Thursday, June 16, 2005

Technology, Dullardism, & Climate Change

"The problem of modern man isn't to escape from one ideology to another, nor to escape from one formulation to find another; our problem is to live in the presence and in the attributes of reality."

-Frederick Sommer, The Poetic Logic of Art and Aesthetics
Although surveys suggest that most of the American public still believes that climate change is a future threat, many thousands of species are already threatened by shrinking environmental ranges and changing precipitation patterns; some of these species are on the verge of extinction. The negative impact of climate change occurs now and later.

I encourage those readers curious about the subject, particularly those who believe that we will "solve" the problem via improved technologies, to read "Climate Change is Totally Awesome," a recent post at Organic Matter. The author dissects a Telegraph article by Robert Matthews, entitled, "Warmer, wetter and better (or the good news that the climate change lobby doesn't want you to hear)."

Interviewed for the Telegraph piece, Professor Philip Stott of the University of London argues that reducing emissions will not alleviate the threat, and that the steps required to significantly reduce emissions would render us technologically impotent.
"Even if we shut every fossil-fuel power station, crushed every car and grounded every aircraft, the Earth's climate would still continue to get warmer, according to Prof Stott. 'The trouble is, we would all be too impoverished to cope with the consequences.'"
I agree that the warming trend is natural and that, even were we to de-industrialize, the world would continue to warm. But anthropogenic action accelerates climate change to such a devastating degree that biodiversity and, ultimately, human stability are in peril.

Furthermore, Stott's concept of technological impoverishment is misguided. To be sure, if we First Worlders are to transition to sustainable development, we must give up many of the conveniences that we now take for granted. It remains to be seen whether we will make this sacrifice of our own volition or if we will do nothing until Nature demands it of us. In either case, the sacrifice will not make us incapable of coping with climate change.

It will, however, demand a significant restructuring of our cultural and technological priorities. Our taste for spectacle and distraction must be unlearned. Cultural critic and anthropologist Morris Berman, in his outstanding book Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality, dubs the social spirit of contemporary, industrialized nations "dullardism."
"With dullardism, the goal is simply to go unconscious, by means of tranquilizers, alcohol, TV, spectator sports, organized religion, compulsive busyness and workaholism, and so on (even though many of these do provide a short-term 'high')."
Dullardism is not endemic to contemporary, industrialized societies. Equivalent symptoms were documented in the late years of the Roman and Mayan civilizations, and I suspect that they also existed in Sumer and other early civilizations.

The human animal is not evolutionarily equipped to flourish in society; our brains remain "wired" for the Pleistocene, and the rapid transition to an agrarian, sedentary, and "civil" existence has been rapid and fraught. We therefore exhibit displacement behavior, seeking escape via fundamentalism, sports, entertainment, and drug abuse.

Does this mean that advanced civilization makes us ill-equipped to deal with environmental catastrophe? Not necessarily (we have to hope not!), but we must reexamine our social mores in order to create something akin to a new social order, one that balances our primitive lusts for progress and power with pragmatism and stewardship. It's a tall order, to be sure, but one that we must fill.

1 comment:

Devo said...

I'll read the OM post soon, but I must say that my own experience with rampant dullardism has pretty much shaped my approach to the world and particularly other people. I'm of the mind that virtually everyone in our country (and n our Western world for the most part) is sleepwalking through life. Just as Berman says, the world we live in is full of slack-jawed dullards, plodding along to the muted drumbeat of an invisible slavedriver. I've experienced a few "awakenings" in my life. Both metaphysical and otherwise. HH, your story of the Nicaraguan farm boy is a perfect example of an awakening. Every time it happens, it raises you out of your day-to-day, mundane mindset and widens your perspective a bit, and the more often it happens, the more likely a wider perspective is to develop.

Anyway, I try to make it my lot in life to jostle everyone else's perspective as much as I possibly can, in the mildly futile hope that perhaps jiggling the bottle enough will get some ketchup to come drizzling out someday. In the tradition of "Crazy Wisdom" teachers who used to beat the crap out of their acolytes to foster enlightenment, I try to batter down mental barriers. It usually doesn't work as instantly as I'd like it to, but I'd like to retain the hope that those surrounding me might actually be slightly more "conscious" than others.

My god, I sure am arrogant. Well, I guess that's pretty normal for a human. We've all got it in us. I suppose it's all in how you let it out...