Here’s your question, amid the tumult und Drang and flotsm’d jetsam of just another day headed towards the heat death of human civilization:
With all the pain and suffering and destruction and death and supersystemic decay that you have either personally caused or been party to as a member of last stage homo sapiens sapiens, how do you propose to go on living with that knowledge?
You don not have to give your answer now. Most humans are pulled forward by the exigencies of their daily lives, and disavow any concern with the fundamental truths that bedevil or enliven their existence. Asking the big, existential, emotionally fraught questions of the observable universe causes too much anguish or incomprehension for the average upright bipedal ape, so they defer to provably false and superficial comforts (the superstitions of religion, the pretensions of classical culture, beer, so-so media, animal killing, snacks).
Others, within this phenotype, like the process of interrogating this life thing, this bewildering admixture of bullshit and truth that overlays our every moment of electrified consciousness, and interpose this relentless critical suffusion of larger-scale thought into the quotidian realms of pleasure, house-cleaning, aimless wandering, and whatever else takes little intro- or outro-spection.
Most of these oh-so-empyrean thoughts have nowhere to go, or are half-formed, or are stopped short of the expressive border for fear of ridicule, disinterest, or arrest from the public of bots ‘n thinkers. That’s been the pity of higher education, of the Internet, of the world of belles lettres, of art, of discussion clubs, of social intercourse – a lot of thinking and expressing going on in the leisure time of the sensate world, so little to show for it.
What institution in the world of human affairs demands our divided attention? Electoral politics, where the Idioten (German for idiots) are in power, gaining power, spreading idiot talking points and wasting the last fantastic array of space junk satellites that can give everyone, everywhere “breaking news” before it happens? Fine, you take it, it’s yours, but why trouble yourself with the latest premonition of electoral political doom when life is ebbing from your cells?
There are other ways to speed through the cultural universe than worrying about Joe Manchin and the apostles of Trump. In the PBS “Independent Lens” documentary When Claude Got Shot, directed by Brad Liechenstein, a plot worthy of the ages is dramatized.
The film follows Claude Motley, who returns to his hometown for a high school reunion, only to be a victim of gun violence. Two days later, his assailant goes after a woman, Victoria Davison, who shoots him during the struggle, she feels guilty upon the discovery the assailant is paralyzed from the waist down. In a single weekend, three families’ lives are changed by gun violence.
The documentary follows every aspect of Claude’s shooting, as the 15-year old perpetrator’s life and trials are interspersed with Claude’s terrible physical ordeal of multiple surgeries after his near death, including the compelling, abysmal scene where Claude, the victim of this senseless, purposeless crime, discusses the prospect of bankruptcy with his lawyer wife due to the insane amount of bills for these near dozen-surgeries that he is forced to pay due to his less-than-stellar health insurance.
Claude ends up meeting with the shooter, Nathan King, in a “Restorative Justice”-arranged jailhouse meeting, but if Claude expresses a forgiveness towards his near-murderer, it is a wary, tense, highly conflicted form of “forgiveness,” one that cannot be encapsulated by any one term.
An another immediate, charged ethical dilemma resides with the shooter, car-jacker, armed robber, Nathan King. As an 18 year-old in that meeting with his victim, he blandly knows that he has done wrong, even enormous wrong. He seems somewhat aware of the incalculable physical ordeal his impetuous actions cost Mr. Motley, cost the poor woman whose self-defensive actions in shooting Nathan King inflicted terrible PTSD on herself and her family, and cost his own mother her life chances. He is not very expressive about this knowledge of his perpetuation of harm, so we cannot really know the depths of his introspection of criminal culpability.
So then, we then turn, or should then turn, to our own trial. Don’t think that you aren’t in need of some “restorative justice” yourselves. Yes, we, both as individuals and as a collective, have committed grave and unforgivable crimes against the defenseless world of nature, non-human animals, and other humans. You’ve lived in a dystopia of ultra-extreme inequality, enduring notions of racialized superiority, billions of humans in abject poverty, and dead and extinct animals everywhere exclusively from human civilization. There is not a single mitigating factor to any of these charges against you or me: wherever there is massive harm in this planet, there is humanity as the culprit.
And please, please don’t try to fool yourself that yeah, things might have been bad before, and we might have even done some of it, but we are going to clean this up, we are going to get the corporations to become sustainable and the generals to say nice things and go back to a simpler, happier way of life. Damage that has been caused cannot be wished away. Claude Motley’s life was smashed into shards of mounting-bill horror for no reason, but for many reasons, all of which are too insurmountable to list. The plenitude of manufactured guns in this settler-colonial state. The lack of mental health services for troubled youth. The societal danger posed by unrestrained and unengaged adolescent boys. The appeal of gun-based crime to adolescent boys. The effects of historical and present racism on urban and now suburban neighborhoods. The urge to flee rather than to surrender. The senselessness of fate. The lack of free will in human conduct.
That’s for that situation. Now back to you. If you want to talk about a “sustainable” future, as some green types have, then you might have to discuss how to break up and disintegrate the hundreds of thousands of miles of fossil-fuel asphalt roadway just in your country alone. That took a lot of work, a mega shit-tonnage of oil-based product to put down, and now we’re just to reverse-engineer the productive process? Great, we’ll individually all get right on that. Anybody got a jack-hammer and about a trillion man-hours available, enough fossil fuels to run the project, and then we can be back to square one, right, gang?
We are not going to evade the consequences of this inherited murder spree. Each of us, despite whatever nice and good and sweet intentions have come to reside within us, has been given the spoils of empire, the spoils of war, the spoils of extractivism. None of us escapes that label. If you are a poet, you are now a poet of the collapse. If you are college professor, in whatever field that gave you that slightest of openings, you are now and henceforth a professor of collapse. A writer, a thinker, a blogger, an entertainer, a musician, a nobody, a witless jackass – the same. Your entire being, whether conscious or not, is defined by the background to your form. You have come to be during the period of collapse. What will you do as a consequence of this momentous assignment by destiny?
Probably not much. Since material conditions determine your life, you (or the universe) will fashion ways to plow over, go around, duck under, ignore the calamitous truths that supersystemic collapse dispenses. You’ll have things to do in the meantime, maybe for quite awhile. Perhaps you can invent a new form of AI that can extend a parent’s most important, most cherished duty towards their children, that of control. Where has that control customarily stopped? Only at the point of the parent’s death, of course. However with new Eternal Parent Bot System (EPBS), all social media posting and texting and keyboarding from a duly registered legal offspring can monitored by specially designed bots that can deliver real-life parent admonitions to that offspring even after the parent has ceased to leave a mortal, earthbound life. That way, and only that way, through the yearly fee of only $10,000, can a parent be safe and secure for eternity knowing that their children will always feel supervised, monitored, and controlled. Why wonder what your children secretly will say about you after you are gone? With Eternal Parent Bot System, your legacy as a parent will never not be there.