The Doomer Mentality Dooms Us to Failure

The Doomer Mentality Dooms Us to Failure

Max Wilbert responds to the statement “we are all doomed.”

by Max Wilbert

Anyone who is honest about the present state of affairs on this planet knows that things are very bad.

The oceans are dying. Coral reefs are collapsing. We’re living through a 6th mass extinction event; around 200 species are driven extinct every single day. And things are getting worse, fast. Emissions are rising, not falling. Pollution is increasing. Population is exploding. Energy consumption is skyrocketing. The permafrost is thawing and life as we know it—perhaps life itself—is under serious threat.

Meanwhile, economic inequality is at it’s highest level ever. The rich grow ever richer as the poor work to the bone, grow sick, and die. Meanwhile, popular culture glorifies technology, fast cars, and pornographic images. We live in a culture of adolescents ruled by sociopaths. The Amazon is falling, the forests burn, and millions of tons of plastic churn through the seas.

Despite how bad things are, there are multiple issues with the mentality of “we are doomed.”

First, it presupposes failure. That is not something we can afford at this point. If we have already failed in our minds—if we are already convinced of our defeat—that is a problem.

It is a victory for the dominant culture when we have lost our will to fight. One of the main objectives in any war is to destroy the opponents will to continue fighting. The dominant culture is always trying to destroy our will to fight, in many different ways, through all kinds of different propaganda. This is something that we need to overcome. When we become apathetic, when we say “there is nothing that can be done,” we are surrendering. And I, for one, do not mean to surrender until ever last tree, every last fish, and every last human being is dead.

As long as there is wildness and beauty in this world, there is something worth fighting for—and there is no time to waste wallowing in self-pity.

In some senses the doomer mentality is a parallel to the consumer mentality that says “everything is okay, go on with your shopping.” These two mindsets (doomer and consumer) coexist together very well. Both allow the status quo to continue.

A truly oppositional mindset looks at the dominant culture that is destroying life on this planet, sets itself in conscious political opposition, and organizes from this mentality, not from a sense of doom.

We need to organize with an understanding of reality. Things are very bad. We are deep in a hole. It’s not hyperbole to say that humans could even be driven extinct due to runaway global warming, ocean acidification, loss of biodiversity, and the collapse of the soils. These are serious trends, but it is not too late for life on this planet.

Action now can make a difference.

I have interviewed some of the top climate scientists in the world, and without exception, they all told me “it is not too late.” Everything we can do now to reduce the destruction of the natural world will create a better future.

Does this mean we have a great future? That everything is going to be fine? That there will be no problems? That we will live in utopia in no time?

Not at all. We are in for some dire times ahead. It is possible that in years to come we will look back at years like 2020 and, despite coronavirus, we may say “that was an easy year.” It’s likely that things will get worse.

It is ironic to me that many doomers, like me, actually have a roof over their head, food, and clean water. Many people around the world are already living in a state of collapse. In the short term, the future is grim.

So what can we do instead of simply saying “we are doomed” and then walking away? The more mature response is based on love for the planet, the beings on it, our family and friends, both human and non-human. The mature perspective works to protect and enhance the future no matter how much hope there is.

If you love then you keep fighting.

Sometimes you win. Sometimes you will change the situation and improve outcomes. There is no magic formula to make things better, but we can make fundamental changes.  We can. We must.

If we defeat ourselves in our minds by believing that we are doomed, without taking action and fighting for what we love, then our souls have already been defeated.

If you would like to hear more about this subject, you can listen to an interview Max did with Michael Dowd on his “Post Doom” podcast.

Max Wilbert is a writer, organizer, and wilderness guide. A third-generation dissident, he came of age in a family of anti-war and undoing racism activists in post-WTO Seattle. He is the editor-in-chief of the Deep Green Resistance News Service. His latest book is the forthcoming Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About Itco-authored with Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith. His first book, an essay collection called We Choose to Speak, was released in 2018. He lives in Oregon.

22 thoughts on “The Doomer Mentality Dooms Us to Failure”

  1. I think that the proper attitude is to be realistic about how bad and dire things are while always maintaining hope and the attitude that you have to keep fighting for the Earth and all life on it no matter what. So, we could rightly say, “We are doomed UNLESS we start living a lot more simply and naturally and greatly reduce human population.”

  2. “popular culture glorifies technology, fast cars, and pornographic images” – does it? All pop culture? I don’t think so. If so, the TV schedules would be filled with porn and Jeremy Clarkson, as would films, music and books. The briefest acquaintance with popular culture shows us that people read, watch and discuss a wide variety of topics from a wide variety of viewpoints – no matter how the media’s hysterical reporting about the evils of social media distort reality. I accuse the author of a snobbish vilification of working-class tastes, as well as an ignorance of what people like.

  3. James look up the term “porn culture” – mainstream culture is, in fact, full of porn and/or porn-inspired elements. It’s not an exclusively working-class thing.

    One very good book on this subject is “Pornland” by Prof. Dr. Gail Dines.

  4. nice. First, Max, I appreciate this conversation starter. For me, it’s not either/ or… it’s such a mixed bag.

  5. I believe you can keep two things in mind at the same time. 1. We are probably not going to win and therefore are doomed. 2. Even so, it’s morally wrong to give up because we may be able to prolong life for other species and possibly ourselves. Some would say that to believe this is depressing. Yes, it is, slowing our demise isn’t a wonderful goal but it will have to do. I like doomer. They are funny, caring and aware. And I don’t think they have given up trying despite hopelessness.

  6. @James
    DGR is, among other things and probably mainly, a radical environmental group. What people like is a large part of the problem. That includes the working class, which has shown itself to be no better than anyone else. People do like fast cars and technology, and considering how popular pornography is people obviously like that too. It is YOU who’s out of touch, not the author. Your leftist worship of the working class is delusional.

  7. @Jeff: your conservative contempt for the working class and popular cultures is showing. Why should anyone not like fast cars, tech and porn? I like two of those. The soi-disant radical environmentalists are mostly white, well-off, privately-educated and distant from hoi polloi. The author of the above article clearly doesn’t like much of what most people like. It’s a common problem in many Left and Green political groups and condemns them to the margins. Until they get back into the mainstream and stop regarding themselves as morally superior, they will not succeed in convincing the majority that their ideas on climate change need be taken seriously.

  8. @I: So what if lots of people like porn? There are far worse things in a world of nuclear weapons, global poverty and capitalism. I see far too much of this cultural snobbery on the Left and from Greens, comfortable in their posh ethical lifestyles yet ignorant of the lives of most people. DGR is clearly not interested in forming a mass movement, joining with trades unions and the working poor. No, it seems more about looking down on the masses and telling them how dreadful they are for liking fast cars, technology and porn instead of high art and designer ethical lifestyles which always need a lot of money to sustain. Extinction Rebellion, the Green Party, Greenpeace et al have exactly the same problem. How many people of colour do we see in their actions?

  9. @I: So there’s a test for the kind of people allowed to take part on this website’s comments, is there? And anyone who doesn’t regard porn as worse than nuclear holocaust or the deliberate starvation of the poor fails that test. Did I write that there’s nothing wrong with porn? No. Of course there’s plenty wrong with it from any ethical standpoint. But it’s existed since the dawn of human history – just like sex work, another embarrassment for the middle-class moralists of the Left who keep trying to stamp it out by working with religious conservatives and thereby exposing themselves to moral corruption and a diversion of their energies from working to end capitalism.

  10. @I: Clearly, for you and for some well-off, middle-class women, ensuring that adult men and women are prevented from looking at pictures of other adult men and women comes way before building a mass movement to defeat capitalism and fight the climate crisis. Why not argue your case on its merits? I’m happy to.

  11. @James
    DGR is opposed to industrial society. If you are not, you’re nothing but a troll here. In a rare occurrence I agree with I., you should find another website.

  12. I’m equally opposed to industrialism. However, I live in the world as it is and my cultural tastes were formed in it. To vilify the common culture of UK society is to vilify the people who are part of that culture, and it’s a prominent failing amongst the Left and Greens. That’s one of the main reasons that radical Greens have mostly failed to get their ideas across to the mainstream. The tone of your responses and that of the original author above reminds me uncomfortably of the National Viewers and Listeners Association, of which my evangelical fundamentalist mother was a member when I was a child, an organisation founded by Mary Whitehouse to eradicate ‘obscenity’ from the media via censorship.

    Where is your evidence that “like 99.9% of leftist men – it’s very clear that by “people” you mean “men””? That seems more like an opinion. By people, I always mean any human of age or gender. I can’t speak for any other socialist.

  13. It’s very simple James. Pornography and prostitution disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and disenfranchised women and girls – poor women, uneducated women, women of color, homeless women, disabled women, women with addictions, women who have been to prison. Anyone who claims to represent the interests of the working class and fails to oppose pornography and prostitution is actually ignoring 50% of the working class. It’s quite surprising to me that this has to be explained.

  14. @James
    Saying that you oppose industrial society while also saying that you like fast cars and technology, and asking why anyone shouldn’t, is totally hypocritical. Those are results of industrial society, so if you oppose the latter, you don’t trumpet your like for the former. This isn’t to say that everyone living in modern society does not use industrial technology, it would be impossible not to do so. Hell, we’re communicating on computers. But that’s not the same as liking any of this, it’s just what we do to survive in a world that we neither created nor support.

    Priorities are ultimately important, both in politics and in life. You either prioritize leftist attitudes like support for the working class, or you prioritize the Earth and all life on it, which are all destroyed by the working class values you espoused. And BTW FYI, I’m basically working class in an average year, and the people with whom you’re arguing here are not rich. You are so blinded by your leftist ideology that you make all sorts of false assumptions. You are correct that I’m conservative, but not in the way that you mean it. I’m conservative in that I’m a radical conservationist, as in humans should leave the natural world the hell alone. And to do that they need to greatly reduce their population and consumption. But even though I’m not a leftist because I prioritize the natural environment and everything that lives there above all else, I happen to agree with the left on most issues.

    And BTW, pop culture sucks, I’ve hated and ignored it since I was a kid. Most culture, is crap, and you have to wade through that to get to the good stuff. Pop music is obnoxious and boring, pop movies are horrible and boring, etc. Of course there are rare exceptions, and sometimes things that are very popular don’t fit cleanly into the pop category, but generally pop culture is awful.

  15. @Jeff: I’ve rarely encountered someone who so openly despised the culture of the masses as you seem to. Really, what you’re saying fits neatly into what people like Charles Murray, Sam Harris or Samuel Huntington claim about the innate superiority of Western high culture.

    There’s a fine scene in pop-culture director Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List (1993) in which two SS men, engaged in liquidating the Warszawa ghetto, indulge themselves in a debate over whether the piece (Prelude to Bach’s English Suite #2 in A Minor) that a soldier is playing on a piano in the house of a Jewish family they are sending to death is Bach or Mozart. Spielberg’s point is, in part, that an appreciation for high culture is irrelevant to moral behaviour, no matter how people such as you try to pretend otherwise.

    Just because you have had bad experiences with popular culture is no good reason to deny its worth.

  16. @James
    Virtually all of pop culture is commercial garbage created and/or published to make money and/or brainwash people, in addition to being objectively bad. It has nothing to do with real Art, which in turn has nothing to do with high culture. You are clueless about this and I’m done discussing it with you.

  17. While I appreciate the effort to encourage heroism and sacrificing one’s whole life to saving something that looks like a straight road to extinction, I disagree with the analysis of what is the efficient way of saving a lost cause.
    There is a simple phenomenon in complex societies where there is (still) free will if people want to change what is alotted to them, their rights, payment, etc. It’s called a strike.
    When people go on strike, they refuse to feed the beast, they basically put the system to a halt. Knowing that if they continue to do so, the system will collapse. Not just civil servants like police, medical staff or even garbagemen, but in commerce as well when airline staff or other transportation staff or bakers for that matter stop their industry. Politics then feels the real effect and afraid that the population’s anger may cost them the elections (often much faster than the elected term) and suddenly concessions are made.
    Now people might be tricked into thinking that above example of a strike is to illustrate the reason to shed doomsday thinking: “It works, right?!” No, it doesn’t.
    It works on short term, sure. Some pockets are filled, some concessions are made that alleviate inequality. But it is a zero-sum end-game, where one pocket fills the other. And along the way, it gets taken away somewhere else. I don’t think the number of strikes in France or Italy have made any change to the system. If anything, they have solidified injustice. If this is all that people can do in their interest, then those at the top are rubbing their hands and write these off as collateral, pennies in the bigger scheme of things.
    Getting back to taking action in a system that is inherently flawed: it’s basically a declaration that people believe that it can work. Let’s just make a few tweaks and it will be all right.
    That’s the wrong approach. The system does NOT work and we have known it for long. Economists and holistic scientists have been seeing how we race towards the abyss, be it environmental destruction to fuel consumption, exponential population growth, dumbing down of the average human through mindless social media and convenience technology, all the way to physical debilitation through obesity and mental destruction. The list is endless and it is a complex system that fuels it, no longer being controlled by the few who invented it and profit from it, but a perpetuum mobile that is fed by the superficial desires that we have gotten to call our “modern needs”.
    No, it is not sustainable. So do we fight it? I do not believe we should. Because it is like swimming against the current and wears us down, finally leaving us depleted and utterly left to our devices. Let me explain why.
    I could use the simple analogy of those who have ever swam in the ocean and a wave pulled them under, pounding them down with immense force. Surfers know that fighting against the force as it pulls you down just makes you weaker, so you should hold your breath and wait until it no longer pounds you down, then bypass the force and emerge “sideways” in a different spot. You need a long breath, but you also need patience. Most of all however, the act of saving yourself is by doing NOTHING. That’s right, because the force is too strong to fight against.
    Likewise, in a system that feeds on people’s cooperation, the system is kept alive as long as people participate in it. Whether through productive means or through avoidance and spending your buck on bio-products or “going to live off the land”, you participate in the system. All the hippies growing produce off the land are living in dreamland, because it is a privileged few who can afford to actually buy land to live off, if all humans would do it, land would become unaffordable.

    For a system to collapse, it needs to be left to its own devices, to collapse by itself. The sooner, the better. Any fight against that will simply prolong misery and leave people more depleted, enslaved and with even less resources left to rebuild when we have reached zero point.
    The reason the system should not be fought is because if we mindlessly consume and do not slow it down, the collapse will come at such force that most of the Earth population will be eradicated. Which is terrible, I know, but only for a single generation’s lifespan and the Earth will still have enough resources left for the new generations. If all collapses and we get to start with a clean slate, those who come after us will still be able to build something better, as there will be fewer of them.
    I we were to fight the current however with all manner of mitigations to “save the environment”, we will only slow down this inevitable doom. Which means that much more of the Earth’s resources will be depleted by the time it all collapses anyway.
    A faster collapse means better building. A slow one will leave humanity with a wasteland.

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