I understand that some of you noticed the lack of SCIOPS last week. I see how that might be disturbing, considering the dark flavor of the previous letter. I appreciate your concern.

I assure you, I’m fine. I just allowed myself to go to a nice family barbecue instead of abyssgazing. This is a free content-nozzle, folks. Sometimes it sputters. If you just can’t get enough depressing millennial bullshit in your email box, I don’t have much sympathy. But I missed you too.

My last essay was on living with the sadness, on the need to really feel the catastrophic changes happening around us. No one can comprehend the hyperobject that is climate change: it’s too vast, too sticky, too entangled with giant systems of human and ecological activity. We can’t know it intellectually. We have to grasp it with the gut, that intestinal gestalt that makes it personal.

Let sink deep into your belly the fact that a billion people will be driven from their homes, a billion killed outright. That we will spend our lives huddled under tarps, waiting out deadly storms. That “arguing on the internet” might be our last form of government.

Some people have hope that we’ll solve these problems. I’m not a hope person. I prefer strategy. If the world is fucked, let’s own up to it and start working on damage control.

I spoke with a “cli-fi” (climate change fiction) author recently. She was up on the problems and the policies and the proposals, and her book was a dystopia-averted narrative where some plucky kids find a way to save the world. I asked her how it’s saved – I know, rude, but another effect of the Crisis is that I welcome spoilers. There’s only so much time to read before the End, and I already have a big backlog. So I asked how she solved the climate catastrophe.

Turns out the plucky kids meet a talking cat, who leads them to a quantum time machine, which allows them to go back to the 20th century and convince some scientists to develop a fuel that needs no extraction and produces no pollution.

That’s hope for you. It’s a deliberate misunderstanding of the terrain, combined with a fear of failure. It starts from the premise that all problems are solvable, then tries to solve the wrong problem with an imaginary tool.

For the record:

  • Cats don’t have the vocal apparatus to talk to humans, even if they seem to have the intellect. Giving them this capability through genetic engineering or cyborg implants would be a revolutionary leap of a different sort. (But if someone were to do this, would it be ethical? Asking for a friend.)
  • Time machines are highly improbable in our current knowledge of physics. Even so, a “quantum” time machine would presumably work by climbing down the multiverse tree and then taking a different branch to an alternative present. This would do nothing to save the real people in this branch of the multiverse. It’s escapism, at best.
  • Finally, the discovery of a non-extractive, non-polluting fuel would defy all our current models of ecology and economy, so even if it were physically possible it would be be immediately quashed by the status quo. Electric cars were invented in the 1800’s, remember. People gotta get those paychecks.

Hope is problem-solving in bad faith. It’s the opposite of strategy. Strategic thought is about observing the terrain accurately, gathering intelligence and analyzing your strengths and weaknesses.

You might think I’m a pessimist. Most people do (especially when they learn that I identify as a skeleton, and my pronoun is “it”). But being morbid isn’t the same as being pessimistic. In fact, I’m an optimist, because I think it gives me a better chance of success.

A pessimist doesn’t see any likelihood that things will improve, after all. So they don’t try. An optimist might only see a 1% chance that the world will go the way they want – but they aim for that chance, and technically one in a hundred will get there. That’s infinity more success than the pessimists had.

So I’m a dark optimist. I say, aim for the infinitesimal chance, and do everything in your power to get there. Be ruthless in your realism. Abandon hope. The people whose beliefs map closest to reality have the best chance of success. The deeper you stare into the darkness, the better you can see the terrain.

Thanks for reading,

– Max


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