Seeking a Mission for the End of the World

Guy McPherson

“Live large. Be you, and bolder than you’ve ever been. Live like you’re dying. Because you are. No guilt. We were all born into the captivity of industrial civilization. No blame. No shame. At the edge of extinction, only love remains.”—Guy McPherson

Going Dark

By Dr. Guy McPherson

“Dung Beetles,” © Steve Roberts / Footprint Design, Painting commissioned for the 2008 International Congress of Entomology in Durban, South Africa.

“Dung Beetles,” © Steve Roberts / Footprint Design, Painting commissioned for the 2008 International Congress of Entomology in Durban, South Africa.

“Know the joy of life by piling good deed on good deed until no rift or cranny appears between them (τί λοιπὸν ἢ ἀπολαύειν τοῦ ζῆν συνάπτοντα ἄλλο ἐπ ἄλλῳ ἀγαθόν, ὥστε μηδὲ τὸ βραχύτατον διάστημα ἀπολείπειν).”―Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus (26 April 12117 March 180), “Meditations”

“I am a personal optimist but a skeptic about all else. What may sound to some like anger is really nothing more than sympathetic contempt. I view my species with a combination of wonder and pity, and I root for its destruction. And please don’t confuse my point of view with cynicism; the real cynics are the ones who tell you everything’s gonna be all right.”―George Carlin

Guy McPherson

WESTCHESTER COUNTY New York—(Weekly Hubris)—December 2018—I am often asked, “Why are we here?” Occasionally, I am asked, “Why am I here?” I will attempt to respond to both questions in this short essay. Not surprisingly, my responses align with a paragraph from German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer:

Human life must be some kind of mistake. The truth of this will be sufficiently obvious if we only remember that man is a compound of needs and necessities hard to satisfy; and that even when they are satisfied, all he obtains is a state of painlessness, where nothing remains to him but abandonment to boredom. This is direct proof that existence has no real value in itself; for what is boredom but the feeling of the emptiness of life? If life—the craving for which is the very essence of our being—were possessed of any positive intrinsic value, there would be no such thing as boredom at all: mere existence would satisfy us in itself, and we should want for nothing.

With respect to the first question, the obvious response is, “Who is ‘we’?” I will assume, in this case, that the “we” in question is Homo sapiens. In that case, the response is easy, if one has sufficient understanding of evolutionary biology. 

I went to graduate school in Lubbock, Texas. In the process of completing my graduate degrees, I spent a lot of time conducting work in the grasslands and savannas of western and central Texas. On dozens of occasions, I defecated in the savannas. On most of these occasions, considering my location, I attracted dung beetles. The dung beetles would fly toward me as I squatted, their size and wingspan making them drone like B-52s. I would bat them away, as well as I was able, and they would crash awkwardly into my head and torso. After I finished my task, I would watch the beetles as they formed my manure into balls a tad smaller than ping-pong balls and then rolled them away. These tiny creatures thus solved a significant problem for human beings. As with carrion beetles, dung beetles save humans from a lot of life-threatening diseases: they clean up after us.

By now it’s probably obvious that the answer to the question, “Why are we here?” is rooted in evolutionary biology. We are here to give dung beetles something to do. Dung beetles are here to protect us, thereby extending our lives. Without us, dung beetles will be SOL.

Comedian George Carlin promulgated a different idea, one rooted in “nurture” rather than “nature.” As indicated in the video embedded here,

Carlin believed our collective purpose of transforming oil into plastic had nearly run its course more than a decade ago.

Considering “us” as a civilization, I believe there is another response to the matter of our purpose. We are here, as a global society of clever beings, to model ridiculous behavior. In so doing, we provide a galactic warning to other civilizations in the multiverse.

The far-more-difficult question, of course, is, “Why am I here?” I suspect there are approximately 7.6 billion answers to this question.

For Jeff Bezos, the answer is, “to go to the moon.” 

For Elon Musk, the answer is, “to go to Mars.”

For some more-extreme technophiles, the answer is, “to go even farther.” 

I wish nothing but good luck to Bezos, Musk, and like-minded technopians. (Well, I wish them good riddance, too.)

Some individuals are here to give. In pursuing a life of service, I would put myself and a statistically few others in that group.

Some people are here to take. We all know examples of the ones to whom Daniel Quinn referred as “takers.” I am reminded anew nearly every week when I come across yet another example of betrayal.

For most of us, I would suggest that the individual rationale for our temporary existence is simply this: “Live small, breathe the sweet air, and go slow.”

“Pythagoreans Celebrating the Rising of the Sun,” by Fyodor Bronnikov (1827—1902).

“Pythagoreans Celebrating the Rising of the Sun,” by Fyodor Bronnikov (1827—1902).

Or, as Marcus Aurelius pointed out: “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive—to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” I’d go a few steps further and point out that the answer has to do with acknowledging our limits as individuals. I’ve written up my advice, repeatedly, but let me I expand even further upon my earlier writing on this topic:

I am asked nearly every day for advice about living. I recommend living fully. I recommend living with intention. I recommend living urgently, with death in mind. I recommend the pursuit of excellence. I recommend the pursuit of love.

In light of the short time remaining in your life, and my own, I recommend all of the above, even more loudly than before. More fully than you can imagine. To the limits of this restrictive culture, and beyond.

For you. For me. For us. For here. For now.

Live large. Be you, and bolder than you’ve ever been. Live like you’re dying. Because you are. No guilt. We were all born into the captivity of industrial civilization. No blame. No shame. At the edge of extinction, only love remains.

I know this is a lot to ask. Expressing the best of humanity is quite a task. At this point, though, what have you got to lose? Indeed, what have we got to lose?

To order Dr. McPherson’s books, click the cover images here below:

McPherson going dark cover

McPherson Walking Away from Empire - A Personal Journey cover

Guy McPherson

About Guy McPherson

Guy McPherson is an internationally recognized speaker, award-winning scientist, and one of the world’s leading authorities on abrupt climate change leading to near-term human extinction. He is professor emeritus at the University of Arizona, where he taught and conducted research for 20 years. His published works include 14 books and hundreds of scholarly articles. Dr. McPherson has been featured on television and radio and in several documentary films. He is a blogger and social critic who co-host his own radio show, “Nature Bats Last.” Dr. McPherson speaks to general audiences across the globe, and to scientists, students, educators, and not-for-profit and business leaders who seek their best available options when confronting Earth’s cataclysmic changes.
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5 Responses to Seeking a Mission for the End of the World

  1. Robert Schick says:

    Thanks again Guy. As an addendum to your living with urgency advice, i will only add this, the first spoken words from the operarth ‘Sphere’: “Without passion, what’s the fucking point?!”

  2. William Pothier says:

    Thank you Guy for always being on the front lines. It is somewhat satisfying when I read the comment sections of various climate related articles and so many more than ever express their appreciation for you and your message. Basically, “Guy has been saying this for years…”. Now with the newest reports coming out collectively stating that we may have no more than 12 years to respond to, as you say it, our predicament. Such comments are made more and more often now.
    I have just received the green light from my local school committee to teach a version two of my Science of Natural Disasters course here at my local high school. It appears that here in New Hampshire going boldly into topics that are sensitive and controversial for others (is GW real or not real?) is considered acceptable here. As I once said in a faculty meeting some years ago when teachers were grousing about not having the time for a new approach or addition to the curriculum because they barely had time to cover what they were responsible for, I could not sit quietly any longer. I was new to this particular school and I raised my hand and stated that with all due respect, our role as educators is not to cover the curriculum. I then purposefully halted my comment to see the wrinkled up noses and shaking of heads as I looked around the room. I then finished my comment by saying that we are here to uncover the curriculum and all of the beauty and mystery that lies within that makes it so wonderful to teach and for students to want to be engaged within it. There was only silence and no rebuke and when the meeting ended several teachers stopped and thanked me for having them think about this topic in a way that they have never been guided to think about before. I replied that this was not simply a play on words but our constant struggle with depth over breadth.
    Guy, you make people think in ways that they have never had to think before and that can be uncomfortable for many. I think the rebukes will slowly fade away as the evidence for what you have been saying continues to come to light. All the best to you Guy as we all move towards this most uncertain future. We are indeed all in this together and I would agree that love and how we manifest it will have much to do with our state of mind when we finally get there, wherever there is.

  3. Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you, Robert and William, for your affirmative comments. The pursuit of excellence and love remain my urgent passions. Education is my means of pursuit.

  4. Jean says:

    Dr McPherson, yes. Your advice is sound. I believe in examining and cherishing what we can, and perhaps commenting on it. Hand prints on cave walls. I like this essay very much.

  5. Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you, Jean. I enjoy your comment very much.

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