Sunday, March 18, 2007

Jungle Longings

I've been reading Ian Thomson's extraordinary but lengthy biography of Primo Levi, the Italian chemist and author who is best known for his accounts of surviving Auschwitz.

Thomson recounts a joke that an associate shared with Levi to the effect that an Italian-run Hell would be better than a German-run one because it would be a less efficient one in which crucifixion nails would be lost and boiling oil not delivered on time. Levi replied that disorganization and humanity are not always unconnected.

There is something to the notion that we distrust organization lest it make us less human and that spontaneous, less considered, behavior can be more attractive and, well, life-like. It is as if we seek to strike a balance between the jungle and the machine, the savage and the automaton. Some of us wind up at either extreme.

We are not naturally inclined to organization. If our lives are left unattended, the jungle begins to creep back. Paper piles up here. Deadlines slide there. Items that are usually monitored are neglected.
What is missed is the jungle often returns at our bidding.

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