Acidic Oceans, Body Burden, Capitalism, Demon, Ecological Collapse, Ego Tunnel, Greer, Industrial Civilization, Metzinger, Mind, Myth, Story, toxicity
Cross-posted at Pray for Calamity
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
Daffodils have thrust their green blades through the warming soil, and despite the softly falling sleet tapping on the still barren branches in the forest all around me, spring is here to stay. With spring came the thaw, and last week my gravel driveway was subsumed by the clay Earth under the weight of my truck. Life lessons are everywhere if we listen. Watching hundreds of dollars worth of heavy limestone sink into mud tells me something about man and his works, about diminishing returns, entropy, and desire. It also tells me that if we had no capacity for laughter, we would likely have all died long ago.
This is going to be a year of stone for me. A friend helped me acquire many tons of reclaimed, hand hewn brownstone which I will now have the pleasure of carrying and stacking one at a time around the perimeter of our home. It was not long ago that I finished filling the trench atop which our cabin is built with gravel, all carried into place by hand in five gallon buckets.
Such work gives one time to think. And to re-think. And then to think some more.
One of my favorite writers of the current era is John Michael Greer. He posts a weekly essay at his website thearchdruidreport, and he posts a monthly essay on his more esoteric blog thewellofgalabes. Aside from his amazing ability to step back from the time we are living in, and to try to view the world through a wider temporal lens, he also has been keen enough to brave the topic of our subjective perception of reality. As the edifice of civilization weakens, such ideas are of great importance. From his piece “Explaining the World.”
“Most people nowadays think of the world as a static reality, over which time flows like water over rocks on the bed of a mountain stream, and to this way of thinking the rocks and the water are both “out there” existing by themselves without reference to any human beings who may or may not be observing them.
The interesting thing about this sort of thinking is that scientists pointed out a long time ago that it’s wholly incorrect. The world you experience is not “out there;” what’s “out there,” as any physicist will tell you, is an assortment of subatomic particles and energy fields. Your senses interact with those particles and fields in idiosyncratic ways, triggering electrochemical flows in your nervous systems, and those flows produce in your mind – we’ll discuss what that last word means later on – a flurry of disconnected sensory stimuli, which you then assemble into an image or representation.”
What Greer then goes on to extrapolate is that, in essence, the world as you experience it is a story you tell yourself based on cultural, biological, and sensory factors. Philosopher Thomas Metzinger delves into the same territory with his book, “The Ego Tunnel,” in which he ultimately postulates that a self does not objectively exist. As a biological entity of significant complexity and mobility, traveling through an unpredictable environment, we require an internal sense of wholeness to navigate the events we are presented with. The combination of a sensory image of the world before us combined with the perception of a unified center that is ínside as opposed to outside, creates what Metzinger calls, the Ego Tunnel.
Metzinger’s work is involved and discusses our perception of time and where we reside within it, and ultimately describes the same phenomenon Greer wrote about from a neurological perspective. The long and short of such theories is that, we are a story that we tell ourselves. Most of this story is delusion.
The more in-depth explanation is that our perceptions of ourselves and of the world in which we live are representations. You are a story that you tell yourself. The world around you is a story that you tell yourself. When you become despondent with the state of things, wondering why people aren’t rising up and changing the world for the better in light of just how bad the facts of our situation are, remember that by and large, we are not motivated by facts so much as we are motivated by stories. Remember as well that stories, like all of the creations of human beings that are intended to serve us as tools, are subject to the laws of diminishing returns. This is to say, they have shelf lives of usefulness. When a story people tell themselves no longer serves them under the conditions in which they exist, and when more effort goes into preserving the story than people gain in benefits from believing it, the story becomes useless, and the people who are wholly bound to it, who benefit the most from it, can become dangerous. This applies to individuals as well as to entire societies.
Writing of a demon that destroys souls and leaves vacuous skinwalkers wandering the landscape in search of fried cheese and alcohol is certain to anger some readers. In our culture, objectivity is king, and any suggestion of a non-quantifiable phenomenon is treasonous to the dogma established and maintained by the church of math and science that proclaims their order has brought us all of the good we see in the world – medicine, computers, Instagram – and that those who promulgate non-measurable ideas are the source of all that is evil – superstition, war, fear, etc. They would say my talk of demons is nonsense that only obfuscates the truth of our circumstances.
I claim no objective truth. I make no promises that the right Geiger counter or infrared camera will detect the fell beast behind the persistence of the system. But I do humbly suggest that the story we have been told – and have ourselves been retelling – is a story that is doing more harm than good. As evidence for my claim I present the tragedies unfolding in the world right now that are colliding in an exponentially more dangerous synthesis with every passing day.
Let’s be clear, the people responsible for acidifying the oceans, clear cutting the rainforests, and completely inundating our very blood and tissues with industrial fire retardants and other carcinogens are people who all subscribe to a particular story about themselves. It isn’t the people who tell themselves a story in which they are children of a mother Earth, bound by responsibilities to their ancestors, descendants, and land bases who are causing these traumas. It isn’t the people who tell a story in which the animals and the plants and the rivers are alive and sentient who are operating slaughterhouses, mono-cropping Round-Up Ready soy, or leaching coal ash into waterways.
We know which people do these things. We know the story that they tell themselves, because we are barraged with it. It is a hot iron brand that scars our hearts from birth or maybe before. We are hopelessly traumatized by and unflinchingly committed to this tale.
It goes like this:
We are the wisest ape, having discovered our place in an objective and material universe we set out conquering nature and are on a trajectory to move off toward colonizing the cosmos. Having beat back the jungles of irrational superstition we have ascended to the summit of being, as civilized and democratic individuals we have conquered our Hobbsian state of nature which was always nasty, brutish, and short. Our very nature is one of yearning for constant technological progression that consistently nets benefits in health, freedom, intellect, and ability.
But this is a tale, a myth, a television screenplay. As individuals we have been cast as characters, and we have lived the story so entirely for so long that we have forgotten that we dance about a thespians stage.
Nature cannot be conquered. Nature is not a thing apart from ourselves. We are spun of the same swatch of fabric as every tree, spider, moss, and pebble. Technological progress has brought us a body burden of toxicity and a land base that is struggling to survive, not to mention a near total erosion of personal autonomy. Behind every smart phone is a dragline, a smokestack, a poisoned waterway, and a whole mess of miserable human workers, shackled to cubicle or an assembly line while overseers look on, weapons aimed. Not to mention the entire host of police, spies, and spooks all collecting every bit of data you generate should ever a case need to be manufactured to demonstrate your guilt.
And then there is us. We see ourselves as job titles, confused by shiny badges and expensive suits. Roles are internalized and we believe that police, and judges, and presidents are as real and immutable as rocks and rivers and trees. We forget that a throne is just a chair, and never even question the true nature of chairs. So as the world falls into chaos, as armies of maniacs establish oil empires, currency unions, and caliphates, we must remember that these are all just stories that have out lived their usefulness in a time of diminishing net energy and growing ecological catastrophe. This will be the hallmark of our age; a cacophony of myths from all corners of the globe parading into a Colosseum at the end of history, waging war to see who can stand as grand master of the steaming heap of slag and bones together they have wrought, all before the grand consequences of several millennia of civilization come torrenting down upon us like a deluge.
What story will be left standing to define who and what we are? Stream live with the Google app. Vote for your favorite cultural delusion at #TeamBabylon.
Previously I wrote that a driving reason so many people daily scroll through blogs and forums and news feeds all reporting in on the latest horror stories civilization had to tell is because, they are in effect, hoping to come upon a plan. Maybe today will be the day some individual or group will have posted an effective guide as to how we can all finally come together and act to destroy the current hierarchies of power, end the needless daily violence doled out by agents of state and capital, and maybe even to reverse the ecological destruction that is wiping out innumerable species and habitats.
I wish I had that plan to offer, but I don’t. I’m not sure that anyone could. This is an unsettling thought for many because we are so used to conceiving of problems as necessarily having solutions, as if both are cast simultaneously in a factory somewhere and the existence of one thus proves the existence of the other. Of course, when most people consider the totality of the crises bearing down on us, when they seek solutions, what they are really seeking are solutions that fit into the narrative of their current existence without disturbing its boundaries. This is to say, the solution must not involve too much discomfort, heartache, or death. It certainly must not call into question who we believe we are and what we believe we have been spending our entire lives or even our collective history doing.
Our blood is just too precious to spill. Our story is just too important forget, or God forbid, to erase.
So you, dear reader, my digital comrade, my friend unmet and so far away, are going to have to figure out how to endure. To persevere.
These times are bigger than you or I, and indeed, all times likely are. Remember, we are hunter gatherers who have been endowed by nature with a plethora of tools for navigating and thriving in the environment in which we evolved, and whether by some stroke of cosmic irony or demonic cruelty, we now live removed from the environment in which those particular tools serve us best. You exist as you do to successfully participate as a tribe member in an organic environment of subjective experience. Instead you stand in line, you sit in traffic, you fill out the paperwork in duplicate before retiring to your domicile dominated by right angles to sit with your eyes open while advertisers spoon-feed you your dreams. Awash in symbols and slogans and a depressing amount of pornography, is it any wonder that the bulk of the population requires some sort of stimulant or depressant or anti-depressant or anti-psychotic just to keep from lashing out?
To quote a bit of pop culture, “The odds are never in our favor.”
So I apologize, I have no plan for solving the massive and converging crises of age, but I do have some thoughts on how to persevere. Every one of us is laden with emotional and psychological baggage, and as we move through ever more difficult and tragic circumstances it will not be of service to anyone to cling to old narratives and myths that have outlived their usefulness. The work of finding a truer tale, a better tale, a story that we can tell ourselves that is healing and has the ability to carry us for generations will be difficult and will likely take a long, long time. But we have to stop telling the wrong story. The story we need to be telling is one we will all write together over the coming generations, and the process of altering from what is to what will be is likely to be heart wrenching and backbreaking for a long time to come. For a beginning to be made, and one must be made, we must remember to catch ourselves in the moment when we demand that others keep up their end of the current tale, when we out of habit demand that they continue playing the old roles. We cannot be afraid that if we walk away first, we will walk alone. The desire to end the current story is palpable, it percolates just beneath the surface.
In this moment we may not have the collective power to slay the demon, but dammit we can stop doing the heavy lifting of immiserating one and other for him simply by being so very careful about what we pretend to be.
Flagstone, quartzite, and malapai are the stones indigenous to where I live. Lichen-covered malapai stone is a dark volcanic rock left over from volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago. My mailbox is built of it and will undoubtedly be the last thing standing when time and the elements have their way with my home. Raccoons, foxes and forest critters will someday prowl through its empty rooms and drink from pools of water that have collected on the porcelain floors from a hole-ridden roof. Maybe my bones will still remain there, compressed into the dry and cracked leather chair that was once my favorite reading spot. Humans have written the ending of their story on Earth and its playing out right now. Nothing guarantees that future stories include us.
There IS a solution, just not one that people are willing to accept, yet. A similar tale has been written many times, for every lost civilization, and they generally end the same way: “they mysteriously abandoned their cities and returned to a more primitive way of life.”
There is NO solution. Time to wake up, grow up and start to face the music.
The windows of opportunity have closed despite the best efforts of a very, very, very few who did their best (this includes me). There is no time left. There is no way to reduce the population overnight. Even increasing at 1% per year is still growth, not zero growth, but growth with a baseline so far over carrying capacity that it’s not funny. Just look around you and see all the preggers and they believe that once they pop out that new little life it will have chances and opportunities that will far exceed what the proud mama and poppa had. Delusional.
Don’t listen to the pablum delivered by organic farmers that we can feed 7.2 billion with sustainable healthy methods. They are fools and idiots. I have yet to see anyone every rebut these articles focusing on the published data around organic, whatever that means, farming. What would being able to feed 7.2 billion result in. Only more of us and what does that portent for the other species on the planet. I’d wager to say complete and total eradication as we consume them as we did the passenger pigeon, and now the elephant, the white rhino, the sardines, the salmon, and who knows how many others.
“returning to a more primitive way of life.”
Yes, that WAS very true in the past. You may not be aware that we (humans) no longer live on that planet. This is no longer a planet of abundance. Where people are going to go in wide wonderful world where no corner is being left untouched by Climate Change is the point where people seem to fall into the hole of fantasy and illusion.
It’s like trying to prepare yourself for the death of someone you care about. Try as you might no amount of preparation will have you ready for the moment that life (if you are lucky to be there when they die) is no longer there. Shock and numbness set in as soon as reality hits. It takes time for the body and mind to cope with loss.
How to survive on a planet with temps rising on average from 2 to 16 degree is something humans haven’t had to cope with previously. There is no precedent; Hollywood not withstanding.
With the meltdown of nuclear power planets that never existed prior to the year of our lord 1945 (give or take). With depleting aquifers and drought world wide. Then add in floods which will not replenish water supplies as the intense water will never be able to seep into a ground that is cracked, dried and packed to tight that water cant’ even penetrate.
It makes no difference how many times it’s said. The vast majority of people will never, never, never get and will never, never, never change their behaviors as long as it effects the other guy(gal) and not themselves because they believe it can never happen to them.
Look at the joke unfolding in CA with their recent water bill. All the hoopla about how they are doing something, then comes the punch line that few if any are shouting from the rooftops. It’s a con. IT”S A CON. Everyone has to follow the new law except if you big Oil and big Ag.
It’s the same kind of delusion of the left that believes Obamacare was worthwhile and that the Climate March in NYC did some good (where, when, and how). Now that the costs of the premiums have begun to escalate, for people who couldn’t afford them in the first place, and you HAVE to have this by rule of law, so whose going to wind in jail when they can’t pay the bill.
Ask you friends and neighbors if they are concerned about Sao Paulo (if they even know where it is or if they are aware that within a few months there will be no water for over 20 million people). Then ask if they understand the repercussions about the drought in CA (they will probably be standing on line at the local food coop holding a box of organic strawberries) while they say, “That’s too bad, but what does that have to do with me.” Your eyes should roll around like the pictures on the old one-arm bandits out in Vegas.
I think Dave Cohen has been the most on target with his Flatland series that’s been running on Decline of the Empire since October 2014. Have a look and read. Are you a glass half full person or half empty?
It seems that man will squeeze as much happy neurotransmitters from the environment as possible until it is exhausted while at the same time entertaining only those ideas that support said squeezing. Morality seems to be limited to social interaction with little if any consideration paid to other species. I suppose you don’t want to get too close to any species that you must kill for nourishment. Unfortunately our tools, our systematic evolution, enables us to eat the whole enchilada and neatly deposit the remains at the outskirts of our cities in ever growing technoshit piles. How is it that we can create marvels of technology and yet are blind to the diminishment of our long-term prospects on this planet or even the survivability of our children and grandchildren? GDP, money, portfolio, brokerage, golden years, gold, silver, growth, consumption, inflation, interest, development are the surreal landscape of the mind. Within a generation the lexicon of cancerous growth will be replaced with words like death, collapse, beans, corn, canning, wood, friend, help, drought, trees, heat, water, bicycle, war, radiation.
That jet that accelerated into the mountainside in the Alps, now there is a good metaphor for the end of technological civilization. We’re going fast and headed for an immovable target. The mental door is locked and as much as we pound, the subconscious co-pilot is in control, guiding us towards an inevitable demise. How does it feel to be traveling in coach at 500 mph with no way out? It’s going to take more than putting your head between your knees to survive this one, if it can be survived at all.
Well said. I was thinking the same thing about that suicidal co-pilot.
Tom Loftus said:
James, I am pretty sure they all woke up from the bad dream, after those screams.
Untill we build, destroy and rebuild we can keep going for a little bit.
Fire has been the most important discovery and never ceases to amaze me.
Warm day …
Those fuckers(GE) scare me. Now they want to get into the hospital staffing business, taking over entire radiology departments.
Why ? They did really a good job in Fukushima…
Robert Callaghan said:
I don’t go for navel gazing mumbo jumbo. It is true we love stories more than truth, but we are not just stories we tell ourselves. What we really are is just lazy and too much time on our hands to make crazy shit up.
By the time our kids are eight years old, they stare at video screens eight hours per day obsessing over fame. It takes 10 calories of fossil energy to produce 1 calories of food so that we can sit on our asses and twaddle and twitter away our day. Organic farming means hard work. Organic integrated market ecosystems is just a string of words I put together to sound smart so I can get out of work.
Drought’s invisible hand.
Elemental hi-tech shortages.
1,000 words per picture
Oh no, it’s climate change denying, anarch-capitalist/Libertarian bootlicker Stefan Molyneux!
Robert Callaghan said:
that guy should get his dick removed
LOL. Didn’t know about his Woman-Hater He-Man club.
His devoted and rabid followers/defenders practically worship him and his message: Guys! it’s not your fault you have been out competed by the girls and none of them will fuck you……it’s the fault of the women and the greater society that has let them “steal” your rightful jobs and status……WE LOVE YOU STEVE!
Robert Callaghan said:
Jerry McManus said:
How to Build a Universe: Philip K. Dick on Reality, Media Manipulation, and Human Heroism
Smaller Brains for the Growing Impoverished?
Poverty shrinks brains from birth
The stress of growing up poor can hurt a child’s brain development starting before birth, research suggests — and even very small differences in income can have major effects on the brain.
Researchers have long suspected that children’s behaviour and cognitive abilities are linked to their socioeconomic status, particularly for those who are very poor. The reasons have never been clear, although stressful home environments, poor nutrition, exposure to industrial chemicals such as lead and lack of access to good education are often cited as possible factors…
Vietnam Vet said:
Well, it’s official Americans are in fact stupid.
A scientific publication in the Journal of Ecological Economics argues that “over-exploitation of either Labor or Nature will result in a societal collapse” if nothing is done to prevent it.
Based on a mathematical model, the study explains (via The Guardian) that the convergence of ” the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity” and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” will increase the likelihood of the fall of society as it was observed for previous human civilizations. – Link
Ken Barrows said:
Yes, but will GDP still go up? /s
Anarchy Ron said:
Reblogged this on Leftist Views and News.
david higham said:
What? No Plan? I want my money back.
The dystopian lake filled by the world’s tech lust
Hidden in an unknown corner of Inner Mongolia is a toxic, nightmarish lake created by our thirst for smartphones, consumer gadgets and green tech, discovers Tim Maughan.
From where I’m standing, the city-sized Baogang Steel and Rare Earth complex dominates the horizon, its endless cooling towers and chimneys reaching up into grey, washed-out sky. Between it and me, stretching into the distance, lies an artificial lake filled with a black, barely-liquid, toxic sludge.
Dozens of pipes line the shore, churning out a torrent of thick, black, chemical waste from the refineries that surround the lake. The smell of sulphur and the roar of the pipes invades my senses. It feels like hell on Earth…
…We reached the shore, and looked across the lake. I’d seen some photos before I left for Inner Mongolia, but nothing prepared me for the sight. It’s a truly alien environment, dystopian and horrifying. The thought that it is man-made depressed and terrified me, as did the realisation that this was the byproduct not just of the consumer electronics in my pocket, but also green technologies like wind turbines and electric cars that we get so smugly excited about in the West. Unsure of quite how to react, I take photos and shoot video on my cerium polished iPhone.
You can see the lake on Google Maps, and that hints at the scale. Zoom in far enough and you can make out the dozens of pipes that line the shore. Unknown Fields’ Liam Young collected some samples of the waste and took it back to the UK to be tested. “The clay we collected from the toxic lake tested at around three times background radiation,” he later tells me…
…After seeing the impact of rare earth mining myself, it’s impossible to view the gadgets I use everyday in the same way. As I watched Apple announce their smart watch recently, a thought crossed my mind: once we made watches with minerals mined from the Earth and treated them like precious heirlooms; now we use even rarer minerals and we’ll want to update them yearly. Technology companies continually urge us to upgrade; to buy the newest tablet or phone. But I cannot forget that it all begins in a place like Bautou, and a terrible toxic lake that stretches to the horizon.
Robert Callaghan said:
my wife thinks you’re wonderful i tell her you’re not so
I’ll pick door number 1 Monty.
Your very fortunate to have someone to walk with on this absurd and insane journey. Not to mention put up with your crazy ass 😉
mike k said:
TdOs – I share your despair. As I awakened over the years to the nightmare we are creating, the urge to find a solution, a way out grew in me. I read and studied, meditated deep in Nature, talked with friends, attended transformative spiritual groups, formed groups with others – always seeking answers. I found the answers I was looking for! But there was a problem: no one was interested in considering much less acting on my answers. In fact my fellow humans were so deep in denial that they would quickly become hostile if I persisted in trying to share my ideas.
Now I am 84 years on this planet, and have spent more than half my time pursuing this quest, and I am tired. Tired of trying to persuade people to do things that are so simple and obvious, it is confounding that they have not already been doing them for years already. So I have grown to know the Demon and its power over the minds of men and women. Personally I refuse to surrender to the Demonic stories my culture lives by. That leaves me with one more option – to live out my life trying to do everything from love.
And let the chips fall where they may….
Bill Boyer said:
Mike, I would be very interested to hear in detail ( or at least a general discription of what ), your ideas are to get Ourselves out of this mess we find ourselves in. I am a high school teacher and I am finding that very few of my students know the issues related to climate change or even what is causing man made climate change. I have, as well as you, been paying attention to the pending future and am getting frustrated with the public and my friends and relatives that are not getting the seriousness of the times. No one in my circles seem to want to have serious discussions about what to do, realistically what to do not politically what to do. It seems too late to get politics involved. Please, what ideas do you have that we, the public, the few of us that are concerned enough to entertain any solutions that may help, do ? I have many ideas that come from my love of sustainable agriculture and I would be curious to hear someone else’s thoughts. Share ideas, combine, tweet, cross critique whatever to have some hope and a clear path.
I’m not sure how this public blog thing works, so how can I get in touch with you without giving my name and/or e-mail address to everyone?
Some wonderful landscape pictures.
I’m not at loss for words,they are just all off-color.
Robert Callaghan said:
2040 — MASS EXTINCTION BEGINS
2070 — HUMAN AGRICULTURE ENDS
2100 — OXYGEN DEPLETED
All due to population. You might wonder how?
Love this post. My sentiments exactly. Kind of insane that people are devising plans and “mitigations” and “solutions”. There are none. We have next to zero idea what the fuck is even going on. Scientists have many more questions and unknown knowns to wrassle with than anything. The thing we know with a fair degree of certainty is we’re in the midst of Earth’s 6th greatest and fastest progressing mass extinction. All the conditions that existed in previous extinctions exist now, and they’re worse than ever. My plan is to live my remaining days filled with wonder, gratitude and appreciation for my time in this plane and to be as sweet, generous and kind as can, without beginning or end, embracing all things. This holographic projection we call the world is changing and it doesn’t include us for much longer. Accepting that brings freedom and peace and clarity for me.
there is a way. We can get ourselves out of this we have the technology right now, but in order to do it we need a world war 2 scale mobilization to turn our society into a low carbon one. And it must be global. I have joined the climate mobilization. http://www.theclimatemobilization.org/ . You might be right maybe we are doomed, but I refuse to give up. I am not suicidal we owe it to our children and ourselves to try. And it’s still possible.