Friday, September 14, 2007

Abbey's Optimism

In a comment on yesterday's quote, Brother Dave rightly points out that I did not include the full quote. I only copied the bit that amused me, and reflected some of the discouragement I feel. I'll explain in a moment.

First, this is how Edward Abbey expressed the same thought in a letter/interview with Karen Evans (18 June 1984):
I am a pessimist in the short run, by which I mean the next fifty or maybe a hundred years. In that brief interval it seems quite probable that too many of us humans, crawling over one another for living space and sustenance, will make the earth an extremely unpleasant planet on which to live. And this quite aside from the possibility of a nuclear war.

In the long run, I am an optimist. Within a century, I believe and hope, there will be a drastic reduction in the human population (as has happened before), and that will make possible a free and open society for our surviving descendants, a return to a more intimate and tolerant relationship to the natural world, and an advance toward ... a civilized form of human society ... [elided for space].
This clarification shows that Abbey truly was an optimist: he assumed we would have surviving descendants.

I'm not so optimistic. I believe the damage we've done the world is nigh irreversible. Our "progress" goes forward unchecked. Most people in the industrialized world are too fond of their creature comforts. We prefer not to consider the consequences of our gas burning cars, or the coal that produces most of our electricity.

The damage to the ecosystem is global. People in Third World nations could possibly have survived if Industrial Society had spontaneously combusted in 1984; I'm not sure they have another fifty years to wait. Many scientists suggest that if pollution stopped today, it would take almost that long to reverse global warming.

This comes back to an off-hand comment I made over a year ago: humanity is a cancer on the face of the earth. What Abbey writes in another letter concerning cancer, seems a fit description of humans: "Delighting in nothing but multiplication, cancer ends by destroying both its host and itself."

Yes, I am feeling especially misanthropic and depressed this season. Why do you ask?


Anonymous said...

If one thinks about these matters as they pertain to our lifetime or, more importantly, the lives of those now children, it is easy to become despondent. I know, I do that with great regularity, as did Ed Abbey.

But in the longer view I suspect Ed was right. Yes, whether by nuclear war (again a possibility every bit as likely as when Terry Southern wrote Dr. Strangelove)or global climate change or wars over dwindling natural resources that do not go nuclear, the odds are pretty damn good that a large segment of humans may die - as Abbey argued. But it is unlikely, even in the face of a nuclear war, that all will die. What comes next is unpredictable but there is a very real chance it will constitute an improvement, that the survivors will be those smart enough (by virtue of being survivors) to learn from the past.

Humans have existed on this planet in relative harmony with the planet for the vast majority of the species' existence. That it can do so again is clearly within the realm of the possible.


Dr. Omed said...

Short form: We have shot ourselves in the head, and we are living in the interval between the shot fired and the splatter on the wall.