The account given in Chapter 5 of the underlying human condition as tragic arms us against the temptations of an irresponsible utopianism, but it also leads us towards a better grasp of the climate crisis. Certainly, if we are now urgently compelled to bring hope against hope to bear on that crisis, and such hope must be provided with a standing defence against those temptations if it is to do the proper work of hope instead of lapsing into wilful escapism, then a recognition of the tragic as central to human experience must be vital to that hope’s defeasibility. Such recognition can also, however, give us important insights into the actual structure of our climate plight, which itself exhibits the characteristic tragic feature of life-energy coming into inevitable self-conflict.
A pattern of key strengths bringing with them exposure to destructive forces, which represented our initial scoping of the tragic, is indeed readily identifiable in the aetiology of climate emergency. The secular and instrumentally rational Enlightenment spirit which has produced so much worthwhile life-improvement across the world has also generated an apparent inability to rein in the relevant activities before they do irreversible harm. Distinctive human capacities which Western civilization in particular has realized – to make rational deliberated choices, to base belief on evidence and empirical testing, to free ourselves from ignorance, superstition and dogma – have been accompanied in their development by the striving for mastery and control which has betrayed us into doing decisive eco-systemic damage.
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