The End of the World (as we know it), and I Feel Fine

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

Kossack Stranded Wind has a diary on the rec list today entitled Contemplating Human Extinction, wherein he offers charts and graphs and doomsday projections about the upcoming “extinction event” and it’s already too late to change it. Now Buhdy has an essay here on the recent passing of his mother, and it made me cry because it’s as beautiful as it is sad. Here I’d like to note a few things wrong with the Doomsday View of Life, and hopefully touch on something beautiful too.

My hubby and I decided way back in the dim recesses of the late 1960s that we’d only have two children, not wishing to contribute to what was apparent even back then about overpopulation and increasing stress on resources plus pollution issues. That’s just what we did, too – had a girl and then a boy, then purposely joined the ranks of the non-reproducing. That way I didn’t have to spend my life wondering if I’d get cancer from birth control pills or ever have to face the hard question of abortion (which I wouldn’t have chosen, I don’t think). From there we went on to adopt three children no one else wanted yet were already housebroken, and ended up with a long line of other people’s troubled teens who decided our house was better than their own. Some of them grew up okay, some of them are still messed up, and a few of them died along the way (including our son). Life is like that. I was never the best of mothers, I suppose, but that’s okay too.

Now that our grandchildren are well into reproductive age and we’re looking to finally do what WE want to do with the rest of our lives, I have thought a lot about the unsustainability of humanity’s current crazy lifestyles and self-imposed anxiety and depression, whether or not any of us will survive. I’ve pretty much decided it doesn’t matter, and that it’s going to be someone else’s problem when I’m gone. They’ll either do what needs doing for themselves and their own progeny, or not. No skin off my teeth – or rather, the few teeth I’ve got left.

I will say that it’s always bugged me that the doomsayers always want to appeal to “But What About The Children!?” canard when trying to motivate people to do something about the mess. As if the people who pull the strings – and spend their lives polluting the planet, stealing the wealth, and otherwise trading gold on the several huge futures markets in human suffering – give a shit about anybody’s children (including their own). The sciencey-types keep telling me that the reproductive urge and tendency to have so many children they can’t be supported is some sort of ‘natural’ evolutionary drive controlled by complex macromolecules in our cell nucleuses that are “selfish” and want to take over the world. Since that’s never been true for me – my macromolecules are just physical biochemical pieces-parts, thanks, and don’t run my life – I have a hard time blaming them for anything except my physical nature and its unique peculiarities. And while humans are indeed incredibly short-sighted and stupid about many things, it doesn’t take much neural superglue to simply move to higher ground when the water rises. I mean, if you’re too dumb to do that much, you probably deserve to drown!

But in the end it’s my hard-earned recognition that we’re all doomed anyway that makes me not all that worried about the collective suicidal tendencies of the human species. Death is universal in all generations, always has been and always will be. Life itself marches on, and evolution is the inevitable result of both reproduction and death. One of these days even if we turn this planet into one big greenhouse of Edenic Delights, there will be no more humans. There will be someone else, and then those critters will have their own existential problems to deal with. I don’t see much reason for me to care one way or the other about that distant future, something I can’t create or change anyway based on either the ‘rules’ of nature or those of my fellow humans. What will be will be. I have no say other than my one vote here and now, I am no one special. I just get to live and die, like everybody else.

Maybe it’s because by the time I was born humanity had already invented its clever means of evolutionary suicide, and had deployed those doomsday weapons in war against each other. I’ve lived under that Damocles’ Sword from the moment I got here, and will leave it behind whenever I’m done. Hell, they’ve got newer, better doomsday weapons these days, the implicit threat remains, I feel no undue pressure to save the planet when my “betters” in positions of power are still threatening extinction on purpose every day.

Things will not change until and unless the power distributions in this world themselves evolve toward cooperative survival instead of overt extinction threats. Until all the doomsday weapons are dismantled and never again built or deployed, until environmental and economic justice extend to all across artificial boundaries and cultural divides, until humanity decides to live well instead of die ugly, nothing will change.

Thus do the individual lives and choices of We Who Live And Die in this world take ultimate precedence over the twisted machinations of those who hold power over us. What I can do is what I’ve done, on an income that boasts no power on Wall Street or inside anybody’s military planning laboratories or bunkers. I limited my reproductive activities to replacement, then helped a lot of kids no one cared about to survive long enough to make their own choices. I bought a little bit of remaining paradise and carved out a homestead, putting to work what my ancestors taught me about how to survive. It’s uphill enough that somebody’s going to need an Ark if the water rises to my doorstep. It’s fertile and abundant and manages to grow good food in wet years or dry, in cool years or heat waves, though sometimes I have to guess what it’ll be so I’ll know what seeds to plant.

We don’t buy anything new, do just fine with hand-me-downs and second-hand, and if we can’t pay for it we don’t need it. I’ve made quilts out of holey T-shirts, baskets out of kudzu, a solar food dryer out of scrap wood and an old salvaged window, disc golf goals out of used tires, bicycle wheels and chains. My family can live on what the forest provides for the birds and bears if we have to, I can treat colds and infections with things that grow wild, set bones, stitch cuts, and tend the dying when there’s nothing left to do.

I love life, even when it makes me cry. And I know someday it will be over, so I won’t obsess about how those who come behind manage theirs. That’s THEIR choice, all I can do is teach what I know to those who want to learn. This ol’ world could be smashed into tiny pieces by a billiard ball from space at any time. Humans could pollute themselves into oblivion. The rich could kill us all off in ovens and gas chambers when their need for us goes away. Or some gung-ho idiot who somehow got into power could push a button and none of us will wake up tomorrow. Does it really matter how we die? I believe it matters more how we live.

The trick is not to live in fear. So I don’t. The worst that can happen is that I’ll die one way or another, and that’s going to happen anyway one of these days regardless of how frightened I am of it. So why bother? Even if my life were grand and long nobody would remember my name in a hundred years, it will be like I never existed at all. That’s true for the vast majority of humans who ever lived or ever will live. The earth and the cosmos and humanity don’t care, why should I?

So I guess what I’m saying here is that it would be very nice if people who long for a better and more justified world would frame their issues in a positive manner and stop trying to frighten people into doing or not doing what they want. Instead of “We’re All Going To Die!” maybe offering a more satisfying way to live would be welcome. Instead of “The Sky Is Falling!” maybe we could explore space and see what we can learn. Instead of “The Water’s Rising, We’re All Going To Drown!” we could build new cities on higher ground with underground wiring and renewable energy sources and Green buildings and beautiful art… Maybe instead of turning ourselves into obese pigs riddled with disease we could enjoy the simple pleasures of fresh, wholesome food and take up disc golf for exercise and learn how to walk and ride a bike again in the fresh air. Maybe we could learn to enjoy a cobalt blue sky and a long-range view and water without arsenic in it, and not from throw-away plastic bottles.

It seems like everyone these days is so afraid of dying that they’re terrified of living. That’s the biggest shame of my entire lifetime on this planet, and I’m way closer to the end of it than the beginning. Too few are doing for themselves, and enjoying it as it is and as it comes to us. What do I want to recall most fondly when I’m on my way out? That I loved my life, that I had all the fun anyone could have, and that I tread lightly on the earth through all my days – however many there were. Then I’ll be gone and won’t care, nor will anybody else. Life is such a great gift, and too many of us view it as a curse. THAT is what’s wrong with this world, why we keep trying to destroy it (and ourselves), and why people live their whole lives in fear.

Nobody can do it for me, it’s MY choice and MY responsibility to live as well as I can. And so long as I’m doing that for myself and helping those I love to learn and do for themselves too, I’ve no need to be afraid. My extinction is assured, so is everyone else’s. We’ve spent centuries trying like crazy to put nature under our collective thumb, and nature always wins. It always will. Perhaps if we realized, deep down, that we are nature’s children, we’d be less afraid and more willing to enjoy her greatest of gifts – our lives – and stop feeling sorry for ourselves because we live.

Anyway, it’s a thought…

17 comments

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  1. so many crazy things that should have killed me mostly when I was young because the young don’t care so much about death.  The older and more broken down I get the more I want to hang on sometimes, other times I don’t give a crap.

    I think that the rich will find a way out of death.  Pickling their brains in a jar or something hooked to the net.  

    Or implanted with nano probes fighting disease and the ravages of time.  

    Like here http://www.fiercebiotechresear

    Or via modified DNA before birth.

    So,  of the so called universals of death and taxes, they’ve already defied the second one, and within I’d say 100 years the first one as well.

    • Edger on July 19, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    Is it possible that myself, my existence, so contains being and nothing that death is merely the “off” interval in an on/off pulsation which must be eternal – because every alternative of this pulsation (e.g., its absence) would in due course imply its presence? Is it conceivable, then, that I am basically an eternal existence momentarily and needlessly terrified by one half of itself because it has identified all of itself with the other half? If the choice must be either white or black, must I so commit myself to the white side that I cannot be a good sport and actually play the Game of Black-and-White, with the implicit knowledge that neither can win?

    — Watts, “the Book”

  2. Im still over here… as we joke in my house: reaching for the ketchup in slow-mo… struggling to compose a coherent COMMENT to buhdy’s essay and you produce this!

    !

  3. Very.

    Though, eh.  I think one’s willingness to grab hold of one’s times carries a certain…connection.  At 44 I’ve done more crap than most people ever consider.  And when I’m resting between contracts or challenges, or otherwise in a philosophical mood, I doubt I could put it better than you have here.  Everything dies, and it is not the got or even the getting, but the story and the grace which redeem it.

    But then I jump into something, and really want it…something which only an industrial civilization during the party at the end of the world can hand out, like the chance to learn a new technology or create something interesting with other people’s resources….and all that goes right out the window.  Into the mix I go!  And while the base philosophy does not change, that nonattachment goes right out the window.  Not ready to let go, quite.  

  4. The desire, and the ability to live with-in the moment is the essence of what life is. It is not the chasing of improbable dreams, nor the gasp of gloom and doom over whats to come, nor lamenting of failures or paths not choosen, nor reliving of past glories.

    The image that came to mind after readng your post brings a smile. The end of the last book in Asimov’s seminal work, The Foundation Series where the scene fades to an older couple in cover-alls and gingham, tending a garden, where-in our homespun universe grows.

    Learning, and passing on what has been learned (when asked) seems the most worthwhile endeavor around, as far as I am concerned. To leave a small footprint and to lend a helping hand is a decent enough goal in life, no need of more.

    Thanks for the words.

    Be well.

  5. was an elective in business school.  We ranked, rated and discussed all sorts of disasters both natural and man made.  Some are far fetched but others were very possible.  Being business oriented the evil was that slippery slope of finding out how to profit from X,Y or Z.

    Y2K didn’t end the world yet it would have ended THEIR ability to calculate interest on loans correctly.  Swine flu did not kill us all in 1976 yet “our” government may ensure it does this time around.  Don’t know why yet, this theme that haunts me as I just spent two weeks in the woods.

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