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I have been suggesting that an awareness of our future ruins harms
the very substance of our present activities. Does it follow that we should
simply give up, abandon all our efforts, renounce the world, and live in
a kind of catatonic despair? Why not just stop all our labors and lie pas-
sively on the sofa? hat would hardly be a solution; before long, the guy
on the sofa would wonder how to get food to eat, how to keep the roof
over his head, and how to satisfy other basic physical needs. If he truly
gave up taking care of himself, eventually his friends would have to do so
for him. He'd become a pain to everybody he knew. However great our
awareness of what may come, the basic imperatives of life demand that
we carry on. In fact, the more we deny those imperatives, the more we
tacitly acknowledge them: you can't deliberately ignore something unless
you already know it is there. Even the guy on the sofa has to acknowledge
that life goes on.
Would it work, then, to embrace our everyday lives with a vengeance,
as if to escape our knowledge in doing so? Why not respond to our
dilemma by saying, “I'll just keep working until the waters rise up and
carry me away”? But if a person makes this declaration, she would show
that she values activity for its own sake, not for any purpose it might
serve. She might hope to prove that she will not submit, that she can con-
quer any despair. While such a choice reveals a certain courage, it too is
ultimately desperate, for rather than truly responding to the conditions
around her and adjusting her life accordingly, she would atempt to value
what she knows is futile. Although ignoring climate change might seem
to protect her from it, the uselessness of her efforts would necessarily
strike her from time to time, especially when she relaxes from her heroic
strain, and since she had not created a viable response to it other than
sheer stubborn effort, it would hit her with special force. Pure stubborn-
ness is no beter a response than passive despair.
The difficulty of our situation only becomes clear if we realize that the
future is in ruins and that life goes on. As a result, even if we are aware
that the blow has been struck, even if we live in knowledge instead of
ignorance, we find ourselves having to live on as if nothing has changed:
that knowledge, it seems, does not alter the basic challenges of everyday
life, the ordinary tasks of doing our work, taking care of our loved ones,
and planning for the future. The contradiction is stark, inconquerable.
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