masters of mankind or mastered by mankind

We moved our fire pit a few more metres up the old 1902 Dawson Stage Trail this year. From the new vantage we could see just a bit further up the…

We moved our fire pit a few more metres up the old 1902 Dawson Stage Trail this year.

From the new vantage we could see just a bit further up the wagon-wide path through the dense thicket of spruce, willows and poplars along its length.

From the first flicker of Yukon Quest and Quest 300 mushers’ headlamps through the trees we gained a few extra seconds to alert whoever was in the kitchen of a new arrival and get up the trail to greet them.

The warmth of our fire and the attention we had to pay to its maintenance, kept our minds off the minus-30 temperatures out along the Pelly River during the long night last Monday as we waited each eagerly anticipated team’s arrival.

From Hugh Neff, the first musher into Stepping Stone this year at 11:30 a.m. on Monday, to the Quest 300’s Jeremy Keller, last out just after 5 p.m. on Wednesday, each musher was welcomed.

Some only took a small bag of proffered cookies and continued on their journey. Others stayed, rested and fed their dogs then had lasagna or a burrito along with cookies and squares prepared by volunteers back in Whitehorse.

Hot soup, Alpine Bakery bread, Midnight Sun coffee and conversation contributed to the hospitality — along with a bed, if needed.

Camaraderie marked relations between volunteers and mushers. While definitely a competitive race all had a stake in seeing as many cross the finish line in Fairbanks as possible.

All seem to express true regret when they heard of another musher scratching or experiencing a tragedy, like the death of a dog.

A community of common concern marks the culture of the trail.

This stands in sharp contrast to the socio-political reality on our planet today.

Morally not much seems to have changed since the days of Adam Smith, the 18th-century social philosopher and political economist.

He referred to the “vile maxim of the masters of mankind… All for ourselves, and nothing for other people” in his major work An Inquiry into the nature and causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776).

Every individual seeking their own self interest, Adams believed, would together make the whole of society more prosperous.

While he argued for less government intervention in the marketplace, the ideal world Adams saw around him was an interconnected one of small, locally based merchants, producers and labourers.

Their very intimate connectedness served to limit individual rapaciousness and greed.

These were more characteristic of distant overlords and tyrants whom he the saw as the “masters of mankind.”

Somehow the ethic of the trail has to supplant the “vile maxim.”

Another journey of a sort starts this coming Wednesday in the Christian world. This year Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten season on February 21st.

It marks a 40-day period of fasting, prayer and alms-giving leading up to Easter.

Maybe this year we should reflect on what we can do to reverse Adam’s equation.

How can we harness our collective energies in pursuit of the common fundamental challenges so dramatically confronting humanity?

How can mankind master the resolve to change for the better rather than continue to be mastered by the destructive greed of the few?

The Whitehorse United Church at 601 Main Street will hold its annual pre-Lenten Shrove Tuesday Family Pancake Supper on February 20th. For more information call 667-2989.