Civilization

Navigating 21st Century Hopelessness

youtube-Logo-4gc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Lucid Dreams

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Published on The Doomstead Diner July 16, 2017

Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner

 

Is our techno-industrial way of life fundamentally benevolent?  Is it advisable to continue perpetuating a civilization that is predicated by non-renewable fossil energy sources as well as unsustainable rates of renewable resource extraction?  Our civilization requires an ever growing GDP to be considered healthy.  This is a measure of production in terms of consumption.  Our literal benchmark for the health of our society is based on how much we can consume in a year as a nation.  The reason for this is to create monetary profit for the individuals of this society whom have shares in the corporations controlling this production.  The actual physical wealth of the world is subjugated to the tune of dollars and cents.  To make this pathway possible it requires a proletariat class willing to sell their lives for an hourly rate.  This hourly rate is the lowest possible rate so as to not reduce the profit that’s stolen from the resources of the Earth and the energies of its peoples.  This hourly rate is about making money and not about stewardship of any kind.  It does not have to be like this, but that is a delusory sentiment based on idealism. 

The road to ruin for our species began with agriculture.  Before agriculture emerged there was no need for money, and so it did not exist.  Agriculture allows for civilization which requires money to function.  With the creation of money we stratify into economic classes of people.  Once money is created life becomes about servicing this need for monetary acquisition.  Before money life is about engaging with nature to acquire food, fuel, fiber, medicine and shelter.  In aggregate these actions create a healthy human culture.  Agriculture allows for money and removes the limiting factors for our numbers.  Before agriculture the limiting factor is the amount of food that can be sustainably hunted and gathered.  The hunter/gatherer life is mostly nomadic as we follow the animals and plants through the seasons which define their lifecycles.  Our lives are imbued with rich somatic meaning as we engage with the body of nature.  We are from this Earth, and we inhabit it as a corporeal being made of the elements.  We evolved both physically and spiritually within the framework of our physical Earth.  Our health depends on engaging with nature to create life and its meaning.  The fall from paradise began with domestication which is nothing less than the taming of wild nature.  Domestication is tandem to agriculture and literally creates civilization.  What is being civilized if not the opposite of wild?  The two are anathema to one another. 

Agriculture means that we stop moving around.  It means that we domesticate ourselves as well as the wild beasts of nature.  It sets up the conditions that allows for a great competition between us and nature.  All of a sudden our culture becomes one of domination and control rather than harmony.  Being rooted in one place we begin building monuments to hubris.  We get bored and invent competition.  We stockpile food and create war and plague.  We set up the conditions for disease and famine and warfare (although nomadic people still do occasionally fight with opposing tribes).  We argue and debate and create inequality amongst our people.  Life becomes a struggle to create meaning and avoid boredom.  Eventually, as we move further and further from our natural origin, habitat, and culture the enchantment of being evaporates. We are left with a driving urge to consume to fill this void of meaning that emerges due to our domestication.  Time continues forward and our habits create technologies to service convenience.  We become lazy and our bodies grow fat with our sedentary nature which arises from our domesticated captivity.  No longer do we need our bodies for anything more than acquiring money.  We then want pleasure to fend off boredom and meaninglessness.  Life is no longer about dancing in the wild where we are from and where we return to.  Civilization is nothing more than something to do in the great illusion that we create for ourselves.  This is the way that it is.  The Matrix was born with the first surplus of cereal grain. 

Is there anything that can be done about this?  It seems to me that we are at the end of this failed experiment in hubris.  There is no harmony in domination and control and consumption.  There is only waste, disease, and poison by way of ecocide and genocide.  Our quest for the production of unlimited energy against the gradient of entropy has created cancer.    In the end we cannot dominate nature.  Aside from money the quest for domination  is the great fallacy of civilization.  We cannot think our way out of the limiting factors of ecology.  Our modern techno-industrial civilization will run out of the fossil blood that sustains it.  We will lose the capacity to safely maintain the nuclear power plants that liter the surface of the Earth.  They will spew out DNA damaging clouds of radioactivity as they have already begun doing.  The rain will become poisonous to life.  As we fight to continue this failing technotriumphalism we will continue increasing the CO2 in the atmosphere which will continue heating the human supporting biosphere.  Natural disasters will continue increasing in number and severity.  Our hubris has metastasized into a cancer that will shrink our settlements as the habitable regions atrophy.  Nothing is going to stop this process now.  All that remains is answering the question of what to do about this inevitability.  We have entered into the age of doom. 

There is no escaping this destiny that we have perpetuated.  The most unfortunate aspect about this hopelessness is that man cannot live without hope.  Hope makes life worth living.  Is hope itself a delusion?  What are we to hope for?  The nature of existence is a destiny with death.   The time we have between birth and death needs to be animated by meaning.  Meaning is derived from a harmony with all life.  Our civilization is marked by domination and control.  There is no harmony in control.  The great struggle is finally about the nature of life because life wants to live.  We must maintain ourselves within the boundary of our skin while we are here walking the Earth.  The overwhelming desire is to do this devoid of pain and misery.  The tragedy of man is to think that he can avoid his own nature by the creation of a technological utopia.  Life cannot be about domination and control, but that is what man forces it to be.  We are teetering in a suspended animation just before the moment of expiration.  We are flailing about in denial of this process of resolution.  Maturation as a species must culminate in an acceptance of suffering and death.  We must accept our temporary nature, stop struggling, and lie down in the great current of life.  We swim against this entropic process everyday as we participate in this civilization.  We collectively attempt to keep the center from flying apart under the pressures of our own technologically created centrifuge.  We struggle in vain against the pressures of physical dissolution.  We create illusions to fight against the natural process of becoming to fall apart. 

The first act was rife with physical struggle within the framework of existing in harmony with nature.  Hubris arose and we thought we could become gods using the power of physical manipulation.  We thought we could master the universe with our cleverness.  We are collectively a breaking wave, and nothing will stop the pull of gravity as we are recycled back into the void which we originally manifested from.    Idealism is nothing more than the ravings of a mental lunatic.  Idealism is a delusion that is born from the struggle to acquire more than we need.  Fighting against entropy is finally not worth it.  Yet this fight is what it means to inhabit a physical body. 

In the final analysis life must be about observing beauty.  Without beauty it is not worth living.  We have made a mess of this beautiful blue/green orb that’s floating about the universe.  We have partied our way to desolation.  Yet the Earth keeps spinning around in outer space in its dance with the sun that sustains us.  Every morning the sun reemerges to give us another day of life.  Our great challenge is to honor this life by creating beauty and not it’s opposite.  We have created a lot of ugliness.  Maybe the secret to this 21st century hopelessness is to learn how to make beauty out of malevolence.  Or maybe we should just stop struggling and accept the final act of misery which we have written for ourselves?  Or maybe we can simply embrace our collective ugliness with grace?  Without love and beauty this great struggle that is life is not worth it.  The greatest challenge that we face is learning to love and observe beauty even as love and beauty vanish under the oppression of our own collective delusions. 

The nature of a body is to act.  How are we to act?  We should act to minimize suffering for all sentient beings while honoring our bodily nature.  Every day is a new day to make the right decisions.   Yet every day requires a certain amount of money.  This is why my conclusion is that a lifestyle that requires no money is the only truly benevolent lifestyle.  That lifestyle is a fiction in this world we have created.  This world is quite literally hell on Earth.  Therefore we must learn to love and find whatever beauty we can while in hell.  We must not resist as we realize our ultimate destiny of assimilation with the machine we have created.  I’ve tried finding work arounds to the truth that life is suffering, but the only way to win is to let go, stop resisting, and accept the nature of this great delusion.  Manifestation is transience in action, and our resistance arises within that transience only to dissolve back into the void that is death.  All that is created within that resistance is more suffering.  Yet still we must act in the world, and how should we act when our actions only serve to create more suffering?  The heart of our civilization is the creation of suffering, and to participate only adds to this toll.  Not participating in this civilization can be our only spiritual redemption.  For the life of me, and my children, I cannot figure out how to not participate. 

Collapsing Civilization and its Blogging Discontents

youtube-Logo-4gc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of RE

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Published on The Doomstead Diner on August 14, 2016

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-rWEE9cGuth0/UTUzgmBCBJI/AAAAAAAAAek/cDDwxCFlYYI/s1600/LS801_Freud_Civilization+and+Its+Discontents_14.jpg

Discuss this article at the Psychology Table inside th Diner

For those of you with some passing knowledge of "Great Works" of literature, non-fiction and history, you will no doubt recognize that the title of this blog is a play on the title of a book published in 1929 by Sigmund Freud (yes, that Freud), Civilization and its Discontents.  It's one of those "must read" books they pitch out at you in college courses that track the history and development of Western Civilization.  There are many others in this list of "must reads", The Prince by Nicoli Machiavelli, City of God by St. Augustine and Adam Smith's On the Wealth of Nations to name a few.  You can get all these books in nicely bound leather volumes now published by Harvard Classics for the low, low price every day on Ebay of anywhere from around $50 for a full 23 Volume set ($2.50 a book including shipping!) on up into the hundreds, depending how good an Online Shopper you are.  If you are really clever you can get all of those and thousands more as e-books for even less money or even for free.  I love freebies on the net! 🙂

http://goodereader.s3.amazonaws.com/blog/uploads/images/harvard.jpg

Many if not most of these books were written in the 16th-19th Century, although the examples I gave like Freud's tome came in the early 1900s and Augustine's take on civilization came in the 5th century, around the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire.  All taken together though, they pretty much represent the way Western thought evolved after the Romans lost their hold on the world and as a new civilization in the west rose to replace it over the course of a full millenia of time.

In Freud's book, he postulates that general "unhappiness" that many people immersed in a "civilized" society comes from conflicts between the needs & desires of the individual, which get restricted and legislated by the competing needs and organization of the society as a whole.  Being more or less obsessed with sexual issues, Freud focuses down on the insatiable desire for sexual gratification Homo Saps appears to have, versus all the laws, taboos and restrictions societies generate to keep this bizness under control.  Since Freud himself was immersed in the western culture of the time, his viewpoint is obviously skewed by this, but there is still a lot of validity to the observations anyhow.  They also do generalize to other areas BESIDES sex, like money, wealth, fame etc, but since Freud was so sexually obsessed himself, it permeates his writing and you just can't get away from it.  Once you get past his sexual obsessions though, Freud has a lot of interesting observations on society, civilization and the individual.  Carl Jung had similar sexual obsession issues, but Carl was a bit more cagey about it than Siggy was in his writings. lol. This seems to be a ubiquitous problem amongst people who gravitate toward Psycholgy as a profession.  I don't think I ever talked with any psychologist who was not absolutely consumed with sex as a motivator.

OK, so that gives us a little history and background to get started with this discussion, which is focused on a more narrow slice of the civilzation pie through history, specifically what is going on RIGHT NOW in the world at large and then also in our own little slice of a slice of history, the collapse blogosphere.  By no means of course am I Sigmund Freud, and by no means do I expect this blog to make it onto the Harvard Classics reading list, but on the upside here it is all available for FREE on the internet! So, since nobody except me has to pay for this, let me get rolling here!

On the gross scale of society in general, discontent is manifest all over the place these days.  Terrorists are obviously not very content people and neither are crazed Psychos and Lone Shooters hitting various Malls, Bars, Restaurants and College Campuses either.  There simply is NO WAY blowing away dozens or hundreds of innocent people demonstrates much contentment, if anyone can make a case for that one I am all ears.  The Black Underclass is none too content these days in the FSoA, despite the fact they mostly are still getting fed on the SNAP Card program issued by JP Morgan Chase. See Ferguson, see Baltimore, see BLM for a snaphot of the discontent in this group.   The Muslim underclass in Europe is none too happy either, nor are the longer term paleface residents of this neighborhood getting inundated each day with still more "rapefugees".  Muslim women in France are discontented because "Burqinis" have been outlawed on the beaches of Cannes.

Burqini                      vs                            Bikini

http://i.briefreport.co.uk/upload/news/large/16/13/Ad_201671569_e1459589338805.jpg   http://orig04.deviantart.net/690f/f/2013/171/a/5/annali2583_by_wildplaces-d69tw0a.jpg

You may indicate your preference on Female Beachwear in the comments

Our POTUS Candidates here in the FSoA don't seem too content with ANYTHING, even though they have absolutely ZERO in the way of reasonable ideas that could do a damn thing to assuage this discontent.  Julian Assange obviously is not very content trapped inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for the last 4 years, although granted this is likely a much better prison to be caged in than GITMO.  About the only people I can think of who might be somewhat content these days are folks like Lloyd Blankfein, doing God's Work as he runs Goldman Sachs or Elon Musk as he borrows endless amounts of funny money on the taxpayer dime to build space rocket toys and gigafactories in the middle of the Nevada desert.

Discontent is also on display every day in the collapse blogosphere as factions fight it out, Extinction vs Renewables, Economic vs Climate Collapse, Hyperinflation vs Deflation, Nuke Pro vs Con, Rich vs Poor…there's no shortage of disagreements.  There is however a serious shortage of workable solutions to all these problems, thus the discontent.

On top of this problem is that by now everyone who writes on these topics has carved out his or her own space and acquired his or her ow commentariat, which tends to be a reflection of whatever the spin of the main blogger is for the site.  Fed up with contrarians and trolls taking opposing viewpoints on their websites, these viewpoints are simply disappeared by the site owner, and eventually all opposing viewpoints are squashed out as these folks quit in frustration or just get outright banned.

By no means is the Diner immune to the problem here either.  I've had at least a half dozen Diners quit over the years because they were discontent that their spin was not well received, and about 4 I have had to silence because of the constant stream of insults and ad hom argument coming off their keyboards.  At a certain point "Free Speech" gets squashed simply because people can't be polite to each other when they are so discontented.  They don't feel other people are paying enough attention to their spin on the "truth", and so they begin to lash out and good clean debate gets flushed down the toilet.

If it weren't for the fact I run the Doomstead Diner, I would be effectively cut off from just about every major blog commentariat concerned with issues of collapse.  Dmitry Orlov, Guy McPherson, Gail Tverberg, John Michael Greer & Jim Kunstler all eliminate my posting nowadays.  Ugo Bardi still approves my posts, but it's not a very active commentariat over there on Cassandra's Legacy.  I can still post on r/collapse, but that is more of a news ticker than a blog.

My discontent with this situation is that the whole collapse blogosphere has become extremely polarized.  When I originally began the Diner my hope was to unify all the people writing about collapse, so that together we might have a stronger voice and get more attention than by each of us playing in our own little sandboxes.  The eact opposite has occured, and now each little sandbox has its own insular Group Think and the divisions between them greater than ever. I doubt you could bring Dmitry Orlov and Guy McPherson to the same conference and not have a fistfight break out. lol.

http://www.azquotes.com/picture-quotes/quote-polarization-affects-families-and-groups-of-friends-its-a-paralyzing-situation-a-civil-mick-jagger-69-76-13.jpg

The biggest problem is with the blogs pitching the spin that the situation is Hopeless, both the ecosphere and the Human Race are irrevocably Doomed.  First off, this provides a fabulous excuse for inaction which then turns the idea into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The second major problem is the commentariat of these blogs provides a home for fanatics who reinforce each other, while at the same time flaming anyone who does not toe the party line.  You see this most clearly on Nature Bats Last and Our Finite World.  Forget about participating in those commentariats, I don't even bother reading them anymore because you know precisely what everyone is going to say in every thread.

So, in ths Sea of Discontent what is the future?  It looks like a One-to-the-Many break up, much like we see Europe breaking up these days on the geopolitical level.  The heyday of what cooperation there was between the collapse bloggers probably came somewhere between 2006 and 2014 or so, and we have now passed Peak Cooperation and are moving toward Peak Isolation.  Everyone has their own part of the Collapse Elephant they are examining and coming up with different descriptions of what the Elephant actually looks like.  About the best the reader can do is surf between the sites and try to put together his or her own composite picture of the Elephant.  If you are the chatty type, pick your favorite site with the spin most closely matching your own, believe whatever it is that makes you happy, and chat with other True Believers rather than be discontented all the time.

https://qph.ec.quoracdn.net/main-qimg-4161e9231033aa335aca697a3ef0c4e2?convert_to_webp=true

A Demon Haunted World

rage_against_the_machine_1280x960gc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of tdOs

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Published on Pray for Calamity on March 31, 2016

Gaia_Mother_Earth

Discuss this article at the Psychology Table inside the Diner

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.

In Centuries and Seconds

rage_against_the_machine_1280x960gc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of td0s

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Published on the Doomstead Diner on December 4, 2015

http://img.thesun.co.uk/aidemitlum/archive/00075/ed_imgSNF2405MRK_75630a.jpg

Discuss this article at the Kichen Sink inside the Diner

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.

Drive to Death

Off the keyboard of td0s

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Published on Pray for Calamity on March 23, 2014

Visit the COLLAPSE.GLOBAL Portal for Links & Daily Updates from around the Collapse Blogosphere

Death-on-the-Ridge-Road

Discuss this article at the Overshoot Table inside the Diner

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.”

The Validity of Rage

Off the keyboard of td0s

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Published on Pray for Calamity on November 14, 2013

rage_against_the_machine_1280x960

Discuss this article at the Doom Psychology Table inside the Diner


There are a lot of blogs out there that focus on “collapse,” and many of them will from time to time post statistics about increased crime rates in order to demonstrate the slow deterioration of society, occasionally showing videos of flash mobs such as this one below.

Video Removed by You Tube

There was a time when I would have seen something like this and thought, “Whoa, things are getting bad.”  My evolution has been long, and now I find myself seeing something like this and thinking, “Good for them!”  Previously, I was subject to knee jerk reactions which were preprogrammed responses that were silently imprinted in me by our culture.  Now that I have slowly stripped away layer after layer of cultural programming and dogmatic response, I can examine any given scenario based on it’s specific criteria, and come to an analysis that I find satisfying.  I’m open to critique of my analysis, as challenging my biases and interpretations hones my senses and my ability to comprehend my surroundings.

I think it is fair to suggest that most people residing in our culture see such a thing happen, and as a matter of reflex, condemn it.  This condemnation comes from an inner policing that was built partly from Judeo-Christian values as well as capitalist social indoctrination.  I would even argue that Judeo-Christian values as they currently stand are informed by mercantilist necessity.  Summarizing briefly my interpretation of the knee jerk condemnation of such acts as the one in the above video, I would say most people feel like Society (capital “S”) is a good thing, and that people who would mob into a retail store and in a flash, steal as much as they could get their hands on, are going to negatively impact Society.

This is where my personal bias comes into play.  I do not believe Society to be a good thing.  My view is that megalithic Society — these nations of millions of people — are unnatural constructs ultimately glued together through violence, whether implicit or explicit.  Humans, I do not believe to be social creatures, as much as they are tribal creatures.  This is to say, I believe when not arranged into massive groups by other humans wielding power (via violence, whether armies, police, law, etc.) people will self organize into smaller groups, communities, clans, or tribes.  The main difference being the over all size of the social organism created by such organization, and where the individual falls within this organism.

In a small tribe or clan, the individual is an integral component and is valued.  However, the unit as a whole can maximize the benefits of group togetherness and group work without losing prowess due to curves of diminishing returns.  Why is this?  For one, the human animal and our psychological and emotional responses have evolved to exist within smaller communities.  Emotions like empathy are a boon to tribes and clans, as individuals are all known to each other, are interrelated with one another, care for one another, and thus gift and sharing come naturally.  Not only are members of small tribes capable of caring for those who are less skilled, sick, elderly, etc. but they almost always insist upon doing so.  The empathy of the individual becomes collective and thus becomes a cultural norm: When you are successful in the hunt, you share the meat, and no one goes hungry.  When you are not successful in the hunt, but another clan member is, you eat because they share.

These sorts of relations which are natural to humans, which have allowed humans to survive through massive environmental shifts and calamities of the past, are not only absent from mega-social structures, but under capitalism, they are considered foolish.  Does anyone really believe that the people who wield power within this Society are actually empathetic to the masses at large?  This is a crucial failure of democracy.  Unless decisions makers and policy setters actually know — and I mean in person — all of the people they claim to represent, how could they possibly be expected to be truly empathetic towards them and their particular circumstances?  Democracy and the governmental architectures of megalithic social organisms suffer a myriad of contradictions and failures to be sure, but I would just like to highlight for this argument that small clans of people can function in a fashion that is far more agreeable to the individuals involved, thereby giving these individuals a reason to care about the well being of the greater social system.  Large scale Society cannot do this.

Even when humans are corralled into massive social constructs like those of today, tribal behavior is still implicit in many of our daily activities.  This behavior, depending on who is engaging in it and what the ultimate outcome, will be dubbed “gang activity,” “nepotism,” “cult,” “clique,” or even “patriotism,” “networking,” etc.  Tribal behavior that is seen to have a net benefit to the social organism — and primarily to those who sit atop the social hierarchy, will be granted a positive connotation.  Tribal behavior that is engaged in by those low on the social hierarchy that is gauged as only having a benefit to that tribe at the expense of the social organism or its narrative is given negative association and is often the target of state repression.

When a group of teenagers mobs into a corporate retail location and in a flash, steals a large amount of wares, this is immediately cast as “bad for Society.”  As noted above, I personally believe Society to be a bad thing.   Massive social organisms such as the Society in which we live require massive prison complexes, squadrons of well armed police, and a penal system so obtuse and selectively applied as to make Franz Kafka blush.  Above all, we have to recognize that the Society in which we live, and the greater industrial civilization of which it is a part, are both decimating the biosphere of the planet.  Polluted, overfished, rapidly acidifying oceans; mountaintop removal coal mining, hydraulic fracturing, deep water drilling, and tar sands strip mining; top soil loss, rivers and waterways tainted with agricultural run off, deforestation, over grazing, desertification; massive die off currently underway of trees, amphibians, mammals, and so on; must I even argue that the way humans are organizing and sustaining themselves (with the exception of the world’s remaining indigenous tribes who are also fighting off an ongoing genocide) is killing the planet?

When a true and honest calculus of the costs is visible, it is clear that modern human paradigms must be shattered immediately if there is to be any hope for the future of life on Earth.  This is if it is not already long too late.

Balancing this knowledge in one hand, and then watching as a bunch of modern teens, whose minds have no doubt been warped and bent by a lifetime of consumerist propaganda, plunder a store of some clothing no doubt made in a third world sweatshop, I am supposed to weep for the retailer?  It would require a chasm of cognitive disconnect to see an injustice.

In discussing this, people have been quick to point out to me that these young people are likely not aware of the larger social and environmental context in which their action took place, and that in all likelihood these teenagers just wanted to steal because they wanted stuff they couldn’t afford, and maybe the adrenaline rush generated by breaking the social convention was an alleviation from boredom.  Most people assume these youth aren’t knowingly taking direct action against an unethical capitalist system, and thus the robbery is just another example of disrespectful teenagers acting out.

I think this is an extremely unfair assessment.

I’ll start with a thesis statement: I believe rage is valid.  This culture demotes emotion to be subordinate to thought.  The predominantly white male “educated” upper class has for centuries defined what reason, logic, and rationality are.  Not surprisingly, logic and reason have always substantiated the Social order, and hence the system can constantly reify itself while those who benefit from it the most can claim that it is all high minded and rational.

Members of the lower social classes are abused by the Social organism.  They are subject to the highest levels of toxic pollution that accompanies industrial activity, they are far more policed and prosecuted by the penal system, and in general are confined into a go-no-where economic merry-go-round that keeps survival necessities always just barely within reach so they will tolerate egregious treatment by employers; low wages, poor conditions, etc.  When people from these classes finally act out in society, whether via a peaceful demonstration or a full blown riot, their demands and their actions are almost universally decried as irrational, unreasonable, and anti-social.  Their actions and movements are condemned all the more thoroughly if their demands or motivations are not articulated in a language acceptable to the mostly white middle and upper class.

The absurdity in this rejection is that articulation follows feeling, not the other way around.  The feeling of “getting the shaft” or “being shit on” is actually far more relevant than any individual’s ability to explain the particulars of their condition in academic verbiage.  The feelings are the truth of lived experience, the explanation is merely a communication of these feelings.

Right and wrong, our internal distinction between the two, and our sense of justice are natural to us.  Empathy is a survival instinct, as I noted above, as it promotes the welfare of the tribal unit which is ultimately beneficial for the individual participant.  Society has co-opted this sense and attempted to blur the line of what is moral or ethical to include the social machine not as a construct, but as another member of the whole.  In this sense, the judicial system uses language which claims criminals have wronged society and that in doing so they owe a debt to society, as if society is itself an individual who could be wronged or paid restitution.  This methodology of thought is then further blurred when it is also applied to businesses and enterprises as if these entities are persons.  This is why shoplifting from Wal-Mart is condemned by those who think in binaries, where stealing is always wrong regardless of what or from whom something is taken.  Wal-Mart in this example, is given the status of an individual to be empathized with, instead of allowing a detailed analysis of just what exactly a Wal-Mart unit is, where from and by what means they acquired their inventory, and what the true costs of Wal-Mart’s existence are relative to the environment and humanity.

This is how those in power manipulate people into expressing outrage and dismay when they witness an incident of flash mob shoplifting.  They have confused people into equating the retailer with an individual, whose shoes the witness then mentally dons, and thusly they ask, “If these kids so brazenly rob a retail outlet, what is to prevent them from doing the same to me or my home?”  And the illusion is complete, with the average proletariat seeing the retailer as a poor victim, setting the stage for themselves and their loved ones to be next.  This leads to fear and demands that the perpetrators are dealt with swiftly, which leaves the social narrative and the hierarchy of power in tact.

If my bias against Society and the greater industrial civilization is well founded, if we can accept for a moment that continuing along with business as usual will allow the continuing onslaught against life which is driving at least one hundred species per day into extinction and will certainly lead to the extinction of human beings as well, then the only moral response is to shift one’s biases to agree with mine: to see the massive social organism as a parasite which needs to be expunged.

Let me be crystal clear; I am not suggesting that humans are parasitic, but that the current experiment of civilization, is.  Human beings are just another mammal, who have in the past, and who do in last remaining pockets now, live in balance with nature.  Mine isn’t misanthropy, but an anti-civilization (or anti-civ) understanding, which is biocentric, meaning that I believe all life has value despite whether or not it plays a role in human economy.

If the current paradigms of human organization, thought, and behavior — our Societies — need to be completely undone, then why are we at all concerned with whether or not particular retail outlets profit off of the merchandise in their stores?  Should this not be among the least of our concerns?  Should we not see a breakdown in the domination of commerce as positive?

On this point, people have suggested to me in many manner of ways, that it is not the retail outlet for whom they are concerned, but for the individuals involved, as well as any future victims they may have should they make a habit of breaking social conditions.  This suggestion contains a handful of premises.  First, concern for the perpetrators.  I too share a concern that these young people might end up in the hands of the prison industrial complex, to be sure.  Concern for their general state of being, for their character, is less of a factor for me, because all people in this Society have the content of their character on the line every day.  Frankly, the store employees who rush after thieves worry me more than the thieves themselves, because in these individuals I see subjugated minds chained and shackled by the hollow promises of a market system that demands loyalty to wage payers, as if we should all be oh-so-grateful to have employment under which to waste away the years of our lives.  For those concerned about the character and potential “slippery slope” of looser and looser ethics on the part of the teenage flash-mobbers, there is still an underlying assumption that this act is one that is of low moral fiber — a premise not demonstrated — and an assumption that this act won’t lead in the other direction, to a greater and greater questioning of the status quo, of why some people have a lot when the rest have very little, of how global neo-liberalism actually functions, etc.

The second major premise is that this is in fact, a “slippery slope,” a “gateway drug” to breaking more and more laws and/or social conventions.  While this could be one possibility, it is not necessarily the case.  Some slopes are not slippery at all, and some acts are not gateways.  In fact, in committing such actions and challenging the social conventions impressed upon one since youth, it is quite reasonable to assume that these young people have had internal or external dialogues about their actions, and whether and how they are justified.  In any case, to assume that it is necessarily so that these teenagers will engage in more brazen acts, possibly including violence, is unfounded.  Someone who smokes marijuana doesn’t necessarily move on to crack cocaine.  Someone who runs a red light doesn’t necessarily move on to tax evasion.

Law is interesting in that some of Society’s prohibited behaviors are those that run counter to our natural state of being, such as murder and rape.  These are acts that to a mentally and spiritually stable human, are repugnant.  Our natural empathy for one another and our evolution as a tribal cooperator already has cast murder and rape as abhorrent in our minds.  Crimes that are bureaucratic, or prohibited actions which are prohibited to preserve an economic order — such as theft, writing bad checks, counter-fitting, what have you — do not require necessarily that the perpetrator have been mentally or spiritually broken.  These are crimes committed because Society itself creates an enormous amount of economic pressure and lays is on every individual, requiring everyone to take on wage labor in order to survive. This unnatural order creates scenarios in which certain pockets of Society have very few options to legally attain a dignified survival.  Or again, some people sense the greater injustice of “getting screwed” by an imaginary construct over which they have no say in their participation.  So while committing a murder or rape usually requires first that the perpetrator be mentally or spiritually broken down, this is not the case for those who commit “crimes” against the economic order.  This is all to say, engaging in actions of the latter type, does not place one on a “slippery slope” to commit actions of the former type.

Systems of power do not create available methods for the ruled to dismantle the power structure.  Power accumulates more power, consolidates it, and entrenches itself.  It throws up walls and defenses to ensure its continuation.  There is no flow chart of legal and available political channels for the ruled (I should say, “owned”) peoples of the world to set themselves free and to terminate the industrial economy which is hell bent on destroying all life on Earth.  The only hope, is calamity.  This calamity can be an environmental mega disaster, or an amalgamation of social disruptions compounding upon each other.  Either way, the current paradigms — economic, political, social, et al — are toxic, and grass roots behaviors that are detrimental to the success of these paradigms are ultimately to our benefit, as contradictory as this may seem at first glance.  In simple terms, “Good for the machine, bad for you.  Bad for the machine, good for you.”

Of course, billions of people are now dependent upon the machine to access their needs.  This is aptly described by Derrick Jensen’s statement that,

“if your experience is that your food comes from the grocery store and your water comes from the tap, then you are going to defend to the death the system that brings those to you because your life depends on them. If your experience, however, is that your food comes from a landbase and that your water comes from a stream, well, then you will defend to the death that landbase and that stream.”

We should not be inclined to preserve the machine because it is meeting our basic needs today when we know that it is accomplishing this by destroying the planet’s ability to meet those needs tomorrow.  This is doubly true when we know that the machine is only accomplishing this task through a massive program of violence meted out upon the global poor as well as all non-human species.

My last observation on this issue concerns balance.  The universe is a system in balance.  Even temporary imbalances are only perceptions of a frozen timeline, for all they will all come into balance once again.  Our mega Societies — the global civilization — is a system out of balance.  When I suggest to people that we abolish police and prisons, most are immediately mortified.  They assume that such an abolition would be immediately followed by an immense surge in crime.  To this I respond, “Of course!”  This should tell us something about the Society in which we live, particularly that it is entirely out of balance.  The need of so many runs up against the wealth of so few.  No natural state would allow such a one sided distribution of resources.  Any other place in nature, devoid of constructed law and cordons of militant law enforcers, would see a rapid diffusion of the resources to a balanced state.  Imagine one-hundred gorillas, with two of them controlling ninety-eight percent of the available bananas, and the other ninety-eight gorillas having two percent of the bananas to divide amongst themselves.  This would be an absurdity even modern humans from this culture wouldn’t be able to explain if they stumbled upon it in the wild.  Yet we exist within such a system!  In our example, the hungry ninety-eight gorillas would quickly take what they needed from the other two by whatever means necessary, and we wouldn’t expect them to validate their actions or any sense of indignation that preceded them with artful discourse.

No doubt, the teenagers engaged in flash mobs, and indeed plenty of other people who steal, are often taking non-essential items.  Cultural distortion of need due to advertising propaganda is surely playing it’s role.  Despite this, we should at the very least see these acts as the result of causation.  These hard and fast broad daylight robberies are a clever tactic undertaken by people who have been given zero reason to care about the bloated social organism  The real question we should be asking ourselves, is when and how we are going to join them in acting out against that which is rapidly killing us.

 

Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

Off the keyboard of RE

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Published on the Doomstead Diner on December 30, 2014

Heat_engine

Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner

A while back, I tried to clarify the way Money works as a Proxy for Energy in the Money Valve series, in which I took a detailed look at how the various facets of our Industrial system conspire to turn Resources into Waste over time.  The whole bizness got pretty complicated even though I tried to keep it simple, stupid in the KISS principle.  What I was trying to demonstrate is how money and energy are related, and how the flow is mediated by the monetary system.

We began with a fairly simple chart, to see how Money is allocated based on Energy.

MoneyValve3The whole idea began to get a lot more complicated once I tried to identify the various sectors of the economy, how they interact, where the inputs are, and where the waste flows to.  Even at a simple level, the network gets pretty complex.

MoneyValve7While it is worthwhile to try to elucidate how all the factors interplay here in an Industrial type economy, in reality the basic issue is one of fundamental thermodynamics, which the classic Heat Engine graphic at the top of the article illustrates.  In the classic Heat Engine, energy in the form of Heat flows downhill from Hot to Cold, and how big the gradient is between Hot and Cold determines the amount of work the Heat Engine can perform.  For the Heat Engine to do WORK, there always has to be a HEAT SINK, a place for the waste heat to go on the way downhill.

As I have argued on numerous occasions, Money serves as a PROXY for the energy available in a given society, and because of that there is a PRECISE analogue to the Credit-Debt system of money we use to the available energy in a given society.  All you have to do to see this is re-label the Thermodynamic Heat Engine to see how this works.

Heat_engine-Money

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/39/GodfreyKneller-IsaacNewton-1689.jpgThe analogy is so clear and so precise that I am quite certain Master of the Mint Sir Isaac Newton understood this relationship when they founded the Bank of England in 1692.

At the beginning in the theoretical example, a Heat Engine is very efficient, when there is a large difference between the temperature of the Heat Source and the Temperature of the Heat Sink.  The greater the gradient here, the more Work the system is capable of performing, and the waste heat is only a small percentage of the total energy consumed by the machine.  Over time however, as the Energy source which provides the Heat is consumed and the Waste created in the process becomes ever larger, the Gradient becomes ever less, and the machine becomes ever less capable of doing Work.

In the REAL example here of Industrial Civilization, back in the late 18th Century when the Fossil Fuel resources began to be exploited, there was a very large gradient between what was available for exploitation in terms of resources, and the total amount of WASTE accumulated to that point in time.  The New World Continents of North & South America were virtually empty of people, as the diseases of Smallpox, Tuberculosis and Scarlet Fever decimated the Native populations, and compared to Europe and the Middle East, not near so much agriculturally intensive society either, though there was some going on prior to the Colonial Era.

Beginning with this era, it became possible to issue out EXTRAORDINARY amount of DEBT, if you were in a position of power with which to do that.  There was seemingly ENDLESS resource available in the New World even BEFORE the discovery of Fossil Fuels and how to use them in Heat Engines.  Once fossil fuels began to be exploited, it seemed like you could issue out ENDLESS debt on this one, because the Energy Source was so big.  And so it came to pass, virtually endless Debt has been issued out on this resource base, which now is running a bit thin overall.

It hasn’t “run out”, nor will it likely ever really entirely dissapear, but what has DISAPPEARED here is the Energy GRADIENT between available resources and Waste produced, so the Engine of this sort of economy is no longer very efficient, and becomes less so every day.  At this point, the Waste is not just filling Land Fills with Garbage, it is filling the Atmosphere also with CO2 and the oceans with plastic garbage, not to mention the Nuke Puke from Fukushima.  All of this waste accumulating in the environment make the Engine less able to do Work, because the gradient is less capable of absorbing the Waste Heat.

In terms of how this is reflected in the Monetary System serving as Proxy for this, all the DEBT issued out since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution has to collect in a DEBT SINK.  What is that sink?  It is the expanding balance sheet of the Central Banks, most notably De Federal Reserve Bank of the FSoA, but also including numerous other CBs like the Peoples Bank of China (PBoC).  The source of the Credit was the Global supply of fossil fuels, which still exist but the gradient between what is extractable and the waste produced in the burning of it no longer is there to do efficient work with.

On the Credit-Debt level, you see this problem in sharp relief.  The folks with the power to issue Debt still have that power, and they continue to issue more and more of it every day.  In the main, it is a few powerful Oligarchs who have the power to issue out debt, and they get the ball rolling on anything.  They do not pay off the debts however, they are all transfered through various processes of bailouts and bankruptcies onto the balance sheet of the Public, at the Central Bank.  This is how the “Privatization of Profit, Socialization of Debt” occurs.

You reach a point in this equilibrium however when the Debt level in the Debt Sink is equal to or greater than the Credit that can be issued out on the resource base of energy.

Credit-Debt_FlowWhy does the money stop flowing?  Well, it doesn’t in it’s entirety at first, but the backflow of bankruptcies matches or equals the rate at which new credit/money is issued out.  This is the stage we are at now.  You can keep issuing out credit, but you don’t get any return from it because the backflow matches any amount of new credit you pitch out.  There are not more resources the money can access without accumulating debt at an equal or greater rate.  The money at this point has to be issued out at a ZIRP, because there is nothing to be sieved of the flow from Interest & Taxation.

The Boom-Bust cycle occurs in the early years of accessing an energy source because the “animal spirits” of the folks issuing credit take over and they issue more credit than the machine at that point is prepared to handle.  You can only grow the money supply and credit as fast as the resource base that underpins the money is accessed.  In fact the folks running the Central Banks learned this, and thus came up with the target inflation rate of around 2%, to match how fast new sources of fossil fuel energy were being found and exploited.  The early 20th Century collapse of the Great Depression was an example of a Boom cycle where animal spirits amongst the creditors went wild, but the consumption ability was low at the time, there were not enough vectors through which to waste the energy.  It all went Bust in 1929 at the end of the Roaring 20s, and the aftermath of that Bust is well recorded history overall.

The situation we have now IS DIFFERENT THIS TIME, it’s not that the credit has been issued out too fast to access the resource base, it’s that the resource base relative to the debt level is too depleted to offer a return on investment. Certainly you could in theory issue out another say $100B in Credit to energy companies to drill the Arctic Ocean, but you’ll never get BACK the $100B PLUS INTEREST from the population at large to pay off on this investment.  The Debt Sink of the Consumer is already full up here, on all levels from personal debt to Goobermint debt signed for in his name by his “elected” representatives.  Da Goobermint is NOT handing out free money to consumers to buy the oil as it hands out free money to extractors to drill, and they likely never will.  What they are doing in just about all economies across the globe is strangling the amount of credit the population at large has available to buy the energy, while they close up shop and stop the CapEx required to exploit any sources of energy that are still left here.

http://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user3303/imageroot/2014/12-overflow/20141229_WTI2%27.jpg

You can see this in action already in the Bakken and other neighborhoods where high CapEx is necessary to drill and develop the energy source, rig counts are already down there.  Royal Dutch Shell and the other majors are already backing off from further investment, and Geopolitically you see the collapse of agreements between countries like Russia which still has some energy resource to exploit and the multi-national companies that provide the expertiese and equipment to do the drilling, like Halliburton and Baker-Hughes, recently merged as they consolidate downward here.  These service companies to the Energy Industry are the ones getting hit first and hardest, but the whole industry will collapse in a cascade fashion here.

Once you grasp that Money is not a THING in itself, but just a PROXY FOR ENERGY, you should also grasp that it does not MATTER what the currency used is made from, Paper, Gold, Cowrie, Shells or Digibits.  Issuing out more digibits to buy energy that is not being extracted does not allow you to buy more energy.  You cannot issue out more Gold (because of course what Gold is left in the ground takes ever more Energy to extract), so all converting to a PM based monetary system does is deflate the economy, the gold becomes less valuable with respect to the resource available as well, not to mention not very available for people to use because it is so centralized overall.  In the final stages of the game, no matter HOW MUCH “money” you have of any type, it simply does not buy the resources you want to buy with it, they just are not there to BUY!

http://scriptshadow.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/canary-in-the-coal-mine.jpgw595.jpegBecause we depend on money to lubricate and run the global system of trade we have developed, it remains possible to an extent for the folks running the credit creation biz to funnel credit out to some places and not others, and in so doing triage off the economy whole sectors of the globe now.  Southern and Eastern Europe is being so triaged off as we speak, with our friends in Greece at the forefront of this, in a constant state of Bailout and Political Crisis, but NONE of the Bailouts to date have done a goddamn thing to relieve the misery of the Greek population, all they have done is keep the Bankstering System in Greece and Europe as a whole floating another day.  At this point as far as the majority of the population in Greece is concerned, there simply is no benefit whatsoever to remain inside the system.  They want to Opt Out.

Greece is the Canary in the Coal Mine here, and the same effect is going to move through all the economies of the banking system as the Credit that is issued out to consumers to buy energy is triaged off here.  The last places to experience this will be the centers of credit creation, in the City of London and Wall Street, but the speed at which it works its way inward increases daily here, you absolutely can track this progress on a monthly if not daily basis now.

Eventually, the Credit issued out is worthless, the currency is worthless there just is nothing left to BUY with it.  That is why the Roman currency collapsed, not because they diluted the Gold in the Coins with Base Metals, but because there simply was not stuff to BUY with that currency once they reached the Limits to Growth of that type of economy, mainly agriculturally based to provide energy to the society.

Has such a thing occurred before?  Indubitably, it has, it most certainly occurred at the end of the Babylonian Empire in the earliest years of the Ag Economy.  From Revelation 18:

10 Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come.

11 And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more:

12 The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble,

13 And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.

At a certain point in the Collapse of a Civilization, it ALL goes WORTHLESS.  Not just the Fiat Paper, not just the Gold, but even the SOULS of MEN.  The life of a Slave is Worth LESS than it costs to keep the Slave alive, so the slave is disposed of.  When the Souls of Men become worthless, just how much value do you think remains in an Ounce of Gold?  Answer, not a whole lot there.

Money is a mathematical artifice that represents the total energy available to a society at any given time.  You cannot create more energy by issuing out more credit.  For the Roman Empire, which took Millenia to grow, it took Centuries for their economy based on Agriculture as their source of Energy to Collapse.  For the Industrial Society which developed over just a few Centuries, it will Collapse in a matter of decades at the most, and possibly more rapidly  than that as the monetary system which mediates the flow of energy itself collapse.

fall-of-rome

There is no stopping this process, the only thing that remains somewhat possible is to slow it down some, and to REVERSE ENGINEER to some older technologies that are less energy intensive on the way downslope.  That is not possible however on the grand scale here, the network as a whole is too dependent on the energy to continue functioning, so until the network collapses, there will be no changes made.  When the network does collapse, the change will come rapidly indeed.

Prep for it.

RE

Complications

Off the keyboard of John Ward

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Published on The Slog on December 26, 2014

Unnecessary-Complexity-Mind-Map

Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner

We live in complicated times. And complicated is almost always a very bad thing.

I have the world’s most complicated boiler, and so later I added the world’s most complicated programmer to try and understand it. They’re no longer on speaking terms. One or the other fails a couple of times a week at least.

I was asking my younger daughter over Christmas how her new relationship was going. “It’s complicated,” she said. So I asked her to explain, and do you know what? She wasn’t wrong.

I’m also the owner of the world’s most complicated TV channel-changer, and I don’t have a single app that doesn’t make the task I want to perform more complicated than it was before. I have a car clock so complicated to change, it’s still on Greek time from the summer before last, and a kitchen stable door so complicated to separate, the instructions in 5-point type take up one whole pane of the bloody thing.

The nature of oil market geopolitics is so complicated, I have so far counted nine separate motivations in play. Add the complicated politics of Ukraine and stir in the spin being perpetrated by four different regional interests, and you get complications that complicate things so much it requires a complicated computer model to sort out the relative hierarchy of complication.

Did you know that the average mobile phone user employs seven functions regularly, but 3G phones usually have in excess of sixty? And with age, that seven drops quickly to any three-from-four: calls, text, mail, photos. The order for me is photos, calls, texts. I don’t do mobile mail: if I did, the phone would ping on average seventy times a day. The other reason is that the process for aligning mail pickup was so complicated, it’s only a matter of time before Aston University offers a PhD in Complication Studies with Specific Reference to Sony Xperias.

Not only has the once simple lotech process of doing stuff been replaced by self-indulgent, infantile complexity: the hitech stuff we were just getting used to is regularly ‘updated’ every six months at least in order to render it more complicated.

For instance, the process of paying for your parking at Bordeaux Airport, fitting a child seat in the back of a Peugeot 308 SW, programming a Candy dishwasher, transferring mobile phone shots to a laptop, downloading a pdf, sending money by electronic transfer and dealing with landline phone messages are things that – just in the last three months – have become less functionally efficient and more complicated. And the three key words there – less functionally efficient – are central to my fearful frustration with a world that is being created by every psychographic type from neoliberal sociopath to political schemer.

The first line of defence for those defending complexity is to say that their equipment is ‘sophisticated’. This is like saying that a washing line is aboriginal. It’s bollocks: a washing line needs no programming, and on a windy day above 12 degrees centigrade will dry clothes more efficiently (with easier ironing) than any tumble-dryer in existence….free. The Pennsylvanian Amish Community rose to be the richest per head in America on that principle. Think on it.

The second line is ‘user error’. “You’re just a dopey old bloke with grey hair I mean for God’s sake look at you, you’re past it, you hate progress”. Funny how being a senior citizen leaves you open to the kind of baseless insult you could be driven from the stockade for levelling at a woman or an ethnic minority.

And the third is, surprise surprise, “we must all embrace change”. I love that one, it’s a belter. Ripple dissolve to Heimy the Deli owner just off the Kurfürstendamm in Autumn 1934. Heimy is constantly being advised to calm down, and embrace change: the Nazis are all talk, he is told. “Talk, schmalk,” he answers grumpily, “let me tell you, this Hitler is a schlemiel. No good will come of it.”

The idea that all change is for the better is the sort of crap New Labour and Camerlot idiots have been trying to tell us about everything from privatisation and deregulation to fractional reserve banking and globalism since the turn of the century. Yet the truth is that every one of those four changes has made life more complicated….but not one of them has been of the slightest benefit to those on average to poor incomes. Do you really know what QE is and how it works? Do you really know why Zirp was necessary? Do you really understand the rational for financial Big Bang? No, you don’t – any more than I do: you see, it’s complicated.

Far too often, complication is really obfuscation…a smoke-screen if you will. Equally often, it is just one more way to extract more telecoms money from us, justify ovens that cost $7000, and “explain” why we need a new thing just because the old things build quality was complicated aka shoddy. Some complication is the direct result of fluffy social ideas and moral relativism. But all of it comes at an unacceptably high price.

For once, the medical profession is right. When they use the plural noun “complications” it means “bad shit just happened”. My late father – an enthusiastic exponent of technology – used to say “If you can’t explain something in one simple sentence, it’s a bad idea”. Dad developed a high temperature one afternoon at the age of 91 – and then complications. He died the following morning.

Why Does a Druid Ride a Lawn Mower?

Off the keyboard of Lucid Dreams

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Published on Epiphany Now on July 23, 2014

2001 Ape with iphone.jpg

Discuss this article at the Doomsteading Table inside the Diner

Our industrial civilization seems to me to be in a state of suspended de-animation. The narcissistic techno imagadget cyborg drones are anything but animated. Their avatars are all over the internet while their bodies are aimlessly burning fossil fuels in support of an insanity continually left unnoticed. A new reality has come into existence. It’s a reality never before seen, and it’s a direct result of the lottery our species won which has paid us in concentrated golden energy derived from the sun. Most first world inhabitants have no idea how this lottery pay off has distorted our collective reality, or that it’s a miniscule fraction on the time line that is the human experience on this living Earth. The portal by which our first world society now sustains this ridiculous electronic virtual contrivance, is the imagadget “smart phone.”

The smart phone may be smart, but it’s made us stupid. It’s become a perpetual soul vacuum that’s sucked the human spirit into it’s electronic clutches. It’s attached horse blinders to our collective imagination and crushed our bodies into useless meat riddled with nuclear powered cancer and super bugs. Super bugs that are hard at work creating a future misery the likes of which our anesthetized imagination cannot imagine. We look through this device to see a matrix composed of artificial constructs designed to be nice. The device keeps us all endlessly distracted from looking at one another, all while we spend all of our time looking at one another while scrolling through a multitude of lives taking place virtually. What more does one need than the phenomenon that is the “selfie?” How have we come to a place where it is considered completely normal to take a picture of one’s self and then post it amongst a cascade of other selfies? Everybody is looking at themselves through this electronic mirror. Narcissist’s reflective pool broadcast ubiquitously and completely. It’s come to a place where putting down the drug is no longer possible. The will just is not there. The truth is that we all know how pointless this distraction has become…at least deep down in the recesses of our collective psyche.

We continue to wake up day after day stuck in this suspended de-animation. There are simply to many disgusting creatures crawling around just beneath the surface of the early 21st century human experience for us to fathom. This pretend land we take selfies in is made possible by third world wage slavery. The clothing we pay too much for that is featured in our masturbated pics was stitched together by a people whom might as well be living in a dumpster full of our second hand hedonistic stickyness. A dumpster that receives the shitty end of the planned obsolescence they slave away to create for us. Then there is the Earth that supports us which we have turned into a sewer of cast off desires which catches the overflow from the dumpster those unfortunate slaves live in. Each of us kings and queens entitled to create suffocating trash in a ritual of daily consumption. Drones fly and innocent brown people die for the energy to keep this diseased tragedy going and growing. Of course, none of this matters in the nice imagadget reality we all inhabit. Well, maybe not all of us inhabit that reality. I don’t.

My world mostly takes place outside. Everyday I make it a point to pay attention to the natural world. That world doesn’t require a grid to sustain itself. It doesn’t require ancient fossil energy either. What it requires is a willingness to participate in the struggle for life. I’m attempting to learn how to participate in that struggle with grace and equanimity. This dance happens on the bio side of biophobia, and it requires acceptance of the gooey, slimey, smelly, living bodily fluid that is required to support life. It crawls in the soil and smells of Earth. It grows out of the ground and has an enduring intelligence the likes of which we should strive to possess. It pays us in natural splendor, taste, and fertility. It’s time takes place in rotations, tilts, and revolutions. It’s life follows the sun and sleeps on the Earth. This marvelous happening dazzles the senses in slow motion. The natural magnificence I’m describing does not show up on the imagadget. It doesn’t fit that artificial electronic mold.

http://cbskilt2.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/lawnmower.jpg

Where does all of this leave me and people like me? It leaves us stuck between artificial sustenance and quality starvation. Between pointlessness and a natural sanity thought putrid and insane by the imagadget followers. Followers that do not support the efforts needed most to keep our species healthy and thriving in the nonindustrial future which we have guaranteed our children will get. Which isn’t a bad thing, it’s actually good, but there’s a lot of pain between now and the backside of that good. There’s a lot of disease, starvation, marshal law, war, death and suffering to go before anything like good will come of it. At least the imagadget will eventually go the way of the dodo. What this all means to me is that I must labor at destructive, soul crushing, BAU support to keep my family out of debt and fed. I’m a nuclear engineer medic turned riding lawn mower/weed eater operator. I’ve dropped out of everything this society has offered up to me. I’ve done so because none of it could stand up to my personal sense of ethics. The nuclear engineering created toxic waste and killed lots of brown people. The once healthcare turned wealthcare and supported nothing but rich fuckers and their corporations. We have a large industry that makes people rich by parasatizing human bodies, and I’m not talking about the war machine here either. I’m talking about our wealthcare system.

This is all how a Druid has come to ride a lawn mower for money. This is all why a Druid cuts down trees, pulls up vines, trims ornamental shrubbery, and does all of the other trappings of conventional landscaping for money. It’s one of the most pressing ironies of my life (and my employer is a 69 year old retired army Sergeant Major to boot). I do battle with nature for money, and then I come home and practice permaculture. I have a permaculture business named Ancient Earth Design, but nobody wants to pay for permaculture because they don’t see the need for edible landscaping. They all see a need for the most worthless plants imaginable. Plants that only yield pretty and nice, but not medicinal and edible…or even useful for that matter. All of the nice ornamental plant growth gets carted off to that dumpster full of our stupidity to rot in the landfill with the diapers. Society pays a lot of money to keep the grass and ornamental landscapes trimmed up and under control. Society won’t pay shit to have whole systems implemented on their landscape. Natural systems that work with nature to create abundance by way of food producing plants and animals. Society has no use for food and medicine. They’re to busy texting, sexting, selfying, and just plan virtual masturbating to care about the natural world that sustains us all.

Eventually the permaculture system I have in place here on this one acre I live on will mature, and maybe I won’t have to work at cutting grass for other people as much then. I don’t care about money, but money cares about me. I don’t care much about society either, but here I am, cutting their damned grass. I’ve thought about going back to college, but then I realized that college doesn’t result in a job, it just results in debt. I know how to read books, and books are free at the library. Even if college does result in a job it’s just more BAU support. BAU does nothing but destroy life. It produces food by killing everything in the soil with multitudes of poisons. It turns brown people into wage slaves and gives everybody cancer. I suppose none of that matters because the selfie nation doesn’t care. At any rate, in the morning I’m off to go ride a lawn mower and operate a weed eater. At least nature will forgive me…I hope. It has to forgive me. After all, I have five different species of bamboo growing on this acre. I’m nursing the bamboo monster in hopes that it will grow up and destroy BAU. Consider this your warning! The bamboo monster is coming to getcha, and when he does this Druid will stop riding god foresaken lawn mowers. I much prefer the sickle.

http://www.bamboogarden.com/P.edulis.Oggie.jpg

The Absurdity of Authenticity

Off the keyboard of Guy McPherson

Published on Nature Bats Last on September 14, 2013

happiness

Discuss this article at the Spirituality & Mysticism Table inside the Diner

I’m often accused — or credited, depending on one’s perspective — of leading an authentic life. As nearly as I can tell, the accusation or accolade refers to the following definition from Merriam and Webster: true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.

Fundamentally, aren’t we all true to our personality, spirit, and character? How could we act otherwise, in the absence of multiple personalities? I have concluded that we’ve been captured by the culture in which we’re immersed. We are unable to escape without killing ourselves, yet the culture is killing us.

We’re six millennia into the culture of Abrahamic religions. We’re more than two millennia into western civilization and the six questions of Socrates: (1) What is good? (2) What is piety? (3) What is virtue? (4) What is courage? (5) What is moderation? (6) What is justice? Furthermore, every person reading these words is a product of an industrial civilization that depends upon expansive use of fossil fuels.
Is this the only way to live? Is this the best way to live? Do our hyper-connected, high-tech lives lead us along paths of excellence, in the spirit of Socrates?

This culture is steeped in patriarchy and depends upon violence for its continuation. Is it safe to assume this culture is the ultimate expression of our humanity? Is it safe to assume that this culture is the best we can do simply because this culture is the only one we have known? Is it safe to assume there is no other way beyond the hierarchical omnicide we’ve come to depend upon for money, water, food, and personal identity?

Questioning this culture and its underlying assumptions follows the model promoted and popularized by Socrates. Answering these questions requires one to step outside the normalcy bias and profound enculturation of the way we live. Asking challenging questions, much less answering them, requires enormous courage when the questions themselves refuse to validate, much less approve, this irredeemably corrupt system.

I do not claim to know the answers to these questions. I’m not certain they have answers independent of the person pondering them and his or her personal experiences. I nonetheless believe it is important to ask the questions and develop personal responses to them. As a result, I will tackle these and related questions in this chapter. For the most part, culture discourages us from asking, much less answering, most of these questions.

Questions, questions, and more questions

Throughout our lives, we spend considerable time seeking feedback from people and institutions, but the feedback we seek generally falls within a small subset of important issues. Furthermore, I question the wisdom of seeking validation, much less approval, within the realm of an irredeemably corrupt system.

Some of us seek to conduct meaningful lives. However, the universe imposes upon us a meaningless existence. There is no meaning beyond the meaning(s) we create. In attempting to create meaning, which often involves attempts to outrun our mortality, we generate distractions. We occasionally call them objectives, goals, or acts of service to others. And the result is our legacy.

Yet it’s too late to leave a better world for future generations of humans. The concept of leaving a legacy becomes moot when staring into the abyss of near-term human extinction. What, then, is the point? Are we, in the words of English poet Frances Cornford, “magnificently unprepared for the long littleness of life”?

As we seek feedback about the conduct of our lives, we simultaneously seek distractions. The distractions include the movies we watch, the books we read, the trips we take, the discussions in which we engage. The line blurs between distractions and authentic work until we are defined by the combination. The totality becomes who we are. The nature of our distractions is what makes us human, in the sense of differentiating us from other primates. Non-human primates don’t read books, much less discuss them. Such distractions do not enable our survival and in that sense are not “necessities” (cf. food, water, shelter). However, they are not necessarily “luxuries,” either. Apparently there are shades of existential gray.

Shades of gray

Shades of existential gray are evident in our pursuit of meaningful lives. How do we differentiate between necessity and luxury? How do we distinguish what we want from what we need? And are these distinctions important?

When I began the ongoing process of walking away from the omnicide of industrial civilization, I felt I had no choice. My inner voice overrode outer culture. I have subsequently come to realize that most people born into this set of living arrangements are literally and figuratively incapable of making a similar choice. Distinguishing between needs and wants, between necessity and luxury, is hardly clear.

Occasionally we turn to wise elders in our attempts infuse our lives with meaning. Kurt Vonnegut often wrote, in response to the question about meaning, that we’re here to fart around. His son Mark, between the loony bin and Harvard Medical School, responded to the question, “Why are we here?” with the following comment: “We are here to help each other through this, whatever this is.”

I love Mark Vonnegut’s response, but it fails to acknowledge that service to others is important and it’s a trap. Service to others is no longer virtuous when the entrapment includes self-inflicted harm (including emotional or psychological suffering).

As the Buddha pointed out more than two millennia ago, life is suffering. Do we have an obligation to minimize suffering? Does that obligation extend to our individual selves, as well as to other humans? Does it extend to non-human species?

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer famously defined happiness as the alleviation of suffering, implying a temporary condition. The pursuit of happiness — from Schopenhauer’s perspective, the alleviation of suffering — is a right guaranteed by the founding document of the United States, but I’ve no idea why it’s guaranteed or if it stops at the alleviation of suffering. If the alleviation of suffering qualifies as happiness, then it seems wearing shoes that are two sizes too small is a great strategy for producing happiness, if only at the end of the day when the shoes are removed from one’s feet.

If happiness goes beyond the alleviation of suffering, perhaps it includes joy. But the notion of such an idea drags into the discussion the notion of documentation, hence measurement. How do we measure joy? Is it the same as the bliss produced by ignorance? How do we know when we’ve stumbled upon it? And if joy is meritorious, even at the expense of suffering by another, how to we balance the existential books?

Consider, for example, a single example for the Abrahamic religions (aka patriarchy): marriage. Do we have an obligation to minimize the pain when a monogamous relationship become personally painful, or even a matter of indifference (i.e., lacking daily joy)? Contemporary culture suggests we muddle through, in sickness and health, until death. And then, the ultimate personal endpoint solves the problem of suffering.

The cost of happiness

If happiness is a goal, and if that happiness extends beyond the mere alleviation of suffering, how to we evaluate happiness? If our own happiness comes at the expense of another, how do we justify our gain? Equally importantly, but rarely considered, is the converse question: If our suffering brings happiness to another, how do we justify the personal pain? Is our own suffering less important than that of another?

How do we minimize suffering? Is such a quest restricted to humans, or are other organisms included? What is the temporal frame of the quest? Does it extend beyond the moment, perhaps to months or years? Does it extend beyond the personal to include other individuals?

We could minimize suffering to humans and other animals by playing solitaire in the woods. But even that seemingly humble act takes life. Tacking on the seemingly simple acquisition of water, food, clothing, and shelter for a single human being in the industrialized world brings horrific suffering to humans and other animals. Attending to the needs of the 7.1 billion humans currently inhabiting Earth comes at tremendous cost to the water, soils, and non-human species on the planet. Contemplating the desires of an increasing number of people on an overpopulated globe is enough to drive a thinking person to despair.

There is nothing inherently wrong with pleasure, yet the Greek word for “pleasure” forms the root of the English word “hedonism.” According to my pals Merriam and Webster, hedonism propounds that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life. When stated in this manner, pleasure seems to have taken a step too far. But drawing the line between personal pleasure and hedonism is no mean feat. Less often considered is the line we draw between personal suffering and the attendant happiness of others.

But, lest we take that step too far, we should remember that the idea of hedonism some 2,500 years ago when Socrates was haunting the Mediterranean region was a bit different than the idea today. Back then, humans comprised a tiny drop in the large bucket known as Earth. The quest for personal pleasure and happiness at that time would have essentially zero impact on the natural world relative to the impact of today’s quest for gratification by 7.1 billion people on an this ever-shrinking and -depleted orb.

When my happiness requires the suffering of another, is my happiness warranted? When the pleasure of another requires my suffering, is the suffering warranted? Does failing to contemplate questions about our needs and desires commit us to nihilism? Does living within the Age of Industry, hence participating in untold horrors to humans and other organisms, violate the Socratic notion of good?

What about empire?

American Empire is merely the most lethal manifestation of industrial civilization, hence any civilization. Because this culture is inextricably interconnected with this civilization, I have concluded that contemporary culture is worthy of our individual and collective condemnation. Walking away from empire is necessary but insufficient to terminate this horrific culture.

As nearly as I can determine, maintaining American Empire — or any empire, for that matter — requires three fundamental elements: obedience at home, oppression abroad, and destruction of the living planet. Unpacking these three attributes seems a worthy exercise, even acknowledging Voltaire’s observation: “It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.”

Obedience at home means capitulating to culture and the government. It means abandoning a culture of resistance in favor of the nanny state. It means allowing the government to control the people instead of the other way around. It means giving up responsibility for oneself and one’s neighbors and expecting the government to deal with all issues. Considering the excellent record of the government in transferring wealth from the poor to the rich while promoting an economy rooted in war, I’ve no idea why the people with whom I interact are fans of this government.

Oppression abroad is obvious to anybody paying attention to American foreign policy during the last hundred years. The government of the United States of Absurdity extracts taxes from the citizenry to build the most lethal killing force in the history of the world. This military, supported by cultural messages and therefore most of the consumer-oriented citizenry, is then used to extract materials such as fossil fuels from other countries. The resulting “riches” enjoyed by Americans serve to pacify the masses, embolden the government, and enrich the corporations that exert strong influence over both the media and the government.

Destruction of the living planet is imperative if we are to support seven billion people on the planet, many of whom want “their” baubles. Are we not entitled to transport ourselves around the world, dine at fancy restaurants for a few hours’ work at minimum wage, entertain ourselves with music and movies, and all the rest on an essentially limitless list? Where do the materials originate for each of these endeavors? Are we so filled with hubris that we believe driving dozens of species to extinction every day is our right? Do we lack the humility — and even the conscience — to treat non-human species with respect?

Each of these three broad elements serves a subset of humans at the expense of others. Although obedience to culture prevents us from being viewed as “odd” to our straitjacketed acquaintances, it also serves the oppressors. Giving up on radicalism — i.e., getting to the root — fails to serve our needs while lessening our humanity. But it nicely serves those who pull the levers of industry.

Perhaps it is time we heed the words of deceased American social critic Christopher Hitchens: “To be in opposition is not to be a nihilist. And there is no decent or charted way of making a living at it. It is something you are, and not something you do.”

Imperialism has consequences

The U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights are bobbing along the same waves as social justice and environmental protection, sold down the river by a nation addicted to growth for the sake of growth (the ideology of a cancer cell). Indeed, it seems very little matters to the typical American beyond economic growth. And for that, most importantly, we need an uninterrupted supply of crude oil. We need the Carter Doctrine — the world’s oil belongs to us — and an unhealthy dose of faux patriotism.

Our lives are imbued with faux patriotism. We are manipulated by the war-loving corporate media and the war-loving politicians that, unsurprisingly, are enriched by war. We support the troops that bring us the baubles we’re convinced we deserve, and we rarely question the real, underlying costs of the baubles.

Support the troops. It’s the rallying cry of an entire nation. It’s the slogan pasted on many of the bumpers in the United States.

Supporting the troops is pledging your support for the empire. Supporting the troops supports the occupation of sovereign nations because might makes right. Supporting the troops supports wanton murder of women and children throughout the world. And men, too. Supporting the troops supports obedience at home and oppression abroad. Supporting the troops throws away every ideal on which this country allegedly is founded. Supporting the troops supports the ongoing destruction of the living planet in the name of economic growth. Supporting the troops therefore hastens our extinction in exchange for a few dollars. Supporting the troops means caving in to Woodrow Wilson’s neo-liberal agenda, albeit cloaked as contemporary neo-conservatism (cf. hope and change). Supporting the troops trumpets power as freedom and fascism as democracy.

I’m not suggesting the young people recruited into the military are at fault. Victims of civilization and a lifetime of cultural programming — like me, and perhaps you – they’re looking for job security during a period of economic contraction. The entire process is working great for the oppressors pulling the levers of industry.

Perhaps most importantly, supporting the troops means giving up on resistance. Resistance is all we have, and all we’ve ever had. We say we’re mad as hell and we claim we’re not going to take it anymore. But, sadly, we gave up on resistance of any kind years ago.

We act as if America’s cultural revolution never happened. We act as if we never questioned the dominant paradigm in an empire run amok, as if we never experienced Woodstock and the Summer of Love, bra-burning hippies and war-torn teenagers, Rosa Parks and the Cuyahoga River. We’re right back in the 1950s, swimming in culture’s main stream instead of questioning, resisting, and protesting.

We’ve moved from the unquestioning automatons of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell to the firebrands of a radical counter-cultural worldview and back again. A generational sea change swept us from post-war “liberators” drunk on early 1950s propaganda to revolutionaries willing to take risks in defense of late 1960s ideals. The revolution gained steam through the 1970s, but lost its way when the U.S. industrial economy hit the speed bump of domestic peak oil. The Carter Doctrine coupled with Ronald Reagan’s soothing pack of lies was the perfect match to our middle-aged comfort, so we abandoned the noble ideals of earlier days for another dose of palliative propaganda. Three decades later, we’ve swallowed so much Soma we couldn’t find a hint of revolution in Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto.

In short, the pillars of social justice and environmental protection rose from the cesspool of ignorance to become shining lights for an entire generation. And then we let them fall back into the swamp. The very notion that others matter — much less that those others are worth fighting for — has been relegated to the dustbin of history.

A line from Eugene Debs, five-time candidate of the Socialist party for U.S. president, comes to mind: “While there is a lower class I am in it, while there is a criminal element I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

I don’t harbor any illusions about my freedom. I live in Police State America.

Imperial illusions

Ultimately, I wonder why any of us bothers trying to be a good person As Ernest Hemingway indicated: “The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.”

Vulnerability isn’t so bad. But few knowingly bring on their own destruction. Instead, I suspect most humans — even those who consider themselves good — actually benefit from and even promote contemporary culture, the problems with which are legion.

Do good people promote patriarchy? Do they pursue and promote the notions of marriage and monogamy even when knowing these ideas are steeped in the patriarchy of a culture gone seriously awry? Marriage and monogamy are obligations of empire rather than outcomes of natural law. Instead of abiding and supporting imperialism, shall good people attempt to reduce or eliminate patriarchy, hence civilization, one act at a time?

When we recognize patriarchy and its impacts, where does that leave those of us pursuing authenticity? Indeed, attempting to conduct an authentic life in a culture dominated by patriarchy and engendering destruction is analogous to pursuing meaning in an uncaring universe. Does authenticity have meaning in such a universe? Is authenticity a desirable goal, if goals are merely cogs in the machine of a culture run amok? Is authenticity another stumbling block on the road to happiness? Is authenticity yet another piece of propaganda promoted by the thieves and liars pulling the levers of civilization to trap decent people into lives of service? Do we ultimately and perhaps unwittingly serve civilization, hence omnicide, when attempting to serve humanity?

If a life of service is a trap, why step into the trap? In avoiding the trap are we embracing nihilism, “a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless”? And, if so, does the embrace constitute a pact with the proverbial devil?

As individuals and a society, have we become so broken we cannot pursue the truth about ourselves and our culture? Have we become so marginalized, demoralized, and humiliated by this insane culture that we are no longer able to rise up against cultural insanity?

______________

This essay is (barely) modified from a series of essays for the Good Men Project. The original essays are listed and hyperlinked below.

Questioning Culture: A Series

Questioning Culture: The Long Littleness of Life

Questioning Culture: Shades of Existential Gray

Questioning Culture: When Personal Happiness Brings Suffering to Others

Questioning Culture: American Empire

Questioning Culture: Our Addiction to Growth

Questioning Culture: The Absurdity of Authenticity

Collapse Cafe Vidcast: 10 Billion Year Scenario Discussion

Off the cameras and microphones of Ugo Bardi and RE

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Aired on the Doomstead Diner on September 11, 2013

red-giant-sun

Discuss this article at the Diner TV Table inside the Diner

In the first “Official” Vidcast of the Collapse Cafe today on the Doomstead Diner, Ugo Bardi and I got together to discuss some of the issues brought up originally in an article he wrote on his blog Cassandra’s Legacy last year, and which John Michael Greer of The Archdruid Report added his own thoughts and scenarios for in his blog last week.  I looked at the ideas both authors put forth in the last Sunday Brunch article on the Diner The Next 10 Billion Years, which brought up many issues worth discussing in greater detail.

We did air one Test Vidcast before this basically to get familiar with the Google Hangouts software so that we can do a decent job with the production, which is not so easy really.  You are subject to problems along the way since these things consume gobs of bandwidth, so you have to have a very strong and consistent net connection to keep them running.  Midway through this Vidcast with Ugo, we experienced an outtage, but fortunately the connection was reestablished before I stopped the recording, and we were able to complete the vidcast otherwise free of technical gliches, except for Ugo’s Dog.  LOL.

The Vidcasting has some advantages over a straight Podcast of just Audio, it is more Information Rich in the sense you can see facial expression and body language, which communicates quite a bit beyond just the words.  It is also possible to drop on other visual material while recording, though we did not try that in this Vidcast.  It also is a better format for several people to be chatting at once, since you don’t get confused as to who is speaking.  The main limitations are first that you can’t stop and start it and editing it would be difficult.  So you pretty much have to do it “live”.  The Audio Quality also is not as good as a podcast.  So one does not replace the other, you merely use them for different things.

Far as the content of the Vidcast is concerned, many unanswered questions remained from both Ugo’s original blog and JMG’s more recent one, in particular the question of just what motivates a person to write a scenario for such a long timeline?  We have plenty of problems to solve just in the next decade and century which MAYBE we can have some effect on, why concern yourself with Millenia and Billenia length issues we cannot affect, and moreover are pretty much inescapable due to constraints of Astrophysics?

Then there are questions of the accuracy of the Science involved, even in a Science Fiction/Fantasy treatment of such ideas to make them plausible they need to at least pay passing attention to known Scientific principals and limitations.  Is it reasonable to believe that the Earth can duplicate the conditions which allowed for millions of years of energy collection in microorganisms to replenish fossil fuel stores over the next 100-200M years?  Is it reasonable to believe Sentience will recur in another Species after Homo Sapiens goes the way of the Dinosaur?  Is it reasonable to expect we can recreate another Agricultural Civilization of Homo Sapiens after this one crashes?

These are a few of the questions raised in John Michael Greer’s and Ugo’s scenarios we look at in this Vidcast.  Does it make any real difference as far as the near term problems we face?  Probably not.  Still, there are philosophical questions of Existence and its Meaning which occupy the mind of the Doomer that are always out there, and for Ugo and myself, it is something worth chatting about.  Maybe it will be worth listening to for you.

RE

Asking the Hard Questions

Published on the Archdruid Report on July 10, 2013

Stonehenge_Solstice

Discuss this article at the Favorite Dishes Smorgasbord inside the Diner

Diner Podcast with John Michael Greer Coming Soon to a Laptop Near You!

There are nights, now and then, when I sit up late with a glass of bourbon and look back over the long strange trip that’s unfolded over the last thirty years or so. When a substantial majority of Americans straight across the political landscape convinced themselves in the early 1980s that mouthing feel-good slogans and clinging to extravagant lifestyles over the short term made more sense than facing up to the hard choices that might have given our grandchildren a livable future, that choice kickstarted a flight into fantasy that continues to this day.

Over the seven years that I’ve been writing and posting essays here on The Archdruid Report, in turn, a tolerably good sample of the resulting fantasies have been dumped on my electronic doorstep by readers who were incensed by my lack of interest in playing along. There’s a certain amusement value in reviewing that sample, but a retrospective glance that way has another advantage: the common threads that unite the fantasies in question form a pattern of central importance to the theme that this sequence of posts is trying to explore.

Back in 2006, when I made my first posts suggesting that the future waiting for us on the far side of Hubbert’s peak was a long, ragged descent punctuated by crises, there were three common ways of dismissing that prediction. The first insisted that once the price of petroleum got near $100 a barrel, the sheer cost of fueling the industrial economy would trigger the economic crisis to end all economic crises and bring civilization crashing down at once. The second insisted that once that same price threshold was met, any number of exciting new renewable energy technologies would finally become profitable, resulting in a green-energy boom and a shiny future. The third insisted that once that price threshold was met, the law of supply and demand would flood the market with petroleum, force prices back down, and allow the march of economic growth to continue merrily on its way.

A case could be made that those were reasonable hypotheses at the time. Still, the price of oil went soaring past $100 a barrel over the next few years, and none of those predictions panned out. We did have a whopping economic crisis in 2008, but emergency actions on the part of central banks kept the global economy from unraveling; a variety of renewable energy technologies got launched onto the market, but it took massive government subsidies to make any of them profitable, and all of them together provide only a very small fraction of our total energy use; and, of course, as prices rose, a certain amount previously uneconomical oil did find its way to market, but production remains locked into a plateau and the price remains stubbornly high.

That is to say, the perfect storms weren’t, the game-changing events didn’t, and a great many prophets ended up taking a total loss on their predictive investments. It’s the aftermath, though, that matters. By and large, the people who were making these claims didn’t stop, look around, and say, “Hmm, clearly I got something wrong. Is there another way of thinking about the implications of peak oil that makes more sense of the data?” Instead, they found other arguments to back the same claims, or simply kept repeating them at higher volume. For a while there, you could go visit certain peak oil bloggers every January and read the same predictions of imminent economic doom that appeared there the year before, and then go to another set of peak oil bloggers and read equally recycled predictions that this would be the breakthrough year for some green energy source or other, and in neither case was there any sign that any of them had learned a thing from all the times those same predictions had failed before.

Nor were they alone—far from it. When I think about the number of arguments that have been posted here over the last seven years, in an effort to defend the claim that the Long Descent can’t possibly happen, it’s enough to make my head spin, even without benefit of bourbon. I’ve fielded patronizing lectures from believers in UFOs, New Age channelers, and the fake-Mayan 2012 prophecy, airily insisting that once the space brothers land, the New Age dawns, or what have you, we’ll all discover that ecological limits and the laws of thermodynamics are illusions created by lower states of consciousness. Likewise, I’ve received any number of feverish pronouncements that asteroids, solar flares, methane burps from the sea floor or, really, just about anything you can imagine short of titanic space walruses with photon flippers, are going to wipe out humanity in the next few years or decades and make the whole issue moot.

It’s been a wild ride, really. I’ve been labeled dogmatic and intolerant for pointing out to proponents of zero point energy, abiotic oil, and similar exercises in wishful thinking that insisting that a completely unproven theory will inevitably save us may not be the most sensible strategy in a time of crisis. I’ve been dismissed as closed-minded by believers in artificial intelligence, fusion power, and an assortment of other technological will-o’-the-wisps for asking why promises of imminent sucess that have been repeated word for word every few years since the 1950s still ought to be considered credible today I’ve been accused of being a stooge for the powers of evil for questioning claims that Bush—er, make that Clinton—uh, well, let’s try Dubya—um, okay, then, Obama, is going to suspend the constitution, impose a totalitarian police state and start herding us all into camps, and let’s not even talk about the number of people who’ve gotten irate with me when I failed to be impressed by their insistence that the Rapture will happen before we run out of oil.

Not one of these claims is new, any more than the claims of imminent economic collapse, green-energy breakthroughs, or oceans of petroleum just waiting to be drilled. Most of them have been recycled over and over again, some for over a century—the New Age, for example, was originally slated to arrive in 1879, and in fact the most popular alternative spirituality magazine in 1890s Britain was titled The New Age—and the few that have only been through a few seasons’ worth of reruns follow familiar patterns and thus fail in equally familiar ways. If the point of making predictions in the first place has anything to do with anticipating the future we’re actually likely to get, these claims have flopped resoundingly, and yet they remain wildly popular.

Now of course there are good reasons why they should be popular. All the claims about the future I’ve listed are, in practical terms, incentives to inaction and evasions of responsibility. If rising oil prices are guaranteed to bring on a rush of new green energy options, then we don’t have to change our lifestyles, because pretty soon we’ll be able to power them on sun or wind or what have you; if rising oil prices are guaranteed to bring on a rush of new petroleum sources, well, then we don’t need to change our lifestyles, either, and we can make an extra donation to the Sierra Club or something to assuage any lingering ecological guilt we might have. The same goes for any of the other new technologies that are supposedly going to provide us with, ahem, limitless energy sometime very soon—and you’ll notice that in every case, supplying us with all that energy is someone else’s job.

On the other hand, if the global economy is sure to go down in flames in the next few years, or runaway climate change is going to kill us all, or some future president is finally going to man up, impose a police state and march us off to death camps, it’s not our fault, and there’s nothing we can do that matters anyway, so we might as well just keep on living our comfortable lifestyles while they’re still here, right? It may be impolite to say this, but it needs to be said: any belief about the future that encourages people to sit on their backsides and do nothing but consume scarce resources, when there’s a huge amount that could be done to make the future a better place and a grave shortage of people doing it, is a luxury this age of the world can’t afford.

Still, I’d like to cycle back to the way that failed predictions are recycled, because it leads straight to the heart of an unrecognized dimension of the predicament of our time. Since the future can’t be known in advance, attempts to predict it have to rely on secondhand evidence. One proven way to collect useful evidence concerning the validity of a prediction is to ask what happened in the past when somebody else made that same prediction. Another way is to look for situations in the past that are comparable to the one the prediction discusses, in order to see what happened then. A prediction that fails either one of these tests usually needs to be put out to pasture; one that fails both—that has been made repeatedly in the past and failed every time, and that doesn’t account for the way that comparable situations have turned out—ought to be sent to the glue factory instead.

It’s in this light that the arguments used to defend repeatedly failed predictions can be understood. I’ve discussed these arguments at some length in recent posts: the endlessly repeated claim that it’s different this time, the refusal to think about the implications of well-documented sources of negative feedback, the insistence that a prediction must be true if no one’s proved that it’s impossible, and so on. All of them are rhetorical gimmicks meant to stonewall the kind of assessment I’ve just outlined. Put another way, they’re attempts to shield repeatedly failed predictions from the normal and healthy consequences of failure.

Think about that for a bit. From the time that our distant ancestors ventured out onto the East African savannas and started to push the boundaries of their nervous systems in ways for which millions of years of treetop living did little to prepare them, their survival and success have been a function of their ability to come up with mental models of the world that more or less correspond to reality where it counts. If there were ever australopithecines that couldn’t do the sort of basic reality testing that allows food to be distinguished from inedible objects, and predators from harmless animals, they didn’t leave any descendants. Since then, as hominids and then humans developed more and more elaborate mental models of the world, the hard-won ability to test those models against the plain facts of experience with more and more precision has been central to our achievement.

In the modern West, we’ve inherited two of the great intellectual revolutions our species has managed—the creation of logic and formal mathematics in ancient Greece, and the creation of experimental science in early modern Europe—and both of those revolutions are all about reality testing. Logic is a system for making sure that mental models make sense on their own terms, and don’t stray into fallacy or contradiction; experimental science is a system for checking some mental models, those that deal with the quantifiable behavior of matter and energy, against the facts on the ground. Neither system is foolproof, but then neither is anything else human, and if both of them survive the decline and fall of our present civilization, there’s every reason to hope that future civilizations will come up with ways to fill in some of their blind spots, and add those to the slowly accumulating body of effective technique that provides one of the very few long-term dynamics to history.

It remains true, though, that all the many methods of reality testing we’ve evolved down through the millennia, from the most basic integration of sense inputs hardwired into the human brain right on up to the subtleties of propositional logic and the experimental method, share one central flaw. None of them will work if their messages are ignored—and that’s what’s going on right now, as a vast majority of people across the modern industrial world scramble to find reasons to cling to a range of popular but failed predictions about the future, and do their level best to ignore the evidence that a rather more unpopular set of predictions about the future is coming true around them.

Look around, dear reader, and you’ll see a civilization in decline, struggling ineffectually with the ecological overshoot, the social disintegration, the institutional paralysis, and the accelerating decay of infrastructure that are part and parcel of the normal process by which civilizations die. This is what the decline and fall of a civilization looks like in its early-to-middle stages—and it’s also what I’ve been talking about, very often in so many words, since not long after this blog got under way seven years ago. Back then, as I’ve already mentioned, it was reasonable to propose that something else might happen, that we’d get the fast crash or the green-energy breakthrough or all the new petroleum that the law of supply and demand was supposed to provide us, but none of those things happened. (Of course, neither did the mass landing of UFOs or any of the other more colorful fantasies, but then that was never really in question.) It’s time to recognize that the repetition of emotionally appealing but failed predictions is not a helpful response to the crisis of our time, and in fact has done a great deal to back us into the corner we’re now in. What was Ronald Reagan’s airy twaddle about “morning in America,” after all, but another emotionally appealing failed prophecy of the kind I’ve just been discussing?

Thus I’d like to suggest that from now on, any claim about the future needs to be confronted up front by the two hard questions proposed above. What happened at other times when people made the same prediction, or one that’s closely akin to it? What happened in other situations that are comparable to the one the prediction attempts to address? Any prediction that claims to be about a future we might actually encounter should be able to face these two questions without resorting to the kind of rhetorical evasions noted above. Any prediction that has to hide behind those evasions, in turn, needs to be recognized as being irrelevant to any future we might actually encounter. My own predictions, by the way, stand or fall by the same rule, and I encourage my readers to ask those questions of each prediction I make, and answer them through their own research.

Yes, I’m aware that those two questions pack an explosive punch that makes dynamite look weak. It’s embarrassingly common in contemporary life for theories to be embraced because of their emotional appeal, and then defended with every rhetorical trick in the book against any inconvenient contact with unsympathetic facts. As suggested in last week’s post, that’s a common feature of civilizations toward the end of their rationalist period, when abstract reason gets pushed to the point of absurdity and then well beyond it. Fantasies about the shape of the future aren’t uncommon at such times, but I don’t know of another civilization in all of recorded history that has put as much energy as ours into creating and defending abstract theories about the shape of the future. With any luck, the civilizations that come after ours will learn from our mistakes, and direct their last and most overblown abstractions in directions that will do less harm.

In the meantime, those of us who are interested in talking about the kinds of future we might actually encounter might find it useful to give up the standard modern habit of choosing a vision of the future because it’s emotionally appealing, demanding that the world fulfill whatever dream we happen to have, and filling our minds with defensive gimmicks to keep from hearing when the world says “no.” That requires a willingness to ask the questions I mentioned above, and to accept the answers, even when they aren’t what we’d like them to be. More generally, it requires a willingness to approach the universe of our experience from a standpoint that’s as stunningly unfashionable these days as it is necessary—a standpoint of humility.

What would it mean if, instead of trying to impose an emotionally appealing narrative on the future, and shouting down any data that conflicts with it, we were to approach the universe of our experience with enough humility to listen to the narratives the universe itself offers us? That’s basically what I’ve been trying to suggest here all along, after all. That’s the point to my repeated references to history, because history is our species’ accumulated body of knowledge of the way human affairs unfold over time, and approaching that body of knowledge with humility and a willingness to listen to the stories it tells is a proven way to catch hints about the shape of the future as it unfolds.

That’s also the point to my equally frequent references to ecology, because history is simply one subset of the behavior of living things over time—the subset that deals with human organisms—and also because ecological factors have played a huge and all too often unrecognized role in the rise and fall of human societies. Whether humans are smarter than yeast is less important than the fact, and of course it is a fact, that humans, yeast, and all other living things are subject to the same ecological laws and thus inevitably experience similar processes over time. Attentive listening to the stories that history tells, and the even richer body of stories that nature tells, is the one reliable way we’ve got to figure out what those processes are before they clobber us over the head.

That act of humility, finally, may be the best ticket out of the confusion that the collective imagination of our time has created around itself, the proliferation of abstractions divorced from reality that makes it so hard to see the future looming up ahead of us. By turning our attention to what actually happens in the world around us, and asking the hard but necessary questions about our preferred notions concerning that world and its future, we might just be able to extract ourselves far enough from that confusion to begin to grapple with the challenges of our time. In the process, we’ll have to confront once again the issues with which this series of posts started out—the religious dimension of peak oil and the end of the industrial age. We’ll proceed with that discussion next week.

 

 

[amazon asin=0865716730,B00BGJ1AZS,0865716099,157863489X,0865716390,B00A323CPU,B005OCJBOK,0956720382&text=www.amazon.com&template=carousel]

The Last Nomads and the Culture of Fear

Off the keyboard of Toby Hemenway

Published on Pattern Literacy on January 3, 2013

Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner

My wife and I went semi-nomadic in 2010, traveling the mountain West for almost two years. Not having a settled home was eye-opening, and taught me a lot about one of my perennial themes: how much humans lost when we became domesticated by agriculture.

For a committed permaculturist to give up a home and yard seems almost hypocritical, since a core tenet of permaculture is to deeply know a place and community. But our nomadic yen was strong. We were ready to leave the buzz of Portland, and in that fiercely Greened city I was feeling redundant. Yet no other place was calling us to live there. So, Kiel asked me, “Do we have to live anywhere? Why not travel?” Permaculturists are often asked to arrive at a new place and rapidly assess local resources, climate, culture, and the land’s character. Nomadism seemed a good way to hone those skills.

Kiel and I put our house on the market in the spring and moved into a small motorhome. We wandered though the Sierras, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Montana, slowly, with long stops. Over time, we settled into a pattern of two or three month stays in a modest rental house, punctuated by a few transition weeks in the RV while we traveled to and explored a new place. We fell naturally into a pattern of moving with the seasons, and getting to know a place in between.

We both had a vague feeling that this journeying was going to be important. I quickly found that, indeed, my landscape-reading skills improved—we learned to spot, even in high desert, those hidden east-facing ravines that stayed cool and moist and boasted vast biodiversity in their sweet microclimates. And we learned the social landscapes as well. The small towns of rural America no longer felt like the ones where we both had spent our childhoods. Now, too many rural hamlets looked and felt like clones of the same suburb, each having a vacant core bypassed with sprawling parking lots dotted with indistinguishable WalMart, Costco, Applebees, and Rite-Aid stores. As we roamed, we knew that larger understandings awaited us. The one we felt everywhere was that the world is shifting beneath everyone’s feet, and learning to be nimble and flexible will be a valuable trait in weathering the shocks of Peak Oil, climate instability, and economic collapse. But the tug of nomadism felt so deep that we suspected there was more to it than honing skills or a break from home. And after one special stop, some of the pieces fell into place.

We spent the summer of 2011 on a ranch off the northeastern corner of Yellowstone Park, in the shadow of the Beartooth range. Having grown surprisingly fond of the grasslands around us, we wanted to venture deeper into them, and spent a day east of Billings, walking the famous battlefield on the Little Bighorn where in 1876 Custer met his end. After arriving, we joined a graying crowd of retirees for a ranger’s lively talk on the battle. He had a keen sense of drama, and pulled our gaze across the very landscape where it all happened. Pointing south, he showed us the cloud-covered Wolf Mountains where Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse took those many of their people who refused to become Christianized farmers on the newly mandated reservation. The gully right in front of us was Deep Ravine, where a few of Custer’s men fled before they, too, were killed. Our minds’ eyes easily painted pictures, and I felt a growing sense of sadness, but not just for the many who had died where I stood.

The battle at Little Bighorn had been a victory for the plains tribes, but their war—and way of life—was lost soon after. A few years before, in 1868, the Fort Laramie Treaty had mapped a huge reservation across adjoining corners of what are now South Dakota, Wyoming, and Nebraska. Cheyenne, Lakota, and Arikara people, among others, were moved there. Tales of gold in 1874 in the Black Hills spawned a surge of miners and settlers onto the reservation, in violation of the treaty. The US Army drove out some of them, but thousands more streamed in. Disgusted, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, the Hunkpapa leader Gall, and other warrior leaders brought thousands of their people into the unceded Indian territories, a chunk of northern Wyoming where treaty declared “no white person or persons shall be permitted to settle upon or occupy.” Here the native people could hunt bison and live as they wanted. But in 1875 they were ordered back to the reservation. They refused. The Indian Agencies branded them as hostile, and hot-headed George Custer came as part of the multi-pronged force sent to bring them in. The army’s humiliating loss at Little Bighorn spurred the US government to pour more troops into the Indian Wars, and within a few years most of America’s indigenous people had been forced onto reservations, killed, or driven into Canada.

As Kiel and I walked the battlefield, we spotted signs of the fight. I was moved by the pathetically shallow pits that Major Reno’s outnumbered men had scraped with their mess plates in an open meadow, trying to hide from a ceaseless hail of arrows and bullets. But I was more struck by what the land around us was saying. Here were enormous expanses of grassland and sage, with trees in the valleys and on the mountains, as far as we could see. It was rich land, and, having spent weeks in nearby Yellowstone where the valleys are tracked with renewed bison herds, it wasn’t hard to grasp the riches this land had held. It once swarmed with tens of millions of deer, elk, bison, bear, wolf, trout, and birds. The plains people lived amidst this abundance at choice seasonal camps across an enormous territory where sometimes hundreds of families gathered. They were hunters and foragers, not farmers, able to trust that the land would provide for them, that there was enough for all without working the soil or clinging to a piece of ground. On the river below us had sprawled the huge encampment of families that Custer had attacked: at least 7500 Cheyenne, Lakota, Arikara, and others. Migratory people from many tribes, living on this land without owning it, all having converged there in 1876 after Sitting Bull had told them of his auspicious sun-dance vision: headless US soldiers falling from the sky, “raining down like grasshoppers.”

I stood looking at these now fenced, divided, roaded, bought and owned lands and the cattle and sheep grazing on them. Barbed-wire fences netted the grassland to the horizon in every direction. It made me numb, knowing that we—my ancestors and their companions—had taken and tamed every bit of this huge landscape, the unceded lands and much more, taken it away from those whom our eloquent ranger called “the freest people in the world.” We did this because, if I can use George W. Bush’s words more honestly than he ever did, we hated them for their freedom.

The war between farming people and nomads is as old as farming itself. It’s not that the two cultures are incompatible. But the mind of a farming people can’t conceive of harmony with foragers. The minds of agriculturists can’t conceive of harmony with much of anything. I’ve known gentle farmers. But I’m using the word “farmer” here as shorthand for a bundle of concepts, principally for the “civilized” mind that views the wild world as a threat to be subdued or a fragile, off-limits temple, rather than the one source of life and home that can always provide. When humans were domesticated by agriculture about 10,000 years ago, one of the key prejudices bred into us was that the only way to survive was to control nature. We can easily see how this applies to wild, exterior nature: You survived winter not by learning what food the land still held, but by hard laboring to make the land give up a hoardable surplus. But more importantly, we have tamed our interior nature as well. Those who wouldn’t subdue their own wild nature were brought under control. To use the communal grain storage that farmers were told would let them survive winter, to have your fields protected from thieves, to buy protection from the powerful, farmers have always paid the local strongman. If they didn’t pay their tithe to those who guarded the grain surplus, the leader’s goons would force them to, or run them off, or kill them. The root of the word “lord” is “hlaford,” or “keeper of the loaves,” showing the ancient relationship between controlling grain and controlling people. And when the same elites wanted to build their monumental tombs, you worked for them, or they took your crops and enslaved your family. It wasn’t just plants and animals that were domesticated.

We traded a great deal to become civilized. There’s a lot I like about civilization, from writing and the Constitution to ethnic restaurants and my iPhone. But Hobbes’s famous dictum, that the lives of “savages” were “nasty, brutish, solitary, and short” is nonsense written by a man who rarely left his desk. As I’ve written before, the advent of farming and the civilization that it allowed brought a decline in lifespan, health, leisure, and freedom. Famine is far more common among farmers than among foragers. Lifespan and health didn’t return to pre-agricultural levels nor did the certainty of famine recede until the unsustainable splurge of the oil age gave us the equally unsustainable technologies for converting whole ecosystems into food, medicine, and machines on a titanic scale. Both leisure and freedom have been in decline since farming began. Labor activists, the poor, and any post-9/11 traveler can attest that this process is still underway. I no longer see America’s increasingly ignored Constitution as a glorious step forward, but merely one of a long line of progressively more desperate holding actions against the immense power of elites to suppress the elementary rights of their subjects. To what state have we declined when only the revocable permission of the powerful can guarantee our basics? We gave up a staggering number of freedoms to have our food source guaranteed.

Why would anyone trade their freedom for poor health and a life of slavery? I’ve come to doubt that people became farmers voluntarily, and there are many recent examples of hunter-gatherer groups who took one look at farmers, saw what the trade entailed, and said no thanks (see Chapter 6 of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel). Foraging peoples are almost always converted into farmers by a combination of terror, coercion and the extinction of even the memory of an alternative. The people who once roamed the unceded lands of Wyoming could tell you how it was done, as could those all over the Americas, Australia, and Africa. Why should we believe it was ever different? Farming and the civilization it spawned are grounded in fear and oppression.

We can only speculate why people took up farming, but none of the common arguments explain our sacrifice, and they often contradict each other. One theory is that the climate deteriorated, making it necessary to settle and intensify food production. But an opposing theory is that humans found “gardens of Eden,” places so lush and productive that they settled there, had too many babies amidst the abundance, and then needed to grow more food. There are other guesses, too. What all the theories fail to explain is why: If agriculture is more work than hunting, shortens lifespan, increases disease, doesn’t prevent famine, and reduces personal freedom, why would anyone do it?

I can think of two good reasons, and together they form the heart of our culture: fear and coercion. The two theories I cite above, and most of the others, are based in scarcity. According to them either inhospitable climate caused hunger, or overpopulation caused hunger. Hungry people would be receptive to an alternative, even at the cost of leisure and freedom. They might resort to farming, especially if a charismatic leader were there to encourage them. But when conditions improved, wouldn’t they go back to hunting? Two other theories show why this might not happen. One is the Social Hypothesis, in which “Big Men” (the anthropologist’s term for strong but informal leaders) use a complex blend of loans, promises, and status to boost village food production for potlatch-style feasts that, while feeding many, increase their own power, in part by showing how good life could be under their rule. Once centralized power over food is in place, the leaders and their enforcers can hold onto it easily. Another theory is the hunter-ruler concept, in which an early farming village is raided and enslaved by well-armed hunters who find they like being at the top, and remain as a powerful and parasitic elite. Yet another is that people gathered at sites like Göbeckli Tepe in Turkey that predate agriculture, to build enormous temples under the direction of an elite priesthood. These huge projects outstripped the carrying capacity of the land, and the priests supervised additional workers to grow food for the builders—and for themselves.

Whatever the cause, farming creates a surplus that must be stored, and that leads inexorably to a concentration of power into the hands of those who control that surplus. In an agricultural society with its specialized labor, dependency on food storage, taxation of the masses, unequal land access, and controlling elite, Henry Kissinger’s cynical strategy is true: Food is an instrument of power. And that is why a farming civilization cannot tolerate nomads or hunter-gatherers. Nomads need nothing from civilization. They can’t be controlled.

As I looked over the immense grasslands that spilled to the ends of Montana’s big sky, I wondered why my ancestors had insisted on taking it all. In this immense land, wasn’t there enough room for Sitting Bull and his clan to pull their travoix through one corner of it, hunt bison and make camp? But I quickly realized that it wasn’t about having enough room. It was about control. A wild people can’t be coerced. Make them pay taxes? There is nothing they need from the government, and much they don’t want. Christianize them and make them farm? The land is the source of spirit and offers abundant food for the gathering, while farming would kill all that. Offer them a fenced parcel? The land belongs to everyone and no one.

Can you see how frightening all this is to a people raised to believe in original sin, the mercilessness of God, the virtue of hard work, the value of being meek, the need for law and order, the certainty of Hell for the fallen, and all the other fear-based indoctrinations driven into us by an elite whose first need is compliant servants? We could never live in harmony with people who wouldn’t play according to those rules. That way lay chaos, and a freedom that we find inconceivable and terrifying. To trust that nature and the land would provide everything we need meant that all our hard work has been a waste—that we’ve been foolish slaves all our lives. We couldn’t stand to have our world view undermined that way. The idea that out there were free people living in a deep union with nature while we toiled behind the plow, quaked before a vengeful god, and tugged our forelocks respectfully at our betters—that was intolerable, to the toilers, yes, but especially to the elites who ruled them. The wild humans had to be domesticated, or killed. Always. Everywhere. Or else some of us might stop being afraid.

And that has been the trajectory of agricultural civilization. A trade of freedom for order and supposed security, made at the expense of health, cultural diversity, and leisure as well. Foraging and horticultural people don’t have a Bill of Rights because they don’t need one. There is rarely enough concentration of power in their culture great enough to take their rights away. They have art, music, shelter, language, food, tools, justice, medicine, history, play, wisdom—and freedoms in a sense so profound that I can only get glimmers of it. For all that we have lost, the only significant gain I can think of (Big Pharma? The military? Welfare? Freeways? Processed food?) is writing. The rest becomes unnecessary when you leave the culture of fear. And I suspect someone could have come up with writing without civilization.

Can a farming civilization ever stop being afraid? Only if it is no longer brainwashed into the belief that domination, labor, and order are what protect it from the caprices of an untrustable nature. Can it ever allow other cultures to exist alongside of it? I’m not sure. I have a vision of farmers living only where farming has proven to be more or less sustainable, in large river valleys like the Nile and Mississippi, while nomads, foragers, and some horticulturists live in the hills, the smaller valleys, and the delicate lands that agriculture can only destroy. But that would demand that those farmers not fear the freedom of the nomads, and so far, that hasn’t happened. I hope we can mature to that point. I wish someday the descendants of Sitting Bull, as well as mine, can ride again across unfenced plains to hunt bison and gather in transient villages along the Little Bighorn, and anywhere.

My wife and I are not true nomads, and couldn’t ever be. Those days died in 1876. Our nomadism relied on fossil fuels, landlords with furnished rentals, farmers to sell us food, and the whole bloody infrastructure of civilization. I have no illusions about whose shoulders—and corpses—I’m standing on. But I’ve now had the chance to stretch my leash far enough to glimpse the larger features of a culture grounded in fear-mongering and violence, whose very laws, values, work ethic, and traditions enshrine the domination of the many by the powerful few. That is a culture that is killing a planet.

I’m still struggling to stay out of that culture. When I was about to graduate from the prep school that my father strained to afford, and I was blindly following my ordained trajectory by applying to college, a vague unease hit me. I remember telling a friend, “I know that all this schooling has bred me for it, but I don’t really want to contribute to this culture.” That has stayed with me. Sometimes I haven’t had the strength of character to stay true to that vision. Since those days, I’ve moved in and out of mainstream culture a couple of times. But this episode of nomadism has helped firm one thought: that at the end of my life, I hope I’ve done more to stop this culture of fear and create alternatives to it than contribute to it. And I will always be grateful for the gift of clarity and commitment given to me by the freest people in the world on that day overlooking the Little Bighorn River.

 

Support the Diner

Search the Diner

Surveys & Podcasts

NEW SURVEY

Renewable Energy

VISIT AND FOLLOW US ON DINER SOUNDCLOUD

" As a daily reader of all of the doomsday blogs, e.g. the Diner, Nature Bats Last, Zerohedge, Scribbler, etc… I must say that I most look forward to your “off the microphone” rants. Your analysis, insights, and conclusions are always logical, well supported, and clearly articulated – a trifecta not frequently achieved."- Joe D

Archives

Global Diners

View Full Diner Stats

Global Population Stats

Enter a Country Name for full Population & Demographic Statistics

Lake Mead Watch

http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/NA-BX686_LakeMe_G_20130816175615.jpg

loading

Inside the Diner

Hyderabad: After dilly-dallying for some time, monsoon remained slightly active during the last one week over Telangana State with above normal rainfall (+36) being received during the week. Light to moderate rainfall occurred at many places on most of...

(Phys.org)—A small team of researchers with the Chinese Academy of Sciences has conducted a study of organic matter in parts of China and in so doing has concluded that the southern drift of the East Asian monsoon rain belt will reverse itself and trav...

I am not a member of this collective.RE

This is a response to requests I received to clarify what I meant by “stupidity” in the following tweet:Meticulo...

Congress’ biggest climate denier visited the Arctic. What happened next will disappoint you.Earlier this month, BuzzFeed News re...

Recent Facebook Posts

Retweeted Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu): Trumpcare is Deathcare. We need to repeal and replace the President of the United States. #SaveACA

46 minutes ago

Retweeted Jeb Sanford (@JebSanford): Do you approve of the job that @realDonaldTrump has done as President? Retweet to spread poll!!

46 minutes ago

Retweeted Jon Favreau (@jonfavs): Heller was a no until billionaire casino magnate Steve Wynn threatened him almost daily. What a sad, perfect..

49 minutes ago

Retweeted David Corn (@DavidCornDC): Will cancer-stricken @SenJohnMcCain help a draft-dodger who called him a loser take health care from millions?..

52 minutes ago

Xeni Jardin on Twitter

This is important. https://t.co/d65EFbf1rq

55 minutes ago

Diner Twitter feed

Knarf’s Knewz

This is a response to requests I received to clari [...]

Congress’ biggest climate denier visited the Arcti [...]

New research offers a reminder that dietary supple [...]

Diner Newz Feeds

  • Surly
  • Agelbert
  • Knarf
  • Golden Oxen
  • Frostbite Falls

Just Because. Watch a Master Magician Slice an Oli [...]

Sperm Counts Have Plummeted Among Western Men, Sci [...]

Thanks for posting the article on Greenland.  [...]

RE on his "charm offensive" as he works [...]

Congress’ biggest climate denier visited the Arcti [...]

Quote from: Eddie on Today at 10:50:39 AMQuote fro [...]

Quote from: agelbert on Today at 09:58:23 AMElectr [...]

Electric Car Drivers: Desires, Demands & Who T [...]

This is a response to requests I received to clari [...]

Congress’ biggest climate denier visited the Arcti [...]

New research offers a reminder that dietary supple [...]

Quote from: K-Dog on July 20, 2017, 01:36:05 PMOil [...]

Oil for gold. Black Russian gold, no Texas tea.Whi [...]

As I remember the deal was struck & signed on [...]

Martin Landau was probably most famous for his rol [...]

If the Nukes don't get ya, the STDs will.  Th [...]

I'm jealous. I wanna go to collij. [...]

I have been doing research for my next adventure w [...]

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/governor-d [...]

Alternate Perspectives

  • Two Ice Floes
  • Jumping Jack Flash
  • From Filmers to Farmers

Have You a Positive Personal Practice? (Part Two) By Cognitive Dissonance   My apologies for how tar [...]

Have You a Positive Personal Practice? By Cognitive Dissonance   Those who dive deeply into unmaskin [...]

Dark Homes By Cognitive Dissonance   While we closed on the purchase of our mountain cabin in March [...]

The Greater Depression By Cognitive Dissonance   Once or twice a month Mrs. Cog and I pack up the ca [...]

SkyNet is Sentient and Will Destroy Your Investments and Pension By Cognitive Dissonance     Do you [...]

Event Update For 2017-07-23http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2017-07-22http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2017-07-21http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2017-07-20http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2017-07-19http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Well, at least it was made sure that the Svalbard Global Seed Vault looks real pretty (photo courtes [...]

Now it's data that makes the world go round? It's comfortably accepted by many that what w [...]

I left off last week's post – "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees, Industrial-Scale Renewabl [...]

When you wish upon a star the Blue Fairy sends Tinker Bell, who plants a magic seed, which grows int [...]

Wendell Berry: "What I stand for is what I stand on"; Fanfare Ciocărlia: "What we pla [...]

Daily Doom Photo

man-watching-tv

Sustainability

  • Peak Surfer
  • SUN
  • Transition Voice

Can Foodies Save the Planet?"Facing all of these grave threats, humans collectively have chosen to go insane."Having a [...]

Snowflake Summer"Why has academia descended into neo-fascist regimentation?"We didn’t give serious thought [...]

Maya Theater States"What generally occurs when a civilization over-extends is not a complete disappearance but a r [...]

The Ragweed Tribe"We bonded much more deeply than crash-pad stoners or cubicle rats. More like soldiers in a com [...]

Concrete Solutions"We want to take the atmosphere back to its pre-industrial chemistry as quickly as possible. Fo [...]

The folks at Windward have been doing great work at living sustainably for many years now.  Part of [...]

 The Daily SUN☼ Building a Better Tomorrow by Sustaining Universal Needs April 3, 2017 Powering Down [...]

Off the keyboard of Bob Montgomery Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666 Friend us on Facebook Publishe [...]

Visit SUN on Facebook Here [...]

In the echo-sphere of political punditry consensus forms rapidly, gels, and then, in short order…cal [...]

Discussions with figures from Noam Chomsky and Peter Senge to Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama off [...]

Lefty Greenies have some laudable ideas. Why is it then that they don't bother to really build [...]

Democracy and politics would be messy business even if all participants were saints. But America doe [...]

A new book argues that, in order to survive climate change and peak oil, the global money economy ne [...]

Top Commentariats

  • Our Finite World
  • Economic Undertow

https://engineering.stanford.edu/news/who-will-control-swarm "The world is already well on its [...]

Those three guys with their hands crossed (one behind his back) all look like they know (or have hea [...]

It might be best to separate what machines need to do from humans. it's the machines that need [...]

Hopefully we are smart enough to use scarce electricity to keep water pumping over the nuclear fuel [...]

Welcome to new day, added 's' to 'http' so everyone should feel more secure ... [...]

Just to be clear about all the different administrations mentioned; All the while not one thing that [...]

Clintons job was to keep the party going, BJs under the desk for all! Bushs job was to tell jokes an [...]

Hey Steve, why don't you look into becoming REs neighbor. After the great power down, you can l [...]

Think Vermont. All you need is a wood stove and an internet connection. I'll bet you have a lot [...]

RE Economics

Going Cashless

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Simplifying the Final Countdown

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Bond Market Collapse and the Banning of Cash

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

Discuss this article @ the ECONOMICS TABLE inside the...

Singularity of the Dollar

Off the Keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

SWISSIE CAPITULATION!

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Merry Doomy Christmas

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Collapse Fiction

Useful Links

Technical Journals

There is evidence that access to green spaces have positive effects on health, possibly through bene [...]

The objectives of this study are to use a clustering technique to identify homogeneous rainfall regi [...]

The city of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) is located in a tropical zone of the planet, in medium latitude [...]

Drought is one of the major threats to societies in Sub-Saharan Africa, as the majority of the popul [...]