People living in otherwise cool climates in the Northern Hemisphere have suddenly found themselves, day after day, faced with the need to escape the repetitively oppressive heat.
When temperatures in traditionally temperate climates soar day after day to well over 30°C and sometimes over 40°C, the average citizen, whether at work or on vacation, seeks the means to escape the intense heat. Since June, much of the Northern Hemisphere has been undergoing an exceptional heatwave.
We sometimes need to be reminded that the weather should never be confused with the climate, but as one expert explains, “The logic that climate change will do this is inescapable — the world is becoming warmer, and so heatwaves like this are becoming more common.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Not allowing the one thing all people in the modern world want most of all: to leave the environment they are condemned to live in, in the uncomfortable knowledge that they created it themselves
“Inescapable” describes the psychological state of people who feel trapped in an environment they cannot control and from which there is no place to run. This appears to be a deeply embedded and growing trend of modern Western civilization. Several developments have contributed to this rapidly evolving psychological state, such as the exponentially growing means of digital surveillance compromising our sense of privacy or the perceived failure of democratic institutions to take into account the expressed needs of ordinary people. Above all stands the specific example of climate change, threatening to make the planet uninhabitable.
People living in otherwise cool climates have suddenly found themselves, day after day, faced with the need to escape the repetitively oppressive heat. Increasingly aware that this trend is amplifying and imperiling their (and even more seriously their children’s) lives, the feeling of a need to escape has become a permanent feature of their lives. The same growing sense of powerlessness with regard to political events beyond their control has driven a growing number of people to escape into the blissful peace of opioids.
When Elon Musk and the late Stephen Hawking have spoken in recent times about the need to colonize other planets, they justify it in part by technological ambition (Musk) but also by the conviction that planet Earth is doomed. With a billionaire’s smile on his face, Musk can hobnob with the captains of industry and finance, plotting out the profitable industrial activities that will ensure the health of the techno-economy and permit those in control of that economy to plan their future after the fateful moment when civilization breaks down under the pressure of climate change and the revolts it will provoke.
Douglas Rushkoff, a professor and technology columnist for The Daily Beast, recounts how a group of investment bankers recently hired him to help them understand the future of technology. One “CEO of a brokerage house” who built an underground bunker system for his future safety asked, “How do I maintain authority over my security force after the Event?” “The Event,” as Rushkoff explains, “was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest … that takes everything down.”
Four hundred years ago, the pious English poet, George Herbert, in his poem, “The Pulley,” identified a feature of European civilization that he called “repining restlessness.” He attributed it to a conscious strategy of the God of creation to deprive humanity of the ability to just let things go and rest, as humans push themselves always to achieve more.
Herbert, the country curate, thus invented a divine justification for the culture of capitalist industry that was beginning to emerge in England. In the poem, his God, speaking of man, intones: “Let him be rich and weary, that at least, / If goodness lead him not, yet weariness / May toss him to my breast.”
The poet seems to acknowledge that this industrial ambition is neither motivated by “goodness” nor productive of it. At the same time, Herbert predicts that as the industrious man pushes his ambition further and further, his effort will eventually weary him, to the point that he will wish to escape to God’s “breast.” The inescapable logic of Western civilization and technological progress can only lead to a final wish to escape.
Rushkoff sums up what the investment bankers who asked for his advice were thinking: “They were preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape.”
Even those — admittedly not led by “goodness” — whose vast fortunes are nevertheless secure, fret over the one ultimate issue: How they can use their wealth today to escape tomorrow’s common doom. But this time it is through expenditure on their personal security, not be being “tossed” to God’s breast.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.