I wonder how many of you saw this story about David Buckel. It’s got all the tropes: gay, legal activist, food co-ops, composting, Brooklyn, climate activism. Let’s just say I doubt he was a Trump voter. His suicide note apparently said that…
[p]ollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather . . . . Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels and many die early deaths as a result – my early death by fossil fuels reflects what we are doing to ourselves.
Other than the horrible way he died (for those too lazy to click, or outside of NYT’s paywall, he doused himself in “fossil fuels” and lit himself on fire in a public park), many of us might be inclined to deride him.
I’m not going to do that. You see, I knew him once, and I liked him a lot, maybe even had a slight crush on him (although that could have been a mixture of exhaustion and euphoria).
One of the early highlights of David’s legal career, mentioned in much of the press about his death, is also one of the highlights of mine. It was a case called Nabozny v. Podlesny and back then David was fighting with different tools, and apparently for different causes. We just wanted public schools to respond with discipline when gay kids were bullied — like they did for non-gay kids. And our tool was the courtroom, not the gasoline can and the matchbox. David was a nice guy, determined (we all were), but level-headed and driven to achieve the achievable by conventional means.
In the 20+ years since then, something must have gone wrong for him, and I guess in writing this I’m going to speculate about what, even though I know it is speculation (I didn’t know him well even back then and we hadn’t kept in touch). But I haven’t been able to let this go in my mind since a former colleague sent me the link above yesterday.
Why? He had a partner of many years (apparently his boyfriend way back when I knew him), and children, and work he apparently still cared about, and his final note said he was still in good health. So, why? Why bring it all to this horrible end? What must the people who loved him be going through now? And in order to draw attention to pollution and climate change? As though no one has noticed? Even granting his environmental premises, what good could he have thought this grisly act would do? It just seems such a tragic, pathetic, horrible end for someone I remember as a beautiful man. I can’t put my finger on a word for how I feel but it is nagging and uncomfortable.
My speculation is that, like so many of us these days, right and left, David found himself simply unable to accept that things weren’t always going to go his way in the world of activism he lived in. We are a country of 320 million people and almost as many opinions, so sometimes our own don’t win out. But more and more, we’re letting ourselves think that “losing the argument” over more and more issues, is an existential threat. Fossil fuels will destroy the planet. Gay marriage will destroy the culture. Tax cuts will kill the poor. It’s a Flight 93 election.
You name it, in the past decade or so if you are politically engaged, chances are you’ve overreacted to something — told yourself, or said on Twitter or Facebook or here on Ricochet, that if some policy proposal was adopted or some person elected it was “literally the end” when all it was was a modest alteration of a status quo that in truth, tends to change slowly and often modulates back and forth as the pendulum of public opinion swings.
In David’s case, it sounds like that tendency may have been what lead to his horrible, senseless act and I think that is the warning we should take from what he did. Not that fossil fuels will destroy us but that we will destroy ourselves if we don’t learn again to live and let live.