Wit's End

Monday, September 29, 2014

It's Cool to be a Nihilist ~ Glenn Beck

I saw this fabulous clip at an intriguing collaborative blog --Synthetic_Zero, which bears Nietzsche's remonstrance at the top "Light for some time to come will have to be called darkness".  I'm not quite sure what meaning is intended with the dead lion on the floor of Glenn Beck's studio - there must be some, right? - but anyway, I have to be grateful to him for putting everything else together.  Click here to listen to the NPR story he laments.

Five Stages of Awareness? (or is it Six?) ~ a Guest Post by Tim Murray

Tim Murray has graciously allowed me to post his recent correspondence.  If you think this is as brilliant as I do, you might want to later check out the marvelously irascible Dave Cohen's tour de force series, Adventures in Flatland Part I and Part II  ...(III is yet to be published).  They make for excellent companion reading to Tim's article here - and between them, I can hang up my hat when it comes to the immutability of human nature, the futility of activism, and the absurdity of life in general.

Untitled, Oil on Canvas ~ Judith Fouser
Wit's End Collection

Five Stages of Awareness?
(or is it Six?)
   ~ Tim Murray

I don't know if I have met anyone who is not, at some level, in a state of denial, including the guy I see in the mirror. Call it an essential human 'coping mechanism'

Reflecting on my own "evolution" (without any implication that I am 'improving' or 'progressing' forward), I am now of the impression that many of us follow these stages, or get stuck in one of them.

Stage one
: Ignorance. We don't know enough to realize that this civilization is headed toward an imminent collapse, taking a lot of non-human species down with it.

Stage two: Knowledge: We know enough to realize that this civilization is headed toward an imminent collapse etc.

Stage three: Activism: We know enough to realize that this civilization is headed toward an imminent collapse...etc. But we don't know enough to realize that we can't stop it, so we invest our time in blogging, preaching, demonstrating, rallying, and marching.

Stage four. Resignation and Commiseration: We know enough to realize that this civilization is headed toward an imminent collapse etc., and finally realize that activism (blogging, preachin', demonstrating, rallying, and marching will not make a significant difference. We either call it a day and drop out, or we write endlessly about how we're "f***ked, and spend years "trading turds" (as Kurt Dahl termed it) on list serves--- until we get mad or frustrated and demand to be taken off the list.

Stage five. Displacement Behaviour or a Sense of Moral Obligation: Despite knowing that we are "f**ked, we persist with our activism, blogging, preachin' , rallying, and marching because:

 (a) we need to "do something" (displacement behaviour) to distract ourselves from any focus on our hopeless predicament. Like Richard Attenborough's example of a bird who suddenly realizes that he is in striking distance of deadly snake and that neither fight or flight will save him, so instead he preens his feathers.


(b) we would feel morally remiss if we didn't try to do "something". At least re-arrange the deck chairs or leave our cabin room tidy. Case in point.  I saw a young woman in the middle of a frigid alpine lake (Moraine Lake in the Rockies) cry for help after her canoe capsized. The lake was like an echo chamber. We could hear her screams and words as if she was ten feet away. But she was in fact 500 feet away. We knew that even if we could immediately grab a boat, we couldn't get there in time. But a couple of us tried to do it anyway because we felt we had to do "something". It wasn't even a case of wilful optimism. It was an attempt to deal with our anxiety and horror. Of course, as we expected, this poor, unfortunate woman disappeared long before anyone got to her.

 Imagine, though, if someone on the shoreline, someone like Chris Clugston, using math and physics, quickly proved  what we at least subconsciously knew to be the case--- that it would be impossible to save her? Suppose he handed us a sheet of paper that presented his iron-clad data.  That truth-teller would be greeted with anger or outright denial. "If you really belief it's hopeless, why are you bothering to write about it?" or "If people believe your message, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy..... We don't need Cassandras, we need motivators, morale-boosters not truth-tellers...."

Jack Alpert has experienced this reaction. People see his video on "How much De-growth do we need", but they simply dismiss his assessment of our scale of overshoot, even though they can't challenge his math. Why? They want to believe, they need to believe, that the planet can carry many more people than he estimates because they think that they can't "sell" their population reduction diet program if it calls for that amount of sacrifice. Better to cling to Eco-Footprinting Analysis. Better to focus on bio-capacity and ignore diminishing non-renewable resource stocks. Better to shop the WWF's Living Planet report because it says we only need another 4 planets to carry on BAU, not get down to Alpert's population level of 50 million.  The message, after all, must be "marketable". And like so many salesmen, they---to use Stephen Law's words---come to "believe their own bullshit." Bottom line, Cassandras are either dismissed or reviled, even if their conclusions are evidence-based.

 That, my friends, is the position that people like Chris Clugston are in. People don't want to hear the raw, brutal and complete truth.  They want hope. They can only take a limited, even if heavy dose of reality. That's why readers and publishers want manuscripts and books to end on a note of hope, however absurd. They want a happy Hollywood ending, even if it runs counter to all the evidence and arguments that lead up it.  A non sequitur. A conclusion that doesn't follow from the premises. Just like the way McKibben, Suzuki, et al argue. Like bible-punching preachers, they tell us that we're going to hell, that things are very, very bad, but wait....there's hope yet! The window is quickly closing but it's not too late! There is still time to repent! So keep your love money rollin' in , because my NGO (church) needs to pay the bills and pay its staff--I need you fund my crusade."

 Curiously, one notices that 20 years ago, many of these preachers said that the window would soon close way back then, the same way Oral Roberts used to do---in Suzuki's case, before the decade was out (the 90's are the "Turn-around Decade"). But apparently the apocalypse got another stay of execution because they are still talking about a closing window. The goal posts keep getting pushed further back. Ah yes, hope. "We must give them hope...."

BTW I went through all of these stages, and it took me damn near three decades to do so. I am currently stuck at Stage 5, but "hopefully", I will eventually  revert to Stage 4, chill out, and try to enjoy the downslope, maybe play another hand of poker before the ship goes down, or join the orchestra at the stern....Nah, I think I will just keep on fightin' and writin' (uselessly). It's in my nature. As William of Orange put it: "It is not necessary to hope in order to undertake, nor to succeed in order to persevere."
But hey wait...maybe there is yet another Stage. As Chris Clugston asks, 

“Can there be Stage 6 - something like "Acceptance" (like reaching Nirvana?!) - which would be different than Stage 4? Where you realize, "hey, no hard feelings; nothing personal; nothing to get hung about..." Just go and enjoy Strawberry Fields Forever - for however long that turns out to be... But I mean really LET GO, and not keep reverting to either stage 5 or 4? “

OK Chris, so here it is:

Stage 6:  Acceptance and just LETTING GO.

Tim Murray
September 26, 2014

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