Turn Out the Lights

Under the cover of night, Clark Strand discovers a lost state essential to wakefulness.

Clark Strand

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Look up into the sky on a starry night and you will see that there is a lot of darkness in the universe and very little light. So great is the invisible counterweight of darkness, in fact, that we think nothing of chipping away a bit of it in order to make a little something more for ourselves, altering the balance of night and day as if such a thing were permissible, or even possible, in the greater scheme of things. As if we could do so without tipping that shadowy but delicate inner scale that weighs the meaning and value of our lives.

Religious social critics sometimes lament the loss of spiritual consciousness in an age of 24-7 cable television, Twitter, and the World Wide Web. But they are coming into the argument much too late in the game. These things were already inevitable once the incandescent light bulb had come into common use.

Though its significance is seldom remarked upon by historians, this was the spiritual tipping point that would eventually guarantee the excesses of the twentieth century, from world wars to climate change to the widespread pollution of rivers, lakes, and streams. All of these spring directly from the overflow of human consciousness, for which the rising flood of electric light is both the metaphor and the means. Advances in science, industry, communication, and nearly every other area of human enterprise resulted from the influx of good, cheap light like nothing the world had ever seen—a brightness never rivaled by tallow, oil, or gas. It created a kind of universal optimism, a belief in unimpeded growth and progress, the expectation that, going forward, all would eventually become clear. The only casualty in that ongoing conquest of night seemed to be darkness, a thing of little value, an absence really, a blank space on the canvas of eternity that we could fill in as we pleased.

Or so we thought.

The time has come to rethink our relationship to darkness and all that it portends. . . .

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