A Small Bit of Optimism Picks a Fight

MaryAnn Johnson, a Generation Xer, who blogs at FlickPhilosopher and GeekPhilosophy recently saw An Inconvenient Truth and came out of the theater galvanized.

I’ve been letting the experience of seeing the film and seeing Gore in person sink in, and I find myself feeling optimistic, maybe, for the first time in a long time, optimistic about the direction our society may be going in. And I’m itching to do something about pushing us in that direction. I can’t recall ever feeling like this before. And could be it’s symptomatic of a grand shift in Generation X from complacency and apathy to caring and action.

She goes on to describe the new kind of green activist, a neo-green who wants to make environmentalism sexy. Dump the old mantras that called for a return to a simpler past, instead we need to be more complex more savvy with our technology. She drops Bruce Sterling’s Viridian Design movement into the mix and concludes with this..

And it all starts coming together, signs of some kind of exit, an out, how we can get off the hamster wheel of mindless consumerism and soulless Toll Brothers suburban McMansion developments and 60-hour workweeks with only two weeks of annual vacation you can’t take anyway because you’re afraid it’ll make you look like a slacker and not like a team player. It’s a major challenge – how do we redefine what is cool? – but it can be done. In only, what?, ten years we’ve made cigarette smoking uncool. Whether you agree with the disdain now heaped upon smokers or not, the point is this: It’s theoretically possible to program a majority of people to feel a surge of disgust when they see some idiot tooling around town in a Hummer. We could enjoy that feeling of profound relief Sterling talks about if we can tie up the insanities of the typical American lifestyle with the devastation we’re wreaking on the planet and get rid of them in favor of something more sane, more livable, more gentle on the planet.

What those things are, and how we denote them as cool, I don’t know. But I’m finding it exciting to thing about what might be done. It’s about shaping a vision of the future that is optimistic and sexy and, yes, cool. It doesn’t mean it’ll be easy, but it does mean, hopefully, that at the end of the struggle, life will be better than it is today, more fun and more enjoyable and more satisfying.

I don’t know where we’re going, but it’s nice to feel like the journey there might actually be worth it.

I read this and fell to my knees and said “At long last, a light at the end of the tunnel.” I hope she’s right, with all of my science fiction fueled dreams of the future. Something has got to give and the sooner it begins the better.

And then to temper my optimism on the bitter pill of doubt I look back a month ago to something I wrote down but didn’t publish.

Sometimes it’s all just too much to take. I’ve noticed that my attitudes toward changing the world for the better are becoming more and more cynical over time. Part of why I decided to even consider going back to grad school, or possibly pursuing a PhD, despite the dire warnings about the future of academia, was because I wanted to do something for myself and screw the rest of the world. I sometimes feel the same way about starting a business. Forget everybody else I just want to get my piece of the pie too.

So I read the following entries by Dave Pollard The Place You Love is Gone and How Would We Behave in a Great Depression? and I say bring on the rending of garments and the gnashing of teeth, for it is time to clean this fallen world.

I had the same reaction when I read an essay at the Internet Review of Science Fiction about the recent lack of interest by Hollywood in the eco-disaster film genre. When was the last time we saw a film about the end of the world like Soylent Green or Silent Running? As MaryAnn Johnson so ably shows the worries about ecological disaster seem to have disappeared from Hollywood during the last twenty-five years. Where did they go?

Inside my head I’m oscillating between high dudgeon and strategic planning. I’m afraid of hatred and disgust, emotions that are all too easily abused. Just look at the religious right and the Republicans who crusade against most of what I believe. Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, the list of haters never seems to end. And cynically inside me there is a voice that says this hatred, this disgust, is the way to power and that’s we will need in order to remake the world. Countering all this is the philosopher in me that knows, deep down, there are no fulcrums upon which to turn the world. It’s turtles all the way down; there are no fundamental narratives. Given all this, the question is how do we string our way between the fundamentalisms that drive our faith-based politics, and the rational post-modernity that questions everything? So far I’ve got nothing but a tiny seed of hope inspired by one person being Gored.