Ever since Erik and I and our friend John attended the Age of Limits conference a year ago, I’ve been meaning to offer some kind of measured response to the conference. (The Age of Limits conference is a sort of woodsy fiesta for doomers held annually in Pennsylvania. For more info, follow the link.). I’ve hesitated to do so, though, for two reasons.
The first reason was that I wasn’t sure if I should engage with the topic. Erik will rant now and then, but overall neither of us likes to preach or “opinionate.” We’d rather just focus on the lifestyle, and let people find their own reasons for reading whatever it is we happen to be blogging about.
The second reason was ambition. In my head, a proper response to such complex topics required long, thoughtful essays with footnotes. That was a surefire way to keep myself from writing anything at all.
Yet a year out, memories of the Age of Limits conference nag at me. I wish I were an excellent long form journalist so that I could describe the entire event in detail, because it was such a strange trip, full of interesting characters, unforgettable moments, and strong emotions. We met some really good people there.
I can’t describe the event, not unless you come over to my house and let me ramble on for about two hours, with many asides and breaks for snacks. But I can distill my overall reaction into a handful of concepts which relate more to the overall “doomosphere” than to the conference in particular.
And since this is the Internet, the home of unfounded opinion, I’ve realized I can say whatever I want, with no footnotes. So, if you want to keep reading, I’ve whittled my responses down to five points, but it’s still long.
N.B. This is what I think, not what Erik thinks. He has his own post to write.
1) When someone posits an apocalyptic scenario, he/she is actually positing a dark mirror scenario of the world in which they wish to live, or which they believe they deserve.
- Example: Humans are destroying the planet. We are either inherently evil or an evolutionary mistake, a bug in the program. Therefore we will trigger an environmental cataclysm with will kill us all soon. This is the apocalypse meme of Near Term Extinction (NTE). What’s particularly disturbing about NTE is that it promises not only the demise of humans, but of all life on the planet, because, I suppose we think so much of ourselves that we imagine we can take down Gaia herself. NTE is a reflection of depression and spiritual despair: we should die as quickly as possible to end the existential pain of living with and witnessing the damage we have done to the biosphere.
- Example: Civilization will collapse, resulting in standoff between the unwashed, unprepared, criminal masses and the industrious, well-armed preppers. This is the zombie apocalypse. This represents a deep yearning to be free of laws and civil constraints, to reduce our overly complex society into a simple survival of the fittest paradigm, where, at last, we perhaps can find the fulfillment we lack. Mind, personal fulfillment is the positive spin on this fantasy–the negative one would point out that there’s some pretty fishy stuff involved here in regard to race and class, urban vs. rural, and suppressed desires to blow out our neighbors’ brains with shotguns.
- Example: Any cult/religious belief that Something Big is going to happen to exalt the believers and sweep away the unbelievers. The attraction here is not only increased availability in desirable real estate, but also the assurance that you are special, chosen, and right in all things, and those who disagree with you will get theirs.
In short, whenever someone is speaking about the end times, ask yourself what’s in it for them.
I thank John Michael Greer (especially his book Apocalypse Not) for his writings on this phenomenon, which I’d noticed, but could not articulate as well as he does.
2) The “Good Ol’ Days” were not good times for all of us
Longing for a return to the Good Ol’ Days, when posited as the aftermath of the apocalypse of one’s choice, is a subset of point #1. But it is pervasive, and appears outside of end-times thinking, so deserves its own bullet point.
Among a few of the attendees at last year’s Age of Limits, and elsewhere, I have witnessed a nostalgia for, or romanticizing of, insular, patriarchal agrarian communities. Places where bearded patriarchs rule absolutely in their perfect wisdom, where women know their place and are happy precisely because they know their place (and therefore aren’t confused and fractious, as they are today), and the children are all well behaved for fear of corporal punishment, and people of color are…well…strangely absent from the picture.
Not to be all finger-pointy, but I see this fantasy promoted most often by white men old enough to remember and regret the coming of “women’s lib.”
(Anyone who attended the Age of Limits 2013 will not soon forget the infamous session wherein this model was asserted, and backed from some surprising, and not so surprising quarters, and soundly criticized by most of the women in the audience–most of whom were old enough to remember what it was like before the women’s liberation movement.)
Of course there are plenty of patriarchal agrarian families and communities in existence right now, and I’m not challenging their right to live exactly as they please. I just want to point out that this is only one model, and there are other types of resilient communities that we could choose to build if we were building from scratch.
All of which is to say that the virtues of independence, resilience, craftiness, land wisdom, etc.– the virtues and skills we admire in our ancestors and which many of us cherish and wish to recover more fully–need not be paired with retrogressive social attitudes.
The Good Ol’ Days were not good days for women–nor were they good days for people of color, LGBT folks or followers of minority religions. If you fit any of the above categories, would you volunteer to teleport back to 1776? 1830? 1900? 1950?
I would not. I’d end up being stuffed down a well within a week.
3) The Future Will Not Look Like The Past
People seem to imagine that collapse (or whatever societal catastrophe they invoke) will lead us back to whatever version of the past they most prefer, whether this be Ye Olde Medieval Tymes, Paleo Village or Pioneer Days. I believe the future will always lead us to new places.
While the wheel does go ’round and ’round, the future never looks exactly like the past. I find this vastly reassuring.
4) The Crappening
At the Age of Limits conference I learned two words: Hopium and Despairoin. Hopium is end-timer shorthand for the beliefs that people in denial hold, such as, “Technology will solve all our problems.” Hope is a drug, like opium, because, the thinking goes, there is no hope for us.
Despairoin is a critique of that hopelessness, an observation that despair and melodrama can be as addictive as heroin.
I don’t think we have use for either drug, though a nice glass of wine, whether that be elderberry wine or a nice California red, could help soothe nerves all around.
The truth is no one knows exactly what the future will bring, but it seems fair to say that right now we are in a time of change, and a time of difficulty. It also seems fair to say that your personal experience of these changes and difficulties will vary, depending on where you live, the skills and connections you possess, and how much money you have, etc. The changes will happen in different ways in different places on different timelines.
Nonetheless, I believe the US is in a slow downhill slide. Our empire is overstretching its resource base. Climate change is complicating matters further, and its impact will be deepen in years to come. Witness our burned out cities, the storm damage which is never repaired, the jobs which are never replaced, our failing infrastructure and social programs and our ineffectual political system which seems incapable of addressing any of these issues.
My own personal take on this state of affairs is that we will not bounce back with a miraculous recovery. Instead, things will stagger on, our standards will slip, and we’ll forget what we once had and accept the sinking status quo as a given. This is what I call The Crappening. Which is not to be confused with a Happening, which would be more fun.
I’m a child of the 70’s. I graduated college during the last recession. I’ve always been aware of the downward slide, and suspicious of the various booms and bubbles which have sustained the economy throughout my adult life. I feel that we as a nation have overdrawn our account in so many ways–financial, social, environmental, you name it– and I can’t see how we can ever square those debts.
I admit that this may indeed may be my own version of apocalyptic wishful thinking, my own dark mirror. I hope it is.
At any rate, I should give another nod to John Michael Greer. I don’t agree with everything he says, but of all the prognosticators, and all the speakers at the Age of Limits, his vision aligns best with mine. I would be remiss if I invoke the Crappening without referencing what he calls the The Long Descent.
The Crappening is not the same as collapse. Collapse sounds scary and exciting at the same time. The Crappening simply means that times are crappy and will slowly get crappier still, in a long term descending trajectory of crap. I liken the experience to being unable to leave the miserable town you grew up in for a better place, because there are no better places to go.
There’s no big show to look forward to, in other words. If you are waiting for the apocalypse, look around. This is it.
The Crappening is not a time for valiant last stands. It’s about making due, being sensible and lending a hand to those in need.
If the Crappening has a spirit animal, it would be a little burro with a heavy load on its back. The burro doesn’t think the world is ending because it has to carry a heavy load. It just keeps walking, because that is what you do.
5) There are no answers, only action.
Clear thinking people can see trouble all around us and more on the horizon, and it’s natural to want answers. What should we do? How can we make it better?
I’ve come to the conclusion that there are no answers. It would be nice to know that someone smarter than ourselves has figured this all of out so we don’t have to. I know that’s how I feel: Where are the grownups?
All I can say to myself and anyone who wants to listen to me is:
1) Don’t panic and
2) Get busy
Any change or positive action to come about in the coming years will come from the ground level, person by person, house by house, community by community. Erik and I have been saying this for years. It’s more true than ever.
If lots and lots of people made changes in the way they live, and thus used fewer resources and cut down on our carbon emissions, we might slow down some aspects of the Crappening. That would be dandy.
But salvation is not the point. We cannot know if that would ever happen, anyway. Action will keep us sane, help us day to day, and at the same time, it is the only thing likely to help the big picture.
It’s a bit Zen. The point of action is not that it will save us, it’s in the action itself. It’s the process, not the outcome. It’s the practice, not the theory. It’s about the kind of life you build, and how you feel in your skin living that life.
What does “get busy” mean?
Regular Root Simple readers know this, and are doing it. Still:
• Disconnect from materialist culture. Get out of debt. Downsize. Simplify. Insulate and weatherstrip. Install that greywater system. Prepare for storms. Be ready for the worst, but don’t fear it.
• If you want to engage with politics, do so on a local level. Fight for walkable, bikeable cities and locally grown food via farmers markets, community gardens, cottage food co-ops, etc.
• Become attuned to the cycles of life and death, decay and renewal. Keep a compost pile, a worm bin, a composting toilet. They’re useful systems, and they teach you a lot about life.
• If you don’t have a faith or a philosophy to follow, consider finding some conceptual framework to hang your reality upon. It helps.
• Let creativity flourish. Learn to play instrument, tell a story, work clay or whittle toys from wood.
There have always been hard times. And there has always been laughter and beauty and love in the midst of those hard times. Look to those things. Ignore the apocalypse.