Peak Consensus Reality

January 23, 2017 § 24 Comments

Slow crunching of gravel beneath my tires and the hum rattle of my Jeep engine are all I hear as I pull down the long driveway across my land to the front of my house. The world outside the grasp of my headlight beams is deep blue and black. There is almost a hush of relief exhaled by the forest when I turn the key to shut off the car. With a breath, I exit the vehicle, and when the door slams behind me the echo dies quickly, absorbed by the trees and hills around me.

I take a few steps towards the front door, then stop to lean on a maple tree. As my fingers drag down the surface of the tree they find grooves to run like tracks. The night sky is a dark and formless navy color, betraying no stars or planets above. When I get home late on a Saturday night after closing down the bar where I work part time, I need this. I need to breathe and to embrace the silence. A night of so many human voices yammering about so much nothing at all has my brain and my posture suffering a vast weariness.

So I stand and I stare at the night. I listen hard for the creaking of tree boughs, for the tapping of twig on branch. In a world so thoroughly crammed to hilts with noise, with voices, with opinions, silence and calm are a drug. The light chill of the air, not nearly cold enough for January, graces my skin, and I am happy for it.

What does the world itself want?

The last three years in a row have each in their turn broken the record for being the warmest year yet. Donald Trump’s Whitehouse removed all mention of climate change from the Whitehouse website. When Donald Trump’s inauguration did not host much of a public turn out, his spokesperson Kellyanne Conway defended the White House Press Secretary’s claim that it was a record turnout by claiming that the secretary was offering some, “alternative facts.” Despite my lack of social media participation, what conversation I do have on the internet and in person has made me keenly aware of just how divisive the language of the present political and social climate is.

There are so many people airing their opinions so constantly, and doing so in such a manner as not to be offering a discussion of ideas, but rather treating each dialog like they need to break the defensive line and run fifty yards to the end-zone before spiking the ball, doing a silly dance, and bro-hugging all of their teammates.

Everything is competitive. Discussion and conversation have become battlegrounds and everyone has joined a team. Listening is no longer required because a few keywords clue each participant in to whether or not the person they are engaging with is an ally or an enemy. Unfortunately so many of these keywords are used in a fashion that either completely eviscerates them from context, or even uses them to mean something that is diametrically opposed to their dictionary definition. Good luck finding more than a handful of adults who can accurately define socialism or capitalism, and further, good like finding adults who have a functional grasp of the history behind these systems.  Of course, finding someone to express their heated opinions on them should be no challenge at all.

If you were trapped on an island with a person and you had no common language between you, learning to communicate would be an arduous effort. For instance, if you find a banana on this island and show it to the other person and say, “Banana,” that person might think you are saying “Food,” or “Fruit” or “Yellow” or even “What’s this?”

Today we exist in a complex civilization that is held together by an interlocking web of systems and agreements and the whole thing is made to function with the application of complex technologies, some mechanical, some human. As a society grows more complex, the language needed to explain and understand the society must axiomatically grow in complexity. As the society moves over the arc of time and generations of people are born, live, breed, and die the history of that society grows in breadth and depth and complexity.

I have a lingering notion that the level of complexity and the depth and breadth of the historical knowledge required to grant proper context to that complexity has far outpaced the average person’s linguistic ability to keep up adequate comprehension.

Everywhere we hear arguments between people who might be using the same basket of words but who are ultimately speaking different languages.  When one person says “market” or “right” or “freedom” the other person is not receiving a clear signal as to what the speaker is actually referring to.  Of course, in the best of times verbal communication has its lackings, but with the added politicization of language and the increased complexity of how much one must know to understand the terms being used in current political discourse, we have found ourselves in an era where quite frequently we cannot communicate clearly on issues of current relevance.  We try, but too often our meanings are lost in translation.

So language is breaking down, and where complexity outraces ability, people have installed a host of shortcuts. No where is this more evident and more devious than in the realm of politics. It is in this realm that the centuries old history of a nation’s rise, expansion, plateau, and decline — all of which were affected by various international factors, energy factors, financial factors, and beyond – could be boiled down into a simultaneously meaningless and majestic combination of four words: “Make America Great Again.”

It is fitting that the president who ran and won an election based on that slogan finds his favorite communicative outlet to be an internet application that limits user’s posts to a meager one-hundred-and-forty characters.   Such a format of course does not lend itself to completeness of full and elaborate thoughts, to be sure. ‘

Working at a bar I must endure all manner of people and of course, their libation liberated opinions. In this regard I frequently find that I can temper my responses and offer an appropriate level of contrarian thought, pulling back before offending, offering a joke before off-putting, and generally balancing the atmosphere before someone throws a pint glass at my head. However, my talents like my patience have limits, and after so many nights hearing such confidence and sureness behind declarations concerning the sanctity of free markets, the laziness of the unemployed or the lack of equality for men in our society, my shoulders slump and I just walk away.

The complexity of an issue like “free markets” would require that a person read a variety of books on the matter to even have a foundational understanding of what they are talking about. It is, of course, so much easier to pick a team, learn a few slogans, and take to the field to blitz one’s opponent with anecdotes, non-sequiturs, and out right fallacies.

Expecting the general public to have the knowledge and the language to adequately understand the great issues of our age is at this point foolish. And such an understanding is not rewarded anyway, as the media and the political realm utilize shortcuts, slogans, and a near disdain for intelligence like a sword to cut down anyone who tries to enter nuance into a complex discussion.   Nuance is bad for ratings, I suppose. It really diminishes team spirit.

So instead we have memes. And snark. And shitposts. Now go vote so the rich who have profited from the destruction of your schools and your bodies and your minds can retain their power and convince you to love and fetishize them.

The problems firing at civilization like shot from a double barrel are the products of generations of complex human activity engaged in before its ramifications could be understood. The decline in topsoil viability, the acidification of the oceans, the mass extinction of species, the body burden of toxicity in our blood and tissue, the decline in global net energy, all have a long and sordid history to describe their making. Solving any one of these problems would be a herculean effort at this point, and that is before taking into account the very inability of most people to understand that a problem even exists in the first place.

Listening to the public discourse it is evident that the narrative of our society itself has splintered into fragments, and when one takes that into account it is easy to understand why so much anger and vitriol floods all systems of communication. Each actor perceives themselves to be the good guy in a grand narrative of unfolding disaster. Of course, the various factions perceive that disaster entirely differently with conservatives, for instance, convincing themselves that climate change is not real and liberals convincing themselves that green technology can provide everyone on Earth with a constantly upgrading standard of living, forever.

The splintered narratives are many, and with every hollered bellicose opinion they fracture and mutate further.  Attempts to center the spinning gyre of growing confusion are liable to be upended by “alternative facts.” Contrary to common sense there are people who suggest that based on the media’s treatment of him, Donald Trump at least is not a puppet of the deep state, to which I must counter that the primary concern of the media and their paymasters is the narrative. They want to control the narrative of society because the narrative of who we are, where we came from, and where we are going is central to controlling people and exploiting them for capital gain.

Donald Trump does not threaten capitalism. He does not threaten the state. Perhaps he threatens a particular sector of either, but where he restrains one set of wealthy or powerful people he will reward another. The edifice is safe under his watch.  The living Earth which we all rely upon and which is daily being wounded by industrial capitalism, is not.

To be clear, declining global net energy is likely the penultimate cause of the crack up of various systems of finance and the societies that rely on them.  Not grasping that complex impetus, let alone the history of how such reliance came to be, has fractured the glass of the window through which people view the world.  As people seek answers to explain lost prosperity, diminished growth, lowering standards of living they are met by a many eager salesmen of truth, all offering different versions of reality to which they can subscribe.

It makes for a lot of noise and very little signal.

Sundays are good days on the homestead. My wife and I lay in bed with our daughter until we feel like getting up. We make coffee and breakfast. This Sunday our friend comes over with her toddler son, and we chat about life in our corner of the county.

Outside I do not need a coat for the high of the day is sixty-three degrees, an aggressively warm January day indeed. With a dull butter knife I drag and scrape the flesh and membrane from a goat skin that is stapled to a piece of plywood. My daughter runs around pulling her imaginary unicorns on her sled, which with no snow present, bumps and skips over the gravel driveway. As I draw the knife towards me in short, tight motions my mind wanders from images of black bloc participants rioting in Washington D.C. to the disappointing comments belched out by the previous night’s bar patrons concerning the women who marched on the capitol.

Then I stop and breathe. I look out over the ravine to the leafless trees standing sentry over the landscape. My daughter giggles. In my head I ask, “I wonder what the world wants?”

Quiet, probably.

§ 24 Responses to Peak Consensus Reality

  • Ward A Van Frost says:

    TDoS, you are brilliant. Thank you.

  • foodnstuff says:

    Thanks for your posts. A voice of sanity in an increasingly insane world.

  • Stinging Nettle says:

    When I read posts like these I think that maybe I am not insane after all. Keep them coming.

  • Another fine blog. We just need them more often!


    • td0s says:

      I know, I am a slacker. I dont like to force myself to write. It sort of goes hand in hand with this essay’s topic. There is already so much noise out there, Im often not interested in adding to it. Plus I have so much else going on with raising the kid, the homestead, and martial arts.

  • Syke says:

    Great work

  • J.L.S says:

    Came here from reddit /r/collapse. I want to offer my perspective, not as a troll but basically from a sympathetic perspective. Trump’s representative or whoever was talking about the “biggest turnout worldwide,” so I thought he was referring to number of people who watched his inauguration in foreign countries or online (I was watching from Japan). I have no idea if he was telling the truth about that or not, but I also thought that the phrase “alternative facts” was just pointless, meaningless talking head crap that had no relevance to me. It’s not an announcement of new policy, it’s white people twitter. Most of my college friends are left-wing, and I’ve started to mute them on Facebook because I find their commentary on this and other issues of the day not really worth arguing with — and in fact not really directed at me or anyone else who disagrees, but rather signaling to each other.

    In a world where climate change threatens imminent civilization-level crisis every day, the earth itself does wants something, it’s going to happen, and at this point, 45 years after The Limits to Growth, us human beings and our political talking points no longer have very much to do with it. Maybe if we tried really hard we could have stopped the Pacific Ocean from turning into a plastic sludge full of jellyfish. Until 2016, I voted for Democrats out of some abstract hope that that could be accomplished. They did nothing.

    Now all that’s left is to survive, and as far as I can tell people elected Trump because he was the rich, conniving, lying bastard who was making promises more specifically helpful-sounding for their survival. Today’s technocrats are pawns of industry and don’t offer hope hope for our real lives, just intellectualist nonsense. To understand my point, I can recommend nothing more than this New Yorker article.

    So yeah, you and me are drifting apart on consensus reality. See you later, it was real.

  • ALLEN J THOMA says:

    I love your posts. Although reality (future anthropogenic warming) can be depressing, your posts have the edge of the best elegy in the spirit of Edward Abbey, Leonard Cohen or Loren Eiseley(at his best). I only wish you could write more often. Thanks

    • td0s says:

      I feel like if I write more often, I will write with less quality. I dont want to force myself to burp something out just because a week or two has passed. I am a weird guy, and my mind wanders about pretty relentlessly. Sometimes its hard to rope it back in to engage with the rest of the population.

  • Boiledfrog says:

    I’d love to read your fiction. After all reality kinda sucks at the moment.
    This morning I had a fear about what follows Trump. Good chance he will trash the global economy. Expect the next president to get a bounce that gives him or her both houses of congress and a true mandate of the people, but not a clue as to how to manage a decline in resources or growing ecological disasters. The best advice i got this year was to touch the Maple 🍁 tree!

    • td0s says:

      Thanks for the compliment. Ive considered fiction but its hard for me to convince myself that such things are worth doing. I definitely cannot convince myself to ever try to publish anything. Success would mean printing and shipping books, traveling to promote it, and other various wastes of resources.

      • Boiledfrog says:

        I spent a good part of my life learning to build “high end” rustic furniture only to decide it was a waste of time and resources. I’d rather chase cows out of my garden.

  • Sissyfuss says:

    The Muse comes and goes on its own schedule as I have perceived over the course of too many years. The beauty of your prose portends a faithful adherence to the muse’s meanderings. To write according to a schedule bespeaks vocation rather than art. The Zen of your life’s tales is deep and meaningful. To your own self you are true. Bravo!

  • Thank you for your thoughtful essays. Whenever you post I feel a sort of kinship, the silver-lined sorrow that you seem to experience while continuing to do the necessary things mirrors my own bitter sweet feelings about civilization, life, and that which I have no influence over.

    For what it’s worth, as for the frequency with which you post I actually prefer that you post infrequently, and value quality over quantity. Too many other blogs feel like chores to keep up with when they get onto a writing schedule. With your essays, it feels like getting a thoughtful letter from a distant friend, which I think adds something to the emotional depth of your writing.

    Thanks again, your efforts are appreciated.

  • MountainHiker says:

    Another great essay, as usual. It’s nice to hear that someone else has reached this point in the national dialogue. Anymore when I here someone use the words free markets, capitalism, socialism, communism, Maxist, economics, or most any of words in the true believer lexicon, I just stop listening like a high schooler falling assleep in English class. My new approach is to ask what those words mean, but that question is completely ignored.

    Anyway, I have concluded that none of this is fixable. It’s like puberty. When the time arrives, nothing will change it. Call it karma, propaganda, an illuminati plan, whatever, but we are on the doorstep of a new, uglier reality. Nobody I have talked to sees the future in a positive light. Only Trump’s truest believers think this is going to get better. However, having known these kinds of people my entire life, they really are just happy to see people they dislike get their asses kicked. Deep down they know they are just making the best of their freshly knocked up daughter still fitting into her dress and not looking pregnant for her junior prom pictures this weekend.

    Personally, I am watching fairly closely as things play out. We now have a strong law and order mentality in charge. That usually means people who think nearly all problems can be solved by pure, brute force and stern words. I fully expect this tactic to fail spectacularly. If/when that happens, then the scapegoating will begin in ernest, as it couldn’t possibly be their methods, could it? Interesting times are here right now. Good luck to all in dealing with them.

  • Matt says:

    Couldn’t agree more that it’s hard to verbally communicate with many people these days. Also, finding people who listen is rare. I know a few, and I want to keep them in my life for as long as it lasts.

    I’ve also observed those splintering factions that can justify just about any action based upon their interpretation of what’s wrong with the world. It seems one just joins a team, and starts saying, “we are right and they are wrong.” Ecosystems almost always pay the price.

    All symptoms and signs of a declining society, I think. Nice that there are others out there who get it!


  • expedeherculem says:

    Hey friend, great stuff as usual. I started teaching a writing class here to get at this very problem, i.e. lack of communication. I’ll send the group in this direction for further reading…

  • Shad says:

    The citizenry of western European civilization, are frantically splintering into medieval war clans as a coping mechanism for their recolonization. As western Europeans run out of places to colonize. The same machines they invented to pillage and colonize the planet, multinational corporations, have turned on their own masters. In their archetypal xenophobic, melanin madness induced rage. Trump and Le Pen are the wests Neo, in a battle against an enemy invented out of their own cultural psychosis.

  • strangedayonplanetearth says:

    People can’t calm themselves to the point of seeing the nuance, or perhaps even desiring the nuance … Because when there is silence it is not silence, just a pause before another day of unpleasurable tasks. Our lives are unpleasant and so our thoughts are unpleasant, and then our words.

    Do you think you could write the same things if you lived without any land?

  • A very elegant mix of husbandry and political observation – nice one! I came across you via the cross posting on doomsteaddiner.

    In one of your previous posts you mentioned the “insolvency of European banks” which is a sub-meme of the idea that the world has an incurable debt problem. Not many people get this but I think you would: the notion of a debt trap, as graphically popularised by the two films “Money as Debt” by Paul Grignon, is disinformation. Just like every stretched elastic band where equal and opposite forces of stretching and compression are experienced by the system, every debt has an equal and opposite credit. Substitute every appearance of the phrase “debt problem” in the Legacy Media for the phrase “credit problem”, and you begin to feel a difference in perspective. Back to the point: the EU banks would only collapse if it were so chosen, and in fact they simply had some of their debt forgiven. This was a suspiciously quiet $15T event that may have escaped your attention:

    The other thing I would like to add is that although global warming is probably indisputable, the cause of it certainly remains shrouded in deliberate confusion arising from competing human interests. A really good read for widening one’s perspectives beyond the political class wars is Susan Joy Rennison’s “Tuning the Diamonds”.

    Thank you for creating this great blog.


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