Human Arrogance

By Jon Hillenbrand In Photography, Stories

moth - 002

There’s a moth riding the inside of an invisible cylinder as fast as he can downstairs around the light near where I get my mail.  These struggles seem minor to others, but to me they always pose a moral challenge.  Should I show the moth where the door is?  Beyond it awaits the darkness of uncertainty, an endless series of new struggles and cold.  Should I let it spin around the light with the assured destiny of death from exhaustion within blissful frustrating illumination?

I’m reminded by what Spock called “Human Arrogance” in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.  In this movie, the Earth was being attacked by sound waves from a super powerful space probe.  The message of the probe could not be decoded by any species on the Earth that could respond.  That’s because the message was meant for an extinct species of whale.  The probe had been sent to ascertain why the transmissions from the whales had gone silent many years before.  And while the members of the crew were discussing their options, Spock made the comment that, “Only human arrogance would assume that the message must be meant for Man.”

In my course of study of Catholicism in a class I am taking, I am similarly confronted by messages that Man is the most important being that exists, with the obvious exceptions of the Trinity.  In my class, I am often asked to rethink my standpoints on sexism, dominion over all of the plants and animals, etc.  It calls into my mind my feelings toward environmentalism as well and how I often think the banal cries of, “We’re killing the Earth,” are dumbfoundingly oversimplified and presumptuous.  Presumptuous because I fail to see how, even with the power that Man possesses, we could ever come close to matching the power of the ocean, the wind, or any other natural force.  I always feel that our understanding of the world is so limited.  Perhaps the world changes to match our influences.  And when people scream that the Earth will die, it is we who will die, as the Earth merely changes.

So I try not to presume that the fate of the moth resides in my doing or not doing something.  I believe that apathy is as powerful as a bullet from the gun of an ignored terrorist.  But as a documentarian, I feel it’s the responsibility of people to not interfere in the natural order of things, as much as that is possible.  As a moral course of action, my attitude toward the moth might call a few things into question.

  • Is it better to leave someone to their fate knowing that what they are searching for is right outside of their view?
  • Should someone be left to die because they choose a centrifugal path of self-destruction?
  • Do I know the outcome of either situation (left to die, or shown the door) or am I applying my own fears to my perceptions of the situation?
  • Shall I assume that someone can or can not survive on their own without my help?

My decision was to leave the moth to his spiral.  One thing I believe strongly in is the resourcefulness that kicks in when facing impending death. 

“All beings tremble before violence. All fear death. All love life. See yourself in others. Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?” – Buddha

Soon the moth will get tired, or the light will go off.  And the moth will have to call into question the actions of his life. Perhaps someone will pass by and the moth will attach himself to their coat.  Perhaps the door will swing wide enough and the moth will be sucked out into the chilly air outside.  And once outside, the moth will know where to eat, where to mate and what preparations to make before his time comes.

Either way, I’m staying out of it for now.  And I wish the moth the best of luck.

What do you think?