Hedges: We Distract Ourselves With Petty Spectacles While the World Goes to Hell
I retreat in the summer to the mountains and coasts of Maine and New Hampshire to sever myself from the intrusion of the industrial world. It is in the woods and along the rugged Atlantic coastline, the surf thundering into the jagged rocks, that I am reminded of our insignificance before the universe and the brevity of human life. The stars, thousands visible in the night canopy above me, mock human pretensions of grandeur. They whisper the biblical reminder that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Love now, they tell us urgently, protect what is sacred, while there is still time. But now I go there also to mourn. I mourn for our future, for the fading majesty of the natural world, for the folly of the human species. The planet is dying. And we will die with it.
The giddy, money-drenched, choreographed carnival in Tampa and the one coming up in Charlotte divert us from the real world—the one steadily collapsing around us. The glitz and propaganda, the ridiculous obsessions imparted by our electronic hallucinations, and the spectacles that pass for political participation mask the deadly ecological assault by the corporate state. The worse it gets, the more we retreat into self-delusion. We convince ourselves that global warming does not exist. Or we concede that it exists but insist that we can adapt. Both responses satisfy our mania for eternal optimism and our reckless pursuit of personal comfort. In America, when reality is distasteful we ignore it. But reality will soon descend like the Furies to shatter our complacency and finally our lives. We, as a species, may be doomed. And this is a bitter, bitter fact for a father to digest.
My family and I hike along the desolate coastline of an island in Maine that is accessible only by boat. We stop in the afternoons on remote inlets and look out across the Atlantic Ocean or toward the shoreline and the faint outline of the Camden hills. My youngest son throws pebbles into the surf. My daughter toddles over the rounded beach stones holding her mother’s hand. The gray and white seagulls chatter loudly overhead. The scent of salt is carried by the wind. Life, the life of my family, the life around me, is exposed at once as fragile and sacred. And it is worth fighting to save.
When I was a boy and came to this coast on duck hunting trips with my uncle, fishing communities were vibrant. The fleets caught haddock, cod, herring, hake, halibut, swordfish, pollock and flounder. All these fish have vanished from the area, victims of commercial fishing that saw huge trawlers rip up the seafloor and kill the corals, bryozoans, tubeworms and other species that nurtured new schools of fish. The trawlers left behind barren underwater wastelands of mud and debris. It is like this across the planet. Forests are cut down. Water is contaminated. Air is saturated with carbon emissions. Soil is depleted. Acidity levels in the oceans skyrocket. Atmospheric temperatures soar. And someone, somewhere, makes obscene sums of money from it. Corporations, indifferent to what is sacred, see the death of the planet as another investment opportunity. They are scurrying to mine the exposed polar waters for the last vestiges of oil, gas, minerals and fish. And since the corporations dictate our relationship to the ecosystem on which we depend for life, the chances of our survival look bleaker and bleaker. The final phase of 5,000 years of settled human activity ends with collective insanity.
“All my means are sane,” Captain Ahab says of his suicidal pursuit of Moby-Dick, “my motive and my object mad.”