How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Road Not Taken – Western Civilization’s Frenetic Dash Towards Destiny

A Road on Grand Bahama, Paved During the Speculation Boom of the 1970s, Fragments a Caribbean Pine Woodland

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost

A road. Such a simple construction seems fairly innocuous. They can trace gentle hypnotic paths, winding through breath-taking vistas or present as jammed tangles of exhaust fumes, short-tempers and noise, slapped against an urban background of concrete and glass. Either setting belies the truth of roads. Utilitarian, convenient, an artifact of human civilization, roads can be a path towards connectedness or one of the most powerful forces of environmental destruction on earth.

For most of Robert Frost’s lifetime (1874-1963), roads had a different connotation. They were metaphors for the trajectory of a life and the choices taken therein. The roads in Frost’s own life, lived largely in the wilds of New England, would have been primarily unpaved, winding country lanes, weaving an innocuous path from village to village, their existence maintained exclusively by use. Once their usefulness became obsolete, they would simply melt back into the landscape.

Travelers would have walked those paths or more expeditiously, traveled on horseback or by carriage. The foot of the man and horse or wheel of the carriage, wedded intimately to the earth beneath it. Cold in snow and ice, burdened in mud and rain, and joyous in fair weather, the journey was as much the story of the road as its destination.

Along with the hurry of Western civilization, came the interstate highway system, commencing in 1956 and completing approximately 35 years later. Roads evolved from the path of preferred travel and experience, winding through and connecting people to landscapes, into entities designed to ferry passengers from point A to point B, transmuting the journey from an experience of connectedness into a mere inconvenience to be abided. To remove the traveler from his surroundings even further, cars became air-tight capsules, air-conditioned and outfitted with radios, CD players and GPS.

Again the modern road is a metaphor for the contemporary human life. From the time he is born, the child of Western civilization is indoctrinated into a world separate from the natural world which sustains him. He lives in a house constructed from largely artificial materials, or if natural, then altered with screed and substance so as to render it into a lifeless resource. His food comes from a grocery store, wrapped and packaged, reduced to a chart of nutritional information rather than a composition of once-living organisms. From the constructed home, in the air-conditioned car, off to industrial buildings for education, the natural world from the beginning is an externality that would seem to have no bearing in the child’s life. He is a human, Homo sapiens, taught that this taxonomy separates him from the world around him. Indeed, the child can grow and even thrive without ever contacting or communing with the natural world surrounding him.

It is no wonder that capitalists, developers, bankers and warriors wander through the world, bent on destruction and without remorse. To them, the living world is an abstraction, separate from and subservient to the artificially crafted world of men. They travel past it all on roads, designed to transfer them from one destination to the next. As they commute from crafted home to crafted place of work, they pride themselves that the work they do, rendering nature into numbers on a balance sheet, is the real work in the world. They are the creators of wealth in their minds, job creators, purveyors of the American Dream. The insignificant and the natural tremble and fall at their hands. The road becomes a mere tool to extract from nature the resources that supply the world of men, a one-way street of destruction.

What is a blade of grass compared to Bill Gates? For all the billions of dollars in revenue, computers manufactured, jobs created, good deeds done, Mr. Gates cannot convert sunshine into food. All he can do is take that food and consume it, degrade it, and release its spent energy as waste into the world until another blade of grass can take that waste and using it, again convert sunlight into food. Who or what then is the greater producer? With each blade of grass mowed down and paved over, never to return, the finite productive capacity of the earth lessens. What will the great men use to fuel their empires when the externalities they have long exploited, neglected and abused have been rendered into meaningless numbers on a page?
A Road on Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Cuts Through Pristine Dwarf Forest and Paves the Way for Future Real Estate Speculation

And what for? What is the point of our incessant rushing towards destiny, ignoring all that stands along the distance? We are a culture obsessed with end points, destinations, the weekend, orgasms. What is overlooked is the point of it all. What takes place in-between the end points is journey, making love, life. There is only one finality, one destination at which we must all eventually arrive. Why hurry to get there?


  1. Absolutely beautiful post. It is a shame that no 'conservative' will ever read this and in the off chance that he or she does it is a greater shame they can't/won't understand. Thanks for sharing.

    1. You are right about the lack of understanding Jim. Sad that those who are disconnected from the natural world will never know what they are missing in their impoverished lives.

  2. I gave up on Andy Revkin when he more or less told me to get over the destruction of nature, because in the future people will simply live in a hermetic world - in the sealed chamber meaning of that word.

    I don't want to live in that world, and I don't want to bequeath it to my children.

    Nicely stated as always, Killing Mother.

  3. Gail, your observation reminds me of a comment my family doctor made to me when I was conveying my utter despair about the state of the world. He said, "I think you are depressed and would benefit from medication." Isn't it sad that those who are steeped in reality are classified as needing medication. Instead, the establishment recommends making ourselves comfortably numb to avoid such inconveniences.

  4. Isn't it sad that those who are steeped in reality are classified as needing medication.

    It is sad, killingMother. These days, though, when I feel sad, my feelings immediately turn into anger.

    I like tumbrels. Tar and feathers---whatever. Guillotines are nice as well.

    1. Tsisageya, Sadness and anger seem like healthy responses to the contemporary world. It is strange that the prevailing culture tells us we should treat these natural reactions as pathological and that we should eliminate them, thus ignoring the despair of the natural world.

  5. I forgot to say what a thoughtful and beautiful post this is! Thank you.

  6. Tsisageya, Sadness and anger seem like healthy responses to the contemporary world. It is strange that the prevailing culture tells us we should treat these natural reactions as pathological and that we should eliminate them, thus ignoring the despair of the natural world.

    Oh well. What else can one expect from a "CULTURE" that considers pregnancy and childbirth a disability? I guess that's insurance lingo.

    (If you don't mind, more to come?)

  7. It also sounds a gigantic bit like the motherfucking patriarchy.


  8. This helps my anger, as do you killingMother:

  9. tisisageya, I agree that sermon on the mount is a good bit of advice. Too bad those claiming to follow the author of those words all too often fail to follow what he actually said.

  10. Amen, killingMother. It may sound like hyperbole, but sometimes I feel as if this is my church. The Church Of killingMother.

    Stop laughing.

    I guess the intertubes are good for stuff after all.

  11. In my mind this is appropriate to the discussion of culture and the natural world.

  12. I agree that sermon on the mount is a good bit of advice.

    This is one reason that I love you like crazy, killingMother. You're a Master of the understatement. lol

  13. KillingMother...a story that may resonate with you. Apparently this tribe was once pretty cool.

  14. Knowing what I know about what happens when civilization meets the "uncontacted", I'm afraid to actually read it, Gail. You understand.

    i swear to God I'm not trying to be a comment-hog here. Anyway, I declare it's all y'alls fault for being so brilliant that it turns me into a blabber-mouth!

  15. Gail, Thank you for sharing that link - a sad, continuous saga...

  16. In another thread I mentioned that I was doing a paper on biodiversity in Brazil. Most of my sources were on how to preserve and restore what is left and what had been. But then there are a couple of papers, one from the Economist and another from the FAS-USDA, congratulating the Brazilians for plowing up the Cerrado and putting in railroads, canals and roads to get the tons of soybeans that are now being produced to market. Something on the order of hundreds of thousands of hectares of once beautiful grassland in the Pantanal is now plowed up and planted in soybeans. Reading the articles made me sick to my stomach, especially since I knew the area back before it was "developed."

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