No point in getting stressed about new things, though, is there? If the question of a greater meaning hasn’t hit me yet, I’d be foolish to invite it in when I’ve got a pending societal breakdown to face. One life-as-we-know-it problem at a time, please. I’m just a dude.
As American druid John Michael Greer laid it out for Dark Mountain readers in Issue 12: SANCTUM, if they felt sure that everything was going to be all right, then a deity was a prerequisite for cementing that belief:
‘the conventional wisdom, shaped through and through by the contemporary cult of anthropolatry, holds that someone, somewhere, will think of something that will allow us to replace earth’s rapidly emptying fuel tanks and resource stocks on the one hand and stabilise its increasingly violent climatic and ecological perturbations on the other.’
I was neither here nor there on his druid-ness. Where I was, however, was in a moment.
While the span of my Overton window allowed for more dire predictions around CO2 levels, methane emissions and de-icing, it was like the top was caving in without the bottom falling out. Lest we rely on a metaphor that sounds good but may not convey much, what I mean to say is that while I recognised the seriousness of the climate emergency, Mr Greer’s essay crystallised for me the idea that there is no fundamental mechanism preventing the world from getting much, much worse. In this universe, things can just as possibly go the other way:
‘if history is indifferent to our preferences, by contrast, the way down is just as easy as the way up, and decline and fall wait for us as they did for all those dead civilisations in the past.’
You’d think my agnosticism would have allowed for this, but it had not. Underneath I figured we would live clumsily in the world until the AI rendered our modes of thinking unrecognisable, and until then I would blithely, sometimes callously, ignore the world, which I never thought was all that great anyway, until I died.
Alas, now my family and friends are involved, too, and all the other people I’ll never know whom I can’t successfully ignore.
I’m no joiner, and I don’t need action to assuage my anxiety. For a brief couple of weeks of heady self-sufficiency at age 22 when the world felt like my oyster, the possibility of youth (I look like someone you could ask directions) and adulthood (city life and an education left me feeling prepared for nearly everything) melded in a breezy self-confidence, and I daydreamed about how to optimise my life in ways big and small. This was so easy; I need only think my way through it and it’ll all be fine.
For whatever reason, I soon felt uncomfortable with the idea that I’d be okay while others wouldn’t. I couldn’t even enjoy my luck. I yearn to maintain my desultory float through life, but now it feels like I’m in a bad disaster television show except that it’s real. Multi-bread-basket failures; species loss in the millions; polar de-icing. And that’s just in the short term. My inner voice is so weak in defeat that it whispers: ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’
Thus, bolstered by the wisdom of colleagues and writers who faced the severity of the matter before I did, and who are figuring out what a human-positive reaction means, I will follow their path in fits and starts. I refuse to balance a rifle on the windowsill of my remote log cabin in defence of dwindling food stores; adopting that stance will ruin my life.
Argh, this whole stupid situation will be my becoming, and I resent personal growth being thrust upon me in the form of climate catastrophe.
‘There is a growing community of people’ writes Jem Bendell in ‘Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy’, ‘who conclude we face inevitable human extinction and treat that view as a prerequisite for meaningful discussions about the implications for our lives right now.’
<Sigh> What was I doing, then, for five days in Devon at a Dark Mountain course with a thoughtful group of strangers at various stages of alarm about this century’s prospects? Well, I know that contending with the loss of the life I thought I had – a loss so large I wouldn’t have taken it seriously from a film much less consider its insertion into my low-key white-bread life – will be transformative one way or another. I went to reclaim a life I didn’t know I was missing and don’t yet know the shape of.