Bare Bones Biology 033 – Coming and Going

In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell told the story of an Indra (an Indra is king of the gods) who managed to cure a terrible drought in his kingdom. Unfortunately this Indra let his achievement go to his head. They all do, I think that’s one point of the story. (And by the way, I’m making this story very much shorter, if you want to hear the whole thing, come to the Brazos Museum of Natural History on the second Thursday of January. Or you could read the Upanishads.) Anyway, this Indra thought he was the savior of the universe, so he began to build for himself a glorious palace, with every conceivable modern technology, worthy of his magnificence. Joseph Campbell describes his downfall when a visiting boy introduced him to reality (this is heavily edited):

“ . . . Well, said the boy with a voice like thunder rolling on the horizon, I’ve been told that you are building such a palace as no Indra before you ever built. I’ve surveyed the grounds and looked things over and it seems that this is true. No Indra before you has ever built such a palace.” . . . “Indras before me, exclaimed the King, young man, what are you talking about?” The boy said: “Indras before you, I have seen them come and go and come and go.”. . . and while he was talking there came in parade across the floor an army of ants, in perfect range, and the boy laughed when he saw them. . . and said to the King: “Former Indras all.”

Come and go, come and go, come and go. I have not lived as long as that boy, but I have seen enough coming and going of heroic efforts — until now I do not believe in any simplistic answer to our problems. And so the bigger problem is – all the solutions I hear being proposed around me are – simplistic.

For example. I can’t count the number of people who have told me that the Green Revolution was a failure and therefore we should – and then they propose their own simplistic solution that involves throwing out most of the good that we accomplished, and more importantly the things that we learned, as a result of our heroic efforts during the green revolution.

Where I come from, that kind of behavior or thinking was known as pitching out the baby with the bathwater.

Surely all those concerned people during the green revolution – who worked just as hard or harder than you are working, can not have been total failures, even though they did not accomplish their overall goal. The overall goal was, by the way to prevent the population exploding until the ecosystem can not feed us all. They failed. That does not mean we should ignore all the good information they collected. Or hand it over to the corposystem to use against our better interests, which is basically what happened.

What does it mean, pitch out the baby with the bathwater? It means we took an extremely complex problem, we took the responsibility to try to solve it, we made amazing progress, and then we handed it over to our American dream.

But now our American dream is determined to believe that progress is all about winning and losing, bad and good, black and white, and if we didn’t win, then everything we did must have been bad. The modern American idea of success is to pitch out everything and start over with another different but equally inadequate set of tools.

And why do I say our new tools are inadequate? Because they are simplistic. Good and bad, black and white, winning and losing, and


So this is a helpful hint to all modern Indras. Even the most simplistic problem has at least three parts that must be considered before it can be resolved, and in the case of the ecosystem a whole lot more than three. Better we should stop ignoring all the good thinking that has already been accomplished, and get together and discuss how best to integrate it with our new good ideas.

Bare Bones Biology
KEOS 89.1, Bryan