Bites That Itch to Be Scratched

I came home from a week’s vacation to find that cockroaches, at least four or five, had taken over my kitchen. Cursing and swatting them ultimately makes no difference, since they will thrive no matter what you do. Just stay out of the kitchen at five a.m.

Similarly, despite your insistent urge to scratch mosquito bites, you know that will only make them worse. The bugs continually remind us of our powerlessness over them. And of course they will be here long after we humans are swept away by climate change or another disaster.

For me and many of you, we now live in a world that seems driven by forces we can no longer control, if we ever did. Nature responds with unmistakable signals. So does Covid; so does our politics.

Trump, the biggest cockroach of all, has created a movement that will thrive even without him. His political opponents keep trying to find new kinds of bug sprays that won’t work. It’s like those who defend growing organic food by claiming they use organic bug sprays—a ridiculous contradiction in terms.

The planetary and political disasters we face are all man-made. They are a consequence of hubris—that is, trying to be godlike, flying too near the sun and, mostly, presuming that man’s law supersedes nature’s. We see it everywhere, from the proliferation of space and plastic junk to political movements denying the will of voters.

We are now in the process of committing one of mankind’s greatest acts of hubris ever in challenging the gods of nature. Climate change may be the final act in response to man’s defiance of the natural world. The punishment is going to be severe beyond our imagining. COVID-19 is a signal warning, its spread enabled by climate change.

I have been harping on this in the blog and referring to Amitav Ghosh frequently, as he is one of the few who sees the impending danger very broadly.

The hubris embodied in our myth of perpetual progress and growth has led modern capitalism to this state. Our myopic focus on extraction, deforestation, paving, overfishing, carbonizing (the list goes on) has made us blind to what we are doing to nature and what this disrespect will lead to. One who does understand this is Amitav Ghosh, whose book The Great Derangement I reviewed here last year.

Ghosh has a new one out, called The Nutmeg’s Curse, to be reviewed here when I finish it. Basically he argues that western colonialism through centuries of “omnicide” (murderous conquest and exploitation) has now brought us to a crisis not only of the environment but of our culture.

The same thing is true with the crisis in our politics and geopolitics. The recent ills that have come to beset us have a deep and complex history. The many racial, ethnic and religious conflicts, the flaws of capitalism—all comprehended in climate change—are confounded by the predilections of many who believe in lies, rumors and fantasies, and the propensity of tech and media to intensify them.

It would be nice to find a grand solution to all this confusion, but that doesn’t appear likely. Are the cockroaches really going to take over?

Coming to Grips

After 98 people died in the Champlain Towers collapse, you’d think that many condo boards in Florida would be on edge—about their long-deferred repairs, faulty inspections, costs, accountability for insurance, and their failures to act. A board finally gets estimates from qualified people, and its members scream bloody murder about the costs. So essential maintenance is put off and nothing gets done.

For far too long, condominium owners have, in essence, eaten at the table and then left the restaurant, moving on and leaving subsequent owners to pay the bill for maintenance that should have been carried out long ago. That’s why crucial decisions about structural, fire and electrical problems must always be made by professionals, not members of condo boards. . . . [Their] general attitude has often been, “Why pay today for what you can put off until tomorrow?”

At Champlain Towers, its condo association “took two and a half years, after much internal strife, to pass a special $15 million assessment. For years, the association had not set aside enough money to deal with the problems, forcing the large special assessment to pay for them.” Those members who wanted to face the issues instead faced resignations of frustrated or intransigent board members.

One could compare this to the same impulse that keeps people from getting vaccinated. It’s another kind of denial and, like the condo boards, the unvaccinated claim ultimately bogus reasons for not acting. Some 93 million people “are eligible for shots but have chosen not to get them.” A thorough NY Times article breaks down the refusers into two groups: those who adamantly trash the vaccines (will never get it) and those who are persuadable.

That is, they either deny the reality and threat of the disease, or they offer a multitude of excuses for their hesitation. Among the latter: presumed side effects, waiting to see if it’s safe, not trusting the vaccines, not trusting the government, assuming they can repel the disease, and so on.

I think many can’t face the idea of possible death. It’s hubris, finally, this thinking that the virus will somehow pass them by, that the condo maintenance can be postponed, that you can beat the devil.

Nor can some Americans come to grips with the notion that Trump over and again demonstrates: that he is a mentally incompetent swindler, a threat to democracy. As to climate change, they are acting like the condo boards—grudgingly acknowledging the reality but failing to act. Racism is recognized if not tolerated. Denial is the agenda of the Republican party.

Ibram X. Kendi in The Atlantic writes that “Denial Is the Heartbeat of America.” He cites a number of political leaders who all claimed that January 6th “is just not who we are,” that it was un-American. But their kind of blind denial has always been central to American history and American politics, as Kendi shows. Our time is no different.