An adolescent species grows up — or not

by Chip Schoefter | October 12, 2019 2:25 pm

It’s been a good ride, hasn’t it, the last hundred years of fossil fuel extraction? Good stuff everywhere. My grandmother’s farm in North Dakota had electricity when I was a young boy. There was a refrigerator, and a chest freezer in the basement. There was a telephone (a party line. Boy, I’m old!).

We had no thought that something bad was looming on the horizon. It wasn’t until the late 1950s that scientists began to document the consequences of our burn baby burn rampage. But, being the ostriches that we seem to be, we ducked into denial. Don’t rain on our parade. This is, and has been, adolescent behavior – a complete failure to assume responsibility for consequences. (Hey, the science was brand new, unproven, why worry?) So we didn’t, and I guess we still don’t.

Now here we are, 60 years later, with oxygen and water on our minds – all in the midst of a planetary arms race over pointless ideologies – magical thinking at its best. I guess that’s OK if you have Armageddon on your mind anyway, and even yearn for it. But a willingness to train-wreck the planet and possibly humans as well over some imaginary thinking is pathological escapism.

So what’s an adult to do? Facing reality as it is, free from wishful thinking, seems impossible. Yet we knows the children will need to breathe clean and appropriate air. They will need pure water to drink. They will need healthy food to eat, and shelter from the storm. We knows that sometimes impossible situations must be taken on, even if they seem hopeless. Adults are willing to do that. They have overcome difficult times before.

An adult understands that the groundbreaking American experiment in human freedom and empowerment demands conscientious attention, lest it fall into abject hedonism and materialism – a self-implosion. This is not freedom. True freedom is self transcending service to a community larger that oneself- including the planet. Maturity is always looking down the road past its own self-interest.

An adult can place herself back in time to when grandma got a fridge, and life was changed for the better on the farm. Should grandma have cared what was burned to generate those electrons? Would she have understood anyway? What was CO2 to my grandmother, or to any of us at that time, for that matter? The age of extraction has been the best of times, and the worst of times for modernity.

So we are stuck in our times and our contradiction, with no apparent way out. In our exuberance, we chose to ignore the looming tsunami of biospheric disaster. Manifest destiny was much more attractive. So, weird ideation drives us. Strange notions of permanence comfort us. We claim we’re immune from extinction because we’re too special. We think we’re the center of the universe. We will survive even if all other living things don’t. Who needs them anyway?

Does this sound childish? It should.

We make the assumption that our bright ideas are always good. There’s no longer Gail Binkly, David Long, Wendy Mimiaga, co-owners any need to spend 40 days in the wilder ness meditating on the consequences of our actions. Did Zuckerberg tuck himself away in the woods to consider the ramifications of his project? Of course not. He was in a hurry. Competitive wolves were at the door.

I had a teacher once who often asked us the question, “Are you a mere organism?” Modern thinking says yes to the question. Ancient thinking says obviously not, we’re much more than that. This is the dilemma of modernity. If the answer is yes, then Ayn Rand was right. There is no society, there is only a collection of individual organisms pursuing their self-interest. If the answer is no, then modernity is at a loss, with nothing to offer but archaic stories and whimsical justifications for our supposed greatness. Basically we don’t really know what we are, nor do we know why, which leaves us wandering forlornly in the desert of our minds – in the dust of our world- trying to grow up, yet not wanting to at all. Good luck with that.

Chip Schoefter writes from Montezuma County,

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