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Why the Anthropocene is a Narcissist’s delusion.
The stories we tell ourselves….
This tale began as a kind of warning. At least that’s how it seemed. We were entering a phase beyond nature where human activity dominated the destiny of the earth and its life-forms. We were bringing about a Sixth Great Extinction.
It should have been clear from the start that this was more boast than warning with echoes of “The End of History!” The trouble is, a “…cene” is an epoch and what we are inhabiting will, in geological time, amount to a dark smudge, a thin boundary layer between the Holocene and whatever comes after.
The same blindness to our place that surfaces regularly in stories like, “The Sun will burn out in a few billion years. How will Mankind survive?” Idiots with high IQs line up to give their expert opinions. Scientists in name only, believers in Progress who have carved out careers in what began as science and is now just another Industry, the Education Industry, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Capital, Inc.
Like the adolescents we refuse not to be, we cannot perceive the possibility of our own non-existence. Immortality is the supreme wish of a disintegrated Ego not a fundamental human drive. Any attempt at a critique of culture that does not see through this delusion only perpetuates it. Self-congratulatory Ego is now vying to see if ours might just be the best and biggest extinction ever! All with absolutely no appreciation of how it might affect the all-mighty me.
We spin out fantasies predicting the most glorious or the most miserable and spectacular death. As self-dramatizing adolescents, we don’t actually believe these gruesome ends will change anything. No not really. We’ll go on doing all the same fun things and texting our friends about how our gruesome end was more awesome than theirs.
There is plenty to grieve. But, real grief is private, not just another opportunity to parade in front of an audience and seek admiration for the Bathos of our performance.
Until we break our reflexive habit of seeing our grandiloquent reflection in everything we encounter we will continue down this path of destruction. Unless we can break out of this massive failure of imagination where we cannot see anything but our own glory we will continue to accelerate down this path of destruction. Without confronting our internal disintegration we cannot claim to be doing anything that might alter this course or even slow it.
The Anthropopause will be a thin black line, a deposit of hydrocarbons with a particular radioactive signature. It most likely, probably, maybe, won’t mark an event of a few hours, days, years duration like K-T. It will most likely be a more drawn out affair. It could take thousands of years, what we tend to call, “forever.”
The dark smear will be made up of plastics reduced back to tars along with forests burned to charcoal. Its nuclear signature won’t be Iridium. Nothing so cool as that. Barium-137, the result of the decay of Cesium 137, a process that takes place in the span of a single human generation. Plutonium-244, Neptunium-237, and our old friend, Uranium-238 will mark our passing for tens of millions, even a billion years.
After this pause; a period in which whatever has survived the crises we are fomenting has managed to begin coping with a declining harshness as the earth geologically processes our wastes her way; a new form of radiation can take place. A re-population of whatever niches present themselves to the survivors. A radiation of evolutionary lineages broadening to take advantage of renewing cascades of energy and nutrients. In short, what was disrupted by our departures from the economy of living things will have been digested and order restored.
None of that will matter to us. We’ll be long-gone. Whether there will be any humans or primates, or even mammals left won’t change that. No surviving Ego projection will be left to keep score and gloat over our handiwork.
It’s amazing that this lesson needs to be learned at all. Let alone that the lack of this understanding would be our greatest impediment to altering our predicament by a jot.
It’s not “Human Nature.” It’s not “the way things have to be.” What is happening is the result of a particular failure of imagination, of the way we have been caught in a bind. Paradoxically, we think we can do so much, “If only everyone would agree with me!”
Every time we seek to rush past the facts of our condition to chase after some solution to what we insist to be our “problems” we are postponing and endangering whether we will ever have a chance to deal with the only thing we have the power to change. The only way we can have an affect on what happens that is not inherently adding to the destruction wrought by our blindness.
We can work on how we approach thought. Dissolve distractions and fragmenting delusions. But not without facing the Enormity of our predicament. Not without recognizing the limits of our power and working to dissolve our illusions.
To navigate the tangible we need to be aware of how our expectations, our habits, our patterns of thought all shape our relationship with… everything. We need to gain access to recognizing what is tangible. What it is that can be done that is not merely another exercise in futility. Another self-induced wrestling with “unintended consequences” in which we are only invested in protecting our presumption.
At the beginning of this investigation it is essential that we see and take-in how little we can actually “make things happen” in ways that do not just add to the destruction. How we can find a steady foundation only by accepting and developing a relationship with the uncertainty, the mystery, underlying all existence. How that only then can we begin to interact within relationship and stop reacting against mere projections.
What is tangible can be recognized, but only by actively working to dissolve our habitual delusions. What is tangible is that which shows above the waves of doubt, fear, and the continual siren-call of fresh delusion. What is tangible can only be seen from within a relationship with delusion.
Meaning and delusion share many traits. In delusion these traits express themselves mechanically. The results are stereotypical, repetitive, destructive. Vital meaning expresses itself in ways that are unpredictable, and, in the most fundamental way, creative. When we interact with meaning we participate in co-creation with the mystery underlying all of life.
None of this will ever be addressed if we continue to jump onto every self-congratulatory, Ego-obsessed “meme” like The Anthropocene. Every dramatizing call for some further exceptionalism — and these days they all seem to be some form of great destruction — shoves us back into habits that support destruction and increase suffering.
Navigating the tangible begins by questioning how we perceive and how easily we rush off into making judgements without waiting to see if we can tell whether we’re interacting with something tangible or just wrestling our projections.