Remember the Titanic
“It doesn’t make sense. If all the stuff happening in my little
world appears to be working just fine, how can the larger
system be in a state of collapse?”
One of the challenges of our time is to explain how the machinery of advanced western industrial/technological societies ’appears’ to be functioning so well and at the same time we find ourselves at the epicentre of another major extinction event. To some it would seem absurd to suggest these two seemingly contradictory realities are directly linked and even causal to each other. Here we have the Sixth Great Extinction with all its dire implication unfolding as we speak and at the same time many citizens who reside, for example, in the town I live in go about their daily doings, their comings and goings as if nothing was amiss.
Let’s examine once more the allegory (Chapter Two of ‘Western Thought and the Dynamics of a Train Wreck’) of a high-balling diesel locomotive – with a long train of over-loaded passenger cars – careening around a sharp bend and milliseconds away from hurtling off the tracks and into the ditch below. The concept is simple enough and provides an apt metaphor that helps explain the dilemma we hyper-humans have created for both ourselves and the rest of the biosphere. Factoring the laws of velocity, curvature of the track, centrifugal force and gravity into the above scenario, anyone with some degree of logic and overview would calculate that a major train wreck is about to happen. And yet for the tiny machine parts and components buried deep within the larger mechanism – who do not have that overview – everything seems to be working perfectly…nothing is out of place…nothing is amiss.
If one were somehow able to communicate with any of a number of tiny, insignificant machine parts, say a screw, a washer, a bolt or a nut and inform them that the diesel locomotive to which they are attached is in fact currently in the process of leaving the tracks and headed for the ditch and certain disaster, what might their response be?
This same question could be posed in a different setting, this time to average citizens going about their average day in an average town or city in an average western-type democracy. The mechanisms are distinctly different but the scenarios are uncannily the same. In the first example the tiny machine parts are busily going about their business, performing their little tasks deep within the mechanical complexities of the larger machine. They lack the overview or perspective needed to see what is happening on the ‘big picture’ scale of things and would probably scoff at any talk or suggestion of an imminent train wreck. Why? Because at that precise moment and from their limited sphere of awareness, everything ‘appears’ to be working fine….the engine is humming right along, the wheels are greased and singing, the fuel tank is full, the electrical circuits and gauges are all working properly and the distracted engineer has his headphones cranked way up. The busy little machine parts, oblivious to the greater dynamics of velocity, curvature, centrifugal force and gravity affecting the careening locomotive have become, at that precise moment, unfortunate and unwitting participants in a major tragedy.
We citizens of bustling towns and cities across this land share a similar fate. Like busy little bees we run around doing whatever we do, performing and re-performing whatever task or ritual we did yesterday, the day before and the day before that. Our obsessive preoccupation with our little ‘doings’, our little ‘comings and goings’ is a constant source of distraction and does not afford us an overview of the bigger issues of the day like climate change, the global fresh water crisis, habitat loss or impending extinction. If someone were to stop us long enough to pose the above question; what do you think about the fact that the planet is currently in the throes of another major extinction event, what might our response be? Our general response would likely be (as in the case of the locomotive’s machine parts) to scoff at the mere suggestion of extinction or collapse. Why? Because at that precise moment the regional ‘system’ – within which we ourselves are nothing more than tiny ‘machine parts’ – appears to be working just fine. Most of us have a job, a car, a house, money in the bank, nice family, nice kids, lots of friends, we ski, golf, go to hockey games, we shop, drink lots of coffee, chatter incessantly, take out the garbage, surf the web, have sex, support charities, pay our bills, deal with domestic problems, volunteer, send our kids to school, hike and socialize, jet south for vacation, etc. How preposterous, to suggest we might be in the midst of some global catastrophe when everything in our little world is obviously going so well.
When, on its maiden voyage, the infamous Titanic sideswiped the ice burg in the early hours of April 14, 1912 a similar scenario began to play itself out. When word began to filter out that the ‘unsinkable’ vessel had been hit and was in trouble, many of the passengers shrugged it off as a joke and went on with their little ‘doings’, their ‘coming and goings’. How preposterous, to suggest the world’s largest and safest ocean liner could sink on its maiden voyage. Many passengers continued partying and carousing… and the band played on.
March 10th, 2018