|By Sarah Hoenicke for the Montreal Review
Sarah: Can you tell me briefly about each of your books?
Roy: Learning to Die in the Anthropocene is a philosophical meditation, in the tradition of Susan Sontag or Camus, on climate change and how to approach and think about climate change from a humanistic perspective (from someone who’s not a scientist, or necessarily an activist). That book is a nonfiction essay. The argument is basically ‘we’re fucked’ — climate change has probably already passed the tipping point and even if it hasn’t, the political and social and infrastructure technologies we have to address it are not adequate and we’re not going to be able to do so in time. While we should keep working to de-carbonize the energy and infrastructure, and all drive Priuses and whatnot, we should do that in full recognition that it’s not going to save us. We need to come to terms with the end of civilization as we know it.
The way to do that, I argue, is with this idea of learning to die. The reference—this is what the second half of the book is about—is to the Zen tradition, the Buddhist tradition, which recognizes that this life is transient and temporary and just a passing moment. We have to make ethical decisions in that awareness. It’s also part of this long Western philosophical tradition that argues that philosophy itself is learning how to die. When we think about it that way, the end of civilization isn’t a new problem. It’s the same problem as facing our own mortality, just on a different scale.
Sarah: So kind of Heideggerian in that way.
Roy: Yeah. Heidegger is a thinker I struggle with because he’s so decisionistic. Confronting the end is the problem for Heidegger, and we have to make a decision. Yes, confronting the end is the problem, but we don’t have to make a decision about it…
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