by Doug Fasching
I am not about to even attempt to dispute the information that is contained in the Nature Bats Last website, nor would I dare to dispute the scientifically derived conclusions. I am an armchair scientist at best and I must trust the conclusions of people that have spent a lifetime studying these things. I have done the best I can to fact check what I could and cross-reference the opinions of others in the field. I am content that Dr. McPherson has presented the facts as accurately as can be, given our current state of knowledge.
What I would like to communicate is my journey to my current state of mind. I am curious where I fit compared to the experiences of the other readers of this site and related materials.
The dream of technology and the reality
I was born in 1966 and when I was little, the most sophisticated technology visible in my environment was a 25″ black and white TV and a 10 transistor radio. My father was still going to college when I was around five and his head was filled with ideas of the modern world that he got from school tempered with the opinions of his friends outside of school who tended to be social dropouts, also known broadly as “hippies”.
At that age I spent very little time indoors and in fact hated to be inside for very long. This used to be normal and not like the experiences of the kids of the current youth generation who go by many names although I think of them as the “X-Box Kids”. Those who have never been without the Internet, had their first cellphone at the age of twelve and have been raised on a steady diet of jaded, cynical commentary mixed with a large dose of simulated violence.
Once a week without fail my father would drag me into the house, set me in front of the TV and make me watch an episode of Star Trek. At that age I barely understood any of what the show was about but I knew it was important to my dad. When my attention would drift to something more interesting outside he would fuss at me to pay attention to the TV. He would say “Pay close attention to this, this is your future”. Eventually it made an impression on me and set the course of my life.
Science Fiction became such a powerful vision of hope and wonder during the 1970′s and 1980′s. The previous generation believed in the idea of “Better Living Through Chemistry” but I would say that mine was fully immersed in the idea of “Better Living Through Technology”. With technology anything was possible. With technology we would finally tame the darker sides of our nature and reach our amazing potential.
I fell for it hook, line and sinker. I took computer programming in high school. I joined the Air Force and learned how to repair all kinds of computer equipment. I actually used to replace hard drive heads when disk drives had 15″ platters and the heads were the size of quarters. I was 18 years old, enlisted, working at NORAD and assigned to the 1st U.S. Space Command. It sounds incredible put like that, especially for a kid who was from a small lumber town in northeastern Washington State who had never been to college. In reality it was rather mundane and somewhat disappointing.
Mostly though, I thought it was cool, even though I was working on equipment that was as old as I was and I didn’t get to see much “space” from inside the cave that was Cheyenne Mountain. Even though NORAD was more cold war museum than “Command Post”. Even though it had the odd feel of a somewhat cobbled together movie set rather than a functioning technology center. You still felt that you were plugged into something big and that fantastical things were happening behind locked doors in areas you didn’t have clearance to be in but were just a corridor away from you.
I was young and naive then and Russia was still the USSR and the cold war still felt very real. Even though much of the stuff that I was surrounded by was outdated almost to the point of irrelevance it still retained much of it’s shine sense of the space age. My barracks was near the flight line in Colorado Springs and the occasional SR71 would take off and land. An awesome piece of machinery even as old as it was. You could not be in that environment and not feel the sense of awesome power and technological ability of our country. Even if all the stuff was getting a bit old.
Working where I did and in that time when personal computing was starting to be mainstream I really felt connected to a lightning bolt. The world was becoming science fiction and I was in the middle of it. I imagine that it was the closest thing to feeling like a sorcerer controlling a potentially unlimited power.
The possibility that the future as promised by technology could be anything other than brilliant was inconceivable. The Internet was still about eight years away from public use and cellphones would not become popular for ten years.
In 1988 I got out of the service and landed a job with a defense contractor and started working for several Navy bases in Southern California. Because I was working for the government I had access to computer technology that was rather new and exotic. A lot of stuff that only multi-billion dollar companies or research institutions had access to. I was installing routers years before most people heard the name “Cisco” and was tinkering on the Internet when it was still known as “MILNET / ARPANET” and before the first web browser was written.
It was still all very cool but I was beginning to notice however slowly that something was not quite right. Even then, technology changed so fast that we were no sooner finished installing one amazing piece of technology before a new better technology came out and we had to remove and replace it. It all changed too fast to really be much use, but boy it sure wasted taxpayer money and filled up landfills.
One place that I worked had spent 10 years and millions of dollars to build this killer mainframe computer called a Unisys 1100/90. It must have occupied a room 50′ by 150′. It had hard drives that were the size of washing machines and a bank of 12 tape drives to feed the thing data. In 1988 with all four processors running it was capable of almost 10 Million instructions per second. Around mid 1989 Intel announced the 80486 cpu chip, the size of your fingernail and capable of 11 Million instructions per second. Today the CPU that runs your smartphone runs around 515 Million instructions per second.
it was around this time that I realized that much of the work in the world of technology was just a treadmill. Just doing the same old thing but slightly different, a little faster and a little smaller. In many ways technology does little more that generate it’s own reason to exist.
Another thing that I began to notice was that the promise of technology was a little skewed. At that time the big lie was that technology reduced drudgery, freeing people up to be more creative and have more leisure time. It was even projected that most people would have to get used to a 4 day work week because of all the time freed up (Your pay would stay the same though).
As wonderful as this all sounded I couldn’t help but notice that every time I came in and installed a new computer network and PC’s in an office, within a few months people started losing their jobs. Typically one PC added to an office of four people eliminated one job. Funny though, it didn’t really seem to eliminate the amount of work, it just kind of shifted it to the remaining people.
I also couldn’t help noticing that people were working longer hours, were more frustrated and felt more incompetent because so much of their time was spent struggling with the computer rather than actually doing productive work. It was also the same time that I started noticing that I was typically working 52 hour work weeks, getting paid for 40 and working at least one weekend a month. Just to feed the beast of technology that must constantly be upgraded.
When your dream becomes a Nightmare
My career in Information Technology has now spanned 31 years. During that time I have seen computer technology go from something that cost over 12 million Dollars, would fill four average houses and employ 15 people to keep running; to something that cost less than $600.00 fits in your pocket and is at least two orders of magnitude more powerful. Also un-repairable, disposable and obsolete six months after it is purchased.
I have seen the next greatest thing become Who? So many times I have long since lost count. I have spent months digesting three inch thick books on the latest technology trend only to have it replaced with something else six months later, that I am now in the position where I have forgotten more things than I currently know. What is left in my head amounts to half-remembered trivia and skills that are about as in demand as horseshoeing.
Things now move so fast, there is no point in even buying the manual anymore. It is obsolete before it is printed. These days my only qualification for doing my job is that I am capable of “Googleing” the answer and following the instructions. There are no skills anymore; you never have time to develop them before they are rendered useless. Do you think this makes people feel better about themselves?
During my career I have seen the world become a dark and nasty place. Now everyone works long hours and is not paid for it. Now thanks to technology you are never away from the office. God help you if you don’t check your company email every 10 minutes, even on a Sunday.
Now thanks to technology your job can be done 5000 miles away for 1/6 the cost. Now thanks to technology nothing you do or say is private. Now thanks to technology no one is safe and no one is indispensable. Not even me or techies like me as it turns out. At current estimates I am making about 40% less now than I was making in 2000 for a job that is twice as hard. Unfortunately most people no matter what career you are in, seem to be in the same position.
In this world, what has value when everything is obsolete in six months or less? Technology didn’t elevate us to higher levels, it became our master and turned us into “Meat-Puppets”. I guarantee you that all too soon technology will make that obsolete as well. It’s not that far in the future that McDonalds will be almost completely automated. Then what will you do for a living? Even better, who will buy the products when you can’t gain employment anymore?
When I was young I was taught that technology was built to serve human needs. I don’t see how that is true today, if it ever was true. We serve it, or the people behind it. Technology allows a smaller number of elites to manage / control a larger group more efficiently. It is only a matter of time before that means of control either becomes ineffective or the objects of the control become unnecessary. Neither outcome paints a pretty picture.
May whatever Gods you believe in protect you from the day that Google finally turns evil. Hitler, Stalin and Mao could not dream in their wildest imaginings the power that one company is about to have over the population of the globe. If knowledge is power and Google is the gatekeeper of all knowledge and tracker of all who access it, then the potential for abuse is unprecedented.
I have been so stupid. I have fed the machine that has helped us destroy the world. All the good I thought I was doing was made evil. All my wonderful dreams turned into nightmares. Technology as a tool for liberation has become yet another mechanism of control.
Einstein was credited as saying after the first Nuclear bomb test “If I had known what they were going to do this, I would have become a shoemaker” I now understand. I wonder how may other “techies” feel the same way.
What is all of that wonderful technology used for? Spam, Viruses, Useless Facebook and Twitter posts and lots LOTS of porn with a few LOL Cats videos thrown in. Tell me the human condition is improved by this. We have over-valued the technology and cheapened people.
There is always a way
I am an optimist at heart. I know this is a surprise to hear for most people that talk to me for a few minutes. I have been called the Anti-Tony-Robbins, the de-motivational speaker and I do not shrink from that title.
I like to explain to people that world that they live in, as I see it. I can understand that people would get depressed by this but my message and my belief has always been that humans always do the right thing in the end.
Yes the vision of the future turned from “Star Trek” to “Terminator” and Mad Max”. Yes our creation has turned against us. Yes our strengths have become weaknesses. Yes civilization will collapse. But….
In the final darkest hour
When the world does shrink and cower
Will come a glimmer from the west
What was our finest, what was our best?
And in that moment we will see, what we were once and might still be
With our last courage and our last might
Beat back the darkness and embrace the light.
If only …
Isn’t that what all the really good movies tell us? Then it’s over. You get up, dust off the popcorn crumbs and stumble down the stairs to glaring harsh light and a dull, mediocre life that would make Faust weep.
The world has become bent and mutilated. The technology that I spent a lifetime on helped make it happen. It made everything and everyone obsolete and neurotic. Then it turned on me and the people like me. What were lives, communities, societies are now like matches. Strike once and discard 5 seconds later. This was not the dream I was sold. I want my money back.
I spent the last two years reading, viewing, listening to everything I could get my hands on, looking for an answer. There has to be an answer right? That’s what 31 years of my career taught me right? It’s in one of these books, one of these diagrams. I just need to read it and understand it properly, then I can flip the right combination of switches, enter the right code and everything will be fine, right?
I learned about fractional reserve banking and fiat currency
I learned about Modern Money Theory from L. Randal Wray
I learned about Credit Default Swaps
I learned about Global Non Governmental Organizations
I learned about the Council on Foreign Relations and the Bilderberg Group
I learned about The Heritage Foundation and many others like them
I learned about 9/11 conspiracies, FEMA Camps and agenda 21
I learned about Capitalism from Thomas Friedman and Nial Ferguson
I learned about Socialism and Communism from Richard D. Wolff
I learned about Participatory Economics (Parecon) from Michael Albert
I learned about Anarchy from John Zerzan and Scott Nearing
I learned about libertarianism from Ludwig Von Mises
I learned about peak oil / collapse from Michael C. Rupert and Richard Heinberg
I learned about education from the RSA, Alfie Kohn and Bunker Roy
I learned about non-violence from Gene Sharp
I learned about economic hit-men from John Perkins
I learned about tecno-utopianism from Ray Kurzweil
I learned about our better nature from Steven Pinker
I learned about God from Christopher Hitchens
I learned about spirituality from Joseph Campbell
I learned about food Inc. from Robert Kenner
I learned about the esoteric agenda from Ben Stewart
I learned about sustainability from Matthew Stein and Nicole Foss
I learned about spaceship earth from Buckminster Fuller
I learned about the future by design from Jacque Fresco
I learned about Zeitgeist, RBE from Peter Joseph
I learned how to be a progressive from Gary Null
I learned about how to be a good human from Wavy Gravy
This list is less than 1/10th of all the things I read, listened to and watched. The more I was exposed to the more I understood. The more I understood the more confused I became. All these people / institutes / philosophies were very clever. Which ones were right? One? Some? None?? The more you know, the less you understand. “Through a scanner darkly”. It is unwise to dig too hard for the truth. Eventually you will discover that there is nothing that is absolutely true, leaving the tatters of your sanity lying at your feet.
Then I came across Guy McPherson and it finally started to make some sense for me. It was not the technology, philosophy or scientific method. It was not the economic theory, political viewpoint or religious upbringing. The problem is us. The problem has always been us. The great human flaw. If it is us that is the source of the problem is it the absence of us that is the final solution?
It is not the earth that is terminal it is us. Our technology and our environment has changed faster than we did. When we talk about terminating the current set of living arrangements what we really are talking about is terminating this particular human / social experiment in favor of ??? This is the fire in which we burn.
The future is certain
Like Guy McPherson I set off on a path of sustainability before I had all the facts. Where his research led him to an Agrarian Anarchist existence in a shared piece of land in the southwest my research led me to the sea.
I live in Los Angeles. The county has over 10 million people. It has a nuclear power plant on both the northern and southern boundaries. It is surrounded on three sides by desert or near desert and one side by ocean. There are roughly four major highways in and out of the metro area. Almost all food, water and electricity is trucked in from a substantial distance. There is less than a three day supply of food in the metro area. Without electricity there is almost no usable surface water to drink. In case of an emergency evacuation the only places that could manage a sizable influx of refugees would be San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Francisco which are several hours away and would likely suffer the same problems that Los Angeles would be having at the same time.
it made sense to me that if there was a problem everyone would hit the nearest road out of town causing a massive traffic jam and it would be impossible for me to escape. The escape destinations didn’t look so great either. Want to consider walking across 330 miles of the Mojave Desert with a backpack to get to Las Vegas that has no local food supply?
A sailboat made perfect sense. Doesn’t require fuel. Self contained, less than 40 miles from where I am located. In the opposite direction that everyone else would be traveling. Access to the entire world and completely mobile to avoid any emerging catastrophe.
Sounds smart right? A few problems. Cost, Ridiculous. Skill level, daunting. Not as self contained as you would think, completely at the mercy of local food / water supplies. Final problem; completely at the mercy of the most dangerous and unpredictable environment and weather system on this planet, at a time when the weather and environment goes into hyper-unpredictable mode.
I spent twelve months and $30,000.00 on my sailing-to-safety plan and I have nothing to show for it. Just slightly more expensive than the $2,500.00 I spent previously on survival gear before I realized that I can’t walk across 330 miles of desert with no water and a 65-pound backpack.
The real surprise for me was not nature or technical issues. The largest problem is people. This day and age I don’t believe you can get more than two people to commit to a course of action. Too many agendas. Too much misunderstanding. Too much ego to protect. With everyone trying to be right all the time and optimize their options you can pretty much forget mutual-benefit survival. We don’t play Win / Win anymore. The only game we know how to play is Zero Sum and the only option you have to exercise is to be winner or loser.
As I would later find out from Dr. McPherson. It didn’t matter if I was more successful or not. There is no place far enough I could sail to where I would be safe. I could buy maybe a little more time but more likely the storms would get me before I could find a safe harbor anyway.
I thought I was smart enough to escape my fate. I am afraid that my fate is larger than I am. There is nowhere for me to run and nowhere to hide from the future that I helped create. Every attempt at “Doomsday-Prepping” amounts to little more than a form of masturbation. I feel a bit foolish for being “caught in the act”, as it were.
What do you do in the meantime
So here is the problem from end to end. The world that I thought I knew never existed and has turned on us all.
Nothing I do will change my fate in the slightest yet as a living being I have a survival instinct that compels me to do something and not just wait for the inevitable.
The only reasonable thing to do is to try and enjoy what time I have left and that is the one thing I cannot do. How well do you suppose a death-row inmate sleeps the night before his execution? You and I are in the same situation, but we have years to go yet.
How do you come to terms with it all? How do you accept your fate and be happy?
When nothing really matters anymore how do you get up, go to work, raise your kids, pay your taxes?
When the world has gone insane, is trying to maintain some sense of sanity the right course of action?
What lies must you tell yourself in order to get up in the morning yet one more time?
That is the point isn’t it? We are a species unlike any other we know of. We exist only partially in the real world. Mostly we exist in our own heads. Not what is, but how we envision it to be. We live in a world of context, symbols, reinterpretation and will.
The world doesn’t run on oil, the world runs on myth, fairy tales, little white lies and not so little white lies. This is why we are in the situation we are in now. Our myths so far have brought us to the brink of extinction and if we take away the myth we will collapse all the same.
Even though I know that it is too late, I cannot escape the “hopium”. I am still desperately searching for the new myth that will make everything ok again. It happened once with the fall of Rome and the myth of Christianity which carried us through some very dark times.
Am I a fool because I cannot stop from hoping one last time? Honestly, aren’t you doing the same thing?
Doug Fasching is a 46-year-old computer systems integrator and networking specialist with over 30 years experience in the field. He is an entrepreneur with eight business startups under his belt (all failures due to his belief in honesty and fairness, which is not a realistic goal in a capitalist economy).
Doug has been enlisted in the U.S. Air Force working at NORAD, has been a defense contractor working at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Fallbrook Naval Weapons Station, Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station, General Dynamics Pomona, Scott Air Force Base IL, Clear Air Force Station AK, Thule Air Base Greenland and Fylingdales RAFB Whitby UK. In private industry he has worked at Scientific Atlanta / CISCO in Georgia.
Doug is an avid lifelong learner having attended six colleges over the last 27 years and is still about two years away from graduating despite having obtained about 212 unit credits with a “B” or better (thank you transfer credit restriction policies and changing majors). He also has several industry certifications including A+, CCNA and MCSE.
Privately Doug is an amateur sociologist, economist, environmentalist, futurist, survivalist and (bad) scientist. He is a dedicated believer in the writer Douglas Adams theory that the universe is just an elaborate cruel joke perpetrated by a malicious entity and that it will collapse if anyone chances to figure it out.
Doug is currently obsessed with attempting not to die prematurely due to catastrophic stupidity (either his own, or everyone else’s). His life’s motto is “Don’t Die Stupid!” (Yes, it has a double meaning). He currently resides in Los Angeles, which he lovingly refers to as “Ground Zero.” His parents live in Tucson, referred to as “Ground Negative One.”
I’ve on a few requests for your comments in this space: be kind, raise hell, and limit comments to one or two daily. Also please note that this is a secular zone. Let’s avoid the distraction of religion (cf. spirituality).
McPherson’s latest essay for the Good Men Project was posted today. It’s here.
Until recently, this site was being viewed about two thousand times daily. Two-thirds of the visits were unique (vs. repeat “customers”). Recently, however, site visits have soared, and now range from four thousand to six thousand daily visits.