There is this entire literature of sentimentalizing the soil, and Nature in general. Sentimentalizing the brute labor required to fructify the soil. Think of Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, Rousseau, Emerson, Thoreau. You know, the whole nineteenth century Romanticism of it all. I never really liked this impulse, as it always smacked to me of idealistic falsity, of insincerity. Those who hate the world find solace in the Stone-Age.
And modernly we have Pearl Buck, with her odes to the Chinese peasant. Never mind, of course, that that same saintly peasant would have stank to high heaven. There may be a Good Earth, but there is also a Bad Earth, too, and Peal Buck never wrote that novel.
No. And why not? We wonder. There is just as much evil in the soil of Nature as there is good. This was the one thing that even the Stoics got wrong: live in accordance with Nature, but avert our eyes from Nature’s evil.
And this we cannot do. Cannot.
Go and talk to a farmer for once, and I mean really talk to him. Go and talk to a peasant. And then you will understand. There is just this gulf that separates us, and you can feel it. If you are being honest, and speaking honestly.
It would be step backward for me, not forward, to adopt that life. Country living may be fine for short periods of time, or as a temporary retreat, but I would go bloody crazy with that life.
We can’t go back. We can’t go back in time. We can’t go back to the primitive “state of nature.” If that ever did exist, which I doubt. The river of civilization, the forward movement of our Soul-Consciousness, surges in one direction, and one cannot swim backwards against this inexorable flow. There is only one direction, and that is forward. Despite all the shortcomings of civilization–and they are legion–we can’t ignore the fact that we have gained something after centuries of work and struggle. And we can’t forsake this legacy, even if we wanted to.
There is no “idealism” for me in the soil, in the mud, in the backbreaking work of agriculture. The hoe and the plow will not be glorified. They cannot be. Cannot.
You can try. And you can almost succeed, like the disingenuous little Mr. Thailand in his video. But Nature will consume and destroy all those who try to sentimentalize her. Who try to glorify here. She will have none of it. She will eat such men alive. You should never trust Nature. For just when you need her most, she will betray you.
Jack London, in his The Cruise of the Snark , expected to find an idyllic state of Nature in the South Seas. Or something of the sort. He expected tropical lagoons, nubile natives, and his feet in the warm white sand.
But he found something quite different. Congenital deformities, inbreeding, savage cruelty, tropical diseases, and malnutrition. All in his tropical paradise. Read his book sometime, and you’ll see. The Solomon Islands nearly killed him, with its blood parasites and diseases. There was no nobility among the savages, only one-upsmanship and chicanery.
Because you can’t really idealize brute labor. Nature, for all its wonder, carries the seeds of just as much Evil as it carries Good. There is no Noble Savage, as envisioned by Chateaubriand or that madman Rousseau. Nothing noble about him, really. Only savage.
No brotherhood between man and wild beast, either. Look into the eyes of a wild animal. And then you will know. Timothy Treadwell, Mr. Grizzly Man, thought he could go romping with the bears in the Alaskan meadows, and somehow revert to Nature. And for a time, he almost succeeded.
Until Nature punished him for his impertinence. There will be no gallivanting, no pirouetting, with the beasts. Thou shall eat, or be eaten.
And this is what Thoreau, Rousseau, and our snake Mr. Thailand can never really comprehend.
I don’t want to go back to “Nature.” Because “Nature” never really left me.
There is no idealism in Nature. There is, under that placid surface of chirping birds and worms oozing their way through the soil, only a relentless struggle for existence.
And the only redeeming sentiment in this struggle is the knowledge that we–all of us–are part of that eternal One, that all-embracing Oneness, that is the pantheistic whole of the Universe. Nature, Soul, Intellect, and finally the One: the fount of all life.
It is this knowledge–the idea of the unity of all things–is what we should strive to attain, but not to sentimentalize. Because once you sentimentalize it, you lower your guard against Nature. And that is when she eats you. Respect she wants, yes; but never sentimentality, which reeks of condescension.
I refuse to idealize Nature and the soil because I can’t turn my back on civilization. When I’m here, I wish I was there. And when I’m there, I wish I was here. Wish-fulfillment turns out to be not quite what we had expected. Beware what you wish for, the wise man tells us.
But there you have it. This is the way men are. Really are, rather than what you want them to be. It isn’t a contradiction or a paradox, so much as it is an expression of the movement of the soul through its various phases of passion.
And each of these phases must somehow find a voice, each with its own special resonance. The music made by the activity of the soul’s phases. So when Cicero talks about the various planets in his essay The Dream of Scipio, he really is referring to the phases of the soul’s consciousness. And the sound that these heavenly bodies make, the “harmony of the spheres,” is another allegorical description of the activity of the soul. It is the sound of the upward striving of the soul for knowledge and completeness.
We ourselves don’t really hear it, or recognize it for what it is, in the same way that the denizens of the Nile Delta lose their ear for the sound of crashing waters there, disgorged into the sea.
You just become accustomed to it. But the voices of the soul’s phases are there, nonetheless.
Each with its own special resonance.