Next week my environmental theory class will discuss the Anthropocene, as a way to consider how we talk about contemporary reality and whether Big Words like nature—and the categories they organize reality into—are still relevant (there’s a paper on that). I’ve been re-reading Anthropocene literature, and recalled this NYT op-ed of a few years ago (now a book). What strikes me here and elsewhere is how Big Words related to the Anthropocene are often about time: on many accounts, a past ruled by nature, and a future—for better or worse—ruled by culture. Why is it that the horrors of the past are forgotten, or that, at least on certain spatial scales, culture has long transformed nature? There’s something purifyingly crude about Big Words, as if for instance the future could not be both a beautiful and a terrible thing to contemplate.
The strength of Scranton’s argument may have nothing to do with the Anthropocene in particular. Scranton is saying it’s time to die, or in his words to “…learn to see each day as the death of what came before, freeing ourselves to deal with whatever problems the present offers without attachment or fear.” Sounds like good Buddhist wisdom to me. But not, ideally, joined to some generalizations about reality and the future—both of which are, and arguably have long been, many things.