Shelter from the storm
It offered another reminder that (unlike other animals) human survival demands more than just adjustment of ourselves to nature -- we sometimes need to protect ourselves from nature. That's what we humans do -- our unique means of survival is to adapt nature to ourselves; to mollify nature's dragons and make them more humane, and therein more enjoyable.
I was reminded of a passage in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, describing Francisco D’Anconia looking out Hank Rearden’s lounge window on a stormy Pennsylvania night. Rearden is hosting an elegant gathering while a wild storm rages just the other side of the glass:
Francisco looked silently out at the darkness. The fire of [Rearden’s steel] mills was dying down. There was only a faint tinge of red left on the edge of the earth, just enough to outline the scraps of clouds ripped by the tortured battle of the storm in the sky. Dim shapes kept sweeping through space and vanishing, shapes which were branches, but looked as if they were the fury of the wind made visible.
“It’s a terrible night for an animal caught unprotected on that plain,” said Francisco D’Anconia. “This is when one should appreciate the meaning of being a man.”
One side of the glass is turbulent, the other pacific. Inside is the man, Rearden, whose hospitality makes the refuge from the storm possible. Outside and on the horizon are Rearden’s steel mills that make the house both physically and financially possible, and that on this particular evening provide the reason for the gathering and celebration. The house itself provides the shelter from the storm -- a refuge from it if you like -- and also the prospect over it, and with it the luxury of time and safety for contemplation about the storm, the mills, the landscape, the celebration, and the relationship the occupants have with all three (an opportunity that Rand in this passage has Francisco seize for us).
This is what it means to be fully human.
“It’s a terrible night for an animal caught unprotected on that plain,” says Francisco, underscoring that it’s not at all terrible for the people enjoying an elegant gathering on his side of the glass – it’s delightful. It’s delightful to be a human being and to do what human beings do, and to laugh at the dangers and the dragons outside.
To paraphrase PJ O’Rourke, only God can make a storm, but only man can stand inside and laugh at it.