Big Change is A’Gonna Come

I suppose many of you follow the current developments in climate science and perhaps have already realised, like some others, that the Paris Agreement (COP21) is just too little and too late to avert major climate change. The hopes invested in COP21 are only that it will prevent cataclysmic runaway climate change. Mitigation now means only that we hope — we really, really hope — that the unavoidable changes that are coming will stabilise eventually into a new relative equilibrium or global homeostasis, and not enter runaway. But even then, our planet will have changed drastically, and so too in necessary consequence will the human built-environment. So, it is all, in one sense, only a Pyrrhic Victory because there’s absolutely no way to avert the impending tragedy of global upheaval.

Incipit tragoedia — the tragedy begins. And, as all too often in history, human beings come to their senses too late.

Naturally it goes without saying that “the only constant is change” — impermanence. But the changes we are talking of, and which are already happening in some jurisdictions, is very, very rapid and abrupt change; a radical discontinuity. Rapid enough to be called “revolutionary” in any event, but usually described in terms of “crisis”, “havoc”, “chaotic transition”, and so on. “Paradigm shift” just doesn’t convey the kind of deep turbulence, even agony, that attends such revolutionary changes or “chaotic transitions”. But realistically, the best we can hope for at this stage of developments is to avoid runaway climate change, which would definitely be “game over” for the planet, as former NASA scientist James Hansen once remarked (and apparently he hasn’t changed his mind at all with COP21. He’s not the only one).

I think Hansen is right to conclude that catastrophic global climate change is now unavoidable. But I think it’s quite incorrect to assume it will necessarily be runaway, and that our Earth will, as T.S. Eliot once put it in “The Hollow Men”, end “not with a bang but a whimper”. (And since I just finished reading Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, I now know what Eliot meant by “the hollow men”).

The present human built-environment, along with human beings themselves, is largely built-up in the context of local climatic and biospheric conditions, all of which will change dramatically — that is to say, very rapidly. They will no longer be “fit for purpose”, as we say. And until new conditions should stabilise, no one will really know what will truly be “fit for purpose” either, whether in terms of human behaviours or the built-environment. Weather and climate chaos will be the norm for the duration of the transition from loss of homeostasis until the restoration of a new relative equilibrium. No one presently can really predict or envisage what that new equilibrium might be, and that’s what is making for a lot of anxiety about climate change. The map of the world is going to change. But so are familiar social patterns and relationships, culture, economics, etc. Conflicts, internal and external, over land, resources, water, and so on will become endemic as once fertile plains and forests become deserts, and deserts become forests and fertile plains. That mayhem has already started.

The strains and stresses on the human built-environment will be tremendous, even shattering. Many diseases, old and new, will become epidemic, for populations will have no developed immunity to them. Many wonderful species of flora and fauna will become extinct, and many new species will struggle to be born within unstable and chaotic conditions.  And until (and if) the biosphere (which is an integral part of “climate”) also attains a new stable equilibrium, most of them will not succeed in securing themselves within conditions of continuous instability and disequilibrium. The same may be said for human beings, as individuals and as whole cultures. It will be a tragedy of the whole Earth.

So, if you have been fretting and worrying about what you can do to stop climate change, you can stop all that. There’s nothing you can do. At best, you can work to avert runaway climate change, but otherwise climate change and biospheric change is inevitable, and it’s going to be devastating for everything you think you know and love. Grieving will likely become the “new normal”. It’s fine to grieve, as long as that grief doesn’t slide into utter despair.

Under the circumstances, then, what can you do? My advise is: Do Nothing. After all, it’s our constant feeling that we have to do something — which we call our “busy-ness” — that helped get us into this mess in the first place. By “Do Nothing” I don’t mean remain apathetic or indifferent or standing aloof or (God forbid) what is presently called “survivalism”. Quite the contrary. It means remaining absolutely clear and open to being changed, for that is your ticket to survival, and you (or your children) will need it — radical openness. Nature, if you haven’t noticed, has a way of weeding out conservatives — the changeless ones — by sometimes brutal and harsh methods. Under these circumstances, Rosenstock-Huessy’s formula for survival knowledge respondeo, etsi mutabor (“I respond, although I will be changed”) is really your best hope of survival. You will be changed. But the manner of your response is what will determine whether it is positive or negative change, for one will lead into the Book of Life and another into grief and the grave.

By “do nothing”, though, I mean a kind of mindfulness or alertness — an “a-waring”. There was once an aboriginal radio programme on the local CBC called “Dead Dog Cafe”. Every show they would sign off with the words: “Be brave. Stay calm. Wait for the signs.” I was impressed. For in form and significance it is pretty much the equivalent of respondeo, etsi mutabor. And since we know that change, ours and the Earth’s, is now inevitable, but do not yet know what final form that change may take, all our responses during the “chaotic transition” can only be temporary, situational, conditional, and contingent ones, adapted to the exigencies of the moment until such time as the Earth, hopefully, reaches a new equilibrium. And by that time I think it’s also safe to say, that there will also be a new human type as well, since we cannot be isolated or insulated from all these changes ourselves, despite fantastical imaginings of “domed cities” and so on, which is nothing but a primal fantasy about a return to the sanctuary of cave and the cavern and grotto. It’s fantastical because that’s the meaning of the word “paradise” — a “walled enclosure”, which is also the significance of the dome on churches and mosques. Domed cities are less technological wonders than mythical symbols of a lost paradise and a return to the womb before the world began.

From the cave into infinity — that’s been quite a trip! And I might also say, (even at the risk of being misunderstood), that we now have to make a parallel journey — from the momentary into eternity. Therein, I think, is the key to understanding the human of the new type with a new consciousness. One type has journeyed from the cave into infinity. But a new type is needed to make the journey from the momentary into eternity and which will come to learn the secrets of time. And I do believe that this also is a crucial part of the “chaotic transition” — also an abrupt discontinuity in species consciousness in which temporicity, rather than spatiality, will become dominant. That’s already happening.

It’s hardly surprising to say, I think, that space and its organisation has been present humankind’s foremost and constant obsession — territories, nations, empires, demarcating private and public spaces, etc. It even treated time as if it were like space, which it isn’t. So, it might not be all that surprising to think that Nature no longer has much use for “spaceman” and is preparing a new type, a new experiment. At least, it’s possible to think of it that way. I think I could prepare a pretty good argument, too, that Nature is preparing a new species of human being, but for the time being I’ll leave that to the great Rumi to argue, in his poem “Green Ears”, and which mood was also reflected in Nietzsche’s “cheerfulness” despite his knowledge of the coming tragedy in “two centuries of nihilism”.

There was a long drought. Crops dried up.
The vineyard leaves turned black.

People were gasping and dying like fish
thrown up on shore and left there.
But one man was always laughing and smiling.

A group came and asked,
“Have you no compassion for this suffering?”

He answered, “To your eyes this is a drought.
To me, it is a form of God’s joy.

Everywhere in this desert I see green corn
growing waist high, a sea-wilderness
of young ears greener than leeks.

I reach to touch them.
How could I not?……


12 responses to “Big Change is A’Gonna Come”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    This morning, I happened upon the first part of a series on COP21 by a Catherine Cunningham, “Reflections on COP21”. It’s absolutely gushing with enthusiasm. Cunningham’s mood is, one might say, 180 degrees that of James Hansen, for example.

    And yet, the peculiarity of the article is that her enthusiasm seems less about the agreement having really addressed the issue of climate change than the COP21 process, event, and agreement itself — the expression of global solidarity, collaboration, the “global village” coming together, etc, etc. The actual climate crisis only comes in as an afterthought!

    It’s quite odd. It’s as if the real triumph of Paris COP21 was the political process of achieving global collaboration itself rather than really addressing the crisis head on — as if the crisis were nothing but an opportunity for the process of reaching global solidarity (and which probably won’t last long when major changes do start occurring).

    The article reminds of the old saying: “the operation was a success! Unfortunately, the patient died.”

    For the time being, my money’s on Dr. Hansen to be more right than wrong. The crisis we’re facing is a predicament. A predicament isn’t soluble by rational methods. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a predicament, merely a problem. Predicaments, or dilemmas, are a class of problem all by themselves. And Ms. Cunningham doesn’t seem to realise that the climate crisis is not a problem in the usual sense — it’s a predicament.

    • Steve Lavendusky says :

      If you imagine God outside and separate from creation, and you have the idea that you are created in God’s image, you will logically and naturally see yourself as outside and against the things around you. And as you claim all mind to yourself, you will see the world around you as mindless and therefore not entitled to moral or ethical consideration.

      The environment will seem to be yours to exploit. Your survival unit will be you and your people against the environment of other social units, other races, and the brutes and vegetables.

      If this is your estimate of your relation to nature and you have an advanced technology, your likelihood of survival will be that of a snowball in hell. You will die either of the toxic by-products of your own hate or simply of overpopulation and overgrazing. ~Gregory Bateson

    • davidm58 says :

      “The article reminds of the old saying: “the operation was a success! Unfortunately, the patient died.” ”

      “Ay…there’s the rub!”

      Ms. Cunningham (Richie’s mom?) has a very “rational” response that is a perspectival observation, but she’s not taking in the implications of the whole as Dr. Hansen is.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    I should add as a postscript to the above article, that it is really a kind of reflection on Gebser’s anticipation of “global catastrophe” as concurrent with his consciousness mutation. The “catastrophe” serves, in that sense, as the crucible of transformation — the mutation and the catastrophe are reciprocal processes, and so in that sense “apocalyptic” (revelatory or disclosing, unconcealing). Mutation and catastrophe are in what might be called a dialogical process, like the process of question and answer.

    So, even the imagination of catastrophe can serve as the questioner that prompts a response, or a “mutation”. That’s always been the function, for example, of the imagination of the Last Judgement, which is mankind’s dialogue with death. And goodness knows our contemporary literature and film is full of anticipation of the apocalyptic, and that includes H.G. Wells’ reflections on “Mind at the End of Its Tether”.

    The Odyssey — the journey of Ulysses through the ocean of insanity, one might put it — that’s a favourite theme of literature in both the tragical and comedic aspects (James Joyce’s “Ulysses” or the more contemporary “Brother, Where Art Thou?” both employ the myth). Ulysses, however, is the human ego consciousness. That’s what the myth is about, and why it has had such staying power.

    In that respect, James Joyce really is a seminal figure in contemporary literature, whose stature is probably equivalent to Cervantes who, with his “Don Quixote” and his innovation called “the novel”, marks a transition between Faith and Reason. James Joyce with his “Finnegan’s Wake” and “Ulysses” does the same — “Finnegan’s Wake” is the return of the pagan, the return of the native, while “Ulysses” attempts to map the transit of the modern ergo-consciousness. They are, in that sense, contemporary myths, even landmark ones.

  3. alex jay says :

    I think you’ll like this (but then again ???):

    P.S. Hansen is a charlatan ditto Maurice Strong, Al Gore and all the other phony “environmentalists”.

    God, I hate religions … : )

    • Scott Preston says :

      I did not know that Tesla had this side to him. Interesting. Has been kept well under wraps, I guess. Even mentioned William Blake (sound quality is horrible, why did they feel the need to use computer voice generation here?). In any case, I’ll have to look deeper into Mr. Tesla.

    • Scott Preston says :

      A transcript of this interview is carried on the Electrical Engineering Portal website.

      It’s conducted in very faltering and awkward English by both Tesla and the interviewer, so some of it is difficult to understand. I love how he ends it though, which is relevant to the two posts (this and the next) on The Big Change,

      “The entire Universe is in certain periods sick of itself, and of us. Disappearance of a star and the appearance of comets affect us more than we can imagine. Relationships among the creatures on the Earth are even stronger, because of our feelings and thoughts the flower will scent even more beautiful or will fall in silence.

      These truths we must learn in order to be healed. Remedy is in our hearts and evenly, in the heart of the animals that we call the Universe.”

      Blake is certainly easier to understand than Tesla, even though they are talking exactly the same thing.

  4. Don Dwiggins says :

    In response to “do nothing” (which I believe is good advice for those trying to grasp the enormity of the changes we’re facing — first, get past your denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, and settle into acceptance):

    Here’s a link from Rob Hopkins’ blog; a post in reaction to his “journey” in COP21:
    Hopkins, as you may know, is the founder of the Transition Towns movement (which is one of the few movements to explicitly accept both peak energy and climate change). His hometown of Totnes is perhaps the best example of what can be done in the current situation (and of course, adapting to the unfolding changes).

    Through your posts and other places, I’m encouraged to see that there are living, vibrant indigenous communities around North America. If it fits with your vision of this blog, I’d be interested in hearing more about the communities that you’ve worked with. Are they “doing nothing” creatively?

    • Scott Preston says :

      I’m not much involved with the indigenous community any longer. Most of my former associates and contacts have scattered to the four winds. So, I really can’t tell you. There was a brief indigenous renaissance with the Idle No More movement, particularly among the young, but that seems to have returned to quiescence again. Polarisation and division there is as bad as it is everywhere else, though, and I think most of their energies are spent in just trying to hold their communities together more than anything — divisions between the young and the eldership, and between “traditionalists” and “modernists” and so on.

      If there is anything like “doing nothing creatively”, I don’t know of it, although I can make some inquiries.

  5. LittleBigMan says :

    I completely agree with “respondeo etsi mutabor” being the name of the game in this time of erratic environmental changes. But I think we will get big slap in the face and kick in the butt from Mother Earth before all this is over.

    I mean we in the developed world will feel the impact less than those in the developing world. Yet, no one will be able to ignore the changes that are coming. That’s for sure.

    That’s a fantastic clip posted by Alex Jay on the extraordinary Tesla. I, too, wish the sound quality would’ve been better. Still, I watched (and then lied on my bed and just listened) the clip several times to circumvent that issue. Tesla is definitely one of those personalities that we ought to know more about.

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