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Gaming the Climate

Photograph Source: Jessie Eastland – CC BY-SA 4.0

The greater divisiveness of the various warring factions in Game of Thrones places our own national divisiveness on to small, less frightening screen only because our divisiveness does not include White Walkers and their Army of the Dead. The Thrones is a world of all against all far more confusing than our own U.S. war of all against all. Or is it?

An on-line questioner asked: “When did all this happen?” Another asked: “Does Game of Thrones use CGI?” I am led to think there is indeed confusion in fictional and real worlds but most certainly in the minds of perceivers. One of the great difficulties we have in deleting irrational narratives, formerly referred to as arguments, and thus discarding illegitimate claims to our attention is the fact that our ways of knowing have been confounded.

Believing that dragons and the walking dead were filmed on location or that the historical setting for Game of Thrones can be found in any number of texts in the Library of Congress suggests that we’ve slipped away from reality. I supposed when the Babel of cyberspace is a preferred “reality platform” than reality itself, much that can’t exist and much that can’t be reasonably said does exist and is said.

Our slipping away from reality does not mean that reality has given us a pass. Quite the contrary. Right now, we are facing our own Army of the Dead and we have mustered it into being. I refer to the way the planet is slowly heating up, an invasion of heat, flood, drought, starvation, disease, extinction.

Survival will return to the entire planet as motive. All else, from the rise or collapse of the stock market, whether America becomes white again or brown, gay and socialist, how many Twitter followers you have, whose “woke” and whose not, whether government is the problem or Tech the answer, whether Executive privilege will crush Congressional oversight, and on and on….will not matter.

But what will matter regarding the crucial issue of humanity’s survival as the army of global warming heats the Earth to disastrous levels is whether the current president gets another four years in the White House. Nothing but his own survival means anything to this 73-year-old man who knows nothing of mortality, his, his family’s, ours or the planet’s. He denies the existence of this existential threat to life on this planet.

We humans are a confident, cocky bunch, relying on a record of dominating and conquering Nature to pull us through. The “real excitement is playing the game” as our President attests, the clever gaming systems that to which others bend the knee. But Nature is not a system that bends to our knee.

This arrogance and stupidity in the face of a future that scientists are clearly warning us to prepare for can be detailed more descriptively than as simply an ideology or wealth divide. Consider the investment, meritocratic, and technocratic mindsets. And then consider a fourth, an isolated number, much larger than the others, not a mindset or attitude contingent but one solely determined by pain. Consider those in pain, on every level a human can experience pain, those who the President has thus far been able to draw into his own self-worship. But pain is not a mindset but a vacating of mind and an installation of itself, pain, as the only determinant. It is masterless.

The players of the investment class are determined to look upon any crisis or catastrophe as a buying opportunity. The attitude expressed by a Goldman-Sachs VP during the 2008 crash seems not to have become extinct as we face our new global threat: “The whole building is about to collapse anytime now…Only potential survivor Fabulous Fab[rice Tourre.” A rotting amour de soi which can never recognize a threat to itself.

The meritocratic/gentrifying elite are determined to assert the power of their own privileged personal choices to overcome any disaster, to put up privacy gating between their family, stock portfolio and luxury possessions and the ravages of global warming. They are self- assured that they cannot fail to choose the higher, safer ground. Illusions of autonomous choosing misjudge the power of external forces.

The technocrat billionaire entrepreneurs are determined to come up with a technocratic solution involving AI and robotics, one in which The Singularity melds human with machine, a robotic existence in which temperature, food, water, oxygen are no longer needed. This technophilia is itself the root cause of the threat we face to the life of the planet.

Those in pain are determined by their pain, both of mind and body, and thus the threat of a warming planet is a pain far off, a pain meaningless to those living so close to the edge of apprehending nothingness that a planet heated to the edge of human extinction means nothing.

But the brash attitudes in which our personal choosing to win under any circumstances brooks no objection are frightening. We are programmed in our technophilic age to think that we won’t come up with a hi-tech/AI/robotic solution to global warming just in time. The Nerds will do it just in time. Doesn’t production now run on a “Just-in-Time” schedule?

It’s almost impossible for the Wall St. player of spectacular returns on investment to foresee a time when crisis cannot be turned to profit. It is almost impossible for the meritocratic elite to recognize that global warming is not a test they can personally score high on and thus rise one more step up the ladder.

And for those in which such presumption and arrogance has had no opportunity to enter their lives, those in whose lives pain rules, that pain makes rational consideration of anything impossible. For those who are not capitalism’s players, for those who have never entered the meritocratic contest, the last thing needed is to put worry about something that might happen in the future alongside worries that are causing real pain now.

And yet….

“If all of Greenland’s ice were to melt, it would raise sea levels 23 feet, submerging some coastal cities.” (Aylin Woodward, “Greenland is approaching the threshold of an irreversible melt, and the consequences for coastal cities could be dire,” Business Insider, April 23, 2019)

“The world is on track for around 3 degrees of warming by the end of the century if it doesn’t make major reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. It could breach 1.5 °C sometime between 2030 and 2052 if global warming continues at its current rate.” (Jeff Tollefson, “Limiting Warming to 1.5° Celsius Will Require Drastic Action, IPCC Says,” Scientific American, Oct. 2018).

“My view is that 2 degrees is aspirational and 1.5 degrees is ridiculously aspirational” said Gary Yohe, an environmental economist at Wesleyan University. “They are good targets to aim for, but we need to face the fact that we might not hit them and start thinking more seriously about what a 2.5 degree or 3 degree world might look like.” (Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich, “Why a Half a Degree of Global Warming is a Big Deal,” The New York Times, Oct. 2018).

In Game of Thrones, Jon Snow, the Bastard, believes that if he captures one of the zombies in the Army of the Dead and brings it to Cersei Lannister, ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, she will put aside all enmity toward everyone and join in a defense against the Army of the Dead. She’ll join the coalition, adhere to the agreement. In current terms, she’ll rejoin the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and make the reading of all climate change assessments of The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) mandatory in all schools.

None of this happens in the HBO show, just as dragons don’t happen in real life.

What this ruler does on the show is deny the existence of an Army of the Dead threat. When she is confronted with this threat, she agrees to a truce and a joining in the defense. But only idiots, in her view, would honor that pledge. What’s smart in this ruler’s calculation is for the others to fight the Dead, for others to assume the cost in treasure and lives.

I cannot but see President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change as a Queen Cersei move. Let the other countries fight to mitigate global warming. Meanwhile, the kind of winning, hard nose capitalism the President admires will continue without abatement in the U.S.

He’s very likely not alone in this self-interest and thus in this calculus. He has the technophiles, “My choices rule!” gentrifying, self-empowered, and the “Crisis is Opportunity!” investor-philes on his side. Illusions such as believing disaster boosts your investment return, or that planet destroying technocracy is itself the remedy to that destruction, or that a 23-foot rise in sea level won’t happen if you personally choose it not to happen are pre-Trump illusions. They are deeply rooted in the American cultural imaginary, as is his presidency a natural product of that imaginary.

The numbers are not with these contingents but rather with the many in pain, the many, who in a constitutional republic/representative democracy should rule in elections. Because, however, their pain dries up interest in anything but the pain, makes them impatient for quick relief, leaves them vulnerable to quack and quackery, we cannot expect much attention given to a future crisis, one which their President says is quackery promoted by quacks.

If you add to this the army of lobbyists, hucksters, paid stupefiers and confounders employed by plutocrats intent on protecting their privilege from electoral power, you can see that millionaires will probably flood the Congress and a huckster will get into the White House.

The fact that this 215 year old republic has run a 2016 election which led to the presidency of a man whose presence has a hyperreal dimension to it that makes it more unbelievable than any horrifying character in the fictional world of Game of Thrones warns us that we don’t have a democratic, constitutional order of things that can save itself.

And yet, our elections, which we now see as so vulnerable, must be won by those who will engage our own Army of the Dead, the devastations of increasing global warming.

We can say that the Russians hijacked the election, or that Hillary hijacked Bernie’s chances, or that the media followed Trump from the start because his bullshit boosted ratings, or that social media flooded the American brainpan with so many mind-numbing posts and tweets that reasoning couldn’t break through. But we need to own all this because our democratic structure, such as it is, contained and represented all of it. What is truly exceptional is our belief that our democratic processes were invulnerable to the assault of a Caliban and to the so-called “democratization” of all voices that break loose when, as Margaret Thatcher affirmed, “there is no such thing as society.”

Our system, our resident order of things, has given four years of rule to a Caliban, a “wicked dew” that has covered the whole country in slime, and that same system may give him another four years. Unless reason takes political control, disasters, that Trump and most in Congress will not live long enough to see, will be our destiny.

The following words revealing the incoherence of a darkened Mad Hatter mind were nonetheless repeatedly interrupted with loud applause:

 A politician that hears somebody where we’re at war with Al Qaida and sees somebody talking about how great Al Qaida is. Pick out her statement. That was Omar. How great Al Qaida is when you hear that and we’re losing great soldiers to Al Qaida, when you see the World Trade Center gets knocked down and you see the statements about the World Trade Center all the death and destruction. I’ll tell you what–I’m not happy with them. And it’s very easy to say oh, gee, well, it’s OK. If weak politicians want to say and the democrats in this case if they want to gear their wagons around these four people I think they are going to have a very tough election. Because I don’t think the people of the United States will stand for it.

Whether the underneath of our “exceptional” democracy is as dark and fractured in its syntax as this man’s mind, and thus in need of all the remedy measures proposed by the “Leftists,” young and old of the Congress, we cannot judge with certainty. We can be more certain that the disruptions to Nature engineered by the ambitions and presumptions of human reasoning and now unaddressed by the blight of our present rule darken all horizons.

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Joseph Natoli has published books and articles, on and off line, on literature and literary theory, philosophy, postmodernity, politics, education, psychology, cultural studies, popular culture, including film, TV, music, sports, and food and farming. His most recent book is Travels of a New Gulliver.

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