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Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XLVII–Faith in Government: A Misplaced Belief

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XLVII

April 13, 2022 (original posting date)

Monte Alban, Mexico (1988) Photo by author

Faith in Government: A Misplaced Belief

Today’s contemplation has been prompted by an article by ecologist and educator Richard Heinberg (see link below).

Infinite growth. Finite planet. What could possibly go wrong?

As our awareness of the various existential predicaments we face[1] grows, most people cling to the default view that our sociopolitical elite/leaders will address the issues because they, after all, have been ‘awarded’ the responsibility of governing and helping to ‘solve’ the problems that arise with living in a complex world[2].

I have, for the most part[3], lost the notion that our ‘leaders’ are ‘servants’ of the population motivated to improve/sustain society as the common notion projects. That is the belief the elite want us to hold so we support the status quo power structures[4] from which they and their families benefit.

At one time I did hold on to this belief but my view has shifted to a somewhat contrarian perspective that the ruling class/elite/powers-that-be are driven primarily by the incentive to control/expand the wealth-generating/-extracting systems that provide their revenue streams and thus power, using their positions of privilege to leverage circumstances to meet this driving motivation.

In an interesting article by educator and ecologist Richard Heinberg, the argument is made that our ruling elite were provided sound scientific evidence decades ago that humanity’s continued pursuit of the infinite growth chalice was anything but sustainable and, in fact, was heading us towards ecological overshoot and collapse[5].

What did our ruling class do in response? For the most part, they engaged their narrative control managers to craft stories which were propagated far and wide that, in fact, perpetual growth was not just entirely beneficial for humanity and achieving a host of great things for all, but completely possible due to our technological prowess and ingenuity.

Now, decades later, it seems to be more and more obvious that we’ve been led down the wrong path. That we have painted ourselves into a corner from which we cannot seem to escape and the moment of reckoning is fast approaching. And as Heinberg points out, the elite have failed to acknowledge this but instead doubled-down on their propaganda and control of information to distract from and deny this problematic perspective[6].

There are still a lot of people (most?) that do not comprehend the situation. The reasons for this are many and complex. From significant propaganda courtesy of the ruling elite and their courtiers that we are exposed to daily via the media institutions they control, to psychological mechanisms that cause us to deny uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking beliefs, think in herds, and defer to authority. We humans, in the words of author Robert Heinlein, are rationalising animals not rational ones; we don’t want to believe we are engaging in self-destructive behaviour so we justify our actions/beliefs and tell ourselves self-deluding tales to reduce our cognitive dissonance[7].

I have after some years of going through the grieving process arrived at the acceptance stage of our plight. ‘Collapse’ is inevitable. How it will proceed is still up in the air. There will be similarities to past complex societal decline but there will be significant differences. Perhaps the most significant difference to the past is that today’s people have lost the skills of self-sufficiency many people have required in the past regardless of how complex their society was. It was only a very minor segment of the population that depended almost entirely on the agrarian skills of their compatriots and the local supply chains that existed to survive. Today’s world is vastly different; to say little of the dependence upon energy-intensive technologies that make it so.

In the final accounting of all of this I have come to the same basic conclusion that Richard Heinberg does: don’t depend upon your government/ruling class for salvation from the coming collapse of current complexities. Such ‘faith’ is significantly misplaced and will be deeply disappointing if not disastrous for those that maintain it. It is personal, familial, and community resilience and preparedness that will be ease the decline; pursue this rather than believing you have significant agency via the ballot box and who might hold the reins of sociopolitical power.

As Heinberg writes: “But, dear reader, don’t hold your breath waiting for elites to get it right. I’ve used this essay to channel my own exasperation at cowards in high places, some of whom have enriched themselves to obscene degrees even as so many others languished. Rail against them a little or some, based on your level of outrage, but I’d advise directing the bulk of your energy to moving on. Anything that further divides us makes it harder for humanity to do whatever is still possible. A better path would be building personal and community resilience ahead of what’s coming. Ease the suffering. Save what can be saved.”

In this vein, I leave you to head back into our family’s growing food production gardens to continue preparing the soil and greenhouses for the coming warm weather. Much of the ground is still frozen in our area north of Toronto but there’s always work to be done and some of the raised beds have finally defrosted…

[1] Primarily, if not totally, the consequence of ecological overshoot

[2] Refer to archaeologist Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies where it is asserted that “Complex societies are problem-solving organizations, in which more parts, different kinds of parts, more social differentiation, more inequality, and more kinds of centralization and control emerge as circumstances require.” (p. 37)

[3] I suppose I maintain a modicum of ‘hope’ that our ruling class may, in fact, be driven by higher morals than the evidence suggests but I think this may be the residual result of unending enculturation over decades prior to my losing ‘faith/trust’.

[4] I highly recommend reading Murray Rothbard’s Anatomy of the State for an interesting perspective on how State’s come into being and maintain the sociopolitical structures that benefit those in ‘control’.

[5] Important to read both Meadows et al.’s The Limits to Growth and William Catton Jr.’s Overshoot.

[6] Here I would add that the elite have in fact done what they almost always do in such circumstances: leveraged crisis to their advantage to meet their driving interest by marketing ‘solutions’ from which they profit, such as energy ‘alternatives’, and expanded control of the dominant narratives.

[7] See Erik Michael’s Problems, Predicaments, and Technology website for lots of articles and evidence of this.

Olduvai IV: Courage
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