Tribute to the City

Cross Posted from Prayforcalamity
by TDoS

The vernal equinox has come and passed and with it the official start of spring is here in the northern hemisphere. Across the countryside Jane Magnolia trees have awoken. Their hundreds of fingers each cupping rose colored blooms like candles, as if they were so many tiny lavender hands offering up communion to the sun. Daffodils peer out of the hillside clearings like periscopes or perhaps yellow gramophones all playing a song of rebirth to call back the songbirds and honeybees. The energy sequestered in the root-balls and mycelium mats as the land went to sleep the last few months has begun surging upward, and it is hard to not feel it flowing through me as I walk my land taking stock of which fruit trees and berry bushes are producing buds. A good friend of mine, and mentor, once told me that I am doing well if I can establish two fruit trees per year. Looking at my spread of apple trees, it looks like I am on track to have done well in that regard. My partner does all of the work to care for our bee hive, and after donning her protective veil for a spring inspection, she reported to me that the hive is in great condition. I have heard it said that bees surviving the winter is what converts one from a bee-haver into a bee-keeper.

Our garden calls for much attention, and each week I spread a truck load of wood chips on the walking paths, which were first covered with flattened cardboard. Hopefully this effort will buy me a few years of relatively weed free walkways. Mint is returning with a vigor, and the strawberry leaves are vibrantly green. Kale, spinach, beets, and parsnips have been seeded, and I am keeping a keen eye for the first asparagus shoots. This year I have to grow significantly more food than I have in the past, as my partner is returning to work full time and I will be staying home during the week days with our daughter. In the short term we will have less money, but I will have more time to attend to tasks around the homestead. Walking through the garden brings me such a deep sense of calm as I talk to the plants and lose myself in my many tasks. Starting seeds is a great way to practice slowing oneself down, especially small seeds that tend to stick together like those of tomatoes and carrots.

I find myself happy as the sun tans my shoulders and a red tailed hawk cries from its nest somewhere high up in the trees behind me.

February was the warmest month in recorded history. The record it broke for such crowning glory had been set in December. February temperatures saw the Earth cross the two degrees centigrade above pre-industrial average barrier that has been established as a hard danger zone by climate scientists. It was an anomaly, for now, but one that is likely to rear itself again and again. The most dramatic warming has been in the Arctic, which bodes ill for jet stream patterns as well as summer sea ice coverage. Time will tell if we see our first ice free Arctic this summer. Somehow the magnitude of the crisis of climate change still seems to evade most general discourse despite the pomp and show of the electoral season now in bloom in the US. There are lots of grand promises being hurled at the public about bringing manufacturing jobs back stateside. If that is not the dictionary definition of cognitive dissonance then I do not know what is. Industrialism long ago set us on a crash course with calamity, and now that the calamity has begun to rain down upon the world in the form of mega droughts, fires, famines, and super-storms, those angling for positions of power are promising more industrialism.

Of course, it is not even a job in a factory per se that most Americans dwelling in the rust belt actually want, it is a secure living situation. They want their basic needs met in a way that does not leave them uncertain and wrecked by stress month after month. It is a culture of production organized and operated through the machinations of capitalism that requires that people work a job in order to have these needs met in such a satisfactory way. When politicians say “Jobs!” it has become a Pavlovian response for the middle, and formerly middle, classes to come salivating like starving dogs to desperately pull a lever in their favor. They forget that first the food, and the land, and the ability to provide for oneself had to be taken away before they could be forced to work jobs for these things. A great deprivation preceded the creation of job economies whereby everyone was made to punch a clock and become the automaton of some civilized production scheme in order to have enough to eat and a place to sleep at night. This deprivation now long forgotten, people have no memory of themselves as anything but workers, and so they beg for work.

Neo-liberal capitalism may be the dominant platform by which this scheme is globally enacted, but it is merely the software that operates on the hardware of the civilized model of human organization. It is key to recall that ecological decimation was the order of the day long before the advent of capitalism. Forests had been clear cut from the Levant, through Greece and across Europe and the UK as civilization marched across the ancient world, slashing and burning its path to conquest and dominion over greater and greater expanses of the Earth. This pattern was repeated globally where ever civilizations formed. The Maya deforested the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula long before Europeans brought their particular version of civilization to the continent and eventually ran head first into the consequences of such short sighted actions. The Aztecs, who may have created one of the more arguably “sustainable” cities in Tenochtitlan, did so on the backbone of war, expansion, tribute, slavery, and human sacrifice. Sure, they recycled their human excrement for crop fertilizer in their Chinampas, but they also relied on the growth of the territory that they dominated through blood shed. Food, firewood, and other material goods flowed into the city from outlying tribute towns where common people had to work to not only provide for themselves, but to pay a quarterly tribute to the city center of the empire.

Such is the way with cities. Goods and raw materials flow in and waste flows out. Cities harvest the natural wealth of outlying areas, and this model is now global, with powerful nations harvesting the material wealth of poor nations. No matter how desperately people may want to believe in the idea of the “sustainable city,” it is a contradiction of terms. Austin, Texas proclaims itself “America’s most sustainable city,” yet every day truckloads of food make deliveries while truck loads of garbage and waste are removed. The city depends on dammed lakes off the lower Colorado river for water which will one day fail to support the city’s growing population, and which in the present deprive down stream communities. According to 2010 data, households in Austin spent the most money on gasoline relative to other American cities. And Austin continues to grow, to cover more of the land in concrete preventing the recharging of the Edward’s Aquifer and demanding more energy for cooling as the city can have over one-hundred days in a year that breach one-hundred degrees fahrenheit.

A recent study calculated how much food the city of Seattle could produce based on how much solar radiation falls on its potentially farmable locations, including parks, rooftops, and yards. Even selecting crops that grow well in Seattle’s climate conditions the study’s authors determined that the city could provide only one percent of its food needs. If the streets and sidewalks were ripped up, the number could rise to two or three percent, but the city would lose functionality. After all, even if day to day travel was carried out on foot or on bicycle, deliveries with diesel powered semi-trucks would still be necessary for everything the city’s inhabitants required, from clothes, to air conditioners, to building materials, and of course, the other ninety-eight percent of the food they could not produce for themselves.

Sustainable living and cities are not compatible. This is not a matter of ideology. This is a matter of hard material reality, and suggestions that somehow 3D printing or vertical farms or a population fed a steady diet of algae shakes will be just the miracle we need to upend hard material constraints are at best, petulant whimpers of those who have become accustomed the vast wealth of selection that living in a first-world city provides, or at worst, Kubler-Ross stage three bargaining, hoping that somehow, by some stretch of compromise we can sustain the unsustainable.

But we can’t. Not without expansion. Not without tribute. Not without an exploitative power dynamic and flows of violence that may or may not be visible from the comfortable confines.

Hot coffee is a miracle, or damn near one. Every morning millions of Americans have a cup or two of hot coffee, the beans of which were grown in Columbia, or Ethiopia, or Hawaii. Maybe those Americans have tea grown in India or a banana grown in Peru. They pull on shoes made in Vietnam and perhaps ride their bicycle made with bauxite mined in Australia on a road paved with bitumen from Alberta. Perhaps these Americans stop off at a local food co-op or farmer’s market where they purchase some locally grown kale. They take pictures of the fresh eggs at the market with their iPhone which has a slew of globally sourced components buried within it, and they post this photo online with the help of a network of satellites and tag it with some cute caption about sustainability.

When the average American city dweller thinks about urban living, they likely think of the comedy clubs, the used book stores, the fusion restaurants, or the bars. They fail to think about the global hegemony of the United States military and how a worldwide network of bases has laid the foundation for dollar dominance. Most of the American or European or Australian or Canadian city dwellers who stammer on about generating green, sustainable cities are not picturing the mega-cities of the world like Dakha or Rio de Janeiro. Millions of children living in the squalor of slums and favelas, tin roofed shacks and human waste littering the streets and waterways are not what the white first worlders are picturing in their minds when they declare the supremacy of urban existence. Even the relatively lucky people in Hong Kong or Manila live in crammed, small apartments set inside concrete towers that resemble prisons more than anything else.

The wealth extracted from around the planet by western powers over the course of centuries, a process which went into overdrive in the twentieth century, has absolutely skewed the perceptions of those average citizens who reside within these conquistador nations. Like Tenochtitlan, the US and its neo-liberal capitalist crony nations exact tribute from the global poor. We may not adorn ourselves in exotic feathers and obsidian jewelry, but our sneakers and our jeans and our lattes and our cellphones will never be sustainably sourced and manufactured within the footprint of our home city limits. It is just not possible. We can have civilization, or we can have a livable planet, but we cannot have both.

Phosphorous leaches from agricultural and manufacturing sources into water ways. Eventually it alters the chemistry of these waterways creating the conditions that support toxic algae blooms. Power plants are often built along waterways. Coal fired plants have been using rivers such as the Ohio as a waste dump for decades. Radioactive tritium has been leaching into the groundwater from the Indian Point nuclear plant in New York, and the leak is getting worse. The Turkey Point nuclear power facility is leaking waste into Biscayne Bay just outside of Miami.

Often when I discuss the destruction wrought by civilized existence, the first critique hurled in my direction is that, “We cannot go back.” On this point, I agree. We cannot go back because civilization has greatly destroyed the ability of so many natural systems to harbor life. Industrial civilization will decay and fracture in the coming decades and centuries. I do not know how this process will play out or how long it will take to complete, but I feel that I could safely suggest that several generations from now the people who are making new ways of living will curse the stupidity and greed of those who poisoned the water. They will wonder what demons possessed our hearts with such a dark poison that we could so callously wipe out the other living beings who we rely on for survival.

In the dry wastes a young girl will dig for tubers amongst a backdrop of drought ravaged trees and the charcoal remains of those that burned in the previous season. Seeking a nourishing root she finds the bric a brac of our brain dead culture; a plastic fork, a beer can, rubber testicles that once swung from a pick-up truck’s trailer hitch. Yee haw.

Her family boils caught rainwater unaware that it contains heavy metals which will be responsible for some of their eventual deaths. They will laugh, as people do, and they will tell cautionary tales about a long ago world in which people set the sky on fire.

Whatever gods there may be forgive us. We were drunk on oil and pictures of ourselves. We really wanted good jobs.

The Art of Yielding

Cross posted from:
by TDoS

The ache in my left arm seems to travel up a nerve towards my shoulder. I wince as I stretch the arm up and then rotate it in an arc. Every Friday night I attend a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class, and last week during open rolling – which, to the uninitiated, is essentially grappling with a partner – I was thrown to the mat by a zealous fellow student, and crashing onto my left arm I immediately felt the shock of pain that now lingers there in my bicep. At the time I was bit angry, as the amount of strength my opponent applied was a bit excessive for such a drill, but thinking about it now perhaps that is foolish of me. It is a fight exercise after all. Myself, I am always slow to apply great strength in any drill, as I am fairly frightened of hurting someone. I often find that during a roll where I am dominant and pressing down with intense force that I periodically ask my opponent if they are OK. If they weren’t, they of course, could easily tap out, but still, it concerns me that I might needlessly hurt someone.

Jiu Jitsu, if we return to the Japanese root words (Ju Jutsu) is the art of yielding. As combatants roll they are applying strength and force, but they are also reading the direction of the force being applied against themselves and then attempting to use their opponents energy against them. My trainer once relayed a statement that he heard from a master practitioner, which was essentially that all of Jiu Jitsu is knowing which square inch of the opponent on which to apply all of one’s body weight, and knowing when to do it. This trainer is by day, a police officer. Funny, myself an anarchist, a vehement supporter of efforts to abolish prisons and police, respectfully and humbly listening to this man and trying to always devour with my eyes all of his movements and motions so that I can absorb them in the fibers of my own legs and hips. I laugh at his jokes, as he is genuinely funny, and in the next moment, I imagine him using the very techniques he is demonstrating to subdue me in the streets. I wonder how these skills he imparts on me have been applied against people who now sit in a prison. When we roll, he out classes and out strengths me, but each time I am able to resist his efforts to sweep me, I smile. That smile is then quickly followed by him quickly overtaking me.

Life is complicated and so entirely writ with nuance and irony. There is a beauty to such contradictions, and I am grateful to be reminded of the great complexity of our context, and I am grateful too for the reminder that a world so replete with complexity and contradiction is a world in which easy answers need not apply. Often we simplify what we experience to make our day to day existence easier or more efficient. In doing so, we almost certainly shuck away the truth of things until we create an existence with a lot more mutual exclusivity than is actually present. We make binaries out of gradients. This is often necessary. It is also often the first step towards justifying violence as it is the root of manifesting the “other.”

Thirteen people were arrested in Anaheim this past week as a Ku Klux Klan rally was quickly cut short by anti fascist activists who confronted and then fought with the Klan members. The Klan members pulled knives, and even used the point on the tip of a flag pole to fight back, and they ultimately stabbed three people. Back in 2012 several young people crashed a meeting of white supremacists in Tinley Park, Illinois attacking the attendees. Five of them were eventually arrested and served prison sentences. Anti-racist actions such as these often have mild mannered Americans suggesting that we must refrain from violence and respect free speech. They follow with the claim that the only weapon to be used against Klan members and neo-nazis is either counter speech, or out right ignoring them.

The logic of such suggestions goes like this:

Free speech will conquer bad ideas and hate. Those with hateful ideologies will be shown as the fools they are by the reasoned counter arguments of those who oppose them, and these counter arguments will affect society at large in a positive way, resulting in a society in which those who proliferate hate speech are mocked and shunned. Thus, no violence is necessary to counter them. Further, the application of violence to counter speech opens us to the “slippery slope” whereby violence is brought against more and more people for even slight deviations in thought or opinion. Also, violence begets violence, so we should always and forever avoid it.

The entirety of this issue needs unpacking because it is quite convoluted. “Free Speech,” as it is referred to in the United States is a reference to a constitutional protection offered by the first amendment which prohibits the government from interfering with the speech of individuals and groups. It is not an obligation of an individual to hear out any other. Of course, it should be said that like most constitutional protections, “free speech” goes right out the window once it is not convenient for the state or their capitalist counterparts. Endless videos of protesters being gleefully beaten by the police can attest to this fact.

Obviously, unthinking and mindless violence is not the tool we should immediately reach for every time someone says something we disagree with. Someone at a bar stating that, “climate change is a hoax,” is not justification for me to haul off and break his nose. As a long time bartender, I have found that usually mockery and humor are the best weapons against the drunken loud mouth who wants to use my bar top as his soap box. This is a skill I have finely tuned over many years of dealing with drunks, almost always men, who after a few beers want to loudly espouse their right wing talking points. I may well be a black belt in rhetorical judo.

However, what if this person says, “I am going to fucking kill you!” Am I justified then in kicking him in the jaw and crushing his face into the floor? Surely I would need to read the tone and intention in his voice, but the point remains that a direct threat of aggression permits a response that can meet and dislocate the threat. And that is where the waters begin to muddy. The Klan has an extremely violent history. Their rhetoric is rhetoric of violence towards entire swathes of the population. How tolerant should the general public be of a group that has incited horrendous and gruesome violence spanning generations?

More imporantly, how patient should the would be victims of racist violence be with liberal society’s calm and reasoned counter arguments? If a cross is burned in your front yard, or a black man dragged behind a pickup truck in your town, should you sit back and wait for well articulated, non-violent responses to convince white supremacists of the inappropriateness of their behavior? The sheer fact is, that sometimes, counter violence is the exact response necessary. Indigenous peoples were completely justified in fighting back against the encroaching settler presence as it occurred in the Americas. It is still the appropriate response in those last places where indigenous peoples live in their traditional homelands which are threatened by attempts at civilized exploitation, be it for the construction of an oil pipeline, a hydroelectric dam, a nuclear waste dump, or the construction of a university telescope.

Those who are the victims of the violence meted out by the dominant culture need not wait for those behind the levers of power to spawn a conscience. They need not wait for a critical mass of pacifists to turn the gears of democracy and generate a legal response for their protection.

I am reminded of Albert Camus’ Letters to a German Friend, in which he laments the absence of an immediate and forceful response on the part of the French to Nazi aggression. Camus suggests that the French consciousness is one which responds to the absurdity of the human condition by seeking beauty and love, whereas the Nazi response was one of nihilism and the pursuit of conquest. Such dispositions gave the Nazi an advantage over the French who first pontificated on the righteousness of counter violence. The Nazi did not care for such ethical questions, and according to Camus, in the end it took the French coming to terms with the righteousness of their position, indeed, it took the confidence of spirit and the sword together to be victorious over the Nazi:

“…[W]e shall be victorious thanks to that very defeat, to that long, slow progress during which we found our justification, to that suffering which, in all its injustice, taught us a lesson. It taught us that, contrary to what we sometimes used to think, the spirit is of no avail against the sword, but that the spirit together with the sword will always win out over the sword alone.

Any suggestion that the tool of violence is appropriate does require that those who would take it up think long and hard about the implications of their actions. Our world of seven billion people and growing is a world of seven billion minds all generating individual interpretations of reality. To be sure, the majority of those minds are convinced of the righteousness of their actions and ideologies. The abortion clinic bomber is convinced that his is a justifiable counter-violence. The ISIS executioner is convinced that his is a justifiable counter-violence. The anarchist arsonist and US military drone pilot are likely also convinced that theirs is a justifiable counter violence. How in such a cacophony of noise, confusion, and rash behavior can one escape what is a seemingly impossible knot of human delusion, anger, and misunderstanding? How in good conscience can a person with deep concerns for autonomy, cooperation, and compassion suggest adding to the violence and misery of the world?

When would it have been OK to start attacking Nazis during the rise of the third reich? When Hitler was giving speeches in small halls to small audiences, would it have been reasonable counter violence for anti-fascists to have attacked him and his cadres? There would have been a point in time where this small man loudly screaming his nonsense to a room of twenty people was absolutely laughable. Rational minds would say, “Just ignore him! He is a fool, and he and his ideology will amount to nothing.” Years later there would have been a time when organizing to violently confront Nazis would have meant a death sentence, when the party already controlled the state apparatus and resistance would have been near impossible. At what point in between was the exact right moment to strike, according to a pacifist or liberal dogma?

This is the trouble with nuance. Easy answers are usually wrong answers. To strike opens us up to greater realms of ethical complexity and realms of possible negative fallout. To wait cedes crucial time and ground to those who have absolutely no concerns for such ethics. At what time, and what place, do we place one hundred percent of our strength? When do we yield and allow the momentum of our opponents to be their own undoing?

Sometimes yielding is fighting. And sometimes you give up your back and get caught in a vicious rear naked choke. Master tacticians can be brutal in their yielding. But even master tacticians can be knifed in the dark. As Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

At the end of it all, we must choose which is the preferable mistake, and in making such mistakes we put our souls on the line, killing an integral part of ourselves because we hope that in doing so a greater beauty is allowed to survive. Then we pray that our children can forgive us.

I, for one, will not err in favor of compassion for a Nazi.

Choirs of frogs still sing along the rim of the pond as dawn breaks. While still technically winter, the robin hopping along the ground near budding daffodils tells me that spring is here. Another cold front is always possible, but this winter that never really materialized is bowing out. The garden calls for so much attention. Greens need to be planted, pathways need covering with wood chips, and I need to get annual seeds started and placed in a cold frame. Energy surges upward from the subterranean metropolis of tree roots and mycelium, and as it flows through the flesh of hickory and maple, oak and dogwood, so to it flows through my limbs. I am anxious to get back to the long, slow process of developing our homestead. My endless list of projects is less daunting these days as I approach it one job at a time.

Out in the world of human hollering and bickering, an impending election is drawing a lot of attention. I try to ignore it. I try to focus on our small hollow here in the backwoods. Our community of young families trying to get by on the day to day with what little we have while surmounting the challenges that the raw entropy of civilized life throws at us can absorb pretty much all of the mental capacity I have to offer. But then there are whispers and hints that the authoritarianism and racism being whipped up by certain campaigners finds it way to my ears, and I ask myself, if it comes here openly and brazenly, what am I to do? What cannot be tolerated? What requires a response, and am I prepared to offer one?

Perhaps we should all start asking ourselves such questions. By the time the shadow has covered us all, it is too late to take shelter from the storm.

Filling the Void

Cross posted from PrayforCalamity

The flue damper drops with an iron clang that reverberates through the kitchen. At three hundred square feet, the straw bale cabin we are currently living in heats easily with the old wood stove. I pile the belly of the steel box high with oak so my lady and our daughter can return to a warm home. Plodding through the snow in my knee high boots, I head out to start my Cherokee. It fights me when temperatures are below freezing, and convincing the engine to turn over requires patience and a handful of tricks, including occasionally popping the hood and manually pumping some gas at the fuel rail. This is not a process I enjoy, and I have been researching a solution for a couple of weeks now. It would seem that a new fuel pump and assembly are in order. Last week found me replacing degraded “O” rings in the oil filter adapter to seal a leak there. Removing the filter adapter was an exercise in zen. The process required that I lay on the cement floor of my friend’s unheated garage, the ground drawing my heat from me, as I removed a very inconveniently placed motor mount bolt while flecks of aged engine grime fell into my eyes and mouth. Turning a wrench an eighth of an inch at a time can really ground you. On my next day off I can try to tackle this rough start problem. Always making plans, making to do lists, spending my days before I meet them.

The driveway is a little over a half mile long, and I move slowly over it, absorbing the details of the forest on every side of me. Gray sky, born of a mist that intermingles with the countless slender fingers of trees reaching upwards, arterial in their deliberate formlessness. A monochrome wash of tones accentuates the golden leaves of the beech trees. These small tear drops of paper flicker like watercolor candlelight. Through the forest I curve on roads still layered in an inch or two of snow. Even the thinnest branches of the trees all have a brushstroke of white highlighting their organic motion, which speaks of rivers and lightning, of nerves and fissures, of the geometry of the world entire. It is clear to me in this moment that I am witnessing poetry, that the Earth sings, that there is the most amazing, most gut-wrenchingly divine performance before us, all containing pieces of wisdom great and small, waiting for us to grasp them. And we don’t care. We aren’t interested.

A car pulls up close behind me. I am driving too slowly. I let them pass.

Collapse is a very odd fascination. I cannot help but think that such an interest is a by-product of the civilized mind. I also cannot help but think that the collapse so many people fear is related to their perception of time, which is in its modern form, shaped by the superstructure of our society. Capitalism has commodified our time. People in our culture sign thirty year mortgages, they make promises to pay for cars and phones and anything that can be bought with a credit card. The entirety of neoliberal capitalism is predicated on the notion that there will be more energy and stuff tomorrow than there was today. Imaginary wealth in the form of digital notations, be they named “stocks” or “bonds” or any other “investment vehicle” exists purely in an abstract future space. Civilization already has us living within the confines of abstractions built from so much collective imagining, and these abstractions form the foundation of an even more illusory notion of time in which we have convinced ourselves that we exist. When predominantly western, white, middle class people fear collapse, what exactly are they even talking about? I posit that they are actually anxious about the destruction of the future, by which I mean a constructed notion that does not actually exist.

Certainly, I am out on a limb, but that is exactly where I mean to be. Time, as it is, is not “Time” as we experience it. This is not surprising, as nothing is as we experience it. We interpret the world around us via our senses and generate a picture of it in our heads, which itself is informed by our individual biology and experience. When we speak of time, we are speaking of the abstract way in which we interpret it. Past, present, and future are clunky attempts to place ourselves within this abstract notion we ourselves have imagined into being. This understanding is culturally informed and not a hard and fast representation of reality. Not surprisingly, modern industrial civilization has imagined time into the most expedient and efficient of forms for the benefit of production; the straight line.

Over the years I have found myself constantly hurrying, loading myself with tasks in order to manifest the future. When I was saving money to buy land, I was constantly at work, picking up extra shifts, staying late. When my partner and I finally bought our land, I had to build a house, and do it quickly. If I was idle, if I spent a day at rest, I felt guilty. This guilt still builds in me whenever I find myself not busying about. Always I am in a hurry to manifest the future, and most importantly, to have it match the abstract picture I have generated in my head. It is almost as if the very existence of tomorrow depends upon me laboring to generate time itself, that without me holding it on my shoulders like Atlas, the future will fall out of being. And then where will I be? In the uselessness of the present, which is itself, destined to be an obsolete and immutable past mere microseconds from now.

The civilized mind is bent on domination. The land must be bent to serve human desires. The flesh of other beings must be whipped and tormented into serving human desires. The bodies of women must be confined, contorted, and too often forced to serve the desires of men. The story of civilization is the story of domination, the exertion of force and the repudiation of symbiosis. Interestingly, the abstract notion of time generated by the civilized mind is just another tool designed to dominate, however it contains within it a contradiction; time as modeled by civilization is infinite, particularly as it projects into the future. This creates a conundrum, as the generation of an infinite future space creates an infinite workload on the civilized mind, having to now manifest, maintain, and control an infinite terrain.

So we see the denizens of working class westerners labor endlessly in an attempt to place their circumstances in crystal, to eliminate any variance or uncertainty from days to come. Can this reasonably be described as anything other than absurd? Perhaps insane?

Sweet potatoes stick out the top of water-filled mason jars along my window. In time they will drop roots and then slips with small purple leaves will spout from them. I will pull the slips and place them in water where they will establish further roots, and when the last danger of spring frost has passed, I will plant the slips in my garden. All of this exists in a future I have concocted in my mind. Agriculture cannot exist without a plan, without a perception of a day many days beyond this one. Civilization requires that we collectively imagine tomorrow into being, in full technicolor and high definition detail. It is hard for me to not assume that this requirement is the birth of anxiety and stress.

Abstract notions of time are, like all of our abstractions, a tool. We create tools to serve a need. Tools require not only the knowledge of how to generate or operate them, but the wisdom to do so skillfully, safely, and most importantly, of when to not use them. As is the case with the vast majority of the cognitive tools civilized humans have invented, we have found ourselves in the service of the tool of time. We are not present. We are not here. We are not listening to the poetry of the world before us because we are altogether somewhere else.

Of course, there will be those who insist that without a view of the future, we will destroy the world of the present. After all, if someone takes all of the fish from a river or dumps radioactive waste in the ocean for a benefit here and now, the future will be one in which no one will be able to eat from the rivers or oceans. Why is it then, that we see these very same behaviors running rampant at the hands of a culture so lost in its projections of time? The very economic structure of capitalism demands that tomorrow contain more production than today, yet it simultaneously destroys that very possibility. So lost in a vision of the future, capitalism blinds modern civilization to the actual makeup of the present. The map is given precendent over the terrain.

There exist cliches about various indigenous cultures maintaining a concern for their progeny seven generations out. Such ideas would suggest that concern for the future, or the invention of the future as an abstraction, is not a product of the civilized mind at all, but the human mind. Still, it strikes me as highly unlikely that any band of hunter gatherers would find themselves so concerned with a decline and fall of their world in some distant time to come. Obviously, any attempt to think the thoughts of an imagined person is some long ago circumstance is open to folly, but none the less, when I do attempt to place my own mind in such circumstances, what jumps out at me is this: Pre-civilized hunter gatherers would exist in a world where everything around them that they interacted with was placed there by nature. Pre-civilized humans must have remained ever cognizant of their surroundings, paying attention to the plethora of details in their experience in order to find food, avoid danger, note their location, etc. Seemingly, such people would find their minds more present in their circumstances. Perhaps at night they would lose themselves in thought as they stared deeply into the night sky or the cook fire, but I digress. It is hard to imagine pre-civilized people creating and agonizing over the future the way civilized humans do.

For a bit more insight on this issue, I asked a Metis man about the civilized notion of time versus the indigenous notion, and he had this to say:

Talking about core pillars of a completely foreign worldview very quickly turns into an esoteric mess. Any explanation of concepts of time, like saying time is cyclical will have a westerner looking for spots to add his seconds, minutes, and hours. The concept of future apart from past and present suggests a linear view of time. If you stand at the center of a circle with the past present and future all flowing within the circle, where are you? And why would you not be able to see a future? Euro worldview sees the future as a black void that needs to be filled with all the new stuff one can imagine into being. Their present is of no consequence, as it quickly becomes a frozen point in the past that can not interact with the present and certainly not the future void. Indigenous worldview sees a future that looks much like the present and past if all beings act in a responsible way. European worldview is collapse, it is an irresponsible actor.

Indigenous peoples are often accused of claiming European Worldview is evil. This is not the case. It is seen as a mental illness. That mental illness has now infected most of the human population.

People who talk to trees are very unlikely to clear cut a forest. Mainstream society would consider such people crazy. People who reject a linear notion of time, who speak to their ancestors and believe that the past is just as important as the present and the future, do not create economic systems that are predicated upon the infinite growth of material production. Mainstream society would consider such people crazy. As I sit here I cannot say that I know for certain the shape or make up of time. I can say that the tools we create are of limited use, and that when they bend us to their service and to our own detriment, we are fools to not remake them, if not abandon them altogether.

Tomorrow will come, to be sure. It will bring with it happenings and consequences. In no way am I suggesting we abandon concern for such things, but perhaps, that we remember that there are a lot of pictures we have drawn up in our minds, often collectively, and that anxiety is the byproduct of our efforts to match reality with these projections. We must remain flexible. We should make efforts to remain present, and thus committed to the terrain.

Of course, with this, I struggle too. At the end of the day, I am merely a man trying to make sense of his heartache. By the hundreds of millions humans race about, neglecting their spirits and their physical well being to make certain that lines on charts always trend upwards, to fill the black void. In doing so, they close their ears to the song that the Earth sings with every sunrise, to the poetry she writes with each curve and undulation of the topography, and to the ancient wisdom she has joyously written into every leaf, and stone, and star. We are all so much less for it. And we all but guarantee our doom.

No One Gets Out Alive


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As China’s appetite for resources wanes with the bursting of its real estate bubble and America’s shale oil boom fueled by easy credit comes to an end, floundering petrostates are beginning to queue up for bail-outs. Financialization appears to have exacerbated the collapse in oil prices. Of course none of this capitalist boom-bust cycle negates the fundamentals of peak oil; prices will swing upwards again in a few years as marginal producers get weeded out. After all, the world still consumes nearly three million gallons of oil per minute, and only a relatively thin margin separates surplus from a shortage. Most of our energy usage does not involve electricity which is what alternative energies like wind and solar produce. Electricity comprises just 18% of the total global energy consumption of which alternatives make up a tiny sliver. 250 new human beings are added to the planet every minute; each born into a world of depleting resources and mounting pollution; each scrambling to secure the necessities of life. The black stuff will remain the primary fuel supporting this growing population of a globalized technological civilization.

A recent study estimates that if we are serious about implementing alternative energies to satisfy the goals of the Paris climate accord, then upwards of 12 trillion dollars will have to be spent over the next 25 years. This price tag is an investment that is 75% more than current growth projections. At a time when governments have spent their last ammo pumping more electronic money into the economy to try to stimulate economic growth, the prospects of decarbonizing the entire global energy system appears daunting, especially considering the many shortcomings of alternative energies. Time constraints on a planet indifferent to our energy needs are also bearing down on us:

CO2 levels must now be kept below 405ppm(where we’ll be in under 3 years at current emission rate) to avoid 2C warming.

As the Keeling curve creeps irreversibly higher and the gap between rhetoric and reality widens, pipe dreams like geoengineering and carbon sequestration will become desperate Hail Marys for a species whose time is running out. The New York Times editorial by Piers Sellers, a NASA Earth Sciences director who has terminal cancer, perfectly sums up this techno-fix mindset: “…it will be up to the engineers and industrialists of the world to save us.” Keep calm, keep shopping, and await further instructions; the elites have it all under control. Jeb Bush’s recent comment that we should pin our hopes on “someone in a garage” fixing climate change illustrates the widespread delusion that technological innovation, good ol’ entrepreneurial spirit, and capitalist market-based solutions will be our saviours. Ironically, Jeb belongs to the political party hell-bent on defunding public education, a policy that would seem to make those plucky garage inventors even more implausible.

We cannot possibly rely on a system that profits from the very disaster it has helped to create, yet that is the dead-end feedback loop we are locked into. Mexico is a good example of how landscapes and communities are being carved up for alternative energy farms and carbon trading schemes that benefit only large corporations. Even philanthrocapitalism promotes the convenient myth that market forces and the whims of billionaires will solve systemic problems. The precautionary principle has been thrown out the window in the pursuit of short-term profits and power. We have only a vague inkling of nature’s rich complexity and interdependence. The scale of our ignorance is frightening considering our oversized impact.


The truth of our predicament has been criminally concealed since the 1970s by the fossil fuel industry which all the while knew that an overheated Arctic would melt away, exposing fresh deposits of carbon for them to exploit. Unfortunately the bonanza they planned for has not materializedmelting permafrost wreaks havoc on infrastructure and exploration. The cryospheric regions of earth, key geographic features regulating the planet’s climate, were systematically dismantled within the geologic blink of an eye; such environmental changes are imperceptible to the real-time cognitive processing of humans, but in geological ‘deep time’ these events are cataclysmic and portend a dire future for humans. There are more signs that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is slowing down.

“We’re sitting on these planetary boundaries right now, argues Rockstrom, and if these systems flip from one stable state to another — if the Amazon tips into a savannah, if the Arctic loses its ice cover and instead of reflecting the sun’s rays starts absorbing them in water, if the glaciers all melt and cannot feed the rivers — nature will be fine, but we will not be.” ~ Johan Rockstrom, director of the Stockholm Resilience Center


The time to avoid critical tipping points in those decades has passed. The projections from the IPCC were downplayed and underestimated in order to continue the destructive business-as-usual:

“…new scientific findings were more than twenty times as likely to support the ASC perspective [that disruption through AGW may be far worse than the IPCC has suggested] than the usual framing of the issue in the U.S. mass media. The findings indicate that…if reporters wish to discuss ‘‘both sides’’ of the climate issue, the scientifically legitimate ‘‘other side’’ is that, if anything, global climate disruption may prove to be significantly worse than has been suggested in scientific consensus estimates to date”.

We’re in the early throes of economic and ecological system failure; headlines grow more alarming each year:

Plastic is projected to outweigh fish in the world’s oceans by 2050. This may happen much sooner since it was just discovered the number of fish remaining in the ocean has been grossly overestimated. We only recycle 5-10% of plastics today and many are not recyclable. It’s cheaper for industry not to recycle and the quality of plastic is degraded when it is recycled. No international body exists that can hope to regulate dumping in the oceans. International ships dump freely without consequence. Unenforceable legislation is heroically passed in bodies of government from time to time, but it remains ineffective. Waste is also shipped across borders to more “business friendly” countries where waste can be cost-effectively dumped.

The warming Indian Ocean is becoming an ecological desert. According to new research, rising water temperatures over the last half century appear to have reduced phytoplankton numbers, threatening to cascade through the food chain and crash the ecosystem. Climate change has been implicated in a rash of recent animal die-offs across the planet. The changes are too abrupt for animals to adapt. Today’s build-up of atmospheric CO2 and other heat-trapping gases is much, much faster than past hyperthermal events. In fact, scientists now fear climate change is happening faster than it has in all of Earth’s history.

Hot days are occurring 145 times more often over the last 10 years than just a few decades ago. Unique World Heritage Sites are being destroyed by climate change. The latest one, an ancient Gondwana ecosystem in Tazmania, burned down to the ground from fires sparked by dry lightning strikes, a direct result of climate change. A warming planet is also providing a growing range of favorable places for mosquitoes, the bane of mankind, to spread pestilence and disease. Our interconnected world can fast-track their dissemination with the help of a single intercontinental plane flight. At the moment, the Zika virus is grabbing headlines with its explosive expansion. Scientists are on the verge of confirming that it has jumped to the common mosquito and the WHO recently declared it an international health emergency. Microcephaly appears to be just the tip of the iceberg for the fallout of this virus. Normal-appearing newborns are suffering ill effects as well. It is believed that the Zika virus was introduced into Brazil during the World Soccer Cup in 2014 when an influx of tourists visited cities throughout Brazil. The 2016 Olympics in Rio will provide a perfect vehicle for the worldwide distribution of Zika.

The refugees fleeing from the war-torn Middle East are only a foreshadowing of the mass exodus to come from regions racked by climate chaos. With ethnic, religious, racial and ideological tensions simmering, we can already see the welcome mats being pulled up in host countries. Recent studies have shown a loss of freedoms for citizens and rise in authoritarian governments around the world over the last decade; this trend tracks with our net energy descent, deregulation, rollback of environmental protection, and pursuit of corporate trade agreements. It also follows historic patterns:

“…history tells us that civilizations experiencing dramatic declines in their net energy uptake usually develop authoritarian political systems in an effort to stave off collapse, but then crash and disappear anyway.” ~Eric Zencey

Historically speaking, the elite are last to feel the effects of their hubristic decision-making, insulated as they are in their positions of wealth and power. Modern ideals and virtues of human rights, social justice, and a strong American middle class have all been aberrations of a civilization built atop a surfeit of energy.


The disparity between MSM news and real world problems like climate change, pollution, growing wealth inequality, the unraveling food chain, etc. are breathtaking. Wrecking the biosphere and bringing on a mass extinction leaves no one unscathed or in any position to survive long-term. Secret plans of survival by the “elite” are simply another myth. The wealthy may be buying up tracts of land in remote areas, but they are perhaps more delusional than anyone else because of how their wealth insulates them from hard realities. Without all those just-in-time supply chains operating seamlessly across a stable planet, no one gets out alive.

The Complexity of Simple

Cross Posted from PrayforCalamity

The complexity of simple

Winter came as ice. The slightest threadbare twigs on every bush and tree wrapped in crystal and then dusted with snow like confectioner’s sugar. The entirety of the forest frosted, white outlines tracing contours until the fingers of every brach blended into every other masking the separation of individual trees, and the whole landscape was without depth or form, an unbroken line tracing itself eternally. Time itself slowed, my breath stands still before me while the land begs, “Slow down. Be.”

The road out was blocked by a downed pine tree. I idled the Jeep and went to the trunk to retrieve my chainsaw, a tool that stays packed in the car for just such occasions. Even the main highways were laden with the branches and trunks of conifers whose root balls could not sustain the added weight of their ice laden bodies.

What is often overlooked when people talk about the “simple life,” is just how complex it can be, and just how many tools it can require. Four wheel drive vehicles, chainsaws, power tools, axes, come-alongs, tow straps, water pumps, and all of the hand tools, files, honers, clamps, cleaners and cleansers needed to keep all of it functional. Across the spectrum of internet commentary and niche hipster-farmer magazines that paint rural homestead living as the solution to ecological crisis and collapse, too rarely is it mentioned just how expensive being intentionally poor can be.

Last week I stood outside in the cold, bundled in layers of long underwear and insulated Carhartt overalls, and with the assistance of a more mechanically inclined friend, I replaced the high pressure hose on the power steering pump of one of our Jeeps. The repair was far from complicated, but ten degree weather is not conducive to manipulating steel wrenches or the impossible to reach bolts that are put in place by machines so that humans will struggle to remove them. Repairing one’s own vehicle comes with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, almost akin to flipping the bird to the capitalist system that engineers itself around the need for high priced professionals and the near term obsolescence of overpriced parts and components. Such satisfaction quickly fades however, when the next mechanical defect arises.

The engine of my newly repaired Jeep refused to turnover, and I suspected that the eight degree temperature Monday morning brought with it was the likely culprit. The starter seemed to fire, but then the long list of troubleshooting began. My hands stinging with cold even through gloves, I tinker with battery cables and fuel lines. Is there spark? Is there gas? Frozen condensation could be in a line, or on a circuit board, or even preventing the distributor arm from spinning. Motors are a complexity of moving parts, and such complexity is supposed to make our lives easier. But then we become the tools of our tools, and find ourselves serving machines.

I want to scream. I just want life to stop handing me roadblocks. It seems like I struggle just to struggle. The hood slams shut and the metal clang echoes off of the steel roof of the open air carport. I crunch through the ice to the wood pile, and bend my knee to the Earth to load up my arms with split oak.

The wealth gap in the United States is at historic proportions. Apparently, sixty-three percent of Americans cannot afford a five-hundred dollar car repair. This is not a scenario which will be allowed to proceed. The problem with having a handful of people be vastly rich while the majority are poor is multi-fold, but what is often not discussed is the general dysfunction that is generated by so greatly valuing people’s labor and time on such drastically different scales. Even without talking about the do-nothing billionaire class, the gap in pay between the massive portion of the population that works service sector jobs and those who engage in more “skilled labor,” generates an inability of the lower classes to access the services of the middle. Despite having moved to a rural location to build my own off-grid home on land where I can attempt grow a significant quantity of my family’s food, I still work a full forty hours a week between two part time service sector jobs. One of those jobs pays ten dollars an hour. A mechanic commands anywhere from seventy to one-hundred dollars per hour in this region. Such a disparity makes acquiring the services of a mechanic on the edge of impossible and reserved for only the most complicated and necessary repairs.

Legal services are even more expensive. When the county demanded I install a septic system for my cabin, I could have refused, and in court I could have cited the State’s legislation protecting those who build their own homes from the intrusions of county bureaucrats. Had I chosen to engage in such a legal entanglement, I could not possibly have afforded the assistance of a lawyer at the going rate of two-hundred dollars per hour. The cost of compliance with the county, despite knowing full well that I am within my legal rights to refuse, is far lower than would have been the cost of justice. How can I give half a week’s wages to someone for one hour of their time? It would take me a month to afford one of their days.

Medical attention is a publicly acknowledged farce in the United States. Racketeers and mafioso middlemen have fully inserted themselves into parasitic positions across the healthcare industry with the full protection of the state. The Affordable Care Act was a papal blessing by the federal government confirming the right of money changers and paper pushers to hold people hostage to illness and injury, essentially demanding near lifelong servitude to repayment plans. Insurance, of course, is not treatment. No one ever screamed, “Is there an insurance agent in the house?” at the sight of an dying man. So we ignore small problems. We hope that fermented foods will keep us well and go to work sick when they don’t. We super glue wounds that should probably be stitched and as a last resort, we go to the emergency room and ignore the bill.

Those of us at the lower end of the pay scale have been priced out of modernity in many regards, and I imagine this is a trend that is only blossoming, and when fully unfolded, will drag a massive swath of the millennial generation into a similar state of affairs. I would imagine this economic disparity will play a large roll in bringing more people into urban centers, and preventing even those with dreams of permaculture gardens and straw bale houses from escaping them. The young are told that if they want to climb the economic ladder they should borrow enough money to buy a small house and instead to give it to a college. If it’s not one scam, it’s another.

During the summer our gardens are teeming with zucchini, tomatoes, okra, and other vegetables. Sweet potato vines crawl far beyond their primary roots and lavender flowers appear along their lengths. Welsummer chickens hunt grasshoppers in a field and we collect easily a dozen eggs a day from their nesting boxes. The food that we do not preserve or immediately eat we will sometimes sell. I can fetch twenty dollars for a load of produce, eggs, and wild harvested mushrooms. A truckload of gravel laid on our driveway allowing our property to even be accessible by car costs three-hundred dollars. Our own driveway requires about two of these truckloads every spring, and that does not include the road up to our land, which we must also contribute to maintaining. The simple life is expensive, and the honey, eggs, strawberries and other fresh foods we can produce are essentially valueless to the outside world thanks to petroleum. But we have to keep pace. Little house on the prairie only works when everyone is playing. If no one uses a car, it is not expected that you will, and the overall pace of your society slows down. Money is energy and velocity. Your rate of production must be commensurate with that of those around you with whom you hope to trade, or you will be for all intents and purposes, too poor to participate.

An individual cannot work as fast or far or as long as a John Deere. A twenty-four hour globalized world that operates at the speed of electricity generates output at a rate that is beyond the capacity of human hands spreading mulch and pulling weeds. When we look at the threat of climate change and ecological collapse, many of us recognize the need for humanity to slow down, to consume less, to shut down the tar sands mines and the frack pads in favor of draft power and raw muscle. Yearly upgrades of the cell phones and gadgets that isolate us seem absurd especially when we look at the total cost of their production, so instead we envision communities of people coming together to work towards common subsistence. The machine of industrial civilization spins too fast, and burns too much fuel, so we try to walk away, only to come to the harsh realization that as long as the machine is still out there, it sets the pace, and walking away is nearly impossible. The simple life is a luxury. Conscious poverty is the playground of the rich. Want a homestead in the country where you can raise goats and pigs? You better have at least one-hundred-thousand dollars to buy in.

In this world there is only keeping up or being crushed, and keeping up usually means crushing someone else; keeping your head above water is only possible by pressing your boot into the neck of another. Capitalists and fossil fuel apologists relentlessly harp on environmentalists by declaring that no one wants to make sacrifices, that they too drive cars and eat industrial food. Of course, what is intentionally neglected is that plenty of people are more than eager to leave behind the modern western lifestyle, and that it is not a fear of hard work or sacrifice holding them back, but the financial barriers to entry. And for those who can leap the first hurdle of land ownership, there is then the cost of everything one cannot provide for themselves, because let’s face it, no one can be self sufficient. Eventually you will need something from the outside world, whether a box of nails or a broken bone set, and then you will be at the mercy of costs set by a world powered by oil. Even the barest, most primitive lifestyle is only possible with access to a vast territory, a few friends, and a state apparatus that doesn’t limit your existence or steal your children when it finds them wearing furs and eating dandelions.

My friend placed the tip of his screwdriver into the release valve on the fuel bar. Gasoline trickled out. At midday the sun had gently raised the temperature. With the turn of the key, the starter whirred and the engine turned over. I had to laugh. Of course it would start with no problem when a friend had trekked out to help me diagnose the malfunction. He laughed too. Inside the cabin with a steady warmth emanating from the wood stove I prepared a breakfast. My friend declined the homemade sauerkraut, but gladly accepted sausage, eggs, and hot coffee. I had a few steaks in the freezer and I gave them to him.

“Make dinner,” I said as I gave him what I could for his time.
“Thanks, I will.”

We will only get poorer. The low paying jobs will be fewer and fewer as the years pass, and the pittance they pay will buy less and less. Our survival in the rural places will be predicated on either preying on our neighbors by keeping apace with the terms dictated by capitalists, charging each other fees that drain an entire two week paycheck for necessary services, or by working together, giving our time and our skill with no expectation of payment, only the hope that down the line, our own needs will be met with the kindness of others.

I for one will be opening up my land to others. Rent is a backbreaker, and if I can support like minded friends by giving them a place to exist without expectation of payment, I will happily do so. Civilization is a complexity of moving parts, and theoretically, this machine is supposed to serve us. But we become the tools of our tools, and now that this too is breaking down the complexity is a burden, and more and more of us are finding that we exist in a realm of negative returns, so we dream of making something new. While we dream, we struggle.

The Humiliated Masses

Cross posted from PrayforCalamity

The blue sky almost gleamed in the morning light. An electric sapphire firmament hanging low over the green grass. Cold water moving fast through the creeks whose banks were widened by the unseasonable flow. A spring day by the look and feel of it. In reality, it was Christmas Eve in the year of a super El Nino. We were winding along country roads on our way north to visit my mother who lives on the outskirts of Chicago. Every time I return to that cast iron city so bathed in smoke and fog I can only feel satisfied with my choice to never again reside there.

In honor of a friend who died this past summer, I met up with a man I have known since high school and we, along with his girlfriend, went to see the new Star Wars film. Our deceased mutual friend was a great fan of the original trilogy, and it seemed a fitting way to center getting together while we were both back home. Of course, the flip side of such an outing is having to enmesh oneself with the throngs of other movie goers, and to submit oneself to the barrage of cultural pap, heavy with subtext and clues to the greater cultural malaise that is a Hollywood movie viewing experience.

Before the film, there are of course several coming attractions for other movies which by and large all seemed to express the same handful of palpitating urges that must be metastisizing just beneath the skin of the general public’s artfully crafted facade of contentedness. With the exception of a children’s cartoon, every film we were shown a trailer for was about the grand destruction of society in one form or another. Most of these couched their plot lines in the superhero milieu. Batman and Superman will be fighting Doomsday while the X-Men will be fighting the Apocalypse. Captain America was in there somewhere too, punching, kicking, and I can’t remember what. Some other films, the names of which escape me, also focused on massive catastrophe of some kind, but the protagonists were unexpected heroes who were trained to be better, faster, stronger by military mentors. It was hard to not come away with the feeling that a large contingent of this society is seething beneath their complacent smiles, waiting for the day when the skylines of the cities are aglow with flame, when the rules are no longer enforceable, when the millions of other human beings who are constantly interfering with their lives are wiped out in a clean flash of light, and the scattered remnants – themselves included – get to run around with guns shooting anyone else who happens to be in the way.

A better psychoanalyst than myself could likely un-stitch the many tangled threads of collective conscious that seem to be on display in such a venue, but the negative space was clear. Not present were any films about people cooperating to solve problems. Not present were even simple stories about people living normal lives, albeit beset by uncommon struggles, but at least content with modern western existence. A movie without a firefight or some kind of glorious combat was glaringly absent. Interestingly, the superhero plot points often seemed to revolve around internal conflict within the ranks. Is this a representation of the collective unconscious? Are we all gearing up for a fight against all enemies, foreign and domestic?

Apparently it rained at the North Pole in recent days. Tornadoes ripped through Texas during the holiday break while floods ravaged England. The El Nino event that has been supercharged by climate change is indeed wreaking its share of havoc. Larger, continuing ecological calamities like tree die offs around the globe and oceanic extinctions which are glaring and happening almost in slow motion prompt some people to ask, “Why are humans so inept when it comes to responding to environmental crises?” It is a reasonable enough question on it’s surface, but I am skeptical whenever all humans are lumped into a group and then laid on the couch to be analyzed. Are humans inept? Or are other forces preventing otherwise well intentioned and intelligent humans from addressing such crises? It isn’t as if no humans care about the living planet. Many are willing to lay down their lives to protect a stretch of forest, a river, or a species. Around the world, being an environmental activist is quite dangerous, and not because of some ineptitude, but because other humans who stand to gain from the conversion of the living world into dead materials for capitalism’s factories hire out the execution of humans who would get in their way.

Capitalism, and indeed, industrial civilization must be insulated from those have no been so disconnected, so alienated from nature or so humiliated and shamed by their powerlessness that they might strike back at their abusers rather than identifying with them.

No, it is not that humans are inept at solving ecological crisis. It is that we are prevented from doing so by people with power. Unpacking this further, we must acknowledge what classes we as individuals reside within, and what power we do and do not possess. I cannot with the stroke of a pen prevent a dam from being constructed, or order the deconstruction of one that already exists. I cannot stand before a board of directors and tell them to cease particular business practices, let alone to close up shop permanently. Not without being summarily accosted and dragged out of the room, anyway.

There are people with such power though. Certainly, there are. It is just a rare thing indeed for them to exercise it as such, but they absolutely exist. They are keenly aware of the system that they serve and how much wealth their service to this system has personally provided them with. Any inklings as to the dangers generated by their use of power that may have penetrated their thinking are likely exterminated by denial. Denial is really, really easy when everyone around you is washed in it as well. In towers of glass they laugh at our concerns, they berate us, and they devour the latest scraps of million dollar lies about how everything is just fine, how the Earth is here to be plundered, about the supremacy of man, about our right, our divine destiny really, to dominate the living world. Their great wealth proves it.

And forests fall. The oceans are trawled. A pipeline is laid.

Often we are fed a narrative that we as the general public can “vote with our dollars,” and send economic signals to the benevolent corporations of the world by purchasing only the most ethical of goods. This notion is folly for many reasons which have been largely addressed by myself and others. But I would like to take some space to dismantle the idea even further.

First, if we accept that this premise is true, we must also accept inversions of the premise. For instance, if buying ethical product A makes one innocent of ethical harms, then we are implicitly accepting that purchasing unethical product B renders one guilty of an ethical violation themselves. Why?

This thinking generates a line of reasoning in which the consumer of a product generated by unethical means is the reason the unethical means were used. Their purchase demanded such a production process. Can you see what is glaringly absent here? For one, there is no timeline. The product existed before it was purchased. The specific harm has already been executed. But even more startlingly absent from such an analysis is any agency on the part of the producer whatsoever. We are told, by those with power and money, that if people buy a thing, that the producers can only respond in one way, and that is, to continue to produce their product in like fashion. Hence, riding in a car is the reason for Arctic drilling.

But where is the agency of the board of directors of the oil company? Could they not receive the money from their previous gasoline production, and decide that their production process is dangerous to the health of the global ecology, and not continue to seek new petroleum sources? Are they robots? Do they have no minds, no consciences? Why is the underclass the sole bearer of responsibility in this equation? Very obviously, if an oil company decided to sell their assets, pay their employees dividends and to close down operations, there would be less oil and gas available for consumption. As the producer, they have far greater agency than mere purchasers.

Basically, the whole notion of supply and demand as described by capitalism’s apologists is one sided. The general public bears the responsibility to act ethically, to make sacrifices, to go through their day and to abstain from sending any price signals to the powerful, whether wittingly or not, that might stimulate another round of ecologically destructive behavior on the part of a multinational corporation. Price signals of course, cannot be resisted by businessmen. They are victims, really, of our rapacious purchasing of their wares. We are forcing their hands.

A lack of agency over our lives culminates in humiliation. We by and large feel like beings of free will, and then we make a commute we hate to a job we despise to take commands from a boss we loathe. A face on television tells us we are one of the lucky ones to get to do so. This is humiliation. It s submission to a system that degrades our dignity by converting us into automatons of misery. Our potential as autonomous actors is diminished at nearly every conceivable opportunity to reduce risk and to generate consistency. Subject to mass society and capitalism we are only slightly above necessary as the fleshy avatar of a more important notation in a ledger. We exist as nodes in a network of capital flow, and if somehow we could be eliminated, we would be. Indeed, many are.

We are dancing bears, faces painted and dolled up in lace. The master holds a whip and a gun, so we dare not strike for fear of being killed. Eventually, the master doesn’t even carry the pistol any more because we have it internalized. He knows we would not dare attack him, and the insult is doubled. We look to the other caged animals around us and think, “If only we rose up as one, surely the master could not kill us all. If only we could combine our strength and in numbers find courage. Even if we were to die in such a struggle, we at last would be free. In our final glorious moments we would be complete, we would not exist in submission, humiliation, domestication.

But the other animals are scared. They have been whipped. Some have come to defend the master. We don’t even know who we can trust. And it has been such a long time since we have lived beyond the cage. The wild intimidates us now. Can we even survive out there anymore? Can we even exist without the scraps the master feeds us? Then one day we see a tiger attack a crowd of onlookers. She has snapped. She rages beautifully for one perfectly flawed moment before a bullet quiets her. If only she had said something. If only we had acted together. If only we had turned our claws and fangs in the right direction. If only it was the master now lying in a pool of blood.

We have a lot of masters. We are made pitiful by clerks as well as clocks. We are degraded not just politicians and police but by abstractions and imaginary lines. We so badly need to forge time and space to be quiet, to meditate, to speak softly about just who we think we are. Technology interrupts. The buzzing of other people’s demands seeps in through the cracks to find us, to distract us, to constantly hurry us up, to tire us out, to intoxicate us, to leave us slumped over and worn.

So we go to the movies and watch civilization collapse. We envy those who get to rebuild, if only on the screen. If we keep buying such stories, they will keep selling them. And we will surely never live them.

Hollow Promises and Ugly Unspoken Realities


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Another climate conference has once again come and gone, echoing hollow promises and ugly unspoken realities. I won’t waste anyone’s time analyzing the verbiage of this so-called agreement which failed to even mention the term fossil fuels, probably at the behest of those who financed the entire farce, i.e. the carbon-extraction companies. Suffice it to say that countries were approving fossil fuel exploration projects before the ink of the global climate agreement had fully dried. As long as corporations are able to push environmental and social costs off their balance sheets and onto the backs of the weak and defenseless, dirty coal will be burnt and the cheapest slave labor will be employed. Questioning root causes like our inherently unsustainable way of life is still very much taboo and will remain so even after our descendants are sifting through the wreckage. Sure, mainstream publications have expanded their coverage of man-made climate change and global warming, but these existential threats to life on Earth remain an enigma to the vast majority, a footnote in some obscure textbook.

Retailers on the East Coast talk about a crisis for winter clothing sales because the weather has been too unseasonably warm to attract buyers, but nary a mention of man’s role in influencing these abnormal events, such as a super El Niño amplified by global warming. As the developed world continues to roll the climate chaos dice, we now face a higher chance of turbo-charged El Niños every 4 to 12 years and all the destruction that they bring —mass coral bleaching events, die-offs of marine mammals, record flooding and drought, crop failure and famine, refugee crises, etc. This year’s El Niño is on track to becoming the strongest on record with meteorologist Eric Holthaus exclaiming, “Our planet’s climate has undergone a step-change this year.”:


This climate “step-change” may also be indicative of a considerable underestimation of the Earth’s climate sensitivity. What should be painfully obvious by now is that the carbon footprint for everyone will have to decrease dramatically and quickly in order to slow emissions. In other words, the world’s richest will have to radically alter their lifestyles. That’s never going to happen in any variant of capitalism, a system so entrenched that it is inconceivable to imagine anything substantially different taking its place. Instead we get things like corporate greenwashing, carbon trading, decades of climate conferences, First World offshoring of manufacturing emissions into the Third World, and out-and-out fraud like the VW auto emissions scandal. The problem has been identified for nearly half a century, yet we continue to deceive ourselves with half-baked solutions and hypocritical indignation. The inertia of the system is simply too great and the dominant culture has a tendency to kill the messenger of bad news, so there is a strong incentive to sugarcoat things, but a deus ex machina is nowhere on the horizon. We’ll only change in response to the hard realities from an increasingly inhospitable planet. Sunken costs and material incentives built into our socio-economic system prevent radical change and fetishize the myth of the easy techno-fix, a yet-to-be-invented technology that will magically sustain modern civilization while at the same time keep the wolves of ecological collapse at bay. Even more delusional, a prominent tech magnate has urged humanity to pursue interstellar colonization before we render the Earth uninhabitable, but as an internet commenter quipped, “A post-nuclear war, global warming-baked and hyper polluted Earth will still be paradise compared to Mars.” Some technophiles admit the future actually looks rather grim:

…But the most worrisome threats are not merely anthropogenic, they’re technogenic. They arise from the fact that advanced technologies are (a) dual-use in nature, meaning that they can be employed for both benevolent and nefarious purposes; (b) becoming more powerful, thereby enabling humans to manipulate and rearrange the physical world in new ways; and (c) in some cases, becoming more accessible to small groups, including, at the limit, single individuals…

Just as technology is not neutral, so too is the economic system driving this technology. The institution of capitalism, which has been copied and exported all over the world since WW II, has established widespread acceptance for the condition of mass production, mass consumption, and waste at an ever accelerating rate, pushing the world deeper and deeper into ecological crisis. For example, the ubiquity of plastics now exhibits itself as microscopic pieces on every beach in the world and in our dinner with trillions more pieces in the oceans than previously thought. Scientists estimate that nearly all sea birds will be ingesting some sort of plastic by 2050. In spite of this growing evidence of a plasticised planet, the production of plastics has only increased while recycling remains an effort in futility:

For more than 50 years, global production of plastic has continued to rise. Some 299 million tons of plastics were produced in 2013, representing a 3.9 percent increase over 2012’s output. With a market driven by consumerism and convenience, along with the comparatively low price of plastic materials, demand for plastic is growing. Recovery and recycling, however, remain insufficient, and millions of tons of plastics end up in landfills and oceans each year – link

There’s no going back from this global complexity trap we’ve built around ourselves. All those bits of plastic will end up in the sedimentary layer of the Anthropocene along with elevated concentrations of CO2, radionuclides from nuclear fallout and waste, as well as novel metals and pollutants never before seen. Once underway, mass extinctions cannot be reversed, especially when driven by over seven billion pleasure-seeking, individualistic “consumers”. Materialism and greed, we are told, are natural human instincts, and they are all too eagerly rewarded by an economic system which reduces everything to a financial object and monetizes every aspect of the natural world. Today’s environmentalism is, as Derrick Jensen pointed out, similar to the palliative care given to prisoners in Nazi Germany death camps. The emaciated ecological ghosts of so many species are right before us, yet nearly everyone is blind to the unfolding catastrophe of the 6th mass extinction:

…we lose a huge chunk of the world’s diversity that will never come back. We lose the potential for communication with other lifeforms, with the only remaining ones eventually whittled down to domesticated animals or weed species that thrive in civilized man’s destructive footsteps. The conversation of life itself is turning into small talk, but the only recognition that seems to be made by this culture is how [biodiversity loss] “reduces carbon storage”. How trees and animals can provide “ecosystem services”, as if they existed for nothing more than to continue the existence of the mad king ape. – pathofraven

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Yes, we are pretty far gone when a four minute comedy routine makes more sense than anything broadcasted on the evening news. Corporate mass media-controlled public debates have degenerated into infomercial sound bites. In a society where success is measured by the key metrics of money and profit, it should be no surprise that a wealthy, xenophobic businessman is able to garner mass appeal by hogging publicity and playing on the fears and base desires of the populus. “Make America Great Again” is a catchy slogan for a society ignorant of the collapsing world around them and oblivious to the over-consumptive, profligate way of life that is proving to be their undoing. For a celebrity-obsessed culture whose world is falling apart, the next logical choice for its leader would seem to be a reality TV show star who says he can restore the illusion of the American dream and build a great wall to keep all the riff-raff out.

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A fascist right-wing administration might just provide that extra push that takes us all over the edge into collapse. With the Presidency largely serving as a figurehead position for the Deep State, I’m not convinced a different candidate would make a measurable difference in the grand scheme of things anyway. Our “democracy” is, after all, just one more illusion in a bread-and-circus election cycle:

“Today, we must look to the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, as a metaphor of our national character and aspiration, its symbol a thirty-foot-high cardboard picture of a slot machine and a chorus girl. For Las Vegas is a city entirely devoted to the idea of entertainment, and as such proclaims the spirit of a culture in which all public discourse increasingly takes the form of entertainment. Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.” – Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business


So while terrorism takes center stage in the overstretched Empire of Amnesia, remember this simple fact: 303 Americans were killed in terrorist attacks worldwide in the last decade while 320,523 Americans were killed because of gun violence in that same time period. Random mass shootings, capitalism’s “free market” genocides, the disruption of the Holocene’s stable climate regime by anthropogenic climate disruption, tipping points in the earth’s biosphere, terminal industrial disease, and many other things come to mind that pose a much bigger danger to the average American, but the War on Terror, conceived as open-ended, serves as a conveniently omnipresent boogieman for jerking the chain of the taxpayer and justifying the growth of an intrusive security state. What better way to control the masses as the wheels continue coming off the global economy and the biosphere becomes evermore threadbare. The rich will retreat into their luxury spider holes until the coast is clear.

Incantations of Gratitude


He said that men believe the blood of the slain to be of no consequence but that the wolf knows better. He said that the wolf is a being of great order and that it knows what men do not: that there is no order in this world save that which death has put there.
Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing

She gave me leather gloves and said, “They’ll scratch the shit out of you.” A size too small, I pulled her tight gloves onto my hands. By the tuft of the rabbit’s neck, I pulled him through the opening of the wire hutch. As I walked toward the post, I tried holding him by his back legs, upside down, so that the blood would rush to his head an he would drowse. The rabbit screamed.

“They don’t like to be upside down,” she said.

I righted him. “It works with chickens,” I offered. Then I raised the rabbit, almost like an offering to the gray morning sky, so I could gently lower him into the steel breaking bar. He kicked a bit, then calmed. “It’s your death. Meet it how you choose. I’d probably kick and scream too.” Through the trees the pond was visible down the slope before us. My wife stood with my daughter on the dock, looking at the turtles and the fish as they moved in the cold black water.

“It’s OK. It’s OK.” I was gently stroking the rabbit’s plush fur. “Look at the trees. See the sky. It’s a beautiful day.” My voice was hush. My intention was to keep the rabbit calm. But still I wondered if my human touch was repugnant to the rabbit. Is the sound of my voice wretched to his mind? Is there such a thing as a tender executioner? When I said, “travel well,” might it have been better to say nothing it all?

With a firm hold of the rabbit’s rear legs and then a thrust, I pulled down and back towards my knees. The process repeated, five in all, each neck broken as decisively as I could offer, each rabbit given a moment of calm, each life acknowledged before each death delivered.

“Thank you for being nice to them,” she said.
“Of course.” My God, of course.

Five rabbits for twenty dollars and a handful of butternut squash. Her freezer full of meat, she didn’t want to kill anything else this year. Killing isn’t easy. It leaves a stain, and I hope it always does. My family is still without a deer. Five rabbits do not add up to a lot of meat, but they will carry for now. With two hands I carefully lifted each dead rabbit and placed them in a cardboard box. My wife and daughter climbed the hill. We made pleasantries. The box was warm when I loaded it into the trunk.

December is not usually this warm. This fall has been the warmest in the lower fourty-eight United States since record keeping began. Deluges of rainfall have flooded Chennai in India, as well as Ireland and the UK. Seven-hundred-thousand people are evacuating in advance of a typhoon in the Philippines. Meanwhile, winter rains are failing to materialize in Africa, portending drought conditions next year. Representatives of the global elite have once again walked away from an international climate summit with nothing to show but a palisade of words constructed to deflect real conversation about turning off the killing machine of industrial capitalism. They boarded jet planes to return home, and I stood outside in a sleeveless shirt two weeks before the winter solstice as my daughter and I pulled green onions from our garden that we could lay over the rabbit as we cooked it over a pit fire.

In the circles of power, I am sure there are back pats and hand shakes to accompany the praise of a job well done in Paris. To be sure, I imagine there are plenty of western liberals who believe some form of progress was made at the COP 21. Conversely, those of us on the fringes probably expected just such a result. No hard lines, no painful cuts, no discussion of deindustrialization or plans to decrease the consumption rates of the first world or the financial largesse of the wealthy. The fact that an international conference on climate change has official corporate sponsors from automobile companies to airlines and banks should be a blood red flag to anyone with even the most beta of bullshit detectors. Growth was still the order of the day. This is a system that cannot see itself, let alone confront itself. This is a system that completely lacks the ability to stop itself from destroying the habitat of the Earth. Is there any word more applicable to such a system than psychopathic? Maybe omnicidal? Watching at the neoliberal attempt to address climate change is like watching a serial killer at the end of their career; they are getting sloppy because they want to be caught, they want to be stopped, they know they have zero control of their death urge. They won’t turn themselves in, but they will leave abundant clues as to their identity.

Advertisements for AirFrance plastered on a Parisian bus stop are the killer’s semen stain left on the victim’s bedsheets. Please catch me. I cannot help myself. Stop me before I kill again.

An inability to confront ourselves seems to be a defining characteristic of our age. Examples abound on the macro and micro level. The social media obsession highlights the trend nicely, as millions upon millions of people spend hours a day meticulously crafting an image of themselves that they want to convince the world is genuine. From Facebook to Instagram, the obsession du jour is taking photos of oneself and then sitting back and waiting for other humans, also likely obsessed with taking photos of themselves, to tell you how fantastic you look or how interesting to appear to be. After harvesting “likes,” the high of such fickle and ephemeral attention fades, and it’s back to the bathroom mirror.

On a grander stage, we in the United States are now forced to endure the asinine behavior of a man-child braggart whose particular appeal as a potential presidential candidate appears to be the fact that he is perfectly comfortable being cruel to others, and that he has made a personal commitment to being as inconsiderate in his speech and action as possible. Of course, his defenders describe this behavior as a positive salvo against those who force us to all be “politically correct.” It requires very little effort to dismantle such an argument. What is really happening is that in recent years, challenges to society’s entrenched and predominantly unspoken white and male supremacy have been vocalized more frequently and with more support. These challenges make the beneficiaries of systemic racism and misogyny uncomfortable primarily because they were never cognizant of the leg up they have always received by being the “default” person, and they thusly feel that they are personally under attack for crimes they never committed.

Then along comes a powerful white man who tells his supporters he won’t cow to social justice warriors. Naturally, a lot of white men line up to carry his banner. The grand irony, is that this man is very wealthy. The declining standard of living amongst the middle class is a direct result of neoliberal economic policies enacted by the rich. Rich white men want poor white men to think it is foreigners who have undermined their economic viability, when in all reality, it was Wal-Mart. It was NAFTA. It was cheap labor abroad and cheap oil to ship goods around the globe. How the rich are able to convince the middle class that the poor are their greatest threat is a feat so counter intuitive that you almost want to applaud their ability to craft an illusion. How a billionaire has been able to convince millions of Americans that he can protect them from the machinations of politicians who have been bought by wealthy donors is downright stupifying.

Bravo, America. You have the political savvy of a goldfish.

But this is what happens. Vonnegut might just say, “and so it goes.” Nothing should surprise us now. We are in an age of consequences. An inability to look at ourselves and take stock of who we truly are and what our context actually is will lead to a world of a myriad of conflicting narratives. We cannot build a cogent society if even agreeing upon the nature of the basic building blocks of that society has become impossible. We stand along the road to greater social fracture. Indeed, we have been walking this path for a long time. Without the ability to synthesize healthy communities autonomously, we have been cordoned in by artificial borders. The rich have become startlingly rich, and as they have done so they have created various high pressure systems that are directly adjacent to low pressure systems, and the joinery of this impending disaster has consistently been state force, police violence, and a non-stop torrent of propaganda and myth to convince the masses that it is all for their benefit, for their protection, and further, that this state of affairs is exceptional, so exceptional in fact that the heathen hordes about the globe are frothing mad in their desire to take it from them.

It is said that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” I would suggest that such fury is outmatched by the violent potential of a man entirely convinced of his righteousness. Keeping apace with the decline of civilization often has us looking at economic indicators, energy returns, political turmoil, and the quickening rate at which the climate is destabilized and species are driven into extinction. All fair sign posts, to be sure. But on the day to day, one of my greater concerns is the absence of humility, grace, and self reflection which as a trend seems to inversely correlate with a spike in the abundance of self righteous vitriol. The outsizing and emphasizing of ego is a decline in spiritual quality, for lack of a better term, and it is the hand maiden of our global crises; affected by and then re-effecting.

John Michael Greer on his blog, The Well of Galabes, defined magic as “the traditional craft of causing changes in consciousness in accordance with will.” Whether or not you believe in magic of any kind, it is clear that the human consciousness and will are the fore-horses of human action, and when hundreds of millions, if not billions, of humans are at a time collectively convinced to perpetuate the premises and trends of civilization, be it the infallible nature of capitalism, the primacy of the western “way of life,” white supremacy or that Allah would want you to throw a person off of a building because that person is homosexual, the power we possess is manipulated into feeding the furnaces of a death cult.

Of course, it is easy to highlight this trend when it manifests amongst the most visibly powerful or violent groups. Truly, it is prevalent too amongst people who claim to fight for the oppressed, the poor, and the vulnerable. Even those who claim no desire to conquer or to control become so convinced of their position, so damn sure that they are right, that furious anger and venom is let fly horizontally even at the bottom of the barrel. Warriors for the working class so entrenched in their analysis about race, or sexuality, or gender, that it seems impossible to think they have ever spent time with the people they wish to help liberate. Fall in line with my thinking, or line up against a wall.

It is a long wall indeed, with room for all of us, and so many willing executioners.

Our power as humans is vast, possibly boundless. On the whole, our wisdom is not commensurate with this power. Knowing when not to apply power is central to using it intelligently. Can you hold a gun and not point it someone? Can you be given a chainsaw and not clear cut a forest for profit? Can you unlock the petroleum from its deeps but choose to leave it there? Can you have a voice, but not speak until you are sure that doing so is appropriate; is necessary? Every day we apply our intention to the world, and the vast majority of this application is as thoughtless as flicking a cigarette butt out the car window. Then we wonder why the world burns.

The unforgiving pace of capitalism exponentially exacerbates this problem. Nothing can be slow. Not movement, not communication. How can an instantaneous world be a thoughtful world? How can a twenty four hour civilization with light speed demands for your attention and response court the deliberate hand, the calm voice, or the well crafted response? Eight billion humans all living in a lightning round, shouting, responding, and firing their intentions into a storm of chaos and collision. Then consequence, response, repeat, and the storm grows.

Here we are on the precipice of global ecological calamity, frail worlds dancing on a razor blown back and forth by the whims of mad men, and I fear that the wisdom the situation requires is not only not present, it is not welcome.

Salt falls to the Earth as I drag the dull knife across the hide. Bits of remaining meat and fat collect on the edge of the blade, and I pick off the pink wads that gather there and flick them to the ground. Fleshing a hide is time consuming and skill intensive. My back aches a bit as I lean over the plywood the hides are nailed down to. The world is made of blood and bone and I am so grateful to be a part of it.

Cold wind blows. I massage egg yolk into the skin. If these rabbit hides tan well, my wife wants to use them to create a cloak for our daughter. I just want to get better at the process.

Viscera has been given to the chickens. In the compost pile I buried the rabbit’s heads. Before pulling the decaying plant matter over them, I placed lettuce leaves and turnip greens in the hole. An offering. Gratitude. There are surely people who think it is superstitious or perhaps merely self serving to do so. I don’t give a good God damn. It feels right. I

In Centuries and Seconds


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From PrayforCalamity

She was a yearling. Not very large, maybe one hundred pounds I would guess, as I was able to easily hoist her body into the back of my Jeep. Gauging by the blood leaking from her ears and mouth and lack of any other visible wounds, I assumed the car that killed her struck her in the head, possibly breaking her neck. What I could not gauge was how long she had been lying dead on the side of the highway. Her eyes were open and not yet eaten by birds, and her anus was also free of any infestation. I chuckle to myself when I imagine the reaction more domesticated individuals might have if they knew that there are people like myself who assess the edibility of roadkill by the presence of uncorrupted eyes and assholes. To be fair, I also took stock of the stiffness of her body and the lack of any immediately offensive odors emanating from it. She was worth taking home for a greater look, anyway.

From a cross beam of the carport I anchored a carabiner, and I fastened another to the yearling’s hind legs so I could create a “z-rig” pulley system, effectively halving her weight so that I could hoist her body into the air and tie of the cordage without help from a second person. My partner was going to come outside and watch the dressing so she could have a greater understanding of the process, and she bundled up our daughter too, who showed no fear or anxiety concerning the large animal hanging dead before her. Gently, I explained that the deer had died, and I was going to harvest its meat for us to eat. Not yet two, she stood looking at the yearling and said, “Deer, off.”

“Yes honey, the deer is off.”
“Deer, on?”
“She can’t be turned back on. Once something dies, it cannot come back to life. But her spirit and her flesh return to the Earth.”
“Deer, off.”
“Yes baby.”

The year is closing as we approach the winter solstice. From the corners we inhabit, we watch the fallout from terrorist attacks in Paris and the downing of a Russian war plan by the Turkish military. Those who tally the climate statistics are telling us that 2015 is set to be the warmest year on record, globally. South Africa grapples with drought, the rainforests of the Amazon are burning, and world leaders sent to negotiate climate deals are converging on a Paris conveniently locked down by security forces preventing mass demonstrations under emergency restrictions imposed due to the aforementioned terrorist attacks. Not that it matters. Floats and puppets are fun to look at, but only a complete restructuring of society could address the challenge of climate change, and that restructuring begins with erasing existing borders and property lines, canceling existing debts, dismantling industrial infrastructure, and of course, toppling the standing systems of power. The puppets and street theater capable of such feats, I would love to see. As I have previously stated (and my blog name continually hints at) I do not believe humans capable of achieving such goals, at least, not without a little help from our friends calamity and chaos. The gatekeepers are just too well equipped to stave off conscious revolution. If you want to get into the citadel, you will just have to wait until a tornado throws a bulldozer through the wall, or a plague kills most of the guards.

Until then we watch, we wait, and we endure. We keep repeating the conventional wisdom of collapse; that which cannot be sustained, will not sustain. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it didn’t collapse in a day, either. The collapse of a civilization is not one event, but the consummation of many events that eventually birth a catastrophe that overwhelms the ability of that civilization’s people to rebuild what has been destroyed, whether material or social.

Fast collapse and slow collapse are really the same thing, looked at from different vantage points. What is built over centuries can end in seconds.

November 16, 1532. Francisco Pizarro has one hundred and sixty eight men laying an ambush in the Inca city of Cajamarca. Atahualpa, the emperor of the Inca empire, arrives for a meeting with the Spanish backed by an unarmed cadre of six thousand. A friar and barely competent translator tell Atahualpa they are there, in essence, to bring the Inca into the fold of the Catholic church and the Spanish empire, and they offer him a bible as a seal of their truth. As was to be expected, and likely, the intention of the Spanish, Atahualpa rejects what he is being offered. This rejection of the bible and the truth of the Catholic church gave the Spaniards what they considered to be legal grounds to attack the Inca who had amassed there. A century of empire with its conquest, expansion, and grandeur, could be said, to have ended in the following seconds.

Those seconds, however, were the ripe culmination of years of internal strife concerning who the rightful heir to the imperial throne was, a waning ability of the empire to effectively control far flung principalities, and a plague of smallpox brought to Mesoamerica by Europeans that advanced faster than conquistadors on horseback. Political turmoil and disease were eating away at the Inca empire, and the Spanish arrived just in time to add the critical pressure necessary to break it. And they had guns.

History, of course, is complex, and the fall of the Inca empire extended beyond the massacre at Cajamarca, as Pizarro played disaffected Inca regions against the center, installed puppet emperors, and fought rebellions. As the colonization of the Inca proceeded, European diseases continued to decimate the indigenous population as well. The Inca actually learned how to effectively defeat the advantage of firearms, but the viruses ravaging their insides were too much.

Depending on where we stand, we can focus on the centuries or the seconds.

If tomorrow the Dow Jones Industrial plummeted by seventy percentage points or NATO declared war on Russia, we would likely see those seconds as the critical break between the past and the future, the old world and the new. But of course, years of maneuvering by humans and the consequences of those movements all came together to generate just the specific combination of factors required to outflank the established firewalls civilization has established to protect itself, and to outpace the efforts at rebuilding that are guaranteed in the aftermath of catastrophe. Resource scarcity primarily in the sphere of fossil fuel energy, the manipulation of capital to the point of diminishing returns by the global ultra-wealthy, the decimation of ecosystems around the world; all have played their part in dressing the set for those critical seconds that seem to hang over us like a sword.

How does an organism die? If you magnify the death of any given being, presumably you can find one second, one still frame in time that separates living from dying. When we die of old age in the most quintessential of circumstances – our heads atop a fluffed down pillow as we lie repose in a king-sized bed replete with Egyptian cotton sheets and a mahogany headboard, family and adorers walling in our bedside and wishing us fair travels as we draw a final breath, smile, and say something childishly simple yet agonizingly profound – a critical second passes when our heart ceases to beat, electrical impulses in our brain fade, and we’re gone. The room exhales.

But we were dying for so long. How many years had it been since our body’s ability to repair cellular breakdown was outpaced by the aging process? We had peaked decades before. From that point forward, despite every adventure, every new idea, every material acquisition, we were hurtling ever forward toward our imminent demise. Our vision blurred, so a doctor prescribed us glasses. Our heart stuttered, so we began taking pills. Our mobility waned so we got a Hov-R-Round from the Scooter Store thanks to the endless advertisements targeted towards we septuagenarians aired on day time TV. We pressed on.

Our bodies contain countless living beings and units; cells, tissues, and bacteria that all comprise the whole of what we perceive as our self. A veritable civilization that is born and advances through stages of growth and maturation until the energy necessary to maintain integrity is outpaced by diminishing returns. We insert techno-fixes of every imaginable stripe to stem the twin tides of time and entropy, buying what time we can until the inevitable enters stage left to take us by the hand and demurley return us to the soil.

Civilizations are no different. Shaped in centuries, defined in seconds, feeding the fertile soils of time. Billions of human hands and minds carving, digging, screaming, warring, building, repairing, maintaining until it just isn’t enough and the center can no longer hold. Hydraulic fracturing, negative interest rates, solar arrays and soyburgers all applied to patch the holes and to bail the bilge water. Industrial civilization passed its peak decades ago, sometime around the time when women in skirts freely attended University in Kabul and the United States didn’t need to stand guard over Wahhabist Monarchs in the House of Saud in order to keep the game of growth afloat. Selfie sticks and social media stock options are your glasses and nitroglycerin. The internet is your Hov-R-Round. Do not kid yourself into thinking this is a civilization still in the wild throws of maturation and bloom. The billions of organisms that make this civilization possible are under threat, from phytoplankton to pollinating insects and carbon sequestering trees, all of whom feed the the billions of humans who swing hammers and pour concrete and fit pipes and string lines and who somehow, by some curse of the lottery of birth, drag themselves to the factories and cubicle farms day in and day out, all to keep this storm born Galleon afloat. Shaped in so many of our precious seconds, defined in the roil of faceless centuries, feeding the fertile soils of time.

The car struck her head, I had guessed. Her life probably ended quickly in a split second of sound and light. Without any abrasions on the body, I assumed the meat would be well preserved by the cold evening air. With only a beam of light to guide my hands under the dark of night, I gently separated her hide from her flesh, using light strokes of my knife to cut away at the membrane that held her skin to her flesh. Something was wrong. Her skin had a green tone in places around her ribs. I cut away more, examining the muscle as I worked. The green hue, almost an electric blue really, blotted here and there on her leg muscles, like watercolor oceans on an aging map. Hoping the backstrap was untainted I continued to skin the deer, but it was hopeless. On her left hind leg a subcutaneous tear in the protective membrane had likely allowed the passage of bacteria. She must have been spun or thrown by the vehicle in some fashion that impacted her rear leg with a substantial force.

The meat was inedible. I sighed in the night. Fog from my mouth drifted upwards as I set my knife down, and lowered her body. Walking beneath the stars I carried the yearling downhill, briars grabbing at my boots, twigs snapping underfoot. I thanked her and apologized while burying her under a light blanket of leaves. Coyotes, buzzards, someone would eat her. Someone with an enviable array of gut flora. I plodded and crunched my way home to wash the blood from my hands and wrists. The smell would last for days.

Your Worst Enemy


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Cross Posted from:

Cold northern air pushed south for a few days granting us the slight chill we have come to expect on a November morning. Heavy winds rattled the bare fingers of oak and hickory like blades of prairie grass. Woodsmoke seasoned the air and warmed my soul as I walked the compost toilet bucket out to the pile to be dumped and covered. Two days later temperatures were right back up again as firearm deer hunting season opened. I wanted to spend my Sunday morning waiting quietly in a tree, scanning the ridge line for a sizable white tail, but decided against it when I saw that the high for the day would be seventy degrees. The forecast calls for the cool air to return, so for now, I postpone the hunt, and cross my fingers in the hope that driving home from work late at night I will see a freshly hit roadkill deer that I can harvest instead. Their habitat long converted to highway, I honestly prefer making use of a collision killed deer than pulling the trigger anyway.

The collapse blogs and forums are often rife with talk of such things. There are those who suggest that in a world where grocery stores are shuttered or where there is no money to purchase what they might still contain, people will need to return to hunting and foraging where possible. At such suggestions, there are those who counter that the skill to harvest and process and meat is lost of the vast majority of the population. There are others who then counter that actually, in such a scenario the fields and streams would quickly be stripped bare of any game or fish as hordes of people begin shooting at anything that moves, whether they know how to properly process and preserve the meat or not. After years of collapse minded discussion on the internet, I think it is fair to say that there are many pockets of cliches and conventional wisdoms that have taken root and found their loyalties. Fast collapse, slow collapse, hyper inflation, deflationary depression, bug out, bug in, long slow die off, near term human extinction, etc. ad nauseam. Flow charts of collapse hypothesis each complete with their experts and their laundry list of survival purchases.

Over the years I have found myself settling in the realm of thought promoted by the Dark Mountain Project. I do my best not to make a lot of predictions that don’t go beyond vague guesses at trends, and I primarily try to push the notions of personal and communal endurance, adaptability, and dignity. History’s arc is very long, and it is easy to find ourselves as individuals belonging to a time that we believe from where we stand to be of particular importance or meaning. Such assumptions are vanity. The decline of industrial civilization, yes, will result in the creation of miserable conditions for most of humanity, and as we live through and beyond such times, we shall be tested. We are not going to solve the major crises. We are going to be called upon to endure them. Such endurance is likely beyond many in the western world who have never imagined, let alone suffered true hardship. The age of fossil fuels has not only softened rich bodies, but it has softened rich hearts and minds. It has convinced many that death and pain are an unfairness, one that we could, and should, banish from existence. More vanity. More hubris. To be sure, more blindness, as such soft minds are closed off to the suffering and death that formed the foundation of their very comfort to begin with.

Banish your vanity now. Welcome the dirt under your fingernails. Accept that you are not, nor your culture, the protagonist in a meaningful drama. Visions and stories you have created in your mind in which you are a central performer are phantoms of your own amusement. Dispel them. Be here. Take a good stock of who you actually are.

Mutant zombie bikers (MZB’s for short) are the foil of those who monitor collapse. MZB’s are the unwashed masses. Unprepared for collapse, they don their truck tire armor and necklaces strung with the teeth of their victims and then move over the suburbs and hinterlands seeking families and farmers to massacre in their grand quest for canned peaches, gasoline, and murderous skin harvesting glory. They are the primary enemy portrayed in the dystopian future sketched out in most collapse related conversation.

I would like to offer a counter notion; your worst enemy will be yourself. This suggestion, I hope, can steer us from the primacy of the notion that navigating social collapse is going to be best achieved by those who most willingly point guns at everyone else.

If in fact, a grand collapse of sorts occurs and the social and economic systems that the vast majority of people rely upon fail, it will not likely be a man built like a WWE wrestler riding a tricked out Harley and brandishing a flaming nail bat who kills you. It will be your own inability to work with a group. It will be your own lifetime of poor health choices. It will be all of the ebooks about wild edible plants that you downloaded and never read. It will be your hubris, your panic, your depression, your anger, and primarily your inability to adapt to unpredictable and ever changing conditions.

For what it is worth, this is the concept I would like to toss into the gyre of collapse discussion. How self improvement now not only increases one’s chances of survival in the event of any emergency, short or long, but further, how such improvement greatly benefits one’s life even in the absence of societal breakdown. Successfully navigating dire circumstances that present physical, mental, and emotional challenges requires fortitude on all fronts – body, mind, and soul. Doing the work to improve oneself on these fronts is not likely to be a waste should calamity never strike, in the same way that “prepper” purchases of five years worth of EZ Mac and banana chips might be. Mice will never eat your improved physical stamina. A flood will not wash away your uncluttered mind.

Let’s face it, life in the modern era in western nations has shaped most of our interactions to flow along the patterns and dictates of the economic system; capitalism. Short, shrift transactions where one exchanges paper notes for food do not establish a bond between buyer and seller. More often than not, the owner of such food is not even present, and we interact with low wage workers who operate cash registers, and the bulk of our acquisitions of necessities is at the behest of a system which at times even generates resentment of all the other humans around us. We are infuriated by traffic, long lines, and crowded spaces. Community bonds are threadbare. True reliance on one and other that flows equally back and forth is rare. So what happens when this social and economic paradigm crumbles? Do you have the ability to work well in a group? Can you keep from yelling or being over bearing? Do you dominate conversations and interrupt others? Do you dismiss women or people who aren’t white? Do you even notice if or when you do these things? When the humans around you become a de facto band that must cooperate to survive, can you set your ego and your ideology aside? Can you be the first to give before having received? Can you politely disagree? It may seem silly to present such concerns, but truly, communication has been so degraded by generations of commercial transaction replacing communal reciprocity, not to mention newly invented forms of abbreviated, faceless, eye-contactless device to device texting, that I think a focus on just being able to talk to one another in order to effectively organize crisis response should be a priority. Do you really want to find yourself outcast because everyone around you thinks that your a blowhard asshole?

Of course, habits that trend in the opposite direction could be just as deadly. Are you a doormat? Do you speak up for yourself? Are you easily manipulated? Do you fear speaking your mind when your opinion is unpopular? Can you say “no” and mean it? An ability to judge when to defer to group dynamics and when to pull back from activities you believe to be foolish, dangerous, or a waste of energy is crucial. Of course, navigating the emotions and egos of others is a delicate matter, and doing so forms the basis of politics. When your life is on the line, you will need to swallow your pride one day, draw a line in the sand the next, and hopefully make the right choice as to the when and why for both.

Meanwhile, our habits and addictions will haunt us when all of the usual patterns change, and then change again. If right now you are a smoker, a drinker, if you are addicted to sugar, to caffeine (my personal drug of choice) or just happen to need a particular anti-depressant or antipsychotic to get out of bed, how will you fare when the chemicals your brain requires to function are not available? What is your current physical status? Here in the US, the lion’s share of the population travels by some form of petroleum powered vehicle on a regular basis. Has this made you a bit soft around the middle? Or has a steady diet of sugar softened you sort of all over? The ability to walk long distances over varied terrain while carrying a load, perhaps water, perhaps wood, perhaps a child, would probably serve well. The ability to defend yourself without a weapon, would probably serve well. The ability to live two weeks on nothing but mashed turnips without flipping out on everyone around you at the slightest annoyance because your body is craving a Diet Coke and a Parliament Light might just serve you well.

And I am not pitching machismo. I know too well that a smile, a nod, a low calm voice, can in the right circumstances carry more power than a grounded right cross. Well rounded and adaptable, clear headed and resourceful, that is what I am pitching.

This is why I decry the prepper mentality of stockpiling large caches of goods. That is just consumerism. That is just altering a bad habit to feel like a good habit. Sure, having food in the house, useful tools, toilet paper and jumper cables does make sense. Twenty-Five buckets of mylar sealed white sugar is an absurdity. No matter what emergency you encounter, be it a car accident on a stormy evening, a house fire, or full on “the-grid-went-down-thanks-to-Chinese-hackers-cracked-out-on-energy-drinks-and-promises-of-state-provided-communist-love-girls,” the one thing you will always have on you, is you. Your mind, your body, and your spirit are primary. If these are out of balance or in a dysfunctional state, why would you assume that a Rubbermaid Tub full of Pepto-Bismol would be of any use?

You need to fill your mind, hone your body, and steel your spirit. This is a constant as we live. The work never stops. But as we travel, and work at our wisdom, our knowledge, and our fitness, we must also learn how to successfully integrate this blossoming self with others. Communities don’t just happen, because trust doesn’t just happen; communication doesn’t just happen.

Tribe is hard. Manufactured tribe, anyway. I have never experienced a true tribe; a family linked through time and space, culture and common cause. What I have experienced are groups of people who came together with grand purpose. The torment of hours long meetings with Occupy, the drama of interpersonal conflicts with pipeline blockades, the sheer inability to commit to the work required at failed communes and intentional communities; I have seen it all. In each case, there was success and their was failure. In each case, good intentions ran head first into fatigue, a lack of resources, and at times, post traumatic stress. And in each of those cases, the greater support system of society still existed as a fall back. Dirty, cold and hungry, I watched people do unexpectedly amazing things, no doubt. But stores still had food, even if the only food we could afford was in the dumpster. We could check out, step back, any time we wanted. When the stress of it all was too much to bear, one could return to the “real world” and level out. A collapse scenario will offer no such quarter.

It is said that tough times don’t last, but tough people do. I am not trying to sell some notion of myself as complete or without flaw. I am just as guilty of seeing myself not as I am, but as I have imagined myself to be. I possess plenty of traits and habits which I need to work to better, starting with my ability to calmly and accurately communicate. If I were slower to frustrate and to anger, that would likely be a boon. Despite the constant work that living in a post collapse world would require, I could personally benefit from a greater ability to slow down, to sit still, and to meditate. To just breathe and exist. I think it would strengthen my spirit, even if only by allowing me to take in more beauty and joy that I currently let pass me by in favor of tending to endless tasks. We talk tirelessly about survival, but forget sometimes that without attention to the things that make life worth living, we can never truly thrive.

The time to work on ourselves, is now. Your communication, your patience, and your tolerance, all are best improved now while daily caloric intake doesn’t necessarily rest upon them. The time to break habits of sloth, or poor diet, or of resistance to any work that makes muscles sore and brow sweat, is now. The time to take self dense classes and to increase your self confidence and endurance, is now. The time to abandon phantom notions of your protagonist self in favor of honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses while simultaneously relieving yourself of your doughy first world comfort requirements, is now. Take cold showers. Eat more vegetables. Forgive small debts. Compliment and be patient with others. Walk.

Of course, the hard part is that the pizza is still hot, the beer still cold, and the new season of Game of Thrones is on, and all of it is available twenty-four seven and you wouldn’t even have to speak to another human being, let alone be kind to them, to get any of it. And there is work. And there are bills to pay. Maybe next month when I get a little further ahead. I’ll quit smoking. I’ll quit drinking. I’ll spend less time on the internet and more time with other people. Next month.

You are your worst enemy, but you don’t have to be.