We are infatuated with the idea of The Future™. Breathlessly running through what appears to be a menu of options as if to be a Modern Human is to be able to sit in judgement, weighing our choices with delicate discernment, whether to accept a heaping helping of Techno Fantasy or dawdle over a tasting menu of potential Apocalypse.
Even le nome du jour for the present; The Anthropocene, insists that what will be no more than a sliver of an irradiated film of organic carbon taking up no more of the geological record than the thickness of a fingernail, at most an Anthropopause, must in our infinite self-regard inflate into an entire geological Epoc. Echoes of Homo Sapiens sapiens….
No overindulged adolescent fantasizing over their heroic demise because, “They’ll be sorry!” could come up with a more immature response to our situation.
Breathless we may be. Breathless we will certainly become as independent realities continue to come home to roost. But we waste our time, our effort, our attention when we continue to believe any of our rationalizations.
Whatever is coming has been visible for the past forty years at least. None of our sacred certainties will survive what is approaching, already here, baked in the cake. The bottom will drop out from under all the fantasies we have put so much effort into embroidering.
The one thing we do have some control over is how soon we let go these breathless prognostications and fantasies of a choice as to how things will actually play out.
This civilization, calling it a culture is just wishful thinking, having a culture implies the existence of a living growing communal organism. We have had cultures, in bits and pieces; but what now drives our efforts and closes every avenue of escape is a death cult.
Letting this understanding sink in requires that we let go of all vestiges of the habits of thought that have driven us to this point. Perhaps the last to go is a fantasy that we have any say over what at the grand scale happens next, during this descent or in its aftermath. We have no way of controlling the consequences of what we’ve ignored for so long. We have arrived at a point where any chance of avoiding terrible outcomes is no longer possible. We cannot control our descent. We cannot dictate who or what will survive or what might grow out of the ashes.
Saving the Planet™ has never been a question. We do not have the wisdom to keep from obliterating the finely wrought web of life we’ve inherited, but how the Earth will respond to our tantrums of destruction is totally beyond our ken. The Earth will abide. Its time-frames are so far beyond ours.
If we can force ourselves to look this far into the matter, if we fail to continue to suppress and deny, we expect the only possible outcome to be become locked in despair. This is perhaps the ultimate illusion guarding Ego. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing does more to shatter Ego’s self-delusions than recognizing the values of Joyful Disillusionment.
What does Apocalypse mean?
Our willful delusion insists that we approach an uncovering of our complicity with nothing more than a continuation of our refusal to look at what is going on.
Zoom outwards. Look at our Shadow in its entirety. What we find is an outline of our refusal to acknowledge our own dark sides and what this refusal has forced on us. What we find is that, as with any tantrum, it is only our futile refusal to recognize reality that holds us to the most extreme consequences. We are in no position to bargain with the Fates we’ve drawn down on us; but we can, even at this point, learn something and break the grip of…?
Our fear? The terror with which we hold the world hostage?
The first piece that came to me on what’s now been a decade focused on an investigation of our predicament still holds a kernel of insight I’ve not seen addressed elsewhere. Queequeg’s Coffin, my essay on the ending of Moby Dick, does not call, as Rupert Read has done recently, for us to build a lifeboat. It suggest that we may find something of use if we put care into carrying onward fragments of what humans have found meaningful in the past. This distinction might seem at first glance a quibble. It appears to me the distance between the two approaches holds a key to how we might proceed.
Building a lifeboat assumes that we know how to build it; what to outfit it with; and that someone will eventually come to our rescue. It assumes that we know where to put it; how to deploy it; and that it is somehow in our power to invite or deny access to its succor. These assumptions are ridiculous, but we don’t even notice that. They slide right past us because they barely rustle our habitual frame of mind. If the “Ship of State” is sinking? Of course! We’ll prepare lifeboats!
With Queequeg’s coffin Melville left us an Easter Egg. This is how art works. Art is not a made-to-order product engineered to fit conclusions arrived at by a consensus of experts deciding on a solution and demanding that a program of artistic “innovation” will dramatize their solutions and ease their adaption by the masses. This is Propaganda. Buried as deeply in Propaganda as we are; immersed in the assumptions of its makers; it’s no surprise that we can’t tell the difference. Art works as if in a dream. When someone has been willing to go where the dream takes them a constellation arises. It remains hidden in plain sight until, at some point, it becomes visible.
In this way Melville’s tale of Queequeg’s coffin is holographic. It relates the hewing of a relic of a ridiculed, ancient cultural tradition; constructed in error. Queequeg, along with the rest of Pequod’s crew, didn’t live long enough for him to die pining away. His coffin was reluctantly crafted by someone who considered making a, “A coffin for a savage!” beneath him. Even so, once he got to it Chips could not help but put all his skill and care into it the task. Through this amalgamation of accidents he created something stout and strong and intrinsically buoyant. Ishmael, in his moment of last resort, with little chance of escaping the terrible suction of Pequod’s sinking, found himself floating alone under the broad Pacific Sky. Queequeg’s coffin broke free of its lashings to the doomed ship and shot out of the depths. It held him up.
Melville set down a pattern we can only recognize now; its significance held within an extended metaphor. This is how a disinterested effort to grapple with the moment as honestly as possible, without bad faith, an effort arising from a place beyond hope, brings us into contact with intelligence and opens a possibility for true creativity.
The hardest lesson seems to be that we will continue to double-down and draw down the wrath of Nemesis so long as we insist on hedging. We refuse, even now, to let go of the fantasy of control.
What is on offer is the possibility of courage. Mired in bad faith, lacking in trust; hemmed in by despair and, perhaps most tellingly, too fearful to let go; we have the key in our grasp, Courage.
How does courage apply? What does it mean in this context?
Propaganda compels us to believe that courage is what conquerors display on the battlefield. Courage has nothing to do with over-riding one’s instincts and forcing ourselves to act out of bad faith and do violence. Courage is what arises when we grapple honestly with our situation and, finding an action emerging from the moment, we accomplish what needs to be done.
What makes writing about our predicament so difficult is that none of this, none of it, can be truly passed along through an act of rhetoric alone, no matter how skillfully it is wrought. All rhetoric can ever do is trigger our reactions. Our habit of waiting to be convinced by argument is at the center of our difficulties.
What we need is to to see for ourselves.
What we need is to come together in attending to the question.
If we do so, ways to respond will arise.
The Big Money continues to bet on keeping us isolated, breathless.
Let’s work on ways to learn how to breathe.