Amazon Deforestation, Claude Combes, Consumerism, Corporate State, Eco-Apocalypse, Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, Infinite Growth Paradigm, L’Art d’Être Parasite, Mass Media Manipulation, Overpopulation, Religious Extremism, Resource Wars, Society of Spectacle, Superorganism, The Compulsive Explainer, War for Profit
“The parasite, as any other living thing, aims to reproduce as much as possible, and therefore, exploiting its environment as much as possible. This does not mean that the further exploitation of the host will help to achieve reproductive success of the parasite.”
~ Claude Combes, L’Art d’Être Parasite (loosely translated from french)
The question has been propounded and answered numerous times: “Are we (humans) any smarter than yeast?” The reluctant answer is usually, “No, not really.” Sure, yeast (pl.) possess no consciousness or awareness so far as we can tell, but that may not be a good measure of smarts, it turns out. The salient point of comparison is that yeast consume their environment/habitat/medium until it’s overpopulated and depleted, at which point they die en masse. We’re doing the very same, though it’s taking a long time and we’re not quite done yet. Maybe ionizing radiation from nuclear Armageddon of one sort or another (who’s still watching Fukushima?) will get us before we destroy our own habitat with pollution and anthropogenic climate change (not that nuclear fallout isn’t also destroying our habitat), maybe not. Identical result either way.
A master narrative to explain everything eludes us. True believers are probably content with the idea that god’s will reigns supreme and that, in all his benevolence, he will
continue to provide. That’s a comforting fable many have chased into their graves. Those of us bent toward a system of belief based more on evidence see a different future, not so much potential as inevitable.
I realized recently that many of us live double lives: (1) the one we present to our families, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, employers, etc. who have not yet countenanced the idea of collapse honestly for a variety of reasons and (2) the one we sense deep down and are compelled out of a mixture of grief, horror, despair, and commiseration to share in venues like this one. But there’s another kind of dual life that interests me: the life of the body vs. the life of the mind.
Living in Our Bodies
I’ve written before about satiety signals, which basically says that, like yeast, we can’t stop the habit of endless, needless, mindless consumption. We’re insatiable. From there, it may be worth noting the five basic life functions (recycling content from this post):
- growth — living beings grow and develop
- respiration — they breathe and respire
- reproduction — they reproduce offspring
- nutrition — they eat food
- excretion — they eliminate wastes from the body
A more fully elaborated list goes like this:
- obtaining and changing materials into forms an organism can use
- taking in food from the environment
- breakdown of complex food materials into forms the organism can use
- elimination of indigestible material
- process by which substances are taken into the cells of an organism
- process by which materials are distributed (moved) throughout the organism
- release of chemical energy from certain nutrients
- chemical combination of simple substances to form complex substances
- incorporation of materials into the body of an organism
- increase in size
- process by which cells become specialized for specific functions
- removal of metabolic wastes
- process by which organisms maintain a stable internal environment
- process by which organisms produce new organisms of their own kind
- the sum total of all the chemical reactions occurring within the cells of an organism
We live to eat, reproduce, and eventually die — all basic functions of the body. In our current ‘Age of Abundance’, those of use hanging out on computers probably have our life-preserving bodily needs met and aren’t scrambling to stave off dehydration and starvation the way those living at the edges do. We easily forget, then, that our bodies fail rather quickly without continued inputs: in a couple minutes without air, in a few days without water, and in a few weeks without food. Thus, when fed and clothed and housed satisfactorily (not that we stop consuming there), we easily lose touch with the life of the body and believe — mistakenly, comically, tragically, take your pick — that we can live in our heads.
Living in Our Heads
As a social species, humans also have certain psychosocial needs that must be met. Failures tend not to be as immediately obvious as when bodily needs go unmet, but results are no less dramatic: individuals run off the rails (drug- and alcohol-related self-destruction, psychosis, violent rampages, suicide, etc.) and societies (if you recognize human collectives as a superorganism) become embroiled in madness. When exactly society/civilization first went mad is probably a matter of opinion (some might suggest, for instance, the French Terror), but in the modern industrial era, I suggest that World War One is the conflict that broke us psychologically. We’ve never really recovered. Follow-on wars (World War Two, the Cold War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Afghanistan and Iraq (undeclared), and the so-called War on Terror) have all consumed the energies and economies of the world’s superpowers without entirely clear benefits, except perhaps for WWII, which at least ended the Holocaust and for a time stopped Fascism.
Wholesomeness is not a term one could use fairly to describe the attributes of modern American culture, not anymore (if indeed ever). We now live in a Society of Spectacle, and electronics in particular enable omnipresent connection to a firehose-style information feed: pure, indiscriminate volume pointed at everyone all the time. And if ever there were an embodiment of a bottomless pit, an insatiable appetite, our consumption of information is it. Seriously, how many broadcast and cable channels are there, all competing at the juvenile game of made-you-look? Even those of us here at Collapse have what might be called a “spectacular” view of the proceedings.
The Compulsive Explainer has an interesting albeit brief post called “Information Overload as an Addiction” suggesting that our preoccupation with entertainment, especially the electronic sorts (radio, cinema, television, Internet), is for the masses equivalent to giving away one’s mind. Information insatiability has become an addiction, and like political junkies, the media-saturated middle mind of the masses cannot perceive reality through what’s projected by the media at the bidding of cultural, corporate, and political leaders who would keep us calmed and buying. Instead, we live (temporarily) within a giant fiction, a phantasmagoria if you will, nearly a virtual reality, from which there is scarcely an escape even for those who can see the bubble (always from the inside, of course — after all, we’re on computers). While the story continues to be spun, our attention is riveted and our compliance coerced. But never fear: the life of the body will triumph eventually, though only in the negative sense.