Stability in an Unstable and Destabalizing World

David George Haskell:

Humans are a species adapted to landscapes that stay stable throughout our lifetimes. We are attracted to sturdiness and longevity in both the land and our homes. Building on rock is wise; fools choose sand for their foundations. The application of human inventions to the land – concrete, steel girders, plate glass – enforces the illusion of a changeless world. Instability unsettles us: fallen monuments, crumbling homes, and leveled forests are sites of pathos. Places that suggest permanence or durability – the thousand-year-old temple or ancient redwood tree – lift our spirits.

The biblical parable can be reworked. The fool is not the person who builds on sand. The error is to believe that sand can be rock. No matter how much concrete we pour, we can never turn the coast to stone. Instead, the wise build on sand knowing that its nature requires both creative resistance and the ability to walk away. Human society has so far emphasized resistance but given little help to those who by choice or misfortune must take the second path. “Why waste any time in awe or pity?” Perhaps because our answer to the sea lies in what the palms lack: networks of mutual aid.

The Song of Trees, pp.64; 81f