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.
Tell it like it is Dave. In the country of the blind, the one eyed man gets crucified.
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Yup, this is the point I am at as well. I have noticed its harder to talk to people about things that I think matter. Even with those that claim to be forward thinking eco activists. Its a buzz kill for pretty much everyone these days to have to hear about reality. And to have to listen to those whose plans for the future include almost nothing but purchases is BORING in the least and at most, EXCRUCIATING. As for work, I am young and have to consider what would be useful and meaningful work in all possible outcomes. Especially considering at 26 I expect to die in world completely different from the one I was born to.
I believe what we are called to do is to be the seeds of a new culture. What culture will look like once the changes happen, the dust settles. What room will it open for emergent traits in Earthians civilizations? What is already emerging?
That is the path of the lone heroes. Once you have swallowed the pill, there is no going back. What is forward?
It’s all so inane – but most hang on for dear life – Dave I feel as if we are in a Chekov play as 1917 approaches
Dave, I like letting go. It creates room for something new to grow.
Don’t quite believe an prophecies as such, but this Hopi text seems to be right on target. I celebrate the few of you who are in the middle of the river with me. My main challenge is to celebrate that rather than mourn the loneliness.
A HOPI ELDER SPEAKS
“You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is THE HOUR.
And there are things to be considered…
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate.
At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. Least of all, ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
Dave, you are not alone. The feeling of waking up, or starting to, I hope is contagious. I’m a gadfly in the circles I choose to inhabit.
As I was reading this blog I finally paused and bought “Sacred Demise” by Carolyn Baker, then finished the blog.
David Goodwillie’s recent novel “American Subversive” may be an encouragement to you. I periodically go back and reread Edward Abbey’s “The Monkeywrench Gang.” Finally, I recommend Derrick Jensen’s writing, especially “Endgame” (in two volumes) and “What We Leave Behind.” (Extended excerpts of “Endgame” can be found and read online: http://www.endgamethebook.org/index.html)
Peace to you (in the “shalom” sense), and strength in our shared struggle to RESIST.
Greetings from a fellow poly in Iowa. :-)
This is my first time to your site, and it’s odd to hear someone who sounds so much like what I hear in my head. :-D
I’ll be back, check out my blog if you want, I try to focus on what I can make and grow and do by hand, and what I can do to prepare my family for the future we’ve made.
I found you through a reply post Sharon did over at Casaubon’s Book btw, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on her reply.
Your bullet points describe how you are estranged from the modern world, the dominant culture, and global civilization, but in reverse, they also demonstrate how badly society is estranged from nature and reality, rendering it fundamentally insane. Being (relatively) sane in a world gone mad is miserable, and knowing of like-minded folks is pretty cold comfort (at least for me). Your statement that interests me most, however, is your lack of blame and recrimination for those trapped by their circumstances. Others I read on this general subject are not so charitable.
I often feel many of the same things you have described.
And I often reflect on this feeling that Rob articulates, too .. “I feel as if we are in a Chekov play as 1917 approaches”
This is the small connections I look for as I wander in the ghost world. Just to find someone who knows the same loneliness is like finding an oasis in the desert.
David, there is little in this I would disagree with. I often find myself siting at the mall watching bodies go by and wondering how many will survive the comming collapse. Zero is the number that comes up.
Since becoming peak oil aware, some 10 years ago now, I left a good job to retire early, sold our large house on a small lot in the big city for a small house on a large lot in a small town surrounded by farmland. I’ve built a year round greenhouse, and started learning to grow as much of our own food as possible (which is still a very small percent). My son also bough a 4 acre mini farm not far from us, which we plan to grow as much as possible there too.
Included in our preparations is learning to shoot, aquire guns and stock pile ammo.
However, I will take issue with your claim that you have left civilization behind. No, all you have done is diconnect yourself from the trivial nonsense of those who think this way of life will go on forever. I’m not disconnected from cilization either.
To be truly disconnected from modern civilization you would have to return to a hunter/gathering life with no running water, no health care, no clothes, no protection from the elements, no electrical power, where natural selection rules supreme, life is brutal and short. There is one place on the planet that is like that now — North Korea. If you want to see what is coming for the rest of humanity, and the one’s who make it through the coming collapse, one only has to pay a short visit to that country. Hundreds of thousands starved to death there this last winter.
That’s what “sustainable society” looks like.
The Voice of the Earth, by Theodore Roszak finds that cosmology, psychology & ecology lead to about where you are now.
The book speaks to those who do not repress the “inherited sense of loyalty to the planet that mothered the human mind into existence. If psychosis is the attempt to live a lie, the epidemic psychosis of our time is the lie of believing we have no ethical obligation to our planetary home.”
Roszak writes, “…see the needs of the planet & the person as a continuum;” & …”[t]he Earth’s cry for rescue from punishing weight of the industrial system we have created is our own cry for a scale & quality of life that will free each of us to become the complete person we were born to be…
From Freud’s work pondering the dilemma of collective madness…In an individual neurosis, we take as our starting point the contrast that distinguishes the patient from his environment, which is assumed to be ‘normal’. For a group all of whose members are affected by one & the same disorder, no such background could exist; it would have to be
i work at a store that sells used books, & buys them from the public. our incoming volume has approximately doubled, & i think that many of the people who are selling their possessions for whatever money they will bring, are at least as estranged (whatever they think has put them in that place)–& on the simply human level of survival, have as much to talk about–as any eco-activist.
“Dave, you are not alone”
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. With your permission I’d like to post a link please.
My journey has come through never having had a television and perhaps reading too much. “Biocentrism” by Robert Lanza, “Power of Now” and “A New Earth” by Eckhardt Tolle, and lastly Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” are all worthwhile reads.
Thanks everyone. Welcome to readers of one of my favourite bloggers, Sharon Astyk. And Kelly, you’re free to link to or cite anything on the blog — it’s all covered by the usual Creative Commons licence.
Hi, Dave. I, too, found your site via Casaubon’s Book. Your post here is so close to how I feel much of the time. I live within an hour’s drive of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and it is sickening to hear the angry locals demanding a lifting of the drilling moratorium in the wake of the Macondo field disaster. All they can see is the immediate end to their jobs; they refuse to see the long-term effects of the oil industry on our world. They could care less about the under-reported gushers in the Niger Delta. All that matters is that they have jobs and cheap gasoline. Making it more difficult for me is the fact that many members of my family work(ed) in the oil industry, so I can hardly engage them in meaningful conversation. They are firmly in the camp of Big Oil.
There are few of like mind to you whom I know personally. Even with them, the conversations sometimes seem futile, since after acknowledging collapse and getting up to speed on what we are doing to adapt, there seems little to talk about.
An old essay about what you have described above, called “Isaiah’s Job” by Albert Jay Nock, can be found here: http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig3/nock3b.html. You may find it interesting.
I hope you do not despair too much. From the comments posted here, it is clear that you are not by yourself in becoming nobody-but-yourself; and that, at least to my mind, can be some comfort.
Great column. I have great empathy for your views, since I find myself feeling what you
describe almost daily. Thank you for sharing it. It helps to clarify my aim, and I appreciate
that very much.
It is somewhat comforting to know that there is someone else out there that has the same feelings that I do. There is virtually no one that I know who I could possibly carry on a conversation without regarding my feelings about civilization, the futility of modern life, and the tragedy of the modern humans disconnect with nonhuman life, aka “nature.” The only exception is my girlfriend, who I am trying to educate on these matters so that I am not completely alone. She has been dutifully reading the books I give her, though with great enthusiasm, and has begun to come around to my line of thinking, though she is not completely there yet.
My worldview has changed countless time in the course of the past 8 months. Sometimes I just have to stop and take a few days off from reading anything to keep my head from spinning. I feel like I am living two lives. In one I am like everyone else around me. I pretend like everything is OK, I talk about “normal” things, I laugh and make jokes. Sometimes I am even half-interested in the conversations I have. I used to be frustrated at everyone’s lack of awareness, but I understand it. The predicament we are in did not come about without reason, and one of those is how thoroughly blinded the average person is to what is actually going on.
In my other life, I am a frenzied tornado, sucking in all the information and essays and books I can find, and spitting out ideas and theories and more questions. I am not content to sit around and despair, though sometimes I feel like it. I want to know multiple people’s points of view, analyze it, critique it, and come up with my own. Then I want to figure out what the biggest problem is, and attack it. My strongest emotion at the moment is not despair, but anxiety. I am anxious to begin making a difference in the world, to begin to work on the problem of creating a sustainable, stable, and long-lasting civilization. I cannot wait around for someone else to do it for me.
Perhaps I am just young and naive, but that is the stage I am at right now. The one thing that gets me, though, is just how much of a burden knowledge really is. Sometimes I just wish I wasn’t so curious, and could just go on living my life like nothing happened. But that is not my style, and I would much rather know the truth than willingly put the blindfold over my eyes, because at least this way, I have an advantage. I have an advantage because I can mentally prepare myself for what lies ahead, and that is probably just as important as anything else.
Anyways, sorry for the long story. Just know that you are not alone, and that there is hope for people like us.
Thanks for writing this, Dave. I, too found it through Sharon’s reply, but through a friend who sends out a newsletter.
Stop in at FreedomGuerrilla.com sometime if you wish. Some days are better than others, but the discussion is tragic.
Feeling rootless? (In my case I feel a desire to belong, so that I can avoid the feelings of rootlessness or loneliness.) Perhaps we can embrace it, like a wandering monk, noticing the whole world is our home. Yes, we grieve at the horrors we see, but we can also take joy when we witness beauty, kindness, liveliness, integrity.
Lacking purpose? Why not? What purpose do we need? We can take thoughtful action, as you’re doing with Transition Bowen Island, not to save the world but just because it feels useful in a particular place, with particular people, at a particular moment, whether or not it seems to connect with others’ actions in a grand scheme as part of a great destiny. The only direction we need is an alignment with reality, a sense of what we do in the moment that contributes to life Now.
Dave, while you are disconnecting with the dominant culture of civilization–clearly a necessary break for each of us–won’t you remain interested in exploring the counterculture that is questioning civilization’s premises? Sure, it’s not perfect, it is struggling to make the break, it probably won’t save the world, but it’s something to engage in dialog with–a dialog that helps us understand reality and understand who we are. One description of the counterculture is offered by leavergirl at http://leavingbabylon.wordpress.com/2010/07/01/transition-shift/.
May dialog continue!
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While I can’t disagree with essence of the post (with which I agree); the bashing of our fellow man/woman is in poor taste, most people just want to look after their family and be respected.
They don’t want to change/save the world, and if you go down the road of not connecting with them becasue it all seems banal, then nothing will ever change, becasue for every single person who ponders mankinds predicament there are probably a million who do not – and at times I wonder who is truly smarter.
What would any good salesman tell you? Understand your prospects needs, and to do that you have to understand what is important to them and your part in that. Nothing changes without the acceptance of the majority.
saving/improving the world is important to everyone, but for most, not as important as basic human insticts such as providing for your family, and very few people can do long term goals.
Personally, I was born thinking most people think about unimportant things, while I gave great thought to philosophical ideas about the freedom of mankind ( I think this may well be a genetic defect), there was no point of revelation for me. What I have found is that this is a very sad and lonely life unless you let that way of thinking go and connect with other people on their level and accept what is important to them count as much as any other thought.
Very well expressed thoughts in this post though. Connects with a growing number of people.
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