"In the Face of This Truth

It's time to talk honestly about collapse–no matter how others may respond.
by Robert Jensen posted Sep 17, 2010

We live in the midst of multiple crises—economic and political, cultural and ecological—posing a significant threat to human existence at the level we have become accustomed to. There’s no way to be awake to the depth of these crises without emotional reactions, no way to be aware of the pain caused by these systemic failures without some dread and distress. Those emotions come from recognizing that we humans with our big brains have disrupted the balance of the living world in disastrous ways that may be causing irreversible ecological destruction, and that drastically different ways of living are not only necessary but inevitable, with no guarantee of a smooth transition. This talk, in polite company, leads to being labeled hysterical, Chicken Little, apocalyptic. No matter that you are calm, aren’t predicting the sky falling, and have made no reference to rapture. Pointing out that we live in unsustainable systems, that unsustainable systems can’t be sustained, and that no person or institution with power in the dominant culture is talking about this—well, that’s obviously crazy. Regardless of others' reaction to talking honestly about collapse, it's essential we continue; no political project based on denying reality can be viable for the long term. But to many of us, these insights simply seem honest. To be fully alive today is to live with anguish, not for one’s own condition in the world but for the condition of the world, for a world that is in collapse. What to do when such honesty is unwelcome? In June 2010, I published a short essay online asking people who felt this anguish to report on their emotions and others’ reactions. In less than a month I received more than 300 messages, and while no single comment could sum up the responses, this comes close: “I feel hopeless. I feel sad. I feel amused at the absurdity of it all. I feel depressed. I feel enraged. I feel guilty and I feel trapped. Basically the only reason why I’m still alive is because there are enough amazing people and things in my life to keep me going, to keep me fighting for what matters. I’m not even sure how to fight yet, but I know that I want to.” I didn’t ask for biographical information, so there’s little data on the age, race, or occupation of the respondents. Nor did I ask specifically about political or community activism, but the letters reinforced a gut feeling that dealing openly with these emotions need not lead to paralysis and inaction. People can confront honestly a frightening question—“What if the unsustainable systems in which we live are beyond the point of no return?”—and stay politically and socially engaged.

One respondent, a longtime community organizer, put it succinctly: Recently several of our visionary thinkers have moved from the illusion that ‘we have 10 years to turn this around.’ They now say clearly that ‘we cannot stop this momentum.’ It takes courage and faith to speak so plainly. What can we do in the face of this truth? We can sit face to face and find the ways, often beyond words, to explore the reality that we are all refugees, swimming into a future that looks so different from the present. We can find pockets of community where we can whisper our deepest fears about the world. We can remain committed to describing the present with exceptional truth. What happens when we tell “exceptional truth”? First, we often feel drained by it. Another respondent observed: Continue: http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/a-resilient-community/in-the-face-of-this-truth

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