Apparently, the enjoyment of million year-old mountain ranges is an indulgence for the airy-fairy crowd, whereas the "necessity" of cyber-porn and bug zappers and floodlit lawn ornaments is a problem to be engaged by serious people.
Controversies clarify our values. Controversies show us, sometimes in embarrassing ways, what we hold most dear.
As an example, one of the more interesting clarifications that has come from the ongoing wind tower debate is the way in which it has forced us to decide what counts for a serious need and what counts for mere frivolity.
For example, when a man declares that he loves the sight of an unspoiled mountain ridge, that he needs its inspiration to feel at home in the world, he tends to come off (perhaps even to himself) as something of a flake. We all like mountains, of course, and they’re nice enough to look at, but how much weight can we afford to give to such “aesthetic” concerns when “vital issues of energy” hang in the balance! In contrast, if another man declares that he needs additional electricity in order to have his television on for eight hours a day or to email digital photos of his last summer vacation (including some wonderful shots of the Smokey Mountains) to all 256 people on his electronic address list (not merely the ten who will actually bother to open the document or the three who will actually want to), he comes off as a practical, worldly-wise fellow with his feet planted firmly on the ground.
Apparently, the enjoyment of million year-old mountain ranges is an indulgence for the airy-fairy crowd, whereas the “necessity” of cyber-porn and bug zappers and floodlit lawn ornaments is a problem to be engaged by serious people.
Our ancestors took a different view. Wherever they found mountains, they tended to regard them as both sacred and necessary. Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed did some of their best work there. Historians have even suggested that the peoples of Mesopotamia built ziggurats to make up for their mountain-deprived terrain. They found it hard to be properly religious without some higher elevation.
Presumably these people had “practical” concerns just like us – they farmed, traded, and levied taxes – but they also felt a need to “lift up their eyes unto the hills,” to be humbled and refreshed by something older and grander than they were.
Generations of Vermonters have felt that same need. Calvin Coolidge, not a man given to gush (it was he who said, “The business of America is business”), spoke with memorable affection of “the loving breast of our everlasting hills.” He meant, of course, the hills of Vermont. To be fair, there was no television in President Coolidge’s day, so we can excuse him for not knowing any better, but still, that’s quite a lyrical statement from so stolid a man.
Now it seems that our everlasting hills (or loving breasts, if you prefer) are to be affixed with giant propellers. (A scene from “The Graduate” comes to mind.) This will be done in the name of seriousness and high purpose, of “energy” and “need” (albeit the needs of Washington Electric Coop and the corporate balance sheet), but one wonders what effect it will have on our own seriousness and on that of our children to lift up our eyes unto the hills only to behold – what? The subordination of primal, human awe to the worship of novelty and waste.
It will amount to a silly effect in a silly cause, and we are a most silly people if we allow it to happen.
Garret Keizer is an author who lives in the Northeast Kingdom. His latest book is “Help: The Original Human Dilemma.”
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