It is about what some people do when they feel their existence is at stake.
I have been struck by the juxtaposition of the stance of two large slices of the human race who perceive such a threat, both of which I have discussed from time to time in this series.
* There are those—in the US and elsewhere—who feel that their world is crumbling: that the components and structures by which they define themselves are going away. This group encompasses those who have traditionally held significant power in society, often based on race, gender, or economic status, as well as those who may lack any such significant power, but still feel their identity is tied up with the societal and epistemological status quo.
* There are those—in the US and elsewhere—whose world is crumbling: that the current levels and momentum of human disruption of the planetary environment will lead to the deaths of large swaths of humans, as well as other species over the next decades or century.
The first group is not (uniquely) physically at risk; but their conception of who they are and how they fit into the world is being pressured by societal changes, including demographics, unfamiliar language and semantics, new social values, and competition for power/wealth/status. The acceleration of change—a hallmark of modernity for the past 250 years—is bewildering and unsettling.
The second group is (although not uniquely) physically at risk. Many in this group understand, at least in broad terms, the threat to the planet and the species. They accept the premises of science and generally have confidence in the processes and methods by which a dismal forecast might be proffered. Some in this group, for a wide variety of reasons, are unaware of the probable outcome of humanity’s current course; sometimes due to lack of education or current information, sometimes (which includes much of the first group) because of nescience (i.e., intentional ignorance or the closed mindedness of denial).
Many in the first group are marshaling their considerable resources, including physical demonstrations and political engagement, to hold back the tide of social change. They seem to be ready to dispose of the nominally bedrock norms of behavior, including respect for law, fairness, due process and the essential social glue of democratic societies. They are “all in.” Within their worldview, this makes sense. The Constitution (the social contract) is not a suicide pact. Lesser norms must be sacrificed to preserve survival. In a particular and tightly-framed way, I admire their clarity of thought and their willingness to take action to preserve themselves (even as I disagree with most of their premises and fears).
Of the second group, at least those who are aware and are in a political and financial position to take more than cursory or minimal actions in response, only a few seem to have the same “fire in the belly.” Most of them, even as they recognize the risk and proclaim their rationalism and their humanism, do little…or nothing.
Those in the first group misperceive (in my view) the nature and extent of the risk they face; calling it existential. But, having done so, they act drastically, and, arguably, “improperly,” “illegally” (with due citations to the ideas of Jefferson and the practice of Lincoln), and “wrongly.” But at least they act to defend themselves and the world as they perceive it.
Most in the (aware portion of) second group perceives (accurately in my view) the nature and extent of the risk they (we!) face, calling it existential. But, having done so, act incrementally, in accordance with political niceties and legal standards in the hope that it will all work out or, at least, that the damage will be limited to others or that they will be dead (by natural causes) before things get brutally bad.
I’m not sure exactly how to conclude this discussion of two groups; but I am struck by their intimate parallels. It would be a fine thing if both groups were to change their stances. History, however, doesn’t give us lots of encouraging examples in this regard. Indeed, of such impasses, revolutions are made.