January 2012

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Optimism for a New Year

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

"The situation is hopeless, but not serious." This has been my philosophy for many years, if you can call it one. I see very clearly what humans, every step of their way, are doing to other humans and the planet. I fail to see what revelation, what change is possible, which will lead us to wake up, shape up, form a world government, ameliorate global warming, end overpopulation, solve famine and disease, stop poisoning the planet and killing one another. Years ago, when I learned that there were twice as many people on earth as there had been in my childhood, I went entirely silent, as I still do when I contemplate the consequences. How many people can the planet sustain? Does anyone know? There population will have doubled again before too many more decades have elapsed.

Just last week I was silenced again, when I read that scientists had created an airborne mutation of a bird flu which kills fifty percent of the people it infects. What were they thinking? What passes through your mind when you make an invention which requires absolute and perfect care and attention for the rest of human history, so a drop may bnever be accidentally spilled?

There are people who would likely become depressed and suicidal as a result of seeing things clearly. "If Merlin had seen what you have seen, Merlin would have died, and Merlin would have died without regret, because Merlin receives facts reasonably." The reason that I will navigate my way through all of this relatively lightheartedly, for so long as I can, is because of an ever more intense perception that it just doesn't matter. If humans are not deserving of survival--if we do not learn how to work together for our survival--then we simply won't. We will vanish and give the cockatiels or cockroaches a chance, to succeed us as The Next Big Species. This kind of relinquishment, of radically caring in the particular, while radically not caring in the broad reaches, allows me to endure and be entertained by the spectacle.

Most years since I began this web site in 1995, I have barely been able to write a New Years' wish, without making myself too sad, or fearing that I would depress you, or that you would like me less for having such a grim outlook. This year, for the first time in many, I feel more optimistic. That is wholly because of the movement which began in the Arab Spring, which is the continuation of Tienamen, which is alive today in Zuccotti Park and many other American cities and in Moscow and Hungary and Spain and everywhere; a movement of optimism, pride and self reliance, which brings beauty and a sense of humor and a strong intestinal fortitude to its peaceful confrontations; which will not be frightened or bullied; which refuses to be lied to any more. In which I have been able to play a tiny part, that of an extra in a movie crowd, which I look forward to describing to you in the months to come.

Do I think we can turn it all around? No. But there is joy in fighting human bloody-mindedness and the Second Law, even when you know you will fail. May as well go out singing and defiant.

I am planning to have a contented, even a jubilant New Year, doing the right thing even when its not easy; and I wish you the same.