One of the questions I suggested we use for exploring our responses to the predicament of disastrous climate change was:
“With what and whom can we make peace with to lessen suffering?”
I called this the fourth R of reconciliation within the Deep Adaptation framework.
Part of this “making peace” and reconciling is forgiveness.
The human race has destroyed so much life on Earth and will continue to do so. Some cultures and countries have collectively been far more destructive than others and will continue to be for some time. Some companies are more destructive than others, as are some individuals. And they may continue to be so for some time.
Anger at this situation is understandable. More than that, such anger is a sign we are awake to the situation and that we care.
But then what do we do with that anger?
Some may look for whom to blame and develop hatred for whichever category of person they choose. Because they won’t be just hating one person, but a category of person.
Every category is arbitrary.
For instance, shall we blame and hate oil company executives?
Or those who invest in them?
Or perhaps our parents who have shares in pension funds invested in those same companies?
Or perhaps ourselves, for that gift we received from our parent’s profits from the dividends that helped us get a mortgage?
Nearly all of us are embedded in the system of destruction and therefore complicit. Some of us are more complicit than others. Some people have more power to try to change things at scale than others.
So, even though our choices for where to place any blame will be arbitrary, it is sensible to discuss where responsibility lies, and who should be challenged to change behaviour.
But if that leads to blame and hatred? Then we risk losing our way and making matters worse.
As I write the words of that last sentence, boy does it feel annoying. I want to rage at the wilful ignorance of self-satisfied people who benefit from systems that are ruining lives around the world and threatening our very survival.
But I still know it is true that blame and hatred risks making matters worse.
To not forgive gives rise to our own suffering as well as wider suffering. If we cannot let go of a real or imagined wrong against us then we are unable to free ourselves from hate and we will suffer as a result. The tensed shoulders, clenched teeth, and hormones pumping around our body. The time spent thinking through why someone is worse than us, rather than spent thinking what we could do differently ourselves to improve our situation.
When people start to talk about their hatred of groups of people, then they are de-humanising them and sowing the seeds for violence. This is often done when people say that we should be disgusted by a type of person. When people with a public audience begin to invite disgust with and hatred of groups of people, then the seeds of violence can rapidly grow.
As we are all made of the same stuff, and come from the same original consciousness, then the way we behave is the result of the conditions within which we have learned to be human. If you had been born to be me and experienced what I experienced in life, you would likely be quite like me! And vice versa. With that perspective, it is less easy to be hateful at someone for how they are. We can try to challenge them and hold them accountable for attitudes and behaviours that are harmful to others. But where would hatred come from? And what would it serve?
Many people are rightly angry at the destruction of our biosphere.
Angry, frustrated, sad, and scared all at the same time.
I realise part of that anger is at myself. I am a human. I am one of the species that has done this. I am a man. I am one of the gender that has dominated culture for thousands of years in ways that denigrated reverence for nature. We burned women, for fxxks sake. I am white. A race that has pioneered the culture that violently and systematically suppressed other races and cultures until a system of the infinite exploitation of the Earth had been crowned triumphant.
I am not just angry at what I am. I am beyond that. I am depressed at what I am. I think it is this subconscious self-hatred that drives some of the anger we see in the environmental movement today. We are so upset at what we are, that we distract ourselves from the pain of self-hatred by vilifying other people who are, at least, worse than us!
So where do we go from here?
Can we forgive ourselves?
When I reflected on how I am part of nature, which created all humans as well as little me, I realised that there was nothing to forgive. Whatever is happening, however horrible, is arising from natural processes. Over millions of years, life comes and goes. In the universe, over billions of years, perhaps life comes and goes.
The fact we are all made of the same stuff and that we are a member of the species that has been so destructive, are both reasons for recognising the futility of blame and hatred of others for how they damage the planet and our fellow humans.
These reflections do not mean I do not feel anger. They do not mean I do not see people and categories of people as “opponents” who could be far better engaged, challenged or disempowered (oil executives, for instance). But it means that blame and hatred aren’t alive for me when I think about these things. Maybe that will help me be better at making choices about what to do. At least I do not suffer from carrying around my own hatred.
The reason I write this blog now, is because I realise the power of humanity to make bad situations far worse. As climate chaos gets worse over the coming decade, so there will be more refugees, more disasters, more hunger, more families disgruntled at the cost of living and fearful about the future. Some of the elites will be worried that we might club together and change systems of power, and thus look to manipulate us to blame each other. In future, I fear intergenerational hatred will grow, and be used by elites to justify policies that harm people of a certain age. A narrative that blames the older generations for climate change will be used by elites to justify the ending of state support for the poor and frail in those generations.
We live in a time when the internet is a playground for people who invite our disgust at others, rather than explore difficult issues together. One of the inflammatory modes is to say some people have more right to be angry than men like me; that I am speaking about forgiveness from a privileged position. That is why in the past year I have reached out to teachers, children, social justice groups and the decolonisation movement, to better hear their perspectives, and bring attention to them. I have not heard more hatred. I have heard an openness to healing. Because they realise the gravity of the situation we all face.
Inviting discussion about whether it is right or wrong for activists to be proud of never forgiving politicians – or the older generations – is important. I believe it is important because that non-forgiveness is a form of hatred which could one day be used by authoritarian regimes to justify abuses in the name of climate reality. Therefore, I recommend we question activists or politicians if their words could be inviting hatred, even if that means we attract criticism for doing so.
I wrote this blog to provide context for some parts of an interview of Charles Eisenstein. I recommend watching the whole thing here.
If you are interested, please discuss these ideas in the Philosophy Group of the Deep Adaptation Forum.