What's Your Beef? Spades

Kris Drummond  |   Friday Jan. 1st, 2021

The phrase “call a spade a spade” originated with the classical Greek philosopher Plutarch and has been recycled through time by the likes of Oscar Wilde, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others. I’ve always been curious about the term as I’ve often heard it used by bosses when they’ve got bad news or by men who can definitely beat me at arm wrestling. I assumed it was referring to the card suit, but in fact, “in the expression, the word ‘spade’ refers to the instrument used to move earth, a very common tool.”

As I consider “calling a spade a spade” now, I’m struck by the poetic precision. We’ve got a lot of earth to move and only by telling the fierce truth about what’s really happening, only by stepping out into the open with the harsh reality of what we know deep down; only if enough of us speak, organize, and act from the gritty actuality of our global predicament do we have any hope of moving earth - our species of it, at least - off the path of social collapse and possible extinction.

Like spades, words are common. Using them to tell the truth is not. More common is using language to bury the obvious. Even when we have science bludgeoning us with statistical exclamation points and our own growing foreboding from the still, small voice that knows true from false, we understandably take the path of comfort through linguistic justifications, obscurations, and distractions. Letting go of the future is the most challenging journey a human can undertake - many refuse it even to their dying breath. But for us, the unwillingness to entertain life’s ever-present uncertainty is no longer an option.

The myth of progress is coughing a pandemic death rattle as democracy dies before our eyes and climate change hasn’t even taken the stage yet. Let’s be real. We all know it’s not getting any better from here, at least not in our lifetimes. And that’s scary.

For some, the fear shows up as protesting basic health measures and voting for dictators while for others it means scuttling toward the illusory moral high-ground of institutions that sold us out long ago. Most of us live somewhere in the middle. But the common ground we share is the fear too big to face alone, bringing the news that we secretly know: The ride’s over.

In early December, a group of over 250 climate scientists signed a short collective letter that can be summarized by this quote: “Some of us believe that a transition to a new society may be possible. That will involve bold action to reduce damage to the climate, nature and society, including preparations for disruptions to everyday life. We are united in regarding efforts to suppress discussion of collapse as hindering the possibility of that transition.”

That’s science-speak for saying if we don’t turn around and face the very real possibility of collapse, there’s nothing we can do to avoid it. The letter continues to say “We have experienced how emotionally challenging it is to recognise the damage being done, along with the growing threat to our own way of life. We also know the great sense of fellowship that can arise. It is time to have these difficult conversations, so we can reduce our complicity in the harm, and make the best of a turbulent future.”

Take a deep breath. You know it’s true. We have a turbulent future. Not on some far off day, not even in some other decade. It’s already begun. It was nearly sixty degrees a week into December. The national narrative has devolved into a jumble of deceit and nonsense. 300,000 Americans have died because nearly half the country won’t trust the basic foundations of 19th century medical science. There’s nowhere to run. Not even the never-never land of Bozeman can avoid this storm.

In turning to face what’s here, a good place to begin is by educating yourself about the severity of the climate crisis. Professor Jem Bendell of The University of Cumbria in northern England published a paper titled Deep Adaptation: A map for navigating climate tragedy. Google it and read it. He and thousands of other scientists, including the 250+ mentioned above, have taken off the hope goggles of politically motivated narratives to tell the truth about what the data’s been saying since the 70’s.

The other places to start are talking openly about what you learn and seeking support. We can’t face this alone. Posting on social media, having conversations with friends and family, doing your own writing/music/art, getting involved with activist groups, building resilience into your life, cultivating a spiritual practice - it all matters. Each time someone speaks to what we’re all feeling, to what we’re working so hard to not know, it gives everyone permission to do the same. Paradoxically, a fellowship is exactly what forms. By truly accepting the predicament and feeling the grief, the love and compassion that hold the key to a better future become available.

In a final twist of poetic hope, spades trump all other suits in a deck of cards. This “very common tool” is also the most powerful card in games dedicated to playing the odds. Odds are what we’ve got now. That, and the common tool of our truth through which we shape what happens. And somehow that matters. In the common tongue of William Stafford “How you stand here is important. How you listen for the next things to happen. How you breathe.”

Here we are. Who will we be?

To learn more about the emerging conversation around Deep Adaptation in Bozeman, go to www.bozemanrenewal.org

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