Monday, March 25, 2013

God Save Me From A Normal Life — Part Three


The vision that guides our society is peculiar.  Step 1 is to absorb as much education as you can endure and afford.  Step 2 is to plug into the economy, aggressively pursue every opportunity for advancement, and make as much money as you can, by any means necessary.  Step 3 is to spend that money in a manner that continuously increases your display of personal status, as defined by the current trends of consumer society. 

Obviously, this culture is disconnected from our ancestral roots, and from the family of life.  Countless millions devote their entire lives to acquiring and discarding unnecessary stuff.  In the magazine room at the library, I observe patrons devoting intense attention to understanding the latest trends in automobiles, electronics, fashion, cosmetics, homes, pets, and so on.  They long to experience inner peace and happiness in their lives, and they believe that shopping is the sacred path.  But, no matter how skillfully they shop, or how much they spend, it never works, except for fleeting post-purchase consumer orgasms.  Trainloads of Prozac numb the pain.

Nature-based cultures understand and respect power.  It’s everywhere, in everything, including all of us.  Power comes in many forms, and it is the greatest gift of all.  Some folks are skilled at tracking, hunting, or midwifery.  Others are healers, warriors, or storytellers.  There are weavers, herbalists, or shamans.  Power speaks to those who listen.  Modern folks often leave their power in the box, unopened, because they’ve never discovered their vision.  They are lost.

A minority of modern people do manage to connect with their power, and use it.  They are not swept away by the strong currents of consumer society, because they can see right through the silly nonsense, and they have the power to deflect it.  They do not indulge in false hope and irrational optimism.  They remain present in reality.  I don’t understand why they are different, and I have no name for them, but they certainly exist, and they live outside the fence of the fantasy world, usually in the shadows, distrusted by the mainstream. 

They tend to be intelligent, imaginative, and horrified by the madness of modern society.  Their right brains are bulging and strong, from regular creative exercise.  They are often writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, playwrights, poets, storytellers, dreamers, or rebels — people whose spirits have not been severed from the ancestral realm of uncontrollable wildness and freedom.  They have power.  According to The Dark Mountain Manifesto, “Words and images can change minds, hearts, even the course of history.  Their makers shape the stories people carry through their lives, unearth old ones and breathe them back to life, add new twists, point to unexpected endings.” 

If they had grown up in a nature-based culture, some of them might have been known as shamans.  All wild cultures had shamans.  Everywhere around the world, descriptions of their methods are remarkably similar.  Adults in a tribe can readily recognize the boys and girls destined to become shamans, because their power is easy to see.  They sometimes have so much power that it’s hard for them to function in society.  Older shamans take them under their wing, and teach them how to carry their power, and use it well.

Ordinary children have no memories of other times, lives, or realities, but young shamans do.  They tend to be introverted, and closely allied to nature.  They may have powerful dreams or hallucinations.  They can communicate with the spirit world, and see things that the others cannot.  Sometimes they play important roles as messengers, bringing back wise instructions from ancestral spirits, when the tribe is confronted with challenges.  They have a strong spiritual connection to life.

For the sacred task of envisioning a sustainable future, people with shaman-like powers could help us remember who we are, and where we came from.  Whatever we call them, they must be people who have a passionate relationship with the natural world, who excel at clear thinking, people who can effortlessly think outside-the-box.  This sort of crowd has power.  They can break spells.

Donella Meadows devoted a lot of thought to the notion of envisioning a sustainable future.  Our society is enacting a vision of perpetual growth, and this drove her crazy, because it’s so stupid.  This stupid vision thrives because alternative visions have yet to gain momentum.  Most folks have no interest in greener visions, because they are perceived to require sacrifice, a life of less.  Less what?  Less stupidity?  Less waste?  Less anxiety and depression? 

I recently saw the movie Cave of Forgotten Dreams, about the ancient paintings at Chauvet Cave in France, discovered in 1994.  Many of the paintings were done about 32,000 years ago, and they depict profound reverence for life.  In those days, France was a healthy paradise filled with wild aurochs, horses, rhinoceros, bears, lions, bison, and many others — a world that was spectacularly alive and well.  The paintings may have been made over a period of 5,000 years. 

Can you imagine a low-impact way of life that lasted 5,000 years?  Can you imagine living in a society filled with awe, amazement, and overwhelming love for the natural world?  Can you imagine living in a world that wasn’t on a high-speed path to self-destruction?  Was this era of abundant freedom, wildness, and vitality truly “less” than our modern suburbia?  Wouldn’t it be precious to wake up in a sane and healthy world?

Our wild ancestors always resisted the aggressive intrusion of outsiders.  The Sentineli still do.  They inhabit North Sentinel Island, one of the Andaman archipelago of islands, in the Bay of Bengal, off the coast of India.  These people are a Stone Age society of Negrito pygmies who survive by hunting, foraging, and especially fishing.  No signs of agriculture have been observed.  They have a long tradition of welcoming visitors with a shower of arrows and insults, and they are skilled marksmen.

Amazingly, the Indian government protects the Sentineli, and allows them to live in wild freedom.  They remain free because the island isn't that big, doesn't have much valuable timber, and mineral treasures are unlikely.  The island is surrounded by treacherous reefs and treacherous seas — safely getting there by boat is nearly impossible.  Once a year there is one location that becomes theoretically accessible to those who wish to take their life in their hands and fight the powerful currents. 

The Sentineli enjoy a good life in a healthy, stable, and sustainable culture.  They need nothing that they don’t have.  They want to be left alone to live in peace.  Imagine what a terrible “sacrifice” it would be to live a simple life on an island paradise, in balance with nature, in a world with no strangers.

To be continued.

Monday, March 18, 2013

God Save Me From A Normal Life — Part Two


My father was born 100 years ago.  One hundred years from now, the seven-point-something billion people alive today will be gone.  There will be no cars, TVs, computers, phones, and so on.  The vision of a technological wonderland will be forgotten and extinct, replaced by many new low-tech survival-oriented pursuits.  If humans continue to exist, they will not be very fond of our generation, and the messes we left for them.

Every civilization eventually exhausts essential resources and collapses.  As predictable as the sun, civilizations rise, peak, and then set.  In the wake of every collapse, the survivors usually regroup and repeat the same mistakes.  It’s the easiest option, or the only option.  This is a primary curse of the agricultural era — once the dirty habit of soil mining takes root, it’s very hard to quit before the ecosystem is entirely wrecked.

As the collapse of modern society unfolds, the consumer lifestyle will eventually go extinct.  Returning to a genuinely sustainable mode of nature-based living will not be possible until nature recovers and the human population adjusts to the new scenario.  This may take a generation or three.

Meanwhile, the safe bet is that muscle-powered subsistence farming and herding will once again become the primary human activities, utilizing severely depleted cropland and grassland, without the magic chemicals and machines.  The survivors will strive to recreate something resembling a pre-industrial peasant way of living — a backbreaking lifestyle, with a short life expectancy, in which everyone lives close to the brink of starvation.  (Some scientists speculate that changing climate may blindside agriculture at some point.)

The long-term future of these neo-peasants is easy to predict.  After 10,000 years of experiments in agricultural civilization, there is no place where the cropland and grassland remains as fresh and healthy as it was on day one.  Indeed, vast areas have been reduced to waste, and new wastelands are being created at an ever-growing rate.  Agriculture is a dependable path to ruin, because it is almost always unsustainable in the long run.  Industrial society is a dependable high-speed path to ruin. 

Wise guys persistently question the wisdom of remaining on any obvious, clearly marked path to ruin.  Our ancestors were not imbeciles or evil monsters.  With good intentions, they innocently adopted agriculture.  It was impossible for them to foresee the disastrous long-term consequences of their experiment.  Today, we cannot plead ignorance.  The long-term consequences are far better understood (but generally disregarded).  Like all other animals, humans primarily live in the here and now.  Long-term thinking had no purpose when we lived in balance with nature.

Wise guys persistently recommend that we move in the direction of sustainable living, because all unsustainable options, by definition, have no long-term future.  In a smart collapse, the transition to subsistence farming would be seen as no more than a temporary transition on the high-priority path to a genuinely sustainable future.  It would be awesome to actually acknowledge the big lessons of history, break out of our 10,000-year cycle of repeated mistakes, and strive to live more mindfully.  We inherited big brains; we should use them.

A huge plus is that the new generation of radical thinkers is providing us with a different way of perceiving the world.  Agriculture was a stunning mistake.  The long-tarnished reputation of “primitive” nature-based living has been dusted off, spiffed up, and recast as a brilliant, enjoyable, healthy, time-proven mode for living far less destructively, or even sustainably.  It was not problem-free, but it left far fewer scars.

Half-baked intelligence got us into this mess, and our only hope for survival is a new and improved intelligence, heavily armed with clear thinking, reality-based history, state-of-the-art foresight, respect and reverence for nature, and a fervent, uncompromising contempt for deeply rooted pathological traditions.  With powerful wisdom, perfect luck, and more than a few miracles, humankind may once again be wild, free, and happy, a century or three down the road.  Imagine that.

A huge minus is that the road ahead is treacherously littered with slippery banana peels.  Say hi to the hope and optimism crowd, the “normal” mainstream consumers who comprise the vast majority of modern society.  For them, the consumer way of life is sacred and non-negotiable.  They conjure quirky comforting dreams that the current way of life will continue for the rest of their days.  The economy will recover and grow like crazy, everyone will have high-income work with outstanding benefits, the housing market will make everyone billionaires, everyone will drive monster trucks, death will be cured, and technology will clobber every problem — heaven on Earth!

This is false hope and irrational optimism, better known as denial (or psychosis).  It attempts to distract our attention from the pain of despair.  This psychosis dominates our culture, like the air we breathe.  Everywhere we turn; it’s there — entertainment, education, politics, religion, everyday conversations.  It dominates the minds of most people, for obvious reasons.  It’s all they know.  It encloses their minds in a cocoon of magical thinking, shielding them from uncomfortable inputs.  The world outside of the well-padded cocoon is an intensely unhealthy and unstable reality.  So, close the curtains, lock the doors, roll a joint, turn on the TV, and hope for better days ahead, right?

Is it possible to survive without false hope and irrational optimism?  Yes, in fact, it is.  Some of my best friends are present in reality, and they are quite smart and interesting.  For anyone who is even slightly present in reality, the path ahead is obviously jammed with 800-pound gorillas, as far as the eye can see — climate change, deforestation, mass extinction, energy depletion, economic collapse, wars, famines, pestilence, and on and on.  The deeper you explore reality, the more gorillas you find. 

Sadly, if you outwardly acknowledge the presence of even one gorilla, you suddenly change into an abominable monster of pure negative energy — a sick, pessimistic, brain-damaged doomer!  But wait!  Realistically, isn’t it sick and pessimistic to hope that the most destructive experiment of the entire human journey remains alive and well for as long as possible?  Do you really hope that it continues destroying life on Earth?  Circle the true doomer in this picture.  Everything is backwards.  Words can be very slippery.

If these hope fiends could slip outside their cocoon of magical thinking, they would see that genuine optimism enthusiastically embraces the sane and healthy desire to eventually return to a sustainable way of life.  Genuinely positive people are interested in freeing themselves, overcoming their addictions, rejecting the toxic values of mainstream society, resigning from soul-killing and planet-killing occupations, remembering what it is to be authentically human, and celebrating the perfection of creation (what’s left of it).

But the “normal” hope and optimism crowd has no interest in being enlightened or saved, and any attempts at doing so are usually a waste of time, and more than a little depressing.  They are committed to shopping till they drop.  The mainstream worldview is a maximum-security prison, and it will never open the gates when reason and logic come calling — instead, these sensible visitors will be warmly welcomed with a shower of boiling oil.  Obviously, humankind does not march to the beat of reason and logic — these are new, immature, and unstable mental powers.  So, the human mind is a bouncy slippery fish, and the path to genuine sustainability will not be short or simple.

I shall now reveal an immensely hopeful and optimistic plan that has a very slight chance for success — my reason for writing this book. 

To be continued.

Monday, March 11, 2013

God Save Me From A Normal Life - Part One

Returning to genuine sustainability in the near future is impossible, because there are far too many people in the world.  There is no way to feed them all without causing deeper permanent injuries to the ecosystem.  Sadly, humankind displays almost no interest in doing what needs to be done to address overpopulation.  It’s much easier to unplug our brains, close our eyes, and assign the unpleasant business to famine, war, and disease.  So be it.

Our extreme overpopulation is possible because we are living in a temporary bubble of abundant energy.  Unsustainable industrial agriculture can produce far more food than the unsustainable muscle-powered farming of earlier times.  But the days of cheap energy are behind us now, which means that the outburst of unusual growth and prosperity will wind down, stop, and reverse.  Sooner or later, industrial civilization as we know it will run out of fuel and collapse.  Industrial agriculture will no longer be possible.  The next 50 years are going to be radically different from the last 50 years. 

We’ve spent our entire lives living in a massively unsustainable, planet-killing way of life.  So did our parents and grandparents.  To our minds, this way of life seems perfectly normal, and we expect it to continue forever.  Actually, it’s a bizarre accident in the human journey, it’s moving into its final stages, and it can never happen again, thankfully. 

A huge obstacle to the healing process is our perception of history.  We’ve all been taught that our industrial civilization is nothing less than a miracle.  It’s always getting better, and the best is yet to come.  Does this sound like a problem that needs to be fixed?  Well, what it sounds like is a history that has little relationship with reality.  Bogus history provides us with a false identity, and it enables self-destructive thinking and living.

Thus, a primary task in the healing process is deliberately unlearning bogus history.  We mistakenly assume bogus history to be the truth, because it has been repeatedly hammered into our brains during many years at school.  It becomes the foundation of our worldview.  Bogus history hides the enormous problems of progress under the bed, and presents us with glorious myths of brilliant achievement.

If we gaze in the mirror and see the reflection of a being lucky to be living at the wondrous zenith of the human journey, then the notion of genuine sustainability is purely absurd, and not worthy of consideration.  But what if we see the reflection of someone who has had the misfortune of inheriting a hideous treasure of mistakes and illusions from 300 generations of well-intended ancestors?  In this case, genuine sustainability takes on the appearance of the antidote, the cure, something precious — a lifesaver.

Unlearning bogus history is like taking a powerful laxative that vigorously cleanses us of our false sense of identity.  Happily, this process has begun.  A growing number of radical thinkers are seriously questioning the value of domestication, agriculture, civilization, and industrial society.  They are coming to appreciate the intelligence and virtues of nature-based societies. 

The doddering drooling defenders of the mainstream work hard to keep these new thinkers safely locked away in the lunatic fringe cage, but their efforts will fail.  These new thinkers are displaying the first signs of powerful wisdom to emerge in the entire history of civilization.  They announce that our way of life is a mistake, and it’s rapidly destroying us.  Comprehending this essential idea enables and encourages clear thinking, intelligent change, and great healing — beautiful breakthroughs long obstructed by the idiotic old myths of progress and perpetual growth.

We must have history.  We cannot live with vision and power if we don’t know who we are, and where we came from.  After we’ve thrown bogus history overboard, we’ll need new histories that have deep roots in reality.  At the foundation of the healing process are learning, thinking, discussing, simplifying, and exploring nature (rewilding).  This work can be pursued at low cost, with greater freedom, outside the realm of formal institutionalized education, by people who want to make meaningful contributions with their lives.

Once upon a time, Carl Jung said, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I chose to become.”  This is why many nature-based societies encouraged people to discover their calling via vision quest ceremonies.  Living with a vision provided us with a direction and purpose in life, and helped us avoid getting lost and wandering aimlessly.

Societies also need a vision to live well.  In nature-based societies, vision was provided by the time-proven traditional culture.  The way to a good life was to carefully follow the path of the ancestors.  In today’s disaster-based societies, the guiding vision enshrines perpetual growth — a dead-end path of infantile excess that fuels catastrophic ecocide, and pandemics of mental illness and degenerative disease. 

Our disaster-based culture is bloated with fantasies of unsustainable science fiction futures, like the Jetsons, Star Wars, or colonies on Mars.  Nature exists outside the walls of these bleak humans-only prisons.  We dream that tomorrow will be a technological wonderland — robot-driven electric cars, smart highways, smart grids, high-speed trains, Internet everything, windmills and solar panels, and on and on — nothing sustainable, and nothing that is necessary for a healthy and enjoyable life.  This vision has no future, because the temporary bubble of abundant energy has no future.  Perpetual growth on a finite planet is impossible, and pursuing it is insane.  It’s time for a new vision.

To be continued.

Monday, March 4, 2013

My Name is Chellis...

Chellis Glendinning grew up in a wealthy and respectable family in Cleveland.  Her father was a caring doctor and a brutal child abuser.  She and her brother were raped, beaten, and tortured.  Her pain was swept under the carpet by the magic of dissociation — a portion of her personality split off and became unconscious.  Memories of her traumatic childhood were forgotten for 40 years.  Amnesia allowed her to function in the world.  She earned a PhD and became a psychotherapist.

One day, in a therapy session, her childhood traumas suddenly began to return to consciousness.  Chellis was determined to fully understand them, resolve them, and recover a healthy state of wholeness.  She wanted to heal herself 100 percent. 

Understanding matters of great importance often requires the use of a powerful medicine called history.  To know who we are, we must know where we came from.  Trauma and pathology are almost the norm throughout today’s society.  A daunting number of people are in therapy, or taking medication, or hobbled by untreated mental imbalances.  These problems are frequently passed from generation to generation.

Chellis explored her family tree and discovered patterns of ancestors who were damaged by alcoholism or mental illness.  She strongly suspected that her father had also been abused.  She learned about her Puritan ancestors in colonial times.  Reverend Thomas Hooker lived in what was to become Connecticut.  On Sundays, he preached the sweet love of Jesus to the faithful, and then he spent the rest of the week as a bloody terrorist, determined to exterminate the diabolical Native American savages.

Looking even deeper into the past, the trail of trauma kept unfolding.  Prior to the invasion of America, Europe was also a realm of intense craziness.  For 300 years the skies were darkened by the smoke of burning witches.  Insane leaders routinely led their people into countless wars.  The written history of Europe was insane from page one.  By and by, Chellis came to comprehend that her father’s madness was just a wee speck of pathology in an enormous tsunami of pathology that spanned many centuries and regions.

Very importantly, she also came to comprehend that this torrent of pathology did not in any way represent the normal human condition.  It was obvious that nature-based societies, like the Native Americans, inhabited a fundamentally different spiritual universe.  They did not devour the land and leave wreckage in their wake.  She could see that nature-based societies more closely represented balance and normality.  They suffered little from mental illness.  Their reverent relationship with the Earth was rooted in a million-year tradition — 35,000 generations of low-impact living. 

It became clear that the madness of modern technological society could readily be traced back to a recent fork in the human journey that occurred about 10,000 years ago, just 300 generations back — the domestication of plants and animals.  “This was the purposeful separation of human existence from the rest of life,” and the fence was its symbol.  It divided the world into two new realms: wild and tamed.  This shattered the ancient wholeness, and replaced it with chronic traumatic stress.

The transition to domestication blindsided human societies.  It was completely out of balance with our traditional, time-proven way of life — living with respect and reverence for the natural world.  The new game was about owning and controlling nature.  Eventually, these unlucky people forgot what it meant to be human beings, and they ended up living like fish out of water — flippity-floppity-flappity.  Gasp!  Gasp!  Gasp!  It was a temporary way of life with no future. 

The last six generations have witnessed the horrific transition to industrial civilization.  The nightmare shifted into fast forward, and we are racing toward a future where nature has been erased by endless shopping enterprises, clear-cuts, crumbling pavement, rotting cities, eroded farms, toxic wastelands, and endless flocks of zombies entranced by glowing cell phones.  Billions of traumatized people perceive this living death as being the normal human existence.  It is no coincidence that our era of flourishing ecological annihilation is also an era of flourishing mental illness. 

“Well-being and wholeness depend on, and exist in constant and complex intimacy with, the well-being and wholeness of the Earth,” according to Chellis.  “It’s well past time for us to come home, to return to the matrix from which we came, to recover what we have lost, to remember again the wisdom and balance of the natural world.”  To explain this process, she sat down with a wooden pencil, and wrote a book called My Name Is Chellis & I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization. 

Readers salivating to finally discover the simple, no sacrifice, silver bullet solution to the Earth Crisis will be reduced to sobs and sniffles once again.  Chellis describes a healing process that will likely take generations to complete.  It’s not about healing individuals, it’s about healing the entire society.  I must say that this book truly does provide readers with general guidelines for not only ending the Earth Crisis, but also restoring humankind to genuine sustainability, boundless joy, and complete wildness and freedom.  

There are seven-point-something billion people alive now, many of whom are victims of traumatic stress — paranoid, hyperactive, infantile, powerless, alienated, fearful, depressed, near-comatose beings whose mental wholeness has been shattered into many pieces.  Imagine for a moment repairing this mess — the individuals, the society, the ecosystem, and our history.  Imagine unlocking the shackles of technological society and walking away.  Imagine guiding humankind to a point where we are willing and able to abandon our exploitation of domesticated plants and animals.  Imagine returning home, to the family of life, to wholeness.

Many thinkers have concluded that the reason we got into this mess was a combination of excessive cleverness and inadequate foresight.  Chellis adds another chapter to the story — the immense, highly-contagious, psychological damage resulting from our terrible plunge from balance.  When we become aware of the corrosive presence of this madness, we can more fully comprehend the anatomy of our predicament.

Chellis has given humankind an important Big Vision, a potent idea to explore.  Obviously, the healing process will not be quick or simple.  Our challenge is simply to take a deep breath, roll up our sleeves, and take the first step.

Glendinning, Chellis, My Name Is Chellis & I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization, Shambhala, Boston, 1994.