Recently I watched Collapse, a documentary about the ideas of Michael C. Rupert. Those ideas aren’t unique—the imminence of peak oil production, the unsustainable burden of human population in the absence of cheap energy, and the cascading failures that threaten our entire species as a result. I’ve heard them before when I first read James Howard Kunstler’s The Long Emergency (see Black Plague and Boatwrights.)
If I expect the gruesome end
of humankind, I’ll see evidence
enough all around to justify my
dark faith. But if I live without
fear or worry, what might I see?
This time rather than imagining the worst and despairing, a response which I’ve polished like the family silver, something influenced my response. I read an article by Akaya Windwood in Yes magazine titled Life After Worry.
Yes magazine tends towards unrelenting optimism. I rarely read it cover to cover although I subscribe, probably to ease my sense of guilt for doing nothing to leave the world in better shape than I found it or at least no worse. (I’ve been a dreadful failure at both.) The article caught my attention partially because I had seen Collapse, partially because I’m the consequence of religious fundamentalism.
There is a self-fulfilling force to the belief in apocalypse. The unofficial but persistent faith of America is justified by the world’s end in judgment and retribution. Only the chosen few will survive. It’s the end that we’ve shaped for ourselves if unconsciously. I’ve contributed to that end despite my fall from faith.
Windwood’s article confronted me with the obvious, my attitude was also self-fulfilling. I could face the possibility of our impending collapse with despair, adding my small stone to the cairn we’re piling over the corpse of civilization, or I could approach the same potential future free of that burden, free to act differently, to act freely, to act with grace and spontaneity. Abandoning worry wouldn’t teach me to dance but it might free me from a crippling weight.
It’s a foundational truth of quantum physics that the observer influences what’s observed. We’re all busily influencing reality by our observations and preconceptions. My retreat from the world, my lack of contribution in creating a more humane reality, was just as much an act of creation—an act of observation—as engagement with the world. Every action, even inaction, has an effect. You bring something to the game even if you don’t want to play.
The question then becomes, what replaces worry? If worry isn’t my autonomic response to risk, what is? Compassion? Trust? Meditation? Your choice—my choice—has significant impact upon the future of the world.
Melodramatic, admittedly, but there’s a truth science has discovered about complex systems. Sometimes a small change can have asymmetrical consequences. It’s the Butterfly Effect popularized by chaos theory and a horrible film by Ashton Kutcher. The flapping of a butterfly’s wings over the African coast can create the smallest disturbance in the air, a faint eddy introduced into a complex system (the weather) at the right time and place that can grow into a hurricane that collides with the Eastern seaboard of the United States, impacting the lives of millions of people.
Every act of observation influences what’s observed.
I think it’s equally true that how you observe influences what you see. My emotional baggage has weight and substance. My unexamined history filters my perception. I see what I expect to see. If I expect the gruesome end of humankind, I’ll see evidence enough all around to justify my dark faith. But if I live without fear or worry, what might I see? What might be possible?
We’re approaching a moment that will define our species. It may transform us—or end us. Either way, I’d prefer to face that moment with grace and dignity rather than fear and trembling.