Letters to Readers
Where to Get It
Youth Futures: 2012 and Beyond (2013 Archive)
Starting in 2012, this space will present updates to the book Standing on Your Own Two Feet: Young Adults Surviving 2012 and Beyond, which is a free book for all young adults. Short corrections will be incorporated into the book as soon as possible, but most additions and supplements will be found only here.
[Time Shamans are those who] diagnose the unseen and unaddressed aspects of spiritual conditions of the present in order to find out what was needed to heal as individuals, as families, as entire villages ... to heal the tattered holes we left in the Holy Net of Time.
20 December 2013: Signs of a civilization that has lost its way
A friend just send me one of those sheets that tend to circulate around offices that padody some aspect of civilized life. This one was entitled Important -- Elf and Safety Notice, and the author is unknown to me, but it struck me as much more deeply disturbing than most. Here are some excerpts from it:
All employees planning on dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh ... are advised that a Risk Assesment will be required ...
... orthopedic chairs are now available for ... any shepherds planning or required to watch their flocks at night ...
The angel of the Lord is additionally reminded that, prior to shining his/her glory all around, s/he must confirm that all shepherds are wearing appropriate Personal Protective Equipment to account for the harmful effects of UVA, UVB, and the overwhelming effects of Glory.
... everyone is advised that Equal Opportunity legislation prohibits any comment with regard to the redness of any part of Mr. R. Reindeer ...
... everyone is reminded that the bearing of gifts is subject to Hospitality Guidelines and all gifts must be registered ...
Finally, in the recent instance of the infant found tucked up in a manger without a crib for a bed, Social Services have been advised and will be arriving shortly.
JZC: They are funny, and in certain situations the rules and agencies parodied above have their places. However, in my opinion, these are also signs of a civilization that has lost its way and ventured into territory that it will, eventually, regret entering.
Nature is not intentionally hiding anything, we just aren't paying attention.
6 December 2013: Sigmund Freud nailed it
In 1938, Dr. Freud published an essay entitled "Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defence." In it, he described what the human mind does when faced with situations that provide both danger and satisfaction. We put our efforts into "fetishised solutions," things we can hold onto like a magical charm or beloved doll that make us feel safe from the danger, but do not require us to give up the satisfaction. In more modern terms, we would call this a form of "cognitive dissonance."
Both individuals and groups (governments, corporations, etc.) have fetishes they are holding onto as the CO2 level in the air keeps going up, methane continues to leak out of our drilling operations and the arctic sea floor, global warming continues, weather gets weirder, plants and animals continue to go extinct, and all the other nasty things that we have caused.
For us little people, the fetishes include hybrid cars, fluorescent light bulbs, and a few other "green" products -- anything that lets us feel good about ourselves without giving up the comforts we are used to.
For governments and corporations, the fetishes are "carbon offsets," token "green" projects that don't cost too much, and sending a person or two (with little knowledge and no power) to all the environmental conferences.
Anyone who thinks that any of these little fetishes will save the Earth (while still allowing us to drive to Walmart every day) needs to do some serious homework. The sad part is, the people who invent these fetishes already know the truth.
New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings ...
5 December 2013: Man, Conqueror of Nature, Dead at 408
Although many of the idea in these Youth Futures essays are partly inspired by John Michael Greer (one of the author's teachers in his youth), he usually writes in very scholarly language that is not easily accessible to young adults. This one is different -- John Michael used an excellent story-telling voice to describe our current and possibly near-future situation. Clio the Muse gives us a view from above, and Technology provides a friend's perspective. It was originally published at The Archdruid Report.
Man, the conqueror of Nature, died Monday night of a petroleum overdose, the medical examiner's office confirmed this morning. The abstract representation of the human race was 408 years old. The official announcement has done nothing to quell the rumors of suicide and substance abuse that have swirled around the death scene since the first announcement yesterday morning, adding new legal wrinkles to the struggle already under way over Man's inheritance.
Man's closest associates disagree about what happened. His longtime friend and confidant Technology thinks it was suicide. "Sure, Man liked to have a good time," he said at a press conference Tuesday evening, "and he was a pretty heavy user, but it wasn't like he was out of control or anything. No, I'm sure he did it on purpose. Just a couple of weeks ago we were hanging out at his place, looking up at the moon and talking about the trips we made out there, and he turned to me and said, 'You know, Tech, that was a good time--a really good time. I wonder if I'll ever do anything like that again.' He got into moods like that more and more often in the last few years. I tried to cheer him up, talking about going to Mars or what have you, and he'd go along with it but you could tell his heart wasn't in it."
Other witnesses told a different story. "It was terrifying," said a housekeeper who requested that her name not be given. "He was using more and more of the stuff every day, shooting it up morning, noon and night, and when his connections couldn't get him as much as he wanted, he'd go nuts. You'd hear him screaming at the top of his lungs and pounding his fists on the walls. Everybody on the staff would hide whenever that happened, and it happened more and more often--the amount he was using was just unbelievable. Some of his friends tried to talk him into getting help, or even just cutting back a little on his petroleum habit, but he wouldn't listen."
The medical examiner's office and the police are investigating Man's death right now. Until their report comes out, the tragic end of humanity's late self-image remains shrouded in mystery and speculation.
A Tumultuous Family Saga
"He was always a rebel," said Clio, the muse of history, in an exclusive interview in her office on Parnassus this morning. "That was partly his early environment, of course. He was born in the household of Sir Francis Bacon, remember, and brought up by some of the best minds of seventeenth-century Europe; an abstract image of humanity raised by people like that wasn't likely to sit back and leave things as they were, you know. Still, I think there were strong family influences too. His father was quite the original figure himself, back in the day."
Though almost forgotten nowadays, Man's father Everyman, the abstract representation of medieval humanity, was as mediagenic in his own time as his son became later on. The star of a wildly popular morality play and the subject of countless biographies, Everyman was born in extreme poverty in a hovel in post-Roman Europe, worked his way up to become a wealthy and influential figure in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, then stepped aside from his financial and political affairs to devote his last years to religious concerns. Savage quarrels between father and son kept the broadsheet and pamphlet press fed with juicy stories all through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and eventually led to their final breach over Darwin's theory of evolution in 1859.
By that time Man was already having problems with substance abuse. "He was just using coal at first," Technology reminisced. "Well, let's be fair, we both were. That was the hot new drug in those days. It was cheap, you could get it without too much hassle, and everybody on the cutting edge was using it. I remember one trip we took together--it was on one of the early railroads, at thirty miles an hour. We thought that was really fast. Were we innocent back then, or what?"
Clio agreed with that assessment. "I don't think Man had any idea what he was getting into, when he started abusing coal," she said. "It was an easy habit to fall into, very popular in avant-garde circles just then, and nobody yet knew much about the long term consequences of fossil fuel abuse. Then, of course, he started his campaign to conquer Nature, and he found out very quickly that he couldn't keep up the pace he'd set for himself without artificial help. That was when the real tragedy began."
The Conquest of Nature
It's an open question when Man first decided to conquer Nature. "The biographers all have their own opinions on that," Clio explained, gesturing at a shelf loaded with books on Man's dramatic and controversial career. "Some trace it back to the influence of his foster-father Francis Bacon, or the other mentors and teachers he had in his early days. Others say that the inspiration came from the crowd he ran with when he was coming of age in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He used to tell interviewers that it was a family thing, that everyone in his family all the way back to the Stone Age had been trying to conquer Nature and he was just the one who finally succeeded, but that won't stand up to any kind of scrutiny. Examine the career of Everyman, for example, and you'll find that he wasn't interested in conquering Nature; he wanted to conquer himself."
"The business about conquering Nature?" Technology said. "He got into that back when we were running around being young and crazy. I think he got the idea originally from his foster-father or one of the other old guys who taught him when he was a kid, but as far as I know it wasn't a big deal to him until later. Now I could be wrong, you know. I didn't know him that well in those days; I was mostly just doing my thing then, digging mines, building water mills, stuff like that. We didn't get really close until we both got involved in this complicated coal deal; we were both using, but I was dealing, too, and I could get it cheaper than anybody else--I was using steam, and none of the other dealers knew how to do that. So we got to be friends and we had some really wild times together, and now and then when we were good and ripped, he'd get to talking about how Nature ought to belong to him and one of these days he was going to hire some soldiers and just take it.
"Me, I couldn't have cared less, except that Man kept on bringing me these great technical problems, really sweet little puzzles, and I've always been a sucker for those. He figured out how I was getting the coal for him so cheap, you see, and guessed that I could take those same tricks and use them for his war against Nature. For me, it was just a game, for Nature, against Nature, I couldn't care less. Just give me a problem and let me get to work on it, and I'm happy.
"But it wasn't just a game for him. I think it was 1774 when he really put me to work on it. He'd hired some mercenaries by then, and was raising money and getting all kind of stuff ready for the war. He wanted steam engines so, like the man said, it was steam engine time--I got working on factories, railroads, steamships, all the rest. He already had some of his people crossing the border into Nature to seize bits of territory before then, but the eighteenth century, that's when the invasion started for real. I used to stand next to him at the big rallies he liked to hold in those days, with all the soldiers standing in long lines, and he'd go into these wild rants about the glorious future we were going to see once Nature was conquered. The soldiers loved it; they'd cheer and grab their scientific instruments and lab coats and go conquer another province of Nature."
The Triumphant Years
It was in 1859, Technology recalled, that Man first started using petroleum. "He'd just had the big spat with his dad over this Darwin dude: the worst fight they ever had, and in fact Man never spoke to the old man again. Man was still steaming about the fight for days afterwards, and then we heard that this guy named Edwin Drake over in Pennsylvania could get you something that was an even bigger rush than coal. Of course Man had to have some, and I said to myself, hey, I'll give it a try--and that was all she wrote, baby. Oh, we kept using coal, and a fair bit of it, but there's nothing like petroleum.
"What's more, Man figured out that that's what he needed to finish his conquest of Nature. His mercs had a good chunk of Nature by then, but not all of it, not even half, and Man was having trouble holding some of the territory he'd taken--there were guerrillas behind his lines, that sort of thing. He'd pace around at headquarters, snapping at his staff, trying to figure out how to get the edge he needed to beat Nature once and for all. 'I've gotta have it all, Tech,' he'd say sometimes, when we were flopped on the couch in his private quarters with a couple of needles and a barrel of petroleum, getting really buzzed. 'I've conquered distance, the land, the surface of the sea--it's not enough. I want it all.' And you know, he got pretty close."
Petroleum was the key, Clio explained. "It wasn't just that Man used petroleum, all his soldiers and his support staff were using it too, and over the short term it's an incredibly powerful drug; it gives users a rush of energy that has to be seen to be believed. Whole provinces of Nature that resisted every attack in the first part of the war were overrun once Man started shipping petroleum to his forces. By the 1950s, as a result, the conquest of Nature was all but complete. Nature still had a few divisions holed up in isolated corners where they couldn't be gotten at by Man's forces, and partisan units were all over the conquered zone, but those were minor irritations at that point. It was easy enough for Man and his followers to convince themselves that in a little while the last holdouts would be defeated and Nature would be conquered once and for all.
"That's when reality intervened, though, because all those years of abusing coal, petroleum, and other substances started to catch up with Man. He was in bad shape, and didn't know it--and then he started having problems feeding his addiction."
On and Off the Wagon
"I forget exactly how it happened," Technology recounted. "It was some kind of disagreement with his suppliers--he was getting a lot of his stuff from some Arab guys at that point, and he got into a fight with them over something, and they said, 'Screw you, man, if you're going to be like that we're just not going to do business with you any more.' So he tried to get the stuff from somebody else, and it turned out the guy from Pennsylvania was out of the business, and the connections he had in Texas and California couldn't get enough. The Arab guys had a pretty fair corner on the market. So Man went into withdrawal, big time. We got him to the hospital, and the doctor took one look at him and said, 'You gotta get into rehab, now.' So me and some of his other friends talked him into it."
"The records of his stays in rehab are heartbreaking," Clio said, pulling down a tell-all biography from her shelf. "He'd start getting the drug out of his system, convince himself that he was fine, check himself out, and start using again almost immediately. Then, after a little while, he'd have problems getting a fix, end up in withdrawal, and find his way back into rehab. Meanwhile the war against Nature was going badly as the other side learned how to fight back effectively. There were rumors of ceasefire negotiations, even a peace treaty between him and Nature."
"I went to see him in rehab one day," said Technology. "He looked awful. He looked old--like his old man Everyman. He was depressed, too, talking all the time about this malaise thing. The thing is, I think if he'd stuck with it then he could have gotten off the stuff and straightened his life out. I really think he could have done it, and I tried to help. I brought him some solar panels, earth-sheltered housing, neat stuff like that, to try to get him interested in something besides the war on Nature and his petroleum habit. That seemed to cheer him up, and I think all his friends had high hopes for a while.
"Then the next thing I heard, he was out of rehab. He just couldn't hack it any longer. I went to his place, and there he was, laughing and slapping everybody's back and full of big ideas and bigger plans, just like before. That's what it looked like at first, but the magic was gone. He tried to do a comeback career, but he just couldn't get it back together, and things went downhill from there."
The Final Years
The last years of Man's career as representation of the human race were troubled. "The war against Nature wasn't going well by then," Clio explained. "Man's forces were holding onto the most important provinces and cities, but insurgencies were springing up all over--drug-resistant microbes here, herbicide-tolerant weeds there. Morale was faltering, and a growing fraction of Man's forces in the struggle against Nature no longer believed in what they were doing. They were in it for the money, nothing more, and the money was running out. Between the costs of the war, the costs of Man's lavish lifestyle, and the rising burden of his substance abuse problem, Man was in deep financial trouble; there's reason to believe that he may have been engaged in outright fraud to pay his bills during the last few years of his life."
Meanwhile, Man was becoming increasingly isolated. "He'd turned his back on most of his friends," said the anonymous housekeeper quoted earlier. "Art, Literature, Philosophy--he stopped talking to any of them, because they kept telling him to get off the stuff and straighten out his life. I remember the last time Science came to visit--she wanted to talk to Man about the state of the atmosphere, and Man literally threw her out of the house and slammed the door in her face. I was working downstairs in the laundry, where you usually can't hear much, but I could hear Man screaming, 'I own the atmosphere! I own the planet! I own the solar system! I own the goddam stars! They're mine, mine, mine--how dare you tell me what to do with my property?' He went on like that for a while, then collapsed right there in the entry. A couple of us went up, carried him into his bedroom, and got him cleaned up and put to bed. We had to do that pretty often, the last year or so."
His longtime friend Technology was apparently the last person to see Man alive. "I went over to his place Monday afternoon," Technology recalled. "I went there pretty often, and we'd do some stuff and hang out, and I'd start rapping about all kinds of crazy stuff, omniscient supercomputers, immortal robot bodies, stuff like that. I told him, 'Look, Man, if you want to get into stuff like omniscience and immortality, go talk to Religion. That's her bag, not mine.' But he didn't want to do that; he had some kind of falling out with her a while back, you know, and he wanted to hear it from me, so I talked it up. It got him to mellow out and unwind, and that's what mattered to me.
"Monday, though, we get to talking, and it turns out that the petroleum he had was from this really dirty underground source in North Dakota. I said to him, 'Man, what the frack were you thinking?' He just looked at me and said, 'I've gotta have the stuff, Tech. I've gotta have the stuff.' Then he started blubbering, and I reached out to, like, pat his shoulder--and he just blew up at me. He started yelling about how it was my fault he was hooked on petroleum, my fault the war against Nature wasn't going well, my fault this and that and blah blah blah. Then he got up and stormed out of the room and slammed the door behind him. I should have gone after him, I know I should have, but instead I just shook my head and left. Maybe if I'd gone and tried to talk him down, he wouldn't have done it."
"Everything was quiet," the housekeeper said. "Too quiet. Usually we'd hear Man walking around, or he'd put some music on or something, but Monday night, the place might as well have been empty. Around ten o' clock, we were really starting to wonder if something was wrong, and two of us from the housekeeping staff decided that we really had to go check on Man and make sure he was all right. We found him in the bathroom, lying on the floor. It was horrible--the room stank of crude oil, and there was the needle and all his other gear scattered around him on the floor. We tried to find a pulse, but he was already cold and stiff; I went and called for an ambulance anyway, and--well, you know the rest."
The Troubled Aftermath
Man's death leaves a great many questions unanswered. "By the time Everyman died," Clio explained, "everyone knew who his heir would be. Man had already taken over his father's role as humanity's idealized self-image. That hasn't happened this time, as you know. Man didn't leave a will, and his estate is a mess--it may be years before the lawyers and the accountants finish going through his affairs and figure out whether there's going to be anything at all for potential heirs to claim. Meanwhile there are at least half a dozen contenders for the role of abstract representation of the human race, and none of them is a clear favorite. It may be a long time before all the consequences are sorted out."
Meanwhile, one of the most important voices in the debate has already registered an opinion. Following her invariable habit, Gaia refused to grant any personal interviews, but a written statement to the media was delivered by a spokesrabbit on Tuesday evening. "Please accept My sympathy for the tragic demise of Man, the would-be conqueror of Nature," it read. "I hope it will not be out of place, though, to suggest that whomever My human children select as their new self-image might consider being a little less self-centered--not to mention a little less self-destructive."
Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.
19 November 2013: Social Inertia in the face of Climate Change
This article by Roger Boyd is long, dense, and challenging to read. I had to read many paragraphs twice, but I was very glad I did, for I eventually realized it was an extremely solid examination of the sociological situation that we face regarding climate change. Most "good" articles still contain about 10% "bullshit," stuff you can tell is dear to the author of the article, but not actually relevant. This one is down around 1%. It is certainly a serious "study," but well worth it for those who want to really understand what is going on.
Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please.
15 November 2013: When agriculture stops working: A guide to growing food in the age of climate destabilization and civilization collapse
This is the title of an article by Dan Allen from last spring. It is quite long, but is nicely summarized by this little drawing. The "anthropocene" is the time period we just entered in which the world is being changed by human activity. "Extirpation" means about the same as "extinction" when talking about the human race.
Only idiots, ignorami, and certain categories of the insane dismiss the abundant science pointing to climate change, its causes, and its ongoing and future effects.
12 November 2013: Four False Statements
These were recently discussed in an article by Brian Czech. I have reworded them slightly, and offer my own brief commentary. You have probably heard these recently, and will continue to hear them in coming years. Beware! They may sound nice, but are, in my opinion, complete false.
1. There is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment.
A growing economy is, in the larger sense, the ONLY thing that causes environmental damage. A steady-state economy, like we had before about 1750, does not cause ecological over-shoot. Only a growing economy can do that.
2. In the information economy, economic growth does not require material resources.
The next time you want some information, try getting it without paper, a computer, or some other material resource. Also, what you want to DO with the information almost always requires material resources. Music? Can you play it without speakers or headphones?
3. If the economy's not growing, it's dying.
The economy has only been growing for about the last 300 years because we had cheap and plentiful energy. We had never had that before, and yet people have been engaged in economic activity (making, buying, and selling things) for thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of years.
4. As the economy grows, it harms the environment, but when enough growth occurs, society has the money to fix the environment.
This is one of those things that everyone keeps waiting to come true, but it never quite does. We're still waiting. While we wait, the reasons to NOT protect the environment become more and more numerous, as fewer and fewer people have jobs.
What the caterpilar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.
6 November 2013: a powerful painting ...
The story of the Earth on the back of a turtle, who in turn rest on another turtle, going through space (or time) endlessly, is a myth that has been told in many forms, and it contains much to think about. Although the Earth, as a planet, could exist without life, we could not. Turtles, and other ancient creatures such as frogs, once were the dominant life forms, and they passed their genetic information down through countless millennia during which the Earth was not yet ready for the diversity of life (including humans) that we see today. And unlike many dominant species that came later and have since disappeared (such as dinosaurs), they are still here.
If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against. The struggle between "for" and "against" is the mind's worst disease.
20 October 2013: How are your lines of communication?
Recently I've been watching some old disaster movies. Recently, also, I've been feeling some frustration with friends about their poor communication habits. As I was watching "10.5," I realized there was a connection between the two.
Most disaster movies include scenes of people trying to contact each other during or after a disaster, and usually failing. Could it be that their communication habits during "good times" had something to do with their failures to connect during "bad times"?
I am thinking both about the TECHNICAL ability to communicate, and the QUALITY of our communications. Let's start with technical.
Can we get telephone connections with friends and family members? A disaster can certainly disrupt the telephone system, but there are also many ways that we can fail to do our parts. Do we know the numbers, or did we just trust our phone to store them, and now we lost our phone, or the numbers were accidentally erased? If we lost our phone, and we find a payphone, do we have the numbers for a pre-paid "calling card," and/or several coins of the right size (quarters in the USA)?
Can we send and receive email with friends and family members? A disaster can take down the internet, but if it's still working, have we done our part? If we need to use someone else's computer, do we know the necessary email addresses? Do we know the internet address of the email service we use (even if we usually use Post Office Protocol)? Are we organized enough with our use of email to know which incoming emails we have responded to, which we haven't, and what our responses were, without "losing" any of them?
Can we post paper letters to friends and family members? A disaster can disrupt or delay postal delivery, but if it's the only option, do we have stamps, envelopes, paper, and pen?
If all else fails, can we post emergency messages to friends and family members, and find their messages to us, in an agreed-upon place? Is our agreed-upon place accessible at all hours and protected from the weather? Since such messages will be available for anyone to read, the QUALITY of our communication becomes very important.
So let's look at QUALITY now.
Do we know what is important to say in a disaster situation? This usually requires thought beforehand. If we get a telephone connection for one minute, a great deal of information and planning can be shared, or we can use our minute to cry and scream at each other.
Are we listening to each other? Even if one person tries to share important information, but the other is just crying and screaming, or trying to share their information at the same time, then no one learns anything.
Do we know what the words mean that the other is speaking? Do we, and our friends and family members, know when it's time to be honest and accurate? Do we (or they) say "I'm fine" when we have a broken leg? Third degree burn? Heart attack? Do we (or they) say "Everything's going to be okay" when, in reality, decisive action is needed immediately to avoid death and destruction? When we (or they) say "right now," do we (or they) start arguing or analyzing? What other "decoding" is necessary with certain friends and family members?
Do we all have the important details (names, addresses, numbers) that may be impossible to share on the spot because of a poor connection or lack of privacy? Example: "I'll meet you at Aunt Sally's house. If you can't get there, email me at the Yahoo address, or try calling Uncle Bob. If none of that works, post messages on the bulletin board outside our favorite grocery store." That's 5 addresses or numbers. Got them all?
Have we agreed on who is "in command" if we disagree about what to do? If one person senses a big danger in the other's plan, it's important to stand firm and refuse to follow that plan. Many times, however, there's no big difference, and yet a decision must be made, sometimes very quickly. Macho, liberated, toss a coin, your choice.
Have we agreed on what to do if we CANNOT communicate at all? In any big disaster, this is probably the most common situation. If we, our friends, and our family members haven't agreed on primary and secondary meeting places, a message place, and important things to do during various kind of disasters, then the meeting probably won't happen, our messages probably won't get read, and those important actions probably won't get done.
It is certainly possible that a disaster can make it technically impossible for us to communicate with friends and family members who are not with us, but there are many ways we can make the situation worse by not doing our parts. There are also many ways, as we have seen, that we can fail to communicate even when we are technically able.
What is not intelligible to me is not necessarily unintelligent.
11 September 2013: A Message from God
Excerpts from Divine ultimatum: God's 12 new commandments on human relationships! by Dan Allen
A NOTE FROM THE TRANSCRIBER: I found this document in the trash. Well, under the trash actually. It was scrawled in nearly-illegible handwriting on a large decomposing cardboard box wedged under a dumpster in the Bronx. It was about one rain away from being completely illegible. There were a slew of smallish organisms living under the box, and they looked quite unhappy when I took their shelter away -- their universe, really. Squirming, slithering, running, clicking, squeaking...it was an apocalypse to them. Sorry guys. So it is to them that I dedicate this transcription. ...You'll notice, of course, that the document is signed by 'God'. Which is weird. And which I don't quite believe. ...But who knows?
TRASHING THE JOINT
Hey guys. We need to talk. Well, I'm going to talk. You're going to listen. And then it's up to you after that. But right now I just want you to listen.
Do you know why I'm here? ...Because I try not to do this type of thing. But it's reached the point where I need to.
Ok. Look around you. Look at the land, your community, your family, yourself. All of it. I suppose it looks sort of normal to you because it's all you've known. But it's not normal. It's messed up. Real messed up. Messed up to the point of me almost having to hit the big red cosmic "RESET" button on your planet. [Illegible] I don't want to have to do that. Which is why I'm writing this.
Let me put this bluntly: You're screwing up. You've been screwing up. [Illegible] For thousands of years you've been screwing up. And even now, after so many cycles of the same damn destructiveness, you barely have a clue.
Sigh. If this was a report card, I'd write, "Does not play well with others. Dangerously-inflated self-image. Insensitive to pain and suffering of other beings. Fails to take responsibility for or learn from mistakes. Passably clever, but severely lacking in wisdom. Careless with tools. Needs closer supervision."
I won't go into all the gory details of how bad you've messed things up. If you don't know already, I suspect you won't even finish reading this. [Illegible] But if you're interested, check out the work of Derrick Jensen and Daniel Quinn. (That's right, book recommendations from God! Hey, I'm no Oprah but that's gotta juice sales a little bit, no?)
In any case, what you've wrecked so far is immaterial to what I want to accomplish here, which is this: I want to help you change the way you think. In particular, I want to change and enlarge your conception of what a relationship is. And I want to do this for three reasons: (1) so you stop wrecking everything else I love, (2) so you can save yourselves, who I also love, and (3) so I can...[illegible].
And why relationships? Because everything else – all your disasters and triumphs as a species -- flows directly from the quality of your relationships. That's where everything got messed up and that's how everything can be fixed: relationships. Relationships with yourself, your family, your human community, the land. A big messy web of relationships. Well...it should be a big messy web. These days, it's more like a few grotesquely-enlarged superhighways to nowhere, with a frayed and withered tangle of broken connections. It's ugly. Dangerously ugly and distorted – especially since your continued existence depends on the health of these relationships. [Illegible] ...Hence your dire predicament. ...Hence my intervention.
But your relationships don't need to be ugly. They can be repaired. And that's what I'm trying to help you do. I should also point out that this is your last chance. [Illegible]...and brimstone. I suppose you could say this little message is an ultimatum.
So I going to lay some things out here -- some of the different ways you need to start thinking about relationships. I chopped it up into four parts, because I know your brains like that sort of thing. (See -- I'm always thinking of you.) Each part is nested in the next -- i.e. self is nested in family is nested in community is nested in the land. Like a Russian doll! And they're pretty simple and redundant, at least on the surface, which I know you also like. But you need to get all four parts right for this to work. And making them all work will require some pretty big changes.
So here they are...
I. Know the land.
PRAY WITHOUT CEASING
Now, some of you might have noticed that none of these commandments seem to have anything directly about your relationship with me.
...Well, actually they do – but before I go into that, I have to tell you something. And it's a little embarrassing because I should've done it much sooner. But this crazy behavior of yours snuck up on me so fast. ...I mean, I half-turn my head for eight or ten thousand years, and it's like 'boom!' -- everything's a mess.
So...you know how you do a lot of praying to me – telling me how great I am and how much you love me and so forth? Well, as cute as those prayers are, I actually find them more than a bit disturbing.
Let me explain with an analogy: You know how you feel when you watch your little kid sit down and earnestly write a letter to Santa Claus? It's cute, right? Super cute and adorable. ...But then imagine the kid gets up, mid-letter, and viciously stabs the pet bunny through the eye with the pen. That's not cute, right? It horrifying. ...And then imagine the kid gets right back up and finishes the letter, ending it with sincere "I love you, Santa! XOXOX." That would be beyond disturbing, right?
Well, welcome to my world. ...And in case you didn't get it: I'm Santa. You're the kid. The land is the bunny. ...And I'm also the bunny. ...Get it? It's a pretty jarring disconnect for me to process here.
You see, I don't need you to tell me how great I am. I'm ok with myself. Really. What I need is for you to stop wrecking everything. I need you to play nice with my other children. Which is the same as playing nice with me. You establishing healthy relationships with the land, your community, your family, and yourself is the same as you nurturing a relationship with me. It's all part of the same thing. Understand?
And look, I don't want you to stop praying. I like prayer. As I said, it's cute. I think it's adorable. And it can help you focus. You've just been saying the wrong prayers...and then ignoring them anyway. That's why everything's gone to shit.
What I need is for you to say the right prayers. And then live them. That's all.
And you'll know they're the right prayers when it doesn't feel like praying is a separate thing from living. ...When you don't feel those disconnects anymore -- disconnects between what you pray and what you do; between the land, your community, your family, and yourself. And when you start to notice that the act of living doesn't steadily diminish everything around you anymore.
...Understand? You need to understand this. Soon.
And so what exactly are these 'right' prayers I need you to say? Well...you see the questions that I put under the commandments above? Try to answer those questions. Try really hard. Think about them as hard as you've ever though about anything. And think with your hearts as well as your minds. Maybe more with your hearts than with your minds. Try to feel the answers. ...And then make your prayers from your answers to those questions.
...And then pray.
As you say, 'pray without ceasing.'
And live your prayers.
So that you, and all my children, may live.
...What do you say?
P.S. Oh yea! One more totally key thing I forgot: You must...[illegible]...at all costs. Do NOT forget that!
Originally published, with commandment/relationship questions, at Resilience.org.
EROEI [energy returned on energy invested, or net energy] is to a civilization what gross profit is to a business, the source of the surplus that supports the entire enterprise.
30 July 2013: Piggybacking
We humans have invented yet another way to keep from dealing with a big problem we face. It's very hard to see and very hard to admit because it FEELS so good.
In this century, the 21st century, we will decide to quit pouring greenhouse gases into the air, and take out those we've already put there, or we will cook ourselves with Global Warming.
It really is a simple problem. Carbon dioxide and a few other gasses that come from the same sources. 100 years.
By the way, that's 100 years to COMPLETELY solve the problem. That means we have to be in the thick of the process in 50 years, and THAT means we have to be seriously starting in the next 10 years. Maybe less.
So now that it's obvious what's happening, and 97% of all scientists who study this stuff are convinced it's really happening, we get concerned and want to help. So what do we do?
We see something that's a sure thing and we want to "jump on the bandwagon." Of course, we bring all our hopes and dreams with us. And we think: if we hook our hopes and dreams onto this same wagon, maybe we can make them come true, too!
Most of those hopes and dreams are good and noble causes. The one that gets hitched to the Fix Global Warming Wagon most often is JUSTICE. Most of us have seen injustice of one kind or another, and want to fix it, but the world usually isn't interested.
Equality, freedom, animal rights, gun rights, liberalism, conservatism, human potential, economic growth, Jesus, Allah ... these and many other causes have been, or will be, linked to any effort to fix Global Warming.
But by piggybacking, we risk spreading our efforts too thin, turning off people who disagree with our hopes and dreams, declaring victory (or defeat) at the wrong time, and just forgetting to do anything about the REAL problem.
In other words, by piggybacking, we run the great risk of NOT fixing Global Warming at all.
A century is a very short time in human history. Some people live that long. The only thing that changes much in a century is technology, and not always as much as we think. Remember, the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, 120 years ago, was brilliantly lit with electric lights and purring with electric motors.
Human nature, as encoded in our genetic DNA, changes much more slowly. Tens of thousands of years are required for any noticeable change. All of human history has proven that injustice, inequality, abuse of animals, excessive government control, and many other things we hate, just never seem to go away.
This may be the biggest test, our human civilization "coming of age" or passing away. We can deny. We can piggyback. But will we fix it?
Greenhouse gasses in the air. 100 years.
We are betting our entire national economic life on the hope -- indeed the expectation -- that the fracking boom will continue until well into the 2020s, and that, at a rate and cost we desire, significant amounts of 'yet to be discovered' oil will somehow be found to meet the demand. ... If any of that proves incorrect, we have no plan, no alternative, and have given no thought to how we would respond in such a case.
9 July 2013: Sacred Space
In recent centuries, especially the 20th century, we decided that almost everything should have a price tag and be for sale. The only "sacred spaces" were our churches and temples, and sometimes money could buy privileges even there.
The environment (with a few tiny exceptions like national parks), most leadership positions (even though we still have elections so we can choose from among the millionaires), all our personal information, and just about everything else is up for sale today.
After fierce battles and much bloodshed, a few things have been removed from the marketplace and made "sacred." There is little slavery in the world today, in most places girls are not forced to marry against their will, and most food on grocery store shelves will not kill you.
Unfortunately for us in the 21st century, the thing that WILL kill us is still for sale. If we have the money to lobby and bribe political leaders, and maybe pay a few little fines, we can continue pouring carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the air and water. Carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gasses" are causing the planet to heat up. That means that the climate of our beautiful planet is for sale.
I anticipate that if the human race is going to survive the 21st century, it will have to move a number of things into the category of "sacred space" that aren't in that category today. The most important one is the air we breathe. To make it "sacred," we have to quit polluting it, and do everything possible to get the extra carbon dioxide and other bad stuff OUT as quickly as possible. Mostly that means planting trees, anywhere and everywhere they will grow, AND LEAVING THEM THERE.
This essay was inspired by the recent article Protecting Higher-Order Values from the Profanity of the Market by Clifford Dean Scholz.
The future is already here, just not evenly distributed yet.
1 June 2013: Where We Stand
The following notes are collected from hundreds of articles the author has read over the last year. He avoids those that have a clear political, cultural, or religious slant.
As the oceans warm, especially around the North Pole, the polar jet stream (high in the air between the temperate and polar regions) is changing its behavior, causing unusual weather (hotter, colder, and more violent storms).
Several large sources of greenhouse gasses may reach "tipping points" in the near future, including the methane hydrates on the ocean floors, and the organic matter built up in the arctic tundra.
$100 per barrel oil is not allowing any economic growth. For political reasons, most governments are twiddling the numbers to make it look like there is a little growth. The only places in the world with economic growth have their own sources of energy (such as China with its coal). Now that we are using oil from difficult sources, only a big drop in demand (because of a deep economic recession or depression) can bring the price of oil down.
For perspective, during the Great Depression of the 1930's in the USA, unemployment was calculated to be 25%. If we calculated unemployment today it the same way, it would be 23% today. This is hidden in the USA with direct payments to the people. No one knows how much longer the government can do this.
People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don't know is what what they do does.
3 April 2013: The untrustworthy and the trustful
This excerpt from Dmitry Orlov's book The Five Stages of Collapse is an excellent description of different types of trust that can exist between people, and the conditions in which each type is possible. I recommend it highly for anyone seriously preparing for likely events in the future.
The article at Resilience.org
It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.
22 March 2013: Fast or Slow Changes?
One of the biggest questions people have about the future is whether change will come quickly or slowly. This question still haunts us even when we have studied the trends and THINK we know what is ahead.
People who believe some kind of utopia is ahead usually hope it will come quickly. But unfortunately, even though there were many improvements in the "human condition" during the 20th century, they always came much slower than we wanted, and often we would get ahead 5 steps only to be pushed back 4.
I hope everyone has heard of the three E's that are threatening our civilization in the 21st century: Energy (it's getting more expensive and harder to find), Environment (it's getting so unstable that the climate is changing), and Economy (the human ways of measuring and handling wealth are not working well).
Even when people learn about the 3-E threats to our civilization, they don't know whether to think it will happen quickly or slowly. Which it is, fast or slow, would make a lot of different. There are voices in the news on both sides.
If problems are coming quickly, we need to do something right now! Collapse is coming tomorrow, so for the low, low price of $50,000 you can buy the Deluxe Underground Survival Shelter!
Or: things will change slowly, like they always do. Our leaders have everything under control, and science will find a solution to any problem, so just relax, use your credit card, and be happy.
Quite a difference between the two, isn't there? Both sides want us to spend money, of course, so neither side is motivated to tell us the truth.
The truth is (no one is paying me to say this) that we don't know how quickly changes will come. Changes to energy supplies, the environment, and the economy USUALLY happen slowly (usually too slowly to get people off their butts), but they CAN come quickly at certain times. The USA had a fuel shortage in 1972, a freak superstorm slammed New England in 2012, and the stock market crashed in 1929 and 1987.
The important thing to remember is that no one KNOWS the future, and anyone who pretends to is lying. That leaves only ONE person who can take responsibility for your decisions about the future: YOU.
If you're interested in reading more about this "Fast or Slow" question, I recommend the books and essays of James Howard Kunstler, John Michael Greer, and psychologist Carolyn Baker.
History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
22 February 2013: Excellent Article!
Andy Brewin just wrote a wonderful article that looks at the need to slow down, think, contemplate, and create a "refuge" in our lives from the constant presure to DO SOMETHING (anything!) that is so much a part of our culture. The article is even written in good, well-proofed English, and is a pleasure to read.
Refuge by Andy Brewin on Resilience.org
... adapting rapidly and peacefully to oil scarcity in a manner that does not destroy the global environment provides humanity with a formidable challenge.
13 February 2013: Credit Where Credit is Due
"If a machine were invented that scrubbed carbon from the atmosphere and turned it into useful food, construction materials, animal feedstocks, and fibers, all while rebuilding topsoil, it would be on the cover of every tech magazine in the world and its inventor would be a celebrity millionaire. Yet I've never seen a tree on the cover of Wired."
If anyone can determine the author of this beautiful observation, please let me know.
This quote, in one simple example (even though many more could be given), explains very much about the current human situation. We have forgotten where we live, where all our resources come from, and what will happen if we keep fouling our "nest."
In other words, we have forgotten who we belong to. We like to think we are "free" and indebted to no one (except maybe the bank). It makes us feel good to pound our chests and assert things like that. Unfortunately, it doesn't make them true.
It's often said that the only things we're guaranteed upon being born are death and taxes. Actually, that could be seen as rather generous since it implies we have some sort of life between birth and death, and some sort of civilization to tax us.
Let's step even further back.
If it wasn't for one thing that we keep forgetting, we'd be guaranteed nothing but a cubic meter or two of interplanetary space. It's got a few atoms of hydrogen floating around, and maybe a few of heaver elements too, but no promises. It's at almost absolute zero (-273C, -459F). Quite nippy.
We are children of the Earth. We like to forget that fact. She never will.
[Why are we here?]
30 January 2013: The Next Crisis: Catastrophe or Rite of Passage?
The biggest factor in dealing with any crisis is whether it hits us by surprise, or we handle it on our own terms. Superstorm Sandy got lots of people off their butts in the New York area last fall, and many of them will be better prepared next time. That doesn't mean that the next superstorm, drought, or whatever, won't hurt them, but it means that they'll be at least somewhat ready, maybe just because they lived through Sandy and know a little of what to expect.
And it doesn't much matter what you prepare for. If you choose to be "grown-up" (even if you're 10) and be as prepared as you can be for things that are coming, then you've put on your THINKING CAP, and even if the next problem is completely new and unexpected, you'll be way ahead of those who haven't.
But you have to put on that thinking cap BEFORE a problem is in your face. Once it hits, your instincts may serve you well, and they may not. But it will be too late to learn anything new, practice anything, or buy anything.
So the time to choose how to handle the next crisis is NOW.
Children live in the present-tense world of no responsibilities and instant gratification. All crises to them are catastrophic, and this only works because parents are always nearby to "make it better." This is basically the same way most adults have gotten used to dealing with crises because the "parents" of police, firemen, medics, and other relief workers have always been there in recent decades.
If you're tired of being a "child" when disaster strikes (whether you're 10 or 70), then you probably need something like a Rite of Passage, a ritual experience that leaves those "childhood" ways behind and replaces them with "adult" ways of thinking and doing.
But it's silly to try to do everything at once. We're human, and can get overwhelmed if we attempt too much. Pick something that is important to your life-situation, and work through the 5 steps of the Rite of Passage. I've given a recent example from my life below, so just substitute what needs to be done in YOUR life.
PREPARATION - The "back way" from my house to town (and the nearest grocery store), the way that does not follow a long, winding road over several bridges that can wash out, is along old logging roads. They are not passable by car, but easy on foot. However, for years they have been a scary "unknown" that I had trouble finding the courage to explore. The main preparation was a map or aerial photo so I could navigate the maze without getting lost or making a 5 mile trip into 20 miles of wandering. After that, the rest was easy: boots, coat, day pack.
SEVERANCE - A cold winter day finally arrived when I was well-ahead on my writing, it was too cold to do many outdoor tasks, but dry and perfect for hiking. I fussed for an hour after realizing this was THE DAY, but finally got my feet out the door.
CROSSING THE THRESHOLD - Part of the fear that held me back had been a place on the aerial photo where it appeared no road or trail connected. I had imagined hundreds of yards of blackberries that would take me hours to clip my way through, and every time I went, they would have grown back. Truth was, it was just a slightly-muddy rutted road that didn't show in the photo. I came to the next good road grinning like a clown!
RETURN - After a long walk that changed the fearful "unknown" into just another part of "my" backyard, the way back home was tiring but easy. I was empowered with a new option for dealing with floods, or anything else that would make it difficult or impossible to drive to town.
RE-INTEGRATION - Copies of that aerial photo (toner-printed so they're waterproof) are now permanent parts of my day pack and the emergency bag in my car (in case I'm in town and can't get home the normal way). As long as gasoline is cheap, I will usually drive to town, as I can bring back much more that way. But now I know that in a pinch, I can put a frame pack on my back, walk to town, and return with at least a bag of groceries.
This essay was inspired by a recent article by Eric L. Garza Ph.D
Hell hath no fury like a vested interest disguised as a moral principle.
7 January 2013: Why Peak Oil Threatens the International Monetary System
Erik Townsend just wrote an excellent article that explains (in language most people can follow) the International Monetary System that was created in 1944 at Bretton Woods, and how that system created "exorbitant privilege" in the USA that led to our huge national debt today. With the help of the very good work of economist Robert Triffin, the author goes on to analyze the possible triggers for that system falling apart, which will probably be caused by a Peak Oil price spike.
Ironically, if the USA ever did approach energy independence, that would cause the entire International Monetary System to come crashing down (at least as far as the USA is concerned).
The article at Resilience.org
There could be no such thing as landed property originally. Man did not make the earth, and, though he had a natural right to occupy it, he had no right to locate as his property in perpetuity any part of it: neither did the Creator of the earth open a land-office, from whence the first title-deeds should issue.
6 January 2013: A Little Perspective on Gun Violence
No one likes getting shot, or dying, or having it happen to someone we care about in any way (even if only because they go to our school or live in our city). So we urgently want to DO SOMETHING about it. The problem is, if we do something too quickly, without thinking it through, our actions can have no effect, or even make it worse.
Political leaders, we know from long experience, need to APPEAR to be doing something, even when they have no idea what to do, or don't even want to. So they will do something, and most of the time the problem does NOT go away. This is especially true, in my opinion as a (retired) mental health therapist, about problems deeply rooted in human nature. We are a competitive creature whose main methods of solving problems are somehow violent. It has been that way since cave-man days. It will probably not end in 2013.
There is some truth to the saying, "If guns are outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns." The recent school shooter stole the guns. It's also true that the person he stole them from had, legally, guns best suited to military operations.
In most cases, crazy people who want to kill lots of people will pick places where they KNOW no one else has a gun. Malls, schools, you know. If a "good guy" in these places had a gun, would the damage have been less? Maybe.
It is also true that these crazy people sometimes do more damage because they can get large-capacity clips (bullet holders), which are useful in war, but not hunting. Self-defense, which most people agree is a valid use of guns, is a gray area; if the "bad guy" has a 30-round clip, and the "good guy" is limited to 6 rounds, what happens?
Although I am against any innocent person being shot or killed, I am also against knee-jerk reactions that make us feel good, but don't solve the problem. Here's a food-for-thought proposal:
If we accept that violence is a part of human nature, then we need to provide outlets for it. Sports provide a little of that, but not, in my opinion, enough. The movie "Fight Club" presented an option that society would do well to consider: places where people can go when they need to let out violent urges, but don't really want to die or kill in the process. The laws in effect in most places do not allow this. When you bottle up little explosive urges, eventually you get a big explosion, as we saw in several places in 2012, one just down the road from me.
I'd like to end this essay by stepping way back, and seeing how human violence may be taking us, as a whole planet, to a place we really don't want to go, and may not be able to find any way out of. This is a recent quote from psychologist Carolyn Baker.
"If we were to undertake a thorough, incisive, painfully honest exploration of the psychology of gun violence, we would quickly discover that the dynamics of our species that allow us to murder the planet and render it uninhabitable are the same dynamics that allow us to murder each other with impunity."
A society hell-bent on GDP growth is like a junkie doing whatever nasty thing it takes for the next high, rather than doing the right thing for himself and his family.
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