I (Matthew) had a crisis of faith in the cultural worldview I'd inherited a decade ago and wrote a book that I should never have published (I even had to publish it myself as I couldn’t find an agent or publisher to represent me). I only mention it now because Google never forgets and people keep bringing it up. Essentially, it was a book about human exceptionalism, or the belief that humans are "special", which I didn’t and still don’t get. I don’t have an imaginary friend whispering sweet nothings into my brain (not even an elderly white male one) so I don't think I’m any more special to the biosphere or the universe (cf myself) than a mosquito or a tapeworm. And you know what, I'm fine with that. I like being cosmically insignificant. In fact, if I was going to publish anything, it probably should have been a much, much shorter book called The Nihilist Manifesto:
“Nothing is important, including this manifesto. The End.”
But I didn’t. I published a book about the importance of nihilism, without immediately recognising the irony.
Actually, that’s not quite true, because my ultimate conclusion was more than just ‘nothing matters so there’. My ultimate conclusion was actually that humans will kill themselves long before killing “the planet” and that whatever survives the human apocalypse will be just as amazing as everything that didn’t. It was a celebration of life in general, rather than lives in particular.
And it helped. For a bit at least. I still think a biosphere without elephants or tigers (or humans) is just as amazing as one with them, but I still also think I'd rather live in a world with elephants and tigers. The conclusions I reached while writing the book have lost their power. The universe may not care about elephants and tigers but, despite my best efforts to accept this, I do and though a world that needs conservationists is already a really depressing place to live, we are trying really hard not to be part of the problem anymore.
Anyway, for anybody who wants to be shouted at by an angry thirty year old about pedigree dogs, pseudo-religious environmental NGOs and the intrinsic differences between different coloured squirrels (amongst other things), there’s probably a second-hand copy on amazon somewhere. Or you can download a free PDF copy by clicking anywhere on this page if you want. I can’t recommend it though. I can’t even read it myself anymore. (Thank f#ck I never published THE HOLEY BYBLE.)
Ah, fuck it, while we're placating the Ghost of Conduct Past, as well as a crappy book about the stupid things people decide are critically important, I also got caught stealing some Ghostbuster stickers in the local toy shop when I was 11 or 12 (I still wake up feeling awful about it), I sunk a Land Rover in the Okavango Delta when I was 21 having lied about my 4x4 driving experience (I'd driven round a field once), I x-rayed my own head while drunk (while drinking from a beer can, obviously), I flooded the campus refectory with maggots (rag week accident), I broke into my neighbours house after a college ball because I thought it was mine (sorry), I gave an embarassingly awful lecture to a conference full of vets (to be fair, my main objective was just to prove I had the courage to stand up in front of them), and I convinced my college housemate that he'd fathered a child 5 years previosuly (practical joke that worked a bit too well). OK?
Actually, now the world is so full of shameless twats, I'm actually quite proud to be ashamed of myself sometimes. I've made millions of mistakes I wish I could forget about. I'm a flawed human being and, you know what, in this age of shameless narcissism, I'm actually quite proud of that.
Either way, I'm definitely a hypocritre. I try to be consistent, but I rarely succeed. My heart is utopian for example, but my brain just isn't. I'm both utopian and dystopian at the same time somehow. I'm also philanthropic and misanthropic, left and right, anti-conservation and pro-conservation. I want to believe in fairness and justice but I also know that life doesn't work that way. "Deserve's got nothing to do with it" as William Munny said in Unforgiven.
I definitely don't want to be fighting with furious NIMBYs, but I know I have to if I want to help my family deal with an uncertain future. I don't particularly want to upset anybody about anything actually, but I also know the only way not to upset anybody is to do or say nothing at all (and someone will still probably decide to hate you). I'm full of doubt and inconsistency and I'm kind of proud of that as well.
I'm not proud to be ashamed of being a privileged white male though. I'm just straight ashamed of that. I don't come from a wealthy family and didn't go to a private school, but I grew up with advantages that billions of other people in the world don't have. I can't change that, but I do hope and pray that I don't ever become just another greedy, selfish, shameless, self-important, authoritarian, privileged older white male.
There are more than enough of those already.