photo: Primal Strand, from the book Emeralds at the Edge by Andy Wright
What does it mean to “walk away from civilization culture”? Essentially, it means no longer accepting its messages or its worldview, and, as much as possible, no longer participating in it as a “consumer”, “reader”, “viewer”, “listener”, “citizen” or “employee”. Because this culture is now global and ubiquitous, there is no escape from it, so walking away means living on the Edge of it.
I have had the good fortune to survive and benefit from civilization culture, so walking away from it now, for me, is easy. For most, it takes courage, knowledge, and a bit of sacrifice. And I don’t blame or disparage those who still live within its clutches — for most there is no real choice.
When I walked away from civilization culture, I disconnected myself from everyone who is still caught up in that culture, still believes in it, depends on it and thinks it’s real. It’s not something you can do half way: When I rejected the culture, I rejected it entirely. So:
- I no longer believe anything I read in the mainstream media — I realize it’s all distraction or propaganda, even though some of it is earnest and well-intended. When people ask me my opinion on something they’ve read or heard in the media, I have to explain that it’s nonsense, meaningless, a ridiculous oversimplification, intended to produce comfort and complacency, or simply to entertain. It’s hard to say this without hurting people’s feelings or sounding arrogant, but it’s impossible to weasel out of telling people that they’re idiots to be paying any attention to this crap, that’s it’s completely disconnected from reality, from what’s really going on in the world. Then people want to know (if they’re still talking to me after this) how it got that way, and why I’m so sure it’s wrong. What can I tell them? — It’s too hard to explain this and re-educate someone in less than a few hours.
- I no longer relate to what the entertainment industry, including popular writers and artists, are producing. The New Yorker magazine, for example, recently published its “20 Under 40” feature — short stories by 20 leading writers under the age of 40. The stories are, almost without exception, about people living and struggling in competitive civilization culture. How can intelligent young people still be preoccupied with the tedium of wage-slave work and the bar scene and the banality of consumerist life, when our civilization culture is collapsing and we have no plan for coping with what is happening all around us? What planet, I ask myself as I read this intense, well-crafted stuff, are these people living on? Why aren’t they writing about something important?
- In film, fiction and music, the recurring theme is finding and losing one’s only true love, about love as a scarce resource and about love’s competitiveness and exclusivity. As someone who is poly, all the angst-filled stories about infidelity and not being able to find or keep “the one” have about as much resonance for me as stories of space aliens in another dimension. And I have given up watching movies because they are either (a) so steeped in the transparently false propaganda of civilization culture that they’re as nauseating to me as Nazi or McCarthyist brainwashing films, or (b) totally designed to provoke mindless adrenaline, dopamine. testosterone or other chemical rushes — the video escapist equivalent of mainlining heroin. It’s all pornography to me, gratuitous and unbearable to watch.
- I no longer relate to what most people do with their “leisure” time. I just can’t fathom the idea of working 80-hour weeks to save up money to go to some resort or “holiday destination” where you either do nothing, or spend all your time in distracting sports, games, organized tourist trips, spirituality and self-improvement courses or other consumption activities. Nor can I fathom the idea of hitting a white ball around a chemical-soaked, over-watered, sterilized “fairway”, or watching anything on a TV (particularly reality shows where everything is competition and the enjoyment seems to revolve around watching people publicly humiliate themselves).
- Most blog articles seem to be about consumerist technology, about really bad music, about inane “popular culture”, about mainstream politics, or about what people do for a living. How can people care about new social software tools or about business or education trends or about how Obama is fucking up this week or about what is happening at the latest X-by-YZ conference, when in a few years none of this will matter to anyone, and when the crises our world is facing right now are being ignored?
- There is pretty compelling evidence that the political and economic systems that are accelerating our collapse are not reformable, and that both personal “green” actions and political activism, while essential responsibilities of each of us, will have only a tiny collective impact in mitigating and/or delaying this collapse. So I have no desire to debate these issues, while even the most intelligent people I know who are still caught within civilization culture seem interested in talking about nothing else but these issues.
- Knowing what I do now about the damage the education system inflicts and the propaganda it conveys, and the option of unschooling, I would never subject anyone I cared about to the unnecessary trauma of this system. Yet most of the people I know still believe in this system, think it’s the key to change, and seem even to be addicted to it. When will they learn the truth about learning?
I have taken to heart Dark Mountain’s challenge that it is irresponsible, unforgivable, to do any work that is not devoted to the representation of civilization culture for what it really is, or in opposition to the worst manifestations of that culture, or the imagination, preparation and resiliency-building needed to transition to the next, post-collapse culture. But almost no one seems ready for this work, or willing or able to hear its terrible messages, its awful truths.
I’ve been ranting that I’m tired of conversation, and I thought this was because of the inherent limits of our modern languages. But I’m beginning to think it’s not so much the limits of language as that, having rejected every notion of civilization culture, I no longer have anything to talk about with most people.
When I’m out in public I often listen to conversations, and what I hear is nothing but vapid time-wasting, echo-chamber reassurances, regurgitated propaganda, sob stories, unactionable rhetoric, appalling misinformation, self-aggrandizement, gossip, manipulation and denigration of others. I hear no new ideas or insights, no cogent discussion of how we can prepare for, and increase our resilience in the face of, the impending sixth great extinction and the economic, energy and ecological collapses that will push that extinction into overdrive and bring down the most expansive and least sustainable civilization in our species’ short history. And what else is worth talking about?
Yet, all around me, people who have not had the luxury of time and resources, as I have, to learn how the world really works, and what is really going on, and to imagine what we might do about it, and how we might live better, carry on as if nothing much is wrong and as if everything in our unsustainable and doomed culture somehow makes sense, and will somehow continue, and get better.
For much of my life I felt as if I were the one living in another, twilight world, shut off from everybody else, unable to make sense of, connect with and be part of the seemingly exciting world they lived in. But now I feel it is all these people, lost in illusion, who are in the twilight world, the one that makes no sense and has no substance. Part of me wants to rescue them, but part of me knows that they are not ready or able to listen, that their worldview is so utterly different from mine that it is as if we spoke unfathomably different languages.
There is a kind of comfort in learning so much, in being “too far ahead”, in knowing that I am more aware of the terrible truths of this world and of our time, than most people can or will ever be.
But it is a cold and lonely comfort, one suffused with grief and a sense of anomie, rootlessness, purposelessness, directionlessness. As I am reconnecting with all-life-on-Earth I am disconnecting from the culture I have known all my life, and all the people attached to it. It is a bleak and anti-social journey I am on, and knowing that it’s right, and inevitable, and will help me become nobody-but-myself again, is, at this frightening moment, small solace.