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I wish I might write music from twenty to thirty, books from thirty to forty, and paint from fifty to sixty, and perhaps, while I could still wield a mallet, sculpt from forty to fifty.

Patricia Highsmith, notebook, 27 August 1941, in Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks: 1941–1995, edited by Anna von Planta

I think there’s a tendency, even among people of good faith, to abdicate responsibility to nature. We think about climate change as rising seas that swallow up cities, as horrible storms and fires—and all those things are symptomatic of climate change. But when people ask me, “What scares you the most about climate change?” I answer: “What climate change is going to make us do to each other.”

I don’t think a nightmare climate-changed world is a world where Earth kills us all. I think a nightmare climate-changed world is one where society breaks down, and we do awful, awful things to each other.

I watch climate change happen every day on a computer, on a fake planet that I can do experiments on. But climate change doesn’t happen on a fake planet; it happens on our planet, in the world that we’ve built. You can’t put Bashar al-Assad in a climate model. You can’t put the legacy of colonialism in a climate model. The drying trend we’ve seen in the Levant region interacts with the world we’ve actually built. Climate change is not an abstraction, and it’s not something you can remove from the complexities of human society.

Kate Marvel, in Jill Kubit, et al., “Parenting and Climate Change”

[T]he task [of convincingly imitating human intelligence in conversation] has actually been made easier of late, by a decline in the linguistic complexity of human conversation. In the era of WhatsApp, it seems, our written exchanges are becoming easier for machines to master.

Zoë Heller, “How Everyone Got So Lonely”

(In transference, one always waits—at the doctor’s, the professor’s, the analyst’s. Further, if I am waiting at a bank window, an airport ticket counter, I immediately establish an aggressive link with the teller, the stewardess, whose indifference unmasks and irritates my subjection; so that one might say that wherever there is waiting there is transference: I depend on a presence which is shared and requires time to be bestowed—as if it were a question of lowering my desire, lessening my need. To make someone wait: the constant prerogative of all power, “age-old pastime of humanity.”)

Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments

Much has been made of the fact that so many sixties radicals went on to become hardcore capitalists, profiting by the system they once critiqued and wanted to destroy. But no one assumes responsiblity for the shift in values that made the peace and love culture turn toward the politics of profit and power. That shift came about because the free love that flourished in utopian communal hippie enclaves, where everyone was young and carefree, did not take root in the daily lives of ordinary working and retired people. Young progressives committed to social justice who had found it easy to maintain radical politics when they were living on the edge, on the outside, did not want to do the hard work of changing and reorganizing our existing system in ways that would affirm the values of peace and love, or democracy and justice. They fell into despair. And that despair made capitulation to the existing social order the only place of comfort.

It did not take long for this generation to find out that they loved material comfort more than justice. It was one thing to spend a few years doing without comfort to fight for justice, for civil rights for nonwhite people and women of all races, but it was quite another to consider a lifetime where one might face material lack or be compelled to share resources. When many of the radicals and/or hippies who had rebelled against excess privilege began to raise children, they wanted them to have the same access to material privilege they had known—as well as the luxury of rebelling against it; they wanted them to be materially secure. Concurrently, many of the radicals and/or hippies who had come from backgrounds of material lack were also eager to find a world of material plenty that would sustain them. Everyone feared that if they continued to support a vision of communalism, of sharing resources, that they would have to make do with less.

bell hooks, All about Love: New Visions

“I have never suffered greatly.”

For luck or exorcism she touched his hand to the maple veneer of the awful bedstead. “Then you still have something to fear.”

“I mean, when there has been tragedy or risk, I have not felt enough. Whatever enough means.” He was not warning her, just telling the truth. “If you can reach fifty without a catastrophe, you’ve won. You’ve got away with it. Perhaps even now I’ve had more good life than they can take from me.”

But “you,” Paul meant himself. “They” were undefined. Caro said nothing. By now she would have given up her life for him, but repudiated his wish to be indemnified, by arithmetical advantages, against experience. “Got away with it,” he had said, as if life itself were a felony, a shiftiness exposed like stained ticking on a rented bed. As if, for all his authority, he were a fugitive. His father had perhaps renounced existence; but he had not given it the slip.

She would have told him, “You can’t have this without catastrophe,” but was silent out of fear of loss—reminded how nothing creates such untruth as the wish to please or to be spared something.

Shirley Hazzard, The Transit of Venus

Wolfgang Schivelbusch, the great theorist of industrialization, puts it thus:

The more civilized the schedule and the more efficient the technology, the more catastrophic its destruction when it collapses. There is an exact ratio between the level of the technology with which nature is controlled, and the degree of severity of its accidents.

[T]he very notion of the “accident”—not an unlucky coincidence, such as being struck by a hurricane, but rather a wholesale collapse of a functioning system—also owes its inception to the technologies of the era. These were technical apparatuses capable of self-destruction […].

Will Self, “A Posthumous Shock”

[T]hought and deliberation require not just incubation space (solitude and/or a defined context) but incubation time. My experience suggests that these challenges apply not only to activists but also to an individual trying to communicate with others, or just maintain coherent trains of thought. Whether the dialogue I want is with myself, or a group of people committed to the same cause as I am, there are concrete conditions for dialogue. Without space and time, these dialogues will not only die, they will never be born in the firstplace.

Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

In [Wendell Berry’s] new book, he has a characteristically bittersweet message: “Because the age of global search and discovery now is ending—because by now we have so thoroughly ransacked, appropriated, and diminished the globe’s original wealth—we can see how generous and abounding is the commonwealth of life.” But he has never suggested that everyone flee the city and the suburbs and take up farming. “I am suggesting,” he once wrote, “that most people now are living on the far side of a broken connection, and that this is potentially catastrophic.”

Dorothy Wickenden, “Wendell Berry’s Advice for a Cataclysmic Age”

[Latina muralist Juana Alicia] reminded me what my Black neighbors had taught me earlier that decade, that the yearning to be more rugged, more rustic, more rough, more scruffy, is often a white and a white-collar yearning, and a those who have only recently escaped agricultural work, maybe sharecropping or slavery or migrant labor, who have survived being treated as dirty or backward, are often glad to be polished and elegant. You have to feel securely high to want to go low, urban to yearn for the rural, smooth to desire roughness, anxious about artificiality to seek this version of authenticity. And if you see the countryside as a place of rest and respite you’re probably not a farmworker.

Rebecca Solnit, Orwell’s Roses

[A]t some point you have to stop thinking of yourself as just a cog and find some foothold that can become the basis for a moral position. And from that point forward, your analytical capacities have to serve that position, but at the same time you also have to be able to gain some critical distance, figure out how to maintain your cold reason and not lose self-control. But it’s really important not to lose your moral position—especially in critical moments.


If you take a principled position, if you don’t fail to rise to the moral challenge, if you don’t pretend that nothing is happening or that you’re powerless, but instead understand that you’re in a situation where the moral challenge is enormous, that everyone will be called to answer for, then you won’t be able to remain just a passenger. You have to believe that you can do something at the level of an act with some measurable effect.

Grigory Yudin, in Svetlana Reiter, “Why No Mass Protests in Russia?”