View from the inflection point

Greetings, dear reader (if there’s one out there). The time between posts is growing, a sign that the end grows nigh for Vivid, but I don’t yet have the heart to pull the plug. For one thing, I have one more exposition to get off my chest, promised months ago and very nearly ripe for delivery (it’s been a long gestation).

For another, I can’t resist the temptation to chip in and comment one last time on the state of affairs in the big wide world.

It’s some time since I abandoned the idea of putting out regular commentary and analysis. After a while the planetary situation and those human factors that influence it all started to seem self-evident, not to say depressing. And anyway there are dozens of other people doing a far more thorough and brave job than I at uncovering the injustices, lies and twisted myths that form the dark heart of our spent culture – and scores more shining a light on other cultures and ways of life that don’t share this corrupted structure and so can show the way to alternative systems and perspectives.

Power to those people, and those cultures; my priority for now is to continue learning from them, including (but not exclusively) with the help of permaculture practice, and to report back in more carefully directed ways and places. But first, if only to sign off the phase of existential analysis, a final word about the world beyond our screens. What exactly is going on out there?

For starters I see a wonderful thing: a genuine awakening. When I suggested three years ago that psychopaths were running the world to feed their narcissistic needs at the expense of humanity and the rest of life, it seemed slightly incensed, perhaps over-reactionary; now it’s as clear as a million dollar reward for a billion gallon oil spill – and being discussed openly in places barely a stone’s throw from mainstream discourse. When I suggested that the machinations and deliberations among those at the ‘dead centre’ of our society were based on self-serving fabrications, contempt for ordinary people, life and the truth, and an ongoing, heartless drive to exploit, consume, destroy or kill every last vestige of natural wealth and beauty, community, spirit and love on the planet, it came over a bit cynical, so some said. Yet now people are camping out in the street in protest at just this, or variations on it.

When I wrote, despairingly, of the barriers that transition-type initiatives were inevitably hitting because the forces of the dominant economic paradigm (to say nothing of the beliefs of the dominant cultural one) are pitted directly against them, I received correspondence that implied I wasn’t entirely right in the mind. But more recent conversations suggest that many more see this predicament for what it is.

What a delight it is that people with more stamina, resilience, determination, courage and eloquence than I are now standing up, camping out, occupying, sacrificing their comforts, risking their freedom and joining forces to tell it like it is. How uplifting that so many more people are exploring alternative routes and structures – cooperatives, eco-villages, land-based enterprises, regenerative and restorative initiatives, local and steady-state economics, community food-growing, and truth-based media. (For the scale of this shift, check out It has begun: Humanity’s Immune Response.) Power to those people too.

Cliff-hanger

But it’s a bit of a cliff-hanger. Because also in plain view is the unmistakable outline of the global transfiguration (OK, let’s just call it collapse) that has been coming down the tunnel at us for a very long time. While the Occupy movement is a force to be celebrated, it is also, on one level, a simple manifestation of the civil unrest that inevitably emerges at inflection points in history such as this one. There will be other symptoms and we will all, to some degree, be afflicted.

There are moments now when it’s possible to sense that this enormous change is upon us, to feel the dizzying precariousness of our position right here, right now – in spite of the in-the-moment forgetfulness that normal daily life engenders. The human farce that we call the global economy sits on a knife edge; there’s only one way it can go, and gravity will be calling the shots any week now. Announcements of 10-year austerity plans don’t tell even half the story. Having had the pleasure of seeing Nicole Foss (aka Stoneleigh) speak at this year’s Dark Mountain festival I put my faith firmly behind her assessments, and will be arranging my finances (what little) in line with them. Her recent post at The Automatic Earth sums up the prospects comprehensively. A new talk by economist Chris Martenson is equally insightful.

The energy situation — which underlies the economy (along with the inevitable fate of the other non-renewable natural resources upon which the ‘growth’ engine relies) — is no less in doubt. And for anyone inclined to put their faith in centralised systems of ‘renewable energy’ technologies; remind yourself of the concept of Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI), explained thoroughly with implications by a meticulous scientist at Do The Math and by an equally qualified actuary at Our Finite World. The simple fact is that it is too late – in energy and finance terms – to deploy enough of these systems to avert a dramatic and likely traumatic change to the circumstances of our daily lives.

Food supplies, of course, are another major concern, relying as they do on a fast-paced, fossil-fuelled economy for their growing, production and transportation. Food security will become a pressing issue even in the developed world, perhaps for all but the wealthy minority; in the less developed countries the climatic changes now playing out thanks to our relentless trashing of the planetary atmosphere are already making it a tragic matter of life-or-death for millions.

Meanwhile the last vestiges of buried fossil fuels are being scraped, ripped and torn from the ground at great cost to the natural world, and bombed out of foreign lands under the same old pretexts. To fund this murderous pillage without depriving the wealthy elite of their monetary comfort blankets, those in positions of power are turning to their already hard-pressed proletariat, raiding their earnings, ravaging even basic state-provided services like healthcare and education, and reducing the people to penury.

This, by the way, is precisely what ‘economic hit-man’ John Perkins predicted in this podcast; that once the state could no longer maintain its exploitation of other countries, it would turn on its own people, the final resource to be consumed. Equally prescient is archdruid John Michael Greer, who has been explaining with erudition and clarity for some time why (and how) we should prepare for very different times, and that the change will take the form of a ‘catabolic’ collapse (to use a biochemical analogy), in which the system moves from metabolising energy sources from outside, leading to growth, and instead starts to expend parts of itself just to keep existing, leading to breakdown. He is certain that we are in the early stages of such a collapse, although in contrast to an updated prognosis from collapsnik Dmitry Orlov, believes the process will be a slow and step-wise one (unpleasant enough when we hit the steps) rather than a rapid and wholesale one.

Either way, the signs are clear that we — this society, this cultural paradigm, this way of life, and the people living it — are on our way down and out. In my opinion, the only safety net that might give us a chance at a meaningful future is provided by those on the edges working to craft a new paradigm, that embodies different attitudes, approaches, stories, methods and livelihoods.

I have learned much from my three-year exploration of the psychological and behavioural flaws for which this culture selected to produce short-term success and long term catastrophe, including two important personal discoveries. The first is that we — humans, and our societies — don’t have to be this way. The second is that I am personally more motivated when directing my energies towards the positive forces working towards an abundant future than I am when focusing on the soon-to-be spent, destructive forces that have created the many desolate landscapes (internal and outside) of the present.

But I commend those people continuing the analysis, crucial as it is to our hopes of avoiding similar dead-end paths in the future, and I applaud everyone fighting to halt the destructive activities of the industrial machine; there is little point in fostering a culture that values life on earth if there’s none of it left.

With all of these elements racing to the finish line in open view, it’s easy enough, with eyes even half open, to recognise the significance of this moment in history. The tricky thing is to work out how to live through the turning point, not just in order to feed, clothe and warm ourselves and our families, but also to decide what values to preserve, how best to contribute (and to what), what to tell our children, and what to strive for in their name and ours, so that we and they can play a part that is relevant to a living future.

There will be as many answers to these questions as there are people contemplating them. In the next (long-awaited) article here I shall attempt to eludicate a little of my own thinking along these lines.

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13 Responses to View from the inflection point

  1. Catherine says:

    Great work Vanessa – I really appreciate the clarity and honesty with which you spell out these different forces and the directions in which they tend. How to live well through the turning point, at the level of meeting everyday needs and crafting values, chimes exactly with wider conversations I’ve been immersed in recently. Looking forward to your joining in with those, and to the promise of further elucidation posted here.

  2. Felix says:

    Catherine got in first to prove that “there’s [at least] one [reader] out there” … so I’ll have to content my self with saying: “I second that”!

    I also second everything she said.

    I look forward to every VIVID and hope that there will be as many more of them as possible.

    I’ll await that promised, long gestated, exposition eagerly.

  3. Felix says:

    I’ve been thinking about the Occupy movement and what parallels there might be in my past experience.

    I’m spending a (very) little time in some of the Occupy sites; admittedly, more time visiting them. It would be nice if I could tie up what I see and feel there with equivalents in my hippy days, but sadly I can’t do so with any honesty.

    I can, however, see equivalences to two other memories … encouragingly, perhaps, as they were in the end more associated with actual change effects.

    The first: the anti Vietnam war movement.

    The second: the Greenham Common camps. My ex wife was at the women’s camp for some time, and I visited her there numerous times. The feeling there was strongly congruent with that in the Occupy camps.

    Both of those were more narrowly focussed than Occupy, but the heart of them wasn’t too different.

  4. Mark says:

    Great article Vanessa. I can’t wait for the next one – in the hope that there are some things we can do to help the next generation stop the rot!

  5. Vanessa says:

    Catherine, thank you – that’s great to know. Very much looking forward to joining in with those conversations too, when there’s next a chance.

  6. Vanessa says:

    Felix – thank you for that. And for your much valued loyalty to Vivid – you’ve pulled me through the doldrums more times than you know. I suspect I will keep it ticking over on some level, even if it does go through regular and sometimes lengthy hibernation periods…

    Interesting to read of your thoughts on ‘Occupy’. I can imagine the parallels with the Greenham Common camps and the anti Vietnam war movement, although I experienced neither. In all cases it seems possibly to identify a clear ‘wrong’ that people were/are rightly angry about – that produced a strong enough emotional reaction to inspire strong physical action. With the hippy times (speaking not at all from personal experience I should say!) I wonder if it was a bit more diffuse, more “we should all do that and live like this” and less of the mind-lensing indignance and outrage?

    That could be cause for concern, if it’s true, as it would suggest that a pull towards a general, more positive outcome is less motivating than a backlash against a bad one. But perhaps that should be no surprise.

    Either way I hope Occupy produces some actual change effects too.

  7. leavergirl says:

    Oh no, Vanessa, don’t pull the plug! Some of the best unciv writing here on Vivid. Just let it sit and age, like good wine…

    Don’t put too much faith in Stoneleigh, she is one of the unprincipled panic mongers… er, one of the prophets who don’t care if they are right, and keep on predicting the same thing over and over, undaunted by past failures. That is not to say that overall, her analysis does not have much to recommend it, but … well, be careful regarding the details and timelines.

    To put it in better, kinder terms, there are people who are seers. They see bad visions ahead, and hope, like Jonah, that by making these visions public, they will stave off the worst. They do play a valuable role… just not the way people end up believing.

    Glad you are back!

  8. Vanessa says:

    Leavergirl, good lord, do you think so? That’s made my month, even if I’m certain I can’t live up to it! Thank you. And of course I won’t *actually* pull the plug (that was a misleading turn of phrase, meant to suggest an end to my investment, not the blog itself) but will indeed just leave it to age instead. Or fade out…

    One of the (many) reasons for my dwindling attention is the realisation that others are doing a much better job of delivering relevant observations and analyses, and at a decent frequency too. I should say you are at the top of my list here! I have read five of your last seven posts (and the comments) and enjoyed them all hugely. They are compelling, insightful and original. (Felt a particular personal resonance with Doomer No More.) You must be right in your groove; you are writing faster than I can read – let alone comment (let alone write my own pieces)! So a big thank you for your efforts; I will be visiting again soon.

    As for Stoneleigh – I hear you and thank you for pointing that out. After taking part in quite a probing group discussion with her, I did feel her premises were sound and her logic watertight. But maybe not about timescales, true. Which would mean the urgency there could well be unnecessary scaremongering. Anyway, I’m grateful for your perspective and will ponder further.

    Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

  9. Felix says:

    I sympathise with the problem of deciding where to invest one’s finite energies, and the resulting need to turn away from one effort to bolster another.

    I would, however, advise caution about the “other people are doing it better” line of argument. Even if someone else is doing it better (which I emphatically do not agree, by the way), that’s not the only issue. Change requires a critical mass in quantity – and every voice which falls silent pulls back the total energy of the wave.

    (Mixed metaphors there … ah well!)

    It may well be, of course, that the loss of a voice is outweighed by greater delivered energy in another place and/or form … but that’s a different argument.

  10. Vanessa says:

    Hi Felix, and thanks: good points. I realised after I’d posted the comment that the logic of pulling back because of others’ efforts was flawed on every level!! (And, if I’d stopped to ponder, could probably have guessed which kind reader would remind me of that ;-))

    It really is, as you rightly observe, about finite energies, time too, and about figuring out where my limited impact might be most beneficial, relatively.

    As it happens I have another project/blog in development, geared I hope to achieving slightly more tangible change and (with luck) earning a smidgeon of a living for me as well, using as its foundations the premises within Vivid and the things I’ve learned here. More soon; but as the plans crystallise I’m realising there will likely still be a place for Vivid. It’s been an amazingly valuable anvil, on which I have bashed out (and into shape) some of my more bothersome thoughts. I can’t see that changing and suspect my pontifications here may well continue, if on an infrequent, ad hoc and themeless basis!

  11. leavergirl says:

    Vanessa, I totally mean it. I been wanting to link to your quite definitive piece on civilization as a sort of intro for a newbie coming to my blog. Awesome stuff!

    Yeah, I figure I have another 50 posts in me that are wiggling to get out, and I am not a patient woman. So… I hope I can keep putting them out there. After that… doingness and beingness. :-)

  12. Vanessa says:

    Fifty? That’s one active mind! Look forward to them.

    And thank you again for your generous comments; I’m measurably uplifted by them (Cat’s and Felix’s too), to the extent that it’s shifted my view of the value of what I have to offer and I feel like writing again! :-)

    Thanks, all.

  13. Felix says:

    To have measurably uplifted is a wonderful feeling … to have shifted your perception of your own value in the direction of feeling a renewed desire to write is what I call a result :-)

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