Darren Hopes New Scientist

(image by Darren Hopes from

Frequent readers of my blog are likely aware that, beyond my creative works, my posts focus mainly on two subjects:

(1) how the world really works, what state our civilization is in and what we can do to prepare for its inevitable collapse, and

(2) what it means to be human, and who ‘we’ as individuals and cultures really are.

As a result of an extremely stressful situation late last year, I have been preoccupied in recent months with the second subject, and in particular with discovering some means of better coping with both chronic and acute stress. For most of my life, depression was my primary coping mechanism; more recently my body has responded with ulcerative colitis outbreaks. These are understandable but obviously maladaptive responses to stress. The epidemics of depression, attention dysfunction and autoimmune diseases in modern western societies suggest that I’m hardly alone in this. I have labeled these, collectively, “Civilization Disease”, and just about everyone I know is afflicted. “The whole earth is our hospital”, TS Eliot wrote, and his prescription for the disease (perhaps consistent with John Gray’s objective of achieving “an attitude of contemplative gratitude”), is stillness:

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

One avenue I have been exploring in my search for a means of coping with this existential Dis-ease is the notion of “self-less-ness”, the idea that there is no “self”, no “I”, no autonomous separate being with free will or agency or control over what happens or doesn’t happen to the body or its contents. The idea is that if I can get my body to appreciate this viscerally, to stop furiously trying to do and be what it cannot, then the self-inflicted damage that Civilization Disease wreaks upon me might cease, or at least abate.

But though I can appreciate my self-less-ness intellectually, I seem incapable of the difficult task of feeling it, experiencing it, realizing it, seeing “through” my self, which is constantly asserting its existence and making this body (and at times others’ as well) suffer for it.

I have recently been studying three approaches to overcoming this incapacity, all of which suggest that it may not require 10,000 hours of meditation or other practice:

1. Gary Weber’s free-online book Happiness Beyond Thought. Gary outlines a series of practices, traditional and modern, that he says can lead you to what he calls “awakening”. He writes: “It is the clear recognition that we aren’t our thoughts or the stories that we tell ourselves. We aren’t the bodies that we worry about so much. We aren’t the sensations that we crave and fear. We are the already present happiness, the still awareness beyond thought within which all of this occurs. That awareness is beyond fear, beyond suffering, beyond death itself… There is a knowing of a deep ‘yes'; of acceptance that you are not in charge, in fact that you are not. Rather than seeing that deep stillness as an observer, you dissolve in that deep stillness. You realize that you are that and have always been. There is an unshakable certainty, a knowing of completeness, fullness and limitlessness beyond any doubt. There is also the knowing that this is nothing special, nothing special at all and that no one created it or has it as an achievement. There is the wonderment that it could have been overlooked for so long as it is so clear, intimate and simple.”

2. Thomas Metzinger’s book The Ego Tunnel. Thomas argues that the illusion of self arises because the model of reality (and of self) that the evolved brain creates to function effectively is integrated, coherent and transparent (i.e. it doesn’t seem to be a model at all; it seems to be real). It is a conundrum to try to rationally appreciate that it is a model when the only tools we have to achieve that appreciation function within that model. He writes: “The Ego and the Tunnel (the way we perceive the world and our ‘selves’) are evolved representational phenomena, a result of dynamical self-organization on many levels. Ultimately, subjective experience is a biological data format, a highly specific mode of presenting information about the world by letting it appear as if it were an Ego’s knowledge. But no such things as selves exist in the world. A biological organism, as such, is not a self. An Ego is not a self, either, but merely a form of representational content—namely, the content of a transparent self-model activated in the organism’s brain… We could say that the system as a whole (the Ego Machine), or the organism using this brain-constructed conscious self-model, can be called a ‘self’. A self, then, would simply be a self-organizing and self-sustaining physical system that can represent itself. The self is not a thing but a process.”

3. Experiential Guides using the method of philosopher Ciaran Healy. Healy learned that it is possible to recognize the illusion of self by examining the reality of experience, by just really focusing on ‘looking’ at how we actually experience our ‘self’ until we see that it does not exist. Some iffy groups (like Ruthless Truth) emerged to try to beat down participants’ (perfectly understandable) resistance in order to ‘help’ them in this realization. The group I recently joined is gentler (and completely free, run by volunteers), and is called (a bit hyperbolically) Liberation Unleashed. Its sole purpose is to help others “see through the illusion of the separate self” and then deal with the meaning and consequences of that realization, which they describe (in Zen terms) as “walking through a gateless gate”.

These approaches all have their detractors, from those who warn that the consequence of this realization will be suicidal nihilism, to those who see it as a means of unhealthy detachment from genuine connection and empathy with other humans, to those who hold that such realization is a tautological impossibility and hence can only be self-delusion.

Ilona, one of the founders of, and my ‘guide’ at, Liberation Unleashed, has been helpful in getting me to the following realization, but so far no further; this is my most recent message to her:

In the book Figments of Reality, Stewart & Cohen describe us as ‘complicities’ — self-organizing collections of cells and organs. Organisms, including humans, are just another level of aggregation of this complicity for mutual benefit, up to the highest level, which we call Gaia, an apparent collective consciousness that clearly has no controlling ‘self’. Thinking back downwards from there, if these complicities have no self, is there some fundamental constituent that does? Clearly not. Again, I get this intellectually, but experiencing it as real still eludes me.

So to answer the question about what these seemingly coherent collections of memories and experiences and beliefs ‘are’, if not constituents of a ‘self’, I guess they are analogous to a ‘program’. I often tell people “you cannot be other than who you are”, which I suppose I might restate as “what you think of as you is just a program that has evolved to help your body’s complicity survive and thrive in concert with the rest of life on Earth”. Then we get into the semantic debate about whether that ‘program’ is one’s ‘self’. Hopefully I will be able to work my way through that next.

[So my concept of ‘self’ is that] it is a program (or set of programs), a set of memories, ideas, beliefs, experiences stored in neurons in my brain (and in my gut), that the constituents of my body use to decide and act (e.g. to fight a disease parasite, to run from an attacker, to console a hurt friend) in a way that is optimal for the health and survival of the collective, the complicity that comprises what I self-identify as ‘me’ and the complicity of my community and of all-life-on-Earth. The content of these memories, ideas etc. are all stories, which don’t exist; they are just ‘made up’. But these memories, ideas etc. do exist and collectively they comprise what I might choose to call my ‘self’. There is no ‘I’ in control of them or in control of the process/program that determines how they are drawn upon to produce decisions/actions. But as valid as the description of ‘self’ above seems intellectually, I cannot seem to transcend the intellectualization of it and experience or feel ‘self-less-ness’.

(The concept of ‘presence’ is similarly an illusion, an invention; in fact the entire conception of “now” and “present” and “time” is just a useful modelled representation of apparent phenomena in the ‘real’ world, much as the scenes in a film (and the pixels that display them) are useful and compelling representations of reality. As scientists (even Stephen Hawking) are now realizing, time does not exist either (and formulae about the real world become much simpler and more precise representations of reality when the concept of time is done away with). Somehow it becomes easier to believe the self does not exist when something else (time) that seems to exist is understood to be a fiction. So when I say that I want to learn to be more ‘present’ to cope better in the moment with stress, perhaps what I really want is to appreciate viscerally that there is no me to be ‘present’ and no present to be ‘present’ in. It is hard (but exciting) to imagine what that might feel like.)

One of the veterans of Healy’s experiential guides approach, who calls himself (or herself) GhostVirus2011, has become disenchanted by the high failure rate of the guides and the number of people they have alienated by their rigorous (or some might say obstinate) approach, but is still in the process of trying to formulate a better ‘do-it-yourself’ approach to personal ‘liberation’ from the perception that the self is real.

The key element in the approach that the guides lead you through is called “looking” at your direct experience. As valid as my conception of ‘self’ as a program (as I described above) may be, I am told it will not be of any use in ‘realizing’ self-less-ness. Ilona is clearly impatient with my intellectualization, and I can appreciate why. (It is the same impatience I have experienced from swimming teachers and dancing teachers and music teachers who say I am ‘overthinking’ what I have to do, that I should just let go and do it.)

Ghost has a whole post just on what this “looking” process means, but essentially it is quite similar to the process in meditation of being aware of your thoughts (conceptions) and recognizing them as such and letting them go, so you just focus all your attention on your experienced reality: what you are perceiving, what you are sensing, what you are feeling, what you are doing/moving — until you realize that these perceptions and sensations and feelings and motions (collectively “noticings”) do not require an actor, a self, a noticer, and that the imagined self and ‘its’ thoughts just get in the way of that realization.

This may not require 10,000 hours of practice, and the realization may come in only a few seconds of focused noticing/looking, but it is not an easy or explainable step-by-step process; some have compared it to the struggle you have seeing the ‘hidden’ alternate view in an image or the sense of 3-dimensionality when looking through a two-lens stereoscopic viewer or achieving balance on a bicycle for the first time. Ghost says it takes courage and honesty but perhaps what it takes most is focus, determination and perseverance; Ghost’s own breakthrough came as follows:

I think more than anything, I was tired of having the constant headache from thinking too hard, in some ways I think that the pattern of self became exhausted and when I smashed through the dishonesty to look in real life, it was actually fatigue of the patterns that reinforce self. I think that break allowed me to realise that I was not in fact being honest. That was it… two weeks of fretting and all for the requisite five seconds of honesty to look at real life. That is how long it took me, when in reality five seconds is all that is required.

I have spent many hours over the last month trying to do this, and if as the guides say frustration is an indication you’re on the right track I must be very close. I do sense that I am close. I am skeptical about all this but persuaded by the sheer volume and diversity of people who have succeeded in this realization that there is something to it.

I’ll keep you posted, though if I experience a breakthrough, that in itself will likely be of no use to anyone other than me. If it happens, judging from what others have written, I expect I will not call it enlightenment or awakening, but rather just ‘realization of self-less-ness’. What might change over time as a result, in addition to my capacity to cope with stress, are some of the ways I interact with the world, including my writing (human languages are intractably bound up in this sense of self, beginning with pronouns).

I also appreciate that this ‘realization of self-less-ness’ is probably a one-way trip and a first small step to other changes that will happen in me. After all, the neurons in our brain have self-organized all our lives to reflect and sustain our self-centred worldview, and the sudden realization that there is no self will probably require some gradual rewiring to accommodate. Ghost describes it this way (I have taken the liberty of correcting Ghost’s spelling and grammar):

Suppose I dragged you to a mirror and said ‘you are a monkey, look’. When you looked in to the mirror, you saw the reflection of a monkey. Your whole world view would shatter. You look at your body, it’s covered in hair, you were always quite short, you look at the very primitive opposing thumbs and then at this point the brain will accept that its model of reality needs updating. Of course this would be quite a shock (being turned into a monkey overnight with my genetic transmorpher ray) but this is how the brain works when it comes to accepting an updated view of reality. Once you see there is no self, then reality is updated to incorporate this new fact…

There is further to go after no-self, so it is just one step on a much larger journey. If you have seen it once, that is crossing the gate. It is like taking sunglasses off and noticing the true character of reality. We cannot unknow what we have seen. Nothing changes after the realisation except you get a new angle on suffering and you get a sense of clarity. It is a subtle psychological knowing rather than being something overtly noticeable, so don’t get caught in the trap that there is some seismic shift that happens, or some transition to instant bliss. It is waking up to life as it is, and life is what it is to be experiencing this moment right now. You are still prone to misery, ecstasy, the full range of human emotions, but they cannot consume you in the same way.

This process seems appropriate for me at this moment. Sometimes you reach a stage in your life at which you realize the way you live is not working for you, and something needs to shift. I feel as if I am girding up my strength to walk away from an abuser after many, many years of silent suffering. The only difference is that my abuser is my self.

Walking away now.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 24 Comments

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out


wallpaper from

Marshall McLuhan had the right idea about striving to be present in a world that is ever-more absent, preoccupied, disconnected, and distracted. The process to move from absent-mindedness to presence, I am learning, involves three steps, and they are captured perfectly in the famous expression Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out (the expression was popularized by Timothy Leary, but at least according to Wikipedia he acknowledged that it was coined by McLuhan).

Turn On means let go of the myth of self and reconnect with and be carried along as part of the staggeringly complex indistinctness and ambiguity of our collective existence, using whatever method works for you — meditation, psychoactive drugs etc. That entails acknowledging that what we think of as our “self” is just an invented story, a collective myth. The emergence of the ego, the sense of self, would seem to be an unintended consequence of our large and protein-rich brains’ compulsion for finding patterns and representing reality through the use of abstract models. These are useful tools until they bring on a psychosis — until “we” believe these representations to be real, and our “selves” to be real and separate. This abstracted sense of separate self and identity is taught to us relentlessly from birth, and it has been reinforced and exploited, with the best of intentions, by our culture.

Our sense of separateness has enabled us to do some astonishing and ghastly things. One of the hallmarks of civilized human culture was the discovery and use of the arrowhead — the ancient invention that allowed us, for the first time, to kill “impersonally” — without putting ourselves at risk or physically contacting our prey at the moment we destroy and devour them. The drone, the unmanned flying vehicle capable of wreaking mass destruction on millions, is merely the latest high-tech manifestation of the lowly and terrible arrowhead. With these inventions we lost the sense of sacredness when one part-of-the-collective-us consumes another, for “our” collective benefit. With these inventions we could, for the first time, refuse to accept the inevitability of our sacred demise as essential food for another part of us, for “our” collective benefit. Our fear and loathing of death was, I think, a direct consequence of our new false sense of apart-ness, our disconnection. To Turn On is to reconnect, to let go of the myths of self and separateness, and to be, real and alive.

Tune In means learn, appreciate and understand how the world, and its complex adaptive systems, really work. That entails acknowledging that complex systems (i.e. all organic, social and ecological systems) are inherently largely-unknowable, uncontrollable, and unpredictable, unlike the mechanical systems we try to represent them as. It entails acknowledging that, by sheer dint of the collective actions of billions of well-intentioned humans, past and present, each doing their best, the economic and ecological systems on which we utterly depend have become overextended, exhausted and damaged to the point they are now unsustainable and are in a process of accelerating and unstoppable collapse. And that collapse is bringing about the end of global civilization culture, and with it a drastic reduction in human numbers and in the complexity of human society and, depending on the severity of runaway climate change, the extinction of either most or all living species on the planet in this century. To Tune In is to appreciate the wonderful and terrible knowledge of where we all are, now, and how we got here.

Drop Out means walk away from this damaging, unhealthy and dying culture, and cease participating in it and supporting it. That entails non-participation in any of the now-global culture’s interdependent and crumbling systems — political, economic, social, educational, health, technological, legal, media etc. It means no longer abiding by the rules of these systems that are killing our planet and which have made us all physically and emotionally ill. Most civilizations end not with devastating clashes among their citizens, but when their citizens realize the civilization can no longer sustain them advantageously, and simply and en masse, walk away from them. To Drop Out is to achieve and act on this realization.

I have spent much of the last decade on the Tune In part, studying complex systems and the nature and history of our economic, energy and ecological systems. It has made me a joyful pessimist — a pessimist because I realize that collapse will bring huge suffering and loss, and joyful because I have given up stressing over trying to reform or mitigate these systems. I am learning to just appreciate the wonder of life and love and learning, and the astonishing possibilities for a much better world after the collapse of this terrible but (in the larger scheme of things) short-lived agri-industrial civilization. It will be a world with many fewer, lower-impact, re-tribalized humans, or perhaps no humans at all.

That part has been easy, despite the sense of grief, shame and dread that the realization of inevitable collapse has brought me. The other two parts, the Turn On and Drop Out parts, are seemingly beyond my current capacity.

While I continue to try different modes of Turning On — meditation and other thought-quieting methods that will hopefully lead me beyond the myth of self towards real presence and reconnection, I don’t feel I’m making much progress. And I confess to being impatient: I give up (too) easily. I’m looking for an easier and faster way. I’m curious to try biofeedback techniques such as those Gary Weber has suggested. I am still too much a coward to try ayahuasca or similar psychoactives that are said to make it easier to reach a sustained state of reconnection. Nevertheless, I am motivated, and sometimes feel infuriatingly close to achieving a breakthrough in realizing that state of presence, reconnection and “self-less-ness” that I know intellectually is possible, and that I yearn for so profoundly.

I can understand why many of those trying to heal from Civilization Disease seek a simpler and more accessible path — such as appreciating their “self” more instead of berating themselves, and such as building self-confidence and personal resilience through self-affirming rather than self-transcending methods. But it seems to me that if you can transcend the self, doesn’t the need to heal it go away?

When it comes to Dropping Out, I am starting to learn some of the essential capacities for personal and collective self-sufficiency, so that I will be ready to be a useful member of a drastically relocalized community when centralized systems reach a more advanced and obvious stage of irrevocable collapse. But I am doing so very, very slowly. I’m still far too comfortable as a dependent of civilization culture, even though I know it won’t last much longer. It’s too early, I tell myself, for many of these capacities to be immediately needed or valued, so I’m pacing myself. If things start to get worse faster, I’ll pick up my pace. It’s not in our nature, I think, to learn things that are not currently of much use, even if we expect they will be sooner or later.

So here I sit, Tuned In, trying unsuccessfully to Turn On, and getting ready to Drop Out. While I’ve done my homework to learn, appreciate and understand how the world works and where we stand, I am by nature a Doubting Thomas, and continue to critically challenge everything I hear and believe. While I’ve so far fallen short of achieving the capacity to let go and reconnect with all-life-on-Earth, it will be a life-long quest, and I take heart from the stories of many people who, after years of struggling with the seemingly-impossible task of “getting there from here”, suddenly find themselves there and wonder why, in retrospect, it was so difficult. Perhaps it’s the existential equivalent of learning to ride a bicycle: I remember the immense struggle and frustration I felt trying to learn to ride, and immediately afterwards I couldn’t understand why it was so hard. And while it is likely too early for me to learn more of the essential skills needed to be of use in real, self-sufficient communities (and which skills to learn will depend somewhat on where that community is and who else is in it when collapse reaches an advanced stage), I have a list, and I’m working slowly away at it (top of the list this year is improving my self-awareness, attention and conversation skills, and learning, at last, to swim and to dance).

These days I feel impatient, dissatisfied and restless, and am not exactly sure what to do with myself each day, or what I am meant to do with with the rest of my life. I have reluctantly realized that I can’t hide from stress and am going to have to live with a lot of uncertainty, ambiguity, seeming lack of accomplishment, and continuing lack of personal resilience for quite a while yet, and perhaps for the rest of my life. Still, at what seems to be another turning point in my life, I am extraordinarily grateful for all I have and how easy my life is compared to most people’s. Unlike most people struggling to survive in an increasingly harsh world, I have had the luxury of sufficient time and resources to Tune In, Turn On, and Drop Out. Far from being a slogan about escapism and irresponsibility, it is, I think, a path to becoming a model of how to live during collapse, and showing others how to do likewise. I believe it would be foolish not to take it.


Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 11 Comments

Links of the Month: January 29, 2015

new political map 2014

The enormous cognitive dissonance between our growing awareness of our civilization’s accelerating collapse, and the ‘news’ in the media and the subjects of most public discourse, continues to baffle me. Though I suspect it shouldn’t. We are all slow learners, preoccupied with the needs of the moment, with a preference for reassurance over truth. I often find myself, these days, at social and other events, at a loss for words, not saying anything, as a result. It’s as if I speak an utterly different language from the people I meet in my day-to-day life, so what’s the point of saying anything? Perhaps this is Gaia’s way of teaching me patience.

I continue to vacillate back and forth all the way from the humanist worldview (F. on the ‘map’ above’) to the near-term extinctionist worldview (L.), depending on what I’m doing and who I’m doing it with, or what I’m reading (Charles Eisenstein seems to best represent worldview F. and Guy McPherson best articulates worldview L., and I greatly admire them both). I’m happy with company anywhere along that continuum — they both speak my newly-acquired language, though with very different dialects. It’s sad to me that most people find collapse too terrifying to contemplate. I find it liberating. I guess that stems from what we each are invested in, and what we have divested.

Fellow existentialist (J. on the map, if you’re following along) and taoist Paul Chefurka has been reading about the nature of the human species, and seems to be shifting, a bit, toward the voluntary extinctionist (K.) camp. There’s an interesting tension between the two worldviews. Dark Mountain, I think, exemplifies the existentialist view and John Gray [thanks to Richard Saunders for the link] exemplifies the voluntary extinctionist view. Both views acknowledge, I think, the inevitable collapse of our civilization in this century and the futility of acting to mitigate its timing or severity, and both accept that humans are likely to survive, though in much smaller numbers and in a much more marginal role in the surviving web of life. Where they differ is in their fundamentally different (positive for J. and negative for K.) views of the essential nature of the human animal. Paul is finding, it seems, some comfort and solace in the negative view — that if we are an inherently violent and destructive species perhaps the world will be much better off without us, painful as the collapse process will be for all.

I continue to find more comfort and solace in the positive view — that we are an inherently caring and peaceful species that is simply suffering from the profound emotional ills of a deeply ‘dis-eased’ and stressful culture, and that the demise of that culture will usher in a new era in which, like Robert Sapolsky’s Keekorok baboons, the human survivors will live in a much more joyful, healthy and sustainable way. [More on this nature-vs-nurture debate, for those interested, in this interesting video].

We can’t know, of course, which is why it’s so easy, as we continue to ponder and learn and converse, to shift back and forth along the F.-to-L. continuum. Perhaps one way to think about it is to consider the current debate about pit bull dogs — some holding that they’re biologically dangerous and should be prevented from further breeding (a worldview K.-like stance), while others hold that they’re inherently loving and it’s the way we have trained them that has caused them to act violently (a worldview J.-like stance). The truth, of course, as for the truth about our true nature, probably lies somewhere in-between, or elsewhere along the continuum, or all along it at once.

But ask me again tomorrow.



adam and eve stevens

cartoon by Mick Stevens from The New Yorker

10℃ and Counting: Just one thing to add to what I wrote above: David Wasdell (a physicist, admittedly, not a climate scientist) has aggregated all the recent reports and projections of climate change from climate scientists, and written a technical but thorough and understandable synopsis that leads to a compelling prediction of a 10℃ rise by end-of-century, and a conclusion that nothing short of an implausible, immediate and radical reduction of carbon emissions can prevent runaway climate change and the end of a livable planet in this century. This jibes with Guy McPherson’s continually-maintained summary and analysis of climate news and forecasts. Not much more to say on the subject.



nothing under control

[from a facebook post by janene smith]

The Myth of the Self: A Buddhist reviews and summarizes Thomas Metzinger’s intriguing (but, in the end, overly optimistic, especially about our human evolutionary potential before civilization collapses) book The Ego Tunnel, in which he dismisses the self, free will, and time as ‘unreal’ mental constructs. Here’s part of the summary by the reviewer [thanks to John Ringland for the link]:

As a philosopher working alongside neurologists, Thomas Metzinger focuses on consciousness and the experience of the subjective self. His evolutionary considerations involve identifying a neural function in complex mobile organisms that allows them to successfully navigate through a changing and unpredictable environment. This environmental challenge he states, requires the internal sense of self-wholeness in order to anticipate and negotiate with events in the world. The constructed “phenomenal self-model within the world-model,” involves not only a sensory impression, but a mental image of a unified center, of a self residing in a world. This self-inwardness or ego, as an inside separated from an outside, characterizes the operation of the ego tunnel. The ego tunnel is a constructed impression that the ego or subject is directly perceiving and contacting a world.

This experience is a naive realism. If mobile organisms were privy to all of the countless neural and other “internal and external” interactive processes that occurred with the act of walking for instance, they could never function. Immeasurably complex events had to be reduced to representational images in order to make sense to the mobile organism. These representational images would of necessity, include a unified and independent subject perceiving a world separate from and external to itself. The feeling of looking directly into the world from the vantage point of a perceiving and cognizant me or self, is a neural representational process that is most convincing. We are not aware of this duality as an adaptive function, but view it as reality. Because we look past and see through the immeasurable neuronal activity involved in the production of an image-based reality, Metzinger refers to this process as a tunnel.

Out of necessity then, there is the appearance of an inward, embodied sense of a self or ego and consequently, of an attachment to this self in the form of mineness, of ownership, as in my thoughts, my feelings, my body, my consciousness, my experience. Selfhood is a function of the ego tunnel and not a reality, writes Metzinger, as there is no self, “no indivisible entity that is us” to be found either in the brain, in the broader neural network, or beyond it. Nor can there be contact with some true reality out there. What we see as truth or reality, is a representational model.

Fighting for the Right to Die: There are few areas where the state abrogates human rights more grievously than in denying us the right to die. Martin Manley asserted that right anyway, in 2013 at age 60, of sound mind and body. For that he’s been pilloried for being irresponsible, Yahoo took down his account, and several back-up sites have been hacked. Fortunately, at least one record of his story remains. Thank you, Martin.

The Value of Peer Interviews: My friend Nancy White explains how, by “interviewing each other”, we surface knowledge we did know we had, allow ourselves much-needed time for reflection, and fulfill our deep-seated need to be heard, seen and loved. A great practice to adopt. Nancy also has some great advice for dealing with the usually-abysmal Q&A sessions after presentations.

Transient Hypofrontality: That’s the new neuro-“science” name for Living in the Now. Achieving it, a new theory says, involves learning how to slow the brain down. [Thanks to Paul Chefurka for the link.]

Charles Eisenstein Rips Old-Story Structure: The usually well-behaved humanist decided to poke fun at what he saw as an overly-structured and old-style-structured conference. Some attendees and organizers weren’t laughing, but Charles, who last got into trouble by proposing a boycott of the forced-positivist TED conferences, didn’t back down.

Rent or Share, Don’t Buy: That’s the mantra of the millennial generation, for a variety of necessary and wise reasons. And it spells big trouble for an economy dependent on ever-accelerating consumption. [Thanks to Seb Paquet for the link.] And millennial Nathan Schneider explains what this means for sharing-economy co-ops and non-profits. [Thanks to Tree for the link.]

Calgary Tries a Bold Housing Subsidy Plan: The very progressive municipal government of the largest city in our least progressive province is subsidizing all but $2,000 of qualified new home-buyers’ mortgages. In return they get an equity stake in each house equal to their subsidy’s share of the total house price — so when the house is sold, they stand to make a profit if the house price rises. Fascinating.

Why Local Investment is So Hard: Michael Shuman explains how local investment benefits us, and why virtually all our investments are still in Wall Street and government, and then offers some workarounds. [Thanks to Liz McLellan for the link.]

The Power to Convene: Rob Hopkins explains why, instead of trying to do all the organizing of projects inside our own organizations, we would be better to first convene all the groups that share the passion or objective of the project, and let them collaborative organize it. [Thanks to Shasta Martinuk for the link.]



Leunig over

cartoon by Michael Leunig

Ukraine, Putin, Obama and China: What’s Really Going On: You may think oil prices have dropped because of market forces, that Putin is a rogue bully, and that there’s no ‘safer haven’ in these days of turmoil than the US dollar. Wrong on all counts. First read this analysis from Salon to understand the fall in oil prices. The read this analysis to understand Putin’s response, and his brilliant long-term strategy to collapse the US dollar.  [Thanks to Loren Schein for the second link.] Meanwhile, here’s more wisdom on falling oil prices from Automatic Earth’s Ilargi and Nicole. The Canadian economy is in tatters as a byproduct, with the (thanks to Harper) Canadian petrocurrency in free-fall. It’s going to be a rocky year for the economy.

Ex-Parliamentary Budget Officer Calls Canadian Government “Broken”: The mild-mannered non-partisan guy charged with reporting to Parliament on the fiscal responsibility of its budget and integrity of its financial reporting says that under Harper trust has completely broken down, scientists are being threatened and muzzled, and secrecy of government activity has become absolute. Sound like a government near you? He had to sue his employer, the federal government, to get the information he needed to discharge his responsibilities.

Corporations vs Communities: My friend Paul Cienfuegos is involved in the important but thankless activist task of helping communities legally enshrine and defend their values and rights against corporate abuses — the Community Rights movement. Corporations’ response has been, across the board, to sue and intimidate communities that enact such protections. [Thanks to my friend John Abbe for the link]

The Unsustainability of Renewables: Generation Alpha reposts an excellent review of the false claims about “renewable” energy. The only viable alternative, the authors conclude, is to reduce consumption.

Political Correctness Raises Its Ugly Head Again: Jonathan Chait describes the re-emergence of the most repugnant aspects of “p.c.” behaviour in academia and in progressive circles, and how it threatens to stifle discussion, debate and dissent in both arenas. [Thanks to Tree for the link.]

The Meekness of Modern “Innovation”: How corporate risk aversion and consolidation have stifled innovation for the past forty years. [Thanks to Toby Hemenway for the link.]

NYT Calls for Prosecution of Cheney: And in a decided departure from “politics as usual”, the NYT Editorial Board calls for Dick Cheney and others responsible for authorizing and carrying out torture in contravention of domestic and international law, to be prosecuted and imprisoned for their actions.



Tim Bennett cartoon

[not sure who authored this cartoon; anyone know? thanks to Tim Bennett for the link]

If Climate Scientists and Mainstream Media Told the Truth: A hilarious portrayal of that unlikely scenario on Aaron Sorkin’s fictional (?) series The Newsroom. [Thanks to my friend Janaia Donaldson for the link]

Tim Minchin’s Advice to Graduates: Awesome speech by the musician/comedian. His 9 points: (1) You don’t have to have a dream; (2) Don’t seek happiness; (3) Remember it’s all luck; (4) Exercise; (5) Be hard on your opinions; (6) Be a teacher; (7) Define yourself by what you love; (8) Respect people with less power than you; (9) Take your time deciding what to do with your life. Now go watch and enjoy.

The World’s Deadliest Diseases: A great infographic plots mortality against transmissability for the most common and dangerous human diseases. [Thanks to Liz McLellan for the link]

Best of Dougie MacLean: The amazing Scottish folk singer combines compelling folk melodies with sly, complex and poetic lyrics. My current favourites: Restless Fool, Resolution, and Turning Away. If you don’t know his work you’re in for a treat. Thanks to Tree and the Eugene Avalonians for turning me on to him.

Understanding Depression: A great Stanford lecture on depression by the aforementioned Robert Sapolsky.

Awesome Blues Guitarist: Joanna Connor plays lightning riffs that rival Hendrix, and even riffs off Hendrix.

Guessing Your Age By Your Name: Your given name is a huge clue on how old you are. See how your name stacks up. [Thanks to Nancy White for the link.]

Stefan Pabst’s Astonishing Portraits: The German artist paints precise portraits in about 40 minutes using a dry-brush technique and achieves almost hyper-realistic results.

A Sad “Best Books” List: The top 100 of 2014 list of the NYT revs up (for me at least) the cognitive dissonance: Only two books on the environmental and economic crises (Elizabeth Kolbert’s Sixth Extinction, which is OK but could have been written a decade ago and is already obsolete and wildly overly-optimistic, and Naomi Klein’s equally-OK and equally-rose-coloured This Changes Everything, a call for a shift away from capitalism). The best book on the list by far is The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison’s unflinching study of human suffering, on a par with Derrick Jensen’s equally-gruelling but essential A Language Older Than Words. Most of the rest, fiction and non-fiction alike, is focused on, and hopelessly buried in, the past.

Senate Rejects Pipeline Plan That Would Have Created Thousands Of Climate Activist Jobs: From the Onion, of course.



From John Berger, on Language and Writing [thanks to Antonio Dias for the link]:

What has prompted me to write over the years is the hunch that something needs to be told, and that if I don’t try to tell it, it risks not being told. I picture myself as a stop-gap man rather than a consequential, professional writer.

After I’ve written a few lines I let the words slip back into the creature of their language. And there, they are instantly recognised and greeted by a host of other words, with whom they have an affinity of meaning, or of opposition, or of metaphor or alliteration or rhythm. I listen to their confabulation. Together they are contesting the use to which I put the words I chose. They are questioning the roles I allotted them.

So I modify the lines, change a word or two, and submit them again. Another confabulation begins. And it goes on like this until there is a low murmur of provisional consent. Then I proceed to the next paragraph.

From Gabor Maté, from When the Body Says No [thanks to Emily VanLidth de Jeude for the link]:

For those habituated to high levels of internal stress since early childhood, it is the absence of stress that creates unease, evoking boredom and a sense of meaninglessness. People may become addicted to their own stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, Hans Selye observed. To such persons stress feels desirable, while the absence of it feels like something to be avoided…

Emotional competence requires (1) the capacity to feel our emotions, so that we are aware when we are experiencing stress; (2) the ability to express our emotions effectively and thereby to assert our needs and to maintain the integrity of our emotional boundaries; and (3) the facility to distinguish between psychological reactions that are pertinent to the present situation and those that represent residue from the past.

From Bernard Werber (my translation from the French) [thanks to Daniel Lindenberger for the link]:

The many possibilities for miscommunication, between:

9 ways

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 6 Comments

Technology’s False Hope


My latest article, Technology’s False Hope, is up at SHIFT magazine as part of its seventh edition. Check out the whole magazine! And if you like what you read, or prefer to read hard copy, please get this issue as a digital download (beautiful magazine layout) or sign up for an annual subscription (6 issues).

Here’s the beginning of the article:

Only a decade ago, I was part of the Strategy and Innovation Core Team for a huge multinational consultancy, and writing exuberantly on my (then-new) blog about innovation and technology and how they could possibly save the world. The image above, from the Credit Suisse First Boston New Economy Forum Synthesis, describes a universal “technology development process” popular at the time.  One of the leading business speakers in those heady days was Chris Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution, whom I more or less idolized.

And then something happened. My own research into the history of innovation and technology suggested that, rather than being the result of rigorous process, excellence and inventiveness, most enduring technologies of any value seemed to be the result of fortuitous accidents, or were the throw-away byproducts of massive, outrageously expensive military programs. Complexity science was by then throwing serious doubt on a lot of accepted theories about how change actually happens in organizations and societies. Ronald Wright’s book A Short History of Progress, and similar works by Jared Diamond and others, argued that ‘progress’ was an illusion, and that all civilizations inevitably collapse (taking the capacity to support their technologies with them).

We actually likely lived healthier, happier (and often longer, when we weren’t eaten by predators) lives in prehistoric times, it seems, way back before the inventions – or more accurately discoveries – of the first great technologies (the arrowhead, fire, the wheel, and then abstract language and later, agriculture – which Richard Manning, in Against the Grain, says should more accurately be called “catastrophic agriculture”), enabling the unnatural human evolution we call “settlement”. Settlement brought with it a blizzard of new problems for technology to solve (most notably infectious and emotional diseases), and each well-intentioned new technology has produced yet more problems, arguably greater in number, size and intractability than the benefits the earlier technology provided…

Read the whole article at SHIFT.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Preparing for Civilization's End | 2 Comments

The Only Way There

Preparing for the Fall 2

dave’s model

“So I had this idea to prepare a Personal Resilience Plan for 2015″, Rafe said, playing with Jag the cat. “You know, using Dave’s model. What could I do this year that would be self-awareness building, healing, liberating, resilience-modelling, loving, community-building, and community-serving. Seems more grounded, more sensible than New Year’s resolutions.”

“A grounded Rafe”, replied Daria, looking over her shoulder from where she stood making vegan pizza. “Not sure I could get used to that. I fell in love with the groundless, idealistic, disconnected Rafe, after all.” Rafe laughed. Jag, sniffing the vegan cheese for the pizza, jumped up onto the counter to supervise.

“While I ponder this improbable transformation”, Daria went on, “chop the veggies. They’re in the fridge.”

“Just look”, said Rafe, taking giant silly-walk steps towards the fridge. “Every step, no matter how high, returns to the earth. Totally grounded!”

“We’re on the third floor of a condo”, Daria replied. “If you want to be grounded you’ll have to go down to the beach, and feel the sand, instead of trying to commune with the imported wood inlay.”

Rafe scowled, thoughtfully. “Sand and pizza do not go well together. Perhaps I could settle for rounded instead of grounded. Or wild, like Jag, the cat no one here seems to own, but who seems extremely comfortable everywhere he goes, and totally free, mooching from room to room, sleeping wherever the last nice meal came from.” He went out on the balcony to see if it was warm enough to eat on the beach.

“She!” Daria shouted after him. “Jag, or whatever her real name is, is a she. That’s why she’s so grounded.”

“Jag needs no name”, Rafe replied, “She is simply who she is. Like me.” He smiled goofily at Daria, who raised her eyebrows and smiled back at him.

“You are not simply anything”, she said. “You are the antithesis of simple, of grounded, of resilient. But I still love you.” As she put the pizza in the oven she added: “If you were to follow Dave’s model, your increasing self-awareness would quickly make you realize that all that other stuff, that self-healing, community-building stuff, is not what you are ever meant to do, not who you are. You’re not empathetic, not self-sufficient in the least, and you are more hermit than communitarian. Just accept who you are, and you’ll be further along in adopting Dave’s model than most people. You have a lot of endearing qualities that are not the stuff of resilience.”

Rafe came up behind her at the stove and put his arms around her waist. “You’re such a sweet-talker. You want me to show you one of my most endearing qualities?”, he said, kissing her on the back of her shoulder.

“That is one of your more endearing qualities, I admit”, she replied, giggling. “And it certainly is resilient.” After a pause she went on: “What I meant was your special qualities that everyone admires in you. Your generosity. Your imagination. Your intellect and critical thinking. Your writing skills. These are important in any resilient community as well. You should settle for those and work with them, and let other people do the other resilience stuff.”

They were quiet for a few minutes. Rafe fed Jag some leftover vegan cheese, which she seemed to like as much as the dairy version. “Vegan cat”, he said, pointing to her. He made a salad while she poured wine spritzers, and with lunch loaded onto a tray they headed down to the beach, settling on backjack chairs, with the tray, and Jag, between them.

Rafe looked pensive. “I want to be wild, and fearless. I know that I’m a coward and impossible at handling stress, and addicted to the comforts of this unsustainable civilization, but in my heart that’s what I want. Who I seem to be is just an act, a persona I put on to be safe and get along with others. I am really wild. I’ve just forgotten how to be real, to be really here-and-now. How to just be who I really am.”

“You are who you are now”, Daria replied. “Don’t be nostalgic for what might have been, for who you think you used to be.” She thought of adding “For who you probably never were”, but thought better of it. She took his hand across the tray. She thought she saw tears in his eyes, but it was always hard to tell with him.

They looked out at the surf and the shorebirds and the surfers and the small boats far out on the horizon.

He looked across at her slyly, and she raised her eyebrows in a “what now?” expression.

He put his hand on his heart and, in a loud and warbly bass, sea-shanty style, sang:

If I were a wild and a fear-less man!…

He frowned, searching for the next line, and then sang:

I’d love you much better, as fully as I can!
Love you recklessly, love you em-pa-the-tic-ly!
Two becoming one, one with all, for all to see!

He grinned sillily and she laughed and went to say “That was terrible”, but he shushed her and said “I’m not done yet”, and then sang:

If I were to learn to be wild and free!…
I’d dance you off your feet, and sail you out to sea!
Connected to the Earth, knowing just what we should do!
Swimming with the dolphins, living raw and true!

He looked for a response and she said, with a smile “Are you done yet?” To which he replied:

If we were brave and wild, we could simply walk away!
Eat, sleep, play, laugh and love all night and day!
Tied to no one place, living free and joyfully!
Let go of illusions, and then just simply be!

He was on a roll, now, and concocted a chorus for his improv song:

Letting go of grief and fear, letting go of pride!
Letting go of guilt and shame, no more need to hide!
Seeking not to save the world or trying to control!
We’ll see just who we are, ’cause we’re all part of the whole!

“Needs some work, but you get the gist”, he said, reaching for another slice of pizza. He pulled his cap down to shield his eyes from the sun, and feigned going to sleep.

“That was… something“, she said. And then, after a few minutes, she sang back to him, quietly:

You will do what you must do,
to seek the self you think is true,
the one inside that’s really you.
But we can’t start our lives anew.

To get to where you want to go
you have to start with what you know
and who you are, and start from Here.
The path to There is never clear.

The answer isn’t found inside;
There’s no safe place where you can hide.
Just try some things and you might see
that loving others is the key.

To ‘wild and free’ from ‘cowed by fear’
it’s harder than it might appear.
I love you as you are today
and I will love you, come what may.

Rafe cocked his hat up, smiled at her, and did the theatrical hand-flourish bowing thing to acknowledge her artistic accomplishment.

“The answer’s close, but never near”, he said.

“And the only way to get there is to start from here”, she replied.

“Sadly, true.” He sighed. “Shall we retire to the drawing room?” He rose and offered his hand to pull her to her feet and hoisted the tray up onto his other hand, waiter-style. They walked back to the condo, Jag in tow.

~~ o0O0o ~~

night beach

Later that evening, they tramped naked back down to the beach, bringing six candles with wind-protector sleeves decorated with stars. Jag was already there, chasing sand-crabs.

“I don’t deserve you, you know.” Rafe laid the candles out in a large hexagon and lit them with a BBQ starter.

“Yeah, but neither of us deserves a lot of the shit we’ve had to put up with, or what we have to do to just remain sane. Somehow or other it usually seems to balance out”. Daria placed two yoga mats in the middle of the array of candles.

Rafe sat on one of the mats facing Daria. “You’re right about love. I, we, have to learn to love others better, more fearlessly, unconditionally, unreservedly. Love each other. Our friends. Family…” Daria made a gagging motion at the mention of loving family. Rafe laughed, and went on: “Even those we don’t like, those we disagree utterly with about everything important. No judgement, no blame. We’re all doing our best. Even Dick Cheney.” They both made a gagging motion. “Why are humility and grace so hard to learn? What’s wrong with us, we humans? We live in the midst of a perfect more-than-human world, yet we choose to create and live inside this human fiction, this unreal culture that believes all these preposterous things and makes us all violent and ill and miserable and destructive. How can seven and a half billion people get up each morning and not think it’s insane, not just walk away from it all?”

“We think too much”, Daria replied, putting some meditation music on. “Om namo bhagavate. Inside us is the unity of all things. But we are compelled to think ourselves apart, think ourselves separate, think ourselves more, think ourselves other, think ourselves in control. We can’t help it. The ego, the self, time, abstraction, apart-ness, anxiety, suffering, fearful imaginings. It’s a serious flaw in the human software. Feedback loop. Eventually the whole neural system is pattern-rewired to conform to these fictions, to believe they’re true, they’re us. And then we infect our children and each other, reinforcing the fictions until there is no longer room for doubt. Were diseased, dis-eased, by an unanticipated consequence of the addition of more proteins and amino acids to our diets — all those extra brain cells, looking for something to do and, as we faced increasing environmental stresses as our population exploded and forced us into new and strange habitats, creating this vast representation of harsh reality and then persuading us to live inside that simple representation instead of in the complex real world.”

“So there’s no hope for us, then?” Rafe said, staring at the stars above and the stars on the candle sleeves.

“Left hope behind long ago”, Daria replied.

Jag curled up at the end of Daria’s yoga mat. In the distance, the Pacific surf pounded in, then slowed to a gentle lapping on the beach.

 (images by the author)

Posted in Creative Works | Comments Off on The Only Way There

A Gift Circle: Our Amazing Experience

bowen map

Gift circles (not to be confused with “gifting circles”, a pyramid scheme that involves giving someone a large sum of money) have been around for a few years. I am familiar with them from my visits to Eugene, Oregon, where Tree and her colleagues have organized them for some time.

I actually like the Eugene variant of the gift circle process, and when I described it to my Bowen in Transition colleagues they encouraged me to try leading one on our island. We did this a couple of weeks ago, and it was a remarkable success. Here’s the process we used:

1. Start with a potluck supper.

2. When supper is done, convene in a circle (10-20 people is best, and we had a perfect dozen for ours), and begin with a check-in going around the circle based on the question “What are you grateful for right now?” Ask participants to limit their responses to a sentence or two.

3. Hand out paper and pencils for each person to take notes. Invite everyone to think about and write down something they would like to offer to the group. You don’t have to be an expert or make a living doing something in order to offer it. Here is a list of some ideas that you can provide to people thinking about their offers:

  • your time
  • skills, demonstrations, training, crafts, know-how and information (“know-what” and “know-who”)
  • goods and tools, surplus to your needs or available to lend out
  • providing rides or running errands
  • space for a meeting, event or visitor
  • child care, pet care, house-sitting, mentoring
  • massages, food preparation, car/appliance/home repairs, sewing/mending, gardening and other services
  • organizing, facilitating or set-up help for events or activities
  • visits to people who are isolated

4. After about 5 minutes, go around the circle and have each person say their name and what they would like to offer. People are free to ‘pass’ if they are unsure what to offer. Offers should be sincere and joyful — if offers are conditional or reluctant this defeats the spirit of the circle. It helps if the circle convenor models the process by going first and making 2-3 specific and varied offers. There is no discussion as the offers are made, except to ask clarifying questions. If you hear an offer that you would like to take someone up on, you note it down for step 7 followup. After everyone has had a turn, ask if there are any other offers anyone would like to add.

5. Now, provide about 5 minutes for people to think about and write down what they would like to request, using the same list above to prompt ideas. If something has already been offered in the previous round, it is unnecessary to raise it again in the request round; i.e. your requests should be things that were not offered in the offering round.

6. After about 5 minutes, go around the circle and have each person repeat their name and say what they would like to request. People are free to ‘pass’ if they are unsure what to request. Again, it helps if the circle convenor models the process by going first and making 2-3 specific and varied requests — people unfamiliar with the process will likely be nervous about asking for something, and modelling with a request that is deep and heartfelt can help them overcome their hesitation. There is no discussion as the requests are made, except to ask clarifying questions. If you hear a request that you would like to take someone up on, you note it down for step 7 followup. After everyone has had a turn, ask if there are any other requests anyone would like to add.

7. Now provide a couple of minutes for people to highlight in their notes the offers they would like to take people up on, and the requests they would be willing to fill. Then provide 15-20 minutes for people to just circulate with others and make arrangements one-on-one for the offers and requests to be filled. Caution people about promising to do too much, and make sure people pause before concluding each arrangement to be absolutely sure they are willing and able to commit to doing it. Arrangements should be as specific as possible (e.g. specific date and time rather than ‘call me and we’ll set up a time’). If this is impractical, or if you want to think about it further, take the number or e-mail address of the person you want to arrange something with. Encourage everyone to follow up within a week to firm up arrangements — otherwise they are likely to be forgotten, and if people experience a lack of follow-through, the credibility of the whole gift circle process will be undermined.

The process took us nearly two hours. There was considerable initial reluctance from some attendees who thought the process intimidating and a little too intimate for them. In fact, a few people who were put off by the description of the activity chose not to come to the meeting at all. But the reluctant attendees participated enthusiastically and said afterwards they were absolutely sold on the value of the process.

Here’s a flavour for some of the remarkable offers and fulfilled (I think) requests that our circle came up with:

  • help setting up a permaculture garden, help setting up a business, and help with taxes, fundraising and specialized software
  • rooms and a cottage for visitors to crash for a few nights
  • self-publishing and e-publishing help, transcription services, social media help
  • furniture and artworks — long-term loan
  • editing help
  • cheese-making and clay modelling advice and assistance
  • house-painting, wood-splitting and window-cleaning supplies and assistance
  • a custom-written song written and sung for a loved one
  • massage, yoga, healing touch, martial arts and meditation sessions and partners
  • dog walking, hiking companions
  • fresh produce
  • compost construction
  • help fixing a walking trail and digging a garden
  • sailing and boat-building lessons
  • empathetic listening
  • ideas on good walking/hiking routes
  • solar power, nutritional, resume-writing, and interviewing advice
  • support for convalescents and people in hospice (visits, game-playing, singing, massage, movies, art, rides to events)
  • rides to/from, and place for overnight and short-term stay in the city
  • surplus furniture
  • organizing help

The possibilities are limited only by our courage and imagination. We’ve heard that people at gift circles have asked for and received help finding romantic partners, and help recovering a stolen vehicle, for example!

A note on money: Generally offers are always free; the exception would be if you’re offering something that has incidental “out of pocket” costs associated with it, such as material costs if you’re offering to sew or build something for someone.

All in all, everyone was amazed at how much they had to offer and how many of the others’ offers were valuable to them. It’s too early to say if the follow-up will be equally as successful, but we’re off to a great start.

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 1 Comment

A Community-Based Resilience Framework

Preparing for the Fall 2

When I am asked by people “What can we do now?” to prepare for economic, energy or ecological collapse, I have of late been suggesting doing the things shown in boxes 2, 3, 4 and 7 in the graphic above — healing (and self-healing), learning new skills to liberate yourself (and others) from dependence on large centralized systems (these systems will be the first to collapse), modelling resilience (exemplifying sustainable, joyful, present living so that others can see what that looks like), and building community.

I’ve started to realize that this is an incomplete list, and that it is too early to make any real progress on some of the things on this list. So I’ve created the 7-facet resilience framework shown above, and am beginning to identify three phases in implementing it: I. First Steps (things we can each do right now, mostly to “take stock” of our current situation and how we are likely to be affected by collapse); II. Immediate Practices (things we can quite easily start making part of our daily or monthly routine, that will increase our resilience); and III. Intentional Practices (things we can start thinking about moving towards, but which are likely not practical to start doing yet).

Here are the things I think we can do in each of these three Phases, in each of the 7 Facets of Resilience. Although we can begin the community-oriented actions now, it is almost inevitable that our definition of community is likely to change dramatically as collapse forces a drastic relocalization of social, political and economic activity, as cities and suburbs and places far from healthy sustainable food are hollowed out, and as billions become economic or ecological refugees and undertake long and repeated migrations to find sustainable places to live. For that reason, many of the Phase III Intentional Practices listed below are longer-term activities that won’t make sense for us to do until we know where and with whom we’ll be living as civilization’s collapse reaches its latter stages, and have a better sense of how that collapse is unfolding and how it is affecting our communities.

  1. Self-Knowledge and Self-Awareness:
    1. First Steps: Take stock of what we know about ourselves. What are our gifts, the things we are uniquely good at doing? What are our passions, the things we love doing and want to do? What is our purpose, the thing that gives our life meaning and drives us? What is in the Sweet Spot at the intersection of our gifts, passions and purpose, the things we are ‘meant to do’ in this life? What are our capacities, the qualities that make us most useful to and helpful to our loved ones and community? What are our vulnerabilities, our ‘incapacities’, the areas where we of necessity need and want to lean on others? What are our fears, the things that prevent us, trigger us, make us at times dysfunctional? What grief, sorrow and anger do we hold that defines us, shapes our worldview, haunts and inhibits us? The reason for knowing these things is not to change or ‘improve’ ourselves but just to know and recognize ourselves for who we really are, and hence where we ‘fit’ in a sustainable community.
    2. Immediate Practices: How can we expand our self-knowledge to unearth our undiscovered gifts and passions? How can we practice being and becoming more self-aware in the moment, catching ourselves being triggered, angered, distressed by events or situations we cannot control, things that are really happening only inside our heads and which do not help us cope with fast-changing reality? Self-awareness is a key element of presence, a quality that we will need in spades to deal with collapse.
  2. Self-Healing and Healing Each Other:
    1. First Steps: Take stock of our personal physical, emotional and psychological health. What do we do now, habitually, that may make our health worse (stressful work, substance use, poor diet etc.)? Identify these things without self-judgement — things are the way they are for a reason, and we all understandably have our coping mechanisms, unavoidable stresses and ‘guilty pleasures’. What do we do now, habitually, that may make our health better (diet, exercise, meditation, yoga, breathing, relationships with community and support, herbs and alternative medications and therapies)? Also, take stock of the skills and capacities we have that can enable us to help heal others.
    2. Immediate Practices: What processes can we put in place to prevent accidents, illnesses, and the stresses and other triggers that lead to them? What processes can we put in place to monitor our health, and to self-diagnose and self-treat illnesses before they become acute or chronic? How can we gently and sustainably shift the habitual practices we identified in (I.) above to improve our health? How might we develop practices to make us more forgiving, more empathetic, more connected to those with whom we live and work, and more connected with all-life-on-Earth? And how might we strengthen and practice our capacities to help heal others?
    3. Intentional Practices: What can we begin to learn to do that will better equip us to stay healthy, and help others stay healthy, when centralized health care systems (the hospital system, the pharmaceutical system, emergency services, specialized medicine) collapse? What can we begin to learn to do that will make us more ready to deal with health crises caused by natural disasters and pandemics? How can we, working together in community, begin to create a no-charge mutual health-care network that will get us all healthy and keep us all healthy?
  3. Self-Liberation and Liberating Each Other:
    1. First Steps: Take stock of our personal dependence on large centralized systems (political, legal, financial, economic, technological, educational, police/fire). How much do we depend on the growth economy for our job, our pensions, credit, cheap imported clothing, the value of our home, insurance and investments, and income to repay our debts? How much do we depend on centralized transportation systems (roads, airplanes etc.)? How much do we depend on cheap fuel and the power grid? How much do we depend on the industrial agriculture system for cheap, plentiful food? How much do we depend on the construction industry for cheap housing and repairs to our shoddily-made homes? How much do we depend on the Internet and the entertainment ‘industry’ for our information, connection and recreation? Also, take stock of the skills and capacities we have that might enable us to help liberate others from their dependence on these centralized systems.
    2. Immediate Practices: Looking at the current dependencies identified in (I.) above, what are 2-3 things we could easily and joyfully do to reduce our dependence? How might we learn to identify and gracefully ask for what we need from those within our communities? How might we learn to need less (e.g. finding work closer to home)? How might we learn to live a wilder (healthier) and less ‘settled’ life, so that when circumstances or opportunities require us to move, that move is less ‘unsettling’? And how might we strengthen and practice our capacities to help others in our community reduce their dependencies?
    3. Intentional Practices: Once we have a good sense of what community we intend to live in for the longer term (i.e. where we plan to move before the industrial growth economy completely collapses), and who else lives (or will live) in that community, we can start to identify the people and collaboratives in that community that can provide all the essential goods and services that we now depend on large centralized systems to provide, and start to relocalize to reduce our personal and collective dependence, through a community-based egalitarian gift economy.
  4. Modelling Resilience:
    1. First Steps: Assess our value to others as a model. To what extent do we exemplify elements of resilience such as self-knowledge and self-awareness, authenticity, generosity, agility, non-attachment, transparency, honesty, humility, candour, vulnerability, empathy, articulateness, creativity, critical thinking, openness, compassion, facilitation, mentoring, contemplative gratitude, and presence? To what extent are we of use to those we love and those in our community, in a way that enables them to follow our example rather than making them dependent on us?
    2. Immediate Practices: What are 2-3 things we could do, easily and joyfully, that might make us more useful and more exemplary to others?
  5. Finding and Helping Life Partners:
    1. First Steps: Take stock of our relationships. Are they healthy, joyful, sufficient, complementary?
    2. Immediate Practices: How can we find ways to love better, and let ourselves be loved better? How can we learn to love more people, and all life on Earth (including ourselves), more courageously and unreservedly? How can we learn an attitude of abundance and compersion in love, rather than one of scarcity, fear and jealousy?
  6. Finding and Helping Work Partners and Serving Community:
    1. First Steps: Assess whether the work we are doing is in our Sweet Spot. Take stock of our relationships with work partners. Are they healthy, joyful, sufficient and complementary?
    2. Immediate Practices: If our present work is not in our Sweet Spot, how can we begin to find or create work that is? To do that, how might we find work partners who share our passions and purpose, and whose gifts and capacities complement our own? And then, working in collaboratives with those partners, how might we begin to research and identify unmet local needs through iterative conversations with people in our community, and fill those needs? (One process for this is outlined in my book Finding the Sweet Spot.)
    3. Intentional Practices: The collaboratives we identify in phase (II.) above will gradually become more and more viable and the work they do will become more essential as the economy crumbles and relocalizes and as large corporate enterprises disappear in the post-industrial world. How can we get the timing right to shift from reliance on our current industrial-economy jobs, to making a sustainable, responsible and joyful living in local, co-operative, natural collaboratives? How do we sustain our connection to our community to serve it and continue to meet its evolving needs? How do we help bring about the larger shift from a non-egalitarian industrial scarcity economy to a true gift economy?
  7. Building Community:
    1. First Steps: Take stock of your own community’s (or, if you’re planning to move, your intended community’s) self-sufficiency, dynamics, connection and resilience. Assess your knowledge of the essential elements of a healthy community.
    2. Immediate Practices: How might we learn more about the vulnerabilities of our community and current culture, and the strengths and talents we have collectively in our community that can help us cope effectively and autonomously with crises and collapse? (One way is through doing table-top simulations with others in our community, such as Collapse: The Resilient Communities Game*.) What are 2-3 things we could do in our community to easily and joyful create a stronger sense of community and know each other better (e.g. inviting all of our neighbours — even those we don’t particularly like — to a potluck supper, or holding a Gift Circle).
    3. Intentional Practices: As centralized systems collapse and more and more aspects of our lives are relocalized, how can we help our chosen communities achieve the three essential qualities of sustainability that Dmitri Orlov outlines in his book Communities That Abide: Self-sufficiency, the ability to self-organize and recover in the face of crisis, and mobility (not being tied to any one place)? How can we learn to live with, and even love, people we don’t really like? How can we transform the isolated, disconnected communities of the industrial economy into cohesive, self-sufficient “tribes” — people whose members know and love each other intimately and look after each other the way healthy families do?

This is just a first pass at trying to articulate this framework. I welcome comments on its organization, content and value. I can see it evolving into some sort of workbook over time, something that can be used, by individuals and later by collaborative partnerships and communities, to self-assess resilience and start to build practices that will ready us for whatever is to come.

I’d love to know what you think.


*The latest (and much simplified) version of Collapse: The Resilience Game (v.5) can be downloaded here: 

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 2 Comments

Coming Out of Hiding


fear cycle 2014

We are all, I believe, suffering from Civilization Disease, struggling in varying ways and to varying degrees to cope physically, emotionally and psychologically with the stress, anxiety, violence, trauma, brutality, coercion, and the sheer unnaturalness of our global industrial civilization culture.

We are not meant to live this way, and we are all trying, I think, in our own ways to heal from this culture’s incessant horrors, and longing for what we have lost: a simple, connected, joyful, peaceful, leisurely, cooperative, natural way of living.

My way of coping, since I began suffering from the chronic stress-induced illness called ulcerative colitis, has been to try to avoid stress and anxiety altogether, and to avoid situations that trigger my long list of deep-seated fears: The fear of being trapped (physically or emotionally), the fear of injury, pain, deprivation, illness, manipulation, disrespect, humiliation, or harsh criticism, the fear of causing loved ones’ suffering (and inability to help/cope with that suffering), the fear of failure and of being disappointing or ordinary, the fear of loss of self, safety or capacity, and even the fear of nature.

These are ancient fears and anxieties, rooted in a lifetime of (often subtle) hurts, (often unintentional) abuses and pain that I suspect nearly all of us have suffered. Because our bodies were designed to respond to simple fight-or-flight fears, while the new ones are chronic, complex and interconnected, we are genetically and physically ill-equipped to deal with the cycles of endless and recurring anxiety, fear, trauma and grief (depicted in the graphic above) that are endemic in modern society. Hence, Civilization Disease and the staggering toll of violence, neglect and suffering it has wrought. We are all doing the best we can, and yet the disease grows ever worse.

This past month, I have faced the greatest stresses since my retirement nearly five years ago. I will spare you the details for now, since some issues are still ongoing. Suffice to say I have not handled it well. I am out of practice coping with stress and hence am even worse at handling it than I was when I was working and dealing with it every day. I have been physically ill, exhausted, depressed, and feeling crushed by my helplessness to avoid, resolve and prevent crises that bring out the worst in me, to the point of incapacitating me. On the outside, I am dealing with stress better, more usefully and calmly, but inside I’m a mess.

I think I am finally learning that my goal of avoiding stress and anxiety is an absurd one. Life doesn’t work that way. I’m realizing that the things I keep saying I aspire to in my personal healing journey  — the intoxications of love, lust and tropical warmth — are just escapism, distractions that are actually preventing me from living fully, presently in the real world, and learning to cope effectively with and self-adapt to the inevitable changes and crises that we all face and that no one can hope to predict or avoid.

A life driven by aversion rather than intention is a shadow of a life. It’s time for me to come out of hiding.

But I don’t know how. I have some guesses, though. I’m guessing that I’m going to have to learn to lean on and trust others. I’m guessing I’m going to have to find ways to reduce my dependence on centralized systems, which are increasingly fragile and dysfunctional — notably our teetering and unreliable health care, security, legal, financial and technological systems.

I’m guessing I’m going to have to learn to be grateful, more fully inhabiting and treasuring joyful moments, and to let go of the desire for and illusion of control and safety, and the belief that crises and predicaments can somehow be prevented or ‘fixed’. I’m guessing that I’m going to have to learn to be more self-aware that my anxieties and fears stem from ancient fight-or-flight responses, ill suited to the world in which we live today, and when they arise, acknowledge them, respect them, breathe, and try to work around them.

I’m guessing that my newly-learned habit of asking myself, in times of anxiety, to think about how I might look back on this situation five years from now, to put things in perspective, will continue to be a useful one.

But all of this is hard for me. It runs counter to my instincts and is impeded by my pessimism, my distrust of people I don’t know well, my “you can do anything you set out to do” upbringing, my lack of presence, and my long-standing means of self-protection.

So while I’ve received a wake-up call, I’m still groggy, unprepared, aching to go back to the warmth and comfort of sleep. I have the sense I’m on the threshold of a great shift in my life, and that this shift will be a positive one. But I’m reluctant, even now, to give up this foolish stand and move forward. Scared. But here I go.


Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 15 Comments

See No Evil: The Morality of Collapse

My latest article, See No Evil: The Morality of Collapse, is up at SHIFT magazine as part of its sixth edition. Check out the whole magazine! And if you like what you read, or prefer to read hard copy, please get this issue as a digital download (beautiful magazine layout) or sign up for an annual subscription (6 issues).

In this article, I ask the reader to consider these questions:

  • Is it acceptable to use violence when pacifism seems inadequate to confront the most devastating aspects of industrial civilization?
  • Are large public protests a means of raising awareness and political pressure, or are they a useless distraction from preparing for economic and political collapse?
  • Are social justice and equality essential preconditions for collectively addressing issues such as climate change, or would that be just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic?
  • Would it be a great service or a great disservice to deliberately provoke a collapse of markets and the economy in order to reduce consumption and energy use?
  • Is giving up on environmentalism and large-scale attempts in response to climate change, and instead focusing on local initiatives and personal and community preparedness, a realistic and pragmatic strategy, or dangerous, irresponsible defeatism?

Here’s the start of the article, and a link to the rest:


new political map 2014
As we wade into discussions about the consequences of collapse, and the most effective ways to become resilient in face of it, most of us avoid discussions about morals (personal standards of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’) and ethics (collective standards of ‘just’ and ‘unjust’ behaviours). As an example, it doesn’t matter whether climate change is human-caused, we assert, we need to focus on how to deal with it, not who to blame for it.

Alas, it is not so easy to avoid the issue, because our worldviews are inevitably rooted in our beliefs, including our moral and ethical ones. So when it comes to preparing for collapse, the different groups who accept that the near-term collapse of industrial civilization is inevitable (or at least requiring immediate and drastic action to avert) possess worldviews that are rooted in different, and I would argue, almost irreconcilable moral and ethical standards. This makes collaboration, or even agreement on what to do, fraught with difficulty, if not impossible.

Read the rest at SHIFT.

PS: More creative works coming soon on How to Save the World.

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 3 Comments

The Wild Man


He asked me if I was going to West Vancouver, and if so, if I could give him a ride. We were on the ferry to the city, and I said sure. Raincoat, waterproof backpack, the guy was appropriately dressed for a car-less island resident in our region’s rainy winters. He thanked me, and said he was going upstairs to the ferry’s passenger deck, but he’d be back before we landed.

When he got back, and climbed into the passenger seat, he turned his backpack, which was slung over his shoulder, around, revealing the small white head of a very contented-looking little dog, peeking out at me. This was clearly my rider’s way of breaking the news to me that he wasn’t traveling alone. No doubt he’d tried asking drivers he was hitching with if it was OK he had a dog in tow, and found the results wanting. Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.

He introduced me to the dog, a 16-year-old female he’d raised from a pup, after his previous dog had died at age 17. He’d found the vet of his previous dog presumptuous and expensive, so his new canine companion had never seen a vet.

My strange traveling companion was actually headed to North Vancouver, a 30-minute bus ride or 90-minute walk beyond where he’d asked a ride to. Better chance of getting a ‘yes’ answer if you give a closer destination, as every hitcher knows. He told me the dog stayed quiet and hidden when he took the bus, because when he’d showed the dog to bus drivers they’d refused him passage because his backpack wasn’t a ‘proper’ carrier.

From then on he just didn’t ask, and the dog had learned to be a conspirator in silence. He’d learned that lies of omission often work better than total honesty. He did what he had to do. If the rain held off, he’d sooner walk the 90 minutes to North Vancouver anyway, let the dog stick her head out instead of hiding. Save the bus fare, too.

He said he’d lived up and down the BC coast all his life, which I’d guess was 30-something years, though he looked older. He didn’t volunteer what his appointment was, which he said he’d just make if he chose to walk. I wondered if it was a medical appointment of some kind, or a check-in for social assistance, but I didn’t ask.

He said his work was mostly out-of-doors, and involved a lot of standing, and there wouldn’t be much for him until the rain eased. Was he a roadwork labourer? A busker? He had a musician’s hands — nails on the right hand longer than on the left — though he had no instrument with him. Nothing in the bag, in fact, but the dog, whose head he stroked constantly as we rode. It was the most serene-looking dog I’d ever seen. He told me his previous dog had separation anxiety. And why not — with the bag, what reason ever to be apart?

I hadn’t seen the guy on the island before, though he suggested he was living there, and had from time to time before. He mentioned some other places he’d lived, all of them small coastal or island communities, not cities. I wondered if he was just a nomad, doing the circuit of people he knew enough to crash with, and then moving on when he thought he’d worn out his welcome.

All of this was just conjecture on my part. He didn’t volunteer anything more about himself, and I thought it would be nosy to ask. He had the sad, tired, wary, slightly anxious and cowed look and style of someone used to being told ‘no’ and being asked to move on.

But as I talked with him, it occurred to me he had everything anyone could really need. He had, I figured, a network of people with warm houses where he could stay and sleep. He knew how to get enough money to feed himself and his beloved dog, and to pay incidentals like ferry fares. And he carried his loved one with him everywhere, easily, and they basked in their obvious, easy, unconditional love for each other. He was perhaps as free and independent of our oppressive culture as anyone can be. He knew how to ask for what he wanted and needed. He could go anywhere, quickly, easily, and call it home.

Was this gentle, weary stranger, the exemplar of a collapse survivor? Though I had no way of knowing what trauma and hardship he might have endured, it seemed to me that coming to live this simple way might have been his way of coping, his way out of the darkness.

I’ve argued that when the teetering systems of our crumbling and ruinous civilization fall, we will have to learn a different and better way to live and make a living. I always assumed that would be, inevitably, in community, in some ‘settled’ way. But we were gatherer-hunters long before, and for longer, than we were settlers. We may not be well-designed to catch and eat animals (we lack particularly the capacity for rapid acceleration, and the requisite teeth and claws), but we are certainly designed to walk long distances, to migrate, to be nomadic.

If our climate shifts suddenly and repeatedly, making the places we live successively inhabitable, maybe transition, adaptation and sustainability are more about our capacity to scavenge, to re-form relationships with ever-changing and ever-moving neighbours, to ask and share in the moment and then bundle up our loved ones and move on, than our capacity to create and build community in any kind of enduring place or durable form.

I find this thought strangely liberating. The idea of having to learn to make and maintain community, the whole mess of getting along with others, of learning to love people we don’t even like, offends the ‘wildness’ that cries out within me. I want to be free.

As anarchist writer Wolfi Landstreicher wrote:

In a very general way, we know what we want. We want to live as wild, free beings in a world of wild, free beings. The humiliation of having to follow rules, of having to sell our lives away to buy survival, of seeing our usurped desires transformed into abstractions and images in order to sell us commodities fills us with rage. How long will we put up with this misery? We want to make this world into a place where our desires can be immediately realized, not just sporadically, but normally. We want to re-eroticize our lives. We want to live not in a dead world of resources, but in a living world of free wild lovers. We need to start exploring the extent to which we are capable of living these dreams in the present without isolating ourselves. This will give us a clearer understanding of the domination of civilization over our lives, an understanding which will allow us to fight domestication more intensely and so expand the extent to which we can live wildly.

Yes, I say excitedly, each time I read this passage. This is how I want to live. Unsettled, uncompromising. “Needing nowhere to stay.” Feral. Like a bird, ready to fly.

Thank you, stranger, for the reminder.

image above from the wild human initiative

Posted in Creative Works | 1 Comment