have been the end of him.
Thus it was decided that natural elements should go about their business as they always had, not too cruel and not too kind, despite any changes in Earthís timeline.
It was not the success that the Dirt had hoped for, but it was compromise enough.
Never again, they decided, would nature argue ethics.