Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Are Humans a “Fire Species?”

The jack pine must be destroyed by fire to reproduce.Photo source: Global Forrest Science

At today’s Men’s Linguistic Society meeting, we focused on another Howard Thurman sermon. This one compared the human spirit to the jack pine of the norther US and Canada. The jack pine is a fire species. It grows in dense stands that are demolished by forest fires. But the fire prepares the soil for a new stand and releases the seeds from the cones. The seeds remain dormant but viable in the cones for years, waiting on a catastrophic fire to release and activate them.

Chuck’s question was, “Will the current economic crisis act as a catalyst to bring about significant improvements in the economic system and prepare the soil for a new stand of sustainable prosperity?” We were divided in our opinions. Some were optimistic, others cynical. I sat firmly on the fence.

I believe we will devise new safeguards for the economy to prevent this crisis from recurring from the same causes. If we survive, the economy will be leaner and stronger, and, perhaps, it will be driven by something other than consumption, which (like the disease) eventually consumes its host.

On the other hand, I also believe that humans cannot devise a system that humans cannot corrupt. As Benjamin Franklin said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” The price of economic security is balancing between freedom and regulation. Too much of either is a dangerous thing.

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