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July 11, 2000

Marginal Behavior

Here's a contradiction: thermodynamically, heat equals motion, but the heat of Summer seems to slow us down, rather than increasing our speed.
Actually, itís a matter of scale: our bodiesí behavior slows to avoid overheating on the cellular level. Weíre just not accustomed to identifying the heat with speed. We say ďIím too hotĒ, not ďIím too fastĒ. It amounts to the same thing, under the microscope, but we only make the connection while waiting for a watched pot to boil. Then again, thereís the notion of that cultivated boil-over, the ďLong Hot SummerĒ, when our natural lassitude is overruled in an orgy of expenditure; physical and psychic; fast and hot.

All of which goes to show that the metaphorical relationships between Culture and Nature are not simple, or direct, or consistent.

Since I use the Park as a tool for examining such relationships, I find myself feeling obliged (if somewhat impotent) to address the recent incidents of mass sexual harassment, which occurred in the Park, pursuant to the Puerto Rican Day parade. The news has been widely reported, and I provide no links. The topic opens any number of cans of worms, most of which Iíd prefer to avoid. While Annelids are themselves of interest, I canít afford to get bogged down in talk-show confrontation and vulgar psychologizing. (Perhaps one day we'll discuss the psychology of bogs, but that's another subject.)

I started out thinking that these incidents were not within my purview; not really a Park matter, as such. They had more to do with crowd (i.e. mob) issues, which have plagued various of the city's parades over the years. The fear which the Park engenders usually has to do with confrontation in isolated areas, especially at night. The present events happened on the margins of the Park, in daylight, and in front of many people; conditions which should mitigate against such lawlessness. This proves much more unsettling than the odd rape or murder occurring in some secluded shadow.

Still, if the attacks were not of the Park, they were contiguous, and thereby related to it. The relaxation of rectilinearity at the Park's edge suggests the breakdown of social codes which hold our "animal nature" in check. This is the same premise as the pastourelle: the sexualization of the natural landscape, (and its inhabitants), which must be held at bay by the strictures of the civilized urban environment.

One thing Iíve learned in the Park is that margins are always interesting. This is a basic ecological principle. Wherever there is a margin; an edge; a border between types of environment; wood and meadow; ocean and shore, there you will find more; more species, (drawn from both spheres); more interaction; more possibilities. Things heat up, so to speak.

The Park is but a green sliver in the cityís stony flesh. In a sense, itís all edge. Perhaps it did offer the environment which made it possible for atrocity to ferment. It provided refuge; a place to congregate with impunity. It had freely flowing water; a necessity for drinking or dousing. And it offered prey.
All the same things that the migrant birds come for.

Let me stop this sophistry right now.
Iíve heard too many critiques of this situation couched in the terms of the natural, and the social, sciences. Mob, or male, psychology; or maybe you prefer evolutionary genetics?
Itís a political choice, of course.
Do these disciplines have something to say in the matter?
Certainly, but they do so in specialized languages, not fully understood, even by their speakers.
Everything else is interpretation: you might as well be dealing with poetry. Or mythology. Or religion.

Mostly, we start with our own cherished belief, then selectively extract ďexpertĒ evidence out of context, arguing backwards, towards our premise. Thatís the opposite of how science is supposed to work, but typical human behavior. Observed even in scientists.

Weíve always had our reasons, but weíve never exhausted the Mystery of why we are Bad.
Some would say itís in our Nature.
I say itís in our nature to make our own path, a cultural road that can lead us away from behavior that shames us, ďnaturalĒ, or not.
It is our duty to do better than this.

Science can help by articulating nature, revealing every sort of sexual strategy, from females that eat their partner while mating (mantis), to male gestation (sea horse).
Which behavior is more "natural"?
We have choices.
Nature will not justify our decisions.

If we choose to be Good, we can learn much from nature.
Both through her interpreter, science, and also through direct, (ecstatic), immersion.
But neither way will dispel the Mystery.
Both paths offer suggestions, but few answers.
And no guarantees.
The paths converge at our point of existence, and end there.
The next step is ours: it commits us.
Let us not violate our commission.
Let us step beyond the margin we inhabit.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

These notes are scrawled upon the margins of the Arboretum, addressing matters beyond my means, if not my implications.
But I fear Iíve said little of use about this blight.
I know not what to do, other than to oppose it, in my heart, at the least.
Iíd like to think I would have helped, had I been there, but how likely is that?
I wasnít there: I know better than to patronize such an occasion.
I protected myself.
Only natural.

For myself, I have made this place, this parallel Park.
It is open to all.
Nor will its gates be barred.
I will trust, more out of hope than belief, that anyone who finds somewhat of worth here is beyond (if not incapable of) such deplorable deeds as have been elsewhere done.
And even if some ruffians show up, I mean them no harm.
I'll do no worse than bore them.

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