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The Uncertainty Principle

Sun, Apr 15, 2012

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by John Rember

And bending down beside the glowing bars
Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
—Yeats, “When You are Old”

1.
When was it that reality, after enduring decades of chronic abuse by Americans, turned away and hid its face among the stars?

It’s not like reality has ever been the foundation for the United States of America. The fine, idealistic, abstract language of the Declaration of Independence and the preamble to the American Constitution came out of a tradition of British utopian fiction.

The Puritans wrote of a Shining City on a Hill, even when there was no city and no hill. Thomas More gave the world the ideal state, Utopia, which like a lot of ideal states, depended on slaves to do its dirty work. British colonists in America wrote of, and on, the blank parchment of a rich, unclaimed continent, even when they knew it would take a couple of centuries of genocide to scrape that parchment clean. Jonathan Swift gave the world the airy, arrogant, disconnected country of the smarter-than-human Houyhnhnms.

The slaveholders and oligarchs who wrote the American founding documents were good writers, but they used their skills to write exceptionalist, democratic, rights-of-man fantasy. That fantasy was a deliberately constructed alternative to the official reality of their day—the British Empire, its monarch, its well-drilled military and its machine-like factory workers—and they more or less made their dreams come true, if only on pieces of paper.

2.
Some Americans dabbled in non-fiction, even though their works are remembered as novels and poems and pastoral whimsy. Henry Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, and Walt Whitman—the authors of the 19th Century American Literature canon, or at least a good part of it—all witnessed a reality that had little in common with advertised notions of American politics, religion, and power.

Hawthorne’s god-fearing Christians looked for betrayal in the dark woods outside their villages, and when they found it they found missing parts of themselves. Melville’s Ahab obsessively stalked the white whale, determined to kill it even after he saw his own image reflected in the whale’s forehead. Thoreau and Whitman spent their literary careers throwing words at a great, wild, beyond-human-scale reality, and hoping some of those words would stick.

These writers saw a nation whose good intentions were undercut by unconscious self-destruction, a nation that was at war with itself, sometimes literally. The most important thing they saw was that the United States was a nation determined to destroy the incomprehensible beauty and variety of the continent it had claimed and conquered.

Numerous foreign visitors, notably de Tocqueville, commented on the American obsession with becoming rich. But those tourists saw only the love of money and not the horror that the love of money gave rise to: the commodification of every natural thing.

Commodify a forest of oak trees or a herd of buffalo or an African tribe, and you have moved that oak forest and buffalo herd and tribe into a vast system of ledger sheets and tax receipts and market futures. What remains of the real is a stump farm or piles of bloody hides or the graves of slaves.

You’ve also done collateral damage to yourself when you use your imagination in this way. When, for example, you identify the foul stench of a giant dairy operation as the smell of money, you’ve destroyed your ability to experience reality through your nose and probably your other four senses. You also may find that your ability to convert sensory data into dollars increases with the distance you live upwind from the dairy, as reality can still show up in a world where even an ideally sealed window now and then springs a real leak.

To the extent that you can buy reality off—that you can use your wealth to move tens of miles upwind of a dairy, for example—you can say reality is for people who lack money. The real function of wealth in America is to give us the time, resources, and space to either construct an unreal world or have one constructed for us. Unreal worlds, for most of us, turn out to be better places to spend our time.

For most of American history, American leaders, even if they couldn’t articulate this vision of things, understood what was at stake. They knew there was a real world that needed to be kept at bay, because it could be lethal on occasion. So while George Armstrong Custer was unable to stop believing in his press releases, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt were able to take action in the face of threats that would destroy the nation’s founding fantasies.

Lincoln, at least for a while, stopped the commodification of human beings, even if he did it in the name of an abstract Union. TR stopped, again for a while, the commodification of the remaining forests in the American West. FDR stopped the Nazis and the Japanese militarists, who were commodifying human beings in such brutal ways that it couldn’t be disguised as anything but murder. It took the incineration of whole civilian populations, but until the advent of flat-world globalization, FDR got the job done.

These three were great full-time presidents because they were at least part-time realists.

1948 was a high point of American realism. In that year, the famously realistic presidential advisor George F. Kennan pointed out that the American Empire had 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population, and that the country needed to devise a foreign policy that would forgo altruism. He said the United States of America should construct a network of alliances and understandings with the elites of lesser nations that would keep them elite while allowing America to maintain its percentage of the world’s wealth. Such alliances and understandings—the levers of empire—were necessary to counter the “envy and resentment” that our wealth would inspire in the poor people in the rest of the world.

Kennan suggested that we forego being a beacon of liberty and democracy and concentrate on using our military and economic might to keep ourselves rich.

Kennan’s ideas encouraged those in our government who saw popular governments in Iran, Guatemala, and Vietnam as threats to America and the corporations and open colonial markets it protected.

Kennan’s most powerful idea was the physical, political, and economic containment of the Soviet Union, and after 1950, China. He foresaw that communism wouldn’t survive its collision with human nature—that over generations, revolutionary fervor would fade, and those systems would fail due to the greed, laziness, corruption, and general incompetence of the people who ran them.

You can argue that Kennan’s brutal assessment of the Soviet system and its future prevented nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 60s. You can argue that any amount of realpolitik was worth that non-outcome, even if the policy of containment did give rise to the Shah of Iran, Henry Kissinger, Vietnam, the Cambodian genocide, various coups and proxy wars in Africa and Latin America, and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Kennan lived until 2005, a few years short of witnessing the failure of capitalism due to the greed, laziness, corruption, and general incompetence of the people who ran it.

3.
A couple of years before Kennan’s death, another American presidential advisor, Karl Rove, told a reporter that America had become an empire, and that empires create their own reality. He meant, in effect, that there was no longer any need for the concept of a real world at the high levels of American government. Rove saw that as a good thing. It wasn’t a good thing.

Once an imperial reality is created, real reality becomes sedition. Dissent—even the dissent of believing what you see rather than what you’re told—is suppressed, ridiculed, ignored, or violently eliminated.

You don’t have to have an empire to have an imperial reality. The same thing can happen within nations, cities, corporations, institutions, families, and individual psyches. One powerful idea can become the organizing principle of a consciousness. When that happens there is no outside experience that cannot be shaped to fit, no bit of data that cannot find its supporting role.

If you believe that, say, human-eating reptilian aliens are running the world from inside amazingly lifelike latex human suits, you can find plenty of evidence, including missing-persons reports and vice-presidential heart transplants, to support that view. You can also find perfectly good evidence that you’re Jesus Christ or Napoleon or Joan of Arc. People have believed those things successfully, and for decades at a time, even when they weren’t Jesus or Napoleon or Joan of Arc.

Somewhere between Nixon’s Christmas bombing of Hanoi and the Alzheimer’s-tinged valedictory speeches of Ronald Reagan, somewhere between TV screens showing the helicopter evacuation of the Saigon embassy and newer, bigger, squarer, flatter screens showing the video-game destruction of Iraqi bridges in the first Gulf War, somewhere between the Bretton Woods economic summit and George H. W. Bush’s refusal to eat broccoli, America made a fatal-for-sanity choice, and succumbed to the reality it wanted to have rather than the reality it had. Surface came to be valued over depth, the conceptual over the perceptual.

In more familiar terms, Americans chose not to believe their lying eyes, especially when those lying eyes told them they had lost a war, had become a nation of obese slugs, and had hocked their grandchildren for oil. Getting ready for the final break, Americans had rejected Jimmy Carter, who told them their dependence on oil imports would by definition end their independence, and embraced Reagan, who told them that it was morning in America.

In retrospect, the decision by the collective psyche to elect Reagan looks pretty stupid, but only in the sense that someone is stupid who believes he’s Napoleon when he’s not Napoleon. Batshit crazy is a better description.

4.
If there was one crystalline moment when reality well and truly abandoned the Empire, it came in the summer of 1990. That was when a working-class Idaho family received an out-of-court settlement from the Disney Corporation. The previous October, the family had been arrested — the whole family — in a gift shop at Disneyland. Their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter had been accused of shoplifting. Members of the family were taken to a back room of the shop until, a couple of hours later, it was discovered that the piggy bank the little girl was grasping in her stroller really had been paid for. Not only that, but the gift shop had overcharged the family $3 on their purchases. Given the circumstances, Disney had to be eager to settle out of court. It would be tough to find a jury unsympathetic to a two-and-a-half-year-old false arrest victim who had been overcharged for a piggy bank.

But the thrust of the lawsuit was not concerned with the arrest. When the family was taken to the back room, the couple’s older daughter, then four years old, observed a number of Disney characters — likely Mickey, Donald, and Goofy — walking down a back alley without their giant grinning heads on. Mickey, Donald, and Goofy were headless, and, no doubt, grinless. What had seemed like big friendly animals were really tired and sweaty human beings walking around inside amazingly lifelike cartoon suits.

Back home after their back-room ordeal, the family found itself in a world unblessed by illusion. The children began destroying their Disney toys by throwing them at their bedroom walls. Their parents tossed all Disney videos and other Disney-trademarked material in the trash. The formerly cheerful and enthusiastic four-year-old became withdrawn and refused to get out of bed or dress herself, and treatment by a psychiatrist became necessary.

Children pay attention to what’s going on around them. Much psychotherapy focuses on those years from one to four, where our minds are inscribed with simple axioms: people close to you can or cannot be trusted, your family is a place where you are safe or where you have to fight for your life, your perceptions are or aren’t able to apprehend reality.

It’s easy to understand how seeing a headless Goofy on the day your whole family got arrested for shoplifting could supply the wrong answers to these questions.

Had the case gone to trial, we might have heard a psychiatrist bear solemn witness to the awful damage reality can do to a child’s mind. One can imagine a diagnosis of trauma-induced retail phobia, a crippling condition rendering its victim an exile from those large regions of America covered by souvenir gift-shops, theme parks, and malls.

5.
A fundamental dishonesty marks the discourse of Empire, especially when it comes to picking leaders. It is no accident that five of our last five presidents have come from families containing an alcoholic. The method many such families use to make it through their dark nights of the soul is denial, which is to say, for example, that any pile of elephant shit on the living room carpet is immediately identified as a footstool brought back from last year’s vacation to Kenya, even when there was no Kenya and no vacation.

To belabor the point:
Ronald Reagan’s father was an alternately violent and sentimental alcoholic.
George H.W. Bush’s father was an alcoholic.
Bill Clinton’s stepfather was a violent alcoholic.
George W. Bush was an alcoholic. (I can’t find much evidence that he was a violent alcoholic, but he was certainly a violent president of the United States.)
Barack Obama’s father was an alcoholic.

Something is happening here. It’s not clear, exactly, what it is, probably because the people who make it to the top of our political system and therefore shape our public discourse are adept at the magical thought and the happy lie. These start out as survival strategies and then become the prime methods of dealing with other people. Lying is indulged in even when it would be easier and less complicated to tell the truth. Magical thinking is preferred to seeing things as they are even when it comes in the form of nightmare.

But you can say one true thing: alcoholic families have been fine training grounds for our current crop of politicians. From the time they were small political children, these politicians knew better than to look inward—in that direction lay madness, pain, and failure.

They learned how to scapegoat. They craved the unconditional approval of others, probably because unconditional approval is nonexistent in alcoholic families. They became adept at papering over the cracks of broken relationships, and if they grew up emotionally disengaged, even in their most intimate relationships, it’s because emotional disengagement allowed them to survive in a house with an addict.

Give them a chance, and they’ll try to fix the world, even if they’re not competent to do so. The broken vase can be glued back together and put on a high shelf, even if it no longer holds water. The crumpled and torn photos can be hidden or burned, the smashed mirror above the mantel replaced with a pastoral painting, the police can be assured that everything is under control and nobody did anything wrong. An adult persona can be constructed in a household with an addicted parent, but that persona hides an abandoned and emotionally hungry child still waiting for a happy birthday party, a child whose reality has to be constructed out of lies and hope every day. Telling the truth means going back to being that abandoned child, and too often that child has starved to death or gone mad.

Subjecting a politician to psychoanalysis isn’t a job for the squeamish. Sometimes it’s only ashes, bones, shards, and tear-soaked, kapok-hemorrhaging, eyeless teddy bears under the carefully-crafted surface.

It’s depressing to work through the fierce denials, violent rages, and tears, and the realization that here’s a person all too representative of the crazed people who elected him. No wonder he’s inadequate to the tasks of setting our energy policies, maintaining our social safety nets, regulating our corporations, and ending our wars.

6.
Perhaps Disneyland—where all the employees not in cartoon suits are required to smile and keep smiling, upon pain of dismissal—gives our culture’s malnourished inner children haven from a world where the leaders are addicts or the facilitators of addiction, if not to alcohol then to money or power or sex or antidepressants.

A carefully invented cartoon reality gives us respite from a world where the cartoon characters are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, where Tomorrowland is a place where the currency is worthless, the safety nets are torn and rotting, and poor old people steal cat food from employed people’s cats. It’s a place where the bad toys have all the batteries, where the rides are crawling commutes to and from mind-numbing jobs. Goofy’s big head is latex illusion, we know, but it is an illusion we accept with gratitude and relief.

Of course, that begs the question of what it’s like to be Goofy, to sweat all day inside of eighty pounds of Goofy suit, to wonder if your job has become your identity, to think that maybe after ten years or so of wandering around Disneyland and having your picture taken with three-year-olds, you’ll become Goofy, and you’ll forget where the exit from the Magic Kingdom is. You’ll forget you have a human family, and even when Mickey and Minnie and Donald crowd around and beg you to take your Goofy suit off, you won’t know what they’re talking about.

Anyone who has watched the debates during the presidential election season without realizing that the reptiles onstage are all sweating inside Goofy suits hasn’t been paying attention.

7.
Philosophers of science insist that the scientific method is the best way of apprehending reality the human mind has ever devised. But there is a gap between data and hypothesis, evidenced when the same data spawns competing narratives about, say, climate change, species preservation, energy technology or heart disease.

Hard data can show that the temperature of Venus is too hot for life as we know it, and that ten years of having rib steak and ice cream for dinner will cause a rise in cardiovascular disease in a population of highly-stressed, subliminally hostile middle-class white males. It can show that DNA can be damaged by the ionizing radiation from a reactor meltdown, and that the cheaply tapped deposits of petroleum are gone. It can show that many large, slow, and tasty animals disappeared from Australia and North America about the same time human beings appeared on those continents.

But you can’t say with certainty that increased greenhouse gas emissions from industrial civilization will result in a Venus-style runaway greenhouse effect here on earth, because scientists who get their grants from oil companies will come up with equally certain counter-narratives. You can’t say for certain that hunters and gatherers increase the extinction rate with their hunting and gathering, lest you run into lawyers for Native American tribes whose creation narratives have those tribes living in harmony with charismatic megafauna. Unless you want an argument, you can’t say that industrial civilization will decline in proportion to available petroleum, or that nuclear power is lethal over generations, or that if they want to live longer, all highly stressed, subliminally hostile middle-class white males should become vegetarian Buddhists.

The scientific method might be the best method of apprehending reality the human mind has ever devised, but it’s uncertain that the human mind can apprehend the scientific method. Besides the disconnect between data and hypothesis, there are also disconnects between data and future data, between present causes and future effects. Certainty is always subject to further research. It’s a phenomenon that many scientists have used to prolong their careers well past the rancid stage.

Open-ended data collection means that every scientific study will miss crucial variables, every set of study parameters will argue against extrapolation, and that future studies need to be designed and conducted.

In a scientific arena of any size—and it’s hard to imagine a scientific arena so small that a half-dozen quark-sized angels can’t be comfortably clubbing each other to death in it—any hypothesis will generate skeptical opposition. There is always room for another interpretation of the data, or more data, or denial of data, or another grant application. A flurry of hypotheses from skeptics—who tend to profit from the status quo—will generate policy inertia.

A hypothesis: you can’t use the scientific method to think your way out of a self-constructed reality.

8.
Some areas of policy inertia in the face of accelerating and lethal change:

–Climate
–Extinction rates
–Population
–Nuclear wastes and accidents
–Oceanic dead zones and plastic-filled gyres
–EROEI
–Financial derivatives
–Pesticides and herbicides
–Estrogen- and neurotransmitter-mimicking compounds in food
–Food
–Military/pharma/wildlife/geriatric industrial complexes

I could go on, but this list suggests why Disneyland — even if you’re working there as Goofy or Mickey or Donald — might be preferable to the here and now. Any of the available virtual realities — even the latest version of Grand Theft Auto — is preferable to growing up and facing the facts.

Happily for the Disney Corporation and for the American Empire, growing up has become optional, and plenty of people have decided not to. You can’t blame them. Growing up means looking at the hard data, constructing your own narrative from them, and leaving the secure future for the lethal present. As a scientist friend of mine says, “Those of us with children and grandchildren cannot go there.”

9.
There is no divine or human rule that says the human mind should be any good at apprehending unreality, or even most of reality.

Scientific instruments have extended our senses across the universe and into invisible wavelengths and subatomic dimensions and black-hole singularities, and we’re asked to believe in those things. We can’t, not without a leap of faith comparable to the ones that let us believe in triune gods or spirits in trees.

Derivative finances have abstracted wealth and its twin, debt, beyond any human event horizon. Advertising images target the areas of our brain that don’t have language and we react only on the level of fight or flight, good or evil, ecstasy or horror.

The planet’s atmosphere has thickened and darkened even as the sunlight hitting its surface has become more UV intense, but it’s hard to see that, even on a clear day. The weather has detached from history, but we still check the weather reports and ignore their subtexts of disbelief. Medicine has allowed aging humans to emotionally disconnect from the inevitability of death, changing the direction and intensity of our philosophical gaze, and the landscape of our bodies beyond recognition.

Contrast this environment to the environment of a group of humans in northern Africa 65,000 years ago, who were equipped to apprehend their horizons, their climate, their bodies, and their economies. They knew how to hunt and how to gather, and if they were hard on their environment, it’s instructive to remember that they drove fewer animals to extinction in their millennia than the American Empire has in its decades.

The paleolithic environment, even when it hasn’t been physically destroyed, is nonetheless obscured by issues of who owns what, what animals to legally protect, what politician to vote for, what game to put on the Wii, what plane to get on to interview for what job. Only with great effort can you see through the trademarked hallucination, the groomed surface, the pixels and mechanical actuators and the ones and zeroes in a server somewhere — to a distant future world where crystals in windblown bedrock glint in undimmed starlight. That world is certain. Not much else is.

10.
Yet uncertainty has a future. You cannot look at this world, even through hunter-gatherer eyes, and not come to the conclusions that industrial civilization is constructed of the too solid flesh of imagination, and that industrial-era humans are animal-imagination hybrids, the result of an unnatural selection taking place ever since humans started messing about with reality. The extent of that evolution can be seen, not just in the fantastical, anthropomorphized creatures running for president, but in the image of the human being that is reflected back from a blank computer screen.

Recent brain research has indicated that measurable physical changes result when people start spending five or six hours a day playing videogames or surfing the Internet. Parts of the brain shrink and other parts expand, and attention spans, relations with other people, need for stimulation, and language usage all change. It’s not hard to envision the computer screen as the narrow part of an hourglass, and as time passes, the reality of the Internet side of the screen sifts through to the brain of the computer user, creating a perfect replica of itself on the other side, in among the folds of the wetware.

So a symmetry emerges between realities, one that gives a bit of credence to those philosophers of idealism, who hold that all reality is the electrical charges that rocket from neuron to neuron in our skulls. That’s a dangerous position, one that supports magical thinking — if you believe, it will be so, in the Matrix — but consider that the process can go both ways, and what exists in the folds of the brain can, with enough thought and effort, be painstakingly created elsewhere. Something a lot like magical thinking has created the world of artifice and algorithms we live in, and there’s no going back to a world where imagination and its products don’t exist. Like it or not, we have to live in a world that imagination has created.

It doesn’t take a scientific study to know that humanity has fouled its nest by thinking the unthinkable into being.

But we still have a world to work with, however sullied, and for the moment let us imagine the one that would result if our hopes for posterity prevail: aside from a radically different climate and the occasional nuclear accident, gross national products will resume their rise, fueled by a boom in solar energy and green technology. There will be stunning advances in home entertainment systems, heroic medical achievements, ever more precise weapons — collateral damage and dissent may simultaneously become a thing of the past — and whole cities under glass, and franchise outlets for everything. Wilderness ecologies will be finally be assigned a cultural and economic value, as they will have to be painstakingly reconstructed inside ultraviolet- and acid rain-proof structures. Population growth will continue, helped along by advances in genetically-modified wheat and rice, macro-engineered algae farms, and new hive-like cities. Exponential efficiencies in resource and energy use and communication will put the lie to Jevons’ Paradox. Longevity drugs will allow Social Security recipients to get back to work as productive centenarians. A gentle inflation will erase all long-term debt.

Or not. Maybe we’ll end up turning the earth into George F. Kennan’s nightmare, a radioactive desert moonscape, one where starving humans are confined to caves and ruins and drink foul water and don’t look too closely at the meat they’re eating, and human knowledge and technology diminishes with each burned book and broken machine and dead battery.

Where can you go — even in your imagination — if you’ve got grandchildren in this world?

It’s a measure of human adaptability that should climate change and civilization’s collapse be spread over fifty or a hundred years, people will go about their daily routines without much awareness that their yesterdays were different than their todays. They may remember visiting the unshielded outside, but it won’t be home to them. Home will be the dark basement of an abandoned building when it isn’t a subway tunnel, but it will have its comforts. Lifespans will shorten and chromosomes will be ionized, but not so much that people won’t have the occasional normal child, and those children will have the occasional normal child.

Even were we to project the darkest trends forward to that day when the last band of humans is fighting the last band of cockroaches for the last cache of civil-defense crackers, I’d put my money on the humans. And I’d make a side bet that shortly thereafter, the cockroaches would be a domesticated food-source. And one last wager: I’d bet that the children of that last band, wandering with cockroach-breath through the dark underground corridors of a ruined city, will look up through holes in the concrete, see the too-bright glint of the morning sun, and will greet the new day with awe, and joy, and wonder at the miracle of their existence.

____________

If you missed the live version, you can listen to the podcast of my 15 April 2012 radio interview on The Lifeboat Hour with Michael C. Ruppert

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58 Responses to “The Uncertainty Principle”

  1. Curtis A. Heretic Says:

    Too real. Too scary. Brilliant.

  2. Victor Says:

    An exceptional piece of writing. I am, as is rarely the case, rendered near speechless.

    We create our own reality, as individuals, as couples, as families, as communities, as nations, as empires. And where that reality is challenged and damaged, we adapt to a new, re-imagined reality that fits the gaps left by the old. This is where we have lived and breathed since the beginning. And technology accelerates and vastly increases power to do so.

    I believe there is a reality – at all levels. And I believe that we all search our lives for it. But unfortunately, its nature is such that it cannot be quantified nor conceptualised without distortion.

    Similar to the Heisenberg Principle, we can either interact with reality or we can conceptualise it, but we cannot do both. For in conceptualising reality we are immediately confronted with our failures, and in interacting with reality we make false assumptions as to its nature.

    Being a part of reality disqualifies us from knowing it. And since we don’t know reality, interacting with it enhances its mystery.

    And in the end we are left empty, being faced, as children are when first contemplating infinity, with the deep frustration of seeing no beginning and no end.

    And rather than accept this reality and live within its framework, we, like frustrated, imaginative children, are left with little more than well-crafted, albeit disingenuous, origins upon which we base our knowledge and ends towards which we live our lives.

    Our imaginations have led to where we are, and will be the undoing of the natural world and the destruction of our souls.

  3. Robin Datta Says:

    Thank you, John. An extensive continuum of concepts aesthetically presented.

  4. kathy Says:

    On Sunday, Stephen, the pastor you met at your Cummington presentation gave a wonderful and very moving sermon on prophets. He specifically mentioned you as a prophet and spoke of how challenging it is to hear the words of prophets and react without anger or denial or ridicule. The sermon was met with exactly those reactions initially but it did lead to a round-table discussion of what steps we can take as individuals and as a community likely to fair somewhat better than others during the long goodby. Do not ever think that your words fall on deaf ears or that the effort is wasted. I can attest that in our tiny town your message was heard loud and clear.

  5. Kathy C Says:

    Well done John.

    Given that the root reality we cannot bear is IMO the fact that we are mortal, and it gives rise to all the elaborate denials, and the planet destroying actions based on those denials, perhaps it would be just as well if humans went extinct. Is the brief passage through time of self aware beings all that important? The world went a long time before it had any humans, hominids, or even apes.

  6. John Stassek Says:

    John—

    If I was given a lifespan of a thousand years and dedicated every one of those moments towards advancing my knowledge of philosophy, the human condition and the art of writing I still couldn’t begin to approach the depth and richness of your words. “Crystals in windblown bedrock glint(ing) in undimmed starlight” might be a good way to describe them. Thank you just doesn’t seem to cut it, but thank you just the same for this amazing post.

  7. Andy Brown Says:

    1. No animal keeps pulling that lever if all they get is an electric shock. There’s no mystery about why so few people voluntarily raise their eyes to these vistas of climate change, economic decline, endocrine disruption, population overshoot, and well, all that other stuff that has been seeping into the doomer canon. Where is the psychological payoff? What a downer it can all be – even if we decide to leap heroically into some breach or another. But I think you circle back around to where that payoff – if it exists – has to be: in achieving an ability to discover and appreciate the vividness and immediacy and honesty of standing naked (or as naked as we can stand) before those vistas – and then going about our day with clearer heart even in sight of those vistas (that make dwarves of us all).

    2. Humans will spin their own reality – it’s a thing we do. But the reality-spinning in many alcoholic families is notoriously fragile and febrile, and its raison d’etre is to construct a facsimile to replace all the things that can’t be acknowledged. As a metaphor for our current state of cultural psychology I think it is just about perfect. Can I take some comfort in the fact that many of the most interesting and brilliant and sightful people that I have ever known have emerged from that exercise (from within families of alcoholics)?

  8. john rember Says:

    Victor & John & Curtis, Thank you much. I continue to believe that if the NBL Community cannot think through to new understandings of old problems, no one can. Guy has been incredibly generous to share this forum and this community, and I think that one way to repay him is to keep coming up with insights into the questions he has posed from his first entry. It may be too much to expect answers, but it’s a privilege for me to be part of a deepening conversation that makes me think.

    Please know I did not write this to render anyone discouraged or speechless, but to advance our conversation.

    Kathy C., I have to believe that human consciousness is a good thing, and will be worthwhile for as long as it lasts. As for what happens when it is gone, I believe it was Lewis Thomas who said that [I paraphrase] he knew of no instance where the natural world didn’t make use of any product of life, and consciousness was a unique and powerful product, and he couldn’t imagine it winking out when the species died. That’s not to say that it won’t be a shocking transformation, even if consciousness persists after death.

    Like you, I return to Ernest Becker’s Denial of Death whenever I need cheering up, and I find the final chapters, where he talks about the transcendent power of art, to be redeeming and a cause for hope.

    Andy, your first point reinforces my belief in witnessing as an end in itself. Your second brings to mind Emily Dickenson’s line, “A wounded deer leaps the highest.” Last night at dinner had a long conversation about “driven” politicians being damaged humans, and how they tended to recreate the damage on the inside in the outside. But you could say the same thing for artists–I suppose that a commitment to transforming the ugly into the beautiful makes the difference in either case.

  9. Kathy C Says:

    John, I have come to think that way to much is made of art. Art in our world is produced on the backs of the less fortunate. Most art in modern times has been created by those sponsored by others in some way. Their works are largely read, viewed, listened to by people of some means. True the janitor and cleaning lady in the concert hall might get a chance to hear a bit of Bach and Beethoven while they are cleaning up the rest rooms but the seats in the hall are not for them. Young men were castrated to sing in a way that was considered important to the art of music in the not too distant past. Patronage from wealthy people was accepting the money they earned off peasants to produce works of art or music for one’s patron, not for the bended backs in the field.

    Works of art that are not “proper” get disdained by middle and upper class folks except in a few carefully chosen instances. “That’s not real art” becomes a way to put people down. Who is to say a picture of Elvis on velvet is not art – but it is so judged by the art community of artists and consumers – folks with money.

    At any rate if the stratification of society that produced most of what is called art is necessary for there to be orchestras and books and million dollar art auctions, I find it not worth it. If consciousness inevitably leads to civilizations and their stratification I don’t find it a good.

    Consciousness is not IMO a thing – it is a state of brain organization that disappears when the brain turns to mush (usually at death sometimes in the case of Alzheimers before death). It also takes a break when we sleep or are anesthetized. I cannot imagine it as some thing that exists separate from myself. I can imagine a world without it quite easily and since before humans and their much vaunted consciousness, the world never created a horror like Fallujah full now of dead and deformed babies, it seems to me that a world without conscious creatures is a better thing. http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article31091.htm

    At any rate, I cannot find art as something worth all the suffering in this world any more than I can find the purported free will worth all the suffering. Someone asked me once if I would like to be a cow, without free will (attempting to prove that the gift of free will was so great that it was worth all the suffering) – I said yes. Why not – who is to say that mindlessly chewing one’s cud is not enough pleasure for a lifetime. And I have come to treasure sleep, the descent into the unconscious – I hate it when I can’t fall asleep and hate it when the alarm rings. Sure I enjoy my conscious life, but I look forward to being unconscious too. And I have not a bit of need to extend that consciousness beyond my death.

  10. Dorothy Hanna Says:

    Beautifully expressed,…devistating so!

  11. Victor Says:

    Art in our world is produced on the backs of the less fortunate. Most art in modern times has been created by those sponsored by others in some way. Their works are largely read, viewed, listened to by people of some means.

    Sorry, Kathy. I just can’t agree with you here. Much of what you say is true, but as in the case of the subject of death, I think you have taken an extreme position. I think I have something of an understanding why you have taken these positions, but still I do not agree.

    Art is so much more than something solely sponsored by the pampered rich, and enjoyed only by those of means. There is so much art that is made available to anyone who cares to appreciate it – museums, galleries, public displays, you name it. Books. Recorded music. Television. Radio. Free concerts. Films. Need I go on?

    Yes, artists need to be sponsored, or discovered, but that comes in many forms. And even the poorest of the poor can find a way to access great works of art.

    Art is so much more than something to be viewed or listened to or whatever. It is an extension of our souls. A way to express life…suffering….joy…death. I simply do not know what I would do without it in my life. Even in the poorest moments of my life I found ways to appreciate great works of art. Even the poorest in the world find great comfort and joy in their art. It doesn’t have to be owned to be appreciated. The rich rich own great art, but they also share great art with those of us who cannot afford it. This is one area where I have an appreciation for the rich… indeed, one of the extremely few areas… ;-)

  12. Justin Nigh Says:

    John Zerzan makes his case against art in which the abstraction of reality plays a key role. I think it’s appropriate here given John Rember’s artful dissection of America’s reality disconnect.

    The Case Against Art

    An extreme position to be sure, but any less extreme than the ultimate expression of reality abstraction that is Empire?

  13. Kathy C Says:

    Ooops as always an agreement on terms is needed in order to have a discussion.

    Art – just to clarify, do Velvet Elvis and Plastic Jesus statues http://iloveduckies.com/php/world1.php qualify as art? If so I have to change my statements. Generally I find an elitism poking its way in discussion of arts – I was told one time that Steinbeck and Pearl Buck were not good literature. I have seen discussions about whether or not Normal Rockwell’s work is “art”. I have been told there is no such thing as classical guitar because it is an inferior instrument. If art includes ANY painting, sculpture, music, writing, and photo then it is true most people have access to art, but I can tell you for sure that most artists, authors, musicians like to qualify what is art and what is not. Dictionary definitions run something like this “1.the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful” Aesthetic to who? Beautiful to who?

    Frankly, although I enjoy some human music (I would much rather hear Paul Newman sing Plastic Jesus than listen to Bartok), I can live without it for there is music all around me when I go outside created by non-human critters. I enjoy a painting like Van Gogh’s sunflowers but I like my own sunflowers better – they have living bees and goldfinches on them. I find most poetry obtuse but I do admit to loving limericks – especially some that have been shared here, but those too I can live without. I can live without art and I don’t think my life would be diminished a bit, in fact if I spent less time reading and more time outdoors I would be at the least healthier. I understand that for those who live apart from nature art may fill a void, but it is a poor imitation of the real thing. Vivaldi’s spring is uplifting, but real spring is even more so.

    But for the future if you are freezing and all you have to burn is books and pictures and music scores and violins, what will you do? Come collapse very little art will survive as we CAN live without art but not without enough warmth to keep our bodies alive.

    BTW how did the first humans manage to live for 100,000 years or more without art?

  14. Andy Brown Says:

    Kathy C, I’m not going delve into the question of ‘what is art’, but I think the answer to your last question is pretty easy. They didn’t. See for example, prehistoric art. Art is basic to humans.

  15. Kathy C Says:

    Andy, from your link
    “The very earliest human artifacts showing evidence of workmanship with an artistic purpose are a subject of some debate; it is clear that such workmanship existed by 40,000 years ago in the Upper Paleolithic era.”
    from the wiki on homo sapiens
    “Humans (known taxonomically as Homo sapiens,[3][4] Latin for “wise man” or “knowing man”)[5] are the only living species in the Homo genus. Anatomically modern humans originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago, reaching full behavioral modernity around 50,000 years ago.[6]”

    Thus homo sapiens did without art for 160,000 years and those who reached “full behavioral modernity” did so per wiki for 10,000 years.

  16. Kathy C Says:

    Justin
    Interesting article – not sure I follow all of it but I found this paragraph captures some of what I wrote above

    “The primary function of art is to objectify feeling, by which one’s own motivations and identity are transformed into symbol and metaphor. All art, as symbolization, is rooted in the creation of substitutes, surrogates for something else; by its very nature therefore, it is falsification. ”

    Of interest is the theory of the bicameral brain – in which we humans did not reach full modern consciousness until somewhere between the Iliad and the Odyssey “Jaynes theorized that a shift from bicameralism marked the beginning of introspection and consciousness as we know it today. According to Jaynes, this bicameral mentality began malfunctioning or “breaking down” during the second millennium BC. ” If he is right, we made art before we obtain full modern consciousness. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicameralism_(psychology)

    I’m not advocating this theory as correct but he does document some changes in the way the world was perceived over time by humans. We can imagine that homo sapiens from 200,000 years ago likewise perceived the world and themselves much differently. The evolution language and then art perhaps is integral to who we are today. And if so then they were really bad acquisitions because for the last 10,000 years we have accelerated our impact on the world and now seem poised to destroy the world as a home for our species. This is what high intelligence and the self awareness that grew out of it have wrought. 3 billion people in abject poverty and the world poised to tip over into climate disaster. Better to be a cow and at least not have the blood of millions of species including your own on your hands.

  17. Andy Brown Says:

    Kathy C,
    As the sages say, absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. We have few or none of the ephemeral artifacts from those times, and the archaeologists wouldn’t say anything as definitively as you do. I’m content with the evidence that art shows up in every human society ever recorded, and reaches as far back into human history as we can see. Like language, abstract thought, the emotional palette and so on, it seems impossible to separate art and human in any meaningful way.

  18. Robin Datta Says:

    The primacy of consciousness is so utterly basic that it remains out of the awareness of nearly all, fishes unaware of water. No concept including that of a body and a brain exists apart from the consciousness but it is not dependent on them. The foundational concept is the “I”, with all the rest of objective awareness, everything that is considered the “not-I”, built out from it.

    The “I” all but disappears from the scene when identified the with any of the concepts built out from it, such as “body”, “brain” or “mind”: all such are in the realm of the “not-I”, as they can be objectively addressed (“my body”, “my brain”,”my mind”).

    Recognising this at the level of direct awareness is well nigh impossible for so many: in Chan and Zen traditions there is the reference to a Gateless Gate allowing entry into the realm of that awareness. 

    Concepts that are perceived as real are valued differently from the imaginary, and rightly so, because of the consequences associated with them differ. Yet both the imaginary and the real are concepts, as far as concepts go. The difference is that the latter are persistent and  mutually consistent. 

    The ground of the “I” and the “not-I” is not to be grasped from within the “I”. A wave does not comprehend the ocean. But the water that makes the wave on the ocean does not disappear when the wave subsides. Yet the wave ceases to be. Actually it never existed in the first place. Switching metaphors, in the Divine Dream, the Dreamer identifies with each character in the Dream (unlike the human one, in which the human identifies with only one).

  19. john rember Says:

    Kathy C., I don’t think Ernest Becker would agree with your concept of art, nor would he agree with the article Justin cites. For one thing, he defines art from the standpoint of the artist, and defines creating art as a personal solution to the dilemma of having the mind of a god and the body of a messy and mortal animal. He further defines art as being possible with any human activity, whether it be creating decent soil from red Georgia clay or putting the finishing touches on a symphony. When care and love come into the process, art becomes the product, at least from the artist’s point of view.

    From my own standpoint, I see the artist as a witness, one charged with, as T.S. Eliot says, raiding the inarticulate. We ignore the power of witnessing, when in fact a witness can transform our understanding of the world, or at least see that the joy it contains equals its misery. That, for most of us, equates to finally seeing the world in its entirety–we tend to equate realism with facing brutal facts, when actually it can also mean facing joy. Andy’s vistas contain multitudes.

    Victor Frankl has thought this out more carefully than I have in the narrative part of Man’s Search for Meaning.

    Robin, I fear that discussions of consciousness can result in getting lost in houses of mirrors, but note that reaching a level of direct awareness sounds good to me. Would that we all could be such witnesses.

  20. Redreamer Says:

    I paint therefore i am.

    Truly.

  21. Victor Says:

    A report from the not-I:

    Everyone Is Ignoring One Troubling Statistic About Oil

    http://www.businessinsider.com/the-real-reason-to-worry-about-oil-2012-4

    Quote:

    One troubling statistic that the media largely ignores, according to Hansen, is the background depletion rate from existing oil wells, which Hansen conservatively pegged between 3% and 4%. This is the percent reduction in production from existing wells. With total world crude oil production now at 75 million barrels per day, the same wells will produce only 72 or 73 million next year. That 3%-4% depletion rate has to be made up for by new wells coming on line if world production is not to decline.

  22. Kathy C Says:

    John I haven’t read Becker in a while but if your description of how he defines art is accurate then it would seem that he is describing another way that humans deny mortality. Animals live in the world, humans shape it into something different not to satisfy a need like beavers or bowerbirds but the pretend that we are not messy mortal animals.

    Messy mortal animals too smart for our own good is what we are. We can’t let nature’s arrangement of flowers be good enough, we have to do it better and bring it inside and put it in a vase where no bees can get to the nectar. We can’t feed ourselves from the bounty of earth but have to tear up the soil and plant the plants we want. As much as I love my garden I know that is true and every turn of my shovel upends the soil and kills many of the critters within. We trap ourselves in houses away from the sounds of nature and then think it is pleasing to hear The Flight of the Bumblebees as if that extraction of one part of what a bee is, molded by a human composer and played by a human orchestra is better than the real life giving flight of the bees.

    Art in fact proves Becker’s theory that we can’t stand to know we are mortal animals, and is then one more evasion, one more attempt to elevate us to try to convince ourselves that we have meaning. What if we don’t. What if we are just an accident of evolution soon to be weeded out because high intelligence and self awareness are traits that are unsustainable, doomed to self destruct. At any rate the second law rules and in the end entropy catches up with us when the sun dies but probably much much sooner.

  23. The REAL Dr. House Says:

    The definition of art is perhaps as varied as people’s perception of what constitutes art. Oftentimes art is confused with beauty. They aren’t necessarily the same thing. I see beauty throughout nature, in almost every aspect of it, from the microscopic to the macroscopic. But art is not necessarily something found in nature – it can be one’s interpretation of nature for instance, or it can be one’s response to the defilement of nature, or it may have nothing to do with nature at all.

    I have a large painting on the wall of one of my exam rooms (I’d rather have a large window, but alas . . .). It’s an abstract painted by one of my former employees. It garners more comments than just about anything else in the office. My favorite came from a 12 year old boy who was quite precocious. He was sitting on the exam table and suddenly asked, “What is that!?”

    I answered, “it’s art”.

    He sat there for a moment and stated as a matter of fact, “I know art, and that’s NOT art.”

    That got a good laugh from the adults in the room, but to him, that wasn’t art. For me, it is. It’s purple and bold and strong and I like it. Besides, it was created for me. That makes it special – to me, at least.

    Some years ago I read a book by Charles F. Clark titled “AIDS and the Arrows of Pestilence”. In it, Dr. Clark examines the great surge of art that results from human tragedy throughout history. For those who enjoy art, history, medical history, and/or art history, I recommend it. A surprisingly entertaining and easy read.

    http://www.amazon.com/AIDS-Arrows-Pestilence-Charles-Clark/dp/1555911463

  24. Kathy C Says:

    Dr House, yes what is aesthetic to one is not to another. If art is to be defined as products by humans that are beautiful or aesthetically pleasing http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/art then what is art to one is not to another OR what is art to one is ART whether or not others find it to be art.

    I would say then that if we are to call the simple hand print of a hunter gatherer art, we cannot deny Velvet Elvis that standing.

    OTOH some things classified as art are not pleasing – as you note pestilence can inspire art and of course Goya was inspired by the Inquisition and war, it is hard sometimes to even look at these works, but to me they are preferable to his portraits of kings and queens.

    I knew a woman who was training to be a ballerina – she told the story of a woman who was nagged by the teachers about her weight until she became bulimic, but since that was not OK either she vomited into jars that she stored in her closet. I will take a square dance any day over ballet anyway and it is not required to be thin or young to participate in a square dance.

    Meanwhile I would maintain that by the dictionary definition Velvet Elvis is art :) I would also say that the horrors humans have perpetrated upon each other, other species and the world are not redeemed because we produced Mozart and Beethoven. No artwork can redeem what we have done to the mountains of Appalachia, or replace the corals that are dying. The best they can do is maintain the memory of what we have destroyed and the evils we have done as Goya did.

    I know I sound contentious on this issue. But in years of searching I have not found anything redeeming enough in humans to cover the evil we have done, but if there is such a redemption it is not in art but in the moments when one human shows love to another.

  25. Justin Nigh Says:

    Kathy,

    I think you’re quite right about the inspiration of art being death. Quoted
    from the below linked book is the following:

    Death is the practical source of a good deal of poetry, music, art, and myth.

    Aspects of Death in Early Greek Poetry and Art

    I share your sentiment that art is not a requirement, for me personally, to manage the life experience. It’s a “want” rather than a “need.”. Some might perceive this as a depressing point of view, that life would be boring without art, music, and poetry, but it’s this perspective that reveals a degree of escapism from direct experience. It’s this layer of abstraction that creates our separation from nature, holding ourselves as outside of it or even superior to it, which perhaps has lead to the predicament we find ourselves in. As you say, it’s a rejection rather than acceptance of our place in the natural world, an attitude of “I am man! I will not simply accept that which is as it is, I will make it better!”. The question remains, have we really?

  26. Curtis A. Heretic Says:

    Reptiles run wild in Michigan. Collapse is not coming soon enough.

    http://healthimpactnews.com/2012/michigan-dnr-raids-family-hog-farms/

  27. Redreamer Says:

    I am not sure what to say actually in light of some of the ‘Art’ comments here but can I just suggest that artists (not art institutions, or art promoters or ANY of the other accoutrements to art BUSINESS) think differently about the world…. and maybe in fact we NEED that different thinking style.

    Since after all the science/logical linear thinking has worked out SO WELL for western civilization…….

    Just have a thought about how art managed to exist for thousands of years perfectly fine before it was screwed up by our current civilization.

    I am thinking that an important clue about how we should care for our planet and each other lies in our ability to value ALL.

  28. Robin Datta Says:

    Art is the content of communication from one reptilian brain to another, beyond symbols of intent, purpose, and intellectual content. The stotting of gazelles, the puffing of pufferfish, threat postures of gorillas, the nest adornments of bowerbirds, etc. have intent or purpose as the content of their communication and may not qualify as art. John Rember in this post has content both intellectual and beyond intellectual: the latter make it art, not just the communication of facts. 

  29. Kathy C Says:

    One thing that is certain and dire is climate change – excellent presentation by Peter Sinclair

  30. john rember Says:

    It seems to me to be crucial that art is not viewed from the outside, as commodified corporate impulse–velvet Elvises and Frank Ghery buildings and Superbowl ads and so on–but from the inside, as synthesis, depth, caritas, the grief/love nexus and so on. It’s been well demonstrated on this site that science and/or industry isn’t going to heal our flawed world, and I hope I’ve made contributions to that realization. It’s probably up to art if anything, even our miserable little climate-stunted lives, is to get better.

    The greatest artists are those whose works invite their witnesses into the process, and break down the barrier between human beings. It’s ironic that people will pay millions for a Picasso, then lock it up in a vault or in a passcard-protected corporate headquarters where the people who need it most cannot get to it. Music is probably the most accessible art, because going to a concert is not just listening to a composer but witnessing the musicians acting as artist-midwives. Probably all artists are midwives of the things that still inexplicably want to be born into this world, and many of those things explicitly counter the evils of this human-created world.

    Of course, you cannot control what happens to a work of art after it’s born. I can imagine this blog and its comments carefully recorded in an archive in the Doomer Movement Museum, where future scholars can, if their institutions will pay the entrance fee, see a full-size model of the mud hut and read first-person accounts of the grim not-worth-living days before tabletop fusion was invented and everyone got flying cars.

    Fortunately, none of us are future scholars of anything. What we can do is open our eyes to the possibilities still out there–put our faith in perception rather than preconception, the immediate moment rather than the doomed future. Those actions allow anyone to exist in the world as an artist. From that point, the world itself becomes a more benign place–still beautiful, still flawed, still existing–even for us mortals.

  31. Tom Says:

    According to these folks, there are big man-made changes a comin’ very soon:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBPCorxXzCk&feature=player_embedded

  32. Victor Says:

    Two Years After the BP Oil Spill: IS THE GULF ECOSYSTEM COLLAPSING?

    by Washington’s Blog

    http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=30395

    Note: The number 33 was mentioned in the article….you know what that means…

  33. Justin Nigh Says:

    Victor,

    What an absolute atrocity beyond comprehension or words to describe it. I still remember watching the underwater camera as the oil was gushing out of the well; on and on and on at such an incredible rate and the suffocating despair of such a sight. I felt such rage and sadness at our powerlessness to do anything about it, and the seeming lack of urgency to stem the flow. And here we sit, behind our keyboards and screens, front row seats to the spectacle of mankinds’ destruction and indifference. I fear the worst is yet to come.

  34. Justin Nigh Says:

    John and NBL friends,

    I agree that science and logic will not solve what ails humanity; I’ve expressed on a number of occasions that we face a spiritual crisis. I share your understanding that we must find a way to communicate that goes beyond verbal or the written word. It’s well known that people will not change unless they are ready; change must come from within, not from without. While art may arguably serve as the mechanism for breaking down barriers between people, I think we have more accessible and effective tools to achieve the internal change and understanding we need. The tools I refer to come from nature itself.

    My personal spiritual quest brought me to discover the tools known as entheogens, but I am not alone in this discovery. Entheogens have been used, probably since before recorded history, by so called primitive cultures. I recommend everyone here watch and share with as many people as you can, a film called Stepping into the Fire, which delves into and explores this important subject. Please, I invite you to keep your mind open and preconceived notions or cultural conditioning at bay and honestly consider the content of this film.

    The fellow who funded the project was a wealthy Wall St trader who became unsatisfied with his life which was rich in the material sense but poor in spirit. A life-changing experience with these shamanic tools inspired him to give up his empty life and pursue an entirely new direction. He created a facility in Peru where others could come, at no cost other than their travel expenses, to share the experience that changed his life. It is a truly inspiring story. You can view it online at your leisure. I’ve provided a synopsis and link below. I couldn’t agree more with the Shaman featured in the film that humanity must evolve it’s consciousness, or perish, and I don’t think the relevance will be lost on anyone here.

    Stepping into the Fire

    Synopsis: STEPPING INTO THE FIRE is a feature length documentary that tells the story of a seemingly successful man living an unfulfilled life and his journey towards truth and happiness. What if the thoughts, values and philosophies that guided our lives were at the root of our misery and there was ancient and time honored knowledge that could truly heal our soul. This compelling film provides insight into ancient shamanic practices from deep in the Peruvian jungles, and a thought provoking commentary on human spirituality and wellness.

  35. Justin Nigh Says:

    I’ve posted a comment that I cannot see, and attempts to re-post indicated a duplicate comment detected. Any ideas what’s going on here?

  36. Kevin Moore Says:

    John. Thank you for this excellent piece. There are a few details I could debate, but I overall this essay provides a very good summation of many aspects of ‘the nightmare’.

    The main reason I have only just got round to reading it is because I have spent the last week challenging the utter nonsense generated by my local district council as a ‘Draft Long Term Plan (2012-22)’ for the district.

    Needless to say, the CEO and senior council officials have been generating their own reality for several years, and their reality, which is almost completely disconnected from ‘my’ reality, does not include the exponential function (as described by Albert Bartlett), Fractional Reserve Banking, creation of money out of thin air via bond markets, Peak Oil, out-of-control CO2 emissions, the need for food, energy, power (in the sense of Watts), chemical balance, population overshoot, or anything else anyone planning for the future might consider in a draft plan that would have any meaning.

    Following several discussions with senior council officers it was agreed that I would make submissions on oxymorons, vague statements, and mutually exclusive statements in the ‘plan’. As of Monday, when I questioned the mayor in a public forum and he lost his composure, I had discovered and made submissions on 103 errors or false assumptions, with others in the pipeline.

    Just as glaring examples:

    The ‘Perpetual Investement Fund’, which is now down to around 25% of its initial (2004) value by any reasonable assessment(measurement against gold, cement, sardines, fence palings, oil, bitumen -which the council uses rather a lot of) will ‘be restored to its original value’ (undefined) by taking less from it over the coming years.

    The council will ‘use resources sustainably, develop them and protect them’.

    The council will ‘maintain and enhance the land, soil, air, water, natural features for future generations’.

    Much of the ‘protection’ and ‘enhancement’ will be achieved by doubling the district’s population ‘from around 73,000 to 135,000′

    The saving grace for me in all this madness is that the majority of district councils around teh country are in a far worse financial state than mine, and most are already in a far worse ecological condition. And in most other countries the situation is far, far worse.

    ……………………….

    ‘when the last band of humans is fighting the last band of cockroaches for the last cache of civil-defense crackers, I’d put my money on the humans.’

    I do have to disagree with you on that point. The last crackers will be gone decades before the last cockroaches.

    Ants, cockroahes, jellyfish and bacteria shall inherit the Earth. Well they will if we carry on the way we have been.

  37. Kathy C Says:

    Kevin, I understand that the cockroaches in the US north will not survive as they need the warmer temps of heated houses. However our lovely large roaches here in the south, also known as Plameto bug http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_cockroach will

  38. Kathy C Says:

    Richard Duncan (who thinks the collapse of industrial civilization will come when the grid fails) said to watch the news for power outages. Here is a nice visual of the state of power outages in the US. Note the familiar exponential curve

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/yet-another-exponential-chart-and-different-spin-keynesianism

  39. Victor Says:

    Kathy

    will not survive as they need the warmer temps of heated houses.

    Don’t worry for the northern roaches….we are building a perfect environment for them – lots more heat than today… :-)

    Blackouts – very interesting indeed. If memory serves me, I recall Richard Duncan estimating something over $1T investment in grid infrastructure at the time he came out with this. It is probably even more now. Where will that money come from – certainly not the banks as they are strong believers in cost socialism. The US is particularly vulnerable as its grid does not have a lot of redundancy built into it. So when one part of the grid goes down, it could well pull in multiple other parts to share the pain geographically.

    Kevin

    I have to hand it to you. You just don’t give in. Very admirable, though perhaps a bit on the masochistic side…. ;-) And the capacity for denying reality appears to be infinite with these folks. They simply do not learn, do not care, and do not see beyond their infinite growth model (would have loved to have seen their explanation for how they could provide resource sustainability AND double population growth!

  40. Victor Says:

    Justin

    That happens to me occasionally as well. No explanation for it, though thankfully, it does pass after a time. I also from time-to-time get a ‘404’ error (Page not found!). Strange.

    As for the Gulf, I’m just happy we don’t depend upon their seafood. It is simply incredible the impact of Deepwater Horizon. And yes, the worst is yet to come. If Deepwater Horizon does not finish off the Gulf (which it likely will), there remains an even greater threat to come which WILL finish it off – all the thousands of old forsaken well-heads on the bottom of the Gulf that will eventually deteriorate and start leaking their contents – many already have. No one wants to think about those, and the oil companies will likely not be held responsible for the extremely high costs of correcting that mess.

  41. Justin Nigh Says:

    Kevin,

    Your romantic efforts, for which I commend you highly, remind me of a quote by Henry Louis Mencken.

    “The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who Is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost invariably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And if he is not romantic personally, he is apt to spread discontent among those who are.”

    Here too, across the Tasman in QLD, there is a local council Mayoral race, the candidates of which have no understanding of the issues and concerns you mentioned. Our recently elected state premier has been quoted saying, in response to the question of peak oil, “we will continue driving cars if it means burning old tyres and carpets.”. In the lifeboat hour radio broadcast linked to at the end of this article, Mike Ruppert feels there is increasing awareness of a dying paradigm, except I don’t see it in my neck of the woods, nor would it seem, do you.

  42. Kathy C Says:

    Ah, Victor you are so right, the northern climes will soon allow all cockroaches a chance to take over. Ahead of me one mote time.

    OK more proof that the end is nigh

    DERIVATIVES

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/mother-all-infographics-visualizing-americas-derivatives-universe

    “A month ago we presented the latest derivatives update from the OCC, according to which the Top 5 US banks held 95.7%, or $221 trillion of the entire US derivative universe (which in turn is just a modest portion of the entire $707 trillion in global derivatives as of June 30, 2011). And while the numbers of all this credit money, because that’s what it is, and the variation margin associated with all these trillions in bets is all too real, appeared impressive on paper, they did not do this story enough service. So to present, visually this time, the US derivatives problem, we go to our friends from Demonocracy, who put the $229 trillion derivative ‘issue’ in its proper context. For those curious what a paper equivalent of bailing out the US derivatives market would look like, now you know.”

  43. Kathy C Says:

    Curtis, you are right, the end cannot come soon enough. However I suppose if they wipe out all the heritage breeds of livestock and plants, perhaps in the end that is a good for it will move any who happen to survive back to the hunter-gatherer stage much more quickly. Hard to label anything good or bad anymore, when the good (say saving lives) leads to the bad (overpopulation) and the bad (collapsing economy) leads to the good (saving the planet. ETC

  44. The REAL Dr. House Says:

    It grows more and more difficult for me each day to trudge off to the office to take care of people who just don’t “get it”. In any sense of the words. I need the patience of Kevin sometimes.

    A large percentage of the patients I see are the very images of what is described here on a day to day basis: totally disconnected from reality, in denial of the natural way of things, no accountability for their actions, thinking things can go on as usual with no consequences, totally clueless that a magic wand can’t be waved to fix things. It’s not surprisingly, really, since healthcare is just one aspect of our larger lives. Why should people act any differently in a doctor’s office than they do in the rest of society?

    For the most part, I love what I do and I love the relationships I’ve developed with my patients. I savor my victories when I get them. But some days, I just want to smack them all up side the head and tell them to wake up!

    So Kevin, hats off to you buddy for your perseverance! You are an inspiration!

  45. Jaron Lanier Says:

    How far down are they drilling for oil now? If this graphic is accurate, Deepwater Horizon is deeper than the deepest oceanic trench.

  46. The REAL Dr. House Says:

    Tom,

    I watched most of the video you referenced. Lots of interesting supposition based on loosely connected events which are likely coincidence. It reminded me a lot of the way that a schizophrenic’s mind works. That being said, it may well be that there will be a large attack of some sort at the Olympics this summer. It’s a natural target, and certainly wouldn’t be the first time that the games have been disrupted by violence. And, if that happens, it will no doubt be used by TPTB to solidify their supposed control over the people, all in the interest of “security”.

    The larger issue is the incredible amount of energy that the Olympics will consume (are already consuming) in an energy-declining world and the amount of debt that the U.K. is taking on to host them. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if this last big push to maintain the illusion may just be the last straw. Others here have mentioned the Olympics as a turning point in the global collapse scenario. The more I read, and the closer the event gets, I’m starting to think they may be right.

  47. Justin Nigh Says:

    TRDH

    I hear you, I had to quit my job late last year because I could no longer stand to bear business as usual.

    I’ve been a vegetarian for over 10 years, and recently vegan, largely to take control of my health. I’m acutely aware of the links between diet and health, something I imagine you’re alluding to here with regard to lack of responsibility and disconnect from reality of your patients. I had a debate with an old friend toda (via Facebook) y, whom eats McDonalds all the time, is overweight, and lives a fast paced lifestyle, about the message in the film Forks over Knives. When I asked him to cite specific sources for his outlandish claims, insisted no such citations were necessary because it’s a matter of opinion. Facts or science matter not to these people. It’s an anti-intellectual, personal freedom gone wild, and flagrant defiance of reason free-for-all. Here I am genuinely concerned for my fellow and the priority for him is to defend an irrational belief in a bankrupt diet.

  48. Justin Nigh Says:

    Guy has kindly released my missing post from the spam box. Thanks again Guy.

    In the lifeboat hour interview with Guy (which i recommend listening to), he expresses a “crisis of consciousness.” I think this notion better defines what I was attempting to convey in my missing post, which I called a “spiritual crisis.” Jiddhu Krishnamurti spoke on this concept with great wisdom. If you are not familiar with his work I urge you to search on YouTube.

  49. Kathy C Says:

    BP had a blowout in the Caspian before the Gulf – bad cement.
    Greg Palast reports (I don’t like his style but the information seems sound since it is backed up by leaks from Wikileaks)

    “EcoWatch reveals shocking information of a BP cover-up of a blow-out prior to the deadly Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf. Special report from the Caspian sea. for Ecowatch.org by investigative reporter Greg Palast.”

  50. Guy McPherson Says:

    With big thanks to John Rember for his beautiful, evocative essay, I’ve posted another guest essay. It’s here.

  51. Kathy C Says:

    The Piraha are a tribe of people who are documented by Daniel Everett in his book “Don’t Sleep there are Snakes”. They appear to be an exceptionally happy people. I remembered that reading the book I didn’t remember any mention of art, nor is there any listing of it in the index. All I could find on the web was this.

    http://www.ascentofhumanity.com/chapter2-7.php

    Abstraction is also absent from their art. The Piraha do not draw representational figures at all, except for crude stick figures used to explain to the anthropologist the spirit world , of which they claim direct experience. They cannot even draw straight lines. As Everett continues from above, “In literacy classes, however, we were never able to train a Piraha to even draw a straight line without serious ‘coaching’ and they are never able to repeat the feat in subsequent trials without more coaching.” This is highly significant, given that the straight line is itself an abstraction, being absent from nature. It is an abstraction, moreover, fraught with powerful cultural and psychological implications. At the most literal level, the Piraha do not engage in linear thinking.

  52. the virgin terry Says:

    ‘As of Monday, when I questioned the mayor in a public forum and he lost his composure’

    sounds like u’re getting to the bastards, kevin. if u’re not careful, u might become too prominent to be ignored. wouldn’t that be delightful/dangerous?

    ‘Kevin, I understand that the cockroaches in the US north will not survive as they need the warmer temps of heated houses.’

    kathy, i think it was a couple of years ago i saw a very brief public service announcement on public tv (pbs) stating that the climate here in upstate new york could be similar to georgia’s current climate in 75 years. so maybe our roaches have a future after all, as victor already pointed out. (for those unfamiliar with u.s. geography, georgia is about 10 degrees of latitude closer to the tropics, and much warmer, about 10 degrees celsius, on average, similar to kathy’s alabama climate.)

  53. Judy Says:

    Kathy C,

    If you will read your own Wiki reference, you will note that the American cockroach is often misidentified as a palmetto bug. I grew up in MS where the American cockroach was rampant, just as it is where you are in AL, and I have also lived in Florida, where the palmetto bug reigns supreme. They are not one and the same; however, they are both equally creepy :-)

  54. john rember Says:

    Kathy C.
    I would never accuse anyone on this website of linear thinking. I think we’re one with the Piraha.

  55. Victor Says:

    They are not one and the same; however, they are both equally creepy

    Not quite….the palmetto can fly!….. :-(

  56. Kathy C Says:

    Judy, the smaller cockroaches of the north are german cockroaches http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_cockroach which apparently originally came from Africa
    I had them in TN, I did not have the palmetto bug there and only first encountered it farther south. As Victor notes they can fly, are substantially larger than the german cockroach

    The house we bought in TN had a huge infestation of german cockroaches – we heated with coal. One winter we went away for 2 weeks and just drained the water. I never had cockroaches again as the cold killed them all.

    Our infestation of Palmetto bugs is easier to live with as it is minimal, that is until one of the buggers does fly :)


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