"Humankind cannot stand very much reality" T. S. Eliot
Analyst Chris Clugston offered a sobering assessment of our response to the crisis that is unfolding before us.
"Seems to me", he said, "that the 'perspectives' regarding our predicament fall into 5 clusters:
1. Delusionists--totally oblivious
2. Denialists--see reality but turn away
3. Happy Ending(ists)--acknowledge reality but believe that a "down-scaled" BAU will prevail
4. Soft Landing(ists)--acknowledge reality but believe that "lifeboats" are the answer
5. Realists-- (like you) who acknowledge the reality that imminent social collapse is inevitable
In America, there are about 300 million in the first cluster, 8 million in the second, a few thousand in the third, a few hundred in the fourth, and a handful in the fifth. I guess I'm glad; if it was the other way around, we'd be over-run by panicked idiots! Probably better that they watch Amercian Idol..."
I believe this to be a very succinct and accurate categorization. I am becoming increasingly impatient with people in clusters three and four. People who will not follow the logic of their own arguments to their logical conclusion. It all comes down to what I have argued is a flawed human brain that is a failed prototype of what should have rolled off the evolutionary assembly line to supercede us. Just as the Neanderthals were quite possibly driven off the field by a competitive disadvantage---a language deficit --- homo sapiens of our design should have been pushed off the plate by a hominid who could acknowledge and act upon long-term dangers. In other words, we play chess with an inability to see more than one move ahead. With a language of complex symbolism we had the facility to articulate thoughts in a future tense, to speak of potential scenarios and plan for them. But instead, in my view, language became our albatross, because we used it as vehicle of entertainment and obfuscation. If I were to write an epitaph of the human race, it would be "Death by Storytelling". For eons we sat around the campfire regaling listeners with tales---myths and legends that would entrance and beguile us. And we are still doing it. Our appetite for escapist novels, movies, heroic feats of athletic accomplishment and fairytales is insatiable. And if even a morsel of truth is to be swallowed, it must be coated in entertainment.
The entertainment industry is so pervasive now that it acts as a buffer against reality. Our minds occupy a virtual world, not the real one, which is too raw, shocking and depressing for a primate brain that cannot tolerate more than a minimal quota of bad news. This is not an exclusively human trait, of course. Paleo-climatologist Andrew Glikson commented after a lecture in Australia last year than even zebras practice denial in order to maintain a mental equilibrium. They can be grazing just a few short metres from a lion without panicking. There is an inborn calculation that allows them to "play the odds" that a predator will victimize some other member of the herd but not them. As Glikson put it, we must live day to day. We cannot take another step if we think the sky is falling. On a personal level, some measure of denial is a necessary coping strategy, especially for a species that can forsee death. The only difference, I think, is that humans have taken this pardonable personal posture and completely enveloped themselves in a make-believe world---thanks to language and symbolism. Rather than seek knowledge, we reach for a cushion---something which the priests of corporate capitalism and Madison Avenue are only to happy to throw at us. The sum total of delusional individuals is a collective that walks blindfolded toward the cliff of extinction. Organized religion is only the most developed form of delusional thinking. We are all religious it seems, most especially the so-called intelligentsia whose intellectual realizations are not truly internalized. We embrace faith without evidence and grasp at false hope. So even those in our movement who understand "reality", who see the cliff ahead, cannot help themselves from attaching a Hollywood ending to their story. After all, their audience demands it. We crave intellectual comfort food, not the clarity of mental castor oil.
A man in Ireland recently asked, "Is there anywhere to turn from the despair which all thinking and rational persons must feel?" Indeed there is. Hallucinate. Take refuge in a virtual reality. Perceive the real world differently and confuse that perception with objective reality. Embrace a faith like environmentalism, which seemingly offers us the hope of accommodating infinite growth by infinite reduction in our per capita consumption. Or believe that industrial civilization, or civilization itself, is sustainable, if only it was organized along equitable lines. Or immerse yourself in murder mysteries, children's fantasies or tales of the supernatural . Or invest your hope in a technological fix. Dream about new technological miracles that will save us from ourselves, much in the way that the Nazis dreamed of miracle weapons that would snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The name of the game, after all, is to feel good about yourself, not about actually changing society around you. To paraphrase Marx, philosophers have merely tried to understand the world, the point however, is to be able to live in it by looking at it through rose-coloured glasses---or inventing another world in which to dwell. My father did that from a hospital bed. After he had lost his wife of 63 years, and his favourite son, in quick succession, he suffered three months of intolerable grief, then snapped. Thereafter he would ask me how they were doing, and proceeded to tell me how he had spent the day in some exotic locale like Mexico, India or down the mine shaft where he slaved for much of his life, coating his lungs with particles that would eventually choke off his oxygen supply. Dad even imagined that his male nurse was the host of a TV program which he appeared on. It was as if there was a Stephen Spielberg in his brain working full time spinning out fables of the fantastic. And my father believed in everyone of them, recounting the details with complete sincerity and a straight face. He was like a child who compensated for his loneliness by conjuring up an imaginary friend. That is exactly what most of us do. We cannot take in the full panorama of stark and brutal reality, so we live in our minds--- or watch American Idol. And once every four years, we vote for a saviour who promises to fix the unfixable.
At this late date, should we disturb these refugees from horror with information that is not likely to save them? And what thanks will we get? Are Cassandras ever popular---or useful? I, too, struggle with these questions. I chose to humour my father with fictions of my own, constructing stories of how his wife and son were doing well and asking about him. It got him through the night---- until he died two years later from congestive heart failure. Perhaps that is what I am doing now. Getting through the night by writing about it, and pretending that writing about our predicament is in itself, an adequate alternative to solving it. As Peter Goodchild wrote with disarming candour: "The keyboard acts as a safety valve for low-level political dissent, serving roughly the same function that sex and alcohol have served at other times and in other places, allowing ordinary people to believe they are rebels when in fact they are doing nothing to disrupt the structure of society." I suppose then, that I belong to a sixth category of denial---that cluster of 'realists' who confuse their realism with making a difference.
August 16, 2010
PS If you would like to visit reality, go to Chris Clugston's website, "Wake Up Amerika" at http://www.wakeupamerika.com/
Anonymous (not verified)
Sun, 2010-08-22 00:06
The Central World Problem - The Human Brain Cannot Do Reality
Anonymous (not verified)
Sun, 2010-08-22 00:11
TRUTH In Ancient Greek - By Gabriel Chiron