Some people walk in the rain; others just get wet.
~ Roger Miller
It’s easy for me to get depressed these days. Heat waves and glacial melting present as dire warnings that climate change is here and not just some far-off threat that may plague future generations. National politics have become horribly malicious, and so many of the decisions being made strike me as maniacal.
I read with pleasure about a refugee family’s trials that end up with a safe reception, but then I’m reminded about what horrors drove them to be refugees anyway. Drought-inspired wildfires reflect nature’s oblivious cruelty, and then I learn that the fire was started by some heedless human. We’re driving species to extinction at an alarming rate, and our President’s kids take joy in large animal trophy hunting. It can be a cruel, cruel world.
I recycle, compost, save resources when I can, and give to organizations that do good. But still, there’s a part of me that must work to find the positives. An old engineer joke goes, “the glass is neither half-empty nor half-full; it’s over-designed.” Maybe we aren’t designed to know about all that the world can do to us. Maybe part of our problem is knowing too much — “TMI”.
A man named Paul Kingsnorth looked at all the world’s ills, particularly what he called ‘ecocide’ — destruction of our own home. As Brian Calvert reports, Kingsnorth came up with an idea he called “dark ecology,” the idea (borrowed from Robinson Jeffers) that humans were unable to understand themselves as a part of nature, and therefore we were doomed to destroy it.
To cope with this, he suggested five ways to deal with our ecological crisis, ways we can reconnect to the ‘wilder world’:
- Preserving nonhuman life;
- Rooting oneself in the work of land or place;
- Insisting that nature has intrinsic value; and
- “Building refuges” where non-human life can flourish.
In addition, Kingsnorth advised,“Withdraw, so that you can allow yourself to sit back quietly and feel, intuit, work out what is right for you and what nature might need from you. Withdraw, because refusing to help the machine advance — refusing to tighten the ratchet further — is a deeply moral position.”
He advocates a pursuit of beauty and justice. “Perhaps, then, the way through the ecocide is through the pursuit of integrity, a duty toward rebalancing the whole, toward fairness, in both senses of the word.” In part that feels to me like giving up to despair, but I think it was meant to be a way to see the design flaws in how we live, so that we can adjust our world to work better.
Some see a problem and immediately look to replace the broken device. Others, myself included, try to seek out what it is that can be done to fix the problem; we tinker with it and fiddle around with the parts to see if we can get it to work better. I can drive people crazy with a futile attempt to fix something that’s broken, but feel that too often we may just want to toss it aside and get a new one. It’s hard for me to toss away a broken thing — what if someday I figure out how to fix it?
We can despair, but maybe a better option is to try to fix the world we have. Sure, I know that few, if any, of us will be able to right the major wrongs or fix the major problems, but that shouldn’t keep us from trying to take on any of the issues we feel strongly about. Kingsnorth suggests a rebalancing of the world, adjusting it so that it works for all inhabitants. I can work through potential despair if I am focusing on something positive, something regardless how small, that may just make things better.
So, maybe we need to tinker with the machine, maybe shift the design a bit, take on the seemingly small parts that aren’t working, and hope that if enough of us work at the small bits of the whole, we’ll gradually get the machine running again in the right direction. Lord knows, there’s plenty to work on.
After all, what good is accomplished by sitting in a dark room feeling sorry for ourselves?
“One day my ashes will be scattered in the eroding mountains, and our civilization, like that of Ozymandias, crumble, and the Earth be swallowed by our dying red star. This is no cause for despair; it is a reminder to be meaningful, to be makers instead of takers, to be of service to something — beauty, justice, loved ones, strangers, lilacs, worms.”
~ Brian Calvert
Brian Calvert, So What If We’re Doomed?, High Country News, July 24, 2017
Steve Tarlton, What to Do?Oh, What to Do?, Writes of Nature, April 18, 2015
Steve Tarlton, Fifty-Fifty, Writes of Nature, March 3, 2016
Steve Tarlton, Changing the Climate, Writes of Nature, August 11, 2016
Steve Tarlton, It’s All Al Gore’s Fault, Writes of Nature, September 22, 2016
Steve Tarlton, Human Future, Writes of Nature, November 10, 2016