Tuesday, June 01, 2010

So What's the Point?

by Charles Hugh Smith


What's the point of this blog? An integrated understanding and a peaceful revolution.

This blog is now five years old (consider this essay from June 2005, Boomers, Prepare to Fall on Your Swords), and thus it is a good time to ask: So what's the point?What's left to say? It's certainly a valid question, as is a suspicion of ego as a driving force. Don't we all want to be "famous," even if that is a tiny outpost on the World Wide Web?

One reader did recognize me in the Home Depot in Hilo, Hawaii, and that was quite unexpected. He was an excellent gent, a very productive member of The Remnant, and I was honored to meet him.

So if being recognized is some measure of fame, then I have received my 15 seconds (15 minutes is way too much time in today's digital world) and am happy to fade back into obscurity and anonymity.

So what's left to say? This: we still need an integrated understanding of our interlocking "long emergencies," not just in terms of energy and finance but also in terms of culture/society and our individual happiness/resourcefulness.

We also need to imagine some alternative futures to sudden, complete breakdown of the social, energy and political status quo. Yes, such a violent implosion to utter chaos is possible, but the historical record suggests some sort of devolution and habituation to devolution is more likely.

Many of you know my esteemed colleague Dmitry Orlov's work through his bookReinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects and his website Club Orlov. He draws parallels with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was sudden politically but more a long, drawn-out devolution in other ways.

I don't get the feeling that most Americans have much of a grasp of their own Revolution, nor much of a grasp of the internal and cultural changes which birthed the war we are passingly familiar with. (How many Americans know that at least 40% of the populace were Royalists who opposed the Revolution?)

My esteemed colleague Jesse of JESSE'S CAFÉ AMÉRICAIN posted a deeply insightful quote from Founding Father John Adams which cuts to the core of all revolutions:

"The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations ... This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution." John Adams

It is precisely the radical changes in principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people which interest me, and exploring, imagining and perhaps guiding those radically peaceful changes in some modest way is the driving force behind this weblog.

It may seem the real purpose is to annoy the widest possible spectrum of readers, which judging by my email is a task at which I excel. But that isn't true. The tremendous quantities of annoyance generated by this site flow from questioning the various sacred presumptions of institutions and mindsets ranging from the housing industry and the Savior State to certain theologies of survivalism.

Life adapts, organisms adapt, individuals adapt, societies adapt. Change does not necessarily bring extinction, though that is certainly one possible end-state.

What strikes me as dangerous is the paucity of imagination and working knowledge of human history. At the risk of being annoying (once again), perhaps we should examine the idea that urban centers will instantly become violent hellholes in which death will reign supreme once the status quo implodes.

While that is certainly possible, consider the 1906 earthquake and fire which leveled much of San Francisco. Most of the transport, food and shelter were destroyed. By the mindset of many, the result should have been instant chaos and widespread murder as desperate people killed for whatever scraps of food and shelter remained.

The government barely functioned; the mayor authorized the Army and Navy to fight the fire by demolishing several streets of upscale housing, and also authorized a "shoot to kill" control of looting. (Note this wasn't Martial Law because the civilian authorities remained nominally in charge.)

Yes, the surrounding area had resources which could be shared with the hundreds of thousands of displaced people, but by today's standards the transport systems were primitive. How did all those people survive in such primitive settings?

They adapted. Yes, a few probably innocent bystanders were shot by troops, along with a few probable looters, but in the rush of events that did not arouse much interest. The point is that hundreds of thousands of people dealt with sudden loss of their shelter, food, community, city and livelihoods without mass death or chaos.

It's as if we prefer to imagine death, chaos and destruction than some sort of messy adaptation. That is a topic to explore later, but in a nation such as the U.S. which throws away 40% of its food (and lets another 10-20% rot on the ground because it's not worth harvesting or gleaning), then the entire notion that mass starvation is not just likely but essentially inevitable suffers from a disconnect from this reality: Americans toss out about 40 percent of all U.S.-produced food, a new study finds..

This suggests Americans could get by quite adequately on half the current food supply, if we chose (or were encouraged by high prices) to stop wasting the food we do grow.

Yet how often do we see any exploration of this rather obvious idea? Virtually never. The need for an integrated understanding of food, energy, transport, soil, and our own health seems of critical importance, yet to my knowledge it is left virtually untouched. Thus the task falls to this blog and its readers to open new territories of understanding and of legal, peaceful, resourceful actions which further our own interests.

Whenever I mention the possibility of significant quantities of food being grown within cities, naysayers quickly jump to the defense of "there is no other way but the unsustainable status quo or collapse and die-off."

Are we really that trapped in "all or nothing" thinking, that if a solution is only partial then it has no value at all? My thinking runs along an entirely different line, one in which hybrid solutions abound. Indeed, I too foresee "the end of work" if we define work as fulltime employment with benefits; but I also see rich possibilities for hybrid work which combines a flexible spectrum of unpaid, trade-in-kind and paid work.

It is my view that solutions flow naturally from a truly integrated understanding of any interconnected situation. In seeking an integrated understanding, we are also laying the foundations of future solutions and adaptations.

Sometimes I wonder if we as a culture are so dominated by the twin pathologies of denial/entitlement and self-loathing that we subconsciously seek pathways to destruction. That too is a subject worthy of exploration, for it is not just a lack of imagination and knowledge of our past adaptations which hobble us, but our resistance to pursuing that imagining and exploration.

That pursuit and exploration is the point of this weblog



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