The signage is inadequate, as one might expect at any conference organized by anarchists. By the time I find my room, I have the nagging suspicion that I am late. I open the door and I take my seat at the front of the room, where one of the panelists, a scientist from the Goddard Space Institute, is fielding questions. I skim the program and see that he has prepared an exhaustive study about the findings of peer-reviewed literature across multiple disciplines, all of which point to the decline of industrial civilization and ultimately the demise of humankind. A shame I missed that.
He is answering an elderly lady on the front row: “…and as I said, you can trace the collapse of all civilizations to either an over-extension of territories or an over-utilization of extant resources. I.e., either your kingdom becomes too big to support or you simply do not use your resources efficiently enough, no matter how much you reign in growth. As I said, a Democratic system of government coupled with a free press historically has ameliorated some of those concerns….but as we creep ever closer to oligarchical or fascist states fueled by false appeals to populism and nationalism, and as global resources struggle to replenish due to population growth and pollution, it seems unlikely that there is much hope for us. Thank you, that was an excellent question.”
I lean over to the other panelist. “Are you up next or am I?”
“I already went,” he whispers. “Are you the censorship guy?”
“Yeah,” I whisper.
“You were supposed to go first, and the panel is almost over. My questions ran long. Sorry.”
“That’s cool. Thanks.”
The panelist fielding questions scans the room, “OK, the gentleman in the middle there.” He points. “Yes sir, you.”
“I just wanted to say that I think colony collapse, you know with the bees—”
“Yes, go ahead,” says the scientist.
“You talk about it like it is a bad thing, but I hate bees. I got stung by one last summer, and my whole damn arm swole up.”
“Well, yes, bees do sting sometimes. But the point is that they are an invaluable part of the food chain. They pollinate—”
“I don’t care! I don’t like bees,” says the man with the air of triumph and sits back down.
The scientist sighs. “Okkkkay, any other questions?”
A woman stands, “Excuse me. You talked some about climate change and how that will affect crop yields, weather patterns, droughts, disease, and the spread of parasites.”
“Indeed. Yes I did.”
“I guess I just…don’t believe it is happening.”
The scientist explains the definition of epistemology, notes the difference between scientific and social consensus, and touches on the growing field of data, all of which indicates and substantiates the warming globe and mankind’s culpability. The crowd nods absently when he is done.
She says, “Well, it’s always hot in summer.”
The crowd nods in agreement.
I stand up. “Sorry to interrupt. I was late and I missed my chance, and I get that. But what I wanted you all to know is that we’re fucked, and that there are a number of powerful interests that wish to deny you the information you need to make sound decisions about the various ecological and social catastrophes looming on the horizon, and trust me, that shit is real, and it’s going to be bad. At the same time, we seem to have basically a puppet government owned by industry via the legalized bribery of campaign contributions and lobbyists. Further complicating the dissemination, interpretation, and use of good information is our own inherently flawed psychology that distorts everything we see through confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, plain old ignorance, internet-fed Dunning-Kruger effect, and a limbic system that was good at keeping us from being eaten by tigers, but which kind of sucks at accepting upsetting factual input over a longer timeline. Even beyond that, our media system is based on a capitalist model that delivers pre-packaged info-bytes targeted to appeal to specific demographic profiles chosen by marketers to move products, delivering smug satisfaction and anger and greasing the vector of over-consumption instead of just delivering important information like, say, the world is on fucking fire and a million species will be driven to extinction over the next century, and we have to practice birth control, switch to renewable energy sources, go vegetarian, and stop killing the goddamn bees. But instead we’re all just sort of cocooned in our various information silos where we will inevitably die alone, feeling absolutely blameless in our opinions that it is all someone else’s fault.
“Anyway, he can explain it until he’s blue in the face, and if you don’t agree with him already, there is only the slimmest chance that you ever will, no matter how clearly or patiently he explains it. So why waste your time…or his? We’re all fucked. Enjoy the rest of the program, and if anyone is interested in professional speedbathing, you can watch it on XSports.Net. It’ll be a good way to pass the time until the apocalypse. Thanks.”
A woman stands in the center of the audience.
“Excuse me,” she says. “I found your interruption rude, your cursing offensive, and your observations depressing.”
“Sorry,” I say. “Not a lot to be optimistic about. We’re in the middle of a mass extinction, and that guy doesn’t like bees. See? He doesn’t like bees. And that’s that. Carpe diem, folks.”