Some time back, well before the pandemic era we find ourselves in just now, I wrote a short piece on the importance of coexistence if we are to survive the challenges facing us as a species. As we face the hardships wrought by the need for physical distancing and social behaviours that will ensure the greatest chance of survival for the greatest number of us, I am re-posting it in the severely-altered context of our world today.
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There’s a bumper sticker out there that neatly sums up the means to solving the world’s problems, including war, famine, pandemic, pollution, drought, overpopulation, greed—
Coexistence sounds so simple, yet over the millennia it has proven impossible to attain.
An old joke goes like this: “You don’t know when you’re dead; only other people notice. It’s the same when you’re stupid.”
Never having been dead, I can’t vouch for the first premise; for all I know, the world will scarce notice when I’m gone. But the second part might well be true. Why else, other than stupidity, do so many of us ignore the certainty that humankind’s current practices are dooming our planet?
Nation against nation, race against race, religion against religion; ignorance and denial of the potential rise of drug-resistant bacteria and viruses; endless resource extraction; massive defoliation and over-fishing; reckless despoliation of our environment, including the very air we breathe—all in the name of what? Geo-political supremacy? Last one standing wins? It’s sheer, rampant stupidity.
In his poem, Ozymandias, Shelley wrote these lines—
“…on the [shatter’d] pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Where the glory, where the triumph? Nothing is left in a vast wasteland but a smashed relic of one man’s vainglorious attempt to take control of his world.
Think of two anthills in a garden, one bustling with industrious black ants, the other alive with equally busy red ants. Everything is peaceful in the garden until, one sad day, the two colonies discover each other. And then madness, folly, turmoil, mayhem, as each tries to subjugate the other. Warfare unto the death, until the gardener brings his stomping boots and smashing shovel down on them. And they are all annihilated, indistinguishable in their lifeless remains.
Is there a celestial gardener, I wonder, who looks upon our planet, this earthly garden, and despairs? Do we appear as nothing more than those foolish ants, scurrying hysterically to and fro, intent upon the destruction of any who are not like us? And will we avoid the gardener’s heavy boot? Or is it already too late?
Coexistence has many synonyms: reconciliation, harmony, accord, synchronicity, collaboration. All are needed if we are, indeed, to live together on our fragile planet.
Coexistence also has one supremely important result—