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The cosmos teaches humility, not hubris

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For me, the cosmos is first and foremost a reminder of the need for humility as I think about my relationship with Earth and my fellow living beings on this planet. I am but a speck in both time and space, and yet my ego, like anyone’s, can lead me to being overconfident of my knowledge and importance.   The cosmos will continue long after I am no longer alive, and even long after the Earth’s solar system is extinguished.  Perhaps because it is so fleeting and tiny in the vast expanse of space and time, the present moment is both seemingly insignificant and very precious.  Each present moment is precious because it is a unique opportunity to appreciate and honor my connection to the vastness of this temporary experience of life in a minute corner of the cosmos, and to the even greater vastness of the universe.  Acting with too much hubris, and carelessly treating Earth’s gifts as limitless, either individually or along with fellow humans, is disrespectful of that preciousness, especially when doing so needlessly puts life–the most wondrous feature of each moment on Earth–at risk.  In his essay “Faustian Economics” in the May 2008 issue of Harper’s, Wendell Berry wrote: “To recover from our disease of limitlessness, we will have to give up the idea that we have a right to be godlike animals, that we are potentially omniscient and omnipotent, ready to discover ‘the secret of the universe.'”  By contrast, extolling technological fixes for the planet’s looming ecological crisis, John Tierney wrote in a New York Times column in April 2010: “We are as gods and have to get good at it.”  The cosmos is a constant reminder to avoid Tierney’s hubristic confidence in the human capacity to control and conquer nature and to embrace Berry’s call to explore the infinite ways to live good lives and enhance Earth’s vast community of life while keeping within Earth’s ecological limits.

  • Geoffrey Garver

    Geoffrey Garver is an environmental consultant and lecturer in law in Montreal and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Quaker Institute for the Future.

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