How we think of time is how we think of nature.
No doubt we behold the many doomsday scenarios—today it’s the the mass extinction of flowers—with a strong sense of moral outrage. Lately, though, so many things are going wrong that we ought to be amazed.
Our species has the ability to understand that when it destroys the environment it destroys itself.
So, isn’t it amazing that we keep on destroying it?
Insane but true: we destroy ourselves on purpose. (But what “purpose” is that, anyway?)
Governor Jindal of Louisiana embodies this amazing contradiction—to “survive” we must destroy ourselves: “We are in a fight for our survival against the oil spill disaster and that struggle has only been compounded by the second disaster of this ‘arbitrary’ and ‘capricious’ shut down of drilling off of our coast.”
The drilling moratorium is an excellent idea, actually. It’s very doubtful any oil spill emergency plan permitted by the corrupt Minerals Management Service can be relied upon. All plans need to be reviewed and, if they are nonsense, revised in a re-permitting process. Hurricane season is upon us, moreover, and if there is another spill there will be no equipment available to deal with it. Obama assures us that BP has marshaled every bit of technology it can to deal with the current disaster. We know how well that is going.
Jindal’s economic argument seems logical, because the oilers need to keep working. But it’s the “time = money” logic of industrial capitalism that undergirds our “we must kill ourselves to survive” way of life.
I was thinking of this logic when I came across an article describing how Jim “Titus, the Environmental Protection Agency’s resident expert on sea-level rise [predicts that, driven by climate change, e]rosion and a shift in ocean currents could cause water to rise four feet or more along much of the East Coast” this century. Nobody is prepared for the flooding the rising ocean will bring, mainly because politicians don’t want to think about it. Like Jindal, they are intentionally myopic:
Like his occasional collaborator, NASA climatologist James Hansen, Titus has decided to speak out. He’s crisscrossed the country to meet with state and local officials in coastal areas, urging them to start planning now for the slow-motion flood. Yet his warnings have mostly fallen on deaf ears. “We were often told by midlevel officials that their bosses did not want to plan for anything past the next election,” he says.
Short-sightedness is a typical character trait of our political class, and it’s shared by our CEO class. In an op-ed in today’s Times, authors argue that “corporate executives are being rewarded for myopia and speculation, undermining the very operation of capitalism.” On the whole, US corporations have a surplus of cash—$$$ that could and should be used to develop new products, hire employees, and rev up the depressed economy. But it isn’t.
The reason for all this saving in the United States is that public companies have become obsessed with quarterly earnings. To show short-term profits, they avoid investing in future growth. To develop new products, buy new equipment or expand geographically, an enterprise has to spend money — on marketing research, product design, prototype development, legal expenses associated with patents, lining up contractors and so on.
Rather than incur such expenses, companies increasingly prefer to pay their executives exorbitant bonuses, or issue special dividends to shareholders, or engage in purely financial speculation. But this means they also short-circuit a major driver of economic growth.
So, our political and CEO classes are myopic. And their short-sightedness defines who they are, what their purpose is, and the record of judgments and actions they make. Their purpose is that of Jindal’s: to “survive” for a few more months; and their record is an endless list of big promises never kept. It’s amazing how bad these politicians and CEO’s are at surviving; one day they’re Alan Greenspans/Paul Wolfowitz’s who know everything us small and stupid people could never understand about making money and war, the next day they’re Condileeza Rice/Henry Paulson/Tony Haywards saying “nobody could have ever predicted…”.
Borne of industrial capitalism, myopia is an awful character trait—a kind of intentional ignorance—that ensures self-destruction, not survival; and, it’s the opposite of wisdom. Aesop’s fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper tells it like it is.
A biocitizen is not myopic, because we know we are the living manifestation of millions of years of natural selection, of the loving and struggle and triumph of our ancestors, and of the long body that is our living planet.
We think of time, not in terms of election cycles or quarterly earnings reports, but as human beings always have: as seasons, as day and night, youth and maturity, fresh and spoiled.
We think of geological time, the racecourse upon which the relay-race of existence is played; and we understand our faces and bodies as the batons passed from generation to generation: unique and at the same time shared by our ancestors with us, our bodies lent to us by our parents so we may pass them on to our children, and they to theirs/ours.
We understand time as an illusion we invented to help us see, and plan, farther than political and economic grasshoppers who die when the winter comes.
Biocitizens know the seasons—and that our purpose is to ensure life lives through all of them, not only the “endless summer” of the Era of Happy Motoring.