Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Legend of Antaeus

In the summer of 2007 I went raspberry picking with my mother and sister. It's quite enjoyable, raspberry picking. Nothing but you and green growing things and sunshine and fresh air. The mind seems to grow broader just from being away from the noise and worry of everyday life.

As I picked berries, I went off into a philosophical mood (I do that) and found myself thinking of Antaeus--a fairly minor character in the legend of Hercules, one who could be defeated only if he was unable to touch the earth.

I wonder if we aren't a little like Antaeus ourselves. Maybe one of the reasons our society has lost its direction is because we're never able to touch the earth.

Now, I'm not in favor of going back to the 18th century (I'm rather fond of indoor plumbing, for one thing) but I do think that we as a society have become unhealthily obsessed with technology. Yes, our cars and dishwashers and internet connections make things go faster--but faster to what purpose? What are we going to do with all this spare time we're accumulating? I don't know about everyone else, but I don't notice any great vistas of spare time in my life. For all my technology I often do homework on Sundays because I don't have any other time to do it--and then I wonder why I get burned out by the end of a semester.

There are things you rediscover in a field of raspberry plants that a lot of people have forgotten. Silence, for one. No television going in the background, no radio, no recorded music. Just you alone with your thoughts.

Work, for another. Very few people I know have jobs that require actual physical work. Your stereotypical American sits in an office for 8 or 10 hours a day, then comes home and eats his carefully balanced dinner--every now and then he might run on the treadmill to stay in shape. But he's flabbier than his grandfather who came home at the end of the day and sat down to beer and bread and sausages. There's nothing wrong with having a desk job but the relation between our bodies and the work that we do and the food that we eat is very tenuous indeed. We don't grow the food we eat--we get it at the store in nice tidy little packages that we buy using the money we made typing ciphers all day.

I could go on, but sometimes length does not equal insight. In fact, the Cobbler managed to sum it up in about two senteces, which I paraphrase here. The distinction we have lost is that between the earth and the world. Just contrast, "God created the Heavens and the Earth" with the famous phrase, "the world, the flesh, and the devil."

Nowadays being stewards of the earth has simply become another facet of our convoluted world. I'm not saying that environmentalism is all bad (although certain strains of it are) but I want to know where the earth is in all this hype about global warming and ozone and endangered species. I want to know how often Al Gore takes off his cell phone and watch and goes for a walk in the woods.

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