MAKING SENSE OF COLLAPSE: FUNERAL PROCESSION OR PARTY TIME?
In his most recent post, Richard Heinberg asks “How Do You Like Collapse So Far?” and also asks why we should think or talk about collapse if there’s nothing we can do about it? He suggests that in the face of the gargantuan unraveling over which we have very little power, keeping in mind what it is about our species that is worth saving is a salutary emotional and spiritual practice. In fact he says, “…there may in fact be only one occupation worthy of our attention: that of identifying the qualities that make our species worth saving, and then celebrating and exemplifying those qualities. If we concentrate on doing that, perhaps we win no matter what. Outwardly, it will probably look a lot like what many of us are already doing: working to save a species, an ecosystem, a human community; to make a village sustainable, or to halt a new coal power plant.”
What Heinberg states here is exactly what many other collapse watchers have been up to for the past several years. We look at the truth, we feel it, we act. As we take action, we do not do so naively believing that any particular action or several actions taken even by masses of individuals will prevent collapse, but we do it because it’s the right thing to do-that is, acting according to what Sharon Astyk calls “The Theory Of Anyway.”
I keep coming back to that fundamental underpinning in collapse-that thing called “death” and notice that no matter how you spin the unraveling, it keeps coming back to the two most unpleasant realities: the death of the planet and of one’s individual egoic existence. I notice what a Herculean task it is for any of us to thoughtfully ponder our own demise, but I cannot escape or deny the fact that that is exactly what collapse is putting in our faces whether we like it or not. If you’ve read this far, and if you’ve been consciously watching and preparing for collapse, then to a large extent, you are already confronting your own death, but I believe it’s important to consider the many layers of death that are in front of us. Of course, there’s the possibility of the end of our own physical bodies, but more importantly, in my opinion, is the diminution and transformation of the ego with which we identify.
Civilization and all of its discontents has been gestated and birthed in ego as if domination and control of the earth, its inhabitants, and even oneself is the raison d’etre-the meaning of life. Civilization and the empires it has endlessly created have been constructed on the illusion that we are what we possess, what we control, what we achieve. All of the great spiritual teachers have told us otherwise and have reminded us incessantly that behind that tapestry of egoic productivity is who we really are-a more profound spiritual essence-a light that shines from behind and through the tapestry. Some people call it “god”, some call it “nature”, some call it “faith in the human spirit”, others call it the Self.
What collapse is demanding from us is not the destruction of ego but the diminishing of it so that the Self can flourish and expand. Otherwise, how would it be possible to build anything, if anything is to be built, on the ashes of what has collapsed? When Sharon Astyk asks us to “do it anyway” because it’s the right thing, she’s really suggesting, whether intentionally or not, that we allow the Self to act and ego to take a back seat. Likewise, when Heinberg says that if we concentrate on what makes our species worth saving we win no matter what, he’s alluding to, intentionally or not, the light behind the tapestry on which we must now focus at the expense of the ego’s fear, frustration, rage, and sorrow in the face of collapse.
In this sense then, collapse forces us to march in a funeral procession toward the end of life as we have known it-and the end of ourselves as we have known them. And who, I ask, would willingly sign up for this? I’m no longer mystified by the masses of Americans who refuse to look at collapse because I know exactly why they won’t-not now, and maybe ever. I myself am only beginning to grasp what it takes to look into the face of collapse, unstintingly take in its ramifications, and not run to assume the fetal possession under many layers of blankets. It’s really bloody hard, I mean really, really hard!
But just as we don’t get to avoid our physical death, we don’t get to avoid the death of ego-somehow, somewhere, sometime. So if we’ve awakened to collapse, we’re part of a funeral procession, and we’re marching toward the end of who we thought we were so that who we really are can be revealed. For me, that’s something to be celebrated, even as I know that millions of people and other life forms are going to die in the process of collapse including possibly myself. The ability to confront contradiction, or paradox, is inherent in human consciousness and is one factor among many that distinguishes us from other species.
Therefore, on another level, when I witness the rapid unfolding of collapse, when I witness people abandoning their cars because they can’t afford to put gas in them, when I see banks failing, bankruptcy and foreclosure statistics going off the charts, schools closing, healthcare collapsing, oil prices skyrocketing and impacting everything else, and when a plethora of other evidence that collapse is well underway is ubiquitous, I weep-yes sincerely weep, and but yet another part of me says, “It’s party time!”
If that takes you aback, then you haven’t yet grasped that only as a result of the total unraveling and the end of life as we’ve known it, can this planet and the insanity that created its demise be transformed. I’m not guaranteeing that it will be transformed, but I know unequivocally that there isn’t the slightest possibility of its transformation without collapse.
For this among many other reasons, I refuse to participate in the national election charade that “just might make things better.” When I reflect on this perspective, I’m reminded of my grandmother who died of breast cancer at the age of 77 in the late 1960s. Tragically, my grandmother was not allowed to just die. For seven years before her passing she was pumped up with experimental cancer drugs that prolonged her life–and her horrifying misery. No doubt the “research” performed on her resulted in significant advances in cancer treatment, yet truth be told, today’s treatment of cancer leaves more than a little to be desired. All my grandmother really wanted to do was get on with her evolution and simply die, yet the empire-based “disease conquest” model insisted that she live-and live in abject agony.
I must confess that sometimes when I hear the hopeful hype of progressive Democrats who argue that Obama can save us, I think of my grandmother. Some things, people, institutions, and empires just need to die (literally or symbollically), and until they do, we will all be subjected to prolonged anguish. So yes, I’m marching in a funeral procession called the death of civilization, and there will be and are tears along the way, but there is as much to celebrate as there is to mourn.
Today’s news reports that localvore movements are now becoming mainstream; more people are using public transportatin and staying at home rather than traveling or commuting; recycling and shopping at auctions and thrift stores is becoming the norm; Hummers are heading for the dustbin of mechanical history, and consumers are rejecting SUV’s en masse; increasingly people are being forced to live within their means and either voluntarily reject indebtedness or drown in it which compels them to make purchases only when they have the money to do so. Please understand that I do not perceive these new developments as signals that collapse can be averted but rather that collapse is compelling human beings to live differently. This new behavior will neither save the earth nor the human species, but it is very likely to implement over time a foundation for a new way of being, thinking, and living post-collapse that will be a mixture of grueling and gratifying.
It is now obvious that collapse has a life of its own; it, not we, are in charge. There is much we can do in response to it, but nothing we can do to prevent it. Each day that I report the daily news to readers and subscribers, I grieve a bit more than the day before, and at the same time, the sigh of relief from my body grows longer and larger. So many tragic endings making possible so many new beginnings. The funeral has begun, AND it’s party time.