Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Answers to Tough Questions

Over the past two weeks I have been reaching out to my readers in an effort to come up with some answers to four very difficult questions that have come out of the third annual Age of Limits Conference. Some of the answers that have rolled in, via blog comments and emails, are very good—much better than anything I could have come up with. All I had to do was select the best of the bunch and edit them for clarity. I omitted the names, to help you take them in the right spirit: as anonymous gifts from disembodied voices on the internet. That's probably the best that a transitory virtual community, linked together by a predominantly coal-fired energy technology that powers some unbelievably resource-intensive microchips, should ever hope to achieve.

First, here are some meta-level observations that are worthwhile:

“Thank you for leading this conversation. I am sure we all feel the same emptiness that comes with the certainty of what's happening. I live with a quiet sense of sadness even as I fight to at least try to be ready. In truth there is probably no such thing as ‘ready.’ Humans are, like all creatures, expedient actors: we choose and decide based on conditions as they appear at the present moment, and we project our present experience into the future. Disrupting that projection is what we are doing when we try to teach others about collapse: very difficult! The real, soul-searching question is, What can I do and how do I live with myself when I have to abandon others who have no hope of adapting? Ultimately, we will all find ourselves in situations where we will be forced do things that will shame us in order to survive.”

“Your four questions remind me of Zen koans, existential questions that help bring about a change in outlook and behavior if the person questioned pursues the answers diligently. Just like koans, your four questions are existential questions and, as such, they need existential answers. Intellectual answers are of no use.”

And here are the answers:

1. How can we communicate the reality of collapse to family and friends in ways that are constructive rather than destructive and find helpful ways to reflect our “endarkenment” in our everyday behavior?

“In many cases I don’t think it’s possible to communicate the reality of collapse to family and friends, because some people are simply unable to shake themselves loose from the dominant paradigm of endless growth, and will go to their graves believing that a return to growth is just around the corner, regardless of all evidence to the contrary. There are many intelligent, educated people—chairmen of central banks and professors of economics—who believe in infinite growth, even though it is mathematically impossible, and they are educated in math. Given this level of denial, how can I even start to communicate collapse to my wife if she believes in infinite growth, while neither of us are professors of economics?”

“If friends and family have a vested interest in the status quo, they will stay with it. It doesn't matter if it's crumbling or increasingly insecure. It's a bit like the scenario depicted in E.M. Forster's old story ‘The Machine Stops.’ Inertia and reluctance to make abrupt changes is a major factor—not only for others but for oneself. And exactly what alternative is on offer? Jettison one's attachment to the current status quo—for what exactly? What is one to do if one has a job and needs it to put food on the table? The consequence is that as the ship goes down, the passengers remain willfully oblivious, and even the few who do know what's going on are confused about what is to be done.”

“If you can't fix this problem then you are on your own—and lost. It took each of us a lifetime to build our closest family relationships and we are not going to be able to walk out on them and start afresh. It also took us a long time to get to our individual understandings of where we are in terms of collapse, and there is no shortcut—so the answer is patience, mutual tolerance, and facilitating the learning process in one's nearest circle.”

“I've warned everyone I know about imminent collapse. Now I no longer have any friends. But seriously, I approach it from a different angle altogether, where preparing for collapse becomes logical from the standpoint of offering a less threatening reality. For example, start by discussing medicinal plants as a way of resolving health issues. Then extend that discussion to freedom from expensive doctors and costly pharmaceuticals. Then project it further to the joys of developing the personal security and independence from large bureaucratic systems, Before you know it, you can talk about collapse without ever dropping the ‘C’ word.”

“The trick is to have a consistent message and to not overstate the situation. Anyone who remembers your position from a few years ago, and can see that your story for how the world works is more consistent with reality than the mainstream story, is going to become your ally. Trying to convince people quickly is counterproductive.”

“When people are confronted with a shock—such as a drastic lack of fuel—they become like stunned mullets. That is an opportune time to make a constructive intervention, and to warm them up to the choices this moment provides. Timing is important because they soon stop flapping around like mullets and start looking around for the nearest bag to put over their heads to shut out the nastiness and relieve the pain. The truth is a secret to those who do not seek it. Knowing the truth about the state of the world equips us to make interventions with individuals and groups when they may be open to making the right choices.”

“I find it essential to avoid trying to convince people of my conclusions, judgments and solutions, because this inevitably creates a sense of threat. I find that most of us have our very sense of survival tied up in the positions we've identified with: our conclusions about reality, about what's true and false, right and wrong, and what we should or shouldn't do. When someone's position is threatened, they naturally become defensive: the reptilian brain kicks in and limits access to our reasoning abilities. There is an emotional factor which limits what we are willing to face—because fully facing something requires not just thought, but feeling too. What I find important is to create a safe space for a conversation, where the other person can face what might otherwise seem too threatening. There is an art to this. Part of it involves noticing how, where and to what extent you are judging the other person, their beliefs, their way of life, etc., and realigning with what and who you stand for, rather than with own judgment and position. When done well, there is a response from the heart, and the walls come down: you are open, and the other person feels you to be offering an inviting, welcoming and safe space. Part of it includes avoiding the use of what I call positional speaking: speaking in terms of conclusions, problems, solutions, and judgements of other people. Part of it includes being ready and willing to feel your own pain and discomfort, in that moment, with that person. The extent to which you are closed to feeling is the extent to which the other person will not feel it safe enough to let their guard down. Part of it includes listening and speaking in a way that generates a sense of reverence and care for the other person, listening not for how their position is opposed to yours, but for what underlies their position: the challenges, feelings and pain they are facing, and the people and values for which they stand. In this way, they learn to see you as their ally in a common quest, not their adversary. All of this is not so much an intellectual challenge as an emotional one. We are bred to be tough and can discuss arbitrarily disturbing ideas without feeling the impact of these ideas on us. Positional thinking is a great way to build walls to protect ourselves, and those we talk to, from facing what we're about to face. We can judge them for not opening themselves up to hear, but so long as we are using a language that expresses opposition, we can't blame them for remaining aloof, indifferent and detached, because we are giving them good reason to experience us as a threat, even if unconsciously. First priority, I'd say, is choosing to be ‘the one’ for your people, come what may. Sooner or later your people will feel that you are fully ‘for them,’ and from that point on sharing difficult information will become less difficult.”

2. How can we form personal relationships with people that can survive the disappearance of official life support systems based on finance, commerce and centralized authority?

“It is like any group situation, be it who you work with or your neighbors. You don't get to choose the people you are going to be washed up with, and there are bound to be a few awkward characters among them. Most people will moan and whinge about them, and hope that they get fired or move house, but generally you have no influence over this and you are stuck with them. The best policy is to accept that they are there to stay and that you cannot change them. You can only change how you react to them. They will respond to how you react, so if you continue to show respect and listen to their views, however negative they may be, they are more likely to feel secure and become less of a problem. If they sense a negative vibe, then, chances are, the situation will deteriorate.”

“Collapse won't wait for anyone's personal change, so we're all going to be renovating the people we're living with, and there will be a lot more disassembling and reassembling than starting from scratch. You may not survive, but some other spirit that inhabits your body just might, and being willing and able to discard your old self-image will be crucial. Once I started letting old opinions go, then, much to my surprise, old bad habits fell away as well. I once thought that this was impossible, that humans couldn't change sufficiently; now I know that it is possible, but see that it is unthinkable for most.”

“It helps to start living as if you believe that collapse is inevitable; that is, preaching by example rather than by word. Specifically, it is important for other people to see that you can be happy without all the trappings of wealth and prosperity that we have come to expect. Once you start living a post-collapse lifestyle, others that are aware of collapse will recognize that you are one of them and will engage with you. People who are attached to growth and prosperity will avoid you like they avoid panhandlers. That is, they will pretend that you do not exist. If the rest of your family is firmly mired in the status quo, you may have a hard time living a post-collapse lifestyle right now. If you care for them and their well-being, then there is not much you can do other than be kind to them, knowing that they might form the core of your post-collapse community.”

“We need to be focusing on those relationships that are not dependent on the official life support systems. A relationship that is based on occupying a shared physical space is more likely to persist. The shared space must be physical. If it is conceptual—such as relationships with those who share a belief system with you—then there must also be a physical element to it. I will never meet most of you who are reading this, although we do occupy a shared conceptual space on this blog, and so there is no basis for this relationship to persist if electronic communication becomes unavailable (the internet being an example of an official life support system).”

“It looks like we are on a journey back toward a wild state, and away from pyramid-shaped social hierarchies. We have to form transitional communities, because the bands that thrive in the wilderness are family-based, while most of us can't take our blood relations with us because they don't want to come with us. So we have to form our bands with whoever we end up with, and later form families—if we survive. Right now, the rigid social forms are shaking so much they are turning to liquid. If you notice, nation-states seem to be on their way out.”

“Building healthy, useful relationships with people is something that happens spontaneously when you back away from corporate and institutional life. You then get a chance to meet other refugees from the system. Don't expect to meet fellow collapsniks in the boardroom or at faculty meetings. It is also necessary to let go of some very unhelpful notions of status, knowledge and intellectual superiority, which very much get in the way of friendships of the more useful kind. I see this all the time, often amongst those who imagine themselves as members of the elect.”

“One of my degrees is in sociology, and I've always had a deep interest in and appreciation for groups like the Amish, Hutterites, Mennonites and various religious orders including the Buddhist traditions. The various groups, structures and numbers make enlightening, required reading and discussion. These groups are often rather closed. Little tolerance is given for wandering in and out. The Mormons are a classic structure with their Wards: you go where you are assigned, based on where you live, not wherever you please. The best chance for survival would be in groups of 50-100 persons of all ages who share a common bond. Spiritual practice is strongest in such groups. Very often they have very healthy practices: no smoking or drinking, a vegetarian diet and so on. Do study the group structures of these groups!”

“Growing your own food has a brilliant side effect: if you grow too much of something (inevitable if you are doing it right) then you can parcel it off to neighbors. It's a great ice breaker, and a way to quickly distinguish those who are worth the bother from those you might want to avoid.”

“People will need to make a big shift from: individual responsibility to collective responsibility; individual accountability to collective accountability; individual ownership to collective ownership; rights of the individual to rights of the group; survival of the individual to survival of the group. I have observed over the years that my educated friends are stuck in a world full of individuals and don't have a clue on how to embrace the collective ways and values of successful ethnic communities.”

“There are so many good reasons to make the necessary preparations: improving health, getting out of debt, living frugally, building community, becoming better prepared for power outages and price spikes in food and fuel. A culture of resilience can be built without ever uttering the word ‘collapse,’ by paying attention to the people around you and doing little things to strengthen connections and build up goodwill.”

3. How can we transform our physical selves into ones that will stand a chance, by eliminating lifestyle diseases, bad habits, luxuries and comforts, and by finding maximally independent and resilient ways to provide the necessities?

“Leave the US! Because of the very high-energy intensive lifestyle baked into the car-centric living arrangement there, collapse will be sudden, devastating and violent. The government is already mobilizing the military to contain the riots and chaos they now see coming. Go south—to Mexico, Columbia, Bolivia or Vietnam, where the living is cheaper, easier and much more family- and community-centric. You may think this is hard to do. It is not. I did it.”

“To the extent that I've been able to rid myself of industrial capitalism, I've tried to avoid profligate use of oil. For things that aren't clear-cut, my criteria usually are that if ‘they’—the pure profit-seekers—show any interest in something, I'd best avoid it. The pure profit-seekers seem to love cars. They hate buses, they really hate trains, and streetcars make them apoplectic. As a general rule, the lower-powered something is, the less they like it. But I find that I like lower-powered more and more as time goes on.”

“Personal action to promote the personal changes is available to everyone. Get rid of the TV, stop consuming news, start growing your own food, or go foraging for it. Take steps to disconnect yourself from the system. Cultivate invisibility, flexibility. Be open to trying new things: try living in a tent or on a boat for a few days; spend a day—or more—without using fossil fuels or electricity. Doing this in little bits makes it possible to do more and more.”

“Our culture has been built on patterns of addiction. Freeing yourself from them is a long journey, and the first step has to be personal, and start with a realization: ‘This isn't working for me!’ Without it, all this talk will fall on deaf ears. Someone may agree about the limits to growth, for example, but cannot detach themselves from their patterns of addiction. As long as there's a feeling of ‘This works for me!’ there's no motive to change.”

“I found the ritual of buying junk food, opening it, looking at it, smelling it, and then throwing it away to be very helpful: the commercially programmed sequence of anticipation/instant gratification is destroyed, and you end up grateful that you didn't eat the rubbish. It makes you focus on the money you just wasted as well. I wonder if a neo-Luddite movement that features ritualized disposal of the trappings of modern life could take off and give people a starting point.”

“This is the state we are in: adjusting our habits. Unfortunately, to the extent that this is within the current menu of shopping choices, it can be difficult to maintain motivation. Opting out is the right and ultimate choice we must make. But we will still need some money, because the rent seekers will throw you out if they find that your opting out interferes with their ability to collect rent.”

4. How can we make use of ritual and spiritual practice to transform a group of individuals into a community?

“Some people have a knack for ritual and are good at initiating it. It may be as simple as sharing a meal, building a fire or saying out loud what everyone is feeling. Some people are also intuitives: they have a certain knack for deciding in which direction to turn. Invariably, any group will discover who these people are and will turn to them when decisions need to be made. They are the shamans, the people who feel a connection to the spirit world. Then there are musicians and artists and story tellers, people who in our industrial society are marginal but who in a post-collapse society are important weavers of community.”

“You can't create a community; it evolves. Shared rituals that give a spiritual dimension to life are important elements of abiding communities, but they needs to start in very simple ways. Once a day we come together to eat; once a week we come together to sing. The meaning of these repeated acts evolves over time. You can't start off by saying ‘We are doing this as a shared spiritual ritual!’ You have to start by saying ‘We are doing this because we need to eat,’ or ‘We like singing together,’ and allow the rituals to develop.”

“Religion and belief are what holds people together. Get back to that! This means going back on your modernism, but maybe this is the price of survival. If modernism implies amorality—and then your family falls apart—then what are you left with? No family—no community. Looking at China, perhaps you don't even need a god; perhaps traditional ancestor worship, Buddhist and Confucian values, respect for authority and parents, are enough. I think that a resurgent traditionalism will stabilize cultures, as we get back to working with our hands and relying on ourselves—not on systems or machines.”

“This will sound flip, but I don't mean it that way. I joined the Mormons. All four questions are being realistically addressed by them. This became my choice after years of study and prayer. There may be other answers for other people, but this one works—if you are willing to make the commitment. I realize that this answer will not be popular, but if serious and sustained change is needed, any answer is going to require commitment, and you will need a way to find others who share the ability to commit.”

“Cultural change is one of the big missing pieces in this evolution that we are trying to spark in ourselves. History is full of reasons to despair that humanity will veer from the destructive course it is on, but history also can teach us how to alter this course in small ways that can add up to a massive shift.”

“The absolute magnificence and incomprehensible mystery of the very fact of existence, and the very fact of this sentience that is peering out of these eyes right now, thrills me and sustains me. I am still hopeful in the face of all of this; not sure why, given that I know what is coming.”

“Celebrate the seasons, the harvests, the migrations of birds. Treat nature, life, knowledge and wisdom with reverence.”


M. K. Styllinski said...

Excellent thoughts. I enjoyed reading it all.

I suppose in summary what this is really all about is spirituality in its most practical form. I don't mean to use the word in it's religious or even new age sense but in relation to a deep and abiding awareness of our interconnectedness at a practical level, a level that is naturally cooperative and communal despite what reductionist science likes to tell us.

It also means that these issues can only be addressed when we begin to access the world within with as much,if not more emphasis as the world without. Until we begin that journey no amount of practical measures are going to be worth much. At least, not to the extent that they have the potential to endure.

Realities such as imminent economic collapse, the workings of the deep state and the events of 9/11, the widespread pathology in our societies, the persistent patterns of voracious destruction by political and military leaders - all these dynamics impinge on our consciousness everyday once we begin to look objectively at life.

Economic collapse and preparing the ground for networks of communities will only be as strong as the centered stillness we have built deep within ourselves. It sounds simple but after so much conditioning inside a sea of inculcated narcissism and various strains of pathology which characterise our cultures it is little wonder that many of us are not conscious of what these effects have done to our ability to discern reality over belief, the latter of which help us survive in the short-term. it's when massive changes arrive that our dependence on belief tends to make us unprepared.

So, I suppose the actions we take will be determined by how much Work we have done to reclaim our centre away from our beliefs so that we can begint to know our essence if you will; so that we may heal ourselves from the many influences that we have allowed to shape us and which have been drawn directly and indirectly from the very same forces which have brought us not only to the brink of economic collapse, but to a reality that celebrates artifice over meaning.

It is the nourishment of a sense of Meaning that might return when we look at ourselves as we really are, look at the world as it really is and build our communities from this solid foundation.

Many thanks again for this illuminating post.

St. Roy said...

Nice job and editing and incorporating the many responses into concise answer summary

Gardengate said...

Thank you Dmitry for asking the questions, sharing the answers and to all those who responded.

My husband and I have done a lot of discussing about these questions and have jotted down some thoughts that I hope to post on our blog soon. We've been trying to talk to family, friends, city personnel, and whomever else we come in contact with where the situation arises. Who knows what seeds have been planted?

I just wanted to say thank you and to share a video we watched last night that was especially helpful to me as I sometimes doubt what I'm doing, though my husband is more like Jim in this video and keeps me on task.

Thanks to all the Jim's out there!

thetinfoilhatsociety.com said...

I think it's impossible to separate spirituality from the rest of life if you are living in a post-collapse society (or in a pre-collapse aware state), particularly if you are even in a small way disengaging from the industrial complex.

I had a friend several years ago (she's passed away now) who was an avowed vocal Pagan. She was a trucker, and had multiple conversations on spirituality with other truckers. Some of these truckers were former Amish, exiled from their communities after forsaking the lifestyle. They often told her she wasn't really Pagan, she was Amish - the beliefs about the life of the vegetal and animal world are that similar.

I think the similarities of the belief systems of those communities that abide are probably much more similar than their superficial differences. And this is what makes them abiding: they meet a basic human need for practical and effective spirituality, and they are concerned with not just next month but next century. Thus, they must be concerned with preservation, both of human custom and of conservation of terroir.

Joe said...

Excellent post. It's nice to know that you have so many perceptive readers. Their answers to your questions were good ones.

Mr. Moai said...

Great post, I'm not so much religious as spiritual. I am studying many religious, philosophical, and scientific sources and comparing the similarities.

I believe we all exist at multiple levels which span between two singularities. The singularity of expansive oneness and the singularity of independent oneness. Our body exists in the latter, the former is God. In between exist whole ecosystems of consciousness, energy, and matter of which the world around us is but an condensed continuum. God projected from the state of expansive oneness through the layers of existence to experience this life through all of us. In this way God is able to continuously re-discover and explore increasingly expansive modalities of existence. Our reason for existing at this level of reality is to discover that all is love and that our thoughts and feelings have an energy of their own. But through the gift of free-will we are given the choice of which kind of love to express at any given moment. True expansive love of God in all it's incarnations or the independent love of self (fear). There are as many ways to express these polarities of existence as there forms to express them. I am happy that more people are waking up to the spiritual significance of this time as we pass through the equator of the galaxy and begin to find our consciousness expanding as the torsion fields of the surrounding ether are reversing and intensifying spiritual experience and intuitive understanding. In the mayan calendar / procession of the equinox / Terence McKenna's timewave function and many other sources we are going though the end of the cycle of death: the contraction of consciousness to the individual state. The energy has reversed, and people are starting to feel it. The winds of change are blowing. . . By all accounts it will blow pretty bad, not just due to our collapsing everything and goose-stepping governments, but also galactic-style mayhem as he earth passes through this part of the galaxy. Humanity may go extinct if we continue with a fear-based individualistic mindset. If we manage to adapt a new consciousness will emerge. Humanity will evolve greatly in a renaissance of free minds, hearts, and hands.

wagelaborer said...

My dad gave me a book written in 1982, I believe, called "Self-Reliant Cities". It was about people coming together to work on community at the end of cheap oil. There was a list at the end of 20 cities that had plans. One of them was mine! Where is this plan? I asked around, and I know 2 of the people involved. I plan to talk to them about what happened. I also know people who tried to get a Transition Towns movement started.

M. K. Styllinski said...

Just in case folks haven't seen it yet (and perhaps Mr. Orlov has mentioned this in the past - not sure) there's a documentary called "The Power of Community" that's well worth a look:


Des Carne said...

I've moved to Chile because fire and heat prone Australia in many parts, especially the parts I call home (NT), now challenges the limits of human physical tolerance, especially at my age. Being sandwiched between 5000 m Andes and the frigid Humboldt current (still best seafood you could ever wish for) offers some immunity to the immediate impact of climate change, but always a heat lover I find it hard to get used to the cold. Fine food, inexpensive living, cheap wine and a spectacular landscape go a long way to compensate.

I can no longer afford to live in my own country on the basic pension I'm now eligible to receives as the outcome of my divorce left me less than half the $ value of my former home, and I can't now buy even a bare 1/4 acre block in any urban hinterland - 12 years ago I owned 20 acres and a brand new home free and clear, now I am living out of a suitcase.

I am slowly integrating into Chilean society, with its strong family bonds, but find it hard to find anyone who takes collapse, climate change or the geopolitical/global finance drama seriously. Everyone just loves their TVs and staring into miniature screens to communicate with their kith and kin. That's ok in Santiago. I don't fancy life here without these universal distractions after the knife at throat interest street thieves took in relieving me of my possessions one night - without screens, games and Facebook what else is there to do on the Metro but check everyone out. So with few in town to talk to, much less the likelihood of finding common intellectual cause outside the capital, I spend much of my time on the Internet, saying to my old friends 'I told you so!'

The long term goal is to get out into the country and, with my remaining cash, buying a small rural block and build a cabin, before financial collapse renders my assets worthless.

My natural family and most of my friends live in Canberra/Sydney area, and like most here, are embedded in the matrix, or in some cases totally glued to it. Some are awaiting retirement, for which they've planned to its end, in accordance with the prudent advice of their financial advisers - there is no place for a very limited income late loser (my subteen kids were taken by my ex to the opposite side of the planet - Chile is 3 times closer to visit them) like me with any future to choose from that I can afford. Just so happens I learnt Spanish years ago, so that rules out close-to-home refuge in Indonesia or Thailand.

I didn't fancy life in the heart of empire where my kids are being 'educated'- I can't now get a green card, and being Australian I have a habit of not tugging the forelock and audibly declaiming against summary injustice or stupidity whenever I see it, which could get me into trouble - I have to watch my mouth every time I pass though an air terminal in the US.

I've tried or sought since my teenage years all kinds of 'intentional' community, including overtly 'Christian', to no avail. Perhaps it was me. I live 10 years with indigenous community in Central Australia, but the impact of 150 years of government policies to destroy their native culture, internalised violence and health concerns drove me to abandon this life.

Collapse is frequently experienced by 'Third World" communities as empires interfere in their economies or install dictators, and people/families are immensely resourceful in pulling together and pulling through. I don't think I have anything new to tell them that they are not by virtue of their socio-economic circumstances already prepared for - other than to turn off the TV and enjoy the fresh cold air and the spectacular view.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Many great thoughts here. I like the wise comment that community rituals must organically evolve, they cannot be created. I came to that conclusion regarding the religion/spiritual tradition I would like to belong to. It is trying to be born, or rather it is still embryonic. It would combine Nature worship with respect for Science, for starters. Interesting reflections on this topic are happening at the archdruid's blog. By the way, I got the latest e-book
and started with the chapter by the doctor. Worth buying the book for all by itself. Once again, thanks for all you do.

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