PREPARING FOR CIVILIZATION’S END
Our Belief Systems at a Turning Point?: Gail at the Oil Drum suggests that the Enron/Worldcomm frauds, the bailout of greedy financial corporations, and now the incompetence and deception of BP and its cohorts have finally pushed the majority of us to a turning point where we no longer believe (a) businesses can ever be trusted to self-regulate or act in the public interest, or (b) technology and innovation will “save” us when we get into trouble. She may be right, but alas, the majority are still far from the turning point of giving up on charismatic leaders, higher powers or the cult of the individual. Only when we re-learn to self-organize, in community, will we start to make the hard transition to a better way to live, one that will give us some resilience to cope with collapse.
What Collapse Will Look Like: Pulitzer-winning NYT reporter Chris Hedges presents a stunning analysis of civilization’s beginning decline, and a portrayal of its ultimate collapse. Excerpt:
The tantalizing illusions offered by our consumer culture are vanishing for most citizens as we head toward collapse. The ability of the corporate state to pacify the country by extending credit and providing cheap manufactured goods to the masses is gone. The jobs we are shedding are not coming back… The belief that democracy lies in the choice between competing brands and the accumulation of vast sums of personal wealth at the expense of others is exposed as a fraud. Freedom can no longer be conflated with the free market. The travails of the poor are rapidly becoming the travails of the middle class, especially as unemployment insurance runs out. And class warfare, once buried under the happy illusion that we were all going to enter an age of prosperity with unfettered capitalism, is returning with a vengeance.
America is sinking under trillions in debt it can never repay and stays afloat by frantically selling about $2 billion in Treasury bonds a day to the Chinese. It saw 2.8 million people lose their homes in 2009 to foreclosure or bank repossessions – nearly 8,000 people a day – and stands idle as they are joined by another 2.4 million people this year. It refuses to prosecute the Bush administration for obvious war crimes, including the use of torture, and sees no reason to dismantle Bush’s secrecy laws or restore habeas corpus. Its infrastructure is crumbling. Deficits are pushing individual states to bankruptcy and forcing the closure of everything from schools to parks. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have squandered trillions of dollars, appear endless. There are 50 million Americans in real poverty and tens of millions of Americans in a category called “near poverty.” One in eight Americans – and one in four children – depend on food stamps to eat. And yet, in the midst of it all, we … continue to embrace the illusion of inevitable progress, personal success and rising prosperity. Reality is not considered an impediment to desire…
The decline of American empire began [when] we saw our country transformed from one that primarily produced to one that primarily consumed. We started borrowing to maintain a level of consumption as well as an empire we could no longer afford. We began to use force, especially in the Middle East, to feed our insatiable thirst for cheap oil. We substituted the illusion of growth and prosperity for real growth and prosperity. The bill is now due. America’s most dangerous enemies are not Islamic radicals but those who sold us the perverted ideology of free-market capitalism and globalization. They have dynamited the very foundations of our society. In the 17th century these speculators would have been hung. Today they run the government and consume billions in taxpayer subsidies…
And yet, even in the face of catastrophe, mass culture continues to assure us that if we close our eyes, if we visualize what we want, if we have faith in ourselves, if we tell God that we believe in miracles, if we tap into our inner strength, if we grasp that we are truly exceptional, if we focus on happiness, our lives will be harmonious and complete. This cultural retreat into illusion, whether peddled by positive psychologists, by Hollywood or by Christian preachers, is magical thinking.
In a second article, Hedges describes the current “Mafia capitalism” and why it is now too late to try to rein in the corporatists who are accelerating the ultimate collapse of industrial civilization in their own, psychotic, short-term interest. [Thanks to Craig De Ruisseau for the first link and Edgerider for the second]
Advice for the Collapse: Hold Cash Now But Be Ready to Convert to Hard Goods: Ilargi explains that, for now, keeping your investments in cash in your local currency makes sense (stocks and bonds do not), but in the longer run, currencies will probably become worthless too. In addition to the hyper-inflation that’s likely to follow the current deflationary spiral, there is the risk of currency reissuance, as governments with crumbling economies simply replace discredited currencies with “new” currencies. By then you need to convert your currency to useful, durable hard goods. Meanwhile Paul Krugman says the Third Depression and a prolonged period of deflation are coming soon.
Renewables Can’t Save Us: Ted Trainer explains why renewable energy sources, taken collectively, and even assuming technology advances continue apace, cannot even begin to replace hydrocarbons, and why a dramatic and sustained plunge in global energy production is therefore inevitable. Thanks to Bowen’s Don Marshall for the link, and the one that follows.
Coping Emotionally With Collapse: Robert Jensen explains that, before we can act with full energy and intention to make the world a better place, we first have to come to grips with the emotional grief that comes with an awareness that collapse and extinction are coming, and that it is our species that is responsible. An elder, responding to Jensen’s request for ideas on how to cope with this grief, said:
I’m about to celebrate my 70th birthday. I live in a rural intentional community, close to land that feeds us and supports us. I’ve lived long enough now to be very aware of how different the world has become, how the cycles of nature are off kilter, how the seasons and the climate have shifted. My garden tells me that food doesn’t grow in quite the same patterns, and we either get weeks of rain or weeks of heat and drought. This is the second year in a row that our apple trees do not have apples on them. But most people get their food in grocery stores where the apples still appear, and food still arrives, in season and out, from all over the world. This will soon end, and people won’t understand why. They don’t see the trouble in the land as I and my friends do. I grieve daily as I look on this altered world. My grandchildren are young adults who think their lives will continue as they have been. Who will tell them? They can’t hear me. They, and many others, will have to see the changes for themselves, as I have. I can’t imagine that anything else will convince them. My grief for the world, and for them, is compounded by this feeling of helplessness because there is no way we can have the collective action you speak of when the ‘collective’ is still in denial.
In a similar vein, Transition’s Sophy Banks explains why support to help cope with this grief is an integral part of the Transition movement (thanks to Tree for that link).
Gulf Sea Floor Ruptured Beyond Repair: Russian scientists working at the scene confirm what the US/UK authorities won’t say: That due to 18 ruptures in the sea floor miles apart, created by the incompetent drilling activities of BP and its corporatist cohorts and government lackeys, the BP oil “spill” will never stop, and cannot be contained [Mother Jones has more detail on this -- thanks to Johnny Moore for the MJ link]. This blot on the environment will join the post-Katrina remains of New Orleans as icons of the unsustainability of Industrial Civilization. Thanks to Jerry Michalski for the link, and the one that follows.
An Economist Explains How the US Economy Has Been Permanently Hollowed Out: Henry Mintzberg: “A recent Gallup poll suggested that 55% of the American workforce is not engaged and another 16% is actively disengaged. Perhaps this is best explained by the relentless downsizing of the large American companies… Those left behind, with trust lost in their ‘leadership,’ have been inclined to put down their heads, cover their tails, and soldier on until they burned out or were themselves downsized.”
And a Non-Economist Explains How Economics Really Works: Joe Bageant provides a scathing and hilarious summing-up of economics. Excerpt:
The doomers and the peak oilers gag, and they call it American denial. Personally, I think it is somewhat unfair to say that most Americans and Canadians are in denial. They simply don’t have a fucking clue about what is really happening to them and their world. Everything they have been taught about working, money and “quality of life” constitutes the planet’s greatest problem — overshoot. Understanding this trashes our most basic assumptions, and requires a complete reversal in contemporary thought and practice about how we live in the world. When was the last time you saw any individual, much less an entire nation, do that?
Compounding our ignorance and naiveté are the officials and experts, politicians, media elites, and especially economists, who interpret the world for us and govern the course of things. The go-to guys. They don’t know either. But they’ve got the lingo down. Somehow or other, it all has to do with the economy, which none of us understands, despite round the clock media jabbering on the subject. Somehow it has to do with this great big spring on Wall Street called “the market” that’s gotta be kept wound up, and interest rates at something called The Fed, which have got to be kept smunched down. The industry of crystal gazing and hairball rubbing surrounding these entities is called economics.
Rich Walk Away from Mortgages, Poor Keep Paying: Most poor and middle-class Americans are still paying off mortgages, some of them much greater than the value of their homes, in the hope that prices will recover. The rich, backed by armies of overpaid morality-free lawyers who can find ways to creditor-proof their other assets, are instead walking away from their “underwater” mortgages in droves — and hence becoming even richer.
Embodying Action: Vera Bradova suggests a pathway from inaction, to either earnest outward action (conventional “political” activism) or what she calls lifestylism (“green quietism”, caught up in the minutiae of political wrangling), to what she calls “embodied action” (including and moving from personal to political activism). “The path of embodiment, of incarnating my values and desires in my flesh-and-blood being, leads then organically into action which is infused by those values and desires.” In a related post, she explains the broad appeal of the Transition Movement.
An Alternative to Open Space?: South African facilitator Allan Kaplan explains an intriguing and involved approach to facilitating groups dealing with complex situations, focused on continuous probing and provoking the group to greater and greater depths of collective insight. It appears to be quite a bit more hands-on than Open Space and other approaches to complex issues, and is based around a challenging series of questions each group must address, that emerges from the direction of the discussions and insights revealed. Based on the work of Goethe, it is called the Proteus approach. Anyone tried this? Thanks to David Derauf for the link.
A Potential Supreme Court Judge of Exceptional Quality: Jonathan Rauch provides a look at the nuanced and savvy judgement of Elena Kagan and explains why he supports her despite her unwillingness to be a judicial advocate for gay marriage. The US Supreme Court might actually become functional and relevant again if it had more judges like her and fewer corporatist cronies and louts like Clarence Thomas.
Haitians Reject Monsanto Seeds: Haitians, although desperate for seeds in their storm- and earthquake-ravaged country, had the good sense to just say No to the “gift” of patented, invasive, chemical-dependent seeds of Monsanto, one of the world’s worst corporatist scourges. Thanks to Tree for the link.
POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL
What Happens When Cities and States Go Bankrupt: The thousands of municipalities and states in the US are now, mostly, either insolvent or bankrupt. Like the big banks, they will be considered “too big to fail” and will be rescued by a federal government that will print yet more trillions of dollars to fund the bailouts, until finally the world cries “enough” and refuses to accept unrepayable US debt any longer. In the meantime, services will be slashed, bills will remain unpaid for months at a time (as happened in the Soviet Union before its collapse), but, not by accident, taxes will not be raised to help cope with the deficits. The NYT explains why this can and will be allowed to happen.
Obama Condones Arbitrary and Criminal Torture of Canadian: The Obama administration has compounded the utterly disgraceful and contemptuous treatment of Canadian torture victim Maher Arar. The only thing more disgraceful is that the Canadian government puts up with this abuse of one of its citizens.
putangitangi female, from the camera of the remarkable photographer (and friend) pohangina pete
FUN AND INSPIRATION
Bonnie Stewart tells of relationships lost, and, perhaps, found. Her writing is amazing.
Artists, Raise Your Weapons: My latest post on Dark Mountain describes Derrick Jensen’s and Stephanie McMillan’s recent provocations for artists to become more activist, and to eschew all activities not directly focused at fighting against industrial civilization. And I was very pleased to be mentioned by the Dark Mountain founders on their blog, for my earlier post on the role of artists in re-presenting the collapse of civilization and imagining better ways to live.
Cirque Phenix mixes dance and circus acrobatics to dazzling effect. Thanks to Dawn Smith for the link.
Eric Whitaker’s virtual choir. Lots more of his great compositions here. Thanks to Tree for the link.
David Foster Wallace predicted in his novel Infinite Jest that the kind of wifi videophone functionality in the new iPhone 4 would fail to catch on, according to Jason Kottke. We’ll see. Thanks to Chris Lott for the link.
Two by humourist Andy Borowitz: BP develops technology to convert lies into energy; and Angered by steroid accusations Lance Anderson throws car at reporter
THOUGHTS FOR THE MONTH
From Siona Van Dijk:
These days the present feels wrong. These days I feel wistful for the future, for moments of greater chaos when either we or our chlidren’s children will look back and laugh aghast at what we chose today to dramatize, at our naive concerns about the world, at our tragicomic headlines (so quaint! so misguided!) and fears. I feel wistful for a future as distant as we are from the ancients, one in which all that we consider known and true is wrong. i feel wistful for a future that contains nobody.
From Sheldon Kopp (thanks to Tree for this quote and the one that follows): “The most difficult part of loving is learning to tolerate the helplessness we feel in the face of a loved one’s suffering.”
From Fred LaMotte: “Sometimes we aren’t called to heal a family member or a sea turtle, or to change them, or to lay on some slick enlightenment: but just to be present to their pain. This is difficult, because it requires humility.”
From Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things ( <– please watch the video — simple and stunning):
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Dave Pollard is the author of Finding the Sweet Spot, The Natural Entrepreneur’s Guide to Responsible, Sustainable, Joyful Work, which is available in our bookstore.