Comity of Errors

I look out through the windows of my study and the trees are standing as they have for decades. Nuthatches continue their upside-down transit on the big elm, more right side up than we are. We hear about, and observe, seasonal birds abandoning encoded migratory patterns and weathering further north each year, drawn or driven by a warming globe. Anomalous phrases like tar ponds and oil sands are part of daily news reports where they are conjoined with descriptions of hundreds of oil-covered dying ducks, cattle dead from proximity to sour gas, statistics revealing population clusters of certain cancers, vital fresh water sources running parallel in the landscape to vast, open pits of deadly oil by-product sludge. Listening, reading we ask who could have thought that such immediate, and long-term, loss was quid pro quo for a brief and present gain? People are being cast out of long-held jobs. Factories and shops are closing. Houses filled with dreams and plans have to be abandoned and emptied of their families. Former owners, former employees speak of grief, profound disappointment, desperation and then of whatever plans they can make to restore their lives.

For the ideas contained in a book of essays titled *The Death* *of* *Adam*: *Essays* *on**Modern* *Thought* (Picador, New York), first published in 1998 and reissued in 2005, the fine American writer Marilynne Robinson should be lauded as a seer. We find ourselves in a time when certainties are absent; we have no agreed-upon higher authority as final arbiter. It's at this point, Robinson says, where everything might in fact be made of nothing. "We have chosen," she says, "oddly enough, competition and market forces, taking refuge from the wild epic of cosmic ontogeny by hiding our head in a ledger." Simply apprehending, in a kind of learned response, and selecting sound bite-sized ideas we have escaped complexity of thought and seized on the market as the single truth to which we adhere. We've been guided by elite thinkers, Robinson suggests--individuals smarter, wiser than the masses of people who only suffer the effects of their leadership. It may not be the case that the market gods, as she identifies them, have turned on us but that the individuals making the decisions may just not have been good at their work. Her speculation leads to a lament, a tone of loss riding through the book, which is not gratuitous. She writes, "It seems to me that something has passed out of the culture, changing it invisibly and absolutely. Suddenly it seems there are too few uses for words like humor, pleasure, and charm; courage, dignity, and graciousness; learnedness, fair-mindedness, openhandedness; loyalty, respect, and good faith." She asks, "What bargain did we make? What could have appeared for a moment able to compensate us for the loss of these things?"

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