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.
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.