This is the third of four parts discussing approaches to the prospect of NTE, specifically, “The Last of Everything” by Daniel Drumright, a blog essay for denizens of Nature Bats Last, which has recently narrowed its focus to discussion of NTE. Part one is found here; part two is here.
Despite having had the longest period of engagement (of the three authors reviewed in this blog series, I’m guessing) with industrial, economic, and ecological collapse that will precede population collapse and most likely extinction of the preponderance of life on Earth, Drumright still writes with the raw emotion of someone who has just become aware that we are all now staring inescapable death in the face — the death of our species. Indeed, the number of ways Drumright rephrases the
damning dawning realization still waiting to break across the popular mind or public sphere is exhausting. Here is one from the outset of the essay:
This is a commiserative thought experiment written ONLY for those whose lived experiences have afforded them the intellectual/emotional freedom to fully explore the dismal implications that virtually no one will survive near term global starvation.
Again and again, Drumright comes back to the stark reality of NTE using a variety of evocative phrases, none of which fully encapsulates the immensity of NTE because, frankly, humans have great difficulty trying to grok things so far outside standard frames of reference. He rightly points out, too, that no humans up to this point in history have had to contend with such awful conclusions, foreseeable and delayed or postponed in their effect but nonetheless unavoidable. Accordingly, his essay is written with none of the sober detachment and objectivity of the professional critic or academic. Instead, he writes as though he were a parent destroyed by the death of a child. That comparison fails, of course, because despite our familial responsibility for the fate of the living planet, we are all participants in this prospective death, referred to elsewhere on this blog as a megadeath pulse.
Whether because of this emotional overlay or mere sloppiness, Drumright’s essay suffers from unnecessary restatement and rambling, poor grammatical and paragraph structure, and excessive length. (To decipher the tortured language, I edited the copy I pasted into MS Word for safekeeping.) But maybe it’s just as well that the writing is choked and spluttering in places; its tone is what I actually expect even from those who have dealt with the NTE meme complex for some time. We’re just not culturally equipped to absorb the death of our species with much composure.
One of Drumright’s principal ideas is acceptance, as distinguished from (I guess) denial, resistance, desperation, or hope (now frequently renamed as the placebo drug hopium). Only with acceptance does the time remaining begin to offer forms of sanctuary for the soul. But this can only be an individual response and refuge. Conjecture by those with a lengthy period of collapse-awareness more typically envisages scenarios of anarchic chaos and destruction before it’s all over. Rather like the last tortured gasps of empire, an expectation of out-of-control crowds (mobs, really) and wanton, end-of-days benders (including some nasty jaunts toward revenge and victimization) seems a greater likelihood than calm, wizened acceptance. Indeed, few achieve the peace of mind needed to go to one’s death with grace and resignation.
Drumright provides numerous insights hard won in his time fighting for environmental justice. Only on “this side of acceptance,” however, has he broken through the idols and illusions of political activity and recognized that the trajectory we’re on is not guided or controllable (if it ever was, in fact). Similarly, various impediments stand in the way of acceptance and continue to thwart the next, not-quite-final step:
Let’s start talking about how we’re all going to die, not vaguely, halfheartedly or sarcastically, but specifically so that we can actually begin to get beyond that specter, and start being creative in figuring out how we’re going to live through [the ongoing process of] extinction until that fateful day comes for each of us. Because if we’re talking about acceptance, it’s probably time we get around to actually talking about what IT is we’ve come to accept, beyond endlessly lamenting the loss of all the rest of life, and incessantly debating our legacy of agency which has nevertheless led us to where we are today irrespective of our personal opinions.
Drumright goes on to discuss (at length) as a case in point the suicide this past spring of whistle-blower and truth-teller Michael Ruppert. Somewhat surprisingly, Drumright is critical of Ruppert for having squandered an opportunity to lead the way with a meaningful or beautiful death, albeit by suicide. Part of Drumright’s indignation stems from Ruppert’s position in the vanguard among the collapse-aware (I’ve adopted the term doomer but for reasons yet unclear cannot stomach collapsitarian). Ruppert’s approach was never, best as I can assess, spiritual or therapeutic. Rather, he was always trying to break through the wall of denial, obfuscation, and ignorance that characterizes most people, some who know better and most who don’t. To deny him (after the fact) his own personal response, shocking though ultimately harmless to those of us who puzzled over his choice of exit strategy, seems to me a niggardly response.
From a wider perspective, Drumright appears to make a mistake of metonymy, lamenting that in his final act Ruppert failed to teach by example how we all might take our leave in the company of love and dignity. The discontinuity between individual and society, however, will not be bridged even by hundreds of prime examples. Irrational fear as we recognize death stalks each of us simply cannot be undone or overcome at the level of society. Still, for those who can take instruction and choose consciously how to end things, Drumright offers thoughtful alternatives. Absent from those alternatives are the usual frothy, lofty incantations that soothe the faithful, which are not actually humane responses, considering how they rely on other idols and illusions. He does, however, offer a glimpse of beauty by reminding us that the bonds of community, whether shared digitally or in person, are to be embraced and cherished in our remaining time.