Last Days, Last Words

by John Rember

For most of my life, I’ve been a teacher of rhetoric, which means that I’ve taught writers how to take difficult or unpopular ideas and get them across to people who don’t want to think about them. Usually those people were my students, and the most difficult and unpopular idea I tried to get across to them was that they needed to learn rhetoric.

Many of them thought they already knew rhetoric. They’d gotten As in high school English classes by having strong but conventional opinions. They thought they came to college knowing what would get them another A on the two-page essays I assigned in composition classes.

So a lot of papers began, “You shouldn’t have twenty-nine cosmetic surgeries to turn yourself into a six-foot Barbie Doll because …” or “We shouldn’t have a draft because America is a free country and you’re not free if you have to go into the Army …” or “Women shouldn’t work once they have children because my mother quit her career once she had my brothers and me and she’s happy just being a Mom.”

I would scribble Ds or Fs on these papers, which made my office hours occasions for tears or anger. “What do you want me to say?” was the most common question, as if I was teaching catechism and all they had to do was memorize dogma. Others, more sophisticated, assumed that I was the kind of liberal academic that right-wing radio commentators railed against, and turned in perfectly written but completely dishonest papers that advocated transfers of wealth from rich to poor, North to South, former slave-owners to former slaves, and so on. More Ds and Fs.

For a high school student used to getting As, one F paper is a catastrophe. Two or more are identity-destroying events. In the case of a sincere effort by a bright high school student to manipulate a college teacher, an F threatens the foundations of the universe.

Six weeks into a semester, when I walked into the classroom and wrote, “How to Get an A in this Class” on the whiteboard, I had the survivors’ attention. Here’s the gist of what I wrote below that heading:

–Stop giving a shit about your grades.

–As a writer, you’re a witness who has an obligation to honor the world as it is, not a person trying to cram the world into the tiny space inside your skull.

–Everything in your world, including this class, the chair you’re sitting on, the room you’re sitting in, this college, your clothes and car and the food you eat, was once a paradigm-challenging idea.

–Tell the truth if you can. Deliberate lies will rot your brain.

–Any paragraph longer than four or five sentences will piss off your audience and they’ll go away. If they can’t go away because reading your writing is their job, they’ll give you a D or an F.

“Is there anyone who can’t understand any of this?” I would ask.

The next set of papers would be better. It’s amazing what people can come up with if you give them permission to look around themselves and to record what they see.

I tried to keep my students entertained. “Given the current state of the world,” I would say, “it’s likely that we’ll all die on the same day. The difference between us will be that I’ve seen the Doors and Led Zeppelin and Jefferson Airplane in concert.”

I recently threatened the foundations of my entire universe. I wrote a credo, a statement detailing why I write. It’s something I have asked my advanced writing students to do, but it’s a dangerous thing because when a lot of people sit down to discover the reasons why they want to be a writer, they can’t find any.

In spite of the fact that one of my books is a why-to-write book, I still got into credo trouble. Here are some troubling excerpts:

“I’ve had a crisis of faith about my teaching and writing career—fortunately I’m not in the middle of that career — and have come up hard against the questions I should have answered years ago: Why not just mess around with words and tell funny little stories to make people happy? Surely there’s another vampire novel that needs to be written — why not make pots of money with your God-given talent?

Here’s one answer: You write to wake people to the condition of their world, which looks none too good. Climate change and the crisis of capitalism make me happy that I’m old enough to have gone to concerts in the 1960s.

I’m also happy that I walked away from a tenured full professorship at the College of Idaho, a small high-quality liberal arts institution in the American northwest. At the time I left the classroom, I had a nice house, a new car, a new book out from a major publisher, and was newly running the school’s honors program. Saying goodbye to all that was a voluntary plunge into poverty, free time, and labor that freed my mind as it occupied my muscles. It was a sudden lack of institutional identity, committee meetings, and faculty politics. It had come from a sudden awareness of how much the unconscious narcissism of my first-year writing students was paralleled by the more sophisticated but still unconscious narcissism of my colleagues and of the institution itself.

The existential questions that an academic job insulated me from suddenly got more urgent, which was okay, as I had time to consider them rather than having them all gang up on me on my deathbed.

The prime existential question: Can you trust your own perceptions?

The subprime existential question: What else can you possibly trust?

I’ve decided it’s better to be an honest observer of a dark world than to make up cheery lies for people desperate to spend their lives in culturally-prescribed illusion. If I wanted to make up lies I would have gone into advertising and made a lot more money and had a secretary who looked like Christina Hendricks.

So I’m exploring the end of this world as I see it. I don’t know if anyone will read my writing in a hundred years, or if anyone will be able to read in a hundred years. I don’t even know if anyone will be alive in a hundred years, unless it’s bacteria hanging out in hydrothermal reservoirs a mile beneath the surface of the earth. But if bacteria can read, I’d like them to understand that in the last few decades of human existence, one of those humans looked around himself, observed carefully and thought about what he observed, and wrote down the results of that thinking — dark existential jokes, mostly, which I’m pretty sure deep-biosphere bacteria prefer above all other forms of humor. Other than the jokes, there’s a certain last will and testament quality to what I’m writing, not because I’m planning on dying anytime soon, but because there’s a lot to elegize these days.”

That’s part of what I wrote in an honest attempt to be honest with myself. Where I got in trouble was with the grief end of things. I ended by saying, “There’s plenty to write about in this world, especially if you can keep existentially funny and honestly grief-stricken about it.”

I think that if I had been in a writing class as an eighteen-year-old, and the professor had written Existentially Funny and Honestly Grief-Stricken on the board, and told me I had to adhere to that standard, I would have run out of the classroom there and then. I would have gone skiing instead.

A full professorship is a guaranteed income for life, and a job you can define to your liking. It also includes the ability to wear tweed without looking like a character actor in a British TV series, the obsequious questions of local reporters when they need an interview about holiday gift books, the deep attention of first-year students determined to discover the wellsprings of your vanity — all these things were mine, and more. But I gave it up in return for ten years of health insurance for Julie and me and a new title: Writer-at-Large, which sounds good but mostly means that I’m out of the College’s hair. The number of complaining students in the academic dean’s office — outraged that their professor has just told them they’ll never see Jim Morrison in concert — has gone down since I left the campus.

Still, I retain some personal connections with the College, and one of them is a friendship with the ski-team coach, and he invited me to ski with the team as they trained at the Sun Valley Resort last week. Sun Valley is one of the oldest and most luxurious of American ski resorts. But its managers have lately become aware that their wealthy geriatric customers represent a high-mortality demographic, and they’re making an effort to provide their luxurious facilities — and this year, expensive artificial snow — to various college and high-school ski teams, in the hope that these young people will become future paying customers. I got to go along as the future paying customers’ unofficial assistant coach.

I wasn’t much of a coach. For the past twenty years I’ve been on loose-fitting backcountry ski equipment — the kind where you put skins on the bottom of your skis and hike to the top of the mountain before removing the skins and skiing down — and ski racers ski on rigid precision equipment that befits a sport where winners and losers are separated by hundredths of a second. The students were suspicious of my skis, boots, and bindings when they weren’t being suspicious of an old white-haired guy who showed up to help set up the course and replace the gates when they knocked them down.

When I got on the gondola to ride to the top of the mountain, service people in Sun Valley Company livery took my skis from me, put them in the external ski racks, and ushered me to my seat. At the top, they took a look at me, saw someone who looked a lot like one of their paying customers, took my skis from the rack, handed them to me, and asked if I needed help putting them on.

Somewhere in the middle of my second gondola ride, I realized that if the people who run the world spend much of their time at ski resorts, it’s going to be a long time before they realize there’s anything wrong with the world economy. They’ll be a couple of hundred feet off the ground in a gondola when the electricity goes out, and only eight hours later, when nobody has come to rescue them, will they realize that the only bubble left is the one they’re marooned in.

I trusted Western Civilization and its electricity enough to keep riding the gondola for a few days. When a high-speed lift takes you to the top of a mountain, and that mountain is covered with artificial snow groomed to machine tolerances, you get a lot of skiing in. You can, for brief moments, head downhill in wide fast turns, indulging yourself in cultural fictions, imagining yourself as a downhill racer in the Winter Olympics, at least until your old legs give out halfway down the mountain.

In the evenings, in a condo, eating with ski team, I was able to ask them things I was curious about: what they planned to do six months after they graduated and how they were paying for college. They were paying for college with loans, or their parents were. They didn’t know what they were going to be doing after college. They hadn’t thought about it. They said the question scared them.

Besides skiing, these student-athletes spent the week on the Olympic-size ice rinks, at the bowling alley, and in the giant heated pool adjacent to the Lodge. They slept in luxurious condominiums and watched TV, as befitted future paying customers, and I couldn’t help but imagine that in their secret hearts, each of those young people did know what they were doing after college. They saw themselves in twenty or thirty years, as honored and aging champions with ski-racer children just like themselves. Having aged well, they would be skiing through long sunny days, competing in masters’ races, drinking fine wines and eating in high-end restaurants, and going back to great, cathedral-like homes and sleeping the sleep of the just before getting up and doing it all over again. Right now Sun Valley is full of people whose lives are proving such a dream is possible.

And yet, that’s not going to happen for these student-athletes. The lifestyle they aspire to has already outlived its safe-to-eat date, even if they somehow came up with the price of admission after paying off their college loans.

In the world they will graduate into, newspapers tap the phones of bereaved families. Financial services companies manipulate governments when they’re not running those governments. Even if they don’t believe in global warming, they can see that we’re destroying what’s left of a wild and beautiful world in our haste to turn it all into habitat for humanity. Seven billion of us are crowding the planet, and anyone with a pocket calculator can figure out that we haven’t got the room or the resources or the climate stability to do what we’ve been doing for yet another generation. That’s been true for several generations now.

What are you going to do after graduation? The question scares the shit out of me, and I’m sixty-one years old.

As a professor of rhetoric, I necessarily became a student of narcissism, which for simplicity’s sake I define as not knowing where your boundaries end and the rest of the world begins.

Writing itself is a narcissistic attempt to expand your boundaries, a demand that people stop what they’re doing and pay attention to you, with a subtext that you know something they don’t and they need to know it. Done properly, you respect the humanity of your readers, giving them the kind of personhood normally reserved strictly for yourself. Psychologists will give you an A for this sort of thing, conferring upon it the title of Healthy Narcissism.

Healthy or not, most people are resistant to being told something that they need to know if it impinges on what they expect their life to be.

I told my students that there were too many people on the planet, but as far as I know, that didn’t cause anyone not to make babies. I told them that the planet’s atmosphere was a chaotic system, and when you change the composition of a chaotic system, the future loses any connection to the past, but that didn’t stop them from preparing for jobs in the oil industry. I told them that without a way to redistribute wealth, capital would accumulate in stagnant pools that would eventually destroy whole countries’ economic systems, but that didn’t keep them from going deeper into debt to pay for college and from signing up for thirty-year mortgages a year into their first job.

After being ignored on life-and-death matters, I began to look at good old Unhealthy Narcissism, which is more common than the healthy kind. It comes about when you don’t respect the separate existence of other people. Instead you see them as personal extensions. The self, however poverty-stricken and shabby it might be, becomes the world.

The eighteen-year-olds in my classes tended to see their classmates and their professors as character actors in the plays they were starring in. Professors had their costumes and their dialects and their quirky ways, but were not really part of the action unless we violated their assumptions about their world-selves by giving them bad grades.

Unhealthy narcissism becomes a learning disability. In its extreme form, it becomes indistinguishable from psychopathic character disorder, whose victims see other people only as victims. That in itself is bad enough, but the hopes and dreams my students expressed — the ones that they so happily subsumed other human beings into — were so shoddy, so tacky, so utterly predictable, that they reduced the world to a third-rate traveling vaudeville show’s stage set, one that no longer had any pretensions to suspending the disbelief of any but the most credulous of audiences.

Occasionally one of my students would wake to the artifice of the low-grade work of imagination they were starring in. When they spoke from that instant of consciousness, here’s what they would say: “I’ve spent my life studying so I can get good grades so I can get into a good college so I can get into a good grad school so I can get a good job and have a good career and have a good marriage and good kids and graduate to a good retirement community until I’m taken to a good nursing home to die in the midst of morphine hallucinations.”

“Only if your good college loans are paid off,” I would tell them.

But most students never woke up, and they defended the stage sets of their dreams in the face of all contradictory evidence. That’s the trouble with narcissism: start seeing the world as an extension of yourself, and the world becomes fragile, friable, temporary, able to be wounded by your wounds, and extinguished by your physical or philosophical death.

Bertrand Russell’s Philosophically Dead Rooster speaks:
“Every day my farmer comes with food and water. He’s a good guy, who has my best interests in mind. He cleans up my coop, makes sure I have a goodly supply of hens, protects me from the foxes I occasionally glimpse on the other side of the wire, and does all these things out of gratitude for my glorious crowing that serves to start his day.”

Bertrand Russell points out that one day the farmer comes to the coop with an axe, and that’s the day when the rooster needs a less narcissistic view of how the world works.

A confession:

I was born in Sun Valley. My father was a hard-rock miner in a lead-silver mine fifteen miles away, and the Sun Valley Resort, then the property of Union Pacific Railroad, had the best hospital in the county. It helped that my mother worked as a nurse there.

When I was six, my father got a job driving a ski bus at the resort, and after school I would ride with him. I’d help him clean the bus at the end of his shift. On weekends, because I was an employee dependent, I would ski free.
My skis and ski poles and boots were second-hand, and I received no instruction, but by the time I was in high school I was an expert skier.

At age seventeen I was hired as a Sun Valley ski patrolman, and I began to take people with broken legs and torn knees and lacerated flesh down to ambulances and would ride with them in the ambulance to the hospital emergency room. I became used to treating trauma victims and talking with them, and saw that people in shock often believe that they’re seeing things clearly for the first time in their lives.

I became an even better skier. Ski reps gave me state-of-the-art equipment. I could dance through a field of moguls, touching down on every second or third one. I took some horrendous falls but was never seriously injured. Paying customers would cheer me on from the lifts, and I tended to ski under the lifts. I was part of the Sun Valley experience, an example of what the paying customers could do if they only had the time.

When I was twenty-two, fresh out of college, I became the mountain manager for Sun Valley’s bunny hill and entered into Sun Valley Company’s executive training program.

I attended management meetings with the president and vice-presidents of the company, and was introduced to the operative metaphor of all ski managers, which was that operating a ski mountain was a form of animal husbandry. At night, the fields would be groomed for a new crop of skiers. Equipment had to be maintained, fresh feed had to be brought to the mountain restaurants, injured livestock had to be carted away, stock driveways had to be maintained, and predators — people sneaking onto the lifts without tickets or skiing too fast — had to be eliminated.

It was not the first time I had heard people referred to as unthinking grazers — some of the poorer skiers were even referred to as vegetables — but I was shocked by this callousness in what was supposed to be the hospitality business. However, the metaphor worked in that it allowed for the efficient and impersonal pushing of large numbers of people through an industrial process, one that depended on them sliding down steep slopes with boards clamped to their feet and calling it play.

It was play for me, as was much of my life off the slopes. There are worse things than to be an athletic twenty-two year old with a well-paying job at a world-class ski resort during the year the United States pumped more oil than anytime before or since. Unlimited wealth was in the air. Old people gave me money just to ski with them on my days off. The great-grandchildren of the financiers in American History books became my après-ski companions, and they didn’t seem to resent either my skiing ability or my relative poverty.

But unconscious narcissism wears thin, no matter how happy it is in the moment. Before long, I began to see my life as a tedious slideshow of other people’s vacations. At the end of that season, I quit my job as mountain manager, backed out of the executive training program, and asked for my old job back as a ski patrolman.

But when I got back in the patrol shack, the people I worked with treated me with contempt. I had rejected a step up in the system, and they saw me as a slacker, or crazy, or a subversive — all three, really. I lasted another season and then found a job as a teacher, where the system was more complicated, the steps up more numerous, and the work a little less like animal husbandry.

But not that much less. It has not escaped my notice that I tend to quit jobs when I start glimpsing the shimmering outlines of the dehumanizing bioindustrial structure that I’ve been succeeding in. Just as I learn the system and gain the ability to suck more people into it, I chicken out, in Bertrand Russell’s terms. In the terms of the people still in the system, I go insane and fly the coop.

I live in a country whose highest court has given corporations the kind of personhood people normally reserve for themselves. It’s the least narcissistic thing our high jurists have ever done, and yet they’ve done it from within the bubble of their own narcissism. Go figure.

But our Supreme Court is right. Corporations are persons. They want to feed, grow, live, and be entertained. Occasionally they want to die. More occasionally they go criminally insane. Like most people, they operate according to their reptile brains, which is to say that most of their actions reflect an unhealthy, other-destroying compulsion that they’re not even aware of.

Corporations inevitably treat other organisms — even their CEOs — as livestock or feedstock. Corporations treat the world as uncleared acreage to be turned into a giant farm, and render their employees into genetically-modified organisms.

A year ago, in Hanoi, visiting the Palace of Literature, I ran into another American tourist, one working for Monsanto in Beijing. He told me that the project he was working on was simple. Monsanto had taken on the job of producing as much food in the next fifty years as all of humankind has produced in the last seven thousand. “If we don’t,” he said, “people will starve.” He sounded happy and proud and a little frightened. I had the impression that he was channeling another entity, and that he wasn’t quite big enough for the job.

One of my more dismal realizations is that corporations have figured out that they need to be people, but they have no need for humans to be people.

Since corporations are so much bigger than humans, it’s possible to feed off their excretions, like a little sweat-bee, snug and warm in an adipose fold, going along for a ride that would never be possible if you had to proceed under your own power.

Every summer a symphony orchestra assembles in Sun Valley, and plays at a huge copper-roofed travertine amphitheater built expressly for its performances. Sun Valley Symphony musicians are drawn from the municipal symphonies all over the planet. This summer Julie and I drove down to hear them perform Tchaikovsky’s speedy Opus 35 in D major.

Vadim Gluzman, one of the world’s best violinists, did the honors, playing the 1690 Stradivarius that had belonged to Tchaikovsky’s mentor. It was the instrument the work had been written for.

We were on the lawn above the amphitheater with a picnic and a bottle of good red wine, but during the last two movements I walked to the top row of seats, knelt down, and watched Gluzman through binoculars.

I gave up on any ambitions to play the violin. I knew that David Oistrakh’s performance of the concerto in Stalingrad in 1942 was supposed to have turned the tide of the Second World War, but realized that the grim circumstances forever denied Oistrakh and his audience the warmth and humanity and forgiveness that Gluzman brought to the work.

Cultural critics have suggested that Tchaikovsky’s concerto is a high point of Western Civilization. If so, Gluzman’s performance kicked Western Civilization to a new peak, at least for twenty minutes in North America in the early part of the 21st century.

It was a warm and sunny afternoon, and as happy and awed people came streaming out of the amphitheater, Julie and I stayed in our lawn chairs. We were in no hurry to leave. Sun Valley policemen were directing concert traffic. It would take a half-hour to clear, and we still had some chocolate left.

I began to think how odd it was that I had been born here, in 1950, and was still here. I always had thought I’d make it further in life.

Then I thought to myself that there were worse places to end up than a geographically gated community, listening to an orchestra put together from the world’s best musicians. There were worse times to have spent a life than 1950-2012, and worse places to have spent it than under the high clear skies of central Idaho.

Then I started thinking other odd things. For one, I noticed that many of the couples attending the concert consisted of well-preserved and purposeful women leading confused old men to and from their seats. It’s what happens when you pair beautiful young women with older men, and then add two or three decades. My mind jumped ahead to hanging up my skis, the bypass operation, and the moment when the buttons on the cell phone become too many and too complicated.

My mind went further, into the amphitheater. Travertine blocks affect me like a drug. Even small doses make me think of the Romantic follies built on English estates in the 19th century.

But I was gazing into a travertine overdose. Vivid hallucination replaced my senses. I saw, in the Pavilion’s skeletal steel superstructure, a time when thieves had stripped the roof of its copper. The dressing rooms on either side of the stage had been turned into holding pens for the unwilling stars of blood rituals.

I realized it was a facility designed for a time when civilization will be dust.

I suddenly wanted the Sun Valley Symphony to arrange a midnight performance of Carmina Burana, with the Pavilion lit by flickering, smoking torches, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir prescribed high-dose amphetamines for the occasion, and human sacrifices during the finale to ensure that biodiesel will be cheap and plentiful during the coming potato harvest.

The amphitheater was empty. Julie got a purposeful look on her face and said it was time to go, and it took a moment to understand that she wasn’t talking about my earthly existence. I took our wine bottle to the recycling bin, and we walked back to our old car, sitting by itself in the parking lot.

How do you get through to people who don’t want to hear what you have to say? You don’t, mostly. Our lives don’t prepare us to understand the experience of others, and to others, our acute consciousness of the world makes us look like babbling shock victims.

People married for decades look at each other, and if one of them wakes up, they each gaze into the eyes of a stranger. Hopes and dreams, in retrospect, turn out to be about something else entirely. Only with great effort and care can we attain the language to tell our stories to other people, and even then they might not like what we tell them.

In an infinite universe, we each occupy but a point. It’s not much, but it’s our point, and we possess it entirely, and it us. We’re stuck in it, and it traps us in the center of all we can experience, no matter how fast and how far we flee.

Comments 60

  • Wow! Beyond thought-provoking. Thanks for letting us in (as far as we dare) to “your own personal world between your ears”.

    So well put. My own narcissism (healthy or not” I wonder to myself) asks me what I would have to say. Challenging! The mind swirls. Not that I do not share your general view or understanding, as I do, but each of us sees the current time frame and events preceding it, and what we expect to follow it from our own unique vantage point.

    To honestly evaluate oneself and one’s thoughts, feelings, drives, and fantasies throughout the years up to and including today is awe-inspiring and daunting in its scope.

    Again, thank you for this refreshing window on your world.

  • Wow. Just discovered you. Great reading. I’m a writer who also teaches writing. I’ll come back for more. Thank you.

  • Thank you, John, for painting your perspective in words. A lot of features in detail & relief. 

    Walking away from Empire, as both you and Dr. McPherson have done, takes motivation from deep in the reptilian brain to effect a paradigm change of a magnitude beyond the possibility of burial under intellectual rationalizations. Having others see what appears plainly in sight to oneself seems inexplicably difficult. 

    It is almost impervious to reason, and has to be approached through the “arts”: visual (painting, sculpture, architecture), performing (music, dance, drama) and written (poetry & literature). And even with these tools negotiating the labyrinth of another’s defenses, both rational and pre-rational, may be more than a Herculean task. 

  • As a Vail/Aspen area resident for the past 25 years, I SO confirm your observations of the ‘gated community’ lifestyle and mindset. It’s funny, how ski towns have all become imitations of Sun Valley … and how the gates erected by wealth in these resorts serve to keep so many minds IN while filtering out the real world.

  • “…How do you get through to people who don’t want to hear what you have to say? You don’t, mostly….”

    Kubler-Rossing It When People Won’t Listen

    When people won’t hear what you say,
    You can’t believe living their way;
    Then you get really pissed
    At the way they resist
    And try to hold bad news at bay.

    In exchange for a listening friend,
    You have gifts (such as jokes) to append;
    When you fail at that quest,
    You get feeling depressed,
    And acceptance comes at the end.

  • Oops sorry, correction:

    “…How do you get through to people who don’t want to hear what you have to say? You don’t, mostly….”

    Kubler-Rossing It When People Won’t Listen

    When people won’t hear what you say,
    You can’t believe living their way;
    Then you get really pissed
    At the way they resist
    And try to hold bad news at bay.

    In exchange for a listening friend,
    You have gifts (such as jokes) to append;
    When you fail at that quest,
    You get feeling depressed,
    And acceptance comes at the end.

  • Tangentially related to the topic, but very insightful and informative, from

    The Automatic Earth:
    TUESDAY, January 3 2012: The Storm Surge of Decentralization

  • Just for a laugh:

    I’m betting nobody who posts here came up with any of these predictions!

  • Yorchichan – a laugh indeed. Thanks.

    Benjamin enjoyed the limericks and the others at your site.

    John – funny the things that capture one’s imagination – the idea of “where will you be when the lights go off” can lead to all sorts of visions. Stuck in a ski lift would seem to be justice for failure to care about justice. :)

  • Hello and thank you for having a Reply option Guy McPherson. I don’t have the time to respond to everything, maybe at another time.

    ”Our lives don’t prepare us to understand the experience of others”

    So Even When I Am Going To Enter Into A Relationship With Someone, It Can Only Ever Be A Fraction Of What That Relationship Could Have Been No Matter How I Change My Way To Addres This New ”Someone”? Without The Proper Language We Are All Failing. Attaining That Language Should Be Our Primary Concern, Because Without It; Nothing Is More Likely To Happen Than Something.

    My Question Then Becomes: What Can We Change In Our Lives Right Here Right Now That Will Let Us Start To Understand The Experience Of Others? If Our Lives Don’t Prepare Us For It, How Can We Then Change Our Lives? If School, Work, Life And Western Civilization Has Made Us Infants In A World Dying From Lack Of Timely Adult Consideration And Right Action, How Can We Grow Up? – How Can We Grow Up To Defend Life, The Life Of Our Husbands And Wives, The Life Of Our Friends, The Life Of Other Beings, Life We Don’t Ourselves Understand and Even Our Own Lives? – I guess the answear to my own question starts with love. Not the kind of sugary, tasty, creamy and corny/horny love blasted at our faces from the latest actionmovie – sprinkled in between scenes of the hero losing his friend and fighting the evil empire – no, the kind of love that stems from a sence of knowing that life is good, how ever poisoned the land becomes life will still be good.

    Oh well, I must admit; that if Ohio is sprinkled with Fracking Fluid to douse the flames of the Occupy-movement and poison watersupply, maybe life won’t be so good there, even if they have love – but hey, they will still have Taco Bell Right?

    Ohio. Fracking up the Earth:

  • Great writing, great subject. Thanks for the inspiration. I too am aware of the illusions we live by, and how many of us are still sleepwalking in upper middle class hallucinations. I pity the younger ones who must keep this charade alive, resolutely (but with fear) believing they too will have their day. There are so many changes ahead that it will make people’s heads spin for years. We all need to get some new wiring, because the old paradigm is collapsing as we speak…

  • i love john’s writing for their wealth of interesting observations/experiences, and for my vicarious identification with them. love the way he connects ideas and builds narratives.

    the perfectionist in me however is annoyed with minor technical flaws in his writing (imo), such as this example:

    ‘My father was a hard-rock miner in a lead-silver mine fifteen miles away, and the Sun Valley Resort, then the property of Union Pacific Railroad, had the best hospital in the county.’

    poor sentence structure here. i think this sounds much better:

    my father worked in a lead-silver mine 15 miles from sun valley ski resort, which had the best hospital in the county, thanks to the deep corporate pockets of the union pacific railroad which owned the resort at that time.

    overall, an engrossing essay. i grade it as ‘a’ quality. thanks, john.

  • Judge not that ye be not judged.

  • Last Days for some – portents for the rest of us?
    “REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s Tarahumara Indians, legendary for their endurance in long-distance running, are reeling from a devastating food shortage caused by a record freeze and long drought, officials say.

    The Mexican Red Cross and regional and federal government agencies mobilized Monday to send emergency supplies to the mountains in the northern state of Chihuahua, where the Tarahumara live, usually in rudimentary conditions.

    Part of the outpouring of help came after reports circulated of the mass suicide of 50 or more members of the community, desperate and despondent over not being able to feed their families. The reports of suicide were quickly denied by state government officials (link in Spanish).

    But the hunger is real.

    Even in the best of times, the Tarahumara live on the sustenance farming of corn and beans. Parts of Chihuahua, however, have endured for months the most severe drought in 70 years and, more recently, a hard freeze.

    The Red Cross said it was delivering 220 tons of food and aid, plus 10,000 pieces of heavy clothing. The national government through its social development agency and the office of the mayor of Mexico City were sending money, blankets and thousands of food packages, many donated by citizens (links in Spanish).

    Six people from the Tarahumara community have died of malnutrition in recent weeks, the peasant organization El Barzon told La Jornada newspaper (link in Spanish).”

  • You/we can never go Home again.

  • “Humanity; the most intelligent species on the planet, capable of anything, but is governed by its aggression and youth. A species fast in developing, but slow in maturing. Once a species that cared about its home, its provider, let its ego dominate its decisions. A period of ignorance and neglect has had profound effects across the world. Effects which can be reversed, if nature is give the time to repair the damage. Remember…We only have one home.”
    — David Bayliss

  • John:

    As a member of a Transition in Southwestern Michigan, I’ve spoken to several groups concerning global warming and peak oil. I’ve spent weeks and months preparing my words and delivery, carefully trying to craft the most logical and moving presentation I could ever hope to create. Zilch, nada and no way. No call backs, no replies, no nothing. I’ve had Guy speak at a couple of get-togethers. Still only a few responses.

    You mention in part 1: “the most difficult and unpopular idea I tried to get across to them was that they needed to learn rhetoric.” And then in part 10, there’s this: How do you get through to people who don’t want to hear what you have to say? You don’t, mostly. Our lives don’t prepare us to understand the experience of others, and to others, our acute consciousness of the world makes us look like babbling shock victims.

    So what’s the point? Sounds like a fruitless exercise in futility to me. Guy has put together a collection of some very logical and compelling essays over the past five or six years. You’ve done much the same. As have others here. So far I don’t see any upswelling movement towards sanity (with the possible exception of the OWS movement–too soon to tell with that). As the preacher says in “Blazing Saddles”: “O Lord, do we have the strength to carry off this mighty task in one night? Or are we just jerking off?”

  • Even when civilizations collapse, the sky slope will be there, although most of the clientele would be now Chinese-speaking.

    And, to be frank, we don’t need people like David Oistrakh.

    He served a state which killed more people than even Nazi Germany, which his side was fighting against.

    Oistrakh is little better than the half-witted state trooper who shoots at his whim. They serve the beast in their own ways.

    In fact, if there is another one like him coming out during the next crisis, he is the one to kill immediately.

  • Kathy C, thank you! :)

    “Tell the truth if you can. Deliberate lies will rot your brain.”

    If you’re lying with words that you’re using,
    Then you’re cruising for a bruising;
    Ideas you’re depicting
    Will end up conflicting,
    But mainly, it’s hella confusing.

  • Benjamin great, and back to you

    Guy McPherson is a great guy
    I promise he never would lie
    The climate will boil
    Without oil we’ll toil
    Oh my, oh my, oh my.

    My husband and I got on a limerick kick a few years back during the Valerie Plame affair. Sometimes a rhyme and a laugh is better commentary than anything else.

  • An example of how limited perspective (in this case, increasing yields of a major crop (corn) can not only have unanticipated and potentially devastating consequences effects, but may also quickly lock the system into a modus operandi from which it is it is exceedingly difficult to break free:

    Honeybee problem nearing a ‘critical point’

  • This one is closer to the topic, if you will pardon preaching to the choir:

    The High Price of Materialism?

  • “… the unconscious narcissism of my first-year writing students was paralleled by the more sophisticated but still unconscious narcissism of my colleagues and of the institution itself….”

    Our unconscious mental stance
    Encloses our own little dance;
    Nested within,
    It adds unique spin
    To complete the consensus trance.

  • “… the unconscious narcissism of my first-year writing students was paralleled by the more sophisticated but still unconscious narcissism of my colleagues and of the institution itself….”

    We all have warped mental stances
    Within which culture advances;
    But subcultures show
    That they undergo
    Their own consensus sub-trances.

  • Island. Came closest to what I considered a sane society from early on. Read it in English and German, want to get all books of Huxley in both languages now. Saw an interview given ~’58, it was all exposed, there already.
    (Suppose over millennia voices like his where there, as they are today.)

    Letter of Laura Huxley, 1963, look for the transcript further down.

  • This is the workplace environment, today hampering ‘job-creators’ through excessive taxes and regulations, that American business is working to facilitate in order to bring jobs back to America from China and other low wage states.

    Indeed, this is the future of global corporatism as expressed in the workplace for the 99%.

  • Bernhard

    An entirely touching and beautiful letter. Many thanks for that.

  • Victor.

    Ja, Beautiful as it is. Mankind, men and women haven’t got the brains to coexist within habitat. At least we could try to go gracefully, which we won’t.

    About human rights. Do we, the Austrians, have to threaten you UK people to abide human rights?

    After all, we had to buy some eurofighters, though we have no weaponry for this, but we could take pictures from up above (if empire just would allow us to do so;-))

    Asked the local branch of Amnesty about the breach of human rights, will see the answer.

  • John Rember, thoughtful essay. Enjoyable to read as always. This wasn’t the point of your essay, but your discussion about grades and students reminded me of how we’ve sacrificed education in order to obtain good grades.

    Today (and perhaps it’s been this way for a long time), who cares if you actually learn anything as long as you make the grades which qualify you for the next level or admission to grad school or for a particular career? Certainly for those of us who were interested in going on to a professional school (medicine, law, etc.), getting the grades was the only thing that mattered. And that’s because the professional schools, for the most part, look only at grades – not at what you’ve actually learned.

  • The madness continues on unabated . . .

    Thames-Estuary Airport Will Be Explored as Heathrow Expansion Is Precluded

    The U.K. government will explore proposals to build an airport in the Thames estuary to increase London’s capacity for flights without expanding Heathrow, Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said.

    Britain may build a 50 billion-pound ($77 billion) airport on the mudflats of the Thames estuary instead of expanding London’s crowded Heathrow hub as the government examines how to meet burgeoning demand for flights.

    . . .

    “Aviation capacity constraints are damaging the U.K. economy,” it said in a statement. “A new airport in the Thames Estuary would cost up to 50 billion pounds and take decades to build. During this time we would be handing over on a plate the U.K.’s historic trade advantages. Growth can’t wait.”

  • The weather wackiness continues. The temperature has been running well above average for a long time now. Yesterday morning as I went out to do my early chores, the temperature was 68! That’s more like a South Florida January temp – not northern Arkansas. Our typical early morning temp for this time of year is in the 20s. This morning, we’re back to our chilly normal (which is why I’m still sitting in front of the computer, instead of being outside), but we’re projected to be back in the 50s and 60s for the next 7 days.

  • Bernhard – beautiful and sad.

    However looking at their shop to raise money I have questions. The selling of these goods to raise money for a good cause seems good, but do we the exploiters need one more card, diary, t-shirt, etc. And if we don’t why take the wood to make the paper and deplete the soil to grow the cotton? Too often these good causes end up buying into the culture for it is the only way they can find to the funds to do the work. A bind for sure.

  • Kathy C – agree.
    Years back when our beloved daughter started to study ethology, my arguments were, to “help” those people, figurative, build fences ten meters high, in a distance of a hundred kilometres and load the fence with high voltage, only means for them and their culture to survive. Not to lock them in, lock the rest out. Back then she disagreed, slowly changing her mind now?

    There is a project to save some of the seeds,Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which is cynical in itself, maybe its time to take the next step of cynicism to save some of mankind.

  • I like that idea of fencing civilization out. We have an electric netting fence around our chickens. It is 4 feet high. When researching the fence we found discussions about how could 4 feet keep chickens in. It was noted that the purpose was to keep predators out. Given enough room to range and greens to eat our chickens stay in. If they get out for some reason they are frantic to get back in (but usually don’t remember just how they got out in the first place :) )

    I will read the article later. Hmmm if Gates, Rockefeller are into a Doomsday seed vault what does that mean – one enters the area of smoke and mirrors when dealing with these folks. Thanks for the link.

    Early collapse seems to be the only real way to save these un-domesticated humans.

  • Loved the bit about animal husbandry being the metaphor for how customers are viewed, which frankly applies to just about all of corporate America, not just those entities (fictional though now given personhood not just for convenience sake) herding people around ski slopes.

    But this is what especially caught my eye:

    … I tend to quit jobs when I start glimpsing the shimmering outlines of the dehumanizing bioindustrial structure that I’ve been succeeding in. Just as I learn the system and gain the ability to suck more people into it, I chicken out ….

    Disenchantment one suffers after learning enough within any field of endeavor to see behind the facade guarantees a lifelong series of heartbreaks. Embrace, learn, succeed, disdain — soak, rinse, repeat. That’s how life looks from an idealistic perspective, considering how ideals never translate fully into reality.

  • My question is – how do you pay for your own special place in the universe without any income coming in? It’s the mystery that I think keeps a lot of people at their jobs and in their lives. Collapse is coming, but in the mean time – how do you keep a roof over your head if you aren’t born into wealth?

  • Thank you, John, for this stimulating essay. I’m still rereading it and mulling over it.
    I particularly liked a number of your insights which are new to me, like “corporations have figured out that they need to be people, but they have no need for humans to be people.” which reflects my personal experience, and “Since corporations are so much bigger than humans, it’s possible to feed off their excretions […] that would never be possible if you had to proceed under your own power.” which certainly matches my personal experience.
    It seems to me that it contains an unwritten suggestion that life could or should have a ‘higher’ purpose, that being part of the industrial process which is currently called ‘civilisation’ is not sufficient but myopic and dishonest because that civilisation is not civil, certainly being abusive of many others, whether the victims are ‘non-persons’ or not. For me, life is just life. It exists with no purpose. We can make a purpose, but it doesn’t need one.
    That is elegantly summarised by your conclusion that “In an infinite universe, we each occupy but a point.” According to Euclid, a point has position but no mass. That is certainly how I feel, totally inconsequential, unable to be an effective agent of change. But, no matter, I still get up every morning enjoying the sunrise and reading essays like this one. Thank you.

  • Just got back from a trip to the west side of the Salton Sea. Its shoreline is lined with shoals of rotting fish. Its small settlements are where motor homes go to die. Fading billboards still advertise waterfront property, but it looks like everything that ever got built there was for sale up to the point where it lost any pretense of shelter. You can tell where people still live by the live trees. It looks like the 22nd Century out there.

    Thank you for all these comments.

    Also, thanks for the A, VT. It’s been a while since I got one. I’d still argue with you about sentence structure and word choice.

    Benjamin, if limericks were sad songs, you’d be Roy Orbison. Maybe Roy Orbison as interpreted by David Lynch.

    Jaime Lopez, I can’t agree with you about Oistrakh. Frankly, I’m glad that the Soviets won the battle of Stalingrad–whether by violin or by Stalin Organ–and preserved Stalin’s record as the murder champion of the world, at least until Mao launched his Great Leap Forward. Had Hitler prevailed, they would have had to retire the title.

    I hope, out of fairness, you will put on headphones and listen to Oistrakh’s version of Opus 35 in a comfortable chair in a darkened room. Then listen to it again. Then if you still think we don’t need people like Oistrakh, I will believe that ideology can trump the world itself.

    John Stassek and David, I’ll try to take up your questions/comments when I have time to try to think them through.

    One tangential note is that NBL is the only place I’ve encountered that consistently approaches such questions without nihilism [complete nihilism, anyway]–or blown cognitive fuses–which makes this forum and its wider audience one of the few arenas where things actually move forward through dialog.

    Brutus and Dr. House and Robin: cf. “What Broke My Father’s Heart,” in Best American Science Writing, 2011.

    The links added to this thread are wonderful. I deeply appreciate everyone taking the time to slog through my piece.

  • “Nihilism ( from the Latin nihil, nothing) is the philosophical doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more putatively meaningful aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value.”

    A little more Nihilism and we might succeed in reducing the population :)

    OK, what is the purpose and meaning of human life? If we succeed in extincting ourselves will our only meaning have been to have caused another massive extinction event – will our lives take on the meaning of an asteroid or the Siberan Traps?

    I find meaning in the small – I mean something to my husband and he to me. I mean something to my dog (food) and she to me (adoration). But humans, unless they get off planet, will go – if not now, when the sun burns up. So outside of religious beliefs, mystical beliefs, etc. what meaning does the human race have? Perhaps our friend Sean the Cosmist is right – perhaps we have to pursue getting off planet so we can envision humans existing forever – to posit some greater meaning. Maybe aliens will arrive in the nick of time to save us from our self extinction and inform us of what meaning we have (perhaps we have the same meaning to them as cows have to us – as pointed out in the Twilight Zone episode To Serve Man )

  • “To be in opposition is not to be a nihilist. And there is no decent or charted way of making a living at it. It is something you are, not something you do.” (Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian)

    There appears to be no meaning to our lives beyond what we create. I touched on this topic quite a while ago. That essay is here.

  • How soul-draining, how horrible it must be, to work with bright and energetic students just trying to figure out the system they were birthed into!

    I have a cure for your narcisissm, unconscious or not, and it involves no Tchaikovsky or hand-wringing. Find yourself next semester at your local community college, in adjunct style, at the head of an English 101 class, teaching students born into the ass-end of the system that produces artificial snow.

    Possibly this cure has already occurred to you. I hope so. They could use you down there.

  • “There appears to be no meaning to our lives beyond what we create”

    I feel like I am creating something when I put leaves on my garden – beautiful rich life filled soil out of cotton farmed clay. Come climate change it may become desert soil but right now it is beautiful. I find my meaning in small things. I can’t say I really create the soil, I just help it become. I would rather the people in town kept their leaves and and let them stay where they fell, enriching their own yards, but my meaning in life is to rescue leaves from the dump for a meaningful decay in my garden. Small things….

  • Kathy

    You are not creating anything…you are nurturing and protecting…..Mother Nature does the rest. Just keep humans away from it….

  • A film trailer for Kathy C’s ambition.

  • Victor, yes I an not really creating soil which is why I said ” I can’t say I really create the soil, I just help it become.” :)

  • Carlos Castañeda in one of his books in the series that starts with The Teachings of Don Juan (I forget which book)  narrates that Don Juan tells him that all creativity comes from the “nagual”. The term is used not its common reference to a a human being who has the power to magically turn him- or herself into an animal form, but to a ground or force within which exists all that is perceived or conceived. 

    This is not the same as a “Creator”, the “Creator” being something distinct from the “I”. One’s own creativity seems to arise in the “I”, with the “I” being a channel through which a part oft creativity streams. This view of creativity is consonant with Eastern Traditions. 

    If a purpose to life is sought, it may well be that each sentient being serves as a channel for processes in a phenomenon of magnitude beyond finite reckoning. 

  • “There appears to be no meaning to our lives beyond what we create.”

    It’s likely our basic state
    Is part of the fabric of fate;
    Despite all our preening,
    Our lives have no meaning
    Beyond the ones we create.

  • John Stassek, Most people identify the system they’re born into as their life support. Convincing them that their life support is killing them is difficult. At best, it takes awhile, and I wouldn’t take the lack of response to your efforts as evidence that nobody’s paying attention. Even if you get through, not everybody’s going to be grateful to you for making their world a lot more dangerous and grief-ridden. Even if they’re grateful, they’re not necessarily going to tell you about it.

    A culture that depends on a cheap-ass consensus psychosis to visualize its future is not going to value a clear-eyed witness. But witnessing generates huge changes in consciousness. It brings what is unconscious to consciousness, and we see remnants of its formerly recognized power in its honored positions in our religions and in our courts.

    What we’re witnessing is a mass extinction, the transformation of a green world into a desert, a population explosion that fits all of the criteria for a build-up/die-off. As a well-educated and thoughtful friend of mine says, People With Kids Can’t Go There.

    What you and Guy McPherson and–with luck–the rest of us are doing is becoming consciousness workers. We’re asking people to stop and think in terms of the greater context of their actions. People can’t think on the run. So when you get no response, or when Guy, as he says, sucks all the air out of the room, it’s possible to view that sudden silence is the sound of an audience of people coming to consciousness.

    David, you bring up the situation of so many young people, who are paying for college with loans that won’t ever be forgiven and who will be debt-serfs for the rest of their lives unless they’re among the lucky minority that find well-paying jobs.

    If my words make it seem like I’m above the system, I should point out that for most of my life I was deep within it, sweating mortgage payments and grading sub-literate essays and daydreaming about owning a giant four-wheel-drive diesel pickup. What got me out of it was finally paying off the mortgage, Julie and I living on my salary while saving Julie’s, not having kids, and consciously entering the salvage economy rather than staying in the consumer economy.

    There are a lot of good books out there on the salvage economy, and the concept is extendable to the emotional and intellectual and even spiritual realms.

    Court Merrigan, teaching comp is no cure for narcissism, in my experience.

  • If Guy is right, and it is literal lights out in 2012, no one will be collecting on student loans. All the info is digitized and will be unavailable not to mention that loan collectors live in cities that have 3 days worth of food. It will be, until things settle out, Katrina for the whole country.

    One possible route to lights out is the vulnerability we have made for ourselves with our electric grid combined with increased activity on the sun. We are vulnerable in so many ways, this is just one.

    “An M-3 flare won’t do us in but the powerful ones are getting more frequent.
    “Active sunspot 1401 erupted yesterday, Jan. 19th around 16:30 UT, producing an M3-class solar flare and a full-halo coronal mass ejection (CME). The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory recorded the cloud expanding almost directly toward Earth:
    Analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab say strong geomagnetic storms are possible when the cloud arrives this weekend.”

  • WordPress has moved the share bar from a horizoltal position below the POST to a vertical position on the left side of the WINDOW where it blocks a part of every line of the text except the top line on the iPhone 3G making reading quite difficult. Is there any way to disable this nuisance?

  • I have figured out how to reduce the display of the “share” and “countres” section of the bar (but not completely eliminate them. And it cannot be made permanent, but has to be done each time the page is loaded. The “Go Top” and “Go Home” sections of the bar are not responsive to the switchand cover two-thirds of the window. With the switch, instead of reducing, they go to the top or load the home page

  • With thanks to John Rember and Peter Kim, and new post is up. It’s here.

  • Robin, to the far left on my computer is a thin bar that says “Sociables”. If you click on the little left painting diamond under the word it takes the big bar away.

  • Takes it away until you post a comment or refresh the page.

  • >I hope, out of fairness, you will put on headphones and listen to Oistrakh’s version of Opus 35 in a comfortable chair in a darkened room. Then listen to it again. Then if you still think we don’t need people like Oistrakh, I will believe that ideology can trump the world itself.

    My belief on Oistrakh is firm.

    In Spain, there was a famous bullfighter named Manolete, who worked during the years of the Spanish Civil War and the years afterward.

    Manolete, by shifting attention from people’s mind and serving as a dog for the Franco regime, did more than anyone else to legitimize the fascist rule.

    But when his popularity began to grow even more than Franco’s, they got rid of Manolete. I think that served him right.

    A similar thing occurred in post-war Japan. A pro-wrestler named Rikidozan, who was actually from North Korea, galvanized postwar Japan and took attention away from the war-ravaged people recovering from the bombs. And , when Japan recovered sufficiently from the war, Rikidozan, a foreigner to begin with, was similarly disposed of. He is now more remembered in his native NK than in Japan.

    Oistrarkh, Manolete, and Rikidozan all serve the Beast. I don’t know how Oistrarkh died, but it doesn’t really matter; he helped to send millions more to their doom, so his music was a poison.

  • John Rember, your essay title puzzles me. Are these your “Last Days, Last Words,” or is there a broader meaning?


    Open Letter To Children Everywhere

    By Steve Salmony

    20 January, 2012

    Please examine carefully and skillfully what is willfully ignored and conspicuously unexplored. Many ‘experts’ appear to have sold out to the “one percent” by participating in the widespread denial of science regarding the issue of human population dynamics/overpopulation. On the one hand we are confronted by the deafening silence of reputable scientists and on the other we have pseudo-scientists who broadcast whatever self-serving thought, contrived logic and ideology their benefactors demand. The human community is being deceived with false promises and directed down a primrose path by unsavory, mutually aggrandizing leaders. These so-called leaders are erroneously believed to possess the intellectual honesty, moral courage and will to act boldly that is required to acknowledge, address and overcome the colossal threat posed to future human well being and environmental health by the unbridled growth of absolute global human population numbers.

    Any exploration of what is being consciously avoided and deliberately denied would include, I suppose, an examination of the best available scientific evidence related to the most accurate placement of the human species within the natural order of living things as well as all the seminal research related to the way the world we inhabit actually works. Perhaps rigorous scrutiny of “human creatureliness”, an easily observed aspect within the breadth of humanness, could be a point of investigation. Very little attention and research has been dedicated to this aspect of our all-too-human nature. Another point of inquiry has to do with the nature of the world we inhabit, with particular attention to the shape, make-up and ecology of Earth. Is our planetary home flat or round? Is the Earth like a teat at which the human species (and life as we know it) can forever suckle or is the planet composed of limited resources that are being wantonly dissipated today? Is the ecology of Earth frangible and can its ecosystems be degraded by human pollution to a point at which the Earth could become unfit for human habitation?

    Children, why not invite your friends, parents, teachers and other elders like me to speak truthfully with you about what efforts are being made to assure all of you a good enough future by pursuing a path toward sustainability? Despite your elders’ claims of ignorance about what it means to live sustainably, do not be fooled. They are playing stupid. The challenge for you is to call out your elders and insist they immediately acknowledge that no one with wealth and power in the one percent wants to stop what is known today as “business as usual” practices, much less sensibly begin to plan for the right-sizing of ‘too big to fail’ corporations. Open discussions are everywhere eschewed of plans for transitioning away from the pernicious legitimization of transnational corporate ‘persons’. Too-big-to-succeed business empires are being grown ever larger rather than “powered down” into sustainable enterprises, ones that can co-exist with life as we know it on a planet with the size, composition and environs of Earth. To this end, perhaps you can speak loudly, clearly and often about what your elders need to learn fast and well regarding how to live in our planetary home without recklessly dissipating its finite resources, as leviathan-like corporations are doing now; how to adapt outrageous per capita overconsumption patterns and individual hoarding lifestyles in preparation for an end to economic growth (not development); how to sensibly stabilize and then humanely reduce the size of the human population to a level that assures sustainability of the human species and life as we know it; and how to deal effectively with the relentless pollution and environmental degradation that is occurring on our watch.

    The Rio 20 Conference will occur in June 2012. Where are the scientists who are ready, willing and able to discuss openly, objectively and honorably the “mother” of all emerging and converging, human-induced global challenges looming before the human family on our watch: human overpopulation? Have first class scientists capitulated to the politically correct agenda of the rich and powerful as well as agreed to speak only of that which the one percent determined is politically convenient, economically expedient, socially suitable, religiously tolerable and culturally prescribed? Children, perhaps I am mistaken about all of this. For your sake, I certainly hope so.

  • Wonderful essay. Deeply wonderful.

    Found via desdemonadespair — to whom goes my thanks, as well as you.

    Your “dark, existential jokes” suitable for deepwater bacteria made me hope that you’ve visited, where for four+ years we’ve been be-quipping (often via bacteria-worthy dark humor) the news that actually matters.

    Your longform essay — which even with its non-rhetorical structure, is a rhetorically brilliant ‘argument’ — makes me want to write, again, in long-form form.

    I’ve written essays personally, frequently, during the last 25+ years of personal output. Probably I’ve done it more than most.

    But this essay of yours (and the subtext behind it) reminds me of the vast potential for non-didactic exposition — and the breadth of variety open to me.

    I’ll pick back up that faintly-glowing torch with more alacrity, now, because of your essay.