Stretched beyond the Empathic Limit

They want me to care, but I don’t, I can’t, I won’t, I don’t see why I should.

Gadaffi, Libya, rebel uprisings, arms, bombs, artillery, fighter jets, cruise missiles, deaths in the Middle East. Who are these people to me? I know why they care (the dictator wants to hold onto power, the people want to oust him and be able to afford food, and western leaders want to maintain access to oil and arms markets by ushering in and tutoring the new regime); or at least why they pretend to care. I just don’t. Sue me.

Japan, tsunamis, Fukushima, radiation, nuclear power prospects, ‘environmentalists’ doing the industry’s PR for them, energy politics. Where’s the relevance to my life? Where can I fruitfully, meaningfully intervene? This is not ‘news’ – these are pixels on a screen! We only know about these places because our pirate ancestors were looking for new resources to plunder, and the same is true today: interest in a story correlates strongly to the depth of economic investment in related areas.

Clearly I’m in need of a Noble Cause – the more world-beating (and impossible) the better! Maybe I should carry on with saving the forests – they payed attention to my voice when I raised it before after all. Then why did I feel so utterly wearied when I heard my own words repeated back to me in news reports and government statements? Why did my ‘victory’ taste so bitter? Or maybe I should hop on the train of superficial activist energy and rescue the NHS from the latest round of bureaucratic cannibalism. But wait a minute – why all this energy spent on preserving government bodies? I haven’t been to a hospital in years, and I’d be perfectly happy in a future without them (if the medical know-how they enclosed were to return to uncomplicated everyday use among the populace). Ditto the Forestry Commission. Not to go all ‘Big Society’ on you, but I’d rather see decision-making devolved to the lowest levels with local people in charge of the local resources which they use.

Climate Change, Peak Oil, Austerity, Revolution, Overpopulation, Species Loss, – what do all these big words mean to me? My senses have been killed! I live in a self-controlled, self-mediated bubble named ‘security’. Maybe I remember that Springs used to be rainier (but then, haven’t Winters gotten colder?) Maybe I notice that petrol and food are getting more expensive (but it’s a free market, right?). Maybe I see the kids getting angrier, fewer bees about, more people desperately ‘seeking employment’, the arts getting more pointless and irrelevant, and – slowly as ever – the dim recognition of life-possibilities gradually choking down to the most meagre levels. Beyond that, I’m blind and stupid. You have to level with me; you will have to work with what I’ve got.

All the talk is about murder, starvation, injustice, energy, pollution, money, drugs, crime, immigration. Meanwhile, I know dozens of people who will work themselves to death, but I never say anything to them. An elderly neighbour talks to me about her excruciating leg pain, all the pills she takes and the times she has fallen because it got too much. In her house, on her own. And I itch to escape from her confiding and forget all about what she has told me.

I have exceeded my capacity to care.

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4 Responses to “Stretched beyond the Empathic Limit”

  1. ondisturbedground Says:

    Disclaimer: the ‘me’ in this first-person narrative may not necessarily refer to ‘me’ the author.


    On Western motives in Libya, see Noam Chomsky’s analysis:

    Libya is rich in oil, and though the US and UK have often given quite remarkable support to its cruel dictator, right to the present, he is not reliable. They would much prefer a more obedient client. Furthermore, the vast territory of Libya is mostly unexplored, and oil specialists believe it may have rich untapped resources, which a more dependable government might open to Western exploitation. […] What Washington seeks is what Bush announced: control, or at least dependable clients. US and British internal documents stress that “the virus of nationalism” is their greatest fear, not just in the Middle East but everywhere. Nationalist regimes might conduct illegitimate exercises of sovereignty, violating Grand Area principles. And they might seek to direct resources to popular needs, as Nasser sometimes threatened.

    Nuclear-supporting environmentalists, Monbiot:

    Of course it’s not a straight fight between coal and nuclear. There are plenty of other ways of producing electricity, and I continue to place appropriate renewables above nuclear power in my list of priorities. We must also make all possible efforts to reduce consumption. But we’ll still need to generate electricity, and not all renewable sources are appropriate everywhere.

    and Lynas:

    Without the large-scale carbon-free [sic] option of nuclear generation, there is much less chance that industrialised and industrialising societies alike will be able to keep the lights on without significant and increasing use of coal. […] We need nuclear power. If what happens at Fukushima dims the prospects for increasing the world’s use of it, then the battle against climate change will be infinitely more difficult to win.

    The ‘we’ they insist on falsely conflates the needs of the human individual with the demands of industrial society which, I accept, ‘needs’ to keep growing its energy supply, regardless of the cost, or it will die. They want to keep the lights on at the expense of the biosphere. I know that people have lived – comfortably and fulfillingly – without electricity in the past and they will do so again. I want life on Earth to continue, therefore I require the death of civilisation, whether it’s powered by coal, nuclear, renewables or the guff of privileged white liberal journalists.

    BBC paying attention to the concerns I raised with the local MP: ‘Forest sale axed’:

    …critics argued it could threaten public access, biodiversity and result in forests being used for unsuitable purposes.

    Activist energy moved on to the NHS courtesy of 38 Degrees.

    Exceeding Caring Capacity = Jensen in-joke

  2. ondisturbedground Says:

    More thoughts:

    How long can the ivy survive – leaves twisting in the sun, tendrils creeping along branches, choking the host tree with its dead weight – when its main stem has been severed?

    These (above) are not authentic cares. They have no root in simple, expected, everyday empathy. They share the form and even some of the movement of a living body, but really they’re just struggling against a death that became inevitable with a loss of essential nutrients from the soil. They may profuse in the sunlight until the tree groans under their weight, but ultimately these are the desperate throes of death.

    Any new growth must begin back at the lowest cut on the main trunk.

  3. christine Says:

    Wow, Ian. That was brave.


    • Ian M Says:

      Thanks. More like ‘reckless’ maybe… Nice to get some recognition for this one. Not exactly an easy thing to arrive at.

      Oh, PS: I should say I was wrong about Libyans wanting to ‘oust’ Gadaffi. Well, some of them did, but lots didn’t. He did some good things for the people in that country and I bet whatever scumbag puppet NATO replace him with will be ten times worse.

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