Saturday, July 15, 2006

Strategic Optimism and Suicidal Canaries

"And as the extremists grow and their attacks became more deadly, it likewise helps silence those in Israel and the United States who call for compassion, restraint and understanding. It is difficult to argue with those holding up bloodied corpses. Each side finds it useful to keep the supply coming." - Chris Hedges, author of War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning.

So it looks as though Israel is bent on starting World War III, and Bush is bent on not interfering, because it will bring about the Armageddon that will lead to the Rapture of him and all his followers. God bless 'em, and good riddance. The meek shall inherit the Earth, or so they say. We've got to keep clamoring for compassion, restraint and understanding. If not us, who? If not now, when?

I've been thinking about Richard Heinberg's interview in The Sun Magazine, though. He capped it off by answering the question: "When we do realize we've taken a wrong turn, will we be able to reverse our course?"

"I'm optimistic that we will, but I regard optimism as a strategic attitude rather than an attempt to predict outcomes. Realistically, we're in for a very difficult time over the next few decades."

It took me several days to figure out this remark. I am not an optimistic person, and for a long time, I have understood how very difficult the "very difficult" next few decades will be. Today, discussing cow-fart methane contributions to global warming with my son, it occurred to him that fewer cows would mean no ice cream, and I had to say that there are probably many nice things we will have to give up. He's bummed. So am I.

Paul Hawken said something much the same in Ethics and the World Crisis, about "the loss of so many things we hold dear..." The psychological strength to endure overwhelming loss will be one of the most valuable, adaptive traits soon.

I fear I may not be one of the survivors. I recently started on anti-depressant medication for the first time in my life, after struggling with depression for about 16 years. Perhaps it was the realization that half my life has been spent fighting that fight that made me finally give up and try to get some pharmacological pain relief, despite my deep conviction that so many of us are overmedicated, and that such overmedication and disconnection and desensitization to our horrific pain at the complete destruction of our life-giving home, is part and parcel of why we, as a civilization, have collaborated in that self-destruction.

But on the other hand, I think of myself as one of the canaries in the mine. Our job is to sing until we snuff it because the air really is unfit to breathe; suicidal canaries won't do any good at all. And if Paxil will help me sing a bit longer, through this bottom of the trough, than I'll take the help with enormous gratitude.

Which brings me back to the "strategic optimism" business. We really have no choice but to let our imagination of what's next and better - smaller communities, minimal transportation, maximum earth-friendly food growing and so forth - be our guide and our support. Because the truth is, we either pull it off and our species survives, or we don't, but focussing on the extinction scenario will do nothing to create the new world paradigm we desperately need.


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