Quoting Carl Sagan, I begin some presentations with this line:
It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.
Many people disagree with Sagan, choosing delusion over reality, believing we can have infinite growth on a finite planet with no consequences for people or other creatures, other life forms, other organisms. The people in this latter group seek hope, and many of them disparage me and my actions for inducing despair.
Finally, though, I’ve concluded that hope is hopeless. As Friedrich Nietzsche pointed out, “Hope is the most evil of evils, because it prolongs man’s torment.”
To put Ed Abbey’s spin on it, “Action is the antidote to despair.” So, even though I no longer think my actions matter for humans, I’ll take action.
A worthy pity party
Near-term human extinction is a difficult pill to swallow, as is economic collapse. But ignoring ugly truths does not make them any less true. Despair is an expected and appropriate response to this information. Recognizing, accepting, and moving beyond despair are important subsequent steps.
But first, let’s despair.
If you don’t despair what we’ve done, and what we continue to do, to the living planet and people outside the industrialized world, I have little sympathy for you.
Despair is a typical and expected reaction to my presentations, and I would have it no other way. If the truth causes despair, then bring on the truth. I’ve been despairing for years. It hurts. But avoiding our emotions makes us less human, and it degrades our humanity. I want no part of that. I want to feel, even when it hurts. Until I can’t.
In addition to inducing despair, I’ve been told I disempower people. Paradoxically, this disempowerment results from my encouraging people to take responsibility for facts, and for themselves. As individuals, we’ve never had significant power, our privilege aside. For most of us, the limited power we possess has been used primarily to accrue more personal power at the expense of the living planet and people outside the industrialized world.
How difficult it is for civilized humans to comprehend that this civilization, like all others, has disadvantages? How difficult it is for civilized humans to comprehend that this civilization, like all others, must end? How difficult it is for civilized humans to comprehend that humans, like other organisms, are headed for extinction?
Had the collapse of the industrial economy reached completion several years ago, our species might have persisted a few more generations. Now, however, it’s time to let go.
The last dance
As individuals, we don’t possess the power to alter the outcome. However, we have the power to control our reaction to events. Thus, the new role I’ve assigned myself: court jester.
I have no experience at court jester beyond playing class clown. But I think Nero had the right idea, creating art as Rome burned. So I’ll create humor while taking advantage of opportunities to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Perhaps if I provide enough humor, I’ll be spared the usual end-of-life experience proposed for those messengers who bring bad news.
I’ll present dire information with empathy while promoting resistance. I’ll continue to criticize society while empathizing with individuals. And I’ll ask people to empathize, and to feel. Even
if though it hurts.
Why? Because, hopium aside, Carl Sagan was correct: painful reality trumps satisfying, reassuring delusion.
–Guy McPherson, Transition Voice Magazine