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.
The 21st century is going to be the first time — ever — that the human species stops increasing, expanding, and growing. The human population is — for the first time in history — projected to finally peak around 2050, for the first time ever, in a hundred thousand years. Let me put all that in perspective, if your response is — “so what?” — I think it is one of the most significant events of all time, and I don’t say that for hyperbole’s sake. So powerful and meaningful that we haven’t even begun to think about it. I think it explains everything from today’s wave of fascism, to climate change — to tomorrow’s urgent, desperate need for better paradigms of everything, from economics to politics to society
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.
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.
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.
As the world grows ever darker, I’ve been forcing myself to think about hope. I watch as the world and the people near me experience increased grief and suffering, as aggression and violence move into all relationships, personal and global, and as decisions are made from insecurity and fear. How is it possible to feel hopeful, to look forward to a more positive future? The biblical psalmist wrote, “Without vision, the people perish.” Am I perishing?
In such a society, there is only one route left — each stratum, each caste, must prey on the one below it, punching it down further, for the illusion of prosperity to appear. Bang! Already, perhaps you see the problem: now, such a society is descending into the abyss. There is nowhere to go but lower when everyone is pulling the next now down a little further. Where is the bottom, exactly?