Sunday, June 25, 2006

Our Kataan Moment

At this moment in much of America and Europe in the early twenty-first century, most people still live in relative comfort and safety. Not in New Orleans, where much of the massive damage caused by Hurricane Katrina last year has still not been repaired. Not in many other parts of the world, as in Africa, where warfare in places like Darfur and the Congo continue to inflict horrors and massive death. Nor in various parts of the world where old diseases are inexplicably returning, or alarming new ones threatening. Not in areas of Alaska and northern Canada, where the Inuit and others are coping with relatively sudden changes to their environment caused by the Climate Crisis.

But where I am, things are going reasonably well right now, but I have the strong sense they could go badly wrong quite suddenly. I try not to project my own situation on everything. I am relatively healthy and comfortable, though without much in the way of security, and for me personally (as Picard once said) there is less time ahead than there is behind. But that’s how I view this comfortable part of the world. Everything I know about how things are going tells me that what we call civilization has a very difficult future, and not in some distant time. In decades, at best.

I see much of this country and the western “First World” as comfortable, but teetering on the brink of disaster. We’ve had well over a century of accelerated technological progress and accelerated environmental destruction, and the chickens seem to be coming home to roost. Scientists talk of greater technological breakthroughs, especially in genetics and electronics, which could conceivably mean much longer and much healthier lives, with greater mental alertness and adroitness, and keener sensory abilities. And of course, even travel to the stars. But scientists also talk of environmental threats, particularly the Climate Crisis, that could ring down the curtain on all of it.

During this century or so of speedy technological progress and environmental destruction, our political, economic and cultural processes have made some progress, but have not kept up with the nature or reality of our challenges. And in some ways, they and we have devolved. The fate of humanity probably rests on what happens in those realms in the next ten and twenty and fifty years, but with a margin for error that is shrinking by the minute.

Scientists began to suspect the greenhouse effect was threatening the planet’s future in the late 1960s, and the resulting global warming has been persistently studied and publicly discussed for at least a quarter century. Yet more than halfway into the first decade of the 21st century, no effective action is being taken, while powerful corporations and the current American leadership are Climate Crisis deniers. This does not give me great confidence in prospects for the human future.

Yet while we grouse about high gasoline prices and joke about global warming whenever the weather is unusual, we ignore or deny the signs of what's going on, and what is to come (like the imminent decline in oil.) Like Picard/Kamin, scientists accumulate and evaluate their data, but the government denies its validity, and people don't see what can be done.

When the Climate Crisis truly takes hold, things will likely be a great deal more disordered and violent on earth than was Kataan, peacefully making do. Yet the attitude of that fictional culture, and Picard’s realizations as part of it, are a kind of model for me when I wonder how each of us, unable to effect the necessary changes in the big wide world, can deal with this feeling of a foreshortened future.

Even Star Trek, with its reputation for optimism, posits a major disruption in civilization in the mid 21st century, and it could be right on the money. Effects of the Climate Crisis could even include war, as nations bristling with weapons confront depleting resources of food and water as well as energy. But more about that aspect of the Star Trek future another time.

Picard’s emotional experience of partnership and family was sharpened by the surrounding sense of the planet’s mortality. Facing the death of a child—the end of a life before it has reached its fullness---is especially difficult. But facing death, after all, is facing death, whenever it comes. And it is the prospect of death and the reality of suffering that has prompted many religious traditions to search for meaning, most specifically Buddhism, which talks of the Four Noble Truths of suffering and its cessation.

It is in that context that Picard learned to value the present moment. “Make now the most precious time,” not just because it will never come again, but because it is all that there is. Of course, while he was able, Picard/Kamin never stopped working for a better future, because hope is an activity of the present.

The past and the future are also part of our now, but it is the experience of the present moment, on levels simple and profound, that is our life. It is said also to be the doorway to the realization of the permanent in the transitory, the universe in the grain of sand, eternity in the moment, which all add up to the divine in each of us, the inner light in the outer darkness.

2 comments:

Cameron Boehme said...

I have no idea who you are, whoever wrote this article, or "blog," as it were; but, you have caught my attention in a way a casual writer hasn't achieved in years... Are you published? You are a source of inspiration by way of this brain fodder, and silent contemplation. Thank you for a very enjoyable beginning to my day, reminding me to respect and appreciate 'the now.' I am not a Buddhist, nor have I studied the Tao or texts of Eastern Religion, however my own meditation and prayer through my own Jewish heritage reminds me of the things of which you write. It's so easy to be caught up in the monotony and tedium of the dreary details which monopolize day-to-day existence and forget the miracle of the “here-and-now.” Thank you for being my Muse today. Thank you for writing a *very* enjoyable article that reminded me of the 'what and why' of my passion for that particular episode of "science fiction." Thank you for making me think, giving me more to think about later in my own silent-meditation, and thank you for bringing me back to the consciousness of the 'here-and-now,’ and my love and appreciation for it. You’ve really improved my day. Please write more than this 'blog,' you deserve publishing if this is any indication of what you have to offer readers. My best to you and yours…

Captain Future said...

Thanks very much for your kind words. Yes, I do publish in print. There are links to some of my work at kowincidence, ongoing links at Captain Future's Dreaming Up Daily and in the Site Index on this blog.

But I seldom get the kind of connection and comment from print work that I do here, and that is one thing that makes it very worthwhile for me. Thanks again. I'm pleased and humbled to have produced such an effect.