The Utter Relief of Humility

Bird in Flight

There is a passage from Joel Salatin’s book Folks, This Ain’t Normal that moved me this week–exactly why–remains for later. Let’s begin with that quote:

“To have a discussion about normal living, normal ecology, all my readers need to understand how ignorant we’ve become as a culture. With our frame of reference skewed, our perceptions about farming, and our notions of what is environmentally enhancing or not, we approach farming with prejudicial brain damage. As a result, we have…the ignorant notion that cows are belching methane and causing global warming. The scientific studies impugning the cow view her as taking, taking, taking, and not putting anything back…

“Throughout history, the cow has been considered an asset, and even worshiped in some cultures. She is the basis of dowries in nomadic societies, the ultimate currency. Ours must be the first culture in history that demonizes the cow. The cow, perhaps more than anything else, represents civilization. Domesticating this multipurpose beast that can turn lowly grass into meat, milk, power, clothing, cordage, tools, lubricant, cleansers, and roofing materials arguably defined civilized living opportunities. Ecologically, the cow restarts the photosynthetic biomass accumulation process. Pretty important, I’d say,” (20).

What struck me, first, is the idea of a cultural ignorance based on failing to see all sides of an issue. Sure, maybe cows do belch methane into the atmosphere (and a lot of it), and maybe methane does contribute to global warming. Without thinking this all the way through, one is tempted to eliminate the cow as one more source of pollution in the same way that one would seek to reduce the use of the automobile. But here, we are not seeing all ends. What would become of the meat, milk, poser, clothing, cordage, lubricant, cleansers, and roofing materials–not to mention the role of the cow to restart the biomass accumulation process? I never thought of the ways in which the cow adds far more than it subtracts. That realization came as a sort of lifting of the veil, an opening of the eyes, a taste of humility. And I loved it. It made me think of this scene from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, viewed by clicking on the below image:

Frodo and Gandalf

In this scene is the reminder that “even the very wise cannot see all ends.” It reminds one of the axiom that there are two types of people in the world: the fools who think they are wise and the wise who know they are fools. Or, as Socrates put it: “The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” To be reminded of these ideas comes as a breath of fresh air, as a burst of true freedom, and–quite frankly–as such a relief!

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