Usually I am able to refer to recent reading to back up my musings. Although I have read many books about various events in the past two years, some published as late as the spring of this year, I haven’t found any which offer the desired stand-back perspective, so necessary to re-consider matters. But if you examine the trajectory of my posts, particularly the one on “Despair,” you will see that there is some background, not merely my conjecture, for what I am about to write.
I think there is an immense self-destructive desire in our western world, exacerbated by the pandemic. Putin’s war– surely the act of a megalomaniac — born of no necessity whatever, by itself has brought an enormous food crisis around the world even while it spawned more relocations of refugees. But it takes place in a broader context of autocratic rulers persecuting and making refugees of many peoples around the world, foisting upon the rest of the world the moral responsibility for helping them to survive by supplying food and aid, establishing camps, and relocating them to safer areas. These are in not acts of self-destruction but of destroying others.
The self-destruction is found among those who decline vaccination for COVID, and who decline to provide the vaccines for people in other countries who are willing to take them. It is found in the absence of world-wide protection against disease all the time; in the poor world response to food crises all the time; in the ineffective response to displaced persons, not just Ukrainians, all the time. We haven’t yet grasped how inter-connected we are. It can be found in climate crisis denial, so that we are now feeling the effects much, much earlier than expected even among those who believed. It can be found among those who abuse medical workers in the COVID wards of hospitals; among those governments who haven’t yet solved the crises of homelessness in their own backyards; who haven’t yet moved to the public health mentality of safe-injection sites; of nation states which haven’t yet adopted Basic Income.
The suddenness of the pandemic, and its long duration; the fact that it keeps renewing itself, together with the extraordinary interventions, tests, lockdowns, distancing and mask and vaccination requirements, have pushed us over some edge. Daily the press reports on studies showing increased mental illness due partly to all the stress, We in the middle-class west are unaccustomed to such lack of individual control, and to authoritarian power in the name of public health. I sympathize with those who view controls of their bodies, as very important. But having delayed my own medical treatments because of the virus augmented among the deniers, and because of the institutional failures, and the staff who have left because they were sick, or did not want to get sick or sicken their families, or just could not take the pressure and abuse anymore, I really wish the deniers had accepted that they have a responsibility toward me and others to minimize the risk of such calamites.
I know that very divisive politics, engorged by social media, have exacerbated resentment and anger and fear (fear and anger are always the flip sides of the same coin). I’ve pointed out in earlier posts, much of our thinking starts in our emotions, and may never really be disciplined by rational thought. Some events, such as the heat extremes around the world, have seemed to come suddenly, even though there have been warnings for years. We are warned now that we can expect these events to recur more often, violent, wet weather to linger longer, droughts to be more severe. So there is no way to say to ourselves, “Well, once things get back to normal, we’ll see what we can do. Let’s get past this emergency for now.” We cannot fathom that there will be no return to normal. If we don’t get it we will continue to be self-destructive.
We have evidence, if not conviction, that we must adapt to potentially less reliability of food and water, less protection against unbearable temperatures, and increasing numbers of displaced persons world-wide who will suffer from the same things as we do. Not just COVID but other diseases are forecast for us at a time when our health-care systems are seriously degraded, to a point where there is no elasticity, no wherewithal to “make one last push,” no reserves, and no respite. Just as our bodies need cooler air at night to help us recover from extreme heat in the day, our psyches and souls need some downtime, time when impending disaster has backed off for a while so that we can think and sort out our emotions, take stock of what is and is not true and accurate about our current condition, figure out what we have done so far that has worked for us, and then lay plans for tomorrow. Many of us are not getting that respite. We work and live under full-time stress. So we have less ability to choose well.
So it it not surprising that we resist the actions of avoidance: cutting back our travels, industry, construction, and consumption of foods, energy, and other goods we derive from the earth. For residents of areas that are already too warm to live sometimes, we may need to construct, and relocate to, temporary quarters in cooler places, where there are no wildfires, places that do not have flooded rivers and lakes and ocean shores. Setting aside those relocation properties, constructing the buildings and infrastructure, and adapting behaviours to being temporary residents and receiving temporary residents, are prodigious tasks.
But if we don’t do these things, many of us will perish. That is self-destruction.
Those who use politics only to win, are self-destructive and destructive of others. Politics and government are supposed to be about serving everyone, not just winning the latest election and staying in power. If your being in power doesn’t help the rest of us flourish, we don’t need you. And if we elect you even though we know you will not benefit us, or if we step aside and allow others to elect you, these are acts of self-destruction. We can see that if only a few are benefiting from the government structures, and from our current economic practices, then eventually too many are not flourishing and a collapse of our countries is imminent. Not to care about others as we do ourselves is ultimately self-destructive.
We need opportunity to think and to reconsider. We need to think alone, away from the influence of social media, away from tribes of people who keep chanting the same old words to ward off different thoughts. We need personal conversations with a few others whose wisdom, knowledge, character, and thinking we respect and trust, including those do not who do not view everything as we do. Those quiet, respectful conversations, maybe over coffee, can restore our souls and our bodies. They, together with our private thinking, can restore our ability to give informed consent or informed dissent. They can help us internalize our maps and plan for the future, rather than looking outside ourselves for instruction about how to feel and what to do.
Doing this will help us recognize when destruction and self-destruction are happening or threatening, and will help us call out a warning and maybe offer better actions.
Being religious, I of course begin with prayer, because at the very least it changes the pray-er and helps us to see things differently.
But for those readers who are not religious, I offer the above, because this is how I stay grounded and less fearful than I might. There is no benefit in despair, nor in getting overly pessimistic. And we might discover and employ actions to actually solve all these problems.