Monday, April 15, 2013

What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

I’ve been living like a hermit for 19 months now, reading dozens of powerful books, and writing weekly blogs.  I’m not the same person I was when I started.  My perception of reality has gone through some changes.  I’ve been sharing what I learned with the world.  I hope that seekers will find it, and I hope that my work will be helpful to them.  I’ll be publishing this material in book form shortly.

Genuine sustainability, of course, is the holy destination — a way of life that is healthy, satisfying, and has a long-term future.  Getting there, of course, will be an enormous challenge, requiring enormous changes, enormous wisdom, enormous luck, and probably a century or three, at least.

What we are today is the result of many choices and changes — stone tools, projectile weapons, fire, complex language, consciousness, directed thinking, cultural evolution, civilization, industrialization, the domestication of plants, animals, and minerals, and so on. 

At the time of the Great Leap Forward, 40,000 years ago, the megafauna were still abundant, and perhaps we were still sustainable.  But these cave painters were quite different from the far simpler hominids who roamed in Africa 500,000 years ago.  The high-tech cave painters were much more vulnerable to falling out of balance, which is exactly what happened.  Infants born today are still pure wild animals, ready to grow up in an advanced tribe of cave painters, or a primitive tribe of early Africans.  As Prince Charles says, we are what we are surrounded by.

Obviously, the safest and most conservative ideal would be to return to tropical regions.  Back in Africa, we didn’t need clothing, fire, shelters, or tools.  We lived much like chimps.  Food was readily available year round.  People enjoyed abundant leisure, and good health.  Perhaps climate change will come to our rescue here, by expanding tropical regions, and dealing a deathblow to agriculture.

But some predict that climate change will be the final chapter in the human story.  Those who foresee near term extinction (NTE) perceive me to be a delusional moron for contemplating the possibility that any humans will exist 100 years from now.  Rapid heating will destroy agriculture and blindside every ecosystem on the planet.  Oceans will become so acidic that only jellyfish remain.  Coal burning will cease with the demise of industry, so less incoming solar energy will be deflected by pollution, and the warming process will accelerate.  When the power goes out, the cooling ponds for spent fuel rods at 430+ nuclear power plants will evaporate, the rods will burn, and ionized radiation will poison the planet.

Extinction would neatly solve every single one of our problems.  We were certain to go extinct at some point in the future anyway.  Uff!  But what if there are still some humans alive 100 years from now?  I’m very happy that I’m not going to live to see the end of the collapse.  What the survivors choose to do is entirely beyond my control.  I am not responsible for the decisions they make, but I am responsible for taking action to protect their wellbeing, to the best of my ability.  We all are.

Collapse will blow away many obstructions that currently block our return to sustainability, but not all of them.  In theory, we are smart enough to choose a new path, and deliberately strive to return to a sustainable way of life.  What we do today to encourage this return, before the lights go out, may make a big difference in the coming years.  It feels right to try.

Five hundred years ago, large portions of the planet were still inhabited by humans living in a relatively sustainable manner.  Four thousand years ago, even more.  But these nature-based societies had no long-term future because there were pockets of dark energy emerging on the planet, something like cancer tumors, and their plan was perpetual growth, by any means necessary.

In his parable of the tribes, Schmookler warned us that once a bully entered the playground, the fun and games were over.  Only power can stop power.  He believed that this problem could be cured by creating a global civilization that was guided by wisdom.  Jack Forbes called it the cannibal disease, and he thought that this disease could be eliminated by spiritual rebirth on a global scale.  There is no fast-acting, silver bullet cure for the growing predator energy.  It’s a formidable challenge to the healing process.  In theory, we can outgrow it.

Another serious problem is a lack of foresight.  I could be gazing at a group of wooly mammoths right now, if only the inventor of the stone-tipped lance had the foresight to imagine the consequences of giving weapons of mass destruction to a gang of scruffy-looking illiterate longhaired rednecks.  Lions and tigers and bears don’t have this problem, because they hunt with tooth and claw, and this works just fine. 

Dilworth, Crosby, and Wright changed the way I think.  I used to believe that our problems began with domestication.  They taught me that our problems began with tool making.  Imagine what a paradise this world would be if prehistoric toolmakers had had foresight, immediately abolished their dangerous profession, and pursued careers in singing, dancing, and storytelling. 

At the dawn of the last century, there was loud and abundant opposition to automobiles, but the wise voice of conservatism was foolishly ignored — a huge mistake!  Two centuries ago, we failed to listen carefully to the ultraconservative Luddites, and what a mess we have now, Lord Almighty!  The problem really isn’t a lack of foresight, it’s a lack of stability.  Stable species have no need for foresight.  They live entirely in the here and now, and do so beautifully.  Domesticated humans are the exception.  We’re the loose cannons of the animal world.

Likewise, Shepard, Wells, Ehrlich, and Livingston warned us about the dangers of cultural evolution.  This is the same problem: a lack of stability.  Culture does not become toxic until it falls out of harmony with wildness, freedom, and the laws of nature — until it crosses the line and becomes unsustainable, a dead end.

It all boils down to remembering who we are, and how to live like human beings.  It’s about living as lightly as possible, and contributing the healing process to the best of our ability.

Thank you!  This has been fun!  Have an honorable life!  Best wishes!


Riversong said...

I'm not sure I buy the tool theory of human devolution, since tool use has been observed in other primates, dolphins, elephants, otters, birds and octopuses.

It may be some combination of our opposable thumbs and oppositional brains that led us to use tools irresponsibly, but the really dramatic environmental (and cultural) modifications did not appear until the dawn of domestication.

That shift not only irreparably altered the earth around us, but began an accelerating distancing of human culture from nature. As we fenced out the wild, we fenced ourselves in and created a lifestyle that could not be sustained without inputs from (and costs to) nature (and to our own souls).

If human extinction is coming, we would be wise to welcome, rather than fight, it. Our demise may be the only positive legacy we can leave to the planet.

What Is Sustainable said...

Riversong, tool use in non-humans has remained rudimentary, and all of them could probably do just fine without their tools. You and I would have a very hard time being tool free.

Two years ago, I agreed with you about domestication being the fall. Probably one year ago, too. Books can be mind altering experiences. Darned things!

I agree that the horror show went into fast forward maybe 10,000 years ago. But it seems like the preceding 30,000 years set the stage - slowly.

What Is Sustainable said...

PS: Yes, our extinction is seeming more inevitable. That's sad, because the only thing that's destroying us is dumb ideas.