Monday, August 3, 2015

Roy Scranton's "Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene"

Today I came across Roy Scranton's article from 2013, Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene.  I had missed it when it first appeared on the New York Times' philosophy blog.

Scranton is a philosopher who also served in the US Army from 2002-2006.  He begins his article with a vivid picture of post-invasion Iraq:

Driving into Iraq just after the 2003 invasion felt like driving into the future. We convoyed all day, all night, past Army checkpoints and burned-out tanks, till in the blue dawn Baghdad rose from the desert like a vision of hell: Flames licked the bruised sky from the tops of refinery towers, cyclopean monuments bulged and leaned against the horizon, broken overpasses swooped and fell over ruined suburbs, bombed factories, and narrow ancient streets.    With “shock and awe,” our military had unleashed the end of the world...
 In this hellish environment, Scranton learned to face the apparent inevitability of death.
I found my way forward through an 18th-century Samurai manual, Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s “Hagakure,” which commanded: “Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily.” Instead of fearing my end, I owned it.
In fact he made it back to the US.  But something continued to gnaw at him.  Growthist civilization was bringing about its own demise.
Many thinkers have argued that studying philosophy is learning how to die. If that’s true, then we have entered humanity’s most philosophical age — for this is precisely the problem of the Anthropocene.
The essay is an impassioned plea to heed the challenge of climate change at an existential, not merely a technical, level.  Read it here.

Photo: Bust of Parmenides   Source: Wikimedia Commons

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