Leaving aside the tedious debate about the name for our imperiled age – it’s now a brand name, who cares about how specific it is – let it be out front and then adjust the meanings afterward, like the good old verities of truth atheism, nihilism, social reality, the supersystem, love, death with dignity – the minds of those fortunate enough to live during the Anthropocene will have, and have had, common permutations and confabulations.
The dominant manner of internal thought (without much outward communication to others) has been a variant of the following condition: How can I be happy (or imbued with vigorous rectitude or positive or any other version of being rightly engaged with life) when others, including other parts of myself, are suffering?
This recurrent conceptualizing of proper action, orientation, and understanding occurs between spouses, in families between parents and children, in societies cleaving between rich and poor, between societies separated by oceans and religions, and within individuals where self-conception vacillates between good and bad avenues and experiences.
Throughout human history this has been a preoccupation of the upright types, but with all the obfuscations and irrationalisms of religion and classical culture, the antiquarian quotes of pith and adherence will have to been found elsewhere, not here. Whatever Herodotus, Socrates, or Ben Jonson said about the balance between living a happy life and a life that attempts to inculcate an awareness and active response to the unfortunate and trapped anti-human travails of others, was not on F Troop, and none of the sages of old were under the waterfalls of relentless information deluge, constant micro-social chatter, and scientific certainties of climate catastrophe.
What do we say to ourselves now? How does the employed parent internally depict the economic deprivations of their millennial young? Who looks at a future of hell for others and cruise ships for themselves, and has a good, working way to excuse the monstrosities of complicit consumerism and mass technowar? Some in the troglodyte right may have generated a functional racist, classist, ageist, ist-ist prejudice of victim-blaming that can have them quaffing expensive chocolates by the dozen and driving Hummers to gated community golf oases, but those folks are damaged goods, not human in any social sense, complete and utter lost causes.
What about the actual adults with semi-intact capabilities of understanding sociological good fortune vs. bad fortune – what will they tell themselves as so much becomes so much more unequal, set in endemic concrete of advantage for themselves, social misery for others? They will reference the incalculable virtues of simply being one person, unable to affect or effect much beyond playing out an inherited role with some degree of humanism. They will be essentially and permanently confused, watching steroid sports and video games and sports of video games to avoid thinking about the ineluctable disparities of life in the Anthropocene. They will not appreciate the damage that continues in their name, that feeds their disproportionate carbon intake, but they will be some conceptual packaging around it.
Humans have to invent justifications, even if spurious, even if flimsy and easily laid to the side when the next entertainment stimulus jackknifes into view. Yet when the problems are within a family, or intimate relationship, or in a out-of-control social world, the sucks to be them apothegm just won’t cut it. Then it becomes all annoyance, consternation, anxiety – why can’t things be better? What is it going to take to get this project going here? Why is this so habituated to negative now?