One of the many recurring themes and ideas that appear at The Spiral Staircase is that the essential form taken by consciousness is story or narrative. Story enables us to orient ourselves in the world and make it somewhat intelligible. It should not be overlooked that it is we who tell ourselves stories, narrating life as we go via the inner voice no less than attending to the great stories that inform culture. The Bible is one such story (or collection of stories), though its message is interpreted with a scandalously high degree of controversy. (I’m especially intrigued by Paula Hay’s thesis over at Mythodrome that the story of The Fall is really about the loss of animism, not a literal expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The Tao Te Ching and the Qur’an are similar, one might even say, competing stories from other world cultures.) Story has taken on many forms throughout history, beginning with oral tradition. Setting epics in song and/or verse made them memorable, since fixed written forms came rather late in history (conceived in terms of tens of thousands of years). The appearance of books eroded oral tradition gradually, and the transition of the book into an everyday object after the invention of the printing press eventually helped undermine the authority of the Medieval Church, which housed libraries and trained clerics in the philosophical, ecclesiastical, and scientific (as it was then understood) interpretation of texts. Story continued its development in the Romantic novel and serial fiction, which attracted a mass audience. Today, however, with literacy in decline, cinema and television are the dominant forms of story.
Many categories, types, and genres of story have evolved in fiction. Considering that story arcs typically progress from calm to conflict to resolution, the nature of conflict and the roles we are asked to assume through identification with characters (often archetypal) are a subtly effective vehicle for learning and mind control. Those whose minds have been most deeply and successfully infiltrated are often the same who argue vociferously in defense of a given story, no matter the evidence, with arguments playing out in political spheres and mass media alike. In addition to lighter fare such as RomComs and coming-of-age stories, both of which define not-yet-fully-formed characters through their solidifying relationships, we get hero/antihero/superhero, war, and dystopian tales, where characters tend to be chiseled in place, mostly unchanging as action and events around them take center stage. It is significant that in such tales of conflict, antagonists typically appear from outside: political opponents, foreigners and terrorists, aliens (from space), and faceless, nameless threats such as infectious disease that one might poetically regard as destiny or fate. They threaten to invade, transform, and destroy existing society, which must be defended at all cost even though, ironically, no one believes on a moment’s contemplation it’s really worth saving. Exceptionally, the antagonist is one of us, but an aberrant, outlying example of us, such as a domestic terrorist or serial killer. And while plenty of jokes and memes float around in public that we are often our own worst enemies, becoming the monsters we aim to defeat, stories that identify our full, true threat to ourselves and the rest of creation precisely because of who we are and how we now live are relatively few.
In light of the story of industrial collapse, probably the biggest, baddest story of all time but which is only told and understood in fleeting glimpses, it occurred to me that at least two shows found in cinema and TV have gotten their basic stories mostly correct: The Matrix (predominantly the first film) and The Terminator (the TV show to a greater degree than the movie franchise). In both, a very few possess the truth: knowledge of our enslavement (actual or prospective) to machines of our own invention. Characters in the matrix may feel a sense of unease, of the projected reality being somehow off, but only a few take the notorious red pill and face reality in all its abject despair while most prefer the blue pill (or more accurately, no pill) and the blissful ignorance of illusion. Traveling back and forth between realities (one known to be quite false), the ultrachic glamor and superhero antics of the false reality are far, far more appealing than the dull, cold, grey reality without makeup, costumes, and enhanced fighting skills. Everyone behaves in the false reality with cool, almost emotionless confidence, whereas in the other reality everyone is strained to the breaking point by continuous stress at the threat of annihilation. In Terminator world, time travel enables a few to come back from the future, in the process spilling the beans about what happens after the Singularity, namely, that machines go on a rampage to kill humanity. The dominant emotion of the few initiates is again stress, which manifests as bunker mentality and constant battle readiness. Casualties are not limited to frayed nerves and strained civility, though; plenty of innocent bystanders die alongside those fighting to survive or forestall the future.
Those are only stories, reflections of our preoccupations and diversions from the truth available to witness without needing a red pill. But reality is nonetheless a bitter pill to swallow, so few who become aware of the option to square up to it vs. ignore it really want the truth. I judge that most are still blissfully unaware an option exists, though evidence and supporting stories are everywhere to be found. For those of us unable to pretend or unknow what we now know, the appearance of stress, paranoia, self-abnegation, infighting, gallows humor, and nihilism run parallel to character traits in the Matrix and Terminator worlds. Through story, reconfigured as entertainment, we may indeed be working through some of our psychological issues. And we experience some of the same coming together and tearing apart that inevitably accompany the great events of history. But unlike the childish teaser in this CBS News story that the apocalypse has a date, the machinations of history, like death and extinction, are not strictly events but processes. The process we initiated unwittingly but then ignored is beginning its final crescendo. Stories we tell ourselves conventionally end with triumphal resolution, flatly ignoring the destruction left in their wake. I warn: do not look for triumph in the story of industrial collapse except in those tiny, anonymous moments of grace where suffering ends.
Those who have read my thoughts, sprinkled hither and thither around the internet, will perhaps be aware that I gave up, about one and a half years ago, when I realised that whatever mighty efforts activists might make, it was going to be impossible to save the biosphere. Daniel Drumright was about three months ahead of me.
Nobody who hasn’t fully encountered and absorbed that experience for themselves, in its true horror, has any idea what it really means, and for those who have yet to face it, you have my deepest compassion and sympathy.
There’s no point in going over the technical reasoning in detail. People either get it or they don’t. They can find all the information quite easily.
There are three big, obvious factors that most people do not understand; those are, first, the irreversible self-reinforcing positive feedbacks that Guy McPherson is listing, and second, the time lag, that what we have now is the result of what we did forty or so years ago, and what we get in the future will be the effects of what we have been doing ever since. The third is the astounding rate at which all the changes are happening, when compared with all previous similar or comparable events in Earth’s history. Whatever it is, it is ULTRA DRAMATIC on the geological time scale.
The doom scenario has been, and is being, comprehensively documented by xraymike on this blog. The trickle of folk who are going through the process of coming to terms with this hellish awakening has already grown into a cascade and will soon be millions, and I really have nothing to say to them, because I do not know what to say to them.
Once you get the insight regarding the Mass Extinction Event, it’s a bit like the Buddha’s Enlightenment Experience under the Bodhi Tree, only in reverse, so to speak.
Gautama pondered whether to keep his insight to himself and spend the rest of his days in bliss, or whether to teach others what he now knew, and he chose, out of compassion, to spend the remainder of his life wandering through India teaching his message.
But how do you teach how to cope with doom ? There’s nothing optimistic or pleasing or life-enhancing or joyful about imminent apocalypse. There’s just the anguish and distress involved with the demanding process of navigating your own psychology and emotional responses toward an impossible future.
Each individual IS an individual, as we see on NBL, with their own version of the mixture of belief and disbelief and their own political and philosophical and religious outlooks, and some have children and grandchildren and some are thinking of survival chances, some of suicide, some of resistance, and so on.
I have had more than a year to dwell upon my own position, and to watch the responses in my own being, and in the people whom I like and respect, and the voices I admire, who also grasp the profound and terrible tragedy facing us all. For a long time, there was commiseration, but then what ? Commiseration fatigue ? How can anyone commiserate with anonymous thousands, let alone millions ?
Again, there’s lots of speculation as to the detail of how the crash will play out and how societies will respond as they collapse. I’m not going to add much to that here, it’s all available elsewhere. We either get a die back, and a bottle neck, with a few survivors, or a complete die off and total extinction event. I think we get the latter, but even if it is the former, none of us are going to know any of those people, as to who they will be, or where or what becomes of them, so why does it matter ? And why would anyone choose to have to live through whatever horrendous circumstances they will have to endure, following the trauma of the ending of civilisation ? Perhaps some people will just happen to find themselves in such a situation. Who knows ?
Meanwhile, here we are. Peak just about everything, where we start the big slide down into the abysmal depths of whatever awaits us all… the biggest crisis that the human species has ever faced, 7 point something billion of us, with millions more arriving here every month. There is no discernible global leadership of any kind that comprehends our dire situation, only madmen and corruption and people locked in to dead cultural paradigms.
What does a dead cultural paradigm look like ?
Well, we’ve got Joseph Tainter to give us some clues from the historical record and maybe Heathcote Williams to bring us up to date with the contemporary scene
From what I understand of history, we can expect a hard swing toward fascist dystopia, as regimes try desperately to exert total control over everything, and hard swings from repressed populations and factions which reciprocate with resistance.
The future will be whatever it will be. Every day I walk up and down the Beach of Doom and kick at pieces of poisonous plastic flotsam and miscellaneous cosmic debris left by the virtual tide, and gaze at the orange purple bruises on the tangerine sky and sometimes I bicker and haggle with someone.
Yesterday it was Lidia at NBL to whom I am grateful for an insight into something or other.
You see, people can be very roughly divided into two groups. Those who primarily hold a religious, or spiritual, or romantic, or mythical world view. And those who primarily hold a scientific, or materialist, or rationalist world view.
Of course, this is a crude over-simplification, and speaking to any individual, you’ll soon find they hold all kinds of contradictory beliefs. But roughly, it’s Mythos and Logos, or Iain McGilchrist’s Right and Left Hemispheres.
So, Lidia was kind enough to describe her worldview, her welt anschauung, her cosmology, her mental conception of how reality is structured, her epistemology, her way of ‘knowing your place in the Universe’.
I hope she will forgive my using her as an example, and the exchange several days ago was only a brief re-run of a much longer version we had on the now defunct NTE ning, some months ago, so I think I do have a fairly full idea as to her thinking, but so as not to risk any personal offence, I’ll take the illustration away from Lidia, and apply it to any generic physicist or scientist or person with a similar belief system, of whom I have met very, very many. This will allow me some poetic license possibly, avoiding danger of maligning the good Lidia, I hope.
You see, according to this paradigm of reality, there is only physics. Everything is physics.
That means that everything is explained by physics. That means no mystery, because even if there is mystery, that’s only due to physics not yet explaining it. And once mystery is killed off, it’s relatives, cousins – things like awe, wonder, sanctity, sacredness, the numinous – easily shrivel and die too.
So, that reality ‘out there’, and this reality ‘in here’, is all meaningless, because it only means something if we impose some wishful magical thinking onto the physics, which, as objective scientists, we are not allowed to do.
And that reality ‘out there’ is just ‘stuff’, and it interacts with this reality ‘in here’, the brain, which again is just ‘stuff’. It’s all physics, it’s all physical stuff, and even though we don’t understand all of it – even don’t understand most of it, or, if pressed, hardly ANY of it, hahaha – in theory, physics can, and will, explain all of it, one day, so no problem.
So, it’s quite interesting to trace back where this story, this Logos story, comes from, and it’s quite easy to do, because it’s well documented and researched, and it goes back to Descartes and his radical scepticism, and the ideas given to him by an angel (Mythos) and his struggle to find anything, something, that he could not undermine by radical doubt, and his arrival at ‘I think, therefore I am’ and then the beginnings of modern science.
Given that the Church of Rome was the dominant power in Europe at the time, an accommodation had to be made between the rising power of science and the prevailing authority, and thus we got an expedient result, the division which gave the material world to the scientists and the spiritual world to the priests. That’s why there’s no God or spirits involved in physics. Which, you may say, is an excellent thing. But let us call it, for the moment, ‘a mixed blessing’.
Because, you see, if you follow the epistemology carefully, and look at it very closely, something absolutely amazing emerges.
Einstein said that our ordinary common senses give us ‘naive realism’. That is, grass is green, rocks are hard, and snow is cold. But physics, if it is true, tells us that this naive realism is all wrong, physics tells us that the reality is quite different, something completely different is actually going on, out there and in here.
Now, it’s all very well for someone like Einstein, or Niels Bohr, or Feynman, to come up with these ideas, as professional physicists, but what happens when this scientific worldview, this basically Cartesian worldview, is taught to us lesser mortals as part of the culture, and internalised as epistemology, and preached to us as ontology, and integrated into general social cosmology ?
This is where it gets really weird, a MOST extraordinary thing – because when I thought over what Lidia had told me, nowhere in the depiction and analysis is there anywhere for A HAPPY HEALTHY COMPLETE HUMAN BEING.
Isn’t that bizarre ? That human beings have come up with a teaching as to what the world is and what the totality of the Universe is, which does not even include the organism that WE ARE, AT ALL ?
I mean, that strikes me as exceptionally odd. Prior to Descartes, the cosmology was a sort of Divine Order, with the Heavens above and layers with angels and God at the pinnacle and so forth. And people were taught this, and their place in the social hierarchy of feudalism was essentially justified because the King was a sort of representative of God on Earth, and so on. So although we can scoff at the nonsense of it, at least at the time, if you were a peasant, you featured in the story.
If you were out in the fields with your ox and your plough and you were gazing at the distant rainbow and thinking about your dead grandfather and you heard the church bells peeling for a wedding in the village next door, all sorts of strange impressions could flicker through your mind, but basically you had a cosmology which placed God somewhere ‘up there’ and you ‘down here’ with a coherent pattern where your birth and living and death belonged with the landscape and the community and the larger reality.
Therefore, the map, the mental model ‘in here’, when projected and overlaid upon reality, had in it the human subject as its focal point, and because that’s what the human subject had been taught, a story was established featuring the ME.
But now, not only have they written God out, with Descartes and the Cartesian Paradigm of reality as the basis of modern science, but you’ve got a model, a cosmology, which has written US, as human beings, biological creatures, right out of the system altogether, as if they were not even involved !
And then people have internalised this model and taken it to be their own personal reality that they use to explain the world to themselves.
I wonder what that does for a person’s health ? I wonder what it does, when millions of people do something like that ?
The Christian Fundamentalists may be completely round the bend when it comes to LOGIC but maybe they just feel intuitively that what they are being offered by the people who argue against them, a worldview, a cosmology, which says NOTHING MEANS ANYTHING, and a worldview, a cosmology, which doesn’t have ANY PLACE where a happy healthy human, a biological human being, can even fit into it, is so sterile and horrible, that they intuitively reject it and are hostile to it ?
Because, if you look at anthropology or what Joseph Campbell said about myth, what a belief system provides for a tribal people is a safe mental refuge. When a person takes a mental excursion into fantasy and ponders the nature of their own life and identity, and the dream they had last night, and their relationships with the world around them and other folks, and the stars above and so forth, the whole purpose of the cosmology is to deliver them safely back unto THEMSELVES.
I mean, think of acid trips and ayauasca and mushrooms and vision quests and all that stuff, where you encounter visions of beings from other dimensions and the most mind-boggling experiences, the idea is to get back to start, square 1, more or less sane and intact.
The same applies to ordinary daydreams and fantasies and all our thinking about our ordinary experiences. How can we be sane and healthy, if our fundamental belief system does not even include a home base option anywhere within it ?
You know, who cares what the physics says. Primarily, we are human beings, biological animals, that cry when we are hurt and sad, and laugh when we are happy, and get sentimental about babies and kittens, and need clean water and food, etc. AND we need a meaningful Universe which has a place for US in it, with a STORY that makes sense as to why we exist…
You know, a story we can UNDERSTAND about who we are and what we are doing here.
At the moment, all these stories we are being told are crap because they are not accurate with the science, strictly speaking, since they can’t be; we can’t get any clear picture from the physicists as to the ultimate nature of all the quantum stuff and the Universe. In addition, these cultural stories are unsatisfactory at the human level when they LEAVE OUT the human being and pretend it’s all some sort of abstract empty machine.
What’s more, from what a large percentage of quantum physicists have plainly stated, you cannot leave the physicist out of the experiment because the observer EFFECTS the observation. Now, I recognize this is contentious, there is no consensus, and it’s not clear what this means. But !
So, what does a ‘good story’ look like ? Well, that’s hard… but I’m glad you asked.
I think this is a complicated and difficult problem, and here I am upon the Beach of Doom, with all of human history and culture, every idea that’s ever been recorded, washed up at my feet at the tide line, strewn and tangled and rotting and steaming…
Look at us, pitiful, confused Bonobos, asking ourselves questions we can’t answer, tearing ourselves and each other apart, trying to satisfy Maslow’s Hierarchy…
Is that what we are doing ? Well, the whistle has blown, the sirens are wailing, time is up, the NTE light is flashing, so there is not going to be some utopian Promised Land for the Bonobos to migrate to…
Xraymike was kind enough to point me to the definition of the word Humanistic:
1. A believer in the principles of humanism. 2. One who is concerned with the interests and welfare of humans.
“Humanism is a group of philosophies and ethical perspectives which emphasize the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers individual thought and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith (fideism). The term humanism can be ambiguously diverse, and there has been a persistent confusion between several related uses of the term because different intellectual movements have identified with it over time. In philosophy and social science, humanism refers to a perspective that affirms some notion of a “human nature” (contrasted with anti-humanism). etc…”
So let’s take that as a verbal anchorage.
I’d suggest that most human beings have a fundamental requirement, for their psychological, physiological, and social welfare, to understand ‘the world’ in a way that makes sense. So that, whenever they sit down and think things over, and run ideas through their head, they can confirm themselves and they can confirm ‘the world’ and feel okay.
Wouldn’t that be nice ? Look what we’ve got. It’s not THAT, is it.
Is it any surprise that some people want the Rapture or Alien abduction to get the hell out of this confusion ?
The epistemology that science teaches, following on from Descartes, has caused most of the damage to the biosphere over the last century or two, because nothing is sacred, everything is just dead stuff, in a dead machine, inhabited by ghostly meaningless meat robots, zeks, without any dignity or purpose of their own.
You marry that to Capitalism, an elite with power and greed as their motive, and give it to them as a tool, and hand them control of the Military, which was once meant to guard but gets turned into a predatory plundering machine.
Well. We are where we are. The lights will go out, one by one, and then a few million years of silence as the extremophiles have peace.
It could have been, might have been, a very different story, if we had all followed the example of, say, the Bishnois.