We must lose our arrogance

A familiar poem, nearly 200 years old, may provide the theme for our future if we, as one among millions of species, do not soon let go of our sense of privilege, and grasp what “sustainability” means.

Ozymandias

by: Percy Bysshe Shelly, 1818

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear —
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”


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20 responses to “We must lose our arrogance

  1. The Masters of the Universe in my not -so-great-generation of elders evidently are not yet willing to acknowledge what it is that could soon decay just as the works of Ozymandias did.

    Who knows, perhaps unbridled and reckless economic globalization perpetrated in our times by economists and political powerbrokers managing the global economy may produce a “colossal wreck,” much like the wreck that resulted from the patently unsustainable works of Ozymandias, king of kings.

    Like the utter demise of the once seemingly incredible and gigantic works of Ozymandias, so also will nothing remain of the unrestrained and unmaintainable efforts of the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe to endlessly expand the human political economy into every nook and cranny on the finite surface of the relatively small planet we inhabit.

  2. For the first time, I am noticing the loss of extirpated species of many kinds but, mercifully, seeing some of them in my dreams and others as apparitions in daytime reveries.

    Human-driven, massive biodiversity loss, for example, appears more clearly now as a direct product of hubris.

  3. OPEN LETTER To the LEADERS of The G-8 in advance of their meetings this week:

    Humanity needs something else.

    Eight de facto leaders of the world are called upon to consider that their effort to steer humanity toward fulfillment of the goal of economic globalization is a fool’s errand, a formerly great but soon to become unsustainable work…… like a work of Ozymandias, king of kings.

    You are implored NOT to follow in the path of Ozymandias as you are doing now by choosing to adamantly endorse the current scale and growth rate of the unbridled expansion of the world economy because such UNLIMITED GROWTH will result in a “colossal wreck,” one with profound implications for the future of life as we know it and for the integrity of Earth and its environment.

    Your great work of growing the world economy has been a good thing until recently, at least for the millions of people you represent. Unfortunately, billions of human beings are not and will not become beneficiaries of economic globalization because the infinite growth of the ever enlarging scale of business activities now overspreading the surface of the Earth is patently unsustainable.

    Please, leaders, a more reality-based business paradigm, something different from a colossal pyramid scheme, is needed as a 21st century model for global economic activity because the endgame of big business conglomeration, that we have today, will result ultimately in an incomprehensible calamity, the likes of which only the once vainglorious and now wrecked Ozymandias has seen.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  4. I wonder how many of the G-8 leaders could see the parallels between their actions and those of Ozymandias.

  5. Hi,

    Great question, John. It is a particularly good question for the rich and powerful, modern day heirs of Ozymandias, king of kings.

    Let’s hope the current G-8 leaders, or else their immediate successors, will share an understanding of the words on the pedestal of the sculpture of Ozymandias.

    Because time does not appear to be on our side, perhaps our leaders will learn the lesson of Ozymandias before it is too late by proclaiming necessary changes in the way human beings relate to one another, to other species, and to the Earth.

    Without any doubt, at least in my mind, masters of the universe leading a G-8 Summit will come to see the parallels between unbridled economic globalization and the colossal wreckage of which Ozymandias speaks.

    If only we could know WHEN such a wondrous thing will occur.

    Sooner is better than later, I suppose.

    Always, with thanks,

    Steve

  6. FYI, I put the link to this video on Reddit:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5972784234026351092&q=%22mass+extinction%22&hl=en

    Here’s the Reddit link:

    http://science.reddit.com/info/1vz7o/comments

    It got up to about 15 points there, which means it probably got several hundred people to view the video.

    The amazing thing is that (as of now) is has 26 up votes, but also 12 down votes. It’s just hard to understand what people are thinking when they vote such an issues down. Are they saying, “No, we shouldn’t bring attention to that. It’s not important.”? Strange.

  7. Thanks wacki, that is an excellent resource.

  8. Sometimes I do wonder: WHAT DOES PEOPLE WANT? ONE-THOUSAND YEARS OF PEACE? OR THE OTHER OPTION: “ARMAGEDDON” – PERPETUAL WAR?

    BTW: Is this a legitimate question? 8)

  9. Hmm. I remember the American Presidential election of 2004; Bush vs. Kerry. It was sold to the general public with adverts spelling it out: “THE ARMAGEDDON ELECTION” as a slogan. “Only in America,” I thought at the time. Today I’m not all that certain.

    These are emotional times indeed. I still believe, as always, that in order to start doing something good in terms of the environment – locally and globally – PEACE is the first and probably most important prerequicite for success. PEACE, and the ability to talk actively – orally – amongst ourselves on a local level – about the problems we are urgently faced with.

  10. Yes, peace is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that without it we are otherwise totally distracted from the largest problem we face by tragic, stupid, unnecessary wars.

  11. OK, then. Considering all the serious environmental challenges humanity is faced with today (and will remain faced with in all foreseeable future), I hope, and believe, it is urgently important that environmental groups, writers and thinkers start considering the fact that we can do little or nothing about the big ecology issues of our times, unless a humanistic approach is implemented. As such, I believe – and truly hope – that “the people of this world” will choose to join an “environmentalists’ peace movement” which has yet to be formed.

    I believe it is very, very important that people start to realize that everything we need is peace. If we can’t make peace, hey! We can’t make any difference in terms of the environment either; so to speak. — – We’re bound to find it extremely difficult anyway; and warfare isn’t making it any easier, that’s for sure. As a matter of fact: WAR is the opposite of taking good care of the local environments, nature, the ecosystem at large, etc. In fact: WAR IS A DISTRACTION.

    To put it bluntly: the human race must, in order to save itself and its environments from itself, form a lasting peace movement.

    To be rational about this. Bring on the PEACE! It is URGENTLY NEEDED. 8)

  12. I’ll continue where I left off. – I just googled for peace + environment links: here’s what I found: http://www.google.no/search?hl=no&q=peace+environment&meta=

    Just like I expected, there are lots of internet networks and civil organisations interested in the links between environmentalism, peace, human rights and social issues; no problem.

    But still: I have a strong feeling that the link between environmental responsibilities and the building of a lasting peace is underestimated. How can we save the planet’s ecosystems from total destruction, if we can’t find ways to start co-operating in the social / cultural field? As it is (and I’ve made this “retarded” statement before): In terms of doing something worthwhile in terms of tackling climate change, I believe that peace is the first requirement.

    I just don’t know: am I dreaming ..?!

  13. Magne,

    Well, you’ve raised another huge issue. 😯 Can we tackle our ecological challenges without achieving peace? Maybe not. Or maybe not without at least some general semblance of peace.

    What, didn’t you think there was enough to deal with just on the environmental side without having to establish world peace too? 🙄

    But you’re right; war is a tragic distraction, and is an example of the opposite of anything like environmental protection. I’ll have to look into some sort of coordination with the kinds of groups you turned up on Google.

  14. Wangari Maathai’s “Green Belt Movement” was awarded the Nobel Peace Price in 2004, on the premise that environment conservation / protection could actually be seen as an effective way of promoting peace.

    What I am suggesting is that the climate change issue – which is a global concern; one which naturally cuts across borders of all conceivable kind (national as well as social, cultural, religious, and so on) – would make for a very powerful driving force for a peace movement of some tremendous quality.

    On a global level, all reasonable, rational human beings are, today, very concerned about all that is happening to the Earth’s atmosphere, and all that it causes on ground level: extreme weather patterns, sea level rise, desertification, floods, draught, strange climate phenomenas of many, many forms. As such: it should be very easy – and quite effective too – to concentrate on these extreme natural conditions awhile demanding that all political, economic, social, religious, etc. interest groups come to their senses!

    Such a global movement of seriously concerned human beings should not necessarily have to be difficult to get started, I think. As I know that it is becoming ever more difficult for people to claim ignorance of the environmental problems at hand.

    Instinctively, I think: everyone can understand that peace is the only solution. ‘Cause what the f***ing hell are we fighting for here? Which is a rhetorical question, perhaps. But really?! What ARE we fighting for?

  15. Well, I do think you make a good case. It all seems tied together. There’s a need to publicize the fact that governments are distracted by war from issues which will actually prove the most important in the coming decades. If we could get them to wake up to those issues, we could perhaps get them to hasten an end to war and a shift of focus to the really important stuff.

    As your search hints, there seem to be groups with similar thoughts in mind. That’s something I want to look into soon.

    I hope I don’t sound like I’m brushing this off in any way. I simply haven’t had the chance to research it, but it seems there should be much to consider with regard to a peace-environment linkage. I’ll be on a bit of a break the next couple of weeks, but will try to give this more attention after that.

    It seems like something that would make a good topic for a guest essay. 😀

  16. I think this is the TRUEST of all your headlines here: “We must lose our arrogance.” – Question: Is it likely to believe that a great many social & economic research institutions are ready to lose some arrogance? – I don’t know. I’m just asking. As it is: I can see no reason to believe that many such institutions (“research beaurocracies”) are ready to adress the basic issues of your blog. – I love your blog.

    Sincerely, – 🙂

    Magne.

  17. Well, they don’t seem to be calling me to give talks to their people. 😉

    And thanks.

    And…

    Maybe, maybe. 😀

    I hope so… 🙂

  18. European Parliament resolution on the European Union strategy for the Nairobi Conference on Climate Change (COP 12 and COP/MOP 2)

    http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?Type=TA&Reference=P6-TA-2006-0460&language=EN

    – —

    Take a look at these document. It’s interesting enough, and it’s also extremely telling of the political – economic dimension to the problems at hand. Is this arrogance?

    I can only hope that the language of climate change debate is going to change a great deal in the coming years. As can easily be proved, by reading the document above, it is absolutely impossible for ordinary voters (people, lawful citizens) to make any sanse of what politicians, diplomats, economic and industrial analysts are up to here. The language used seems to conceal much more than it reveals. This is not the way to go about this. We need OPENNESS, and we ALL need to feel that we’re included.