Control, Death, and Delusion

Among my morning reading fell this piece Susie Neilson at Nautilus, titled, “Here’s How To Make Climate Change Extra Scary“.  It could also be titled, “How Can We Strategize To Get More Money for Climate Change Research” or “Silly Ways To Prey On Fear”.  In short, the “article” asserts that climate change is not found threatening enough because all of its dangers are remote from our daily consciousness, thus thought of in the abstract and not in need of immediate action.

The remedy to this erroneous thinking, Susie claims, is to make the consequences of global warming climate change evident: it might possibly result in a virus, trapped in permafrost, conceivably (even though we have no way of knowing this in advance) maybe escaping, infecting all of us, and turning us into primordial zombies of some kind or another.  If climate change is going to ruin all of our personal health, then, by golly, we’ll all run out and do… something… not sure what, but… something about it!

Now, to be clear, I am concerned of the welfare for the ecological status of the plant on which we live; I think that human beings as a species are generally reckless and inconsiderate with our treatment of the planet, oftentimes seeing its bounty as set of resources to be harvested for our own projects and the consequences be damned, and that we really ought to have an attitude of stewardship rather than a mentality of exploitation.  I understand the theories behind human-driven climate change and see that they are plausible and that, whatever the particulars, our behavior likely has had some and possibly even a great deal of negative influence on global climate stability.

But this literal fear mongering is not only asinine, it is stupid.  If I stop to think about all of the possible ways in which my actions could result in otherwise unforeseen and fatal consequences, however probable or improbable, in order to discover the safest course of action, I would be utterly paralyzed.  I could flip over a rock that has been over a tiny sinkhole leading deep into the earth and release just as deadly a trapped virus.  Should I take extra cautious approaches to touching rocks, then, using imaging or scanning technology to ensure there are no holes beneath them (or, what if holes are just what I’m looking for)?  I could justly give a student a deserved F, causing unseen rage to boil over into producing the next Hitler.  Should I give all my students A’s and B’s, just to be safe?  I could observe all the rules of the road perfectly, driving defensively, and even being just a little extra cautious every time I get behind the wheel–but there are other drivers who may not, there are weather conditions which are difficult to predict, trees which may fall without warning, roads and bridges which may have been improperly engineered, stoplights and cars which may malfunction, an innumerable quantity of variables which could obviate my caution and result in my death.  Should I never drive?  The same is true if I walk.  Should I never leave the house?  Carbon monoxide poisoning.  Fires.  Crazed murderers.  Nuclear weapons, or radiation fallout.  Old age.

st-jeromePREI am going to die.  You are going to die.  Everyone we love will die.  This is not up to us.  The belief that somehow we will attain control over every aspect of our lives, or that the quality of our lives is somehow synonymous with control over what happens in them, is among the most malignant of modernity’s falsehoods (which stems directly from its “philosophical” [i.e., sophistical] perspective).  Control is a qualified good, meaning it is good only insofar as it fits within a context of other conditions, ordered towards something else which then makes the possession and exercise (or even release) of control a good thing.

The delusions of control are just that.

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