By Lawrence Weschler
There is only one truly serious political problem facing all of us today, and that is climate change. Judging whether or not the human prospect on our planet is worth saving is the fundamental question confronting Americans in particular these coming weeks. Everything else—the fate of the Affordable Care Act, especially in the context of a rampaging pandemic; whether identity politics ought to supersede class solidarity; whether immigration controls should be tightened or loosened; even what to do about that Supreme Court vacancy—comes afterward.
Many of you will have noticed how in the paragraph above, I have been conspicuously borrowing the rhetorical gambit of Albert Camus at the outset of his famous essay The Myth of Sisyphus (substituting political for Camus’s philosophical, and climate change for his suicide, and those various policy debates for his “whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories,” and so forth).
Camus’ essay culminated in the story of Sisyphus, whom the gods had condemned “to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight,” and whom “one must imagine … happy” because “the struggle itself … is enough to fill a man’s heart.” It seems to me, though, that the challenge of climate change calls forth a different mythological referent: The terrifyingly narrow course that Odysseus and his men were forced to tack between the twin horrors of Scylla and Charybdis, with hideous monster-inhabited crag cliffs to one side and a gargantuan all-swallowing whirlpool to the other.