September 2018

The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy
~Book Review~

The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy by Michael McCarthy presents a compelling picture why we love the natural world. With a little nudge towards broadening our rational thought processes due to the overwhelming majesty of the wildness around us, he encourages us to dwell for at least a moment beyond what we can understand through our senses and then take care of that wildness.

He says, “We think of ourselves, especially since the decline of Christianity in the West, and its replacement by our current creed, liberal secular humanism, as rational beings entirely; we pride ourselves that, faced with a Problem, with a capital P, we may employ Reason, with a capital R, and naturally find a Solution, with a capital S. We believe that this will deliver, every time. Rationality is ingrained in a million mindsets. Yet the world does not always work like that (as those who lived through the two world wars, mired in chaos and evil, knew only too well). And there is another way of going about things in dealing with the mortal threats that our planet now faces, which is to consider, not what we do, but who we are.

“Most of us probably think we know. We do not give it a second thought. But in the last thirty years or so, a new understanding, by no means yet widespread or popularized, has begun to dawn of what it means to be human, based on a simple but monumental perception: the fifty thousand generations through which we evolved as hunter-gatherers are more important to our psychological make-up, even today, than the five hundred generations we have spent since agriculture began and with it, civilization. We possess the culture of the farmers, the subduers of nature, and the citizens who came after with their settled lives and their writing and law and architecture and money, yes of course we do, but deep down, beneath culture in the realms of instinct, at the profoundest levels of our psyche—the new vision has it—we remain the children of the Pleistocene, the world that was not subdued, where we lived as an integral part of it, in coming to be what we are. The legacy inside us has not been lost, and in many ways is controlling….

“Surveys have demonstrated that, shown different landscape images, people overwhelming favor one form in particular, one of open grassland interspersed with trees and a view to the horizon, and if possible water, and animal and bird life….

“The profounder implication…[is] that there persists, deep inside us, deep in our genes, an immensely powerful innate bond with the natural world…

I believe the bond is at the very heart of what it means to be human; that the natural world where we evolved is no mere neutral background, but at the deepest psychological level it remains our home, with all the intense emotional attachment which that implies—passionate feelings of belonging, of yearning, and of love…

“And there, at last, is the possibility of a new defense of nature, one more robust and all-encompassing than either the hopeful idealism of sustainable development or the hard-faced calculation of ecosystem services; there, may be the beginnings of a belief and an argument with which to shield the natural world in the terrible century to come. The natural world is not separate from us, it is part of us…

“[We must] register the true degree of the planet’s predicament and the real magnitude of the processes we have set in train which may bring about our ruin…If loss of nature becomes a sort of essay subject,…we may lose sight of…the great wounding that it really is.”

Michael McCarthy then discusses the beauty of the earth and the losses that have and will ensue. He encourages us to become the kind of people who stay in touch with our own love of the earth, as difficult as that may be.

But isn’t that what being a humanist is? Thoughtful contact with our own home for the joy of it? And through that joy, we are made whole.

—Lauren Florence, MD

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