Libraries, Archives, Technology, Impending Doom
“I do not believe that things will turn out well, but the idea that they might is of decisive importance.” – Max Horkheimer
1. Nice days can be disorienting. The sun shines, the birds chatter, the temperature is just right, the breeze is slight, even other people – equally struck by the niceness of the day – seem more pleasant, and as one walks about it can be easy to feel as though all is well in the world. The early weeks of spring are often a particular source of these fabled “nice days” when the seemingly perpetual gray of winter has not yet faded from memory, but before the uncomfortable stickiness of summer has become prevalent. There is something instantly rejuvenating about the sensation of stepping outside and thinking “zounds, but is it ever a nice day.” For that brief moment other concerns are banished by the budding trees and blooming flowers and curmudgeonly impulses are blown away – it takes a genuine force of will to remain aware that a nice day in one’s own sphere does not mean that a nice day is being enjoyed all across the oblate sphere that is the planet. To walk down the street, basking in the comfortable spring weather, whilst simultaneously contemplating the state of the planet gives rise to an odd dissonance.
For the news is rarely good, and yet…it’s still a really nice day.
2. Every nice day is a vote of confidence for the future and a subtle counter argument against precognitive pessimism. It requires an impressive commitment to not paying attention – or a strong devotion to a restrictive ideology – to not feel at least moderately concerned about the future of the planet. And the planet, it should never be forgotten, is where these nice days occur. But when the weather is so nice it can be hard to take seriously any suggestion that things could take a turn for the not so nice. And yet, the glaciers are melting, the droughts are intensifying, the mountains of garbage grow ever higher, every day brings fresh news of another species moving closer to extinction, more and more books appear on the shelves with titles that ominously declare that we have pushed past the point of “now or never” and instead have reached a moment of “we missed the now and so we must prepare ourselves for what is to come.” Some of us may be fortunate enough to live in areas where the quantity of water remains at the desired level – and yet for many people the water has already started to rise, or the lack of water has left the landscape parched. Of course, a person can be aware of all of these things on an intellectual level, can be committed to doing something about them (insofar as an individual can), and still find them difficult to fully grok. After all, every nice day holds out the promise that maybe – maybe! – everything will work out in the end. That despite all of the reason to cynically doubt that changes will be made in time, that perhaps things are not really so bad, that perhaps people will get their acts together in order to act together. As long as it is beautiful out today, how can one truly believe that such days could come to an end, to even think in such a way seems to be nastily unappreciative the nice day that has been bestowed upon us like a gift.
Sure, the news isn’t that good, but if you just turn from the headlines to the weather forecast you will see…today is going to be a really nice day.
3. And now a true story. The area where I live was spared the worst of Hurricane Sandy’s effects, indeed it was spared from even the relatively bad of the storm. We had prepared by stocking up on the requisite quantities of canned goods, batteries, water, blankets, and so forth. We tuned our radio to the mayor’s announcements, periodically checking to make sure that our area had not been designated an evacuation zone. With some anxiety we listened as the wind picked up, and we watched out our window as the solitary tree we could see strained against the wind – we were carefully listening for the loud crack that would tell us the tree had been snapped. The cats hid under the bed, while we sat on the couch and stared out the window – occasionally muttering expletives. But the storm passed – and we had not even lost power. The damage rendered by the hurricane to the city’s mass transit ensured that we would not be going anywhere – except by foot – but our immediate area was not particularly the worse for wear. As for my family – my sister was part of the swathe of Manhattan that had gone dark, and my parents were amongst the upstate residents whose power fizzled. After having spent several days safely secluded inside, the time eventually came to venture back out of doors. There were some trees that were down, many branches and leaves scattered across the streets, but the sensation that was foremost in my mind as I walked about that afternoon was that it was actually a rather nice day out. I could easily walk to neighborhoods where there was no power, and I was fully aware that only a few miles away the storm had caused serious devastation. But to dwell on that while enjoying the sun and the breeze was rather disorienting.
Evidence of destruction and cause for serious concern was plainly evident, but at the same time…it was still a really nice day outside.
4. Is there not something rather cloying about the term “nice” in the way it is so easily tossed around? We tell people to “have a nice day” or we speak of the weather as being “really nice out” – and yet “nice” is the sort of adjective that one tends to use when one cannot think of anything more significant to say. The term may not have out and out negative connotations, but there is still something rather lackluster about it. To describe an evening as having been “nice,” to describe a person as being “nice,” seems to be giving a sort of minimal level of positivity. In lieu of saying something genuinely positive it is a way of saying something merely unobjectionable. After all, nice is not great, nice is not interesting, nice is actually rather banal. Nice is agreeable, nice is pleasant but not too pleasant, nice is what gives rise to a sense of bland contentment that does not desire or expect more. Nice is stationary and therefore is thoroughly focused on the present – seeking the elongation of a particular moment instead of dwelling upon what is to come. And what happens when a person begins to too loudly express anxiety about the days ahead? They may be strategically shushed by a warning that they should “be nice,” or they may find themselves holding back out of a desire to “be nice.”
For what is so wrong with being content and agreeable, just go for a walk, feel the sun, try to smile, and stop being so negative. Come on, just admit that…it’s a really nice day.
5. Perhaps the language is all-wrong. Maybe we have fallen victim to a spelling mistake that has been passed down through the ages and which now haunts our present condition like the punch line for a joke to which we have forgotten the lead. What if “nice days” should be understood as “nice daze”? The two are clearly different if read, but when said aloud they sound remarkably similar, almost indistinguishable. Or, perhaps it is just that a nice day gives rise to a nice daze. The sunlight forces us to blink – even if we are wearing sunglasses – and the world before us takes on a shiny view that gives everything a glowing aura. Discarded soda cans sitting in the gutter can shine like polished silver if the sun hits them just right, if we are predisposed to see them as silver instead of as rubbish, that is. The nice daze allows one to float down the street with other concerns pushed away by the breeze, they have not been banished, but the breeze keeps them at bay. To live in such a pleasant and contented daze seems as though it would be so lovely – a never-ending sequence of nice day after nice day. After all, such a perpetual land of always-present nice days is the world that beckons to us from advertisements where everybody looks happy, beautiful, and unconcerned with tomorrow. Everything takes on such a pleasant aura, though it may be worth bearing in mind that “aura” is also the term for the blurriness that may be a warning of an oncoming migraine.
Of course, we can recognize what the nice weather is doing to us, be aware that we are falling into a euphoric daze, but this does not change the fact that, frankly…it’s a really nice day.
6. To become inured is to become accustomed to something unpleasant – and one could certainly argue that such is amongst the dominant affects for many people in the present day and age. The great risk is that the unpleasant becomes so routine that one stops to think of it as actually being much besides the standard– it is simply that which we come to expect. Melting glaciers, intensifying droughts, devastating storms, rising sea levels – all cease to be dramatic threats warranting our immediate attention and instead become the standard background noise to daily affairs. These are things we know about, and we feel aggravated when people continually demand that we pay attention to them. Granted, it is much easier for these things to be simply shrugged at if one enjoys a degree of insulation from their worst effects. Indeed, one of the challenges of environmental issues is that people may have a hard time squaring the seriousness of the warnings with the sense that they have not – personally – seen much of the danger or damage. Those who have only seen a glacier in pictures may have a hard time seeing the implications of their melting. Likewise one can see the gripping images of displaced climate refugees, and one can empathize with their plight, without being able to imagine such ruination happening nearby.
The general grief and sadness that seems to pervade the world has become wretchedly commonplace. Some of us get used to it, some of us internalize it, some of us attempt to distract ourselves from it, and we carry on. We carry ourselves on. The planet on which we live, our Earth, carries us on – even as it carries us on it. And though it is planet on which many nice days may be experienced, it is not a planet that owes us nice days. It is not actually a planet that owes us anything. We may be coming ever closer to the moment when we must confront just how much we owe the planet, when we must confront the stark reality of the debt that is to come due, when the level of unpleasantness rises along with the water.
And yet one can still glance out the window in the morning and find oneself thinking…it’s going to be a really nice day.
Adorno, Theodor and Horkheimer, Max. Towards a New Manifesto. London: Verso, 2011. pg. 45.