Newcomers to the subject of industrial collapse have a lot of catch-up to do behind those in the vanguard. If the abundant evidence, collected over several decades by this late date but foreseen long ago, is evaluated honestly and soberly, the realization might reasonably stun the collapse ingénue into silence. But in the era of instantaneous communications, emotional promiscuity, oversharing, and careerist news reports logged in real time (before events are fully known), who has the good sense to refrain from adding one’s idiotic voice to the din — especially to ask questions and subsequently provide answers that have already been gone over thoroughly and discarded by others? None too many, I venture to say.
Having struggled to understand industrial collapse now for six years or so myself, it has been curious and demoralizing to witness how even the most hopeful optimists and problem-solvers have yielded to the conclusion that what solutions may have existed some decades ago are now long behind us. Given the nature of our institutions and individual characters, we’re actually accelerating toward doom rather than braking. Thus, old-timers often descend into what might be called a Slough of Despond, but collapse newbies still desperate to cheat reality would rather name it a Gulf of Despond. To the old guard, the Slough looks like an abyss, a black hole, a bottomless pit that gobbles insatiably all energies dumped into it. To late-comers, the Gulf, by virtue of its spin-doctored name, must be somehow manageable, bridgeable, traversible, often with a glorious opportunity to establish a new, utopian social order (within a generation, of course, because that’s how history works) using all the wisdom we’ve accrued about imbalances and abuses of power. I have some empathy for those just now getting on board, but for those with a pulpit from which to preach, I suspect misdirecting our energies may be worse than just letting things unfold. Hard to know.
So what exactly produces the Slough/Gulf? The short course is that we’re already in the midst of an epoch-changing shift — a process advancing with alarming celerity compared to precedence found in the geological record — due to rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases (released from burnt fossil fuels) that have initiated climate change and the sixth great extinction event, to which we humans are most certain to fall prey. Without bothering to assess blame, the numbers indicate that it is not something about to happen; it’s already in the process of happening and will only get successively worse as delayed effects and feedback loops come fully into play. Let me repeat: this is already happening and there can be no pullback, pullout, stall, or reverse. The worst case scenario is, well, the worst, and we appear to be on track to spring that trap on ourselves. Three foreseeable planet-wide effects are (1) runaway global warming and climate chaos, (2) collapse of the biosphere (basically, anything that lives except for a few extremophiles), and (3) total irradiation from hundreds of nuclear sites that will melt down after being left unattended.
But because the future has not yet happened, though it is laid out before us with inevitability if one is honest, all the preferred hedges and escape hatches in language are utilized (might, could, perhaps, potential, possible, probable, likely, etc.) about what’s occurring all around us. No doubt this quells panic that would ensue if a credible voice began telling the truth, but it also prevents adoption of moral choices still available to us for taking our leave gracefully while demonstrating some concern for the rest of creation. That would be for me the most global moral choice, but there are others far more specific. For instance, we could stop the mad, greedy hustle for more — power, riches, resources, extravagance — and instead live modestly so that those who follow in our wake before the end of it all have something other than abject misery and desperation. We could stop inflicting utterly tortuous lives in cages, feedlots, and industrial barns on animals that eventually become our McNuggets, Whoppers, and bacon. We could share what we have with those truly in need rather than hoarding, doing so without self-serving expectations. We could ease suffering and mistreatment inflicted on others by the pursuit of ever-greater efficiency and profit. We could stop doubling down on all the schemes and antisocial values that have landed us, knowingly or not, in a death spiral. Lots of options out there.
However, again, given our nature, we seem intent on ending none of the stupidity, profligacy, and cruelty done by us, on our behalf, or with our complicity at least partly because Judeo-Christian values that inform industrial capitalism are still revered as sacred. (This is why the radical right has been attacking the center right — including St. Ronnie — for not being
righteous doctrinaire enough. It knows its vision of salvation is broken but doubles down in desperation to validate itself.) The most important individual choice, considering our powerlessness to put a stop to the industrial juggernaut and those very real hatchetmen who perpetuate it, may be simply to do our best to understand the world that history has delivered us, represent the truth as well as possible, and go forward while we can with clear eyes and conscience. That means treating others, both villains and victims in this living nightmare, with compassion rather than universal condemnation.
This may be just about the darkest view out there, and it gives me pain to express it, just as all doomers out there struggle with what to do with their awful foreknowledge, but it’s not nihilistic. It’s not Charleton Heston at the end of one of the Planet of the Apes movies saying, essentially, “fuck it” and triggering the ΑΩ Bomb. Rather, honorable moral choices in the face of self-annihilation offers an opportunity to achieve one last, satisfying bit of grace that helps ease the pain of knowing what humans have done to the planet.