During a sunny weekend camping trip near Radium, my wife discovered that she had lost her asthma inhaler and thus had to take it easy on any physically strenuous activities. She continued on her trip untroubled by the implications.
I, on the other hand, was alarmed by the possibility that she could have an attack and perish far from a hospital. To me, she was risking death. To her, it was just an annoying inconvenience.
Then it struck me that her blase attitude towards her lifeline is no different than all the lifelines that sustain me every day. Only a short inventory of my daily survival needs will suffice to illustrate this fact. Without natural gas I would freeze to death in the winter. Without the grocery store I’m not sure how I’d find food to eat. Water, as far as I use it, comes magically from the tap.
Through specialization, our society is able to produce goods and services far more diverse than what any small tribe could do. Thus the engineers and the farmers can feed us freeing us from any manual labour required for survival. I do appreciate that this allows us to spend more time creating other sorts of wonders.
It’s a double-edged sword though. When we don’t have to think about survival, we get caught up in the things that aren’t connected to the disciplines of survival. Instead of living reality, we watch reality on TV. Instead of taking care of the community, we look after ourselves in narrow ways. Instead of asking questions about life, we ignore it and despoil it.
Is individual ignorance the price we pay for a civilization? Or do we need to make sure that the most important aspects of life becomes a shared responsibility? Specialization is a reality for our sophisticated existence and there is no going back. We may have romantic notions of “living off the land” like the naive but spirited man in Into the Wild, but there are few among us that would be able to survive in the wilderness.
So if we can’t go back, then we must go forward and take greater care of this fragile society we’ve created. I am not sure what it means for you. I hardly know what it means for me! But with more heads looking around and asking questions about the things beyond our immediate concern, we might reveal a little more of what it means for all of us.