Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 11.18.10

Dung Beetles and Voters
Nature doesn’t care about our little elections
by Eric Alan

Dead ballot pamphlet pages blow across the Willamette Valley like more fallen leaves, and nature does not appear to care. At the grand level, nature had no partisan preference for Kitzhaber over Dudley, DeFazio over Robinson. It expressed no opinion on prison sentences or lottery funding for parks and beaches. Nature is not a registered voter, even in the Green Party. It doesn’t smoke its own medicinal weed. It doesn’t care if corporations are considered people, or if they were instead declared to be deer, with a hunting season open each October. (Ballot initiative, anyone?) Nature’s vastness stands impassively by as we hold our tiny elections. To nature, we’re the equivalent of a dung beetle struggling mightily to roll its little ball of dung to wherever it seems important to go.

 This is not to say that nature doesn’t need dung beetles and voters. We’re all a small but integral element of the natural system, and this election was vital to us, though lost in the grand scheme. This is our dung, and it matters here. So it’s still worth asking what nature’s great wisdom says about this election, even if the answers die beyond the thin protective shell of our atmosphere.

 Nature mostly exhibits a grand curiosity and a desire for competitive experiment. Without prejudice, it pits species against species, individuals against individuals, Ducks against Beavers, Democrats against Republicans. Whichever is most successful persists. If one is too successful and trashes its own habitat via mindless rampage, soon it will suffer and die back of imbalance. Then greater balance will return. Beautiful, elegant, harsh system. Especially harsh if your own dung is what chokes you.

 In this and other recent elections, I heard nature’s voice through the campaign mantras more clearly than through the results — for below the bitter surface partisanship, a grand unity has emerged. Every seemingly opposite side has screamed the same theme: Change! Take our country back! Get rid of the elected failures! The differences in the vague partisan strategies for fixing the pain pale against the agreement that something has gone fundamentally wrong in this country, this state, this beautiful little valley we call home.

Nature is perfectly willing to let us experiment if we collectively feel that the solution to our deep sense of loss is to imprison our sickest violent ones for longer. It’s willing to let us cling to haphazard prohibitions, even if they feed violent cartels. It permits us to pursue an addict’s strategies for easing our suffering, hooked on the same two parties, the same broken governance system. Nature even allows blind priorities that don’t value nature itself — for awhile. Economy, jobs, safety, health care, transportation: They’re all tied in to the fouled larger habitat, poisoned by the dung of humanity’s rampage. This may not be a recession. Our pain may instead be the beginning of nature’s next experiment with a different form of balance.

Author Thomas Berry once summarized it on the Public Radio program New Dimensions: “We lose our souls if we lose the experience of the forest, the butterflies, the song of the birds, if we can’t see the stars at night. It’s not just pollution of the air, or toxicity of the planet, or loss of jobs. It’s a loss of soul, of imagination, of the experience of what it is to be a human being.”

 Maybe the preservation of soul is what nature is subtly offering us a chance to vote for, on the higher level — to prioritize the planet’s soul as a way of saving our own. Maybe it’s asking us to take a step back down in importance; to nurture the greater abundance so that we can return better to thriving within it, rather than increasingly picking scraps off of its dying carcass. But if we don’t? No worries. Nature has plenty of time, other planets, other experiments out there in the great yawning void. We can vote ourselves to death if we damn well please. That will just leave more room for the dung beetles to thrive.

Eric Alan is author/photographer of the books Grace and Tranquility and Wild Grace: Nature as a Spiritual Path, and teaches workshops on the reintegration of nature into daily life. He’s also a professional broadcaster currently heard on KLCC as a host of Fresh Tracks. His books, blog and other information can be found at  He can be reached at