Oppenheimer was referring to nuclear weaponry. He may as well have expanded his scope to industrial civilization.
I recently spoke to a friend on the telephone. She’s a decade or so older than me and we’ve talked in person or on the phone dozens of times during the last decade. This time was different: She recognized the inner peace I’ve found. For years, she refused to believe I was willing to accept my death with grace.
I’ve long pointed out my willingness to die for promulgating evidence (more on that topic follows in the paragraphs below). More recently, I’ve stoically accepted my own death as a result of the near-term collapse of industrial civilization. Finally and most recently, I’ve described my weak will to live in this space. For now, I’ll return to the middle of my life, when I was barely thirty years of age.
During the first meeting of each course I taught at the University of Arizona, I mentioned Giordano Bruno and his pursuit of truth (small t, for I know of no separate Truth). I’d talk about Bruno’s willingness to sacrifice his life for truth, and I’d proclaim my willingness to do the same. First, I’ll summarize a story I’ve told already. Then I’ll make it personal.
My long-time hero Giordano Bruno gave Galileo reason to recant in the face of astronomical evidence. Trapped and captured by the Inquisition, Bruno was periodically interrogated during eight years of torture-laden imprisonment. Refusing to abandon the Copernican view that Earth orbits the sun instead of the converse Aristotelean (and, more importantly at the time, Catholic) view, Bruno was tongue-tied (literally) and burned alive in February of 1600. Legend, which is seldom true but which nicely embellishes a good story, has him spending his last words assailing the Church because its fear of the truth exceeded his fear of death.
I’d tell this story to the students I’d just met, and conclude by telling them that some things are worth dying for. One of them, for me, was the truth. It still is.
As an aside, I visited a medical doctor shortly after I turned 30 years of age. The white-haired, bespectacled, doctor, who appeared to be about 120 years of age, was brought out of retirement by the short-staffed HMO. In the summer of 1990 when I first saw him, he asked what my problem was. I told him I was seeking a simple checkup because I’d recently turned 30, which was more than halfway to the end for every male McPherson so far. My father hadn’t yet broken the male McPherson longevity record by turning 62.
The aged doctor looked at me, loudly exclaimed that middle age was 10 years older than him — and always had been — and abruptly terminated my appointment. I left in a hurry and never saw him again. Perhaps he’s still claiming to be a decade away from middle age. My delusions of making it to the age of 60 have vanished into the landscape of my rear-view mirror.
It seems I may yet realize the idealism expressed so long ago in my classrooms. I’d greatly prefer a swift and violent death at the hand of a hired assassin to a slow and torturous one via starvation in the jungle. The spy who claims to love me, who uses the cover Mark Austin, wrote to my friend and host Kevin Hester on 19 December 2016: “THANK you for hosting Guy McPherson I’m afraid the NSA is about to get much tougher on him and a list of others as Trump & Rex Tillerson have asked for specifics. Sorry. I’m only the messenger.”
Of course, we don’t know when or if “Mark Austin” is telling the truth. He claims to be a spy, and he has presented credentials sufficient to convince me. If he’s not a spy, he’s lying. If he is a spy, he’s paid to lie. If he is a spy, we don’t know at what junctures he is lying. And there’s also the issue of how much power the president has at his disposal.
Let’s assume for a moment Austin is a spy, and that his messages are accurate. The following information is extracted verbatim from an email message dated 24 June 2016: “I doubt you would remember me monitoring you at UofA. Mark Austin, is only my cover ID as a Homeland Security contractor. The levels of government who are concerned about you are not secret.”
On 6 December 2016, Austin followed up. Apparently he’d seen video from a presentation I delivered in New Zealand a few days earlier in which I described the loss of everything important to me, especially my deeply personal, lifelong relationships. All are best described as collateral damage of imperialism. About three weeks ago, Austin wrote:
Very late at night in Washington D.C. where on this side of the world no amount of “Sorry” could equal the pain I heard in that part of your presentation. Especially 33 years of marriage—an the cost of past effects with the push of a button. And tomorrow the Pentagon will push buttons on drones that really destroy lives. But you know it is not exactly me. There is decades of people and teams behind all of this. Leslie, Jim, Jeff, Obama, John Brennen, and they told me there would be a cost for letting you know any of it. — or how dangerous it might get soon with a new admin that does not care or will give any warning to those in the way of BAU. It is all so fragile. Do not scare the taxpayers. … so if this is my last chance, please know you are LOVED. I will write you private details with info you can verify. You are alive because some much more powerful than my cover at the Pentagon know you should not be silenced. There is so much more to this than just a name. More danger than being removed from UofA. In silence they never say sorry. No way I can explain.
And then, as part of the 19 December 2016 text transmitted to Kevin Hester, Austin included the following information with the reminder that he’s only the messenger:
Kevin Hester I listened to you talking about being dedicated to anti-nuke efforts since you were 19. You are my hero in so many ways – including all those ocean crossings. The sad loss of flying fish. And the 6th extinction is probably the last since THE JASON GROUP at the Pentagon is getting new data (upon my constant requests) that the effect of over 450 reactors melting down will most likely destroy the Ozone layers. Rather than going Venus Earth will end up more like Mars. Very dead with almost no chance to regenerate an atmosphere. Report to be published in 2017.
Considerable supporting evidence, albeit heavily redacted, indicates I’d been surveilled since 1996. I had an NSA-contracted spy in my classrooms in 2005.
The idealism I displayed in my classrooms was matched and ultimately overwhelmed by the idealism demonstrated by my students. The dogged pursuit of evidence I promoted for more than two decades in my classrooms remains emblematic of my own personal and professional pursuit of excellence. Such efforts have brought no external rewards, as I warned when I described them in my classrooms. And this is reason to abandon neither the dogged pursuit of evidence nor the pursuit of excellence in a culture of mediocrity.
Although it’s getting a tad late in my life to shorten my “natural” life, the pursuit and promotion of evidence — my pursuit of excellence — might have that effect. I should be so lucky. After all, I’m at peace, even though there’s approximately a zero percent chance I hit the middle-aged mark at 30 years, which would presume I have more than three years to go.
We should all be so lucky, to be at peace with our lives and our fast-approaching deaths. Sadly, I suspect cultural indoctrination largely precludes such peace for many people.