Everywhere I turn there seems evidence of passionate dysfunction and rapacious greed. Drug manufacturers profiting from death and addiction, politicians selling their vote for privilege and re-election, oil companies trading humanity’s future for quarterly earnings, and desperate people drowning in despair as our days darken. It seems the dire warnings of Revelations have come true, the perfect apocalypse—wars and rumors of war, fire and flood, drought and famine and the leadership of fools. The earth trembles beneath the weight of humanity and we can’t seem to help ourselves or each other.
There is too much noise, too much urgency, much of it artificial, much of it marketing. I’ve begun to distance myself from it. I’m no longer following Trump’s twitter feed. I’m no longer starting my day with coffee and CNN. I’ve unsubscribed from the newsletters of all those good folk urging immediate action for one worthy cause after another, one dire emergency after another.
Maybe I’m guilty of isolating myself. Maybe I should be more committed to fighting in the streets but the fight seems never ending and never successful. The new boss is always the same as the old boss. Maybe those old Roman stoics were right.
Then what is the answer?—Not to be deluded by dreams.
To know the great civilizations have broken down into violence, and their tyrants come, many times before.
When open violence appears, to avoid it with honor or choose the least ugly faction; these evils are essential.
To keep one’s own integrity, be merciful and uncorrupted and not wish for evil; and not be duped
By dreams of universal justice or happiness. These dreams will not be fulfilled.
To know this, and know that however ugly the parts appear the whole remains beautiful. A severed hand
Is an ugly thing, and man dissevered from the earth and stars and his history…for contemplation or in fact…
Often appears atrociously ugly. Integrity is wholeness, the greatest beauty is
Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty of the universe. Love that, not man
Apart from that, or else you will share man’s pitiful confusions, or drown in despair when his days darken.
The Answer, Robinson Jeffers
We may be witnessing the collapse of the United States like the collapse of a massive star into a black hole. Nothing lives forever and the headlong acceleration of a nation’s lifespan might be as much effected by technology as industry and society. How could we expect otherwise? We invent our tools with no regard except efficiency; afterwards, our tools invent us.
We have reshaped the world in our own image not by intent but by happenstance. Because we could. We are spectacular opportunists focused on our feet without restraint or responsibility for the future. We have created a world so densely populated and interconnected one part can’t stand without the whole but then we act as if separate and alone.
We will not go gently into that good night, or alone. The extinction event we’ve triggered will ensure that. It’s not the first time or the last that death has descended on the planet like a starless night. Life will continue in some form or other. Maybe not our form.
We are not wholly responsible for our failure. It wasn’t a moral choice we could make unencumbered by our evolutionary history. We have succeeded beyond comparison because of our brilliant flaws. Those flaws may eventually prove fatal but is our failing also our fault? Could we have done otherwise?
Perhaps we’re just one possibility in a continuum where every possibility must eventually be explored and every road travelled to the end. We play our part in a script written by our genes. In the fullness of time, every drama is a tragedy and every life “lopped at the ends by death and conception.”
Perhaps the inevitability absolves us of personal guilt or fear of punishment by some petulant god with the moral compass of a six-year-old child but still we carry the awful burden of watching so much beauty vanish from the earth, knowing we were the agent of indifferent chance. Still we keenly feel the loss of possibilities, the loss of beauty, that our collapse portends. In the past and maybe again in the future an asteroid or a massive volcano might shroud the sun and plunge the earth into ruin but this night was our doing. This was our hand turned against ourselves and every other thing living on this planet.
Another form of intelligence will emerge with time and chance. Perhaps the crows. They’re an old species. They’ve watched humanity’s bloody rise and fall. They’ve fed in the fields where we raged. Perhaps they’ve learned restraint. Perhaps living in the air provides a broader perspective than living in the dirt.
Perhaps. But then the play begins again. The fault is in our stars.