BOOKS: The Voice of the Infinite in the Small

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1999:

The Voice of the Infinite
in the Small:
Revisioning the Insect-Human
by Joanne Elizabeth Lauck
Swan, Raven & Co. (POB 190, Mill Spring, NC
28756), 1999. 361 pages, paperback. $18.95.

Bugs are in vogue. The Disney Studios hit children’s
film A Bug’s Life and the high-tech “Bug Show” entertaining
thousands of visitors a day at the Tree of Life in Walt Disney’s
Wild Animal Kingdom attest to that. Bugs including a tarantula
with remarkably mammal-like fur and trilobite-like Madagascar
cockroach larvae were also among the stars at the sleep-overs
hosted throughout the summer at the Woodland Park Zoo in
Seattle, where staff made a particular point of debunking cockroach
phobia. Many other major zoos added bug exhibits.

Even the World Wildlife Fund moved to cash in, publishing
with fanfare on July 20 a report by Canadian toxiocologist
Julia Langer entitled Beneficial Bugs At Risk. It said essentially
the same things about overuse of pesticides and harm to
natural pollinators that Langer and many others, beginning with
Rachel Carson, have warned about for nearly 40 years.
“The time has come,” New Age theologian Thomas
Berry declares in a front-cover blurb for The Voice of the Infinite
in the Small, ”for humans and insects to turn toward each other.
Such is our way to wisdom, the source of our healing, our guidance
into the 21st century.”
Lice, chiggers, mites, and countless other insect parasites
have in fact turned toward humans, and humans toward
them, since our most distant recognizable ancestors first learned
to groom each other and eat what they found.
But that sort of relationship, leading to the eventual
invention of combs and shampoo, isn’t quite the way to wisdom,
healing, and guidance that either Berry or Lauck imagine.
Lauck argues that we made a wrong turn there somewhere.
She introduces each major class of familiar insect (or
spider) with a breathless assertion of their valuable service to
humanity. Lauck then describes their purported spiritual importance
to various indigenous people, who always live far enough
away that none are likely to contradict her. Along the way, she
makes scant mention of the many insect-carried diseases which
make the lives of millions of indigenous and semi-indigenous
people––and animals––nasty, brutish, and short, except to
point out that not every insect of species known to carry deadly
disease is actually infected.
By way of reinforcement, Lauck scatters citations
from Weekly World News, works of literature, and serious scientific
sources as if all anecdotes were created equal.
Finally, Lauck recommends letting each creepycrawly
bite, infest, or whatever, and instead of demonstrating
hostility––which she attributes to cultural bias––opening oneself
to psychic communication. Though insects have no brains, they
wish to talk to us, Lauck asserts.
This is perhaps the easiest of her claims to believe.

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