The shame of it all


Below is in full and without edit a letter to the editor of the TLS:

Sir, – Unless a substantial proportion of the world’s scientists are deluded and are (innocently) deluding us, articles that blithely project a long-term future extrapolated from a continuing present need to be challenged (see “The last mortals” by Regina Rini, May 17). Or rather the publishing of them. To make predictions based on the present could be an act of climate catastrophe denial, an act that recursively makes the catastrophe more likely. This article is particularly odd in that it posits the exact opposite problem to the one we (almost certainly) face. It’s not how we cope with watching the next generation sail off into immortality, but how we cope with leaving them to face the conclusion of our civilization. Even the most sophisticated actuarial programs would struggle to tell me my grandchildren’s life expectancy, but I’d bet it’s shrinking by the day. A more useful challenge for philosophers would be to ask why environmental and social collapse are increasingly inevitable now, why we don’t care, and perhaps why we seem not to care that we don’t care. Are we incapable of seeing the world as real? Better to deal with these sorts of questions than to go floating off into Elfland.



I wonder if Mr Steinhardt and like-minded people fully appreciate the policy implication that follows from the intimidating message of climate change being so catastrophic that thinking about anything else is irresponsible?

That implication? Namely: These people should be publicly shamed and humiliated, if it turns out that, of course, climate change is going on and yes, it is disastrous, but that does not excuse humanity from thinking about other existential disasters.

The aim of the public shaming would be to make them so mortified by their having been wrong that they suspend or stop their bullying catastrophism. Only then would they have something more to worry about and attend to, given anything less would be—for them—an irresponsible and unreasonable distraction from the full-time urgency of their shame.


Odd, isn’t it, that we’re told the majority don’t see how bad things are, only their minority does; that their minority has no power, only others do; and that it’s fast growing too late to expect the majority of others to give the minority a serious hearing, but never too late for the minority to be ever more serious about it all? Odd, isn’t it, that the choice they pose is to consume their catastrophism entirely or else be consumed entirely by it, bali bali, now-now?

How can it be denial on my part to insist that all existential disasters pose difficulties, highlight inexperience, and emphasizes the importance of surprise? How is it denial to wonder if the system they see at risk entails a set of syndromes they share?

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