What if we forgave everyone?

Of all the essays I’ve read on the present climate chaos, Catherine Ingram’s Facing Extinction is one of the best, and perhaps most consistent with my own point of view. This is partly because it addresses the related issues of population growth and human frailty in conjunction with climate change. Though it is a long read, around 15,000 words, it is worth all the time you can to give it.

The essay is divided into ten sections: Dark Knowledge, Courage, Distraction and Denial, Social Unrest, Over-Population and Co-Extinctions, Techno Fixes and Escape to Mars, The End of Legacy, No Blame, Grief, and Love. As well, she ends the essay with a number of ways of dealing with all this: Find your community (or create one); find your calm; release dark visions of the future, and pace your intake of climate news; be of service; be grateful, and give up the fight with evolution. I offer one quote from each section:

Dark Knowledge

“Because the subject is so tragic and because it can scare or anger people, this is not an essay I ever wanted to write; it is one I would have wanted to read along the way. But the words on these pages are meant only for those who are ready for them. I offer no hope or solutions for our continuation, only companionship and empathy to you, the reader, who either knows or suspects that there is no hope or solutions to be found. What we now need to find is courage.”

Courage

“Courage is often confused with stoicism, the stiff upper lip, bravado that masks fear. There is another kind of courage. It is the courage to live with a broken heart, to face fear and allow vulnerability, and it is the courage to keep loving what you love “even though the world is gone.”

Distraction and Denial

“You may find yourself in the company of people who seem to have no awareness of the consequences we face or who don’t want to know or who might have a momentary inkling but cannot bear to face it. You may find that people become angry if you steer the conversation in the direction of planetary crisis. You may sense that you are becoming a social pariah due to what you see, even when you don’t mention it, and you may feel lonely in the company of most people you know. For you, it’s not just the elephant in the room; it’s the elephant on fire in the room, and yet you feel you can rarely say its name.”

Social Unrest

“We now see large regions of the world that are no-go zones. Failed states, where life is cheap and barbarism reigns. Huge swaths of Africa are now lawless and controlled by armed and violent men and boys roaming the countryside in gangs, engaged in despicable acts too sickening to write. The Middle East is much the same as are parts of South America. All of these areas are enduring severe drought. As professor and journalist Christian Parenti said in an interview with Chris Hedges, “How do people adapt to climate change? How do they adapt to the drought, to the floods? Very often, the way is you pick up the surplus weaponry and you go after your neighbor’s cattle or you blame it on your neighbor’s ideology or ethnicity.”

“It is a mark of immaturity to be unable to delay personal satisfaction for the chance at greater wellbeing for all at a later date. And it is yet another wearisome example of why we humans are in the mess in which we find ourselves. We see it throughout human history. Greed is not new to modern times. We can easily understand the greedy impulse as most of us are afflicted with it. Perhaps the evolutionary imperatives from ancient times would have had no use for delayed gratification since servicing immediate needs often meant the difference between life and death. However, we can now see that being enslaved to our base desires and impulses is contraindicated to our survival. Seeing disintegrations occur in the developed countries gives a glimpse as to what societal and economic breakdown will look like when there are widespread food shortages everywhere and when the infrastructures, including the electric grids, become spotty, too costly to maintain, or are no longer working.”

Over-Population and Co-Extinctions

“According to many scientific studies, some of the inevitable outcomes of overpopulation are severely polluted water, increased air pollution and lung diseases, proliferation of infectious diseases, overwhelmed hospitals, rising crime rates, deforestation, loss of wildlife leading to mass extinctions, widespread food shortages, vanishing fish in the oceans, superbugs and airborne diseases along with diminished capacity to treat them, proliferation of AIDS, less access to safe drinking water, new parasites, desertification, rising regional conflicts, and war. As astrobiology professor Peter Ward explained in a story on the BBC, “If you look at any biological system, when it overpopulates it begins to poison its home.”

Techno Fixes and Escape to Mars

“Energy and industrial technologies have destabilized and poisoned our atmosphere and waterways. Our cyber technology has created a global industry of online financial theft, child pornography and predation, identity theft, illegal drugs, and many other criminal endeavors made possible through the internet. War technologies have made us the most effective killing species ever in history. In the 20th century, the deadliest in history thus far, an estimated 231 million people –most of them non-combatants–died in war and conflicts. High tech weaponry in the 21st century is even more capable of large scale death and destruction at the push of a button from thousands of miles away.”

As Joanna Macy told me in an interview more than thirty years ago, “We think technology will save us. Technology got us into this mess.”

The End of Legacy

“There is a cognitive dissonance that takes getting used to when you realize there is no need to consider how you or your name will be remembered in the future. Not only that, your interest in future projections about life begins to fall away. You may marvel at how many personal conversations with people you know or news items from around the world assume that human life carries on indefinitely. You may find it difficult to hold interest in these conversations and stories, as though you chanced upon a madman on a street corner earnestly proclaiming his grand plans for the future when it is clear he is hallucinating. You don’t hang on his every word.”

No Blame

“In a recent blog post, writer James Kunstler proposed a pithy theory of why humans chose each step of our path in history: “It just seemed a good idea at the time.” We plunged forward with each new way of doing things, each new invention, because it made life easier at the time. There was no intention to destroy ourselves. On the contrary, for most of the time since the Industrial Revolution, it seemed that life was getting better for greater numbers of people. With medical advances, we wiped out most of the contagious deadly diseases, controlled infections, and greatly extended life expectancy. We built transportation capabilities that allowed us to travel to the far ends of the earth in a day and thereby learn of other cultures while on their own turf. And then we hooked ourselves up to each other in a world of instantaneous communication, which has been a whole lot of fun. But we didn’t factor in the cost of all this bounty as we built modern civilization.”

Grief

“Many of us are also in anticipatory grief; that is, in the period leading to full extinction, we are aware of how hard it will be for those who are already living marginally, such as the nearly one billion people who are now under nourished and who must search for food each day. These numbers will increase and food and fresh water will become impossible to find. Even here in a rich country, I know many people who live month to month, barely making the rent, foregoing all but the most basic necessities. They are considered the poor in our First World countries, and they are also growing in number. In the United States alone, many of those who were formerly middle class now live in their cars or in homeless shelters or on the streets. Even those in situations of abundance are often relying on jobs that are destined to disappear or on bank accounts and investments that will likely disappear as well. After all, much of the so-called wealth of the privileged is simply numerical digits floating on cyber screens.“

Love

“Left to its own conditioned patterns, our minds get into all kinds of trouble (unless one was very lucky in one’s conditioning, which is rare). Developing the habit of re-directing your awareness when your mind is lost in fear or troubling stories induces confidence along the way. Your attention starts to incline toward ease more frequently. You find that you can choose calm. You can choose gratitude. You can choose love.”

Visit Catherine’s web site HERE. And a YouTube audio version of the essay (read by the author) HERE.

Human Extinction Dictionary (HED) Word of the Week: Myopic

myopic

adjective | mye-OH-pik

Derivation: Myopic derives from the Greek myōps, which comes from myein (meaning “to be closed”) and ōps (meaning “eye, face”).

Common Definition: Lacking in foresight or discernment : narrow in perspective and without concern for broader implications

Synonyms: unimaginative · uncreative · unadventurous · narrow-minded · lacking foresight · small-minded · short-term · narrow · insular · parochial · provincial

Commentary: Myopic narrowness results from an active or passive ignoring of multiple salient factors in a situation or action, thus blinding a person or group to its broader and more nuanced topographies.

‘Myopic’ is a relative term. A person, or group of people, may be myopic in one area of experience but not another. As might be expected, we tend to think of other groups and other people as being myopic, the religious and political right for example. But much of science is also myopic, and necessarily so, in that controlled experiments are ipso facto self-limiting.

“Demands for rigor and depth of scholarship obviously rank as some of the most important standards applying to . . . inquiry. The task of meeting these standards becomes more manageable as the field of inquiry narrows. Such a result can be legitimate but sometimes myopic and impoverishing.”

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/comparphil-chiwes/

It takes more than science to ‘tease-out’ multiple salient factors in real-world situations. It requires an imaginative sifting and synthesis of relevant knowledge, data, and ideas, bringing together knowledge from many fields, seeing patterns and associations that may not be visible or altogether obvious to others who have access to the same information. Importantly, such imaginative syntheses may often be expressed in rich, but unusual, non-linear ways.

 

About

post

One time around spun our gallant ship
Two times around spun she
Three times around spun our gallant ship
And sank to the bottom of the sea. 

— Lyrics from “House Carpenter

Satis mihi pauci lectores, satis est unus, satis est nullus.
(A few readers are enough, one is enough, none is enough.)

OUR GALLANT SHIP is a personal blog in which I explore a realization that came to me suddenly and unequivocally on January 08, 2019. It came to me before I began studying climate change. It came unannounced and uninvited, not as a thought, conclusion or deduction, but out of nowhere as a sudden and irrevocable reality. As such, it demolished my world view and pitched me into an altogether new and disquieting field, with an equally disquieting horizon.

The realization was simple and straightforward: The human species is not going to make it, and nothing can be done to stop it. It struck me immediately that the three main factors were climate change, population pressure, and human frailty. Though we may be able to slow down the coming catastrophe and mitigate some of its worst consequences, everything will come apart, bringing with it chaos and suffering of unimaginable proportions. Needless to say, I cannot be certain this is how it is. But despite this, and precisely for the very same reasons, I agree with Rupert Read when he says: “I leave open that the ending might be by way of a positive transformation, the opposite of collapse. We don’t know that this isn’t possible, because we don’t know what human beings are capable of in novel circumstances. Tragically, I definitely would not bet on it (even while I try to throw myself into enabling it to have a chance of happening . . . ), but to pretend that we can be certain that it won’t happen is both prematurely to close down the open-endedness of human being and to overstate our own epistemic powers.”

My focus in this blog will be on four main areas: climate change, population pressure, human frailty, and “What then must we do?” The first three elements comprise what I call ‘the intersect of extinction’. When climate change, population pressure, and human frailty come together at scale, a tipping point is reached, creating a churning cauldron of destabilizing ingredients locked in a deadly cycle of destructive feedback loops, leading to near-certain social collapse, probable catastrophe, and possible extinction. It seems clear to me that no matter how it plays out, no matter what we do, this civilization is finished. The most we can do now is to lay the groundwork for transformative adaptation, and prevent as much suffering as possible. We must feel our way into the future, without pretending we know how to fix it, and without pretending we know how the story ends.

Human frailty, the third ingredient in ‘the intersect of extinction,’ requires some explanation. If one looks with un-blinkered eyes at the field of human activity on this planet, one sees a species that is simply too violent, self-centered, deceptive, rapacious, predatory, hubristic, distracted, venal, myopic, apathetic, exploitative, deluded, brutal, greedy, hateful, and fearful, to curb its impending demise . . . and these limiting factors, these unwholesome mental formations, inveterate tendencies and habitual patterns, cannot be pushed to the back of the counter. Indeed, it would be foolish to think we can do our maths without them, for they have been with us since time out of mind, and will be with us tomorrow and tomorrow, at every turn muddying our smartest forecasts and projections.

None of this negates or diminishes the blessed balm of loving kindness, creativity, intelligence, courage, transcendence, egolessness, beauty, love, and compassion that swim in the very same pool. But we must not deny what is happening now, right before our eyes, every hour of every day, in ourselves and in others. For these human frailties, these unwholesome mental formations, infect all of us to some degree, and they will take us down, for they are becoming more and more amplified and intensified in our ever more crowded world with its increasing complexity, instability, and fear.

What then must we do? The question I will be asking throughout this blog is how each of us can develop and enlarge our compassionate capacity to respond to chaos, instability, and unprecedented global suffering. What does this predicament mean for us psychologically, socially, politically, spiritually, and pragmatically? What does this mean for me personally?

To many of my readers, this may sound like a dark vision, but the greatest gift one can give a dying person is to gently take their hand, look them straight in the eye, and, with tenderness and great compassion, tell them “Dear friend, you are dying.” This is what a friend should do. One must not lie to them. One must not pretend it isn’t so. One must not give them false hopes. For hope can be an obstacle, it can allow us to persist in our present way of life entirely immersed in a soothing bath of wishful thinking and self-deception, blunting the immediacy and urgency of what lies at hand.

To look at all this is not being a pessimist or trying to be an optimist. One has to look at all this. And you are the only one who can change yourself and the society in which you live. That is a fact, and you cannot escape from it. —Krishnamurti

Denial has many faces. Some of us stubbornly deny climate change; others deny its human agency. Still others accept climate change but deny its severity and urgency. Perhaps out of the gravity and urgency conveyed in this blog, we may, one and all, discover the immense depth of our bond with each other and with this precious planet, and set to work, for the welfare of all future generations, humans and animals alike. Though it may be too late for many things, it is not too late for this.

In terms of climate change, my aim will be the same as the authors of “Facing Up to Climate Reality” when they say: “Our aim is to pursue climate honesty rigorously and deeply without counseling despair. We will be deluded neither by optimism of the intellect nor by pessimism of the will. . . . Virtually all treatments of climate-change . . . pretend that one can have endless economic growth while preventing climate-catastrophe. And virtually all treatments similarly pretend that our lives are going to get better and better, as we grow the economy forever and rein in human-caused climate change. . . . Instead, things are on balance going to get worse. And virtually no-one wants to admit this. In this crucial sense, virtually the entire world, by our lights, is engaged in climate-denial.” As the authors say, “Real climate-honesty is the necessary prequel to effective climate action.”

Pope Francis drove to the very heart of the matter when he said “our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.”

Given the gravity of the situation, I have committed myself to explore more deeply, study more intensively, observe more closely, and inhabit my life more fully. I will meet with others, act with and for others, write, meditate, take care of my family, and do whatever else I can to develop the tools, skills, and sensitivities that will enable me to give comfort and aid to those who will suffer the most as this greatest of all catastrophes unfolds. This blog is an expression of that commitment. And I hope it is an expression of courage, where courage is what Dr. Kate Marvel described as “the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending.”

With Paul Kingshorn, I can say that “I have tried not to lie myself about the state of the world; not to tell myself, or anyone else, what we all wanted to hear . . . I have done my best to try to be clear-headed and clear-eyed.”