Under this title, an essay by Loren Eiseley was published in the New York Times almost fifty years ago. A hundred years ago an “Eskimo shaman” told the explorer Knud Rasmussen –
We fear the cold and the things we do not understand. But most of all we fear the doings of the heedless ones among ourselves.
After taking us on a quick tour from humankind’s tropical genesis to life on the edge of an ice-covered world Loren writes –
Today we have science, we do not fear the Eskimo’s malevolent ghosts. We do not wear amulets to ward off evil spirits. We have pierced to the far rim of the universe. We roam mentally through light-years of time.
Yes, this could be admitted, but we also fear. We fear more deeply than the man in the snow. It comes to us, if we are honest, that perhaps nothing has changed the grip of winter in our hearts, that winter before which we cringed amidst the ice long ages ago.
For what is it that we do? We fear. We do not fear ghosts but we fear the ghost of ourselves. We have come now, in this time, to fear the water we drink, the air we breathe, the insecticides that are dusted over our giant fruits. Because of the substances we have poured into our contaminated rivers, we fear the food that comes to us from the sea. There are also those who tell us that by our own heedless acts the seas are dying.
We fear the awesome powers we have lifted out of nature and cannot return to her. We fear the weapons we have made, the hatreds we have engendered. We fear the crush of fanatic people to whom we readily sell these weapons. We fear for the value of the money in our pockets that stands symbolically for food and shelter. We fear the growing power of the state to take all these things from us. We fear to walk our streets at evening. We have come to fear even our scientists and their gifts.
And the latest gift? SARS-CoV-2. Life-coach Richard Grannon offers his thoughts.
(Do not fear those among us who run around supermarkets like heedless chickens looking for toilet paper.)
Loren Eiseley has a distinguished pedigree with a line passing through several High Stewards of Scotland to, inevitably, Carolus Magnus. Not bad for a humble American bone collector.