In the sleepy upper-middle-class haven of the Conejo Valley, true hunger for ideas is hard to find. That makes it hard to sustain attendance at the Monday read-and-critique. People come thinking that they want to share ideas, but what they discover under that veneer is a need for easy sympathy and attention.
The organizer, Mark, hews to a quorum of three. We both ordered a sandwich plate, and he sat politely as I finished mine. Mark agonizes over personal defects that might contribute to our inability to develop a third partner from the dozen or so visitors that have passed through the group since June. I’m not sure that he realizes that we’re both pretty demanding writers, high on technology and complex character dynamics. We may be fighting a “WTF” response.
Mark writes steam punk for young adults. He loves detail and the trappings of decadence, although his heroes and heroines usually preserve order and independence by exploiting the weakness of the nobility. His latest book, Red Jacket, has been out for several months. Steam punk is like a kaleidoscope: pick your favorite eras and personalities, mash them together, and imagine how they’d interact in the hot-house you’ve created. Perhaps recognizing the fecundity of the genre, Mark bought a block of fifty ISBN numbers when he set out to self-publish.
Mark also does his own illustrations, and his stereo-wheel viewer was out on the table when I sat down. I flipped through the series of trained elephants, most of which looked pretty miserable. After his remark that animals only survive as commercial assets, the conversation nose-dived into the nether reaches of bleakness. I tried throughout the evening to introduce a note of hope, but Mark resisted, reporting that Google had terminated is global climate stabilization research project after reaching the conclusion that disaster was inevitable.
The material facts are terrifying. As the northern hemisphere thaws, we’re going to have another 80 years of CO2 emissions released to the atmosphere from the decay of the tundra. When the Arctic ice melts, the Gulf Stream will shut down and Europe will freeze. Coastal waters around the world may stagnate, releasing clouds of hydrogen sulfide that will asphyxiate all of the larger animals. And then there’s the human sociology: drops in agricultural productivity will make many urban centers unsustainable, and when people start starving they’ll start shooting each other.
I argued that under these conditions, armed confrontation may be almost impossible to sustain. It’s one thing if you can grab land and live by hunting. It’s another when you have to ply the land with fertilizers and irrigation to get crops to grow, and then drive the produce 1000 miles to ranches where livestock can survive the weather. If the people with guns don’t sustain the people with know-how, they’re won’t be much of anything for anybody – including bullets to fire.
Given the prognosis, it seems better just to pull the covers over your head. I’m here to beg you not to. I’m actually going to go even further: I’m going to beg you to learn as much as you can about these impossible problems, because it’s only in understanding them at the finest level of detail that we can solve them.
But how, you ask? Well, now you’re going to have to have some faith.
For a long time, you probably were told that space was empty. We now know that isn’t true: it’s filled with something called dark energy. As I understand it, dark energy is a kind of foam lattice. It’s not completely solid; spirits can slip around in it. Spirits that fight for possession of things (you know, bodies and material goods) tend to just push the foam around without gaining any advantage over it. Spirits that commit themselves to mutual benefit, however, end up building energy in the fabric of space. Think of these bundles of spirit like water in a pressurized bladder. That energy is available for us to do work on the world around us. As it’s been accumulating for billions of years, it’s a substantial asset.
It’s not easy to turn that energy to destructive purposes, because the will of all the contributors to the reservoir works against its misallocation. In fact, in the primitive psychological conditions that rule Darwinian evolution, one aspect of building such reservoirs is the presence of guardians that prevent abuse. Pain and suffering pollute the reservoirs, which motivates the guardians to move the energy into safer locations.
These reservoirs exist, but they don’t have any specific purpose. Humanity has intelligence to successfully focus that energy in the service of all living things. That reduces pain and suffering, which brings the reservoirs more directly under our control, as well as enabling them to be refueled by healthy ecosystems.
I keep on telling people that there’s far more energy available to us than we require to solve the problems we face – it’s just that we’re not trusted to us it. Part of being trusted is to “pick up your cross” as Jesus did: to enter into the pain of the world so that we can diagnose its specific illness, and then commit every fiber of our bodies to channel energy for healing.
It starts with faith, faith swells into hope, hope rises into commitment, commitment is channeled to produce knowledge, knowledge focuses power, and power enables healing.
Now the scientists will tell you that this is all hooey: if there were spirits, they would have seen them. My response is: well, if a scientist told you that he wanted to take your brain apart so that he could understand your personality, would you submit to it? How about even a few neurons? Scientists understand things by taking them apart. If you had the choice to run away, would you submit? And after you did, what would it take to convince you that it was safe to come back?
Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you Jesus.