Two weeks ago Mike Ruppert committed suicide. The news hit me harder than I would have thought, and I’ve been pondering over it and even choked up a few times knowing we would never hear anything new from his voice ever again. I’ve debated whether or not to resurrect my functionally defunct blog to address this and decided I should for two reasons. First, because I am a writer and writing is how I work things out. Second, because Mike’s suicide has left a giant herd of elephants in the living room that needs to be addressed.
I did not know Mike personally — I exchanged perhaps a half-dozen emails with him over 13 years, and I met him very briefly at the 2006 Local Solutions conference. His work had a profound impact on my life, however, as I’m sure it did on many, many others. I first heard him on KBOO in Portland the morning after his original Truth & Lies of 9/11 presentation and have been a staunch peak oil doomer ever since. This would have been November 2001 I believe. He inspired me to major in journalism when I returned to college, at the age of 34, in 2002. In 2005 I started up my original peak oil blog, Adaptation, which in turn got me invited to speak at the Local Solutions conference (which didn’t happen for reasons I won’t get into here). Since that time I have been blogging, however erratically, on the theme of collapse. It would be hard to overstate the influence Mike had on my worldview and the direction my life has taken since I first heard him on the radio long ago.
Mike was a scout and a leader. A scout in that he traveled the path ahead of us, his ragtag doomer tribe, and consistently alerted us to dangers that lie ahead. A leader in that he always went first down that path, willing to put his own resources and reputation on the line to make sure things were safe (or as safe as any mortal could make them) for all of us. His vision was so clear, and his intentions so worthy, that I was willing to overlook his colossal ego — I considered it a tolerable human failing in the face of such exceptional work.
In the summer of 2006, just a few months after the Local Solutions conference, the hammer dropped on From The Wilderness and Mike was thrown from the path. He fled to Venezuela to escape what he felt was (and I believe probably really was) imminent danger. Mike had enemies in high places. I do not know what transpired in Venezuela, exactly, but it must have been very ugly. He became ill and flew first to Canada, then to New York City, for medical treatment. He was hospitalized for a while and spent another long while recovering.
He returned to public life with his film Collapse and his new community website Collapsenet.com. But he was changed, and in my opinion his vision was no longer as clear as it had been. I believe now that he never truly recovered from the demise of From The Wilderness and from whatever happened to him in Venezuela. He began promoting collapse solutions/responses/preparations that deviated sharply from those he had promoted previously. He was going the wrong way. Somehow, in spite of his gargantuan ego, he forgot that he’d been right. I canceled my subscription to Collapsenet.com in early 2011, and eventually stopped reading the headlines there altogether.
And then he jumped on the Near Term Extinction bandwagon. It was at this point that I muted his updates in my Facebook stream and my exposure to Mike Ruppert ceased altogether.
Near Term Extinction (NTE) is all the rage presently among doomfolk, particularly boomer doomers. Chief evangelist for NTE is biologist Guy McPherson. Guy’s work (I don’t know Guy McPherson at all and feel weird referring to him by first name only, but referring to him by his last name only sounds cold and condescending, which I don’t want to sound like, so please excuse the inappropriate informality) on climate change and its impacts, so far as I have looked into it, appears to be as impeccable as Mike’s journalism always was. He paints a grim picture: climate change, both directly and indirectly, will cause the extinction of the entire human race in the next 40-ish years or so. It’s really quite impossible to argue with Guy’s math, and I don’t.
My argument with the NTE position is simply this: past performance does not guarantee future results. Yes, trends are heading in a particular direction. But one of the first things we learned about the cornucopian, peak-oil-denier position is that these folks fully expect oil production to continue growing infinitely because the line on the graph points up. They can’t understand that past performance does not guarantee future results.
So it is with NTE. We don’t know the future; we can’t know that trends will continue as they are until every last human is killed off. It is intellectually dishonest to say we do know. We don’t.
Moreover, the scientific-materialist paradigm does not take into account the agency raw consciousness has within our physical domain. The Earth is a living system comprised of the consciousnesses of all her inhabitants, animal, plant, mineral, and otherwise. Moreover, all of these are part-and-parcel with the infinite Universal consciousness. That science lacks devices to measure consciousness doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It is there — it’s the water we fish are unable to perceive. Consciousness does not want non-being.
In reading the comments at Guy’s blog and taking in other NTE media, it doesn’t seem as if anyone is really interested in addressing the facts that the future is unwritten and that Earth’s beings, humans in particular, possess both consciousness and agency. In the extinct-o-sphere, human extinction within the next 40 years is a foregone conclusion. Why would anyone commit themselves so completely to such an incomprehensible fatalism when the truth of the matter has yet to be determined? How is this any different than holding to a cornucopian view? Both lay claim to the unknowable future. They are, in fact, flip sides of the same coin.
This commitment to near term human extinction, and corresponding refusal to recognize the limits of knowable information, bothered me so much I stopped reading Guy’s blog too. In fact I read it for only a short time before I no longer wanted to return.
NTE adherents will undoubtedly proclaim me a “denier,” but in fact, they are the ones who deny the truth that the future is unknowable. Human extinction is not baked into the cake until the last breeding population of humans is decimated. We have a very, very long way to go before we are there. Sometimes, once in a while, the truth of a matter is good and not evil.
So far I have not delved into any lengthy examination of this commitment to human extinction but Mike Ruppert’s suicide has given the issue an urgency, for me, it did not previously have. Mike was our scout and our leader, but he lost his way and became blinded by a certainty to which he could not possibly lay claim. How many people followed Mike into NTE and are now preparing to follow him, if not sooner then later?
I grew up in an abusive family. The abuse was spiritual, verbal, emotional, and frequently — though not always — physically violent. The addict was my mother and her drug of choice was bible-thumping, tongue-talking, charismatic, Christianist fundamentalism. My father was the enabler.
The worst part for me, as it probably was for anyone who grew up in a similar situation, was the randomness with which the attacks would come. During my middle school years I never knew if, upon returning home from school, I would be in small trouble, big trouble, or no trouble. Something that was fine yesterday might be a punishable offense today; something for which I’d been punished previously might no longer be on my parents’ radar. There was no rhyme or reason to when, or whether, I would be screamed at, have all my belongings taken away, be grounded for months on end, or have my head smashed into the wall.
In order to brace myself against this I developed a host of mental and emotional defenses. One of these was to fix in my mind the idea that I would always be beaten upon returning home from school. It took a lot of practice but in time I convinced myself to assume, and then lived under the assumption, that I was going to get a beating at 4:00 pm on weekdays. In my child’s mind I reasoned that if I prepared myself for a beating but then did not receive one, I would be less traumatized than if I did not prepare and did receive one.
I was eleven years old when it first occurred to me that I could escape my situation by killing myself. Sixth grade was a particularly difficult year: that was the year I learned my peers hated me. I became one of a small handful of class scapegoats and have remained a shunned outsider ever since in some way, shape, or form. I’m actually glad now that this happened for reasons I won’t get into here, but as a child it was completely devastating.
In seventh grade I learned that my teachers, too, hated me, and I found myself completely alone in a world of people who either disliked or actively hated me. My suicidal tendencies became a compulsion and in eighth grade I began carrying razor blades around. I would steal away somewhere alone and sit with my blades trying to work up the courage to slit my wrists. The correct way.
I do not remember ninth grade for the most part except that it happened, and that in late fall I received the worst beating of my life. My brother and his friend fled to the basement to pray for me so I would not be killed. In tenth grade I publicly “got saved” and joined the fundamentalist church of my own free will. The beatings stopped and my situation improved dramatically (though fundamentalism is its own abuse and an entire book in its own right). But by that time my defensive and self-destructive patterns had been set. Up until just a few years ago I lived always expecting a shoe to drop from somewhere and battling my suicidal compulsions. I could not be free of these until I let them go, and I did not recognize what I had let go until much later.
I see in NTE adherents’ commitment to human extinction the same emotional defense pattern I developed as a child. Back then it was easier to disregard the fact that I did not actually know whether or not I would be punished than it was to brace for the worst. It became for me, as for pretty much everyone who grows up abused in some fashion, a totally unconscious position that colored my every move, every interaction. I believe now this is also why I was drawn to Mike’s peak oil work so immediately and thoroughly. Here is the final shoe that’s going to drop. Here is the final beating that is going to kill me for real. It is identifiable and I can shield myself against its blows. I even know roughly when it will come! Hallelujah!
NTE presents an even more identifiable and more immediate final beating. It is in all ways more certain than peak oil ever was. There were always all kinds of variables for mitigating the effects of peak oil, especially in one’s own life. NTE provides no way out at all.
And so NTE adherents find themselves entertaining, however unconsciously, the same question I myself faced in my early teens: do I wait for the final beating that will kill me, or do I escape into death by my own hand? While most NTE’ers are likely not actively suicidal, the corresponding suicidal compulsion that comes with the assumption of near-future beatings is still going to show up somewhere. I believe it shows up in this blind spot for the fact that the future is unknowable, and unwavering — even religious — commitment to the extinction of the human race.
Underlying all of this is the one thing we who grew up in an abusive situation learned first and foremost about ourselves: I Am Bad. To an abused child, I Am Bad is simply the ineffable truth of the Universe. The words don’t even enter our heads because they live in our bones and muscles, below and beyond language. I am abused because I am bad, and my species faces its final beating because my species is bad. I and my species deserve to die, I commit to NTE for this reason and also to escape the intolerable circumstances my badness creates for me.
I don’t pretend to know what Mike held in his heart, or whether any of this was applicable to him personally. This was, however, the path he found, and he followed it to its logical conclusion as he always did. He was our scout and he took this seriously. He told us he would follow the facts and evidence wherever they might lead, and that’s exactly what he did. It is tragic beyond words that his facts and evidence were incomplete.
Guy’s work is compelling and clear, and I do not dismiss or take it lightly. But by the same token I cannot ignore the facts that the future is unwritten and that human beings possess both consciousness and agency. Also that our Earth system, like all systems, is subject to a level of randomness that can change everything in an instant — sometimes for the better.
This commitment to NTE is a path that leads to suicide: if not actual suicide, as in Mike’s case, then the voluntary cessation of living in favor of death preparations. I have heard NTE’ers say that they support living life to its fullest since time is so short, but this in itself is death preparation.
The human species is not I Am Bad. We are not a virus on this Earth and we are not evil. Earth is our home and we belong here just as much as every other species. We are welcome here. This, too, is a fact that neither Mike nor NTE’ers more generally acknowledge.
Mike’s suicide marks the end of an era for me. I understand now that peak oil was never about peak oil, it was about identifying the location and trajectory of the final abusive blow. Climate change was never about climate change, it was about solidifying the murderous certainty of that blow. And near-term human extinction is not about near-term human extinction, it is about the suicidal compulsion borne of frequent, random violence.
Most people I ever got to know in the peak oil scene, and later the collapse-in-general scene, had childhoods that were fucked up in some way or other. I do not know of Mike Ruppert had a fucked up childhood but it would not surprise me in the least.
Humanity faces problems like it has never faced in history. I am fully aware of this, probably more aware than 99% of people on the planet. I do not deny or hide from any of it, not even Guy’s math. But since I have managed to free myself from my childhood defense mechanisms I also can no longer presume destruction when in fact I don’t know what will happen. General collapse doomerism has placed itself on the path to human extinction, and I simply cannot in good conscious work toward making that a reality by preparing for its eventuality.
This will likely be my last post here at Mythodrome. I plan to keep the site active for as long as I can afford it as an archive, but it is time for me to move on. I am still a writer however and I do plan to continue writing at a different domain eventually. When I get that up and running I will post a link here.
Thank you everyone for reading and for your support in hard times. I genuinely love and appreciate you! I’ll be back, hopefully before too long.