Posts Tagged ‘decline’

Thoughts On ‘Resilience’

For the past couple of years a new buzzword has been bubbling through the doomosphere: “resilience.” It’s now become a permanently embedded meme thanks to energybulletin.net changing its domain, and its focus, to resilience.org.

Near as I can tell, “resilience” means exactly the same thing as “transition” within a doomy context: an organic gardening club for rich white people with property, investments, and a comfortable lifestyle to protect. It’s an insular clique that requires everyone be on the same page politically in order to participate. It is based on the European idea of “community,” which is very attractive in theory, but which does’t port well (if at all) to the deeply ingrained American values of individualism and self-reliance. There are perhaps a dozen or two cities in the US where “resilience” efforts might find an audience, an actual geographic community of like-minded people. For many (most?) people, however, “resilience” looks like hardly more than a suburban organic gardening club for people with a high enough credit score to finance a new Prius.

My biggest beef with “transition,” and now with “resilience,” is that it offers very little to those who do not already have resources to spare. Both concepts assume a pre-existing level of property ownership which needs to be transitioned into low-energy operation, and/or made resilient in the face of deep economic contraction. There isn’t any room here for people who have no property to transition or to make resilient.

Some years ago on my long-defunct e-zine Adaptation, I wrote that individuals would experience the long emergency primarily as financial difficulty; failing to adequately address issues related to money, and income specifically — or to ignore these altogether, as was the case back then — is a setup for community failure. At least a year or two before the housing bubble collapse I wrote that a thriving backyard garden is awesome until you lose your job and get kicked out of your house. I look back now and wonder how many “transition” gardens have been lost to foreclosure.

What needs to be transitioned, made resilient, is not property but income. Economic contraction means purchasing power dries up, whether through deflation (lack of money), inflation or hyperinflation (worthless money). If you have property, dried-up purchasing power means relying on your property for things you’d otherwise buy elsewhere. If you live hand-to-mouth, you are basically a conduit through which purchasing power flows from your employer to your creditors and suppliers; when the purchasing power flowing through your conduit life becomes insufficient, your creditors take away whatever it is of theirs you’ve been renting and your suppliers stop supplying you with anything. Without property to fall back on, you’re basically fucked.

“Transition” and “resilience” address this problem only marginally, and so will become increasingly irrelevant as the ranks of people with reduced or eliminated incomes grow. Ultimately the only people who will be able to continue with “transition” and “resilience” efforts will be the fabulously wealthy.

Back in the early 00′s, before the “transition” concept took root, collapse/decline was understood primarily as an effect of peak oil. Peak oil meant two things: first, that prices of everything related to and derived from petroleum would become super expensive, thereby driving up prices across the board; and two, that planetary-wide supply chains would collapse, further increasing prices across the board. The obvious response to these twin sledgehammers was relocalization.

Back then, relocalization meant running globalization in reverse. It meant relearning how to make things close to home and re-establishing long decimated supply chains between the city and the hinterlands. It meant lots of cottage industry, neighborhood- and city-level retail markets, even a renaissance of skilled artisanship, repair, and restoration. It meant extricating local economic activity from oil dependence so that it would be adaptive to decline conditions, thereby providing at least some level of income opportunity for everyone in any given locale.

I suppose there is an argument to be made that “adaptive” and “resilient” are the same thing. They aren’t. A thing is resilient only to the degree that it is adaptive. Resilience maintains as long as conditions do not exceed certain parameters. Adaptation is required when conditions exceed resilience’s required parameters. Cockroaches are resilient because they can adapt to almost any conditions. Their adaptative properties are not the result of their resilience; resilient is something their adaptations evolved them to be.

Relocalization never assumed property ownership as a prerequisite to participation. It was open to everyone of any income level, wealth level, or political persuasion. It did not require joining any group or trying to coordinate with people who have differing goals and concerns. All it required was imagination: what can I sell that others in my locale will want to buy, and where can I sell it locally? If I need raw materials, can I get these locally or regionally? If I have absolutely no money to personally build goods to sell, what kind of service can I provide?

My gut instinct is that relocalization got kicked to the curb in favor of first “transition,” and now “resilience,” because it is overtly entrepreneurial and business oriented. I don’t dispute for a minute that business is the Great Evil that got us into our collapse mess in the first place. It would be simply amazing to live in a society where money serves people and not vice-versa, or even in a society where it isn’t necessary at all. Money’s a fucking drag. However, it is a grave mistake to ignore the fact that money is oxygen within our current economic organism. No money causes death just as surely as no oxygen causes death.

“Resilience” is brittle because because it ignores this fundamental reality and thereby creates a faulty process: first, it tries to first divine the future; second, it projects its political desires into that future; third, it tries to determine the parameters within which it will operate based on its divination and projections; fourth, it creates a path from now to then. Quite obviously this process can create nothing resilient. “Transition” proved itself a failure when it tried to apply this process. More of the same isn’t going to prove any more successful.

I submit that the original idea of relocalization in the service of adaptability was far superior. Its process is tried-and-true: first, determine current and foreseeable-future conditions; second, innovate some way to support yourself within these conditions; third, iterate as conditions change. That’s it. Everything else is wide open. The process is infinitely scalable both up and down and excludes no one on any grounds. This is how adaptation works in nature and, if we are to align ourselves with nature for the long-term survival of the species, it is an excellent breakpoint to extricate ourselves from the idea that we are separate from nature and can plan it, control it, dominate it.

I realize that my protestations about these things fall on deaf ears among those who are into the “transition” and now “resilience” scenes. Nevertheless I find it frustrating that these issues are so thoroughly excluded from the conversations. I do wish those with the bullhorns would pay more attention to the plight and feedback of those outside their propertied, academic circles.

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Disillusionment

Last week I received a notice that the domain mythodrome.net is going to expire on September 5, and I gave some real thought to letting it go.

Obviously I haven’t been around all summer. I’ve been doing other things, namely, starting up a new relationship, working, and drawing pretty seriously again after a long, long hiatus. I even sold a piece for a comparatively decent sum — my first art sale ever.

I haven’t been thinking about Mythodrome or collapse or any of that for some time. When I received the expiration notice it felt like an obligation, like some bummer of a task coming to interrupt the far more interesting things that held my attention. Through my mind flashed all sorts of things related to Mythodrome: my Google Reader lists, tons of books now long gone, the Local Solutions conference back in 2006… all sorts of shit. And my immediate, un-self-censored, visceral reaction was yuck!

I’ve grown utterly disillusioned with the whole collapse/decline scene. I’ve been doing this a long time now — since I first heard Mike Ruppert speak on KBOO in Portland back in November, 2001 — and I’ve watched the “movement” (for lack of a better term) go from a cacophony of ideas to stagnation in vile ossification and hope.

The dynamic voices of last decade have given way to an echo chamber of predictable, industrial-era Marxist “solutions.” Mike Ruppert has gone completely nuts and evidently refuses to take his medication. Catherine Austin Fitts has retreated behind a paywall with her money people (and bless her heart — I would have probably done the same in her position). Nate Hagens has disappeared. Matt Savinar threw in the towel and left to pursue astrology. ASPO has become an annual exercise in weights and measures. Gone are the exciting ideas for granular, neighborhood-level relocalization of everything from product manufacture to health care to finance, replaced by an upper-middle-class, organic gardening club that clings to its delusional “transition” kum-bah-yah.

The final coffin nail for me was the Age of Limits conference, which I did not attend, and which — if my info-gathering from around the web is anywhere near accurate — would have inspired me to stab myself in the head repeatedly with a sharp pencil. As the most recent, high-visibility gathering of collapse luminaries, it is an indication of where the “movement” finds itself in 2012 and its future trajectory.

It was, evidently, supposed to be a conference addressing spirituality and spiritual issues as these relate to collapse. This should have been right up my alley — collapse has been a spiritual issue for me from the beginning, having been raised as I was in a fundamentalist Christian church that daily looked heavenward for signs of Jesus’s return. Making sense of why, in fact, the supposed prophecies in Revelation actually do align with the financial, environmental, and social disintegration happening all around us, has been my personal priority… surely those dolts back at the fundamentalist church were not correct? Along the way I’ve learned a hell of a lot. Unpacking our own mythology holds many keys to many locks that could be straight-up utilitarian, if only we could take such things seriously.

As such, my heart sank when I saw that John Michael Greer was getting top billing. I don’t know the man personally so I can’t speak to his character as a human being, but as the collapse scene’s de facto spiritual leader he is simply unfit. He exhibits “leadership” qualities not unlike those of the fundamentalist church leadership under which I came of age, and which are patently transparent to me given my experience with the Christianist subculture.

Greer has sculpted a mindset among his putative disciples in which deviation from his own viewpoint is heresy. His feathery, painless, long-term “descent” scenario now appears to be the accepted view, while the heresy against which he rails so mightily is the notion of sudden collapse — an apocalypse. Ridicule is his primary weapon in keeping this heresy in check, served up with a hefty side of condescension. Oh, you’ve concluded the world faces a sudden and comprehensive collapse? How stupid are you?

Most egregiously, these things are quite obviously motivated by Greer’s seething hatred of Christianity and of monotheism more generally. He makes no bones about this hatred; peruse his YouTube interviews and you’ll find it without much effort. The idea of sudden collapse legitimizes Christianity’s holy book and must therefore be eliminated — even at the cost learning from our cultural mistakes.

This is not spiritual leadership. Yet for whatever reason, the whole of decline space embraces Greer’s antics uncritically. Perhaps it’s because he’s telling people what they want to hear: there will be no collapse, so don’t worry; you do not need to take responsibility for perpetuating a destructive culture into the future, because rise-and-decline is a given about which you can do nothing; anyone who tells you differently is the imbecilic other. We are the innocent nature-minded victims, it’s those heretics who are guilty.

Greer’s fundamentalist vision, so embraced by the collapse-minded masses, is not a bandwagon I can get on board. I cannot convince myself that I want to hang out with people who think this way, whether they do so in the name of Jesus, in the name of a pantheon, or in the name of nature itself. This is the trajectory the “collapse movement” “‘descent’ movement” has chosen for itself and I cannot get on board with it.

There appears to be now no room for spiritual examination at all, beyond finger-pointing at the heretics and chest-thumping of the self-righteous. What a fucking bummer — there is much to be learned from Western mythology, most especially regarding the origins of our fucked-up relationship to the planet. It could very well be that Western culture needs its apocalypse in the same way a hard-core alcoholic needs his rock-bottom, the way an abuser needs his holy fuck I am an asshole moment. Greer’s “descent” dogma erases this moment-of-truth possibility. I guess no one ever wants to face a moment of truth if they can avoid it.

My original plan was to try to make Mythodrome into something that could pay my bills. I dream of spending my full time and attention on this and related creative endeavors. My expenses are very low and it would not have to generate much, but before that can happen I need to build my audience up to a critical mass. After the Age of Limits conference, I have great doubt as to whether there are enough heretics remaining in the already tiny collapse/decline niche to generate even a modest, supplemental income. Without that, Mythodrome becomes a time and energy sink, diverting my already limited resources away from some other means of getting free.

More importantly, I wonder why I should bother if so few care? If so few are willing or interested in figuring these things out along with me?

So that’s where I’m at. I have decided to renew my mythodrome.net domain and the site will remain live for at least another year. But I am utterly disillusioned by the intellectual apathy evidenced by the new “transition” and “descent” direction of what was once my home niche. There is no longer any meat to be found there… it’s all so much McDescent soylent pink, spinning round and round in an inescapable, eternal, rise-and-fall cycle.

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Quick Comment On Ran’s Comment

Ran commented:

I’ve noticed that primitivists use a trick in their definition of “civilization” (and also “city”). They define the word by looking at the past, and then project that definition onto the future.

I hadn’t noticed this before, but that’s true. This is also what economists do when they predict economic performance for the next quarter, year or whatever, even in the face of things like peak oil. Whatever happened in the past is certain to continue into the future in exactly the same way, right?

Also, Jason commented over at G+:

[C]omplexity is all of a piece. Joseph Tainter has a good explanation for why this is. With the interconnectedness of all the various forms of complexity (James Burke has illustrated this in a lovely fashion with his Connections series), limiting any one form of complexity (like, military complexity) necessarily limits the growth of complexity in all other areas.

This is a really good point and something I’m not too familiar with. My first thought on this is that limiting some form of complexity in the beginning might limit the growth of complexity as the society moves along; however, what happens when one form of complexity — say, military complexity — gets removed when everything dependent upon it has already developed? I think that’s what Western empire/civilization will have to face. I’m inclined to think that in this case, the existing complexities will respond in the way computer and biological networks do: the missing piece is either considered a error and alternate paths are constructed, or the missing piece is treated as an empty space and something else moves in to fill up that niche.

Interestingly, Western mythology in Revelation describes that exact process. In Christianese it’s referred to as “the judgment,” after which a (comparatively) utopian civilization emerges. Fascinating stuff.

And on a total and complete aside — if you’re on G+ come find me! I’ve started a Mythodrome circle to which I’d love to add you. If you follow me there send me a note to let me know, I’ll add you to the Mythodrome circle and then ‘share’ it with you.

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The Implications Of 2012 NDAA For Relocalization: A Lesson From The Black Panthers

Much ado in the non-mainstream media about 2012 NDAA. If you’re not up to speed, you can find out about 2012 NDAA here and here.

If you’re among those who watch peak oil events, and came to the scene after about 2007 or so, you can be forgiven for not knowing what “relocalization” means. Back in 2001 when I first learned of peak oil, everyone understood relocalization to be the best and most comprehensive response. It meant running globalization in reverse: learning to manufacture goods locally and regionally; rebuilding the networks of small businesses that made distribution of these goods efficient and provided a living for those involved; establishing barter and alternative currency schemes to make sure we all still had means of trading our goods and services with each other even in the absence of a workable national currency. It was a fantastic idea, and it still is.

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[Recovered] Easter Mythology & The Decline Of Civilization

This article is recovered from before the big Mythodrome crash. I originally posted it in April, 2011.
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The recent Easter holiday passed without much comment among the select bloggers I follow, which I suppose is not so surprising. Religious holidays in general don’t have much to do with collapse, decline, economic and/or environmental devastation, or any of the other myriad issues about which the doom-o-sphere worries.

But beneath the alarm of the day, the Easter narrative has more to do with these things than almost anyone realizes. The story of Christ’s crucifixion and subsequent resurrection is intimately tied to Western demise and powerfully illustrates the timeline of our civilizational bubble.

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