Sunday, June 04, 2017

Facing down fear of collapse

It's not hard to understand why Donald Trump had to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement: he reveled in a chance to strike out at all the stuck-up, pointy-headed, leftist intellectuals who will never give him any respect and who are making his presidency an embattled morass. No one seems to take seriously that he has any formed opinions on the threat to climate stability which humans have initiated. But he does know that he can bond with a segment of his supporters who've been taught by fossil fuel myth-spinners that their jobs, and their white pride, and their manhood, have been done in by the tree-huggers.

Most of the more informed deniers, skeptics, and angry rejecters of climate science are actually terrified Collapsarians. Many of them know in the deeper recesses of shrouded minds that something is happening with climate. These people -- some brighter Republican officeholders, pundits, and business leaders -- resist engaging with climate science because to do so would force them to accept that their preferred economic system has set disasters in motion -- and very possibly there is nothing [that they are willing] to do about it. Staring at what humans have done to our own future is just too unbearable. The natural reaction is terror. Climate collapse looks inescapable; they must look away ...

In parts of Trump's base Collapsarianism is a perfect fit with day to day experience in their communities. There are too many places in this country which have indeed collapsed -- not yet because of climate instability, but because of technological and economic changes, accompanied by a perception of racial and social change, if not next door, somewhere too near by. Anyone who needs another dose of evidence of this should read Margaret Talbot's remarkable New Yorker profile, The Addicts Next Door. A Collapsarian response to intimations of climate change is simply a glove that easily fits for many of these folks.

But neither Donald Trump, nor GOPer leaders, nor suffering white people in places modernity has bypassed are the Collapsarians whose willed escape from ugly reality most disturb me. I worry about Collapsarians of the left. Oh, these folks excoriate those other Yahoos, the climate change denier tribe. But, especially in liberal enclaves like the one I live in, too many good people are haunted by the terror that collapse is what's ahead -- and develop strategies that enable them to look away. The unvarnished reality -- of climate change, of racial and economic injustice, of not seeing a way forward -- is just too awful.

For example, in a recent political study group, an earnest participant explained she was having a difficult time engaging with the arguments among historical political actors we were reading about. After all, she explained, "I don't believe in the system."

Our facilitator laughed kindly and replied wisely and warmly: "That's okay -- but you know it's like gravity. It's still there, pulling on you, whether you believe in it or not."

In her day, black voting rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer engaged with this same thought when she took on not only the Ku Klux Klan, but also the Democratic Party and a sitting Democratic president in 1964. She was asked “Do you have faith that the system will ever work properly?” She had an answer:

We have to make it work. Ain’t nothing going to be handed to you on a silver platter. That’s not just black people, that’s people in general, masses. See, I’m with the masses… You’ve got to fight. Every step of the way you’ve got to fight.

In the face of collapse, there is no other answer. Looming collapse is real, but giving up is not an option. Too many good people have struggled too long for current generations to give up. We who are active now owe both our ancestors and our posterity our fiercest resistance to the terror that there may be no way forward.

"You’ve got to fight. Every step of the way you’ve got to fight."

1 comment:

Rain Trueax said...

I posted a link to the Paris Accord on my rant blog. I think a lot of folks don't know what's in it and only what they are told is in it. Reading stuff like that for ourselves is important in a time where there are dueling 'truths' out there. It's only 16 pages, but it is written in legalese, which means it can be daunting to decide what terms mean. The biggest issue for me was labeling who is considered a developing nation, as they have different standards for compliance. China was a developing nation while they will soon surpass our economy-- or so I'm told by one side of the dueling 'truths' which added that they wouldn't have signed if they hadn't gotten that designation. China is trying to improve their pollution anyway given how bad it is in their cities. Years ago, the US did the same to improve smog-- but last time I had to drive through LA, it looked like it was getting worse again-- hybrid cars or not.