A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.

Learning to Die in the Anthropocene

Roy Scranton’s NY Times Op-Ed  stands as a scathing indictment of all those pursuing climate change adaptation.  Scranton argues that our civilization is already dead, we must accept that and build a new world.  Adaptationists work to build a more-of-the-same world, just with sea walls and water-proof cellars.

But of course, even if it is dying, our civilization is not yet dead.  It might not even be dying.  It might be on the cusp of technological break-throughs that transform it in dramatic, unforeseeable ways.

Scranton is like a 21st Century Ernst Junger, writing a new Storm of Steel.  His essay is an ode to death and destruction. Like Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us, it is a macho-masochist love song to annihilation.

Powerful and provocative, the appeal of such hype wears off quickly.  It’s like a lazy afternoon fantasy that dissipates in the faintest breeze.

Because, really, we (our collective civilization) aren’t dead.  Really, we will not die off because of global warming.  Really, we will not get out of this pickle so quickly or with so little time for niggly-detailed-working-out-of-how-to-get-through-this.  The process could be horrible.  Many people no doubt will die.  But there will be no definitive whole-globe cataclysm of death and destruction merely because of global warming.  Of course, we live permanently under the threat of nuclear annihilation, but that is not cause or consequence of global warming.

So, no, don’t learn to die in the anthropocene.  Learn to live.


Post-script (for a deeper cut):

Scranton describes his inspiration for making it through a tour of duty in the Iraq War and then draws on this as his model for how to “die” in the anthropocene.  He writes, “I found my way forward through an 18th-century Samurai manual, Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s “Hagakure,” which commanded: “Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily.” Instead of fearing my end, I owned it. Every morning, after doing maintenance on my Humvee, I’d imagine getting blown up by an I.E.D., shot by a sniper, burned to death, run over by a tank, torn apart by dogs, captured and beheaded, and succumbing to dysentery. Then, before we rolled out through the gate, I’d tell myself that I didn’t need to worry, because I was already dead. The only thing that mattered was that I did my best to make sure everyone else came back alive. “If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead,” wrote Tsunetomo, “he gains freedom in the Way.””

Radical acceptance leads to radical freedom would be one way of thinking about this.  But the glorification of the death and dying are not intrinsic to radical acceptance.

So please, let’s reconsider the automatic genuflection to military might.  I protested the Iraq War before it began and I protest it now.   The Iraq War was a misbegotten, illegal fiasco.  Those who served in it are to be pitied, much like the civilian victims of our ‘shock and awe’ campaign.
Scranton got through the war by cultivating a military philosophy.  Radical acceptance is a much larger vision.  It can be appropriated by the tanks-and-guns crowd, but let’s not reduce it to such a militaristic creed.

We can live in acceptance of the anthropocene without the Rambo-style.  And really, bringing such a militaristic ethos is very much “more-of-the-same”.  It is a confirmation of the militarization of climate change politics.  La plus ca change.

Leave a Reply