Saturday, May 23, 2015

Just Stopped By to Say "Hi"

I haven't posted anything lately and it's been a welcome respite one that may continue save for the occasional interruption.  I'd like to explain what this is about.

Not much has changed, save for the suspension of these posts.  I still devour the online newspapers, my favourite magazines, think tank web sites and so on.  I'm still churning through online courses - war studies, global food security, over-consumption and population challenges, foreign policy, environmental decline, stuff like that.

I just don't know what there is to say about a world coming apart at the seams; societies and governments increasingly detached from reality.

When I joined Dark Mountain a while ago I was drawn to this collective of artists, writers and thinkers who have "stopped believing the stories our civilization tells itself."  We feed ourselves nonsense and fairy tales because it's the only way we can keep this delusion of a civilization going.

I instinctively recoil from the word "manifesto" yet I encourage you to read the Dark Mountain Manifesto, which serves as the group's statement of purpose. While there is no end of research and literature and commentary about the myriad of challenges that will befall our civilization through this century, scant attention is paid to our resilience to meet them and almost none to our utter fragility.  Here are a few paragraphs from the opening of the Manifesto:

Those who witness extreme social collapse at first hand seldom describe any deep revelation about the truths of human existence. What they do mention, if asked, is their surprise at how easy it is to die.

The pattern of ordinary life, in which so much stays the same from one day to the next, disguises the fragility of its fabric. How many of our activities are made possible by the impression of stability that pattern gives? So long as it repeats, or varies steadily enough, we are able to plan for tomorrow as if all the things we rely on and don’t think about too carefully will still be there. When the pattern is broken, by civil war or natural disaster or the smaller-scale tragedies that tear at its fabric, many of those activities become impossible or meaningless, while simply meeting needs we once took for granted may occupy much of our lives.

What war correspondents and relief workers report is not only the fragility of the fabric, but the speed with which it can unravel. As we write this, no one can say with certainty where the unravelling of the financial and commercial fabric of our economies will end. Meanwhile, beyond the cities, unchecked industrial exploitation frays the material basis of life in many parts of the world, and pulls at the ecological systems which sustain it.

Precarious as this moment may be, however, an awareness of the fragility of what we call civilisation is nothing new.

‘Few men realise,’ wrote Joseph Conrad in 1896, ‘that their life, the very essence of their character, their capabilities and their audacities, are only the expression of their belief in the safety of their surroundings.’

...It is, it seems, our civilisation’s turn to experience the inrush of the savage and the unseen; our turn to be brought up short by contact with untamed reality. There is a fall coming. We live in an age in which familiar restraints are being kicked away, and foundations snatched from under us. After a quarter century of complacency, in which we were invited to believe in bubbles that would never burst, prices that would never fall, the end of history, the crude repackaging of the triumphalism of Conrad’s Victorian twilight — Hubris has been introduced to Nemesis. Now a familiar human story is being played out. It is the story of an empire corroding from within. It is the story of a people who believed, for a long time, that their actions did not have consequences. It is the story of how that people will cope with the crumbling of their own myth. It is our story.

As a species organized into a civilization of sorts, beneath the surface we're chaotic and rudderless.  The failure of our leadership and our institutions allows this fragility to surface and become our reality.

Canadians can and should see the signs of this decline in the rise of our increasingly illiberal democracy.  If you put your faith in Tom Mulcair or Justin Trudeau, you've largely written the place off even if you can't grasp it.

I don't know what I can contribute to a group who appear to believe that simply electing a different flavour of neoliberal government can do any significant good for our people and our country in a moment of such great need and looming danger.  It's like we're reading from different and irreconcilable texts.


The photograph is of Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk who set himself ablaze on a Saigon street in June, 1963 in protest of the persecution of his order by the South Vietnamese government.  It was an act of futility that was followed by a dozen more self-immolations before the Diem government fell to a coup engineered in collaboration with Washington.  While this photograph shocked the world, we became inured to this sort of thing.  During the American war, 13-monks burned themselves to death in a single week and it went largely unnoticed.


Marie Snyder said...

I've been in a state of despair myself today. Because people think changing governments will change everything and the NDP won't stop calling me for donations. Because people think technology will save the day. Because the idea of changing how we think and how we live is so completely off the table for so many. As long as the wifi is fast enough, and we're reasonably entertained, we're not going to revolt against a warped system. Our immediate needs will overrule larger longterm problems until we're breaking our neighbour's bones to suck the marrow. It is what it is.

Anyong said...

"I don't know what I can contribute to a group who appear to believe that simply electing a different flavour of neoliberal government can do any significant good for our people and our country in a moment of such great need and looming danger. It's like we're reading from different and irreconcilable texts."

It isn't right to think we people who have commented on your blogs all think in that vain. I don't for one minute. Nothing will change is the same old, same old. We will not even get a chance to throw out questions to Harper in this next election fiasco as he hides away. Taking more and more of our forefathers hard earned rights away from us. After finishing teaching The Canadian Citizenship requirements to ESL students in a few weeks, it is planned to take a trip into the wilderness and try and recoup some sense of "self" before editing some writing. I understand very well we are heading toward disaster. However, it isn't any use to try and put out the facts to those who do not want to see. That was a huge realization this past two months. I have during that time felt completely alone and on several occasions called a "dolt". I am finished as well. There is nothing worse than that irritating comment "It is what it is"

Bill Longstaff said...

Don't make your interruptions too occasional, Mound.

Unknown said...

We have never had a civilization. The 21st century hasn't advanced in thought and action, in fact it has regressed.The rise of fundamental christianity is a reflection of intellectual bankruptcy. You know that culturally we are in a wasteland when our political leaders embrace evangelical fundamental chritianity and are never challenged by anyone on their beliefs. The price of thinking conceptually and independently is isolation and sometimes loneliness. Your blog and a number of others are a refuge for the intelligent, for those who take ideas seriously. The history of humanity has essentialy been a history war and domination. We live in a society that exalts sports as the greatest achievement. Achievments of the mind are not only not acknowledged, the mind itself is disregarded. Yet it is the human mind that has made our survival possible.It is only through thinking that one acquires knowledge and it is only through applying knowledge that the human race advances. Civilization? More pre-civlization.

Dana said...

Pretty lousy result after all those years of evolution, I must say.

I wonder how the proponents of the anthropic principle are handling their depression. Anyway that notion has always struck me as an attempt to maintain the supremacy of humanity atop the pyramid without resorting to "and then a miracle happened". Looking at a couple of websites I see their pushing for intelligent life to be confirmed on Mars. Poor Mars.

I have this vision of the last human screaming at the sky; "But you're the one who made me conscious and gave me an opposable thumb, what did you think would happen, you asshole."

As I've said to you before I mainly hope some of the earth biosphere survives us but it's a near certainty that we won't survive ourselves.

Homo sapiens sapiens is auto-exterminant.

Given the evidence on this planet, all conscious life forms with opposable thumbs may be auto-exterminant.

Evolution can't compete with sparkly things that go vroom, whoosh and bang.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Marie - yes we have succumbed to worship immediate self-interest. At times like those you're experiencing there's relief in a bit of brain candy like this:

The Mound of Sound said...

@ anyong - a trip to the wilderness sounds perfect. I'm trying to figure out if I have it in me for one more motorcycle ride to the desert. I've always wanted to ride Joshua Tree national park.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Longstaff. Don't worry, Bill, you haven't heard the last of me. I still visit your site.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Pamela - we certainly have regressed since the Reagan/Thatcher/Mulroney era ushered in the reality of neoliberalism, market fundamentalism at the direct expense of liberal democracy. Now it has captured our institutions - political, financial, commercial - in a very directed pursuit of economic, political and social inequality. Today even the NDP has capitulated to it.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Dana - I chortled a bit this morning as I read an opinion piece from the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell essentially conceding that some fossil fuels will have to be left, untouched, just not oil or gas. With that he deftly slid in the now pretty well discredited notion that carbon capture and sequestration solutions are just around the corner.

What struck me as amusing was his forecast that global energy use would be "zero carbon" by the end of the century. It may but just not how he so cheerfully expects it to happen.

I don't think our species will be wiped out by climate change. There's a much greater, longer-term threat to air breathing life, ocean acidification and the hypoxic poisoning of our atmosphere with released hydrogen sulfide.

Ffivd said...

Have fun MoS

Dana said...

I don't think our species will be wiped out by climate change. There's a much greater, longer-term threat to air breathing life, ocean acidification and the hypoxic poisoning of our atmosphere with released hydrogen sulfide."

I think each of those things is a direct result of anthropegnic climate change, are they not?

The Mound of Sound said...

It certainly is a knock on effect from excessive atmospheric CO2 loading. We're already seeing it in these hypoxic oceanic "dead zones." It's not the sole cause but it is a contributing factor and its progression is linear.

Dana said...

What would the other causes of the reduction of oceanic oxygen be?

Causes that have no connection to carbon overload.

Anonymous said...

'Dark Mountain'? Seriously? Some pretentious middle-class salon that passes itself off as enlightened?

See you on the other side, Mound. On second thought, probably not.

Dana said...


Not every blog gets a response from Pierre Polievre, the devil's fellator himself.

Anonymous said...

I wish I was Pierre Poilievre. Big salary, limo, free taxpayer funded buffets, with a gold plated taxpayer funded pension at the end of it all.

But I'm not PP, so I just call 'em as I see 'em. 'Dark Mountain' strikes me as being little more than a middle-class cult. I apologize for making that suggestion, but I read the 'manifesto' and that's how I see it.

the salamander said...

.. you have no idea how powerfully your diverse, informative & challenging posts encourage me.. Mound

I assume the posts hit other readers in unique ways as well.. and stimulate their perceptions, beliefs & efforts.

I'm putting more effort into Twitter, comments & will soon start manipulating imagery, primarily photo collage with poetry and brief text graphics.

Much of the fuel & guidance systems for these little visual rockets has been lifted from your pages and others.. plus from mainstream news.

Fire that big bike up.. check on the Joshua Tree and keep up the excellent and critical work. There's lots of serious work to be done.. and revealing what malignant creeps are in control of Canada's government will point out what kind of people are actually required.

Hugh said...

The BC and Canada governments keep blabbing on about how we "need economic growth".

We don't - we need to shrink the economy in order to survive.

I think this is a major issue.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Dana - chemical contamination, especially agricultural runoff, is another contributor. This is prevalent in the Gulf from the Mississippi discharge but occurs to a lesser extent elsewhere. Another force is deepwater upwelling.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Sal - flattery will get you everywhere. see you soon.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Hugh - yes, I agree, growth is a problem for BC. We look around, see the mountains and all that empty space and figure we're awash in development capacity. It's just the opposite.

Much of the interior is desert with limited water resources and seasonal precip. It can be heavily impacted by excessive residential and agricultural development.

The coastal ecology is different yet more susceptible to growth impacts. Our population centre, the Lower Mainland, is already a mess. Anyone who recalls Vancouver from the 60s and 70s knows how the region has been transformed under the burden of overpopulation.

The combined effect of mountains, inlets and rivers creates natural "choke points" that restrict development and movement. That accounts for why so many face daily commutes of an hour or two each way. It also increases the pressure to keep spreading development up mountain slopes with the attendant problems of flooding and slides.

I believe it was back during the Martin government, perhaps the Chretien era, that EnviroCan did an ecological survey of the Lower Mainland and found it already had a population three times greater than the area's ecological carrying capacity. The pop. has swollen mightily since then.

A measure of our overpopulation is the constant struggle of protecting our rather finite agricultural land base against the demands for commercial and residential development. Our dependency on imported food leaves us susceptible to disruptions caused by crop failures or instability elsewhere.

It's hard to imagine a government that would or, even if it wanted to, could curb much less shrink growth out here. Who knows, maybe they like "Blade Runner"?

And the band played on.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Anon. Your dismissive remarks are irrelevant to me. Dark Mountain has not shaped my beliefs in any respect. It simply mirrors what I have long ago concluded. That you don't find their prose to your liking - well, that's your problem.

Dana said...

I can understand the contamination from agricultural runoff but deep water upwelling I don't understand unless perhaps it's related to the runoff problem.

Deep water is colder and nutrient rich and both of those qualities would be desirable I would have thought.

The Mound of Sound said...

Actually I think you've got that wrong, Dana. Think of all of those magnificent, 19th century wooden wrecks that line the bottom of the Great Lakes. They've been preserved by the depth and coldness of the water. The lake bottom is actually lifeless.

Paleontologist Peter Ward wrote "Under a Green Sky" about past extinction events during high CO2 concentrations. As oceans acidify, surface marine life is killed off. Algae emerge to take over due largely to the ability of sunlight to penetrate to greater depths. It's when that enormous biomass of algae dies and sinks to the bottom and rots that it begins to release what reaches the surface as hydrogen sulfide.

As for upwelling, I believe that is due in large part to changing surface wind conditions. It's fluctuations in surface wind conditions that wreak such havoc as to give us potentially destructive El Nino and La Nina events. I find the science behind this stuff pretty difficult to digest. You can find a far better explanation of it at NOAA's web site.

Dana said...

The NOAA site is where I found this:

"Water that rises to the surface as a result of upwelling is typically colder and is rich in nutrients. These nutrients “fertilize” surface waters, meaning that these surface waters often have high biological productivity. Therefore, good fishing grounds typically are found where upwelling is common."

That's what prompted me to ask.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi, Dana. Here's the account of the Oregon dead zone as I understand it. This might be unique to Oregon/Washington.