I’m about to travel for two weeks - first in Alaska, then in New England - and am trying to
consolidate my life into a reasonable camping-backpack-sized pile.
Part of the trip is an academic conference, and I had a hell of a time trying to figure out what to wear.
Instead of asking, “Will this help me fit in?”
(because I have accepted the near-impossibility of that reality)
I ended up asking, “What will I be comfortable in?”
There’s only one problem.
I don’t want to be comfortable.
I took a quiz to find out which Greek Goddess I was.
Because that’s what you do when you combine an unsettled mood and Facebook.
My result was Demeter, goddess of the harvest, the cycle of life and death.
I was pulling for Athena, but I think I’m too much of a pacifist for her.
Demeter’s value is creating and thriving in the in-between space.
As we cross over into fall, which in Alaska is really just baby winter,
I realized I have way more in common with Demeter than I originally thought.
Because things are changing.
I was baking and listening to Radiolab’s ‘In the Dust of This Planet.’
It’s an astonishing episode, about nihilism, pessimism, True Detective, fashion and Jay Z.
It starts with a philosopher in the world of academics,
who assumes he doesn’t have an audience but writes books anyway,
and ends with a stylist who knows she’s talking to the world.
Mid-way through, I wiped flour off my hands and frantically wrote this down:
What are we afraid of?
We’ve made a mess of this world of ours.
And we’re afraid of how to make it stop or clean it up.
We don’t want things to be hard, and we’re scared of the unknown.
What if the answers we find only create more questions we didn’t even know to ask before?
As the podcast mentions, this is hardly the first generation to have a moment of reckoning.
There has always been a crisis, a response, and a counterculture that formed in opposition.
The most direct comparison can be made to the Cold War,
when the threat of nuclear annihilation was a perpetual threat of the end of days.
How is this any different?
Instead of a person with a button,
or a plane
or a missile,
the crisis is everywhere.
It's (almost) everything.
Each problem we discover has hundreds of potential consequences,
with millions of their own chain reactions we are struggling to identify and struggle with.
And that’s just identifying the state of the situation.
Should we focus on the personal level, consuming less, flying less, being better people? Yes.
Should we enact policy changes, like changing international trade agreements
so they don’t prioritize money over the planet, build our towns and cities into forces for good and not evil,
and make sure that our most vulnerable populations are not literally left out in the elements,
and on and on and on? Yes.
Should we invest in more scientific education, research and innovation? Yes.
Should we get radical, demand a political and economic system that looks out for our interests?
And, barring that shift, create communities of our own and work for justice
in our immediate environments while working to build
a big enough tent for whoever wants entry? Yes.
Should we help change our society’s way of seeing the world,
from a source of materials for our own use to a mutually-beneficial reciprocal relationship,
where each can benefit from a relationship with the other?
Because this really is changing everything.
I followed geese to the sunrise this morning.
It was the first frost of the season,
and the sky was a chorus of fire over the mountain range.
So I layered up and rode my bike up a hill,
where I took a few sunrise photos.
Then I went home and continued on with my morning.
There are only a few things that make me want to transform into She-Hulk during a conversation.
One of them is when somebody acknowledges the mess we’re in
and responds by shrugging their shoulders,
saying, “Well, that’s the tragedy of the commons.”
What they’re referring to is Garrett Hardin’s (in)famous article, where he theorizes that
when you put a population into a limited shared space, they will invariably
overrun the capacity of that space and destroy themselves.
It’s a relatively well-known theory.
But he’s wrong.
For much of our collective (Western) history, there was always an out there,
a place where our trash could go and desperately needed resources would come from.
But we know what’s out there now.
Only the deepest, darkest parts of the world haven’t personally
seen a team of PhD students take measurements and investors calculate worth,
and yet they’re already parts of dissertations and meeting agendas, unknowns notwithstanding.
We will never eliminate the unknowns entirely,
and what we know can’t be ignored.
The season is changing.
We have come to the limits of our system.
We know a lot about a whole bunch of things,
with ideas about possibilities and difficulties.
Find some silence and look out a window.
Take some deep breaths.
Ask yourself what you feel like doing today.
Sometimes the answer will be, “Not much. Not today.”
But other days, when you ask yourself what you’re willing to give,
the answer might be,
We’re in the aftermath.
What we need to work on is not being afraid.
Humans are just as likely to change something as they are to adapt to a situation.
It’s the only way we’ve come so far.
We have the guide of history and the optimism of a species that has been to the moon and back again.
What are we going to do?
Because nothing isn’t an option.
We aren’t the ones who should be uncomfortable.
Our world's wealth and power has been systematically funneled to a
fraction of the global population, many of whom are directly complicit
in creating the state of the world around us.
The first ever credit default swap,
the seed that helped spawn the Great Recession we're supposedly out of,
was created after Exxon needed to take out a line of credit with JP Morgan,
due to their 11-million-barrell crude oil spill in Prince William Sound.
Destroying the environment is a risky business.
The most powerful companies in the world are making money by taking the promise of our future,
and hedging their bets with the technologies that could maybe, possibly, hopefully, save us,
if they just swallowed their bottom lines and did the right thing.
The bad news is they are incredibly formidable opponents.
The good news is they know they're in a fight.
The conference I'm going to is about Revolution.
People have fought impossible odds before.
We don’t hear enough about them,
because the future they imagined sometimes turned into reality,
and dreams never seem as bright in the light of day.
But the night is dark. And in the darkness, there are dreams.
When we live in the confines of a world
we did not create and can barely - as individuals, mind you - budge an inch,
the world itself is a prison.
When you cannot stop people from destroying the very
air, water and soil you need to live,
you are in prison.
When you can, but only if you pay for the privilege,
you are still in prison.
As John Berger says (and you should hear),
in the deepest depths of the prison,
the jailers cannot hear us plan.
For prisoners, there is always an “after.”
The present is always a temporary condition.
The world we are living in is not one we are going to settle for.
If somebody tells you to be pragmatic, ignore them.
Being pragmatic means accepting the limitations of a reality somebody else has defined for you.
I have to be done now.
I have things to do and my flight is leaving today.
I have loved ones to see and other lives to try on.
Sit in the window.
Find the silence.
Ask yourself what you can do today.
It might not be much.
But it might be something.
We're in the aftermath.
And we won’t be afraid.
To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
* My long answers could be three times the length. It could be filled with links and news articles, "proving" the pieces of the puzzle I'm talking about even exist. But at this point, either you read the stories or you don't. Me linking to them just to prove that I can isn't worth anyone's time, let alone mine.
Next time you see a headline you would normally shrug off, just read the damn article. Listen to the stories.