People are more comfortable than ever inserting political asides into their non-political work, and so I read through a lot of stuff I find mildly irritating, not because the politics are different than mine—which would be difficult, since I don’t have any—but because the observations usually seem like received wisdom, parroted without much thought. Occasionally I’m brought up short by a passage that is especially unself-aware, like this one:
Pretty much everyone in my extended on- and offline social circles understands the dire outlook of our climate crisis, but very few go beyond just acknowledging it. For the vast majority of people I know it’s business as usual. Given that we all know what’s happening, why aren’t we all writing angry letters and marching the streets?
I won’t link to this because I certainly don’t want to make fun of the writer, who has at least turned his attention to something substantial and thought it worth writing about. And I will often write something like this too … which is why I re-read what I write to see how the pieces fits together, watching for mismatches. I could have written the above, but I would look back and see “dire outlook” and then make sure that the rest of what I had written was in proper proportion. Writing angry letters and marching the streets? How much worse than dire do things need to get before we do something substantial?
In contrast, I think this New Yorker piece by Jonathan Franzen is well worth spending some time with. Franzen thinks that the time is long past to address climate change—he puts the point of no return somewhere in the late 1970s. And he thinks that acting like it is still possible to fix the problem is a distraction which prevents us from dealing effectively with what will inevitably happen.
I agree wholeheartedly with the spirit of Franzen’s piece, and with much of the detail. I’m on board with his recommendation, namely that we continue to do what we can to correct the problem, not because it’s possible but because it’s the correct way to behave. I’m a little bothered by how he spells that out—I think he is still too focused on the idea that we should behave a certain way because of the benefits that will accrue to us. In this case the benefits will not involve undoing the damage, just collateral benefits that are still worthwhile. My alternative is to give up weighing benefits altogether, and focus entirely on determining the correct response to the circumstances we find ourselves in, then proceeding to do that, regardless of benefits or disadvantages.
For me this has largely been a matter of looking back, trying to figure out exactly where we went off the rails—not in hopes of turning back the clock, but simply identifying and understanding the deeper impulses that led us to the bad choices, as a prelude to figuring out and then pursuing another, more grounded way to live. And the harder I look, the less I have to say and to share, because the more personalized the answers. I can’t recommend that anyone follow my path, or even look hard at the things that led me to follow it—there are plenty of equally important things I chose not to look at, ones that would have led me in very different directions, and maybe those are the ones for you.
But if you’ve done the looking for yourself and gone a different way, maybe we can compare notes at some point.