The Extremes of Humanity
I read the book Alaska by James Michener soon after it was first published back in 1988. It was a wonderful, historical novel that has the same impact today as it did when it was first released. One day soon I will read it again. That says a lot about the novel, since it is over a thousand pages in length.
While many fond memories of the book have faded, there is one scene regarding salmon fishing that has stayed with me all this time. The native people of Alaska lived off the land wisely. Hopefully they still do. What they hunted they used. If they killed a whale they ate the meat, used the blubber, bones and all other parts they could. The same with an elk or a reindeer. From skin to antlers, nearly every part of an animal was used. They killed what they needed. As it should be, right? They fished the rivers to provide for their family and community. They would smoke it often to store up for long winters. Salmon was abundant most years.
Then came those who wanted in on the plenty. Clever businessmen came up with an easy way to harvest the salmon. They built a trap across the width of the river. Every salmon swimming upstream in that particular river would be trapped and scooped up efficiently to be processed for those in the lower forty-eight. That certainly can’t be called fishing.
No thought was given to the natives fishing up river for their family’s survival. If few salmon could get through, what were they to catch? Throughout generations, fishing was part of how they to fed their families, only to have it shut off to them. Then add to that the danger of diminishing the supply of fish. How long could a salmon population last if not allowed to spawn?
The picture of that has come to mind for decades every time I see man take a good thing to an extreme that is eventually turns it bad. Unfortunately–and often—what man intends for good is often very destructive. My mind goes back to the rivers in Alaska each time I see it happen.
Historically you can find hundreds of examples of it I’m sure. Start with the founding of our nation. The premise was to have freedom OF religion. Today it seems more a case of freedom FROM religion. You can argue whether that was the right or wrong decision when our nation was founded, but it’s the truth of our nation’s early days.
In government, the extreme might be a constant these days. Programs that were started to help people, that now can simply create more dependency and more bureaucracy. Political parties urged to find some common ground within their own party, now stick to party lines, unwilling to be out of step by one foot, whether or not it’s best for their voters. Whichever party you side with, you know it’s true.
And how about the media? It was very useful to have news available 24/7, especially when a bad situation was looming. But now it seems that the media controls the message, inundating us with what they believe we should hear, repeatedly every hour. How often I wonder have they used their platform to convince us of a right or wrong, whether it is true or not?
It’s also widespread in society, from the size of our homes to the number of toys, we often go to extremes. You see it widely in science as well. Research began for energy or for medical cures has been turned into weapons, used to kill instead of inspire.
Tolerance is another area of extremes. If you want an example, look at the simple saying, “Merry Christmas.” Whether you believe or not, historically Christmas is based on the birth of Jesus. A few milleniums later, it’s become very commercial as well. It’s celebrated by the majority in many countries. Either way it signifies a time of giving and a time of love. Why would people feel a need object to that? Yet a minority does, and look at the result? Employees are told they can no longer say “Merry Christmas,” forgetting they too have a right to free speech. Tolerance is all to often taken to the opposite extreme.
Now with the majority of people connected online, we see extremes there as well. If you want to see it in action, suggest a new way to make an online income. Within weeks you have thousands of people following the same plan, doing virtually the same thing. It’s odd, because the very way it develops makes it short term or less profitable. In the case of salmon fishing, they might quickly exhaust the supply. With many online ideas the market is flooded the supply and demand in weakened. How many versions of the same product or the same type of program can you have before the market dies out. Somehow, in some ways, that makes me long for days of the past.
I don’t know what the solution is. There are so many of us living on planet earth, all wanting whatever it is we want. What people want others will happily provide. We are used to upgrades, to new and improved, to instant solutions. We demand a lot in our lives. Plus, while we’ve lost much of that independent self-sustaining way of life, the mass suppliers also supply work along with products.
Is there no going back? I’m not sure. You do see more and more people choosing to live ‘smaller’ lives. That is, smaller homes, accumulating less, needing less. You also continue to see a greater number growing their own food so they know it’s organic, cooking from scratch so they know the ingredients, and making an effort to live off the land. Taking care of themselves and their families. It isn’t a lifestyle that isolates either. It’s a way of life that takes less time and effort to support, thus leaving more time and resources to share with others. That sounds idyllic to me, something I would wish for in my own life.
Think about it next time a situation comes up where you see an extreme. Think about it especially any time a new law is presented for a vote. Pay attention to how often what sounds like a good idea becomes the opposite over time, with others overseeing it. Think about it in your own life in the choices you make. Seems like it has to start with the individual taking the first step.