Links of the Month: November 19, 2011

Cartoon by Mark Hurwitt

Quite often people ask me how I can live with a personal belief system that is so seemingly pessimistic and hope-less:

  • I believe that our civilization will inevitably collapse, in stages, over the course of this century, and that that collapse will bring immense suffering (though perhaps no more than the suffering that civilization inflicts now, every day, on the human and non-human creatures of this world).
  • I believe that, in our desperate efforts to deny or delay inevitable collapse, we will do more damage to our environment and exhaust more of the planet’s natural wealth in the decades to come than has even been done to date.
  • I believe that faith in technology, innovation, human ingenuity, ‘free’ markets, leaders, deities and spontaneous global consciousness-raising, to re-form civilization culture, are all desperate salvationist magical thinking, and that such thinking is foolish, dangerous and a distraction from coming to grips with what we can and must do.
  • I believe ‘we’ are not the rational ‘individuals’ we imagine ourselves to be. ‘We’ are nothing more than a complicity of our bodies’ organs that evolved our minds for their survival purposes, minds that our culture is, in its struggle to survive, trying to seize control of to have our bodies instead do its bidding. We are all, now, victims of this chronically stressful body-vs.-culture war inside us, that has left us feeling exhausted, anxious, fearful, powerless, helpless, culturally imprisoned, intellectually paralyzed, self-blaming, and physically and emotionally ill.

I have spent ten years coming to this conclusion, ten years of questioning and challenging and studying and re-thinking everything I have been taught to believe. And while many may think this is a dismal philosophy, I feel immensely liberated by it, freed from the illusions of responsibility for and control over and denial of who I am and what is happening in the world.

I think we will all have to achieve, in our own way, a high level of awareness of reality, and of self-awareness, and heal ourselves to reach a state of peace with that reality and with what it means, if we want to cope with what is in store for us in the coming decades. This blog has always been and continues to be my means of achieving this for myself and offering it, for what it’s worth, to others.

The Metamovement (the Occupy, Indignant and Arab Spring movements) has successfully provoked an awareness in many citizens of the inequity and injustice of wealth and power in the industrial growth economy, and how the 1% are now the sole beneficiaries of that economy and the accelerating desolation of the planet and liquidation of its resources. Many of us would like to believe that this heralds a broader understanding of how the world really works and what is needed to mitigate the suffering of civilization’s beginning collapse. Richard Heinberg, for example, writes that what protesters and activists are “for” is:

  1. Energy literacy
  2. Conservation
  3. Resilience
  4. Relocalization
  5. Family planning
  6. Beauty
  7. Biodiversity

I would love to believe that large swaths of the Metamovement have this degree of understanding of the current state of the world and what is needed to make it better. But there is no evidence that this is the case. As the cartoon above humorously illustrates, most of the current protests are about who has, and who should have, what share of the world’s power and wealth, and about the unjustly unpunished crimes of the powerful and the wealthy. That makes perfect sense, and the protesters’ cause is a good one. But it is light years shy of the kind of collective self-enlightenment that Mr. Heinberg (of whom I’m a great fan BTW) and other wishful thinkers would have us believe has been achieved.

But it’s a step in the right direction. Perhaps once people understand that most of what they have been and are being told by their ‘leaders’, by the corrupt political and economic establishment, by the incompetent and duty-derelict media, and, alas, by our teachers, parents and peers, are lies — then we might begin to wake up in large numbers to what is really happening in the world, and how we must start now to prepare for collapse, mostly by relearning essential competencies and capacities so we are ready and resilient, at the personal and community level, to deal with the unpredictable cascading crises ahead, in the moment, no matter when and how they hit us.

Thanks to Justin Bale’s OWS archive for most of the images in this post


The Coming Insurrection: This booklet, whose authors were charged with promoting “terrorism” for writing it, offers a fascinating insight into the anger of young Europeans, and how different the current political situation in Europe is from that in North America, due to the different power dynamics and greater political literacy of most Europeans. Thanks to Keith Farnish for the link.

The Informal Economy: Sharon Astyk envisions what a mixed formal/informal economy might look like after civilization’s collapse. I think she overestimates how much we’ll be willing to put any trust in formal economy structures once our economic system collapses, but it’s a great, and important, thought experiment, all part of being prepared for what comes next.

Emotional Resilience: Chris Martensen interviews Carolyn Baker on preparing ourselves emotionally for collapse. Carolyn draws on studies of areas hit by disaster to envision the challenges we’ll be facing, and prescribes preparations including increased self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-management, making connections to others and the Earth, and increasing capacity to deal with our (and others’) negative emotions. Thanks to 3Es Newsletter for the link.

Be Prepared: I’m fond of saying that the key to resilience in the coming decades will be our ability, in the moment, to imagine ways around the crises we cannot prevent, predict or plan for. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be prepared for what is reasonably predictable/plausible. Flemming Funch explains: “Not only do you save yourself a lot of anxiety, but it is a lot more comfortable to prepare for things in advance. It is a lot easier to prepare to have a source of drinking water when the stores are open and your Internet connection works than it is when you’re thirsty and nothing is open, because of some kind of minor or major breakdown. It is a lot easier to think of how you’ll charge your cellphone or your radio before the electricity actually goes down.” Are you prepared?

Hubbert’s Third Prophecy: Many don’t realize that, after successfully predicting Peak Oil and its consequences a half-century ago, Hubbert went on to predict that the next major impact would be “cultural crisis”. Gary Flomenhoft explains, and suggests radical reform of the financial and money system to stave it off.

“A Single Chaotic Event”: Dmitry Orlov backpedals on his “five stages of collapse” model, saying that because the bailouts of banks and runaway indebtedness are escalating, the collapse is likely to be more sudden and more extreme than he’d previously predicted.

Anti-Fragile not Resilient: In a recent video’d speech, Black Swan author Nassim Taleb explains (caveat: he’s an arrogant and frustratingly unclear speaker) the thesis for his next book: The best preparation for “black swan” (unexpected, unpredictable and catastrophic) events is not “resilient” systems (i.e. with ability to bounce back from these events) but “anti-fragile” systems (i.e. that actually benefit from such events). Natural systems, he says, are mostly inherently anti-fragile (e.g. evolution). Human-made systems are mostly fragile; we need to learn from nature. Thanks to Avi Solomon for the link.

Greenhouse Gases Rise By Record Amount: To the surprise of few, political efforts to reduce global CO2 emissions are not only ineffective, the increase in pollution is actually accelerating.

RIP Richard Douthwaite: The brilliant environmental economist and author of Short Circuit, the free online manual for creating a new economy from the community up, passed away last Monday.


Community Creates Its Own Co-op Department Store: Saranac Lake NY is learning what we’re all going to have to learn — how to self-manage a community when the economy collapses and all the big corporations disappear.

Nassim Taleb Calls for End to Bank Bonuses: When the risks of bad investment decisions are paid for by the taxpayer through bailouts, it’s outrageous that those making these decisions get huge bonuses when they make the right gambles (and often, significant bonuses when they make the wrong ones). Taleb says with their government protections banks are tantamount to government organizations, and bankers should be treated as public servants who get paid a fixed salary and no bonuses. Logical, but don’t hold your breath.

CBD Dares Say Overpopulation is a Key Environmental Issue: The Center for Biological Diversity asserts that without birth control sufficient to reduce human numbers, no amount of environmental effort will be enough to succeed. Glad someone is willing to name the elephant in the room.

Cartoon by Marco Marilungo, needs no translation


Inequality and Abuse of Power and Wealth as the Issue of 2011: A recent OECD report put the US at the bottom of the heap of affluent nations in social justice (poverty, health, education and income/wealth inequality). Canada has nothing to be proud of either (its scores don’t justify its overall rank). Glenn Greenwald explains how the 99% are starting to realize the American Dream has been stolen by the 1%. Excerpt:

If you were to assess the state of the union in 2011, you might sum it up this way: rather than being subjected to the rule of law, the nation’s most powerful oligarchs control the law and are so exempt from it; and increasing numbers of Americans understand that and are outraged.  At exactly the same time that the nation’s elites enjoy legal immunity even for egregious crimes, ordinary Americans are being subjected to the world’s largest and one of its harshest penal states, under which they are unable to secure competent legal counsel and are harshly punished with lengthy prison terms for even trivial infractions. In lieu of the rule of law — the equal application of rules to everyone — what we have now is a two-tiered justice system in which the powerful are immunized while the powerless are punished with increasing mercilessness. As a guarantor of outcomes, the law has, by now, been so completely perverted that it is an incomparably potent weapon for entrenching inequality further, controlling the powerless, and ensuring corrupted outcomes.

The tide that was supposed to lift all ships has, in fact, left startling numbers of Americans underwater. In the process, we lost any sense that a common set of rules applies to everyone, and so there is no longer a legitimizing anchor for the vast income and wealth inequalities that plague the nation. That is what has changed, and a growing recognition of what it means is fueling rising citizen anger and protest. The inequality under which so many suffer is not only vast, but illegitimate, rooted as it is in lawlessness and corruption. Obscuring that fact has long been the linchpin for inducing Americans to accept vast and growing inequalities.  That fact is now too glaring to obscure any longer.

Occupy/Indignant/Metamovement Roundup:

The Graphics of Inequality: Several interesting charts on the power and wealth of the 1% vs the 99%:

Quarter of a Million Animals Abused Annually in UBC “Research”: The university’s official abuse apologist says this represents “less than 6%” of Canada-wide university laboratory abuse. That means the Canadian total is a disgraceful five million animals tortured in laboratories every year.

Canada’s Corporate SLAPP Lawsuits Intimidate Truth Tellers: The Walrus explains how the sleazy lawyers of big corporations in Canada use threats of massive, expensive defamation lawsuits to intimidate and silence whistle-blowers and critics of corporate abuses.

Too Big to Jail: Robert Scheer says that not only are the big banks and other mega-corporations “too big to fail”, their inept and corrupt leaders are “too big to jail”. To do so, he says, would be political suicide and set off a massive wealth exodus to a “safer” country, and perhaps a depression.


Image from a post by Nick Smith, believed to be from the collection of John Wareham, artist unknown

The World’s Greatest Optical Illusions: A stunning and substantial set of illusions than can be viewed onscreen. Thanks to Seb Paquet for the link.

Imagine Armed Chinese Troops in Texas: Fascinating thought experiment to understand why so much of the world hates America, from the quixotic Ron Paul campaign. Thanks to my publisher Margo Baldwin for the link.

The Pathologization of Stress: Provocative argument that diagnosing many stress-related traumas as PTSD just plays into Big Pharma’s drugs-for-everything propaganda and doesn’t produce better healing.

The End of Happily Ever After: Bonnie Stewart ponders why so many of her monogamous friends are breaking up, and what that means for the rest of us.

The Once and Future Way to Run: The NYT discovers the best long-distance runners run differently from the way we’re all taught to run. See also this related video.

A Time Chart of Death By Violence: Interest NYT graphic shows deaths from wars, genocides and other violence throughout civilization’s history. Deaths since 2000 are absent, and many of the death tolls cited are most likely heavily understated. Nevertheless, the trend is pretty clear.

Adopt a Shelter Pet, Please: The shelter pet project asks that if you’re thinking of getting a cat or dog at this season of the year, please adopt a shelter pet instead of buying from a breeder or pet store.

Sony Introduces 3D Visor/Headset: Get rid of your monitor and get total immersion right in your face. As a fan of portability in technologies, this actually kind of intrigues me. Not so sure this is good for your eyes, or your brainwaves, however.


From Angie Riedel (thanks to Dale Asberry for the link):

The highest crime between people is demanding by force, by law, by deceit, by manipulation, by threat, by imprisonment, by bribery, by withholding information, by telling lies, by ultimatum, by any means of coercion at all, that someone else must relinquish themselves, in essence cease to exist, and instead become a mere extension of someone else’s will, carrying someone else’s thoughts, ideas, desires, goals and philosophies.

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3 Responses to Links of the Month: November 19, 2011

  1. Raffi says:

    Dave, thanks for the linkage as always.
    Under the heading of fun and inspiration, i offer the 12 second mark of this video:

  2. Shawn says:

    As a parent, now grand parent, farmer, environmental scientist, care provider, now permaculturist, general optimist, now more realist, I begrudgingly, yet willfully, recognize…

    Let me put it in a different way…when I was in my late teens, it was a hot summer day, a large fan in the front of the barn was blowing to help keep the cows cool, I had a pitchfork full of cow manure and straw, and thought about a particular phrase. No one was around, so I tossed it in…. I now much better understand where the phrase comes from.

    One way or another, crisis is bearing down on us. The great economic ponzi scheme will end. Shit will hit the fan. It will not be pretty, but it needs to happen. We can do some things to reduce our risk, but it will be a tough ride no matter how much preparation we attempt.

  3. Pingback: Assertions of Belief « The Spiral Staircase

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