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Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh VI

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh VI

It’s truly unfortunate that our society pursues such self-evidently egregious exploits on our environment. You can’t continue to pollute your backyard without eventually destroying the complex ecological systems that support you — to say little about the finiteness of most resources we overly depend upon. And, certainly, we can’t continue to allow our sociopolitical ‘leaders’ to pursue such destructive policies and actions.

Yet, the issues and underlying dilemmas are much more complex than just exploitive foreign capital and revenue-seeking politicians. Yes, these are problematic; without a doubt. But they are one piece in a multi-layered puzzle that may or may not have a ‘solution’.

Society’s embracing of several self-destructive behaviours must be undone and reversed. Perhaps the most fundamental of these is the pursuit of ‘growth’. Economic. Population. Technological. Et cetera.

We do not live on a planet with infinite resources and the exponential increase of our activities continues to paint us further and further into a corner. While it is unlikely there will be a definitive ‘day of reckoning’ because of our blasting past our natural carrying capacity (since collapse is a process, not an event), the consequences of our actions will be felt as surely as day follows night.

In fact, it could be argued that we are already and have been experiencing the fallout of our expanding and increasingly complex activities for some time now. Decimated species required for food crop pollination. Expanding geopolitical tensions over resources, especially fossil fuels and water. Supply chain interruptions. Environmental disasters. Increasingly authoritarian government policies and edicts to control populations. Currency debasement. Global pandemics. And on and on.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh V

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Pompeii (1993) Photo by author

Yet another of my comments for an article on The Tyee regarding energy and how we should approach our coming dilemmas. https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2020/10/02/BC-Needs-Wartime-Approach-Climate-Emergency/

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While I certainly appreciate the need to ‘correct’ our global industrial civilization’s path from its current trajectory there is an obvious ‘problem’ with the argument presented here: forcing the wrong ‘solution’ upon society is a recipe for an expedited collapse. As in the movie/series Snowpiercer (where an attempt to ‘correct’ global warming ended up leading to a frozen planet), the human need to ‘do something’ often leads to negative, unintended consequences and, quite frequently, the opposite of what was desired.

A great example of how the above ‘solution’ would likely bring about more quickly the opposite of what is desired is found in this statement: “We must conduct an inventory, determining how many heat pumps, solar arrays, wind farms, electric buses, etc., we will need to electrify virtually everything and end our reliance on fossil fuels.” To me, this shows quite clearly that the ‘solution’ is not to address the dilemmas created by chasing infinite growth, as our ‘modern’ world does, but maintaining business as usual by trying to have our cake and eat it too. It proposes maintaining all the technological, industrial, and energy-intensive baubles/conveniences that fossil fuels have brought us without realising the price that must be paid to do this (in fact, I would argue the impossibility of doing this).

As I have argued several times on these pages, renewables are NOT the panacea they are marketed as. The energy-return-on-energy-invested (EROEI) is markedly lower than fossil fuels resulting in significantly less energy available for end use. They all rely on environmentally-destructive processes for their material input. They depend upon industrial processes in their manufacture that cannot be done without fossil fuels. They use finite resources, some of which are already experience diminishing returns. They cannot replace fossil fuels.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh IV

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Tulum, Mexico (1986) Photo by author

My comment on an article in The Tyee about our federal government’s latest throne speech by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2020/09/24/Throne-Speech-Stew/).

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The idea that a sovereign nation can never run into trouble financially because it can create its own currency is certainly the dominant narrative amongst government and ‘mainstream’ economists/bankers. After all, who benefits the most from this storyline?

But is it in fact true?

Scratching below the surface of this ‘experiment’ suggests it is not.

If printing one’s own money were a panacea, then nations like Venezuela, Zimbabwe, or the German Weimar Republic (and countless other nations throughout history) would never have experienced the hyperinflation that they have. They would be the richest nations ever to have existed.

One could counter that this is because they had to use their debased currency to import goods. True, but if one is debauching one’s currency through exponential ‘printing’, then this may be true for any nation dependent upon imports, which almost every nation is in our globalised, industrial world.

The solution that nations have rested upon given this reality is that the central banks collude to all print at relatively the same rate, so currencies don’t fall/rise too drastically compared to their trading partners.

Fine, but what does endless money/credit creation due to the purchasing power of this fiat currency created from thin air?

Previous trials in this approach indicate that it totally debases/debauches the currency, significantly reducing the ‘wealth’ of the people holding/using it because of the inflation that it creates.
Here’s what John Maynard Keynes had to say about this: “By a continuing process of inflation, government can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh II

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Monte Alban, Mexico (1988) Photo by author.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh

As I approach my 7th decade on this planet, I have reached the conclusion that we all interpret the world through mythical narratives; some of our own creation, many (most?) others ‘imposed’ upon us. The ruling class of society conditions us in numerous ways to accept stories that, for the most part, support and prolong their position of power and control.

From hereditary chieftains/monarchs to ‘democratic’ leadership, the ‘elite’ of society maintain a hold over the ‘tribe’ so as to ensure their revenue streams and wealth (some would argue this is a parasitic arrangement since this class returns little in the way of productive value to the system). They use the various tools at their disposal (e.g., education system, media, etc.) to inculcate/predispose us to accepting this arrangement and continuing to control and expand the wealth-generating/extraction systems that arise from everyday human economic interactions.

Power and wealth is concentrated significantly at the top of the pyramid; yet we are constantly exposed to narratives that we not only have agency, but that the ‘elite’ put our needs at the forefront of their policies and decision-making. I strongly believe these are false and propagated to influence/manipulate our thinking and beliefs.

Just like our financial institutions (especially the big banks) who knowingly engage in criminal activity and then receive raps on the wrist with minimal fines when caught (making their brazen thievery well worth it), the ruling class is more than willing to break ‘rules/laws’ (in fact, I would argue they are constantly doing so) because the ‘price’ for doing so is negligible (with the occasional sacrifice made to appease the masses).

I don’t believe there is a ‘solution’ to any of this (unlike most who do because, you know, hope–and reduction of cognitive dissonance) aside from complete sociopolitical collapse–which I would argue will eventually happen as it has for every complex society that has preceded ours. My response to this has been to accept it, and try and remove myself from the Matrix as much as is possible and prepare accordingly.

The world is not as we have been conditioned to believe by the narrative managers who weave the various storylines (read Edward Bernays book Propaganda for interesting insight on this). Awareness of this is a first step towards a better understanding of how messed up this world truly is and, possibly, doing something for your family/community to make it more resilient as the system inevitably declines/collapses.

Covid-19 and Our Competing Narratives

Covid-19 and Our Competing Narratives

It’s fascinating to watch the competing narratives regarding Covid-19 and risk assessment duke it out across the media universe (from social to mainstream to alternate media). As I’ve increasingly come to believe, we all believe what we want to believe. The continuum of beliefs seems to be that: we have faith in the complex systems we live within, our ‘leaders’ have things under control, everything will work itself out in some optimistic fashion, and life will return to ‘normal’ after a while; to the opposite belief that all hell is about to, or is, breaking loose and life will never return to where it was as sociocultural collapse is dead ahead.

‘Facts’ seem to make little difference to our belief systems. It is as author Robert Heinlein mused some years ago: We are rationalizing animals, not rational. We are not only not ‘objective’, but we are prone to using all sorts of cognitive/logical distortions to justify and confirm our beliefs and personal biases; because, after all, reducing our cognitive dissonance is a hugely powerful motivator. Our minds experience significant stress when ‘evidence’ opposes our belief system so we ignore or dismiss it and actively seek confirming information.

Science is not necessarily helpful here, although it is used as the ultimate arbiter by many. But one of the observations I made while attending university and shifting through different faculties as I sought a path to follow in those crazy formative years of mine in the 1980s was that the exact same ‘facts’ could be used for what were essentially diametrically-opposed ‘interpretations’. What one scientist saw as evidence supporting their paradigm was used by a colleague to justify their particular, and often very different, worldview.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Academic Freedom Re-examined

This is a ‘reprint’ of a letter-to-the-editor I wrote as a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario and was published in the McMaster Courier, June 20, 1989. I print it here just to share some thoughts and wonder if we were to substitute the notion of a ‘free press’ or ‘journalism’ for ‘academic freedom’ or ‘research’, we might have some ideas about how we might view the contemporary issue of ‘fake news’ vs. ‘real news’…


Academic Freedom Re-examined

I would like to comment on Dr. King’s recent discussion on academic freedom (Courier, May 24). It appears that King’s notion of academic freedom are closely linked to specific beliefs about the scientific method and how research proceeds in the scientific community. Implicit in King’s entire argument is the idea that scientific research is an ‘objective’ enterprise. It would appear that this objectivity can only be maintained by ensuring that external pressures do not interfere with research. These beliefs are displayed in the passage by Gilmour which King uses to argue that, because academics are disinterested and display integrity, they should be granted time, money, and a freedom which allows them to perform research unfettered by social and political pressures.

This whole notion of integrity and disinterest within the scientific community, however, needs to be critically examined. An ‘objectivist’ belief, such as that presented by King, holds that scientific knowledge is improving and growing constantly through a type of piecemeal process which builds upon previous research. Ultimately, the ‘truth’ is approached by an accumulation of data and ignorance is left behind, a remnant of insufficient data. This view of science supports an empirical theory of knowledge which presumes a complete detachment between the scientist and object of research. Researchers are subsequently thought to observe ‘facts’ quite independently of their consciousness. This, in turn, implies that some type of an objective reality exists and that humans can accurately determine what it is through rigorous, non-subjective procedures of science.

More recently, however, some researchers are beginning to realize that science is a socially-embedded activity in which research is pervasively influenced by the sociocultural milieu within which it operates. Various psychological and sociocultural factors serve to guide scientific research in predetermined directions. This belief debases the stereotypical view of science as a purely objective enterprise. In fact, some researchers have taken a more radical stand and argued that truth itself is just what a particular scientific community passes at a particular time; that facts are created and we make them fit into our predetermined categories; and that truth is merely the truth of those in power. Alternatively, it can be argued that the facts are real enough but in the interpretation that necessarily follows empirical observations, hard ‘facts’ are tainted by external pressures. These pressures are believed to influence research and its conclusions, even to the point of ‘cheating’. Because of such pervasive pressures within the scientific community, self-policing by academics is not an adequate solution.

The ideas that ‘hard’ facts exist and that science progresses by a patient collection and sifting of these objective facts are perpetual myths propagated by scientists. Researchers must keep in mind that their ideas and fundamental assumptions have been directed by external forces, both in and out of the scientific community. Pure objectivity, as supported by logical empiricists, does not exist. Humans live in a complex world of intersubjectivity. Since research is a subjective and interpretive enterprise, interpretations will inevitably be pluralistic in nature and there is no monopoly on truth. A diversity of interpretations is, therefore, both inevitable and necessary. However, this should not be construed as academic anarchy. Scholars should attempt to understand their own subjective biases and how their sociocultural milieu influences their work. It is only by doing this that they may become more sensitive to the restrictions that are imposed upon their interpretations. Perhaps this endeavour would result in a useful balance between the outdated view of science as objective and the radical notion of a total lack of truth.

This alternative view of the scientific enterprise has profound implications for academic freedom. King’s argument would appear to be based upon the idea that science is totally objective. But if this is not a valid assumption, as I have tried to argue, then notions of academic freedom must be reassessed. Outdated arguments which insist that science will lose its objectivity and usefulness if external pressures are introduced are no longer compelling. Scientific research has always contained such pressures. It is now time for researchers to confront such influences head on. Hiding behind the concept of academic freedom is not going to aid scientific research or make it any less subjective.

Steve Bull
Department of Anthropology

Preserving And Creating ‘Wealth’

Preserving And Creating ‘Wealth’

Avoiding loss of one’s ‘wealth’ from whatever crises may befall you and/or your family seems paramount to helping avoid or at least mitigate the negative consequences that accompany emergencies and disasters, or even the general decline of civilisation. With currency devaluation, government overreach, civil unrest, bank bail-in legislation, labour strife, market corrections, negative interest rates, geopolitical uncertainty, economic decline (perhaps even collapse), it seems almost impossible to protect one’s wealth completely without even worrying about everyday calamities that can place financial stress upon an individual and/or family. The following suggestions seem the most likely way to prepare for an uncertain world, and avoid some of the more dire consequences of increasing volatility and possible confiscation by the-powers-that-be (a concern that must be considered as governments become increasingly insolvent).

It also seems prudent to reduce dependency on complex systems that are prone to disruptions over which you have no control, such as distant supply chains or infrastructure frailties–that is why I believe at the base of your thinking should be a desire for yourself/family/community to become more resilient and self-sufficient. (Note: I have included links to articles found on The Survivalist Blog only to keep the discussion ‘in-house’; and, the information that follows is not meant to be investment ‘advice’ but one person’s thoughts on how to prioritise ‘investments’.)

A common question that arises when contemplating emergency/disaster planning is where to start?

First, focus on yourself and basic survival gear.

Skills and knowledge you acquire are the most difficult to be taken from you. First Aid courses. Fitness/healthcare-oriented activities. Hunting courses. Archery/gun use. Gardening/food production knowledge. Survival training. ‘Handyman’ skills. Building a ‘survival’ library. Activities, training, and literature that can help you and your family cope with unexpected crises are perhaps the wisest ‘investment’ and can’t be confiscated by the-powers-that-be. These should likely be a priority.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

It Just Doesn’t Matter

It Just Doesn’t Matter

When an avalanche is about to descend upon you, does it really matter which snowflake was the penultimate cause?

While it’s interesting (in a mental masturbation kind of way) to debate the genesis of a pending market collapse, environmental chaos, or energy cliff, in the end, it really doesn’t matter–unless, of course, we are able to curtail the impending crises by correctly identifying the variable(s) involved and mitigating the consequences, but the likelihood of that outcome is looking increasingly unlikely as systems are prone to overshoot and collapse.

One of the ‘insights’ I’ve had over the past several months as I read the competing narratives that are floating about the globe and attempting to ‘explain’ why the dilemmas we are facing are happening is that we really don’t understand complex systems and the way they behave, so we are bound to cling to simple explanations that support our personal biases and reduce the cognitive dissonance that results when our belief system is challenged.

A large part of the problem, I believe, in discerning which variable(s) play(s) the most impactful role in creating a crisis is the tendency for various interest groups to spin the ‘facts’ to support their particular narrative.

For example, whether the cause of the oil/commodity price collapse is the role of central banks in manipulating the economic system, the limits to growth, overproduction (by Saudi Arabia? US shale? Canadian oil sands?), and/or economic contraction (global? Europe? China? emerging markets?), the result is a loss of thousands of jobs, domestic unrest, and increasing geopolitical tension as nations try to counter the deflationary collapse that appears to be resulting. Many Western politicians and journalists are pointing the finger at the production levels of the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, and their ‘refusal’ to cut production, but data from the past decade shows that supply has increased significantly because of US shale and Canadian oil sands extraction rather than that of Saudi/ME. It strikes me that this ‘spin’ is simply a means of avoiding looking in the mirror and deflecting attention–blaming ‘others’ for our woes is a common means of reducing cognitive dissonance, focusing citizen outrage away from their ‘leaders’, and justifying particular actions/decisions.

In the end, however, the ’cause’ is not that important to the families crushed by a sudden loss of income. And that brings me to the conclusion of this little diatribe: being prepared for whatever comes our way is the only thing that might really matter. Whether at an individual, family, or local community level–I don’t believe it’s possible or prudent to worry much beyond these–being resilient and resourceful in the coming months/years is what is going to make a difference as to how ‘successful’ one can deal with the coming dilemmas.

Best of luck to everyone. I think we’re going to need it.

Steve


In the 1979 comedy, Meatballs, actor Bill Murray provides a ‘motivational’ speech to his fellow summer camp counsellors and campers who are getting soundly beaten in a ‘friendly’ competition by a neighbouring camp: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UZvIZAHjlY. In the end, the speech is seen not as motivational but as a message that, in the bigger picture, the competition really doesn’t matter–(SPOILER ALERT) all the good-looking girls are going to go out with the other camp’s counsellors anyways because they have all the money!

Rissa-A Short Story

Rissa-A Short Story

Prompted by John Michael Greer’s latest short story contest and invitation to “…Fling yourself into the far future, far enough that today’s crises are matters for the history books, or tales out of ancient myth, or forgotten as completely as the crises and achievements of the Neanderthal people are today, and tell a story about human beings (or, potentially, post-human beings) confronting the challenges of their own time in their own way.”…I offer the following short story based on a chapter from a fledgling ‘book’ I began writing years ago when I was in my third year of teaching (1993) and demonstrating for my grade eight students how one would write ‘science fiction’–NOTE: I still have a copy of that compendium of the students’ short stories that resulted sitting on the bookshelf behind me.

I hope my offering has met the criteria set by JMG:

  • Stories should be between 2500 and 7500 words in length;
  • They should be entirely the work of their author or authors, and should not borrow characters or setting from someone else’s work;
  • They should be in English, with correct spelling, grammar and punctuation;
  • They should be stories—narratives with a plot and characters—and not simply a guided tour of some corner of the future as the author imagines it;
  • They should be set in our future, not in an alternate history or on some other planet;
  • They should be works of realistic fiction or science fiction, not magical or supernatural fantasy—that is, the setting and story should follow the laws of nature as those are presently understood;
  • They should take place in settings subject to thermodynamic, ecological, and economic limits to growth; and as before,
  • They must not rely on “alien space bats”—that is, dei ex machina inserted to allow humanity to dodge the consequences of the limits to growth.

For those wishing to offer feedback, please feel free to submit a comment on this short story where a young girl searches for meaning in her life but encounters something completely unexpected, altering her view of the world and her possible future in it:

Rissa

 

Stouffville Corner

A new section of my site, Stouffville Corner, aims to provide a variety of write-ups on topics I consider to be of primary importance/ interest. The aim was to have my local paper, Stouffville Tribune, publish them on a weekly/bi-weekly basis to bring the issues to the consciousness of my local community (thus the name). While the paper no longer accepts op-ed pieces due to its limited publication schedule (use to be published twice a week but now only once), I will still be offering the articles on a weekly/bi-weekly basis on my site beginning today with the introductory piece that has been accepted as a letter-to-the-editor.

Cheers…
Steve

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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