Already two scores ago, a great many of my peers
across the godless Atlantic, while still in their formative years
felt spurred to abandon city or suburb and to return to the land
in search of a different manner of life, inspired
by an instinctive distaste for the waste that transpired
from the pores of a body politic prey to consumption.
Those “goddam, muthafuckin, hippie shits”
(as local rednecks were wont to call the floral kids)
were the first to feel the heat from a process of combustion
that, precisely in those years, had reached a critical threshold:
more energy was by then being produced bought and sold
to fuel the world’s expanding industrial system
than was photosynthesized by the plants of the earth
and the waters. Man had outweighed the Sun in his worth.
It was the beginning of a very particular end.
In the wake of that epochal shifting of scales,
the spoliation of the globe has progressed in full sail,
or perhaps one should rather say at full steam;
and even more tangible, by my estimation,
than the overdoses of ultraviolet radiation
that cut through the thinned air and find us at the beach
is the knowledge or skin feeling, as you prefer,
that also within our society there grows a desert,
more arid yet than those that encroach from the tropics.
But I shall not risk adding insult to injury in this poem
or knocking down a door that is already wide open
by trying to convince anyone of anything on this topic:
“Humanity in general will meet the fate it deserves.”1
One still remains astonished, it needs be observed,
that one’s own case but confirms the general rule:
what a most extraordinary period of history to be living in,
with a surprise, man-made apocalypse already in full swing
as none of our God-fearing forefathers, except maybe Malthus,
had even remotely imagined were humanly possible!
Not exactly the sort of story it is at all probable
that one shall tell to one’s grandchildren someday
(“When I was your age, the world had just begun
to go down the drain….”), nor a revelation
to be easily shared with one’s contemporaries
(“Layees and bent men, bow-wow,
thank you, you can go home now….”).
Because—it practically goes without saying—
if it were not quite so difficult for us to communicate,
we would not be in such straits in the first place.
And this difficulty, too, is of our own making,
albeit not the result of any conscious choice
as of a confusion of the different voices
that may speak to an individual but not to a nation,
to a community but not to the world:
what say the Partitions of Poland to a pretty girl?
What the iniquity of overpopulation?
Being the Beasts that we are, however,
it is perhaps hardly a wonder
if the vast majority of us, at least,
have fallen prey to such equivocation:
all that was at the origins of human creation—
our ape-natural and cave-cultural ascendancies,
the primordial terror that humbled the giants,
the overwhelming prerogatives of families and clans,
the primeval vow of the propertied to curtail their servants—
all are still with us alongside the yearning for freedom;
while the new type of colossus which we have become
can no more be humbled than an army of ants
or a mould grafted onto a half-loaf of bread.
Albert Einstein ↩