Article Review: "Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene" by Roy Scranton from "The Best Science and Nature Writing 2014"
Author Roy Scranton is an Iraq War veteran. He describes the 2003 invasion of Baghdad (with some justification) as “the end of the world.” Later, stateside, he watches the Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and cause the “same chaos and urban collapse” he’d witnessed in Baghdad. His unit was put on alert to prepare for riot operations. “The grim future I’d seen in Baghdad was coming home… a civilization in collapse, with a crippled infrastructure, unable to recuperate from shocks to its system.”
Scranton says while he was in Iraq, he read works such as Simone Weil’s The Iliad or the Poem of Force and an 18th century samurai manual, Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo. The latter contains a nugget that Scranton took to heart: Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily.
Even though he knew that he was relatively safe in Baghdad, Scranton made it a practice to “die” daily before he went out on patrol. He knew then that he was already dead. He learned how to die in Iraq.
His experience with Katrina taught him that he wasn’t safe even at home. Mankind has had such an impact on the global system that some scientists have taken to naming a geological time period after him: the Anthropocene. It is already too late.
The biggest problem we have, he says, is not failure to change our ways. It is a philosophical one, that is, accepting that our civilization is already dead.
And this jolly old elf is planning book-length tidings of joy based on this idea, due out this year.
I confess that I cannot judge the merits of his arguments too finely. We have Venus to look at for runaway greenhouse gas effects, but I don’t think there’s evidence of intelligent actors who could work to stop that. That there are problems cannot be dismissed out of hand. Just the same, we’re not fossils yet.
Title: “Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene”
Published in: The Best Science and Nature Writing 2014
First Published: The New York Times Nov. 10, 2013
Author: Roy Scranton
© 2015 Denise Longrie
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