If only I had as much philosophical certitude on the fundamental questions posed by the Anthropocene as writer Roy Scranton. Author of the book “Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization,” the kind-of-follow-up book “We’re Doomed. Now What?: Essays on War and Climate Change,” and a recent article in The Baffler that thumped me but offered some concluding purpose, he’s at the Jonathan Franzen/David Wallace-Wells end of the bouncy-versus-nihilistic spectrum. So should I read his new Lit Hub article “Narrative in the Anthropocene is the enemy“? I’m no deep philosopher but have decided to face reality squarely, so of course I sink into his pyrotechnic prose:
Narrative is the enemy. … Let us be clear about our situation. We live in the early stages of a global ecological collapse that will make much of the equatorial region and most seaboards unlivable, cause widespread famine and political conflict, generate mass human death and mass non-human extinction, and return human life to the abject submission to natural disaster which was its state prior to industrialization. We face the probable collapse of civilization as we know it within decades and the possible extinction of the human species within centuries. The idea that human culture will persist into the future in any recognizable state is a conceit which no longer bears examining, for to even ask the question of what the future holds today is to face an abyss of suffering that defies all reasonable thought.
Gulp. Our typical responses, Scranton avers, whether from denialists or my XR brethren, are stories we tell, stories that mean nothing. This time Scranton proffers just ” a margin of agency wherein narrative could be seen as shaping our decisions in the future.” Me, I clutch at a simple “act or sink” existentialist beacon, so I can only marvel at Scranton’s prose and guess at what its eventual impact on me will be.