I’ve been in a rage since before the financial collapse of 2008. Well, actually, a good deal longer than that. Perhaps since Bush v Gore. OK, let’s say I was tuned into the truth about Bill Clinton before it became patently obvious: a neoliberal excuse-maker, prevaricator, manipulator, triangulator, blah, blah, blah. There was a reason he was called “slick Willie.” I’m not even mentioning Vietnam, Nixon, Kissinger, and the thieves and sociopaths of the GOP operating ever since the early 80s, 9/11, the Patriot Act, the Iraq War.
Plenty to be pissed about. But never mind. If I just picked 2008 as a base, it was the bailout and Obama’s failure to stand up for the rule of law by never prosecuting or even stepping on the toes of the financial elites. Not one. That was when “too big to fail,” was unveiled. An amazing piece of PR. Now we’re pondering whether humanity is too big to fail. Spoiler alert: nope.
Over the past 10 years, this rage alternately morphed into despair, denial, resignation and dropout about the climate issue as we’ve witnessed one failure after another, one milquetoast policy after another and terminal prevarication. I even had some words for Obama (2012) about his pursuit of America’s endless foreign wars:
your words fall
like an avalanche of dry bones
once resounding against the sky
now empty echoing in our foundations
once the sinuous awakening curvatures
of smothered and gasping values
now falling into an abyss
of conflict and easy temptation
stunted flowers becoming bitter fruit
they fall away from your stunned mouth
knitting together only shame and excuses
for all the death they foretell
I couldn’t have said so at the time, but about 2014, I reached the end of my rope when I went to congress to lobby for a carbon tax. If that’s not enough to pull the rug out from under any remaining spark of inspiration one might have, nothing is. It was and always is Kabuki, steeped in an august veneer of propriety, the worship of barnacle-encrusted tradition, self-serving appropriation of mythology and rhetorical sleight of tongue. Dishonesty, thy name is Congress.
For a good while now we’ve been able to name the entire criminal gang, the ones most responsible for our predicament. We know what they knew and when they knew it. We know their tactics. We know who sold out humanity for profit, who has lied, deliberately and expertly clouded the issue and mounted massive misinformation campaigns. We know their henchmen and how they obstructed popular sentiment, cherry-picked and distorted climate data, sentenced billions of earth’s most vulnerable to deluge, displacement, deprivation and death. All expendable. The greatest crimes against humanity, bar none. The Holocaust times 10,000. Species-suicide promulgated by sociopaths. Not one of them has been seen or is ever likely to be seen in the familiar orange jumpsuit.
But then, parallel to the rage, coexisting in strange symbiotic temperance, is my denial, my rage about having to be angry about any of this in the first place and my cynical desire to run in the opposite direction and live a life of careless oblivion—which at times gets the better of me. Resignation. And why shouldn’t it? I’m entitled to do that simply based on the fact that I’ve already lived most of my life, a simple life as it is now. I’m not wealthy enough to afford a real high emission lifestyle. Well, except air travel. There’s that. At the same time, living that smaller footprint life, I remain complicit.
Even though my personal mitigating measures are so miniscule as to not even register on a lifetime scorecard, I fall back into my cultural upbringing commanding me to repair the world (tikkun olam), even though not making any mitigating gestures makes about as much negative difference as any positive difference I could mark by making such gestures. Perhaps these are the terms of a new post-activism. But post-activism cannot make promises. It can only expand to define the problem. And even that is a risky proposition. The dilemma lingers—believing we can individually make a difference, which allows us to feel good–without really making any real difference whatsoever?
Which brings me closer to the present moment. Having realized some years ago we are heading toward, or have already passed, critical tipping points guaranteeing the worst climate impacts and having exhausted my taste for barking up the same old trees and being painfully aware, despite all the promise of zero-emission technology (which was not catching up to fossil fuels fast enough until the appearance of COVID), of the nature and power of the fossil fuel lobby driving the economic machine inexorably killing us, I stumbled upon Deep Adaptation, which doesn’t quibble about our remaining chances to throw any serious wrenches into the gears of Business As Usual or place false hope in persuasion by rational argument.
Instead, Deep Adaptation names the Anthropocene as already an era of failure, a colossal crashing to earth. It could also be named the era of The Planet Striking Back. Humans have turned into the Death Star threatening all life. Unfortunately, our dithering miscalculations now threaten human viability. On some world which remains foreign to me, it may suffice to burrow deeper into Buddhist practice to discover non-confrontational or non-aggressive ways to address these issues, and they may well exist, but I lean more toward channeling rage into creative pursuits–and this is not a time to drop out. Fortunately, a significant cadre separating itself from the homo sapiens death cult realizes the only sensible response to climate impacts we’ve been failing to forestall for 40 years is by utterly re-shaping the ethos of human presence.
Not that Deep Adaptation is a pioneering idea in this respect. There are collapse-aware people all over the world, still massively outnumbered by the oblivious, but nevertheless creating new institutions, small and large-scale adaptive and resilient communities everywhere and propagating new thought. But while those local actions and personal transformative ideologies are taking hold, the mass resistance and uprising necessary to slow down the carbon emission juggernaut had never fully made itself known until the twin conditions of the pandemic and mass resistance to systemic racism became the means to realize how one condition is all conditions and that justice on one front requires justice for all.
Rather than an invading alien, Covid-19 has proved to be the monster under the bed, a goblin from our past and a message from the future, humanity’s zombie rejected Other. We are impossibly entangled with the biological world, having corrupted ecological codes to such a degree the system is coming back upon us. Covid has put us on pause, mirroring our failure, hubris, ignorance, arrogance and the inequality on which they all depend. And how do we respond? Reflexively, automatically, identically to the medical approach, pitting humans against all invasive organisms, the easy way, the only way we know: War! Demanding a resurrection of human centrality and control.
‘All we know’ is a perfect example of how our responses to problems perpetuate the problem: War against the virus (social distancing, among other measures) followed by a popular uprising against the measures taken to defeat the virus. To view the virus in this way is bring us even closer to the next pandemic…or at least the perpetuation of this one. We have no idea how to do with-nessing, stepping all the way back from our imagined control and being with, quiet enough, even if only for a moment, to realize we are the source of our deepening agonies and that the conventional model of responding is only making things worse. These are moments when resignation overtakes me.