Hippopotamus

A symbol of the limits to the ability of argument to make sense of things, in the presence of the big facts of nature. The hippopotamus in this sense comes from the Book of Job in which, after a lot of argument, God speaks from the whirlwind and draws the chattering intellectuals’ attention to the facts of nature, heavy with energy and charisma: the lion, the thunder, Orion’s Belt, the whale who makes the sea boil, and the battle horse who, having swallowed the ground with fierceness and rage, “saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.” But even this show is stolen by God’s invitation to “Behold the Behemoth”. Scholars are undecided as to whether this is a hippopotamus or an elephant. Anyway, it is big, its bones are like iron, it can drink a river, and it cuts short overlong debate, living proof of David Hume’s observation that “Nature will always maintain her rights, and prevail in the end over any abstract reasoning whatsoever.”H18

These are hard times for a civilisation that has long been, or felt, in control of the whole of itself and its environment, and which can choose what it means by justice. The possibility that transformations in our ethical standards may be forced on us is shocking. But the whirlwind which is now approaching seems to be asking us something: “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” At this point, the best thing to do is to behold the hippopotamus.H19

 

Related entries:

Ironic Space, Reflection, Metamorphosis.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was an economist, historian and writer, based in London. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, Lean Logic and Surviving the Future. A film about his perspective and legacy - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - was released in 2019, directed by BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong. For more information, including on Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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