Jamey Hecht

July 7, 2013. Jamey Hecht. Collapse Awareness and the Tragic Consciousness.

Infinite growth on a finite planet is suicide. Industrialization is destroying the world. Resource depletion, pollution, and climate change will make industrial civilization impossible much sooner than is generally admitted.

It is traumatic to realize this, and the process involves an intense need to discuss the issue. But the predicament of everyone, the squirrels, the trees, the elephants, all of humankind, the acid oceans caked with plastic — how to discuss all that with oneself or anyone else? Daily there are more people consciously concerned with it, yet most of the discussion happens online, not face to face; in person, with a few exceptions, one simply does not discuss it. To do so reminds people of the terrible danger in which they are already living their everyday lives; it also delivers them over to difficult feelings of helplessness (they cannot stop climate change), humiliation (the “legal person” called Exxon-Mobil is more powerful than mortals can imagine), and anomie (what matters on a doomed world?). Activating those difficult feelings is, at the very least, rude — even if the values of both parties to the conversation are largely in accord. So it costs something to go ahead and disrupt the game and hold forth about the state of our world, so people generally don’t do it.

The phenomenon of collapse is so frightening that the trauma of realizing it has to be mastered in a way that derives meaning, or deposits meaning, or configures meaning, or some basket of verbs that will comprise the spectrum of how this stuff called meaning comes to be, in and through the pain of awareness. Meaning is the redeemer which leads people to hope — and when hope is shattered, it is meaning that sweeps up the fragments and sculpts them into monuments and tombstones. Success of body is survival; success of soul is making sense of loss in a mortal world. Sometimes both of these successes are available, sometimes one or the other, or at the worst, neither.

I believe a real physical metamorphosis of civilization into a harm-reducing culture was still possible until just a few years ago. Most people continue to believe it possible still; they haven’t changed their minds about that yet. Possible or not, it is vanishingly improbable — not as a lottery win or a bet at a roulette wheel is unlikely, where the problem-space happens to include a large number of equally unlikely outcomes, but as victory is unlikely in a war between equal armies after one side is decimated while the other is unscathed. Maybe the last ten green-shirted soldiers will somehow slaughter their remaining thousand black-shirted opponents — it is philosophically “possible” — but everything speaks against its occurrence.

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