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The Earth is not a friendly place.
We love to think we’re blessed, that we live on the most perfect planet in the Universe, never mind the galaxy. We use the Earth as the benchmark by which we gauge the suitability of other planets to sustain life. We use terms like ‘Goldilocks Zone’ to infer that our planet is at the perfect temperature, has the best conditions. But, why not? The Earth is tops, isn’t it?
I think there are a few Japanese who might disagree with that. And a few Kiwis. And a few Chileans. And…
The truth is, the Earth has a varied and violent history. Of what we believe we do know — and of what we can only truly speculate — this planet frequently suffers extremely traumatic earthquakes. Its continents move around like a child’s puzzle. Every so often, it freezes into a virtual ‘snowball’, and then it thaws, and then it freezes again. The Sun belches the occasional toxic flare toward it, asteroids and meteors visit with a vengeance, astronomical bodies become captured in weak orbits to pull various bits about for a few million years, and perhaps then leave, destroying entire ecosystems.
But this is nothing: our solar system has potentially seen a planet completely destroyed, and a former moon turned into the rubble which now comprises the rings of Saturn. Some long-past calamity befell our own planet, causing it to have a completely unnatural tilt. Frankly, the whole place is a mess, a testament to the destructive powers of the same scientific laws that made everything how it was to begin with. With order comes chaos.
We can try to defend against the very least of these threats. We can build massive seawalls to try to protect shorelines from tsunami; but sadly, no matter how high we construct these, there will always be the potential for a tsunami that will wash them away. We can engineer our buildings to withstand the wrath of Godzilla; once again, there will always be a larger metaphorical monster looming around the corner of the planetary calendar. We are wiped away so casually, so callously, it appears, to those of us who are swept away by the waves, and to those of us who watch, and wonder if perhaps one day in our own lifetimes we’ll be the witness to such a mechanism of our own destruction.
But should we dwell on this?
Cultures less obsessed with the personal ego than ours simply look at such tragedies as inconveniences to their societies as a whole. Assuming the society recovers, and continues stronger, there is very little of which to be concerned. Not that there is not personal and collective grief — of course there is — but the beacon, the shining light that prompts those who survive to pick themselves up and continue, is the loyalty, pride and commitment to their tribe, their community, their country.
For that, we must salute them. Even though, like all of us, they are painfully aware of not only their own mortality, but the mortality of the world at large — that feeling of impending doom hangs heavy in us all — they will learn from their ‘mistake’, and do what they can to minimise the damage to the collective in the future, even if this means some small measure of individual sacrifice.
This is a lesson the culture of the ‘west’ would do well to learn, for the Earth is not a friendly place.
There’s an ancient Chinese curse that goes, “May you live in interesting times.” There is penance for the brilliant gift of existence. Some generations pay it more than others, but as a race, as a species, we all pay it in the end.
That said, we should utilise our investment to the fullest. If anything a disaster like Japan’s proves, it is simply that by squandering our existence we do far more damage to ourselves than by any other means. If the Earth really is hospitable for only brief periods of time, in terms of its own long history, then by procrastinating, by sitting on our hands, by wasting so much time mulling over the futility of it all, we do ourselves a huge disservice.
For whatever reason we are here, there is no reason not to make the best of it.
And, if calamity does befall us all, all at once, we can take comfort in the notion that, although our turn may be over, many bacteria and simple organisms are bound to survive, and they, millions of years from now, will evolve into complex life-forms, animals, and perhaps even mammals, who will then build an advanced civilisation, ponder their own futility, squander their existence and then themselves be wiped out by the simple ravages of time.
Doesn’t that make you feel better?