I left a bowl out with some food in it and later it was swarming with ants. I washed the bowl out in the sink and now there aren’t ants there anymore. This is life, I think. The climate just messes you up sometimes and there’s not much you can do about it.
I was reading about the mythical Saraswati River and how it might have been the known river Ghaggar. A river that changed course and largely dried up, sweeping an ancient civilization along with it. Lord Shiva shook his hair loose in the Himalayas and civilizations fell out. It makes me wonder, are we really so different from ants in a bowl? If there’s any defining characteristic to existence, it’s that bad stuff happens. And it happens to everyone, great or small. Pride goeth before the fall.
I read about civilizational collapse because, well, it’s happening. They say that those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it. I think we’re just condemned, but you might as well read something in the waiting room. A lot of what I read is about how civilizations kill themselves (largely through resource exhaustion), but sometimes the resources just disappear. I think it’s probably both.
For example, I just wrote a tome about Maya collapse, using decent sources, and then
Richard Crim politely commented that it might have all been waves of drought that toppled them. My entire thesis was that noble greed destroyed the environment, and it was well supported, but what if the environment did a massive rug pull as well? In that case noble greed would have accelerated the process, but not caused it. So what’s the point there? I had to unlist the post and think some more, which is both appreciated and annoying.
Civilization is generally the hubris that we can attribute our fortunes to us and that if we just fulfill the rites right, we can keep the rains coming. These rites can be living sacrifice, sacred fires, sacred words, or monetary policy. Today we literally worship an ‘invisible hand’ of economics, I fail to see how this is different from invisible gods. Honestly I think it’s worse. The ancients at least had a sense of something bigger than them and angry. Later monotheistic religions are downright apocalyptic in their outlook. This is realistic. Today we have a utopian belief in forever progress by our own hand which, paradoxically, leads us to apocalypse almost immediately.
We are living at a time when rivers are literally drying up. When oceans are rising. When the temperature is getting downright hellish and plagues and pestilences are visited upon us. I was looking at the Apple Vision Pro — which is a marvel of technology — and thinking, what the fuck are we doing? The house is on fire and we’re hanging up even fancier paintings. I was reading this comic by Rosemary Mosco and she said “I was born in 1981. Since I was three, I haven’t experience a month that was globally colder than average.”
And I was like, oh, me too. I was born in 1982. As I’m fond of saying, I was born in the age of fucking around. I will die in the age of finding out. As the Gza said, oh what a time you chose to be born.
In the waiting room to climate hell there is at least plenty of reading material. In my younger years, I read Highlights For Children. I believed that technology was going to save us but this illusion was shattered for me like so much Harappan pottery, buried now. People are still say this— like that hate crime Sapiens or Marc Andreessen — but it’s a joke at this point. Using technology to cure resource exhaustion caused by technology is like curing a hangover with the ‘hair of the dog that bit you’. It’s good for staying drunk, but doesn’t solve the actual problem. The problem doesn’t have a solution really. It’s just a predicament, something that just happens to you. But nobody wants to hear that, so we flail around.
That’s what I reference the ants in a bowl. They’re actually doing their best within their context. They found some leftover rice, they told their friends, and they were making out like bandits until the climate just changed around them. First a brief elevation as I picked up the bowl, which must have been weird. Maybe some ant scientists were like ‘uh, guys, my readings are all over the place here’ but by then it was too late. They’d already exploded their population around this particular resource situation and then it just got flushed out. Stuff happens. That’s the cosmological constant.
We think we’re better than ants but I mean, they’ve been around longer and they eat us when we’re dead. I’m not some god to them, in fact I’m the one giving them offerings. Because we are changing the climate we think we have some great power and even control but, I mean, do you control your own life? Hell, how much do you control your own bowels? How much less does anyone control this amorphous ‘we’ that’s supposed to ‘do something’? There’s some assumption that ‘we’ will behave in our own interest, but do you behave in your own interest? It’s midnight and I’m about to eat my kids’ leftover shawarma, despite being nominally vegetarian. What makes you think an even more amorphous self called ‘we’ has any more control?
For most ‘men’, man-made climate change might as well be a river changing course way way upstream. As Billy Joel said, we didn’t start the fire. I was born into this and by the time I figured out that adults didn’t know what the they were doing it was far too late. It was far too late for those adults, who really thought they were doing their best. We’re all just creatures that live in an environment and sometimes that environment just changes and you’re in trouble. I don’t know what you do with this information. Sometimes information just gets done to you.
The paradox of free will is that enough people doing it end up producing something ‘predetermined’. I think this may just be a property of anything we observe. If you look inside an atom, particles are actually all over the place, it just gets averaged out so that we can reliably describe them as stable orbits. But they’re actually not. So it is with the composition of civilizations. A bunch of people do their own crazy stuff, but it just gets averaged out. We look at the random behavior of ants swarming around a bowl and think we’re so different, but are we? We’re really not higher beings than ants, we’re just taller.
For whatever reason, when the climate changes, life changes for those downstream. Ants, humans, entire civilizations. In what I’ve been reading from the past I see this happening to city states all the time. Rivers change, droughts happen, the seas rise, things fall apart. Civilizations can position themselves better or worse from this, but this is really just a timing difference. Entropy is real and it comes for them all.
In what I see of the present, I can see it happening right now. Hell, in my country half the people have fallen into poverty. The rest of the world is on the same path and just doesn’t know it yet. Or maybe you do, my condolences. The fact is that the bowl has been picked up. It’s on the way to the sink. Things are about to get messed up. The best you can do is cling on and hope there’s another shawarma somewhere down the line, inshallah.