Dave Pollard's chronicle of civilization's collapse, creative works and essays on our culture.
A trail of crumbs, runes and exclamations along my path in search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.



December 16, 2014

A Gift Circle: Our Amazing Experience

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 12:12

bowen map

Gift circles (not to be confused with “gifting circles”, a pyramid scheme that involves giving someone a large sum of money) have been around for a few years. I am familiar with them from my visits to Eugene, Oregon, where Tree and her colleagues have organized them for some time.

I actually like the Eugene variant of the gift circle process, and when I described it to my Bowen in Transition colleagues they encouraged me to try leading one on our island. We did this a couple of weeks ago, and it was a remarkable success. Here’s the process we used:

1. Start with a potluck supper.

2. When supper is done, convene in a circle (10-20 people is best, and we had a perfect dozen for ours), and begin with a check-in going around the circle based on the question “What are you grateful for right now?” Ask participants to limit their responses to a sentence or two.

3. Hand out paper and pencils for each person to take notes. Invite everyone to think about and write down something they would like to offer to the group. You don’t have to be an expert or make a living doing something in order to offer it. Here is a list of some ideas that you can provide to people thinking about their offers:

  • your time
  • skills, demonstrations, training, crafts, know-how and information (“know-what” and “know-who”)
  • goods and tools, surplus to your needs or available to lend out
  • providing rides or running errands
  • space for a meeting, event or visitor
  • child care, pet care, house-sitting, mentoring
  • massages, food preparation, car/appliance/home repairs, sewing/mending, gardening and other services
  • organizing, facilitating or set-up help for events or activities
  • visits to people who are isolated

4. After about 5 minutes, go around the circle and have each person say their name and what they would like to offer. People are free to ‘pass’ if they are unsure what to offer. Offers should be sincere and joyful — if offers are conditional or reluctant this defeats the spirit of the circle. It helps if the circle convenor models the process by going first and making 2-3 specific and varied offers. There is no discussion as the offers are made, except to ask clarifying questions. If you hear an offer that you would like to take someone up on, you note it down for step 7 followup. After everyone has had a turn, ask if there are any other offers anyone would like to add.

5. Now, provide about 5 minutes for people to think about and write down what they would like to request, using the same list above to prompt ideas. If something has already been offered in the previous round, it is unnecessary to raise it again in the request round; i.e. your requests should be things that were not offered in the offering round.

6. After about 5 minutes, go around the circle and have each person repeat their name and say what they would like to request. People are free to ‘pass’ if they are unsure what to request. Again, it helps if the circle convenor models the process by going first and making 2-3 specific and varied requests — people unfamiliar with the process will likely be nervous about asking for something, and modelling with a request that is deep and heartfelt can help them overcome their hesitation. There is no discussion as the requests are made, except to ask clarifying questions. If you hear a request that you would like to take someone up on, you note it down for step 7 followup. After everyone has had a turn, ask if there are any other requests anyone would like to add.

7. Now provide a couple of minutes for people to highlight in their notes the offers they would like to take people up on, and the requests they would be willing to fill. Then provide 15-20 minutes for people to just circulate with others and make arrangements one-on-one for the offers and requests to be filled. Caution people about promising to do too much, and make sure people pause before concluding each arrangement to be absolutely sure they are willing and able to commit to doing it. Arrangements should be as specific as possible (e.g. specific date and time rather than ‘call me and we’ll set up a time’). If this is impractical, or if you want to think about it further, take the number or e-mail address of the person you want to arrange something with. Encourage everyone to follow up within a week to firm up arrangements — otherwise they are likely to be forgotten, and if people experience a lack of follow-through, the credibility of the whole gift circle process will be undermined.

The process took us nearly two hours. There was considerable initial reluctance from some attendees who thought the process intimidating and a little too intimate for them. In fact, a few people who were put off by the description of the activity chose not to come to the meeting at all. But the reluctant attendees participated enthusiastically and said afterwards they were absolutely sold on the value of the process.

Here’s a flavour for some of the remarkable offers and fulfilled (I think) requests that our circle came up with:

  • help setting up a permaculture garden, help setting up a business, and help with taxes, fundraising and specialized software
  • rooms and a cottage for visitors to crash for a few nights
  • self-publishing and e-publishing help, transcription services, social media help
  • furniture and artworks — long-term loan
  • editing help
  • cheese-making and clay modelling advice and assistance
  • house-painting, wood-splitting and window-cleaning supplies and assistance
  • a custom-written song written and sung for a loved one
  • massage, yoga, healing touch, martial arts and meditation sessions and partners
  • dog walking, hiking companions
  • fresh produce
  • compost construction
  • help fixing a walking trail and digging a garden
  • sailing and boat-building lessons
  • empathetic listening
  • ideas on good walking/hiking routes
  • solar power, nutritional, resume-writing, and interviewing advice
  • support for convalescents and people in hospice (visits, game-playing, singing, massage, movies, art, rides to events)
  • rides to/from, and place for overnight and short-term stay in the city
  • surplus furniture
  • organizing help

The possibilities are limited only by our courage and imagination. We’ve heard that people at gift circles have asked for and received help finding romantic partners, and help recovering a stolen vehicle, for example!

A note on money: Generally offers are always free; the exception would be if you’re offering something that has incidental “out of pocket” costs associated with it, such as material costs if you’re offering to sew or build something for someone.

All in all, everyone was amazed at how much they had to offer and how many of the others’ offers were valuable to them. It’s too early to say if the follow-up will be equally as successful, but we’re off to a great start.

December 14, 2014

A Community-Based Resilience Framework

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 20:38

Preparing for the Fall 2

When I am asked by people “What can we do now?” to prepare for economic, energy or ecological collapse, I have of late been suggesting doing the things shown in boxes 2, 3, 4 and 7 in the graphic above — healing (and self-healing), learning new skills to liberate yourself (and others) from dependence on large centralized systems (these systems will be the first to collapse), modelling resilience (exemplifying sustainable, joyful, present living so that others can see what that looks like), and building community.

I’ve started to realize that this is an incomplete list, and that it is too early to make any real progress on some of the things on this list. So I’ve created the 7-facet resilience framework shown above, and am beginning to identify three phases in implementing it: I. First Steps (things we can each do right now, mostly to “take stock” of our current situation and how we are likely to be affected by collapse); II. Immediate Practices (things we can quite easily start making part of our daily or monthly routine, that will increase our resilience); and III. Intentional Practices (things we can start thinking about moving towards, but which are likely not practical to start doing yet).

Here are the things I think we can do in each of these three Phases, in each of the 7 Facets of Resilience. Although we can begin the community-oriented actions now, it is almost inevitable that our definition of community is likely to change dramatically as collapse forces a drastic relocalization of social, political and economic activity, as cities and suburbs and places far from healthy sustainable food are hollowed out, and as billions become economic or ecological refugees and undertake long and repeated migrations to find sustainable places to live. For that reason, many of the Phase III Intentional Practices listed below are longer-term activities that won’t make sense for us to do until we know where and with whom we’ll be living as civilization’s collapse reaches its latter stages, and have a better sense of how that collapse is unfolding and how it is affecting our communities.

  1. Self-Knowledge and Self-Awareness:
    1. First Steps: Take stock of what we know about ourselves. What are our gifts, the things we are uniquely good at doing? What are our passions, the things we love doing and want to do? What is our purpose, the thing that gives our life meaning and drives us? What is in the Sweet Spot at the intersection of our gifts, passions and purpose, the things we are ‘meant to do’ in this life? What are our capacities, the qualities that make us most useful to and helpful to our loved ones and community? What are our vulnerabilities, our ‘incapacities’, the areas where we of necessity need and want to lean on others? What are our fears, the things that prevent us, trigger us, make us at times dysfunctional? What grief, sorrow and anger do we hold that defines us, shapes our worldview, haunts and inhibits us? The reason for knowing these things is not to change or ‘improve’ ourselves but just to know and recognize ourselves for who we really are, and hence where we ‘fit’ in a sustainable community.
    2. Immediate Practices: How can we expand our self-knowledge to unearth our undiscovered gifts and passions? How can we practice being and becoming more self-aware in the moment, catching ourselves being triggered, angered, distressed by events or situations we cannot control, things that are really happening only inside our heads and which do not help us cope with fast-changing reality? Self-awareness is a key element of presence, a quality that we will need in spades to deal with collapse.
  2. Self-Healing and Healing Each Other:
    1. First Steps: Take stock of our personal physical, emotional and psychological health. What do we do now, habitually, that may make our health worse (stressful work, substance use, poor diet etc.)? Identify these things without self-judgement — things are the way they are for a reason, and we all understandably have our coping mechanisms, unavoidable stresses and ‘guilty pleasures’. What do we do now, habitually, that may make our health better (diet, exercise, meditation, yoga, breathing, relationships with community and support, herbs and alternative medications and therapies)? Also, take stock of the skills and capacities we have that can enable us to help heal others.
    2. Immediate Practices: What processes can we put in place to prevent accidents, illnesses, and the stresses and other triggers that lead to them? What processes can we put in place to monitor our health, and to self-diagnose and self-treat illnesses before they become acute or chronic? How can we gently and sustainably shift the habitual practices we identified in (I.) above to improve our health? How might we develop practices to make us more forgiving, more empathetic, more connected to those with whom we live and work, and more connected with all-life-on-Earth? And how might we strengthen and practice our capacities to help heal others?
    3. Intentional Practices: What can we begin to learn to do that will better equip us to stay healthy, and help others stay healthy, when centralized health care systems (the hospital system, the pharmaceutical system, emergency services, specialized medicine) collapse? What can we begin to learn to do that will make us more ready to deal with health crises caused by natural disasters and pandemics? How can we, working together in community, begin to create a no-charge mutual health-care network that will get us all healthy and keep us all healthy?
  3. Self-Liberation and Liberating Each Other:
    1. First Steps: Take stock of our personal dependence on large centralized systems (political, legal, financial, economic, technological, educational, police/fire). How much do we depend on the growth economy for our job, our pensions, credit, cheap imported clothing, the value of our home, insurance and investments, and income to repay our debts? How much do we depend on centralized transportation systems (roads, airplanes etc.)? How much do we depend on cheap fuel and the power grid? How much do we depend on the industrial agriculture system for cheap, plentiful food? How much do we depend on the construction industry for cheap housing and repairs to our shoddily-made homes? How much do we depend on the Internet and the entertainment ‘industry’ for our information, connection and recreation? Also, take stock of the skills and capacities we have that might enable us to help liberate others from their dependence on these centralized systems.
    2. Immediate Practices: Looking at the current dependencies identified in (I.) above, what are 2-3 things we could easily and joyfully do to reduce our dependence? How might we learn to identify and gracefully ask for what we need from those within our communities? How might we learn to need less (e.g. finding work closer to home)? How might we learn to live a wilder (healthier) and less ‘settled’ life, so that when circumstances or opportunities require us to move, that move is less ‘unsettling’? And how might we strengthen and practice our capacities to help others in our community reduce their dependencies?
    3. Intentional Practices: Once we have a good sense of what community we intend to live in for the longer term (i.e. where we plan to move before the industrial growth economy completely collapses), and who else lives (or will live) in that community, we can start to identify the people and collaboratives in that community that can provide all the essential goods and services that we now depend on large centralized systems to provide, and start to relocalize to reduce our personal and collective dependence, through a community-based egalitarian gift economy.
  4. Modelling Resilience:
    1. First Steps: Assess our value to others as a model. To what extent do we exemplify elements of resilience such as self-knowledge and self-awareness, authenticity, generosity, agility, non-attachment, transparency, honesty, humility, candour, vulnerability, empathy, articulateness, creativity, critical thinking, openness, compassion, facilitation, mentoring, contemplative gratitude, and presence? To what extent are we of use to those we love and those in our community, in a way that enables them to follow our example rather than making them dependent on us?
    2. Immediate Practices: What are 2-3 things we could do, easily and joyfully, that might make us more useful and more exemplary to others?
  5. Finding and Helping Life Partners:
    1. First Steps: Take stock of our relationships. Are they healthy, joyful, sufficient, complementary?
    2. Immediate Practices: How can we find ways to love better, and let ourselves be loved better? How can we learn to love more people, and all life on Earth (including ourselves), more courageously and unreservedly? How can we learn an attitude of abundance and compersion in love, rather than one of scarcity, fear and jealousy?
  6. Finding and Helping Work Partners and Serving Community:
    1. First Steps: Assess whether the work we are doing is in our Sweet Spot. Take stock of our relationships with work partners. Are they healthy, joyful, sufficient and complementary?
    2. Immediate Practices: If our present work is not in our Sweet Spot, how can we begin to find or create work that is? To do that, how might we find work partners who share our passions and purpose, and whose gifts and capacities complement our own? And then, working in collaboratives with those partners, how might we begin to research and identify unmet local needs through iterative conversations with people in our community, and fill those needs? (One process for this is outlined in my book Finding the Sweet Spot.)
    3. Intentional Practices: The collaboratives we identify in phase (II.) above will gradually become more and more viable and the work they do will become more essential as the economy crumbles and relocalizes and as large corporate enterprises disappear in the post-industrial world. How can we get the timing right to shift from reliance on our current industrial-economy jobs, to making a sustainable, responsible and joyful living in local, co-operative, natural collaboratives? How do we sustain our connection to our community to serve it and continue to meet its evolving needs? How do we help bring about the larger shift from a non-egalitarian industrial scarcity economy to a true gift economy?
  7. Building Community:
    1. First Steps: Take stock of your own community’s (or, if you’re planning to move, your intended community’s) self-sufficiency, dynamics, connection and resilience. Assess your knowledge of the essential elements of a healthy community.
    2. Immediate Practices: How might we learn more about the vulnerabilities of our community and current culture, and the strengths and talents we have collectively in our community that can help us cope effectively and autonomously with crises and collapse? (One way is through doing table-top simulations with others in our community, such as Collapse: The Resilient Communities Game*.) What are 2-3 things we could do in our community to easily and joyful create a stronger sense of community and know each other better (e.g. inviting all of our neighbours — even those we don’t particularly like — to a potluck supper, or holding a Gift Circle).
    3. Intentional Practices: As centralized systems collapse and more and more aspects of our lives are relocalized, how can we help our chosen communities achieve the three essential qualities of sustainability that Dmitri Orlov outlines in his book Communities That Abide: Self-sufficiency, the ability to self-organize and recover in the face of crisis, and mobility (not being tied to any one place)? How can we learn to live with, and even love, people we don’t really like? How can we transform the isolated, disconnected communities of the industrial economy into cohesive, self-sufficient “tribes” — people whose members know and love each other intimately and look after each other the way healthy families do?

This is just a first pass at trying to articulate this framework. I welcome comments on its organization, content and value. I can see it evolving into some sort of workbook over time, something that can be used, by individuals and later by collaborative partnerships and communities, to self-assess resilience and start to build practices that will ready us for whatever is to come.

I’d love to know what you think.

~~~~~

*The latest (and much simplified) version of Collapse: The Resilience Game (v.5) can be downloaded here: 

December 8, 2014

Coming Out of Hiding

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 14:04

 

fear cycle 2014

We are all, I believe, suffering from Civilization Disease, struggling in varying ways and to varying degrees to cope physically, emotionally and psychologically with the stress, anxiety, violence, trauma, brutality, coercion, and the sheer unnaturalness of our global industrial civilization culture.

We are not meant to live this way, and we are all trying, I think, in our own ways to heal from this culture’s incessant horrors, and longing for what we have lost: a simple, connected, joyful, peaceful, leisurely, cooperative, natural way of living.

My way of coping, since I began suffering from the chronic stress-induced illness called ulcerative colitis, has been to try to avoid stress and anxiety altogether, and to avoid situations that trigger my long list of deep-seated fears: The fear of being trapped (physically or emotionally), the fear of injury, pain, deprivation, illness, manipulation, disrespect, humiliation, or harsh criticism, the fear of causing loved ones’ suffering (and inability to help/cope with that suffering), the fear of failure and of being disappointing or ordinary, the fear of loss of self, safety or capacity, and even the fear of nature.

These are ancient fears and anxieties, rooted in a lifetime of (often subtle) hurts, (often unintentional) abuses and pain that I suspect nearly all of us have suffered. Because our bodies were designed to respond to simple fight-or-flight fears, while the new ones are chronic, complex and interconnected, we are genetically and physically ill-equipped to deal with the cycles of endless and recurring anxiety, fear, trauma and grief (depicted in the graphic above) that are endemic in modern society. Hence, Civilization Disease and the staggering toll of violence, neglect and suffering it has wrought. We are all doing the best we can, and yet the disease grows ever worse.

This past month, I have faced the greatest stresses since my retirement nearly five years ago. I will spare you the details for now, since some issues are still ongoing. Suffice to say I have not handled it well. I am out of practice coping with stress and hence am even worse at handling it than I was when I was working and dealing with it every day. I have been physically ill, exhausted, depressed, and feeling crushed by my helplessness to avoid, resolve and prevent crises that bring out the worst in me, to the point of incapacitating me. On the outside, I am dealing with stress better, more usefully and calmly, but inside I’m a mess.

I think I am finally learning that my goal of avoiding stress and anxiety is an absurd one. Life doesn’t work that way. I’m realizing that the things I keep saying I aspire to in my personal healing journey  — the intoxications of love, lust and tropical warmth — are just escapism, distractions that are actually preventing me from living fully, presently in the real world, and learning to cope effectively with and self-adapt to the inevitable changes and crises that we all face and that no one can hope to predict or avoid.

A life driven by aversion rather than intention is a shadow of a life. It’s time for me to come out of hiding.

But I don’t know how. I have some guesses, though. I’m guessing that I’m going to have to learn to lean on and trust others. I’m guessing I’m going to have to find ways to reduce my dependence on centralized systems, which are increasingly fragile and dysfunctional — notably our teetering and unreliable health care, security, legal, financial and technological systems.

I’m guessing I’m going to have to learn to be grateful, more fully inhabiting and treasuring joyful moments, and to let go of the desire for and illusion of control and safety, and the belief that crises and predicaments can somehow be prevented or ‘fixed’. I’m guessing that I’m going to have to learn to be more self-aware that my anxieties and fears stem from ancient fight-or-flight responses, ill suited to the world in which we live today, and when they arise, acknowledge them, respect them, breathe, and try to work around them.

I’m guessing that my newly-learned habit of asking myself, in times of anxiety, to think about how I might look back on this situation five years from now, to put things in perspective, will continue to be a useful one.

But all of this is hard for me. It runs counter to my instincts and is impeded by my pessimism, my distrust of people I don’t know well, my “you can do anything you set out to do” upbringing, my lack of presence, and my long-standing means of self-protection.

So while I’ve received a wake-up call, I’m still groggy, unprepared, aching to go back to the warmth and comfort of sleep. I have the sense I’m on the threshold of a great shift in my life, and that this shift will be a positive one. But I’m reluctant, even now, to give up this foolish stand and move forward. Scared. But here I go.

 

November 29, 2014

See No Evil: The Morality of Collapse

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 21:20

My latest article, See No Evil: The Morality of Collapse, is up at SHIFT magazine as part of its sixth edition. Check out the whole magazine! And if you like what you read, or prefer to read hard copy, please get this issue as a digital download (beautiful magazine layout) or sign up for an annual subscription (6 issues).

In this article, I ask the reader to consider these questions:

  • Is it acceptable to use violence when pacifism seems inadequate to confront the most devastating aspects of industrial civilization?
  • Are large public protests a means of raising awareness and political pressure, or are they a useless distraction from preparing for economic and political collapse?
  • Are social justice and equality essential preconditions for collectively addressing issues such as climate change, or would that be just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic?
  • Would it be a great service or a great disservice to deliberately provoke a collapse of markets and the economy in order to reduce consumption and energy use?
  • Is giving up on environmentalism and large-scale attempts in response to climate change, and instead focusing on local initiatives and personal and community preparedness, a realistic and pragmatic strategy, or dangerous, irresponsible defeatism?

Here’s the start of the article, and a link to the rest:

~~~~~

new political map 2014
As we wade into discussions about the consequences of collapse, and the most effective ways to become resilient in face of it, most of us avoid discussions about morals (personal standards of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’) and ethics (collective standards of ‘just’ and ‘unjust’ behaviours). As an example, it doesn’t matter whether climate change is human-caused, we assert, we need to focus on how to deal with it, not who to blame for it.

Alas, it is not so easy to avoid the issue, because our worldviews are inevitably rooted in our beliefs, including our moral and ethical ones. So when it comes to preparing for collapse, the different groups who accept that the near-term collapse of industrial civilization is inevitable (or at least requiring immediate and drastic action to avert) possess worldviews that are rooted in different, and I would argue, almost irreconcilable moral and ethical standards. This makes collaboration, or even agreement on what to do, fraught with difficulty, if not impossible.

Read the rest at SHIFT.

PS: More creative works coming soon on How to Save the World.

November 6, 2014

The Wild Man

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 22:32

wild-human-initiative

He asked me if I was going to West Vancouver, and if so, if I could give him a ride. We were on the ferry to the city, and I said sure. Raincoat, waterproof backpack, the guy was appropriately dressed for a car-less island resident in our region’s rainy winters. He thanked me, and said he was going upstairs to the ferry’s passenger deck, but he’d be back before we landed.

When he got back, and climbed into the passenger seat, he turned his backpack, which was slung over his shoulder, around, revealing the small white head of a very contented-looking little dog, peeking out at me. This was clearly my rider’s way of breaking the news to me that he wasn’t traveling alone. No doubt he’d tried asking drivers he was hitching with if it was OK he had a dog in tow, and found the results wanting. Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.

He introduced me to the dog, a 16-year-old female he’d raised from a pup, after his previous dog had died at age 17. He’d found the vet of his previous dog presumptuous and expensive, so his new canine companion had never seen a vet.

My strange traveling companion was actually headed to North Vancouver, a 30-minute bus ride or 90-minute walk beyond where he’d asked a ride to. Better chance of getting a ‘yes’ answer if you give a closer destination, as every hitcher knows. He told me the dog stayed quiet and hidden when he took the bus, because when he’d showed the dog to bus drivers they’d refused him passage because his backpack wasn’t a ‘proper’ carrier.

From then on he just didn’t ask, and the dog had learned to be a conspirator in silence. He’d learned that lies of omission often work better than total honesty. He did what he had to do. If the rain held off, he’d sooner walk the 90 minutes to North Vancouver anyway, let the dog stick her head out instead of hiding. Save the bus fare, too.

He said he’d lived up and down the BC coast all his life, which I’d guess was 30-something years, though he looked older. He didn’t volunteer what his appointment was, which he said he’d just make if he chose to walk. I wondered if it was a medical appointment of some kind, or a check-in for social assistance, but I didn’t ask.

He said his work was mostly out-of-doors, and involved a lot of standing, and there wouldn’t be much for him until the rain eased. Was he a roadwork labourer? A busker? He had a musician’s hands — nails on the right hand longer than on the left — though he had no instrument with him. Nothing in the bag, in fact, but the dog, whose head he stroked constantly as we rode. It was the most serene-looking dog I’d ever seen. He told me his previous dog had separation anxiety. And why not — with the bag, what reason ever to be apart?

I hadn’t seen the guy on the island before, though he suggested he was living there, and had from time to time before. He mentioned some other places he’d lived, all of them small coastal or island communities, not cities. I wondered if he was just a nomad, doing the circuit of people he knew enough to crash with, and then moving on when he thought he’d worn out his welcome.

All of this was just conjecture on my part. He didn’t volunteer anything more about himself, and I thought it would be nosy to ask. He had the sad, tired, wary, slightly anxious and cowed look and style of someone used to being told ‘no’ and being asked to move on.

But as I talked with him, it occurred to me he had everything anyone could really need. He had, I figured, a network of people with warm houses where he could stay and sleep. He knew how to get enough money to feed himself and his beloved dog, and to pay incidentals like ferry fares. And he carried his loved one with him everywhere, easily, and they basked in their obvious, easy, unconditional love for each other. He was perhaps as free and independent of our oppressive culture as anyone can be. He knew how to ask for what he wanted and needed. He could go anywhere, quickly, easily, and call it home.

Was this gentle, weary stranger, the exemplar of a collapse survivor? Though I had no way of knowing what trauma and hardship he might have endured, it seemed to me that coming to live this simple way might have been his way of coping, his way out of the darkness.

I’ve argued that when the teetering systems of our crumbling and ruinous civilization fall, we will have to learn a different and better way to live and make a living. I always assumed that would be, inevitably, in community, in some ‘settled’ way. But we were gatherer-hunters long before, and for longer, than we were settlers. We may not be well-designed to catch and eat animals (we lack particularly the capacity for rapid acceleration, and the requisite teeth and claws), but we are certainly designed to walk long distances, to migrate, to be nomadic.

If our climate shifts suddenly and repeatedly, making the places we live successively inhabitable, maybe transition, adaptation and sustainability are more about our capacity to scavenge, to re-form relationships with ever-changing and ever-moving neighbours, to ask and share in the moment and then bundle up our loved ones and move on, than our capacity to create and build community in any kind of enduring place or durable form.

I find this thought strangely liberating. The idea of having to learn to make and maintain community, the whole mess of getting along with others, of learning to love people we don’t even like, offends the ‘wildness’ that cries out within me. I want to be free.

As anarchist writer Wolfi Landstreicher wrote:

In a very general way, we know what we want. We want to live as wild, free beings in a world of wild, free beings. The humiliation of having to follow rules, of having to sell our lives away to buy survival, of seeing our usurped desires transformed into abstractions and images in order to sell us commodities fills us with rage. How long will we put up with this misery? We want to make this world into a place where our desires can be immediately realized, not just sporadically, but normally. We want to re-eroticize our lives. We want to live not in a dead world of resources, but in a living world of free wild lovers. We need to start exploring the extent to which we are capable of living these dreams in the present without isolating ourselves. This will give us a clearer understanding of the domination of civilization over our lives, an understanding which will allow us to fight domestication more intensely and so expand the extent to which we can live wildly.

Yes, I say excitedly, each time I read this passage. This is how I want to live. Unsettled, uncompromising. “Needing nowhere to stay.” Feral. Like a bird, ready to fly.

Thank you, stranger, for the reminder.

image above from the wild human initiative

November 4, 2014

Living With Civilization Disease

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 22:34

Bayt Abdullah Children's Hospice

image above: children’s hospice in kuwait, from the website of the architects, nbbj

“It’s easy to get buried in the past, when you try to make a good thing last”
- Neil Young, Ambulance Blues

There is, of course, only the present moment. The past and the future, who we ‘were’ and who we ‘will be’, are just inventions of our minds. Yet many of us live as if they were real — more real and more important than the present. These are perfectly understandable coping mechanisms. If the best part of our life seems behind us, if we’re grieving the loss of someone who seemed our only reason to live, it’s easy to get buried in the past, to live in the past.

And if the current time seems impossible to bear — the stress, the suffering, the inhumanity, the crises that seem never-ending — it’s easy to invent a story of the future, a better story for ourselves or at least for our children and grandchildren, and then to live in the ferocious hope of that future dream coming true.

In order to make ‘sense’ of the world, our minds create a very simplified representation of reality, one that enables ‘us’ to make quick essential decisions about what to do, now. This capacity evolved because we were fortunate enough, as we made the transition from a spontaneous, present species to the one we have become, to have space in our crania to construct useful representations of reality, and a diet sufficiently rich in proteins to fuel this construction.

So we have evolved from a species that lives presently to one that lives representatively, from one that makes simple decisions in the moment in the real world, to one that makes sophisticated decisions based on a model of time and space that represents the real world. That evolution confers great survival advantages — it allows us to make decisions based on inference and logic, rather than just instinctively. But this evolution comes at a huge cost: We no longer really live in the real world. Our minds have so preoccupied us, from shortly after birth, that we have come to believe that the representation of the world that they (our minds) have constructed for us, is, somehow, reality — not just a representation, but the ‘real’ thing.

Much of this illusion comes from the ‘stories’ we come to accept as ‘true’ and ‘real’ — stories about who we are, about others and the world in which we live, about the past, and about the future. Stories are the most memorable ways of synthesizing all of the sensory inputs we receive into ‘truthful’ representations about the world. Our stories represent reality much the way motion pictures represent ‘real’ experiences. Some of them are reasonable representations; others are pure fantasy, that we believe ‘true’ because of misinformation or misinterpretation or because we just want to, or have to, believe them ‘true’ in order to cope with our cognitive dissonance, trauma, fear, rage or grief. If enough people come to share what they believe to be a similar story, whether it be a ‘true’ representation of reality or a complete fantasy, we call that story a myth.

These representations require us to believe in an invented, fictitious space-time framework of reality, and to believe that this collection of trillions of cells our mind imagines to be ‘us’, separate from the ‘rest’ of reality, somehow exists integrally and moves integrally and smoothly through time. We are, of course, not individuals, and not separate from the rest of the universe, and time is just a mental construct — even scientists now acknowledge that time does not exist and that their models of reality are more accurate when the entire concept of time is jettisoned.

Living largely in our minds, in this fabricated and absurdly simplified representation of reality, this grand illusion, believing that the stories we are told and the stories we invent are somehow ‘true’, it is not surprising that we have become physically and psychologically ill from struggling with the massive disconnect between these stories and reality, from suffering with this tragic frailty of the human mind I call Civilization Disease.

So instead of seeing a loved one die and accepting their death for what it is, for example, we construct this massive story about whether that life and death had meaning, whether that loved one’s cells have been and will be somehow transmogrified into other ‘lives’ in space and/or time, and that their love for us, and vice versa, will transcend space and time and be eternal. It’s the only way we can cope with the sudden, unbearable loss of this intricate story, the wrenching away of this invented representational connection between them and us — when we cannot relate to that death in the real world that neither they nor we ever really lived in.

When we are mistreated, or terrified by some real world event (or even just the threat of it), we have no choice, cloistered in this fictitious world inside our heads, but to assign blame and/or self-blame, evil intention, supernatural cause, inevitability, permanence, and other ‘purposeful’ qualities to this occurrence. We do this by inventing stories about ourselves, others, the world, the past and the future that somehow make sense of the occurrence within the model and representation of reality we have constructed and been told is ‘real’ and ‘true’. We can’t just acknowledge it for what it was, past tense, and let it go, immediately and forever, the way creatures who live free of the scaffolding of artificial represented reality we inhabit, can.

Similarly, we cling to fond memories of the past, longingly, nostalgically, and get buried in that past, and even more disconnected from the present and the real.

And just as we can’t let go of the fiction of the past, neither can we let go of the fiction of the imagined future. We strive, we hope, we dream, we intend, we want more than anything for the imagined future to be better than the imagined present, and we dread that it could be worse. That dream is what, more than anything else, drives our behaviours, actions and decisions. Unable to just be in the ‘real’, no longer accessible present, we live in that imagined future instead, with the lottery winnings, the perfect partner, the never-ending ecstasy, and most of all, the sense of peace, love and joy that so eludes us and fades so quickly from our sad, fictitious representational lives, this motion picture whose plot we can’t follow and whose ending we hope will bring resolution but fear will bring tragedy, that seems real but yet unreal, missing something absolutely essential, some whole dimension.

~~~~~

Five years ago I was still working, living with my ex (because although separated we’d been unable to sell our house) in another province. My dream then for today was to be living alone, on Bowen Island, in some beautiful place with lots of privacy and quiet and a view of the forest and ocean, retired from paid work, and free to do anything I wanted each day when I woke.

That dream has come true in all respects. But it was not an unreasonable dream. Lots of good fortune, but nothing insanely unpredictable or unexpected. The trajectory that took me from there to here was quite plausible, and much of it intentional, given how blessed my life has been.

Only a tiny percentage of the planet would not be thrilled to live the life I live today.

So now I think about what I would like my life to be like five years from now. I dream of living in a warm place all year round, mostly outdoors. I dream of making love several hours a day with lovers who are content with their own lives and content just to do that with me, and who then go home to do whatever they choose to do when we are apart. I dream of spending much of the rest of my time in various forms of play with people who are bright, attractive, articulate, imaginative, creative, thoughtful, emotionally grounded and joyful, or in solo activities, writing, composing, practicing. I dream about not worrying about people (even loved ones, suffering) and things (even cruel, destructive ones) I have no control over.

These are unreasonable dreams. There is no perfect place to live, even if I were to surrender the enormous security of my Canadian health care coverage. Warm places are crowded, expensive, mostly impoverished and made violent by rich corporations and rich individuals displacing the poor, stealing their resources and barricading themselves behind walls. Or they are overrun by gangs and warlords and wracked with suffering that cannot all be hidden from view by resort fences and barbed wire.

There are no perfectly healthy people either, or even people healthy enough to leave their baggage at the door for long and frequent trysts, even if they had the time and inclination for them. Those I would find stimulating enough for play and deep conversation are caught up in their own immediate journeys and struggles, and exhausted from supporting all those even sicker of Civilization Disease than they are. As for ceasing my worries and grief, that could only happen if there were no longer cause for them, which is an impossibility.

And even supposing some of these dreams could be realized — then what? Would I simply long all the more for those not realized, and new dreams even more perfect, even more unreasonable?

A study done by Daniel Gilbert showed that, one year after they lose a limb, people are on average as happy with their lives as those who, one year earlier, had won a major lottery prize. We accommodate. If things are bad, we make the best of them and imagine they could be worse. If things are good, we want and expect them to be better. That is what it means to be human.

If I could escape this representation of reality, this hologram inside my head, and just live in the moment, the way creatures not burdened with this synthetic scaffolding, this veil, are able to do, then it wouldn’t matter where or how or with whom I lived and spent my time. My ‘past’ wouldn’t matter. My dreams of an ‘even better’ life wouldn’t matter, or even ‘occur’ to me. My perceptions of myself and others and the state of the world would just fall away, along with my illusions of control over them, and all the anguish that goes along with all of these things.

But I cannot escape. I cannot be other than who I am.

So what, then, might I do to dissolve these stories, these fictions of my mind, that cause me to be unhappy with my incredible good fortune, that fill me at times with anger, grief and sorrow, and constantly with anxiety and fear, that bury me in feelings of nostalgia for an imagined past or longing for an impossible future? Why can I not be free of these stories when I know that all that I am, and all I need be, is right here, now?

It helps to be clear that my stories of the future are impossible dreams or imagined nightmares. It helps to know that I am not “all of a piece”. It helps to appreciate that time is an invention with no basis in reality, and that my negative emotions are figments of my imagination, artifacts of my mind’s propensity for absurdly oversimplifying pattern-seeking and sense-making, symptoms of Civilization Disease. It helps to know why I am suffering, and from what, and why I am disconnected from reality. But knowing all of this doesn’t make it better. Cognitive behavioural therapy, psych meds, meditation and many other ‘solutions’ are being tested on us, all of them vaunted but (for different reasons) highly suspect treatments with dismal success records. We seem to have invented a uniquely incurable disease, and made the world our hospice.

So maybe I, and others suffering from this ghastly disease of our minds’ making, just need to make peace with our lot, this terribly human and ubiquitous incapacity to just be, here, now, real, healthy and free. Perhaps making peace with our illness is the first step towards grace.

Thanks to Bowen photographer Chanelle Walker for my new blog photo, in the right sidebar.

October 25, 2014

lessons from a bird, again

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 14:01

swallow cool

1. self-healing:

first, you breathe.
then, gently, take stock of your wounds, your fever,
whatever is not well.

if you’ve been in shock, shake it off,
violently, with every muscle in your body,
don’t give it purchase to haunt you,
let it go entirely, now. it’s over.

next, find a warm, quiet, safe place,
near water, and
rest. as long as it takes.

that’s all.

2. healing others:

fend off the danger, get the obstacles
to the other’s self-healing out of the way.

bring fresh food and warm liquids.

let the other know you’re there, close by,
listen,
and sing your empathy and love.

no more, no less than that.

photo by the author

October 23, 2014

Links of the Month: October 23, 2014

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 19:53

facebook update

image by Marsel van Ooosten via overgrowthesystem.com 

My worldview continues to shift between those of 5 of the ‘camps’ in my New Political Map:

  • The Existentialist/Dark Mountain camp (J), where my heart lies, and which calls on me to focus attention, for now, on learning presence, self-awareness, healing and becoming less dependent on industrial civilization as it collapses;
  • The Communitarian/New Tribal camp (I), which calls on me to focus attention on the collective work of building resilient communities and collective (rather than personal) capacity where I live, now, so the survivors of looming collapse will be ready;
  • The Deep Green Activist camp (H), which calls on me to fight the destruction of the natural world with everything I have and regardless of the risks, even if successes are localized and transitory;
  • The Transition/Resilience camp (G), which calls on me to focus on projects that just might make things better in my community before collapse or at least mitigate the hardship of collapse;
  • The Humanist camp (F), which calls on me to act as if we can reform civilization before it collapses, even if I believe it’s futile.

Camp J seems the most sensible but too internally-focused, camp I seems pragmatic but premature, camp H seems the most responsible but ultimately pointless, camp G seems pragmatic but ultimately pointless, and camp F seems responsible but delusional. Camps F and H, and camps G and I, share similar worldviews but are on opposite sides of the salvationist/collapsnik “can we really do anything in time?” divide. It’s a difficult straddle, but somehow I manage it. Camp J is safer, but runs the inevitable risk of being labeled a selfish defeatist.

And I keep peering at the disturbingly compelling arguments of the Voluntary Human Extinctionists (camp K) and the Near Term Extinctionists (camp L), but I am not ready to concede that humans are inherently violent and destructive, or that no complex life will possibly survive this century’s climate change. Too big a leap for me to make yet, though I fear they may both be right.

John Michael Greer (who, like James Kunstler is clearly a collapsnik but vague in his worldview on how we should prepare for it and hence hard to put in any of these ‘camps’) this week summarized how the decline and fall of civilizations occurs:

It takes between one and three centuries on average for the fall to happen—and no, big complex civilizations don’t fall noticeably faster or slower than smaller and simpler ones.  Nor is it a linear decline—the end of a civilization is a fractal process composed of crises on many different scales of space and time, with equally uneven consequences. An effective response can win a breathing space; in the wake of a less effective one, part of what used to be normal goes away for good. Sooner or later, one crisis too many overwhelms the last defenses, and the civilization falls, leaving scattered remnants of itself that struggle and gleam for a while until the long night closes in.

Alas, after this quite sophisticated explanation of how complex systems fail, John provides a rather fanciful collapse scenario of one possible future, taking two centuries and involving mostly lots of ghastly wars. My view of human nature is rather more charitable, and I think our decline to below a billion will result more from voluntary and involuntary reductions in birth rate, and from diseases, mostly old ones modern technology has temporarily kept at bay. Because I see economic collapse as a great wealth equalizer (most wealth is now, after all, only vulnerable paper wealth), and because it will make war extremely expensive, I do not expect collapse to be nearly as violent as many collapsniks envision. I keep thinking of the millions of Irish during the potato famine, sitting in their homes with their families slowly starving to death, because they felt (wrongly as it turned out) that everyone was in the same situation and there was no one to blame. The Great Depression had many similar qualities of personal struggle and mostly egalitarian charity.

But I may be guilty of wishful thinking. The societal collapse in Germany in the last century brought out the worst in everyone. And today, many impoverished and desolated places, from inner cities in North America and suburbs in Europe to whole swathes of Africa, Asia and Latin America (like this community in Honduras) have degenerated into tribal thuggery, and are now largely run by warbands filling the power vacuum created by corrupt or dysfunctional governments. John Gray recently wrote an article arguing that our species has always been cruel, violent and destructive, and that it is in our nature to be so. [thanks to Richard Saunders for the last link above]

I hope they’re wrong. I have to believe they’re wrong.

 

~~~~~

PREPARING FOR CIVILIZATION’S COLLAPSE

xkcd climate change

image from xkcd; thanks to Leif Brecke for the link

World Population to Hit 11B This Century and Keep Rising (Barring Collapse): As I have said before, the rosy UN and US population bureau statistics forecasting a levelling off of human population by 2050 were always nonsense. Now at last they’re admitting their estimates were far too low.

Including Our Farmed Animals, We’re At 7x Earth’s Carrying Capacity: A new analysis by Paul Chefurka notes that our farmed animals actually weigh more than we do, and combined our biomass is seven times as much as the planet can support. And this intriguing summation of the state of the world by economist Nate Hagens contains some fascinating data (download the key slides here):

1. Almost all the fossil fuel energy we use today was formed between 200M and 400M years ago — it’s almost meaningless to try to figure out how much we consume compared to how much new fossil energy is being “created” each year.
2. Since 2000 96% of all GDP growth has come from more consumption of primary energy, not from increases in productivity or efficiency or “innovation”.
3. Essentially we’ve reached the stage where “money is a claim on future natural resources and debt is a claim on future money”, such that in the US now it takes creation of $14 of new debt (printing of currency) to produce $1 of GDP. Those holding the debt are in a bind: they know it can’t be repaid, but if they try to reduce their holdings they’ll collapse the faith-based economy and their wealth, which is mostly paper and real estate, will evaporate.
4. Paradoxically when the economy collapses it will reduce energy consumption and produce a temporary energy surplus: one that no one can afford to buy and use.
5. Metabolically, we are each the equivalent of 30-ton primates.

Derrick Jensen and Guy McPherson: The definitive Deep Green Activist chats with the definitive Near Term Extinctionist. It’s interesting to hear Derrick, who believes we have to fight against the destruction of the natural world with everything we have, agreeing with Guy, who says it’s too late to stop it. The intersection of their worldviews is that we should work as hard as we can to ensure that if/when our species goes extinct, life is not impossible for the other species that remain. That means e.g. a focus on decommissioning nuclear reactors, since they will overheat and explode when we are no longer present to tend them, doing horrific damage in the process. It’s a rather strange chat, and I’m awaiting the promised sequel.

Richard Heinberg on Effective Change: “Start by identifying your core values—fairness, peace, stability, beauty, resilience, whatever. … Figure out what ideas, projects, proposals, or policies further those values, but also fit with the infrastructure that’s almost certainly headed our way. Then get to work.” Thanks to Paul Chefurka for the link.

Leaving the Planet Gracefully: Robert Jensen writes about a friend who knew exactly what was happening to our world, and what is likely to happen, and lived a calm, conscious, purposeful, exemplary life despite his knowledge. He elaborates in this Cascading Crises video. Thanks to my friend Don Marshall for the link.

Pentagon Preparing for Civil Breakdown: “The unwillingness of DoD officials to answer the most basic questions [about surveillance, and massive internal “counterinsurgency” programs] is symptomatic of a simple fact – in their unswerving mission to defend an increasingly unpopular global system serving the interests of a tiny minority, security agencies have no qualms about painting the rest of us as potential terrorists.”

Where Will the Water Wars Erupt?: A map of the hot spots where large areas are most vulnerable to exceptional drought.

Have We Killed the Jet Stream? Recent research on weather patterns suggests that atmospheric warming may have already produced some dangerous and dramatic shifts in our climate systems, notably the jet stream and ocean currents. Thanks to Earl Mardle for the link.

~~~~~

LIVING BETTER

LOTM leunig bite

image by Michael Leunig 

Let Them Eat Cash: Experiments with giving large amounts of cash to the poor and homeless, instead of patronizing services, show excellent results.

Two Couples One Mortgage: Communal living takes on some new and pragmatic variations. Thanks to Renee Hopkins for the link.

My Body is Not a Problem: How the media and corporations belittle us (especially women) to try to sell us stuff. Thanks to Tree and Pax Calta for the link and the one that follows.

Not So Different: Homeless people share one thing about themselves that may surprise you.

Making Do in a Refugee Camp: In the Zaatari refugee camp in Syria, some inspiring clues on how to live in collapse. Thanks to my friend Pauline Lebel for the link.

Stopping the Inner Chatter: In an interview with KMO, Gary Weber explains why “people with a handful of psychedelic experiences under their belt have a significant head start in silencing the self-referential mental chatter” in their heads and achieving a constant state of presence. His books are free online.

Showing Truth to Power: Demonstrators have begun holding large mirrors up to show police, often now dressed in paramilitary armour, how terrifying they appear to peaceful protesters. Since some police are now wearing cameras to use in case of accusations of misbehaviour, the combination of the two would be fascinating.

Right to Die Sane: A fellow Bowen Islander took her own life this summer, in accordance with thoughtful, long-standing plans, as she began to slide into more advanced stages of dementia. My fellow Islanders have been universally supportive of her decision. Meanwhile, the first Canadian province to make end-of-life care legal has been challenged by the ultra-conservative Harper government.

The Toxicity of Hierarchy and Trauma: Robert Sapolsky explains how hierarchy inevitably creates stress and trauma, and how removing hierarchy produces empathy and peacefulness. He and Gabor Mate then dismantle the false dichotomy of nature vs nurture, explaining how our genes are determined and created by our environment and life experiences, more than the other way around. Most mental and physical illnesses stem from trauma.

Resilient Communities + Sharing Economy: A new survey from the Post Carbon Institute shows how the two movements can support each other.

Resilient Activism and Productive Writing: An interview reveals how Derrick Jenson’s work habits and mindset keep him sane in his difficult work.

~~~~~

POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL

asia-nuclear

image from Fortune Magazine article “Fission Frenzy” April 2014

The Truth About the Tar Sands: Short videos remind us of the utter atrocity of this project. Thanks to Jon Husband for the link. In related news, no surprise that Harper approved the Northern Gateway pipeline. Some believe overwhelming public opposition will yet stop the project, but the real shift, I think, will come when people realize that these lucrative (to political donors) projects will always be approved despite public opinion. And the even bigger shift will occur when corporatists realize that the public have now been sufficiently cowed that they will accept such unpopular and undemocratic decisions as just how things are, and that public support is no longer necessary for them to achieve at all. Here are some photos of what they are doing now, with the real ramp-up still to come. Here’s a description of the massive seepages, blowouts and groundwater contamination the operations are causing.

Obama’s Recovery: Interesting graph showing how the disparity between rich and poor has accelerated under Obama‘s watch.

I don’t see the point in linking to further articles about the endless political and economic outrages being perpetrated throughout the world by corporations and the corrupt and inept governments they now own. You know what’s going on by now.

~~~~~

FUN AND INSPIRATION

LOTM via tree witches

image by Mark Parisi; thanks to Tree for the link

Haunting Music: Spacedrum played by Yuki Koshimoto. Thanks to Cheryl Anderson Spencieri for the link.

The Four-Way Stop vs The Roundabout: Guess which is faster? Thanks to Euan Semple and Flemming Funch for the link.

Stuff of Dreams: Some breathtakingly beautiful photos taken on a Russian farm. Thanks to Sue Braiden for the link.

parking space

What parking space is the car above in?: The math problem Hong Kong kids could solve but I couldn’t. Don’t look at the answer in Joyce’s link before you try solving it.

John Green’s Unlikely Superstardom: The co-producer of the great vlogbrothers videos is a hero of many young people for his other work.

The Gurus of Innovation Were Just Wrong: For many years I wrote about innovation and provided innovation services to clients. The bible on the subject, then as now, was Clay Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma. Turns out, most of what Clay wrote was dead wrong. Jill Lepore courageously explains how and why. Her reward has been to be savaged by academics and business ‘experts’ alike, for daring to question the orthodoxy that has generated so much revenue, and ‘scholarly’ work, for those in the field.

111 “Retired” Lab Chimps See Sky and Grass for the First Time: Just watch, cry, and feel good. Sometimes some people do the right thing. Thanks to the Humane Society for the work they do.

How to Make Love Stay: From Rebelle Society, 6 tips for lovers of women and 6 tips for lovers of men on how to keep your relationship healthy and joyful. Much better than the usual Cosmo crap you read on this subject. Also from the same source, an article on facing the truth about relationship breakup.

My Favourite Meditation Music: Deva Premal’s best music, I think, is from the CDs that were a little more rhythmic, jazzed up and harmonized than her ‘purer’ work. My favourites are Om Namo Bhagavate and Moola Mantra. Fans have added some lovely graphics to these YouTube versions.

What Your Bike Can Teach You About White Privilege: The second-class treatment cyclists often get from motorists and legislators can be an education for those of us used to privilege. Thanks to Gen Alpha for the link.

Mission Statement: A hilarious send-up of management-speak and corporate dysfunction from the much-grown-up but still Weird Al Yankovic. Terrific graphics too.

Black Holes Do Not Exist: Neither does time, or a fundamental particle/wave/string/thingy that makes up everything else. Nor was there a big bang. But then you knew all that that didn’t you?

7.1 Billion Demonstrate in Favour of Global Warming: From the Onion, of course. Thanks to Dark Mountain for the link.

~~~~~

THOUGHTS FOR THE MONTH

torb history

image from The Mind of Torb; thanks to Paul Chefurka for the link

Telling Stories: PS Pirro on the power of stories told aloud, and community music. “Nobody is chastened for getting it wrong, and by the ninth or tenth time through, we have something, and then we just keep going, because it’s magical and we don’t want to stop. Sometimes I feel bereft. The world is on fire, and I don’t know how to fix what’s broken. But I am suffused with these stories. These songs. These connections. This life. This astonishing magic.”

Homeless: Jim Kunstler (via PS Pirro) on collapse being like a house falling apart:

That fading modern world is the house that America built, the great post World War Two McMansion stuffed with dubious luxuries in a Las Vegas of the collective mind. History’s bank has foreclosed on it and all the nations and people of the world have been told to make new arrangements for daily life. The USA wants everybody to stay put and act as if nothing has changed.

Therefore, change will be forced on the USA. It will take the form of things breaking and not getting fixed. Unfortunately, America furnished its part of the house with stapled-together crap designed to look better than it really was. We like to keep the blinds drawn now so as not to see it all coming apart. Barack Obama comes and goes like a pliable butler, doing little more than carrying trays of policy that will be consumed like stale tea cakes — while the wallpaper curls, and the boilers fail down in the basement, and veneers delaminate, and little animals scuttle ominously around in the attic.

Thinking About Not Thinking: From Alan Watts, drawing a metaphor to explain why it is so difficult to meditate or be truly present and not bound up in your thoughts and ego: “To understand music, you must listen to it. But so long as you are thinking, ‘I am listening to this music,’ you are not listening.”

Seen Recently On a T-Shirt: “If a man speaks in the forest, and there is no woman to hear him, is he still wrong?”

leunig angelMore to Life: A poem by Michael Leunig:
An angel came and landed on the shed,
The little shed on which my life is kept.
“There’s more to life than this” the angel said.
We looked into each other’s eyes and wept.

I hurried back inside and shut the door,
And all surrounded by the life I love
I lay there weeping on the concrete floor
And heard the angel weeping up above.

October 19, 2014

Grimly Letting Go of the Old Story

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 21:07

sipress cognitive dissonance

cartoon by David Sipress  from the New Yorker

I have noticed a subtle change over the last year or two in what (and how) both mainstream and alternative media are reporting (worse news, more indifferently, more dishonestly and more under-reporting). I’ve also noticed a gradual increase in the general level of non-specific anxiety, pessimism, guilt, shame, premonition and overwhelm of my friends and acquaintances (it’s even worse now, I think, than it was right after 9/11). And I’ve noticed a similar disturbing increase in the general level of malaise, meanness, insensitivity, and demonization of others in general public discourse.

I think these are all symptoms of the early stages of collapse.

Here are the shifts I am seeing more tangibly that would seem to epitomize early collapse:

  1. Corporations have given up the pretence of being ethical. At first, a decade or two ago, many corporations tried to convince the public they were really concerned about social and environmental issues. Then they discovered that whitewashing, greenwashing, and lies in their advertising and PR were more effective and cheaper. Now they don’t even bother to lie. They just say they are forced to do what they do because their mandate is to maximize profits. Now they settle their malfeasance out of court because it’s cheaper than obeying the law, and hush it up with gag orders, whistle-blower prosecutions and threats of costly and protracted litigation against anyone who dares challenge their illegal activities. Now they buy their politicians openly. Instead of them serving us, as they were designed to do, it is now us against them. Now it is illegal for citizens to film animal cruelty atrocities in factory farms and slaughterhouses, but not illegal for corporations to commit those atrocities.
  2. Politicians have given up the pretence of being representative. Speeches no longer talk about “the people” or a better society or collective interest, but solely about response to intangible, invented or inflated dangers like “terrorism” and “illegal” immigration (but not the real dangers, since that would offend their owners). Gerrymandering, bribes, voter disenfranchisement and vote-buying are now accepted as just how the system inevitably works. Political influence and political decision-making are now totally and overtly a function of the amount of paid lobbying and money spent. The term “democracy” is now conflated with “freedom” and Orwellian use of language is openly employed to suppress public opposition, dissent and outrage.
  3. Lying has becoming rampant, overt and even socially acceptable. The biggest and easiest lies are the lies of omission: burying corporatist and ideological legislation and pork in “omnibus” bills and “riders”, gross distortions of measures like unemployment and inflation, burying junk investments in opaque repackaged and overpriced offerings to the public, activities couched to offer perpetrators “plausible deniability“, and unlisted ingredients and unlisted dangers on product packaging. Another example is lawmakers passing “popular” laws but telling regulatory staff not to enforce them or “look the other way”, or starving the regulators of resources. But more egregious is the overt lying, led by the outrageous (and again Orwellian) untruths of almost all modern advertising and PR (including political campaign advertising), which we are now forced by every means possible to watch/listen to/read. And of course, just about everything done by the legal “profession” who are paid to obfuscate, threaten and lie, and the mainstream media, who are paid to report only distracting news that does not offend corporate sponsors, and to oversimplify and distort to pander to their dumbed-down audience.
  4. Widespread use and acceptance of “ends justify the means” rationalizations. This is the hallmark behaviour of the Dick Cheneys and other severely psychologically damaged people who prevail disproportionately in position of power. Consequentialists rationalize that, immoral as their actions might be (or might have been), the outcome will be (or was) a desirable one, so their conduct in achieving it is moot. This argument allows them to decide to wage wars and commit other acts of violence (and almost all major recent wars and major acts of violence have been rationalized on this basis). What’s worse, when the desired “ends” are not achieved (liberation of women in Afghanistan), the shifting of blame to others for the failure to achieve the ends is used to excuse both the failure to achieve the ends and for the abhorrence of the means. Probe just about any act of violence, any lie, or any illegal or immoral behaviour that someone is justifying or excusing these days, and you’ll find an “ends (would have) justified the means” rationalization. It’s endemic, and not only among right-wingers. And few of us have the critical thinking skills to see its dangers.
  5. Human activity (litigation, security, financial “products” etc.) is focused on defending the status quo rather than producing anything of value. The reason most of us could not survive today in the radically decentralized, low-complexity societies that will take hold after civilization’s collapse, is that most of us don’t produce anything that peers in our community value, or ever will value. We are “managers” of useless hierarchies, paper pushers, systems people, guards, number crunchers, packagers, transporters and vendors of goods we do not know how to make, with parts we don’t know the origin or makeup of. Because we intuitively “know” that this is so, we are desperate to keep civilization’s crumbling systems operating. What else could we do?
  6. The illusion of growth has become totally dependent on increases in oil and in debt. In a presentation here the other day, economist Nate Hagens revealed that since 2000 96% of all US GDP growth has come from more consumption of primary energy, not from increases in production or efficiency or “innovation”, and that it now takes creation of $14 of new debt (i.e. printing of currency) to produce $1 of GDP. So when economists and politicians say they want a return to growth (to avoid a collapse of the Ponzi scheme stock and housing markets, among other reasons), what they are really saying is that they want us to burn more fossil fuels and print more money.
  7. Acceptance of obscene inequality. People just shrug when they learn that the entire increase in global income and wealth since the 1970s has accrued to just 1% of the population — everyone else’s real income (purchasing power) and wealth has declined (i.e. they’re further into debt), in many cases precipitously. This is despite the fact that this increase in income and wealth has come at a ghastly and accelerating social, political and ecological cost. The Occupy movement tried to challenge this, but the movement is dormant.
  8. Denial of reality, across the political spectrum. Most of us (except in the US and a few other backward countries) now appreciate that climate change is caused by burning fossil fuels and is dangerously accelerating. But most of us still believe, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that it is somehow possible to change global behaviour so radically that we reverse emissions and prevent runaway climate change, or that we’re going to somehow replace most emissions with renewable energy or other “innovations”. Most deny the reality that our education and health care systems are dysfunctional and unsustainable, that the Internet is a huge consumer of energy dependent on the industrial growth economy for its existence, that species extinction has already accelerated to a point unprecedented in the planet’s history and threatens the stability of every ecosystem, that our political, economic and legal systems are so dysfunctional they cannot be salvaged, that industrial agriculture has already destroyed most of the soils crucial for our survival, that choosing short-term jobs over long-term economic and ecological health is disastrous, and that “sustainable growth” is an oxymoron. For those who aren’t in denial, the ever-growing cognitive dissonance in the media and in public discourse is staggering.
  9. Widespread cynicism and acceptance of conspiracy theories. Stephen Colbert wrote “Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us.” Cynics are, as George Carlin said, disappointed idealists. The rampant growth of cynicism reveals a similar increase in fear and disappointment. Conspiracy theories are popular because they give us someone else to blame (someone huge, mysterious and unstoppable, hence relieving us of the obligation to do anything or even to understand what is really happening), and because they feed our cynicism, and because we all want something simple to believe instead of the impossible complexity of the truth. And that desire for something simple to believe also inspires…
  10. Search for and willingness to believe in charismatic people and magical solutions. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t see another promise of a technology that will provide infinite, cheap, climate-saving energy. Judging from the number of views these articles/videos receive, they are magnets for public attention. And when we’re constantly disappointed by “leaders” to promise us “hope” and change, it is not surprising that so many fall under the influence of zealous charismatic people with absurd (and discredited) but miraculous (and simple) political and economic and technological “solutions” to every problem. The world’s last powerful charismatic leader, the despotic Mao, killed 80 million of his country’s citizens while keeping ten times that number in thrall. Notice the charismatic tilt of many of the new leaders of the fearful Randian/Thatcherian/Reaganite right, and the leaders of many popular new age cults.
  11. Ubiquitous spying and corporatist surveillance. I don’t think I need elaborate on this, except to note that the corporate sector’s use of collected intelligence and surveillance in its many forms dwarfs that of the more obvious government and military sector. The military-industrial complex is back. So far it’s too incompetent to figure out how to use the data it’s collecting, but they’re spending an awful lot of our money working on that. Their level of anxiety is rising too — they’re tuned into the general dissatisfaction and are afraid of civil insurrection upsetting their lucrative and high-maintenance apple-cart. (If only.)
  12. Self-colonization and the emergence of “apologism” and mandatory optimism. We’ve seen the emergence of mandatory optimism in the corporate world, and more overtly in the prerequisite for being a TED talker and other “positive thinking” movements. But now the vilification of criticism and pessimism (as distinct from cynicism) is becoming more ubiquitous. Critical thinking and doubt are dismissed out-of-hand as negativity and a “bad attitude” even in peer conversation. When internalized to the point we feel bad about feeling bad, it’s an essential tool of self-colonization — the co-opting and self-censoring of our own anger, skepticism, fear, sadness, grief, and ‘unpopular’ beliefs in order to be socially accepted by others, and in some cases to brainwash ourselves into denial of our own feelings and beliefs that we are struggling to cope with — and reconcile with what others are saying they feel and believe (there’s that cognitive dissonance again: “If I’m the only one thinking this, I must be crazy, so I’d better not talk about it”). What all this produces is something now called “apologism” — a propensity to make excuses and minimize an event or belief or feeling because you don’t want to seem “always” critical or out of step with the mainstream or peers. In its worst form it emerges as a victim-blaming defence for atrocities like assault, harassment or abuse. But in its milder form it can lead to dangerous group-think, the suppression of new and important ideas, and destructive self-blaming.
  13. Widespread anomie and the trivialization and co-opting of dissent by professional activists. The term anomie means a disconnection between ones personal values and one’s community’s values. It refers to a state of ‘rudderlessness’ where it is difficult to find one’s authentic place or engage in meaningful social interaction with most others, especially those in different demographics. In a major international study, pollster Michael Adams found it increasingly prevalent in young people, and on the rise in all age groups. Adams remarked on how Americans in particular were becoming increasingly “suspicious of and indifferent to the plight of their fellow citizens”. The disengagement of the young explains why so many activist groups are dominated by older people (a new phenomenon in the last half-century). Unfortunately, the activist vacuum has allowed professional environmental groups (Greenpeace, 350 etc.) to co-opt much of the activist movement’s activities, creating a constant manageable “trivial theatre of dissent” that is comfortable for many older people opposed to violence and confrontation, and comfortable for the corporations and politicians because it’s controlled and unthreatening. Mainstream media like it because it’s simplified, dichotomous and often specifically orchestrated for their cameras. And it creates easy, stable, well-paying jobs for mainstream environmental group spokespeople, while changing absolutely nothing.

While I believe most of these trends and emergences are complex collective responses to changing realities, and either well-intentioned or unconscious (i.e. without malicious intent), taken together they would seem to evince a broad, intuitive shift in our collective gestalt, our way of coping with the world. They reveal more than anything, I think, a giving up of the belief in fairness, justice, controllability, understandability and consensus as means of “making sense” or taking action reliably to achieve desired objectives in the current reality of how things work. They reveal both the incapacity of our now massively-overgrown, fragile and unwieldy systems to function sustainably or effectively, and the incapacity of ourselves and our broken communities to function effectively within their purview.

In other words, just as we became, over the last few millennia, increasingly disconnected from nature and from our integral place in the web of all-life-on-Earth, we are now quickly becoming disconnected from human-made systems that we realize, at least subconsciously, no longer function or support us — indeed they imperil our existence. This second disconnection is a healthy one, a sensible coping mechanism, a first step in preparation for the perilous and rocky shift to a possible new way of living in both a human and more-than-human society, at least for the survivors of collapse. Intuitively, it’s the only sustainable way for us to live.

This letting-go of our belief in and reliance on and support for civilization’s systems is of course frightening — we want the new connections, the new ways of living and being, to be securely in place before we give up on the old ones. We want to know the new story before we can honestly accept that the old one, the one we still cling to and believe in so utterly, so passionately, and now so desperately, has always been a lie.

October 10, 2014

something to believe in

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 21:22

“though we rush ahead to save our time, we are only what we feel” — Neil Young

“well we’ve both lived long enough to know we’d trade it all right now
for just one minute of real love”
– Patrick Henderson/Michael McDonald

Rickie-Lee-Jones-Piratesand then, after all —
after all the struggle, all your life, to fit in, to belong,
to do what you’re told you’re supposed to do,
to be who you’re supposed to be,
after you’ve finally figured out how this world actually works,
how this civilization makes us all ill,
and how it’s falling apart faster than we can imagine,
after you start to begin to begin to understand
what it means to be human,
and that your sense of self is all illusion
that you are a nothing less than the complicity of a trillion cells —

after all that,
you realize that none of this matters without love.

you tell yourself that your life is, still or finally,
full of love,
but why, then, do you so crave appreciation and attention,
love’s sad substitutes?

you say you love this person,
but it’s really not the same as what you once felt,
that incredible rush, that delirious invincible feeling.
you want proof that it’s still love,
it’s just you that’s jaded,
that the person who sits across from you at dinner,
listening attentively, you imagine, to your words,
that the crowd before you when you speak, or perform,
nodding and applauding enthusiastically, it seems,
that the work you do, for which you’re paid and highly rated,
prove that you are loved,

and that you love them in return.

but something’s missing, something that was once there,
making you joyful and filled with purpose, has somehow
quietly stolen away, leaving a silence, an emptiness.

you try to blame this loss on many things:
on our monogamous, love-stingy society
in which “the best ones are always taken”,
and in which the work of trying to keep love alive
becomes just another grinding job.

or on the insensitivity or stupidity of others,
and the exhausting slavery of modern work,
which make our hearts hard and cold.

though mostly you blame yourself,
for not caring enough about all you have,
for hurting, and letting down, the ones you claim to love,
for always wanting more, and what and who you can’t have.

but who you blame doesn’t matter either;
it changes nothing —
doesn’t lessen the pangs, the yearning
for more love, new love, real love,
love that makes life meaningful,
makes it all worthwhile.

so you retreat back to distraction:
you love this music, these stories, these videos,
your snuggles with the dog,
the cutie at the store or down the hall
who always smiles at you.
surely these count as love, most of them:
they lift you up, give you hope that real love can be found
or found again,
that that feeling for which you live, body and soul,
is still possible, is not gone forever.

image from the cover of Rickie Lee Jones’ album Pirates

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