In 1949, the author George R. Stewart wrote Earth Abides, a novel about the death of humanity on the planet. For those who've not read this apocalyptic book, it is worth the time. Although it does give into some of the Modernist style writing of the period, it is, at heart, a genre novel. I mention it because I've always thought the title was clever. With or without life on the planet, the Earth abides.
Of course, there is a plethora of reason why this theme resonates in today's world, most of which I'll not venture upon. Instead, I'll keep to the locus of Earth Abides, and other works of this genre. And what is at the center of these books is the collapse of social structures combined with the return to a "natural" or something that is assumed to be natural state of living. So what in the blue blazes am I writing about here. Let a quote from Earth Abides sum it up:
Now, apparently, he was happier than he had been before, because there was no one to interfere with him and he could merely withdraw and store up around himself all these material goods. He had canned food, sometimes in neat boxes, sometimes in mere piles and heaps of can. But he also had a dozen crates of oranges, more than he could possibly eat before they spoiled He had beans in cellophane bags...
In addition to food he had boxes and boxes of electric light bulbs and radio tubes, a cello (though he could not play), a high pile of one issue of the same magazine, a dozen alarm clocks, and a host of other miscellaneous materials which he had collected, not with any definite idea of use, bu merely for the comfortable feeling of security which came to him from surrounding himself with all kinds of possessions... he was insane.
This really hits at the core of the subject - the world we've created opposing what is "natural." It does this through "owning things," and that many of the things "owned" are human abstractions. But, what I'm aiming at here is somewhat related to the last post. Progress often involves the creation of abstractions that we learn to view as being quite natural. Working 40 hours a week is natural in our society, but there is nothing inherently natural about 40 hours of work. Laboring for money is quite natural to us, but money is an abstraction - an economic system . . . multi-colored paper.
Alas, we arrive at my point. I recently watched a group of senators interviewing folks from the oil industry, asking why the price of oil is so high. As I'm sure most everyone knows, the price of oil has lengthy tentacles, and when the price of crude goes up, the price of many things goes up. That is to say, when more multi-colored paper is required for the oil, more multi-colored paper is required for food. This means people ask for more multi-colored paper from employers, and sometimes even driving to work requires more multi-colored paper than is garnered by the labor. Essentially, multi-colored paper is one of humanity's greatest marvels. We live for it; we die for it; we toil for it; we kill for it. And sometimes, as with a few of the oil executives testifying, we forget how much multi-colored paper we collect from our labor.
And while dreams are inspired by the spiraling shades of paper, and happiness and suffering are brought about by an abundance or a lack of a material of many hues, the world progresses as does human creations - this strange paper being one of the most powerful. Yet, should anything ever occur that halts the existence of humanity, the value, the purpose, the power of mutli-colored paper dies as well. And the Earth abides, and continues on as though money were not natural or even a necessary.