Zen in an age of extinction
Failure: a scary, scary concept.
What if you knew you had to do something but also knew in advance you would fail to accomplish it?
No matter how hard you tried?
Would you still try any way?
This is something I think about a lot with the climate crisis.
We are already experiencing the first stages of the climate breakdown.
It may already be too late to avoid a terrible future.
Do we try any way to fix things?
Should we try even if the science said we would fail to save ourselves?
I have practiced Zen for many years. I am by no means an expert at it. But I find some wisdom in it.
Zen teaches the mind to be flexible, and that there may never be a “right” answer to hard or paradoxical situations.
Zen also teaches playfulness, open mindedness, and inverting our thoughts. Our greatest weaknesses may in fact be our best strengths.
Zen delights in “no win” situations.
Zen helps in thinking through the possibility of existential outcomes.
The climate crisis is a civilizational test. If we lose, humanity could be looking at a terrible dark age ahead. Humanity could go extinct.
Zen counsels that we should pretend our fate is already sealed. We should pretend we’ve lost, and humanity is done in 200-300 years.
There’s a certain liberation that comes from thinking that whatever you do, it won’t be enough. It really does free you.
Maybe to some people, a truly doomed humanity might lead to a nihilistic or hedonistic outlook. “We’re all doomed, so let’s just do what we want.”
But for me, and for many others, I think there is a sense that we should still try. That we should challenge the gods.
It will become clearer in the coming years that the environmental challenges we face are truly historic.
But we should not be afraid.
It’s not our job to worry whether we win or lose our fight to sustain humanity.
It’s our job to hustle, and to do our best to avoid a worst case outcome. That’s the only thing we need to worry about. That’s the only thing we should be doing.