Kent Pitman

Kent Pitman
New England, USA
Philosopher, Technologist, Writer
I've been using the net in various roles—technical, social, and political—for the last 30 years. I'm disappointed that most forums don't pay for good writing and I'm ever in search of forums that do. (I've not seen any Tippem money, that's for sure.) And I worry some that our posting here for free could one day put paid writers in Closed Salon out of work. See my personal home page for more about me.


NOVEMBER 8, 2010 8:16AM

That Creeping Feeling

Rate: 30 Flag

Some horror films, especially those with half a dozen sequels, are very melodramatic in style, presenting one or more people walking into a situation where the audience knows danger to lurk but the characters have no inkling of that danger, or haven’t admitted it. Scene by excruciating scene, the plot unfolds, the author having arranged matters so that the helpless characters cannot see ordinary safety unraveling all about.

Climate change is like that. It unfolds slowly, patiently, its plot never moving in a straight line, making sure that there’s every reason for most of the characters to to feel comfortable. As with a good melodrama, a few characters are aware of the problem and they struggle to warn the others, but always to no avail as a gruesome ending becomes increasingly inevitable.

The sick plot twist here is that we are the authors and we are the ones arranging for our own complacency, even in the face of the clues our fellow characters have discovered. It feels sometimes like the people who know what’s really going on are locked in a sound-proof plexiglass room, able to see out clearly, watching it unfold, but powerless to stop it or even to just get a message out.

Would that it were just a sci-fi or horror movie, or even a simple nightmare from which one could awaken.

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Cancer is a subtle enemy. It presents itself in such small ways, almost imperceptibly. We may see signs, but hope we don’t. It creeps. Worst of all, it accelerates.

We want to control its rate, to force it to be linear, measured, paced. But try as we might, we cannot hold it still. It resists commands.

We seek to impose onto it, by force of will, by clutching at every definition and argument we can lay our fingers upon, that it must move, change, or grow only when we say.

We command of it a cartoon physics that says it will not bite us until we look, and then we steadfastly refuse to look.

As with all things Death, we are skilled at ways of looking away from it, hoping that if we don’t meet its direct gaze, it won’t come for us today. We hope it will simply walk past, taking no notice, our apparent indifference having saved us.

Climate change is like that, too.

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If you got value from this post, please "rate" it.

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Author’s Note

These are just my subjective impressions.
Please comment accordingly.
(We'll do objectivity another day.)

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rated for subjectivity... and thoughtful contemplation.
Kent, excellent thoughts about climate change and cancer. Money from corporate interests bent on "business as usual" still rules the day for those politicians who don't believe in climate change.
Living, as I do now, in the heartland and on a ranch, I am able to see the plot more clearly and understand the script much better. Living off the land, one becomes more sensitive to the minute changes in the weather which determines whether or not a feed crop will be good or will not exist.
Yes, the grim end is coming and all we in the audience can do is gasp in expectant horror at the outcome.

Not only was this spot on, but it was about as well written a piece on the subject as I have read anywhere.
"As with all things Death, we are skilled at ways of looking away from it, hoping that if we don’t meet its direct gaze, it won’t come for us today. "

Looking at "things Death" we are reminded of the Medusa, for if we look into her eyes, we're turned to stone. We do that when we are paralyzed by grief, and in a much smaller way, when we can't look away from accidents or train wrecks, literally or metaphorically. When we look, we find it hard to look away, and we become bound to the sight. Sometimes, bound to do something about it. Looking is just a tricky thing, because it can consume you or make you miserable. It's rare to look from a healthy spirit.

Yet refusing to look is a form of denial. Don't "look" or else - don't look in the box, Pandora - don't look behind the door Mrs. Bluebeard - don't eat that apple, Evie - don't peek at Eros - don't dare to hope or change or seek a different way of being, OR ELSE!

Whatever you do, don't listen to your instincts when you feel that creepy feeling - it'll go easier for us all if we just plant ourselves in front of the television in our recliners.
Im scared. The cancer of climate change. Right on. It is creeping up on us. The hot is getting hotter and the cold is getting colder and they will collide in Super Storms. Hold on.
How low can we go?

So many things scream at us. Subtle does not scream. We can pull the curtain for now and pretend it is not there. Embracing. Allowing. Knowing. Facing. Have we given these abilities away or are we becoming lost in a world where only money speaks and all else is silenced? I want not to be lost but I am not adept at blocking screaming fury when it screams only to displace.
Pretty dispiriting days if you take climate change seriously. It seems that whenever it falls off the front pages it disappears from the public consciousness.
As with many disease states caused by us, it is easy for the guiltier of the parties to say things like "well, we'll never really know, will we" and "it is only a drop in the whole ocean, so many things contribute". And now when its apparentness is unavoidable, many will say, "since we can't change it, let's not talk about how we got here."
I see it all around me, like a cancer spreading every year. I cannot understand how these people can deny what is happening. They are not blind, they are in denial!
looking at your tags: melodrama? :) maybe, but pretty damn accurate for all that
It's not lost on me that you take climate change as seriously as you do your own personal challenges you are facing. Please don't give up hope and keep on writing. There is a definitive shift in your style here and I like seeing more of your emotions coming through in your writing. Take care, Kent.
Bonnie, thanks. I'm glad it hit the right note, even if painful.

Abby, thanks. Always glad to promote a bit of thought. :)

Designanator, yeah, that's got to change. Maybe it will. Kanuk just pointed me to this article, which is a good sign.

Donna, thanks for the support.
Torman, indeed, it's got to be scary when you're right there looking at an issue that you think must be advancing. It doesn't surprise me that there are people who want more information. It surprises me that there are people who think they have enough information to say that these are non-worries.

Myriad, I'll take that. I'm glad it echoed powerfully with you.

Travellini, I hadn't thought of the Medusa, but yes, I guess that's an interesting metaphor for another day. Ironically, for all the problem is in her direction, it's staring it straight down in which the hope lies. (As for Pandora, I think some of the technologies we went with in modern society have opened that famous box of badness that it's hard now to close.)
Zanelle, yes, that's the topic of James Hansen's book Storms of My Grandchildren. It's an excellent book full of both good science and personal passion, deftly separated each into its own area so that you can tell the difference.

Elijah, I'm not sure I follow your question about how “low”...? Nor do I know what a 451 is in this context. (A reference to the Bradbury story?)

Anna, the basic problem is that science teaches people not to scream, and its opponents do a lot of more empassioned outrage. Just as in the recent election, the side of quiet sanity is easily rolled over by those willing to make stuff up loudly.

Abrawang, just so. I'm a political independent but have to register temporarily in one party or another to vote in the primary of my choice. Last year I guess I forgot to unregister as a Democrat, so I got the DNC mailing asking me about how I wanted to rate their 14 priorities in rank order. Climate Change was not even among them. I'm going to investigate the Green Party for the 2012 election.
Oryoki, you're right. But it's a big nihilistic of them to say that. It's collective suicide, and we must organize our own collective intervention while there is time.

Kenny, I agree. It is clearly denial. It also challenges a lot of fundamentally held principles for some, and vindicates them in others (the Rapture).

Julie, melodrama as in a presentation style. Many horror films are melodrama. I mentioned it because it's the style where you watch the screen and you scream “turn around!” or “don't go in there!” or “don't go home with him!” because a lot of the style is built on the notion that the audience is not party to the mystery—they know what is about to happen and they can see it happen but they cannot change it. And while it's all good sport if you're watching, it's not good sport to be in it. Here, though, we're both in it and watching... Well, anyway, that's why I chose the word. I'm sorry if I made it confusing. :) But then, it is confusing. So maybe I didn't cause it but highlight it.
O'Really—Thanks. Actually, my health seems fine. The official status is “no evidence of disease,” which is formally not the same as cured, and it leaves open the possibility of a recurrence, but the probability goes down with time. I was lucky and so far, at least, the luck is holding. But what lingers is not the disease but its mental footprint. I'm more conscious of it as a possibility, so it occurs to me more easily to use it as a metaphor. Plus I know I'm not alone in having gone through it, so it helps as a metaphor for explaining something that otherwise people might be prone to defer. That's the problem: I keep hearing people say that right now, jobs is what's important. Imagine if you had cancer and had lost your job thinking “right now what matters is getting my job back—I'll deal with the cancer later.” That's what we are doing with Climate Change. Everyone is focused on the jobs thing because they're already in enough pain just from that. And it seems almost nonsensical to think you could attack the issue of medical care with no money coming in. But the thing is that money is something you can push around and cancer is not. And that's why you have to do what you can to place the disease at the top, no matter how painful. Same with jobs and Climate Change. Too bad it will be painful to endure more jobs, but Climate Change is not waiting. Maybe that means we have to endure the jobs problem longer but too bad. At least we as a species will be still alive. Not as good to be a dead species where all the corpses had job right up to the end.
Well done! Short, but to the point. Very good analogies. The changes may very subtle, but have dire consequences by the time they become noticeable. By that time, it is often too late.
Kanuk, thanks. And thanks for the pointer to that article I was referring Designanator to, about the idea of scientists getting together and doing something more than relate dry facts. That's a complicated business to get right, but I think James Hansen did it in excellent fashion in his Storms of My Grandchildren.
In natural healing, we talk about the milieu, which allows for the disease state to take hold. The environment we live in is one of many levels: spiritual, emotional, physical, chemical, both from our own activities and choices (lifestyle) to where we live, how we were raised, and some sheer good or bad luck. Our genes we don't control, though they don't write the story, they only exist to interact with our environments and the symptoms (subjective) and signs (objective) tell us when we need to change what we do. Unfortunately, both human nature being what it is, and science being unable to predict, control or understand all things leads us down a self destructive path. Nature will right itself, but we are part of nature, not above it.
Oryoki, it's an interesting point of view. I imagine though we're not above it, we could soon find ourselves outside of it, expelled like so much waste, if we're not careful to turn things around. It is as if the Earth has a fever, where the function of a fever is to smoke out an invasive parasite (us) without killing the host (nature).
And it's not JUST climate change that can be seen in such a way. The slow death of societal compassion in favor of insular selfishness happens this way. The whistling-past-the-graveyard way we are burning through natural resources that need to last thousands of a mere hundred or so. Basically, modern first-world human civilization itself, on a collision course with extinction.
sometimes there's more wisdom in subjectivity than in what passes for pure objectivity, your observations and speculations are dead on in this case

with cancer, win lose or draw, the best outcome possible is a nothing more than postponement and/or a comfortable passing, the fact is nobody, cancer-free or not, gets out of here alive

with climate change, I think the outcome is just about as inevitable, the international political process is the only method we've developed to deal with global questions, and politics is simply inadequate for this problem -- as I've said elsewhere, politics is the art of compromise and the laws of nature don't compromise

the only question is, how much of humanity and our accomplishments will survive the coming global extinction event
Roy, I mostly agree, except with your “only question” thing. I think knowing “how soon” would allow people to plan better. What I can't figure out is why politicians won't fund good research to close the gap in understanding on that. Hansen in his book points out that even Gore missed an opportunity to fund some important research in that area.
Verbal (sorry to skip you there), you're right, of course—it's true of a lot of the ways we've shown poor stewardship of the Earth, not just Climate Change, and more generally of our fellow humans and animals, too. We're pretty selfish.

Trig, thanks. :)
Well, forget about objectivity or subjectivity. It's a fine bit of writing, neatly conveying your feelings.
Bob, thanks! (And it's always nice to see you over here.)
We are a cancer but I don't want anyone to have cancer. I'm happy to know you are thriving.
Rated for your fascinating and compelling parallels.
The parallels are eerie Kent. Thanks for pointing them out.
I'd love to share something positive I heard yesterday. Positive but with a pinch of regret. Your Secretary of State has been here in Australia wrapping up all sorts of deals, mainly to do with arms and bases, but there was this : Australia and the US are committed to doing something about this dang Climate Change thingy.
They've made a joint commitment to come up with a cheaper photovoltaic cell, dammit.
The source of their hopes lie in a factory in Wuxi, China.
They ( Aus & US ) have done a deal.
The factory was built by a young guy who got his doctorate right here in Sydney, an Australian citizen, who had to go to China because no-one here would back his nutty ideas.
His name is Zhengrong Shi. He now sells his technology to half the world and it's brilliant, cheaper-than-chips stuff and evolving faster than you could poke a stick at. His company is Suntech.
Damn shame we lost him back to China.
But while there are Zhengrong's around, I feel hope.
Thanks for your post, and the chance to tell you about someone working hard on the issue for all of us.
Aim, thanks for the concern. Cancers within cancers—now there's a bit of imagery.

Nikki, it's good to hear it's resonating with so many people.

Kim, yes, we have to address the investment problem. See Thomas L. Friedman's book Hot, Flat, and Crowded for a good analysis of the business opportunities. It's an unusually positive look at the things that could be done, though he wrote it a few years back now, and is from his columns quite obviously dismayed that no one is listening. He had predicted the US could pick up that stuff and beat China in the market, but the US ignored him and China did not. Well, these things need to be done, no matter who does them.