Interview with Dr. Todd Dufresne about his new book, The Democracy of Suffering

Brandon Walker: What can you tell us about your new book?

Dr. Todd Dufresne: In The Democracy of Suffering I examine climate change in the light of philosophy and intellectual history.  My goal is to survey how we got here, what we have become, and what happens to us next.  I’m afraid it’s a horror story.   

BW: What inspired you to write it?

TD: I’m worried about the future of humanity, and thought it irresponsible to just ignore it – especially when my students, as well as my own daughter, now live in a world very different from the one into which I was born.  I wanted to answer the question: What is this new condition of human existence?  What is the ‘Anthropocene’? 

BW: How would you describe humanity’s future with the seeming reluctance of many governments around the world to step up and make a real difference?

TD: It depends on which day you ask me.  Some days I despair for real change, as when the Brazilian government instigates the burning of the Amazon.  It’s very obvious that these actions will accelerate the “sixth extinction” currently underway.  But there are also grassroots movements, like Idle No More and Fridays for Future, and there are politicians like Bernie Sanders who seem to understand.  So we are a few key electoral wins away from avoiding a catastrophic, literally unlivable future world. 

BW: Where do philosophy and intellectual history intersect with the environment? How can philosophy and intellectual history help save us all?

TD: Philosophy is just a discipline and, as such, it can’t “save us all.”  But ‘lovers of wisdom’ can!  Listen, the fates of human beings and the earth are entwined in a way that we often don’t comprehend.  How we think, what we think, who gets to think – these abstractions have concrete impacts in the real world, in nature.  Through our ideas, through ‘philosophy’, we have radically remade the natural world in our own image.  And it’s a hostile world.  But today this newly remade nature is also remaking us.  It’s not just baking, flooding, choking, starving, and killing us, reminding us that we are, after all, animals.  It’s also obliging us to rethink, and therefore recreate, our identities as human beings as a part of nature.  As “Earthlings.”  So at best philosophy has the power to diagnose, analyze, and prescribe what is happening, and then maybe help decide what is to be done.  But it will be lovers of wisdom, real philosophers like you and I, who will embrace this new reality and, along with it, forge a future very different from the recent past.

For more information, please see Dr. Dufresne's upcoming readings on Oct. 19 and Oct. 22, or you can purchase the book here.

You can also read more about Dr. Dufresne's book in this Los Angeles Review of Books interview.