I knew Camp had something on his mind that couldn’t wait to be spilled out and I was not wrong, but not quite ready for the intensity of his lament and soliloquy and it had nothing to do with the current war in Europe or China’s latest failing experiment in social engineering.
‘I’ve come across a quote by Rainer Maria Rilke, a Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist from the 19thcentury,’ Camp said as soon as he plunked into his chair by the window. ‘It’s still relevant for our times. It goes something like this: You must change your life’ in order to have a better life. My modern interpretation is that we all must change our lives, in other words, stop the spread of rampant capitalism, stop with the exploitation of the third world, stop with the manic consumer orgy, the over production of goods and waste, stop the excesses of the modern world. ‘
‘Except that none of us are willing to give up our luxuries that we consider necessities like cars, fridges, air travel, laundry machines, closets full of clothes and shoes, pre-packaged groceries, air conditioning, heating, cooking and kitchen equipment and all other manner of energy consuming gadgets,’ I said.
‘That is what we achieved as human beings. We conquered and subjugated nature and built ourselves a comfortable and diverse life style that is completely dependent on abundant energy and constant innovation of how to improve everything from the electric toothbrush to the latest smart and wireless device to space travel. We are using and burning finite resources of natural resources and in the process release gases into our atmosphere that are changing the very air we breathe and the temperature that makes this planet liveable for us mammals and primates. We cannot complain about nature. We either adapt to nature or make nature adapt to us. And as Rilke pointed out 150 years ago: We need to change in order to improve or we perish,’ Camp said with apocalyptic finality and a dramatic sweep of his arm that almost knocked over our beers.
‘Wow, what upset your apple cart? Tree huggers protesting the bookstore? Did Muriel ask you to give up drinking? Did the tax man come for his pound of flesh?’ We both know that nobody wants to give up their toys and gadgets, their life styles and conveniences. We’ve come this far as human beings and nobody wants to go back to ‘the old times’ because we are living the good old times,’ I said.
‘Well, we might be the last generation to live in this bubble of luxury which is unsustainable for eight or even ten billion of us. But everybody still wants what we have here, from houses with multiple bathrooms to accessible health care and creature comforts from cradle to grave. I just don’t know if we are able to change anymore or if we are doomed to live in relative luxury until change is forced upon us by a compromised nature. All I know is that I feel kind of helpless when I realize how fragile and tenuous our existence really is. Just look at Covid-19 and how much it upset the status quo.’
I agreed and added: ‘Take away the rule of law and we have anarchy or disregard secularity and we have religious or ideological dictatorships. Millions fought and died for these achievements.’
‘Exactly. And take away electricity and plumbing and we’re back in the middle ages,’ Camp said, taking a swig.
‘All of these genuine accomplishments are called progress,’ I said. ‘Changes which are a testament to our ingenuity, humanity and adaptability.’
‘Which brings us to the old progress trap,’ Camp said, always pointing out the other side. ‘We’re so successful at subjugating and changing the environment, that soon there might not be enough air to breathe or water to drink for all of us.’
‘You need to read some of those comic books in your store,’ I said. The future will happen without you and me. Meanwhile we need to make sure that our loved ones are happy, that we are aware of our impact on our immediate surroundings, that we try to be responsible and watch out for each other. We cannot change the world but we can change our habits. Like we all stopped smoking tobacco, didn’t we? Let’s get rid of bottled water. That surely is an easy target.’
‘What are you two on about today? Sounds pretty serious and intense,’ Vicky said as she served us two fresh brews.
‘We’re talking about change and how we should give up some bad habits.
‘You’re not thinking of giving up beer?’ she said with a twinkle in her eye.
‘Perish the thought,’ Camp said, aghast, and put both hands protectively around his pint.