Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Six Signs You’ve Become Disconnected from Nature & Reflections on Civilization

disconnected1. You view nature as a “resource.”

Nine thousand years ago, when human beings began to cultivate the ground and grow their food on a more organized and systematic scale, we began to see ourselves as being in control of the land and of nature. For our civilization, it was a turning point. Agriculture and animal husbandry allowed civilization to flourish and develop. We began to tame the forests and prairies and build expansive cities where great minds could invent and explore and innovate.
However, in the process of all this so-called “progress” we’ve become convinced we are somehow separate from nature. We’ve somehow forgotten that we, too, are animals and that we need a healthy and thriving ecosystem in order to breathe, eat, feel content and safe. We are not exempt from the laws of biology and physics.
Like animals, we need to eat and take shelter. But unlike animals, we take much more than we need and we enslave and marginalize those of our species that we see as inferior or undeserving. We compete instead of cooperating. We spoil and poison the land where we live.
We have forgotten that everything is connected; that when we blow off a mountaintop in order to extract coal, we pollute the waterways and air and cause suffering in other ways; that when we kill off the predators in an area to protect our livestock, we see an explosion in the population of herbivores, who soon decimate the landscape with their foraging.
If you know you’re guilty of seeing nature only as food or a “resource” to be exploited or used up, you probably need to spend a week enjoying the beauty of nearby wilderness, to see how there is intrinsic value in nature, not just economic value. Because without a healthy ecosystem, you yourself will become diseased.

2. You have no idea what the native plants and animals are where you live.

This is because you don’t go outside enough to have a chance to see them, or you simply aren’t aware of what grows naturally outside of the pristinely maintained shrubs and lawns of your suburb. (By the way, most of the weeds on your lawn are not native; they were imported many decades ago as seeds in cargo ships and on the clothing of travelers and pioneers.)
If you spend a lot of time outside, whether on daily walks or just relaxing in your backyard, you’ll notice some things. You’ll notice what time the sun rises and sets each day, and you’ll look forward to the solstice and the shift toward longer days. You’ll know the average first day of the first frost, or exactly when in the spring trees start to bud in the spring.
If you know all this, you’ll be aware when the climate changes and things start to go awry. You’ll see more or less of a bird species and you’ll realize that a warm winter and a sudden spring freeze means no fruit from your plum trees in the summer. You’ll know that less fruit year after year means less birds and animals.
When you’re aware of the ebb and flow of the natural process where you live, you know immediately when something isn’t right, or is out of the norm. Not only that, but you’ll know the effect those changes will have on the wildlife and landscape in your city. Not many people can do that. Maybe that’s one reason why some climate change skeptics might think temperatures getting a little warmer (or colder) is actually a good thing.

3. You feel an underlying sense of despair about what’s happening to the Earth.

You watch the news, you see the kind of books that are appearing on the bestseller list year after year, and you’ve seen documentaries that have enraged and depressed you. You know that we’re experiencing a rate of species extinction that is so pervasive and accelerated, it’s rivaled only by what happened in the Permian era, or maybe the Jurassic era that wiped out the dinosaurs. And yet, no comet has collided with our planet. The source of the impact this time is humans.
You’ve heard about climate change and peak oil and you’re disturbed and frightened by what you imagine might happen to civilization a decade or a century from now.
And yet, you have to live in this world and participate in society just like everyone else. You still have to drive to and from work. You eat food you know is probably tainted with GMOs and imported from ridiculous distances away. You feel like you need to own certain things in order to function in this world—like cell phones or computers—but these things are making you feel more stressed and disconnected.
You know things have to change, but you don’t know how. You want to do something, but you don’t know what. You feel a vague sense of doom and despair that never quite goes away.
If you’re feeling this way, the best remedy might be to shut everything off for a while and go spend a weekend in a natural setting. When you spent time in the woods or in the peace and solitude of nature, you realize that there still is a sense of order and sacredness in the world.  You feel aligned with the world in a way that’s ancient and unshakeable. The despair dissipates for a while, because you sense that whatever happens, that mountain will remain in its glory centuries, even millennia from now.
Another remedy is to do something—join an organization that is working toward changing the paradigm of our culture.

4. You’re feeling down and you don’t know why.

Human beings need a connection to the natural world in order to feel mentally healthy and whole. Whether that connection is a pet, a garden, a tree or a nearby park—it doesn’t matter. Studies have shown that spending time in a natural setting can be psychologically healing and relieve stress. One study in particular done in the U.K. concluded that individuals who spent the same amount of time walking in a park each day reported feeling less depressed and stressed than another group that spent the same amount of time walking in a mall.
So if you’re feeling down and you don’t know why, take a walk outside, preferably somewhere with plants and animals and the sound of birds chirping. You’ll feel a little bit better, and if you do this often enough, it might just keep the blues at bay.

5. You saw the movie “Avatar” and now the real world seems gray and depressing in comparison.

A recent article on CNN reveals that some people who saw the movie “Avatar” feel depressed and even suicidal over the idea that the utopian, beautiful world of Pandora does not exist on Earth. One moviegoer posted this on an Avatar forum:
“When I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed … gray. It was like my whole life, everything I’ve done and worked for, lost its meaning. It just seems so … meaningless. I still don’t really see any reason to keep … doing things at all. I live in a dying world.”
While I haven’t seen the movie myself, I’ve heard from several people that it has “ecopsychological” undertones. It appeals to our desire for a better connection to our world, for a more sustainable relationship with the Earth that would allow the possibility of the kind of beauty and prosperity that’s depicted in the movie.
If Avatar depressed you, you probably need to find a beautiful place in nature and spend a little time there.

5. If you had an acre of land and you suddenly had to grow all your own food, you know you’d starve.

If things got bad economically and there were food shortages, or if you couldn’t afford store-bought food for some reason, you suspect you’d be in trouble.
Not just because you may not own enough land to cultivate, but because you wouldn’t know what to do with that land if you had it.
That’s because you have no idea about how to mend the soil, how to grow food, and how to save seeds. It’s not your fault, really. Agriculture and animal husbandry isn’t something that’s taught in public schools, not even rural ones.
Blame it on the industrialization and globalization. Even people living in the West knew how to be self-reliant probably up until fifty years ago. During the Depression many of those that survived and thrived did so because they were able to grow their own food. Victory Gardens that sprang up during WWII provided 40% of the American population’s vegetable and fruit needs. When Cuba faced an oil crises in the early 90s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, most people lost an average of 20 pounds because they were eating less and walking more. Fortunately for Cubans, they didn’t starve en masse because many city dwellers still remembered how to cultivate the soil and grow food, so when the government mandated that every available inch of ground be used to plant crops, an urban revolution took place. Empty lots became community gardens and rooftops became lush with edible plants. People knew what to do, and if they didn’t, they had relatives and friends who did.
You don’t have to grow all your own food now. You don’t even have to have land. But it’s good to learn how, whether through renting a plot in a community garden or volunteering at a local CSA.
It’ll make you appreciate the soil, the climate and the land where you live.

6. Your idea of a good time is Las Vegas, Monday Night Football, and spending the entire day at the mall.

Hey, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t enjoy watching sports once in a while or letting it all hang out when you’re on vacation. I enjoy shopping and entertainment just as much as the next person. It’s when you rely on those things for your sense of fulfillment and joy that it becomes a problem.
What happens when the TV stops working for some reason or you’re unemployed and can no longer afford to go shopping? What happens when vacations become staycations due to budget constraints and you’re faced with an entire week at home with no money to spend on outside entertainment?
The bigger question is—are any of these activities really contributing to your physical and psychological wellbeing?
There is such joy in seeing mist float over a lake. The sound of rain dripping off trees or the wind combing through a meadow can put you at ease. A deep red desert canyon is both mysterious and timeless to contemplate. None of these things—short of the resources it may take to drive to where they are—cost money to enjoy. You can even find a trail near your house and spend an hour watching birds. Nature is everywhere. You are nature. You belong to this Earth, you just need to find your place in it.

Reflections on Civilization: Dialogue with Carolyn Baker

civilizationA few months ago, I struck up an online friendship with the acclaimed author and academic Carolyn Baker. It was clear that we were both writing about similar things, but I didn’t realise quite how similar until I had the fortunate opportunity to review her latest book, Sacred Demise: Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse. This fine text, and her generous appreciation of my work, was the catalyst for the ongoing dialogue that this article presents.
The dialogue is not yet complete, but rather than wait for a natural end, I thought it would be nice to publish the text now, and keep adding to it as the questioning process progressed.

December 9, 2009

Keith Farnish: Carolyn, thank you very much for agreeing to this “back and forth” interview. With your book Sacred Demise very much still in my mind, I would like to ask what led you to take such a pragmatic approach to the collapse of Industrial Civilization; in other words, what makes you so sure it will happen soon?
Carolyn Baker: You ask why I take such a pragmatic approach to the collapse of civilization and what makes me so sure it will happen. In order to answer that question, I must give you some background. First, I was an adjunct professor of history for over a decade, and I authored a book called U.S. History Uncensored: What Your High School Textbook Didn’t Tell You. Some people have called it “Howard Zinn on steroids”. In the year 2000 I was introduced to Mike Ruppert’s From The Wilderness website and a couple of years later through his site to Peak Oil. At about the same time, he began writing about a coming economic collapse, somewhat but not entirely, related to 9/11. He featured articles analyzing the likelihood of an impending housing bubble and a global economic meltdown. The site also explored climate change and its relation to Peak Oil and economic meltdown. In fact, as a writer for From The Wilderness mid-decade, I began using the term “toxic triangle” to explain the relationship between Peak Oil, climate change, and economic meltdown. For almost a decade, I have been researching how we got to the current state of affairs. In 2007 the most powerful documentary I have yet seen on these issues, specifically the reality and certainty of collapse, “What A Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire” was released. Superbly researched (all sources may be found at the movie’s website at whatawaytogomovie.com), this documentary removes all “yes-but’s” about collapse.
In Sacred Demise, I cited “What a Way to Go” numerous times, but I avoided going into the research validating the inevitability of collapse because the intention of the book was not to “defend” collapse but to assist the reader in preparing emotionally and spiritually for it. At the end of the book I presented a list of reading and viewing resources for any reader desiring additional resources on the topic of collapse.
That said, the real issue is that collapse is not a future event; it’s happening as we speak. At least 80% of what was forecasted by From The Wilderness in the past decade is now occurring. As Mike Ruppert states in his current magnificent “Collapse” movie, it’s a waste of time and energy to debate the reality of Peak Oil and climate change because they are happening as certainly as is global economic meltdown. So in summary, I’m certain that collapse is happening and that it will only exacerbate in the coming months and years.

December 11, 2009

Carolyn Baker: In Time’s Up! you have wisely distinguished between hope that is useful and harmless, and hope that abdicates responsibility. I’d like to hear more about this distinction and in terms of the ten Tools of Disconnection. As you know, the current president of the United States sealed his electoral fate by running on a platform of “hope” and “change”. Almost two years later, we are now seeing the pathetic results of those two shibboleths in terms of what’s happening on the ground rather than in the vacuous minds of Obama enthusiasts. Please elaborate.
Keith Farnish: “Vacuous minds”, I like that! As you know, in modern civilized cultures we hang on to the idea of Hope as though it has some kind of innate power; I described it in my book as “Secular prayer”. Its use in the Obama camp up to the election and now in the wake of the Copenhagen summit has been in this very form, taken to its apotheosis by writers like Bill McKibben who seem to feel that simply by hoping hard enough for a positive outcome, along with a series of time-wasting symbolic actions, the corner will be turned. As your previous answer spells out succinctly, a corner has indeed been turned, and we are headed down Collapse Street. In the face of a series of ever-worsening news items, the latest being evidence of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet melting, it is actually not that surprising people feel powerless. As I see it, this powerlessness is being exploited by both the political system and the environmental mainstream to ensure we continue to support the “business as usual” agenda—and yes, I am saying that Bill McKibben and the 350.org team are supporting business as usual; why else would they ask us to appeal to “our leaders”.
The Tools of Disconnection were something I laid out to simplify to methods that Industrial Civilization uses to keep us disconnected from the real world (in essence, the natural world of which we are part) in favour of a synthetic creation that exists to create wealth, and give power to the latest people who crawl their way to the top of the global hierarchy. Among these tools are things we are very familiar with, such as advertising (“Sell Us A Dream”), authority (“Exploit Our Trust”) and violence (“Abuse Us”). Hope is the tenth, and possibly the most powerful of these Tools, because it is a practice carried out by so many different groups of people, some of whom we consider to be on our side.
I have no problem saying to someone “I hope you have a nice day”, but I will never say to someone “I hope we have the energy and commitment to make things better”. That’s worse than naive, it is dangerous. As Derrick Jensen wrote, so clearly as he always does: “When hope dies, action begins.”

December 18, 2009

Keith Farnish: As collapse starts to take hold, what will you be doing?
Carolyn Baker: What I will be doing as collapse takes hold is what I’ve been doing for many years. The first activity and the one that started my awakening was and is to become and remain informed about what is actually happening as opposed to what the media of civilization is telling us is happening. I have done many things logistically to prepare—things like food storage, creating a community of allies around me, and of course, relocating to a more sustainable and conscious part of the United States. My most significant relationships are with people who are collapse-aware and with whom I am able to talk about the inevitable—people who are also preparing. Above all, I see the world these days through the lens of collapse which causes me to appreciate all of the modest comforts I have, the supportive people in my life, the food I eat, the clean water I drink, and the health I’m privileged to enjoy. I am consciously preparing myself emotionally and spiritually for the unraveling. I know that some have a difficult time with the word “spiritual”, but actually, what I mean by that is beautifully echoed in one sentence in your chapter in Time’s Up! on “Being Ourselves” when you say that “If you are prepared for it, then the journey and the eventual destination can show you what it is really like to be human.” For me, that is the essence of “spiritual.” Civilization has robbed us of our intimate connection with our own humanity—something that I sometimes call our “indigenous self”, and like indigenous people revolting against colonization, collapse is offering us the opportunity to uncolonize and reclaim the indigenous self within us.
Another part of preparation—and it is of course fundamental to the reconnection of which you speak—is my connection with nature. That connection, if deeply felt and viscerally experienced, will inform our priorities, our relationships, our parenting, how we eat, travel, spend our time—virtually every aspect of our lives. A fellow blogger, Guy McPherson names his blog Nature Bats Last. I endeavor to live my life listening to nature and allowing it to have the last word in my life as much as possible. Of course, that doesn’t mean that if I’m in the forest and see a bear, I’m going to run toward it and embrace it, but it may mean that after removing myself from its territory, I reflect on the encounter and what nature might be trying to communicate to me. And while I admit that imagining myself in a post-collapse, post-petroleum world is difficult, I know that my current logistical, emotional, and spiritual preparations will serve me well and far better I hope, than the person who refuses to look at what is actually happening to this planet and its inhabitants.

December 20, 2009

Carolyn Baker: I’d like to hear your thoughts on the recent Copenhagen circus and how that relates to what you’ve written in Time’s Up! Even mainstream media is using that phrase (time’s up) in relation to the farce that Copenhagen has proven to be. Please elaborate.
Keith Farnish: There was a part of me that, at least for a while, thought the insertion of the phrase “Be aware that authority figures within the system, such as political leaders and corporations, will attempt to provide you with ‘green’ advice: this advice is designed to ensure that civilization continues, and should be ignored,” in the Eco-Meme was a little long-winded and even too obvious to include. It has sadly turned out to be right on the button. Given that the watching public had their expectations wound up to a screaming frenzy with phrases like, “Copenhagen is our last hope”, it is clear that—in the wake of its utter failure to deliver anything substantial—the world has once again been duped. This blame lies not only with the Corporations (who lobbied like fury to ensure there was disagreement and doubt) and the Politicians (who simply did what they were told by the system they a part of), but also to a great extent the absurd behaviour of the environmental NGOs, filling us with a false and dangerous hope—precisely what I alluded to in my previous answer.
Jim Hansen, eminent climate scientist at GISS, said of the Copenhagen Summit: “any agreement emerging from the summit is likely to be deeply flawed; suggesting that the best way to tackle global warming may be to let future generations start from scratch.” This was, of course, decried by the civilized world as flying in the face of reasonable opinion, whatever that is; clearly there is nothing reasonable about condemning the Earth to a mass ecological die-off, but in order to prevent such a scenario, we have to “condemn” the world to economic failure. What came out of Copenhagen was a big thumbs-up to economic growth, and a big “F*** you!” to ecological survival. No wonder a growing number of people are realising the folly of trusting our future to politics.
In as far as the actions towards the end of my book go; the Copenhagen farce simply reinforces the need to undermine the system, because clearly we don’t have a future if we allow it to remain.

December 24, 2009

Keith Farnish: In your book, Sacred Demise you are keen to stress that there is a better world after collapse if you are prepared to embrace it. I wholeheartedly agree, and wonder if you see encouraging the collapse process to be a corollary of this view.
Carolyn Baker: I absolutely believe that encouraging the collapse of industrial civilization is desirable and necessary. Some would disagree and argue that that would lead to more suffering and loss of live. I’m not sure that the suffering and loss of life resulting from civilization “running its course” would not be as bad or worse and quite simply be a wash. Derrick Jensen has given us voluminous evidence that civilization is like the perpetrator of abuse in a family system. The entire system is set up to protect the abuser, and everyone in the family has bought into the belief that the consequences of busting the abuser are much worse than remaining silent and allowing the perpetrator to continue abusing. Occasionally, a member of the system “buys out” of it and blows the whistle by screaming the secrets within and/or outside the family. This is profoundly liberating for the person breaking silence and ultimately, whether they realize it or not, helps liberate the family. In such cases, even if abuse continues and some of the family members defend and enable the perpetrator, the system can never be the same and will slowly or quickly implode.
I have to say that even now, I see signs of this same dynamic occurring in civilization. Millions of people are buying out of it, even as millions more are waiting for a “return to normal.” Recently, I attended a meeting of the New Unemployment  here in Boulder, Colorado in which people are networking and dialoging about the “gift” of being laid off or being unable to find a job because they now finally see through the capitalist system and realize that it is taking them and the earth nowhere except to death and destruction. These folks are using their unemployed time to first of all, discover what it is that they really want to do with their lives, and also using the time to create things they have wanted to create all their lives. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have bills to pay; it doesn’t mean they aren’t scared and anxious about how they will pay them, but it does mean that they will now move forward to structure a livelihood that departs from the values of industrial civilization in ways that will bring meaning and purpose to their lives.
I believe that we can assist the collapse process by both buying out of civilization and by actively undermining it as you explain so articulately in your book. In my recent Winter Solstice article, I talked about indigenous cultures in which the elders or wisdom leaders of the tribe or clan, have two very important roles. One is to speak the truth about whatever they see that is wrong or right with the community. They are not concerned with being liked, but only with speaking the truth so that the community continues to adhere to its values so that it can sustain itself. The other job of the elder is to help create things of beauty. In that way, he or she is both a prophet and an artist. I believe that this is what we must be in our efforts to undermine civilization. Moreover, I believe that we must be discerning and stealthy in our efforts to undermine, and you refer to this as well in Time’s Up! It is very important that we speak the truth when that is appropriate, be discreet, and create as much beauty in our lives and communities as possible.

December 31, 2009

Carolyn Baker: My next question for you has to do with the second suggestion you make on Page 221 of Time’s Up! in which you admonish us to live in ways that do not contribute to the global economy. Would you elaborate and give specific examples of what that would look like for most people.
Keith Farnish: This is a very timely question indeed, for two reasons: it coincides with a variety of reports that the global economy is starting to pick up again in the aftermath of the global recession; it also comes shortly after a comment was made on the Orion Magazine web site, in response to another great article by Derrick Jensen. The comment was made with regards to the possible ways we can help undermine Industrial Civilization:
“Do nothing. The industrial complex thrives on activity. It churns activity like corn in a mill. If you do nothing (not buying stuff, not watching tv, not doing overtime) you remove the paste from the millstone and the wheels destroy themselves in a great roar of economic hunger—no help needed.”
I don’t claim anything I write is other than common sense, so for me to say this comment was inspired by anything I have written would be boastful, although these words are reflected in what I say in my book, which makes it particularly heartening to see someone else writing almost exactly the same—I guess it means I must be onto something:
“Your place in the system is as a component in a massive food web. Like all food webs, it is driven by energy; physical energy sources like oil, gas, coal and radioactive materials drive the machines that ensure money keeps floating to the top of the vat where the Elites skim it off to add to their wealth. If you are resourceful or in a role that holds some status, you can have some of this wealth too, and the material trappings that come with it. Without the energy that drives the web, though, there is no money, and there is no web. It is not just the oil, gas, coal and various sources of radiation that keep the web operating though—people are equally vital, more so, in fact. Unless people run the machines, staff the shops, build the products, drive the lorries, create the advertisements, read the news and enforce the law, the web will collapse upon itself, bringing the entire hierarchy down with it.”
In that respect, the answer to your question revolves around the idea of, initially, a clear recognition that much of what you do is actively contributing to the larger process of global ecological destruction, simply by virtue of your being a part of the system; and then progressively withdrawing from the system so that you (a) don’t play your part in this destructive process and (b) weaken the system that requires your input to thrive. The “recognition” stage is the trigger, and is very difficult for most civilized people to attain due to the “Tools of Disconnection” keeping us active contributors; but once this stage is attained, the “withdrawal” process can proceed with aplomb.
I would probably recommend, if I was forced to be prescriptive, the following first stages of withdrawal:
  1. Reduce your consumption of new, non-perishable items to an absolute minimum, which will require a certain level of willpower and tenacity, particularly if you have children and live in an urban or suburban location. Combine the reduction in “newsumption” with the purchase of pre-owned items and the repair of existing items, and this becomes a lot easier.
  2. Localise your activity, including where your food originally comes from (if you grow it yourself or communally, then you cut out all sorts of economic ties); how far you travel to obtain goods and services – including how far people providing these to you have to travel; how far you travel to “work” (see later); and where your energy comes from, so if you can generate it yourself, so much the better.
  3. Taking the first stage into account, if you can reduce your expenses to a bare minimum, then you will almost certainly need to do less paid work, and can potentially work for yourself rather than for the Man. Not only will you have a lot more time to spend with your family, friends and your own efforts to make your life uncivilized; you will also be out of the industrialised “work-play-work” loop, which determines to a great extent how people live.
Of course there are many other things you can do, but that’s already quite a lot to be going on with for the average civilized, commerce-soaked individual. Anyone reading this will no doubt be able to work out many other withdrawal activities they can carry out and, just as importantly, help and encourage others to also take part in.

January 4, 2010

Keith Farnish: In your latest article on Speaking Truth To Power—a brilliant analysis of the relevance of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to the industrial world—you touch on the way that many activists throw themselves into work in order to avoid facing up to the reality of the situation. This is, effectively, the first and most potently destructive stage of the Kübler-Ross Grief model, i.e. Denial. Speaking as a psychotherapist, how important to you feel a pragmatic attitude to bereavement is, in the face of the world we are now facing?
Carolyn Baker: In the face of the world we are facing, I believe that authentic grieving is more important than it has ever been. Psychological research repeatedly confirms that “good grief”, that is grief that is fully felt and allowed, is healing, cleansing, and empowering whereas blocked grief is terribly toxic and leads to depression, anxiety, and suicide.
Grief is another one of those realities in industrial civilization that has repeatedly been swept under the rug as not worthy of our valuable time which should be spent colonizing someone and making a profit off of something. In fact, on one blog (which shall remain nameless) where I posted my article on Transition Trauma, I received, (exclusively from men I might add) comments like, “Rubbish! We need to grow up, grow a pair, and pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and not rely on ’support’ from other people.” I was appalled because I thought this was 2010 and that John Wayne was dead. But this is the legacy of civilization. In fact, I would not hesitate to declare that blocked grief is one reason (besides cheap and abundant oil) that industrial civilization has been so wildly “successful” until recent years in which many humans and certainly all other species recognize what a nightmare it really is.
Now more than ever, we need to grieve, and if we think there is much to grieve now, we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. Paradoxically, grief, while it might appear to “weaken” us, if fully experienced, empowers us to rise up and say, “No more!” One classic example I can think of is Cindy Sheehan here in the U.S. When she allowed herself to go to the depths of her grief regarding the loss of her son Casey in the Iraq War, she rose up in wizened rage to stop the war machine and the politicians waxing fat and happy from it. Hell hath no fury, you might say, like human beings who feel the depths of evil and injustice in the fibers of of their guts. So rather than grief paralyzing us so that we can’t act, it has the capacity to take us to passion and fervor that we never knew we had. In this sense, grief is now more “pragmatic” than it has ever been. Through allowing ourselves to experience it, we reclaim the humanity stolen from us by civilization, and accessing that treasure, I believe, gives us the compassion, spine, and deep conviction to resist and stop civilization’s madness on behalf of ourselves and the entire community of life.
So I say, bring on the grieving—now more than ever.

January 8, 2010

Carolyn Baker: As I look at the world in the first days of 2010, I see anything but a pretty picture—more real or bogus threats of terror attacks, a widening war in the Middle East—I won’t bore you with the list because I know you see it too. Yet what I see among most members of industrial society is mind numbing, insipid apathy and mediocrity and the delusion that things will somehow return to normal in 2010—or at least by 2011. This is frightening to me, and I am inclined to believe, given the state of the world, that a dramatic event of gargantuan proportions will be necessary to alter this apathy. In fact, I believe that if we don’t receive some kind of wake up call in 2010, we can pretty well kiss our butts goodbye. I hope this question isn’t too open-ended or broad, but I’m wondering what you see in that regard.
Keith Farnish: This is a fascinating question for all sorts of reasons, but particularly for me because it is something I have had at the back of my mind since October 2007; this was when a friend of mine sent me a report about a drought in Atlanta, Georgia, to which she appended this comment:
“The ominous lesson: if most people can’t understand something as immediate and simple as seeing their own reservoir for drinking water going bone dry, they won’t change for any less obvious threat.  They have to experience seeing their grass and trees die while they drink bottled water and go unwashed. Anything mechanical needing water won’t have any, such as turbines in power plants.  (And the southeast relies heavily on coal for electrical power plants.) Like you say, they are totally disconnected from the natural world and how it sustains them.”
It resonated like a gong in my head, yet I hadn’t been able to find an appropriate place to reflect on this until now. My initial response was harsh, but I expect quite a few people will have sympathy with it:
“Wow! What a thought! You may not have said it directly, but what we need is real sufferance that is the direct result of human activity—sufferance  that doesn’t take the rest of the ecosystem with it but acts as a big pointy stick to the people causing the problem. Localised droughts are certainly that—wouldn’t you love to see Las Vegas run out of water or have a huge blackout?”
What would be the reaction to Las Vegas running out of water? It’s a difficult one to call, but have no doubt politicians and corporations will clamour to gain advantage from the situation; blame will be apportioned, authorities will be sued, profligate businesses may even be held to account so long as the concept of “Las Vegas” can somehow be maintained. New pipelines will be constructed with the Bechtels of this world getting the contracts; wells will be dug deeper and rivers will be sucked dry…the machine must keep turning, the people mustn’t know it is fallible! There will be water riots, most likely, and some people might just realise that things are not how they should be.
I never made it to the end of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine—it was simply too bleak, and the point had been awfully well made within a couple of chapters. Klein’s analysis suggests that a disaster of any type that presents an opportunity for further social suppression and free-market economics will be seized upon by those best placed to do so. If this sounds bleak then it shouldn’t do, because—as was seen so vividly in post-Katrina New Orleans and as is being seen as I write across the Northern Hemisphere in this period of uncharacteristically heavy snow—in periods of crisis people become remarkable resourceful; they return to basic human instincts of co-operation and survival. I believe that even though such events are exploited by the system for the benefit of its elite members, they can also be times where the best in humanity is revealed.
If those among us that want to rid the world of the hyper-exploitative industrial consumer culture are ready to act in times of hardship, then the fuse for genuine change may be lit at times like this. It would be morally wrong to hope for truly distressing events—we should not hope for anything—but when they do come, we must be ready to hold peoples’ hands and tell them that there is another way to live.

Carolyn Baker is a historian, psychologist and practising psychotherapist. She runs the website Speaking Truth To Power (www.carolynbaker.net). Her latest book is Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse.