Tuesday, June 03, 2014

I'm inspired

Sometimes, when we're feeling sick of ideologues (mostly men, mostly white) who preach primitive Marxist economism or academic obfuscation, my partner and I joke that we're sticking with our leader: she's an 8 year old Ugandan girl who none of these blowhards have ever heard of. We don't know her name yet either, but we know she's got as good or better chance of explaining and changing the world as any of these annoying guys.

One of the most annoying contemporary forms of overweening obfuscation is Collapsarianism. Yes, the planet is warming because of human actions and inactions -- and human institutions seem incompetent to respond. Yes, our species is killing off other species (mostly inadvertently) at an astonishing rate -- we may be on our way killing ourselves off. But human and humane responses are possible if we are true to our better selves. Wallowing in despair while contemplating collapse is simply self-indulgence masquerading as sophistication.

With that introduction, I give you excerpts from Miriam Markowitz, deputy literary editor of The Nation magazine, from a graduation speech of all things (!) to the "Independent Concentrators" of Brown University last month.

And for the fatalists, well, it is always disappointing to some when the world fails to end at the appointed hour. Maybe you’re familiar with this online dating site, OKCupid. It’s a big thing now for us semi-grown-ups—we’re all so busy and atomized, and we don’t get to live in this concentrated, teeming body of like-minded potential mates, so instead we go on the Internet and fill out questionnaires.

One question—and I always wonder, ‘Who is the guy, the crazy schlemiel, who dreamed this one up?’—the question reads, verbatim:

“In a certain light, wouldn’t nuclear war be exciting?”

Um, no. I don’t think it would be. I think it would be pretty horrific.

But a great many respondents actually answer, verbatim: “Yes, it would,” without even adding a brief caveat in the explanation box, where you’re supposed to qualify statements like “Yes, I might enjoy the destruction of life on earth.”

Parents, this is not a joke: some of your older children think nuclear war might be kind of a lark.

This answer may be deeply disturbing, but it isn’t wholly surprising. Belief in Progress with a capital P or Decline with a capital D, whether religious or secular, is predicated on the finite; at some point all must end, in apocalypse, rapture or the singularity. This kind of belief, to my mind, is the province of children. It promises relief from the burdens of these, our bodies, on this, our planet—a final dispensation from the adult responsibility of living, physically, here and now. The human longing, even fetish, for apocalypse is strange, but it is powerful and persistent.

When I speak of liberation, I do not mean souls carried aloft to the perfection of heaven, or consciousness uploaded to the incorporeal, computerized irreality of a universal Cloud. We have lived on the earth for a long time, but only recently in such imbalance. With such disrespect, so great a will to dominance, and so little awe and wonder.

If I were the earth, I’d be pretty annoyed. I might try to rid myself of us, these pestilential humans, in one fell swoop, and start anew. But the earth has tolerated our pitiful attempts to control it with some patience and, remarkably, with warnings—with signs of its displeasure. The slow rise of the waters, for instance, rather than one swift, cleansing flood. The earth does not appear to aspire to eschatology, perhaps because it knows that it will take far more than us to destroy it, however hard we might try. ...

... And given that we are still here, that we have been admonished but not obliterated, is it not possible that the earth would prefer our presence, if only we weren’t such a nuisance?

I like this planet. It’s my home, and I wonder if perhaps its extraordinary patience indicates that it might also like me. Many will tell you that the earth would be better off without us; but have they discussed this with her? Do they know if she agrees? The best parts of our civilization are her achievements, too. ...

Go read it all! There's much more. And I think Markowitz might understand why I brought up our imagined 8 year old leader.

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