I’m just getting around to reading the Chicago Tribune’s review of Suicide Narcissus, the recently closed art installation at The Renaissance Society in Hyde Park. I don’t know much about art at all, and so don’t usually read these reviews, but the headline drew me in: “Self absorbed world marches to precipice”, resonating as it does with my work. The subtitle, “Suicide Narcissus refuses to sugarcoat message of vanity that could usher in doom for mankind,” made certain that I’d read the review, bewitched as I am by most things doom and gloom. Don’t ask me why I’m like this. I don’t know.
The show, says Tribune’s reviewer Claudine Ise, is “an extended meditation on humanity’s inexorable slide toward extinction. But unlike countless other group shows that have dealt with similarly apocalyptic and/or environmental themes, this one doesn’t temper its essentially bleak outlook with the suggestion that art, or the artists who make it, have the power to change our course. ” Wow, whoa, why? Though an art neophyte, I was just beginning to think these right brain folks might be our best hope, if we could have any of that at all. That, in fact, was one of the themes of the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts Postnatural Conference that I and other DePaul Institute for Nature and Culture folks attended last month at Notre Dame University .
Well, maybe not. Reading Ise’s review reminds me how difficult our situation is—that we are epistemologically handicapped, severely, still believing we are the highest and best owners of knowledge, and this of a certain type: a western positivism that comes with its own guarantee. That is: Narcissus imagines himself as the center of the universe. The very act of his looking at his own reflection in the pond just proves it all beyond the shadow of a doubt. We act with certainty because we know what we're doing--and we're sure we can fix any mistakes we make along the way. This is the promise of progress: technology will save us. The show implies that art isn’t going to pry loose that certainty because it is made in this box too. Thus off we go—damn the precipice, full speed ahead.
Ovid (43 BCE-CE 17) added Echo to the story of Narcissus who was so self-absorbed and in love with himself that he rejected sexuality--perhaps an apt metaphor for denying our relationality with nature.
Why? I found a possible clue in the Seattle Times article, Sea Change: The Pacific’s Perilous Turn. Two scientists at James Cook University in Australia conducted an experiment with those cute little clown fish you may have seen on any number of sea-based nature shows darting here and there, in and out of reef flora. They’re naturally shy little critters, inclined to hide from predators, and this helps keep them alive.
In order to examine the effects of a more carbonized ocean, these two scientists increased the amount of carbon in a tank and watched for any change in these darling little creatures’ behavior. And boy did they find a big one. These normally reclusive cuties became disoriented, and swam about fearlessly, even insouciantly, and right at predators, as if they had smoked a joint in a fox hole and headed out to a battlefield shouting, “Dude, what’s up?” (True story, from my neighbor, from Viet Nam, ca 1969: stuck by the beauty of reconnaissance flares while on guard duty in a perimeter foxhole, he stood up to get a better look and got shot in the buttocks. Purple Heart and home.).
"Clownfish swim through an anemone near Dobu Island, Papua New Guinea. CO2 can alter how clownfish see, hear and smell, which increases the chance of death."
Even a cursory review of the science seems to indicate this hypothesis is more than plausible. At high levels CO2 is ultimately an asphyxiant, but symptoms of poisoning include increased respiratory rates, cardiac arrhythmia and impaired consciousness, a sort of excited inebriation. CO2 acidifies the blood, just like the oceans, a condition called acidosis that “usually causes rapid breathing [and] confusion or lethargy may also occur. Severe metabolic acidosis can lead to shock or death. In some situations [it] can be a mild chronic condition.” And circulatory shock is serious business—it is essentially the body shutting itself down. And get this: “One of the key dangers of shock is that it progresses by a positive feedback mechanism. Once shock begins, it tends to make itself worse, so immediate treatment of shock is critical to the survival of the sufferer.”
Holy tomatoes I think we’re on to something. Doesn’t everyone feel like their heart is racing a bit, our breathing more rapid as we try to make our way nowadays? And aren’t most of us in a mild state of shock, unable to come to grips with war, poverty, joblessness, ecological demise and/or any number of other stresses that we come in contact with everyday?
So calling all western positivists scientists everywhere: Have a go at figuring this out.  I know it’s tough, but there must be something you can do. Are we so carbon poisoned that we can’t see what we’re doing? Are we now in a stew-pot of our own making such that we can’t reason, feel, or sense sensibly and so we swim like anesthetized clown fish towards our own demise? Could this be why the issues of climate change and ecological collapse can’t gain any real traction (not to mention a whole slew of other issues)? Are we so drunk on carbon that we will follow the pleonexic psychopaths anywhere?
And hurry please. These positive feedback loops are a bitch. Carbon--the exhaust from wealth creation--may be the wind beneath our Icarus wings.
 Okay. I have tried every search I can imagine and cannot find a link to this article. This even as I sit staring at the copy delivered to my steps every morning. Chicago Tribune, Arts+Entertainment, Sec. 4 Thursday October 24, 2013. Suicide Narcissus ran through December 15 at The Renaissance Society, 5811 S. Ellis, Chicago—closing well before Christmas leaving visitors plenty of time to recover to enjoy the Holidays; shopping, no doubt, included.
 Thanks Randy…
 Foster, Clark and York. Capitalism and the Curse of Energy Efficiency: The Return of the Jevons Paradox. http://monthlyreview.org/2010/11/01/capitalism-and-the-curse-of-energy-efficiency
 (I’m really being unfair to marijuana smokers here—some of whom are my friends—and for the record, they stay away from most chemistry projects by Frito Lay and as many other synthesized compound-makers that they are aware of. And they don’t watch much TV. Their herb-use often enables a certain perspicacity not frequently found in common culture. And, well, that’s the point, man. So here I offer a second hypothesis: add to the litany of medical marijuana uses that it may well be an antidote to CO2. No. I wasn’t stoned when I wrote this. But what is time anyway?)
 National Center for Biotechnology Information, part of NIH; emphasis mine. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16499405
 Medline Plus, Nat Library of Medicine, NIH. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000335.htm Emphasis mine.
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypoperfusion Emphasis mine.
 Randy, again for this idea that sparked the rest.
 Thanks to Bill Jordan for the phrase, “anesthetized clown fish.” Very funny.
 pleonexic psychopaths: the insatiable single-minded growth-folks we often call bankers and economists; and possibly the demographic most susceptible to the soon-to-be discovered devastating effects carbon.