November 16, 2008
Abdicating the "A" Word, Frantically Fighting for the Familiar
By: Rowan Wolf
By Carolyn Baker of Speaking Truth to Power
Negative experiences can lead to joy and understanding. Life is untidy. When we reject this messiness - and in so doing reject life - we risk perceiving the world through the lens of our economics or our sciences. But if we celebrate life with all its contradictions, embrace it, experience it, and ultimately live with it, there is a chance for a spiritual life filled not only with pain and untidiness, but also with joy, community, and creativity. ~Derrick Jensen
It's Friday again, and as I write, I notice that the term "Black Friday" has become all too familiar. Some apply it to the day after Thanksgiving, but more recently, it has become synonymous with other Fridays in history when the U.S. stock market suffered breathtaking losses. One week ago today, November 7, was a particularly bloody day for the Dow as unemployment data in the United States, fudged as it may be, was released, and it became clear that, as one subsequent headline stated, "Having A Job Is Soooo 2007."
I'm somewhat sheltered; I admit it. I inhabit the halls of academia, but I also manage a website where up to the minute news is gathered and reported, and I visit stores for necessary items, buy gas, and make medical and dental appointments, so I'm not living a hermetically sealed lifestyle. I may live in a state not yet as hammered by the Second Great Depression as others, but I feel and sense its reverberations everywhere.
About five years ago, even before Truth To Power was born, I was reporting stories forecasting the coming global economic meltdown. I have never been nor will be an economist, but I vowed that I would learn some basic economic concepts in order to grasp what some were calling at that time a "housing bubble." I was assiduously reading and researching the dot connections between 9/11, Peak Oil, economic meltdown, empire, and the U.S. occupation of Iraq. People whose research I respected were warning of an economic collapse, an energy crash, and the catastrophic effects of global warming-none of which, it appeared, would become an imminent threat for at least another decade.
Suddenly, somewhere in 2006 it became apparent to me that the convergence of calamity would occur sooner, rather than later, and I realized that the fabric of empire was unraveling much faster than I had anticipated. I do not wish to re-state the obvious nor attempt to trace the unfolding of events in the past two years and beyond. What I argue, rather, is that the collapse of Western civilization is well underway-and that my work is not to impede but to assist that monumental, mythical, and momentous phenomenon.
In recent conversation with a friend I reiterated the essence of the preceding sentence to which my friend replied, "That sounds so endtimes." I knew what she meant-rapture, Book of Revelation, Jesus on a white horse attended by thousands of avenging angels hellbent on destroying the earth. I abhor the Christian notion of endtimes with its bloodthirsty white, male, punitive god and would go to any lengths to distance myself from it. Yet the conversation with my friend later set me pondering the grain of truth in her comment. What she had introduced into the conversation was the "A" word: apocalypse.
Throughout the major spiritual traditions on earth one finds what Jung called the archetype, theme, motif of apocalypse. We are all too familiar with the fundamentalist Christian notion of rapture, tribulation, and new millennium now popularized in Tim LaHaye's "Left Behind" series. Yet Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and myriad indigenous traditions include, for different purposes and with their own unique embellishments, concepts of apocalypse. It appears that apocalypse is a mythic, archetypal phenomenon deeply embedded in the human psyche. Without exception, apocalypse, which actually means "unveiling" or "revealing", is perceived universally as a process in which that which is hidden will be revealed, resulting in some sort of purification. A Hopi prophecy says that "When the Blue Star Kachina makes its appearance in the heavens, the Fifth World will emerge. This will be the Day of Purification." Hopi elders believe that we are now transitioning from the Fourth to the Fifth World and that purification is the purpose of the current upheaval.
I believe that because apocalypse is a fundamental archetype, something in us knows that that is precisely what we are experiencing in the final days of 2008 and are likely to continue experiencing for years to come. Whether we admit it or not, the archetype of apocalypse is percolating in our psyches. Economists and politicians in denial or simply wishing to keep their jobs insist that good times will come again-that everything will bounce back to "normal" in a couple of years. "A long, and deep recession" they continue to parrot, even as beads of sweat gather on their foreheads-a stunning example of fighting for the familiar. We're just sailing through some rough waters, they insist, unable to grasp that what began as a few choppy waves has now become a sea change.
What it is difficult for humans to wrap their minds around is the unprecedented nature of the current moment. We grasp for whatever straws of evidence we can produce that might prove that there's nothing really idiosyncratic about it. Species have come and gone before; the earth itself has been decimated and then restored more than once, we protest. Yet such statements, while accurate, miss the staggering reality that never in human history has our species devoured in a mere two or three centuries nearly all of the hydrocarbon energy painstakingly produced by the planet over the span of millennia; never have so many humans inhabited the earth at one time, nor fouled the earth's surface and atmosphere to the extent of the current blight. And what is even more astounding is the fact that never before in human history have all of these factors occurred simultaneously with the others. So argue as we may for continuity, the current moment is dramatically unique.
Moreover, if apocalypse is an unveiling, what is it that might be revealing itself in the current predicament? Is it the looting of billions, perhaps trillions by the federal government and corporate capitalism? Is it the impotence of presidents and politicians to reverse the unraveling? Is it the reality that they actually orchestrated financial collapse and will profit handsomely from it? Will the "revelation" be the public validation of whistleblowing economic investigators like Chris Martenson, Catherine Austin Fitts, Pam Martens, and Nomi Prins?
I for one wish that those realities were actually being revealed in the waning weeks of 2008, but it may be years or decades before the extent of the plunder becomes fully transparent. However, economic meltdown is not a cause of the collapse, but rather a glaring symptom of it. What is being revealed, I believe, is the profligate, soul-murdering toxicity of Western civilization and all of the assumptions from which it has emerged. As Derrick Jensen notes, "We are members of the most destructive culture ever to exist. Our assault on the natural world, on indigenous and other cultures, on women, on children, on all of us through the possibility of nuclear suicide and other means - all these are unprecedented in their magnitude and ferocity." From civilization, the values and behaviors that have engendered Peak Oil, climate change, species extinction, and population overshoot were birthed. In essence, civilization is ego and humancentric, refusing to recognize any limitations of its agenda, and deems itself entitled to extract, conquer, own, dominate, and destroy whatever might impede that agenda.
Has civilization also brought us unprecedented opportunities? Indeed it has, but quite often at the expense of our own wellbeing and that of the earth community. And while the majority of inhabitants of civilization are honorable and decent human beings, they have overwhelmingly been deeply wounded, if not driven mad, by it.
All traditions that include an apocalyptic aspect juxtapose an old paradigm with a new one and invite adherents to allow the unveiling of the old to purify consciousness so that they might step into the new. Without exception, according to these traditions, the transition is painful and demanding and necessarily imposes circumstances in which the world as one has known it ends.
Sadly, most individuals being devastated by the current apocalypse, reel with anguish as their homes and livelihoods vanish; as their bodies break down for lack of healthcare; as depression, violence, and suicide reverberate across this nation-yet all the while they question few of the assumptions of civilization on which their lives have been constructed from birth. They wish only to return to the comfort and familiarity of the old paradigm. Hence the delusion of magic bullet "solutions" that will painlessly allow the human race to continue its resource-devouring lifestyle. I have written and continue to believe that it will take massive individual and collective suffering before most Americans will be capable of questioning those assumptions and discerning the difference between the old paradigm and the new. Quite frankly, it is unlikely that most will.
I Told You So
Some individuals who have been forecasting longer than I have the events now unfolding are justifiably saddened, if not enraged, by the obtuseness and denial of other human beings to take seriously their persistent caveats. I share their frustration, and at the same time, I realize that none of this is about me or them or any of our prophetic research. In fact, to continue chanting the "I told you so, I warned you" mantra is to become further mired in the old paradigm. Civilization, after all, is nothing if not hierarchical, competitive, and arrogant.
Apocalypse is demanding the diminution of human ego, in which case, the appropriate response to the masses who didn't listen is not "I told you so," but rather, deep compassion and deep grief. The inability of our species to read the writing on the wall is another chilling testimony to the power of civilization to mentally, emotionally, and spiritually incapacitate its inhabitants. There but for fortune go any of us.
In her article "Are Human Beings Hard Wired To Ignore the Catastrophic Threat Of Climate Change?" Lisa Bennett reveals evidence that suggests that civilization has so damaged human beings that we have been virtually unable to take action to stop climate change which due to our inaction, may now be unstoppable.
I would be the first to admit that I do not have infinite wisdom or impeccable acumen with which to discern all aspects of the current unveiling. I find little pleasure in forecasting what will happen next since apocalypse now has a life of its own. It is by definition mysterious and uncertain. What I do know is that things aren't going to "bounce back" because the "normal" and "familiar" have faded into history. We're in uncharted, unprecedented, and untested waters. How desperately we demand the familiar, but in spite of our flailing, life as we have known it is over. Perhaps the best description of our plight was offered by the late Susan Sontag, not in the words "apocalypse now" but rather, "apocalypse from now on."
Politicians, regardless of how charismatic, brilliant, and astute they may be have little to offer us because their agenda is one of expanding, perpetuating, preserving, and protecting civilization and its values at all costs. While they may be able to ameliorate short-term pain with placebos and band aids, both the overwhelming magnitude of collapse and their commitment to civilization preclude the dawning of insights that might assist them in facilitating their constituents in making a conscious transition to a new paradigm. In fact, as Gerald Celente notes, Obama's "Yes We Can" is a delusion that obscures the harsh reality that "No, we can't" because:
Going to Summers, Rubin, Reich, Tyson, Volker and the rest of them to fix the economy is like fighting the War on Crime by bringing in Al Capone, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Seagal, and Machine Gun Kelly.
'Yes, we can,' sounds good but it is a delusion, 'No, we can't.' Nobody can, given the current socio-political and philosophical make-up of the nation. And, unfortunately, Obama's promise of 'change' is already revealed as a fraud. That won't change either.
Re-Thinking "Gloom and Doom" Definitions
None of this is pleasant to think or talk about, but today it occurred to me that the time for choosing what we get to talk about and how good or bad it makes us feel is over. We no longer have the luxury. We either deal with what's in front of us, or we actively choose suicide.
Whereas some folks who have been forecasting collapse take it personally when others don't pay heed, I tend to take personally the label of "doomer." Those applying the label would not do so if they understood things like apocalypse, civilization, and new paradigm. What I endeavor to do in my writing is clarify those concepts so that my readers can grasp that what we're living through is so much larger, grander, more compelling, momentous, and mysterious than mere "gloom and doom."
What exactly does doom mean? That depends on one's perspective. If you mean that since the earth was built to sustain 2.5 billion people riding bicycles, not 6.5 people all wanting to live in 6000-square-foot homes and that the earth must shed at least 4-5 billion people in order to sustain itself-from that perspective, collapse is synonymous with doom. The current extinction of 200 species on earth per day, and the possibility of the entire human race becoming extinct within a few generations is certainly not a cheerful topic of conversation. But if I seriously believed that these sorts of realities are the only ones to consider in conversations about collapse, then I would deserve to be labeled a "doomer." They aren't, and I don't.
If we can allow it, collapse may take us into mythic territory-to the place within us that civilization was designed to destroy but hasn't-and cannot, to the unveiling of a "new" paradigm that isn't "new" at all because something in us remembers that it is how we were meant to live with ourselves and the earth community.
Civilization does not have to die in order for any of us to experience the unveiling, but there is no question that to do so would be easier if civilization were a faint memory in our minds. I for one am not willing to save it, preserve it, prop it up, put it on life support, or apply salves of salvation. What I am willing to engage in is a vigil-a death watch for civilization while it breathes its last breath and celebrate what is revealed in the process.
Unquestionably, collapse entails suffering, and there are no guarantees that any of us will survive. Many innocent members of the human and other species will perish. Wise people from the great traditions tell us that the transition cannot be made painlessly. What is also true is that it offers something extraordinary-something like what I see in small communities where people are already creating local currencies, becoming first responders for crisis situations, organizing neighborhood watches to provide food and heat for the vulnerable, maintaining winter farmers markets, celebrating the holidays in unique ways that do not focus on consumption but rather, on cooperation. At the same time that I feel pervasive despair nationally, I see unexpected people in unexpected places seizing unexpected opportunities. Who knows if they will survive? Who knows if anyone reading this article will survive? Who knows if I will survive?
But if mere physical survival is all it's about, then we are left with nothing but doom and gloom. If, however, things like cooperation, compassion, building authentic community, and living from a new paradigm, even if only for a brief period of time, occur, then civilization will have been transcended and dealt a significant death blow. Humans who participate in those ventures will have tasted something far more momentous than mere physical survival-something civilization can only obliterate, not sustain: the opportunity to savor one's inextricable connection with all aspects of the earth community. Or as Richard Heinberg reminds us, "Growth is dead. Let's make the most of it. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste."
Juan Santos, whose articles are frequently featured on the Truth to Power website says it eloquently and succinctly:
...the key tasks before us lie not in saving the global economy, not in creating a "green" economy, not in inventing new ways to exploit new energies in order to continue to mine the life of the Earth, nor in any other activity that would seek to preserve this system in any form whatsoever.
The key tasks before conscious people today are the forging of a profound understanding of what has gone wrong - a sweeping and utter re-evaluation of all values that will be tantamount to a new renaissance, a conscious re-creation and co-creation of culture. Much of that work began to be undertaken in the 1960s, and has borne important fruit, like William Kotke's work, The Final Empire. It is ours to forge an authentically sustainable culture, even in the midst of this civilization's fast approaching end - by relying on and integrating the deepest, clearest and most coherent teachings of traditional indigenous cultures, of students of the ecology, and of the multivalent healing practices of both indigenous cultures and of the new therapies that have arisen in the last 50 years. Such a movement - one that is intent on restoring the Earth and fostering social justice and renewing our cultures by incorporating the values and vision of indigenous peoples - is already underway on a global scale. Paul Hawkens, in his important book Blessed Unrest, calls it an "unstoppable movement to re-imagine our relationship to the environment and one another." His research shows that it is the largest movement in human history, involving some 2-3 million organizations worldwide and some 200 - 300 million people whose cultural, ethical, political and ecological creativity are already impacting billions. That the processes of renewal - of healing, rectifying and relearning - will best be fostered among those in living in direct contact with, and in a caretaking relationship with the Earth and other, non- human living beings should, I hope, be self evident.
As I ponder the quote by Derrick Jensen at the beginning of this article, I notice an extraordinary paradox: If I reject collapse, I reject life, not death. Civilization kills all that it touches. Could it be that the more I facilitate its demise, the more alive I become?