|As I was driving into downtown Toronto this morning I listened to the dreary, clichÈd responses from politicians to the recent upsurge in drug-related gang shootings in the Toronto area. The answer, said the progressives, is to stop the flow of guns from the US. Yeah, as if that’s going to happen. The answer, said the conservatives, is much steeper prison sentences for all violent crimes (and presumably building more staggeringly-expensive prisons to hold them). Creative, eh? And, ironically, the conservative leader with this moronic idea claimed “even if it deters just one criminal act” it will be worth it, and it will provide solace to the families of victims and increase the feeling of security in “troubled” (by which he meant black) neighbourhoods. Even if it doesn’t work.
In other news, it turns out that the heavy oil spill in an Alberta lake from last week’s train derailment not only devastated the life in the lake and nearby land, but also contaminated the groundwater and contained a deadly carcinogen that was not reported to cleanup authorities. Alberta’s Big Oil-dominated government’s environmental record is poor, probably the worst in Canada, but since they can blame this spill on the feds, this is unlikely to change. I heard this just as I drove around the carcass of a dead kitten on the road, crushed and ignored by the rush hour traffic. There’s another heat and smog advisory here, the 35th this summer, and authorities are asking people to conserve, yet 35% of women working in office buildings surveyed last month claim that the summer temperature inside their offices is so cold they have to bring sweaters and sometimes even use space heaters under their desks. A university professor was interviewed about a plan to build a wind turbine that could reduce the energy needs of one university campus — by 2%. But the one big wind turbine in downtown Toronto wasn’t working at all this morning.
I changed the station and learned that Bush has signed the zero-conservation energy bill, paving the way for drilling in the ANWR and including a massive drilling and nuke-building subsidy program for Big Energy that, at most, will increase US reserves by a six-month supply, while dismantling more environment, land development and pollution controls across the country. He’s on vacation for a month, where he recently entertained his pal, Colombian president Uribe, and promised him more aid to fight drugs (and leftists) despite evidence from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that most of the money has actually been going to Uribe’s brutal military and paramilitary forces and that the ‘drug war’ has been a devastating, utter and abject failure.
The editorial on the station cheered us with the news that global corporations are now so dependent on corporate welfare, subsidies, corporate tax refunds, tax rate reductions, handouts, immunity from litigation and other distortions of the ‘free’ market that any sudden move to end the free ride would bankrupt hundreds of multinational corporations and plunge the world into a monstrous depression. These corporations, the economist editorialist said, are as addicted to the money stolen from low- and middle-income taxpayers as those taxpayers are addicted to the oil and other products those taxes are subsidizing. Perfect co-dependency.
I began to ask myself why, when there is every indication that the world is careening out of control, that no one is in charge, that even if we were to suddenly wake up and realize what we were doing there is no one and no group powerful enough to fix it (not even the US government, which is so indebted to other nations it is quickly going bankrupt, and which is so clueless, uncoordinated and incompetent it couldn’t act coherently even if it could afford to), why are we still so hopeful? Why do we still get up every day with such expectations for our future and that of our children?
What is it about human nature, and about nature in general, that makes us go on, so hopefully, even when we, or our loved ones, or our planet is diagnosed with a terminal disease? Even when we live our whole lives in slavery, confinement, fear, subjugation, impoverishment and desperation? Even in extreme and horrific circumstances, like death camps, genocides, brutal and constant physical, sexual or psychological abuse, torture, unbearable pain, tiny, stench-filled cages and institutions where the only exit is on a slab?
I am fond of saying that the answer is It’s the only life we know. And I think that’s true, except it doesn’t explain why those who have known or glimpsed better, who have studied and learned and seen a better way, who can imagine another, more joyous life but have no reasonable expectation of achieving it, also go on, hoping against hope, that it will get better, that somehow joy will find a way.
The explanation for this is more Darwinian: It is a failure of our genetic makeup rather than a failure of knowledge. When life evolved on this planet, the extent of misery and depravity that our species could inflict on other species, and on itself, could not be conceived. Over hundreds of millennia nature has evolved ways to cope with and mitigate pain: An animal caught by a predator gets a brief shot of a natural pain-killer which, it is believed, makes imminent death painless, almost peaceful (perhaps the same euphoric experience that near-death survivors have reported). Animals suffering serious natural injury will often go into shock, and die quickly, unconsciously. The memory of the dead goes quickly in nature, as predators and microbes and natural forces return the creature gracefully back to the Earth.
But in civilization death and suffering are not so graceful. Nature has not had time, not nearly, to develop effective, natural ways to ease the pain and misery that we upstart humans have wrought on each other and on so many other creatures. Our ability to create these horrors is too new, and has ‘evolved’ too quickly.
So instead, we hope. That is all we can do. That is nature’s lifelong, life-affirming instruction to us all until she tells us, gracefully, when it is time to give up hope of a joyful life, and let go, in peace. That instruction has been in our DNA for three million years, a gift from the creatures from which we came, and civilization’s thirty thousand years is not enough time to create new instructions for us and for all our victims. She is trying, with new diseases and serendipitous outbursts (volcanoes, meteors, ice ages) to cuff us in her motherly way to behave, to bring us into line, to stop us from torturing our sisters and brothers. But we are not good learners, we no longer know how to pay attention to her lessons.
So we hope. That is who we are. That is the stuff we are made of. We await further instruction. We carry on.
The sky is clearing, the night has cried enough
The sun, he come, the world to offer up
Rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice but
To carry on
(- Steven Stills)
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My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 100 Posts --
Preparing for Civilization's End:
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
The Boiling Frog
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self:
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
Worse, Still (Poem)
A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)
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