This month, May, 2019, the UN is going to release a companion study to its harrowing global climate change study, in which a group of hundreds of climatologists memorialized the obvious. Unless there is a universal and immediate cessation of our carbon-based economy, we'll broil ourselves out of existence by as early as 2100. Bad enough. Worse, is the that report to come chronicles the end of nature. Literally. Let that roll around in your heads. The end of nature.
Not that anyone should be surprised. Thanks to endless technological advances and our unparalleled ability to create viable worlds completely detached and disconnected from natural forces, we've acted like an incurable virus on the Body Planet. It's not just fossil fuel or carbon. It's the fundamentals of how exist as humans as clear pathogens to this planet. Sealed off by wood and stucco. Getting water out of a tap, meat from under plastic and vegetables from a bin--we're completely disconnected from supply, process and demand. Looking at cities and towns from a jetliner, it's not too hard to abstract them into fever blisters on a verdant body--and they're expanding and metastasizing at a record rate. Bigger is better, more is better--it's in our DNA. The fact that we've devolved into nothing but a consumer species says it all.
Dahr Jamail is a well respected war correspondent, who chronicled the climate crisis as if it were a live war zone in his book, The End of Ice. He offered this summary in a recent interview,
“A willingness to live without hope allows me to accept the heartbreaking truth of our situation, however calamitous it is. Grieving for what is happening to the planet also now brings me gratitude for the smallest, most mundane things,” Jamail explains. “I have found that it’s possible to reach a place of acceptance and inner peace, while enduring the grief and suffering that are inevitable as the biosphere declines.”
Good for Dahr. Seriously. But I haven't.
I'm still raging and working through a deep despair that is at the core of my work these days. It's nothing new for me. When I was 7 years old, I saw photos of whales being slaughtered on whaling vessels and was so horrified, I wrote a letter to complain to President Kennedy (yup, I'm old) and got a vapid response back. This sounds so NorCal, airy-fairy, but I've had a deep, profound and specific connection to nature for as along as I've been a conscious being. Which is painfully ironic given that professionally I've been central to launching all kinds of new technologies that eat valuable resources and reinforce our hostility and otherness to the natural world. Satellite TV. Computers. VCRs. Audio. Digital movies. Video games. The DVD platform. Cable & TV networks. Portable storage and hard drives. E-commerce platforms. AI and VR technologies and platforms. My garage is a veritable museum of evolutionary media technologies. Mea culpa.
As I watch personal technology and social media rip through the fabric of our morality and norms; watch people obliviously walk into oncoming traffic and walls with j-shaped, white headsets dribbling out of their ears; listen to billionaire heads of social platforms blink in stunned wonder as to how their global "town square" could be possibly co-opted by bad people for their own ends; and cringe as a two-bit, obvious carnival con Tweets himself into a potential dictatorship of "the shining city on a hill," the disconnect becomes even more clear. Technology circles the globe with the equivalent of capillaries, arteries and veins, but it has no blood. It has rigid algorithmic structures that are built exclusively on binary declarations of on-off, pass-fail, good-evil, but it has no bones. There's no life within, only a relentless metabolism of eyeless and impulsive public expression and runaway commercial sales.
Given my past and present, I'm by no means a Luddite nor is this an apology. In the grand scheme of things, I'm not that important and others have and would have gleefully done the work I did. But it has animated a compulsion to express how I feel about it.
Which is what "Fraught" is ultimately all about. It's about the distortion of technology and our "humanness" us and on the world. I wrote previously that I'm "stuck in ugly" in my work--as much as I'd love to photograph a serenely placid lake, I'm not drawn to it. These are ugly times. And I feel like I'm running out of runway and that I can't stand in the way of this avalanche of feelings that's roaring through me at the moment. If not now, when? If not me, whom?
At the end of the day, my work points to aberration. We don't seem to belong here. Nothing we do or value seems to comport with the values of nature. We crave the naturally impossible. There is no symmetry in nature. No straight lines. Yet we proclaim symmetrical faces and designs as beautiful and create structures that are rigidly line-straight and at right-angles to each other. We have no natural limitation on quantities or balance. We'll take everything we can get every time, and not leave anything for anyone or anything else. We kill for sport or for no reason at all--others have written about these things more forcefully and specifically than I possibly can. We might have 99% of our DNA in common with Chimps and even dogs. But our brains are profoundly different, and so is our behavior.
"Fraught" rips the masks off, and shows the tension. Bleak? Yep. Misanthropic? Maybe. But perhaps there's some redemption in this, some way to connect cause and effect and at least raise some awareness that will let our "better angels" take flight. If we have them...