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.

Burning Down the House

December 2, 2014 § 15 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Digital Whimper

February 25, 2014 § 4 Comments

There is so much noise that it becomes difficult to stay focused. The constancy of information, of news, of propaganda, of gossip. Our minds are drowning in a sea of chatter. We choke on it as it updates every second on a TV screen or an RSS feed. Everywhere you go, people staring at their smart phone, scrolling, scrolling. Next. Next. Next. Ironically, no one doing, no one reacting. No one digesting the information and then using it as a starting point for action. Information reduced to just another product for consumption, it is dumbed down, simplified, stripped of meaning and value and made into to the mental equivalent of a cheese poof. Every human tragedy reduced to a status update. Every reported environmental catastrophe reduced to a one hundred character tweet. Follow the end of the world at hash-tag “digitalwhimper.” Like it. Reblog it. Scroll down.

Afloat in an ocean of noise, we filter, and our filters are born of our biases and our priorities. Terrence McKenna said that culture is our operating system. The dominant culture is a lot of things in its complexity, but I think it is fair to say that one of it’s primary components is that it is anthropocentric. The dominant culture puts humans at the center of existence. Of course, there are layers of nuance involved in which the lifestyles and comforts of some humans are prioritized over the well being of others. To be sure, the dominant culture has a tiered hierarchy of valuation of flesh, with white flesh prioritized over nonwhite. Human flesh, however, always trumps nonhuman, with the anthropocentrism of the dominant culture casting non-human life as non-sentient, non-feeling, non-autonomous. To the dominant culture, there is no web of life, no complex interplay between co-dependent species all with value unto themselves, all existing within their own right to be respected and treated as one living family. As far as the dominant culture is concerned, there is humanity and everything else is either the feedstock of industry, or it is in the way.

We’re trained to filter anything that suggest otherwise.

There is this conception in the US, and likely in other western nations, that commerce, civic life, and “business as usual” have a right to exist unimpeded. Protests and strikes that flare up, no matter how minor, that slow traffic, block public transit, or – gasp! – prevent people from going to work or shopping are lambasted by the worker bee populace. How dare some protester block a bus full of Google or Amazon employees! An orchestra of miniature violins wail like mothers clutching dead babies for the innocent victims of such tepid social disruption. I find myself repulsed at first by the complete and utter lack of anti-authoritarian fervor found in the average worker who is just so eager to be on time to grind away making some other person rich, and second I am reviled by the entitlement of these self proclaimed “productive members of society” who seem to believe with religious intensity that by clocking their eight hours, that they are doing God’s work.

These potentates of the church of capital trot out the same old tired harassments calling on protesters and activists to “get a job,” which is of course, demanding that they stop impeding the big game of capitalist society and instead play along and lend a hand generating higher quarterly returns for some shareholder somewhere. Almost always this “get a job” mantra is absolutely non-sequitir to the demands of activists, but of course, a valid rebuttal would require an examination of the issues at hand, and that would require a moderate amount of effort. Shouting a meaningless slogan feels like arguing, but is much easier and leaves all of ones biases in tact, so it is the tactic of choice for those who want to defend the status quo while leveling an attack on people who ironically will usually have the general public’s best interests at heart.

To be sure, it’s easy to get bogged down in the sludge of insults, ignorance, and outright obfuscation that passes for discourse in this society. Sometimes I catch myself engaged in a pointless conversation over some political viewpoint, and I have to return myself to my primary premises. Years ago I came to accept that without a healthy living ecosystem, nothing else matters. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was in my late twenties when I had finally come to such an obvious conclusion. It should have been self evident, and likely was, until years of noise and propaganda promoting the dominant culture and it’s primary objective of production and growth with humans at the center of existence clouded my thinking. It took many elders wiser than I as well as many writers more clear thinking to assist me in regaining my sanity. A sentence helped it all fall into place:

The needs of the natural world outweigh the needs of the economic system.

This premise from Derrick Jensen’s “Endgame” should have been a no-brainer. Without a foundation on which to survive, why hash out the intricacies of social interaction?

The overwhelming majority of political discourse completely disregards this fundamental truth. In fact, this fundamental truth is treated with outright scorn, and according to the dominant culture, the natural world exists solely for the exploitation of humans. Anyone who gets in the way of this exploitation is impeding the primary directive of the dominant culture to engage in production and growth, and must be removed by any means necessary. For indigenous cultures, this has generally meant genocide. For a white activist blocking a city bus or a bulldozer, it generally means a cascade of effects starting with public ridicule and leading to and through violent arrest and imprisonment while gleeful wage slaves look on. Containment of anti-capitalist energy is completed by the media which reinforces the mindless “critique” of the “get-a-job” crowd by proclaiming from their position of power and privilege the valid method of demanding redress of grievances: Petition leaders and vote. While waving the banner of democracy, the public is consistently corralled into ineffectual and morale sapping activity by the media who are but highly paid P.R. staff of the powerful. As this cycle repeats and the livestock populace becomes more and more complacent in their powerlessness, the object of protest and picket and strike becomes more diluted.

Protest is not about awareness. Protest is not a commercial in flash-mob format. The goal isn’t to advertise to the consumer culture and hope that they are convinced to buy a particular point of view. Protest is about disruption. Protests and pickets and strikes and riots are weapons of the masses. We may not have any sway in boardrooms and government halls, but we can shut down ports and plants and if it comes down to it, we sure as shit can burn their precious banks and factories to the ground. We can pretend it matters to lock ourselves to the White House gate, or we can shred pipelines with angle grinders and blow torches before they are ever in the dirt. Refusing participation in the mechanisms of commerce, and further, preventing others from participating is the only real leverage that any of us have against the weight of the machine of industrial civilization. Make no mistake, productive members of society are the problem. The only reason this thought is remotely uncomfortable is because we know that we are all trapped in the belly of the beast we are trying to slay. We understand that everyone is trapped in a deadly paradigm, and that we must reconcile deconstruction of that which destroys us with survival in the present. But there is no alternative. Inaction is acquiescence to the horrors which totalitarian capitalists will inflict upon us. Business as usual must grind to a halt. So long as the sum total of the machinations of capital and state are violence and repression, we must bind and hinder as many working arms and legs of this machine as we can.

In the deluge of static the meme of human supremacy is constant. The premise that humans are at the center of existence, while not always articulated so plainly, underlies almost all current politics and philosophy. In discussions that range in focus from ecology to economics to technology, the foundational premise is essentially that human beings are masters of their destiny and that what we ultimately choose to create as our collective destiny will necessarily manifest as so. The logic to such thinking is that humans possess the only consciousness and will in our sphere of existence, so any course of action deriving from human will is necessarily just, because the consent of any other consciousness is impossible. This logic also presumes that the planet is a non-sentient mechanism of complex yet conquerable systems. According to the dominant culture, anyone who considers the planet alive is crazy, and to be dismissed. Further, anyone who considers the sentience and inherent value of non-human beings is crazy, and to be dismissed. Further still, anyone who doubts the intellect and ingenuity of technological humans is crazy and to be dismissed.

Even many radicals and activists fall for these premises. Examining the taxonomy of even many anarchist labels, the presumption inherent in their descriptors is that our primary grounding will be in how we interact with each other. Anarcho-syndaclism and anarcho-communism, for example, have within their monikers a genus and a species that proclaim a philosophy of egalitarian human organizing and some form of cooperative work and exchange. Anarcho-transhumanism implies a human centric philosophy focused on the necessity of transcending our biological status. This is the essence of the dominant culture’s drive merely stripped of the baggage of hierarchy. Of course there is reason to contemplate how exactly we should best organize with one and other, and I think anarchism contains within it the most value and potential, but devoid of an analysis of where and upon what foundations we will be doing this organizing, the philosophy becomes moot. Any political philosophy that forgets or intentionally avoids the naked reality that without a healthy ecosystem we die, is useless. Any political philosophy that cannot face the reality that humans need habitat and that humans are increasingly destroying habitat, is just more useless chatter.

Anthropocentrism is a sickness of ego that holds the uninfected hostage to watch while the living world is plundered and killed. Those infected with this malady of ego are held fast and tight within a narrative about who we are and what our collective destiny holds. Daily this narrative is fleshed out by Hollywood as images of constant technological progress are manifested by graphical wizardry, while simultaneously, the rot of civilization grows. The media plays its part, singing the songs of where we are going with new hits about mining asteroids and golden oldies about free energy just around the corner. It matters not that green revolution technologies are rapidly destroying topsoil while every year relying more heavily on stronger poisons. It matters not that billions of humans are sustained by trading dwindling hydrocarbons for food calories. It matters not that overuse of antibiotics has spawned new treatment resistant bacteria at such a rate as to prompt an Assistant Director at the CDC to declare that, “We are at the end of anti-biotics, period.” None of this matters to the devotees of civilization and human greatness because, because, well, look at our slick new smart phones! The ability to download an app which will alert you to how many people in the room are interested in screwing a stranger is supposed to be proof that we can invent our way out of the toxicity that hundreds of years of industry and thousands of years of agriculture have meted upon the planet.

Without a a cataclysmic shift in the industrial-civilization paradigm, we’re going to kill ourselves and a lot of other living beings all because so many people are in love with the story they are being told about themselves. For the few who attempt to bring about such a shift, there is the condemnation of the worker bees whose willful participation in the system is indicted by those who dare give a damn. Even if sent to prison for their actions, radicals have it better than the indigenous and the non-human who are extinguished with varying degrees of complexity. For everyone else, there are the texts, the selfies, the pop-culture news feeds, the addiction to regularly proclaiming your mediocre self to the world via social networking. While the oceans die and the atmosphere gasps, we ride the wave of noise lost in our greatest technological accomplishment; a database of the mundane, a digital mirror into which we can continually stare at ourselves.

The Validity of Rage

November 14, 2013 § 1 Comment

There are a lot of blogs out there that focus on “collapse,” and many of them will from time to time post statistics about increased crime rates in order to demonstrate the slow deterioration of society, occasionally showing videos of flash mobs such as this one below.

There was a time when I would have seen something like this and thought, “Whoa, things are getting bad.”  My evolution has been long, and now I find myself seeing something like this and thinking, “Good for them!”  Previously, I was subject to knee jerk reactions which were preprogrammed responses that were silently imprinted in me by our culture.  Now that I have slowly stripped away layer after layer of cultural programming and dogmatic response, I can examine any given scenario based on it’s specific criteria, and come to an analysis that I find satisfying.  I’m open to critique of my analysis, as challenging my biases and interpretations hones my senses and my ability to comprehend my surroundings.

I think it is fair to suggest that most people residing in our culture see such a thing happen, and as a matter of reflex, condemn it.  This condemnation comes from an inner policing that was built partly from Judeo-Christian values as well as capitalist social indoctrination.  I would even argue that Judeo-Christian values as they currently stand are informed by mercantilist necessity.  Summarizing briefly my interpretation of the knee jerk condemnation of such acts as the one in the above video, I would say most people feel like Society (capital “S”) is a good thing, and that people who would mob into a retail store and in a flash, steal as much as they could get their hands on, are going to negatively impact Society.

This is where my personal bias comes into play.  I do not believe Society to be a good thing.  My view is that megalithic Society — these nations of millions of people — are unnatural constructs ultimately glued together through violence, whether implicit or explicit.  Humans, I do not believe to be social creatures, as much as they are tribal creatures.  This is to say, I believe when not arranged into massive groups by other humans wielding power (via violence, whether armies, police, law, etc.) people will self organize into smaller groups, communities, clans, or tribes.  The main difference being the over all size of the social organism created by such organization, and where the individual falls within this organism.

In a small tribe or clan, the individual is an integral component and is valued.  However, the unit as a whole can maximize the benefits of group togetherness and group work without losing prowess due to curves of diminishing returns.  Why is this?  For one, the human animal and our psychological and emotional responses have evolved to exist within smaller communities.  Emotions like empathy are a boon to tribes and clans, as individuals are all known to each other, are interrelated with one another, care for one another, and thus gift and sharing come naturally.  Not only are members of small tribes capable of caring for those who are less skilled, sick, elderly, etc. but they almost always insist upon doing so.  The empathy of the individual becomes collective and thus becomes a cultural norm: When you are successful in the hunt, you share the meat, and no one goes hungry.  When you are not successful in the hunt, but another clan member is, you eat because they share.

These sorts of relations which are natural to humans, which have allowed humans to survive through massive environmental shifts and calamities of the past, are not only absent from mega-social structures, but under capitalism, they are considered foolish.  Does anyone really believe that the people who wield power within this Society are actually empathetic to the masses at large?  This is a crucial failure of democracy.  Unless decisions makers and policy setters actually know — and I mean in person — all of the people they claim to represent, how could they possibly be expected to be truly empathetic towards them and their particular circumstances?  Democracy and the governmental architectures of megalithic social organisms suffer a myriad of contradictions and failures to be sure, but I would just like to highlight for this argument that small clans of people can function in a fashion that is far more agreeable to the individuals involved, thereby giving these individuals a reason to care about the well being of the greater social system.  Large scale Society cannot do this.

Even when humans are corralled into massive social constructs like those of today, tribal behavior is still implicit in many of our daily activities.  This behavior, depending on who is engaging in it and what the ultimate outcome, will be dubbed “gang activity,” “nepotism,” “cult,” “clique,” or even “patriotism,” “networking,” etc.  Tribal behavior that is seen to have a net benefit to the social organism — and primarily to those who sit atop the social hierarchy, will be granted a positive connotation.  Tribal behavior that is engaged in by those low on the social hierarchy that is gauged as only having a benefit to that tribe at the expense of the social organism or its narrative is given negative association and is often the target of state repression.

When a group of teenagers mobs into a corporate retail location and in a flash, steals a large amount of wares, this is immediately cast as “bad for Society.”  As noted above, I personally believe Society to be a bad thing.   Massive social organisms such as the Society in which we live require massive prison complexes, squadrons of well armed police, and a penal system so obtuse and selectively applied as to make Franz Kafka blush.  Above all, we have to recognize that the Society in which we live, and the greater industrial civilization of which it is a part, are both decimating the biosphere of the planet.  Polluted, overfished, rapidly acidifying oceans; mountaintop removal coal mining, hydraulic fracturing, deep water drilling, and tar sands strip mining; top soil loss, rivers and waterways tainted with agricultural run off, deforestation, over grazing, desertification; massive die off currently underway of trees, amphibians, mammals, and so on; must I even argue that the way humans are organizing and sustaining themselves (with the exception of the world’s remaining indigenous tribes who are also fighting off an ongoing genocide) is killing the planet?

When a true and honest calculus of the costs is visible, it is clear that modern human paradigms must be shattered immediately if there is to be any hope for the future of life on Earth.  This is if it is not already long too late.

Balancing this knowledge in one hand, and then watching as a bunch of modern teens, whose minds have no doubt been warped and bent by a lifetime of consumerist propaganda, plunder a store of some clothing no doubt made in a third world sweatshop, I am supposed to weep for the retailer?  It would require a chasm of cognitive disconnect to see an injustice.

In discussing this, people have been quick to point out to me that these young people are likely not aware of the larger social and environmental context in which their action took place, and that in all likelihood these teenagers just wanted to steal because they wanted stuff they couldn’t afford, and maybe the adrenaline rush generated by breaking the social convention was an alleviation from boredom.  Most people assume these youth aren’t knowingly taking direct action against an unethical capitalist system, and thus the robbery is just another example of disrespectful teenagers acting out.

I think this is an extremely unfair assessment.

I’ll start with a thesis statement: I believe rage is valid.  This culture demotes emotion to be subordinate to thought.  The predominantly white male “educated” upper class has for centuries defined what reason, logic, and rationality are.  Not surprisingly, logic and reason have always substantiated the Social order, and hence the system can constantly reify itself while those who benefit from it the most can claim that it is all high minded and rational.

Members of the lower social classes are abused by the Social organism.  They are subject to the highest levels of toxic pollution that accompanies industrial activity, they are far more policed and prosecuted by the penal system, and in general are confined into a go-no-where economic merry-go-round that keeps survival necessities always just barely within reach so they will tolerate egregious treatment by employers; low wages, poor conditions, etc.  When people from these classes finally act out in society, whether via a peaceful demonstration or a full blown riot, their demands and their actions are almost universally decried as irrational, unreasonable, and anti-social.  Their actions and movements are condemned all the more thoroughly if their demands or motivations are not articulated in a language acceptable to the mostly white middle and upper class.

The absurdity in this rejection is that articulation follows feeling, not the other way around.  The feeling of “getting the shaft” or “being shit on” is actually far more relevant than any individual’s ability to explain the particulars of their condition in academic verbiage.  The feelings are the truth of lived experience, the explanation is merely a communication of these feelings.

Right and wrong, our internal distinction between the two, and our sense of justice are natural to us.  Empathy is a survival instinct, as I noted above, as it promotes the welfare of the tribal unit which is ultimately beneficial for the individual participant.  Society has co-opted this sense and attempted to blur the line of what is moral or ethical to include the social machine not as a construct, but as another member of the whole.  In this sense, the judicial system uses language which claims criminals have wronged society and that in doing so they owe a debt to society, as if society is itself an individual who could be wronged or paid restitution.  This methodology of thought is then further blurred when it is also applied to businesses and enterprises as if these entities are persons.  This is why shoplifting from Wal-Mart is condemned by those who think in binaries, where stealing is always wrong regardless of what or from whom something is taken.  Wal-Mart in this example, is given the status of an individual to be empathized with, instead of allowing a detailed analysis of just what exactly a Wal-Mart unit is, where from and by what means they acquired their inventory, and what the true costs of Wal-Mart’s existence are relative to the environment and humanity.

This is how those in power manipulate people into expressing outrage and dismay when they witness an incident of flash mob shoplifting.  They have confused people into equating the retailer with an individual, whose shoes the witness then mentally dons, and thusly they ask, “If these kids so brazenly rob a retail outlet, what is to prevent them from doing the same to me or my home?”  And the illusion is complete, with the average proletariat seeing the retailer as a poor victim, setting the stage for themselves and their loved ones to be next.  This leads to fear and demands that the perpetrators are dealt with swiftly, which leaves the social narrative and the hierarchy of power in tact.

If my bias against Society and the greater industrial civilization is well founded, if we can accept for a moment that continuing along with business as usual will allow the continuing onslaught against life which is driving at least one hundred species per day into extinction and will certainly lead to the extinction of human beings as well, then the only moral response is to shift one’s biases to agree with mine: to see the massive social organism as a parasite which needs to be expunged.

Let me be crystal clear; I am not suggesting that humans are parasitic, but that the current experiment of civilization, is.  Human beings are just another mammal, who have in the past, and who do in last remaining pockets now, live in balance with nature.  Mine isn’t misanthropy, but an anti-civilization (or anti-civ) understanding, which is biocentric, meaning that I believe all life has value despite whether or not it plays a role in human economy.

If the current paradigms of human organization, thought, and behavior — our Societies — need to be completely undone, then why are we at all concerned with whether or not particular retail outlets profit off of the merchandise in their stores?  Should this not be among the least of our concerns?  Should we not see a breakdown in the domination of commerce as positive?

On this point, people have suggested to me in many manner of ways, that it is not the retail outlet for whom they are concerned, but for the individuals involved, as well as any future victims they may have should they make a habit of breaking social conditions.  This suggestion contains a handful of premises.  First, concern for the perpetrators.  I too share a concern that these young people might end up in the hands of the prison industrial complex, to be sure.  Concern for their general state of being, for their character, is less of a factor for me, because all people in this Society have the content of their character on the line every day.  Frankly, the store employees who rush after thieves worry me more than the thieves themselves, because in these individuals I see subjugated minds chained and shackled by the hollow promises of a market system that demands loyalty to wage payers, as if we should all be oh-so-grateful to have employment under which to waste away the years of our lives.  For those concerned about the character and potential “slippery slope” of looser and looser ethics on the part of the teenage flash-mobbers, there is still an underlying assumption that this act is one that is of low moral fiber — a premise not demonstrated — and an assumption that this act won’t lead in the other direction, to a greater and greater questioning of the status quo, of why some people have a lot when the rest have very little, of how global neo-liberalism actually functions, etc.

The second major premise is that this is in fact, a “slippery slope,” a “gateway drug” to breaking more and more laws and/or social conventions.  While this could be one possibility, it is not necessarily the case.  Some slopes are not slippery at all, and some acts are not gateways.  In fact, in committing such actions and challenging the social conventions impressed upon one since youth, it is quite reasonable to assume that these young people have had internal or external dialogues about their actions, and whether and how they are justified.  In any case, to assume that it is necessarily so that these teenagers will engage in more brazen acts, possibly including violence, is unfounded.  Someone who smokes marijuana doesn’t necessarily move on to crack cocaine.  Someone who runs a red light doesn’t necessarily move on to tax evasion.

Law is interesting in that some of Society’s prohibited behaviors are those that run counter to our natural state of being, such as murder and rape.  These are acts that to a mentally and spiritually stable human, are repugnant.  Our natural empathy for one another and our evolution as a tribal cooperator already has cast murder and rape as abhorrent in our minds.  Crimes that are bureaucratic, or prohibited actions which are prohibited to preserve an economic order — such as theft, writing bad checks, counter-fitting, what have you — do not require necessarily that the perpetrator have been mentally or spiritually broken.  These are crimes committed because Society itself creates an enormous amount of economic pressure and lays is on every individual, requiring everyone to take on wage labor in order to survive. This unnatural order creates scenarios in which certain pockets of Society have very few options to legally attain a dignified survival.  Or again, some people sense the greater injustice of “getting screwed” by an imaginary construct over which they have no say in their participation.  So while committing a murder or rape usually requires first that the perpetrator be mentally or spiritually broken down, this is not the case for those who commit “crimes” against the economic order.  This is all to say, engaging in actions of the latter type, does not place one on a “slippery slope” to commit actions of the former type.

Systems of power do not create available methods for the ruled to dismantle the power structure.  Power accumulates more power, consolidates it, and entrenches itself.  It throws up walls and defenses to ensure its continuation.  There is no flow chart of legal and available political channels for the ruled (I should say, “owned”) peoples of the world to set themselves free and to terminate the industrial economy which is hell bent on destroying all life on Earth.  The only hope, is calamity.  This calamity can be an environmental mega disaster, or an amalgamation of social disruptions compounding upon each other.  Either way, the current paradigms — economic, political, social, et al — are toxic, and grass roots behaviors that are detrimental to the success of these paradigms are ultimately to our benefit, as contradictory as this may seem at first glance.  In simple terms, “Good for the machine, bad for you.  Bad for the machine, good for you.”

Of course, billions of people are now dependent upon the machine to access their needs.  This is aptly described by Derrick Jensen’s statement that,

“if your experience is that your food comes from the grocery store and your water comes from the tap, then you are going to defend to the death the system that brings those to you because your life depends on them. If your experience, however, is that your food comes from a landbase and that your water comes from a stream, well, then you will defend to the death that landbase and that stream.”

We should not be inclined to preserve the machine because it is meeting our basic needs today when we know that it is accomplishing this by destroying the planet’s ability to meet those needs tomorrow.  This is doubly true when we know that the machine is only accomplishing this task through a massive program of violence meted out upon the global poor as well as all non-human species.

My last observation on this issue concerns balance.  The universe is a system in balance.  Even temporary imbalances are only perceptions of a frozen timeline, for all they will all come into balance once again.  Our mega Societies — the global civilization — is a system out of balance.  When I suggest to people that we abolish police and prisons, most are immediately mortified.  They assume that such an abolition would be immediately followed by an immense surge in crime.  To this I respond, “Of course!”  This should tell us something about the Society in which we live, particularly that it is entirely out of balance.  The need of so many runs up against the wealth of so few.  No natural state would allow such a one sided distribution of resources.  Any other place in nature, devoid of constructed law and cordons of militant law enforcers, would see a rapid diffusion of the resources to a balanced state.  Imagine one-hundred gorillas, with two of them controlling ninety-eight percent of the available bananas, and the other ninety-eight gorillas having two percent of the bananas to divide amongst themselves.  This would be an absurdity even modern humans from this culture wouldn’t be able to explain if they stumbled upon it in the wild.  Yet we exist within such a system!  In our example, the hungry ninety-eight gorillas would quickly take what they needed from the other two by whatever means necessary, and we wouldn’t expect them to validate their actions or any sense of indignation that preceded them with artful discourse.

No doubt, the teenagers engaged in flash mobs, and indeed plenty of other people who steal, are often taking non-essential items.  Cultural distortion of need due to advertising propaganda is surely playing it’s role.  Despite this, we should at the very least see these acts as the result of causation.  These hard and fast broad daylight robberies are a clever tactic undertaken by people who have been given zero reason to care about the bloated social organism  The real question we should be asking ourselves, is when and how we are going to join them in acting out against that which is rapidly killing us.

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