Painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Dark Ecology

Searching for truth in a post-green world

Take the only tree that’s left,
Stuff it up the hole in your culture.
—Leonard Cohen

Retreat to the desert, and fight.
—D. H. Lawrence

THE HANDLE, which varies in length according to the height of its user, and in some cases is made by that user to his or her specifications, is like most of the other parts of the tool in that it has a name and thus a character of its own. I call it the snath, as do most of us in the UK, though variations include the snathe, the snaithe, the snead, and the sned. Onto the snath are attached two hand grips, adjusted for the height of the user. On the bottom of the snath is a small hole, a rubberized protector, and a metal D-ring with two hex sockets. Into this little assemblage slides the tang of the blade.

This thin crescent of steel is the fulcrum of the whole tool. From the genus blade fans out a number of ever-evolving species, each seeking out and colonizing new niches. My collection includes a number of grass blades of varying styles—a Luxor, a Profisense, an Austrian, and a new, elegant Concari Felice blade that I’ve not even tried yet—whose lengths vary between sixty and eighty-five centimeters. I also have a couple of ditch blades (which, despite the name, are not used for mowing ditches in particular, but are all-purpose cutting tools that can manage anything from fine grass to tousled brambles) and a bush blade, which is as thick as a billhook and can take down small trees. These are the big mammals you can see and hear. Beneath and around them scuttle any number of harder-to-spot competitors for the summer grass, all finding their place in the ecosystem of the tool.

None of them, of course, is any use at all unless it is kept sharp, really sharp: sharp enough that if you were to lightly run your finger along the edge, you would lose blood. You need to take a couple of stones out into the field with you and use them regularly—every five minutes or so—to keep the edge honed. And you need to know how to use your peening anvil, and when. Peen is a word of Scandinavian origin, originally meaning “to beat iron thin with a hammer,” which is still its meaning, though the iron has now been replaced by steel. When the edge of your blade thickens with overuse and oversharpening, you need to draw the edge out by peening it—cold-forging the blade with hammer and small anvil. It’s a tricky job. I’ve been doing it for years, but I’ve still not mastered it. Probably you never master it, just as you never really master anything. That lack of mastery, and the promise of one day reaching it, is part of the complex beauty of the tool.

Etymology can be interesting. Scythe, originally rendered sithe, is an Old English word, indicating that the tool has been in use in these islands for at least a thousand years. But archaeology pushes that date much further out; Roman scythes have been found with blades nearly two meters long. Basic, curved cutting tools for use on grass date back at least ten thousand years, to the dawn of agriculture and thus to the dawn of civilizations. Like the tool, the word, too, has older origins. The Proto-Indo-European root of scythe is the word sek, meaning to cut, or to divide. Sek is also the root word of sickle, saw, schism, sex, and science.

I’VE RECENTLY BEEN reading the collected writings of Theodore Kaczynski. I’m worried that it may change my life. Some books do that, from time to time, and this is beginning to shape up as one of them.

It’s not that Kaczynski, who is a fierce, uncompromising critic of the techno-industrial system, is saying anything I haven’t heard before. I’ve heard it all before, many times. By his own admission, his arguments are not new. But the clarity with which he makes them, and his refusal to obfuscate, are refreshing. I seem to be at a point in my life where I am open to hearing this again. I don’t know quite why.

Here are the four premises with which he begins the book:

1. Technological progress is carrying us to inevitable disaster.
2. Only the collapse of modern technological civilization can avert disaster.
3. The political left is technological society’s first line of defense against revolution.
4. What is needed is a new revolutionary movement, dedicated to the elimination of technological society.

Kaczynski’s prose is sparse, and his arguments logical and unsentimental, as you might expect from a former mathematics professor with a degree from Harvard. I have a tendency toward sentimentality around these issues, so I appreciate his discipline. I’m about a third of the way through the book at the moment, and the way that the four arguments are being filled out is worryingly convincing. Maybe it’s what scientists call “confirmation bias,” but I’m finding it hard to muster good counterarguments to any of them, even the last. I say “worryingly” because I do not want to end up agreeing with Kaczynski. There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, if I do end up agreeing with him—and with other such critics I have been exploring recently, such as Jacques Ellul and D. H. Lawrence and C. S. Lewis and Ivan Illich—I am going to have to change my life in quite profound ways. Not just in the ways I’ve already changed it (getting rid of my telly, not owning a credit card, avoiding smartphones and e-readers and sat-navs, growing at least some of my own food, learning practical skills, fleeing the city, etc.), but properly, deeply. I am still embedded, at least partly because I can’t work out where to jump, or what to land on, or whether you can ever get away by jumping, or simply because I’m frightened to close my eyes and walk over the edge.

I’m writing this on a laptop computer, by the way. It has a broadband connection and all sorts of fancy capabilities I have never tried or wanted to use. I mainly use it for typing. You might think this makes me a hypocrite, and you might be right, but there is a more interesting observation you could make. This, says Kaczynski, is where we all find ourselves, until and unless we choose to break out. In his own case, he explains, he had to go through a personal psychological collapse as a young man before he could escape what he saw as his chains. He explained this in a letter in 2003:

I knew what I wanted: To go and live in some wild place. But I didn’t know how to do so. . . . I did not know even one person who would have understood why I wanted to do such a thing. So, deep in my heart, I felt convinced that I would never be able to escape from civilization. Because I found modern life absolutely unacceptable, I grew increasingly hopeless until, at the age of 24, I arrived at a kind of crisis: I felt so miserable that I didn’t care whether I lived or died. But when I reached that point a sudden change took place: I realized that if I didn’t care whether I lived or died, then I didn’t need to fear the consequences of anything I might do. Therefore I could do anything I wanted. I was free!

At the beginning of the 1970s, Kaczynski moved to a small cabin in the woods of Montana where he worked to live a self-sufficient life, without electricity, hunting and fishing and growing his own food. He lived that way for twenty-five years, trying, initially at least, to escape from civilization. But it didn’t take him long to learn that such an escape, if it were ever possible, is not possible now. More cabins were built in his woods, roads were enlarged, loggers buzzed through his forests. More planes passed overhead every year. One day, in August 1983, Kaczynski set out hiking toward his favorite wild place:

The best place, to me, was the largest remnant of this plateau that dates from the Tertiary age. It’s kind of rolling country, not flat, and when you get to the edge of it you find these ravines that cut very steeply in to cliff-like drop-offs and there was even a waterfall there. . . . That summer there were too many people around my cabin so I decided I needed some peace. I went back to the plateau and when I got there I found they had put a road right through the middle of it. . . . You just can’t imagine how upset I was. It was from that point on I decided that, rather than trying to acquire further wilderness skills, I would work on getting back at the system. Revenge.

I can identify with pretty much every word of this, including, sometimes, the last one. This is the other reason that I do not want to end up being convinced by Kaczynski’s position. Ted Kaczynski was known to the FBI as the Unabomber during the seventeen years in which he sent parcel bombs from his shack to those he deemed responsible for the promotion of the technological society he despises. In those two decades he killed three people and injured twenty-four others. His targets lost eyes and fingers and sometimes their lives. He nearly brought down an airplane. Unlike many other critics of the technosphere, who are busy churning out books and doing the lecture circuit and updating their anarcho-primitivist websites, Kaczynski wasn’t just theorizing about being a revolutionary. He meant it.

BACK TO THE SCYTHE. It’s an ancient piece of technology; tried and tested, improved and honed, literally and metaphorically, over centuries. It’s what the green thinkers of the 1970s used to call an “appropriate technology”—a phrase that I would love to see resurrected—and what the unjustly neglected philosopher Ivan Illich called a “tool for conviviality.” Illich’s critique of technology, like Kaczynski’s, was really a critique of power. Advanced technologies, he explained, created dependency; they took tools and processes out of the hands of individuals and put them into the metaphorical hands of organizations. The result was often “modernized poverty,” in which human individuals became the equivalent of parts in a machine rather than the owners and users of a tool. In exchange for flashing lights and throbbing engines, they lost the things that should be most valuable to a human individual: Autonomy. Freedom. Control.

Illich’s critique did not, of course, just apply to technology. It applied more widely to social and economic life. A few years back I wrote a book called Real England, which was also about conviviality, as it turned out. In particular, it was about how human-scale, vernacular ways of life in my home country were disappearing, victims of the march of the machine. Small shops were crushed by supermarkets, family farms pushed out of business by the global agricultural market, ancient orchards rooted up for housing developments, pubs shut down by developers and state interference. What the book turned out to be about, again, was autonomy and control: about the need for people to be in control of their tools and places rather than to remain cogs in the machine.

Critics of that book called it nostalgic and conservative, as they do with all books like it. They confused a desire for human-scale autonomy, and for the independent character, quirkiness, mess, and creativity that usually results from it, with a desire to retreat to some imagined “golden age.” It’s a familiar criticism, and a lazy and boring one. Nowadays, when I’m faced with digs like this, I like to quote E. F. Schumacher, who replied to the accusation that he was a “crank” by saying, “A crank is a very elegant device. It’s small, it’s strong, it’s lightweight, energy efficient, and it makes revolutions.”

Still, if I’m honest, I’ll have to concede that the critics may have been onto something in one sense. If you want human-scale living, you doubtless do need to look backward. If there was an age of human autonomy, it seems to me that it probably is behind us. It is certainly not ahead of us, or not for a very long time; not unless we change course, which we show no sign of wanting to do.

Schumacher’s riposte reminds us that Ivan Illich was far from being the only thinker to advance a critique of the dehumanizing impacts of megatechnologies on both the human soul and the human body. E. F. Schumacher, Leopold Kohr, Neil Postman, Jacques Ellul, Lewis Mumford, Kirkpatrick Sale, Jerry Mander, Edward Goldsmith—there’s a long roll call of names, thinkers and doers all, promoters of appropriate energy and convivial tools, interrogators of the paradigm. For a while, in the ’60s and ’70s, they were riding high. Then they were buried, by Thatcher and Reagan, by three decades of cheap oil and shopping. Lauded as visionaries at first, at least by some, they became mocked as throwbacks by those who remembered them. Kaczynski’s pipe bombs, plugged with whittled wood, wired up to batteries and hidden inside books, were a futile attempt to spark a revolution from the ashes of their thinking. He will spend the rest of his life in Colorado’s Florence Federal Administrative Maximum Penitentiary as a result—surely one of the least human-scale and convivial places on earth.

But things change. Today, as three decades of cheap fuel, free money, and economic enclosure come to a shuddering, collapsing halt, suddenly it’s Thatcher and Reagan and the shrieking, depleting faithful in the Friedmanite think tanks who are starting to look like the throwbacks. Another orthodoxy is in its death throes. What happens next is what interests me, and worries me too.

EVERY SUMMER I run scything courses in the north of England and in Scotland. I teach the skills I’ve picked up using this tool over the past five or six years to people who have never used one before. It’s probably the most fulfilling thing I do, in the all-around sense, apart from being a father to my children (and scything is easier than fathering). Writing is fulfilling too, intellectually and sometimes emotionally, but physically it is draining and boring: hours in front of computers or scribbling notes in books, or reading and thinking or attempting to think.

Mowing with a scythe shuts down the jabbering brain for a little while, or at least the rational part of it, leaving only the primitive part, the intuitive reptile consciousness, working fully. Using a scythe properly is a meditation: your body in tune with the tool, your tool in tune with the land. You concentrate without thinking, you follow the lay of the ground with the face of your blade, you are aware of the keenness of its edge, you can hear the birds, see things moving through the grass ahead of you. Everything is connected to everything else, and if it isn’t, it doesn’t work. Your blade tip jams into the ground, you blunt the edge on a molehill you didn’t notice, you pull a muscle in your back, you slice your finger as you’re honing. Focus—relaxed focus—is the key to mowing well. Tolstoy, who obviously wrote from experience, explained it in Anna Karenina:

The longer Levin went on mowing, the oftener he experienced those moments of oblivion when his arms no longer seemed to swing the scythe, but the scythe itself his whole body, so conscious and full of life; and as if by magic, regularly and definitely without a thought being given to it, the work accomplished itself of its own accord. These were blessed moments.

People come to my courses for all kinds of reasons, but most want to learn to use the tool for a practical purpose. Sometimes they are managing wildlife reserves or golf courses. Some of them want to control sedge grass or nettles or brambles in their fields or gardens, or destroy couch grass on their allotments. Some of them want to trim lawns or verges. This year I’m also doing some courses for people with mental health problems, using tools to help them root themselves in practical, calming work.

Still, the reaction of most people when I tell them I’m a scythe teacher is the same: incredulity or amusement, or polite interest, usually overlaid onto a sense that this is something quaint and rather silly that doesn’t have much place in the modern world. After all, we have weed whackers and lawnmowers now, and they are noisier than scythes and have buttons and use electricity or petrol and therefore they must perform better, right?

Now, I would say this of course, but no, it is not right. Certainly if you have a five-acre meadow and you want to cut the grass for hay or silage, you are going to get it done a lot quicker (though not necessarily more efficiently) with a tractor and cutter bar than you would with a scythe team, which is the way it was done before the 1950s. Down at the human scale, though, the scythe still reigns supreme.

A growing number of people I teach, for example, are looking for an alternative to a brushcutter. A brushcutter is essentially a mechanical scythe. It is a great heavy piece of machinery that needs to be operated with both hands and requires its user to dress up like Darth Vader in order to swing it through the grass. It roars like a motorbike, belches out fumes, and requires a regular diet of fossil fuels. It hacks through the grass instead of slicing it cleanly like a scythe blade. It is more cumbersome, more dangerous, no faster, and far less pleasant to use than the tool it replaced. And yet you see it used everywhere: on motorway verges, in parks, even, for heaven’s sake, in nature reserves. It’s a horrible, clumsy, ugly, noisy, inefficient thing. So why do people use it, and why do they still laugh at the scythe?

To ask that question in those terms is to misunderstand what is going on. Brushcutters are not used instead of scythes because they are better; they are used because their use is conditioned by our attitudes toward technology. Performance is not really the point, and neither is efficiency. Religion is the point: the religion of complexity. The myth of progress manifested in tool form. Plastic is better than wood. Moving parts are better than fixed parts. Noisy things are better than quiet things. Complicated things are better than simple things. New things are better than old things. We all believe this, whether we like it or not. It’s how we were brought up.

THE HOMELY, pipe-smoking, cob-and-straw visions of Illich and Schumacher take us back to what we would like to think was a kinder time: a time when no one was mailing out bombs in pursuit of a gentler world. This was the birth of what would become known as the “green” movement. I sometimes like to say that the movement was born in the same year I was—1972, the year in which the fabled Limits to Growth report was commissioned by the Club of Rome—and this is near enough to the truth to be a jumping-off point for a narrative.

If the green movement was born in the early 1970s, then the 1980s, when there were whales to be saved and rainforests to be campaigned for, were its adolescence. Its coming-of-age party was in 1992, in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. The 1992 Earth Summit was a jamboree of promises and commitments: to tackle climate change, to protect forests, to protect biodiversity, and to promote something called “sustainable development,” a new concept that would become, over the next two decades, the most fashionable in global politics and business. The future looked bright for the greens back then. It often does when you’re twenty.

Two decades on, things look rather different. In 2012, the bureaucrats, the activists, and the ministers gathered again in Rio for a stock-taking exercise called Rio+20. It was accompanied by the usual shrill demands for optimism and hope, but there was no disguising the hollowness of the exercise. Every environmental problem identified at the original Earth Summit has gotten worse in the intervening twenty years, often very much worse, and there is no sign of this changing.

The green movement, which seemed to be carrying all before it in the early 1990s, has plunged into a full-on midlife crisis. Unable to significantly change either the system or the behavior of the public, assailed by a rising movement of “skeptics” and by public boredom with being hectored about carbon and consumption, colonized by a new breed of corporate spivs for whom “sustainability” is just another opportunity for selling things, the greens are seeing a nasty realization dawn: despite all their work, their passion, their commitment and the fact that most of what they have been saying has been broadly right—they are losing. There is no likelihood of the world going their way. In most green circles now, sooner or later, the conversation comes round to the same question: what the hell do we do next?

There are plenty of people who think they know the answer to that question. One of them is Peter Kareiva, who would like to think that he and his kind represent the future of environmentalism, and who may turn out to be right. Kareiva is chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy, which is among the world’s largest environmental organizations. He is a scientist, a revisionist, and one among a growing number of former greens who might best be called “neo-environmentalists.”

The resemblance between this coalescing group and the Friedmanite “neoliberals” of the early 1970s is intriguing. Like the neoliberals, the neo-environmentalists are attempting to break through the lines of an old orthodoxy that is visibly exhausted and confused. Like the neoliberals, they are mostly American and mostly male, and they emphasize scientific measurement and economic analysis over other ways of seeing and measuring. Like the neoliberals, they cluster around a few key think tanks: then, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Cato Institute, and the Adam Smith Institute; now, the Breakthrough Institute, the Long Now Foundation, and the Copenhagen Consensus. Like the neoliberals, they are beginning to grow in numbers at a time of global collapse and uncertainty. And like the neoliberals, they think they have radical solutions.

Kareiva’s ideas are a good place to start in understanding the neo-environmentalists. He is an outspoken former conservationist who now believes that most of what the greens think they know is wrong. Nature, he says, is more resilient than fragile; science proves it. “Humans degrade and destroy and crucify the natural environment,” he says, “and 80 percent of the time it recovers pretty well.” Wilderness does not exist; all of it has been influenced by humans at some time. Trying to protect large functioning ecosystems from human development is mostly futile; humans like development, and you can’t stop them from having it. Nature is tough and will adapt to this: “Today, coyotes roam downtown Chicago, and peregrine falcons astonish San Franciscans as they sweep down skyscraper canyons. . . . As we destroy habitats, we create new ones.” Now that “science” has shown us that nothing is “pristine” and nature “adapts,” there’s no reason to worry about many traditional green goals such as, for example, protecting rainforest habitats. “Is halting deforestation in the Amazon . . . feasible?” he asks. “Is it even necessary?” Somehow, you know what the answer is going to be before he gives it to you.

If this sounds like the kind of thing that a right-wing politican might come out with, that’s because it is. But Kareiva is not alone. Variations on this line have recently been pushed by the American thinker Stewart Brand, the British writer Mark Lynas, the Danish anti-green poster boy Bjørn Lomborg, and the American writers Emma Marris, Ted Nordhaus, and Michael Schellenberger. They in turn are building on work done in the past by other self-declared green “heretics” like Richard D. North, Brian Clegg, and Wilfred Beckerman.

Beyond the field of conservation, the neo-environmentalists are distinguished by their attitude toward new technologies, which they almost uniformly see as positive. Civilization, nature, and people can only be “saved” by enthusiastically embracing biotechnology, synthetic biology, nuclear power, geoengineering, and anything else with the prefix “new” that annoys Greenpeace. The traditional green focus on “limits” is dismissed as naïve. We are now, in Brand’s words, “as gods,” and we have to step up and accept our responsibility to manage the planet rationally through the use of new technology guided by enlightened science.

Neo-environmentalists also tend to exhibit an excitable enthusiasm for markets. They like to put a price on things like trees, lakes, mist, crocodiles, rainforests, and watersheds, all of which can deliver “ecosystem services,” which can be bought and sold, measured and totted up. Tied in with this is an almost religious attitude toward the scientific method. Everything that matters can be measured by science and priced by markets, and any claims without numbers attached can be easily dismissed. This is presented as “pragmatism” but is actually something rather different: an attempt to exclude from the green debate any interventions based on morality, emotion, intuition, spiritual connection, or simple human feeling.

Some of this might be shocking to some old-guard greens—which is the point—but it is hardly a new message. In fact, it is a very old one; it is simply a variant on the old Wellsian techno-optimism that has been promising us cornucopia for over a century. It’s an old-fashioned Big Science, Big Tech, and Big Money narrative filtered through the lens of the internet and garlanded with holier-than-thou talk about saving the poor and feeding the world.

But though they burn with the shouty fervor of the born-again, the neo-environmentalists are not exactly wrong. In fact, they are at least half right. They are right to say that the human-scale, convivial approaches of those 1970s thinkers are never going to work if the world continues to formulate itself according to the demands of late capitalist industrialism. They are right to say that a world of 9 billion people all seeking the status of middle-class consumers cannot be sustained by vernacular approaches. They are right to say that the human impact on the planet is enormous and irreversible. They are right to say that traditional conservation efforts sometimes idealized a preindustrial nature. They are right to say that the campaigns of green NGOs often exaggerate and dissemble. And they are right to say that the greens have hit a wall, and that continuing to ram their heads against it is not going to knock it down.

What’s interesting, though, is what they go on to build on this foundation. The first sign that this is not, as declared, a simple “ecopragmatism” but something rather different comes when you read paragraphs like this:

For decades people have unquestioningly accepted the idea that our goal is to preserve nature in its pristine, pre-human state. But many scientists have come to see this as an outdated dream that thwarts bold new plans to save the environment and prevents us from having a fuller relationship with nature.

This is the PR blurb for Emma Marris’s book Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World, though it could just as easily be from anywhere else in the neo-environmentalist canon. But who are the “many people” who have “unquestioningly accepted” this line? I’ve met a lot of conservationists and environmentalists in my time, and I don’t think I’ve ever met one who believed there was any such thing as “pristine, pre-human” nature. What they did believe was that there were still large-scale, functioning ecosystems that were worth getting out of bed to protect from destruction.

To understand why, consider the case of the Amazon. What do we value about the Amazon forest? Do people seek to protect it because they believe it is “pristine” and “pre-human”? Clearly not, since it’s inhabited and harvested by large numbers of tribal people, some of whom have been there for millennia. The Amazon is not important because it is “untouched”; it’s important because it is wild, in the sense that it is self-willed. It is lived in and off of by humans, but it is not created or controlled by them. It teems with a great, shifting, complex diversity of both human and nonhuman life, and no species dominates the mix. It is a complex, working ecosystem that is also a human-culture-system, because in any kind of worthwhile world, the two are linked.

This is what intelligent green thinking has always called for: human and nonhuman nature working in some degree of harmony, in a modern world of compromise and change in which some principles, nevertheless, are worth cleaving to. “Nature” is a resource for people, and always has been; we all have to eat, make shelter, hunt, live from its bounty like any other creature. But that doesn’t preclude us understanding that it has a practical, cultural, emotional, and even spiritual value beyond that too, which is equally necessary for our well-being.

The neo-environmentalists, needless to say, have no time for this kind of fluff. They have a great big straw man to build up and knock down, and once they’ve got that out of the way, they can move on to the really important part of their message. Here’s Kareiva, giving us the money shot in Breakthrough Journal with fellow authors Michelle Marvier and Robert Lalasz:

Instead of pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake, a new conservation should seek to enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of people. . . . Conservation will measure its achievement in large part by its relevance to people.

There it is, in black and white: the wild is dead, and what remains of nature is for people. We can effectively do what we like, and we should. Science says so! A full circle has been drawn, the greens have been buried by their own children, and under the soil with them has gone their naïve, romantic, and antiscientific belief that nonhuman life has any value beyond what we very modern humans can make use of.

“Wilderness can be saved permanently,” claims Ted Kaczynski, “only by eliminating the technoindustrial system.” I am beginning to think that the neo-environmentalists may leave a deliciously ironic legacy: proving the Unabomber right.

IN HIS BOOK A Short History of Progress, Ronald Wright coins the term “progress trap.” A progress trap, says Wright, is a short-term social or technological improvement that turns out in the longer term to be a backward step. By the time this is realized—if it ever is—it is too late to change course.

The earliest example he gives is the improvement in hunting techniques in the Upper Paleolithic era, around fifteen thousand years ago. Wright tracks the disappearance of wildlife on a vast scale whenever prehistoric humans arrived on a new continent. As Wright explains: “Some of their slaughter sites were almost industrial in size: 1,000 mammoths at one; more than 100,000 horses at another.” But there was a catch:

The perfection of hunting spelled the end of hunting as a way of life. Easy meat meant more babies. More babies meant more hunters. More hunters, sooner or later, meant less game. Most of the great human migrations across the world at this time must have been driven by want, as we bankrupted the land with our moveable feasts.

This is the progress trap. Each improvement in our knowledge or in our technology will create new problems, which require new improvements. Each of these improvements tends to make society bigger, more complex, less human-scale, more destructive of nonhuman life, and more likely to collapse under its own weight.

Spencer Wells takes up the story in his book Pandora’s Seed, a revisionist history of the development of agriculture. The story we were all taught at school—or I was, anyway—is that humans “developed” or “invented” agriculture, because they were clever enough to see that it would form the basis of a better way of living than hunting and gathering. This is the same attitude that makes us assume that a brushcutter is a better way of mowing grass than a scythe, and it seems to be equally erroneous. As Wells demonstrates, analysis of the skeletal remains of people living before and after the transition to agriculture during the Paleolithic demonstrate something remarkable: an all-around collapse in quality of life when farming was adopted.

Hunter-gatherers living during the Paleolithic period, between 30,000 and 9,000 BCE, were on average taller—and thus, by implication, healthier—than any people since, including people living in late twentieth-century America. Their median life span was higher than at any period for the next six thousand years, and their health, as estimated by measuring the pelvic inlet depth of their skeletons, appears to have been better, again, than at any period since—including the present day. This collapse in individual well-being was likely due to the fact that settled agricultural life is physically harder and more disease-ridden than the life of a shifting hunter-gatherer community.

So much for progress. But why in this case, Wells asks, would any community move from hunting and gathering to agriculture? The answer seems to be: not because they wanted to, but because they had to. They had spelled the end of their hunting and gathering lifestyle by getting too good at it. They had killed off most of their prey and expanded their numbers beyond the point at which they could all survive. They had fallen into a progress trap.

We have been falling into them ever since. Look at the proposals of the neo-environmentalists in this light and you can see them as a series of attempts to dig us out of the progress traps that their predecessors knocked us into. Genetically modified crops, for example, are regularly sold to us as a means of “feeding the world.” But why is the world hungry? At least in part because of the previous wave of agricultural improvements—the so-called Green Revolution, which between the 1940s and 1970s promoted a new form of agriculture that depended upon high levels of pesticides and herbicides, new agricultural technologies, and high-yielding strains of crops. The Green Revolution is trumpeted by progressives as having supposedly “fed a billion people” who would otherwise have starved. And maybe it did; but then we had to keep feeding them—or should I say us?—and our children. In the meantime it had been discovered that the pesticides and herbicides were killing off vast swaths of wildlife, and the high-yield monoculture crops were wrecking both the health of the soil and the crop diversity, which in previous centuries had helped prevent the spread of disease and reduced the likelihood of crop failure.

It is in this context that we now have to listen to lectures from the neo-environmentalists and others insisting that GM crops are a moral obligation if we want to feed the world and save the planet: precisely the arguments that were made last time around. GM crops are an attempt to solve the problems caused by the last progress trap; they are also the next one. I would be willing to bet a lot of money that in forty years’ time, the successors of the neo-environmentalists will be making precisely the same arguments about the necessity of adopting the next wave of technologies needed to dig us out of the trap that GM crops have dropped us neatly into. Perhaps it will be vat-grown meat, or synthetic wheat, or some nano-bio-gubbins as yet unthought of. Either way, it will be vital for growth and progress, and a moral necessity. As Kurt Vonnegut would have said: “so it goes.”

“Romanticizing the past” is a familiar accusation, made mostly by people who think it is more grown-up to romanticize the future. But it’s not necessary to convince yourself that Paleolithic hunter-gatherers lived in paradise in order to observe that progress is a ratchet, every turn forcing us more tightly into the gears of a machine we were forced to create to solve the problems created by progress. It is far too late to think about dismantling this machine in a rational manner—and in any case who wants to? We can’t deny that it brings benefits to us, even as it chokes us and our world by degrees. Those benefits are what keep us largely quiet and uncomplaining as the machine rolls on, in the words of the poet R. S. Thomas, “over the creeds and masterpieces”:

The machine appeared
In the distance, singing to itself
Of money. Its song was the web
They were caught in, men and women
Together. The villages were as flies
To be sucked empty.
God secreted
A tear. Enough, enough,
He commanded, but the machine
Looked at him and went on singing.

OVER THE NEXT few years, the old green movement that I grew up with is likely to fall to pieces. Many of those pieces will be picked up and hoarded by the growing ranks of the neo-environmentalists. The mainstream of the green movement has laid itself open to their advances in recent years with its obsessive focus on carbon and energy technologies and its refusal to speak up for a subjective, vernacular, nontechnical engagement with nature. The neo-environmentalists have a great advantage over the old greens, with their threatening talk about limits to growth, behavior change, and other such against-the-grain stuff: they are telling this civilization what it wants to hear. What it wants to hear is that the progress trap in which our civilization is caught can be escaped from by inflating a green tech bubble on which we can sail merrily into the future, happy as gods and equally in control.

In the short term, the future belongs to the neo-environmentalists, and it is going to be painful to watch. In the long term, though, I’d guess they will fail, for two reasons. Firstly, that bubbles always burst. Our civilization is beginning to break down. We are at the start of an unfolding economic and social collapse, which may take decades or longer to play out—and which is playing out against the background of a planetary ecocide that nobody seems able to prevent. We are not gods, and our machines will not get us off this hook, however clever they are and however much we would like to believe it.

But there is another reason that the new breed are unlikely to be able to build the world they want to see: we are not—even they are not—primarily rational, logical, or “scientific” beings. Our human relationship to the rest of nature is not akin to the analysis of bacteria in a petri dish; it is more like the complex, love-hate relationship we might have with lovers or parents or siblings. It is who we are, unspoken and felt and frustrating and inspiring and vital and impossible to peer-review. You can reach part of it with the analytical mind, but the rest will remain buried in the ancient woodland floor of human evolution and in the depths of our old ape brains, which see in pictures and think in stories. Civilization has always been a project of control, but you can’t win a war against the wild within yourself.

Is it possible to read the words of someone like Theodore Kaczynski and be convinced by the case he makes, even as you reject what he did with the knowledge? Is it possible to look at human cultural evolution as a series of progress traps, the latest of which you are caught in like a fly on a sundew, with no means of escape? Is it possible to observe the unfolding human attack on nature with horror, be determined to do whatever you can to stop it, and at the same time know that much of it cannot be stopped, whatever you do? Is it possible to see the future as dark and darkening further; to reject false hope and desperate pseudo-optimism without collapsing into despair?

It’s going to have to be, because it’s where I am right now. But where do I go next? What do I do? Between Kaczynski and Kareiva, what can I find to alight on that will still hold my weight?

I’m not sure I know the answer. But I know there is no going back to anything. And I know that we are not headed, now, toward convivial tools. We are not headed toward human-scale development. This culture is about superstores, not little shops; synthetic biology, not intentional community; brushcutters, not scythes. This is a culture that develops new life forms first and asks questions later; a species that is in the process of, in the words of the poet Robinson Jeffers, “break[ing] its legs on its own cleverness.”

What does the near future look like? I’d put my bets on a strange and unworldly combination of ongoing collapse, which will continue to fragment both nature and culture, and a new wave of techno-green “solutions” being unveiled in a doomed attempt to prevent it. I don’t believe now that anything can break this cycle, barring some kind of reset: the kind that we have seen many times before in human history. Some kind of fall back down to a lower level of civilizational complexity. Something like the storm that is now visibly brewing all around us.

If you don’t like any of this, but you know you can’t stop it, where does it leave you? The answer is that it leaves you with an obligation to be honest about where you are in history’s great cycle, and what you have the power to do and what you don’t. If you think you can magic us out of the progress trap with new ideas or new technologies, you are wasting your time. If you think that the usual “campaigning” behavior is going to work today where it didn’t work yesterday, you will be wasting your time. If you think the machine can be reformed, tamed, or defanged, you will be wasting your time. If you draw up a great big plan for a better world based on science and rational argument, you will be wasting your time. If you try to live in the past, you will be wasting your time. If you romanticize hunting and gathering or send bombs to computer store owners, you will be wasting your time.

And so I ask myself: what, at this moment in history, would not be a waste of my time? And I arrive at five tentative answers:

One: Withdrawing. If you do this, a lot of people will call you a “defeatist” or a “doomer,” or claim you are “burnt out.” They will tell you that you have an obligation to work for climate justice or world peace or the end of bad things everywhere, and that “fighting” is always better than “quitting.” Ignore them, and take part in a very ancient practical and spiritual tradition: withdrawing from the fray. Withdraw not with cynicism, but with a questing mind. Withdraw so that you can allow yourself to sit back quietly and feel, intuit, work out what is right for you and what nature might need from you. Withdraw because refusing to help the machine advance—refusing to tighten the ratchet further—is a deeply moral position. Withdraw because action is not always more effective than inaction. Withdraw to examine your worldview: the cosmology, the paradigm, the assumptions, the direction of travel. All real change starts with withdrawal.

Two: Preserving nonhuman life. The revisionists will continue to tell us that wildness is dead, nature is for people, and Progress is God, and they will continue to be wrong. There is still much remaining of the earth’s wild diversity, but it may not remain for much longer. The human empire is the greatest threat to what remains of life on earth, and you are part of it. What can you do—really do, at a practical level—about this? Maybe you can buy up some land and rewild it; maybe you can let your garden run free; maybe you can work for a conservation group or set one up yourself; maybe you can put your body in the way of a bulldozer; maybe you can use your skills to prevent the destruction of yet another wild place. How can you create or protect a space for nonhuman nature to breathe easier; how can you give something that isn’t us a chance to survive our appetites?

Three: Getting your hands dirty. Root yourself in something: some practical work, some place, some way of doing. Pick up your scythe or your equivalent and get out there and do physical work in clean air surrounded by things you cannot control. Get away from your laptop and throw away your smartphone, if you have one. Ground yourself in things and places, learn or practice human-scale convivial skills. Only by doing that, rather than just talking about it, do you learn what is real and what’s not, and what makes sense and what is so much hot air.

Four: Insisting that nature has a value beyond utility. And telling everyone. Remember that you are one life-form among many and understand that everything has intrinsic value. If you want to call this “ecocentrism” or “deep ecology,” do it. If you want to call it something else, do that. If you want to look to tribal societies for your inspiration, do it. If that seems too gooey, just look up into the sky. Sit on the grass, touch a tree trunk, walk into the hills, dig in the garden, look at what you find in the soil, marvel at what the hell this thing called life could possibly be. Value it for what it is, try to understand what it is, and have nothing but pity or contempt for people who tell you that its only value is in what they can extract from it.

Five: Building refuges. The coming decades are likely to challenge much of what we think we know about what progress is, and about who we are in relation to the rest of nature. Advanced technologies will challenge our sense of what it means to be human at the same time as the tide of extinction rolls on. The ongoing collapse of social and economic infrastructures, and of the web of life itself, will kill off much of what we value. In this context, ask yourself: what power do you have to preserve what is of value—creatures, skills, things, places? Can you work, with others or alone, to create places or networks that act as refuges from the unfolding storm? Can you think, or act, like the librarian of a monastery through the Dark Ages, guarding the old books as empires rise and fall outside?

It will be apparent by now that in these last five paragraphs I have been talking to myself. These are the things that make sense to me right now when I think about what is coming and what I can do, still, with some joy and determination. If you don’t feel despair, in times like these, you are not fully alive. But there has to be something beyond despair too; or rather, something that accompanies it, like a companion on the road. This is my approach, right now. It is, I suppose, the development of a personal philosophy for a dark time: a dark ecology. None of it is going to save the world—but then there is no saving the world, and the ones who say there is are the ones you need to save it from.

FOR NOW, I’ve had enough of writing. My head is buzzing with it. I am going to pick up my new scythe, lovingly made for me from sugar maple, a beautiful object in itself, which I can just look at for hours. I am going to pick it up and go out and find some grass to mow.

I am going to cut great swaths of it, my blade gliding through the vegetation, leaving it in elegant curving windrows behind me. I am going to walk ahead, following the ground, emptying my head, managing the land, not like a god but like a tenant. I am going to breathe the still-clean air and listen to the still-singing birds and reflect on the fact that the earth is older and harder than the machine that is eating it—that it is indeed more resilient than fragile—and that change comes quickly when it comes, and that knowledge is not the same as wisdom.

A scythe is an old tool, but it has changed through its millennia of existence, changed and adapted as surely as have the humans who wield it and the grasses it is designed to mow. Like a microchip or a combustion engine, it is a technology that has allowed us to manipulate and control our environment, and to accelerate the rate of that manipulation and control. A scythe, too, is a progress trap. But it is limited enough in its speed and application to allow that control to be exercised in a way that is understandable by, and accountable to, individual human beings. It is a compromise we can control, as much as we can ever control anything; a stage on the journey we can still understand.

There is always change, as a neo-environmentalist would happily tell you; but there are different qualities of change. There is human-scale change, and there is industrial-scale change; there is change led by the needs of complex systems, and change led by the needs of individual humans. There is a manageable rate of evolution, and there is a chaotic, excitable rush toward shiny things perched on the edge of a great ravine, flashing and scrolling like sirens in the gathering dusk.

When you have mown a hayfield, you should turn and look back on your work admiringly. If you have got it right, you should see a field lined with long, curving windrows of cut grass, with clean, mown strips between them. It’s a beautiful sight, which would have been familiar to every medieval citizen of this old, old continent. If you were up at dawn, mowing in the dew—the best time, and the traditional one to cut for hay—you should leave the windrows to dry in the sun, then go down the rows with a pitchfork later in the day and turn them over. Leave the other side of the rows to dry until the sun has done its work, then come back and “ted” the grass—spread it out evenly across the field. Dry it for a few hours or a few days, depending on the weather, then come back and turn it over again. Give it as much time as it needs to dry in the sun.

After that, if the rain has held off, you’re ready to take in the hay. O


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Paul Kingsnorth is the author of several books, including Savage Gods, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays, and Alexandria.


  1. Mr. Kingsworth, you have quite the ability to give me goosebumps and make me question everything I do. As a college student studying forestry, while engaging myself in environmental and sustainability “movements,” your essays have often sent me into crises of faith, causing me to completely reevaluate what I’m doing. Thank you for this essay – it has restored some degree of faith that there are things that can be done. This semester I think I entered what you describe as a “withdrawal” stage – turning more to introspection and engaging myself directly with the natural world and not with “solutions” and “progress.” I am relieved to read that you find merit in this sort of “inaction,” as I was beginning to question whether this withdrawal was a sign that I had lost all hope in the world.

    I am constantly investigating words like “wild” and “nature,” looking into what it means to be both human and animal. Coming back into my own body, and learning to interact on a direct and visceral level with the world around me, has proven to be the most comforting and satisfying thing I can do.

    Thank you again for your words. Even when you think you might sound cynical and not relatable to the younger generation, know that there are people like me who find guidance in your experience and contemplations.

  2. It’s not an unbrave thing to do to make common cause with the wiser side of Theodore Kaczynski, the unibomber. Bill Joy, the chief scientist of Sun Microsystems and creator of Java also found Kaczynski a source of insight, particularly with regard to recognizing the machine as becoming more and more the active agent of control or at least influence.

    I think Kingsworth has written a terrifically thoughtful and provocative piece. If I have one criticism it is that he simply writes off all within-the-system solutions. I think public parks are worthy efforts defending Kingsworth’s ability to drop out into wilderness. Like most environmentalists he takes a pass on overpopulation and efforts to address it, something that activist groups and nations from time to time have attempted to deal with. I’m sure Mr. Kingsworth is happy that the treated water he drinks is cholera free. Is it really that hard to say that the society we live in that will probably take us off the cliff has at least concentrated some of the surpluses it has gouged out of nature into knowledge that we can hopefully walk back to a simpler, more sustainable life?

    I appreciate the attempt to offer active alternatives, rather than simply leaving us high and dry with a lot of thoughtful negatives. One alternative which is implied in 5 but not really focused on is building self-sustaining alternative communities. When things break down it would be nice to have waiting some model communities with all the “appropriate technologies” like your scythe and the teachable skill sets that go with them. From my background one interest I would have would be in sailing craft. Like Orlov, I think it is bound to make a comeback as the main vehicle of ocean transportation.

    Mr. Kingsworth you come across as a work in progress. I hope you will keep updating and refining your thinking here as long as the world allows it. Your dark ecology meditations certainly stimulate my thinking.

  3. I am writing a book called Dark Ecology, strangely enough. I too am distressed by the neo-environmentalists though many people thought my first book Ecology without Nature was just that (no, it wasn’t). Because of some talks I did recently, John Zerzan started writing to me, out of the blue.

  4. This is an amazing piece. Thank you, thank you. You express much of what goes on inside my tangled mind and sad heart. I too read the Ted K book and sat nodding and muttering “yes” to myself in the process.

    I lived a much more intimate and reverent lifestyle before the computer invaded my life. I have spent over 2 decades in technology as an artist and designer and for the past several years I have been experiencing a deep existential anxiety. I desperately desire to “withdraw” but it is a monumental challenge once technology has its hooks in you.

    One of my favorite reads is this interview with Norman Mailer shortly before he passed.

    I look forward to your next post.

  5. Another great essay. I enjoy your writing so much Mr. Kingsworth– its like having my innermost feelings, thoughts and ideas given voice in a profoundly eloquent, erudite and insighful way. It is truly comforting to know there is another human being out there who sees the mess in the same way and has arrived at many of the same conclusions and course of action.
    I hope you will consider putting out a collection of your brilliant and insightful essays. They really do deserve such treatment.

  6. The risk for all published writers is that they keep issuing the same ideas, without much in the way of back-and-forth, or any of the sparks of illumination.
    Kingsowrth has said much of this before, but his particualr retreatism is not going to remake the green posture.
    Banish the telly, scythe your life away – but social reality is all that will be set upon the earth by our species, and there is no way to wish away the trappings of modern civilization – the figures of energy use and environmental collapse are too stark for any of this advice.
    Even as bright a figure as Craig Dilworth, in his monumental “Too Smart for Our Good,” posits some sort of “paradigm shift” as possible for us, but his own vicious circle principle refuts this. We, as humans, responds to large, devastating, mounting social forces, and no amount of “voluntary simplicity” advice is going to deter the trajectory of more people, more energy, more inequality, more ecological devastation.
    No matter much Orion and McKibben and Kingsnorth and any of the merry brand of green spiritual gurus try, this is a global corporate suspersysem we all are subject to, in whole or in part or just the majority of our neighbors, and that absorbs any of this as it heads, over the larger scale beyond our own lives, to its logical destination.
    This is all offered in the spirit of generosity – Kingsnorth and a few others here are trying to make sense of this disconnection they feel, here amidst the spiritualists, but he is flailing jsut like the rest of us.

  7. In my limited english I’ve enjoyed Kingsworth writing, with a little google translator help. It is a pity that we, non native english speakers, have such limited access to these bright thinkins and, worse, that we can’t share with you ours. Nevertheless is great hearing armonic foreign words from the distance

  8. Very glad to have read some of your work, again, Paul.

    I was given Ellul, yesterday, by someone, and it prompted me to remember where I’d been recommended it before – so ‘here’ I am.

    The writers that really doom me, though, from what I’ve been reading over the last few years are McLuhan, Baudrillard and Virilio – the masters of implosion.

    And that’s because I reacted badly to the internet and media when it got too much, when it left me a little freaked. These guys seem so right it worries me deeply. Your article has made me again think that your solutions may well be the only way to live a somewhat ‘normal’ life, rather then this lightning-war we expose ourselves to so willingly.

    Nice one.

    Rob x

  9. @ #6 Martin:

    It is a pity you took away none of the points that the author has made. Your criticisms – and cynicism – are discussed throughout the article. It is a challenging piece – but while you may have trouble accepting some of the premises, I urge you to not idly dismiss them.

  10. An Internet comment challenge should be responded to – the fate of the world depends on this. GEF is wrong to cast my words aside as rank and empty cynicism.
    1. Kingsnorth becomes infatuated with the Unabomber. Unfortunately, this is a wrong premise for extensive thinking. Like the stupefying Derrick Jensen, the Unabomber believes one central fallacy – that violence directed the supersystem will somehow lead to its breakdown.
    Anyone who wants to consider this angle is not dealing with social reality. The Unabomer killed people for no end – no benefit for the natural world, anywhere. Kingsnorth’s sober contemplation of eradicating the violence of the supersystem is delusionary – these are massive, massed, amplifying social forces at work, and to pretend otherwise is to evade intellectual responsibility.
    2. This is completely not “cynicism.” All of us must contend with a destructive, immovable, inchoate political system that has given all the power to maruading transnational corproations. Individuals persist in seeing themselves as somehow above or beyond this supersystem, but they are not. Some, like Tim Morton, follow fantasies of Buddhist supra-wisdom, while others look for the alleged “sacredness” of ephphenomena.
    3. Orion is major environmental site- at least Kingsnorth has some second thoughts about becoming enmeshed in the fallacies of green neoliberalism, but, judging by this essay, he still has a ways to go. He can further his entry into the world of facts by reading Dilworth’s amazing book, or try to entertain some criticism.
    He is trying to deal with the brute facts of our predicament, but he is following a well-worn, dubious path of heroic simplicity.

  11. Mr. Kingsworth,

    Thank you for this lovely essay. I’ve been a member of the Nature Conservancy for a long time, but have become increasingly uncomfortable with their position of, well, accommodation with the status quo. Thank you for putting into focus so clearly what my concerns have been.

    I’d also like to thank you for your suggestions at the end of your essay. While it’s not a “survival of the Earth” issue, I have been struggling with a similar question (“What to do that is not a waste of my time?”) in my own profession. Your answers have given me much to think about.

  12. This is how I see it. I have withdrawn, since some years ago.

    I’m about a generation older than you, Mr. Kingsworth. Regrettably, those of my time, able to enjoy the orchards, creeks and insect-dense grasses of, for instance, Silicon Valley, didn’t see the inevitable. Else we might have saved some of what made such a time worth living in.

  13. Human Agency
    “We shape our tools and then they shape us.” So said McLuhan. Something similar could be said for our economy. It begins as our servant and then becomes our master. “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.” Who said that? Emerson? Thoreau? The point is, somehow human agency gets lost as we become entangled in our own clever inventions. Between them, technology and our economic system are riding roughshod over everything that makes human life, and all Life, worthwhile, and we seem powerless to stop it.
    I’ve never been a bumper sticker person, but I did have on once upon a time. It said: Nature Bats Last. I take that as an article of faith. It is bigger than we are and seems to have better “instincts,” or at least better results. I wonder if I am alone in believing that a total collapse of the global industrial economy would be the very best thing for the Community of Life, for Mother Earth (or Gaia), and maybe even for a possible human future? Yesterday would have been better than tomorrow, and if it takes a decade or two there likely won’t be enough left worth having—certainly not for any of the mammals larger than a squirrel.
    When I assume my larger identity, and not just that of a single individual of one particular species; that is, when I identify with all of Life, and all the abundance, complexity, and diversity that four billion years of evolutionary history managed to create, before we came along; I find it painful, but not unthinkable, to contemplate a world in balance and thriving, and better off, without us; and preferring that world to the one we are ruining now. If we are the nemesis and destroyer, and we can’t help ourselves, then maybe we just don’t belong here. I wish that weren’t true; I hope it isn’t true. But if it is, I side with Life that thrives in beauty.
    Fire, plague, and famine; flood, tsunami, volcano; earthquake: These are Her old tricks, and they are cleaner than what we might do with geo-engineering, nuclear disasters, or even just driving Her resilience past toxic and thermal points of no return, because of the way we live—because we can’t help ourselves. Pathetic, isn’t it? Too smart for our own good, and too weak to take on our own earth-devouring culture. I guess we deserve what we get! Nature bats last.

  14. Gary, I think you are seeing the stark matter clearly, but a “total collapse of the global economy” is not be wished for. The global economy is in terrible shape, producing mass immiseration for the majority, ladling out yachts for the marauding rich, but the benefits of technology will be clung to until its the the lasr remaining social good.
    B. Species extinction, which we have caused more than any other predator, as you put it well, is not a happy time for the species going under. We are adaptable as social life forms with a rich history of perseverance, but the coming adaptation to climate catastrophe and the horrors of malevolent institutions will require managing heartlessness, despair, self-limitation.
    C. The GAIA hypothesis is as fake as any biblical account – “Earth” is not a mother, nor a sweet balancing system – the natural world’s rumblings caused by our removal of its protections will be terrifying.
    D. I don’t think any person can come to these realizations without having been genetically steeped in skepticism – I have been, since birth, seeing the accelerating folly of schools, workplace ambition, politics, literature. Now, the world’s systems are exemplifying the trends that any dropout can voice – but who likes a dropout?
    E. Any place that keeps advertising its “sacred work,” as Orion does, should have one or two people to bat it around for its hubris. I understand that Orion is a cheap target, being a shoestring operation that generally tries to do more good for humanity than bad, but most anger gets expressed within the family.

  15. The best article I’ve read about the future of environmentalism in some time, perhaps ever. Loaded with heavy, difficult, yet inspiring ideas. Techno-triumphalism and its progress traps dominate the environmental conversation, which only accelerates the world’s problems. There is no looking back in a complete sense, but there is certainly no hope in a high-tech future – an exceedingly tenuous, potentially doomed balancing act for activated humans. Every hyper-sensitive being on this planet must fight apathy and the tug of prevailing currents if there is any hope for our own future. Given some time, the biosphere will chug on just fine, thank you…

  16. Martin: I think you miss my point about the desirability of an immediate collapse of the global industrial economy. Yes, of course, it would be more than an inconvenience to us, but according to my sources, that is about all, at this late stage, that gives this planet any chance at all of not going into catastrophic collapse. Most climate models being used today do not include positive feedback loops brought on by the uncovering of peat bogs in Siberia and methane release in the arctic, due to ice melt. Methane, by the way, is in the short term about a hundred times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon. Interestingly, and a point rarely or ever discussed, is the amount of methane released from the stomach’s of cattle (cattle raised for humans to eat) and paddy-grown rice (also for humans to eat). The methane burden on climate is actually greater than that of carbon—but giving up beef and rice would be too big an inconvenience to contemplate. Check out Guy McPherson’s website, Nature Bats Last, if you can take the really bad news about this planet’s future. If, for instance, we were by some sweet miracle to immediately lose electricity globally, that would slow down our poisoning and devouring of the planet to the point that it might actually not lose all four billion years of evolutionary creativity. Yes, I know, it would really spoil our wonderful high-tech way of life, and make kind of a mess for us in the short term. But is life on Earth really only about us—we oh-so-special humans? And do we honestly believe that everything else can go down, and we will stand here alone, triumphant on our poisonous heap of destruction? Well, that’s not the world I want. And it’s not the way of the world, anyway. Everything is connected to everything else. When the Earth goes down we go down with it. And as regards that economy you are so fond of—every time we “grow the economy” we are diminishing the living Earth. What we call “wealth creation” come from the destruction of ecosystems and the Community of Life. That never gets put on the human balance sheet, but the economy of Nature feels the loss that comes with our short term gains. In the long run, we’ll feel it, too.
    You say: “the Gaia hypothesis is a fake,” as if you believe you know what you are talking about. To me, your opinion sounds like dogma based on the doctrines of reductionist, materialist science. I am seventy years old, and have by choice spent most of my life living very close to Nature. I know what I have seen and experienced, and know there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in materialist philosophy. I’ve also read a few books on the subject. You, of course, are free to have your own opinion. But I advise against taking any doctrine, scientific or otherwise, on faith—otherwise science becomes just another religion, just another unexamined belief system.
    I will make one last point: Any answer to life’s Big Questions should be regarded as provisional and partial. It means living with ambiguity and uncertainty, but if truth is your goal, and not just comfort, you’ll have to learn to live in a world that is probabilistic and beyond full understanding. Special as we think we are, we are not equipped to encompass the Mystery.


  18. I suspect Martin is not whole heartedly trying to discredit any of the folks who think there are opportunities to shift the paradigm, but rather make the point that the strength of the dominant system is so powerful, so overwhelming that the likelihood of making ground with even well thought out ideas, is not likely. Yes, he may be implying it is a waist of time and I have strong suspicions he is correct.

    My position is to look at it as my personal options, as a way to address my own, possibly my families and with luck my small community’s direction in the future. I suspect, like many, that it will all come down to the local systems, the ones closest to us that will carry the day. Having a pie-in-the-sky dream of changing the world and the masses in it (many are illiterate, many too engulfed in their day to day, many in a euphoric trans state over the glories of techno-trumphalistic pipe dream, multitudes of religious wet dreamers) is not really possible.

    Obviously, Kingsworth is also struggling and like many writers, and the list is long, at the end of their writings, toss out a couple of possibilities just as a way of appeasing the dreamers, maybe just tidbits of thought food, knowing that the odds are not in our favor. Nature will bat last and she might clean out the stadium doing it. I sure as hell have no confidence that the present system of plunder and pillage will end well, and I don’t believe Martin does either.

    With luck, the system will slowly decline under the load of depletions, misuse, mis-allocations, over population, pollution and other maladies brought on by the system. Those folks not suffering from rectal-cranial inversion and possessing proper placement, and raw living knowledge may fare better than others. There will be peripheral damage to all species

  19. I agree that the article is beautifuly written, but while I haven’t read Kascynsky, I have read Derrick Jensen, and yes, I think they are right, EXCEPT – violence is one of the most polluting and wasteful activities of men (gender cited advisably). And I do appreciate his helpful suggestions.

    However, there is one thing he’s overlooked, which is needed even as much as we all need to withdraw from time to time. We need to be able, expert, at joining together!That we haven’t really developed, an area in which we are, perhaps, years behind. That is, forging cooperation, indeed going back to tribal forms of joining together.
    Whether our species survive on earth or perish, in the short term all the possible ameliorations we can try will depend on cooperation, both in the long and short term, on a huge scale . Someone in this discussion said the people ‘gave up control to'[the powers-that-be].

    We have to take it back. And we could if we could join together, because I believe there are enough who believe in the climate crisis now, especially in the poor nations, many of which are closer to destruction than we lucky few.

    The latest US election gives cause for hope – not because of Obama but in spite of him. The hopeful thing is that the poor, the brown, the black, the women, the gays coalesced against the forces of prejudice, and denial; that is, against the fascists, and that will bring some change for many of us.

    The trouble is that scientists, intellectuals and political activists aren’t like other people; they lack the ‘common touch’; the ability to reach out to more people who are not like themselves. Gotta work on that,too!

    It seems to me that w

  20. Mr. Kingsworth, good for you to share your thoughts and to sharpen the tools of scholarship to amplify them. Well written if fairly orthodox, and I love your oxymoronic “enlightened science”.
    When I think of Kaczynski, I think of cowardice, brutality, and villainy, not clarity in service of conviviality. But, I suppose, I’m a cockeyed Friedmanite, maybe neo-Friedmanite, maybe even post-neo-Friedmanite. Imagine some trivial, off-campus Reaganite opening what he thought was a gift-book only to marvel, in the millisecond before oblivion or blindness, at the use of green materials, recycled wood chips even, before the cleverly contrived environmental statement detonated in his face.
    Surprise, you un-tenured boob! Better yet, imagine his children, mere nascent machine-cogs, discovering the cute, little, disguised manifesto before daddy does. Damn, these math majors are clever. But we expect sharpness from men of Harvard.
    I guess the raw beauty of wreaking havoc, the who, the why, the where, is in the eye of the beholder. I get it. The homicidal hermit has something to teach us. Why mess with letters to the editor when anonymous, random violence can correct our civilization and its misguided ways. Have we overlooked unsung prophets from other campuses? Where did Ted Bundy go to school? What about Charlie Manson? He lived in the desert. Wasn’t he really a frustrated songwriter? Maybe a retro-album on the evils of urbanization and chain-store proliferation? Probably just a dumb bomb that won’t hurt anyone. Boring.

  21. Gary G:
    It’s funny to see me aligned with this economy – not at all. It’s a terribly unjust system, but its adherence to the growth delusion shows no sign of abetting.
    Guy McPherson has chosen to disengage himself from the economy, which is a private, psychological matter – of utterly no consequence to the natural world that you and I speak of. Global emissions of fossil fuels are rising, and poised to rise much higher. What overall good does any one’s disengagement do in view of that fact?
    I don’t know what you mean by that you “know there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in materialist philosophy” – the nature that I live in has death and disease, violence and predation, along with some bouts of beauty. Religious terms are just empty words – but we do live with irrational drives, insticts, emotions. Again a phrase such as ”
    we are not equipped to encompass the Mystery” may mean something to you, but I cannot imagine what you are getting at.
    We’ve all read books – we’ve all thought about these matters. No one deserves too much credit for any of these lifelong attempts, since we are in such dire straits. However, we all lead finite adn aprtial lives, as you suggest, and there might be some amelioration heading somewhere toward us – check out Alex Smith’s Radio Ecoshock for a great interview with a young, very knowledgeable climate scientist who advocates for geoengineering sulfates into the atmosphere to cool down the warming poles.
    David M. makes many rugged points, but I differ with his localism – in view of the enormity of our global and common problems, “local” means tokenism, like saving water in a cup while a flood washes through the valley.

  22. Mr. Kingsworth,

    I wish to underscore and uplift all the affirmative comments regarding your magnificent work here. Magnificent, yes, I say, because it most clearly elucidates the very things that have bedeviled me for more years than you have been alive. I began to withdraw in some way at the age of 8 or so when I sensed “something coming”, an intuition which 50 some years of living have not withered in the slightest. I have not reproduced. My biggest gift to the future is that my minimal carbon footprint ends with me. MANY of my friends, college educated and upper middle class, are also childless I know the standard warnings against this tack. But I could not have a grandchild living in the world I know to be coming.
    And just a selfish comment: I do believe Nature can survive all that humans can do to her. Of course, how not? A tsunami is one way of cleansing your home but is hell on the French Provincial furniture. As we wreck our way to the end only to prove that we will loose the fight against Her, the tigers, the frogs, the giant Sequoias will go down first. If there is a Goddess, She will be REALLY pissed about our wrecking Her lovely creations. Who the hell do we think we are? It is not at all hard to see human consciousness as a lethal virus set loose on this exquisite planet.

    Thank you for some positive, humane, ethical, dare-one-say-it “spiritual” suggestions for ways forward.

  23. Seems unfair to put people like Emma Marris and Stewart Brand in the same hopper with Bjorn Lomborg. Marris and Brand take climate change very seriously, while Lomborg does not.

  24. It made me happy to see this article, as with others the author put into words the feelings I have. We seem to be grieving our loss, in all the phases Kubler Ross identified.

    All five of his tentative answers are also mine; I wonder if our 25 year old will feel the same. He has a harder choice, he will see more of the dissolution, lose many more species, be tangled in more social disruption and disarray.

  25. Whether we like it, or not, we are a product of nature and nature has a dark side. It also developed levels of biological complexity hundreds of millions of years ago, that our technologies and societies are only now beginning to mimic. We are cells in some larger organism. If I was to ask if nature has some larger, fractal plan, it would be that the planet is growing itself a central nervous system, with humanity as the medium. Yes, we are now top predator in a collapsing ecosystem and are likely many generations and much turmoil away from even an infantile formulation of this, but I don’t think it’s as dire as some may project.
    This is an essay I wrote last winter, on taking stock of our situation:–What-is-Your-Occupation#
    ” The essence of human civilization is the creation, organization and storage of information. The problem is that information tends to be static. It holds and binds the energy required to maintain it. This sets up a conflict between the dynamic energy and the static information, so the system develops methods of reseting and erasing excess information. Biology does this by individual organisms dying, as the species regenerates. Bodies are processes in themselves, as generations of cells are formed and shed. As our social institutions build up legacy costs, they also find themselves losing ground to less burdened, more dynamic entities. So there is a constant churn of structures building up and breaking down.”
    “don’t destroy more than they create.

    Just as individual mobile organisms evolved central nervous systems in order to navigate complex environments and respond to circumstances, groups of people develop governing structures in order coordinate their responses to situations they encounter. This requires a conceptual frame to define the purpose of the organization and instill allegiance, such as religious texts, national constitutions, or even company mission statements. Goals, group narratives, external adversaries, etc. are some of the many incentives to keep the group cohesive. There are many equally powerful influences both internal and external, trying to break down such organizations. Even conflicts between keeping them together and continuing to fulfill original purposes can be rending, as management and vision clash.

    The problem here is that we tend to think of good and bad as an issue of black and white moral clarity, even if the details are usually messy and unclear. While we instinctively think of good and bad as ideals, they are really the primal biological binary code. Life is attracted to the beneficial and repelled by the detrimental. What is bad for the chicken is good for the fox and there is no clear line where the chicken ends and the fox begins. Between black and white are not just shades of grey, but all the colors of the spectrum. While it’s bad for good things to come to an end, it is necessary to having good things in the first place. The price we pay for being able to feel in the first place, is that a lot of it is pain.”
    “No matter how much we disrupt things, nature is always finding ways to balance our actions. There are consequences to consider when we are moving; The faster we go, the less able we are to maneuver and the greater damage when we encounter the unexpected. Going slow limits our access to new environments, but strengthens our connections to the one in which we exist.”
    ” Money is a contract. It is drawing rights on the rest of the community. Its value stems from the willingness of the participants in that contract to honor it. Contracts are not owned by any one party. They are an agreement among different parties. To the extent the financial system is the circulatory system of society, money is the blood flowing through it. Its effectiveness is dependent on its fungibility. We no more own the money in our pocket, than we own the road we are driving on. Yes, we are in sole possession of any one spot on that road at any one time, but its value is due to the connectivity with all other roads. We own our cars, houses, businesses, etc, but not the roads connecting them and no one cries socialism over that. We have to think of money in the same way.

    If people understand that money is a form of public utility and not actually private property, then they will naturally be far more careful what value they take out of social relations and environmental resources to put in a bank account. This would serve to make people’s own self interest a mechanism to put value back into the community and the environment and allow more organic systems of economic connectivity and reciprocity to grow, as well as reduce the power of large financial and governmental systems over our lives.”

  26. JM
    “Money is a contract.”

    I’m afraid money as a contract escapes me. I would say it is an evolved store of value, closer to a commodity. If money is worth something one day and loses value the next day, no contract is violated.

    “Just as individual mobile organisms evolved central nervous systems in order to navigate complex environments and respond to circumstances, groups of people develop governing structures in order coordinate their responses to situations they encounter. This requires a conceptual frame to define the purpose of the organization and instill allegiance, such as religious texts, national constitutions, or even company mission statements. Goals, group narratives, external adversaries, etc. are some of the many incentives to keep the group cohesive. There are many equally powerful influences both internal and external, trying to break down such organizations. Even conflicts between keeping them together and continuing to fulfill original purposes can be rending, as management and vision clash.”

    This would be a terrific basis for a discussion. How much did civilization purposefully evolve and how much was it some kind of trial and error process, like say a beehive.

    “Seems unfair to put people like Emma Marris and Stewart Brand in the same hopper with Bjorn Lomborg. Marris and Brand take climate change very seriously, while Lomborg does not.”

    As far as I’ve read Lomborg he accepts AGW. I think his main argument is a strong fossil fuel driven economy will, down the road, fund some bangup technological solutions to our environmental problems better and faster than a fossil fuel deprived weaker one. He seems to think our ability to adapt will carry us through the interim.

  27. David,
    It is a commodity to the banking system, but that’s the problem. The law of supply and demand applies, so in order to increase supply, demand/debt has to be increased. Yet there are serious limits as to how much sustainable debt the economy can support, so there is pressure to lower standards, since stored wealth is very popular. Yet its value is an obligation drawn on the larger economy and that is a contract. So back to my point that if people began to understand it as a multi-party contract and not just some nebulous store of value, they would better understand how it functions and not be so naive as how the strings are pulled. The essay puts this in a broader context than what I pasted.

  28. As Candide said…”That was well said Pangloss, but now we must cultivate our garden.” I say also well said! Remember withdrawing is merely moving in a different direction…that is the intelligent response.

  29. Brilliant essay. In the Costa Rica rainforest the equivalent to the scythe is the machete in all its manifestations. We’re growing cacao trees in the midst of the forest.

  30. JM
    “The law of supply and demand applies, so in order to increase supply, demand/debt has to be increased. Yet there are serious limits as to how much sustainable debt the economy can support, so there is pressure to lower standards, since stored wealth is very popular. Yet its value is an obligation drawn on the larger economy and that is a contract.”

    That makes sense John. I guess where I would put the emphasis is that borrowing operates on the expectation of economic growth. At some point that runs into limits and then you are operating on faith economics. Achieving steady state economics restores money to its pure store of value function for facilitating barter in goods and services. I don’t know how we get there without at a minimum getting population growth under control.

  31. like huxley and bateson before him…
    thank you paul for this article which distils everything i think and believe, and teaches me more besides.
    my small garden in the suburbs of adelaide appears as an oasis in a desert of concrete and a terrible neatness. the rewards are the daily visits by insects and birds, and the places to lurk and look.
    i wish i could live further from so-called civilisation, but income is tied to the steady supply of internet connectivity. in any case, reading your article has given me ideas for my next project, and some relief from the feelings of isolation from my fellow humans and their interminable hubris.

  32. Here, Mr. Kingsworth lies your hypocrisy.

    “Is it possible to read the words of someone like Theodore Kaczynski and be convinced by the case he makes, even as you reject what he did with the knowledge?”

    You don’t have the honour and integrity to confront reality and support an argument of ecological necessity terrorism on behalf of Kaczynski. Too busy selling articles on Orion? Not willing to rock the boat? So, there is no military necessity justification for defending Nature and Industrial Civilization’s war on Nature?

    Who in their right mind, call themselves a deep green ecologist and ‘rejects what Kaczynski did with his knowledge’????

    Why majority of ‘Greens’ are fu**ed: They deny Kaczynski and others fighting on behalf of a Deep Green Resistance, a defence of Ecological Necessity; while voicing no objections to allowing all other Political activists their right to ‘Political Necessity’ defense arguments.

    The International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor authorizes military necessity for soldiers to kill civilians, under ‘military necessity ‘circumstances. (OTP letter to senders re: Iraq, 9 February 2006)

    In the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion of 8 July 1996, on The legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons, they justify the use of Nuclear Weapons, in a case of Military Necessity for Self Preservation.

    The Rendulic Rule set the legal precedent for the importance of the subjective test in determining a case of Military Necessity.

    In October 1944, Generaloberst Lothar Rendulic was Armed Forces Commander North, which included command of Nazi Forces in Norway. After World War II, he was prosecuted for, among other charges, issuing an order “for the complete destruction of all shelter and means of existence in, and the total evacuation of the entire civilian population of the northern Norwegian province of Finmark…” where entire villa villages were destroyed, bridges and highways bombed, and port installations wrecked, hundreds died from exposure or perished at sea, while still others were summarily shot for refusing to leave their homeland; which left some 61,000 men, women, and children homeless, starving and destitute. He plead to ‘Military Necessity’ at Nuremberg and was acquitted. He presented evidence that the Norwegian population would not voluntarily evacuate. (The Hostages Trial: Trial of Wilhelm List and Others; United States Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, 8 July 1947 – 19 February 1948)

    International law has justified, acquitted or given lenient sentences to violent and non-violent actions of civil disobedience, which included murder, kidnapping, arson, etc:

    * Murder * Regina v Dudley and Stephens (1884) 14 QBD 273; * Prison Escape * Spakes v. State, 913 S.W.2d 597 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996) * Mutiny * United States v. Ashton, 24 F. Cas. 873, 873-74 (C.C.D. Mass 1834) (No. 14,470) * Manslaughter * United States v. Holmes, 26 F. Cas. 360 (E.D. Pa. 1842) (No. 15,383) * Kidnapping * State v. Wooten (Arizona, 1919) * Arson * Surocco v. Geary, 3 Cal. 69 (1853)

    Other Protest / Civil Disobedience:

    Anti Nuclear (10): State v. Mouer (Columbia Co. Dist. Ct., Dec. 12-16, 1977), People v. Brown (Lake County, Jan. 1979); People v. Block (Galt Judicial Dist., Sacramento Co. Mun. Ct., Aug. 14, 1979); California v. Lemnitzer, No. 27106E (Pleasanton-Livermore Mun. Ct. Feb. 1, 1982); State v. McMillan, No. D 00518 (San Luis Obispo Jud. Dist. Mun. Ct., Cal. Oct. 13, 1987); Massachusetts v. Schaeffer-Duffy (Worcester Dist. Ct. 1989); West Valley City v. Hirshi, No. 891003031-3 MC (Salt Lake County, Ut. Cir. Ct., W. Valley Dept. 1990); Washington v. Brown, No. 85-1295N (Kitsap County Dist. Ct. N. 1985); California v. Jerome, Nos. 5450895, 5451038, 5516177, 5516159 (Livermore-Pleasanton Mun. Ct., Alameda County, Traffic Div. 1987); Washington v. Karon, No. J85-1136-39 (Benton County Dist. Ct. 1985)

    Anti US Central American Foreign Policy (3); Vermont v. Keller, No. 1372-4-84-CNCR (Vt. Dist. Ct. Nov. 17, 1984); People v. Jarka, Nos. 002170, 002196-002212, 00214, 00236, 00238 (Ill. Cir. Ct. Apr. 15, 1985); Colorado v. Bock (Denver County Ct. June 12, 1985)

    Anti-Military Industrial Complex (4): Michigan v. Jones et al., Nos. 83-101194-101228 (Oakland County Dist. Ct. 1984); Michigan v. Largrou, Nos. 85-000098, 99, 100, 102 (Oakland County Dist. Ct. 1985); Massachusetts v. Carter, No. 86-45 CR 7475 (Hampshire Dist. Ct. 1987); Illinois v. Fish (Skokie Cir. Ct. Aug. 1987)

    Anti-Apartheid (3): Chicago v. Streeter, Nos. 85-108644, 48, 49, 51, 52, 120323, 26, 27 (Cir. Ct., Cook County Ill. May 1985); Washington v. Heller (Seattle Mun. Ct. 1985); Washington v. Bass, Nos. 4750-038, -395 to -400 (Thurston County Dist. Ct. April 8, 1987)

    Pro-Environment/Cycling (1): People v. Gray, 571 N.Y.S.2d 851, 861-62 (N.Y. Crim. Ct.1991)

    AIDS: Clean Needles Campaign (2) California v. Halem, No. 135842 (Berkeley Mun. Ct. 1991); etc…

  33. Lara in his discussion about Kaczynski the author’s second reason he states for not wanting to end up being convinced is that Kaczynski “killed three people and injured twenty-four others. His targets lost eyes and fingers and sometimes their lives. He nearly brought down an airplane….Kaczynski wasn’t just theorizing about being a revolutionary. He meant it.”

    I think Mr. Kingsworth states his position with regard to being a violent revolutionary when he says later “Maybe you can buy up some land and rewild it; maybe you can let your garden run free; maybe you can work for a conservation group or set up one yourself; maybe you can put your body in the way of a bulldozer; maybe you can use your skills to prevent the destruction of yet another wild place.”

    Violence met with violence creates more violence. Non-violence actions, like putting yourself in the way of a bulldozer inspire others. Martin Luther King’s words are as insightful and thought provoking today as they were when he wrote them:

    1. Non-violent resistance is not for cowards. It is not a quiet, passive acceptance of evil. One is passive and non-violent physically, but very active spiritually, always seeking ways to persuade the opponent of advantages to the way of love, cooperation, and peace.

    2. The goal is not to defeat or humiliate the opponent but rather to win him or her over to understanding new ways to create cooperation and community.

    3. The non-violent resister attacks the forces of evil, not the people who are engaged in injustice. As King said in Montgomery, “We are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may be unjust.”

    4. The non-violent resister accepts suffering without retaliating; accepts violence, but never commits it. Gandhi said, “Rivers of blood may have to flow before we gain our freedom, but it must be our blood.” Gandhi and King both understood that suffering by activists had the mysterious power of converting opponents who would otherwise refuse to listen.

    5. In non-violent resistance, one learns to avoid physical violence toward others and also learns to love the opponents with “agape” or unconditional love–which is love given not for what one will receive in return, but for the sake of love alone. It is God flowing through the human heart. Agape is ahimsa. “Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate,” said King.

    6. Non-violent resistance is based on the belief that the universe is just. There is God or a creative force that is moving us toward universal love and wholeness continually. Therefore, all our work for justice will bear fruit – the fruit of love, peace, and justice for all beings everywhere.”

    All beings, those who are not people and those who are. I may be putting words into the author’s mouth, but I think not.

  34. Lara’s comments are precisely the nonsense I have inveighed against -and have yet to here even a semblance of response, from Kingsnorth or the other withdrawalists.
    First, though, the peevishness of Lara is symptomatic of the deep green fraud. Kingsnorth is sincere in his withdrawal – he makes about as much “money” scything as Lara does through artisan bread making, or whatever she chooses for recompense. There is enough “hypocrisy” in all of our lvies, since we all are of the same species, to stop this artificial spearation of purists vs. satanists.

    Second, to use the Megamachine-State-Leviathan-Supersystem ‘s own official words as the solid basis for “Deep Green Resistance” acts is ironic, to the point of sheer nonsense. The State chooses whatevr words its wants when it enforces its rule. How do you think Daniel MacGowan went to prison for so long, and what do you think will keep him in the chains of parole now?
    This is the immorality of Orion giving space to poseurs like Derrick Jensen. Anyone advocating violence against this supersystem, which possesses the courts, the jails, the “post-release supervision,” the media, the supertankers, the academia, should spend a debriefing session with some of the Green Scare prisoners. What should be the price of advocating martyrdom?
    The awful case of Assange should be a further instruction. Yes, the Supersystem is thoroughly corrupts, thanks for pointing it out, but Assange makes the foundational of error of thinking that it can be “reformed” through revelation. Did he not have one iota of comprehension of how powerful are its institutions of repression and counter-attack?
    Does not the Occupy failure confirm this?
    I guess Kingsnorth’s/Orion’s silence in the comments section here are a sign, too.

  35. Deb Carey:

    It sounds like either you (a) misunderstood my response, or (b) you did understand it, and you are a nonviolent fundamentalist.

    Non-violence is fine; if you dealing with someone who may be convinced, after you have demonstrated to them your sincerity and commitment to the issue.

    Non-violence in defense to being attacked, is also rather idiotic, I would think; but if you are a nonviolent fundamentalist, by all means, enjoy and remain addicted to your fundamentalism.

    If you are being attacked, international law, military law, states that you have the right to respond violently to being attacked, in self defence.

    Kaczynsky sincerely (subjectively he met the military necessity subjective test) believed that nature is being attacked, that industrial civilization is at war with nature.

    You are suggesting that when Party A is at war with Party B, just cause you are a pacificst fundamentalist, you cannot make a statement of support in favour of Party B, responding militarily in self defence (i.e. in support of a military necessity defence), because you are a non-violent fundamentalist?

    I have a rap sheet for (a) terrorism, (b) malicious damage to state property, (c) contempt of court (swearing at judge and prosecutor), (d) crimen injuria (insulting a politician).

    I am non-violent, but only in terms of refusing to attack someone else violently. When it comes to self defence, from being attacked, I ain’t got no ‘non-violence’ fundamentalism.

    Is it possible to read the words of Theodore Kaczynski and Daniel McGowan and be convinced by their cases, that they deserve support in arguing on behalf of the defence of ecological military necessity?

    Will they be acquitted?

    Certainly not the first dozen or hundred; but as more people realize the ecological military necessity of defending nature, by means of non-violent political activism, and for those few who choose violence, that even they should should be supported to stand before the court and argue a defence of ecological military necessity; so there message spreads.

    Where are the Frantz Fanon liberals now????? Not long ago… liberals were falling over themselves in support of arguments that ‘colonized minds’ can only be liberated by violence on the rotting corpses of the settlers?

    While Industrial civilization exterminates 200 hundred species a day, you want to deny Kaczynski the moral support of an ecological necessity defence, cause his “targets lost eyes and fingers and sometimes their lives. He nearly brought down an airplane…”

    That would imply… you don’t think Kaczynsky chose his targets well.. that even though Industrial Civilizationists are at war with nature, and those who support nature…. to the point of exterminating 200 species a day…. you care more about the few fingers, eyes and lives of these soldiers AT WAR WITH YOU AND NATURE.. than you care about defending NATURE and an ecological sane future!!!

    Your choice is thus to prioritize the lives of those who support Industrial civilization, whose are at war with you, willing to exterminate you….. above defending yourself and nature, while calling yourself an ‘environmentalist’?

    It is quite possible to buy up some land and rewild it; or let your garden run free; or work for a conservation group or set up one yourself; or put your body in the way of a bulldozer; or use your skills to prevent the destruction of yet another wild place……… AND also TO STAND IN SUPPORT OF KACZYNSKI AND PEOPLE LIKE HIM… TO RAISE A DEFENCE OF ECOLOGICAL MILITARY NECESSITY FOR THEIR ACTIONS…..

    Am I correctly interpreting your response?

  36. Martin:

    Could you clarify which of my arguments were ‘nonsense’, and your definition of ‘nonsense’.

    Also, I am not clear what you mean by ‘peevishness’.

    Anyone who commits the acts of a Daniel McGowan or Kaczynski, knows very well they stand the chance of going to prison. Thats fine, they don’t mind that. If you think you get change without being willing to sacrifice, you are delusional.
    Appreciate those who are willing to sacrifice. McGowan and Kaczynski are in US prisons… which are five star hotels, compared to African prisons!

    When you deny a McGowan or Kaczynski the moral support for an ecological military necessity defence — YOU, not the Prosecutor, or the Judge, or the MOnster System, BUT YOU — deny him the moral authority, that based upon his knowledge, and his concern, and his subjective experience of Industrial Civilization’s war upon nature…. was not sincere in his actions of fighting back.


    Mother Nature’s Peak Oil ecological reality is analogous to the largest army ever assembled to bring Industrial civilization to its knees…. the McGowans and Kaczynski’s are but its human mini-saboteurs….

    YOu appear to confuse (a) advocating violence, with (b) advocating that those who have made their own subjective choice, that violence is their own option, be denied an honourable ecological subjective necessity defence.

    I ain’t advocating violence. I am advocating that it is reality, that my subjective and your subjective experience may be ‘lite’ compared to other people’s subjective experience. They may have knowledge that I could not acquire in dozens of years, and htier knowledge places them in a subjective position, that their only option is violence. Who the hell am I to tell them, that just cause that is not my experience, it should not be theirs, and they should be denied an ecological military necessity defence for their violent actions?

    Thats like someone who has never subjectively experienced rape, telling a gang rape surivor – hey, you should have laid back and enjoyed it.. practiced non-violent resistance….

    As for Assange.. he is not remotely interested in exposing the ecological reality, underpinning the anthropocentric Left and Right’s war upon nature. He is interested in a left wing fan club…. pretending the war is about Left vs Right. (Ref: Alien on Pale Blue Dot vs. Reporters Comittee for Freedom of Press, Wikileaks, Assange, et al)

    Finally: David does — not infrequently — beat Goliath:

    “Of the 200 conflicts studied between 1800-2003, David won 28.5% of the time. Between 1800-49, the stronger side won 88% of the conflicts studied. That number dropped to 80% between 1850-99 and dropped (again) to 65% between 1900-49. Between 1950-99, it dropped, wait for it, to only 49%. Now, on average, the strong side possessed ten times the power – where “power” is measured in terms of armed forces and population – than their adversaries. And between the years 1950-99, they lost more than they won.” (Increasing Your Odds by Rethinking The Rules, Casey Flanagan; and How David Beats Goliath: When underdogs break the rules, Malcolm Gladwell)

  37. Lara, I thought we were talking about Mr. Killingworth’s article, not my beliefs or actions. I thought it a very good article with sound thoughtful provocative suggestions; I don’t believe him a hypocrite.

    I share your deep anger. I do believe that non-violent action is the bravest action. I don’t think that makes me militant in any way.

    I very much appreciate Orion allowing for so much thoughtful discourse on the horrid state of the earth and our continued malevolent effect on it.

  38. Deb:

    You raised the issue of your non-violent beliefs. If you ain’t comfortable opening them up for critical enquiry. no problem.

    I dont imagine Killingworth is a hypocrit, in general. However, in terms of his rejection of Kaczynski’s actions, I do think that specifically is hypocritical.

    In my culture, when a person exposes any possible hypocritical action of mine, he is doing me a huge favour. If his criticism is accurate, I am able to confront and amend the particular aspect in which I was being hypocritical, and that is something I very much appreciate. That is the act of true friend. Better an honourable enemy, than a false friend.

    I got allot of respect for honest mass murderers, or honest redneck bigots. At least you can have a clear specific discussion, on any topic under the sun. No political correctness, just plain simple no bull**it. I ain’t a fan of bullshit the public relations image management passive aggressive non violent con artists. By con artists, I mean people who talk nonviolence, but never been to prison to test their commitment to nonviolence, to prove their commitment to it.

    I think we all, certainly I have, aspects in which we are unconsciously hypocritical, when we ain’t explored an issue deeply enough.

    Not sure what you mean by my alleged ‘deep anger’. I ain’t got ‘deep anger’, right now, about anything. When I get shallow anger, on any issue, I let it out there and then, even in a court room, to a Judge, with a very loud “fuck you”. I don’t suppress my anger, and let it get into a ‘deep anger’. Life is way too short, and besides, expressing yourself totally honestly in the moment, is an awesome kind of freedom, if you don’t mind learning the lessons life has to give from the consequences.

    I never said anything about you being militant. I would imagine a better description would maybe be passive aggressive. I said it sounded like you were a non-violent fundamentalist. Which is fine, if that is what you want to be.

  39. Lara –
    1. Attacking someone who makes no money off the corporate supersystem meets my definition of “peevishness.” You obviously think hard about this stuff – is the over-the-top, burners-on-high approach, shouting “fuck you” the way to winning debates? Could be for you – not so much for others.
    2. Macgowan or Kaczunski do not need “moral support” – they need rational people to ask them to reconsider the efficacy of their actions – as I am doing with you. MacGowan hurt no one, yet endured hellish conditions, torture really, and so does the Unambomber. You seem so cavalier about imprisonment – it is really a horrible, wasteful condition when seen from the inside – a matter of shame for all.
    3. I did not send him to prison. You did not send him to prison. You seem to have great confusion over the reach or limit of the actions of people. Sacrifice, suffering, belligerance – for what end? Can you consider the folly of trying to accomplush something that cannot be accomplished?

  40. It’s nice to see comments on this piece, and thank you to all who have engaged with it thoughtfully. I particularly appreciated the comment about my ideas being a ‘work in progress’ – which all ideas are, I’d say, if they’re worth anything.

    However, I am intrigued to see my surname mutating from Kingsnorth to Kingsworth and now to … er, ‘Killingworth’? Not that I want to sound petty, but if you can’t get even get my name right, I’m not sure how much attention you are likely to be paying to the other details on offer.

    Now that I’ve got that off my chest I’ll just say ‘happy new year’ to you all.

  41. Here’s my non-violent response:
    I’m sure all you violent folks are a hell of a lot more intelligent than Mr. Ghandi or Rev. King, with all your citations, you make me sick. Why don’t you get your hands dirty and do something like the author suggests? Get a scythe, get a machete, get out there and do the good work or shut up. You assholes know nothing about working in the dirt. Your life is an endless debate. Give it up.

  42. Martin:

    Attacking someone? Good lord, whom did I attack? Do you consider constructive honest criticism, an attack? You ain’t ever read Kaczynski’s Unabomber manifesto about liberals with fragile ego’s who perceive all sincere constructive criticism as an attack? (See: The Psychology of Modern Leftism and Feelings of Inferiority). I doubt anyone who sincerely appreciated Kaczynski’s arguments would perceive my constructive criticism feedback as an ‘attack’.

    I’ve never felt ‘attacked’ by words on a screen, not even words physically screamed at me. Only thing I interpret as an ‘attack’ is a fist through my face. And twice when someone hit me, I did not even, interpret their fists in my face, as an ‘attack’; only as them making a physical statement for which they did not at the time have equivalent words. I imagine, if I had consciously responded that I was being attacked, at the time, my responses would have been very different. wonder what would have happened! Interesting!

    It appears we got a very different definition of ‘attack’.

    I never used the word peevish, so ain’t got a definition for it. But thanks for providing yours.

    I also imagine you got a different worldview perspective. I’d consider your Bullshit the public relations image management, passive aggresive manipulation to get what you want to be ‘over the top’, approach to winning debates. I ain’t got any attachment to ‘winning any debate’. I am interested in an honest conversation, wherever it leads.. I am interested in being honest and sincere in the moment, 24/07… total freedom to be my fucked up self, and sometimes my piss off the PR addicted anthropocentric self righteous liberals or conservatives genius self.. LOL! I give all whom I am in conversation with, the same freedom; to be their honest, sincere fucked up genius self, 24/07.. and together as cripple, idiot freethinkers.. to go wherever the convo goes…

    Most people are interested in ‘winning’ debates… I find that rather fucked up, but if it works for them. Great. So if you want to ‘win’ the debate… I am happy to concede. You won, whatever you wanted to win.

    So, you consider yourself ‘rational’. Oh good lord! The end point of rationality, is to demonstrate the limits of rationality. I ain’t convinced there is such a thing as absolute rationality. What is ‘rational’ to you, based on your life experience, is not necessarily ‘rational’ to Macgowan or Kaczunski… You sound like a cultural supremacist, who lacks the honour and integrity, to admit you are a cultural supremacist, and instead wants to passive aggresively manipulate others to adopt your worldview, cuase that makes you feel more secure about your worldview, isntead of facing the uncertainty that people have different life experiences, and different worldviews, and thier worldview can be as rational to you (if you step out of yours, and sincerely listen to step into their worldview) as it is to them.

    I perceive Macgowan and Kaczunski are hero’s for being true to themselves. I appreciate those who support them, by giving them the benefit of the doubt, that they did, what they sincerely believed, was the best thing for them to do at the time; and were willing to accept the consequences. I think they are people who can be described as true believers in those justice principles, of ‘innocent until proven guilty’…, which includes the right to a necessity defence.

    Read what I said again… if you want… not to ‘win a debate’, by misrepresenting what I said… but to hear what I said…

    “When you deny a McGowan or Kaczynski the moral support for an ecological military necessity defence—YOU, not the Prosecutor, or the Judge, or the MOnster System, BUT YOU—deny him the moral authority, that based upon his knowledge, and his concern, and his subjective experience of Industrial Civilization’s war upon nature…. was not sincere in his actions of fighting back.


    Anyone who commits the acts of a Daniel McGowan or Kaczynski, knows very well they stand the chance of going to prison. Thats fine, they don’t mind that. If you think you get change without being willing to sacrifice, you are delusional.

    Kaczynski knew he would be sent to prison…. thats a given. But we each, individually, can choose how we perceive — in our consciousness — our participation in sending him to prison.

    What do you think I am ‘trying to accomplish’?

    My two primary goals are: (a) be sincere and honest, no matter how politically incorrect, and (b) listen, engage discussion like a hitch-hiker, lost in the universe, seeking a ufo, for a ride through a new worldview, or dimension…. no specific destination.. just a sincere interest in finding sincere minds interested in sincere seeking… if from that, anything manifests in the form of fully informed consenting agreements, based upon additional goals.. awesome. If not…. listening and honesty is a very high freedom reward, in and of itself.

    As for accomplishing that which cannot be accomplished. I think you are referring to a religion known as futilitarianism..

    The Pope of No Hope… who is the Pope of Futilitarianism.. says: “Attachment to belief is the source of hell on earth. All anger stems from our attachment to ideals and our insistence that we and others live up to them. If we could give up all the false hope, attachment to ideals, wishful thinking, attempts to cheer ourselves and each other up, then something actually hopeful might emerge from the authentic acknowledgement of despair. Our only hope comes from the indepth perspective of the comedian, from the love/hate relationship with our own minds as reflected in the conflict between ourselves and our loved ones, created by withholding and lying to protect ourselves.” (Futilitarianism: Radical Hope, Brad Blanton, Tikkun)

  43. Kingsnorth, Kingsnorth – I’ll try to remember. “Worth” is the last syllable for so many names, Wordsworth and Woolworth come to mind, I guess I let habit take over.

    Going back to Martin #23
    “David M. makes many rugged points, but I differ with his localism – in view of the enormity of our global and common problems, “local” means tokenism, like saving water in a cup while a flood washes through the valley.”

    Local in the sense I’m using it means the longer term goal of self-sustaining communities. Obviously we have to presently work with the world we are handed. From the latter perspective if we don’t get to negative population growth I don’t see other important matters, including a lower carbon foot print per capita, finally saving us from collapse.

    An additional thought is the local sustainable model has a good track record. We don’t have to ask if it works. It has for most of our history. It is simply up to us to perfect it, which among other things would mean less isolation from other communities than in the past. Obviously the problem of conquest would need to be addressed.


  44. Thank you Paul Kingsnorth, for another thought-provoking piece. I appreciate the dialectic of your injunctions both to “withdraw,” and to find active ways to preserve non-human life. I appreciate the comments of those here who emphasize the importance of community and cooperation. For me, joining wholeheartedly in the climate justice movement, in conjunction with the transition movement makes most sense in a time of little hope. As EO Wilson points out, as both altruistic and competitive beings, we are at war with ourselves and not just each other. Cultivating cooperation in the face of hopelessness — in the face of Exxon’s expenditures of $100 million per day to search for new sources of fossil fuels — is my version of picking up the scythe. I hope you keep sharing your journey, Paul.

  45. And there is the VERY odd conjunction of “facts” in the film The Net:

    “The Net” (Das Netz, 2003), an independent film directed by Lutz Dammbeck.

    Kaczynski, Brand, the Grateful Dead, Harvard, US government secret mind-control experiments. . . .

  46. David M:

    Re: “From the latter perspective if we don’t get to negative population growth I don’t see other important matters, including a lower carbon foot print per capita, finally saving us from collapse.”

    We will experience negative population growth, the choice is whether its voluntary or by Nature’s four apocalypse horsemen.

    My calculations are:

    A Sustainable (Eco-Innocent) footprint is:
    * 0 children, consumption < 36 gh (Intn'l Biocapacity (1.8 gh) x 20)
    * 1 child, consumption < 1.8 gh (Intn'l biocapacity (1.8 gh (2007)
    * 2 children, consumption < 0.09 gh (Intn'l biocapacity 1.8 gh ÷ 20)
    * 3 children, consumption 36 gh (Intn’l biocapacity (1.8 gh) x 20)
    * 1 child, consumption > 1.8 gh (Intn’l biocapacity (1.8 gh (2007)
    * 2 children, consumption > 0.09 gh (Intn’l biocapacity 1.8 gh ÷ 20)
    * 3 children, consumption > 0.045 gh (Intn’l biocapacity 1.8 gh ÷ 40)

    [1] Every child increases Ecofootprint by a factor of 20 – Oregon Univ. Study
    [2] Biocapacity: In 2006, the average biologically productive area (biocapacity) per person worldwide was approximately 1.8 global hectares (gha) per capita.

    I doubt any of Kaczynski’s dead were ‘innocents’…. all were Breeding/consumption combatants.

  47. Lara:
    “We will experience negative population growth, the choice is whether its voluntary or by Nature’s four apocalypse horsemen.”

    I’ll agree with that. Voluntary of course is better.

    “[1] Every child increases Ecofootprint by a factor of 20 – Oregon Univ. Study”
    You might want to explain that or supply the link.

    As for Kaczinski I can’t justify his approach. His victims weren’t an agreed party to his actions and he hadn’t even opened negotiations with them so they had no idea they were combatants. Educate, cooperate and then seek voluntary solutions. Access to birth control services is a lot more to the point and developing small is beautiful local solutions is also. I don’t preclude more radical voluntary approaches such as facilitating suicide or even fight to the death gladiator contests for money if folks want to sign up. Giving violent criminals the possibility of early parole if they accept sterilization is a thought. But mailing some computer guy, who arguably is eliminating a fair amount of motorized travel in his work, a package bomb? No way is that a solution to anything.

    Bin Laden also had a few choice observations to make in his various Fatwas but when he retaliated at 9/11 the dialog was reduced to vengeance and I would guess technological overkill was accelerated. The biggest spur to technology is conflict. The ultimate slippery slope of the dark side of Kaczinski is if he had the nuclear button at his disposal he would push it. That would sure be a technology killer.

    Appropriate technology, which means locally based to me, not no technology.


  48. David M:


    The carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than some of the other environmentally sensitive practices people might employ their entire lives – things like driving a high mileage car, recycling, or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs.

    Comedy sketch by Doug Stanhope citing the Oregon Univ study


    Re: Ted:

    I don’t think that anyone who did not/does not support Ted’s right to a free and fair Political Necessity trial, instead of a Stalinesque Political Psychiatry showtrial, where he could have freely argued his case, his evidence taken seriously, and impartially objectively and subjectively tested….. should be considered a credible critic of whether Ted’s chosen targets were appropriate or not.

    Do you think Killingsworth sent Ted a copy of his article, and invited Ted to respond, to be published by Orion?

  49. Kaczinski got his manifesto published and didn’t get the death penalty. He’s not my idea of a political martyr but you are welcome to think otherwise. I understand his family thought he was kind of nuts but I’m no expert on the guy. Psychiatric trials are more often pursued by the defendants lawyer to get a lesser sentence.

    To take it further a more coherent version of the manifesto probably could have been published on Orion or some of the earlier low tech anarchist journals like ‘Earth First’ in its earlier more radical incarnation without the bodies splashed around.

    The fact that Kaczinski makes some good points doesn’t mean anything he does to pursue it should be applauded. Every low tech person now has to contend with his persona. Schumacher is more my style.

  50. Great and thoughtful article. While I think there is a lot of evidence to suggest a technological collapse will be necessary for survival, I have not accepted it as a certainty yet. So I do go on working on both the local and national level to put things on a more sustainable path thru my water and energy conservation and green building consulting paid and volunteer work. I feel compelled to defend to a degree the neo-environmentalists who I also sometimes disagree with. I think the author misses the point in saying that because they support efforts to “recognize” the economic value of nature that somehow that is all they recognize in nature. I think in our current system where economy trumps most other things, if you can get people to recognize the economic value of nature you have a better chance of having a seat at the table where the decisions are made as to what to do with that piece of nature. I wished and hoped for years that more decisions were made in other ways but they usually aren’t. I applaud the idea of carbon taxes and reduced subsidies for fossil fuels which if adopted worlwide would lead to a more sustainable path and greater protection of nature. A great article in the New York Times recently how Ireland adopted carbon taxes and it is shifting their economy. I think it is one of best chances for a major shift, along with many other actions from energy efficiency to living more locally.

  51. Lara, as the author himself politely pointed out, the name is Kingsnorth, not Killingsworth. I think you have diverted this conversation from a useful track long enough. Kaczynski neither earned himself a read-through of this article, nor anything other than life imprisonment, though hopefully he gets the mental health attention he clearly needs.

    I happen to be closely acquainted with a neo-enviromentalist, and his views are precisely as described by PK in his article. Incredibly disturbing. Was at a talk by EO Wilson lately, at which he made a point of discussing the neo-environmental phenomenon, how deplorable it is, and sought to enlist the audience’s help in fighting it.

  52. Jen S,

    I imagine you are a scarcity combatant, pretending to be an environmentalist.. aka neo-environmentalist.

    You are clearly not a liberal — liberals support the right to a free and fair trial, for everyone. Liberals don’t worship the Bullshit the Public Pharmaceutical lobby’s Political Psychiatry definitions of ‘mental health’!! Wow…. I know die hard right wing republicans who are more liberal, in terms of their commitment to a free and fair trial, for everyone, incuding Kaczynski.. and their disdain for Big Pharma’s Political Psychiatry mental health definitions!!!!

    In my honour journalistic book.. whenever I write an article about anyone, particularly if there is criticism in it; I always provide them with an honourable copy. Not for them, but for my honour. Don’t stab people in the back, not even my enemies.

  53. David M:

    I think anyone who practices what they preach, irrespective of their ideology is worthy of consideration as a political martyr. Whether Kaczynski, McVeigh, Breivik, Dzerzhinsky, Buck, Laaman, and hundreds of others.

    From my experience, the majority of people who make allegations of ‘crazy’ ‘nuts’ or any type of lack of mental health claims against another person, are cultural supremacists.

    The only person I consider to be credible in any allegation of ‘insanity’; is the person who (a) provides thier clear concise definition of ‘insanity’; (b) how the other person fits their definition of insanity; and (c) is willing to have themselves institutionalized, if their thought processes fit their own definition of insanity.

    “There is no such thing as mental illness. Psychiatric diagnosis of “mental disorders” is just a way of stigmatising behaviour that society does not want to live with. Psychiatry thrives on coercion and is replacing religion as a form of social control.” – Dr. Thomas Szasz

    “There is no such thing as a mental disorder. A mental disorder is whatever someone says it is, and if the person saying “This is a mental disorder”, has enough power and influence, then people believe ‘Oh, that is a mental disorder’. – Dr. Paula Caplan, Harvard

    “To admit the central role of value judgments and cultural norms [in the creation of the DSM] is to give the whole game away. The DSM has to be seen as reliable and valid, or the whole enterprise of medical psychiatry collapses.” — Lucy Johnstone, The Users and Abusers of Psychiatry

  54. Lara, I’m not going to bother with this, since you are clearly a bully, and the type that sucks the oxygen out of every room, virtual and otherwise. I hope a fruitful dialogue can be had among others, nevertheless, though at the moment you are succeeding in hijacking the conversation. All the best to you.

  55. Breivik too? Now we’re up for shooting twelve-year-olds in the head as they cower behind rocks? Right on.

    This is some impressive trolling, but I would like to echo Jen’s suggestion that the conversation, if people would like to have one, be diverted back to the themes of the article. Kaczynski’s mental health, martyrdom, trial, morals and strategies may well be interesting subjects for discussion, but they are a diversion from the thrust of my piece.

  56. Paul,
    I find your writing interesting on a personal level, having grown up on a farm in the eastern US, during the sixties, with parents who tended to do things the old fashioned way. Been a while since I used a scythe, or milked a cow by hand, though I still ride horses for a living and they haven’t invented a replacement for the pitchfork.
    That said, I do feel there are some deep paradigmatic issues, foundational to western culture in particular, that need to be addressed, if humanity is going to reconcile itself to existing on this planet in any long term fashion. I posted a link to an article I wrote, further up the thread, only because I do manual work, not writing, for a living and it clarified some of my thoughts on the subjects involved. In that essaay:–What-is-Your-Occupation#, I focused on the nature of money and how it evolved and that it functions as a social contract, but is treated as a commodity, such that the resulting illusion of atomized wealth is a significant factor in what drives people to monetize social networks and environmental health, but I use this economic argument to inject some far more abstract and far reaching points. The deepest of which is that we treat time as a vector from past to future, rather than the changing configuration of what is, that turns future into past. To wit, the earth doesn’t travel some fourth dimension from yesterday to tomorrow, but that tomorrow becomes yesterday because the earth rotates. The reason this has such deep social significance is because as sequence, the point of reference moves against context, which is the basis of the object oriented mindset from which social atomization emerges. We are the individual point of reference in our context. Yet it leaves us powerless, since we cannot change the past, or affect the future.
    On the other hand, if we treat time as an emergent effect of action, ie, a measure of change, our actions are part of what create events. In this view of reality it is more a thermodynamic tapestry of activity, with each action balanced by and balancing others.
    When viewing time as a universal flow from past to future we are easily herded into monolithic belief systems that mostly empower those leading them.
    Which then gets to another foundational observation: The absolute is basis, not apex, so a spiritual absolute would be the essence of being from which we rise, not an intellectual and moral ideal from which we fell. Socially this might seem to invoke a certain degree of anarchy, since it is a bottom up spirituality, but we are highly evolved and complex organisms, which are therefore inclined to organized societies. Much as our parents go from being the model we follow, to being the foundation from which we rise, humanity is reaching the stage where we have to shed our illusions and rise to the occasion.

    I have a barn to go tend to, so I will leave it at that.
    John Merryman

  57. Though you make interesting points, I can’t help but be befuddled by a withdrawal. It speaks to me of a lack of perspective, for there are many who would love to withdraw in this world to an idyllic peace, hundreds of thousands, millions even.
    This speaks from a privileged perspective, the ability to withdraw, but much like the withdrawal of Kaczynski, how long will it last?
    We live in a world that will not allow for long such withdrawals.
    We come from a world that has billions, not simply millions. Thoreau is a mythic creature today.
    The environment will change and draw forth any who try to withdraw from its changes.
    To withdraw ourselves is to withdraw the resources put into us by the society at large, the hundreds if not thousands of hours of socialization and human interactions.
    Is that not a debt in itself? Is any human suddenly so enlightened that they can detach from a society that they are suddenly enlightened enough to be better than, to want to live outside of it? Who enlightened and taught that person to think as such?
    It has taken my world thousands of years to teach humans enough to bring knowledge and society to this point. I would be loathe to see such a vast amount of human thought resources be withdrawn, no matter who they are.
    Provocative peace as I see it.

  58. Paul Kingsnorth. What a nice article, thank you. Scythe made me smile, at the rare occassion of teaching this, the instructed become better at scything than the teacher in short time, must be good teaching, no? (Or bad scything of the teacher?) Many things, to be short, gave in, gave up, being environmental activist since all conscious life, political and otherwise 10 years ago by now. Today understand that there is no such thing as “environment”. The web of life is interdependent on every level, in every aspect and we within. So only the wise ape could think of something like environment that needs protection (from us). Peace.

  59. Is there a single thing in this essay that is new?

    The idea that hunter-gatherers lived in a state of harmony with nature, and that it was ended by evil agriculturalists, is the story of Eden in the Book of Genesis.

    The idea that modern civilization is fallen and corrupt requiring an apocalyptic revolution is a Christian idea in new clothing.


    Rousseau’s noble savages are here, along with his view of society as corrupting and “nature.”

    Even the author’s valorization of the Unabomber is not unoriginal. All revolutionaries justify murder and violence in the name of creating more harmonious societies.

    I hope the author does what he keeps saying he’ll do — withdraw from modern civilization, including computers and the Internet — and shut up. Hopefully he won’t go any further down the path of the Unabomber.

  60. If agriculture is evil, and hunting-gathering is harmonious, why does he go on and on about a scythe?

    Shouldn’t he be an expert in clubbing seals or harpooning whales or something properly “indigenous” rather than agriculturalist?

  61. “Unlike many other critics of the technosphere, who are busy churning out books and doing the lecture circuit and updating their anarcho-primitivist websites, Kaczynski wasn’t just theorizing about being a revolutionary. He meant it.”

    So guys like Kingsworth don’t “mean it” unless they maim and murder? How else can you read this sentence?

  62. Mr. Killingsworth:

    Its difficult for people who don’t practice what they preach, to respect, people who do practice what they preach. I ain’t an ideological bigot.

    You pay taxes. With those taxes, you hire UK Army hitmen, who kill non-political children; doing your killing for you. Then you hypocritically pronounce judgement, on those who go out and do their own killing.

    You intending to withdraw from paying your taxes to UK Army hitmen also; or you ain’t willing to put your money where your mouth is, and sacrifice the jailtime, it may cost you?

    You want to express your rejection of Kaczynski’s eco-terrorism, and providing a counter-argument thereto, is trolling?

    I’ve never called anyone a ‘troll’ in my life. I prefer to address a persons arguments.

    I’ve never commented on Orion before. This is the only Orion article, I have ever commented upon, due to my interest in the issue of ecological terrorism, which is what Kaczynski was; and which I have some experience about.

    I had no intent to comment further, but then others responded directly to my comment. In my cultural information operations worldview, I never ignore anyone who addresses me, with a question or comment. Everyone gets an honest response.

    My interpretation of the ‘thrust of your piece’.. is your self-righteous perspective of neo-environmentalists, positioning yourself as a pure environmentalist. My perspective is that what those neo-environmentalists are to you; you are to Kaczynski.

    Kaczynski the diamond, Killingworth the zirchonia.

    Kaczynski — like Linkola – believes that pacifism is a techno-industrial civilization value, along with its promised techno-utopia; and ‘that such an interpretation is counter-productive to the ultimate anti-civilization/anti-tech goal as it attracts “leftist types” who are by nature uncommitted and act to dilute the movement.’

  63. Thanks, Paul, for this interesting and thought-provoking article. I will want to read it over again; I’ll also be Googling your scythe workshops.

    Other commenters have already covered questions arising fairly comprehensively, so I’m afraid I’m going to be lowering the level of debate… but I need to ask… Are you sure that second quote is from D. H. Lawrence? Because it sounds more like something T. E. Lawrence would have said…

  64. Bizarrely enough, I had just finished a blog post/broadcast quoting exactly the same Unabomber quote that is so central to Mr. Kingsworth’s essay, (including saying, “there, but for the grace of my deep commitment to nonviolence, go I”) in the course of discussing the same subject: The strategies that so many of us in the Green/Bioregional/ecology movement have been pursuing for the last 40-50 years have, after a hopeful beginning, not produced the desired results, and we find ourselves feeling increasingly futile and marginalized as the world slips, seemingly inevitably, into a chaos more challenging than we can imagine, all in pursuit of imaginary profits and in hope of ultimately illusory technofixes.

    I read the essay eagerly, hoping for some breakthrough insight into how to proceed, and, although his conclusion was, essentially, the same as mine–that we are heading into a “dark age” that may or may not include human extinction or near-extinction, and the best we can do is practice non-attachment even while we preserve what we can (I, too, own a scythe, though I am not as proficient with it as he!). Mr. Kingsworth’s “dark ecology” is cold comfort, but the cold comfort of the truth is better than warm, hopeful lies. It’s some comfort to know that my friends and I are not alone in confronting our inability to create the world we dream of.

  65. Orion, is there someone monitoring this discussion? A number of participants, Lara in particular, but others as well, are past the point of abusive. Admittedly a conversation about Theodore Kaczynski is going to elicit some strong reactions, but I think you’re going to lose most of the people you are seeking to bring into a discussion of Mr. Kingsnorth’s article if there is a complete breakdown in both civility and rationality on the site.

  66. “Lara” in response to Kingsnorth: “You hypocritically pronounce judgement on those who go out and do their own killing.”

    “Do their own killing”? Excuse me? Hate speech and incitement have no place in an Orion discussion. This is appalling.

  67. If the grass had feelings, how do you think it would feel towards the scythe? Like Kaczynski does towards technology, perhaps?

    The Harvest is upon us. You can curse the Scythe if you want, but it is just doing its job.

  68. Jen S:

    It sounds like you are an anthropocentric human, by that I mean, you consider the killing of humans to be horrid, while the killing of animals and plants, to support human life, is just fine. Your ‘environmentalism’ is either (a) anthropocentric guilt, and/or (b) neo-environmentalism, as described in the article: “Instead of pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake, a new conservation should seek to enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of people. . . . Conservation will measure its achievement in large part by its relevance to people.”

    I am an ecocentric human: humans are simply one of the species on this planet, and since all other species are part of the food chain; if humans are not able to live in harmony with nature (i.e. be eco-innocents), then they too should be considered part of the food chain. I’d like to donate my corpse — when I die — to be fed to some wild animals in a national park, or something like that; instead of taking more space from other species, in some cemetry.

    When elephants overpopulate the Kruger National Park, where they are destroying the habitat for all other creatures, the Game Rangers, cull them back to a size where they are in harmony with other species.

    When humans overpopulate the planet, and are destroying the habitats of other species; the Game Rangers, should cull them back to size. Genghis Khan was probably the best Game Ranger, in history. (“Genghis Khan the GREEN: Invader killed so many people that carbon levels plummeted”

    Humans, unlike elephants (as far as I know), are capable of making decisions to limit their procreation and consumption, to a point below carrying capacity; which according to my Ind:Civ:F(x) war chart, would place them on the Eco-Innocent list.

    Humans who breed and/or consume above the carrying capacity, are Breeding/Consumption War combatants! Breeding/Consuming Soldiers! By their actions of breeding and consuming.. they are waging war on other species, destroying other species habitats, exterminating them into extinction.

    If you want the ‘killing’ of humans to stop; you need to demand that all humans immediately end their breeding and consumption war behaviour. If you are not willing to do so, your hysterical screeching against ‘killing’ is hate speech. Since you don’t seem to have any objections to the breeding and consumption combatants killing of all species, and Eco-Innocents; you only got a problem when the Eco-Innocents fight back in self defence.

    In my experience… hysterical leftists who object to ‘killing’… are no different to fat women, who whine endlessly about how fat they are, and yet refuse to do any exercise, or stop stuffing their faces with twinkies. They have absolutely no understanding between cause and effect, and root cause problem solving.

    If you are a US citizen, your taxes pay your US Army Rangers hitmen — like McVeigh, — to be taught the mantra that “Blood Makes the Grass Grow, Kill!! Kill!! Kill!!”.

    In fact.. I am more probably way more against killing than you; since I (a) pay no taxes, and have never paid taxes, and even refused jobs, where they insisted I would have to pay taxes, and even informed the US military and IRS (when I lived in the USA) that I refused to pay taxes; and (b) in terms of my procreation and consumption, am an ‘Eco-Innocent’ (hence my breeding/consumption is not exterminating any species), and (c) advocate on behalf of root cause problem solving: humans living in Eco-Innocent (breeding and consumption) harmony with nature, and have even been sent to prison for my advocacy; and (d) advocate that if Scarcity Combatants (consumption and breeding war combatants) insist on their behaviour, they make the decision to enter the killing zone, and should not later complain when they are killing targets, particularly not by any Eco-Innocents, whom their behaviours contribute to killing every single day.

    Are you — intellectually — one of those fat people who whine and whine about being fat (pacifist / anti-killing), while refusing to exercise and stop eating twinkies (advocate that everyone breed and consume in accord with carrying capacity?)

  69. Just the sort of paleo-conservative nonsense that puts a lot of people like me — urban, with an enjoyment of technology — off environmentalism. (You’re also into C.S. Lewis and Ivan Illich, eh? Bet you’re a Wendell Berry fanboy, too… I can only imagine your POV on women’s “place” in general and on birth control in particular.) Susan Jacobs at #65 has your number.

    Lara, thanks for all that fatphobia and internalized misogyny. They’ve given me a mind to have steak tonight.

  70. While we appreciate and honor the contributions of all of our commenters and value the diversity of opinions expressed here, we expect our readers to treat each other with the civility and grace that are called for in discussions where there are strong emotions and widely differing points of view. Words are powerful, and we expect all of our commenters to keep that in mind. Personal attacks have no place in this discussion.

  71. I read Paul Kingsnorth’s article again and am even further impressed by the carefulness with which he develops his topic. He even recognizes the irony that his focus on the scythe does with his notion of the “progress trap.”

    From my standpoint what is missing is the elephant in the room that most environmentalists seem to want to avoid, the Malthusian one. We just can’t seem to stop expanding with all the ills that come with that. What kind of individual solution is there to that? It seems we are trapped in a critical problem that only has a collective solution.

    If we evolved with certain psychological tendencies that are suicidal in nature(Original sin anyone?) what are we to do? I would say we aren’t born corrupt but are born highly corruptable which seems to amount to the same thing.

    So how do we get out of this box? It seems to me we need some kind of broadly shared insight that given inherent human deficiencies there need to be a lot less people and they need to go low tech so they cause less damage. Also they can live more convivially with nature and each other in the most adaptive way without being ruled by the power of the high tech corporate machine, linked to some unfortunate human tendencies like mindless group-think.



  72. Lara has every right to state her opinions here – she has obvious courage, and has given us on all sides, despite her extremism, some respite from platitudinous greenwashing that typifies sites like these.
    I, in no way, find her definitions of herself as an “eco-innocent” defensible, and do not see her casual veneration of political martydom through murder of humans as fun stuff, but she is right in pointing out much of the hypocrisy of “greens” who live atop a brown, murderous world.
    Orion: “Words are powerful.”
    You know, I never knew that.
    “Words – are – powerful.”
    No kidding – wow- I must have missed that day in kindergarten.
    Thanks, Orion, for that incredible insight. “Words are powerful.”
    Then why aren’t commenters all kinds and queens?

  73. Origami: LOL.. that was funny. Thanks. I actually like fat folks, who are happy being fat folks. I ain’t a fan of fat folks who whine about being fat, anymore than I am a fan of thin/white/black/green folks who whine about being think/white/black/green. If a fat friend of mine whines about being fat; who isn’t willing to exercise, or eat less; I tell them, to give up whining and be happy with who they are. Enjoy being fat and happy.

    It’s the most simple analogy I know, that everyone is capable of grasping. If you got a better one, I’d be happy to use it.

    I don’t like people who whine about any particular problem, but who refuse to address the root cause of their problem; and want me to listen to their whining and remain silent about their hypocrisy or self deception. Its pointless insincere BS conversation.

    Its got nothing to do with their race, gender, religion, culture; but their self deception. I make the effort to try and find out whether: (a) they are consciously deceiving themselves; and if so, that’s okay: I just don’t want anything to do with it; or (b) unconsciously deceiving themselves, and would appreciate the feedback from an honest enemy/friend, or (c) unconsciously deceiving themselves; and prefer to remain unconsciously deceiving themselves.

    I don’t know what you mean by ‘internalized misogyny’.

    I doubt anyone who love’s nature: rivers, trees, clean air, etc; will ever stop loving nature. Such people cannot be ‘put off’ loving nature, if you stuck a gun to their head.

    Long time ago such people used to be called ‘environmentalists’… but that term was hijacked by people who do not prioritize nature, but were looking for some cool movement they could join, or to impress their friends with their ‘green’ credentials, or who knows.

    Nature four horsemen, Peak Oil, Peak NNR, climate change, etc.. are going to decapitate civilization, particularly the industrial technological part, along with a 50 to 100 year reduction of human population to way below 1 billion…. Nature really doesn’t need any ‘environmental’ movement, on her behalf, the only thing ‘environmentalists’ can really do is mitigate the effects of the impending Armageddon…., and if such mitigation does not include, a very strict one child or less international policy.. all other mitigation is shuffling deck chairs on SY. Civilization titanic….

  74. I also think Lara has every right to state her opinions here on issues and also think personal attacks have no place in this discussion.

    No conflict unless somebody is trying to gin up one.

  75. Martin: Glad to see you back in the discussion, because I have a couple questions for you. I believe you said you have read Too Smart for Our Own Good. I am slogging my way through the first chapter, and it feels like trying to wade through quicksand–it’s that technical, academic, and abstract. Does it ever get any better than this? And if it doesn’t, did you find it worth the effort? I gather his outlook is not one to excite optimism about the human future, or celebration of the human past. I guess I’m looking for reassurance that the agony and frustration of tractoring through his turgid prose is worth it in the end. Is it?
    You once remarked that the Gaia Theory is “a fake.” I’m wondering what makes you think so.

  76. Gary:

    Wow, a fellow reader of Dilworth!
    Yes, I agree with the “technical” description of the book – but that is Dilworth’s nature: he has put an immense amount of reading and cognitive organization into one framework. Turgid and not likely to excite optimism – most likely yes, but it’s like a degree in one book, and I don’t find it too “academic” – the prose is readable, if thudding. I’m at page 377 out of 477, so I think the end is in sight for me. I’m just taking Dilworth as a pedant, and boiling the fat down. The book jacket promises some “new paradigm” to get us out of the latest vicious circle problem, but what could that be?
    Admittedly, my knowledge of paleo-history is cursory, which also explains my off-hand dismissal of Lovelock. The popular criticism, though, of him is his New Age angle – what scientific precision is there in calling the earth’s ecosystem some sort of super-being?
    I would guess that you have delved far more into Lovelockian controversy more than me, but we all benefit from challenges, as Lara said.

  77. Martin:
    A good rule of thumb that I follow: if my knowledge of a particular subject is “cursory” I tend to not comment. Your statements regarding Gaia Theory are completely inaccurate.

    First, it is no longer a “hypothesis”, but rather “theory” and it is one of the cornerstones of modern Earth System Science. And new research into the role of the dimethyl sulfide cycle from ocean to atmosphere may further validate the theory.

    Second, you are conflating the scientific theory with the pantheistic spirituality. The former is Science while the latter is akin to religion. I assume you are expressing condemnation of the spiritual practice and you are free to do so but it does a disservice to the Scientist and the Science to consider them as one in the same.

    Lovelock will be remembered as one of the most brilliant scientists of our time and his books should be required reading for all students. I’d suggest reading ALL of his books (I have and also Stephen Harding’s Animate Earth).

  78. Lara may have every right to express her opinions here, but she doesn’t have the right to have them not criticized, nor the right to have aspersions cast on her morality or, indeed, sanity based on what she has written.

    Oh, and I’d like to know what Mr. Kingsworth will think will happen to those people with disabilities who are dependent on technology. People with hearing aids? Spectacles? Wheelchairs? Prostheses? Certain medications? I suppose they’re SOL, as they wouldn’t fit well into Mr. Kingsworth’s Wunderland of Naychur.

  79. The essay Dark Ecology is a wonderful and thought provoking writing on an important subject that should be read by many. Kingsworth’s manner of exposing the downside of technology is exceptional and awakening.

    We seem to equate technological achievements to contemporary time and in truth it goes back to the beginning. Fire was a technological breakthrough at one time.

    How we implement modern technology is where the complexities are located. Theodore Kaczynski felt many of the emotions all environmentalists feel. He drifted too far seeking methods of reprisal that were unintelligent and did no good to make our world a better place. I cannot align with violence as a measure toward change, but do feel his ordeal highlights the depth of the overall crisis.

    I am a dropout too, no TV, or electricity, wood stove and live in a small cabin in a remote wilderness area, have a small garden and two great dogs (Orion and Venus). However, this solitary life is not a solution to the overall problems. As a society we need to arrange life and our future relating to a collective, encompassing all styles and methods of transiting life.

    The population crisis is likely the largest issue, offering the greatest challenge to adjust and blend with the Earth and elements of nature. This seems an insurmountable issue. I’m 72 so likely will not see sweeping changes that are certainly inevitable.

    Great essay. Only Orion can bring us all such
    excellence. Thanks to all.

  80. Origami: I welcome constructive criticism; it is a foundational premise of my culture: it is only through constructive criticism, and our willingness to hear and examine constructive criticism, that we are able to confront our self deception and erroneous beliefs.

    If you have any constructive criticism of my morality or sanity, please provide your definition of morality/sanity, and your examples of how my morality/sanity is lacking. I’d be happy to examine your feedback.

    Industrial technology is dependent on industrial forms of energy (car needs gas); like pre-industrial technology was dependent on human or animal energy (plow needs oxen).

    Industrial civilization requires a certain EROI (energy return on energy invested) level of energy input. Oil used to have an EROI of 1:100 (1 barrel of energy, enabled drilling, extraction, production of 100 barrels of energy for the market); which is now down to about 1:10, depending on the well.

    There is a very big difference between a society with access to energy with an EROI of 1:100, to a society with energy with an EROI of 1:10, and 1:1.

    In a 1:100 society, for example: only 0.5% of the society is focussed on energy extraction and production; 99.5% of society can focus their energy on alternative pursuits: doctors, vets, schools, art, history, space, etc. If that energy, also provides for embedded energy, which is used for food production (pesticides and fertilizers, tractors, water irrigation), then it further decreases the number of citizens engaged in energy / food production. Currently 10Kcal of oil/gas energy are used to produce 1 Kcal of food. For every 1Kcal of food you eat, it required 10Kcal of oil/gas energy to grow it, pick and process it.

    In a 1:10 society, 30% of society may be focussed on energy extraction and production; leaving only 70% focussed on teaching, doctors, manufacturers, etc. If for example, the energy is nuclear, then a greater amount of citizens shall also be required in the production of food energy production.

    In a 1:5 society, 70% of society may be focussed on energy extraction & production, leaving only 30% for doctors and teachers, etc.

    In a 1:1 society, you are at hunter gatherer, or agrarian level, depending on the climate and soil quality. If hunter gatherer, with low soil quality, almost 100% of the tribe is in one form or another, focussed on energy production: whether it is hunting meat, foraging nuts and fruit, or foraging sticks and wood for energy, for heat and cooking. Where there is better soil quality, capable of sustaining a larger population, virtually the entire society will be agrarian based, with almost everyone working either on the farm, or producing some kind of product to exchange with the farmer for their food.

    In such a society, people with special needs, shall only be able to survive, if born to a rich family. Poor families will not have access to cheap energy, to support such a family member.

    Consider for example: that one teaspoon of oil, is equivalent to the energy you would get from a full days hard labour, from a prime specimen slave.

    When you fill up your gas tank, you are putting the amount of energy into your gas tank, that is equivalent to one days’ hard labour of 750 slaves; or one slave’s hard labour for a full two years.

    1 barrel equates to 6.1 Gigajoules (5.8 million BTUs). Depending on the ‘job’, humans use roughly 100-700 Kilocalories per hour. 1 kilocalorie (Kcal) = 4,184 joules. So 1 barrel of oil has 6.1 billion/4,184 = 1,454,459 kcals. Using a range of 100-700 kcals per human hour of work then results in a range 2078 and 14544 hours per barrel of oil. At 2000 hours per year (40*50), this is would then be 1.0-7.25 years per barrel.

    The average american uses 60+ barrels of oil equivalent(oil, gas and coal) per year (360 billion joules), which implies a fossil fuel ‘slave’ subsidy of around 60-450 ‘human years’ per person. (What is a Human Being Worth (in Terms of Energy)?)

    Put differently, access to cheap energy, is like having a full time slave staff of between 60-450 slaves working for you.

    So, when energy (oil/gas, etc) run out… slavery will become popular again. Slavery was Africa’s largest most successful (energy) business enterprise for thousands of years, before the white man ever set foot in Africa (The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa, by John Azumah)

  81. Powertools like the Brushcutter mentioned in this essay about the snath and scythe (various ‘appropriate technologies’) allow a single user to accomplish the task of many men (and women). This model of ‘single user – single device’ is common to our contemporary understanding of power technology.
    But this is a relatively new development which begins with the steam age.

    Such single user devices empower modern individuals. They appeal to and serve the ego and the ego’s quest for domination, control and material acquisition independent of social or environmental consequences. Powered single user devices reduce ‘social capital’ by eliminating the social capital necessary for a village’s to harvest its corn crop.

    On the other hand, modern devices unbind the social fabric by eliminating collaboration and the need and occasion for human trust. Eventually, the reduction of social capital and isolation within the distractions provided by powered devices (cars, iPods, televisions, computers) become a major and important function of technology. The history and prehistory of the information-age can be seen from this perspective of increasing isolation and the destruction of social capital.*

    Most importantly, during harvests scythes take considerable man-hours to operate. We wield them as a community of workers achieving a common goal, the harvest. But as we wield them, the solitude of our experience provides time to ruminate about our lives, memories and daily concerns. Cultures which ruminate during un-powered tasks, pay much more attention to dreams. There is (statistically), much less stress and mental illness because members of such societies simply ‘have time to take time’ for a deep understanding of their diurnal experiences. They process the events of their lives and dreams more completely and are not afraid to be alone to do so. They did not run to the nearest technological device which afforded them distraction and entertainment.

    Distraction and entertainment were also things they produced while ruminating. Where consumption disengages us and makes us passive, production, (craft) engages and fulfills us.

    No wonder then, the cultural symbol of the grim reaper emerges in early medieval harvest culture. It appealed to people who recognized and shared the common experience of the harvest and it used an appropriate technology to personify our mortality. To reap comes from the OE word reopen, a cognate of ripen. Grain and grass derive from the proto-Germanic ‘grasan’, and the proto-Indo European root ‘ghre’ meaning to grow, to become green. Our forebears who harvested their communities’ crops a millennia or so ago, understood that men were ‘kurnam’, corn or grain, that grew to the fullness of age before ripening, bearing fruit and then being struck down successively by the leasurely strokes of the reaper’s blade. It was natural. It was unavoidable. It was the experience of man.

    • for the source of these observations about technology, see my new book THE BIG DISCONNECT… I’ll be talking to Jian Gomeshi about it on ‘Q’ on January 15th, 2013

  82. Both global warming and global resource depletion have the same common denominator – population size.

    Resource depletion = # Of People on Earth x How Much They Use On Average

    Global warming = How Much They Use x Impact of Usage

    Both shrink or grow in lock step with population

    The idea that we are “hardwired” to reproduce is rubbish – we are hard wired to have sex. Our understanding of sperm and egg has been a very recent discovery (last 10% of human history), and one that allows us to actually do what we are hardwired to do – have sex – without that thing which creates all our problems – population growth.

    Problem – we have confused “the value of every human life” with “the value of every additional human life.”

    Problem – we have mixed up reproduction with religion.

    Problem – The mixing of reproduction and religion has left us all with the idea that god wants us to have a family with one mom and one dad and a couple of kids. Or at the least, that this is the “most right” thing to do.

    Solution – decouple reproduction and religion (this is hard because all new preachers need to “grow their flock” (much like all corporations seek annual growth) (these are related))) , legitimize community child rearing, legitimize childless couples.

    This is a multi-generation fix. There are no other realistic fixes.

  83. Greg:

    It is interesting that cursory knowledge can actually be more fact-based than someone’s allegedly “deep” knowledge.
    Check out the link you provided: the “Gaia” theory, which alleges some “sentient” nature to earth’s ecosystems, is called “highly controversial.” That is a long, long way from being a “cornerstone.”
    Secondly, “Science” and scientist should never be capitalized, as you have done. There is no theism in the world of science, no commanding dogma, no one person above reproach. If there is a pantheism to Lovelock’s later work, then it is not science.

    There are many, many books to read, so little time, but communciation depends on the exchange of insights, awareness, wide reading, experience.
    Lovelock is not L ron Hubbard. The universe is not a sentient being, and its ecosystems are in grave peril.
    You are free to quote chapter and verse on Lovelock in rejoinder, as part of some Lovelock cult defense project, but whatever the Gaia theory is or is not, I’m happy to have raised its controversy in these august, hallowed halls.

  84. A New Year’s Message for my Fellow Americans:

    Your insufferable egotism, and your unwillingness to acknowledge it, is destroying the world. Your complacency in the face of the atrocities your species is daily perpetrating makes whatever comes out of your mouths a blatant and disgusting lie. If your evil presence should vanish from existence forever, it would be a blessing for all beings.

  85. Nick: I am glad you are interested in fixing things, even if it takes multiple generations, but I can’t quite agree with you about the problem. You see the problem as one thing; I see it as two, and of the two, the one you focus on is the least important. The two intractable problems are population and culture, and if there is a cause and effect relationship here, I would ascribe cause to culture. Other populations of people have been known to practice self-restraint when it comes to population, that, and their lifeways as hunter-gatherers imposed restraint upon them. Agriculture is what has made spectacular overshoot possible, because it artificially expands “our” resource base by stealing the resource base of other non-human populations. That is largely how we get extinctions and partly how we get ecosystem failures. Our culture tells us that devouring the Earth for our own selfish purposes is not only right; it is our purpose in life. That is what the Earth is here for and that is what we are here to do. God loves wealth creation, and even if you don’t believe in that holy writ, growing the economy is also the holy grail of secularists. Nobody bothers to notice that every addition to the human economy comes as a subtraction from the natural economy: species, ecosystems, wholeness, resilience—all lose when we add to our GDP. Our culture gives us our marching orders, including how many children to have, and how much is rightfully our share of what there is to take. Our culture is not well-suited to this world.
    As Western males we are taught that all problems can be solved and that it is our province to solve them. I am influenced by that cultural directive, too. But it looks to me like the mess we civilized types have made of the world is beyond our fixing. If I knew how to fix this culture, that is what I’d be working on (and maybe that is what I’m working on). As for population, I trust to Nature to do the job as it needs to be done. I might wish that she did her work swiftly and cleanly, and fairly thoroughly, but not too thoroughly—but when Nature does at last come to bat, She’ll do things just as she sees fit.

  86. Thanks Gary! I kinda had in mind Michael Moore’s long prayer ‘to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’. I am dealing with left over bronchitis from the flu, but it is gradually lessening. In my convalescence, I have been watching more TV. One show I find fascinating is Ramsey’s Nightmare Kitchens, in which the master chef tries to turn around failing restaurants, and inevitably encounters incredibly egotistical chefs and owners who are totally blind and in denial about their gross shortcomings. The bulk of Americans are similarly innocent of feeling that they play any part whatever in the disaster their society is enacting. Their bland veneer of self satisfaction can be just maddening…

  87. Martin:

    Your quotation marks around “deep” imply that I mentioned a deep knowledge of Gaia Theory. The word “deep” never appeared in my comment. That said it is obvious I know a little more about it than you do based on your comments.

    That the link I provided mentioned the word “sentient” has nothing to do with what is in Lovelock’s books. Try reading one and you’ll find that he rejects the notion of Gaia as spiritual, religious or teleological. That someone else writes those things has nothing to do with what comes out of Lovelock’s mouth.

    “Highly controversial” describes Lovelock’s theories at the time they were first published. That is no longer the case and if you study Earth System Science you will notice that. That something is labeled “highly controversial” does not make it false.

    Thanks for stating the obvious that there is not theism in the world of science. I’m not sure how you read that from what I wrote or that you read that I stated that pantheism was science. I didn’t. What I said was is that there is a faction of people out there who have adopted Gaia Theory as some form of pantheistic spirituality. It has nothing to do with the actual Science of Gaia Theory.

    Thanks also for stating the obvious that L Ron is not Lovelock. Lovelock is a scientist and as such he has welcomed any and all detractors and critics of his theory, as does any “good” scientist. L Ron- not so much.

    “but whatever Gaia theory is or not…”. Very poetic but why don’t you read it and then you will KNOW what it IS instead of pretending to have a clue otherwise.

    Conflating the theory and the religion is irresponsible. Particularly when Gaia Theory has much to offer humanity in these trying times.

  88. The Green movement needs to assert practical scenarios for rebuilding civilization, step by step, toward balance with nature. These scenarios would lower the costs of living while employing the next ten generations of construction workers and all others.

    Here’s a sample:

    Los Angeles: A History of the Future

  89. Greg, the tireless Lovelock hectorist:

    “Deep” was in quotation marks not because you used the term directly, but to point out that you implied that you were Mr. Expert No. 1, and would not be granted that title just because you opined from Mt. Olympus about it.

    As you admitted, the Gaia theory, for whatever it is, has now been distorted beyond all recognition into a pantheistic creed – check for local chakra store for whatever it has turned into. If Lovelock has seen this come about, it must horrify him – though you seem to pretend there no fires on the ground as you go around trying to put them out, throwing around purtanical excoriations such as “irresponsible.”
    You seem to be fighting a losing battle, despite your years of monastic study devoted to explication of the one and only Gaia hypothesis – many here, including me, udnerstand the basics, but see, as Gary G. pointed out, a culture exemplifying the vicious circle principle as formulated by a Mr. Craig Dilworth, a Canadian professor in Sweden who sells perhaps five books.
    I hope I am helping you here – there’s a fine, furious world of exchange and opinion, learning and mislearning, and you can come out of that obnoxious perch based on sole figure veneration. There’s an Arctic and Antarctic melting, and theories of sentient super-organisms seem to have done nothing to stop the acceleration.

  90. Authoritarianism is so woven into our culture, and indeed our very brains, that it should not be surprising that it pops up even in organizations that pride themselves on being free from it. Actually the thought and posture that such an organization is free from any taint of such behaviors can operate to hide those behaviors even when they should be obvious to all concerned. Of course it is as one nears the top of a typical management tree that this unacknowledged power dynamic becomes the most damaging to the stated democratic and open process that the organization intends to employ. True access and input to higher levels of decision making can be tacitly closed off, while denying this is taking place, and the atmosphere of the workplace can fill with resentments and frustrations which are denied under the pretense of everyone being ‘team players”. Autocratic decisions become more frequent and at the same time are denied as such, under the pretence that everyone is “on board” with policies that some actually basically disagree with. When the inner dysfunctions and emotional pressures build towards threatening the illusion of one big happy family, those at the top become increasingly secretive and manipulative in order to maintain their autocratic control. People may be fired for ‘reasons’ that are not the real reasons, or shifted to positions that are in fact demotions — all in the real cause of rewarding conformity to the top management’s agenda, or punishing those who ‘make waves’. And the irony of all of this is that it goes on under cover of the fiction that none of it is happening! Thus organizations and movements espousing the highest ideals may go deeply off course simply due to a lack of respect for and practice of basic honesty and openness…

  91. Martin and Greg: I guess there are at least two schools of thought and belief around the Gaia theory, one being scientific, the other, oh, I don’t know, mystical/spiritual. Personally, I like them both. I am right now reading a book called Gaia’s Body: Toward a Physiology of Earth, and it is distinctly of the scientific breed. It is very heavy on chemistry, and chemistry has never been my favorite subject, but it is absolutely fascinating to learn about some of the processes that bring this planet to life. I have also read Animate Earth, but don’t recall much about it anymore—maybe because it wasn’t very concrete. I have been fortunate to be able to live close to Nature most of my life, and I have always sensed, without any scientific proof whatever, that I was in the presence of Mind and Spirit. Since the age of eight I have been a fisherman, and right from the git go I knew that catching fish was a sign that I was in good relationship to the invisible world. Respect and awe come easily to me when I’m out in the wilds; and also aesthetic appreciation: I notice that Nature regularly manages to combine utility with beauty; I appreciate the coherence and integrity I see; the tenacity and resilience; and all the ingenious creativity She demonstrates in making the most of everything. It comes pretty close to adoration. And here is my leap of faith: I believe those attitudes are registered and responded to—sometimes with a fish on the end of my line. All you science majors who have been indoctrinated into the principles of reductionist materialist science will deny me what I know. You’ll call me a New Ager, a radical animist or far-out pantheist, or some other such anti-scientific infidel. But you only think you know what you think you know, and consensus reality has very little effect on real reality. Now, I’m not saying I know all about real reality. I’m just sharing with you a little about my feelings when I spend a lot of time in the natural world. Personally, I’ll go by those feelings before I’ll let them be taken from me by narrow doctrine informed by rigid ideology.
    And consider this: Back in the Dark Ages, and right up until today there was a class of human beings called the priesthood. They established themselves as intermediaries between the individual and the realm of Spirit. They put themselves in the position of authority at the top of the human hierarchy, and just below deity. The ordinary person had to go through them to know what was right and what was real. Now we have the scientific priesthood to tell us what is real and what is not. They set themselves up as the authority at the top of the hierarchy, and if I want to know anything about Nature I am supposed to ask them.
    And sometimes I will. Sometimes I will grant that they have better information than I do, as with Gaia’s Body. But when it comes to explaining to me what is out there in the great invisible Mystery, and whether it has Mind or Spirit, sentience or volition—I figure they don’t KNOW any better than I do. They have their surmises, and I have mine. And when it comes to my relationship with Nature, I’ll take mine unmediated by the scientific priesthood, thank you.
    As to whether Gaia has intelligence, creativity, and will, or can be considered as a superorganism—well, I think there is room for many interpretations. The Earth body and atmosphere behave in ways that are friendly to life, and are in turn influenced by life, as in a life-nurturing feedback loop. The author of Gaia’s Body warns against analogies as a way of explaining the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar. Gaia is Gaia, its very own thing, and not exactly “like” anything else. To call it a superorganism is to speak metaphorically. Don’t take it too seriously. But I think it is absolutely appropriate to be wonder-struck, and feel a deep sense of reverence, for this complex but simple life-loving, life-enhancing system of systems, that makes our life possible here. That is why I can say Mother Earth without apology. There is nothing sentimental or mawkish about it. This Earth is our Mother. She gives us life. For that I feel gratitude and affection, respect and admiration, as I believe I should.

  92. Paul Glover:

    The fake pseudo BS Green lite movement, totally disinterested in root cause problem solving may, or may not, be willing to talk about scenarios for rebuilding civilization, step by step, toward pretend balance with nature.

    What is your definition of ‘civilization’?

    The root cause problem solving Green movement know that is impossible to reconcile ‘civilization’ (Endgame definition, by Derrick Jensen) with ‘balance with nature’.

    You and Los Angeles are in a stage of self delusion sir:

    You are suggesting that darkness, stop being darkness, and pretend to be light. Civilization is the opposite of ‘nature’ or ‘balance with nature’. The bushmen were in balance with nature. Even nomadic pastoralists can be out of balance with nature, when their numbers and herd numbers result in overgrazing.

    May I suggest you do some studying on (a) carrying capacity, particularly the population aspect thereof, and (b) EROI (Energy Return on Energy Invested).

    Currently, the Sahara is expanding south at a rate of up to 48 kilometers per year. Lake Chad has shrunk by 95% since the 1960s.

    Permaculturists have allot of good ideas, but withhold honest information about overpopulation, which distorts their message into blatant inaccuracy and lies.

    If any ‘green’ literature, says nothing about population control (at least one child or less population control, until population has reached way below 1 billion).. that green literature is BS the Public relations image management, for socio-green-political-status profiteering of those dispensing it.

  93. talk about creating a straw man to knock down…. you took such a narrow view of the “neo-environmentalists” in order to prove a point.
    you made absolutely no mention of the innovative new economics that is appearing in the assemblies of the Occupy Movement through to the village halls of Transition Towns movement. These movements are symbolic of the a far wider and very autonomous neo-environmentalism.
    you made absolutely no mention of the peer to peer open source technologies that is emerging and enabling a more human-scale existence (that you and i want) and disrupting the old economy at every turn…
    it is these technologies that is enabling these changemakers movements to operate both at a local and human scale but also with their connectivity they act as nodes within a network that can out scale in terms of size and agility the old hierarchal institutions that are causing so much destruction. An example of this… perhaps the most destructive industry of all is the banking industry. Andrew Haldane, the director of financial stability at the bank of England stated in a news paper article last week, that peer to peer lending “will challenge the nation’s major financial institutions…. the mono-banking culture we have had… is on its way out. He goes on to talk about ” seeing a much more diverse eco-system emerging”. Actually we’re seeing the same kind of disruption any many other industries diversivication in many industries….

    Neo environmentalism in Occupy and Transition is very much about finding ways to deliver our needs in positive and regenerative ways. We, in those movements, are creating the world we want, and it involves a really delicate balance of appropriate technology and advanced technology. The neo-environmentalism that i’m seeing is one of focusing on changing the economy, building a new collaborative economy has become the epicentre of change, rather than your assertion that neo-environmntalism is all about dismissing conservation as silly.

    I work for Transition and have long been “occupying” or what we used to call squatting before occupy became famous. and recognise your straw man as a very narrow vision of the current state of environmentalism…

  94. I am very thankful for what Shane had to say both in terms of the good examples of sustainability work and in terms of the narrow definitions comment.

    I could be wrong but I assume most of us here agree that the efforts to turn around the environmental destruction have not been enough and all the efforts have been less than perfect.

    But I think where some of us begin to part company is when it is suggested that because it is not enough, that it is of little to no value or that the motives of some of those taking the actions are somehow questionable or easily sumed up into a simple category.

    I have been working on a wide range of conservation/environmental/sustainability efforts for over 40 years as have many others. None of it has been close to enough. And I fully admit to having a number of faults, as I think we all might. And I admit to failures in those efforts but also some successes.

    I recognize that there has been progress in cleaning up rivers, in getting utilities to spend billions on energy conservation, in stopping coal plants, reductions in toxic chemicals in many places, more good local food, creating local credit unions, and on and on. Not even close to enough but some progress in a wide range of areas.

    Because the progress has not been enough does it mean it all is worthless and we should all retreat? Maybe. But I suggest a little humility in being so sure we can predict which of many possible future scenarios will play out,how exactly it will play out, and at what pace. It just may be that all the alternatives that are being created will be a helpful template for the future. It just may be that after several more weather catastrophes that the pace of sustainable change will dramatically ramp up. It just may be that within a few years when solar PV is cheaper than coal and oil that renewables will grow dramatically and fossil fuel use will drop. Is the pace quick enough to avoid major climate disaster? No. But without all these efforts would it be even worse and would we be less prepared? Probably.

    I would also like to suggest that even people we disagree with might be contributing to the solutions or could be contributing more if we let them.

    I wish we did not have a military, having marched many times in anti-war marches over the years. Yet I also recognize that the major renewable energy and energy conservation efforts of the military are helping reduce the cost of many good technologies and they are making those technologies more appealing to a wider range of people. Does that mean I accept our efforts in Afganistan and Iraq? NO

    Yes it would be more sustainable if the population was dramatically less and we all lived a much simplier life. I am doing my tiny part to try to help that as are many others. But most of us do not live a simple enough life, and I think we have to find ways to work with people and ourselves to take steps toward that more simple life.

    Most predictions are that the population growth rate will likely continue to fall and we will soon reach a peak population. Soon enough? No, but the peak may be in sight.

    Good luck to all in creating a more liveable future.

  95. Gary G: Thanks for the extremely thoughtful response. It will take me some time to mull over, but I tend to think you have a more nuanced view of this than me.

    I guess at the end of the day, population decrease will happen. It’s the “how” and the hope that the “how” could be driven by good choices rather than horror that drives me.

    I’m honored by your consideration of my viewpoint.

  96. I’m with Alice de Tocqueville and to some extent Shane. My impulse is not to withdraw but to find and form community. The Sustainable Economies Law Center is helping people reduce consumption by sharing.
    I do appreciate the description of appropriate tools–I shake my head when I see a city worker use a weed-whacker instead of a broom to sweep a walk in a park.

  97. It would be interesting to test the theory of whether a person could go into isolation from other people for an extended period of time, deriving all necessities from his/her efforts. I’ve come pretty close to that, particularly at sea, so I would guess yes, you can.

    The implication of that is that given scarce numbers the tyranny of necessary association between adults is overrated. We have greater options to split and come together than we allow.

    So this takes us to the queen of ethics, the Golden Rule. Call it the Principle of Nonimposition. We are free to associate or not associate as we wish. That would seem to be down the road a desirable and achievable ideal. It would simply require 2 things. A much lower population than now and the practice of spending periods of time sustainably by yourself.

    I don’t think it gets any better than that.



  98. I think many here a re a touch confused on this withdrawal thing. I suspect Kingsnorth is more interested in “stepping Back” and looking at the situation, maybe exploring options.
    I’ve noticed others out there making statements on this issue including powder puff write Tom Friedman says (Paraphrasing) “it is not about mitigation it is about adaptation.” and Caroline Baker saying, “It is not about solutions it is about options.”
    These may well tie in with Kingsforth.
    I have also noticed the following statements by others including Meadows form the Limits to Growth.
    You see, there are two kinds of big problems. One I call universal problems, the other I call global problems. They both affect everybody. The difference is: Universal problems can be solved by small groups of people because they don’t have to wait for others. You can clean up the air in Hanover without having to wait for Beijing or Mexico City to do the same.
    Global problems, however, cannot be solved in a single place. There’s no way Hanover can solve climate change or stop the spread of nuclear weapons. For that to happen, people in China, the US and Russia must also do something. But on the global problems, we will make no progress.

    Their political and financial power is so great and they can prevent change. It is my expectation that they will succeed. This means that we are going to evolve through crisis, not through proactive change.

    Cousteau was once quite blunt about it:

    The road to the future leads us smack into the wall. We simply ricochet off the alternatives that destiny offers: a demographic explosion that triggers social chaos and spreads death, nuclear delirium and the quasi-annihilation of the species… Our survival is no more than a question of 25, 50 or perhaps 100 years.

    Erwin Schrodinger [..] has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment — that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatim as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.
    Just a few thoughts.

  99. An open letter to Paul Kingsnorth

    Dear Paul,

    Thank you for a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece. It touches many questions and perhaps challenges cherished assumptions about creating and manifesting change.

    Your proposal for withdrawal seems almost apologetic. This is perhaps understandable in the glare of our macho masculine go-get culture which would probably see such apparent passivity in an entirely negative light. Yet, as you say, withdrawal has long been a highly valued practice within many spiritual traditions; a way of fostering individual growth and serving community, a process of renewal.

    Withdrawal in this spiritual context may take the form of a retreat, vision quest or pilgrimage usually undertaken in a period of life change or to connect with the deep mystery of life and seek guidance on profound questions. Embarked upon with a clear intention, it is normally a well-structured process with three distinct stages. You’re probably familiar with them:

    1. A period of preparation and training, often under the guidance of a teacher or wise elder. When ready, the initiate/seeker/pilgrim undergoes a purification or ritual releasing them from the ties of their daily life and acknowledging the special and sacred nature of the retreat/quest/journey they are about to undertake.

    2. Withdrawal from community, family and loved ones, from everyday concerns and activities. This time can include isolation, privations and struggle, (‘challenges’ in today’s management speak). The focus is on mindfulness, attentiveness, prayer, being receptive to what comes or occurs, gratitude.

    3. Return to community. This last stage is both significant and important, honouring and celebrating the seeker’s achievement, welcoming them as a changed person with new gifts. Crucially, the learning, knowledge or wisdom gained by the seeker is shared with their community, their individual growth contributing to the community’s knowledge and wellbeing.

    So it seems to me that proposals for withdrawal if undertaken in a spiritual context can be a profoundly positive force for change. Yes, our problem is addiction to the illusion of control that technology (progress) brings but this merely masks a deeper one of a spiritual nature – a lack of understanding and appreciation of our place in the web of life. Intentional withdrawal is a way we might begin to remember and recover this knowledge. We may even begin to understand the need for restraint and choose to opt for a scythe, leaving the brushcutter behind.

    Good haymaking!


  100. Gary G #99 — Beautifully expressed, and exactly my sentiments. I have long ago let go of any need to apologize for my spiritual direction and the experiences that inform it, which give my life its deepest meanings. Having at one time been a raging atheist and scientific materialist, I know pretty much where my detractors are coming from. They still think that the failed efforts of science (as they understand it — which is not very deeply) will lead us eventually to a wonderland of peace and plenty. Like the false religionists, their plea is, “just turn everything over to us, and all will be well.” In response to any path that does not fall into lock step with their narrow formulas, they create a grotesque straw man compounded of the worst aberrations of so called religion and occult hocus pocus, and triumphantly shoot it down, feeling they have invalidated all things spiritual in doing so. If you should point out some of the atrocities that can be laid at the door of their imaginary pure ideal science, they will simply be offended and leave in a contemptuous huff. It is like trying to dialogue with any stripe of fundamentalist, basically a waste of time. Real openness is not on their menu. I hasten to add that this does not characterize Real Science, which is unfortunately rare, but not full of unproven opinions about matters beyond its ken.

    With regard to your question about gathering a study group, I am going to take it piecemeal, as there is a lot in it. (1) “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Goethe. You may be all too familiar with this quote, but there is an important truth in it for your project. It is easy to become doubting and discouraged in advance regarding gathering a group of folks interested in going deeper in understanding themselves and their world. But there are those around you who are dimly seeking what you hold out to them. Imagine as a possibility that your invitation goes out not only by the usual outward means, but also on a subtler wavelength. You are sending out a call, and the clarity and lack of doubts or hesitations you might entertain will affect the strength and quality of your message. Consider everything you do in this endeavor as an experiment, and put it out there in a way to give it its best chance. If you wish, you can think of it as a prayer or an invocation. After all, you are inviting kindred souls to join you in a study of the World’s agony, and what we may do for it. There is no more profound calling and mission. Let me know how you feel about this, and we can go forward in mutual consideration step by step.

  101. Andrew M — Thank you for your insightful comments. Although I have pursued deeper vision in the wilderness, I now feel that my entire life has been a vision quest, as I continue to seek deeper guidance every day as a regular practice. Since I am an artist as well as a spiritual seeker, it is completely natural for me to open my heart and mind to the Great Mystery on a daily basis. I wonder if it is really any different for yourself, or Paul? The simplest description for my life is: a Search.

  102. It appears Paul has hit the hornets nest with a broom stick. Great responses and comments. Enjoyed the readers responses equality to Paul’s essay.

    I feel valid environmental movements remain in place and are worthy. As in all endeavors, and is also with green movements, certain actions and causes can be questioned and viewed with critique. It’s part of the plan to move forward, called evaluation. Evaluation, adjustment, change, improvement and momentum form the root of almost everything.

    Technology is a force that will remain and expand in the future, like it or not. Pulling away from the mainstream is possible and probably beneficial from an individual viewpoint, offering a more spiritual approach to things. However, the mainstream culture is where the impact, both positive and negative are located and this is where solutions will manifest. Backwoods wisdom is always nice, and makes us feel good, but coping and addressing complex, elusive, social and urban problems, that carry over into nature and wildness, becoming environmentally damaging, will not be solved among grove of hemlock trees in a cute little cabin, reading Thoreau and other erudite thinkers.

    I, like Paul, live and function in a rural location, use a scythe and enjoy the swing and quiet singing of this masterful tool of weed eradication. This concert of human, manual labor with such a tool has been largely lost in commercial applications. The scythe is more efficient than my motorized, twine weeder, and the quiet meditative quality is lost in the nauseous clatter of the motor when I do use it. Although, the motorized weeder can cut close to buildings and fence posts, which the scythe cannot.

    The trick seems to be choices and applications when it comes to using and gaining the most from technology. It’s much like food, too much of the wrong choices will do us harm, but balanced selected choices offer health and vitality.

    We all see and feel the benefits of technology and this is certainly not a new thing. I’m imagining when fire was discovered, it is likely an ancient tribal member spoke of how this evil flame will consume them. Technology is ingrained in the human design from the get go, and modern humans now must adjust and alter to modern technology. It’s techno-logical.

    Love this discussion. Thanks to all especially Paul. Raymond

  103. I guess it’s always just always a matter of time with alleged greens before the crazy comes out.
    David W. is a brilliant exception, and there are a tiny band of us atheist greens, but the others have whipped out the chicken entrails and are reading them. Absolutely fascinating – all this ineffable wonderment from mundane activities that is supposed to be evidence of this or that godhead, but never is there any evidence, is there? It’s just fish and water, soil and degradation, never any real sign of some cosmic Gaia being, just one person thinking his or her own thoughts sacrosanct.
    This enterprise ended with frivolous piffle – but there are real and yes, rational engagements with green dilemmas – Shearman and Smith’s book, Climate Change and the Failure of Democracy, roundly booed by the druid and McKibben wing of the green sub-realm, is a great challenge. I’ll look for Orion and Kingsworth to tackle that book – yeah, sure.

  104. Chicken entrails? Wow. That sounds really interesting. Who’s doing that stuff, I wonder? Sounds like it might beat the socks off heating tortoise shells and reading the cracks. Too linear. The mess of guts might give nonlinear chaotic attractors a chance to paint some lurid stuff…. Fascinating…

  105. I’m thankful to Paul Kingsnorth for his articles and wider work with Dark Mountain, where I find a kind of refuge in which I feel safe to engage with some of my “dark ecology” thoughts.

    I’m also thankful to this discussion for reminding me about what I hold to be true: that the roots of the global crisis lie in the fragmentary nature of thought itself.

    This possibility was explored by quantum physicist David Bohm and philosopher J Krishnamurti. Their conversations led Bohm to propose an exploratory process of group dialogue in which diverse groups of 20 to 40 people would meet with no agenda and no leader, and converse about whatever comes up whilst engaging in a form of active listening in which conscious attention is paid to the automatic assumptions and judgments that arise, and which lead to misunderstandings and conflict.

    See Dialogue: A Proposal This describes Dialogue as:

    “a way of observing, collectively, how hidden values and intentions can control our behavior, and how unnoticed cultural differences can clash without our realizing what is occurring…In Dialogue, a group of people can explore the individual and collective presuppositions, ideas, beliefs, and feelings that subtly control their interactions…It can reveal the often puzzling patterns of incoherence that lead the group to avoid certain issues or, on the other hand, to insist, against all reason, on standing and defending opinions about particular issues.”

    Bohm & photographer Mark Edwards addressed this theme in their book “Changing Consciousness: exploring the hidden source of the social, political and environmental crises facing our world” (1991, Harper Collins – out of print but second hand copies are available). See also ‘For Truth Try Dialogue’:

  106. (cont.) I participated in a Bohmian Dialogue group for a short time in the early 90s. It was an intensely frustrating experience. On one hand it was sometimes enlightening to experience the group thought process when it moved from incoherence towards a place of shared understanding, and I had no doubt that Dialogue was a deeply radical activity that sought to tackle the global crisis at its roots.

    On the other hand the nature of the conversations often became so deeply inane that – even though I knew experiencing the frustration was a necessary part of the process – my brain simply couldn’t cope with the effort of processing the verbal garbage that we constantly regurgitated.

    Rightly or (more likely) wrongly I tried arguing for a focus on discussing the symptoms of the global crisis, rather than having no focus at all, but never gained sufficient support for this and eventually left the group.

    Now, in thinking about a strategic withdrawal/retreat from activism in the sense that Paul has proposed, I’m wondering whether it could be time to re-visit Bohmian Dialogue and to consider whether it might have a role in the withdrawal.

    Paul – would a Bohmian Dialogue session at this year’s Uncivilisation Festival be of interest perhaps?

    ps I notice there’s a Dialogue session taking place in Lancaster as I write:

  107. Thanks to Paul Kingsnorth for passing on Ronald Wright’s idea of the “progress trap”. However, in citing Pleistocene overkill as an example, and in accepting Wright’s notion that “The perfection of hunting spelled the end of hunting as a way of life,” Kingsnorth overlooks the fact that many cultures who employed the perfected hunting skills and technologies did not come to an end as a result of obtaining and using those skills and technologies. J. B. MacKinnon alludes to this in his May/June 2012 Orion article “False Idyll” when he writes: “A recent review of human impacts on the oceans found “overwhelming” evidence that aboriginal coastal cultures “often” depleted their local environments; in fact the editors speculate that it may have been the struggle to survive in increasingly degraded surroundings that gave rise to the conservation values many Native Americans appear to have held at the time of European contact.” In other words, many cultures figured out how to free themselves from their respective progress traps through learning from their experiences and consequently developing a conservation ethic, i.e. practicing self-restraint (both numerical and technological). This achievement is by no means invalidated (though it is obscured almost to the point of invisibility) by the fact that most of these cultures were swept up or away by other cultures who did not learn that lesson when faced with the same reality of limits (but instead learned the postponement strategy of expansion and dominion). Yet, I’d posit that self-restraint is definitive of cultural maturity and is thus the key to unlocking and opening the final progress trap that has closed about the globe.
    But the challenge of using the key is more daunting now than in the Paleolithic because of one crucial difference between Paleolithic and Neolithic (agriculturally-based) technologies: Paleolithic technologies are conditionally sustainable — cultural usage determines their impact — whereas Neolithic technologies are inherently unsustainable — cultural usage is only capable of influencing the rate of degradation the technologies cause, because the technologies themselves cannot be used without resulting in some form of degradation, which eventually sets up the self-amplifying colonization/conquest imperative we call progress.
    Ten millennia of this “progress” has led to a global state in which seven billion people (who are still multiplying) are strictly dependent upon Neolithic technologies (Derrick Jensen’s piece “Culture of Plunder” draws three examples of this from the vast human pool of possible examples, each of which shows how Neolithic dependency invariably plays out.) Thus, the process of extricating ourselves from the progress trap of modernity will involve reconditioning the stories by which we live our lives such that numerical and technological self-restraint replace growth and progress as the measures of success. In this, I think Kingsnorth is on the right path.

  108. Tim F — Thanks for you insightful comments. “self-restraint is definitive of cultural maturity and is thus the key to unlocking and opening the final progress trap that has closed about the globe.” I agree wholeheartedly. But how to do this in a world under the domination of an insane elite determined to suck the planet dry at the expense of all life, and a population deeply asleep to the nightmare scenario being enacted all around them and actually resistant to being awakened? That’s the real problem we face as a species. Awakening to unpleasant realities when you have been influenced to believe in a bunch of lies is not an automatic or easy process. It demands a conscious commitment to work on oneself and help from others who are already more awake. The ideal format for such unlearning/relearning work is in small groups dedicated to that awakening. Consciousness raising groups if you will. Models of how to conduct such groups in ways to maximize learning exist. Enough of such groups coming into existence could be a game changer for our world.

  109. Paul Swann — Thanks for your interesting comments. I don’t think Bohm’s ideas are adequate to prepare people to deal with the complex and emotional relearning that people are going to need to deal with the ongoing collapse of civilization as we have known it. To develop the depth of mutual trust needed to address our inner issues in this awakening, 20 to 40 people is way too many. Also, an entirely open and unfocused agenda will not get us anywhere near where we need to go. We are going to have to do some serious study, reading, and practice to awaken to a realistic and creative response to the problems facing us. Bohm’s ideas remind me of the many types of group work I took part in during the sixties and seventies. I learned a lot but it was way short of what I needed to learn. The small groups I have in mind are intensive study and personal transformation cells. They have a very definite agenda: to understand and deal with the failure of civilization, and the possible extinction of most life on this planet. They have the aim of developing the possible humans who can save us from this miserable self-inflicted fate.

  110. Factionalism and the Culture of Intolerance
    Is it human nature to bicker with those around you? It would seem to be, to judge from the common experience, but, as usual, distinguishing between Nature and culture is not always that easy. While not discounting that the human being is potentially a contentious animal, I want here to pursue the contrary notion, namely, that our culture doth make zealots of us all. By “our culture” I mean the culture of civilization, and by zealots I mean owners of the One True Truth. To see factionalism we need only look at our national politics, or even to the Orion blogosphere (and that seems a particular shame), but in truth our history is characterized by conflict, and, specifically, conflict in the name of ideology. As I see it, that particular kind of conflict, in which you cheerfully destroy other peoples who hold different values and different worldviews, just because they are not in full agreement with your One True Truth–that is a function of the nature of our culture: the Culture of Empire.
    The Crusades were fought with the Infidel, who did not believe as we did. The Inquisition was visited upon our own people, who were judged by those in authority to hold impure thoughts and beliefs. For this they were tortured on the rack or burned alive. This didn’t bring them around, necessarily, but it did make a fine example to others, who were thus encouraged to get onboard with the party line. Following on these distinguished episodes in our triumphant history, our people ventured forth into the world and went about correcting the savages of their intolerable errors of belief and lifeway. Of course those who resisted our gentle persuasions had to be shown the error of their ways at gun point, in strict accord with our policy of global domination, of which our Indian policy, here in America, was a shining example: If you can’t convert the bastards, exterminate them! If you can’t Christianize them and turn them into farmers (in other words, turn them into us), there is no viable alternative but to crush them utterly. And, yes, it has been quite a successful policy, here and everywhere our Culture of Empire has brought civilization to the benighted. Every day we get closer to a single homogenized global culture. Soon, there will be no competing ideologies or lifeways left. Then everyone will be us and the world will be ours.
    That is what the culture of civilization is, and that is what the people of this culture do, as a way of spreading joy throughout the world. We are all products of this imperial culture, and the meme of the One True Truth has infiltrated all our institutions, not least of all Science. Of course, the One True Truth has always been a first principle with our religion—it’s all right there in the Book. End of discussion.
    Overcoming a lifetime of indoctrination is no easy task. For one thing, it requires seeing through culture, and you can’t see the circle from inside the circle. You have to step outside it to see the circle itself. Derrick Jensen is a fine example of someone who has seen through his conditioning, and seen civilization for what it really is. If the environmental movement is ever going to be anything but impotent factions, we are going to have to get rid of this meme of holding the One True Truth. This meme, which is embodied in our language as well as our history, causes us to demonize those who differ from us on small matters of doctrine, and treating them as enemies instead of embracing them as allies and friends. I would guess that virtually everyone who reads Orion magazine and comments on this thread would self-identify as an environmentalist. What I think that means is, people who side with Life, and I mean Life in all its wondrous and diverse manifestations; people who are willing to pick a fight with the Culture of Death that is now savaging this planet. It is a juggernaut, fueled by power, wealth, and momentum. To have even the remotest chance of protecting the enterprise of Life from this Project of Death, we have to fight as a unified force, not as bickering factions of True Believers in our own One True Truth.
    Ultimately, I doubt that, even as a unified force, environmentalists could save the world. If anything can save it, it will be Nature Herself. But what we might be able to do is slow the destruction just enough that there will be something left for Her to work with after the converging crises resolve themselves. Probably, the juggernaut will take itself out, together with much of the world as we know it, and most of us along with it. Being part of a delaying action might even do more harm than good, when it comes down to it. There is no one clear right thing to do—but it FEELS better to resist ecocide and omnicide and genocide and suicide and all the other cides that the Cult of Death inflicts upon the world. And if all we can do is watch it all go down in flames, I’d rather have a friend by my side who sides with Life, even if he is an atheistic scientific materialist with a low tolerance for ambiguity, and thinks that all Mysteries can be solved. I’ll just have to do what I am suggesting we all try doing, and that is cultivate a little tolerance toward our friends.

  111. Tim F

    “Neolithic technologies are inherently unsustainable”

    That’s an issue that needs to be kicked around some more. If the standard is living in a community that is self-sustaining why couldn’t having a vegetable garden or fruit orchard or having a few egg laying chickens around to throw scraps to be part of the picture? Just like limiting your population growth you would need to develop a community sense of where the limits are.

    By the way, I agree with you that some past cultures reached a maturity that allowed them to live in a sustainable way with their surroundings. That was certainly true in my California coastal area where we have shell mounds going back at least 2 thousand years. A key integrity feedback these cultures must have found would be you can’t down stream your externalities. You have to eat them yourselves.

    So how do we keep that going in opposition to the exploitive Ponzi cultures that are aggressively about the business of taking us off the cliff?


  112. Gary G — Good post on tolerance. Small group interactions have been a rich source of learning this for me. You are sure to rub up against those who disagree sharply with you in the intimate setting of eight or ten folks discussing controversial issues. It is very important to cultivate diversity in a group, otherwise the ‘amen brother Ben’ syndrome can kill the energy. Finding ways to encourage the free expression of passion is a challenge all small groups face. We need the energy, but it is like an atomic pile — we can’t let it explode out of all possibility of containment. Learning to put up with each other, and observe one’s own tendencies to go ballistic is an important part of the process. We need to show we can get along with each other in spite of what may seem to be provocations not to do so. Occasionally someone will leave a group, because they just can’t take the triggering of emotional reactions which inevitably will happen if people are trying to be really open. This is unfortunate and we do everything possible to reintegrate such a person back into the group, but free interchange demands a price in work on ourselves that cannot ultimately be waived. It turns out the opportunity to learn real tolerance and forgiveness is worth more than the bruises on your ego.

  113. Having just read the discussion stirred by Paul Kingsnorth and his thoughtful essay I would like to add my comment as a hands on and still employed conservationist. I am sixty years old and can look back to being a small boy scared shitless by the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, crying myself to sleep after watching TV footage of the aftermath of British nuclear bomb tests on Bikini Atoll. Following atrocity after atrocity during the Vietnam War we were then expected to support UK progress through the ‘White Heat of Technology’. It was no wonder I dropped out, went ‘back to the land’, incidentally influenced in no small way by the US ‘Imagined Republic’ and its imaginary values filtering into the UK from across the Atlantic via corporate media.

    Anyway to cut a long story short I trained as a National Park Ranger and engaged with the world of nature conservation. Trained in the use of brushcutters, chainsaws, mowers, tractors, 4X4 vehicles, etc. it seemed that when I wasn’t involved with environmental education or green policing I was part of an army of Darth Vaders working to replicate ecosystem conditions evolved from past human scale agriculture and forestry. I am old enough to have touched on the end of the social side of field and woodland work and while it was social and communal it was also male dominated. Living rent free in a remote cottage was a requirement of my employment. So with all male company and remote living accommodation my own breeding success has been severely limited – Malthusian or what? Yet I loved the work, still do when I can get it.

    Therein lies the catch. My human body is now suffering from too many years of using fossil fueled power-tools in a Don Quixote like attempt to control the cycles of nature. I have hand vibration syndrome which certainly would not be the case had I used scythes and axes instead of brushcutters and chainsaws. I might have worn myself out in other ways but with fossil energy flowing through my body it often occurred to me that I was using energy to waste energy. The trees I felled were often left to rot as the object of the exercise had been to let in light to the forest floor and increase biodiversity. I few strokes with a machete to ring bark the tree and let it die and dry naturally would have provided carbon neutral heating for my cottage, not to mention three dimensional conservation benefits for insects, birds and bats. But then we were a predominantly male team of Darth Vaders and using all this technology against nature could be quite satisfying. All good things come to an end and after being laid off on medical grounds I took the money and dropped back in by going to university as a considerably mature student in 2000. Just after the Thatcher – Reagan era I wanted to pick up where I had left off in the 1970s. Emerging a few years later with a doctorate in landscape conservation I find myself almost unemployable in the youthful field of nature conservation. The world has changed. In a working world driven by software connections, the Project Manager is King (often Queen). My years of hands on experience and holistic visions are not required in Post Modern ecological management. After blowing my compensation package on university fees I did eventually gain fresh employment as Ranger for the incredible dual World Heritage Site of St Kilda in the Scottish Outer Hebrides. The abandoned islands stand as a memento-mori to a human community destroyed by progress. The St Kildans were evacuated at their own request in 1930 and today the community consists of transient conservationists, archaeologists and military personnel running a missile tracking station. Technology has won on St Kilda but it has been a Pyrrhic victory. Again I find myself working in an almost all male community at the remote edge of the British Isles. Tourists come here aboard cruise ships seeking an imagined Utopia, the stuff of so many pre-consumed books and films. The abandoned village stands in carefully suspended decay. The empty shells of former homes contrasting against the bleak granite moorland generate a genius loci populated by the imagination. As for the wildlife, bio-diversity has actually suffered since the resident community of modern day hunter-gatherers evacuated. The economy had been, for centuries, dependent on protecting sea birds and their eggs for sustainable harvesting. The buildings are an open air museum, the landscape an open air laboratory. No one is allowed to resettle and before a spade is stuck in the turf an archaeologist has to be present. No community has been allowed to resettle since evacuation for fear of disturbing either the archaeology or the nature interest. Management is funded by national heritage organizations strictly proscribing human intervention. That is, of course, apart from the military without whose technological infrastructure my work would be considerably more difficult. So here I am once again practicing nature conservation as a totally unsustainable lifestyle choice and reliant on military hardware. With a 10:1 imbalance of men to women, St Kildas human community is, in our patriarchal western world, unsustainable. I suppose I should be grateful that in this day and age and with shot elbows I actually have a job. Professionally exiled to this sub-arctic archipelago I have to stand and watch as Great Skuas fly in unchecked to slaughter Puffins and other smaller birds I am paid to protect. There are trees on St Kilda – Arctic Willow a few inches high which could be, but are not, cleared with a scythe to improve grazing for the experimental uncontrolled wild sheep flock allowed to live and die as nature dictates.

    Like Frankenstein’s pathetic monster, Darth Vader has been exiled into the world of Startrek non intervention where missile technology enables nature conservation – go figure?

  114. Paul S — Thanks for your honest sharing. Thus does the great machine of ‘civilization’ batter and shape us into tools to serve it’s dark master “progress”.

  115. Thank you. Every species is genetically hardwired to reproduce and expand in population. Those that were not went extinct long ago. As a result, every current species, including our own, has deeply embedded in its genetics a compulsion to keep reproducing. Some think humans can overcome this genetic programming through intentional action, and certainly some individuals can, but these individuals are over-intellectualized exceptions who fail to see that the vast majority of the rest of the human species is not, cannot and/or does not want to be like them. Undue focus on individual experience, which is a deeply “modern” bias, leads to a failure to see the herd as an entity. The human herd’s population growth curve provides no evidence of intentional population control. Individual anecdotes aside, there is no evidence that humans are different on the level of species from every other species on the planet. We are animals and we act like animals. As Billy Bragg sang:
    “Most important decisions in life
    Are made between two people in bed
    I found that out at my expense”
    Those who believe that upper brain functions will lead us to a Star Trekian fantasy world of infinite power and technology should focus, if they can, on the parts of our brains steeped in genetics deeper than conscious thought. The neo-environmentalists are right about the inevitable expansion of humans, but their belief that something can be done to avoid the fate of all species, overpopulation and crash, is not science but pure belief. It is this faith that they successfully sell. Rather than pray to god for abundance, they pray to their audiences and this makes their audience’s feel better – and open their wallets. It is a happier belief and therefore more successful.

  116. Ardrey’s Social Contract.. has a long list of animals who avoid Malthusian dieoff’s by practicing different forms of population control..

    In 1932 the director of the New York Aquarium, C. M. Breder, Jr., working with a colleague named C. W. Coates, performed an experiment with those small fish known as guppies that shook no worlds. Their conclusions were published in a little-read scientific journal, Copeia, and few people today are aware of their work. Yet the fifty-one guppies who participated in Breder’s adventure should one day be memorialized by some watery monument, for they not only discredited a Pope but threatened with ruin a scientific doctrine as unquestioned as any in our time.

    There are few of us unfamiliar with the tiny fish so common in our children’s aquaria. Guppies multiply lavishly, and are born in a ratio of two females for every male. Breder initiated his experiment by arranging two tanks of equal size, each with an abundant food supply and aeration ample to tolerate a host of fish. Then in one tank he placed fifty guppies with an unnatural distribution of approximately one-third males, one-third females, and the remainder juveniles. In the other tank he placed a single gravid female — one heavy with eggs already fertilized. What he expected to happen, I do not know. What happened defied prediction then, as it defies explanation today.

    A remarkable character of the pregnant female guppy is that a single fertilization may give as many as three broods, born every twenty-eight days. The lone gravid female cooperated nobly with the experiment, producing broods as high as twenty-five. Yet at the end of six weeks there remained nine fish in her tank. She had eaten the surplus young. In the meantime the tank with an original population of fifty had witnessed a rapid and immediate die-off. Cannibalism of newborn was so rapid that it was seldom witnessed. The fish surviving at the end of six weeks had all belonged to the original population. Here too there were nine. In each tank there were three males and six females, the ordained proportion among guppies.

  117. Paul — I think the decision whether to reproduce or not that confronts any individual or couple depends on many more factors than a supposed genetic imperative. Cultural beliefs and practices are important. Religious beliefs are in play. The easy availability of contraception is an issue. Economic status and education are important factors. The urge to have sexual relations may have very strong genetic and hormonal bases, but the decision to have children is another matter. Modern contraception offers us the ability to have our sex without reproducing. So I don’t believe that people need to be extraordinary in any way to decide simply not to enter into parenthood. I did, and I don’t see my decision as having required me to counter some deep genetic current within me pushing me to choose parenthood. Now I admit that the vast majority of people today act like unconscious conforming children who have never developed the ability to think for themselves or act counter to prevailing patterns of conformity. Unless we can persuade people to do the work needed to become an adult human capable of a high degree of freedom of choice, it is true that population will continue to grow uncontrollably, unless some coercive measures are legislated to serve in place of free intelligent choice — which would be a far preferable option. How to get large numbers of people o grow up and become real adult conscious human beings is admittedly a big order, but the alternatives are what we are living now, and the future under these circumstances looks pretty grim.

  118. Small Group Formation
    Mike: I believe the kind of small study group you speak of–with a focus on the Earth crisis, and possibly also on coping strategies for the coming chaos–is a great idea. I have already indicated the kinds of neighbors I have in my rural area—rednecks, retirees, dopers, and conservative-leaning professionals, with a few other oddballs besides. I guess what I’d like to know is how you went about finding the right people to join your group; and could you characterize the kinds of people they are? You mentioned once that they are a diverse group and that that diversity is important to good group dynamics. Can you elucidate a little on that issue? Thanks.

  119. Lara: Your guppy study is fascinating, especially in that the two outcomes were not what you’d expect. But somehow I missed what implications we might draw as to human population dynamics. The way I took it, there was a kind of biological determinism at work that adjusted everything to its own agenda. I don’t believe that Nature works in quite that way, so I’m left scratching my head. What’s up here?

  120. Yes, all sorts of animals have reactions to environmental constraints that result in reduced population growth. But it sucked to be a baby guppy that got eaten. Humans have tons of reactions to excess population, most of which also result in dead babies (and adults) and operate at about the level of a guppy’s intellect.

    Obviously, there are many factors that couples, of all species, react to when determining whether to reproduce. My point is not to judge the species by individual reactions in certain circumstances, but rather to consider the species as a whole. Most human reproduction does not appear to be particularly thoughtful or planned. People in many cultures do have to be extraordinary to not bear children when it is currently possible to do so. Moreover, to reduce population growth, what needs to be perceived of as extraordinary is the decision to bear children. Just because it is possible and even easy to not bear children does not logically mean that people will not do so. People do all sorts of things that create suffering and are easy not to do, but they do them anyway. As you note, the vast majority of people are on autopilot with regard to reproduction – that is the dominant human behavior and it shows no signs of changing anywhere nearly as fast as negative external population pressures are increasing.

    The sorts of folks who read this type of website are hardly representative of humanity as a whole. It is important not to project one’s individual approach to reproduction, either as a practice or as a theory, onto the reality of exponential human population growth rates. Do you really think others can be persuaded to not have children? Have you ever been successful in persuading large numbers of people (and we are talking billions) to do anything, especially when it’s related to something like bearing children? The future does indeed look “grim” due to overpopulation, but no more so than death which is also a natural process. The voluntary proactive options for population control are well known. They do not appear to be having a sufficiently proactive impact to avoid other more powerful negative influences on population growth. It is possible to both feel great compassion and grief for the suffering caused by overpopulation, and to do what one can to reduce the suffering caused by overpopulation, while at the same time seeing overpopulation as a natural process to which the human species is subject. The fact that people have opinions and political reactions to natural processes does not mean that these processes do not exist.

  121. Mr. Kingsworth, a heartfelt and in depth account. As someone working in ecology and sustainability for years, I’ve faced my own dark Eco nights of the soul in this arena. At the same time I beg to differ with you on some of your take of what you term the neo-environmentalists. Much of the ground work on things like ecosystem services was done by women like Gretchen Daily who are avid environmentalists lamenting that we have largely lost the battle in conserving Earth’s wild spaces, who have turned to using the language of development and economics to talk to the so-called foe in order to try a different approach to conservation having swallowed the bitter pill that the old ways just have not worked. It’s more of a recognition of failure and attempt to work at salvaging what can be done from within the belly of the beast from my own perspective. Not a pretty place to work from. A dark ecology indeed…

    Also, systems of valuation in ecosystem services are not all anthropogenic, although this is commonly written. There are several approaches including functional/ecological, spiritual, as well as the economic framework, the latter which is more widely researched and publically reported on. And the point about the economic perspective that is also frequently missed is that many economists are starting to realize that they were quite wrong in their old notions of nature. It was once thought that nature was an infinite factor of production, which, being infinite, could be written out of equations, and which being infinite, essentially had no value. Having studied Earth system sciences, and studied Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, I know that it isn’t just in economics, but in the other sciences too, that we have realized over the last few decades that nature most certainly is not infinite, but can be degraded and destroyed. And that humans can influence large scale systems like climate, which had previously only been thought to be driven by large scale forcing factors like solar insolation and precession. Now with new fields like ecological economics (I suggest you look at the principles of the Gund Institute at the University of Vermont for instance), economists are scrambling to add value to nature where it was completely devalued before – and this is precisely why the problem was there with factors of production not taking into account that nature has value – inherent, cultural, spiritual and economic…

    Have you read this article by Partha Dasgupta?

    I would love to chat/debate more about this if it would be of interest. Please feel free to send me an email. I previously wrote a blog on ecosystem services, but am currently working full time in the field of environmental assessment and have had no extra time of late for blogging.

  122. Gary G:

    That was just a very short excerpt from the very long chapter, from Ardrey’s book. Follow the link, for a description of all the other animals who practice population control, and how.

    My interpretation of the conclusion is that there are species who enact — as a whole — population control, and others who do not; who are prone to the Malthusian factors to limit their population growth. He appears to consider those species who do practice group population control, to have superior survival prospects, due to their superior gene pool, providing a genetic explanation for the self regulation of their numbers. He is clear that these species, require sacrifices from many of their members, who are denied the opportunity for reproducing, but that their sacrifice is in support of species survival.

    I would imagine it would be rather easy to setup a human tribal cultural population control system, but you would have to do it, within a tribe, at a stage when those abiding by the Tragedy of the Commons laws of nature are in the majority, before the cheaters violating the Commons, have reaped the rewards of violating the commons. A system where violation of the commons, results in execution; and abiding by the commons in reward.

    I’d suggest reading the full chapter from Ardrey’s social contract:

    “The significance of Wynne-Edwards’ group selection — the superior survival prospects of the population with a superior gene pool — is that it provides a genetic explanation for the self-regulation of animal numbers. Such explanations are not easily come by. The traditional interpretation of natural selection in this century is differential reproduction, the proposition that superior individuals will leave more offspring to influence the succeeding generation’s gene pool. But I suspect that the opposition to group selection goes back to a comment by Ernst Mayr that most biological controversies today are between those still thinking in terms of type and those who have moved on to think in terms of population.

    Many biologists reject group selection as a concept unproved, others as one unnecessary, maintaining that the traditional interpretation of selection can explain everything. But the pathway of such explanations has been a tortured one, as we have seen in Lack’s efforts to apply the traditional food theory. What seems at stake is less an explanation for a demonstrable phenomenon than a defense of an accepted if inconvenient definition. Perhaps the best comment was made long before the controversy became enflamed when M. E. Solomon reflected on the unreality of relating the fate of populations so exclusively to external environment. “The population functions in relation to a whole which includes itself.”

    The controversy will be resolved one day by the specialists involved. If Wilson was right at Washington, and competition occurs only when overcrowded numbers struggle for a scarce resource, then Malthus is confirmed. And humanity has little to look forward to but that chaotic day when in unlimited number we assassinate one another in our pursuit of inadequate resources. But if Wynne-Edwards is right, any population, human or non-human, has within its power the limitation of numbers through conventional rules and regulations and the capacity to abide by them.

    While contemporary evidence seems to support Wynne-Edwards, there must always of course be those unlucky species who, lacking such powers and capacities, proceed on toward their unhappy rendezvous with decimation — in all probability, I death by stress.”

  123. love love love this quote
    ‘Civilization has always been a project of control, but you can’t win a war against the wild within yourself.’
    A fine essay – thank you.

  124. mike k: thanks for your response [117] . Your proposal for “intensive study and personal transformation cells” is enticing, but full of potential traps. History shows that the personal quest for transformation/enlightenment usually ends in blind alleys.

    It might be helpful to think more along the lines of mutual or collective transformation cells, which could be a description of group dialogue, although it was not devised for this purpose.

    Bohm, influenced by his friendship and conversations with J. Krishnamurti, observed that thought creates a false separation between self and object, that “our self-image is inseparable from our view of the world, and that this mutually arising ‘self-world view’ is the operant basis of our experience”.

    The idea that nature can be dominated and that other humans can be exploited for personal gain arises directly from this fragmented thought process. It follows that any attempt at personal/global transformation must explore the fragmentary nature of thought, which is the purpose of group dialogue.

    Bohm wasn’t concerned with “preparing people to deal with the complex and emotional relearning that people are going to need to deal with the ongoing collapse of civilisation”. According to his colleague Lee Nichol, “Bohm ‘s interest was in the possibility of a radically new state of mind, a concrete alteration that penetrates the core of a person’s experience and has the potential to communicate itself directly in a group setting.”

    Bohm’s primary concern, then, was with exploring the root causes of the collapse of civilisation. Your “possible humans who can save us from this miserable self inflicted fate” will have to address the fundamental problem of the fragmentary nature of thought and develop another way of thinking which avoids repeating the same old mistakes.

    This may not be as difficult as it sounds. Blackfoot leader Leroy Little Bear is exploring forms of group dialogue which use different processes to those that Bohm proposed, and which address some of the issues I had with dialogue, which I briefly outlined in my previous post [113/4].

  125. David M: I think you are absolutely right when you call for a shared global ethic as being a key to how future humans might manage to thrive, and do so as integral to a thriving planet. As it happens, my friend, Tim, and I have been working on just such an ethic, and we call it the Law of Holonic Reciprocity. It posits that the structure and organization of the Universe is a holarchy: a system of systems nested within other systems; or, call those systems holons—a holon being a whole which is also part of something else: atom, molecule, cell, organ, organ system, local ecosystem, planetary ecosystem, on up the line, to include everything. The holarchy is the structural arrangement of holons; holonomy is the relationship among holons, and that relationship is characterized by interconnection and mutual interdependence. Take planet Earth as an example of a holon that is made up of a network of a zillion other holons, all of which require each other to survive in a web of interconnected interdependence. The Law of Holonic Reciprocity assumes that every holon within the holarchy comes into the world owing a debt to that which gives it life, for the very great privilege of being alive. That is where the Law comes in. Reciprocity means to reciprocate, to give as good as you get (and for good measure, give back a little bit more). Feed and nurture that which gives you life. Do what you can to assure the well-being of every part of the holarchy with which you interact. In this regard, I think Aldo Leopold got it exactly right: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the bioltic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” This is the same Law of Reciprocity known to many tribal and indigenous communities. I add the word holonic simply as a reminder of the “why” of the Law. Everything that lives is connected to everything else. Holonomy refers to that mutually interdependent relationship, and it also references a larger identity than we are used to considering. The human being, for instance, is integral to her local ecosystem and also to the planetary ecosystem, known as Gaia. We are not only a part of the Community of Life; it is also part of us. Or, even more profoundly, we are Life and Life is us. It takes some getting used to in our hyper-individualist culture to see those connections that bind us to the holarchy at every scale—but those connections, and the mutual interdependence that binds them together, underlay the whole project of Life, including our own particular life. Many indigenous peoples have taken this worldview for granted, as is implied when they speak of All Our Relations—meaning the Community of Life. All things come out of the One and the One out of all things. Recognizing this, you practice the Law of Holonic Reciprocity–in support of all Life.
    This global ethic applies to how we interact with the natural world, the biotic community, but how does it apply to human interactions? Actually, the implications are far-reaching, from the very local to the global. At the family and community level, interpersonal fairness and justice characterize the most harmonious human interactions, and all concerned seem to be best served by a rough egalitarianism: everyone equal, but with some slightly more equal than others. This extends even to child-rearing practices, where a person’s individual humanity is respected, no matter the age. Temporary hierarchies come and go, depending on the activity and the people involved, but more permanent hierarchies undermine fairness and justice, and thus threaten group stability.
    But what about those other people, who live in an adjacent territory? What is to prevent them, or others, from overrunning our group and ruining our lives? How does the Law of Holonic Reciprocity apply in this case? Well, if I could give you a definitive answer, one that would stand for all time, I’d probably be up for the Nobel Peace Prize. But I’ll give you the best answer I can.
    What we are talking about here is a global ethical structure based upon a shared cosmology and worldview. When you take your identity as part of a whole, and recognize that that whole is what makes you who you are, you are disinclined to behave in ways that undermine the integrity, stability, and beauty of that whole—knowing that such undermining is also harming yourself. Injustice of any kind, including intergenerational injustice (think seventh generation) and injustice to other species (think overexploitation or extinction), negatively impact s the well-being of the holonomous holarchy—which includes the entire web of life, and all that supports it. This concept requires people to break out of their anthropocentric, narcissistic, hyper-individualistic mind-set and instead see things holistically and in terms of entire systems—not just one part at a time. This is not beyond the human mind to comprehend. Many indigenous peoples before us understood this perfectly. Our language (as carrier of culture), and our culture itself, discourage this way of thinking—which means we have a little work to do to see things clearly. But if this were accomplished on a global scale (a long shot, I know) something that looks a lot like world peace could be possible.
    Be clear: I am not talking about a world of seven billion human beings, but one with a truly sustainable number of humans–probably just a few million, at most.

  126. Gary G — In putting out the call for a discussion group, I would favor making your description of what will go on in the group, how often it will meet, where etc. pretty vague. Just ask who is interested in discussing the deepening problems of our civilization. And accept whoever calls, and again try to avoid being hyper specific about what you have in mind, but try to get them to show up in person to meet with Tim and yourself. Work on their curiosity to draw them in. it’s a bit like fishing, don’t jerk too hard on the line, you might lose them. Time enough in direct dialogue to see if they are up for what you have in mind. Then, don’t be too quick to throw anyone back who might show up. You never know who might add an important ingredient to your stew. To learn to work with folks who are a little difficult or naïve is a valuable exercise in learning patience and tolerance, and how to frame your concerns in ways that are understandable to folks who make not share your wide erudition. (Don’t be shy — you’ve got it!)

    An initial device we used to gather folks was to have 500 business cards printed with the bare bones call as a lure to call your number. One place to plant these friendly little baits is in bookstores. Put them in the kind of books that your likely prospects might be looking at. We put some in the laundromat close to a local university. You can scatter the darn seeds anywhere you think of, Starbucks, a health club…endless possibilities. As I said in a post above, I am convinced that there are people seeking just what we are suggesting: a place to explore their concerns about our rapidly changing world. Fishing is kinda fun, the exciting uncertainty of it all!

    PS- Use graphics on the card. We put a pac of a few folks sitting around a campfire on one of ours…

  127. ‘folks who MAY not share…’

    ‘put a PIC’ Typos!

    PPS — When you are fishing and you put a new bait in the water, don’t you send a little inner message that says “bite this, you’ll love it”? Try that. Everything helps…

  128. Gary G, I think Gandhi made a good point when he talked about there in principle being “enough for everybody’s need but not everybody’s greed.” Lincoln also in his comment that “If I would not be a slave then I would not be a master.” So yes I think some universal ethic of reciprocity(Golden Rule) needs to evolve.

    Perhaps this question needs to be asked, “What do you need that can be made available to everybody?” Of course food and water come to mind. Then the next question is “How do you bring that about?” It seems to me the low tech self-supporting community but with a world aware consciousness and interaction is where you would be inevitably headed.

    I like to think there would be a critical mass of enlightened consciousness that would tend to isolate strictly narcissistic, power driven greed thinkers. I also think there needs to be individualists who are inclined to go off by themselves for a while and come back bringing their own insights to nourish the group to keep them from becoming too inbred in their own particular bubble-think.



  129. Paul S — I can understand your lack of understanding of the type of groups I am alluding to. Its just not possible to give a full description of them in a brief sharing such as we are engaged in here. If we got together a few times, I might be able to paint a clearer picture, but even then much would be lacking. In truth, some things can only be understood through participation, experience. And for those outside that participation there will never be any ‘evidence’ to prove their value. To the mind that seeks to verify things on the basis of words alone this will always seem profoundly unsatisfactory, but it is just the way it is. Words can only offer hints, on the basis of which one may or may not choose to participate, to experiment. Then one may decide to reject the process involved or pursue it further as one chooses.

    I have spent the last fifty plus years pursuing pathways to change minds and hearts in a good way. Although I looked at writings by Bohm and others about his experiments in dialogue, I was not convinced to invest the time in it in order to come to any sure conclusions. In a quest for deeper truth, one comes inevitably to rely on one’s intuitions to lead one to make the choices, the next steps that one is asked to take. I have found this to be a not too bad compass in these largely uncharted dimensions. As to what might have been found on these paths not taken, who knows? As Wittgenstein observed, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”.
    (What the hell did he mean by that?? But it sure makes a good philosophical sounding riddle — too deep and wise to make sense!)

    At any rate I must leave it up to you or anyone whether the hints I can offer are worth checking out. However my long experience on this journey has lead me to the point where I no longer believe there is some one terrific experience (enightenment?) or higher state of consciousness which in and by itself will be a key that opens all doors without much further effort on our parts to solve our multiple problems. We have a lot of work to do in order to become the possible humans, and a lot of it is really dirt simple; what is lacking is our willingness to do it. Magical ‘answers’ of all kinds seem so much more attractive…

  130. I invite all of you up to northern Pennsylvania for open season on my neighborhood gas rigs and pipelines. You could do more for then environment in a few hours monkey wrenching than you will in a lifetime of reading this magazine and commenting on forums. THESE GAS RIGS KEEP ME UP AT NIGHT. Here I thought I’d buy a nice quiet peaceful place in the country and plant some fruit trees. Yet THEY WON’T SHUT UP. EVER. NOISY BEASTS!

    Quit yapping here on Orion and get to work for Captain Planet. I can see or hear five rigs in my little valley; it’s five too many. All I hope is that they find a bigger better gas play somewhere else so the gears of progress can grind up someone else’s neighborhood.

  131. Paul G: You have invested a lot of faith and energy into your Citizen Planner enterprise and your vision for a nearly self-sustaining LA. I applaud your energy and your deeper goals, and don’t like being one to burst idealistic bubbles, especially as I am a blower of idealistic bubbles myself (see post #134). But let me convey something to you that I learned from Derrick Jensen: All cities are mini-empires, which is to say, parasites sucking the lifeblood out of somewhere (and someone) else. The water supply in your little desert oasis is a prime example of what I mean. Ask the people of the Owens Valley what happened to their river. And then there is all these lovely solar panels pulling in the sun’s energy, presumably to light up the area’s tens of thousands of swimming pools, and other such human essentials. But how the energy gets used is not the real problem; the real problem is the rare earths involved in making solar panels. Rare earths to not come in large concentrations, and quite a bit of natural landscape has to be torn up and sacrificed to get just a little bit of this precious commodity. And you are going to need more than a little bit for all the panels you envision. What I think you are trying to do here is project our present state of being into the future, tweaking, refining, improving, and even rethinking design—but not rethinking the paradigm out of which all of this is built, or retrofitted. To me, that is the fatal flaw of your conscientious and well-meant efforts.
    There are seven billion of us on this planet, at the moment, because we have stolen the lives and territory of all our fellow Earthlings. Every time we cleared a forest and turned it into farmland, to feed ourselves, we stole something that wasn’t ours to take. Every time we gouge some “treasure” out of the flesh of the Earth, along with an overburden of toxins, we are attacking an integrity that took more than four billion years to create. We assume that anything we want here belongs to us. That has been our pattern of development and progress in this country, and of our imperial arm all over the world. We are a people of empire who recognize no other peoples as our equals, and as for all the other creatures of the Earth—well, they are here solely for our benefit and at our revocable pleasure. That is who we are and that is what we do. That is the paradigm in which your Citizen Planned L.A. takes its life.
    Personally, I think there is something deeply flawed with that paradigm, and I would ask you to consider what that might be. What if, for instance, life on this planet is NOT all about human beings? What if, instead, it is about ALL LIFE—the Community of Life, of which we are just one citizen—and not a very good citizen at that? I see a moral dimension to this, in that ecocide and omnicide may not be good things in and of themselves. But there is also a practical side. We live on a finite planet whose so-called “resources” (ecosystems and lives belonging to others) are past their peak and on their way to depletion. Maybe more of the same, with slight adjustments, is not going to take us to the Promised Land. Or maybe it is, and sooner than we think!

  132. Is it possible that building a big city in the desert is a stupid idea? I spent a year in Las Vegas once learning to be a professional poker player. It was amazing how many fountains and swimming pools were everywhere. I did a rowboat trip on Lake Mead one day. It already showed signs of shrinkage. At some not too far off date, the desert will have its way with Las Vegas, and another ghost town will be born (die?).

  133. Justin — Better ring up Derrick Jensen and his ghost riders. Nothing but a lot of wimpy dreamers among us. Most of our action is between our ears, not out there among the demon oil rigs.

  134. After all, what will you choose to live, an impossible dream, or a dreadful reality? Its just possible that we are too ignorant to know what’s really impossible. Betting on a black swan could be a long shot winner, but betting on a dead certainty is a sure loser.

  135. Mike K: Speak for yourself! I think plenty of folks participating in this conversation are a heck of a lot more than mere “wimpy dreamers”! The anti-fracking crowd are vigorous and on their feet, no withdrawal for them. I count myself a proud participant, in and out of jail.

  136. Thanks Jen — I needed that! So, there’s live critters in that still water? Good.

  137. Yes indeed! Nice image, Mike, makes me think of tadpoles… where there’s life, there’s hope… I know “hope” is sometimes a dirty word in this crowd, but I’m not sure there’s any other way to live than putting one foot in front of the other, and NOT just remaining on the inside of one’s own head. Thanks again to Paul Kingsnorth (and Orion) for both last January’s piece, and this one, which provide such vital food for thought and redirection.

  138. Mike: Thanks for the great tips. If I lived fifty miles west of where I do, all your suggestions would exactly fit, even down to its being a university town. However, if I lived in that town, instead of here in this beautiful mountain and river landscape, I’d be a fish out of water, unhappy and choking for air. It’s the boonies here, and the term “environmentalist” is not uttered with reverence. Timber country it is, and jobs and livelihoods and holding a family together have traditionally depended on big Douglas fir trees crashing to the ground and being hauled off on log trucks. When you live in the provinces what you get is provincialism—but also little remnants of old growth forest here and there, just to remind you of how the world once looked, and not so long ago, before a plague of locusts came in with their chainsaws. Resource economies like this have always been boom and bust—it is a common story throughout the West. People now remember the boom times, in the Reagan years of the ‘eighties when logging had no rules, and getting the cut out was what all the local people did. They like their spotted owls here fried or grilled, with maybe a little environmentalist sauce on the side. Those global warming scare tactics: that’s just more of those enviro-wackos trying to slow down progress and make things hard for everybody.
    This is the attitude of all the old settled families here. The Forest Service cycles people in and out, and there might be some young folks among them worth trying to recruit. But having worked for that outfit for 22 years, I can tell you that groupthink and the party line pretty much rule. Re-sources are meant to be used. By humans, of course. Is there anybody else here on the planet?
    Okay, Mike, I know: I’m stereotyping, and that doesn’t help anything. I’ll try to keep an open mind, and just put some signs up and see what happens. I’d love to get a group of 8 or ten like you have, but finding that many likely candidates ain’t going to be easy, given the population here. And it could be, too, that readers are a dying breed, and independent thinkers an endangered species. Still, it’s worth a try.

  139. If anyone following this discussion lives near SW Virginia, respond to my comment and we’ll start a group.

  140. Brian — Read your comment on your blog. While you are giving thanks to the God of Science, you might praise the gifts of nuclear weapons, global broiling, toxic pollution of all life forms, development of strains of smallpox that will be impossible to survive, and whatever the labs at DARPA are cooking up to guarantee our extinction in the near term. Your Science God might be angry with you for downplaying Its wondrous gifts. And we really don’t need for that to happen — your God is fearsome enough without unnecessarily riling Him up!

  141. Brian — Lest I come across as too harsh, I do understand that what Paul K. was trying to share was opaque to you as a scientific fundamentalist. His stuff just doesn’t easily translate into hard data or precise equations. But not to worry, if it doesn’t it probably means that it is just pure nonsense — ‘Soul’ and crap like that.

  142. MattB — Congrats for your initiative! I’m a bit far away here in the hills of Eastern Kentucky, but more power to you. I will put in a plug for you in the field of universal connection. Let us know if you get any bites for your group to be. If our experience groupwise here in Ky can help in any way, please ask.

  143. Diminishing Expectations
    Maria Lavis: If we look at the environmental movement’s movement over the past forty years or so, what I think we see is a pattern of diminishing expectations, and a growing willingness to settle for a quarter loaf, or a sixteenth loaf, instead of the previous half-loaf. Over the past couple decades especially there has been a pattern of local grassroots environmental groups feeling that they have been manipulated and sold out by the big national and international groups, whose suit-and-tie minions have sat at the bargaining table with their corporate “peers,” and have given the store away. The rationale, of course, is that these paid representatives of the environmental movement are living in the “real world” of late-stage capitalism, and they are making the best deals they can.
    Within this context I followed the link you provided to the work of economist Partha Dasgupta, who, I am happy to report, is no Milton Friedman. The economics she supports is one of far greater equity and justice than that of Mister Shock Doctrine, but I find it to be just a little over-accepting of the “realities” of the marketplace, and a little under-committed to the realities of a living planet. For me, the crux of her article boils down to the following paragraph from her section on shadow pricing:

    “We are trying to make operational sense here of the concept of SUSTAINABLE development. So we must include in the concept of ‘social well-being’ not only the well-being of those who are alive today, but also those who will be here in the future. There are ethical theories that go beyond a purely anthropocentric view of nature, by insisting that certain aspects of nature have intrinsic value. The concept of social well-being I am invoking here includes intrinsic value, if that is demanded. However, an ethical theory on its own will not be enough to determine shadow prices because there would be nothing for the theory to act upon. We need descriptions of states of affairs too. To add a unit of a capital asset to an economy is to perturb that economy. In order to estimate the contribution of that additional unit to societal well-being, we need a description of the state of affairs both before and after the addition has been made, now and in the future. In short, estimating shadow prices involves both evaluation and description.”
    I’m not sure that the world I see unraveling around me can wait until we’ve made all our studies and determinations to add to an economic model that is unlikely to be implemented in any case.
    Instead, I want to follow out this line of thinking about an ethical theory, and look at the concept of social well-being. I believe social-science research and statistical compilations support the notion that if you want peace, you must work for justice. Social well-being implies an equitable distribution of the world’s available resources. Social justice and fairness (capitalist doctrines aside) contribute mightily to peace and harmony. This just makes simple human sense—with or without the statistics. (I could offer here a theoretical framework for why this is so, but for brevity’s sake would refer you to post #134, by way of introduction.) What we are talking about here is our human-centered world, and how we can all just get along. Justice, in all its manifestations, is at the center of it all. Give that some thought, and see if you don’t agree.
    Now, I want to extend that principle to include not just humans, but all of Life. I’m talking about inter-species justice—and I think this is more than just some fine-spun moral theory. The underlying structure of our lives and our world is a holarchy of systems nested within systems nested within systems. The Earth itself is such a system—one that is made up of other living systems, all of which contribute to the conditions that make life possible. Inter-species justice follows this precept, articulated by Aldo Leopold: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Inter-species justice is clearly in our own self-interest—in the short term, but especially in the long-term. By preserving the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community, we are preserving our own life-support system. Shouldn’t we environmentalists unite behind that understanding—and fight for our lives?

  144. Gary– You are right. The seductions that corporate elites offer are usually too much to resist. Those environmentalists who want to play ‘let’s make a deal’ with these deal making pros will quickly come up short and be co-opted by the ones they set out to oppose. To think that all kinds of compromises and trade offs will somehow fix our deep seated problems is delusional at best, and chicanery at worst. To put it very simply: there is no compromising with evil. Liberals led into a maze of shades of gray and endless complexities soon lose their way, and accomplish nothing except often to further the agenda of those experts of lies, spins, subtle bribes, and diversions they should have stood clearly and solidly against. The Sierra Club playing ball with the fracking industry is a prime example of this sort of under the table collusion. Let’s be clear: Corporate America is clearly the enemy of the environment. No amount of green washing BS is going to change that. They are not confused and wishy-washy about where their perceived interest lies. Lets not let us defenders of the earth lose sight of who our real enemies are. And please don’t give me a lot of whining that nobody is our enemy. They don’t operate from such a vague idealism, and if we are to be effective, we better not go there either. When you are in a fight for your life, it doesn’t pay to take a time out to mull romantic idealisms…

  145. I did not read all of these comments though a much as I read sounded like so much I have heard on this issue over the last 30+ years. At page 4 it just became painful, so please forgive me if I am posting something that has already been posted.

    The Transition Project caught my attention last year and seems to be the best thing going on right now. In the US the website is All politics is local.

    From the site: “The Transition Movement is comprised of vibrant, grassroots community initiatives that seek to build community resilience in the face of such challenges as peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis. Transition Initiatives differentiate themselves from other sustainability and “environmental” groups by seeking to mitigate these converging global crises by engaging their communities in home-grown, citizen-led education, action, and multi-stakeholder planning to increase local self reliance and resilience. “

  146. Terri — I went to the link you shared re: transition towns. The first thing that hit me was a request for money. The whole scheme impressed me as a consoling message to middle class people that without doing anything radically different, by just tweaking this and that we can take care of society’s problems without too much difficulty or real sacrifice. And that the real problems were all out there, and we ourselves were basically ok with little need for deep going changes in ourselves. It all sounded way too easy and superficial to deal with the massive collapse of all our institutions that we are actually facing. If reading our comments “just became too painful” have you considered that our attempts to honestly face the tragic and overwhelming realities looming around us might necessarily include some painful reactions? True things are not always nice, and nice things are not always true.

  147. Mike K, the transition movement, which started in the UK, is a lot more interesting than you are describing. Dig deeper. Do we have to be so quick to judge, and to put such an immediate negative spin on each other’s efforts?

  148. Jen– To be the bringer of bad tidings is mostly a thankless job. But truth makes a higher demand than hopefulness and consolation. Those who choose to find meaning and refuge in activities that may prove to be a waste of time that could have been used more effectively, have the right to do so. But they should not ask to be free from criticism. Indeed, even the choices they have made could be improved in the light of critical examination either by themselves or others. Uncritical acceptance of ideas and courses of action that eventually prove to be disastrous, is one way we have arrived at the crisis we are in now. Lets encourage each other to ask more questions rather than less. Too many would have us plunge into activities that on closer examination should not be undertaken. As in science, we should welcome criticism as an important test of our ideas. I think I can understand your good intentions in commenting as you have, but I don’t think well founded programs will suffer unduly from being questioned. There is much to approve of in the transition towns initiatives, and I hope they evolve in a maximally helpful way. We should not construe criticism as being per se destructive; it is an intrinsic part of our search for truth.

  149. Mike K, reflexive criticism, and doctrinaire, sectarian insistence that everyone think in lockstep… according to whose views?… isn’t what’s needed. Who are you to say that people who have put a great deal of though and effort into the transition movement don’t welcome constructive critiques of their approach? “Truth makes a higher demand than hopefulness and consolation.” Whose truth? Yours? There is such a macho, “my way or the highway” ring to so much of this. Nerves are on edge. Paul Kingsnorth’s pieces are edgy, of necessity, thank goodness for them. But real tyranny emerges at moments like this, and I hope that’s not the direction we’re headed. If staring into the face of potential apocalypse brings out humanity’s worst, most violent, most intolerant and self-hating instincts, we truly are doomed.

  150. Jen — I think you are reading a lot into my last post that is not there. Maybe you need to cool down and read it again. There is nothing there that corresponds to your over the top outburst. I bear you nor anyone any ill will. If you disagree with what I have shared, that’s ok. But please don’t mischaracterize what I have written so extremely.
    “If staring into the face of potential apocalypse brings out humanity’s worst, most violent, most intolerant and self-hating instincts, we truly are doomed.” What on earth has this got to do with what I shared? Please save your wild emotional rhetoric for someone who might deserve it.

  151. I caught this on the Transition United States site.

    “They can also encourage the development of local currencies to keep money in the local area.”

    I’ve often thought this would be one good early start in moving toward locally self-sufficient communities, which seems to me where humans are going to end up if we are going to survive.


  152. We are all going down, way down. This civilization is going to fail spectacularly. Just when the bottom will be reached is impossible to predict, but it will inevitably happen. Realizing this means a changed worldview. In this light various options emerge for navigating the colossal failure of humankind and its devastating impact on all living systems on Earth. Accepting that the jig is up does not mean that one’s responsibilities and possibilities come to an end, but that a whole new set of problems appear and need our attention. The energy that was wasted trying to stop this runaway train called culture can now be deployed in service of more realistic activities. Anyone approaching the realization that our culture is doomed might want to read Carolyn Baker’s book Sacred Demise, Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse.

  153. Mike K, my comment, which was not a wild outburst, by the way!, was not directed specifically at you, but I understand that you interpreted it that way. I was pleading for a really civil tone in the discussion, not the opposite… for people to be able to post comments without being immediately derided for their point of view or contribution… which is how I interpreted your negative reaction to Terri’s comment about the transition movement. It is how some others have responded as well. Just a plea for people to give each other breathing space, and slow down the judgments.

  154. Thanks for the clarification Jen. I should have said some things positive about the transition towns movement before going into my misgivings about it. I am really on the same side you and Terri are on, and I apologize if what I shared was untactful. Sometimes I can put my foot in it while trying to help. Thanks for your feedback. Keep up your good work.

  155. Thanks for reminding me that civility and mutual caring are of the essence in discussing our narrowing options in today’s collapsing human sphere. The sometimes needed laser scalpel used to cut through the pervasive illusions of our culture can burn the one using it and innocent bystanders if not used with appropriate care. May I always remember that the Goal is a culture of mutual respect and love for each other. The would be surgeon needs a heart perhaps more than her/his steely intellect.

  156. I love how you put this, Mike. Sad, hard times we’re in… brutal, actually, and so poignant and frightening for parents and young people… and everyone else. I hope there are opportunities here too… damn. At least we can go down loving each other? (I don’t waste any love on the ongoing chief perpetrators, though.)

  157. Civilization and its Artifacts
    Mike k says: “This civilization is going to fall spectacularly,” and he goes on to suggest that we not waste energy trying to stop its fall. I agree with this sentiment but feel we need to work toward a more nuanced understanding of what civilization really is—and what it is not. If I am not mistaken, most people associate civilization with symphonies, and orchestras to play them; with libraries full of books, the books themselves being carriers of our culture and our civilization’s history; with art galleries and museums full of paintings and other forms of high art. Some people associate civilization with amenities like indoor plumbing and lots of electric-powered gadgets, and with high technology generally. I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of people would see these things as unambiguously good and desirable and worth preserving—and pretty sure, too, that these artifacts of civilization are what most people think of as civilization itself. This is where some sorting out needs to be done, despite interpenetrating ambiguities.
    All of these artifacts of culture are in some way also carriers of culture. A book, for instance, is doubly a carrier of culture, and that is because it is written in the language of our culture, and language is itself a carrier of culture. All our shared assumptions, perceptions, beliefs, and values, are embodied in the language, and in its subtext and metaphors. And whatever story is told in this language is also inevitably a projection of a people’s accrued and evolving worldview—and is a carrier of culture in that way. Culture is thus embedded in its artifacts, but culture is not the creator of those artifacts; individual human beings (often tormented and not wholly happy human beings) are the creators of art and other items involving imagination and physical dexterity, and those individual human beings deserve most or all of the credit for what they produce. Civilization does not. And here is one thing to always remember: the culture of civilization is nothing if not a self-promoting, self-aggrandizing propaganda machine. It will take credit for all that it can, in order to perpetuate itself.
    Technology is also a carrier of culture. An ax assumes that a tree should fall. A giant earth-moving machine assumes that tearing into the flesh of Earth is permissible and desirable. That technology is neutral is the foulest of deceptions. As Marshall McLuhan has said, “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”
    Every civilization that ever existed (as far as I know) has been based upon empire. Its modus operandi is to enrich itself at the expense of other places and other people. It is exploitative, violent, and parasitic in nature, sucking the lifeblood out of the Earth, other species, and other human beings. Our culture of civilization is just such a culture as this. This is who we are and this is what we do.
    Every civilization that we know of has fallen of its own weight and wrongness. Theft, deception, and destructive violence do not carry the memes of longevity. They destroy themselves, and, unfortunately, they destroy a lot else besides–just as we are doing.
    If we want to see the human being succeed on a thriving planet in some better future we would do well to not sentimentalize civilization and deceive ourselves about what it really is. If you are not ready for this revelation, please try reading Derrick Jensen’s Endgame: the Problem of Civilization. Jensen sees civilization for exactly what it is, and the case he makes in this book is persuasive and well-supported. It is so important that we understand that civilization is not worth saving; that, indeed, to save it is to guarantee a ruined future. As for those artifacts of culture that we all find so endearing, I’m not sure how many of those we can chance in a future with real durability on a planet that thrives along with us.

  158. Civilization. Knowledge gave power, which led to greed by individuals for more power — over nature and over other humans. The history of the human world is the story of how power came to dominate humankind and trump every other value. Our survival now depends on taming the ravening monster of power. If we fail — as we are now — we will be destroyed by our addiction to power. The solution to our dilemma will necessarily involve finding a higher power capable of taming and rechanneling the increased powers that our burgeoning knowledge has given us into mutually life enhancing forms. How to control and share power is our fundamental problem. Spiritual paths have been working on this problem throughout history. Unfortunately they have often fallen prey to the dragon they sought to master. We need a new spiritual understanding that avoids the errors of the past. If we do not devise this medicine, we are toast. There are plenty of workable ingredients to forge a new Spirit for Humankind. We only need the will to come together and give it birth. Half measures and external fixes will never fix our power disease. Only methods and ideals that go to the heart of the problem within ourselves will avail. Meanwhile most of humankind continues to fuss with useless band aids, while ignoring the roots of our dysfunction.

  159. Civilization is a huge Ponzi Scheme. We can never repay all that we have stolen.

  160. Mike: Ponzi Scheme indeed! According to Charles Eisenstein, in The Ascent of Humanity, at the heart of the Ponzi Scheme is interest on debt. Think of banks, and all the leverage they hold over the world. In Sacred Economics, which you have referenced, he offers the alternative of the gift economy, based on negative interest, or demurrage. What is your take on the gift economy as a future alternative to what we have now? Is it an empty dream, or could it actually work? I guess, to make it work, you’d have to have a society, and a culture, with viable long-term values, and the kind of community cohesiveness that is not easy to find today. I like the idea of the gift economy because it discourages hoarding and stratification through accumulated wealth. I also like it because when people ask, what is the alternative to capitalism, you have something better to offer than state socialism—which is just as materialistic and careless with the living world as we are. What is your take on the gift economy?

  161. Speaking of a Ponzi scheme, on a forum I tried to make the point that a free market is meaningless unless it captures the social and environmental costs(Externalities). They didn’t just disagree, they went into screaming fits, not for the first time. It’s amazing how the most elementary connections between things, like the economy being an imbed of the environment, are simply not understood. It is kind of like not understanding the hand is part of the body.


  162. Gary — Economics, like every other department of our troubled world reflects back to us our profound shortcomings. Only better people can create and live a better economic system. First things first. If you start from the premise that people are selfish, unscrupulous, uncaring, untrustworthy — then you will devise an economic system suited to this understanding. And the people living within that system will abundantly confirm your worst expectations. I don’t know if you have run across Mathew Fox’s book Original Blessing. In it he tries to put forth a different vision for Catholics and others brought up in an original sin teaching. Another version of this negative perspective is all the theories of our ineradicable stain as descendants of supposedly hard wired to be violent animals. All the ‘human nature’ baloney that rolls so easily off many tongues. Naked apes etc. What slim truth there is in these anthropological theories is embellished into a kind of inescapable bad karma somehow buried in our DNA.

    Let us set aside for purposes of this discussion how we might uncover and live from our higher possibilities. That is material for another book! In a previous post I sketched a future world where population was one tenth of one percent of its current horrendous level. I got the feeling that my (miniscule) audience had not really explored the ramifications of that one modification in our global situation. Our carbon footprint would plummet. The destruction of living planetary populations would be halted, etc. I also envisioned the end of war. The enormous harm caused by this madness to our environment and ourselves would free energies for more constructive purposes.

    Now into this hypothetical future include people who are intelligent (in the real sense of deeply wise), eager to share and help each other, and devoted to the creation of beauty, love, and truth in all their relations and pursuits. I posit that such folks will finally use the marvelous technologies we have developed to obviate the need for a lot of travel, and educate and govern themselves through advanced communications. TV for example could produce a level of culture only imagined in our present circumstances. Decision making on a societal level would reflect the awesome possibilities of computing power. The distribution of wealth in a way to eliminate the gross inequalities we currently produce would create a truly egalitarian society.

    All of this must sound unrealistic and impossible. But remember the premises of this thought experiment: FAR less people, and people who are very advanced in love and wisdom. People who could finally wield the powers that have come into our hands with loving wisdom to create a paradise on Earth. The point of this thought experiment is to ask ourselves; if these premises could somehow become realities, would not the wonderful results forecasted be forthcoming? What I have outlined is not different from your scenario of a world governed by the holonic imperative, except that I have handed the tools of modern technology back to our wayward children, who have now somehow grown up to adult human levels of understanding and mutual concern. How to make the hypothetical actual is the crux of our planetary crisis. How to engender the better people who can make a better world? PS — I don’t mean to give short shrift to the role of simplicity and small low tech lifestyles in my future world. I think of technology only as an aid to freeing us to pursue such lifestyles. Remember no airplanes, automobiles, etc.

  163. Let me slip in a plug for high tech science in terms of a long term human presence on this planet. A small but substantial portion of the vast sums that would be saved by ending wars, I would devote to astronomy and space science. The nearly hunter gatherer level tribes that some envisage as our only possible long term future would be powerless to avert a large asteroid or comet impact, that could eliminate mankind and many another species in short order. And there are other global threats that might be averted by a science that was properly controlled and applied to benign purposes. Science and technology could be our friends in the future I dream of. I really think the dream of permanently turning our backs on these powers of the human mind is unrealistic and will never happen. We are fated to either learn the right way to use our gifts, or we will be destroyed by them.

  164. Mining Earthly Resilience
    “We can never repay all that we have stolen”—mike k

    If the Earth as a living system is not designed to absorb infinite rapine and plunder, then how have the people of our culture managed to get away with wanton and escalating “resource extraction” for lo these many years? The answer to this question has two parts. One is related to scale. When there were few of us, and our demands were few we were able to live within the Earth’s natural economy, more or less. We might have extincted a few species along the way, and depleted a resource or two, but in general our numbers, our technology, and our demands fell within the parameters of what the Earth could provide. That was mostly the case right up until the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when the overpopulation of Europe led desperate Europeans to seek new territory and resources by sailing into unknown waters, possibly off the edge of a flat Earth. What these desperate and driven Europeans found was new territory to settle and new “resources” plunder—and plunder they did. The Age of Discovery would see Europeans exploring and colonizing the entire globe, including North and South America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Spice Islands, and many another landscape where other humans had been living lightly on the land: that is, within the daily solar budget. These Europeans operated out of a different ethic. To heck with living off the interest of Nature’s bounty; living off the principle provided grand luxuries, great accumulations of wealth, and pretentions to power. (For details, see Walter Prescott Webb, The Great Frontier.)
    The Age of Discovery soon became the Age of Empire, and of course we here in America are the last great empire standing—standing for now. So, we footloose Europeans managed to beat the overcrowded scarcity of Europe by colonizing other people and their resources—colonization being a euphemism for genocide, theft, and brutal exploitation. Anyone who knows our history with the Natives here in America knows that even these slightly harsh words understate the case. Expansion into new territory allowed for great wealth extraction while also spreading the paradigm and worldview that underlay our culture of domination.
    Central to that paradigm is the principle of mining as a way of overcoming the limitations of the daily solar budget. When people use resources at a rate equal to or less than the rate of recharge or regeneration, that is living within the daily solar budget. That is what the word sustainable REALLY means, despite all wishful thinking. The paradigm of domination dislikes this modest, and even humble, approach to life, and says instead: let’s make ourselves rich by mining the principle instead of merely accepting the “crumbs” of interest. And that is what we have done. We call it resources, but what is it we have actually been mining? The abstract, euphemistic answer is: we have been mining the accrued resilience of four billion years of evolutionary history. Resilience is a term used by ecologists, which points to the “ability of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function and structure.” When we speak of systems in this context we mean living systems: ecosystems, for example, constitute mostly living creatures, living beings. So, every time we “disturb” an ecosystem we are taking life, and sometimes in quite wholesale fashion. Redundancy is key to resilience, which means back-up systems behind back-up systems, so that if parts of living systems fail in the case of stochastic events, other parts of the living system can take over vital functions and prevent the system from failing. By mining diversity—something that has become standard practice for us—we have removed the back-up systems, the organisms that lend resilience to any system. And that leaves all such systems brittle and fragile and subject to easy collapse. Nearly all such Earthly systems have been pushed to the brink like this, because we have been stealing the principle instead of living off the interest of Nature’s economy. Yes, 3.8 billion years of Earth’s evolutionary history reduced to this by one highly misguided species, or, more accurately, by a particular culture within that species: our culture of civilization.
    So, the statement that “we can never pay back all that we have stolen” is tragically all too true. It’s a humpty dumpty kind of deal, and we’ve got ringside seats to catastrophic cascades of ecosystem failure. Oh, wait a minute, if what is going down is not separate from us, but part of us, just as we are part of it, those seats are not at the side of the arena, but right there in the middle of the action. It should be quite the wild ride!

  165. All evolving higher intelligences on whatever world face the challenge to properly control and direct the powers that their knowledge provides to them. Failure to properly meet this test results ultimately in their extinction — at their own hands. We are well on our way to this outcome. Our only hope at this point is a widespread spiritual awakening. The nature of this awakening and how to quicken and disseminate it remains to be created by those who understand its necessity.

  166. It is as if the Universe is designed to select for those beings worthy to enter into even greater powers, and the fellowship of those who have qualified themselves for that blessing.

  167. Our idiot psychology that tells us we are near some pinnacle of possible development is simply a symptom of our illness, and our blindness to our fatal disease. In our pitiable shallowness, we doubt that anything much beyond ourselves could really exist.

  168. Mike: You and I seem to agree on many, many things, but I have lately come to notice where we are not quite in accord on everything. I am not fully convinced that I am right and you are wrong, though I lean that way a little, as you might expect. There are two things in particular that I believe merit more discussion: one is technology; the other is a kind of chicken and egg deal, and trying to decide which comes first. You say fixing the individual comes first; I say fixing the culture does. Just as with the riddle of chicken and egg, there is no one obvious right answer, and it may prove to be an insoluble conundrum. But let me make kind of a preliminary, provisional case for the fixing of culture (which, by the way, I have no idea how fixing something so broken might be accomplished). But here is what I see as the problem of working hard to produce a handful of evolved, advanced, enlightened individuals while the larger culture remains locked into ecocidal, omnicidal, suicidal behaviors and beliefs. The bad stuff just keeps happening and your highly evolved types don’t seem to be able to do much about it. Myself, I can see no easy transition from an omnicidal culture to one that is at peace with the living world. I want to believe that such a transition is possible, but see it only after much suffering, mayhem, and chaos. I call those few, the survivors, the People of the Fresh Start—and they are my focus. These are imaginary, conjectural people, inhabiting some future Earth that will somehow support them. And I have them living within the Rules—what I call the Law of Holonic Reciprocity. That means living within the daily solar budget. That means practicing justice and fairness within the human community, and also inter-species justice, within the Community of Life. When I look at our history, and where we are at today, and I look back into pre-history, and what we know about how other people have lived as good citizens within the Community of Life, I don’t see us as being able to take many toys with us into the future. As I’ve said elsewhere (post# 168 ) an ax presupposes that trees will be brought down by humans. It has been shown in the anthropological literature how an ax introduced into a tribal society will throw its social arrangements all out of kilter, causing disharmony that never quite rights itself. I’ve mentioned the proposition that we shape our tools and then they shape us. I see technology as constituting a steep and slippery slope, and mistrust allowing much of it into a world of future humans (assuming that we had any control over that contingency). The culture of domination is embedded in that ax, and that ax is going to start shaping human life, just as our own technology has shaped and misshapen us. And don’t forget where the material means for technology comes from—it comes from a much abused and battered Earth. And our People of the Fresh Start might not want to be in that exploitative relationship with a reinstated Mother Earth.
    I’m not sure why you think we NEED technology, in any case. What is it for? What has it done for us so far? More harm than good, I’d warrant.
    Now to a point where I think we share some commonalities: the world and the Universe as having a spiritual dimension—one that corresponds to a spiritual capacity within ourselves. We are not talking religion here, but spirituality—quite a different thing. It is my belief that our materialistic worldview and lifeway has allowed this faculty to wither and atrophy in many of us. Seeing ourselves as separate from Nature, with Her subordinate to us, rather than the other way around, while transforming a living world into an inert stockpile of resources strictly for human use, has put us into an untenable situation, including spiritually. My People of the Fresh Start would hopefully have regained right relationship to Nature and to the Cosmos in general. That being the case, I believe they could be happy, fulfilled human beings without any high-tech junk at all. Why would they need it, when they’ve got the Community of Life and a living planet to be in love with? And how much lasting pleasure or satisfaction have any of our merely material possessions ever brought us? So, here I am focusing on what we would gain when we lived in the world as if less were more; we’d a gain a part of ourselves that we’ve lost. And that, I would say, wins any cost-benefit analysis you’d care to put it to, because we’d be truly ourselves, and not this lesser being our culture has made of us. With that culture gone, and replaced by one more in synch with Life, we’d be free to rise to our full human potential. I’d vote for that option if voting could help it come true.

  169. Gary — I know you have thought long and deeply about the issues we are discussing, and I respect your thoughts on all of it. The uncertainty factor is so large in this sort of inquiry that I am open to being way off in all my speculations. But my best read is that we are in for a really horrendous time in the coming years. My suggestions are little more than tentative, they embody what little hope I have been able to salvage from the wreckage of my years of intensive study of these issues. But the truth is I feel that we are as close to certain to experience a devastating world collapse as I can estimate. Maybe we have a .0000000001 chance of landing on our feet and surviving our misdeeds, but not more than that in my book. So why write about a way out that no one is interested in trying. I am beginning to wonder. Like Paul Kingsnorth I am ready to take a big step back and tend to my garden as Candide famously decided. It turns out that the help I am offering at the long term treatment center for addiction up the road from my place is apparently having some good effects. So I am going to draw in my horns and spend more time in meditation and spiritual study, and let the mad world out there fade into the background of my life. My impression of our life on Earth is that it is an incredibly agonizing tragedy shot through here and there with the most precious moments of truth and beauty and transcendent love. That paradox is the most difficult thing of all to live with.

  170. mike k – I’m going to persist with the dialogue theme and hark back to #138, which I read with some interest as your comments were largely based on false assumptions about my alleged “lack of understanding of the type of groups I am alluding to”. I know exactly the kind of groups you’re alluding to, and they have nothing to do with group dialogue as proposed by David Bohm.

    You said “Although I looked at writings by Bohm and others about his experiments in dialogue, I was not convinced to invest the time in it in order to come to any sure conclusions. In a quest for deeper truth, one comes inevitably to rely on one’s intuitions to lead one to make the choices, the next steps that one is asked to take.”

    The thought process and its ‘self-world view’ is a slippery customer. Is it conceivable that in looking at Bohm’s work on dialogue and not being convinced to invest the time in it, there may have been an unconscious act of avoidance? It seems likely that you’ll come back to me and deny that, and it’s true that only you can know, and that I am certainly not in a position to project that onto you…although watching my own thought process I observe its inclination to do so, thus creating further division between our differing viewpoints.

    It’s not the content of dialogue but the processes of thought and communication that’s interesting. If we take time to slow it all down and reflect on the process we can see how our conversation, and the misunderstandings that can arise and which can lead so quickly to conflict, violence and ecocide, is like a snapshot of the countless conversations that are happening globally all the time, many of which appear to be leading us inexorably towards extinction.

    I also read with interest as Jen S challenged you later about your comments on the transition movement, saying: “Do we have to be so quick to judge, and to put such an immediate negative spin on each other’s efforts?” And: “Just a plea for people to give each other breathing space, and slow down the judgments.”

    Don’t you think this is interesting? I mean, I really enjoyed reading Gary G’s piece on holons in #134, which surely draws upon Ken Wilber’s work. But how do we get from a theoretical Law of Holonic Reciprocity to peace and ecological harmony on earth, based on a shared global ethic, without watching very carefully, and bringing into conscious awareness the ingrained, fragmented thought processes that lie behind the words and ideas, and which so easily lead to further division and unintended consequences, even with the best of intentions?

    As Jen said, “real tyranny emerges at moments like this”. Where do the roots of tyranny (and, indeed, of “civilisation”) lie if not in the process of thought itself? I maintain that group dialogue as envisioned by Bohm may be a valuable tool for “exploring the hidden source of the social, political and environmental crises facing our world”.

    I’d like to suggest that ignore-ance of the role of thought in the way that we relate to each other and the world may be the underlying reason why environmentalism has failed. And this failure, which Paul Kingsnorth has identified so clearly, suggests that the time for Bohmian group dialogue may now have come.

    You asked what the hell Wittgenstein meant when he said, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”. Reality cannot be comprehended by thought; because of it’s fragmentary nature, thought is simply inadequate for the task. The moment something is named, a division is created between the thought and “what is”, and the truth or essence of the something is lost. I suggest that silence, in this context, means not naming.

    What quality of thinking and relationship might emerge from silence?

  171. Paul S — Thanks for your comments. It feels a little like being peppered with birdshot, fortunately from a considerable distance, so that it tickles more than smarts. (For those unfamiliar with this sensation see: )

    Over the last fifty plus years I have sought out and participated in sharing groups of many, many kinds. In every case I was not only a participant but also a thoughtful observer and critic, seeking always what rang true and useful and discarding the rest. In every case there were valuable lessons to be learned, even and especially in groups that turned out to be misguided, cultic, and just plain foolish. My ideas about the potential of small study groups to transform ourselves and help save our world stem from those experiences, a lot of reading and thinking, and my own efforts to help give birth to such groups, one of which is still going after twenty-five years of weekly meetings and four two day retreats four times a year.

    As a result of all my living this quest, I am open to whatever anyone might choose to explore in this area, but remain discriminating with regard to where I will put my energy. I would advise anyone entering this field to do likewise. There is much gold to be found in these fields, but also a lot of false coins. But still, I encourage a thousand flowers to bloom, and leave it to reality to sort them out. If one is interested in Bohm’s approach, then by all means check it out. Transition towns? I have friends involved in it who seem to learn a lot from their involvement.

    Paul, I think if you got to know me you would come to realize that I have no interest in defending any set position, I am not identified with any group or teaching — I am an explorer, a quester. My journey will never finish, and I have no fixed abode in this shifting and uncertain reality we live in…

  172. Paul S — Thanks for the link to Ian Angus’s essay. “The meaning of a statement in a dialogue cannot be known just by looking at the statement itself. A statement gains its meaning from a cultural context which is operative in the meanings and connotations of the words, the mode of articulation—such as playfulness or seriousness, claims to knowledge, artistic creativity, and so on…”

    This touches on what I think of as the Tower of Babel problem. It is not just that we are separated in understanding from each other by entirely different languages; we are separated by assigning often entirely different meanings to the words of our own local language. Only through dialogue, back and forth mutual questioning and response can we approximate real mutual understanding. For this reason I have become increasingly tolerant of being misunderstood in brief dialog, such as these online comments. Only repeated face to face encounter holds the hope of more deeply exploring what our words and ideas really mean and how to share them. No wonder Plato took entire dialogs to explore the depth of one word or idea. Real mutual understanding cannot be gained cheaply through various shortcuts. There is a price in time and commitment and patience and openness that must be paid. Too often our brief ‘dialogs’ only result in our not understanding what others have said, or even what we ourselves have tried to say. Wisdom can only arise through patient waiting. Truth is a shy maid who requires long and patient wooing…

  173. Gary — Culture and individuality are a dyad. One cannot exist without the other. As Buddhism says they are mutually co-arising and codependent. If we want to change this complex, which end of the stick offers the best purchase and leverage? As hard as it turns out to be, my take is that it is easier to change myself than it is to change the world. Krishnamurti would point out that I am the world, so changing myself does change the world. If enough people change themselves, then the change in the world effected thus will be commensurately larger than my sole effort. Thus the need for a community effort to change more people. A growing network dedicated to engendering deep change in those participating in it, could have a major impact on the culture as a whole. Will this happen? As I wrote above, I doubt it. People are too deep in delusion, addiction, and denial to give it a chance.

    One of the teachings I took part in was the Gurdjieff Work. Maurice Nicoll, a follower of this work said — A rope is let down from heaven to lift us above our problems and offers solutions based on a higher logic. However the rope does not quite reach down to our level. One has to make efforts to jump up and grasp it, and then continue to climb. (the rope represents the various valid spiritual teachings that have been made available from time to time for the people of Earth).

  174. Mike: I wish I could disagree with your gloomy prognosis for the human future. I cannot. And it is also true that neither you nor I nor anyone else is going to be able to stop what is already in motion on many converging fronts. It’s hopeless and we’re helpless and all our concerns and speculations and theorizing probably serves no useful purpose. And yet…and yet…I’m not quite ready to give up thinking about it. All spring and summer and fall I tended my very large and literal garden and kept happily occupied. I did some reading but no writing at all. For me, writing is thinking out loud; it is discovering my own thoughts by bringing to consciousness what has been going on in subterranean regions while I went about my gardening. You have seen some of the results. This is a process I began back in my undergraduate days, developed further in graduate school, and have been carrying on ever since—mostly with no audience but myself. Read-think-write. Read-think-write, except that the writing is part of the thinking, and not separate as it appears in this construction.
    I have a passion, and perhaps a mission, to serve my fellow human beings. I learned this at my mother’s knee, when she told me about the little Dutch boy who plugged the leaking dike and saved his people. She was born in Holland and that was a meaningful story to her. She in turn made that story meaningful to me. I have always felt that I owed my society something for all they gave to me—and most especially the high privilege of a higher education. If you look at history, not many people of my modest background have ever been permitted to know as much about their world as the generations who came after World War Two. You and I were born lucky in that particular way. So I have this thing that makes me want to help in any way I can. I feel that I have one particular advantage over most of the people of this culture: I can see through it, and they can’t. That gift comes at the expense of being alienated and isolated from all those people around me who are under its spell. It’s lonely, in certain ways, but I have made my accommodation to that loneliness. And I am still left with the desire to serve. Service to others also provides purpose, meaning, and direction to my life, and is in accord with the Law of Holonic Reciprocity. By contributing to the well-being of the whole, you not only repay your debt to Life, you enhance your own life.
    It is such a long shot that any part of anything I might contribute would end up doing any good. We’re heading into the cyclone, and what is left on the other side is anybody’s guess. What I think I have learned from thirty or more years of studying other cultures is that the emergency conditions we are now seeing brought upon the world is not necessarily a function of a flawed “human nature;” it is the function of a flawed culture. It is my hope—and it is probably a vain hope—that a few humans will survive the mega-storms ahead, and that they can make a fresh start here and not repeat our horrendous, horrific mistakes. My prescription for a viable and durable human presence on this planet is that the survivors jettison all remnants of the imperial culture of civilization, including all its culture-carrying artifacts and technologies, and either start fresh, or recapture the lifeways and worldviews of our wild ancestors–which proved workable for tens of thousands of years.
    People under the spell of the culture of civilization have believed all the stories they’ve been told about how undesirable the life of our wild ancestors actually was: uncomfortable, nasty, brutish, short, savage, barbaric, and somehow sub-human. Once you realize that the Program of Civilization is to devour the Earth and assimilate or exterminate all other rival programs or peoples, that this is what civilization is ultimately all about (not your symphony orchestras and libraries), you see the lie for what it is. Derrick Jensen sees the lie. A few others see the lie, or parts of it. But most people don’t. They’re taken in by it. In my view, as long as that is the case, and people see civilization as good, instead of the evil it is, this force that is civilization is going to use us to destroy everything that affirms and supports Life, until a living planet is turned into a dead cinder. Yes, this sounds harsh and extreme, and I’ll tell you, it has taken me a long time to come to this realization, but once you see it you can’t unsee it. And after that, you will never again be a partisan for civilization, because you know it is anti-Life. And if you are able to, put that anti-life lens on what you know about the history of our civilization, and what you know about the current planetary crisis, and see for yourself what is really going on here. We are being used as tools of destruction, and it doesn’t have to be this way. Dropping the program of civilization, we could instead be good citizens within the Community of Life. Or at least that is the hope and the dream, should we ever shake off this spell we’re under.

  175. Thank you for sharing so openly and deeply. It leads me to like you and respect your thoughts more and more. We have a great deal in common. I like you have long wished to help people and my society as a whole. I have volunteered for considerable lengths of time to go into three different prisons in hope of sharing some helpful ideas and experiences with the inmates. As you say I have benefited greatly from these activities, and have no sense that my helping gestures were anything extraordinary or heroic, but only what any ordinary person would do to help another. Trying to help people who are in the grip of the delusions and addictions of our culture turns out to be far more difficult than those efforts with folks who know they are in trouble by virtue of repeatedly landing in prison. This is why I became intrigued by the power of small group participation to change people deeply. My experience in AA demonstrated this beyond doubt. Folks in that program who succeed do not only stop their addictive use of drugs, but they change their whole worldview, just as I did. Their egotism gives way to a new spiritual attitude towards life and their relations with others.

    But let me respond to your attitude towards tools and technology, not in the spirit of debating you, but just to deepen my understanding of this key issue that occupies so many folk’s thinking about the causes of our crisis and possible ways beyond it. I too have done my share of pondering the theories of anthropologists and those who have spent time with the few remaining ancient tribes. Now as to tools, an interesting question arises — what was the first tool. Or you could ask, what is a tool? When a protohuman used a stick to better access the tasty termites in a large mound, was that the first tool? Or was it when a tree dwelling primate discovered that he could discourage a hungry predator by dropping debris on him from altitude? At any rate these curious ancestors began devising ways to extend their impact and make life easier for themselves by utilizing instruments of increasingly complex design; the earliest technologies, scrapers, spears, etc.

    Now the question that occurs to me in regard to your People of the Fresh Start is this — at what point would they draw the line in adopting technologies? Is agriculture ok? And how will they enforce these taboos? And by what means did they come to understand the rather advanced concept of holonic reciprocity? If they devised an axe would it inevitably lead them to do something bad with it? Did they need to have taboos against potentially helpful tools lest their inherent inability to use them only in constructive ways lead them into problems. My point is that perhaps you are bringing in holonics to ensure their safety, but not really trusting it to protect them from the potential harms of new technologies. What think you? Sorry if I fell into shot gunning you with questions. Take your time, no hurry. Its not a time limited debate format — its not even a debate, more of a mutual enquiry…

  176. Gary — I was reading your last post again — so full of meaning and value. I notice your comment about Derrick, yourself, and me — once seen, the bad karma descending on us (Nemesis) cannot be unseen. But I feel you may be like me, I wouldn’t want to lose that true perception of our position, however painful it is to be aware of. There is something that is even more horrifying to me — to die in the sleep of ignorance and denial, never having lived in the real world with all its pain and sorrows, and wonderful delights, but to have only known a fantasized world that never really existed except in my own deluded consciousness. To die without ever having experienced a conscious, real life.

  177. Mike: I appreciate your response to my most recent post; I find your acceptance rare and gratifying. And I am in full agreement with you about knowing the truth behind all the illusions—no matter how painful, it is always preferable to not knowing, to living what amounts to a lie.

    And thank you for your great shotgun load of questions about the place of technology in human life. They are going to force me to focus on an area that will always be an open question for humans. I look forward to finding out what my unconscious mind thinks it knows about this subject, and I’ll get to it as soon as I can. Gary

  178. The Word “Environment”
    I am so dissatisfied with the word “environment” as a way of describing anything meaningful. What is it supposed to mean, what does it imply, and what sorts of images does the word conjure? Well, let’s try using it in a sentence. “Environmentalists are concerned that an oil spill in the Arctic might harm the environment.” If I use my imagination, I can see ugly smears of black on white. If I really dwell on the possibilities I might recall images of sea birds tarred with gunk from the Exxon Valdez oil spill. And that’s about it. The word environment really conjures no images at all, and in this way functions as a euphemism—a word meant to mask a harsh reality. The word has kind of a neutral, blank wall quality about it, a wall with a non-stick surface, with no particular associations. By way of contrast, many an indigenous group has referred to our home planet as Mother Earth, our source of warmth and light as Father Sun, and our fellow Earthlings as All Our Relations. These words are value-laden, not neutral at all. They imply shared group values, and an attitude of gratitude and caring. As an “environmentalist,” I share those values and that attitude—but what is an environmentalist?
    I experience myself as someone with a lot of positive attitudes toward what I call Nature. I am in awe, respectful, appreciative, even in love with this whole elaborate production we call Life. The more I know about it the more I care about it, and also the more I identify with it. Nature is not something separate from me: It is me and I am it; it is a larger whole of which I am an integral part. We are in relationship; and there again, the more I come to know about Her complexities and intricacies and creativity, the deeper grows my appreciation, including an aesthetic appreciation, and in this way the relationship develops and takes on more meaning. Lover of Nature comes closer to describing this relationship than the rather clinical term “environmentalist,” but that doesn’t quite cover it, either.
    The problem resides in our language, which is a carrier and reflector of our culture, and ours is a culture of separation. We humans stand over here; the environment stands over there. We are two separate things in a dichotomous Universe that consists of Ourselves and the Other. Our sentence patterns are typically subject-verb-object. We are the subject and we act upon an object. Joe digs a hole in the earth. Shell drills oil in the arctic. We catch all the fish in the sea. We act upon this separate entity, and take dominion over it, and accumulate great riches from it. Under this meme, the living planet becomes an inert storehouse of “resources,” then morphs into “the environment.”
    “The environment,” though it consists of ecosystems of living creatures whose lives are on the table every time we make a move toward “resources,” does not call to mind this salient fact—and exploiters of resources like it that way. People might get upset about taking out large swaths of life and the ecosystems that support them. It is much better to keep things as vague as possible. The word environment fits the bill. And that’s why I don’t like it!

  179. Gary — Your meditation on the word environment leads me to think of the development of language generally. Language came into being as a system of symbols representing generally agreed upon aspects of reality. Like naming a plant or animal or common activity such as “run”, or a more general situation like ‘danger’. In a sense perhaps language signals were the first tool, giving animals the ability to share information, even at a distance from each other. Bird calls, warning growls, danger signals, gestures, postures. All of this was part and parcel of a growing consciousness, intelligence. Language also helped to create the ability to remember things not present to awareness.

    Putting all this into a cosmic perspective, it seems the Universe manifests a design (lets not get into whether there is a designer at this point) that inevitably produces consciousness of greater and greater sophistication and power. Along with this greater knowledge and power comes the ability to make life negative decisions of ever more profound consequence. Herein lies the danger inherent in eating of the fruit of that fabled tree. And that is what we are dealing with today. Too smart for our own good? Perhaps, but is there a way out? The ancient Indian proverb says, sometimes it takes a thorn to pluck out a thorn. Maybe we need to use our intelligence to avoid being destroyed by it. You could call it a meta-intelligence or a higher intelligence. Without the development and employment of this bright side of the force, the dark side of our knowledge/power will destroy us. The principle of holonic reciprocity would be one formulation of this higher intelligence. It would be a use of intelligence to use the power conferred by our intelligence intelligently by controlling and skillfully directing it. All valid spiritual paths throughout history have striven to provide this higher intelligence as a check on the less evolved and destructive aspects of intelligence. The point is that we should not think of intelligence as the enemy to be suppressed, but as a resource to be further developed in our service. The way forward is not by dumbing ourselves down to some almost preliterate tribalism, but to go forward into a true use of our intelligence and the powers it confers. Just saying…

  180. We can only hope that if beings on another planet far away can register our communications streaming out into space, that they will learn some valuable lessons in how not to occupy a life world. Then our failure could at least be of some value to others hopefully wiser than ourselves.

  181. In terms of understanding our culture, can anyone define insanely clever?

  182. Mike: Way back when, on the State of Species thread, Steve Salmony invited “mike k and friends” to join his email group called Circle of Friends. I took him up on the offer and found myself part of a group of 68 or so elite academics and other highly educated Establishment types who are all concerned about the human and planetary future, but all within the dominant paradigm. I followed their discussions and found them to be operating as a self-reinforcing, self-congratulatory closed-loop of insiders. Yesterday I threw a metaphorical bomb into their midst, talking on many of their cherished (indoctrinated) beliefs. Afterwards I sent an email to Steve, and part of his return response was the hope and wish that you would join his group and their discussion. I’d like that, too; it would be nice to have your perspective to add to the now rather bland mix. I know you must have a lot of irons in the fire, and I cannot guarantee that your voice of sanity would carry very far with these credentialed conventional thinkers. (So far, mine hasn’t.) But your presence would add weight and diversity and interest, and might stir up a little fun. So, mull it over, and, if the spirit moves you, jump in! Gary

  183. Gary — Please send me a link to Steve Salmony’s circle of friends site. Sounds interesting. Will say more tomorrow…sleepy now…..

  184. Mike: His email is sesalmony at Contact him and he will hook you up.

  185. Chris Hedges’ essay on collapse begins like this: “Clive Hamilton in his “Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change” describes a dark relief that comes from accepting that “catastrophic climate change is virtually certain.” This obliteration of “false hopes,” he says, requires an intellectual knowledge and an emotional knowledge. The first is attainable. The second, because it means that those we love, including our children, are almost certainly doomed to insecurity, misery and suffering within a few decades, if not a few years, is much harder to acquire.”

    I am going to recommend this essay to members of a group I will attend this Wednesday who are reading and discussing Carolyn Baker’s book Sacred Demise. Some of the group members are finding it very difficult to accept that really bad things are happening in our world, and that this is going to become exponentially worse in the near future. Will reading this change their minds? I doubt it, but I keep trying anyway — foolishly?

  186. An Alternative Historical Perspective
    Before the Agricultural Revolution, before the domestication of plants and animals and of human beings, the world was enchanted and inhabited by spirit beings, as well as by people. Anatomically modern humans began to appear Africa about 200,000 years ago. With the eruption of super-volcano Mt. Toba, some 75,000 years ago on the island of Sumatra, the number of our common ancestors was reduced to just a few thousand, due to six years of nuclear-winter conditions all over the planet. In this time period, something happened to the human brain to change anatomically modern humans into behaviorally modern humans. What that something was, and how it affected our evolution, is open to speculation. But in any case, following this population bottleneck, and in the context of harsh climatic conditions in Africa, a succession of migrations out of Africa followed over a period of twenty or so thousand years. It is from this dispersal of humans that the continents, and many islands, got peopled.
    We cannot know the precise conditions of the living systems into which our distant ancestors journeyed and settled, but I think it is fair to suppose that many ecosystems were behaving at near-optimum performance levels. Or, put another way, 3.8 billion years of evolutionary history had created complexity, diversity, and deep resilience against stochastic events, and though there had been such events, like the fallout from the super-volcano and intermittent rapid changes in climate, there was no one species (like us, for instance) that managed to throw ecosystems severely out of balance. When suitable human habitats were found, I imagine them to be in rather pristine condition, some even resembling the Garden of Eden.
    What I am trying to get at here is something ephemeral and subtle, and it has to do with the relationship between the human and the natural world—a relationship that requires that Nature be what it is, and not be transformed into something else, in order for this vital relationship to prosper.
    Before monotheism there was place-based spirituality. And just as the world of humans managed to develop more than five thousand distinct languages, there were probably, at one time or another, that many and more spiritual traditions or bodies of spiritual practice. I take it that every one of these was influenced by interactions between a particular group of people and their immediate physical surroundings. Our Western scientific worldview would deny these people the spirit world they (collectively, and pretty much unanimously) believed animated, or was somehow associated with, those same individuated physical surroundings—dells and glens, rivers and mountains, groves of trees and individual trees, rocks and caves and enchanted grottos. Many indigenous peoples are on record as stating that the plants, the animals, the rocks and trees, interact with them and let the people know how to live in their particular place. If the people pay attention to these voices, and cultivate the appropriate attitudes of humility and respect, and if they perform all of the prescribed rituals, and live by local and Universal Laws, then they get to go on living in that place.
    Spiritual practice in this context is at once an individual and a group affair. The group holds a body of moral strictures, rituals, and stories in common, and ceremony is undertaken as a group, informed by shared beliefs. The individual participates in the common mythos, but also has his own relationship to the world of spirit. This, I would say, is the archetype of the spiritual life of humans, and it endured through the millennia. For that reason, it became embedded in our collective unconscious. This is the kind of spiritual experience we are hard-wired to expect, and in which those before us likely found deep and full satisfaction. But since our particular culture came on the scene, and with it the rise of monotheism, this is not the spiritual experience that is open to us.
    It is not open to us for many reasons, not least of which is the systematic erasure of the particularities of place as the civilized peoples of the world displaced the indigenous aboriginals, overrunning their territory and transforming it into something else. When a cathedral-like dell in the woods is felled and bulldozed, it would seem that the spirits who once inhabited that place would be driven off. The culture of civilization tells us that no such spirits exist, or ever have existed. According to one major civilized tradition, there is only one spirit being, except that that one is actually three. Wherever this particular proselytizing religion has gone in the world to convert all to its One True Truth, it has been intolerant of the Natives’ beliefs in the many spirits of their place, and has taken violent measures to suppress both the beliefs and the believers.
    When science came to rule the world, its roots in physics, chemistry, and mathematics came with a prejudicial disposition against anything that couldn’t be weighed, measured, or computed. Science’s divorce from religion became final about the time of the Newtonian-Cartesian synthesis. From then on any mention of invisible realms or anything smacking of mysticism or spirituality became categorically taboo. Along with the taboo came an attitude of scorn and disdain that is routinely passed on from generation to generation of the scientifically inclined. This attitude, and the ideology that feeds it, pretty much precludes arriving at new knowledge about invisible Earthly realms through scientific inquiry, as all who try are labeled as quacks and not authentic scientists.
    In such a climate as this, mention of spirits residing in particular places is, at the very least, suspect. How do I know that spirits inhabit places, and that attentive humans can converse with those spirits? In truth, I don’t know that as pure provable fact. I have spent a lot of time in wild Nature, and I have had any number of good feelings arise from that contact—feelings of appreciation, joy, exhilaration, awe, and others less easy to name. I have also had two visionary experiences in Nature when I was nine: one that told me what I would do with my life; one that told me where I would live. Told me, I say, but not like a voice whispering in my ear. In the case of my life’s work it was more a feeling-sense and Gestalt than anything else. In the case of where I would live, it was a clear picture of a river, with no injunctions attached. Later I would see that river and recognize it; later still I would make it my home.
    What I do know for sure is that many an indigenous person has gone on record as declaring the place where he and his people live is inhabited by spirits that “speak” to individuals within the tribe, and convey all kinds of information useful to the individual, or to the group as a whole. Often the information received will pertain to how the people should relate to their chosen place. Black Elk Speaks and Lame Deer Seeker of Visions are only the most prominent of hundreds of narratives wherein people attached to place tell of their communion with spirit beings in their place.
    What the juggernaut of civilization has visited upon these peoples and their lands is complete or partial erasure. In the process, this destructive force has removed not only for them, but for all the rest of us, a vital human connection to Nature. Where in this world can a human now go that hasn’t been transformed from its original enchanted, spirit-animated physical perfection (as accrued over millennia of geomorphology and biological evolution) into something not itself? When you pave paradise and put up a parking lot, something gets lost in translation, not lost just in terms of beauty to ugliness, but lost in terms of human development and potential. The human being cannot be wholly herself without an ongoing connection to, and conversation with, the natural world. And in a world where there is not much Nature left, to be itself, AS itself, there are not many human beings who can be themselves, and all they could or should be.
    For several years now I have been trying to come to terms with what has been lost to the human condition as a result of our aberrant culture. I call this phenomenon the fall within the rise of civilization. There are so many powers once fully available to humans that have withered within us and atrophied, including acute sensitivities to our physical world (and also to the invisible dimensions) that are now all but denied to us. In a world made over by humans–for humans–our humanity diminishes, and so does the joy of life that once was our birthright. We have become as spiritual orphans, because spirit has been taken out of our world. Without spirit, and the means of renewing our connection to this world and to the Cosmos at large, we lose ourselves in a world robbed of its meaning. For this I blame civilization, whose goal and purpose seems be the destruction of all that is valuable and good in this world. If you doubt this, just look at our history, and where it has brought us. And consider also where it is taking us—right off the edge and into the void—and by us I mean the entire Community of Life, our Larger Self.

  187. Mike: I admire Chris Hedges above almost anyone writing today. He is a teller of truth, and not the usual Establishment hack who recycles our cultural memes. Chris Hedges has spent a good part of his life out of this country, including in a lot of war zones. He has seen the human costs of our empire, and he reports with accuracy and integrity what he sees. I wish there were more like him, as we need to be shaken out of our blundering trance and see the damage we are causing by our living off the spoils of the war we are making on the Earth.

  188. Gary — Thanks for your beautiful alternative history. When I lived in Hawaii in the sixties it was still possible to hike deep into the forest and stay there for a couple of weeks without encountering another human being. Why was I drawn to make these repeated sojourns into wilderness? I never tried to rationalize what was an urge from deep within me. I just felt that somehow deep in untouched by humans Nature was something I deeply needed to find, to experience. It would take about a week in the forest for my city jangled mind to slow down and come to rest. At that point I was just there without any agenda or expectation. I might make a few short exploratory hikes, but without any specific aim. Just aimless wandering, like an animal stirring around. Often I would find a spot that drew me, and I would sit there for an extended time, just being attuned to the Presence of the Forest. There would arise in my awareness a sense of the totality of all the lives and presences in the forest — even the stones and the waters! It was that Spirit that I had been unwittingly seeking to be my mentor, my guide, my ancient Parent. Then particular things, places, living beings would begin to whisper to me in a language older than words, and we were home, together with each other again…

    So when I dream my dreams of a better world I envision it having large tracts of wilderness, only open to individuals seeking this deeper communion with Nature as part of their initiation into true human being. Reading Bill Plotkin’s Soulcraft makes me realize now that my inchoate urge to go into wilderness was a hidden search for initiation, seeking a deeper vision of the world and my place in it, my true calling. I share your sadness Gary, that civilization is relentlessly destroying the refuges of the original Spirit of Nature. We are impoverished beyond our understanding by the soulless agents of the modern zeitgeist, who are intent on converting every precious living Spirit into a dead artifact of their insane ambition and greed.

  189. Gary — Just came from a session with my local backwoods dentist to replace a crown. He starts off asking if I am aware that we are now living in the world George Orwell described in 1984? He then launches into some thoughts he had relative to a TV show on black holes and the singularity that supposedly gave birth to our Universe. Soooo…you never know what you might find amonst your supposedly unaware fellow citizens until you turn over a few rocks to check. Who knows what may lurk amongst the retirees, rednecks, and dope heads out your way? You could be surprised.

  190. About a month ago I was present at a one day conference in honor of ecologist Paul Ehrlich, at which he gave a talk titled “The Population Bomb Revisited”. One of the most significant points he made, which was repeated by the lecturers which followed him, was that no more research in the natural sciences is needed to prove the seriousness of humanity’s predicament. The problems are well described and many areas for actions to improve our situation are also well known. However since many of these actions concern decisions taken by individuals (i.e. family size and consumption behavior), the crucial areas of research are in the social sciences, not the natural sciences. How do you alter behavior in the desired directions in a democratic society?
    You may be interested to hear that there is a well-known social scientist (research psychologist) who co-authored a book the main theme of which is the “progress trap” (by a different name), and this some nine years before Ronald Wright’s book. This same man also co-authored a book with Paul Ehrlich in 1990 which explains how the way our brains evolved to function makes it very difficult for us to notice slow-motion environmental disasters.
    The researcher: Robert Ornstein. The books:
    “The Axe-Maker’s Gift” (1995) with James Burke and
    “New World New Mind” (1990) with Paul Ehrlich
    Check out and if you want to see where Ornstein’s thinking has taken him.

  191. John W — Thanks for your input. The primary problem we face is that the vast majority of people are incapable of taking the first step towards true human sanity. That step is to begin to recognize that our society and ourselves are deeply deluded, sick, incapable of clear thought, morally bankrupt, and spiritually asleep. Awakening has as a necessary condition a beginning awareness of this reality. We are so far off that we are hardly worthy of being called human. Consequently the task ahead of one wishing to attain some degree of sanity is a big one that will require the right kind of help, and prolonged committed efforts on one’s part in the company of others similarly motivated. If all that sounds far fetched to you, then all I can say is that you are typically deluded and in denial and sound asleep to your real possibilities. That’s where most of us are, and that is the massive problem we must face if we are even to survive. A properly designed small group process is the ideal container for an awakening and re-education process, but those deeply asleep do not recognize their need for this, and will not seek it out. Ergo: we are screwed. Too sick to even realize we have a problem and hence unwilling to seek a cure. The definition of psychological denial.

  192. Gary — I am tentatively dipping into Steve Salmony’s group. But I really wonder if it accomplishes anything to talk with people who don’t seem to have a clue what Cris Hedges or me or you are talking about. I will stick around a bit longer, but I have one foot out the door.

  193. Truly one of the most well written environmental essays I have ever read; I don’t think I am alone when I say you expressed thoughts and ideas regarding the “environmental movement” that I have come to realize for quite some time now, while also giving a new and terrifyingly accurate summary of just how badly our side (and by “our” I mean all members of the biosphere who do not live solely for exploiting, pillaging, and raping their home and neighbors for virtual “wealth”).

    I have enjoyed reading the comments just as much as reading the essay itself, and I would like to add to the dialogue by addressing a certain amount of ignorance (or perhaps even arrogance) that is being displayed by several active members of this discussion. It has been truly astonishing to see the amount of disdain for and utter rejection of any institution or practice that smells like “science”. Surely the cause of this planet-wide destruction can be blamed on the institutions of science and their reduction of our living breathing biosphere to mere numbers and variables to be exploited in the name of progress; and SURELY it will not be this dreaded institution that solves the very problem that IT created (or at least this is what I am hearing). I can see how this would seem to be the case for individuals sitting in front of their computers made by slave labor, monotonously sharing blog posts about the boundless oppression and destruction that technology and science has created.

    However, I come to you extremely thoughtful and intelligent individuals with a request to please be a bit more thoughtful and intelligent regarding the reality of the state of this planet. First of all, if it were not for the great naturalists of our species, we would be aware of a mere leaf or two on the great phylogenic tree of life. Even indigenous knowledge (which is simply another, albeit more ancient, branch of science) has very obvious limits. E.O. Wilson remarked that traditional healers in the Amazon could tell him the name of any plant or bird in the forest (we’re talking thousands of species), but they failed to distinguish any differences in ant species; ants were not organisms they could exploit to make their life easier, and thus there was no need to study and classify them. Of course thanks to biologists we know of thousands fantastic and fascinating ant species that exhibit remarkably advanced behavior (such as the slave keeping ants who kidnap members of neighboring colonies and enslave them to perform menial work tending to their domesticated aphids). We now know of millions of mind-bogling species of organisms (and growing) because of the insatiable curiosity and careful, methodical methodology of scientists; and it is impossible to protect something that was never known to have existed in the first place.

    Still don’t believe that science (AND working with local peoples and economies) is not the solution to the imminent destruction of our planet’s hyper-diverse ecosystems? I bring personal experience to the table ( and I will try to keep this brief). I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Saudi Arabia’s National Wildlife Research Center a few years ago, and I was guided through the facilities by the former director. It is a headquarters for scientists from around the world to study any and all flora and fauna in the arid ecosystems of saudi arabia; and most importantly, they work on brand new and innovative ways to bring the iconic wildlife and plants that used to thrive in the country (until rapid expansion, hunting, and overgrazing) back from near extinction. It was this facility that worked closely with the Phoenix Zoo to breed (using advanced genetic practices) the last surviving members of the Arabian oryx. Only due to the highly technical and extremely quantitative fields of science were the Arabian oryx able to reproduce from a mere handful of surviving individuals to a world population now in the thousands. The center has done the same thing with three species of gazelle, ibex, the houbara bustard, red-necked ostrich, and most recently–the critically endangered Arabian leopard. I was also able to spend time with the rangers of Mahazat as Sayd–the massive protected area that used to be a giant expanse of barren, overgrazed land–but is now a thriving ecosystem and one of the only places on this planet where the Arabian oryx roam free. The conservationists had to (and still are) work with the local communities to assure that the protected area remains poacher free (and this means capitalism and development in order to assure a reduction in poverty–and thus a reduction in desperate individuals who would kill any endangered animal if it mean’t feeding their families). I can name countless other instances in which science is the only reason ecosystems either still exist or are being rewilded from barren lands.

  194. Also, please excuse any grammatical mistakes and overall lack of eloquence in writing. This is my first time commenting on the Orion website, and it is an honor to participate in a conversation with so many passionate and intelligent individuals. I look forward to participating in these fantastic dialogues, and perhaps I will even provide a unique perspective on the plight of our planet–having only been on this planet for 16 short years!


  195. Joe S — It would help clarify your comment about folks condemning science if you could cite an example or two. I don’t recall that, but I am not infallible in my memory. I have criticized some scientists but not all. All kinds of things are dressed up with the name science, not all of which merit that name or do it credit. I don’t think anyone would maintain there are no good and useful scientists.

  196. I certainly hope you are right Mike, but I do recall several comments dismissing a scientific or technological approach to solving these problems as simply “light green” fantasy. Had I the time to page through these comments again I would certainly give you a few examples (something to remember for next time). Perhaps I should reframe my initial comment and gear it towards the general consensus that seems to be within this community that science and “green development” have no place in this discussion (and more importantly the real solutions). The fact of the matter is that talking about the dire need for some catastrophic event to greatly reduce the human population to a number well within the Malthusian limit only inspires even more complacency. We can sit and talk about all of the ways in which people ought to live, but in truth it is impossible to make 7 billion people jump. Our species is a highly adaptable one–and I believe we are entering a period of celebrating once again our reciprocity with the natural world. Permaculture has a key role to play in this, sustainable development has a role to play in this, and new technologies have a role to play as well. That does not mean that ‘we’ have to use them, but unfortunately the vast majority of humans DO; and so we will have to work with the flow of technology and development, endeavoring to slightly change it’s course to one that acknowledges the relationship we share with our fellow species and the landscape. As much as I would like to completely change the direction of this society’s flow–a 180 degree turn– if I want to actually do MEANINGFUL work, I must use this technological, scienific age to my advantage, to the planet’s advantage.

  197. Joe S — Thanks for your clarification. I think you are right that several on this discussion thread including myself hold out little hope for a technological solution to the multitude of our escalating problems. Those in charge of the major industries employing science to enhance their financial positions, for instance, show little interest in scaling back fossil fuel consumption or the development of lower impact ways of living. Most scientists today have close links income-wise to the major corporations responsible for devastating the environment. The capitalist mindset abhors any thing that starts with ‘less’. More people means more consumers means more money for them is there basic equation.

  198. Mike: All that you say is true; however, it is this mindset that separates those who dedicate their lives to making a real difference (and succeeding by exploiting the current system while working to radically modify it) from those who choose to be complacent to fulfill some sort of self-righteous fantasy of a world that suddenly wakes up over night and throws out any and all ties to technology and capitalism. The coming decades will be one of intense economic and social reform towards a much greater level of sustainability, but ONLY if we collectively choose to end the corruption and greed driven institutions that currently have this planet in a strangle hold. I will not be reserved when I say that choosing the easy way out, your philosophy on the matter, is no better than offering yourself up to the sedated, consumeristic society that you claim to reject. I completely respect the romanticism of yours and others on this thread approach–I used to believe in it wholeheartedly as well. If you don’t mind me asking, where do you currently live? There may be a tie to this “there is nothing that can be done, so i wont bother trying to change it” approach that is based on geography.

    I am from the north woods on Minnesota, and I have had opportunities to see both the imminent destruction of the biosphere in my backyard as well as the rain forests of Indonesia, the deserts of Saudi Arabia, the great grasslands of Tanzania, and a plethora of other distant and exciting lands; but calling out even more resounding than the destruction are the individuals who dedicate everything to stopping and reversing the destruction. A small, motley handful of the most passionate men and women in the world are currently out on the front lines of the planets last wild lands, and they refuse to listen to these cries of futility. I have seen a healthy, lush rainforest that was completely regrown in over a decade from barren, stripped lands by mining corporations. This incredible feat is perhaps the first case of its kind, and it was only possible by ecological, holistic thinking in collaboration with technology, science, and (dare I say it) capitalism. Today the rainforest (called Samboja in East Kalimantan) is well on its way to being completely restored to its pre-pillaged state, and at the same time, the local communities have no reason to infringe upon the forest due to diligent and compassionate sustainable development in the area. For the sake of our beautiful planet, PLEASE don’t declare this work menial, because the way I see it–it’s the only redeeming thing a human being can be doing in this day and age.

  199. Mike k: Thank you for sharing your wisdom throughout this thread. And thanks for your response to my post back on page 15. With regard to your question and the thoughts it generated about the challenge of awakening the masses to an unpleasant reality they are being deceived into supporting, it seems to me the answer is to infiltrate their dreams, bearing a story that exposes the deception. This story starts with the recognition that, deep down, we all have the same needs: health, justice, security, meaning, happiness, belonging. From there, it shows how the prevailing story — the nightmarish progress trap of modernity — undermines all of these qualities for everyone and offers vacuous, superficial and increasingly unsustainable substitutes (as well as empty promises) in return. The more the scaffolding of illusion buckles and exposes the nightmare for what it is, the more openings there will be for new dreams to seep in, dreams capable of helping the dreamers see the appeal and possibility of slipping out, i.e. waking up.
    This appears to be happening for a growing number of people, and I think we’ll be surprised how, long before the planet is sucked dry, we’ll reach a tipping point that turns the tide. What will the turn look like? It’s hard to say, but I don’t think it will be a mass movement, but rather, little movements brought on by local, personal, familial, ecological/economic hardships that cause hungry people to turn off the TV and revisit their neglected gardens or go see if the neighbors have any eggs to trade for some apples off the old tree out back. This is what I imagine the awakening will look like: a long-overdue re-knitting of genuine community-in-place, which, we’ll be startled to discover, is exactly where authentic health, justice, security, meaning, happiness and belonging are waiting to be found. No doubt, breaking out of the big-box-store trap (and the media daze that supports it) will be hard, but maybe we can learn a lesson from geology here. When Mt. St. Helens blew, scientists feared the blast zone would remain a lifeless, ash-choked waste for centuries, if not longer. Frog-song and touches of green broke out in days. In the global blast zone that corporate fossil-fueled consumer culture has been making of the Community of Life (genuine human communities included), recovery could be just as rapid, surprising and wondrous, especially if more and more of us are striving to be conscious, active participants in the process. And it seems more and more of us are. So, maybe it’s not just a dream after all. Maybe, the turn is already under way.

  200. David M: If you’re still following this thread, thanks for your question way back on page 15 about my assertion that Neolithic technologies are inherently unsustainable. I have been kicking this idea around a long time, and try as I might to conclude otherwise, mounting evidence continually leads me to the conclusion that yes, in the long run, even having a vegetable garden, fruit orchard and a few egg laying chickens around is unsustainable. The reason is, when I look at the underlying human/other relationships these seemingly minimal activities represent, they exemplify the early stages of a cultural trajectory that leads straight toward . . . well, right where we find ourselves at present, deep in the throes of a global anthropogenic earth-crisis.
    In other words, gardening with a few chickens became farming, became what Daniel Quinn calls Totalitarian Agriculture, became global empire, where now, not even genes and atoms are safe from domestication efforts. And it all happened due to the psychological change that occurred in the early domesticators that allowed them (and their cultural descendants) to perceive once-kindred spirits as possessions and forcibly repurposed them to serve singularly human desires instead of their own (because the fact that these other beings even had their own desires was denied). This change in perception was no free lunch, but came at a heavy cost. Domestication shackled the practitioners to their fields and stockyards and cut them off from their deepest identities.
    Their former life-way, of following seasonal rounds through a broad territory, was broken and I’d argue that this caused something profoundly significant within them to break as well. They were reduced in direct proportion to the reduction in the size of the landscape they inhabited and the diversity of free wild lives with which they were vitally and thus intimately connected. Even a large farm with many crops and a full barnyard menagerie pales in scale and biotic richness with the size and richness of the forager’s territory. And the wildness is simply gone. That’s the whole point.
    Truly, the difference in underlying world view between the modest gardener and the modern urbanite is less than the difference in underlying world view between the gardener and the forager. That’s why today’s chroniclers of the human story make the break between the upper Paleolithic and the Neolithic where they do and include gardens, orchards and domestic chickens in the latter era rather than the former. These ‘technologies’ are but a stage in the whole revolutionary trend, a trend that — in an ecologically resilient, energy rich world — leads inexorably to iPhones and drones.
    But now, after millennia of degradation and our arrival at the brink of peak everything, it is a trend we must reverse. Gardens, orchards and fowl may, for a time, be a part of the reversal, but I suspect that somewhere along the way, back toward the sustainable, they will be left behind. Again, it may take thousands of years (though I suspect much less), but once we recover our cultural respect for the inherent kindred enspiritedness of the other lives with which we share the earth, as well as the sanctity of our own wildness, we will realize that the vegetables and chickens have to be freed. And with their freedom, we will again, after our long detour into the hubris of domination, gain ours.

  201. Hi Tim — Good to have you back. Your ideas are well thought out and inspiring. I know this has grown to be a pretty long thread, but if you have the patience to go back to page 22 comment #169 and follow it to the present end of the thread, you will get a sense of the different scenarios or thought experiments that Gary G and I put forth and discussed. I would love to get your take on that discussion. I agree with you that our dreams and intuitions can potentially make a solid contribution to our possible future. This does not mean that we should treat each other’s visions as sacrosanct or beyond criticism. On the contrary, let’s welcome critical scrutiny as a tool to refine our dreams…

  202. Joe S — Thanks for your remarks. “Mike: All that you say is true; however, it is this mindset that separates those who dedicate their lives to making a real difference (and succeeding by exploiting the current system while working to radically modify it) from those who choose to be complacent to fulfill some sort of self-righteous fantasy of a world that suddenly wakes up over night and throws out any and all ties to technology and capitalism.” Mmmmm…that makes me look pretty bad. The only charge I plead guilty to is that is that I do think we can do better than capitalism as presently practiced and understood. I am not really an enemy of technology properly employed, as you might learn from my discussion with Gary G starting at comment #169. Neither do I feel that any sort of worthwhile awakening in our society can happen ‘overnight’. I don’t feel particularly ‘self-righteous’ as you put it, and can’t understand how you have concluded that. Aside from being puzzled by your reactions, I hope we can share constructively in the future. After all, we both want a better world don’t we?

  203. Thanks Mike. Please be aware that my comments are not directed personally towards you or any other individual. I’m actually rather shocked that you’re rather shocked about my remarks. After reading through these comments, it is apparent that Orion is graced with an extremely insightful community of readers, but I have observed quite a bit of unquestioned agreement on a plethora of weighty issues. I believe it’s extremely important to point out these rifts in thinking, otherwise I would worry that such a progressive group of people would subtly succumb to dogma. I am not sure why you would denounce my input as not constructive, but please be aware that any comments I make that point out a difference in thinking is purely meant to be constructive to the dialogue–in this case I choose to offer a different, perhaps more applied way of thinking that points out successful practices and philosophies that many on this thread would denounce as technological optimism or light green thinking.

  204. Thanks for your response Joe. I agree that a good discussion needs a variety of viewpoints, and yours are certainly welcome from my point of view. We all have blindspots and erroneous ideas that can benefit from appropriate criticism. I am sure others welcome your presence here as I do. Beyond that it is broadening to become aware of the many ways people are approaching our modern predicaments.

  205. “We do not have to worry about rapid population decline now. It is locked in with overshoot. In fact with the onset of runaway climate change two years ago, near term extinction is the issue.” –Robin Datta. Maybe our attention and energy should be directed towards climate change rather than population numbers? Climate change may do our population reduction work for us — maybe way too well!

  206. Let me preface this comment by saying I am not an environmental activist. I rarely read Orion and am not a lifelong composter. I try to make “greener” choices in my daily life, but by no means would be considered as someone who sacrifices everything to the cause of environmentalism.

    I was sent this article by a Dutch friend who has dedicated her life to conservation and is feeling burnt out. She, like Kingsnorth, now doubts the utility of the “usual campaigning behavior” and disparages “new ideas or new technologies” as useless as ways to help ameliorate environmental collapse. She wholeheartedly agrees with Kingsnorth that any attempt to “magic us out of the progress trap with new ideas or new technologies” is a waste of time.

    After reading this article I am left with a sense that nothing I do will particularly mater to the natural world. Short of “withdrawing” like the author, is there anything he would recommend?

    Let me be honest, I greatly enjoy the technological modern world. I like being able to travel around the planet on airplanes, receive hundreds of channels of TV, and feel much more relaxed in large major cities than I do when I’m surrounded by “pristine” wilderness. The reason that I do not consume as much as I can, the motivation for my restraint, is because I believe that I have a moral obligation to help preserve nature. Thank you, Mr. Kingsnorth, for freeing me from my naïve beliefs that my personal choices can or do make a difference.

    “None of it is going to save the world—but then there is no saving the world”

    While Kingsnorth seems to find his “joy” from playing his scythe broken by the occasional pontification on his laptop, I like many in the modern world often find consumption pleasurable. I am a product of the society I grew up in. I find myself wondering if since I am not willing to “withdraw” like Mr. Kingsnorth, I should just forget all environmental concerns and embrace the technological world wholeheartedly.

    Perhaps a round the world trip on a large, polluting 747 would make me feel better.

  207. Christopher — You certainly have the right to play around while the world burns. And BTW a scythe is not something you play, it is a tool you work with.

  208. Sorry, Mike k
    I meant to write “playing with his scythe” not “playing his scythe.” Thanks for the correction.

  209. “the positive applications of nanotechnology will outweigh the
    negative ones, end of story.” That sounds like the basic credo of PR shills for a new industry. That you can so confidently say that means that your whole argument is based on a nonexistent foundation of blind faith in scientific innovation. End of story.

  210. Christopher — Thanks Chris. I thought you might have confused the tool with a zither. Of course you didn’t. Sorry for my wild imagination. (How do I come up with such stuff??)

  211. What does it mean to say money
    is speech?? Well I guess my job is money, my house, everything I own, the forest, water, space, ideas — when you get down to it my world and even myself are money. So what’s left? God? No, I forgot God is money too! Apparently I am living in a Universe where nothing is real or has any other value except money…

  212. Tim F, paleolithic folks went about wiping out species ferociously – mammoths, horses in the Americas, you name it. They set fire to large landscapes to clear out the brush and trees and bring back the grass to provide forage for deer that they then hunted. When they found wild blackberries they trained them into hedges to increase their availability. As they settled in they became good sustainable gardeners. For instance they learned to harvest wild onions in a sufficiently limited way so there would be enough seedlings for future harvests. They scattered the seedlings of what they ate around their villages and encampments which made for convenient local harvests. If my aunt is right wolves and humans initially developed a cooperative relationship of mutual advantage, with the wolves driving the game in range and the humans then spearing them etc. and both sharing the kill. This would lead to the dog as useful human help mate.

    I think the transition from paleolithic to neolithic was as natural as breathing. Man’s creative imagination was simply not going to be contained. Circumstances would dictate where it went. The very rich resources of the California coast did not seem to require formal agriculture as the natural abundance generated little interested in that direction. On the other hand the more meager resources as one moved inland gave rise to cultivating corn.

    As I have stated before I think cultures go bad when they step over a line, going from local sustainable cultures cooperating with their neighbors(Gary has discussed this) and the appropriate technology associated with that sort of culture to militaristic conquering cultures, with everything being turned into material acquisition rather than being appreciated for itself, a fellow creature and a sacred landscape.

    Since I’m not a genius and I can understand the distinction and along with it the need to lower our population considerably, I like to think it is within the power of others to do the same. I really don’t see any other way out.



  213. Oops! Post #223 belonged on the Pandora’s Box thread, not this one.

  214. Mike k: I just finished working my way forward from # 169. What a rich thread! Of all the possible jump-in points that presented themselves, the one that most sticks out for me is the apparent disagreement between you and Gary over whether the seed of positive change must start with the individual or the culture. What if the answer is both, in a mutually reinforcing way? A Jonathan F.P. Rose quote (form the book Moral Ground) comes to mind: “The root cause of the ecological issues we face arises from our definition of self.” It seems to me that best chance for positive change will come from learning a definition of self that includes both the individual and the culture (and a whole lot more, especially, the community of life) and then working to simultaneously change our various self-identities so that none of them are at odds.

  215. Technology as a Force in Human Life
    I worry about technology as a force in human life. I see how much harm it had done in the past; how it degrades our present; and how it might ruin our future. This is a minority view at present, as technology seems to be embraced by almost everyone as an unambiguous, unmitigated good. Let me begin by invoking the words of Marshall Mcluhan: “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us,” to indicate one of my concerns. I think it is a fair question to ask just how much we want to be shaped by our tools, and to further inquire as to whether we even have the volition to choose. I have seen very little evidence that the people of our culture have ever been able to say no to technology, no matter how horrendous in implication that technology might be. I am thinking of things like the building of the atomic bomb, genetically engineering life-forms, and pursuing nanotechnology. All of these seem extremely dangerous to me, and, once brought into the world, difficult if not impossible to control. But it is not just these extreme technologies that concern me. I worry about virtually all technologies as having the potential to draw human societies into territory that is not good for their long term prospects. Here let me introduce a stanza or so from a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
    “Things are of the snake,
    The horseman serves the horse,
    The neatherd serves the neat, [sheep]
    The merchant serves the purse,
    The eater serves his meat
    ‘Tis the day of the chattel,
    Web to weave and corn to grind,
    Things are in the saddle,
    And ride mankind.

    There are two laws discrete
    Not reconciled
    Law for mankind and law for thing;
    The last builds town and fleet
    But it runs wild
    And doth the man unking.
    ‘Tis fit the forest fall
    The steep be graded
    The mountain tunneled
    The land shaded
    The orchard planted
    The globe tilled
    The prairie planted
    The steamer built.” (from Ode Inscribed to William H. Channing)

    I wish Emerson had expounded further on these “two laws discrete” that he brings to our attention. Discrete and not reconciled, he says, as if this were a proposition he understood. Not knowing exactly what he means or intends, I will venture a speculation.
    The word unking suggests the loss of sovereignty, as do all the verses quoted here. Loss of sovereignty in these “days of chattel” (chattel being personal property that is moveable), is nicely captured in the line, “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.” This poem, written in the time of chattel slavery (1847), could not foresee atomic weapons, frankenfoods, and itsy-bitsy self replicating nanoparticles, nor quite envision how technology would come to insinuate itself into human institutions and our common experience, as well as embed itself in individual human lives. But Emerson grasped the principle that technology, and “things,” are “of the snake.” We shape our tools and then our tools shape us. Believing that tools would somehow improve their lives, our distant ancestors shaped spear points, arrowheads, knives, baskets, and bowls, and I would be hard put to say that those particular items did them more harm than good, as those items helped keep them alive. Now, in the global world of the twenty-first century, we as a people hold the faith and belief that technology has brought us better lives than those who have gone before, and that technology will continue to better our lives into the indefinite, but ever-improving, future. This is a faith; it is part of a belief system—but it is a faith that I question, and in fact doubt.
    I have publicly expressed these doubts in the context of speculating about future human survivors of the coming, and converging, catastrophes. I call these (conjectural) survivors the People of the Fresh Start, and I raise the question of just how much technology they can safely and morally allow into their lives. Both of these words, safely and morally, arise from lines of thinking I’ve explored in other places, but let me speak to them briefly here. I see the culture of civilization as being based upon theft, deception, and violent destruction. Civilization itself is founded upon empire, which is in turn based upon injustice—to other people, to other places, to other species. And I see all artifacts of this culture as carriers of the perceptions, values, and stories of this same imperial culture–and technology is certainly included among the artifacts of culture. A giant earth-moving machine assumes that gouging out the flesh of the Earth is permissible and desirable. There is nothing neutral about this, or any other, technology. Even something as simple as an ax has far reaching implications: changing interpersonal dynamic within a group as well as making the chopping down of trees an easy option.
    Technology as a Force in Human Life
    I worry about technology as a force in human life. I see how much harm it had done in the past; how it degrades our present; and how it might ruin our future. This is a minority view at present, as technology seems to be embraced by almost everyone as an unambiguous, unmitigated good. Let me begin by invoking the words of Marshall Mcluhan: “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us,” to indicate one of my concerns. I think it is a fair question to ask just how much we want to be shaped by our tools, and to further inquire as to whether we even have the volition to choose. I have seen very little evidence that the people of our culture have ever been able to say no to technology, no matter how horrendous in implication that technology might be. I am thinking of things like the building of the atomic bomb, genetically engineering life-forms, and pursuing nanotechnology. All of these seem extremely dangerous to me, and, once brought into the world, difficult if not impossible to control. But it is not just these extreme technologies that concern me. I worry about virtually all technologies as having the potential to draw human societies into territory that is not good for their long term prospects. Here let me introduce a stanza or so from a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
    “Things are of the snake,
    The horseman serves the horse,
    The neatherd serves the neat, [sheep]
    The merchant serves the purse,
    The eater serves his meat
    ‘Tis the day of the chattel,
    Web to weave and corn to grind,
    Things are in the saddle,
    And ride mankind.

    There are two laws discrete
    Not reconciled
    Law for mankind and law for thing;
    The last builds town and fleet
    But it runs wild
    And doth the man unking.
    ‘Tis fit the forest fall
    The steep be graded
    The mountain tunneled
    The land shaded
    The orchard planted
    The globe tilled
    The prairie planted
    The steamer built.” (from Ode Inscribed to William H. Channing)

    I wish Emerson had expounded further on these “two laws discrete” that he brings to our attention. Discrete and not reconciled, he says, as if this were a proposition he understood. Not knowing exactly what he means or intends, I will venture a speculation.
    The word unking suggests the loss of sovereignty, as do all the verses quoted here. Loss of sovereignty in these “days of chattel” (chattel being personal property that is moveable), is nicely captured in the line, “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.” This poem, written in the time of chattel slavery (1847), could not foresee atomic weapons, frankenfoods, and itsy-bitsy self replicating nanoparticles, nor quite envision how technology would come to insinuate itself into human institutions and our common experience, as well as embed itself in individual human lives. But Emerson grasped the principle that technology, and “things,” are “of the snake.” We shape our tools and then our tools shape us. Believing that tools would somehow improve their lives, our distant ancestors shaped spear points, arrowheads, knives, baskets, and bowls, and I would be hard put to say that those particular items did them more harm than good, as those items helped keep them alive. Now, in the global world of the twenty-first century, we as a people hold the faith and belief that technology has brought us better lives than those who have gone before, and that technology will continue to better our lives into the indefinite, but ever-improving, future. This is a faith; it is part of a belief system—but it is a faith that I question, and in fact doubt.
    I have publicly expressed these doubts in the context of speculating about future human survivors of the coming, and converging, catastrophes. I call these (conjectural) survivors the People of the Fresh Start, and I raise the question of just how much technology they can safely and morally allow into their lives. Both of these words, safely and morally, arise from lines of thinking I’ve explored in other places, but let me speak to them briefly here. I see the culture of civilization as being based upon theft, deception, and violent destruction. Civilization itself is founded upon empire, which is in turn based upon injustice—to other people, to other places, to other species. And I see all artifacts of this culture as carriers of the perceptions, values, and stories of this same imperial culture–and technology is certainly included among the artifacts of culture. A giant earth-moving machine assumes that gouging out the flesh of the Earth is permissible and desirable. There is nothing neutral about this, or any other, technology. Even something as simple as an ax has far reaching implications: changing interpersonal dynamic within a group as well as making the chopping down of trees an easy option.
    Technology as a Force in Human Life
    I worry about technology as a force in human life. I see how much harm it had done in the past; how it degrades our present; and how it might ruin our future. This is a minority view at present, as technology seems to be embraced by almost everyone as an unambiguous, unmitigated good. Let me begin by invoking the words of Marshall Mcluhan: “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us,” to indicate one of my concerns. I think it is a fair question to ask just how much we want to be shaped by our tools, and to further inquire as to whether we even have the volition to choose. I have seen very little evidence that the people of our culture have ever been able to say no to technology, no matter how horrendous in implication that technology might be. I am thinking of things like the building of the atomic bomb, genetically engineering life-forms, and pursuing nanotechnology. All of these seem extremely dangerous to me, and, once brought into the world, difficult if not impossible to control. But it is not just these extreme technologies that concern me. I worry about virtually all technologies as having the potential to draw human societies into territory that is not good for their long term prospects. Here let me introduce a stanza or so from a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
    “Things are of the snake,
    The horseman serves the horse,
    The neatherd serves the neat, [sheep]
    The merchant serves the purse,
    The eater serves his meat
    ‘Tis the day of the chattel,
    Web to weave and corn to grind,
    Things are in the saddle,
    And ride mankind.

    There are two laws discrete
    Not reconciled
    Law for mankind and law for thing;
    The last builds town and fleet
    But it runs wild
    And doth the man unking.
    ‘Tis fit the forest fall
    The steep be graded
    The mountain tunneled
    The land shaded
    The orchard planted
    The globe tilled
    The prairie planted
    The steamer built.” (from Ode Inscribed to William H. Channing)

    I wish Emerson had expounded further on these “two laws discrete” that he brings to our attention. Discrete and not reconciled, he says, as if this were a proposition he understood. Not knowing exactly what he means or intends, I will venture a speculation.
    The word unking suggests the loss of sovereignty, as do all the verses quoted here. Loss of sovereignty in these “days of chattel” (chattel being personal property that is moveable), is nicely captured in the line, “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.” This poem, written in the time of chattel slavery (1847), could not foresee atomic weapons, frankenfoods, and itsy-bitsy self replicating nanoparticles, nor quite envision how technology would come to insinuate itself into human institutions and our common experience, as well as embed itself in individual human lives. But Emerson grasped the principle that technology, and “things,” are “of the snake.” We shape our tools and then our tools shape us. Believing that tools would somehow improve their lives, our distant ancestors shaped spear points, arrowheads, knives, baskets, and bowls, and I would be hard put to say that those particular items did them more harm than good, as those items helped keep them alive. Now, in the global world of the twenty-first century, we as a people hold the faith and belief that technology has brought us better lives than those who have gone before, and that technology will continue to better our lives into the indefinite, but ever-improving, future. This is a faith; it is part of a belief system—but it is a faith that I question, and in fact doubt.
    I have publicly expressed these doubts in the context of speculating about future human survivors of the coming, and converging, catastrophes. I call these (conjectural) survivors the People of the Fresh Start, and I raise the question of just how much technology they can safely and morally allow into their lives. Both of these words, safely and morally, arise from lines of thinking I’ve explored in other places, but let me speak to them briefly here. I see the culture of civilization as being based upon theft, deception, and violent destruction. Civilization itself is founded upon empire, which is in turn based upon injustice—to other people, to other places, to other species. And I see all artifacts of this culture as carriers of the perceptions, values, and stories of this same imperial culture–and technology is certainly included among the artifacts of culture. A giant earth-moving machine assumes that gouging out the flesh of the Earth is permissible and desirable. There is nothing neutral about this, or any other, technology. Even something as simple as an ax has far reaching implications: changing interpersonal dynamic within a group as well as making the chopping down of trees an easy option.
    Technology as a Force in Human Life
    I worry about technology as a force in human life. I see how much harm it had done in the past; how it degrades our present; and how it might ruin our future. This is a minority view at present, as technology seems to be embraced by almost everyone as an unambiguous, unmitigated good. Let me begin by invoking the words of Marshall Mcluhan: “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us,” to indicate one of my concerns. I think it is a fair question to ask just how much we want to be shaped by our tools, and to further inquire as to whether we even have the volition to choose. I have seen very little evidence that the people of our culture have ever been able to say no to technology, no matter how horrendous in implication that technology might be. I am thinking of things like the building of the atomic bomb, genetically engineering life-forms, and pursuing nanotechnology. All of these seem extremely dangerous to me, and, once brought into the world, difficult if not impossible to control. But it is not just these extreme technologies that concern me. I worry about virtually all technologies as having the potential to draw human societies into territory that is not good for their long term prospects. Here let me introduce a stanza or so from a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
    “Things are of the snake,
    The horseman serves the horse,
    The neatherd serves the neat, [sheep]
    The merchant serves the purse,
    The eater serves his meat
    ‘Tis the day of the chattel,
    Web to weave and corn to grind,
    Things are in the saddle,
    And ride mankind.

    There are two laws discrete
    Not reconciled
    Law for mankind and law for thing;
    The last builds town and fleet
    But it runs wild
    And doth the man unking.
    ‘Tis fit the forest fall
    The steep be graded
    The mountain tunneled
    The land shaded
    The orchard planted
    The globe tilled
    The prairie planted
    The steamer built.” (from Ode Inscribed to William H. Channing)

    I wish Emerson had expounded further on these “two laws discrete” that he brings to our attention. Discrete and not reconciled, he says, as if this were a proposition he understood. Not knowing exactly what he means or intends, I will venture a speculation.
    The word unking suggests the loss of sovereignty, as do all the verses quoted here. Loss of sovereignty in these “days of chattel” (chattel being personal property that is moveable), is nicely captured in the line, “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.” This poem, written in the time of chattel slavery (1847), could not foresee atomic weapons, frankenfoods, and itsy-bitsy self replicating nanoparticles, nor quite envision how technology would come to insinuate itself into human institutions and our common experience, as well as embed itself in individual human lives. But Emerson grasped the principle that technology, and “things,” are “of the snake.” We shape our tools and then our tools shape us. Believing that tools would somehow improve their lives, our distant ancestors shaped spear points, arrowheads, knives, baskets, and bowls, and I would be hard put to say that those particular items did them more harm than good, as those items helped keep them alive. Now, in the global world of the twenty-first century, we as a people hold the faith and belief that technology has brought us better lives than those who have gone before, and that technology will continue to better our lives into the indefinite, but ever-improving, future. This is a faith; it is part of a belief system—but it is a faith that I question, and in fact doubt.
    I have publicly expressed these doubts in the context of speculating about future human survivors of the coming, and converging, catastrophes. I call these (conjectural) survivors the People of the Fresh Start, and I raise the question of just how much technology they can safely and morally allow into their lives. Both of these words, safely and morally, arise from lines of thinking I’ve explored in other places, but let me speak to them briefly here. I see the culture of civilization as being based upon theft, deception, and violent destruction. Civilization itself is founded upon empire, which is in turn based upon injustice—to other people, to other places, to other species. And I see all artifacts of this culture as carriers of the perceptions, values, and stories of this same imperial culture–and technology is certainly included among the artifacts of culture. A giant earth-moving machine assumes that gouging out the flesh of the Earth is permissible and desirable. There is nothing neutral about this, or any other, technology. Even something as simple as an ax has far reaching implications: changing interpersonal dynamic within a group as well as making the chopping down of trees an easy option.

  216. Sorry about this mess. My interneet connection failed, and this is the result. I cut a longer piece in half so as not to take up too much space–and now this!!!

  217. Sorry about this mess. My internet connection failed in the middle of posting, and this is the result. I cut a long piece in two so as not to take up toomuch space–and now this!!!

  218. The conditions I am assuming are post-energy-bubble, when the remaining survivors of cataclysm have to live within the daily solar budget. Not having resources to squander, and meaning to live in such a way that many generations of humans could follow them, my People of the Fresh Start need to have a clear understanding of their actual situation, and leftovers from a failed culture and civilization are not likely to serve their needs. People today, who are anchored in the present and are reluctant to envision a future without all the amenities of the present, ask me pointed questions. I’ll include a few exactly as I received them:
    “At what point would the People of the Fresh Start draw the line in adopting technologies? Is agriculture okay? How will they enforce these taboos? And by what means did they come to understand the rather advanced concept of Holonic Reciprocity? If they devised an ax would it inevitably lead them to do something bad with it? Do they need to have taboos against particularly helpful tools lest their inherent inability to use them only in constructive ways lead them into problems? My point is that you are perhaps brining in holonics to ensure their safety, but not really trusting it to protect them from the potential harms of new technologies.”
    By way of response to these good questions, let’s start with these two words: trust and technology.
    If you look at the history of our people, you see one long unvarying pattern: technological advances continue to be made, and our people (almost) never say no to them—if we can tunnel we tunnel, if we can till or plant or grade, we do it, and usually without much thought to what is being transformed, or understanding the long-term effects of those transformations. It is difficult to explain within the metaphysical framework we have inherited how technology could have a will of its own, but it nevertheless continues to be the case, as Marshall McLuhan has noted:”We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” Or, as Emerson suggests: “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.” So the word trust, or its opposite, is appropriate. How much technology can these People of the Fresh Start handle? And by what criteria do they come to their own decisions about this?
    The Law of Holonic Reciprocity is alluded to in one of the questions, and let me here state that the holonic worldview may not come all that intuitively to the people of the culture of civilization because we have been taught to believe that we and Nature are separate, that it is the Other, and (laughably) that it is subordinate to the human order. Within such a context the concept of holarchy and holonomy may seem advanced, but most indigenous tribal peoples, including our own wild ancestors, not only understood the concept but lived by it. The anthropological literature is replete with data supporting this view. But this does bring us to another one of the questions, and that is: By what means do they come to understand the holonic worldview?
    If we can go by what has worked for many thousands of years, a partial answer would be oral culture: the stories they tell themselves about their past; who they are, what they are here to do; and what is valuable. But where do the stories themselves come from? Judging from the past, and from those few cultures relatively uncontaminated by our own, a people’s body of cultural beliefs derived from present group experience, from past group experience (the ancestors), and from the land itself, including from the spirit world that inhabits (and perhaps animates) a group’s immediate life-giving environment. Animism and shamanism have been the spiritual traditions of tribal peoples everywhere–for tens of millennia–and I would say that makes animism and shamanism the archetypal human spiritual tradition, and one that is hard-wired into our human collective unconscious—no matter how we moderns may deny it, with our overlay of monotheism and science. Remove the overlay of the culture of civilization, and I believe our descendents could easily be back in touch with their own deep ancestors and with an animate Earth. Or, granting them not even that much, but just an intellectual capacity equal to our own, wouldn’t you think that after seeing our ways of living in the world crash so spectacularly– with cascades of ecosystem failure and the breakdown of civilization–these People of the Fresh Start might be able to come up with some stories and taboos of their own? If there is any hope for their success at all, it is a requirement that they be at least adaptive enough to question the assumptions, and lifeways, that have brought us to the brink of collapse—and soon (I’m sure) beyond. As for how these people will enforce their new cultural taboos—that would be the same way as always: group consensus, peer pressure, and punishment for offenders (from ostracism to fines to banishment). In small groups, these methods are time-tested and proven.
    At what level of technology do these People of the Fresh Start draw the line? By their time, they have to have figured out that technology is a slippery slope that leads humans to becoming tools of their tools. In addition to this cautionary insight, they are out of the resource and energy bubble that plagues the world and supports our delusions today. They have their daily solar budget and their daily ecosystem services (we hope) and they have no choice but to live on the interest of Nature’s economy, and not (like us) on its capital. They aren’t making rifles and loading ammunition, for instance, nor forging ploughshares. Not only have we mined everything there was to mine of all the non-renewable resources, we’ve mined all of the fish in the ocean and all of the forests of the world and other such resources that could have been “sustainable” had we lived off the interest instead of the principle. By living as we have (and continue to live) we leave our descendents very little to work with. Of course it is inter-generational injustice of a most pernicious and self-centered kind, but our narcissism doesn’t permit us to think much about others, and our economic system doesn’t allow us to think very far ahead—and of course our political system is owned by our economic system, so there is no help for the future there. If these People of the Fresh Start are living by the Law of Holonic Reciprocity, then they are considering the seventh generation, and beyond; and not only the seventh generation of humans, but of All Our Relations; and of not just the Community of Life, but of all that supports that Community, including the air and the water and the Gaian systems that make life possible.
    One big question remains. How do these people feed themselves? If the domestication of plants and animals-what has been alternately called the Neolithic revolution and the Neolithic catastrophe—was a branching in the human path that led ultimately to the failed experiment of civilization, how much agriculture, if any, can these People of the Fresh Start allow into their lives? I think the answer has to be, not much—and for two reasons. The only agriculture that was really ever “sustainable” was practiced on flat river bottoms that were supplied with fresh fertility from distant mountains. Right now, water backed up behind dams has drowned most of these once-rich areas. Practices like permaculture offer, perhaps, a transitional technology, but permaculture, like all forms of horticulture or agriculture, requires the importation of fertility to keep things going. Importation of fertility, without fossil fuels, means a huge expenditure of energy to transport it—and that is not the worst of it. With our present imperial mind-set, we think nothing of stealing “resources” from other places, other people, other species, but our descendents are going to have to think differently than that. Justice, sustainablilty, and the Law of Holonic Reciptocity require fairness to all, and to the All. That is the Law of the Universe, and though we have circumvented it for a time, and the Law of Cause and Effect has been temporarily deferred, the Law will not be denied. Because everything is interconnected and mutually interdependent, stealing from Peter to pay Paul has no long-term viability.
    Does that mean bows and arrows, obsidian knives and willow and hazel-wood baskets are going to be the preferred technology of the human future? Is hunting and gathering really the only viable way for humans to go on living on this finite and damaged planet? Well, I don’t know. We can speculate about the future, but it is not really ours to see. When you think in terms of trends and trajectories, it seems that the trend of agriculture leads, ultimately, to the parade of horribles now visited upon the world, including, of course, our massive population overshoot, resource overreach, and our poisoning of the biosphere. Agriculture is another one of those slippery slopes where our technique for feeding ourselves, by transforming Nature into something not Nature, has the effect of enslaving the human, and making us the tool of our tool.
    The anthropologist Marashall Sahlins, author of Stone Age Economics, has called the lifeway of the hunter-gatherer “the original affluent society,” because our ancient ancestors usually devoted only a couple or three hours a day “earning a living.” With the rest of their time our wild ancestors could do whatever pleased him or her, in a life that offered variety and great potentials for individual growth and development. This is the opposite of what he have been schooled to believe by our own self-promoting culture of civilization. In this way our culture is like our economic system, and like technology itself: it has its own agenda, and just uses us to serve its ends. Most of us haven’t figured this out yet. I am trusting that our People of the Fresh Start will.

  219. David M: I really appreciate your feedback. It seems to me your examples represent a few of the more significant moments of decision/transition on the blurry Paleolithic/Neolithic frontier (a frontier that swept over and domesticated my European ancestors several millennia ago, but only reached the place where I live about two centuries ago and still exists in a few isolated pockets around the globe even now). What I tried to point out in my earlier post is that the world views held by the people living on either side of that frontier are profoundly different and that for many cultures, if not all, the transition from one world view to the other does not come as naturally as breathing, but is wrenching and forced by circumstance (like cross-gun-plow-toting invaders). Most importantly, the cultural trajectory that follows the transition is inherently unsustainable, and so it seems to me the best place to start looking for sustainable beliefs/behaviors/technologies is on the Paleolithic side of the frontier, where the possibility of finding them exists. To start on the Neolithic side seems to preclude, or at least greatly impair, the chances of success. I’ve been reading M. Kat Anderson’s ‘Tending the Wild’ and wonder if the not-quite-agricultural balance presented here offers a model with broader application as part of a viable personal/cultural response to the present Earth crisis.
    One thing seems clear, a transition in world view once again looms on the horizon, and it will be wrenching and forced by circumstance (peak everything). The difference is, this time the cultural trajectory to follow will have to be inherently sustainable. There appears to be no more choice in the matter for us than there was for Paleolithic cultures when the Neolithic vanguards appeared on their soil again and again over the last ten thousand years bearing seeds, swords and shackles, and the stories that made the use of these Neolithic technologies not only acceptable, but desirable.
    Whatever the stories are that we need to tell ourselves to make the sustainable trajectory (and its associated technologies) not only acceptable, but desirable are the stories I’m after. And in my view, the story that frames our current predicament as the culminating result of ensnarement in a species-wide Paleolithic progress trap goes too far. It doesn’t hold up either. Every past and present example of a culture with an ecologically-responsive tradition-in-place spanning millennia shows us that healthy, sustainable human options do have a precedent. The question now is, can we find personal/cultural stories to live by in which they have a future?

  220. The Way Forward is Not the Way Back (entirely)
    As some of you know I don’t believe that the way forward for humankind is the way back to our hunter/gatherer predecessors. I am not dogmatic in my viewpoint, and have spent considerable time learning about the very real virtues of that way of life, as best we can understand it from the rather scanty evidence available at this great remove from those ancient days, and the few remaining tribes that anthropologists have managed to join and study. I am going to approach this question from a story that many will find fantastic and irrelevant.

    At one time I spent weeks at a time deep in the Hawaiian forest camping alone. After being there long enough to shed my city mind, and become attuned to the vibration of the forest, I would occasionally enter into communion and conversation with some of the residents there. One day a dragonfly perched on a slender reed in the stream I was sitting by and said to me (telepathically of course). “We of the forest are very disturbed by the changes you humans are causing in our world. We recognize that somehow you have risen to knowledge and power greater than any of us can understand. Will you be willing to carry our concern to your people, and ask them to be our friends and wise protectors, rather than destroying our world?” With tears in my eyes, I replied that I would try. If you doubt that such encounters actually occur, I refer you to Derrick Jensen’s book A Language Older Than Words, and especially to his recent volume Dreams.

    Now the relevance of this story to the question of our role in the economy of the Earth, and more largely the Universe, is that if we turn back from the challenge of our expanding knowledge, we will fail in our possible role as protectors and friends of all creation. We will be unable to protect all the diverse lives on Earth from various potential and in some ways inevitable disasters such as asteroid impacts, for instance. I understand that this sounds like a lot of hubris, given our sorry record to date, which as the Dragonfly sensed was bringing death and calamity to all beings. But what is the foundation of our failure that causes us to consider renouncing our advanced knowledge for fear it will destroy us all? It is not the knowledge we need to fear, but our improper use of it.

    The solution to the improper use of our knowledge is not to retreat from it, but to develop deeper, truer, more sustainable knowledge. We have neglected in our adolescent haste to develop the department of knowledge that concerns the proper use of knowledge and the powers that inevitably confers. That science of how to do science in a life positive way will include the elimination of a vast array of the things thought of to be necessary for modern life. No more machines that fly through the air. No more instruments of war. No more carcinogenic chemicals released into the environment…etc, etc. However, this need not necessarily entail returning to hunter/gatherer tribalism. The key to this new world is the transformation of people’s minds.

    One of the things people of higher spiritual consciousness could accomplish easily would be to severely limit their numbers. Reducing the human population to a couple of million would accomplish a huge number of goals on the way to a peaceful, cooperative world. The real key to a better world is in human minds that have evolved to be able to wield knowledge and power in life positive ways, not in some severe limitation of our possibilities.

    Now many who read the above will react that this profound change in human propensities, patterns of thought, and behavior cannot and will not ever be possible. How do you know? There already exist on Earth people who think, feel, and behave as I have indicated. That we have not yet developed the means to multiply their number until they entrain those yet to be born to their patterns of reason and love, is no reason to deny its possibility. Is it any more far fetched than the return to peaceful hunter/gatherer tribes that some envision? Those scenarios also envision some form of enhanced understanding among the tribe members to ensure that the same sad tale of civilization not recur…

    After all, are we to conclude that the development of intelligence in the Universe is a profound Cosmic Mistake, to be renounced as quickly as possible?

  221. If there is somewhere I can project hope, it is not here with this failed human species, but perhaps on some other planet, where the intelligent Beings have not succumbed to the Dark Side of the Force of Intelligence and Power.

  222. Oh, and another reason for hope: we don’t know anything with absolute certainty. Ignorance, the last refuge of the clueless…

  223. Mike k: Your ‘The Way Forward is Not a Way Back’ post really resonates for me. I interpret what your saying as a call to divert the present application of our particular human gifts from their current self-centered materialistic channel (that’s headed straight toward a cliff) onto a different channel, a long, meandering, braided channel others have already scouted and found rich and rewarding in less material and more spiritual ways. I agree we can’t go back to hunting/gathering as it was before, but suggest that as we carefully trace the interconnections and the ethical/moral/sustainability implications inherent in every form of technology in use at present the list you offered — planes, war machines, carcinogenic chemicals — will grow to include almost everything we take for granted, even the most seemingly benign, until low and behold, we’re left with a tool kit very much like the one used for 99.5 percent of human time by the vast majority of our ancestors. This isn’t going back, but forward, especially when we consider all that we will learn in the process of elimination. Really, it will be a trade-off of thoughtless material excess for the very inner maturity you’re calling for — The diverting of the stream. I’m reminded of an Australian Aboriginal saying, “The more you know, the less you need.” At present we stand on the cusp of a grand opportunity and necessity to expand our knowing in this way. And we do not face it without guides, for others have already gone where we must go. For me, a key ingredient will be accepting this realization with humility: we are not at the forefront of human development, but, now that we’re global, we’re the last culture to have held off stepping into maturity. And I don’t think maturity need be high tech at all. In fact, I doubt their compatibility. In spreading this doubt, using our gift of culture with its capacity for the rapid dissemination of new knowledge is our chance. Especially if it comes wrapped in the gains it will bring instead of the sacrifices and losses it entails.

  224. Where Did We Go Wrong?

    The search for our human origins and the social arrangements of our remote ancestors easily morphs into a quest to diagnose what may have gone wrong that has landed us in our present severe predicaments. It’s a little bit Freudian in its trajectory. If we could just go back and cognize our origins maybe we can fix what we did wrong and have better outcomes. But for those who entertain these fantasies it’s more like Stan Grof and his rebirthing ideas — lets go back and start over! The scheme becomes to smuggle our evolved knowledge back into a neotribal matrix and use it to guide things in a wiser way, selectively forgetting or suppressing knowledge that might be harmful to our project.

    What has happened in our development here on Earth is not a mistake, in the sense that we might have done otherwise except for a few false roads chosen. Our present situation has arisen in a lawful, and in some sense inevitable way, from the conditions that existed at the time of the big bang, or as I prefer to call it The Great Flowering. Part of what was present in that Cosmic Seed was the eventual unfolding of Intelligence in the Universe. What we are experiencing on Earth is one subset of that general vector or inherent tendency of the growing evolving Universe.

    If we look at our situation from this longer and wider and deeper perspective, we realize that we are experiencing what are the universally existing birth pains and thresholds of initiation inevitable to evolving higher intelligence anywhere in the Universe. Our ‘mistakes’ are the inevitable learning challenges of all evolving intelligences. So the supposed mistakes are actually the learning challenges in the university of cosmic development that are the needed spurs to goad us to a higher level of intelligent functioning. Or else. Failure in this University is fatal, leaving it to other races on other worlds to accomplish the universal task of higher learning. To paraphrase Einstein, our problems cannot be solved at the same level of understanding within which they arose. We are challenged to reach for a higher level, not to fall back to a previous level of our development, that was far less satisfactory than some imaginations would like to picture it. Remember the Angel with a flaming sword who prevented Adam and Eve from going back into Eden? After the wise old serpent bit them with the lure of greater intelligence, their animal-like days of peaceful fruit munching were forever behind them….Onward to the Adventure of Consciousness!

  225. Tim F, as I indicated I don’t think the demarcation line between paleolithic and neolithic is that clear, therefore I can’t make any particular comment on which side of the line it is better to be on.

    I do remember a researcher writing in ‘Scientific American’ estimating that there were about 20 species of Hominids at one time another. We’re the last one standing and there is not one area occupied by our paleo ancestors which didn’t turn into a species killing field. I think the only reason it wasn’t worse is that the residents over a long period of occupancy learned to live sustainably with their surroundings. This includes neolithic cultures like for instance the Hopi and the other Pueblo Indians of the American Southwest who were primarily corn based cultures. Just a note, they didn’t use plowing. As I understand it they were more peaceful than their recently arrived more paleolithic Athabascan neighbors like the Navajo and Apache. Hunting clearly transitions easily into warrior behavior. The Mongols who were sort of paleolith-herders and certainly operated at a simpler level than their urbanized neighbors ended up becoming the greatest conquerors the world has ever seen. Unavoidably we need an approach and ethic that supports local sustainability, whatever the technological mix that goes along with that.

    “Whatever the stories are that we need to tell ourselves to make the sustainable trajectory (and its associated technologies) not only acceptable, but desirable are the stories I’m after.” Me too.


  226. Gary G,

    “Let me begin by invoking the words of Marshall Mcluhan: “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us,””

    In slow-mo isn’t that pretty much true throughout the animal and plant kingdom? The spider web evolves the spider, the dam evolves the beaver, the nest evolves the bird etc. etc. I imagine humans discovering fire as a useful tool, so to speak, was enormously transforming. I remember Macluhan naming the invention of the saddle as critical in the transformation of man into the warrior-conqueror.


  227. Promise to a Dragonfly
    Mike: I very much like your story that took place in the wilds of Hawaii, and also in the liberated wilds of your own mind, once you had shed the filters of civilization. I am touched by your promise to the dragonfly, and I don’t think you should give up on that promise quite yet—at least not based on probable, but nevertheless speculative, futures. I have been following the prognostications of Guy McPherson, and I have a lot of respect for him, the quality of his information, and the quality of his thought. But what all futurists seem to ignore is the deck of wild cards that Nature has to play, and almost inevitably must play, because of how far we arrogant humanists have pushed Her to converging tipping points. I agree that climate change trumps any possibility of human-directed population control, and that ecosystem failures are going to do more work in that direction than we could possibly manage on our own, given our socio-economic and political context. The thing is, we who see all these problems coming want to be able to do something about them, and we all work with the tools we have. Our culture tells us that all problems can be solved, and as males in our society it is up to us to solve them. But maybe all problems cannot be solved, least of all by lone individuals like us. And if that is true, then aren’t we all just spinning our wheels trying to do the impossible? I’m not saying we should quit trying. I’m not saying that at all. But I think it is reasonable to recognize that, try as we might, whatever is going to happen is going to happen—and it is simply out of our hands. I believe Paul has made this point and I have to agree with him.
    I followed the link provided to Carolyn Baker’s recent blog post about non-attachment, and here is where I cannot quite agree with either her or Paul (who provided inspiration for this post). I think I get the distinction between detachment (implying something near indifference) and non-attachment, which is something more like acceptance of what is, but maybe not quite that. I think if I were living in a city, I would find this non-attachment a more attractive option than I do now. When I lived in a city before, I found it necessary to anesthetize myself with alcohol and pot in order to cope with the wrongness of my environment. Cities are an abomination upon the land, as well as being unsustainable mini-empires that must steal from others to maintain themselves. And cities are just ugly as hell. To live in such a place without self-medication would require for me something like non-attachment just to get by. But instead I am fortunate to live in a place where primordial Nature has not been turned into a total sacrifice area, and primordial Nature is there for me to commune with and learn from and take solace in. Here, the Community of Life continues to semi-thrive, and I am daily exposed to the delight of seeing particular manifestations of All My Relations being themselves, behaving according to their natures and in their natural contexts. To see the squirrel or the otter or the elk, each going about its own business, makes me smile and feel good inside. I find I am passionately in love with the Earth and all Earth’s creatures, and like any lover I am jealously watchful that someone might take this away from me. I take it personally in this way, and yet, at the same time, I meld into my larger identity as Gaia, as all of Life, and I feel strong partisan feelings that Life is good, and whatever is anti-life is bad. This is very far from non-attachment. I am ready to do battle on behalf of the Life Force, and can get really riled up about all the careless and wanton atrocities my people are visiting upon this living world. It feels right to me to indulge in all of these feelings, and not to deny a single one of them. I am a human being, and these are all human feelings that I feel. And so I don’t see the desirability of short-circuiting the full complement of human feeling with some kind of emotional anodyne—not for me personally, though I certainly wouldn’t think to deny all available comforts to others who suffer the loss of a beautiful world.

  228. Thanks Gary — One of the many things we have in common is a love for this often sad and misguided world of ours. And this leads us to hope against hope that in spite of the overwhelming odds that we have doomed ourselves, there is still somehow a chance that the beauty, and love, and truth that humans have also known will somehow find a way to persevere through the coming calamities, even if that may require intervention of powers beyond our own to save us from our bad decisions.

    At this point in our fatal trajectory, I don’t believe that rational persuasion can engender the deep turning and awakening we desperately need. Only a new, powerful spiritual movement that goes beyond the shortcomings and general failure of current religions, can engender the deep inner turning within large numbers of people that would help us survive the worst, and plant the seeds for a new way of being in the world together that truly honors all life as precious and deserving our help. Whether that ever comes to pass, I know that all of us who share this or some similar hopeful vision will never stop doing what we can to honor the Truths that we know in our hearts.

    If the present crisis that forebodes our total extinction is not a sufficient basis for a fresh Spiritual Initiative, what would be?

  229. We need to talk to each other. In these times more than ever. Freud initially called his treatment the talking cure. People were very repressed in the Victorian Era. They needed to get in touch with their feelings, and share them with others. We are no different. By our avoidance and denial of our situation in the world today we will die isolated and afraid. Unless we dare to name our demons to ourselves and to each other, they will destroy us.

  230. What if the answer is as simple as the several solutions that Mr. Kingsworth has offered at the end of his article? What if the solution is living, rather than thinking? Doesn’t the trap rest in constantly seeking happiness, some kind of answer, or best a solution from without, from a cure or a revelation? What can be changed if we stand or sit and experience the tree, the river, the star, the owl, rather than name it, explain it, or box it? Add as much salt as our fingers say, rather than what is written in the recipe? Can the story be re dreamt, rather than re thought? Can our awareness and joy, and creativity inspire others? Can we allow it to be simple? Can we accept that the revolution is exactly that, a revolution, returning to the same point and then making another revolution thus potentially suggesting that evolution rather than revolution is more life giving? The thought of an answer seems static, the thought of living seems infinite, since that is what the world will continue doing if we destroy our ability to live with it.

  231. Thanks for your thoughts Ben W. Of Paul’s five ideas the fifth “building refuges” appealed to me. This is the only one of the five that might survive the collapse that is coming. The others are nice ways to spend one’s time, but ineffectual in light of the coming devastation.

  232. Mike and Ben: I think, though, Mike, that even in these times, there has to be more to life than building refuges…


    When despair for the world grows in me
    and I wake in the night at the least sound
    in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
    I go and lie down where the wood drake
    rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
    I come into the peace of wild things
    who do not tax their lives with forethought
    of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
    And I feel above me the day-blind stars
    waiting with their light. For a time
    I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
    — Wendell Berry

  233. Thanks Jen. Beautiful poem. Wendell is a genius. We all need to find a realm within of inner peace and refreshment. Going there is a form of taking refuge. Being in Nature is a perfect setting for such reveries. But as Hesse teaches in the Glass Bead Game, don’t stay too long in your bamboo grove casting the yarrow stalks. The world outside beckons you, calling for help. Take some of your inner peace into the market place where it is desperately needed. As Sufis say, you can be in the world but not of it. The rhythm of withdrawal and immersion will temper your soul, and bless the world… But you know about all that.

  234. Mistake or Inevitability?
    “What has happened in our development here on Earth is not a mistake, in the sense that we might have done otherwise, except for a dew false roads chosen”—Mike K

    Of all the questions to ask about life and the world, the one that has always interested me most is the question: How did things get to be this way? This is a large, general question that includes the Universe (cosmology), the geological history of Earth and its biosphere, biological and ecological evolution, human history and prehistory, to include even the psychology of the human being, and a million other things besides. Within this highly inclusive context, I am forced to confront the question: What is behind this big mess that humans have made and continue to make of an otherwise viable living planet? One answer is that we are a fatally flawed species, an evolutionary mistake. We could just be too smart for our own good, or too curious, or too selfish and greedy, or too prideful (I’d vote for that one), or too lots of things—but a failed evolutionary experiment in any case. Another possibility is that the emergent innovation of a cultural animal, instead of one governed almost entirely by instinct, was an evolutionary error (perhaps soon to be self-correcting).Maybe after we’re gone the Life Force will stick with instinct as the only reliable option for an ongoing project of Life. After much reading and mulling, I have come to see culture as the culprit, all right, but not all cultures, or culture in general, but one particular culture: ours.
    I will share with you my line of reasoning, and the information which most influenced my thinking, but only in the spirit of dispassionate inquiry which seeks an ever deeper truth—not as if I am the owner of the One True Truth. I hope that you, who see things differently than I do on this particular issue, will do the same. I have drawn some provisional conclusions, but feel that I am open to other perspectives if they come with a strong rationale.
    When I look at the world filled with ever more humans, ever less wild Nature, and fewer and fewer fellow species, it is difficult not the draw the conclusion that something has gone horribly wrong. I call it a ten thousand year mistake. Some would push it back further, to the use of language, or the use of fire, but I have reasons not to go that far back, but only to the first domestication of plants and animals, and what has alternately been called the Neolithic Revolution and the Neolithic Catastrophe—that is, agriculture. Agriculture brought with it a whole cascade of falling dominoes. Before agriculture, the population of hunter-gatherer groups was held in check by the availability of the wild food supply—just as with every other animal on Earth. There were boom times and bust times, and all populations adjusted accordingly, including the human population. With the new human dependence upon keeping tame animals to eat, and with the tilling and planting of the soil, our distant ancestors found a way to cheat the old system and produce more people. They did this by mining the accrued resilience of four billion years of bio-geological evolution of planet Earth, including the mining of soil, forests, and the varied habitats of other beings, and turning them all exclusively to human use. This human innovation radically changed our relationship to Nature and the natural world, and it broke the longstanding human-Nature bond enjoyed by all of our kind before. This was a turning point in human life and in the life of the planet.
    Settled agriculture brought with it a new concept in human and earthly life: private property—the idea that a lone human being or family could actually lay claim to some part of the Earth as their very own, to the exclusion of all others. Before this, tribal groups laid claim to the rights of usufruct in a particular territory, and, because their lives depended upon this their resource base, they would defend that territory against encroachment from outsiders. But the idea of “owning” some part of Mother Earth was foreign to their understanding of the relationship between the human and the Earth. So, private property was another huge break with the past, and one with far-reaching consequences.
    With the “ownership” of private property came a class system that had never existed before. Nomadic or semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer groups were invariably cooperative and egalitarian in social structure. Sharing, and sharing equitably, was the only way these groups could function on an ongoing basis and hold together as a group. With the onset of private property, and the consequent stratification of society, began what would develop into a rigid class system. With this stratification there developed ever more injustice and lack of fairness among members of a community. Instead of the cooperation that manifested among foragers, and the equity that defined their social relations, competition became the new watchword, and special privilege and power accrued to the holders of private property. Over time, small injustices developed into glaring ones, and glaring injustices developed into intolerable ones, as we see in our world today.
    With private property, and the storage of grain and other foodstuffs, came the need for security forces to guard stored bounty from plunder. It was only a matter of time before armed guards began to morph into a warrior class. As populations burgeoned and the old territorial limits were felt to be inadequate, the owning class engaged the warrior class to conquer new ground. As these agricultural populations continued to expand, the scale of everything changed—from village to town to city-state to nation-state–and transformed the innocent-seeming farming community into a new world order. Standing armies became commonplace and wars ever more the norm—and thus began the Age of Empire. The history of war over the last few thousand years was only made possible by agriculture—and the culture that agriculture spawned: the culture of civilization.
    The institutions of civilization have given us the world we have today. As I see it, these institutions, and the culture that informs and directs us all, are rotten to the core and corrupt through and through. Thus the human being can have no desirable future on this planet as long as we, or they, cling to this Earth-devouring culture. I hope that any possible survivors of collapse will not attempt to revive our failed civilization, as that would only lead to the same failed results as brought down this beautiful world.
    So, that is my take on things. Now I want to hear yours. I truly would like to understand how this really was all inevitable and somehow meant to be, or if not meant to be, at least somehow redeemable, and especially how it can be redeemed with the culture we now have. Please give this your best shot. I’d love to be able to see all this as the normal birth pangs of an evolving Universe.

  235. What Will a Real Spiritual Path Be Like? (1)

    It won’t pretend to be easy. It won’t make pretty promises that are too good to be true. It will warn you of the seriousness your decision to open your mind and your life to a transformative process that will inevitably involve testing that will try your soul. It will ask you why you would consider such a step, and what you expect to gain thereby? If your interest is merely casual, it will bid you to go elsewhere. It will ask you if you are ready to put the truth before any other consideration regardless of the difficulties that will face you. You see, the end is in the beginning. If you enter wrongly you will accomplish nothing, and perhaps even be harmed. So the initial warnings and examinations are really a kindness meant to protect you from a foolish choice that would serve no one in the end. A real path cannot afford to accept those who lack the most fundamental qualifications for self study. You don’t have to be a saint or a genius to enter, but you must not be a fool. And there are many foolish persons abroad, but not everyone is so. A real path is for those who can profit from it. Its like a University of the Spirit. In a regular University you must meet some qualifications to be admitted. This is no different. Is this elitist? Would you have two year olds admitted to high school? Once embarked upon any form of educative process, one will be continually challenged and tested by that path, and must pass these tests in order to proceed.

  236. I suspect that many who read this article had the same reaction I did; that Kingsworth has somehow gotten into their head.

    It’s been a long time since I read an article which put into words exactly what has been in my mind but indescribable for a long time. Well done and well said.

    I would add to his list of five productive steps the urgency of taking kids outside to explore the natural world as often as possible. As he said, not necessarily because it will change anything, but because they deserve the choice we were given. They deserve that option of finding magic, adventure, and a healing connection with things not glowing or motorized. They deserve the opportunity to get some while they still can, as Ed Abbey would have said.

  237. ** Hi Gary — I appreciate your openness in your quest for truth. I try to be as open as I can too, in light of the vast dimensions of our expanding ignorance. Kind of the more you know the more you are aware of how much more you don’t know syndrome. I think you do a really good job of chronicling the key points where things started really getting messed up in a bad way for us humans. I just place all that in an older cosmic perspective. If there was an original screw up (sin, missing the mark) it had to be including the potential, nay the necessity that the flowering of the cosmic seed (known to some as the big bang) would eventuate in the genesis of what we call life, and in due course that life would become more conscious, intelligent, and hence powerful.

    And thus our biggest problem manifested: our slowly developing higher intelligence did not keep up with our rapidly increasing power over the environment and each other. This may be a common problem on other worlds that spawn intelligent life. Its hard to know without some first hand evidence. In any case, it is my feeling that our basic problem now is to come up with ways to cultivate our higher mental/spiritual functions sufficiently to repair the damage that our deficiency thereof has wreaked. Only if we do so can we proceed on this planet on a firm inner basis that will prevent our less evolved thinking/desires/stupidity from ruling our individual and collective lives. We made, and continue to make the grievous mistakes that are destroying our world because our low level of inner development would not allow us to do otherwise. We did the deeds that our low level of real intelligence dictated. The job of becoming truly and spiritually intelligent still lies ahead of us if we are to survive. Otherwise our low level of neural development will spoil any external schemes we may devise to survive. As the old Greek dramatists understood, the seeds of our destiny are in ourselves. Or Pogo: we have met the enemy, and it is us… And BTW I don’t think that cosmic seed that blossomed in the great efleuration was just a meaningless accident. Something wise beyond our knowing had a hand in that. So how come everything is so slow and problematic here? That gets us into theodicy and would need a lot more ink from my pen. But to approach that problem one needs to do a lot of rethinking about what Theos might actually be like… Hint: its not an old guy with a very long beard. Also begin thinking what maya might be doing in this scheme of creation.

  238. Gary — I think you are really going to enjoy Wilber’s SES when you get to it. Especially the stuff on systems theory, holonics, Capra’s Web of Life etc.

  239. Gary — So to summarize: our problem is not too much intelligence, but not enough of the right kind. ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing….’

  240. I put just one sentence here for you to have a future beyond 2050.
    I have posted many comments stating this on UCSUSA’s The Equation concerning A. Meyer’s report on Obama’s legacy during week of Jan. 20-5,2012, and over several years on NRDC’s Switchboard, Yale’s E360, NYTimes Green blog.
    Dr. J. Singmaster, III, Environmental Chemist, UCDavis, 75, Ret.

  241. The Way Forward is the Way Back

    Those familiar with Ken Wilber’s major opus Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality know of his evolutionary principle of transcend and include. Briefly this means that as we move ahead to new evolutionary levels, we include and bring forward aspects of the prior levels that will be valuable going forward, and discard those aspects that were either already problematic at their own level, or will not fit well with the new level. Of course this often does not go as it ideally should. Things that were dysfunctional are brought forward, and some things that were really worthwhile are foolishly forgotten and discarded.

    Take religion for example. The faiths of our past have some valuable lessons for us today. On the other hand, these ancient belief systems have a lot of baggage that is useless and just plain wrong for today’s needs. In designing a spirituality for the modern world, this kind of house cleaning and updating will be necessary, not to speak of including the understandings of the Universe and ourselves that were not available to our ancestors, and need to be included now in an up to date version of the spiritual quest.

    So we need not and cannot go back to living the hunter gatherer lifestyle in toto, but there are many precious lessons to be learned from those cultures that need to be brought forward to make a better world today. A sustainable future will need to include return to simpler ways of meeting our needs, and social arrangements that emphasize the role of small communities. A reverence for all aspects of nature needs to be recovered and cherished. More reliance on human strength and energy, and a more natural relationship to food should become a new/old way of living. Our ancient ancestors have many lessons to teach us if we will heed them.

  242. What Will A Real Spiritual Path Be Like? (2)

    That Path will be psychotherapeutic. This does not mean that it will adhere to one of the various schools of therapy we are familiar with, but it will borrow as needed from any of them. The initial goal of spiritual therapy is to help one become aware of the profound dysfunctions in one’s own psyche, and those of the larger society. As a result of becoming fully aware of these severe defects, one can then become motivated to do the work necessary to address and heal them. So initially one is immersed in the study of personal and global psychopathology. Books, personal meditation/reflection, and sharing in a small group that includes others on this healing quest are means to drive home the truly desperate nature of our situation. How we label this stage of our process does not matter, but fully experiencing emotionally as well a cognitively the reality of our toxic nightmare is. The evasive actions of our ego to deny, rationalize, minimize, misunderstand this reality are material to become aware of and penetrate. The whole spiritual path is about facing the truth, and transforming our lives so that they manifest the highest possible truth. There is no cure for our lies and self deceptions without this period of honest self diagnosis. In some traditions this phase of our development has been called confession of sins — that is personal and cultural faults. Misunderstanding of the right use of this medicine has lead to ineffective and even harmful results. This is not about condemnation or ineradicable stains. The goal here is a better, happier life.

  243. No question for me; once humans developed language and could thereby blueprint many versions of the future the dye was cast. When locally self-sufficient blueprints of future can smoke out greed-expansionists blueprints of the future instead of the usual reverse then we will be home free.



  244. What Will A Real Spiritual Path Be Like? (3)

    Real spirituality is not authoritative. Therefore one is encouraged to question everything, and gradually develop one’s own understanding of truth. There are no rigid beliefs, and tolerance for the ideas of others is the mood. This does not mean that criticism of ideas from whatever source is avoided, however tolerance and understanding replace contempt and feelings of righteousness and superiority. It is recognized that we are all at unique points in our learning process, and that today’s fundamentalist may become tomorrow’s liberal, and vice versa. We take people as they are and encourage them to freely express their positions, while continuing to grow. Themes and topics for study are generated from within the small groups. The idea of spiritual growth is an overall intention of the members, but no fixed definition of that is necessary. The general intention of the groups is to encourage the inner growth of members and the group in the unique ways that it may take place. There is no formal membership in a group, and no tendency to hold on to participants. Hence if one does not resonate with the group’s direction, one is more than free to leave.

  245. What’s the real spiritual path?
    There is no such path.Each person is on his or her own path. No guidelines are necessary. Every person has within themselves all that is needed. All one needs to do is stop the mind from running/ruining their lives. Then we might find our true identity. There are lots of spiritual teachers who offer pointers. One that I respect is Tolle.

  246. Hello Jerry S — Thanks for your comments. In my recent posts, I did not mean to imply that there is only one true Path. On the contrary, there are a plethora of authentic ways to court ultimate reality or Spirit or the nameless. My thought is that for those whose search/practice benefits from sharing with others, we need modern paths that avoid some of the shortcomings existing systems tend to manifest. This does not preclude that there have always been those who choose to seek authenticity alone, rather in company with others. Zen’s pathless path, and gateless gate are examples of indicating the paradoxical uniqueness of each persons journey, and the impossibility of codifying rules or putting into words the ineffable nature of what may be realized in one’s search. Krishnamurti taught the inauthenticity of all teaching. But for many of us having companions on the way, teachers, guidelines are useful aids. A common problem in studying the way in isolation from others is the development of a spiritual ego that looks down on others who need various helps to progress. Trungpa called this spiritual materialism. To use language to indicate the Spirit is beset with difficulties. I have tried to make clear in my posts above that my remarks are not intended to be in any way authoritative, but only suggestive. I agree with you that Eckhart Tolle is an excellent guide on the Great Way, whatever particular streams one may be following…

  247. The Path and What They Carry
    “The job of becoming truly and spiritually intelligent lies ahead of us if we are to survive.” Post#253
    Hi Mike—I take this statement to mean that we ain’t there yet, and I have to agree. In fact, you and I agree on many, many things—and where we differ offers an opportunity for dialog, and a deeper look into the human condition. One way to think about this spiritual intelligence is in terms of maturity and developmental stages. Using the familiar stages of human life I’d say we now occupy (all at the same time) infancy, when everything is all about me; the terrible twos, when everything is still all about me, but with attitude; and a human in their late teens when they are invincible and indestructible, and know everything there is to know. This is us, the American people, in all our charm.
    What I believe, and what you seem not to believe, is that other human beings before us reached higher degrees of maturity, intelligence, and spirituality than those of us who have fallen under the evil spell of civilization. I call it evil because it is, at its heart, anti-Life; its agenda is to devour the Earth and destroy all life, and all systems that support life. It is pretty far along in that project, has been extremely successful so far, and the prospect is for more of the same, only at ever accelerating rates. You and I don’t want to see Life and the world destroyed, as we watch it go down all around us, but we seem rather helpless in the face of our culture-stoked juggernaut that is hell-bent on annihilation, and implicates us all in the doing of the dirty deed—we who are under the spell.
    You and I are elders and oddballs—we have partly broken the spell and seen through the deceptions and illusions hidden behind the veils of civilization. Not being fully acculturated or successfully programmed in all the standard perceptions and beliefs, or, having decolonized ourselves and reversed some of that programming, we find ourselves able to access deeper areas of our human (animal) primordial conscious and unconscious self–our instinctual being. The filters and blinders and selective vision that are inevitably part of all successful cultural training, have slipped a bit and allowed us to experience the world in ways not enjoyed by those around us. To me, and I think to you also, this feels like a certain kind of maturity, like we have been on a developmental path that appears to be something like spiritual and intellectual growth. And it didn’t just happen on its own; we worked at it.
    Okay, so now I want to ask you to consider cultures other than ours—those that preceded the culture of civilization, and those that for a time existed independent of its influence, before they were eventually engulfed. I have made a study of such cultures for several decades now, and it seems to me that many individual humans coming out of such cultures have been highly developed personalities with spiritual and intellectual attainments of a high order. The way I see it, their culture set them free to develop their innate potentials and gifts in a way that our culture does not. Going back to some of the early indigenous peoples of this continent, we find outsized personalities all over the place. Think of Handsome Lake, Tecumseh, Black Hawk, Pontiac, Cochise, Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, Chief Joseph, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Chief Seattle—and so many more, both recognized and unrecognized by the people of our culture. These were remarkable human beings. Something in their culture (or perhaps the lack of something detrimental) allowed the human personality to flourish. If you have read Black Elk Speaks, or Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, then you know that these two remarkable men, though dealt terrible hands to have to play, nevertheless comported themselves not only with dignity and humanity, but with great distinction. There again, it was something in their culture that nourished these human beings and allowed them to be something close to whole. I have seen this pattern repeated over and over again, to the point that I am willing to consider that maturity may well have been reached by some people of our species many millennia ago, and that we are now in a state of regression—a return to childhood, as it were.
    “We can’t go back; we can only go forward from where we are today.” I have heard that refrain so many times, whenever I mention the possibility that other human beings learned how to live in a harmonious and integral way with the natural world, and that maybe we could learn from them. Those fully indoctrinated and under the spell of civilization are always quick to disavow any possibility of a Noble Savage. They also like to point to mega-fauna extinctions, bison driven over cliffs, and other excesses of indigenous populations, including the reckless use of fire. I am right now reading After Eden: the Evolution of Human Domination, by Kirkpatrick Sale, in which he draws a portrait of behaviorally modern man as profligate and out of control when it comes to over-hunting and depleting his various prey species. Well, if that is all we have ever been, and likely all we ever can be, then I guess we will have proven to be that failed experiment that spectacularly failed to work out—to the point of undermining the whole Project of Life. That is a pretty damning indictment, if true.
    I guess each of us believes either what we want to believe, or what we have been conditioned to believe. I want to believe that the human being is not necessarily a hopeless mistake, and I believe I have good evidence to support that more than anything it is culture that shapes us into who and what we are, and, with the right culture (like some that have gone before ours, and could supplant ours) we could be a viable and durable species here, and not the destroyer that we are today.
    I agree with you, Mike, that each individual has to develop him- or herself along lines different from the narcissism and exceptionalism that characterizes your average American today. That development is absolutely necessary. But I don’t think it can be done as long as we carry the self-destructive and Earth-devouring memes and stories that this culture has been telling and retelling for millennia. However few of us, or however personally enlightened, as long as we carry these death-dealing programs within us, we are bound to enact, and re-enact the same old destructive behaviors.
    In my mind, it boils down to this: we, the people of our culture, are in wrong relationship to Nature; some people who have gone before us (and a few even alive today) have been in right relationship to Nature. If we want to go on living here, we have to take our cues from those people, and their culture, and totally break the spell of our own pathological, omnicidal culture, and reclaim our birthright as humans.

  248. Looks like my post #264 keeps being rejected. What’s the problem?

  249. Hello Gary — You are a sensitive, caring person like myself and quite a few others (but far too few, alas). We hope against hope that somehow humanity will pull through, manage to survive, and finally get it right about how to share the planet with all the other precious lives depending on our not destroying the home we all depend upon. In our often desperate hope we sometimes create imaginary scenarios, fantasies about how folks miraculously woke up and saved the day in spite of a millennial record of doing almost everything wrong. Your dreams are somewhat different from mine, although they have more in common than not. But the difficult truth is that none of them are going to come to pass. Nevertheless I do not suggest that either of us stop dreaming.

    Dreams like poetry, music, or drama may fail to stop the avalanche of history, but they have value in themselves, and provide a sort of spiritual consolation that helps us go on trying, while realizing our efforts will only bear fruit in the world dreams. The overwhelming odds offered by honest climate scientists (there are a few!) tell us that extinction of all life on Earth is probably not more than fifty years from now, and possibly less. Guess what — our noble leaders have lied to us about this situation for years, when they well knew better. Anyone surprised by this just hasn’t been keeping up with reality. Plenty of scientists have diluted their findings or simply buried them. After all their sole source of funds is either the government or industry (if there is any difference between them — there isn’t). So us old frogs are about to be parboiled, and there is nowhere to jump to that won’t fry us. Maybe all we have left is a few poems, reminisces of days spent deep in Hawaiian jungles or on secluded beaches, and dreams of what might have been. One vast human tragedy entering its final act.

    One beautiful afternoon sitting looking out on the garden at the Church of the Crossroads near the U. of Hawaii campus a friend of mine said to me, “Mike, you are the kind of guy who is so set on finding the Truth, that you are going to do that even if it burns your mind and everyone else’s.” I sat and thought a few moments and then I said, “You know, you are right.” I felt no satisfaction in saying that, but I knew he was right. Still, I hope my response hasn’t brought you down too much, because from what I know of you, you deserve to be happy. And I hope this old Irishman hasn’t rained too hard on anyone’s picnic. I have a feeling that most of you won’t feel a drop — unless by misadventure you should go to the link I gave — then all bets are off!
    PS Gary — Did you read my #237? The invaluable heritage of practices and lifeways of the hunter gatherers would be absolutely essential to any worthwhile presence of humans on Earth.

  250. Gary — I tried to send a link in my last message to Guy Mcpherson’s blog Nature Bats Last, highlighting his update of the bad news on climate. However I got this message back: “Akismet thinks your input might be spam, so it will be moderated first.” So maybe it will come through, who knows? But at any rate you or anyone interested can go to Naqture Bats Last and find it.

  251. Learning from Mistakes
    Hi Mike—No, you didn’t rain on my picnic. I know that anything I might do is an exercise in futility, in terms of that whirlwind bearing down on us, and yet doing what we can is better than doing nothing. If we lived in a less wasteful society, whatever wisdom we have gained over our many years of seeking would be valued by those around us—as is commonly the case among indigenous people. But America is what it is, and Americans too self-absorbed—out there partying on the last reserves in Nature’s bank account, oblivious.
    But the thing that occurred to me after posting that last long post was part of the equation I never got around to. Both you and I, even after all these years, continue to believe that people can learn from their mistakes. I am convinced that some of those Late Pleistocene hunting societies made horrendous ecological mistakes, but I am equally convinced that they, or others, learned from those mistakes, created taboos for themselves, and codes of conduct, and thus made it possible for their descendents to also have a chance at a decent life. You have seen moral and spiritual progress in yourself and others around you, so you, too, believe that people can learn from their mistakes. But first they need to be awake, and not sleepwalking into a nightmare. And so, realistically, the opportunity for mass learning is probably past hoping for. Most will go out with their media-mediated view of the world intact, and never knowing what took them down. Still, there is that last little vestige of hope that when we reach the next population bottleneck a small group of well-adapted people might remain, and have the smarts to see what brought it all down, and (here’s the crux of it) learn from past mistakes. It is a long shot, but I haven’t yet quite given up on it. Not yet, anyway.
    Learning from Mistakes
    Hi Mike—No, you didn’t rain on my picnic. I know that anything I might do is an exercise in futility, in terms of that whirlwind bearing down on us, and yet doing what we can is better than doing nothing. If we lived in a less wasteful society, whatever wisdom we have gained over our many years of seeking would be valued by those around us—as is commonly the case among indigenous people. But America is what it is, and Americans too self-absorbed—out there partying on the last reserves in Nature’s bank account, oblivious.
    But the thing that occurred to me after posting that last long post was part of the equation I never got around to. Both you and I, even after all these years, continue to believe that people can learn from their mistakes. I am convinced that some of those Late Pleistocene hunting societies made horrendous ecological mistakes, but I am equally convinced that they, or others, learned from those mistakes, created taboos for themselves, and codes of conduct, and thus made it possible for their descendents to also have a chance at a decent life. You have seen moral and spiritual progress in yourself and others around you, so you, too, believe that people can learn from their mistakes. But first they need to be awake, and not sleepwalking into a nightmare. And so, realistically, the opportunity for mass learning is probably past hoping for. Most will go out with their media-mediated view of the world intact, and never knowing what took them down. Still, there is that last little vestige of hope that when we reach the next population bottleneck a small group of well-adapted people might remain, and have the smarts to see what brought it all down, and (here’s the crux of it) learn from past mistakes. It is a long shot, but I haven’t yet quite given up on it. Not yet, anyway.

  252. I don’t know what the deal is with these double posts. Sorry for the redundancy.

  253. Gary — I really do take refuge in ignorance — mine and ours. So many times have our certainties, including the scientific ones, been suddenly overturned and often reversed. So I don’t take Mcpherson’s selection of scientific pundits as final truth — they could be wrong. Many a black swan may yet fly through the darkness of our cloud of unknowing. Still, an essential part of awakening is to face the grim odds against us squarely, without undue weaseling. The teaching of karma yoga tells me to do the right thing in spite of the probability of not getting the results I would like to see. The demand for right action transcends the ego’s desire for favorable results. Ours not to question why, ours but to do and die, eh? And who knows, sometimes being willing to act beyond the limits of what is reasonable may yield results beyond reasonable expectations. Did Gandhi’s ahimsa seem reasonable? It appeared to be madness to throw themselves before the British forces to be slaughtered. And yet…

    Could there be a large scale spiritual awakening that eases away from the brink of extinction? And even if we destroy almost everyone, could there be a saving remnant, a people of the fresh beginning? Of course, because we do not truly know the future or the limits of the possible. Better to hope and work for something rather than give in to despair and fatalism. We have an ingrained longing for certainty, even if it is a dark certainty. But this hidden urge for finality can turn into a death wish.

  254. What Will a Real Spiritual Path Be Like? (4)

    It will encourage and teach meditation. All the compulsive hyperactivity of our stressed mind and body needs to relaxed, healed. Wisdom is not possible for such disturbed minds. Every person in a spiritual society will be a meditator. There are a great variety of techniques to accomplish this, and each individual will choose those that suit them. The goal of practice is inner stillness and clarity. If we want a peaceful world, then meditation is the ideal means to accomplish that. We live in an age of speed, greed, and impatience. Meditation is an effective medicine to heal this agitated state. A calm and clear mind is free of the habitual urgency of the culturally conditioned individual. Access to higher and deeper states of consciousness is facilitated by meditative practice. Inspiration and creative intuition are precious abilities that can help us navigate the challenges of living together. Those who feel unwilling or unable to meditate are only revealing the roots of their civilized sickness.

  255. This is an excellent and necessary essay. Kingsnorth illustrates the need to push back against the neo-environmentalists – an incestuous cabal of desk-bound academics and corporate plunderers – and their agenda of valuing nature as merely instrumental for human purposes. The notion of nature valuation is generally misguided and must be evaluated with utmost skepticism. Lab-grown meat, genetically modified crops, intensified ecosystem management, and geoengineering of the climate are merely money making schemes hatched in corporate-owned academic programs and will only perpetuate the ongoing fiasco. Let’s not forget that Kareiva et al are working in concert with (likely on the payroll of) Dow Chemical and Goldman Sachs among others. The neo-environmental agenda promises only more of the same old progress trap, but with an even more profound crash in the near distant future. Pure folly. What was it Einstein said about the definition of insanity?

    After reading Kingsnorth’s piece, I spent much time at the Dark Mountain website and thoroughly enjoyed the Uncivilisation manifesto, which leads off with a rousing salvo by Robinson Jeffers and ends with thoroughly uplifting principles, especially the admonition to dismantle the myths of progress, human centrality in creation, and the human separation from nature. I found the uplifting ideas of Uncivilisation paralleling much of my own thinking and writing over the years. Environmentalism is not only about what serves people. Do we really believe we have the right to exclude the rest of creation from the moral calculation? What kind of ethic is in control? Will we allow it to be the ethic of Dow, Goldman and their pimped hand puppets in academia and government? I’m casting my lot with the Uncivilizers, with the artists and thinkers who don’t believe in bubbles, corporate-funded techno-solutions, academics masquerading as pop stars, or greater levels of management. We know that nature has unbounded “value” irrespective of the stilted notions of human-contrived utility.

  256. Kyle Gardener — Thanks for your excellent post. So many misunderstood Paul’s essay as a cop-out, as if he was washing his hands of the environment. Actually he only washed his hands of the soulless hucksterism you so accurately identified, and which is only hastening the collapse of all living systems on our planet. In truth, our thoughtless participation in the mainstream environmental groups is only a reflection of our lack of real understanding and compassion for all our relations…

  257. Well Gary, I am half way through My Name Is Chellis & I’m In Recovery from Western Civilization. And I have to confess that I am just as love sick as you are for the ancient hunter gatherer lifeway. In some of my recent posts I was hoping somehow that I (we) could have it all, old ways and modern. I especially hated the idea of giving up the Hubbell Telescope and all the tools of discovery that have expanded our knowledge of where we are. And I could not imagine life without books, which saved my life, and have given me so much. But now I hear again within me the call of wildness, the ancient ways of living in nature. I am a perpetual vacillator, but for now I would give it all up to live wild as I so often dreamed in the past. Maybe we don’t need a heliocentric theory to tell the time of day. I never took a watch into the forest on my camping hikes, and I wore it less and less while I was in Honolulu going to school. I felt so free when I had been in the forest for a couple of weeks. Now I need a cane half the time to get around, so I can’t really enter the forest that begins a hundred feet from my front porch. But I often sit out there looking on our nearby mountain and sensing the pulsing of Nature. You get some credit for helping reawaken my love for natural simplicity and living in nature. Perhaps what I have left is nostalgia, but it is precious nevertheless…

  258. So I am now feeling like you, Gary that the blandishments of civilization are too addictive and ultimately toxic to compromise with. But I still would miss some of the truly beautiful and inspiring things we have achieved. But I wonder how much of those regrets would remain after I had been magically returned into the ancient relation with Nature. I think they would soon fade away…

  259. mike k and Gary, thank you both so much for your wonderful contributions to this comments section. It made it worth going through every single page, and I found myself on more than one occasion nodding my head in enthusiastic agreement. There are many others that have added incredibly insightful/valuable input (along with Mr. Kingsnorth’s essay to begin with), but they have kind of blurred together as I read along.

    As most of what I had thought to add to the discussion has also faded, there is just one point I want to speak to. That is, that we are in desperate need of a new way of thinking. An ‘elevated consciousness,’ or a new ‘common sense,’ if you will. Our fundamental assumptions (which often go unexamined/unchecked) are what color not only our experience of the world, but what influences our behaviors and actions. And this idea of being separate from nature, as having to confront it, is a dangerous hallucination. Even the idea of “coming into” the world. We didn’t “come into” it, we came out of it!

    I’m not sure if any here are familiar with Alan Watts, but he speaks beautifully to this point. Here are a few incredibly short, but deeply profound, clips:

    How Do You Define Yourself? – Alan Watts

    What did you forget? – Alan Watts

    Organism-Environment, the transactional nature

    It all goes together – Alan Watts

    And here are two great full lectures:

    Man in Nature

    The Myopic View of the World

    (I tried to include the links to each video, but I keep getting the message that I’m “not authorized” to do so. Just search for them on YouTube. I apologize for the inconvenience.)

    Watts would probably be the first to say that it’s one thing to contemplate this intellectually, and another to experience it directly (which is what makes it the most convincing/concrete):

    “He has arrived, by chance or by some such discipline as Yoga or Zen meditation, at a state of consciousness in which he experiences directly and vividly what our own scientists know to be true in theory. For the ecologist, the biologist, and the physicist know (but seldom feel) that every organism constitutes a single field of behavior, or process, with its environment. There is no way of separating what any given organism is doing from what its environment is doing, for which reason ecologists speak not of organisms in environments but of organism-environments. Thus the words “I” and “self” should properly mean what the whole universe is doing at this particular “here-and-now” called John Doe.”

    “It isn’t just a theoretical thing that we know about, as ecologists, for example, know about the identity of the organism with its environment, but becomes something that we actually experience.”

    Short of having a direct/immediate apprehension of this deep interconnection (what some might call a “mystical experience”), I think Watts does a very good job of getting the point across in plain speak. I think many on here have done so, as well.

    And, mike, I love your alternate cosmological perspective. That of the unfolding of the cosmic seed. Or, as you put it, the Great Flowering. I recently shifted my view along these lines, but had been referring to it as ‘The Big Bloom’ (I’m not sure, but I may have read that first in Ken Wilber’s work). And here’s another instance of our assumptions affecting our culture. A Big Bang fits right in with our violent and destructing tendencies, doesn’t it? What better way for the universe to start than the largest, most violent explosive in history? I’m very much of the mind that we not only shape our “myths” (in the sense of our image of the world), but that our myths shape us. Watts, again, has a great talk on this matter (in this case, our cosmologies) and how it effects our thoughts and actions:

    Alan Watts – Our Image of the World

  260. Thanks daniel for your thoughtful comments. My hat is off to you for reading this meandering thread from the beginning! Your interest in our topics is evident. Its been a long time since I read Alan Watts. He was one of the mentors who sent me rocketing off to study Eastern Philosophy at the U. of Hawaii, seeking The Supreme Identity. I am part of a group that has spent several years meeting every two weeks studying the writings of Ken Wilber and Sri Aurobindo, who each in their own ways were seeking to bring us knowledge of how to evolve in consciousness beyond our present level of repetitive stagnation. This remains the life or death problem of humankind. Despite the brilliant teachers who have tried to reach us, most of us remain in denial, lives buried in the trough of addictive distractions.

    It remains for individuals working together in intensive small groups to seek the answers to our mind created problems — before it is too late for all of us. We need the urgency of a Manhattan Project of the mind/soul to lift us beyond our unconsciousness. Will entheogenic energy be needed? Who knows. We need explorations in many dimensions…. Murphy and Price of Esalen were students of Aurobindo, and their hope was to unlock tantric power to save us from ourselves. Some continue on that line, and there are other efforts afoot… Give us your thoughts on this: How do we save the world?

  261. Very interesting stuff, mike! Thanks for sharing! I discovered Watts a few years ago and it was really him and Robert Anton Wilson (who’s “Prometheus Rising” was the real instigator) who pried open my “reality tunnel.”

    It’s funny you mention “entheogenic energy” because the first thing that popped to mind when I read your closing query (aside from being overwhelmed by its magnitude) was Terence McKenna’s appeal for a “pharmacological intervention” of the entheogenic variety. And their effect is desperately needed – that there are thing that our ordinary-everyday consciousness leaves out that, if we did know them or were more often aware of them, we would pierce through our illusions and social games and, I’d think (or hope), better align ourselves with Nature (and have a deeper interior peace that didn’t need to be constantly fed gadgets, gizmos, trinkets and all other types of distractions).

    I can’t say for certain what to do, but I agree with Aldous Huxley in what it will take. That is, “Nothing short of everything will really do” (or, alternatively stated, “Nothing short of everything is ever enough.”) It also brings to mind a Krishnamurti quote that you might be familiar with.

    “We want to do patchwork reform, which only leads to problems of still further reform. We do not want to strip away all our false values and begin anew. But the building is crumbling, the walls are giving away, and fire is destroying it. We must leave the building and start on new ground, with different foundations, different values.”

    It would be nice if we could shake people by the shoulders and say, “Wake up, man!”, and that’d do the trick. But that’s a pipe dream. Even the best efforts at lecturing or arguing the point may convince a few, but not nearly enough. So I do think that legal and guided use of entheogens is something that not only needs to be legalized, but integrated into society. The final novel Aldous Huxley wrote – called “Island” – portrays an excellent (and responsible) model of how this could be done with these substances (which they called “reality revealers,” “moksha medicine,” and “truth-and-beauty pills” because it “better reflects their reality”). It’s a great model for society to operate as a whole, for that matter. A pretty good “look-back” article was written about it recently:

    Along these lines, meditation is something that should be widely encouraged and practiced. And I don’t necessarily mean in a utilitarian, it must be ‘good for something,’ kind of way. But, for it’s own sake. A way, as Watts has said, “to get in touch with Reality as It is, as opposed to how we talk about it, think about it, and describe it.” This is a practice that should be introduced in all of our schools. In fact, the educational system itself is in need of an overhaul. Less of an emphasis on the assembly line “made by date” system, and more of an institution that engages (and is integrated in) the entire community – kids and adults alike. Kids should learn how to grow good food along with their ABCs and 123s. Not only so we can move towards self-sustainability, but because of how far it can go with the cohesion of a community (and not to mention the environmental benefits). But good luck with that. We’ve got to “Win The Future”, as it stands (no telling what that “future” will look like…maybe China’s month-long blanket of dense smog is a good preview…while coal/oil supplies last, that is).

    I don’t know. I get encouraged when I watch these conferences with presenters talking about “transition towns,” or how someone started an edible garden in a “food desert” and it was an inspiration for the community, or how Joel Salatin and Allan Savory are utilizing herd animals to actively build soils through “holistic pasture management.” And then I see something like the upcoming Farm Bill and remember that they are great exceptions to the rule. Or hear the blatherings of the neo-Environmentalists (did you hear/see Mark Lynas’s recent Ode to GMOs…disgusting). Or watch things like this Alan Watts program from over 40 years ago, wherein he talks about conferences where “the best minds in the world” gathered to “be a kind of planetary alarm congress…to do something to impress upon the world that we are in very serious danger of destroying the biosphere,” and they conclude:

    “We didn’t know what we ought to say, because we really don’t know what to do. Some things that we might do, for example, to increase the food supply with high-yield crops may be ecological mistakes. And so, the consensus of almost everybody at the meeting was that, in some way or other, the human race has to learn to leave the world alone. And let what is called the ‘natural homeostasis,’ that is the self-balancing process of nature, take care of the mess. Now how are we gonna do that?”
    (This comes at the start of the YouTube clip – “Alan Watts awakening A Conversation with Myself Part 3”)

    It’s sobering to realize the only “progress” we made is the acceleration of the ecosystem’s destruction.

  262. daniel

    “the consensus of almost everybody at the meeting was that, in some way or other, the human race has to learn to leave the world alone.”

    Yes, and let’s not overlook the most obvious approach to fulfilling that – less people.



  263. Excellent comments daniel. I am learning from you. What is difficult is not necessarily impossible. What has not happened before may happen now. Sometimes a system can jump to a higher level where what was not possible becomes routine at the new level. To believe that higher levels of intelligence, understanding, wisdom, and compassion are limited to isolated individuals is to make an unproven and counterproductive assumption. This would be the epitome of a limiting rational/materialist point of view.

    What if we say (paraphrasing Nietzsche) what stresses us and threatens our destruction can serve to push us to a higher level? In my understanding our only hope is to transform our society to and from a higher level. If this is somehow impossible, we are truly doomed. I do not acquiesce in this morbid viewpoint. My belief is that if we are to survive then we must find ways to direct our lives together on the basis of higher spiritual understandings. If we are indeed doomed by our (seemingly) material origins dragging us down by their irresistible gravitational pull, then we would have to say that like Icarus, we tried to fly too high with all our intellectual and artistic and spiritual flights, and must inevitably crash to Earth.

    I would rather approach the problem of how to bring enough people up to a higher level as a meaningful, and in some ways inevitable problem for our conscious evolution as a species, than conclude prematurely that this outcome is impossible. This problem is a key fulcrum to move us beyond our present impasse.
    Let’s not dismiss it, but get to work on it.

    It could be the last fun any of us will ever have. Seriously, I think it’s evolve spiritually or die as a species. Perhaps our greatest contribution to life in the Universe will be to go extinct. At least that would preclude us from spreading our madness to other worlds. The psychiatrist Smiley Blanton wrote a little book years ago with the title: Love or Perish. Think of it as a cosmic ultimatum. Its like a really tough Zen koan. It seems impossible to solve, and it is. Unless we transcend to a higher level…

  264. mike, it seems there is a good deal we agree on. The Nietzschean insight is a point well made. It’s a cliche to say that most of our best lessons come from our mistakes, or to trot out the old canard that the Chinese word for “crisis” also means “opportunity,” but it’s exactly that. There is great value in doing something so you can learn that it doesn’t work/you were wrong. And we now have a clear demonstration of what it is that stresses us and threatens our destruction. The question is, do we course correct? As William Blake put it, “A fool who persists in his folly becomes wise.”

    It’s unfortunate that our “folly” has to be of such massive and seemingly insurmountable proportions. And, to tell you the truth, we don’t seem to be learning from our mistakes, but doubling down on them – because we just weren’t doing them hard enough! GMOs don’t amount to crap? Tinker with more genes! Bugs and weeds developing resistance to pesticide? More pesticide! War an unmitigated disaster? More war! Atlantis is one of the oldest myths/lessons around, and we still haven’t learned from it. As it’s been well said, “the only thing we learn from history is that we never learn from history.”

    “My belief is that if we are to survive then we must find ways to direct our lives together on the basis of higher spiritual understandings.”

    And I couldn’t agree more. I think most of us here realize that whatever form that takes, Nature – and re-connecting with Nature – plays a key and central role. The trick is convincing those who need the convincing. As I mentioned in my last post, I am encouraged by the grassroots growth of community edible gardens and food forests, and feel this is a vital way to catch people’s attention, re-ignite a love of and connection to Nature, and get them in-touch with the soil and involved at a local level. It doesn’t hurt to be able to spell out some of the myriad of benefits this brings to a community (both economically, ecologically, and physiologically), so it’s nice to have more and more resources to borrow from in the form of articles, documentaries and short lectures online.

    I’m not sure if you’ve heard of Tony Juniper, but I actually recently watched a great lecture of his along those lines. It’s on YouTube and is called – “What has nature ever done for us? Tony Juniper at TEDxExeter” – and is based on a book by the same name. Tony speaks passionately about his love of Nature for its intrinsic value, in and of itself. But in order to get that point across, he has gone about demonstrating just how valuable Nature is – even to those people who only think in terms of dollar signs. From the value of a vulture in India, to a mangrove along a coastline. Mangroves, for example, provide natural protection against storms and tidal surges. Our normal way of operating is to tear places like that up to open up some kind of seafood farm that might end up making a few million dollars in profit. Well, now your left with a susceptible coast line and the government ends up having to put up a protective sea-wall for $200 million dollars – something the mangrove (and the ecosystem it was embedded in) was doing free of charge.

    Now, I don’t necessarily enjoy thinking like this, and Tony doesn’t mean to commodify nature. Or having to put it in so many words, for that matter (as Alan Watts says, “we run a talking shop”). Nature is something that should be apprehended and appreciated spontaneously. But, for some people, this is the only way to get through…at least, initially. Tony mentions during his talk of the importance of that spiritual connection, so maybe convincing some with these terms offers spirituality’s Trojan Horse.

    All that said, that $200 million sea wall project would likely be funded by taxpayers and stuffed in the pockets of private contractors, so I’m sure there would be more than a few chomping at the bit to tear up the mangrove. So you can see my reservations in even this way of thinking.

    I do think talking can only get us so far, and some do still scoff at Nature in favor of their favorite gadget. So, we are stuck with that need of a higher spiritual understanding. Somehow, someway. Richard Doyle, in his book “Darwin’s Pharmacy,” put it incredibly well in describing just what that kind of understanding is:

    “The sudden and absolute conviction that the individual is involved in a densely interconnected ecosystem for which contemporary tactics of human identity are insufficient. A sudden apprehension of immanence. A connectivity that exceeds the rhetorical capacity of the ego… Its persuasion seems to hinge on an experience of this interconnection as well as an understanding of it.”

    So, yes, that. That is what’s needed. That is the new level of organization that needs to emerge on a large scale. It happens without words, one person at a time.

    That said, I applaud those working to bring enough people up to that higher level. Be it one-on-one, in a small group, in a community, or on the national stage. One such person, and a personal inspiration to me, is master mycologist Paul Stamets. His work with mushrooms, and his understanding of his intense interconnection with Earth and all life on it (he speaks beautifully and with deep passion about it), is stunning. Here he is touching on some of the same sentiments as you:

    “If we don’t get our act together and come in commonality and understanding with the organisms that sustain us today, not only will we destroy those organisms, but we will destroy ourselves. We need to have a paradigm shift in our consciousness. What will it take to achieve that? If I die trying but I am inadequate to the task to make a course change in the evolution of life on this planet, okay I tried. The fact is I tried. How many people are not trying? If you knew that every breath you took, could save hundreds of lives in the future – how do you walk down this path of knowledge? Wouldn’t you run down that path of knowledge as fast as you could?”

    (This can be found in the short YouTube clip – “Fantastic Fungi: The Spirit of Good”)

    Another inspiring guy I recently discovered is Satish Kumar. Please be sure to check out his lively lecture – “Soil, soul and society: Satish Kumar at TEDxExeter”. I know, at the end of the day, watching videos on gets us so far (if anywhere), But the ideas are seeds that are just as important to plant as those of the food we eat.

    In regards to that cosmic ultimatum, I’m reminded of a statement by Buckminster Fuller:

    “Whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment.”

  265. One of the problems I have observed in the numerous small groups I have attended over the years is that people find it hard to be patient, to sit still and listen when ideas, feelings are being expressed by others that they find boring or disturbing. In several of the groups I now attend we have an initial round where anyone who chooses can share whatever they want without feedback or interruption. The old talking stick idea without the stick. Then we open it up to general back and forth discussion. Sitting still and listening to whatever is a great training for going beyond one’s impatient ego. The initial round means that things anyone really needs to say including criticisms of the group or individuals in it, or unpopular viewpoints about politics or religion, or sex, or whatever, gets said and not swept under the table to later cause trouble from its suppressed location in the shadows. We need to learn to trust this openness with each other. Things not said are destroying trust and the possibility of community. Population and reproduction are sensitive, contentious issues. We need to create contexts where these issues can be heard and processed. A real spirituality will use the intimate intensity of properly designed small groups to transform its participants in their relationships.

  266. The above post was headed: What Will a Real Spirituality Be Like? (5)

  267. daniel — Your thoughts sync well with mine. The whole battle for human survival and a better world will take place on the mental and emotional level. What is in people’s minds and hearts will be decisive for the outcome. To change ourselves and then change others is our challenge. If enough of us do not make the needed changes in our selves and others, then we are doomed by our own unawareness/unwillingness to do the necessary inner work — for which there is no viable substitute.

  268. Thanks for the refreshing breath of sanity on your blog Alex.

  269. this is perhaps the best ORION (and perhaps any magazine) article I’ve ever read. Mr. Kingsworth expresses so eloquently what i’ve only felt on a gut level and over which i often get into arguements with those who don’t see it our way…likely because I can’t express it anywhere nearly as well as he can. thank you, Mr K; you give me hope…not for the planet, but that there are others who “get it” and can so eloquently express my deepest feelings.

  270. Mike: I am glad you are reading Chellis and it is having a positive effect. The overlay of the culture of civilization on our lives weights us down with wrong perception, wrong thinking, and wrong feeling. Few can break away from its spell, and even among those like yourself who have decolonized themselves from years of conditioning, can find themselves spell-bound again—just because there seems no countervailing force to give it the lie. Nature is that force, but we humans haven’t left much wild Nature intact to consult with, and if all we see is cities and dysfunction, we unconsciously become what we behold. This is why I walk in old growth forest every day. As my friend, Tim, says: “No contrast, no information.” As I have mentioned before, the culture of civilization is nothing if not a self-promoting, self-aggrandizing propaganda machine. It tells us that wild, undomesticated humans had a terrible life, full of misery and discomfort. The culture of civilization will not stand for anything but total hegemony over the world. If it cannot transform other cultures into itself, it is happy to annihilate them. It is like a black hole in that way: consuming diversity and transforming it into monolithic homogenous sameness. I know you will resist this pull of culture, as I know that I will (who have the ally of Nature close by). For those who lack the contrast between the mechanical and the organic, the allopoeitic and the autpoietic, the tamed and the wild—I don’t know how they break out of the trap and prison that is civilization. Please let me know what you think of My Name is Chellis and I am in Recovery from Western Civilization when you get through it. When I read it, it helped open my mind to the deeper possibilities of life.
    Kyle G: I am heartened that you have read and were moved by the Dark Mountain Manifesto, and glad you mentioned it and the uncivilization website. Ever more people need to be seeing that civilization is not symphony orchestras and art galleries but a ten thousand year program to devour a living planet. I don’t know if a critical mass can be reached in time to turn around the various collapses that are coming our way—but our only hope for any human future here is that somebody somewhere has figured out just what brought the whole thing down, and not repeat our deadly errors.

  271. Alexander: You are on a good path with your digging stick, and thinking about appropriate technology and appropriate scale. High technology agriculture is a con that is doomed to fail, even before we are fully out of our energy bubble. In the short term, and as a transition technology, small-scale self-sufficient agriculture can help serve to keep people alive. But once we have to rely on the daily solar budget, and can no longer mine the Earth of all its resilience, as we have ever since the beginning of agriculture, we are going to come up against a whole new reality. The program of us agricultural people has been to steal land from other people and other species and transform it into “farm land.” We worked our way from the East coast to the West, felling forests and planting seeds—until we exhausted that piece of land, and moved on to do the same thing somewhere else. Agriculture is based upon theft, including the theft of topsoil and the theft of water that belongs somewhere else. The only agriculture that was ever anything like sustainable was practiced in river bottoms where fresh fertility was delivered annually from mountains far away. With none of the Earth’s resilience left to mine (resilience built up over four billion years of evolutionary creativity), the future human will be fortunate indeed if that simple tool, the digging stick, will find some promising ground to bring forth food. If you are interested in researching this a little further, I recommend What is Sustainable by Richard Adrian Reese, and available through Amazon (another institution with a limited shelf life). I am not saying all this to discourage you in your present quest. Just don’t kid yourself that there is any long-term durability in agriculture of any kind, because there probably isn’t.

  272. What Will a Real Spiritual Path Be Like? (6)

    It will be about the Truth. I capitalize truth to indicate that most of what passes for that is not that. We live mostly on the basis of half truths at best, but mainly lies and ignorance. Why are we in such trouble on Earth? We do not know and live the Truth. I am not talking about some dogma, I am talking about the simple obvious truth in most cases. I like the book Everything I needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. It is also true that much of the truth we need we already know if we look into the depths of our mind, where we have exiled it, to replace it with lies and denials. We refuse to know what we know. Forget about the complex esoteric dimensions of spirituality. These are worse than meaningless unless under girded with the simple truths at the basis of all ethics and morality. Buddha’s eightfold path begins with yamas and niyamas, things you should do and things you should not do. Without grasping and enacting these simple understanding s, the higher levels of the path are impossible to navigate. The real truth is shocking to the ego which is founded on lies, these shocks are the business of real spirituality.

  273. It’s funny when you think about it how new movements no matter how distorted in their thinking have at their root a longing to go back. You can start with the pain of getting thrown out of the Garden of Eden the great utopian Idle of the children of Abraham. You can even find it in our latest American insurgency, the Tea Party. Their goal as stated, “Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets.” Although they don’t have a clue how to manifest that in the modern world one can see a call for a simple non-bureaucratic self-sustaining life imbedded in their own imaginary Eden.

  274. David — The Myth of the Golden age recurs through history. All kinds of hopeful dreams and mischief are based on these fantasies. What truth there is in it is distorted and used by and manipulated by the Koch brothers and others to lead people down false paths of pretended purity. This is pie in the sky projected on an imagined past.

  275. Yeah folks like the Koch brothers manipulate it but there it is ready to be manipulated. Who is the great American folks hero? Huckleberry Finn.

  276. Hello Alexander: I found your essay a compelling read and loved how it grew as if starting from seed, establishing roots, then surfacing, and flourishing. I thought of Stephanie Mills who has been — if I’ve read her right — seminal in driving home the recognition of our part of “ecology” and experiencing life with gratitude and care. She is a wonderful resource I kept recalling as I read your article.

  277. The whole problem seems to revolve around coming to grips with what it actually means to be Human. As noted, the history of our species since we left the relatively bucolic hunter-gather stage has been a repeating story of innovation, expansion and collapse, with its attendant collateral damage increasing with every leg up. Are we ultimately a space-faring organism having trouble with lift-off, or are we doomed to implode and finally fail altogether, victims of our own hubris and “progress trap”? It could go either way, although right now the picture is decidedly grim.

    But nature is redundant. In spite of all the stories, we still have no concrete evidence of any other successful otherworld techno-species. However, right here at home, we do have the example of the Cetaceans, creatures at least as intelligent as ourselves (although in another domain), plying the seas for some 60 million years and perfectly adapted to their environment. No tools or gizmos required. It has been said that “biology is destiny”, whatever that means. In any event, we certainly appear to be approaching a defining point of inflection.

  278. Mr. Kingsnorth — Your essay is beautifully written. As other commenters have noted, you have articulated so much of what I have been muddling through in my mind. Thank you for your insight.

  279. A lovely, thought-provoking piece, which finds an echo in me. If you scythe as well as you write, your meadows must be very beautiful!

  280. Six – Have one or zero children.

    Or perhaps that should be #1.

  281. Yes Andrew — zero children should be #1 on our spiritual to do list. We should do this out of love for all life.

  282. The English need to return to the land – a right of return. The Enclosure thefts can be remedied.
    Frank Salter covered a lot of the ethical stuff in his book “On Genetic Interests”.

  283. The following quote appears in BIOLOGY (5th ed. 1989, p.806) by Cecie Starr and Ralph Taggart:
    “It would be naive to assume we can ever reverse who we are at this point in evolutionary time, to de-evolve ourselves culturally and biologically into becoming less complex in the hope of averting disaster. However, there is reason to believe that we can avert disaster by using athird kind of control mechanism, one that is uniquely our own. We have the capacity to anticipaye the future — it is the essence of our visions of utopia or of nightmarish hell. Thus we all have the capacity for adapting to a future that we can partly shape. We can, for example, learn to live with less. Far from being a return to primitive simplicity, it would be one of the most complex and intelligent behaviors of which we are capable.
    Having that capacity andusing it are not the same thing.”

  284. This article is the intellectual counterpart to a concept I discovered almost a year ago. That concept being, that those who see a path forward that can be called sustainable, are really building metaphorical life boats. I found this metaphor, after sharing with about 60 teens, what my campaign high school interns and I put on as an Earth Day event last April 15th. I learned just before the event started, that the day marked the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking. This was quite a wakeup call, when I shared this fact with my interns. They connected its significance immediately.

    Any of us looking at our climate threat seriously, need regular wakeup calls. This article does that, while offering a sailing chart for our metaphorical life boats. Perhaps the better metaphor is a sail boat, so we can actually have steering capacity.

    Being a whole generation older than you, I do believe some in my generation fully get what you suggest, all of us having come of age in the 70s. Unfortunately we haven’t had any MLK or Mandela, or Moses, to lead us to a Promised Land. But there are guides out there, like you.

    Fortunately, I feel prepared, given how my parents raised me, and how my husband and I have been able to expose our own children to the natural world. We have been fortunate to have visits to his family farm in Connecticut where he was raised, and excursions in the great Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York, where we visited my parents in the summer, and x-country skiing in the Sierras of California where we live. These are the experiences that have had profound effects on us all over the years.

    The older I get, I realize it has been a mixture of the emotional elements to these adventures, as well as the immersion in the natural world as well. We are the fortunate ones. But we can be guides to many others who could be better anchored in this kind of refuge thinking.

    Thank you for putting it all, so well, into words.

  285. Kaczynski wasn’t just theorizing about being a revolutionary. He meant it.

    I hate to scythe through all your existential musings there Mr Kingsnorth, but have you ever looked “revolution” up in the dictionary? Kaczynski wasn’t a revolutionary. He was a murderer.

    His murders were also completely pointless, merely a question of satisfying his own feelings. They didn’t do anything at all beyond cause misery for other people. They never could have. They never stood any chance of doing anyone any good, and they in themselves were rankly evil. They are a fairly clear summit of human moral ineptitude.

    There are plenty of others vying to become the Green Al Qaeda already, you know, busy trying to cure modern dehumanisation by dehumanising everyone else into an easily-murdered stereotype. Do that, and you lose everything.

    But join them, by all means. Become the problem. You’re just going to make a bigger mess for the grownups — you know, the ones who know the different between love and hate.

  286. JSun

    I believe to understand that you very much despise violence. Very good so. Then let me ask: Why do this so selectively? Why not ask the “system” what else it is “making money” off -except war industry and destruction of biosphere, some call ecocide, which all consists of violence to an extent – unbearable.
    So why stop on the few who clearly are not the threat, as any deepest green “revolutionaries” can not do the tiniest bit of the damage f.i. Chernobyl, Fukushima,… want the whole list?, Afghanistan, Iraq,Libya,… want the whole list?, have done. Or the war industry increasingly does day by day for our cheap oil. Or the pulp industry to produce junk mail. No violence there? Have a deep green look – you’ll weep over the violence. Peace. The last is devoted to you, but tell, why is this man in prison?

    “I don’t know how to save the world. I don’t have the answers or THE Answer. I hold no secret knowledge as to how to fix the mistakes of generations past and present. I only know that without compassion and respect for all of Earth’s inhabitants, none of us will survive—nor will we deserve to.”
    — Leonard Peltier (Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance)

  287. Berhard:

    I believe to understand that you very much despise violence.

    Nope. “Believe to understand” what I actually wrote: Futile acts of violence which are morally no better than what they claim to “oppose” amount to signing away one’s soul for nothing.

    Kaczynski crossed the line to murder, and for what? Nothing. He killed some people. He changed nothing, he could change nothing. He failed in every respect. He’s no “revolutionary” — revolution is not a one-man job.

  288. How to get back to the land?
    The English have to secede from London. We need our own government.
    If we don’t we are finished. London is no longer English as are several cities in England. The country will continue to balkanise.
    Independent candidates should stand for secession. A right of return to the land policy would be guaranteed. It’s called democracy in action.

  289. JSun

    “Kaczynski crossed the line to murder, and for what? Nothing. He killed some people. He changed nothing, he could change nothing. He failed in every respect.”

    I have no problem condemning Kaczynski for his methods but it seems presumptuous for you to say he changed nothing. He certainly got folks to concentrate their minds on the negative social effects of modern technology and its accompanying culture and made it a more public topic.

    What are the final effects of his efforts, particularly his manifesto, remains to be seen but I wouldn’t guess it is nothing.

    In a way I would put him on par with Charlie Manson who although a murderous maniac had a surprisingly developed ecological sensibility. Strange how these bad actors can carve themselves out a narrow area of advanced consciousness. Marquis de Sade anyone?

  290. @David M:

    it seems presumptuous for you to say he changed nothing. He certainly got folks to concentrate their minds on the negative social effects of modern technology and its accompanying culture and made it a more public topic.

    Do you really think so? Have you considered that idea carefully?

    Can you show me some reliable source that demonstrates a positive influence coming from Kaczynski’s murders?

    The internet is a medium that is pretty good for research into such questions. At the same time, I find these conversations themselves rather hard to have on the internet. Most communication in physical reality is non-verbal.

    This way you can’t gauge my earnestness level, and you have no way of knowing that I’ve spent the last many years focusing my life on “advanced consciousness”, both in study and experientially. In return I can’t judge your earnestness level, or the extent to which you’re delivering a considered position as opposed to reacting to my statement for conversation.

    I’m glad that you “have have no problem condemning Kaczynski”. Anyone who agrees with his methods, who wanted him to succeed with the airliner bomb for example, would be someone who had no problem if their own parent spouse or child were on the plane. That person has already lost what we are all trying to save.

    By coincidence a criminologist acquaintance of mine who is (professionally) engaged in combating the fraud of the banks, and in pointing up the lies of those who are supposed to be “regulating” them, just posted a great article about how the criminal mind justifies its actions. The major mechanism according to the research he lays out is “neutralization”, which comes in five flavours: denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of the victim, condemnation of the condemners, and the appeal to higher loyalties.

    Obviously at least the last two are being used by Kaczynski as he drops his bombs in the mail, hoping to kill his fellow countrymen and -women.

    IOW his self-justifications are not different from the ones used by the people at the top of the system he hates. He has become what they are. They also often think they have some “advanced consciousness”, by the way — that they are “Masters of the Universe” as Tom Wolfe puts it. In the case of the investment bankers, some of them may well be as psychopathically monstrous or indeed as drug-reamed as Manson.

    But in order to say Kaczynski achieved something worthwhile, we’d have to go further. We’d have to say that a person seeing that plane explode would thereby be motivated to become less involved him-/herself in the system, to take environmental causes more seriously. To be inspired.

    Anders Behring Breivik was a great Kaczynski fan and copy-pasted large amounts from the same manifesto that so delights Kingsnorth into his own. When Breivik looked into the eyes of the 69 people he killed, he certainly thought he was superior and that they were expendable. He certainly made them into non-humans (has talked about it).

    But did he also make a good case for the right wing beliefs about which he felt so strongly?

    Breivik was an extreme anti-muslim fanatic. Europe may indeed have a problem in its interactions with Islam — but what has Breivik done about it? How far further on is his country towards dealing with the issue?

    In fact the same kinds of methods he favoured were used by the followers of the Islamist Osama bin Laden on 9/11. Were New Yorkers on 9/12 suddenly lining up to convert to Islam? No, they were lining up to declare war on it.

    Kaczynski “got folks to concentrate their minds” on trying to avoid murderous nutcases, but unless you have some kind of evidence for the idea that people were inspired in a positive environmental direction by his actions, and have thought it through thoroughly — in which case I’d like to hear the thoughts and see the evidence — I suggest my original statement is substantively true.

    As for real “advanced consciousness”, which in contrast to the narcissistic and selfish grandiosity of a Manson is humble, I don’t think there’s much room to talk about it here, but the people you mention certainly didn’t have it as far as I’m concerned.

    In terms of transforming a country, perhaps there are modern examples that show “advanced consciousness” of a kind. The greedy army generals in charge of Aung San Suu Kyi’s country have now started to give way and she has never descended to their level. Many people thought she couldn’t succeed and was bound to become a martyr. But she has in fact transformed her country. Kaczynski only attempted to further brutalise his.

    So I repeat: is there some evidence of real and definite benefit from Kaczynski’s actions?

  291. JSun

    “is there some evidence of real and definite benefit from Kaczynski’s actions?”

    As much as you may want to claim otherwise, I never said there was. Anyway how could one measure such a thing? I will go back to my point that his advertising the issue by violence and manifesto helped some folks concentrate, for better or worse, on the negative social effects of modern technology and and its accompanying culture.

    As far as Kaczynski’s influence, you can start here. Bill Joy is no lightweight in the IT world.

    Scroll down to the heading, THE NEW LUDDITE CHALLENGE.

  292. @David M

    Anyway how could one measure such a thing?

    It’s not a question of measuring. In the example of Aung San Suu Kyi I don’t really need to get out a measuring stick.

    As for Joy, he’s so far off the truth it’s not even worth talking about.

    I guess I’m in the wrong place. Bye.

  293. JSun, I understand you want to retire to the morally advanced world of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Gandhi of Burma, but all folks aren’t moved by the same things and as far as I know there isn’t just one road to enlightenment.

    Just out of curiosity, if you ever come down from your lofty mountain you might want to explain to lowly peasants like myself just what it is that makes Bill Joy’s comments so beyond the pale.

    Otherwise bye bye.



  294. Wonderful article. I must admit Kaczynski was right that violent revolution is the only way to save us.

    But I would not want a single one of our human family to be harmed in such a struggle.

    Even the worst among us are themselves victims of system that distorts and deranges mind and soul.

    The mentally ill animals we call “leaders” are guiltless in stealing our future, it is just the forgone conclusion of the species Homo Destructus.

    The only “green” role left is NOT to protect nature for the future, but to celebrate nature in the present, as the last glorious leaves fall before a long, long winter….

  295. Mike #314 — I disagree that some among us be completely exonerated of guilt and responsibility for our sorry condition. There is a general ignorance and misery, but it does not excuse those leading us over the edge with their greed and power lust and lies and betrayal of everything good and true and just. These are the most responsible for our degraded condition, and truth and clarity demand that we name them for what they are. They love it if you say, “after all, we are all guilty or none of us is guilty.” The evil elites at the top of the pyramid of power bear enormous responsibility for our devastated world. mike k

  296. All technologies solve the problems technologies created before them. Even such simple tech as building shelters and making clothing. As soon as humans left tropical climes and began sustaining more by hunting than by gathering, the division of labor began in force.

    Women, less adept at hunting large game, became much secondary to men. Those who could build better weapons, nd use them well, gained more power in groups at constant war with the harsh elements.

    Watch the series ‘Survivorman’ and it makes clear that the warmer the climate, the more relaxed the life and available the calories. This indicates to me that should we neec to go back, we need to go back all the way. Back past agriculture, past horticulture even, past using any tools. Because we either go forward or back.

    To insinuate that any such thing as ‘appropriate’ technology exists seems fallacious to me. Much as the author remains partial to the scythe, it takes tremendous division of labor to craft one. Sure, not as much as a weed whacker, but still. Tech is tech.

    Reharding your list of five coping mechanisms, why not include consuming less? Seems the most obvious. just live with less, in smaller spaces with more people, drive and fly less, etc. Of course, in a ironic postmodern world, those who appear to live the most natural lives tend to consume more resources, due to economies of scale. Peop,e in small townson farms have more environmental impact than people in big cities.

  297. Glad that Mr. Kingsnorth doesn’t offer his 5 suggestions as either/or. “All” sounds about right. Do all of it.

    I’m going to add a 6th: let go and ride the tide. Quiet your talkiness (scything is an excellent method) so we can hear our other brain, the one in our gut. It knows that we are as much a part of the world as everything else. Curiosity, drive, ambition, emotion, hope, despair, even perhaps self-caused extinction, it’s all earthiness. For a brief spark of time, we thought ourselves rational, capable of determining our own fortunes. Alas, as Mr. Kingsnorth points out, consciousness is just a deck chair on the cruise ships of our brains. Witnessing the slow-motion train wreck of our species (if that is what is happening) is a tragedy that our heads can’t accept or fathom. Our guts understand pretty well though.

    He writes: “None of it is going to save the world—but then there is no saving the world, and the ones who say there is are the ones you need to save it from.”

    I disagree. The world doesn’t need saving. It is going to go on, with or without us. There may be no saving us, however. What’s left is deciding for ourselves what being human means, what we cherish, what is worth living for — again a gut kind of knowledge. Options 1-5 are good starting points. Maybe ending ones, too.

  298. I think this is a great article, definitely made me feel less alone in my thought processes. I think one thing to potentially be added to the five actions Mr. Kingsworth advocates is, (in juxtaposition to withdrawal), connection. Communion not only with nature but with each other is one of the main ingredients that makes life worth living. Comforting and expressing love for each other is one of the most healing things we can do. Expressing love and compassion is a state of being which is directly counter to the state of being that produces technological society (in my opinion). I think that we should all make a point to nurture our hearts and our relationships as best we can right now. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, so we would do well to express as much love as we can to the important people in our lives right now. I don’t know a lot of people who are willing to honestly consider the dire state of the planet (most people don’t want think about it), so it would be great if there were a way to connect like-minded folk so we can come together and comfort one another. Perhaps we could even collaborate and come up with some out of the box catalysts for change.

  299. Darcy — Yes. Only love can save us from ourselves now. If we refuse to adopt the ways of love, we are truly and justly doomed.

  300. Hi Paul and thanks so much for a lovely piece of writing and sharing your thoughts.

    When I have the need to ‘sythe’, I go to some piece of public forest and pull out Lantana. Lantana camara is a rambling shrub (and sometimes vine) from South America which here in the sub-tropical parts of Australia will I’m sure one day cover all the land – and it already does in almost any place not intensively managed – like state forests and national parks and roadsides etc etc. There is so much of it, and so few people who care, that we will never be rid of it, but when I simply need to DO something, that’s what I do, and that’s what I did today – went off cycling, found some nice patches of forest that still had functioning understory ecosystems and pulled out the Lantana.

    Thanks again Paul, your not alone.

  301. I propose one test for the thesis of this article, for Kaczynski, and for the others quoted in support of the condemnation of technology.

    Here’s the test:
    In what other time and place on earth would you rather be an ordinary citizen?

    Environmental writers who justly (and often unjustly) worry about the consequences of technology like to pose some kinder, gentler, wiser time in the tenure of humankind on the planet.

    All four of Kaczynski’s princples with which the author and many environmentalists sympathize illlustrate the nonsense of turning backward for solutions:

    1. Technological progress is carrying us to inevitable disaster.

    The Greek gods punished Prometheus for such progress and those who fancy themselves gods have been trying to deprive humanity of the benefits of technology ever since. The human race in pre-history extinguished many species, including other human varieties. Sure technology too can destroy and it has, but not nearly as our non-tech ancestors did.

    2. Only the collapse of modern technological civilization can avert disaster.

    That collapse would be a disaster, at least for humankind. To propose we are a disaster for the rest of nature is to propose that “Nature” has a preference. That would be a theological argument, not a scientific one. Who can argue with faith?

    3. The political left is technological society’s first line of defense against revolution.

    Is that bad? Almost every revolution in the world has led to enormous bloodshed and either dictatorship or totalitarian governments. These governments have been far more devastating to the natural world in their dominion than any other.

    4. What is needed is a new revolutionary movement, dedicated to the elimination of technological society.

    When did that ever happen, and if it were to happen and we were once again organized in survival level tribes making our own goods, we would do as our ancestors did before us–sacrifice anything in the natural world for our own survival.

    Technology and civilization have made preservation of both the wilderness and our own kind possible.

    We will survive and we will save and enhance the world around us, including wildness, not by thinking backward, but by thinking ahead.

  302. To Wallace Kaufman: Interesting. I read this essay in a completely different light. In answer to your first question: an ordinary citizen in the US has it pretty good. Third world countries? Not so much. I suspect we’d disagree about why 3rd world countries are in dire straights, so let’s agree to disagree on that score.

    Is Kingsnorth reminiscing about a wiser, gentler time on the planet? Kind of, but he acknowledges that such a time has probably never existed.

    You only offer half the equation when you say “technology and civilization have made preservation of … wilderness and our own kind possible.” Technology and civilization have also made preservation of wilderness and civilization necessary.

    We seem to have made a species-wide decision to treat the ecosystem we evolved in as a kind of yolk sac, to be devoured by us, relying on faith that once we hatch, we’ll have everything we need to survive, thrive and to recreate a system more to our liking. Perhaps this is, in essence, what all species do.

    Your faith that we have the ability to “enhance wildness” is greater than mine, especially since we have barely begun to understand how “wildness” works, but honestly, looking as you say, forward, I can’t predict what’s ahead, say, in 50 – 100 years. Everything is changing so rapidly, it’s hard to predict what’s ahead in 5 years. Maybe we will, as you say, figure it all out. Maybe we won’t. We won’t be the first on the planet to get kicked off.

  303. Wallace Kaufman, friend of technology and friend of the future, is off by a pretty country mile.
    The test:
    Alas, none of us can time travel. We are here, will always be only here, and so cannot go back.
    1. “The Greek Gods punishged Prometheus for such progress.” What “progress” was this being punished, again? You there, up to this thing we call “progress,” you are to be smited? Secondly, to say that technology has not “destroyed” nearly as much as our” non-tech ancestors” is uterly preposterous. By what measure can the sixth great extinction occurring due to current technology be seen as no big deal? Do you have any idea what is going on in our oceans, our forests, our atmosphere, our mines, our meadows, our entire biosphere?
    2. We are a disaster for the rest of nature. That’s simply a fact, not a theological argument.
    3. Governments of all kinds have specialized in devastation. Our current one in the US is now performing this corporate devastation dance on a world-historical scale.
    4. That’s actually some good old-fashioned nihilism, and most likely accurate, to say the supersystem is heading for bad ends in any eventuality. But then you trot out some feel-good claptrap like “we will enhance the wildness around us” – are you kidding us? Think ahead, think backward, think of nothing – none of that is going to “enhance any wildness.”

  304. Ha,ha,ha!!
    There is one trait that binds us all together. A kind of know-it-all-ism put forth by those who fancy themselves as alternative Gods.

    I think we had better find a way to live that opens up a connection to that small still voice that resides at the center. Each day, find a little time to pay attention to that voice. Then set out doing the best you can to make the world a better place. Human evolution and history is a kind of competition. Inevitably with 7 billion + people, nearly every possible story will arise. Complicating this is that in the end no one can be sure what happened yesterday much less 30 years ago. It is all shrouded in half remembered stories mixed, in unknown ways, with dreams and propaganda. We only have today. It was always that way. Make the most of it.

    Those Gods that emerge right now will only be the ephemeral fantasies of of some journalist of the future trying to make his or her mark.

    So be your own God and don’t worry who notices. Try to do the best you can each day to make the world (and not just the human part)a little better.

    What is better? I would say make it healthier, better educated so that humans have the luxury of considering what is right. At the same time, take actions that increase prosperity for all the life forms, of which we are, in the perspective of geological history, only a vanishingly insignificant flash-in-the pan.

    Quit whining over failure and make whatever small contribution for making it better. And don’t expect anyone to ever notice your good deeds or intentions. Consider yourself lucky if you can even make a small bit of difference. And if you have the courage to live, then maybe at the end you can also experience the idea that you did your best, even if it did not make you rich or famous or even remembered.

    That’s what that still small voice says to me.

  305. Thank you for this fascinating article. Kingsworth’s analysis is praiseworthy and insightful, but I question his personal response to the environmental crisis. It seems to me to be a romantic withdrawal in service to a kind of purity that escapes human beings, though we may long for it. I’m still trying to save the world–or as much of it as we can–through working for a carbon tax and pressing Congress to act. I may at some point withdraw and prepare to live in a post-apocalyptic state, but I’m not there yet.

  306. First, I notice no one gave an answer to my question, “In what other time and place on earth would you rather be an ordinary citizen?”

    We can travel back in time because we have history, paleontology, archaeology, genetics, and other tools.

    Julia’s counter that “Technology and civilization have also made preservation of wilderness and civilization necessary,” is a two-fold proposition.

    Firt, preservation of wilderness (or as Thoreau said, wildness)is not necessary. Necessary to what? I have lived most of my life in wild places and I find them very valuable. The fact is humankind could survive quite well without them.

    To say that technology makes civilization necessary implies that before technology we did not have civilization. That’s reasonable. Would anyone want to live in that condition when life was high risk, painful, violent and short?

    Technology and civilization go hand in hand. While many will say we are far too late in our concern for the environment and other species, the fact remains that only in the last few centuries, and especially in the last 75 years, the societies with the highest levels of technology and civilization are those that understand nature best and that have put most into its preservation and restoration.

    I do not have “faith” (as Julia proposes) that “we have the ability to “enhance wildness””. I have seen people do this. I have hope that we can apply our ability in more and more places.

    If Martin does not think pre-industrial societies devastated large portions of nature without even knowing it, he might want to read environmental history and archeology. Try George Perkins Marsh, Bramwell, Wm. Cronon, Perl’s “A Forest Journey.” He might want to consider the destruction of the ancient Greek environment, the over-grazing of Central Asian steppes, the extinction of megafauna, the transformations of American landscapes by pre-Columbian burning, the fall of the Mayan empire before Columbus, and much more.

  307. Wallace K — Technology in itself is powerless to affect anything until people use it. There might be a way for us to use some of the less destructive and toxic aspects of technology without destroying our planetary home and ourselves. That would require wisdom. We are not demonstrating that wisdom, but are on a hubistic, hedonistic, addictive binge that is headed towards our extinction. We are playing with tools beyond our ability to control them. Children with dynamite.

  308. Wallace Kaufman:
    1.)”In what other time or place on earth would you rather be an ordinary citizen?” That’s easy, definitely the hunter-gatherer days. Yes life would be shorter, but hunter gatherers actually had much more leisure time than the average person today, and though conflicts sometimes arose between tribes, the violence of these conflicts is nothing compared to the violence that exists in our world today. There are many other things that make this time appealing, but I won’t write a novel here.

    2).Your statement that nature is not necessary to humankind reveals not truth, but the human-centric lens through which you view the world. First, how do you define necessary to humankind? If necessary refers to the ability of humankind to survive, than perhaps you are right. (And perhaps not). However most human values are not based on what is absolutely necessary for perpetuation of species. For instance freedom and basic human rights are not necessary for our survival as a species, but we will sacrifice our lives for these things as they are necessary for our well-being.

    The attitude that it is our right to subordinate and do with nature what we will is the attitude that allows us to enslave and commit great atrocities on each other. It is an imbalance of self-interest, a lack of reverence for life. Many indigenous tribes believed in taking only what was needed from the land, care-taking the land by harvesting in such a way that makes it stronger. I believe that our human efforts to consume and bend nature to our wills are ultimately harmful to the human psyche. We fancy ourselves or fellow men as gods and loose touch with a deeper internal guidance.

    Look around. You may be living in a pleasant middle-class bubble, but a large portion of humanity is not doing so well. (It amazes me how we can look back and flinch at the barbarism of ancient times, while remaining so oblivious of the magnitude of the pain and atrocity that currently affect our world).

    Even if human well-being weren’t an issue, it still doesn’t make it right for us to destroy the habitats and lives of other species. They are not objects after all, but living beings. According to your logic, if an advanced species of aliens descended on the planet, they would have every right to destroy us if it suited their fancy. That’s dangerous reasoning, especially in an age when trans and post humanism may be imminent.

    3.) The preservation and restoration of wilderness in advanced societies is a joke. Wilderness is not a pet to be caged in a dwindling number of designated places that are convenient for us.

    4.) Perhaps pre-industrialized societies devastated large portions of nature, however many pre-industrialized societies were already founded on cancerous principles of exploitation (of both land and people). In addition, the destruction of those times is not remotely comparable to the mass scope and scale what is happening today.

  309. Those who seek to defend the status quo or to extend our mindless pillage of the Earth and each other into the future should be classified as dangerously insane.

  310. It is 44 years after the Moon landing and our economists can’t talk about planned obsolescence.

    How much have Americans lost on the depreciation of automobiles since 1969. But no, with all of this talk about Capitalism our schools can’t make 700 year old double-entry accounting mandatory but kids get bombarded with advertising and talk about JOBS.

  311. on subject of progress traps, I think the ultimate insult from industrialisation is the little understood disability called (mcs)multiple chemical sensitivity. it renders the low tech solutions like scything unsustainable due to chronic fatigue, but still I persist in integrating the use of scythe in small incremental stages:o)

  312. Amazing piece. Thank you for putting this into articulation so clearly. Your 5 points resonate well and remind me of Joanna Macy’s great turning.

  313. I have been yo-yoing between optimism and despair over the direction of the human race for years now, but especially of late. Your writing has found me in the midst of a truly epic personal struggle between the two extremes. I have a visceral loving connection with nature and the wild, and what we are doing to it causes me physical pain. That’s when I want to curl up in a foetal position under my doona and go to sleep forever.

    But there is something deep within that won’t let me. Call it optimism; call it hope; call it the rebel in me that refuses to give up – I don’t know. I guess it might be the remnant of a childhood education that put humans at the apex of creation; surely there is more to us than the ability to destroy everything we touch? Not that I believe in ‘God’ per se; but I toy with the notion that there is a Universal intelligence at the root of all things, and we are part and parcel of that ‘creative energy’. Then I read about tax havens that are creating the poverty, disease, starvation and death in the third world that is deprived of their rightful tax income, and GM crops, and the stubborn irresponsibility of the fossil fuel cartels to ‘think outside the box’, and all the other catastrophic results of human endeavour, and I toss out the last bastion of my optimism, Universal intelligence. Don’t see much of it reflected in the human species!

    So my way of coping is to continue to sign petitions (which seems to work quite well), submit my ideas on how to do things better to politicians, institutions and anybody who will listen, and thereby keep myself from a premature leap off the cliff edge. Ho hum….such is life. Thanks for your writing; I do love to read prose that is so beautifully written it could pass for poetry. And thanks for your ideas, even though they do mirror my more sombre conclusions. I’m now off to try and find another boost to my wavering optimism!

  314. My neighbor of 31 years brought this to me. I cut a half-acre of hay by scythe in 1979. The snath broke, and my blade was old, & beat up. I bought a new Austrian blade and an aluminum snath… shiny & modern!
    When I went to work the rest of the field, I discovered that the new snath was Too Light– it didn’t have enough heft to carry the blade through the hay, and I had to make up for that with force… which was Very tiring.
    The cutting was dried and loaded loose into a room in an old hay barn, where I was caretaking (I was living in a school bus). In the Winter it was so cold in the bus that I went to the roomful of hay and slept there, quite comfortably. Hay is wonderful insulation!
    I agree with nearly everything you wrote. One thing, though, is that the online “intentional community” is quite an improvement over the Family, or “unintentional communities”. I stayed off the A/C grid for 12 years, and considered it my “intentional” schooling… because there was a constant learning process that was much more work- and more satisfying than compulsory education.
    About “withdrawal”: take a look at the 6th line of Hexagram 18 in the I Ching. It’s food for thought.

  315. An excellent piece of writing. Thank you for posting it. In spite of the comments of the other Martin (who seems to be arguing against a version of Mr. Kingsnorth created in his own mind, and and not the clear and cogent case presented), I was touched by a recognition of the truth in it. Dark, but not despairing;clear in spite of uncertainty. I look forward to reading further articles.

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