Editor’s Note: I am pleased to introduce guest contributor, Christopher Stanley. Christopher wrote this in response to my recent essay, “‘What If It’s Already Too Late?’: Being an Activist in the Anthropocene”, and it so impressed me I had to share it (with his permission). Christopher’s six maxims are a guide for sanity in an unsane world. Enjoy!
Civilization is not the World.
Civilization is ending, but the World is not. The World has lived through far greater changes than us. The World was here for billions of years before we came along, and will be here for billions of years after we’re gone. We are not so grand that we can kill Life itself.
Civilization is just a story.
Our systems and artifacts are entirely secondary. Their purpose is merely to tell the story. The story claims that humans are special. That humans are powerful. That humans are progressing. And, above all, that humans need the story. The story is fiction. We’re just a species like any other. And we got along just fine, indeed far better, for two million years before we so recently invented this insane story.
Someday humans will die.
Just as every individual has a lifespan, so does every species. And just how every individual dying is ultimately good, right, and natural, so it is that every species dying is ultimately good, right, and natural. Some day and for some reason, we will die. That day may be soon and the reason may be civilization. And, ultimately, that day and that reason would be neither better nor worse than any other day or any other reason.
The World is more important than humans.
Through civilization, humans have a disease. Through humans, the World has a disease. That the World is cured is more important than that humans are cured.
This problem is self-correcting.
Our problem is a lack of sustainability. But the flip side is exactly that: this problem cannot sustain itself. It will end. It can’t not end. It may end in a way that humans don’t enjoy, but it will end. The World will be healed. We may not survive the cure, but the cure is guaranteed.
We are returning to right relationship with World.
Our right relationship with World is the one that cures it of its disease. And be it wisdom or fertilizer, we will find that right relationship. But this Return is not an event, it is a process. And it is a process that unfolds not on our terms, but on World’s terms. So we cannot cause the Return, but we can participate in it. Indeed, the deepest parts of ourselves call us incessantly to that very participation.
Listen for the call. Learn to discern the call from the insane stories ringing in our ears. When you can hear it, do it. Whatever it is. Not because it will save the World or even yourself, but because it’s what you are made to do. Not because it satisfies logic or practicality, but because it satisfies the timeless contract between World and Life that is the essence of every being. It might not make you happy. It certainly won’t make you popular. But it will make you a little more whole. And whatever it looks like, a human who is a little more whole is some tiny part of the cure of the World. It is some tiny gift of ourselves to the whole. Our gift to the World is our life, even if that includes our death.
About Christopher Stanley
This sort of territory is where I spend most of my life. The last, lurching steps of the story of civilization. Experimenting with recovering a true awareness of a World and Life that we never actually conquered. Exploring what it means to faithfully participate in the Return to right relationship with World when the present is so uncertain, much less the future. Tentatively approaching a hazy sort of peace with the whole crazy situation while still caring about it more than anything.
2 thoughts on “A Guide to the End of Civilization (in 6 simple maxims), by Christopher Stanley”
Yes. I console myself with this kind of thinking, too.
But it doesn’t console me much.
I LIKE humanity. Sure, we’re temporary, like everything else. But that doesn’t mean I am sanguine about our extinction just because the blue-green algae will survive and have another 4 billion years or so to evolve into new stuff.
In my experience, this kind of thinking undermines activism. It says, at root, “everything will be all right no matter what you do, or don’t do.”
My commitment to humanity and to the creatures living on Earth NOW demands more than that.
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I feel the need to point out that most of the crisis of over consumption and climate change is caused by industrialized nations largely populated by white people who have been spreading the myth of progress etc.
And most of the people who will be the most adversely affected by the famines, droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes caused by climate change are people who live in non-industrialized nations, and who happen to be mostly brown people.
The racialized aspects of climate change are very striking once you notice that they are there.
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