Confronting Global Catastrophe
Mark Schuller. Rutgers University Press. 2021
The first step to creating a better world is to imagine it (p 15).
Looking for a book with practical points you can immediately implement to increase your hospital’s disaster readiness? If so, stop reading now. Looking for a deep dive into the historical, cultural, and political (ie anthropological) links between the climate crisis, conflict, population displacements — the causes and consequences of disasters? That’s more how I understand Schuller’s Humanity’s Last Stand, Confronting Global Catastrophe. This book is a powerful statement about the roots of inequality that both create and perpetuate disasters across the world.
It speaks to our interconnectedness as a human species; the need for activism locally and globally, in mind and body; having the radical empathy to see others as ourselves (though different); and solidarity to expose the consumerism, capitalism, fear, and greed that perpetuate the vast inequality that creates the prerequisites for disasters.
Schuller invites us to use an “anthropological imagination” to remember the colonialism and slavery that built western society); to see the ongoing marginalization necessary for the capitalist machine to continue its exploitation of the earth; to see migration and immigration as survival responses to disasters; to look deeper to see the “circuits of inequality and uneven development that drive migration” (p 108). Disaster events will continue to increase in frequency, and migration will necessarily follow. Throughout human existence, we have “clearly responded to large-scale events such as massive drought, volcanoes, or earthquakes by moving” (130). Migration has been and will continue to be necessary adaptations. Borders impede that adaptation. Borders reinforce inequality.
Feeling the importance and urgency of this message, I wondered what am I supposed to do now. I didn’t take from this an invitation to survivalism, to live in the woods with my family in a hut built from the tires of my cars that I abandoned on the roadside. It didn’t seem like the point was that riding my bike to work and recycling my plastic was enough (though I think Professor Schuller would approve of these). What he proposes is much deeper than that. I found this description of solidarity that touches on what is needed.
Solidarity is not ‘speaking up’ on behalf of someone else; it is working to identify the ways that we are already connected....It is working to join forces from a collective self-interest, acknowledging and working through differences. It is following the lead of local groups and communities, being present and adding your body and resources in the struggle because you understand that you are also impacted, your own liberation is at stake. ...Solidarity supports specific people’s struggles, demanding constant self-evaluation and critique. Through our actions and commitments, we establish relationships of trust, and break down engrained barriers, helping construct this ephemeral “humanity” (p 178)
This attitude and subsequent action might save our humanity, might save humanity.