Fatalism from a Distance

It might yet prove all by grand design: a stream of worsening predictions about our planet’s future, and a mass media leading us in an orchestrated fatalism with the plaintive hymnal, “But what can I do?”

It plays to our strength as managers. If the climate is indeed about to tip, we’ll need an efficient means of crowd control, and the choir’s notes of heartfelt regret should encourage even the most liberal into the great corral of the inevitable, where we will sing as Earth burns.

We need only rely on the matter-of-fact newscasters as they relate the new oil rush in the newly ice-free arctic. Or survivalist stories of man-versus-nature reported live from the bottled water aisle of the big-box store, ahead of this year’s once-in-a-century storm. And if our pitch ever quavers, inject a sentimental piece about a lone whale stuck circling a blowhole in the ironically closing ice. Not forgetting to admire how we all came together in sympathy.

We’ve been trained in the fantasy of dramatic endings, while believing ourselves realists–and the more decisive and tough-minded the better. Petitions and local organizing are hardly a fit for the Churchillian struggle looming mid-century and the intrepid display of our true mettle to come. A little tough love now for the people of Tuvalu should bolster our credentials nicely, ahead of the societal free-for-all Hollywood’s been bracing us for.

You will know you are wearing the choir’s vestments when you can convince yourself not only that this is the way it’s meant to be, but that the earth is slowly eradicating the “disease” of humankind. It’s a difficult trick, requiring the range to show an accommodation for liberal thinking and Gaian consciousness, while counting down to a catastrophe that would make a fascist wet his jodhpurs.

As an end-run argument it’s purposefully indefensible, circumventing debate–and concerns for morality–with such macabre detachment it’s difficult to think its proponents really believe it themselves.

But the fatalist is in fact a cunning rebrand of the denialist, who understands that timing is everything. A sleight of hand specialist who pivots at the moment the evidence of global warming becomes too overwhelming to deny, and then decries it as too overwhelming to stop. A person whose disdain for concerns of the future is as flagrant as their overuse of the phrase “new normal” in the present.

And if that person is also lucky enough to be a Canadian, not only can they damn whole populations from the safety of a temperate climate, they have the cinematic backdrop of the tar sands for their silhouetted coup de grâce, all to the accompaniment of the swelling chorus, “But what can I do?”

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