April 22, 2017

Something Wonderful for "Earth Day": George Carlin, the Arrogance of Mankind, and the Big Electron

Lest we forget how minuscule we really are.

CARLIN: "Let me tell you about endangered species, all right? Saving endangered species is just one more arrogant attempt by humans to control nature. It's arrogant meddling. It's what got us in trouble in the first place. Doesn't anybody understand that? Interfering with nature. Over 90%, way over 90% of all the species that have ever lived on this planet, ever lived, are gone. They're extinct. We didn't kill them all. They just disappeared. That's what nature does.

"We’re so self-important. So self-important. Everybody’s going to save something now. “Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save those snails.” And the greatest arrogance of all: save the planet. What? Are these fucking people kidding me? Save the planet, we don’t even know how to take care of ourselves yet. We haven’t learned how to care for one another, we’re gonna save the fucking planet?

“I’m getting tired of that shit. Tired of that shit. I’m tired of fucking Earth Day, I’m tired of these self-righteous environmentalists, these white, bourgeois liberals who think the only thing wrong with this country is there aren’t enough bicycle paths. People trying to make the world safe for their Volvos. Besides, environmentalists don’t give a shit about the planet. They don’t care about the planet. Not in the abstract they don’t.  You know what they’re interested in? A clean place to live. Their own habitat. They’re worried that some day in the future, they might be personally inconvenienced. Narrow, unenlightened self-interest doesn’t impress me.

“Besides, there is nothing wrong with the planet. Nothing wrong with the planet. The planet is fine. The PEOPLE are fucked. Difference. Difference. The planet is fine. Compared to the people, the planet is doing great. Been here four and a half billion years. Did you ever think about the arithmetic? The planet has been here four and a half billion years. We’ve been here, what, a hundred thousand? Maybe two hundred thousand? And we’ve only been engaged in heavy industry for a little over two hundred years. Two hundred years versus four and a half billion. And we have the CONCEIT to think that somehow we’re a threat? That somehow we’re gonna put in jeopardy this beautiful little blue-green ball that’s just a-floatin’ around the sun?

“The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through all kinds of things worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles…hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worlwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages…And we think some plastic bags, and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet…the planet…the planet isn’t going anywhere. WE ARE!

“We’re going away. Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away. And we won’t leave much of a trace, either. Thank God for that. Maybe a little styrofoam. Maybe. A little styrofoam. The planet’ll be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas. A surface nuisance.

“You wanna know how the planet’s doing? Ask those people at Pompeii, who are frozen into position from volcanic ash, how the planet’s doing. You wanna know if the planet’s all right, ask those people in Mexico City or Armenia or a hundred other places buried under thousands of tons of earthquake rubble, if they feel like a threat to the planet this week. Or how about those people in Kilauea, Hawaii, who built their homes right next to an active volcano, and then wonder why they have lava in the living room.

“The planet will be here for a long, long, LONG time after we’re gone, and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself, ’cause that’s what it does. It’s a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed, and if it’s true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new pardigm: the earth plus plastic. The earth doesn’t share our prejudice towards plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn’t know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, “Why are we here?” Plastic…asshole.

“So, the plastic is here, our job is done, we can be phased out now. And I think that’s begun. Don’t you think that’s already started? I think, to be fair, the planet sees us as a mild threat. Something to be dealt with. And the planet can defend itself in an organized, collective way, the way a beehive or an ant colony can. A collective defense mechanism. The planet will think of something. What would you do if you were the planet? How would you defend yourself against this troublesome, pesky species? Let’s see… Viruses. Viruses might be good. They seem vulnerable to viruses. And, uh…viruses are tricky, always mutating and forming new strains whenever a vaccine is developed. Perhaps, this first virus could be one that compromises the immune system of these creatures. Perhaps a human immunodeficiency virus, making them vulnerable to all sorts of other diseases and infections that might come along. And maybe it could be spread sexually, making them a little reluctant to engage in the act of reproduction.

“Well, that’s a poetic note. And it’s a start. And I can dream, can’t I? See I don’t worry about the little things: bees, trees, whales, snails. I think we’re part of a greater wisdom than we will ever understand. A higher order. Call it what you want. Know what I call it? The Big Electron. The Big Electron…whoooa. Whoooa. Whoooa. It doesn’t punish, it doesn’t reward, it doesn’t judge at all. It just is. And so are we. For a little while."

Posted by gerardvanderleun at April 22, 2017 6:04 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

“The planet will be here for a long, long, LONG time after we’re gone...." But the cockroaches will still be thriving.

Posted by: BillH at July 1, 2013 9:20 AM

Not your standard Christian fire and brimstone sermon, but a similar message. Let us not believe we can bend the Big Electron's will to our desires. The Big Electron works in mysterious and unfathomable ways. Let us accept that and be thankful we are here.

Posted by: Jimmy J. at July 1, 2013 10:20 AM

This is history to younger Americans. As Reagan said, "We will tell our children what it once was like to be free."
Carlin would be stigmatized like Paula Deen now.

Posted by: Grace at July 1, 2013 1:28 PM

He's quite right, except for one thing; a lot of the endangered species are endangered specifically by human activity as in cutting down forests, that sort of thing.

I suspect that the giant panda was on its way out eventually for several reasons nothing to do with humans, but to take an example tigers weren't. Or passenger pigeons.

Posted by: Fletcher Christian at July 1, 2013 3:06 PM

Take a larger view. High-extinction episodes occur for lots of reasons. They are neither good nor bad, it's just the way the world works. The occurrence of self-aware intelligence and tool-building species may be a proximate cause of one of those episodes.

In the long-term, evolution selects for species that can cross the high-extinction episodes. This time, we get to decide which ones we will take with us, if we ourselves can get across.

Self-aware intelligence and tool-building is a singular evolutionary experiment that has arisen in the oourse of time (on this planet at least), its fitness (in the version currently expressed by Homo) not yet proven.

What I object to is Carlin's pessimism. I do not accept that Homo is an evolutionary dead end. As we both live on this world, and colonize others, sub-speciation and radiation of Homo will occur. Homo will not die out, but it will diversify, and not perhaps to our current liking.

Posted by: John A. Fleming at July 1, 2013 4:05 PM

Fletcher Christian said, "He's quite right, except for one thing; a lot of the endangered species are endangered specifically by human activity as in cutting down forests, that sort of thing."

When one worries about man's effects on other parts of the environment, you have placed man outside the environment. We are an integral part of the environment. What we do to build a better life for ourselves cannot help but affect other species in both good and bad ways. Only someone who considers man a sort of God who is outside the environment looking in would condemn humans for trying to improve their lives.

Posted by: Jimmy J. at July 1, 2013 4:51 PM

@Jimmy J. An astute observation, sir. Way beyond the norm. The narcissist who is blind to his own flaw is insufferable.

Posted by: Anon at July 2, 2013 5:09 AM

Let's all have a moment of well-lighted silence for Ira Einhorn...


Posted by: Rob De Witt at April 22, 2017 5:02 PM

Know what Ira had for breakfast this morning?
The same thing he had for supper tonight.
The main course was a radiator hose.

Posted by: ghostsniper at April 22, 2017 7:42 PM

The neo-religion of rightist lifestyle has polluted the ostensibly conservative movement, such as it is, more than in its past. I note Jimmy J's incoherent fallacy as this thread's example of it.

Of course Fletcher Christian is right and probably, like me, remembers when conservationism was standard practice, long before the right let the left co-opt it, rename it 'environmentalism', and induce that same feckless right into shunning the whole notion out of spite. Today lifestyle signalling around righteous vegan-hatred and the witchcraft of electric cars and solar power is the right's political religion, or part of it.

This is to rightism what all the left's psycho beliefs are to it. It's dumb, naturally, but sometimes these odd tributaries have to form in order to be surveyed and staunched.

Of course man is a terrible master. ALways has been. That realization permeates conservatism - and traditional western belief - elsewhere so one wonders why it suddenly cannot where stewardship or conservation go.

But the new right, being merely ostensible and evidently unequipped to define and then hold the ideology it purports to advertise, has a number of these overt, illogical contradictions to its credit.

Rightists straddle the globe with the great military confidence that comes of evaporating monetarism but express some odd pride that they, in their humility, can't prevent elephants or tigers disappearing forever.

Posted by: Ten at April 23, 2017 2:58 PM