Dear Guy McPherson,
Yep. Me again. Finished reading your book. You’re a tough cookie, although that might be too civilized a metaphor . . . a weathered lizard might be more like it, after all that peasant labor. I’ve got mixed feelings about my own prospects: on the one hand, if I fail to get into a situation where I can even try to do subsistence gardening etcetera then I’ll be “happily dead” sooner rather than later without suffering the aches and pains you describe. (I realize this won’t save me from suffering other aches and pains, although I keep reminding myself that pain can happen as its own phenomenon without adding suffering as an additional layer.) On the other hand, I like the anecdote you tell of the dad with a seven-year old son who hopes to remain alive so his son doesn’t have all the fun without him. I wouldn’t mind remaining alive in the company of people I love as we all strive to glow in meaningful moments together, despite the physical consequences of a subsistence existence.
It’s not death; it’s the dying
As far as I can tell, coming out as a Deepener is as difficult as any other kind of coming out. I put quotes around the “happily dead” above because a friend characterized her choice not to prepare in those terms, assuming her dying will occur quickly and this will be better for me/my chances of survival. I only partially begrudge the carpe diem ethic: key being if she can enact that attitude through her own dying . . . I don’t know how to predict that. Certainly there’s a fairly high percentage of my friends making this live-in-the-moment choice. If only their temporal frame for ‘the moment’ included human extinction in 30-70 years, rather than the assumption of life going on, somehow, more or less as it always has. These friendships seem likely to weaken.
Given recent shopping behavior before winter storms (referring to the population in general, most of my friends are not into pre-storm panic), I am unconvinced there’s a sufficient percentage of the population that is not going to completely freak out. Just contemplating the slow onset approach of famine has sent me through spells of panic. Certainly the comfort of the ‘normalcy’ of every day routines still unfolding in (more-or-less) the same ways is both boon and blessing: there are still anchors, but they can so easily obscure their own dependency on civil society (which can evaporate so fast).
Still, clinging to the familiar does not necessarily mean people are not paying attention. “You don’t know what people know,” another friend cautioned me. We cannot assume people are ignorant–there are many factors preventing action and interfering with behavior change. Maintaining accustomed routines is a key skill in communicating resilience–the challenges are to distinguish which routines are the most durable and finding the will to dispense with those that may feel good (in the moment) but do not redress the extended, permanent, devastating costs of whatever industrial economy that temporary feel-good activity involves.
A Good Death
In the final chapter of your book, you ponder answers to the question, “How to live a life not worth living?” The nihilist poses this question in a vacuum. There may not be any “meaning” beyond what we humans create for ourselves as meaningful, but we are meaning-making creatures. That is what we do. We communicate meaning into being. Using language and cognition we apply sense to patterns. ‘Rightly’ or ‘wrongly’ we interpret each other’s actions and inactions. Sense-making, and the values and behaviors that follow (or are invoked), is only possible within boundaries. There is no science without belief, just as there is no religion without faith. Skepticism involves as much commitment as being an apostle.
If, as the evidence overwhelmingly suggests, humanity will soon be extinguished from the planet, then the meaningfulness of living depends upon how humans, as conscious beings, orient to the condition of mass extinction. Since cultural conditioning generally cushions the middle and upper classes from the basic realities of survival, shock is going to be an unavoidable stage in most individuals’ journey. Kubler-Ross’s classic stages on death and dying may be helpful in imagining how to support a collective transition in consciousness.
You’ve been evangelizing for a long time. If we (in industrialized countries) cannot pull off Plan A, which you articulate as powering down with the equanimity of Buddhist monks, then we’ve got to work on Plan B: How many of us can handle dying with tranquility?
I’m writing you directly because I respect your courage and humility. In addition to working toward the survival essentials (water, food, shelter, & community), I have been listening and watching for ways to stimulate robust processes of social resilience. One idea is to talk about the difference between hope and hopium. Would you be willing to elaborate?