On Hope, Civilization, and Walking Blind

If like me, you are hovering in the dark spaces between Kubler Ross’s bargaining, depression and acceptance, there is some comfort to be had in the words of Elizabeth West, in Abandon All Hope!. West boldly implores us to “abandon all hope that we can make things ‘right’ and give up the fear of what happens next.” I think I have the former part down; it’s the latter I am having trouble with.

There is not one single bolt, nut, knob or straw comprising the foundation of my day-to-day existence that does not depend upon the (collective) assumption that the future will resemble –for the most part– the present.

Many of us in the industrialized world take for granted that we will continue to enjoy all the current “conveniences” civilization offers us. Things like education, health care, prescription drugs, supermarkets, paved roads, phones, cars, buses, email, houses, etc. We assume a continuous, shared belief and agreement in such concepts as law, justice and order, amongst others. At the very least, we assume the basics: food, water, air. Each other. And we march onward, as if.

This assumption is in direct conflict with a dark undercurrent of fear that doggedly gnaws at me daily; I know very well the future does not look like the present.

But because I don’t know what the future will look like, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to prepare, how to get ready, how to survive. I don’t even know if survival is possible. And this not knowing– this is makes me most afraid.

If only we knew what it was to be. Will it be the guillotine or will it be prolonged suffering in a torture chamber of disease and unspeakable violence? Will we starve? Will there be animals? Will there be water? Will there be radiation sickness? Will we be alone? Will we have tribes? Will our children die in front of us? Will we die in front of our children?

All I know is all roads lead to a hard geography, a reality of scope and dimension we cannot fathom. We are truly the walking blind.

Lack of hope is an ugly thing. Surely denial would be better, “a form of fearing and avoiding the truth [that] keeps us from cracking up, giving up. It stands between us and the unbearable.” But once the curtain has been pulled back, once a sightline to the “little man behind the curtain, pulling strings” has been established, returning to the false safety of denial is impossible. It is no stretch to say that the current state of xenophobia racking our world, one in which those seeking refuge from domiciles which do not enjoy the same benefits of civilization that we do are denied entry into ours, whether by walls or by ideology, is an obvious effort to maintain the false safety of denial.

The knowledge that immigration policy means nothing in a world that depends upon civilization for the word “policy” to have meaning, the knowledge that no matter what we do, we will not achieve “long-term security and comfort… economic or racial justice or equality, [we] will not stop the ice sheets from melting or the radioactive Fukushima-spiked water flowing into the sea” is a hard one.

If you feel this way, know that I am with you. Know that like you, I go on pretending. I get up in the morning. I go to work. I put money into my retirement account. I fix up my house. I send and receive emails. I march against injustice. I go to conferences. I write. I worry. And slowly, with the help of a few others, whose bravery and kindness I cannot even begin to convey in words, I grieve. I turn, and I gaze full into the unknown face of the future – I feel, quite palpably, the knowledge that human extinction is a very real and probable outcome. And I hope, as I grieve, I can let go of a “desired end” and “the fear which accompanies any threat to it.”

By releasing all “attempts to control something which is no longer in our hands” I hope to feel the “liberating boldness, permission to live without attachment to outcomes.”

In other words: acceptance.

I am not quite there yet. I am guessing few of us are. In the meantime, we still have each other.

If you are interested in possibly joining me (and others) in an unrecorded, virtual discussion about the existential threats we face, get in touch. My email is jodishaw at mac dot com

And don’t forget you can respond publicly to this post in the comments field.


Jodi Shaw is a librarian and writer living in Massachusetts. She is the Coordinator of the ALA Sustainability Round Table. 

6 thoughts on “On Hope, Civilization, and Walking Blind”

  1. Thank you for your post, Jodi. I hear your range of emotions, the discomfort and grief and more.

    It seems to me that we are in “the space between the stories,” as explained by Charles Eisenstein. He continues that our civilization is entering a profound transition. The old world isn’t coming back, but the new one hasn’t arrived yet either. And that only from the emptiness, the letting go, the unknowing of this state can something truly new emerge (charleseisenstein.net/courses/space-between-stories).

    This I too believe.

    And yes (!) to a SustainRT virtual discussion to explore these questions in our community of practice.

  2. Thank you, Jodi for writing this. Aspects of what you have written about cross my mind every single day! And as I look for indicators of climate change, I try to imagine what they portend on what kind of timeline.

    Here in Denver we have been blessed with rain this April and foliage and flowers are busting out all over the metro area. But where are the bees? My honeysuckle shrub is normally buzzing with hundreds of bees at this time of year. I saw two yesterday. My heart is heavy and fear gnaws at my soul.

    I am recognizing that mindfulness is really something that I need to cultivate. The way forward is through connecting with others with kindness and compassion and accepting the impermanence of everything including our species (and many others). If I can figure out a way to hold joy and gratitude for what is in the present moment along with my knowledge of the future “death” of beings and biological systems I love perhaps I can find a way to navigate today and tomorrow with an open heart.

  3. Thanks for the thought provoking post, Jodi, as I sit here on this blisteringly hot day and think “is this the new normal?” I fear the change has already happened but we just don’t know it yet. I am glad to know there are others who think like me that I can cling to when the waters inevitably rise

  4. I appreciate that you’ve illuminated so much for us as well as highlighted the value of sharing about all this via social media. I’m going to reiterate here now my response to your SustainRT Facebook post: Wonderful delivery, Jodi! You’ve shared some pretty profound insight with us, thank you. If I’m able to fit it into my schedule, I’d love to join the conversation

  5. Although I understand the feelings being shared in this conversation, having felt them myself, I believe there is reason to hope for the future, for there is much that we can learn and do to contribute toward a positive solution for the many challenges related to climate change. As a librarian I think it is up to us to educate ourselves and our communities about what positive steps can be taken, both individually and corporately. There are many organizations working on solutions and helping to clarify the issues feeding into the problem. I recently completed an excellent course on food systems and public health from Johns Hopkins and learned how a diet dominated by meat and dairy, supported by industrial agriculture, contributes to a great deal of greenhouse gas emissions, environmental pollution, poor health among farm workers, rural poverty and loss of family farms due to monoculture. Our food choices can contribute to the problem.

    I’ve discovered universities that are actively involved in teaching environmental literacy to better prepare students for the future such as UC Santa Cruz (https://casfs.ucsc.edu) and organizations such as the Center for Ecoliteracy (https://www.ecoliteracy.org/about), InTeGrate (https://serc.carleton.edu/integrate/workshops/sustainability2012/courses/borsari.html), Path to Positive Communities ( http://pathtopositive. org/about-path-to-positive-communities), the Community Alliance for Agroecology (http://allianceforagroecology.org/agroecology-1/), and international organizations to local food projects, all of whom are actively engaged in workable solutions.

    So there is hope!

  6. Jodi’s post inspired the SustainRT Membership Committee to organize “Getting Real with SustainRT” on Fri. 6/29 12-1pmEST.

    Zoom link: https://umass-amherst.zoom.us/j/242923507

    Join this unrecorded conversation, a rare opportunity, to share our deeper thoughts/emotions about climate change. Inspired by a blog post SustainRT Coordinator Jodi Shaw, we will use a few prompts to guide us. Some of us feel frozen, overwhelmed by the topic. Authentic exchanges can help us unfreeze, connect, and move into more action. While just listening is fine, we’ll ask each person to “check in” at the beginning and “check out” at the end. Free and open to all.

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