Coping with grand scale issues is a daunting task for anybody. Our world, and even ourselves are so complex and the suffering in our world so pervasive it’s just too much for any person to accept – and yet we must try to accept as much of it as we can for the survival advantages our knowledge affords. We evolved to attempt to understand and to accept more. The organization of our brains bears out this notion. It is our species distinguishing attribute. Cognition served our survival and proliferation in ways that permitted us to become the most invasive predatory species on the planet.
It’s not crazy that our climate crisis is bearing down on us and threatening the existence of our civilization, nor is it crazy that the end result of this process leads to our extinction – what is crazy is us, people, telling ourselves that our acceptance of these facts is optional. All of the intolerable feelings we induce at thoughts of these issues are choices we make to hold ourselves hostage to our own emotionalism so that we don’t recognize our emotional addictions for what they are. The conflicts we create in ourselves based on our false beliefs and expectations are how we facilitate this ongoing auto-intoxication.
The word “dishonesty” is a functional euphemism. The word and its definition fail to convey the gravity and scope of the concept described. Dishonesty starts with the self. I know of no way it is possible to be outwardly dishonest without first being self dishonest on related and enabling scales. We abuse emotionalism to facilitate dishonesty with ourselves and what we’re really doing is selectively dissociating from real things. We’re not shy about considering this a clinical condition when we express it in ways that interfere with “important” aspects of life like our employment but we generally refuse to consider that the same principle is just as mentally ill when we apply it on other scales that yield less dramatic and more normalized outcomes.
I found it easier to accept the circumstantial aspects of collapse and extinction as I chose to more appropriately accept the chemical nature of my emotionalism and my responsibility in managing it. I still had great difficulty accepting the suffering extant in our world. To some extent I still do have difficulty with it, at least intermittently. Gradually I accepted that it is completely beyond my control and that the most effective mitigation I can engage in is to actively mitigate my own suffering so as to minimize my own emotionalism and to lessen the impacts of my poor choices. I won’t ever be comfortable with the unfathomable suffering pervading life on this world. I won’t torture myself with emotions in avoidance of it any longer, either, because this only adds to it.
I think it is very important to accept that the denial we abuse to torment ourselves in avoidance of accepting and dealing with our climate crisis is the same denial we abused to cause our climate crisis. This holds true of other grand scale problems we have caused, like our failed pandemic responses. Our failures can be measured by our dishonesty with ourselves as can the scope of our unnecessary suffering.
I think if we were collectively more self-honest we would perceive life on Earth very differently. I know my views on it have changed along with my values and expectations regarding other aspects of life. There is so much suffering in this world that people pretend it’s normal and even beautiful. What follows is one of my very favourite quotations because it explains better than I could.
“I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs, a very endearing sight, I’m sure you’ll agree. And even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged onto a half submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters, who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature’s wonders, gentlemen. Mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that is when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.”
– Terry Pratchett
I think the problem is that the world’s animal suffering cannot be solved by human morality – no matter how much we may refine it – short of accepting that mass extinction is the least unappealing option available. At no point in human history have we ever detected or intuited any kind of of reason for the existence of life beyond mindless procreation, which reduces it down to being nothing more than extremely complex chemical reactions. We impart additional meaning and value to animal life because of our own similarities but less than we impart to ourselves to maintain our ideas of anthropocentric superiority.
No matter how superior we imagine ourselves to be we cannot figure out why billions of insects, birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians must suffer and die horribly each year. So much suffering for the infinitesimal chance of individual animals within those populations developing some kind of genetic mutation that helps the organism suffer a little less. Billions of years of the development of life on Earth has produced fantastic diversity and complexity of life – and it all suffers horribly, dies futilely, and only inches forward in development and complexity on scales of millions of years.
Witnessing and learning about this mass global suffering our planet produces has changed my position on our climate crisis and extinction. We’ve already wiped out most of Earth’s biodiversity and we’ve swapped the natural biomass of Earth’s animal life for cattle, chickens, and pigs. And those billions of cattle, chickens, and pigs suffer far more than their wild ancestors ever did, everyday, with an endless supply of replacements as we harvest them. Imagine for a moment the self-dishonesty that would be required to work in these industries and to have a hand in causing this mass suffering, to think industry standards are OK, and to think that monetary profit is more important than any other consideration.
Humanity caused our climate crisis by collectively rejecting the physical limits of our environment. We pretended we have the same self-restraint as yeast in a bowl of sugar water, and so we made this false belief a part of our inter-subjective reality. The false limitation became real because enough people chose to believe it. Individuals may occasionally buck the expectations, but collectively, and particularly speaking of the people in power, we refuse to take responsibility for anything we do in terms of overpopulation, destruction, and pollution of our environment.
In effect, we destroyed our world by rejecting our reality as being to marginal to make life worth living. Our climate crisis is humanity saying “Life isn’t worth living without our rampant emotional addictions!” and all of the physical effects we cause with them through our choices.
I accept human extinction to be imminent in perhaps the next 50-100 years, and perhaps with stragglers surviving a bit longer. I accept the ongoing ecological collapse will cause most complex life on Earth to become extinct within hundreds of years. We won’t be around to witness our dead world; we won’t be the last species to fall.
The suffering of animal life on Earth, including human life, will continue to increase until the die off stages reduce populations enough that everything diminishes. It’s the least unappealing option possible, to me, as the alternative is more suffering of more generations of more species for absolutely nothing. For this same reason I’m a staunch antinatalist, but I’ll discuss that on its own page, eventually.