not in our stars, but in ourselves
Something a friend and I were discussing yesterday: not wanting to have children for many reasons, not least of which because the world is falling apart. She asked what I meant by that, because while we all agree it’s falling apart, we don’t always agree on the “how.” She said that her “pet end-of-the-world alarmist theory has to do with the loss of traditional skills: handwriting, woodworking, looking up once in a while.”
That’s a pretty good jumping-off point for the whole problem, isn’t it? “Looking up once in a while” is one of the keys, as far as I can tell. In the purely physical sense, involving sight and proprioception, fewer and fewer people are looking up at each other to try to understand how to interact, how to respect one another, how to exist happily as an individual while acting in accordance with the fact that we’re all supposed to be in this together. We’re all glued to our little glowing rectangles, in a private sphere that seems unlimited (in the way dream universes seem unlimited) while we’re out in the world with other humans and animals and plants. Don’t get me wrong: I love my little glowing rectangle. It allows me to talk to people who are impossibly far away, whether they’re on the other side of the river or the planet. But I’m constantly dismayed at how so many people are completely immersed in their mobile devices, and how they take so little notice of what’s going on around them. I’m no expert, but I imagine it must have an adverse on a person’s capacity for empathy, on their relationship to the rest of their species. I am interested, in my amateurish way, in phenomenology: briefly, you understand how your own body, and your own emotions, and your own thoughts, react to what you experience, and how you behave during those experiences; and then, you look at how other people behave – and remember what’s happening inside when you behave that way, and try to understand as well as you can what that person’s body, emotions, and thoughts are doing in relation to what they’re experiencing. How can you understand and empathize with someone else if they’re no better than a background character in a virtual reality game to you?
Moving slightly beyond the interpersonal problems of not looking up, I don’t think the environmental damage is possible to overstate: those of us in wealthy, “developed” countries are consuming more than the earth can possibly provide – because we think it’s our “right,” because we think we “deserve” to have anything and everything all the time. (At least, that’s the American thinking. I literally cannot understand the “thinking” behind the world’s number one polluter, China, other than Scorched Earth as official government policy.) That’s a problem of not looking up, too: not looking up at the big picture, of the increasing scarcity of resources like drinkable water. You don’t deserve a car. You don’t deserve bottled water just because you don’t like tap water. You don’t deserve weird, exotic foods flown thousands of miles from some exploited community in South America. You don’t deserve jewels that a child had to dig up. You don’t deserve the latest and greatest glowing rectangle (with even more minerals that a child had to dig up). You might like all of that stuff, and you might have grown accustomed to having it and using it, but you don’t deserve it. It’s not your right to let your coddled, bratty self contribute to a machine that’s systematically destroying the planet. Obviously, individual waste is nothing compared to that of big corporations, all of whom have latched onto the world’s biggest governmental powers in the kind of parasitic relationship that would kill both the invader and the host if they were ever separated; but considering your individual contributions to environmental damage wouldn’t be a terrible thing to do.
And of course, such a consumerist lifestyle – which only a small percentage of us can take part in, really, if we’re the right color and we live in the right country and we’re from the right socioeconomic background – seems to be a HUGE contributor to the basically undeniable reality of climate change. Predictably enough, one of the comment threads on a story about Boston officially having the snowiest winter on record*, some ignoramus made the all-too-predictable “oh yah right, global warming!!!!1!1!!!1!!! how u explain all this SNOW n COLD?????????????” Global warming melts polar ice caps, jet streams change, other parts of the world heat up more than they’re supposed to, our little part of the world gets blasts of cold air from the North Pole with the warm water of the Atlantic right next door, and boom! Snowmageddon. Now, naysayers will say nay all they want, but there’s more and more science pointing to human pollution – well, industrial pollution – as a HUGE contributor to climate change. Not just to immediate environmental destruction: to the overall meteorological trends affecting us now and decades into the future.
So this is the world we’ve all created, or destroyed, and this is what people still want to bring children into? To each her own, of course (men, you get no say in this discussion), but I personally would feel downright unethical if I brought a child into a world like this. When I look up, I don’t see a whole lot of good coming up in the next hundred years or so. I hope my old age will be quiet and peaceful, but if I had a kid, what would that kid’s old age be like? A fight for drinking water? The dust storm Earth of Interstellar? There’s still some good in the world, and I’m glad for that, but I doubt it will be able to sustain itself for much longer.
*Side note: WHY THE FUCK ARE THERE COMMENT SECTIONS ON NEWS STORIES?????? WHO CARES WHAT THE HOI POLLOI HAS TO SAY ABOUT FACTS???? THAT’S WHAT THE REST OF THE INTERNET IS FOR. STOP PROVIDING THESE TROLLS WITH A BRIDGE TO LURK UNDER, NEWS SITES!!!!