Christmas is now over for another year. It’s a favorite holiday for many people, a time when we tend to band together a little bit more, knowing that while there may not be peace on earth, home at least can be a place of security and reassurance. While world events seem sometimes as if we were all afloat in the same small boat on a white-capped sea, our own personal port in the storm can be a very safe place indeed, particularly as we weather the latest tide of pandemic infections.
New Years has a very different feel. Though it used to be a time of fresh starts and new beginnings, it now seems ominous and confusing as we mask up yet again and try to make sense of what’s happening, while all the while new health threats appear on the horizon, glaciers continue to melt, seas continue to rise, and unusual weather becomes more commonplace. It’s a grim and unsettling picture.
It’s as if the USS E Pluribus Unum – our figurative Ship of State – had suffered a whole range of catasprophes from losing its rudder to running aground to being irretiveably lost in a chartless sea. Some of those on board, rather than cooperating with the captain and crew, are opening seacocks to flood the vessel. Others have already abandoned ship and launched lifeboats and are pulling for the shore. Others, armed with augers, are relentlessly drilling holes to fill the hulls with water and undermine the efforts of those who labor on the oars. Decisions are made on the basis of politics and personal opinion instead of science, reflecting individual preference instead of the common good.
Humankind has faced crises like this before, though not nearly on the scale that now confronts us. For the first time in history we have the power to utterly destroy not only our own species but also the entire globe and all those who live on it. It’s a question of safe harbor or shipwreck, adapt or perish, sink or swim.
Alas, history is not on our side. It’s a daunting and discouraging record. As the archaeologist Douglas Preston has written in his book The Lost City of the Monkey God, a prehistoric city in an unexplored valley deep in the Honduran jungle:
“Sometimes a society can see its end approaching from afar and still not be able to adapt, like the Maya; at other times, the curtain drops without warning and the show is over.No civilization has survived forever. All move toward dissolution, one after the other, like waves of the sea falling upon the shore. None, including ours, is exempt from the universal fate.”
Can we be the proverbial exception that proves the rule? It may be unlikely but it’s also not impossible. If we put aside our differences, if we cooperate rather than compete, if we work toward solutions rather than creating obstacles, if we direct the full range of our diverse and awesome technicolocal power toward achieving consensus and solution, it can be done, but it has to be done now. It cannot be deferred any longer. The clock is ticking, the tide is going out, there will be no second chance.
If we’re serious about helping ourselves and our planet survive, then let ‘adapt’ be the watchword for what could easily be the most important resolution we can all make, now and in the future.