Sunday, June 14, 2015

Bible. Babel. Babble. Bubble?

The whole world had the same language and the same words. When they were migrating from the east, they came to a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us mold bricks and harden them with fire.” They used bricks for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.”

The LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the people had built. Then the LORD said: If now, while they are one people and all have the same language, they have started to do this, nothing they presume to do will be out of their reach. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that no one will understand the speech of another. So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.

That is why it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the speech of all the world. From there the LORD scattered them over all the earth.

                                                *           *           *

I sometimes feel that this little story from Genesis describes the current state of global decision-making better than most other accounts. Secular humanist readers may enjoy the fact that God, or the LORD, is clearly the villain here: jealous, malicious, the source of much trouble. Cynics might wish to equate the LORD of the story with the giant oil corporations, the Koch brothers and their hired deniers, or perhaps the global one-percent. But the enterprise itself--purged of moral censure (which doesn't show up much in the original text)--is what might interest us now: how to find a common language in which to engage all the scattered peoples of the earth in a shared project of exceptional scope.

First we have to undo God's spiteful punishment of our ancestors' hubris. We have to recover our sense of commonality, our shared language. And then we have to cooperate in the construction of something huge: a new, renewable, clean energy system, a biosphere redesigned around principles of equilibrium, sustainability, and equity. Can we reverse 10,000 years of violent competition, exploitation, ecological degradation? Or is the UNFCCC process, the hope for a sustainable agreement in Paris and beyond, just a dream, a bubble? Are we fated to live out our days in a post-Babel world?

No comments:

Post a Comment