by Yule Heibel on May 14, 2003

A wonderful friend from my old street, Columbus Avenue in Beverly, Mass., sent me a real (paper) letter. Among other things, he told me that my old house is now a deeper shade of lilac, which meant that the new owners haven’t abandoned the unorthodox colour scheme. (We had startled our street several years ago by changing the house’s colour from yellow to lilac — some said purple — with cream of celery soup green trim. Very pretty. Honestly. But for some reason, quite a few New Englanders didn’t approve of these tarted-up San Francisco painted ladies colours….)

But here’s the interesting part: with his real paper letter, he enclosed an old New Yorker article which I was able to retrieve on the web via another blogger’s (by web standards ancient) 2002 entry. I thought this was amazing: you find an older print article, and, putting the terms into a search engine, you find another blogger who has linked to an online version of said article.

It’s about a man named Grant Hadwin, who deliberately felled a biologically nearly unique (and anthropologically sacred) tree on one of the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1997. It’s worth reading for anyone concerned with environmental issues and with how individuals place themselves within a world of concern, action, and consequence. Sure, you can tune out, and at various points of the day and throughout our lives’s meeting points with real events, we all do to one degree or another, for otherwise we would surely explode. But what if you take caring and insight — the latter based on very real expertise, as was the case with Hadwin, who was a forestry expert — to a particular logical conclusion, …and explode into irrationality, hurting others along the way? Where is that tipping point that takes you from rationality (bound to consensus) to irrationality (which includes terror), and where exactly is the border?

Perhaps it begins by terrorizing your own body, by forcing yourself to live up to extremes that others deem intolerable. John Vaillant’s New Yorker article describes Hadwin as tortured in body by mental directives that started in boyhood, but which he made his own and turned into flesh. Theodore Kaczynski conjures up a similar spectre. Unlike stupid sheep, these people are highly intelligent and know that they could never succeed as followers in an army, even though they themselves have a spartan, militaristic turn of mind. Just how does individualism work, how do you keep from becoming fodder? In New England, painting your house purple is practically grounds for committal, but the border isn’t on some old street after all.

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