I was honored to be interviewed by the Ernest Becker Society for their recent climate issue of the This Mortal Life series. The interview is excepted below. You can read the entire interview here.
… civilizations die. That’s something that we don’t talk about in our culture hardly at all. Civilizations die of some combination of climate change, wearing out their soil, population growth, economic inequality, basically all the things that we face right now.
There’s no reason to believe that our civilization today is an exception to that rule. If we could face that fact as a group, that one way or another at some point Western civilization is going to have an end date, then I think we wouldn’t be so resistant to the idea of climate change, to the idea of scaling back our growth, and living more in balance with the physical reality of our world. I imagine that on the collective level we would turn away from this focus on growth, on progress, on technological control over our environment, and more towards quality of life: being more connected, having deeper relationships with others and with our environment, and being happier and healthier all around.
With your belief, shared by many others, that human civilization is leading to its own demise, can you talk about why you are not a nihilist but rather a “post-doomer,” as you describe yourself?
It’s important to embrace the dark side a little bit, for the same reason we talk about embracing death. It’s part of the cycle. When you deny it, then you create a whole bunch of neuroses, both collectively and individually. The depression and despair, the feeling of meaninglessness, it’s actually an important phase to go through, so that you can move through to a wider understanding.
Rather than focusing on trying to save our lives or save civilization or save what we have currently, Post-Doomers ask “How can we live with this awareness of the end of the world, meaningfully and productively, in community with each other and with the planet? How can we alleviate some suffering in the world?” Maybe we can save one species or one ecosystem. “How can we cultivate some beauty in the world in spite of an awareness that everything has an end?” That conversation is very different and has a very different feel to it, and that’s what I want to be a part of. Talking about what kind of resilient, beautiful communities we can create in the time we have left—and not just human communities, but also communities with the more-than-human world. It’s kind of a hospice mentality for the human species. Quality over quantity.
If you think about it, it has to end sometime. I’m not in any rush to see the end of the world. I don’t want to see it. I have my days where I feel very depressed about it, but this kind of post-doom awareness really helps me find a joyful and meaningful way to live in the world. If there isn’t an end to things, in a way you lose the connection to the real world around you and to other people. You lose that sense of meaning and purpose in life. The transience of life and beauty makes it more precious or exquisite. Ironically, death can be our best friend.