When called a quitter in somebody’s first-time comment in this space, my initial response was to serve the name-caller a big warm cup of ShutTheFuckUp. Then I gave it a bit more thought. One result is this essay.
Contrary to the respondent’s interpretation of my essay, I’m not suggesting we quit. Giving up is not giving in: Accepting our fate is not synonymous with jumping into the absurdly omnicidal main stream. Just because we’re opossums on the roadway doesn’t mean we should play possum. Resistance is fertile, after all. To employ a bit of The Boss: “In the end what you don’t surrender, well the world just strips away.”
Or, to employ a bit of Zen: Let go, or be dragged.
Or, to employ a bit of popular culture: Carpe diem.
Or, to employ a bit of Nietzsche: “Live as though the day were here.”
Climate chaos is well under way, and has become irreversible over temporal spans relevant to humans because of positive feedbacks. Such is the nature of reaching the acceleration phase of the nonlinear system that is climate catastrophe.
As a result of ongoing, accelerating climate change, I’m letting go of the notion that Homo sapiens will inhabit this planet beyond 2030. I’m letting go of the notion that Homo sapiens will inhabit this verdant little valley at the edge of American Empire after it turns to dust within a very few years. I’m letting go of the notion that, within a few short years, there will remain any habitat for humans in the interior of any large continent in the northern hemisphere. I’m letting go of the notion we’ll retain even a fraction of one percent of the species currently on Earth beyond 2050. But I’m not letting go of the notion of resistance, which is a moral imperative.
I will no longer judge people for buying into cultural conditioning. It’s far easier to live in a city, at the height of civilization’s excesses, than not. I know how easy it is to live in a city surrounded by beautiful distractions and pleasant interactions, and I fully understand the costs and consequences of dwelling there, as well as the price to be paid in the near future. I spent about half my life in various cities, and I understand the physical ease and existential pain of living at the apex of empire. Also, I know all about the small joys and great pains associated with living in the country. I spent the other half of my life in the country and in towns with fewer than 1,000 people. I understand why the country bumpkin is assigned stereotypical labels related to ignorance and, paradoxically, self-reliance.
It’s clearly too late to tear down this irredeemably corrupt system and realize any substantive benefits for humans or other organisms. And yet I strongly agree with activist Lierre Keith: “The task of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much personal integrity as possible; it is to dismantle those systems.” If it seems I’m filled with contradictions, color me
hypocritical fully human in a Walt Whitman sort of way: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
Our remaining time on this orb is too short to cast aspersions at those who live differently from ourselves, as most people in industrialized countries have done throughout their lives. Most people in the industrialized world became cultural crack babies in the womb. There is little hope to break the addiction of ingestion at this late point in the era of industry, and I’m throwing in the towel on changing the minds of typically mindless Americans. No longer will I try to convince people to give up the crack pipe based on my perception of
I’ll continue to speak. I’ll continue to write. But these efforts will be presented with less urgency than I’ve previously employed, and they will represent personal perspectives and actions. I’ll no longer recommend to others the path I’ve taken.
Nietzsche’s comment about seizing the day, every day, brings to mind the final words of Joseph Campbell’s 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces:
It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal — carries the cross of the redeemer — not in the bright moments of his tribe’s great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair.
With the preceding dire news in mind, it would be easy to forget how fortunate we are. After all, we get to die. That simple fact alone is cause for celebration because it indicates we get to live. As I wrote more than five years ago, our knowledge of DNA assures us that the odds any one of us existing are greater than the odds against being a particular grain of sand on all the world’s beaches. No, the odds are much greater than that: they exceed the odds of being a single atom plucked from the entire universe. To quote the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, “In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I that are privileged to be here, privileged with eyes to see where we are and brains to wonder why.”