Anecdotage #6: The heart of the matter

I don’t have to reiterate that we are living in perilous times; everyone except Trump knows that by now.  We get daily disaster reports in the form of charts, satellite images, videos and reams of statistics. I wake up every day thinking, gee, I wonder what fresh mayhem they’ll dish up today, and I am almost sorry when it’s just a minor bomb in Britain or a smaller Hurricane in the Caribbean. One grows used to the daily disaster feed; it is now the norm. I watch myself not getting overly excited and I wonder, what is missing here? I should be feeling something, shouldn’t I? Where is my heart in all this?

Heart. It’s a word few politicians and pundits use these days. And it’s a rare quality online. What do I mean? I mean a willingness to show human emotion in the face of overwhelming, terrible events, such as the ongoing extinction. It is generally reported with statistics and pronouncements from scientific sources, and that is that. We do not weep for extinct animals; we only weep for ourselves when a disaster hits. But maybe we don’t fully grasp the extent to which we are embedded in nature and with those animals that are disappearing. Maybe our built-in hubris, our short-term thinking, and our unacknowledged history of destroying the natural world get in the way.

That is the theme On the Road to Extinction: Maybe It’s Not Always About Us, an article in the online, hard left publication, Counterpunch.

The author, Elizabeth West,  points out how blindly anthropogenic our approach to the ongoing sixth extinction on our planet is. But what really sets this brilliant piece apart is its courage to show some heart. At the end, West says this:

…I invite you to join me in taking a few minutes to honor and mourn those who have died in this summer’s conflagrations and deluges. And she’s not talking about humans.

How refreshing. How unusual. I wrote to her, citing my delight at finding a piece about the natural world that shows heartfelt emotion. We got into a conversation about how public figures, including high-profile ones like Naomi Klein, tend to downplay the emotional content in favour if coming across as scientifically and personally ‘credible’. West got dozens of replies to her article, but nobody except me noticed the ‘heart’ part, she said. How strange, and yet how predictable. Showing ‘heart’ is not on our radar, even if it’s done with grace and style as West is doing.  If you want to be taken seriously, especially as a woman, for heaven’s sake, don’t show any emotion–they might decide you’re simply another ‘hysterical’ female.

Indeed, all of what we now know about fast approaching Climate Chaos is generally couched in dry, abstract, unemotional language.  For example, The International Panel on Climate Change reports make for dull, difficult reading because they refuse to make the reports more readable for a lay audience. It is part and parcel of a wider trend whose end result is language so devoid of any human emotion that only scientists and other specialists will actually read and comprehend the message. It is all done in the service of ‘objectivity’, but given the dire state of our planet, I believe this language doesn’t serve us and in fact, muddies the message to the point of ‘so what’. Barring notable exceptions like Jim Hanson, who was jailed for speaking plainly and with emotion about the Climate Change disaster while still an employee of NASA, showing one’s heart, wearing one’s emotions on one’s official sleeve is considered dubious if not downright dangerous, as numerous other scientists have discovered. They are only human, they need their jobs, so they stick to the careful, unemotional script. Let’s not get too dramatic seems to be the underlying attitude; let’s not scare anyone.

But if we’re not scared of our own stupidity and hubris, we will get this horribly wrong. We will fail to halt a disaster that is moving so fast we can’t keep up.

On the subjects of climate change, extinctions, pollution, coral bleaching, you name it, fear of emotion is holding us back from saying what needs to be said. Where are the writers who can galvanize us? Where are the poets to express our pain at the shredded connection to Nature? Where are the politicians who have the courage to be blunt? We need them all to tell us what is going on. Scientific data doesn’t engage us, we know that much. And we’re all in this together, humans, animals, plants–the entire planet–we could lose it all. Everything is in play; time is running out. Where is our heart in all of this, I ask you.


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