I’ve become a man of unreasonable beliefs.
For instance: My computer automatically reset its clock this morning at 2 a.m., and the sunrise came an hour later. I consider this is an omen portending doom for civilization.
That’s because I consider the ancient Wheel of the Year a sacred expression of time, connecting us not only to nature’s cycle, but to our ancestors. Our willingness to treat time as a variable that can be tweaked to make people more “productive” on a civil schedule reveals our true attitude toward nature. Since we’re disconnected from it, yet not in command of it, it will inevitably destroy us.
Simple as that.
The Washington Post has a poll out this morning that says the President’s approval/disapproval rating is now a net -22 percentage points (37/59). That’s the all-time record low for a president at this stage of his first year in office, dating back to the dawn of modern polling in the 1950s. Yet our system of government gives this president and his extremely unpopular Republican colleagues in Congress nearly absolute power.
The first Enlightenment democracy — our American republic — has ceased to function as a governing feedback loop. Since American democracy is now disconnected from citizenship, yet not in command of reality, it will inevitably destroy itself.
Simple as that.
The point is not that things are bad, or that catastrophe of some sort has become inevitable. I said as much in November 2016, after our ancient, abused, neglected constitutional roller coaster finally broke loose from the rails and launched itself into oblivion. Here, at the aperture of “the 21st century bottleneck,” the very systems that might have saved us have all fallen apart. This is obvious to anyone who cares to look — which is to say that almost no one looks, and those who do are deemed unreasonable.
Recognizing that we’re riding on an airborne roller coaster car on its fatal plunge through darkness is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how to live during the descent.
The most seductive question in the field of transhumanist futurism is age. Once you make it safely out of young adulthood, modern life — on average — offers you about 40 years of relative vigor, plus another 20 years of decline. But what if medicine could double that? What if you could reasonably expect to reach your 100th year with the energy and clarity of a person in their mid-fifties, with decades left beyond that for “retirement?” Would you still look at your crappy middle-aged life and say “there’s nothing to do now but hunker down and accept it?” Or would you throw it out and start fresh? To a great extent, our life choices are simply a series of bets about how much time we have left, and how best to spend that time.
One American subculture — we call them “preppers” — has answered this question by deciding to spend their remaining time and money on disaster preparedness. But one could also reasonably ask: “Is it better to sacrifice opportunities for pleasant experiences now, before our systems begin to collapse, in order to prolong my grim survival later?”
Again, it’s really just a bet on time. If you figure there are only a few good years left, maybe you enjoy the hell out of the moment. If you figure you’ll survive a big disruption of civilization and emerge on the other side as some post-Apocalyptic warlord, enjoying the perks that come from plentiful ammo and plastic buckets full of freeze-dried beef-cheesy-mac, maybe you invest in that future.
But how do you live once you accept that the civilized status quo has gone into stoppage time, only you can’t predict when it will end? The ref could blow the whistle at any moment, but he could just as easily let you play on more-or-less indefinitely. Do you go all out? Or do you pace yourself?
Climate deniers think the question is stupid — and won’t get the soccer analogy regardless — but who cares about them? Most people who even consider the question figure that things will be bad, but “reasonably” assume — based on past experience — that things won’t be as bad as “they” say. Of course, no living person has any past experience of a global climate change event, so please forgive me if I take their “everything will probably be fine” attitude with a bit of skepticism.
Climate scientists, on the other hand, believe warming effects are going to be far worse than the public perceives — because they’ve been feeding us the best-case numbers in hopes of appearing reasonable. They figure we’ve got maybe another 10 to 20 years before the collapse really starts to accelerate. Even people who live in the planet’s best places will face some terrible choices in the 2040s and 2050s.
I’m not one of those people who thinks humans will wipe themselves out. I don’t anticipate The Rapture, or a global nuclear war, or some absolute AI despotism. But I’m convinced that there’s no sustainable way to support 7.5 billion human beings on this planet, and I’m familiar with the drop that occurs at the peak of a classic Malthus Curve. I don’t expect a gentle reorientation around some “scientific” sustainability level. I expect a rapid reduction that will leave us with a new equilibrium of less than 2.5 billion — roughly equal to global population in the mid-19th century. I make no prediction of how or where or when this reduction will occur. I just acknowledge that our collapsing systems — both natural and manmade — make that outcome the most likely.
Simple as that.
For now, I choose to live pleasantly alongside that horrific belief. I hope the survivors will teach the children of the 22nd century to live in accordance with nature, rather than as its Lord and Master. If they bring back Daylight Savings Time, I’ll consider that a bad omen.
I choose to spend as much time outdoors as I can, enjoying the seasons as they are. I choose to gently detach myself from modern life and culture, tendril by tendril, illusion by illusion. I choose to learn new skills, but I choose not to run around preaching about it. I choose to hope that things will be better than what I honestly believe they’ll be, and to talk to anyone — particularly anyone younger than me — about what can still be done. If there’s something of substance I can do for my children — and yours, too, for that matter — it would be nice if I could do that.
But those are aspirations and abstractions. Mere entertainments.
The truth is, I feel lucky for every day of simple pleasures, and I don’t torture myself with guilt for “not doing more” to stop our plunging roller coaster.
We’re living with Armageddon, because Armageddon isn’t one bad day, but a lot of days, some of them better than others.
Simple as that.