The Morality of Imperialism, Continued

My latest post stirred considerable interest, as indicated by my email in-box as well as several thoughtful comments online. Although I tried to be clear about my position, questions continue to flow in, suggesting my no-holds-barred approach lacked clarity. I’ll try again in this post, recognizing that my position is so nuanced it is likely to remain unclear, especially for readers seeking the black and white, line-in-the-sand approach to which we’ve become accustomed from media and politicians alike. In addition, my position is likely to offend every reader. Nothing new there, of course. But you’ve been warned, for a change.

I recall the period in my life during which I gave up the idea of an omniscient universal designer (i.e., god). The discomfort was palpable and foreign. After all, I was relinquishing the certainty of eternal life with a loving god for a brief life filled with existential angst in a horrible place (or so I was led to believe by religious leaders). But, for me, reason prevailed. Once I saw the universe through a certain lens, there was no going back. Furthermore, the absurdity of my former life was — and is — a constant source of personal amusement.

In many ways, it’s easier the second time around. I’ve given up on fantasy and committed myself to a life based on reason. But the pain is no less torturous and I feel even emptier this time around. There is simply no feeding the hollow spot in my gut and my psyche, as there was when I replaced my invisible, omnipotent friend in the sky with reason. Instead of abandoning the mirage of eternal life, I’m abandoning the mirage of globalization. Instead of giving up an ever-loving god, I’m giving up a comfortable life spent with my best friend. I’m taking yet another step in the path from make-believe to reality. And, as we all know, reality is a harsh, dispassionate mistress who doesn’t give a damn about the emptiness in my fragile little psyche. Fortunately, I still have the amusing memories of the absurdity of my former life, in which I believed I was saving the world by conducting and publishing mundane research and teaching irrelevant concepts to a largely disinterested audience.

I found the first step to be the most difficult. Simply recognizing the industrial economy as an omnicidal imperial beast forced me to cross a threshold most people find far too formidable to attempt. We’ve never been here as a species, much less as individuals. And every cultural message tells us we’re wrong, that the industrial age will last forever, that justice and goodness will prevail over every enemy (i.e., terrorist), that progress is a one-way street to industrial nirvana, that the harbinger of hope will keep the oil coming and the cars running and the planes flying so we can all soak up the sun on a sandy beach any time we need a break from our tumultuous lives in the cube farms of empire.

The angst really started when I crossed the Rubicon of Denial. Now I know what it means to have a non-negotiable way of life. It means we need to kill every non-industrial culture and every non-human species to keep the current game going. It means we need to live as a collective, the modern-day Borg, never questioning culture’s intent, or ours.

But there’s no going back. Once you recognize the industrial economy is omnicidal, once your recognize the United States as the most evil empire in the history of the world, once you recognize Barack Obama is merely one more imperial tool in the Goldman Sachs administration, there’s simply no closing your eyes to the culture of death. As Arundhati Roy writes in The God of Small Things, “The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There’s no innocence. Either way, you’re accountable.”

So, I’m accountable. I don’t want to bring torture and suffering to humans and other animals. I don’t want to destroy the living planet so a few humans can continue to live comfortably at the expense of every other culture and species on the planet. I don’t want to be responsible for extinguishing habitat for humans on Earth.

Do you?

After taking the first step — stepping away from industrial culture — the steps don’t get any easier. If the culture is killing us, other species, and future prospects of human life on Earth, do we have an obligation to terminate the industrial economy? If so, what does that mean? Do we risk imprisonment, torture, and early death to save the living planet for future generations of humans?

Parents obviously cannot risk imprisonment. Familial morality conflicts with planetary morality. But what if the living planet is your family? What if the longevity of your children depends completely on terminating the industrial economy? Both are undoubtedly certain: the living planet is your family, though you likely do not recognize it as such, and the longevity of your children depends upon terminating the industrial economy in the very near future.

How will your children remember you? As an incarcerated terrorist (aka freedom fighter)? As an indifferent imperialist, ready to sacrifice the living planet for your 401(k)? How will we face our children after we’ve destroyed all habitat for humans on this planet? Or, to take a very short step, how will we face our children after we’ve failed to defend the living planet?

We can extend the parental excuse to every human on the planet. We all have people we love, and who love us. There are few people who live like hermits, and I don’t think we can count on them to save us from the industrial economy.

Imagine the world without Patrick Henry and a few other freedom fighters ready to give up their lives in the name of a brighter future. Imagine if they’d have been pacifists, willing only to sign petitions and carry out boycotts. Give peace a chance? That’s exactly what the industrialists want from us: a passive populace, addicted to television and politics as usual, so they can fleece us while destroying the living planet on which we all depend. We’re Winnie the Pooh, in this old joke:

The Knight: How would you like to be my lackey?
Pooh: What’s a lackey?
The Knight: That’s someone who does what he’s told, without question, and for NO pay.
Pooh: What’s the catch?

Many people argue that the industrial age is coming to a close, so no further action is needed on our part. These people are seriously outnumbered by those who think the industrial age will never end. Both groups are imperial lackeys, unwilling to ensure a better future for humanity by taking courageous action.

Ultimately, all I’m asking is that you do something. Almost anything beyond the domimant paradigm will do.

For those who take comfort in cessation of the industrial age, recent events offer a mix of good news and bad news, along with a small dose of obvious irony. First,the good news. Our increasingly desperate Liar-in-Chief claims the country will be bankrupt unless we pass an utterly unconscionable medical-care bill (memo to Obama: we’re already bankrupt), China faces a full-scale collapse and, because we’re locked in economic Mutually Assured Destruction with China, the industrial age could end soon, and quickly. One of two scenarios seems likely at The Automatic Earth — deflationary depression or hyperinflation — and both lead to societal disaster. Moody’s warns of ‘social unrest’ as sovereign debt spirals, abject poverty seems overwhelmingly likely in the face of our unrepentant lack of self-reliance, claims for Emergency Unemployment Compensation surged to an all-time high even as state unemployment compensation funds are drying up, our financial system is a fragile disaster perched on the brink of catastrophic failure, the Wall Street Journal is questioning whether treasury bonds are safe (uh, no), massive bailouts of the last year delayed but did not solve any structural problems, ratcheting up the war in Afghanistan is producing the expected economic (and human) disaster, and the critical unraveling of American society is becoming evident even to those swimming in the Ocean of Denial.

The bad news is really, really bad: At the most important event in the history of humanity, Barack Obama took the political way out, claiming victory at Copenhagen even as the world recognized his horrific failure and almost certainly committing us to runaway climate change. His response reminds me of the John Ralston Saul quote with which I commenced one of my recent books: “Never has failure been so ardently defended as though it were success.”

The irony appeared in the form of dueling headlines on MSNBC late last week. One headline has the Feds accusing Intel of stifling competition via unfair practices. The other reveals a huge tax break for Citigroup. So Intel can’t play favorites, but the IRS can, even though the former costs us pennies (or, more likely, nothing) and the latter costs the taxpayers billions of dollars. And, in the really big news of the week, we found another planet to rape. So, when we’re done with this one, we’ll simply move on to the next one for our much-needed resources.

See what I mean about absurdity and amusement?


This post is permalinked at Island Breath.

Comments 37

  • ProfEmGuy:

    “my position is likely to offend every reader”.So how was I supposed to be offended?

    Puzzled Frank

  • When we refer to “the economy”, and I mean an economy in which some form of money is the medium of exchange, what do we actually mean? Most certainly, it is not the myth propagated by the Adam Smithers – that an economy is the mutually beneficial exchange of goods and services. Nor is it the exchange of labor for goods and services. These examples are but superficial aspects of an economy’s true purpose, and that is as a means to project power. Such power is necessarily concentrated in the hands of a few, an elite class, who further project economic power in order to acquire greater wealth through the continued exploitation of people and resources. Money is the expression of that power structure. Ones place in an economy is simply as a cog in the wheel of projected power. At the wheel’s hub is the concentration of wealth, and if one is not a part of that elite, then, as a cog, you are in the indentured service of that group. It matters not whether we speak of capitalism, communism, feudalism, or any other “ism”.

    As a cog, we are controlled first, and most importantly, by debt, and secondly, by the uncomfortable fact that our continued survival is dependent upon our participation in the economy. For most people, this involves some sort of employer/employee relationship. To not participate in the economy, or to minimally do so, is to be condemned to poverty, or worse.
    As long as one participates in an economy (particularly this one), they are a pawn in the projection of power by the elite, as expressed by the continued exploitation of people and resources. In other words, and to borrow from your post, we are all “lackeys”.

    I write this because I question the extent to which we can actually make a difference. “Do something…”you and Jensen write. I still wonder what that might that be. I find Jensen’s recommendations to be vague and ineffectual. We contend with a worldview that is global. Miguel Ruiz” refers to it as the “dream of the planet”. Any meaningful change would require that the world awakens from its dream (nightmare). Jensen writes that step 1 is to decolonize our hearts and minds. For many of us, that happened long ago, back in the sixties and seventies, but, as it happened, we realized that we needed to “make livings” in order to provide for ourselves and our families. We needed to participate in the economy, that wheel of destruction. There was no other choice. And for the future, what choices for meaningful change do we actually have open to us? As cogs, there are none of any consequence.

  • Yeah, I wasn’t offended either. I want my money back :)

    Enjoyed article but also found it overoptimistic.

  • Frank Mezek and tim neem, sorry to disappoint. I’ll try again in the near future.

    Mark, there is little reason for most Americans to further their participation in the industrial economy. In particular, middle-aged, middle-class Americans, including you and me, have no excuse to continue playing Russian roulette with the planet. A detailed explanation is provided here, but I’ll go straight to the punchline:

    Your continued immersion in the world of make believe depends to a great extent on how willing you are to live in that world, as opposed to the real world. I spent my life in the so-called ivory tower of academia, but I’ve developed new skills to mitigate for a totally new set of circumstances in the years ahead. If I can do this, I’m pretty sure most people can, too. I did not have sufficient money to simply opt out and go it alone: My wife and I were fortunate to have like-minded friends who generously offered their property as a starting point. My specific example notwithstanding, just about everybody, especially us middle-aged, middle-class baby boomers, can break the bonds of empire.

    The industrial economy is killing us, not — as you indicate — keeping us alive. We do not need the the current system to provide our water, food, proper body temperature, and human community. Meeting these challenges, as humans did for two million years before the age of industry, requires us to adopt the right frame of mind, a healthy dose of self-reliance, and the willingness to make a contribution to our human community. If you believe the industrial economy is keeping us alive, and will continue to do so indefinitely, you’re reading a set of tea leaves I don’t have at my disposal. Further, such a strong adherence to industrial culture leads inevitably to your own death, thus making the omnicide quite personal.

    We can continue to rationalize our continued immersion in the fantasy of the industrial age, or we can get out. I suspect most people would prefer to rationalize. After all, to modify Heinlein’s quote, humans are the most rational of animals: We can rationalize anything.

  • ProfEmGuy:

    There is something that only your good buddy Frank can tell you:

    Anyone(can’t be specific,because that’s prohibited)who doesn’t like
    Christmas carols is a dummy.

    Had to tell you that to allay fears that I’m your panegyrist.

    Merry Christmas,


  • My sincerist Christmas Wishes to all:

    BAH HUMBUG !!!

    Double D

  • “There are few people who live like hermits, and I don’t think we can count on them to save us from the industrial economy.”

    In fact, no one can save you, or me, from the industrial economy. The industrial economy is a symptom, not a cause. The “civilized” approach to treating a disease is, indeed, to address the symptom and ignore the cause. This will change nothing. It’s called “western medicine” and it only attempts to cure, not heal. Curing involves hiding causes and eradicating any evidence of causes. This only obscures the problem, while allowing “professionals” to feel powerful and “good” about themselves.

    Until we can diagnose outside of the paradigm, we will forever perpetuate the disease. The disease, in my opinion, is the unconscious shame harbored in the mass consciousness. Until more people individuate out of the mass and call out the shame, we will continue to be subjected to the manifestations of unconscious shame.

    You claim that: “Familial morality conflicts with planetary morality.” However, I believe that familial morality is exactly instep with planetary morality, differing little, if any, from each other. The unconscious shame perpetrated upon children is, in fact, the same unconscious shame perpetrated by civilization upon anything “un-civilized.” The recovery process from childhood trauma addresses the cause of unconscious shame, and until more people participate in that internal evolution, our external evolution will stagnate. It is the very denial of the trauma we, as a collective, have suffered in childhood that is mirrored in the denial that we as a collective manifest in our destruction of the ecosystems through our “civilization” attempts. Look no further than the “nuclear family” for the causes of destruction in our lives, in our world, and to the planet.

    Everyone carries childhood trauma. Therefore, we need everyone to face the truth of this fact. Yet, most everyone reading this will swiftly deny this truth, which mirrors, again, the denial and inertia we see in the mass consciousness. So we continue to re-arrange the deck chairs on our maiden voyage to oblivion.

    This is not meant to denigrate the importance of addressing the symptoms, in any way. I agree strongly with Derrick Jensen that something must be done NOW to stop the all-consuming civilization. The symptoms must be arrested; however, not at the expense of loosing sight of the cause. And, if the cause has yet to be identified, we risk repeating the unconscious blueprint of spreading the toxicity of shame.

    So, please, please, do not dismiss quickly and lightly with a flash of familial morality the possibility that perhaps the parenting you received was not good enough for you. If you cannot get there, you are contributing to the very shame that is “civilization.”

  • tribeseeker13, I quickly followed the line with which you take issue (“Familial morality conflicts with planetary morality”) with, “the living planet is your family.” A cursory glance through previous posts indicates my anathema for civilization, of which the industrial economy is merely a recent manifestation.

  • Another great post, Guy, and I am sure you’re aware that I, too, am not the least bit offended. Except, perhaps, as Mr. Neem pointed out, you’re still way too optimistic. :D

    Does the destruction of our destructive, imperialist machine “require” violence? No, not in the least. All that’s “required” is for enough people to become “aware” and just STOP BEING A COG! I know that’s easier said than done even for those so enlightened. The programming by the machine is too prevalent and very nearly absolute. To be more specific, all that is required is 1) quit your job, since your employer is not only destroying your childrens’ future, but yours as well (AND you’re an accomplice), and 2) quit paying your 18+% interest credit cards, for the banksters are stealing any and all reasonable interpretation of “freedom.” Of course, that’s not to say that violence will not ensue. At the very least, for the very timid, for once in your life try voting for someone who is NOT affiliated with the GOP or the DNC. I sincerely doubt that will make much difference but, if you’re too brainwashed to take the previously mentioned steps, perhaps electing “representatives” who are not wholly owned by the captains of industry and finance MAY make enough difference. (But don’t hold your breath.)

    Regardless, just to make things “interesting,” what WILL China do when the USA defaults on its debt? What WILL Pakistan and India do when the majority of their people are dying of thirst and starvation and trying to cross borders? (Not to mention those so very much nearer that situation in Bangladesh.) What will China do when the “accidental” nuke from either of the former countries detonates within its border? What will the USA do in response? Ah, I see, the anti-AGW crowd will be “proven” correct as global warming ends… for about a decade. Then, when the radioactive particulates settle back to terra-firma, exacerbating the already unacceptable level of soil and fresh water contamination, what we “know” now as global warming will be like a match compared to the Australian bush-fires of 2008-9. (Of course, given all current indications, their coming fire season may be much worse than last year.)

    Some of you may have noticed none of the above speaks to the potential Black Swans of massive methane release from the Arctic regions or the sudden collapse of the 3 largest and fastest glaciers of Greenland (comprising 10%+ of its ice) and a “sizable” portion the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, all of which are “grounded” below CURRENT sea level. (Do you know that water conducts heat about 25-times more effectively than air?) What happens, globally, when sea-level rises 5 feet or more in the span of a few days to a month or so? Do you think those masses can’t/won’t collapse so quickly? I’m sure that a week ago the people of the Philippines didn’t “think” the Mayon volcano would send them fleeing their homes “this soon.” I’m sure the victims and survivors of any earthquake didn’t “think” those temblors would happen, either. The “universe,” which INCLUDES little old planet Earth, is not only stranger than we DO imagine, it is stranger than we CAN imagine.

    As the “infamous” Mr. Garrison once said in a song, Merry Fuckin’ Christmas, to you.

  • Thank you for your response Guy. Yes, I do understand your follow-through with “the living planet is your family”. My contention is that if I relate to my “living planet” family in the same way that I have been unconsciously imprinted to relate by my immediate family (i.e. dysfunctionally and shame-based), and NOT risk betraying the family dynamic that I grew up in, then I am doomed to unconsciously re-create the dysfunction. As I see it, the destructive force within “civilization” is shame. A shame-based civilization is a destructive civilization. I can acknowledge that not all models or ideas of civilization have to be shame-based. Ours, however, is. Without addressing the shame in civilization, there can be no change in the paradigm.

    I know that our “civilization” cannot exist without the participation of individual human-doings. I also am aware that the only thing that changes shame is personal responsibility. So how can I sanely expect that the external manifestation of civilization could possibly undergo any real change without a substantial change in the individual. And, the only factor in the individual that requires change is that of carried shame from childhood. All shame originates in childhood. Do you understand where I’m coming from here? -(asked sincerely)- I’m trying to use my unique talents to “do something” and identify the huge “elephant in the room”-like-cause: SHAME. We can’t see it. We obviously can’t feel it. Yet it seems to manifest around us everywhere (if we knew to call it by it’s true name: SHAME).

    As a health-care practitioner, who is thinking and working outside of the prevailing paradigm, I understand the dire need for an accurate diagnosis before even considering a treatment of the cause. Diagnosis ALWAYS indicates a cause (unless it’s a western medical diagnosis; in which case it merely identifies a symptom, mistakes that for a cause and treats the symptom, leaving the patient to fend for them-self.) If we fail to identify the true cause, … well, …you know,… “doomed to fail”… “deck chairs”… same ol’ thing…
    Rick Oliver

  • I believe that there has to come a point in our internal exploration when we ask ourselves, “Where did all of this destruction come from?” If we conclude that it is inherent in mankind, then we have no room for change. I don’t believe that you think this way, because you speak of a need for change. Therefore, you believe that something CAN change. So, back to the question of the origination of the destruction.

    The only destructive force that I am aware of in the psyche is that of shame. We are not born with it, yet have the capacity to experience it and internalize it if exposed to it. Shame is the destroyer of “self”. So, imagine, if you will, a newly emerging “self”, at age 4-5, being exposed to shame but having the whole process take place unconsciously. Would that child grow up to know that they are carrying shame? No. Not possible. The idea must be introduced into the psyche i.e. made conscious.

    This is what I am (adamantly) suggesting. Feed-back greatly appreciated.

    Rick Oilver

  • Rick Oliver, I think I understand your point. And I agree that shame is horrible … shameful, even (sorry). I’m neither psychologist nor anthropologist, so bear with me as I try to sort this out.

    Shame is not restricted to civilized peoples, however. Native Americans used shame to the point of shunning, which often led to death. I suspect shame is inherent in humans, but civilization certainly is not. After all, humans developed and applied durable living arrangements throughout the world for about two million years before the catastrophe of civilization came into being. So, how does recognition of shame, and then the removal of shame, solve the problem of civilization?

    And, in a related question for all readers, how do we return to our pre-civilized selves? Have we lost the cognitive, psychological, emotional, or physical abilities to lead uncivilized lives?

  • I don’t believe the industrial economy is keeping us alive. Like you, I am fully aware that it is killing us. My questions are more directed toward the notion that we can somehow make a difference, or that we can “bring down the industrial economy”. Sure, as individuals we might be able to extract ourselves from the industrial economy in some measure, as you have done, and carry the satisfaction of that significant achievement. But in the larger scheme of things, what impact will it actually have in arresting global climate change or resource depletion? How will it impact the global economy? To what degree can we actually be independent? (This, I think, is one of the most important themes in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.) Some say that we don’t need to do anything – collapse is inevitable. That will likely be the case, but at what cost? The living planet?

    One thing, though…Colin C recommends not paying credit card debt. Now THAT, if enough people did it, might have a real impact. Throw all those student loans into the equation and we might actually have the beginnings of a revolution! Too bad I was trained (by my Depression-reared father) to never go into debt.

    Also, as I’m sure you understand, my inquires are in regard to my own struggles, both intellectual and otherwise.

  • My 92 year old grandfather says that all actions arise from the polar opposites of either love or fear.

    Economy and ecology are closely related in that both are concerned with oikos, the household.

    I will dare to say that shame is not only not restricted to civilized peoples, but part of the behavior of all social animals with a common ancestor. It is the strength the ‘tribe’ exerts to cause members to conform to (learn?) behavior that allows for survival of the most members.

    Equines exhibit a strong awareness of emotion and sensation.

    When we adhere to an ‘economy of nature’ we live within the constraints of our environment. The ‘green’ fad is a realization of shame, or fear.

    I love you.


    Memo to Frank:

    CHRISTmas is wrong when it is an observance of fear.

    Accordingly, in my store, all unattended children will receive an espresso and a puppy.

  • The problem with belief in a Deity is that it violates the Second Cammandment.

    Nowhere in the Ten Commandments is it required that one must acknowledge a Deity. The First Commandment forbids acknowledging other deities, but it does not ask that abyone should affirm belief in even one deity. The Second Commandment forbids the making of a “fesel” – an incomplete, i.e. an incomplete representation (of a Deity). It does not specify physical materials such as wood, stone or metal, nor does it limit this prohibition to such materials. A cognitive concept of a Deity is finite, and therefore necessarily incomplete.

    Thin is reflected in the lack of a proper noun to name the Deity in Judaism: the Deity is always referred to by common nouns and pronouns, lest a proper name become associated with a concept – necessarily incomplete, and therefore a “fesel”.

    Indeed, in the Sefer Yetzirah (Chapter I verse 7) the Deity is referred to as “The One without a second”; this implies the absence of both the believer and the Believed, since the believer would be a second – and there is no Believed without a believer. But an acknowledgement of this involves giving up the idea of a personal self; what is happening “out there” in the world is not really happening “out there” or “in here” or anywhere else, since there is no separation between self and other.

  • Sorry to burst your bubble, boy, but feelings have no opposites. The affect called fear, and the feeling of fear are opposite to nothing. That is the beauty of the feeling reality; it does not exist in the “bi-polar” world of intellectual opposites. Chinese medical theory explains as clearly as quantum mechanics that everything is relative.

    All authentic actions arise from a conscious awareness of feelings that leads to a conscious awareness of needs. The actions taken are based on these truths. Everything else is a reaction. Reactions happen unconsciously. When we are conscious of what we are actually afraid of, we will take actions based on that truth. When we are unconscious of what we are actually afraid of we will react to that unconscious material and project the unconscious material out into the world around us (hopefully in an attempt to become conscious of it). Unfortunately, unconscious projections are always going to be shame-based. Thus, we build a civilization that is a reaction to shame.

    And obviously shameful behavior does not allow for the most members to survive. If that were the case, we would not have our own survival issues to deal with and the above article would be pointless. All of the issues brought forth in the above article have a basis in shame. Nothing is “learned” in a shameful experience. Nothing can be learned in a shameful experience. Learning requires the presence of respect and, thus, the absence of shame. If there isn’t respect, it’s not called learning. It’s called training or entrainment. Nothing conscious happening there. Sadly, that’s what “public education” is.

    Now, concerning shame being a “part of the behavior of all social animals with a common ancestor,” I will again disagree. Shame, and shameful behavior tell someone that they are worth-less. No being is born into life as worth less than any other. Therefore, shame is NOT inherent in all social animals. It is introduced into the social structure.

    Furthermore, shame is INDEED restricted to only civilized people. That’s the hallmark OF what we call civilized. To assume that indigenous peoples are not, or were not civilized is, perhaps arrogant or just ignorant. Civilization does not require industry or agriculture to define it. The Aztec, Maya, and Native Americans were all civilized. And, as I understand it and as Guy has pointed out, they all participated in shameful behavior. Thus, they all contributed to the build-up of shame that the dominant culture of today manifests. There is no separating the mass unconscious.

    And as far as commandments go, the 5th commandment demands that children respect their parents (and that parents raise their children accordingly). How shameful can we get?! There’s your deity! When parents are not accountable for the impact their behavior has upon children, they commit spiritual abuse by usurping the position of being a power greater than self. Forcing children to respect the disrespectful, and distorting the very essence of what respect is, leads to, well, the destruction that we see around us. I fail to see how using patriarchal dogma is going to free us from the shame bind that patriarchy serves to perpetuate. Only a healthy, whole sense of self, free of shame, can create a world free of the shame that is so abundant today.

  • “To assume that indigenous peoples are not, or were not civilized is, perhaps arrogant or just ignorant.”

    We’re clearly operating from different definitions of civilization. I assume here, as I have throughout the history of this blog, that civilization arose about 10,000 years ago (as described in the biblical story of Genesis). Civilization requires storage of food, which leads to acquisition of power, hierarchy, and separation of duties. Hunter-gatherers, including most Native American cultures, were not civilized. A few societies were civilized, including Mayans and Aztecs. These civilizations collapsed on their own. Hunter-gatherer civilizations did not collapse, but were destroyed by civilized Europeans.

  • Guy, I agree with you completely that shame is shameful. You ask “how does recognition of shame, and then the removal of shame, solve the problem of civilization?” Think about this with me for a minute or two. The way I see it, every aspect of industrial civilization that I abhor has a basis in shame. That is to say, industrial civilization is a shameful expression created by humans in the last 5 thousand years. If this civilization is an expression of shame, can we have such a civilization without shame? I think not. No shame, no civilization (as we know it). As I’ve said before, shame is the destructive element, not civilization.

    You state, “I suspect shame is inherent in humans, but civilization certainly is not. After all, humans developed and applied durable living arrangements throughout the world for about two million years before the catastrophe of civilization came into being.” As I’ve stated before, shame cannot be inherent in humans; it can only be inherited. If it were inherent, we would be born feeling shame. However, we are not! An infant will ONLY feel shame if it is SHAMED! Sadly, we humans don’t know to recognize it before we project it as parents. Therefore it “looks” like its there from birth. But, a child that is never shamed will not know shame! The reason why it difficult to prove this is because it is so difficult to find a child that has not been raised with shame. This fact serves to strengthen my stance that we are all suffering under the weight of carried shame from childhood.

    Since we know that there have been durable ways of living prior to the advent of industrial civilization, we can then begin to wonder, what changed? From my perspective, we would be looking for the cause of shame. Since everything we humans create comes from our consciousness, we need look no further than the evolution of consciousness for our answers.

    Now, I’ve purposely opened the discussion for an exploration of the “birth of civilization” or what I would call the birth of shame. But, without a template to view conscious evolution from, we can only flounder around in such a discussion. Darwinism is an insufficient tool to use in such an exploration, as is creationism. We need a holistic tool that can account for changes in the mass consciousness. I’ll refer you to the works of Carl Calleman for that: The Mayan Calendar and the Transformation of Consciousness, and The Purposeful Universe.

  • “…storage of food, which leads to acquisition of power…” Whoops, you lost me there. How does the storage of food naturally lead to the acquisition of power? Isn’t the acquisition of power a shameful act? A self-empowered person can easily store food and not have any need to acquire external power. The acquisition of external power can only come from the unconscious internal powerlessness experienced in the presence of shame. It’s the projection mechanism that the psyche uses to know its self. IF there’s unconscious shame, it will be projected externally, simply because it is not made conscious.

    Also, I think the Maya would differ with you as to the “collapse” theory of their civilization.

  • I love reading your blog Guy because your words are always so passionate, simply logical. I agree that once you “see”, there is no going back. Sadly, most people are just too busy living their little culture of death lives to notice the broader implications of their behavior.

    I suppose that is their birth right, just as it is my/our birth right to speak out against it.

    I recently watched a video about honey bees dying around the world. Scientists have been unable to pinpoint the cause of this phenomenon; they can only speculate. As a solution, they seek to create a new genetically modified stronger, friendlier Africanized honey bee. Why is it that we humans seek to manipulate and control the gift of nature, rather than alter our own behavior that caused the problem to begin with?

    Just another symptom of the culture of death I guess.


  • To comment on the blog (rather than comment on the comments), I think that committing exclusively to the practice of reason misses the point of what it means to be human. We have a wide range of experience available, and the luminous, transcendant, and mystical experiences are as much a part of us as the logical, scientific, rational ones. It’s possible, I think, to enter into irrational experiences with some wisdom rather than simple abandon. I applaud letting go of certain cultural distortions, but certain other ways of being and knowing, while not strictly rational, are still worthwhile. Music is a good example.

  • “How does the storage of food naturally lead to the acquisition of power?”

    A brief perusal of the anthropological literature indicates that the ability to store food leads to the acquisition of power. Without the ability to store food, people have to work within a structure defined by egalitarianism and generalism. Food storage — as with Mayan corn, for example — leads to “free” time for those who control access to food and (some form of) slavery for everybody else.

    Shame existed in Native American tribes, living in Stone-Age, egalitarian, hunter-gatherer societies. It likely persisted for all two million years of the human experience. Then, a few millennia ago, along came civilization. The rest, as they say, is (sordid) history.

  • Again an evasion of shame. I asked how the storage of food leads to the acquisition of power. I KNOW how the two are linked, but I hoped for an explanation different than what I offered. You have basically told me that shame links the two but deny that shame is the link (i.e there is no slavery without shame). Sorry, can’t continue this thread.
    Best of luck,

  • I think recent evidence and thinking suggest the Amerinds much more sophisiticated than simple hunter-gatherers…wide-spread, intentional burning; landform manipulation; swidden agriculture; crop manipulation….and far greater in number than previously thought. Also more ancient in organization than previously thought. Still.

    Maybe the answer includes shaming the beast, now you mention it.

  • As an aside, when “Bangladesh” was “East Pakistan” around 1947 or so, about 25,000,000 (twenty five million) of my people did cross the border, migrating into India.

  • I don’t have time right now to read all the salient point of prior posts, unfortunately. I don’t think one can effectively separate the “industrial economy” from evolution and from the civilization. They are all part and parcel of a composite package of who we are and what we have become as a species, though not across the entire width and breadth of the species.

    The “indusrial economy” is part of a system of control, manipulation, and fodder that also includes the education system(s), the entertainment realm, the information realm, and they shape not only the activities of the masses, but the entire worldview. Thus, many young American men joined the Army after 9/11/2001 to fight “the terrorists” while their mothers went shopping for the very same reason. And the banks sold their derivatives and collected their TARP funds to rebuild the economy to put Main Street back to work so that the working poor could be forced to pay for private insurance in order to obtain expensive health care to again keep the economy humming. The media proclaimed the message that all of this is well and good and that global warming is now on the enemy list against which government action will be taken.

    And Guy McPherson and Naomi Klein and me and four or five million others see the sham, but the hundreds of millions buy the KoolAid and work towards their own doom.

    In other words, there are always going to be a minority of dissenters within any economy and within any civilization, and when you have a population of 300 Million or so, the disseneters can number in the low millions and still be politically insignificant.

    Obama is far more concerned with winning the hearts and minds of undecided Republicans or “swing voters” than he is concerned about the environmental movement.

    And David Brower is long dead and gone and no one spokesperson with the ears of many millions is affecting public policy. Derrick Jensen is warm and fuzzy and attracts a few, but he does not stimulate me enough to pay for one of his books, though I will peruse them at the book stores or public libraries.

    No, I am afraid that inertia is on the side of collapse and is irreversible. I wish otherwise and would put Guy in the US Senate or make him Secretary of the Interior in a heartbeat. But you cannot repair this civilization at this point. People are working feverishly against their own self-interest, and they are called Limbaugh “Ditto Heads” and they worship Limbaugh and Glenn Beck (not to be confused with Jeff Beck) and they number in the tens of millions, they vote, and they make demands of the politicians supporting them. They name names and count votes and mean business.

    This economy/civilization NEEDS to collapse for its own good. Then the open question is whether it would be rebuilt as is on its own ruins or whether reform would occur. I suspect that if we whittle down the numbers to a sustainable few on a smaller footprint, evolution would kick back in and the ultimate result would be a resumption of growth and desire for luxury and excess as soon as it could be arranged.

    Many young people would die from sensory deprivation without their internet and social networking sites, their picture phones and their file sharing ability, even as the planet healed around them.

    Stan Moore

  • Quickly —

    I wonder how much of this non-action is based on religious philosophy, including Obama. Are the Christians involved thinking of the Rapture and that their real place is in heaven and that God will take them as soon as he is ready, and thus the indefinite future of Planet Earth is not important to them? I am beginning to think so…

    Stan Moore

  • Stan Moore, both your posts (immediately above) are as on the mark as ever. Like you, I can only see momentum building toward sudden catastrophe on more than one “front.” Moreover, from my experiences and conversations over many years I am absolutely certain that those indoctrinated in any religious belief, to any degree, seem to be the most willful in perpetrating this mindless mad-dash toward a new dark age. Alas, they will almost certainly still be the predominant numbers of those who may survive and will just as certainly blame science and technology for the cataclysm. Imagine how our species MIGHT have progressed if the cults of Christ and Allah had not been “accepted” and the library at Alexandria had not only been preserved but the knowledge contained therein disseminated widely. Of course, it’s possible that the coming collapse would have happened a thousand years ago but, given any scenario, life today would have been much different… probably. Just so I am clear, science, technology and even “industrialism” are not “THE” problem but how they have been conducted and used.

  • Trying to compose a response to your “so nuanced” blog and its respondents, Guy, I find is rather like attempting to get my arms around the proverbial elephant and all the people surrounding it. I can’t resist attempting the stretch, even while cognizant of my limitations ☺
    Guy: With your “position… so nuanced it is likely to remain unclear, especially for readers seeking the black and white, line-in-the-sand approach to which we’ve become accustomed” and having “given up on fantasy and committed myself to a life based on reason. But the pain is no less torturous and I feel even emptier this time around…” you put me in mind of a sage who articulated a venerable set of tenets known as the “Four Noble Truths:
    1. The existence of Suffering: is real, unavoidable (“the starting point is taking a cold, hard look at our situation, honestly and dispassionately. It is essential to break our long-standing habit of avoidance and wishful thinking. Once we have overcome our resistance to facing the fact of suffering, we have the opportunity to examine its cause.” (quoting Judith Lief, editor of The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche)
    2. The Cause or origin of Suffering: “..fundamental ignorance and desire…subtle shifts of thought turning into fixations, then into emotions such as jealousy or hate, and finally into actions. “not seeing the truth of life (e.g. Impermanence) generates desire, anger, jealousy, grief, worry, despair:” “…it is our blind stumbling after happiness that has entrapped us in the first place…”
    3. Cessation of suffering: understanding the truth of life, “to catch these subtle shifts of thought before they escalate into harmful actions with their inevitable consequences”
    4. The Path: the Noble Eightfold Path, nourished by living mindfully

    Therefore, I deduce that you are entering into the realm of Enlightenment, further evidenced by your sense of humor and ability to take yourself and your/our collective predicament to heart in the same moment.

    Re : Guy: “terminating the industrial economy in the very near future.”
    “Meeting these challenges, as humans did for two million years before the age of industry, requires us to adopt the right frame of mind, a healthy dose of self-reliance, and the willingness to make a contribution to our human community.” “Civilization requires storage of food, which leads to acquisition of power, hierarchy, and separation of duties. Hunter-gatherers, including most Native American cultures, were not civilized.”
    and Mark: “I question the extent to which we can actually make a difference… I still wonder what that might that be. I find Jensen’s recommendations to be vague and ineffectual. We contend with a worldview that is global. Miguel Ruiz” refers to it as the “dream of the planet”. Any meaningful change would require that the world awakens from its dream (nightmare).” How not to be a cog?
    Rick: “The industrial economy is a symptom, not a cause. The “civilized” approach to treating a disease is, indeed, to address the symptom and ignore the cause.” (my query: Is shame possibly a symptom itself, rooted in the origin of suffering i.e. the belief structures and desire fixations that have been expressed as destructive actions?)
    Cindy: “Why is it that we humans seek to manipulate and control the gift of nature, rather than alter our own behavior that caused the problem to begin with?” (Again, NT#2—“fundamental ignorance and desire…etc)
    Colin: “All that’s “required” is for enough people to become “aware” and just STOP BEING A COG!” (Ah Ho!)
    Brutus: “certain other ways of being and knowing, while not strictly rational, are still worthwhile. Music is a good example.” (Right On! ☺ )

    I offer you two examples of agrarian cultures that demonstrate how human beings can live more symbiotically, with and of the environment, rather than just “in” or “on” it:
    1. The Hopi/Moqui people (an agrarian culture): “When Hopi elders say Patuwaqatsi, “water is life,” it is not a cliché, but a fact of life. “Water is not a commodity to be bought, sold or wasted … Water is sacred, especially in the Black Mesa region where water is key to our survival,” explains Leonard Selestewa, the president of Black Mesa Trust. Leonard and other Hopi leaders make these pronouncements as natural resource managers who know how to make the best of the meager moisture hidden in pockets within the stretch of the Painted Desert they call home. Increasingly, however, they repeat these ancient aphorisms cognizant that their land is now drier than it has been within the collective memory of their community.
    Climatologists and biologists who study tree rings agree with the Hopi elders. It appears that the canyon country of the Colorado Plateau is currently suffering from the most prolonged, severe drought in 1,400 years. Not only has rainfall been unusually spotty for five years, but winter snows have melted quickly, wildfires have ravaged upland watersheds, and most freshwater springs have all but dried up for good.
    The Hopi do not interpret these indicators of drought merely as physical changes in the landscape, but also as signs of an imbalance between humankind and the rest of the natural world. Even during the worst of other periods of limited rainfall, a trickle of water still dripped from Hopi springs. Today they ebb because of the pumping of the Navajo aquifer, the sole source of drinking water to the villages on the Hopi Reservation, and to many ranches on the Navajo reservation as well. It has also been drawn upon for the past 35 years by the Peabody Coal company, which has pulled as much as 1.3 billion gallons out of the ground annually to transport coal slurry 273 miles by pipeline to the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nevada. This process uses 4,400 acre-feet of water per day simply as a transport mechanism. In a bizarre cycle, the coal the water transports feeds the Mohave Station, built to generate the electricity needed to draw Colorado River water over the mountains to southern California. Now the station also powers the growing cities of California, Arizona, and Nevada.”

    2. Gaviotas, an apolitical, non-ideology, non-violent, intentional community:
    “Alan Weisman, author of Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World, stated in an NPR documentary that “Although ecologists originally questioned bringing a Central American species into Colombia’s Llanos, something amazing has happened. In the moist understory of the Gaviotas forest, dormant seeds of native trees probably not seen in Los Llanos for millennia are sprouting. Biologists have now counted at least 40 species, which are sheltered by Caribbean pines. Over the coming decades, Gaviotas will let these new native trees choke out the pines and return the Llanos to what many believe was their primeval state, an extension of the Amazon. Already, the population of deer and anteaters is growing.
    Elsewhere, they’re tearing down the rain forest, but I’ve come to a place where they’re actually putting it back, even as they create more livable space for people. I remember asking Paolo Lugari back in Bogota if Gaviotas is really Utopia.” Mr. Lugari replied, through a translator, “Not Utopia, but Topia. In Greek, the prefix “u” signifies ‘no”. Utopia literally means “no place”. It s just an idea; but Gaviotas is real. We’ve gone from fantasy to reality, from Utopia to Topia.”

    In all cases, even to anyone such as you Guy, who has “developed new skills to mitigate for a totally new set of circumstances in the years ahead,” and are farther along in the process of withdrawal from receiving your sustenance from or contributing to it,
    the encroach of “Empire,” with all of its fixations, is The Threat. As Stan sums it up, “I am afraid that inertia is on the side of collapse and is irreversible. I wish otherwise.” I wish otherwise, too, and consider that what we may ultimately have choice in is indicated by the Third and Fourth Noble Truths, i.e. to endeavor to understand the truth of life, “to catch (our own) subtle shifts of thought before they escalate into harmful actions with their inevitable consequences” and to live mindfully, with Awareness of how life works, in reality, within us and around us, cultivating our poise both inwardly and in our actions, come what may (the image of the Last Samurai, appreciating the cherry blossom with his last breath comes to mind).

  • So much for nuance; let me get back to the black and white of things. If I were president, I’d follow Clinton’s lead and put a big sign on my desk “It’s the Energy, Stupid”.

    Ten thousand years ago nothing happen in the mind of man except the formation of a new idea. Prior to that, man was not nobler or more humane. This is not about shame or greed or power or religion. This is about an ape with access to way too much energy. This is about scale.

    Take a big bunch of bananas and throw them into a group of otherwise peaceful chimps and they literally go ape shit. Give the human species almost free, unlimited fossil fuel energy, its the same thing.

    It’s funny to me that we look so hard for the interior rationales of our predicament when we understand peak oil to be in the driving seat of the coming collapse. Well, look no further than oil for the root cause of industrialism in the first place.

    The absolute worst thing that could possibly happen to this planet and to ourselves would be a technological energy breakthrough. We’re never going to have a global community of enlightened monks. Humanity is not going to change. The only thing that has a chance to change is the energy available to us. Preagricultural humans persisted for two million years prior to the development of agriculture, not because they were nicer than us, but because they were fundamentally constrained by limited energy resources.

    Sure, we’re flawed, but that’s not the problem. Always have been. Always will be.

  • “No One is Going to Save You Fools”

    This expose is worth taking a look at — the elite are highly motivated and organized to have their way, and in my opinion, the “moral minority” can only win moral victories.


  • It’s not energy that’s the problem – or the solution – it’s the demand for energy (by the people). The problem always comes back to the people.

  • People with energy is the problem. People without energy is the solution. That’s the promise of peak oil. That’s the good news, both for our own species and any other that make it through the bottleneck. Demand means nothing in the absence of supply. Demand is only a wish. Supply is a geophysical reality. Clinging to the idea that somehow people might change or getting bummed out at the idea that our species is flawed and incapable of change is an exercise in hubris. Both ideas are based on an internal focus, a preoccupation with the “moral” animal. Well, we are what we are and in the larger course of things the change that will be affecting our reality for the forseeable future will be external to us and beyond the ethical promise or shortcomings of our species.

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