My friend John Halstead has published Die Early and Often: Being Attis in the Anthropocene, recently reprinted in Medium. In it, he argues that the job of humanity now is to die gracefully: to accept that extinction is coming and work to leave a legacy that supports the Earth’s further evolution and biodiversity, and the memory of a remarkable and admirable species.
He spices this up with much Neopagan mythological stuff, such as the myth of the Dying God. But that’s in essence what he says.
It’s a thoughtful, well-documented piece, and it’s completely wrong.
It’s wrong for essentially four reasons:
1) It mistakes the very nature of the human organism. We are problem solvers by nature, and problem solvers are not defeatists. John and his fellows are simply selling something no one is going to buy.
Humans are aspirational. They seek betterment as they culturally understand it. What we need to do is to redefine betterment, not to try to abandon it for a graceful acceptance of impending death.
2) It ignores history. About 8,000 years ago at the end of the last major glaciation period, the human species experienced the Neolithic Pinch, in which the population dwindled to as few as 10,000 individuals. Scientists conjecture that this led to our establishment of rituals such as handshaking to enable us to connect with humans outside of our immediate group, as such cooperation was necessary for the species to survive.
But the key point is that under some of the harshest conditions imaginable, we survived. Now there are 7.5 billion of us.
There is no doubt that a serious crash is coming. Industrial capitalism cannot be sustained, and global climate change is increasingly severe and chaotic. The ability to generate food through agriculture is going to be severely curtailed as the weather becomes less and less predictable. Oceans will rise, displacing millions. Hundreds of millions–more likely, billions–will die or have their lives shortened as a direct result of this.
All these things are going to happen.
But humans can live in the Sahara and Gobi deserts. They can live in the Arctic. They can live at extremely high elevations. And they don’t forget what they have learned: instead, they adapt it to new conditions and carry on.
After this crash and societal collapse, there are still going to be humans, and those humans are still going to have some level of technology. It might be the technology of the mid-19th century, more or less, but technology it will be nonetheless. The work before us is to create, model and promulgate the values that will lead to right relationship with the Earth and with one another.
Dolefully digging the grave of humanity is not only premature, it is completely inappropriate. There will be an “after” the crash (which I hope will be a slow deflation rather than a precipitous fall), and humans will be in it.
3) It abandons responsibility, and, in fact, revels in irresponsibility as a part of its message. John has been a big promoter of Michael Moore’s highly slanted, error-laden and deceptive film Planet of the Humans, the subtext of which is that shouldn’t bother with renewable energy sources because they’re not better than fossil fuels and they’re not going to save us. Now, Halstead argues that that isn’t his position, but it is certainly Moore’s, and it is the takeaway from the film.
That’s irresponsible. Doing the work of the dirty energy industry to undermine cleaner energy is an act against the interests of the planet, as well as the future of humanity.
4) It’s psychological projection. John has been an activist, and saw that the form of activism he took part in (mostly mass protest actions) was ineffectual. That’s true: mass protest actions have been decreasingly effective for decades now.
But that isn’t the only kind of activism. And it’s certainly not the most effective kind.
I, too, have been an activist. I worked at it full time for a decade, organizing grassroots, door-to-door campaigns for policies and candidates and lobbying officials. And I saw major environmental progress accomplished in my local area that I had a direct hand in achieving, despite being outspent and confronted with the bewildered fury of the Powers That Be in my county.
Positive change IS possible.
But if you deny this, then you’re off the hook, right? You’re no longer morally bound to fight for change if you’ve landed in the despairing space of giving up. And if you can get more people to give up, it reinforces your sense of the legitimacy of that position.
More than that, then you get to “know”. You don’t have to sit with the uncertainty of the future in these increasingly turbulent times.
Humans like to know. We fear not knowing.
I understand the attraction of throwing your hands in the air and saying “it can’t be done!”. Such a relief, not to have to try any longer! But it’s a false comfort, and a pernicious one if it spreads.
Defeatism is not a natural, healthy human condition (we also call it “depression”)–it is incumbent upon us not to succumb to its facile lure.
And the facts are on the side of that position. The facts are that renewable energy can and will aid tremendously in the human impact on the atmosphere and biosphere. That humans are tenacious, creative and adaptive creatures. And that it is far better and more natural for humanity to aspire to a thrilling vision of the future despite the challenges than to sag into a premature surrender to those challenges.
The Doomsters are wrong. We deserve a better message than they offer.
Yes, the crisis is here, and it will worsen. But we can help to frame the values and practices of a much healthier vision.
And we Atheopagans have one.