Friday, 10 April 2009

'You must change your life'

Some sobering reflections on 'the twilightof the industrial age' from John Michael Greer's blog, The Archdruid Report (he really is an Archdruid too):

It’s one thing, after all, to treat the twilight of the industrial age as an abstract possibility, or a dumping ground for Utopian or apocalyptic fantasies, as so often happens these days. It’s quite another to grapple with it as a reality that can be expected to shape the rest of our lives. Those who make the subtle transition from one to the other tolerably often find themselves confronted with some form of the same message the German poet Rainier Maria Rilke received from the statue of Apollo: Du musst dein Leben aendern, “you must change your life.”

First, it’s crucial to remember that our predicament is anything but unique. The fantasy that today’s industrial societies are destiny’s darlings, and therefore exempt from the common fate of civilizations, needs to be set aside; so does the equally misleading fantasy that today’s industrial societies is the worst of all possible worlds and are getting the cataclysmic fate they deserve.

The societies of the industrial world are human cultures, no better or worse than most; for a variety of reasons, they happened to stumble onto the reserves of stored carbon hidden in the Earth, and used most of them in three centuries of reckless exploitation; now, having overshot their resource base like so many other societies, they're following the familiar trajectory of decline and fall. Letting go of the delusion of our own uniqueness enables us to learn from the past, and also makes it easier to set aside some of the unproductive cultural narratives that hamstring so many attempts to respond to our predicament.

Second, one of the lessons the past offers is that the fall of civilizations is a slow, uneven process. None of us are going to wake up one morning a few weeks, or months, or years from now and find ourselves living in the Dark Ages, much less the Stone Age. Thus trying to leap in a single bound to some imagined future is unlikely to work very well; rather, the most effective strategy will be a matter of muddling through, trying to deal with each stage of the descent as it comes into sight, and being prepared to make plenty of midcourse corrections. Flexibility will be more useful than ideology, and making do will be an essential survival skill.

Third, another of the lessons offered by the past is that the long road down is not going to be easy. Like every human society in every age, the future ahead of us will have opportunities for happiness and achievement, of course, and there will doubtless be significant gains to set in the balance against the inevitable losses, especially for those who long for simpler lives at a slower pace. Still, the losses will be terrible; it’s crucial not to sugar-coat them, despite the very real temptation to do so, or to ignore the immense human tragedy that is an inevitable part of the slow death of any civilization.

Fourth, the harsh dimensions of the future can be mitigated, and the positive aspects fostered, by preparations and actions that are well within the reach of individuals, families, and communities. Not all declines and falls are created equal; in many failed civilizations of the past, a relatively small number of people willing to commit themselves to constructive action have made a huge difference in the outcome, and not only in the short term. The same option is wide open today; the one question is whether there will be those willing to take up the challenge.

Fifth, we can only guess at many of the details of the future ahead of us. Drawing up detailed plans for the future may be a source of comfort in the face of a relentlessly unpredictable future, but that same unpredictability makes any plan, no matter how clever or popular, a dubious source of guidance at best. Nor is consensus a useful guide; one further lesson of history is that in every age, the consensus view of the future is consistently wrong. Instead, the deliberate cultivation of diverse and even conflicting approaches by groups and individuals maximizes the likelihood that the broadest possible toolkit will reach the waiting hands of the future.

Read the full article here.

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