The Case of our Hubris


Brian Haywood, Staff Writer

In spite of everything irredeemable and shameful that has been done throughout humanity’s history, and all the criticism of our mistakes, please allow yourself a brief, self-congratulatory pat on the back just for being here. It could be worse, and for all purely technical intents and purposes, you are not merely succeeding at life, but absolutely excelling. Congratulations, you’ve made it! No longer digging in the dirt like the majority of your ancestors, you have massive amounts of time for things like hopes, dreams, expression, and recreation.

Yes, lucky you. Unfortunately for everything else on the planet, though, we’re here, along with all that we’ve built, broken and thrown away. It’s a side effect of our race’s longevity; ancient pyramids are still crumbling as we continue to invent newer, better, more durable Ziploc plastic freezer bags that will stay intact in their landfills long after the molecules of our great-great grandchildren have blown around the world. Likewise, we the living and present have spread ourselves across Earth so effectively that places where you can still hear complete silence are becoming commodities like the oil and minerals that are sought there. Nothing in the world has ever done anything to change it this fast; and we’re so out of control that it’s not up to one person, one faction, or one corporation to control this meticulous self-destruction, for better or for worse. As simple as a rationale it is to point fingers, no one has 7 billion of those handy.

We’re not immortal, but we like to think that we’ve found a way to manifest our ideas and aspirations in our grand and soaring structures, and in a way, we have. They keep a steady hand on the sky while we see to our important business down on the surface. If we ever feel menial in our day-to-day agendas, we can look up at our skyscrapers and see that we’re still up there after all; we haven’t lost touch with dreams, we’re still all collectively part of the hands that made that, and the tip of that lightning rod is never going to falter even when we eventually do.

Or so we think. For all we’ve put into these monuments, spectacular cathedrals and blackened strip-mined scars of land subsidized to warrant the construction of those cathedrals, we still can’t escape the inevitability that comes with biting the hand that feeds. Nature, objective and unrelenting, is constantly on the fringes, waiting to take back what once belonged to it.

Although they once held the title of mighty, unchallenged ruling force of Central America, the ruins of the Mayan civilization are hidden and coated in vegetation, the dwindling frameworks of their cities important reminders as everything else is pulled back under the soil. Until put under the scrutiny of modern archaeology, these sites appear completely unremarkable to the naked eye. Fundamentally, there is little difference between the stone fortifications of Chichen Itza and the steel high-rises of New York City.

Imagine for a second, if every person in the world somehow vanished at the same time, never to return, just leaving behind everything that’s ever been made; a freak supernatural occurrence, or maybe some kind of self-induced genocide. Whatever it is, the only difference between it and our present reality is there’s no one left to keep the cars running, fight the fires, or repair the buildings. How long would it take before everything falls apart?

After just five hundred years of the human-less planet, many of our proud metropolises will finally have decayed all the way to the ground, and it’ll take less time than you might expect. Common elements such as fungi, pests, and water will gradually wear away at our building’s foundations and rot them from their core, caving in as though made of cards. Office buildings as well as residential abodes will, at the mercy of nature, become barer and barer as the surrounding landscape becomes them, their structural integrity compromised by the raw ebb and flow unheeded by human intervention. Dense forests grow where suburban neighborhoods once sprawled, dishwasher parts and cookware corroding in the ground like fossils, their aluminum and steel parts somehow the only materials capable of withstanding time; in the arid desert areas, cast-iron fire hydrants would be left alone sprouting from the ground like cacti. New York City will be nothing but skeletons made of concrete and steel, and even they are fated to revert back to their primeval roots.

Although these scenes of the fall of our empire are reminiscent of destruction on nature’s part, a bit of perspective is necessary in order to appreciate the strangely beautiful symbiosis that pushes and pulls across the surface of our planet. A prime example can be found in the surrounding area of the failed Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine: previously barren, desolate, inhospitable, it is a testament to the power unleashed in our accidents as well as the strength in redemption.

However, since humans can’t step foot on these hallowed grounds without becoming afflicted by the heavy radiation, the wilderness took things into its own hands. Its first order of business: existing at all. The nuclear blast that devastated buildings, killed civilians, and gave cancer to many cleared a blank slate for ecological succession. A heartwarming success story of sorts has taken place as a once urban landscape has given way to a vibrantly thriving habitat. Animals such as elk, boar, and wild horses have flocked to this accidental Eden of their own accord. All the locals can do is watch from a safe distance as the score is temporarily settled.

Perhaps nature’s tenacity is the sole attribute of its survival. It can’t count the losses it has endured. It only propagates itself endlessly. It can’t be talked down, persuaded, or stopped, which is advantageous, because the odds are stacked in its favor, and if it knew, it might get discouraged. If what we’re doing right now is any logical indication of a trend in behavior, our ways are going to remain steadfast in their incongruity with what has been desperately advocated for our protection and preservation. If the worst case scenario comes to pass, and we’ve depleted our resources, pushed the boundaries of extinction, and are forced to reckon with ourselves, then that’s it. Nothing will lament our passing; whatever’s left in our wake will just pick up the pieces and keep going, like backyard weeds that return weekend after laborious weekend only to be cut down again. But somehow, miraculously, and here’s the kicker: we’re creatures of nature too, if we choose to acknowledge ourselves as such. The world will keep spinning with or without us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t stake out our spot to stay in the running. Foolishly, we think that we already have, and continuing to put faith in that entitlement will be our biggest mistake of all.