17 November 2022
First, here are some pictures of snow from our first storm of the season. These were taken Wednesday morning before it was done dumping.
For the record, as I was jotting down the weather yesterday I noticed that last year on 16 November, my town also had it’s first snowfall. So all concerns about the oddness of no snow in November were alleviated. Hence the importance of keeping notes!
And now here is a short response to perhaps too much podcast listening…
So I was sick this week and not functioning at full cognitive capacity, never mind full physical capacity. I slept a lot. But I also binged on all of Nate Hagens’ Franklys that I’ve missed since he decided to produce them weekly while I’ve been spending those same weeks frantically trying to keep pace with my rather crushing workload. I’ve not had time for podcasts, not even the economical 20 minutes of Frankly. I didn’t get them all in by any means, but I think I caught up with the highlights. And then I hit a stopping point with this episode, #10, “The 7 Stages of Climate Awareness”.
In this talk, he tells us about his own framework for categorizing varying coping responses to climate change, mostly within the climatologically aware community. His system is one of progression, stages one through seven. Presumably we all pass through each stage before getting to the next level. That is what I think is implied, whether that is his intent or not.
You probably all know that I’m not game for categorization schemes. I’m a geologist and a gardener and a mom. If there was ever anyone who’s spent a lifetime being flummoxed by a reality that refuses to stay inside neat little human boxes, that’s me. So I was suspect from the title on, but I gave it a listen anyway.
The first stage was not a stage at all. Level Zero, the ground state. He describes this as the outlook on climate change that does not see humans as separated from the rest of the world. All life just happens and humans are part of that life. I watched this portion of the video several times and read the captions, and it seems to me that he is saying that these people don’t see climate change. He says, “The natural world and the environmental processes are invisible to people. It’s just their life.”
This troubled me. Because Stage One was then defined as a recognition that humanity is a system that is embedded in a larger system. In this level, people “begin to understand” that humans have effects on the world. Again, I am not sure if Hagens meant to imply progression or hierarchy, but that is what a numbering system is going to do to a classification scheme. He also uses the word “then” to transition between levels, which again implies progression, this precedes that.
In any case, this scheme is problematic. Because people who live embedded in the world are certainly aware of what is happening in that world. They are intimately familiar with their environment and changes in that environment, both long and short term. But more importantly they recognize that what they do has impacts. This is not knowledge that only comes at a higher state of consciousness. It is the ground wisdom.
To my way of thinking any separation of humanity from the rest of the planet is a regression from that wisdom. Maybe Hagens was implying that Stage Zero is what we’re all clawing our way back to in this progression of stages one through seven. We’re trying to once again become those people who are embedded in the world and understand the consequences of their actions — and who do not take actions that are deleterious on the world. Because that’s bad for the world and it’s bad for them as parts of the world. We’re trying to become the people who do not do things that injure their home and thus their own lives.
People who live embedded in the world know about climate change though they largely do not cause climate change. They do not participate in the cultures that are causing climate change — among other biophysical disasters — but they are aware of it. Because it is affecting them. Every day. Those who see themselves as intimately entangled in the world are the first to feel the effects of biophysical collapse. First to feel the loss and the grief. First to feel the bodily harm and physical destruction. They’re the first to die and their communities are the first to be broken. In fact, those who do not see themselves as part of the rest of the world, who view humanity as some special system of its own with unusual traits and exceptional proclivities, could never be more aware of the hurts being done to the world than the people who are suffering those hurts within and among the rest of the world.
Anyway… I was a bit upset. But as I was watching this progression of climatological awareness, I noticed something else. Hagens uses words like our and humanity and people and culture as if those cover everyone on this planet equally. Even though he started out with level zero, the ground state, the people who don’t participate in more human-centered societies, he still seems to imply that everyone is both equally culpable and equally unable to extricate themselves from those societies. The “human system”, in his world view, is natively and naturally and uniformly hell bent on pleasing itself no matter the consequences.
Well, this just isn’t true. No part of it. First, there is no human system. There are many human ways of being. There have always been many human ways of being. Nearly all of them were not self-oriented. We know this because we are here now. If humanity was naively selfish then it would have gone extinct. A self-absorbed thing harms itself first and foremost when it refuses to accept the limits of living within the community of this Earth.
Most human ways of being have not caused biophysical collapse. This is not because we moderns are better or worse or more devious or more clever. It’s because most humans have chosen to not destroy their world. Humans in other cultures are just as selfish and violent, yes, but only one culture has allowed that selfishness and violence to overrule common sense. Most cultures have specific and elaborate societal rules in place to prevent the spread of harm (including inequality, or the specialness of particular selves, as harm).
For example, people (yes, generally) knew about the black rocks that burned and the tarry oils that seeped from shale. Of course, they knew about burning stuff. Burning stuff has been the defining trait of humanity for all of humanity. We’ve spent all of our existence busily finding new ways to burn stuff. But they also knew that some burning things were poison, and the ways of obtaining some burning substrates were deadly. To themselves and to other ways of being. They chose not to use this stuff because it hurt them as it hurt the rest of their “environment”.
In any case… if you accept that there are many ways of being human, then you tend to notice that not many of them are enamored of this one culture that decided to center the self and some rather juvenile wants. Hagens talks of “humanity” not accepting the changes to “culture” that are necessary to bring “culture” back into alignment with planetary health. (I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t put the scare quotes in there, but it seems to me that he needs to be more careful in defining we, among other collective nouns.) But what culture? What changes? What humanity? Qui bono… Who actually likes this way of being? Even among those who are living this way!
Sure, I know some people who do not want to see the end of this culture of greed and selfishness and hierarchy and destruction. I know even those who recognize that it has all those horribly lethal qualities and yet want it to continue because it seems to be the best course — for whatever segment of the world that defines we for them. But I know far more people who are cheering on the collapse. Because not only will the planet be better off without capitalism, they will be better off. We will be better off. Things are not good for most of the humans on this planet. (See here for more support of this assertion from Chris Smaje.) Most have been actively harmed for generations. Only a tiny parasitic cabal has ever benefitted from this culture. And even they, that small minority, will be better off — healthier, happier, more alive, more human — when this culture is dead.
And that’s just looking at the effects on humanity.
Most humans also do not make distinctions between the human world and everything else, nor between here and now and there and then. There is no hierarchy of acceptable harm. There is no away, no separate place or body that can absorb consequences. It is all one. A hurt here is a hurt to all places. A hurt to me is a hurt to all bodies. A hurt to any other being hurts me. It is all connected in one system, and if there is a part of that system that is sick, then the whole thing is sick. Most people in the world understand this and have for millennia. Nearly all our story telling and mythology (save for one rather devastating example) deals explicitly with the connectivity of the world and the harm that propagates right back to its source when that connectivity is disregarded. Most humans are part of a global we, comprising all ways of being, and not at all part of the small subset of we, uniformly human, that wants this harm to continue.
Hagens seems to think that it will be difficult to end this culture of harm because he seems to think that most people benefit from it and because he seems to think that most people would not choose to mitigate the harm in spite of perceived benefits. I don’t agree with either point. I think more of humanity than the we he describes. I think most people have never belonged to this culture and are generally appalled by it. I think many within it are forcibly chained to it because this is a violent way of being. But they, we, are learning that we have nothing to lose in confronting that violence — even if we die. Because we aren’t living in this culture, and we can see how much living we are missing. We can see life all around us in other ways of being… and so those chains are being broken. Many people, even among those groups who have historically benefitted from this culture, are already walking away. Because it is harmful. Because nobody wants to be the cause of such harm. Because being a person who benefits from this culture is utterly embarrassing. It’s a life of regret and guilt and waste. It is painful. So I think that it is not only possible to end this way of being; I think it is inevitable. And quite possibly fairly easy… for most of we… to give up the dubious benefits of this harm.
So I might say to Nate, you could have put that ground zero last. That is the end of the progression, the apex of awareness. To be embedded in the world is to be incapable of causing harm to that world. It is the end of biophysical collapse. And happily, I’m pretty sure it is the true nature of humanity.
The wrongdoer harms himself first, before he harms others. — St Augustine (in Tolstoy's Calendar of Wisdom for 19 November)
©Elizabeth Anker 2022
7 thoughts on “The Daily”
Enjoyed your analysis and I agree. I have not listened to the Frankly episodes, but I listen to the Great Simplification episodes from time to time. I like Hagens but I also difficulty with him for various reasons, some of which you pointed out in your analysis. He does tend to take a blanket approach to humans and culture when he should be much more careful in saying which humans and what culture.
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P. S. I just read my last comment and realized two things; 1. I was trying to emphasize how hard it will be for many people to voluntarily give up our western lifestyle. They’re not caught, they prefer it. At least, that’s how I see it. 2. I didn’t mean to sound so self-pitying, but I guess I am feeling a bit sorry for myself and that is very embarrassing to admit! If I had one friend who feels the same way, it would help, but perhaps I’m hanging out with the wrong crowd!
P.P.S. I’ve never commented on-line before. It feels a little scary. I hope I’m expressing myself clearly enough.
Very clearly felt! Nothing wrong with self-pity! It is hard to do these things, especially, as you say, when you don’t have any confirmation from your social circle that these hard things that you are doing are right. Or even smart… So work on subtle proselytizing and convert those around you as you are able… And if you need someone to have your back, there are people out there. I have your back, for one. Truthfully, there are entire states of people who have your back and who would sing your praises for the hard choices you’ve made and then put into action! You are doing great things!
Thank you. I thought you might be impatient with me. I really appreciate your response and it’ll help me hang in there to know you have my back. Very much
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Lee, it’s ok to feel all the things! And you are right, it is hard! Our society does not make it easy. My husband and I made the leap to a car-free house earlier this year and I can’t tell you how many people expressed their concern. It was like my life was flashing back to 1994 when we went vegan, except now instead of what are you going to eat, the questions are about how are you going to get around? There are lots of people who are voluntarily trying to drop out of the western lifestyle. There are probably some even local to you. Try to find them. And if you can’t, find the folks who are online. They will all help you not feel so alone.
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Good morning, Eliza. I’ve been reading your newsletters for sometime, now and I really relate to your perspective in most cases, but I think that Nate is right. I am in one of the groups of people who are heedlessly causing the most damage to our planet. I don’t know a single person who cares and wants to walk away from their privileged, comfortable and convenient lifestyle. They love their airplane trips, their dining out, their beautiful clothes and their fancy cars and they do not want to give it up. Even my 20 something hairdresser can’t wait for her next trip. (Just returned from 2 weeks in England.) I realize I am talking about a small group of people, but when you look at the lines at airports, you see that a lot of people are still enjoying our current system. They won’t give it up until they have to. When I listen to Nate, I imagine that’s who he’s talking about, because they’re not interested in change and they are causing the harm. I’m in this group, too. I didn’t want to give up my lifestyle. I truly loved it. I don’t want to grow my own food. I want to ride my horse (boarded at a stable. Privilege!) travel, eat out, go shopping. I love it. But I love this planet more. So I’m giving it up for Earth. Not because I want to in any way. It’s honestly a daily battle in my heart. And I don’t have children, so it’s not for them, it’s for the animals and plants. I am a Covid retired flight attendant for a major international airline. Unlimited free flying anywhere in the world and I’ve given it up and it is hard. This is not what I thought my retirement would he like. And no one I know understands. They think I am nuts.
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I used to know people like that also. Let me assure you the long lines at the airport represent such a small portion of the world’s human population, that if the rest of the world decides that we’re done with this culture, there will be nothing at all to stop that from being done. I know that sounds callous, but I think I’m also sort of done with accommodating what is just blind greed, and its own form of callousness.
In any case, the more-than-human world has apparently decided that we are done with this culture, and all those beings call the shots with regard to survival on this planet. So it’s going to happen. We just need to make it happen so that harm is minimized and waste is controlled.
And truthfully, even those ardent consumers out there, once they wake up to 1) the harm they are causing all the time mostly by doing rather frivolous things and 2) the inevitability of collapse if we don’t stop breaking things, they all come round. I’ve converted many who lived by the credit card and populated planes…
I am glad to see you are thinking about these things and making changes. That itself is heartening. If you can do it… nothing stopping anyone else. Especially if you help.