What a Piece of Work is Man!

by MalamuteMan, AKA Steve Ford

Third Revision

"What a Piece of Work is Man!" This is something Hamlet says in Shakespeare's play by the same name.
Here is what Hamlet said...

I have of late — but wherefore I know not — lost all my mirth,
forgone all custom of exercises;
and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame,
the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory,
this most excellent canopy, the air, look you,
this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire,
why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors.
What a piece of work is a man!
How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties,
in form and moving how express and admirable,
in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!
The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!
And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
Man delights not me—
no, nor woman neither,
though by your smiling you seem to say so.

In 2008, as I was driving from Zion National Park to Arches National Park, along the way I was pondering that passage from Hamlet and thinking about why these words resonate with me. Hamlet was depressed... He says so in the first line of that passage, "I have of late - but wherefore I know not - lost all my mirth." He talks about the earth as a "sterile promontory", the sky as "a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors." He mocks mankind's high oppinion of himself. These words resonate with me because I feel mankind is destroying "this goodly frame, the Earth", we are poluting "this majestical roof fretted with golden fire", we plunder the panetary resources ignoring what we are doing to "the beauty of the world and the paragon of animals." Seeing all of this, I too have "lost all my mirth." So I respond to Hamlet's words with my thoughts, written as best I can in my imitation of Sheakspearean style.

What a piece of work is a man! We are clever enough to contrive how to transport men to the moon and bring them back alive and well; but not wise enough to see that we are changing the world so rapidly that the survivability of all life is threatened. We introduce one marvelous gadget and potion after another; and when we discover unanticipated and undesirable side effects from our inventions we devise yet another new thing as the remedy.

Our highly developed brains have been so effective at bringing us the comfort and security that was so scarce for the predecessors of our species that now we are overrunning the planet and stressing it beyond its capacity to support us.

The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals... It is a beautiful world… marvelous in all its variety, grandeur, and subtlety! How sad that we try to put ourselves above the community of animals. We grant ourselves "dominion" over the animals and the resources of this planet, and then… we trample it all… saying, “Anything serving mankind trumps the needs and rights of animals.” — Nobel in reason??? Not by my reckoning!

And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? This quintessential planet is but a speck of dust in the vastness of the universe… and it is the only speck of dust we have to live on.

We want to believe we have the wits and the means to invent whatever may be necessary to fulfill our wildest dreams. But so many of those dreams ignore our responsibilities… to ourselves, to future generations, and to all the creatures of this planet. We must learn to discipline and restrain ourselves… or perish!

Buddhist Mal

Buddhist Mal flying his prayer flags and toting his travois.

These are my thoughts on our circumstances. I'm sorry to offer such a dismal view of mankind... but I must voice my feelings honestly. Perhaps you can hear my disappointment or even a bit of shame in my words. Yes... I am disappointed and ashamed of my own species. There are quite simply too many of us doing too much stuff. We are so proud of our accomplishments and so addicted to the comforts we have created for ourselves at the expense of others... so we refuse to contemplate the notion of changing course... even though it is plain to see a "train wreck" is imminent. There are many good things mankind has done, and I do not mean to diminish the goodness of those things. But we are leaving such a mess for coming generations. To those generations I offer my apology for the selfish thoughtless actions of my generation.