Archive for July, 2012

7-26-12 My 3 Englishmen

Published by under Interplay

 St. George’s Flag

I called them my 3 Englishmen, these white, educated males of the Oxbridge crowd. The hub of their lives were those calm, ancient campuses, Oxford and Cambridge, cool, leafy refuges from a perspiring world. They wrote. I read. Narrated histories of the world on television’s glowing screen. I watched.  My world opened as a flower in a spring rain.

As it turned out, they weren’t English. Kenneth MacKenzie Clark, art historian, raconteur, sophisticate was a Scot. Jacob Bronowski, mathematician, poet, inventor was born a Polish Jew. Peter Medawar won a Nobel Prize for work which lay the ground for immunology and organ transplant. His mother was English, his father Lebanese; he was born in Rio de Janeiro.

Each spent his life charting the greatness of man, the human animal. Doubts of our ability to manage and control our environment, to overcome obstacles of greed and malevolence, were snuffed out by the excitement of scientific advance. They saw the earth as man’s domain, and we would be safe as long as, in Bronowski’s words, we “didn’t retreat from knowledge into – into what? Into Zen Buddhism; into falsely profound questions about, Are we not really just animals at bottom; into extra-sensory perception and mystery.”

That was fifty years ago. The world’s population in 1960 was 3 billion. Today it is 7 billion. We have learned not only that we are closer to other species than we could have imagined, but also that the health of the planet is dependent upon them. Their loss may make our world unsustainable. The seas are dying. Equipment too large to haul on America’s roads and highways is ripping open the land, leveling mountains, polluting rivers. The steady march has become a trampling.

What my 3 Englishmen in their brilliant quest for knowledge and dominance did not see half a century ago, a woman friend of mine casually alluded to in a late night conversation in the midst of a mini-forest. We are, she said, consumers.  I looked around, figuratively, and literally, and saw the truth of it.

In the midst of this mad political season, the calls are everywhere for more. More jobs. More consumption. More growth. Medawar countered pessimism, insisting, “We are still beginners, and for that reason may hope to improve.” He did not realize how little time we have left.

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