It’s hard to stay positive right now. Everything seems to be coming apart at this most critical time for the future well-being of the planet and its inhabitants. Indeed, we seem to be causing the next great extinction event in our little world’s multi-billion-year history: Most species but ours will go extinct in the next few hundred years.
People feel disconnected from the political process. The forces of hate are stronger than they’ve been in this millennium, fueled by a ratings-obsessed media that has lost all sense of what it meant to be the Fourth Estate that kept the government in check for the benefit of the populace. Unrestrained corporate greed has defeated healthy political discourse, and indeed objectivity, at least for now. The medium that was supposed to solve the problem, the Internet, has unintentionally exacerbated it in the pursuit of advertising revenues.
The historical parallels to the populist uprisings currently happening around the world are striking and terrifying. We have been here before. Now, we have nuclear weapons and the threat of a changing climate more imminent than ever.
The question is not whether the world will change, but by how much. How many hundreds of millions of people will die or be forced from the places they call home?
What is one to do other than place blame and feel depressed?
It just seems so hopeless.
An abnormally high number of climate scientists are now taking anti-depressants. Their whole lives revolve around seeing a future that ranges from “mild hell” to “blazing inferno,” and nobody is listening, or their opinion is only as valid as that of a high school dropout who spent a few minutes taking a cursory glance at the ‘climate change’ Wikipedia page–if that.
What’s clear is that this trend isn’t going to reverse itself any time soon. Truth, science, and reason are no longer morally important to large segments of the world’s population. The climate will get warmer. Much warmer. We in the West cheerfully celebrate sitting outside to eat at a restaurant in November, without sparing more than a few thoughts to what that means.
What will our children make of this? Will they understand when we tell them we all felt incapable of effecting change? That the pressures of a few massive corporations were simply too great to even try to defend the planet? That the only thing we could collectively come up with was a return to our most tribal, basic and ugly. To everyone having their own definition of truth, and their own facts. To everyone hating anyone who isn’t the same as them.
Can we make it to the other planets before Earth becomes more like Venus?
The only way for us to save ourselves within our current framework, it seems, is to play the same game as the rich and powerful: to make expansion into space a financially obvious thing to do even over short periods of time. To demonstrate that tapping into the practically limitless power supply that is our Sun makes better business sense right now. That people can live a decent life without needing to work a job that destroys the planet.
Those who want to fight must operate within the system, and engage the power centers they revile without being themselves corrupted or controlled.
In the immortal words of Margaret Mead: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
The world needs you more than ever for this most challenging and important task. We, the eyes and ears and feelings of the cosmos, have spent 13.7 billion years in the making, and our fate now hangs by a thread. WE CANNOT GO SILENTLY INTO THE NIGHT.
“Eight years ago, students at my high school wrote to their favorite authors asking them to visit. Kurt Vonnegut was the only one who responded, writing this beautiful and humorous letter.”
Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Conglusta:
I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.
What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money or fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.
Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.
Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?
Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.
God bless you all!
Euclid’s first common notion is this: Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.
That’s a rule of mathematical reasoning. It’s true because it works—has done, and always will do. In his book, Euclid says this is “self-evident.” You see, there it is, even in that two-thousand-year-old book of mechanical law, it is a self-evident truth that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.
We begin with equality. That’s the origin, isn’t it—that balance? That’s fairness. That’s justice.
If you live in the Western world, and particularly if you watch the news, you probably weren’t expecting this:
It may not feel like it, but 2012 has been the greatest year in the history of the world. That sounds like an extravagant claim, but it is borne out by evidence. Never has there been less hunger, less disease or more prosperity. The West remains in the economic doldrums, but most developing countries are charging ahead, and people are being lifted out of poverty at the fastest rate ever recorded. The death toll inflicted by war and natural disasters is also mercifully low. We are living in a golden age.
To listen to politicians is to be given the opposite impression — of a dangerous, cruel world where things are bad and getting worse. This, in a way, is the politicians’ job: to highlight problems and to try their best to offer solutions. But the great advances of mankind come about not from statesmen, but from ordinary people. Governments across the world appear stuck in what Michael Lind, on page 30, describes as an era of ‘turboparalysis’ — all motion, no progress. But outside government, progress has been nothing short of spectacular.
Take global poverty. In 1990, the UN announced Millennium Development Goals, the first of which was to halve the number of people in extreme poverty by 2015. It emerged this year that the target was met in 2008. Yet the achievement did not merit an official announcement, presumably because it was not achieved by any government scheme but by the pace of global capitalism. Buying cheap plastic toys made in China really is helping to make poverty history. And global inequality? This, too, is lower now than any point in modern times. Globalisation means the world’s not just getting richer, but fairer too.
The doom-mongers will tell you that we cannot sustain worldwide economic growth without ruining our environment. But while the rich world’s economies grew by 6 per cent over the last seven years, fossil fuel consumption in those countries fell by 4 per cent. This remarkable (and, again, unreported) achievement has nothing to do with green taxes or wind-farms. It is down to consumer demand for more efficient cars and factories.