That’s what the evidence suggests, anyway. I see very little purpose to turning away from it – or perhaps I just can’t. The truth is, I think about the end of the world pretty much all the time. People who know me well would tell you that I talk about it all the time, too, but what they don’t realize is that I don’t talk about it a fraction as often as I think about it. Perhaps you find this notion horrible, but it doesn’t really bother me much – not usually, anyway. Some days, I really get fried out about it. Most of the time, though, I can hold the thought of world’s end in my mind and still feel the varied joys and sorrows of life in an entirely independent and separate capacity.
This isn’t new, either. From the time I was about seven, I was pretty obsessed with the book of Revelation. Yeah, I was a really strange child. I can’t really tell you if my current apocalyptic leanings are derived from a childhood immersion in the Bible’s most violent book or if both the current leanings and the childhood immersion are derived from some weird genetic predisposition. Either way, thoughts of cataclysm didn’t really bother me much back then, either (although I always quietly hoped the end of the world would come after I was at least sixteen – so that I could have had a girlfriend before it was all over).
Given these characteristic eccentricities of mine, it should not be taken as particularly unusual that last week, upon coming across this piece in the Guardian, it stuck with me for several days. In the article, super climate science veteran James Lovelock discusses how we’ve past the point of no return with regard to environmental catastrophe, we’re effed, and there’s very little we can do but perhaps take some enjoyment in the moment of our lives. Things will be bad in 20 years, he says, and they’ll be unrecognizable in 40. Now, none of this is new – not even the article. At the time, I was under the impression it was current, but I see now it’s actually six years old. The information isn’t new to me, either – even when he depressingly asserts that individual behavioral changes aren’t ever going to do a damn thing to avert climate disaster, it’s a fact to which I’ve long been resigned.
Still, my mind being what it is, I turned the ideas over and over in the background of the days that followed. Lovelock’s words were eerily reminiscent of laudable work produced by my good comrade Tim Donovan for Salon. In this particular piece (he’s written several on the subject) he takes upon himself the unpleasant task of speaking plainly on one particular aspect of our present and future futility – the fact that, despite the vague faithy hopes of many, technological advances aren’t likely to save us.
Indeed, on our present path as a species, it takes a remarkable measure of faith (or, alternately, wishful thinking) to espouse the view that magical future ideas are coming to save us from ourselves. As Donovan and I have discussed, it’s nothing more than a deus ex machina, differing more in style than substance from articles of faith involving divine salvation. In both cases, relief requires an unseen, unprovable, non-guaranteed force well outside of our control or even current understanding. Without faith or wishful thinking, the best case scenario – according to Lovelock, anyway – is that most, but not all, humans perish, with those that remain perhaps having learned a valuable lesson they might pass along to those who might be lucky enough to follow them.
In the face of all that, why bother with anything? Why fight, why care, why have kids? After all, we’re essentially presented with three options: we can give up completely and join the winning team (even if victory, in this case, means enjoying being part of a parade as it marches steadily and rapidly off a cliff), retreat to some peaceful place – like, in decades past, California hippies to Oregon and New York ones to Vermont) – some farm, some nice quiet life, where we can live out our values separated from the broader world, washing our hands of its erroneous ways (which is utterly, soul-wrenchingly tempting), or to tilt at windmills, to fight that Quixotic fight knowing that the battle’s probably already over and done, never mind lost (which is a pain in the ass).
I choose the pain in the ass way.
I’m not here to persuade you which path to take or to choose the same one as me. I don’t have that authority. I don’t have any grounds to tell anyone how they should answer these fundamental and definitive questions. All I can tell you is why I do how I do.
It’s impossible to get around the fact that I’ve got a bit of the faith, that frustrating shadow I mentioned earlier. I’m not talking about believing in magic. For example, when it comes to technological faith, it’s no blind confidence that science will save us just in the nick of time, only that it’s possible. You don’t have to read Kurtzweil to see it – for example, in the most recent Jacobin, Alyssa Battistoni brilliantly lays out a concrete and practical argument that changing our economic way of life, specifically around employment and workers, could simply create a shift toward a sustainable future if it could be pulled off. Seeing ways out, possible however unlikely, provides me with enough spirit to trudge ahead in, at the very least, the attempt of these ends.
Even my other kind of faith, the more embarrassing kind, the kind I’ve probably always had but have been unable to ignore or deny only for the past year or two, even this isn’t based in supernatural superstition. I merely observe the nature of this world we float around on, listen to the lessons she teaches, pay heed to the arguments she makes. What I see are no true beginnings and ends, only incessant cycles. I’m not blind to the fact that cyclical movements don’t preclude our extinction as a species, but if that’s the case, it’s just fate and not worth struggling with or really pondering. If it’s not fate, however, what the planet tells me is that problems caused by mankind can well be solved by mankind – and that perhaps it’s not too late to do so. Life proceeds in seasons, and if this be our winter, should we survive, we can emerge into a type of universal spring.
Neither option is likely, but neither branch of faith holds any basis or foundation whatsoever if not accompanied by focused, committed action. Above even all of that may be certain characteristics inherent to my nature – I’m probably not objective enough on the subject to say for sure. But it seems ever clear to me that, though the world may probably end tomorrow, today is not yet done. While we’re here today, we’re alive, and to have been alive is as much as any molecule in the universe can beg for. While we’re alive, while it’s still today, let’s drink up that life and let it flow through us, experience it and live to the fullest possible extent. To me, that doesn’t mean jumping out of planes. For me, I’m most alive when I’m fighting, when I’m striving, when I’m yearning. Even if what I’m struggling for is never going to come to pass, it is worthwhile to have struck back at the darkness, however feebly, while I was still here.
That’s what I hope to pass along to my children. They may well have very difficult lives due to the changes that are to come. I hope not, but it’s likely. But may they know that fists are meant to be shaken at the sky, and that, should we choose this path of life, we might cry and lash out against the end with every fiber in our being even as it crashes over us like a wave. For me, at least – and, I hope, for them as well – it will prove reason enough to have lived.