My son recently related a comment by a relative that each historical period has blind spots which future generations will see differently. The particular challenge related to bottled water with the suggestion that future generations will find our frequency of our consumption obsessive; the magnitude of refuse created irresponsible; our blindness to potentially toxic chemicals leaching from the plastic into the water (especially at very high temperatures in container trucks) astonishing; and the lack of consumer knowledge of the quality of the original water pretty bizarre. But more profound is the question itself, “What are we doing today that seems incredibly smart but which future generations will look back on and say, ‘What were you thinking?'”
I found this a fascinating question and have been reflecting on it with some amusement and interest ever since. What else are we doing that our kids and grandkids will look back on and ask, “What were you thinking?”
Not surprisingly I believe there is a long list. I am coming up with my own – recognizing my own prejudice – and on my list I have our treatment of planet Earth; our treatment of farm animals; and our focus on GDP growth with its consequential drive to consumerism. But at the top of my list right now is what feels like a frivolous approach to everyday poisons.
I recently posted this article about antibacterial soap to my facebook page and I would encourage you to look not just at this, but also to read broadly on this topic and related concerns. I think something really important is happening here, but I believe we, as a society, are largely turning a blind eye. Every time we use something with “…cide” or “antibacterial” in its name we are using products designed and sold with the sole purpose of killing life – we are literally playing with poisons. We use them constantly on our foods, our kitchen counters, even our bodies, to kill what we regard as undesirable life forms. Profit-driven corporations may tell us these are not harmful, but they are poisons and no one can truly know their long-term effects. This seems to me to be taking our own lives and those of our children extremely lightly.
Our casual and unreflective use of poisons hit me square between the eyes in a different context recently when I saw my first “no mosquitoes – guaranteed” sign in someone’s yard. Almost overnight these signs have become quite common. A quick internet search didn’t reveal the particular cocktail of poisons being applied to eliminate mosquitoes, but since this particular extermination is accomplished by “spraying a fine mist of botanical insecticide” across the whole yard, it seems highly probably that it will result in pretty broad and indiscriminate extermination of insects. Bats and swallows eat mosquitoes, and many creatures we love eat other insects: to exterminate insects is to cut a major slice out of the food chain. Have we any idea where this leads? Of course not!
We are dependent for our existence on a planet rich with a complex system of life, and to materially play with that mixture – which we do every day with both broad-based and local use of poisons that eliminate vast numbers of species – is surely to play with fire. I’m not saying that I know the real risks – I have no idea – but I find it hard to believe that there are not massive and unknown consequences. Given the possibility of broad massively damaging consequences, I am deeply troubled by what feels like the light-hearted and even frivolous way we approach the use of poisons. We don’t like to acknowledge – and largely hide from – the diversity of life that naturally exists in and on our bodies, but genetically and in terms of cell count, “foreign” life makes up the considerable majority of our body: from this standpoint it similarly seems really important that we understand the consequences of sterilization before we apply antibacterials and the like to bodies, thereby eliminating this large part of ourselves.
Killing Yourself To Live by Black Sabbath that is about the way we work hard at careers and jobs that give us no meaningful reward. While the point of focus is different from mine and now cliche, the band wrote this song because so many people were – and still are – blind to the truth of this in their lives; surely we should allow that we are blind to the possibility that in a fairly literal sense our use of poisons is killing ourselves to live? I’d suggest it’s worth clicking the link, listening to the song, and thinking about this. (If the link doesn’t work, it likely means you’re not a Spotify member, and I’d recommend you look into changing that – it’s a wonderful service.)
Perhaps more directly relevant to today’s question is a contemporary song by Bastille. Pompeii is superficially about the destruction of an ancient city, but I am confident that in the line, “If you close your eyes does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?…I’m going to be an optimist about this,” the band is giving a nod to a belief that the careless way we are using poisons and engaging in other destructive behaviors is killing ourselves to live, and that we are closing our eyes to what we are really doing.
Here are three things to do: (1) don’t let me inflame your views one way or the other, but take this as a prod to research this topic from many angles; (2) engage in conversation: for better or worse, this is an important discussion that is not happening; (3) if you like my philosophizing and haven’t already done so, click here to sign up for my mailing list and receive them DIRECT to your inbox!