Of all the places I could choose to write this, A Cold Eye is plainly the one.
I’m reading this morning about California’s new “apocalyptic” climate change assessment. As temperatures continue to rise, heat smothers cities, wildfires devour the countryside, and rising sea levels and storms consume the coast, no one will escape—everyone has to breathe smoke-laden air, for one—but the burden, especially of heat waves, will fall most heavily on “the state’s most vulnerable residents”: the elderly, the poor, the more than 100,000 homeless.
It struck me that as we as a species struggle to cope with a burgeoning population and a deteriorating environment, one of the “solutions” we will find can already be seen in the making: human life will become cheap again.
Of course, it already is, probably always was, but we protest this strenuously. We still cling to the originally religious, then democratic, principle that every human life, every soul, has absolute value and deserves to be fostered and sheltered, not neglected, exploited, and abused. The struggle to hang on to this principle, however, becomes increasingly exhausting as the flood tide of humans and of human suffering, waste, and malfeasance rises to our nostrils. We mourn, we deplore, we protest and donate, but there is the sense that at some point we will let go and let our humanism drown.
You can see it on the Right, in the tendency to blame the poor and ill for their “bad choices.” (And this is not always entirely wrong.) You can see it on the Left, in the extension of compassion to other species at the expense of that for humans, who have forfeited it by the sins of our species. (Nor is this entirely wrong.) Compassion goes to the innocent, the sinless—on the Right, to fetuses who haven’t had the chance to make any bad choices yet; on the Left, to animals and plants (and colonized, indigenous or displaced minorities), the purportedly noble, unfallen victims of our rapacity. On both sides, our small store of compassion also goes out to “our kind, the good people.”
After all, you can’t care for everybody.
But the abstract notion that there is anything sacred and savable in principle about any human being just by virtue of being human—without being saved by Jesus Christ, without losing weight, without kicking heroin, without raking in billions for your IPO—that’s already gone.
If it ever really existed.
What’s important about this shift is that it opens the door to unbridled exploitation of and indifference to other humans. Not giving a shit may even be a factor in fitness, an advantage in the struggle to survive.