If it makes sense to feel hopeless about the future, maybe what we need right now is some 'profound nonsense.'
By Tim Hjersted
Jun 17, 2015
Is humanity doomed? Is catastrophic climate change unavoidable now?
This is a debate going on in the 'doomer' environmental circles of late.
One or two prominent activists recently have declared they have given up on avoiding catastrophic climate change. An article 'In Defence of Inaction' by Dave Pollard was written to defend this 'rational' argument for giving up.
But you know what? Throwing our hands up in the air seems like a pretty ridiculous thing to do at this point.
Because capitalist civilization is doomed we should not work on building an alternative? Because climate change is going to wreck a lot of the planet we shouldn't try to create our alternative world?
My advice to anyone that is feeling cynical: stop digesting the doomer news. As (paradoxically) good as it may feel, it is just one perspective and not really representative of a very complex world where things are “getting worse and worse and better and better faster and faster.”
Find your tribe. Imagine something beautiful and focus on creating it.
The idea of human extinction or planetary collapse is just an idea. It’s a very intellectual idea and it hasn't happened yet. Should our own happiness or present day resolve even be driven by this abstract thinking of the future? I don’t think so.
Giving up now because of some idea of the future… nonsense! This moment right now is all we have. And even if our civilization or the planet as we know it is going to get wrecked in the future, there is and always will be great beauty in this universe, and there is more to the story of humanity than doom or salvation on the macro level.
There is beauty at the micro level every day if we have the eyes to see it (simultaneously with the bad). Just look up at the stars on a cloudless night if you are ever in doubt.
There is also beauty at the macro level, far grander than the meta story of human survival on the planet (see the Cosmos series (old or new) for more on this. Add it all up and there are many reasons to see defeatist attitudes as illusion.
Perhaps our movement should focus on spreading some Zen Buddhist philosophy, because if it truly makes ‘sense’ to feel hopeless about things, perhaps what we need now is some 'profound nonsense’ – and that is something I've found of great value in Zen Buddhist philosophy.
For instance, the 4 Bodhisattva vows are something I have internalized subconsciously in my mind, and I think they can be applied pretty well to our planetary meta story:
“Although sentient beings are innumerable, we vow to save them.
Although our evil desires are limitless, we vow to be rid of them.
Although the teaching is limitless, we vow to learn it all.
Although Buddhism is unattainable, we vow to attain it.
If it is unattainable, how can we attain it? But we should! That is Buddhism. To think, “Because it is possible we will do it,” is not Buddhism. Even though it is impossible, we have to do it because our true nature wants us to.” – Shunryu Suzuki
So here’s my version:
Although the problems of the world are innumerable, we vow to solve them.
Although the suffering of humanity is limitless, we vow to lesson it.
Although creating a sustainable civilization may be impossible, we vow to create it.
Although saving the world is impossible, we vow to save it.
If saving the world as a human habitat is impossible, how can we save it? But we should! That is our way. To think, “Because it is possible we will do it,” is not the way. Even though it is impossible, we have to do it because our true nature wants us to.