Bottleneck ethics

by John Rember

Lately I’ve been reading Peter Singer, a bioethicist and philosopher who argues, along with a good many pet owners, that animals are sentient and therefore eligible for personhood. But once you accept animals as persons, Singer tests your commitment to the idea.

Singer says humans should become vegans, given that animals act like unhappy and terrified sentient beings as they’re being herded into slaughterhouses. It’s reasonable to assume that it causes more suffering for animal-persons to give their lives to become meat than it does for human-persons to quit eating meat.

In other essays, Singer looks at people who live a life of plenty in a world where other people starve. You might argue that animals aren’t people, but it’s more difficult to argue that people aren’t people. Singer suggests a moral failure occurs when forty dollars buys a bottle of wine instead of feeding three or four hungry Ugandan children for a month.

I’m not going to take on Peter Singer logically or morally. That’s Bambi versus Godzilla territory. But there is utility in asking if Peter Singer isn’t a symptom of fossil fuel. In blunt terms, decrying speciesism is possible on a full stomach. Get hungry, and animals start looking like — well, animals. Tasty animals.

I’ve just come back from a trip to the Boise Costco, and from the looks of the people in its aisles, it’s going to be a long time before hunger will trump ethics in Idaho. But there are famines occurring in other places in the world right now, and not from any failure of the free market. Some communities just can’t sustain a Costco.

Furthermore, population biologists looking at the imminent end of cheap oil and fertilizer forecast the famine deaths of six out of every seven humans by 2050.

The murder of six million European Jews has been the accepted benchmark for evil for the last sixty-five years, but these projected 21st century deaths will be a thousand times more evil. It’s a function of arithmetic.

Or so Peter Singer would argue, if I read him right. Those six billion are sentient beings, he would say, able to anticipate their deaths and suffer all the more as they starve.

As for guilt, he’s just trying to point out the consequences of people’s actions. In the end, it matters little whether you’re an SS colonel ordering Jews into a gas chamber or a wealthy American choosing to have three or five or nine children in a world already overgrazed by voracious consumers.

Peter Singer may be correct, but just as his arguments haven’t produced a world of sexually abstinent vegans, he won’t convince scientific-technological civilization that it needs to concern itself with sentience, personhood, and suffering.

So the slaughter of the weak by the strong will continue. Famine and disease and borders will be used as weapons of war. The lines we draw between ourselves and animals so we can eat them will be drawn between groups of humans.

It’s lucky for Peter Singer that he looks tough and stringy in his author’s photo, and that the look on his face suggests that he wouldn’t taste anything like chicken.

I’m old enough to have been taught to duck and cover. For most of my life I’ve believed that I would die in a nuclear war. I still think that I’ll die in a nuclear war, but I’m getting to the age now where nuclear war had better hurry itself up or I’m going to die of something else, and all that diving under school desks will go for naught.

If it goes for naught, my benign old third-grade teacher, Mrs. Mac, who let us find our seats in early morning homeroom dark and then switched on the classroom lights to simulate the flash of a hydrogen weapon, is going to look like a child abuser.

In Terry Gilliam’s totalitarian horror movie Brazil, a giant robot samurai appears between scenes of the movie. It’s huge, hollow, and unkillable. For all I know, Terry Gilliam put it there only because he likes robots, and samurais, and the fact that tricks of light and lenses can make cute little puppets into terrifying monsters on the screen.

But I came away from the movie convinced that the samurai was Gilliam’s attempt to portray the incarnation of the soullessness of scientific-technological civilization. Behind governments, corporations, militaries, and universities lies this empty thing with steely death at its core. The only problem: it appears to be sentient, and is thus eligible for personhood.

You can glimpse a perverse kind of sentience behind the BP oil spill, behind the meaningless lives spent in cubicles, behind the deadly tedium of faculty meetings, in the willingness of a whole country to send soldiers back to its wars for deployment after deployment, until they come home maimed and mad.

Toward the end of the movie, the hero destroys the giant robot samurai, but that turns out to be the last flickering fantasy in the hero’s mind as he is being tortured to death.

And yet scientific-technological civilization — up to now — appears to have proceeded according to the greatest good for the greatest number, and good in Peter Singer’s universe is defined as giving persons what they want. If we limit personhood to humans, our civilization has produced the greatest number of persons, and they’ve got the goods.

Other things I’m old enough to remember:

Bull Connor unleashing dogs on civil-rights protestors. Altamont. The Vietnam War. The assassinations. Nerve gas. Watergate. Whip Inflation Now. The Yom Kippur War. Iran-Contra. Anthrax bombs. The disconnected grin of President Alzheimer. The well-connected grin of President Narcissus. The painted-on grin of President Bozo, chain-sawing brush on his Texas ranch in the moonlight. 9/11. The first Gulf War. Afghanistan. The second Gulf War. Al-Qaeda as an unavoidable excrescence of technology.

What sort of civilization it is that can take these lickings and keep on ticking? When I read forecasts of imminent financial doom or oil depletion or climate feedback loops, I recognize that the economists and engineers and scientists who have written the forecasts know what they’re talking about. I can’t argue with their logic, just like I can’t argue with Peter Singer’s logic. Everything I know about the Second Law of Thermodynamics says that civilization is approaching heat death in a variety of arenas, literal and metaphorical.

But the giant robot samurai still moves along, crushing mountains under its feet, melting the planet down and rendering everything it touches into product. It consumes and it excretes and it grows, and in a weird empty way, thinks. Sometimes I think it is going to take a sharpened stake to its heart, except I’m past the idea that the thing has a heart. Maybe with a brain you don’t need a heart.

Lots of people think civilization will die when it hits the scarcities of petroleum, or coal, or potash. What will die is 19th century Western capitalism, which doesn’t mean that we won’t have 21th century Eastern capitalism and governments to go with it. I have noticed in the doomsday literature a striking emotional similarity between the sudden breakdown of industrial culture and Marx’s predicted end-of-capitalism/withering-away-of-the-state. We all know how post-socialist withering turned out: China.

The old Thomas Hobbes joke goes that it’s just the neighbors who are nasty, brutish, and short. But it might be time to dust off our copies of Leviathan, just to see how a brilliant mind conceived of social arrangements prior to industrial civilization. It turns out that Hobbes proposed — for those of us who remember the 20th century — a relatively benign totalitarianism. He didn’t think much of the human capacity for moral restraint, and he thought that in a situation of scarcity, an authoritarian state would be how you could keep neighbors from eating each other. He also proposed equality for all citizens of his state, and he defined citizens as those men who abided by the social contract.

Western liberal democracies adopted many of Hobbes’s ideas. What we call the rule of law stands in the place of the Hobbesian benevolent sovereign, but it’s just as absolute if you get in its way.

Peter Singer has made a career of showing how the rule of law is full of unintended negative consequences. Laws evolve to harm the people they’re supposed to protect. Rules and regulations can crush moral endeavor. A creeping criminalization can cause citizens to lose personhood. Soft totalitarianism is still totalitarianism, and it’s only soft until you cross it.

Singer says that if you really want to make things better, turn toward empathy, the reduction of suffering, individual moral choice, and asceticism. Avoid the free market, the commodification of the wild, consumption as a way of life, and destroying other peoples and ecologies in the name of spreading liberal democracy. All these add up to the state as the final authority on what and what isn’t a person. The consciousness and the conscience of the individual are less than zero in the equations of the state.

Still, I’m far less worried about the coercive power of Hobbes’s Leviathan than the coercive power of my neighbors. If they run out of food and their kids start dying of hunger, and all the horses and cows and deer and elk and ground squirrels have been eaten [we’re in the same climate zone as the Canadian Shield here in the mountains of Idaho], I would be more comfortable depending on the rule of law than on the empathy and asceticism of parents whose kids are starving.

Singer’s utilitarianism implies a vast effort to grow as many crops as possible to feed as many people as possible, portions to be determined by caloric need and total supply. Meat should not be eaten because, suffering aside, its production is an inefficient use of person food. The disadvantage of this scheme is that if a lack of petroleum means you only have one-seventh of the food you need, the same ethics dictate that everybody starves. Starvation eventually equals non-personhood.

A Hobbesian pre-social contract state-of-nature implies cannibalism, war, ethnic cleansing, child soldiers, warlords, raiding parties, slavery, genocide, severe unemployment, hyperinflation and the hoarding of food. Oh. Wait.

A book I really have dusted off lately is Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer. Hoffer was writing in the late forties and early fifties, when the Nazi takeover of Europe was fresh in the collective memory. Hoffer analyzes the psychology of mass movements, and is concerned particularly with the effects such movements have on the individual. If Peter Singer presupposes an ethical individual inside every human being, Hoffer presupposes a slave in the same position. I simplify, but Hoffer suggests that most people don’t really like shouldering the burden of a self and will give it up to any movement that offers them power, tribal identity, and the sense of belonging to something greater than they are.

That’s why when I think of scientific-technological civilization facing energy and resource scarcity, I also think of mass movements. We haven’t thus far seen the sweeping mass delusions that allow the SS to slaughter the SA, Fascists to administer castor oil, or Cultural Revolutions to destroy the Four Olds (the Five Olds if you include Old People). But a deliberately-created mass movement is a weapon in reserve that our civilization can use to strengthen itself and — not coincidentally — to redefine personhood.

When a nation declares itself a tribe, look out. For that matter, look out when two or more people declare themselves a tribe. Declare yourself a tribe of one, you’ll start getting paranoid and will have good reason to.

Hoffer notes that true believers will sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the tribal whole. They will endure misery in the present for a utopian eternity. And they will happily kill anyone who doesn’t agree with their vision of what constitutes a person or their country or their future.

A small, self-sufficient farmstead, one that’s insulated by distance and isn’t sitting on a cache of Krugerrands and a five-thousand-gallon tank of diesel and an elevator full of grain and an arsenal of weapons might not seem a threat to a mass movement. It might not seem important enough to scientific-technological civilization to bother with, if all it’s really trying to do is to get everybody dressed up in a spiffy uniform and hold a decent-sized parade.

But self-sufficiency is a form of heresy, because it’s a powerful object lesson that life doesn’t have to be the way civilization defines it. When you’re asking folks to make huge sacrifices for the tribe, anybody else’s independent free existence becomes a threat. Individual freedom strikes at the heart of any mass movement’s world-view and its promised cultural revolution. Individual thought becomes a sin — the individual itself becomes a sin — because it stands outside of the collective psychosis.

I don’t think the alien sentience of scientific-technological civilization is much threatened by individual consciousness. It’s just that it’s about to switch power sources from the fossil to the human. It doesn’t require nearly as much energy to get what it wants as we do, and all it has to do to proceed is to deny humans sentience and personhood. It started doing that in 1914, or 1890 if you want to throw Wounded Knee into the mix. It hasn’t let up much since. A joke from the 1990s: “Hutu, Tutsi, Goodbye.”

Humans, trying to name the unnameable, have come up with Heart of Darkness, The Wasteland, Orwell’s human face under a boot, giant robot samurais, Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, Terminator movies, and the Borg. But the symptoms of toxicity in the body politic are more eloquent expressions of how strange and death-dealing our civilization is: reality TV, know-nothing politics, AM talk radio, high-fructose corn syrup, plutonium, PCBs, a medical establishment that apparently exists to prolong demented suffering, corporations as persons, and, at least in this recreational part of Idaho, every other car on the highway a giant SUV driven by a vacant-eyed blonde.

By its fruits ye shall know it. What this civilization is effecting is the reduction of human beings to the same status as chickens in a factory farm. Personhood has been redefined upward, beyond the reach of humanity. The principle of the greatest number just couldn’t handle that many humans. It would be like granting sentience to bacteria.

Such robot thinking — if it is thinking — doesn’t argue well for independent human existence, or even for human consciousness in the face of suffering. It does argue for humans as members of mass movements, and for the end of unemployment.

No wonder conscious humans are thinking it’s the End.

If tenure still exists in twenty years, and it no doubt will in a world run on the principle of the greatest good for the greatest number of giant robot samurais, Peter Singer will be arguing for the humane treatment of humans, arguing against all evidence that they are sentient and completely aware of their suffering. Yes, they keep eating each other, he’ll say, but they can be trained to eat grass.


This essay is permalinked at Running ‘Cause I Can’t Fly.


John Rember is Writer-at-Large at the College of Idaho in Caldwell, Idaho, a position that endows him with lots of freedom but little money. His latest book, MFA in a Box: A Why to Write Book, is now available from Dream of Things Publishing. Ordering information and Rember’s weekly blog on writing are at

Comments 57

  • 1. All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

    2. The oldest ‘artistic’ images known to exist are of humans hunting animals and of fecund females, grown fecund as a consequence of eating animals.

    3. The Iceman of the Alps died around 5,000 years ago, following a skirmish with other well-armed hunter-gatherers.

    4. The starving children sitting in the streets [of Warsaw] no longer looked human and they took on ‘the appearance of monkeys’. They no longer begged for food, but just sat motioness awaiting death.

    5. Should I choose to view what mainstream television has to offer, I can watch humans chasing balls, toning their abs on exercise machines, or squandering the last of the cheap energy chsing one another around race tracks.

    6. The present dominant culture makes as much sense as melting clocks and elephants with giraffe legs.

  • Hoffer also said that true freedom can only exist in an autocracy (one dictator ),because in a democracy everyone acts like a dictator.

    Double D

  • “I’m not going to take on Peter Singer logically or morally. That’s Bambi versus Godzilla territory. But there is utility in asking if Peter Singer isn’t a symptom of fossil fuel. In blunt terms, decrying speciesism is possible on a full stomach. Get hungry, and animals start looking like — well, animals. Tasty animals.”

    BRAVO. :-).

  • Thanks for posting that Guy. Much to think about.

    Much has been written about sentience, or extended consciousness – what is it, where in the brain/body is it generated and how. Less written on what it is good for. Evolution selects for useful traits over time. This trait hasn’t had all that much time, but it or some other uniquely human trait has propelled (however temporarily) humans to occupy a good portion of the globe and a goodly number of available niches. Do we even know if sentience is what got us where we are. Maybe our ability with language is enough and sentience is not a necessary adjunct to the use of the rich language of humans.

    Blindsight, a book by Peter Watts explores such question (Watts makes this book available on the web through the creative commons at )
    In part he explores it by exploring what can go wrong when different parts of the brain are disabled. (don’t let the vampire turn you off if you start in on the book – he makes it work to examine our brain and sentience). One tentative theory he explores is that some humans may be evolving away from sentience. He proposes that a subgroup of humans who have so little empathy that they are really sociopaths, selects mostly among their own group for mates and thus intensifies their move from sentience, although they remain good at faking it. That group would be of course the wealth elite. Worth reading just for that, whether or not you think the theory has any merit. Best science fiction book I have ever read/

  • I saw the film Brazil a few years ago on US TV – fortunately not for the first time. The hero made his escape, triumphed over the robot as you say. And the broadcast cut to a commercial. And that was it. There was no last scene at the torture chamber, no final yank of the carpet that the viewer stands on. Just the magical happy ending.

    That pretty much sums up where America stands right now. Time to cut to a commercial and be done with this unpleasantness that seemed to threaten there for a moment.

    Thanks for the post.

  • Singer may have made a career out of showing “how the rule of law is full of unintended negative consequences” but his path of “empathy, reduction of suffering, individual moral choice, and asceticism” is no less problematic or innocent of unintended negative consequences.

    Also, I’d question the statement “Hoffer suggests most people don’t really like shouldering the burden of a self and will give it up to any movement.” I believe Hoffer’s original intent was “most [insecure] people.”

    Alas … we may be trained to eat grass, but with no biological means to digest it, starvation still rules.

  • the moral issues john rember brings up via peter singer are probably worthy of serious, lengthy discussion. we probably won’t do so, because of how spiritually ambiguous and possibly repulsive biology is, based upon interspecies and sometimes intraspecies predation, life which feeds off death, and killing. another reason not to is because we won’t like the logical moral conclusions reached, which i think would involve becoming a pacifist species that only engages in volutional killing in self defense, living in an ecologically harmonious manner, with way fewer people, and much less ease and convenience. it would mean giving up the considerable privilege/power of first-world humanity with all it’s addictive distractions. it would mean even much more than this.

    i’m currently reading daniel ellsburg’s memoir re. the publication of a top secret government report exposing to a great extent how deceitful u.s. foreign policy was with vietnam. ellsburg had been for years an insider, trusted aide to various upper-echelon officials in the u.s. defense and state departments, with access to extremely top secret, ‘sensitive’ information, the sort of stuff that’s kept secret because it’s exposure would bring extreme trouble to those in power, exposing their sociopathic and deceitful ways. ellsburg gained access to ‘the pentagon papers’ about the same time he was undergoing the radical spiritual change from being a pillar of power, a gifted true believer, to an utterly disillusioned revolutionary willing to go to jail in good conscience. it’s an interesting read, could have used more editing. anyway, this transformation had a particular moment that was absolutely critical. this involved attending a war resister’s conference, which hitherto had been anathema to his john wayne patriotism.

    one of the conference attendees was going to prison even before the conference would be over, for military draft refusal, for 3 years. in solidarity with their comrade/friend, the other attendees took to the streets the day of his internment, demonstrating for peace, handing out pamphlets to passers by.

    ellsburg participated almost against his will, saying that at first he felt utterly ridiculous. he was risking his privileged status within the halls of power. he wasn’t used to being on the side of the underdog, those who are chronically ridiculed and demeaned by the ‘establishment’ and their numerous rabid supporters. he wasn’t used to being a social pariah.

    then something curious happened: he felt lighthearted, liberated, afterwards. he has this to say about this transformation:

    “this simple vigil, my first public action, had freed me from a nearly universal fear whose inhibiting force, i think, is very widely under-estimated. i had become free of the fear of appearing absurd, looking foolish, for stepping out of line.” (‘stepping out of line’ is an american idiom or metaphor for doing something that’s either illegal or socially vilified and quite unusual.)

    for all our supposed freedom, i think this insight’s very true of americans in general. we’re conditioned to be quite discreet if we’re inclined to disagree with power/’authority’, for the penalties for doing so are often harsh, and the rewards almost nil.

    the same phenomenon, to a greater or lesser extent, probably holds true for just about everywhere in this sad sack of a world.

    to become a committed radical eco-whatever is about as close to spiritual divorce from established dogma as it gets. it’s about getting way, way, way out of line not just with ‘the establishment’, but with the way the vast majority think and live. it’s sure to create a lot of tension and potential problems. so psychologically, it’s a big step, maybe a big obstacle to overcome.

    p.s. ellsburg succeeded in getting major corporate media (apparently they had more freedom back then) to publish the pentagon papers. he was put on trial by the government for doing so, threatened with decades of imprisonment, but ultimately exonerated. their publication helped end the war. as an added bonus, it helped bring down the presidency of tricky dick nixon.

    sometimes the good guys win, but not nearly often enough.

  • kathy, maybe u should look up sentience in a dictionary. what do u mean by ‘extended consciousness? it’s awareness or consciousness, that’s all. how can u say only humans possess it, or that language can exist without it, or that evolution may be acting against it?

  • “Singer’s utilitarianism implies a vast effort to grow as many crops as possible to feed as many people as possible, portions to be determined by caloric need and total supply. Meat should not be eaten because,
    suffering aside, its production is an inefficient use of person food.”

    This is not deep enough thinking or analysis for the pickle we so-called “civilised” industrial humans find ourselves in. I’d suggest that reading ‘The Vegetarian Myth’ by Lierre Keith is a very good place to start. Follow that with ‘What We Leave Behind’ by Derrick Jensen and Arik McBay.

    Also the depth of analysis that implies individual self-sufficiency is the way to go, doesn’t face the social/ecological/biological reality that humans work best in functional community, a tribe, a village. I could be as self sufficient as I like if I’m a wealthy industrial human, as long as this this so-called ‘civilisation’ keeps ticking along, and I can buy my skills, buy my tools, buy my guns, buy my ammo, my help, etc. As soon as the manure really starts to hit the windfarm, this wealthy rugged individualistic bs will be shown up for the insanity it is.

    The biggest heresy to be spoken against the current “civilisation” is to say it needs to come down, we need to help pull it down, we need to go local, we need functional collective community, including defending our land-bases as if our lives depended on it, which they surely will. The responses I get from remnant indigenous people to that idea, is “what took you so long to work that out?”

  • I would like to thank Guy and the entire “doomosphere” for helping me make an incredible spiritual transformation, which I would like to briefly share with others who find themselves in a state of despair.

    In the Kabbalah they say there are four worlds which are progressively further from the divine, the lowest one being Assiah, the world of material things. The Hindus speak of “maya”, the illusory world of attachment, Buddhists say life is suffering, and medieval Christians considered our world a labyrinth of pain which must be passed through on the way to eternity.

    However, since the so-called Enlightenment it has been fashionable to believe that the material world is all there is, that everything else is mystical mumbo-jumbo without any rational basis. Now, this view is all well and good when the material world is evidently progressing, as it has for the past few centuries, thanks to the science and industry made possible by the Enlightenment world view. But now, as the contradictions and limitations of the materialist world view manifest themselves in the intractable problems that people here are all too familiar with, we are faced with an incredible spiritual crisis. If the scientists and the engineers can’t save the world, and in a suitably humanitarian fashion, surely we are doomed!

    But wait! By adopting a non-materialist world view we have a way out! Now collapse in this plane isn’t the end of the world, it’s just the end of this particular illusion. Viewed in this way, “doomerism” is really just a crisis of the post-Enlightenment materialist world view, which goes away when you abandon that outlook. Furthermore, this crisis is already correcting itself in the form of a demographic collapse of the cultures which subscribe to it. So in time that world view will pass into history along with its believers, and the world that follows will be what they would have called a “Dark Age”. But for those born after them, who are raised with a world view more appropriate to a post-progressive age, the world will once again be just a transitory material plane.

    So it’s really only a crisis for us, who live in this period of transition between ages, when the world as we knew it is disappearing forever. All I can say to you is, realize it was an illusion and try to let it go, and remember the words of Chinese sages: “this too, shall pass.”

  • Virgin Terry, I have read multiple books on sentience or extended consciousness by philosophers and neuroscientists, as well as the novelist I mentioned. None of them have quite the same take on what it means. (Ramachandran, Antonio Damasio, Dennet among others) Damasio, a neuroscientist, differentiates between being conscious (awake – not in a coma or asleep) and full extended consciousness (knowing you are awake and knowing you know you are awake, self, etc.) One can be awake but not fully “there” as in the late stages of senility. Studies have been done of self recognition and finding only a few species that recognize self in a mirror in which only a few pass but of course the validity of this test is debated –

    More controversial is Julian Jaynes bicameral mind theory which posits that until 3,000 years ago humans had a very different mode of thought than our present “Jaynes asserts that until roughly the times written about in Homer’s Iliad, humans did not generally have the self-awareness characteristic of consciousness as most people experience it today….
    The term was coined by psychologist Julian Jaynes, who presented the idea in his 1976 book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, wherein he made the case that a bicameral mentality, that is to say a mental state in which there are two distinct sections of consciousness, was the normal and ubiquitous state of the human mind as recently as 3000 years ago. He used governmental bicameralism to metaphorically describe such a state, in which the experiences and memories of the right hemisphere of the brain are transmitted to the left hemisphere via auditory hallucinations. This mental model was replaced by the conscious mode of thought, which Jaynes argues is grounded in the acquisition of metaphorical language. The idea that language is a necessary component of subjective consciousness and more abstract forms of thinking has been gaining acceptance in recent years, with proponents such as Daniel Dennett, William H. Calvin, Merlin Donald, John Limber, Howard Margolis, Peter Carruthers, and Jose Luis Bermudez.[1]”

    An interesting note, someone gave robotic dogs that were able to learn commands to elderly people to see if it would boost their well being. Most when queried believed their robotic dogs had feelings based on their ACTING as if they had feelings. If we had time to further improve on robots at what point would we say they had reached sentience, self awareness, consciousness, extended consciousness?

    We ourselves have a whole unconscious brain that operates in the dark, running systems and sometimes (or some propose all the time) making decisions for us. Some with great effort have learned to access some of that such as Buddhist monks who can control such things a body temperature which is not something most of us can do with our conscious mind.

    We not only feel pain, we know we feel pain (etc.). How can we know that even another human knows that they feel pain. If a robot reacted to touching a hot surface and then told you it hurt would you think it felt pain (rather than a program to remove its hand from hot surfaces) much less knew that it knew (perhaps that is a subroutine of the removing of the hand). Would the fact that the robot verbalized its pain prove it was conscious, and prove that it felt pain?

    I wasn’t stating anything other than some ideas others have proposed including a (possibly tongue in cheek) proposal by the novelist Peter Watts about the elite being sociopaths (sure seems that way) who are evolving away from being sentient and being more like organic robots who can fake sentience, fake empathy, fake being self aware. Not really having empathy would, you must admit make their behavior easier on their part and more understandable (if deplorable) to us.

    I find this stuff endlessly fascinating and sticking to one set in stone position would deprive me of much pleasure in life. All that pleasure costs me is the price of a few books. Just as an example, a person with Multiple Personality Disorder – who is there and conscious? Just the personality on top who is currently interacting. What happens to the other personalities. Are they really different selves? In fact Watts explores this question in the book I mentioned along with many other questions about the mind.

    Supposing we decide that domestic animals have rights like humans. We want to free them from slavery. So do we let them all free to be killed by wild predators (some like cats would be successful at going feral but many would be wiped out)? Do we move them to places where they can live out their lives but not breed? Do we do one mercy killing and get rid of all domestic animals? My goodness all that sounds like genocide.

    Meanwhile our chickens live the life of riley – plenty of room to free range (1 acre) a fence to keep out predators. One they can and sometimes do fly over but most choose to stay where the easy food is. Treatment for nasty bugs like leg mites. Most our hens live out their lives and die a natural death (mercy killing for those who hawks have slashed but not killed, those dying a slow death from internal parasites etc. When we have put off such mercy killing the roosters rape a hen over and over who cannot get away – not a pleasant sight). Death to the excess roosters – you might not like that but our hens are “grateful” as roosters indulge in frequent violent rape, especially young ones who haven’t earned a sub flock. We have had roosters even kill hens by tearing open their backs when they mount them.

    What I THINK about how my chickens think and feel has nothing to do with how I treat my animals. The neighborhood dogs, foxes, coyotes would wipe these out if we let them loose. We trade eggs and some meat and control of reproduction for protection, care and feeding. Our hens and roos can fly out anytime they want. By staying they accept the trade IMO

  • The strange story of Mike – 1945 Mike was a chicken who was intended to be dinner. The hatchet man wanted to preserve as much neck as possible because his mother-in-law loved chicken neck. But in so doing he preserved the base of the brain while removing the head. Mike fluttered around like any other headless chicken but THEN got up and walked around and preformed scratching and pecking behavior, futile behavior of course since he no longer had a beak or eyes to identify food. The next morning he was found on the roost with his “head” tucked under his wing. The owner decided he had such a strong will to live that he started feeding him with an eyedropper. Mike lasted for 1 1/2 years and (unkindly perhaps) made money for his owner by being exhibited at fairs.

    Mike seemed unaware he no longer had his head. Pictures and full story at

    Whew, what does this say about consciousness. Mike was apparently unconscious of the fact that he lacked eyes and a beak. One might ask if he was ever conscious of that? Perhaps all that seemingly purposeful behavior was totally operated by his brain stem and never reached any level of awareness?

    Of interest are several human symptoms, usually short lived, caused by brain damage. One is Anton’s syndrome where someone becomes blind, but doesn’t seem to know it. The make up elaborate excuses for running into things.
    Another is Cotard’s syndrome where some even assert they are dead Blindsight is when the eyes are fully functioning but the part of the brain processing conscious sight is damaged. They assert they can’t see but can nonetheless avoid objects. This is our unconscious sight, the quick one that makes you jump when you “see” a snake before you know you see it. Some stroke patients assert they can use the paralyzed limb but make up elaborate excuses as to why they won’t. One patient recorded by V. Ramachandran even was found multiple times on the floor of his hospital room, asserting he had been trying to throw out the dead leg someone had put in his bed.

    Other brain damage prevents people from recognizing significant people in their lives by sight even tho they say the person looks just like say their mother. The can recognize them on the phone however by sound.

    Clearly all these terms “conscious, aware, sentient etc.” cannot be clearly defined because this realm of how the brain works is in its infancy, and given collapse will stay in its infancy.

    To further muddy the waters some scientists are now saying that bacteria can work cooperatively, communicate, and even think

    Uhoh my immune system is guilty of murder.

  • Really terrific post, John Rember! I especially like how you weave together the various competing ideologies of Hobbes, Singer, and Hoffer. Throwing in Gilliam’s Brazil for illustration is a masterstroke. I would say using a pop culture reference adds both relevance and banality, but Gilliam is hardly pop culture even if the media in which he works is. Too bad so many of the comments are so self-absorbed they don’t really take up your many thought-provoking ideas.

  • Brutus: Thank you. I agree that things can get pretty self-absorbed in these discussions, but Guy McPherson has set a tone here that allows us to gain strength from each other, however obliquely–I’ve always wondered how Black Mountain College, with so few resources and such little time, produced so many brilliant innovations. Sometimes reading this discussion reminds me that they must have had these sorts of discussions at Black Mountain–that you can have communities that evolve toward consciousness–a kind of carnival of conversation that goes forward into the darkness long enough for there to be a dawn. Guy’s willingness to host our guest essays is a great act of generosity, given the quality of his readers and their willingness to talk back.

    Kathy: My theory is that when humans got down to a few thousand breeding pairs after Mt. Toba blew its top seventy thousand years ago, the humans who had survived were all psychopaths who had been confined in holes in the ground while gentler, smarter humans tried to figure out what to do with them. They climbed up through the ash and took over the empty world, claiming God gave it to them to do with as they wished. It’s their genes that got passed down to us.

    Ted Howard: I don’t think anyone who has marinated in western civilization has much chance of reaching the kind of tribal and communitarian culture you envision. The psychological distance is too great. The closest the western mind can come to community is a fierce independence combined with a willingness to help maintain the fierce independence of others when they get in trouble. My model for that comes from gill-netting in Alaska, when I saw people drop everything to rescue a boat that was in trouble. But often people died rather than called for help. A negative model comes from the material and physical problems Buddhist teachers have had when they took over Buddhist congregations in America–once again, the psychological distance was too great.

    Resa: You win. From now on I’ll make sure my comments are only about insecure human beings. And how about explaining the downside of asceticism?

  • John, re the Mt Toba bottleneck, I think you may have a highly explanatory theory there. I like it. Much to my surprise I didn’t know about the Mt Toba event. Thought I knew everything 🙂 Thanks for that tidbit of info.

  • First, here is an old song that perhaps someone named McPherson living at the end of an epoch might enjoy:

    I did not get a chance to read Guy’s posting yet, other than to scan it very superficially. I will say this about Peter Singer and the animal welfare crowd:

    My personal opinion that that animal welfare people are stunted in their ethics. Why focus primarily on the ethics of sentient creatures that have central nervous systems that we can identify with as similar to our own, including the experience of pain? I have read that in some indigenous cultures, the plowing of the earth to plant grains and other crops caused pain to the Earth Mother. Does grass feel some sort of pain when cut with a mower or the teeth of a grazing animal?

    I know of a local organic gardener who won high praise for his garden, and even was visited by the Prince of Wales during his visit to America, but his garden was watered by an impoundment on a creek in which endangered salmonids lived, causing harm to the endangered fauna.

    My point is that self-limitation of ethics tends to lead to skewed priorities. I have no problem eating animals eany more than I have eating vegetables. But I am also in favor of legislating ethical treatmetn of land, water, air, and living creatures, and not in self-serving boycotts that make a few people feel good while doing nothing real to solve the problems they profess to be concerned about.

    And if you hate the husbandry of chickens in wire cages in high densities, how do you feel about the practical imprisonment and torture of Palestinians in Gaza by the State of Israel, one of the great atrocities of recent history?

    Maybe more later. Hail Atlantis!

    Stan Moore

  • And a companion song by Donovan:

  • John Rember,

    Thanks for sending us this puzzle. It was interesting working out what you were saying, especially for someone whose capacities might well relegate him to the “food” isle in a future supermarket.

    This future you are projecting is truly dystopian. Stitching it together from the works of Singer, Hobbs, Hoffer, and Gilliam was much better than saying, “If you’re not a Brown Shirt, you’re toast!”

    I am unclear, however, about who (or what) exactly constitutes the overlords. In all of this you allude to the entity pulling the strings, i.e., redefining personhood, forming deliberate mass movements, creating the robot samurai, defining classes of people as subhuman food sources… In the old days it was the nobility, backed by the priest class and using the power of the military, that defined who was clean and who was untouchable, who was master and who was slave. In the present you point out (“Oh. Wait.”) that those hierarchies proceed apace without naming names (government, corporations—a different nobility and priest class). Is it just more of the same in the future with the overlords being selected from an elite sub-class? Or is it that you think scientific-technological civilization’s control will morph into a computer driven likeness of the movie The Matrix?

    In any case, the profound sense of doom you’ve generated makes Guy’s view of the collapse seem like a joyful romp in the park.

    Michael Irving

  • There is little (perhaps no) evidence to refute the concept that human bodies are temporary repositories for genes, and that genes which modify structures or behaviours in ways that preserve those genes and enhance their duplication, must, over a period of time, domiate the gene pools, and therefore be ‘succesful’.

    Ted is absolutely right in highlighting the tribal nature of humans; tribes were originally pools like genes, co-operating for the survival and perpuation of common genes. But at the same time there was fierce competition within the tribe to achive maximum reproductive success -tribal leaders having numerous wives being a fairly common occurence.

    Surely, the present ‘civilisation’ only exists because it has managed to hijack tribal behaviours (that were very biologically successful in the no-too-distant past) and use them to create power structures and social control systems which primarily benefit the genetic success of the tiny group at the top. Not many house of representatives progeny die in wars. When you have people in China obsessed with being part of the ‘Manchester United tribe’ you can see how easily manipulated into fake tribalism some humans are.

    It could easily be argued that exploitation of other humans (and of other life forms) is a successful biological strategy, certainly in the short term. After all, America initially became rich on the back of stolen land and slavery. The genes of the some of the immigrants did spectacularly well for several centuries.

    John commented: ‘I don’t think anyone who has marinated in western civilization has much chance of reaching the kind of tribal and communitarian culture you envision. The psychological distance is too great.’

    I must disagree. I was born in an industrial city in England (in its day the epitome of civilisation), but from a fairly young age I identified industrialism -coal, smoke, gas works, rubbish dumps- as the problem; that perception was very much reinforced by the environmental horror stories of the 1950s to 1980s …. smog, acid rain, DDT, oil tanker spills, chemical plant explosions etc. My genes ‘rebelled’. And surely many other people trapped in the system deep down yearn for something very different. But even that yearing is hijacked by the system and sold back in the form of packaged tours to ‘unspoilt’ places, or documentaries such as ‘Tribal Wives’, in which utterly screwed up Britons are given the opportuinity of discovering something that was lost around the time of the Norman conquest.

    I believe if we fail to return to a tribal culture at some stage in the future it will not because our genes have changed but because the present culture has rendered the entire planet uninhabitable.

    Attempts to separate humans from other ‘lower’ species have all come unstuck. ‘Man the toolmaker’: we now recognise that numerous species make abd use tools. ‘Man the communicator’: we now know that numerous species communicate extremely well. ‘Man who could plan for the future’: the chimp who collected stones to throw at visitors the following day demolished that one.

    Any difference between us and great apes is clearly simply a matter of size of brain (and a few other minor physiological differences that may have evolved during a semi-aquatic stage -I’m still quite taken with that possibility). How are we to judge whether the ‘Einsteins’ of the chimpnazee world are less self-aware that low intelligence humans?

    A fairly recent discovery (sorry I don’t have a link) was that not only do bands of chimpanzees hunt monkeys for proten, but that they defend their territories from incursion by other bands, and occasionally raid other chimp bands, using lethal force.

    It all sounds terribly brutal, but having reviewed a lot of material from the Second World War (in which atrocities were committed by both sides) I can see that brutallity lies within most of us.

    Much as I welcome radical change, I see the present system staggering on for quite a while. There are still tracts of jungkle/forest yet to be cut down and planted with monoculture crops suitable for feeding to animals in cages.

  • I don’t know, John. I may not be secure enough to take on another round of self-absorbed accusation. After all, anything I say is simply my observation and/or opinion, and we both know how well that works out.

    More seriously … I have no interest in winning. Surviving perhaps, but I fail to see the gain in victory. And being an active card-carrying member of the corporate-technological-scientific-agricultural industrialized robotic monster, I’m about as highly-ranked as pond scum on this blogsite. Okay, perhaps lower.

    My reference to “most [insecure] people” was a nod to Hoffer, who postulated that individuals with low self-esteem were more likely to be swept up by mass movements. Any mass movement. Fanatical or otherwise. My observations bear this out. The more secure the individual is in his or her psychological well-being, the less likely he or she is be swayed by mass delusion. That isn’t to say he or she won’t end up being blacklisted in a cleansing or trampled in a stampede.

    As for examples of the unintended negative consequences of asceticism:

    — Use of excessive praying, fasting, chanting, isolation, or sleep deprivation by cult leaders to control followers
    — Use of self-mutilation to repent sins, nourish a god, or produce visions, resulting in lifetime physical deformities or loss of life
    — Abstinence in Catholicism, and yet we have priests accused of child sex molestation

    Self sufficiency is an enormous amount of work and may not secure survival from the masses, but I have to admit it goes a long way toward creating psychological well-being. There’s simply stuff you don’t worry about.


    Your mention of roosters and hens mirrored my dilemma this evening when I came home to a 1,500-pound male bovine enamored with a 200-lb heifer calf. Yep, was working hard to squash the poor little thing. She’s traumatized, but I think she’ll survive.

    … and then there are those convinced we aren’t descended from animals …

  • Resa, you list various versions of asceticism that are found in religions. But the non-religious also find ways to do such similar things. I would guess that for most the point is proving how much more “holy” (pure for the non religious).
    Natural food people think they are better than those who eat commercial food
    Vegetarians think they are better than those who eat meat
    Vegans think they are better than vegetarians who eat cheese and eggs

    For a delightfully humorous take see this song by David Rovics – who travels in circles where he sees all this behavior – I’m a better anarchist than you.

    Sorry about your heifer. Real life in the barnyard.

    Meanwhile grain and bean growers are killing countless animals in the fields with their harvesting machines. Organic gardeners are hand squishing bugs and chopping worms in half with their shovels. Heck I often turn some dirt for my chickens so they can slurp down a worm like a fat piece of spaghetti.

    We are omnivores. My mixed meat and vegetable diet is not unlike that of bears that eat berries and salmon or chickens who besides grains and veggies will excitedly gulp down mice babies if they find them. One function of “morals” is perhaps another way to deny that we are animals and therefor mortal. We just can’t stand that mortality bit. It is the curse of our big brain that we know we are mortal, and it goes overtime working out ways to pretend we are not.

  • Kathy:

    Agreed. There are just as many self-denial practices among the non-religious sects with just as many unintended negative consequences.

    The heifer is standing this morning. Nothing broken. My guess is she’ll recover just fine. Animals seldom wallow in baggage. They move on.

  • By the way, diet and behaviour are absolutely independet: roman legionnaires never ate meat. :-).

  • The following is related obliquiely to the subject matter at hand. But it is absolutely the best, most astute, and clearly expressed critique of Obama that I have ever heard, along with equally powerful reasons for progressives to continue to oppose the Right Wing Agenda. I always liked and was amused by Professor Cornell West, but after hearing this interview this morning on the radio I fell in love with his deep intellect, clear communicating ability, his righteous indignation, and his gentle art of persuasion. This is an absolute must-listen for any person of conscience, and the remainder of the radio program is followed by an almost equally astute analysis of the current situation by Ralph Nader, The meat of the program starts around minute eight, and you can move the cursor with your mouse to skip the introductory stuff:

    Email this page Share:
    Letters to Washington, for October 28, 2010 – 10:00am

    Click to Play:

    Download this clip (mp3, 10.27 megabytes)
    Play this clip in your Computer’s media player

  • try this link to the Cornell West must-listen interview of about half an hour:

    (click appropriately as instructed):

  • Animals are recognized as sentient beings in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism: even plants are said to have a different kind of sentience, akin to the state of deep / dreamless sleep. Hence the resolve taught is Buddhism to forgo at the final moment one’s own absorbtion into – shall we say enlightenment – until the last blade of grass has also achieved the same state. Hence the vegetarian meals served under the auspices of Buddhist religious organizations, even though none of the participants might be vegetarians.

    Yet in all of these traditions humans are deemed the only species capable of attaining full awareness. (G_d is said to have incarnated as various animals, which on that account had full awareness from their origins). Humans are considered the lowest kind of being capable of this attainment, when including discarnate beings.

    The pramary purpose of priests is to perform prescribed rituals. Few animals have the necessary anatomic adaptaitons of humans needed to perform rituals that have evolved in the human milieu.

    The absence of discernible intent, even in the presence of acts of omission, are not subject to the same moral reproach as the intentional extermination of people.

    Natural selection and ethics are quite compatible. Suffering is an intrinsic feature of the world we inhabit; it is the Third Feature of Existence in Buddhism, “sabbe sankhara dukkha”: “all composite things are sources of suffering”.

    Training for war does not go for naught even if the skills thus acquired do not have to be applied in practice. As General Patton had said: “Those who sweat more in peace bleed less is war”.

    The greatest good for the greatest number applies to the clan/tribe, village/town, district/region, nation/state or even group of nations. When all of humanity is taken into consideration, the concept is watered down and otherwise distorted to maintain the status quo of a unidirectional transfer of value in goods and services.

    A socialist system cannot engineer an end to the state because the enforcement and protection of communal ownership has to be vested in a coercive institution that has abrogated (for itself, and only for itself) the moral principle of non-aggression, the non-initiation of the use of force.

    Freedomain Radio: The Sunset of the State

    Without a free market one again has to have an enforcer, a coercive institution that has abrogated for itself the non-aggression principle.

    Raising livestock on marginal land for food. dairy, hides and/or draft animals can supplement nutrition and provide useful material and animal power. This is preferable to leaving that land wild.

    The idea that “most people don’t really like shouldering the burden of a self’ stems from the lack of awareness. Most people cannot shake the perception of the existence of their individual selves. The realization that there the individual self is a delusion is the dawning of awareness. As the Second Feature of Existence in Buddhism asserts, “sabbe dhamma anatta”: “all entities are without an abstraction” – without a soul or individuality (they are conglomerations of their constituent features or parts).

    Sentience does not equate with empathy, ethics, morals or virtue. Sapience, on the other hand, has to incorporate these.

    It was Bodhidharma (the First Patriarch in the Zen tradition, a South Indian (“non-Aryan”) who, tradition has it, migrated to China at the age of 80 years) who told the Emperor of China “this too, shall pass”: he had been asked by the emperor for a teaching that would help towards equanimity in both times of happiness and sorrow.

    The higher level of consciousness is not an object of knowledge: it is objectless awareness, in which there is no distinction of knower, knowledge or known.

    For a non-religious discussion of consciousness:
    Thomas Campbell – The Monroe Institute Lecture

    With reference to “legionnaires never ate meat” it may also be noted that Adolf Hitler and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi were both vegetarians.

    Cornel West’s section starts at 07:28:

    Letters to Washington – October 28, 2010 at 10:00am

    Direct Download

    He is not an anarchist. The only logical outcome of the universal adoption of the principle of non-aggression (the non-intitation of force) is anarchy.

    FreedomainRadioVolume5 No.1773 The Idiocy of Politics

  • Stan,

    Cornell West is intelligent, articulate and very earnest. At his age he should know better. He has been fighting the good fight for probably 70+ years. He, like many other good people may be assuming that the opposition is made up of mostly other good people who have a different view but can be shown the correct way.
    I realize he has listed the crimes, but does not call them out as criminals. This country is overwhelmingly a criminal enterprise and has been at a minimum 30+ years since saint Ronny.
    I have a seemingly intelligent, honest friend (maybe not any longer) who thinks that RR had some good ideas! He had know ideas. When it was announced that Reagan had Alzheimer’s, my first reaction was, how can they know?
    Clearly that over my lifetime, and probably Cornell West’s lifetime we have made no progress, and have gone backward in practically every way you can think of.

    He talks about putting pressure on POTUS. What a joke. POTUS was shown who has the power and can bring pressure. Who thinks the party crashers were what they claim to be?

    We few good, intelligent people are nothing. Nothing. We can be totally ignored, and are not even worth the bother to swat down.

    I could go on, but to what end.

  • Robir Datta,

    Okay, I’ll bite.

    Where is it written that we have priests because priests have the hands required to perform the rituals developed by priests?

    Where is it written in Eastern philosophy that the entire earth, including even marginal lands, was placed here by god for humans to exploit? How would that be a good thing?

    Where is it written that the free market is not coercive or that it is in any way non-aggressive?

    Michael Irving

  • Liberals who have been lifelong activists have seen some progress on some levels, mostly in this country (oppression in other countries may well have risen as conditions improved of oppressed Americans). Their success may have as much to do with rising wealth in the last century due to the control and exploitation of fossil fuels. To see it going down the tubes is too painful for people who have made this their lives. However not accepting the condition we are in both in available energy and ecological damage, means that activists will largely become irrelevant. Those who can move to projects such a transition towns or lifestyles have the greatest hope of offering something useful to other humans in the coming years.

    At least that is my take on the matter. Amy Goodman on Democracy Now is worried about don’t ask don’t tell. Puts her in a strange bind as she is anti-war and any gay people currently in the military are likely to be involved in some way in perpetuating two wars. Meanwhile the planet is dying and the age of fossil fuels coming to an end. More and more of her shows seems trivial and pointless. I have yet to hear of Michael Parenti or Noam Chomsky speak of resource depletion. Environmentalists are still flying and driving to events that have no impact.

    IMO the way back will look quite a bit like the way forward only (perhaps quite thankfully) speeded up and there is nothing Cornell West or even POTUS can do about it. We may not know exactly how things will play out, but all the players are in place and I think there is little room for any of them to change the plot. I find it hard to even think anymore of a scenario in which the nukes aren’t all set off. I don’t even know whether to think that is good or bad. But we finally got some rain and my kale is looking luxurious. Little things

  • Oh, by the way, for any of you out there that are really interested in animal sentience, check out this PBS video about crows:

    After watching it I would defy any of you to question the self-awareness of crows and by extension many other animals. So if that’s the case, do crows go to heaven? What about dogs?

    Relax, I’m just goofing with you, but the video is amazing.

    Michael Irving

  • Kathy,

    I am now 67 and usually avoid any confrontational discussions, not because I am unsure of myself, but because of the futility of trying to convince anyone of anything. I have for decades simply voted with my feet, walked away from discussions, avoided ignorant toxic people, and only tried to improve the lives of myself, wife, and son.
    I try to live my life in a low impact way, and make no effort to stop anyone else from self destructing. Simply a waste of my time and effort.
    I agree with all of your points, and appreciate the personal struggle to evaluate them.
    Avoid the background chaos and keep your head down.


  • Michael, you might want to read about the Chinese room thought experiment
    If a robot is programmed to mimic every behavior of a human, acting like it is pain when certain stimuli are applied, replying in a reasonable manner to conversation etc. has it become self aware? How can we know? When my dog feverishly works to scratch off fleas and that behavior reminds me of how I feel when I have a flea bite, but how can I ever know for sure that that comes from aware feelings or just programs that produce behavior that is so similar to mine that I attribute aware feelings? When worm halves squirm like I would if you cut off my finger is it aware of being cut or just running a program for escape behavior.

    I can think and ponder all those things and guess but it doesn’t change how I act to my animals. I treat them well. For domestic chickens I would say that precious few live like ours, virtually free but protected. Fed well including greens I grow in the garden just for them. Meanwhile people who attribute far more to animals than I do, sometimes allow them to linger in pain rather than have the vet kill them quickly and painlessly because they attribute to them the desire to live as long as possible. Often in fact those who think Little Spot wants to live as long as possible cause more pain to Little Spot than I who think Little Spot has no thought about even tomorrow would.

  • There was an article either on the Energy Bulletin or the Oil Drum (or both) about the improved nutritional status from using marginal lands not suitable for agriculture to raise animals. Unable to find the reference.

    There are many other articles about raising animals on marginal lands. As a sample:

    Weed Control and Fire Hazard Reduction in Forest Ecosystems with Sheep Grazing

    Why eating greens won’t save the planet

    Let us see the nearest animal to humans – the chimpanzee – conduct high mass is any capacity, whether serving the wafer or reciting the liturgy – without assistive devices.

    If a market has to be controlled, there has to be a controlling agency – one that has abrogated for itself (and only for itself) the non-aggression principle, the nor-intiation of the use of force. If there is no threat of coercion by such a third party, the market cannot be controlled: such a market is a free market, and the only kind that can exist with the uriversal application of the non-aggression principle.

    With regard to crows going to heaven there is the story of an enlightened crow in the Vasistha’s Yoga, The crow was named Bushanda, and like all enlightened beings had the option to live in its embodied form to the dissolution of the universe. The story gets interesting because unlike most other enlightened ones it chose to exercise that option.

    And with regard to dogs going to heaven, there is the story of G_d incarnating as dog: it accompanied a person to heaven’s entrance, When the gatekeeper refused entry to the dog, the man also decided to forgo heaven, thus unwittingly passing the test that had been set up for him.

    And in Kabbalah, the story is told of the dogs in the Egyptian households that performed a mitzvah – a good deed – by not barking when the angel of death showed up to take the firstborns (at the time of the Exodus). On accont of that mitzvah, the canine species has been promised that every one of them will reincarnate in human form prior to the absorbtion of the universe back into its Source. And how about cats, one may ask. The answer is only those cats named Katz.

  • Guy. Write another Essay. PLEASE!!!

  • Why vegan?

    I can buy a lot of arguments about vegetarianism. I am vegetarian. But I lose it when someone insists that the arguments for vegetarianism naturally proceed all the way to veganism.

    We have goats, chickens, and bees. We don’t eat them. They lead full, happy lives. They provide us with a renewable source of protein and sweetening, and we provide them with food and shelter. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

    I’ve never met a vegan who lived on a sustainable working farm. They’re usually city people whose closest contact to food is the reductio ad absurdum argument that veganism is superior and more moral/ethical to vegetarianism. All the while, sucking down soy milk from beans grown in Iowa, shipped to New Jersey for processing, shipped to California for packaging, then shipped to the local grocer, while I drink “zero mile” goat milk, fed from our own pasture.

    It’s often overlooked that the pastoral life precedes agriculture. Humans did not go straight from hunter-gatherer to row crops. there were a couple thousand years of animal domestication and herding in-between! Even today, tribes like the Masi care for domestic animals for their renewable yield without killing and eating them.

    If humans regress to a pastoral life after petroleum, that would be okay with me.

  • It’s a pity you’re vegetarian, Mr Steinman: I have many excellent meat recipes. :-). Three generations ago, my ancesters ate as much meat as possible. Humans are omnivores: eating meat does not present any sustainability problem, except in case of abuses (of course, eating meat every day is not very intelligent, in terms of energy, land and water use).

    Rabbits will give you an excellent source of proteins and also a good amount of natural fertilizer, in additions to their skin. Pigs are extraordinary recycling machines. Old hens end up in a casserole, always. Of course, cows, goats, horses and sheep are more redituable in terms of energy if you keep them alive… but what would you do if your horse has an accident and breaks his leg? use it as fertilizer? Horse meat is tasty.

    Traditional european farmers were and will always be omnivores. If you do not commit abuses, it’s sustainable, I can guarantee.

  • i haven’t posted in a few days, in part because i felt a bit chastised by brutus’ post criticizing ‘self indulgence’, which i’m likely guilty of, writing that lacks clarity/coherence. like brutus, i was and am very appreciative of the fine intellectual quality/insightfulness/analysis of john rember’s guest post topic above, as i am generally with all the posts and contributors to this blog. lack of time and especially talent prevent more comprehensive and worthy replies on my part, but in that spirit, i just want to reassert positive respect for rember and all the other fine minds here. i’m sorry i can’t do more justice to u with my posts, and i certainly don’t wish to make crappy contributions which only serve to further alienate and depress some, when clearly alienation and depression are major themes/issues here.

    i’m not sure how relevant sentience is to the main theme of ‘holy shit! we’re living in an ignorant, delusional civilization about to self-immolate’ on NBL. at the very least, it’s an interesting intellectual exercise to debate, but like anything controversial, people can go overboard about it til it becomes a pointless distraction or irritant to some. it’s main relevance, imo, has to do with how we view other living beings or ‘things’, how much respect we’re inclined to accord them on the basis of their similarity to us. i argue that denying ‘lower’ animals sentience is a psychological ploy enabling/justifying exploitation, just as racism was a factor in enslaving persons of african descent years ago. i think sentience exists on a continuum at the very least, from the most humble of creatures up to us and other beings of supposed advanced intellect, and that it’s arbitrary at best, wrong at worst, to set a high bar of intelligence as a minimal requirement for it’s possession. as a matter of fact, i think a good argument can be made that humans possess TOO much sentience, too much knowledge/awareness of life’s harshness and absurdity, too much capacity to dwell on it’s negative aspects, at the expense of simply ‘living in the moment’. on that basis, perhaps lesser sentience is a blessing. i could go on in this vein, particularly attempting to refute some of kathy’s views on the matter, but i think that would better be addressed in private correspondence, if kathy’s amenable to the idea as well as guy in facilitating a connection by giving her my email address. at the very least, we can provide rare intellectual companionship to each other (speaking to all contributors now) in the face of absurdity and despair, lessening the sense of isolation/alienation from the culture at large, but we probably should guard against too much ‘self indulgence’ in this blog. that’s why i think it’s a good idea in some cases to be open to and seek out more personal, one to one connections where individuals can more freely ‘self-indulge’ without irritating too many others who lack interest.

    finally, at the risk of spewing more self indulgent crap, here’s an observation at least tangentially related to something john wrote re. all the crap on commercial tv nowadays, NASCAR, sports in general, escapist nonsense and all the like. a few years ago, facing desperate financial straits, i discontinued the extensive cable tv package i, like most americans, subscribed to, to save money. besides saving money, it no doubt improved my life, by filling the time previously wasted on tv with more worthwhile endeavors like reading and writing. well, now i’m feeling like an ass, because recently, having more money, i chose a satellite tv service to subscribe to. i guess i needed reminding that about 99% of the fare it offers is empty, time consuming crap, like junk food. i’m not totally opposed to tv like some, even a little escapist fare now and then may be good, but really, all that can be satisfied by having access to PBS and a few other local channels which don’t cost much if anything. i’m feeling like a fool who, as the saying goes, is soon parted from his money.

    speaking of money, now that i have a little to part with, i’d like to donate some to most worthy causes. however, this is a problem, considering that humanitarian aid that saves lives and prevents suffering in the short term will only ensure greater life lost and increased suffering in the long term, as collapse/die-off occur. therefore i wish to focus charity more on causes/organizations committed to alleviate this long term outlook by doing what can be done now to lower population/consumption. planned parenthood immediately comes to mind, but since i have this forum of fine minds and broad knowledge/perspectives to share with, i’m eliciting your advice, if any, re. other worthy organizations in this same vein. thanks for reading, and pardon the self indulgence, if u can.

  • At the risk of seeming self-absorbed I wanted to tack this on the end just because it seemed so interesting.

    It seems Monsanto is finally starting to get what it so richly deserves. However, perversely, this is not TEOTWAWKI because the farmers who opted to go along with Monsanto in using us all as lab rats for their big experiment are continuing to march to Monsanto’s tune (and DOW Chemical). Upon discovering that Roundup Ready just produced Roundup Resistant weeds farmers are choosing to spray more chemicals, and more toxic chemicals. So the world continues to spin on with more corporate poisons spewing on the ground, same as it ever was. We, the rats, continue in TWAWKI … sounds a lot like kaka doesn’t it?

    Michael Irving

  • Jan:

    You wrote: “We have goats, chickens, and bees. We don’t eat them. They lead full, happy lives. They provide us with a renewable source of protein and sweetening, and we provide them with food and shelter. It’s a symbiotic relationship.”

    I have to ask. What do you do with the old toothless ones, disabled ones, difficult-to-handle ones, the ones that beat up the rest of the flock or herd? Disease carriers? Genetically defective ones? The ones in pain? Infertile ones?

    Hens don’t lay forever. Female goats don’t milk forever (unless you’ve got them on hormones, and even then they eventually slack off).

    What do you do with the excess male kids and male chicks? Or does someone else raise your replacements and you exchange a dry doe or a molting hen? Or do those non-productive males go to people who do eat them? Or do you eliminate them at birth and throw them in the ground? Or do you turn them loose to clutter up someone else’s life? Out of sight, out of conscious.

    Chickens and goats can easily live a decade or longer, especially with food and shelter “lovingly” provided. I’ve had goats go up to 16-17 years, generally non-productive the last half decade or more. Chickens have a similar lifeline. I have the land and resources to absorb some non-productivity, but I can’t do it unsustainably. How do you manage it?

    The most commonly starved animal around where I live is the equine. I like horses. I’ve owned them. I also recognize that they’re a big animal requiring lots of food. Lots of space if you want a physically healthy and psychologically well-adjusted one. And they easily live 20-30 years under “protective” care. But equine slaughter was banned a number of years ago. Now, at my local auction yard you can no longer drop off a horse without a $200 deposit. If the animal doesn’t sell, you’re required to re-collect it. Your deposit is returned minus the yard expense of food and lodging. It costs approximately $300 to euthanize a full-grown horse, and then there’s the task of disposing of the body, which isn’t as easy as punching a hole in the front lawn. The result is starving equines, a problem you don’t see so much in other livestock species because we haven’t (yet) shut the door on slaughtering them.

    I recognize that goats and chickens are smaller animals, but as the number of non-productive ones increases, so does the cost of feeding and housing them, a cost generally borne by the productive ones.

    So again, how do you deal with it? Or, are you talking from the standpoint of a couple of “beginner” animals? If so, count yourself blessed, because as the number of non-productive animals under your care increases (and it will in a healthy environment), you’ll find yourself (or a delegate) having to make less-blessed decisions.

    BTW: In addition to consuming an animal’s blood and milk, the maasai also eat its meat. Somehow I find it hard to believe that they wait until the old, diseased and disabled die before frying them up.

  • Virgin Terry, the reason sentience gets into the discussion on NBL is because some people think that others shouldn’t eat meat. I eat meat but don’t care one bit what vegans or vegetarians eat. Us meat eaters get a bit tired of vegans and vegetarians objecting to our food choices (not all do it) and they usually object to our food choices on the basis of sentience. I never hear them object to the food choices of the foxes and hawks who like to eat chicken meat just like I do (I am quite convinced that I however have far more concern that the death of those I am about to eat is as quick and painless as I know how to do than the hawk and fox do – I once chased a hawk off a bird carcass it was eating only to find that it was eating my chicken while it was still alive)

    I treat my animals as if they are sentient regardless of the latest view I am exploring. I am a fairly empathetic person so my programs kick in whenever I see behavior that looks like distress. I help my dog with her fleas, I protect my hens from the horror of having 1 roo to each hen. If I did that I would have a bunch of hens with no feathers on their backs. I dispatch extra roos as quickly and cleanly as I know how. I am not sure I am capable of acting any other way.

    Isn’t it possible that in fact, perversely, by holding ourselves to higher standards than animals, we are in fact attributing to them far less sentience than we hold for ourselves. While holding them up as creatures we should treat as we do other humans we in fact hold ourselves higher than them because we won’t let ourselves indulge in that nasty habit of eating meat that all the carnivores and other omnivores indulge in.

    Any who aspire to make it through the next bottleneck would probably be more successful if they accept they are animals and allow themselves the same rights they give to bears and raccoons, the right to eat meat when it is available.

  • Resa:
    I was only kidding about you winning. But I’ll bet on your surviving, no matter your circumstances.
    It’s unfair to bring in religious fanaticism to a discussion of asceticism. Fanatics are by definition wallowing in excess.
    I was thinking of the conscious asceticism implied by Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. Can I bring up the concept of virtue in the context of this discussion? How about living humbly, modestly, and finding a joy in simple things?

    Michael Irving:
    I’m also trying to puzzle things out with these essays. Puzzle is a good word for it. The “10 Best” structure allows me to intuitively throw a bunch of things together and see what happens, and often enough they add up to more questions.

    I don’t know what you call the perverse intelligence that seems to be running things, but it strikes me as real, alien, destructive, and deeply confusing when you try to stare into it and see what’s there. Dmitry Orlov’s blog has a guest post this week that touches on the same issue, and while it throws more light on things, it still doesn’t answer the question. I’d prefer not to identify it as Satan, although I can see why people do. My best guess is that it’s the reptile brain reasserting itself on a culture-wide basis. Hence conspiracy theories that Richard Nixon, MacNamara, Reagan, Clinton, Don Rumsfelt and Dick Chaney are space-alien lizards dressed up in human suits. Such theories account for their actions, but it’s more likely the real aliens are the lizards within.

    Kevin: I agree that humans are tribal by nature, but I think contemporary tribes act more in the manner of Lord of the Flies than of Rousseau. The Bolsheviks who took over Russia in 1917 were a tribe, and they ended up as fertile ground for psychopaths.

    I agree that the Western Self that evolved out of the Enlightenment has elements of psychopathy, but I don’t think it can be uninvented. If humans go back to a tribal awareness, they’ll take the Western Self with them. I’ve observed that the people who want to go back to tribalism all assume they’ll go with the conscious authority of a tribal chieftain. In a similar vein, some of my American Buddhist friends strive to be better at Buddhism than anyone else, have the best Buddhist stuff, and so on.

    I’m certain the way out of the cognitive trap of the self is forward, not backward, even though I have little idea of what lies ahead. If pressed, I would say a community of strong selves is possible, with the first rule along the lines of the state motto of Wyoming: Take Care of Your Own Damned Self. That’s cold comfort for anyone wanting a pre-Enlightenment tribal community, but cold comfort is better than no comfort at all. Such an austere community can come together in the face of a general threat, but it dissolves as soon as the threat disappears. And good riddance.

    V. Terry:
    You may call yourself self indulgent, but your well-articulated thoughts seem to be acts of generosity.

    I used to tell my more narcissistic students that they weren’t the center of the universe, until one of them said that the universe stretched out in all directions from her eyes, and if you went by her point of view, she was at dead center. It was hard to refute that.

  • I would like to call people’s attention to my latest blog post, which offers in very general terms a world view and a way forward for those who find themselves stuck in the “doomer” narrative:


  • Singer’s a looney. Give animals personhood and there is no way to defeat all those people who keep hoping with each election here in Colorado that embryos will gain personhood.

  • John:

    I’m happy to hear you were kidding. Had me worried for a split second that you’d gone soft on me.

    You asked for a downside of asceticism. Religious fanaticism is such a beast. So how is it unfair to bring it up? It’s no different from starving horses being the downside of banning equine slaughter. (And I like horses. I can’t say the same for the other.)

    But let’s talk conscious asceticism. It has a nice ring. “Living humbly, modestly, and finding joy in simple things.”

    Isn’t that the root of many religions and cults?

    Oops, can’t go there.

    But seriously, isn’t that how many got their start? Someone somewhere lived humbly to find joy in simple things and determined that the resulting “vision” equated to moral excellence and righteousness?

    Okay. Let’s revisit that humble, modest, simple lifestyle and take religion out of the equation. With no parameters provided, I must create my own.

    Certainly I’m the most content when the weather’s the pits, my little woodstove’s blazing away and the kettle on the flat-top sings that the hot water for my black currant tea is ready. A crock of wild grape sourdough starter ferments on one side of the stove while a bin of corn cobs dries on the other. Later, I’ll grind some wheat and corn to fry up a batch of cornmeal sourdough biscuits, adding a dab of honey for sweetness. I’ll toss in a slab of yesterday’s meatloaf for flavor.

    Life’s good. It’s certainly simple. A bit of fire and a meal that evolved just steps from my back door. (Okay, the honey came from the guy up the road who swapped me eighty pounds for a mess of t-bone steaks and a rump roast off my steer.)

    Is it humble enough? Modest enough? I certainly found joy in grinding up my own corn and wheat. My grapes provided the yeast for the starter.

    Or do I need to go less? No fire. No shelter. No possessions. A life living door to door asking for food and clothing. One step up from huddling in a foxhole (and I’ve done that). At least no one’s shooting at me.

    Of course, I don’t find Scenario 2 particularly appealing.

    And to make Scenario 1 doable, I have to provide inputs. Corn and wheat need cultivating and planting and watering and weeding and de-bugging and harvesting. I need to save seed for the following season. The grapes and black currants need pruning and picking and drying. The steer needs grass and hay and water and fences and shelter and mucking up after and then butchering out and aging and cutting up. The wood for the fire needs cutting and lugging and splitting and stacking. The easiest part of the entire meal was handing over the package of meat for the five-gallon bucket of honey.

    But Scenario 1 is a little more complicated than that. In order to have my corn and wheat and grapes and meatloaf, I need to cough up $5000 in property taxes. To pay for other peoples’ kids to go to school. To pay for a county library and a local community college and a volunteer fire department and an EMT unit and police services. The State grants me no leeway on that score. I must contribute or else no corn, no wheat, no grapes, and no steer.

    So I commute in my little old truck with 160,000 miles on it to a hi-tech job 30 miles away that pays better than minimum wage because frankly there’s little money in wheat and corn and steers. And thus my humble, modest lifestyle with simple joys feeds the big bad industrialized robotic monster. (How’s that for an unintended negative consequence?)

    Of course, I could go door-to-door begging for food and clothing and let someone else take the hit.

    I know what you’re asking for, John. I have no palatable answer. At least not one that’s going to make you happy.

  • before i go any further, let me correct an egregious oversight (i make many, be forewarned) re. rob atack. i forgot about rob in the appeal i made in my last post re. recommendations for most worthy recipients of aid. i forgot rob’s video links detailing some very impressive, inspirational, unselfish activities. i’ve never used paypal, rob, but if u get in touch with me via guy, i’d like to thank u personally.

    john r., your reference to ‘space alien lizards dressed up in suits’ makes me wonder if u’ve read the same short science fiction story as i, predicated on this very theme re. powerful ‘elites’. in that story, a human inadvertently woke up from a hypnotically induced delusion that was being perpetrated on us by the aliens (who had enslaved us after we fell under their spell). the human proceeded to heroically/desperately/subversively wake others, who quickly rebelled and killed the aliens by virtue of having far greater numbers.

    it’s surreal how well science fiction metaphorically describes our world sometimes.

    lizards within, john? i’ve mostly lost touch with mine, or perhaps it’s never been discovered/unleashed. too much civilization and privilege, perhaps? at any rate, i find it impossible to fathom some of the lizard-like elites most responsible for state-and-church sponsored terrorism, control, and exploitation. i don’t necessarily agree with the notion a similar lizard dwells deep within my psyche, but it’s difficult to logically refute. elites are humans after all, in spite of their lizard-like cold-blooded ruthlessness.

    i share your befuddlement re. the nature of god, as revealed to us. it’s an entity which often, if we’re lucky, offers cold comfort at best to life’s unfortunate (and sooner or later, we all meet misfortune). tis a world of awesome beauty, mystery, and horror. a world where sentience can be a great curse/burden/cruelty.

    kathy, as sentient, rational, enlightened (to some extent) beings, it’s impossible to deny that we humans are animals, part of a web of related, interdependent life. life consists of sentient beings preying and devouring one another. i eat meat. i’m a loathsome, self-indulgent hypocrite. i’m not totally against eating flesh, but i am sickened by knowledge of industrial agricultural abuse of livestock, and troubled by objectification of fellow animals.

    basically, i think raising livestock is an artificial means of hunting, whereby the hunter makes his job much easier, but in the process, perhaps forfeits spirit. raising livestock seems to combine nurturing and killing, or nurturing to kill. it kind of gives my timid little civilized self the creeps. if u’d like to discuss this further, feel free to email me. or if others don’t mind, we can continue the discussion here.

  • “Old hens end up in a casserole, always.” Alas, not always: I have met a few for whom I wish it was true.

    “Horse meat is tasty.” My father related a story of eating horsemeat when their brigade was surrounded by the Japs is Burma during World War II, He described it as “fibrous” – meaning “stringy”.

    “But equine slaughter was banned a number of years ago.” There is the story of a Hmong from a local Hmang community who bought a horse from a rearby rancher for his son’s birthday. He shot it in the head before loading it into a pickup truck – they were going to barbecue the critter.

    The idea that “humans possess TOO much sentience, too much knowledge/awareness of life’s harshness and absurdity, too much capacity to dwell on it’s negative aspects, at the expense of simply ‘living in the moment’” does not make the distinction between sentience and intelligence. It is the animals that become restless and flee before an earthquake, tsunami, volcanic eruption &c who display a more refined sentience – and not necessarily any greater measure of it. We moke up for it to some extent with intelligence and on (rare) occasion with sapience – wisdom.

    When one has “discontinued the extensive cable tv package” “to save money” it is a salutary act, although not for the best of reasons. I gave it up to save my brains. When I got back from BushDaddy’s war (having served in the oil-volunteer army), the biggest interval change I noted was that the commercials on TV had changed. Very shortly thereafter, I quit watching TV: to save what brains I might have then possessed. I still have a television set, but it is now probably a residence for spiders and such since it has not been turned on since my father went to a care home in July of 2000.

    One way to “focus charity more on causes/organizations committed to alleviate this long term outlook by doing what can be done now to lower population/consumption.” is to divide it into halves and give them to opposite sides in an armed conflict: there are still a fair number of possibilities in that regard, a fortunate or unfortunate circumstance – depending on one’s point of view.

  • At the risk of sounding like a party pooper…..

    I have come to the conclusion that people truely demonstrate what they believe not by what they say but by what they do.
    That being said I am a little troubled by the amount of time and effort which has gone into this no doubt worthy disussion.
    I am assuming that the people who read this site agree at least in part with guy’s projections that the s##t will monumentally hit the fan sometime in the near future.
    now this leads me to one of two conclusions, either A. Everyone is such a survival expert that they are prepped up to their eyeballs with underground nuclear bunker, a five year supply of food not to mention a fully sustainable off grid homestead Etc etc
    For whatever reasons people are spending time doing things i.e commenting at length on this blog when their time could be spent implementing some of the strategies described on this and other sites.
    In other words if one day you are sitting in front of your computer discussing the exact level of conciousness of a stick insect and the lights go out and suddenly its just you alone looking at a blank computer screen which is never going to go on again.
    ARE YOU READY?????

  • Sue Day



  • Sue, I have long maintained on other blogs that if one wants long term survival or to make it through the bottleneck or to avoid untimely death one should have been off the web long ago, unobtrusively making plans and learning skills.

    I have also maintained that given that we don’t know how the future, except that we all die sometime, one should do those things that give pleasure. I don’t raise chickens because I want to feed myself post collapse. I raise them because I enjoy it. I have a garden because I enjoy it. Learning of peak oil has served to move some people to a more self sufficient lifestyle and many have found much pleasure in the life. If the nukes all go off they will likely have untimely deaths anyway but they will have spent their last years of life doing something they enjoy.

    Once you are dead, extra years won’t matter any more than not being alive before you were born matters. I don’t care to live through the bottleneck. I do enjoy discussing matters of the mind. Since the topic posted starts out with the personhood of animals debate its understandable that the comments relate to that. Had Guy posted a discussion on the growing of green beans no doubt sentience would not be being discussed. Are you suggesting we not discuss the subject raised or are you suggesting to Guy that he not post such topics?

    But in fact if people can get over their objections to eating meat before the crash they might have a better chance of making it through the bottleneck so you could consider this a very useful and practical discussion. When you come across a nest of baby rabbits do you see sentient beings with rights to not be eaten by humans or so you see meat. It may make all the difference in the world for those going for long term survival.

  • Kathy, if you don’t care about getting through the bottle neck comment away. As you are aware I am not against commenting otherwise I wouldn’t do it myself. It was simply a reminder that it is easy to use this as an escape mechanism – talking about it instead of doing it. We are all guilty of that to some degree myself included.

    Guy can publish anything on the site he wants-its his site. People can comment as long and as loud as they want.But if its all you have, internet friends in an internet world things could get mighty lonely when the power goes off.

    Even if we ourselves are prepped up to the max there are people we know who arent.Maybe we could devise methods to help and empower them whether they realise that is what we are doing or not.

    Just a few thoughts on the matter, not aimed at anyone in particular. I speak to myself just as much as anyone on this subject. It reminds me of what it might be like to stand on a beach watching a 10 foot wall of water coming toward you. You could easily get caught up in the wonder of it, how it sparkles in the sunshine, the raging noise it makes. You could stand and gaze at it, only turning to run when it engulfs you.

    Prepping now is going to be a hell of a lot easier than watching your family starve. In a weeks time you wont even remember the discussion you were so busy with now but you will remeber the look on your childrens faces when you tell them you havent got any more food.

  • “ARE YOU READY?????”

    Absolutely 🙂

  • Sue, Wow, to think you would take precious time away from your own kids and neighbors to warn me and others not to take precious time away from our own kids and neighbors.

  • No need for the sarcasm Kathy, like I said I was speaking as much to myself as anyone.

    Jean, all power to you.maybe you could give me some tips as I definately could improve my preparation. : – )

  • sorry, i’m a computer dummy, so my links must be copied and pasted.

    a couple sites with loads of valuable collapse-aware survivalist ideas and information: – besides his preparedness essays/links, check out his ‘crash course’ in economics.

    survivalblog -much more highly specific information here, including on weapons and self defense.

    good point, r. datta, about the distinction between sentience and intelligence. very true.

    ‘oil volunteer army’-good one! almost made me LMAO. did make me chuckle.

  • Sue, OK sarcasm aside, I have been thinking about this today as I returned from visiting my 34 year old son who lives in another state. Given a few of our interchanges I think the problem here is that I am unafraid of the future and willing to die an early death. Somehow perhaps that threatens you. I think it is your own fears that upset you when talk is of issues unrelated or marginally related to survival. I have known since I was 16 that there were far worse things than death. As my body aches and pains increase and joints begin to fail I can no longer do all I used to and would be unable to feed myself much less my kids. In fact probably the best I can do is to die early on in the crash so my adult sons don’t feel obliged to feed me.

    I like this blog because Guy raises such issues such as those posed in this post. I enjoy such discussions. I intend to enjoy what I can while I can. So as long as Guy raises such issues I will comment when I feel like it. I hope you can look inward and figure out what makes you so uncomfortable with these discussions.

  • Kathy, I know it can be difficult to see the intent behind the words sometimes when people are commenting. I think that you feel I am critising with these posts but that is not my intention. You ask what makes me uncomfortable with these discussions? My counsellor training tells me that for some people myself included,( but not you I accept that), find dealing with issues such as these very difficult and there can be a subconcious attempt by the brain to avoid processing it beyond theory into practical application. I find myself doing this a lot and I doubt very much that I am the only one on this site. Now maybe you are right and I should keep my opinions to myself. But if it spurs one person into evaluating whether this is something they may perhaps be doing it is well worth it. These are after all traumatic issues we are dealing with.

    Also not everyone is inthe same situation in life that you are. What is right for you,your acceptance of death, may not be for everyone. There are people like myself who have young children (my youngest is 5). for who failure is simply not an option. I am not trying to tell anyone what to do. It was a challenging question to be sure but one well worth asking in my opinion. I would hope we can agree to disagree on this one. You ask if I am afraid to die,the truthful answer is not really. But I am very afraid of my loved ones suffering. I think that is a very normal reaction under the circumstances and I am not going to appologise for it. I think people should be afraid of what is happening, be very afraid. We need that fear to spur us into action,the world is drowning in lethargy I refuse to drown with it.Before you get upset I am not for a minute sugesting you or anyone else on this site is lethargic,it is simply an observation of the world in general.

  • a few perhaps final comments to this essay, since a new one came out a couple days ago, and is attracting most attention:

    first, re. my comments about tv and r.d.’s reply, yes, tv is mind junk food mostly. i used to watch quite a bit. in the past couple years i’ve become increasingly involved with the internet and blogging. very happy with this blog, btw. it was very stupid of me to subscribe to a tv access service like i did, considering this. unfortunately every day it seems i do stupid things. one would think after a while i’d wise up, but my learning curve isn’t as steep as i’d like. maybe i can blame this on having been raised and ‘educated’ in a culture which, i now realize, is really quite stupid and crazy itself, and which actively trains young minds to be irrational.

    i have more to say also re. collapse/die-off preps, particularly how it’s going to play out, and how long. here’s a teaser: i think it’s going to take much longer than the general discussion here indicates, and i think most preps. will turn out to be futile. i’ll go into detail soon, in the midst of a thread more current than this one now is, where it will get maximum exposure.

    lastly, re. lethargy, it’s rather better termed learned helplessness. in this insane asylum of a world, where sane behavior is often punished, while insanity’s rewarded (at least near term), it becomes apparent that often the best policy an intelligent, sane person can follow involves withdrawal from the fray of life. and i have to second kathy’s sentiments (i.e., life’s short, enjoy it while u can).