061208 – Friday – Historical inevitability

One of the great blessings of being here in New Zealand for several months is having a lot of time to read, think, correspond and reflect. Recently, I’ve been receiving a lot of input and sometime, over the last few days, I started putting the pieces together into what is, for me, a new pattern.

One influence on me has been two science fiction books I’ve recently finished by Peter Watts. The two books (which are the first two in a series) are Starfish and Maelstrom. These, along with others I’ve read, have envisioned a future in which many of the coming Perfect Storm disasters I’ve been writing about have come to pass and are just a part of people’s day-to-day lives.

Over this same period, one of my correspondents also wrote and reminded me about how adaptable people are. Put them in a prison camp or an arctic wasteland and those who survive the initial shock will adapt and soon it will seem to them as if life had always been this way.

Thinking about these things, it also came to me how we all grow up assuming that the conditions that existed as we personally emerged into our childhoods – aways existed.

One piece I’ve been meaning to write now for some time has to do with the tension between those who want things to stay the same and those who like and embrace change. For the most part, I’ve always identified with those who embrace change and tolerance and I’ve laughed at people who’ve made statements like, “Rock and Roll music will ruin our youth“, “Long Hair is a sign of social decadence“, or “Too much social tolerance towards alternative lifestyles leads to the breakdown of family values“. I’ve seen that these things seldom come to pass as the doom-sayers predict and I’ve believed that most of their resistance has been driven by their fear of change and the uncertainty it brings.

So, this brings me around full-circle to my own railing against the coming Perfect Storm. And here, I find myself on the side of those resisting change.

Within the last day or so, one of my correspondents asked me who I am writing for and what I hope to accomplish with my writing and why I’m not offering my readers more specific recommendations about what people can do to defuse the coming problems rather than just pointing out the problems over and over.

Thinking about his questions gave me deep pause.

I realized that emotionally, I deeply hate (see Eden Lost) and resist what the coming Perfect Storm will do to the world I was born in and have come to love so deeply.

But I also realized that I’m not offering specific recommendations about what people can do to resist the changes because I don’t believe there’s any point. The truth is the changes are coming and I think, given human nature and the Biological Imperatives that underlie it, there’s very little we can do to avoid the bullet.

So, as I’ve worked through these new thoughts, the various pieces and their relationships have come into focus.

I see that I’ve spent several years emotionally railing against the coming changes. The thought that has come to me, agonizingly, again and again has been that if we can understand these coming problems, we can do something about them. I’ve looked at this Eden of ours and reflected on how one-of-a-kind it is in all of existence and how it is the intricate and delicate product of three and half billion years of natural selection. It is the nursery from which our species has been birthed; perfectly and naturally matched to us. It is inconceivable to me that we should cast it away through inattention.

But, at the same time, I’ve been working to understand why we are doing the things we are doing which are carrying the world to great change and ruin. And, as my understandings have deepened, the logical and pragmatic side of me has been realizing and accepting that these problems arise from so deep within the core of what we are as evolved biological beings, that it is extremely unlikely that we will find the self-understanding and will to transcend their directives. (see Transcending our Biological Imperatives)

I am resisting change, but change will come – as it always does. I am mourning the world I was born into that I love, but as the world changes and new generations are born into it, they will each imprint on the world as they find it and what seems so very wrong to me will seem normal to them.

I, for instance, know there was a time when New Zealand was untouched by human hands and species walked here that haven’t been seen in many hundreds of years since the first Maori peoples arrived and drove them to extinction. And I also know, as I look around, that these trees and plants I see which are part of the beauty of this place are mostly not the ones that existed then. I know there was a New Zealand before men but it is an intellectual knowing. I can be curious about what it was like and I can mourn it in a muted fashion and I can regret how my species has changed the world unknowingly in so many ways. But, in the end, it wasn’t my world and I love this world before me now – even though I know that it was different then.

So it will be I think, three or four generations from now, when the world will be largely unrecognizable to us – if we were still there. But the people of that future time will love it because they will be born to it.

The sea coasts rearranged, the missing ice caps, the vast deserts, the shells of lowland cities long dead from inundation, the stories of the millions or even billions that died during the big changes,will be to them no different than it is for us hearing from historians about Napoleon at Waterloo or the carnage of WWI; just fascinating stories of what went before our now.

“So, where to now, traveler?”, I ask myself. Why do I write and what do I want to say, if these are my understandings?

I see my emotions are just resistance to the inevitable changes. I can let that go – though with great sadness because something in me had always hoped that we might change things and prevent the coming chaos.

I see that my ideas about getting out of harm’s way are still valid – at least for now. In 20 or 30 years, it will have all changed again. But, for now, while the changes are still building up, there are some places that are better than others to watch the evolving show from and New Zealand seems to me to be one of them.

I watched a bus load of Chinese tourists the other day. They had just piled out of the bus beside Hagley Park. On one side, 800 acres of pristine park stretched away as far as one could see. And, on the other side of the street behind them, clean and neat homes and apartments – bright with flowers, prosperity and loving attention. On the sidewalks and in the park, young men and women were running together for exercise and above it all, a vast blue sky, clean and clear, with white clouds slowly moving through it. Everything very near to the way one would think the world should be.

Did they come from Shanghai with its millions crawling like ants beneath an impenetrable industrial sky? From down in the deep shadows beneath the skyscrapers clawing through the grit and smoke. A land where everyone wants a new car and they all go out and sit in them for hours hoping the traffic will move so they can go someplace. A dog eat dog fight to get more and rise above the chaos that swells on all sides. People in your face at every turn – a horror of too much too soon, too fast and too artificial.

And here, out in the vast great southern ocean, they see a beautiful green land free of pollution, prosperous and clean with only four million people to share and enjoy all of its bounty and beautiful open spaces. Were some of them who came to see this quaint little place looking stunned – at paradise?

I wonder if I should even write of these things? To say to those few here and there in the world who are beginning to see the way things are going – that there still is a place like this. One of the few and perhaps the last. A place where everything is very near to the way one would think the world should be. Should I be putting up a sign on the Internet saying, “Over here!

The other day at the Christchurch Library, I put a hold on Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Yesterday, I received an E-mail saying that they had it and it was ready for me to pick up. Today, I was at the library returning Watts’ second book, Maelstrom, and when I was ready to leave, I thought of stopping by the counter and picking up the Diamond book – but for the life of me, I couldn’t think of any reason why I wanted to read it.

Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand
I have done all that I could
To see the evil and the good without hiding
You must help me if you can
Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what is wrong
Was I unwise to leave them open for so long
‘Cause I have wandered through this world
And as each moment has unfurled
I’ve been waiting to awaken from these dreams
People go just where there will
I never noticed them until I got this feeling
That it’s later than it seems
Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what you see
I hear their cries
Just say if it’s too late for me
Doctor, my eyes
Cannot see the sky
Is this the prize for having learned how not to cry

– Jackson Browne, “Doctor My Eyes”

One Response to “061208 – Friday – Historical inevitability”

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