I’ve been living my life as though the world is going to end. Everyone has a personal choice in how they choose to cope with the impending effects of climate change – grief, action, paralysis, denial, optimism – for me, it is a combination of trying to experience the world’s beauty as much as possible before it is too late, and trying to prepare my consciousness to withstand whatever that is going to come, for better or for worse.
I feel a little resentful, just a little. I think earlier generations had to cope with a ton of hardship, war, sickness and very often, premature deaths. But now, as we’re on the cusp of figuring out how to avoid all of that, we are going to have to learn how to cope with living in a world that is going to be inhospitable. It will not be like a war that we can choose to stop, or a medical breakthrough we need to have, or safety standards we need to uphold; we will have to figure out how to live when we can no longer breathe freely, grow fresh food, drink fresh water.
From my very shallow depth of understanding – I think I have yet to learn enough – I think this was inevitable. Looking at our history and psychology, I don’t see how we could have avoided this. Our brains have not evolved to a point where we can make conscious enlightened decisions yet. How many of us eat food we know that is unhealthy for us, spend the money that we should have kept for our future, text the ex we should not even have fallen in love with in the first place, lose our cool with people we shouldn’t have, consciously or unconsciously oppress other minorities, perpetuate systemic injustices without even being aware of it? After generations of celebrating power, having been taught that you’ll rise to the top and earn the fear and respect of your fellow human beings if you oppress the hell out of them, earn more money from them than they can afford to spend by convincing them to buy things that they don’t need, try to kill your competitors whether metaphorically or literally – now we expect the people in power to develop a social conscience after all they have done to deaden themselves in order to become powerful?
We are a society that celebrate the rich and powerful. We admire them, make them our heroes, find excuses for them when they turn out to be assholes, we want to become them. Most of us covet power in different forms – most of us don’t have the wholeness nor the education to know what to do with power when we’re handed with it. We are complicit in this system and we enable this behaviour by continuing to perpetuate and celebrate it.
So we end up with a world with a poor power distribution where the powerful minority is capable of determining the trajectory of how we want to shepherd this world, and also with a powerless majority that is trying to cope with our own powerless existence by exerting our power in where we can: consumption. But we’re both bound by the same existential and primal fear.
I don’t think we could really blame ourselves when this fear has kept us alive for so long. Accumulating more power than the other was a primitive mechanism that has traditionally protected us, but I think we are slowly discovering it is no longer working.
I consider myself a misanthrope. I blame the human race for all the short-term thinking and atrocities while being a hypocrite because I fall victim to short-term thinking all the time. I just had a french toast for breakfast. But increasingly, the more I understand, the more I feel compassionate for us. I go through long periods of blame, alternated with short windows of compassion. The compassion comes from this vague knowing that it is such an uphill battle to overcome millions of years of conditioning.
Yet in just a hundred years, we have progressed so much in terms of human rights and social justice – yes it is uneven, inconsistent, and an awful lot more to do, but before this hundred years more than half of the population did not even get the right to vote, many of us did not even have rights to decide what to do with our own lives.
I am not a Steven Pinker fan. I don’t believe the world is getting better because of a few metrics here and there. But what I believe is that we have a ton of room to grow, and perhaps in a few hundred years we would get much better at taking care of the world and ourselves. I think this was inevitable because of our evolving psychology, but it is also our evolving psychology that gives me hope, because our possibilities widen once we become capable of making conscious choices instead of being driven by our internal programming. Contrast this to a worldview that believes human beings are unchangeably greedy and selfish.
My questions are: are we still capable of making progress despite the inhospitable conditions, how much of the damage is irreversible, and controversially, is this an opportunity to break down the existing power structures and unhealthy narratives that have tied us down for so long?
I also don’t believe in the narrative that we need darkness to have light. I think a lot of this darkness is simply unnecessary and it is self-perpetuated because we don’t know better. But I do think failure is an inevitable part of the process to knowledge. I just hope that it is not too catastrophic.
The non-human part of me thinks that this is a great (great in terms of history, it is not assigned a positive value) time to bear witness to: how would we respond? What is going to end, and what is going to begin? Just how much, is our youth going to inspire us? The younger generations have always been breaking the chains of the older ones, and I cannot wait to see how they will become a new generation of human beings (and I acknowledge it is unfair for them to bear the burden but if we have to assign blame we have to go back to the conditions where life began) I can only wish I have had the courage to become.