Perhaps it makes sense that thousands of pages of the nation’s newsprint are devoted each day to whatever small local group has been most successful carrying or kicking an inflated leather sac into an arbitrarily designated space while following an arbitrary set of rules. And perhaps it also makes sense that nearly all literature, television and cinema, when it is not devoted to the physical accomplishments of us humans, focuses on the dissection of every nook and cranny of the goings on between individual members of our species. Fascinating by its absence, however, is the attention we pay to the rest of creation.
It hasn’t always been that way. Back when we were coming down out of the trees, it was no less than a matter of life and death that we be keenly interested in what plants were fruiting when, where the big carnivores might be lurking, and the comings and goings of edible non-human protein. And as we became aware of spirituality, we perceived a spiritual element in all sorts of natural entities – thunder gods, sea nymphs, spirit bears – the list is very long. But even back then, I suspect our interest in Them was primarily because of what They might do to or for US, though the stereotype of some cultures – Native Americans and some Hindu sects for example – is that attention to and care of all creation has great value for its own sake.
Where we are now is an entirely different matter. Most of us in the developed world spend our days in manmade envelopes, untouched by a soft spring breeze or the gust of a thunderstorm, insulated from any part of the non-human world bigger than a gnat. Many of us, when asked where our food comes from, immediately think of the supermarket down the street rather than the field or feedlot. Most of us spend the majority of our days focusing our attention on more important or more entertaining things, like the Dow Jones average, the game being played by our city’s baseball team or the shenanigans of the characters in our favorite soap opera or TV series.
And just as some traits are beneficial in moderation but counterproductive or even dangerous when excessive ( a bit of anxiety helps muster the mental energy for difficult tasks but excessive anxiety – technically known as chronic anxiety disorder – is paralytic) an overdose of attention to the products, problems and passions of one’s own species to the exclusion of the rest of Creation is at least an impoverished way of being and perhaps is even pathological. In fact, it may deserve its own medical moniker – perhaps excessive anthropocentricism or species-specific narcissism, chronic omphalospection or, for the scatologically oriented, species-specific caprofixation.
“Nonsense!” you may respond. ”Hasn’t our understanding of the way the world works, from the digestive tract of black holes to the intricacies of the genetic code grown exponentially? Haven’t we split the atom and mastered organ transplantation? Haven’t we been to the moon and back?” Isn’t that proof positive that we are plenty interested?”
Well, there’s interest and Interest with a capital “I”. Our interest in the World Out There is almost exclusively related to how it might serve our species’ interests. By and large, we aren’t drawn to it in the same way we are to the revolving door narratives of soap operas or TV series. We’re interested in it because it bears some promise of understanding ourselves better, helping us live longer, generate cheaper energy, or exploit new frontiers. For the most part, we’re just not Interested in that stuff in the same way that we are in the domestic battles of our next door neighbors.
Personally, I think that is problematic on several levels. At the risk of sounding woozy and weak kneed I’d say that overlooking the wonder and sacredness of The World Out There may be akin to a Christian’s forgetting all about the crucifixion and resurrection or a Jew’s forgetting about the Exodus. Getting a bit more down to earth, I’d say that with a bit of attitude readjustment, many of us could find the mating behavior of praying mantises even more compelling than a TV character’s infidelity. And even if we can’t pull ourselves away from the fascinating images of ourselves reflected in that sylvan pool, we need, for our own welfare, to realize that by ignoring what is going on in the world beyond us, our narcissistic species runs the real risk of letting the whole theater, upon whose stage it is strutting and fretting its hour, collapse around us for lack of attentive maintenance.