I’ve reached the end of the line. There is nothing left for me in the latest morning-after mainstream media. I have to turn away. Yes, I’m fascinated, but I don’t really want to know—at least not in the cognitive sense of knowing–because I already know. I can’t even activate the part of my brain necessary to process an argument or anything purporting to be reasonable or logical or scientific, trying to convince…anyone… that this or that event is “directly related to climate change.” Nothing but futility and dissonance arise in the very first paragraph of such material. Where does anyone still get the idea that this does any good? Who still clings to the notion that deniers or ‘low information voters’ can be convinced otherwise? Who still imagines this particular event will constitute the critical nugget for some fence-sitter out there? Do such persons even exist?
Popular treatment of climate issues has become performative journalism, going through the motions in service to a dying ritual of “providing a public service.” Who can stand this anymore? Numbness invariably accompanies reading such stories. They are space-fillers. As long as their vocabularies include the specialized terminologies of science, divorced from every somatic signal, gesture or sense-making faculty connecting us to the natural world, they no longer serve a purpose. There is no longer any refuge in being right. I have become a fugitive from this form of engagement. That fugitivity, as Bayo Akomolafe would say, is the definition of post-activism.
What is the root of a belief in continuing the activist debate? It’s the same dualistic ethic with centuries of baggage accompanying our estrangement from the natural world. The paradox of language is that resorting to reason as a way of propagating the conclusion that we humans have lost our way is part of the disease itself. As has become so clear in recent years, the way we react to the problem is often part of the problem. Reinforcing binaries is itself a form of distancing from our direct experience of the more-than-human world, reinforcing the dissociation at the heart of our headlong advance toward extinction.
What is more disturbing is remembering when I myself might have used words in that way, using (limited) tools of persuasion at my disposal, imperfectly, earnestly and mindlessly. But the very act of switching into that mode of communication is a betrayal. Sure, we all communicate in this way. Yes, we regularly appeal to reason and rationality, brandishing logic, evidence and data in our communications. Yet, at the end of this long trail of tears and deepening anguish, with humanity coming face to face with the self-destructive nature of our values and behavior, and mostly not comprehending, even with yet another book by the most erudite and passionate spokesperson appearing on behalf of coming to our senses, these efforts are now ringing dreadfully false and futile because, as someone living closer to my gut, the tears are already just below the surface anyway. And that feeling never goes away.
I can view photos, arresting, disruptive, body-shaking invasions, images without any words at all, the ones that break through the most recent fragile emotional repair, images like the surgically tortured, dissected and harvested tar sands landscapes of Alberta, Chris Jordan’s photos of plastic-filled corpses of sea birds on Midway Island or the solitary orangutan fighting a bulldozer in a Sumatran rainforest or the Amazonian fires or rivers of ice-melt surging to the sea in Greenland, grayed and lifeless coral reefs or the abandoned tarpits of Ecuador. These images belong to me….and I belong to them.
Who would dare publish nothing but photos of the most recent evidence of distorted human values and behavior? Where will we find pictures of the California firestorms with no story? The pictures of the orange sky above the Golden Gate Bridge spoke louder than any words ever could, as would typhoon devastation, denuded glacial moraines, bulldozed rainforest, dry riverbeds, open-pit lithium mines or the translucent shells of deep-sea mollusks that can no longer find sufficient accessible calcium.
Yes, I can still look at (some) graphs. But I already know what they say. Just save me from the words. That part of my brain is already exhausted. I can speak to you from my body. There I can wander with the desperate migrations of species, dream with the giants of the seas. I can listen to the land, soar with the last endangered condor searching for home. Just don’t ask me to process the words any more. It’s like eating cardboard and expecting to be nourished.
I wrote this this morning – would love your feedback. I’m reading your essay now.
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Ah, Gary, my good friend, although I always read your posts with interest and admiration, I rarely respond.; however, this post on what you can no longer do struck me deeply. When I read the last sentence of your post, “…don’t ask me to process the words any more,” my mind immediately went to a favorite un-guru of mine, U. G. Krishnamurti. I recall recommending him to you a few times, so for old times sake, I’ll do it again. Of the dozens of video recordings of U. G. I watched during my years in Chiang Mai, there was one in particular that resonated with your post. It is titled “I am Just a Dog Barking.” It’s available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/kOEA54Sqgno
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