Optimism


Read this… these are two of the cheerful passages in the article.

Then go read the whole thing.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about it, yet. It’s still sort of reverberating around inside my head as I try to come up with something halfway intelligent sounding to say about it… maybe some of you will be able to?

The Delusion Revolution: We’re on the Road to Extinction and in Denial

By Robert Jensen

Aug 15, 2008

Imagine that you are riding comfortably on a sleek train. You look out the window and see that not too far ahead the tracks end abruptly and that the train will derail if it continues moving ahead. You suggest that the train stop immediately and that the passengers go forward on foot. This will require a major shift in everyone’s way of traveling, of course, but it appears to you to be the only realistic option; to continue barreling forward is to court catastrophic consequences. But when you propose this course of action, others who have grown comfortable riding on the train say, “Well, we like the train, and arguing that we should get off is not realistic.”

In the contemporary United States, we are trapped in a similar delusion. We are told that it is “realistic” to capitulate to the absurd idea that the systems in which we live are the only systems possible or acceptable because some people like them and wish them to continue. But what if our current level of First World consumption is exhausting the ecological basis for life? Too bad — the only “realistic” options are those that take that lifestyle as non-negotiable. What if real democracy is not possible in a nation-state with 300 million people? Too bad — the only “realistic” options are those that take this way of organizing a polity as immutable. What if the hierarchies on which our lives are based are producing extreme material deprivation for the oppressed and a kind of dull misery among the privileged? Too bad — the only “realistic” options are those that accept hierarchy as inevitable.

Let me offer a different view of reality: (1) We live in a system that, taken as a whole, is unsustainable, not only over the long haul but in the near term, and (2) unsustainable systems can’t be sustained.

How’s that for a profound theoretical insight? Unsustainable systems can’t be sustained.

[…snip…]

The delusional revolution is my term for the development of sophisticated propaganda techniques in the 20th century (especially a highly emotive, image-based advertising system) that have produced in the bulk of the population (especially in First World societies) a distinctly delusional state of being. Even those of us who try to resist it often can’t help but be drawn into parts of the delusion. As a culture, we collectively end up acting as if unsustainable systems can be sustained because we want them to be. Much of the culture’s storytelling — particularly through the dominant storytelling institution, the mass media — remains committed to maintaining this delusional state. In such a culture, it becomes hard to extract oneself from that story.

So, in summary: The agricultural revolution set us on a road to destruction. The industrial revolution ramped up our speed. The delusional revolution has prevented us from coming to terms with the reality of where we are and where we are heading. That’s the bad news. The worse news is that there’s still overwhelming resistance in the dominant culture to acknowledging that these kinds of discussions are necessary. This should not be surprising because, to quote Wes Jackson, we are living as “a species out of context.” Jackson likes to remind audiences that the modern human — animals like us, with our brain capacity — have been on the planet about 200,000 years, which means these revolutions constitute only about 5 percent of human history. We are living today trapped by systems in which we did not evolve as a species over the long term and to which we are still struggling to adapt in the short term.

Realistically, we need to get on a new road if we want there to be a future. The old future, the road we imagined we could travel, is gone — it is part of the delusion. Unless one accepts an irrational technological fundamentalism (the idea that we will always be able to find high-energy/advanced-technology fixes for problems), there are no easy solutions to these ecological and human problems. The solutions, if there are to be any, will come through a significant shift in how we live and a dramatic downscaling of the level at which we live. I say “if” because there is no guarantee that there are solutions. History does not owe us a chance to correct our mistakes just because we may want such a chance.

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    • Edger on August 21, 2008 at 5:36 am
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    we’ll never get on that new road through “pragmatic compromise” with the right wing, or through running for the center.

    If we want there to be a future…

  1. …in the same article, attributes an important realization to Wes Jackson:

    Jackson’s work has most helped me recognize an obvious and important truth that is too often ignored: For all our cleverness, we human beings are far more ignorant than knowledgeable. Human accomplishments — skyscrapers, the Internet, the mapping of the human genome — seduce us into believing the illusion that we can control a world that is complex beyond our ability to understand. Jackson suggests that we would be wise to recognize this and commit to “an ignorance-based worldview” that would anchor us in the intellectual humility we will need if we are to survive the often toxic effects of our own cleverness.

    Add a healthy dose of humility to our ego centric sense of self importance!

    Indeed!

  2. it’s a part of an essay I’ve been working on – progressing very slowly – but I think it fits in well here. This is the quote:

    “The pursuit of freedom, as defined in an age of consumerism, has induced a condition of dependence on imported goods, on imported oil, and on credit. The chief desire of the American people is that nothing should disrupt their access to these goods, that oil, and that credit. The chief aim of the U.S. government is to satisfy that desire, which it does in part of through the distribution of largesse here at home, and in part through the pursuit of imperial ambitions abroad.”

  3. what will be will be. Thanks again. I am going to get into bed and do this again.

  4. I have others but this will have to do for the night. The others are heavy duty.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F

  5. here is the theory i ascribe too

    http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/FUTEV

  6. a question like this again……

    http://www.futurefoundation.or

    happy reading

    • Diane G on August 21, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    Exactly why we on the Train need to stand up and scream MORE not less.

    I had not read this when I wrote my essay this AM, but yet it ties in perfectly with my thoughts… had I read it, I would have been able to tie in the environmental angle in as well. Damn.

  7. Ties in with the quote you liked from How Do You Like the Collapse So Far?http://www.richardheinberg.com/node/295

    in the comment I made in Archangel’s essay https://www.docudharma.com/show… other day

    As the Great Unraveling proceeds, there may in fact be only one occupation worthy of our attention: that of identifying the qualities that make our species worth saving, and then celebrating and exemplifying those qualities. If we concentrate on doing that, perhaps we win no matter what. Outwardly, it will probably look a lot like what many of us are already doing: working to save a species, an ecosystem, a human community; to make a village sustainable, or to halt a new coal power plant.

    Taking in traumatic information and transmuting it into life-affirming action may turn out to be the most advanced and meaningful spiritual practice of our time.

    So I would add to Jensen’s things we can do – working to save the environment as well as social justice issues.

    As for a way to visualize the future, this summer I have been spending most of my time outdoors, gardening (with mostly only compost that I make year round), harvesting what I plant, foraging for what nature produces.  I’m amazed at the bounty.  It’s as if the plant, fruit trees are not only making up for a dearth from drought and freeze last year – but also working overtime to ensure their species goes on in future years.  I went from the springtime aspargus that has naturalized itself in twenty different places on our property over the years to an abundance of summertime fruit unrivalled in previous years (apples, peaches, pears, figs) to an anticipated super fall harvest of pecans, black walnuts and new things we planted but have never had produced before – pawpaws and  hazelnuts.

    I could see this future for myself in my last 20 years on the planet – if the production capability of Earth lasts that long.  I just wish I could get my grandchildren to spend more time with me dong some of this stuff.

    I think I’ve finally gotten off the train (for me it was practicing law and all that entailed), at least for a little while, for myself.

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