Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Losing the War

We fight many battles in our lifetimes, some of them external, many more internal. We see perceived injustice – the world not operating the way we want it to – and we attack. Sometimes those battles are more easily understood than others: like WWI and WWII.

Sometimes the battles – particularly the internal ones – are harder to understand.

Why am I not full after eating half a pizza? Why do I yearn for yet another pair of shoes? Why do I feel unsatisfied with my life?

One battle (or perhaps, war) we can’t escape is over climate change. Why do some folks insist that the planet isn’t warming? Or insist that even if it is, human actions have nothing to do with it? I think it’s because people are comfortable within a certain range of ideas, and the notion that running one’s air conditioner at 68 degrees can somehow melt a glacier in Greenland seems ludicrous.

Plus, people have been screaming about the sky falling for years (decades, even) and nothing really bad has happened so far – at least nothing that scientists are willing to pin on global warming exclusively. Too many of us don’t see what the long-term problem is. “So what,” they say. “We’ll figure out a solution when we have to – and not before.”

This leads some of us to want to do battle. While the rest of us look around and say, “What the hell are you talking about? You’re an idiot. Things are fine.”

The Olmec said that. So did the Nabateans, the Aksumites and the Mycenaeans. And the Anasazi. Empires all, once upon a time. Now all gone.

Some of those people left their societies, recognizing the inevitability of collapse. Others stayed and fought until the end, hoping to save their culture, their fellow citizens. But at some point, the end became known to all but the deluded. Their world was dying and they could no longer save it, so those few who remained, those few still alive, were finally forced to move on.

I fear in many ways that we have reached that point. The end is known, at least by some of us. We have fought the battles and lost. We can continue the fight, hoping that this isn’t the end, but we know, deep down, that it is. We’re too late. We offer too little in the way of achievable solutions.

And this time there is nowhere to run. Our planet is full. We can’t just pack up and head to some undiscovered country where we can settle down and start anew. So do we keep fighting? And if so, how do we do it? Many of our fellow citizens don’t know what we’re upset about. They don’t see the decay. They think we’re like the old Greeks who lamented the youngsters disrupting their glorious empire.

Only those old Greeks were sort of right. That empire died out centuries ago. Yes, there’s still a country called Greece, but it’s no empire.

A call to violence seems too extreme. But civil discourse and peaceful protest seem to get us nowhere. Maybe the death of empires is inevitable. Maybe fighting against that kind of decline only results in frustration at our impotence. Maybe we should just accept that it’s too late to win the war.

But the smaller battles still rage around us. How do we continue the fight? One battle at a time, I suppose. One battle at a time.


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