Dave Pollard's chronicle of civilization's collapse, creative works and essays on our culture.
A trail of crumbs, runes and exclamations along my path in search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.



October 23, 2014

Links of the Month: October 23, 2014

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 19:53

facebook update

image by Marsel van Ooosten via overgrowthesystem.com 

My worldview continues to shift between those of 5 of the ‘camps’ in my New Political Map:

  • The Existentialist/Dark Mountain camp (J), where my heart lies, and which calls on me to focus attention, for now, on learning presence, self-awareness, healing and becoming less dependent on industrial civilization as it collapses;
  • The Communitarian/New Tribal camp (I), which calls on me to focus attention on the collective work of building resilient communities and collective (rather than personal) capacity where I live, now, so the survivors of looming collapse will be ready;
  • The Deep Green Activist camp (H), which calls on me to fight the destruction of the natural world with everything I have and regardless of the risks, even if successes are localized and transitory;
  • The Transition/Resilience camp (G), which calls on me to focus on projects that just might make things better in my community before collapse or at least mitigate the hardship of collapse;
  • The Humanist camp (F), which calls on me to act as if we can reform civilization before it collapses, even if I believe it’s futile.

Camp J seems the most sensible but too internally-focused, camp I seems pragmatic but premature, camp H seems the most responsible but ultimately pointless, camp G seems pragmatic but ultimately pointless, and camp F seems responsible but delusional. Camps F and H, and camps G and I, share similar worldviews but are on opposite sides of the salvationist/collapsnik “can we really do anything in time?” divide. It’s a difficult straddle, but somehow I manage it. Camp J is safer, but runs the inevitable risk of being labeled a selfish defeatist.

And I keep peering at the disturbingly compelling arguments of the Voluntary Human Extinctionists (camp K) and the Near Term Extinctionists (camp L), but I am not ready to concede that humans are inherently violent and destructive, or that no complex life will possibly survive this century’s climate change. Too big a leap for me to make yet, though I fear they may both be right.

John Michael Greer (who, like James Kunstler is clearly a collapsnik but vague in his worldview on how we should prepare for it and hence hard to put in any of these ‘camps’) this week summarized how the decline and fall of civilizations occurs:

It takes between one and three centuries on average for the fall to happen—and no, big complex civilizations don’t fall noticeably faster or slower than smaller and simpler ones.  Nor is it a linear decline—the end of a civilization is a fractal process composed of crises on many different scales of space and time, with equally uneven consequences. An effective response can win a breathing space; in the wake of a less effective one, part of what used to be normal goes away for good. Sooner or later, one crisis too many overwhelms the last defenses, and the civilization falls, leaving scattered remnants of itself that struggle and gleam for a while until the long night closes in.

Alas, after this quite sophisticated explanation of how complex systems fail, John provides a rather fanciful collapse scenario of one possible future, taking two centuries and involving mostly lots of ghastly wars. My view of human nature is rather more charitable, and I think our decline to below a billion will result more from voluntary and involuntary reductions in birth rate, and from diseases, mostly old ones modern technology has temporarily kept at bay. Because I see economic collapse as a great wealth equalizer (most wealth is now, after all, only vulnerable paper wealth), and because it will make war extremely expensive, I do not expect collapse to be nearly as violent as many collapsniks envision. I keep thinking of the millions of Irish during the potato famine, sitting in their homes with their families slowly starving to death, because they felt (wrongly as it turned out) that everyone was in the same situation and there was no one to blame. The Great Depression had many similar qualities of personal struggle and mostly egalitarian charity.

But I may be guilty of wishful thinking. The societal collapse in Germany in the last century brought out the worst in everyone. And today, many impoverished and desolated places, from inner cities in North America and suburbs in Europe to whole swathes of Africa, Asia and Latin America (like this community in Honduras) have degenerated into tribal thuggery, and are now largely run by warbands filling the power vacuum created by corrupt or dysfunctional governments. John Gray recently wrote an article arguing that our species has always been cruel, violent and destructive, and that it is in our nature to be so.

I hope they’re wrong. I have to believe they’re wrong.

~~~~~

PREPARING FOR CIVILIZATION’S COLLAPSE

xkcd climate change

image from xkcd; thanks to Leif Brecke for the link

World Population to Hit 11B This Century and Keep Rising (Barring Collapse): As I have said before, the rosy UN and US population bureau statistics forecasting a levelling off of human population by 2050 were always nonsense. Now at last they’re admitting their estimates were far too low.

Including Our Farmed Animals, We’re At 7x Earth’s Carrying Capacity: A new analysis by Paul Chefurka notes that our farmed animals actually weigh more than we do, and combined our biomass is seven times as much as the planet can support. And this intriguing summation of the state of the world by economist Nate Hagens contains some fascinating data (download the key slides here):

1. Almost all the fossil fuel energy we use today was formed between 200M and 400M years ago — it’s almost meaningless to try to figure out how much we consume compared to how much new fossil energy is being “created” each year.
2. Since 2000 96% of all GDP growth has come from more consumption of primary energy, not from increases in productivity or efficiency or “innovation”.
3. Essentially we’ve reached the stage where “money is a claim on future natural resources and debt is a claim on future money”, such that in the US now it takes creation of $14 of new debt (printing of currency) to produce $1 of GDP. Those holding the debt are in a bind: they know it can’t be repaid, but if they try to reduce their holdings they’ll collapse the faith-based economy and their wealth, which is mostly paper and real estate, will evaporate.
4. Paradoxically when the economy collapses it will reduce energy consumption and produce a temporary energy surplus: one that no one can afford to buy and use.
5. Metabolically, we are each the equivalent of 30-ton primates.

Derrick Jensen and Guy McPherson: The definitive Deep Green Activist chats with the definitive Near Term Extinctionist. It’s interesting to hear Derrick, who believes we have to fight against the destruction of the natural world with everything we have, agreeing with Guy, who says it’s too late to stop it. The intersection of their worldviews is that we should work as hard as we can to ensure that if/when our species goes extinct, life is not impossible for the other species that remain. That means e.g. a focus on decommissioning nuclear reactors, since they will overheat and explode when we are no longer present to tend them, doing horrific damage in the process. It’s a rather strange chat, and I’m awaiting the promised sequel.

Richard Heinberg on Effective Change: “Start by identifying your core values—fairness, peace, stability, beauty, resilience, whatever. … Figure out what ideas, projects, proposals, or policies further those values, but also fit with the infrastructure that’s almost certainly headed our way. Then get to work.” Thanks to Paul Chefurka for the link.

Leaving the Planet Gracefully: Robert Jensen writes about a friend who knew exactly what was happening to our world, and what is likely to happen, and lived a calm, conscious, purposeful, exemplary life despite his knowledge. He elaborates in this Cascading Crises video. Thanks to my friend Don Marshall for the link.

Pentagon Preparing for Civil Breakdown: “The unwillingness of DoD officials to answer the most basic questions [about surveillance, and massive internal "counterinsurgency" programs] is symptomatic of a simple fact – in their unswerving mission to defend an increasingly unpopular global system serving the interests of a tiny minority, security agencies have no qualms about painting the rest of us as potential terrorists.”

Where Will the Water Wars Erupt?: A map of the hot spots where large areas are most vulnerable to exceptional drought.

Have We Killed the Jet Stream? Recent research on weather patterns suggests that atmospheric warming may have already produced some dangerous and dramatic shifts in our climate systems, notably the jet stream and ocean currents. Thanks to Earl Mardle for the link.

~~~~~

LIVING BETTER

LOTM leunig bite

image by Michael Leunig 

Let Them Eat Cash: Experiments with giving large amounts of cash to the poor and homeless, instead of patronizing services, show excellent results.

Two Couples One Mortgage: Communal living takes on some new and pragmatic variations. Thanks to Renee Hopkins for the link.

My Body is Not a Problem: How the media and corporations belittle us (especially women) to try to sell us stuff. Thanks to Tree and Pax Calta for the link and the one that follows.

Not So Different: Homeless people share one thing about themselves that may surprise you.

Making Do in a Refugee Camp: In the Zaatari refugee camp in Syria, some inspiring clues on how to live in collapse. Thanks to my friend Pauline Lebel for the link.

Stopping the Inner Chatter: In an interview with KMO, Gary Weber explains why “people with a handful of psychedelic experiences under their belt have a significant head start in silencing the self-referential mental chatter” in their heads and achieving a constant state of presence. His books are free online.

Showing Truth to Power: Demonstrators have begun holding large mirrors up to show police, often now dressed in paramilitary armour, how terrifying they appear to peaceful protesters. Since some police are now wearing cameras to use in case of accusations of misbehaviour, the combination of the two would be fascinating.

Right to Die Sane: A fellow Bowen Islander took her own life this summer, in accordance with thoughtful, long-standing plans, as she began to slide into more advanced stages of dementia. My fellow Islanders have been universally supportive of her decision. Meanwhile, the first Canadian province to make end-of-life care legal has been challenged by the ultra-conservative Harper government.

The Toxicity of Hierarchy and Trauma: Robert Sapolsky explains how hierarchy inevitably creates stress and trauma, and how removing hierarchy produces empathy and peacefulness. He and Gabor Mate then dismantle the false dichotomy of nature vs nurture, explaining how our genes are determined and created by our environment and life experiences, more than the other way around. Most mental and physical illnesses stem from trauma.

Resilient Communities + Sharing Economy: A new survey from the Post Carbon Institute shows how the two movements can support each other.

Resilient Activism and Productive Writing: An interview reveals how Derrick Jenson’s work habits and mindset keep him sane in his difficult work.

~~~~~

POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL

asia-nuclear

image from Fortune Magazine article “Fission Frenzy” April 2014

The Truth About the Tar Sands: Short videos remind us of the utter atrocity of this project. Thanks to Jon Husband for the link. In related news, no surprise that Harper approved the Northern Gateway pipeline. Some believe overwhelming public opposition will yet stop the project, but the real shift, I think, will come when people realize that these lucrative (to political donors) projects will always be approved despite public opinion. And the even bigger shift will occur when corporatists realize that the public have now been sufficiently cowed that they will accept such unpopular and undemocratic decisions as just how things are, and that public support is no longer necessary for them to achieve at all. Here are some photos of what they are doing now, with the real ramp-up still to come. Here’s a description of the massive seepages, blowouts and groundwater contamination the operations are causing.

Obama’s Recovery: Interesting graph showing how the disparity between rich and poor has accelerated under Obama‘s watch.

I don’t see the point in linking to further articles about the endless political and economic outrages being perpetrated throughout the world by corporations and the corrupt and inept governments they now own. You know what’s going on by now.

~~~~~

FUN AND INSPIRATION

LOTM via tree witches

image by Mark Parisi; thanks to Tree for the link

Haunting Music: Spacedrum played by Yuki Koshimoto. Thanks to Cheryl Anderson Spencieri for the link.

The Four-Way Stop vs The Roundabout: Guess which is faster? Thanks to Euan Semple and Flemming Funch for the link.

Stuff of Dreams: Some breathtakingly beautiful photos taken on a Russian farm. Thanks to Sue Braiden for the link.

parking space

What parking space is the car above in?: The math problem Hong Kong kids could solve but I couldn’t. Don’t look at the answer in Joyce’s link before you try solving it.

John Green’s Unlikely Superstardom: The co-producer of the great vlogbrothers videos is a hero of many young people for his other work.

The Gurus of Innovation Were Just Wrong: For many years I wrote about innovation and provided innovation services to clients. The bible on the subject, then as now, was Clay Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma. Turns out, most of what Clay wrote was dead wrong. Jill Lepore courageously explains how and why. Her reward has been to be savaged by academics and business ‘experts’ alike, for daring to question the orthodoxy that has generated so much revenue, and ‘scholarly’ work, for those in the field.

111 “Retired” Lab Chimps See Sky and Grass for the First Time: Just watch, cry, and feel good. Sometimes some people do the right thing. Thanks to the Humane Society for the work they do.

How to Make Love Stay: From Rebelle Society, 6 tips for lovers of women and 6 tips for lovers of men on how to keep your relationship healthy and joyful. Much better than the usual Cosmo crap you read on this subject. Also from the same source, an article on facing the truth about relationship breakup.

My Favourite Meditation Music: Deva Premal’s best music, I think, is from the CDs that were a little more rhythmic, jazzed up and harmonized than her ‘purer’ work. My favourites are Om Namo Bhagavate and Moola Mantra. Fans have added some lovely graphics to these YouTube versions.

What Your Bike Can Teach You About White Privilege: The second-class treatment cyclists often get from motorists and legislators can be an education for those of us used to privilege. Thanks to Gen Alpha for the link.

Mission Statement: A hilarious send-up of management-speak and corporate dysfunction from the much-grown-up but still Weird Al Yankovic. Terrific graphics too.

Black Holes Do Not Exist: Neither does time, or a fundamental particle/wave/string/thingy that makes up everything else. Nor was there a big bang. But then you knew all that that didn’t you?

7.1 Billion Demonstrate in Favour of Global Warming: From the Onion, of course. Thanks to Dark Mountain for the link.

~~~~~

THOUGHTS FOR THE MONTH

torb history

image from The Mind of Torb; thanks to Paul Chefurka for the link

Telling Stories: PS Pirro on the power of stories told aloud, and community music. “Nobody is chastened for getting it wrong, and by the ninth or tenth time through, we have something, and then we just keep going, because it’s magical and we don’t want to stop. Sometimes I feel bereft. The world is on fire, and I don’t know how to fix what’s broken. But I am suffused with these stories. These songs. These connections. This life. This astonishing magic.”

Homeless: Jim Kunstler (via PS Pirro) on collapse being like a house falling apart:

That fading modern world is the house that America built, the great post World War Two McMansion stuffed with dubious luxuries in a Las Vegas of the collective mind. History’s bank has foreclosed on it and all the nations and people of the world have been told to make new arrangements for daily life. The USA wants everybody to stay put and act as if nothing has changed.

Therefore, change will be forced on the USA. It will take the form of things breaking and not getting fixed. Unfortunately, America furnished its part of the house with stapled-together crap designed to look better than it really was. We like to keep the blinds drawn now so as not to see it all coming apart. Barack Obama comes and goes like a pliable butler, doing little more than carrying trays of policy that will be consumed like stale tea cakes — while the wallpaper curls, and the boilers fail down in the basement, and veneers delaminate, and little animals scuttle ominously around in the attic.

Thinking About Not Thinking: From Alan Watts, drawing a metaphor to explain why it is so difficult to meditate or be truly present and not bound up in your thoughts and ego: “To understand music, you must listen to it. But so long as you are thinking, ‘I am listening to this music,’ you are not listening.”

Seen Recently On a T-Shirt: “If a man speaks in the forest, and there is no woman to hear him, is he still wrong?”

leunig angelMore to Life: A poem by Michael Leunig:
An angel came and landed on the shed,
The little shed on which my life is kept.
“There’s more to life than this” the angel said.
We looked into each other’s eyes and wept.

I hurried back inside and shut the door,
And all surrounded by the life I love
I lay there weeping on the concrete floor
And heard the angel weeping up above.

October 19, 2014

Grimly Letting Go of the Old Story

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 21:07

sipress cognitive dissonance

cartoon by David Sipress  from the New Yorker

I have noticed a subtle change over the last year or two in what (and how) both mainstream and alternative media are reporting (worse news, more indifferently, more dishonestly and more under-reporting). I’ve also noticed a gradual increase in the general level of non-specific anxiety, pessimism, guilt, shame, premonition and overwhelm of my friends and acquaintances (it’s even worse now, I think, than it was right after 9/11). And I’ve noticed a similar disturbing increase in the general level of malaise, meanness, insensitivity, and demonization of others in general public discourse.

I think these are all symptoms of the early stages of collapse.

Here are the shifts I am seeing more tangibly that would seem to epitomize early collapse:

  1. Corporations have given up the pretence of being ethical. At first, a decade or two ago, many corporations tried to convince the public they were really concerned about social and environmental issues. Then they discovered that whitewashing, greenwashing, and lies in their advertising and PR were more effective and cheaper. Now they don’t even bother to lie. They just say they are forced to do what they do because their mandate is to maximize profits. Now they settle their malfeasance out of court because it’s cheaper than obeying the law, and hush it up with gag orders, whistle-blower prosecutions and threats of costly and protracted litigation against anyone who dares challenge their illegal activities. Now they buy their politicians openly. Instead of them serving us, as they were designed to do, it is now us against them. Now it is illegal for citizens to film animal cruelty atrocities in factory farms and slaughterhouses, but not illegal for corporations to commit those atrocities.
  2. Politicians have given up the pretence of being representative. Speeches no longer talk about “the people” or a better society or collective interest, but solely about response to intangible, invented or inflated dangers like “terrorism” and “illegal” immigration (but not the real dangers, since that would offend their owners). Gerrymandering, bribes, voter disenfranchisement and vote-buying are now accepted as just how the system inevitably works. Political influence and political decision-making are now totally and overtly a function of the amount of paid lobbying and money spent. The term “democracy” is now conflated with “freedom” and Orwellian use of language is openly employed to suppress public opposition, dissent and outrage.
  3. Lying has becoming rampant, overt and even socially acceptable. The biggest and easiest lies are the lies of omission: burying corporatist and ideological legislation and pork in “omnibus” bills and “riders”, gross distortions of measures like unemployment and inflation, burying junk investments in opaque repackaged and overpriced offerings to the public, activities couched to offer perpetrators “plausible deniability“, and unlisted ingredients and unlisted dangers on product packaging. Another example is lawmakers passing “popular” laws but telling regulatory staff not to enforce them or “look the other way”, or starving the regulators of resources. But more egregious is the overt lying, led by the outrageous (and again Orwellian) untruths of almost all modern advertising and PR (including political campaign advertising), which we are now forced by every means possible to watch/listen to/read. And of course, just about everything done by the legal “profession” who are paid to obfuscate, threaten and lie, and the mainstream media, who are paid to report only distracting news that does not offend corporate sponsors, and to oversimplify and distort to pander to their dumbed-down audience.
  4. Widespread use and acceptance of “ends justify the means” rationalizations. This is the hallmark behaviour of the Dick Cheneys and other severely psychologically damaged people who prevail disproportionately in position of power. Consequentialists rationalize that, immoral as their actions might be (or might have been), the outcome will be (or was) a desirable one, so their conduct in achieving it is moot. This argument allows them to decide to wage wars and commit other acts of violence (and almost all major recent wars and major acts of violence have been rationalized on this basis). What’s worse, when the desired “ends” are not achieved (liberation of women in Afghanistan), the shifting of blame to others for the failure to achieve the ends is used to excuse both the failure to achieve the ends and for the abhorrence of the means. Probe just about any act of violence, any lie, or any illegal or immoral behaviour that someone is justifying or excusing these days, and you’ll find an “ends (would have) justified the means” rationalization. It’s endemic, and not only among right-wingers. And few of us have the critical thinking skills to see its dangers.
  5. Human activity (litigation, security, financial “products” etc.) is focused on defending the status quo rather than producing anything of value. The reason most of us could not survive today in the radically decentralized, low-complexity societies that will take hold after civilization’s collapse, is that most of us don’t produce anything that peers in our community value, or ever will value. We are “managers” of useless hierarchies, paper pushers, systems people, guards, number crunchers, packagers, transporters and vendors of goods we do not know how to make, with parts we don’t know the origin or makeup of. Because we intuitively “know” that this is so, we are desperate to keep civilization’s crumbling systems operating. What else could we do?
  6. The illusion of growth has become totally dependent on increases in oil and in debt. In a presentation here the other day, economist Nate Hagens revealed that since 2000 96% of all US GDP growth has come from more consumption of primary energy, not from increases in production or efficiency or “innovation”, and that it now takes creation of $14 of new debt (i.e. printing of currency) to produce $1 of GDP. So when economists and politicians say they want a return to growth (to avoid a collapse of the Ponzi scheme stock and housing markets, among other reasons), what they are really saying is that they want us to burn more fossil fuels and print more money.
  7. Acceptance of obscene inequality. People just shrug when they learn that the entire increase in global income and wealth since the 1970s has accrued to just 1% of the population — everyone else’s real income (purchasing power) and wealth has declined (i.e. they’re further into debt), in many cases precipitously. This is despite the fact that this increase in income and wealth has come at a ghastly and accelerating social, political and ecological cost. The Occupy movement tried to challenge this, but the movement is dormant.
  8. Denial of reality, across the political spectrum. Most of us (except in the US and a few other backward countries) now appreciate that climate change is caused by burning fossil fuels and is dangerously accelerating. But most of us still believe, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that it is somehow possible to change global behaviour so radically that we reverse emissions and prevent runaway climate change, or that we’re going to somehow replace most emissions with renewable energy or other “innovations”. Most deny the reality that our education and health care systems are dysfunctional and unsustainable, that the Internet is a huge consumer of energy dependent on the industrial growth economy for its existence, that species extinction has already accelerated to a point unprecedented in the planet’s history and threatens the stability of every ecosystem, that our political, economic and legal systems are so dysfunctional they cannot be salvaged, that industrial agriculture has already destroyed most of the soils crucial for our survival, that choosing short-term jobs over long-term economic and ecological health is disastrous, and that “sustainable growth” is an oxymoron. For those who aren’t in denial, the ever-growing cognitive dissonance in the media and in public discourse is staggering.
  9. Widespread cynicism and acceptance of conspiracy theories. Stephen Colbert wrote “Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us.” Cynics are, as George Carlin said, disappointed idealists. The rampant growth of cynicism reveals a similar increase in fear and disappointment. Conspiracy theories are popular because they give us someone else to blame (someone huge, mysterious and unstoppable, hence relieving us of the obligation to do anything or even to understand what is really happening), and because they feed our cynicism, and because we all want something simple to believe instead of the impossible complexity of the truth. And that desire for something simple to believe also inspires…
  10. Search for and willingness to believe in charismatic people and magical solutions. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t see another promise of a technology that will provide infinite, cheap, climate-saving energy. Judging from the number of views these articles/videos receive, they are magnets for public attention. And when we’re constantly disappointed by “leaders” to promise us “hope” and change, it is not surprising that so many fall under the influence of zealous charismatic people with absurd (and discredited) but miraculous (and simple) political and economic and technological “solutions” to every problem. The world’s last powerful charismatic leader, the despotic Mao, killed 80 million of his country’s citizens while keeping ten times that number in thrall. Notice the charismatic tilt of many of the new leaders of the fearful Randian/Thatcherian/Reaganite right, and the leaders of many popular new age cults.
  11. Ubiquitous spying and corporatist surveillance. I don’t think I need elaborate on this, except to note that the corporate sector’s use of collected intelligence and surveillance in its many forms dwarfs that of the more obvious government and military sector. The military-industrial complex is back. So far it’s too incompetent to figure out how to use the data it’s collecting, but they’re spending an awful lot of our money working on that. Their level of anxiety is rising too — they’re tuned into the general dissatisfaction and are afraid of civil insurrection upsetting their lucrative and high-maintenance apple-cart. (If only.)
  12. Self-colonization and the emergence of “apologism” and mandatory optimism. We’ve seen the emergence of mandatory optimism in the corporate world, and more overtly in the prerequisite for being a TED talker and other “positive thinking” movements. But now the vilification of criticism and pessimism (as distinct from cynicism) is becoming more ubiquitous. Critical thinking and doubt are dismissed out-of-hand as negativity and a “bad attitude” even in peer conversation. When internalized to the point we feel bad about feeling bad, it’s an essential tool of self-colonization — the co-opting and self-censoring of our own anger, skepticism, fear, sadness, grief, and ‘unpopular’ beliefs in order to be socially accepted by others, and in some cases to brainwash ourselves into denial of our own feelings and beliefs that we are struggling to cope with — and reconcile with what others are saying they feel and believe (there’s that cognitive dissonance again: “If I’m the only one thinking this, I must be crazy, so I’d better not talk about it”). What all this produces is something now called “apologism” — a propensity to make excuses and minimize an event or belief or feeling because you don’t want to seem “always” critical or out of step with the mainstream or peers. In its worst form it emerges as a victim-blaming defence for atrocities like assault, harassment or abuse. But in its milder form it can lead to dangerous group-think, the suppression of new and important ideas, and destructive self-blaming.
  13. Widespread anomie and the trivialization and co-opting of dissent by professional activists. The term anomie means a disconnection between ones personal values and one’s community’s values. It refers to a state of ‘rudderlessness’ where it is difficult to find one’s authentic place or engage in meaningful social interaction with most others, especially those in different demographics. In a major international study, pollster Michael Adams found it increasingly prevalent in young people, and on the rise in all age groups. Adams remarked on how Americans in particular were becoming increasingly “suspicious of and indifferent to the plight of their fellow citizens”. The disengagement of the young explains why so many activist groups are dominated by older people (a new phenomenon in the last half-century). Unfortunately, the activist vacuum has allowed professional environmental groups (Greenpeace, 350 etc.) to co-opt much of the activist movement’s activities, creating a constant manageable “trivial theatre of dissent” that is comfortable for many older people opposed to violence and confrontation, and comfortable for the corporations and politicians because it’s controlled and unthreatening. Mainstream media like it because it’s simplified, dichotomous and often specifically orchestrated for their cameras. And it creates easy, stable, well-paying jobs for mainstream environmental group spokespeople, while changing absolutely nothing.

While I believe most of these trends and emergences are complex collective responses to changing realities, and either well-intentioned or unconscious (i.e. without malicious intent), taken together they would seem to evince a broad, intuitive shift in our collective gestalt, our way of coping with the world. They reveal more than anything, I think, a giving up of the belief in fairness, justice, controllability, understandability and consensus as means of “making sense” or taking action reliably to achieve desired objectives in the current reality of how things work. They reveal both the incapacity of our now massively-overgrown, fragile and unwieldy systems to function sustainably or effectively, and the incapacity of ourselves and our broken communities to function effectively within their purview.

In other words, just as we became, over the last few millennia, increasingly disconnected from nature and from our integral place in the web of all-life-on-Earth, we are now quickly becoming disconnected from human-made systems that we realize, at least subconsciously, no longer function or support us — indeed they imperil our existence. This second disconnection is a healthy one, a sensible coping mechanism, a first step in preparation for the perilous and rocky shift to a possible new way of living in both a human and more-than-human society, at least for the survivors of collapse. Intuitively, it’s the only sustainable way for us to live.

This letting-go of our belief in and reliance on and support for civilization’s systems is of course frightening — we want the new connections, the new ways of living and being, to be securely in place before we give up on the old ones. We want to know the new story before we can honestly accept that the old one, the one we still cling to and believe in so utterly, so passionately, and now so desperately, has always been a lie.

July 10, 2014

Nodding With a Smile to the Sacred

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 13:32

avebury

stone circle at avebury uk; photo by the author

I had the great pleasure to meet and spend an evening with Ben Brangwyn, who co-founded the Transition Network with Rob Hopkins, during my recent trip to Totnes UK.

Rob has just posted the interview that came out of that meeting, on his Transition blog. The blog’s theme for this month is “Celebration”, so the questions wove around that theme. In times of collapse, the definition of celebration that came to me was a somewhat muted and understated one, the idea of ‘nodding with a smile to the sacred‘. Have a read and let me know what you think.

July 1, 2014

Through the Dark Mountain: A Harvest of Myths

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 18:09

schumacher college

I spent last week at a Dark Mountain retreat at Schumacher College in Dartington just outside Totnes, UK. Along with the brilliant authors of the Dark Mountain Manifesto, Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine, 16 remarkable artists, an equal number male and female, from 7 countries around the world, and all but three from what I could ascertain much younger than I (age 20-38), explored our shared worldview of the coming collapse of civilization, the myths of our culture and the possibility of creating new stories that might be of better service to us in the challenging decades ahead. The main building in which we met, Postern House, is pictured above; it was built in 1380. (While I was there I also had the pleasure of meeting Ben Brangwyn, co-founder of Transition Network and Isabel Carlyle, the Transition Network’s education coordinator, and later, by chance, Rob Hopkins, co-founder of Transition and author of several books about Transition, and his wife.)

A myth is a story that many people believe to be true. It may or may not be true.

The danger with myths is that if people live their lives as if a myth is true, when it is not, they can destroy their lives, the happiness of everyone they know and care about, the world, everything.

At this week’s Dark Mountain retreat, we collectively attempted to identify the dominant myths of our time, in the belief that many of these myths are no longer serving us well, if they ever did. It might be more accurate to say these are prevalent myths in different circles of power and influence, since there are so many of them — seemingly competing for our attention and belief, some of them directly contradictory to others, and some growing in influence while others are losing their hold.

Here is the Harvest, in alphabetical order (grouping seemingly related myths, and some of their opposites):

  • Activism: that well-coordinated activism at the right scale can change the world. Or that activism beyond the local scale is futile, that our future is fated and unalterable.
  • Beauty: that anyone can be perfectly beautiful. That beauty is goodness. That everyone is already beautiful.
  • Centralization and Globalization: that by centralizing, globalizing, homogenizing, standardizing and scaling human systems, they necessarily become both more efficient and more effective. Or that small is necessarily beautiful, and through decentralization and true anarchy, human activity can be optimized.
  • Choice: that we have real choices in our lives, and the quality of our choices determines our degree of self-realization.
  • Collapse: that collapse is a sudden, dramatic and final event that occurs simultaneously everywhere to everyone in a society. Or that collapse is a gradual and healthy response to a complex system failure and will lead to the emergence of a better system.
  • Commensurability: that we get what we ‘deserve’, as a result of our valiant effort or good character.
  • Conflict: that life is inevitably full of conflict and resolution, struggle and the overcoming of obstacles. That a story without conflict and obstacles that are overcome is not a story at all.
  • Control: that humans are or can be in control of our own destiny, and that we have the power to change things. Or that our destiny is controlled entirely by gods or fates, and that we have no power to change anything.
  • Cycles: that everything in life is cyclic, so everything that’s good, and bad, will come around again.
  • Doing is More Important Than Being: that doing everything we can to try to deal with the world’s intractable problems, even if it’s inevitably futile, is our responsibility and duty, and failure to do so is slacking, giving up.
  • Duality: that the complexity of understanding and decision-making can be usefully simplified to pairs of often polar alternatives.
  • The End of Myths: that the myths of the human world have all been smashed, and there are no new ones, and that we no longer have need of them anyway, since our new stories are scientifically ‘true’. Or that there are some good myths. Or that human mental models and function require myths.
  • Failure is Bad: that success, no matter how achieved, is laudable, but failure is shameful.
  • The Fall and Redemption: that humanity once was perfect, but fell from grace, and now our lifelong and primary duty is to redeem ourselves.
  • Free Will: that we have it. Or that there is no such thing.
  • Good vs Evil: that in every struggle there is a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ side, and those who are evil will always be provoking new struggles.
  • Happiness as Purpose: that a happy life is a good life, and that achieving it is a worthy goal in life.
  • Hierarchy and Order: that human society requires hierarchy to function effectively, and that there is a ‘natural’ order of things, with humans at the top/centre, and with the superior/strongest/fittest humans at the pinnacle.
  • Heroes: that the great changes in history were inspired and made possible principally by the work of exceptional individuals (or the Margaret Mead variation, by very small determined groups).
  • Human Centrism and Dominion: that the world, and Nature, were made or inevitably evolved to bring our species to the fore, and hence are there to tame and conquer for our purposes. Or that Nature rather than humanity is central to our world (ecocentrism), is inherently sacred (biophilia) and should be studied to learn how to live better (biomimicry). That Gaia and the other-than-human world cares about the plight, success and survival of the human species. And that all humans are damaged by our culture and spend their whole lives trying to heal.
  • Immortality: that we do or might somehow live on in some form forever, so death need not be feared. Or that death is utter and final, or evidence of our failure.
  • Individualism & Separateness: that we are separate and apart from other humans and all other life on Earth, and that we are “all of a piece”, rather than a complicity of our component cells. Or that we are merely “the collaborative open source project of a trillion cells”, and an integral and inseparable part of the organism of all-life-on-Earth (Gaia).
  • Inevitability: that things are the way they are for a reason, and that we can’t change them until/unless we understand that reason (Pollard’s Law of Complexity). And that certain occurrences, once a tipping point is passed, are inevitable no matter how we intervene.
  • Information: that having the right information is essential to effective action, and that more information is better. Or that all information is propaganda and we should trust our intuition, or our traditions, or our leaders, to tell us what to do.
  • Ingenuity: that human ingenuity is unlimited and can solve all problems and predicaments.
  • Linearity: that history moves forward through time in some coherent and inevitable way.
  • Mate for Life: that we and all admirable species are meant to love just one other for our whole lives.
  • Meaning: that all human activity is driven by the search for meaning and purpose. Or that life is meaningless and the search for meaning is futile.
  • More is Better: that sufficiency is not sufficient.
  • Near-Term Extinction: that because of multiple positive feedback loops, all complex life on Earth will be extinct by mid-century.
  • Necessary Politeness: that outrage is always an inappropriate and excessive response, even to atrocity.
  • Necessity of Conflict and Struggle: that the world and our species are so terrible that anything of value can be achieved only through struggle, conflict and sacrifice. Or that the way to peace is one of acceptance and non-struggle.
  • Noble Savage: that the important truths of how to live optimally can be found by listening to and learning from ‘uncivilized’, aboriginal peoples. Or that humans are by virtue of our nature and/or large brains always fated to destroy the world.
  • Objectivity: that there is an objective, rational, absolute truth.
  • One Right Answer: that there is one for every situation.
  • Original Sin: that humans are inherently sinful, lazy, evil, and in need of controlling. Or that humans are inherently good, and that people who cause pain and suffering do so only because they are ill, damaged and traumatized.
  • Perfect Markets: that deregulation and non-interference in individual attempts at self-optimization will produce a perfect collective outcome, or at least the best possible one.
  • Perpetual Growth: that through human ingenuity it is possible to make and do more and more with less and less forever. Or that through human ingenuity it is possible to shift our global economy to a steady-state, sustainable one.
  • Progress: that the natural direction of human civilization is toward a collectively better and better world for humans.
  • Rationality and Knowability: that the complexity of the world can be simplified or made merely complicated and hence completely known and predictable. Or that the world is utterly unknowable, and we have to accept our lot as inevitable, and have faith it is in some way necessarily good.
  • Salvation: that if we live a good life and work hard, we will be saved from suffering and misfortune, by the gods, by a righteous elite, or by our own ingenuity and collective efforts, either with, through or despite technology.
  • Scarcity, Sacrifice and Struggle: that everything is scarce, and our task is to struggle, sacrifice, compete and mete out what little of everything there is. Or that everything is abundant, if only we can see it, and the illusion of scarcity is manufactured.
  • Self-determination: that with hard work and a little good fortune, anyone can accomplish anything they set out to do, and be whatever they want to be.
  • Self-improvement: that we need to work hard to personally grow and improve. Or that we are who we are and cannot ever be otherwise.
  • Urgency Trumps Importance: that things considered urgent will always get done before things that are merely important, and that merely important things will never get done because once the urgent work is done, we are too exhausted to do more than what is easy and fun (Pollard’s Law of Human Behaviour).
  • Urbanization is Natural: that the natural migration of settled human society is from farm to town to city.
  • Wealth is Happiness: that happiness depends on and is proportional to material security, or at least that the lack of material wealth precludes happiness. Or that “money is the root of all evil” and “can’t buy happiness”.

~~~~~

What do we do with such a list? Here are some possibilities:

  1. We can acknowledge both the myths we believe to be true, and the ones we dismiss as false. We can compare our myths to others’ to understand their different worldviews and what those differences mean in terms of mutual understanding and openness to change.
  2. We can ask, Byron Katie style, whether we believe the opposite of each of the myths on the list that we dismiss as false, and whether the opposite of each of the myths we believe is true might, instead or equally, be true.
  3. We can then question and reassess both our beliefs and our doubts. We can ask ourselves whether the myths we believe, and our doubts about those we do not, are of service or disservice (or neither) to us in our work and connection with the world. We could earmark the myths that are of service when thinking about what stories we want to tell, and how to tell them. And when we tell stories, we could acknowledge, at least to ourselves, the myths that underlie them.
  4. We can explore whether our propensity to believe a radically different set of myths from those of the majority leads us to feel smug or superior, or (when we find others who agree with us) simply (and perhaps falsely) reassured “we aren’t crazy”.

Later in the week we began to identify, via brainstorming, a set of candidate stories that might serve us better, while trying to avoid jumping on the antitheses of the myths from the list above that we found most objectionable and dangerous. In my view we didn’t get far enough in this process for a meaningful consensus to arise, but perhaps it is enough that we have started thinking about it.

I believe that the adoption of stories as ‘true’ (turning them into myths) by a large group of people, is an emergent process. As such it is terribly slow, as people have to be ready to believe a story, and that’s a process that (as the media have learned) cannot be rushed or controlled. There is some truth to the Goering claim that “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself”. But that’s a fragile way of myth-creating — if people don’t really feel it, ‘know’ it deep down, all it will take is someone else to repeat the opposite often enough and people will start believing that. There is some value in telling our truths, loudly, repeatedly, clearly and passionately, and in the case of truths about collapse, courageously. But the impact of any one doing that is inevitably going to be small. Paul, I think, believes that the Ecocentrism story (see under Human Centrism in the list above), is ready to go viral and might become a new prevalent myth; while I agree with him, and hope he’s right, I’m not sure a few more of us telling that story will make a significant difference in its spread.

On the other hand, although the acceptance of stories is, I think, an emergent process, the creation of stories is, well, a creative process, not an emergent one. And what group could be better equipped to create such stories than an informed and sensitive group of artists?

Therefore, what I am hoping will come out of this past week’s connection, work and reflection will be some continuing small-group conversations (probably using Hangout etc.), and then some invitations to creative collaborations (hopefully of the calibre that produced the Dark Mountain Manifesto), that will result in the creation of some entirely new stories that explain what is happening, or what seems ‘real’ in the world or in our culture, in a way that has never been articulated before, and which offer some powerful new insights, ideas, understandings, appreciation, perceptions and perspectives that will affect how those stories’ listeners think and feel about the world, what they believe, and ultimately what they do and even who they are.

Story and art can do that. Darwin did that, with his dangerous new story about how humans evolved, just one of many species, adapting to ever-changing circumstances. Stephen J. Gould did that, with his unpopular story about the emergence of life and then vertebrates (let alone humans) on our planet being an incredibly improbable accident, a random walk. Lovelock and Margulis did that, with their mind-boggling story about all life on Earth being a collective self-managing organism, Gaia, looking to balance the interests of all her inseparably connected and interdependent parts, just as our bodies do. These are myth-makers extraordinaire.

I hope for nothing less from us collapsnik artists — new stories that will make us say “ah!” New stories that will make us smile and fill us with the recognition and realization of what should have been obvious, but somehow was not. New stories that will change our appreciation, in fundamental and useful ways, of what it means to be alive and to be human. New stories that will make the challenges ahead of us more bearable, more joyful, and guide us in making decisions on what to do, and how to be. New stories that will want to be told, again and again.

~~~~~

At the risk of this being an anticlimactic end to this post, I want to proffer a half-formed story that came to me as I listened to my amazing new artist friends talk about what brought them to Schumacher College this past week and what they see their role as, beyond simply chronicling civilization’s collapse. This story occurred to me as I realized that (a) since the sixth great extinction actually began many millennia ago, we are not now going in to a dark time, but rather coming out of one, and (b) we are not climbing or descending a dark mountain, so much as passing through one (perhaps one that looks suspiciously, from above, like a ‘normal curve’).

It needs a lot of care and attention, and perhaps collaboration, but I think there is something in this that wants to be told:

You are on this journey, through a great dark mountain. All the living creatures of Earth are with you, travelling alongside, or at least they seem to be — it’s hard to tell in this dim light what’s real and what’s imagined, or what’s just wishful thinking. It seems as well that there are more humans but many fewer and less diverse other-than-human creatures marching along each day. You don’t know your purpose, here. Some time ago, for some reason that must have made sense at the time, your ancestors decided to enter this dark mountain, and you have never known any other life, any other way to live. When you look back, miles back there seems to be some dim light. And behind you, holding hands through the dark all the way back as far as you can see, are your ancestors and the ancestors of all the creatures that now travel with you. And when you look ahead, miles ahead there seems to be some dim light as well. And ahead of you, holding hands through the dark all the way forward as far as you can see, are your descendants and the descendants of all the creatures that now travel with you. Where the light is, so far ahead you do not expect to reach it in your lifetime, or even expect your children to reach it in theirs, you cannot see well enough to see what creatures, if any, are emerging into the light at the end of the mountain.

What is your role on this seemingly-endless and possibly ill-fated journey? Are you a healer, helping others to cope with the mounting diseases and accidents of darkness? Are you a mentor and teacher, humbly recalling and demonstrating and passing on the skills and preserving the memories your ancestors passed on to you? Are you a student, acquiring the knowledge and capacities that may be needed on the road ahead, in darkness and, perhaps, in light? Are you a facilitator and peacemaker and community-builder, helping your fellow travellers to self-manage each day’s journey so they do their collective best? Are you an artist or story-teller, filling your fellow travellers with pleasure and trickster wisdom? Are you a scientist or philosopher, helping others to make sense of what seems impossible, unbearable? Or are you an exemplar, showing others by what you do, and how you are, a better way to live and be? How are you of service to your fellow travellers, those you’ve come to love or have always loved, those you’ve left behind, those you don’t know, marching quietly or not-so-quietly alongside, those running ahead, impatiently. And, perhaps most importantly, those you will never meet, far beyond where you can see, striding ever-closer towards the light?

Thank you, Dougald and Paul, and thank you my fellow travellers of the past week. You are awesome beyond words and I am honoured to have shared your company.

June 30, 2014

A Pattern Language for Effective Activism

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 18:15

I‘m delighted that Generation Alpha — long one of my favourite FB pages — asked me to write an article for their new blog. The article I chose — A Pattern Language for Effective Activism — is now up. Please go over and take a look, and sign up to be notified about future Generation Alpha posts while you’re at it. Teaser:

Even if you’re not aware of it, you’re probably an activist. If you’ve been involved in a letter-writing campaign, a demonstration, a boycott, a Transition initiative, a Sharing Economy program, or an Occupy activity, you qualify, and you probably have a story about something that went really well, or really badly. This article is about how to improve our activism, to make it more effective at achieving its goals. To start, the chart below shows the five main forms and 18 main categories of activism, adapted from the book Deep Green Resistance:

direct action

(to read the rest of the article, visit Generation Alpha)

Bonus teaser: Here’s what a “pattern language” for effective action might look like:

effective activism

 

June 15, 2014

Getting Ready for the Fall

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 00:39

new political map

It seems it is both too early and too late for us to do much to prepare for what James Kunstler calls The Long Emergency — the gradual collapse, over the coming decades, of our global economic/political, energy/resource and ecological/climate systems. These systems are so complex and so interrelated, and the number of variables affecting them so vast, that it’s impossible to predict what crises will hit, where or when. All we know is that we’ve created a perfect storm, and that the systems that comprise our amazing but unsustainable and teetering civilization are soon going to fail on a scale unseen since the last great extinction of life on Earth.

So what, we ‘collapsniks’ are continually asked, should we do?

The answer, of course, depends on your point of view. If you’re a salvationist (a member of the groups on the right side of the chart above) you’re probably not a regular reader here, and you’re probably going to invest in whatever form of salvation you believe will save civilization from collapse. If you’re a transitionist, a deep green activist, a communitarian/neotribalist or an existentialist, or one of the growing number of humanists who are now doubting that a great upswell in globally coordinated human collective effort will be enough to stave off economic collapse, resource exhaustion and runaway climate change, you’re more likely to be working on projects that support those specific worldviews — creating local renewable energy systems, blockading the Tar Sands and its pipeline tentacles, starting an ecovillage, or helping Occupy block foreclosures, for example. If you’re like me, you find yourself moving between these ‘camps’ and thinking about all of these types of projects.

These are all worthy projects, but they each depend on a certain level of faith that the enormous effort, and in some cases risk, entailed in them will be justified by the result. Or they depend on a somewhat perverse but perfectly human and understandable belief that “we can’t just do nothing”.

Are there some “common denominator” projects, I wondered, that all of us leaning to the left side of the chart above can agree upon as worthwhile, and work on together? Projects that will have been worth doing even if we are preposterously wrong about the severity of crises awaiting us in the next ten or twenty or thirty years?

I think there are four such ‘projects’. I’ve written about them on my blog, and in my articles for SHIFT Magazine, and I’m now starting to talk about them at public events because they seem to resonate with a lot of people. This will be my first attempt to explore them in a bit more detail. Here are the four projects:

1. Relearning essential skills. We have become utterly dependent on centralized economic, health and education systems, global supply chains, expensive specialists, corporate employers, manufacturers, repairers, agents and intermediaries. As systems continue to collapse, and as we start to create alternative community-based systems to replace them, we’re going to have to relearn many capacities, skills (hard and soft) and practices that our ancestors took for granted.

I’ve distilled an earlier long list of essential capacities and practices down to these 21 categories:


  1. Acceptance, acknowledgement, self-acceptance, appreciation, gratitude, letting go, letting come, humility
  2. Adapting, shifting, agility
  3. Analysis, researching, differentiating, synthesis, foresight
  4. Attention, listening, sensing, intuition, presence, self-awareness, authenticity, vulnerability
  5. Caring, empathy, healing, nurturing, honouring, self-caring
  6. Collaboration, building-upon
  7. Collective self-sufficiency: to make/provide/manage our own food, clothing, shelter, water, energy, resources, tools, livelihood, infrastructure, health, education, art, recreation, stories
  8. Connecting with people and place, partner-finding
  9. Conversation, articulation, invitation, story-telling, naming, clarification, eliciting, translation, visualizing, non-verbal communication
  10. Creative thinking, connecting ideas, curiosity, improvisation, foresight, pattern recognition
  11. Critical thinking, questioning, provoking
  12. Exemplifying, modelling, demonstrating, mentoring
  13. Facilitation, consensus-making, holding space, patience, perspective
  14. Generosity, offering, sufficiency, modesty, biomimicry, non-possessiveness
  15. Imagination, invention (quite different from ‘creativity’ above)
  16. Knowledge: appreciation of history, culture, nature, human nature, local ecology
  17. Playfulness, humour, releasing tension, celebration
  18. Reflection, contemplation
  19. Self-directed learning
  20. Self-management, self-control, self-knowledge, self-awareness, intention
  21. Taking responsibility

It’s not essential that everyone in a community have all these skills, but the more present they are in community members, the more resilient the community will be in challenging times. I rated myself, and my community of 3800 people, on each of these categories of capacities, and came up with the following:

capacities map

So my focus now is on improving my capacities and practices in the left column of this chart. I think it’s too early to be trying to get others in my community to do likewise, and to start developing and improving collective capacities — there’s not yet a sense of urgency to do so, and besides, I have no idea whether, when these crises hit, I will still be living where I am now, nor who will be living in my community with me. At the same time, I suspect the bottom row of this chart (the missing essential capacities of communities collectively) is pretty consistent from community to community. I’m not sure what to do with this knowledge at this point, but it’s useful to know your vulnerabilities nevertheless.

There’s nothing magic or scientific about the above list, which is probably incomplete in any case. The important thing, I think, is to take stock, and to decide what will be most useful to learn, and practice, to be liberated from dependence on civilization when it no longer serves us, and to be of service to those in your community who will urgently need these capacities as it falls.

2. Learning to create and build community

My late friend Joe Bageant famously said “Community is born of necessity”. Efforts of idealists to build ecovillages and model intentional communities have been, with some remarkable exceptions, pretty unsuccessful. I think that is because the situation for many of us in affluent nations is not yet bad enough to force us to create community with the people who are here, rather than the people we imagine we’d like to live with. That includes living in community with some people (who happen to be neighbours) who we really don’t like at all. There is not yet the “necessity” to create the kind of communities that will enable us to weather collapse.

Nevertheless, some interesting things are happening already. The homeless in our own countries, the displaced, and the billions living in makeshift ‘unofficial’ homes in struggling nations’ slums are showing us how to build community, because for them the necessity is indisputable. We can learn a great deal from visiting with them and studying them, about what works and what doesn’t when centralized systems no longer serve us.

The endless recession that began in 2008 has also jump-started the Sharing Economy, as hundreds of millions who once owned, or aspired to own, their own homes and cars and other ‘stuff’, have shifted their mindset to renting, borrowing, and gifting to/from others in their community. That mindset will serve us well as we move from isolated ‘private’ homes full of ‘private’ property on ‘private’ land to a more communal, sustainable style of life.

The Syracuse Cultural Workers poster at left provides some more essential ideas on building community, things that you can practice right now, no matter how fractured your community is.

One form of community-based living that is thriving is co-housing. Under this model, people own their own home unit and share in a much larger common area that provides a shared large-event kitchen and eating area (for potlucks), guest bedrooms, workshops, kids’ play areas, hot tubs etc. This means individual homes can be much smaller while the co-housing community still provides all the amenities of a much larger home.

Two organizations that provide lots of information on how to create more sustainable communities are the Fellowship of Intentional Communities and the Global Ecovillage Network.

Another initiative that helps people trying to establish stronger communities is the network of Resilience Circles. While this group was originally designed to help people struggling with unemployment and basic security needs in their communities, it has a complete, well-thought-out facilitator’s guide for establishing local circles, and has recently begun to work with the Transition Network.

There’s a simple first step: Invite all of the people in your immediate neighbourhood to a potluck. That may mean finding out who they are, first. No agenda, no exclusions. Just start, and see what happens.

In the introduction to his new compendium Communities That Abide, long-time student of collapse Dmitry Orlov tells the story of a flock of birds that nested in a dead tree and then, after it was cut down by a thoughtless neighbour, quickly regrouped and established themselves in another. His three essential qualities of a sustainable community: Self-sufficiency, the ability to self-organize and recover in the face of crisis, and mobility (not being tied to any one place). I don’t know many communities today that have these qualities. The birds can show us the way.

3. Living an exemplary, self-aware, purposeful, joyful life as a model for others

It’s one thing to tell people what they “should” do to prepare for collapse. But I’ve always found “show, don’t tell” to be useful advice if you want to bring about real learning, engagement and change.

So what does it mean to be a model? I think an important precondition is self-knowledge. A good model is someone who is authentic, transparent, vulnerable and honest, rather than a poseur pretending to be what s/he wishes to be but is not. You can only pretend for so long before the mask falls and your audience feels they’ve been had. Being a model, I think, more than anything else, means knowing and being who you really are. We are all, I believe, doing our best, and what will help us most is seeing others candidly and articulately talking about their struggles and their anxieties, as well as their successes and joys. Despite the image of the term ‘model’ — of ‘perfect’ representations of beauty on raised catwalks or pedestals — I think models, to be of any use (other than selling us stuff we don’t need) have to be accessible, caring, and real. In science, in art, in any field other than fashion, a model is as true a representation as possible of some reality.

And a model must be of use. We should be able to pick up things from ‘playing’ with a model that are interesting and useful in our own lives. I’m not talking about leadership, but rather setting an example, not to be followed or emulated, but adapted by each observer to their own circumstances.

I describe myself as a “joyful pessimist” and I try to model that, to show that it’s not oxymoronic. I’m not a very good model, but I’ve learned that not being very good at it can be useful to others as well. My honesty about my failure to be truly present, my paradoxical love and fear of the wild, my moments of self-doubt, I have been told, all have helped others to see that their struggles are not unique, that it’s OK to fail, that “self-improvement” is a fool’s goal. My blogging, which has progressed and become less aimless since I began it over 11 years ago, has also become less popular as it’s come to offer fewer easy answers and more difficult questions. What it offers of value, I’m told, is a contextual reassurance to people that they’re not crazy, that the thoughts and feelings they have that they are uncomfortable talking with others about, because no one else is talking about these scary things, are perfectly rational, understandable, and appreciated: It’s OK: You’re not alone. It’s an essential part of the imperfect, evolving model of me.

The people who I see as my models are not charismatic, but they do have several qualities that I try to practice and learn from. They’re very aware to what’s happening, and self-aware. They’re pragmatic and unpretentious. They’re humble but happy, not martyrs for their cause. They’re articulate, each in his or her own way, both intellectually and emotionally. They do things locally to make others’ lives easier, more joyful, less of a struggle. They are generous — they give without the expectation of reciprocity or recognition, and they sometimes give even when they’d rather not. They don’t dwell on the past or the future, but don’t pretend not be be affected by what has happened or what might be to come. They perform what Adam Gopnik calls “a thousand small sanities” and carry themselves with what Richard Holloway calls “an attitude of contemplative gratitude”.

Perhaps the best way to figure out how you can be a model for others is to ask others what they value in you, and what they value in other people they admire and have learned from, and then figure out how you can be “nobody-but-yourself” in a way that still exemplifies as many as possible of those qualities and values.

4. Healing ourselves and helping to heal others

We all have to heal from the trauma that parents, teachers, adults, peers, employers, co-workers, lovers and friends have inflicted, to some extent, on each of us, mostly unintentionally — they were damaged and didn’t know better, and so were we. Our civilization culture’s chronic stresses have taken their toll on all of us, and the healing will be for all of us a lifetime’s work.

On top of the damage this culture has already done to us, physically and emotionally, we are now struggling as well with the fear, the dread, the guilt and the grief that comes from realizing what we have done to this planet, with the best of intentions, and what we’re going to face as a consequence.

We have a lot of healing to do, and we can’t do it alone. And the task is far beyond depending on ‘professional’ healers.

James Truong has written a chapter on “resilient health care” in the aforementioned book Communities That Abide that describes what we as individuals and communities can do to heal ourselves and others, both to supplement what ‘professionals’ do and to replace them when centralized health care infrastructure and systems collapse (caveat: James is not a big fan of alternative medicine, and IMO dismissive of some forms of ‘modern’ psychological suffering). Some of the key means to more self-sufficient, community-based health care are, he suggests:

  • A healthy diet, hydration, hygiene, exercise and lifestyle and other illness/accident prevention actions
  • Adequate rest, freedom from stress, social interaction, meaningful work and recreation
  • Learning to self-diagnose and self-treat non-critical acute (e.g. minor injuries) and chronic conditions
  • Democratizing knowledge of how to treat critical acute conditions through self-directed learning, so that every community has broad lay skills in health care (and being aware that the people in our community, people we care about and who care about us, are the most important part of our ‘first aid kit’)
  • Shifting to a mindset of taking personal responsibility for and experiential learning about our own health
  • Maintaining community toolsets of supplies, medications and equipment that can help us self-treat many illness and accident conditions (and frequent use of their contents, hopefully mostly in non-critical cases, to familiarize us thoroughly with their use)
  • Realizing that some acute illness and accident conditions, even those that may seem innocuous, may not practically be treatable at all in a sustainable health care system, and coming to grips with the limits of what any sane health care system can reasonably offer

The chapter, and another in the same book by another Canadian doctor, Peter Gray, focus principally on physical illness and accidents. What about psychological illness, both acute and chronic?

Just as many of us are moving (either out of necessity or out of a desire to be less dependent on unsustainable centralized health care systems) to self-managed, alternative and peer- and community-based physical health care models, so we are moving to more peer- and community-based psychological health care. Many in the ‘alternative’ culture have adopted programs like NVC and Co-Counselling to help each other cope with grief, depression, trauma, stress and other emotional challenges. Even skeptics of such programs appreciate that we have a responsibility to be more aware of effective ways of coping with the emotional damage we all, to some extent, suffer from, as part of our self-care practices and as a means of strengthening relationships with others and being of more value and support to them.

We can benefit from learning to self-monitor, self-diagnose, and self-manage both our physical and emotional health, and support others in our community to do likewise, to wean ourselves off dependence on an increasingly dysfunctional health care system, so that we can manage without it when it is no longer there.

~~~~~

I wish I’d known about these options when I worked, for the better part of a year, on a large government emergency preparedness project a few years ago. The sentiment then was that we couldn’t depend on citizens to do anything to prepare for or cope with crises like pandemics or earthquakes; citizens, they said, were too preoccupied and disorganized, so governments would have to take charge and tell them what to do. If you’ve ever had to scramble for an emergency first-aid kit, a fire extinguisher, or a back-up generator, you’ll know how well ‘just in case’ tools and processes work if you’re not familiar and practiced using them. I knew then that such top-down projects were doomed to fail, but didn’t know what might work better. Now I do. We have to do it for ourselves.

There is perhaps a fifth type of activity we can all undertake to prepare for crisis and collapse: supporting radical activists who are fighting the systems’ most grievous and dangerous activities — the Tar Sands, fracking, coal extraction, offshore and arctic drilling, pipelines and tankers, nuclear reactors, foreclosures, the plundering of the third world, corporatist corruption, ever-growing inequality, and more — hopefully mitigating the degree of suffering our inevitably collapsing economy will cause, or the rapidity and extent of now-unstoppable runaway climate change. They are doing this work, mostly, without expectation of significant success, undermining these systems even as they crumble. We don’t have to join them on the front lines, or in the prisons and hospitals many of them will spend time in fighting this good fight — we can support and help them by providing them with information, funding, asylum, legal and moral support, and safe harbour. We owe them no less.

Re-skill, build community, exemplify, heal, and help undermine. Those of us who know, and care, about our teetering civilization and what its collapse is leading us to, should at least be able to agree on these common actions. These are things we can do, ways we can be, no matter what we face in the decades ahead.

June 8, 2014

Links of the Month: Sunday, June 8, 2014

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 14:40

(I suppose I should start calling this “Links of the Quarter” since that’s about how often I’ve been posting it.)

Leunig controlled crying

another gem from the incomparable michael leunig; thanks to generation alpha (check out their new blog!) for the link.

Charles Eisenstein’s book Sacred Economics is on my Save the World reading list not because I think his vision of transition to a new economy is achievable but because I think it’s practical, articulate, moving and worth striving for even if we’re not very successful at it. His new book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, is, to me, everything Charles himself feared it was: “tedious, obvious, sophomoric, and unoriginal.” But that’s fine; humanists seem to really like it, and if it helps them cope with what’s ahead, it was worth writing. We’re going to need everyone: the deep green activists, the humanists, the transitioners, the communitarians, and the existentialists, to guide us through civilization’s slow collapse together and, if our species escapes extinction because of what we’ve done to this planet, to co-create working models of how a much smaller number of us might live in the world that’s left.

Since I published my “New Political Map” many of the people I call “humanists” seem to have shifted from solidly salvationist to the bet-hedging middle ground (partly “if we all work together we can…” salvationist, partly “we need a Plan B if that fails” collapsnik) that was until recently occupied by the transitioners. And at the same time many of the people I would call “transitioners” have moved off the fence and clearly onto the collapsnik (focused on “resilience building” rather than “powerdown”) side of the map (while staying at its most optimistic edge). Both groups seem to be suffering a bit of a crisis of confidence as the news gets worse (mostly about runaway climate change; most people still seem pretty clueless about the fragility of our economic and energy systems). I think this shift is encouraging.

Even more encouraging to me is the openness of transitioners and humanists to doubt and existential self-questioning. Charles quotes a critic who told him “You are speaking to audiences that are addicted to the emotional high called ‘inspiration.’ But then they go back to their sorry, complicit lives, and nothing has changed. You are actually enabling them to continue doing that.” The critic is right, and Charles’ willingness to acknowledge that he might be exhibits precisely the degree of ambivalence, humility and openness to shift that will serve us all well in the decades ahead. And a lot of those ‘complicit inspiration-lovers’ are increasingly self-aware and disturbed about this propensity.

As much as those on the salvationist side of the map (the collapse deniers, rapturists, globalists, technotopians and integrals) retrench into their separate echo chambers as the situation worsens, their ideological intransigence and unwillingness to entertain different possibilities is likely to be their undoing, and it will create an extra burden on the rest of us when ‘their’ world falls apart. So we collapsniks are going to have to stick together, and get along with each other, to take up the slack.

Our capacity to embrace the value and credibility of the worldviews of all five “collapse may now be inevitable” camps — humanist, transitionist, communitarian, ‘deep green’ radical activist and existentialist — and to love each other, can give us the resilience to adapt to new information, situations and possibilities as they emerge. Humanists are, I think, the largest of these five camps, and their capacity to shift from “how do we create a better more sustainable civilization” to “how do we minimize suffering and stay mutually supportive through civilization’s collapse” will be essential to the health of our collective response to the crises ahead.

I sense they’re making that shift; perhaps Charles’ next book will signal it.

________________

PREPARING FOR CIVILIZATION’S COLLAPSE

LOTM elbonians via gen alpha

scott adams’ dilbert; thanks to generation alpha  for the link

Are Humans Inherently Civilized?: Great two-part musing by my friend Keith Farnish about whether humans are doomed to repeat the catastrophic experiment of civilization over and over, just because of who we are (large-brained, capable of imagining terrible things, deluded to perceive ourselves as individuals, equipped with opposable thumbs etc.) In a related post, George Monbiot (thanks to Tim Bennett for the link) reviews archeological evidence that suggests large scale extinction has always been the immediate result of human migration wherever we have moved since the invention of the arrowhead, and that, perhaps, we are inherently “a destroyer of worlds” and have hence had to “civilize” ourselves to survive in the natural poverty our rapaciousness has created.

Collapse of Complex Systems is Normal: Complexity theorist David Korowicz explains the inevitability of collapse of complex systems, and why striving for a steady-state economy is admirable but achieving it is impossible. Thanks to Paul Heft for the link. Excerpt from Part Two of the article on the futility of anger in the face of inequality and corruption:

The large-scale predicament and the emergent socio-economic stresses that we are beginning to experience have very little to with fraud, corruption and the greed of a tiny few. It has a lot to do with our human civilization running into limits. As socio-economic stress deepens and uncertainty rises we can expect anger spreading in severity and scale in the coming years. Uncomprehending rage turned outwards and inwards, fantasies of catharsis through revolution, extremism and authoritarianism, aggressive power/productive asset accumulation and scapegoating are just some of destructive behaviors we’re likely to see. The stakes involved in such transitions mean that it’s important to interrogate our anger, and question its foundations. That’s why I’d argue that in the rich part of the world there has been a huge amount of self-righteous finger-pointing that is not only delusional but may well be detrimental to how we deal with the collective challenges ahead. None of this means, for example, that fairness and inequality (especially in-group) are not hugely (and innately) important for people, and that societies who fail to engage with it in the difficult years ahead are greatly adding to the risk of catastrophic social fractures that will do nobody any good…

As societies face increasing challenges in the years ahead, and governments and international institutions fail to hold together our web of expectations, we can expect a lot more anger and more people feeding it. Some form of dis-orderly economic contraction is almost certain and nothing will change that… In fact we know very little about how a society might practically and dynamically furnish large and bewildered populations with the basics of food, healthcare, critical services, security and governance in the context of a complex society falling apart.

Another Model Predicts Resource/Economic Collapse: For some reason a small NASA study from last year, simulating the economic activities of “elites” and “commoners” tied into population and resource availability data, and predicting inevitable collapse, has received a huge amount of press. It’s a pretty simplistic model, but it’s good to see mainstream media starting to wake up to the impending collapse of our economic and energy/resource systems; maybe soon they’ll see the connection to runaway climate change and we’ll actually have a broad debate about large system (un)sustainability, and scenarios (and preparations) for collapse. Thanks to the many that pointed me to the original study and the articles about it.

Everything is Broken: An interesting essay by young hacker-journalist Quinn Norton about how “computers are broken” due to their unmanageable complicatedness and massive vulnerabilities, “people, as well, are broken” and “in the end, it’s culture that’s broken“. Very techie, savvy enough to perceive that in the end we humans are just collections of “gray matter with a god complex”. Thanks to Raffi Aftandelian for the link.

Resilient Health Care: A chapter in a new collection on resilience called Communities That Abide, edited by Dmitry Orlov, is about resilient health care. Written by Canadian doctor James Truong, it focuses on the primary importance of developing and drawing on community lay skills, on prevention, and on community-consultative self-diagnosis and self-management. It also advises what tools and basic skills to have/develop in your community, and what, if all else fails, will need expert treatment. And it talks soberly about mindset — the acknowledgement that often our craving for maximum health and longevity at any cost is irrational and self-defeating.

The Wisdom of Local Solar: An excellent article by Eerik Wissenz on the value of creating self-replicating community-based solar energy capacity. Thanks to Paul Heft for the link. [But as Albert Bates has explained, this technology doesn't scale; technophiles take note]. Excerpt:

Solar concentrators are a technology that can make a sustainable local economy possible. Other important parts of this technology suite include: Permaculture, forestry and forest gardening, aquaculture and water management, making shelter and clothes out of locally sourced materials. [We also need] water and heat to cook and preserve food, food and energy to transport and build things, thermal and mechanical energy to transform materials, and a heat source to maintain comfortable temperatures…

A much better plan [than relying on centralized energy production] is to provide the plans and the know-how to build and maintain solar concentrators out of locally sourced materials, with the energy supplied by these same solar concentrators, training local people to build and maintain solar concentrators in the process. The question then becomes one of bootstrapping a solar concentrator self-replicating process, standing back and watching it run.

A Culture of Fear: Permaculturalist Tobe Hemenway explains how fear and coercion are essential to keeping people “civilized”. Excerpt:

To what state have we declined when only the revocable permission of the powerful can guarantee our basics? We gave up a staggering number of freedoms to have our food source guaranteed. Why would anyone trade their freedom for poor health and a life of slavery? I’ve come to doubt that people became farmers voluntarily, and there are many recent examples of hunter-gatherer groups who took one look at farmers, saw what the trade entailed, and said no thanks… Foraging peoples are almost always converted into farmers by a combination of terror, coercion and the extinction of even the memory of an alternative.

The Collapsnik Register: Recent article by Craig Comstock in HuffPost lists many of the best writers about civilization’s collapse; I’m honoured to be included in the list.

Rob Hopkins Interviews Paul Kingsnorth: In case you still haven’t seen/heard it, here’s the interview the founder of Transition did with the co-founder of Dark Mountain.

________________

LIVING BETTER

LOTM passive aggressive raven

cartoon by jim benton

Ten Ways to Show Love to Someone With Depression: Good to see this list, and especially what’s not on it. Takes courage to do these things, but it is what they need. Thanks to Tris Hussey for the link.

Parked: Fascinating and lovely short film by a Bowen friend Sylvaine Zimmermann about the homeless men who live in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

Thinking Like a Creek: On one level this article is about simple, thoughtful methods for stream restoration and natural habitat preservation. But on another it’s about appreciating the way complex systems really work. Like our human body, like communities, like organizations and like larger-scale ecosystems, creeks function by workarounds. They “know” what needs to be done, and, despite interventions trying to prevent them, they’ll find the easiest way to do it. Thanks to Tree for the link.

Artists and Climate Change: Chantal Bilodeau’s blog about the important role artists have in communicating about climate change and the importance of place.

Cli-Fi Books: Mary Woodbury’s listing of novels about life in the future with a radically altered climate. Alas, almost all are dystopias. Thanks to Janaia and Alex Smith for the link.

The Gift Economy and the Art of Asking: Amanda Palmer explains why the Gift Economy (the most altruistic and least commercial edge of the Sharing Economy) is gaining strength, and some ways to help it bloom. Thanks to Tree for the link.

The Best Diet: Another research study shows that the best diet is a variety of real (unprocessed, un-chemically polluted, un-factory farmed) food. And that no specific diet is “best” for everyone. So stop reading about what you “should” eat (and otherwise ingest) and stop listening to self-styled “experts”, and start observing and managing your own health. Thanks to Meribeth Deen for the link.

A New Kind of “Mobile” Home: Riffing off the exploding tiny homes movement, there are now some very innovative, affordable, attractive and portable homes that, while designed for refugees, could allow any and all of us to live self-sufficiently and comfortably, even during a Great Migration. Thanks to Beth Patterson for the link.

An App That Triples Your Reading Speed: A simple tool that mimics and optimizes the way our eyes and brain process words can be used to triple your reading speed almost instantly while increasing comprehension. Try it out. Thanks to Nathaniel James for the link.

What Collapse Can Inspire: I’ve often said that if we want to know how to prepare for collapse, we should look at places where it’s already happened. Last year Jackson MS elected the late Chokwe Lumumba, a long-time radical, its mayor, and while his son failed to get the nod to succeed him this year, Jackson had already launched and is continuing to pursue a broad movement to create worker-owned co-ops to address its poverty and unemployment (and other) problems. Worth keeping an eye on. Thanks to Raffi Aftandelian for the link.

Iran’s Astonishing Birth Rate Decline: Alan Weisman explains how change really happens, describing how Iran’s fertility rate went from being the highest in recorded human history to below replacement level in a few short years. It was done on horseback, and with the gruelling work of visiting every small community in the country and speaking with millions of locals (women especially) face to face, and giving them the capacity and resources to make decisions for themselves.

________________

POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL

LOTM Koch taxes via sandy griffin

protest sign in kansas, via sandy griffin

The Disappearance of the Middle Class: It’s most noticeable in the US so far, but is occurring everywhere there is a middle class. The median US family income is now just above the poverty line, meaning that about half of Americans are “poor” or nearly so. And even these dismal numbers are terrible lies: If true rates of inflation were used, rather than the doctored “official” ones, you’d see the hollowing out much more broadly and deeply. What’s worse, the median net worth of Americans (value of assets less value of debts) is about zero, so that means that the veneer of “wealth” of the lower-middle to upper-middle classes in the US is illusory — if/when they cannot pay those debts back, all of their assets will have to be liquidated to pay off the balance. Half of America is that close to living on the streets.

Canada: “A Rogue, Reckless Petrostate”: Marianne Lenabat explains how Canada’s fall from being one of the most progressive nations on the planet to one of the most heartless and destructive has been carefully wrought by an exploitative conservative minority against the will and without the consent of the large majority of Canadians, and what their ability to do that means for our political system. Thanks to Eric Lilius for the link. Former Canadian budget officer Kevin Page chimes in with an insiders view of what’s “grotesquely wrong”.

The Secrets of Food Marketing: An actress impersonates a food marketer, but the facts she tells the astonished audience are the unvarnished truth. Hint: It’s all about not wanting to know. Thanks to Lisa Marie Whitaker for the link.
________________

FUN AND INSPIRATION

LOTM grammar pirates

grammar pirates from scott clark; sent to me by several english majors

Murmuration: Video of hundreds of thousands of starlings “deciding” precisely where to roost for the night. Thanks to Beth Patterson for the link.

Those Dudes Were Really Chill: See what classical sculptures look like when dressed in modern clothes. Thanks to Iris Carr for the link.

Humans Have Covered the Globe Longer Than We Thought: Simplistic anthropologists would like us to believe that we migrated slowly and opportunistically from proto-human African settlements to the rest of the planet, but evidence keeps confounding them. Recently, we learned that aboriginal Australian cave art dates back 100,000 years, and now we’ve found 22,000 year old rock art in Brazil.

Sexy Naked Women Everywhere: Kate Fridkis describes how the advertising and entertainment media’s depiction of women demeans us all and entrenches the patriarchy.

Sixty Years of the Most Common US Names for Baby Girls: Fascinating map shows the trends year by year.

How the 2008 Recession Reshaped the US Economy: 255 charts show how job numbers have changed in 255 industry sectors over the past decade. The sectors are also ranked by average salary.

What America Cares About Now: A graphic that shows Upworthy’s page hits over the past year by subject. The bad news is that economic collapse (or even unemployment), resource exhaustion and runaway climate change are pretty much not even on the list. The good news is that what is on the list are things people feel that we (collectively or individually) have some agency over. Not that Upworthy, which shuns celebrity news, is a representative arbiter of most humans’ preoccupations.

Whole Foods: Wonderful People, Awful Customers: A customer tries to understand what Whole Foods customers are so chronically angry about. Thanks to Colleen Wainwright for the link.

Fifty Shades of Awful Writing: The delightful Dave Barry explains the “women’s porn” hit and takes brilliant potshots at its dreadful prose.

Etegami: I’ve often wanted to be able to write smart short sayings and illustrate them graphically the way Hugh Macleod does. Now Nancy White tells us about Etegami, a way to do just that.

AniMusic: Great Music. Brilliant Animation. Thanks to Cheryl Long for the links.

Ice Tsunami: A rare but astonishing natural event when thawing ice is pushed up from the shoreline to the homes nearby, and advances at a startling rate, in some cases engulfing or destroying buildings in its path. Thanks to Ryan Stones for the link.

Things Are a Little Different in Canada: Some things you’ll only see in the Great White North.

________________

THOUGHTS FOR THE MONTH

Conversation between Gail Tverberg and John Michael Greer,via Albert Bates (thanks to Eric Lilius for the link):

Gail: “Nature abhors a vacuum and nature also abhors energy that has not been dissipated. And one of those things that dissipates energy extremely well is civilization… It is as though [in trying to 'fix' civilization] you are trying to fight a hurricane. “

John: “A hurricane is a dissipative system, but it has properties like tending to maintain itself, and behaving according to its own internal dynamics, and there is not much you can do to it to disrupt that process until it runs through to its conclusion. [So] civilization is like a slow hurricane. And once it gets started, it is going to go through a certain swath of destruction until it finally peters out. There has actually been quite a lot of work along the same lines with regard to civilizations. [Toynbee and Spengler argue] that civilizations have a predictable life cycle, as a hurricane does.”

From Laura Burns: “Myth puts us in our place.”

From Dmitry Orlov:

In case you missed it, the US is not a democracy. A Princeton University study by Gilens and Page performed a regression analysis on over a thousand public policy decisions, and determined that the effect of public opinion on public policy is nil. That’s right, nil. It doesn’t matter how you vote, it doesn’t affect the outcome in any measurable way. By extension, that also goes for protesting, organizing, dousing yourself with gasoline and setting yourself on fire on the steps of the US Senate, or whatever else you may get up to. It won’t influence those in power worth a damn…

So, what is it that you do when, on election day, you proudly march into the voting booth and pull a lever, or touch the touchscreen of a voting machine? You are certainly not making a decision; that’s been proven already. But you are still doing something: you are voting in support of your owners—the ones who make public policy decisions on your behalf. If you vote, then it must be because you approve of what they are doing. And what is it that they are doing? Well, job one for them seems to be to make sure that the rich continue to get richer while the poor get poorer and the middle class is… well… class dismissed. If this sort of public policy seems self-destructive to you, that’s probably because it is.

From PS Pirro, writing about the leftover pieces of lost love. There is too little about love, and its importance and fragility, on my blog, so this is my feeble attempt to compensate.

CHERRY SYRUP

I have a few things of yours,
dusty in the bottom of a drawer
I haven’t opened in years,
rags and bits of old news,
a birthday card from your mother,
tacky with the spillage from a small
plastic bottle of cherry body syrup
you brought home one night
to pour across my skin, vivid
like movie blood, sticky as
everything we were to become,
even after all this time it remains
as it was in the beginning,
content in search of contour,
cloying on the tongue, unable
even at the most earnest bidding
of love and time to become solid.

From Timothy Leary: “Find the others”.

May 28, 2014

The End of Central Governments?

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 02:14

2060-2069

National Center for Atmospheric Research projected chronic drought areas mid-century; purple and red areas may be essentially uninhabitable

Students of past civilizations describe a civilization’s end not as a sudden tumultuous collapse but more a ‘walking away’, a giving up on the whole way of being and living embodied by the civilization, in favour of a simpler way of being and living. Civilizations, being inherently large and complex human creations, require a huge amount of infrastructure, resources, transportation networks, hierarchy and propaganda. They all collapse, eventually, when the cost of this complexity ceases to be sustainable, usually either because of resource exhaustion or climate change.

What collapses, most notably, is people’s faith in their way of being and living. People need to believe that the culture they live within is the best one for their community and descendants, and when they cease to believe, the political structure of that culture will inevitably collapse. You can only promise the impossible and lie to the people who ultimately have to keep the social fabric together, for so long, before they simply cease to believe. Like the Anasazi whose thousand-year-long North American civilization disappeared so quickly without a trace seven centuries ago, when the people cease to believe in the viability of their culture and walk away, the political system, and its governments, disappear.

I think this is beginning to happen to our civilization. Conservatives generally want strong central governments to sustain a military to ward off attackers. Progressives generally want strong central governments to create a social safety net and help ensure the well-being and education of the people. But now we have conservatives utterly dedicated to the dismantling of government, “starving it until it can be drowned in a bathtub”. And we have progressives so appalled by ubiquitous government surveillance and military misadventure that they are refusing to pay taxes. And we have young people who see governments as so inherently corrupt, inept, and unredeemable that they don’t bother to vote or even follow what they’re doing.

All factions seem to have lost faith in the value and integrity of government. Only the corporatists want the government to continue as it currently operates — siphoning from increasingly disgruntled taxpayers to subsidize the extremely rich and their global corporate enterprises, and engaging in colossally costly wars to steal resources and extract slave labour from struggling nations to enrich them further.

The corporatists own the propaganda arms of the culture — the political parties, the business ‘leaders’, the media, the advertisers — and they are doing their best to mislead and sedate those who have not yet caught on, and discourage those who have. They cannot last much longer.

This culture has pushed us headlong into runaway climate change, and the sixth great extinction of life on Earth. It has exhausted the essential resources on which it has gorged itself for two centuries, and deluded its citizens to believe that somehow innovation will create more from nothing. And it has indebted struggling nations, future generations and the natural world to an extent utterly impossible to repay or sustain. So soon enough, collapse will be upon us.

So how will we walk away, this time? What will it look like? How will central governments come to an end this time?

I am fond of saying that things must get much worse before most people will give up trying to sustain what has been for many a wonderful, astonishing culture. But there are different ways of giving up. This culture will not end, I think, in revolution or bloodshed. It is not worth such a price, nor will radical ‘reforms’ work. Nor will it degenerate into Mad Max-style anarchy and violence. In a crisis, most people tend to be surprisingly rational, protective (of those they love) and cautious, especially when the crisis is prolonged.

Many of those who live with constant struggle — people in most non-affluent nations, the homeless, the chronically poor — are already living in a sort of collapse. They haven’t ‘walked away’, because there was nothing for them to walk away from, or to. They still aspire, mostly, to live the affluent lifestyle we are accustomed to. They do not pay into, or receive anything from, central governments now, and in many nations are unenumerated, not even considered part of the populace.

Warlords and organized crime (and other forms of crypto-government) need access to centralized infrastructure and resources as much as established political organs do. Warlords need transportation, political, financial and military infrastructure in order to sell heroin, or oil, or people, and in order to buy guns and ammunition. Organized crime needs a stable real estate and construction industry to launder their wealth and enrich themselves, and functional currencies and networks for whatever people need that they can’t get through ‘legal’ channels.

When these systems fall apart, everything tends to go local, and there is much less to support inequality of wealth and power. Things that are available locally become relatively abundant (because there’s no economic way to export it), and things that must be imported become relatively scarce. The paper assets of billionaires then lose most of their value, and their hard assets become unmovable (physically or financially), beyond the immediate communities in which they sit. Without an industrial infrastructure to support its distribution, even hard assets — gold, minerals, oil reserves, buildings — will likely fall sharply in value. We will, I think, face a great levelling of wealth and power, and, thanks to climate change, a simultaneous great migration toward the poles.

I don’t see central governments “collapsing” so much as slowly withering away. The rich and powerful will do their best to steal what’s left of the people’s assets: government-owned land, property and cash. They will probably succeed, since they’re the foxes minding the public henhouse. They will call it “privatization” and say it’s in the people’s interests, though it will not be. They will describe the liquidation of assets of cities and then counties and states to pay off corporate debts (the richest 10% own over 90% of US municipal bonds) as “prudent fiscal management”. What is left, as many citizens of bankrupt towns and cities have already discovered, will be utterly inadequate to meet minimal needs of citizens. I think we will see essential services — health, education, security, infrastructure maintenance — largely move into the hands of for-profit corporations that will charge prices only the rich can afford, and will provide inadequate services for everything else (witness e.g. the disgrace of prison privatization in the US).

This could lead to a devolution of service to communities, which may of necessity start to fend for themselves and self-organize the provision of essential services to community members, possibly through co-ops (as has happened in past depressions). This may provide a much lower level of service than what we’re used to, but at least it will be ours. The privatized services tailored to rich urban dwellers will almost inevitably go bankrupt as the value of the paper wealth of the rich plummets as a result of economic collapse. The rich may then try to organize their own walled-community services, but they probably won’t be able to find anyone willing to work in them for what they are able to pay, so eventually they may have to join neighbouring communities which have found successful ways to provide subsistence services, peer-to-peer. The high-priced medical specialists, pharmaceuticals, lawyers and private schools will, by then, probably be gone, unaffordable vestiges of the great levelling.

In many struggling nations, there is currently a vast disparity of wealth. But that disparity depends substantially on the largesse of the corporatist interests in affluent nations, and these interests will have little money left to spend to support them, so in those countries, too, there will likely be a great levelling of wealth. Even the drug czars will probably find that organized crime no longer pays, as the value of currencies collapses. There will be little value in oil reserves and pipelines if there is no money to produce and maintain them, and no money in customers’ pockets to pay for them — especially with the plunging EROIs of modern energy supplies.

As in many struggling nations today, and as in the Great Depression and the Long Depression before that, millions will likely flock to the cities fruitlessly in search of jobs. This could mean that the cities and suburbs will be hollowed out, as the cost of maintaining bridges, expressways, elevators and other infrastructure becomes too high to continue. They may simply be scavenged for what is of transportable value, and then abandoned. The majority of us will likely move towards areas with nearby land that is arable without artificial oil-based fertilizers, and away from the many increasingly intolerable and desertified areas shown in purple and red on the map above.

It is this Great Migration that, I think, could bring the end of most national governments. These governments currently own the security apparatus — the bombs and border militias and armies and security agencies — in most countries, and most people will, I think, continue to believe that security is essential, especially in the face of masses of climate change refugees seeking a habitable place to live. But the astronomical cost of “home security”, which is almost certainly the least efficient and effective of all government services (for complex but perfectly logical reasons), can probably not be maintained through economic collapse, especially with the end of cheap (high EROI) oil. Once national governments admit they cannot afford to maintain armies, borders and weaponry, it’s probably game over for them. And there will almost certainly be no capacity at the regional level by then to devolve authority for security to. On top of this, as people move from the cities towards the remaining arable hinterlands and thousands of miles towards the poles, they’re not likely to care much if someone wants to invade the areas they’ve abandoned.

We’re already seeing a loss of faith in the value of centralized governments, across the political spectrum. If they prove unable to cope with economic collapse, and the great uprooting and great migration brought on by runaway climate change, we may see, in a few short decades, the disappearance of most of the national governments on the planet. As they were until just a couple of millennia ago, political boundaries may then get fuzzy, and largely unimportant and, for better and for worse, it may be the decisions made in each local community, face to face, that will once again determine the well-being of citizens.

Community-building anyone? And where will we be trying to build communities by the middle of the century?

April 25, 2014

Writing a New Story

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 01:24

This is an article I wrote for Earth Day that was just published in our local newspaper. It’s a little different from my usual stuff, intended to engage traditional newspaper readers who are probably unfamiliar with the alternative press, and unaware of the energy, economic and ecological crises we face.

Taro Kaua'i

It takes a lot of courage to tell a story that isn’t the story of your culture. Just ask Galileo, or Salman Rushdie.

In his celebrated 2003 Massey Lectures, First Nations writer Thomas King told us “The truth about stories is that’s all we are”. If he’s right, it’s no wonder that those who deny the story of our culture are vilified.

Our now-global civilization culture’s story began as the mostly Judeo-Christian story of our fall from grace to a life of struggle, but it hasn’t really changed. Our culture’s story tells us that we must work hard, compete, struggle against scarcity and evil both without and within, and that if we ‘succeed’ in this struggle we will achieve endless progress and prosperity.

This story has brought us resource exhaustion, looming economic collapse, runaway climate change, species extinction, endless cycles of war, violence, suffering, disease, trauma, personal exhaustion, poverty, distrust, cynicism, and despair. Yet still we cling to it. It is the only story we know, and drives how we live, what we believe, and everything we do. Everything we read, hear and see reinforces it.

Perhaps Earth Day could give us the courage to recognize that our story is a story of illusion and disaster, and to start to craft and offer a new one.

The first step might be to give up our denial that something will rescue us from the precipice we now stand upon, all of us on this tiny, fragile Spaceship Earth. Denial that we can expect rescue from better leaders, or better technology, or a sudden upswell of coordinated global consciousness, or better laws or freer markets or a second coming.

In his book Requiem for a Species, Clive Hamilton says his extensive study of the latest climate science research has led him to this conclusion:

“We now have no chance of preventing emissions rising well above a number of critical tipping points that will spark uncontrollable climate change. The Earth’s climate [will now] enter a chaotic era lasting thousands of years before natural processes eventually establish some sort of equilibrium. Whether human beings [will] still be a force on the planet, or even survive, is a moot point. One thing seems certain: there will be far fewer of us.”

If your response to reading this is anger, or disbelief, or fear, that’s understandable: Like many climate scientists, economists, and students of our culture, Clive is starting to tell a new, and heretical, story, one that flies in the face of all we believe, and hope. You won’t find politicians, businesspeople, or news reporters telling this story — it’s too complex, too scary, too unbearable, too uncertain, too much out of our control.

Beyond the denial that our culture can be ‘rescued’, is only, now, the terrifying acceptance that within, at least, the lives of our children, the affluent, industrial world most of us have known for two centuries will be gone, and we have no idea what will, or can replace it.

What can help us move past this denial is a new story, one that will bring clarity and hope to what we must now face, and what the extraordinary legacy for future generations will be if we do so courageously and intelligently. That story is ours to write. It will begin when we learn about what happens when (not if) runaway climate change occurs, when an economy collapses permanently, and when a society’s accessible, affordable resources run out. These are world-changing events, but they’re not unprecedented and they’re not “the end of the world”.

Like a patient diagnosed with a life-altering disease, once we’ve learned and accepted the facts, we can start planning for what we will likely face and shift to a new way of living. Many patients receiving such news say it was the best thing that ever happened to them, that learning about the unsustainability of their ‘old’ way of life has led them to a joyous transformation to a new and more meaningful life.

My own ‘new story’ is one of a Great Migration of billions of people (and other creatures) from devastated equatorial areas to the poles, an astonishing journey that will re-teach each of us what it really means to be human, and to be connected to all other life on Earth, and of a new, peaceful, graceful, staggeringly diverse and smaller role of humans aboard Spaceship Earth several millennia in the future.

Your ‘new story’ will probably be different, and that’s fine. It’s enough that you start thinking about what that new story might be, in a way that lets go of hope of continuing our existing civilization in any form.

Whatever it is, it will be, at its heart, a story of liberation. It’s not too early to be writing it, and talking about it with everyone you know (especially your children). Earth Day would be a great day to start.

April 20, 2014

In Defence of Inaction

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 00:47

Beach sunset Belize

photo: Belize Beach Sunset, by the author

I have, of late, had a falling out with many of my fellow ‘progressives’, similar I suppose to that of Paul Kingsnorth, who is being savaged by Naomi Klein and others for giving up on the environmental movement and non-local activism, and by humanists for losing faith in our species’ capacity for innovation and change.

I should say at the outset that I agree that our political and economic and legal and educational and social systems are dreadful, unfair, teetering, and totally inadequate to our needs. I agree that this is a world of horrific inequality, inequitable and unjust privilege, massive suffering, and outrageous patriarchy. I agree that corporatism and corruption and propagandist media are rampant and destructive and destabilizing. I agree that militarized police and torture prisons and drone killing and massive global surveillance are repugnant and a fundamental threat to our personal safety and security and the very principles upon which our nations are founded.

And I fully acknowledge that the fact I’m white, male, boomer generation and relatively wealthy provides me with enormous privilege compared to others, including relative freedom of movement, freedom from fear of harrassment and assault, and greater social, political and economic opportunity.

But when I hear arguments that “we need” to stand up for our ‘inherent’ rights and freedoms, and wrest ‘control’ of the levers of power from the obscenely wealthy elite, and denounce and protest injustice and inequality, and acknowledge and renounce our role as privileged oppressors, as the first steps to a true social revolution in and political and economic reform, leading, somehow, to a radical redistribution of wealth and power, and a more just society, I am reduced to despair.

I used to believe people, and perhaps some other creatures, had ‘rights’ and ‘freedoms’. I believed that someone was in control. I believed there were answers to the predicaments we face.

But now I realize that there are no rights or freedoms. The concept of rights and freedoms is a sop that the rich and powerful of this world use to appease the fury and frustration of the poor and disenfranchised. The ‘granting’ of rights and freedoms means nothing, because they can be and are taken away whenever those in power choose to do so, and are simply ignored when they interfere with the exercise of power or accumulation of wealth by those who allowed them to be granted.

We don’t have freedom of expression, or speech, or assembly: Under the current surveillance state I can be stopped, arrested, held indefinitely and incommunicado, tortured, ‘disappeared’ or simply killed, by a drone or in a secret gulag, whenever someone in power decides I’m a threat to that power.

Likewise, there is no ‘upward mobility’ for just about any demographic segment of our human population worldwide; most people are trapped, socially and economically, right where they are, no matter what may happen to the place where they live.

There is no true democracy, anywhere: the real decisions are made in secret meetings between bought politicians (many of them in power fraudulently or due to gerrymandering and other corruptions of the ‘democratic’ process), who represent only their rich and powerful donors, and the bankers, lawyers and corporate executives. The ‘laws’ and ‘regulations’ are just smokescreens to make it look as if the people’s interests are being considered.

There are no rights of recourse against corporate abuses: most industries are oligopolies, and corporate law is designed to protect them and their wealthy shareholders and executives from the wrath of outraged citizens, while enabling these corporations to sue citizens who pose any threat to their profits or ‘leadership’.

All that’s happened over the past three decades is that the illusion of rights and freedoms has largely disappeared, as those with wealth and power ratchet up the rhetoric that militarized police, torture prisons, ubiquitous surveillance and the oppression of dissent are ‘necessary’ for public safety and security (especially the safety and security of the rich and powerful).

There are no rights or freedoms. There is only power, and its exercise in the interest of further enriching the rich and further concentrating power.

I used to be outraged and angry about all this, but now I’m just letting it go. It’s just too easy to see this as a moral struggle, as a fight against pathology, greed, and tyranny. I don’t think it’s that simple. I think everyone’s really trying to do what they believe is best, not only for their loved ones but for everyone. I know some of these people, and their stubborn, destructive wrong-headedness is completely understandable to me (from their strange but deeply-held worldview).

Increasing concentration of power doesn’t mean is that there is an ‘elite’ in control of everything in our society. Vast wealth and power does not translate to control, especially in a world where all our systems are collapsing simultaneously: our economic systems, running on the fumes of belief in perpetual industrial growth; our nearly-exhausted energy and resource systems, utterly dependent on ample and cheap oil (one barrel of oil replaces 12 person-years of labour, and we currently use 100 million barrels per day); and our climate systems, which have long passed the tipping point to catastrophic change comparable to that of the ‘ice ages’ (though in the opposite temperature direction).

The rich and powerful are as much prisoners of these massive, complex, crumbling systems, as much cogs in the machine, as the rest of us: they just get better wages and benefits than the rest of the inmates, and will until the systems fall apart, at which time they’ll be no better off than anyone else.

No one is in control. The enemy, if there is one, is not a cabal of elites, but a set of co-dependent collapsing systems that every one of us has a vested interest in trying (insanely) to perpetuate. Systems we have all helped co-create and are almost all dependent on.

David Korowicz, in his study On the Cusp of Collapse, explains how our massively complex global human systems are far beyond the control of any coordinated group of people:

Our daily lives are dependent upon the coherence of thousands of direct interactions, which are themselves dependent upon trillions more interactions between things, businesses, institutions and individuals across the world. Following just one track; each morning I have coffee near where I work. The woman who serves me need not know who picked the berries, who moulded the polymer for the coffee maker, how the municipal system delivered the water to the café, how the beans made their journey or who designed the mug. The captain of the ship that transported the beans would have had no knowledge of who provided the export credit insurance for the shipment, who made the steel for the hull, or the steps in the complex processes that allow him the use of satellite navigation. And the steel-maker need not have known who built the pumps for the iron-ore mine, or how the oxygen for the furnace was refined.

We cannot hope to ‘fix’ these systems through political or economic or legal or educational reform, or putting some more democratically-minded group ‘in control’ of them. Fighting for possession of the steering wheel of a car careering over a cliff cannot produce useful change. Even trying to bring down our economic systems before they do even more damage is probably futile: It’s unlikely to significantly accelerate, mitigate or delay the inevitable collapse, and I’m not sure its effect on catastrophic climate change would be substantial either. There is simply no point trying to change any of these systems; it’s a waste of time, and, as Buddha said “Our problem is we think we have time.” But some would insist we try anyway, so at least “we can say we tried”. I think that’s a pathetic argument.

So here we sit, all of us, rich and poor, powerful and powerless, with no real ‘rights’ or ‘freedoms’, no hope of ‘reforming’ massive, self-reinforcing and entrenched systems utterly out of our control, coming apart because they are totally unsustainable, and no credible knowledge of what might work to even mitigate the imminent and catastrophic end of the industrial ‘growth’ economy, the end of the all-too-brief age of abundant cheap energy, and the end of a short few millennia of astonishingly stable climate.

The question we must each ask ourselves, I think, is this: If we acknowledge that our systems and hence our civilization cannot be reformed or ‘saved’, what can we do now that will make a real difference, for the future, in our communities and for those we love?

The insanely rational answer to this question, I think, is (a) probably nothing, and (b) it’s too early to know.

So if I seem impatient or annoyed when you ask me to be outraged or supportive in your movement to reform civilization, I’m sorry. I think it’s too late.

I’m in the process of writing a book of stories of how all of this might play out, just one scenario, the story of, in the short term, a Great Migration of billions of people towards the poles in search of livable habitat (what an amazing, terrifying and liberating journey that could be!), and, in the longer term, the blossoming of thousands of local communities, new and unimaginably diverse, self-sufficient, joyful and utterly alive human cultures, whose total impact on the planet will be, due to our much smaller numbers and minimal energy and technology resources, pretty insignificant. I need to write such a new story to be able to begin to let go of the old, civilized one.

Maybe that’s not enough. Maybe there’s more I could (I’ve stopped saying “should”) be doing: learning new essential skills and capacities, helping in the process of rediscovering how to build and live in community together, healing myself and helping others heal from the ravages of civilization’s innumerable, constant and monstrous stresses, and just trying to live a joyful, exemplary, modest and graceful life. I may get around to these things. But for now I’m just writing, watching, reflecting, trying to figure it all out.

It’s too early and too late, I think, to do anything more.

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