The life of the conservationist is privileged but grim. Privileged because the conservationist gets to witness the shining last glimpses of wild life on Earth, while so many people are too busy with the spectrum of depression to even look out of the window. Grim because everyday brings more depletion of habitats, more misled destruction of the ecosystem and more extinction.
Even the conservationist needs a good laugh from time to time. Lately someone commented that in Monbiot’s photo on the Guardian can’t be him really because the guy appears to be smiling and it’s hard to believe Monbiot ever smiles at all. Well, what I’m supposed to do, he answered, cry?
So I welcomed the aftermath of Franzen’s Carbon Capture piece on the New Yorker because I found it quite amusing.
Until last week I was worried that Eugenides was winning the battle for the Great American Novel, but after reading Carbon Capture I’m no longer worried, now I have proof that Franzen gets America at a deeper, almost limbic level (while Eugenides’s take is more intellectual to the point that I suspect it’s manufactured).
Look at Carbon Capture. Franzen feels guilty for climate change, so it traces its guilt back to New England Puritanism, but he also hates it that fighting climate change involves more depletion, destruction and extinction at least in the short run, so he feels guilty again and traces this specific guilt back to St. Francis of Assisis.
Now, this is the wet dream of every Americanist. A wasp writer who feels guilty both for being a Puritan and for being ancestrally a European Christian! I love it. A wasp writer finally admitting of being a European Christian ancestrally, and instead of finding some obscure secret in it (Eugenides discovers incest at this point), he finds pride in it.
WOW, just wow.
Frazen, I normally don’t give a damn you hate Twitter, honestly, I couldn’t care less, people being upset by that is simply ridiculous, I hate Facebook, so what. Except this time it would be the perfect occasion to tweet you my appreciation directly.
Of course Franzen’s piece is scientifically inconsistent, it shows a staggering ignorance of how ecosystems work and it contains more than one plain-wrong ethological notion.
But this doesn’t matter because Franzen is not a scientist writing peer reviewed articles for Nature. He is a writer, writing literary fiction. His work is that of telling us how he feels and why, so that we can have emotional feedback, as individuals and as a society. And he is doing his job magnificently.
This is why I’m so amused. The general reaction to Franzen’s literary provocation, where he says I feel like this and like this in the face of the mainstream, the politically correct and the normative solution, is anger. People are angry because he says he feels guilty, uneasy and contradicted.
They are so angry because they feel vaguely guilty themselves but they had just managed to find some consolation in the normative solution to climate change, ie further developing wilderness.
Further developing wilderness, oddly enough, seems to be a primeval instinct of the human species and it is undoubtedly one of the key elements of the American mind, that of moving the frontier further and further.
Even Franzen’s most blatant ethological mistake, saying that we humans need our life to have meaning while animals don’t, tells a lot about him being the clearest voice of the American mind. In the battle against a wilderness that can be loved/hated but can’t be understood because it is other to us, Franzen prides himself of an ethical standpoint. Unfortunately animals need meaning in their lives just as we do. Consider killer whales in captivity smashing their heads into the concrete walls of their pools until they die, or dolphins in captivity refusing to eat and having to be force-fed with a tube in shallow pools, two people keeping their mouth open. Wild animals in captivity are consistently given antidepressants. Does this ring any bell to you?
Anyway, green energy is good for the Zeitgeist because it serves both human needs, doing something to slow down climate change and pouring concrete somewhere previously undisturbed.
You may have noticed wind farms, solar farms and river dams tend to be built in remote places, destroying the last remaining habitats for wildlife. Albeit necessary for future generations of humans, this is disturbing.
Franzen seems to be unaware that climate change will basically destroy wild life on Earth anyway (his point that “birds are tough” is simply childish), but I totally see his point that by killing all wild birds now there won’t be any wild bird left when we’ll have supposedly succeeded in stalling climate changed (Al Gore’s way).
I myself feel the same way. Where I live, wild meadows and cultivated fields are being turned into solar farms. You would think solar panels are installed on roofs, but instead they are urbanizing the countryside. I am certainly not happy about it. Opposite to where I work, all trees have been cut down to install solar panels and the guy is not using them anyway because his warehouse is empty most of the time so the whole thing is impractical and he keeps the panel mostly inactive. He just wanted to access public funds (granted for solar panels) to develop the area around his warehouse, no trees to be pruned, no leaves to be collected, nice concrete for the car park etc.
Am I happy about this? Certainly not. But of course I can’t tell anyone because we need to keep the public focused and motivated about climate change, otherwise they’ll become indifferent and distracted (apparently humans can’t be bothered about the distant future, because evolutionary speaking the distant future is irrelevant).
Also you can’t blame charities and NGOs when they become less radical in time, like Franzen does with Audubon, because becoming less radical is a communication strategy that often works and the important thing is the final result, not showing off how radical you are. On the other hand the process of charities and NGOs becoming less radical is undoubtedly frustrating (still, Franzen vs Audubon is hilarious).
So reading Franzen’s Carbon Capture made an exciting, moving experience for me.
But I’ll admit it was a bit naive, because you must be careful when you tell people how you feel, because people apparently can’t tell literary fiction from a peer reviewed scientific article, despite all those lessons about text analysis in ninth grade.
Franzen should have put the whole thing inside Freedom, an excellent contradiction for Walter. At this point, I wait for Purity with a very curious disposition.