Who killed the Egyptian pyramids?

Tesla is the name of a band whose music tens of thousands of hardrock fans love to dance to since the eighties… Really? Well, it’s true, but I’m joking of course. The Californian band is just one out of many groups of people, most of them companies, which adopted the name of the famous engineer who, among other things, invented the Tesla coil, the Tesla turbine, the remote control and an AC induction motor. Nikola Tesla (1856-1843) supposedly built some kind of electrical car which could have revolutionized transportation from the early 1930s on had it been produced at industrial scale. But it hasn’t, since the concept was stolen and hidden by one or the other powerful corporation, various conspiracy theories purport.
Two years before Musk’s introduction of today’s most famous electric car brand in 2008 – guess what, it’s named after the engineer – Chris Paine directed the sensationalist flick “Who Killed the Electric Car?”This might have been a sneaky marketing trick, or there might be some truth to Nikola Tesla’s ingenuity – after all he was an engineer,a word derived from genius– which supposedly produced wireless energy transmission, zero-point modules, and in 1931 an electric car which ran without batteries. Whether it is true or not is beside the point for our discussion here. The fact is that he might as well have, and another fact is that we just don’t know.
Through the death of an inventive person we lose all of his or her knowledge that has not been expressed in text, formulae, or artifacts, as well as all of his or her potential for further inventions. Whether destroyed by powerful interests or lost through biological termination, the year 1943 effectively saw the disappearance of a number of technologies. 
Who killed the pyramids? (pic by Gregory Rogers, Pexels)
In the same way, we may assume, the death of a civilization brings about the loss of much of its practical techniques and technological knowledge. Not only may we assume it, we know it for a fact. History is indeed replete with examples thereof, some of which I will mention a few paragraphs on. Most of the times it happened unintentionally. Some of the times people chose to ‘forget’ the kind of knowledge they would rather not apply. As much as the latter concept seems foreign to the members of our culture it is a sane reaction to thoughts that may easily disrupt a community or a society. The Pirahã, a tribe of the Amazon basin, have been taught a number of concepts over the centuries, yet they keep forgetting the significance of Jesus’ crucifixion or European ways of building a boat, for instance. The Inquisition, as an example from our own culture, put millions of alleged heretics to trial, killing tens of thousands of herbwives as witches in the process. Both the spiritual understanding of druids and mystics and the intuitive and practical knowledge of healers were threatening the Christian order of the time; thus they have been extinguished where they were found. The eradication of knowledge was thorough and would have led to the complete loss of techniques, had they been of the engineered kind. To our great advantage mysticism and intuition are kinds of ingenuity which, given a chance, return again and again as they are immutably part of our humanity.
Much of our technological knowledge today, though, is of a completely different kind – the kind I would call inhumane, alienating, and destructive. Sitting at a laptop right now, on the one hand I almost break my fingers over typing the things I’m going to tell you now; on the other hand I need to work with what I have, and I am not someone who believes that the master’s house cannot be dismantled using the master’s tools. The core idea I would transmit by way of this article is that both our survival and the wish for a humans-appropriate life requires us to throw away – forget – most of the scientific knowledge, professional techniques and engineered technologies in use today. Civilization critic Jerry Mander, for example, makes the case against computers, saying,

Most people, even those who see the relationship between computers and increased destructive potential, consider the computers themselves to be harmless. Value free. Neutral. “People invent the machines,” is the common wisdom. “People program them, people push the buttons.”

And yet, it is a simple fact that if there were no computers, the process of engaging in war would be much more drawn out, with a lot more time for human beings to change their minds or seek alternatives. It is only because computers do exist that a virtually automatic, instant worldwide war, involving total annihilation, even enters the realm of possibility. So, can we say that computers are to blame?

It is also a fact that if computers somehow totally disappeared, the world would be instantly safer. Even if atom bombs continued to exist, they would no longer have effective delivery systems. Pakistan could still drop an atomic bomb on India, but the presently envisioned, all-out nuclear war, which quite possibly could extinguish the human species, would be impossible.

I know that this is a difficult position to accept. Critics call it throwing the baby out with the bath water. Just because computers are integral to modern systems of nuclear annihilation, does that mean we must rid ourselves of computers? I am not sure, but I think so. This society upholds a fierce technological idealism. We believe we can get the best from a given technology without falling into worst-case scenarios of the sort described above. We maintain this idealism despite the fact that we have no evidence of technology ever being used at an optimal level, or even being sensibly controlled. – Jerry Mander, In the Absence of the Sacred, (Sierra pbk ed. 1992) p.73f

Considering that computerized data processing and electronic memory storage has become so cheap and ubiquitous, is the forgetting of computer technology even possible? It sounds paradoxical somehow, yet all it takes is a collapse of the global trade network, and all thattakes might be a major currency crisis, a spike in oil prices, economic upheaval in Western countries, or widespread revolts of the Arab Spring or the Yellow-Vestskind shutting down neuralgic points of the world economy. Global industrial civilization is an intricate system the complexity of which makes it prone to collapse from any of the numerous possible impulses. It’s not like this was outside near-term probability, as anyone who has followed world news recently must acknowledge. It is also not like this had never happened before.
Think of tribal medicine, or indigenous survival skills, or shamanic ways of knowing the future, all of which have been completely forgotten once civilizations had killed those tribes off or absorbed them. The same happened to Celtic druids in the early Middle ages, and yet again to the herb-wives a.k.a. witches of the late Middle ages and the Renaissance. It happened to the astrological, construction and transportation knowledge of the architects of Stonehenge, and again, thousands of years later, to similar knowledge on Rapa Nui with its Moai. What of the forgotten knowledge of Inka airtight stone setting, or, as one of the most famous mysteries of all times, how the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids of Giza? We don’t know for sure how old those are and what they were originally for. One man’s grave, that’s laughable. We are not quite sure what the Greeks built the Antiklythera machine for; astronomy? Possible, but the know-how definitely got lost for the next couple of millennia shortly thereafter. With the collapse of the Roman empire its knowledge of road construction, aqueducts, high-rises, war machines and other items got lost during the so-called ‘Dark Ages,’ to be rediscovered only one thousand years later. Many skills known from the Middle ages till the 19thcentury, ranging from the area of raftsmanship to tawery to rope making to vessel mending to hand-weaving are unknown to similar professions today. Heck, we’re about to forget how the steam engine and the Stirling motor are working. 280 years after Stradivari’s death (1737) there is still research and experimentation going on, in an attempt to reproduce the unique sound of his violins, and technologies the Apollo program was running on have been lost due to negligent handling of data.
Who killed the Antikythera mechanism? (pic wikimedia user Juanxi, cc by-sa 3.0)
Who killed the pyramids? Who killed the Antiklythera mechanism? Who killed the Apollo program, the aqueduct, grandma’s cookery, or Megalithic construction techniques? The answer in most cases is “nobodyin particular;” It was merely the death of a person or a culture. In some cases, though, like with the witches’ herbal medicine, the knowledge in question was simply too inconvenient, its ramifications too disturbing to allow its continued existence, and it was often our own culture which chose to make it forgotten. The oft-heard sayings that the march of progress couldn’t be stopped and that the genie cannot be stuffed back into the bottle once it’s out – they are lame excuses for a mental laziness and, worse than that, a lack of willingness to take responsibility for one’s actions. The obvious and appropriate conclusion from researching into atomic energy would have been to abandon this direction of research altogether. As members of our culture have chosen – fully in compliance with its overall notion – to continue on their path to complete annihilation of all human cultures, extinct theywill go. Given business-as-usual, and given our unwillingness to change we are doomed to fail. You can read the signs of disaster written all over our geo-biological, social, scientific, or economic systems already. Technology will eat itself, and society as well.

Future forgetting due to societal collapse would encompass the loss of industrial extraction and production methods, mass communication, nuclear power, high speed transportation, deep sea diving, space travel, plastics production, genetic engineering, bio-weaponry, micro and nano tech, computers and other electronic devices. As these technologies require resources from around the world, and as the global transportation system requires some of these high technologies for functioning, the industrial economy is unlikely to ever reboot once it got cracked. Its digital data storages will be lost, its analogous (paper) storages – the few libraries which may survive the immediate collapse – would soon disintegrate from the onslaught of water, mold, fire, theft, and vandalism. The biggest, most valuable book magazines would become least useful while most prone to destruction because its contents have been shelved in mechanical ways, accession by accession. With their electronic catalogues out of order they are, practically spoken, monstrous piles of millions of books in no accessible order whatsoever. As professionals die, professors forget, gears break, and spare parts rot or get lost our whole culture eventually goes to hell in a festival of human suffering. Does it have to end this way? Yes, perhaps.
Who killed grandma’s recipes? (pic public domain)
Historically seen, technologies and techniques die outsome of the times; some of the times they are getting killed before they can cause damage. We did it before; we could do it again. In principle we have that choice, yet systemic obstacles built into the worldview upon which our machine culture rests make it seem unlikely that we actually will. Jerry Mander points out that we ought to have a closer look at our technical systems anyway, to re-evaluate them from a holistic perspective, and that we ought to chuck out those which are found incompatible with Earth’s sustainability and diversity. He goes on to say that

“There is no denying that all of this amounts to considerable adjustment, but it’s not as if there were much choice. Truly, such change is inevitable if sanity and sustainability are to prevail. To call this adjustment “going back” is to conceive of it in fearful, negative terms, when the changes are actually desirable and good. In fact, it is not really going back; it is merely getting back on track, as it were, after a short unhappy diversion into fantasy. It is going forward to a renewed relationship with timeless values and principles that have been kept alive for Western society by the very people we have tried to destroy.

As for whether it is “romantic” to make such a case, I can only say that the charge is putting the case backwards. What is romantic is to believe that technological evolution will ever live up to its own advertising, or that technology itself can liberate us from the problems it has created. So far, the only people who, as a group, are clear-minded on this point are the native peoples, simply because they have kept alive their roots in an older, alternative, nature-based philosophy that has proven effective for tens of thousands of years, and that has nurtured dimensions of knowledge and perception that have become opaque to us. It is the native societies, not our own, that hold the key to future survival.” – Mander, p.384

Fingerprints on water

Being asked the question, What do you do to make the world a better place?, or, What do you do to live up to your highest understanding of what is good and real?, the answer is… less.

I live in a small space without walls. There is neither clock nor calendar in there, no TV, no radio receiver, no washing machine, no stove; I own five electrical items only – a solar candle, a light bulb, a camera, a laptop, a tablet – and I am committed to not replace the latter three once they come beyond repair. I’m slowing down, inwardly and outwardly. I don’t own a motorized vehicle; I arranged my life in such a way as to be able to rely on my bicycle or walk for 99 out of 100 days. I stopped traveling for pleasure. I use a dry compost toilet. I wash myself and my laundry in a bucket; my daily water usage is around 30-40 liters max. I don’t eat meat. I don’t smoke, drink, or dope. I don’t phone. I reduced the consumption of music and movies and books and sweets and clothes. I wear my stuff for years and years, first for “proper” dressing, then for casual home use, after for gardening, and finally for rags with which to clean floors and vegetables. I live on little more than one Euro per day. I stopped buying stuff, with the exception of bread and some fruits which are not available from the farm, a toothbrush once in a while, some soap.

drawing by Wilhelm Busch (1832-1908)

The list of material items I have removed from my life goes on for much longer. I don’t want to bore you with it. I also think that this is not the most important part of my story of doing less. Sure, the less I consume the less I pollute. But then again, I’m aware that I’m just one man among billions of others – many of whom consume more than their purse allows them to. I also know Jevons’ Paradox, according to which saving resources only results in an overcompensation; somebody else will consume what I left untouched, and perhaps more than that. I am also aware that, compared to a tribal human, I own more things than I probably need. I certainly cannot carry everything at once. I still take flights twice a year, to visit my aging mother. I don’t believe in offsetting. I’ll just quit it once she’s gone. Let’s stay positive saying, there is room for future reduction, to a life like fingerprints on water.

On the plane of the immaterial I am cutting down on many things as well. I don’t protest, campaign, petition. The hectic activity, the anxious frenzy, the omnipresent noise and light and technological stink and the constant advertising and information-pushing begin to cause me nausea. I have downscaled my knowing, reasoning, judging, arguing. That makes it harder to write and talk, but then again, what is there to say that hasn’t already been told by somebody else? And can I really claim I’m right with what I say? Who is that Mewhich tends to inflate to epic proportions? I haven’t found the needle in my haystack of yet-to-be-discarded items with which to collapse the balloon-like person I think I am, but I sure have fun releasing some of its air through the vent. The smaller it gets the less ugly it becomes. 
 
Am I leaving my mark in this world by not leaving a mark when I leave,as a Texan musician put it in the late nineties? I believe I have done too much already to achieve this, and I don’t even know whether it’s desirable. Our very existence changes the world, for better or worse. So why don’t we go for the better? My goal is not about reducing everything to zero. It’s rather about chipping away that which is destructive, disturbing, disruptive, delusive; to find the right balance between being and becoming. Like most people in industrial civilization I weigh too heavy on the planet’s capacity to sustain life. That’s why my path leads downward, away from the apex of our culture, towards the foundations of existence.

Owning less goes straight against the paradigm of separation; consuming less is incompatible with the locust culture currently ruling the whole planet; and doing less, to me, is the confession that the complexity of the world is way beyond my understanding. I just don’t know what is good for everybody. I hardly know what is good for me. I’ve got an intuition, and I follow it. I don’t know where this ends but it feels good to trust that feeling, and I do not suffer from less stuff. There is no sacrifice, no loss, no self-denial. It’s rather the opposite – every gadget, every insurance, every untruthful relationship, every idea, every activity that fell away provided space and time for something much more valuable: the essence of it all, the unadulterated sensation of living, the meaning of being alive. Not that I got that to the fullest; as already shared, I still own things, thoughts, personae. Life is becoming more and more interesting though.

Now if you ask me whether I recommend my way to everybody, I say, Of course – not! My pathworks for my feet. What I (do not) do is a manifestation of myunderstanding. You need to follow yours. In fact, you have no choice but to do so. If anything you can only choose what you wish to understand. Maybe that’s a suitable point for starting the revolution, and maybe it starts with understanding less.

Interview: NTHE is, you die from a thought. Essayist

Euroville. A recent essay in the blog “Mach Was!?”caused some disappointment among social media consumers. Under the headline Damn the god-given right to electricity the author, Pax, railed against the assumption that our global industrial civilization could continue to function for an extended amount of time. On Facebook he predicted that there would be “no information-based economy, no further growth, no future tech, no welfare state” unless the survival of other species was secured, and that this required a radical reduction of our lifestyles to become “as simple as to be unimaginable by your average Westerner”.
In an interview he gave ME on Thursday, Pax put more fuel on the fire. During preliminary talks he said, “Near-term human extinction [NTHE] is the outcome of a virus, a parasitic culture called civilization. Just like with any potentially fatal sickness, you can choose to ignore or deny it, yet that doesn’t make it go away. You die. And what’s worse: you die from a thought.”

artist: Banksy, source: Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

ME: Jürgen, tell us a bit about your motives for writing that essay.
Pax: During the last decade, in my search for viable paths into the future, it became more and more clear that certain roads are not an option. Following the Club of Rome, the IPCC, or any number of environmental and scientific research papers, business-as-usual, for example, leads us straight to hell, and any prediction based on this model can realistically not contain imagery of thriving cities, space colonies, mass transportation and all the rest of it. Yet open any major newspaper or read any economist’s predictions and you’ll get exactly that. Even critical magazines like Down to Earth, feature stories which would have been good science fiction tales in the sixties; nowadays, though, it’s just bad journalism, or elitist propaganda even. You get all that “green” gibberish about growing industries under a “renewable energy” paradigm; climate change – a thing of the past, and life can go on as it did before, with a new cell phone generation, the next CPU generation, another vehicle generation. It is time to contradict – loudly! – the idea that this could be an actual option. We try anything like that, the planet will be toast. Or we take another route, and then it’s obvious why this future will never come to pass.
Tangible change, in other words, means a profound reduction of most everything people of the civilized culture believe, do, and produce. Simply put, we are talking about a much simpler lifestyle on the physical level, and nothing less than a revolution on the mental level.
ME: How did people react?
Pax: I was sort of amazed that I received an immediate supportive comment and that the Facebook announcement of my essay has been shared, even, because I already expected that the actual number of hits would be the lowest in two years of writing about collapse of civilization and near-term human extinction as a result of anthropogenic climate change.
ME: Do you have any idea as to why there was so little interest in your essay?
Pax: You can attack civilization, its institutions, the government, people’s meat consumption or their travelling habits, and it’s all fine and well. You can even suggest we are in for near-term human extinction, and they will read it for fun. When you demand the abolishment of money they may already think that you’re a little bit crazy; but hey, it’s a free country. Yet when you tell them that their god-given right to electricity, as I put it provokingly as a headline, is void you have reached the limit of what is acceptable even to those who believe in NTHE. In other words, they would gladly go to hell in a handbasket wittingly (the NTHE believers) or unwittingly (the NTHE deniers); yet the one thing that must not happen before everything collapses on us is the reduction of our lifestyle to anything less than what it is today. It seems ridiculous to them, repulsive even, I guess. The title worked like a photograph of a pile of poop on a book cover, I suppose.
ME: Don’t you think it likely that we simply have arrived at a cyclical low, or that it’s sort of a hickup we’re going through, and that it could be all well and fine someday soon?
Pax: Not with all the crises converging on us at the same time, each of which could spell the end of the global industrial system by itself: from multiple major currencies (Dollar, Euro, Rupee) threatened by collapse, to the decline of cheap fossil energy, to diminishing energy returns on input, to the overheating of the planet, to ocean acidification, to the steep decline in insects, vertebrates, and marine populations – more to the point: the collapse of the biosphere, – chemical poisoning of our food, the loss of arable soil and of forests, the disappearance of potable water, the steep rise in social disparity, dwindling resources like copper, aluminum, wood, sand,… the list goes on and on. As if this wasn’t terrifying enough, it seems that the West is hell bent on kicking off a major war, and we all know where this is likely to end.
The global industrial civilization of our days, in an unbroken line, goes back to the Frankish, the Roman, the Greek, and the Mesopotamian empires. There is an ever clearer signature of violence that accompanies each stage of development, and it all goes back to a core understanding, you could say, a certain thought that is fundamental to our culture. It is the idea of our being separate from the rest of the World, and from each other. First we are looking for differences, then we divide the world along those differences, then we devalue one part as “bad”, and finally we try to control or destroy that part. Apply it to “Human/Non-human”, “Culture/Nature”, “Noble/Common”, “Sick/Healthy”, “Pure/Dirty”, “Civilized/Barbarian”, “Advanced/Primitive”, “Christian/Heathen” – you get the point. As long as there is an “Other” to separate from and fight against we could turn our aggression against that “outside” threat. But what do you do once you have conquered the whole planet? This is the moment where it necessarily breaks down, as we either need to stop the behaviour that our civilization requires for keeping itself propped up, or we turn against ourselves and commit collective suicide. In essence, this culture – and everyone it takes down with it – dies of a wrong assumption: our separation from an “objective” world “out there.” Death by imagination – it’s tragicomical, if you think of it.
ME: So you don’t believe in human ingenuity.
Pax: If I believed in human ingenuity I’d have to blame it for bringing about the predicament we’re currently in. Intelligence and ingenuity, in fact, have nothing to do with it, no matter whether you look at it from a high vantage point, or whether you inspect the situation up close, eg. with regard to how decisions are made on an everyday basis: Some think there is no need to act because they don’t see the urgency of the situation, or they don’t see any situation at all; others think there is no use for action as they believe we’ve passed various tipping points beyond which it’s already too late. Thus, NTHE is more or less a done deal, proven by unwillingness to open our eyes to the reality within and without us. Where are intelligence and ingenuity in there? There is no such thing as human ingenuity, superiority, or intelligence; The brain is an organ with which we think that we think, as the saying goes. We have maneuvered ourselves into a corner from which it will be hard to escape, especially as we either cannot or want not see, in the first place, that we are cornered.
ME: How long will it take to recover from this collapse?
Pax: As opposed to previous collapses, today’s civilization cannot be resurrected once it has fallen. Historic calamities have been regional; civilized life went on elsewhere and the extent of the fall, ie. the loss of organization, knowledge and technology, has been relatively small. The huge majority of people still knew how to plant or gather or hunt food and how to create necessary things manually. Today, we have less than 2% of the population in industrialized areas working in agriculture, and they don’t know what to do without heavy petroleum-fired machinery and chemical applications. The loss of biodiversity, groundwater, and top soil, together with much higher average temperatures and the resulting bad weather, will lead to very bad conditions for food production. This will be a main contributor to population losses in the billions.
As you cannot run a global economy in a depopulated world, no one will be able to ship oil from Arabia to where it’s needed; all the easily-available resources have been mined already, so you cannot create new machinery based on the kind of technology we are used to, and you are not able to maintain the nuclear power plants. It takes twenty to sixty years to decommission any one of those, provided you have sufficient fresh water, electricity, and trained personnel available during that time frame, and we have more than 400 reactors which will go Fukushima if you neglect your duty for one day. Some scientists find it not unlikely that ionizing radiation would strip away Earth’s atmosphere.
Rather than asking, how much time does the recovery from collapse take, the question is, how much time does our species have before it goes extinct from heavy irradiation, chemical pollution, and starvation.
ME: What is your verdict then? How much time do we have?
Pax: Sorry, this is the domain of the gods. Expect lightning to strike any second from now. The 1% are playing war games, and it doesn’t take much for it to become nuclear. It could happen already as we speak. Regarding the other factors playing out my personal guess is somewhen between 2020 and 2023. I’d be surprised if we made it to 2030. Nobody can say for sure, though, be it priest, scientist, or fortune teller.
ME: Is there really nothing that can be done?
Pax: Options are abound. The crux, though, lies in our ability and/or willingness to awaken to the real situation, which means to allow ourselves to feel the pain and the grief for what we have done – still do, – then to let go of everything that promised comfort and familiarity, and to get into action. Yet that is exactly the kind of thing that the thrust of our civilization renders increasingly hard to achieve with every passing minute.
Charles Eisenstein, in his latest book “Climate: A New Perspective,” made some viable proposals for a profound healing of most of our ailments. Or look at Buddhist, Mystic, Non-dualist, or Modern spiritual practices for getting into harmony with the world; or take the lifestyle of so-called primitive tribes whose whole existence is based on being embedded into, rather than separated from and controlling, the world of non-humans. Check the Internet for “Rewilding”. Or look at our predicament from Jungian psychoanalysis, or read what Paul Levy has written in“Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil”.
From understanding what the mentioned groups and persons say, it becomes crystal clear what needs to be done when we are concerned with the state of the world: It requires “a radical revolution of the mind,” as Jiddu Krishnamurti put it, which will result in an equally radical departure from what we call “civilization”.
The drastic reduction of our activities and energy turnover is an absolute must for the survival of our species – and most other species as well, – and time is running out, if it hasn’t done so already. We cannot know for sure. The critical factor here is that it’s not just a matter of action or abstention thereof; this change has to come from deep within, and it must necessarily result in the utter abandonment of our culture’s core, or we’ll achieve exactly nothing.
ME: How do you respond to your critics who say that back-to-the-trees was neither possible nor desirable? Isn’t a simple life, or primitivism, as they hold, a return to barbarianism?
Pax: First of all, I’m not talking about a backward movement, because then I would buy into the civilized rhetoric of progress and ascent. Civilization has not moved the human race forward or upward. It was not an evolutionary logical progress; we have simply stepped out of the large consent of primary peoples who see the Universe as an indivisible living whole, and themselves an integral part of it. So if we choose to apply the word “back,” it would be in the sense of backing out of a dead-end road. Civilization has taught us a lot of things which cannot work; that’s something we might be grateful for – provided we leave enough of our habitat intact to be able to make use of it.
Secondly, equating the culture of non-civilized peoples with barbarianism is based on a false image of those peoples. In fact it is them who, to an overwhelming degree, live by ideals that European moral philosophy only rhetorically adheres to – unity, brotherhood, freedom, equality – and it have been civilized people who consistently acted in barbaric ways towards others. From the tribals’ perspective, we carry a sickness or a demon, as you can read from Professor Jack D. Forbes’ description of the native Americans’ view, “Columbus and Other Cannibals”, for example.
No culture anywhere in the world was hell bent on joining Western civilization. The question why many of them fought to death, to maintain their “primitive” lifestyle, is answered eg. by Professor Marimba Ani’s exhaustive analysis “Yurugu: An African-centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior”. Her work makes unmistakably clear how European civilization – which has developed into today’s dominant global culture – is not an improvement on, but a profound deviation from, the ways of every other culture in the world. It is impoverishing both materially and spiritually, it reigns by delusions, lies, greed and violence, and it denudes life of everything worth living for. Unless you fall for its rhetorical ethics, its attractiveness is zilch.
Thirdly, unless we choose to undergo a voluntary downsizing while following a planned exit strategy a period of barbarianism is very likely to accompany the breakdown of our societies. Clearly, the resulting cruelties would be an outgrowth of the ways civilization works and how civilized people think. As it is not sustainable the remnants of our society would go extinct very quickly.
ME: How do you feel about all that?
Pax: I feel sad about the loss of so much beauty, especially considering that it could have been avoided. Sometimes I carry a sentiment of rage over the utter stupidity of it all, but basically I have accepted the fact that people cannot be spoon-fed with insight, understanding, or empathy, which are requirements for the profound change needed here. My way of dealing with emotions is to study them closely, and to write essays and books about collapse-related issues. Those writings also serve to strengthen the backs of those who have awakened from the civilized delusion, and to inspire them to stand up for their convictions instead of remaining in the culture. That’s what I meant by writing, those who wish to pursue the destructive path of civilization may continue to do so, but they have no right to do so undisturbedly.
ME: Do you have second thoughts sometimes?
Pax: Sure, all the time. What if we did this, what if we tried that, what if we got it all wrong… yet no matter how often I turn the matter left or right, up or down, I end up with the same results. I don’t hear others express similar doubts very often, be it deniers or doomers. Belonging to the fringes of society, being the weird guy is a thing I have become accustomed to early on; so I am very aware of how each person shapes his or her reality according to individual perspective. I might be wrong, and I certainly hope so. Because I know there are dimensions of truth beyond the reality I just described…
ME: …or final thoughts?
Pax: In the essay it says, “those who…” a lot, and one could come to the idea that I was pointing fingers at others while seeing myself as innocent victim of evil forces. That’s not what I am about, though. I am not throwing stones at others to hurt them; I throw stones into the ponds of people’s souls, I beat at the bush of their over-confident mind, to stir up something that lies dormant there. “Saving the World” cannot be my responsibility, though, nor anybody else’s. Points made in terms of, “if everybody understood,” “if enough people followed,” “if things were different” – they don’t get us anywhere. We cannot force any of those “if’s” into existence. People are what they are, the world is what it is, so activists have to work with what-is, not with imaginations of should-be. In the end, we’re thrown back on ourselves, and this is a great starting point; especially when you understand how closely Self and Reality are intertwined. In this sense: yes, we’re fucked – impregnated with something yet unseen.

Damn the god-given right to electricity

Emissions in 2060, consumption in 2050, share of renewable energy in 2040, standard of living in 2030 — predictions of the future of industrial capitalist societies that make me want to throw up.
Where do people take their entitlement from, to a certain standard of living, to electricity and internet and free mobility and well-paid jobs, when billions of others never had that and never will? When, instead, they don’t have food security or are starving and thirsting even, and when dozens of millions have to leave their homes due to climate change, 1st world resources grabbing, pollution or free trade treaties?

Pietro da Cortona (photo cc by 3.0, wikimedia user Sailko)

Does it occur to anyone of those who talk about “less damage” and “green tech” that they advocate the continuation of everything that they find morally repulsive, like bringing about million-fold misery and death and environmental destruction?
Has it ever occurred to them that you cannot have that kind of lifestyle, green, brown, blue, or otherwise, without creating waste energy (heat), waste products (garbage), waste lands (…), and waste people (the deluded, the poor, the mentally disturbed, the sick, and the dying)?
Has anyone of those who use the term “backwards”, or “middle ages”, or “stone age”, or “back to the tree tops” in the attempt to ridicule people with an healthy attitude to the living world ever met such folks, or inquired into the origins of these false images, or attempted to rid themselves of their addiction to the omnicidal “system” (regardless of what you understand by that)?
Has it occurred to anyone of those who think lowly of human nature, of using our hands to create the items for everyday life, of small numbers, or of caring, loving, sharing folks, that they have been taken for a ride by the very authorities they put their trust into?
Those who wish to pursue the most destructive lifestyle ever invented may continue to do so. It is neither in my power nor in my interest to turn them around. But the time for pampering their sensitivities, for soothing the fears of people who in their ignorance and mental laziness are unwilling to let go of killing the planet by proxy, is over. They have no right whatsoever to being spared any longer the words, the images, the emotions which are relating the true state of our planet.
People who disagree with business as usual may end their silence now, may speak up and may act as if their lives were at stake – because it’s true, and it has been from the very beginning, 10,000 years ago.
Put your picket pin now, or leave it to the planet to drive in hers.

A simple life in a complex world – is it impossible?

 

On this year’s (my second) return from the Friesenheim Summer University¹ I feel intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually nourished, yet somehow confused by the findings and non-findings around our topic of discussion: Einfach Leben. This German phrase’s meaning depends on how you emphasize the words; there is „einfach leben“, which means, to live simply, and there is „einfach leben“, which means, to simply live. The matter gets further complicated by the fact that the word einfach may express the concepts of easy,simple, basic, straightforward, just, humble, single, common, lowly, or elementary. Depending on situation, topic, pronunciation, and grammar it becomes clear what einfach is supposed to mean.
 
Yet there is a semantic field where we tend to confuse easy with simple,or the other way round. The German language does have different words for those (easy= leicht, simple = simpel, schlicht), but in our discussion we found that the mixing and equating of those very distinct semantics happens deliberately, for the purpose of stimulating consumption. Whereas, in not-quite ancient times, we had to get some cash and carry it to a vendor ourselves, today we just push a virtual button on a screen and the transaction is done. It’s very easy. This kind of simplicity hides the fact that there is an immensely huge and complex machinery involved which makes it possible for the vendor to spare her customer the act of traveling to and meeting her: computers, software, web servers, cables etc all of which require mineral resources and their transportation from around the world, their processing, assembly, running, and maintenance, all of which require factories which in turn need resources, assembly, and maintenance; altogether, it takes millions of people’s work for the virtual button on the screen to show and, on click, effect the desired consequences.
 
The consumer who is clicking said button does not get the service for free. The transaction comes at a price and that means he usually – leaving the 1% aside – has to work for the money he pays for the service. The time spent on wage slavery, on average, far exceeds the time saved by means of technology. It’s another aspect overlooked when you believe the companies’ assertion that their goods and services simplify your life.
 
A more general, cultural assumption comes into play: The myth of life getting easier over time, our rise above the struggle for survival, by doing civilized work, and the rise above work, by application of ever more sophisticated technology. Even the most superficial look at wild cultures shows the deception: We work longer hours than ever before, and for most of us the work is enormously energy-sapping, whether we work in an office or a factory. Primitive people’s “work” – if we choose to so label their energy spent on survival – takes way less time (between 1 and 3 hours per day, on average), the reward for it is im-mediate, i.e. it is coupled to the efforts they make and can be reaped directly and without delay, and the whole concept of work does not apply to them as, for them, hunting, cooking, gathering, sewing, nomadizing etc. is just as joyful as playing, sharing stories and food, and resting, and is therefore indistinguishable from what we call free time. It’s truly easy-going. By living simply, they simply live. Civilized people have to make efforts to achieve that. Downsizing and simplification go against the grain of civilization, so they call forward reactions like disgust, contempt, or, somehow paradoxically, admiration for the courage mustered, the hard work applied and the sacrifices made.
 

But the work and the sacrifice are involved at the start of the endeavour only. When we attempt to “achieve” the simplicity of wild peoples’ lives, or the slowness of small town life, or grandma’s serenity, or a child’s naive playfulness, what changes is not so much the level of technology or the amount of time, money, or muscle power spent, but the mindset that drives this sort of lifestyle. Those who downsize intuitively feel that their physical and/or mental issues are connected to their inhumane, unhuman lifestyle; the downsizing as such may be motivated by the intellectual understanding that greed, insecurity, and all the rest of it lie at the foundation of that lifestyle, but their mind truly changes with the experience of reduced involvement in civilized work. In the end, they perceive their “hard work” and their “sacrifice” not as a loss, but a gain. It doesn’t take courage, it doesn’t take labour or sacrifice or discomfort; what it takes is a simplification of mind in the first place.

Now what do I mean by that? Do I propose we are dumbing ourselves down, play stupid and fool around with our lives? Certainly not. A simple mind as it comes naturally to an uneducated grandma who wonders what keeps the clouds up there in the sky is also available to the most sophisticated academic who has not forgotten other, non-intellectual human abilities. The balancing of all our abilities and facilities allows for an intuitive understanding of an immensely complex world. A simple mind does not try to reduce the world to one kind of understanding alone, does not reduce the individuality of one phenomenon to a generic class of things, does not reduce the sacred, the mysterious, the unforeseeable to a mathematical set of rules, does not reduce the meaningful to its utility, does not separate the observer from the observed etc. In other words, a simple mind maintains a sense of wonder, an awe for the wild expressions of life, and the relatedness, the interconnectedness, or even interbeing, if not oneness of everything that exists.
 
While the rational mind believes that the simple mind oversimplifies the facts, it is rational reductionist that takes away essential elements from an unfathomable complexity, to knit up an overly simplistic world model. These two forms of simplicity, simple-mindedness and reductionist, while diametrically opposed to each other, are what gets mixed up when we talk unreflectedly. Simplification, of the rational or the intuitive kind, can be a means of facilitating communication about phenomena and concepts. We create generic images, classes, rules, to make sense of what happens around us, and communicate them through symbols (metaphors or words). Over-simplification happens when we take the metaphor, the word, the image, the class, and the rule for truth as such, in other words, if we reduce the complexity of the world to a convenient model, to interact with this model alone, as though the model was the real world.
 
This is by no means a purely linguistic issue. As a matter of fact, the world we live in today painfully demonstrates the interconnectedness of reality, language, mindset, and human activities. The countless immense, and constantly multiplying and intensifying converging crises of modernity are the outflow of our persistent interaction with mediated truth alone, our models of reality. We have been losing touch with the real world a long time ago. Its mental reduction to numbers leaves out too much which we cannot, or refuse to, measure: the qualitative, the proportionate, the fuzzy, the felt, the invisible, the meaningful, the sacred.
 
And thus, unable to control it as thoroughly as we thought, in search of the easy way, we destroy the world, tear up the web of life, separate ourselves from “the environment”, turn human communities to shreds, and rupture our own psyche until we get insane. The essence of einfaches Leben, a simple life, lies not in the reduction of the complexity and richness of the world to an impoverished lifestyle which sacrifices the achievements of science and technology, but in the acknowledgment, valuing, and even hallowing of that-which-is, in all its complexity, interconnectedness, and oneness. A simple life means existence in, and being in intimate relation to, the world-as-it-is, rather than the world as we would like it to be. A simple life therefore cannot be a utilitarian means of fighting the destructive machine which propagates an easy life; it is not a move against an unpleasant system. A simple life stands for itself and finds meaning where an easy life at best sees purpose.,
 
Being prisoners of the omnivorous machine called civilization we cannot help but start from using simplification (in the sense of downsizing) as a tool to dismantle the mega-machine. The book Underminers talks about how to use that tool; and in the process of doing it, working with what we have, we begin to understand what this implies, and our minds begin to simplify intuitively.
 
[1] Marianne Gronemeyer: Friesenheimer Sommeruniversität
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Repeat until liberated

Seeing the necessity to stop the runaway train to extinction, how can we accomplish the shift from materialistic to holistic worldview? The question is relevant because not only are people physically entangled in the traplines of civilized life, it makes them also think that ‘beauty’ and ‘sacred’ and ‘joy’ were merely empty words which cannot afford them a living. But this is just a matter of perception. The task, from my understanding, is to provide opportunity for seeing things differently, by getting in touch with that more beautiful life. This goes beyond convincing others that “I am right”. First of all, it is also about proving to ourselves that we can actually stop the destruction within our own sphere of influence. Secondly, I think, the most convincing point in a debate is an argument which relates to an actual experience, so this experience has to be facilitated if it doesn’t already exist.
Thirdly, with only a minimum of contemplation and inquiry, it becomes unquestionably clear that at the basis of our many problems lies money; at the basis of money lies civilization; and at the basis of civilization lies the mindset of separation, of division and control and manipulation and selfishness. By liberating ourselves from the grip of that mindset, and by cutting ties with its manifestations in society, we can literally end the nightmare, one person at a time. This is by no means theoretical gibberish. It has been done millions of times over the millennia, it’s being done by people right now.

My practical advice is a one-and-a-half steps program which I and others like me have gone through. I wasn’t conscious about it back then, but the urge to get out of the machine made me do what was necessary. It has been nicely explained by Keith Farnish in chapters 9 & 10 of his book “Underminers” which is freely available from the web. The advice runs something like this:

1. Reduce time on wage slavery by reducing the need for money,

a) by cutting the acquisition of goods and services we do not really need, eg arranging our housing and job such that we can reduce petrol or even sell the car, and
b) by reducing the spending on things we might do or create ourselves, eg gathering a group of friends and neighbours who are looking after children rather than paying for day care; growing food instead of buying it; observing plants and animals instead of watching TV or cinema.

This has already the effect of bringing us closer to understanding the foundation of our existence, and of building an alternate social structure we may fall back upon when the machine collapses. It’s the first step to reconnecting to the holistic worldview, it reduces our consumption (with all that this implies, eg. exploitation, pollution, sickness), it gives us more power over our lives, and it’s a self-reinforcing feedback loop: The money we save can be translated into time we reduce on wage slavery.

The following half step is using the time we saved on wage slavery, to better connect with people around us for further common projects, to help others who are in need, to ask the bigger questions in life (eg. what is important to me, and who is me anyway?) and to research how to do more things ourselves, like how to avoid or deal with health issues, how to repair the sink, how to accomplish tasks without using high tech, how to build simple structures, how to resolve conflict… None of this is rocket science. By applying the newly-gathered knowledge, we reduce the need for money even further.

Repeat until liberated.

To those who feel like jumping at me, replying, “All good and well, BUT…!” — just continue with your life as before. What you want is change happening without your having to change your life. We need to accept that good things don’t come ready-made, by pressing a button and ordering from a menu. Though a different feel to life will arise immediately, the process takes some time till we’re out of the worst, and there will be challenges. Only if we possess the urge to make a leap will we gain confidence in our abilities; only then will it become a self-perpetuating, empowering process instead of a drag.

Most fellow travellers say that their lives have simplified amazingly; they mention a deep sense of liberation as a result; it is often coming along with a feeling of sacredness within all of creation, a joy of being alive. One begins to feel at home in a caring world rather than being driven by having to compete for the last crumbs. We can then say, “I feel fine, I am satisfied, I don’t need anything.” Hence we will become free to act without expecting anything in return. We can spend time on urgent or beautiful or helpful things although there might be no money in it. And we won’t waste it any longer, on falling prey to battle cries, advertisement, xenophobia, blind belief in authorities, dreams of consumption, and delusions of grandeur.
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