Tuesday, Dec 15, 2009
There is no nihilism like the nihilism of a 9-year-old. “Why should I bother,” one of them recently demanded of me, when he was presented with the usual arguments in favor of doing homework: “By the time I’m grown up, the polar ice caps will have melted and everyone will have drowned.”
Watching the news from Copenhagen last weekend, it wasn’t hard to understand where he got that idea. Among the tens of thousands demonstrating outside the climate change summit, some were carrying giant clocks set at 10 minutes to midnight, indicating the imminent end of the world. Elsewhere, others staged a “resuscitation” of planet Earth, symbolically represented by a large collapsing balloon. Near the conference center, an installation of skeletons standing knee-deep in water made a similar point, as did numerous melting ice sculptures and a melodramatic “die-in” staged by protesters wearing white, ghost-like jumpsuits.
Danish police arrested about a thousand people on Saturday for smashing windows and burning cars, and on Sunday arrested 200 more (they were carrying gas masks and seem to have been planning to shut down the city harbor). Nevertheless, in the long run it is those peaceful demonstrators, the ones who say the end is nigh, who have the capacity to do the most psychological damage.
Over the years there have been many radical statements of this latter creed. In the infamous words of a National Park Service ecologist, “We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth. . . . Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.” A former leader of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals once declared that “humans have grown like a cancer; we’re the biggest blight on the face of the earth.” But it is a mistake to think that this is the language of only a crazy fringe.
This article was posted: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 at 10:49 am