The Benign Indifference of the Universe

Several days ago, in The Globe and Mail, I read about a man who was loved by a great number of people, a well known physician. They stated in his obituary that he had "finally surrendered himself to the benign indifference of the universe". I found it so incredible that life can be thought of in such terms... what is benign indifference... and then to add "of the universe".

Then as I read Dan Brown's new novel "The Lost Symbol" this week, I can across the line "Langdon realized his true insignificance in the universe" (Page 381). So we have fast forwarded to a contemporary writer and his star character is saying how insignificant an individual is in the universe.

Many years ago, when I was in an English class in Grade 12, we had to study the writer John Donne.
I read a passage of his that included the poetry that he became most famous for and became my favorite verse::
." No man is an island. entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me
because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee."

So if I understand John Donne properly, he was establishing, at least in his time, that each and every death should be looked upon as significant. So what has changed... Hummmmm? Is it for the better? I think not.


ron said…
Wow! This is a cool consideration. Here are some thoughts in response. The first is that there is a fundamental difference between the two situations you’re describing. One is about the relative universal importance of every human being. The other is a reminder that I am not as important in any universal sense as I feel I am subjectively.

I ‘hear’ one message from both of them. The message is that ‘I’ am not the be-all and the end-all of the universe. For example, it doesn’t really matter to the survival of the species, or even the well-being of it, whether I live or die. Yes, I can affect some individual lives or plant some trees, and that is important and worth doing. But I should avoid the hubris of thinking that my efforts are somehow THE crucial ones rather than being a part of a package. I think that kind of thinking is dangerous.

And at the same time, I should remember that all the other individual souls have an equal position. They too are expendable, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t have a positive impact with individual decisions and/or acts, nor that I should not respect them. And most important is the reality that if ‘we’ don’t act, individually and as a result cumulatively, ‘we’ as a species/ culture/society will fail. For “no man is an island.”

I guess for me, we’re looking at an excellent definition of the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy ego.

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