This will be my last post of 2016. Once again there was no indication this year that Homo sapiens can change its aggregate behavior in some positive way. Indeed, bad situations like politics in the U.S. and the state of the climate got considerably worse this year.
My Flatland stuff can and should be viewed as a hypothesis about our benighted species.
With each passing year in which humans fuck-up by failing to address the great anthropogenic problems of the 21st century, Flatland "pessimism" looks more and more realistic. In short, there is more and more confirming evidence supporting the Flatland hypothesis as time goes on.
But you certainly can't tell that to David Grinspoon, who is deeply offended by ... I'll let him tell you.
Currently I feel that spewing misanthropy is just as dangerous as emitting carbon dioxide. It is the opposite of activism. There is a real danger of unintended consequences, of encouraging people to give up. Pessimism, if it becomes a habit, can reinforce a narrative of unstoppable decline. If there is nothing we can do, that releases us from our obligations.
There’s no future in despising humanity. Self‐flagellation may feel good to some, but how does it help move us toward solutions? Surely we can find a way to love Earth without hating ourselves.
There’s more to my argument than just “put on a happy face.” This negativity is suspect, tactically (it doesn’t work) and philosophically (it reinforces Earth alienation rather than identity). It also feeds a false narrative about climate change. Many people see the fight to halt global warming as an impending either/or situation. We’re going to stop it by a certain date or we’re not—and it looks like we’re not.
Some have likened it to an asteroid that is clearly heading for Earth. In some important respects, this is a bad analogy.
In fact, Elizabeth Kolbert, talking about the 6th mass extinction, likened humanity to an asteroid analogous to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. Nobody to my knowledge has characterized climate change as an asteroid.
Unlike the path of an asteroid, whose motion is determined by the relatively simple laws of gravitational mechanics, climate is horribly complex. The asteroid either will hit us or it won’t. With climate, it’s not an either/or proposition. It’s a constantly shifting trajectory that will require sustained attention and concern over years, decades, and centuries. Clearly we are not going to shut down all the coal plants in the next 10 years. Just as clearly, they will all be shut down by this century’s end. Between those two boundary conditions lies a huge range of possibilities. Yes, we are putting ourselves at risk, and yes, we must do whatever we can to move ourselves as quickly as we can toward new energy systems.
There's lots more where that came from. All human failures can be placed at the doorstep of pessimists. Follow the link to the Slate article.
To be clear, I am not a misanthrope, although I do admit that my familiarity with our happy species over nearly 65 years has bred much contempt.
There is no authentic hope for humanity and the biosphere generally in my not-so-humble opinion. But what do I mean by "authentic" hope? We define it by contrasting it with false (Flatland) hope. Here is what false hope looks like. False hope...
- takes human nature out of the equation by positing a blank slate (anything is possible)
- expresses instinctual optimism about the future, and is in this sense obligatory.
- expresses instinctual anthropocentrism
- expresses instinctual technophilia (technology solves all problems)
False hope thus amounts to mindless (instinctual) cheer-leading for the human species. And there is one more thing about false hope:
- false hope is emotionally warm & fuzzy, but also ephemeral and meaningless (inconsequential)
For example, most everybody forgets all about that hopeful Ted Talk 5 minutes after its over. Everybody applauds, sings Kum-Ba-Yah and then goes home. Nothing much happens thereafter. In short, false hope amounts to yet another happy moment in the life of a social, story-telling species. These observations apply to Grinspoon's book as well.
And now, let's turn to authentic hope. What would that look like? Authentic hope...
- puts human nature front and center
- asks humans to examine and acknowledge without filters (blinders) their deeply flawed behaviors
- asks humans to examine and acknowledge the probable and primitive evolutionary roots of those behaviors
- demands the seemingly impossible by challenging humans to transcend various instinctual drives, defenses and biases in order to make fundamental, positive behavioral changes
And there is one more thing about authentic hope:
- authentic hope is brutal; it is unrelenting. Once the process is put it place, it goes on forever and applies to everybody (no backsliding)
Some difference! That's no ordinary "challenge" in the Flatland sense of the word.
You see, Grinspoon is yet another purveyor of Flatland hope. And all because it is literally unthinkable for him to tell his children that humanity is probably fucked. It is best to avoid awkward questions—what was Grinspoon doing having those children anyway if they are going to live in a very degraded world? Etc. Ironically, highly-educated, smart people like Grinspoon constitute the best Flatland humanity has to offer.
I myself do not have authentic hope because I think the "seemingly impossible" is indeed impossible. Really, the required steps are impossible from start to finish. If one takes the phrase "human nature" literally and seriously, the Flatland hypothesis strongly implies a large degree of determinism, at least in these big existential matters.
I could go on but don't want to. I'll see you in 2017.