On Being a Doomer

I admit I’m a doomer. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. To be a doomer is to recognize the tragedy of the human experience.

History provides some excellent company. Nietzsche and Schopenhauer are among my favorites. At the opposite end of the spectrum are those hopelessly optimistic writers and thinkers who don their rose-colored-glasses and conclude we can always find a way to advance civilization: Lester Brown, Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and many, many others in positions of power.

Of course, power doesn’t come to those who deal in reality (e.g., Nietzsche, Schopenhauer). Not only does no good deed go unpunished, but no bad act is unrewarded. Consider this anecdote from renowned ecologist and AAAS Fellow Charles Hall, a professor at the State University of New York:

Hall has worked on ecological issues his entire career, and has been rewarded in the usual sense. He has received grant funds totaling millions of dollars and has published hundreds of papers. At the same time, he has spent his spare time working on energy issues, and has published more than 200 papers in this arena. But he has landed a total of $800 in grant funds to work on these issues, and he is perhaps the only person to be denied tenure from an Ivy-League university the very week one of his papers landed on the cover of Science (the paper was titled, Energy and the U.S. Economy: A Biophysical Perspective).

Obviously, Hall is not the only person who has been marginalized for his work on important issues. But his is a telling contemporary example of the type of infamy M. King Hubbert earned in his day, and a reminder how Cassandras (i.e., realists) are treated in any empire (at least as far back as Socrates).

Optimists, however foolish, earn external rewards. Realists are not so fortunate. On the other hand, realists get to deal in reality, and therefore face with honor the toughest judge: the mirror.

Yes, I’m a doomer. And damned proud of the company I keep, too.

Comments 23

  • Dear Guy —
    I cannot help but notice that you removed my comments in this section under the subtitle “Doom Versus Gloom”.
    This is not the first time you have chosen to remove comments by me, but it will be the last.
    Good luck in the coming doom!
    Stan Moore

  • Stan — I did not remove a comment in this section or, to my knowledge, ever. Just to make sure, I just checked all the comments ever posted on my blog, and I see none posted by you that I’ve ever removed. Please re-post your comment. Thanks … and sorry for the techno-glitch. –Guy

  • Our economic and social systems depend crucially on shared illusion for their continuance.
    Reality has little in common with the shared illusion. A reality-based candidate for president would stand at the podium and say “FOlks, America is not the richest country in the world. In fact, we are the most indebted country in the world, and we are technically insolvent.”
    With individual debt, this might be a call to action. But nationally, it offends the long-standing notion that the wealth of America is a gift from God. It may have been, but that gift has been squandered in the Wall Street Casino.
    Here’s to John McCain! The nation’s demise is about to happen on a Republican watch! Couldn’t happen to a nicer old geezer.

  • regarding my earlier posting today and Guy’s response, how can I do anything other than accept his explanation and move forward? I did think my posting this morning was registered into the blog, but “techno-glitches” have a way of making fools out of people like me.
    With that said, I cannot reconstruct this morning’s observations, which I thought at the time were meaningful. I have a couple of other brief thoughts to share:
    1) I think James Howard Kunstler has gotten a little too full of himself. He seems to be moving his own role in the world from being an analyst to being a prophet, but the problem is that he keeps getting his timing wrong. I think maybe he should become a writer for The Watchtower, the prophetic organ of my old religious gang.
    2) On the other hand, J. M. Greer, the Druid futurist whose writings have appeared on http://www.energybulletin.net appears to be somewhat underalarmed (is there such a word) about the pace of the pending collapse. Greer is now saying that he believes the collapse of our civilization will take generations.
    To me, Peak Oil, the Olduvai Cliff of electrical grid outages worldwide, the massive arming of the nations with nuclear and other sophisticated weapons, the urbanization of masses of humanity dependent on oil and fading instrastructure, the emerging rivalries for decreasing but critically important resources, provide a formula for catastrophic collapse within the generation of people born in this millenium. In fact, I believe that probably no one born in the new millenium will even reach full adulthood in the system we live in today.
    And despite all that, I am not gloomy over the pending doom. The prospect of an earth brought into balance with mankind at a sustainable carrying capacity with a new (but old) human mindset akin to that of those Daniel Quinn called “leavers” as opposed to “takers” is motivating me to hang on to see how all this plays out.
    In short, I can easily see a silver lining in the cloudy doom.
    Stan Moore
    Petaluma, Ca

  • Stan:
    Thanks for your cogent observations, and for your persistence in overcoming technology. And sorry, again, for the technological difficulty. I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to see the comments previously removed by the ghost in the machine. Good news: When technology fails, we won’t have to apologize for technology.
    With respect to your observations, I agree about Kunstler. His writing is outstanding, and I’ve borrowed many of his lines unrepentantly. But beginning with the Y2K bullshit, which he not only swallowed but promoted, he’s become the story he used to be reporting. He’s transformed himself from journalist to full-fledged Apocalytarian.
    And I agree about John Michael Greer, who used to post such thoughtful essays. I believe you’re referring to this week’s post, which is ridiculously optimistic. Perhaps Greer has come under the influence of Bill McKibben, the ultimate salesman for rose colored glasses.
    Finally, like you, I recognize the blight we’ve become. I long for the day when nature, as epitomized in non-human species, stands a fighting chance against our relentless assault. Is there world enough, and time, for even half these species to get through the bottleneck we’ve imposed?
    All the best,

  • I’m given to hyperbole and rashness(euphimisms for making a damn fool out of myself).And my brain is too tired to think this out fully,but offhand it seems like everything that is important to me is worst than ever.A beautiful field of flowers,grass,trees,insects,animals,birds…in short that which is good in life,is now destroyed to put up an ugly,ticky tacky house, housing ugly,ticky tacky people.
    But it’s not their fault,the Capitalistic system must corrupt,co-opt,or destroy all decent, civilized institutions to promote the life’s blood of Capitalism–vanity and greed.To this end Capitalism needed to make a barbaric social class called the Yuppie Scum that is deeducated and desensistized to everything of value.This vile,disgusting social class must be made to believe that their own selfish vanity and greed is all that matters.The operation of the Yuppie Scum is superbly described in Ortega’s “Revolt of The Masses”,which I harken back to and recommend again.
    Maybe I’m mean, but I relish the opportunity to witness the destruction of an entire social class–The Yuppie Scum.

  • Dear Professor Guy:
    I’m reminded of your term “Sloburbs”.There of course is where The Yuppie Scum resides.

  • Dear Professor Guy:
    I’m reminded of your term “Sloburbs”.There of course is where The Yuppie Scum resides.

  • Please forgive my double posting above.Can’t blame it on a techo-glitch,just my impatience.When the server did not post in in the usual time frame I thought I forgot to hit”post”.One of my kindly drop buddies tells me I don’t have Alzheimer’s just Half-zheimer’s.

  • while awaiting our fate…
    I see no point in sitting on my hands while awaiting the eventual collapse of our civilization, and today a pretty interesting prospect came up.
    I took note of a recent paper in the Journal of Wildlife Management by Dr. Tom Cade of the Peregrine Fund in which he pointed out that spent hunting ammunition is a major source of sickness and death of Caliornia Condors in Arizona, and by inference, in California. Hunter-shot game with lead in their bodies gets ingested by condors, eagles and other scavengers and is inhibiting the population expansion and recovery from endangerment of these majestic birds. And while he did not mention it, this is costing the taxpayer a lot of money to keep the condors alive and constantly monitored. The solution is pretty simple and readily available — transitioning to non-toxic ammunition.
    I had an idea that I have started to try to implement and see if it does any good. I contacted the McCain/Palin campaign through their website, plus Palin through the Alaska Governor’s office website and suggested that Mrs. Palin do public service announcements to publicize the issue to fellow hunters and to gain some non-controversial political capital among environmentalits. I’d love to see Sarah Palin with a box of hunter ammo of the non-toxic variety and a scenic landscape showing California Condors flying over the Grand Canyon and telling hunters and the public of a win-win solution for hunters and for the environment.
    Wouldn’t it be interesting if the Republicans took action on this issue and drew competition from the Democrats in the form of one-upmanship to enact this solution! I would love to see the major political parties competing to reverse environmental damage for a change.
    In other words, there are good things to consider and act on while preparing for the inevitable.
    Stan Moore
    Petaluma, CA

  • Charley Maxwell,Wall Street’s long time favorite oil guru is interviewed in the latest Barron’s.I recommend this article to all of you.The title is “What $300-a-Barrel Oil Will Mean for You”. Good reading.His comments on Dr. M King Hubbert and Hubbert’s Peak is especially interesting.

  • Speaking of doom, I’ve always found this amusing:
    The only way I can see the Imminent Peak Oil hypothesis to be false is if the oil producing countries and companies were all colluding to suppress knowledge of LOTS more oil underground than what they have reported (there are some in the blogosphere who say exactly that). In other words, a big conspiracy theory. Not that I have a problem with that – some of my best friends are conspiracy theories – but I find this one to be fairly unlikely.
    So here’s the amusing part: usually the conspiracy theory IS the doom scenario (the UN will make us into slaves, the aliens will make us into food, etc.), but in this case you have a choice: doom OR conspiracy.
    Quite a dilemma for the rose-colored-glasses crowd.

  • An interesting dynamic to observe moving forward:
    It is amazing to see how the stock market continues to spike upwards periodically in spite of news that intrinsically is very bad, such as the Federal takeover of two two huge mortgage loan companies. This assumption of trillions of dollars of debt onto the taxpayer ought to be extremely frightening, in my view, but to investors it provides another glimpse of hope that reality can be precluded for another quarter or another dividend.
    What I think will be interesting to watch moving forward in the U.S. is the emerging chasm between consumer confidence and investor confidence. When the investors finally sense that the jig is up, I think the prospects for collapse of the financial system become almost tangible.
    Consumer confidence is already plummeting and it will be interesting to learn the lag time and dynamics between dramatic loss of consumer confidence, government chicanery, and dramatic loss of investor confidence.
    Stan Moore
    Petaluma, CA

  • Stan mentioned the Olduvai cliff above, which reminds me of a question I’ve been unable to answer: why does Duncan predict an electric grid collapse? I’ve read all of his writings that I can find, but it doesn’t seem clear to me why he sees a grid failure as the first obvious sign of the cliff. Why not, for example, gasoline shortages?

  • Joe —
    The Olduvai Cliff Theory is related to Peak Oil, but not driven excusively by Peak Oil. It is an empirical argument, based on per capita energy consumption of humanity and the computations predate the age of petroleum, going back to the advent of industrial civilization with the use of coal, then oil, then nuclear, etc.
    Below is a link to a website with Duncan’s theory explained and updated by Duncan himself with some interesting side discussion on how this relates to the immingration issue in the U.S. of Mexicans crossing the border as part of the Olduvai Cliff dynamic. Duncan is a close associate of Peak Oil authority Youngquist and has done quite a lot of deep research on the subject matter, and he explains why his theory focuses on the electrical grid rather then on petroleum itself. This is a deep discussion that recommends repeated readings to really understand what he is saying. I would recommend reading it once quickly to get the gyst of it, then after a little fermentation time, reread it slowly again and again later to allow the concepts opportunity to be digested.
    Here is Duncan himself explaining and updating his original theory:
    Stan Moore
    Petaluma, CA

  • Here is a link to an updated (2007) discussion by Duncan with the Mexican immigration issue explained:
    It is very informative to do Google searches of some of the reference sources and individuals, such as Hoyle, Deffeyes, Hubbert, etc and there is a huge volume of related information at the website http://www.dieoff.org which is the penultimate Peak Oil Cataclysm website.
    Stan Moore
    Petaluma, CA

  • Regarding Stan Mooore’s posting of 9/8/08 above on the stock market:The problem is that about 90% of the activity in the market is from people who are NOT investing their own money but the money of others.These include managers of mutual funds,hedge funds,pension,trust,foundation,endowment plans,ect.These people have nothing to lose but their bonuses which are based on relative performance to their peers and benchmarks such as the Standard and Poors 500 Index.It is a herd mentality,and they mostly follow the herd.The key is RELATIVE PERFORMANCE.If an institutional money manager loses 15% of a clients money,and the S&P 500 is down 20%,the manager can claim to be successful,because he beat the market,and the 15% loss is not his money.Crazy,but that’s the way it works.
    The vast majority of the daily trading actitity has nothing to do with investing, but with various internal game playing activities involving such things as derivatives,arbitrage,and program trading,in hopes of gaining a monetary advantage from the other players.This is not the preferred method of making money for the insiders,because it’s mainly a zero-sum game.They much prefer getting money from the public(suckers).It is interesting that Wall Street refers to dealings with the public as the Sell Side but with institutional money managers as the Buy Side.

  • Stan – thanks for the links. I’m not sure I’ve seen that 2007 update. I’ll try to get time to read it and see if it answers my questions.
    I recall recently reading that Duncan was wrong in placing the per-capita energy peak back in, uh, I think it was 1979 or something. The peak came considerably later, IIRC. Maybe this is still being disputed.
    Oh, and regarding the stock market, there’s also those rumors of the mythical Plunge Protection Team. It would explain why we haven’t seen a crash during any of the ripe moments over the last few years.

  • I’m sure that the powers that be are manipulating,pulling the strings,coercing,conspiring or whatever to effect the markets.There is too much strange,unexplainable action that cannot be interpreted any other way.

  • I’m rooting for the Large Hadron Collider. If it’s the end of the world one way or another, we might as well get it over with.

  • Sorry Roboto–they turned it on and nothing happened.
    I’m looking for the Apocalypse, which is the revelation of the ultimate devine intent coming at the end of the world.That would be neat.

  • Correction: In above posting that should read “divine” (intent).Gotta get spell-check.

  • I can’t go into full doom mode, it isn’t in my nature. No offense, though (trust me, I can understand the appeal–especially now).
    Still, as real as reality is, I believe much of our very “real” world to be illusory. We’re not as real, solid, and sensible as we’d like to think.
    With that in mind, I like to choose the path of cautious optimism. Mainly, out of a sense that life is–to a certain extent–what we make it. If we’re open to the possibility of both positive and negative occurences, I think we (humans in general) fair better.
    I guess what I’m saying is, my reality is a bit flexible. As you’ve said before, “planning for the worst and hoping for the best” seems to be a prudent path to take. I tend to think utopias and dystopias belong in the fiction section more than in history.
    As for reality, the reality is that I may very well not be breathing tomorrow or even in the next few minutes. The world is ending, an individual at a time, every moment of the day. We take waking up each morning as a given, we plan to eat dinner, pencil in appointments on the calendar–and all of it is ridiculously hopeful.
    Total control is an illusion and so is total chaos–the truth (for me) is somewhere in the middle.
    So, to make a short story long, that’s why I can’t be a doomer. Hope it made some sense. I haven’t had my coffee yet.