by Mike Meyer
Irony seems to be our fate at the beginning of the Anthropocene. This is the best of all times for humanity as we are slowly realizing. We have turned the corner on disease, hunger, peace, well being, and long life. Our successes have been carefully analyzed and are true. Perhaps the clearest outline of this and the easiest to read is Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined.
The path to the better world is clear and illuminated for us by science and all that we have learned. We have an increasingly good knowledge of our own psychology and what drives us to the evil that we do. That has allowed us to improve our social well being in ways that further reduce violence and tragedy.
We have achieved tremendous knowledge through decades of intense scientific analysis on the greatest danger that we face in global climate change. We certainly don’t understand it completely but we know what we must do to limit the damage so that we and our children and grandchildren can survive. We also know what will happen if we fail to make the major changes that are required. Even that knowledge can be seen as comforting and better than complete uncertainty.
For all of our history we were plagued by the faceless unknown that laid in wait for us. We imagined evil spirits and angry gods and learned through life to expect the worst. Whatever happened we were equally lost. Good or bad, whatever the fates allowed.
We could tell tales of tragedy and heroism but our ability to affect change in our fate was limited until very recently. We took the cards we were dealt until the cards ran out. Wars and disasters were a constant with murders and outrage a part of nature. It was an endless cycle with no control.
But, despite ourselves, we have begun to make a difference. We have steadily been reducing violence and self inflicted disasters. This is true to the extent that increased violence and declines in life expectancy and well being are unexpected and shocking. Who are the people trying to make things worse?
Things have been improving for decades but the ironic twist is that we are scared completely shitless now. That is because things have become actually better. It is not the people ground down by insecurity, violence and brutality that rise up with anger and determination. It’s the people who have had hope and know that it is possible to live a better life but who see it being taken away that become frightened and angry.
As social animals we are fine tuned to the moods of the people around us. A sudden tensing of someone’s shoulders in a crowd and people sense the change. Terrorist panics are a result of this dependent on where we are and what is happening around us.
The Fear Virus is an excellent presentation of this danger and how it affects us by keeping us on edge. I think there is more involved. Hopefully we can learn to control this and not succumb to our monkey instincts but, I think, it will take more thought than we are quite ready to give.
This really is the best of times. Yet, the hope is so real that it is hard to handle the appearance of insanity in so many forms around us. Is the hope and the facts that we can hold as statistically true and scientifically valid actually an illusion?
No. The steady spread of false information and knowledge denial, the howling of bigots and haters is a symptom of the largest transformation in human history.
Why have these people panicked? We know it is centered in the portions of the population most frightened by change manipulated and driven by opportunists picking up the old weapons of fear and hatred. But maybe there is more here than we think.
It is, as I’ve said above, the first time in our history when we can understand that planetary well being is really possible. We have the technology and resources to do this although it will require something very new from our species. We must accept responsibility for our planet and for all the life forms that exist.
That is a frightening change. It is more than some can handle. Those are the ones who have panicked and grabbed for the evil they know so they can avoid responsibility for all others that they can’t imagine. I think it is really that simple.
Rethinking what is right and what is good is very, very difficult. Accepting responsibility for others has always been a challenge and there have always been those who refused to try or ran away in denial. We’ve always dealt with these people as unfortunate or pitiful or criminal depending on what they did as they acted on their refusal of responsibility.
What has changed is the size of the responsibility and the number of those unable to cope. This is now forcing us to look at a greater burden of responsibility that is requiring us to set a higher standard for ourselves.We must face this and make decisions about how we react on a planetary and species level. We have never had to do that before.
Irony again is hidden in this dilemma. Our fear and frustration is not because of failure but because of success. The people demanding the return to past authoritarianism and racist bigotry are cowards who want to abandon the future, our children, and their children. Only by understanding that can we understand what is happening in parts of our societies that seem to be self destructive and even insane.
We are coming of age. Finally. 200,000 years as a separate species, 10,000 years of agricultural and urban life and we are finally coming of age. But we need to understand the trauma of facing this by people who are the equivalent of children. They are not ready. We all know what that is like from our own childhood and, for many of us, our own years as parents and grandparents.
The difficulty now is the reordering of human society. We have worked to teach ourselves that all are equal and that we all deserve the freedom to be what we are. We fought and tricked each other and took whatever we could and shared only with our friends. While they were our friends.
But those years brought us to the end of that childish freedom. We didn’t understand the limits of our planet and fouled our atmosphere unbalancing our climate and exploiting our planetary assets. We were greedy and thought we could take all we wanted with no further thought.
Facing the repercussions of our actions and our responsibility to others for those actions is the hardest part of maturing. The fact that we cannot deny knowledge (science) and try to avoid responsibility means we must also put away our childish delusions and selfishness. Children are equal in their freedom from responsibility. We can no longer be simplistically carefree and expect someone else to take care of our disasters.
It’s time to divide those of us who need further training and those of us who now must take responsibility. That decision requires the assertion of authority solely on the basis of responsibility. It is what must be done.
Realizing this it is easy to see immaturity that defines the fascists and nationalists, the childish deniers with their self destructive impulses. These have become angry old men who refuse responsibility and hide from their obligations. This is no longer a choice.
The point is that we must remove these people from positions of authority. We need to ensure that they do not destroy our planet with their delusions of childish greed. We have huge responsibilities, critical and massive work to salvage our planet from our own thoughtlessness. Those that take no responsibility cannot be dealt with as equal to those who do.
This is a matter of morality and survival and not a matter of politics. But to actually do that will require a unified morality and a full commitment to everyone’s well being as an unquestioned standard. This is the same as the commitment to diversity and equality. It must now be felt and understood. It can’t be simply a facade or charade.
But equality must be supported with understanding and knowledge. We can no longer assume that knowledge comes with birth. Basic rights come with birth but the opportunity to manage all life on this planet can only come with education and mature commitment. And we must all accept that responsibility now or admit that we cannot and accept the limitations that come with that failure.