July 3rd, 2006

ozarque figure

Emotional weather; part seven...

I've been listening recently to the debates over which of two strategies humankind should focus on in order to be able to go on living on Earth: (1) trying to find ways to fix the global climate mess; or (2) accepting the mess as already past fixing, resolving not to make it even worse, and trying to find ways to adapt to it. [Assuming that Stephen Hawking is wrong this time, and it's not true that what humankind must do is abandon Earth and relocate elsewhere.] And it seems to me that perhaps there's something analogous to that debate that's relevant for the discussion we've been having here.

We started out wondering how people suffering from "hopelessness" (or whatever it should be called) could be persuaded to set that negative emotion aside. That is, we started out wondering how to fix the emotional climate mess.

Maybe that's the wrong choice? Maybe the thing to do is to perceive that negative emotion as an accurate assessment of the current situation on this world, and to perceive that negative emotional weather front as a reaction to the realization that things really are that bad, and are past fixing. Maybe the rational response to the phenomenon is not to try to fix things but to accept them (while resolving not to make them even worse) and try to find ways to adapt.

I don't like that idea, but that's no reason for me to refuse to consider it. And when I consider it, what I think of is ticks.

Where I live, way out in the country in northwest Arkansas, there just are ticks, and there's no way to get rid of them, and no way to avoid finding them on your person a couple of times a week during most of the year. Poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, you can get rid of. Rattlesnakes and copperheads and cottonmouths you can't get rid of, but you can avoid them, and with moderate vigilance you can keep them off your premises. Tornados, you can't get rid of, but you can usually count on seeing them no more than once or twice in a lifetime.

Ticks are different. Like the poor, they are always with you. No quantity of poison spread on the ground will get rid of them for more than a few months, supposing you're willing to spread that poison. Thinking Right Thoughts won't get rid of them. If you're only here for a week or two you can slather your skin and your clothing with other poisons to keep them off of you, but you can't do that full time indoors and out. Ticks are gross, and the things they do are gross, and they are simply there. [Where I live, people get a lot of amusement out of reading those "health" columns in the magazines that tell you solemnly that if a tick bites you you must put it in a glass jar so you can show it to your doctor. What our doctors would do with a jar of a hundred ticks we can't imagine, and if we showed up in their offices saying "I was bitten by a tick," they would say "So?"]

The tick thing can't be fixed. Leaving two choices: Move away, or adapt. Most of us adapt. We learn not to react to ticks -- even when we find them firmly attached to our person and apparently enjoying themselves -- as if they were vampires. We learn to be vigilant about finding and removing them, since they can only make us sick if they feed on us for 24 hours; we learn to recognize their dear little feet moving about, and we learn to find them and kill them fast. Unlike the tourists, we do not insist on throwing away or burning the parts of our clothing that the ticks have wandered over. Nor do we -- like a lady tourist who stopped by my house one day after a brief trip down to the riverbank -- run screaming up the road and strip ourselves naked in a stranger's yard and spray ourselves all over wildly with that stranger's garden hose. We don't grow fond of ticks, and we don't cease to deplore them; but we adapt.

Maybe it would be more accurate to say that the problem people in that negative-emotion cloud are suffering from is not a lack of resources for fixing things but a lack of resources for adapting to things?