Building a New World Out of the Ashes of the Old

by on November 4, 2019 · 1 comment

in Under the Perfect Sun

By Jim Miller

One day last week, I was sitting at a table in a public space in San Diego doing political advocacy around education funding.  And while the young activists I was with had a productive day and talked to a good number of engaged citizens, the thing that stood out to them the most, the thing we joked about, was the “zombie walk.”

This was the blank-faced, numb carriage of the majority of people closed off by ear buds or zoned out on their phones who couldn’t be bothered to even grant us (or anyone else for that matter) human recognition.

We were dead to them as they were to themselves.

That’s what you notice if you spend a lot of time watching people in public.  It’s not that folks are angry or even alienated; they’re beyond alienation.

Of course, in the virtual world on our screens and on social media, we are full of animation, thrilled at our representations of ourselves or angry, very angry about the latest outrage usually committed by those outside of our self-selected silos.

Sometimes, as I scroll through my own feed, I am struck less by the particular content of individual communications than by the global disconnectedness of it all.  It’s millions of lonely voices screaming in the void.

We all know, even as we are doing it, that there is no more empty and loveless exercise than wandering this wasteland.  But this is how we see the world now.  This is how we live.

Once we move off Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or whatever to consume “serious news,” it’s still a horror show: deforestation in the Amazon may leave the “lungs of the world” unable to sustain us by 2021, sea level rise will devastate scores of people far more rapidly than previously thought, American democracy is in crisis, global security in jeopardy, another mass shooting, and more and more catastrophic fires.

And that’s just last week.

I have long thought, and written about in this space, that we have come to a time in history where we are living the stuff of dystopian science fiction.  This is a dismaying but also compelling time, and one wonders if there will be a tipping point when the bubble of our relative comfort bursts and some form of mass recognition of the peril we face will steer us away from our seemingly heedless drift toward the point of no return.

Coincidentally, just as I was darkly musing about this, I came upon Farhood Manjoo’s column in the New York Times , “It’s the End of California as We Know It,” where he ponders the seemingly intractable disaster cycle in the golden state driven by failed infrastructure planning and lack of political vision and/or will and gives in to nihilism, positing that we may just be “muddling toward the end.”

If you are paying attention, it’s hard not to think that Manjoo has a point, but what keeps me from surrendering to the pessimism of my intellect is love — love for the young activists I spent the day with, love for my teenage son and his friends, love for the imperiled places I grew up in here in this beautiful state, and love (however abstract) for people I don’t even know who deserve a better future than the one we seem bent on occupying as we consistently fail to listen to the better angels of our nature.

Most recently, it was Bernie Sanders who put it best in his big New York speech upon returning to the campaign trail after suffering a heart attack:

My question now to you is are you willing to fight for that person who you don’t even know as much as you’re willing to fight for yourself?

Because if you are willing to do that, if you are willing to love, if you are willing to fight for a government of compassion and justice and decency, if you are willing to stand up to Trump’s desire to divide us up, if you are prepared to stand up to the greed and corruption of the corporate elite, if you and millions of others are prepared to do that, then there is no doubt in my mind that not only will we win the election but together we will transform this country.

However grim things may seem, showing this kind of love is a moral obligation.  It is the only thing that can save us.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Susan Duerksen November 4, 2019 at 3:31 pm

Thank you for this, Jim. I did think Manjoo had a point, but you have a better one. Yes, love for people we will never meet is a moral obligation, and it’s essential.


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