In 1776 Joseph Priestly wrote: “There is, perhaps, no subject in physiology, and very few in philosophy in general, that has engaged more attention than that of the use of respiration.”
In the latter Enlightenment “philosophy” was science, but Priestly was nuanced for by answering “what is the air” he knew it was a short leap to answering “what is life for?” The air was self-evident but unexplained. He would discover oxygen’s properties through systematic experimentation. By the same means a philosopher could ask and answer what are people for? Jefferson knew it was in the air: we are created equal.
Nothing has been more revealing in this time of Covid-19 than the quick step march toward eugenic. Politicians stand boldly before cameras and assert that the old and weak should be sacrificed for the sake of economics. One remembers Hitler’s declaration that the disabled were “useless eaters.”
Priestly and Jefferson saw that oxygen is equality itself. I’ve always believed that Jefferson’s bold declaration was influenced by his affection for Priestly. We hold these truths to be self evident meant they are in the air.
We no longer trust the air; celebrate our equality; or assert the latter and protect the former. Human rights and ecological health are in peril.
There are no useless breathers, eaters, or trees.