|AVENTURA on the Rio Chagres|
It was a self-imposed exile. My initial diagnosis was “world weariness,” but after a few days of solitude on the Rio Chagres, it became clear to me that my true ailment was “human weariness.” How could my species be so foolish, so destructive, so self-absorbed, and so unaware of the consequences of its actions? It saddened me and it astonished me. So I had come here to escape from humanity in order to contemplate it more clearly.
Twice a day I would row as far up the river as the strength of the contrary current would permit me. Then I would lazily drift back down to AVENTURA in my inflatable dinghy. As I floated downstream, I savored a tapestry of exquisite beauty – the threads included shimmering water and bird song and fish play and monkey trees in the jungle. By the fifth day, clarity was emerging as the river breezes and the exotic night sounds healed me. The paradoxical magic of Solitude blessed me once again. For days on end there was not a single human in view, but this absence intensified my focus on the human project - until it seemed as sharp as the vision of the osprey that circled overhead.
Here is what I saw. Civilization seems to be hurtling down two disastrous paths that are contrary to each other and yet connected to each other. The first course is a societal ruination that is so catastrophic that I refer to it as apocalyptic collapse - or to create a term – APOCOLLAPSE. The second course is a steady but accelerating reshaping of the western democracies into tyrannical police-surveillance states. I call this FULL SPECTRUM NEO-FEUDALISM.
There are three meta-systems that individually or in combination could de-stabilize the planet so profoundly that the world that we take for granted could vanish with paralyzing swiftness. I call them the Big Bad “E”s and they stand for Energy, Economics and Ecology.
ENERGY Our modern techno-industrial society is so dependent on enormous inputs of fossil fuel products that as Peak Oil intensifies prices will skyrocket and supply chains will break-down. And so huge swaths of daily living that we take for granted will be compromised or eliminated. The fragility of supermarkets that only stock three days worth of food will be revealed when the trucks can’t deliver the groceries because diesel fuel is unavailable or unaffordable. The industrial farming system which uses oil and natural gas in tractors, combines, fertilizer, insecticides, and pesticides will wobble to a halt. The electrical grid will go down as the fuel dribbles away, thus leaving millions of people either sweltering or shivering in the dark.
As for the recent rash (a most appropriate noun) of feel good energy stories - they are a callous and malicious charade underwritten by the energy giants to keep the illusion going … until it just stops going. A good comparison is the believability of the tobacco industry which deceived and lied and distorted until even their most expensive public relations campaigns could no longer disguise the truth.
ECONOMICS I would characterize our modern economic system as a perverse mating of absurdity and evil. At least the villainous Robber Barons of the 19th century actually “made things.” They may have been ruthless and greedy, but they produced steel and railroads and light bulbs. But our current financial titans have only one real talent. They are masters of deceit – of smoke and mirrors and collusion and corruption. Try heating your home with credit default swaps or try filling your car’s gas tank with collateralized debt obligations.
These financial demigods acquire their obscene fortunes not by producing anything of worth to society, but by a dark web of manipulation. They own the politicians of both parties. The government agencies that should police them are packed with “regulators” that used to work for the very banks that they are supposed to monitor. They are the owners of and the beneficiaries of the Federal Reserve. This omnipotent agency, which many mistakenly assume works for The People via the government, is actually a creation of the biggest and most powerful banks. I think of the Fed as the pool boy for the Too Big to Jail banks.
This financial criminality has led to a global economic panorama that is appalling and suicidal. Most of the banks of the first world are insolvent. Their true assets vs. obligations portfolios have been hidden by money pumping from the central banks and the IMF which, ironically also has no real money. The fiat currency system, which is the foundation for all of this insanity, is now being called into question more and more frequently. This scrutiny is well deserved since there has not been a single fiat currency in the history of the world that survived. The supremacy of the U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency and as the petro-dollar is also being challenged. China and Russia would love to terminate this advantage, which has given the U.S. a “get out of debtor’s jail” free pass for decades.
In summary, the economic big picture is horrendous. The gap between the rich and the poor has become so gigantic that the disgruntled underclass is starting to become angry. The enormous debts of many nations are now so ludicrous that these countries have to borrow money just to pay the interest on previously borrowed money. And there is an enormous pool of financial dark matter circling the planet like an invisible Death Star. This is the multi-trillion dollar derivatives swindle. One day, in the form of an enormous black dragon swan, it will darken the sky above the executive “team-building” picnic of a major corporation and divest them of their “all is well” delusions.
ECOLOGY There are two diametrically opposed trends on the environmental landscape. On the one hand the vast majority of climate scientists are continually adjusting their previous predictions because their “worst case scenarios” were not worst case enough. Not only are they altering the severity of the various calamities, but also the speed at which they are occurring.
The methane vents in Siberia are expanding faster than predicted. There are severe droughts in most of the world’s primary bread baskets. The Arctic ice shelf might completely disappear in the next few summers. The wettest forest in the world – the Amazon - is regularly catching fire. I could list a dozen other examples, but the trend is that things are deteriorating more significantly and at a faster pace than expected.
On the opposite hand, the “climate change denial” camp is growing. The fact that the obscenely rich oligarchs have funded thousands of lobbyists in Washington to sway the opinions of Congress is the main factor in this increase. And the fact that these politicians are handed bullet points based on “scientific” studies that these same industrialists bankrolled, is repulsive. What sort of sick sentient being would bequeath his grandchildren a smoldering planet just so that he can move further up the Forbes Richest People list?
So, in conclusion, the APOCOLLAPSE seems inevitable. There is no reason to believe that some sort of Tesla energy miracle will suddenly appear out of nowhere. The economic insanity that threatens our way of life is utterly monumental due to the interwoven nature of global finance and commerce in the 21st century. And we are approaching so many ecological tipping points that it will become impossible for 7 billion people to continue to survive at our current standard of living.
FULL SPECTRUM NEO-FEUDALSIM
Any honest analysis of 21st century American democracy must conclude that it is a sham. Certainly there is still the façade, but it is as phony as a Hollywood movie set. The trappings of a republic are still there, but the actual “power of the people” has vaporized. It has been supplanted by the power of the RICH PEOPLE. If the wealthy campaign contributors want a war in Iraq, it does not matter that 80% of the population is against it.
No matter which political party is in power, the results are still basically the same. And that’s because mega-wealthy individuals and enormous corporations donate to both campaigns, so that regardless of the outcome, the victor must grant them access and influence. Even the two party system itself, is symptomatic of the corruption at the core of our pseudo-republic. Any third party candidate who poses a genuine threat to the status quo is attacked and marginalized. Instead of citizen legislators, it has become a world of millionaire career politicians. And the phrases “term limits” and “genuine campaign finance reform” are not permitted in polite company.
It is bad enough that the U.S. political scene has become an exclusionary zone where only the prominent have access, but what is worse is the direction that this Plutocracy is headed. It feels like the country of my youth has disappeared and been replaced by an imposter. Here are some examples:
· The Middle Class, which should be the bulwark of democracy, is being knowingly destroyed.
· Instead of being outraged by the use of torture, my government now commits it.
· The power of the press has been neutered. They have forsaken their role as societal watch-dogs, and have instead become political lapdogs.
· Instead of supporting “self-determination” the U.S. is despised around the world for its imperial policies in support of its gigantic corporations.
· The Posse-Comitatus Act, which forbids the use of the military in domestic police duty, is being overtly and covertly undermined.
· The NDAA act gives the President the power to indefinitely detain (imprison) almost anyone that is perceived as a threat to the State.
· The nation is being rapidly turned into an Orwellian nightmare whereby the government can spy on all of your communications.
· Instead of being honored and encouraged, whistleblowers are being vilified and imprisoned.
· Local police forces all across the country are being militarized as though the powers that rule are preparing for revolution. Cops have morphed from crime stoppers into enforcers.
All of these bullet points are symptomatic of a government that seeks more and more control of its citizens. The inescapable trend is towards a society in which a tiny group is extremely rich and powerful and the vast majority is an underclass of modern serfs that run the machines that spew out the profits. It has all of the markings of a science fiction nightmare that is turning into reality.
Now that I have outlined these two powerful forces - APOCOLLAPSE and FULL SPECTRUM NEO-FEUDALISM - allow me to discuss the dynamic between the two. The big issue is whether the tyrants, who seek massive domination of humanity through their thugs and surveillance, will succeed with their control freak fantasies before civilization either suddenly implodes or gradually falls over. If the Big Bad “E”s do initiate a societal meltdown, then large governments will suddenly be neutered. The seemingly almighty rulers will swiftly be transformed from harem masters into eunuchs, as everything becomes smaller and more local.
If on the other hand the demagogues do manage to impose their Orwellian nightmare on large parts of the world, I believe that the APOCOLLAPSE will still occur. And that is because even a Soylent Green world needs energy and a livable biosphere and an economic system that is not laughably dysfunctional. Therefore, to me, the major question is whether the world will unravel before the Malignant Overlords have managed to fully erect their wet dream control grid. It would certainly be preferable if a few generations of serfs did not have to live under police state oppression as the lights flicker out and the erupting methane vents make breathing a hellish ordeal.
As for how an individual or a family can respond to these tragic scenarios, these are my beliefs. I know that I can’t stop any of the Big Bad “E”s from continuing down the seemingly irreversible paths that lead to APOCOLLAPSE. Nor do I think that any citizen or group of people can derail the hideous locomotive of FULL SPECTRUM NEO-FEUDALISM. I suspect that both non-confrontational methods and revolution in the streets are both doomed to failure.
But I do believe that a wise person and his loved ones can prepare themselves so that they have at least a chance of escaping and surviving. And for those who succeed, they will face a difficult but wondrous challenge. Their mission will be to sculpt a new human living arrangement that combines the best elements of civilization with the best aspects of pre-civilized tribal cultures.
For over ten thousand generations we human animals GOT IT RIGHT! We lived in a manner that was sustainable, communal, joyous, egalitarian and compassionate. And we showed awe and reverence for the non-human world that cocooned us. We have lost our way only in the last few thousand years when Agriculture ended tribal society and ushered in Civilization. Unfortunately, the shining benefits of this new societal structure blinded us to the devastating side effects. We did not realize that hierarchy and division of labor would lead to rulers and priests and armies and wars and rich and poor and destruction and despair.
Personally, I no longer choose to “rage against the machine.” It seems like a hopeless task and a misuse of my time, energy and intellect. Instead, I believe that there is greater wisdom in attempting to conceptualize what might arise “on the other side of Collapse.” That strikes me as a worthwhile and incredibly vital pursuit. My essay on that topic is already pretty well sketched out. I am tentatively calling it “On the Far Side of Oblivion.”
But its completion will require more time on the river – in sacred harmony with the whispering water - and the creatures that it nurtures.