“Teams had been chosen, and the scientists were not us, they were them.” ~ Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior (2012, p. 171)
I started reading Flight Behavior two weekends ago. Took it slow in order to give Kingsolver’s language close attention, and also to follow through on my strategy for resisting drift. The idea has been to keep learning while working on the four survival essentials: water, food, shelter, and community. Most of my energy has been focused on the latter. Turns out I’m just like everyone else: “People resisted hearing the details of a problem…what they wanted was the fix” (Kingsolver, p. 228). A few weeks ago I told the Doomer Community over at Nature Bats Last, “I’m not sure that I need to know all the awful ways death will come, or the details of how bad it’s getting at ever-increasing rates.” In the meantime there’s a quiet internal chant, I want a community now!
Seeking a “formula for living that transcend[s] fear and safety” (Kingsolver, p. 16)
Kingsolver’s formulation of the intelligent non-scientist coming to terms with the scope of climate shift is brilliant. Getting beyond the paralysis of fear involves living motivated by something other than the need to feel safe. Is this the undercurrent that links the participants at two different celebrations written about in the last two blogentries? The “Mudfire!” group was composed of townies (more-or-less), and the “Monks & Nuns” were mostly transient graduate students from the University. In both situations, I found myself feeling like Dellarobia, “So there were worse things than feeding meat loaf to a vegetarian. Like blabbing wiki-facts to the person who probably discovered them in the first place” (Kingsolver, p. 121). While clearly knowing more than me about many of the relevant subjects for survival, everyone I’ve spoken with since my conversion experience has discounted direct conversation about the fact that we’re going to lose the atmosphere.
Planning for Illusionary Futures
I get why some of Guy McPherson’s responses to expressions of hope are tinged with frustration and a dash of bitter. Essentially, the liberals are just as bad as the conservatives—for different reasons, but with the same effect of no change to the status quo. The fossil fuel economy continues apace and everyone pretends the air will remain breathable. The Mudfire! folk put their hope in permaculture and relocalization; the Monks & Nuns put their hope in Buddhism or some other a/spiritual worship of The Now. Kingsolver, btw, expresses empathy for the climate scientist too: “We cannot jump to conclusions. All we can do is measure and count. That is the task of science,” says Dr Byron, the representative scholar of lepidopterology (p. 244). So the Nature Bats Last (NBL) Doomers are keeping track of all the measurements, establishing as much permaculture and grid-independence as they can, and (as far as I can tell) not very much interested in unsettling the comfort of their collective stance of im/patient observation.
“There were two worlds here, behaving as if their own was all that mattered. With such reluctance to converse, one with the other. Practically without a common language.” ~ Kingsolver, p. 152
The issue is not the information itself: that’s out there for anyone to find.
Rather, everyone is well-trained in the viewpoints of their respective camps, and generally unskilled at negotiating understanding across the divides of diverse perspectives. Everyone (more or less) tends to think their way of knowing is the only or best way of knowing, for instance, which leads them to discount other paths of getting to similar conclusions. Especially if it takes a few seconds or even minutes of back-and-forth inquiry to establish a mutuality of comprehension. Contemporary, media-saturated society is so accustomed to instant gratification we think it’s not normal to slow down, but slowing down is the only way to bridge the gulfs among us.
I am referring to the socio-emotional process that the entire species is going to go through in successive waves of realization. A crucial part of carrying people through the initial freak-out stage (and subsequent ones) will be maintaining as much routine normalcy as possible. This means the relocalization strategies of investing in permaculture and applying spiritual practices to daily living are completely valid and ultimately absolutely necessary. But devotees, adherents and practitioners of all stripes could fire up more meta-level cognition about the interconnections of these myriad efforts instead of burrowing into the temporary utility.
We could begin to figure out how to coordinate humanity’s vast intelligence and ingenuity within the actual material parameters of the planet-wide environmental crisis.