Monday, October 27, 2014

in spite, or despite, my optimism and love of life i think we have some serious problems that we need to deal with very soon.  problems like overpopulation and climate change and economic inequality.  these issues are not theoretical.  these are very real issues that we are hell-bent on ignoring.  ignorance will just make these problems worse over time.

i wrote a few weeks ago about my love of [post]apocalyptic movies not because i want the world to end but because these are imaginative explorations of living the life we need rather than living the life we think we want.  how should you live is the question that these movies -- at least a few of them -- explore.  we are finite beings on a finite planet.  we have to by necessity and for survival live with others.  how we live is of the greatest importance.  for us.

anna tipped me to this article tonight published by the guardian last spring.  the story, in a nutshell, is about a study authored by a mathematician and some natural and social scientists and how our level of civilization is not sustainable.  every great civilization reaches a point where it collapses.  we seem, according to the study, to be at that point now.

i really don't know.  i do recall all the apocalyptic scenarios of the 1970s.  i feared for the worst and worried, yes, i worried so much my hair nearly fell out, about environmental degradation and economic stagnation.  i recall coming out of the theater after a matinee showing of the charlton heston vehicle soylent green [1973].  i was shaken.  the movie was about overpopulation.  the ecology was so damaged it could not produce food and so a corporation developed a food to feed the people.  but that food was made of people.  thus we suffered a closed, and ultimately doomed, system.  society was dying.  one of the symptoms of its illness was no trees or green plants.  i walked out of the theater sick to my stomach.  then i looked around.  a beautiful, warm, sunny day.  sacramento -- yes, i have lived here all my life -- is an urban forest.  we have an abundance of trees.  the streets of the city core, where i live today, are lined with trees.  i remember thinking, even as a young child, we still have time left to change.

but do we?  i am by nature an optimist.  i really do think art and science can transform the world.  an equation and a poem can change the world.  if we have enough people to listen.  the problems i listed at the top of this piece are very real.  i am a grown man in the second decade of the 21st century.  the movies are again expressions of our fears of climate change, overpopulation and economic inequalities and stagnation.  we have better tools for communication.  we can google for information on almost anything.  including accurate data about our pressing problems.  does that give me hope? yes and no.  what shall happen to us in the near future.  are we fated for collapse?  i don't think there is such thing as fate.  we make our world as it makes us.  we create our economy.  we create our jobs.  we create money.  we can make solutions for overpopulation and energy.  we can do all these things if we choose to do them.  will we?  i remember the polish poet wislawa szymborska when she won the 1996 nobel prize in literature. szymborska predicated her life and work in uncertainty.  in her nobel lecture the poet and the world szymborska demonstrates three words that drove her life and work, 'i don't know.'  i make the same claim for our predicaments, i don't know.  should it mean i must stop loving life?  i don't think so.  i think chance governs our lives.  'i don't know' is a pretty damn good philosophy.  those three words, i think, should mean we live by being good people.  i have no idea what the future holds.  i think our art and our science should make the same claim: be good.  i don't know what happens after that.


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