Knowing Your Place
“Even on the most exalted throne in the world we are only sitting on our own bottom.” – Michel de Montaigne
There’s a tiny house wren that acts like it owns the place, and carries on about it when I have the audacity to linger near her nest. I understand and concede the space. There will be a time soon enough when the space won’t be as important to her and her young and I can linger there again. We all have our place in this world. Here and now, this is hers.
Coexisting with others offers humility. I’m tolerant of the wren and the cardinal who nests in the shrub out front that’s in need of a trim. Far less tolerant of the chipmunks who tunnel under the hard won ground I’ve toiled with, or the hornets who wish to reside in the grill or the weep holes for the windows. But all of them are telling me that we’re just bit players in the game, just like they are. Eventually we’ll move on one way or the other, just as they do. So how do you behave while we’re all sitting here in the same place?
From the beginning Americans have acted like we own the place, moving in and sweeping aside those we wouldn’t coexist with. I heard a great analogy for this on Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, where we might get a little freaked out about a spider that may or may not be dangerous. If we know for sure it’s not going to harm us we might gently sweep it outside. But if there’s any doubt about it’s venomous nature we’d kill it in a second. Such was the fate for the Native Americans as Europeans settled North and South America. In the early stages of King Philip’s War peaceful “Indians” were rounded up and shipped to islands in Boston Harbor, just in case. Eventually those same people would be used to help end that war. Look at any war and you’ll see a similar level of suspicion of who might be peaceful and who might be venomous. Russians rounding up people of German descent and sending them to Siberia, Americans rounding up people of Japanese descent and sticking them in internment camps in the west, the English rounding up the Scots and Irish and kicking them out of first one place, then another. When in doubt, evict or destroy.
The beautiful thing about America is that we’re a country designed under the rule of law, not the rule of a king or tyrant. Checks and balances exist to ensure that those in power don’t abuse their power. That’s being tested like never before in American history, ironically by a guy sitting on his own bottom tapping away unchecked on Twitter. For all the abuse and fixing of the system going on by those in “leadership” positions, nature has a way of balancing things out. First, that pesky rule of law provided delay tactics to slow the spread of tyrannical tendencies. Then a swing of the House of Representatives as Americans reacted to the wave of indignities perpetrated on the country. And then the tsunami of a pandemic with the associated economic gut punch and a massive reaction to social injustice reared up to test the leader, who is showing he’s not up to the task. But many Americans are showing that they’ll coexist with a big scary spider only until they feel that it represents a danger to all of us. Time will tell, but I’m generally optimistic about humanity and my fellow voters. They might not have been paying enough attention four years ago, but surely they are now.
Ultimately, we all need to get our own houses in order so we can focus on the more pressing global concerns like climate change. Mother Nature is peacefully coexisting with us for the moment, but she’s showing her irritation. We might think we’re perched at the top of the food chain on our exalted throne, but we’re just bit players in the timeless cycle of history. It would be good to show a little more humility. We’re all in this place in time together, maybe for a reason, and ought to embrace our role and get to work.
Optimism and action by voting (for by investing your time, learning the best candidate, and not who you think might win – there is a large distinction here), are best placed efforts now. Let’s also be careful that the wren’s right to choose her nesting spot (metaphorically her right to vote) is not taken away. We need to take this threat seriously.