Presilence (of Eggs and Baskets)

by | Jun 17, 2012 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Here’s what I want to know: What did the farmer do after he put all his eggs in one basket and then tripped over a hay-rake?

This has been the world’s project for the last few centuries, has it not?

The growth economy has narrowed and narrowed future options by building infrastructure for the exclusive use of fossil fuels, while killing off competitive sources of energy; dramatically reducing biodiversity among living things as humanoids convert their biomass into human flesh; eliminating cultures, languages, indigenous life-ways and lives and replacing them with the global economy; growing one genetically modified variety of corn and lopping the heads off any stalk of wheat that grows to a non-average height; making sure that each Big Mac is exactly like the other 47 billion; demeaning any ways of loving or living that differ from the ‘norm’; measuring all value in US$; and — all together now — singing the same song (“I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke”). So here’s what I see, scrolling in slow motion: The farmer hurries across the farmyard, whistling. A basket of eggs swings from his hand. Because his eyes are on the kitchen door, he doesn’t see the hay-rake. He trips and sails forward — a giant leap. His legs pedal air. The hand holding the basket reaches forward, as if it were holding a lantern. The eggs bound out of the basket, one after another — twelve eggs flying. And one after another, they flatten against the pounded earth. Soon after, the farmer’s body smacks full-length onto the ground. There is stunned silence in the barnyard. Then, wide-eyed, the man lifts his head. He has egg on his face, and blood in his nostrils.

No point in belaboring the analogy; we all breathe through the smell of blood. More important, what can the analogy teach us? Mark Twain famously said, “Put all your eggs in one basket . . . and watch the basket!” This is the strategy pursued with lethal seriousness by those in power. The more perilous the single path, the more viciously they insist on it. Consider the fossil fuel industry’s strangle-hold on Congress. Consider the attacks of the solipsistic self-righteous on working women, gays, black voters, the desperately poor, and immigrants (take your pick: this is a war against difference, which takes many forms). Consider the relentless campaigns against climate science, against all science. Consider the concentration of well-protected money. Consider the hegemony of the individualist, capitalist worldview.

But listen, everybody: Mark Twain was a very wise man, but “put all your eggs in one basket . . . and watch the basket”? That was a JOKE, for God’s sake. He wasn’t SERIOUS.

There’s a different lesson to learn, an obvious one: We need lots of baskets, a wild abundance of baskets. Willow baskets, pink beach baskets, grocery baskets, baskets woven of spruce roots in the dark winter or carved from stones and stories. We need to cherish and protect them all. And eggs? How many kinds of eggs can we find or create? Lizard eggs, egg heads, embryos in dark places, seeds, always seeds, spider eggs carried on the wind, even golden eggs laid by geese. Nurture and protect all of these. That will at least give humanity a chance to answer the world’s desperate call for the greatest exercise of the human imagination the world has ever seen.

Our challenge is not only resilience, which is the power to rebound (re- “back” + salire “to jump, leap”). Our challenge is also what we might call presilience, the courage to take this great, stumbling leap into a world unlike any we have ever seen, knowing that we will not be back. Not ever. But (and this is the important point), we can decide what we hold in our hands as our legs pedal air.

Here’s what I want for the world’s baskets:

The greatest possible abundance of living things, who hold in their DNA, in their wings and eye-stalks (and in the tangled connections among all beings), an infinite and never-ending variety of ideas about how to thrive in changing conditions.
The greatest possible diversity of human beings, who hold in their stories — their life-ways, their hard-won wisdom, their languages, their lived songs of love and grief — an irreplaceable heritage of ideas about mutual flourishing, even at the ends of the Earth.
Fresh, clean water, immortal ice, dependable rain, fertile soil — all the beautiful material conditions of abundant life.
Tools and skills of every kind (how to catch a codfish or calm a child).
And, most of all, number 5. Respect for all these, abiding love for all these, and the moral courage to protect them fiercely, maybe tragically, but without rest or fear, knowing that our baskets hold the origins of the next lives.

News Archive

“What can YOU do about climate change? Take this quiz to find out” is now available in English and Swedish at Yale Climate Communications. If you’ve ever said, “I want to help in the climate struggle, but I don’t know what to do,” here’s a key to your answer. Click here.