I’m sure you’ve noticed these essays don’t have much to do with the songs they’re named after except via association and inspiration. I may use the Hurricane title to write about New Orleans even though the song is about a boxer, and I’ve got almost as many possible topics for Tangled Up In Blue as there are versions of the lyrics.
This song’s a magnificent one (appropriately Dylan’s first song on The Concert for Bangla Desh DVD), but I’m just going with the general apocalyptic theme. This was a difficult one to write, more speculation than memory—I already had more notes for the next two installments before I started writing much of this one. But collapse and aftermath has always been a major part of how I see the world so it needs to be mentioned in this series.
Maybe it began with science fiction, which I started reading at an early age. I don’t recall the then current novels I was reading as being particularly apocalyptic or misanthropic but there was also Verne and Wells and all the great sci-fi invasion and mutation B movies of the fifties.
More recently, post-apocalypse tales have become best-sellers such as The Road and Station Eleven and many less well-written. I think that part of the reason for this success must be that many people are dissatisfied with the current civilization, and subconsciously recognize that catastrophe is the only possible route to a better way of life because there is no hope of this one changing voluntarily or intelligently to the extent that is needed. For most people, subconsciously is the only way they’re willing to recognize it because they have children and other family.
And of course, people can be dissatisfied for opposite reasons—what motivates people to vote for Trump is very different from what motivates my dissatisfaction. But some people may just be sure early in life that the mainstream is wrong and then spend their lives trying to find what’s right—I’m probably one of them. As an example, long ago I was introduced to the books of Ayn Rand and was briefly a fan for reasons I now think had nothing at all to do with Rand. Fortunately, I’d long embraced Thoreau’s call for simplicity and shared the longings of the back to nature movements and I soon stopped flirting with Ayn.
Ultimately for me, a youthful concern about the unfairness and injustice of human society expanded because of the obvious and repetitive damage our civilization does to the natural world in general and other species in particular (pellets of poison are flooding their waters). I always found the notion that my individual life, liberty, and happiness were of much importance compared to that destruction an incredibly narcissistic and immoral viewpoint. I’m repelled by the self-centered behavior of many humans, whether in Yellowstone or on the streets of Duluth, but if I were still focused on people, I could be just as upset about what our civilization does to our own health.
Nine years ago I wrote about a science fiction novel, City of Pearl, which seemed like a fantasy come true for radical environmentalists such as me. Here’s a link to the post I wrote then, but essentially there is a planet of extremely powerful beings some would call econazis and I would call heroes. They enforce their views of deep ecology and veganism on other planets, even if it means destroying the dominant species which has been doing their own destroying (the executioner’s face is always well hidden).
That was the first in a series. I’ve read the rest of the books in the past couple months and am now halfway through the sixth and final book in the series in which these folks finally make it to Earth. I thought of finishing the book before posting this, but decided this was more appropriate since we never know what’s going to happen next in real life either. I only know that I’m going to be very disappointed if this series which through five books has been one I’ve admired for speaking my values in a popular format, suddenly decides that humans really know best and we escape the fate we deserve.
Call me a monster—like most things, it depends on the point of view. I’d say humans are the monsters and almost every other form of life on the planet would agree with me. It’s not that I get pleasure from the thought of billions of humans dying; it’s that the collapse of human civilization is the only hope for most life forms—it’s only a loss if you think humans are all that matters. I get pleasure from the thought of all that life getting a new chance. I am tired of the pain and the grief and the frustration, and would love to strike back in defense of what I love if I believed striking back against any specific target would make any difference. But this is a systemic, not a specific, problem, so, yes, I do deeply hope that a hard rain is gonna fall; I’d seed the damn clouds if I could, but it seems inevitable even without my help. For now, I’m the monster detouring around the pigeons on the sidewalk while the precious children are trying to frighten them.
Next up: Boston,10-8-94