I am sitting in a Yaletown coffee shop. Today, I went to see Sharkwater. I had to, of course. The movie had been calling me ever since I had heard about it. I’m not sure what exactly I had expected it to be. Another documentary with extraordinary images; a trip down the memory lane; a politically correct version of Deep Sea 3D; a few well-spent dollars. I had assumed I would walk out of the theater with a grin on my face and a renewed urge to dive, with maybe a glimpse of a tear in my eye for all the wonderful memories awakened.
Instead I was morose. I felt sad and depressed. I looked around with tired eyes as I walked back across town. Reality was trying to get a grip, and part of me wanted to let it. But deep inside I knew that right there and then, I had my back against a wall. It would not last, of course; our worse doubts and problems are self-soothing. We excel at healing our own suffering by avoiding to face the facts and submerging into the matrix-like mesh of the world constructed around us in order for people to function and contribute to the global momentum.
For the moment, however, I stood on the edge of a sharp precipice with a granite wall behind me and nowhere to go but down. The movie had opened a door into a reality that seldom irrupts into our artificial life. It documented the fact that as a species, we might be technologically advanced but we are the dumbest thing to ever walk the face of the Earth. It reminded me that the human race is frantically working towards its own extinction.
And here I am, drinking coffee and attempting to sort out my thoughts and feelings by writing them away.
The girl across from me, curled up on her chair, is speaking in Serbo-Croatian to a distant friend on the phone. Her smile is warm and tolerant. Later, she points a finger at the Google Maps on my screen and says: “There.” Bosnia. “But,” she adds, “I am Serbian. I just happened to be born in Bosnia. Are you familiar with the war?” “A little…” I say, uneasily. How does one admit not knowing much about another’s painful reality, about distant wars fought beyond the horizon of our willing vision of the world?
It sometimes seems the only way to make our lives bearable is to ignore the carnage going on around us. So as I walked out of the cinema today, I was once again faced with a difficult decision: let the feelings brought by the movie fade away slowly as do all things painful, or keep them in focus and be forced to act upon them. As I contemplated my options, I came up with four alternatives which seem to apply to all areas of our lives.
1. We can choose not to believe the wake-up calls, the warnings and the bad news. We can decide that facts are being exaggerated, that global warming is not as big a deal as it is painted to be, that wars are isolated incidents and that overall, our world is safe and in no immediate danger. It sure makes sense, after all, since what we seek is happiness and the lack of worries.
2. We can understand that the threat is real, but on a remote level that remains out of our reach and control, and decide to willingly ignore it because worrying will not make it easier to live with. That ostrich-like attitude might be hard to justify but in the end, sticking our head in the sand and pretending that nothing is wrong or that we cannot do anything about what is, could be the only way to achieve inner peace in a world where everything seems to be leading towards chaos. It would be like trying to make the world a better place from the inside.
3. The trendy way these days is to become aware of the growing problem and decide to incorporate it into our daily lives, to tame it and turn it into a manageable thing. It cannot become overwhelming because that would threaten our oh-so-important quality of life, so we cut it up into small isolated pieces and do a little here and there for the planet and for the cause. We learn to recycle, we eat organic food, we donate a few dollars to an environment-related group and hope to be able to deduct it from our taxes. Everybody is happy, it’s a feel-good way of life, we will save the world by compounding millions of tiny efforts. The ostrich is still there.
4. We can let reality hit us in the face. It hurts. It’s scary. It forces us to re-evaluate our entire paradigm. It is a huge plunge to take, one from which there is no going back. It means total commitment to the cause, it means immense sacrifices, it means leaving a lot behind. It means accepting that, less we do something radical about it and do it immediately, we, as a species, are doomed.
But is it really that bad? Yes it is. The only weapon we have to fight our battle right now, is hope. Hope and the efforts of a few individuals and organizations who are bravely opposing the rest of the world and attempting to reverse the final countdown. But the fact is that hope alone is not enough. We are not winning the battle. We are only sometimes slowing down the rate at which we loose. Small victories are won, of course, isolated moments of triumph for the few who believe in saving the environment, and thus, ourselves.
But in the end, for every battle won, a thousand new threats arise. And in no area of the global madness that is pushing mankind to furiously consume its planet without consideration for the consequences, can we account for any real improvement. No reef anywhere is actually thriving or growing. No threatened or endangered animal species can be said to be recovering unless that recovery has been artificially crafted by causing an imbalance somewhere else. The ozone layer is not regenerating itself. Forests are not regaining space unto urbanized areas. Fossil fuels are not burning any less then they have been. Pollution of the ocean has not been controlled nor has it decreased.
So it would be fantastic if people like Rod Stewart and Paul Watson could put an end to shark fining, or even reduce it somehow, since sharks are so important to the marine ecosystem which in turn supports life on Earth, including our own. But it seems that while they are battling to do so, others are coming up every day with new and improved ways to abuse our world and the rate at which that abuse increases is infinitely superior to the rate of our small victories.
So what do I do? Shall I keep on recycling my plastic containers, favoring public transit, writing my letters on recycled paper, drinking fair trade coffee, and telling people to go see Sharkwater because it’s really good? Maybe.
Yet sometimes it feels like unless I join the battle and go stand between a whalers’ harpoon and the whale, I will never be able to sleep in peace. But I don’t think that peaceful sleep is one of the benefits of joining such a fight. What a dark and gloomy perspective, fighting a battle that seems lost in advance against a race that has obviously forgotten everything about self-preservation. What a sad life to live, when everyday you are reminded of the stupidity and the greed that control our world. What a lonely place to be, where you stand guard with only a few braves against millions of ignorant fools.
Some days the sand in my eyes and mouth becomes unbearable. How can ostriches do it? A lot of practice, I guess. Ignorance is indeed bliss.
“We’re nothing but a bunch of primates out of control”
Captain Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd.