Peak Civilization and the Winter of Our Disconnect

Carolyn Baker

Posted Apr 28, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Peak Civilization and the Winter of Our Disconnect

By Carolyn Baker

The appearance of springtime in North America may be more welcome this year than at anytime in recent history. The winter has been long, cold, and dreary-particularly in the Rust Belt where the devastations of housing foreclosures, unemployment, and the resultant blight have left a trail of human misery and degradation not seen since the Great Depression. Ten percent of the population of Ohio now relies on food stamps while hordes of domestic animals abandoned in foreclosed homes endure long and grotesque deaths from starvation.


For countless Americans across the nation, this winter has brought with it something far more distressing than brutal, bone-chilling temperatures-horrific, traumatic revelations that the American dream, neatly packaged and sold for decades, has become their worst possible nightmare. Should they happen to see on TV the guy from the Countrywide commercial greeting them with “Homeowners…”, they are probably wondering why he hasn’t been assassinated and at the very least wondering why Countrywide is still in business.


Something is festering in the psyches of the formerly middle class of this nation-something far more ominous than burgeoning public assistance and food stamp applications or mushrooming meth labs. If the subprime mortgage massacre had occurred in a vacuum, the dirty little secret might have been kept a bit longer, but juxtaposing it with Peak Oil, skyrocketing food prices, wacky weather and debilitating droughts, not to mention proliferating pink slips, it daily becomes embarrassingly obvious that Jim Kunstler was spot-on when he uttered his infamous declaration in the documentary, “The End Of Suburbia” that “the entire suburban project is the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.”


And yet during this “winter of disconnect” we have heard delusional economists and the President himself describe the current horrors in terms of “a soft patch” or the need to “ride this one out until things bounce back.” And overall, the human race is virtually ignoring climate change and perseverating in the madness of the ethanol panacea.


And speaking of insanity, Europe is rapidly returning to coal-fired power plants, while in China, coal “remains the major source of fuel for two billion people”-nightmare scenarios with respect to global warming and climate change. Meanwhile, Monsanto and other genocidal monsters of food and population control, tout ethanol as an energy panacea—the only tangible result of their hype being mass starvation and astronomical food prices. Or as a friend recently commented: Ethanol is a fabulous solution to our energy dilemma because it will provide more fuel for us to drive around and look for food.


The Four Seasons Of Civilization


Duane Elgin, author of numerous books including Voluntary Simplicity, postulated fifteen years ago that civilizations evolve through specific stages which ironically follow the shape of a bell curve, similar to the Peak Oil curve, in their development and to which Elgin refers as the “four seasons” of growth. This was long before the bell curve of Peak Oil was familiar to many other individuals besides M. King Hubbert, father of the Peak Oil theory, who died four years before Elgin’s book was published.


According to Elgin, Stage I of the development of a civilization, “Springtime” is characterized by high growth and an era of faith in future potential. During springtime, there is little bureaucratic complexity, and activities are largely self-regulating. Stage II or “Summer”, is an era of reason where social consensus begins to weaken and bureaucratic complexity increases with less self-regulation and more external regulation. “Autumn” follows, ushering in an era of cynicism where consensus weakens considerably, special interest groups surpass the power of a shared social purpose, and bureaucratic complexity mounts faster than the ability to effectively regulate. An era of despair characterizes Stage IV, “Winter”, and the collapse of consensus is supplanted by conflicting social purposes. Bureaucratic mechanisms and their complexity become overwhelming, and society begins to break down.


Elgin believes that three possible outcomes are likely to emerge from the breakdown of the system. One outcome is collapse as the biosphere is pushed beyond its limits and can no longer support the burden of humanity. Stagnation is another option, in which members of the system expend energy on simply maintaining the status quo. Revitalization is the most desirable option which results from a “period of intense communication and reconciliation that builds a working consensus around a sustainable pathway into the future.”


The author notes that we get collapse by “perpetuating the status quo and running the biosphere into ruin. We get stagnation when citizens are passive and rely on remote bureaucracies and technological solutions to handle a deteriorating local-to-global situation. We get revitalization only when we directly engage our predicament as individuals, families, communities, and nations.”


Although Elgin has presented the three options in this particular order, it is clear to me that the current civilization has long since passed through stagnation and is rapidly collapsing. In my opinion, while revitalization may have been possible decades ago when society’s elite first learned of Peak Oil, climate change, and numerous renewable energy options, it is now possible only as a consequence of collapse for the simple reason that the progression of collapse has rendered voluntary revitalization extraordinarily problematic, if not impossible.


Richard Heinberg’s Peak Everything reveals unequivocally that virtually every resource on earth has reached or passed its peak of availability to the human race. Elgin’s 1993 theory, however, offers a larger picture in which the likelihood that civilization itself has peaked and is on the downward side of the bell curve is logically plausible.


The immediate “winter of our disconnect” (and discontent), described above, has been characterized by an astonishingly rapid unraveling of civilization which appears to accelerate with every passing day. The larger winter is not about specific events such as foreclosures, bankruptcies, food rationing in America, or melting glaciers, but rather the final evolutionary stage of civilization and its eventualities in which we now find ourselves embroiled. In other words, particular occurrences of unraveling indicate irrefutably that we have entered Peak Civilization.


It is crucial, in my opinion, to comprehend Peak Civilization so that just as we understand that all of earth’s resources have peaked which would prevent us from embracing the chimera of a “return to normalcy”, we more astutely grasp the progression of human evolution and its implications in the macrocosm. That is to say that a clear understanding of Peak Oil prevents any rational human being from assuming that a return to cheap and abundant energy is feasible in his/her lifetime. Likewise, recognizing that civilization is in an irreversible trajectory of descent may assist us in conserving our valuable mental, emotional, and spiritual energy so that we do not expend it on phantoms of long-term revitalization.


Past-Peak Elections-You Have No Government


At this point it becomes necessary to distinguish between long-term and short-term revitalization. From my perspective, as stated above, collapse must occur in order for long-term revitalization to become possible, so attempting to prevent collapse also prevents one from honoring the current stage of civilization now unfolding. One example of understanding civilization’s “winter” is to grasp that the only thing more futile than addressing energy depletion with ethanol use is the delusion that legitimate presidential elections actually occur in America offering valid choices between two genuinely opposing candidates who represent two distinct political parties and who are beyond domination, contamination, or exploitation by the transnational corporations that in fact manage the United States.


Furthermore, to fully understand Peak Civilization is to understand that the federal government per se does not exist, but rather an elite corporate cartel engaged in the management of citizens-citizens who are now completely on their own in terms of their survival as the pseudo-government continues to implode. Moreover, the cartel’s direct intent is the cessation of nation states to be supplanted by corporations and their subsidiaries.


Therefore, the task before us is not to perpetuate the status quo by participating in the ersatz federal election debacle, but to, in the words of John Michael Greer “transition to a Third World lifestyle.” I believe that any politician who suggests that we can do otherwise and survive as individuals or as a nation, may be committing a crime against humanity. Politicians and centralized systems are incapable of effecting meaningful change. Or as Greer states, “...getting the Federal government to do something constructive about the situation, for instance - [is] a waste of time. That sort of change isn’t going to happen. It’s not simply a matter of who’s currently in power, although admittedly that doesn’t help. The core of the problem is that even proposing changes on a scale that would do any good would be political suicide.”


Although nothing could be more unpalatable for the American public, transitioning to a Third-World lifestyle is precisely what it is being forced to do. And as Greer comments:


There’s no way to sugar-coat that very unpalatable reality. Fossil fuels made it possible for most people in the industrial world to have a lifestyle that doesn’t depend on hard physical labor, and to wallow in a flood of mostly unnecessary consumer goods and services. As fossil fuels deplete, all that will inevitably go away. How many people would be willing to listen to such a suggestion? More to the point, how many people would vote for a politician or a party who proposed to bring on these changes deliberately, now, in order to prevent total disaster later on?


What Peak Civilization Really Looks Like


Peak Civilization by definition means the disappearance of public education, healthcare, government-issued currency, commercial food production, public access to regional water supplies, interstate commerce, the North American energy grid, and the very infrastructure of the United States. Yet one need not succumb to fatalism. While long-term revitalization cannot be realized now, its seeds can be and are being planted by the proliferation of vibrant relocalization movements erupting and evolving around the world, many of which have been spotlighted at the Truth To Power website. As Duane Elgin emphasizes: “A revitalizing society is a decentralizing society, with grassroots organizations that are numerous enough, have arisen soon enough, and are effective enough to provide a genuine alternative to more centralized bureaucracies.”


The first headlines of food rationing in America are buzzing across the internet as I write this article. They underscore the unequivocal reality that collapse is going to compel us to feed ourselves or quite simply, we will perish. I believe that food security is the most urgent, the most immediate issue to which we must attend at this moment of Peak Civilization. For months, this website has been informing readers about food storage and preservation and other aspects of preparedness. It is now time, if you have not already done so, to organize groups of citizens in your neighborhood, schools, churches, and community centers to plant and maintain gardens. In addition, collapse is compelling us to rapidly mobilize our neighborhoods and communities to not only accumulate our own supply of stored water but to organize citizens to work with local public water utilities to ensure that they remain public and are not privatized.


Health care professionals reading these words need to consider offering local workshops on a regular basis teaching citizens how to treat injuries and illnesses in the absence of a viable healthcare system. Doctors, nurses, dentists, and all manner of medical personnel are likely to be overwhelmed with patients during and after the full-scale breakdown of the system when hospitals and clinics have closed and almost no one can afford health insurance. A recent CBS News video link emailed to subscribers recently by Truth To Power confirms the imminent, total collapse of America’s healthcare system and reveals the extent to which anyone with the slightest bit of training in the field is likely to find her/himself inundated with throngs of sick people desperately seeking care.


Seeds Of Revitalization


Greer emphatically stresses that “The key to making sense of constructive action in a situation of impending industrial collapse is to look at the community, rather than the individual or society as a whole, as the basic unit.” Those familiar with Greer’s article, “The Coming Deindustrial Society”, recall his three requirements for community: A community must have some degree of local organization; it must have a core of people who know how to live without fossil fuels; and it must have food and a production and distribution system for it.


In a future article, Truth To Power will add another requirement, namely, the ability to communicate clearly and compassionately with other community members.


Our challenge at this moment in history is to recognize and intentionally connect with the evolutionary season of winter in which Peak Civilization finds itself because as Duane Elgin admonishes us: “It is time to begin the next stage of our human journey.” As I witness most of humanity’s current “solutions” to its climate-energy-food-water-population-economic dilemmas, I see only myopic, psychotic strategies, and I have to ask myself whether or not it will be necessary for us to annihilate ourselves and the planet in order to transition into a more advanced evolutionary paradigm that will not permit the human race to ever again engage in anything like the current madness. Tragically, I see almost nothing that suggests otherwise.


It is crucial that we comprehend that not only have we entered winter, but that that particular season is going to last a long time. As we navigate that winter, we are allowed our discontent, but we dare not permit ourselves to disconnect from current reality. Simultaneously, it is imperative that we hold a vision of revitalization and plant its seeds everywhere at the same time that we honor more the changing of the seasons than our addiction to springtime.

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