Nothing Much Left to Say About Civilization’s End

Crow photo by (and photoshopped by) Dave, taken at the beach in Stanley Park, Vancouver.

I‘ve been pretty quiet on this blog for a while, and it’s not because I’ve been too busy to write. I just don’t have much new and important to report, or to say. This blog has been, first and foremost, my means of thinking out loud, challenging what I’ve been told, articulating what — I’m learning — is really going on in the world, and imagining what might be done about it.

The evidence continues to pile up that our civilization is inevitably in its final century, that its collapse has already begun and will occur not all at once but rather will play out as a series of growing and quite ugly cascading crises. I’ve been writing about this for years now, and there is nothing much left to say.

My upcoming Links of the Month post will start with some specific thoughts on how this timeline is progressing and what I am doing in response to, or in anticipation of, what I see happening now, and next. These thoughts will be based on data that are largely unreported in the mainstream media, since these media have neither the time nor inclination to look at any complex issue in enough depth to provide any meaningful guidance on what their ‘news’ means, or how one should act on it.

These data come in part from reading books and alternative media (that’s what my Links of the Month posts try to summarize), but mostly they come from personal observation and reflection, and from a growing trust of my intuitive and somatic knowledge — what my body and my instincts, which synthesize what I know consciously with what I ‘know’ subconsciously, are telling me is real, now.

Recently, for example, they have been telling me that the political, social and economic “news” reported by both the apologist corporatist mainstream media and the (mostly) whining cowardly alternative media, are a dangerous distraction from our urgent need to face squarely the many intractible, longer-term issues facing our planet.

Specifically, we are now being distracted by the nonsense written on all sides about an “Arab Spring” and how the revolt of a minority of courageous and/or desperate people against corrupt despots heralds a blossoming of democracy in the region and ultimately in the world. A basic reading of history would convince the most optimistic person that what it in fact heralds is orchestrated brinksmanship that will show (a) that despots are generally replaced by other totalitarian regimes that are, on average, no better than those they followed, and (b) that a sufficiently vicious despot will sacrifice his own people, and cost the world billions in wasted effort to support his opponents, in order to keep power a little longer.

We should have learned this from Afghanstan and a dozen Western interventions before it, but we just keep repeating the same mistakes while hoping stupidly for a different outcome. In the meantime the horrific threats of global economic meltdown, ecological catastrophe, and energy collapse loom closer and larger, and are being mostly ignored, while meaningful debate about them is lost in a blizzard of simplistic rhetoric, magical thinking and cynical propaganda.

My instincts are also telling me that the well-intentioned efforts of the small cohort who are no longer in denial about what is to come — efforts to prepare for these threats, and to increase our resilience so we can contend with them better — are probably misplaced. The first stages of all three crises have been completely mishandled by those with the responsibility to prepare for and respond to them, and we are so afflicted by imaginative poverty, ignorance of history, and total dependence on the very systems that are starting to crumble around us, that we are blind to just how badly we are coping with early-stage collapse. Just witness:

  • Our responses to the recent massive banking fraud, the collapse of the housing market and endless international debt crises (our response: bail out the mismanaged gangster mega-corporations and ratchet the system up even tighter so it is even more fragile and the eventual cost of failure more horrific)
  • Our preparations for and responses to recent hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis (they have been pathetic, and we remain oblivious to how ill-prepared we are to cope as extreme climate events grow in intensity and frequency)
  • Our response to the peaking of cheap energy production, soaring extraction costs and plunging reserves (our response: invest speculatively to further fuel the crisis, and placidly accept the preposterous government and corporate claims about the extent of the crisis)

What does this incompetent response to early warning signals of civilization’s collapse tell us about ourselves and our institutions? First, it tells us that we will continue to choose to deny the need to change our current unsustainable behaviours until it is too late. We will do our little bit to recycle and waste less, and then we will hope, ridiculously, for the best. Second, it shows us that there is no one steering this ship as it careens towards catastrophe. Our “leaders” will never risk the political consequences of telling us the situation is worse than we wish it to be, and it is increasingly apparent that, even if they did, or if we miraculously replaced them with “leaders” who did tell us the truth, our present momentum and the lack of any central power to enact and enforce mandatory global changes in behaviour, ensure that they couldn’t act effectively anyway.

There are many prescriptions for saving the world out there today, but they are all based on magical thinking. Technology/innovation, the “market”, “radical democracy”, religious salvation, new age consciousness-raising, grassroots collectivism — belief in any of these “solutions” is an act of pure faith, as none of them has “solved” any problem even a fraction the size or complexity of those we face today. Belief in and pursuit of these “solutions” has, on the whole, worsened not ameliorated these problems. It is time for us to give up hope in such solutions.

And then do what, you might ask? I don’t know. Perhaps just be. If you have the luxury of time, capacity and opportunity to do so, listen to your instincts, and to the place you live, and wait for them to tell you what to do, There is no one right answer, and there is no saving this civilization, or this world. It will be fine, long after we’re gone.

As for me, I have been trying, successfully, to be generous in supporting people and projects that I think are important and will help a lot of people. I have been successfully spending time with people I love, and am slowly learning to be present, to let go, to be a responsible, sustainable hedonist, and to self-accept. I am looking to spend more time in creative and imaginative pursuits, with creative and imaginative people, and more time mentoring, and learning resilience skills and capacities. I am still seeking gentle natural warm beautiful places to live, and safe ways to help stop the Tar Sands and factory farming.

I think I might try posting short daily thoughts here, instead of waiting days or weeks until I have something substantive to post. This blog might become, at least for a while, more of a diary than an overly-ambitious chronicle of civilization’s collapse. If so, it will likely become more personal, and less rhetorical — more about my activities and reflections and the people in my life, and less about my ideas.

We’ll see.

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13 Responses to Nothing Much Left to Say About Civilization’s End

  1. Beth P says:

    Your evolution continues to inspire. Thanks for putting words to some wordless feelings and experiences of my own soma. This place of unknowing how to proceed has been a powerful place of transformation in other times of human existence. We’ll just have to see if the rubric holds true.

  2. Lane says:

    Thanks Dave, I appreciate your blog. I spend most of my time in pursuit of my immediate goals, as futile as they will be in the long run. But the reality you write about percolates in a recess of my mind. I think about it like I do my own death. It is, of course, inevitable. I learned an interesting lesson when my mother died of cancer. I wanted her to acknowledge and prepare for her death. She never did anything the way I wanted her to. Instead, she struggled mightily against every failure and prayed for a miracle. She kept busy living until the very last week when one system too many failed and she declared she was done. She stopped all treatment and died. It appalled me how long she and the rest of the family held their hands up against the truth, and how shocked and surprised they were, but in some ways I wished I could be like her and them.
    But I’m not. It’s a relief to read, laid out in plain comprehensive language, what I know to be true. Even if there’s nothing we can do but live, it’s nice to know I’m not the only who knows. It makes me feel less alone in the midst of all the fervent, mind-numbing denial. How can one not feel deep respect for the declaration of simple truth, no matter how unwelcome the news?

  3. Beth P says:

    Thanks Dave–
    It’s always heartening to be witness to your evolution. In the process of listening to my own somatic wisdom, I’m experiencing some of the same wisdom. In the past this sense of unknowing has been fertile ground for transformation for some of humanity. As you say, we’ll have to see if this rubric holds true for this end of the world as we know it.

  4. Lila says:

    Thanks, Dave, for your opennes about what’s going on with your thoughts. I have appreciated so much your articulate writing about our situation and I will continue to look forward to your future writings. Though I think it is important to have a grasp of the immensity of the predicaments facing humanity, daily life with those we love is where we respond to that knowledge. I don’t believe we’ll find much, if any, help at the large-scale level but keeping connected with those out there who are not afraid of the truth for as long as those connections last is important. But, like you, I’m starting to contract to a smaller community scale.

  5. ThreeEs says:

    Thanks Dave for your brutally honest blog. I struggle with this everyday and come to a different conclusion almost everyday, I guess that is being human? As Lane comments it is nice to know I’m not the only one who knows. Charles Hugh Smith had a great piece as well “The Burden of Knowing” which I go back and read often, I will add this one to my list to revisit.

  6. sue says:

    Thanks. Such a succinct, and honest assessment. I’ve been conceptualizing current civilization as a great diesel train engine (dragging many cars of people, coal and oil tankers), heading rapidly out onto the tressle over a great gorge; the tressle has rotted, small tremors and swaying give indication of that rot, and out ahead where only the eagle-eyed can see the rails themselves have collapsed. It’s too late to divert it, to late to stop, it’s going to crash. Perhaps there is a way to save some lives on the train in the inevitable wreck, cushion some falls.

  7. Jay D says:

    One of the finer of the pessimistically-slanted summaries i’ve seen, Dave. I love the way you cut through the crap with your razor-sharp “pen”. I’d just add for now that i’m glad you touched on the crucial factor of denial, because, well, that one runs so deep that it’s like the Titanic’s iceberg, except sometimes it seems like the ship’s frigging enCASED in it and actually going nowhere fast, eh?! Maybe with global warming to look forward to…

    Excellent analogy too, sue, of the diesel train. Yes, those of us standing atop our rear car with binocs can see what’s on that trestle and those in the rest of the train cars aren’t listening to how rotten it is. What can be done? Uncouple this caboose and soon! Seriously, contemplate that one with me, it speaks to a different strategy than is being followed…

  8. UnifiedTao says:

    I don’y think the world can be saved (as i try to say in my blog), anyway your blog is pretty good.

    Till the end of the world…have a good, best, time.

  9. CD says:

    First time reader, I can say that I do not disagree with your summation, much of what we identify as civilization does appear to have a trajectory towards doom (or massive change from the current state, depending upon one’s perspective, perhaps a change is overdue). I appreciate, more than I am able to succinctly express, your approach to dealing with this societal transformation, I have at times had the clarity to accept that which I have no control over and “go with the flow”, unfortunately my training as a human and my upbringing have infused in me a resistance to acceptance; I am driven to influence my reality, hopefully I can overcome that at some point. I read this post and think I need to collect seeds, gardening tools, and some other items that will make life livable, get myself in a physical place that will be conducive to remaining alive (I currently live in a place where it reaches -15 degrees F in the winter, a little tough to ride out one of those), and surround myself with the loved ones as best as I can.

    I wonder though, is what you state any different than what others that have come before us have thought as well? Has our species always pushed our environment/living situation to the point where at least some of us have thought that the end is imminent? I for do not believe that the current course is sustainable, but I do wonder if there is a certain “chicken little” component always around. We are a somewhat resilient species, having lived through several glacial epochs over the last couple million years, so I strongly suspect that some of us will make it through for a little while longer, just not in the way we are accustomed to doing it now.

    I draw some comfort from my time living in Africa, where I witnessed many living on little. There were no IPads, items we take for granted were luxury, health (and individual longevity) were much less than what we are generally accustomed to living with. Certain people will adapt, heck, will probably thrive under changed conditions. The thing that impressed me most in the impoverished areas I lived and visited while overseas was the sense of community, how, even though differences existed, people were in it together, and they went out of their way to help their neighbor, something I feel has long been lost in the current “first world” setting. Don’t get me wrong, there was strife and brutality, it is in our nature as the creatures we are, but there was also a much greater sense on community.

    Thanks. Enjoy. Peace.


  10. Yasha says:

    I thought i should come see if any more specific discussion might want to take place on what Dave brought up…This paragraph in particular leaped out at me as particularly/typically rich:

    “We should have learned this from Afghanstan and a dozen Western interventions before it, but we just keep repeating the same mistakes while hoping stupidly for a different outcome. In the meantime the horrific threats of global economic meltdown, ecological catastrophe, and energy collapse loom closer and larger, and are being mostly ignored, while meaningful debate about them is lost in a blizzard of simplistic rhetoric, magical thinking and cynical propaganda.”

    The question that the first sentence begs of me is whether there could be anything a bit fundamentally different about this “Arab Spring” thing, because some folks i respect seem to think maybe so. Could it come down to the fact that these uprisings are no longer necessarily in response to “Western interventions”; and is that pattern somewhat turned on its head at present? If so, what might be the implications of that? Only one thing for certain–we shall see.

    Seems to me that Dave’s second sentence in the paragraph pinpoints a sub-predicament as important as any that exist, given the trajectory’s likelihood of changing anytime soon or extensively enough. (Not to mention on the “blizzard” list the power of meaninless trivia and gossip, that distracting “Spectacle” that makes the polar bear disappear in the snowstorm…) The growing implications of this fact are simply staggering, and once added to everything else, simply said, we be screwed, civ-wise. Is a partial antidote to that a main unrealized potential of (to use the term sort of loosely) the blogosphere here? Seems so, which is why blogs and such that try to get into this stuff in any kind of truly balanced way are so worth supporting. Right?

  11. Damon Newcomb says:

    Greetings, I am a first-time reader. Although I have no intention of forcing my philosophy on others, I can’t help but notice the similarities that your efforts to cope with your beliefs and perceptions bear to the tenets of Buddhism.

    When you talk of letting go, and acceptance as possible remedies for, in my perceptions, your recognition of being unable to help stop the dissolution of our world and civilization, I can’t help thinking of an old story, describing someone who has reached a crisis point in their own evolution.

    The story describes someone as “having swallowed a glob of molten metal.” You can’t keep it down, because it burns; and you can’t choke it up, because it is too heavy!

    I can see why you “have little more to say!”

  12. Margaret says:

    Thank you for putting into words what I have been trying to say. I think your idea of simply posting your thoughts is an excellent one. Many of us are on the same journey. We do not need leaders, we need companions, and for those of us who are yet to find the companions in the flesh, p2p will have to do for now.

  13. Phil Henshaw says:

    Well, there still are the next levels of understanding the true nature of the problem. One is how science restricted itself to studying deterministic processes. That’s importantly why our civilization developed around treating our living planet either as resources to control or interference to oppose, as an “externality”. Of course it goes deeper than that, to the heart of why we “believe our own stories” and are so dumb to test the nature of reality against whether beliefs fit our own cultural habits.

    In my post on today I didn’t go into that latter issue, but the first point, about how the language of science is a complete mismatch for describing our natural world. Confused languages are things that can’t be fixed quickly, but can in fact be fixed.

    Vaclav Smil calls the present process “the great unraveling”. I first wrote about it long ago as “growth induced collapse”, a system design to push all its internally responding parts beyond the limits of their responsiveness.

    It’s indeed well on its way. But as long as we’er here we might as well learn from the experience.

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