Recently I’ve been tempted to introduce a tag called “doom thinking”, and label quite a few of my books with it (see some candidates on the right). Here’s why I didn’t.
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is the prime example of the type of book I had in mind for “doom thinking”. One of its opening quotes alone may illustrate why:
Even the title itself hauntingly refers to a doom scenario, brought on by our DDTs, PCBs, and other toxins: “There was a strange stillness. The birds, for example — where had they gone? […] The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was a spring without voices.” It would be hard to find a gloomier vision than this.
How about Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff?
If the word “doom” does not yet come to mind, then at least “pessimism”. Are these authors engaging in doom thinking, though? Playing into a certain market for people who want to read it’s going bad, bad, bad with the world?
Pessimist or realist?
No: what these works set out to do is to paint a picture of reality, to gather scientific results that have something relevant to say about where we humans may be headed. The fact that those pictures are gloomy may very well make these works realistic rather than pessimistic, unfortunately.
The trouble is, even if these authors are not engaging in doom thinking, we readers — you — may very easily enter that pitfall. I am no psychologist, but I know at least of two ways this may happen. First of all, you might confuse these potential future scenarios on a global scale with descriptions of your seemingly inescapable personal future, or that of your children. Secondly, you might feel personal responsibility for these global problems, be it for creating or perpetuating them, or for resolving them. I know I am moralizing, but please recognize the pitfalls in these feelings. You are one. The world is seven billion.
That being said, I should return to the books themselves. Whether you label them pessimist or realist, I think we should agree they are important. We should at least credit them with pointing out risks that are grave enough to be taken very seriously indeed, even by the doubters. So my point is: these books deserve better than to be labeled with “doom thinking”.1
Let me leave you with a positive note, from the introduction to my 2008 edition of the amazingly uplifting Cradle to Cradle: