After Us the Dragons

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.)

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7 Responses to After Us the Dragons

  1. Mistyriver says:

    Hi… I really have admired your passion over the years. I wanted to share with you some ideas I had today about how social dynamics work in my country – the USA. How do things go sour, when they do, over the course of our nation’s history? Maybe if we can analyze and understand how things go wrong, perhaps there’s a chance that we can make things better.

    I apologize in advance that my thoughts are all original. It’s all my own model, and I think that you or your readers might share enough of the first premises behind it, that folks might enjoy reading it, if they have the time and the interest. I’m not pointing to any scientific studies, or that kind of thing. That kind of inductive reasoning is not very popular on the web, right now.

    I made a public post with this letter to you on a very quiet section of that I created years ago.

    I have made my “website link” for this comment go to this letter. Enjoy.

  2. Gaiasdaughter says:

    Dave, so much of what you wrote is what I have been feeling of late. I’ve gotten to this point of acceptance that what will be will be, and I’m just enjoying life. I do try to be more self-sufficient, more connected to community, and all the rest of the ‘good stuff,’ but I’m not obsessed with it as I once was. And, like you, I believe that once we, as a species, get through the hard times to come, we will find ourselves living more simply and more joyously than ever before.

    Years ago, I read the “Spiritwalker” trilogy by Hank Wesselman. It is a non-fictional account of the future some 5000 years from now, as he experienced it in a series of visions. I don’t know if there’s any truth to his stories, but I found him believable and his visions both plausible and comforting. In response to a challenge by John Michael Greer, I came up with my own version of what the future might look like — published on my blog a couple of years ago:

  3. liliana says:

    Your imagination and thinking of Utopia are creative, productive, beautiful,,, Be destined to be.
    You’ve provided us thoughts, feelings, practices, methods and tools. We love you and we need you.
    We admire all of your work, we glad with your life choices (which coincides with our choices. – Also, deep down, currently, many people the world have commonalities a material and existentially concern for destiny and the meaning of life in this the planet).
    Thank you always!

    The New Age spirituality abounds in superficialities and and confusions, many of which we good it can do without. To go to depth and simplicity sources. Eckart Tolle is not the best teacher of mysticism, or consciousness. For me and for another ones. And so, some ‘enlightened’ (?) persons. If I want to meet about consciousness, metaphysics-of-consciousness, or, consciousness in religion, I want to read other mystical persons: Meister Eckart, Nisargadatta, Upanishad. Or traditional yoga, Taoist …

    Personally, I think for all those of us that are dealing with the collapse of civilization, intellectual knowledge is a thing on which we can engage in. History, history of civilizations, for example. Anthropology. (Philosophical Anthropology). The history of ideas. -Religion?- History of aesthetic, ethical, scientific and technical thought. In the West, Asia, India -vedanta and advaita vedanta (‘not-two’), for example. –Conceptos and cognitive biases.

  4. Kari says:

    “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.”

    Absolutely nailed my POV here ;-)

    Provided we are as mindful as we can be in our observations and actions, and provided we are as true to ourselves as we know how to be, we’re doing the best we can – we’re doing all we can within the parameters of our conditioning. I don’t think we’ll escape the self, as that is as just as much beyond our control as changing everything else is.

    But even though I hold this view, it’s still hard to live completely in tune with it as my attachment to the illusion of control is not yet gone, and I can’t force it…

  5. Paul Heft says:

    I suppose I lack enough faith in my ideas to avoid nagging, guilty thoughts based on “shoulds” clinging to me from the past–such as how I should be engaged in political struggle, even though I don’t think it can work in our current mess. I am surrounded by people who believe that political action of one sort or another is a moral obligation. People with philosophies similar to those of Naomi Klein or Bernie Sanders. People who believe that the New Deal and the civil rights struggle in the US “prove” that political campaigning brings the major changes we need. People who would feel guilty or ashamed if they failed to take political action of one sort or another. Fortunately my friends are tolerant of my ideas even when they are beyond the pale, and I don’t try to convert anyone!

  6. Hi Dave,

    I’ve been reading this long enough to remember when the title described the content…

    I don’t think it matters whether you change anyone’s mind. All you can do is keep writing and see if anyone’s coming along with you.

    I don’t read many blogs, in fact this is one of two that I pay attention to. So you’ve had more direct impact on me than most others. I think you are a bit pessimistic, but I also think you can’t help being that way given what you’re interested in.

    It seems like mostly I feel that it’s good to have company when you are skeptical about civilisation and don’t simply look at the current civilisation as “the way things are”. Again I think this is another cognitive bias in humans – what you see is all there is.

    I’m one of the people stuck having to make a living and simply lacking the energy to do anything related to creating an alternative to “civilisation”. I don’t have to believe it’s going to stay around or that will magically transform into something universally good for the world.

    I believe you’ve helped me see more truth in the world and find a way to cope with it that doesn’t make me depressed or angry. I don’t agree with you on all points, but that’s a silly thing to expect. The motivation is similar though – trying to understand how things really work, making peace with what is rather than clinging to the idea that anyone can really change the world, because no individual can. People just grab onto personalities that end up on top of a change ready to happen. Another cognitive bias – inventing simple causal stories to explain chaotic phenomena.

    Back to “civilisation” now I’m afraid. I’ll be back for more soon…

  7. Philip says:

    I am in similar place to Nathan above- have got much peace from following your blog. A Joyful pessimistic occupies the same John Grey’s Straw Dog conclusion – purpose as seeing with a taoist twist. Tomorrow I’m with my daughters class snorkling in a marine reserve only a few hundred meters from a oil refinery. I’ll be around the passion of others for sharing hope with young people- knowing it makes no difference in the bigger picture. Iv’e finally learnt to go with the flow….if we were aware of how unaware humans generally are we could still not save the world anyway. Jelly fish in the tide. The play will go on.

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