A Time of Seamless Black

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post-apocalyptic-worldHumans live on hope and without it they fall into depression, oftentimes taking their own lives. In ‘The Evolution and Psychology of Self-Deception‘, optimism bias is said to be a defense or coping mechanism for survival. Most turn to religion for the ultimate hope of an afterlife nirvana. Voluntarily and unflinchingly holding one’s eyes open to the searing light of reality is an unnatural act for humans. For many, simply dealing with everyday life and the stress of surviving the concrete jungle is enough to drive them to despair, madness, and suicide. Whether they realize it or not, any normal person taking in the full scope of the multiple crises we face is surely prone to depression to some degree or another. I am now finding that I have to periodically distance myself from blogging on these subjects because it’s affecting my personal relationships as well as my mental/physical health. Suicide is on the rise in the modern world:

Death on the Farm:
…Since that crisis, the suicide rate for male farmers has remained high: just under two times that of the general population. And this isn’t just a problem in the U.S.; it’s an international crisis. India has had more than 270,000 farmer suicides since 1995. In France, a farmer dies by suicide every two days. In China, farmers are killing themselves to protest the government’s seizing of their land for urbanization. In Ireland, the number of suicides jumped following an unusually wet winter in 2012 that resulted in trouble growing hay for animal feed. In the U.K., the farmer suicide rate went up by 10 times during the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, when the government required farmers to slaughter their animals. And in Australia, the rate is at an all-time high following two years of drought.

Suicide Rate Rises Sharply in U.S.:
From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent, to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 people, up from 13.7. Although suicide rates are growing among both middle-aged men and women, far more men take their own lives.

Why Suicide Has Become an Epidemic–and What We Can Do to Help:
…We know, thanks to a growing body of research on suicide and the conditions that accompany it, that more and more of us are living through a time of seamless black: a period of mounting clinical depression, blossoming thoughts of oblivion and an abiding wish to get there by the nonscenic route. Every year since 1999, more Americans have killed themselves than the year before, making suicide the nation’s greatest untamed cause of death. In much of the world, it’s among the only major threats to get significantly worse in this century than in the last…

…This year, America is likely to reach a grim milestone: the 40,000th death by suicide, the highest annual total on record, and one reached years ahead of what would be expected by population growth alone. We blew past an even bigger milestone revealed in November, when a study lead by Ian Rockett, an epidemiologist at West Virginia University, showed that suicide had become the leading cause of “injury death” in America. As the CDC noted again this spring, suicide outpaces the rate of death on the road—and for that matter anywhere else people accidentally harm themselves. Somewhere Ralph Nader is smiling, but the takeaway is darkly profound: we’ve become our own greatest danger.

This development evades simple explanation. The shift in suicides began long before the recession, for example, and although the changes accelerated after 2007, when the unemployment rate began to rise, no more than a quarter of those new suicides have been tied to joblessness, according to researchers. Guns aren’t all to blame either, since the suicide rate has grown even as the portion of suicides by firearm has remained stable.

The fact is, self-harm has become a worldwide concern. This emerged in the new Global Burden of Disease report, published in The Lancet this past December. It’s the largest ever effort to document what ails, injures, and exterminates the species. But allow me to save you the reading. Humankind’s biggest health problem is humankind…

That last article I quoted above, from a mainstream periodical, has more truth written between the lines than its author even realizes. Humans are their own worst enemy and perhaps the rise of suicides across the globe is a reflection of our ecocidal culture, one that values money over life and reduces everything to a financial statistic. Capitalism is the most pervasive religion on the planet today. Most living at the end of modern history have adopted the ruling elite’s belief system which says that all problems can and will be solved via the “free market” and human ingenuity, but as one Indian philosopher of the 21st century wisely observed:

“Nature shrinks as capital grows. The growth of the market cannot solve the very crisis it creates.” ~ Vandana Shiva

People are a reflection of their environment, and so it is in the waning days of industrial civilization and predatory capitalism that many will no longer have the will to go on. From an interesting obituary written by a friend of Michael C. Ruppert:

…I look at Ruppert’s life, his hard struggle, his victories and his short-comings. I wish we were closer in his final couple of years. I loved him. I say the following with love. I say the following because I don’t want to know any more great truth-loving writers to die this way. If you have a drinking problem, hit a meeting. Reach out. It worked for me, to stop flailing about, running from city to country to city, always moving, thinking a big move is going to change things. Get centered. Pray and meditate. Be still.

Something snapped in Ruppert sometime later in that decade, after the book. He moved to Venezuela, in rushed effort to seek political asylum from the Chavez government. Ruppert probably wasn’t anti-imperialist enough for their tastes, at least not in a leftist way. Oh, and the CIA/DIA family background probably didn’t help.

I wept. I felt rage today. I was mad at you, Mike, going out this way. It was too similar to Gary Webb, to Jim Hatfield the Bush biographer. I don’t want this pattern. Tell me it’s not the fate for writers of deep truth, to die, alone, shooting their brains out, because they went deep and hard after the invisible forces, the slithering stag. The hunter became hunted by the dragon.

No. Mike will be remembered for his discipline, his writing, his development of a critical paradigm. Our society is stronger for the deep analysis. In the same way that Ruppert investigated Gary Webb’s death, it’s up to us now to do the scientific and careful analysis of the crime scene. To pick up where he left off, and wake up to a new view of the matrix…

In their search for the truth, perhaps some travel too far down the rabbit hole of civilizational and environmental collapse to ever escape its malignant shadow; it consumes them like a cancer. A copy of Ruppert’s suicide letter can be read here. His research and thinking lead him to the inner sanctum of dark revelation and the unsettling details of civilization’s trajectory. The vaporware dreams of a technological utopia will most certainly go up in smoke as social unrest and resource wars consume the nations of the world in an age of climate chaos. The evil genius of mankind will be revealed in evermore lethal and destructive ways to kill his fellow man. And waiting in the wings of industrial civilization’s collapse is the toxic and radioactive tsunami from an aging fleet of nuclear reactors dependent on a functioning electric grid. Humans are capable of great acts of compassion and selflessness as well as great acts of cruelty and violence. The system rewards sociopathic behavior at the expense of the health of the whole. Ignoring such stark realities won’t change our odds for survival.

RIP Michael C. Ruppert, Feb. 3, 1951- April 13, 2014

Full Documentary of ‘Apocalypse, Man’:

Who lives, Who Dies in a Never-Ending Energy Crisis

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Empires take what they want, first through diplomatic and economic pressure, then through the use of jackals and mercenaries, and finally with the shock and awe of military might dressed up with the appropriate propagandistic slogans of rescuing a resource-cursed country from its now out-of-favor dictator. ‘Regime change’ has become an acceptable TV euphemism for overthrowing governments. However, when those foreign oil taps start to run dry, important environmental regulations in the homeland get reinterpreted and scaled back in order to open up resources that once were thought of as undesirable. The elite systematically cannibalize their own societies while at the same time extracting massive profits by shredding the social safety net, criminalizing poverty and dissent, stripping away environmental protection, and gutting scientific research. In order to protect their ability to loot the commons, the elite circle believe it is more advantageous to keep the masses ignorant about the true extent of the planetary crisis their policies have created. If science gets in the way of “progress”, then it is summarily dismissed by outright denial, defunding, and deletion from public records as Apneaman points out:

…the gutting of Environment Canada by the Harper gang was an effective strategy in silencing scientists whose research was causing “sufficient embarrassment”. It was not violent, but they are just getting started. Then there are the non violent environmental protesters who are being sent to prison. Could you imagine that 20 years ago? Just getting started. As the benign dog points out, when the dollar hegemony slips even further it won’t be just the government and the rich looking to silence the critics. Does anyone one here really think people like the neo-cons are going to give up the reserve currency status without a fight?

For those countries who are located down low on the totem pole of energy wealth such as North Korea, the coffers of the State are filled by criminal activity of a more mundane variety such as drug smuggling and currency counterfeiting:

North Koreans began to produce meth in “big state-run labs.” The Los Angeles Times reports that narcotics investigators said the North Korean government controlled the production of meth and opium, as well as other drugs, in the 1990s in order to bring in “hard currency” for Kim Jong Il, the late North Korean leader. The government was engaging in the drug trade in order to save and improve its economic state as a nation. I do not by any means agree with the actions North Korean government chose to take. Instead of tending to its people’s health issues, it chose to spread life-threatening drugs throughout the world. In such a heavily government-dependent political system, the people have no hope to turn to a government official and ask for help. Individuals and families turned to the drug in times of desperation, leading to many North Koreans becoming fervent methamphetamine addicts. This situation is devastating and should not be overlooked. According to CNN, a majority — two-thirds to be exact — of the North Korean population has used methamphetamines. It is reportedly accessible in restaurants and has “become the drug of choice of high-ranking officials and the police.” http://www.centralfloridafuture.com/opinion/north-korea-s-meth-addiction-could-spell-disaster-for-us-1.2853884#.U0jHJyhRY20

It is no secret that North Korean diplomats and embassies are self-financing. In fact, they are profit earning and they must remit funds back to Pyongyang. While this means that DPRK diplomatic relations are not a drain on the treasury, as is typically the case with other countries, it does mean that the DPRK’s official representatives are more likely to make headlines for their business dealings rather than political statements. http://www.nkeconwatch.com/2009/11/22/dprk-diplos-arrested-for-smuggling-again/

Liu had been convicted of conspiracy and fraud involving millions of dollars made not by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing but by counterfeiting presses in a foreign country, presumably North Korea. The quality of these “supernote” forgeries is so high that he’d managed to pass enormous quantities through the electronic detection devices with which every Vegas slot machine is supposed to be equipped. The prosecutor was asking the judge to give him close to 25 years, and in the end Liu would receive more than 12. Liu’s crimes threatened not only the integrity of America’s currency but the very fabric of international peace. They were part of a vast criminal enterprise believed to be controlled by the North Korean state, set up and used to finance its nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile programs. All of this, intelligence analysts say, is coordinated by a secret agency inside the North Korean government controlled directly by “the Dear Leader,” Kim Jong Il, himself. The agency is known as Office 39. (Given the opacity of anything inside North Korea, experts differ on whether “Office” should be “Bureau” or even “Room”—and they also suspect that the number itself may change.) http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2009/09/office-39-200909

Cuba and North Korea are two interesting examples of countries that are both energy poor but also very different on the sociopolitical spectrum. Cuba appears to be closer to an ideal model for how energy descent should be handled, and North Korea is a much more frightening view of how things are run by a tiny, coddled elite. What follows is a review by Alice Friedemann of “Nothing to Envy. Ordinary lives in North Korea” written by Barbara Demick…

Nothing-to-Envy-9781400139842

North Korea and Cuba were the first countries to lose oil, the lifeblood of civilization. Since we will all share that fate, it’s interesting to see what happened, though keep in mind that how severe the consequences are will depend on the carrying capacity of the region you’re in, how much civil order can be maintained, and the effectiveness of the leaders in power (i.e. see “Lessons Learned from How Cuba Survived Peak Oil” that compares California to Cuba).

There are enormous differences between the fates of Cuba and North Korea. Cuba had many advantages — a benign climate with year-round rainfall where three crops a year could be grown, a culture of helping one another out, and Castro prevented middlemen and speculators from charging astronomical amounts for food. For a detailed understanding of what happened in Cuba read this Oxfam analysis.

North Korea couldn’t be more opposite – a cold mountainous nation with only 15% of its land arable, and dictators so crazy and cruel they’re almost unmatched in history. North Korea might be the only nation with more prisoners per capita than America. There are many kinds of prisons, from detention centers to hard-labor camps, to gulags where your children, cousins, brothers, sisters, and parents would also be sent to for a crime you committed for generations to come. About 1% of the population– 200,000 people –permanently work in labor camps. The threat of these prisons has made it impossible for organized resistance to happen.

It’s hard to escape, and if you do, then your relatives end up in labor camps. Other nations aren’t keen on refugees – South Korea fears a collapse of North Korea and being overrun by 23 million people seeking food and shelter, and China has their own problems with 1.2 billion poor people.

The consequences of peak energy in North Korea are worse than what’s likely to happen initially in America, though some regions of the United States are likely to suffer more than others. On the other hand, when times get hard, group-oriented cultures that depend on a large network of people tend to do better than highly individualist cultures, which is as you can learn more about in Dmitry Orlov’s Post-Soviet Lessons for a Post-American Century.

The only good aspect I could find about North Korea was that the women there are less repressed than in the past. A century ago Korean women were so completely covered in clothing that the Taliban would find no faults. In one village north of Pyongyang women wore 7 foot long, 5 feet broad and 3 feet deep wicker hat constructions that kept women hidden from head to toe. Perhaps even more than Muslim women, Korean women were imprisoned in family compounds and could only leave at special times when the streets were cleared of men. One historian said that Korean women were “very rigidly secluded, perhaps more absolutely than women of any other nation”.

After the Korean War ended, North Korea lost most of its infrastructure and 70% of its housing. It was amazing that Kim Il-sung managed to create a Spartan economy where most were sheltered and clothed, had electricity, and few were illiterate. Grain and other foods were distributed as well. In autumn each family got about 150 pounds of cabbage per person to make kimchi, which was stored in tall earthen jars buried in the garden so they would stay cold but not freeze and hidden from thieves.

North Korea became utterly dependent on the kindness of other countries for oil, food, fertilizer, vehicles, and so on.

What happens when the oil stops flowing? 

In the early 1990s North Korea suffered a double blow at a time when they were $10 billion in debt. China wanted cash up front for fuel and food while at the same time the Soviet Union demanded the much higher price of what oil was selling for on world markets.

The nation spun into a crash. Without oil and raw materials the factories shut down. With no exports, there was no money to buy fuel and food with. Electric plants shut, irrigation systems stopped running, and coal couldn’t be mined.  The results were:

  • Power stations and the electric grid rusted beyond fixing
  • The lights went out.
  • Running water stopped so most went to a public pump to get water
  • Electric trams operated infrequently
  • People climbed utility poles to steal pieces of copper wire to barter for food
  • There were few motor vehicles
  • And few tractors, farming was done with oxen dragging plows

Hunger struck, which made people too exhausted to work long at the few factories and farms that were still surviving.

Oil is liquid muscle. One barrel of crude oil (42-gallons) has 1,700 kilowatts of energy. It would take a fit human adult laboring more than 10 years to equal one barrel of oil.

Perhaps this is why many nations have had no choice but to rely on muscle power after an economic crash or during a war, which means putting many people to work on farms. After the energy crisis, North Koreans over 11 were sent out to the country to plant rice, haul soil, spray pesticides, and weed. This was called “volunteer work”. Now that they couldn’t afford to buy fertilizer, every family was expected to provide a human bucketful of excrement to a warehouse miles away. The bucket was exchanged for a chit that could be traded for food.

Like Mao’s crazy schemes, North Korea’s dictators lurched from one mad idea to another — one day it was goat breeding, the next ostrich farms, or switching from rice to potatoes.

Food staples were grown on collective farms, and the state took the harvest and redistributed it. The farmers weren’t given enough to survive on, so they slacked on their collective fields to grow food to survive on, making the food crisis even worse. In the end, it was people in cities with no land to grow their own food on who ended up starving first. Every year, rationed amounts of food went down.

People were told the United States was at fault, and propaganda campaigns encouraged Koreans to think of themselves as tough, and that enduring hunger without complaint was a patriotic duty, and kept everyone’s hopes up by promising bumper crops in the coming harvest. The Koreans deceived themselves like the German Jews in the 1930s, and told themselves it couldn’t get any worse, things would get better. But they didn’t.

Worse yet, instead of spending money on agriculture, the defense budget sucked up a quarter of the GNP. One million men out of 23 million people were kept in arms – the 4th largest military in the world.

The only place to get food became the illegal black market, where prices were terribly high, sometimes 250 times higher than what the state used to sell food for.

Natural disasters made harvests even worse – in 1994 and 1995 Korea was struck with an extremely cold winter and torrential rains in the summer that destroyed the homes of 500,000 people and rice crops for 5.2 million people.

People began picking weeds and wild grasses to stretch out meals, as well as leaves, husks, stems, and the cobs of corn. Children can’t digest food this rough and could end up in a hospital, where doctors advised the rough material be ground up fine and cooked a long time. It wasn’t long before malnutrition led to increasing numbers of people with pellagra and other diseases. Hospitals soon ran out drugs and other supplies.

Who died?

The rest of the article is at:

http://energyskeptic.com/2014/book-review-of-nothing-to-envy-ordinary-lives-in-north-korea/

 

Let’s Get Critical

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Cross Posted from Prayforcalamity.com


“Any man who afflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood.”

HL Menken


To criticize the status quo is to invite volley after volley of personal criticism back in your own direction. I am sure this has likely been the case for a very long time, and I believe this may be partly due to the way in which humans learn through pattern recognition, as well as how the architecture of the human brain physically lays neural pathways to build understanding. Thus when an idea too astray from the usual is presented to the human mind, there is a high chance of a negative reaction because the new pattern is far too asymmetric for the current set of neural pathways to incorporate. That, or the derogator is a bored and obtuse malcontent with nothing better to do than shit all over other people on the internet.

I often write about the exploitation inherent in the model of civilization itself, and how this organizing framework which is dominant on the planet now is entirely unsustainable and will necessarily collapse catastrophically. This is some level nine stuff. By this I mean that if you have not been initiated, if you haven’t read about this topic or all of the feeder topics that lead to this conclusion, it would likely seem extreme. Thorough understanding of an issue requires prerequisite knowledge. We get to where we are by having been where we were, even philosophically and intellectually. Because my topics of critique often surround the civilization paradigm, its parts, and alternatives, I often receive flak from people which either demonstrates that they do not fully understand the gravity of the issues, or which merely indicts me as complicit in civilization’s crimes. The former generally comes in the form of people arguing that technology will remedy all of the converging crises faced and created by civilization. The latter is far more frustrating, as it is usually some pathetic attempt at a “got’chya!” moment where someone tries to defeat my greater thesis by pointing out my use of a computer or some other trapping of civilization. “Hypocrite!” they cry.

The hypocrisy claim is everywhere you find people critiquing any facet of the status quo. Antiwar activists who protested the Iraq war were called hypocrites for using gasoline. Occupy Wall Street participants were called hypocrites for using Apple products. My friends in forest defense have been called hypocrites for using paper. As an anti-civ anarchist I have been called a hypocrite for everything from having moved into a house during the winter, to having gone to the hospital when after forty hours of labor at home with a midwife, my partner was physically exhausted and wanted access to drugs so she could sleep. Every time these criticisms are leveled, it becomes a major energy suck to explain exactly how nonsensical they are. I would like to here dedicate this essay to shredding the “hypocrisy” argument once and for all, so it can forever be linked to by activists and social critics of all platforms and stripes, who neither have the time nor energy to swat at the many zombie hordes who become agitated when new ideas are presented to them which run counter to the comfortable patterns that they are used to, and who then proceed to scream “hypocrite!” in place of an actual counter argument.

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, “Hell is other people.” Despite my anti-civ analysis, I am no misanthrope. Civilization is a system of organization, a power arrangement in which a small few control the many. Using their power, these few exploit the lands and beings around them so they can grow their power and comfort at the expense of others. Industrial civilization takes this paradigm full tilt and is wiping out habitat and species at a mortifying rate. Understanding this does not cause me to hate my species, but rather to be eager to help them understand why we must pursue new organizational methods. Still, the uphill battle of convincing fellow humans, especially those who are net beneficiaries of this destructive and exploitative set of arrangements, can be at times an infuriating engagement. Of course, this is not because I need people to immediately agree with me, but if they don’t, I do prefer they focus on challenging the content of my statements as opposed to nit picking the content of my life.

In “The Fall,” Albert Camus wrote, “Everyone insists on his innocence, at all costs, even if it means accusing the rest of the human race and heaven itself.” I believe that it may be this personal insistence on one’s innocence which leads people to quickly cry “hypocrite!” at those who critique the status quo. Because we are all mired in this paradigm, when it is critiqued, some individuals feel that the critique is of them individually, likely due to a personal identification with the system. Thus critiques become personal attacks against which they must defend themselves. “If the system is guilty, then I am guilty, and I’m not guilty!

The need for personal innocence runs deeper. If a critique against an overarching paradigm such as a government, capitalism, or civilization itself seems irrefutable, this can invoke in some a certain need to then utilize this new information as part of their own personal ethos. The problem here, is that this will mean that person will feel compelled to act accordingly with this information, and the actions required may seem difficult, uncomfortable, or frightening. For instance, if you’re told that capitalism is exploitative because employers retain the surplus labor value generated by their employees, and you happen to be a business owner, this new understanding will mean one of two things: either you rearrange the operating model of your business to fairly compensate your employees for their labor, effectively making them cooperative partners, or you change nothing but must go through life recognizing that you profit off of the exploitation of others. Here, your internal need to perceive yourself as innocent, or at least to believe yourself a good person, will run counter with your open acknowledgement that you exploit people for a living. What to do then to keep the ego in tact?

If the action required to fall in line with the new ethos created by accepting new information is too hard, too uncomfortable, or you just don’t want to do it, you must justify inaction. Justifying inaction will be achieved possibly by denying the veracity of the new information. Like most capitalists in this scenario, you could convince yourself that your entrepreneurial and risk taking spirit give you the right to take the surplus labor value generated by the people you employ indefinitely. Of course, the justifications are endless.

In some cases though, if the new information received cannot be deflected through argument or justification, and the need to preserve one’s picture of their innocence is too great, then calling into question the character or behavior of the information’s purveyor can also suffice. For instance, if an activist is working to halt fossil fuel extraction for the myriad reasons that such a halting would be beneficial, it can be difficult to disagree with this activist on a purely argumentative level. How could you? Deny climate change? Deny ozone killing trees? Deny the death and destruction from Alberta, to the Gulf of Mexico, to the Niger Delta? On an argumentative level, you’d be wrong every time. However, you could call into question the activist’s use of fossil fuels, thereby deflecting the conversation, and basically insinuating that, as Camus also wrote in The Fall, “We are all in the soup together.” Because hey, if we’re all guilty, then none of us are guilty, am I right?

In the fall of 2012, I was in Texas working with the Tar Sands Blockade using direct action tactics to shut down construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. On the side of a highway north of Nacogdoches, I sat with some friends as our comrades were perched on platforms fifty feet in the air with their support lines tied to heavy machinery, effectively making the machines unusable lest their operators not mind killing these young people. There were a surprising amount of supporters for rural east Texas, but of course, there were plenty of people who made sure we were aware of their disdain for us. One such person passed by, slowed down, and said “I bet you used a pick up truck to get that stuff out here.” In his mind, this was a real zinger. I replied, “Of course we did. Why wouldn’t we?

There are a slew of reasons why this man’s comment contained zero validity as a critique of our action. For one, the gasoline we used did not come from that as of yet unfinished pipeline. Also, though I wouldn’t, I could claim to be against tar sands bitumen, but not conventional crude. But really the truth is that anti-extraction activists are making what economists would even defend as an intelligent bargain; using X amount of fossil fuels to prevent the extraction of a million times X. Of course I would use a tank of gasoline to prevent the daily extraction and transportation of hundreds of thousands of barrels of bitumen. Not only am I seeking a massive net gain for the ecology of the planet, I am also not using any more fossil fuels than I would have used had I gone to work that day anyway.

In the same vein, it is not hypocrisy to write a book about the ills of deforestation. Though it may be printed on paper, it has the potential to affect policy which will then lessen the total amount of deforestation. Not to mention, the loggers are going to log and the publishing company is going to publish. Using those resources to ultimately dismantle that destructive activity is actually the best use for them. So no, the person who posts on the internet about the ravages of mountain top removal coal mining or hydraulic fracturing for natural gas isn’t a hypocrite. They are cleverly utilizing the paradigm’s resources to expose its flaws to the light of scrutiny, in the hope that the consciences of people will be stirred to ultimately upend the paradigm itself. This is, in fact, the most ethical use of the resources generated by destructive industrial activity.

Using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house is to be encouraged.

It feels ridiculous to even have to lay this out, but the “hypocrisy” barb is flung far too often and dismantled far too little. What’s worse, is that hypocrisy in this regard isn’t even being understood correctly. According to wikipedia:

Hypocrisy is the state of falsely claiming to possess virtuous characteristics that one lacks. Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie. Hypocrisy is not simply failing to practice those virtues that one preaches. Samuel Johnson made this point when he wrote about the misuse of the charge of “hypocrisy” in Rambler No. 14:

Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.

Thus, an alcoholic’s advocating temperance, for example, would not be considered an act of hypocrisy as long as the alcoholic made no pretense of sobriety.”

This being understood, we can unequivocally state that a forest defense activist who prints pamphlets about saving tracts of woodland is not a hypocrite, unless they also claim to never use any forest products. Sure, there is a reasonable expectation that people who see a social ill will do their best to avoid adding to that ill, but sometimes the requirements of society horseshoe people into activity even they do not appreciate because the alternative options are worse or non-existent. Of course, this is where detractors will still claim that if an activist wants to save the forests, that they should cease using anything made from trees because consumer demand is behind all economic activity. Ignoring the obvious benefits of the trade off between printing five hundred pamphlets to save five hundred acres of woodlands, I think further disemboweling of this notion about consumer choice activism is also necessary.

Derrick Jensen writes about how he got in an argument with a man who accused him of being just as responsible for deforestation as Weyerhaeuser because he used toilet paper:

Here, once again, is the real story. Our self-assessed culpability for participating in the deathly system called civilization masks (and is a toxic mimic of) our infinitely greater sin. Sure, I use toilet paper. So what? That doesn’t make me as culpable as the CEO of Weyerhaeuser, and to think it does grants a great gift to those in power by getting the focus off them and onto us.

For what, then, are we culpable? Well, for something far greater than one person’s work as a technical writer and another’s as a busboy. Something far greater than my work writing books to be made of the pulped flesh of trees. Something far greater than using toilet paper or driving cars or living in homes made of formaldehyde-laden plywood. For all of those things we can be forgiven, because we did not create the system, and because our choices have been systematically eliminated (those in power kill the great runs of salmon, and then we feel guilty when we buy food at the grocery store? How dumb is that?). But we cannot and will not be forgiven for not breaking down the system that creates these problems, for not driving deforesters out of forests, for not driving polluters away from land and water and air, for not driving moneylenders from the temple that is our only home. We are culpable because we allow those in power to continue to destroy the planet. Yes, I know we are more or less constantly enjoined to use only inclusive rhetoric, but when will we all realize that war has already been declared upon the natural world, and upon all of us, and that this war has been declared by those in power? We must stop them with any means necessary. For not doing that we are infinitely more culpable than most of us—myself definitely included— will ever be able to comprehend.

He continues:

To be clear: I am not culpable for deforestation because I use toilet paper. I am culpable for deforestation because I use toilet paper and I do not keep up my end of the predator-prey bargain. If I consume the flesh of another I am responsible for the continuation of its community. If I use toilet paper, or any other wood or paper products, it is my responsibility to use any means necessary to ensure the continued health of natural forest communities. It is my responsibility to use any means necessary to stop industrial forestry.

I believe it is dangerous to convince people that their only power is in their purchasing decisions, because this relegates people to being mere consumers, not active citizens, let alone autonomous beings who define their own struggles, explore a diversity of tactics, and experiment to find new and effective measures for countering power. It also reduces all of society to nothing but customer transactions. Doing so ignores the power people have to protest, blockade, persuade, legislate, and sometimes, to overthrow. Would advocates of consumer choice activism stand by the idea that American revolutionaries should merely have boycotted tea, stamps and British products? Would they advocate that these revolutionaries should have instead of smashing windows, burning buildings, and fighting back against the crown have instead started their own competing tea trading companies? How about American slavery? Was the real solution that abolitionists and free blacks should have started competing fiber plantations in the north, hoping to push slave produced cotton out of business? Should we brand Captain John Brown a hypocrite for not wearing fair trade worker owned flax linen pants when he raided Harper’s Ferry seeking weapons with which to start a slave revolt? Preposterous!

Fighting against a behemoth industry that is interwoven into the state apparatus and has insulated itself as a central pillar of day to day operations is not something easily done. For one to claim they know exactly how to win such a fight is audacious. When it comes to the extraction industries, there is a large buffer where no matter how much the public cuts their consumption, the state will offset their financial losses through subsidies and purchases. The US government will happily buy discount oil for the fifth armored division after a civilian boycott lowers the price. Because of this, all forms of resistance are welcome and necessary, and it should be understood that attacking such a monolithic industry requires people hammering away, figuratively and literally, on every possible front. If it takes two million barrels of oil to power the cars and trucks necessary to organize the ten thousand strong blockade that cripples the refinery complex at the Port of Houston, well hell, oil well spent.

Those who demand lifestyle purity of anyone who ever raises a critique of any facet of the status quo are creating a double bind paradigm of hypocrites and extremists so to establish two camps into which they can then package critics in order to isolate and ignore them. The hypocrite camp is obvious. By misdiagnosing via a false definition someone who is against civilization as a hypocrite because they use electricity to write their thoughts online, these detractors can in their own minds, suggest there is no reason to take the critique seriously. But suppose the anti-civ critic did achieve lifestyle purity. Suppose that they lived in a wigwam in the woods that they constructed themselves from branches and deer hides. Imagine that this person walked to the center of town every weekend in haggard clothing they had pulled from thrift store dumpsters and then this person stood on a bench to shout about the ills of industry and hierarchy. Is it likely that this person would be taken seriously? Of course not! They would be labeled an extremist. Passersby would write this person off as insane before listening to argument one. There is no middle ground in this double bind, and that is the point. Those who would cry from the wilderness about the death and the misery that civilization brings will forever be stripping more and more from their lives in a futile effort to gain recognition, to be valid in the eyes of those who called them hypocrites, until one day they are branded as lunatics, if they are not unheard and unseen, exactly as their detractors want them to be.

On this, we should remember too, that there are people who have achieved this lifestyle purity. They are the tribal peoples around the world who never have been drawn into the net of civilization. They are the global poor who do not benefit from the burning of coal or the sinking of copper mines. And their voices consistently go unheard. In fact, their voices are almost ubiquitously silenced. What do the defenders of the status quo say to the Kayapó, Arara, Juruna, Araweté, Xikrin, Asurini and Parakanã peoples who are fighting the construction of the Belo Monte dam which threatens their survival? What do the defenders of the status quo say to the animals and plants who have been nothing but victims in the story of human progress? There is no inconsistency in their lives. No iPhone to scoff at, no power tool, no window fan. What is the excuse for denying their right to live? What is the excuse for exterminating them and pretending it isn’t happening? Why is it OK to deny their pleas?

Analysis and critique precede action. Without first understanding a system and describing its flaws, it will never be repaired or replaced. To assert that one must excise themselves from a system prior to criticizing it is asinine, especially so when the system being criticized is a global power structure with tentacles in almost every geographical region. Such assertions if considered legitimate would render critique impossible. They are also so implausible as to essentially be nothing more than a dismissal of critique, a backhanded way of saying “Shut up!” To be sure, the horrors of the dominant culture always have required a silencing of those it would make victims, so such behaviors amongst the denizens of civilization should come as no surprise, but they have never been and will never be intellectually or academically valid.

If you are in a prison, eating the food from the cafeteria does not mean you accept being a prisoner. Likewise, if you are a prisoner and you detest the prison and the system that put you there with every fiber of your being, you are not a hypocrite for allowing the prison doctor to treat you. Navigating life in a system of dominance, violence, and control is difficult and miserable, and if you have any designs to resist, whether to organize others on the inside with you to demand improvement of conditions, or to dig a tunnel and to escape, staying well fed and healthy in the mean time will be necessary for your success. While you fight, while you resist, use what you must to survive, especially in light of the fact that not doing so will not bring down the walls around you.

With the ever worsening issue of climate change, on top of the issues of political rot, net energy decline, and economic sclerosis, there will be more and more critique and analysis of exactly how societies are breaking down and what people should do in response. With this will come wave after wave of nonsense rebuttal to muddy the waters. At least when the defense of the status quo defers to indicting the behavior of the critics themselves, we can likely presume that their critiques are probably accurate, or at least that the status quo defender has no legitimate argument. For if the detractor had a legitimate counter analysis, they would present it. Attacking the messenger is behavior of the beaten. If I say “we need to abolish fossil fuels because they cause too much ecological damage” and someone responds “but you use gas in your chainsaw,” they have not displayed that my statement is untrue. In fact, there is a tacit admission that what I am saying is true, they just want to drag me down into the muck as if I’m not already standing in it.

Yes, I am knee deep in the shit of global industrial capitalist civilization. Yes, circumstances have me dancing from rock to rock, trying to avoid participating in the destructive protocols of the dominant culture, and obliging to where it makes strategic sense to do so. Most people understand this. Most people understand the nuance between having and living an ethic in a complex world which leaves little to our individual control. Those who would deny this reality in order to deny your point are a nuisance at most. Hell is not other people, just other people in the comments section on the internet.

No Better than Primordial Bacteria?

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Asteroid Earth Falling Meteor Planet Space World

The detritus of distant planets hurdled through the darkness of space on a one-way collision course with a young, cloudless planet devoid of life. Unceremoniously crashing into this planet’s surface, these rocks from the heavens carried a gift –amino acids, the seeds of life. Anaerobic microorganisms soon emerged in the greenish-red, anoxic oceans of the planet. For the longest time these primitive life forms thrived in the ocean depths, the only place safe from the deadly ultraviolet radiation of that planet’s sun. But then by some misfortune of the cosmos, their reign abruptly ended as an oxygen-producing bacteria (later to be known as the cyanobacteria) created the planet’s first great extinction event by wiping out the anaerobic life forms. You see, free oxygen happened to be toxic to these anaerobic organisms and, subsequently, photosynthetic organisms took their place, pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and filling it with oxygen which would eventually allow life to expand onto newly formed continents.

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The planet fluctuated between pulses of glaciation and warming as the tug-of-war between fire and ice raged for aeons. Volcanos erupted, the atmosphere warmed, and oceans grew to swallow up land, only to slowly recede back again as water became locked up in glaciers. During this volatile time, the chemistry of the oceans changed from an anoxic environment rich in hydrogen sulfide to one in which oxygen penetrated its deepest waters. The stage had finally been set for multicellular animals to evolve from this rich aquatic oasis, and life slowly crept onto land from its watery cradle. Complex organisms of all shape and size sprang up over time to walk, swim, and fly, but the planet’s restive climatic system would, on occasion, still open its jaws to swallow up nearly all plant and beast across the globe. Continents collided with each other, pushing the planet’s crust upward into mountain ridges. Ocean and air currents reconfigured their paths, and ice age cycles came and went.

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After nearly 4.5 billion years of planetary evolution there stood upright a creature whose cleverness and adaptability far surpassed any living thing that had ever existed. Its kind lived and hunted in groups using tools to catch and kill from a distance, and wherever it roamed, waves of extinct species were left in its wake. The success of the tribe expanded and so did its numbers, spreading from continent to continent wherever it could get a foothold. Its tools became more sophisticated and it learned to cultivate food in one area rather than nomadically searching for it. Societies with sophisticated social structures and cultures developed within these fixed settlements, and from them grew empires with armies which fought with one another for resources and slaves. These civilizations had their own growth and decay timeline, fading into ruins after becoming overly complex and corrupt while overshooting their ecological threshold. But from the ashes of one would always arise the next to build upon the collective knowledge of the species.

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It would be the compressed dead matter of ancient life that would truly propel this species to heady heights of technological and material wealth. The steel-and-concrete of megacities rose up to the sky and millions flocked to them to work, live, and die in their cold geometry. A constant barrage of digital lights, pictures, and slogans kept the masses beguiled by illusionary riches. The city was a labyrinth of dead ends and a house of mirrors, but the minions were told that if only they stayed in the game and ran a bit harder, they could reach that ‘dangling carrot’. After millenia of evolution, the one species at the top of the food chain, a.k.a. carbon man, was now ensnared by its own intricate web of myths and outright lies that it had spun for itself. Unable to see, speak or hear the truth, this oddity of nature was quickly losing ground to reality and on the fast track to joining all those other living things it had pushed over the cliff of extinction. For all carbon man’s cunning and ingenuity, his actions and behavior were much worse than that of the primordial cyanobacteria mentioned earlier in this planet’s history. This time the deadly pollutant from a single organism’s activities that would cause the Final Great Extinction Event was not O2, but rather CO2.

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Carbon man’s modern set of living arrangements known as capitalist industrial civilization was not, in all reality, taking its passengers down a road of enlightenment and progress, but down an ever-darkening path of barbarity and death. All its vainglorious achievements and techtopian visions of the future were but hot air from a species drowning in its own propaganda and toxic waste as it raced towards an evolutionary dead-end. For if the species were able to recognize and acknowledge that industrial civilization’s own waste was creating its very demise while at the same time being powerless to do anything about it, then the end result for this hubristic species would be no different from that of the unthinking and rudimentary bacteria of the planet’s first life forms.

The Biophysics of Civilization, Money = Energy, and the Inevitability of Collapse

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“…the Second Law also demands that nothing can do anything without consuming concentrated energy, or fuel, and then dissipating it as unusable waste heat. For example, the Earth “consumes” concentrated sunlight to power weather and the water cycle, and then radiates unusable thermal energy to the cold of space. Like the weather in our atmosphere, all economic actions and motions, even our thoughts, must also be propelled by a progression from concentrated fuel to useless waste heat. The economy would grind to a halt absent continued energetic input. Buildings crumble; people die; technology becomes obsolete; we forget. Civilization must constantly consume in order to sustain itself against this constant loss of energy and matter…” ~ Tim Garrett

On average the human brain experiences 70,000 thoughts daily and requires roughly 24 watts or roughly 500 Calories during that time to function. To keep modern civilization running, 17 trillion Watts of power are consumed, 4% of which goes to keeping humanity’s 7 billion bodies alive while the rest powers our buildings, machines, and agriculture. The laws of thermodynamics require that all systems, whether natural or inorganic, evolve and grow through the conversion of environmental potential energy into a dissipated form known commonly as waste heat. Most of the energy we need to run industrial civilization still comes from fossil fuels with coal being the primary source, and projections are that this will remain so far into the future. Since fossil fuels give off nasty greenhouse gasses that heat up the planet and destabilize the biosphere, the obvious question is whether our economic engine can be decoupled from CO2 emissions.

Atmospheric scientist Tim Garrett has a few papers on this subject and a new paper on collapse which I’ll mention at the end, but first let’s review and get an understanding of what he said in his censored paper, ‘Are there basic physical constraints on future anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide?‘, as well as the following recorded speech. I consider Garret to be a biophysical economist firmly rooted in geophysics and reality, much like Albert Bartlett and Charles Hall.

Conclusions of the paper entitled ‘Are there basic physical constraints on future anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide?’:

  • Improving energy efficiency accelerates CO2 emissions growth.
  • Absent collapsing the economy (In other words turning the inflation adjusted GDP to zero), emissions can be stabilized only by building the equivalent of one nuke plant per day globally (or some other non CO2-emitting power supply)
  • Emissions growth has inertia (due to the high probability of points one and two)

The present state and growth of civilization are determined by the past, and the past fundamentally cannot be changed. Thus we are set on a trajectory that can lead to simplified predictions of the future.

Where does the value of money come from?

An economist would say that its value is fundamentally belief-based. I believe it has value and you believe it has value; therefore, it has value.

From a physics perspective, this explanation is a bit unsatisfactory because it doesn’t really explain where that belief comes from. Why is that belief so resilient? Presumably that belief has some physical representation because civilization certainly is part of the physical universe. It’s not separate from it. We are all pat of the physical world.

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Civilization is an organism that can be defined by how it consumes/transforms energy. Physics can be used to describe civilization. There are basic laws of thermodynamics and, fundamentally, physics is about the transformation of energy from one state to another or really the flow of energy downhill, or more strictly, the flow of material downhill from a high potential state to a low potential state. You can think of a ball rolling from a high gravitational potential to a low gravitational potential.

Money is a representation of some energetic flow [economic activity] from high potential to low potential. Economic wealth represents the rate of consumption of energy in civilization. An example of this in nature would be a beaver dam which represents civilization.

Beaver

The energy reservoir for the beaver dam (civilization) is the water behind the dam. The flow of water across the dam from a high gravitational potential to a low gravitational potential represents the size of the beaver’s ‘civilization’. Something similar applies to human civilization which represents a gradient between available energy supplies (coal, oil, uranium) and a point of low potential (outer space).

We consume energy, things happen in civilization due to the flow across that potential gradient (high to low) releasing waste heat which radiates to outer space at a cold temperature of about 255 Kelvin (-18ºC).

We can treat civilization as a single organism that interacts on a global scale with available energy reservoirs and through the transformation of that energy (stuff is done, economic activity occurs). Money is a representation of that capacity to do stuff physically (or how fast it can consume that energy).

This is a testable hypothesis and it can be expressed mathematically which means we can look at this quantitatively.

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Wealth is the value of something that has accumulated over time. Based on what we currently have, we are able to produce more which gives us more power to produce even more in the future. It’s through this spontaneous feedback process that civilization (or a beaver dam) is able to grow.

The question is, “How do you calculate this accumulated wealth?”

Economists use GDP as a wealth indicator. All the economic production added up from the beginning of history up to the present is the total accumulated wealth for civilization.

GDP has units of currency per time, so it’s a production per year. Inflation-adjusted production is producing something new to be added to what we currently have and that added over time creates our wealth. The hypothesis says that this process is related to our rate of energy consumption through a constant value λ (9.7, plus or minus 0.3, milliwatts per inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar].

This can be tested with various historical GDP statistics along with records of world total energy production and CO2 emissions.

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This hypothesis is supported by the data to an extremely high degree of confidence.

What turns that piece of paper (currency) into a potential to do something is the milliwatts per dollar, as calculated in the chart below:

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The graph below shows statistics from the year 1700 onward for inflation-adjusted world GDP(P) Green line. The time integral of GDP, or wealth of civilization(C), is represented by the blue line which has increased by a factor of 6 or 7($300 trillion to $1700 trillion) since 1700. Bursts of growth are seen around 1880 and 1950 in the purple line(η) which is the annual percentage growth rate of world GDP, calculated by dividing the GDP(P) by the wealth of civilization(C). Today the world GDP is about 100 times larger than it was in 1970.

The growth of red line(a), primary energy consumption rate, is essentially moving in tandem with the wealth of civilization (blue line). This suggests that, fundamentally, money is power.

The black line represents the constant coefficient of the power of money λ (9.7, plus or minus 0.3, milliwatts per inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar).

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How is emissions related to wealth?

It is the relation of energy consumption and the resultant emissions. Emission rates are fundamentally linked to the wealth of civilization:

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You cannot reduce emission rates without reducing the “wealth” of civilization. Wealth is energy consumption; energy consumption is carbon dioxide emissions. The two are inseparable.

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In order to just stabilize CO2 levels, you would have to decarbonize as fast as the current growth rate in energy consumption which would work out to about one nuclear power plant per day (or some other comparable non CO2-emitting energy supply).

If you look at atmospheric CO2 concentrations in parts per million by volume (from various sources including ice cores) and compare that to the world GDP going back to 2 A.D., the values increase pretty much in tandem through history:

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“If we want to reduce CO2, something has to collapse.”

In more recent years, the world GDP plotted against atmospheric CO2 shows an even more tight relationship between the two:

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“You could just go to the top of Mauna Loa with a CO2 monitor and measure the size of the global economy to a high degree of accuracy.”

The positive feedback of building wealth in civilization

Wealth is a representation of energy consumption rates. Real GDP is a representation of the growth rate in energy consumption rates. This cycle is fundamentally linked to physics through the parameter lambda λ (9.7 milliwatts per inflation-adjusted dollar).

GDP is really just an abstract representation of an ability to increase our capacity to consume more energy in the future.  That’s what the production really represents.

Civilization is always trying to expand its energy consumption to accumulate more wealth, or reduce the cost of maintenance by improving energy efficiency. More available energy translates into more accumulated wealth which in turn requires more energy for maintenance, creating a vicious circle of unending growth. Energy conservation essentially does not help. The fear of contraction permeates every corner of the economy.

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In nature a tree takes available energy in sunlight through photosynthesis to incorporate nutrients from the soil and air in order to grow, and as it grows, it is able to do more of that process in the future. For a healthy tree, increased efficiency speeds up this process. If the tree is diseased, then the efficiency would be compromised until it dies, creating exponential decay.

We could apply this to civilization. If we increase efficiency, it leads to accelerated growth and more energy consumption. This phenomenon is known as Jevon’s paradox, first noted in 1865.

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Increased energy efficiency increases the positive feedback of building wealth in civilization which can lead to super exponential growth, and that leads to an ever accelerated increase of CO2 emissions. This feedback loop (rate of return) for building wealth in civilization has increased from about 0.1% per year in 1700 to 2.2% per year, the highest it’s ever been in history.

As mentioned before, there are a couple of inflection points in history for this rate of return, one in 1880 and another in 1950 which likely correspond to new energy reservoirs coming online. This means the problem is fundamentally a geologic problem. 1950-1970 was a boom time for the wealth rate of return. This rate of return has been stagnant in recent years for the first time since the 1930′s, probably related to the current economic crisis. The sheer size of modern civilization has vastly overshot the Earth’s regenerative abilities. Biophysical limits on resource extraction are likely a major contributor to this stagnant rate of return. The extraction of low-grade, dirty fossil fuels is a sign of civilization’s energy desperation.

Future Scenarios

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Emissions Impossible

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We aren’t really decarbonizing. Perhaps we’re trying to, but not really.

The model shows that reducing carbon requires a rapid reduction in the size of maintained wealth, as well as rapid abandonment of carbon-burning energy sources at the global rate of 300 GW of new non carbon-emitting power capacity—approximately one new nuclear power plant per day.

“Extending the model to the future, the model suggests that the well-known IPCC SRES scenarios substantially underestimate how much CO2 levels will rise for a given level of future economic prosperity. For one, global CO2 emission rates cannot be decoupled from wealth through efficiency gains. For another, like a long-term natural disaster, future greenhouse warming can be expected to act as an inflationary drag on the real growth of global wealth. For atmospheric CO2 concentrations to remain below a “dangerous” level of 450 ppmv, model forecasts suggest that there will have to be some combination of an unrealistically rapid rate of energy decarbonization and nearly immediate reductions in global civilization wealth. Effectively, it appears that civilization may be in a double-bind. If civilization does not collapse quickly this century, then CO2 levels will likely end up exceeding 1000 ppmv; but, if CO2 levels rise by this much, then the risk is that civilization will gradually tend towards collapse.” ~ Tim Garrett

With business-as-usual, by 2100 the world GDP would be 10 times higher than today and the atmospheric CO2 would be around 1200 ppm.

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The developed countries like the U.S., Britain, and Europe have simply offshored their manufacturing base to China and elsewhere for the most part:

Summation

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Garrett’s latest paper “Long-run evolution of the global economy: 1. Physical basis” explains key components determining whether civilization can “innovate” itself toward faster economic growth through new energy reserve discovery, improvements to human and infrastructure longevity, and more energy efficient resource extraction technology. Growth slows due to a combination of prior growth, energy reserve depletion, and a “fraying” of civilization networks due to natural disasters… While growth must initially be positive for civilization to emerge, positive growth cannot be sustained forever. Civilization networks are always falling apart, and presumably in a world with finite resources, we will eventually lose the capacity to keep fixing them.” Future loss of useable Land and Water is already in the pipeline from all prior carbon emissions, and CO2 emissions continue to rise unabated. “Whether collapse comes sooner or later depends on the quantity of energy reserves available to support continued growth and the accumulated magnitude of externally imposed decay… Theoretical and numerical arguments suggest that when growth rates approach zero, civilization becomes fragile to such externalities as natural disasters, and the risk is for an accelerating collapse.”

Rip rip woodchip
Turn it into paper
Throw it in the bin
No news today
Nightmare dreaming
Can’t you hear the screaming
Chainsaw I saw more decay

 

So We Drove On Toward Death: The Casual Madness of Civilization

Cross Posted from: Prayforcalamity.com

Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.

The Road
Cormac McCarthy

An annual report is about to be released by The Millennium Project which is titled, “State of the Future.” This report examines global problems and their potential solutions. In discussing the report, chief scientist of NASA’s Langley Research Center, Dennis Bushnell, has said that humans need three planets to sustain themselves. I had previously read a statistic which claimed that if all humans on Earth had the lifestyles and consumption habits of the average American, that we would need over five Earths to sustain the global population. That tidbit was more of a warning about the American “way of life,” whereas what Bushnell is saying is a more direct, we are running out of shit right now, sort of statement.

The entire ecosystem is crashing,” says Bushnell. “Essentially, there’s too many of us. We’ve been far too successful as the human animal. People allege we’re short 40-50 percent of a planet now. As the Asians and their billions come up to our living systems, we’re going to need three more planets.

Far too successful? This choice of words, while not surprising, is quite indicative of the logic of the civilized mind and its human-centric bias. Imagine for a moment, you’re a scientist studying a colony of rats living on an island, and that these rats eat so much that they are destroying their habitat. Imagine that these rats have, in their rapacious quest to eat, destroyed the trees and killed many of the other species on the island. Imagine that after running some calculations, you recognize that these rats are going to require not one, but two more islands worth of resources if they are going to survive, and that if they don’t acquire this new resource pool, their population will crash and potentially be wiped out. In writing your assessment of this rat colony, would you choose to describe them as “successful?” I think you might be more likely to use terms like “foolish,” “short-sighted,” “parasitic,” or “suicidal.”

No, modern humans aren’t “far too successful,” as a species. The dominant culture — because not all people live this way — is far too stupid to understand that it is “eating the seed corn” if you will. Not only are the people who live under the dominant culture destroying tomorrow’s resources to get by today, they are by and large too stupid to even enter this possibility into their self analysis. The fact that Bushnell and any of his ilk would with a straight face suggest that what humans need are more planets, as opposed to needing a massive overhaul of how the dominant culture operates, is frightening. The casual madness of this recommendation demonstrates that the overriding belief within the dominant culture is that everything is hunky-dorey; what people within industrial-civilization are doing on a daily basis is absolutely OK. It’s not the activities of global industrial capitalism that are the problem, no, the problem is that God just didn’t start us off with enough stuff!

Machete your way through the brambly facade, and the core premise within this assertion — even though it would seem contradictory based on the data being reported — is that civilization works.

As an anarchist, I have often attempted to persuade people that we do not need police, prisons, armies, politicians, even money or large scale societies. With near ubiquity, the response given to such suggestions is that they would never “work.” Some are not so bold as to claim never, but merely ask, “how would that work,” in a tone that clearly betrays a wall of disbelief. Before defending myself and my supposition, I have to draw back and lay out the unspoken premise: by declaring the unlikelihood of my idea’s ability to “work,” there is a presumption that the current way of doing things “works.”

Does civilization “work?” How would we define that? What are the primary goals of civilization, and are they being achieved, and if so at what costs? This question requires one to define “civilization” before even embarking on a quest to gauge its success. I think it is fair to assume that if you were to seek a common definition of civilization from laypeople on the streets, the recurring themes would likely surround the existence of arts, literature, philosophy, and surpluses of resources. Civilization is in this view, Plato and Leonardo Da Vinci hanging out in robes and Google Glasses, drinking wine in the park and thinking deep thoughts. The antithesis of this cartoon vision holds that the uncivilized would be anyone wearing warpaint and a loincloth while roasting a pig on a spit.

Caricatures aside, how can we academically define civilization? Writer Derrick Jensen devotes some time to defining civilization in his two volume work, Endgame:

I would define a civilization much more precisely [relative to standard dictionary definitions], and I believe more usefully, as a culture—that is, a complex of stories, institutions, and artifacts— that both leads to and emerges from the growth of cities (civilization, see civil: from civis, meaning citizen, from Latin civitatis, meaning city-state), with cities being defined–so as to distinguish them from camps, villages, and so on–as people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life.

In his own efforts to define civilization, writer Aric McBay offers:

This common thread is control. Civilization is a culture of control. In civilizations, a small group of people controls a large group of people through the institutions of civilization. If they are beyond the frontier of that civilization, then that control will come in the form of armies and missionaries (be they religious or technical specialists). If the people to be controlled are inside of the cities, inside of civilization, then the control may come through domestic militaries (i.e., police). However, it is likely cheaper and less overtly violent to condition certain types of behaviour through religion, schools or media, and related means, than through the use of outright force (which requires a substantial investment in weapons, surveillance and labour).

That works very effectively in combination with economic and agricultural control. If you control the supply of food and other essentials of life, people have to do what you say or they die. People inside of cities inherently depend on food systems controlled by the rulers to survive, since the (commonly accepted) definition of a city is that the population dense enough to require the importation of food.”

Richard Heinberg in his critique of civilization wrote:

…for the most part the history of civilization…is also the history of kingship, slavery, conquest, agriculture, overpopulation, and environmental ruin. And these traits continue in civilization’s most recent phases–the industrial state and the global market–though now the state itself takes the place of the king, and slavery becomes wage labor and de facto colonialism administered through multinational corporations. Meanwhile, the mechanization of production (which began with agriculture) is overtaking nearly every avenue of human creativity, population is skyrocketing, and organized warfare is resulting in unprecedented levels of bloodshed.

If the reader finds a bias in these definitions, I offer this one from Wikipedia:

The term is used to contrast with other types of communities including hunter-gatherers, nomadic pastoralists and tribal villages. Civilizations have more densely populated settlements divided into social classes with a ruling elite and subordinate urban and rural populations, which, by the division of labour, engage in intensive agriculture, mining, small-scale manufacture and trade. Civilization concentrates power, extending human control over both nature, and over other human beings.

Some combination of the characteristics offered above, with room for nuance, forms my personal definition of civilization, and should be used insofar as understanding the question I posed above, “Does civilization work?”

To answer this, of course, we must also define “work.” What exactly is civilization trying to accomplish? High living standards for all members? Artistic greatness? This is almost impossible to measure as there are no set goals civilization is attempting to achieve and no set values by which it is trying to achieve them. It is likely more productive to approach this question by examining what civilization does. After all, to borrow a term from systems theorists, “The purpose of a system is what it does.”

So what does civilization do? What is accomplished by people living in large urban centers where the majority of their survival necessities must be imported and their waste exported? Well, for starters, the people within the cities do not have to engage in any of the toil required to aggregate the calories and nutrients to stay alive. These people are thus freed to do other things with their time. This begins to form the base of the hierarchy of work. Peasants do the heavy lifting in the fields while professional types earn higher incomes to engage in what they dub to be “skilled labor.” We are told all of this would come unhinged if it weren’t for the tireless efforts of professional decision makers; politicians and captains of industry who are granted the most influence and the highest incomes. Of course, there is a class within the cities who don’t earn high incomes, and they are generally relegated to laboring to support the “skilled laborers,” and other elites by manufacturing goods, doing janitorial work, preparing food, maintaining infrastructure, etc. In the modern world, all of the heavy lifting in the agricultural fields is no longer accomplished with human muscle alone, as the majority of the grunt work is performed by hydrocarbons, predominantly oil. The acquisition of this oil comes at a great ecological cost, from the deep wells in the gulf of Mexico to the war torn fields of Iraq to the decimated Niger delta. Anywhere on Earth where oil is being pumped out of the ground, there is death, be it human, animal, or entire ecosystems and ways of life.

Speaking of death, civilization seems to spread a lot of it around. From global and regional wars that scar the land and leave millions dead, to the constant emission of toxicity which has inundated the air, the water, and the soil with heavy metals, radioactive particles, and carcinogenic compounds causing cancer and disease. Around the world people sit locked in cages, tormented and dehumanized by their captors. In the US, where I live, the largest prison population on the planet is housed, we are told, to maintain the safety of those who participate in civilization according to the dictates of the “decider” class. If we ignore humans for a moment and try to tally the dead amongst our non-human neighbors, the task becomes nearly impossible. The best guess of biologists is that industrial activity is currently causing a mass extinction, and that upwards of two hundred species are being extirpated from the globe every day. Civilization, though it’s adherents would cite its peaceful and good natured virtues, is a bringer of death and suffering.

My critics will cry, “But death is natural; an unavoidable part of life. Absent civilization, death would not vanish.” To be sure, who dies, how, and why, are the key to what civilization does. The organizational framework found within civilization is hierarchical, and I would argue that this top down power structure is woven into the defining characteristics of civilization. With this hierarchy, power is held by a few and lorded over the many. How this is accomplished varies, but as McBay was quoted as stating above, access to food and other necessary resources is a primary component of this control. Civilization has had millennia to refine itself and to create a system for diffusing this “food-under-lock-and-key” scenario, mainly via economics. In this time civilization has been able to normalize its existence and to normalize the power dynamics by which few control many, and under which the ruling few have access to more resources than they will ever require, while the many have unmet needs. Religion, propaganda, nationalism, entertainment, myths of exceptionalism; all have served to sell civilization as a high and dignified way of existing, as well as to demonize alternatives to the civilized model, and to justify the slaughter of those who resist civilization’s advances.

Modern industrial civilization is global. The blur between the thrust of society in the United State, China, Russia, Australia, Brazil, India, South Africa, etc. is essentially the same. Cultures in these nations have their respective variances, but the general direction of human activity remains constant. The drive to acquire wealth by converting land and what it contains into some form of salable good is ubiquitous. The gains from these activities are held by those at the top of the hierarchy, while the overwhelming majority of the labor utilized to achieve those gains was performed by those at the bottom.

While the earliest civilizations would have been based in one or a few city centers which exploited an immediately surrounding region, as empires grew and technology allowed further and faster travel, the exploitation of far away lands and peoples became possible and profitable. Civilizations having merged into a global behemoth, the reality now in the wealthiest regions of the world is that resources and finished products from around the globe are widely available, and relatively, outright suffering is scant. This availability, this control of global people and places, is itself, wealth. By moving resources out of the regions they are born in, and by exploiting a global workforce, civilization has made it possible to extend the lives and drastically increase the comfort of some people at the expense of the lives, health, and happiness of others. Civilization is a con, a game of three-card-monte. It is the shuffling of resources to generate the illusion of plenty. It is the displacement of suffering from one people to another, and the shifting of ecological horrors from home to abroad. The net beneficiaries of this system are wont to ignore it, to never even question its basic functionality. They see images of the starving and dying a world away and ask, “Why don’t they move?”

A tirade against the ills of civilization is old hat for me, and certainly, there will be readers who think me unfair. Education, invention, medicine, art, sport, and so many other examples of the benefits of civilized life are likely hanging at the fore of my critics’ minds. Absolutely, these are components of civilized life, but not exclusively so. What education or innovation or medicine or art look like and how they are distributed may look different under civilized and non-civilized paradigms, but in no way are they monopolized by the former or absent from the latter. Under a civilized paradigm, the arts, sports, education, medicine – these all become the realms of professionals to a great extent, whereas for the non-civilized these are communal and regular components of daily life.

I don’t want to trade blow for blow, comparing civilized diets to non-civilized, modern medicine to herbalism, etc. I would rather here move onto the costs of the civilized model, for if civilization has its benefits, and if it has its purposes, and if it is doling these benefits and achieving these goals, we must then ask, “are they worth the cost?”

Calculating the costs of civilization is a monumental task, and doing so with any sort of scientific accuracy is likely beyond my capabilities. As a purely philosophical exercise, I would like to briefly address the issue by looking at a handful of categories.

First, there is the ecology. It is inarguable that civilization is detrimental to ecology and always has been. As human animals, we are not necessarily a net deficiency to our habitat, despite the absurd claims of those who would like us to believe that to live is to harm, so we should absent-mindedly live it up. Hunting, fishing, and even small scale planting are not necessarily destructive to an ecosystem. Sinking mine shafts, leveling mountains, damming rivers, trawling the oceans, spewing industrial waste into the atmosphere, clear cutting forests, razing prairie, laying concrete, mono-crop planting, stripping topsoil; these are all massive ecological harms, which if undertaken with an ever increasing rate become systemically cataclysmic whereby species are driven into extinction, habitat collapses, and the damage is irreparable.

Can civilization exist without such activities? Surely pre-modern civilizations did not utilize all of these methods? In fact, every pre-modern civilization did exploit the resources they had access to with what technology they had available. The forests of the middle east were leveled by the earliest civilizations, creating the barren land that now exists there. The Mesopotamians irrigated farm fields to grow great surpluses of food, until the build up of silt in their canals and salts in their soil destroyed their agricultural adventures and led to their collapse. The Greeks and Romans viciously deforested the Mediterranean basin, and the resulting topsoil loss has prevented a recovery in the region. The Maya similarly brought about their own doom by deforesting their region for agriculture and the production of lime concrete. The collapses of all pre-modern civilizations have an environmental component. By seeking to use agricultural bounty to temporarily increase their populations and thus their power, early civilizations created inescapable paradigms dependent on infinite growth. Modern civilization is no different, just more adept at avoiding early onset collapse through innovation.

Ecological costs are probably the most in dire need of attention, but costs in human misery are not to be ignored. In this vein, there is the obvious misery generated by civilization and its processes: those killed and maimed by war, those whose DNA is damaged by industrial toxins resulting in cancers, those who subsist in poverty globally, those in prison, those who are persecuted, those who are slaves, those who have their hereditary land stolen, those who are victims of genocide; these are the billions who clearly suffer, these are the billions who make possible the comforts and abundance enjoyed in wealthy nations.

But let’s not stop there. Inside the gates, the people who are beneficiaries of the pillaging of the wild suffer in ways they recognize and in ways they don’t. In the United States, one in five adults are taking a psychiatric drug, either an anti-depressant, an anti-psychotic, or an anti-anxiety prescription. Ten percent of the population suffers from clinical depression. Thirty percent of the population abuses alcohol. Numbers on recreational drug use are harder to come by. Add in those addicted to shopping, eating, sex, gambling, and pornography, and it is likely safe to say that about half of the American population is either depressed, burdened with anxiety, or has some debilitating habit of escapism. Can we blame them? What does the majority of life in the United States consist of? Working a job over which you have relatively little control, where it is likely your creativity is stifled, and from which you do not directly benefit? This consumes forty if not more hours of a person’s life every week. Commuting to and from this job and accomplishing the unrecognized shadow labor of preparing for this job, from taking clothing to a dry cleaners, dropping children off at day care, or even shaving, means that considerably more time is robbed from one’s life to serve the economic system.

Life in this civilization brings a large set of medical risks as well. Despite the illusion of abundance, most of the food the population has access to is derived from a handful of ingredients, primarily corn, wheat, soy, and beet sugar. The production of these crops en-masse is economically efficient, and therefore they have become the foundation of the western diet. The hand maiden of this poor nutritional foundation is tooth decay, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, “Cancer will affect one in two men and one in three women in the United States, and the number of new cases of cancer is set to nearly double by the year 2050.”

Despite the myths we are imprinted with about the greatness of civilization, the reality is quite ugly. For a select few, the benefits and wealth and power granted by this particular organizational system are incalculable. For most, participation in civilization is comprised of boredom, obedience, servitude, and depression while daily spinning the wheel of fortune to see if they will be one of the unlucky ones who is stricken with cancer, all the while slowly degrading their body and masking their unhappiness with drugs, deviant behavior, or plain and simple escapism into fantasy.

Should I even begin to assess the misery associated with maintaining full compliance with the state and its bureaucracies which is a must if one wants to avoid court rooms, prisons, and police?

Though I was born to middle class parents, on my own, I eke out an existence in near poverty. This is partly by choice, in that I am clever enough to acquire a higher income, but I cannot burden my conscience with what such a pay grade would ask of me. For myself and the people in my region who also get by on small amounts of money, it is clear that we are not thriving in civilization, but artfully navigating it, succumbing to some of its pratfalls while skillfully parrying others. Ours is one of innumerable subcultures and informal economies that dot the landscape globally. Examples abound of squatters, homesteaders, hobos, punks, drug dealers, communes, scrappers, monks, travelers, and the myriad others around the Earth who hope the eye of Sauron doesn’t ever draw its focus on them.

Here in the cracks and dark corners alternatives to civilization simmer in the primordial soup of human consciousness. Too few to outright revolt with only the occasional exception, there are people who retreat to something similar to what I would dare call the natural state of human organization; tribalism.

No, civilization does not work, not if the definition of work includes caring for all equally and stewarding our habitat with humans and non-humans many generations to come genuinely considered. Ignoring the monuments to the egos of psychopaths, from pyramids and temples to skyscrapers and particle accelerators, civilization leaves nothing for the future. Civilization is a cannibal, greedily devouring any concept of tomorrow for a grotesque spectacle of largess today, which is only enjoyed by a select few. The ceremonies and titles of today may look and sound different than those of the Aztec or the Persian, but the macabre reality behind the pomp and circumstance is absolutely the same, only scarier in that the rate and ability of modern civilization to churn up the living world before melting it on a spoon for an ephemeral high is exponentially greater.

Civilization needs three planets, according to the scientists. Civilization is running out of fuel for the furnace, and the holy men are telling us that it is not time to abandon the machine; despite the misery, despite the servitude, despite the disease, despite the poverty, despite the extinction, despite the necessity of death – we must take this organizational system beyond our planetary borders, as missionaries of madness because we know nothing of humility or grace. Because we’re too afraid to admit we have made a mistake. So we drive on, lost and running out of gas, because we’re too damn proud to turn around.

Suggesting that there is another way for humans to organize without hierarchy, without massive population centers that require the exploitation of outlying areas, without violence and control; this is not utopianism. It is suggesting that we look at how human beings existed for the majority of their time on planet Earth, and asking that we take from that wealth of knowledge the best ideas, and that we ask of ourselves a willingness to adapt to life without the benefit of some slavery far away, some suffering we can ignore, some set of dying eyes we can avoid looking into. It is asking that we live where we are, that we find a concept of home, and that we welcome the challenges that life presents while refusing to solve them on the back of someone else’s misery.

They will say that “we cannot go back.” They will say pastoral lives where we are intimately connected to our community, human and not, are impossible, unthinkable, insane. Then they will say, “we must begin to live on Mars.”

Ground Down Under the Machine of Poverty

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As corporations sit on trillions of dollars and the wealth gap continues to widen, the vast majority continue to sink deeper into poverty. America can sanctimoniously claim the number one spot yet again, this time with having the highest percentage of children living in poverty amongst all industrialized nations.

Poverty-uplift

This is a guest post by commenter ‘the Heretick’…

602

You’re a grand old flag,
You’re a high flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave.
You’re the emblem of
 The land I love.
The home of the free and the brave.
Ev’ry heart beats true
‘neath the Red, White and Blue,
Where there’s never a boast or brag.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
Keep your eye on the grand old flag.

You’re a Grand Old Flag
by George M. Cohan

Life in these United States is rough, especially for the working poor. This is a subject that just doesn’t get enough attention. Yes, lot’s of ink is spilled over the truly poor, those who qualify for SNAP (food stamps), rental assistance, utility assistance, and the various other govt. programs, but not for those who slave away year after year, just making enough to keep their heads above water, but never enough to get ahead.

Just consider, as I’m sure you have, the physical and psychological stressors borne by the great unwashed (speaking metaphorically), and the range of mixed messages we must process just to keep our heads on straight.

Let’s start with something basic, sex, always a good start, something we can all relate to because as they say, if someone wasn’t monkeying around, none of us would be here. Being a straight male, I can only write from my own perspective, but the reader is free (of course) to relate my thoughts to whatever fits their own circumstances the best. Look at what is paraded in front of the average red-blooded American man: cleavage, T and A, Giselle, Heidi, The World’s Next Top Model, and let’s not forget Ms. Upton; what a masterstroke of marketing genius! Take plain old Kate. Why she’s just an ordinary girl, the girl next door. Meanwhile back on Planet Earth, how is the average male to look at the old warhorse over on the Barcalounger who has thickened up through the process of having his kids?

As Joni Mitchell so eloquently states:

“Doctors’ pills give you brand new ills
And the bills bury you like an avalanche
And lawyers haven’t been this popular
Since Robespierre slaughtered half of France!
And Indian chiefs with their old beliefs know
The balance is undone crazy ions
You can feel it out in traffic
Everyone hates everyone!
And the gas leaks
And the oil spills
And sex sells everything
And sex kills
Sex kills”

Yup, stuck between a rock and, well, never mind.

Speaking of traffic, we’ve seen them on teevee. It’s the slim young hipsters in their smart cars with their cell phones, bright young faces going places, the packaged and commodified non-conformists creating their calling plan so nobody is late for the show, where no doubt they will strum their guitars and beat their drums (Made in China), and lament the death of the Late Great Planet Earth, Hal Lindsey reference not intended.

C’mon, admit it, it’s creepy. You see them on the street, texting, talking, in their spandex on the treadmill (why don’t they hook those things up to a generator? people would pay).
The perfect people, the enlightened. I’m sure they don’t drink coffee or smoke cigarettes. These people are scary, all in their own orbit, and if they know that they are being controlled, they seem to like it.

And the cars! Why they talk to you! And Sly? He drives a Ferrari, of course. My truck doesn’t talk to me, just bings when I leave the turn signal on or don’t fasten the seat belt, because God knows I would be such a loss or, even worse, a burden, but we’ll get back to that. In any case, it probably would be best to get a great big neon sign to strap to the tailgate that flashed “LOSER” once every 3 seconds. I think the denizens of the ghetto have got it right. Know what they say? “S’up, Dog?” –a statement of fact. You’re a dog, I’m a dog, everywhere a dog, dog. You could even become a bounty hunter, get a TV show, put the other dogs in the kennel.

Yes, all these poor people, such a burden on society, eating our food, sucking up our resources, just too many of them; and if they are lucky enough to have a job? Why they should just be grateful. That’s right, Bob, grateful. It’s not like the Boss Man is making any money off them. Just a big bunch of ungrateful losers, a great big fat burden for the rest of us, we who are smarter, harder workers and who play by the rules, unlike them.

blame-the-poor

My very favorite is the Sunday shows where carefully coiffed and groomed experts give serious statements about current events through their lying horse teeth, perfect pearly white teeth and big mouths being so much more telegenic, don’t you know. Then after you are informed that your common sense opinions on matters of life and death are so very mistaken, you are treated to 5 minutes of adverts for your retirement plan, and how you had better get on the stick boy. Time flies and you better get on the horn and call up T. Rowe Price and make some sound investments with all that extra cash you have lying around. What? What’s that you say? You don’t have a retirement plan? Loser.

You’ll probably become a burden to your children because that is what’s important, the children, isn’t it? Why, you probably shouldn’t have had any, overpopulating the planet as your kind do. Don’t you care about Mother Earth? Probably not, don’t even care about your very own Mother, such a Loser.

But here’s the beauty of it. The battering, the depression, lack of response, that good old deer in the headlights look, it’s for free. Many people don’t realize, but Howie says it best:

“… It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. …

Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times.”

Howard W. Campbell Jr.
Slaughterhouse Five
Kurt Vonnegut

Why are Americans never going to revolt? Why will they never effect any meaningful political change? Because they are too busy beating themselves up, beating themselves black and blue; if they aren’t beating themselves up, they’re beating someone else up, on the street, in a foreign country, and of course, there’s no place like home.

The web makes it easy to look up the statistics, crime, poverty, drug usage. There are more people in the US on legal drugs than illegal I would hazard to conjecture, but one thing is for sure, We’re Number 1!  We’re Number 1! We’re Number 1!

Yes, the Good Old USA, the country that gave you road rage, drive by shootings, drone wars, and KFC, it’s Finger Lickin’ Good!

jesuskfc1100

I think we should change the colors on the US flag, and it’s not just because we borrowed the colours from the bloody English (oh, excuse me, the “UK”) or the French , who we all know are Communists. It’s because our flag no longer represents the true state of America, if indeed it ever represented anything at all. Maybe we should just be honest about it and adopt the Silver and Black, Thunder and Lightning, Shock and Awe. Hell, let’s just go all the way, admit we are the Black Hole of the Universe, Raider Nation, Buccaneers, Pirates.

No? Too many contractual commitments? Copyright problems?

Ok, then how about Black and Blue? Such is the state of most of America, figuratively speaking, or is that literally? So confusing. If the injuries are not readily apparent, we can fix that. Just go down to City Hall and try to claim it as yours. Black and Blue doesn’t just tell the whole story though does it? We need something to add a shade of definition; how about something the color of blood? And the contrast of white thrown in for the countless bones crushed beneath the tank tread of Empire.

So what if some of that Red splashes on the camera lens? If it bleeds it leads.

That’s the ticket! By golly, I think we’ve got it, Red, White, Black, and Blue. It’s a Grand Old Flag:

Kentucky Fried Consumers

“We’ve Got It All Under Control.”

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BeFunky_null_2.jpg

A Word from the ‘The Big Club’

The Power of Energy Money

What’s with these eco-freaks!?! Don’t they see they’re destroying the economy. We need to defang the EPA and go balls out like China’s doing. So what if we create a little waste! There’s money to be made from gas masks, water filtration, hazmat suits and cancer treatment. If the Earth worshippers get really bothersome, we’ll just sic the security and surveillance state on them. Send over a couple unmanned aerial vehicles on their ass. Drones… a multibillion-dollar industry! Beautiful, isn’t it? If we have to lock them up, we’ll profit from that too. There’s no problem that can’t be turned into a business scheme.

The upper class that creates wealth, like myself, is just better at procuring what this world respects –money, power, prestige and all the other measurements of social status. They say “money makes the world go round”, but really it’s just a symbol for energy exchanged for work, as in human labor or the virtual slave labor of our fossil fuel-based civilization. Based on the law of the conservation of energy and political thermodynamics, all organisms seek to conserve energy and overcome the disorder and decay of entropy. Humans are following their biological inclination to search out the richest source of energy and procreate. In fossil fuels we found the mother lode of them all to do both, live like kings and fill the planet with our numbers. We have an innate instinct to burn the stuff and have sex. Just look at how the Dutch and Flemish became the first in pre-industrial times to exploit fossil fuels in the form of peat:

The opening of the peat bogs in the northern provinces from the 1580s onwards meant that the Dutch had a cheap energy source that was widely available, while most other countries in Europe were entirely dependent on wood – which had become ever more expensive as deforestation advanced. The Netherlands’ ample fuel reserves stimulated the development of various fuel-intensive and export-oriented industries…

…The high energy consumption of the Dutch was an anomaly in seventeenth century Europe. The same goes for their prosperity, and for the level of urbanization and industrialisation in the country…

Consequently, their economy became the most powerful in the world. Eventually the peat bogs were mined to exhaustion until new technology arose which allowed even deeper mining below the water. This more intensive process came at the environmental cost of losing agricultural land to the lakes which formed from this new mining technique.

…The authorities, horrified by the loss of agricultural land – and the associated tax income -  tried to stop the peat diggers during the sixteenth century by placing export prohibitions and restrictions on peat mining below the water table, but they failed. Digging out peat was more lucrative than cultivating crops. In total, peat digging would turn more than 60,000 hectares (600 km2) of land into water in Holland and Utrecht – almost 10 percent of their total surface area…

This all sounds eerily familiar with America’s current binge on fracking, doesn’t it? These days the entire world is scavenging the hard-to-get energy resources since all the low hanging energy has been consumed.

Blood, Sweat, Oil and Psychopaths

There is some archeological evidence that Romans used coal in England during the second and third centuries (100-200 AD), but they relied primarily on slave labor along with lesser-used sources of fire, animal labor, and wind:

Historians estimate that in the first century of the empire, Rome consumed between one hundred thousand and half-a-million slaves every single year [14][15]. The slaves used for hard agricultural labour and as rowers in Roman ships had a life-expectancy of perhaps only a few years – and those in the mines only a few months. Slaves were, quite simply, an energy resource to be exploited. Nevertheless, despite the high mortality rate, such was the quantity of slave imports that they comprised between 30 and 40 per cent of the population in the empire’s Italian provinces – an enormous proportion [14].

There were, however, cultures much more reliant on slaves than the Roman Empire such as the Spartan Empire with its slave class of helots who, according to Greek historian Herodotus, outnumbered the free by seven to one.

slave chain link

“Parts of iron slave chains that native Britons were forced to wear under Roman rule. This particular item was found at Sheepen, Colchester.”

You so-called wage slaves and working poor of industrial civilization have never had it so good, have you? The average person has dozens and sometimes hundreds of slaves working for them at any given time, courtesy of our gift of fossil fuels. Of course there’s always an oddball Luddite in the crowd, but the average person is not going to walk away from such a life of Riley. And do you really believe that the wealthy elite, whose self-image is infinitely more tied up in their bank account digits than the lowly commoner, is going to give up their amassed fortunes and vaunted position in society for the betterment of mankind? Hell, they think there’s too many of the “unwashed masses” as it is. Why would they want to save the disposable bottom feeders? The global elite clawed their way to the top by stomping on whoever got in their way and dominating the competition. Some degree of lying, cheating, tax-dodging, bribing of officials and “bending” of the law is always buried beneath the squeaky clean propaganda of their PR machines. Show me a truly “sustainable” corporation and I’ll show you a virgin prostitute. Of course they all want to be the benefactor of some humanitarian foundation once they’ve secured their riches, but not a single one of them is a Mother Teresa.

We’ve got the perfect economic system for psychopaths to rule the world in broad daylight under the cloak of democracy and normality:

One in a hundred regular people is a psychopath…That figure rises to 4% of CEO’s and business leaders…The reason why is because capitalism, at its most ruthless, rewards psychopathic behavior –the lack of empathy, the glibness, cunning and manipulative behavior… Capitalism at its most remorseless is a physical manifestation of psychopathy, a form of psychopathy that has come down to affect us all.

About this little problem of climate change that you all are wringing your hands over, I can tell you that the elite think this is really The Market’s way of clearing the dead wood from the economic forest floor. Yes, they really believe they have the inside track on how to beat this thing. Their immense wealth is going to protect them like a cocoon and then they’ll emerge like a butterfly into a new world free of all the huddled, diseased, and starving masses. Who knows, maybe they’ll even feed all those corpses into one of their newly invented biomass energy converters. In their technotopian thinking, they believe the next few decades is sufficient time to develop geoengineering technology that will allow for the rehabilitation of the Earth once the overpopulation problem is taken care of. They know climate change is going to make life nearly impossible for most everything no matter what we do, so they calculated that it serves their interests to simply let business-as-usual run its course and allow the catastrophe to unfold rather than change the rules of the game, in which case all their wealth and privilege would be lost. Yes, they would rather cling to their loot while developing strategies to survive the human culling. Climate change will bring novel viruses that could make short work of it all without any major wars or mass starvation, and no one will ever know what hit them. Its true origin will forever remain a mystery as the powers-that-be sit comfortably behind guarded walls, safely inoculated from the spreading pandemic.

Cold, Dark, and Soulless: Culling the Numbers

Don’t waste your energy hoping that heartless moneyed interests will find the wisdom and virtue to heal a fractured planet or mitigate the untold human suffering that is to come. The global elite has more in common with each other than their own countrymen. Superfluous workers need to be trimmed. Natural resources must be replenished. There will be no more nation states. We’ve been building up our police states for when the time comes. Who will survive the overshoot and collapse has already been decided and it won’t be the billions of dim-witted mouth-breathers. Robots will be ours workers and slaves. They will collect the dead and clean up the aftermath while the Earth is allowed to regenerate in due time. The few selected for their skill, talent, intelligence, and allegiance will preserve and maintain our computers, technology, and culture. We’ll reboot the earth and a new era will dawn for the chosen few. We’re counting on the masses to be malleable and do nothing, to die quietly. As a matter of fact, our planning and research on social and behavioral control gives us a near 100% certainty that this will be the case. We’ve raised them to be obedient consumers and docile sheep.

They will go to the slaughterhouse without a fight, clutching their religious icons and babbling their insane conspiracies.

parasomnia

“You can’t beat death but you can beat death in life, sometimes.
And the more often you learn to do it, the more light there will be.”
~ Charles Bukowski

Nightmares of the Omnicidal Juggernaut

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What had been designed to be our servants became our masters, then our owners and gods, and finally our destroyer….

Some days I wake up and despise the monotony and pettiness of this culture and its followers: its celebrity worship, its staged news reporting, its chameleon politicians, its conniving marketers of consumerism, its cookie-cutter neighborhoods, its push-button surveillance state, and its clueless masses all working together to create the illusion of normalcy. Everyone goes along with this mindless program like obedient slaves, afraid of the social stigma attached to questioning any radical deviation from what constitutes normal. God forbid anyone openly discusses the cliff we are fast approaching, its sheer drop-off and craggy rocks below coming more clearly into view. One last scramble for the last bit of habitable land at the poles will be the inevitable end game as atmospheric warming catches up to the glacial melt and sea level rise humans have set into motion. In light of all the scientific evidence accumulated over decades, mankind has known for some time that a radical reconfiguration of our socio-economic system was the only way to avoid collapse, as described beautifully back in 2008 by a longtime blogger who has been writing for nearly a decade:

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There can be no “soft-landing” for a species adding another million of itself every 4 and a half days to consume and convert into more and more human flesh what little remains of the planet’s tattered web of life. Worshiping paper symbols of wealth as the only measurement of social and environmental worth, our species has monetized and misunderstood nature, ignoring its true incalculable value. Surely something is amiss when the financial interests of the insecticide industry trump the health of humans and the survival of pollinators. Examining the root cause of such corrosive effects in our economic system, i.e. capitalism, is nearly as taboo as mentioning the collapse of modern civilization. The culturally Pavlovian responses to any such criticism directed at capitalism or the unsustainability of industrial civilization is to argue for the rehabilitation of capitalism into something less destructive and tout humanity’s unfailing ability to adapt to any situation. Reinforced by past successes such as the Green Revolution, robotic exploration of distant planets, and Moore’s Law of technological advancement, the marriage of capitalism and technology has created a mindset which takes for granted the belief that the marketplace will create a hi-tech fix to any and all problems. Little green aliens, paranormal experiences, and techno-utopian futures seem to be more socially acceptable subjects for discussion rather than the collapse of a way-of-life that requires several more Earths if everyone were to live like Americans. Perhaps that is why we get technotopian books like this one:

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The myth of progress is central to corporate ideologies of materialism, modernism, and technocapitalism. The mythical quality of technological progress was expressed most succinctly in GE’s slogan from the 1950′s: “Progress is our most important product.”

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The newly revealed cover-up of GE’s PCB contamination of the Hudson River is just the latest in a not-so-stellar record of “bringing good things to life.”

There are reportedly hundreds of Transhumanist-affiliated groups(life extensionists, techno-optimists, Singularitarians, biohackers, roboticists, AI proponents, and futurists) in the world with the largest, the Singularity Network, claiming 10,000 members. Few in our society can imagine this planet exhausted of its resources, inhospitable to agriculture, and devoid of all its keystone species, but such a world is fast becoming reality as industrial civilization steamrolls the planet under the direction of technocapitalism. Millions of factories continue to spit out products by the ton to be shipped to every corner of the globe. The ravenous hordes struggling for a higher standard of living never think twice about the energy and eco-social damage tied to these consumer products that magically appear on store shelves.

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“A transhuman future is a day-dream and we are rapidly running out of the luxury of being able to do nothing about the very real problems that face us now. A transhuman future is a nightmare of the electric sheep.”
Dr. Paul Willis

The boundaries of a finite planet have been temporarily extended by technology, giving mankind a false sense of power over his environment, but technological complexity is not immune to the law of diminishing returns; the problems are overwhelming the solutions:

“…Technology cannot bring back a concentrated resource deposit like soil, phosphates and fossil fuels that have been dispersed and converted so completely that no amount of energy can get them back. The links in the technological evolutionary chain have been successful so far, but all it takes is a single broken link that will drop us into the waste heap of failed evolution. The next link of the chain always exists in the imaginations of men, technological wonders to carry us forward, but malignant growth, the kind sponsored by corporate, banking and Wall St. entities, will guarantee the current technological link is our last one…”

For a culture that lives for today and ignores the consequences of tomorrow, the show must go on even as cracks and weaknesses in this false façade become more evident day by day. Omar N. Bradley may have been thinking about weapons of mass destruction when he made an observation about mankind’s tools of self-destruction, but he could not have been more prescient in the broader sense of technology’s reach into our lives when he said, “If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner.”

As in previous fallen civilizations, today’s elite are more out of touch with our precarious position than most realize, and they will try to cling to their wealth and social status despite how much blood flows in the streets as the masses bear the brunt of collapse first –poverty, disease, war, starvation, etc., but ultimately no one can run from the death of the Earth’s oceans, the spread of novel diseases, and the die-off of trees. Those now deciding how our technologic scalpels will be wielded are not institutions looking out for the greater good of humanity, but by the ultra wealthy for their own personal financial enrichment and narcissistic interests:

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“For better or worse,” said Steven A. Edwards, a policy analyst at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “the practice of science in the 21st century is becoming shaped less by national priorities or by peer-review groups and more by the particular preferences of individuals with huge amounts of money…

…that personal setting of priorities is precisely what troubles some in the science establishment. Many of the patrons, they say, are ignoring basic research — the kind that investigates the riddles of nature and has produced centuries of breakthroughs, even whole industries — for a jumble of popular, feel-good fields like environmental studies and space exploration…

..the rise of science philanthropy may simply help “rich fields, universities and individuals to get richer.” The new patrons are responsible for one of the most striking trends on these campuses: the rise of privately financed institutes, the new temples of science philanthropy.

This privatization of science is just one more aspect of capitalism’s usurpation and corruption of the body politic.

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The art in this blog post is from Polish artist Zdzislaw Beksiński whose intricately detailed paintings of apocalyptic landscapes, mutated and deformed humans, and surreal images were said to be inspired from his nightmares. He never gave titles to his paintings and signed them on the back. It is said he would often wake up in the middle of night to paint his dark visions. In 2005 he was found dead lying on the floor of his Warsaw flat in a pool of blood, stabbed 17 times.

Perhaps the greatest nightmare of modern man is the fact that he is at the mercy of an ever-expanding industrial civilization running on autopilot, as Zygmunt Bauman describedwith no realistic way to stop its onslaught of toxic waste, greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and numerous other ecocidal features. I can see this horror when I look at much of Beksiński’s work, but I also see nature reclaiming the battlefield after man has defeated himself.

To a great degree, humans are their own worst enemy, prisoners of their flawed cerebral wiring with its neuroses, blind spots, and cognitive biases, but the real enemy is the omnicidal juggernaut our numbers have created; its base urges can’t be contained.

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Us and Them

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Cold War antipathies between the “free world” and the Communist Block used to be conceptualized (in short) as “us and them” (sometimes “us vs. them”), which meant the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., the last two great superpowers. Additional facets to geopolitics were added by China, North Korea, the Middle East, India and Pakistan, and Brazil (mostly members of the nuclear club), but they didn’t figure as prominently in the rhetoric as what was clearly (even then) a false dualism. Binary thinking of this sort continues today in bogus phrases such as “either you’re with us or against us” or “if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem.” In American politics, the two-party system (Republicans and Democrats) appears to be intransigent and permanent despite political parties having risen and fallen over time both here and abroad. This herd team mentality keeps most political thinkers and observers from examining third-party alternatives with much seriousness the same way it forestalls bipartisanship. A little known fact is that the government-sounding agency called the Commission on Presidential debates is, in reality, a private corporation financed by Anheuser-Busch and other major companies and created by the Republican and Democratic parties to seize control of the presidential debates from The League of Women Voters in 1987.

Close identification with in-groups is learned early in life as cliques form in middle school (or before?) and is reinforced as each of us progresses through life’s phases. For instance, married/committed couples have a divergent set of understandings of personal relationships from unmarried individuals seeking/searching for a significant other. Childless couples have fundamentally differing social perspectives from those raising children (parents’ outlooks tracking with their children’s development). Working class folks have fewer opportunities and prerogatives than white-collar and professional workers. The rich enjoy considerable obeisance from everyone and benefit from undeserved favors and preferential treatment that the lower and middle classes can only look upon with envy and/or resentment. Examples go on and on.

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We cling to these identities with surprising faithfulness, considering how they lump everyone rather imprecisely into categories, not altogether arbitrarily constructed but crude nonetheless. Blends of attitudes and truly creative, outlying thinking don’t figure in discussions dominated by rigid fidelity to narrow rhetoric, sound bites, and talking points. Interestingly, this same us-and-them effect is at work in discussions of collapse and NTE, the players divided unevenly between those who just don’t get it (for a variety of reasons) and those who believe all indications are beyond controversy, meaning, completely obvious: we’re on a hopelessly downward trajectory. Of course, this division omits the bulk of the population for whom the issue isn’t even broached, and even for those who acknowledge the issue, there are a surprising number of positions on the continuum, such as those who get it but haven’t extrapolated far enough, those who get it but lie or deny out of one motivation or another (e.g., self-enrichment or political gain, albeit short-term), and those who don’t get it yet are exceeding well-versed in the evidence (so that it can be argued and spun).

All these dividing lines, rather than being a celebration of diversity, make us a fractured society along multiple faults. Perhaps it’s just my perception, but there seems to be a widening gap between those who openly admit our future must lead ineluctably to doom and techno-utopians for whom future horizons loom bright. I’ve suggested elsewhere that newcomers to the issue of collapse have a lot of catching up to do, but that naïvely assumed a common, shared understanding of our reality upon which to base incontrovertible conclusions. Let me suggest something a bit more radical: the utter failure of the masses to grasp the immensity of the collapse story already unfolding around us while a few intrepid folks call bullshit on the substitute story offered by clever politicians, pundits, and marketeers — rhetoricians all — is equivalent to the divide between a poor, illiterate, itinerant farmer (or hunter or trapper) ca. 1780 and the Founders, a tiny group of landed gentry who were exceptionally well-educated men — Renaissance men, if you will, all having deep understanding of political and Enlightenment philosophy of the day. It must have been nearly impossible for the Founders to communicate effectively with the governed.

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Today, the situation is reversed: mouth-breathing populists are now governing and have seized upon the means to manipulate the masses through disinformation and misdirection. Further, popular leaders and opinion-makers refuse to hear and simply cannot understand what a wizened few are telling them, namely, that unsustainable practices of industrial civilization have reached fever pitch and will soon become a hellscape of our own creation. Like a Revolutionary Era agriculturist or outdoorsman, today’s populists (and the large portion of the population they reflect — who elect them, in fact) may possess narrow expertise at their individual endeavors. Yet ironically, they remain over specialized and cut off from broad intellectual traditions and are thus functionally illiterate. Similarly, the masses to whom they proselytize have at best limited command of reading and almost no critical thinking skills whatsoever. (We never even approached universal literacy, which is a gateway to erudition.) A liberal arts education is to them hollow and meaningless, they are fundamentally immune to what science instructs, and their heads are full of entertainments (e.g., superhero geekery and professional sports) and other distractions that block real knowledge and understanding gained through careful, sustained consideration of an array of sources and perspectives. Contrast them with folks who read voluminously, study trends and scientific reports, and draw conclusions from a wealth of evidence: the two groups might as well be speaking Mandarin and English for all the communication passing between them.

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My sense of the term populist should not be mistaken for leaders who embody the will of the people. That’s obviously not happening. The most basic function of government is to formulate policy and allocate funds to execute those policies. The graphic below shows top policy priorities over the past five years:

Well down the list is dealing with global warming (and I’m guessing the related complex of problems). Protecting the environment fares about 10–20 points better, as though it were a separate issue. What is most important to the public, however, are those things at which our leaders are failing the worst: the economy and jobs; terrorism; and education. Every administration and Congress initially pays ample lip service to priorities with wide public support but then diverts to a different agenda. This paragraph by Joel Hirschhorn captures the sort of populism now practiced.

With the Bush-corrosion of our Constitution and collapse of the economic system after it had been exploited by the rich and corrupt, what better time for revolution? Instead, we got a president with a glib tongue, a terrific smile and a deep commitment to the two-party plutocracy and corporate state. Obama is no populist, not even close. Nor is he a genuine reformer. At best, he is a master exploiter of populism.

It’s noteworthy that Hirschhorn saw through the B.S. five years ago.

A similar disconnect between public mandate and leadership is described in this Truthout article from 2011:

According to the latest poll conducted by CBS “60 Minutes” and the magazine Vanity Fair, 61 percent of Americans want to raise taxes on the wealthy as the primary way to cut the budget. The same poll finds that the second most popular first choice for cutting the nation’s budget deficit, at 20 percent, is cutting the military budget. That is, 81 percent of us — four out of five — would cut the deficit by taxing the rich and/or slashing military spending. Only four percent of those polled favored cutting Medicare … and only three percent favored cutting Social Security … A second poll, this time by CNN, reports that 63 percent of Americans oppose the US War in Afghanistan and want it ended. Only 35 percent say they support the war (now in its ninth year).

With such a disconnect stalling meaningful discussion before it begins, no wonder that controlling rhetoric is defined instead by funding (profit), celebrity (guru glorification, including green-washing types), and false solutionism. They are precisely the wrong kinds of issues, of course. The right kinds might involve the realization that…

  1. in an interconnected world, we all succeed and fail together in this life (there is no us and them anymore),
  2. the time has long passed for solutions and (an attempt at) mitigation is the next step, and
  3. moral choices about how we act in the time remaining us are of paramount importance once deteriorating conditions lead to widespread chaos.

Instead we get slick salesmanship to keep the economy humming (funneling capital to the top) and the masses calmed or blissed-out on gadgetry. We get not-so-behind-the-scenes preparations to cull and quarantine the population when the going gets rough. And we succumb to infighting among those who can’t achieve consensus about what’s to be done. Us and them to the bitter end.