I have received a bit of reader feedback on my last post The End . All of the “input” was, in one way or the other, critical of the very thought of anyone saying that our cumulative impact on Earth’s climate has brought us to a tipping point beyond which we cannot turn back from the mechanisms rapidly pushing Earth toward a climate that will not be habitable to human beings.
The thing that caused the most angst was the idea that our current predatory social organizations are simply not capable of making the social and environmental adjustments we would need in order to turn back this ever escalating, human activity induced heat wave.
Despite these protestations that we could do better if we just have a little hope, yesterday was the hottest day ever recorded on Earth.
While the protests were stated many ways from slightly different perspectives, the core of the argument boils down to this: you can’t give up hope because –well then there wouldn’t be any hope! To answer I offer this story (an unfortunately true story, I wish had ended differently. The names times and superficial events have been amended as after these many years I would still find it difficult to tell this tragic tale in its full detail.
Let’s call the story: Sometimes critical thinking is better than hope.
A long time ago I had a precious Comox Valley friend (George for our story) who I worked and played and skied and occasionally ran with—though he was a much more advanced runner than I will ever be. He was, in fact, a competitive runner.
One day George invited me and many of his friends to come down and watch (and contribute) a half marathon, fundraising event in the Comox Valley. George would run and we would cheer him on and we would contribute some money to benefit one of our favorite charities.
It was a hot day. A gruelingly hot day for the Comox Valley. Bang! And they were off –all the runners running as though it were an Olympic event. They ran along the Tsolum River and up Dove Creek and across on Farnham Road and wound around Merville and back down Headquarters Rd while we waited patiently at the fair grounds and sipped lemonade and exchanged pleasantries and wait patiently for our favorite runner to come in.
It was a hot day but there were cooling stations along the way and there was water to drink and it was only a half marathon and—just in case there were ambulances in attendance and … I was first to see him coming still running strong despite the heat and the distance. But as I watched it seemed he wasn’t running quite as strongly as I thought and there was a roll to his foot strike and perhaps his arms weren’t swinging as vibrantly as in his usual stride. I pointed it out to a friend standing by me and he acknowledged that George seemed a bit off but “not to give up hope, George would soon be over the finish line and there would be water to drink and splash and cool down with. I watched and I didn’t like the fact George seemed less stable the closer he got to the finish line. I spoke to the friend beside me to which he patted me on the back and told me I worry too much: have a little optimism, a bit of trust that the race would soon be over and George would be cooling and elated and all of us would be happy with the outcome of the day. There was George a mere stride from the finish line, smiling, exhausted. There was George striding across the finish line, smiling, crumbling/collapsing. The ambulance attendants were right there. They were treating him as they loaded him into the ambulance.
There we were dumbfounded at the finish line. All our hopes dashed. Late that night I got the dreaded phone call. All our optimism would not bring George back any more that it would change the climate and the heat and the body that simply stretched beyond the limits from which it could recover. A little optimism can be a good thing, like, but—like water—a lot of optimism at the wrong time, in the wrong place can be deadly.
Interestingly, shortly after my post The End, Ashli Akins published Despair is Contagious. But We Need Hope to Fuel Our Fight for Change—an unabashed defense of optimism stating that “optimism and celebration of small wins can keep us going.” Asserting, unfoundedly, that “Pessimism not only leads to stagnation, but collectively to demoralization and depression”, Akins moves on to name dropping her “favorite author” Victor Frankl who she entirely misinterprets. In fact, Frankl’s argument in Man’s Search for Meaning was about the irrelevance of optimism and pessimism in a world where the only choice is to do the right/moral thing regardless of predictive outcomes—and that, according to Frankl, is a pervasively saving grace.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”—Victor Frankl
Frankl’s words, the whole theme of his famous book, are a direct refutation of Akin’s assertion that
“Pessimism not only leads to stagnation, but collective demoralization and depression.”
No, seeing the forces stacked against us in the fight to save our planet does not mean inaction or despair. Saving our planet is an ethic, a way of being outside of small arguments about pessimism and optimism. Even if we fail, we are programmed by life itself to try to learn to live at peace with this beautiful planet and its varied and interrelated life forms.
If we had to be optimistic in order to try to save our atmosphere there wouldn’t be much to do. Our world today is controlled by corporate interests that are not organic life forms. They see greed and the accumulation of ever increasing, destructive and meaningless wealth as the only meaningful goal of corporate existence. We created the monster to behave like that and it has reformed us/our values to be like it. How else can we explain/accept that since 1970 humans have destroyed more than sixty per cent of animal species on Earth?
We value money and forget the values we once thought money would buy us. Where we once imagined a country “of/by/for the people” we now have a country of/by/for General Electric, ITT, Monsanto, Exxon, IBM. We live in a world that is boiling itself in the retained heat generated by off gassing vehicles and industries. We can’t do anything about it not because we couldn’t if we wanted to but—we don’t want to. We love our toys-to our death.
Rather than getting depressed about pessimism, I find it quite depressing that we can be so optimistic about cooking our atmosphere and catalyzing a die off of life forms rivaling the Chicxulub induced die off 66 million years ago.
Seemingly hopeless circumstances are not, necessarily, about inaction and depression. Admitting the urgency of the situation is, above all, the clarion call to action.
Today seems a good day for story telling so one more story: this one about seemingly hopeless situations as the call to urgent action.
Putting the Ball up in the Air
My father was an avid football fan. I wasn’t, but I was enthralled by the way my father watched football on TV –even the itsbitsy TVs of that long gone age. His favorite team was, of course, the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers of the time had a quarterback named YA Tittle and an end/receiver named Crazy Legs Hurse. Often I would stay away from the living room until the game was almost over—then I would stop by–not to see the game for which I had as little interest as I have in any other professional sport—none. BUT I would tune into to the front room to see my father. Time after time the 49ers would be behind with the game clock running out and the 49ers in the wrong end of the field to score in the few remaining moments.
My father would be at the edge of his seat, his eyes blazing, his pulse racing, a pensive hopeful smile hoping/ fearing disappointment. AND the same scene over and over–YA takes the ball deep in his end; he waits he draws back and throws the football—not like they do these days(precision spiraling, drifting barely above the heads of the rummaging players), no when YA threw the last pass of the game it just went up in the air; up-up-up in the air. It could be anybody’s ball for the taking if anyone happened to be around when it came down, but it went up-up-up–so high it lingered in the air almost disappearing from sight. It lingered so long a crowd of players would pretty much figure where it was going to come down and they would gather in numbers as the ball slowly began to lose altitude gently wobbling from too long in the air with too little spin.
They made a crowd. Everyone thought/hoped it was theirs for the taking—the whole huddle of them AND–AND THEN out of the middle of this throng of players this long, lanky arm, propelled by legs that must have been made of spring steel—the height they propelled the long lanky arm to, the long fingers reached out above the lanky arm, above all the other leaping arms and AND like Crazy Glue the fingers touched the descending ball and drew it in to the arms of the now bounding, wiggle wagging, crazy legs that seemed to go three directions at once. YA and Crazy Legs had done it again. And my father, exhausted slunk down into his rocker—utterly happy with the world.
For a long time this tale meant little to me other than a fond memory of my father and his obsession with football. But I remember his words today. “If you’re gonna win the game ya gotta put the ball up in the air!
Today we are behind—way behind in a world that daily becomes more dominated by corporate greed and indifference to life on Earth. I think, we may not win but the greatest failing, whether pessimistic or optimistic, would be to not put the ball up in the air.
In future posts I will be examining The Green New Deal. It holds some very real promise and it is fraught with possibilities to be bought off/redirected to corporate greed. But, more than anything else it is our ball and it is time to put it up in the air. Where oh where will we find a modern day Crazy Legs? Or is that our fate—that to save ourselves and our planet we will all grow long, lanky political legs and fingers that stick to our collective survival like Crazy Glue?