On Earth Day 2022, Wynn Alan Bruce, a 50-year-old practicing Buddhist fromBoulder, Colorado, self-immolated on the steps of the United States Supreme Court. He died the next day, succumbing to the injuries he sustained from being on fire for 60 seconds.
Bruce’s self-immolation occurred less than three weeks after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its latest solemn, but largely ignored, report warning that humanity is at a “now or never” point to avert full-fledged climate catastrophe.
The earliest news accounts offered no context for Bruce’s act and few details about Bruce the man. But that didn’t last long. Soon, he was being pathologized as someone whose life was defined by “head injuries” and who lived with a cat. These selected and scornfully curated facts echoed pejoratively throughout the media coverage, reinforcing a predetermined notion of Bruce as a dismissable figure, one who should be at best pitied, or at worst mocked. His motivation, mental acuity, and emotional stability were all called into question, and, along with his social media posts, were dissected by phlegmatic strangers probing the innards of a defenseless specimen pinned to a tray in a junior-high-school science lab.
He was damned by neighbors with faint praise as someone “with potential” but who was “easily-led.” Buddhists, called upon to weigh in on the ascetic practice of self-immolation, distanced the more “optimistic” philosophy from the hopelessness said to afflict some climate activists. Even when his friends and family seemed to settle the matter of his alleged despair, explaining that Bruce had acted out of a principled conviction married to an abiding love of the natural world, the familiar verbiage of suicide prevention PSAs was inserted over and again. “If you or someone you love…”
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