Coincidences of of time/timing, language, and existence are simultaneously the very stuff of the scientific method, the foundation for religious faith, and the source of madness. Only blatant ethnocentrism discounts the magic of a society that successfully sent a message over one thousand years into the future.
Adam Gopnik just wrote a piece entitled, “A Point of View: Science, Magic and Madness,” in which he compares Galileo’s scientific method with a “half-bright” contemporary of that era, John Dee. Gopnik provides descriptions that articulate the experimental framework of a Learning Lab for Resiliency.™ (More on LLRs in upcoming blogentries.)
I read Gopnik’s piece this past Sunday morning, having flagged it from a Tweet I’d seen a few days previously; it was published on April 12, 2013. As it happened, that same morning I saw and read an article posted to Facebook critiquing institutionalized classism and racism, noticing only after I had read it that it was a blog entry from a blog called That Way Madness Lies. The specific blogentry was written on April 20, 2013; the blog was initiated nearly a year previously, on April 12, 2012.
“How to live a life not worth living?” The nihilist poses this question in a vacuum. There may not be any “meaning” beyond what we humans create for ourselves as meaningful, but we are meaning-making creatures. That is what we do. We communicate meaning into being. Using language and cognition we apply sense to patterns. ‘Rightly’ or ‘wrongly’ we interpret each other’s actions and inactions. Sense-making, and the values and behaviors that follow (or are invoked), is only possible within boundaries. There is no science without belief, just as there is no religion without faith. Skepticism involves as much commitment as being an apostle.
Dear Guy McPherson,
Yep. Me again. Finished reading your book. You’re a tough cookie, although that might be too civilized a metaphor . . . a weathered lizard might be more like it, after all that peasant labor. I’ve got mixed feelings about my own prospects: on the one hand, if I fail to get into a situation where I can even try to do subsistence gardening etcetera then I’ll be “happily dead” sooner rather than later without suffering the aches and pains you describe. (I realize this won’t save me from suffering other aches and pains, although I keep reminding myself that pain can happen as its own phenomenon without adding suffering as an additional layer.) On the other hand, I like the anecdote you tell of the dad with a seven-year old son who hopes to remain alive so his son doesn’t have all the fun without him. I wouldn’t mind remaining alive in the company of people I love as we all strive to glow in meaningful moments together, despite the physical consequences of a subsistence existence.
It’s not death; it’s the dying
As far as I can tell, coming out as a Deepener is as difficult as any other kind of coming out. I put quotes around the “happily dead” above because a friend characterized her choice not to prepare in those terms, assuming her dying will occur quickly and this will be better for me/my chances of survival. I only partially begrudge the carpe diem ethic: key being if she can enact that attitude through her own dying . . . I don’t know how to predict that. Certainly there’s a fairly high percentage of my friends making this live-in-the-moment choice. If only their temporal frame for ‘the moment’ included human extinction in 30-70 years, rather than the assumption of life going on, somehow, more or less as it always has. These friendships seem likely to weaken.
Given recent shopping behavior before winter storms (referring to the population in general, most of my friends are not into pre-storm panic), I am unconvinced there’s a sufficient percentage of the population that is not going to completely freak out. Just contemplating the slow onset approach of famine has sent me through spells of panic. Certainly the comfort of the ‘normalcy’ of every day routines still unfolding in (more-or-less) the same ways is both boon and blessing: there are still anchors, but they can so easily obscure their own dependency on civil society (which can evaporate so fast).
Still, clinging to the familiar does not necessarily mean people are not paying attention. “You don’t know what people know,” another friend cautioned me. We cannot assume people are ignorant–there are many factors preventing action and interfering with behavior change. Maintaining accustomed routines is a key skill in communicating resilience–the challenges are to distinguish which routines are the most durable and finding the will to dispense with those that may feel good (in the moment) but do not redress the extended, permanent, devastating costs of whatever industrial economy that temporary feel-good activity involves.
A Good Death
In the final chapter of your book, you ponder answers to the question, “How to live a life not worth living?” The nihilist poses this question in a vacuum. There may not be any “meaning” beyond what we humans create for ourselves as meaningful, but we are meaning-making creatures. That is what we do. We communicate meaning into being. Using language and cognition we apply sense to patterns. ‘Rightly’ or ‘wrongly’ we interpret each other’s actions and inactions. Sense-making, and the values and behaviors that follow (or are invoked), is only possible within boundaries. There is no science without belief, just as there is no religion without faith. Skepticism involves as much commitment as being an apostle.
If, as the evidence overwhelmingly suggests, humanity will soon be extinguished from the planet, then the meaningfulness of living depends upon how humans, as conscious beings, orient to the condition of mass extinction. Since cultural conditioning generally cushions the middle and upper classes from the basic realities of survival, shock is going to be an unavoidable stage in most individuals’ journey. Kubler-Ross’s classic stages on death and dying may be helpful in imagining how to support a collective transition in consciousness.
You’ve been evangelizing for a long time. If we (in industrialized countries) cannot pull off Plan A, which you articulate as powering down with the equanimity of Buddhist monks, then we’ve got to work on Plan B: How many of us can handle dying with tranquility?
I’m writing you directly because I respect your courage and humility. In addition to working toward the survival essentials (water, food, shelter, & community), I have been listening and watching for ways to stimulate robust processes of social resilience. One idea is to talk about the difference between hope and hopium. Would you be willing to elaborate?
Fox News, Boston affiliate channel 25, and Doug VB Goudie should be sued for hate speech. Seriously. Denying Deaf people the right to information in a language they can understand is violence. Ridicule of their language is an act of violence on a continumm that begins with disregard and ends with people dying because they are excluded from public communication.
The Deaf community in Massachusetts has been lobbying for live simultaneous interpretation of emergency press conferences for decades. Finally, Governor Patrick and his staff figure out the logistics of providing quality professional interpretation and VB makes a mockery of it? First, you’d think VB just discovered he has eyes. Welcome to the world of visual noise! Second, what’s wrong with multitasking? You can’t watch and listen to two different things at the same time? Come on, VB, join the modern world. Third, if he has the hots for Deval, he should take it elsewhere. No, VB, “Deval Deval Deval” is not where people’s attention should be during a PUBLIC EMERGENCY ANNOUNCEMENT. People’s attention should be on the information, not the messenger.
Which is why it is so insulting that you would even consider asking the ASL interpreter to “tone it down.” You, a non-deaf (“hearing”) person with access to who knows how many communication channels? You can find the information again easily and with no language barrier. Deaf people get one chance to see the information in their own language. And you want to begrudge them the opportunity because you can’t concentrate? Get a grip, man.
Not only does the provision of live simultaneous interpretation during crises give access to the Deaf community to information that you take for granted, it could become a signal to the hearing world that something important is going on and maybe everyone should pay attention too! Precisely because it isn’t every day that an interpreter shows up on the television screen is a fantastic way to let everyone know there’s a situation where personal safety is at risk.
WOMAN: Alright, Welcome back 6:25 this morning. It’s time to “Let it Rip” on Fox 25 morning news, VB joining us in studio here. A treat, 2 days in a row we’ve had him here. And we have Bonnie here as well as we Let It Rip on the press conference. Meant to be a serious thing here, we’re talking about a serious blizzard heading our way. But if you watched this thing yesterday, I…I don’t know how you couldn’t be distracted by everything (laughing) that was going on in the background of this. You had Andrea Cabral in the background who was obviously very warm. And is fanning herself, which by the way, was a very nice fan. Looks like she must bring this with her everywhere
Woman: very fashionable fan…then you have this (laughs) sign language person, who is very, very animated and VB I think you said it best before, “she’s at like an 11 and maybe she needs to bring it down to like a 6”.
VB: Look, at one point during this thing, my wife and I were like not listening at all to the governor and we were trying to caption HER. Because this, this stuff is so over the top and so exaggerated. Maybe it is, I don’t even know, but from my viewpoint it was. I was just fascinated on her the whole time, and I don’t know what I was supposed to do because I wasn’t listening to the Governor.
Bonnie: You know what? This came up with Hurricane Sandy too because the interpreter who was at Mayor Blumberg’s press conference was also very, very animated. It actually prompted a lot of articles. There was actually one in ‘The Atlantic’ answering the question “why are these interpreters so animated?”
Woman: They did a whole SNL skit on it, remember? (laughing)
VB: (laughing) what is that whole motion there? (laughing) Look at that!?
Bonnie: Yeah, you know but other than the hand motions, their facial expressions actually modify what is going on. So, if there’s going to be snow, then they can say ‘there’s going to be a lot of snow’. Or its ‘really bad snow’ or ‘you need to hurry’. So, I think that the dramatic interpretation doesn’t bother me at all. I mean, you listen. These people, have…have the pressure of having to translate, on the spot and make sure they capture it dramatically so that people can understand. So if you find it distracting, I don’t know, just focus on the governor. Listen, walk away. you can hear, so VB walk away from the TV and just listen
Gene: (talking over Bonnie) I’ve seen others that have done it and haven’t been that distracting,
Woman: yeah…I have too.
Gene: So I don’t buy that, I don’t buy that at all. I mean, listen, I know she has important information to put out there. And to people who have issues and need that service that’s being provided, but I think it could be done so in a way…that’s all you’re talking about this morning, you know? The Governor is passing along some important information…and you’re trying to listen…and you know, there’s so many other things going on how could you NOT be distracted by it all?
Woman: We’ve obviously seen it at other press conferences..
Gene: (talking over) It’s all everyone is talking about, twitter has all these comments about it
Woman: hashtags for people who are all of a sudden stealing the show, and no one was tweeting any of the information that was coming out of the press conference.
VB: I guarantee you when Richard Davey walked off that stage, whoever greeted him, the first thing Davey says “ Was it me, or was that really distracting?” (woman laughing) Andrea Cabral is fanning him as much as she’s fanning herself. (woman lauging) And second of all, you can see Davey periodically looking out the corner of his eye like “wow! I didn’t see that one coming” and if HE’s distracted? We’re going to be distracted! Let’s say this was 9/11…YOU CAN’T HAVE THIS! There are times, when …
Woman: right, right
VB: its gotta absolutely be focused on the speaker and that was the LAST thing I was focused on here.
Woman: yeah, that’s true.
Woman: Alright, well MYFOXBOSTON.COM or our facebook page if you’d like to weigh in on this we’d love to hear from you…
Kingsolver’s formulation of the intelligent non-scientist coming to terms with the scope of climate shift is brilliant. Getting beyond the paralysis of fear involves living motivated by something other than the need to feel safe. Essentially, the liberals are just as bad as the conservatives—for different reasons, but with the same effect of no change to the status quo.
“Teams had been chosen, and the scientists were not us, they were them.” ~ Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior (2012, p. 171)
I started reading Flight Behavior two weekends ago. Took it slow in order to give Kingsolver’s language close attention, and also to follow through on my strategy for resisting drift. The idea has been to keep learning while working on the four survival essentials: water, food, shelter, and community. Most of my energy has been focused on the latter. Turns out I’m just like everyone else: “People resisted hearing the details of a problem…what they wanted was the fix” (Kingsolver, p. 228). A few weeks ago I told the Doomer Community over at Nature Bats Last, “I’m not sure that I need to know all the awful ways death will come, or the details of how bad it’s getting at ever-increasing rates.” In the meantime there’s a quiet internal chant, I want a community now!
Seeking a “formula for living that transcend[s] fear and safety” (Kingsolver, p. 16)
Kingsolver’s formulation of the intelligent non-scientist coming to terms with the scope of climate shift is brilliant. Getting beyond the paralysis of fear involves living motivated by something other than the need to feel safe. Is this the undercurrent that links the participants at two different celebrations written about in the last two blogentries? The “Mudfire!” group was composed of townies (more-or-less), and the “Monks & Nuns” were mostly transient graduate students from the University. In both situations, I found myself feeling like Dellarobia, “So there were worse things than feeding meat loaf to a vegetarian. Like blabbing wiki-facts to the person who probably discovered them in the first place” (Kingsolver, p. 121). While clearly knowing more than me about many of the relevant subjects for survival, everyone I’ve spoken with since my conversion experience has discounted direct conversation about the fact that we’re going to lose the atmosphere.
Planning for Illusionary Futures
I get why some of Guy McPherson’s responses to expressions of hope are tinged with frustration and a dash of bitter. Essentially, the liberals are just as bad as the conservatives—for different reasons, but with the same effect of no change to the status quo. The fossil fuel economy continues apace and everyone pretends the air will remain breathable. The Mudfire! folk put their hope in permaculture and relocalization; the Monks & Nuns put their hope in Buddhism or some other a/spiritual worship of The Now. Kingsolver, btw, expresses empathy for the climate scientist too: “We cannot jump to conclusions. All we can do is measure and count. That is the task of science,” says Dr Byron, the representative scholar of lepidopterology (p. 244). So the Nature Bats Last (NBL) Doomers are keeping track of all the measurements, establishing as much permaculture and grid-independence as they can, and (as far as I can tell) not very much interested in unsettling the comfort of their collective stance of im/patient observation.
“There were two worlds here, behaving as if their own was all that mattered. With such reluctance to converse, one with the other. Practically without a common language.” ~ Kingsolver, p. 152
The issue is not the information itself: that’s out there for anyone to find.
Rather, everyone is well-trained in the viewpoints of their respective camps, and generally unskilled at negotiating understanding across the divides of diverse perspectives. Everyone (more or less) tends to think their way of knowing is the only or best way of knowing, for instance, which leads them to discount other paths of getting to similar conclusions. Especially if it takes a few seconds or even minutes of back-and-forth inquiry to establish a mutuality of comprehension. Contemporary, media-saturated society is so accustomed to instant gratification we think it’s not normal to slow down, but slowing down is the only way to bridge the gulfs among us.
I am referring to the socio-emotional process that the entire species is going to go through in successive waves of realization. A crucial part of carrying people through the initial freak-out stage (and subsequent ones) will be maintaining as much routine normalcy as possible. This means the relocalization strategies of investing in permaculture and applying spiritual practices to daily living are completely valid and ultimately absolutely necessary. But devotees, adherents and practitioners of all stripes could fire up more meta-level cognition about the interconnections of these myriad efforts instead of burrowing into the temporary utility.
We could begin to figure out how to coordinate humanity’s vast intelligence and ingenuity within the actual material parameters of the planet-wide environmental crisis.
“It’s gonna be fast, it’s gonna be hectic!” Which pretty much summed up the party. The early round of appetizers and aperitifs accompanied spirited conversation on topics which ranged from climate shift (if you happened to talk with me) to whatever everybody else (the ‘normal’ people?) talked about. Bringing joy in the now is a skill at which my closest friends excel. But the now is always in flux . . . What storyline are we actually living? What function does a spiritualist approach to the now contribute in the aggregate history humanity is producing?
“There’s a context to this. When you don’t have a talent, wear something.”
It was the Human Sushi Platter’s birthday party. I had thought of suggesting we sing Hey Jude in order to spread a unique tradition, but admiration for the icing completely filled the space between singing the usual ditty and cutting the cake. This was just after the Chammak Challo, of which we were warned: “It’s gonna be fast, it’s gonna be hectic!”
Which pretty much summed up the party. The early round of appetizers and aperitifs accompanied spirited conversation on topics which ranged from climate shift (if you happened to talk with me) t0 whatever everybody else (the ‘normal’ people?) talked about. Next came the main dishes (a food extravaganza) and more conversations. Eventually this example of “smart partying” (thank you Greg Robie) morphed into
a collective reading of the discourse on happiness,
concern about who’s on the Human Sushi Platter’s mom’s list of people to buy clothing for (and, later, for whom John will bake),
a meditation on lovingkindness (interrupted perfectly by the late arriving Bulgarian and Israeli, about whom it was said, “Just when you’re trying to focus on one thing some lovely people come into your life!”
a discussion of socially engaged Buddhism,
extraordinary international cuisine (“celery raw drops the jaw”),
an Amherst Salon talent show,
exceptionally extraordinary cakes,
and gifts for the birthday girl. (There turned out to be a butterfly theme. If the game of #KRKTR ever takes off, some massive amount of points should go to the first person who identifies the five people who received butterfly plates from me. Perhaps that’s one of the entry gates for joining the actual competition?! I’ve got Ready Player One in mind….)
I Got You, Babe
The Sonny and Cher impersonation by Hot Mama and Alan followed the impromptu Beat generation-style interpretation by Knightly (fluent in English and French) of a series of satirical rhymes offered (in Spanish) by Rafael. We were treated to poetry from Ogden Nash, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, and The Cat in the Hat. Not to mention belly dance gyrations, a cautionary tale to “never play with gypsies in the woods,” and the story of a beloved grandmother’s uninvited visitor who was “not only a thief but also a liar!”
I love my friends’ ability to bring pleasure to each other; such a long night of laughter we had! Do they have the secret of Zizek’s “third pill?” Rather than the dualistic choices presented in The Matrix, Zizek says we need a pill that helps us “perceive reality inside the illusion itself.”
Our fundamental delusion today is not to believe in what is only a fiction, to take fictions too seriously, it’s on the contrary—not to take fictions seriously enough: you think it’s just a game? It’s reality, it’s more real than it appears to be.
The art is to discern which fictions to perceive and thus make more real. Bringing joy in the now is a skill at which my closest friends excel. But the now is always in flux – not just internally (the sway of mood and emotion) but externally too. By external, I’m not just referring to the complications of social interactions such as problems at work, with colleagues, roommates, family members, etc. These constants persist within a larger frame, call it civil society, that is an example of the kind of social fiction Zizek implies. What storyline are we actually living? What function does a spiritualist approach to the now contribute in the aggregate history humanity is producing?
When I told Yossarian that I was in ‘semi-blog-mode’ after my initial conversation with John, she pounced. “Sortof? You’re already making our lives hell with these [Facebook] posts every three days – ‘Australia is burning!'” Her teasing validated my decision, although I still feel conflicted, torn between the desire to remain accepted and compelled to keep issuing the warning. After securing authorization from the host, I announced to everyone that I was in the blogzone. No one objected; a few who were new to this gig of mine wanted to talk more about it. Ginger, for instance, engaged me vigorously on the topic of socially engaged Buddhism, and told me about Chris Martenson’s crash course, “What Should I Do? The Basics of Resilience.” Bombi (who admits he is a Part-time Schmoozer) may have just been poking fun at me/my main question when he exclaimed, “That’s the question that needs to be asked!”
“When are we going to become a superhero team that helps save the world?”
Maybe we cannot, or maybe we will not choose to transform together, or perhaps the transformation will occur but in a less-overtly-connected way than I can perceive. Talking with John, who is confident he can survive for a significant amount of time when the grid goes down for good, I was struck by the pragmatics of his outlook, especially when he said that you/I won’t be able to help everyone, that sometimes—for the sake of our own survival—we will have to say no.
Not a prospect I am looking forward to, at all. John also reflected on the week-long power outage for many people after last fall’s weird “snowtober” snowstorm. “This was a massive storm,” he said, marveling at the anger of people who clearly did not understand the extent of the damage and expected their electricity to simply be back on already! He recounted what an adventure the extended power loss was at first, comparing it to his “best ever” experience when he was in college. Then he said, “After the sixth or seventh day, it wasn’t fun anymore.”
I understand that ‘the now’ is the only timespace in which our actions matter; and, our behavior in the present correlates with outcomes in the future. Not only this, but our actions now ripple into other beings’ present—their now is our now/our now is theirs, too. This simultaneous co-presence extends beyond “regular contact with monks and nuns [which] is the greatest happiness” to humans whose suffering is directly linked to our comfort, and beyond homo sapiens to all the organisms with whom we share the planetary atmosphere.
When the early crowd at Pat and Carol’s New Year’s Day Open House invited me to blog about the event, I was thinking of the kind of entries that are tagged “group dynamics” – most of them are pure fun, although they can include a serious subtext which was sometimes made overt and other times left at the level of implication.
I imagined that I could make this introduction lightly, ease everyone gently into the most disturbing challenge of human existence. I certainly did not anticipate it becoming an overt topic of conversation. But it did – perhaps this was inevitable. (After all these years I should never be able to forget that this kind of blogging is risky).
We were all getting along so well! I hate to be in the position of spoiler. The conversation with the Curious Skeptic about animal intelligence returns to mind, particularly the example of cheetahs being able to be trained for hunting but not for domestication, because becoming domesticated requires “getting along in confined spaces.” And then there was the part about guinea pigs and rabbits as “meal-sized meat.”
Evolution of Conversation: The Beginning was FUN!
“The time has come when men and dragons must talk.” (Leguin, 2001, p. 112)
It was such a great party! I’d guess 100 people may have circulated through, certainly many dozens. I met a fraction of the folk and had substantive conversations with a handful or two. The potluck offerings were continually refreshed, everything was delicious, the laughter was loud, there was even spontaneous music: a stringed instrument soloist and singer who was accompanied on various tunes by additional voices, invented percussion instruments, and – gee whiz! – a few couples dancing! The mood of the gathering was so appropriately and wonderfully festive! As my conversations evolved, I could not help but think what a blessing to be part of such a high quality in-the-moment-now experience of social interaction, and how necessary it will become to sustain this capacity in the difficult times that lie ahead.
It happened like this: I arrived to a gregarious atmosphere filled with banter. I haven’t blogged an event like this for a long time; doing so was not even on my mind – too much work in the midst of other demands. But soon the teasing had me passing around my “Invitation: You May Be Blogged” business card and folks got curious. Because we were having such fun, and since I was clearly being invited, I thought, why not? A change of pace, a digression to the olden days, a contribution of my playfulness to the spirit of the day… we discussed the ground rules, first names only or chosen aliases, draft to be sent around for thumbs up/down before publishing, was I taking notes? Did I have pen and paper? I allowed myself to be drawn in and took up the familiar role.
Evolution of Conversation: Overview and Background (Boring?)
“Indeed he did not know what weighed more heavily after all, the great strange things or the small common ones.” (LeGuin, 2001, p. 109)
Cynthia and John quizzed me for quite a while, which gave me a chance to express my motivations and share some of the history of how I began to blog in this style, what obstacles I encountered, whether/how much uptake I’ve had, etc. I explained how I could look at the Open House as a type of communication scene or situation with similarities and differences with other Open Houses. That how we engage with each other evokes identities, because we share, for instance, pleasure in dancing jigs or knowing the hosts through a particular social activity or type of work, etc. That over the years this blog has been a tool for writing myself into being and becoming more the kind of person I want to be: someone who can share what seems important and still retain relationships that are warm, kind, and loving (or, at the very least, rooted in respect).
Evolution of Conversation: Backdrop (Hilarity!)
The initial authorization to write this blog came from Ecarg (the token Klingon) & partner; Pat & Carol, Angelica, Loretta & Jan (of the gender irregularities), Catherine, Carlotta (who had the first toast and sip of mimosa with Cynthia), and John. Later the Toadchildren, Bo, a Curious Skeptic, Sparker, and Marcia were brought into the fold. Kira is into criminology and cosmetology (among many other interests), James the Brain wanted me to link to his hacker friend’s blog (the search is on, E.L. aka boogledoo, where are you?) They also recommended seven-year-old melybabyxoxo to me but I was unable to locate her blogs on Tumblr. She apparently maintains several, including one on fashion and another on self-harm. (Did I hear that right?) Geez, can we just play another round of Zonk, please! Or how about a ruckus sledding adventure? A meeting of the Ward-Thayer Street Chicken Advisory Council regarding upkeep of the PWDLCP? There were the red sisters, blue guys, and black folk (by clothing, ignore gender!), a crazy cat lady, and myriad more unrecorded minglings within this diverse assortment of colorful characters.
“Something is happening,” Tenar said. “A great change in the world. Maybe nothing we know will be left to us.” (LeGuin, 2001, p. 111)
Who said, “This is a miracle,” when he realized I take climate change for real. “Everything is going to die if we don’t do something,” he said. “We’ve known about this for years, and no one is doing anything.” “Wars are bad and they should stop,” he continued, “but we need to look at a higher level, if there’s no planet…” As we talked, he asked me many times if I “really think” people will do something, now, finally? It’s up to us, I said, to make sure that we do.
The urgency has been weighing heavily on me, especially as I read and become more familiar with the extent of how extremely bad things are (and will thus become), how small our chances are already, and how quickly they will diminish beyond any hope at all. Opening these conversations with friends and chosen family in the weeks since I realized the dire necessity of immediate radical action has been discouraging – the denial and reluctance to uproot our personal comforts are entrenched. However, there are also inspirational voices out there, and the opportunity to live truly meaningful lives has never been greater.
Bill Moyers talked with Yale Professor Leiserowitz explains how human psychology inhibits perception of the threat of climate change simply because the evidence is not immediate to our physical senses. Rather than believing in false hope, and instead of surrendering to the fear-mongering talk of so-called “Doomers,” we can choose to evolve ourselves beyond the limits of these human-created conditions, to deepen how we listen to the natural world and each other so that we can create and spread the motivation, means and methods of resilient survival.
“Indigenous peoples have said that the fundamental difference between Western and indigenous ways of being is that even the most open-minded Westerners view listening to the natural world as a metaphor as opposed to the way that the world really works.”
Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen
Deep Green Resistance (2011, p. 58)
“What is the proper relationship between human beings and the natural world?”
the Alarmed (16%) – climate change is happening, it is human-caused, they’re eager to get on with the solutions (but what are the collective solutions?)
the Concerned (29%) – climate change is happening, it is human-caused, but distant in time and space – later (e.g., ‘not my lifetime’) and far away (“polar bears” or “islands”, serious but not a priority
the Cautious (26%) – still on the fence, paying attention but haven’t made up their minds
the Disengaged (8%) – they’ve heard about climate change but don’t know anything about the concerns, causes, or remedies
the Doubtful (13%) – don’t think climate change is happening but if it is, it is natural and nothing humans did or can do anything about (Prof Leiserowitz agrees there has been non-human climate change in the past but adds that this time is different and the scientists agree it is human-caused)
the Dismissive (8%) – firmly convinced climate change is not happening, may believe this is a government hoax (tend to be well-organized and loud)
“Yes, we can kill the planet.” (Lierre Keith, DGR, p. 61)
In the face of devastating and catastrophic news that humanity is about to become extinct, there is some hard talk about the futility of hope. This is not because there definitely is “no hope,” but because the kinds of hope people are expressing are baseless, they are not effectively directed at tangible, material actions to alter the trajectory we are plummeting along.
Popularized versions of hope include fantastic magical thinking — “Technology will save us!” and/or “The planet is infinite!” — or outright avoidance, call it denial or repression or the cultural effects of being trained to consume. Professor Leiserowitz himself engages in motivated reasoning, supposing that we can actually maintain the planet and capitalism. He’s straddling the fence between hope and hopelessness, linking hope with success of the current economy (which is a common confusion).
Rather than believing in false hope, and instead of surrendering to the fear-mongering talk of so-called “Doomers,” we can choose to evolve ourselves beyond the limits of these human-created conditions, to deepen how we listen to the natural world and each other so that we can create and spread the motivation, means and methods of resilient survival.
Understanding the Enemy: Civilization and Its Hazards
Civilization itself is the main hazard. This is the coldest fact of all. The second chapter of Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet lays out what we are up against. Aric McBay lists twenty-two things “we need to know about civilization [in order to] to defeat it” (p. 33, listed below). Kevin Anderson suggests the Pareto effect demonstrates how the 1-5% who most benefit from industrialized society could mobilize the necessary changes in order to avoid the most calamitous result of complete human extinction. The thin margin of hope hinges on how motivated we can become, and how fast, to sacrifice our present comforts in order to maintain conditions in which human children can live.
The enemy (a.k.a., civilization) depends upon our participation:
Civilization is globalized, its infrastructure and economy is integrated despite political boundaries. (p. 33)
Civilization is mechanized, it requires machines for production. (p. 33)
Civilization is young, according to any meaningful environmental/ecological timescale (no matter that it feels ‘old’ in terms of your own lifetime and family history). (p. 33)
Civilization is mainly urban, promoting and maintaining itself in cities. (p. 33)
Civilization requires division of labor and social stratification, generating a vast middle class who doesn’t want to surrender their privilege. (p. 34)
Civilization is militarized, because of competition and the desire for control. (p. 34)
Civilization is patriarchal, celebrating the masculine expression of power and violence. (p. 34)
Civilization is agricultural, insisting on surplus to feed concentrations of populations in cities and specialized elites. (p. 34)
Civilization is predicated on perpetual growth. (p. 34)
Civilization is characterized by short-term thinking. (p. 35)
Civilization, historically, is defined by collapse. (p. 35)
Civilization is hierarchical and centralized. (p. 35)
Civilization increasingly regulates individual behavior, which increases regimentation. (p. 35)
Civilization invests heavily in monumental architecture and propaganda. (p. 35)
Civilization requires large amounts of human labor. (p. 36)
Civilization is capable of making Earth uninhabitable. (p. 36)
Civilization centralizes power and externalizes consequences. (p. 39)
Civilization is premised upon industrial drawdown – it accumulates resources faster than they can be replaced. (p. 42)
Civilization has led to the global food crisis, especially water drawdown and soil loss. (p. 44) [See previous entry on Nance Klehm]
Civilization is causing soil drawdown and desertification: “It takes a thousand years for the earth to create a few inches of topsoil” (p. 45).
Civilization has caused overfishing: “90 percent of the large fish in the ocean have been wiped out” (p. 46).
Civilization is causing deforestation: without major intervention”…by 2030 only 10 percent of the tropical forest will retain intact, with another 10 percent in a fragmented and degraded condition…hundreds of thousands of species will go extinct; global warming, drought, soil erosion, and landslides will all worsen severely” (p. 47).
I had hoped to get more of my peers reading about Garrett’s energy consumption constant and letting the math sink in, but I keep encountering motivated reasoning – all the ways our minds convince us not to know what we do not want to recognize. How do we address this “daunting moral question” (p. 77) in order to engage “the difficult and meaningful work associated with stewardship of the lands, waters, and communities that support us” (p. 64)?
I am reading your book, Walking Away from Empire.
Why is it categorized as fiction? Is that some legal thing you had to agree to in order to get it published?
Then, there’s your dedication:
For the remains of the living planet,
and the humans who will witness its comeback
That is not fiction. You are describing the shape of the future.
It seems you were more optimistic when you published this book (2011) than you are now – a mere year later. The decline of your hope is because society has made no tangible progress in regard to the full-scale dismantling of industrial civilization that is required. I had hoped to get more of my peers reading about Garrett’s energy consumption constant and letting the math sink in, but I keep encountering motivated reasoning – all the ways our minds convince us not to know what we do not want to recognize.
Time for Motivated Living
Between reading your book and talking with Greg Robie about “growing a collective will,” I came upon this notion, motivated living, as a possible counter to motivated reasoning. Because it seems to me this is what you’ve been doing, since that first realization in 2002 when you “mourned for months, to the bewilderment of the three people who noticed” (p. 61). I have been in mourning for a long time but did not have clarity as to why. I bet there are hundreds of thousands like me, who have been in need of the hard boundary to clarify, the one that sets the ultimate limit on individual freedom and easy luxury. You are like James Balog: while he was chasing ice, you are chasing the most meaningful conversation humanity will ever have.
We, entering into the realization now, do not have spans of months to come to terms with the changes coming upon us. I watch myself hesitate to do as you have done, to “simultaneously offend my colleagues as well as the public” (p. 54). Even though I share your “commitment to relevancy” (p. 54), and have dabbled in dangerous education: the personal desire to belong and be cared about is strong. As you say, this new life is “tough on the mind” p. 55) and I confess I am not excited about life becoming “even tougher on the body” (p. 55). But this is going to happen, I now understand, and the sooner I can accept and adapt the better.
I drank what? (p. 73)
You’ve been more successful with your students than I with mine. I haven’t (yet) been able to adequately frame what I have aimed to help them learn; largely because I was (and still am) trying to learn it too. It is internal and subjective, yet invoked by relationships with others. How do we together address this “daunting moral question” (p. 77) in order to engage “the difficult and meaningful work associated with stewardship of the lands, waters, and communities that support us” (p. 64)?
“Relationships are far more important than accomplishments” (p. 46)
You’re way ahead of the curve, although it seems you’ve brought a ton of folk along with you through your blog, Nature Bats Last, and your Facebook page. (Two tangents: I have a friend who works with bats, which caused a temporary glitch in comprehending the baseball metaphor in your blog title; and I did not realize Facebook has set a limit on Friends. Thank you for letting people subscribe to your public feed.)
Guy, you’ve been modeling a mix of humility and leadership for a long time. You confess to your “tiny role in this grand play” (p. 50) and that you “still struggle every day to find meaning in a universe without meaning” (p. 50). Sharing your personal journey is action and artifact of “the decisions we make in light of an ambiguous future” (p. 53). It seems to me you have laid out a good path. There are other teachers out there, many of them indigenous. Not to mention whatever ripple effects may yet accrue from everyone associated with your far-flung network, and those who haven’t yet found yours but have also been building their own.
Tuning in: “Will reality intervene in time to save the living planet, including our own species?” (p. 67)
You named some goals for gathering us together:
fully engage the collapse, and act as if you will survive it (p. 44)
generate our own hope, one person at a time (p. 52)
power down with the tranquility of Buddhist monks (p. 52)
get along with access to far fewer materials (p. 52)
occupy small communities in harmony with the Earth and our neighbors (p. 52)
face reality without showing fear (p. 11)
don’t rely on belief, instead – think (p. 42)
question the system, instead of raising minor questions within the system (p. 8)
There may be more guidelines for gathering motivated living communities in the rest of your book. You may even have coined a motto (p. 44); here I’ve revised it slightly:
Given its rarity and splendor, this life is enough.
Bane’s model is well-organized. The inner concentric circle is more conceptual, dividing the 12 physical actions of the encompassing outer concentric circle into four sets of somewhat similar emotional or psychological ‘actions.’ This inner circle represents a cognitive development or personal growth cycle. On the flip side of permaculture’s emphasis on figuring out how to eat, Nance Klehm digs down to the deepest question: “”What systems do you feed on?”
Bane’s model is well-organized. The outermost concentric circle presents a sequence of 12 actions that are described in two ways: the human behavior and the object of activity. The actions are organized more-or-less as a prescription, do this, then this, then follow up with this, etc. The actions do become more complex as one goes around in clockwise fashion, and they repeat, in endless ongoing cycles. One can intuit that each of the actions needs to occur more-or-less concurrently with each other, but since the aim of the model is to get people started, it’s laid out in a fashion that would allow a novice (like me) to believe that I can just begin.
The inner concentric circle is more conceptual, dividing the 12 physical actions of the encompassing outer concentric circle into four sets of somewhat similar emotional or psychological ‘actions.’ This inner circle represents a cognitive development or personal growth cycle. Including this aspect is an extra that probably won’t resonate with everyone, as it outlines a culturally-specific way of organizing experience. The embedded breathing meditation goes even further by drawing attention to the body in order to link the practical physical actions with whatever subjective reactions occur as one thinks about doing any of this stuff. This deep layering of meta-awareness probably won’t work for everyone and some may discount the outer circle because of the inner circle’s acknowledgment of the touchy-feelies.
FYI: I searched for a link to an online image of this model; couldn’t find one. Someone could make a nice Prezi of it!
Balancing Act: “What systems are you feeding?”
On the flip side of permaculture’s emphasis on figuring out how to eat, Nance Klehm digs down to the deepest question. As a counter to the usual concern in food debates, which focus on “what systems do you feed on,” Klehm essentially says, so what about that?
Who cares? What are you giving back to? What are you feeding your energy into? What economic systems, social systems, natural systems, political systems are you contributing your life force to?
I’m particularly drawn to the description (in the Nov-Dec issue of Utne Reader, p. 33) of Klehm’s work as the “roots-based study of the relationships between living things.” She teaches about plants in an urban landscape that are healing the soil, and how important it is to understand that “soil and water ‘are the only things we have to make our food healthy.'”