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Heard of the political compass? Well, one enviro person compiled something similar for those who seriously entertain the possibility that industrial civilization will collapse. (H/t Mark Sleboda for pointing me to it.)

collapse-scheme

Needless to say, the “deniers” are almost as absurd as the “rapturists.” All the business as usual scenarios lead to collapse by mid-century.

“Deep green activism” of the Derrick Jensen variety is not only negative but profoundly futile. Not to mention rather clownish (“Every morning when I awake I ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam”).

Neither “elites” nor “communities” can have anything to do with “salvation”, which in this context is bringing humanity back within global limits. That is because people are short-sighted and myopic, and the elites – be they democratic or authoritarian – have to cater to their tastes to remain in power.

As regards communities in the context of transition/”resilience”, an elementary consideration of human psychology and the history of state formation will show that to be a BS prospect. It just won’t work. Either you have to settle in remote places at the end of nowhere, or you will have to deal with the local warlords, “zombies” (climate refugees), and the harsh realities of a technologically regressed environment itself. In this climate, the most viable and “resilient” political units will be highly militarized, patriarchal, and probably led by strongmen (“He who doesn’t feed his army, will feed another” – Napoleon).

So by the process of exclusion we are only left with (D) Technoutopians, (J) Dark Mountaineers, and (K) Neo-Survivalists.

Neo-survivalism just makes sense at any level be it individual, familial, or local; it’s always a good idea to hedge against catastrophic outcomes. Even if we magically solve the AGW and general sustainability crisis there will still be the prospect of economic depressions, or Yellowstone erupting, or air force base commanders obsessed with precious bodily fluids going a “little crazy” in the head… In short, there is no point even arguing against it.

Transhuman on the dark mountain - Romanticism.

Transhuman on the dark mountain – Romanticism.

While it might sound contradictory, I am also both a Dark Mountaineer* (cool name!) – a Technoutopian.

In the sense while that I am convinced “business as usual” will lead to collapse, there is a significant chance that civilization will develop real technological solutions to the sustainability crisis, such as effective geoengineering, ubiquitous self-assembling nanotechnology, or the technological singularity.

There is nothing far fetched or historically unprecedented about this. Historically, some societies solved their Malthusian crises and continued steamrolling ahead (e.g. mid-period Song China, early medieval England when its wood ran out and it seized on the idea of using coal instead, or the biggest example of them all – the Industrial Revolution in Europe). In fact, the new science of cliodynamics suggest that when a society encounters ecological stress, it tends to redouble investments into finding ways of further increasing the carrying capacity (this can be called the “Boserupian Effect“). Of course for every success story there were multiple failures: The Roman Empire, all the Chinese dynasties prior to the current Communist one, the Mayans, the Easter Islanders, etc.

The 21st century is as I’ve remarked a few times basically dominated by a “race of the exponentials” between technology and ecological/civilizational collapse.

And if technology fails, then one must face the spreading desert, the Olduvai Gorge, the Dark Mountain… Here is what its founder wrote:

For fifteen years I have been an environmental campaigner and writer. For two of these years I was deputy editor of the Ecologist. I campaigned against climate change, deforestation, overfishing, landscape destruction, extinction and all the rest. I wrote about how the global economic system was trashing the global ecosystem. I did all the things that environmentalists do. But after a while, I stopped believing it.

There were two reasons for this. The first was that none of the campaigns were succeeding, except on a very local level. More broadly, everything was getting worse. The second was that environmentalists, it seemed to me, were not being honest with themselves. It was increasingly obvious that climate change could not be stopped, that modern life was not consistent with the needs of the global ecosystem, that economic growth was part of the problem, and that the future was not going to be bright, green, comfy and ‘sustainable’ for ten billion people but was more likely to offer decline, depletion, chaos and hardship for all of us. Yet we all kept pretending that if we just carried on campaigning as usual, the impossible would happen. I didn’t buy it, and it turned out I wasn’t the only one.

That’s pretty much the exact realization I reached a year ago. The scenario in which the tossed coin lands on the other side to the technological silver bullet.

But whatever happens there’s no point in worrying about it or emotionally overinvesting oneself into it. That is why the Dark Mountain is so appealing. After all does the beer yeast worry that the booze generated by itself and its fellows will eventually doom them all? Of course not. And you are presumably far more intelligent than a beer yeast.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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I am an idiosyncratic person. I support HBD, but oppose white (or any other) imperialism. My attitudes towards mainstream liberalism and conservatism is to wish a plague on both their houses. I think we’re in for a world of hurt with Limits to Growth but also buy into “cornucopian” ideas like technological singularity and transhumanism. In personal life, I like to have my guns and hit the bong too. Etc.

I recently drove to the beach with a hipster chick who majored in something involving the environment (nothing technical) and recently found a marketing job with a clean energy start-up in SF. She went on and on about how important it is to buy local, observe Earth Hour, the fucking works. Only problem? She drove a four wheel drive. In one of the very few places in the US where you can get by without a car. It reminds me of an old Guardian story about a Swedish feminist police chief (“Captain Skirt”) who ran prostitution rings on the side… But on second thought all this is entirely normal. After all hypocrisy is the grease that smooths society’s wheels.

The greenies at least don’t force people into these ritualistic observances of Earth Hour, as if there’s some deity that could wave a wand and restore CO2 levels back to 1800. The conservatives tend to simply deny reality, deny AGW, as doing otherwise would make them willing accomplices in an impending global catastrophe. Not only is it dishonest but what’s worse many of them savagely smear and attack AGW’ers for the sin of pointing out the stark truth. They would have felt at home within the ranks of the NKVD.

Only very drastic interventions now stand a chance of averting tipping points that will likely send the Earth into an extreme greenhouse state by the end of the century… interventions that can only be implemented at this late stage of the game by some kind of global dictatorship. Desirable or not, justified or not, is irrelevant… it’s not going to happen, the system isn’t going to change. Furthermore, even individual interventions and lifestyle changes are irrelevant, as the Parable of the Beer Yeast demonstrates.

In an article for Forbes, Roger Kay analogizes our global sustainability predicament to that of a beer yeast in a sugar solution. You gobble up the delicious sugars, giving you the energy to reproduce. The only downside is that in the process you shit out alcohol, and so do billions of your fellows. Eventually you will all perish in a booze-drenched bed of your own making… So being morally upright, you refrain from eating the sugars. You live a horrid life, become impotent, and shrivel away and die. Unfortunately, your fellows don’t get the memo, and things turn out just the same as they otherwise would have.

So while I respect genuine back to the earth, sustainable types, I realize that they are not going to make a difference. The oil, coal, metals, etc. that they don’t consume will just lower their price, and ironically make them even cheaper for the majority of beer yeast, who’d rather live life to the full than toil away on permaculture gardens. While greenie life does have its charms it’s simply too inconvenient for most…

In the past year, I took a class on the Economics of Climate Change. While I took many interesting things from it the foremost was that reversing human emissions is simply unfeasible for the next generation at the very least. China is becoming a consumer society and their factories and dwellings will be powered with coal, and they will be transported by automobile. This year I also experienced if for a very short time the lifestyle of the very rich, having been invited to a party in the mansion of the son of a mini-tycoon… While I didn’t consciously dwell on it at the time, in retrospect the energy gobbled up in that place in a single night was surely equivalent to even a legitimate greenie’s yearlong energy savings. Reading statistics on energy use or polemics about wastage is one thing, seeing it for oneself – the large swimming pool accidentally heated to Jacuzzi temperature (which would be a huge bill, but shrugged off as inconsequential), the gourmet food having traveled God knows how many air megamiles, casual talk about first-class flights to the East Coast or abroad seemingly every other week… was visceral – and enticing. After all jealousy and envy even of ostentatious wealth are – unless you’re a bona fide revolutionary like Lenin or Castro – self-defeating and ultimately for losers.

So is angry ideological rhetoric and moralistic posturing, be it of the conservative AGW denier or faux-environmentalist variety.

The end consequences of catastrophic AGW may well lead to the premature deaths of hundreds of millions or even billions of people by the end of the century. Some countries like Botswana and Bangladesh may vanish from the face of the earth, inundated by sand and water. That is not my problem. It is society’s and government’s and they don’t give a fuck so why should ordinary citizens? Besides, evil as it sounds, but AGW will have the hidden bonus of benefiting the country I’m originally from – not only in relative, but also quite possibly absolute terms. Why should I care more about faceless Third Worlders? There’s of course no logical reason to do that. At least by NOT denying AGW realities I am already far more compassionate towards them than at least half of Americans. (Not that the hypocrites liberal and conservative will see it that way…)

A line from a fantasy baddie comes to mind: “There is no path to victory. The only path to follow is the Great Lord and rule for a time before all things end. The others are fools. They look for grand rewards in the eternities, but there will be no eternities. Only the now, the last days.”

A good motto for the lifestyle artist, the reactionary jackass, the rootless cosmopolitan, the manly man and aspiring sociopath to live by. Put the pedal to the metal!!!

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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“World Made by Hand” by James Howard Kunstler, published in 2008. Rating: 3/5.

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[easyazon_link asin="0802144012" locale="US" new_window="default" tag="httpakarcom-20" add_to_cart="default" cloaking="default" localization="default" nofollow="default" popups="default"]WORLD MADE BY HAND[/easyazon_link] is a speculative fiction book about how a sociopolitical collapse may be experienced by small-town Americans. It is of a reasonable length, engaging and generally well-written, although far from a literary masterpiece – not that that is necessarily a minus, since it serves a polemic rather than a purely artistic purpose, and it is from the latter angle that we shall approach it.

Kunstler depicts a collapsed world where by the 2020’s the engines of commerce have grounded to a shuddering halt, the arm of the state has withered into oblivion, and the electric lights (‘juice’) of modern civilization petered out, ushering in a new Dark Age, both literally and metaphorically. The largely listless and apathetic population is wracked by super-high mortality rates as that Malthusian trinity, famine, disease and war, stalks the land and reaps down the weak and stupid. Although life is dirtier and more violent, at least for some, like Robert Earle, the narrator and hero of the story, it is also more wholesome and fulfilling. With ‘machine noise’ silenced and its noxious, hallucinogenic fumes and toxins curtailed, man is free to rediscover nature, revealing a world much realer and richer than the rows of bland metallic boxes and suffocating serpents of asphalt that symbolize our consumer society.

The economy is almost entirely local, as cart and boat are the only means of transportation. Its mainstay is agriculture and salvage. Chaos and banditry have choked off the import of luxury goods like coffee, and ownership of horses is a great symbol of status. Modern antibiotics and anaesthesia are history, with natural herbs and opium taking up the slack, respectively. The President’s power does not extend beyond his capital and the voices of crazed preachers fills the airwaves whenever the electricity briefly flickers back on.

Race wars, religious persecution and forced displacement of peoples rended the former United States of America into a patchwork quilt of small city-states, tin-pot despotisms and power vacuums. The rule of man has displaced the rule of law, hostage and ransom rackets are flourishing industries and most disputes are resolved ‘personally’. A big theme of the book is Robert’s struggle to stand up against injustice, fighting extortionist kidnap racketeers impiously pretending to be taxmen and judges and a thuggish motor-head gang making its living mining the detritus of the prior age, garbage dump and suburbia, for valuables.

So far so good, and more or less what one would expect. Except for Kunstler mentioning the electricity sporadically coming back on for a few minutes. That is unrealistic – either you have people maintaining the grid, or you have a permanent blackout. Since the former is very obviously not occurring, you’re not going to have a few drops of juice now and then – you’ll have to do without, period. And with that, it’s time to shift from summary and praise to hard-headed criticism.

In the world made by hand, women are being dealt a bad one. We do not come across a single woman occupying an important political or even social position. Long skirts and shawls are back in fashion. Now it is true that in times of social and economic collapse, as during the 1990’s in the post-Soviet world, people yearn for a ‘strong hand’, which implies masculine power with all its implications for women’s political standing. It is also to be expected that a whole-scale collapse of industrial civilization and even the most basic state functions will entail an even greater shift within the power of the sexes to the detriment of the fairer.

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As such, it is not at all surprising that the mayors, constables, judges, gang capos, dockyard ‘bosses’ and religious leaders we come across are all men. However, the absence of women from the town council or professional occupations (medicine, dentistry, etc) is another kettle of fish. Today, a big percentage of the latter are women, and since Kunstler’s skills-starved world needs all the expertise it can get, one can only assume that Union Grove was an unusual town in this respect. Secondly, transformational change typically requires two generations to saturate itself into society – although the Soviet Union was an atheist state from its inception, mass irreligiousness only became reality in the 1970’s. The book was published in 2008; textual clues indicate that the summer story it recounts is no later than in the 2020’s. So I very much doubt women will lose political representation and slip into bulky dresses a mere two decades or so after collapse.

Another major point of disagreement is the sheer speed of the collapse. As noted, the book implies the collapse starts in earnest from, well, today, and that all the amenities of late industrial civilization will have disappeared by the 2020’s. This implies that the collapse will be a cliff-dive back into the so-called Olduvai Gorge, which is an extreme ‘doomer’ scenario. I am a peaknik and believe there is still huge scope for oil consumption to be scaled back without die-off (if anything, forcing Americans to do without SUV transport to the nearby Wal-Mart will improve their health – after the end of subsidized Soviet oil imports into Cuba, their rates of obesity and diabetes fell dramatically) and that there are still a few decades left of liquefiable coal and natural gas, and uranium reserves. Even discounting the promise of wind power, solar and paradigm-shifting technological breakthroughs, society will continue to have access to energy sources with a sufficiently high EROIE – which will allow us to sustain an ‘emergy’ plateau until the middle of this century with all the things it allows (railways, the electric grid, the Internet and cell phone network, etc).

Contrary to what one might think from my optimism on the timing of the collapse and women’s status after it, I am much more bearish on the degree of violence that will prevail in a failed world. It is absurd that in a world of natural law and survival of the strongest no marauders have come across and sacked and looted Union Grove, a (relatively) prosperous but undefended outpost of civilization. In practice we can expect nomadic armies, something like Mongols with machineguns, wage war against sedentary societies that retain some semblance of manufacturing capacity.

The idea that the utility of firearms will diminish due to a shortage of bullets, to the extent that some actually resort to fighting with swords, holds no water. Bullets can be manufactured with en masse with relatively simple equipment, lead will be one of the few things there will certainly be no shortage of and gunpowder is a medieval technology. The rate of depreciation on many firearms is extremely low – things like Mausers, AK’s and Colts can be kept in perfect working order for centuries. Union Grove should also be bourgeoning with ethnically diverse migrants from the collapsed formerly high-density societies of the eastern seaboard, whereas in the book the town is largely local and lilac white.

The Western-style gunfight between the heroic band of brothers (Robert, Joseph, Minor et al) and professional kidnapper Dan Curry’s minions was simply unrealistic. Bad guys can’t aim only in the movies. Also, the way Joseph and Robert just entered Dan’s office, with their weapons, is unrealistic – mob bosses are not idiots and they would have been searched and disarmed before being allowed in.

I doubt the hyper-inflated US dollar will survive as a universal currency in the absence of unified authority. It is far more likely the units of exchange will be locally issued coupons or durables like bottles of whiskey or even oil barrels (now that would be poignant!).

It is very unlikely that communication networks will unravel anywhere near as fast even in the event of total collapse. There exist solar-powered radios, and as Kunstler noted, some enterprising people like Stephen Bullock will continue generating electricity on a local scale. So practically all electronic devices will function. Granted, complicated things like computers will break down quickly and will not be replaced, since they use specialized components that could only by produced in highly complex manufacturing operations, but any committed amateur could repair or even build a new radio from scratch (a small population surrounded by junk produced by a prior much larger and much richer population will have no problems scrounging the necessary materials). This will allow local power centres, the government and other major organizations to keep in touch with each other across great distances. Rumors and word of mouth will take a very long time to reclaim their old status as the major medium of communication.

I was somewhat disappointed with how little attention the effects of climate change received, but considering that a) it’s only the 2020’s, b) widespread anthropic emissions of greenhouse gases ceased in the 2010’s and c) it is, after all, a novel specifically about the post-peak oil world, I will not complain.

Finally, I’d like to defend Kunstler from some of the criticisms levelled against him. Although Asian pirates attacking the western US seaboard is unrealistic (Americans are a well-armed people, and there are much easier pickings closer to home), race wars, particularly in the South, are a real possibility. After all, visioning unpleasant futures is not the same thing as endorsing them. Granted, it is obvious from his writings that Kunstler yearns for the end of industrial civilization and the bucolic charm of the early American settlement. But I don’t condemn him for that. This death-instinct is a universal trait of our species – just observe the runaway success of the post-apocalyptic genre in film and video games.

Looking at matters from a historical perspective, industrialism is a very short and unnatural aberration in the human condition, and it is not surprising that many should react against it. Machines will be initially missed, but man will adapt to the simple satisfactions of a world made by hand and the reappearance of intimate connections with Gaia and her elusive elemental spirits. Unlike some reviewers, I appreciate Kunstler’s inclusion of some unexplainable supernatural phenomena at the end of the book (the Mother Bee and the death of Wayne Karp). The end of age of the Machine will usher in a new age of magic and mystery.

[easyazon_link asin="0802144012" locale="US" new_window="default" tag="httpakarcom-20" add_to_cart="default" cloaking="default" localization="default" nofollow="default" popups="default"]WORLD MADE BY HAND[/easyazon_link] is well written and a page-turner, but is most certainly not a literary masterpiece – chapters are too repetitive, characters are too one-sided and dialog is too clichéd. Although successful at capturing the spirit of earlier ages, I feel that too often Kunstler simply substituted an imagined past in place of visioning the future, which is a more challenging enterprise. Although I like many of Kunstler’s theme choices, they are undermined by the difficulty of suspending disbelief in too many places. The lack of literary merit compounded by failure in the nuts and bolts of serious futurist visioning means I cannot recommend this book too highly.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.