Do you see a little bit by what I mean when I say democracy needs to be nourished by sanity? If Americans had cared about each others’ psychological wounds — if they’d turned to one another and said: “we’re all being hurt by predatory systems and institutions, and yet we’re all asked to be part of them too — this has to change!” — then maybe enough people wouldn’t have been so psychically fragile as to be such easy prey for the world’s dumbest demagogue. But they were — and that Americans fell for Donald Trump, of all people, tells us just how badly psychologically shattered they must have been. You must be genuinely and totally broken inside by your insecurities if you believe what a Donald Trump is selling you.
The optimistic position is simply naïve. The pessimistic predicts the precise design of the future and doesn’t acknowledge that we can do a lot in the name of compassion to make life easier on ourselves, one another, and other species—our triangle of resilience relationships. Many don’t seem to be able to hang out in the 8–9.5 range, and I am certainly practicing this myself. If our fear is great and especially if we have little tolerance for fear, we might even try to deny climate change altogether.
Do you see what I mean a little bit? We are laggards, us Americans. Our definitions of what a high crime is are totally obsolete, way out of date. The fact that we Americans don’t consider modern ideas genocide, torture, hate, and fascism high crimes — but only 18th century concerns like obstruction and collusion — says to the world that we are not civilized people, that we have not really understood history, and that we have not really joined modernity. We are still backwards and behind — and, for us, that also means that our democracy is less robust, more fragile, that we are all the more vulnerable to extremists, lunatic, and fanatics, precisely because their malicious intentions and acts aren’t high crimes.
When I look at America, here’s what I see. A country where the extreme, fanatical right wing takeover of its institutions — all of them — is almost complete. From laws to courts, representation to presidency, norms to rules, from press to public sphere — America is now controlled almost entirely and exclusively by the most fanatical kind of right wingers the rich world hasn’t seen for decades, probably since Nazi Germany. Yes, I mean that. Let me make my case — and you can judge for yourself whether my words carry any weight.
We easily associate empathy, compassion, an open heart, support, cooperation, honesty, integrity, and gratitude with love, but how about boundaries, limits, grief, anger, discernment, comfort with not knowing, and a commitment to working on our personal and cultural shadow?
The irony of your starkly-titled book is that it ends up being, from our perspective, too ‘optimistic’. This may blind readers to the greatest new need now: for Deep Adaptation – that is, for accepting that some kind of eco-induced societal collapse is now not merely possible, but likely, and preparing honestly for it; for recognising that – while it is absolutely vital to continue to seek to mitigate our society’s climate-deadly emissions – the time is past when it was credible to fixate on doing this while ignoring the increasingly-urgent need for Deep Adaptation.
There is another reason for fending off sorrow about the loss of the wild natural places we love to visit and the communities where we live, and this is perhaps the hardest one of all to accept and overcome. Many of us are simply afraid that if we allow ourselves to wade, even for a moment, into the feelings of sadness for the living world that lap at the edge of our consciousness, we will find ourselves pulled so ruthlessly into grief and despair that we will never emerge.
I was recently asked to respond to a short email interview. My response seems like a nice summary of how I’ve spent the last decade and a half of my life, so I thought I would share it here.
It is time for us baby boomers to honestly acknowledge what we did and didn’t do with the gifts given to us by our forebears and be clear about our legacy with which we have saddled the next and succeeding generations.