An Incovenient Truth
Saturday/Sunday, October 7, 2007.
By Wambui Mwangi
The problem with being a nice person and having progressive secular liberal or humanist views is that it ignores the real problem facing the world.
The real problem facing the world is not that there are wars, or that people are starving, or that structural inequalities exist, or that racism continues and the sexists just will not die off.
No. The real problem is that the planet on which we have inadvertently discovered ourselves is about to implode and we’re all still just in denial. That is the problem. We are trapped, in a burning house, with the doors locked, and padlocked, and the windows welded shut; there’s no escape.
Instead of fighting over who gets to use the bathroom next, or whose turn it is to wash the dishes, should we not instead be thinking about how to put this fire out? Starting immediately?
Should the person standing next to the sink perhaps begin to think of consulting the one with the buckets, and together perhaps they should talk to the guy with the hose-pipe? Just a thought. The house is on fire.
The house is on fire, people, and instead of directing all our possible ingenuity and our fabled qualities of resilience towards the problem, we are engaged in asinine human activities, which consist of killing each other or watching imperviously as others get killed, and when we’re not doing that, we apparently consider it amusing to kill off as much of our own context as possible.
The joke is on us: we don’t have a spare planet to move to when we’ve finished destroying this one, so, who’s laughing now, eh? This is just stupid behaviour: it doesn’t even have the benefit of insouciance to make it at least intriguing. It is just plainly stupid, a stupidity of the swamp-monster kind.
It seems obvious that the greatest single disaster to befall this planet has been ourselves. We have been an extravanganza of a train wreck, and not content with making sure that nothing else can co-exist with us, we now want to prove that we can not co-exist with ourselves, either.
Consider the utter absurdity of this. Unlike that famous soldier, we haven’t even seen the enemy yet, but he is undoubtedly us. What other species have we met that we did not at once threaten? If by chance other species have managed to hang onto existence, it certainly hasn’t been because of any benevolent intent on our part.
As a rule of thumb, if we meet you, we’ll kill you. Don’t say you haven’t been warned. Your only hope of survival is that we never discover you, although of course it is possible we’ve already exterminated you anyway. Ooops, sorry about that. What were you before we killed you off?
It is time seriously to consider that we are a plague unto this planet. It may be that the point of fruitful human endeavour is not to worry about social welfare but to try to minimise our own evil as humans with respect to the rest of the planet.
Think how excellent it would be for our fellow-beings-in-existence if humanity suddenly just simply stopped existing. How about if humans became extinct?
The available evidence, and a smidgin of common sense would suggest that the immediate benefit would be that the Arctic could begin to heal itself, and various frogs, dolphins, trees, rocks, forests, birds, insects, fish and all manner of things would have a fighting chance at continued evolution.
That’s what would happen. Everything else in creation would have a chance, without us.
It is possible to begin to construct an apocalyptic vision on this basis, but the problem with all this is that it discounts our own creation, our own here-ness. We’re meant to be here too, or we wouldn’t exist. We’re also meant to be able to think, because as you can see, we’re doing it right now. In fact, that’s how we know we exist, thanks Descartes, or maybe we know we exist because we can all see each other; that’s thanks to Ubuntu.
Whatever the case, we’re here, we exist, and we can plainly see that unless we rein in our own excesses this beautiful experiment called evolution will come to a very disgraceful and fairly abrupt halt. We’re engaged, as a species, in a sort of collective psychotic episode, in which fragmented versions of altered reality direct our actions, but at the same time allow us to see this.
Take for example, this business of war in Iraq. Those lovely American youngsters are being sacrificed on the altar of greed and corporate interests; the whole country understands this and yet, as you can see, this doesn’t seem to make much difference to anyone.
The nice American kids keep dying. In the meantime of course, there is that little Iraqi boy whose whole family has been slaughtered by American bombs. His mother, his father, his three sisters, one of whom was about to be married, his big brother, his donkey, his dog: all dead amidst the rubble, the whole lot.
Is it beyond our imagination to know that this kind of trauma is not a good thing to introduce into our world and if that young boy grows up angry and embittered, let us not pretend surprise at this latter time? We are still teaching our children violence. Is it asking too much to suggest that we agree that the way in which violence repeatedly negates humanity’s common sense has been demonstrated over and over?
Why do we persist in pounding our head against this curiously unavailing and uncaring wall, when it is clear to the meanest intelligence that we are only creating more problems for ourselves, and all we’ve done is make all this our children’s problem?
Gee, thanks, Dad!
How about we give that war thing a rest? Even if only out of scientific curiosity: what could we accomplish, what might be possible, if the whole of humanity were engaged in getting ourselves out of this evolutionary cul-de-sac, down which we seem to have wandered? Can racism any longer be said to have any point?
Honestly, how much longer do we have to keep up this deluge of reasoned and careful scientific contempt for these ideas before they curl up and die?
We have to fix the planet, or we’ll die with it. This basically means figuring out how to get a grip on ourselves. We’re the problem. We need to control our own evil; we need to manage ourselves. Let’s think of the rest of creation as our partners in evolutionary ventures, instead of continuing this ridiculous antagonistic behaviour we’ve been displaying towards it. It’s not too late to make amends, or it better not be, because if it is too late, you’d better sit down and start praying to someone or something: we’re screwed.
If we can’t fix the holes in the ozone, stop the forests from dying, keep the penguins from extinction, stop killing the coral reefs: if we can’t do these things, we’re all going to die. If we haven’t figured out that we cannot-- in defense of our human dignity, our standing as a species--continue to tolerate the sorts of income disparities that currently exist in the world; if we can’t do this, we’re all dead.
We can’t go on allowing injustice. We can’t let the corporations run unchecked: it isn’t their fault that they do the evil they do. It is ours, for ever, for even one second allowing the legal fiction that a corporate entity is a person.
Whose idea was this, that a corporate entity is a person, and should have the rights and privileges that persons do. That’s like deciding that a banknote has a personality, along with a preference in pedicures.
Yet somehow, we’re perfectly content with this legal aberration corporate ‘person’ monster-thing-god-beast. We didn’t model this ‘person’ after the best of us: we made this ‘person’ a psychopath, a serial killer, a being without conscience and without reason.
This ‘person’ has no limits, no family, no friends. This ‘person’ does not sleep, needs no sleep, has never smiled at a baby or felt the peace of a sunny afternoon. This ‘person’ has no moods, no dreams, no heart-ache, no sorrow, no gladness, no awe, no respect and no fear.
This ‘person’ has never yearned for another, never tasted a fresh mango, never laughed at a clown, never cried, never sniggered or snuggled or snogged. This ‘person’, this alleged corporate subject, this fraudulent muntu, is not us. It is not a person like us.
It cannot be, unless we are willing to contemplate the notion that who we are, in essence, are beings unable to show compassion. BeingS without morality or manners. Beings without hearts, without intellect; with neither wit nor intuition. Ravenous mindless slathering creatures, bent on ultimate and mindless self-annihilation.
If you believe this is ‘us’, well then, you might as well slit your wrists right now, because we’re done, here. We’re finished, kaput! Will the last one on earth please switch off the light!
If, on the other hand you refuse to see yourself ended because of our collective stupidity; if you think there is a fighting chance that our survival instinct will kick-start our common sense, act now.
It is obvious that while global structural inequalities exist, whilst we continue to squabble over trivialities, we are not going to be able to survive, as a species. Only we can save us. So let’s get rid of hunger, for a start. That’s quite easy to do; we already have the resources. Then let’s just agree that war is an incredibly futile way to attempt to find solutions to anything: we really deserve more credit than this. Wars are not the way to creative solutions. Let’s stop all that please: at once. We don’t have time for this crap.
To the corporate world: get a clue! You’re on this world too; do you honestly believe that your billions will save you? They won’t. We think by now the Halliburtons and the Blackwaters of this world have amassed so much wealth that they cannot seriously still be in need of yet more.
Okay, you’ve successfully ripped us all off, lied to us and made yourselves rich. Good for you: now will you get with the programme? We appreciate how audaciously clever you have been, how good at manipulation, how strategic in your use of the media: would you now be so kind as to use those talents for our side, now?
We think it’s a good deal: you see, you get to survive too, along with us, if we succeed. We need to get off this fossil fuel economy in a hurry: kindly stop lying to us about how well the environment is doing. You’re starting to sound simply nonsensical. Don’t you want your great-grandchildren to have trees? Don’t you want great-grandchildren, at all?
So here is what we need to do. We need to stop engaging in cannibalistic behaviour towards each other, as human beings, all over the world, and we need to figure out how to fix this planetary problem. Everything else is simply irrelevant when compared to the enormity of this goal. We’ve got a planet to save: let’s go.
Dallaire said it: allons-y. Ce qui veut, peut. Let us at least get the “veut” part right. Let us desire to survive. In this desiring, let us also desire that all the brave things in creation which have made this evolutionary journey with us survive for a bit longer too.
We need to learn from them how it is they are able to achieve balance, without us, and yet are so vulnerable to our carelessness and our destruction. Poor things, but poor us even more: we’re so bad at this survival game that we’re like attention-deficit-disorder children entrusted with a nuclear device. We’re simply dangerous; and on top of all that, we just have no sense of evolutionary etiquette at all.
We therefore need to stop being a danger to each other, so that we can figure out how to minimise our danger to everything else. So that we can all survive. That seems to me to be the problem: that of our collective survival.
The first principle to attempt to establish is that, people, the world is not our toy. It isn’t here for us. The point of not destroying and damaging everything else is not that it is so useful and beautiful for us. The point of not destroying it is that it is: it exists, and it has as much right as we do to so exist.
That’s the point: things are not here for our benefit, they are here just to be: their “being” is the justification, not their use-value for us, or our aesthetic enjoyment of them. Let us acquire some humility, PDQ. This anthropomorphism has not worked well for us nor for anything else.
Let’s think about maybe something different. We can do this: it is possible to shift our perspective and to develop a new one that sees the justice of everything’s getting an equal chance at existence, on the basis of the simple elegance of the idea. It is really rather fetching, this thought: that everything has a right to see what it can become next year, next generation, next millennium. Everything should have a shot at another millennium, at least—how about if we start with that?
Look. Ever since humanity did this industrial revolution technological thing, our capacity to kill things off, as well as ourselves, just mushroomed. The pun was entirely intentional. Indeed, we’ve been distinctly deadly for our world at least since the middle ages. The faster our population grew, the more of us grew healthier and wealthier; the more everything else just started dying off, more or less in tandem.
We’ve messed up: we’ve created a situation in which helping humanity might actually become an immoral idea. We’ve made ourselves the bad guys: if this were a movie we’d be expecting the good guy to kill us before the end, for the happily ever after we pay for. We’ve forgotten to grow our morality along with our information; we’re really not qualified to be in charge of all this.
We haven’t evolved our souls to the requisite minimum standard: and in the last one hundred and fifty years or so we seem actually to be regressing. This is not good news, this anti-progress. We should have suspected something was wrong, even back then, but we’ve figured it out now—we need to curb our destructive power. How about if we start by not killing ourselves off? Or anything else?
Why don’t we try out this model for a while, and see if it works better than the one we’re using now? What if we try behaving as if we understand that we’re all on this planet together, and the immensity of what we don’t know should and probably will kill us? How about if we adopt a posture of reverence for the universe; if we prostrate ourselves before our own insignificance?
There is no shame in not knowing, nor is there shame in being a small speck-like part of a much grander whole: instead of hubris, let us instead take pride in the sublime. It is much better to play in the big leagues, to keep open and look forward to our eventual galactic possibility than it is to stay here mired in these petty and pitiful terrestrial quarrels.
Let’s see how far in the evolutionary game we can advance: let’s see what we can become. It just seems to offer greater rewards, somehow.
Let’s get over ourselves, and live. Allons-y.
Dr Wambui Mwangi is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto, Canada.
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