No Surrender

by Guy McPherson on March 1, 2017

SAN ANTONIO Belize—(Weekly Hubris)—March 2017—I’m routinely accused of giving up. Worse, it is often written that the message of near-term human extinction encourages people to give up. As the primary messenger of this devastating message, I’m often at the receiving end of messages fueled by ignorance and its frequent companion, hatred.

For what it’s worth—and I suspect my two cents is overpriced this time—this essay serves as a correction to my detractors. I’m neither giving up on the living planet nor encouraging others to do the same.

Giving up is not giving in: accepting our fate is not synonymous with jumping into the absurdly omnicidal mainstream. Just because we’re opossums on the roadway doesn’t mean we should play possum. Resistance is fertile, after all. To employ a bit of The Boss: “In the end, what you don’t surrender, well, the world just strips away.”

Or, to employ a bit of Zen: Let go, or be dragged.

Or, to employ a bit of popular culture: Carpe diem.

Or, to employ a bit of Nietzsche: “Live as though the day were here.”

Climate chaos is well under way, and has become irreversible over temporal spans relevant to humans because of self-reinforcing feedback loops (so-called positive feedbacks). Such is the nature of reaching the acceleration phase of the non-linear system that is climate catastrophe.

As a result of ongoing, accelerating climate change, I’m letting go of the notion that Homo sapiens will inhabit this planet beyond 2026. I’m letting go of the notion that, within a few short years, there will remain any habitat for humans in the interior of any large continent. I’m letting go of the notion we’ll retain even a fraction of one percent of the species currently on Earth beyond 2030. But I’m not letting go of the notion of resistance, which is a moral imperative.

I will no longer judge people for buying into cultural conditioning. It’s far easier to live in a city, at the height of civilization’s excesses, than not. I know how easy it is to live in a city surrounded by beautiful distractions and pleasant interactions, and I fully understand the costs and consequences of dwelling there, as well as the price to be paid in the near future. I spent about half my life in various cities, and I understand the physical ease and existential pain of living at the apex of empire.

Also, I know all about the small joys and great pains associated with living in the country. I spent the other half of my life in the country and in towns with fewer than 1,000 people. I understand why the country bumpkin is assigned stereotypical labels related to ignorance and, paradoxically, self-reliance.

It’s clearly too late to tear down this irredeemably corrupt system and realize any substantive benefits for humans or other organisms. And yet I strongly agree with activist Lierre Keith: “The task of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much personal integrity as possible; it is to dismantle those systems.”

If it seems I’m filled with contradictions, color me fully human in a Walt Whitman sort of way: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Our remaining time on this orb is too short to cast aspersions at those who live differently from ourselves, as most people in industrialized countries have done throughout their lives. Most people in the industrialized world became cultural crack babies in the womb. There is little hope of breaking the addiction of ingestion at this late point in the era of industry, and I’m throwing in the towel on changing the minds of willfully ignorant Americans. No longer will I try to convince people to give up the crack pipe based on my perception of reality.

My continued efforts to speak and write will represent personal perspectives and actions. I’ll no longer recommend to others the path I’ve taken.

Nietzsche’s comment about seizing the day, every day, brings to mind the final words of Joseph Campbell’s 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces: “It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal—carries the cross of the redeemer—not in the bright moments of his tribe’s great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair.”

With the preceding dire news in mind, it would be easy to forget how fortunate we are. After all, we get to die. This simple fact alone is cause for celebration because it indicates that we get to live. As I wrote many years ago, our knowledge of DNA assures us that the odds of any one of us existing are greater than the odds against being a particular grain of sand on all the world’s beaches. No, the odds are much greater than that: they exceed the odds of being a single atom plucked from the entire universe. To quote the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, “In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I that are privileged to be here, privileged with eyes to see where we are and brains to wonder why.”

It’s quite a deal, and no surrender is necessary. We get to live. Let’s live. Let’s be fully present. Let’s live here now.


9 thoughts on “No Surrender

  1. We may well be doomed as a species. If so, we are largely responsible. I can’t change human nature, capitalism, or the siren songs of Wall Street and Madison Avenue. I can fight against the odds for the other creatures of this earth simply because I believe it is the right thing to do and will not give up on them.

  2. I do everything right, and yet whatever I don’t use, others just gobble up, so I wonder if I do any good at all. But I guess I know I do the right thing for myself. And won’t give up either.

  3. I have mixed feelings about this post. Living in a city just overwhelms the senses; living where it’s quieter and slower brings you back in touch with them. It is by far superior. It’s no wonder people in cities don’t understand or appreciate the natural world. Over the years I have learned that ignorance is not just for country bumpkins, city people are ignorant in their own way, and who wants to be a part of the Borg?

    “I will no longer judge people for buying into cultural conditioning.”

    Sorry to say that I do. The culture needs to be changed.

    • Or I should say ‘they’re nice places to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live in there.’ I can appreciate them for what good they have to offer, but the bad isn’t worth it.

    • Me too. The fact that nuclear power plants will all have meltdowns if people aren’t around to cool them and keep them going seems like the biggest threat to Earth’s other species if humans check out. Also, if jet traffic in the stratasphsere were to suddenly end, the planet would quickly warm up to levels not seen in tens of thousands of years (known as the Venus effect).

      So there’s no easy answer. Sadly, it’s too late to wish that humans would just go away and let nature take back over and put things right again….

      • And yet, some climate scientists (like Hansen and Lovelock) embrace nulclear as the answer in the modern world, as if we gone too far to turn back now. A depressing thought if there ever was one. Of course, almost no one is willing to say that maybe there’s just too many people on the planet today…

      • ” Of course, almost no one is willing to say that maybe there’s just too many people on the planet today…” and there lies the tragedy. 10,000 years ago human population growth was subject to the same laws of nature as any other animal. We changed that but did not change ourselves. With all the religions we invented, all the efforts by some iconic humans, e.g. Buddha, Gandhi, even Jesus, or the less iconic individuals like the great thinkers, philosophers and scientists, even with all these outstanding individuals moving humanity forward, the human species for the most part is a defective dangerous mutant animal.

        In all human societies and through all history, as in today’s world, the number of humans who behaved with humanity was so low that they couldn’t make any difference. Only when pestilence takes the majority there are some short periods of respite and peace for all.

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