Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Life Outside the Mental Comfort Zone

While procrastinating on the topic of Communities that Abide (will it be a series of blog posts, a book, or both?) I'd like to take a step back. I've been running this blog for over five years now, and it's time to take stock.

The subjects I like to explore on this blog lie far outside the mental comfort zone for most people, making it a sort of proving ground of mental fortitude—mine and the readers'. Some topics have become safe for discussion since I started this blog some years ago, others are yet to do so.
Financial collapse is now a perfectly acceptable topic: the financial collapse of 2008 has been postponed by money-printing, runaway sovereign debt and various other kick-the-can-down-the-road schemes, which will all stop working today or tomorrow or the day after. Peak Oil (the fact that conventional oil production peaked in 2005 and that unconventional oil is too expensive to produce to keep industrial economies from collapsing) emerged into the mainstream and then went for a sort of continuous mental loop-the-loop of centrally choreographed delusion. I expect the loop-the-loop to turn into a tailspin once the reality of rapid depletion rates and high costs of the unconventional resources catches up with the delusional script. The end of the American Empire is also quite acceptable as a topic of conversation now, and university faculty can now expound on it without facing any negative repercussions. But that's a boring topic; as I witnessed in Russia, there is nothing quite as boring as an empire right before its collapse.

But there are some other topics that are still considered beyond the pale. One of these is the idea that the industrial nation-state is a doomed institution throughout much of the world, and that we are headed toward a world of slums run by criminal warlords. Another is that agriculture is a method of growing food that dates to the now bygone period of Earth's history—the ten thousand-or-so-year period of unusually stable climate during which all of human civilizations will have emerged, risen and fallen.

To comply with the Principle of Least Astonishment (a very useful principle if you want to keep people listening), let us explore in some detail the mental discomfort these topics tend to cause. This will allow you, as you read along, to classify your own reactions, and if you find that you fall into one of the nonproductive categories I will provide, then you can either work at developing a different, more productive reaction, or you can go play fetch with the dog instead, because your participation in this project is entirely optional.

There are various lines in the sand which most people are loathe to cross. To help you gauge your own level of mental discomfort, let us try grouping the expected reactions in accordance with common, (though meaningless) political labels. I expect the first two categories to balk at what follows to be the so-called “conservatives” (what it is they are conserving is anyone's guess—certainly not their land's once-abundant natural resources) and the so called “liberals” or “progressives” (what it is they are progressing toward is anyone's guess too—I think they are progressing toward collapse).

The conservatives tend to be more tolerant of separatist and isolationist groups found within their midst, generally disliking government meddling in people's lives, but on the other hand they are also more likely to eagerly swallow the propaganda spewed forth by their corporate government media, and any criticism “their country right or wrong” is likely to produce an angry reaction, especially if such criticism is coming from a “foreigner.” They also tend to take a dim view of those who do not resemble them ethnically, attempting to preserve Anglo cultural dominance the fiction of the US as an ethnically Anglo country even though the Anglos have already lost their majority status. Some of them even go as far as advocating the use of subjective (person on person) violence to remedy what they perceive as the source of the country's problems—“immigrants” and such—with the assistance of lightly armed militias and vigilante groups. No self-respecting American-equipped cannibalistic Syrian “freedom fighter” would ever sally forth with such a puny armory, and yet some Americans feel that they can use their pea-shooters to face down the US military. That is pathetic.

The liberals/progressives tend to be more tolerant of criticism (producing some of their own—up to a point) and, being constrained by the requirements of political correctness, they would never (in public) disqualify a criticism simply because it is coming from a “foreigner” or attack groups simply because they are “immigrants” but on the other hand they tend to be all too eager to condemn separatist and isolationist groups on the grounds that they do not share their set of social values, which they deem to be the only right ones. Separatist and isolationist groups tend to come in for harsh treatment for their supposed ill treatment of women, or children, or animals, for their “substandard” educations, for their “substandard” living arrangements and so forth. They tend to couch their rhetoric in the language of universalism: universal human rights, universal rights of women and so forth; the educationalists among them strive for universal literacy (and fall ridiculously far short). They often advocate the use of objective (system on person) violence to remedy what they perceive as the source of the country's problems—substandard practices of this or that group—by the imposition of government mandates, the dismantlement of the communities in question through regulation, law enforcement, imprisonment and the imposition of large government programs.

Having listened to the rhetoric and the propaganda from both sides, I have found them to be equally obnoxious. I have come to see them as part of a sickness: the brain of the body politic seems to have had its corpus callosum severed (that's the crossbar switch between the two hemispheres of the brain that allows them to act as a unit). Each side thinks that it represents the whole even as the two sides have all but lost the ability to communicate with each other. This arrangement has evolved as a convenience for the corporate government media whose job is to manipulate them into submission: it is classic “divide and conquer.” But the rhetoric of both groups serves the same purpose: to gain their consent for suppressing, dismantling and destroying all that which does not serve the system. Both groups embrace the use of violence: subjective, “shoot 'em up” sort of person-on-person violence in the case of conservative groups and objective, system-on-person violence in the case of liberals/progressives. Of these, it is the objective violence—which works its destruction through the use of regulations and mandates, educational standards, paperwork requirements, ever-present law enforcement and a hypertrophied surveillance system that is supposed to provide “security”—that produces the wide assortment of bad personal outcomes we see all around us.

What's worse, both hemispheres of this particular split-brain patient's brain also suffer from bipolar affective disorder. During the manic phase each hemisphere believes in infinite technological progress toward some sort of space-based, highly automated nirvana; during the depressive phase it believes in some version of the apocalypse, which presupposes more or less instantaneous destruction by forces beyond anyone's control, which, obviously, it is useless to try to resist. Neither side wants to believe in its steady degeneration into irrelevance and extinction. But perhaps this is not an illness at all, but simply the way we tend to remember things: we remember pleasure and forget pain, and thus we remember being in the state of nirvana as a process, but we remember being in a persistent state of pain as the event that signaled its onset.

John Michael Greer has done a wonderfully thorough job of explaining the tendency to jump to extremes (endless progress or instant destruction) when facing the future, along with the true shape of things, which is that cultures and civilizations germinate, grow, ripen, mellow and rot according to a timeless pattern, and the fact that this particular global technological civilization is following the same script to perfection in spite of it being global and technological. He even trotted out well-forgotten intellectual mighties such as Oswald Spengler to show that there is a science behind his claims. As with all methods, this method has its limits, however: characterize the growth and decay of cultures all you like, but it all becomes moot if a large rock comes around and smashes your Petri dish. And there are two such rocks flying for it right now: one is rapid nonlinear climate change; the other is natural resource depletion. A new narrative is emerging, called NTE, which stands for “near-term (human) extinction”—the idea that we humans won't be around for more than a couple more generations. I am an optimist, and so I believe that some of us will persist as small bands and tribes of semi-aquatic, nomadic humanoids. What's more, I find this perspective quite inspiring—far more so than the perspective of breeding many more generations of office plankton whose job is to convert natural resources into smoke and garbage while popping pills to try to stay sane.

Here's where I was with these ideas five years ago, and that is where I am with them today. The only difference is that now a few more people might pay attention to them, not as a work of whimsy but as something that will affect them and their children. What follows is an excerpt from The New Age of Sail, which I published in August of 2006.

A few decades from now, just off the coast...

It is nearing sunset when the vegan ship sights land. There are two vegans on deck; two more are roused from their hammocks below the deck to help with the landing. They lower and furl the sails, take down and secure the masts, then row and scull the boat through the surf. When she finally noses up onto the beach, they jump down into the water and wade ashore hauling lines, then labor mightily to get her up onto level ground, panting in the stuffy air. They thrust pieces of driftwood under the bow, tie lines around trees and rocks, and roll the boat out of the water and well away from it. To lighten the load, they drain the ballast tanks that kept the boat upright and stable while it was underway. Once the boat is high and dry, and sitting upright on level ground like a giant piece of furniture, they unload their cargo of dried sea squirrel. Finally, they post a watch, and the other three retreat below, stretch out in their hammocks, and rock themselves to sleep, for once without any assistance from the sea.

Sea squirrels are pale, sickly-looking, and, above all, sad. Dried ones doubly so. They are endowed with flabby bags for a body, some ineffectual spiny tendrils, and dangling dark bits of uncertain purpose. One might conjecture that they are mutant shellfish that survived having their shells dissolved by the carbonic acid in the seawater. Being vegans, the vegans would never think of eating one; nor anything else that washes up on the shores of that brownish, carbonated ocean, almost lifeless after that final, desperate binge of coal-burning that occurred just as oil and gas were running out. Picking dead sea squirrels off the beach with a pointed stick is an unpleasant chore, making it useful for teaching children the subtle difference between work and play. Sea squirrels have but two charms: they are at times plentiful, and, dried into flat chips, they burn with a clean, yellow flame – not bad for illumination, and convenient for cooking the food which the vegans both plant and harvest all along the shore.

The Vegans' passion is for spreading seeds and gathering and consuming the proceeds. They are on an indefinite mission to boldly grow food where no one grew it before. They are carried forth by their ship, which looks like a long box sharpened into a wedge on one end, but is capable of a full warp four knots to windward, and double that in anything more favorable. Their mission is of an indefinite duration because their home port is under several feet of water, and although that water came from pristine, ancient glaciers and icecaps, it is now briny and laced with toxins. And although their grandparents never tire of telling them how at one time their home port had not one, but several excellent vegan restaurants, now there is hardly anything there that a vegan would want to eat, and hardly anyone to eat it with.

The vegans abstain from eating animal flesh not because of their tastes or their sense of ethics, but because most animal flesh has become toxic. The increased mining and burning of coal, tar sands, shale, and other dirty fuels, dust storms blowing in from desertified continental interiors, and the burning and degradation of plastic trash, have released into the biosphere so much arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, dioxins, and numerous other toxins, that the vast majority of predatory species, non-vegan humans among them, have become extinct. Since toxin concentrations increase as they travel up the food chain, certain top predators, such as belugas and orcas, went first, followed by most non-vegetarian animals. Along with chemical toxins, the biosphere became inundated with long-lived radionucleotides from derelict nuclear installations left over from the hasty attempts to ramp up nuclear power generation. Those built near the coasts are still bubbling away underwater due to rising ocean levels. And so the only surviving humans are those clever enough to realize that only the plants remain edible.

Although the vegans rarely want for food, this is only because of their Permaculture skills, because growing food has become an uncertain proposition. Droughts and wildfires alternate with torrential rains that wash away the topsoil, the ocean keeps spreading further and further inland, and in better years insects sometimes stage a revival and devastate much of what the vegans have planted. Were they to settle in any one place, they would certainly starve before too long. But because they have boats, and because climate upheaval is constant but uneven, they can be sure that something of what they have planted is growing and bearing fruit somewhere. It is solely by virtue of being migratory, and, over the years, nomadic, that they are able to persist from one generation to the next. They carry what they gather with them, and, carefully conserving the seed stock and constantly experimenting with it, manage to renew it. When a period of devastation runs its course, they step in and plant a new forest garden ecosystem. When they revisit it, after a few weeks or a few years, it may be dead, or overgrown with weeds, or it may be thriving, and yield a harvest of wood, nuts, berries, fruits, tubers, and herbs. And, of course, seeds.
The shore is for gathering food, for hauling out, making repairs, and for congregating. For everything else, there are the boats. They provide shelter, transportation, and a place to store food and other supplies. They carry all the tools needed to repair them, and even to reproduce them. They provide fresh water for drinking and washing, by capturing the rainwater that falls on their decks: one good torrential downpour is enough to fill their freshwater tanks, which hold several months' supply. They provide escape from wild weather, being sturdy enough to ride it out safely. In open ocean, away from flying and floating debris, they dutifully pound their way up and down towering waves, rattling the bones of the crew hiding in the enclosed cockpit and below the deck, but remaining impervious to either wind or water. It is little wonder, then, that boatbuilding and seafaring skills are at the top of the vegan home schooling curriculum: they are what keeps them afloat.


Anotherplayaguy said...

Office plankton -- priceless.

Over at http://guymcpherson.com/ they've been discussing NTEs for quite a while. Accepting human extinction is liberating, too, in its own way.

We have tipped too many points to have much of a chance to survive.

Robo said...

Not a cheerful prospect, but entirely plausible. I suppose there would be some parts of the world where the radiation levels would be tolerable. Your scenario mentions grandparents who experienced vegan restaurants. Forty or fifty years from linen napkins to floating nomads. That's a pretty big stairstep. You might as well elaborate on it.

k-dog said...

"You can either work at developing a different, more productive reaction, or you can go play fetch with the dog instead."

You make playing fetch with the dog sound like a bad thing. I've decided to be more picky about what I fetch myself. Some things are not worth fetching. I'm going to start telling some people to fetch their own balls.


I see your separation of the political corpus callosum as the corn pone problem.

"You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is." - Twain.

The chasm exists because neither extreme is reached by using rational thought. Both extremes are tribal, nothing more. Opinions arrived at by osmosis. If they had any real substance each system would adequately deal with reality which neither do. Reality based opinions requires thought and effort. Such opinions would be rare in any society but in ours they are disappearing faster than polar bears.

Our hypertrophied surveillance system has been in development for a while. Perhaps some of your angst is the result of the inevitable loss of independent thought that results when an authoritarian political system is imposed on a people.

A collapsing society will also have more strife. Political opinions arrived at by tribal absorption will diverge with increased stress.

It is a sad fact that people associate their opinions with a sense of self, their ego. A more correct view is to say. I am not my opinions. Opinions I possess. Opinions should be things reached by rational thought, associating them with ego prevents rational thought.

My thoughts are not who I am but something I have. K-Dog

peakaustria said...

Love this essay for years, also your current book! did my best translating it into german:

Unknown said...

I for one will not miss this when it's gone. This culture produces nothing but
mind-numbingly stupid spectacles. Worse still it claims this garbage to be the
pinacle of human evolution. Spare me.

My vote is on letting all of this burn itself out in an orgy selfish stupidity.
Maybe observing this idiocy will once more produce people who appreciate life
for what it is and what it can be. People who understand that you are what you make
and try their best to cultivate once more a culture that values great works
of literature, transcendental architecture, music, poetry, heroism, sacrifice,
discipline and science. People who once more live life to the fullest.

Maybe we just have to descend deep into the cave in order to appreciate the light.

Jon said...

It is said that those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. But what is history’s single greatest lesson? The greatest lesson of history is that most people don’t learn lessons from history. The few people who do learn this lesson go on to be the movers, shakers, con men, gold diggers, new religion founders, strong men, war lords, shamans and all in all general usurpers of authority over the non-greatest-lesson-learners, also called sheeple, proles, peasants, patriots, progressives, tea partyers, free thinkers or what have you. Sadly, this is so for of one reason and one reason only: It works.

The only stable social group organized above the threshold of the clan (about 50 or 60 related members) is the village whose life blood is propaganda. It’s been true since horticultural times. It is true now and it will continue to be true of any system of government that self organizes in the future, probably originating in the least fractured tangent of the Petrie dish, like Peruvian Indians or Laplanders. In other words, the people least like us. By least like us, I mean most lacking in resource sucking technology: impoverished but somehow existing anyway. I wish them all the luck. Be sure to learn from our mistakes-Oh, never mind. You won’t anyway.


michigan native said...

Here's one man who tells those conservative types what they didn't want to hear. They couldn't run from him fast enough. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Pi2GOoDB9c
Very gratifying for me to watch. The irony is that most of the conservatives think that all their problems would be solved if they didn't have to deal with non WASP people, while the liberals still think their hero Obama will somehow magically produce all these resources (energy in particular) and avert this disaster that seems now just around the corner.

The majority from both camps do not have a clue as to what lays ahead, but everyday the edge of the cliff comes clearer into view.

Spying on US citizens by the NSA, some nuclear waste storage facility leaking deadly radiation in Washington, predator drones being used right here in the US, the "national defense authorization act" and the "department of homeland security" with their 6.2 billion rounds of hollow point bullets and untold thousands of armored vehicles.

Foreign policy wise, our "peace president" stirring up the muck in Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, etc and most notably, Syria in what seems to be a vain and futile gesture to maintain the empire. Russia not backing down, supplying Syria with SR-300 air defense systems and troops, further stating they will act defensively and pre emptively attack and destroy any NATO missile defense systems placed on her borders, and Obama backing down.

One city after another appointing emergency budget managers, with more rounds of lay offs, scale backs. The signs of everywhere to see if one open's their eyes and the worst is yet to come

Anonymous said...

Todays' products are made to be discarded, not repaired.

Perhaps some of you opened a 50ies or 60ies radio, and found a piece of paper glued to the inside of the box. These radios actually contained a brief one-page repair manual, the schematic, which in many cases was sufficient to repair the set.

Today things are quite different. Many consumer products seem designed to be hard to repair. And it's not because they're too inexpensive to be worth repairing. As an example, Apple's Retina Macbook Pro won the title of "least-repairable notebook". At $1499, you can hardly call it too cheap to be worth repairing.

Now, if you are thinking of repairing a device you own, you want to read the service manual. And that's where the real fun begins. The service manuals are copyrighted, and manufacturers use that copyright to sue those who distribute the manuals.

Even if you have the time and the skills to repair, you're pushed headlong into throwing away and buying new stuff.

Professor Diabolical said...

Sorry but I have to protest a little here. First on being semi-aquatic: although a overwhelming majority of humans live within sight of the coast, worldwide there is a vast--and I mean vast--continent within. I live in the lowlands and the oceans could rise 400 feet before I'd have to move back a single town. And that's all that would happen: people would move back two miles, five miles, to the new coast. The most catastrophic sea rise imaginable would probably lose a percentage of land that's statistical noise.

Climate volatility is similar. Weather-wise, America, for one, is already an incredibly violent place. There are Haudenosaunee stories of "flying heads" (ie, microbursts) that indicate the weather was this violent before. That means nothing. They grew “crops” by burning off chestnut-berry forests, making sheltered clearings, and using what whites called "wild" varieties--plants caretakingly created for generations to survive with little intervention. Even the colonists knew enough to have a 20-legged stool approach, with farms that grew every possible crop every year, including wood and a multi-year pantry, so although in poor conditions half the crops might fail still the other half would provide abundantly. Only modern man with modern agriculture is so impossibly stupid as to grow one thing only with no backup but financial crop insurance, then stake all our lives on his bet.

There is no Near-Term Extinction. Even with combined nuclear and genetic attacks humans could barely jostle the ecosystem enough out of line to render themselves obsolete. We are simply too inconsequential. If you don't believe me, stop mowing your lawn. In a year, it will be a field, in 5 years, a wilderness, in 10 your house will vanish, in 50 the foundation. Without constant, uninterrupted energy input, nature wins, and wins in the blink of an ecological eye. Don't believe me? Look up the photostudies of Detroit. Our delusions of power are only that: delusions. Nature's existence doesn't depend on us; we exist entirely through her, and if we built a techo-triumphant spaceship to other worlds, still we would die if we didn't bring along the air, the plants, the water, the whole biosphere in a bubble that allows us to live, for we are symbiotes, not parasites.

Can I see a huge population decline even to the billions as energy and/or order declines, financial or otherwise? Of course. Rome fell from 3 million at her peak to 30 thousand. But losing 2, 4, even 5.5 billion lives is a million miles from being a NTE. We like to scare ourselves, because, like children, we like to think we're important. We're not. Lose even 1 billion with the subsequent disorder and in 10 years you'd have the forests close in like we were never there: the world of stories Grimm and of the cooling, greening of all Europe after Ghengis Khan.

Don't kid yourself: the world isn't going to become more wet or less human. There's just going to be somewhat fewer of us, living smaller and simpler. And although tragic, that, to me, is a good thing.

Unknown said...

I number myself among those who have been edified by John Michael Greer’s writings, and I am persuaded by his contention that both the “constant progress toward Utopia” and “imminent apocalypse” scripts are cop-outs.
His confident assertion that the collapse which is now overtaking us is bound to take a couple of centuries to play out, because that was the historical rate at which earlier empires declined, is simply an alternative script, due to the very “Petri dish-smashing rocks” you have identified: rapid nonlinear climate change and natural resource depletion.
I think your work is uniquely valuable at this juncture, Dmitry, because you are willing to face the gravest implications of these bleak prospects and yet remain optimistic that some vestige of humanity will survive in some form. We all should hope and work for that.

Beagle Juice said...

"No self-respecting American-equipped cannibalistic Syrian “freedom fighter” would ever sally forth with such a puny armory, and yet some Americans feel that they can use their pea-shooters to face down the US military."

I think Dmitry greatly underestimates the cowardice of the average American "Peace" officer. They are going to have to do most of the dirty work, and 15 MEN armed with semi-autos could keep a mid size police force cowering for as long as they like. Look what Dorner was able to accomplish by himself.

Wolfgang Brinck said...

Good essay. I liked your discussion of the political polarization. I think of myself as liberal, but for the past few years, the realization that both conservatives and liberals depend on the need for exponential growth to keep their agendas going has left me disinterested in their politics. In polite company, I mostly keep my mouth shut since nobody wants to hear what I have to say which is that their agenda items are rapidly becoming irrelevant.
I found your vegan story interesting. Don't know that the type of ship you describe would work here on the west coast due to the shortage of suitable harbors and the surf landings can be truly terrifying except for small craft that can be easily hauled on shore by their crew. Larger craft are more suitable to the Pacific Northwest which has lots of offshore islands to shelter the shores.
Coastal inhabitants in the San Francisco bay area were sedentary and lived off shell fish for the most part. But if you imagine heavy pollution post collapse, filter feeders would not be good to eat.
I am partial to the desert myself, mostly because I imagine that in a decaying culture, what is left of the government will have little interest in enforcing zoning rules and collecting taxes and such in a sparsely populated environment. Likewise, low population density will make these regions unattractive to warlords. What warlord would be interested in extracting tribute in mesquite beans and pinyon nuts?
Of course, I'm daydreaming. Who knows where I will land and what I will do to keep my family fed. But I have a jar of mesquite meal in the cupboard and also some pine nuts and am experimenting with recipes.

Anonymous said...

"Life outside the mental comfort zone"

Living among the plankton is a "total immersion" experience in living outside your mental comfort zone. I do not recommend it ;)

It looks like the financial collapse that started in 2000 and re-asserted itself again in 2007, will find The Third Time is a Charm starting this year, 2013.

I wonder how the industrial plankton will handle this next step out of their mental comfort zone.

I hope Homeland Security stocks up on adult-sized diapers for all of the adult-sized children they will have to corral.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Diabolical -

The age of agriculture is soon going to be over, taking with it any style of human habitation except the nomadic. And as nomads we either use water to move, or we can't carry enough provisions on our backs to survive. "Next town over" will be just as nice a place to go extinct as the one that's underwater.

Jacob Gittes said...

Interesting post, Dmitri.

My own reactions. Hmm.

Like Wolgang, I grew up on the liberal side. I had stints as a libertarian and paleocon later, maybe as a kind of rebellion.

Now I've given up on politics, although I still care about things that affect the local level. I realize that we, the peasants, have almost no influence on national politics, and even less on foreign policy, unless we are willing to hit the streets and gum up traffic and get arrested. Most of us are too busy trying to survive in this "recovery" to risk the loss of time and freedom.

As far as topics that cause me to recoil, the only one that really hits me hard is the fact that we are causing species to go extinct, to the extent it might cause us to go extent. But even the loss of minor species causes me to feel a lot of pain and sadness.

If one has reproduced, one is also likely to suffer from great pain at the prospect that one's offspring will suffer or die early because of collapse. I think most people react by denying the possibility that collapse or something like it is going on.

I have chosen to confront it and plan act as my meager resources allow.

However, that sets up a conflict between myself and my spouse and other family members. I have it better than most, as my family admits that things are bad and going south. But strangely, they persist in not taking radical steps, while still envisaging vacations to Europe, Hawaii, or what have you. Resources that would be better spent on preparations.

I understand, to some extent: who wants to live as though there is no tomorrow (literally), or at least no tomorrow that one's present self would find tolerable or non-hellish.

Most people are probably better off ignoring collapse, and leaving the planning to those of us who can both live in the present while at the same time planning. I quite enjoy life in the present. However, I have a good ability to imagine and project trends, and no that I would never forgive myself for not taking prudent steps, once those steps have become both impossible and necessary for survival.

It's a quandary. Every family/group needs someone who can tolerate the truth, but most families/groups cannot tolerate that person opening their mouth to discuss why they are doing what they are doing.

I have not found any topic that Dmitri has discussed thus far to be off-putting. I've found subject to be a bit upsetting, but mainly because I feel constrained do to lack of resources, not lack of will.

Weather note: we had the weirdest weather last weekend. A huge downpour which softened the ground, followed by a thunderstorm with 60+ mph gusts, which brought down lots of huge trees. Some people/businesses are still without power. I don't recall this precise combo before...

forrest said...

The specialization of functions between two hemispheres (which seems to exist in a remarkable number of vertebrates is evidently functional: That is, each half processes its neural data in a useful way that complements what the other hemisphere has been working out.

In the case of "the American body politic" it is not at all clear that either hemisphere is extracting any information useful to the whole, or that combining their outputs produces anything beyond binocular delirium... I think we've actually gone to a condition closer to "Every neuron for itself," running fantasy in through the inputs & fantasy out.

bluebird said...

I echo Publius.

Anonymous said...

Never has anything on this blog shocked me to the point of kneejerk-denying it. It's more like the things discussed here are, not quite obvious, but easily reached by anyone with reasoning capability and access to the data. Being willing to entertain them is apparently another problem, but not one I have. It's more like I'm continually shocked by the intensity of my feeling of relief to hear someone a) discussing these things at all, and b) doing it so frankly.

The main lesson being taught in all this is detachment. This is a lesson also taught, for example, by child-rearing (one long process of detachment that makes you more and more obsolete as your child becomes more and more capable), by Zen and Buddhist practice (where it is sought as a foundation for calm alertness) and most of life in general. Being able to consider these issues without your head exploding requires a certain amount of detachment. And on some fundamental level, adapting to the new way, will require detaching from the old way. And the trauma of the transition itself will surely be best navigated psychologically by those who are able to maintain a somewhat detached attitude, which I think is itself an idea expressed by Dmitri.

I've detached from the idea of America as a just and noble place... the place of my childhood propaganda in other words. I've detached from politics and the system. I would like to detach from the economy but I probably won't succeed at that. But I've detached from the need to detach, so that's okay.

Which leads to what I'm experimenting with now: taking it a step further and detaching from my own life. What if my strategy for collapse is just to die off? SOMEBODY's got to do it. (Probably 9 out of 10 people have to do it.) Instead of scrabbling to be the 1 out of 10, I could simply declare myself to be a product of the 20th century and ill-suited for the new times. And since post-collapse life is probably going to suck royally, what will I really miss out on? Honestly the only thing cool about it will likely be the challenge of solving survival problems with my brain. And I think I would appreciate that challenge more by doing it in an improvisatory way like jazz music, i.e. without much preparation except the lifetime of "practicing" I've done and what I carry around inside me. If I do that, then I'm off the hook for all the time & expense of preparation "per se." Hmmm.

Even suicide doesn't seem that bad... The wife in Cormac McCarthy's novel "The Road" just wanders off to die, and since it occurs in a flashback, after many pages of utterly bleak descriptions of the present moment of the narrative, I found myself admiring her good sense. But facing your own death requires courage, certainly as much as hanging on to life. And I think that, more than detachment, is what most people lack.

Winfield Tyndale said...

The story sounds convincing. But no seasteader is an island. Anyone up for this? Anyone ready to take on a few members to their proto-tribe. My girlfriend and I are going to visit a few homesteads in Oregon over the next few months. Not joking... Any seasteaders in the Pacific Northwest that we can visit? I sailed a little as a child in the Gulf of Mexico and miss it. Not dogmatic, just ready to work and learn the trade. Interested in communal living with adopted extended family. Able to provide income to group through construction work.
winfield74 at gmail

void_genesis said...

If you are going to seriously consider possible extreme damaging scenarios then you should also give some consideration to the plausible wild cards to the benefit side.

Two that spring to mind- firstly genetic engineering has the potential to transform life as we know it. Humans may well go extinct because we change ourselves into something wholly other. Secondly there is emerging evidence to consider that producing energy from low energy nuclear processes is feasible as well, unleashing a source of energy well beyond the scope of fossil fuels.

Personally I'm happy to keep setting up my productive small farm in the subtropical mountains of Oz- it is something I enjoy anyway. In the short term things are almost certainly getting worse, but beyond a decade or two I believe the many wild cards become impossible to quantify in a meaningful way.

michigan native said...

I am trying to imagine which area of the country will explode first. Listen to the level of intensity of hatred between these conservative "minute men" flag waving types and a Hispanic counter protestor and an Afro American woman who was drawn into the near violent confrontation. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FV7_l_HVUgM

There are a number of similar videos showing young Hispanic men waving the Mexican flag and flipping these "anti immigrant" protestors the bird. You can tell it would not take much for these situations to spill into violence. Get a big enough crowd, and even a riot. Some of the young men are heard about returning whatever state they were in back to indigenous people (in this case, they mean Mexico). Apparently they haven't forgotten that the US provoked a splendid little war with Mexico and stole a lot of their territory.

So when an attempt at martial law is inevitably imposed, what part of the country deteriorates into utter lawlessness first? The rather vile anti-immigration groups vs angry Hispanics/drug cartels, or the old confederacy wanting to separate from the union once again? Afro Americans believing Obama didn't get a fair chance (I can tell you for a fact they love him and think he can still fix everything. There is another powder keg ready to explode) The right winged militia groups will be the first to go nuts, believing this attempt to impose martial law to be this long ago thought out plot by the illuminati, free masons, or whatever real or imagined enemy they believe is out to impose a one world government on them.

I see a lot of misery, violence, murder, despair, suicides, anger. We are seeing that now (the media circus over the Trayvon Martin trial just as one of many daily dramas to go with the latest mass shootings, government scandals, bombings, and yet another way the government has taken away your so called rights)

Imagine when the dollar gets dropped as the world's reserve currency, as more and more countries are dropping it out of their bilateral trade agreements. The end of cheap oil already started the end of growth, and Obama can do nothing to restart endless growth because of all the resources needed to sustain have peaked or are soon to peak (oil, coal, natural gas, drinking water, minerals, fertile soil not destroyed by for quick profit agriculture, precious metals,etc). Getting locked out of the international oil trade will bring on the crash, and the other stages of collapse pick up speed. I am thinking especially of political collapse as people are realizing their "liberal" president has done many things to betray them (the latest revelation of NSA spying, Obama appointing the former CEO of Monsanto the head the FDA, funding all these conflicts with money we don't have to preserve the US petro dollar or to deter China and India from building pipelines through these war torn countries, etc etc...I lose track after so many)

Commercial collapse as the flow of oil trickles, political collapse when people realize there is no political solution and finally realize that their government really doesn't represent them, whether they vote for conservatives or liberals. Obama vs Romney, Bush vs Clinton...they were but just figure heads for the same mafia that sold them down the drain.

Interesting times ahead in the next year or so. I envision hell on earth for a US populace more or less largely caught off guard and completely unprepared for lays ahead of them, every man for himself,lashing out at each for whose to blame for the paradise lost, and never to return

Jacob Gittes said...

You made an interesting comment about the Archdruid, Greer.

I just read his book, the the Long Descent, and found it quite good.

You seem to be taking a position that is between Greer and the NTE crowd.

That is my position, also. I think that the NTE theorists are far too certain. Real science is not a place of certainty, especially when it comes to biology, climate, and sociology. There are likely both positive and negative feedback loops we don't know about in climate, politics, economics, etc.

I am pretty sure what is coming will be horrific in many places, and in other places, people will band together. It will vary greatly based on what seem to be small differences in character, regional differences in resources. Think water, rivers for transport, nearby agriculture (or not).

Regarding Greer, though, I just thought of a connection to your other theme while biking here this morning. Greer himself seems to exhibit some of the intolerance for other ideas you are talking about. I stopped commenting on his blog partly because he comes down so harshly on those whom he disagrees with. Is that my imagination?

He's a brilliant thinker, but seems to have trouble temporarily taking on the perspectives of others. Again, I could be wrong. I love his clear thinking and analysis of history. He seems to be so invested in the slow decline scenario, that he considers any kind of global or large regional fast collapse to be impossible or unlikely.

I think that the combination of globalism, technology, hyper-overpopulation, etc. has set up a much bigger chance for global catastrophe...

onething said...

Meanwhile, Kunstler has not written to his blog for the past two Mondays, which is worrisome. I should think if he was going on vacation, he would have said so.

@ Beagle Juice,

"I think Dmitry greatly underestimates the cowardice of the average American "Peace" officer. They are going to have to do most of the dirty work, and 15 MEN armed with semi-autos could keep a mid size police force cowering for as long as they like. Look what Dorner was able to accomplish by himself."

This is so but in the context of a possible future that includes a state of near civil war with such dissidents, the govt would go all out, drop bombs from the air via helicopters, use grenades, send in drones.

But Dmitry, many nomads have been land based.

Wolfgang Brinck said...

two comments:
first, about 20 years ago I got the boat building bug, not to build big boats, but to build small hunting craft of the arctic type. In any case, when I started on that journey, I felt like Noah, being commanded by God to build these boats. That notion went away over time, but now, reading Dmitry's story of boat based nomads, I am reminded of my earlier feeling of obsession with the boat building enterprise. Time will tell whether my skills in that area will be of any practical use.
Secondly, Brian Fagan's book Before California offers some good insights on how population density impacts social arrangements. While the book is about the entry of humans into the Californian biosphere and their social evolution and adaptation to their new home and conversely, the response of the environment to the presence of this new invasive species, the lessons apply more broadly. Specifically, what applies to the current discussion is that social arrangements are related to population density. With few people in a given area, people are free to wander about. But as populations increase, territories are established and the free movement through the landscape becomes curtailed. Nomadic migrations, where they exist are within a given group's home territory, from the seaside clam digging grounds to the berry patch two miles away, or to the grass land three miles away. In more densely populated areas, the migrations might be farther afield, but always within an established territory. Another lesson from that book is that the search for food is a constantly changing game. People naturally eat the low hanging fruit first. They will eat whatever requires the least amount of energy to collect. Most areas also have food sources that are available only seasonally like migrating fish or birds or ripening seeds and you have to know when these things happen and when you do, you can collect most of your calories for the year in a few weeks. Then the challenge is to create secure storage places so that other critters don't eat your harvest. A good deal of survival in a given region depended on knowing what was available when and knowing how to prepare and preserve those resources. Anyone hoping to live off the land in a specific region will need to know these things. And in many places, you only get one chance a year to collect your food for the remainder of the year. Those who don't have this knowledge will starve. Having to have this specific knowledge mitigates against random nomadism but favors targeted nomadism instead.

bluebird said...

@onething - Kunstler has reformatted his website. He still writes on his blog every Monday.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

Roille, Tom Campbell's Big TOE, recently published, is an excellent comforter for many of these items of existential angst discussed here.

In particular, he helps to make it clear that death is as you say really no big deal, and an entirely sensible and pain-removing response to the upcoming crises.

See Tom's work at his website: My Big TOE.com

Worth a prolonged, in-depth study; particularly the weekend intensive presentations at, for example, Uni of Calgary.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Office plankton, brilliant.

Question: There is by now quite a bit of collapse lit. Does a similar body of work exist in the emerging economies? I started questioning the sanity of the system in the late sixties. Living in an overpopulated place (Netherlands) helped. But now I am starting to wonder how much of the growing collapse awareness is due to demographics. Is a country more hopeful when its people are younger?

beetleswamp said...

I don't know, man. I'm used to you knocking it out of the park but this time seems more like a foul tip. You managed to connect with a lot of force but it didn't go anywhere useful. The main gripe I have about the NTE crowd is that their stuff is boring. Sure I get that initial mind-blowing sheer panic shock but then the realization comes that for now I still have to show up to work when they call me and do something useful in the meantime. By definition any strategy for dealing with NTE is pointless, and telling people who know they can't fit into the sea squirrel narrative that it's their only choice will make them either curl up in a ball on the floor or tune out.

I really hope you just met some particularly disappointing Americans on your vacation and needed to get it out of your system. There are plenty of people out there who get me pondering the benefits of environmental holocaust from time to time, but your work on communities that abide is very important and much more enlightening than the misanthropic rantings that make up the majority of content on Nature Bats Last.

Patrick said...

I think Roille Figners made some very interesting points about this compulsion & planning to survive and the immature American approach to death in general (fight it tooth and nail—even if you're 90 years old— and deny, deny, deny its inevitability).

There may very well be some who, quite rationally, decide to opt out of surviving a widespread collapse, such as those who:
• Are very old or in poor health;
• Have no one who depends on them;
• Will not or cannot work in agriculture;
• Are claustrophobic or seasick on sailboats;
• Do not find life without air conditioning, electricity, computers, automobiles, travel, magazines, imported cheeses, etc. not worth living;
• Not interested in living with the suffocating social mores of the typical "abiding communities";
• Unable to conform to wacko religious or cultural ideas of some of these same groups;
• Unwilling to live under the uncertainty and terror of roving bands of armed thugs.

So… there are strategies for surviving collapse. Perhaps there should be strategies for exiting the theater once the show starts.

Patrick said...

Dmitri, you are without doubt one of my top 3 thinker/writers. You come from observation and processing vs. preconception. As an added bonus the comments section is equally worth reading and thought provoking.

I started my frequently interrupted journey in 1998 ish reading Jay Hansen's dieoff.org, so have been thinking along these lines for a considerable while.

It is both comforting and frightening to read from so many who simply understand that we're "for the dark."

Couple of thoughts: Kuntsler bleh, John Michael Greer, smart insightful but impossible (for me) to keep reading for very long as he's such a stuffed shirt in love with his own articulation.

I found some resonance with the couple of posters who alluded to just "dying off" when the time comes. I've had a long time here and it's been mostly great. But I have children and grandchildren; for them I fear greatly and sometimes weep.

As for what will happen and when, tsunami of shit on the horizon pretty well sums it up. But it is the most complex of systems and besides it going down, predicting its trajectory and and what edifices it will knock over when--well can't be done.

I do believe however it's a toss-up between annihilation and survival of at most a billion or so. But the hell for the survivors will be that after a few generations of devolution they will forget whatever it was that we thought made us human and live lives nasty, brutish and short. Ever the optimist, me!