Monday, November 30, 2009



There's something decidedly twenty-first century about an inventor telling us that technology is about to make us into God. This would be the final realization of the line in Genesis, ye shall be as gods. The emphasis there was on our stepping across the line into moral choice, eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. No more trusting obedience to the ordering principle of life in the Garden. But post-Eden, tending the Garden became our neolithic charge. We need to stop short of the God-equation, and go back to living within our niche, if that still has any meaning at all.

Let's face it, those who are not techno-hip, or not saved, will have a time of it. The stark limit of biological evolution is population overshoot, not conscious control of the inner springs of life and consciousness (though there will always be a tiny handful who achieve this state, as the yogins of India have shown for at least four and a half millennia). We crossed that line ca. 1986, when we pushed the earth beyond 100% bio-capacity. And that was before the rise of China and India, with a third of planetary population.

Since Kyoto, carbon emissions have gone up, not down, and the curve has steepened since China's big push. The faint hopes of a climate treaty (not in Copenhagen, alas, but “sometime” next year), rest on getting the nations of the world to play by corporate rules, agreeing to commoditize carbon, allowing market manipulators to distort the process to the degree that the goal is effectively subverted. A real integration of science and economics can only reasonably come from a clear-cut carbon tax, with subsidies to the industrial poor to offset it. But that is off the table. We can deny the ensuing rolling collapse, which is the response of the vast majority of humanity - including almost all my colleagues, friends and family- or meet it as an existential challenge.

In Sacred Demise: Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse, Carolyn Baker argues that we listen to the still small voice and recognize the process of industrial civilization’s collapse, making it an opportunity for initiation for those of us who survive. Baker, following Dmitri Orlov, says this process has already started, and the challenge is no longer economic or technological fixes, but spiritual transformation. I have long argued that the global ecological crisis is the greatest moral challenge in human history. Baker and other “Doomers” proclaim that we have already failed that challenge, which leads to the next, crossing the archipelago back into our still–waiting indigenous selves.

Many wise people have argued that this has been the challenge for our species ever since we left the Garden of hunting and gathering. I’ve always loved Jung’s term , the “two million year-old Great Man.” This is the type of the human, the creature who knew how to inhabit its niche, wherever its ancestors happened to live. Now that the late industrial is fast becoming the post-industrial, the long repressed cry for elders is beginning to find voice, and suburbians travel to deserts or mountain fastnesses to walk further than they’ve ever walked before, fast intensely, and pray as deeply as they can, seeking the blessed Grail of initiation into deeper, more meaningful lives than consumerism and jetting to adventurelands for “cultural enrichment” could ever provide.

At an earlier climate conference,1992 in Rio, George Bush Sr proclaimed, “The American way of life is unnegotiable.” Baker's analysis of this kind of thinking (she attributes the original quote to Cheney) is that it reveals the underlying psychology of industrial capitalism: the developmental stage of a 2-year old, “believing that there are no limits and we can have whatever we want.” Not only can, but should. My own sense that democracy operates at the level of a young adolescent is trumped here by an even deeper analysis, reminiscent of Paul Shepard's critique of industrial society acting to juvenilize nature.

But let’s face it, there aren’t many initiators out there. The remaining treasures are the remnant of archaic men and women who know how to live in place within what remains of their tattered ecosystems. The far-sighted and courageous among the dominant industrial culture are training themselves to learn to live again in place, thus to become indigenous once again. But the key, as Baker, Bill Plotkin, Maladoma Some, and Michael Murphy all proclaim, is that our type, morphologically, genotypically and spiritually, still lives deep within us, accessible to anyone with full awareness of what is needed in our desperate times. Whether accession leads to initiation into an integrated, empowered adult in touch with the Great Man (or Woman) who can live in the ruins of the Petroleum Interval is another matter. It is my challenge and yours, dear reader.

Next up: a community providing a courageous example of embracing the challenge of becoming indigenous: Durika, in Costa Rica.

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