Someone asked for the transcript from a short video clip I posted in this space on 15 February 2021. Instead, immediately below I have provided the transcript from the longer version of the presentation, which was posted in this space on 18 February 2021.
Why Are We Here?
As sentient animals, most of us wonder why we are here. Some of us also wonder about ourselves as individuals: Why am Ihere? I address these questions in this short video.
With respect to the first question, the obvious response is, “who is we?” I will assume, in this case, that the “we” in question is Homo sapiens. In that case, the response is easy, if one has sufficient understanding of evolutionary biology.
I went to graduate school in Lubbock, Texas. In the process of completing my graduate degrees, I spent a lot of time conducting field work. On dozens of occasions, I defecated in the savannas I was studying. On most of these occasions, considering my location, I attracted dung beetles. The dung beetles would fly toward me as I squatted, their size and wingspan making them drone like B-52s. I would bat them away, as well as I was able, and they would crash awkwardly into my head and torso. After I finished my task, I would watch the beetles as they performed their task. They formed my manure into balls a tad smaller than ping-pong balls and then rolled them away. These tiny creatures thus solved a significant problem for human beings. As with carrion beetles, dung beetles saved humans from a lot of life-threatening diseases.
By now it’s probably obvious that the answer to the question, “why are we here?” is rooted in evolutionary biology. We are here to give dung beetles something to do. And those dung beetles are here to protect us, thereby extending our lives. Without us and other species like us, dung beetles would be SOL. Literally.
The far-more-difficult question is, “why am I here?” I suspect there are about 7.8 billion answers to this question. I have discovered why I am here. I will not speak for you, although I might be able to help aid your journey.
Some individuals are here to give. In pursuing a life of service, I would put myself and a few others in that group.
Most people are here to take. We all know examples of those to whom Daniel Quinn referred as “takers.” I receive daily reminders, as I’m sure you do.
Marcus Aurelius receives credit for the following expression in Meditations: “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” His is a fine reminder of why we are here. We are here, during our short time on Earth, to think, to enjoy, and to love.
I taught in classrooms at several colleges and universities. Most of the time, at least during my final decade of paid work I simply asked questions. I was inspired by the ancients to do so. For example, if Socrates was not a figment of Plato’s imagination, then he was renowned for the questions he asked. He essentially asked six questions, albeit often in different ways: What is virtue? What is moderation? What is justice? What is courage? What is good? What is piety?
Socrates famously concluded that the unexamined life is not worth living. I’m surprised it took two millennia for somebody – specifically, philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer – to realize that the examined life is far worse.
As an aside, I once asked a roomful of students, “What was Socrates’ most famous quote?” I thought someone would answer with the one about the unexamined life being not worth living. Instead, one of my students immediately yelled out, “I drank what?”
The work of the ancients encourages me to continually ask how to get through a life that is, in itself, not worth living. My life has no meanings beyond the ones I assign to it. My life is insignificant, except to a few people for a short time. I am among the last humans on Earth, indicating that I will leave no legacy for the dead planet that follows. In light of this information, how do I create a life worth living? How shall I help others do the same?
I have been the subject of a coordinated, ongoing defamation campaign. The campaign and the response to it by my former colleagues, co-workers, friends, and family members have left me shattered. In response, I turned to a philosophy from ancient Greece: Stoicism.
Stoicism largely replaced the philosophy of Cynicism, a school of philosophy from the Socratic period of ancient Greece. Cynics hold that one’s purpose is to live a life of virtue in agreement with nature. This is a life that calls for only the bare necessities required for existence. The best-known Cynic was Diogenes, who lived a simple life with essentially no possessions.
UnlikeCynics, Stoics see many humanconstructs, including laws and customs, as natural and therefore good. Stoics adhere to these human constructs and encourage others to do the same. For example, Stoics believe that participation in public lifeis a sign of virtuosity.
My own pursuit of Stoicism extends to this latter belief, as indicated by the three “levels” at which I recommend we pursue Planetary Hospice: family and friends, community, and society.
During our daily lives with family and friends, I recommend we treat everyone we encounter as we would treat our beloved, ancient grandmother. This includes respect and complete honesty.
At the level of community, I suggest we work to get rid of racism, misogyny, poverty, and other community-level disparities.
At the level of society, I recommend we begin immediately the task of decommissioning nuclear power plants as a means of reducing harm to all life on Earth as humans exit the planetary stage.
My own work focuses on loss of habitat for the vertebrate mammals known as humans, and then what comes next, in light of the ongoing Mass Extinction Event and through the lens of abrupt climate change. Without habitat, of course, we will all die. Our species will go extinct. Earth is headed in the near term for a condition without habitat for Homo sapiens, as I have pointed out frequently based on the peer-reviewed literature I cite as well as my own peer-reviewed papers.
Somebody occasionally takes issue with my prediction of human extinction by 2026, pointing out that sociopaths will still be living in bunkers filled with canned peaches and so on. I’m not sure this qualifies as living, and I’m certain the sociopaths in question know better than to sacrifice living fully today to plan for a life in a bunker only to emerge in a few years to a lifeless planet. And remember former boxer Michael Tyson’s line about planning: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
I am willing to admit that there might be a few humans technically classified as “alive” in 2026. I stand firm on my prediction that there will be no humans on Earth in 2030. I recognize that the difference between 2026 and 2030 is cosmically insignificant. I also recognize that the difference between 2026 and 2030 is enormous from the standpoint of every person committed to living fully, here and now. Perhaps we ought to begin living fully, here and now, now.
At some point in the near future, and this certainly applies to any remaining humans from 2026 forward, the short-term survivors will realize that Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 book, The Road, was optimistic. That book included survivors.
Civilization will collapse catastrophically, for any of the several reasons I’ve pointed out elsewhere. Abrupt climate change will be a primary driver. When industrial civilization reaches its overdue end, there will be no fuel at the filling stations, no food at the grocery stores, and no water pouring out the municipal taps. First responders will return home to spend time with those they love. The world’s abandoned nuclear facilities will melt down catastrophically. There are already examples of each one of these events, from significant disruptions of the supply chain to the horrors of Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Loss of aerosol masking within days or weeks after the collapse of civilization will greatly exacerbate the accelerating loss of habitat for humans and other organisms. Leading causes of human mortality will include dehydration as the water stops flowing through the taps, starvation due to lack of food delivery, disease as prevention-and-treatment facilities are shuttered, suicide as horror-film fantasy becomes reality, and predation leading to cannibalism. I’ve no doubt many confused people accustomed to enormous privilege will resort to desperate measures to stay alive.
The initial shock will be horrific. The expectation of infrastructure being restored will give way to resignation only one dying person at a time. Desperate pleas for help will be met with silence.
And then it will all get worse.
The dead will be envied by the living even as the evolutionarily motivated will to livepersists. The short-term survivors will see a world nearly lacking life. Non-human animals will be unable to keep up with rapidly disintegrating ecosystems. There will be no clean water, no healthy food, no habitat. Plants cannot move and cannot be movedbecause the fragile web of mycorrhizae, fungi, and other place-based organisms will die in soils abruptly too dry, too wet, too hot, or too cold.
Earth will increasingly resemble Mars. The last humans will die miserably. They will be thirsty, hungry, and marinating in ionizing radiation. With the exception of like-minded sociopaths, they will be lonely. Even in the presenceof like-minded sociopaths, they will be lonely.
This life is not for me. A dozen years ago I sacrificed enormous privilege and fiat currency because I wanted to set an example for others who were willing to grow and preserve food while living in a community of like-minded humans committed to small environmental footprints. I opted out of the monetary system because I knew it underlaid the extinction crisis we were in. I lived off-grid for a decade, thereby putting my words into action. As I became increasingly educated about the aerosol masking effect and ionizing radiation, I returned to my roots as an educator, albeit unpaid. I abandoned off-grid living for a more customary approach so that I could continue to inform the masses about the urgency of our collective planetary emergency and therefore the urgency of how we live.
To the extent I am able, I will spend my remaining time in this role. My primary outlets for educating people lie beyond the campuses and universities where I once enjoyed work. As a result, I will take advantage of media such as this one to transmit information rooted in evidence and love. I have no reason to lie about the dire straits we face, so I tell the full truth, rooted in evidence uncovered by others.
I will continue a liberal approach to teaching, and to life. Liberal simply means, “broad-minded,” and this is the approach I used and will continue to use in classrooms and beyond. For me, liberal teaching means putting everything I know, and everything I am, at risk in the classroom or wherever I teach. And not just in general, but specifically as well. That is, I put it all on the line during every meeting of every class. I’ve been wrong often enough to know it could happen again, and I’m willing to admit my errors in the pursuit of truth.
How courageous is this approach? Remember how it turned out for Socrates.
The essence of liberal teaching lies in taking risks every day. Rather than applying the conservative approach of deploying textbook knowledge — the “I’m the teacher, and therefore I’m correct” approach — a liberal celebrates humility.
Pursuing a liberal approach to teaching is dangerous. It requires courage, a thick skin, and recognition that the personal costs of pursuing liberalism in the classroom are far exceeded by the opportunity costs of failing to do so. Indeed, I would argue that the pursuit of a liberal approach to any of life’s important activities is dangerous. That alone is sufficient justification to apply the approach at every turn.
I used to be a classroom conservative. Here’s one minor example: I taught my dog to whistle. I taught, and I taught, and I taught. I used every trick I learned from graduate courses on college teaching. But my dog never learned to whistle. The problem with a conservative approach to teaching is the focus on the instructor and his wealth of knowledge, disseminated like so many pieces of valued wisdom to eager students. Even my dog was eager.
Over the years, I came to understand and treat each group of people with whom I was fortunate to work as a corps of discovery. Our quest: a life of excellence for each of us.
An example might help. In February 2006, during the ninth meeting of a class I taught at the University of Arizona titled Wlldland Vegetation Management, the syllabus indicated the day’s topic was conspicuous consumption. Already we’re on tenuous ground from the perspective of the typical university administrator. During the first few minutes that day, somebody mentioned Siddartha Gautama (i.e., the Buddha) and his four noble truths. The link to conspicuous consumption should be apparent. Less apparent are the following topics, all of which we addressed within the first ten minutes of the class period, in this order:
No Child Left Behind (the act)
Culverts under Speedway, a main surface street in Tucson
The Princess Bride, a film
Actor Charlton Heston
Singer Sheryl Crow
John Dewey, the pragmatist American philosopher and educator
Espresso Art, a local coffee shop near campus
The New Jersey Turnpike
Pangaea, the supercontinent from some 250 million years ago
I learned a lot from my students. First and foremost, I learned they were my teachers, too. My own response to the question of why I am here springs from my abundant time with 20-somethings. It goes something like this:
I asked nearly every day for advice about living. I recommend living where you feel most alive and, simultaneously, where you feel most useful. I recommend living fully. I recommend living with intention. I recommend living urgently, with death in mind. I recommend the pursuit of excellence. I recommend the pursuit of love.
In light of the short time remaining in your life, and my own, I recommend all of the above, louder than before. More fully than you can imagine. To the limits of this restrictive culture, and beyond.
For you. For me. For us. For here. For now.
Live large. Be you, and bolder than you’ve ever been. Live as though you’re dying. The day draws near.
McPherson, Guy R. 2020. Academic Pursuits. Woodthrush Productions, New York.
Latest peer-reviewed journal articles:
McPherson, Guy R. 2020. Near-Term Loss of Habitat for Homo sapiens. Earth & Environmental Science Research & Reviews 3(4):216-218.
McPherson, Guy R. 2020. The Means by Which COVID-19 Could Cause Extinction of All Life on Earth (pdf). Environmental Analysis & Ecology Studies 7(2):711-713.
McPherson, Guy R. 2020. The Role of Conservation Biology in Understanding the Importance of Arctic Sea Ice (pdf). Earth & Environmental Science Research & Reviews 3(3):147-149.
McPherson, Guy R. 2020. The Myth of Sustainability (pdf). Earth & Environmental Science Research & Reviews 3(3):117-122.
McPherson, Guy R. 2020. Trees Cannot Sequester Enough Carbon to Slow Abrupt Climate Change. Modern Concepts & Developments in Agronomy (pdf) 6(4). DOI: 10.31031/MCDA.2020.06.000641
McPherson, Guy R. 2020. Earth is in the Midst of Abrupt, Irreversible Climate Change. Journal of Earth and Environmental Sciences Research 2(2).
McPherson, Guy R. 2020. Will COVID-19 Trigger Extinction of All Life on Earth? (pdf). Earth & Environmental Science Research & Reviews 3(2)2:73-74. doi.org/10.33140/EESRR.03.02.04
McPherson, Guy R. 2019. Going Halfway: Climate Reports Ignore the Full Evidence, and Therapists Ignore Grief Recovery. Clinical Psychology Forum 321:28-31.
Books Published Recently:
McPherson, Guy R. 2020. Academic Pursuits. Woodthrush Productions, New York.
McPherson, Guy R. 2020. Another Voice Crying in the Wilderness: My Homage to Edward Abbey, in three formats:
Signed, inscribed edition (includes postage and handling within the United States). These copies will be signed by the author and inscribed to whom you wish (e.g., “To Bill and Jane …”).
McPherson, Guy R. 2019. Only Love Remains: Dancing at the Edge of Extinction. Woodthrush Productions, New York.
McPherson, Guy R. 2019. Revised Second edition of Going Dark. Woodthrush Productions, New York.
Pauline Panagiotou Schneider and Guy R. McPherson. 2018. Revised Second Edition of Ms. Ladybug and Mr. Honeybee: A Love Story at the End of Time. Woodthrush Productions, New York.
McPherson, Guy R. 2019. Revised Second edition of Walking Away from Empire: A Personal Journey. Woodthrush Productions, New York.
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