Many people find it hard to believe I can be, on the one hand, resigned to the utter collapse of our civilization culture in this century (not suddenly, but over several decades of great hardship and struggle), and, on the other hand, think it likely that after this collapse the small number of human survivors could well live a more idyllic and joyful life than anything available to our species in this civilization’s 30,000 year long march.
We can, of course, not possibly know. I can’t even say that these ‘senses’ I have about collapse followed by utopia are even ‘beliefs’. The longer I live and the more I learn the more these future scenarios seem to make sense, but they stem from intuitive and emotional and sensory ‘knowledge’ more than any intellectual wisdom. I will say that I am a skeptic, inclined to second-guess anything that I am tempted to believe, and suspicious of my motivations for ‘believing’ anything. Do I want to ‘believe’ in the inevitability of collapse because it obviates the need for me to do anything to try to stop it or mitigate it? Do I want to ‘believe’ in a utopian future for post-civilization humans because it alleviates my guilt about the destruction my species has wreaked upon this beautiful, delicately-balanced planet? I don’t think so, but I can’t be sure.
I do think it would be impossible for me to lay out a coherent and rational justification for my sense that these are the most likely future scenarios for our species. And what difference would it make if I could? Who would I want to convince, and to what end, especially if my sense is that nothing we do now will affect these outcomes anyway?
I think the reason I’m so interested in these imagined future arcs of events is that I am by nature a writer. I can’t not write, and chronicling the last stages of a truly remarkable culture as it has burned through the planet’s resources so quickly as to alter the planet’s climate and precipitate the sixth great extinction of life upon it, seems a worthy task for a writer.
My fascination with life after collapse also comes, I think, from my compulsion to write and my joy (and, I’m told, exceptional skill) at imagining possibilities. What an amazing story!: A species so convinced its culture is the crown of evolutionary creation that it destroys the balance of the planet to keep that myth alive, after which its survivors learn that that very ruinous culture was all that was keeping the species from an unimaginably idyllic life!
So I have basically given up trying to convince people that our civilization will soon end, or that succeeding human societies will be more sustainable and joyful (and marginal in the global web of live on Earth by then). And I have also given up trying to convince people that our true nature is as parts of One Consciousness, and that our selves, minds and sense of time are illusory (if not delusional).
When you write about this stuff, as I have been for years, there is an expectation (1) that you’ll engage in a discussion with readers to justify and clarify what you’ve said, and (2) that you’ll provide readers who share your perspective some ideas on what they should “do about it”.
I enjoy the comments and suggestions from readers, but I don’t think I’ve changed any minds with what I’ve written. Readers are generally looking for reassurance and clarity on their own views, and some have probably found that here, as I have on other ‘collapsnik’ blogs like the ones shown in the right sidebar. There is such cognitive dissonance in the world between what the mainstream media (and most people) discuss and assert, and my own sense of what is actually happening and why, that it is reassuring to know I’m not crazy in my thinking, feelings and intuitions, that others see things the same way. So I’m not surprised other readers seek such reassurance.
But I don’t engage much in discussion (much less debate) about these ideas, since my sense is we each come at this stuff from such utterly different places, and our language is so inadequate to convey them, that discussion is usually pretty pointless. I’d rather move on to some other writing or reading, as selfish as that might be.
And lately I’ve been wary about suggesting what others who share my perspectives should “do about it”, because it’s hard to generalize about this in any useful way when each of our lives is so different. My retirement allows me to do things that people who have to work long hours to stay above water can’t do, for example.
The poster at the top of this post is the best I’ve come up with as a general set of ideas for what someone who at least entertains the possibility of near-term economic, energy or ecological collapse might rationally think of doing. It seems only sensible that to prepare for a radically different and unpredictable future, you would start by focusing on knowing, healing and liberating yourself from systems undergoing collapse, and then move on to experimenting with different ways of living that might be useful models during and after that collapse, and building community capacity to cope with that collapse.
That is, if you have the time, personal capacity and resources to do this self-knowing, healing, liberating, experimenting and community-building work.
But although it may seem sensible to do these things, it is not in our nature to do what is sensible. As I have written recently, what seems sensible or rational is not radical enough for our true, feral nature. Our feral nature, I think, is simply to take pleasure (in its original sense of ‘calm delight’) in our lives, free (arguably) of the modern preoccupations and scourges of work, purpose, personal love, intentional actions, conversation, abstract language, abstract thought etc.
Would a feral human really choose to spend otherwise pleasurable time pursuing self-knowledge, self-healing, liberation, experimentation with different possible ways of living and community-building? I don’t think so. No surprise, then, that relatively few people who have the opportunity to do so, do so. I think these are valuable and useful endeavours, and convince myself to spend some time on them, but I know I’d rather spend my time doing pleasurable things, and (once the urgent tasks are done) I usually do.
So what about this blog’s other preoccupation, with realizing the illusion of self? I can tell you that this is not at all a pleasurable activity. It’s infuriating. Again, I can rationally justify spending time in contemplation, inquiry and ‘meditation’ aimed at realizing this illusion, but when it competes with activities that are simply pleasurable, it is no contest.
I can hardly advocate behaviours for others that I am unwilling or unable to do myself. In fact, if the non-dualists are right, then neither others nor I are able to do anything other than be who we are — we have no ‘free will’ to do anything other than what we do — so berating ourselves or others for not doing otherwise is little more than an exercise in sadomasochism.
So if there is no purpose in trying to change people’s minds or behaviours, what purpose remains for writing this blog, or anything else?
As I said above, I think it’s interesting to write about the accelerating collapse of a 30,000 year old culture and the sixth great extinction of life on this planet, about scenarios of possible sustainable, joyful human societies after collapse, and about the puzzle of trying to escape the illusion of self and what success at doing so might lead to. And since I can’t not write, I might as well write about interesting things. They might bring the pleasure of discovery or reassurance or provocation or empathy or curiosity to some readers.
The fact that they can’t, and won’t, change minds or behaviours or the fate of the world is perhaps unfortunate, but beside the point.
We will do what we will do, and be who we are, or seemingly who we are not, regardless. The economy will collapse, or not. Affordable energy will run out, or not. Climate change will make most of the planet uninhabitable by humans, or not. We will discover our true being, or not. It is all beyond our control, and it is all fascinating. We will think about all these things, when we are not indulging our preference for doing things that we find pleasurable, deluded or not.
Regardless of it all, After Us the Dragons. The cast of characters in the comedy-drama of life on Earth will change, and the play will go on. In the lovely, magnificent, infuriating, eternal Now. And the One Consciousness of which we are all, perhaps, a part, will take infinite pleasure in that.
(“After us the dragons.” is the somewhat equanimous statement made by scientist-poet-philosopher Loren Eiseley in thinking about who will inherit the Earth after the disappearance of humans, in his book The Night Country.)