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Burning Thoughts on the Sonoma Fires

The map shows the fires in Sonoma County, California, USA, during 2017-2020. These were/are all big. My mother had to evacuate in 2017, and stayed with us for 10 days. Today (28 September 2020), I went to get her and bring her here again.

I monitor the internet to follow the progress of the fire (the Glass-Shady fire of 2020 – now – is 0% contained; it started about 2 days ago – see the red blotch). This year I know of 8 people – 5 directly and personally – who have had to evacuate from fires: in Sonoma and Solano Counties, and in Oregon. Many fires in Western America right now, and they occur from earlier in the year, and more frequently, and last longer, and are bigger, with each succeeding year.

Other regions and nations have their own increasing environmental degradation trials and tribulations: droughts, heat waves, crop failures, locusts, storms, hurricanes, floods. My thoughts about all this are rather dark, as reflected in my recent writing.

The gems to be found in all these hard events are the generous and kind actions individuals can take on behalf of others, very often strangers, to help them get through the difficulties and losses. I was fortunate to have two such people help my mother (who is 95) in the first rush to evacuate yesterday. The fact that people, as individuals, can be so decent is what keeps me from condemning all of humanity (being a total misanthrope) because human society has been so adamant to continue failing miserably when it comes to seriously addressing global warming climate change.

In this, my attitude is similar to that of Jonathan Swift, who said he cared not for human society, but appreciated John and Tom and Dick (I paraphrase) because of the very thing I just described: stellar individuals (even if just occasionally so) live among a society we curmudgeons find morally bankrupt, and their good actions are momentary redemptions of that reprehensible mass.

This outlook makes it basically impossible for me to find any interest (or waste any time) on the many frivolous concerns of others, and which are often most on display on that frivolity of social media: Facebook. Sorry about that.

My appreciation for the beauty and organic complexity of Nature remains undimmed, but my interest in the minutia of the daily drama, or the silly entertainments of the last 15 minutes (with shelf lives of 10 seconds), is zero. I can’t help looking at American society as reenacting the fate of Captain Ahab and his crew, so obsessed with their delusions that they could not wake up from them even as they were being drowned by them.

The Romantic in me wants the Next Generation to float free from the doom we’ve programmed ourselves for, like Ishmael floating free atop Queequegs’s coffin; and refashion the World aright. The Realist in me is not so optimistic. But I don’t feel it is fair for me to criticize the Next Generation, whose elders – as American Society – have so basely used and poorly provided for. I had a decent shot at life, and did what I did with it; now it’s their turn, and they should be free to make their own choices, and learn (hopefully) from their mistakes (preferably enjoyable ones) just as I and my predecessors did (well, some of us did).

The Romantic Engineer and Artist in me knows that tackling Climate Change – which means entirely transforming human society worldwide – would be the greatest adventure, and moral and social uplift, that our species could ever have in its history as part of Life-On-Earth, if we “all” had the Zen-like satori (awakening, AHA!) to motivate a joyful coming together to achieve that purpose in all of its many dimensions: personal, political, social, economic, technical, moral, intellectual; the fullest expansion of human potential for everyone.

The Realist in me scoffs at this flight of fancy by the Sappy Curmudgeon, but the Romantic in me still wishes it were not entirely a hopeless dream. Others, I know, have particular and detailed wishful fantasies for our Future, and I have few quarrels with most of them. But I think the simplest life of fulfilling work (self-assigned), safety, security, health, happiness and freedom for artistic and intellectual pursuits; with Nature secure in all its beauty – on this Planet! – is my ideal.

My mother is now afraid that she will be threatened by fires every year. This should not be so, she should be able to live tranquilly tending her roses without such concern. That our governments and societies will not do anything — as we should for the rest of human history — to eliminate such fear (which many people now have) has led me to cancel any sense of allegiance to them, or respect for “the institutions.” Like Jonathan Swift.

Manuel Garcia Jr, once a physicist, is now a lazy househusband who writes out his analyses of physical or societal problems or interactions. He can be reached at mangogarcia@att.net

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