Monday, March 31, 2014


Collapsing Consciously: Transformative Truths for Turbulent Times

Among the political-ecological early warning community, Carolyn Baker has always been the voice of going inward to find the emotional and spiritual resources for this challenge. Her sequel to Sacred Demise continues her reflections on how to turn the epochal crisis of the collapse of industrial civilization into an opportunity for self and communal transformation. In the few short years since the earlier book's release (2009), the global corporate industrial juggernaut has only dug deeper ruts in the fragile earth, and those who see collapse on the horizon are no longer a fringe group. If Sacred Demise was edgy and prescient, Collapsing Consciously is clearly timely, judging by the number of friends who have picked it up with interest. These same folks ignored the prequel five years ago.

The introductory chapter challenges us to move away from the pursuit of happiness and into “the joy of mindful preparation,” building inner resilience as well as moving logistically towards a world without supermarkets, viable trasnportaion, hospitals, or the state security apparatus. As I listen to her talking about the joy that comes from life with daily risk, I am reminded of paleolithic life, when everything was more alive, more beautiful, more terrifying, because we had not yet retreated behind the fortresses of sedentary habit. And joy comes from building community, recognizing that your neighbors will vitally matter to your security and well-being post-collapse. These are the foundations of turning our fragmented civilization around, whether or not collapse is on the horizon. This thread runs throughout the book, moving into deepening our relationships to take time to hear each other's stories (for instance when one has lost everything; collapse is like one tsunami after another), eventually becoming “hospice workers for the world.”

Baker minces no words in looking squarely at the suffering and loss that even the wealthy will face in what is probably a near future. She speaks of the breakdown of civil society, with the accompanying loss of law-and-order. And she worries about undoing all the progress made in gender and race relations. As a Quaker pacifist, I worry about being prepared for a world in which armed vigilantes become the chief security force. A member of our Meeting spoke to me a few years ago to about the possibility of training a local militia, pointing out the success the Swiss have had with this approach, wondering what the Meeting's stance towards this would be. As clerk, I considered bringing this concern to monthly meeting for business – but the time did not seem ripe.

Baker's early career featured Jungian and feminist writing, and that strain comes out in this work as well. I accept her statement about the death of the ego as it is presently constructed, allowing something deeper to emerge and lead us, as well as the patently Jungian question, “What does collapse want from us?” And I love the allusion to native ceremonies which focus on “spiritual employment” - especially the unique gifts each new human being brings to the community in a world where the idea of economic opportunity will be virtually meaningless.

But I find her characterization of “masculine and feminine archetypes” overly formulaic, with a tiresome reassertion of the superiority of a matriarchal world, something that has been falsely represented, more fantasy than history. We will need the positive masculine in the times ahead as much as the positive feminine, and these energies are more evenly distributed and enacted now than they have been since the beginning of the industrial revolution. More important than these over-used archetypal contrairies, she speaks of re-owning the animal within the human. Our contrived, dysfunctional stance that the human had “transcended” animal nature, from whence we look down (as stewards, wardens, or worse) upon the rest of the animal kingdom is at the root of civilization and its trashing of the biosphere – which no animal would ever do. I have always been moved by Jung's assertion that each of us still contains a Two Million Year-old Great Man who knows exactly what we have to do. In this archetype, the animal and human are not split. And his idea of a “syzygy” or union of such opposites as the masculine and feminine archetypes remains a fine ideal, though I doubt those who haven't achieved it yet will do so under the duress of collapse. Of course, Baker writes now, so that we can prepare, to do the hard work of personal transformation before things break down. We will need all the integrated and competent leaders we can muster once that happens.

Sacred Demise was criticized for being too apocalyptic, despite the wisdom of her response to the global ecocrisis. This time, she defers to John Michael Greer, the comforting archdruid who speaks of the step-wise process of decline, saying both the myth of unending progress and that of apocalypse are wrong. But Sacred Demise was published before the effective collapse of the international climate treaty process at the tragic Copenhagen COP debacle later the same year. Nothing has happened since that watershed event to change the trajectory. Ironically, the tone of the current book fits spring 2009 better than the prescient Sacred Demise. I look back to that year, and the palpable hope that built before the conference, as the halcyon days of honest hope. Now the best we can do is talk local resilience, the Transition Movement and other forms of bracketing the larger picture, which includes an atmospheric and oceanic chemistry that knows no boundaries; where any local event is momentary before acceding to the inexorable averaging by the laws of disequilibrium. As a savvy old friend wrote this morning, current scientific reports “kind of make Guy McPherson more plausible.” In such a world, we need to thoughtfully imbibe Carolyn Baker's wisdom, no matter where we measure on the doomer scale.

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