Archive for November 24th, 2010

backing off

November 24, 2010

“Sustainable” is a squishy word, says Bill McKibben. It purveys the lie that we can keep on going as we’re going, indefinitely. We can’t. We have to back off.

Better are words like durable, sturdy, stable, hardy, robust…

NOTE TO STUDENTS: Looks like it’s Bring Younger Daughter to Work Day. She’s out already for Thanksgiving Break and says she’ll accompany me to class today-with an “activity” for you, and maybe cookies too.

4 PM UPDATE: She wants all of you who did not make it to her class today to know: no cookies or cupcakes for you!

Poor Alan Greenspan, the “tiny wizard behind the curtain,” unexpectedly bereft of his eternally-expansionist libertarian “belief system.” It all goes back to thinking nature can play second fiddle to “society,” on McKibben’s reading. Last few decades, we’re just too big for our britches.

We need to get back the spirit of ’76 (or ’75?), before American patriotism was indistinguishable from nationalism and exceptionalism… back when it was all about “the defense of the small against the big.” Before we were Big Gulping, Super-sizing, planet-hogging, growth-gorging, future-robbing Consumers.

(But what about Madison’s “Federalist 10” and the push for strong central government? That was never meant to be permanent, McKibben contends a bit unpersuasively.)

Nobody cares about Mars, that world of wonders? The President does: “we want to leap into the future. We want major breakthroughs, a transformative agenda for NASA.”

Admittedly, three decades of benign neglect of deeper space has taken a toll, on that front. People get excited about big projects when opinion leaders lead effectively. Lately the Pythonesque absurdity of large-scale ambitions has been hard to shake, in the absence of a clear-eyed and articulate visionary to tap our idealism. As Jason reminded us the other day, we need another Sagan.

And we need another wave of reason.

What’s left after you go is
The good you’ve left behind
You have to believe in hope
You have to believe in the future

There are more and more people coming around to the point of view that
A positive future for humanity requires human expansion to space

We’re at a crossroads today
We either muster the courage to go
Or we risk the possibility of stagnation and decay

If the short-term future is going to be shrunken,  a long-term vision will be harder to hold.  But times do change. They’ll change again. Right?

If cheap energy has fueled our  “neighborless lifestyle,” and made us less happy, we’d better hope so. The Farmer’s Diner (“Think Globally–Act Neighborly” sounds like a great role model for these changing times.

Wendell Berry’s “mad farmer,” too.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns…

Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts…

But… no more “key” national projects anymore? So soon on the heels of civil rights, in a time of vanishing civil liberties, in the fresh echo of “Drill, Baby, Drill”? That really seems premature.

And so does despair. “Far more people take care of each other than take advantage of each other.” That’s true enough, isn’t it? Is it an authentic underpinning of hope? Is the future of “community” bright enough?

Could be. You wouldn’t bet, would you, that the next chapter by the author of The Age of Missing Information, on the Internet, will be any brighter? But that’s the thing about the future (and it’s also my favorite word in English, as it was Joaquin Andujar’s): Youneverknow.

We are “the lucky ones.” Happy Thanksgiving! Pay it forward