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.
Do Americans really understand what’s at stake in the midterms? Now, before you cry, “of course they do!”, perhaps it’s worth considering in a little more detail. Why? Because at every juncture of American collapse so far, the risks of, well, all this happening, have been vastly, fatally, lethally understated — minimized, denied, pooh-poohed away. Haven’t they? It’s not just that not a single mainstream pundit or thinker (go ahead, think about it) didn’t predict any of this — it’s that they actively refused to allow even the possibility, mocking and taunting those who did predict it. Instead, election season was spent pretending Trumpism was a joke, and the next year, sternly warning from on high that you and I mustn’t use words like “fascism” and “authoritarianism.”
What do imploding middle classes do? They turn to fascists. Who blame their woes on scapegoats, turning grief into grievance. Fascists promise the downwardly mobile that they will be “great” again — that they’ll rise culturally, triumph socially, be symbolically reborn, and economically renewed. It’s a powerful appeal, to people who, suddenly, are shocked, that they are falling out of what appeared to be a clear blue sky. Who will save them? Who’ll rescue them? To understand fascism, Yyu have to understand that the minds of a large part of this stratum of society simply stop working. Those minds brim over with grievances, hated, imagined enemies, who are persecuting them, victimizing them, who are hunting them into nonexistence, who they need to destroy first, exterminate — not anything resembling coherent thoughts, logical reason, or moral sanity
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.
This is who we’ve always been, a nation of madmen and sociopaths, for whom murder is a line item, kept hidden via a long list of semantic self-deceptions, from “manifest destiny” to “collateral damage.” We’re used to presidents being the soul of probity, kind Dads and struggling Atlases, humbled by the terrible responsibility, proof to ourselves of our goodness. Now, the mask of respectability is gone, and we feel sorry for ourselves, because the sickness is showing.
Until we can create more equality, tend to our personal and collective pain, care for one another as much as we do for fame, fun, and money, and rebuild a community of caring for those left out, we will find the most perverse ways to belong, to feel a part each other’s lives. Ideally, we accomplish this in joy and in sustainable, shared sorrow. When we can’t, our need to belong goes unmet and we seek it however we can. One who feels dead inside kills to share and belong in the only way he can—by forcing others to feel as dead as he does inside
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.