Maps Made in Summer

August 18, 2016 § 9 Comments

She bends low in the dark.  Her index finger and thumb clumsy as they meet, she pulls from the waist and the stalk she holds rises out of the hummus eagerly, offering no resistance.  Her hand is dwarfed by the firm yet undulating orange blossom.  The sun’s remaining light barely penetrates the gauntlet of trees that stand sentry across the rise and fall of the ridge line.  Tangerine daubs speckle through the here and there breaks in the thick ceiling of maple and oak leaves.

“Say, ‘thank you, Chanterelle.’ ”
“Thank you, Chanterelle.”

Her small voice is sincere because I am sincere.  She watches her feet as she steps high over sticks and briars heading back towards the trail where her mother stands smiling.

“Remember to shake it.”

She passes the mushroom side to side, moving it from her shoulder instead of her wrist.  I follow behind her with long slow steps, my hat in my hand, it is full of chanterelles.  Holding the bill like the handle of a small skillet, I gently bounce the mushrooms to release their spores.  The rains have finally passed and the trail is soft beneath our feet.


Summer is an incredibly busy time on the homestead, which usually means I put away the effort of writing in favor of merely ruminating as I attend to the constancy of the tasks before me.  This has been our most productive year yet insofar as providing our food is concerned, which is encouraging as we have accomplished this yield while living off site until our septic system installation is completed. The abundance of foods like tomatoes and green beans has been overwhelming, and the high heat has made the effort of canning very unappealing.  Fortunately, we have friends willing to can for us if we are willing to share the end product, and there are even local restaurants eager to buy our produce.

Squash bugs infested my yellow crook necks and zucchini, and they killed off my Crenshaw and cucumber vines.  I collected a satisfying quantity of fruit from all of these plants over the past couple of months so it is with even temper that I yank them by the root, shake them, and place them in a compost pile.  When the space is clear I walk over to a wooden gate and lift the chain that holds it closed.  As I pull it open a single file line of Rouen ducks comes marching out, quaking proudly as they all make their way to the now bare space before lowering their beaks and feasting on the slow moving squash bugs.  I lift my feet high to avoid stepping on the kudzu like sprawl of sweet potato vines and make my way to the garden gate where I pause to wipe the sweat from my forehead.  It’s hot.  Humid and hot at four in the afternoon.  I think on what else I can get accomplished today.  We will be moving back into our home soon and there are still jobs to finish up before doing so, mainly rigging the cistern to the gutters, and installing a hand pump in the kitchen to draw from the cistern.  That and cutting another few ricks of firewood.  And slapping walls on the barn.  And laying the flooring in my daughter’s bedroom.  And planting the winter garden.

I could “and” for days.  Instead I take a breath and look back at my little girl as she giggles watching the ducks.  Its hard to not feel rushed and I make a conscious effort to be present, to be content with the work already done instead of always existing in the stress of that yet to do.  The moist air is stagnant, and as I take a moment to scan the spaces around me, noting the tasks big and small that require attention, my mind wanders a bit, and I feel like we are on the edge of something.

This July was globally the warmest month in human memory.  Such headlines are almost blase these days as warming trends continually break records.  Thousands of people in Louisiana have lost their homes in what FEMA has dubbed the worst natural disaster in the United States since hurricane Sandy.  Fires rage in the drought stricken American west from southern California to Glacier National Park in Montana.  Social tensions continue to flare too, as the National Guard was called in to subdue rioters in Milwaukee, and random acts of violence seem to break loose from the percolating underworld of racist authoritarians emboldened by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.  Venezuela’s economic collapse continues apace, various African nations are succumbing to famine, the war in Syria is drawing larger battle lines between major powers, and despite the best efforts of central banks across the globe, major financial institutions just cannot turn a profit in a world of net energy decline.

For years I have watched the world through a particular lens, and that is the lens of peak oil.  Despite the failures of particular peak oil advocates to predict the future, and despite the inability of even larger numbers of critics to actually understand the peak oil concept before engaging in attacking it and its proponents, I still feel that this is a particularly useful lens for viewing the macro picture of human industrial civilization.  Of late, I have admittedly felt that I am without a map, and I have found myself in my quiet moments attempting to piece one together.  Of course, drawing a map begins with placing a center pin where you currently stand.  So where am I?  Or if I may be so bold, where are we?

I first became aware of the peak oil concept in 2004 when I was twenty-three years old.  After reading the various assessments of the issue that were available on the internet at the time, and of course, being young and impressionable, I took to some of the worst case scenarios presented by outlying bloggers.  By and large, these were not the better experts to trust, and I was convinced that ten years out we would be living in a very different world.  The economic crash of 2008 felt validating in a sense, but the divergence from prediction that followed forced me to begin rethinking how the decline of industrial civilization would play out.  Eight years of very, let us say, creative economics have prevented the full on breakdown of the growth based financial paradigm.  I do not believe I am alone in wondering exactly how long such creative policies can sustain the physical world of the production and distribution of material goods.

To be perfectly clear, I am no fan of the civilized model of human organization, and I have repeatedly stated this in my writing.  But I do my best to be aware of its functionality so I can properly place myself and my family to best buffer ourselves from the swings of forces beyond our control.  The internet is rife with commenters who are eager to bargain with Moloch, hoping to right what they perceive to be the ills of state and capital so that some form of industrial civilization can carry them into the future.  These commenters have altars to different demigods.  Some light a candle to technology while others burn incense for invisible hands and supposedly free markets.  I look out and see dying ash trees and the onslaught of invasive stilt grass and I know in the core of my being that there is no bargaining with civilization.  No vertical farm, no vegan diet, no gold-backed currency, no handing over of the means of production to the proletariat will stop what’s coming.

But it is equally true that it is next to impossible to know exactly what is coming, or when it will get here.  That is why we try to draw maps.  And if we want our maps to be of any use, they should probably start with what we know about the past and the present, so maybe, the best of our efforts can draw lines between the two that give some clue as to the trajectory and direction of the future.

Over the years as I have written on these topics I have been careful to avoid prediction, simply because most people who in engage in it are so often wrong.  What’s worse, is that so many people who make names for themselves as so called “trends analysts” and such, not only are often wrong, but they refuse to acknowledge when they are so, and they just continue with the business of making predictions.  I would rather make a map, a sketch of the terrain we have covered and of that which I can see through the fog in front of me.  As this is a map of the industrial civilization in which we live, there are two compass points which are of extreme importance.

First, is net energy.  All work done requires energy to make it happen.  The primary energy source for this civilization is oil.  This is what makes an understanding of peak oil concepts so valuable.  Oil is the foundation of the lion’s share of the work done in this civilization, even being the foundational energy source behind the manufacture of items like solar panels.  The diesel trucks that mine for metals or that grow the crops that feed workers are all run with oil.  The economic and social architecture of this society requires a growth in the net energy available with which to do work.  This is not necessarily a growth in the amount of barrels of oil available at any given time.  If those specific barrels of oil utilized more energy in their acquisition than usual, we may be in a situation where we have more quantity of oil available yet less total energy.  This will hamper growth, which while good for the ecology of the planet, is a death sentence to financial paradigms where debt is the basis of currency and investment.

The second compass point of importance is the ecological material available to support society.  Drinkable water, healthy soil, viable biomes thrush with life, a stable climate; all are necessary to maintain human life and activity.  Unfortunately, this point is lost on the so-called educated class who think only in terms of capital.  I stress this point because even in the event that a miracle occurs and our energy woes vanish, there is still the issue of our destabilizing climate and over burdened ecosystems.  We need bees and butterflies and ants to pollinate crops.  We need amphibians to keep insect populations in balance.  We need birds to spread seeds.  We need fungus and soil life to make plants viable at all.  Human activity threatens all of these beings and their habitats.

So as I sketch my map I note the peak of conventional oil production that occurred in the 2005-2008 timeframe.  I note the bankruptcies that are tearing through the US unconventional oil industry.  I note the banks across Europe that are on the verge of insolvency.  I definitely note the trillions of dollars worth of debt monetization across the global financial sector which have been an attempt to cover the spread of missing growth that is required to make good on previous loans and outstanding interest.  I also note the shortfalls in needed rain in the American west, the predicted water shortage in Lake Mead, the rising seas and the unprecedented storms.  When I step back at my scrawled lines, I see images reminiscent of times past.  Politically there are movements that seem to rhyme with what came out of the depression era, and economically there are movements that very much remind me of the warnings that began flashing in 2007 as the mortgage industry began to implode.  The page, too, is dotted with the unpredictable lines of natural disaster and ecological calamity.

Simply stated, this is what I see:  A period of economic depression is on the wind.  My gut says we see an undeniable beginning of this period before winter.  Where it all leads is too far out to say.  I think it is simplistic when people draw a timeline of the future that consists merely of one trend-line pointing downward.  There are hundreds if not thousands of trend-lines that together combine to graph the arch of a particular civilization, and some will yet be on the rise.  It is when a majority of the significant trend-lines slump downward that we can say with certainty a society is in decline.  It is my humble position that what we have on the horizon is a period of greater unemployment and struggle on a family by family level here in the “first world west.”  There will be a shake out of never-to-be-solvent again institutions, and a generalized acknowledgement of a paradigm of “hard times” being upon us.  Natural disasters will be harder and harder to recover from as they will strike more often in regions where status quo thinking believes them too unlikely or impossible and this will combine with a financial inability to afford repair.  Politically, people will seek easy and incorrect answers, so on that front we will have nothing new in thinking modality, but we will see new lows in practical application.

Of course, this is a map I am trying to draw for myself so that I can better prepare for the terrain before me and mine.  And I’m just some guy who likes homegrown beets and wild mushrooms, so take anything I have to say with that in mind.  But at least I’m not trying to sell you a pamphlet about gold coins, and you’ll notice there are no ads for gas masks or survival seeds on my web page (unless word press puts them there.)

My personal activity includes shoring up on the basics.  Preventative car maintenance on both of our four wheel drive Jeeps, which each contain tools and flashlights, so that floods and storms are more navigable.  Selling off unneeded items to pay for home improvements as well as a bit more archery gear as I want to take a deer by bow this fall and to make as much jerky as possible.  Buying all of my spring seeds now, and making sure we have plenty of simple things like candles and lighters, lard and honey.  This is all stuff that gets regular use, so there are no regrettable wastes of money.

My index finger presses into the soft soil with ease.  A dried pea falls silently into the hole and I sweep lose earth with the blade of my hand to cover it.  Four inches to the left, I repeat the process, and then again, and then again, all the way down the fence line.  The red cabbage have only just broken through the surface of the dirt in their seed trays, so it’ll be a week or so yet before I move them into the field where right now potatoes are living their final days before harvest.  Parsnip greens are tall, and I mentally make note of which ones I want to leave to winter over before checking on the newly planted kale.  Everbearing strawberries are still putting on fruit, and my daughter is occupied now lifting their leaves and excitedly yanking the plump red berries.

Cicada chatter rises and falls in the nearby tree canopy and again I stand to survey the land.  Tent worms are killing an apple tree.  Sunflowers stand tall in the afternoon heat.  I see dead trees that need felling, weeds that need mowing, fence posts that need straightening, and job after job after job that lay before me.  I have a plenty of time to ruminate, observe, and ruminate again, and will revisit writing again when cold winds blow.  Maybe I will think back to this piece and feel foolish, but I will not be afraid to say I was wrong.  My immediate terrain is so more much knowable, even if it is pocked with struggle and strain.  To my left our gravel drive stretches off into the woods, and as I look off to the cool forest there is a flash in my mind of a hunter walking with his bow, and in this moment, I envy him.


The Autumn Breathes

November 9, 2015 § 8 Comments

Deep in the hardwood forest I watch the first orange light crest over the eastern ridge as dawn unfolds casting its warmth on the surface of the yawning Earth.  Poplar trunks stand firm above the gold and brown leaf cover that now mulches the hopeful seedlings while granting the white tail deer an auditory advantage over those who would stalk them through the hollers.  At this time of year the forest exhales and retreats from the above ground toil of photosynthesis to a season of focus within the dense and teeming skin of the planet.  Without the brush and laden bough, one can see for miles across the waves of ridge and ravine.  Sound is without obstacle, and seems almost propelled by the chill wind when it punctures the otherwise heavy silence.  The feeling is one of calm, of that restfulness that comes when one crawls into bed and their leg muscles finally release the day’s tension.  Autumn contains a library of lessons, none of which can be learned until one is still, patient, and not fucking talking.

My year was not what I had planned for it to be.  Many tasks remain undone.  Our family was interfered with by a local government body, and we are now in the process of installing an overpriced septic system for our cabin.  It is a headache, to be sure, dealing with puffed up bureaucrats and their ad hoc adherence to antiquated and at times contradictory laws.  As is often the case in this society, compliance is cheaper and faster than justice.  Proving to a judge my case that I should not be required to acquire such a system would find me spending more money, time, and personal energy than just going along with the racket that the good old boys and connected families have established in these parts.  I have made my peace with the conflict, and am calmly dancing through the hoops laid out for me.  When all is said and done, the cabin I built with my two hands will be a legal residence in the event that we ever decide to move and to sell our land.  Property value and all that, right?

Here we are again, dear readers, staring down another winter in which we can together reflect on the state of the world, both the portion that modern humans point their attention at, as well as to the far larger portion where, as Cormac McCarthy wrote, “Storms blow and trees twist in the wind, and all of the animals that God has made go to and fro.”  Despite a massive downturn in the global economy, money moves and the smokestacks belch their poison.  To be sure, man’s world of markets and digital notations percolates.  An event is brewing that portends itself in plummeting rig counts and commodity prices.  What grand show this event will perform for people rich enough to have a stake in it is to be seen.  The rest of us will scrape by like the peasants that we are until even scraping fails, and only bloodletting remains.

Superstorms and hurricanes ravage from Texas to Yemen.  Starved and hopeless human beings are playing the only card they have and abandoning the sure death that awaits their children in the war ravaged and drought plagued middle eastern and north African regions.  Rich white people who are to blame for such wars, droughts, and famines are bellowing from the America’s, clear across Europe, and down to Australia about the brown victims of centuries of Anglo-capitalism and how they are not supposed to do anything but suffer their circumstances in place.  Where these white adherents to national boundary and culture were as the US, UK, and other global powers were setting about to wage war and destabilize governments in these now uninhabitable places, I’m not exactly sure.

This is the crisis unfolding.  This is what it looks like.  Real life plays out a lot more slowly than the Hollywood scripts that have to crunch collapse adventures into one hundred and twenty minute films complete with explosions, comeuppance, and a love story for the girls.  Tracking the decline of global industrial civilization is seemingly gaining in popularity, and it is all too common for those new to such a curiosity to expect an impending grand finale in which all bets are off; the power grid fails, store shelves empty, gas pumps get bagged, and all hell breaks loose in suburban cul-de-sacs where soccer moms in body armor pump 7.62 into hordes of urbanites (read: blacks and latinos…OK, and maybe a few white guys with neck tattoos get plugged for good measure) who are scouring the once idyllic portions of America in search of condensed soup and cheerleaders for their rape rooms.

Instead another year grinds by in which forest fires destroyed more than they ever had in North america, heat waves killed thousands in Pakistan, sea levels continued their upward march, and political institutions seemed ever more and more inept in the face of all the compounding emergencies that industrial civilization faces.  Even my own humble region was affected by unseasonable levels of rain this July which were punctuated by a night of flash flooding that tested my mettle and resolve as I spent hours trying to find an unblocked path home.

Of course, we know that there are no solutions, not for the major crises.  There is no putting back what is broken, and limits to growth are not optional.  They are not suggested daily values.  Sustainability isn’t a lifestyle choice.  That which cannot be sustained will not be.  For us as individuals, families, tribes, and communities, there is only endurance.  How do we get by, and not just with the calories in our gut to labor forth, but with the joy in our hearts to make us want to carry on?  Times of decline are times of darkening in the human heart and soul.  Atrocity follows shortage.  A world of hunger, hate, and blood is a world in which human conscience is called upon to rise, to shield, to burn brightly, despite less and less obvious motivation to do so.

The year draws down and grants us all yet another season to breathe.  Let us use the time wisely.

The Twilight of Our Tale: Part Three

April 16, 2015 § 27 Comments

“We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.”

– Alan Watts

Rains have come hard. Explosions of thunder pull me into a state of half dreaming amid the depths of night. Come dawn, the morning light is not blue, but a thin coffee brown as it fills our cabin. After making breakfast on the woodstove, the millions of rattling hooves racing across our steel roof begin to slow, and then peter out completely. I pull on my overalls and slip on my muck boots to head up to the front of our land where the chickens are no doubt waiting to be let loose into their yard. After gathering eggs, I walk to a back field to scatter our wood ash, and it is there that I pick the first oyster mushrooms of the year off of a wet tree stump.

Soon I am wandering about our land, drawn by the sprouting sea of trout lilies to venture into the pockets and corners where I rarely step. Water runs in the wet weather creeks. Toothwort flowers paint the ground with the faintest flecks of pink. A downed hickory branch has me taking high steps and bracing myself on a maple trunk. My hand feels the rough surface. I move to a shagbark hickory, and drag my fingers down his body. Shaped like tongues of fire, draped down the tree’s mass like plumage, for a moment I think of a rooster’s hackles. I wonder if bats are sleeping under the shagbark’s skin.

Mayapples have just barely begun to poke through the clay, and I look for the Sparassis mushroom which blooms in the same place every year, and looks like a cross between cauliflower and coral, but I am too early for her on this morning. Moisture hangs in the air, the slightest humidity, as I listen to the water in the creek and the songbirds and the wind. I find myself overwhelmed. Here in this moment I am surrounded by – no – interwoven in what I can only call truth. I feel sadness and euphoria and altogether present. All at once it becomes very clear to me that our salvation lies waiting for us in these fecund and wild places, and in the next moment, I think about just how many of them will be destroyed today. As the scent of moss centers me, in region after region the scent of diesel portends doom where bulldozers and feller-bunchers and generators are all rumbling into motion across the globe.

What does it mean to know a thing? So much of what we think we know boils down to a complex interaction between an onslaught of various symbols, each of those brought into being by human minds, and then let loose to transmute into an ever evolving web of concepts and ideas, each only as meaningful as would be allowed by the human mind receiving them.

There is a stark difference between what we perceive subjectively with our senses and what we can communicate with our words. My experience of walking through the forest this morning cannot be communicated no matter how much I try. Similee and metaphor offer attempts at emphasizing the color or form of that which I saw or touched, but without seeing or touching yourself there is no possible way for me to truly translate my experience to you. Words themselves are symbolic, and even though you may say “mountain” or “river” the picture that generates in my mind of a mountain or river will not be the picture you had in your head when you spoke. The picture in my head will almost certainly bear no resemblance to the mountain that you spent a month backpacking upon or the river that you went fishing in with your grandfather at age eleven.

Mountains and rivers are fairly fixed concepts too, so imagine the disparity in our minds’ interpretations of such notions as “republican,” “wealthy,” “patriotic,” “good,” “happy,” “sane,” or “environment.” It must be true that a great bulk of the time we are not even speaking of the same things when we are speaking of the same things.

The world is being killed. The living skin of the planet on which we reside is being killed. It is people doing the killing and they are doing it for reasons they often can’t really comprehend. They are told that they need to do what they are doing, and the words used to convince them are symbols and representations of concepts which are even murkier symbols and representations of…of what really? It doesn’t even matter. It is noise. Human noise. A cacophony of the howling mad all yelling in a disharmonic unison. It is a story that is just good enough to convince people to point guns at each other while they command those others to work.

It is a story that means nothing to forests, rivers, mountains, and oceans.

“Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money!
Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo!
Moloch Whose ear is a smoking tomb!

“Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the mind!”

From Howl by Allen Ginsberg

Our delusion spins away from center caught in the centrifugal force of entropy. We are animals endowed with functions of body and brain to move through our environment successfully navigating the challenging and changing conditions before us. Somewhere along the way people began altering the environment instead of navigating it. Further along the way people began killing those who warned against the pitfalls of such behavior. Today we try to maintain sanity as we dance with a demon under carnival lights, pretending to be one thing then another then another with the different phases of the day, just hoping to placate the beast with every coin we drop into a parking meter, with every late fee we write a check to pay, with every punch of the time clock when we would rather be anywhere else.

Won’t someone please come and scatter the cinders of this hell? Our prayers are answered by an automated system. Press one to leave a message. Press two to hear these options again.

We know that the system is insane, that it doesn’t care for us, that it is killing the planet, and that it grinds our spirits into meal along the way. So why retreat further into the isolation and alienation that is laid out for us like a deathbed? Why spend so much time logging on to forums and chat boards and reading the assessments of strangers? Are you are seeking a friend, or maybe a sage? Are you looking for someone to finally tell you that we all in unison are going to stop playing the game on the count of three?

Here is the best I can do for you: Log off. Sign out. Shut down the tablet, the phone, the laptop. Sell your television, or hell, just destroy it so it doesn’t poison the next person. I know that existing within this paradigm is painful. I know the weight and misery that dealing with all of the requirements forced upon you by other people, faceless and nameless and uncaring, can generate. But retreating into the wrinkles of the Leviathan’s pale smile is not the cure. We cannot rescue and resuscitate our spirits when our blood courses with alcohol, Prozac, and corn syrup. We cannot slay the loneliness in doors, tribeless, illuminated by the dim glow of a screen.

Further, you need to stop looking for a plan. Stop trying to figure out how to make the workable work or the unsustainable sustain. Society is the demon. Civilization is the leviathan. The wise of Middle Earth knew that no good purpose could be achieved with the dark lord’s ring, it had to be destroyed in the fires where it came into being. Society is not redeemable. It cannot be made good.

So let up a big Bronx cheer to all of the politicians and bureaucrats and high-minded engineers and NGO white collars who continually try to sell you their version of the scheme by which the demon can be bridled and made to do the bidding of the righteous. One moment’s glance at a news feed will turn up hundreds of these schemes, littered with plans for progressive taxation, solar panels, deregulation, and geo-engineering. They are wasting what precious little time might remain, and worse, they are convincing you that you are powerless and that they are powerful. The truth is that they are the overseers of this plantation, and you alone hold the key to your liberation.

So I toast to the scofflaws, the turnstyle jumpers, the shoplifters and the squatters. I raise my glass to the tribal warriors who set RCMP vehicles on fire while defending their homes and to the ELF ninjas who by night drive spikes into trees and pour concrete into bulldozer exhaust pipes. I sing “solidarity” to the black clad youth who set ATM’s on fire and to the white haired granny who flips the police the bird from the bus window as she makes her way to knitting group. If society is irredeemable, we must be anti-social, and breathe the liberated breath that comes with finally giving ourselves the permission to feel such things. We can choose how we manifest such feelings into action, and in no way do I expect anyone to do anything they deem inappropriate for their set of circumstances. Your individual resistance can be poetry, it can be stealing a box of pens from work, it can be the time-honored tradition of carving your anger into a bathroom wall. All that matters is that we never let the demon in, not completely, and that the part of us that we keep for ourselves remains wild and untouchable

But may I humbly suggest, that we need to touch the Earth. We need to sit in circles with our tribes. We need to experience the world subjectively through our many senses, and to know that our subjective experience of the land around us contains more truth and validity than all of the photographs and recordings humming away on spinning hard drives in an office tower somewhere. We have to value the direct experience of our individual lives and try however we might to cross the divides of time to remember that which the demon and his acolytes have beaten, and raped, and killed to make us forget.

We are the earth made animate, and our brothers and sisters, the animals and forests and rivers and stars, are crying out to us to stop. To please just stop.

I started my series of essays last fall asking, “What are we to do when we simultaneously need a thing and yet are destroyed by it?” The house, civilization, our domestication, the story that we were told and that we re-tell every day, all were supposed to be tools to serve us. It is clear beyond doubt that this is no longer the case if it ever was. We have become the tools of our tools. It is time to bury them. It is time for a new tale to explain who we are, and we are each one of us free to write that tale, and to sing it to our children.

This is me signing off. I have said what I have to say, and it has been hard on my body and spirit to do so. As I type these words the sun now shines down on the red buds and magnolia flowers opening at the tips of the tree branches outside my home. My daughter is playing and I am clicking at keys. The asymmetry of my bent body ignoring the wonders of life in this moment is glaring. Look at your world. Enter into it. For the love of God, go outside, be in the place where you are, and connect with it. Better still, see where it needs defending and defend it. On the count of three.

One. Two. Three…

The Twilight of Our Tale: Part One

March 15, 2015 § 21 Comments

Part 1

“Protect your spirit, for we are in the place where spirits get eaten.”

John Trudell

Spring is moving in quickly, more quickly than I might necessarily want. My arms are worn enough to keep me from complaining about the break from hauling and splitting firewood, and sleeping the night through instead of waking up at three a.m. to stoke the embers and add more fuel to the stove is a welcome respite. I am quite concerned however, that the season for collecting maple sap may be cut abruptly short. For the best syrup season, night time temperatures need to drop below freezing, and day time temperatures need to rise to just shy of forty degrees Fahrenheit. A week ago, nights were just above zero and days didn’t creep past twenty. This week, nighttime lows hover in the high thirties and the days are approaching sixty. Of course, this could be a fluke, and I don’t want to scream “climate change” with every strange localized weather event, but the songbirds seem to be dropping anchor for the season, and I am recording the details of this winter’s drastic waning in the ledger book of such things in my mind.

The arrival of spring brings for me a surge of energy as I feel life return to the above ground world from the root-balls and burrows where it slumbered during the frigid and dark portion of the year. Spring also brings with it a workload beyond what I ever have time for, so the energy I feel running through my limbs as the sun shines down on my jacketless body is quite a gift. I mention such things because as the days lengthen and grow warmer, I have commitments in the garden and about the homestead that keep me from writing, so this will likely be my last piece for a good while. Such a hiatus comes none to soon, as I feel I am running short on things to say for the present time.

Why do we seek such writing anyway? If you’re like me, you are reading this very piece as you drink your morning coffee or tea. You are mustering the wakefulness required to go about your daily activity, but before you do, you are washing your mind in a bit of confirmation bias concerning the state of the world. Everything is going to hell, and on a daily basis you check in with the news feeds and blogger community to peruse the latest data points that confirm what you already know: climate change is accelerating as superstorms and droughts increase in ferocity. The people in power are still maniacs insistent on walling themselves off from the public with cordons of brutish and overly armed police. People without power are still being brutalized when they stand up for their dignity or merely exist between a capitalist and a resource. Some species went extinct. Some rainforest was clear-cut. Some stretch of ocean was overfished, or used as a radioactive dump-site, or both.

Rise and shine, the world is right where you left it when you went to sleep last night. Now go to work.

A few days ago I asked a young man I know who works as a dishwasher in a deli, “Why do you get up and go to work every day?” He answered, “To pay the bills.” I then asked, “What would happen if you didn’t pay your bills?” “I would be evicted eventually,” he replied. It quickly became evident that I was engaging in an exercise more than I was asking sincere questions, and he quite happily humored me as we ran through the entire sequence of events that would follow his not paying his bills. There are the police who would serve his eviction and the consequences they would face if they refused to do so, the police chief who would fire them, the mayor that would fire him if he didn’t terminate non-compliant police, and on, and on down the line. It wasn’t a new line of thought for him, and after playing the game of hypotheticals, I asked him what was behind this whole machination of human dominoes that forces people to work doing things they hate, like washing dishes in a deli.

He said, “Money. Greed.”

I offered a different possibility. “There is a demon behind all of this, manipulating us. It is an invisible and nameless demon that is trying to eat our souls.”

He laughed. I told him I was serious.

Perhaps you don’t believe in demons. It doesn’t really matter. The point is that no matter how much we know, individually and collectively, no matter how much anger we harbor, no matter how much we hate what it is our bodies and minds are engaged in for hours at a stretch every single day, we still go and do it. Minute by minute, hour by hour, no one is standing there making us do anything. It is all internalized. We are obedient. We are docile. We are domesticated.

Here is where you jump in and interject that bosses and landlords and police and judges all are waiting in the wings to punish disobedience. Of course they are. I don’t disagree. But remember, there are more bosses and landlords and police and judges all waiting behind the first set to make sure they keep to the rules and continue the game of civilization uninterrupted. Though this is obvious I point it out for a reason: there is no one to kill. There is no one person who if eliminated would provide for us the opening we need to stop the insanity of industrial civilization and to build something new, something sane, something with the potential for longevity.

Thinking of such things reminds me of “The Grapes of Wrath.” In the story, Steinbeck writes a scene in which the agents of the landowners come to tell the tenant farming families that they have to leave.

“Sure, cried the tenant men, but it’s our land. We measured it and broke it up. We were born on it, and we got killed on it, died on it. Even if it’s no good, it’s still ours. That’s what makes it ours – being born on it, working it, dying on it. That makes ownership, not a paper with numbers on it.

We’re sorry. It’s not us. It’s the monster. The bank isn’t like a man.

Yes, but the bank is only made of men.

No, you’re wrong there-quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.”

The tenant farmers are pushed to anger at the blamelessness and absurdity of their situation.

“We’ll get our guns, like Grampa when the Indians came. What then?

Well-first the sheriff, and then the troops. You’ll be stealing if you try to stay, you’ll be murderers if you kill to stay. The monster isn’t men, but it can make men do what it wants.”

Steinbeck does a masterful job outlining the maddening and perplexing nature of our conundrum; people comprise the system, people act out their roles within the system, but people are not the system. So what the hell is the system? It seems so innocuous. It is rules. It is expectations. It is a series of triggers by which one human action results in an automatic response by another human who is just doing their job, and if they weren’t doing it, someone else would be. Of course, I am not trying to absolve any single person of the responsibility they bear for the actions that they individually engage in. I am however, interested in exploring the construction of the invisible forces that keep all of us participating in a system that we know is toxic to us physically and spiritually, as well as to the living planet at large.

It is so easy to blame the system. It’s just a word, and it is a stand in for the pieces and the whole of everything we see that is wrong with the way human society is behaving. Poverty? Blame the system. War? The system. Racism? The system. But what is the system? If it is just rules, expectations, and essentially stories that we tell each other, then why is the system so hard to change? Why is it so seemingly immutable? Why are we so damn helpless and ineffective at altering something so fragile, so simple, so made up? Could all of us really be so captured by something invented, something spoken into being and jotted down on flimsy pieces of paper? It’s as though we all began playing a game, only to realize that the game was playing us, and once begun there was no way to stop playing, even as we watched our movements destroy the world.

Maybe there is a demon after all. Maybe ignoring the demon, pretending it is not there endangers us further. Maybe the demon is an eater of souls, and its strategy is to diminish our power and our will through mindless labor, through a dulled existence of symbols and static, flashing lights and loud noises, addiction and poisonous food. Maybe for millennia, this demon has been slowly at work, gaining strength and refining its strategy, inserting its desires and ploys into our lives as politics, as capitalism, as war, as revolution, as status, as sex, as culture, as normal, as human nature.

Is it so hard to believe? Look around. Walk through a gas station. Look at the racks full of five hour energy bottles, E Cigarettes, scratch and win lottery tickets, chili cheese flavored corn chips, male enhancement pills, and thirty two ounce aluminum cans full of Monster and malt liquor. Step outside and see the fifty-foot glowing signs advertising Arby’s, Taco Bell, and some nameless pornography and sex toy megastore. Each establishment is serving up a small slice of death, of exploitation, of misery. Each storefront and corporate logo is masking a sweatshop, a slaughterhouse, a slave, an oil spill, another species gone from the Earth forever.

But we don’t believe in demons. We are too rational for that, too objective, too advanced. At least, that is the story we tell ourselves. But then I look around at the tortured landscape and the careless people moving through it who don’t seem to notice that they are traversing a spiritual wasteland, and I have to wonder.

Maybe when we go to the internet in the morning and look for the daily headlines and editorials, we are really looking for a friend, someone of like mind to join us in our knowledge and our fear of the events taking shape all around us that individually we are just too damn small to do anything about. Like office workers who jumped from the upper floors of the burning World Trade Center, we want someone with whom we can hold hands as we take the plunge into a future that has no good outcomes.

Or maybe, we are looking for hope, logging on and scrolling past link, after, link, after link until we find what we have been waiting for; a set of instructions. No more data points, no more statistics and measurements confirming what we already know, but a plan. For God’s sake, the catastrophe is spelled out in neon lights and it howls from a megaphone all day, every day. I have more awareness than my mind can bear, but what the hell am I, are you, supposed to do about it? We are so small. We are just one person. We are already late for work.

Step one: Protect your spirit, for you are in a place where spirits get eaten.

There Will Be Blood

February 11, 2015 § 32 Comments

“He said that men believe the blood of the slain to be of no consequence but that the wolf knows better. He said that the wolf is a being of great order and that it knows what men do not: that there is no order in this world save that which death has put there.”
― Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing

In Theodore Kacynski’s manifesto, “Industrial Society and Its Future,” he lays out many premises concerning the existence of man in relation to technology and technological societies. One of these premises is that modern people in technological societies are afraid of death because they have never lived. They have not used their bodies, minds, and souls to their full potential, and thus even in old age, feel like they are yet to begin. Kacynski writes about the primitive man who in his sixties, having seen the successful life of his child and feeling the weariness in his muscles and bones, does not fear, but welcomes his turn to sleep. Where these intuitions were passed on, cultures of indigenous peoples were able to form warrior societies whose success rested on the fact that individual braves had no fear of death. They viewed themselves as one with their people and their land, both of which were timeless, granting them strength of conviction when the situation called for it.

When we hear of people dying in our culture, such news is often quickly followed with statements about the unfairness of one dying so young. Even a fifty-year-old heart attack victim will generally be granted laments and declarations that their passing was too early. While of course the loss of a loved one is saddening, there does appear to be a trend throughout this culture that seems to speak of death as if it is not the ultimate outcome of every life. Death, like the environment, is but another inconvenience to be conquered by our cleverness.

In this culture, there is language of “rights” concerning life. It is said that individuals have a “right” to life, meaning then that death is some violation against the individual. There are even those who would like to extend such rights to animals. No one, according to modern people enculturated by the dominant dogmas, is supposed to die. Ever.

Of course, every living being is only so for a limited time. Death and birth are two phases in the same biological process, and where there is the latter, inevitably we will come to the former. What I find so maddening, is that this culture, so lacking in its ability to confront death, let alone to create and support the psychological and emotional infrastructure to deal with death, is such an efficient bringer of death. How a people so vocally dedicated to peace and the preservation of life can then unflinchingly create nuclear and biological weapons, institute economic castes which immiserate the majority to establish the privilege of the minority, and daily exterminate upwards of two hundred species is possibly the grand irony of our time.

The mind reels.

When just last month, the study “Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet,” was released, it got a lot of traction across the internet. The study, prepared by eighteen scientists from various international universities, grabbed headlines by claiming that human civilization had crossed four of nine environmental boundaries.

Of course such studies digitally shared from hard drive, to hard drive, to hard drive have never served to accomplish much in the way of real world action towards deindustrialization, and likely this one was and will remain no different. The trend seems to be that alarming data confirming that human industrial civilization is driving the global ecology to ruin, likely even to the near term detriment of this very civilization, only ends up spurring on those who believe that human industrial civilization can be done in a less harmful way, perhaps with the addition of more solar panels or the subtraction of capitalist motives.

Those who dare argue that civilization, and industrial civilization in particular, is the root cause of the destructive habits which are bringing all living beings to a point of potential collapse or extinction, are routinely dismissed as extreme. Such critics, before dismissal, are reminded of the dominant culture’s primary directive; “We cannot go backwards.” Suggestions that we must, in order to maintain a survivable habitat, drastically reduce reliance on industrial methods, products, and infrastructure are waved off as impossible, insane, or even genocidal. Defenders of the dominant culture and systems of industrial civilization claim that such reductions in technological application will axiomatically mean reductions in human population, and thus are off the table. These claimants are either oblivious to the fact that “going forward” with the methods and practices of the dominant culture would be at least equally genocidal, if not more so, or they harbor a quasi religious belief that human invention will save us from every single problem caused by previous scores of human invention. Always ignored is the clear fact that so called “going forward” will mean an increase in human population before the ecosystems which support them collapse, meaning there will be more humans to die when drought, famine, sea level rise, resource scarcity, and every other calamity currently rising to crescendo ultimately manifest in a symphony of systemic failures that existing political, technological, and economic structures are incapable of mitigating

And then there are the non-human genotypes that most defenders of the dominant culture refuse to ever enter into their calculations.

When someone refuses to acknowledge a solution to a problem because it will indirectly involve death – even when the solution in question is attempting to select fewer deaths sooner as opposed to a great many more deaths later – this person is inserting hidden premises into the discussion, the most obvious of which is that people alive now have the right to exhaust the health of the land which people not yet born will need to rely on in the future. If upon the suggestion that we must globally act to deindustrialize in order to prevent overwhelming climate catastrophe, a person floats the counter argument that such deindustrialization will result in a reduction of currently available medical technologies, and is therefore an unacceptable proposition, this person is inserting into the discussion a premise that the lives of those who would no longer have access to the medical technologies they require are more valuable – this is to say, they have more of a right to survival – than the lives that will be lost – human and non – when industrial civilization fails and brings down with it the functioning ecology of the planet.

Such premises, to me, seem insane. A patent refusal to acknowledge the bare reality that all life, including human life, requires as a foundation a healthy and viable habitat is either obstinacy or a shameful level of ignorance. Claiming that one group of humans has more of a right to survival than others, or that humans have more of a right to survival than the rest of the web of life, is doubly insane.

At the end of it all, defenders of the status quo are not defending life, they are defending lifestyle. Proponents of the dominant culture and its myths of progress are really arguing for their own comfort, of both body and mind. Changing nothing presents no difficult ethical questions or messy physical conflicts. Going forward is the easy choice. This fact alone should ring alarm bells.

Why is death so unacceptable? If we cannot come to grips with death, then we will find ourselves collectively at an impasse where no necessary action will be taken, and industrial civilization will continue unimpeded on its course devouring forests, wiping out species after species, washing away topsoil, and rendering the oceans a lifeless acidic soup of plastics in various stages of photo decay. Somewhere buried in all of this is yet another premise; that to elect the death of even one is unacceptable, but to remain passive while existing systems dole out death to many is forgivable. Human agency seems to be the determining factor. The people who own and operate chemical plants that cause regional cancer clusters in children are forgiven. A death by one million pinpricks is too diffuse to assign blame. On the other hand, to intentionally kill the CEO of such a chemical company would be an outrage. It would be a tragedy. People on TV would say he died too young.

The dominant culture not only protects those high on its hierarchy, blurring lines of responsibility for the actions they take in the name of progress, but it also blinds every day people from the realities of just how it is they come to have the things that they do. Major systems of production and distribution that segregate individuals from the sources of their food, their clothing, the materials that built their homes, the fuels that power their cars and gadgets, create an illusory sense of existence. If a person perceives that food comes from a grocery store, gasoline from a pump, shoes from an online retailer, it is reasonable to believe then that this person’s perceptions have been skewed into believing that nothing must ever die for us to consume whatever we want in whatever quantities we desire. As long as the blood is on someone else’s hands in some other land far from sight, then there is no blood at all. It is this willful blindness to the day to day functioning of industrial civilization on the part of the world’s wealthier populations that allows a people draped in slave made textiles who are kept fed by the mechanistic rape of stolen land powered by stolen oil to stare up with their doe eyes and without a hint of irony ask, “But why do they hate us?”

So it is that so often we hear the claims of “green” capitalists who declare we can have our planet and kill it too. We are to shut our eyes and believe that solar panels, electric cars, fair trade mocha lattes, soy burgers, iPads, internet service, and all of the pills and processes in a modern hospital all just manifest from the ether. The rainforests clear cut, the oceanic dead zones caused by agricultural run off, the open pit mines, the oil spills, the nitro-tri-fluoride and other greenhouse gasses, and all of the whips and prods physical and not that herd about the masses of humans who do all the lifting, stitching, assembling, dismembering, and dying to bring such wonders to our shopping carts just don’t add up to dry shit.

That is how the dominant culture deals with death. It hides it. And when it can’t hide it any longer, it calls it “business.”

Various indigenous tribes have been able to maintain steady populations. In fact, for millennia, a handful of commonplace practices aided in keeping a tribe or band’s numbers in check. Breastfeeding infants until they were four years old helped prevent mother’s menstrual cycles from resurging, thereby keeping birth numbers down. The use of abortifactant herbs also helped women in the event of untimely pregnancies. When a group’s population was at a point where another child would bring great hardship, some tribal people would turn to infanticide. Picture the heartbreaking scene, as a mother lays a newborn infant on a cold hillside to freeze as the sun sets on a winter day. On the other end, tribes would at times decide not to work to heal ailing elderly members, and instead would begin ceremonial death rites when an older person fell ill.

This is the cultural imperative I am interested in. The ability of a people to confront the hard reality of their lives, and to make the soul wrenching choices that they must make in order to survive is not present in the civilized paradigm, not when it comes to allowing death. This is a delicate topic, to be sure, but one of necessary import as the world now hosts almost eight billion people, while conversely non-renewable resources are consumed at increasing rates, and the ecology is pushed beyond the breaking point.

Cultures that accept the inevitability of death create ceremonies and social forms for processing death. This is not to suggest that these people do not feel the pain of loss when a loved one passes, but rather to highlight that they develop a maturity surrounding death. They can talk about it. They can incorporate it into their survival strategies. They do not treat it as a cosmic betrayal of the individual’s right to exist for seventy-five years before a midnight expiration in a beach condo in Florida. Most importantly, cultures that make room for death do not become locked into a suicidal social paradigm, refusing to veer in their direction because doing so would result in the death of some, even when going forward would result in the death of all.

In my last essay I spoke of needing a new cultural ethos in order to prevent the wanton annihilation of the Earth’s life giving systems. This psychological and spiritual evolution must include maturity in the matters of death. Culturally, we must not shun death from our view, for when we do, we push his presence beyond sight, but not beyond efficiency. Beyond the hedge where death lurks ignored by modern man, he does his work still, and he plots against those who believe they have banished him with their cleverness. He plans a great party indeed.

My daughter is nearly a year old. She is my connection to the future, as my parents and ancestors are my connection to the past. I love her to my core, each cell in my body resonating with an urge to guard her, protect her, and to see to her survival. I think about the emptiness that would devour me if she were to die, so I do have a sense of the gravity concerning that which I have written. I look at my little girl, and the truth of life comes to me plain as the new day: we cannot banish sorrow. Heartache is the handmaiden of joy. The history of our species is the history of finding the strength to endure when it seems that all is lost, and when we see no reason to go on, feeling that the ground holds us still.

The complex problems we face require sober, adult analysis, but here and now we lack the methods and ceremonies necessary to act as a mature culture. Our unwillingness at all levels to confront uncomfortable realities has made dangerous adolescents of us, as our orgy of consumption and self aggrandizement has pushed the planet to the brink. There are tasks which demand our collective attention, and undertaking them, while necessary, will not be without consequence. There are few good options on the table before us. Meeting such difficult questions head on, with humility and grace, is the mark of greatness.

It is time to ask, “who are we?” and “who do we want to be?” As we stand right now, we are a belligerent cult of ego, drunk on the self, screaming our greatness as we charge forth trampling everything underfoot. We have a lot of work to do, and not nearly enough time to do it. Death rides whether we call to him or not.

Forbidden Thoughts and Sacred Obligations

January 12, 2015 § 31 Comments

When I was a younger man, I very much wanted to be taken seriously. To be taken seriously was to be asked your opinion. It was to be allowed a seat at the grown-up’s table in politics, economy, and all other matters that intelligent individuals busied themselves with. I wanted to be considered smart by other people who were considered smart. This meant that I had to be skeptical of any claims not supported by the dominant culture, shucking anything deemed mystical or superstitious. To be considered smart meant carrying an attitude of superiority, even open hostility towards anyone who claimed any truth not stamped with approval by the science of the dominant culture. Now I talk to trees.

My younger self would ridicule my present self, haughtily proclaiming the superiority of his well founded, reasonable ideologies. My present self would pity my younger self, and exit the conversation, too tired to expend what little communicative energy I have on someone so seemingly bereft of the ability to even momentarily entertain an idea that ran contrary to their set of inherited cultural dogma.

It is easy now to see that I was in a trap back then. As most young people are, I was attempting to make my way in a culture of accumulation, and thus I had to look and sound the part if I wanted to be accepted into the fold of “productive society.” Since abandoning any ambitions for career I have taken on various forms of employment to get by, and this has meant a lot of work in bars and restaurants. Briefly, I worked in a breakfast cafe in a college town that was home to a popular business school. Working there I would see students, mostly young white men, sitting at tables wearing ties and speaking in the language they were being conditioned to speak. It was strange to witness. I would wonder exactly where the break happened when these young men decided that they wanted to be just like their fathers. They probably wanted to be called “successful” by other people. They probably wanted to be considered smart. This would mean dressing, speaking, acting, thinking and even at their very core believing as their predecessors had initiated them to. They wanted to be taken seriously.

The year two thousand and fourteen was the hottest year ever recorded on planet Earth. Over the course of the year we were bombarded with statistics highlighting the peril of our time: Fifty percent of animal life has been killed over the last forty years, the Antarctic ice sheet melt has passed the point of no return, and coal use is still on the rise globally. Even the timid, watered down, almost entirely feckless mainstream US environmental movement is starting to make a tiny bit of sense, in noting that capitalism has got to go if we are to survive. Of course, much of what these liberal environmentalists are seeking is capitalist reform, but I digress.

The truth of the matter is that of course capitalism has to go in order to preserve the habitability of the planet. That’s just the beginning. All of industrial civilization must go, but because this is a forbidden concept amongst the serious folk who attend conferences, do media junkets, or – I don’t know – hold a senate seat, it will never even reach the table to be laughed at. The maintenance of the dominant culture requires that certain ideas are forbidden. Such restriction of thought is achieved in a myriad of ways, including by what Noam Chomsky termed, the “manufacturing of consent.” By and large, forbidden ideas are boxed out of public discourse by professionals who frame debate very narrowly, permitting only officially acceptable viewpoints, which then filter down to the masses.

We saw this recently with the uprisings in Ferguson, Missouri. The people of that city fought the police, and many of them had no problem declaring complete and utter disdain for the police as an institution. Despite the nearly five hundred Americans killed by police every year, and the untold number of assaults, robberies, frame ups, false arrests, and rapes committed by uniformed police officers, the dialog of so-called serious people is forbidden to ever move to a discussion of self defense against these villains, let alone abolishing them from civic life. Peter Gelderloos mentions this in his quinessential three part essay, Learning from Ferguson.

To allow people to fight back against the police, or to allow discussion of eliminating the police is forbidden because the police are a necessary component of a society of haves and have nots. In fact, I would be willing to bet there is a strong correlation between people who adamantly and unquestioningly support the police, and personal wealth, for the obvious reason that the more you have the more you have to lose. That means being happy that the taxpayers subsidize the jackboots who prevent even a public forum that might hint at discussing a redistribution of wealth.

After the Vietnam War, the propaganda ministers in the state realized that showing dead bodies on TV and in magazines had a demoralizing effect on the general public. Apparently the American population had some level of functioning empathy for other human beings, so broadcasting the corpses of dead US servicemen and even half burnt Vietnamese children soured their taste for carnage. Since realizing this, the US has locked out media that isn’t “embedded” from war zones, and despite the over a million dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, ten years of war haven’t found themselves plastered on the nightly news in any unbecoming fashion, despite the plentiful material. The children born deformed due to depleted uranium poisoning caused by US munitions should have been enough to wrench even the blood thirstiest of hawk bellies in the US, but their visages were never given a chance.

Forbidding an image and forbidding an idea are both attempted for the same reason; control. If you control what people think, you can control how they act. Even the most ardent critics of US policy will proclaim up and down their patriotism, lest they be banished from serious forums. Sit and think for a few moments and I imagine you could come up with your own short list of forbidden ideas, never to be discussed, not by serious people. Civilization and its dominant culture have been practicing this tactic of control since inception, and there is an idea that has been so terrifying to the rulers of the civilized world that stamping it out has been an ongoing and bloody task for over ten thousand years. The most forbidden of ideas, is that the Earth is alive.

Serious people are concerned with objectivity. They perceive the universe to be a clockwork machine governed by laws and made of various inert bric-a-brac that can be manipulated to serve their purposes. Whether this manifests as a logging company cutting down a forest for timber, a meat packing concern quickening the rate at which they slaughter cows, or bulldozers scraping away layers of Earth in order to access the bitumen deposits beneath, the source of the thinking is the same.  The land is dead. It is raw material waiting to be put to purpose by human hands.  Further, knowledge and understanding of the universe and its lifeless bodies is to be achieved only through the application of western scientific principles. Anything that cannot be observed and quantified with the five human senses does not exist.

Even things that are alive, like trees and animals can be reduced with a trick of thinking into nothing but their component pieces. Trees don’t have brains, so they cannot think or feel or experience, so they are worthless except as corpses.  Animals may have brains, but those brains lack significant cortex or numbers of neurons, and so they cannot think or feel or experience, so they are worthless except as corpses.  Throughout the history of civilization this rationale has been applied to humans as well.  Whenever anyone is in the way of some expectation of power or wealth, they are reduced to nothingness, just a fleshy sum of their cells with a measly few watts of current surging through them.  Not sophisticated, not refined; much like animals really, and animals are worthless except as corpses, so let the homicide begin.  This mental twisting is the death rite of civilization.  It is the lullaby people in business suits sing so they can stay focused on the cash while they order another chimpanzee vivisected, purchase a new gas lease, or sign off on limited airstrikes over a civilian population.

In my life I have walked through forests clear cut for oil pipelines.  I have driven through the shale plays of West Texas.  I have seen copper mines, and coal mines, and all sorts of other massive holes blasted and scraped into the face of the planet.  Many people have seen these things.  Of course, many people work in these places and on these projects.  The difference is that upon the witnessing I feel something very somber that nags at me from the inside.  It is the feeling that gripped you as a child when you saw someone joyfully inflict pain upon someone helpless or weak while you were powerless to interfere. Because of this feeling I could never participate in ecologically destructive activities.  It would feel wrong, like treachery, like stabbing my mother in the gut for a paycheck.

And I think this feeling matters.  This feeling is part of the foundation of my personal ethos from which my principles blossom.  In short, my feelings of connectivity with the living world create in me a sense of responsibility to protect her, and a refusal to accept harming her for personal gain.  Often I wonder why so few people feel this particular empathy, but then I know the answer.  People have been trained by the dominant culture to think of all of these environmentally degrading activities as harmless.  They have been raised since childhood by people themselves raised since childhood to believe that the Earth is dead.  They have been told by respectable people to believe that forests are not alive and that plants do not feel and that at the end of the day, everything is arbitrary and meaningless.  There is an undercoat of nihilism which makes progress possible.

For generations people have been bullied into believing that the nagging in their conscience is an illusion caused by the brain.  When a forest makes you feel good, it is you fooling yourself. When you feel deep love for a place or for other living beings, it is an illusion, merely a sudden influx of serotonin in some receptor in your gray matter.  And who are you anyway?  Just some cells, some neurons, some electricity.  What is your love?  Your desire?  Your fear?  They are nothing.  Reflexes.  Chemicals.  The aimless, endless spinning of molecules through space and time.  Reduce it all down, break it into pieces.  Scatter them until you feel nothing at all. Now go make some money.  Be productive.  For Christ’s sake, be serious.

My friend is indigenous to the land now called Canada.  I ask him what it means to be a warrior, to have as a component of one’s culture a warrior society.  He points me to talks given by other first nations people which elucidate that in various indigenous languages the word “warrior” is understood differently than it is in English.  It isn’t aggressive, on the offense, macho, seeking to conquer.  To be a warrior is to be a shield bearer, a person who takes very seriously their sacred obligation to maintain the health of the land so that it can be passed on for many generations to come.  The ethos of such people forms their worldview, and this worldview informs their actions.  The end result is a relationship with one’s home that is not about domination and taking, but acting with reciprocity. Such a mindset is a barrier against excess and greed and wanton destruction of the land.

Under the dominant culture, there are no sacred obligations.  We are told from birth that work, production, and the pursuit of material wealth is the path taken by serious people.  Those who rebuff their instruction to accumulate for the sake of accumulation are losers and bums.  If one wants to defend their home, such intuitions are bent to the cause of imperial full spectrum dominance.  Home is converted to country, and the battlefield is determined by a board of directors.  This is not an ethos with a future.  It is a toxic set of ideas and myths that will guide human minds to the edge of the world and then over.  This idea is a parasite, and its hosts are pushing the ecosystems of the Earth to the brink.

My friend tells me about the deal the wolf made with mother Earth:

The wolf signed a contract with Mother Earth. The contract is this. The wolf may compete with all other life for survival. The wolf may not force other life into extinction for the purpose of eliminating competition. The wolf may not damage habitat to eliminate competition. The wolf may not wage war to prevent other life from feeding on the wolf. If the wolf abides by these laws and is able to compete, the wolf will survive in brotherhood with all other life. All life signs this contract, except for a group of humans. Until those people sign on the dotted line they will be doomed. They may already be doomed.

What strikes me about this is that to make a contract with another is to stand as equals.  Speaking of other beings or of the living planet herself as even able to enter into a contract is to grant to them the deference that they exist as you do; alive, dignified, valuable.

The dominant culture never seeks to stand equal with anything.  It seeks only to dominate.  It never presents obligations to its acolytes to defend other beings or the land.  It makes demands of the land.  The stark differences between these two perspectives is striking.  One asks you to be a warrior and to take up a shield in defense of your mother. The other commands you to take up a sword – or a plow, or an axe, or a bulldozer – and to plunge it into her breast.

I am not in any way suggesting that non-native people need to appropriate native culture.  What I am suggesting is that if the ethos of civilization goes unchallenged, then no matter how much awareness is raised and no matter how much people try to convert modern industrial society into a sustainable twin of itself, they will find only failure.  After all, as Terrence McKenna said and I have oft quoted, culture is our operating system, and the dominant culture has a starting point where the land is already dead, so how then can it take us anywhere but to a future where this founding principle is materialized?  Garbage in, garbage out.

How we go about changing the ethics, myths, and founding truths of people trapped in the cage of industrial civilization is not something I have a prescription for.  In “The Road” Cormac McCarthy wrote:

Where you’ve nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them.

So I walk my land and I talk to the trees. Maybe they can hear me and maybe they can’t.  All of the serious people will laugh at my wasted breath.  Smart people will try to convince me that I am only talking to myself.  And maybe they are right.  Maybe I am a madman babbling over hill and holler.  But I can tell you this much for certain; I will never cut these trees down, and neither will my daughter.  So in the end, who gives a damn?

Finding True North

December 22, 2014 § 26 Comments

One of the great dangers of the life indoors, is the anesthetizing effect it has on a person. When we aren’t out in the world, we aren’t present to watch the dying. Attempting to talk about this via an electronic medium, even via the written word at all, is near futile because it requires the symbolic recreation of the tragedy unfolding around us, and the recreation will never carry the weight or the pain of the real thing.

So it comes down to data points. In essays past and in daily editorials available across the electronic press, we are fed the data points. Topsoil loss, species die off, the toxicity of the oceans, the acceleration of climate change; I can rattle off the data, but who cares?  We are inside.  Climate controlled.  Masters of hundreds of energy slaves all whipped up to provide us with on demand entertainment, comfort, and snack food.  We think we are safe inside our house, but the house is an illusion.  There is no indoor, outdoor dichotomy.  There is a temporary delusion blinding us to the reality of the storm bearing down.

In my previous essay I wrote that we must burn down the collective house that is civilization. We must demolish it thoroughly before the floors buckle and the roof caves in, despite the very real dependence we have developed upon this edifice.  A conundrum indeed, but this conundrum is itself the question of our time, and it calls to all of us whether we are ready to square off with its implications or not.

Industrial civilization is destroying the living skin of the planet. Industrial civilization is rendering life on Earth impossible.  This is inarguable.  The only question then, is what to do.  Where do our responsibilities lie, and how can we meet them with dignity, grace, and courage?

What do you value?  What do you value the most in this world as you experience it?  I think it is imperative that we start with this question because the answer will determine how we perceive our responsibilities as living beings.  I refer to this as finding one’s polestar; their true north. Finding our pole star is essential because it is very easy to get entangled in the complexity of our culture, our socialization, our class status, and all of the other baggage we carry from lifetime after lifetime of trauma inflicted by the dominant culture.  When we need reorientation, we come about to our true north, and keep from running wayward into the noise and distraction intentionally laid to ensnare the passionate.

My pole star is the healthy, fecund forest. I live in a wooded region, and when I look out my front door I see tree covered ravines.  Beech, hickory, oak, maple, all stand stoically about me, their leaves blanketing and feeding the soil.  I never feel so honest, so at home, so centered as when I stand in the deep blue dark of night, jacketed in the electric stillness of winter, staring up to the stars that peek through the tangled black fingers of the naked tree boughs.  In those moments I feel whole, because I feel like part of a whole.  My ancestors call to me from the past as they most certainly stood in the same pose of supplication, lost in wonder, and gratitude, and mystery.

This is where I go when I seek an ethical thread to follow through the spiritual and psychological quagmire of modern industrial civilization.   When I look at the activities of humans, I ask what they mean for the forests.  Not just my forest home, but for the forest homes of people and beings across the Earth. I ask if new technologies, or policies, or commercial activities will benefit these havens of life and solitude, or if they threaten them.  I imagine the creeks and rivers that run through this region like blood in my veins, and usually the answer comes back to me that, no, the grand schemes of civilized man offer nothing good. They seek only to take, never to give back.  They promise to dominate and ruin, and that is what they do.

When concrete is laid over what was once a field so that suburbanites can park their vehicles at a new strip of retail stores, the deep roots of plants do not surrender.  Look to any patch of asphalt and you will find the rebellion under way.  Grass, dock, wild onion, dandelion; they slowly crack and push through the rubble and road surface above them until they find their place in the sunlight once again.  When under attack, these plants merely do what they must do to go about the business of living.

What fascinates me is that when hundreds or thousands of enraged people burn down the corporate chain stores that encircle them like army wagons on the frontier, these rioters are condemned. Spokespeople for the status quo feign innocent stupidity and ask, “Why are they burning down their own communities?” as if the concrete that is laid over the poor and working class is somehow their kin. Setting police cruisers and corporate chain stores alight is merely what these people must do to go about the business of living, whether this is consciously perceived or not.

The hierarchy of power that exists in this social paradigm attempts to mystify the public with language of togetherness when it suits them. They speak down to the lower orders as if we are one unit, one family, one tribe, each of us working together for the equal betterment of all. The actions of the powerful betray the truth, that those lower on the social hierarchy will labor, toil, suffer, and die for the comfort, power, and privilege of those at the top.

This is the framework by which responsibility is discussed within our society.  If a man robs a store and is sent to prison for it, it is said that he is there to “pay his debt to society.”  There are several implications in this statement surrounding the notion that this man was ever part of society to begin with, or that he desires to remain so.  Of course, if he was robbing a store to pay his rent, keep the heat on, or feed his family, there will never be statements from the powerful to the effect that society failed this man, this valuable member of our collective, and forced him through circumstance to his act.  Society will never pay its debt to this man, or to any man of his social rank. The idea that we are all daily electing to be in one cooperative social structure together is a pure fabrication.

As so often happens, officers of the state apparatus commit egregious violence, whether as police or soldiers, and their personal responsibility is almost never called into question.  The only time an individual police officer or soldier is made to fall on their sword, is when their crime is so blatant, so heinous, and so public, that to not punish them would crack the façade of the entire control apparatus.  By and large, these officers of the state do violence as a mode of day to day operations, all for the acquisition and maintenance of wealth and power as it exists and is distributed.

However, any actions deemed antagonistic to the structure of power and wealth will be vociferously condemned, and the perpetrators will be held liable for all knock on effects of these actions.  For instance, if in an attempt to preserve the health and sanctity of one’s home, a person destroys the power sub station that operates the pumps for a tar sand pipeline that runs under their land, and this outage causes a cascade black out to follow suit, the state will likely hold responsible this person for any deaths or injuries that occur due to the lack of electricity that has resulted.  If an old woman on a hospital respirator dies, the person who knocked out the sub station will likely be charged with manslaughter, if not murder.  They will be called a terrorist. Anyone whose ideologies are even remotely similar to this person’s will also be labeled a terrorist, worthy of suspicion.

In short, this is the Law.  People speak of the Law in moralistic terms, as if the volumes of clumsy codes and commands cobbled together by and for the wealthy were gifted to us by a choir of angels designed on building for us a just and balanced world.  Of course, the Law is nothing of the sort.  The Law has nothing to do with morals or ethics, as the bulk of the weight of the laws as they exist purpose to extort and exploit the poor for the powerful.  Leaning on the law as an ethical or moral litmus is such a high form of laziness and ignorance as to be shameful.

This is the wall that encircles those of us who wish to see an end to the current order of power.  We will be held to the highest account for the slightest ill that comes from any of our deeds, and the Law will be invoked in punishing even the most tepid of social activists.  Meanwhile, an Airforce technician in a bunker will kill families thousands of miles away with hellfire missiles, and we will never know this person’s name. They will never be condemned for the deaths they directly and intentionally cause. In fact, they will be heralded and rewarded. Their efforts furthered the efforts of the machine of industrial civilization.  They are on the team.  Doctors designed torture programs for the CIA.  Scientists design weaponized viruses.  Capitalists pour heavy metals into rivers and continue cutting boreal forest to extract tar sand despite the globally acknowledged threat of climate catastrophe.

These people are all protected.  Even attempting to slow them down in their work is a crime. The truth laid bare is that they have a sanctioned right to bring death, and you have no right to try to prevent them, whether violently or not.

It’s not about who you kill, it’s about who you kill for.

The police are on standby in any event, ready to gleefully dole out violence to even the most passive demonstrator. Any flinch, parry, or brush of a hand that can be deemed an attack on the police, of course, will result in charges, possibly felonies. The guardians of power too, are a protected class, so much so that in some places even passively ignoring police is classed as a felony.

The message is clear.  This world doesn’t belong to us, but to them. We are a society in name only.  Language about unity and country are pap for the masses.  Those who don’t swallow it down get the club, or the bullet.  But don’t worry, the comments section is still open.  Feel free to air your frustrations beneath the article.  Hashtag, give-up-already.

In the cold night air my breath is visible.  Darkness comes early as we approach the solstice.  When I scan over the ridge, I feel a peace in the center of my being.  There are those who think this is all that is left. They say that we have already lost the big fights, and now all that remains is to hold close to those you love as the dying picks up speed, and the maniacs in power continue throttling forward.

I cannot help but feel that such placid thoughts, wherever they may be rooted, are an appeasement to the powerful.  My blog wouldn’t be named “Pray for Calamity” if I didn’t believe that things would get worse before they got better.  But I also know that without question I would die for my family and for our home, and thinking this opens me to the idea that there are so many great places and causes to die for on this planet at this time.  Perhaps its time to stop seeing this as an age of impending calamity, but instead to see it as an age of opportunity to banish our fears, cage our egos, and to remember that death comes for us all, and that the greatest shame would be to waste our flesh when there are so many perfect targets for our rage. Perhaps we should begin to recognize this as an age of awakening; a time to reignite an internal fire that an oppressive and abusive culture has devoted so much energy to snuffing out.

So I ask, what is your pole star?  What is your true north?  What do you know in the center of your being to be good, and right, and true?  The dominant culture attempts to bend the mind and break the heart, until all that is left is the fetishization of power.  Domesticated, isolated, institutionalized, traumatized people begin to believe that their responsibilities are to the dominant system of buying, selling, killing, producing, and ever increasing efficiency at all of them.

I submit that these are not my responsibilities, and they are not yours.  I submit that none of the language they weaponize and fire so readily at dissenting voices is applicable.  We are not malcontents, radicals, insurgents, or terrorists.  We are dandelions who do not wish to bend to the will of the concrete poured over us.

And when we are ready to remember all of this, we are warriors.

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