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Life finds a way
In this edition of The Week's Editor's Letter, William Falk finds hope in examining the past 12 months of conflict, stupidity, and disaster
 
William Falk
William Falk

Looking back over 12 months of human folly, as we do at The Week at this time each year, is a perilous exercise. It can shake one’s faith in the long-term viability of our species. Economic chaos, political deadlock, religious and ethnic conflict, another awful season for my Mets — what a mess. And yet... In defiance of both evidence and reason, I cling to the conviction that human beings have a spark of the transcendent within us, and that we are part of the unfolding of something wonderful and mysterious. Here and there, I see encouraging signs and portents. Did you notice, for example, that this year bacteria learned to live on arsenic? 

It may sound irrelevant, but hear me out. NASA scientists trained a hardy species of bacteria to survive without phosphorous, which was supposed to be one of the six essential building blocks of life. In just a few months, the bacteria learned to replace the phosphorous in their DNA with arsenic, ordinarily a toxin. NASA pronounced the transformed bacteria a new form of life, whose existence points to even stranger biochemistries on other planets. But I saw the experiment as something else: a metaphor. (I have a weakness for metaphors.) Even in the most poisonous environment, this little experiment proved, life finds a way. It survives. It thrives—impelled onward by something defying rational explanation. George Bernard Shaw called it the Life Force; call it what you will. But this astonishing persistence, this upward, Promethean striving from the muck, is no accident. It speaks of a purpose and a destiny. It suggests that all our struggling is not for naught. Or so, at year’s end, I’d prefer to believe.

 

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