The story of the great ship Titanic is the metaphor of our modern times.
If the song “John Henry,” a colossal metaphor of man against the dominance of encroaching machines, captured the central dilemma of the 20th century’s industrial revolution, the tale of the Titanic is the story of the 21st century’s penultimate problem, that of man’s ego and misguided belief in the ability of intelligence and technology to solve all things. We have an answer to every problem, the modern mind thinks. If we created it, we can fix it. So goes that thinking, which isn’t rational thinking, or thinking based on true faith in the human spirit, but it is based instead on a brand of naively optimistic magical thinking. It isn’t grounded in scientific observation, in the recognition of what’s actually happening or in seeing strict reality by looking through the lens of cause and effect. It’s based instead on the idea that human beings are so smart they can somehow, someway, in a Hail Mary play, change whatever circumstance they’ve put into action.
Magical thinking. Hopelessly, recklessly wrong. Leading people to disastrous results.
The actual reality is that human beings have a long history of creating things that once set into motion, we have limited control over. Unregulated capitalism. Guns. Nuclear power plants. Fossil fuel. We have proven over and over again that humans constantly create innovations which, in the rush to implement them, disregarding requisite wisdom and foresight, give birth to later disasters.
Dylan’s song “Tempest” brilliantly captures this reality without ever mentioning our times, without ever mentioning the inevitable disaster this Titanic world we live in is about to run into – which is the coming of global climate collapse. The watchman is asleep at his post – the politicians and the media, bought out by oil interests and others, have floated the idea that climate change is a theory, a fake. Meanwhile, unprecedented events like Katrina and Hurricane Sandy blow huge holes in the very fabric of established human life. Oh, yes, we’re resilient, we rally, we hold concerts, but this is only the very edge of what’s coming. The glaciers are melting, the permafrost as well. The polar caps receding. These are facts, gigantic facts. It will only get worse, and worse, and worse.
On the Titanic in Dylan’s “Tempest,” the rich dance to an orchestra under beautiful chandeliers, blissfully unaware of what is soon to come, the grim reaper hanging over the whole scene, ready to enact death and devastation on those who’ve bought into the false idea of man’s supremacy over nature, riding aboard the ship that was “sailing into tomorrow, to a gilded age foretold.”
In the Buddhist scripture the Lotus Sutra, one chapter talks about children living in a house full of jackals, treacherous insects, the house in a state of falling decay, ghosts and demons inhabiting it, all kinds of awful things, but the children in it play games, unaware of what’s around them. The house was also burning down. The father, who represents the Buddha, finally gets his children to come out of the house by showing them beautiful carts outside, full of wonderful treasures, representing the supreme value of life.
The moral is, discard the illusion that the world is fine, realize that the world which is full of danger, stop playing games and recognize the greater reality, our lives, life itself, desperately needs to be preserved, protected, at all costs.
Starting now, at this moment. We all need to wake up and shout.
Our lives are dependent on this world we live in, a world which is, like the Titanic, heading toward catastrophic climate disaster. Every prominent climatologist confirms this, the best scientific minds in the world.
Change needs to happen now. Huge change, if in the future we want to have any semblance of the same world that exists today. Our children, our grandchildren inherit this future.
Yet, instead, every day, the world, the leaders, those who hold the cards, and us, the populace, everyone who could raise their voices to enact change – we all act like children playing games, act like were all doing just fine, thanks, dancing on the deck under chandeliers, sipping champagne, considering ourselves pretty happy and lucky, sailing on the big boat which nothing can ever bring down, looking forward to an inevitably better future. The world’s such a great ship, and what we’ve done with it is such a marvel, after all.
But the bow of the ship is about to be torn asunder.
How foolish are we? Is there a scale large enough to measure it?
Welcome to the Titanic.