Sometime around November 2013, an article titled ‘George Perkins Marsh: A Founder of Forestry' caught my eye. The story quoted various portions of a book published in 1864 titled Man and Nature - Or Physical Geography As Modified By Human Action. I've read hundreds of books and have researched many matters ranging from the history of the Common Core to the economics of industrialized energy. But until I clicked that link, I had never heard of George Perkins Marsh.
While 19th century industrial titans cut, slashed, dredged, exploited, and poisoned anything that blocked humanity’s self-entitled path towards ‘progress,’ George Marsh meticulously warned of Nature's non-negotiable counter-balance. Although he was not a romantic like John Muir, or a courageous vocal advocate such as Rachel Carson, Marsh’s magnum opus, Man and Nature, equates to a lost book of the Bible.
In Man and Nature, Marsh presented detailed evidence and mind-boggling facts about how 'progress' within economics, education, religion, and governance, had already impacted countless life-systems, each ocean, the poles, and atmosphere. With spooky precision, Marsh foretold how burning coal would lead to melting of Arctic glaciers, how chemical use in large-scale agriculture would soon accelerate derogation of soils and farmlands, how societal sprawl would soon cramp sustainable life-giving systems, how poisoning waterways would soon dominate world consciousness and political struggle. Instead of glorifying human ability to achieve certainty and growth for humankind, Man and Nature compelled an imperative balancing of how dogmatic one-sided 'expert' standards muddle cause and effect, perpetuate societal pathology, and enable individual addiction to controlling uncertain outcomes.
But most importantly, Marsh inspired a spiritual realization that the true better technology we all seek, is the art of circumspect vision. He offered an an uncommon form of balance by explaining that the future is highly unpredictable - and certainly not promised. Man and Nature implored us to see how countless one-sided so-called human ‘achievements’ and ‘expertise’ sardonically hastens the very progress that, ‘inevitably decays any society, great or small.’
Today there is an emerging awareness. Many who recognize the rampant dysfunction of one-sided so-called expert decision-making are seeking to reclaim independent thinking and see beyond the short-sighted vision of acute self-glory. And while the motivations and messages behind the emerging awareness can be found in messages everywhere, the last sentence within Man and Nature best underscores our foremost puzzling challenge: ‘Do humans exist above or within Nature?’
We can’t have it both ways. If life’s miracles are to be standardized, controlled, achieved and mastered, then either man or Nature will prevail with or without the other’s consent and subservience.