Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Enabling Life

My latest book, Death Stoppers Anthology, takes its name from a poem I wrote a few years ago called Death Stoppers that is included in the book. After writing the poem, I wrote a blog post that delved into some of its meaning; and in the new book's memoir section, I concluded that it embodies perhaps the best strategy for dealing with the global threat of ecological catastrophe that years of research has forced me to accept. Perhaps even more important for me personally, and others who may also be drawn toward depression after coming to terms with our situation, it presents a vision of what success might look like – something that can motivate us and serve as a source of hope while we do the hard work ahead.

Yesterday I had some time to appreciate some of the natural beauty around me, which here on the Front Range of Colorado is as easy as focusing on the Rockies that frame half our view. After recent snowfall, the mountains are particularly stunning, a stark overlay of both the immediate past and the distant past that both relaxes and challenges the mind. It occurred to me, not for the first time, that I have spent an unhealthy fraction of my life obsessed with finding and characterizing problems, and not enough time finding and characterizing – and more importantly, experiencing – the good, in people as well as the rest of Nature. Preserving, enhancing, and proliferating that good, and providing opportunities for good that we have yet to know, is, when we value life above and beyond (while including) our own, what "death stopping" enables.

When we see ourselves as "life enablers," then both our guiding value, and what we must do to honor that value, are crystallized around a vision of the kind of world we want to be part of. Death Stoppers ends with my take on that vision:

Disaster was averted
Death slowed to a crawl
Love and health became the rule
The team became us all.

The "team," of course, is the group of people who facilitate the changes that make that vision a reality, and ultimately we all must maintain it.

The rest of the poem deals with how that can be achieved, beginning with shaming those people who "didn't share... Who raped the land for fun and gain... And cared not what was fair." Sadly such people exist; but in a social environment such as our present one, where the values that cast their behavior as bad are eroded or absent, and where, increasingly, the amoral, homicidal, and ultimately suicidal philosophy that "might makes right" dominates, resistance cannot be unified and have a decent chance of prevailing. In the poem, the team understands this, and chooses to set an example at great personal risk: "To stop the death that threatened all... Without a shred of fear." Shaming is one way to have a discussion about values, by introducing them explicitly as a reason for observable action (which is focused on stopping behavior), but such a discussion can also be facilitated by celebrating existing examples of how the alternative, preferred values translate into experience we might (and I believe most of us would) want more.

In my recent post "Evaluating Competition," I laid out a case for assessing the values that are embodied in a competition's goals, rules, and full set of consequences in order to decide whether the competition is worth our participation and our society's support. Death Stoppers displays an application of this, where the team rejects those aspects of economic competition that value the happiness of a minority over long-term fairness and survival for the majority. The team is initially assisted by many others because their individual happiness has suffered, and it must demonstrate healthy replacements for the needs that the current competition serves before its values can be fully accepted and incorporated into a longer-lasting way of living (the economic aspects of which were described in my post "Spaceship Finance").

I hold on to some hope that this process can be hastened by the shortcut of engaging people's imaginations and reasoning through words and images that simulate what living might be like in alternative futures that are based on the exercise of different values. Making them believable depends upon another major requirement for a healthy world, common (and accurate) understanding that enables both quality communication and credibility. Working on such a shortcut is one of my main motivations for pursuing a writing business, which along with my research has only now set the stage for it. Since I have limited personal resources, and because I'm frankly worn out by dwelling on the problem of apocalyptic futures, I intend to focus on describing the consequences of success in enabling life, as well as the good in the here-and-now that I was luckily reminded of yesterday.

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