For it is only unacknowledged trauma that prompts us to act out in ways that make the problem worse. If what we have been calling “climate change” is, in fact, an unprecedented form of trauma that is prompting us to act out in such perplexing ways as questioning the validity of facts themselves, then there is tremendous potential for societal and global healing in simply bringing awareness to the nature of our collective wounding. As anyone who has walked a 12-step path will tell us, awareness is a powerful elixir.
Is there more to us than Thanatos? I believe there is. Art, medicine, literature tell me so. A little child’s laugh tells me so. The water against the waves does, too. But I also believe that we’ve been told for so long that there isn’t more to us than Thanatos — that all we are is little walking vessels of greed, rage, spite, and hate — that Thanatos is all we know how to be anymore. Let us, then, begin the difficult, beautiful work of discovering a greater truth about ourselves.
So who are we trying to please, by refusing to call all this what it is? Why won’t we say the words we should, must, say? We must be trying to please someone — because we are letting everything we cherish and treasure be destroyed by thugs and mafias. We are watching democracy be raped by fat men with little hands. We are watching fascism be reborn in our very own country, as little children are caged. But they are braver than us, my friends. We are the ones afraid to utter the name of the beast. But the beast only snarls and laughs, because he knows now how much he has frightened us.
The longer we pretend this dystopian world is not imminent, the more unprepared and disempowered we will be. The ruling elite’s goal is to keep us entertained, frightened and passive while they build draconian structures of oppression grounded in this dark reality. It is up to us to pit power against power. Ours against theirs. Even if we cannot alter the larger culture, we can at least create self-sustaining enclaves where we can approximate freedom. We can keep alive the burning embers of a world based on mutual aid rather than mutual exploitation. And this, given what lies in front of us, will be a victory.
A willingness to live without hope allows me to accept the heartbreaking truth of our situation, however calamitous it is. Grieving for what is happening to the planet also now brings me gratitude for the smallest, most mundane things. Grief is also a way to honor what we are losing. “Grief expressed out loud for someone we have lost, or a country or home we have lost, is in itself the greatest praise we could ever give them,” thinker, writer, and teacher Martín Prechtel writes. “Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.”
In doing these things, evangelicals are advocating a religious extremism that is no different from muslim extremism, which projects religious authority over all people in their domain, which limits the rights of women, controls and limits education, and enforces strict adherence to a moral code, which naturally rejects and punishes all forms of “decadence,” including; “deviant sexuality,” science, reason, and any questioning of authority. Christian fundamentalists, if given the power, will do the same things.
The animals know this and now all humans know this as well. Sensing the imminent death of all species, the cellular understanding of our common fate is making us ill. Our nervous and physical systems cannot bear this terrible knowledge. The growing understanding of the reality of the human caused 6th Extinction is resulting in Extinction Illness.
The 21st century must be a time of Eros, if we are to heal this broken, troubled world. Not because I say so. But because we need to heal from the ruinous malaises of the ages of capitalism and technology. The anxiety and fear and isolation and meaninglessness they brought with them. We need to grieve, and grieve deeply, for all that we harmed, hurt, lost, abandoned, and ruined, in order to live again. And that is what is really being tested in this strange, difficult, century. Whether or not we want to live again. The alternative is, as it has always, been, death. The age of Thanatos is coming to an end. But will the age of Eros begin? That, my friends, is the question.
When it comes to the climate crisis, what nobody wants to talk about is precisely what everybody needs to be talking about. Up until now, the climate debate has been premised on a false dichotomy between climate science deniers and everyone else. What the Paris accords have revealed is that this overweening emphasis on the science of anthropogenic climate change fails to answer the real question: Why the disconnect between what we know to be the threat and how we are choosing to respond to it?
It’s not easy living in a time like this. It sucks the life out of you, drains you, changes you. Just being there. Just watching it all go down. Just going on to fight through another day. That’s the truth. Give yourself a round of applause. You deserve it. Cry a little tear for yourself. You deserve that, too. You’ve been tested — in a difficult, deep, and painful way. But let’s think about what all those emotions really mean.