As I have been talking with people about this topic over the past few years, I’ve become aware of the barriers accepting near-term societal collapse and therefore barriers to rigorous and creative thinking and discussion about what we might do about it, personally and collectively. I have also become aware of the barriers I had for a few years to avoid addressing this topic with the seriousness it merits. So before outlining either the analysis of our environmental predicament or the new agenda this opens up, it may be useful to outline some of these barriers to useful dialogue. I do that as part of my invitation for you to either avoid – or momentarily suspend – such responses and adopt a “what if” perspective on societal collapse. Only then can one explore what a deep adaptation agenda might mean for oneself, one’s work and wider society.
What is not widely recognized, though, is the underlying germ that makes the politics of division so viable. Our culture teaches us in subtle but countless ways that division works – that it is necessary for creating safety and enabling control. We soak up this lesson, learning first and foremost how to divide the self. That lesson is stressed and locked into our bodies by our public schools: achieving success there means suppressing the body’s intelligence and sitting still (and you’d better learn to throttle the body’s energy, or you’ll get in trouble) so that you can fill your head with the right facts and lessons.
Why we feel so fatigued, depleted, and exhausted
The extreme weather events of the summer of 2018 are not just symptoms of climate breakdown. They are early stage warnings of a protracted process of civilisational collapse as industrial societies face some of the opening symptoms of having already breached the limits of a safe climate.
In 2016, Andrew Harvey and I published Savage Grace: Living Resiliently In The Dark Night of The Globe. In Chapter 1 of the book, we forecasted essentially what is happening in this moment in terms of the demise of the last vestiges of democracy and human rights on this planet. We chose the image of Kali, the Hindu goddess of creation and destruction as the symbol of our current global predicament. Two years later, we are witnessing a virulent, worldwide embrace of white nationalist, authoritarian rule. Ultimately, Kali seeks to transform the human ego and rational mind and bring us into a more permanent residence in the heart, but the process is often excruciating. Might she also want to transform the image a country or a community has of itself? “This is not who we are.”—Or is it? How shall awake human beings respond? What is our work? What is our calling? How do we reconnect with the authentic sources of meaning in our lives and the web of life itself as totalitarian rule is poised to dominate our consciousness and our countries as we stand on the threshold of the potential extinction of all life on Earth as a result of catastrophic climate change? We will be posting portions of Savage Grace in the coming weeks because it is proving itself to be prescient and empowering in this very dark time.
I have been writing about collapse for more than a decade, and perhaps you have been reading about it for even longer. While I know that it is inevitable and that in tandem with climate catastrophe it will be even more horrific than seasoned students of collapse anticipated, it matters to me how it unfolds. Throughout history, the collapse of societies has played out in a manner unique to each one. How this collapse plays out matters to me. It is poised to be violent, and my intention has always been to minimize the brutality. The first step in that project is to name what is so at this moment in time and to stop minimizing it by pointing to the myriad evils the Unites States has perpetrated on other countries in the past. Indeed, the chickens have come home to roost, and now it is our turn to deal with them.
This is an edited transcript of a conversation that took place on April 24, 2018 as part of the inaugural quarterly issue of Kosmos Journal. The theme of the first edition is Unlearning Together. As such, it felt appropriate to have a quartet dialogue of unlearning, focused on a complex of issues associated with the inevitable transition to post-capitalism; namely, the issues of grief, collapse and the mystical impulse of transcendence that can provide deep healing in such troubled times. One of the key questions is how we come together to explore the edge of our practice as seekers, as activists, and as advocates for a more just and loving world.
He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. ~Aeschylus~
What is this reflective shield that can show us the danger without turning us to stone? What can open our hearts, without breaking them? What can replace paralyzing fear with a new vision of what is beautiful and possible? What can break the bonds of lies and denial? What can allow us “to see, to sing, to welcome with courage and grace and imagination, whatever asks entrance into our lives”? The words are from the poet, Jane Hirschfield.