Collapse

A Demon Haunted World

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Published on Pray for Calamity on March 31, 2016

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

“Dada get a big stick?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She kicks up leaves as she walks.

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

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

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

Creativity & Culture in Collapse

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on March 27, 2016

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As a student of Collapse Dynamics, I'm always looking for signs of collapse in various areas in our civilization.  I was drawn to the topic first by the collapse of the Investment Banks Bear Stearns & Lehman Brothers back in the financial crisis of 2007-2009, which is really still ongoing but reached a crescendo during this period.  It will eventually be followed by an even BIGGER crescendo, but for the moment it just plods onward with various smaller changes in tempo and volume.

There are many other areas beyond just the financial ones that reflect ongoing collapse,  Climate Calamities and Wild & Wacky Weather being other examples of Collapse Catastrophes we have to examine on virtually a daily basis these days.  Then all the Geopolitical manifestations of collapse, from the non-stop wars in MENA to the ever escalating Refugee crisis of displaced Homo Saps, either because of the wars or climate change, or both in synergy.  There are so many manifestations of collapse these days it's almost impossible to keep track, and there is a tendency in many people to internalize this as "normal".  "There will be Wars and Rumours of Wars" always as a Fundy friend of mine often says, and of course Floods and Tornadoes and other weather related disasters go back to time immemorial.  So you can't point to one flood in Texas and say "See, this is EVIDENCE of Collapse!".  By itself, it's not evidence since there have always been floods.  There also always have been companies going out of bizness, store closings and booms & busts in various industries, so if you point to any one of these things to bolster the argument collapse is underway, the Denier of Collapse will simply point out such things have always occurred in the past.

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This is a general failing of all anecdotal examples, just about EVERYTHING always occurs at some frequency, from wars to tornadoes to corporate bakruptcies to mass murders.  Holding up any one of these things as an example of Collapse in Action merely invites the criticism of "Wars and Rumours of Wars".  To demonstrate anything of this sort "scientifically" you need STATS!  You need to show that such events are occurring more frequently and/or are greater in intensity than they were before.  That is of course a very hard thing to do, since in most areas of collapse appropriate statistics are not collected by anything approaching a credible level by any credible agency at all.

Who believes the stats pitched out by the BLS (Bureau of Lies & Statistics) these days?  You have to be brain dead to buy those stats.  What about GDP figures pitched out by Da Fed or the People's Bank of China?  Do you buy that shit?  Do you buy the financial reports from the TBTF banks on the state of their balance sheets and non-performing loans?  Even with stats, you can't evaluate the truth of anything too well most of the time, because stats themselves can be manipulated in innumerable ways to show whatever you want them to show.  If you believe that Near Term Human Extinction is imminent, you Cherry Pick data to show that, as Guy McPherson does on Nature Bats Last all the time.  If you want to manipulate your energy company's stock price, you over estimate recoverable reserves and then revise the estimates later.

So finding metrics upon which to establish collapse is underway is pretty hard to do.  More and more people can "sense" it these days, thus the popularity of Prepper websites and Zombie movies.  Sensing it and demonstrating it though are two very different issues.

I do have a new metric though to observe cultural collapse, and it is in the film industry.  AKA Movies or Cinema, depending on the crowd you happen to be hobknobbing with.  If you are at the Cannes Film Festival, despite the name of the festival everyone calls it "cinema".  If you are chatting at the bar, it's "Did you see this movie?".

This collapse has been building over time, first with the decreasing revenues overall for the film industry, and then pretty observable with the low ratings and stupid controversies surrounding the latest in the Academy Awards extravaganza, where sadly for the Black Community no People of Color got nominated for anything significant.  Beyond this though and IMHO more significant is just the complete lack of interest in the current crop of actors and celebrities paraded out for this Dog & Pony Show for the masses.  There was a time back in the early years of Television when the Academy Awards were a HUGE ratings engine, mainly in the years when Bob Hope was the Master of Cermonies, and then after him Johnny Carson.  There have been a parade of different MCs since, from Billy Crystal to Chris Rock, but you could see the deterioration underway after the Carson years.

The actors getting awards now also have diminished significantly in quality.  Leonardo DiCaprio is OK, but he is no Marlon Brando or Jack Nicholson.  The films themselves while they may get decent Box Office sales from an increasing population size generally suffer from a lack of originality, other than new and more eye popping CGI graphics.

What really hit me in the last week on the Entertainment Newz front on my Google Newz Headlines was the newz that 2 of my favorite pop culture film/TV shows were being dusted off for yet another go round, Indiana Jones is coming back and so is Xena, Warrior Princess.  Arnold is talking about another Terminator movie too.  I started thinking about how the film and television industry is just loaded up these days with Sequels and Remakes of old material.

There are now 22, count 'em 22 James Bond 007 films.There are 12 Star Trek films & 6 Star Wars movies.  The list of Robin Hood remakes and adaptations is endless.  The first one appears to be a silent film circa 1908. Mel Brook's Men in Tights is still the best though. lol.

Essentially, all the good themes have been explored already, and what the film industry does is dig up popular themese from the past, populate the story line with the latest generation of actors and spruce it up with new CGI technology to present the same narratives to a new generation of Movie Goers or DVD buyers.

Of course there have been remakes going back to the silent era, and many films are remakes of plays or adaptations of novels, so themselves were not original material, but now it is the quantity of remakes and sequels that has become overwhelming.

I personally don't go to the movies anymore, nor do I own a TV.  Going back at least a decade or so, both had begun to bore me.  I was a TV addict growing up, watching probably an average of 5 hours a day in my peak TV watching years.  Those were the days when they re-ran old movies and old TV shows, and it almost didn't matter what time of day it was, I could find something to watch on one of about 7 channels that were available over VHF frequencies in NY Shity.  There were another 2-3 channels that came in OK over UHF as well, but they didn't usually have anything worth watching on them.

Today, when I am in a hotel room somewhere on the few occassions I venture from home, I can flip on the big screen TV in the hotel room with 100 channels, and not a damn thingis  worth watching.  Not to mention the fact that whatever is on is jam packed with commercials unless it's a pay service.

So it's really no wonder that the Academy Awards get low ratings, nobody really gives a rat's ass who wins the little statue.  The only thing people care about with respect to celebrities these days is what kind of scandal they get immersed in, drug rehabs, divorces, sex change operations or whatever.  I didn't watch the Academy Awards this year of course, but I bet you dollars to doughnuts the speeches were boring and the jokes were flat.

A while back I wrote an article where I pegged the year which IMHO was "Peak Movies", which was 1968.  This was a year for quite a few other peaks, like Peak Assassinations and Peak Riots too.  Older folks than me often put the date of Peak Movies earlier, and younger folks put the Peak Movies later than this date, so it is somewhat subjective.

Ugo Bardi though put up a graph a while back which traced "Peak Rock Music" as defined by Rolling Stone's "Top 500" vs. US Oil Production, and the charts are astonishingly similar.

https://www.overthinkingit.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/rs-500-us-oil-production1.jpg


Here again, you seem to see the cultural peak of Amerikan Empire coming around 1965 or so, with local Peak Oil production shortly following that around 1971, and by my estimation Movies hitting the middle ground right between in 1968.

Correlation is not Causation of course, at least not necessarily, however it is remarkable how both cultural aspects of the society and available energy in the society seem to match up.  In speculating on why this is so I have three working hypotheses:

1- On the upswing of available energy, all things seem possible, which gets the creative juices flowing in the artistic members of the society

2- New technologies developing inspire artists to create in new ways.

3- Both artists and aficionados of art have more free time and money to appreciate artwork of various types.  They gravitate to the latest types of artwork available in their culture for the most part.

In the Music Industry, the New Technology to develop was Amplified Music and the Electric Guitar which first hit the scene in 1931, but really took off in the early 1950s with the mass produced Fender Stratocaster.  This of course is also when "Rock & Roll" really took off as well as the dominant music style of the late industrial era, now in its declining years.

Invented in 1931, the amplified electric guitar was adopted by jazz guitarists, who sought to be able to be heard in large big band ensembles. Early proponents of the electric guitar on record included Les Paul, Lonnie Johnson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, T-Bone Walker, and Charlie Christian. During the 1950s and 1960s, the electric guitar became the most important instrument in pop music.[1] It has evolved into an instrument that is capable of a multitude of sounds and styles. It served as a major component in the development of electric blues, rock and roll, rock music, and many other genres of music.

In films after their initial invention by Thomas Edison, the first major technological improvement was the addition of sound in "Talkies".  This preceeded the invention of the Electric Guitar by a few years, coming in the lat 1920s.  The first major motion picture to feature soun was "The Jazz Singer" with Al Jolson released in 1927, just 4 years before the electric guitar

Film technology continued to develop, and got a real kick start in the 1940s with the development of films that would record in native color.  There were color films made going back into the silent era, but they had to be hand colored.  Probably the first major motion picture to feature color was the Wizard of Oz in 1939, and the contrast between the stark B&W panorama of Kansas and the Color of Oz really brought home the visual impact to audiences of the era.

Through the 1940s and well into the 1950s though, color in films was more or less a 50-50 proposition, and even in the 1960s many filmakers elected to use B&W either for their own artistic aesthetic or due to budgetary constraints.  Color Film remained much more expensive than B&W film well into the 1960s and the beginning of the "Kodachrome" era.

Film technology continued to improve using miniatures and animation techniques through the 1960s, which were applied mainly in the Sci-Fi genre like "2001: A Space Odyssey" in films and the television series "Star Trek".

These enhancements contributed enormously to the popularity of this type of film, and to the meme of perpetual progress as well.  Sci-Fi and fantasy films of all sorts began to take over, and on a cultural level this is where the art became divorced from the reality.

The reality in fact was that after making the expeditions to the Moon in the 60s, the NASA Space Program basically hit a wall, the big wheel in the sky Spce Station never materialized, only a few RV sized modules labelled the "Intenational Space Station" dropped into low Earth orbit mostly carried up there by Ruskie Rockets.

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It is at this point the cultural memes and artistic representations began to become repetitive, basically milking every last ounce out of the ideas while in reality the surrounding culture was deteriorating, and the art became just facsimile of art done before, rehashed for the next generation of Homo Sap.  It is degenerate art, and the generation growing up viewing it knows that, at least on a subconscious level.

To maintain the DREAM, decades were spent evolving ever increasing debt in pursuit of this dream, and it continues onward today in the ckepersona of folks like Elon Musk with his "Power Wall" batteries, EV Carz and Private Space Rocketry program.  Where does the money come from for a Rocket Program?  It makes no money and they crash expensive hardware all the time, along with killing the occassional test pilot.  Obviously, the money comes from debt, and Elon Musk's great gift is to be able to get the folks ho issue debt out to issue out BILLIONS of it so he can pursue these dream projects.  Richard Branson does the same thing.  The shit never makes any money, it's not "productive", but it sells the dream and more debt is issued to pursue that dream.

The future if we are to have one lies in LETTING GO of these dreams and leaving behind the sick & deteriorating culture of consumption that surrounds those dreams, but this is something that few individuals in this society wish to do, and none of our political "leaders" wish to do at all.  The Donald's sound bites talk about "Making Amerika Great Again", as if we could go back to those halcyon days of the 1950s when Harriet had a nice hot dinner waiting for Ozzie when he came home from work and the Beaver played baseball in the sandlot with his friends.  We CAN'T go back to those days, no matter how much The Donald or Jim Kunstler would wish it to be so.

You variously hear the cliches that "Art Imitates Life" or that "Life Imitates Art".  In reality, Life and Art are one in the same thing, and our deteriorating culture runs in tandem with our deteriorating civilization, one just reflects the other.  To know that collapse is real and apparent, all one needs to do is walk around a Mall that still has some stores open and look at theChinese manufactured junk they are selling.  All one has to do is go to the movies to see "Superman vs Batman" for another regurgitation of a tired myth.  All one has to do is flip on the TV for a rehash of "Xena: Warrior Princess".

I won't be watching the new edition of Xena, nor will I go to see the new Terminator film Arnold says he is going to make.  I won't have the dreams of my youth destroyed watching derivative television series with new actors or film sequels with aging ones.  They are artifacts of the past, nice in the memory but just a reflection of a bygone era that will never come again.  I have let it go, and I kiss it goodbye.

 

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Interview with Peace Writer William T. Hathaway

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on March 17, 2016

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In this interview with William T. Hathaway we discuss his evolution  from his time as a Green Beret in the jungle of Vietnam to his  succeding years as an activist for peace, William Hathaway speaks with a clear voice the Diner is proud to feature. -RE

From Countercurrents.org:

"It took me years to overcome the warrior indoctrination I got in the Special Forces. It was very deeply ingrained. What finally brought me out of it was meditation and my wife's persistent love," says author William T. Hathaway. "Now I look back and ask, How could I have fallen for that military nonsense?"

A Special Forces combat veteran, Hathaway has answered that question in two novels about what attracts men to war and how they can be healed of the pathology of patriarchal machismo.

His first novel, A WORLD OF HURT, won a Rinehart Foundation Award for its portrayal of the blocked sexuality and the need for paternal approval that draw men to the military.

"I was trying to uncover the psychological roots of war, the forces that so persistently drive our species to slaughter," says Hathaway. "Our culture has degraded masculinity into a deadly toxin. It's poisoned us all. Men have to confront this part of themselves before men and women together can heal it."

He is active in a group offering support and shelter to soldiers who have refused to be sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. "The real heroes in the military are the deserters," says Hathaway. He wrote the introduction to AMERICA SPEAKS OUT: Collected Essays from Dissident Writers and has published numerous shorter pieces, including "Sedition, Subversion, Sabotage" in CounterCurrents.

His writing won him a Fulbright professorship at universities in Germany, where he currently lives.

Hathaway sees spirituality as an essential component of a more peaceful world. "My military experience convinced me that to prevent war we need to raise human consciousness. A look at the history of revolutions shows that switching economic and political systems isn't enough. The same aggressive personality types take over and start another army. We have to change the basic unit, the individual.

"Many of my leftist colleagues ignore this because they see the individual as the product of social and material forces. But I think the human heart is deeper than that and can be changed.

"I've found Eastern meditation to be the most effective way to change people. Unlike prayer, it works on the physiological level, altering the brain waves and metabolism. It refines the nervous system and expands the awareness so that the unity of all human beings becomes a living reality, not just an idealistic concept.

"After a while of meditation people stop wanting to consume things that increase aggression, such as meat, alcohol, and violent entertainment. They become more peaceful."

 

The psycho-dynamics of the financial market

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Published on FEASTA on February 19,2016

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Mental health problems and debt finance are strongly linked. People in debt have a higher incidence of psychiatric problems, and there is a higher rate of psychiatric symptoms among the people working in the finance sector too. During a bubble, egos are pumped up with asset values – and, when the bubble bursts, reputational collapse occurs with corresponding psychological effects.

When we look at the financial markets from an emotional and mental health angle, we don’t find optimal equilibrium states and rational people adapting to them. Instead, we come across a large number of unhappy, dysfunctional and disorientated people. Let’s look first at the debtor – creditor relationship from a mental health point of view.

Mental Health and Debt

For a start, there is a striking correlation between mental ill health and debt – on both sides – lenders as well as borrowers. Among other things, it is now well documented that self-reported anxiety increases with the ratio of credit card debt to personal income; that the onset of mortgage debt has a negative impact on mental health on males; that of people receiving debt advice, a high proportion (62% in a UK study) reported that their debt led to stress, anxiety and depression which they are likely to consult their doctor about; that there is a relationship between debt and post natal depression; that debt is the strongest predictor of depression; that difficulties in repaying debts are strongly connected with suicidal ideation and self-harm; that debt is associated with feelings of shame, social embarrassment, a sense of personal failure, negative self-identities and is implicated in isolation, social exclusion and strained relationships. (Fitch, Chaplin, Trend, & Collard, 2007)

Now let is turn to look at the situation on the other side, among the people who lend money, or at least those who manage and direct the credit markets. Mental health problems can be severe in the heat of financial competition. Drugs and alcohol are commonplace on Wall Street.

In a study of 26 men ages 22 to 32, all prestigious Wall Street brokers, researchers at Florida’s Nova South-eastern University examined how work stress affects brokers” physical and mental health. Led by John Lewis, Ph.D., a psychology professor at NSU, the study found that a broker’s average workday was 10 to 12 hours long, and that those earning the most also slept the least. The participants rarely missed work, calling in sick an average of twice a year but suffering from the flu or a virus at least twice as often. And despite being wealthy, the brokers were unhappy. Thirty- eight percent met the criteria for subclinical major depression, while 23 percent were clinically
diagnosed with major depression—shocking, considering only 7 percent of men are currently depressed in the U.S., according to the National Institutes of Mental Health. (Gorrell, 2001 update 2009)

A few years ago, during the financial crisis of 2007-2008, New York newspapers revelled in stories about stressed-out traders reaching breaking point. One broker, Christopher Carter, was charged with assault for throwing a hedge fund manager, complete with an exercise bike, at a wall in an Upper East Side gym. The hedgie’s offence? He grunted and shouted, “You go, girl!” too loudly during a spin class.

In London, a hedge fund manager, Bertrand des Pallières, made news during the time of the financial crisis because he was so busy shorting stocks that he didn’t notice for three months that his £80,000 Maserati had been towed away.

Jim Cramer, a hedge fund manager turned television stock picker, told the New York Times that drugs tended to reinforce traders’ inability to spot a looming downturn: “Prozac and all those other drugs banish the ‘this is the end of the world’ thoughts. Which means you are not as anxious as you should be about an obvious downside.” (Clark, 2008)

During the panic, therapists reported that there was an epidemic of psychological illnesses in the finance sector, while some of the managers used some of the oldest of psychological strategies for coping – avoidance, denial, switching off mentally in the heat of the crisis. An example was James Cayne, chief executive officer of the Bear Stearns bank.

The German news magazine Der Spiegel described Cayne’s work style thus:

“Even in times of the greatest crisis the boss of investment bank Bear Stearns did not let himself be distracted from his hobbies. Last July, as one of his Hedge Funds broke down, the head of the board travelled undisturbed to a several day long bridge tournament in Nashville, Tennessee. While his troops fought for survival Cayne was not contactable. He had turned his mobile phone off. Its ring could have disturbed the many times American bridge champion.” (Die Bank Raeuber, 2008)” – translator author.

Even a cursory glance reveals therefore that, from the point of view of community mental health, the credit system is highly dysfunctional. Of course mental health workers meet desperately unhappy
people living absurd lives all the time. Meeting people trapped in belief systems that, from the outside, seem crazy goes with the job. Normally, to be unlucky enough to qualify for a mental illness diagnosis, the apparently strange belief system that you have, and your strange way of making sense of the world must be unique to you. It will be seen as part of your inability to communicate with others. Then a psychiatrist can damn you with a variety of diagnostic labels like “thought disorder” which are said to be the symptoms of something deeper.

Over the last couple of decades, it has become clear that a lot of these strange thoughts are actually interpretable with a bit of effort. Psychologists, therapists and counsellors who become good at this quickly note emotional response patterns in society at large – the common cultural assumptions that help form collective emotional responses made by whole groups of people. There is nothing new in this. Freud applied his ideas out of the consulting room in observations about the wider world and his ideas were picked up by the advertising industry in the manner already described.

Using what we know about group emotions, it seems to me that it ought to be possible, and would indeed be valuable, to integrate the knowledge of group psycho-dynamics into our understanding of the way that markets evolve, including financial markets.

As explained in the previous chapter, using borrowed money during a boom phase, as long as asset values continue to inflate, it is easy to make money using borrowed money. This is called leverage and the point about leverage on the way up is that it can get out of control. Betting that asset values will go up with borrowed money creates a further pressure pushing those values up even more in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Such self-fulfilling prophecies are common in mental health – confidence leads to success and builds confidence even more. However, where there are no limits to mood enhancement, it leads into mania – and that includes on the financial markets…

Egos get pumped up at the same time as assets values

In the circumstances of a leveraged boom it is not only asset values that get pumped up but egos. Ordinary mortals who, in other circumstances would see themselves as no more or less important than anyone else, suddenly become very rich and acquire the symbols of social success that are so important to “marketing characters”. It is, thus, not only bank balances that swell in size when bonuses are announced.

Trading rooms are fiercely competitive places and the action is fast and furious. In finance, just as in any other branch of life, the more one devotes one attention to the matter at hand, the better one will do. The broader and deeper one’s knowledge is, the more edge one will have over everyone else. However, this has some resemblance to addictive behaviour. In an addiction, everything and everyone takes second place to the addiction. The guru who understands the markets better than anyone else probably understands the other things in life less well – and certainly gives them lower priority. For the finance experts, it will probably seem self-evident, ultimately, that the way out of problems is to buy one’s way out. This will not make for happy relationships. (Kreitzman, 1999, p. 26)

Earlier in the book, I quoted the example of the currency trader whose marriage was wrecked because of the way that he tried to keep track of the 24 hour currency market and woke every 2 hours to keep track as markets on the other side of the world opened. This is the kind of thing that a manic person will do. The fact that other people in the financial markets are living in the same crazy way is likely to mean that it is not interpreted as mania, but it does not change its essential character. The euphoria of mania is like the excitement of a small child the day before its birthday. This child cannot sleep because the next day will bring a pile of presents, a party and lots of attention. The manic person cannot find a way to switch their feelings off and is constantly on an adrenalin high. Often enough, in these circumstances more and more commitments are taken on. What is missing is the idea of a personal limit to one’s practical and work capacities.

In the life of a person who is not wealthy, these practicalities and the urgent adrenalin-charged character of their relationships will eventually mean that they come unstuck. Making ever more commitments means that they over-reach. Complications are not foreseen. Other people do not play ball with grandiose designs. If one does too much one doesn’t have time to wash one’s clothes and do the washing up. Life, practicalities, projects and relationships fall apart as one goes past one’s limits.

A rich person may not have some of the complications of ordinary life which would floor a manic person. Their money can buy servants and, with enough wealth, sex (though not love) is no problem either. Many of the practical problems in life can be solved with money or a credit card – until the crash.

The whole history of the market economy tells us that a crash comes eventually. Euphoria impairs judgement. The overconfidence of rich and powerful people, because it cannot be held in check by the countervailing power of those who are not as strong economically or politically, nevertheless, reaches a point beyond which it cannot go further. As I once argued in a psychotherapy journal:

“The ancient Greeks already knew how to describe situations like this. This was a job for the Goddess Nemesis whose role it was to maintain equilibrium on earth “rebalancing” happiness from time to time. In fulfilment of her role, Nemesis had a tricky relationship with the goddess Tyche – who was irresponsible in handing out Luck and Fortune, indiscriminately heaping her horn of plenty, or depriving others of what they had. In particular Nemesis would wreak havoc on those favoured by Tyche if they failed to give proper dues to the gods, become too full of themselves, boasted of their abundant riches or refused to improve the lot of their fellow humans by sharing their luck.” (Davey, What Future?, 2007)

People who become too full of themselves eventually believe that they can get away with anything in the pursuit of their addiction. In the literature about the financial crisis of a few years ago we could read over and again that the banks did not trust each other. When trust breaks down, we have a very specific kind of psycho-dynamic occurring between people.

A Professor of Organisational Ethics at the Cass Business School, Roger Steare, undertook integrity tests on more than 700 financial services executives in several major firms and came to the conclusion that: “There is a systemic deficit in ethical values within the banking industry. This will not change by hanging a few people out to dry”.

The results of these tests indicate that, as a group, they scored lower than average in honesty, loyalty and self-discipline. Steare compared traders to “mercenary hired guns”, who regularly switched firms to maximise earnings. (Hunt, 2008)

Reputational collapse

Behind the technical language of “liquidity”, is a language that distances us from the deeper reality.
The truth about the credit crunch was that it was a reputational collapse of the participants of an entire economic sector – the people running this sector overreached themselves. The really damaging thing has been that most of them have been able to get away with it because governments feel that they must bail them out. This means that the whole charade will happen again… and again… until society organises a fundamental root and branch reform of this sector.

The road that has brought humanity to this crazy point has been one where there have been, and still are, plenty of illusions. These are little different from the illusions that a manic person would create. Cassandras who try to express the folly of pushing beyond the limits are ignored.

In the case of the financial markets, because the manic process is a collective one, the illusions are repeatedly embodied in institutions and are dignified with words like “financial innovation”.

Rather as a mad person will split off the part of their personality that does not fit their cosy self-image, that is, the murderously angry and hateful self, so the financial institutions split off the financial junk that earns them fees making predatory loans to people who cannot afford to pay them back or are in other ways dubious ethically and financially. The splitting hives securities off balance sheets into “special purpose institutions”. Rather as the mad person will wishfully believe what they want to believe rather than hard realities, the banks have paid other organisations to give AAA ratings to the worthless pieces of paper that they issue so that everyone, including themselves, can believe that everything will be OK.

Such strategies have their parallels in mental mechanisms of avoidance – the pathologies unravelled by clinical psychology. But then, to use the terminology of Freudian analysis, the repressed truth, the reality that has been held at bay, returns. The worthless assets have to be taken back onto the books. Reality bursts through the illusion.

To conclude, it would be valuable to integrate into our theorisation of what happens in the course of the credit and other economic cycles and events, the emotional changes of the people involved as they act and live through these events. Very often, people live with their emotions but barely notice them. They have no language or concept systems to describe their emotional responses and we may describe them as emotionally illiterate. Not having reflected deeply on their own emotional responses and those of others, they may act in ways which are unconscious, lacking in self-awareness. As explored in other chapters, this kind of person lives through what the therapist Erich Fromm called a “marketing personality”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Economic Collapse of South America

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Published on The Economic Collapse on March 3, 2016

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The 7th largest economy on the entire planet is completely imploding.  I have written previously about the economic depression that is plaguing Brazil, but since my last article it has gotten much, much worse.  During 2015, Brazil’s economy shrank by 3.8 percent, but for the most recent quarter the decline was 5.89 percent on a year over year basis.  Unemployment is rising rapidly, the inflation rate is up over 10 percent, and Brazilian currency has lost 24 percent of its value compared to the U.S. dollar over the past 12 months.

At this point, Brazil is already experiencing its longest economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and things are getting worse for ordinary Brazilians every single day.  The following comes from CNN

But with Brazil plunging into its worst recession in over two decades — hopes for a brighter future are fading. The Brazilian economy shrank 3.8% in 2015, according to government data published Thursday. That’s the biggest annual drop since 1990 and the country is in its longest recession since the 1930s.

I have never seen anything like this,” said Alves, 24, as he stood on his balcony overlooking Rocinha, a massive lower middle class neighborhood or favela in Rio de Janeiro where he grew up. “My parents would tell me about hard times, but today it is really tough. Prices are going up every day.”

So how did this happen?

Well, there are a couple of factors that are really hurting South American economies.

Number one, during the “boom years” governments and businesses in South America absolutely gorged on debt.  Unfortunately, many of those loans were denominated in U.S. dollars, and now that the U.S. dollar has appreciated greatly against local South American currencies it is taking far more of those local currencies to service and pay back those debts.

Number two, collapsing prices for oil and other commodities have been absolutely brutal for South American economies.  They rely very heavily on exporting commodities to the rest of the world, and so at the same time their debt problems are exploding they are getting a lot less money for the oil and industrial commodities that they are trying to sell to North America, Asia and Europe.

I want you to pay close attention to the following chart and analysis from Zero Hedge.  As you can see, the economic problems in Brazil appear to be greatly accelerating…

“The Brazilian economic downturn took a real turn for the worse in February,” according to Markit’s Composite PMI, which collapsed to record lows at 39.0. Despite a slightly less bad than expected GDP print this morning (still down a record 5.89% YoY), hope was quickly extinguished as PMIs showed economic activity continuing to contract at a record pace, job losses accelerating, and manufacturing’s collapse accelerating. As Market sums up, “With the global economy also showing signs of slowing, which will impact on external demand, it looks as if the downturn is set to continue to run its course in the coming months.”

GDP was a disaster (but better than expected)

Brazil GDP - Zero Hedge

And of course Brazil is not the only South American economy that is a basket case right now.  In fact, things in Venezuela are far worse.  In 2015, the Venezuelan economy shrunk by 10 percent, and the official rate of inflation was a staggering 181 percent.

Could you imagine living in an economy with a 181 percent inflation rate?

As prices have escalated out of control, citizens have attempted to hoard basic supplies in advance, and this has resulted in food shortages that are absolutely frightening

Cardboard signs on the door warning of “No bread” have become increasingly common at Venezuelan bakeries.

Venezuela gets 96 percent of its foreign currency from oil exports, and as crude prices have plunged, so have the country’s imports — among them wheat.

The leftist government of President Nicolas Maduro has tightly controlled access to hard currency, and this has affected imports ranging from medicine to toilet paper. Now it is seriously affecting imports of wheat, which Venezuela does not grow.

Add to this the soaring inflation rate — 181 percent in 2015, the world’s highest — and you see why customers are mainly interested in buying basic food items such as bread.

Here in the United States, there are still people who doubt that an economic crisis is happening.

But in Venezuela and Brazil there is no debate.

Unfortunately, what is happening in Venezuela and Brazil is also slowly starting to happen to most of the rest of the planet as well.  It is just that they are a little farther down the road.  Economic and financial bubbles are bursting all over the world, and I like how author Vikram Mansharamani described this phenomenon during a recent interview with CNBC

Deflationary tides are lapping the shores of countries across the world and financial bubbles are set to burst everywhere, Vikram Mansharamani, a lecturer at Yale University, told CNBC on Thursday.

I think it all started with the China investment bubble that has burst and that brought with it commodities and that pushed deflation around the world and those ripples are landing on the shore of countries literally everywhere,” the high-profile author and academic said at the Global Financial Markets Forum in Abu Dhabi.

And of course the evidence of what Mansharamani was talking about is all around us.

Just this week we found out that Chinese state industries plan to lay off five to six million workers, U.S. factory orders have now fallen for 15 months in a row, and the corporate default rate in the United States has now risen above where it was at when Lehman Brothers collapsed.

There are some people that would like to point to the fact that stocks have bounced back a bit over the past couple of weeks as evidence that the crisis is over.

If they want to believe that, they should go ahead and believe that.

Unfortunately, the truth is that the hard economic numbers that are coming in from all over the world tell us very clearly that global economic activity is slowing down significantly.

A new global recession has already begun, and the pain that is already being felt all over the planet is just the beginning of what is coming.

 

 

 

 

 

Between the Loathsome and the Unspeakable

trump_sanders_hillary_late_night gc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation February 22, 2016

 


How reassuring is it to Hillary, exactly, that she won what amounted to a straw poll totaling less than 11,000 votes among the various Nevada hotel employees unions? You could tell from her pained, artificial smile at the victory podium that there is something booby prize-ish about that narrow triumph. And what was with the metallic red outfit that had her looking like a previously-owned Christmas tree ornament? Maybe her handlers put her in Kevlar for the occasion.

She’ll need it as this fretful election campaign moves into the middle innings. That trademark unconvincing smile masks the embarrassing truth that the fix is in for Hillary inside the dark machine that is the Democratic Party hierarchy, hijacked by chairperson Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s league of crones. The so-called “super-delegates” have all been rounded up and branded with a big smoking “H” on their hindquarters, leaving poor Bernie in the alkali basin of dashed hopes.

Readers have noticed (and complained loudly) lo these many months that I couldn’t get on-board for Bernie. I’m glad that someone opposed Mz It’s-My-Turn, but the Vermonter-from-Brooklyn lacks the juice to drive the necessary wooden stake into her grifter’s heart. The Goldman Sachs speaking fees ($200-K-plus each) should have been enough to send her to the donkey’s graveyard but, like so many awful truths in our over-amped and under-brained world, it got sucked into the TMZ alternative universe of discarded realities.

The latest simpleton’s political theory floating around the ether says that Hillary is guaranteed to get the overwhelming support of black voters. Why is that exactly? And what does it mean? Is she going to re-run the civil rights era? Is she going take up the banner for “safe spaces” on campus? Is she going to join the Oscars boycott? And, honestly, what has Mr. Obama done for black America, besides provide a model for how you can get somewhere in this society by learning how to speak English intelligibly?

So, the simpleton’s theory goes: Hillary wins the black and Hispanic vote and a big majority of womens’ votes. What does that mean? That America is now split into an ethnic-and-womens’ party (Dems) against a white mens’ party (Repubs)? Isn’t that a nice recipe for a multi-dimensional civil war?

Actually, it would be the mere seasoning in a stew of civilizational crisis simmering on the margins of the stupidest election contest in American history that could literally blow the country to pieces. The news media is, for instance, perfectly oblivious to the awful instabilities blossoming on the financial scene. In fact, the banks and markets are behaving in a way that suggests shocking disruptions to everyday life before the general election is even held. How would the Hillary-versus-Trump match-up go in a September of bank bail-ins and empty supermarket shelves due to the inability of businesses to service one another?

Rumblings out of the banking system ought to inform us that trust in mutual obligations is dwindling to the same zero-peg (and under) as world-wide interest rates. Something’s got to give and something will give (perhaps starting with something that has the initials “DB”) and then a whole lot of other things will give — beating a path swiftly to disrupting the normal complex operations of daily life that put food in your microwave and gasoline in the convenience store pumps. At that point, of course, all bets are off. Without being too cute about it, we ought to have reason to worry that America will be too disorderly later this year to even hold the 2016 general election.

As for Mr. Trump, he remains what I said at the campaign’s outset: worse than Hitler, lacking the brains, charm, and savoir faire of the Ol’ Fuhrer, and with his darkness even more plainly visible. Even Adolf could manage to get his necktie on so that it didn’t dangle around his nutsack. I don’t mean to trivialize the difference between these two psychopaths, except to say that America will be very very sorry to follow the tune of the so-far leading Republican candidate’s pied-pipings.

Frankly, if Mr. Trump actually manages to technically snag the party’s nomination, I can imagine several consequences. One, that he will indeed succeed in destroying the party. The other leaders at the dark heart of its hierarchy will never stand for Trump. In that case, they will form a breakaway rump GOP and throw their support to Michael Bloomberg, if he decides to jump in — and he might be enough of a true patriot to do that. The less appetizing alternative consequences involve the apparatus of the runaway Deep State (NSA and the military) either bumping off Trump, or staging a coup d’état against him in the event that he manages to get elected. I’m not advocating for those outcomes, but you ought to be prepared for the possibilities.

Most of all, don’t underestimate the power of events to outrun personalities this year.

 


James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

Was the Collapse of the Roman Empire caused by Climate Change?

limitsgc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on February 8, 2016

fall-of-rome

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The collapse of the Western Roman Empire: was it caused by climate change?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image from the recent paper by Buentgen et al., published on "Nature Geoscience" on February 8, 2016. The red curves are temperature changes reconstructed from tree rings in the Russian Altai (upper curve) and the European Alps (lower curve). Note the remarkable dip in temperatures that took place starting with the 6th century AD. But, by then, the Western Roman Empire was past and gone. Its collapse was NOT caused by climate change. 

The relationship of climate and civilization collapse is a much debated subject. From the recent collapse of the Syrian state to the much older one of the Bronze Age civilization, climate changes have been seen as the culprit of various disasters befalling on human societies. However, an alternative view of societal collapse sees it as the natural ("systemic") result of the declining returns that a society obtains from the resources it exploits. It is the concept termed "diminishing returns of complexity" by Joseph A. Tainter.

On this point, we may say that there may well exist several causes for societal collapse. Either climate change or resource depletion may sufficiently weaken the control structures of any civilization to cause it to fold over and disappear. In the case of the Western Roman Empire, however, the data published by Buentgen et al. completely vindicate Tainter's interpretation of the collapse of the Roman Empire: it was a systemic collapse, it was NOT caused by climate changea. 

We can see that there was a cooling episode that probably affected the whole of Eurasia and that started with the beginning of the 6th century AD.  This period is called LALIA (Late Antiquity Little Ice Age) and it seems to have been stronger than the better known LIA (Little Ice Age) that took place during the 18th and 19th centuries. Apparently, the LALIA was mainly caused by a series of volcanic eruptions that injected large amounts of particulate in the atmosphere; cooling it by reflecting sunlight. Overall, temperatures went down by a couple of degrees in comparison to the time that we call the "Roman Warm Period."

A truly brutal cooling, yes, and it surely had effects on human life, as discussed at length in the paper by Buentgen et al. But it had nothing to do with the fall of the Western Roman Empire whose decline had started at least two centuries before. The Empire started its final disintegration phase with the beginning of the 5th century; when it ceased to be able to garrison the fortifications at the borders. Then, Rome was sacked one first time in 410 AD; and finally destroyed by the Vandals in 455 AD. That was the true end of the Western Empire, even though, for some decades, there were still individuals who claimed the title of Emperors. But all that took place in a period of relatively stable climate, at least from what we can say about the available data. So, the collapse was systemic, related to factors other than climate and, in my opinion, mainly related to the collapse of the Roman financial system, in turn caused by mineral depletion.

But could it be that, after all, there is a correlation between the Roman collapse and climate change? Just it would be the reverse of what it had been sometimes proposed: could the Roman collapse have caused the LALIA cooling (or, at least, contributed to it)? The idea is not farfetched: the population collapse that took place with the fall of the Empire could have led to a considerable level of reforestation of Western Europe, and that would have absorbed CO2 from the atmosphere. That would have been an added factor to volcanic cooling. It is an idea already expressed some time ago by William Ruddiman. It seems to be out of fashion, nowadays, but I think that it should be explored more.

In the end, this story can teach us a lot: first of all, how fragile climate is. In the interpretation by Buentgen et al., just three volcanic eruptions – relatively large ones, but not truly gigantic – were sufficient to cause a two-degree cooling extending all over Eurasia. Think of what could be the effect if something similar were to happen in our times! Then, it shows also how the situation, today, has completely changed. Temperatures have taken a completely different trend with the start of large scale emissions of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Incidentally, these data also confirm the "Hockey Stick" data by Michael Mann and others. Global warming is real, the earth's climate is fragile, and we are in big troubles.

Additional note: The data published in "Nature" generated a truly awful article in the "Daily Express" titled "Mini-ice age 1,500 years ago contributed to fall of Roman Empire". There, they generate an incredible mishmash of the Western and Eastern Empires, showing for instance gladiator games that had ceased to exist at least one century before the LALIA. Then, they say that the 6th century cooling "contributed to the collapse of the Eastern Roman Empire." Which is an interesting extrapolation, since the Eastern Empire didn't collapse until about a thousand years after the LALIA!!  At least, they should go back to junior high school but, on the other hand, think of how they report about climate change: what would you expect from them when they discuss about the Roman Empire?

(h/t Graham Readfearn)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Empire of Lies

limitsgc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on February 8, 2016

The Trajan Column was built in order to celebrate the victories of the Roman Armies in the conquest of Dacia, during the 2nd century AD. It shows that the Romans knew and used propaganda, although in forms that for us look primitive. In those times, just as in ours, a dying empire could be kept together for a while by lies, but not forever.  

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At the beginning of the 5th century AD, Augustine, bishop of Hippo, wrote his "De Mendacio" ("On Lying"). Reading it today, we may be surprised at how rigid and strict Augustine was in his conclusions. A Christian, according to him, could not lie in any circumstances whatsoever; not even to save lives or to avoid suffering for someone. The suffering of the material body, said Augustine, is nothing; what's important is one's immortal soul. Later theologians substantially softened these requirements, but there was a logic in Augustine's stance if we consider his times: the last century of the Western Roman Empire.

By the time of Augustine, the Roman Empire had become an Empire of lies. It still pretended to uphold the rule of law, to protect the people from the Barbarian invaders, to maintain the social order. But all that had become a bad joke for the citizens of an empire by then reduced to nothing more than a giant military machine dedicated to oppressing the poor in order to maintain the privilege of the few. The Empire itself had become a lie: that it existed because of the favor of the Gods who rewarded the Romans because of their moral virtues. Nobody could believe in that anymore: it was the breakdown of the very fabric of society; the loss of what the ancient called the auctoritas, the trust that citizens had toward their leaders and the institutions of their state.

Auguistine was reacting to all this. He was trying to rebuild the "auctoritas", not in the form of mere authoritarianism of an oppressive government, but in the form of trust. So, he was appealing to the highest authority of all, God himself. He was also building his argument on the prestige that the Christians had gained at a very high price with their martyrs. And not just that. In his texts, and in particular in his "Confessions" Augustine was opening himself completely to his readers; telling them all of his thoughts and his sins in minute details. It was, again, a way to rebuild trust by showing that one had no hidden motives. And he had to be strict in his conclusions. He couldn't leave any openings that would permit the Empire of Lies to return.

Augustine and other early Christian fathers were engaged, first of all, in an epistemological revolution. Paulus of Tarsus had already understood this point when he had written: "now we see as in a mirror, darkly, then we'll see face to face." It was the problem of truth; how to see it? How to determine it? In the traditional view, truth was reported by a witness who could be trusted. The Christian epistemology started from that, to build up the concept of truth as the result divine revelation. The Christians were calling God himself as witness. It was a spiritual and philosophical vision, but also a very down-to-earth one. Today, we would say that the Christians of late Roman times were engaged in "relocalization", abandoning the expensive and undefendable structures of the old Empire to rebuild a society based on local resources and local governance. The age that followed, the Middle Ages, can be seen as a time of decline but it was, rather, a necessary adaptation to the changed economic conditions of the late Empire. Eventually, all societies must come to terms with Truth. The Western Roman Empires as a political and military structure could not do that, It had to disappear, as it was unavoidable.

Now, let's move forward to our times and we have reached our empire of lies. On the current situation, I don't think I have to tell you anything that you don't already know. During the past few decades, the mountain of lies tossed at us by governments has been perfectly matched by the disastrous loss of trust in our leaders on the part of citizens. When the Soviets launched their first orbiting satellite, the Sputnik, in 1957, nobody doubted that it was for real and the reaction in the West was to launch their own satellites. Today, plenty of people even deny that the US sent men to the moon in the 1960s. They may be ridiculed, they may be branded as conspiracy theorists, sure, but they are there. Perhaps the watershed of this collapse of trust was with the story of the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" that we were told were hidden in Iraq. It was not their first, nor it will be their last, lie. But how can you ever trust an institution that lied to you so brazenly? (and that continue to do so?)

Today, every statement from a government, or from an even remotely "official" source, seems to generate a parallel and opposite statement of denial. Unfortunately, the opposite of a lie is not necessarily the truth, and that has originated baroque castles of lies, counter-lies, and counter-counter lies. Think of the story of the 9/11 attacks in New York. Somewhere, hidden below the mass of legends and myths that have piled up on this story, there has to be the truth; some kind of truth. But how to find it when you can't trust anything you read on the Web? Or think of peak oil. At the simplest level of conspiratorial interpretation, peak oil can be seen as a reaction to the lies of oil companies that hide the depletion of their resources. But you may also see peak oil as a scam created by oil companies that try to hide the fact that their resources are actually abundant – even infinite in the diffuse legend of "abiotic oil". But, for others, the idea that peak oil is a scam created in order to hide abundance may be a higher order scam created in order to hide scarcity. Eve higher order conspiracy theories are possible. It is a fractal universe of lies, where you have no reference point to tell you where you are.

Eventually, it is a problem of epistemology. The same that goes back to Pontius Pilate's statement "what is truth?" Where are we supposed to find truth in our world? Perhaps in science? But science is rapidly becoming a marginal sect of people who mumble of catastrophes to come, People whom nobody believes any longer after they failed to deliver their promises of energy too cheap to meter, space travel, and flying cars. Then, we tend to seek it in such things as "democracy" and to believe that a voting majority somehow defines "truth". But democracy has become a ghost of itself: how can citizens make an informed choice after that we discovered the concept that we call "perception management" (earlier on called "propaganda")?

Going along a trajectory parallel to that of the ancient Romans, we haven't yet arrived at having a semi-divine emperor residing in Washington D.C., considered by law to be the repository of divine truth. And we aren't seeing yet a new religion taking over and expelling the old ones. At present, the reaction against the official lies takes mostly the form of what we call "conspiratorial attitude." Although widely despised, conspirationism is not necessarily wrong; conspiracies do exist and much of the misinformation that spreads over the web must be created by someone who is conspiring against us. The problem is that conspirationism is not a form of epistemology. Once you have decided that everything you read is part of the great conspiracy, then you have locked yourself in an epistemological box and thrown away the key. And, like Pilate, you can only ask "what is truth?", but you will never find it.

Is it possible to think of an "epistemology 2.0" that would allow us to regain trust on the institutions and on our fellow human beings? Possibly, yes but, right now, we are seeing as in a mirror, darkly. Something is surely stirring, out there; but it has not yet taken a recognizable shape. Maybe it will be a new ideal, maybe a revisitation of an old religion, maybe a new religion, maybe a new way of seeing the world. We cannot say which form the new truth will take, but we can say that nothing new can be born without the death of something. And that all births are painful but necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

The Diner Lens 12

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on January 30, 2016

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Ansel Adams

Over the next few weeks in the Diner Lens Header Photo, we will honor some of the best photographers to produce images since the invention of photography.  I begin here with one of my favorites, Ansel Adams.  Click the link for a Google sample of AA's photos. -RE

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          A girl pushes a boy on a bicycle past damaged buildings in Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, Syria, Saturday. /Bassam Khabieh/Reuters

   

              
       Mohamed Ahmed, an asylum seeker from Sudan, stands inside the bunker he has dug at his home in Yida, South Sudan. When he arrived, Ahmend dug a bunker due to the fear of the bombing he had fled from.Picture: AFP

         
        A sperm whale lies on the sand after being washed ashore at Skegness beach in Skegness, Britain January 25, 2016. Three dead sperm whales washed up in Skegness on the weekend, local media reported. (REUTERS/Andrew Yates)

       
     A young migrant pulls a fire extinguisher in a muddy field at a camp of makeshift shelters for migrants and asylum-seekers from Iraq, Kurdistan, Iran and Syria, called the Grande Synthe jungle, near Dunkirk, France, January 25, 2016. A "race to the bottom" on asylum policy among European Union countries is exposing more than 360,000 child migrants to greater risk of harm as the bloc struggles to cope with a surge of refugees, rights watchdogs said on Monday. (REUTERS/Yves Herman)

                   
     A health worker stands in the Sambadrome as he sprays insecticide to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that transmits the Zika virus in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. Inspectors begin to spray insecticide around Sambadrome, the outdoor grounds where thousands of dancers and musicians will parade during the city's Feb. 5-10 Carnival celebrations. Brazil's health minister says the country will mobilize some 220,000 troops to battle the mosquito blamed for spreading a virus linked to birth defects. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

                

 Posted by Surly:  To understand the sheer scale of the Syrian refugee situation, here's a picture of a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan.

                  
      Ammon Bundy, center, one of the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, arrives for a news conference with supporters at the refuge on Jan. 8. LaVoy Finicum, who died during the arrests of his fellow Oregon occupiers on Jan. 26, carries his granddaughter on his shoulders to the left of Bundy. Rick Bowmer / AP
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Diner Lens 10

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on January 16, 2016

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      A frame from a video shows that Edward Archer runs with a gun toward a police car driven by Officer Jesse Hartnett in Philadelphia, Pa. on Jan. 7.

   

                        
     A Shi'ite Muslim girl holds a picture of Shi'ite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed along with others in Saudi Arabia, as she takes part in a protest rally in Islamabad, Pakistan. FAISAL MAHMOOD / Reuters

                   
      A civil defence member carries a dead child in a site hit by what activists said were airstrikes carried out by the Russian air force in the rebel-controlled area of Maaret al-Numan town in Idlib province, Syria January 9, 2016. At least 70 people died in what activists said where four vacuum bombs dropped by the Russian air force in the town of Maaret al-Numan; other air strikes where also carried out in the towns of Saraqib, Khan Sheikhoun and Maar Dabseh, in Idlib. (REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi)

                   
    
 Mourners gather around the bodies of four Palestinians during their funeral in the West Bank village of Sae'er, near Hebron. According to the Israeli Army, the Palestinians were killed Friday by Israeli forces while attempting two separate stabbing attacks. ABED AL HASHLAMOUN / EPA

                    
     Members of the FBI stand guard at the Burns Municipal Airport, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016, in Burns, Ore. A small, armed group has been occupying a remote national wildlife refuge in Oregon since a week earlier to protest federal land use policies. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

                                    
      A protester wearing a mask of missing bookseller Lee Bo stands in a cage during a protest against the disappearances of booksellers in Hong Kong, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016. Five men associated with a Hong Kong publisher known for books critical of China's leaders have vanished one by one in the last three months, alarming activists and deepening suspicions that mainland authorities are squeezing free expression in the enclave. The sign in front reads: "Missing men." (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

               
       A dapper Kim Jong-un, dressed in a winter coat and fedora hat, watches an underwater missile launch purportedly on December 21, 2015. North Korea's "successful" submarine-launched ballistic missile test was, according to South Korea media, an explosive failure that was not even launched from a submarine.Picture: YONHAP/AFP/Getty Images

                    
      A dead sperm whale is seen on a beach on Texel Island, The Netherlands, January 13, 2016. The five sperm whales that beached on the Dutch lsland of Texel on Tuesday have died overnight, Dutch media reported. (REUTERS/Cris Toala Olivares)

                
      A supporter of anti-immigration right-wing movement PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) sporting a tattoo reading 'Proud and Free' and the word Nazi struck out, takes part in in demonstration rally in reaction to mass assaults on women on New Year's Eve, in Cologne, Germany. Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

A Week that will Live in Infamy: Week 1, 2016

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on January 10, 2016

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clusterfuckWeek 1 of 2016 turned out incredibly eventful in the World of Collapse, and as a result I shelved my usual text based Sunday Brunch article in favor of a RANT on the ongoing CLUSTERFUCK.  Carnage like we had in the last week simply cannot be adequately treated in an text based blog.  The article I did have planned for Sunday Brunch I will publish sometime this week or maybe next weekend, a response to some issues brought up in the lead off Weather Gone Wild  episode.

The financial end of Collapse appears to be rapidly accelerating now, and may be at the point Central Bank interventions cannot contain the problem, which as I reinforce regularly is not really a monetary problem at all, but rather a resource depletion & population overshoot problem.  Printing more fiat, extending more credit to the uber-rich, flipping to Gold as currency, none of these things can work to resolve resource depletion and population overshoot.  Only depopulation can resolve those problems, which is why all the wars are breaking out over the resources.  No aggregate population willingly depopulates, although increasing suicide rates within populations are a common outcome.  This has been the case in Greece, and is also now apparent in Alberta in Canada as the Tar Sands play goes bust.  Wars diminish population and continue until some sort of balance is achieved with the resources in the environment.  Given the current level of resource depletion relative to population size, you can expect the wars to continue onward here for quite some time to come, although the profile may change in terms of international conflicts vs civil wars and high tech battles vs trebuchets and atl-atls over time.

In any event, Week 1 of 2016 saw a major escalation on all levels, particularly the financial one, which as it continues inexorably toward final collapse will drive all the rest of the civilization structures toward collapse as well.  Insulating yourself against these oncoming calamities as best you can remains the priority for individuals and small communities as collapse plays itself out.

Also, in case you missed it, here's the recap from 2015 moving into this Clusterfuck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Diner Lens 9

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on January 9, 2016

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     North Korean leader Kim Jung-un guides the test firing of a rocket in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang. North Korea is "likely" to have conducted a nuclear test on January 6, 2016 that caused an earthquake near a known testing site in the isolated country, the South Korean and Japanese governments said.Picture: REUTERS/KCNA

              
     Children eat during a non-government organization's feeding program at a slum area in Manila, the Philippines on Jan. 5, 2015. The country's population is expected to hit 104 million in 2016 with some 2 million infants expected to be born this year, according to the Philippine Commission on Population (PopCom). (Rouelle Umali/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire)

            
     Men walk on the rubble at the Chamber of Trade and Industry headquarters after it was hit by a Saudi-led air strike in Yemen's capital Sanaa January 5, 2016. (REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

                
      School children cross along a make-shift pedestrian bridge on a drain covered with garbage at a slum in Karachi, Pakistan.
Shakil Adil / AP

                   
     A protester with a wooden stick beats an effigy of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.      Ahn Young-joon / AP

                 
     French police secure the area after a man was shot dead at a police station in the 18th district in Paris, Jan. 7, 2016. Police in Paris on Thursday shot dead a knife-wielding man who tried to enter a police station, police union sources said. The incident took place on the anniversary of last year's deadly Islamist militant attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in the French capital. (REUTERS/Benoit Tessier)

                    
              Aftermath of the Rowlett-Garland Tornado

                              
    Indian police officers wield their batons against Kashmiri Shi'ite Muslims during a protest against the execution of cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed along with others in Saudi Arabia, in Srinagar January 3, 2016. (REUTERS/Stringer)

Philosophy of Survivalism

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Aired on Canadian Prepper You Tube on Jan 3, 2016

 

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Descent into Darkness: Collapse 2015 in Words & Pictures

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on January 1, 2016

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http://www.socialstudiesforkids.com/graphics/fathertime-babynewyear.jpgCollapse in 2015 is now in the grave, a thing of the past, an artifact of history.  Not to be forgotten though, because of course those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  Of course, those who do learn from history are doomed to watch others repeat it too.  lol.  Regardless of that, I wanted to chronicle the watershed year of 2015 in Collapse Dynamics, which I have been an active student of for the last 8 years, the last 4 of which have been spent mainly here on the Doomstead Diner.

To do this chronicle, I began it as an audio rant, but along with the other new things and changes that 2016 Collapse will bring, the Diner is expanding our YouTube Channel where you found the Video Collapse Cafes and I Spy Dooms and SNAP Card gourmets in the past.  They are all still there, in a much more organized and user friendly interface now.  The Audio Rants and Audio Collapse Cafe Interviews have been housed on Diner Soundcloud, and will remain there at least for a while, however as we move into 2016 all our media presentations will be published on the Diner YouTube Channel, which can be accessed directly either from the collapsecafe.com URL or the youtube.com/c/doomsteaddiner URL.

In order to spruce up the Rants with Visual input for the viewer, I have begun creating slide shows that will accompany the rants.  My work here at the beginning is rudimentary, video editing is a new skil for me and I am teaching myself as I go.  It will improve, I promise.  This first one I did for the New Year's rant doesn't match the pictures to what I am ranting about, it's just a mostly random selection of photos we used for Thumbnails on the Diner Blog at one time or another, not necessarily in 2015.  However, it will evoke memories of collapse as it has played itself out so far as you listen to the rant.

Since I know there are some non-native speakers of English who read the Diner and who have trouble following my rants because I speak quickly, the full transcript of the Rant is available Inside the Diner.  A short Snippet from the Rant here on the Blog as well:

…It's been a Banner Year for Doomers, 2015 has seen a marked increase in just about all areas of Doom, from the Economy to Geopolitics & escalating Warfare to the ever deteriorating Climate Problems. In fact, there are so many fucking Doom Stories from 2015 that I doubt I can cover them all here, no matter how long I run on this rant. However, I will endeavor to run very long and you can listen while you recover from your Hangover on New Year's Day-Morning. LOL.

2015 Doom began with a BANG, with the crash in Oil Prices starting around November-December of 2014, just as my good friend Steve from Virginia of Economic Undertow predicted with the Triangle of Doom. However, that early crash was nothing compared to what has taken place through the rest of 2015, we are now down to a $34 Handle and our good friends at the Squid are predicting $20 handles too! “Lower for Longer” is the Battle Cry in the Energy industry these days, and the big question is who can withstand the low prices the longest here before they finally go BK, unable to access more credit to roll over the mountain of debt already accumulated here?

Rumour is of course that it's all the fault of the Saudis, they are going to keep pumping no matter how low the demand in order to drive everyone else in the Oil extraction biz…OUTTA BIZ! If that was the goal, they have already been quite successful with it, as the Frackers over here shut down one drilling rig after another and Venezuela itself has basically shut down.

While 2015 certainly saw accelerating Collapse in many areas, 2016 promises to be even more eventfull, "Doom on Steroids" if you will.  Difficult as it was to keep up with the Tsunami of Collapse stories in 2015, I suspect 2016 will be even more difficult.  Here on the Doomstead Diner Blog & Forum, Diner You Tube and on our associated other Collapse Information Dispersal websites, we will endeavor to keep the readers, viewers and listeners abreast of the latest developments.  Visit our collapse.global Portal for quick access to many collapse information sources with a quick poke to your Smart Phone screen. 🙂

DOOMSTEAD DINER.  #1 FOR DOOM ON THE NET

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canadian Prepper: Perspectives from the Great White North II

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on December 29, 2015

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A few weeks ago I ran into a series of videos created by Canadian Prepper, "After the Collapse" for his You Tube channel, which as the name suggest is more oriented towards Prepping than analysis of Collapse Dyamics.  However, he crosses over to this area just as we  cross over into discussions of Prepping, on what CP calls the "Macro" scale.  The macro scale is for people concerned with how society itself will reform in the aftermath of collapse and how to prepare for that, not just physically but psychologically also.

In Part 2 of our Podcast, we discuss personal preparations, what type of collapse is likely to happen, and what kind of people will adapt to collapse most effectively.  CP also talks about his own steps in preparation, shelter in place versus bugout, and the climate issues that different regions have in determining your type of preparation.

Although he still considers himself an "Amateur", the production on his videos is extremely well done with a lot of eye catching video clips and well chosen music soundtracks to give it audio punch.  In fact, his example has prodded me to get up to speed on video production and move from Soundcloud to YouTube with our interviews and audio productions.  Thus Part II here is up on our Collapse Cafe YouTube Channel & embedded above.

We look forward to further collaborations with CP and invite his You Tube followers to come in for a Collapse Meal at the Diner any time.  We are open 24/7 with the best Doom Discussion anywhere on the net.  Just remember to wear your Flameproof BVDs. :)

In case you missed it, here is Part 1 of our chat with Canadan Prepper.

Part II is also available on Diner Soundcloud as audio only with mp3 download.

The Diner Lens 8

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on December 19, 2015

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     Residents inspect damage at a site hit by one of three explosive trucks, in the YPG-controlled town of Tel Tamer, Syria December 11, 2015. A spokesman for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia said the death toll from a triple truck bomb attack in a town in northeastern Syria on Friday had risen to 50 to 60 people, with more than 80 others wounded. One of the blasts occurred outside a hospital, another at a market and the third in a residential area in the YPG-controlled town of Tel Tamer, Redur Xelil said via Internet messaging service. (REUTERS/Rodi Said)
                 
     French far-right National Front party leader Marine Le Pen exits from a polling booth prior to posting her ballot for the second round of regional elections, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015, in Henin-Beaumont, northern France. Le Pen's far-right party was the frontrunner after last Sundayâs first round, and now it's up to voters whether to hand the once-pariah party an unprecedented political victory. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)
  
     A wounded man is carried to safety after Russian Army aircrafts carried out airstrikes on opposition-controlled Sakba district of eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria.
Anadolu Agency / Getty Images Contributor
                        
       Demonstrators attend a protest calling for the impeachment of Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff at Paulista Avenue in Sao Paulo, Brazil
Picture: REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

 
      A Kashmiri protester throws stones amid tear gas used by the government forces to disperse them during a protest in Srinagar, India, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. The protest was held against an intended enforcement of food safety act which will limit the subsidised ration per person in the state to 5 kilos from the present 30 kilos. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
                
      Palestinian children cover their faces as they carry toy weapons, during a rally to commemorate the 28th anniversary of the Hamas militant group, at the main road in Gaza City, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. The Arabic on their headbands reads, "no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger. Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades." (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
                     
      A new protective shelter is being constructed to cover the remains of the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. The new protective shelter is a massive structure which covers nuclear reactor number 4, and is designed to reduce and limit radioactive contamination following the 1986 disaster at the site. December 14, 2015 marks the 15th anniversary of the beginning of the decommissioning of the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl.
Picture: EPA/SERGEY DOLZHENKO

                     
      Robert Velasco, father of Yvette Velasco, consoles a family member during Yvette's funeral service at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, in Covina, Calif.     Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times

Canadian Prepper: Perspectives from the Great White North

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on December 17, 2015

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A few weeks ago I ran into a series of videos created by Canadian Prepper, "After the Collapse" for his You Tube channel, which as the name suggest is more oriented towards Prepping than analysis of Collapse Dyamics.  However, he crosses over to this area just as we  cross over into discussions of Prepping, on what CP calls the "Macro" scale.  The macro scale is for people concerned with how society itself will reform in the aftermath of collapse and how to prepare for that, not just physically but psychologically also.

In Part 1 of our Podcast, we discuss how CP got into prepping, when his "wake-up call" regarding collapse arrived and why he chose the Video You Tube means as opposed to become a Blogger, among other things.

Although he still considers himself an "Amateur", the production on his videos is extremely well done with a lot of eye catching video clips and well chosen music soundtracks to give it audio punch.

We look forward to further collaborations with CP and invite his You Tube followers to come in for a Collapse Meal at the Diner any time.  We are open 24/7 with the best Doom Discussion anywhere on the net.  Just remember to wear your Flameproof BVDs. 🙂

Now, onto Part 1 of the Podcast…

The Diner Lens 7

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on December 12, 2015

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 Victims of the San Bernardino shooting rampage  Courtesy of family / Los Angeles Times

           
                               An Egyptian forensic member checks the gate of the nightclub which was attacked in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Dec. 4, 2015. More than a dozen were killed and wounded, Egypt's state-run news agency reported. MENA quoted an unnamed security official as saying three men on a motorcycle threw Molotov cocktails into the club in the Agouza district and then fled. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

               
            A boy wades next to a partially submerged bus in a flooded locality in Chennai, India, Saturday. Although floodwaters have begun to recede, vast swaths of Chennai and neighboring districts were still under 8 to 10 feet of water. Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters

http://l.yimg.com/bt/api/res/1.2/Kemxoc4TCknruao8BwzNXg--/YXBwaWQ9eW5ld3NfbGVnbztjaD0yNzAwO2NyPTE7Y3c9NDMyMDtkeD0wO2R5PTA7Zmk9dWxjcm9wO2g9NzAwO2lsPXBsYW5lO3E9NzU7dz0xMTIw/http://l.yimg.com/os/publish-images/news/2015-12-07/6a9fffa0-9c77-11e5-b59e-c7decbeff0b1_AP_763209900061.jpg
  Residents wash clothes recovered from their flood damaged houses on the banks of the Adyar River in Chennai, India, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015. Indian authorities were investigating possible negligence after 18 hospital patients died when rainwaters from massive floods in southern Tamil Nadu state knocked out generators and switched off ventilators.The worst flooding in a century in Tamil Nadu has left scores of people dead since November.(AP Photo/Arun Sankar K)

                          
 More heavy rain is expected to hit parts of northern England and Scotland this week as work continues to repair flood damage caused by record rainfall levels in the area.

               
                Civilians photographed in a damaged building in Syria's northern city of Aleppo following a reported air strike by government forces on December 7. Syria's nearly five-year war has left more than 250,000 dead and forced some 12 million people from their homes.  NBC news

       
  A U.S. Border Patrol agent leads undocumented immigrants through the brush after capturing them near the U.S.-Mexico border, Dec. 7, 2015. John Moore / Getty Images

                 
 Hundreds of environmentalists arrange their bodies to form a message of hope and peace in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, December 6, 2015, as the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) continues at Le Bourget near the French capital. (REUTERS/Benoit Tessier)

1177: The Bronze Age Collapse

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Published on the Cassandra's Legacy on December 7, 2015

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The fall of the Mediterranean society during the bronze age: why we still don't understand civilization collapse

Eric Cline  wrote an excellent book on the end of the Bronze Age in the Mediterranean region but, unfortunately, it doesn't arrive to a definite conclusion about the reasons of the collapse. Cline suggests that "several stressors" worked together to ensure the demise of this civilization. But this is very disappointing, to say the least. It is like a murder mystery where, at the end, we are told that the killer of Miss Scarlett could have been Professor Plum, Mrs. Peacock, Mrs. White, Reverend Green, or Colonel Mustard but, really, it seems that all of them simultaneously stabbed her.

Imagine a team of archaeologists living three thousand years in the future. They work at digging out the remains of an ancient civilization on the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, a region that its ancient inhabitants called "Syria." The archaeologists find clear evidence that the Syrian civilization collapsed in correspondence of a series of disasters: a severe drought, a civil war, the destruction of cities by fire, foreign invaders, a reduction in population, and more. The evidence for these event is clear, but what exactly caused them? Our future archaeologists are baffled; they suspect that there is a single reason for this coalescence of disasters, but they can't find proof of what it could have been. One of them proposes that it had to do with the fact the ancient Syrians were extracting something from underground and using it as a source of energy. But, without reliable data on the production trends, they cannot prove that oil depletion was the basic cause of the Syrian collapse.

Something similar is happening today to the archaeologists who try to understand the reasons of the collapse of the Mediterranean civilization of the end of the second millennium BCE; the end of the Bronze Age. We have archaeological evidence of a brilliant and thriving civilization: palaces, works of art, commerce, metallurgy, and more. But we have also evidence that this civilization met a violent end: there are traces of fires destroying palaces and cities, there is evidence of droughts and famine, and some of the people living in the region, the Hittites for instance, disappeared forever from history. But what caused the collapse? That's a very difficult question.

Eric Cline's book, titled "1177 BC" shines some light on the history of the Bronze Age civilization and its demise. As a book, it is well done and it summarizes very well the result of nearly two hundred years of archaeological studies. It is a fascinating story of a time that strikes our imagination as a refined and sophisticated world; not an empire, but a loose federation of peoples. Sometimes they were engaged at warring with each other, but more often in commerce and in cultural exchanges. We can't imagine that such a sophisticated civilization would collapse so fast; possibly in just a few decades. And yet, it did.

So, what caused the collapse? Cline's book is good evidence of how difficult it is to understand these phenomena. A whole chapter, the last one, is dedicated to explore the reasons for the collapse, but it doesn't arrive to any definitive conclusion. As it is almost always the case when discussing societal collapse, we see different proposed reasons piling up: some experts favor external causes: invasions, droughts, earthquakes, volcanoes, or similar. Others seek for internal causes: rebellions, institutional decline, political struggle, and more. And some, including Cline himself, favor a combination of several causes. He writes:
 

"There probably was not a single driving force or trigger, but rather a number of different stressors, each of which forced the people to react in different ways to accommodate the changing situation(s)…. a series of stressors rather than a single driver is therefore advantageous in explaining the collapse at the end of the Late Bronze Age."


Unfortunately, this is far from being satisfactory. Suppose that I were to tell you "I am suffering of a number of different stressors, including fever, throat ache, sneezing, coughing, pain at the joints, and more." Then, you would look at me, perplexed, and say,"you mean you have a flu, right?" Yes, of course, all these different "stressors" result from a single cause: a viral infection. Just like a flu is a common illness in humans, collapse is such a common feature in human societies that we can hardly imagine that it could be caused by a fortuitous combinations of stressors, all acting in the same direction.

In examining this issue, a basic point is that societies are complex systems, and need to be understood as such. Unfortunately, the knowledge about complex system has not yet permeated the study of societal collapse, as it is amply demonstrated by the discussion in the last chapter of Cline's book. Several authors have apparently tried to explain the collapse of the Bronze Age society in terms of what they call "complexity theory". But I am afraid they didn't understand the theory very well. Just as an example, in the book we read a sentence taken from the work of Ken Dark who says ""The more complex a system is, the more liable it is to collapse." Now, this is simply wrong if it is applied to human organizations as complex systems, such a companies, or civilizations. And you don't need to be an expert in complex systems to note that large and very complex systems tend to be more resilient than small ones. Compare, for instance, IBM with the large number of small upstart companies in information technologies that appear and quickly disappear. So, you just can't invoke "complexity" as a mumbo-jumbo to explain everything, as Cline correctly notes in the book.

A lot of confusion in this area has arisen from the variability of the definition of "complex system;" there is not just one kind of complex system, there are several (and that is something you would expect since they are, indeed, complex!). One kind of complex system that has had a lot of success in the popular imagination is the "sandpile", proposed by Bak, Tang, and Wissental, a model that shows a series of small and large collapses. The problem is that the sandpile model is valid for some systems, but not for others. It works nicely for those systems which have only simple, short term interactions: the financial system, for instance. But it doesn't work at all for systems which base their complexity on stabilizing feedbacks: civilizations, for instance. The difference should be clear: the financial system was never built with the idea that it should be stable. The opposite is true for a civilization or a large company, both have plenty of feedbacks designed to keep them stable or, if you prefer "resilient". Large organizations are often more resilient than small ones simply because they can afford more stabilization feedbacks.

Then, what can bring down a feedback-stabilized complex system? The answer is "a forcing that is strong enough." The term "forcing" is used in the study of system dynamics and it has the same meaning of the "stressor" employed by Cline in his discussion. A forcing is an external factor that affects the system and forces it to adapt by changing some of its parameters. If the forcing is really strong, the adaptation can take the shape of a fast and disastrous reduction in complexity; it is what we call "collapse". So, it is starting to appear clear that civilizations tend to collapse because they lose access to the resources that created them and allowed them to exist; often as the result of overexploitation. Over and over, civilizations have been brought down by soil erosion and the loss of agricultural productivity. Then, some civilizations have collapsed because of the depletion of the mineral resources that had created them, an example is the collapse of the modern Syrian state that I was describing at the beginning of this post. Another example is the collapse of the Roman Empire, It showed a lot of symptoms that we could call "stressors:" rebellions, corruption, wars, invasions, depopulation, and more. But they all originated from a single cause: the depletion of the gold mines of Spain which deprived the Imperial government of its fundamental control system: gold and silver coinage.

At this point, we can conclude that, most likely, there never were a combination of parallel stressors that brought down the Bronze Age Civilization. Rather, there was some basic factor that generated the various catastrophes that we observe today in the archaeological record. The problem is that we don't know what this forcing was. There are elements showing that climatic change played a role, but we lack sufficient evidence to be sure that it was "the" cause of the collapse. So, perhaps it was mineral depletion that brought down this civilization? Maybe, and we can note how the defining term for this age is "bronze" and in order to have bronze you need to alloy copper with tin. And we know that there was plenty of copper available from mines in the Mediterranean region, but no tin; it had to be transported from a long and probably precarious supply route from the region we call Serbia today, or maybe from the Caucasus. If the people of the Bronze Age used bronze as currency, then their commercial network would have been badly disrupted by an interruption of the supply of tin. So, they might have been destroyed by the equivalent of a financial crisis.

Even though we cannot arrive to a definitive conclusion, the story of the Bronze Age civilization is part of the fascination we feel for the subject of civilization collapse. It is a fascination that derives from the fact that we may be seeing our "Western" civilization starting right now its final phase of collapse, after having badly depleted its sources of energy and generated the disastrous disruption of the ecosystem that we call "climate change." In our case, unlike for civilizations lost long ago, we have all the data we need to understand what happening. But we still don't understand collapse.

After the Collapse: The Beast Within

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