Thursday, August 9, 2007

"The Doomsday Report"

Ever since I did that interview with Russ Volckmann (see blog post "Two of Three Events" in June), I've been a bit unnerved at finding myself part of a growing cadre of doomsday reporters. I swear to you, this was not who I wanted to be when I grew up: a player in the Endgame sweepstakes of Western civilization. This was not how I expected my life to turn out.

The history of the world contains a litany of doomed civilizations that have destroyed their economic base and disappeared. Nor has there been any scarcity across centuries of prophesies predicting the end of the world--none of which, so far, have ever come true. So why worry now? Maybe because it doesn't seem like just another prophesy anymore. This time it feels like something that is already happening.

I confess, however, that my commitment to this blog and the unpalatable things it is saying sometimes feels like I've got an octopus on my back. The signs and information keep on arriving much faster than I can process and metabolize them. The unexpected gift of synchronicity, when Virgil addressed Colleen by her childhood nickname of "Woof! Woof!" (now you tell ME how Virgil could've known that?) was like some cosmic confirmation in a single stroke to encourage me to keep listening for the simultaneous patterns and messages that are beginning to emerge. I'm becoming more aware of the multiple meanings of each moment and their different registers of significance, on the assumption that something really IS going on here that I need to pay attention to.

As I say, I've been concerned about the effect this blog and its message may have on the intrepid souls brave enough to continue reading it. The polemic here is pretty bare-knuckled, more like a stake in the heart than a day at the spa. So when "The Doomsday Report" arrived in my mailbox sent by a friend--a novel purporting to be about how the human race would react if it learned we had no future--I knew I needed to read it without delay.

The book presents itself as a fictional story, but takes its impetus from an actual report that was delivered in 1992 by some 1,600 world scientists and Nobel Laureates as a "Warning to Humanity." That report announced to the world that human beings and the natural world are on a collision course and that only one or two decades remained before the chance to avert the threats to our survival will be lost. The author, Rock Brynner (son of Yul), begins his story at the point when this so-called "window of opportunity" has closed; it is now too late to prevent an irreversible ecological disintegration.

Not hard to see why the hairs on my neck stood up as I was reading. In the book, this report has been submitted to a publisher who is wondering if he should publish a manuscript claiming that we've missed our chance to save the planet, which is now doomed to collapse within forty years, causing the mass extinction of all living species, including mankind. The publisher reacts by wondering whether all this was inevitable--was this where civilization was heading all along?

"Not at all," says the scientist-author of the report. "As late as the sixties we could have reversed the situation...Remember "The Limits to Growth?" Schumacher's "Small Is Beautiful?" We had the means to find solutions, but culturally we were not equipped to face the music."

I read "The Doomsday Report" about a month after having had this exchange with Russ in our telephone interview:

Q: In a way, the diagnosis of the world being already at end is kind of terminal, so it cuts out all possible interventions—we can keep talking until it happens—but the interventions of someone like Riane Eisler to shift to a partnership model, or the use of dialogue or any other human creation, doesn’t it make all that seem rather pointless?

A: These ideas have been out there for a long time now, Russ. Riane’s books, my books, many other peoples’ books, have been out there for some 30 or 40 years. These ideas have taken hold on a certain level in the culture, but in terms of affecting any real transformation and change, what is your view? Do you feel that it’s all happening, that we’re getting closer to where we need to go?
...If I seem to have developed what you might call a bad case of “disheartenment,” it’s because I see that all the information we need is out there—all the philosophies and spiritualities that could guide us through—were we but to espouse them. But make no mistake, we haven’t espoused them, and now our problems may no longer be amenable to amelioration by such means. So the question really is, “What is it about the human race that prevents it from following its own wisdom? We’ve learned so much, but failed to put it to use.

Finally, let me say that, despite it's strong idea for a plot, "The Doomsday Report" doesn't hold a candle to "The Road" in terms of its ability to pin down the precise vision of a world in collapse, and is disappointing in not offering any clear sense of how people will respond to such an event. The book was prescient for its time, however, and seems even more timely now than it was then.

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