I get sad when I think about America as we enter the religious holidays in 2020. I feel worried about our blighted, divided, well-loved, occasionally despised, and currently chaotic nation. Are we having a mid-life crisis, or will we turn into something other than what we have been for the last 244 years? This is not the first time America has been faced with a killer pandemic. Many of our parents or grandparents were alive in the 1918 flu that afflicted the country. Many were alive during the Great Depression, which must have seemed like the end of the world. It was followed by World War II.
For most of boomers lives it seemed as if we would not be faced with the disasters our parents lived through. Not that we didn’t have strife and separation. I doubt there is any nation that ever existed where all the citizens lived in communal bliss and absolute agreement. We are contentious beings who may never escape being of two minds about everything under the sun. We lived through the Vietnam War, which tore the nation in two, and female contraception, also fiercely discordant. Roe v Wade has created a vehement religious divide that may never heal because if the church wins, women will lose a right that offers them a freedom that no other right offers – freedom to choose, freedom to leave an abusive marriage or relationship, freedom to choose when and how many children they will have.
Compared to what our parents went through these things seemed less traumatic, of shorter duration. When the war ended and the Civil Rights bills including the Voting Rights bill was passed, boomers turned their energies to working and raising families, dealing with AIDS and trying to grope for answers to why we were shrinking away from gay rights and gender issues. However compared to the scope of the Great Depression and two World Wars our problems seemed minor.
America has been divided since our founders tried to patch together an industrial north and an agricultural south that depended on slave labor. Only a desire to be free of the British king, to be a sovereign nation rather than a colony kept everyone together. This division remained until it caused America to fight a Civil War. This division intensified after the war through resentment and aversion to change.
The southern way of life, outrageous as it seems to the modern world was already dying, however, it seems that losing it so abruptly in a bitter war apparently was intolerable. The animosity continues to this day. Last night in Washington, DC, American citizens, already in denial about this deadly coronavirus pandemic, also denied that the current President lost his reelection bid. They insist that he should be returned to office despite losing in a free and fair election. They even deny, against all evidence, that the 2020 election was a free and fair election. Four people were stabbed in Washington, DC last night and one person was shot. Will this take the pressure off the steam valve of dissent, or is this just the beginning.
This week Bill Gates posed a thought exercise on ‘Linkedin’ and on his website ‘Gates Notes’. He asked people to speculate about how they would spend $20 million dollars so that it would have the greatest effect on reversing climate change. It may seem like I am changing the topic but, if we are talking about modern dilemmas, and issues that divide us, that might have the greatest chance of changing life as we know it, no other issue is as important or as divisive as the matter of what we should do about climate change. These divisions are not only part of the fabric of America; they are part of the global fabric at this moment in time. Is mankind a sort of parasitic race that will kill the planet on which it depends for its existence? How many species have had to move aside as humans changed from a nomadic species to a settled species with farms and cities?
We are ostensibly fighting about the future makeup of the America nation, politically, religiously, racially, in terms of gender, in morality, all the ways some have defined our nation in the past, and whether America will atrophy and die in order to remain “pure,” however phony that definition of pure might be; or whether America will become its authentic self, will survive and change; accept a new version of itself. It will not be a totally new vision. We always took a certain amount of unwarranted pride in being a ‘melting pot.” Since 9/11 we have been reconsidering and pulling back. We have been closing our doors and those ‘purists’ have been having their day. We want the world’s money, just not the world’s people. We imagine that America will be problem-free if we shut out the rest of the world.
However, in a way climate change may be at the bottom of almost all of our grievous and disordered contemporary state. Switching energy sources is hard, it’s disruptive, it’s economically scary. There is really no way to prove to everyone’s satisfaction that carbon is our biggest problem until it is too late to change, too late to prevent the deluge. What if this pandemic is just a rehearsal for what the planet is in for if we don’t mend our ways? What if this will herald decades of grief and turmoil? How do we get billionaires and millionaires to stop raking in fossil fuel profits and end the race to stockpile the most money on the planet? Is all the anger and fear, the political bubbles, and fringe conspiracies all part of a syndrome that tells us in our guts that life as we are living it is unsustainable?
What if we are able to put all our negative energies and our big brains towards cooperation in achieving the unimaginable? Wouldn’t we be proud if we learned how to live more lightly on the planet and remove the threats of climate changes so consequential that our lives will turn to misery and eventually extinction? We are so lucky. We have managed to bring every nation into the twenty-first century, for good or ill. We still are surrounded by so much natural beauty. We have become, for the most part, a well-educated nation; a well-educated world. We know every corner of our world and have now begun to stretch out to the planets. All we have to do is quit our carbon addiction. All we have to do is clean up our oceans. All we have to do is find new ways to farm and preserve whatever wilderness is left. All we have to do is stop fighting each other, face the future, and create it anew. Whenever Americans are inspired by a common goal, we become one, and we are unbeatable. We owe it to our children. However, some of you will have to give up Trump. Look where he has brought us. We have been brought very low. Do it. Kick the Donald habit and reimagine the way we live. It will be amazing.
While Bill Gates often talks about climate change the thought experiment mentioned in this article was offered by Azeem Azhar whose podcasts are called Exponential View. I conflated two articles that I read on the same day. Sorry Mr. Azhar.