Monday, April 1, 2013

God Save Me From A Normal Life — Part Four

OK, so our modern civilized world is lost, but we’re starting to wake up to the notion that we’ve travelled a long ways down a dead path, because we have been guided by a dead vision.  We didn’t create this vision, we inherited it, and we have (so far) been unable to summon the power to acknowledge its fatal defects, reject it, and outgrow it — a long and difficult process.

Luckily, as we move beyond the temporary bubble of abundant energy, the unfolding collapse will undermine the dead vision.  The portion of the vision related to perpetual growth and insatiable consumption will be run over and killed by economic decay.  Unluckily, the portion of the dead vision related to the notion that humans are the divine owners and masters of the world is likely to persist, as we return to a muscle-powered way of life — but it will be weakened and vulnerable.

Following the Black Death, many survivors lost their faith in religion.  Why worship a god that permitted such immense horror?  In the wake of our collapse, many minds will likewise be roaring with resentment about all aspects of industrial civilization.  Our glorious era of astonishing innovation and human brilliance will shapeshift into a hideous calamity of unimaginable stupidity and unforgivable destruction.

“Never again!” will be the mantra of the survivors.  But how thoroughly will they comprehend the mistakes that created the disaster?  How likely will they be to continue the practice of unsustainable habits, especially soil mining, animal enslavement, and metal making?  One of the most powerful medicines of all is understanding.  What knowledge would be of great importance to our descendants?  How can we help them escape from the tentacles of our dead vision, and safely return to wildness and freedom? 

They will need to understand a reality-based version of history that discards the daffy myths and tells us who we are, warts and all — how we stumbled into this mess, and how our mistakes snowballed into the current disaster.  They will need to understand genuine sustainability, an extremely important subject that our society keeps chained up in the basement.  This is why I’ve written two books on sustainability — to shine a light on a clan of thinkers who are not wind turbine salesmen, or sustainable development hucksters.

Unfortunately, our institutions of education, religion, media, and government are manifestations of the dead vision, and they seem committed to going down with the ship.  To them, real history and genuine sustainability are matters of heresy that must religiously be beaten and stoned.  Sustainable living will never become our goal if we don’t know what it is, or why it’s essential to the health of the land, and the survival of our species.

Fortunately, the system is rotting from within.  In its prime, this system vigilantly protected us from fresh ideas and healthy visions — the cultural gatekeepers never allowed this information to enter our madhouse.  But the madhouse walls are crumbling. 

Recently, we have entered a delightful bubble of freedom.  For a limited amount of time — until the lights go out, or freedom is squashed — anyone can publish a book, release a song, display a painting, share a video, or discuss ideas with people from around the world.  For a limited amount of time, we have access to a global communication system.  Anything you do can be made available to billions.  If the moment is ripe, fresh ideas and healthy visions can go viral, rapidly spreading — and these days, large numbers of minds might be intrigued by fresh ideas and healthy visions.  Amazing things could happen.

Today, seven-point-something billion people are sitting ducks in a no-man’s-land between two powerful unfriendly forces.  On one side is climate change, which has many uncomfortable surprises in store for us.  On the other side is the end of the cheap energy bubble, and the collapse of industrial civilization, which will also bring many uncomfortable surprises.  In other words, big trouble is coming, big suffering.  The bill for our experiment in tool making has come due, and it is enormous.

Along with big trouble comes big opportunity.  Mother Nature will mercilessly resolve the overpopulation problem that we have ignored, a problem that has made sustainability impossible.  Another barrier to sustainability, our industrial system, will run out of energy, disintegrate, and rust in peace, terminating our dreadfully meaningless consumer society.  The final barrier to sustainability resides between our ears.

When the lights go out, our crippling isolation from the family of life will thankfully end.  There will be nothing to eat in the refrigerator, and all of our glowing electronic screens will thankfully go blank forever.  We will have no choice but to go outdoors, devote some serious attention to the living world, and develop a profound sense of respect for its power and beauty (and edible aspects).  We will have the precious opportunity to shift to a healthy path, and remember how to live like wild and free human beings once again.  Will we do it?

We at last come to the mother of all questions.  If people educated in industrial cultures survive the storm, will they regroup and repeat the same mistakes we’ve been making for thousands of years?  Or will they wisely perceive these devastating mistakes as important lessons to be learned?  What happens if the dead vision has no serious competition when the lights go out?  Game over?  Maybe climate change will make it impossible to repeat our cardinal mistakes.  Maybe it won’t. 

What if people imagined new visions before the lights went out, and shared them with the world?  What might happen if the moment was ripe, and these visions became as popular as Avatar, Lady Gaga, or Harry Potter?  What might happen if millions of minds received healthy doses of stories depicting real history and genuine sustainability?  What might happen if we acknowledged the existence of reality and began to have deep, meaningful discussions about it?  Could this awakening make a vital difference for those who live in the aftermath?  Could it help the present generation make better choices?

Those whose minds dance outside-the-box are not sodden with despair.  Big change is coming, and the rich and powerful can do nothing to stop it.  There is a faint light at the end of the tunnel.  The gang rape of the planet is running out of fuel, and will eventually cease.  Better days are on the way — a long era of healing.  Sooner or later, with or without us, the family of life will once again return to balance.

The ancestors remind us that there was a time before civilization, industrialization, overpopulation, the madness.  There will also come a time when they have long been forgotten.  There is no undo button, but there will come a day when the storm has passed.  Joy!


Suzanne Duarte said...

Dear Richard, Thank you for this series of posts on 'the normal life' and why and how to leave it behind. I've really enjoyed these, and especially this one. It's cheered me up. Thanks, Suzanne

Riversong said...

Adrian asks: "If people educated in industrial cultures survive the storm, will they regroup and repeat the same mistakes we’ve been making for thousands of years? Or will they wisely perceive these devastating mistakes as important lessons to be learned?"

An excellent "primer" for learning the lessons of our past mistakes is Ronald Wright's 2004 book, A Short History of Progress, in which he describes the progress traps and eventual collapse of the Neanderthal, Sumer, Rome, Easter Island, the Inca, Maya and Aztec.

Wright explains: "Our practical faith in progress has ramified and hardened into an ideology – a secular religion which, like the religions that progress has challenged, is blind to certain flaws in its credentials. Progress, therefore, has become a 'myth'…But progress has an internal logic that can lead beyond reason to catastrophe. A seductive trail of successes may end in a trap…Many of the great ruins that grace the deserts and jungles of earth are monuments to progress traps, the headstones of civilizations which fell victim to their own success."

And, like Adrian, he concludes with this insight: "Homo sapiens has the information to know itself for what it is: an Ice Age hunter only half-evolved towards intelligence; clever but seldom wise. Now is our last chance to get the future right."

What Is Sustainable said...

Suzanne, I'm happy you got my point. If we think beyond the human sphere, and beyond the coming storm, there are deeper meanings to be found. The insanity is not permanent. It's more like a fever that's driving away an infection, an unpleasant process of healing.

What Is Sustainable said...

Riversong, I liked Wright, too. My review of his book was posted on 20 January 2013.

I have a sense that, whatever we do, the future will eventually be "right." But it' going to have lots of missing teeth and ugly scars.