New Zealand Now
Children and fools ask more questions than old men and oracles can answer. But that is not always a reason why their mouths should be stopped. If enough fools had asked us fifty years ago why we were burning down our children's houses to make room for cows we might have had eight million acres more native forest, and not learnt yet how to spell erosion. For we can't plead the excuse of Bo-bo in Charles Lamb's dissertation on roast pig. Bo-bo burnt down the house every time the sow farrowed. But he did not start the first blaze to give himself a taste of crackling. He started it because he was a fool, a great lubberly boy who had not learnt the danger of playing with fire. And when his secret was discovered, and he was brought with his father to trial, he was acquitted because he had given his countrymen a new delight and delivered them from seventy thousand ages of eating their meat raw. We can perhaps plead ignorance for our first forest fire, and necessity for many of the fires that followed for page 76thirty or forty years, but what kind of a defence can we make for the millions of acres we have burnt or felled since 1890? Bo-bo went on burning because he had discovered that burning was good. We went on burning after it had been established that every fire was a theft from our children for countless generations, since some of the trees the flames destroyed had stood for a thousand years.
And who can tell us why we go on washing the ashes into the sea? Is it to prove that Britons never will be slaves—even to chemistry? It was reported recently from Russia that a famous agricultural chemist, with thirty of his colleagues, had been 'liquidated as a saboteur' because he insisted that the soil of Russia lacked nitrates although the politicians knew that what was missing was potash. But that is a story without a moral for us unless we are prepared to apply it. For the Russians at least take chemistry seriously. Do we? Has any New Zealander yet died in defence of the dung-cart? Is it not clear to anyone who looks down on the plains of Canterbury, say, that they will not go on forever producing lambs and wheat and wheat and lambs unless we put back what we are taking out? Do we require to be philosophers to know that if we ship away a hundredweight of frozen meat and bones every year it is just a confidence trick to pretend that we restore the balance if we give the soil two hundredweight of fertiliser in return which we have already stolen from it at some page 77other time? The Russian story may be a myth, although it is written in a book;* but it could never have been invented in a country that thinks Nature can be mocked. If a fool arose in our midst who insisted that excrement should be spelt with a capital E, would we laugh at him or listen to him?
Let us question the oracle a little further.