by J. Z. Colby, who can be contacted at http://www.nebador.com/Contact.html
My journey from innocence to the thoughts I now share has spanned my entire life so far. It included a college degree in psychology and all the usual training to be a mental-health therapist that went with it. That gave me some insights, to say the least, into how people think during big changes in the world around them. NTHE qualifies, methinks.
My journey also included plenty of formal and informal studies in philosophy, which armed me with some good tools for spotting thinking errors and propaganda, the former I define as innocent mistakes, the latter purposeful manipulations, but all constituting, in a broad sense, bullshit. I certainly don’t claim perfection at finding and analyzing this gooey substance. However, I am convinced that NTHE, at its core, is not a social or political thing. It exists and progresses outside of any opinions we might hold about it.
Beginning early in the new millennium, I was “given” a story to write. If I had to put a name on the giver, I would attribute it to Clio, the Muse of History. I didn’t realize this at first, as the story is science fiction that never takes place on planet Earth, and in fact never even mentions Earth. Slowly, as the books of the series were completed, I realized that my story wasn’t relevant to the “history” of planet Earth, in the sense of our past. It was relevant, instead, to a part of human history that has not quite yet happened.
At the same time, the last decade and a half roughly, I have felt compelled to study the unfolding situation about Peak Oil and Climate Change. This sprang naturally from my roots in the Environmental movement, Organic Gardening and Farming, and various social justice concerns (especially the status of women and children).
Slowly, as I read countless articles and books, the pieces of a complex puzzle came together for me. I could name, and thank, a hundred, perhaps a thousand people whose writings and talks have helped me with that journey. All the while, I continued to listen to the mainstream news and commentary enough to know what thoughts were current in center society. There are thinking errors and propaganda on all sides of every issue, of course, but that’s just part of human nature. People ignore or twist the truth, or just plain lie, for various personal and group reasons, always have and always will.
The important process for me was discovering where the threads of truth wound among the piles of steaming … you know. To even hope to discover them, I had to apply every bit of my training in psychology and philosophy, and well as all the informal skills of discernment that life has given me. As the last decade crept by, and Clio gave me more and more of the story I was “assigned” to write, those threads of truth started going to a place that was less and less comfortable with each passing year.
I have now, during the last few years especially, focused on understanding the mechanisms that exist on our planet that could render the term “climate change” completely inadequate. When a fire burns someone’s home to the ground, we don’t call that a “change” in their interior decoration, even though it technically is. When a car accident mutilates a person’s body so they can’t even be identified at the morgue, we don’t call that a “change” in their employment status, even though it technically is.
The mechanisms and feedbacks that could cause NTHE are there, coming into clearer focus, year after year, for me and others. We don’t yet know if they WILL actually cause NTHE, as there are many things about our planet we don’t yet understand, and some of those could change the situation. Of course, they could change it in either direction, making NTHE less or more likely, and its progress slower or faster. I do not say this to attempt any sort of denial, but only to respect the inherent unknowability of the future.
It’s when I look at the psychological motivations of the various people speaking for or against Peak Oil, Climate Change, and NTHE, and filter out the plain-old thinking errors, that I get scared. There are plenty of piles of … stuff … on all sides, but the threads of truth do not, in my humble opinion, lead to the shopping mall, or Wall Street, or anywhere else that “business as usual” is practiced.
Since I have studied a fair amount of what it means to be sane, and choose to be so to the best of my ability, I will continue to do my best to avoid cognitive dissonance, denial, duplicity, and a hundred other ways of avoiding contact with reality, for as long as I have sufficient strength of body and clarity of mind. Many of those mental tactics of avoidance provide temporary relief from anxiety and fear, but in the long run they twist our minds and souls, in my professional opinion, and cause us to move further and further from reality. Yeah, I drink a beer occasionally, ponder a utopian fantasy occasionally, but do my best to keep them occasional.
I have read and listened to many people express everything from righteous indignation to the depths of despair over NTHE. I would never deny anyone their feelings and their right to speak their minds. But neither do I find most of those feelings in myself. Perhaps that’s because I’m an extreme introvert.
(Before continuing these thoughts, I need to point out that introversion has nothing to do with shyness. Any reader who equates the two is misinformed. Introversion is a personality temperament in which a person has a rich interior mental life and is energized and comforted by that life, and less so by the external world of things and people. Introverts make up about 25% of the population.)
Because I am an extreme introvert, and have a “thick skin” from being a mental-health therapist, I seem to be less susceptible to the “teachings” of my culture. That has pros and cons, of course, but in this case I see it as an advantage that I can “tune out” my culture when I judge it is trying to feed me … mushroom food. The Myth of Progress has always made me frown, even when I was quite young. The Star Trek assumption, that we will go to the stars and immediately be among the movers and shakers of the galaxy, is worth a good belly laugh. That I “should” become suicidal at the thought of NTHE … hasn’t crossed my mind yet. Again, although I value this ability in self and others, I don’t claim perfection at it, and still do my best to fully and deeply empathize with others who DO feel suicidal because of NTHE or other reasons.
I think part of this “immunity” also comes from the fact that my cultural loyalty is very low. In the course of my studies, formal and informal, I have learned of the countless times our governments (even “democratic” ones) have lied and broken their own laws and treaties, ignored their promises and responsibilities, stolen, imprisoned, and killed without cause or due process. Yes, there are worse governments. That may make it okay for some people, not for me. Also, in (luckily) minor ways, I have personally felt the injustices our culture can sometimes dispense, enough to imagine what others go through who “piss off” our culture in more substantial ways. I admit that our culture has developed the THEORY of the rule of law, and is CAPABLE of dispensing justice. Those are nice baby-steps, nothing more.
Not finding any persons or institutions in my culture worthy of much loyalty, I have, of course, looked further afield. Is there a mature galactic civilization out there, run with wisdom? Is there a spirit world, a “heaven,” with wise “gods” in charge?
(I’m just using the words “wisdom” and “wise” here to suggest a huge slate of good qualities. To elaborate on that idea is far beyond the scope of this essay, and would, of course, be controversial. The reader may imagine his or her own list of qualities that would make a person, institution, or whole civilization worthy of loyalty.)
None of this is to suggest that I am, or that I advocate, DIS-loyalty to my culture. Revenge and “payback” are things of childhood, whether practiced by school-yard bullies or nations, and I try not to put energy in that direction.
My lack of loyalty to human culture allows me to follow Clio’s leadings. She has me writing a long story about characters who must stay completely above the social and political “stuff” going on in the cultures they visit. They have learned the hard way that “staying out of it” is necessary to successfully do their work.
This same lack of loyalty has given me, I think, a fair amount of clarity when considering NTHE. I hear all the usual denials, disdainful dismissals, and rationalizations that people use to brush aside the idea. I listen carefully, and think long and hard about each of their arguments, but don’t find any that stand up, other than the obviously-true fact that the future is not knowable on the level of actual event details or specific timing.
I cannot claim, with honesty, that I was “given” this attitude by some higher power, instead of it just being an accident of my life experiences. I don’t suppose that will ever be mine to know. But regardless of its source, it appears that it gives me purpose. I can write stories that a few people, mostly young, find interesting and ennobling. I can read and analyze essays written by others about Peak Oil, Climate Change, NTHE, and related issues, and then summarize that information in appropriate language for my readership (mostly young adults). And I can answer questions put to me by any sincere person (anyone who appears open to hearing an answer).
All of this contains a large element of faith, of course. I am exercising faith when I assume that my lack of loyalty to my culture can be an asset. Many people would disagree. To many, perhaps most people, “rocking the boat” is the ultimate sin. (I keep my address and telephone number private, naturally.) It is an act of faith that the story that comes to me from an unknown/unknowable source (“Clio”) should be written, published, and made available to people, even though it has not been approved by any official institution of our culture. Many people would, if they could, only allow stories that are “officially approved,” especially for young people. It is an act of faith that I use my mental-health training and experience, and my understanding of current events, to put controversial idea into young-adult language.
I presume that no one who sees NTHE coming will find faith and purpose exactly like mine. Everyone has different skills and abilities, different life experiences, and different “assignments” from the universe (if they are open to that angle at all). Finding purpose in difficult situations is just as relevant for atheists as theists, in my opinion, and purposes can be large or small, individual or group, survival-oriented or self-sacrificial.
The thing about NTHE that makes it so fascinating and/or frightening is also what makes it such fertile ground for finding purpose: it is unique, or at least — if we accept Plato’s Atlantis and/or Noah’s Ark — it happens seldom enough that we don’t have cultural rules for how to act at such times. Our cultures will certainly keep tugging on our “leashes” for all the usual reasons until the bitter end, but they will be so busy denying NTHE that much freedom will remain to find and carry out the purposes we discover are right for each of us.
A reasoned analysis of McPherson’s work is linked here.