My place. Sunday, 8.45pm
‘The big picture is pretty bloody obvious to me,’ the Feisty One says.
A finger plucks at the violin on the table. A scratchy note hangs like a quote mark starting a new sentence.
‘Humans are destroying the planet,’ she says. ‘They’re a cancer eating away at nature.’ She pours the last of the cabernet sauvignon into her mouth, which is thin-lipped with distaste – not for the wine but for humanity.
‘But humans make music,’ says the woman beside her, picking up her ukulele in automatic response to the violin note hanging over us like a life sentence. The woman hums and strums. Beautiful. And calming.
We’ve finished the wine. Plan B: I pour cider into small glasses (with 60s-style blue-and-pink frosted glass) and add a nip of Finnish vodka. Sometimes I’m just plain inspired …
‘To humans,’ I say lifting my glass. Feisty One hesitates.
‘And to music,’ Calm One adds. We all clink glasses.
‘Our thinking, which separates humankind from nature, is recent. It’s the Judeo-Christian Garden of Eden thing. Before that, man was always a part of nature. But now it’s Man versus Nature. And man is evil.’
‘Well,’ Feisty One says, ‘It isn’t the jellyfish poisoning the aquifers.’
‘I don’t buy it,’ I say. ‘We are part of nature. We are natural. How can we not be? We have a purpose.’
‘And what might that purpose be?’ she says. ‘Plastic bagging a dead planet?’
‘Very funny,’ I say. ‘We always start our thinking with the idea that things are going wrongly. Let’s start differently.’
I drain my vodka and cider. Not a bad drink. Ice would make it better.
‘Let us assume that everything is the only way it is and that it’s okay. Now, what is the big picture? We have a living planet. It has lungs and a liver. It has … ’
‘This is awful,’ Feisty One says.
‘It’s just a thought experiment,’ I say. I’m starting to dislike some humans myself …
‘No, not the stupid mind game; the drink,’ she says, making a face.
‘Oh … Anyway, I reckon the planet is evolving towards consciousness. The planet that is, not humans. It’s becoming aware of itself. To be self-aware you need a nervous system. Humans are that nervous system. After 4.7 billion years of developing a sophisticated physical body, the planet is now waking up. Through war and invention humans have spread to every part of the planet and are connecting it like seven billion neurons, like a world wide web. So now when the tanks roll into Aleppo, the planet feels it. It feels its ice caps melting, its oceans acidifying.’
‘It could die,’ Feisty One says.
‘Being aware of your mortality is a sign of self-awareness,’ I say. ‘All of Homo history – from the first hominids four million years ago, through to the first Homo sapiens 200,000 years ago and their migrations out of Africa 80,000 years ago, to the establishment of Echonetdaily – has led to the most important planetary development since photosynthesis: the internet.’
The table is quiet, glasses empty. I gather them for a refill. Heads shake ‘no’. Someone gags.
‘And becoming conscious takes a physical toll. Ask Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane or Buddha under the Bodhi tree. Your oceans may acidify. You may die. That’s why we must fight to keep the planet healthy,’ I say, pouring myself another vider (or codka). ‘We must fight, but rest assured that humans are a natural (and the neural) part in the planet’s big picture.
‘Hmm. Tell me, oh Wise One,’ Feisty One says, picking up her violin and nestling it into her neck. ‘What happens when Earth becomes conscious?’
‘It sings,’ I say. ‘Musica universalis.’