Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Living the End Days

            I've decided that I must be an honest doomer. I must accept doomerism on all levels - loathe though I be! Otherwise, there can be no progress on my part. It is required of me that I realize - and accept -  that the "System" is broke and too broke to fix.

            I know several hard-core doomers, those who believe civilization or humanity itself is doomed to extinction. Some of these hold that our imminent disappearance is a good thing. Wo/man, they hold, is a "cancer" or "virus on the face of the earth". A few more admit the possibility but cannot fully (emotionally, inwardly) accept and "embrace" the inevitability of the trajectory we are on and the vanishingly small amount of time we have left to make a "course correction" to avoid total catastrophe. Until quite recently, a few years I would think, this was my own position on the question of our civilizational crisis..


           Non-acceptance - or outright denial - of our crisis may indeed provide a illusory (and - oh, so fragile!) sense of security. But, much worse, non-acceptance prevents us from seeing the possibilities that collapse opens up. There is an evolutionary, ecological analog of our planetary crisis. Mass extinction events such as the one that wiped out the dinosaurs and flying reptiles, leaving the mammals and birds to run the world. Mass extinctions tear up and rewrite the rule book. They open new evolutionary pathways for life to explore and exploit. The world that emerges from a mass extinction is, in the long run, richer, more diverse, even more resilient (note 1). 

           Intelligence appears as an emergent phenomenon of extinction: critters with big brains, if they survive, tend to get even brainier. New species, even new forms of life, rapidly - and unexpectedly - evolve to occupy vacated ecological niches. New, more complex, networks of ecological relatedness appear. Post-extinction periods are generally periods of heightened biological and ecological innovation. "Necessity is the Mother of Invention".

         We humans living today will remain sterile if we fail to see that our "System" - the one that gave us birth and which nourished us - is failing, is, in effect, dying. It will die: all trend lines show that we are on a non-sustainable trajectory (note 2). But the death of the old System brings the possibility of new beginnings into existence. (If the System did not die these potential births would remain, at best, unfulfilled, latent, sterile..) The death of our globalized, centralized, hierarchalized, top-down systems of control and governance create the opportunity - and the impetus! - for autonomous, self-governing, decentralized, participatory ways of community life to emerge. The transition won't be easy (it will most likely be hellish) but the transition could never happen if the old order was not swept aside to make room for the new.

                          Crossroads, crisis, the parting of the ways, new beginnings

           Ultimately, we - or at least I - must face an unpalatable truth. One, moreover, that is decidedly "psychologically incorrect" in the dominant hubristic, narcissistic neoconservative cultural frame of reference. 

            To be empowered, to possess power, to wield power that serves and blesses life (as opposed to power that poisons or stunts life), I must open myself to the suffering of the world. Otherwise, I too, am doomed.


1-  The rate of extinction for higher taxa (above species level) goes down with each succeeding mass extinction. Why? It as if there were a "learning curve", life is learning to build resilience to mass extinction events. Historian Norman Cohn noted that civilizational transitions seem to happen more rapidly, with less overall destruction, over time. Again, the pattern is of increasing resilience over time.

"Raup collaborated with former UChicago colleague Jack Sepkoski and others to show that there were two components to extinction: a slowly decreasing background rate, interrupted by rare and possibly periodic mass extinctions." (emphasis added) 

2- some notes on current unsustainability 


  1. It almost makes the coming hell worth trying to live through.

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