Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Unlearn, Rewild

One of the least useful words in the English language is the word “wilderness.” I grew up wandering the woods, and, to me, where the road and the trail end and the animal (and human) paths begin is a point of fundamental transition: beyond this point lies something else—an older, perfectly ordinary, normal way of being, in which we are just another animal among many others. (An even more atrocious term is “unimproved land”—which is what developers call land that they haven't had a chance to bulldoze yet; “undestroyed land” seems more like it.) Perhaps a more reasonable perspective is to not call “wilderness” anything—it's just another piece of the planet—and instead find a word that applies to its opposite: human blight, perhaps? Human infestation? You get my point.

So, how is life in the human blight zone working out for you? Isn't the “civilized” living arrangement starting to seem a bit problematic? The corn crop (which is where Americans get most of their calories) is in the process of getting torched by a record heat wave, caused by global warming, in turn caused by burning fossil fuels which are a key element of life in the human blight zone. Corn prices are up over 40%. These are the only terms in which we can perceive the phenomenon of crop failure; we can't see, touch, smell or taste the corn, it has been reduced to just a statistic. And when there isn't enough of it, you too will be reduced to just a statistic. How do you like the sound of that?

A lot of people don't like that at all, and react, strangely enough, by using the word “unsustainable.” You see, everything would be fine if we made it sustainable, by recycling or putting up solar panels or driving electric cars or what have you. We need to transition to a sustainable future, and for that we need a transition plan. We've been following the wrong plan, you see—the plan to exterminate all life on earth—but with a new plan, one that leaves out the bit about the extermination, all that would change, right? Why doesn't it occur to anyone that the human industrial monoculture is, if anything, a little too sustainable? It may well sustain itself right up to the point where it kills everyone. A bit less sustainability might be a wise choice at this point. Then small groups of feral humans (and lots of other animals) could thrive indefinitely amid the ruins; maybe even grow a little corn here and there.

There are entire shelves of books full of talk about “preparation,” “survival,” “sustainability” and so forth. Just about all of them avoid the real issue. And so I was very happy to come across one that doesn't: Unlearn, Rewild by Miles Olson, which is just going to press as I write this. Miles is not a theorist but a practitioner: he and his group of friends have been living off the land as squatters for many years. He doesn't mince words: we “civilized” humans are living in a “human monoculture” prison; we have fallen into a technology trap.

How can you get out of this trap? Miles does not mince words: escape is illegal. If you want to escape, you have to break the law. “As soon as you begin to act outside the system, you are breaking its rules... Red handcuffs or blue handcuffs. Anything too far outside this culture’s mandate is not accepted; non-participation is not a legitimate option... Really, if we are all forced to work as part of a death machine, with no other viable alternative, where is the possibility for a sustainable future? The answer is obvious: in breaking the rules. Or, to put it more accurately, breaking the ridiculously insane rules.” [p. 48] Need an example of “ridiculously insane rules”? “It is illegal to salvage roadkill in many places, so learn your local laws and act appropriately. Whether that means following them is up to you.” [p. 107]

Does this mean that Miles is one of those easily dismissed idealistic back-to-the-land types? Judge for yourself:
If everyone disenchanted with this culture decided to wander off into the lonesome wilderness, it would have absolutely no effect on its workings. The back-to-the-land communities of the ’60s and ’70s may provide an illustration of this: a movement that was solid and strong in urban centers scattered into the countryside and gently faded away in dysfunctional utopian communities.

I think the most strategic place to be is on the fringes of this culture, in rural areas and at the edges of cities and towns. There one can interact with both civilization and wildness, dancing back and forth between both, feeding off the mass human energy and non-human energy. For those who feel called, there is important work to be done in the cities and in the wild blue yonder.

What we need is to build autonomous spaces, to create havens where the tools and skills we are going to need can be developed, and this can happen anywhere. Actually, it needs to be happening everywhere.
With that out of the way, Miles moves on to tools and skills, and there are pages and pages of them. What's covered is comprehensive, almost universally useful and is rarely presented as clearly and memorably. Unlearning plays a big part: the first world standards on which the surrounding culture insists need to go by the wayside. A diet of animal protein and saturated animal fat is good for you; a diet of soya, wheat and corn cause physical and mental difficulties. Veganism is disregarded as a viable alternative because it relies on industrial agriculture. “There is no guilt-free food option for us (except for maybe bankers, politicians and the like, if you’re into that) and there shouldn’t be.” [p. 99] Meat does not need to be refrigerated (which is good news, since there won't be refrigeration). It can cure at room temperature (making it taste better) and can be smoked to preserve it longer. Maggots taste like what they've been eating; lots of cultures eat maggots (and so will this one once people get hungry enough). Many types of vegetables can be preserved by allowing them to ferment in their own juices with a bit of salt.

There are chapters on medicinal plants, on trapping (eating meat does not require firearms) on tanning hides and on dressing animal carcases. There is a chapter on non-industrial birth control. There is even a chapter on blending in and going undetected (basic prescription: act white; in this culture non-white people get locked up and exterminated). Amazing bits of information are scattered throughout: need a non-industrial substitute for Viagra?—try deer testicles; they taste like hot dogs. If there is one chapter missing, it's the one on gathering food in the intertidal zone, which is dead easy and provides good nutrition. Mussels and dulse taste great and are easy to catch. This is probably because on Vancouver Island where Miles lives the coast is privately owned, densely populated and mostly off-limits. Still, I found it quite possible to go and gather at low tide (provided you dress like a tourist and wave and smile and generally act white). There also isn't enough mention of wild mushrooms.

In all, I think this is a very good book to keep around. I don't have a lot of room for books (or anything else, for that matter) and I am constantly paring down my library by giving books away, but I think that this one will be a keeper. By the way, the fiddlehead on the cover (not mentioned in the text, so I will mention it here) is edible too, sautéed, stir fried or pickled. Enjoy.


Dale Asberry said...

In permaculture it's called Zone 5 -- no human intervention beyond observation of natural systems.

Anotherplayaguy said...

And let's not forget the most viable and least talked about alternative to living in the craziness.


Been a vegetarian for nigh onto 45 years and am not going to change that, so the least talked about alternative might be the most viable for me. Sometimes survival is not worth the effort.

Andy Brown said...

My yard and garden are filled with little grasshoppers munching at the flowers and bean leaves, and I'm a little embarrassed that I've been too finicky to go insectivore on their little drumsticks. They coyote scat is filled with their little exoskeletons, and I suspect you can learn a lot from observing your local ruthless survivors. I will put this book on my list.

William Hunter Duncan said...

I've been learning to live as Miles suggests, and have been making progress. My entire yard is a garden, and I know what wild plants are edible and medicinal. Only my garden surrounds my house, which I've not been able to secure income sufficient to maintain. Now, because I have not been participating, and too few think my skills are worthy of support, the elec corp is about to shut off my elec, after which the city will condemn and remove me forcibly from my home, should that be necessary, and it probably will. It is very much illegal to say "I don't need you" to the machine, and the machine seems poised to destroy me for it.


Ruben said...

I am pretty sure the Canadian coastline can only be owned as private property down to the high tide line. So it is legal to harvest and picnic anywhere, as long as you are below the high tide line.

forrest said...

My wife Anne says the correct term for this infested territory should be 'the bewilderness.'

Kevin said...

"on Vancouver Island where Miles lives the coast is privately owned, densely populated and mostly off-limits."

It's a bit more complicated than this. In BC it's only possible to own down to the high tide mark: the province owns everything below that and the public has access. So you can walk along the beach below the high tide mark, waving at the millionaires in the beachfront homes, if you like. It's possible to have a foreshore *lease*, such as oyster farms and port facilities. And in some places (like Jesse Island, off Nanaimo) the owners have fierce dogs that patrol the foreshore and dissuade people from landing.

In practice, in most places, you are more likely to be prevented from harvesting shellfish by health closures for red tide than by private owners. Vancouver Island has a very long shoreline, not to mention the rest of the BC mainland and islands, and very little of it has snotty owners next to it.

Ryan said...


Not just that, but Vancouver Island is mostly owned by timber companies and not private individuals. The history of lumber and mining barons on the coast and how they made off like bandits in return for BC joining confederation is pretty fascinating.

Also depressing as hell, when you look at the price of land in this province.

weeone said...

I think we all need to accept our own imminent demise at this point. Humans have become an introduced species on their own planet and we can't all 7 billion go back to living off the land. When the shit hits the fan and the industrial food system collapses you will see our true animal nature come forward. Also don't be surprised if your mussels and fiddleheads aren't covered with a layer of radioactive fallout.

John D. Wheeler said...

If you like this sort of thing, two other people you might be interested in are Urban Scout (Peter Michael Bauer) and Christopher Nyerges. I took a survival course from Christopher 2 decades ago, it was great!

Monstur said...

I agree with the premise here, but the entire reason that humans started the agri-cultural system was to increase food production over what could be gathered. And it has obviously worked (granted with a huge input of petroleum). We have reached a point at which all of us cannot live off of the natural systems of the Earth. The issue I see is that 4-5 billion humans are not going to volunteer to die, so when the food systems begin to fail they will over-exploit every natural food source available until very little remains.

FiveGunsWest said...

When it comes down to it, it will be screw the price of land, for sheer survival. I have eaten dog in the orient and found it quite tasty. Cats too. There are a dearth of those around. Getting to my point, sure I would eat bankers, politicians and all those rich mofos. Wonderful post. Really thought provoking and interesting. Hit me up if you want a good Philipino Wedding Dog recipe. Thanks.

michigan native said...

Indeed, learn to live with nature or nature will not live with you. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7exNaHkO2I&feature=related

gillgodd said...

I see a difference between behavior while still in the human-organized time and behavior after this time is over. Veganism (which I don't follow), online life and other such things don't need to be abstained from while they are still accessible. Getting accustomed to strong and clear internal guidance is probably the most important skill that we can learn at the moment and sometimes learning it means practicing things that you are guided to do now but which may have no relevance in the future.

Oh, and I think the 'act white' part is quite hilarious. Many of us people of color have used that survival skill for our entire lifetime.

Joy said...

Anotherplayaguy said...
"Sometimes survival is not worth the effort."

Bingo, as the song goes, "Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone" The greatest bubble of the oil age was the outrageously extended life expectancies, far beyond what would happen in any feral human population.

We were almost literally doomed to outlive our usefulness. Life expectancies up to 80 in some places. What the hell for? Of course now bankruptcy will compound that problem as the insult of of poverty is added to the injury of advanced age and ill health.

I am not so sure that billions of people are not going to volunteer to die. The Logan's Run plan of death at age 30 was too young, but age 45 seems about right to me. Just make assisted suicide socially acceptable and blissful, and watch the queues form.

sunbeam said...

There's something I just don't get about Derrick Jensen, and maybe this Olson guy now.

I mean what is the end game of it all?

Not to stick words in Jensen's mouth, but I've always kind of gathered his ideal is some kind of world like the one circa 10,000 BC or so.

You know the one where everyone was a hunter gatherer and the world population was two or three million or something.

Depending on what version of our ancestors you want to call human, we can make a case that we've survived here one, maybe two million years.

I guess if you want to limit it to Cro Magnon, it's what 70,000 or 100,000 years or something.

My point is that we are pretty smart. Maybe some mutation will happen and Cro Magnon will go the way of the Neanderthal, but otherwise we are good enough now that we could probably last now on this planet a long, long time as hunter gatherers. I know people will jump on this, and the odd astronomical event or Siberian traps might happen, but I could see Cro Magnon wandering this planet for millions of years more without any need to evolve much (though that will happen).

Thing is so what? I don't begrudge any body their dreams, or what they value. It's just that it is nothing I care about or value very much.

Millions of years of hunter gatherers, even Cro Magnon ones (gotta pull for the home team), wandering the earth. Hunting, being tribal, roaming, banging out the kids, spreading red clay things all over the globe...

So what? I mean if I were an omniscient observer I would tune out after the "fall." Already seen that. No need to drag it out for millions of years.

forrest said...

The agricultural way of life wasn't taken up to 'increase food production beyond what could be gathered' -- or at least Marvin Harris made a pretty good case that this wasn't what it accomplished, certainly not at first.

The advantage was to increase 'the food supply available without long daily walks, carrying everything you own.' Women could have larger families if they didn't need to haul them long distances every day; they could build up fat and become pregnant more often. Which wasn't always healthy, but did make for larger populations which could fend off rival groups and then take more land for themselves. Gathering became marginal because it got relegated to less desirable territory.

Gathering in abandoned cropland? Probably take a long time before the chow got adequate. A taste for bugs would no doubt help a lot!

Anonymous said...

Instead of reading and understanding Jensen, "sunbeam" creates an absurd caricature of what Jensen's written. What a bunch of tripe.

Nice troll, "sunbeam." Also, nice defamation of Jensen's writing.

Why don't you just say, "Jensen scares me because I want Technological Progress for eternity, and I refuse to imagine anything but that."

It would be much more honest.

Nature Creek Farm said...

"What is the End Game?" is a good question, but it implies finality or stagnation. Life is the anti-entropy (it loses in the long long run, but for the living time being, it works). It adapts. Humans are a blink of an eye in the ongoing development of life. Humans can be considered an experiment in Intentionality, and we are failing. We may be failing because of our practice of living in an imaginary universe in our heads, rather than living in the real one. All of our technology and societies are part of a System of systems which keeps people living in the imaginary universe. Education is a system that tries to form the models of different people toward some similarity that doesn't naturally occur (like a village or tribe does). With Transition Towns, etc., we are attempting to bring natural model-forming processes back into communities, but the problem-solving ability of humans has set up a highly efficient system to consume and make profits on consuming. Hard to fight that with only the intentions of even large numbers of individuals. Only a failure of these Systems will leave a large enough niche for individuals and communities to thrive (if they merely 'break even', they will die off).
Life survives because it is generous to its own future and stores some extra (net usefulness) for offspring and to compensate for disasters. What humans can't fathom is that most of our usefulness is merely to carry the DNA for the next freak show. There is no 'end' in the actual End Game. There is just failure, success, or mutation of a single species at a time.

billhicksmostfunny said...

"The answer is obvious: in breaking the rules. Or, to put it more accurately, breaking the ridiculously insane rules.” [p. 48] Need an example of “ridiculously insane rules”? “It is illegal to salvage roadkill in many places, so learn your local laws and act appropriately. Whether that means following them is up to you.” <---Music to my ears!!!

Here in AK, we have a roadkill list. When someone runs over a moose (or other unlucky animal) they call you and expect you to come clean up the mess. I've done this a few times and enjoy the easy pickings. It's the only sensible thing to do....

And if you can't find room for this book you can send it to me! I'll trade ya the best book I've read in recent memory: "INTO THE COOL - Energy Flow, Thermodynamics and Life" By Eric D Schneider & Dorion Sagan.

what the Tee Vee taught said...

Savor enjoyable moments, and consciously acknowledge: "this is pretty stinkin' good", this is always a good move... and something like rewildin' seems just as "good" as anything else.

"We've survived here one, maybe two million years"

This is a strange move to make, if you want to suggest something is "smart"... to say humans are smart because they've survived "SOOO LONG!"

Well then Crocodiles and Gingko trees must be the smartest bastards around, or whatever.

Unknown said...

sunbeam -- There's got to be something possible to choose in the space between 2012 modern and cro-magnon simplicity. What if we reduce human population to seven million? That would mean roughly one thousand times more of everything for each world citizen. That would give us time to breathe and consider simpler and more sane ways to live together and share the planet. I know; how do you accomplish the numbers reduction? Easy. Just quit having all those kids. You don't have to DO something, just stop doing something stupid and self destructive. What could be easier? Does this proposal seem impossible to you? Does this lead you to understand where the real problem lies? Maybe between our ears, where our dim witted brains are located? Wake up and save yourselves before its too late! You are victims of a cosmic joke. The means of your deliverance are already in your hands, and require no effort to utilise. Just let go of this one idiotic behavior, and a whole range of possibilities open up. For instance you could just stop killing each other. I simply decided not to reproduce a long time ago. I also refused to be drafted to go and kill some Koreans unknown to me. See how easy it is to change the world?

jessilydia said...

Well, yes, but we needed to "rewild" our thinking quite a while ago to have avoided this path to self-destruction in the first place. "Rewilding" now for just abandoning what is falling apart, dear me, only speeds up that process.

Yes, "rewild", but... think "Gee it would even be better for the rich to build monuments to themselves"

That would keep them from solving our problems by investing in multiplying our tasks like a global case of ever increasing ADHD. That's what's ripping us apart. Perpetuating it would be worse, but just letting it collapse won't really help a bit.


Michael said...

The word 'developer' has always raised my hackles too, for the same reason that 'unimproved land' raises yours. I am an architect and sometimes feel like throwing up when I see what someone wants me to do to a beautiful piece of land with a lot of dignified old agricultural buildings on it.

Ivan Lukic said...

Here in Serbia there is a group of people, so called national minority, which for centuries developed skills that are subject of this book. They are Gypsies, the kind that still cling to their original lifestyle, not the ones that accepted Serbian (basically Western) lifestyle. Long before there was a notion of recycling they went from one garbage container to the other finding perfectly functional things that could still be used and gathering all kinds of material for reuse. They live in tents, roaming from place to place. Most of them are illiterate. They do not need this book.

Hard pressed by EU institutions Serbian pro-western regime was forced to apply some affirmative action. For instance, two percent of university students must be disabled and Gypsies. Disabled people and extremely resilient and healthy Gypsies are treated the same way! Regime has an intensive urge to civilize and integrate Gypsies. Now Gypsies will have a chance to learn some skills that will not be needed by anybody in a few decades, but will have to forget the skills that will be much needed by almost everybody some time soon. Bravo!

Bureaucrats say that statistically Gypsies live shorter than others. But other people say that Gypsies like to drink a lot and there is possibility for fatal injuries to shorten their life. Also, some people say that Gypsy children are much more resilient because they develop strong immune system by being exposed to dirt from early age. And part of the skill is to learn how to touch dangerous stuff. American natives lived for thousands of years without chlorine disinfectants and died only when they were exposed to European settlers and their diseases. Meeting civilized Europeans was much higher health risk than any dangerous substance in nature.

There is fundamental choice: fifty years of high risk freedom or some more years of guaranteed slavery inside what Mumford called Megamachine. It is not tragedy if first forty years were slavery. If you learn your skills in time you could have some freedom too. My first step was to discover that red and white mulberries in my father’s village are so delicious.

Cynthia Q said...

@Ivan, "Regime has an intensive urge to civilize and integrate Gypsies."

This is true in Italy as well. One amusing chapter in this story is that some regional or municipal branch of the Italian government gave a group of Gypsies free apartments to try and get them to "settle down", as though it were just an issue of money, or of not understanding how to acquire a permanent residence, that was keeping them from behaving like everybody else. What the Gypsies did was turn right around and return to their encampments, "illegally" sub-letting the apartments for some serious cash, and causing a local outrage!! ;-)

In Rome, they are truly a kind of "infestation", but I always viewed them as just fitting into an ecological niche, relieving people not only of surplus trash but of their surplus money and jewels. In Anglo-American society we revere bankers who perform this verysame service. "Zingari" are really impossible to interact with, since they see all Western systems and all non-Gypsies as marks, and they go about their scamming, shoplifting and pickpocketing in a completely clinical, relentless, and unashamed fashion. This is their *job*. To the Gypsies' credit, as petty criminals in Italy they seem almost scrupulously non-violent, at least in comparison to American, or even Italian, thieves.

To say, however, that Gypsies are "free" may be to ignore the fact that they have their own hierarchical structures and cultural restrictions, it's just that Western culture doesn't clearly recognize them. Gypsy leaders or kings often live in grotesquely palatial digs back in the "old country" of Bulgaria or Romania, bank-rolled by the ill-gotten gains of underlings abroad. The Gypsy woman on the street begging with infants in tow (hers or borrowed ones) at the same time lives in squalor. She's not free to study microbiology or to go off to the discotheque. Many marriages are arranged, even when the couple is unborn or in their infancy, and marrying at 12 or 13 is not unheard of. Gypsies have their own machine, even if it is not "Mega".

Relatedly, I don't know where I was reading this, but I came across a story about practically-uncontacted tribes living on islands in South Asia. A crocodile was supposed to have snatched and eaten a baby girl. So, they were killing all the crocodiles they could find because their religion required them to recuperate her bones for a tree burial. At some point, a crocodile will have digested or excreted the bones, of course, but it was unclear when the group would ever give up slitting open crocodiles to find the girl's remains.

I think all humans are just far less intelligent than we give ourselves credit for, and that "we" (collectively) will always create for ourselves artificial social and mental structures which are—even if more egalitarian and harmonious with nature than our current society—deeply illogical. A crocodile would certainly not go about killing humans unnecessarily just to satisfy a religion or a scientific curiosity or a handbag fashion. So, while we are part of nature, there is something different about us…

Cynthia Q said...

On the Rewilding front: I went to a "Village Building Convergence" in Central Vermont last month. There were many "skill-sharing" presentations including how to make wattle-and-daub walls, how to make soap from bear fat and ashes, and so forth. There were five or six topics to choose from for each of the eight sessions, two in the morning and two in the evening, over two days; some were more philosophical but I hewed toward the practical.

One workshop I attended was "Cordage", or how to make small strings by hand using natural fibers. In this case, the fiber was harvested from stalks of dogbane. It took most of the hour-and-a-half session for us to extract our fibrous strands from our individual dogbane stalks, and that unfortunately left very little time to analyze and practice the trickier and more valuable skill of the twisting.

I embraced the spirit of this event wholeheartedly but, in planning for the rest of my own life as someone in her early fifties, I have to consider that a more coherent personal strategy is to stockpile the likely amount of rope and string that I might need while it is still industrially-made and cheap.

The cordage workshop was certainly just a taste of primitive skills, an appetizer. One would have to be able to recognize dogbane growing around, learn what its leaves looked like (we only had dried stalks), where it grew, when the best time was to harvest it, etc. In a nod to Kunstler, people are not going to find dogbane growing on the berms between the Walmart and the Chuck E. Cheese. I don't know whether it is possible to cultivate…

That said, I am thrilled that there are young people re-discovering ancient skills and attempting to keep them alive. The young woman who ran our Cordage workshop was associated with an organization called the "Roots" school, also in Central Vermont. They teach various primitive and survival skills: http://www.rootsvt.com.

Younger people, I think, should absolutely undertake these sorts of learning experiences, as they will have the time to practice and further disseminate them as the Long Emergency plays out over the coming decades.

If, as Dmitri seems to expect, societal collapse comes much more abruptly, I have a hard time seeing how a situation calling for emergency string would be best addressed by hand-made cordage extracted from dogbane, rather than just via scrounging ready-made industrial materials, including garbage. It may not be so long before Americans are strip-mining landfills the way African, Brazilian and Indian indigents do with the cast-offs of their own industrial cultures or, even more likely, of ours. Even American homeless people, with their rancid comforters, possess more lengths of fiber right now than I could make in a year of attempting to collect dogbane. I think there will be a parallel effort to re-purpose/recuperate industrial materials during the time it takes for natural materials and human mastery of their uses to come back into their own.

About living on the fringes between industrial and non-industrial cultures: I found this man's peregrinations fascinating, as he recounted how to sleep rough undetected in his blog "Homeless by Choice" (http://freesleeping.blogspot.it). One of his strategies is to buy $19 Wal*Mart sleeping bags and then abandon them, as this is cheaper than an hotel. This strategy is, of course, only good as long as the Wal*Mart supply lines lasts, but it shows the ingenuity of which the human mind is capable once one has decided to sweep away certain social taboos.

Dmitry Orlov said...

It's interesting that Ivan and Lydia both bring up Gypsies. I am including a longish case study on Gypsies in the section on social collapse. Gypsies are a society within a society, firewalled off, and designed to thrive in disrupted circumstances. Social collapse can be seen as a process of Gypsification, if you will: the further along social collapse is, the more room there is for Gypsies to thrive. Even if we don't want to pick pockets or swindle people, and stick to more ordinary trades like security, banking and insurance, the Gypsies have a lot to teach us.

Lance M. Foster said...

Umm, Dmitry, how is banking or insurance really different from picking pockets or swindling someone...? Only in the supposedly legality (legal is not the same as ethical) and the amount of money you can make... ;-)

btw, here's another take, on magical insurgency (I started looking into the connections between magic and collapse, based on Greer's posts, and there's some interesting bits out there):

Anonymous said...

If humanity can affect the whole planetary climate then doesn't that mean that no part of the Earth is really wild any more - everything is subject to our influence?
Nor can sustainability bring wildness back, surely, because sustainability implies a certain amount of monitoring and control at least.

Unknown said...

You all have forgotten the fundamentally present shadow of all settled folks. The raider! The Cossack did not live to grow his own Organic veggies or make Kimchi, he let someone else do it for him with little guilt on his part. I only mention this to begin a conversation that transcends our current morality and addresses a uncomfortable aspect of the' collapse narrative'.