Apocalypse No! Part 4: The True Sister and the True Brother: Love in the Age of Collapse
“…Only those who are obedient to the guidance of the Great Creator's laws will survive. If it is the will of the Creator, if the earth is totally destroyed by the willfulness of man, the true sister and brother will give a rebirth to recycle the earth and renew its life.”
-from the newsletter of the traditional Hopi Elders, Techqua Ikachi, # 16
Part 1: Gridlock
It is simply beyond me. The earth itself is dying, and most of us will die with it. Tonight in a restaurant, I sat alone with tears in my eyes, watching the people run through the routines of personality and “meaning,” a “meaning” adapted to a way of life that is already over, whose prognosis is terminal; I am all but certain I was the only person there who knew it.
It is not a hard job to keep them in ignorance. They are entranced by what the Hopi call Koyaanisqatsi, all of the things that glitter with death, that bind us in a spell of comfort and numbness to the radical reality of a life out of balance. That the masters of war and global death keep them all in ignorance of what is coming is made simple by their entrancement. It is a simple matter of keeping the spellbound asleep, of making sure no disturbance awakens them.
One wonders if such ignorance is a blessing or a curse. Was it better that the Jews in the death camps did not know that they were entering a gas chamber, that the entranced among them thought they were to get clean, rather than that they were about to be “cleansed” from the face of the Earth? I couldn’t say, because I know we are not heading for a shower, and I cannot find the right words to break the spell. Even if I knew them, I would have no means to speak them soon enough to enough people. I couldn’t really help them prepare, and the leap from this dull ignorance and the hypnosis of death, into a living rebellion and a thrust toward life is simply too large for them to make in the time we have left. We have no time left. With the Nazis at the gas chambers it was Zyklon B: for us it’s Carbon Dioxide and Methane. Although they are odorless –we cannot smell them- they’re already filling the room, and the first of us are already dying.
No, you won’t read it in the paper, certainly not spelled out just this way. They will tell you certain gases may cause death or “endanger millions,” as they put it now. They will never say that it is a system of profit, a way of life, and not the gases, as such, that are killing us. They will only tell us, in the words of the
Instead, the sergeants among them will point their fingers, talking about Zyklon B “alarmists” while the President simply remains unconvinced that Zyklon B really kills. He will claim that there is doubt, scientific doubt, about where Zyklon B really comes from, and whether or not it is anthropogenic – made by humans. Conservatives will say that Zyklon B is essential for the economy, or that the nation must break its dependence on foreign sources of Zyklon B. The debate will rage on the back pages of the newspaper, the pages no one reads. And the ones who want to wake up, the ones who want us to live, will pray that god sends a message, but no one reads that paper, either. Their eyes are glued to “American Idol” and “
Not unlike Carolyn Baker, I am told by people whose focus is on the spiritual that I am too “negative,” too angry, that only love can save the world now, that I should give up my anger and distrust of the Good Germans with their Zyklon B, that I must forgive them, that I have “no Harmony” in my soul, that publishing “missive after missive” of bad news only “brings down” those who need their full attention to be placed on creating the spiritual conditions for the coming Shift to a world of peace and harmony. The advocates of the Love Solution have met me with contempt and anger and , as Baker points out, self -“righteousness.”
But the truth is that I have listened to them with deep carefulness. Because one thing is clear. What we have been doing doesn’t work. Another thing is clear to me, as well: that what we have called our “selves” is a temporary construct, a construct adapted to an artificial environment that is about to, unimaginably and unambiguously, disappear. But oddly, as radical as I have been these last thirty years – and I have been as radical as I could manage, and even much more radical than I could manage, I find myself stuck in the middle now, with no clear solution to this dilemma about love.
But, I know this. That the worst thing oppression has done to me is to eat me alive, to render null the meaning and potential of what I was born to be, to consume my time and my emotional and intellectual and creative and spiritual energies, to block me in from all sides, to make me constantly have to react to the barrage of abuse, poverty, physical and emotional suffering, exploitation, indignity, subterfuge, manipulations and constrictions that make oppression what it is, and which make the world go ‘round. I’ve known since I was 16 that this is not a way of life, but a way of death. The knowledge was more than I could absorb, then, but over the decades I have absorbed it, learned to understand it, name it, pin it, identify its games, their rules and their permutations.
But, looking around, all of that has not helped me to escape it, even though the truth of my own private mythology is that the task that was set for me was to understand it so that when the Time came, as it has come, I could help to create a new culture, one free of oppression, one that would not be a living death. Nevertheless, I still have to reckon with the reality that my understanding has not set me free. I know how not to live, I know what not to repeat. But, I don’t know how to live. I know only a little of that.
I assume that my situation is simply part of a larger one, a situation one self-appointed New Age guru has rightly described as an all but all encompassing Karmic Gridlock.
If today is the culmination of everything that has gone before it, if the current global crisis is the singular product of “history,” of civilization, then all of the contradictions of that history, in all of their permutations, economic, cultural, social, physical, mental and emotional, are coming to a head as part of this culmination, this crisis. The totalism of the system, of this way of death, has reached a new threshold we can call Gridlock and Collapse. The cat has caught its tail, the Matrix has trapped itself. It has destroyed its own options and has nothing left to feed on but itself, as if it were a cancer with nothing left to feed on but more cancer, with no healthy flesh left to invade.
Part 2: The Good News
The good news is that the death system is dying. It could come to no other end.
The bad news is that it has become so all encompassing that there is nowhere left to run if we were able to escape it. Escaping global warming would be like escaping the air itself, the atmosphere itself. But we cannot escape the air, there are no spaceships to carry us elsewhere, and we probably couldn’t breathe if we got there.
I don’t think dying is so bad, personally. I came close to dying a few months ago. Later, it occurred to me it would have been easier than living. If it were to happen, I later realized, all it would take is to close the eyes. Easy, but cheap and faithless.
What we have been doing – dying – doesn’t work. What we have been doing – fighting or resisting, or going along or “getting ours” – doesn’t work. It didn’t work.
And its time is over.
This whole way of life is over. Everything my generation rebelled against is over This cancerous consumption and the growth of consumption is over. It can’t take another step. As George Monbiot points out, if the economy grows by only 3% a year, global economic activity- and consumption- will double in roughly a quarter of a century.
Monbiot writes, “In other words, if our economy grows at 3% between now and 2040, we will consume in that period economic resources equivalent to all those we have consumed since humans first stood on two legs. Then, between 2040 and 2063, we must double our total consumption again. Reading that paper I realised for the first time what we are up against.”
There are no easy fixes. Short of a very severe global economic collapse there may be no fixes at all. An article in the Los Angeles Times shows why. The Times reports that overall there has been a 12% decrease in global warming emissions since the forging of the Kyoto Protocol. But, the Times reports, “It [the apparent success of
Here’s the result of the Eastern Bloc collapse:
Far from reducing emissions- an utterly urgent necessity – the Times says that “total carbon dioxide emissions from countries bound by
There is no reason to assume that a market based plan that comes out of
When absolute survival depends on a certain set of actions, it is pure death and foolishness to set up a system with competing survival drives, one with built-in conflicts that undermine what must be done. But any market based plan does just that. In the real world, survival depends on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. But in the artificial world of the market, for the capitalist, “survival” depends on growth, on cutting costs, on making as much as possible for as little as possible – on making profit and on making more profit than your competitors in an ever-expanding cycle. Any market based system of “credits” to pollute – credits to kill, licenses to kill - pits the short term survival of a few capitalists against the survival of Life on Earth.
It’s not just greenhouse gases that must be cut. Industrial production itself – which produces greenhouse gases and a million other plagues - must not grow, certainly not at a rate that will cause us to produce and consume – and thus pollute - as much in the next quarter century as we have consumed in the entire existence of the human species.
Well, there is an alternative, but it is one that no government on Earth will ever embrace. The only thing that can stop the increase in production, and thus the destruction of all Life, is a Global Depression, which, by definition, drastically reverses economic growth. Maybe then we can meet the standards science says must be met – an 80% reduction in greenhouse gases - or more– a rate of reduction over twice the size of the reduction created by the Russian collapse.
Since any Kyoto-style accord can be nothing more than a deadly mix of food and poison, we may thank god that such a Depression, and with it, real reductions in greenhouse gases, seems increasingly likely, even inevitable. Take your choice: Relative poverty, even the deepest poverty, in the short term, or Global Death. But let’s be more specific in laying out the meaning of the choice. Consider this: James Lovelock of “Gaia” fame has projected that unchecked global warming will lead to conditions, where, by 2100, there will remain only 500 million humans on Earth, and they will live at or near the poles. Lovelock contends that the rest of the planet will be uninhabitable. Consider. By 2050 Global warming will have destroyed one million species of Life on Earth. Human global population is due to reach 9 billion in the same year. If only 500 million humans survive in 2100, that means that roughly 8 and ½ billion – about 95% of all humans living at mid-century - will die. It comes down to it: Either this way of death- in-life dies, or the human species will be eradicated or all-but eradicated, along with the vast majority of Life on the planet. Let’s revisit our premises. The market requires growth if individual formations of capital (banks, corporations, companies, businesses) are to survive; while Life requires no growth, or negative economic growth, if we are to survive. It’s that plain, that simple. In all likelihood, what comes out of the UN conference in Bali, which is meant to lay the groundwork for a “New Kyoto,” will be nothing but a compromise with global death, one in which death has the upper hand. Economic collapse is the one thing that might give Life itself a way to continue.
Of course, under capitalism, the state has a primary function: it is not to protect Life; it is to create a controllable populace so that there is a stable zone of production for capital, and to create stable markets for the distribution (including exports) of commodities, and the seizure of resources. In other words, to suppress the people at home, and to intimidate or conquer people abroad. Needless to say, economic collapse leads to war, as competing states seek to use warfare to maximize their control of markets and overseas resources and emerge from the collapse “on top,” The next depression will be no different, unless the capitalists realize that reconstituting their system is a hopeless task. Which, given the impending realities of peak oil, just might be the blessed case. Economic collapse, war, peak oil, and a vastly over-extended US empire are all intimately linked and mutually reinforcing realities that lead in one direction - to the death of the Empire and the impossibility of its resurrection. Let us pray and let us work to make sure its death comes in time for us all to survive it. Let us pray and work as if we were in line for the gas chamber. Because we are.
Part 3: Renewing the World
Let us pray and let us work and let us learn how to build a completely different future once this way is finally dead and buried. It will take everything we have, and more. It will take what we don’t have.
Since this way of life is over, since this culture is over, the fiction of who we have assumed ourselves to be is also over. We are not that. We never were that. It’s just that our survival in the system meant we had no choice but to pretend- even to ourselves – to be that. It is time, now, for us to deliberately and consciously to enter into what my generation called the psychedelic experience, the dissolution of our egos- I mean our stories, the stories we have told ourselves about what it is to be alive, to be a human being on Earth. Like an actor when the stage is being torn down after the show, it’s time to abandon who we were, what we were, what we said, what we did, and what we planned. That’s what it means to die consciously, to allow the ego to die, to let go of a life that can no longer be sustained. That’s what it means to die with joy, to see death as liberation from suffering. All the stuff the Buddha said. It’s Time now. It’s time to die, so that the world might be re-born.
I imagine, rightly or wrongly – I haven’t asked - that the people who’ve been preaching love and forgiveness to me already understood this. I don’t know, and it matters little. I let them work in me, I let their words dismantle me, even though I had felt profoundly insulted by them, even though some of the things that were said were arrogant and clearly meant to be insulting. Nevertheless, I began to give up the story. Slowly, the anger is giving way to sadness. Sadness is a step closer to love than anger. That’s good. Beneath the anger is grief, and beneath the grief is light and joy and renewal and the colors of the rainbow. Beneath the grief is life, not the phony “life” we’ve been led to lead, but real life. I know, because I’ve been down the road before. That’s how I knew to listen to the love preachers in the first place. That’s how I knew it was time to shut up, to sit with the impossible and let it answer itself. And here’s the deal.
Death’s own answer is love. No, it’s not death vs. love. Love is death’s own answer. The answer we have always needed under the death system is love - a way to love and a way to be loved. A way to connect, to break down, to open up. Oppression is nothing but a block to love, to connection, to inclusion. Love is the road. Oppression is not sustainable, and to that extent, it is not fundamentally real. It is doomed to collapse. Love is fundamentally real. Connection is fundamentally real. Death and oppression have no victory if we know we are connected, if we know that the door is open to our love, if we can still give it and receive it, if we can pledge it beyond the grave, beyond the prison’s bars. It is our love for life, for kids and animals, that we can pledge now, and pledge it beyond the grave, to a future we will never live to see. To a new world whose parents and ancestors we may become if we but choose it and lay the foundations for it. We will have to lay them the only place they can be laid, in the midst of the destruction and unimaginable anguish to come.
It is love that we, ourselves, will need, as the world we have been shunted into dies around us. What we will need is those who will love us enough to help us face death, the death of our ego-“lives” and the real death that will accompany economic collapse or ecological collapse, or both. We will need people willing to become boddhisatvas, people willing to try to become something like we imagine Christ or Quetzalcoatl to have been, people willing to be with us, in love, until the end, and beyond the end. It’s Time now. It’s time to get free. It’s time to become the True Sister and the True Brother, those who know they are related, those who know they are connected, those who can remember how to love, those who the Hopi said might renew the Earth.
Note: “Love” is the palpable assurance or insurance of connection and inclusion. It is the certainty of one's own connection and the guarantor of connection for the beloved. It is a verb, not a feeling, per se, and not only a spiritual state of being. It is an act of will; a commitment and a discipline and a capacity for understanding, admiration, compassion, risk and expression, more than it is a feeling or a state of being, although it is also these, as well. The palpable assurance or insurance of connection and inclusion is made manifest in acts that express admiration and compassion , and through work, risk or sacrifice aimed at extending one’s self and one’s boundaries to include the other, their well being, survival and spiritual growth. It is inseparable from and identical with acts of caring.
We are, as the Hopi Elders and other indigenous elders tell us, the Caretakers of Land and Life. Our role is to love the Earth – not to destroy Her. This is who and what we are, our identity and purpose outside the Matrix of Death.
In Nahuatl, the word for “humanity” itself is “Macehua”; the caretakers who are obligated to preserve land and life.