Many psychologists and psychiatrists have noticed a sharp recent increase in the number of people who present to them with anxiety about ecological collapse. The proliferation of media relating to end-of-world environmental disaster scenarios has made many people fearful. This article will give some tips for dealing with the fact that we’re all going to die.
The phenomenon has been called climate despair. Fuelled by headlines about people dying in Japanese heatwaves, how last month was the hottest month in human history, or how humanity only has 18 months to act if catastrophe is to be averted, climate despair is when people give up on life on account of believing that humans have destroyed the climate of Earth, and thereby its capacity to support life.
It could be said to be a kind of existential horror, one that arises at the thought of a future Earth that is barren of life owing to Venus-like conditions. What is the point in doing anything, in struggling to achieve things, if we’ve just wrecked the planet and are all going to die?
Climate despair may not be irrational. Some climate models do indeed predict that we have cooked the planet beyond the point where human civilisation can continue to exist. Even though things are ticking along alright now, there may be several degrees of warming that are inescapable from this point owing to what has already been added to the atmosphere.
However, from an existential and spiritual point of view, climate despair is a needless suffering and therefore ought to be counteracted. The good news is that, in principle, climate despair is nothing more than bog-standard death anxiety wearing a new mask. Therefore, the old ways of dealing with death anxiety are applicable to dealing with climate despair.
The problem that we’re going to die is essentially two problems rolled into one.
The first is that it isn’t obvious, to many people, that consciousness survives the death of the physical body. In much the same way that the Earth intuitively feels flat, many people intuitively feel that the brain generates consciousness, and therefore the death of the brain with the death of the physical body means that consciousness ends.
The second is that it isn’t obvious, to many people, that anything we do here has any meaning. We’re all going to die, and even if consciousness survives this and goes through into the next world, we don’t appear to be able to take anything with us. We can’t take property with us, we can’t take family with us, we may not even be able to take memories with us. Therefore, no actions in this world have meaning, and despair must follow.
Solving the first problem isn’t too difficult. That’s a simple matter of refuting the common illusion that the brain generates consciousness.
If a person makes the argument that the life is meaningless because we all die, and with the death of the body goes our consciousness, therefore we are doomed to forget everything we have done and everything we are, they run into a problem. This problem is called the Argument from Biological Necessity.
Evolution is an extremely efficient process, and it only ever selects for traits that confer an immediate advantage in either survival or reproduction. But, as anyone who has read any Dostoevsky can tell you, being conscious confers no such advantage. The human animal could just as well fight and fuck without being aware of what it is doing.
If anything, consciousness is an impediment to survival, on account of that it leads to depression, anxiety and existential angst and horror. These emotions paralyse us and drive us to suicide. It would be much better to not be conscious – then one could simply do whatever was necessary to best further one’s genes.
If consciousness is not necessary, then it cannot have been selected for by natural or sexual selection, as all of the facets and qualities of the brain have been. Therefore, it cannot be generated by the brain, and therefore there’s no reason to assume that the death of the brain should affect the presence of it.
The second problem is much harder. Even if you can logically and convincingly argue that consciousness must survive the death of the physical body, is not clear that anything apart from consciousness survives with it. This raises the possibility that, after the death of the physical body, one has to start again, as if this life had never happened.
Broadly speaking, there are three ways to get life wrong as a result of all this, and one way to get it right.
One can become obsessed with breeding, and adopt the delusion that one has cheated death by producing offspring. People under this delusion know no greater pleasure than just to rut like animals, and seldom consider the stark fact that their offspring will also grow old and die, as will their offspring etc.
One can become obsessed with physical dominance, and adopt the delusion that just because one is hard to kill that one has cheated death. Even if a man is really big, strong, fit, trained in martial arts and carrying weapons, time will grind him down. Age will weaken his arms, and eventually a major organ will fail. This is no solution either.
One can become obsessed with intellectual dominance, or wealth and social status. Such a person adopts the delusion that one can live on in history if one achieves sufficiently great deeds. Of course, as the example of Ozymandias showed, even the greatest deeds are worn away by time. One can never be famous enough to overcome one’s own mortality because no-one can escape the fact that everyone dies alone.
The solution is to focus on refining one’s frequency of consciousness, because that is something that might well carry through into the next world. This means to use the power of will to work one’s consciousness into a state where it serves to bring peaceful and joyous order to the intellectual, emotional and physical environment.
The Law of Karma tells us that the energy we put out is the energy that we get back. Therefore, one ought to direct one’s will towards reducing the suffering of the conscious beings around you. If one does this correctly and of one’s true will, then chances are that one comes to be reincarnated in a place where beings with similar wills exist.
This act of changing the frequency of one’s consciousness is the only way that we can work to taking something with us into the next world. It’s therefore always possible to improve the quality of one’s spiritual position by working towards the cessation of the suffering of other sentient beings. This is true no matter what the current or future state of the world’s climate.
If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2018 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis). A compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 is also available.