In the final chapters of The Science of Discworld, turns out that we’re pretty special after all. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
I mentioned this at least a couple times, but here, at the end of reading this book, it seems fitting that I revisit something from my childhood. The odds that humans evolved into what we are today was long used as a means to indoctrinate me to believe a whole lot of other things. And until much later in my life, I did not have the means to combat that. I didn’t understand evolution or selection or any number of the terms or theories or ideas presented so clearly within The Science of Discworld. So I accepted what I was told. When you feel wrong as a kid, it is all encompassing. My parents did not treat me as if I was smart or gifted; rather, when it came to things like God and faith and the ever after, I was eternally ignorant. I could never understand God as well as my mother did, so what was the point in arguing with the things she told me about the world? She was always right.
In a strange way, this is one of those books I wish I had had as a child. I know that might come as a shocker, especially since there are much better Discworld books in the series. Structurally, this has been an interesting way to progress through a story, but I definitely prefer the non-science books to this one. Yet I can’t deny what a challenge this has been to read, and I can’t deny that I learned things here that I should have learned earlier. We could blame that on a poor public school system, and we wouldn’t be too far off the mark. My conservative school district controlled the curriculum in many instances, and that kept necessary information from me. (DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON SEX EDUCATION IN A REPUBLICAN/CONSERVATIVE ENVIRONMENT.) My parents, especially my mother, tried their damnedest to shield me from the world. She claimed it was to protect me, to keep me pure and good, but I now know how bullshit that logic was.
I was kept in the dark.
And that’s what I was thinking of as I finished this book. The authors close out this story in a way that’s poetic, beautiful, and kind of haunting. I was raised to believe that science strips away the magic of the world, that there is no meaning left to anything without God or gods, that science makes us out to be carbon and chemicals and nothing more. Yet as I read about the sheer impossibility of humanity to exist as we do now, I didn’t feel like learning scientific theories about our evolution diluted my sense of wonder. If anything, I wanted more. I wanted to explore space. I wanted to travel to places I’ve never been, to observe creature I’ve never seen, to speak languages that are difficult and thorny for my American tongue, but which connect me to people on this planet.
I’ve been a nature guy for a long time, and conservation is important to me. I was lucky enough to spend time around the Snake River or up in Pocatello during the summers when I briefly lived in Idaho. I then grew up next to a wildlife preserve, where I watched mountain lions feast on carcasses, where I would get lost in bamboo forests, where I could go on scorching hikes and forget about the semblance’s of the modern world. I noticed recently that when I travel, I unconsciously seek out forests. Beaches. Swamps. Hills. Areas of towns and cities that aren’t concrete jungles or urban wastes, and these places make me feel alive.
The end of this book is a warning of sorts, sure. But for me, it’s also a cry of wonder, a proud proclamation of what makes life on Earth so fucking fantastic. As far as we know, there is no place in the universe quite like us. Nowhere else where we can hike to a waterfall, watch flowers bloom, appreciate the calming repetition of waves breaking on a rocky beach. We are special, unique, a fucking impossibility.
I think that’s a good enough reason to care about our planet.
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