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.

June 28, 2010

G20: A Corporatist Show of Force and Power in Toronto

Filed under: How the World Really Works — Dave Pollard @ 21:10

Toronto Star photo G20 June 26-2010

Toronto Star photo

A great corporatist hoax was perpetrated in Toronto during the G20 this past weekend, and both the Canadian public and most of the mainstream media bought it hook, line and sinker. To anyone who has ever participated in an anti-globalization protest, this will not be a surprise.

There were over 10,000 police in the downtown streets, in many places every 10m on empty streets and en masse in other places. Yet if you look at the photos of the so-called “anarchist vandals” who smashed windows of American Apparel and other big US-owned chains on Saturday, you won’t find anyone being arrested or challenged — in fact you won’t see any police in any of the pictures of vandals at all (but lots of cameras, of course). Similarly, the police cars set afire were seemingly driven in advance by police into the centre of the publicized demonstration area, and then left, empty, unlocked and unwatched. Shortly thereafter, the empty cars were attacked and torched by the vandals with no obstruction from the police, who are nowhere to be seen in any of the much-publicized photos (see for yourself below).

Then, beginning shortly after the totally-ignored vandalism occurred, large masses of heavily armed police charged peaceful, stationary protesters, beating and arresting dozens apparently at random, and charging the crowd, firing tear gas and rubber bullets at groups just milling around, seated talking or singing together. The unprovoked violence of the cops then continued for the last 36 hours of the G20 meeting, as gangs of heavily-armed police shoulder to shoulder threatened, arrested, bullied and charged at people going about their business in neighbourhoods throughout Toronto, seemingly with no purpose except to instill anger and fear of the police, and incite retaliatory violence.

Here is a collection of photos and videos that pretty well speak for themselves:

“We weren’t just handcuffed. They also put cuffs on our legs, around the ankles. Once we got to Eastern Avenue (the site of the temporary detention centre) we were put into makeshift cages. They were about six metres by four metres in size. For a while, they kept moving us from cage to cage, as we were being processed and the charges were explained to everyone. We were strip searched. It is all kind of blurry. Once we got to speak on the phone to a lawyer, we had some idea of what was happening and knew that we might get out on bail the next day. We did not get any water for 12 hours.We could not wear our shoes in the cell. It was so cold. It felt like it was five degrees and we were in our t-shirts. There were no blankets. There was just a narrow steel bench and a port-a-potty with an open door.”

Toronto Star photo G20

Toronto Star photo

The big surprise of the event is that the police gangs beat up, arrested and caged in a makeshift prison many journalists and professional photographers including representatives of the corporatist mainstream media, who had been set up to film and report on the “anarchists”. Bad idea: The publisher of the mainstream Toronto Star called the show of force “a brutal spectacle that failed the city“. An interviewer for TVOntario was appalled by what he saw first hand, and tweeted his outrage for hours. A reporter for the right-wing corporatist Globe & Mail wrote Police G20 Tactics Give Toronto a Black Eye saying:

Come to Toronto, for work or pleasure, and enjoy having your civil liberties trampled and your right to free expression stifled. Avail yourself of our hospitality in a crowded detention pen, with free stale buns and water when (or if) your hosts get around to it. Partake of an invigorating massage, courtesy of police officers wielding truncheons. The best part – there’s no charge! Except that seems to mean the cops will pick you up, hold you, then let you go without ever following through criminal charges or prosecution, suggesting they had nothing on you in the first place.

The mainstream media as a whole seem a bit bewildered by all of this, but none of them has yet said what the indymedia knew all along: the masked “black bloq anarchist” vandalism was a carefully-staged photo-op for the gullible media, to justify the $1.3B security price tag for holding the ludicrous primp-and-preen G20 “leaders” circus right in the midst of Canada’s biggest city (essentially shutting down the whole city for a week, with a cost to workers and businesses of billions more), and to discourage and discredit legitimate anti-globalization protest.

As in previous large-scale protests, there is substantial evidence that many of the 10,000+ police “hired” for G20 security worked undercover, in plainclothes, and as infiltrators/instigators of the “anarchists” and perpetrators of the vandalism. Since the vandals are all conveniently masked and unidentified (no police around to unmask them), we will never know.

Will the mainstream media figure it out? Stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath. And don’t hold your breath, either, for the dumbed-down Canadian majority to realize they’ve been had. The whole world was watching, but precious few realized what they were really seeing.

June 18, 2010

What the Bird Said

Filed under: Creative Works — Dave Pollard @ 23:44

chickadee by  tinyfishy
photo by tinyfishy

I had been for a run in the forest, and now, back home, I stopped to rest, sitting on a mossy rock near my house.

A chickadee flew down and perched on the cedar tree above me. “I know about you,” she chirped to me. “We’ve heard your story. It seems as if you’ve followed the advice that gaia gave you two years ago, and changed your life in many ways. But you are still obviously lonely and full of grief. You still haven’t found what you’re looking for. So tell me why this is, why you’re so sad in this place of such astonishing beauty?”

“Well, first…” I replied, “In my dreams, and songs, and ideal world, I can be who I really am. I don’t have to pretend to be something I am not. When I discover a woman who’s beautiful and smart and passionate and grounded and full of energy, I dream that it’s easy to just express my feelings to her and, wordlessly, we fall in love, and express that love, endlessly and effortlessly. I don’t want to work so hard to find and sustain love. But it seems the women I want to love are not interested in me. And I’m not interested in loving the women who are, at least not in the ways they want to be loved. So I’m discouraged, and feel guilty, and just tired of trying.”

“Still thinking far too much, I see,” chirped the chickadee. “If you’re going to be one with gaia you’re going to have to learn to trust your senses, your feelings, your instincts, and stop letting your head get in the way. Listen to your soul song, it tells you that the real you is destined to love, to fall in love, again and again, and whether that love is reciprocated or not does not matter. That is who you are — you know that. All you can do, when you find someone you are drawn to in that primal way, is make the offer, the invitation — be clear and honest and authentic about how you feel. Instead of getting discouraged by rejection, learn from it, and try again. If it takes a hundred or a thousand rejections before the ones you choose to love accept that love, and give you what you want in return (perhaps only their presence), then that’s what you must do. That is what you live for. So live – fly! – my poor sorrowful friend. Have the courage of your convictions.”

“Here is my first question for you –” she continued. “What is holding you back? Why are you still afraid, or unable, to be authentic, to put yourself out there, to be who you really are, raw, damaged, and extraordinary? What do you have to lose, now?”

I thought about her question, and as I did so she asked “What else? Why else are you so sad, so full of grief?”

“I want my life and my relationships to be easy, joyful, playful. Natural. But beneath the smiles and laughter, as I get to know people, there is only darkness, sorrow, anger, self-hatred, shame. The relationships I long to be uplifting turn out to be disheartening, burdensome, a chore. So while I want to find like minds, to play, to be close to people, I end up fleeing, disappointed and weighed down, preferring my own company.”

The chickadee looked at me incredulously, and then sang, slowly: “You know why this is; you’ve said it yourself a thousand times. What you perceive in other people is your own imagining, what you want them or expect them to be, not who they really are, since you will never know who they really are. So the darkness, the sorrow, the neediness, the emptiness you perceive in others is simply a reflection of what you are projecting, reflected back at you like in a mirror. And this darkness, this lack of joy and playfulness in you is not something you should be dismayed or dissatisfied with. It is a terrible, terrible world your human kind has created. You are right to be filled with unbearable grief. No one else can ‘cure’ those dark feelings by being a ‘sink’ of joy and playfulness that will draw out and heal all the grief and pain within you. You must know that you cannot expect others to ‘fix’ your sadness.”

“So here is my second question for you –” she chirped, quietly. “Why are your expectations of yourself, and of others, so absurdly high, and why are your judgements of yourself, and of others, so bitterly harsh?

There was silence for a moment, and it began to rain. “Go on,” said the chickadee, “loneliness, grief… there is more; what else is causing you sadness?”

“I still haven’t found where I belong,” I replied. “I know it’s someplace natural, someplace warm. But the places I find, as beautiful as they may be, are too cold. They are unaffordable, which means most of the people around are people who have given their souls for money, people I abhor. And these places are unsustainable. They are living on borrowed time, waiting for the bulldozers and chain saws and “developers” to desolate them, turn them into everyplace else. Into wastelands. So I am still homeless.”

“Still stuck in human clock time,” replied the chickadee. “You cannot live in fear of the future, grieving what has not yet happened, regardless of its likelihood. As for finding your place, you cannot expect it to announce itself to you. You must pay attention, listen, hear its call. This place you belong, your home, will require you to become a part of it. You will have to learn about it before you can do that, before you can belong to it. You have lived so long inside your head that living in the real world as part of all-life-on-Earth will not be quick or easy for you — you have a lot to unlearn. But first you have to open your heart and your senses and your body and your intuition and really be present with all these parts of you, all these non-intellectual, visceral ways of knowing, to find your true home. As long as you are stuck in your head you will never find it.”

“That brings me to my third question for you,” she continued. “Why, with all the unlimited freedom you have now, is it so hard for you to just let go? To just be. To weep. To free yourself from your stories about the past and future, about what others think of you or might think of you, and about who you should be or what you should do. To walk away from the prison of self-colonization?”

I sighed. A fog was rolling in.

“There is yet more behind your sadness, isn’t there?,” chirped the chickadee. “Go on then — loneliness, grief, homelessness, and…?”

“Directionlessness, I guess,” I replied. “I want to discover what I’m meant to do, and that means I have to find who I’m meant to collaborate with. I want to find people who share my beliefs, my ideas, my intentions. But all that is so contextual on where you’ve come from, and my journey of learning and discovery has been so unique, so privileged, so solitary, that whenever I think I’ve found people who want to do the same things I want to do, and who share my view on how to go about doing them, I discover that either I misunderstood or they did, and that what I want to do and what they want to do are completely different, completely out of sync. I keep thinking that I’m ‘too far ahead’ to find collaborators, but I suspect it’s not that at all. We all sail alone, and the waters I’m sailing in aren’t those of the mainstream culture or any of the alternative cultures out there. I’m in my own ocean, a culture of one, of my own imagining, and I’m despairing of ever finding other intelligent life in this empty place I’ve taken myself.”

“Artists are often solitary creatures,” replied the chickadee. “Whether you realize it or not, you are already doing what you’re meant to do. In everything you write and talk about you are, in one way or another, ‘re-presenting’ natural life in contrast to life within industrial ‘civilized’ culture. You’ve described yourself as ‘vegan, earth-loving, poly, unschooled, nudist, intuitive, anarchist, hedonistic, and a dreamer’ and in these attributes you personify the natural life you re-present in your imaginative and creative writing. This is your gift to the world, what you’re meant to do. Carry on, because there is much more work that needs to be done here. Most people still can’t imagine another way to live, and until they do there is no hope for your poor befuddled species.”

“As to how to find collaborators, people who share your worldview on what needs to be done, and who would want to work on that with you, perhaps my fourth question to you may help you address that. My fourth question,” she chirped,”is this — if someone were looking to collaborate with you, how would they find you and persuade you to work with them? In other words, Where would you look for you?

We just looked at each other for awhile, and finally I nodded and thanked her and asked if there were something I could offer her in return. As she flew away she chirped: “You’re already doing it.”

June 15, 2010

This is Why We’re Here

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 01:22

[This article is cross-posted from my blog at Dark Mountain. In my preamble to the other artists in the Dark Mountain network I wrote:

Over the last couple of weeks there has been a flurry of attention in the blogosphere given to the Dark Mountain project. This has been accompanied by some criticism of what we’re doing, of what happened at the Festival, and some serious misunderstanding, I think, of the entire focus and purpose of Dark Mountain.

So I thought it might be useful to go back to the Manifesto and to re-articulate why we’re here. I’ve done so in a new Dark Mountain blog post called This is Why We’re Here.

My thesis is that the work of Uncivilization has three roles, each of them vital but distinct: Activists, Healers, and Artists. I believe, as the Manifesto says, our role is the Artist’s role, and that when we get distracted from that we lose our focus and fail to do our best work.

I hope you find it a worthwhile contribution to Dark Mountain.]

.     .     .     .     .


(cartoon by Hugh Macleod from GapingVoid.com)

Like many of you, I was drawn to the Dark Mountain project by and Paul and Dougald’s amazing Manifesto. I have recently come to realize that our civilization is beginning a collapse that will be complete by the end of this century, and no amount of technology, innovation, political action or global consciousness-raising is going to save it. As John Gray put it so well in Straw Dogs:

Political action has come to be a surrogate for salvation; but no political project can deliver humanity from its natural condition. However radical, political programmes are expedients — modest devices for coping with recurring evils. Hegel writes that humanity will be content only when it lives in a world of its own making. In contrast, Straw Dogs argues for a shift from human solipsism [belief in our aloneness and our disconnection from everything else]. Humans cannot save the world, but this is no reason for despair. It does not need saving. Happily, humans will never live in a world of their own making.

Homo rapiens is only one of very many species, and not obviously worth preserving. Later or sooner, it will become extinct. When it is gone Earth will recover. Long after the last traces of the human animal have disappeared, many of the species it is bent on destroying will still be around, along with others that have yet to spring up. The Earth will forget mankind. The play of life will go on.

My blog How to Save the World has been labeled by some readers as “doomer porn”, because it accepts this collapse as inevitable. Most of the world is not ready to acknowledge this, but in the founders and followers of Dark Mountain I feel I have found kindred spirits, people who have the understanding and intuitive sense to appreciate that most of what we are told (in school, by politicians and business, and in the media) are lies, and that we have a responsibility as artists to accept and represent — to hold a mirror — to our civilization’s inevitable collapse in this century.

My concern is that, because what Dark Mountain represents is so threatening to the worldview and belief systems of so many, we run the risk of trying to defend and argue what we intuitively know, and that such debate is not only useless (like the debate over abortion or veganism, it almost never changes anyone’s mind) but a drain on our creative energies, a diversion from what we, as artists and dreamers, do best: representing and chronicling our civilization’s collapse and, with our imaginations and perceptions, not our rhetoric, provoking the majority out of their ignorance, denial and lethargy of how the world really works and how we might find better ways to live. Daniel Quinn warned us of this, in Beyond Civilization, when he wrote:

People will listen when they’re ready to listen and not before. Probably, once upon a time, you weren’t ready to listen to an idea than now seems to you obvious, even urgent. Let people come to it in their own time. Nagging or bullying will only alienate them. Don’t preach. Don’t waste time with people who want to argue. They’ll keep you immobilized forever. Look for people who are already open to something new.

So now we are debating, with brilliant debaters like George Monbiot no less, about whether civilization can and should be saved. We are caught up in the arguments about whether we should devote more time to activism, even if it won’t “save” civilization, because we have a responsibility as knowledgeable, privileged members of our society to do what most lack the information or resources to do.

Have we forgotten the message of the Manifesto so quickly? Are we so easily unsettled by the attacks of the ignorant, the technophiles and the hopeless idealists that we lose focus on the whole, vital purpose of Dark Mountain before we’ve even begun our essential work? Here’s what Paul and Dougald told us:

We believe that artists – which is to us the most welcoming of words, taking under its wing writers of all kinds, painters, musicians, sculptors, poets, designers, creators, makers of things, dreamers of dreams – have a responsibility to begin the process of decoupling. We believe that, in the age of ecocide, the last taboo must be broken – and that only artists can do it.

Ecocide demands a response. That response is too important to be left to politicians, economists, conceptual thinkers, number crunchers; too all-pervasive to be left to activists or campaigners. Artists are needed. So far, though, the artistic response has been muted. In between traditional nature poetry and agitprop, what is there? Where are the poems that have adjusted their scope to the scale of this challenge? Where are the novels that probe beyond the country house or the city centre? What new form of writing has emerged to challenge civilisation itself? What gallery mounts an exhibition equal to this challenge? Which musician has discovered the secret chord?

If the answers to these questions have been scarce up to now, it is perhaps both because the depth of collective denial is so deep, and because the challenge is so very daunting. We are daunted by it, ourselves. But we believe it needs to be risen to. We believe that art must look over the edge, face the world that is coming with a steady eye, and rise to the challenge of ecocide with a challenge of its own: an artistic response to the crumbling of the empires of the mind.

This, dear brave comrades, is why we’re here. Not to engage in debate, in rhetoric, in analysis, in conceptual thinking, but to be artists — to re-present the world as we see it, in all its terrible beauty, when everyone else is seeing only manufactured illusion and hearing only relentless propaganda, and to imagine and present possibilities through our creative stories and art that most of our fellow humans, stunted from childhood imaginatively and creatively by civilization’s brutal and homogenizing systems, can no longer conceive of. Our responsibility is not to respond to doubters, deniers and apologists, but to show our weary human comrades that the world is not as they’ve been told, and that the only life they know is not the only way to live.

I have enormous respect for activists, and the courage and perseverance they show, every day, in their valiant struggle against empire, to speak truth to power. And I have enormous respect, too, for the healers, those like Joanna Macy and the hard workers in the alternative culture who work relentlessly to heal the anguish, the disconnection, the grief and the suffering that so many of us are afflicted with in this terrible world.

But that is their work, not ours. Ours is the third way, and we are the third force in the uncivilization revolution. Our work is, as Paul and Dougald say, the artistic response. Our work is to show the world, in our art and stories, as it really is, and to imagine it as it might be. Our work is the creative work of poetry, song, film, and story. The activists have the Transition Movement and the Permaculture Movement, the healers have the Work that Reconnects and the Intentional Communities movement.

And we, dear colleagues, have Dark Mountain. Let’s not forget why we’re here. Our work is at least as important as that of the activists and the healers. We must not get distracted. We have waited our whole lives for this moment, this responsibility, this realization, this charge. Remember who you are. This is why we’re here.

June 13, 2010

Links & Tweets of the Month: June 13, 2010

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 23:09

cat on feeder

(remind you of someone you know? — photo posted anonymously on imgur)


Return to Dark Mountain: The current structure of these Links of the Week/Month (starting each set of links with articles on “preparing for civilization’s end”) took form with my first post on the Dark Mountain project. I don’t know whether it’s coincidence or not, but this past week, just when I signed up on their Ning site and mentioned them in Friday’s post, there’s been a flurry of articles on Dark Mountain on many of the blogs I read. About a year ago, Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine began a movement of writers and artists to tell the story of civilization’s current demise, and to imagine possibilities for the world that will follow, a world with a much smaller, Uncivilized human population. Their Manifesto is long, moving and brilliant, and their blogroll and the authors of the first edition of their journal are a who’s who of post-civ thinking.

They describe themselves as artists and as “curators”, rather than activists, and (unlike me) are unapologetic about that. In light of my recent declaration that I am at heart more artist and dreamer than activist and organizer, I’m going to be focusing more of my time on the kinds of things Dark Mountain is doing, so perhaps you’ll see me in the second edition of their journal.

Some of the recent responses to Dark Mountain’s message and activities from some of my favourite bloggers suggest Paul and Dougald might have lost a bit of focus (perhaps I could help? no, forget that):

  • Ran Prieur is ambivalent about whether just art is enough: “Guard against passive hope”
  • John Michael Greer warns to avoid magical thinking: “There is no ‘brighter future’ ahead” (thanks to Rick Wolff for the link)
  • Vera Bradova lamented that the recent Dark Mountain gathering was male-dominated and too much presenter-audience focused (or as another attendee put it “white men with microphones”)

Should You Move Now Before the Crash?: My fellow “post-civilization” blogger Sharon Astyk has written a fascinating and well-considered piece on whether, in light of the coming collapse of our economy, energy and ecology, it makes sense to stay where you are or move now. She says you should move if:

  1. Your mortgage is way more than the value of your house (especially since house values are likely to go lower)
  2. You have young children or are elderly, and the people you’re closest to live far away
  3. You have children you want to spend time with, or parents who need your care, living far away
  4. You live in an extreme climate and are not adaptable to living without inexpensive heat, air conditioning, water, and imported food
  5. You live in a community with people with mostly lousy (by your standards) values
  6. You don’t think your children have a future where you live
  7. You are planning on moving anyway (sooner is probably better than later)
  8. You aren’t going to be happy or viable where you are if everything based on oil (transport, bought food, plastics, clothing, heat) gets much more expensive, or if your ‘commuter job’ disappears and you have to take (cheaper) employment locally
  9. You live in an exurban area with no viable public transit, no locally produced food, and few close neighbours
  10. You are not truly ‘native’ to where you live — never really fit in, called it home — and someplace else has always beckoned

If we all acted on this list, who would leave your community and who would come to take their place?

Collapse, Transition, Great Turning: Why Words Matter: Joanna Macy “Work That Reconnects” practitioner Carolyn Baker says we shouldn’t be afraid to use the word “collapse” in conversations, even when it may provoke awkward, angry or defensive responses.

More on Walking Away From Your Mortgage: Even the NYT is writing about people who have found new life by just stopping their mortgage payments — for people whose homes are worth less than their mortgage, it can take years for mortgage companies to navigate the huge foreclosure backups in paperwork and legal authorization, and many mortgage companies are now writing off the amount of mortgages in excess of current property value, just to keep from having to foreclose. About time.

UN Urges World to Go Vegan: For all the reasons I cited in my recent post, the UN says a move to global veganism is essential to forestall climate change. Thanks to Raffi Aftandelian and three others (including Sharon Astyk, who thinks the UN is too dogmatic about this) for the link.


Living Lightly: Pay attention and notice when you become upset, and then recognize your judgements and expectations, and let them go, says Leo Babauta. I’ve started trying to do this, and it doesn’t always work, but I am becoming much more aware of when I am upset (anxious, depressed, angry, frustrated, impatient — all the situational reactive emotions), and that in itself is helpful. Thanks to Chris Lott for the link.

Joe Bageant Zen: An apparently angry and depressed Joe Bageant rages at the machine, and then proffers some spiritual advice:

[By] right action in the moment [I mean to] locate one’s heart in that particular day. Then proceed toward the least harm one can discern to do, with full knowledge that we always do harm, whether we intend to or not (the world is full of subtle unintended violence). Eliminate whatever suffering in sentient beings one encounters… Compassion is sublime. Besides, this is what the heart is designed for — to serve as a compass for the spirit.


Sculpting Your Own House: Joseph Diliberti built and decorated his own clay house for free, and says anyone can do it (photo above by Allen J. Schaben from LA Times.) Thanks to Tree for the link.

Ten Reasons You Should Start Running Barefoot: Take a look at the explanation from a Harvard prof about why landing on the front of your foot is healthier and more natural than landing on your heel.


Corporations Sue Online Commenters for Telling the Truth: In an ominous development, some of the millions of overpaid worse-than-useless lawyers in the US have started helping corporations launch frivolous, intimidating lawsuits against anyone who criticizes their client company’s products or services online. So much for free speech.


Das Rad (The Wheel): Two rock piles witness human civilization. Subtitled. Thanks to Chris Corrigan (and three others) for the link.

Beatbox Revival: A hit Swedish song brings back the 1970s beatbox. Then, of course, YouTube makers had to show that you can make all those beatbox sounds with your own body. And finally, thanks to a Swedish phone company you can operate your own beatbox online. Great, silly fun.

Little Dee, Second Time: *Sigh* Chris Baldwin’s heart-warming coming strip Little Dee has ended. But you can read it all from the start. Read it to your grandchildren.

First Peoples’ Language and Community Map: For the area now called British Columbia. A wealth of information about Northwest indigenous peoples, their language and culture, prior to the theft of their land by Europeans.


From Michael Meade (excerpt from The World Behind the World); I stumbled on this in an art gallery in Ashland Oregon:

So-called reality is the child of an ongoing love affair between time and eternity. Time begins in “all eternity” and returns there when it needs to be replenished. It only takes a little imagination to break the linear, literal spells of time and arrive back at the Once Upon a Time that is the origin of the soul to begin with.

Not just citizens of the world, not merely statistics without inherent meaning, humans are living metaphors, bodies and spirits conjoined with the glue of the soul and shaped by invisible threads of imagination and story. We cannot rescind this ancient and immediate heritage of imagination, for it is buried in the bones and laced into the body cell by cell. We are imaginative beings doused with eternity before our eyes ever opened upon this earth. From the beginning we see more than we can express and our last words fail to conclude the stories that live through us.

For we are lived through by energies, ideas and emotions that flow from the unseen world behind this world. We are overloaded by our own dreams, saddled with unusual fates and driven by unseen destinies. Were it not for the gravity that rests in our bones and vital organs, we would take flight. Were it not for the tangled relationships of past, present and future, we would escape every atmosphere and become the Unseen.

Despite the collapse of the immediacy of mystery into the confines of history, this down-to-earth world is also a mythic place, an ongoing production fashioned and staged by eternity. Despite the pressing problems and mounting concerns, the issue isn’t so much saving the planet as saving humanity from itself again. When times become dark and difficult the issue for those on earth comes down to living authentically, to authenticating the purpose and meaning already present in each soul.

No solitary idea, no matter how great, no single notion or shared belief can shift the weight of the world towards a meaningful future; but the accumulated vitality of many lives lived more fully might become a meaningful makeweight in the balance between time and eternity. Strange as it may seem, individual consciousness forms the makeweight, and living out the hidden meanings within life helps to balance the weight of the world. Each living being wrapped around an invisible, eternal thread, each a story breaking out of the wall of time to sing its own unfinished song.

June 11, 2010

The Freedom to Do Nothing

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 23:28

woodland home

sustainable, energy-efficient 500sf home built using local, healthy, natural materials into the side of  a woodland hill in Wales

.     .     .     .     .

When you begin to get free, you will get depressed. It works like this: When you were three years old, if your parents weren’t too bad, you knew how to play spontaneously. Then you had to go to school, where everything you did was required. The worst thing is that even the fun activities, like singing songs and playing games, were commanded under threat of punishment. So even play got tied up in your mind with a control structure, and severed from the life inside you. If you were “rebellious”, you preserved the life inside you by connecting it to forbidden activities, which are usually forbidden for good reasons, and when your rebellion ended in suffering and failure, you figured the life inside you was not to be trusted. If you were “obedient”, you simply crushed the life inside you almost to death.

Freedom means you’re not punished for saying no. The most fundamental freedom is the freedom to do nothing. But when you get this freedom, after many years of activities that were forced, nothing is all you want to do. You might start projects that seem like the kind of thing you’re supposed to love doing, music or writing or art, and not finish because nobody is forcing you to finish and it’s not really what you want to do. It could take months, if you’re lucky, or more likely years, before you can build up the life inside you to an intensity where it can drive projects that you actually enjoy and finish, and then it will take more time before you build up enough skill that other people recognize your actions as valuable.

- quote from post-civ pioneer Ran Prieur, sent to me by fellow North Cascadian David Parkinson (italics mine)

When I read this, I shuddered. This is exactly what I have been going through since my retirement from paid work a few months ago. As I mentioned in my last post, all my wonderful, ambitious intentions for model-building, activism, and even personal reconnection sit unrealized, either because I’m still too exhausted to commit myself to them, or because they’re not really what I want to do. And I suspect it’s the latter.

When I wrote the chapter in my book on how to discover what you really want to do (for a living), I adapted or invented a whole set of exercises that readers could use to hone in on the work they were “meant to do”, work the reader had personal passion about. Recently I’ve been putting myself through some of these exercises:

  • The “three circles” exercise, to iteratively explore my gifts, passions and purpose and where they intersect
  • Recalling the moments in my work and personal life that filled me with the greatest sense of accomplishment and joy
  • Writing my bio, as I would like it to read by the time my life is over (i.e. personal obituary exercise)
  • Summarizing who I really am (not what I do, or my titles or roles) in 50 words or less
  • Making a list of the things I really care about
  • Writing a future state day-in-the-life story about me, doing what I’ve always dreamed of spending every day doing

They’re a valuable but frustrating set of exercises, and they’re hard work, even when (perhaps especially when) all the restrictions (time, money, family obligations, work and other commitments) that I used to be able to use as excuses for the gap between what I really want to do, and what I am actually doing, have disappeared. My June 7 post re-explored my “three circles”, and it really was an exercise in going in circles. The problem with the “list of things I really care about” is that, when I look more closely at the list, I discover it’s really a list of things I think I should care about, or used to care about, or think someone needs to act upon (but not me, since I don’t have the right competencies or capacities). Or they’re so vast that they’re unactionable, or at least I have no idea where to start.

In preparing my 50-word “who I am” summary, I started with who I was as a young child and went through all the damage that was done to me, all the gunk I took on, all the things I pretended to be because it was expected, or was easy, but was not me, before I came up with this summary:

vegan, earth-loving, earth-grieving, idealistic, poly, unsociable, unschooled, self-dissatisfied, nudist, intuitive, corpocracy-hating, anarchist, doomer (about industrial civilization), optimistic (about post-civ society), radical, wounded, hedonistic, impatient, easily-discouraged, overly-analytical, generalist writer, dreamer and imaginer of possibilities

I picked these qualities to describe me because they’ve been emergent and persistent — as I get older they get more pronounced, more entrenched as part of who I am, such that it’s hard for me to imagine myself stopping being any of these things.

So, trying the 24 elements of this description on for size, seeing them as a part of my skin that I expect to wear more-or-less permanently, I then wrote a short day-in-the-life story of me being these 24 things, doing things I think I enjoy, practically, in the future. The difficulty in really believing this story is that it’s predicated on me finding the people I’m meant to live with, my intended (if not intentional) community. I’ve been looking so long that as I re-read this story I could hear myself saying “well, that’s never going to happen.”

But here’s the story anyway. Not world-saving or world-changing or even altruistic. Just me as I think I am becoming, or perhaps always was, and forgot, doing what I love:

The community is made up of a series of small but airy huts built by us collectively, into the mountainside, gently enfolded by rainforest and a short walk to the ocean. We each have our own hut, made (surprisingly easily and quickly, from my perspective as someone who had never built anything before) from local materials using a compressed earth block machine. The common areas are in separate huts, and all the huts are connected by a series of halls and tunnels. There is art everywhere, most of it our own.

I wake up late (some things never change), and spend the end of the morning walking, running, or meditating, usually alone, just being present with the abundance of wild life around us. Our lunch and dinner ritual is to forage in the Edible Forest Garden that surrounds our community, that now (after 20 years of work) sustains itself without the need for human labour, chemicals or water. We then sit and eat in community, together, exchanging ideas and asking the rest of the group questions about whatever creative projects we’re working on, or about philosophy or whatever else we care about, or how we might better model the world as it could be for all humans, or convey this possibility better to those still caught in the maw of industrial civilization. Eating and bathing have become, for us, communal activities, and if there’s a lull in the conversation someone will tell a story, or play music.

The early afternoon, usually, is our time for learning, and most of the time now we learn from each other, by watching, by doing, by practicing, rather than by reading or Internet browsing the way we usually used to learn. I’m learning to recognize the birds in the rainforest, by sight and sound, from one of our community members, and learning to draw pencil sketches from another. In return, I’m teaching the others a bit about song composition, and mentoring the community’s unschooled children. These learning hours also accommodate discussion of community matters needing consensus, conflict resolution, or personal commitments to be made, though our community has self-selected and taught itself so well that this is rarely needed anymore.

The later afternoon is mostly for more personal work projects and practices. Sometimes I write — mostly plays, film scripts, songs, poems and short stories these days. Sometimes I draw, or practice some of the other skills I’m learning. Often I just relax and daydream. My sexual fantasies are very creative, but they’re private. I’ve reached the age at which the objects of my desire are not interested in me in that way, so since my desire hasn’t abated I look after myself, even though the members of my community kid me about this (“that’s not poly.”)

Evening is time for community play — invented and rediscovered games, musical and theatrical improv, and rehearsed group singing, dancing, theatre and story-telling. Later in the evening, when only a few of us stragglers remain, we may discuss what’s going on in the rest of the world. Many of us have liaison responsibilities we’ve volunteered for — mine are with the international Transition Movement, the Unschooling collaborative, and the Dark Mountain artists’ cooperative — and the late evening discussion gives us a chance to brief each other on these extra-community activities and capture information and ideas to report back to our counterparts in other communities.

My day usually ends in the communal hot tub — hot water seems to stimulate my creativity — chatting with the other late-nighters and jotting down notes for the next day. And then more dreaming.

It occurs to me that this day-in-a-life scenario is probably not terribly different (except for a few convenient new technologies) from the life of prehistoric human rainforest dwellers. Community-based. Collective eating and bathing and play. Time for art and reflection and for private projects. Lots of learning-by-doing. Comfortable subsistence with minimal work.

Is this what I will, eventually, want to do, once I get tired of doing nothing? Maybe.

I know most of my readers do not have this freedom, and if it is annoying to have me moping about the fact that I do, I’m sorry. If you do have this freedom, or can imagine yourself having it, what would you see your story being, once you got tired of doing nothing?

June 9, 2010

The Roles of the Facilitator (Guest Post by Tree Bressen)

Filed under: Working Smarter — Dave Pollard @ 21:53

[Sorry, folks: I jumped the gun on this post; I will repost it here once Tree has had time to properly edit and approve it, so stay tuned]

June 8, 2010

No Room for Compassion

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 23:32

bird bath

(photo from Kevin Cameron at Bastish)

I‘ve just finished reading a book that Tree gave me, called Birdology. It describes author Sy Montgomery’s experience with hens, pigeons, crows, hawks, parrots, hummingbirds and cassowaries. It’s an easy, fun read, but if you really want to know about the social life and intelligence of birds, you’d probably prefer Bernd Heinrich’s books (especially Mind of the Raven), and if you want to know more about animal emotions I’d steer you instead to Jeff Masson’s books (especially When Elephants Weep). Since I already knew that birds are very intelligent (some species more than others), and that they’re capable of complex emotions, I didn’t learn a lot from Birdology. But one idea, introduced in the first chapter (on hens) kept me reading.

That idea is that, while birds are remarkable intelligent and social, their emotional spectrum, while probably as deep as ours, is significantly different from ours. They exhibit impatience, anger, playfulness, joy, jealousy, contentedness, fear, frustration and affection, in ways any human would recognize. Some species (raptors) have an emotion that is, mercifully, relative rare in humans: It’s called yarak, and the closest human equivalent is probably blood-lust. Because they face so many risks, birds tend to be more intuitive and less reflective than humans, which makes sense from an evolutionary perspective: there just isn’t time to make most decisions thoughtfully. The instinctive ‘rage’-like quality of the yarak emotion has probably served hunting birds well. I wonder if this same instinctive emotion is what impels parents of many species (ours included) to attack predators with super-normal strength when their offspring are threatened. I think Darwin would agree.

It was another emotional difference described in the book, however, that really piqued my interest. The author charges that, while almost all species of birds can be very affectionate, many seem to be lacking in compassion. While they give their all for their offspring, and show strong bonding to both mates and community, they don’t seem to be deeply emotionally affected when one of their kind is suffering or killed. In fact, they will often turn on, and drive out, an injured member of the flock (the author speculates this is because the weak member is likely to attract predator attention and threaten the whole flock). And when they lose an offspring, their behaviour is initially intuitive, almost autonomic, but then seems largely indifferent. Given that the smarter species of birds have excellent memories, this is clearly not because the birds have forgotten their lost or killed children. What, then, accounts for this seemingly cold-blooded and ‘heartless’ behaviour?

The author does not speculate on this, but I will: My theory is that when you are a member of a ‘prey’ species, where your odds of dying young and the odds of your babies being eaten are high, compassion is too expensive an emotion to sustain. Grief is a debilitating emotion, and animals that exhibit it (elephants, whales, and humans, among others) become vulnerable to depression and incapacitation. It makes sense, then, that while compassion provides an evolutionary advantage to social animals by adding empathy and cohesion to the group, it is an evolutionary disadvantage to creatures that experience loss of loved ones regularly and at a high rate, since grief and compassion are, it appears, inseparable. So over millennia, compassion would be selected in creatures at low risk of frequent loss of loved ones, and selected out in creatures at high risk of such loss. The grief is just too much to bear, in every sense.

If this is true, it has some awesome implications. It may account for the different emotional ‘temperatures’ of dogs (canids) and cats (felines) in affluent countries, even though both types of animals are very affectionate and otherwise much like us in their emotional behaviour (cats have a much higher mortality rate). That might even account for some people being ‘dog’ people and others ‘cat’ people.

More importantly, it might explain why, when population pressures increase relative to available space and food, and result in high rates of mortality or threats to life and security, over time the species may become emotionally inured to suffering — less compassionate.

Some obvious questions stem from this:

  1. Could this account for much of the ‘inuring’ behaviour in the modern world — from street gangs to school bullies to prison populations to hazing rituals to military behaviour to the psychopathy of workers in factory farms and slaughterhouses? Are we intuitively learning to become less compassionate because, especially in these particularly vulnerable, violent environments, compassion and grief are just unbearable?
  2. We see particularly high rates of pathological insensitivity and brutality in countries (like China) that have long histories of suffering, deprivation, violence and starvation, in countries (like Congo) whose people face horrific overpopulation and ecological collapse, and in countries (like the US) whose survival depends on the ruthless oppression of other countries and whose Gini index (the gap between rich and poor) is obscenely large and obvious. Are the huge rates of crime, imprisonment, genocide, violence and mental illness in those countries a reflection of the growing suppression of our compassionate natures as our unsustainable civilization reaches its breaking point?

We are, after all, animals. Why should we remain compassionate creatures if, at some point, the disadvantage of endless and unbearable grief exceeds the advantage of the social cohesion that compassion engenders?

And if we do become, like the birds and the insects (the creatures predicted to dominate on Earth after the sixth great extinction our behaviour has precipitated occurs), still smart, and still fierce, but also devoid of compassion, what does that mean for the Long Emergency we face in the decades to come? Do the ‘Mad Max’ dystopians have it right after all?

June 7, 2010

Going in Circles

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 03:07

Thank you, dear readers. I owe you so much, and I don’t say it enough. You’ve told me for years what I should do to make this blog better, and it’s only beginning to sink in. For years I wrote in the third person, as an ‘expert'; since you seemed to like my “how to … top 10″ lists I thought that was what you wanted (My most read post ever remains “10 Things to Do When You’re Blue“). Or I wrote in the first person plural, the “royal we”. My posts were full of unequivocal “modal auxiliary verbs” (should, must, needs to) because everywhere, everyone I encountered seemed to be looking for answers, for (re-)assurance, for direction, for certainty. My self-assured posts attracted lots of readers, including people I’ve come to meet and love, and people who gave me my last two jobs, and people who published my book, and people who turned my ideas, deservedly, upside down.

PC Vey cartoon

Cartoon from the New Yorker by PC Vey.

And when I started to become less certain, more conditional, proffering more questions than answers, writing more in the first person singular, my readership dropped off, and I worried that readers wouldn’t have the patience or the energy to put up with more meandering, introspective writing. When all along you were telling me that’s what you really wanted — authenticity, even when that entailed honest doubt, searching, second-guessing, admission of failure.

And that’s when I realized what this blog is really about, and why it doesn’t fit into any “blog categories”. Sure, as the subtitle says, it’s about understanding how the world really works and exploring models of a better way to live. But deeper than that, it’s a chronicle, now over seven years long, of my growing personal doubts about everything I had been told all my life, and, once I’d started to learn the real truth about this world, of my attempts to cope with that terrible truth. It’s my long-winded story about my transformation from someone who thought the world could be saved, to someone realizing it couldn’t be and didn’t have to be. And then asking myself, out loud: Now what?

So that’s where I am now, asking myself: What is my gift to the world? Now that I have, at last, the time and financial resources (and a little bit of understanding of what’s happening and what’s possible) to do anything I want to do, what should I do?

Perhaps that’s all any of us can do, if we really want to convey anything meaningful and durable and useful to others: tell our own story, as honestly as we can, and let others find resonance, perspective, understanding, ideas to explore, personal insight, hints, appreciation of what not to do, and why. Maybe even a few “ahas!” Everything we do in the real world falls apart, sooner or later. But those moments of magic connection we make sharing our stories with others endure, get adapted into their worldview, their imaginations, their work, their story, and then their story gets passed on to others and those magic connections multiply, again and again, in ways we’ll never know. In love, conversation, and community, stories are all we are.

So I have come full circle, and in trying to answer the Now what? question, I decided to go back to the three circles I introduced in my book Finding the Sweet Spot, at the intersection of which lies, as I optimistically told my readers, the answer to What We’re Meant to Do. Time to take some of my own medicine. So here I go again, thinking out loud, this time in the first person singular: Who needs my gift now?


The three circles above are my evolving list of what I think, at least today, the world really needs (things it needs that I care about, anyway), and a list of the things I love doing, and the things I am (I think, or have been told I am) uniquely good at. I’ve left areas 5 and 7 empty, because there are a depressing number of things in area 5, and because I think the things I made a living doing in this area (and which many “professional” people continue to make a profitable living doing) are oversold (i.e. the perceived need for them is manufactured and hyped) and even exploitative. Besides, since I have no passion for these activities there’s no point dwelling on them.

The first two items in area 6 (what’s needed in the world) — the capacity for empathy and the skill of facilitation — are, I believe, probably the most important things to learn, to practice, and to teach, in the 21st century. If we don’t care about each other, and if we aren’t able to work effectively in partnership and collaboration, there is no hope for us. I am optimistic that at least some subcultures appreciate this and are working on it. But I don’t think I will ever acquire this capacity and this skill so long as I remain misanthropic and self-preoccupied. I just don’t care enough about most people, or about how they get along, or don’t get along, and so for me to focus my energies on this would be an exercise in S&M.

The third through fifth items in area 6 are from the “what you can do” model I adapted from Joanna Macy’s work. They are what I intended to do (I said last year) when I retired. The problem is, while I’m interested in learning new personal capacities, and studying how we might help to dismantle civilization, and learning about and imagining new models of a better way to live, I’m really not interested in doing the work of implementing, actually doing what the world needs done. I have no heart for detail, no courage for danger, and no patience for perseverance against relentless opposition and obstacles. I really love people who are, but I finally know myself enough to know that’s not me, and if I tried to tough out the slogging this work entails my lack of real passion will defeat me. If I’m going to stick with it, I have to do what I love.

So that takes me to the 13 activities in areas 1, 2 and 4. These are all things I love doing, and a couple of them in area 4 (good stories and syntheses) are needed in the world, while three of them in area 2 (imagining, reflecting and writing) are things that I’m uniquely good at (I think, or so I’m told). I’ve been asking myself two questions, to try to get some of the things in area 4 and 2 into the area 3 “sweet spot”:

  1. What would it take for me to become really good at telling and eliciting and capturing excellent stories, or at synthesizing (combining, integrating and distilling) useful, truthful information?
  2. How might my gifts for imagining possibilities, reflecting on meaning, and writing, be applied in a compelling and personally engaging way to address what the world really needs?

I confess I was a bit shy about answering question 1, because although I’ve dabbled in studying lots of things over the past decade, I don’t think my practice has produced any new competencies — I give up too easily. So I focused more on the second question. But as I tried to connect the area 2 stuff and the area 6 stuff, I kept asking myself why, when I was so intellectually fascinated by the idea of a gift/generosity economy, by the transition movement and its amazing global traction, by the utter logic of unschooling, by the challenge of relearning the skills of consensus and growing our own food and living sustainably, by the excitement of actually stopping the abominable Alberta Tar Sands or the loathsome Industrial Agriculture system — was I so emotionally turned off at the idea of rolling up my sleeves and actually making some of these ideas work, and happen, in the real world?

litter cartoon

Cartoon from the New Yorker by the late Charles Elmer Martin

And it came to me that most of what the world needs right now, most of what we are all increasingly working at, however we make our life or our living, is cleaning up the mess we have already made and are continuing to make at an horrific rate. The mess of global warming. The BP oil spill. The deforestation of the rainforests. Failed states created by thugs we have armed in places we have invaded, ravaged, occupied and abandoned. Chronic diseases caused by messed up water, food, soil, and nutritionally starved bodies. Abuse of spouses, children and animals. Poverty. Crime (including that by unrepentant corporations and politicians). Energy-sucking, endemic despair. War. The desperation that leads to nihilistic violence. Genocide. Emotional trauma and its massive toll on our mental health. Cultural homogenization and the collapse of cultural and biological diversity. Giant messes, every one. Huge amounts of work to be done, and no assurance we will make a dent in cleaning up these “intractable” messes, or even that we can stop them getting worse. And there is nowhere (at least in the real world) to go to escape from it. There are no untouched frontiers left on our crowded, globally messy planet.

I can find no joy in cleaning up a mess that seems daily to get worse. No wonder I don’t want to pursue my ambitious 2009 intentions to be of service in providing the world what it needs. Who wants to clean up a massive, ever-growing mess? It’s no surprise that so many of us want, instead, to be designers, to work in the clean world of cyberspace, to be artists and musicians, where we can start with a “clean” slate, with no mess to clean up before we can begin with the fun work of creating, of re-creating, starting anew. (Oops, slipped back into the “royal we” again.)

My aversion to mess-cleaning is aggravated by the fact that I’m tired. I’ve put in a lot of years of well-intentioned, hard work, even though I will now acknowledge that most of it was wasted effort, and much of it supported the system that creates the monstrous messes. It’s diabolical how the system that makes you/us/ me part of the mess problem makes you/us/ me too exhausted to help clean it up. I don’t want to work that hard anymore. Maybe I’m selfish, but let someone else save the world for awhile.

And I see all the human psychological and physical damage this hopeless, endless, giant gaping maw of mess has created: The walking wounded, desperate and unloved and self-blaming and at a loss where to turn. The psychopaths, who perpetuate ever-widening cycles of violence. The broken people, who find escape in TV or alcohol or drugs or porn or anything mindless and emotion-dulling. Those in denial that there’s anything wrong — the technophiles and channel-switchers and turn-back-the-clock reactionaries.  And those too brainwashed or brain-dead or uninformed or living in some parallel universe I can’t even comprehend, to even realize what’s going on. And it just makes me angry at the whole human race. Dave, the misanthrope. I wasn’t always that way. And anyway, my loathing for most of the human race is just a self-deception, a cover, a diversion for my loathing of myself for my selfishness, my exhaustion, all the years I wasted… And then the grief sets in and I just want to escape too. Hide away on the hill in the forest where the mess cannot, if I squint and distract myself, be seen. Living in my sleep.

Tired. Feel like hibernating until it’s all over, and we can start again. Tomorrow I’ll look at the three circles with fresh eyes and see if I can come up with a better answer for What is my gift to the world? My guess is that I should stop thinking and get out and meet some people who aren’t tired and cynical, but who also aren’t naive, and see if I can learn from them. The hard part is finding people who care. Some romantic fool said that.

Thank you. We’ll be OK, really. That’s not a promise, it’s an intention. Sorta.

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