Epiphany: a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace experience.
In her seminal work, This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein argues that the massive challenge we face in responding to the threat of global climate change is just too big for our capitalist system that claims to be able to conjure good from greed. In my March 20 Activist post What’s It All About? I argue that the problem lies much deeper than just the economic mechanisms of capitalism; the core issue we must now face is the concept that underscores capitalism—that all of nature—all the world is rightfully ours to consume and anything that reduces that right is stealing from us. If we are to survive—or hopefully—thrive, we must see the world through a fundamentally different lens. We must begin to open our eyes and ears to the idea that all the world and all its living organisms are not ours by some God-given right. And we have a place in the web of life but we cannot CANNOT take it all and have a living world left. But things are happening fast and furious. It seems that the Panama Papers have made it abundantly clear that the whole capitalist right to take all applies not just to our relation to nature but our relation to everything— including, especially, our relations to other human beings. It seems the canker worm of our destructive greed has eaten its way to the very heart of our existence.
As just one example of how completely out of whack our “just for a few” economic system is consider the absurdity of the Harper Conservatives spending millions of extra tax dollars to get the CRA to try to crush charities that do things like speak out for the right to die with dignity or the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or the need to find solutions to homelessness, all the while standing dumb before the massive tax fraud by the wealthy that is sucking dry the resources we need in order to confront the many real problems that confront us. The Conservatives knew; of course they knew. It isn’t news that the world is awash in tax havens that hide money from the tax man and in the crooked companies that openly advertise their prowess in conveniently dreaming up schemes like the KPMG—Canada’s largest, most widely used accounting firm—scheme that created tax haven shell companies the very wealthy could “gift” with billions of dollars with the assurance that these shells would generously return the “gift” tax free! It’s no secret-it is trumpeted from the hill top– about Panama and Virgin Islands and Wyoming and Nevada and Singapore. What was once a secret lost in the fog of class interest rhetoric, it’s now a blatantly obvious fact that no one can go on ignoring. The whole system is a gigantic farce designed gut the common good in the interests of the 1%.
In future posts I want to talk with you about where we want to go, but before moving on I would like to share a story. I believe that stories sometimes tell us really deep truths that we just can’t or don’t grasp through discursive thought. Stories foster understanding that can be unique to each listener and still arrive at as truth that is relevant to all. Stories are more about understanding relationships than facts.
This is a story about change and perspective. It is my story from a very long time ago, my metaphorical reflections on what is valuable/ what should be the underlying goal of our political economy that I share with you now,
It is now many years—many more than you can count on all your fingers and toes–since I crawled down between rows of boxcars so hot under the sun that even the metal seemed to be vaporizing in undulating waves of heat. For the sake of my education, I indentured myself to the Southern Pacific Railroad for a summer to switch boxcars (make up trains) in the sprawling rail yards of Roseville, California. Though the vast sorting yards of Houston, Texas were already under construction many of the old time railroaders still boasted proudly that they worked in the largest rail yard west of the Mississippi River. To a young enthusiastic college student, restless after a year of sitting before a desk messed with stacks of half-done papers, many of the jobs at the yards seemed more like a day off for sports than any serious undertaking. But, as the summer wore on and the relentless sun burned ever more fiercely I began to wonder if I had not been hired as the guinea pig in some fiendish experiment.
Perhaps some brooding extra terrestrial force needed to know how high to turn the fires of hell before even the most hardened mortals would crack. To the heat, which could boil the blood and stifle the spirit, was added the wailing/screeching sound of metal drawn against metal as trainloads of boxcars were dropped over “the hump”.
After a seasoned railroader gives up hearing for the misery of such sounds he is still not set free of its screeching. The sound sneaks in through his flesh and rattles his being by setting up a resonance in his bones. Add to this again the confusion of a sea of trains arriving, departing, making up, and breaking apart, and it is little wonder that accidents are accepted as routine, and men seek relief in icy spirits which numb the senses.
One day I was called to work unexpectedly. A switch had been left carelessly open and an eastbound freight of fruit and chickens had jumped the track and collided with a westbound freight of scrap aluminum. Extra “herders” were needed to try to get as many trains through the open tracks as possible. When I arrived many of the chickens were still squawking. Bananas, cantaloupes, tomatoes, and scrap aluminum were all mixed. Out of that odorous mess great ribbons of steel railway track twisted up toward the sky. Boxcars lay on their sides everywhere. Out of the middle there was an occasional crane, its boom lifted high, already trying to separate some of the pieces. My job was to run before the arriving and departing trains, madly throwing switches, finding the few tracks which remained open.
At noon I sought out a “herder’s shanty” as far from the mess as possible. There I heard an interesting tale going around among the switchmen. Apparently, when the West bound freight was sideswiped, the front end of the train was far enough past the switch that the “lead units” (engines) remained standing. However, under the pressure of the collision the rail itself had been forced forward under the train and then bowed like a roller-coaster track in front of the engines. The hogger (engineer), confused by the din of the collision, became wholly disoriented. When railway officials climbed into the cab to see how he was doing they found him clutching the throttle and concentrating on the track ahead. Eventually he recognized the presence of the officials and looking up without breaking his concentration he calmly reassured them, “If I can just get over this little hump I think we’ll be all right.”
These many years later I sit before my desk on a sunny Vancouver Island day. I look back across the years and a thousand miles to the south. The sun is not so awesome, and I chuckle at the antics of a somewhat intoxicated hogger whose job was spared by an understanding yardmaster. However, I’m in the middle of another mess which I am sure will not be straightened out as easily the tangle in front of the Roseville yard offices. And our current tangle has just about everybody squawking. The whole thing is daily made worse by the pervading philosophy-if we can just get over this little hump, everything will be fine. Some say a small surcharge on carbon will solve our problems. Others feel we should give tax breaks to the rich so they can afford to be generous to the poor. Still others suggest that if the taxpayer would pick up the tab for a few more blundering banks and corporations we could return to a vibrant economy. Some say a few more regulations will solve the massive tax avoidance schemes that are bankrupting society. Few seem to be able to see clearly enough through all the self serving rhetorical garbage and twisted political philosophies to recognize the track is out. It’s time to get down and have a good look around.
The solution is not a more pervasive carbon tax or throwing more slop in the corporate trough. The problem is persistent throughout society. We have come to the end of a rainbow only to watch a pipe dream go up in smoke. Some still believe if we keep our foot on the gas a little longer we’ll be over the hump and out of the slump, but that only races the wheels; consuming energy without doing, anything about cleaning up the mess. Many, however, are now realizing that the illusion of unbridled, forever expanding demand has been utterly shattered as a possible end and thoroughly discredited as a means. The goods we thought would make us happy have buried any true us beneath the weight of having to care for them. The machines we made to do our slave labour have enslaved us.
Three thousand years ago the ancient mystics of India said, “Thinking of sense objects, a person becomes attached thereto. From attachments longing and from longing anger is born. From anger arises delusion; from delusion, loss of memory is caused. From loss of memory, the discriminative faculty is ruined, and from the ruin of discrimination, he perishes.” Today, in our quantifying age, we would say the same thing more precisely though less eloquently; “In a consumer society the rate of increase of demand will always outstrip supply even though the results are inevitably disastrous.”
With our time saving machine we sought to create time, but in the mad rush to construct the machine we have killed our ability to perceive of time as anything other than the inane intermeshing of metallic parts. And whether we perish by the extinction of environmental disasters or whether we perish only symbolically because the inner light of our creative, spiritual selves that guided us on our long journey away from the ape flickers and goes out, it matters little-we perish.
In the billiard ball world of the eighteenth century it was easy enough to believe in the magic of the dawning mechanical age. Between humanity and material objects there was some preternatural force of attraction. Some of the most ardent prophets of the new age proclaimed this humanity/material glue to be as fundamental a law of the universe as the newly discovered gravity. But for humanity gravity had a hitch, John Locke argued. Men attracted not mass but value. And value only existed under the transforming power of man’s labour, or more importantly-by extension-of technology. “Land (and we can safely include all of nature) that is left wholly to nature… is called as indeed it is, waste.” So the fetters to greed were unleashed and humanity’s rampage through the natural world began as we recast our image in the likeness of a garberator.
All this megalomanic philosophy sounded convincing in the 1700s. But we have been on this track long enough now to have a lot better idea where it is actually going-rush hour madness, Chernobyl, Love Canal, ashen skies, and fouled waters. Instead of turning waste to value we have succeeded in turning value to waste-mountains of unmanageable waste. The “fundamental” law of Locke has been thoroughly refuted, and we are left with the axiom of Dr. Bruce Fraser, hauntingly reminiscent of the words of the ancient Indian mystics, Humanity’s inability to let things be may be Earth’s last comment on an arrogant species.”
It’s a good thing, I believe, this mess we’re in-this derailing of our ambitions, the staggering governmental deficits, the intolerable unemployment, the presaging appearance of environmental disasters. When you’re on a runaway engine and the track leads directly into the abyss a derailment can be a very welcome event as long as you take the opportunity to get down and have a good look at where you’re bound. The problem is where do we go from here. Mesmerized by the somnolently miasmatic rationales of the passing age must we succumb to the hypnotic old adage, “You can’t go back,” and lumber on into the abysm beyond?
Having a rather skewed sense of direction, I have often followed my specious nose to the edge of a precipice. I stand for a moment admiring the grand but dangerous view ahead then turn back-steadfastly thankful there is no stampede to carry me forward. I’m not ready for the abyss yet. Life is still invigorating to me. I have sunsets to see, trails to walk, the delicate beauty of a spring flower still awakens a deep satisfaction with life. Perhaps another day I’ll return to the cliff, decrepitation in my bones; the soft beauty of the flower will no longer stir so brightly the numinous fires of life, and I will step forward into the night. No it’s not the end I complain of here. The end will surely come to the individual, to societies, to species, and-indeed-there must come an end to Earth. Beyond that there is only wild speculation as to whether the universe will end or merely pulse on forever the myriad faces of the restless but Unchanging One. Or, perhaps time itself is merely a small ripple in a vast sea of silence that will once again engulf all of this ephemeral existence. It’s this mad rush to such a sudden and inappropriate end that seems so unbearably insensible.
For two hundred million years the giant reptiles roamed the earth and gave form and meaning to life. Plant an animal, spore and egg, the many forms of life defined themselves in relation to the reptiles. But the changing environment ruled a reshuffling of the cards. Their era came to an end; nothing needed to be done. The future presented itself and an age ended. Compared to the long ages given to the reptiles, the days of humanity have a long way to go. We may reset the track and dash off the stage of life prematurely, but the pages of human history are still open, like a book half-written.
Bacon, Locke, Adams mesmerized by the paradigms of the mechanical age, dismissed the wisdom of the mystics as frivolous patter, “Give me extension and motion, and I will construct the universe,” Descartes pompously proclaimed-and there’d be no place for the naive ethers or essences of the mystics. But, looking out from the tangle today, it seems more likely the materialists who mistook the form for the content, the shell for the source. Today we can easily guess that if we could put a television in every room and a car dealership in every yard, the human soul would cry out all the louder, “Is this all?! Where is that something that will, at last, satisfy my inner longing?” The materialists scoffed at the thoughts of the mystics because “the dreamers” failed to confine, define, or most importantly, to rearrange nature. What they sought-the materialists stubbornly believed could never exist-an inner code, a primordial, archetypal image of what the human soul or essence was to be. So we stumble on not knowing ourselves let alone the vast web of life in which we are inextricably enmeshed.
While the materialist looked on the outer shell and saw the whirling, gravitating patterns of an insensitive mechanical world, the mystics pried into the fleshy inner world of human existence and found at the core, kept hidden, but carried and cared for, a pearl of existence. For them, humanity –in its innermost–is a looker not a plunderer. Nature in its constant drive to fill all existence with its many and varied forms chose to fill the air with the paean song of the birds, and the grace of their flight. The waters she filled with the many shaped, coloured, lifestyled forms of the fish. To the land belonged the beauty of the flowering plants along with the speed and dexterous agility of the mammal. And still there was room for something more so to humanity was given the realm of self-reflective consciousness to explore, to hunger after an embracing pattern, to colour with a myriad forms, to know and love; to let be.
One late night shift I was sent out to shunt a switch engine in and out of the repair tracks just off the long “horn” that ran around the main part of the yard. A light steady rain fell all day so even the oil soaked gravels of the repair yards smelled more of the relaxed rejuvenating smell of a summer rain than the usually effusive pungent odors of diesel and creosote mixed. Work in the repair tracks is generally considered a “gold bricking” job on the railroad as there is none of the hectic pressures of marshaling the incoming and outgoing freights in the main yards. On this particular night I was standing by a switch into one of the storage tracks when I heard the panicking voice of the yardmaster on the squawk box (radios weren’t allowed then so these stand pipes with hard to understand squawky speakers were dotted all over the yards). “Head end, 709! Headend, 709!” He called frantically. I rushed over to push the speak button and ball back at him. “Are you guys still using the horn lead? Well, duck into the spur and line all the switches for the lead; quick!” Obviously relieved, he took a moment to explain. “I’ve got a heavy drag, 100 potash loads, already moving around the horn, and with that kind of weight we couldn’t stop it now even if we wanted to. Once moving, a train like that’ll make it a mile out of town on its side.”
I flashed my lantern to the foreman in a hurriedly improvised combination of railway signals for “Stop, go like hell, two, tie up!” which he correctly interpreted as “You better get those two cabs off the lead in a big hurry.” After grabbing the ailing cabs and dashing into the repair spur there was just enough time to break open the coffee before the roving light of the heavy Reno bound drag began to appear around the most distant arch of the horn. It was heavy. You could hear that. A normal freight strains against the load as it slowly eases out of town gaining speed for the mainline run. But, amid the straining, the engines still hum a gentle almost restful drone that says everything’s ok. “It’s just us pulling out of town on our regular run.” But a truly heavy drag is entirely different. With the heavy trains you can almost see the head of the engines bowed low as they strain to shoulder the load. The draw bars stretch tight with tension filling the air around with an uneasy foreboding. Instead of the gentle continuous hum there is the long uneven shuddering as the ground itself trembles beneath the load then rests uneasily while the engines draw in a strenuous gasp of strength before shuddering again like some mighty dragon straining to draw all of Hades into its lair.
Just as the lead engines drew alongside our spur I looked for a panic stricken moment down the lead and saw the yellow target of a switch lined for the siding. I saw the steel buckling. I saw the potash hoppers skidding on their sides, spilling their contents, catapulting over each other in the twisting, crumpling mess. I saw my own dismembered body an insignificant dot in the scrambled wreckage. But the engines went straining by undisturbed. From such an obtuse angle it’s hard to tell which way a switch is actually lined. Feeling deeply relaxed, I stood to watch the seemingly endless row of hoppers roll by. The long ribbon of steel bent and rebounded beneath the weight of the passing wheels, and each time the wheels struck a joint in the rail there was the familiar click quickening to a rising tempo as the train picked up speed. With the speed, tension on the drawbars eased and the cars rolled by in soporific regularity. For a moment I stood in awe with the materialists at what human ingenuity had done. So much power, so much control. Nature itself could be remade to suit the fancy of the naked, plains ape. Then I saw the car stalled at the crossing and the abyss waiting beyond. The words of the yardmaster were still warm in my ear, “We couldn’t stop it now-even if we wanted to.” I heard the air run out suddenly seizing the brakes. I saw the hardened steel wheels grind flat. I stood by watching an age and the intentions of human conquest skidding helplessly into the dark night.
Seventy million years ago in the dusky evening of the late Mesozoic Era the giant reptiles still bathed in the shallow seas and satisfied their tremendous appetites on the verdant growth of warm primordial swamps. 225 million years after the small clumsy thycodont made its first tenuous entrance into the spore bearing fern and naked-seeded forests of the early Triassic period, reptiles were the absolute masters of a way of life and age. The tiny thycodont still trembling in the margins of the forest was but a small atavistic vestige of the humble beginnings of an age of giants. The reptiles had become masters of the massive, specialists in size and armour. For 200 million years this strategy had secured for them the front seat in the theatre of life, but the scene was changing. The shallow continental seas retreated, the warm swamp lands dried. Except for the relict conifers, the archaic gymnosperms withdrew before the exploding forms of the flowering plants. Heavy sheets of ice began moving out form the poles in the first of a long series of glacial and interglacial periods. The curtains fell on an age leaving only a few bones and vestigial reminders of the once mighty Age of Reptiles. There were no brakes to apply, no alternative paths to tread. These giant reptiles had become specialists in an age that was passing. The weight of 225 million years of specialization carried them inexorably forward into the dark night of extinction. It was a violent end to an era– this changing of the sets. Some claim all terrestrial animals over nine kilograms died in the violent upheavals of the incipient hours of our Cenozoic Era.
The candle of life flickered and grew dim but didn’t go out. In the changing forest the arboreal tree shrew ran along the branches feeding on the ubiquitous insects that suffered little from the convulsions of the passing age. Occasionally he ran down a trunk to feast on an unguarded egg of one of the moribund reptiles, but his life remained in the trees- an insignificant speck of life throughout the long ages of the Mesozoic. Having branched from the vertebrate tree in the Triassic Period of the first dinosaurs, this tiny insectivore was not just a miniscular vestige of the evanescent giants. He didn’t lie in the sun and draw warmth from an indifferent and increasingly inhospitable environment. He carried in his cells a secret inner fire that would warm him in the cold nights ahead. He was warm blooded, and the inner fire did more than just warm, his nights; it quickened his pace so he escaped more often from, the claws of the hungry meat eaters. The respiring cells fueled his thoughts with ideas that could never occur to his sluggish, desuetude reptilian ancestors. While some of the reptiles, progenitors to the birds, may have developed a homoeothermic inner fire, what-more than anything else-set the shrew apart and propelled his progeny into the spotlight of the Cenozoic was it kept its vulnerable embryo wrapped in a warm, safe internal pouch until giving birth to live young that nursed strength and succor from the breast of the mother. In the warm maternal bond developing between the mother and the nursing young was the beginning of a way of life that would be the harbinger of a new age.
Not that the new age was contained in the living codes of the humble tree shrew like the mighty oak is contained in the tiny seed. Life in its many changing forms is not so direct as the seed. But, nonetheless, in the small shrew running in the shadows of a passing age there was already the embryonic foreboding of what was to be. No longer would life be impelled and measured by the Mesozoic imperative to grow large or come well protected.
In the late hours of the Cretaceous Period the warm swamps dried, the vast, shallow continental seas withdrew from the land, the air turned chill; the paradigm of the new age required a smaller body with a larger brain, it demanded that one stay alert and carry an inner warmth, the image of an embracing mother loomed ever larger in the minds of the burgeoning mammals. Some seventy million years later the naked ape would stand before his religious shrines in the deepest awe of values he believed were passed from the heavens and given only to him, but already in the respiring brain of the tiny shrew at this mother’s breast a primordial archetype was forming which, extended across the years, was not so different from the hallowed Mother. Humanity might one day turn again to the Mesozoic ethos of size and armour, but that was not the future implied by the shrew and the shrine.
65 million years after the last dinosaur, after the passing of four long ages of ice, the arrogant philosophies of a few overweening hominids ignored the maternal image and professed to have discovered a more fundamental law of nature. Grow large, accumulate mass they said, seal in your self-interest and prepare to defend your accumulations against the detached, indifferent, consuming world of the other. The visions of the Buddha or Christ were merely the hankerings of a primitive past, they believed. A full century would pass after the pompous philosophies of Bacon and Descartes before enough of the fossilized bones of the archaic giant reptiles would be found to show there was hardly a less fitting or tried and failed ethic for the living world than enormity. Massiveness like the age of reptiles, like the brooding, over-weight train ran irresistibly on into the dark. To the age of the mammal was given the sign of the mother.
This developing archetype of the mother was the unique imperative of the age of mammals. And I believe that if the track is out and we have drawn so close to the abyss, it is because we have passed our dreams to those who have forgotten the mother. While the transition away from the mother image may have roots going back to the clannish squabbling of various competing social forces, the archetype of maternal providence was most deeply buried or replaced in the wee hours of the material dawn. To grow large to accumulate wealth vastly beyond need, to live by the territorial imperative, were claimed by the materialists to be the future toward which this billiard ball world of competition without care, entirely disconnected from any sense of a numinous antecedent, without the mother was marching. Even now with the track out they point ahead with mechanical fingers and say we can’t go back. But, what is “back”? In the small brain of the ancient reptile the colossus was the future and the measure of existence, but that age has passed. We are well into the age of the mammals and, despite the direction our overweight ship of state may have been heading, the new image is of the mother. The material age is only a side track to which we have come to an end. Unlike the dinosaur we needn’t yet step forward into the night. There is still time to rediscover the mother image, to find a connectedness, rather than roll like inane billiard balls into the dark pockets of time believing we can consume the earth without destroying ourselves.
The Roseville yards are a long, twisting, commingling affair built by accretion as the yards slowly became a major east/west and north/south crossing of the roads. With the intertwining directions came the need for ever larger storage and sorting yards. The fruit and vegetable yards, once the disquieting troop yards, have become only a distant after thought; still they have their intertwining arteries running into and out of the main traffic flows. The old East end yard with its disused, antiquated passenger station wraps like a defensive crescent around the anachronistic ice plant. Beyond the ice plant the piggy back ramps commingle with this confusing muddle of tracks. Old spur lines, cross tracks, and remnants of the old mainline thread their way through the poorly thought tangle. Above all this and to the west are the new bowl shaped catching yards for cars dropped over the labour saving, electrically switched “hump” Even these new yards have their leads running down into a bewildering maze in front of the yard offices.
All of this might have worked well enough in the huffing-puffing but sluggish day of the steam locomotive when 30 car drags laboured over the mountain passes beneath a blanket of cinder and ash. But, in the grinding powerful age of the diesel locomotive, a single train might consist of 120 cars stretching out along the track for nearly two miles. To the problem of space is added the even more difficult problem of communication. In the mid sixties radio communication had not yet come to the Roseville yard so the trains of the diesel had to be made with the hand signals of the steam generation. Making such long serpentine trains was far too great a task for the regular three man yard crew, so the SP kept a couple of “herders” in the yard office switchmen’s shanty just for passing signals. These extra hand jobs almost always went to the junior employees as few of the “Whiskers” had any inclination to spend the day climbing up and down the sides of boxcars, or stand on the swaying catwalks on the top of the boxcars in the glaring sun, straining to see a distant signal being passed through the undulating waves of heat. As a young college student I regarded the signal herder jobs as among the best. Standing out from the monotonous tedium of making endless rows of trains, the herder jobs had an air of adventure and enthusiasm about them. Except for the prying eyes of the yard office towers I would have gladly stood naked on the rocking boxcars riding like a wild eyed cowboy on the fiery daemons of Hades. Also, there was something deeply awing about these long drags stretching all the way from the western hump-yard bowls down through the centre yards and out into the east end. At times one seemed to move through a turbulent sea of metal. Rows of metal cars moved west and east on either side. Occasionally a long freight on one of the outside tracks would crossover to a mainline spur and diverge from the pack, still the spreading sea of boxcars moved in countercurrents all around so one could never be sure by looking whether his own drag was moving east to west or moving at all for that matter. To judge absolute motion one had to crawl to the edge of the catwalk and peer down between the menacing tracks to see which way the ties were disappearing beneath the car.
Except for the pigeons that left their long white streaks down the sides of the ice plant, there was absolutely no sign of any nonhuman organic life-no trees, no blade of grass, not even the ubiquitous rats managed to venture out into the main part of the oil soaked, lifeless centre yards. Seemingly all this metal, this burgeoning machine age had, at last, come to its own. Only an occasional human left here or there to serve the impatient, restless ethos of a mechanical world. Like the coursing blood of a giant mechanical monster the cars full of goods flowed on and on. The veritable dream of the early industrialists, the yards seemed the epitome of the material paragon. The shared vision of Adams, Locke, and Bacon became corporealized as a living wraith; knowledge became utility; the meaning of experience yielded to the “productive” work of transforming nature into a mechanical ideal. The yards, the trains, the ideas seemed to move of their own internal inertia, to flow on of their own reasons-reasons so erudite, so self contained, so utterly beyond question; the age of the mammal passed; the age of the machine arrived. The future lay with the machine.
For a season I enjoyed the work, the sense of being so close to the heartbeat of a great industrial nation. But, at times, it troubled me deeply, standing amidst a flood tide of moving metal, looking out on a moving but lifeless metallic sea. It troubled me most when, at a low angle, the sun burned through the haze only bright enough to enhance the quivering waves of heat. In the suffocating heat one looked forward and back and could find neither head nor tail of it all. For a few terrifying moments one could feel a terrible foreboding remembrance of man’s most feared science fiction nightmare-the machine had, indeed, come to life. The undulating waves of heat were merely the long breath of metallic sentience. The machine would be the ultimate servant of humanity; we were assured two centuries earlier. But, now, standing on the boxcar like Gulliver on his travels, the machine seemed to breathe a fiery longing to be master itself. Must it finally come to this, that humankind should be the yahoo and serve the machine in blithe, squalid servility? Such terrifying thoughts came not just on boxcars, but, also, sitting in the herder shanties, having my first real contact with the world of men, I often found myself wondering at the meaning hidden not so well between the lines of the droning conversations-the railway this, the railway that, the union wage settlements, seniority problems, the car broken down, a new boat purchased. Only occasionally among the summer students did one hear anything of a historical perspective, the natural world didn’t exist outside the boundaries of a few trying days spent in a well-managed campground. These men seemed more attached to the coursing veins of industrial life than water leeches to the flesh-they had no life outside of it. Nothing existed outside the railroad and the consumer items that flowed from it.