Thursday, May 23, 2019


If the goal of life is to keep all life the same, unchanging over time, then the place to start was with the first signs of life itself, the microbial level.  Birth is always a change. Death is always a change. Even the inert mineral world is always changing, though it changes very slowly, often much more slowly than living beings and sometimes so abruptly that it changes all life. (Volcanoes, earthquakes, asteroids.)

The point of life is that if other existence doesn't change too quickly, we can change enough soon enough to keep up.  That is called into question now, partly because we ourselves have changed everything, down to the very gases of the air, just as the plants (also living beings) did in the past, a feat that enabled oxygen-based life to exist.  We change the environment too quickly.

The configurations of groups, which are normally a big part of what holds us together as identities, are changing rapidly.  This is disconcerting, esp. when it is about something that society has colluded to keep as permanent natural categories, like male and female.  Even when attached to something so basic as conception (fertility) quite apart from sexual attraction, it is clear now that the biological genius of variability gives rise to differences that become evolution, and though this means individuals and even large groups may have their identities questioned, it is what makes life go on, adapting as necessary.  We find our identities by pushing against the environment, trying to fit because domination of the whole planet is hopeless.  Environments disappear.  There may be no place on the face of the earth, not even an isolated island, where a dinosaur could live now.

If we take the long view, we must admit that every animal came out of a female animal (female, defined as capable of gestation, not necessarily providing the ovum).  In humans this goes all the way back to the hominin that wasn't "quite" like us, but close enough for a few small changes to create us.  Some ninnies oppose this -- these conserving people are plunging into death because that's what it means to stop changing, whether at the level of growing new cells or at the level of bull-dozing the landscape or when looking at the planet from a satellite so as to see it differently.  The prevention of change is the imposition of death.  To change is to be alive.  To be alive is to change.

But now some of us are Sorcerer's Apprentices with powers beyond our wisdom.  Once we figured out that life proceeds according to a code built into cells, some decided they wanted to play variation, too.  Maybe they are men who want to participate in the creation of birthing new animals.  Perhaps the most dangerous people are not the ones forcing natural birth but the ones forcing UNnatural birth-code.  The environment that unnaturally altered individuals must survive in themselves, surviving these people who, by definition, don't know what they are doing.

Once the new life of a mammal is begun in a mammal uterus and unfolds, pushing against the environment of the womb almost as though the embryo were an infection, surely a foreign object, it can be and is altered by the mother environment.  I used to counsel parishioners that the father is the womb of the mother and the family is the womb of both father and mother.  The success and nature of the new being is dependent on the cupping around it of human society.

When I was at animal control, talking to people about the management of their pets and sometimes about feral animals, I used to say that we needed to consider four things:  birth, death, sex and excrement.  These were four aspects of being an animal that needed attention.  I should have included identity and devotion, which is a form of attachment.  One of the bits of research I talked about was the discovery that some dogs don't belong to people, but belong to other dogs.  Or sometimes mammals of many kinds become attached cross-species.  This is also part of the transactions between identity and environment.

Now comes David Quammen with "horizontal DNA exchange". We are fluid entities in a fluid environment.  Go to You Tube for talks and interviews about this guy who proposes that our environment IS us, even as we push against it. This reframing will have high impact.

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