Night Thoughts of a Baffled Humanist


What are we doing here? We may never know. If a solar storm should burn off the peculiar damp that clings to this planet, this would be a very small change—no change at all in cosmic terms, which apparently are based on averages. The universe is lifeless now and will be lifeless then, so negligible is our presence in it. What about us was of interest, if we imagine looking at ourselves in retrospect? That we made civilizations, or that we drove them to the ground, reduced them to rubble? I won’t pretend that this is a real question. We make wealth, and we destroy it. Our wealth is finally neither more nor less than human well-being. There is no necessary hypothesis; there is no value but what we value. The great temptation of money is that it seems to give us tokens, markers, by which things and people can be truly said to succeed or fail. The illusion that value inheres in it has vigorously survived a recent proof of its evanescence, in fact its utter dependency on our faith in its value. It has a placebo effect more predictably than it ought to, seeming to satisfy a need to know how value is discovered, or created, or conveyed, or preserved. It is human nature to want to know this. But, whatever else we might say about human nature, we can say it aligns most inexactly with the universe. In this moment the habit of aggressive fear and the zeal for austerity have become a binary system, each intensifying the force of the other as they become a single phenomenon. In the way of the cosmically accidental, this near-fusion has occurred at a point in time when the merely possible took on the character of the inevitable.

more from Marilynne Robinson at The Nation here.