we close out our first month of podcasting with a prolonged discussion centered around the subject of peak oil, ranging into existentialism, nietzsche, relocalising primitivists, malthusian catastrophe,the philosophical roots of the power elite, scrabbling in the dirt, and the morally bankrupt circle jerk at the end of the world.

   All in hopes of driving a much needed stake through the heart of the current thinking on our resource/political crisis.  

  Divided for you convenience into two equal sections here and here.

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17 thoughts on “The Mosaic Effect 8: Malthusian Catharses

  1. Hey Zac,

    Just finished listening to the first half of ME8. I mostly agree with your take, but I think you are a bit hard on the “let’s learn how to grow food more locally with less fossil fuel” crowd. No matter what happens, we’re going to have to learn how to do that.

    You also seem to have fallen into the mistaken view that all people who have come to the conclusion that we’re headed for a shitstorm (complete with significant dieoff) are somehow “yee hee” happy about it. Concluding that something is going to happen, indeed, nigh on inevitable (as it seems to me), is not the same as endorsing it.

    One more thing – you seem to think that people who feel that way need to think of a new plan, because that outcome is just so reprehensible. WTF are folks supposed to do? I am 51 years old, an ecologist, and have thought about this for years and in depth. I am not so sure there IS a solution that anyone would like. If there is a less than hideous solution, I suspect it’s going to be gradual, and bottom up. And, even in the absence of a Malthusian shitstorm, it is going to involve more local, sustainable agriculture, so we might as well learn how to do it as soon as possible.

    Perhaps I’ve misunderstood you – I’ll give Part 2 a listen as soon as I can download it (I only have cheesy 56K dialup here).

    Keep ’em flying,

    – roebuck

  2. totally valid points.

    let me be clearer: in no way am i suggesting that anyone who recognises this endorses it. my beef is specifically with those who present themselves publicly and even make careers, off this material and their philosophical platform quietly skirts around the possiblity of genocide, or absolves themselves of any responsiblity to talk or think about it in their public communications.

    i’m also utterly in favour of low input sustainable agriculture. i just think that endorsing such things as the lifeboat past global dieoff, without actually adressing the forces driving that possible dieoff, is, as you say reprehensible.

    to me it’s like planning ahead to prosper after the nazis have completed the final solution, but doing nothing to adress the nazis themselves.

    to say nothing of the fact that anyone who does survive will be reduced to agricultural peonage.

    i don’t have a definitive plan of action. i’m just saying anyone who says that they do without talking about changing the existing order and sustaining human life is being disingenous at best, and morally bankrupt at worst.

  3. Have come across some sites that promote the idea that not only is oil not a fossil fuel, but that it is also constantly being replenished from deep within the earth. if that were true … what would be the purpose behind a fabricated peak oil “problem”?
    Just a thought.

  4. Hello again Zac…

    “totally valid points.

    let me be clearer: in no way am i suggesting that anyone who recognises this endorses it. my beef is specifically with those who present themselves publicly and even make careers, off this material and their philosophical platform quietly skirts around the possiblity of genocide, or absolves themselves of any responsiblity to talk or think about it in their public communications.”

    Fair enough, and for sure many are making hay out of this, but most of the serious folks promulgating the Peak Oil thing are not at all reticent about discussing the human consequences. In fact, most of them are loud and clear on the “dieoff” aspect. Pointing out this possibility without having “the solution” in one’s pocket does not make one genocidal.

    “i’m also utterly in favour of low input sustainable agriculture. i just think that endorsing such things as the lifeboat past global dieoff, without actually adressing the forces driving that possible dieoff, is, as you say reprehensible.”

    Great word, that 🙂 Anyway, I don’t see a movement towards local, sustainable agriculture/communities as lifeboat ethics. That will only work as long as there is some remnant of civility left.

    What to do, what to do? What if dear old Earth can’t handle X-billion humans, period? How do we back down? Or is there only a foreward escape? …

    “to me it’s like planning ahead to prosper after the nazis have completed the final solution, but doing nothing to adress the nazis themselves.”

    You pretty much allowed in your piece that the oligarchy (nazis) will not be stopped until they’ve laid waste to the whole fucking planet, and have the power to do just that. What to do – shall we head to the barricades and be mowed down by the Imperial Stormtroopers?

    “to say nothing of the fact that anyone who does survive will be reduced to agricultural peonage.”

    Not quite true. A higher proportion of the population engaged in agriculture – perhaps. An awful lot depends on how much time there is to arrange some sort of soft landing. Before petroleum came along, horse-powered agricultural technology was getting quite advanced.

    “i don’t have a definitive plan of action. i’m just saying anyone who says that they do without talking about changing the existing order and sustaining human life is being disingenous at best, and morally bankrupt at worst.”

    Amen and amen. The existing order is untenable, one way or the other, sooner or later. But as you so eloquently described, the powers that be are quite determined to run this thing to its grim conclusion.

    What to do, my friend?

    – roebuck

  5. Wow, this is a very timely webcast, I’m totally grappling with this issue right now. I got into a little bit of a “discussion” with a fellow blogger over some of this.

    On the one hand, some of my friends think that soft-landing solutions are the way to go (efficient cars, sustainable agriculture, localized energy portfolios and the like) without thinking about the very power dynamics that lurk in the background threatening to engulf us all when the shit starts seriously flying. [Katrina is a perfect model of what will happen.] On the other, there are some very public people (whose observations and analysis I respect) who see the awful power dynamic and look to the extreme long term when it’s all going to be OK, without seriously discussing the rather unpleasant immediate future.

    But I don’t think either camp is doing this out of any particular irresponsibility or malice. It’s a process: every individual who is discussing these issues is trying to figure things out, and since it’s such a difficult problem, most, if not all, of us are stuck. It looms so large that some people can’t face the dark genocidal aspects of this, the power issues, so they just can’t see them. (Yet.) Others see the issues but can’t emotionally deal with them, so they essentially ignore the problem wishing it away in the distant future.

    Nobody is at fault here: we’re all on the learning curve, and it’s a very steep curve.

    I agree that the only solution is a spiritual one, but since our culture forces us to start from a position of nihilism, you have to give people time to see this for themselves.

    It’s a very long journey.

  6. This is an excellent discussion to be having.

    Zac, I’m glad you flat out stated in your comment that you don’t have a solution, because that’s what kept coming to mind as you were criticizing the people who are opting to start at least looking out for themselves and their own via these ‘back to the land’ projects. It’s not that they have ‘the solution’ — and I don’t follow these circles enough to know how many of them are claiming they do, so excuse my ignorance there — it’s about personal survival. First things first. You can’t help anyone if you’re dead. But you did clarify that you’re for the survival part, just not about to ignore the larger implications. You seem to identify with the whole – of humanity – more than most. Most identify with their ego and immediate ‘monkeysphere’ (http://www.pointlesswasteoftime.com/monkeysphere.html) and can’t deal with the rest.

    I have the same kinds of questions roebuck has (what to do? How do we go about saving the starving masses from the ‘evil forces’ in power?), and my feelings are like slomo’s, towards those less morally & conceptually courageous folk, who are just trying to do something pro-active in their own lives.

    I’ve been grappling with this issue since listening to your segment earlier tonight. I genuinely thank you for looking it square in its ugly face and encouraging others to do as much. And, just as I empathize with those that aren’t looking at it in those terms, I understand why you’re critical toward them. You’re struggling with it from your perspective, they from there’s, me from mine, etc… And what you did do was lay a lot of important facts out there, and asked questions that do have to be dealt with — so even though you haven’t offered any alternatives or solutions (yet) — you’ve provided perspective and information that’s necessary for any of us to really – realistically – begin to do so.

    Now, faced with that information, I too feel that the only solution lies outside the boundaries of the game being played — in other words, spiritual or internal — definitely something other than believing in this drama more than in the integrity of life and of MY life. I believe there is purpose – self-made, but ‘self’ consisting of more than this ego. I also believe in some kind of source or higher creative intelligence, both within myself and beyond myself, and that has to factor in to the equation.

    I believe, further, that there is always at least one solution to every problem. No exceptions. Just a matter of discovering it. And that’s where my energy is focused. However, finding the solution may involve an even greater perspective than identifying with the whole of humanity… What’s the even bigger picture?

    I tend to see humanity — and this life — as one focus within a much greater one. With that in mind, I have a hard time seeing death with very much emotion at all. I am a very compassionate person when it comes to suffering, so the ‘starving’ part of billions of people starving to death certainly hurts me, but the death part? ‘Death,’ to me, is one more transition. Life goes on, wherever you are. I have a strong memory of dying once, and of feeling more alive after I died than I’d felt when I was ‘alive’. Does that mean we should be okay with billions of people dying as we go through this crisis? Of course not, but how much personal responsibility can you take for other people? They have minds, they have the power of choice. Most people lack any kind of awareness, but you can’t force that on people…. so again, what to think, what to feel, what to do?

    And now here’s me struggling out loud with my own conflicting feelings and probably exposing all kinds of ignorances for y’all to point out to me. Luckily I’m surrounded by brilliant people here who’s feedback I welcome. Have at ‘er.

    Here’s to a better future. For realsies.

  7. 1. The purpose of a system is what it does. And when we take a look at what this system is doing, I have to wonder. I am currently leaning towards gnostic paranoid space opera, like some burnt-out scientologist who got kidnapped by a fundamentalist splinter-sect of the Sacrament of the Transistion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacrament_of_Transition). The more sane explanations I can come up with are simply that the people in power, when they began the most recent iteration, erected an intentional structure that they did not fully understand. I don’t think Rockefeller consciously drilled oil in hopes of exterminating half the human race. But he did it anyway, in an effort to accumulate power to fund the fucktards at the Lucis Trust. As an aside, I will be attending Benjamin Crowe’s across the river in that privileged little island of Manhattan next month. I hope the “Maitreya” shows.

    2. The purpose of a system is what it does. The War in Iraq happened specifically to destabilize the lives of people in the mideast. While it may–and that’s a big “may”–have actually reduced the threat of terror elsewhere by helping syphon would-be terrorists into partisan movements in Iraq, like a murder magnet, the program also exists to turn Marines into baby-killers. Don’t doubt that the folks running the show didn’t forsee that: the holocaust took the form it did on account of the Nazi’s early use of death squad proving to be simply too stressful on the soldiers murdering families. It was the “humane” alternative. The new shitheads who planned the invasion knew this would happen. Every military analyst who wrote an honest article pointed out that there are two ways to win an urban guerilla war: concentration camps (no women and kids=no one to hide insurgents) and razing cities outright (Fallujah). But Iraq is just one example. While The point of the enterprise was simply to amplify suffering.

    3. While the Neocons might have planned on a specific outcome, to me, something else, or something they let ride them, had intention towards an entirely different outcome. Maybe simply because they seek the collapse of civilization, when they act in the short term, their short game looks like they’re possessed, because their long game essentially is, though it seems more clear. I cannot help but think otherwise. They are vehicles for something entirely different from our regular mode of being, even if it proves to be nothing less human than archetypes of our pack dominator ape past.

    4. I’m running out of steam. The liberals and left-wingers tend to be just as goddamn “flatland” and lacking in vertical aspiration, and, to me, therefore another part of the problem. I’m also bothered by their European aesthetics.

    5. But what to do? I don’t know. It’s really late in the game to have all this fall onto our lap. Let me get my time machine up and travel back to about 1986 and start teaching myself shit and then I’ll tell you.

  8. The purpose of a system is what it does.

    I keep forgetting that little bit of engineering wisdom.

    I will be attending Benjamin Crowe’s across the river in that privileged little island of Manhattan next month. I hope the “Maitreya” shows.

    Do you mean Benjamine Creme? I’ve read some not-so-great stuff about him, which I can dig up if anybody’s interested. I actually saw him speak in the late 80s, when my mother dragged me to see him. (I think she still actually believes all that Maitreya bs.)

    I totally agree something much larger and darker is riding the architects of our current international situation.

  9. The whole point is the one of energy. Our civilization is currently running on mostly free energy, but it is a one time shot. Also, this free energy is centralized, and those in power are sitting on the pipeline and deriving their power from their position of monopoly.

    What they certainly don’t want is a world where energy is free and decentralized, where everyone can produce its own locally, something like cold fusion or maybe ultra efficient solar power.

    Just imagine what society would look like if everyone had access to unlimited homegrown energy. We would be able to solve all of the current world problems, and out of it would naturally grow that utopian socialist civilization you were talking about. This would also probably be the end of centralized power as we know it.

    So it is probable that these solutions, if they exist, are being actively suppressed. I hope dearly that someone has already found a solution. If it is so, this will leak at one time or another, and we will all be able to breath out in relief. If not, then, get ready for the crash. No currently available assortment of alternative energy sources and energy saving can possibly sustain the current western lifestyle, much less give access to the basics to everyone.

    Theoretically, if we started out right now, and imagining a perfect worldwide collaboration, utter unselfishness, no corruption and perfect reallocation of all the available resources, we might just be able to barely make it, and retrofit all of our petroleum infrastructure into solar power, biomass, wind and other renewable energies. I don’t see this happening, and much more likely we will continue to burn the remaining available oil into our empty consumerist society, until it is too late. Then back to the stone age, and for a very long time, because we won’t have the necessary bootstrap energy to develop this new, clean, renewable and efficient energy infrastructure.

    A third outcome could be free, clean, unlimited and centralized energy, like big satellites gathering solar power and beaming it back to earth, but in the current situation it seems also unlikely that such a solution will come to life.

    One of the great positive side of all the peak oil talk is that now people are becoming aware that there is an energy problem and that we can’t go on like this, that we have to bail out of oil. Realizing that there is a problem is at least the first step towards addressing it.

  10. Wow. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Looks like there is already a very active community involved in researching radical new energy sources.

    Check out: http://www.peswiki.com/index.php/Main_Page and http://www.byronnewenergy.com/wiki/index.php/Main_Page . Wiki seems to be all the rage those days 🙂

    I can’t really comment on the validity of these researches, and am not technically able to try to build one of those devices and check it for myself. But it did lighten me up, thanks for that!

    Let’s pray for the best to happen, then. We all sorely need a miracle in that field.

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