As February fades into March and the first torturous month of the Trump Presidency storms into the next, we desperately need perspective, and more than perspective, tangible tools to grasp and use so that we are not devoured by the darkness.
In a recent article “Beyond Trump: Rebooting the System from inside the Death Machine,” Nafeez Ahmed, Andrew Markell, and Gunther Sonnenfeld articulated their perspective on Trump’s rise to power less succinctly and with fewer no-nonsense tools than I intend to offer in this essay. While coming close to the heart of the matter, they didn’t quite arrive which often happens when attempting to clarify “the crisis of civilization.” After all, we’ve never been here before, and if we’re honest, we must admit that we have difficulty articulating it for ourselves and never quite know how to articulate it to others.
I’ve been writing about the collapse of civilization for more than a decade, and what I’m noticing is that it’s looking very different now from how many collapse writers, including myself, envisioned it. What has not changed are the limits to growth on a finite planet. What has exacerbated beyond anything we could have predicted is abrupt climate change and the game-changing likelihood of near-term human extinction. What is certain is that regardless of which political party is in power, regardless of which faction of the political establishment wins or loses, the collapse of civilization is baked in the cake of current and future events.
The Hard Right Turn
As often happens when nations are attempting to ward off their demise, they take a hard right turn, and most Americans and countless earthlings are reeling from the current one. It is now obvious that the accelerating collapse in the United States will inevitably include escalating repression of civil liberties and violations of human rights; collective raging against the machine without recognizing it as a machine; off the charts racism; deepening economic inequality; the destruction of economic safety nets, and despite Trump’s proclaimed military isolationism, more war. Climate catastrophe is certain, attended by the disappearance of food security, the eruption of antibiotic-resistant pandemics and chronic diseases, the disappearance of clean drinking water, rising sea levels, and unimaginable weather extremes—all of which bear down on humans psychologically, resulting in psychotic breakdowns and aggressive, combative behavior—and the escalation of wars. If the speed of environmental devastation was dizzying before Trump’s appointment of an environmental demolition cabinet, it is now terrifying. The movie, “Children Of Men” comes to mind.
Richard Heinberg argues in his recent “Awaiting Our Own Reichstag Fire,” that a terrorist attack on the United States will be the pretext for the Trump Administration seizing unchecked power. Trump and Darth Vader Bannon are chafing at the bit to go full authoritarian, and one aspect of collapse in the United States of which we can be certain is the rapid deployment of proto-fascist autocracy. We need to stop with the intellectualizing about the deep state and how it wouldn’t have been any better if Hillary had won and wake up and smell the fascism. Moreover, American collapse will not take the form of things quietly falling apart while Washington is pre-occupied with foreign wars that force it to leave states and communities to their own devices. Rather, in the early stages of autocracy, everything will be micromanaged by the state until it can’t be. No wonder copies of 1984 are flying off the shelves and online book sites.
While it is true that we will be suffocated by autocracy, it is equally true that we have personal agency. Everyone must decide how they will meet collapse. Those to whom it “just happens,” are most at risk not only physically but emotionally. Some people want to party, take drugs, and try to forget the likelihood of near-term human extinction; others want to grow food, educate, create art, raise resilient children, and serve Earth and their communities in some fashion. Everyone has some external work to do in this predicament, and if you’re not doing that work, you’re part of the problem, and really, you’re taking up too much space and too many resources on this planet.
External work, including resistance, is crucial, but it must be from an acceptance of the reality of collapse that clearly understands that no matter what we do, business as usual will never, ever return, nor would we really want it to. In fact, business as usual is as much the problem as the chaos unleashed by Trump because business as usual made his rise to power possible.
Nevertheless, we must resist, but it’s also important to ask: Why do people resist authoritarian governments? Because they believe that their resistance is going to create some huge, dramatic shift in the political landscape? Sometimes. Do they resist because they cannot not resist so that they may preserve their human dignity and self-respect? More often than not. Is it for the sake of future generations (if any survive) and because they want to leave some remnants of a better world that their possible descendants can pick up and regenerate? Almost always.
Indeed, these are all reasons why people resist which invariably leads to the imperative of inner work. What the “Beyond Trump,” article states but does not state is that while we meet collapse on the external level in terms of preparation, service, and living our purpose, we must also meet it internally by asking the very simple but momentous question: Who do I want to be?
The only way to begin answering that question is to comprehend the extent to which we have been colonized. If you are a non-indigenous person, you may marvel at the notion, but the non-indigenous person may be the most colonized of all. Colonization takes myriad forms, but perhaps the most fundamental attribute is our socialization in learning how to use as opposed to learning how to relate. We are students of using, deploying, mastering, managing, prioritizing, allocating, and manipulating—behavior perpetuated by the colonized to further colonization.
Relationship is an entirely different universe and one that has nothing to do with use, and it may be that if we experience nothing beyond bone marrow, authentic, heart shattering human relationship in this time of total collapse, we will have both met collapse with spectacular intention and exquisitely answered for ourselves the question: Who do I want to be?
Yet the most profound inner work any of us can be doing is daily attending to reconnection with ourselves, with each other, and with Earth.
Reconnecting with oneself means first of all, befriending the dark emotions that most haunt us in collapse: Fear, anger, grief, and despair. (I have an entire section on reconnecting with these emotions in my book Navigating The Coming Chaos: A Handbook For Inner Transition.) Befriending all emotions is one of the first steps in decolonizing ourselves since colonization is about NOT feeling and living in the head instead of being present in the body. Colonization creates and maintains numbness spectacularly.
If I can’t deeply connect with myself, if I can’t develop emotional intimacy with me, I certainly can’t develop it with you, so befriending all emotions is the first step in connecting with others. Colonization is about use; decolonization is about relationship. And a key aspect of connecting with the other is vulnerability. Colonization has taught us that vulnerability is weak and scary, yet we cannot decolonize without discovering the enormous power in vulnerability. Connection cannot happen without vulnerability, and as people who have lived under violent, repressive, autocratic regimes throughout history have learned, extraordinary discernment must be utilized when allowing oneself to be vulnerable with another person. Yet one can safely befriend vulnerability by using a tool from a remarkable wisdom teacher in our time, Brene Brown who champions the “vulnerability hangover” as a means of healing shame and increasing empathy
If I can’t connect deeply with myself and others, I probably won’t genuinely connect with Earth, even if I’m a hermit who lives in a cave in the mountains. We are fortunate to have among us wonderful wilderness guides who offer fantastic programs for deeply connecting with Earth like Bill Plotkin, Tom Brown, and others, and if you can enroll in programs in deep ecology or wilderness training, by all means do so, but connecting with Earth is really very simple. Start by taking an hour to go deep into nature with nothing in your ears and no phone. Get away from people as much as possible, and allow yourself to totally feel, smell, taste, touch, and listen to nature. Don’t take a journal either. Just allow yourself to FEEL what it’s all like for you. Then notice one place in your nature tour that really speaks to you. On another occasion, as soon as possible, preferably the next day, go back to that place with your journal and notice how it feels, write that down–and how it’s changed, write that down. And then go back 4 or 5 more times, as soon after as you can, and keep recording how it’s changed and how the experience has changed for you.
As I mentioned above, the intention of this essay is not to contradict the authors of the “Beyond Trump article,” but rather to clarify and address the issues much more specifically. Thus, I am offering the notion that part of our preparation for a worsening collapse, part of our attempt to answer the question “Who do I want to be?” is a commitment to specific practices going forward—perhaps every day for the rest of our lives. Much of my work consists of creating and teaching such practices so that people will have more tools with which to navigate the daunting days ahead.
- In a journal, take 15 minutes to write about how you see our species disconnecting from self, from others, and from Earth.
- Take another 15 minutes to answer the question: What have been some of the costs of this disconnection from self, other, Earth?
- Take 15 minutes to list some of the costs in your own life as you have disconnected from these.
You can expand this exercise further: Spend at least a day taking an inventory of how you have disconnected or are disconnecting from yourself; how you have disconnected or are disconnecting from others; how you have disconnected or are disconnecting from Earth. Journal about it extensively. Whatever you discover, know that you have just scratched the surface. This is a lifelong practice and one that we need to constantly assess. And as we regularly practice this and constantly reassess, it is going to profoundly change how we live our lives—hence, the end of business as usual.
Practice 3: Cultivate the practice of taking an inventory every single day, throughout the day which includes question like: How connected with myself am I in this moment? How connected am I with (my partner, my child, my community, or anyone else) in this moment? What is my connection with Earth in this moment? (What am I eating, where do I get my food, what am I wasting/conserving, how connected am I with the animals in my life?)
Practice 4: When did I last experience awe? What was that like? What happens to me when I experience awe?
Practice 5: When did I last experience beauty? What feels beautiful to me? Commit to experiencing at least five minutes of beauty today—through visual art, music, nature, and more.
While the above practices are essential, so is careful attention to the human shadow. According to Carl Jung who was one of the first healers to address the shadow, it is simply any part of oneself that is disowned because it does not correspond to the ego image of oneself. We insist that we are not dishonest, bigoted, insensitive, violent, manipulative, or a host of other undesirable characteristics, and so we deny their reality in the psyche and project them externally. In doing so, the shadow does not vanish but only grows larger and more insidious, causing us to behave in the exact manner that we accuse the other of behaving. Not only do individuals possess a shadow dynamic, so do families, communities, and nations as I explain in depth in my book Dark Gold: The Human Shadow And The Global Crisis. In fact, Donald Trump is the American shadow writ large—elected to office by the American shadow and demonstrating it spectacularly for the entire world to behold.
Amid civilization’s collapse it is imperative that awake individuals and communities commit to shadow healing as part of their inner work. Otherwise, the perpetuation of civilized dysfunction is guaranteed.
Beyond Extinction Fixation
Awareness of the rapid trajectory toward near-term human extinction in which we are ensnared may lead to fixation on the “when, where, and how” of our species demise—a mindset that is not only not useful, but one that prevents us from discerning the deeper purposes of our living in the midst of civilization’s collapse. Obsession with extinction can eclipse living in the present moment entirely and may lead to a fundamentalism more bizarre than religious fundamentalism, namely scientific fundamentalism. While that term may sound like an oxymoron, it is what comes to mind when someone tells me that they feel drawn to read a book by a particular author or attend a workshop by a specific wisdom teacher, but that that author or teacher “doesn’t believe in extinction.” Since when does extinction or science have any connection with “belief”? When we begin limiting our exposure exclusively to the ideas of those who “believe” in extinction, and when we focus our lives primarily on extinction, we become scientific fundamentalists who completely miss the emotional and spiritual evolution that the likelihood of extinction can teach us. In fact, the more disturbing the reality of extinction is for us, the more committed to daily practices we must be. Moreover, our inner work demands that we be students of extinction, not evangelists.
From my perspective, one reason resistance endeavors have gained legs in the United States in present time is the amount of human connection they afford mostly self-absorbed Americans living in the silos of their own business as usual existence. I also have no doubt that most believe the system can be altered in a meaningful way, few understand the collapse of civilization, and most believe that if Trump were replaced with a less bizarre President, they could return to the “safe,” delusional world of embracing infinite growth on a finite planet and the chimera that they actually live in a democracy. However long a strong resistance groundswell can endure, I believe that it will be able to do so only because of the sense of connection and common cause that resistors are experiencing.
Collapse and abrupt climate-change aware individuals cannot navigate the misery of full-blown collapse and climate chaos on their own. It is physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually impossible. We should not assume that we must live in an intentional community or a co-housing arrangement in order to fully experience community. Moments of it may be all we have, but moments are enough. Nor does every person in our lives need to grasp the reality of collapse and abrupt climate change. What matters is that we are fully present with every person we encounter and allow them to be fully present with us. Rumi said it best: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Feeling in the body the full radiance of gazing into the eyes of another person or fully receiving one kind gesture from them may get us through an entire week. For this reason, my colleague and friend, Dean Walker and I have created a twice-monthly online call which we have named “The Safe Circle.” It allows individuals who are aware of our planetary predicament to meet by video or audio or both for one hour to express whatever is on their hearts and be truly heard. Folks may contact me at my website or on Facebook for more information.
Cultivating Joy And Beauty
You may be wondering how the topic of joy has any relevance to a discussion of civilization’s collapse, let alone why I would end this essay with it. It is, in fact, our disconnection from the joy at the core of our being—a disconnection inherent in the colonization process that has brought us to our current predicament, and reclaiming that joy is yet another aspect of the practice of reconnecting with self, other, and Earth. In our book, Return To Joy, Andrew Harvey and I highlight a few heroes and “sheroes” of our time who in the midst of immense suffering, were able to connect with joy and beauty and thereby sustained themselves and their work. We also state that in order to experience authentic joy, not the low-hanging fruit of “happiness” that corporate culture offers, we must commit to both the external and internal work noted above, for the unequivocal paradox is that doing that work invariably allows us to experience a quality of joy and beauty we cannot access in our just-barely-alive, colonized condition.
I am under no illusion that if we just do these suggested actions, everything will be fine because nothing about the collapse of civilization will be “fine.” What I do know is that committing to practices such as these and developing your own practices as they emerge within you organically will inspire, support, ground, and enliven you as you navigate the inevitable. They profoundly illumine the questions: Who do I want to be in the face of collapse and who will we be together?
In this moment we have many inspiring role models, and perhaps the most obvious role model for uncolonizing our lives and our communities is the struggle at Standing Rock. We are most familiar with the political and legal struggle, but less familiar with the profound personal transformations among the Standing Rock tribes. Resistance has changed them both externally and inwardly. One of the most visible female elders of the struggle is Faith Spotted Eagle who states, “If we don’t stop and every single day examine how I have become like the colonizer, I asked my daughter, ‘What is going to happen someday if we lose our songs, if we lose our language and we no longer think like Natives?’ She said, ‘Then the colonization process is complete.’”
Joseph Campbell wrote: “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
Paradoxically, it may be that the Trumpist chapter of civilization’s collapse is providing us the opportunity to experience the rapture of being fully alive and to discover on a deeper level who we want to be individually and alongside each other.
Carolyn Baker, Ph.D. is the co-author with Andrew Harvey of Return To Joy (2016) having herself written Love In The Age Of Ecological Apocalypse: The Relationships We Need To Thrive (2015) as well as Collapsing Consciously: Transformative Truths For Turbulent Times (2013). Her previous books are and Navigating The Coming Chaos: A Handbook For Inner Transition (2011) and Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path Of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse (2009). With Guy McPherson, Carolyn co-authored Extinction Dialogs: How To Live With Death In Mind (2014) and published Dark Gold: The Human Shadow And The Global Crisis (2016). She lives and writes in Boulder, Colorado and manages Carolyn Baker Educational Services, LLC at www.carolynbaker.net. A former psychotherapist and professor of psychology and history, Carolyn is a life coach and spiritual consultant for people who want to live more resiliently in the present as they navigate the global crisis. Her podcast, the New Lifeboat Hour airs weekly online.