“I, of course, saw my death before I died, though by then it is true, I could not stop it, I’d already walked into the accident knowingly, but, by the time it was about to happen, I and the others had completely set our course; there was no outcome other than my death.”—Rachel Levitsky, The Story of My Accident Is Ours
The question hit me while I was walking up Flatbush Avenue past the festival of boom concrete pumps and overbearing construction cranes that is downtown Brooklyn in 2014: can one picture a plausible Earth on which attention has been given to limiting violent and destructive behavior, such that the world itself has ceased to be in imminent danger of dying, being killed—yet without supposing that this has become an ideal world, a world magically and improbably “cured” of age-old human wickedness? (If the answer is “no,” it’s curtains….)
In other words, does something called “human nature” plus advanced technical know-how inevitably equal species suicide? Or might we, at this late date, still radically reform our self-destructive institutions, not by virtue of some extraordinary wisdom and preternaturally enhanced ethical moxie that human beings do not now and never have possessed, but rather out of the really existing stuff of our actual lives, chock full of flawed perceptions and mixed motives?
Having come this far, can we imagine a normally fucked-up world, one that isn’t always courting some total death experience? Or is that marvel a thing of the past, leaving us to pull up our socks and resign ourselves to living under the sign of species suicide for however long it takes before the inevitable occurs?
Isn’t it absurd? A campaign to reorganize social and political life around the value of substantially enhancing the probability that the human species will be able to avoid extinction appears, at first glance, to set the bar pretty low–and yet we are nowhere near even undertaking the preliminaries to the creation of a basic harm reduction program for the planet.
More than ever—given the harrowing prospect of climate collapse, and so many other outrages from the totally inadequate U.S. response to Ebola in West Africa to Obama’s new/rebooted war in Iraq and Syria–I feel that the question of a collective “death drive” and the unfolding of a meditation on the nature of human consciousness in light of the ongoing fact of our compliant willingness to live “under the sign of species suicide” are the places where I might have something to contribute. This is the large matter that so few care to examine, even as increasing attention is paid to the menace of climate change, much of it marked by serious organizing efforts, alongside frivolous doses of Apocalypse Chic. Re the latter: this snippet from last week’s New York Times (a feature called Great Homes and Destinations):
NEW ORLEANS–Dawn DeDeaux has been thinking a lot about the apocalypse, and she’d like to get you in the mood, too.
“MotherShip,” her installation for Prospect.3, this town’s international biennial (which, in typical New Orleans fashion, has rolled around not quite on schedule), proposes an exit strategy from planet Earth. Ms. DeDeaux, a mixed-media artist, said she has taken to heart Stephen Hawking’s prediction that earthlings have 100 years left before the planet gives out. Opening Oct. 25, and set in an abandoned, roofless warehouse with trees growing through it, the installation will have recorded music by George Clinton and Sun Ra, giant steel rings that suggest those made for the zeppelins of yore, ladders and stacked chairs as a galactic assist, and places to store your mementos and Ms. DeDeaux’s. These last items will be souvenirs of Earth, answers to the question “If the world is ending, and you get to leave, what might you bring with you?”
What does it mean to imagine a harm reduction schedule that might bolster the collective security of the species, no doubt at some cost to the perceived security of nationalist subsets thereof, and in defiance of entrenched opposition from the privileged castes and classes whose mad quest to perpetuate themselves as elites is killing the world? Harm reduction on what basis? For whom? How enforced, how motivated? Underwritten by what structures?
Suppose the world is ending and you don’t get to leave. How will you answer?