And with our planet
In the movie Leaving Las Vegas, Nicolas Cage plays an alcoholic called Ben who has come to terms with his addiction. He has resigned himself to the bitter truth that he will never be able to wean himself off alcohol. Although he cannot stop drinking, at least he can accept himself. He can put an end to the brutal guilt, the constant internal conversation, the struggle to break free from the ball and chain of the bottle, the failed attempt after failed attempt to rehabilitate himself. Enough is enough. He wants to have some level of dignity. Some level of peace. Even if it is a last glimpse of it.
So what he does is he books himself a one-way ticket to Las Vegas, where he plans to stay in a cheap motel and drink himself to death. At least he can die as himself. Two thousand years after Socrates, the similarities are striking, at first. Socrates chooses to drink the hemlock poison in his jail, because he refuses to surrender his political opinions to his opponents. He refuses to accept the get-out-of-jail card. Like Ben, he has accepted himself, despite the realisation that being who he is is also his death sentence.
But there is a fundamental difference between the two: while Socrates is a hero, a martyr, Ben is simply a coward. Because Ben actually had a choice that would have been a win-win, if only he could have found the strength in himself to go back to rehab. Instead of choosing to help himself, he chooses to put himself in his own motel jail, and put himself out of his own misery. He only has himself to blame for that. While Socrates respects his dignity so much that he is willing to die for it, Ben has no self-respect for his own life.
We are all Ben. Ben is humanity. Because we have chosen to give up, we have chosen a few nights amongst the bright lights of Las Vegas where we can drink ourselves to death on fossil fuel and luxury brands, rather than pace ourselves, measure ourselves, uphold our own life and the life of those we hurt as the ultimate value that is higher than any addiction in the world. Our lack of self-respect means that we have no respect to give to our planet and those around us. We are too drunk, too high to know what we are doing. And deep down we know that we would rather die than stop drinking. Derek Chauvin, the policeman/murderer of George Floyd knew that he had a problem. But he chose his own Las Vegas. He chose to hold that knee on George’s neck while the camera of a 17-year old child was rolling. He chose to continue to be the homicidal SOB that he is, even though he was being watched.
George Floyd was collateral damage of a war humanity is having with itself. Of the biggest kitchen fight the world has ever seen. A kitchen fight between two adults who are too selfish, too high on crack to think straight. They are fighting over who paid for the dope last time. Neither of them can remember. Both of them insist they are right. What they can do however is blame the pizza man instead. He owes them $20. But it turns out they didn’t even need a pizza after all. They had Earth in the oven. But it burned while they were having a fight.
Perhaps we can’t help ourselves. Perhaps we need to have one last big party in Las Vegas. We need to tell Greta Thunberg the truth. This is it. Earth may be cooked, but we can eat what the dead pizza man left behind. Tomorrow is another day in beautiful, gorgeous Las Vegas.
(from the book Disposable Earth)