how to save the world | Dave Pollard's chronicle of civilization's collapse, creative worTime 2022-08-08 03:48:20
how to save the worldDave Pollard's chronicle of civilization's collapse, creative works and essays on our culture. A trail of crumbs, runes and exclamations along my path in search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.Skip to content Older posts
Pretending It’s Better Than It IsAugust 5, 2022
Painting in oil pastels, “Family Portrait”, by the Polish graphic artist Sławek Gruca.
“When one is pretending, the entire body revolts.” — Anais Nin
There seems to be a propensity among the human species to put on our best face in the company of those we respect and care about, and pretend that things are better than they are, that they are OK, fine, acceptable, that we’re coping, at least.
I’m not sure why this is. Perhaps we’ve all experienced too many gloomy, needy, annoying-to-be-around and otherwise vexatious people who are always moaning about their situation and implying that it’s not fair and that someone — perhaps you — could or should do something about it. We don’t want to be around such people. So maybe our “it’s OK” demeanour is compensatory — we don’t want to burden or stress or depress the people around us.
There’s certainly some role-playing involved as well. We don’t want our kids getting scared (or scarred) because the world, and our lives, are so fucked up, and we seem unable to make them better. We don’t want our spouses and significant others to find us tedious to be around and choose the company of others instead. We don’t want our friends and co-workers to see us as weak, struggling, a mess — a drag.
And there’s likely some pride, and shame, at play as well. None of us wants to admit our failures to ourselves or others. We want to be looked up to, not pitied. No surprise that some 80% of citizens in international polls say they think they earn more than the median income in their country. Even the poor slobs who ‘make their living’ gambling at casinos, racetracks, and in stock markets and real estate markets tend to wildly overestimate their success in front of others.
We all probably know people who get dressed up before they go to visit their doctor, so they look healthier than they feel, undermining the doctor’s ability to assess what is needed.
And we all know about the placebo effect, which has us feeling better, when asked, just because we believe something has been done which should make us feel better; the feeling, of course, never lasts.
I remember as a young child finding the acting of adults both unconvincing and inexplicable. Why are they all pretending — to know stuff, to be succeeding, to be happy? What are they playing at? To me this was not only a transparent attempt at deceit, it seemed a self-deceit as well. Who do they think they’re fooling?
So we all pretend, and make believe, things are better than they really are. As Yorkshire’s Flat Caps and Fatalism blogger poetically relates, our cities and our countrysides reflect this false pretence that things are OK, better than OK:
The cities lie. Their radical chic is stretched tight over the bare lust for money. Their cosmopolitan diversity hides the uniformity of clawing ambition. Their youth is stolen from elsewhere, used for a time, and discarded when its looks and gullibility begin to fade. They grow little food and make fewer objects every year. They offer only services no one needs and knowledge no one believes. A blustering businessman sinks deeper into debt; but, risking it all again and again, he’ll keep up his pretence until the bailiffs arrive. That is the soul of the city.
The countryside lies. The fertilised fields barely pay the bills, but five families worked this land before it was improved. The tasteful barn conversions shelter dreamers who touch the soil with their eyes alone. The very lambs in the fields deceive. They tell you that this place feeds others, but it has long taken more than it gives. It is hungry, always hungry, hungry for oil and hungry for money. The countryside is the skin of the land, but its glow is not healthy. It is sunburn. The energy poured into it has killed it, and soon it will peel away from the flesh below.
The wildlands lie. Their treeless beauty is kept for grouse and Gore-Tex. Ninety years after the trespass, they are still luxury goods selling freedom. They offer escape, something above the fray, something that was always so and will be always so; but they are only playgrounds that pretend to be churches. Nature promises nothing but death and change. The romantics scorned him, but Capability Brown was an honest man. He sculpted the land to please the eye and called it a garden. Infatuated with the sublime, we have done the same and called it conservation.
All our lands lie, but they have only one lie: the lie that this will go on, that the oil will keep flowing, that the supply chains will not shatter, that this empire will not sink into lone and level sands.
Our entire civilization, and its now-global and homogenizing culture, is a giant lie. Through the politicians, the media, our gambles and dreams of the future that can never be realized, our borrowing of amounts (from the earth, and from future generations) that can never possibly be repaid, we pretend that things are OK and will inevitably get better. Through the factory farms behind giant walls concealing the truth of our grotesque, brutal and torture-filled food system, showing instead playful lambs on our meat pie packages and contented cows on our milk cartons, we conceal the truth from each other and from ourselves. We dare not imagine what is really happening behind all the walls we build to keep the traumatized incarcerated, the abused helpless, and the desperate in refugee ‘camps’ serving life sentences, so we can go on pretending it’s all OK.
It is fear that keeps us hiding from the truth, in denial of what is happening, unwilling to know or even think what is happening behind all those walls. We are afraid to admit that we have failed — ourselves, our children, our loved ones, and the world — and that instead we have produced a monster, an artificial, prosthetic global culture called ‘civilization’ that has never worked, can never work, and which, having produced atrocities greater and more far-reaching than we can even imagine, is quickly falling apart. Our intentions were good, and we cannot dare admit that those intentions have led to this.
Some of my fellow collapsniks have told me that if we were to truly face up to the horrific legacy of civilization and its accelerating collapse, we would all kill ourselves — we could not bear it. I’m not so sure. I think if we avoid the blame game, and just stop lying to ourselves and to each other, stop pretending that this isn’t endgame that we’re witnessing, we might find that there’s less shame in that terrible admission than in the lies we depend on to keep going as if everything was OK.
I’m not saying we should ‘confess our sins’ — I’m an atheist and I don’t believe in sin, or good or evil, right or wrong, confession or punishment, or free will. We did our best, we cannot fix or undo what we did trying our best.
What I think we could do, and may well do over the course of the coming decades, is to admit that our best intentions went horribly wrong for reasons we could not know and will never fully know, and simply pause in all our efforts, and stop doing everything we’re doing. To refuse to participate in trying to resuscitate the dead patient that is human civilization on this planet. To realize that continuing to do what has never worked is a fool’s game. To stop pretending that everything is OK. We could do all these things, if we were to suddenly get brutally honest with ourselves and each other (which may require more self-awareness and self-knowledge than most of us could muster), and give each other permission to acknowledge that collectively we inadvertently fucked up, and that the consequences of that very large and very human error will be severe. And then move on from there.
What would that look like? — A secular pause, not to lament or grieve or plan or blame or shame or pray, but to accept that it’s endgame, and that our continuing to act as if it’s not is pure folly. To say goodbye to this bizarre and amazing human-created civilization, this ersatz world within a world, this world full of what Richard Shelton calls “the terrible knowledge of cities”, and to do so in a spirit of humility and relief. And then to acknowledge and re-embrace the more-than-human world in all its wonder and joy, to breathe it in, to notice what we never thought we had the time to see.
It would look like, collectively, walking away from systems that were sincerely designed to make our lives better, but which are ruinous and no longer of service to most of us, if they ever were. It would mean stopping the work we do in Bullshit Jobs, and instead taking on the almost-impossible task of finding work that has real meaning and value to others and which is sustainable, sufficient and in humble service to our communities. It would mean ceasing to buy or sell or make anything that isn’t essential, and ceasing to buy anything industrially processed, anything we cannot mend and repair ourselves.
It would mean getting together with others in our community and giving everything we (pretend we) own back to the commons, to be stewarded collectively and modestly for the community’s collective benefit, including the more-than-human community into which it would gradually be re-integrated. And, the gods help us, it would mean learning to trust and even love everyone in our community, even those we don’t like very much.
It would mean ceasing to use or value money, and living within a radically relocalized gift economy where the currency of exchange is personal knowledge and trust. It would mean relearning, in communities of our own making, how to make and do the essential things our particular local community needs to live comfortably and sufficiently. It would probably mean, for the vast majority of us, moving perhaps thousands of miles to a place that can healthily sustain a human population without the prosthesis of technology. And it would mean so much more.
Beyond that, it would mean giving up pretending we know what we’re doing, erasing the absurd pretence that anyone is an expert. It would mean giving up pretending that things are better than they really are, and giving up all the lies and denials that prop up that pretence, all those desperate lies to ourselves, our children, our friends and communities and co-workers.
I know of a few communities that are trying this. Mostly, they are making many mistakes, some of them fatal. Mostly, their members, so accustomed and inured to lying because the truth is too hard to admit, are still lying to themselves and to each other, and when that leads to community failure, they will have to start over again, and again, until they discover and demand the absolute truth of themselves and each other. Until they learn to be humble. Until they once again become part of the more-than-human world in which they find themselves.
That’s the world I dream of living in. It will come eventually — only those of us who learn to live sustainably and modestly as part of the community of life on earth, to once again belong to the earth, will survive civilization’s collapse. There is no other way, despite what the deranged billionaires would have you believe. It will be hard, astonishing, frustrating, and magical.
I doubt I will be around to see it, but I will be thinking of those that will. Pulling for them, not to succeed, but to live natural lives where no one has to pretend it’s better than it is. Because it can’t get any better than that.
Addicted to CrudeAugust 4, 2022
There are few pipelines in North Dakota, so while oil is valuable enough to truck out (weather permitting), the natural gas byproducts are not, so the gas is simply, legally, burned off, “flared”, wasted. Photo by Tim Evanson from wikimedia, CC-BY-2.0 .
Here in Carmerica, nothing is free — not the food, not the fuel, not the people, not me.
Here in Carmerica, deep in the gears of a four-stroke engine lubricated with tears —
You can hear it a-comin’, long before it appears here in Carmerica, deep in the gears.
Here in Carmerica, moments away — the pressure is building just a little each day,
Ready to rumble, let happen what may, here in Carmerica, moments away.
Here in Carmerica, land of the cruel, addicted to sex, and addicted to fuel.
But some of your people are nobody’s fool here in Carmerica, land of the cruel.
Here in Carmerica, divided they stand: They wait undecided, their heads in the sand.
Their confidence wavers, then leaves their command, here in Carmerica, divided they stand.
Here in Carmerica, land that I love: the grind of your dollar, the fist in the glove,
The smooth-runnin’ engine when push comes to shove, here in Carmerica, land that I love.
— Nathan Rogers, Carmerica (yes, he’s Stan’s son, and Canadian)
Our local Facebook page has recently exploded with horrified and outraged revelations that most of the gas stations in our community are closed, because they, like some other specialized retailers these days, have nothing to sell. The signs that recently said $2.39/litre now read $0.00. The underlying message of these social media posts: Who’s to blame for this? and When will this inconvenience be over? If I were to read comments on the posts (which I never do) I’m sure answers to these unanswerable questions would be readily proffered.
We still don’t seem to fathom the idea that complex problems — predicaments really — have no solutions, only stopgaps and workarounds, or that system collapse, which is more in evidence now than ever before, is a gradually unfolding phenomenon, not a sudden Mad Max one-time Hollywood cataclysmic event.
We are living in the early years of what Jim Kunstler tagged “The Long Emergency”, a state of emergency that will last decades and will not be ‘fixed’, but rather will end only when we have learned to adapt to a completely different way and scale of living.
As Nathan’s song tells us, we’re addicted to our current way of life, and to the ruinously destructive systems, most notably fossil fuel extraction, that make that life possible. As Indrajit Samarajiva says, especially in the Global South, we’re going into fossil fuel withdrawal. And there are no drugs on offer to ease the ghastly symptoms.
What exactly does it mean to be addicted to something? It means we can’t function competently without it. It means we react in irrational, unpredictable, and unhealthy ways when we don’t get it. It means we may resort to violence or crime to get it. It means even though we know what we crave isn’t good for us, we will use any means of rationalizing why it would be worse for us to quit using it. It means we’ll deny we have a problem. It means we’ll favour the certain short term pleasure over the uncertain long term suffering that quitting would entail. It means we’ll befriend (and vote for) people who will tell us our addiction is OK. And it means the addicts who are poor will suffer disproportionally more than those who are rich.
Beating this addiction isn’t just a matter of collective willpower. In fact, there’s a danger that if we convince ourselves that we’re doing our share, or more than our share, we will shrug off facing the fact that most people will never be able to do that. Being personally right won’t provide any solace when it all comes apart, and it may lull us into complacency in the meantime.
We have become addicted to petrochemical products to the same extent and in the same way we are addicted to food, water, and air. Our civilization simply can no longer operate without them. This dependence is not like our dependence on caffeine or alcohol. Breaking that dependence is possible. Breaking our dependence on petrochemicals is not. Everything that supports our civilization depends on it — transportation, heating, cooling and much of our electricity, the fertilizers and other chemicals that are essential inputs to 60% of the world’s current food supply, industrial production, infrastructure, our beloved internet, and substantially every aspect of our present economy. Without it we will simply die, in large numbers. The only way we can significantly reduce this inevitable suffering and death is by having fewer or no children, and it is not clear that many of us are even willing to do this, though that will certainly shift as the horrors of civilizational collapse begin to unfold more fully.
The growth of our industry, our productive capacity, our infrastructure, our food supply, our trade, and our human population — as Richard Heinberg has repeatedly explained, all of these have occurred in lock-step with the growth of our consumption of fossil fuels. That’s because our exploding consumption of fossil fuels is what has entirely powered and enabled that growth, and has been and continues to be entirely dependent on its impossible continuation. It is a myth that, with collective will and effort, we could replace fossil fuels with other energy sources (including sources yet to be invented) without our economy collapsing in the process. And it is a myth that such substitution could prevent or even significantly lessen or mitigate climate collapse and other aspects of the ongoing global ecological collapse fuelling the sixth great extinction of life on the planet.
So to answer my neighbours’ questions:
Who is to blame, for these disruptions to our fuel-injected economy and its supply chains? No one. This is what happens when 7.9B people all do their best to look after themselves and the people they care about. Get used to it. Many more disruptions are coming, and some of them are going to make the ones we are now seeing look like a walk in the park.
When’s it going to end, and get properly fixed so it doesn’t happen again? Never. This is a system in terminal collapse. Like all civilizations before us, and their complex systems, this one too will end in chaos, except this time it will be global, with no frontiers left and no replays available. This civilization has used up all of its lives. What will be left of human societies when this civilization’s collapse reaches its conclusion decades from now, we cannot know, though it almost surely will be low-tech, utterly local, and include a lot fewer people than are alive today. There’s a serious chance no humans at all will survive it, though our demise may be a long thin tail that hangs on with a few remaining societies in decline for centuries. The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote of societies: “Fortune is of sluggish growth, but ruin is rapid.” Energy researcher Ugo Bardi has coined this observation the Seneca Cliff, and it is increasingly likely that the collapse curve we are now starting to slide down will be such a cliff.
When our addiction to hydrocarbons can no longer be fed, it will be no different from suddenly finding ourselves without food, without water, or without air. We can go on believing that when the last of the pushers of the drug we crave have all put yellow tape around the pumps and permanently changed their price signs to $0.00, there will be another candy man opening up around the corner to fill the insatiable need. But that belief won’t serve us well when the withdrawal symptoms kick in. We’ll recognize the symptoms: the feeling of being desperately hot, or desperately cold, or desperately hungry, or desperately thirsty, or unable to breathe, or unable to function, or homeless and bankrupt and feeling hopeless and ashamed, or ready to kill for relief, or wanting to die just to end the pain. Not pretty, but some of us will likely survive, and learn to live without what we thought we would always have.
You can hear it a-comin’ long before it appears.
Plus Ça Change: Lessons from a MallJuly 30, 2022
current mall/parking lot footprint near my home, showing proposed towers
It has been above 35ºC (close to 100ºF) all week here in Coquitlam. Like most Vancouverites I have no air conditioning. On top of that, I’m on Day 15 since first being diagnosed with CoVid-19. I finally tested negative, but haven’t felt up to my usual long walks thanks to being constantly masked in the fierce heat.
Over the past year, my last post of each month has usually been a kind of meandering reflection on what I have seen, and thought about, on recent walks. So for a change, this post will be about my recent daily strolls through the large (air conditioned) shopping mall across the street from my apartment — A different kind of jungle from that of last month’s bear encounter.
Writers have been predicting and documenting the demise of urban shopping malls for over 40 years. There’s a multi-billion dollar proposal to add 26 towers housing 21,000 people on top of the huge two-story retail mall I’m walking through. In this age of collapse, that’s about as likely to happen as the Singularity or the Rapture, but I guess people have to believe in something.
The owners of this mall are private and secret; it’s fronted by a real-estate/PR firm. They own dozens of malls in Canada, cookie-cutter copies of each other. Apparently most of their financing comes from Canadian and international pension funds, whose investment managers are faithful adherents to the religion of perpetual growth and inevitable progress.
For now it’s a mongrel of a mall, with the usual trendy chains, a food court tweaked to reflect our heavily Asian-Canadian populations, some ancient signage that looks ’50s vintage, and a scaffolded, open but empty zombie of a Hudson’s Bay Company store, Canada’s oldest (and basically bankrupt) corporation. HBC is doubling down on its staggering business losses by bidding to buy the US’s largest remaining (also basically bankrupt) department store chain, Kohl’s, though it looks like a vitamin-store chain is going to outbid them.
Shopping malls were designed as community centres, promising the kind of freewheeling, everyday mix of art, crafts, entertainment, current produce and social camaraderie that ancient agoras and community markets once offered. But then “the market” intervened. Free stuff was jettisoned, and every square metre was leased to whoever could squeeze the maximum number of dollars in sales and margins out of the space. Of course how to do that has changed with demographics, economics and fashions, and many once-proud retailers fell briefly and disastrously out of step with buyers and are long gone.
A few years ago, mall owners here tore out tables near the food ‘courts’ that had been set aside for retired people, veterans, and game enthusiasts to play chess and checkers. Apparently they weren’t buying enough, so the geezers were told to go elsewhere.
There are new signs on the mall entrance doors here: For the first time since CoVid-19 began and customers began to stay away in droves, they’re reopening “extended evening hours” (until 9pm) on Thursdays and Fridays.
But you can’t fail to notice the hand-scrawled notices on the doors of at least five of these high-rent stores, saying “Closed temporarily due to CoVid-related staff shortages.”
As I wander through the mall, despite the turnover in names on the storefronts, I feel as if I am stuck in the past. We’re very close to the point where the world buys more online than it does in stores, yet this mall looks, functionally, like a relic of the Reagan era. It’s almost quaint.
The Chinese, who, unlike us, don’t live in the past, buy much of what they do via livestream shopping, a concept almost unheard of here. The vendor offers an interactive, real-time online show to customers, displaying, demonstrating and explaining the product, answering questions, and modelling its use. More service than a traditional retailer can offer, and no need to leave home.
By contrast, even the Apple store here shows absolutely no innovation or imagination in terms of processes or customer experience. Every transaction is adversarial: How quickly can they get you to buy more than you want and pay more than you planned, plus pay for extended warranties, special adapters, and other hidden charges, and then get you out of the store to make room for the next customer.
In the clothing stores, you have the choice between obsequious attention and being completely ignored, depending on the culture of the store. The staff are both incapable of and forbidden from telling you anything, or offering you anything, that you couldn’t get faster and more easily from their online store. These humans in this zombie landscape are, most of them, essentially robots, and underpaid commensurately. A total waste of potential value.
Why do people come here, I wonder, other than to get away from the unbearable weather outside? I suspect the answer is a combination of habit and imaginative poverty — they don’t know what (else) to do with themselves.
The faces of the younger children display the same kind of bewilderment I am feeling: Why are we here, when we could be doing something fun and interesting? Who are all these people anyway?
So I sit and listen for answers to this question. Unlike most Canadian malls, which are overtly hostile to ‘loiterers’ and offer no place to sit, there is lots of public seating in this one. Because it’s so hot outside, this seating is unusually full.
My first observation is how the demographics of the people in the mall change depending on time of day and day of the week. There are no people-watchers here now — most of us ‘loiterers’ are either tending to children or engrossed in or talking on their phones. But I’ve been here on weekends and late in the day when the audience is younger and more deliberately dressed, and there’s almost as much calculated people-gazing and posing then as there is on the Paris Métro at rush hour.
The voyeur in me instead has to satisfy himself today by taking stock of comings and goings. Mask-wearing is down to about 25% in the mall, an all-time low since CoVid-19 began, and I notice many of these only put their masks on when they enter the mall.
The other thing I notice is that the people coming into the mall look relatively determined and anticipatory. By contrast, far and away the majority of the leavers look sullen and dissatisfied, especially if they have no bags in hand. What’s going on here, I wonder? And then it strikes me, the appeal that this mall has, that has people coming back despite its failures: The mall lures you in with its promise, but never delivers on it. It’s like a bad girl/boyfriend, telling you all the wonderful things they’re going to do for you but never actually doing them. I look at the people going through the exit doors and I see one message on so many of their faces: Oh well — Next time it will be different, better.
And then, I suppose, they’ll forget, and later there will be something else they’re looking for, something they’re not sure about, and they’ll be back, full of fervent hopes and empty bags. The mall is a place of unfulfilled dreams.
Ever since CoVid-19 hit, and increasingly now due to chronic supply chain issues that will only get worse, there have been major stock-outs in many stores. In the larger stores, you’ll see long empty shelves with “sorry” signs on them, and empty pockets in otherwise-full shelves, where someone has hoarded some specific item, or it’s suddenly just become unavailable. Ask the workers and they’ll just shrug — no one knows when anything will be back in stock.
In the smaller, lower-end stores, that operate on volume not margin, empty shelves are anathema, and are filled with whatever else they can find in the back to fill the space, usually with a slight discount. In the higher-end stores, a half-empty look is fashionable, but they’re even more vulnerable to stock-outs. As soon as you look forlornly at the empty space where what you wanted should be, the chicly-dressed clerks in these stores will rush over and tell you they’ll deliver it to your home, for free, as soon as it comes in. No, they don’t know when that will be. Would you like to come over to the desk here and give me your contact information?
As I wander through one of these stores, a young saleswoman with shining eyes and a huge grin rushes over to her co-worker and says, in a barely-controlled voice: “God I love personal shoppers! A week’s commission in less than an hour!” The co-worker offers a rather jealous-looking congratulatory nod. I have no inkling what this is all about, so I retreat to the public seating area and google: “What is a personal shopper?”
Apparently this is a thing, if you’re too old or too rich to do your own shopping. Some of them are full-fledged “image consultants” recommending looks and products for their too-important-to-shop-for-themselves clients, and then going out and picking the stuff up. Skilled personal shoppers can, the internet says, earn mid-six-figure incomes, but often work long and unusual hours, and their jobs are precarious.
I had no idea. When I later told a friend about this, he said he didn’t know about it either, and added, with a smile: “I thought that’s what spouses were for.”
An interesting phenomenon, at least for me as a long-time advisor to small entrepreneurial businesses, is the emergence of local independent stores in a one-block radius surrounding the mall. These stores have much less variety than the mall stores selling the same type of goods, and they’re actually a bit more expensive, presumably because they can’t get the same volume discounts from suppliers that the mall chains can. But what they do offer is an unhurried atmosphere, and personal, knowledgeable customer service.
I often wander over there, to what is ironically called High Street, to get my matcha, my pharmaceuticals and vaccinations, my organic produce, and other things, all because of the service. They know me. They address me by name. They know what I’m there for and what I like. They will special-order things for me, set things aside for me. They talk with me as if I’m a friend, though I know that’s mostly that special Asian-Canadian politeness I have come to respect so much here.
And they know that, to catch the mall-disillusioned, they have to be nearby. It’s a strategy that works. Unlike those in the mall, these quiet, smart, entrepreneurs’ stores have staying power. Though it’s not an easy life.
So now my walk is over, and I’m back in my apartment, in which the thermometer says it’s 34ºC, the same as outside. I appreciate enormously the invention of ceiling fans, independently by the Chinese and Indians, centuries before electricity. I suspect we will soon have to rediscover such manual means of creating coolth. I take a cold shower and wander back into the living room, naked, with a towel at my feet to catch the drips, stand in the shadow of the fan, and say “Aaaah!”
Collapse, Not ApocalypseJuly 27, 2022
Thomas Cole’s ‘Destruction’, the fourth of his five-panel series ‘The Course of Empire‘, 1836. Public domain.
Several people have pointed me to Chris Hedges’ latest article “The Dawn of the Apocalypse”, which includes a lengthy summation of the current state of climate collapse, and includes links to recent interviews with Extinction Rebellion founder Roger Hallam.
I think Chris, and Roger, have it mostly right, except for two things:their preoccupation with laying blame for climate collapse on “global elites” and others; andtheir failure to consider climate collapse in the larger context of multi-faceted global ecological collapse (of which climate collapse is only the most-studied facet), and the more immediate and paralyzing impact of global economic collapse.
Let me take these two issues in order:
The futility of the blame game
There’s an almost religious presumption in many of the current proclamations by climate activists that a forced, death-bed repentance by the fossil-fuel industry and those who support it is possible, or would be significantly helpful.
I don’t think either of these presumptions is true. A radical reform is not possible because it runs counter to the basis of our entire economic system, and would immediately lead to the sacking of the repentant and their replacement with non-repentant corporate leaders. It would not be helpful because if Big Oil stopped meeting the now-essential needs of 7.9B citizens demanding ever-more hydrocarbon fuels, they would be quickly supplanted by nationalized enterprises, the underground economy, and individuals burning coal, wood, and anything else that’s flammable to fill the gap. We the citizens are addicted to crude, and we will get our fix, and the ecology be damned.
We’re fucked, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We are going to burn the rest of the world’s fossil fuel reserves (or substitute wood and coal and anything else that will burn if/when those reserves become unavailable or uneconomic) sooner or later, because we will never tolerate the immense short-term suffering that will come from not doing so.
Trudeau and other ‘moderate’ leaders aren’t encouraging more and more fossil fuel burning because they’re evil selfish corrupt monsters — they’re doing so because they think that, given the delicate balance of ecology and economy, this is the best ‘middle path’ they can follow given the very little control that they can wield at all. If they were to pursue the radical course Chris and Roger propose, they would be quickly deposed, and the coups would have the tacit support of the majority of citizens of all political stripes.
It’s quite simple: None of us is willing to make the sacrifices necessary to avert collapse. We have shown that to be true in our elections and our buying decisions as much as through the corporate behaviours we tolerate. We’re not “to blame” for that. This is our well-intentioned nature, and the expression of that nature is now colliding with the longer-term interests of our planet and all its residents. This does not make us evil; it makes us human.
Laying the blame, whether on ‘evil’ others or on our ‘sinful’ selves is misplaced, pointless, and emotionally lazy. It’s merely a way for the religiously (in the broadest sense of the term) indoctrinated to feel morally better about what they have and have not done in the face of the crisis.
So yes, Chris and Roger, we’re fucked, and it’s going to be mostly awful. But only when we acknowledge that collapse is inevitable and that laying blame achieves nothing, can we start to help each other cope with that grim realization and start to prepare for the radical changes in our lives it will necessarily usher in.
The larger collapse context
There is also a giant part of the collapse equation that Chris and Roger do not discuss, partly because they will lose much of their audience if they try to explain the full complexity of the situation, and partly because it will make their suggested radical solutions appear hopeless and moot.
Climate collapse is one facet of the accelerating ecological collapse that is producing the sixth great extinction of life on this planet. Other facets include biodiversity loss, the destruction of our soils, the massive despoiling of our fresh waters and oceans, the fouling of our air, the disruption of once-stable global air and water currents, and many other types of destruction and unbalancing of the ecological systems on which we all depend. Even if climate change were magically solved tomorrow, ecological collapse would continue to accelerate. It would just take a little longer to undo human civilization.
And even more importantly, missing from Chris’ and Roger’s discussion is the impact of economic collapse, which any careful reading of history will suggest is going to precede, complicate and exacerbate ecological collapse.
Economic collapse, brought about by the realization that almost all current debts are unrepayable, and that in a fixed-resource world, perpetual profit growth (on which almost all of the value of assets from homes to stocks utterly depends) is impossible, is as inevitable as, and more imminent than, ecological collapse. As I’ve written at length elsewhere, the economic collapse that much of the world is already grappling with will be permanent, not just a temporary depression. And it will be global. We have reached the limits to growth, and instead of reducing our consumption to adapt to that hard reality, our consumption is still increasing exponentially. Permanent global economic collapse means, for example, that we will burn the last of our forests, our coal and wood and finally our furniture, because we will not be able to afford to extract the last of our oil and gas, and because we desperately need the fuel.
Economic collapse will cripple the capacity of governments and regulators to do anything to address ecological collapse, because it is almost certain to precipitate political collapse and bankrupt governments (even the few that are not already ‘technically’ bankrupt) and corporations. As those corporations go under and cease operations, we may get our wish that the remaining hydrocarbons on which our civilization depends will remain forever in the ground. But we may well regret that wish.
We are going to find ourselves, gradually and haltingly over the next few decades, in a world of helpless chaos — a world in which, like most humans throughout history, we will have to rely on our own local resources and our own local community to give us what we need to survive and live sufficiently.
This will be a massive challenge, and some communities will rise to the occasion, while others will not. We’ll have time to adjust to not bringing new children into the world, which will alleviate the suffering of collapse somewhat. We’ll have time to relearn the essential skills of living in community and with each other, which may well be astonishing. The debates we’re having today, about what we and others should or should not be doing, will be forgotten.
The word apocalypse in Chris’ title is, tellingly, a religious one, referring to the revelation of a divinely-invoked cataclysm followed inevitably by the permanent triumph of good over evil. The religious, it seems, can never give up their crutch of hope, their belief that, no matter how we sin, we are a species of destiny.
In the real world, nature doesn’t give a fuck about our species, and whether it survives or perishes, thrives or suffers. No other species would lament our disappearance from the planet, which may or may not happen soon.
There is no apocalypse, and there has never been one. Just plain ordinary garden-variety collapse, which happens from time to time, when things get too far out of balance.
Nothing to be done about that, and no one to blame.
It Just IsJuly 26, 2022
more on radical non-duality, and some new scientific theories; the usual caveats apply for those who find such blather annoying
image of the galaxy group Stephan’s Quintet, new, from NASA’s Webb telescope
I was never a fan of The Matrix, and other sci-fi works that suggest that what we perceive as reality is merely a machination, an illusion (often with some god or beast running the show). As a long-time phenomenologist, these arguments strike me as typical Hollywood-style facile simplifications developed in the interest of popular theatre, not in the interest of a serious exploration into the nature of reality.
I have written a lot in these pages on the nature of reality, which seems to me far more fundamental than the lesser but more popular questions about the meaning and purpose of life. If we don’t know the nature of reality, how can we possibly know its meaning or purpose?
The leading scientists, in quantum science, in physics, in cognitive science and in neuroscience and biology, have recently thrown all the “physicalist” theories about the nature of reality, and the human self, into disarray, to the point many are now quite comfortable arguing that there is no “real” space or time, and no “real” self, though some of their arguments are more semantic than substantial.
One of those scientists is Donald Hoffman, who two of my readers (Ivo and Dr Scanlon) have recently referred me to again, in connection to my writings (some may say ravings) about radical non-duality. Last month Donald had a long (three hours plus) interview with popular podcaster Lex Fridman. Donald has a recent (2019) book out called, provocatively enough, The Case Against Reality.
The book, and interview, advance an anti-physicalist, anti-reductionist theory, one that espouses that what is ‘fundamental’ is not matter, energy, or time, but rather ‘conscious agents’. He is attempting to prove, mathematically, that if one assumes the fundamental existence of a ‘conscious agent’, then one can derive from that an infinite network of conscious agents, from which one can derive what appears to us to be matter, energy, time, life, evolution, the Big Bang, separate beings, the self, and everything we think of as ‘real’, as ‘interactions’ or ‘interrelationships’ of these conscious agents.
His principal argument, the one that drove the development of the theory, is that evolution seems to have unfolded the way it has not to optimize the accurate depiction of reality, but rather to optimize creatures’ ‘fitness’ for survival and thriving. In other words, what we think of, perceive as, and sense as reality is merely a distorted and radically simplified model of what really is, and since we depend on our senses to define reality, we cannot think our way out of the distorted box this model presents to us — we cannot ever really hope to ‘see’ actual reality. But we may be able, Donald says, to ‘prove’ what is actually real mathematically.
It’s intriguing, but while many have quibbled with the underlying tenets and arguments of conscious agent theory, it seems to me to be rather beside the point. One of the fundamental elements of ‘conscious agents’ is “the measurable space of conscious experiences of the agent”. That ‘space’ is probabilistic, not absolute, and the ‘consciousness’ of a conscious agent is defined by its components — perceptions, possible and actual actions, decisions, experiences, and the ‘world’ these agents perceive.
So this is not ‘consciousness’ in the highfalutin sense that most of us use the word, and I have to wonder if the term was chosen deliberately to ‘warmify’ the theory in the eyes of the nonscientific and spiritual communities. It is a little like the use of the word ‘unconditional love’ used by many spiritual communities (and also by many non-dualists) to describe ‘what really is’ — this is not ‘love’ in the sense that we humans mean and understand the word, but does give an air of accessibility and humanity to the teachings and theories that use it.
The desperation to find a mathematical, scientific, or philosophical model that will allow mathematicians, scientists, philosophers and spiritual types to salvage their careers and substantiate their lifetimes’ work is understandable, but I fail to see why it is necessary. It strikes me very much like the attempt of 17th-century geocentric mathematicians, scientists, philosophers and spiritual types to rescue their earth-centred models of the universe by developing staggeringly complex explanations involving revolutions around revolutions to keep the Earth in the centre of the universe. Although Donald’s theory does have a better intuitive feel to it than string theory and other ‘unfalsifiable’ theories.
Why is it so important, to scholars and laypeople alike, that there be any theory at all to ‘explain’ reality? Is it human hubris? Is it desperation to salvage professional reputations? The quantum scientist Sean Carroll has said:
You want to know why the universe is, you’re not going to get a satisfactory answer. You’re not going to be happy. The universe just is. You have to accept it. You have to learn to deal with it. There’s nothing further there. I like this. I mean I don’t like it sort of you know in terms of again scratching explanatory itches. But I think it’s the one that is most courageous, most brave. It faces up to the reality of it. All of these other attempts hit this little kid problem of saying, ‘Well, if that’s true, why is that true? Why is that true? Why is that true?’ And here you’re saying, nope. There is one level at which you just say, that’s how it is. There is nothing other than that. This is what Bertrand Russell was trying to say. I think this is probably the right answer. And I know that people don’t like it, but whether we like it or not, is not part of how we should judge a theory of why the universe is the way it is.
What is seen by those who, for various reasons not connected to illness, study or intellect, have no sense of having ‘selves’ or any sense that anything is separate from anything else, is that ‘everything is just an appearance’ — it’s not real, and cannot be known or understood. This is not a theory they’re espousing (in fact they assert there is no ‘them’ to espouse anything). It’s just what is obviously seen there, without the illusion of self that most of us labour under. When they are asked ‘why’ that seems to be so, their answer is an unequivocal “there is no why, there is only what appears to be happening, for no reason or purpose”.
That “cold, uncompromising” radical non-duality message seems entirely consistent to me with Sean Carroll’s somewhat reluctant admission above. It is enough for me. After five years of trying to reconcile radical non-duality’s message with the findings of scientists, listening to Donald may be the final straw leading me to give up that futile attempt.
As Sean notes, “people” (mostly mathematicians, scientists, philosophers and spiritual types) “don’t like” this message. It seems to us heartless, useless, hopeless, and unintuitive. It is. It’s also wondrous, accepting, and complete. The end of the search for what was never missing.
Automating Away Customer ServiceJuly 24, 2022
cartoon by the late New Yorker cartoonist Robert Weber, one of the few cartoonists who worked mostly with charcoal
There is a double interface between the producers and customers of the things we buy and sell: sales and marketing, and what can now only ironically be called ‘customer service’.
Sales and marketing is the stuff that producers push at us, to try to get us to buy what they’re offering. Customer service is what we the customers expect in return — facilitating our acquisition, use and disposition of the ‘product’.
One of the sad features of our modern global economy is that it requires producers to generate double-digit increases in revenues and profits every year just to stay afloat: Fail to produce those huge annual profit increases, and your job is history, and do so for too long and your company is history, too. The ‘value’ of stocks, real estate and pensions depends on such continuous growth. If profits merely stay in the same place year after year, then the value of the stock goes down, since there’s an opportunity cost, the risk-adjusted cost of borrowing, to just sitting on investments that aren’t ‘growing’.
The enormous pressure to endlessly increase profits requires corporate executives to play a number of games:They can use their cash to buy back their shares, so that while profits may be flat, profits per share rise. This unproductive investment is how much of the ‘growth’ in share values on exchanges has been achieved in recent years.They can buy up competitors and use oligopoly power to raise prices for the same goods. Tight, global oligopolies have been achieved in almost all major industries over the past four decades.They can lower the quality (eg use cheaper components) of what they sell, or lower the quantity (eg deceptive packaging) of what they sell, while keeping prices unchanged. They are doing this in spades.And then, they can cut ‘overheads’, through outsourcing and offshoring, or through reducing the interface with customers, ie sales and marketing efforts, or customer service.
Since cutting sales and marketing is risky when competitors are keeping theirs up, it’s more compelling to cut customer service.
The thing about customer service is that it comes after the sale, so if all producers in an industry tacitly (or explicitly) agree to cut customer service in lockstep, then there is really SFA you as a customer can do about it. If you think customer service now mostly sucks, you’re absolutely correct. It’s not that producers want it to suck; it’s the only way left to keep profits growing so the company can stay afloat another year.
The largest recent ‘trend’ in lowering the quality and extent of customer service is euphemistically dubbed “self-care”, as if this were a good thing. It means that the company no longer cares about you. It means you have to do your own research, your own shopping, your own checkout, and your own ‘after-sales’ service. The only help they will give you is pages of FAQs and manuals you can download — many of them actually run by other customers for free, in the desire to help fellow customers left in the lurch .
The company doesn’t want to talk with you — that’s too expensive for them. You can’t find a direct line phone number for any major company with a real person to answer. You can’t find an email address. They want you to do your own ‘care’, and if that’s not enough, they want you to just go away. They have plenty of lawyers to sic on you if you become too adamant about getting real customer service.
So you now have retail stores and ‘help desks’ that are capable of doing nothing except selling you more products. They offer no service at all. The clerks and help desk personnel have no more access, or power to do anything to resolve your problem or annoyance, than you do. The computer systems that management has put in place for them to use will not allow them to adjust the price, or give you a refund, or give you anything at all. Even if you only bought the item a day earlier, if it’s not in the original packaging and if you want more than a simple exchange for an identical item, you’re screwed — you have to mail it to the manufacturer at your cost. The retailer cannot help you.
You want something repaired or replaced on warranty, they’ll just throw what you give them out and give you a new one. The warranty ‘price’ is essentially an insurance policy to cover the cost of repairs, which are usually far more than the cost of replacing most of today’s shoddy products.
Imagine you’re in a ‘service’ function — working in retail. You’re now just there until they figure out how, in lockstep with their ‘competitors’, to automate the remnants of your job. I’m sure you’ve witnessed this yourself:“No we can’t special order that for you here, but you may be able to do so on the website. It’s the same one our clerks use for ordering.”“No we can’t do that bank transfer for you over the phone, even though we know you. We’re constrained by our regulations to get a hard-copy signature from you in person. Our hands are tied.”“No we can’t reverse that charge. It’s an automatic charge from the vendor, and they specify their right to charge it in their sales agreement.”“No we don’t sell parts for the products we sell. If you’re in the business you might be able to get them from a wholesaler.”“No there’s no volume discount if you buy a case. The scan code is per item.”“No we can’t service it. Since your warranty expired after 30 days, you’ll have to go to a third party repair service, who might be able to fix it for you. Or we could just sell you a new unit.”“No the system won’t allow me to give you that offer, which is only for new customers.”
And so it goes. Customer service has become, in most industries and retail sectors, an unaffordable luxury. Most of the people in banks, in retail stores, in warehouses — in all of what David Graeber described as Bullshit Jobs — will disappear from sight as soon as their employers figure out how to completely automate, and eliminate, their jobs. Those workers — the unnecessariat — will slide further down the economic ladder into jobs that haven’t quite been automated yet — couriers, fast food service, cleaners, ‘security’ work.
This is entirely the result of the desperate, endless, capitalist drive to keep increasing profits, because if public businesses don’t keep increasing profits, they’re dead. It’s the reason more and more of the GDP is being generated by fewer and fewer ultra-rich customers — the only ones who can still afford to pay for high-quality products and good service. For the rest, it’s a pointless race to the bottom.
It’s the system — an economic system that works by inflexible rules that have made everything we make and do ineffective, sloppy and dysfunctional.
And it’s taken me 50 years to learn that large-scale broken systems cannot be fixed. You have to wait for them to collapse, and try to build something better next time around.
I no longer grumble about lousy customer service, which is the only kind non-millionaires can get. It’s not fair to complain to the bedraggled front-line workers, who are victims, not perpetrators, of this system. Give them a smile, a nod, a thanks when they try their best, which is all any of us can do.
Instead, I do what those caught up in dysfunctional systems have always done — I work around them. If you want to get a sense of what a whole world of people working around collapsing and dysfunctional systems looks like, read Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s book The Mushroom at the End of the World, on the emerging ‘scavenger’ economy. Watch the dumpster-divers. Pay attention to the independent one-person repair outfits, and how powerfully they’re networked with each other to do things the big public companies can no longer do. Study the crafters and the pop-up street-vendors and the people who can show you how to make and fix things yourself, and how gift economies function. They, not our dysfunctional capitalist industrial-financial growth economy, will teach you what we’re all going to have to learn to live in the world we are now entering — a world where sufficiency and consistency, not efficiency and excess, are the guideposts for living well.
Not Meant to Govern Each OtherJuly 18, 2022
The late David Graeber talks with Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, image from London Real (2015)
The gradually accelerating collapse of our economic and financial systems, political systems, health and education systems, essential infrastructure, civil discourse, and of course our climate and ecological systems, and our utter incapacity to make them more than marginally and temporarily functional, has me thinking about governance.
Here’s how governance is defined:
Governance encompasses the system by which an organisation or society is controlled and operates, and the mechanisms by which it, and its people, are held to account. Ethics, risk management, compliance and administration are all elements of governance.
From reading the two Davids’ extraordinary book on past human cultures, The Dawn of Everything, it would seem that scale isn’t necessarily an impediment to functional governance. But likewise:Large human settlements (cities and nations) have historically more often been networks of collaboration and exchange than complex, hierarchical structures, and certainly don’t have to be organized top-down; they are often confederacies of highly-autonomous small groups (what indigenous cultures call “Nations”).Part of the global acrimony we are dealing with today arises from the feeling we’re ‘stuck’ with existing political structures, and that there are no longer any alternatives to them, which stems from a failure to understand history and its alternative structures, and a failure of imagination.War isn’t necessarily a part of civilizations, and has often been absent for centuries, even since the invention of agriculture. But it’s possible that when war arose, the learnings about dominance of war opponents, and dominance behaviours, were then brought back and applied domestically in peace-time, and that is how slavery, oppression, incarceration and other (arguably unnecessary and dysfunctional) aspects of hierarchical cultures came to be acceptable within one’s own ‘tribe’ or ‘nation’. And in some cases (like ours) they then became considered inevitable and essential to the functioning of the tribe or nation. In short, war, and a culture of sustained aggression, sustained violence and ruthless competitiveness, are unnatural and have really fucked us up.
But that’s where we are. What interests me is whether we are are now essentially ungovernable, and why, and is governance even a natural aspect of human societies?
Most indigenous cultures that we know about are not governed, according to the above definition. There are respected members of the community, often elders, who are listened to more attentively than others, but everyone has a voice, and ultimately the decision on what to do is left up to each adult individual’s discretion, and is respected even when considered unwise.
If we didn’t live in a culture that encourages and rewards (with the best of intentions) argument, competitiveness, coercion, dishonesty, and propaganda, it is, I think, unlikely that the debacle of CoVid-19 would ever have happened. It is unlikely that we would have destroyed the natural environment to the point of ushering in the sixth great extinction of life on the planet. It is unlikely that massive inequality would be producing horrific suffering among the poor, and leading to economic and resource collapse even when there is arguably sufficient for everyone.
If we lived in a healthy culture, one without these attributes, then, if the Davids are correct, we would be thriving today.
You won’t be surprised to hear that I don’t share the Davids’ optimism that we can still choose to change, abandon, or reinvent our culture to make it healthy. I think that was a possible trajectory at one point (long ago) but it is now far too late. We are locked in, and while we may be able to conduct some healthy experiments in how to live together functionally in community, this civilization is destined for a hard fall. I believed that, based on my study of complex systems, even before I abandoned my belief that we have free will.
I don’t believe we are meant to govern each other. I think the Davids’ work suggests that collaborative governance is possible, and that temporary roles that have hierarchical aspects, where the person most trusted to make decisions rotates or that role is eventually eliminated as no longer necessary, can assist in creating a functional society. These are all examples of short-term bottom-up granting of power. Top-down power and governance, based on wealth or heredity, is, I think, inherently dysfunctional and inevitably leads to intolerable inequality, supremacism, and oppression.
But that’s what we’re stuck with, and history suggests we’re not capable of the massive and rapid cultural changes that would be necessary to rediscover how to create and sustain functional communities and societies, mostly self-governed.
This is our conditioned behaviour, and that conditioning is now being effectively passed down to, and entrenched in, each new generation.
It would be nice to believe the Davids’ optimistic view of our potential for rapid cultural transformation, but I see no evidence for it. I don’t think you can get there from here.
Half Time Score: Coronavirus 10, Humanity 0July 16, 2022
Hard to believe I’m still writing about this subject. But here we are.
Just about 2 1/2 years after its first appearance on the planet, and despite all human efforts, the latest estimates are that:2/3 of the earth’s population has been infected at least once by CoVid-19, and an additional 10M infections are occurring dailythe death toll, seasonally adjusted, remains about 15,000 more deaths per day, or about 5.5M more people per yearwhile the IFR is dropping, the rates of infection and re-infection are soaring as vaccines wear off, new variants are less effectively blocked by vaccines, people refuse vaccines and boosters, vaccines and boosters are in short supply in many places, people refuse to wear masks, and we’re in the third “summer lull” in deaths; so the annual death toll shows no signs of declining in the foreseeable futurethe cumulative global death toll is now about 17M people
There is essentially no plan for dealing with this. The Go For Zero strategy was only seriously applied in a handful of countries, those where there was a high level of respect for public health guidance, and that strategy is the only one that would have addressed this catastrophe. Rich countries are now mostly ignoring the pandemic and hoping it will magically go away on its own, with the richest praying that the anti-viral Paxlovid will at least keep most of its sufferers from dying.
And when it comes to dealing with Long CoVid, we’re strictly in Hail Mary territory.
Fifteen years ago, when I worked in epidemiology planning for pandemics and other disasters for the government, the most experienced and wisest were saying that, culturally, we were simply not going to able to respond to a serious highly transmissible pandemic. I thought they were pessimistic. They were not.
We’ve basically given up. We’re no longer tracking new cases, and in many cases we’re using surrogate measures for hospitalizations and deaths that downplay the continuing toll. We have no plan to deal with the next winter, which will almost inevitably bring another surge. We have no plan to deal with new variants, and the approved vaccines we have been using are increasingly impotent to deal with them, and vaccines specifically for new variants are so far behind the course of the virus they will likely be obsolete before they’re produced. And if a new variant emerges that is more virulent, we’re totally screwed.
How and why has this all gone so badly? Partly it’s the sheer increased complexity of human society, that has squeezed more people into smaller areas and allowed them to travel way farther and faster, taking viruses with them, than was the case with previous pandemics. Partly it’s the distrust of authority that has caused a large part of the population to shun sensible health precautions. Partly it’s the cynicism of governments that prompt them to lie to their citizens and suppress or contradict sensible health advisories that citizens don’t want to hear.
Canada is an interesting case study. Like most of the countries in yellow in the chart above, Canada’s actual death toll per capita from the pandemic has been a fraction of the toll of the US and other countries in orange and red.
This is because for the first year or so, the Canadian public generally trusted and heeded public health advisories. Masking and social distancing and isolating rates were much higher than in most other countries, and vaccines were welcomed and taken overwhelmingly and promptly. It was that first 1-2 years when the IFR, the infection fatality rate, was high, relative to that of the newer variants.
But look at this chart to see what has happened in 2022:
This chart, produced by Canada’s CoVid-19 Immunity Task Force has not received much press, I suspect most likely because the media don’t know what to make of it. Here’s what it says:Seroprevalence is the presence in a tested blood sample of significant CoVid-19 antibodies; the antibodies produced by an infected body are slightly different and distinguishable from the antibodies produced by a vaccineWidespread preventative measures (masks, distancing, shut-downs) were very effective at limiting infection of Canadians to less than 5% of the population (blue line) until the vaccines were producedBy the first half of 2021, over 80% of Canadians had significant CoVid-19 antibodies as a result of high vaccine take-up (red line)By the end of 2021, that percentage with vaccine antibodies was up to 90%, and still only 7% of Canadians had been infected with CoVid-19; Canada was close to theoretical “herd immunity”, and was starting to bank on thatThe Omicron variant was a complete game-changer, totally upsetting the CoVid-19 management strategy of Canada (and many of the other countries shown in yellow in the top chart); in just the first five months of 2022, the percentage of Canadians with infection-related antibodies (ie people who had caught Covid-19) soared from 7% to 47% (it is now over 60%)Because Canada basically stopped testing in 2022, it had no way of knowing that infections had soared until hospitalization numbers started to jump and they had to ‘guess’ whyThis was further obfuscated by changes in the ways Canada actually computed “CoVid-19” hospitalizations and deathsOnly the above chart tells the tale — Canadians now rely as much on getting sick with CoVid-19, as a way of getting limited immunity, as they do on the antibody resistance from their vaccinesInfections are soaring nearly as much among the vaccinated as among the unvaccinated (however it should be noted vaccines and boosters remain the most powerful protection against serious cases of the disease causing hospitalization or death)People are getting reinfected with the BA.4-5 variants in as short a time as 2-3 weeks after initial infection, showing that, not only are vaccinations losing their power, infection is almost useless as a means of protecting yourself against future infection
Canada has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and its new daily per capita death and hospitalization rates are now comparable to those of the US.
A lot of mistakes were made by a lot of people, just as in the ‘orange’ and ‘red’ countries, and it would not be fair to blame this entirely on political meddling and incompetence. It’s likely this trajectory was ultimately inevitable.
We’re still learning. Unfortunately, the virus is learning much more quickly.
So stick to the precautions — vaccines and boosters, masks, social distancing and isolation. That’s all we have against a very superior opponent. And it’s only half time.
Links of the Month: July 2022July 13, 2022
cartoon by Michael Leunig from his fans’ FB page
No further comment. This is where we are, now. Turn it off, if you can, and go outside and play.
New Yorker cartoon by Lars Kenseth
Sri Lanka: This is what collapse looks like: Economic collapse has quickly led to political collapse in the until-recently-stable nation of Sri Lanka. This is likely a foretaste of what we’re all going to face in the coming years and decades. Indrajit Samarajiva, in the process of trying to evacuate himself and his family, tells the terrifying story from the streets of Colombo, day by day (you may have to register for full access or to get daily emails, but you do not need a paid membership to read these articles):June 16th: Worshiping the richJune 23rd: LeavingJune 24th: How the rich are doingJune 30th: How capitalism has collapsed in my Sri LankaJuly 1st: Sri Lanka has literally run out of gasJuly 3rd: Global famine has already begunJuly 5th: Misfortune favours the paranoidJuly 6th: When your life becomes news, it’s miserableJuly 9th: My experience of Sri Lanka’s big protest(July 11th: The government has now been overthrown)
How Charles Koch purchased the Supreme Court EPA decision: The disastrous stripping of power from the EPA, the most important US organization in the fight against global climate collapse, was a long, deliberate strategy of Big Oil.
Cartoon by Dave Coverly
The mirror in the abyss: Rhyd Wildermuth relates his personal story of self-sabotage and how our politics can become our coping mechanism, and explores more about ressentiment, “trying to compensate or cope for a feeling of injustice by convincing ourselves that suffering is sacred and morally good”.
The US west coast commitment to reproductive freedom: The three governors vow to resist and provide refuge for women victimized by the recent fascist Supreme Court ruling. Thanks to PS Pirro for the link.
A culture of caring: Indrajit Samarajiva suggests that we should build our societies on the basis that all babies and children deserve a life free from trauma, scarcity, illness and indifference. What a difference that could make. Indi also expounds on how a society that supports children naturally becomes one that supports community.
Russia shows the way to food self-sufficiency: As a matter of necessity, Russia’s family food gardens now produce the majority of its agricultural production, and are the largest ‘industry’ in the country. In the west, we have lawns instead. Thanks to John Whiting for the link.
POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL
What kind of country allows this? graphic by UNICEF; thanks to John Whiting for the link
How our economic system really works: A candid and refreshing interview with Michael Hudson summarizing how our current economic system has evolved and what it would take to rectify its dysfunction. The way our western economies have been converted from industrial producer economies (that produce at least some things of value) to financial rentier economies (that merely collect rents on assets owned by the 1%, and produce nothing of value) is essential to understanding why we are on the verge of global economic collapse. It’s long, and well worth reading. In a separate interview, he explains how the US Fed is trying to slash working class wages to fend off inflation caused by military blunders and billionaires’ excesses.
Corpocracy, Imperialism & Fascism: Short takes:AOC exposes the fraudulent new US ‘gun control’ bill: “If we’re talking about just using this as an excuse to dramatically increase an enforcement mechanism [more police, more prisons] that we know is not capable, right now, of preventing mass shootings, then I’m not really interested in doing something for show for the American public.”Michael Brenner explains the air of denial, delusion and ignorance that prevails over US foreign policy decisions.Noam Chomsky explains the doublethink that western governments embrace to justify their stances, elaborates on the current US/NATO plans to weaken and defeat Russia and then China, and talks about the latest developments in Israeli Apartheid. Thanks to John Whiting for these links, and the five that follow.Chris Hedges lambastes the powerless Jan 6 hearings as political theatre conducted not to save democracy but to score political points in the US midterms.Biden’s so unpopular among young people that only 6% of them want him to be the Democratic nominee in 2024.Disgraced UK PM Boris Johnson is trying to renege on the Brexit agreement he signed.Umair Haque resummarizes the disastrous and shameful Prime Ministership of Boris Johnson.Robert Reich, who was in Clarence Thomas’ law school class, describes the US Supreme Court’s plan to ban contraception, same-sex marriage, homosexuality, and other ‘rights’ not specifically described by the ‘founding fathers’. Naomi Klein describes the Court’s other atrocities, and it’s hard to tell if she’s being naive or provocative in saying this is Biden’s, and the Democrats’ do-or-die moment, since she knows as well as the rest of us they’re not going to act.A US synagogue is suing Florida claiming the new anti-abortion law violates their freedom of religious expression.Another lovely and eloquent rant by Caitlin Johnstone on the misdeeds of White Empire.Indrajit Samarajiva draws parallels between Weimar Germany and the Biden Administration.Canada has a “war problem”: The insipid PM Trudeau is being bullied by the US to buy overpriced and shoddily made military equipment to live up to its “NATO obligations”.
Propaganda, Censorship, Misinformation and Disinformation: Short takes:The G7’s Media (propaganda) ministers concocted a joint ‘statement’ that’s right out of Orwell’s 1984.The Tyee expounds on the BC government’s long history of secrecy, under both political parties.Another “contrary” journalist gets censored and canceled, this time by Twitter.A veteran Australian politician says that the new Aussie PM should ask Biden to free Assange, and Biden should agree to do so.Gilbert Doctorow describes how western media have shut down access to all Russian media, while in Russia, western media continue to be available. Thanks to Paul Heft for the link.
CoVid-19 Becomes the Pandemic (mostly, but becoming less so) of the Unvaccinated: Short takes:Nothing has changed. Deaths and hospitalizations are continuing at the same pace as the previous two summers, and wave 7 has begun. This fall and winter could be as bad, in death toll, as the previous two horrific winters (waves 3 and 5), when US deaths were running at over 3,000/day and global deaths over 15,000/day. Most of the hospitalized and dying continue to be older and immune-compromised people, though there’s now a huge spike in reinfections, sometimes mere weeks apart, as the effect of vaccines continues to diminish as variants get ‘smarter’. So the advice is the same: mask indoors and in crowded places, get all the shots you can, and test, trace and isolate when you or loved ones get symptoms. Andrew Nikoforuk is getting flak for his thoroughly researched recommendations and concerns, as he has since the pandemic began, and so far he’s been right every time.Is BA.5 the “reinfection wave”? Ed Yong says it shows every sign of causing more reinfections than any previous variant. Thanks to Tom Atlee for the link.A negative antigen test is an unreliable indicator of not being infected with Omicron, new research says, and 5 days’ isolation after infection is simply not long enough. Thanks to Kavana Tree Bressen for the link.
Peace for Ukraine: Short takes:Jeff Sachs and a host of other luminaries summarize the current situation and suggest a way to achieve a just and lasting peace.Noam Chomsky addresses the war’s root causes, again. Thanks to John Whiting for the link, and the one that follows.Westinghouse, oblivious to the war, is busy selling overpriced, dubious quality nuclear reactors to Ukraine.
Prisons full of trauma: Diplomat and journalist Craig Murray describes his stay in a Scottish prison, and the realization that virtually all the inmates there had suffered unimaginable childhood trauma. A chilling read.
Helping the homeless: Melissa Lewis describes the hopeless situation of many of the US homeless, caught between neighbours and police determined to move them out, well-meaning progressives who want them just left alone, and other progressives who recognize they need care, assistance and counselling to deal with the problems that underlie their homelessness. And they don’t know what they want either. This situation, unresolved, can only get worse.
Murder is the leading cause of death of US pregnant women: And the leading cause of death of women postpartum. Now, with forced-birth laws in many US states, far more women will face this horrific additional hazard.
The place you loved is gone (or never really was): Chad Mulligan laments the loss of culture, decency and soul in an America he no longer recognizes. Thanks to Paul Heft for the link.
FUN AND INSPIRATION
cartoon by John Atkinson via FB
Not Immune: John Green describes our strange social relationship with disease, and wonders why authors of fiction write about it so little. A brilliant comment below the video says it all: “How much better would our lives, our health and well-being be, worldwide, if we stopped attributing illness to morality? It’s stunning.”
From The Beaverton (fake headlines; The Onion for Canadians):“Putin determines cyber attack against Canada not necessary since Rogers is far more effective” (ask a Canadian to explain)“Trudeau promises to continue timing Canadian laws with American tragedies”“Boris Johnson leaves yet another party disheveled and without a clue what’s going on”“Republicans relieved no fetuses killed in Texas school shooting”“Experts confirm that global supply chain is now just one dude named Greg doing his best”
Pop Pop: If you’re a student of musical composition, take a look at this selection of some of the best ‘K-POP’ music of the last three years. Some mind-blowing, sophisticated stuff going on here, rhythmically, harmonically, melodically, drawing on musical styles from across the globe.
THOUGHTS OF THE MONTH
graphic from the Economist; thanks to Indrajit Samarajiva for the link
From Indrajit Samarajiva, on The Hero’s Journey:
While the content of a [Hollywood] film may look like it’s about rebellion, just look at where the hero ends up. They start in an ordinary world and always return there. Almost every film from James Bond to the Avengers is about the violent preservation of order. The people trying to change society are always the bad guys, and we cheer along as they’re beaten and murdered. It’s really quite effective propaganda because it amputates the imagination. That leads us to today, when many within White Empire can’t even imagine systemic change, only individual choices.
From Rhyd Wildermuth, on Seeking Solace (from his upcoming book):
The Woke are no less religious than the faithful. Unfortunately, their supplications are not uttered before trees and shrines but at machines they hold in their hands. They chant litanies about oppression and injustice, but are really crying out “hear my sorrow, heal my pain, right this wrong.” Yet unlike those who light candles to the virgin at the tree or leave offerings to a saint on a lightning-strewn high place, their prayers can only ever be echoed back by others digitally seeking the same solace.
From Marge Piercy: Right to Life:
A woman is not a basket you place
your buns in to keep them warm. Not a brood
hen you can slip duck eggs under.
Not the purse holding the coins of your
descendants till you spend them in wars.
Not a bank where your genes gather interest
and interesting mutations in the tainted
rain, any more than you are.
You plant corn and you harvest
it to eat or sell. You put the lamb
in the pasture to fatten and haul it in to
butcher for chops. You slice the mountain
in two for a road and gouge the high plains
for coal and the waters run muddy for
miles and years. Fish die but you do not
call them yours unless you wished to eat them.
Now you legislate mineral rights in a woman.
You lay claim to her pastures for grazing,
fields for growing babies like iceberg
lettuce. You value children so dearly
that none ever go hungry, none weep
with no one to tend them when mothers
work, none lack fresh fruit,
none chew lead or cough to death and your
orphanages are empty. Every noon the best
restaurants serve poor children steaks.
At this moment at nine o’clock a partera
is performing a table top abortion on an
unwed mother in Texas who can’t get
Medicaid any longer. In five days she will die
of tetanus and her little daughter will cry
and be taken away. Next door a husband
and wife are sticking pins in the son
they did not want. They will explain
for hours how wicked he is,
how he wants discipline.
We are all born of woman, in the rose
of the womb we suckled our mother’s blood
and every baby born has a right to love
like a seedling to sun. Every baby born
unloved, unwanted, is a bill that will come
due in twenty years with interest, an anger
that must find a target, a pain that will
beget pain. A decade downstream a child
screams, a woman falls, a synagogue is torched,
a firing squad is summoned, a button
is pushed and the world burns.
I will choose what enters me, what becomes
of my flesh. Without choice, no politics,
no ethics lives. I am not your cornfield,
not your uranium mine, not your calf
for fattening, not your cow for milking.
You may not use me as your factory.
Priests and legislators do not hold shares
in my womb or my mind.
This is my body. If I give it to you
I want it back. My life
is a non-negotiable demand.
Sclerotic Systems, Sclerotic StatesJuly 10, 2022
poll by CBS of US voters in May 2022
The other day someone asked me how I can reconcile my views that we have no free will with my argument that the US is sliding, not-so-slowly, into being a fascist state.
My tentative answer is that the way the political systems in the US were established, and the way those with political power have subsequently evolved their economic systems, made an eventual slide into fascism inevitable, even though it will not be supported by anywhere near a majority of Americans.
The US political system is not democratic. It allows and encourages gerrymandering of House district boundaries that enables the party in power to remain in power even when the vast majority of voters don’t want it to do so. It has a two-senators per state system that guarantees rural voters in largely-rural states a majority in the Senate, even with a small fraction of the total votes. Its electoral ‘college’ system has repeatedly produced presidents who didn’t even get close to having the largest number of votes of the candidates. The Supreme Court is packed with nominees-for-life selected by those very presidents who did not get the largest number of votes. It’s a system designed for failure.
In short, the system is sclerotic — it resists even the most wildly popular changes to laws and civil rights and freedoms, and enables new laws, rights and freedoms to be easily clawed back. And because the system is so poorly designed, it is impossible to reform and reverse the sclerosis.
An alien looking at the system would have to think they were watching some kind of corrupt satire — a country with no choice, no capacity for even the most desperately-needed changes, no resilience to external changes, and a choice of doddering Tweedledum or Tweedledee buffoons who blather on incoherently about plans they cannot enact and lies told to them by the advisors who try, mostly incompetently, to pull their strings.
This is a country that is one of only three countries in the world not using the metric system, unable to move forward from the old system its British imperial masters imposed on them.
Into this ludicrous system waltz the corporations, the moneyed interests that shift back and forth over time between the industrial producer class and the financial rentier class. They exploit the political system with one end — to disempower and weaken it so that they are free to do what they please, which mostly entails gobbling up all the resources, land, assets and wealth they can get their hands on, to the impoverishment of everyone else, and the environment. This is child’s-play in a sclerotic system.
So we end up with both a political and an economic/financial system that is dysfunctional, and as incapable of being fixed as a centenarian’s arthritic fist is of opening a jam jar. It doesn’t matter who you elect. It doesn’t matter what most people want. The system cannot change. It is utterly constrained by its hopelessly faulty design, its evolved and entrenched dysfunction, and its unmanageable and entropic scale.
If you want to see this on a smaller, more imaginable scale, look at the public education system, or the health care system (and not just in the US). These systems are full of people doing their best, and ‘users’ who really want them to succeed, yet they, too, are utterly sclerotic and dysfunctional in the vast majority of countries of the world.
When everyone is doing their best and the failures just get more and more ghastly, you know the system is un-reformable and headed for near-term collapse. Earlier this year the US Senate unanimously agreed to move the entire country to year-round Daylight Saving Time in 2023. Yet odds-makers are saying it’s quite possible it will never happen. There are a few opponents determined to scuttle the agreement, as they did in 1973. They are already mobilizing. The system simply cannot change.
The slide into fascism is not what the majority want. What the majority want does not matter. Those determined to turn the clock back to the days when only what rich white males say matters, are finding it dead easy to do so, on many fronts. As hard as changes are to bring about in sclerotic systems, previous changes are easy to undo. You just reverse, cancel, or nullify laws, rights and regulations, or simply order that they not be upheld or enforced.
The Christian-White-patriarchal-fascist minority theocracy that is emerging in the US is not coming about because more and more people want it. It is emerging because weaknesses in the sclerotic political system are easy to exploit by this minority, who have used weaknesses in the equally sclerotic economic and financial system to lock up most of the country’s wealth, which they then used to spread their fear-baiting, anti-government, anti-regulation ‘gospel’ to a populace utterly frustrated by the sclerotic systems that simply don’t serve them, and seem out of control.
The paradox we’re witnessing, however, is not a pro- “law and order” shift. It is a pro- “the old laws and old order” (a nostalgia by conservatives for a time that never was) and an equally fierce anti- “the new laws and new order” ressentiment. It’s another sign of systems in the burgeoning stages of collapse.
When the fascist minority takes power in the US, probably in 2024, it will be hugely unpopular, and will have to use the militarized police and intelligence services to control the population, as it did during the Trump abomination and the previous trial runs under Nixon and Cheney-Bush. And because of the sclerosis of the systems that will have allowed the minority to take power, and the vulnerability of the population to propaganda from the tightly-controlled media, they will be extremely difficult to dislodge. It’s hard to see this not leading to one (or more) of three outcomes: (1) civil war, (2) breakup of the country, or (3) political collapse brought on by global economic collapse.
Large-scale ecological collapse will follow in short order.
No one is to blame for this. We are all doing our best, even the bewildered, fearful fascists who have already taken power in many of the red states. We have no choice or free will in any of this. The systems that have engendered this cannot be fixed, reformed or replaced; they are irreparably broken. The best we can hope for is collapse before the violence breaks out in full force. At least then we’ll be too preoccupied with surviving and making do for ourselves and those we care about, to care about ideological politics, old or new.Older posts
if you were accidentally unsubscribed in the changeover of my feed from feedburner to
follow.it please re-subscribe above — sorry & thanks!
My book: Discover the work you're meant to do
Borrow from Open Library
Our card deck: A pattern language for effective group work
Other Writers About CollapseAlbert Bates (US)
Andrew Nikiforuk (CA)
Carolyn Baker (US)*
Catherine Ingram (US)
Chris Hedges (US)
Dahr Jamail (US)
Dark Matter Women Witnessing (CA)
David Petraitis (US)
David Wallace-Wells (US)
Dean Spillane-Walker (US)*
Deena Metzger (US)
Derrick Jensen (US)
Doing It Ourselves (AU)
Dougald & Paul (UK)*
Gail Tverberg (US)
Jan Wyllie (UK)
Janaia & Robin (US)*
Jem Bendell (UK)
Jonathan Franzen (US)
Kari McGregor (AU)
Kristinha Anding (US)
NTHE Love (UK)
Paul Chefurka (CA)
Paul Heft (US)*
Post Carbon Inst. (US)
Richard Heinberg (US)
Robert Jensen (US)
Roy Scranton (US)
Sam Mitchell (US)
Tim Bennett (US)
Tim Garrett (US)
Umair Haque (US)
William Rees (CA)
Radical Non-DualityTony Parsons
Eating WellNutrition Facts
Archive by Category
My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 145 Posts, by category, from newest to oldest ---
Dying of Despair
Notes From the Rising Dark
What is Exponential Decay
Collapse: Slowly Then Suddenly
Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Making Sense of Who We Are
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Post Collapse with Michael Dowd (video)
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
If We Had a Better Story...
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
A Short History of Progress
The Boiling Frog
Our Culture / Ourselves:
The Lab-Leak Hypothesis
The Right to Die
CoVid-19: Go for Zero
The Process of Self-Organization
The Tragic Spread of Misinformation
A Better Way to Work
Ask Yourself This
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
May I Ask a Question?
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
Learning From Nature
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
Republicans Slide Into Fascism
All the Things I Was Wrong About
Several Short Sentences About Sharks
How Change Happens
What's the Best Possible Outcome?
The Perpetual Growth Machine
We Make Zero
How Long We've Been Around (graphic)
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self, and Free Will:
Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark
Healing From Ourselves
The Entanglement Hypothesis
Nothing Needs to Happen
Nothing to Say About This
What I Wanted to Believe
A Continuous Reassemblage of Meaning
No Choice But to Misbehave
What's Apparently Happening
A Different Kind of Animal
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
Reminder (Short Story)
A Canadian Sorry (Satire)
Under No Illusions (Short Story)
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
Worse, Still (Poem)
A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)
My Other SitesMy Favourite Photos
My Musical Compositions
My YouTube Videos
My Genealogy page
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons License.how to save the worldProudly powered by WordPress.
<<< Thank you for your visit >>>