Embracing the heterodox

At the denouement of the 2018 film “Under the Silver Lake” a character staring into the eyes of the protagonist delivers the following monologue with great conviction.

“This isn’t a world that anyone with much sense stays in or spends much time worrying about. You’re living in a carnival, throwing plastic rings at oversized pop bottles, hoping to win a prize. What are you going to win? A two-week vacation? New car? A little money to retire on? It’s all just a shitty, sawdust-filled rabbit. The things you care about are useless when we’re gone.”

Often when a character delivers their “master plan” monologue we’re suppose to write them off as delusional, but I think the director had other ideas. I’m sure there are lots of us who would likely share this character’s cynicism - many people today describe themselves as “realists” but the divide is increasingly narrow when the world feels so depraved; the news seems to only show us stories of death, corruption, greed, injustice etc.

I think it’s important to separate “the world” from “my world”. The former is how I perceive wars in foreign countries I’ve never been to, the election of the next prime minister, generalised ideas of human behaviour etc. I experience almost all of these things through television and the internet and by-in-large my actions have very little effect on them (more on this later). The latter is my personal, direct experience: things I see, taste, hear, people I have conversations with, my family, friends, colleagues. What should be more important, the former or the latter?

One of the attitudes that I feel is most prevalent in the West is “those things are happening the other side of the world and so don’t affect me”. While our news sites do sometimes cover stories about atrocities in other parts of the world these are quickly forgotten about as journalists and news outlets choose other things to draw our attention to. But mostly these events are not likely to influence how we live our lives (as deeply saddening as they are) because we don’t think anything like them is ever going to happen to us.

At the beginning of Covid-19 pandemic, many of us thought there was no likelihood of the virus (that was at the time infecting thousands of Chinese citizens) ever reaching our shores. For one of the first times in my life I saw first-hand an intersection between “my world” and “the world”.

I think it’s becoming increasingly easy to accept ideas outside of the box of rationality and correctness most of us live in. That’s not just because when things feel so bleak we naturally look for alternatives, but being right all the time and believing everyone else to be wrong is also tiresome; it’s freeing to not feel the need to scrutinise every belief that falls outside of what you consider “true”. What also seemed to quickly emerge during the Covid pandemic was the need to live our lives by the empirical and undeniable Truth. It was what scientists told us about the virus that influenced how we behaved, except the message wasn’t always singular and clear and there were people in our lives who seemed to be more in-the-know than the rest of us - who we gave a voice (and a sense of self-importance) to. In the end there was really no single truth, only our many varied individual truths.

The reason why a lot of us don’t seem to care very much about climate change is because it too falls victim to the “that’s happening on the other side of the world and doesn’t affect me” mentality, the key difference with Covid-19 being that its effects are not yet obvious and immediate to us where we live. Despite temperatures here in the UK being higher last week than they’ve been for almost fifty years, nobody’s death certificate will have any mention of climate change (but it might say heatstroke).

What I find overwhelmingly sad is the people who truly believe this (whom I so desperately want to be wrong) are in some ways right. The first people to be affected by climate change, to die, to be displaced, to starve aren’t anywhere near the UK. They’re in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the hottest regions of the planet.

It will take a majority of people challenging our notion of what is “correct” for us to figure out how to slow down the effects of climate change, to embrace the heterodox ideas and the moonshots, to remove the carbon already in our atmosphere.