More gloom to offload on you. Thoughts from my scattershot reading these days.
An essay in the current Harper’s by a naturalized citizen puts the idea of American amnesia well:
“Over the past twenty years, I have come to understand that there is nothing more American than forgetting the past. It is through the obliteration of memory, an obliteration perpetrated with great deliberateness by the state, that American identity is fashioned.”
Now I would hazard that people who might be reading this—or for that matter most of my friends whether reading this or not—are memory junkies, the opposite of the Americans the essay author speaks of. A very good friend of mine even memorialized the Irish immigrant tendency to forget in a fine book that tells the history of her clan: Forgetting Ireland.
How else could manifest destiny have manifested or the west been won, the wagon trains made it across the desert, the railroads been built for mile after mile? How else could we and our politicians ignore Indian genocide, slavery, and Japanese incarceration and the long list of horrors that the left keeps pestering the right about? But Americans are maybe only a little worse at this (a little better?) than others: there are denied genocides all around the world.
The tendency to forget, the shortness of the human attention span, seems germane to the climate crisis too. It’s too big. And what are we to do about it anyway? It’s done. That ship has sailed.
Maybe that’s why some pastors can convince their congregations to continue to come to church despite orders to shelter in place during the current pandemic. We’re goin’ down anyway. So let’s pray. Let’s get ourselves saved in the next life. Or, the secular version: it’s already too late, so let’s drink. Let’s buy up a storm.
More from The Uninhabitable Earth:
“We have already exited the state of environmental conditions that allowed the human animal to evolve in the first place, in an unsure and unplanned bet on just what that animal can endure. The climate system that raised us, and raised everything we now know as human culture and civilization, is now, like a parent, dead.”
From another book I’m reading, some lines that seem related: Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West. You might call it dystopian.
“…and in those trees there were now dark bodies too, children who climbed and played among the boughs, like little monkeys, not because to be dark is to be monkey-like, though that has been and was being and will long be slurred, but because people are monkeys who have forgotten that they are monkeys, and so have lost respect for what they are born of, for the natural world around them….
The inability to remember our origins, to know ourselves as animals embedded with other animals in nature, the failure to know all humans as both animal and our kin may be at the center of all our current crises.