Posted by: atowhee | September 25, 2020


“I am pessimistic about the human race because it is too ingenious for its own good.  Our approach to nature is to beat it into submission.  We would stand a better chance of survival if we accommodated ourselves to this planet and viewed it appreciatively  instead of skeptically and dictatorially.” 
–E. B. White, from  ‘A Winter Diary’, (Jan. 1941), collected in One Man’s Meat (1942).

So almost eighty years ago, this wise and soft-spoken, thoughtful and kindly man had sized up our species and seen how we could rush head-long into extinction. This was BEFORE any atomic bomb had been built and publicly acknowledged. Long before Rachel Carson helped us realize how badly we could poison life on earth. The quote, above, not incidentally, was used to open Carson’s master work, Silent Spring. It was published back in 1962, exactly twenty years after White’s musings during the darkest days of World War II.

Thanks to Rachel and those who trusted science back in those days, DDT got banned in 1974 but the chemical industry rolls onward, profitably, now sacrificing bees so neonicotinoids can be distributed, sprayed and keep up quarterly dividends.

It is not just nature our species often tries to beat into submission. It is one another. The abundance of guns and gun violence in much of the Americas, Mideast, parts of Africa, etc. speaks to the need to “dominate.” That is one of the most prevalent war cries of the authoritarian personality type: “dominate”. Seems we’ve heard that recently in the U.S. When I was a kid we had to practice duck and cover (stupidly ineffective, actually) in case of atomic attack. Now kids have to practice hiding from an armed neighbor bent on mass murder. Is this in the nature of human progress?

Out kind will not dominate nature, now or ever. We can pollute, change, manipulate, ignore, exploit and ultimately destroy much or all life, but gravity, magnetism, oxygen, sunlight, granite, sodium chloride, nitrogen, basalt, water with sort variety of dissolved chemicals–all will prevail until the sun goes out. We may work toward the end of all protoplasm, but there will always be some potassium and carbon dioxide as long as there is gravity keeping matter hugged to the bosom of this formerly life-giving planet. E. B. White had no inkling of climate change but his insight into our species’ ability to self-destruct is even more relevant today.


  1. Thank you for this. We are definitely too big for our britches as the saying goes. We are probably around the same age. I totally remember practicing the ducck and cover. What a joke. If you haven’t seen it, watch The Atomic Cafe. Great propaganda film about our ability to survive an atomic attack. Pretty hilarious now.


    • Yes, I graduated high school in the Midwest in 1963, just in time for the stupidity of the Vietnam War …luckier than my parents who lived through two world wars and The Great Depression.

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