by Jonathan DeJong
I have been a pretty aware collapsitarian most of my life. I’m 51 and can remember watching films about jungles and oceans and all manner of eco-system topics in elementary school wondering why every film we watched had to end with a warning that if we didn’t watch our step humanity was going to destroy too much habitat for these natural beings to survive. It made me sad. Also, at that time, the population had hit 4 billion. Projected on the news and in school was that by the year 2000 we would hit close to 6 billion. As a child, I always found that mind boggling and never really thought I’d live to see the day. Of course, at the same time, I’m still pissed I didn’t get to live like the Jetsons when we hit the year 2000. We had to fight them terrorists instead, cuz they was cummin’ fer us. Meanwhile we heard nothing about a concept called blowback.
Anyone remember the commercial about pollution where the Native American in a canoe was paddling down the river past factories belching out smoke, the river itself clogged with trash and pollution? In the last scene there was a close up of him with a tear in his eye? That has always stuck with me. I think then it was called Project SOAR (Save Our American Resources).
My dream as a kid was to be a marine biologist. I always had aquariums growing up. I did fresh water, pond water set ups, marine and reef. I loved that like I can’t describe. It sounds funny but as a middle school and high school student I learned about environmental poisoning from those aquariums. An imbalance, particularly in population, unless the outside god-force (the aquarium keeper) kept the toxins at bay, the system would quickly acidify and crash the tank. I remember thinking that with all of our cars (I grew up in the Detroit area), and all of these people, weren’t we doing the same thing? After all, for all intents and purposes the earth is a closed system. The toxins are building, and there is no aquarium keeper removing the poison. In fact, the self-appointed, superior being in the aquarium, was going out of its way to create the poisons!
I have always loathed cities. To me they are the keeper of the sheep. As I tend to be kind of a bull in a china shop, I discovered first hand, through an encounter with a girlfriend’s father, just how vociferously citiots will defend the purity and sanctity of cities. On a ride he gave me back from their house one evening just before going off to college, I made one comment too many about how cities don’t feed people and that they were responsible for most of our ills (I was 17). Completely clueless as to what that meant he went off on me like a mad patriarch. Good thing I was raised by one, so I didn’t hesitate to stand my ground. He was red in the face pissed just like a Tea Partier screaming “don’t you love your country? What you do you mean cities don’t feed people!? Why don’t you just SHUT UP!”
I’ve lived on and worked by, the Great Lakes, lived on the high plains, the desert and in the high back country of the Rocky Mountains, and I have watched all of it over the course of my life, decline. Global Climate change came as no surprise to me. I have since given up trying to preach about the issue. No one who doesn’t want to hear will hear. Some may wake up, but watch the brouhaha that will happen when the mass of urban humanity wakes up violently when it is even more too late than today.
I have this image of myself in my dreams, sitting up high on a mesa on the western slope of Colorado filming the mass migration coming from California after the last denier uses the last drop of fresh water to irrigate his or her front lawn; Millions of people leaving their dead “paradise” thinking that anyone else could possibly want them in their backyard. Because of growing up in abuse, I’ve learned to simply walk away if the voice inside of me says, “Get the hell away.” I listen to the voice that says, “Danger, danger, Will Robinson”. People entrenched in their deluded mentally constructed worlds are very dangerous.
I became involved in the homesteading movement when I learned more about our food system. Having roots in Iowa, and “vacationing” there growing up, I watched our farms that had kitchen gardens, pigs, chickens, cows, and usually several different kinds of grains, turn into fields of mono-crops. Again, the aquarium hobby related. Spraying and pumping out diesel exhaust producing more and more toxins, farmers going broke and being kicked off the land, no family farms, nothing but fields of feed corn.
I received a Master’s Degree in a seminary during the peak of the farm crisis. I also worked with ranchers in the high country at the same time. That changed me. I went from being involved in the “what” of the issues, to the suffering being caused “by” the issues. I watched, like many of you, as thousands of farmers were forced off the land by the green revolution. I presided over a funeral where the deceased, having lost precious ranch land due to a bankruptcy, and who lost his wife at the same time through a divorce, drove down a canyon, tried to persuade her to come back, when rejected stopped at a liquor store and on the way home, unloaded a shotgun into his face. This was during a time when Colorado was seeing huge increases in the development of feedlots and plummeting beef prices.
Our capitalist system of greed has completely run over and destroyed the humanity of being human. Industrial civilization has put in place the proper infrastructure — essentially since WWII — necessary to keep us in our places, to commodify everything, including the people whom the system is supposed to serve, and built the most horrific monolithic consumption machine our Patriarchal masters could envision. The colossus has taken a life of its own. It is too big to control, and any glitch in the machine will mean its catastrophic collapse and with it, the demise of us all. Even in the best scenario, even if the system didn’t collapse, we will slowly and painfully die off because our habitat — the aquarium — will be rendered all used up and not fit for life.
I wanted to say at this point that I don’t think that humanity is good at heart. But pondering that more I think that is wrong. I think that un-awakened people are not good at heart. I think that portions of our society (namely the patriarchs that built the industrial civilization colossus and convinced us of its virtues) are seriously, mentally ill. But because of the power they derived from their sociopathy, we have come to admire and emulate them as it being a virtue. I don’t think life among humans is exceptionally beautiful, however. I think too many put on a face or an act — be it the positive psychology movement, spirituality, fundamentalism and being saved — and try to convince themselves that it is. In my world, that is simply delusional. Nature is beautiful, humanity destroyed it. It’s too late, it’s too far gone. The time to resist was yesterday. The filters on the aquarium can’t keep up and there is no one to change them out and keep the system clean and inhabitable. After all, the temperature rises and the chaos in the weather patterns we see today, are happening because of emissions put into the atmosphere 40 YEARS AGO!! Imagine 40 years hence! In practically every human encounter in my life with people in supposed positions of power (parents, employers, religious leaders, etc.), I have always met with abuse coming from a patriarchal mindset seeking to control others so the ego can retain its existence. That is the poison that eats us as a species daily. That is why this will not and cannot change.
As a result of all of this, the fish are swimming upside down, and quite literally, the sea stars are melting. Now it is the time to simply live, or not live. Death is death no matter when or how. Can you not justify suicide today? Why would ethics today forbid it? Why would we even care? There is no purpose on this planet save to have lived. Our insanity destroyed the playground. 51 years of hell. Kurt Cobain sang to the effect: “All we are is all alone” …. He wasn’t wrong. Abuse of me, abuse of the poor, abuse of women, genocide, the abuse of the land base, abuse of diversity… A total culture and societal structure based on fear and abuse has led us to the brink. “What a long strange trip it’s been.” This is not the mark of a sane and intelligent species. It is more akin to a bacterium in a petri dish on the verge of catastrophic collapse. Blindly consuming its food source (or in our case, energy source), with no thought to its ultimate consequence it will unconsciously run right off a cliff. One big difference though, is that we created religion and a manifest destiny to help lock us into this death spiral in the name of our vast delusional superiority.
The last stage of grief is acceptance. I lived through all of the different stages of the grief process from about the age of 10. In fact, so much of my life could simply be a long drawn out sense of realizing that, as the song from YES goes, “This life’s not for living, it’s for fighting and for wars. No matter what the truth is, hold on to what is yours…” When one tries to live a life of altruism and compassion, and the whole of your species spits back into your face, you stand on the outside looking in, seeing the ridiculousness for what it is. Eventually, you become a different person. The rage (which I have been full of most of my life) subsides, you detach, and you become quiet. You see it all as a mirage. As it has become worse and the futility realized… I have become… quiet.
I got into the homestead movement, because I still thought that living as an example would help to save the world. I worked brutal hours; first turning a suburban home into a Dervaes style urban farm, and then building our JAZ Farm. I was hoping, like Dr. McPherson, that if I really showed the world how one could live with comfort, dignity, and harmony with nature, that everyone would enthusiastically follow me down the yellow brick road, dancing to the tune of the Pied Piper (to mix my story lines a tad).
Most of the response has been incredulous. Of course, my friends and family think it is great, but for acquaintances that are not as close, most of it was, like the sound-bites in the media, a flash in the pan. “Oh that is so cool, I really wish I could do something like that”, they’d say, and then it would fade. Invitations to come and help are met with excuses. Now I hope it is simply my hobby farm with my few enthusiastic friends who do get it. Seeing it for the life line it can be for us, if we simply do the work.
So while I have never really had to get to the point of acceptance over the finitude of the human dilemma (we are all going to die it’s simply a matter of when and how), I had to grieve over the futility of my efforts to really make a difference. Somehow, like I am sure with Guy, and my permaculture friends, and my doomer friends, and those who simply want to scream from the rooftops, we wanted to do something to make a difference. Chris Hedges commented about his activism that he wasn’t necessarily protesting against and calling out fascists thinking he was going to defeat them, but simply because they are fascists. A greater description of acceptance is hard to find. As Richard the Lionheart said to his brother Jeffery in The Lion in Winter, “When the fall is all there is… how you fall matters.” Acceptance. Personal meaning in the face of futility. “All alone, is all we are.”
The grief came from having to accept the fact that my dream of bringing the world around is dead. When you come from a helping profession, awakening to the fact that you can’t do anything of substance to turn the Titanic and knowing it is going to sink no matter what you do, is the experiencing of a death. It is the death of a purpose. It is the death of who you thought you were. It is the acceptance of knowing you were right all along and not being able to take egoic pride in being so prescient. It is a loss of life; YOUR life. All that you ascribed meaning to, like a soap bubble…. Pop! Gone.
I went through this sense of futility and grief at the same time that I was building out the farm’s infrastructure. I found my sense of enthusiasm beginning to wane mostly out of a sense of futility. Physically, I am a pretty strong male (think big ass defensive lineman).
I also was able to summon up a tremendous amount of drive, mentally, to get me past the physical pain involved in getting things done. My self-imposed timelines were met and we are now on the verge of planting out over half an acre of organic vegetables. JAZ Farm lives.
Here is what happened to me during the acceptance phase. I lost the drive. I lost the mental toughness that drove me to work to exhaustion. Every time I told myself that I had to get my ass in gear to get this or that done, a little voice in the back of my head said, “Why?” “None of what you are doing matters.” “Who cares if the pig pen doesn’t get built?” That little voice rendered me — to what I would have considered in my life about others — a sniveling, weak minded, wimp. I spent days staring at my navel, not caring what happened. I spent weeks in depression thinking that I so eagerly went about this quest and it now being for nothing. My inner voice said, “The world is ending, humanity is mentally ill, and you my friend, just broke your body and turned your hips to dust, because you thought you were going to be the climate change messiah who led everyone to the promise land.” Grief: that person died. I have been holding vigil for him during the Polar Vortex winter of our discontent.
So from this depression came my previous two essays on NBL: Life is Different and What Is Your Calligraphy? Not because I wanted to continue my pontification, but like The President of the Galaxy in “A Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” when looking for the answer to the great question and didn’t get it, said, “I think I did kind of a lot to get here…now I’m going to have to go figure out something else for my whole life to be about”. My life lost its meaning. I had to figure it out. I think maybe I have. Short answer: There doesn’t have to be any meaning. In fact, searching for meaning may be synonymous with pain.
Ponder on this statement: “Nothing really matters, and then again, so what if it did?”
What really matters? If you sit down right now and ask yourself that, you may come up with something that your whole life can be about after you have come to see that what you thought you were going to be has died. Resurrect yourself like the Phoenix. How does one answer the question, “Who Am I?”
I found that the answer to that question was quite simple: No one. The world is too big and the damage so deep that I realized that I am no one. I am not the climate change, pure living, watch me and emulate me and change the world with me messiah. Maybe I am still Morpheus, getting people to take the red pill and then not getting invited to parties anymore. Fine. But if not…. fine! You are not your life. You are the eyes that the earth sprouted to look around with for awhile. The end. As I once heard a fellow astronomer say, “If you just leave Hydrogen and a little Lithium alone for long enough, it will eventually sing opera.”
The farm is still mine and the love of growing and harmony with nature is still in my blood and bones. It simply doesn’t have to be the bright light shining on a hill any longer. In fact, given the impending mass migration from the desert southwest, perhaps some anonymity isn’t a bad thing.
A wonderful friend uses the phrase: Ima grow food ‘til I can’t. To which I morphed that into “I’m going to plant ‘til I can’t”. It is a theme that awaits you on the other side of grief: That all there is in life, really, is just you being conscious. The only thing you can say about this existence is “I am”. That’s it. There is nothing else. So what do you do? I can say that for me, it is going through a conscious walking away from my species. While I share the same physical shape and needs, I don’t identify with the un-awakened creatures that have infested this place, largely only using their lizard brain. It is a mental evolution, a passing through the thin membrane between living in industrial civilization and trying to shake that sticky filth off. It is the final scene in a movie when the main character looks back on his home, his city, his country — in this case — his species, then rights himself in the saddle and slowly rides into the gray mist, never looking back, knowing that leaving is a death, and continuing to ride away, is rebirth.
In the past year, I mentally sat myself into the saddle. I am riding into the mist. I have left a life behind that says, “You need to be an activist. You MUST be involved! If you aren’t part of the solution you are part of the problem, and all that tripe.” I have watched that part of me die. I have grieved that I couldn’t have helped more. But it is dead. I am not looking back over my shoulder thinking that maybe I could just go back. Go do a little bit more. Others may take that path because of course, fascists are fascist, and maybe some find them a fun prey to hunt. Whatever works for them. Acceptance is an understanding and internalizing of the futility of it all; that you are only really doing it … for yourself.
“I’m going to plant ‘til I can’t” If people want to be involved, ok. If not, ok too. My species is beyond help because of the power elite. All I can do is do something I love; that feels spiritual and meaningful – even if it isn’t. For me, it means loving the metamorphosis of seeds and the peace of farm animals. It won’t save the world, but it will keep me from committing suicide. The illness of humanity is too great for me to do anything about. It is simply too big. Others will say, “That if we all work together then….”, “There is a great awakening coming and we’ll all ascend together” and of course, “People like you are the problem,” “Oh you’ve just given up so I guess the oppressors win,” etc, etc,etc. The mysterious rider slowly rides into the sunset. He fades into the Nexus, awakens from the Matrix and goes on to do….? Nothing in particular. I’ll probably just keep chopping wood and carrying water, collecting eggs, and Plant ‘til I Can’t.
The following poem comes from Paul Barrera, a writer and editor based in Oakland, California. He studied composition at UC Riverside and is currently working on his first collection of prose.
it started when i left a half-eaten
strawberry on my desk
during my writing hours.
little fuckers materialized out of nowhere.
thought they were specks on the berry at first.
so i ignored ‘em, went and sat on the windowsill.
it was a beautiful day.
came back and the fuckers had gobbled up
the poem i was working on. it was a good one, too.
now there’s ants all over my fucking room
my fucking body.
i could smash them all,
with a series of well-placed knuckles.
or a quick, hot shower.
call in a couple favors
from Longlegs & Aardvark, LLC.
but the little pricks have been noodling about
in every crevice of my bedroom.
hosting all-night porn shows in my pillowcase.
fucking around with my alarm clock.
darning my socks so they don’t fit me anymore.
the tiny bastards are trying to live my life.
no, i think i’ll kill them slow.
all of them.
i deserve the satisfaction.
Friday, 7 March 2014, Antigone Books, 411 North 4th Avenue, Tucson, Arizona, reading excerpts and signing Going Dark
The Next Step: Living Courageously in a World of Transition, a 7-day seminar, 24-31 May 2014, Moho Creek, Belize, Central America.
The Next Step: Living Courageously in a World of Transition, a 14-day seminar, 12-25 June 2014, Izabal, Guatemala, Central America.
Going Dark is available from the publisher here, from Amazon here, from Amazon on Kindle here, from Barnes & Noble on Nook here, and as a Google e-book here. Going Dark was reviewed by Carolyn Baker at Speaking Truth to Power and by more than 20 readers at Amazon.