Personal choices in uncertain times

by John Day

What is your energy descent plan?

To develop personal, family and community energy descent plans, we need to have an idea of the overall context. The overall context is very hard to sort out, because there is no continuous curve to extrapolate. We have to look to what has been done in history, and what that history might imply in our currently developing situation, but also what the limits to our conjecture may be. Right now, global food supply is largely sustained through oil-powered “green revolution” technology. In the US, we spend 9 calories of petrochemical energy per food calorie which we consume. In Bangladesh, about 1/2 calorie of human and animal energy goes into producing each calorie of food energy consumed. The petro-energy has meant that we get by with very little human and animal energy. In our equation, it is treated as negligible. A lot of the energy devoted to the calories we eat comes from our cars, refrigerators and cooking devices. Also, we are wasteful of this energetically expensive food. If you throw out half of what you cook, after leaving it sitting in the fridge, you doubly worsen your calorific efficiency. There is at least some low-hanging fruit.

Most people in the world, including Europeans and Japanese, eat much more locally than Americans do, and eat much less industrially processed, preserved “food”. Currently, we have options about what to eat. In “wartime” we won’t. The options we choose today will be more established and available in “wartime”, as a result. We can shape the future by what we choose now. However, that will be only a small factor in the process. It will shape us more than it will our outside-world.

Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed, looks at historical examples of societies that thrived and grew by exploiting local resources, failed to adapt any other survival strategies, exhausted the essential resources, and underwent catastrophic collapse.

It appears that we humans are not able to turn away from a working strategy, as long as it is working in the short term. Therefore, we keep finding ourselves in positions of having to scramble in very bad situations. War seems to be one of our main adaptive mechanisms in these times. War can be on a small scale, or a large scale. What group is so small as to be immune from dividing and fighting? Research shows that no group over 200 humans can really resist the tendency to splinter, without outside supports/structures and lots of effort. It is easier with less than 100. It has to do with how many meaningful personal relationships one human can have. At some point, you choose between a meaningful relationship, and something happening to a relative stranger, whether “right” or “wrong.”

By the 20th century, Europe had seen something like 2000 years of organized warfare, had culturally acclimatized to it, and was also sick of it, but was still governed by ruling elites, whether in monarchy, banking, industry or elected governments. Local communities had various self-sufficiency and protective traditions, involving local food and trading. People really could “live without money” in those settings. That is now foreign to us, and has largely been replaced by the State social-welfare apparatus in Europe (sort of like making a trade with a 2-year-old, when you want to take away the pacifier). Still, it exists more in Europe than in the US, which is a completely monetized economy, and has made the next step, to the use of electronic, centrally processed instruments, such as credit cards. There is no local defense in the use of credit cards. This electronic money is ideal for banking and government elites. Cash, of any sort, is much better for small groups, and barter, or trading favors is the traditional human defense from conquering armies and despots. It is just too much bother to send armies in to take every little thing, unless you must face a choice between the army starving and the farmers starving.

If we look at Asia, and specifically China, there were also thousands of years of social adaptions to warlords and kings, and these were deeply affected by WW-2 and the sweep of “communism” across China and Cambodia. This destroyed much of the local culture wherever it went. Ancient patterns in small farming communities have been deeply changed. There were profound efforts at every level to break down the old system into something which could be centrally commanded. Youth brigades were used to break down the ancient, adaptive patterns.

Radio and telephone, and eventually the internet, allowed instant communication across vast distance. Initially, these technologies served the elite, but there is now a moment where the information flows laterally, from anyone and to anyone else, without hierarchical control. We have a new tool, and perhaps only for a short while, to devise our coping strategies for the next wartime. When the wars begin, we will likely lose our connections to each other, except the local ones.

The next wartime will come as a species-specific adaptive strategy to the sudden drastic and comprehensive change. Economic changes are the usual prelude to wars.

Our species has exceeded the sustainable carrying capacity of this planet. You may disagree. At least it is close, and estimates are that human population will peak around 2050, based on current trends. Based on the Kissinger Report, from 1974, when we first felt the bite of oil shortage, there is a lot of focus among the elites on the tractability of a social group. A social group is less tractable, when it has a rapidly growing population, with lots of young people, and not enough resources to provide good prospects for them to advance within the system. Kissinger’s report pointed out that countries like this would be hard to get necessary mineral resources (oil) out of. He proposed making contraception widely available, and socially acceptable, for reasons that would serve the interests of families and communities, and would be propounded by local rulers, with the US and other powers playing an invisible hand. This invisible hand has now been played for about 40 years, and we can all look around and see where there is population growth vs population slowing, stability or decrease.

The elites are going to like the stable areas and be untrusting of the areas where there is rapid population growth and instability of large, young, hungry populations. The elites are not all on the same page, by any means. What they see as desirable in populations under their control, and under the control of other elites, will be similar, but there are obvious clashes when choosing which tractable groups should get the limited resources. The intractable groups just get treated very badly, all around.

We can see that a lot of control mechanisms are in play in the oil places of the Middle East. There are wars and repressive dictators, plus lots of intrigues, support for rivals, support for destabilization in general. Even before the Kissinger Report there has been another policy for the “great powers” to manage the flow of natural resources out of a poor region: “Crisis Management,” as described in Asaf Siniver’s book, Nixon, Kissinger, and U.S. Foreign Policy Making.

Siniver’s book details the development of foreign policy under Nixon and Kissinger, focusing on tools of management within the context of crisis. Such crises were certainly created by the US in Chile, with backing for all the economic attacks and coup that led to the overthrow of Salvador Allende, and the bloodbath under Pinochet. The use of drug receipts from Golden Triangle opium and heroin trade, to fund the “secret wars” in Laos and Cambodia, were also products of the Nixon/Kissinger “Crisis Management” approach.

Since then, the creation of crisis has been an integral part of US Foreign Policy, always hidden, but always suspected. (With so much institutional experience, it would be surprising if this did not arise on the home front, wouldn’t it? 9/11? Weaponized anthrax? Letting New Orleans go feral after Katrina, just to see what happened?)

We see crisis and natural resources coinciding in Africa a lot. Libya is a recent example, but also Sudan/Darfur, which has oil and uranium desired by China and the US. Basically, a region is thrown into local civil war, and both sides are pressed into negotiating for outside support, just to survive. The outside-support demands access to natural resources at a low price, and the two factions compete for the support. Sometimes the two sides seek support from rivals, such as the US and China, as is the case in Sudan/Darfur. As long as there is local crisis, the terms for extraction of resources are less important to the local people, or local warlords, than their survival, and ultimate victory.

To sum up our current situation:

We have all the technological benefits of the past 250 years of steam- and oil-powered industrial society, science and vast population expansion.

We have developed an economic system, predicated on growth, which collapses without growth.
The growth has stopped, due to oil production being stagnant since 2005.

The economic system has been urged along with increasingly big promises of future profit, which are now becoming unsupportable, even in theory.

Every reset of an economic system, or social order, up until now, has involved violent conflict as an essential part of the change.

15,000,000 people died in WW1, 66,000,000 people died in WW2. Those were days of more adequate resources, smaller populations, more localized in scope, and with lesser technology for mass killing.

The ruling elite everywhere want adequate resources to drive their power bases, hard-working and obedient populations to command, and for the losses to be borne by their enemies, foreign and domestic. These goals dictate some large groups lose out, but not that any large groups must actually succeed.

The risk of all groups losing out is a huge and seriously likely threat, which must somewhat moderate the warlike behavior of elites initially. We have seen “manageable” wars in regions where there is oil, and/or strategic interest. (This is from the viewpoint of the superpowers, not the local dead people.)

Global capitalism and central banking had their own agendas, which guided and partly controlled WW1 and WW2. The confinement of these wars, and the marshaling of forces against relative non-participants and fall-guys allowed for global banking to thrive, while real economies were subsumed, forced out, or just looted.

The cooperation within global banking rose to a peak in the past decade, but is now strained by the failure of the inherent requisites of the exponentially-growing monetary system. Banking could be in stable growth, with a bright future in every other war, but not now. Banking is weak at every level, needing outside support from politicians, and changes of all the rules. It cannot be stable until it has a system which it can exploit through stagnation and collapse. Gold Standard looks like that system. Time is short. Choices are limited. Trust is evaporating. Got any other ideas?

Don’t think a gold system will be safer for ordinary people, like us. In the “Long Depression” of the late 1800s there was vast looting by bankers, much harsher than in the inflationary regime we have grown up with. Therefore, any massive wars proceeding before change of the global monetary regime will tend to take bankers as casualties. That would be a fundamental systemic change. Banking/finance as a utility, rather than as an extractive mechanism, enriching elites at the expense of the “real economy” would bring a big increase in total system efficiency. It would also displace a very large class of wealthy and powerful parasites, who got that way by being clever, and know how to fight for position. This change is being delayed. Roosevelt wanted finance as a utility, and got some moves in that direction. Those have all been undone in the past 3 decades.

So, on the one hand, we have the biggest financial collapse and the biggest resource collapse ever, and on a truly global scale. On the other hand we have massive information and historical perspective, pointing to the dangers of extinction, and death for all participants, and smart guys to point this all out. The smart guys are not all just plotting sides this time, but looking at the real risk of total GAME OVER for all participants. Where does that leave us when choosing paths, and changing paths, and seeing changes in types of dangers coming up next?

1) Financial threats are here now and will continue for the foreseeable future

Loss of income is big. Consider your career. Are there other things you can start doing on the side? We need to take steps to develop local non-monetary systems to meet needs. This is hard in an urban setting. Food must be grown. We can take initial steps to get more intimate with local food, and discover what we can and can’t do in this regard. Loss of buying power of money, loss of electronic money, theft by big and small thieves are all other issues.

Redefinition of money is both a threat and an opportunity. It has to come. Don’t advertise your position. Hedge your bets. Hedge in non-monetary assets as much as possible. They are harder to take.

Think about how to position yourself and your community in a pared-back economy, more like the 1950s. Feed stores are necessary, Nieman Marcus is not. Are you necessary? Are you contributing through an organization which can survive? what shocks can it survive? What shocks will kill it? What alternatives do you have?

2) Security threats come from loss of support, and from the desperate actions of those who have lost their own supports and through the actions of tyrants, promising to protect you from the uncontrolled desperados, or to protect the gated communities from YOU

In the first case, look to support and diversify your own production, especially into areas that require less “support from above” and more lateral supports.

In the second case, look to your location and community. How will your neighborhood fare if many lose employment and electricity and gasoline? Can you bolster it? Should you relocate? Is there a community, of which you are a more dedicated member, which you can find a way to link with in more ways? Spiritual communities may have deeper bonds than many.

In the third case, we should all shy away from any person or organization, which is oppressive to “others” as a way to “protect” us. It ain’t believable. It always hurts everybody. Back off. Don’t confront. See it coming and shy away ASAP.

3) War and the effects of wartime are things we have been sheltered from, but we still hold responsibility, to the degree that we fail to resist

Karma comes in when we benefit from the killing, robbing and enslavement of others. Our own ability to judge where the threats of war are coming from, and how we should best resist or flee, will be clouded, to the degree that we have let war proceed for our own selfish interests in the past. We all share the guilt of this dynamic to varying degrees, and we should examine it closely, in order to be as free as possible from distortions within our own minds.

It looks like BIG WAR is coming sometime after the collapse gets underway. It has always come before. It is uncertain. What year would you have gotten out of Germany, between the wars? Where would you have gone (if you could)? Even knowing all that you know, it seems almost impossible to sort out.

In closing, I need to say that we think of ourselves individually, but that is not how we survive. We survive in groups, cooperative groups. There is a cult of the individual, and many mythical “great men” in history, used as examples. They were only great based upon their particular positions within certain societies, at certain times, and could have just flopped in another place and time. Please be a good, supportive, contributing, honest and insightful member of your social groups. All your friends and relatives need your help.

John Day, MD is a middle-aged white male doctor living in Austin, Texas, who grew up on military bases during the Vietnam War, in a Marine Corps family. Dad retired and the family moved to a cattle ranch in Bandera, Texas for a couple of years, with Mom’s parents (John had to raise a very sad calf for Ag class), then to Japan, where Dad liked how people were so polite to him. High school in Japan in the 1970s was a trip. Working in a hospital kitchen, while at UT Austin for college, gradually morphed into a career in medicine, mostly public health work. This has included Navajo Reservation, rural Texas “country doc”, State psychiatric hospitals, community clinics, Family Medicine, Residency faculty, an OB/GYN Fellowship, and 3 stints working in rural Hawaii for a few months at a time.

John and Jenny got married when he was in med school, went trekking around Annapurna a few years later, and swore to take this kids around the world for a year, when they had kids. They had Holly, Steve, Jim and Amber in 4 years. When they became teenagers, the family sold the house to bike tour and backpack through Europe, Asia and Oceana in 2005-2006. The kids are all in college or med school and Steve survived the appendicitis he got in Cambodia. The surgery in Thailand went really well, all things considered. Jim is a bike mechanic, Holly has a 3rd degree black belt in Kung fu, and Amber bike-delivers sandwiches. All the kids are fine. Don’t ask questions.

John drinks Japanese green tea, Hawaiian coffee, and rides his fixed-gear bicycle to work. He sits and meditates with Buddhists from the Lubbock area on Sundays, sometimes listening to a visiting Tibetan Lama. He is a vegetarian, because animals don’t really want him to eat them, and he has other choices. He still cops out and eats eggs and cheese, but feels energetically darkened by the whole sordid process. He is confused, deeply confused, and definitely not anybody who you should take advice from. He has long hair, thinning around the crown, tied back, out of the way.

Comments 48

  • Very well organized and expressed thoughts, Dr. Day, thank you.

  • Thank you, John. I enjoyed this piece. Among other things, I completely agree with you that, “Our species has exceeded the sustainable carrying capacity of this planet.” I was surprised to learn that you had four children, and wondered if you might comment on that particular personal choice.

  • Karma comes in when we benefit from the killing, robbing and enslavement of others.

    It is also created with every good thought, word & action. The fruits of karma, both good & bad, are experienced individually, even if experienced simultaneously. And the fruits of good karma could on occasion be a distraction, just as the other might correctly align  one’s progress.  Yet none of it, part or whole, can be exchanged for Awareness.

  • Dr  Gary Peters the geographer posts on Gail Tverberg’s blog Our Finite World:

    The Faustian Bargain that Modern Economists Never Mention

  • If the human species goes extinct what happens to all the karma?

  • Good point about karma, Kathy C. Every sentient being carries its own load of karma. It is not inherited from a (biological) ancestor. According to tradition, just because one has a human embodiment here and now, it does not mean that the same was true of the past or will be true in the future. And even if the whole planet and solar system – and the universe – goes kaput, there is the no theoretical limitation (even in today’s physics) on other universes – and on extra dimensions in spacetime.

  • Hi Julia,

    Thanks to all for kind comments. All my life, I wanted 4 kids, the size of my own family in childhood. The youngest was born in 1993. I can’t claim anything but wanting 4 kids as my reason. (I got a vasectomy from my next door neighbor before our youngest, Amber, was born. Kids running toward my lap spooked me for years after that.
    I always said I’d get a vasectomy at 4.) My main concern in all this was the middle-age urge that a man gets for a young mate and second family. I had reasoned that out, and decided that a vasectomy would be the way to prevent that urge from having any weight in my life. I didn’t want to be a pawn to that urge, and cause unhappiness to Jenny and the kids, down the road.

  • Robin, I think the karma idea is just another way humans try to deny what they know but don’t want to know. We are mortals – we have to die. I don’t remember any previous embodiment so even if some essence of myself was embodied in some other being in the past, it hardly matters. I rather take the wisdom I have quoted here before

    Faith in immortality was born of the greed of unsatisfied people who make unwise use of the time that nature has allotted us. But the wise man finds his life span sufficient to complete the full circle of attainable pleasures, and when the time of death comes, he will leave the table, satisfied, freeing a place for other guests. For the wise man one human life is sufficient, and a stupid man will not know what to do with eternity. Epicurus

    I also think that karma, like heaven and hell, has been used to keep the peasants subservient as Michael Parenti details in his essay Friendly Feudalism The Tibet Myth Good things can be used for evil purposes of course, but I see no benefit to believing in karma. I do see a benefit in believing that how we act in the here and now affects us and others in the here and now.

  • There is no immortality for the individual. The body & mind perishes. It is one of The Three Features of Existence in Buddhism: “All entities are without a soul (without an abstractable essence)”.  The “I” and its corollary, the “not- I”are both transitory. 

  • Robin, You say the I is transitory. I believe in the past that you said there is no “I”. So are you now saying there is an I but it is temporary. In either case it would seem that there is no karma that is “mine”(that being the possessive of I it would also be transitory or non-existent). Am I understanding you correctly.

  • Buddhist theology :-) …

    Nothing physical and nothing conceptual is “permanent”. All physical things are temporary interrelations of causes and effects from other temporary things. The self exists moment to moment, with a feeling of continuity between those moments, but the self is constantly changing, due to all the influences and interactions changing. The concept of the self is something that “we” really identify with as constant, because it feels that way. We are wired to feel that way. It is easier for us, feeling this way, to envision the self going on past death, into other lives, unchanged.
    All such concepts are incomplete and erroneous, but “I” am not the one to clarify where the truth really lies. There are lots of well documented cases of apparent reincarnation, where people have encyclopedic knowledge of a past life, which can be identified and verified. I haven’t looked at those things recently, so sorry, no links.
    There is a saying in Mahayana Buddhism, that the last thing a Buddhist must do is to “kill the Buddha”, meaning to break free of whatever core mental concept has been a guiding light for the journey of spiritual discovery. The ultimate discovery is purely non-conceptual.
    Again, “I” have not been there to bear witness for “you”, but my few experiences that transcend ordinary awareness make that seem about right.
    These kinds of discussion, so far from ordinary experience, take on the quality of koans (Sound of one hand clapping, etc.) The lack of a quick answer, the internal paradox from the mundane view, is the motive power for spiritual exploration. (So they say…)

  • The “I” and “not-i” are as real in their frame of reference: a dream-world is real in a dream. The “I” of a dream is an “avatar” (in the sense of online games) of the awake “I” and is not what “exists” when one awakes. Any accumulated good or bad consequences or karma of the dream-state is limited to the dream state and they disappear on awakening.

    A lucid dreamer (dreaming while aware that it is a dream) recognizes that the the dream-world exists within the dreamer. A similar situation in the awake world is the “enlightened” person: “Inasmuch as ye have adone it unto one of the bleast of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Nor does the “enlightened” person need to assign blame: “forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

  • Frankly none of this I, not-I makes a bit of sense. Perhaps that is the attraction for some, but not to me. To me it makes no more sense than the explanation of how the trinity can be three in one (for fun try out the Athanasian creed for a christian attempt at pretending to explain something that makes no sense).

    I cut myself, I hurt. You cut yourself, I feel empathy. There is something that is me that experiences my own thoughts, not anyone else’s. There is nothing in me that knows of any existence other than the one I have lived in this body.

    Ah well, soon we will be dealing with more mundane things like how to get the next meal. Karma, I, not-I etc will likely not help one iota in keeping together the body that holds the mind that says I am me. And when we can’t keep that body together the mind will die and with it the construct we call I. And that will be that – I sure hope I am right because one life seems to be quite enough.

  • ‘I sure hope I am right because one life seems to be quite enough.’

    i quite agree with kathy c (just can’t resist a cheap rhyme). there is no discernible purpose, meaning, or value in ‘this life’. quite to the contrary, there’s a strongly dystopian, hellish cast to surreality when one surrealizes that one’s ‘leadership’ seems to embody ‘evil’ traits like being insane, sly, deceitful, sociopathic gaian rapists.

    we’re like machines genetically programmed to survive and reproduce regardless of circumstances, regardless of all the pain and anguish involved in doing so, and regardless of the ‘karma’, how our lives affect others (including other species) present and future.

    no doubt our inherent fear of death is a product of this genetic programming, a fear which is absurd, imo. sleep oblivion is preferable to anguish. there have been many times when my first thought/feeling upon awakening is horrific awareness/recall of my dystopian existence in a dystopian world.

    it’s an absurd world (almost rhymes!). i have one great question for ‘god’: wtf!? what’s the point of my life or this universe/world? why have awareness that brings anguish and shame? why have life that’s dependent upon the deaths of other sentient beings. why this darwinian struggle/instinct to survive in a world without redemption?

    what’s the point? why are sheople, supposedly ‘intelligent’ beings destroying the basis for future life on this planet? what’s the point of such ‘intelligence?

    what is the point of an existence where pleasure/satisfaction is more than negated by pain/angst? are u a sadist? is surreality for real, or is this all simply imaginary?

    what’s the point of crafting hypothetical questions to ask an imaginary being?

    also agree that robin’s attempts to explain ‘karma’ and other mystical matters in reasonable terms are incomprehensible, at least for me. i tend to skip over his posts now when that’s his topic.

    john day, i have a mixed reaction to your essay. on one hand it contains wisdom, compassion, humility. on the other hand it smells of denial/ignorance of the extremity of our predicament and the suffering, both physical and psychological that will accompany the population crash and ecological devastation of our planet that’s coming this century (many here think this decade).

    i think your mentioning of war with respect to economic crisis is likely dead on. it seems the usa is now constantly beating the war drum and provoking much fear and resentment throughout much of the rest of the world. why just in tonight’s news is the story of a prominent iranian scientist involved with nuclear power being assassinated by a brazen car bombing attack on the streets of tehran. secretary of state hillary clinton’s denial of u.s. involvement rings hollow, and u.s ‘ally’ israel doesn’t even bother to deny involvement. when ‘our’ side does it it’s justifiable pre-emptive self defense. when the ‘bad guys’ do it it’s terrorism!

    it’s all just a game to sociopathic elites. the world’s run by fear, greed, and violence (and lots of deceit and dogma addiction).

    many of us and our children/future generations (if any) are probably fated for rather horrific end of life/death scenarios at some point due to collapse/die-off. could be a nuclear war this decade, or a great global war with billions of casualties. could be a combination of famine and disease over many coming decades. could be civil violence as economic collapse creates bands of desperately needy sheople.

  • tvt

    Coincidentally the item which appeared briefly on the Guardian site today used a variation on the word dystopian. I believe the key phrase is: ‘realign the expectations of an increasingly anxious global community’. In other words the elites are dropping big hints that the poor should expect to get a lot poorer and that the so-called middle class will soon join them.

    It’s quite something for the elties to be talking about economic turmoil after so many years of ‘green shoots’, ‘double dip’, ‘slower than expected recovery’ etc.

    World Economic Forum warns of economic turmoil and social upheaval
    Ahead of annual WEF meeting in Davos, Global Risks 2012 report says the ‘seeds of dystopia’ are being sown

    Larry Elliott, economics editor, Wednesday 11 January 2012 11.16 GMT
    Article history

    The Swiss town of Davos prepares for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum later this month. Photograph: Arno Balzarini/EPA
    The threat of fresh economic turmoil and social upheaval could put at risk the gains produced by globalisation, the World Economic Forum said on Wednesday.

    In its annual assessment of the outlook for the global economy, the WEF set the scene for its meeting in Davos later this month by warning that the “seeds of dystopia” were being sown.

    The growing number of young people with little chance of finding a job, the increasing number of elderly people dependent on states deeply in debt and the expanding gap between rich and poor were all fuelling resentment worldwide, the forum said in its Global Risks 2012 report on Wednesday.

    “For the first time in generations, many people no longer believe that their children will grow up to enjoy a higher standard of living than theirs,” said Lee Howell, the WEF managing director responsible for the report. “This new malaise is particularly acute in the industrialised countries that historically have been a source of great confidence and bold ideas.”
    The survey of 469 global experts identified chronic problems with government finances and severe income inequality as the most prevalent risks over the next decade.
    “These risks in tandem threaten global growth as they are drivers of nationalism, populism and protectionism at a time when the world remains vulnerable to systemic financial shocks, as well as possible food and water crises,” the report said.
    The study said early hopes that closer global integration would inevitably lead to higher living standards for all were at risk of being dashed by trends that left large numbers of people fearful about the future.
    “Individuals are increasingly being asked to bear risks previously assumed by governments and companies to obtain a secure retirement and access to quality healthcare. This report is a wake-up call to both the public and private sectors to come up with constructive ways to realign the expectations of an increasingly anxious global community,” said John Drzik, chief executive of management consultants Oliver Wyman.
    The study said the policies and institutions of the 20th century no longer offered protection in a more complex and integrated global economy. “The weakness of existing safeguards is exposed by risks related to emerging technologies, financial interdependence, resource depletion and climate change, leaving society vulnerable.”
    It also warned that there was a “dark side of connectivity”, with societies vulnerable to “malicious” and “devastating” cyber attacks.
    “The Arab spring demonstrated the power of interconnected communications services to drive personal freedom, yet the same technology facilitated riots in London. Governments, societies and businesses need to better understand the interconnectivity of risk in today’s technologies if we are truly to reap the benefits they offer,” said Steve Wilson, chief risk officer for general insurance at Zurich.

  • @Virgin Terry
    I feel the weight of this coming crushing wave of history quite heavily, but how does one convey that and keep the attention of the reader engaged? How can one even convey that? Once the scenario is comprehended, by anyone willing and able to work through the process, the anguish of the situation is self evident. (unless that reader has psychopathic traits)
    I write for an audience that I envision as willing to engage intellectually with ideas different from the mainstream, but not of the darkly brooding mindset. This was my New Year’s essay to the friends I send emails of current events to fairly regularly.

  • John Day, the global warming folks and many peak oil folks have tried the softer way of presenting the future for years with little result. The gloomier predictors have gotten little results. It appears that pollyanna is all anyone will listen to even though it leads to doom. Surely the signs that Jews were in for a hard time in Germany abounded yet few left and many calmly boarded the trains. I don’t think it matters how you present the truth, softly, carefully, or full of doom – those who have ears to hear will hear it either way, those who don’t won’t hear it any way.

    IMUHO (in my unhumble opinion) Those who created the Jesus story had apparently experienced similar things “He who has ears to hear,let him hear. But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, we played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” Matthew 11

  • John Day, viewing history as cyclical, as western civilization tended to do before the “Enlightenment,” can mitigate that “crushing wave” you speak of. To everything, there is a season, including history. We are transitioning to Winter; but Spring will come again… though there will be less noise, and hopefully more green, than folk now are used to.

  • Mass suicide’ protest at Apple manufacturer Foxconn factory
    Around 150 Chinese workers at Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics manufacturer, threatened to commit suicide by leaping from their factory roof in protest at their working conditions.

  • Kathy, tvt:

    You guys are doing such a great job of shredding the nonsense that I feel no need to jump in. Kathy, you are really on high alert! I will just sit in my lawn chair and watch for now.

    Thanks, guys.

  • I have kept quiet on a number of points but others have pushed the boundary, so I feel freer to comment.

    I do not like ‘attacking’ those who contribute to NBL. (Guy must already have a difficult enough time finding suitable contributions). John you have made many excellent points. However, ‘estimates are that human population will peak around 2050, based on current trends’ does not sit well with the general narrative of this forum, i.e. that industrial civilisation will collapse before 2030 and that there will be a population die-off well before 2050, due to collapse of the systems that use oil to produce and distribute food. It would have been useful to have pointed out that such population ‘estimates’ are absurd because the whole basis for such extimates is seriously flawed.

    I think it would be fair to say that all the current trends indicate that much of the Earth will be uninhabitable for humans by 2050, due to environmental degradation and/or abrupt climate change.

    John, do you not realise that by having 4 children in a highly consumptive society you have done far more than you fair share in wrecking the planet’s life support systems?

    My father grew up in poverty as one of seven and instilled in me at an early age the ‘error’ of having more than two children. Irrespective of my father’s teachings, as long ago as the 1960s it was very clear to anyone who thought about it that there were already far too many people in the world and that there was a social responsibility to limit one’s family to two children, i.e. replacement. (This is an arguement I have often had with Robert Thankyoufornotbreeding Atack, who condemns anyone who has any children, a position which most would regard as extreme at this point of time but one which may well prove valid soon enough.)

    You wrote: ‘I write for an audience that I envision as willing to engage intellectually with ideas different from the mainstream, but not of the darkly brooding mindset. This was my New Year’s essay to the friends I send emails of current events to fairly regularly.’

    I don’t think there is anyone on NBL who has a ‘darkly brooding mindset’. As far as I can tell everything relating to collapse of present economic-political arrangements and collapse of the environment is based on very sound evidence. I am yet to see one credible link that refutes anything in the common narrative of NBL (unfortunately. Intellectual engagement start with intellectual honety, surely.

    It seems to me that you are caught with one foot in one camp and the other in the opposite camp, trying to speak the truth in a whisper, or only speak half the truth …. a rather nasty place to reside.


    ‘the global warming folks and many peak oil folks have tried the softer way of presenting the future for years with little result. The gloomier predictors have gotten little results. It appears that pollyanna is all anyone will listen to even though it leads to doom.’

    You are absolutely right.

    We can now see why so many Jewish communities got largely wiped out. We can just imagine a community leader saying: ‘Let’s wait and see what happens. I’m sure it won’t be too bad.’

    It is almost impossible to prevent people from becoming victims of their own stupidity/complacency/ignorance. We continue to try. I liken it to shaping a piece of wood using sandpaper. Given enough time ……

  • very good point kevin about the invalidity of future population projections made without any apparent awareness/accounting for the imminence of collapse/die-off.

    i perceive the world right now, on the cusp of collapse, as extremely dystopian, and while there may be some good resulting from it, overall i expect it will be tragic. in other words i expect things to go from bad to much worse in the years/decades to come. i have no disagreement with calling such a view ‘darkly brooding’.

    john, i hope i empathize with your situation having 4 young adult children. i have one myself. we’re estranged, but knowing what i do, and possessing a ‘darkly brooding’ outlook on life, in a way the estrangement is ok. i don’t wish to destroy my daughter’s prospects for happiness while they last, and it’s less painful to surrender to despair this way. it must be much harder for u.

  • perhaps ‘surrender to despair’ is a bad way to put it. perhaps ‘stoically accept the unsentimental surreality of present/future tragedy’ is better.

  • Since the unborn cannot die, conception is the ultimate cause of death. But this truth by and large cannot be spoken for our brains refuse by and large to go there. Mine did for long enough for me to give birth to two kids. Our brains are big enough that we can see truths we find it hard to live with, such as mortality. Those who successfully see such realities – mortality of individuals, mortality of civilizations, the miserable physical lives of 3 billion or more people, the miserable emotional lives of most of the rest – are dubbed depressed. In fact you can hold such ideas and be morose or you can hold such ideas and be fatalistic but not morose. Others have a hard time distinguishing perhaps because know they would be depressed if they ever found out such ideas are realistic. I have been both. I am no longer morose about reality, but I refuse to keep quiet about it and express beliefs I don’t hold just to prove I am not depressed. If anything depresses me it is the lack of realism among humans. :)

    Of interest – I was looking for a quote I read once by a psychiatrist who didn’t know how to treat patients who were depressed (or so labeled) because they were realistic. Couldn’t find the quote but found this on wiki

    Depressive realism is the proposition that people with depression actually have a more accurate perception of reality, specifically that they are less affected by positive illusions of illusory superiority, the Locus of Control and optimism bias. The concept refers to people with borderline or moderate depression, suggesting that while non-depressed people see things in an overly positive light and severely depressed people see things in overly negative light, the mildly discontented grey area in between in fact reflects the most accurate perception of reality.

    Interesting that they cannot avoid the depressive tag to realism, even though they note later in the article “People without depression may be more likely to have inflated self-images and look at the world through “rose-colored glasses”, thanks to cognitive dissonance elimination and a variety of other defense mechanisms.”

  • revision – “since the un-conceived cannot die”.

  • “since the un-conceived cannot die”. -kathy

    one thing we can do is to not procreate and try to dissuade others from it. it’s the best harm reduction there is.

    i have a commentary riff off a famous image in the corporate news recently of american soldiers urinating on dead ‘taliban’ afghans. the establishment and it’s dogma addict followers are embarrassed/upset by this not because it involved killing, but because of desecration of dead bodies. in other words, war is fine so long as the warriors don’t get caught with their pants unzipped taking a piss on some ‘bad guys’ they just killed. they have more respect for dead bodies than for live ones.

    then there’s the puritan/shame aspect: corporate media images here in the usa and i imagine most other places don’t allow for any showing of adult genitalia (or some other body parts with potential erotic appeal) upon the artificial concept of ‘morality’/’decency’. particularly it is claimed and apparently widely believed that the ‘innocent’ eyes of young and curious children must be zealously shielded from such exposures which supposedly could be traumatic to their tender little psyches. balderdash! but this is one of the great unacknowledged, unquestioned dogmas of puritanical civilizations around the world, this dogma that human nudity and especially human sexuality must be treated as if it’s toxic to children. somehow their lives will be ruined if they understand and are comfortable with ‘the facts of life’. we must zealously guard against soiling the virginal purity of youth! if we want strong morals as the foundation of a great nation, that is!

    it seems to me that waging war on sex is a way of blighting relationships, instilling shame in young sheople so as to make them more acquiescent to ‘authority’ for the rest of their lives. i strongly suspect it also has the affect of increasing competition and aggression, especially in males, and is thus useful to leaders with imperial ambitions in need of warriors.

    anyhow, returning to kathy’s above quote, i think sex/eros needs to become more about enjoying biological life’s greatest pleasure without shame, while taking great care to prevent conception. it’s awful to live with mandatory repression/shame under harsh puritanical restrictive rule. i tend to believe on the basis of personal experience that ‘protecting’ young children from exposure to unabashed nudity and eros is one of the worst ideas ever. being virtually alone in this view informs much of my dystopian consciousness. along with all the other countless ways ‘human rights’ are trampled routinely throughout most of civilization, often in the name of ‘morality’.

    about the same time i was gaining awareness that procreation wasn’t a good idea for eco reasons like concern over agw, i was also reaching the conclusion that procreation was immoral because this world is too dystopian, too full of injustice, shame, violence and oppression.

  • @Kathy C. : Yes, I agree that most folks survive by believing what those around them believe, and behaving as they see others behave. Few of us have the itch to look closely and reason independently.

    @Christopher : Yes, I agree that Kondratief cycles work in human history (but they didn’t do Kondratief much good, when he displeased Stalin). There are cycles upon cycles, too. this has the makings of a “supercycle”, don’t you think? It’s global resource exhaustion, which we are approaching.

    @Kevin Moore : There are projections, as accepted as any such projections, that human population will peak around 2050, “based on present trends”. I say that as a follow-on to the assertion that the planet has reached or exceeded carrying capacity. I present it to make a certain point that things are already trending to a new equilibrium. It is a minor point in a case which is very hard for most people to even consider.
    I did not refer to anyone as “dark and brooding” (I often am) when I said I wrote for a particular audience. My only meaning was that I sought to be most broadly inclusive in my style of prose.
    As regards having 4 kids by 1993, several of our gay friends from college days said my wife and I “Could breed for them”.
    Ever go on a long plane flight? You burned your life allocation of fuel. Yes I’m damned by my wastefulness. Nice of you to point it out. I may live long enough to fly again, too (heh, heh, heh, heh…) Do you bike commute every single day? Who is unscathed by judgement?
    What are you doing to heal the future? (I’m taking suggestions, by the way.)

    @Virgin Terry : Empathy accepted! Thanks. We are in a situation, made by ourselves and all the others before and concurrent. There is an iceberg ahead. There are some lifeboats. Drunks down in the ballroom won’t listen. What now? I have an action plan, and woke up January first feeling like time was short and I needed to activate it. I’ve set those wheels in motion. I hope to create a lifeboat for the kids I took around the world, which included deep in the forest of Northern Laos, spending time in a very poor migrant village without any manufactured goods except Chinese t-shirts, where folks sat out and skinned rats for breakfast. It seemed pretty normal, just different, but not so different from where we’d been all week. We traveled close to the earth. I want those kids to survive. They will need skills, versatility, insight and even some help. So far, so good.

  • @TVT particularly it is claimed and apparently widely believed that the ‘innocent’ eyes of young and curious children must be zealously shielded from such exposures which supposedly could be traumatic to their tender little psyches. balderdash! but this is one of the great unacknowledged, unquestioned dogmas of puritanical civilizations around the world, this dogma that human nudity and especially human sexuality must be treated as if it’s toxic to children.

    I agree with your sentiments (see, you aren’t ALL alone :-). A few years ago, right after I bought a little place in Titusville, Florida, I went to the local beach which has consistently been ranked as one of the most beautiful in the world. Since it’s owned by the federal government (part of NASA’s property), there are no buildings for miles, there are no high rises, no McDonalds, nothing except sand and scrub bushes – if you’ve ever been to Florida you know what a rarity that is. Also, since it’s federal property, state laws don’t apply. Consequently, nudity is allowed on the beach. My first time there I came across a family reunion. The entire group – about 100 – was nude. From the youngest baby to the oldest grandparent, everyone was eating, running, swimming, and playing in the nude. I’m sure our more puritanical countrymen would find this surprising, but none of the children appeared as if their eyes were popping out or their heads spinning like the girl from the Exorcist. In fact, I can’t imagine anything that looked more natural and wholesome – a group of human animals frolicking in the natural world. Of course, the local churches thought the whole spectacle going on at the beach was just plain sinful!

    I might add that sexual activity was NOT tolerated by the national park rangers. Ah well, you can’t have it all. :-)

  • @Kathy C Of interest – I was looking for a quote I read once by a psychiatrist who didn’t know how to treat patients who were depressed (or so labeled) because they were realistic.

    I encounter this phenomenon with increasing frequency in my patients. How can I tell someone that everything is going to be okay, or that they’ll find a job, or that somehow, someway, the world is going to right itself and we’ll all get back to that Ozzie and Harriet lifestyle that TV tries to depict as the “real” American way of life, when I know that it’s not the case? Mostly, I just nod, and let them know that I understand their pain. In truth, I just want to slap them and tell them to wake up and realize that their problems are nothing when compared to the really hard stuff to come. Of course, I don’t actually do that. :-)

  • There is an iceberg ahead
    That is the hopeful attitude. Others believe that the last time that the iceberg was still ahead was in 1970.  

    the “real” American way of life,
    Reality is not necessarily static. 

  • TRDH/Kathy

    I would suggest that perhaps it might be more helpful to the depressed person if you help them to acquire the skills to deal with their depression rather than attempting to convince them that things will be ok (lost cause there!).

  • Barack Obama has indicated that he and his administration will not enforce the indefinite detention without trial part of the NDAA for American citizens. Instead he will first remove their citizenship through the new Enemy Expatriation Act currently proceeding through Congress – THEN arrest them. No longer an American? No problem!

    America. Home of the free.

  • Victor “I would suggest that perhaps it might be more helpful to the depressed person if you help them to acquire the skills to deal with their depression rather than attempting to convince them that things will be ok (lost cause there!).”

    To deal with the world positively one first has to get depressed. The mindlessly optimistic don’t see that there is anything that needs doing. Optimistic people believed we could conquer disease and feed everyone well via the green revolution. Now we have more starving sick people than ever.

    The problem with the word depression is that it does not differentiate between the feeling that the world is not right and constant sadness. I was in a deep funk after returning from Haiti so my Dr. gave me Paxil. Lifted my spirits greatly. I didn’t change one belief I had about the world, I just stopped caring. Frankly I thought that was worse even though it felt better :)

    What skill can you teach to people to not be upset who see that all the efforts to stop climate change have had no impact and the world in on a path to extincting many if not all species now inhabiting the planet. What skill can you teach someone to not be upset when they realize that saving sick and starving babies will result in their having more babies to be sick and starve. Instead it would be better if everyone were deeply upset about those things as then perhaps something could change. But I have learned that the impossible task is to teach optimistic people that there is a big problem looming and it is going to change their lives dramatically.

    However I did learn some skills to fend of painful thoughts when doing cognitive counseling which helps you identify irrational beliefs. Thus for instance when someone is mad at me I can say to myself their anger won’t kill me so its not the end of the world – no need to be so distraught. These skills have been very helpful in facing Peak Oil. When I realized that most of the world’s population was going to have to die I was in a terrible funk. Then I said “oh well they are all going to die someday anyway” and pulled myself out of the funk. However since other people get in a funk thinking about billions of people dying they think I am being depressed when I talk about dieoff. I was but am no longer – in other words the deep sadness is gone not that belief which is I believe rational. Betcha most cognitive therapists however would deem my belief in a coming dieoff irrational and try to substitute an irrational belief – such as “no way could that happen in our world” – rather than the true belief I used – that we all die in the end.

  • Kathy

    The issue I raised is not to make the person less ‘upset’ but rather to teach the person how to effectively deal with those feelings and the knowledge that life as we know it is about to end. You have mentioned some things that you did to deal with ‘reality’. Perhaps some of those would be helpful to others. The point of counselling should not be to make people ‘feel better’ but to manage their lives better (though admittedly, many therapists might disagree!).

    If a person discovers that she has a terminal disease, she has a choice. Recognise the reality of that her life is ending soon, and spend the rest of her days depressed about it and making everyone around her miserable as well. Or recognising that her life is about to end but instead living every minute to its fullest whilst she can. The choice is hers.

    Counselling should make clear that choice, and help her to achieve the best results possible.

    I just don’t think it serves any positive purpose to simple tell a person “We all die anyway, so what?”.

  • Victor, what is the best possible choice one can make when humans are facing extinction. Should one beat the drums in hopes of getting people to stop using fossil fuels (and thereby crashing the economy and bringing about the deaths of many by famine etc) or notice that all the drum beaters have not made any change so stop trying and wait for the deaths of perhaps all by extinction. Should one take direct action that will be like a mosquito biting a moose and end up in the clutches of TPTB, removed from any further action. Should one prepare for the end of oil, knowing that robbers and climate change might make all your preparations useless. Should one kill oneself to avoid the coming carnage. Or perhaps one should just sit back with their popcorn and enjoy the show. Since I think no counselor would even admit that dieoff is coming perhaps you can become a counselor and lead us to the promised land of right action.

  • Kathy

    You miss my point entirely. A counsellor would not (well, usually not!) tell someone what action they should take, but rather how to think the issue through in their own life and come to their own conclusion as to the best action for them. Solving the problems of the world is not my point here. Even solving the problems of the individual is not my point here. My point is to enable the person faced with reality to face that reality in a rational way that they can best live with.

    No one is going to solve climate change now. No one is going to prevent dieoff. The oil will never come back. Lost water and lost soil are lost for the remainder of our present lives. You won’t turn back the clock. But if you feel that fighting for change in the face of these inevitabilities is of great value to you, then why not? Or why not simply get some popcorn and a drink, take a seat and enjoy the action for the rest of your life? The choice is yours.

    But whatever you do, regardless of the minimal impact it might have on the world, should be something that is true to yourself and those you hold dearest. One should live the remainder of their life as best they can, with honesty and integrity. And when that end comes, as we all know it will of course!, perhaps they will at least die knowing that they lived their life in truth and enjoyed its final moments.

  • PS Victor, after I pulled myself out of my depressed funk by telling myself we were all going to die anyway, I put in a hand pump in a drilled well, bought a wood cook stove, stocked up on bow saws and blades, enlarged my garden, put in food stocks, invested in enough socks for a lifetime etc.

    I have thought this morning about depression. A few times in my life I have sunk into that black hole. Only those who have been there know what it is like. I suppose if I was a mindlessly optimistic person like many I see around me I would never have entered those black hole. Know what, if I could choose again I would not choose anything different. I would accept the black holes as the price of realism over unrealistic optimism any day.

  • I would accept the black holes as the price of realism over unrealistic optimism any day.

    Unrealistic optimism is far more dangerous….

  • With thanks to John Day for this thoughtful post and the resulting discussion, a new post is up. Thanks to John Rember for this essay.

  • Victor, I would suggest that perhaps it might be more helpful to the depressed person if you help them to acquire the skills to deal with their depression rather than attempting to convince them that things will be ok (lost cause there!).

    You’re right of course, in principle. However, I’ve grown quite cynical over the last few years with respect to the willingness of the average person to accept and/or do anything constructive to prepare for collapse. Certainly here in the U.S. the general consensus seems to be that a pill can fix any problem. After all, that’s what all the drug commercials on TV spew out every day! If that doesn’t get the job done, then certainly winning the lottery will.

    Even if there were enough therapists to teach such skills, 999 out of 1000 would be unwilling to make the effort. It’s just too easy to get some mind altering substance instead – legal or otherwise. I’m not criticizing mind alteration, by the way. It has its place. :-)

    Actually, as has been discussed here many times, the problem goes much deeper in that for most people, the very concept of collapse is simply not something which can be entertained, let alone accepted.

  • Dr.House
    “It’s just too easy to get some mind altering substance instead – legal or otherwise.” Altering or just quieting (and dumbing further down if one doesn’t revolt)
    “Doors of perception”, altering substances have been around since,”ever”?
    Well there are natural substances that teach and help people to perceive, yet most of them have been made illegal, for self evident reasons, one can’t misuse conscious people easily.

    NBL. Next to a year now has been my helper day after day, glad and grateful it’s still transmitting ;-)

  • Part of the problem regarding the message of Collapse may be generational. No American born after, say, 1970, has known their country when it was not in some form of decline. Speaking from experience, one gets used to it… dystopia becomes the norm. Mass extinctions, ruined ecosystems, population overshoot, and anthropogenic global warming are, for those of my generation and later, like side dishes on a meal one didn’t even order; but one has to eat, and it’s getting near closing time, so complaining about it to the management won’t make much difference.