Rimbaud somewhere speaks of watching the skies as a criminal avec son idee. And not only the criminal partakes of this attitude – even the Dos Passos intellectual, the business promoter, the political career man. These in a sense – or at least, I sense – these have almost become our representative heroes. No longer do they rebel against society, exile themselves, romantically disdain its ways for the ways of art. Art has dropped from its pedestal, the hero moves about in society as a shadow, not menacingly or aggressively, but coolly collecting his profits and faking respectability with varying degrees of consciousness
The biggest problem climate change poses isn’t how the Department of Defense should plan for resource wars, or how we should put up sea walls to protect Alphabet City, or when we should evacuate Hoboken. It won’t be addressed by buying a Prius, signing a treaty, or turning off the air-conditioning. The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront this problem, and the sooner we realize there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality.
The choice is a clear one. We can continue acting as if tomorrow will be just like yesterday, growing less and less prepared for each new disaster as it comes, and more and more desperately invested in a life we can’t sustain. Or we can learn to see each day as the death of what came before, freeing ourselves to deal with whatever problems the present offers without attachment or fear.
If we want to learn to live in the Anthropocene, we must first learn how to die.
I write a lot about consciousness, enlightenment and the potential humanity has to rise above its conditioned patterns, because if I only wrote about politics and media propaganda I’d be accomplishing nothing but helping the anti-establishment fringe feel good about itself while waiting for human extinction. I can’t do this thing honestly and sincerely without periodically pointing to the dangers on the horizon, and to what I perceive as the only off ramp in sight.
Human society is clearly at its most interesting point ever. Billions of human brains are now interconnected in real time by the internet, we’re realizing on mass scale that all the rules of society were invented by dead people long before any of us got here, and we’re seeing that we are free to re-write those rules in a way that benefits us. From popular grassroots examinations of socialist ideas, to cryptocurrencies and an evolving understanding of what money is, to redefining social institutions as ancient and ingrained as marriage and gender identity, more and more people are saying in effect, “Hmm, it looks like all those old thoughts we’ve been using to describe our reality are causing some problems. Let’s find new ones.” It could be described as a collective awakening to the fact that reality and our conceptual model for it are two very different things, and the model is as flexible as your ability to change your mind. We’ve never seen anything like this before as a species. We’ve literally never been here.
We are in uncharted, unprecedented territory. When you’re in uncharted, unprecedented territory, there’s no valid basis for ruling out any conceivable possibility. Stodgy intellectuals may say “Hurr, yes, this is very similar to the Bulgarian Wheat Rebellions of 1809, so this will likely turn out the same” or whatever, but they’re wrong, because it isn’t. The past can be a useful tool for predicting future outcomes, but in an entirely unprecedented situation, that is not the case. Anything is possible.