Burning Down the House

December 2, 2014 § 15 Comments

Despite the oddly warm weather that blew in today, we are in the depth of autumn. The days have been full of regular chores. Splitting firewood and stacking it on pallets outside the front door is something I tend to every third day or so, and I try to split in excess so that come the raw cold days of winter, I need not swing the maul. The gardens are almost all covered in a layer of horse manure, and the chicken coop is surrounded with straw bales in the hope that the next round of polar vortecies will not claim the lives of any of our birds. The quiet days spent fleshing deer hides and hauling gravel into the drainage trench around our house arouse my mind to thinking. Furious thinking about the state of the planet, the state of human beings within this culture, and just what the hell any of us should do with our time, our will, and our strength as we collectively are drawn into a decidedly more difficult future.

The bulk of my days this summer past were dedicated to the construction of our house. We have several acres of beautiful land in one of the forested pockets of North America, and through the heat and the rain I swung a framing hammer until at long last I now have a small, mostly finished cabin. It was not once lost on me, that building my house in a rural place as part of an attempt to alleviate myself of the necessity of the industrial capitalist system, I quite often had to lean heavily on that very system. “Using the grid to go off the grid,” my friend said. Despite having no wires or pipes running to my cabin, I know the truth of the matter: there is no escaping civilization. One can scoot to the edges, hang out near the lifeboats if you will, smoking a cigarette and waiting for the moment reality dawns on the crew and they cry “Abandon ship!” But no matter how far one goes, no matter how many comforts they shuck, the chemicals of industry still course through their blood. Catastrophic climate change will wipe out ways of life even in the remote, uncontacted jungles of the world. People who never drove a car or owned a cell phone will be subject to famine and cancer. Ironically, it is the poor who will likely suffer greatest as climatic change spurs droughts, floods, and mega storms. Worse yet, it is the non-human species who are being eradicated daily, never to return, for the hubris of petroleum man.

I hate this civilization, this machine, this juggernaut, this sleepwalking hungry ghost, this pathological ideology, this imaginary cage that we cannot seem to imagine a key for no matter how deeply we come to resent our captivity. But I still wanted a steel roof so that I could collect rainwater. It was July when I screwed the roof down to the purlins, and on that day I asked myself, “What does a person do, when they simultaneously need a thing, and need to destroy it?” Such a double bind cannot possibly have a rational answer, because the rational is captured by society, trademarked and owned by the dominant culture. We can only know in our souls, in the still wild places of our being what must be done, but making the case with the words crafted in the forges of civilization will almost certainly always fail. Words and arguments are Trojan Horses, trap doors to counter arguments, to platitudes, to endless winding hallways of thought not designed to deliver you anywhere, but merely to sap you of your energy in the traveling.

We know what we must do, and we know that we will never be able to rationalize it to the denizens of civilization, because at its very core a rationalization is a request for permission. Those who benefit most from the demise of the natural world and from the agony of the global poor will never permit anyone to cut the lights on this cavalcade of compounding tragedies.

We know what we must do. We must burn down the house we have built, force ourselves back into the wild. And further, we must tell the story to all of our children explaining that the house made us weak, it made us sedentary, it turned us against our land and our kin who dwell on the land, it made us servile to its own needs even as it fell apart around us, off-gassing formaldehyde and leaching fire retardants into our blood. We must explain that the lure the comfort of the house provides is undeniable, and that a long many days from now, the children of our children’s children may forget the perils that the house presents. We must send strong words and songs far into the unseen future, so that those who come after us value the freedom of their life out of doors with only simple shelters, that they understand the impermanence of the tipi or the wigwam is not a failing, but a strength, as the nature of life on this Earth is that of impermanence. We must convey the futility of attempts to forever banish the cold, the rain, or the wind with immovable dwellings, and that such folly will forever chain those who build them to a lifetime of work while making enemies of their surroundings as they till more soil for crops, as they sink more mines for more metal, as they cut trees for more wood, and still lose their great battle against the ravages of weather and time.

It is a great house we have collectively built. Many will say there is no other way of being. They will say that despite the dangers the house presents to body, mind, and soul, that these dangers are nothing when weighed against the impossibility of life outside. There will be those who even acknowledge the limitations of this house, they will nod in agreement when you tell them that the roof is caving and the foundation buckling. They will say, “Yes, yes, I know” when you present the children afflicted with leukemia brought about by the toxicity of the house’s very construction, and they will fight you still when you suggest dismantling this place and creating something new.

The house is a prison, and the people within it have become institutionalized, domesticated. They have been subjugated in spirit and thought to think there is no life outside the walls. If it were possible merely to escape, to dig a mighty tunnel to the far reaches of the mortar and beyond, perhaps that would be the righteous choice. But there is no place left that the ravages cannot reach you. There are no lands across the sea where you will not be subject the dictates of the warden, where the poisons of industry will not claim your health and kill your landbase. The walls must go, by any means necessary, even if in the here and now, we rely upon them.

Sleet is falling now outside of my window. It has been a long season of work, and as my body finds itself resting more, my mind grows agitated. There have been uprisings against police authority across the United States in recent weeks. The petroleum markets are in turmoil as global powers seek domination over their competitors. Experts are advising that the temperature of the planet will necessarily rise to one and a half degrees Celsius above baseline, and still the owner class seeks to exploit tar sand, deep-water oil, and coal.

What is a person to do? It seems that simultaneously, everything and nothing is possible. Action and inaction both appear to be dead ends. There are those who silently hope for a massive solar flare or a great pandemic, assuming the only way to break from this Mobius strip of horrors is if it is severed by some cataclysm delivered from above. This is praying for calamity, it is begging a still listening God for absolution, as if we have done anything to earn such favors.

As the winter sets in, I will be writing about our responsibilities in such times.

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§ 15 Responses to Burning Down the House

  • John Q Public says:

    Interesting, someone who writes tirades against industrial civilization on the internet. On the internet.

    • td0s says:

      Why is that interesting?

      • Peeprr says:

        wah ur a hypocrite me make spaceship real good you live in cave wah wah wah

      • Neo agrarian says:

        Dear…td0s: I think what your commenter is trying to get at is his perception (and mine as well in large degree) that there is an irony here indeed, which I am sure you are aware of, as I can only hope that most of us are. The internet is a kind of apex predator that sits at the top of an underlying ‘trophic pyramid’ of technologies that ‘we’ have built up over time -the self same technologies that have proven to be our undoing. It would not exist without the total and encompassing armature of all those systems – mining, extraction, mass manufacturing etc etc. Yet, being the bonobo’s that we are, we can’t help but be drawn into its promise of ‘connection’, enlightenment and all the other false promises of its purveyors: e.g. more information = unqualified good. No, it is not just ‘another tool’. It is, rather, a cognitive contagion; a sensory apparition. It is not here. It is not there. But whoever you are, wherever you are, is immaterial. It does not reconcile with human reality and what we once called human meaning. Nevertheless, good writing: I sympathize. Hold your breath. So it goes.

    • Johnny says:

      It is more than a little amusing, isn’t it? Anyone want to go over/under on how much gasoline he uses? Pays sales taxes on things he buys in BAU, taxes on property, takes advantage of modern health care while maybe even sticking the rest of industrial civilization for the bill?

    • Richard W. Posner says:

      The author made clear his awareness of the irony in using the system to fight the system.

      For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.
      Audre Lorde

      We know that ultimately we must throw the master’s tools away, destroy them utterly and take steps to ensure they will never be used again. The author makes this clear as well.

      But, in the meantime, it is certainly not hypocrisy to attempt to communicate what is necessary by using the only medium available that can reach meaningful numbers of people.

      The author’s explanation of this dilemma is very clearly and eloquently stated.

      So why do you choose to make it an issue? Why, with all the meaningful content in this writing, do you choose to focus upon this single point?

  • R1verat says:

    Johnny……And he also uses a computer….

  • Richard W. Posner says:

    td0s, your profound understanding of our dilemma is matched only by your remarkable ability to convey it to others. Outstanding writing.

  • Larry says:

    I have just this morning been turned on to your blog, and I greatly admire your writing and your consciousness. There will always be trolls who call you a “hypocrite” for using the internet or driving a car. They have nothing constructive to contribute. You seem to be living it on the land as well as writing the words that need to be said. I’m in chat groups on Facebook with other “doomers” and we have to use what’s available to us at this time to build an underground support network. The New York Times feature on Paul Kingsnorth is the only thing in mainstream media that I have seen that looks at our predicament in depth. The entire mainstream is dependent on advertising (even Public Radio) and they can’t open this subject up very much. The internet is the vehicle we have to connect and educate ourselves. We have to work under the surface, being Underminers as Keith Farnish put it. Thanks for your contribution.

    • Miep says:

      One works with the culture one has, by necessicity. I don’t think td0s would be getting much of an audience if this work was presented in charcoal on a nearby rock face.

  • Confederate says:

    Beautiful. Just beautiful. Those of us that know, the few that are awake, greatly appreciate.

  • So, I’ve seen your writing in a couple of places on the Web now.

    It’s excellent, and you make salient points.

    I know that writing helps me to “make sense” of our world, and to begin the necessary changes that I must make to help with the solution, if there is one.

    Keep writing, we need to hear your voice.

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