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Boldly Through the Darkness

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Published on Pray for Calamity on October 9, 2017

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I wake to rain. Hard rain falling on the steel roof of our cabin, a torrent surrounding us, not pitter-pattering but rushing through the tree canopy and over our heads with a roar. Dawn is not yet broken, and in the dull gray I hear the rain and am satisfied. I fall back into sleep.

In the late morning I walk with my daughter to the front of our land. Rain still, and we in our slickers carry the day’s compost load and a small cloth bag which I use to collect eggs. My daughter trails several feet behind me, slowed as the umbrella she insisted on carrying blocks her view.

Through the gate into the chicken paddock, a maybe six thousand square foot piece of land at the forest’s edge. Behind the chicken house a blue open topped barrel catches rainwater, and as I approach it, I hope it has at least filled to the halfway point. The days and weeks have been dry of late, rains sparse, just enough to keep the well-mulched garden alive. Across the county creeks are empty, lake waterlines low. I see that the barrel is in fact totally filled, water running down its bulk. I am grateful. In the back corner of my garden is the duck house, with its own blue barrel and small pond to boot. Both are full. Likewise, the rain collection tank at the barn is topped off.

We made it through another summer. In a few months this water freezing will be my concern, but not today. Today I give thanks.

Autumn finds me a bit morose this year. The season for me is a time of culmination and reflection, and while a bit of melancholy coloring the edges of my mind this time of year is not unexpected, it has come heavier this particular season. I am feeling the wounds of the world. My gut cries for the wild, and I am tugged by yearning, wanting to run and to howl and to pant for breath in a deep and fecund wood in some other time, in a place long before or long after humanity’s grand attempt to subdue and control the beating heart of the Earth.

A man shot and killed a lot of strangers in Las Vegas the other day. The immediate reaction of many people was to presume this man belonged to an opposing political faction than their own, and in a macabre game of hot potato they tried to excoriate their enemies by tossing him like a live grenade into the other’s camp. Some howled for gun control laws. Others crafted bizarre conspiracy theories. We have seen this play out time and again in cases of random mass murders. Such events are almost a seasonal holiday in the US at this point. With such frequency it is a shame that so rarely is it uttered with any volume that these happenings are the result of the particulars of the culture.

Life in the modern, capitalist west is tedium. It is an exhausting bore. Without any substantial sense of belonging or meaning, stripped of spirit and tasked with an endless quest for money that buys less and less, people are miserable. Life has been shorn of all of the ceremonies and customs that once bonded a people and gave them a sense of purpose, and they are left with mere commerce. If a person out in public is not engaged in some act of buying or selling, they are loitering, they are a nuisance to be moved along. Most of the public has come to understand this unspoken premise, and they enforce it with vitriol at the sight of the homeless, the panhandler, the protestor. “Get a job!” they yell, but what they mean is “participate,” by which they mean “succumb, as I have, and call it virtue, as I do.”

The malaise of existence in this world where the wild is all but extinguished is felt far and wide, whether it is understood as such or not. Absent community and a deep sense of both autonomy and personal value, people become damaged. This damage expresses itself in myriad ways, as each individual filters the abuse of the dominant culture through their specific experience and biology. For many, self-medication is the obvious solution. People drink away the boredom and the sorrow. They smoke away the frustration and rage. Some turn to harder drugs, those with money buy them from a doctor and stay on the safe side of the legal apparatus. Those with less acquire their narcotics from a street dealer. Both buy their way out of feeling the depression, the pointlessness, the pain. The former boost pharmaceutical stock prices, the latter boost the share values of private prison enterprises.

For others, it is all too much to bear, and they kill themselves. In rare cases, the desire to kill turns outward.

It’s actually strange that this outcome is seen as strange. We are a people who isolate themselves in personal domiciles, personal cars, individual cubicles. From others we hide under headphones and behind screens communicating without voices or faces, just curt text and childish pictographs. By and large our hands never touch soil, our noses never smell wood smoke, our muscles don’t pump with lactic acid, our brows do not know sweat, our eyes do not know starlight. We have hammered the circle of time into a straight line, and bent the circles people used to sit in while they sang and laughed into single file queues in which we are silent, eyes cast down lest they meet another’s.

We do not live. Living is active. We are only active in the pursuit of making someone else rich while we earn just enough to make it until the next paycheck, and then we are passive. We sit and stare, trading entertainment for experience, hoping that watching others pretend to live will suffice by proxy.

Of course, there are outliers. There are some who recognize the ugliness of this existence, who with blood pumping in their veins take to the streets against the police and politicians who hem us all in with laws, with the confiscation of the commons, and with the baton and gun that back it all up. These people are too few, and the great proportion of the public spits at them. Any mention of the great crimes and shortcomings of civilization indicts all who refuse to act, and most prefer not to act, knowing that to act against power is dangerous. Further, most know that acquiescence of conscience and soul is far easier when one’s fellow downtrodden don’t ever talk about it. If we all agree to call the cage freedom, then it is freedom. If we call the plantation the country, or the economy, then we cease to be exploited and can through the power of linguistic device instead be the citizen.

Of course, the heart and the head can only be fooled so much. So the cracks in the veneer are filled with alcohol, drugs, shopping, watching, and occasionally a foray into homicide.

I was reading about the buffalo the other day. In the nineteenth century the US military set out to intentionally destroy the buffalo, even if by turning a blind eye to white hunters who illegally killed buffalo on Indian lands. It was remarked by Col. Dodge that “every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.”

After the plains Indians had finally succumbed to the genocidal pressure of white settlement, and their remnant bands were forced into reservations, white ranchers brought cattle to their lands. There were some Indians who asked if they could hunt the cattle, primarily as an attempt to maintain their culture. They wanted to sing their hunting songs and perform their ceremonial dances. After allowing it briefly, the whites decided it was best to just package the meat and give it to the Indians.

What becomes of people when you strip them of everything that makes them human? What becomes of people who no longer sing? What becomes of people when they have been taught to insist that the world is silent, and dead? This is all of our heritage. Somewhere far enough back, your progenitors were brought into the fold through death and indignity. Their songs are silent. Their ceremonies are forgotten. And so we stumble blindly forth, in dark corridors seeking. In the black, some remain broken, others take up with history’s killers, and angle to fill the role of the abuser.

In my region there are those who want to cut the forests. They think that they have observed the forest long enough to know how to control it. They think they have the wisdom to manage a forest better than it can manage itself. How does one argue? The only words they will accept are in their own language, the language of domination, the language that insists on seeing only disparate pieces in a grand machine, the language that has exorcized the sacred.

I cannot convince you to leave the forest be in that language. I cannot convince you to seek the wild with those lifeless words. I cannot convince you to abandon this culture in the language that it birthed.

You have to feel it. Perhaps you do already. Perhaps you aren’t sure what you feel, other than a general sense that something is not right. Do not snuff it out. Nurture it. Breathe life into it. Let it guide you to others. Give yourself permission to feel even if it is only the pain. Move boldly through the darkness, and listen for the howl.

The Ultimate Practitioner

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Published on Pray for Calamity on February 27, 2017

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The road to my land is one lane. It is gravel coated and there are no street lights, so in the late evening when I am driving home from a day in town, I cruise slowly, casually avoiding the potholes that have opened up with this winter’s heavy rains. In the darkness the world before me is a vignette painted by the dull yellow glow of my headlights. Beyond the borders of this halo stands of trees surround me on either side until I come to pass a neighbor’s house. Though it is not illuminated, I know that her lawn is to my right and her pond is to my left, but before me is just the thin gray road of crumbled limestone, and standing in the center of it, is a raven.

I slow down to a crawl, giving the bird time to move. He hops a bit, not off of the road to either side, but merely a few paces away from my Jeep. Creeping forward a few feet more, the raven repeats this, hopping on one leg but not leaving the road. He is hurt, I guess, and I momentarily wonder if I shouldn’t get out and try to pick him up, to help him in some way, before I realize that I would have no idea how to do so in any meaningful capacity.

We repeat our dance, me lurching forward a few feet in my car, the raven bounding back. He has plenty of space to leave the road if he would just hop into the grass on one side or the other. He has options. But he only moves forward in his path, and in mine.

Why doesn’t he just get out of the way?

As one day of abnormally warm February weather turned into two, then into a week, then into several weeks, I found myself outside more and more. On a Sunday we mucked our chicken and duck coops. Midweek I was repairing a fence line and laying wood chips on the paths in our garden. Today I spread grass seed in our orchard and planted flowers and bulbs with my daughter. We are not wearing jackets. I sweat in a T-shirt as frogs croak down by the pond and songbirds sing in the branches all around us. Walking by a raspberry cane I looked down and noticed the green buds that are sprouting up its entire length.

Of course, weather has variance. Growing up outside of Chicago I remember that we would have an odd winter day here and there where the temperature would spike into the fifties or sixties. Snow would vanish before our eyes and all of the neighborhood kids would be out on their bicycles and playing basketball in their driveways. When two days later the temperature had plummeted to a seasonally rational twenty degrees, we would despair the fact that winter had months left with which to pummel us with gray skies, ice, and the boredom of being trapped in our houses.

I acknowledge that such variance is normal. Walking around my land, absorbing the signals of spring six weeks before their time, I know that this is not normal. These are signs of change. Where the change takes us, how it will unfold over the coming seasons, and years, and decades, I cannot know. So I take notes with silent eyes, filing away the date of the first daffodil flowers and fruit blossoms. I hope to adapt, and I hope that enough of our fellow Earthlings across the taxonomic kingdoms can do the same.

Paul Kingsnorth asks us, “What if it is not a war?” in his recent essay on the Dark Mountain blog, where he explores how social movements and our general response to the predicaments of our age adopt war metaphors and terminology. Kingsnorth writes:

“War metaphors and enemy narratives are the first thing we turn to when we identify a problem, because they eliminate complexity and nuance, they allow us to be heroes in our own story, and they frame our personal aggression and anger in noble terms. The alternative is much harder: to accept our own complicity.”

 Kingsnorth’s exploration is well worth the read and offers many good points for consideration. He culminates with the idea that perhaps, as poet Gary Snyder suggests, we are not in a war but a trial, a perhaps five-thousand year journey towards living well with ourselves and the planet. Such thought experiments can be helpful, as our language clearly shapes our perceptions and then guides our behavior. To be sure, consciously crafting our worldview allows for controlled and meaningful responses to the circumstances of our age. Kingsnorth proposes a worthwhile exercise when he invites us to think of the personal qualities that we would need to possess for an extended trial as opposed to a war.

But what if there is a war, and it is not one of our choosing? What if civilization itself is a war against the living planet, and no amount of ignoring it will make it stop? What if we were born into a war and it was so normalized by our culture, so entirely sewn into the fabric of our being that we could hardly see it, and when we did, everyone around us justified it and made it righteous?

Agriculture is destroying topsoil. The skin of the planet, home to a nearly unfathomable quantity of life, is being rendered sterile, sometimes toxic, before it is finally tilled into oblivion to blow away on the wind or drift off downstream. This is how civilization feeds itself a diet of an increasingly lower nutritive value. Forests, prairies, and wetlands are razed to continue this onslaught, species are wiped out, aquifers are drained, fossil fuels burned in massive quantities, and endocrine disrupting poisons are carelessly distributed into the ecosystem.

If I went to someone’s home and engaged in all of the above activities on their land, how would they describe it? If I abandon the language of assault, I am left with little else to lean on. There is killing upon killing upon killing. Nowhere in this activity that is central to civilization can we find a relationship that isn’t one-sided domination. It is not an eagerness to slander that which I do not agree with that drives me to describe civilization and its process as an assault on life, but rather a complete lack of any other accurate language with which to speak on it. If civilization is not at war with life, is it at peace with life? Is there a truce between civilized man and the forests, oceans, and waterways? When we look around do we see the wild on the rebound? Do we see civilized man reducing the amount of destruction he metes upon the ecology of the world? Is the general course of civilized decision making to prioritize the ecological system over the economic system? Of course not.

Zyklon B was invented as a pesticide. The Haber-Bosch process was developed to supply nitrogen for munitions. If it is not war that civilization is waging, then what is it? And if civilization is at war with the living planet, then why does it make sense to pretend that it isn’t?

“It makes no difference what men think of war, said the Judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of a stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.”

– Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

Kingsnorth says that we love war, though many of us pretend not to. Maybe he is right. For the westerner, it is so easy to avoid the overt wars of our culture, because they are fought far away by paid grunts, and their victims are demonized. We are happy that the media obliges the lies we tell ourselves by not running an endless stream of images showing the dead civilians in third world nations around the globe. Even better, they make it so easy for us to not see the less obvious war, to not know just how much killing and slave-making civilization engages in every day to keep the oil, and the food, and the consumer products flowing into the stores (and the trash flowing away from the neighborhoods.) Again, most people just call this “business” or “capitalism,” and they see in it nothing but the mundane transactions of commerce, but when it all can trace back to one group of people pointing guns, and tanks, and warplanes at another, are we not lying to ourselves if we say it is not war? What if it all traces back to dead primates, dead rivers, dead oceans, dead people?

Maybe we should embrace war, instead of hiding from it. Perhaps if we stop pretending that there is no war, we could finally fight back in some meaningful way. Honestly, the fact that it is so difficult to know just how we could go about such a daunting task is likely why we never speak of it. To fight back against civilization is to risk the livelihoods of everyone we know, and everyone we don’t. There is not one cabal of people who if brought before tribunal or lined up against a wall and shot would unmake the machinations and complex systems, hundreds if not thousands of years in the making, that comprise the belts and pistons of civilization. If we were to try to stop this system from destroying our planet and our future by rising up against it, we would first have to have some inkling as to how that could be accomplished, and all the while we would know that the odds of success were infinitesimally small. Also, we would be risking everything we have while simultaneously inviting the scorn of almost all of humanity upon ourselves.

Put in such a way, I can see why most people work so hard to unsee the war that is civilization.

Ultimately, Kingsnorth is right about the fact that the language of war is a tool for the destruction of nuance, of gray tones, and uncertainty.   This is a conundrum that has existed throughout human history, as people of good heart and conscience always question the righteousness of their motives and actions, a process that often slows their reaction and mutes their response to forces of nihilism and destruction. Albert Camus laments as much in his essays, “Letters to a German Friend,” when he writes about the confused French response to Nazi invasion. Alternatively, civilization is not in possession of a conscience, the systems that are its make up having been so atomized and bureaucratized, splintered into an untold number of moving parts that no one actor can be held accountable for the actions of the whole. This is the great and dark promise of civilization; it will provide a bounty of material access while diluting and thus absolving every recipient of their guilt.

The good and decent bind themselves and blunt their effectiveness with questions of conscience, while those bent on conquest and power never do. Resistance fails to get its shoes on while civilization fells another forest, removes another mountain top, extirpates another species.

It is not my aim here to reduce the complexity and nuance of our situation into a simplified binary. In fact, if anything I would suggest that our times call for an almost contradictory way of thinking, embracing that in any given context we are both complicit in and victim to the war that civilization makes upon our planet. At different times and in different places we must make both peace and war. Humbly, I offer that when we sit in thought about how we are to respond to the great challenge of our time, that we try not to be only one thing, neither solely a warrior nor a monk, but at various times we are each. Language of war falls short of describing the healing that we must engage in as individuals and communities, whereas language of trial and endurance falls short of describing the fight that we are called to make upon the systems, infrastructure, and yes, individuals whose daily work threatens to drastically shorten the time we may have available to trial and endure.

The heart of Kingsnorth’s point seems to be that when we convince ourselves that we are at war, we break our world into allies and enemies, demanding conformity of the former and diminishing the humanity of the latter.  Throughout history such reductionism has often had tragic results.  If the war of civilization against the living world has us each playing enemy and ally at different times and in different contexts, we would be wise to caution ourselves against lining up behind eager executioners. However, we would be foolish to continually forgive and appease the people who use their social, political, and economic power to not only blind the public to the horrors of civilization, but to actively increase the breadth and scale of those horrors.

Language of war can, if we allow it, claim nuance as its first casualty. So can the language of peace, or trial, as it were.   But let us ask ourselves, to whom do we do service when we refuse to speak of war? Are we doing service to our children and their chance of survival? Are we doing service to the ecosystems under threat of eradication? Or are we doing service to the bulldozer, the pipeline, the feedlot, the open-pit mine?

Accepting that civilization is a war and using the language of war to understand the gravity of its processes does not necessarily mean that we must assume a conventional posture of warfare in order to stand in opposition or to react in a meaningful way. This is to say, not all fights are won with open combat alone. To be always at war with the world is exhausting, especially when defeat looms. I understand the fear of losing everything, before we lose everything.  The first challenge to overcome is to understand the existential nature of this war, that it is not necessarily individuals or groups who we must oppose, but the space between us, the relations and duties and notions and systems to which we all find ourselves often unwillingly subservient.

If we honestly want to observe and honor the complexity of this time and our circumstances, maybe it is not one side of the road or the other to which we must hop to avoid being run over.  Maybe the clarity we seek will never come as the strands of all of our relations stretch and snap, context ever fluxing, all of us reacting, reacting, wounded and hobbled in the dark.

Peak Consensus Reality

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Published on Pray for Calamity on January 23, 2017

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Slow crunching of gravel beneath my tires and the hum rattle of my Jeep engine are all I hear as I pull down the long driveway across my land to the front of my house. The world outside the grasp of my headlight beams is deep blue and black. There is almost a hush of relief exhaled by the forest when I turn the key to shut off the car. With a breath, I exit the vehicle, and when the door slams behind me the echo dies quickly, absorbed by the trees and hills around me.

I take a few steps towards the front door, then stop to lean on a maple tree. As my fingers drag down the surface of the tree they find grooves to run like tracks. The night sky is a dark and formless navy color, betraying no stars or planets above. When I get home late on a Saturday night after closing down the bar where I work part time, I need this. I need to breathe and to embrace the silence. A night of so many human voices yammering about so much nothing at all has my brain and my posture suffering a vast weariness.

So I stand and I stare at the night. I listen hard for the creaking of tree boughs, for the tapping of twig on branch. In a world so thoroughly crammed to hilts with noise, with voices, with opinions, silence and calm are a drug. The light chill of the air, not nearly cold enough for January, graces my skin, and I am happy for it.

What does the world itself want?

The last three years in a row have each in their turn broken the record for being the warmest year yet. Donald Trump’s Whitehouse removed all mention of climate change from the Whitehouse website. When Donald Trump’s inauguration did not host much of a public turn out, his spokesperson Kellyanne Conway defended the White House Press Secretary’s claim that it was a record turnout by claiming that the secretary was offering some, “alternative facts.” Despite my lack of social media participation, what conversation I do have on the internet and in person has made me keenly aware of just how divisive the language of the present political and social climate is.

There are so many people airing their opinions so constantly, and doing so in such a manner as not to be offering a discussion of ideas, but rather treating each dialog like they need to break the defensive line and run fifty yards to the end-zone before spiking the ball, doing a silly dance, and bro-hugging all of their teammates.

Everything is competitive. Discussion and conversation have become battlegrounds and everyone has joined a team. Listening is no longer required because a few keywords clue each participant in to whether or not the person they are engaging with is an ally or an enemy. Unfortunately so many of these keywords are used in a fashion that either completely eviscerates them from context, or even uses them to mean something that is diametrically opposed to their dictionary definition. Good luck finding more than a handful of adults who can accurately define socialism or capitalism, and further, good like finding adults who have a functional grasp of the history behind these systems.  Of course, finding someone to express their heated opinions on them should be no challenge at all.

If you were trapped on an island with a person and you had no common language between you, learning to communicate would be an arduous effort. For instance, if you find a banana on this island and show it to the other person and say, “Banana,” that person might think you are saying “Food,” or “Fruit” or “Yellow” or even “What’s this?”

Today we exist in a complex civilization that is held together by an interlocking web of systems and agreements and the whole thing is made to function with the application of complex technologies, some mechanical, some human. As a society grows more complex, the language needed to explain and understand the society must axiomatically grow in complexity. As the society moves over the arc of time and generations of people are born, live, breed, and die the history of that society grows in breadth and depth and complexity.

I have a lingering notion that the level of complexity and the depth and breadth of the historical knowledge required to grant proper context to that complexity has far outpaced the average person’s linguistic ability to keep up adequate comprehension.

Everywhere we hear arguments between people who might be using the same basket of words but who are ultimately speaking different languages.  When one person says “market” or “right” or “freedom” the other person is not receiving a clear signal as to what the speaker is actually referring to.  Of course, in the best of times verbal communication has its lackings, but with the added politicization of language and the increased complexity of how much one must know to understand the terms being used in current political discourse, we have found ourselves in an era where quite frequently we cannot communicate clearly on issues of current relevance.  We try, but too often our meanings are lost in translation.

So language is breaking down, and where complexity outraces ability, people have installed a host of shortcuts. No where is this more evident and more devious than in the realm of politics. It is in this realm that the centuries old history of a nation’s rise, expansion, plateau, and decline — all of which were affected by various international factors, energy factors, financial factors, and beyond – could be boiled down into a simultaneously meaningless and majestic combination of four words: “Make America Great Again.”

It is fitting that the president who ran and won an election based on that slogan finds his favorite communicative outlet to be an internet application that limits user’s posts to a meager one-hundred-and-forty characters.   Such a format of course does not lend itself to completeness of full and elaborate thoughts, to be sure. ‘

Working at a bar I must endure all manner of people and of course, their libation liberated opinions. In this regard I frequently find that I can temper my responses and offer an appropriate level of contrarian thought, pulling back before offending, offering a joke before off-putting, and generally balancing the atmosphere before someone throws a pint glass at my head. However, my talents like my patience have limits, and after so many nights hearing such confidence and sureness behind declarations concerning the sanctity of free markets, the laziness of the unemployed or the lack of equality for men in our society, my shoulders slump and I just walk away.

The complexity of an issue like “free markets” would require that a person read a variety of books on the matter to even have a foundational understanding of what they are talking about. It is, of course, so much easier to pick a team, learn a few slogans, and take to the field to blitz one’s opponent with anecdotes, non-sequiturs, and out right fallacies.

Expecting the general public to have the knowledge and the language to adequately understand the great issues of our age is at this point foolish. And such an understanding is not rewarded anyway, as the media and the political realm utilize shortcuts, slogans, and a near disdain for intelligence like a sword to cut down anyone who tries to enter nuance into a complex discussion.   Nuance is bad for ratings, I suppose. It really diminishes team spirit.

So instead we have memes. And snark. And shitposts. Now go vote so the rich who have profited from the destruction of your schools and your bodies and your minds can retain their power and convince you to love and fetishize them.

The problems firing at civilization like shot from a double barrel are the products of generations of complex human activity engaged in before its ramifications could be understood. The decline in topsoil viability, the acidification of the oceans, the mass extinction of species, the body burden of toxicity in our blood and tissue, the decline in global net energy, all have a long and sordid history to describe their making. Solving any one of these problems would be a herculean effort at this point, and that is before taking into account the very inability of most people to understand that a problem even exists in the first place.

Listening to the public discourse it is evident that the narrative of our society itself has splintered into fragments, and when one takes that into account it is easy to understand why so much anger and vitriol floods all systems of communication. Each actor perceives themselves to be the good guy in a grand narrative of unfolding disaster. Of course, the various factions perceive that disaster entirely differently with conservatives, for instance, convincing themselves that climate change is not real and liberals convincing themselves that green technology can provide everyone on Earth with a constantly upgrading standard of living, forever.

The splintered narratives are many, and with every hollered bellicose opinion they fracture and mutate further.  Attempts to center the spinning gyre of growing confusion are liable to be upended by “alternative facts.” Contrary to common sense there are people who suggest that based on the media’s treatment of him, Donald Trump at least is not a puppet of the deep state, to which I must counter that the primary concern of the media and their paymasters is the narrative. They want to control the narrative of society because the narrative of who we are, where we came from, and where we are going is central to controlling people and exploiting them for capital gain.

Donald Trump does not threaten capitalism. He does not threaten the state. Perhaps he threatens a particular sector of either, but where he restrains one set of wealthy or powerful people he will reward another. The edifice is safe under his watch.  The living Earth which we all rely upon and which is daily being wounded by industrial capitalism, is not.

To be clear, declining global net energy is likely the penultimate cause of the crack up of various systems of finance and the societies that rely on them.  Not grasping that complex impetus, let alone the history of how such reliance came to be, has fractured the glass of the window through which people view the world.  As people seek answers to explain lost prosperity, diminished growth, lowering standards of living they are met by a many eager salesmen of truth, all offering different versions of reality to which they can subscribe.

It makes for a lot of noise and very little signal.

Sundays are good days on the homestead. My wife and I lay in bed with our daughter until we feel like getting up. We make coffee and breakfast. This Sunday our friend comes over with her toddler son, and we chat about life in our corner of the county.

Outside I do not need a coat for the high of the day is sixty-three degrees, an aggressively warm January day indeed. With a dull butter knife I drag and scrape the flesh and membrane from a goat skin that is stapled to a piece of plywood. My daughter runs around pulling her imaginary unicorns on her sled, which with no snow present, bumps and skips over the gravel driveway. As I draw the knife towards me in short, tight motions my mind wanders from images of black bloc participants rioting in Washington D.C. to the disappointing comments belched out by the previous night’s bar patrons concerning the women who marched on the capitol.

Then I stop and breathe. I look out over the ravine to the leafless trees standing sentry over the landscape. My daughter giggles. In my head I ask, “I wonder what the world wants?”

Quiet, probably.

Maps Made in Summer

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Published on Pray for Calamity on August 18, 2016

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Discuss this article at the Doomsteading Table inside the Diner

She bends low in the dark.  Her index finger and thumb clumsy as they meet, she pulls from the waist and the stalk she holds rises out of the hummus eagerly, offering no resistance.  Her hand is dwarfed by the firm yet undulating orange blossom.  The sun’s remaining light barely penetrates the gauntlet of trees that stand sentry across the rise and fall of the ridge line.  Tangerine daubs speckle through the here and there breaks in the thick ceiling of maple and oak leaves.

“Say, ‘thank you, Chanterelle.’ ”
“Thank you, Chanterelle.”

Her small voice is sincere because I am sincere.  She watches her feet as she steps high over sticks and briars heading back towards the trail where her mother stands smiling.

“Remember to shake it.”

She passes the mushroom side to side, moving it from her shoulder instead of her wrist.  I follow behind her with long slow steps, my hat in my hand, it is full of chanterelles.  Holding the bill like the handle of a small skillet, I gently bounce the mushrooms to release their spores.  The rains have finally passed and the trail is soft beneath our feet.

—-

Summer is an incredibly busy time on the homestead, which usually means I put away the effort of writing in favor of merely ruminating as I attend to the constancy of the tasks before me.  This has been our most productive year yet insofar as providing our food is concerned, which is encouraging as we have accomplished this yield while living off site until our septic system installation is completed. The abundance of foods like tomatoes and green beans has been overwhelming, and the high heat has made the effort of canning very unappealing.  Fortunately, we have friends willing to can for us if we are willing to share the end product, and there are even local restaurants eager to buy our produce.

Squash bugs infested my yellow crook necks and zucchini, and they killed off my Crenshaw and cucumber vines.  I collected a satisfying quantity of fruit from all of these plants over the past couple of months so it is with even temper that I yank them by the root, shake them, and place them in a compost pile.  When the space is clear I walk over to a wooden gate and lift the chain that holds it closed.  As I pull it open a single file line of Rouen ducks comes marching out, quaking proudly as they all make their way to the now bare space before lowering their beaks and feasting on the slow moving squash bugs.  I lift my feet high to avoid stepping on the kudzu like sprawl of sweet potato vines and make my way to the garden gate where I pause to wipe the sweat from my forehead.  It’s hot.  Humid and hot at four in the afternoon.  I think on what else I can get accomplished today.  We will be moving back into our home soon and there are still jobs to finish up before doing so, mainly rigging the cistern to the gutters, and installing a hand pump in the kitchen to draw from the cistern.  That and cutting another few ricks of firewood.  And slapping walls on the barn.  And laying the flooring in my daughter’s bedroom.  And planting the winter garden.

I could “and” for days.  Instead I take a breath and look back at my little girl as she giggles watching the ducks.  Its hard to not feel rushed and I make a conscious effort to be present, to be content with the work already done instead of always existing in the stress of that yet to do.  The moist air is stagnant, and as I take a moment to scan the spaces around me, noting the tasks big and small that require attention, my mind wanders a bit, and I feel like we are on the edge of something.

This July was globally the warmest month in human memory.  Such headlines are almost blase these days as warming trends continually break records.  Thousands of people in Louisiana have lost their homes in what FEMA has dubbed the worst natural disaster in the United States since hurricane Sandy.  Fires rage in the drought stricken American west from southern California to Glacier National Park in Montana.  Social tensions continue to flare too, as the National Guard was called in to subdue rioters in Milwaukee, and random acts of violence seem to break loose from the percolating underworld of racist authoritarians emboldened by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.  Venezuela’s economic collapse continues apace, various African nations are succumbing to famine, the war in Syria is drawing larger battle lines between major powers, and despite the best efforts of central banks across the globe, major financial institutions just cannot turn a profit in a world of net energy decline.

For years I have watched the world through a particular lens, and that is the lens of peak oil.  Despite the failures of particular peak oil advocates to predict the future, and despite the inability of even larger numbers of critics to actually understand the peak oil concept before engaging in attacking it and its proponents, I still feel that this is a particularly useful lens for viewing the macro picture of human industrial civilization.  Of late, I have admittedly felt that I am without a map, and I have found myself in my quiet moments attempting to piece one together.  Of course, drawing a map begins with placing a center pin where you currently stand.  So where am I?  Or if I may be so bold, where are we?

I first became aware of the peak oil concept in 2004 when I was twenty-three years old.  After reading the various assessments of the issue that were available on the internet at the time, and of course, being young and impressionable, I took to some of the worst case scenarios presented by outlying bloggers.  By and large, these were not the better experts to trust, and I was convinced that ten years out we would be living in a very different world.  The economic crash of 2008 felt validating in a sense, but the divergence from prediction that followed forced me to begin rethinking how the decline of industrial civilization would play out.  Eight years of very, let us say, creative economics have prevented the full on breakdown of the growth based financial paradigm.  I do not believe I am alone in wondering exactly how long such creative policies can sustain the physical world of the production and distribution of material goods.

To be perfectly clear, I am no fan of the civilized model of human organization, and I have repeatedly stated this in my writing.  But I do my best to be aware of its functionality so I can properly place myself and my family to best buffer ourselves from the swings of forces beyond our control.  The internet is rife with commenters who are eager to bargain with Moloch, hoping to right what they perceive to be the ills of state and capital so that some form of industrial civilization can carry them into the future.  These commenters have altars to different demigods.  Some light a candle to technology while others burn incense for invisible hands and supposedly free markets.  I look out and see dying ash trees and the onslaught of invasive stilt grass and I know in the core of my being that there is no bargaining with civilization.  No vertical farm, no vegan diet, no gold-backed currency, no handing over of the means of production to the proletariat will stop what’s coming.

But it is equally true that it is next to impossible to know exactly what is coming, or when it will get here.  That is why we try to draw maps.  And if we want our maps to be of any use, they should probably start with what we know about the past and the present, so maybe, the best of our efforts can draw lines between the two that give some clue as to the trajectory and direction of the future.

Over the years as I have written on these topics I have been careful to avoid prediction, simply because most people who in engage in it are so often wrong.  What’s worse, is that so many people who make names for themselves as so called “trends analysts” and such, not only are often wrong, but they refuse to acknowledge when they are so, and they just continue with the business of making predictions.  I would rather make a map, a sketch of the terrain we have covered and of that which I can see through the fog in front of me.  As this is a map of the industrial civilization in which we live, there are two compass points which are of extreme importance.

First, is net energy.  All work done requires energy to make it happen.  The primary energy source for this civilization is oil.  This is what makes an understanding of peak oil concepts so valuable.  Oil is the foundation of the lion’s share of the work done in this civilization, even being the foundational energy source behind the manufacture of items like solar panels.  The diesel trucks that mine for metals or that grow the crops that feed workers are all run with oil.  The economic and social architecture of this society requires a growth in the net energy available with which to do work.  This is not necessarily a growth in the amount of barrels of oil available at any given time.  If those specific barrels of oil utilized more energy in their acquisition than usual, we may be in a situation where we have more quantity of oil available yet less total energy.  This will hamper growth, which while good for the ecology of the planet, is a death sentence to financial paradigms where debt is the basis of currency and investment.

The second compass point of importance is the ecological material available to support society.  Drinkable water, healthy soil, viable biomes thrush with life, a stable climate; all are necessary to maintain human life and activity.  Unfortunately, this point is lost on the so-called educated class who think only in terms of capital.  I stress this point because even in the event that a miracle occurs and our energy woes vanish, there is still the issue of our destabilizing climate and over burdened ecosystems.  We need bees and butterflies and ants to pollinate crops.  We need amphibians to keep insect populations in balance.  We need birds to spread seeds.  We need fungus and soil life to make plants viable at all.  Human activity threatens all of these beings and their habitats.

So as I sketch my map I note the peak of conventional oil production that occurred in the 2005-2008 timeframe.  I note the bankruptcies that are tearing through the US unconventional oil industry.  I note the banks across Europe that are on the verge of insolvency.  I definitely note the trillions of dollars worth of debt monetization across the global financial sector which have been an attempt to cover the spread of missing growth that is required to make good on previous loans and outstanding interest.  I also note the shortfalls in needed rain in the American west, the predicted water shortage in Lake Mead, the rising seas and the unprecedented storms.  When I step back at my scrawled lines, I see images reminiscent of times past.  Politically there are movements that seem to rhyme with what came out of the depression era, and economically there are movements that very much remind me of the warnings that began flashing in 2007 as the mortgage industry began to implode.  The page, too, is dotted with the unpredictable lines of natural disaster and ecological calamity.

Simply stated, this is what I see:  A period of economic depression is on the wind.  My gut says we see an undeniable beginning of this period before winter.  Where it all leads is too far out to say.  I think it is simplistic when people draw a timeline of the future that consists merely of one trend-line pointing downward.  There are hundreds if not thousands of trend-lines that together combine to graph the arch of a particular civilization, and some will yet be on the rise.  It is when a majority of the significant trend-lines slump downward that we can say with certainty a society is in decline.  It is my humble position that what we have on the horizon is a period of greater unemployment and struggle on a family by family level here in the “first world west.”  There will be a shake out of never-to-be-solvent again institutions, and a generalized acknowledgement of a paradigm of “hard times” being upon us.  Natural disasters will be harder and harder to recover from as they will strike more often in regions where status quo thinking believes them too unlikely or impossible and this will combine with a financial inability to afford repair.  Politically, people will seek easy and incorrect answers, so on that front we will have nothing new in thinking modality, but we will see new lows in practical application.

Of course, this is a map I am trying to draw for myself so that I can better prepare for the terrain before me and mine.  And I’m just some guy who likes homegrown beets and wild mushrooms, so take anything I have to say with that in mind.  But at least I’m not trying to sell you a pamphlet about gold coins, and you’ll notice there are no ads for gas masks or survival seeds on my web page (unless word press puts them there.)

My personal activity includes shoring up on the basics.  Preventative car maintenance on both of our four wheel drive Jeeps, which each contain tools and flashlights, so that floods and storms are more navigable.  Selling off unneeded items to pay for home improvements as well as a bit more archery gear as I want to take a deer by bow this fall and to make as much jerky as possible.  Buying all of my spring seeds now, and making sure we have plenty of simple things like candles and lighters, lard and honey.  This is all stuff that gets regular use, so there are no regrettable wastes of money.

My index finger presses into the soft soil with ease.  A dried pea falls silently into the hole and I sweep lose earth with the blade of my hand to cover it.  Four inches to the left, I repeat the process, and then again, and then again, all the way down the fence line.  The red cabbage have only just broken through the surface of the dirt in their seed trays, so it’ll be a week or so yet before I move them into the field where right now potatoes are living their final days before harvest.  Parsnip greens are tall, and I mentally make note of which ones I want to leave to winter over before checking on the newly planted kale.  Everbearing strawberries are still putting on fruit, and my daughter is occupied now lifting their leaves and excitedly yanking the plump red berries.

Cicada chatter rises and falls in the nearby tree canopy and again I stand to survey the land.  Tent worms are killing an apple tree.  Sunflowers stand tall in the afternoon heat.  I see dead trees that need felling, weeds that need mowing, fence posts that need straightening, and job after job after job that lay before me.  I have a plenty of time to ruminate, observe, and ruminate again, and will revisit writing again when cold winds blow.  Maybe I will think back to this piece and feel foolish, but I will not be afraid to say I was wrong.  My immediate terrain is so much knowable, even if it is pocked with struggle and strain.  To my left our gravel drive stretches off into the woods, and as I look off to the cool forest there is a flash in my mind of a hunter walking with his bow, and in this moment, I envy him.

Forbidden Thoughts and Sacred Obligations

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Published on Pray for Calamity on January 12, 2015

Anthony-Freda-War-Mind

Discuss this article at the Psychology Table inside the Diner

When I was a younger man, I very much wanted to be taken seriously. To be taken seriously was to be asked your opinion. It was to be allowed a seat at the grown-up’s table in politics, economy, and all other matters that intelligent individuals busied themselves with. I wanted to be considered smart by other people who were considered smart. This meant that I had to be skeptical of any claims not supported by the dominant culture, shucking anything deemed mystical or superstitious. To be considered smart meant carrying an attitude of superiority, even open hostility towards anyone who claimed any truth not stamped with approval by the science of the dominant culture. Now I talk to trees.

My younger self would ridicule my present self, haughtily proclaiming the superiority of his well founded, reasonable ideologies. My present self would pity my younger self, and exit the conversation, too tired to expend what little communicative energy I have on someone so seemingly bereft of the ability to even momentarily entertain an idea that ran contrary to their set of inherited cultural dogma.

It is easy now to see that I was in a trap back then. As most young people are, I was attempting to make my way in a culture of accumulation, and thus I had to look and sound the part if I wanted to be accepted into the fold of “productive society.” Since abandoning any ambitions for career I have taken on various forms of employment to get by, and this has meant a lot of work in bars and restaurants. Briefly, I worked in a breakfast cafe in a college town that was home to a popular business school. Working there I would see students, mostly young white men, sitting at tables wearing ties and speaking in the language they were being conditioned to speak. It was strange to witness. I would wonder exactly where the break happened when these young men decided that they wanted to be just like their fathers. They probably wanted to be called “successful” by other people. They probably wanted to be considered smart. This would mean dressing, speaking, acting, thinking and even at their very core believing as their predecessors had initiated them to. They wanted to be taken seriously.

The year two thousand and fourteen was the hottest year ever recorded on planet Earth. Over the course of the year we were bombarded with statistics highlighting the peril of our time: Fifty percent of animal life has been killed over the last forty years, the Antarctic ice sheet melt has passed the point of no return, and coal use is still on the rise globally. Even the timid, watered down, almost entirely feckless mainstream US environmental movement is starting to make a tiny bit of sense, in noting that capitalism has got to go if we are to survive. Of course, much of what these liberal environmentalists are seeking is capitalist reform, but I digress.

The truth of the matter is that of course capitalism has to go in order to preserve the habitability of the planet. That’s just the beginning. All of industrial civilization must go, but because this is a forbidden concept amongst the serious folk who attend conferences, do media junkets, or – I don’t know – hold a senate seat, it will never even reach the table to be laughed at. The maintenance of the dominant culture requires that certain ideas are forbidden. Such restriction of thought is achieved in a myriad of ways, including by what Noam Chomsky termed, the “manufacturing of consent.” By and large, forbidden ideas are boxed out of public discourse by professionals who frame debate very narrowly, permitting only officially acceptable viewpoints, which then filter down to the masses.

We saw this recently with the uprisings in Ferguson, Missouri. The people of that city fought the police, and many of them had no problem declaring complete and utter disdain for the police as an institution. Despite the nearly five hundred Americans killed by police every year, and the untold number of assaults, robberies, frame ups, false arrests, and rapes committed by uniformed police officers, the dialog of so-called serious people is forbidden to ever move to a discussion of self defense against these villains, let alone abolishing them from civic life. Peter Gelderloos mentions this in his quinessential three part essay, Learning from Ferguson.

To allow people to fight back against the police, or to allow discussion of eliminating the police is forbidden because the police are a necessary component of a society of haves and have nots. In fact, I would be willing to bet there is a strong correlation between people who adamantly and unquestioningly support the police, and personal wealth, for the obvious reason that the more you have the more you have to lose. That means being happy that the taxpayers subsidize the jackboots who prevent even a public forum that might hint at discussing a redistribution of wealth.

After the Vietnam War, the propaganda ministers in the state realized that showing dead bodies on TV and in magazines had a demoralizing effect on the general public. Apparently the American population had some level of functioning empathy for other human beings, so broadcasting the corpses of dead US servicemen and even half burnt Vietnamese children soured their taste for carnage. Since realizing this, the US has locked out media that isn’t “embedded” from war zones, and despite the over a million dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, ten years of war haven’t found themselves plastered on the nightly news in any unbecoming fashion, despite the plentiful material. The children born deformed due to depleted uranium poisoning caused by US munitions should have been enough to wrench even the blood thirstiest of hawk bellies in the US, but their visages were never given a chance.

Forbidding an image and forbidding an idea are both attempted for the same reason; control. If you control what people think, you can control how they act. Even the most ardent critics of US policy will proclaim up and down their patriotism, lest they be banished from serious forums. Sit and think for a few moments and I imagine you could come up with your own short list of forbidden ideas, never to be discussed, not by serious people. Civilization and its dominant culture have been practicing this tactic of control since inception, and there is an idea that has been so terrifying to the rulers of the civilized world that stamping it out has been an ongoing and bloody task for over ten thousand years. The most forbidden of ideas, is that the Earth is alive.

Serious people are concerned with objectivity. They perceive the universe to be a clockwork machine governed by laws and made of various inert bric-a-brac that can be manipulated to serve their purposes. Whether this manifests as a logging company cutting down a forest for timber, a meat packing concern quickening the rate at which they slaughter cows, or bulldozers scraping away layers of Earth in order to access the bitumen deposits beneath, the source of the thinking is the same.  The land is dead. It is raw material waiting to be put to purpose by human hands.  Further, knowledge and understanding of the universe and its lifeless bodies is to be achieved only through the application of western scientific principles. Anything that cannot be observed and quantified with the five human senses does not exist.

Even things that are alive, like trees and animals can be reduced with a trick of thinking into nothing but their component pieces. Trees don’t have brains, so they cannot think or feel or experience, so they are worthless except as corpses.  Animals may have brains, but those brains lack significant cortex or numbers of neurons, and so they cannot think or feel or experience, so they are worthless except as corpses.  Throughout the history of civilization this rationale has been applied to humans as well.  Whenever anyone is in the way of some expectation of power or wealth, they are reduced to nothingness, just a fleshy sum of their cells with a measly few watts of current surging through them.  Not sophisticated, not refined; much like animals really, and animals are worthless except as corpses, so let the homicide begin.  This mental twisting is the death rite of civilization.  It is the lullaby people in business suits sing so they can stay focused on the cash while they order another chimpanzee vivisected, purchase a new gas lease, or sign off on limited airstrikes over a civilian population.

In my life I have walked through forests clear cut for oil pipelines.  I have driven through the shale plays of West Texas.  I have seen copper mines, and coal mines, and all sorts of other massive holes blasted and scraped into the face of the planet.  Many people have seen these things.  Of course, many people work in these places and on these projects.  The difference is that upon the witnessing I feel something very somber that nags at me from the inside.  It is the feeling that gripped you as a child when you saw someone joyfully inflict pain upon someone helpless or weak while you were powerless to interfere. Because of this feeling I could never participate in ecologically destructive activities.  It would feel wrong, like treachery, like stabbing my mother in the gut for a paycheck.

And I think this feeling matters.  This feeling is part of the foundation of my personal ethos from which my principles blossom.  In short, my feelings of connectivity with the living world create in me a sense of responsibility to protect her, and a refusal to accept harming her for personal gain.  Often I wonder why so few people feel this particular empathy, but then I know the answer.  People have been trained by the dominant culture to think of all of these environmentally degrading activities as harmless.  They have been raised since childhood by people themselves raised since childhood to believe that the Earth is dead.  They have been told by respectable people to believe that forests are not alive and that plants do not feel and that at the end of the day, everything is arbitrary and meaningless.  There is an undercoat of nihilism which makes progress possible.

For generations people have been bullied into believing that the nagging in their conscience is an illusion caused by the brain.  When a forest makes you feel good, it is you fooling yourself. When you feel deep love for a place or for other living beings, it is an illusion, merely a sudden influx of serotonin in some receptor in your gray matter.  And who are you anyway?  Just some cells, some neurons, some electricity.  What is your love?  Your desire?  Your fear?  They are nothing.  Reflexes.  Chemicals.  The aimless, endless spinning of molecules through space and time.  Reduce it all down, break it into pieces.  Scatter them until you feel nothing at all. Now go make some money.  Be productive.  For Christ’s sake, be serious.

My friend is indigenous to the land now called Canada.  I ask him what it means to be a warrior, to have as a component of one’s culture a warrior society.  He points me to talks given by other first nations people which elucidate that in various indigenous languages the word “warrior” is understood differently than it is in English.  It isn’t aggressive, on the offense, macho, seeking to conquer.  To be a warrior is to be a shield bearer, a person who takes very seriously their sacred obligation to maintain the health of the land so that it can be passed on for many generations to come.  The ethos of such people forms their worldview, and this worldview informs their actions.  The end result is a relationship with one’s home that is not about domination and taking, but acting with reciprocity. Such a mindset is a barrier against excess and greed and wanton destruction of the land.

Under the dominant culture, there are no sacred obligations.  We are told from birth that work, production, and the pursuit of material wealth is the path taken by serious people.  Those who rebuff their instruction to accumulate for the sake of accumulation are losers and bums.  If one wants to defend their home, such intuitions are bent to the cause of imperial full spectrum dominance.  Home is converted to country, and the battlefield is determined by a board of directors.  This is not an ethos with a future.  It is a toxic set of ideas and myths that will guide human minds to the edge of the world and then over.  This idea is a parasite, and its hosts are pushing the ecosystems of the Earth to the brink.

My friend tells me about the deal the wolf made with mother Earth:

The wolf signed a contract with Mother Earth. The contract is this. The wolf may compete with all other life for survival. The wolf may not force other life into extinction for the purpose of eliminating competition. The wolf may not damage habitat to eliminate competition. The wolf may not wage war to prevent other life from feeding on the wolf. If the wolf abides by these laws and is able to compete, the wolf will survive in brotherhood with all other life. All life signs this contract, except for a group of humans. Until those people sign on the dotted line they will be doomed. They may already be doomed.

What strikes me about this is that to make a contract with another is to stand as equals.  Speaking of other beings or of the living planet herself as even able to enter into a contract is to grant to them the deference that they exist as you do; alive, dignified, valuable.

The dominant culture never seeks to stand equal with anything.  It seeks only to dominate.  It never presents obligations to its acolytes to defend other beings or the land.  It makes demands of the land.  The stark differences between these two perspectives is striking.  One asks you to be a warrior and to take up a shield in defense of your mother. The other commands you to take up a sword – or a plow, or an axe, or a bulldozer – and to plunge it into her breast.

I am not in any way suggesting that non-native people need to appropriate native culture.  What I am suggesting is that if the ethos of civilization goes unchallenged, then no matter how much awareness is raised and no matter how much people try to convert modern industrial society into a sustainable twin of itself, they will find only failure.  After all, as Terrence McKenna said and I have oft quoted, culture is our operating system, and the dominant culture has a starting point where the land is already dead, so how then can it take us anywhere but to a future where this founding principle is materialized?  Garbage in, garbage out.

How we go about changing the ethics, myths, and founding truths of people trapped in the cage of industrial civilization is not something I have a prescription for.  In “The Road” Cormac McCarthy wrote:

Where you’ve nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them.

So I walk my land and I talk to the trees. Maybe they can hear me and maybe they can’t.  All of the serious people will laugh at my wasted breath.  Smart people will try to convince me that I am only talking to myself.  And maybe they are right.  Maybe I am a madman babbling over hill and holler.  But I can tell you this much for certain; I will never cut these trees down, and neither will my daughter.  So in the end, who gives a damn?

Checkmate

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Published on Pray for Calamity on May 2, 2016

Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner

Streams of sunlight find every break in the tree canopy and beam downward, electrifying the dry leaf litter that covers the ground. Our steps are slow. My daughter is twenty five pounds and the hiking pack I carry her in is probably another five which makes the up and down slopes a significant physical endeavor. Staring always at the ground near my feet, the grays and browns flecked with green and lavender make a Renoir of the forest floor, and somewhere in that morass of color there are morel mushrooms. There must be.

We take a break on a shady hillside and my daughter walks about learning the world with her mother close behind. Bear cone sprouts in abundance from nearby oak roots tricking my eye for a quick moment, making me think I have stumbled onto a mushroom bonanza. Early settlers called it Squaw Root due to the fact that the native women used it medicinally for various menopausal or hemorhagic reasons. I prefer its other name. Bear cone doesn’t care what we call it. Every four years it rises to seed itself before continuing its parasitic relationship with whichever oak tree’s root system it has settled on. Maybe we should call it “Election Cone,” or “Democracy Root.” There are no more bears here to eat it, after all.

Warm days came too fast. The ticks have been worse than I have ever known them. I already have melons and summer squash planted in the garden. The climate will continue to erase established patterns, and we will continue to take mental notes on the small details of our surroundings hoping to figure out just where it is taking us. Not until a few days ago did enough rain come to cool our temperatures back to something close to normal, and the land seems grateful, lush, green.

There is a question I have wrestled with for years, and which I have at times presented in my writings here. That question is essentially this: How do we dismantle a thing on which we are reliant? Industrial civilization will destroy the ability of the planet to harbor life. Whether we look at climate change, topsoil loss, biodiversity loss, mass extinction, oceanic acidification and oxygen depletion, toxification of landbases, etc. we see an accelerating trend by which human industrial civilization is rendering the planet inhospitable to life, all in an attempt to boost the carrying capacity of the planet in regards only to homo sapien life. Some of these crises are so firmly established that there is seemingly no way to now cease them or to reverse the damage done. Others seem to still present a window of opportunity in which to intervene for the protection of viable habitat. Such interventions seem as though they must come in a form that accomplishes the near immediate halting of many if not all industrial processes, but also a dramatic alteration in the standing mythology people have concerning themselves, their societies, and where they as a species are to exist within the greater context of the living world. That is a tall order indeed.

Meanwhile, billions of human beings now rely on industrial systems to provide them with every single thing they require for survival, from basic water and sanitation to food, shelter, and medical care. How does one begin to convince these billions of people to destroy the systems they rely on?  How does one begin to convince these billions of people that it is, in fact, in their best interests to see that the permanence of the long term damage being wrought by these systems is not nearly worth the short term gains achieved by employing them?  If the billions of people were even thusly convinced, could they even do anything about it?  At what level are these billions thoroughly captive to the handfuls of humans who hold political and economic power? After all, knowing is nothing if cannot be followed by some level of doing. Is it fair to say that we are living in checkmate?  Have the powers that be already won the game? Is there any move left that the populace or even some subset could make that doesn’t already have a preset counter-move lying in wait that the powerful can successfully respond with?

At times it feels as if this is the case.

I have heard people question whether or not the rich and the powerful understand that the fate of the Earth includes them and their children as well. How is it that in boardrooms and government buildings the people who have various levels of control over the systems of capital and state do not find satisfaction with their wealth and power, and then having driven us so close to the brink take contentedness with their status and finally declare, “Enough!” Why do they not look at the faces of their grandchildren and finally push the big red button that grinds the assembly line to a halt and opens up that bit of space we need to remake the world in a way that doesn’t base itself on ecocide?

And then I think, perhaps we are not living in checkmate, but a stalemate. We are in a condition in which there is no plausible move for either side. This happens in chess when a player cannot make any move because each available option opens them up to certain loss. Looking on the human subplots that round the globe it often looks like this is our condition. The populace can make no move against the state or capital without opening themselves up to certain destruction by those forces. State and capital cannot unmake their machinations without opening themselves up to certain destruction by either the masses, or more likely, by those other members of the ruling cabals. Too many contingencies have been built into the system. Too many continuity of government plans.

Imagine an M.C. Escher sketch of a Mexican stand off with apocalyptic implications.

It is in this spirit that I suggest we are post ideological fidelity. Or more simply put, we must embrace the contradiction. In the broadest of terms, we must bite the hand that feeds, taking swings and jabs at the mechanics and infrastructure of industrial civilization even as we need it and liberally make use of it. We must ignore all wails and shrieks of “hypocrisy!” as purity has become impossible, and the commandments of logic and reason that were carved into stone during an age of expanding excess are turned on their head. The actions and behaviors that such times demand are not ever going to be palatable to a crowd whose notions of sensibility or righteousness were forged during an expanse of time when an increase in access to material goods was axiomatic.

To be blunt, what we need is for someone to shut this motherfucker down and to let the chips fall where they may no matter what that might mean, as long as it opens up some small possibility of a future in which the Earth can heal and the survivors, human and non, can establish themselves anew. This is the dark, adult truth as best as I can surmise it, and it is no less terrifying for me than for anyone else. My world orbits around a two year old girl. But all of my desire to see her grow into a happy and healthy women cannot convince me to look away from the abyss. I clutch her smallness and hold her deeply, knowing that the love that overflows from me for this small person is no different, no greater, no more important than the love that every parent has ever felt for their children. We walk hand in hand through the forest, and I wonder which is worse, industrial civilization collapsing tomorrow, or industrial civilization continuing unabated, thrashing and writhing as it burns up the last of the coal and the oil bringing us an ice free Arctic, drought, dust bowls, burned forests, dead oceans. What is my responsibility to her?

Catalhoyuk is often referred to as the “egalitarian civilization.” A neolithic settlement in what is now Turkey, it was active between 7500 and 5600 BC. The population probably rested around seven thousand people and peaked at perhaps ten thousand. What fascinates most people about Catalhoyuk is that there is no real evidence of a tiered society of classes. The interconnected network of mud brick rooms in which people resided offer no clues to a hierarchy or priestly class. More interestingly, the human remains found buried at Catalhoyuk reveal that women were as well fed as men. Buried remains do see to suggest that perhaps there was some sort of division of labor cut along gender lines, as the men are buried with stone axes and the women buried with spinning whorls.

This small civilization that existed on the boundary of the paleolithic era is the foil of anti-civ suggestion. When anti-civ proponents suggest that city based societies ultimately outstrip their land base with agriculture and inevitably create hierarchies which lead to social stratification, expansion, war, and ecological decimation, there are critics who counter, “But not at Catalhoyuk!”

Catalhoyuk is anthropologically interesting, however it is also not completely understood. Personally, I find this ancient city fascinating because it straddled the line between the inception and outright implementation of the civilized project. Murals uncovered on the walls of Catalhoyuk depict now extinct aurochs. Cattle skulls were mounted on the walls. The population of Catalhoyuk was not completely dependent upon agriculture. They grew wheat and barely and domesticated sheep, but they gathered fruits and nuts from the hills and their meat was primarily attained through hunting.

In a sense, Catalhoyuk is the half step between tribal and civilized living. Thought of in this way, it makes me wonder what such a half step would look like only moving in the opposite direction. If we were somehow able to uncivilize ourselves in a proactive fashion, what would the halfway point between here and there look like? Is such a proposition even remotely feasible? At Catalhoyuk, a thriving and unpoisoned wild still existed on the periphery. Food was still making itself in abundance beyond the city walls. Water wasn’t laden with the heavy metals and carcinogens of industry. The path towards civilization has so many emergency exits, and indeed, peoples around the world chose to walk through them when the efforts required to maintain a massive and dense city life was fully recognized. The Maya, the Hohokam, and the people of Gobekli Tepe are examples of such.

Abandoning civilization offers no easy exits. Indigenous tribes that still exist around the globe are constantly fighting to resist enclosure. Individuals who reside within the wealthy nations are falling ever so gradually under the iron grip of high technology while slowly their bodily integrity is assaulted by increasingly artificial food, man made carcinogens, radiation, and stress. The global poor are not quite so lucky, and suffer a brutal and merciless poverty of overcrowding, lack of sanitation, hunger, and hopelessness.

Optimists continually posit that there is a move we can yet make, something political or revolutionary whereby the ruling class can be ousted, and sane, empathetic and ecologically conscious people can be put in their place. In this, optimists are suggesting that if we can just coordinate and organize all of the human community, perhaps through social media and awareness campaigns, that there is some move left on the field to be played. At best they believe we can break the stalemate. At worst, they fail to realize, we already lost. Either the game is over and our opponents gloat, or we are deadlocked, staring down bewildered by the configuration of pieces while our opponents recognize the peril of our position and make their own plans for when the game board inevitably gets tossed from the table.

And that, my friend, is I believe our conundrum. There is no easy exit, no half way point on the road home to a sustainable and ecologically integrated way of living. There is a grinding and terminal lock which will only be upset by calamity. If this is truly our context, then I forgive now anyone who works to foment that upset. We are left without ethical or even seemingly rationally consistent options. Doing nothing is safe in the individual’s near term, and a death sentence generationally. Doing something means using the master’s tools to destroy the master’s house, and doing so unflinchingly, even if they are slave-made, purchased from Wal-Mart and wrapped in so much plastic. I forgive the gasoline used to sabotage the pipeline. I forgive the miles driven to dismantle the power plant. I forgive the hours spent wearing a suit and tie working for quarterly gains when the income is spent on bolt cutters, angle grinders, sledgehammers, or acetylene torches.

Nothing makes sense. We don’t have the luxury of purity.

Three feet into the wet clay Earth, my shovel is pulled by a suction of water and weight, and I fight it upwards before dumping the saturated brown mud along the fence line. When the shape of the hole matches the shape of the black pond liner, I wipe my brow. It is May first, and the sun is oppressive in the clearing where we have our garden. Soon our baby ducks will live outside and use this pond for water in between running about and clearing my plants of snails and slugs. Usually I would only just be planting tomatoes, if not holding off yet another week, but alas, they have been in the ground for two weeks now.

Apparently methane is bulging up from beneath the sea floor off of the coast of Siberia. The Greenland ice sheet’s summer melt began early and violently this year. Upwards of ninety-three percent of the Great Barrier reef has suffered a bleaching event. A massive drought is devastating India where water is under guard. Venezuela is experiencing a full blown economic and political collapse as power is rationed in part due to the failure of rains leading to a failure of hydroelectric dams. It is hard to not feel that the headlines of global strife are more frequent, more dire.

Night falls and my daughter and I sit in the darkness of our home, staring out at the blackness, watching as flashes of lightning give us glimpses of the forest. Thunder rolls and she smiles at me. I smile back, and we wait.

A Demon Haunted World

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Published on Pray for Calamity on March 31, 2016

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Earth_Goddess_by_stolen_designsShe picks up a stick. Her two year old hands are pristine, without callouses. Standing straight up she begins to walk forward on the path that leads along a ridge line deep into the forest. On uneven ground her steps still betray a clumsiness, but she overwhelms her lack of experience with exuberance and then turns to see me walking a few steps behind her.

“Dada get a big stick?”

She wants me to use a hiking stick as well. Last year I would carry her in a hiking pack, and I would use a large stick for support as I navigated slopes and downed tree trunks. Now she imitates the habit using the small bit of hickory in her hand, poking the ground with it as she walks, and she expects me to do so as well.

“You want me to find a hiking stick?”
“Uh huh.”
“How about this one?”

Leaning over I pick up a bowed piece of a fallen branch and proceed to snap off the twigs that jut from it in crooked tangles. It is a brittle piece of wood and suffices as more of an accessory than anything, but my daughter is happy that we are now both equipped for our walk. She turns once more down the path. A two year old girl takes confident steps with her hiking stick in one hand, and a plastic pink magic wand in the other. We are going out in search of fairies, and she flat refuses to embark on such an adventure without her wand.

Economic collapse finds itself a popular plot device across a broad spectrum of the internet. Those who anticipate such a collapse monitor the details of international trade, noting the ups and downs of stock and bond markets, currency values, volatility and shipping indices. Economic collapse is one of those concepts that is out the door and around the world generating hype, fear, and sales of pocket knives before anyone who would take the time to explore its value can even settle into an armchair. As with so many other premises and cliches we are bombarded with, most people take for granted that the economy is even a thing.

In 1776 Adam Smith published his magnum opus, “An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,” in which Smith establishes the now firmly entrenched and wholly mythical notion that barter societies preceded the invention of money, which was an inevitable progression due to its efficiency at facilitating trade. In “Nations,” Smith also establishes the idea that the economy is even a thing that exists and that can be studied. Of course, it will be men like himself that are capable of doing the studying and imparting their wisdom onto the world. It is quite a ruse, if you think about it, inventing a specter and then inventing the business of studying it.

When we speak of “the economy,” what are we even talking about? The Dow Jones Industrial? The S&P 500? Or are we merely speaking of some amalgamation of the habits and behaviors of humans which combine to provide for our daily acquisition of needs? It may seem silly to question because it is such a prevalent notion in this culture, but for the majority of human existence, there was no economy. It was an idea that had to be invented, and now, there are whole academic wings dedicated to the maintenance of the idea, as well as sections in newspapers and channels on television focused solely on its changing winds. Those who lord over such institutions have their charts and maps and a host of methods for describing the economy to everyone else. At times, they speak of their trade as a science, which would lead one to believe that the thing which they observe is predictable, that they could establish some level of capable control over it. At other times, the economy is a wild thing, and it moves and thrashes of its own chaotic will like a storm squall.

So people watch the signs. They generate charts. They consult the experts. Some believe that the economy, despite its tantrums, is an all loving God that will always rise again, and so they tithe. Others believe the economy is a false idol set to feast on the souls of the avaricious or the merely ignorant, and so they prepare.

As someone who long ago came to the conclusion that the civilized method of human organization is one that is always bound to fail, I have many times put forth the suggestion that we need to transition into living arrangements that do not rely on the creation of cities. This is all to say, I have an anti-civilzation philosophy, which to the uninitiated perhaps seems extreme or absurd. Consider quickly, this definition of civilization offered by wikipedia:

A civilization is any complex society characterized by urban development, social stratification, symbolic communication forms (typically, writing systems), and a perceived separation from and domination over the natural environment by a cultural elite. Civilizations are intimately associated with and often further defined by other socio-politico-economic characteristics, including centralization, the domestication of both humans and other organisms, specialization of labor, culturally ingrained ideologies of progress and supremacism, monumental architecture, taxation, societal dependence upon farming as an agricultural practice, and expansionism.

To be against civilization is not to be in favor of some inhumanity towards others, but simply to believe that urban development, infinite growth, ecological destruction, social stratification, agriculture, etc. are ultimately unsustainable pursuits that are dooming our possibility of existing very far into the future. Further, the anthropocentrism inherent in such societies results in the widespread extirpation of the other beings with whom we share this planet.

Suggesting that we abandon, once and for all, the project of civilization is often met with a buffet of criticisms. That civilization gave us the sciences, and the sciences – usually now expressed simply as Science! – gave us a candle in an otherwise dark, demon haunted world, is usually proffered as reason enough for humanity to continue on a civilized trajectory. Critics of anti-civ ideas would have us believe that as primitive people we lived in constant fear of disembodied spirits that stalked and haunted us, manifesting as sickness and death that we could not otherwise explain. Science! they claim, was a great demon slayer that has brought illumination in the form of germ theory and biology, and thanks to optics of all kinds, both micro and telescope, we can see that the universe both minute and macro is not subject to god or djinn, not spirit or elemental but merely to the wind of a grand mechanical clock of subatomic particles and fundamental forces.

What light! It bathes us in such cleansing luminance! Fear not as you walk through the world sons of Ptolemy and daughters of Hypatia!

Now check your stocks. There are movements in the markets. How is your 401K?

More is happening in the space around you than you can possibly imagine. Your body is equipped with various sensory abilities that allow you to gather information about the world around you, and this information is used to generate a picture of existence that you as a biological entity can use to go forth and attain your survival. This picture exists in your mind only, and it is further shaped and formed by your particular biological makeup, as well as the cultural programming that you have been inculcated with since birth.

The world you see is not the world I see, let alone, is not the world an owl, or a butterfly, or a snap pea sees. Human societies have a habit of claiming that through their sciences that have been able to package and interpret reality as it is. The fun sets in when we notice that each of these societies that has claimed such a handle on reality have all, in fact, had different descriptions of reality.

Again, more is happening around us than we could know. We are filtering. We are constructing from the pieces we capture. We are naming and simplifying and manufacturing volumes of symbols. In a sense, we must do so so as not to be crippled by the overwhelming weight of all that we experience. But ultimately, more is not included in our picture of the world than is included. The cutting room floor actually contains more reality than the final film playing out in our heads.

It is this understanding that stays my hand when others might wave theirs in dismissal of the disembodied phenomena that live outside of the lens we in the modern industrial world currently use to view our surroundings. Those who fear the crumbling of the city walls for what hordes of demons might come rushing in like a torrent to corrupt our understandings so finely crafted over centuries of weighing and measuring might do well to look around and see which demons already stalk the streets and halls. We have traded one set of lesser gods for another. You many not make offerings to the spirits of rain after holding the dry dirt in your fingers, but your faith in tomorrow’s full stomach might have you watching for a little green triangle to come drifting across a stock ticker. Where a few centuries ago a geomancer may have cast a chart that relied on the anima mundi – or soul of the Earth – for its answers, today’s economists are numerologists drawing meaning from the staggered lines that connect disparate values of commodities and currencies, hoping to tease from it all some prediction about future well being.

Am I attempting to claim that germs do not exist? Of course not. Am I attempting to claim that science has produced nothing of value? Of course not. I am simply suggesting that civilized life has not rid the world of demons, but merely shifted the demons we concern ourselves with. Priests have not gone out of fashion, to be sure, they just wear a different costume and spin incantations of a new variety. This class of priests extends far beyond the realm of economics, and the demons they promise to exorcise can be found anywhere uncertainty and fear have taken root. The simple fact is that life is a dangerous pursuit, and we all enter into it with a debt. We owe our lives and will all be held to account sooner or later. If we do not create cultures capable of accepting this most basic truth, we will invariably create cultures that attempt to mitigate our fear of death with palliatives. The palliative du jour in our particular civilization is technological domination of the ecological systems of the Earth, and it is this behavior that is responsible for the variety of cataclysms now unfolding globally. Sea ice melt, top soil loss, forest die offs, oceanic dead zones, mass extinction of species, climatic disruption; all have now long passed the formative stage and are well underway.

But so afraid of the dark beyond the city gates, the civilized world clings to their neon gods. They pray to markets and justice, progress and innovation. The Maya may have found it prudent to sacrifice some humans, perhaps by throwing them into a cenote or by letting the blood of a Pok-ta-tok victor to replenish the vigor of the tree of life. We modern civilized are far more sophisticated, and instead sacrifice the salamander, the Ash tree, the island chain, the clean flowing river, the indigenous tribe, or the global poor.

If we refuse to defecate in the river because we consider the water sacred and believe it contains within it a spirit of its own, does it matter? The water runs clean. If we continue to clear cut jungles so as to mine for rare Earth metals using diesel fuel and laborers fed mono-crops all because we believe that technology will somehow repair the wounds we have inflicted on the living planet, can we really claim that our demon free world is now safer?

She kicks up leaves as she walks.

“Shh!” I crouch low, squatting on my hams and I tap my ear with a forefinger. “Listen.” My daughter emulates my posture and I cannot help but smile. She looks out into the mass of trees before us. I whisper when I ask her if she sees any fairies, and she whispers her replies.

“Yes.”
“How many?”
“Two fairies.”
“What color are they?”
“Blue.”

The afternoon sunlight is gold as it falls all around us. We stay there a while and I tell her that we must not disturb the fairies. We tell them that we are not there to do them any harm. We are nice people, we assure them. We hope that they are safe in the forest and we wish them well in their endeavors. After all, the forest can also be home to goblins, which is why I am glad my daughter had the foresight to bring her wand.

Tribute to the City

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Published on Pray for Calamity on March 24, 2016

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The vernal equinox has come and passed and with it the official start of spring is here in the northern hemisphere. Across the countryside Jane Magnolia trees have awoken. Their hundreds of fingers each cupping rose colored blooms like candles, as if they were so many tiny lavender hands offering up communion to the sun. Daffodils peer out of the hillside clearings like periscopes or perhaps yellow gramophones all playing a song of rebirth to call back the songbirds and honeybees. The energy sequestered in the root-balls and mycelium mats as the land went to sleep the last few months has begun surging upward, and it is hard to not feel it flowing through me as I walk my land taking stock of which fruit trees and berry bushes are producing buds. A good friend of mine, and mentor, once told me that I am doing well if I can establish two fruit trees per year. Looking at my spread of apple trees, it looks like I am on track to have done well in that regard. My partner does all of the work to care for our bee hive, and after donning her protective veil for a spring inspection, she reported to me that the hive is in great condition. I have heard it said that bees surviving the winter is what converts one from a bee-haver into a bee-keeper.

Our garden calls for much attention, and each week I spread a truck load of wood chips on the walking paths, which were first covered with flattened cardboard. Hopefully this effort will buy me a few years of relatively weed free walkways. Mint is returning with a vigor, and the strawberry leaves are vibrantly green. Kale, spinach, beets, and parsnips have been seeded, and I am keeping a keen eye for the first asparagus shoots. This year I have to grow significantly more food than I have in the past, as my partner is returning to work full time and I will be staying home during the week days with our daughter. In the short term we will have less money, but I will have more time to attend to tasks around the homestead. Walking through the garden brings me such a deep sense of calm as I talk to the plants and lose myself in my many tasks. Starting seeds is a great way to practice slowing oneself down, especially small seeds that tend to stick together like those of tomatoes and carrots.

I find myself happy as the sun tans my shoulders and a red tailed hawk cries from its nest somewhere high up in the trees behind me.

February was the warmest month in recorded history. The record it broke for such crowning glory had been set in December. February temperatures saw the Earth cross the two degrees centigrade above pre-industrial average barrier that has been established as a hard danger zone by climate scientists. It was an anomaly, for now, but one that is likely to rear itself again and again. The most dramatic warming has been in the Arctic, which bodes ill for jet stream patterns as well as summer sea ice coverage. Time will tell if we see our first ice free Arctic this summer. Somehow the magnitude of the crisis of climate change still seems to evade most general discourse despite the pomp and show of the electoral season now in bloom in the US. There are lots of grand promises being hurled at the public about bringing manufacturing jobs back stateside. If that is not the dictionary definition of cognitive dissonance then I do not know what is. Industrialism long ago set us on a crash course with calamity, and now that the calamity has begun to rain down upon the world in the form of mega droughts, fires, famines, and super-storms, those angling for positions of power are promising more industrialism.

Of course, it is not even a job in a factory per se that most Americans dwelling in the rust belt actually want, it is a secure living situation. They want their basic needs met in a way that does not leave them uncertain and wrecked by stress month after month. It is a culture of production organized and operated through the machinations of capitalism that requires that people work a job in order to have these needs met in such a satisfactory way. When politicians say “Jobs!” it has become a Pavlovian response for the middle, and formerly middle, classes to come salivating like starving dogs to desperately pull a lever in their favor. They forget that first the food, and the land, and the ability to provide for oneself had to be taken away before they could be forced to work jobs for these things. A great deprivation preceded the creation of job economies whereby everyone was made to punch a clock and become the automaton of some civilized production scheme in order to have enough to eat and a place to sleep at night. This deprivation now long forgotten, people have no memory of themselves as anything but workers, and so they beg for work.

Neo-liberal capitalism may be the dominant platform by which this scheme is globally enacted, but it is merely the software that operates on the hardware of the civilized model of human organization. It is key to recall that ecological decimation was the order of the day long before the advent of capitalism. Forests had been clear cut from the Levant, through Greece and across Europe and the UK as civilization marched across the ancient world, slashing and burning its path to conquest and dominion over greater and greater expanses of the Earth. This pattern was repeated globally where ever civilizations formed. The Maya deforested the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula long before Europeans brought their particular version of civilization to the continent and eventually ran head first into the consequences of such short sighted actions. The Aztecs, who may have created one of the more arguably “sustainable” cities in Tenochtitlan, did so on the backbone of war, expansion, tribute, slavery, and human sacrifice. Sure, they recycled their human excrement for crop fertilizer in their Chinampas, but they also relied on the growth of the territory that they dominated through blood shed. Food, firewood, and other material goods flowed into the city from outlying tribute towns where common people had to work to not only provide for themselves, but to pay a quarterly tribute to the city center of the empire.

Such is the way with cities. Goods and raw materials flow in and waste flows out. Cities harvest the natural wealth of outlying areas, and this model is now global, with powerful nations harvesting the material wealth of poor nations. No matter how desperately people may want to believe in the idea of the “sustainable city,” it is a contradiction of terms. Austin, Texas proclaims itself “America’s most sustainable city,” yet every day truckloads of food make deliveries while truck loads of garbage and waste are removed. The city depends on dammed lakes off the lower Colorado river for water which will one day fail to support the city’s growing population, and which in the present deprive down stream communities. According to 2010 data, households in Austin spent the most money on gasoline relative to other American cities. And Austin continues to grow, to cover more of the land in concrete preventing the recharging of the Edward’s Aquifer and demanding more energy for cooling as the city can have over one-hundred days in a year that breach one-hundred degrees fahrenheit.

A recent study calculated how much food the city of Seattle could produce based on how much solar radiation falls on its potentially farmable locations, including parks, rooftops, and yards. Even selecting crops that grow well in Seattle’s climate conditions the study’s authors determined that the city could provide only one percent of its food needs. If the streets and sidewalks were ripped up, the number could rise to two or three percent, but the city would lose functionality. After all, even if day to day travel was carried out on foot or on bicycle, deliveries with diesel powered semi-trucks would still be necessary for everything the city’s inhabitants required, from clothes, to air conditioners, to building materials, and of course, the other ninety-eight percent of the food they could not produce for themselves.

Sustainable living and cities are not compatible. This is not a matter of ideology. This is a matter of hard material reality, and suggestions that somehow 3D printing or vertical farms or a population fed a steady diet of algae shakes will be just the miracle we need to upend hard material constraints are at best, petulant whimpers of those who have become accustomed the vast wealth of selection that living in a first-world city provides, or at worst, Kubler-Ross stage three bargaining, hoping that somehow, by some stretch of compromise we can sustain the unsustainable.

But we can’t. Not without expansion. Not without tribute. Not without an exploitative power dynamic and flows of violence that may or may not be visible from the comfortable confines.

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Hot coffee is a miracle, or damn near one. Every morning millions of Americans have a cup or two of hot coffee, the beans of which were grown in Columbia, or Ethiopia, or Hawaii. Maybe those Americans have tea grown in India or a banana grown in Peru. They pull on shoes made in Vietnam and perhaps ride their bicycle made with bauxite mined in Australia on a road paved with bitumen from Alberta. Perhaps these Americans stop off at a local food co-op or farmer’s market where they purchase some locally grown kale. They take pictures of the fresh eggs at the market with their iPhone which has a slew of globally sourced components buried within it, and they post this photo online with the help of a network of satellites and tag it with some cute caption about sustainability.

When the average American city dweller thinks about urban living, they likely think of the comedy clubs, the used book stores, the fusion restaurants, or the bars. They fail to think about the global hegemony of the United States military and how a worldwide network of bases has laid the foundation for dollar dominance. Most of the American or European or Australian or Canadian city dwellers who stammer on about generating green, sustainable cities are not picturing the mega-cities of the world like Dakha or Rio de Janeiro. Millions of children living in the squalor of slums and favelas, tin roofed shacks and human waste littering the streets and waterways are not what the white first worlders are picturing in their minds when they declare the supremacy of urban existence. Even the relatively lucky people in Hong Kong or Manila live in crammed, small apartments set inside concrete towers that resemble prisons more than anything else.

The wealth extracted from around the planet by western powers over the course of centuries, a process which went into overdrive in the twentieth century, has absolutely skewed the perceptions of those average citizens who reside within these conquistador nations. Like Tenochtitlan, the US and its neo-liberal capitalist crony nations exact tribute from the global poor. We may not adorn ourselves in exotic feathers and obsidian jewelry, but our sneakers and our jeans and our lattes and our cellphones will never be sustainably sourced and manufactured within the footprint of our home city limits. It is just not possible. We can have civilization, or we can have a livable planet, but we cannot have both.

Phosphorous leaches from agricultural and manufacturing sources into water ways. Eventually it alters the chemistry of these waterways creating the conditions that support toxic algae blooms. Power plants are often built along waterways. Coal fired plants have been using rivers such as the Ohio as a waste dump for decades. Radioactive tritium has been leaching into the groundwater from the Indian Point nuclear plant in New York, and the leak is getting worse. The Turkey Point nuclear power facility is leaking waste into Biscayne Bay just outside of Miami.

Often when I discuss the destruction wrought by civilized existence, the first critique hurled in my direction is that, “We cannot go back.” On this point, I agree. We cannot go back because civilization has greatly destroyed the ability of so many natural systems to harbor life. Industrial civilization will decay and fracture in the coming decades and centuries. I do not know how this process will play out or how long it will take to complete, but I feel that I could safely suggest that several generations from now the people who are making new ways of living will curse the stupidity and greed of those who poisoned the water. They will wonder what demons possessed our hearts with such a dark poison that we could so callously wipe out the other living beings who we rely on for survival.

In the dry wastes a young girl will dig for tubers amongst a backdrop of drought ravaged trees and the charcoal remains of those that burned in the previous season. Seeking a nourishing root she finds the bric a brac of our brain dead culture; a plastic fork, a beer can, rubber testicles that once swung from a pick-up truck’s trailer hitch. Yee haw.

Her family boils caught rainwater unaware that it contains heavy metals which will be responsible for some of their eventual deaths. They will laugh, as people do, and they will tell cautionary tales about a long ago world in which people set the sky on fire.

Whatever gods there may be forgive us. We were drunk on oil and pictures of ourselves. We really wanted good jobs.

The Art of Yielding

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Published on Pray for Calamity on March 10, 2016

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The ache in my left arm seems to travel up a nerve towards my shoulder. I wince as I stretch the arm up and then rotate it in an arc. Every Friday night I attend a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class, and last week during open rolling – which, to the uninitiated, is essentially grappling with a partner – I was thrown to the mat by a zealous fellow student, and crashing onto my left arm I immediately felt the shock of pain that now lingers there in my bicep. At the time I was bit angry, as the amount of strength my opponent applied was a bit excessive for such a drill, but thinking about it now perhaps that is foolish of me. It is a fight exercise after all. Myself, I am always slow to apply great strength in any drill, as I am fairly frightened of hurting someone. I often find that during a roll where I am dominant and pressing down with intense force that I periodically ask my opponent if they are OK. If they weren’t, they of course, could easily tap out, but still, it concerns me that I might needlessly hurt someone.

Jiu Jitsu, if we return to the Japanese root words (Ju Jutsu) is the art of yielding. As combatants roll they are applying strength and force, but they are also reading the direction of the force being applied against themselves and then attempting to use their opponents energy against them. My trainer once relayed a statement that he heard from a master practitioner, which was essentially that all of Jiu Jitsu is knowing which square inch of the opponent on which to apply all of one’s body weight, and knowing when to do it. This trainer is by day, a police officer. Funny, myself an anarchist, a vehement supporter of efforts to abolish prisons and police, respectfully and humbly listening to this man and trying to always devour with my eyes all of his movements and motions so that I can absorb them in the fibers of my own legs and hips. I laugh at his jokes, as he is genuinely funny, and in the next moment, I imagine him using the very techniques he is demonstrating to subdue me in the streets. I wonder how these skills he imparts on me have been applied against people who now sit in a prison. When we roll, he out classes and out strengths me, but each time I am able to resist his efforts to sweep me, I smile. That smile is then quickly followed by him quickly overtaking me.

Life is complicated and so entirely writ with nuance and irony. There is a beauty to such contradictions, and I am grateful to be reminded of the great complexity of our context, and I am grateful too for the reminder that a world so replete with complexity and contradiction is a world in which easy answers need not apply. Often we simplify what we experience to make our day to day existence easier or more efficient. In doing so, we almost certainly shuck away the truth of things until we create an existence with a lot more mutual exclusivity than is actually present. We make binaries out of gradients. This is often necessary. It is also often the first step towards justifying violence as it is the root of manifesting the “other.”

Thirteen people were arrested in Anaheim this past week as a Ku Klux Klan rally was quickly cut short by anti fascist activists who confronted and then fought with the Klan members. The Klan members pulled knives, and even used the point on the tip of a flag pole to fight back, and they ultimately stabbed three people. Back in 2012 several young people crashed a meeting of white supremacists in Tinley Park, Illinois attacking the attendees. Five of them were eventually arrested and served prison sentences. Anti-racist actions such as these often have mild mannered Americans suggesting that we must refrain from violence and respect free speech. They follow with the claim that the only weapon to be used against Klan members and neo-nazis is either counter speech, or out right ignoring them.

The logic of such suggestions goes like this:

Free speech will conquer bad ideas and hate. Those with hateful ideologies will be shown as the fools they are by the reasoned counter arguments of those who oppose them, and these counter arguments will affect society at large in a positive way, resulting in a society in which those who proliferate hate speech are mocked and shunned. Thus, no violence is necessary to counter them. Further, the application of violence to counter speech opens us to the “slippery slope” whereby violence is brought against more and more people for even slight deviations in thought or opinion. Also, violence begets violence, so we should always and forever avoid it.

The entirety of this issue needs unpacking because it is quite convoluted. “Free Speech,” as it is referred to in the United States is a reference to a constitutional protection offered by the first amendment which prohibits the government from interfering with the speech of individuals and groups. It is not an obligation of an individual to hear out any other. Of course, it should be said that like most constitutional protections, “free speech” goes right out the window once it is not convenient for the state or their capitalist counterparts. Endless videos of protesters being gleefully beaten by the police can attest to this fact.

Obviously, unthinking and mindless violence is not the tool we should immediately reach for every time someone says something we disagree with. Someone at a bar stating that, “climate change is a hoax,” is not justification for me to haul off and break his nose. As a long time bartender, I have found that usually mockery and humor are the best weapons against the drunken loud mouth who wants to use my bar top as his soap box. This is a skill I have finely tuned over many years of dealing with drunks, almost always men, who after a few beers want to loudly espouse their right wing talking points. I may well be a black belt in rhetorical judo.

However, what if this person says, “I am going to fucking kill you!” Am I justified then in kicking him in the jaw and crushing his face into the floor? Surely I would need to read the tone and intention in his voice, but the point remains that a direct threat of aggression permits a response that can meet and dislocate the threat. And that is where the waters begin to muddy. The Klan has an extremely violent history. Their rhetoric is rhetoric of violence towards entire swathes of the population. How tolerant should the general public be of a group that has incited horrendous and gruesome violence spanning generations?

More imporantly, how patient should the would be victims of racist violence be with liberal society’s calm and reasoned counter arguments? If a cross is burned in your front yard, or a black man dragged behind a pickup truck in your town, should you sit back and wait for well articulated, non-violent responses to convince white supremacists of the inappropriateness of their behavior? The sheer fact is, that sometimes, counter violence is the exact response necessary. Indigenous peoples were completely justified in fighting back against the encroaching settler presence as it occurred in the Americas. It is still the appropriate response in those last places where indigenous peoples live in their traditional homelands which are threatened by attempts at civilized exploitation, be it for the construction of an oil pipeline, a hydroelectric dam, a nuclear waste dump, or the construction of a university telescope.

Those who are the victims of the violence meted out by the dominant culture need not wait for those behind the levers of power to spawn a conscience. They need not wait for a critical mass of pacifists to turn the gears of democracy and generate a legal response for their protection.

I am reminded of Albert Camus’ Letters to a German Friend, in which he laments the absence of an immediate and forceful response on the part of the French to Nazi aggression. Camus suggests that the French consciousness is one which responds to the absurdity of the human condition by seeking beauty and love, whereas the Nazi response was one of nihilism and the pursuit of conquest. Such dispositions gave the Nazi an advantage over the French who first pontificated on the righteousness of counter violence. The Nazi did not care for such ethical questions, and according to Camus, in the end it took the French coming to terms with the righteousness of their position, indeed, it took the confidence of spirit and the sword together to be victorious over the Nazi:

“…[W]e shall be victorious thanks to that very defeat, to that long, slow progress during which we found our justification, to that suffering which, in all its injustice, taught us a lesson. It taught us that, contrary to what we sometimes used to think, the spirit is of no avail against the sword, but that the spirit together with the sword will always win out over the sword alone.

Any suggestion that the tool of violence is appropriate does require that those who would take it up think long and hard about the implications of their actions. Our world of seven billion people and growing is a world of seven billion minds all generating individual interpretations of reality. To be sure, the majority of those minds are convinced of the righteousness of their actions and ideologies. The abortion clinic bomber is convinced that his is a justifiable counter-violence. The ISIS executioner is convinced that his is a justifiable counter-violence. The anarchist arsonist and US military drone pilot are likely also convinced that theirs is a justifiable counter violence. How in such a cacophony of noise, confusion, and rash behavior can one escape what is a seemingly impossible knot of human delusion, anger, and misunderstanding? How in good conscience can a person with deep concerns for autonomy, cooperation, and compassion suggest adding to the violence and misery of the world?

When would it have been OK to start attacking Nazis during the rise of the third reich? When Hitler was giving speeches in small halls to small audiences, would it have been reasonable counter violence for anti-fascists to have attacked him and his cadres? There would have been a point in time where this small man loudly screaming his nonsense to a room of twenty people was absolutely laughable. Rational minds would say, “Just ignore him! He is a fool, and he and his ideology will amount to nothing.” Years later there would have been a time when organizing to violently confront Nazis would have meant a death sentence, when the party already controlled the state apparatus and resistance would have been near impossible. At what point in between was the exact right moment to strike, according to a pacifist or liberal dogma?

This is the trouble with nuance. Easy answers are usually wrong answers. To strike opens us up to greater realms of ethical complexity and realms of possible negative fallout. To wait cedes crucial time and ground to those who have absolutely no concerns for such ethics. At what time, and what place, do we place one hundred percent of our strength? When do we yield and allow the momentum of our opponents to be their own undoing?

Sometimes yielding is fighting. And sometimes you give up your back and get caught in a vicious rear naked choke. Master tacticians can be brutal in their yielding. But even master tacticians can be knifed in the dark. As Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

At the end of it all, we must choose which is the preferable mistake, and in making such mistakes we put our souls on the line, killing an integral part of ourselves because we hope that in doing so a greater beauty is allowed to survive. Then we pray that our children can forgive us.

I, for one, will not err in favor of compassion for a Nazi.

Choirs of frogs still sing along the rim of the pond as dawn breaks. While still technically winter, the robin hopping along the ground near budding daffodils tells me that spring is here. Another cold front is always possible, but this winter that never really materialized is bowing out. The garden calls for so much attention. Greens need to be planted, pathways need covering with wood chips, and I need to get annual seeds started and placed in a cold frame. Energy surges upward from the subterranean metropolis of tree roots and mycelium, and as it flows through the flesh of hickory and maple, oak and dogwood, so to it flows through my limbs. I am anxious to get back to the long, slow process of developing our homestead. My endless list of projects is less daunting these days as I approach it one job at a time.

Out in the world of human hollering and bickering, an impending election is drawing a lot of attention. I try to ignore it. I try to focus on our small hollow here in the backwoods. Our community of young families trying to get by on the day to day with what little we have while surmounting the challenges that the raw entropy of civilized life throws at us can absorb pretty much all of the mental capacity I have to offer. But then there are whispers and hints that the authoritarianism and racism being whipped up by certain campaigners finds it way to my ears, and I ask myself, if it comes here openly and brazenly, what am I to do? What cannot be tolerated? What requires a response, and am I prepared to offer one?

Perhaps we should all start asking ourselves such questions. By the time the shadow has covered us all, it is too late to take shelter from the storm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding True North

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Published on Pray for Calamity on December 22, 2014

Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

One of the great dangers of the life indoors, is the anesthetizing effect it has on a person. When we aren’t out in the world, we aren’t present to watch the dying. Attempting to talk about this via an electronic medium, even via the written word at all, is near futile because it requires the symbolic recreation of the tragedy unfolding around us, and the recreation will never carry the weight or the pain of the real thing.

So it comes down to data points. In essays past and in daily editorials available across the electronic press, we are fed the data points. Topsoil loss, species die off, the toxicity of the oceans, the acceleration of climate change; I can rattle off the data, but who cares?  We are inside.  Climate controlled.  Masters of hundreds of energy slaves all whipped up to provide us with on demand entertainment, comfort, and snack food.  We think we are safe inside our house, but the house is an illusion.  There is no indoor, outdoor dichotomy.  There is a temporary delusion blinding us to the reality of the storm bearing down.

In my previous essay I wrote that we must burn down the collective house that is civilization. We must demolish it thoroughly before the floors buckle and the roof caves in, despite the very real dependence we have developed upon this edifice.  A conundrum indeed, but this conundrum is itself the question of our time, and it calls to all of us whether we are ready to square off with its implications or not.

Industrial civilization is destroying the living skin of the planet. Industrial civilization is rendering life on Earth impossible.  This is inarguable.  The only question then, is what to do.  Where do our responsibilities lie, and how can we meet them with dignity, grace, and courage?

What do you value?  What do you value the most in this world as you experience it?  I think it is imperative that we start with this question because the answer will determine how we perceive our responsibilities as living beings.  I refer to this as finding one’s polestar; their true north. Finding our pole star is essential because it is very easy to get entangled in the complexity of our culture, our socialization, our class status, and all of the other baggage we carry from lifetime after lifetime of trauma inflicted by the dominant culture.  When we need reorientation, we come about to our true north, and keep from running wayward into the noise and distraction intentionally laid to ensnare the passionate.

My pole star is the healthy, fecund forest. I live in a wooded region, and when I look out my front door I see tree covered ravines.  Beech, hickory, oak, maple, all stand stoically about me, their leaves blanketing and feeding the soil.  I never feel so honest, so at home, so centered as when I stand in the deep blue dark of night, jacketed in the electric stillness of winter, staring up to the stars that peek through the tangled black fingers of the naked tree boughs.  In those moments I feel whole, because I feel like part of a whole.  My ancestors call to me from the past as they most certainly stood in the same pose of supplication, lost in wonder, and gratitude, and mystery.

This is where I go when I seek an ethical thread to follow through the spiritual and psychological quagmire of modern industrial civilization.   When I look at the activities of humans, I ask what they mean for the forests.  Not just my forest home, but for the forest homes of people and beings across the Earth. I ask if new technologies, or policies, or commercial activities will benefit these havens of life and solitude, or if they threaten them.  I imagine the creeks and rivers that run through this region like blood in my veins, and usually the answer comes back to me that, no, the grand schemes of civilized man offer nothing good. They seek only to take, never to give back.  They promise to dominate and ruin, and that is what they do.

When concrete is laid over what was once a field so that suburbanites can park their vehicles at a new strip of retail stores, the deep roots of plants do not surrender.  Look to any patch of asphalt and you will find the rebellion under way.  Grass, dock, wild onion, dandelion; they slowly crack and push through the rubble and road surface above them until they find their place in the sunlight once again.  When under attack, these plants merely do what they must do to go about the business of living.

What fascinates me is that when hundreds or thousands of enraged people burn down the corporate chain stores that encircle them like army wagons on the frontier, these rioters are condemned. Spokespeople for the status quo feign innocent stupidity and ask, “Why are they burning down their own communities?” as if the concrete that is laid over the poor and working class is somehow their kin. Setting police cruisers and corporate chain stores alight is merely what these people must do to go about the business of living, whether this is consciously perceived or not.

The hierarchy of power that exists in this social paradigm attempts to mystify the public with language of togetherness when it suits them. They speak down to the lower orders as if we are one unit, one family, one tribe, each of us working together for the equal betterment of all. The actions of the powerful betray the truth, that those lower on the social hierarchy will labor, toil, suffer, and die for the comfort, power, and privilege of those at the top.

This is the framework by which responsibility is discussed within our society.  If a man robs a store and is sent to prison for it, it is said that he is there to “pay his debt to society.”  There are several implications in this statement surrounding the notion that this man was ever part of society to begin with, or that he desires to remain so.  Of course, if he was robbing a store to pay his rent, keep the heat on, or feed his family, there will never be statements from the powerful to the effect that society failed this man, this valuable member of our collective, and forced him through circumstance to his act.  Society will never pay its debt to this man, or to any man of his social rank. The idea that we are all daily electing to be in one cooperative social structure together is a pure fabrication.

As so often happens, officers of the state apparatus commit egregious violence, whether as police or soldiers, and their personal responsibility is almost never called into question.  The only time an individual police officer or soldier is made to fall on their sword, is when their crime is so blatant, so heinous, and so public, that to not punish them would crack the façade of the entire control apparatus.  By and large, these officers of the state do violence as a mode of day to day operations, all for the acquisition and maintenance of wealth and power as it exists and is distributed.

However, any actions deemed antagonistic to the structure of power and wealth will be vociferously condemned, and the perpetrators will be held liable for all knock on effects of these actions.  For instance, if in an attempt to preserve the health and sanctity of one’s home, a person destroys the power sub station that operates the pumps for a tar sand pipeline that runs under their land, and this outage causes a cascade black out to follow suit, the state will likely hold responsible this person for any deaths or injuries that occur due to the lack of electricity that has resulted.  If an old woman on a hospital respirator dies, the person who knocked out the sub station will likely be charged with manslaughter, if not murder.  They will be called a terrorist. Anyone whose ideologies are even remotely similar to this person’s will also be labeled a terrorist, worthy of suspicion.

In short, this is the Law.  People speak of the Law in moralistic terms, as if the volumes of clumsy codes and commands cobbled together by and for the wealthy were gifted to us by a choir of angels designed on building for us a just and balanced world.  Of course, the Law is nothing of the sort.  The Law has nothing to do with morals or ethics, as the bulk of the weight of the laws as they exist purpose to extort and exploit the poor for the powerful.  Leaning on the law as an ethical or moral litmus is such a high form of laziness and ignorance as to be shameful.

This is the wall that encircles those of us who wish to see an end to the current order of power.  We will be held to the highest account for the slightest ill that comes from any of our deeds, and the Law will be invoked in punishing even the most tepid of social activists.  Meanwhile, an Airforce technician in a bunker will kill families thousands of miles away with hellfire missiles, and we will never know this person’s name. They will never be condemned for the deaths they directly and intentionally cause. In fact, they will be heralded and rewarded. Their efforts furthered the efforts of the machine of industrial civilization.  They are on the team.  Doctors designed torture programs for the CIA.  Scientists design weaponized viruses.  Capitalists pour heavy metals into rivers and continue cutting boreal forest to extract tar sand despite the globally acknowledged threat of climate catastrophe.

These people are all protected.  Even attempting to slow them down in their work is a crime. The truth laid bare is that they have a sanctioned right to bring death, and you have no right to try to prevent them, whether violently or not.

It’s not about who you kill, it’s about who you kill for.

The police are on standby in any event, ready to gleefully dole out violence to even the most passive demonstrator. Any flinch, parry, or brush of a hand that can be deemed an attack on the police, of course, will result in charges, possibly felonies. The guardians of power too, are a protected class, so much so that in some places even passively ignoring police is classed as a felony.

The message is clear.  This world doesn’t belong to us, but to them. We are a society in name only.  Language about unity and country are pap for the masses.  Those who don’t swallow it down get the club, or the bullet.  But don’t worry, the comments section is still open.  Feel free to air your frustrations beneath the article.  Hashtag, give-up-already.

In the cold night air my breath is visible.  Darkness comes early as we approach the solstice.  When I scan over the ridge, I feel a peace in the center of my being.  There are those who think this is all that is left. They say that we have already lost the big fights, and now all that remains is to hold close to those you love as the dying picks up speed, and the maniacs in power continue throttling forward.

I cannot help but feel that such placid thoughts, wherever they may be rooted, are an appeasement to the powerful.  My blog wouldn’t be named “Pray for Calamity” if I didn’t believe that things would get worse before they got better.  But I also know that without question I would die for my family and for our home, and thinking this opens me to the idea that there are so many great places and causes to die for on this planet at this time.  Perhaps its time to stop seeing this as an age of impending calamity, but instead to see it as an age of opportunity to banish our fears, cage our egos, and to remember that death comes for us all, and that the greatest shame would be to waste our flesh when there are so many perfect targets for our rage. Perhaps we should begin to recognize this as an age of awakening; a time to reignite an internal fire that an oppressive and abusive culture has devoted so much energy to snuffing out.

So I ask, what is your pole star?  What is your true north?  What do you know in the center of your being to be good, and right, and true?  The dominant culture attempts to bend the mind and break the heart, until all that is left is the fetishization of power.  Domesticated, isolated, institutionalized, traumatized people begin to believe that their responsibilities are to the dominant system of buying, selling, killing, producing, and ever increasing efficiency at all of them.

I submit that these are not my responsibilities, and they are not yours.  I submit that none of the language they weaponize and fire so readily at dissenting voices is applicable.  We are not malcontents, radicals, insurgents, or terrorists.  We are dandelions who do not wish to bend to the will of the concrete poured over us.

And when we are ready to remember all of this, we are warriors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Humiliated Masses

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Published on Pray for Calamity on January 7, 2016

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Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner

The blue sky almost gleamed in the morning light. An electric sapphire firmament hanging low over the green grass. Cold water moving fast through the creeks whose banks were widened by the unseasonable flow. A spring day by the look and feel of it. In reality, it was Christmas Eve in the year of a super El Nino. We were winding along country roads on our way north to visit my mother who lives on the outskirts of Chicago. Every time I return to that cast iron city so bathed in smoke and fog I can only feel satisfied with my choice to never again reside there.

In honor of a friend who died this past summer, I met up with a man I have known since high school and we, along with his girlfriend, went to see the new Star Wars film. Our deceased mutual friend was a great fan of the original trilogy, and it seemed a fitting way to center getting together while we were both back home. Of course, the flip side of such an outing is having to enmesh oneself with the throngs of other movie goers, and to submit oneself to the barrage of cultural pap, heavy with subtext and clues to the greater cultural malaise that is a Hollywood movie viewing experience.

Before the film, there are of course several coming attractions for other movies which by and large all seemed to express the same handful of palpitating urges that must be metastisizing just beneath the skin of the general public’s artfully crafted facade of contentedness. With the exception of a children’s cartoon, every film we were shown a trailer for was about the grand destruction of society in one form or another. Most of these couched their plot lines in the superhero milieu. Batman and Superman will be fighting Doomsday while the X-Men will be fighting the Apocalypse. Captain America was in there somewhere too, punching, kicking, and I can’t remember what. Some other films, the names of which escape me, also focused on massive catastrophe of some kind, but the protagonists were unexpected heroes who were trained to be better, faster, stronger by military mentors. It was hard to not come away with the feeling that a large contingent of this society is seething beneath their complacent smiles, waiting for the day when the skylines of the cities are aglow with flame, when the rules are no longer enforceable, when the millions of other human beings who are constantly interfering with their lives are wiped out in a clean flash of light, and the scattered remnants – themselves included – get to run around with guns shooting anyone else who happens to be in the way.

A better psychoanalyst than myself could likely un-stitch the many tangled threads of collective conscious that seem to be on display in such a venue, but the negative space was clear. Not present were any films about people cooperating to solve problems. Not present were even simple stories about people living normal lives, albeit beset by uncommon struggles, but at least content with modern western existence. A movie without a firefight or some kind of glorious combat was glaringly absent. Interestingly, the superhero plot points often seemed to revolve around internal conflict within the ranks. Is this a representation of the collective unconscious? Are we all gearing up for a fight against all enemies, foreign and domestic?

Apparently it rained at the North Pole in recent days. Tornadoes ripped through Texas during the holiday break while floods ravaged England. The El Nino event that has been supercharged by climate change is indeed wreaking its share of havoc. Larger, continuing ecological calamities like tree die offs around the globe and oceanic extinctions which are glaring and happening almost in slow motion prompt some people to ask, “Why are humans so inept when it comes to responding to environmental crises?” It is a reasonable enough question on it’s surface, but I am skeptical whenever all humans are lumped into a group and then laid on the couch to be analyzed. Are humans inept? Or are other forces preventing otherwise well intentioned and intelligent humans from addressing such crises? It isn’t as if no humans care about the living planet. Many are willing to lay down their lives to protect a stretch of forest, a river, or a species. Around the world, being an environmental activist is quite dangerous, and not because of some ineptitude, but because other humans who stand to gain from the conversion of the living world into dead materials for capitalism’s factories hire out the execution of humans who would get in their way.

Capitalism, and indeed, industrial civilization must be insulated from those who have not been so disconnected, so alienated from nature or so humiliated and shamed by their powerlessness that they might strike back at their abusers rather than identifying with them.

No, it is not that humans are inept at solving ecological crisis. It is that we are prevented from doing so by people with power. Unpacking this further, we must acknowledge what classes we as individuals reside within, and what power we do and do not possess. I cannot with the stroke of a pen prevent a dam from being constructed, or order the deconstruction of one that already exists. I cannot stand before a board of directors and tell them to cease particular business practices, let alone to close up shop permanently. Not without being summarily accosted and dragged out of the room, anyway.

There are people with such power though. Certainly, there are. It is just a rare thing indeed for them to exercise it as such, but they absolutely exist. They are keenly aware of the system that they serve and how much wealth their service to this system has provided for them personally.  Any inklings as to the dangers generated by their use of power that may have penetrated their thinking are likely exterminated by denial. Denial is really, really easy when everyone around you is washed in it as well. In towers of glass they laugh at our concerns, they berate us, and they devour the latest scraps of million dollar lies about how everything is just fine, how the Earth is here to be plundered, about the supremacy of man, about our right, our divine destiny really, to dominate the living world. Their great wealth proves it.

And forests fall. The oceans are trawled. A pipeline is laid.

Often we are fed a narrative that we as the general public can “vote with our dollars,” and send economic signals to the benevolent corporations of the world by purchasing only the most ethical of goods. This notion is folly for many reasons which have been largely addressed by myself and others. But I would like to take some space to dismantle the idea even further.

First, if we accept that this premise is true, we must also accept inversions of the premise. For instance, if buying ethical product A makes one innocent of ethical harms, then we are implicitly accepting that purchasing unethical product B renders one guilty of an ethical violation themselves. Why?

This thinking generates a line of reasoning in which the consumer of a product generated by unethical means is the reason the unethical means were used. Their purchase demanded such a production process. Can you see what is glaringly absent here? For one, there is no timeline. The product existed before it was purchased. The specific harm has already been executed. But even more startlingly absent from such an analysis is any agency on the part of the producer whatsoever. We are told, by those with power and money, that if people buy a thing, that the producers can only respond in one way, and that is, to continue to produce their product in like fashion. Hence, riding in a car is the reason for Arctic drilling.

But where is the agency of the board of directors of the oil company? Could they not receive the money from their previous gasoline production, and decide that their production process is dangerous to the health of the global ecology, and not continue to seek new petroleum sources? Are they robots? Do they have no minds, no consciences? Why is the underclass the sole bearer of responsibility in this equation? Very obviously, if an oil company decided to sell their assets, pay their employees dividends and to close down operations, there would be less oil and gas available for consumption. As the producer, they have far greater agency than mere purchasers.

Basically, the whole notion of supply and demand as described by capitalism’s apologists is one sided. The general public bears the responsibility to act ethically, to make sacrifices, to go through their day and to abstain from sending any price signals to the powerful, whether wittingly or not, that might stimulate another round of ecologically destructive behavior on the part of a multinational corporation. Price signals of course, cannot be resisted by businessmen. They are victims, really, of our rapacious purchasing of their wares. We are forcing their hands.

A lack of agency over our lives culminates in humiliation. We by and large feel like beings of free will, and then we make a commute we hate to a job we despise to take commands from a boss we loathe. A face on television tells us we are one of the lucky ones to get to do so. This is humiliation. It is submission to a system that degrades our dignity by converting us into automatons of misery. Our potential as autonomous actors is diminished at nearly every conceivable opportunity to reduce risk and to generate consistency. Subject to mass society and capitalism we are only slightly above necessary as the fleshy avatar of a more important notation in a ledger. We exist as nodes in a network of capital flow, and if somehow we could be eliminated, we would be. Indeed, many are.

We are dancing bears, faces painted and dolled up in lace. The master holds a whip and a gun, so we dare not strike for fear of being killed. Eventually, the master doesn’t even carry the pistol any more because we have it internalized. He knows we would not dare attack him, and the insult is doubled. We look to the other caged animals around us and think, “If only we rose up as one, surely the master could not kill us all. If only we could combine our strength and in numbers find courage. Even if we were to die in such a struggle, we at last would be free. In our final glorious moments we would be complete, we would not exist in submission, humiliation, domestication.

But the other animals are scared. They have been whipped. Some have come to defend the master. We don’t even know who we can trust. And it has been such a long time since we have lived beyond the cage. The wild intimidates us now. Can we even survive out there anymore? Can we even exist without the scraps the master feeds us? Then one day we see a tiger attack a crowd of onlookers. She has snapped. She rages beautifully for one perfectly flawed moment before a bullet quiets her. If only she had said something. If only we had acted together. If only we had turned our claws and fangs in the right direction. If only it was the master now lying in a pool of blood.

We have a lot of masters. We are made pitiful by clerks as well as clocks. We are degraded not just politicians and police but by abstractions and imaginary lines. We so badly need to forge time and space to be quiet, to meditate, to speak softly about just who we think we are. Technology interrupts. The buzzing of other people’s demands seeps in through the cracks to find us, to distract us, to constantly hurry us up, to tire us out, to intoxicate us, to leave us slumped over and worn.

So we go to the movies and watch civilization collapse. We envy those who get to rebuild, if only on the screen. If we keep buying such stories, they will keep selling them. And we will surely never live them.

 

 

 

 

 

Incantations of Gratitude

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on December 19, 2015

 

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He said that men believe the blood of the slain to be of no consequence but that the wolf knows better. He said that the wolf is a being of great order and that it knows what men do not: that there is no order in this world save that which death has put there.
Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing

rabbitShe gave me leather gloves and said, “They’ll scratch the shit out of you.” A size too small, I pulled her tight gloves onto my hands. By the tuft of the rabbit’s neck, I pulled him through the opening of the wire hutch. As I walked toward the post, I tried holding him by his back legs, upside down, so that the blood would rush to his head and he would drowse. The rabbit screamed.

“They don’t like to be upside down,” she said.

I righted him. “It works with chickens,” I offered. Then I raised the rabbit, almost like an offering to the gray morning sky, so I could gently lower him into the steel breaking bar. He kicked a bit, then calmed. “It’s your death. Meet it how you choose. I’d probably kick and scream too.” Through the trees the pond was visible down the slope before us. My wife stood with my daughter on the dock, looking at the turtles and the fish as they moved in the cold black water.

“It’s OK. It’s OK.” I was gently stroking the rabbit’s plush fur. “Look at the trees. See the sky. It’s a beautiful day.” My voice was hush. My intention was to keep the rabbit calm. But still I wondered if my human touch was repugnant to the rabbit. Is the sound of my voice wretched to his mind? Is there such a thing as a tender executioner? When I said, “travel well,” might it have been better to say nothing it all?

With a firm hold of the rabbit’s rear legs and then a thrust, I pulled down and back towards my knees. The process repeated, five in all, each neck broken as decisively as I could offer, each rabbit given a moment of calm, each life acknowledged before each death delivered.

“Thank you for being nice to them,” she said.
“Of course.” My God, of course.

Five rabbits for twenty dollars and a handful of butternut squash. Her freezer full of meat, she didn’t want to kill anything else this year. Killing isn’t easy. It leaves a stain, and I hope it always does. My family is still without a deer. Five rabbits do not add up to a lot of meat, but they will carry for now. With two hands I carefully lifted each dead rabbit and placed them in a cardboard box. My wife and daughter climbed the hill. We made pleasantries. The box was warm when I loaded it into the trunk.

December is not usually this warm. This fall has been the warmest in the lower fourty-eight United States since record keeping began. Deluges of rainfall have flooded Chennai in India, as well as Ireland and the UK. Seven-hundred-thousand people are evacuating in advance of a typhoon in the Philippines. Meanwhile, winter rains are failing to materialize in Africa, portending drought conditions next year. Representatives of the global elite have once again walked away from an international climate summit with nothing to show but a palisade of words constructed to deflect real conversation about turning off the killing machine of industrial capitalism. They boarded jet planes to return home, and I stood outside in a sleeveless shirt two weeks before the winter solstice as my daughter and I pulled green onions from our garden that we could lay over the rabbit as we cooked it over a pit fire.

In the circles of power, I am sure there are back pats and hand shakes to accompany the praise of a job well done in Paris. To be sure, I imagine there are plenty of western liberals who believe some form of progress was made at the COP 21. Conversely, those of us on the fringes probably expected just such a result. No hard lines, no painful cuts, no discussion of deindustrialization or plans to decrease the consumption rates of the first world or the financial largesse of the wealthy. The fact that an international conference on climate change has official corporate sponsors from automobile companies to airlines and banks should be a blood red flag to anyone with even the most beta of bullshit detectors. Growth was still the order of the day. This is a system that cannot see itself, let alone confront itself. This is a system that completely lacks the ability to stop itself from destroying the habitat of the Earth. Is there any word more applicable to such a system than psychopathic? Maybe omnicidal? Watching the neoliberal attempt to address climate change is like watching a serial killer at the end of their career; they are getting sloppy because they want to be caught, they want to be stopped, they know they have zero control of their death urge. They won’t turn themselves in, but they will leave abundant clues as to their identity.

Advertisements for AirFrance plastered on a Parisian bus stop are the killer’s semen stain left on the victim’s bedsheets. Please catch me. I cannot help myself. Stop me before I kill again.

An inability to confront ourselves seems to be a defining characteristic of our age. Examples abound on the macro and micro level. The social media obsession highlights the trend nicely, as millions upon millions of people spend hours a day meticulously crafting an image of themselves that they want to convince the world is genuine. From Facebook to Instagram, the obsession du jour is taking photos of oneself and then sitting back and waiting for other humans, also likely obsessed with taking photos of themselves, to tell you how fantastic they look or how interesting they to appear to be. After harvesting “likes,” the high of such fickle and ephemeral attention fades, and it’s back to the bathroom mirror.

On a grander stage, we in the United States are now forced to endure the asinine behavior of a man-child braggart whose particular appeal as a potential presidential candidate appears to be the fact that he is perfectly comfortable being cruel to others, and that he has made a personal commitment to being as inconsiderate in his speech and action as possible. Of course, his defenders describe this behavior as a positive salvo against those who force us to all be “politically correct.” It requires very little effort to dismantle such an argument. What is really happening is that in recent years, challenges to society’s entrenched and predominantly unspoken white and male supremacy have been vocalized more frequently and with more support. These challenges make the beneficiaries of systemic racism and misogyny uncomfortable primarily because they were never cognizant of the leg up they have always received by being the “default” person, and they thusly feel that they are personally under attack for crimes they never committed.

Then along comes a powerful white man who tells his supporters he won’t cow to social justice warriors. Naturally, a lot of white men line up to carry his banner. The grand irony, is that this man is very wealthy. The declining standard of living amongst the middle class is a direct result of neoliberal economic policies enacted by the rich. Rich white men want poor white men to think it is foreigners who have undermined their economic viability, when in all reality, it was Wal-Mart. It was NAFTA. It was cheap labor abroad and cheap oil to ship goods around the globe. How the rich are able to convince the middle class that the poor are their greatest threat is a feat so counter intuitive that you almost want to applaud their ability to craft an illusion. How a billionaire has been able to convince millions of Americans that he can protect them from the machinations of politicians who have been bought by wealthy donors is downright stupifying.

Bravo, America. You have the political savvy of a goldfish.

But this is what happens. Vonnegut might just say, “and so it goes.” Nothing should surprise us now. We are in an age of consequences. An inability to look at ourselves and take stock of who we truly are and what our context actually is will lead to a world of a myriad conflicting narratives. We cannot build a cogent society if even agreeing upon the nature of the basic building blocks of that society has become impossible. We stand along the road to greater social fracture. Indeed, we have been walking this path for a long time. Without the ability to synthesize healthy communities autonomously, we have been cordoned in by artificial borders. The rich have become startlingly rich, and as they have done so they have created various high pressure systems that are directly adjacent to low pressure systems, and the joinery of this impending disaster has consistently been state force, police violence, and a non-stop torrent of propaganda and myth to convince the masses that it is all for their benefit, for their protection, and further, that this state of affairs is exceptional, so exceptional in fact that the heathen hordes about the globe are frothing mad in their desire to take it from them.

It is said that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” I would suggest that such fury is outmatched by the violent potential of a man entirely convinced of his righteousness. Keeping apace with the decline of civilization often has us looking at economic indicators, energy returns, political turmoil, and the quickening rate at which the climate is destabilized and species are driven into extinction. All fair sign posts, to be sure. But on the day to day, one of my greater concerns is the absence of humility, grace, and self reflection which as a trend seems to inversely correlate with a spike in the abundance of self righteous vitriol. The outsizing and emphasizing of ego is a decline in spiritual quality, for lack of a better term, and it is the hand maiden of our global crises; affected by and then re-effecting.

John Michael Greer on his blog, The Well of Galabes, defined magic as “the traditional craft of causing changes in consciousness in accordance with will.” Whether or not you believe in magic of any kind, it is clear that the human consciousness and will are the fore-horses of human action, and when hundreds of millions, if not billions, of humans are at a time collectively convinced to perpetuate the premises and trends of civilization, be it the infallible nature of capitalism, the primacy of the western “way of life,” white supremacy or that Allah would want you to throw a person off of a building because that person is homosexual, the power we possess is manipulated into feeding the furnaces of a death cult.

Of course, it is easy to highlight this trend when it manifests amongst the most visibly powerful or violent groups. Truly, it is prevalent too amongst people who claim to fight for the oppressed, the poor, and the vulnerable. Even those who claim no desire to conquer or to control become so convinced of their position, so damn sure that they are right, that furious anger and venom is let fly horizontally even at the bottom of the barrel. Warriors for the working class so entrenched in their analysis about race, or sexuality, or gender, that it seems impossible to think they have ever spent time with the people they wish to help liberate. Fall in line with my thinking, or line up against a wall.

It is a long wall indeed, with room for all of us, and so many willing executioners.

Our power as humans is vast, possibly boundless. On the whole, our wisdom is not commensurate with this power. Knowing when not to apply power is central to using it intelligently. Can you hold a gun and not point it someone? Can you be given a chainsaw and not clear cut a forest for profit? Can you unlock the petroleum from its deeps but choose to leave it in place? Can you have a voice, but not speak until you are sure that doing so is appropriate; is necessary? Every day we apply our intention to the world, and the vast majority of this application is as thoughtless as flicking a cigarette butt out the car window. Then we wonder why the world burns.

The unforgiving pace of capitalism exponentially exacerbates this problem. Nothing can be slow. Not movement, not communication. How can an instantaneous world be a thoughtful world? How can a twenty four hour civilization with light speed demands for your attention and response court the deliberate hand, the calm voice, or the well crafted response? Eight billion humans all living in a lightning round, shouting, responding, and firing their intentions into a storm of chaos and collision. Then consequence, response, repeat, and the storm grows.

Here we are on the precipice of global ecological calamity, frail worlds dancing on a razor blown back and forth by the whims of mad men, and I fear that the wisdom the situation requires is not only not present, it is not welcome.

Salt falls to the Earth as I drag the dull knife across the hide. Bits of remaining meat and fat collect on the edge of the blade, and I pick off the pink wads that gather there and flick them to the ground. Fleshing a hide is time consuming and skill intensive. My back aches a bit as I lean over the plywood the hides are nailed down to. The world is made of blood and bone and I am so grateful to be a part of it.

Cold wind blows. I massage egg yolk into the skin. If these rabbit hides tan well, my wife wants to use them to create a cloak for our daughter. I just want to get better at the process.

Viscera has been given to the chickens. In the compost pile I buried the rabbit’s heads. Before pulling the decaying plant matter over them, I placed lettuce leaves and turnip greens in the hole. An offering. Gratitude. There are surely people who think it is superstitious or perhaps merely self serving to do so. I don’t give a good God damn. It feels right.

In Centuries and Seconds

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on December 4, 2015

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She was a yearling.  Not very large, maybe one hundred pounds I would guess, as I was able to easily hoist her body into the back of my Jeep.  Gauging by the blood leaking from her ears and mouth and lack of any other visible wounds, I assumed the car that killed her struck her in the head, possibly breaking her neck.  What I could not gauge was how long she had been lying dead on the side of the highway.  Her eyes were open and not yet eaten by birds, and her anus was also free of any infestation.  I chuckle to myself when I imagine the reaction more domesticated individuals might have if they knew that there are people like myself who assess the edibility of roadkill by the presence of uncorrupted eyes and assholes.  To be fair, I also took stock of the stiffness of her body and the lack of any immediately offensive odors emanating from it.  She was worth taking home for a greater look, anyway.

From a cross beam of the carport I anchored a carabiner, and I fastened another to the yearling’s hind legs so I could create a “z-rig” pulley system, effectively halving her weight so that I could hoist her body into the air and tie of the cordage without help from a second person.  My partner was going to come outside and watch the dressing so she could have a greater understanding of the process, and she bundled up our daughter too, who showed no fear or anxiety concerning the large animal hanging dead before her.  Gently, I explained that the deer had died, and I was going to harvest its meat for us to eat.  Not yet two, she stood looking at the yearling and said, “Deer, off.”

“Yes honey, the deer is off.”
“Deer, on?”
“She can’t be turned back on.  Once something dies, it cannot come back to life.  But her spirit and her flesh return to the Earth.”
“Deer, off.”
“Yes baby.”

The year is closing as we approach the winter solstice.  From the corners we inhabit, we watch the fallout from terrorist attacks in Paris and the downing of a Russian war plan by the Turkish military.  Those who tally the climate statistics are telling us that 2015 is set to be the warmest year on record, globally.  South Africa grapples with drought, the rainforests of the Amazon are burning, and world leaders sent to negotiate climate deals are converging on a Paris conveniently locked down by security forces preventing mass demonstrations under emergency restrictions imposed due to the aforementioned terrorist attacks.  Not that it matters.  Floats and puppets are fun to look at, but only a complete restructuring of society could address the challenge of climate change, and that restructuring begins with erasing existing borders and property lines, canceling existing debts, dismantling industrial infrastructure, and of course, toppling the standing systems of power.  The puppets and street theater capable of such feats, I would love to see.  As I have previously stated (and my blog name continually hints at) I do not believe humans capable of achieving such goals, at least, not without a little help from our friends calamity and chaos.  The gatekeepers are just too well equipped to stave off conscious revolution.  If you want to get into the citadel, you will just have to wait until a tornado throws a bulldozer through the wall, or a plague kills most of the guards.

Until then we watch, we wait, and we endure.  We keep repeating the conventional wisdom of collapse; that which cannot be sustained, will not sustain.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it didn’t collapse in a day, either.  The collapse of a civilization is not one event, but the consummation of many events that eventually birth a catastrophe that overwhelms the ability of that civilization’s people to rebuild what has been destroyed, whether material or social.

Fast collapse and slow collapse are really the same thing, looked at from different vantage points.  What is built over centuries can end in seconds.

November 16, 1532.  Francisco Pizarro has one hundred and sixty eight men laying an ambush in the Inca city of Cajamarca.  Atahualpa, the emperor of the Inca empire, arrives for a meeting with the Spanish backed by an unarmed cadre of six thousand.  A friar and barely competent translator tell Atahualpa they are there, in essence, to bring the Inca into the fold of the Catholic church and the Spanish empire, and they offer him a bible as a seal of their truth.  As was to be expected, and likely, the intention of the Spanish, Atahualpa rejects what he is being offered. This rejection of the bible and the truth of the Catholic church gave the Spaniards what they considered to be legal grounds to attack the Inca who had amassed there. A century of empire with its conquest, expansion, and grandeur, could be said, to have ended in the following seconds.

Those seconds, however, were the ripe culmination of years of internal strife concerning who the rightful heir to the imperial throne was, a waning ability of the empire to effectively control far flung principalities, and a plague of smallpox brought to Mesoamerica by Europeans that advanced faster than conquistadors on horseback.  Political turmoil and disease were eating away at the Inca empire, and the Spanish arrived just in time to add the critical pressure necessary to break it. And they had guns.

History, of course, is complex, and the fall of the Inca empire extended beyond the massacre at Cajamarca, as Pizarro played disaffected Inca regions against the center, installed puppet emperors, and fought rebellions.  As the colonization of the Inca proceeded, European diseases continued to decimate the indigenous population as well. The Inca actually learned how to effectively defeat the advantage of firearms, but the viruses ravaging their insides were too much.

Depending on where we stand, we can focus on the centuries or the seconds.

If tomorrow the Dow Jones Industrial plummeted by seventy percentage points or NATO declared war on Russia, we would likely see those seconds as the critical break between the past and the future, the old world and the new.  But of course, years of maneuvering by humans and the consequences of those movements all came together to generate just the specific combination of factors required to outflank the established firewalls civilization has established to protect itself, and to outpace the efforts at rebuilding that are guaranteed in the aftermath of catastrophe.  Resource scarcity primarily in the sphere of fossil fuel energy, the manipulation of capital to the point of diminishing returns by the global ultra-wealthy, the decimation of ecosystems around the world; all have played their part in dressing the set for those critical seconds that seem to hang over us like a sword.

How does an organism die?  If you magnify the death of any given being, presumably you can find one second, one still frame in time that separates living from dying.  When we die of old age in the most quintessential of circumstances – our heads atop a fluffed down pillow as we lie repose in a king-sized bed replete with Egyptian cotton sheets and a mahogany headboard, family and adorers walling in our bedside and wishing us fair travels as we draw a final breath, smile, and say something childishly simple yet agonizingly profound – a critical second passes when our heart ceases to beat, electrical impulses in our brain fade, and we’re gone.  The room exhales. 

But we were dying for so long.  How many years had it been since our body’s ability to repair cellular breakdown was outpaced by the aging process?  We had peaked decades before.  From that point forward, despite every adventure, every new idea, every material acquisition, we were hurtling ever forward toward our imminent demise.  Our vision blurred, so a doctor prescribed us glasses.  Our heart stuttered, so we began taking pills.  Our mobility waned so we got a Hov-R-Round from the Scooter Store thanks to the endless advertisements targeted towards we septuagenarians aired on day time TV. We pressed on.

Our bodies contain countless living beings and units; cells, tissues, and bacteria that all comprise the whole of what we perceive as our self.  A veritable civilization that is born and advances through stages of growth and maturation until the energy necessary to maintain integrity is outpaced by diminishing returns.  We insert techno-fixes of every imaginable stripe to stem the twin tides of time and entropy, buying what time we can until the inevitable enters stage left to take us by the hand and demurley return us to the soil.

Civilizations are no different.  Shaped in centuries, defined in seconds, feeding the fertile soils of time.  Billions of human hands and minds carving, digging, screaming, warring, building, repairing, maintaining until it just isn’t enough and the center can no longer hold.  Hydraulic fracturing, negative interest rates, solar arrays and soyburgers all applied to patch the holes and to bail the bilge water.  Industrial civilization passed its peak decades ago, sometime around the time when women in skirts freely attended University in Kabul and the United States didn’t need to stand guard over Wahhabist Monarchs in the House of Saud in order to keep the game of growth afloat.  Selfie sticks and social media stock options are your glasses and nitroglycerin.  The internet is your Hov-R-Round.  Do not kid yourself into thinking this is a civilization still in the wild throws of maturation and bloom.  The billions of organisms that make this civilization possible are under threat, from phytoplankton to pollinating insects and carbon sequestering trees, all of whom feed the the billions of humans who swing hammers and pour concrete and fit pipes and string lines and who somehow, by some curse of the lottery of birth, drag themselves to the factories and cubicle farms day in and day out, all to keep this storm born Galleon afloat.  Shaped in so many of our precious seconds, defined in the roil of faceless centuries, feeding the fertile soils of time.

The car struck her head, I had guessed.  Her life probably ended quickly in a split second of sound and light.  Without any abrasions on the body, I assumed the meat would be well preserved by the cold evening air.  With only a beam of light to guide my hands under the dark of night, I gently separated her hide from her flesh, using light strokes of my knife to cut away at the membrane that held her skin to her flesh.  Something was wrong.  Her skin had a green tone in places around her ribs.  I cut away more, examining the muscle as I worked.   The green hue, almost an electric blue really, blotted here and there on her leg muscles, like watercolor oceans on an aging map.  Hoping the backstrap was untainted I continued to skin the deer, but it was hopeless.  On her left hind leg a subcutaneous tear in the protective membrane had likely allowed the passage of bacteria.  She must have been spun or thrown by the vehicle in some fashion that impacted her rear leg with a substantial force.

The meat was inedible.  I sighed in the night.  Fog from my mouth drifted upwards as I set my knife down, and lowered her body.  Walking beneath the stars I carried the yearling downhill, briars grabbing at my boots, twigs snapping underfoot.  I thanked her and apologized while burying her under a light blanket of leaves.  Coyotes, buzzards, someone would eat her.  Someone with an enviable array of gut flora.  I plodded and crunched my way home to wash the blood from my hands and wrists. The smell would last for days.

Your Worst Enemy

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Published on Pray for Calamity on November 16, 2015

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Cold northern air pushed south for a few days granting us the slight chill we have come to expect on a November morning.  Heavy winds rattled the bare fingers of oak and hickory like blades of prairie grass.  Woodsmoke seasoned the air and warmed my soul as I walked the compost toilet bucket out to the pile to be dumped and covered.  Two days later temperatures were right back up again as firearm deer hunting season opened.  I wanted to spend my Sunday morning waiting quietly in a tree, scanning the ridge line for a sizable white tail, but decided against it when I saw that the high for the day would be seventy degrees.  The forecast calls for the cool air to return, so for now, I postpone the hunt, and cross my fingers in the hope that driving home from work late at night I will see a freshly hit roadkill deer that I can harvest instead.  Their habitat long converted to highway, I honestly prefer making use of a collision killed deer than pulling the trigger anyway.

The collapse blogs and forums are often rife with talk of such things.  There are those who suggest that in a world where grocery stores are shuttered or where there is no money to purchase what they might still contain, people will need to return to hunting and foraging where possible.  At such suggestions, there are those who counter that the skill to harvest and process and meat is lost of the vast majority of the population.  There are others who then counter that actually, in such a scenario the fields and streams would quickly be stripped bare of any game or fish as hordes of people begin shooting at anything that moves, whether they know how to properly process and preserve the meat or not.  After years of collapse minded discussion on the internet, I think it is fair to say that there are many pockets of cliches and conventional wisdoms that have taken root and found their loyalties.  Fast collapse, slow collapse, hyper inflation, deflationary depression, bug out, bug in, long slow die off, near term human extinction, etc. ad nauseam.  Flow charts of collapse hypothesis each complete with their experts and their laundry list of survival purchases.

Over the years I have found myself settling in the realm of thought promoted by the Dark Mountain Project.  I do my best not to make a lot of predictions that don’t go beyond vague guesses at trends, and I primarily try to push the notions of personal and communal endurance, adaptability, and dignity.  History’s arc is very long, and it is easy to find ourselves as individuals belonging to a time that we believe from where we stand to be of particular importance or meaning.  Such assumptions are vanity.  The decline of industrial civilization, yes, will result in the creation of miserable conditions for most of humanity, and as we live through and beyond such times, we shall be tested.  We are not going to solve the major crises.  We are going to be called upon to endure them.  Such endurance is likely beyond many in the western world who have never imagined, let alone suffered true hardship.  The age of fossil fuels has not only softened rich bodies, but it has softened rich hearts and minds.  It has convinced many that death and pain are an unfairness, one that we could, and should, banish from existence.  More vanity.  More hubris.  To be sure, more blindness, as such soft minds are closed off to the suffering and death that formed the foundation of their very comfort to begin with.

Banish your vanity now.  Welcome the dirt under your fingernails.  Accept that you are not, nor your culture, the protagonist in a meaningful drama.  Visions and stories you have created in your mind in which you are a central performer are phantoms of your own amusement.  Dispel them.  Be here. Take a good stock of who you actually are.

Mutant zombie bikers (MZB’s for short) are the foil of those who monitor collapse.  MZB’s are the unwashed masses.  Unprepared for collapse, they don their truck tire armor and necklaces strung with the teeth of their victims and then move over the suburbs and hinterlands seeking families and farmers to massacre in their grand quest for canned peaches, gasoline, and murderous skin harvesting glory.  They are the primary enemy portrayed in the dystopian future sketched out in most collapse related conversation.

I would like to offer a counter notion; your worst enemy will be yourself.  This suggestion, I hope, can steer us from the primacy of the notion that navigating social collapse is going to be best achieved by those who most willingly point guns at everyone else.

If in fact, a grand collapse of sorts occurs and the social and economic systems that the vast majority of people rely upon fail, it will not likely be a man built like a WWE wrestler riding a tricked out Harley and brandishing a flaming nail bat who kills you.  It will be your own inability to work with a group.  It will be your own lifetime of poor health choices.  It will be all of the ebooks about wild edible plants that you downloaded and never read.  It will be your hubris, your panic, your depression, your anger, and primarily your inability to adapt to unpredictable and ever changing conditions.

For what it is worth, this is the concept I would like to toss into the gyre of collapse discussion.  How self improvement now not only increases one’s chances of survival in the event of any emergency, short or long, but further, how such improvement greatly benefits one’s life even in the absence of societal breakdown.  Successfully navigating dire circumstances that present physical, mental, and emotional challenges requires fortitude on all fronts – body, mind, and soul.  Doing the work to improve oneself on these fronts is not likely to be a waste should calamity never strike, in the same way that “prepper” purchases of five years worth of EZ Mac and banana chips might be.  Mice will never eat your improved physical stamina.  A flood will not wash away your uncluttered mind.

Let’s face it, life in the modern era in western nations has shaped most of our interactions to flow along the patterns and dictates of the economic system; capitalism.  Short, shrift transactions where one exchanges paper notes for food do not establish a bond between buyer and seller.  More often than not, the owner of such food is not even present, and we interact with low wage workers who operate cash registers, and the bulk of our acquisitions of necessities is at the behest of a system which at times even generates resentment of all the other humans around us.  We are infuriated by traffic, long lines, and crowded spaces.  Community bonds are threadbare.  True reliance on one and other that flows equally back and forth is rare.  So what happens when this social and economic paradigm crumbles?  Do you have the ability to work well in a group?  Can you keep from yelling or being over bearing?  Do you dominate conversations and interrupt others?  Do you dismiss women or people who aren’t white?  Do you even notice if or when you do these things?  When the humans around you become a de facto band that must cooperate to survive, can you set your ego and your ideology aside?  Can you be the first to give before having received?  Can you politely disagree?  It may seem silly to present such concerns, but truly, communication has been so degraded by generations of commercial transaction replacing communal reciprocity, not to mention newly invented forms of abbreviated, faceless, eye-contactless device to device texting, that I think a focus on just being able to talk to one another in order to effectively organize crisis response should be a priority.  Do you really want to find yourself outcast because everyone around you thinks that your a blowhard asshole?

Of course, habits that trend in the opposite direction could be just as deadly.  Are you a doormat?  Do you speak up for yourself?  Are you easily manipulated?  Do you fear speaking your mind when your opinion is unpopular?  Can you say “no” and mean it?  An ability to judge when to defer to group dynamics and when to pull back from activities you believe to be foolish, dangerous, or a waste of energy is crucial.  Of course, navigating the emotions and egos of others is a delicate matter, and doing so forms the basis of politics.  When your life is on the line, you will need to swallow your pride one day, draw a line in the sand the next, and hopefully make the right choice as to the when and why for both.

Meanwhile, our habits and addictions will haunt us when all of the usual patterns change, and then change again.  If right now you are a smoker, a drinker, if you are addicted to sugar, to caffeine (my personal drug of choice) or just happen to need a particular anti-depressant or antipsychotic to get out of bed, how will you fare when the chemicals your brain requires to function are not available?  What is your current physical status?  Here in the US, the lion’s share of the population travels by some form of petroleum powered vehicle on a regular basis.  Has this made you a bit soft around the middle?  Or has a steady diet of sugar softened you sort of all over?  The ability to walk long distances over varied terrain while carrying a load, perhaps water, perhaps wood, perhaps a child, would probably serve well.  The ability to defend yourself without a weapon, would probably serve well.  The ability to live two weeks on nothing but mashed turnips without flipping out on everyone around you at the slightest annoyance because your body is craving a Diet Coke and a Parliament Light might just serve you well.

And I am not pitching machismo.  I know too well that a smile, a nod, a low calm voice, can in the right circumstances carry more power than a grounded right cross.  Well rounded and adaptable, clear headed and resourceful, that is what I am pitching.

This is why I decry the prepper mentality of stockpiling large caches of goods.  That is just consumerism.  That is just altering a bad habit to feel like a good habit.  Sure, having food in the house, useful tools, toilet paper and jumper cables does make sense.  Twenty-Five buckets of mylar sealed white sugar is an absurdity.  No matter what emergency you encounter, be it a car accident on a stormy evening, a house fire, or full on “the-grid-went-down-thanks-to-Chinese-hackers-cracked-out-on-energy-drinks-and-promises-of-state-provided-communist-love-girls,” the one thing you will always have on you, is you.  Your mind, your body, and your spirit are primary.  If these are out of balance or in a dysfunctional state, why would you assume that a Rubbermaid Tub full of Pepto-Bismol would be of any use?

You need to fill your mind, hone your body, and steel your spirit.  This is a constant as we live.  The work never stops.  But as we travel, and work at our wisdom, our knowledge, and our fitness, we must also learn how to successfully integrate this blossoming self with others.  Communities don’t just happen, because trust doesn’t just happen; communication doesn’t just happen.

Tribe is hard.  Manufactured tribe, anyway.  I have never experienced a true tribe; a family linked through time and space, culture and common cause.  What I have experienced are groups of people who came together with grand purpose.  The torment of hours long meetings with Occupy, the drama of interpersonal conflicts with pipeline blockades, the sheer inability to commit to the work required at failed communes and intentional communities; I have seen it all.  In each case, there was success and their was failure.  In each case, good intentions ran head first into fatigue, a lack of resources, and at times, post traumatic stress.  And in each of those cases, the greater support system of society still existed as a fall back.  Dirty, cold and hungry, I watched people do unexpectedly amazing things, no doubt.  But stores still had food, even if the only food we could afford was in the dumpster.  We could check out, step back, any time we wanted.  When the stress of it all was too much to bear, one could return to the “real world” and level out.  A collapse scenario will offer no such quarter.

It is said that tough times don’t last, but tough people do.  I am not trying to sell some notion of myself as complete or without flaw.  I am just as guilty of seeing myself not as I am, but as I have imagined myself to be.  I possess plenty of traits and habits which I need to work to better, starting with my ability to calmly and accurately communicate.  If I were slower to frustrate and to anger, that would likely be a boon.  Despite the constant work that living in a post collapse world would require, I could personally benefit from a greater ability to slow down, to sit still, and to meditate.  To just breathe and exist.  I think it would strengthen my spirit, even if only by allowing me to take in more beauty and joy that I currently let pass me by in favor of tending to endless tasks.  We talk tirelessly about survival, but forget sometimes that without attention to the things that make life worth living, we can never truly thrive.

The time to work on ourselves, is now.  Your communication, your patience, and your tolerance, all are best improved now while daily caloric intake doesn’t necessarily rest upon them.  The time to break habits of sloth, or poor diet, or of resistance to any work that makes muscles sore and brow sweat, is now.  The time to take self dense classes and to increase your self confidence and endurance, is now.  The time to abandon phantom notions of your protagonist self in favor of honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses while simultaneously relieving yourself of your doughy first world comfort requirements, is now.  Take cold showers.  Eat more vegetables.  Forgive small debts.  Compliment and be patient with others.  Walk.

Of course, the hard part is that the pizza is still hot, the beer still cold, and the new season of Game of Thrones is on, and all of it is available twenty-four seven and you wouldn’t even have to speak to another human being, let alone be kind to them, to get any of it.  And there is work.  And there are bills to pay.  Maybe next month when I get a little further ahead.  I’ll quit smoking.  I’ll quit drinking.  I’ll spend less time on the internet and more time with other people.  Next month.

You are your worst enemy, but you don’t have to be.

Let’s Get Critical

rage_against_the_machine_1280x960gc2Off the keyboard of td0s

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Published on Pray for Calamity on April 2, 2014

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“Any man who afflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood.”

HL Menken


To criticize the status quo is to invite volley after volley of personal criticism back in your own direction. I am sure this has likely been the case for a very long time, and I believe this may be partly due to the way in which humans learn through pattern recognition, as well as how the architecture of the human brain physically lays neural pathways to build understanding. Thus when an idea too astray from the usual is presented to the human mind, there is a high chance of a negative reaction because the new pattern is far too asymmetric for the current set of neural pathways to incorporate. That, or the derogator is a bored and obtuse malcontent with nothing better to do than shit all over other people on the internet.

I often write about the exploitation inherent in the model of civilization itself, and how this organizing framework which is dominant on the planet now is entirely unsustainable and will necessarily collapse catastrophically. This is some level nine stuff. By this I mean that if you have not been initiated, if you haven’t read about this topic or all of the feeder topics that lead to this conclusion, it would likely seem extreme. Thorough understanding of an issue requires prerequisite knowledge. We get to where we are by having been where we were, even philosophically and intellectually. Because my topics of critique often surround the civilization paradigm, its parts, and alternatives, I often receive flak from people which either demonstrates that they do not fully understand the gravity of the issues, or which merely indicts me as complicit in civilization’s crimes. The former generally comes in the form of people arguing that technology will remedy all of the converging crises faced and created by civilization. The latter is far more frustrating, as it is usually some pathetic attempt at a “got’chya!” moment where someone tries to defeat my greater thesis by pointing out my use of a computer or some other trapping of civilization. “Hypocrite!” they cry.

The hypocrisy claim is everywhere you find people critiquing any facet of the status quo. Antiwar activists who protested the Iraq war were called hypocrites for using gasoline. Occupy Wall Street participants were called hypocrites for using Apple products. My friends in forest defense have been called hypocrites for using paper. As an anti-civ anarchist I have been called a hypocrite for everything from having moved into a house during the winter, to having gone to the hospital when after forty hours of labor at home with a midwife, my partner was physically exhausted and wanted access to drugs so she could sleep. Every time these criticisms are leveled, it becomes a major energy suck to explain exactly how nonsensical they are. I would like to here dedicate this essay to shredding the “hypocrisy” argument once and for all, so it can forever be linked to by activists and social critics of all platforms and stripes, who neither have the time nor energy to swat at the many zombie hordes who become agitated when new ideas are presented to them which run counter to the comfortable patterns that they are used to, and who then proceed to scream “hypocrite!” in place of an actual counter argument.

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, “Hell is other people.” Despite my anti-civ analysis, I am no misanthrope. Civilization is a system of organization, a power arrangement in which a small few control the many. Using their power, these few exploit the lands and beings around them so they can grow their power and comfort at the expense of others. Industrial civilization takes this paradigm full tilt and is wiping out habitat and species at a mortifying rate. Understanding this does not cause me to hate my species, but rather to be eager to help them understand why we must pursue new organizational methods. Still, the uphill battle of convincing fellow humans, especially those who are net beneficiaries of this destructive and exploitative set of arrangements, can be at times an infuriating engagement. Of course, this is not because I need people to immediately agree with me, but if they don’t, I do prefer they focus on challenging the content of my statements as opposed to nit picking the content of my life.

In “The Fall,” Albert Camus wrote, “Everyone insists on his innocence, at all costs, even if it means accusing the rest of the human race and heaven itself.” I believe that it may be this personal insistence on one’s innocence which leads people to quickly cry “hypocrite!” at those who critique the status quo. Because we are all mired in this paradigm, when it is critiqued, some individuals feel that the critique is of them individually, likely due to a personal identification with the system. Thus critiques become personal attacks against which they must defend themselves. “If the system is guilty, then I am guilty, and I’m not guilty!

The need for personal innocence runs deeper. If a critique against an overarching paradigm such as a government, capitalism, or civilization itself seems irrefutable, this can invoke in some a certain need to then utilize this new information as part of their own personal ethos. The problem here, is that this will mean that person will feel compelled to act accordingly with this information, and the actions required may seem difficult, uncomfortable, or frightening. For instance, if you’re told that capitalism is exploitative because employers retain the surplus labor value generated by their employees, and you happen to be a business owner, this new understanding will mean one of two things: either you rearrange the operating model of your business to fairly compensate your employees for their labor, effectively making them cooperative partners, or you change nothing but must go through life recognizing that you profit off of the exploitation of others. Here, your internal need to perceive yourself as innocent, or at least to believe yourself a good person, will run counter with your open acknowledgement that you exploit people for a living. What to do then to keep the ego intact?

If the action required to fall in line with the new ethos created by accepting new information is too hard, too uncomfortable, or you just don’t want to do it, you must justify inaction. Justifying inaction will be achieved possibly by denying the veracity of the new information. Like most capitalists in this scenario, you could convince yourself that your entrepreneurial and risk taking spirit give you the right to take the surplus labor value generated by the people you employ indefinitely. Of course, the justifications are endless.

In some cases though, if the new information received cannot be deflected through argument or justification, and the need to preserve one’s picture of their innocence is too great, then calling into question the character or behavior of the information’s purveyor can also suffice. For instance, if an activist is working to halt fossil fuel extraction for the myriad reasons that such a halting would be beneficial, it can be difficult to disagree with this activist on a purely argumentative level. How could you? Deny climate change? Deny ozone killing trees? Deny the death and destruction from Alberta, to the Gulf of Mexico, to the Niger Delta? On an argumentative level, you’d be wrong every time. However, you could call into question the activist’s use of fossil fuels, thereby deflecting the conversation, and basically insinuating that, as Camus also wrote in The Fall, “We are all in the soup together.” Because hey, if we’re all guilty, then none of us are guilty, am I right?

In the fall of 2012, I was in Texas working with the Tar Sands Blockade using direct action tactics to shut down construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. On the side of a highway north of Nacogdoches, I sat with some friends as our comrades were perched on platforms fifty feet in the air with their support lines tied to heavy machinery, effectively making the machines unusable lest their operators not mind killing these young people. There were a surprising amount of supporters for rural east Texas, but of course, there were plenty of people who made sure we we aware of their disdain for us. One such person passed by, slowed down, and said “I bet you used a pick up truck to get that stuff out here.” In his mind, this was a real zinger. I replied, “Of course we did. Why wouldn’t we?

There are a slew of reasons why this man’s comment contained zero validity as a critique of our action. For one, the gasoline we used did not come from that as of yet unfinished pipeline. Also, though I wouldn’t, I could claim to be against tar sands bitumen, but not conventional crude. But really the truth is that anti-extraction activists are making what economists would even defend as an intelligent bargain; using X amount of fossil fuels to prevent the extraction of a million times X. Of course I would use a tank of gasoline to prevent the daily extraction and transportation of hundreds of thousands of barrels of bitumen. Not only am I seeking a massive net gain for the ecology of the planet, I am also not using any more fossil fuels than I would have used had I gone to work that day anyway.

In the same vein, it is not hypocrisy to write a book about the ills of deforestation. Though it may be printed on paper, it has the potential to affect policy which will then lessen the total amount of deforestation. Not to mention, the loggers are going to log and the publishing company is going to publish. Using those resources to ultimately dismantle that destructive activity is actually the best use for them. So no, the person who posts on the internet about the ravages of mountain top removal coal mining or hydraulic fracturing for natural gas isn’t a hypocrite. They are cleverly utilizing the paradigm’s resources to expose its flaws to the light of scrutiny, in the hope that the consciences of people will be stirred to ultimately upend the paradigm itself. This is, in fact, the most ethical use of the resources generated by destructive industrial activity.

Using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house is to be encouraged.

It feels ridiculous to even have to lay this out, but the “hypocrisy” barb is flung far too often and dismantled far too little. What’s worse, is that hypocrisy in this regard isn’t even being understood correctly. According to wikipedia:

Hypocrisy is the state of falsely claiming to possess virtuous characteristics that one lacks. Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie. Hypocrisy is not simply failing to practice those virtues that one preaches. Samuel Johnson made this point when he wrote about the misuse of the charge of “hypocrisy” in Rambler No. 14:

Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.

Thus, an alcoholic’s advocating temperance, for example, would not be considered an act of hypocrisy as long as the alcoholic made no pretense of sobriety.”

This being understood, we can unequivocally state that a forest defense activist who prints pamphlets about saving tracts of woodland is not a hypocrite, unless they also claim to never use any forest products. Sure, there is a reasonable expectation that people who see a social ill will do their best to avoid adding to that ill, but sometimes the requirements of society horseshoe people into activity even they do not appreciate because the alternative options are worse or non-existent. Of course, this is where detractors will still claim that if an activist wants to save the forests, that they should cease using anything made from trees because consumer demand is behind all economic activity. Ignoring the obvious benefits of the trade off between printing five hundred pamphlets to save five hundred acres of woodlands, I think further disemboweling of this notion about consumer choice activism is also necessary.

Derrick Jensen writes about how he got in an argument with a man who accused him of being just as responsible for deforestation as Weyerhaeuser because he used toilet paper:

Here, once again, is the real story. Our self-assessed culpability for participating in the deathly system called civilization masks (and is a toxic mimic of) our infinitely greater sin. Sure, I use toilet paper. So what? That doesn’t make me as culpable as the CEO of Weyerhaeuser, and to think it does grants a great gift to those in power by getting the focus off them and onto us.

For what, then, are we culpable? Well, for something far greater than one person’s work as a technical writer and another’s as a busboy. Something far greater than my work writing books to be made of the pulped flesh of trees. Something far greater than using toilet paper or driving cars or living in homes made of formaldehyde-laden plywood. For all of those things we can be forgiven, because we did not create the system, and because our choices have been systematically eliminated (those in power kill the great runs of salmon, and then we feel guilty when we buy food at the grocery store? How dumb is that?). But we cannot and will not be forgiven for not breaking down the system that creates these problems, for not driving deforesters out of forests, for not driving polluters away from land and water and air, for not driving moneylenders from the temple that is our only home. We are culpable because we allow those in power to continue to destroy the planet. Yes, I know we are more or less constantly enjoined to use only inclusive rhetoric, but when will we all realize that war has already been declared upon the natural world, and upon all of us, and that this war has been declared by those in power? We must stop them with any means necessary. For not doing that we are infinitely more culpable than most of us—myself definitely included— will ever be able to comprehend.

He continues:

To be clear: I am not culpable for deforestation because I use toilet paper. I am culpable for deforestation because I use toilet paper and I do not keep up my end of the predator-prey bargain. If I consume the flesh of another I am responsible for the continuation of its community. If I use toilet paper, or any other wood or paper products, it is my responsibility to use any means necessary to ensure the continued health of natural forest communities. It is my responsibility to use any means necessary to stop industrial forestry.

I believe it is dangerous to convince people that their only power is in their purchasing decisions, because this relegates people to being mere consumers, not active citizens, let alone autonomous beings who define their own struggles, explore a diversity of tactics, and experiment to find new and effective measures for countering power. It also reduces all of society to nothing but customer transactions. Doing so ignores the power people have to protest, blockade, persuade, legislate, and sometimes, to overthrow. Would advocates of consumer choice activism stand by the idea that American revolutionaries should merely have boycotted tea, stamps and British products? Would they advocate that these revolutionaries should have instead of smashing windows, burning buildings, and fighting back against the crown have instead started their own competing tea trading companies? How about American slavery? Was the real solution that abolitionists and free blacks should have started competing fiber plantations in the north, hoping to push slave produced cotton out of business? Should we brand Captain John Brown a hypocrite for not wearing fair trade worker owned flax linen pants when he raided Harper’s Ferry seeking weapons with which to start a slave revolt? Preposterous!

Fighting against a behemoth industry that is interwoven into the state apparatus and has insulated itself as a central pillar of day to day operations is not something easily done. For one to claim they know exactly how to win such a fight is audacious. When it comes to the extraction industries, there is a large buffer where no matter how much the public cuts their consumption, the state will offset their financial losses through subsidies and purchases. The US government will happily buy discount oil for the fifth armored division after a civilian boycott lowers the price. Because of this, all forms of resistance are welcome and necessary, and it should be understood that attacking such a monolithic industry requires people hammering away, figuratively and literally, on every possible front. If it takes two million barrels of oil to power the cars and trucks necessary to organize the ten thousand strong blockade that cripples the refinery complex at the Port of Houston, well hell, oil well spent.

Those who demand lifestyle purity of anyone who ever raises a critique of any facet of the status quo are creating a double bind paradigm of hypocrites and extremists so to establish two camps into which they can then package critics in order to isolate and ignore them. The hypocrite camp is obvious. By misdiagnosing via a false definition someone who is against civilization as a hypocrite because they use electricity to write their thoughts online, these detractors can in their own minds, suggest there is no reason to take the critique seriously. But suppose the anti-civ critic did achieve lifestyle purity. Suppose that they lived in a wigwam in the woods that they constructed themselves from branches and deer hides. Imagine that this person walked to the center of town every weekend in haggard clothing they had pulled from thrift store dumpsters and then this person stood on a bench to shout about the ills of industry and hierarchy. Is it likely that this person would be taken seriously? Of course not! They would be labeled an extremist. Passersby would write this person off as insane before listening to argument one. There is no middle ground in this double bind, and that is the point. Those who would cry from the wilderness about the death and the misery that civilization brings will forever be stripping more and more from their lives in a futile effort to gain recognition, to be valid in the eyes of those who called them hypocrites, until one day they are branded as lunatics, if they are not unheard and unseen, exactly as their detractors want them to be.

On this, we should remember too, that there are people who have achieved this lifestyle purity. They are the tribal peoples around the world who never have been drawn into the net of civilization. They are the global poor who do not benefit from the burning of coal or the sinking of copper mines. And their voices consistently go unheard. In fact, their voices are almost ubiquitously silenced. What do the defenders of the status quo say to the Kayapó, Arara, Juruna, Araweté, Xikrin, Asurini and Parakanã peoples who are fighting the construction of the Belo Monte dam which threatens their survival? What do the defenders of the status quo say to the animals and plants who have been nothing but victims in the story of human progress? There is no inconsistency in their lives. No iPhone to scoff at, no power tool, no window fan. What is the excuse for denying their right to live? What is the excuse for exterminating them and pretending it isn’t happening? Why is it OK to deny their pleas?

Analysis and critique precede action. Without first understanding a system and describing its flaws, it will never be repaired or replaced. To assert that one must excise themselves from a system prior to criticizing it is asinine, especially so when the system being criticized is a global power structure with tentacles in almost every geographical region. Such assertions if considered legitimate would render critique impossible. They are also so implausible as to essentially be nothing more than a dismissal of critique, a backhanded way of saying “Shut up!” To be sure, the horrors of the dominant culture always have required a silencing of those it would make victims, so such behaviors amongst the denizens of civilization should come as no surprise, but they have never been and will never be intellectually or academically valid.

If you are in a prison, eating the food from the cafeteria does not mean you accept being a prisoner. Likewise, if you are a prisoner and you detest the prison and the system that put you there with every fiber of your being, you are not a hypocrite for allowing the prison doctor to treat you. Navigating life in a system of dominance, violence, and control is difficult and miserable, and if you have any designs to resist, whether to organize others on the inside with you to demand improvement of conditions, or to dig a tunnel and to escape, staying well fed and healthy in the mean time will be necessary for your success. While you fight, while you resist, use what you must to survive, especially in light of the fact that not doing so will not bring down the walls around you.

With the ever worsening issue of climate change, on top of the issues of political rot, net energy decline, and economic sclerosis, there will be more and more critique and analysis of exactly how societies are breaking down and what people should do in response. With this will come wave after wave of nonsense rebuttal to muddy the waters. At least when the defense of the status quo defers to indicting the behavior of the critics themselves, we can likely presume that their critiques are probably accurate, or at least that the status quo defender has no legitimate argument. For if the detractor had a legitimate counter analysis, they would present it. Attacking the messenger is behavior of the beaten. If I say “we need to abolish fossil fuels because they cause too much ecological damage” and someone responds “but you use gas in your chainsaw,” they have not displayed that my statement is untrue. In fact, there is a tacit admission that what I am saying is true, they just want to drag me down into the muck as if I’m not already standing in it.

Yes, I am knee deep in the shit of global industrial capitalist civilization. Yes, circumstances have me dancing from rock to rock, doing my best to avoid participating in the destructive protocols of the dominant culture and obliging to where it makes strategic sense to do so. Most people understand this. Most people understand the nuance between having and living an ethic in a complex world which leaves little to our individual control. Those who would deny this reality in order to deny your point are a nuisance at most. Hell is not other people, just other people in the comments section on the internet.

Drive to Death

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Published on Pray for Calamity on March 23, 2014

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So We Drove On Toward Death: The Casual Madness of Civilization

Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.

The Road
Cormac McCarthy

An annual report is about to be released by The Millennium Project which is titled, “State of the Future.” This report examines global problems and their potential solutions. In discussing the report, chief scientist of NASA’s Langley Research Center, Dennis Bushnell, has said that humans need three planets to sustain themselves. I had previously read a statistic which claimed that if all humans on Earth had the lifestyles and consumption habits of the average American, that we would need over five Earths to sustain the global population. That tidbit was more of a warning about the American “way of life,” whereas what Bushnell is saying is a more direct, we are running out of shit right now, sort of statement.

The entire ecosystem is crashing,” says Bushnell. “Essentially, there’s too many of us. We’ve been far too successful as the human animal. People allege we’re short 40-50 percent of a planet now. As the Asians and their billions come up to our living systems, we’re going to need three more planets.

Far too successful? This choice of words, while not surprising, is quite indicative of the logic of the civilized mind and its human-centric bias. Imagine for a moment, you’re a scientist studying a colony of rats living on an island, and that these rats eat so much that they are destroying their habitat. Imagine that these rats have, in their rapacious quest to eat, destroyed the trees and killed many of the other species on the island. Imagine that after running some calculations, you recognize that these rats are going to require not one, but two more islands worth of resources if they are going to survive, and that if they don’t acquire this new resource pool, their population will crash and potentially be wiped out. In writing your assessment of this rat colony, would you choose to describe them as “successful?” I think you might be more likely to use terms like “foolish,” “short-sighted,” “parasitic,” or “suicidal.”

No, modern humans aren’t “far too successful,” as a species. The dominant culture — because not all people live this way — is far too stupid to understand that it is “eating the seed corn” if you will. Not only are the people who live under the dominant culture destroying tomorrow’s resources to get by today, they are by and large too stupid to even enter this possibility into their self analysis. The fact that Bushnell and any of his ilk would with a straight face suggest that what humans need are more planets, as opposed to needing a massive overhaul of how the dominant culture operates, is frightening. The casual madness of this recommendation demonstrates that the overriding belief within the dominant culture is that everything is hunky-dorey; what people within industrial-civilization are doing on a daily basis is absolutely OK. It’s not the activities of global industrial capitalism that are the problem, no, the problem is that God just didn’t start us off with enough stuff!

Machete your way through the brambly facade, and the core premise within this assertion — even though it would seem contradictory based on the data being reported — is that civilization works.

As an anarchist, I have often attempted to persuade people that we do not need police, prisons, armies, politicians, even money or large scale societies. With near ubiquity, the response given to such suggestions is that they would never “work.” Some are not so bold as to claim never, but merely ask, “how would that work,” in a tone that clearly betrays a wall of disbelief. Before defending myself and my supposition, I have to draw back and lay out the unspoken premise: by declaring the unlikelihood of my idea’s ability to “work,” there is a presumption that the current way of doing things “works.”

Does civilization “work?” How would we define that? What are the primary goals of civilization, and are they being achieved, and if so at what costs? This question requires one to define “civilization” before even embarking on a quest to gauge its success. I think it is fair to assume that if you were to seek a common definition of civilization from laypeople on the streets, the recurring themes would likely surround the existence of arts, literature, philosophy, and surpluses of resources. Civilization is in this view, Plato and Leonardo Da Vinci hanging out in robes and Google Glasses, drinking wine in the park and thinking deep thoughts. The antithesis of this cartoon vision holds that the uncivilized would be anyone wearing warpaint and a loincloth while roasting a pig on a spit.

Caricatures aside, how can we academically define civilization? Writer Derrick Jensen devotes some time to defining civilization in his two volume work, Endgame:

I would define a civilization much more precisely [relative to standard dictionary definitions], and I believe more usefully, as a culture—that is, a complex of stories, institutions, and artifacts— that both leads to and emerges from the growth of cities (civilization, see civil: from civis, meaning citizen, from Latin civitatis, meaning city-state), with cities being defined–so as to distinguish them from camps, villages, and so on–as people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life.

In his own efforts to define civilization, writer Aric McBay offers:

This common thread is control. Civilization is a culture of control. In civilizations, a small group of people controls a large group of people through the institutions of civilization. If they are beyond the frontier of that civilization, then that control will come in the form of armies and missionaries (be they religious or technical specialists). If the people to be controlled are inside of the cities, inside of civilization, then the control may come through domestic militaries (i.e., police). However, it is likely cheaper and less overtly violent to condition certain types of behaviour through religion, schools or media, and related means, than through the use of outright force (which requires a substantial investment in weapons, surveillance and labour). 

That works very effectively in combination with economic and agricultural control. If you control the supply of food and other essentials of life, people have to do what you say or they die. People inside of cities inherently depend on food systems controlled by the rulers to survive, since the (commonly accepted) definition of a city is that the population dense enough to require the importation of food.

Richard Heinberg in his critique of civilization wrote:

…for the most part the history of civilization…is also the history of kingship, slavery, conquest, agriculture, overpopulation, and environmental ruin. And these traits continue in civilization’s most recent phases–the industrial state and the global market–though now the state itself takes the place of the king, and slavery becomes wage labor and de facto colonialism administered through multinational corporations. Meanwhile, the mechanization of production (which began with agriculture) is overtaking nearly every avenue of human creativity, population is skyrocketing, and organized warfare is resulting in unprecedented levels of bloodshed.

If the reader finds a bias in these definitions, I offer this one from Wikipedia:

The term is used to contrast with other types of communities including hunter-gatherers, nomadic pastoralists and tribal villages. Civilizations have more densely populated settlements divided into social classes with a ruling elite and subordinate urban and rural populations, which, by the division of labour, engage in intensive agriculture, mining, small-scale manufacture and trade. Civilization concentrates power, extending human control over both nature, and over other human beings.

Some combination of the characteristics offered above, with room for nuance, forms my personal definition of civilization, and should be used insofar as understanding the question I posed above, “Does civilization work?”

To answer this, of course, we must also define “work.” What exactly is civilization trying to accomplish? High living standards for all members? Artistic greatness? This is almost impossible to measure as there are no set goals civilization is attempting to achieve and not set values by which it is trying to achieve them. It is likely more productive to approach this question by examining what civilization does. After all, to borrow a term from systems theorists, “The purpose of a system is what it does.”

So what does civilization do? What is accomplished by people living in large urban centers where the majority of their survival necessities must be imported and their waste exported? Well, for starters, the people within the cities do not have to engage in any of the toil required to aggregate the calories and nutrients to stay alive. These people are thus freed to do other things with their time. This begins to form the base of the hierarchy of work. Peasants do the heavy lifting in the fields while professional types earn higher incomes to engage in what they dub to be “skilled labor.” We are told all of this would come unhinged if it weren’t for the tireless efforts of professional decision makers; politicians and captains of industry who are granted the most influence and the highest incomes. Of course, there is a class within the cities who don’t earn high incomes, and they are generally relegated to laboring to support the “skilled laborers,” and other elites by manufacturing goods, doing janitorial work, preparing food, maintaining infrastructure, etc. In the modern world, all of the heavy lifting in the agricultural fields is no longer accomplished with human muscle alone, as the majority of the grunt work is performed by hydrocarbons, predominantly oil. The acquisition of this oil comes at a great ecological cost, from the deep wells in the gulf of Mexico to the war torn fields of Iraq to the decimated Niger delta. Anywhere on Earth where oil is being pumped out of the ground, there is death, be it human, animal, or entire ecosystems and ways of life.

Speaking of death, civilization seems to spread a lot of it around. From global and regional wars that scar the land and leave millions dead, to the constant emission of toxicity which has inundated the air, the water, and the soil with heavy metals, radioactive particles, and carcinogenic compounds causing cancer and disease. Around the world people sit locked in cages, tormented and dehumanized by their captors. In the US, where I live, the largest prison population on the planet is housed, we are told, to maintain the safety of those who participate in civilization according to the dictates of the “decider” class. If we ignore humans for a moment and try to tally the dead amongst our non-human neighbors, the task becomes nearly impossible. The best guess of biologists is that industrial activity is currently causing a mass extinction, and that upwards of two hundred species are being extirpated from the globe every day. Civilization, though it’s adherents would cite its peaceful and good natured virtues, is a bringer of death and suffering.

My critics will cry, “But death is natural; an unavoidable part of life. Absent civilization, death would not vanish.” To be sure, who dies, how, and why, are the key to what civilization does. The organizational framework found within civilization is hierarchical, and I would argue that this top down power structure is woven into the defining characteristics of civilization. With this hierarchy, power is held by a few and lorded over the many. How this is accomplished varies, but as McBay was quoted as stating above, access to food and other necessary resources is a primary component of this control. Civilization has had millennia to refine itself and to create a system for diffusing this “food-under-lock-and-key” scenario, mainly via economics. In this time civilization has been able to normalize its existence and to normalize the power dynamics by which few control many, and under which the ruling few have access to more resources than they will ever require, while the many have unmet needs. Religion, propaganda, nationalism, entertainment, myths of exceptionalism; all have served to sell civilization as a high and dignified way of existing, as well as to demonize alternatives to the civilized model, and to justify the slaughter of those who resist civilization’s advances.

Modern industrial civilization is global. The blur between the thrust of society in the United State, China, Russia, Australia, Brazil, India, South Africa, etc. is essentially the same. Cultures in these nations have their respective variances, but the general direction of human activity remains constant. The drive to acquire wealth by converting land and what it contains into some form of salable good is ubiquitous. The gains from these activities are held by those at the top of the hierarchy, while the overwhelming majority of the labor utilized to achieve those gains was performed by those at the bottom.

While the earliest civilizations would have been based in one or a few city centers which exploited an immediately surrounding region, as empires grew and technology allowed further and faster travel, the exploitation of far away lands and peoples became possible and profitable. Civilizations having merged into a global behemoth, the reality now in the wealthiest regions of the world is that resources and finished products from around the globe are widely available, and relatively, outright suffering is scant. This availability, this control of global people and places, is itself, wealth. By moving resources out of the regions they are born in, and by exploiting a global workforce, civilization has made it possible to extend the lives and drastically increase the comfort of some people at the expense of the lives, health, and happiness of others. Civilization is a con, a game of three-card-monte. It is the shuffling of resources to generate the illusion of plenty. It is the displacement of suffering from one people to another, and the shifting of ecological horrors from home to abroad. The net beneficiaries of this system are wont to ignore it, to never even question its basic functionality. They see images of the starving and dying a world away and ask, “Why don’t they move?”

A tirade against the ills of civilization is old hat for me, and certainly, there will be readers who think me unfair. Education, invention, medicine, art, sport, and so many other examples of the benefits of civilized life are likely hanging at the fore of my critics’ minds. Absolutely, these are components of civilized life, but not exclusively so. What education or innovation or medicine or art look like and how they are distributed may look different under civilized and non-civilized paradigms, but in no way are they monopolized by the former or absent from the latter. Under a civilized paradigm, the arts, sports, education, medicine – these all become the realms of professionals to a great extent, whereas for the non-civilized these are communal and regular components of daily life.

I don’t want to trade blow for blow, comparing civilized diets to non-civilized, modern medicine to herbalism, etc. I would rather here move onto the costs of the civilized model, for if civilization has its benefits, and if it has its purposes, and if it is doling these benefits and achieving these goals, we must then ask, “are they worth the cost?”

Calculating the costs of civilization is a monumental task, and doing so with any sort of scientific accuracy is likely beyond my capabilities. As a purely philosophical exercise, I would like to briefly address the issue by looking at a handful of categories.

First, there is the ecology. It is inarguable that civilization is detrimental to ecology and always has been. As human animals, we are not necessarily a net deficiency to our habitat, despite the absurd claims of those who would like us to believe that to live is to harm, so we should absent-mindedly live it up. Hunting, fishing, and even small scale planting are not necessarily destructive to an ecosystem. Sinking mine shafts, leveling mountains, damming rivers, trawling the oceans, spewing industrial waste into the atmosphere, clear cutting forests, razing prairie, laying concrete, mono-crop planting, stripping topsoil; these are all massive ecological harms, which if undertaken with an ever increasing rate become systemically cataclysmic whereby species are driven into extinction, habitat collapses, and the damage is irreparable.

Can civilization exist without such activities? Surely pre-modern civilizations did not utilize all of these methods? In fact, every pre-modern civilization did exploit the resources they had access to with what technology they had available. The forests of the middle east were leveled by the earliest civilizations, creating the barren land that now exists there. The Mesopotamians irrigated farm fields to grow great surpluses of food, until the build up of silt in their canals and salts in their soil destroyed their agricultural adventures and led to their collapse. The Greeks and Romans viciously deforested the Mediterranean basin, and the resulting topsoil loss has prevented a recovery in the region. The Maya similarly brought about their own doom by deforesting their region for agriculture and the production of lime concrete. The collapses of all pre-modern civilizations have an environmental component. By seeking to use agricultural bounty to temporarily increase their populations and thus their power, early civilizations created inescapable paradigms dependent on infinite growth. Modern civilization is no different, just more adept at avoiding early onset collapse through innovation.

Ecological costs are probably the most in dire need of attention, but costs in human misery are not to be ignored. In this vein, there is the obvious misery generated by civilization and its processes: those killed and maimed by war, those whose DNA is damaged by industrial toxins resulting in cancers, those who subsist in poverty globally, those in prison, those who are persecuted, those who are slaves, those who have their hereditary land stolen, those who are victims of genocide; these are the billions who clearly suffer, these are the billions who make possible the comforts and abundance enjoyed in wealthy nations.

But let’s not stop there. Inside the gates, the people who are beneficiaries of the pillaging of the wild suffer in ways they recognize and in ways they don’t. In the United States, one in five adults are taking a psychiatric drug, either an anti-depressant, an anti-psychotic, or an anti-anxiety prescription. Ten percent of the population suffers from clinical depression. Thirty percent of the population abuses alcohol. Numbers on recreational drug use are harder to come by. Add in those addicted to shopping, eating, sex, gambling, and pornography, and it is likely safe to say that about half of the American population is either depressed, burdened with anxiety, or has some debilitating habit of escapism. Can we blame them? What does the majority of life in the United States consist of? Working a job over which you have relatively little control, where it is likely your creativity is stifled, and from which you do not directly benefit? This consumes forty if not more hours of a person’s life every week. Commuting to and from this job and accomplishing the unrecognized shadow labor of preparing for this job, from taking clothing to a dry cleaners, dropping children off at day care, or even shaving, means that considerably more time is robbed from one’s life to serve the economic system.

Life in this civilization brings a large set of medical risks as well. Despite the illusion of abundance, most of the food the population has access to is derived from a handful of ingredients, primarily corn, wheat, soy, and beet sugar. The production of these crops en-masse is economically efficient, and therefore they have become the foundation of the western diet. The hand maiden of this poor nutritional foundation is tooth decay, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, “Cancer will affect one in two men and one in three women in the United States, and the number of new cases of cancer is set to nearly double by the year 2050.”

Despite the myths we are imprinted with about the greatness of civilization, the reality is quite ugly. For a select few, the benefits and wealth and power granted by this particular organizational system are incalculable. For most, participation in civilization is comprised of boredom, obedience, servitude, and depression while daily spinning the wheel of fortune to see if they will be one of the unlucky ones who is stricken with cancer, all the while slowly degrading their body and masking their unhappiness with drugs, deviant behavior, or plain and simple escapism into fantasy.

Should I even begin to assess the misery associated with maintaining full compliance with the state and its bureaucracies which is a must if one wants to avoid court rooms, prisons, and police?

Though I was born to middle class parents, on my own, I eke out an existence in near poverty. This is partly by choice, in that I am clever enough to acquire a higher income, but I cannot burden my conscience with what such a pay grade would ask of me. For myself and the people in my region who also get by on small amounts of money, it is clear that we are not thriving in civilization, but artfully navigating it, succumbing to some of its pratfalls while skillfully parrying others. Ours is one of innumerable subcultures and informal economies that dot the landscape globally. Examples abound of squatters, homesteaders, hobos, punks, drug dealers, communes, scrappers, monks, travelers, and the myriad others around the Earth who hope the eye of Sauron doesn’t ever draw its focus on them.

Here in the cracks and dark corners alternatives to civilization simmer in the primordial soup of human consciousness. Too few to outright revolt with only the occasional exception, there are people who retreat to something similar to what I would dare call the natural state of human organization; tribalism.

No, civilization does not work, not if the definition of work includes caring for all equally and stewarding our habitat with humans and non-humans many generations to come genuinely considered. Ignoring the monuments to the egos of psychopaths, from pyramids and temples to skyscrapers and particle accelerators, civilization leaves nothing for the future. Civilization is a cannibal, greedily devouring any concept of tomorrow for a grotesque spectacle of largess today, which is only enjoyed by a select few. The ceremonies and titles of today may look and sound different than those of the Aztec or the Persian, but the macabre reality behind the pomp and circumstance is absolutely the same, only scarier in that the rate and ability of modern civilization to churn up the living world before melting it on a spoon for an ephemeral high is exponentially greater.

Civilization needs three planets, according to the scientists. Civilization is running out of fuel for the furnace, and the holy men are telling us that it is not time to abandon the machine; despite the misery, despite the servitude, despite the disease, despite the poverty, despite the extinction, despite the necessity of death – we must take this organizational system beyond our planetary borders, as missionaries of madness because we know nothing of humility or grace. Because we’re too afraid to admit we have made a mistake. So we drive on, lost and running out of gas, because we’re too damn proud to turn around.

Suggesting that there is another way for humans to organize without hierarchy, without massive population centers that require the exploitation of outlying areas, without violence and control; this is not utopianism. It is suggesting that we look at how human beings existed for the majority of their time on planet Earth, and asking that we take from that wealth of knowledge the best ideas, and that we ask of ourselves a willingness to adapt to life without the benefit of some slavery far away, some suffering we can ignore, some set of dying eyes we can avoid looking into. It is asking that we live where we are, that we find a concept of home, and that we welcome the challenges that life presents while refusing to solve them on the back of someone else’s misery.

They will say that “we cannot go back.” They will say pastoral lives where we are intimately connected to our community, human and not, are impossible, unthinkable, insane. Then they will say, “we must begin to live on Mars.”

Upward bound: Maintaining Our Collective Clunker

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Published on Pray for Calamity on March 8, 2014

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Discuss this article at the Science & Technology Table inside the Diner

My friend and I joke about techno-optimists. Both of us have wasted enough time on the internet reading the prognostications of self described technocrats, transhumanists, and even optimistic liberals who carry with them and promote a picture of the future that is near utopian in it’s advancements and its cleanliness. This optimism is shared widely by younger generations who cannot be bothered to understand the totality of the destruction wrought on the planet and its ecosystems over the last few hundred years. Advances in communications technology have people believing that anything is possible, and depending on their politics, their reasoning is essentially that either government, corporations, capitalists, or some combination of them is all that stands between us and a near workless future of global equality and abundance. A trip to the Apple Store and a copy of Popular Mechanics seemingly forms their understanding of not only what humans can do, but what they should do.

What is frustrating about these techno-topians is that for them, name dropping a technology is supposed to convince the rest of us that said technology has all of the prerequisite systems in place for its global implementation and that said technology can effortlessly be scaled up to replace current technologies. Further, the techno-optimist speaks as if technologies exist in an ecological vacuum where they can be designed, manufactured, deployed, utilized, upgraded, and ultimately dismantled when they are inevitably made irrelevant by new developments without damaging ecosystems and living communities. Arguing for the bright future society these technologies will grant us usually finds their acolytes rebuffing their potential flaws by name dropping another, then another, then another hypothetical invention or method, creating a fractal universe of innovations that are essentially non-existent today, but that we are supposed to have faith will rescue us from the crises that are meting deleterious effects right now.

Techno-optimists talk about Moore’s Law and the doubling of computing power that will lead to computers smarter than humans in mere decades. I’m not sure what these super smart computers are exactly supposed to provide for us. Bitcoins? 3-D porn? 42?

This is the rim of the rabbit hole. Computers are manufactured at great ecological and material cost. They are created with rare earth metals, plastics, copper, fresh water, slave labor in mines, near slave labor in factories, fossil fuel powered mining equipment, fossil fuels converted into materials, fossil fuel powered assembly lines, global shipping and distribution, and they are eventually obsolete which lands them in third world neighborhoods to be “recycled” by poor people who burn them to extract what of value they can. Of course, the techno-optimist is likely someone who lives in a wealthy nation, and it is likely that they primarily see the benefits of technology, not the drawbacks. They probably have never assembled an iPad or spent three days underground mining coltan by hand under the watchful eye of an AK-47 toting guard.

There are very real crises that are unfolding now. Solutions to these crises needed to be implemented years ago. In fact, crises like climate change, peak oil, deforestation, species die-off, top soil loss – all needed to be addressed decades and decades ago. Talking about them solves nothing. Chanting the words “Solar panels, wind turbines, hemp oil” over and over again does nothing to address the net energy decline of peak oil, especially as on the whole, industrial capitalism has clearly chosen to go full tilt with hydro-fracking for tight oil and gas and strip mining for tar sands bitumen and low return coal deposits. It is hard to join any optimism that refuses to look around and see that technology is not, right now, this moment, saving the day. Technology is being used to maintain the status quo as the train of industrial civilization hurtles towards a gorge.

Technology comes with costs. There are the ecological costs of the places destroyed so that raw materials can be extracted. There are ecological costs of energy acquisition necessary to power engines and electronics. There are ecological costs to discarding defunct and obsolete machines and products. There are human costs to communities displaced, sickened, and killed by extraction and technological implementation. There are human costs in the immiseration of labor forces which crawl into copper mines, work assembly lines, wither in cubicles, and work the fields picking vegetables to keep all of the above alive. There are energy costs, as no technology exists without energy. An electric car needs electricity flowing through an electric grid, and as it stands, that electricity is primarily created through the burning of hydrocarbons. Nuclear power should need no discussion as to its dangers, and all of the pie in the sky “renewables” are all dependent upon industrial processes and none are eternal.

James Kunstler wrote a book on the optimism of techno-fetishists who cannot seem to do the math on what a technological society begins to cost. In “Too Much Magic,” Kunstler tells an anecdote about a visit to the Google Campus where he gave a talk. After describing the “tricked out” offices laden with snacks and video games, he describes the question and answer session that followed his speech, in which the general statement from employees was summed up as, “Like, dude, we’ve got technology.” Kuntsler writes:

This informed me of something pretty scary: The executives and programmers at Google didn’t know the difference between technology and energy. They assumed that these were interchangeable, that if you run out of one you just plug in the other, which is inconsistent with reality.

Seeing the childishness of the office layout and employee dress and behavior, Kunstler comes to a realization about the type of playful creativity at the backbone of Google’s business model:

The childlike thinking at Google was a logical extension of this corporate culture: the belief in magic, in this case the magic of high tech. A lot of the high-level employees I spoke to in the auditorium that day were people who had become millionaires before they had turned thirty (thanks to Google Stock), mainly by pushing pixels around a screen with a mouse, that is, by making computer magic. They had magically become rich by making magic. Naturally, then, they were true believers in tech magic, and also, by extension, believers that any problem facing the human race could be fixed by applying tech magic.

The attitude Kunstler describes is permeating the masses in the west. It’s reasonable to assume that the advances in technology available to the general public in wealthier nations is partly to blame. Twenty-five years ago there was Nintendo, and now there is Playstation 4. Before either, kids played outside. Twenty-five years ago the cordless phone was a wonder, and now you can tweet your musings on a touch screen smart phone from pretty much anywhere. Yes, computer technology has advanced quickly and has been dispersed to wealthier masses. At the same time, Hollywood has applied this technology to story telling, creating visual spectacles which can make the imaginary seem very real. The problem with this, is that stories on the screen which themselves describe constant advancement in technology come to life in the minds of the audience members who come to believe they aren’t witnessing fiction, but a commercial for the world of tomorrow. Finally, life in the modern middle class west is in so many ways separated from the foundations of these advances. People who have access to yearly upgraded smart phones never see the regions of land deforested and strip mined to gain access to a mineral. They don’t live in the sacrifice zones where fossil fuel is refined so that a rocket can put a satellite into space. They are privy to almost none of the miserable labor that makes any of these technologies possible. That’s what makes technology oh so magical – because it appears out of nowhere. One day it just shows up at a Sprint store and then it’s yours! The witches brew of dead migratory birds, dead gorillas, dead forests, dead rivers, and dead people that made such magical technology possible is never seen or tasted.

This magical attitude is a byproduct of living in a nation that exports currency and forces the world to accept it at the barrel of a gun. In a nation where none of the “doing” happens, a mere hypothesis is just as good as a completely implemented and functioning process. It is impossible to have a productive conversation about the myriad costs of any one technology, let alone all technologies, with someone who thinks in plug-and-play fashion. Mention global declining net energy, and they will say “algae,” “hemp,” or “solar,” as if the problem isn’t complex and nuanced, but merely a lack of suggestions of things that we can burn. Mention declining stores of materials or the ecocide involved in getting at them, and they will say “asteroid mines” or “3-D printers,” as if just coming up with something conceptually is the first and last step towards making it a reality. Time after time I have tried to describe the depth of modern agriculture and its drawbacks; fossil fuel dependence, top soil depletion, chemical run off, destruction of bioregions, pollinator kill off, etc. and with near unanimity the response is a vague mix of the words “permaculture” and “cloning.” Of course, this is from people who have never gotten one potato to pop out of the dirt.

Last week in North Carolina the Dan River had thirty thousand tons of coal ash spilled into it when a pipe burst beneath a containment pond. In the last month there have been two massive leaks of toxic chemicals in rivers in West Virginia, one of which poisoned the water source for over three hundred thousand people. It was discovered just the other day that the Wanapum dam in Washington state has a sixty-five foot crack in it. Toss in recent incident after incident in which natural gas pipelines have exploded and oil pipelines have burst, and I cannot help but think about upkeep.

When people speak of the future and all of the things humans will be able to create, rarely do they consider all of the things humans have already created which need constant upkeep and maintenance in order to not fail critically. In his short film about hydraulic fracturing, Josh Fox details the necessity of concrete gas well casings to last indefinitely in order to prevent gas from seeping into groundwater. Fox goes on to document that these concrete well casings last on average for twenty years.

Many of us have owned a car, and we know that over time, the damn thing falls apart. Metal rusts, fluids leak, components fail, and in general entropy wreaks havoc until we realize that it makes more sense to scrap the vehicle than to try to repair it. Industrial civilization is our collective jalopy.

Speaking of cars, according to USA Today:

An Associated Press analysis of 607,380 bridges in the most recent federal National Bridge Inventory showed that 65,605 were classified as “structurally deficient” and 20,808 as “fracture critical.” Of those, 7,795 were both — a combination of red flags that experts say indicate significant disrepair and similar risk of collapse.

And these are just the bridges. Transporting all of our techo-gadetry, let alone our food, will require roads. Roads require constant repair. Repairing roads requires petroleum powered vehicles and well fed crews. As it stands, the American Society of Civil Engineers in their 2013 “report card” for the US gave the roads a “D.”

The American Society of Civil Engineers also graded the water mains. They are apparently in about the same crappy shape that the roads are, as they were also given a “D.” Every year there are 240,000 water main breaks, which comes to about six hundred and fifty or so per day. The power grid on which all of the “World of tomorrow” fantasy technology will clearly rely was given a “D+” by the ASCE.

Of course, we could all scratch out a living without highways, water mains, and electricity, but what becomes downright concerning is the breakdown of existing infrastructure that can be fatal. How are the US’s nuclear power plants holding up? According to an Associated Press investigation into the aging of US nuclear reactors:

Federal regulators have been working closely with the US nuclear power industry to keep the nation’s aging reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards, or simply failing to enforce them. Time after time, officials at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have decided that original regulations were too strict, arguing that safety margins could be eased without peril, according to records and interviews.

Examples abound. When valves leaked, more leakage was allowed — up to 20 times the original limit. When rampant cracking caused radioactive leaks from steam generator tubing, an easier test of the tubes was devised, so plants could meet standards. Failed cables. Busted seals. Broken nozzles, clogged screens, cracked concrete, dented containers, corroded metals and rusty underground pipes — all of these and thousands of other problems linked to aging were uncovered. And all of them could escalate dangers in the event of an accident. Yet despite the many problems linked to aging, not a single official body in government or industry has studied the overall frequency and potential impact on safety of such breakdowns in recent years, even as the NRC has extended the licenses of dozens of reactors.

Add in the chemical weapons storage depots, the bio-warfare weapons depots, the thousands of chemical plants, fertilizer plants, oil wells, refineries, nuclear research facilities, nuclear warships and nuclear waste storage facilities, and it becomes hard to fathom how a point won’t come when a large portion of human effort won’t be dedicated to merely maintaining what civilization has built while attempting to mitigate disasters caused by aging and dilapidated infrastructure. All of this while trying to grow a civilization and its technological capacity as fish stocks disappear from the rapidly acidifying oceans and top soil blows away from drought parched and poorly managed fields.

—-

To believe in the techno-topian future is to ignore the concept of diminishing returns. Physicist Geoffery West gives a Ted Talk in which he demonstrates that living organism operate on a sublinear, bounded growth pattern. What this means is that across the living kingdoms, the larger a being’s mass, the less energy per capita it requires to keep said being alive. Of course, every living being has its optimal size, and no living thing grows forever. West goes on to point out that human cities operate on similar principles, except that their growth is superlinear, and that as populations grow, there is an increase in per capita energy required to maintain these systems. He points out that this makes cities unsustainable without innovation, with the added caveat that the innovations that prevent collapse in cities must also be innovated upon at an ever increasing pace. The question, according to West, is whether or not people can keep up.

Geoffery West also points out in his presentation that the growth of a city not only requires exponentially larger energy inputs, but that it necessarily will have exponentially increased levels of crime, disease, and discontent. Does it then not stand to reason that human innovations which provide the basis for growth also inadvertently sow the seeds of their own destruction? Every new band-aid technology which buys time for industrial civilization is itself a chaotic butterfly flapping its wings. Hydraulic fracturing temporarily offset declines in oil production while also causing Earthquakes, poisoning groundwater, and adding to climate change. Genetically modifying food crops to resist herbicides has led to increased herbicide use which increased the toxicity of ecosystems while simultaneously causing weeds to adapt to these chemicals. Yesterday’s solution becomes today’s problems. Eventually, today’s solution will be tomorrow’s cataclysm.

Of course, standing on a stage with a headset microphone and speaking to a horde of technophiles, I’m sure the on the ground reality of West’s suppositions is lost. Innovation isn’t magic. The resources and supplies that make innovation possible are not limitless. Right now, global net energy is on the decline. New sources of energy from “tight oil” plays to solar panels do not add more energy than is lost as conventional petroleum fields reach and pass their production peaks. Nor are the inventions of humankind timeless. An innovation may bring temporary gains, but then like a nuclear power plant or a gas well, the innovations themselves require ever increasing amounts of upgrades and repairs. This ever quickening race up an ever steeper slope is not one industrial man can win. In the interim, a particular class of human runs this race while throwing larger and larger swaths of everyone else into the furnace of development. When the eventual breaking point is reached, not only will civilization lose its ability to innovate and grow, it will lose it’s ability to contain its slumbering killers.

Mechanistic Progress; Holistic Wisdom

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Published on Pray for Calamity on January 5, 2013

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Solving a problem relies first upon a trustworthy identification of the problem.  This can be easy with simple problems, like a flat tire.  It can be extremely difficult with complex problems such as climate change or the social ills of poverty and exploitation.  It should be a no brainer that complex societies create complex problems with not one but various strands of the root establishing any particular issue.  Most analysis that gets peddled by the architects and shills of the dominant culture is usually lacking in comprehensive diagnosis.  This was summed up famously by H.L Menken when he said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

In our culture, it is not uncommon for positive outcomes of a system or arrangement to be credited widely to the culture as a whole.  This is evident for me any time I try to have a discussion about the destruction wrought by a culture dependent upon industrialism and technology.  Those who have never questioned the society in which they live immediately point out medical advances, knowledge of the cosmos, communications technology, etc. as these pinnacles of human development and existence, as if these inventions and discoveries are the new floor for human existence which we can never again sink beneath.  These advances are attributed to democracy and capitalism, and the theme becomes, “Industrial capitalism may not be perfect, but it has given us a standard of living once unfathomable, and there is no conceivable reason to not only retain these developments, but to continually expand upon them.”  This is bundled in a word; “progress.”

There is a very intentional paradox that comes into play if the problems created by industrial civilization’s “progress” are trotted out.  Poverty for instance, is often blamed on the individual who struggles with it.  Staunch defenders of capitalism will nit pick the minutiae of decisions and habits of each individual poor person who ever dares associate their condition with overall social or cultural architecture.  The resounding lie is that anyone can rise on the economic ladder should only they work for it.  This lie is successful because on it’s face, it appears true.  Anyone could become rich.  But not everyone could become rich.  Not everyone could be middle class.  Capitalism requires a struggling underclass that can be forced through social conditions and laws into taking low wage work.  Low wage work is the majority of the work available within a capitalist paradigm, and thus it requires a majority of people to be trapped in a social condition which will leave them no option but to undertake this work.

Arthur Young, an English writer and pamphleteer of the mid and late eighteenth century wrote, “Everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.”

Poverty is a necessary condition of capitalism.  How an individual navigates this poverty is in part up to them, but they do not create the condition, and they do not create the other social parameters which stem from it.

Social conditions from access to education, housing, and food, quality of medical care, level of policing in one’s neighborhood, race, perceived gender or sexual orientation, access to a clean environment, etc. will all play a role in the development of the individual from the time they are a newborn, or even in utero.  Black children raised in a poor urban community with a high crime rate, lack of grocery stores, and lower quality education will clearly have a disadvantage economically relative to upper middle class white children who attend higher quality schools and eat a more balanced diet.  This should be obvious.  When the disadvantages manifest as individual inability to escape poverty, or as criminal behavior or drug addiction, the blame is always place squarely and solely on the individual.

In Dr. Bruce K. Alexander’s paper, “The Roots of Addiction in a Free Market Society” it is argued that the dislocation caused by capitalist society is a major factor causing addictive behavior.  He writes:

[D]islocation is the necessary precursor of addiction. … [F]ree markets inevitably produce widespread dislocation among the poor and the rich. As free market globalization speeds up, so does the spread of dislocation and addiction.  In order for ‘free markets’ to be ‘free,’ the exchange of labour, land, currency, and consumer goods must not be encumbered by elements of psychosocial integration such as clan loyalties, village responsibilities, guild or union rights, charity, family obligations, social roles, or religious values. Cultural traditions ‘distort’ the free play of the laws of supply and demand, and thus must be suppressed. In free market economies, for example, people are expected to move to where jobs can be found, and to adjust their work lives and cultural tastes to the demands of a global market.

Alexander goes on to reference specific native tribes in North America removed from their lands and stripped of their cultures and he directly links their high incidences of addiction to this dislocation.  What his paper clearly lays out, is that social problems have social causes.

Whenever a person in the US snaps and goes on a rampage with a firearm, the society that created that individual is rarely implicated, and never implicated with any level of seriousness.  Such implication would have serious ramifications for the ego and identities of those who support the dominant culture.  It would also create a condition of responsibility society would then be compelled to address through altering it’s internal parameters.  To ignore the culture that creates the psychosis, nihilism, and other mental and emotional disfunction prerequisite to waltzing into an elementary school with a rifle and murderous intent is to essentially declare that the occasional massacre of children or movie patrons is OK, a necessary evil of our otherwise high and glorious “way of life.”  Instead of the culture taking responsibility for the monsters it creates, guns are blamed, whether an abundance or a lack.

The scope with which most social critique is attended is variable depending on the desired outcome.  A macro view is applied to hide the blood in the cracks, a micro view zoomed in on the individual whenever the culmination of a sociopathic culture of death results in an individual acting out this cultural psychosis in a socially “unproductive” way.  Should Adam Lanza or James Holmes had joined the Marines and manifested their violent sociopathy in an Afghan village or from behind the controls of a CIA drone attacking weddings in Pakistan or Yemen, we would likely never have known their names.  People would clap for them as they walked through an airport in their fatigues.

No doubt, the prescription psychotropic drugs both Lanza and Holmes were taking affected their behavior.  I do not think this is contrary to the thinking that the dominant culture generated their psychosis.  In fact, I think it proves the point.  More and more people in the US are taking prescribed anti-depressants and anti-psychotics.  The numbers are one in five men, and one in four women are taking these mind altering drugs.  If industrial civilization and capitalism provide such a wonderful “standard of living;” if this way of life is the pinnacle of human existence, why does almost a quarter of the population require a drug to make them feel better about it? Add in the number of people who drink alcohol or smoke marijuana, and it’s likely that a large majority of the population needs to achieve an altered state of consciousness on a regular basis merely to cope with the daily requirements leveled on their shoulders by this society.

But if we zoom out, we see happy shoppers and smiling twenty somethings taking “selfies” by the thousands.

If we cannot identify the cause of a problem, we will not likely solve the problem.  If depression, addiction, and poverty, or even cancer, pollution, and climate change are viewed with the improper lens, these problems with social and cultural roots will always be attacked at the individual level.  Individuals are blamed for their addictions.  Individuals are blamed for their poverty.  Individuals are even blamed for their cancer, and treatment is always about the individual, never prevention of the spread of toxins which cause it.  This blame will not always sound like condemnation, harsh and critical as the blame attached to poverty, because cancer crosses class and race demographics.  White grandmas get cancer, so we won’t be mean about it.  But illness prevention is offered through individual diet, individual exercise, never through a social change that bans coal fired power plants, the creation and ultimate incineration of plastic, or the use of sodium nitrite in meat.  Of course individuals can do their best to maintain their health and fitness.  But we cannot not breathe in the dioxin or glyphosate in the air.

Even in the case of climate change and ecosystem collapse, what are the solutions proffered by capitalists and purveyors of the dominant culture?  Individual reduction in consumption.  Individual bicycling.  With this focus on the individual behavior, corporate profits are safe and anyone who raises the alarm about ecological destruction and climate change can be attacked for their lifestyle impurity while the message itself drowns under screams and howls decrying the use of a car or computer by she who raised the alarm.  I suffer this madness regularly both as a writer who publishes my work online, and as a direct action activist who has used a pick up truck to transport the materials and people into forests where tree sit campaigns blockaded the construction of tar sands infrastructure.  Never mind the basic equation that I’d be willing to burn one million barrels of oil if it were able to prevent the shipment and ultimate burning of several hundred thousand barrels of oil per day for the next decade or two.  Never mind Jevon’s paradox and the fact that conservation of oil by one individual only results in extra consumption by another who takes advantage of increased supply.  The idea that the solution to a problem with global reach and social, economic, and cultural underpinnings rests entirely on the individual is patently absurd and intellectually lazy.

Striking one’s gaze in an intentionally overly broad or overly minute direction is an obfuscation employed regularly by the media, politicians, and others who have a vested interest not in solving problems, but in perpetuating them and profiting off of false solutions.  A recent study demonstrated that two thirds of the emissions responsible for climate change are generated by ninety companies globally.  According to the author of the study:

There are thousands of oil, gas, and coal producers in the world, but the decision makers, the CEOs, or the ministers of coal and oil if you narrow it down to just one person, they could all fit on a Greyhound bus or two.

The implications of the study are fascinating and grabbing headlines, but I fear there is a reductionism in the reactions to the study, as a complex and global problem which has not one taproot but many roots that stretch and meander in various directions, is being described as something that can be halted by focusing on a busload of individuals.  To be sure, the power of these individuals is great, and I in no way want to diminish the negative impact of the decisions these people daily make.  Financing climate change skepticism, altering media coverage through advertising and influence, and regularly seeking investment for new coal, oil, gas, bitumen, and kerogen projects is absolutely disdainful behavior with globally deleterious ramifications.  These individuals and these companies should be pressured and punished respectively.  But lacking a cultural and social shift away from capitalism and antiquated profit and domination based definitions of “progress,” such pressure and punishment will ultimately prove ineffective at solving our penultimate problem.

We look at our bodies and we see flesh.  If we look at them under a microscope, we can see our tissues are comprised of cells.  A little more zoom and we can see the organelles within the cell.  Building those organelles are compounds comprised of molecules which are in turn built of atoms which consist of variously charged particles, themselves containing quarks and on and on possibly to infinity.  If we turn the device around and look outward we see that our planet exists within a solar system, spiraling around a galaxy, itself but one small galaxy housed within a universe of billions of galaxies which itself may be housed within a larger super universe that might be nothing but a quark within God’s cat’s butt.  This is all to demonstrate that scale and scope offer perspective, but the perspective is meaningless without context of where it resides within the whole.

Mechanistic thinking and reductionism was a product of the enlightenment period  In this time, the conceptualization of the Earth as a living entity was diminished.  It is commonly known that indigenous cultures looked to the Earth as a living entity with spirit and flesh and consciousness.  Even the ancient Greeks and Renaissance Europeans held such views, surprising as this may seem.  Of course, cultures varied in their interpretations of how this was to play into their behavior, but the predominant response was that as a living Mother, the Earth must be respected, and her resources must be harvested and utilized consciously and with care.

This view of a living universe, with even stars and planets as living and conscious entities was stripped away during the so called “enlightenment” period.  Carolyn Merchant writes eloquently on this transformation in cultural concept and it’s disastrous results for ecology:

Whereas the medieval economy had been based on organic and renewable energy sources–wood, water, wind, and animal muscle–the emerging capitalist economy was based on nonrenewable energy–coal–and the inorganic metals–iron, copper, silver, gold, tin, and mercury–the refining and processing of which ultimately depended on and further depleted the forests. Over the course of the sixteenth century, mining operations quadrupled as the trading of metals expanded, taking immense toll as forests were cut for charcoal and the cleared lands turned into sheep pastures for the textile industry. Shipbuilding, essential to capitalist trade and national supremacy, along with glass and soap making, also contributed to the denudation of the ancient forest cover. The new activities directly altered the earth. Not only were its forests cut down, but swamps were drained, and mine shafts were sunk.

The rise of Francis Bacon’s scientific method came hand in hand with new cultural understanding.  The Earth was dead, inert, without life or feeling.  The Earth and nature were impediments to an increase in human “standard of living.”  Belief systems which held the Earth to be a living and sacred mother to be tread upon delicately and with care were obstructions to progress and wealth accumulation.

Merchant continues:

The removal of animistic, organic assumptions about the cosmos constituted the death of nature–the most far-reaching effect of the scientific revolution. Because nature was now viewed as a system of dead, inert particles moved by external rather than inherent forces, the mechanical framework itself could legitimate the manipulation of nature. Moreover, as a conceptual framework, the mechanical order had associated with it a framework of values based on power, fully compatible with the directions taken by commercial capitalism.

The emerging mechanical worldview was based on assumptions about nature consistent with the certainty of physical laws and the symbolic power of machines. Although many alternative philosophies were available (Aristotelian, Stoic, gnostic, Hermetic, magic, naturalist, and animist), the dominant European ideology came to be governed by the characteristics and experiential power of the machine. Social values and realities subtly guided the choices and paths to truth and certainty taken by European philosophers. Clocks and other early modern machines in the seventeenth century became underlying models for western philosophy and science.

While civilizations based upon exploitation and expansion predate the thinking of Bacon, Decartes, and their contemporaries, these “enlightenment” thinkers founded a nihilism which became the cultural basis for an exponential increase in the rapacious destruction of the living Earth as well as the destruction of people’s and cultures which refused to adopt such methods of thinking and behaving.

This mechanistic view, this selective lensing of poverty, addiction, disease, and psychosis has the elites of money and privilege singing the praises of the dominant culture and maneuvering the levers of power for ever more of the behaviors and policies that are bringing about these maladies while never solving them.  Viewed as merely cogs in a grand social machine, individuals suffering poverty and addiction are told to shape up or be removed into a cage where defective cogs are isolated.

Humans globally now stand on the precipice of catastrophe.  Mechanistic approaches to food production have boosted short term yields at the expense of long term soil health and fertility.  Despite water now tainted with glyphosate and phosphorous and soil stripped of the organic material which provides fertility, scientists are genetically modifying plants and trees to continue raising production yields despite common sense screaming that dominating nature is shortsighted and priming society for an agricultural collapse.  Human attempts to manipulate nature under the mechanistic view that one part can be destroyed without affecting the whole continue to fuel climate change even as storms of record size and ferocity make landfall across the globe and as the jet stream is skewed bringing extremes of cold and hot into regions both south and north of their usual boundaries.

The ability to view the world holistically is not merely the ability of the grand scientist or mathematician who can compile and compute all of the variables in a system and spit out an accurate prognosis of a given issue or problem.  As our ecological and social problems beg for holistic approaches, society instead seeks more and more compartmentalized “experts”  who have spelunked into the deep caverns of their niche specialties.  Hence the economists who don’t understand peak oil, the business people who don’t understand climate change, and the doctors who treat the symptoms, never once seeking the causes of various diseases and conditions.

The holistic ability this era craves is wisdom, itself the product of patient and caring people, listeners and observers who understand where the value of science and logic both begin and end.  Wisdom is rare, it is quiet, it is humble, and thus is almost never even requested let alone respected by the dominant culture.

“Progress” is the grand value of the day.  It is to be unquestioned.  No endangered species or human culture is allowed to stand in the way of progress — not even if that endangered species is the human animal herself.  It was a demented and flat thinking culture that wrote the definition of progress which is now vaunted, and if there is any hope for humanity I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest that this hope at least partially resides in a redefining of “progress.”  New widgets, wealth accumulation, and the bending of nature to the whims of the capitalist should not by default be considered progress.  More often than not these contrivances do not advance the comfort or position of but a minority of the human population, and they do so on the backs of the poor majority.  More often still, such “progress” is so destructive ecologically that were it not for mechanistic reduction hiding the costs from view, one would have to be a dedicated and shareholding huckster to call it “progress” at all.

If the survival of our species and the living web we depend on is a concern at all, we must begin to understand progress as peace, not production.  Progress must mean equality, not subjugation.  Progress must mean sustainable stewardship, not domination and control.  Most of all, we must foster the wisdom that we are all linked with each other and with the living world, and that we cannot manipulate each other or the world for a benefit in one capacity without likely causing a deficiency in another.  We need to praise the slow and thoughtful analysis which attempts to understand all parts of an issue.  Where the living planet is concerned, we must understand that our meddling has consequences that multiply themselves in seen and unseen ways, thus meddling should be kept to a minimum and undertaken with grave attention.

The scale of human industrial activity is so large and it’s rate of process so fast, that such a revolution in consciousness seems unlikely absent some cataclysm which halts the furious pace of capital flow.  To be sure, the cataclysm is waiting in the wings.  Whether or not the challenges it brings are met with true progress of the mind and being is to be seen.

A Digital Whimper

Off the keyboard of td0s

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Published on Pray for Calamity on February 25, 2014

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There is so much noise that it becomes difficult to stay focused. The constancy of information, of news, of propaganda, of gossip. Our minds are drowning in a sea of chatter. We choke on it as it updates every second on a TV screen or an RSS feed. Everywhere you go, people staring at their smart phone, scrolling, scrolling. Next. Next. Next. Ironically, no one doing, no one reacting. No one digesting the information and then using it as a starting point for action. Information reduced to just another product for consumption, it is dumbed down, simplified, stripped of meaning and value and made into to the mental equivalent of a cheese poof. Every human tragedy reduced to a status update. Every reported environmental catastrophe reduced to a one hundred character tweet. Follow the end of the world at hash-tag “digitalwhimper.” Like it. Reblog it. Scroll down.

Afloat in an ocean of noise, we filter, and our filters are born of our biases and our priorities. Terrence McKenna said that culture is our operating system. The dominant culture is a lot of things in its complexity, but I think it is fair to say that one of it’s primary components is that it is anthropocentric. The dominant culture puts humans at the center of existence. Of course, there are layers of nuance involved in which the lifestyles and comforts of some humans are prioritized over the well being of others. To be sure, the dominant culture has a tiered hierarchy of valuation of flesh, with white flesh prioritized over nonwhite. Human flesh, however, always trumps nonhuman, with the anthropocentrism of the dominant culture casting non-human life as non-sentient, non-feeling, non-autonomous. To the dominant culture, there is no web of life, no complex interplay between co-dependent species all with value unto themselves, all existing within their own right to be respected and treated as one living family. As far as the dominant culture is concerned, there is humanity and everything else is either the feedstock of industry, or it is in the way.

We’re trained to filter anything that suggest otherwise.

There is this conception in the US, and likely in other western nations, that commerce, civic life, and “business as usual” have a right to exist unimpeded. Protests and strikes that flare up, no matter how minor, that slow traffic, block public transit, or – gasp! – prevent people from going to work or shopping are lambasted by the worker bee populace. How dare some protester block a bus full of Google or Amazon employees! An orchestra of miniature violins wail like mothers clutching dead babies for the innocent victims of such tepid social disruption. I find myself repulsed at first by the complete and utter lack of anti-authoritarian fervor found in the average worker who is just so eager to be on time to grind away making some other person rich, and second I am reviled by the entitlement of these self proclaimed “productive members of society” who seem to believe with religious intensity that by clocking their eight hours, that they are doing God’s work.

These potentates of the church of capital trot out the same old tired harassments calling on protesters and activists to “get a job,” which is of course, demanding that they stop impeding the big game of capitalist society and instead play along and lend a hand generating higher quarterly returns for some shareholder somewhere. Almost always this “get a job” mantra is absolutely non-sequitir to the demands of activists, but of course, a valid rebuttal would require an examination of the issues at hand, and that would require a moderate amount of effort. Shouting a meaningless slogan feels like arguing, but is much easier and leaves all of ones biases in tact, so it is the tactic of choice for those who want to defend the status quo while leveling an attack on people who ironically will usually have the general public’s best interests at heart.

To be sure, it’s easy to get bogged down in the sludge of insults, ignorance, and outright obfuscation that passes for discourse in this society. Sometimes I catch myself engaged in a pointless conversation over some political viewpoint, and I have to return myself to my primary premises. Years ago I came to accept that without a healthy living ecosystem, nothing else matters. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was in my late twenties when I had finally come to such an obvious conclusion. It should have been self evident, and likely was, until years of noise and propaganda promoting the dominant culture and it’s primary objective of production and growth with humans at the center of existence clouded my thinking. It took many elders wiser than I as well as many writers more clear thinking to assist me in regaining my sanity. A sentence helped it all fall into place:

The needs of the natural world outweigh the needs of the economic system.

This premise from Derrick Jensen’s “Endgame” should have been a no-brainer. Without a foundation on which to survive, why hash out the intricacies of social interaction?

The overwhelming majority of political discourse completely disregards this fundamental truth. In fact, this fundamental truth is treated with outright scorn, and according to the dominant culture, the natural world exists solely for the exploitation of humans. Anyone who gets in the way of this exploitation is impeding the primary directive of the dominant culture to engage in production and growth, and must be removed by any means necessary. For indigenous cultures, this has generally meant genocide. For a white activist blocking a city bus or a bulldozer, it generally means a cascade of effects starting with public ridicule and leading to and through violent arrest and imprisonment while gleeful wage slaves look on. Containment of anti-capitalist energy is completed by the media which reinforces the mindless “critique” of the “get-a-job” crowd by proclaiming from their position of power and privilege the valid method of demanding redress of grievances: Petition leaders and vote. While waving the banner of democracy, the public is consistently corralled into ineffectual and morale sapping activity by the media who are but highly paid P.R. staff of the powerful. As this cycle repeats and the livestock populace becomes more and more complacent in their powerlessness, the object of protest and picket and strike becomes more diluted.

Protest is not about awareness. Protest is not a commercial in flash-mob format. The goal isn’t to advertise to the consumer culture and hope that they are convinced to buy a particular point of view. Protest is about disruption. Protests and pickets and strikes and riots are weapons of the masses. We may not have any sway in boardrooms and government halls, but we can shut down ports and plants and if it comes down to it, we sure as shit can burn their precious banks and factories to the ground. We can pretend it matters to lock ourselves to the White House gate, or we can shred pipelines with angle grinders and blow torches before they are ever in the dirt. Refusing participation in the mechanisms of commerce, and further, preventing others from participating is the only real leverage that any of us have against the weight of the machine of industrial civilization. Make no mistake, productive members of society are the problem. The only reason this thought is remotely uncomfortable is because we know that we are all trapped in the belly of the beast we are trying to slay. We understand that everyone is trapped in a deadly paradigm, and that we must reconcile deconstruction of that which destroys us with survival in the present. But there is no alternative. Inaction is acquiescence to the horrors which totalitarian capitalists will inflict upon us. Business as usual must grind to a halt. So long as the sum total of the machinations of capital and state are violence and repression, we must bind and hinder as many working arms and legs of this machine as we can.

In the deluge of static the meme of human supremacy is constant. The premise that humans are at the center of existence, while not always articulated so plainly, underlies almost all current politics and philosophy. In discussions that range in focus from ecology to economics to technology, the foundational premise is essentially that human beings are masters of their destiny and that what we ultimately choose to create as our collective destiny will necessarily manifest as so. The logic to such thinking is that humans possess the only consciousness and will in our sphere of existence, so any course of action deriving from human will is necessarily just, because the consent of any other consciousness is impossible. This logic also presumes that the planet is a non-sentient mechanism of complex yet conquerable systems. According to the dominant culture, anyone who considers the planet alive is crazy, and to be dismissed. Further, anyone who considers the sentience and inherent value of non-human beings is crazy, and to be dismissed. Further still, anyone who doubts the intellect and ingenuity of technological humans is crazy and to be dismissed.

Even many radicals and activists fall for these premises. Examining the taxonomy of even many anarchist labels, the presumption inherent in their descriptors is that our primary grounding will be in how we interact with each other. Anarcho-syndaclism and anarcho-communism, for example, have within their monikers a genus and a species that proclaim a philosophy of egalitarian human organizing and some form of cooperative work and exchange. Anarcho-transhumanism implies a human centric philosophy focused on the necessity of transcending our biological status. This is the essence of the dominant culture’s drive merely stripped of the baggage of hierarchy. Of course there is reason to contemplate how exactly we should best organize with one and other, and I think anarchism contains within it the most value and potential, but devoid of an analysis of where and upon what foundations we will be doing this organizing, the philosophy becomes moot. Any political philosophy that forgets or intentionally avoids the naked reality that without a healthy ecosystem we die, is useless. Any political philosophy that cannot face the reality that humans need habitat and that humans are increasingly destroying habitat, is just more useless chatter.

Anthropocentrism is a sickness of ego that holds the uninfected hostage to watch while the living world is plundered and killed. Those infected with this malady of ego are held fast and tight within a narrative about who we are and what our collective destiny holds. Daily this narrative is fleshed out by Hollywood as images of constant technological progress are manifested by graphical wizardry, while simultaneously, the rot of civilization grows. The media plays its part, singing the songs of where we are going with new hits about mining asteroids and golden oldies about free energy just around the corner. It matters not that green revolution technologies are rapidly destroying topsoil while every year relying more heavily on stronger poisons. It matters not that billions of humans are sustained by trading dwindling hydrocarbons for food calories. It matters not that overuse of antibiotics has spawned new treatment resistant bacteria at such a rate as to prompt an Assistant Director at the CDC to declare that, “We are at the end of anti-biotics, period.” None of this matters to the devotees of civilization and human greatness because, because, well, look at our slick new smart phones! The ability to download an app which will alert you to how many people in the room are interested in screwing a stranger is supposed to be proof that we can invent our way out of the toxicity that hundreds of years of industry and thousands of years of agriculture have meted upon the planet.

Without a a cataclysmic shift in the industrial-civilization paradigm, we’re going to kill ourselves and a lot of other living beings all because so many people are in love with the story they are being told about themselves. For the few who attempt to bring about such a shift, there is the condemnation of the worker bees whose willful participation in the system is indicted by those who dare give a damn. Even if sent to prison for their actions, radicals have it better than the indigenous and the non-human who are extinguished with varying degrees of complexity. For everyone else, there are the texts, the selfies, the pop-culture news feeds, the addiction to regularly proclaiming your mediocre self to the world via social networking. While the oceans die and the atmosphere gasps, we ride the wave of noise lost in our greatest technological accomplishment; a database of the mundane, a digital mirror into which we can continually stare at ourselves.

The Trouble With Money

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Published on Pray for Calamity on January 24, 2014

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Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner

Rolling Stone recently published a piece titled, “Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For,” which was apparently written by a “veteran” of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Jesse Myerson. The quality of the writing is low, in that the voice of the piece sounds like a character out of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” The author describes everything negative about society using the choice phrase that these things, “Blow.” Of course, Rolling Stone is probably trying to appeal to young people in the hackneyed way that media outlets usually do, assuming that everyone between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five are perpetually stoned and that they have never read a book voluntarily in their lives.

Despite the tone and vernacular of Myerson’s piece, there are concepts within it that are worth discussing. What Myerson does offer are these reforms:

1. Guaranteed Work for Everybody
2. Social Security for All
3. Take Back The Land
4. Make Everything Owned by Everybody
5. A Public Bank in Every State

I’d like to examine the first two of these concepts, but must start by noting that if these reforms are to be taken seriously, then we must start by accepting a handful of premises. The most obvious is that by implementing such notions as policy, we would be maintaining a large megalithic social organism, i.e. the nation state. With this nation state, we would also be preserving a hierarchical structure of rule, and a money economy complete with private property and banking. Deep green anarchists like myself are primarily concerned with industrial civilization’s strangling of the biosphere, so we don’t roll through life assuming that such institutions now and forever will be in place. However most people in our culture assume that institutions and social concepts like money, property, banking, and nation states are more immutable and more important to human life than the world of plants, fungi, insects, and animals despite humans relying upon these neighbors for the basic sustenance of life, but I digress.

Partly due to the horrid nature of Myerson’s writing, and partly due to the seeming influence of communism in his proposals, his editorial is garnering a bit of attention, primarily in conservative outlets that are looking for easy intellectual prey. It’s easy to debunk poorly articulated concepts, and it’s easy to then use this debunking as proof that your own concepts are thus well heeled and reasonable.

The rabbled response to Myerson’s five suggestions has drawn forth much defense of the status quo. Defenders of money economies usually speak of money from one angle, as a reward for work done. Their reasoning goes, that If a person doesn’t have enough money, it is their own fault for not having worked enough or for not having any particularly in-demand skills. Their reasoning also implies the inverse, that people who have plenty of money do so because they have done much work to achieve it, or that they are particularly skilled or ingenious in some capacity which society demands.

When money is viewed through this lens, it is presumed to be innocuous in and of itself. It’s merely a token, a chit for hours or labor put in. This view removes money from the context of the society in which it is used. It is ignoring the context of the social arrangements which make money a survival requirement, and also ignores the power dynamics that are born between individuals within money economies. When viewed with a wider lens which incorporates social context, it cannot be denied that money gives one the power to buy another’s labor. Money gives one the power to buy another’s time, power to buy their bodies, their minds and even, the power to buy their souls. Money is also the power to deprive others of land, of resources, and of autonomy. Point blank, money is power over other human beings.

—-

There is a general attitude that capitalism is democratic, that it’s implementation was agreed upon by all as “for the best,” and even that we are all daily consenting to leave capitalism in place as our economic architecture. When describing the condition of a particular individual or set of individuals as either wealthy or poor, their life choices are often invoked to explain their financial standing. Consistently ignored is the fact that the overarching paradigm of the economy was not selected by the individual. We all don’t elect to “play the game” of capitalism. It’s thrust upon us from birth by those who have already entrenched their wealth and power. The language of capitalism’s defenders also creates a false equivalency between man made conditions and our natural state. To them, failing at capitalism is spoken of as if he who fails is a “loser,” and social Darwinism is invoked giving the impression that the poor, due to their own deficiencies, essentially don’t deserve to survive. The language used by capitalism’s defenders makes their position clear; they do not believe that poverty is a component of a system created and perpetuated by humans with conditions that make “success” extremely difficult for some and a guarantee for others. Capitalism’s defenders speak as if the economic system is as natural as the jet stream or the seasons.

This thinking is of course, ludicrous. It is insane to use the language of natural selection to describe economic failure or success despite the stark contrast between nature and the man made social paradigm in which individuals are forced to acquire money to survive. Such an inference is not only absurd, it’s an intentional obfuscation of what poverty and even wealth, are. If money is power over other human beings, wealth is access and domination while poverty is deprivation and powerlessness.

We cannot examine money, as defenders of the status-quo do, by merely looking at it as a reward for work done. We must also see the social reality by which people must acquire money to survive. Requiring money is not a natural condition. Requiring food or shelter are natural conditions, sure, but requiring the acquisition of a man made currency is a social construct. Money is a middle-man, if you will, between people and their needs. And here the picture starts to emerge; humans are made to need money by other humans in order to attain their needs, and the primary way of attaining money is as a reward for labor. Who benefits from this system? Who is the primary recipient of the labor of the masses? Who seems to be doing very little in the way of labor, yet are having not only their needs met, but surplus wealth with which to consume to excess?

If we are exploring what money is, we must investigate how it is that humans in modern societies require money. There is a quaint and conventional understanding that money is merely a tool that replaced barter, making trade more efficient. It is assumed then, that before money, humans met their needs via trade. This myth was shattered one hundred years ago in the work of Alred Mitchell-Innes which David Graeber invokes in his work, Debt: The First 5000 Years. In his book, Graeber states:

We did not begin with barter, discover money, and then eventually develop credit systems. It happened precisely the other way around. What we now call virtual money came first. Coins came much later, and their use spread only unevenly, never completely replacing credit systems. Barter, in turn, appears to be largely a kind of accidental byproduct of the use of coinage or paper money: historically, it has mainly been what people who are used to cash transactions do when they for one reason or another have no access to currency.

Though money is seen in ancient Sumer as a method of accounting for the rations available in the great temples, it was not used for exchange. Money as coinage is a product of hierarchical social arrangements in which the leaders of a society pay soldiers with to protect their rule and expand their empires. Graeber:

Say a king wishes to support a standing army of 50,000 men. Under ancient or medieval conditions, feeding such a force was an enormous problem… On the other hand, if one simply hands out coins to soldiers and then demands that every family in the kingdom was obliged to pay one of those coins back to you [to pay taxes], one would, in one blow, turn one’s entire national economy into a vast machine for the provisioning of soldiers, since now every family, in order to get their hands on the coins, must find some way to contribute to the general effort to provide soldiers with the things they want.

This is all to say, money wasn’t an invention created to make survival easier for the masses, but to make hierarchical and state structures more secure and immutable.

In this culture, we have no common space where we can live without paying a sum of money. We also must pay for food, which is a situation caused by the fact that land is all privately owned or state held. This paradigm of restrictions, of deprivations by owners of non-owners creates a dependency of non-owners upon owners. I covered this in my essay, Privare. Non-owners cannot grow or wild harvest food, they cannot just build a small shelter to live in. As long as this paradigm is in place, every new human born (to a non-owner) in this culture is necessarily immediately in debt. This condition is not natural or accidental. It was intentionally created by elites via primitive accumulation and enclosure of the commons. In essence, those with power and wealth took control of all lands where free peasants lived, exploited the land for materials for industry, passed laws to prevent survival by gathering from the wild, and created social conditions in which the only manner in which it was legal for one to gain sustenance was by first working for wages which could then be used to buy food and other goods.

Those who refused were often cast as criminal beggars by legal edicts. Howard Zinn writes of this in his seminal work, “A People’s History of the United States.” Zinn writes:

In England, the development of commerce and capitalism in the 1500s and 1600s, the enclosing of land for the production of wool, filled the cities with vagrant poor, and from the reign of Elizabeth on, laws were passed to punish them, imprison them in workhouses, or exile them. The Elizabethan definition of “rogues and vagabonds” included:

… All persons calling themselves Schollers going about begging, all Seafaring men pretending losses of their Shippes or goods on the sea going about the Country begging, all idle persons going about in any Country either begging or using any subtile crafte or unlawful Games … comon Players of Interludes and Minstrells wandring abroade … all wandering persons and comon Labourers being persons able in bodye using loytering and refusing to worke for such reasonable wages as is taxed or commonly given….

       Such persons found begging could be stripped to the waist and whipped bloody, could be sent out of the city, sent to workhouses, or transported out of the country.”

This set of conditions allowing for only one legal means of attaining survival is still in place today. The wild has been devastated by ownership and economic “progress”. The closest one can come to “opting out” of participation in the money economy is either to buy enough land on which to attempt self sufficiency, or to live a houseless life dependent upon the excesses and waste of capitalism, e.g. dumspter diving. The former option still requires participation in the money economy in order to acquire the money with which to buy land, and at some level requires continued participation in order to pay property taxes. This option is also primarily individualistic while sustenance living is more practical as a communal activity. It is also unrealistic as an option for the majority of the poor. The second option is only quasi legal, as there still exist laws concerning loitering, vagrancy, trespassing, curfew, etc. By and large, the architecture of society forces participation in the money economy. The controllers of money, the wealthy, those who work in high finance, and politicians know this all too well. They understand there is a subjugation of the poor to the wealthy, and they very much intend to maintain this subjugation because they benefit so greatly from it. By depriving the majority of humans of access to the basic needs of survival, the wealthy “owner” class can make demands of the non-owners and confiscate the surpluses created by their labor.

To be sure, this arrangement was not invented with capitalism, merely refined and perfected. Humans can create a surplus of food using agricultural techniques, and the history of civilization is essentially the history of one set of humans finding ways to manipulate other sets into laboring. This first set can strip the second set of the surpluses they generate, and thus live toil free themselves. This is our society in nutshell, but it is packaged in flowery language, titles, laws, and many other forms of pomp used to legitimize the acquisition of these surpluses by non-laboring owners. Money is just some of this pomp. Money is a magicians trick used to convince the masses that their perpetual labor is owed to the perpetually non-laboring wealthy. With a wave of their wand and some academic babble, exploitation becomes merely, “the economy.”

When understood from this angle, a society based on the deprivation of the masses and inequity of the relations between the owner and the non-owner classes can never be truly equal or free.

Returning to Myerson’s piece, I would like to meditate on his second suggestion, “Social Security for All,” and his mention of a universal basic income for all citizens. This is a concept that has been making its rounds in various online discussions lately. I do think there is a kernel of merit contained within this suggestion. If the hierarchy of wealth begins between the owners of land (as well as the means of production) then some sort of distribution of sustenance income could begin to even the playing field. Land being the source of both home and food, and most people being deprived of free access to land, a basic income with which to afford a reasonable home and diet removes the immediate debt non-owners are born holding to owners. This is to say, that if a person is not even given the opportunity to build a home or raise their own food as any human would be devoid of the current set of social arrangements, then at least giving them the money to acquire these things could be said to mitigate this deprivation.

Defenders of the status-quo will of course, find this idea foolish because they see money only as a reward for work done. Their reasoning will be that people who have done no work should receive no reward. These defenders are failing to acknowledge the totality of what money represents, as well as where both money and wealth originate.

I wouldn’t say this basic income idea is one that I necessarily support, because I do not support the overall set of social arrangements which the basic income concept seeks to make more equitable. However I do think it’s an idea worth exploring conceptually as it reinforces the folly of money economies. If everyone is given a sum of money with which they can afford modest housing and a healthy diet, one of the first consequences of such a distribution would be for a large portion of people to quit their jobs. As it stands now, people must go to a person with capital and fall into their employment in order to attain money. This means that at some level, those with the most capital control the majority of society and what it produces and in which sectors the most work is done. Capitalist “investors” disproportionately control the momentum and direction of society. For instance, if an investor owns shares in petroleum extraction companies, they have little incentive to invest in any competing energy source until they have maximized profits from their petroleum investment. They will also dedicate a mathematically reasonable amount of money into preventing others from destroying the value of their in-the-ground petroleum assets, be this through political manipulation, corporate buy outs, etc. By holding the majority of the available money, the wealthy have the ability to steer both industry and the government. The sheer weight of their wealth outflanks even the combined wealth of so many poor, that even a union of the poor is unlikely to be able to shift society in a direction which benefits them.

It is kind of difficult to examine money without investigating where money comes from in the modern sense. Money in modern economies is loaned into existence, either by the central bank or smaller banks. The numbers in accounts, whether digital or annotated in paper ledgers, spring forth in the form of loans. That’s it. Reserve requirements exist to limit the amount of loans lower banks can make, but even these rules are easily circumnavigated. Central banks are limited in money creation by policy only, which boils down to their own fears of ruining the good thing they have going by opening the spigot too much or too little. The flip side of this is that loans need to be paid back with money acquired through labor. This is truly a con game, in that those closest to the control mechanism of money creation are in a position where for themselves, the social requirement to buy one’s life through money acquisition is essentially negated. A quote from Mayer Amschel Bauer Rothschild comes to mind.

Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes it’s laws.

Many of the wealthy have learned how to game the capitalist system through participation in the machinations of finance. By manipulating numbers and laws, they have generated for themselves in some cases more money than can be spent. Combined with the corruption of usury (interest) the wealthy literally get paid just for having money, whereas the poor are told they owe the rich for not having enough. For the wealthy, this is essentially ultimate power. They can buy the time, labor, influence, and lives of virtually anyone. They can buy absurd land holdings so large they could not conceivably walk them. Despite the obvious system rigging evident in how the wealthy become and stay rich, defenders of money systems still convince themselves that the wealthy have earned their money through reward for work done.

The last conflict presented by money that I would like to address is that money as it currently functions, can be used as universal value conversion unit. Combine this fact with the fact that modern people must acquire money in order to exist, and the result is that they will destroy anything of perceived value in order to stay alive. Examples are tragically bountiful. In West Virginia, mountains are strip mined layer by layer for the coal they contain. The land base is irrevocably altered and the human communities surrounding this ecocide suffer many maladies including high incidence of brain cancer. It would seem strange to us then, that so many residents of these mining regions in West Virginia defend the mining industry and the corporations that are destroying the region, killing the wildlife, and immiserating the people. The defense always boils down to a word; Jobs. We hear it again and again in any environmental struggle. Jobs are prioritized over everyone and everything. This is of course because of the money requirement placed on non-owners by the owner class. Without money, these people will be thrown out of their homes and starved. They must work for money and the only option given to them is to destroy their landbase and their bodies mining coal. The more they mine for coal, the more the health of their ecosystem is diminished, making it more and more impossible to survive off of the land instead of the economy.

It is this cycle which has placed a price tag around the neck of every living being on Earth. People need forests, but people think they need money more, so out with the chainsaws and feller-bunchers. People need oceans, but they think they need money more, so out with the fishing trawlers which drag nets so large a 747 could fly into one. People need bees and other pollinators, but they think they need money more, so out with the neonicotinoid insecticides. It could be a rhino’s horn or a child sex slave, everything is convertible into money, and thus we are all at risk of being thrown into the hopper so someone else can squeeze out the dime they have been made to need by a completely imaginary set of social conditions.

As long as we exist within the confines of the capitalist paradigm, we will owe our lives to the controllers of capital. We will buy our survival day by day via the bending of our backs. Capital will accumulate, poverty will grow, and the natural world will be converted into an arid waste dump as we watch powerless to help. Mike Ruppert has presciently said, “We will change nothing until we change how money works.” When we understand that money came into being as a direct accounting of social debts community members had to one and other and to the whole, and has now morphed into the relation itself between people, it becomes clear that money is power over others, and that the accumulation of money establishes non-negotiable power dynamics in which those with large sums of wealth can subjugate those without. If we seek to interact with one and other horizontally and to destabilize the current pyramid of power, we must take the power out of money. There are likely several theories on how this can be done, and reforms such as those presented by Myerson are too little too late. We need to abolish money altogether, and we need to abolish monoculture and industrialism along with it.

The question is can we achieve this actively, or must cataclysm do the heavy lifting for us?

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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