PREPARING FOR CIVILIZATION’S COLLAPSE
thanks to Marc Hudson for the image above
Most of the people I know have moved past the denial that our world faces massive change due to a combination of (1) the end of the industrial growth economy, (2) the end of cheap energy, and (3) the end of a stable climate. Many of them have moved past the second denial — that we can somehow prevent, work around or mitigate the crises and the terrible and ubiquitous suffering these changes will create for all of us in the next few decades. It now appears that a 6C temperature rise by mid-century, with nearly unimaginably catastrophic results, is inevitable, due to positive feedback loops destabilizing our atmosphere and climate (Thanks David and Guy for your refreshing and courageous honesty in presenting these findings).
Many of the people I know still believe that by doing our own part to live responsibly, work for political and economic reform, and give more of our own time to help make the world a better place for those we love and for others, we can avoid the total collapse of civilization culture. Others, like me, believe a complete collapse is inevitable, brought about by a series of economic, ecological and energy crises, a series of shocks that will finally undo our culture and bring about the end of all the systems we have come to depend on by the latter part of the century. I believe this will usher in a new world of many fewer humans living a largely relocalized, low-tech, subsistence life. That insignificant role will continue, I believe, until our species (lacking the physiology to thrive outside the rainforest, and even less naturally suited to the volatile and extreme climate we have now ushered in) dwindles to tiny numbers and sparks out entirely in a few more millennia.
There is still no agreement, however, on what we should do in anticipation of this, beyond living as ecologically and socially responsible a life as our current culture permits. Many of those I know continue to believe we should devote our lives to the struggle for systematic reform of our culture even if it is ultimately futile. Others, Deep Green activists like John Duffy (thanks to Sue Bullock for the link) believe we should be working to undermine or smash the culture to reduce the damage it will ultimately do before it collapses. And yet others believe that, due to the Jevons Paradox and other phenomena of complex systems that tend to perpetuate the status quo, even reducing the destruction is impossible.
Dark Mountaineer Paul Kingsnorth is, I think, in this third camp, as am I for now. Paul’s latest article in Orion rails against the light green technophiles he calls neo-environmentalists, who believe that innovation, technology, science and “progress” will allow us to move past the industrial economy and into a shiny new more-with-less future. He goes on to describe five things he’s doing instead: (1) withdrawing (walking away from and not participating in our dying culture), (2) preserving wilderness and non-human life, (3) learning practical physical low-tech skills, (4) valuing nature intrinsically, not for its human utility, and (5) building refuges, places resilient to coming crises.
It’s a good list, and one that’s more ambitious than mine. I’ve come to believe that I will be happiest, and most useful to the rest of the world, by first reconnecting with all-life-on-Earth and with myself — who I really am underneath the paralyzing ‘gunk’ that has been layered over me (with my unwitting complicity) for the past five decades — and then assessing from that better, more ‘present’ viewpoint what I should do with what remains of my life.
To that end, inspired by this remarkable Buddy Wakefield talk about the value of meditation (thanks to Beth Patterson for the link), I have been reading, listening to and studying (with the encouragement of, and ongoing online conversation with, my friend Paul Heft) the work of Adyashanti (his free basic teachings videos are especially recommended, along with his free 50-page PDF e-book Way of Liberation). I really like his candour, his articulateness and his humility. He basically suggests meditation as one of three related core practices, which I’d summarize as follows:
- Meditation|Being Still: Dropping resistance to the present moment, and relaxing into the silence of being and awareness; realizing that your mind and its egoic consciousness is only a part of you and reliquishing its control over you, and realizing you are a connected part of everything.
- Inquiry: Questioning who/what we are (the answer is not a noun/thing and can’t be put into words) and what is real, from that still state, discarding the ego’s intellectual preconceptions and emotions (you are not your thoughts or your feelings or your mind), and going deeper and questioning everything (is it true/real? that is meaningful/important to you).
- Contemplation: Holding a phrase/idea/question in your awareness openly and non-analytically until meaning emerges, e.g. contemplate why what we do and what we think we want to do are different; a “letting come” process less intellectual than inquiry.
This makes a lot of sense to me, since it provides more context for meditation and supports the idea that the meditative, still state is our natural state of being (or at least was until the stresses of our modern lives produced in our eager-to-explain brains the ‘false self’ and the ‘dream state’ in which we now mostly live). His principles (which resonate with what I’ve written about Eckhart Tolle and Richard Moss) are, essentially: (1) All suffering is a function of and result of our identifying with our personal and collective ‘egoic consciousness’; (2) Our ego is a fiction created by circular patterns of addictive thinking based on the (false) idea of the separate self; (3) Freedom from ego comes from awakening to our true nature as ‘conscious spirit’, a kind of ineffable (can’t be explained in language) presence, our natural state of being; (4) The three core practices above are designed to awaken us to this natural, alive, relaxed/aware state, and enable us to give up our ‘false self’ and the ‘dream state’ in which that self lives.
Of all the people in the “struggle to reform the culture even if it’s futile” first camp I referred to above, the one I have the most time for is Charles Eisenstein. This evening I saw the (well-made and inspiring) film Occupy Love whose director Velcrow Ripper clearly agrees with Charles’ belief that, in time, a large enough proportion of humanity will see the folly of the industrial growth economy and abandon it in favour of a gift economy built on optimizing well-being for all-life-on-Earth, and that this just might prevent civilization’s collapse.
I, of course, don’t share their optimism. I think our industrial growth economy and our civilization culture came about not by imposition by a psychopathic 1% but rather has evolved collectively by the efforts of all of us, and with the best intentions of serving us all. I think it became the Earth-destroying culture it has become because at some point when we left the security and abundance of our natural rainforest home, our exceptionally large and suggestible brains became traumatized by fear, anger and sadness, disconnected from our biophilia for all-life-on-Earth and invented the false self and dream state in which we now hide and live out our wounded, fearful lives.
And I don’t think a significant number of humans could (or would even want to) put the enormous effort into meditation, inquiry, contemplation and other practices sufficient to be able to free themselves from their addiction to this culture, walk away from it and create a natural human culture based on love and well-being of all-life-on-Earth. And even if they could, with 6C climate change already a certainty based on what our culture has already done, with the inexpensive half of the world’s resources already consumed by a human population now at least 10-20 times its natural sustainable carrying capacity, and with an economy so addicted to growth and debt that the inevitable withdrawal alone will kill it, it’s already too late.
So better to prepare for collapse than to expend any more energy trying to avoid or delay it. Get well, get reconnected, and then start figuring out how to get resilient. And always, fill your life (without being destructive or hurtful to yourself or others) with joy, with peace, with love, and with learning — about yourself and this amazing, astonishingly beautiful world.
idle no more movement logo by andy everson
Evo Morales’ Manifesto: The President of Bolivia made a speech to his people last month that contained the following remarkable statement:
Let us witness the end of this age of violence against human beings and nature and let us move into a new age. An age where human beings and Mother Earth are one, and where all people live in harmony and balance with the entire cosmos… We are the Rainbow Warriors, the Warriors of right living, the rebels of the world. Here we give you ten ways to confront capitalism and start building a culture of life:
- Rebuild democracy and politics, transferring power to the poor and putting it at the service of the people
- More social and human rights, not the commodification of human needs
- Decolonize our peoples and cultures to build a communitarian socialism of well-being
- A real environmental policy to stand against the environmental colonialism of the ‘green economy’
- Sovereignty over natural resources as a prerequisite for the emancipation from neocolonial domination and a movement towards integral development of peoples
- Food sovereignty and the human right to food
- The alliance of the peoples of the south against interventionism, neo-liberalism and colonialism
- The development of knowledge and technology for all
- The construction of a global institutional union of peoples
Economic development should not have as its goal capital accumulation and profit, nor market income, but must be holistic, and seek people’s happiness and harmony with Mother Earth. This new age is one of the power of workers, of the power of ’communities’, of the solidarity of all peoples, of the communion of all living beings with Mother Earth, all working together towards building the communitarian socialism of well-being. Our vision of a communitarian socialism of well-being is based on rights and not on market forces; it is based on the fulfillment and happiness of humankind.
Idle No More: Morales’ statement above seems consistent with the mission of the Idle No More movement, started by four First Nations women to seek social and economic justice for the indigenous peoples of North America. My friend Chris Corrigan summarizes the movement’s goals. First Nations Chief Lookinghorse, in supporting the movement’s aims, writes:
This effort to protect Mother Earth is all Humanity’s responsibility, not just Aboriginal Peoples’. Every human being has had Ancestors in their lineage that understood their umbilical cord to the Earth, understanding the need to always protect and thank her. Therefore, all Humanity has to re-connect to their own Indigenous Roots of their lineage — to heal their connection and responsibility with Mother Earth and become a united voice… All Nations, All Faiths, One Prayer.
What’s Wonderful About Being Solo, Poly and Single: Why having several non-monogamous (and non-primary) relationships while living alone is probably the healthiest way to live. Thanks to Tree for the link.
Healing Shame: Brene Brown explains where shame comes from and how to disarm and heal from it. The interviewing is a bit strange, but Brene is brilliant in this. Thanks to Tim Bennett for the link.
Young People Are Screwed: Four Lessons: Bryan Goldberg suggests this strategy for young people not yet in the workforce: (1) Learn how to make something. (2) Expect nothing from the education system. (3) Ignore your parents’/grandparents’ advice, because they don’t understand what’s happening now. (4) Don’t worry about your network; worry about your friends. Thanks to Seb Paquet for the link, and the one that follows.
In the Spirit of the Oddfellows and Rebekahs: Clay Forsberg wants to resurrect the spirit (if not the pomp and hierarchy) of the Oddfellows and Rebekahs, social benevolent organizations of (male and female respectively) tradespeople dedicated to voluntary work building and supporting local community. He cites wikipedia:
The name Oddfellows refers to a number of friendly societies and fraternal organisations… set up [perhaps as early as the 6th century BCE] to protect and care for their members and communities at a time when there was no welfare state, trade unions or national health service. The aim was (and still is) to provide help to members and communities when they need it. The friendly societies are non-profit mutual organisations owned by their members. All income is passed back to the members in the form of services and benefits. The name “Odd Fellows” arose because, in smaller towns and villages, there were too few Fellows in the same trade to form a local Guild. The Fellows from a number of trades therefore joined together to form a local Guild of Fellows from an assortment of different trades, the Odd Fellows. [the Rebekahs were established as a sister organization for women, starting in the US in the 1860s]
Tell Your City’s Story: Vancouver is just one city that is recruiting actors for a new kind of tourism: Reliving the past of a place by dressing up, role-playing and telling the story of that place. Brilliant idea.
POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL
image: al jazeera
What more is there to say about the global political situation? Obama has expanded executive powers to surveil, round up and detain indefinitely — or murder by unmanned aerial drone or disappearance into a foreign prison — anyone in the world they want, without need for justification, without right of trial or appeal or representation or contact with loved ones. Is the American corpocracy preparing for collapse in their own cynical way? Impossible to know. But it’s alarming that the response of the media, and most of the population who will be the subjects of this arbitrary ‘justice’, has been a massive collective shrug. We’ve been prepped for years to believe this will only affect others, “bad guys”, no one we care about. We have learned nothing from history. First they came for the …
In Canada, the federal government has become unapologetic corporatist cheerleaders, especially for Big Oil. They speak for a small minority of befuddled Canadians, mostly in oil-rich and oil-devastated Alberta, but they have manipulated the political system to gain control, and are eliminating environmental regulations at a George Bush-like pace, mostly through omnibus bills and secret trade deals that neither the media nor the public even get to see.
Europe, in the meantime, continues to descend into economic hyper-contraction, massive unemployment, anti-immigrant frenzy, and political fascism, due mainly to ill-conceived government “austerity” responses to decades of corruption and extravagant, mismanaged and unsustainable government spending (especially in nations where tax cheats brag openly about their thefts). And the countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia just keep on falling apart (thanks to Sam Rose for the link), but no one in the West is noticing.
But then you know all this. But perhaps you don’t know, as Kevin Drum reports, that the lead that Big Oil negligently added to gasoline for decades (to reduce “engine knock”) is likely responsible for such massive damage to our brains (thanks to several people for sending me this link) that it accounts for much of the 20th century’s urban crime rate, a significant lowering of intelligence, and surges in ADHD and other diseases. We are all so used to being treated as guinea pigs for the toxicity of the latest industrial, commercial and medical products that we just chalk it up to a risk of modern living. The corporatists tell us (caution when following this link: reading AEI crap is hazardous to your mental health) that the Precautionary Principle would make everything horrifically expensive and inhibit innovation. What they’re essentially saying is that the industrial growth economy, on which we all now utterly depend, cannot afford to care about the health of citizens or our living environments.
But then you already knew that too.
FUN AND INSPIRATION
how to select gender-correct toys for children (thanks to friend and facilitator Michael Wolf for the link)
You Can’t Imagine Who You’ll Be: New research suggests we tend to significantly underestimate how much we’ll have changed our beliefs and lifestyle in ten years’ time. Why? A combination of lack of imagination and a stubborn belief in our own ‘progress’ so far.
We Can’t Be Empathetic and Analytical at the Same Time: So concludes new research saying that the occurrence of either analysis or empathy in the brain shuts down the neural pathways that enable the other process. Thanks to Sam Rose for the link.
Are Large Brains an Evolutionary Error?: Biologist Jeff Schweitzer thinks so. Excerpts:
I propose that big brains are rare in nature not because they are an expensive tissue to maintain, but because the consequences of complex thought are not adaptive. Being smart is a dumb survival strategy… Our ancestors made it far enough to yield us, but the prospects for our future survival are not particularly bright. Extinction is the biological norm; so far at least the pattern of evolution for humans is no different from the rest of the earth’s fauna…
In spite of our hubris, humans are nothing but a short-lived biological aberration, with no legitimate claim to superiority. As a minor branch on a vast evolutionary bush, modern humans have been roaming the earth for no more than a few hundred thousand years of the earth’s 4.5 billion-year history. Ours has been a brief presence, with too little time to demonstrate if the evolution of large brains is a successful strategy for long-term survival of the species. Our self-anointed position to exalted status has blinded us to the reality that our big brains might not be our savior but the potential source of our demise…
If evolution had a pinnacle, bacteria would rest on top. While it hurts our ego, we live in the Age of Bugs, not the Age of Humans. These single-celled germs are the most successful of all life forms, and have been dividing away for more than 3 billion years… When the human species is a distant memory, bacteria will be dividing merrily away, oblivious to the odd bipedal mammal that once roamed the earth for such a brief moment in time. [Thanks to Morva Bowman for the link.]
Why We Lie: Starting with every statement we make and thought we have that starts with the word “I”. And who we ludicrously imagine ourselves to be. Thanks to Dale Asberry for the links, which are excerpts from interviews with PD Ouspensky.
The Best Song of 2012: Actually, it’s the top 25 songs of last year, mixed into one by DJ Earworm. And here’s the top 40 songs of last year, mashed up into one song, mixed by Daniel Kim.
THOUGHTS OF THE MONTH
From John Rember‘s 2011 article Emotional Morons in Nature Bats Last:
Following Occam’s Razor, it is far easier to simply ignore people who are starving and dying of disease than it is to go to all the effort to dehumanize and then murder them. Take away the benefits of civilization from the folks who bother you, and eventually they will go away. If you’ve got shelter, clean water, an adequately defended local community, stored and/or stolen food, and patience and a cheerful outlook, you’ll still get all their stuff…
Plenty of elaborate explanations have been proposed for our being alone in the cosmos, including the idea that we’re an incurably evil species and have been put in a permanent quarantine. But Occam’s Razor suggests a simpler answer: that intelligence invents the economic, social, and technological conditions that allow psychopathy to thrive, and once that happens, psychopathy expands and kills a civilization. That vast silence that has greeted our SETI antennae has a simple message: You’re Next.
It’s a shame, because our prime directive has been crafted by people who will lay waste to our planet in the name of profit, and as long as there is a coal seam to mine, a strata of hard shale to frack, a deepwater well to be drilled, we’ll keep on keeping on. We’ll keep pumping water into the cooling pools outside nuclear power plants as long as the power is on and the pumps get replacement parts and somebody replaces them. Humans will keep messing with viruses and bacteria until we find one that shares our assumptions about our own tribe. We’ll keep doing the things that make us money, or at least the people who crafted the prime directive will.
It’s not as though you can stop a market economy once it’s been invented, and teach an emotional moron to value feelings over profit. You can remove them from power, but as the current crop of presidential candidates attests, it’s not easy to find someone in politics who is not an emotional moron. It makes you wonder how the species that gave rise to Opus 35 in D Major can give rise to Koch Industries, but it did, and we’re about to find out the consequences of sending more people to Harvard Business School than Julliard.
From Guy McPherson, also from Nature Bats Last:
Let’s move toward a simpler society, and the sooner the better. But let’s not deal with predicaments as hurdles to be leaped over or knocked down. Let’s take them on now, and let’s get to the root of the matter: Industrial civilization is destroying life on Earth. Rather than pondering how we can protect faux wealth as the industrial economy unwinds — the leading question for the civilized among us — let’s get to work saving the living planet by terminating industrial civilization.
From Tim Bennett:
And so maybe that work is done, and it’s time to scrape the sign off my door and paint a new one… Beyond that, I’m not sure what else to do to help. There are meals to cook and fires to build and sidewalks to shovel, and I am glad to do these things. I can see how those actions help. There are birds to converse with, and the sun and the wind to feel on my face. There are people, flesh-and-blood human beings, a few, with whom I am beginning to share the deep, life-affirming salvation of music. There are songs to sing and music to listen to and drums upon which I can pound out my heart. There’s a story half-finished, with characters hovering in extremis, waiting patiently for me to move them forward. And there are holes in my heart that need gentle tending if they’re to ever fully heal. But beyond those things, I’m not really sure how else to be of service. Perhaps it’s the trying to tag along that prevents me from simply knowing, and accepting, where I am.
From Ilargi in The Automatic Earth:
We are incapable of solving our home made problems and crises for a whole series of reasons. We’re not just bad at it, we can’t do it at all. We’re incapable of solving the big problems, the global ones. [Dennis Meadows of the Club of Rome recently explained:] “You see, there are two kinds of big problems… universal problems [and] global problems. They both affect everybody. The difference is: Universal problems can be solved by small groups of people because they don’t have to wait for others. You can clean up the air in Hanover without having to wait for Beijing or Mexico City to do the same. Global problems, however, cannot be solved in a single place. There’s no way Hanover can solve climate change or stop the spread of nuclear weapons. For that to happen, people in China, the US and Russia must also do something. On the global problems, we will make no progress… We are going to evolve through crisis, not through proactive change.”
From the Aboriginal Activists Group, 1970s Queensland (thanks to Seb Paquet for the quote):
If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.
From the Wyrd Sisters, of Winnipeg, lyrics to their song Untitled:
I wish I had told you, I wish I had said it
I wanted, I tried and I surely regret that
the moment slipped by and my voice remained quiet
my heart called out loud but my lips denied it
and now that “I wish” looms like a giant
my voice cries aloud, but my heart is silent
my moments of vision have come with a price
they pull at my soul with fingers of ice
I’ve fled from my fear, I’ve turned from its calling
too late I have learned there is freedom in falling
and now my desire looms like a giant
I long for bravery, but no longer find it