Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

It was over, he said. It was too late, we had dithered too long. Our society had already become too fragmented and dysfunctional for us to fix, in time, the calamitous mistakes we had made. And, in any case, people’s attention remained elusive. Neither season after season of extreme weather events nor the risk of extinction for a million animal species around the world could push environmental destruction to the top of our country’s list of concerns. And how sad, he said, to see so many among the most creative and best-educated classes, those from whom we might have hoped for inventive solutions, instead embracing personal therapies and pseudo-religious practices that promoted detachment, a focus on the moment, acceptance of one’s surroundings as they were, equanimity in the face of worldly cares. (This world is but a shadow, it is a carcass, it is nothing, this world is not real, do not mistake this hallucination for the real world.) Self-care, relieving one’s own everyday anxieties, avoiding stress: these had become some of our society’s highest goals, he said—higher, apparently, than the salvation of society itself. The mindfulness rage was just another distraction, he said. Of course we should be stressed, he said. We should be utterly consumed with dread. Mindful meditation might help a person face drowning with equanimity, but it would do absolutely nothing to right the Titanic, he said. It wasn’t individual efforts to achieve inner peace, it wasn’t a compassionate attitude toward others that might have led to timely preventative action, but rather a collective, fanatical, over-the-top obsession with impending doom. It was useless, the man said, to deny that suffering of immense magnitude lay ahead, or that there’d be any escaping it. How, then, should we live?

Sigrid Nunez, What Are You Going Through: A Novel (Riverhead Books, September 8, 2020)


Notes:

House on Fire


Photo: Wildlife rescuer Simon Adamczyk carries a koala out of a burning forest to safety on Kangaroo Island, southwest of Adelaide, Australia, on January 7, 2020. Photograph by David Mariuz.

The Atlantic: Animals Rescued From Australia’s Bushfires. January 9, 2020:

“The horrific wildfires that have been burning across Australia for months now have taken a severe toll on the animals that called the scorched lands home. Estimates of the number of animals killed by the fires range from hundreds of millions to more than 1 billion. Volunteers and crews from Australia’s National Parks and Wildlife Service have been doing what they can to help some of the kangaroos, koalas, lizards, and birds that can be rescued and treated. Ranchers and pet owners have been working to keep the animals in their care secure when possible, but many farm animals have been killed as well. As much as one-third of Australia’s Kangaroo Island has burned so far, with wildlife experts fearing that more than half of the island’s 50,000 koalas have been killed.”

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