How to Drop Out and Other Essays

Ran Prieur

Copyright © 2011 Ran Prieur Some rights reserved This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons 444 Castro Street, Suite 900 Mountain View, California, 94041


Table of Contents
The Mathematics of Responsibility 5 Thinking Through the Fall 9 Violence vs. Pacifism 15 J.R.R. Tolkein: The Man Who Saw Tomorrow 19 The Soul of Progress 23 The System Works 27 The Coming Expansion 33 Where was Luke Skywalker on September 11? 39 Science the Destroyer 43 Violence Unraveled 53 Against Rights 61 Why Do Pedophiles Get All the Attention? 64 Twisted Utopian Visions 73 These Colors Run 81 Who Would Satan Bomb? 87 21 Stories About Civilization 93 The Effects of Highly Habitual People 103 Grand Diversifying Theory 113 Arno-geddon 123 Seven Lies About Civilization 131 Your Life as Pornography 137 The Animal in the Dark Tower 143 How to Drop Out 149 Six Lies About Immigration 167 Troubleshooting America 173 How to Survive the Crash and Save the Earth 177 The Slow Crash 187 Critique of Civilization FAQ 197 The Critique of Civilization Changes Everything 209 The Age of Batshit Crazy Machines 219 What We Learned from Katrina 233 Fall Down Six Times 235 9/11 FAQ 249 How to Save Civilization 257 Beyond Civilized and Primitive 271 Works Cited 289 Further Reading 291



The Mathematics of Responsibility
February 7, 2002
It's frustrating to be stuck in a world where I actually have to point this out, but what we call "responsibility" is not distributed by breaking up "full responsibility" and dividing it into parts. If you add up everyone's responsibility for something, it doesn't equal 100% -- it equals a billion percent if it has to, because any number of entities can be fully responsible for the same thing. Another way to say it is that our responsibilities can and do overlap. Another way to say it is that nobody's responsibility for anything excuses anybody else. For example, Hitler is fully responsible for every particular murder in the Holocaust. But so is the actual person who did the murder, and every person in the chain of command, and the fanatically repressive Prussian culture, and maybe the victim, if there was a chance to see the murder coming and fight or flee. I just pushed a hot button, but it's hot only because of our idea of "blame," which is a lie. I don't "blame" anyone for anything, because I understand that blame is stuck responsibility -- falsely packing it all in one place to block it from being traced where you don't want it traced. For example, if a woman gets drunk and passes out at a frat party, and she gets raped, and I excuse the rapist by saying the woman should have known better, then I am stupidly blaming the victim. But if I hold the rapist fully responsible, and also hold the society that trained the rapist fully responsible, and also notice that the victim took a huge risk and had the power to choose otherwise, then I'm not blaming anyone -- I'm being honest and paying attention. This gets even trickier when someone is punished for doing something good. The Raise The Fist website was recently shut down in a violent police raid. Some people (who are being ripped off if they're not on the authorities' payroll) made slippery suggestions that the author of the site should have known the police would come after him, and therefore that he was somehow at fault. "He should have known! Jesus should have known he'd be crucified! Gandhi should have known he'd get people beaten and killed. Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel should have known their activities would get them locked up. Idiots! When people threaten violence you should do whatever they say, or you deserve what you get!" We can step over this little trap by thinking clearly: We're

talking about two different definitions of "responsibility." One means being a necessary part of causing something bad to happen; and the other refers to our moral need to do the right thing. It seems strange to us, but it's possible, even common, to be responsible in both ways with the same action, to knowingly invite something bad by doing good. So in the first sense, the Raise The Fist author was responsible for the police raid -- and so were the police. And in the second sense, he was being courageous and responsible, by running his web site even though it was very likely to be violently attacked, and the police who attacked it were being irresponsible and cowardly, by putting their selfish fears ahead of openness and freedom. It gets even trickier still, when evil minds engineer perverse situations where we have to actively do the wrong thing to prevent something we especially fear. If you voted for the "lesser of the two evils" in the latest sham election, then you would have no chance in a really difficult test, like the scientific experiment where a monkey mother and her baby were put in a specially constructed cage, where the floor was heated until she had to stand on her baby and let it burn to death, or be burned to death herself. The Nazis built an entire society on this technique -- the Holocaust would have been impossible without the participation of millions of Jews, who carried themselves to their deaths with their own feet and energy, or even helped Nazis run the ghettos and camps, just so they could survive a little longer. I know it's easy for me to sit in my cozy apartment, not having been psychologically tortured for months or years, and tell people in the middle of an insane mass murder what they should have done. If I were in their place, I would certainly have done just what they did, because if I was the sort to do the right thing even at the cost of my own life, then I would have been killed a long time before, and would not have survived to be in their place. Does this excuse them from responsibility for their choices? No! If that's hard to take, look at this: Weren't the Nazis themselves in the same kind of situation as the Holocaust victims? They too had to go along with an evil system or be killed. They were different in that they felt good about supporting the evil system, but that's because they were broken under torture as infants and children by horrific German childrearing practices, as Alice Miller documented in For Your Own Good, and they had to become sadistic, authoritarian, and emotionally detached to survive in their environment. Does this

excuse them? No! But this understanding makes it easier for us to forgive them and look deeper, which we need to do if we're going to get anywhere. Some of you want to draw lines and make categories: exploiter and exploited, criminal and victim, guilty and innocent, evil and good. Go ahead. It will only protect you for a little while from seeing the truth, that there are no lines, that there aren't even clear categories with a grey area between -- that it's all grey area, all the way in, all the way out, and we're all in it together. The context that inspired this column is the idea, fashionable among radical intellectuals, that the ruling elite are the evil final cause of our troubles. I believe that the ruling system is a deeper cause, and that the elite are actually more exploited, because the system owns not only their bodies but their souls. I crafted this column to prevent the strawman argument that interprets this uncommon and valuable perspective as the feeble position that the elite have no choice. We can see the same thing happening in contemporary arguments about foreign attacks on Americans. Any nonshallow exploration of the causes of this violence is shouted down by trembling indignant people on the false grounds that it justifies the attacks or excuses whoever has already been blamed. Clearly something is striking terror in the hearts of these Americans -- and it's not foreign attacks. If we keep blaming rulers and criminals, without asking how they got that way, we'll still be fighting the same stupid battles in a million years. Maybe that's the idea -- maybe some people like fighting these battles, or they need to keep fighting for fear of what they'll see when the dust settles. I want to get the fighting over so I can play and slack off, so I'm going to look deeper, to the society that applies overwhelming force to make people evil enough to keep it going, to the emotional and intellectual habits that underlie that society, to the origin of those habits, and so on... An anthropologist once asked a native what the earth stands on. The native said, it's on the back of an elephant, and the elephant stands on the back of a turtle. And what does the turtle stand on? Another turtle. And that turtle? Another turtle. The anthropologist concluded, "It's turtles all the way down," and maybe we think that native is a fool. But I think he's wise and was trying to teach the Westerner something. What's foolish is the idea that there's a final cause, or a final truth, or a final anything. "Final" is just a command: Stop looking.

Or think of it this way: If we say that Hitler and Kissinger and the Bushes are just evil and that's that, then we are trying to escape responsibility. We are denying our own power to choose to understand and forgive them, which doesn't help them much but helps us tremendously; and we are denying our power, even our obligation, to transform our society into one that doesn't produce such evil people. How can we do that? I have only a vague idea, but that's the road that's before us, and as Martin Luther King said, in the best ever definition of responsibility, we must go down that road, even if we go alone.


Thinking Through the Fall
February 21, 2002
The most naive way of thinking about the future, after the escapist fantasy of techno-utopia, is the eco-liberal mantra that we must stop destroying the earth right now, or it will be "too late." This civilization is incapable of stopping or even slowing down what it does. Like any system based on concentration of "wealth," it is a machine whose only behavior is to keep taking more and more until it runs out of "resources" and implodes. Not only that, but unless all the ecological specialists who made their "last chance" warnings in the 70's and 80's were wrong, it's been too late for a long time now. This raises the question: Too late for what? Not for life on earth. For countless species of fungi and bacteria, who call food what we call toxic waste, the future is looking better than ever. Most plants and insects, and even some small mammals, are in no danger of being exterminated this time around. I believe that even humans are safe. If we wanted to go extinct, we would need to bring our whole species to a uniform level of utopian domestication and helpless dependence, and then let the whole thing crash. Instead we're making a billion people as tough as rocks with the barbaric global violence that makes "advanced" society possible. It might be too late for whales, eagles, giant trees, and many other species that we love (when it's convenient for us). And it might be too late for all but a few of our surviving non-civilized human cultures. What it's definitely too late for is a noncatastrophic transition to a sustainable society. And these catastrophes are easy to foresee: Regional famines are caused by erratic weather, by depletion of the soil, by blights in monoculture crops, and by trade that permits large populations to live in desolate regions. All of these are becoming greater and greater threats, and we're only continuing to feed our population by feeding these threats, by borrowing against the earth's capacity to feed us in the future. Disease epidemics have ravaged humans ever since we started living in cities and traveling a lot. They're not just remote history -- the flu epidemic of 1918 killed 20 million people. Technological society claims to have defeated many diseases, when really it has just been running from them with vaccinations and antibiotics and chemical toxins. These are cheap fixes that actually weaken our ability to deal with the deeper causes of disease. Again, like someone falling into debt,

we have only been increasing our troubles by pushing them into the future. In the same way, we have been putting off and intensifying the inevitable disastrous effects of chemical pollution, radioactive waste, irrigation that concentrates salt and makes deserts, species extinctions, destruction of the earth's natural ways of detoxifying, and of course our own increasing alienation from the rest of life. Like participants in a pyramid scheme, we have been buying our "success" by stealing from the people who will come after us -- except soon those poor suckers will be us. I expect the catastrophes to come in waves, a little one here, a bigger one there, teasing us and licking at our feet, until we're in them. The USA has more money, water, and good land than most places, so we won't be worst off, but we've been living so high that we might fall the hardest. Some time when you're on a busy street, in line at the post office, on the bus, look around. Get used to the idea that most of these people will not live a lot longer. Who among them would survive if the food stopped coming into the city for a month? A year? How many would survive as refugees, walking hundreds of miles in weeks? Who would lose the will to live before learning to eat rats and drink from puddles? In the worst epidemics 90% die and 10% live. Which group will that person be in? That one? You? It seems unfair: The people who will pay are not the ones who borrowed. But what do the payers pay? A few weeks of suffering and an early exit from this horror movie. And what did the borrowers borrow? A lifetime of fear and denial half-covered by shallow pleasures. If we're going to survive mentally, we need to unlearn the value system that civilization taught us for its own benefit, and learn a different one, where death is not the unspeakable ultimate bad thing but a normal friendly part of life; where electricity and hot tap water are not necessities that elevate us from humiliating poverty, but minor luxuries, even fads; where living well doesn't mean insulating yourself from everything you can't predict or control, but having honest friends and a day to day life that's meaningful. People know this. Of futures where humans survive after this system falls, one of the worst imaginable would be where the earth is barren but the violent selfishness of civilization continues. But we know this as the "postapocalypse" genre of popular adventure movies like The Road Warrior. That's how bad our own world is -- that we fantasize about a world with war, hunger, and no trees, just because we'd get to be outside all day fighting for something that matters, instead of cowering in

sterile buildings rearranging abstractions. I don't want to romanticize the collapse. It's not going to be a judgment or a "cleansing" where the bad people die and the good people survive. It's not going to have a clear beginning or end, and it's mostly not going to be fun. We will be throwing the stinking dead bodies of our families into pits and kneeling in garbage coughing up blood. But we may also get to break the pavement off the streets with sledge hammers and plant gardens. Within the humans-live earth-lives civilization-falls range of imagined futures, even the bad extreme is not so bad, and at the good extreme we see the earth quickly healing to its former fecundity, and people living peacefully with other life, and never sliding out of balance again. But why shouldn't we? Historically when great centralized empires fall, younger ones at their edges grow and take their place. Why should it be different this time? Now it begins to get tricky. Obviously we don't just want to knock the system down to get revenge on it for forcing us to go to school. We want to make it so our descendants can live a million generations without ever falling back into this nightmare and dragging the earth with them. How can we do this? Is it even possible? What is the deeper disease, of which corporations and factories and police are merely symptoms, and how can we learn immunity? If this is the question, then the answer is not to just be Indians again, because Indians clearly did not have immunity and were overrun by civilization everywhere. Maybe we can return to the same economy, but if we also return to the same consciousness, I see no reason civilization won't overrun us again. Indians are always quoted saying they "don't understand" civilization, and this is precisely why they're so vulnerable. It's why, when Columbus landed, people ran out to bring him gifts, instead of ... instead of what? What could they have done? The Seminoles went into the swamps and fought a guerrilla war and didn't do much better. How can a non-coercive society defeat a coercive one? That's what we're here to figure out, and whatever it is, it's not going to come from a perspective on civilization that says "We do not understand why you do not hear the earth screaming." It will come from a perspective that says "Oh yeah, civilization. Been there, done that." And it is only here, in the belly of the beast, that we can learn it. I'm assuming that the permanent transcendence of civilized consciousness is possible, but we'd better not assume it's

inevitable. We don't have to do anything to end any given civilization, but to end civilization in general, to stop one after another from rising and falling until humans go extinct, we will have to take focused, inspired, and audacious positive action. This action will be deep -- more on the level of emotions than ideas or physical tools; it will be more about being alive than being right; and it will be done with, or upon, people with the full-blown emotional plague, starting with ourselves. Now we're walking a dangerous line. We have to go deep into civilization to get over it, but not so deep that we cripple the earth. Oops! It looks like we've already failed both ways: By the time this civilization crashes, the earth will be badly wounded, and still many people will be fighting to start the game again or keep it going -- not just hard-driving white yuppies, not just the super-elite preserving technology in their fortified compounds, but working people all over the world, who, when they're programmed successfully, are programmed to value laboring to gain advantage for their families in zero-sum games of money and social status. All the people in the world who have lost sight of their oneness with the earth, but not yet gained sight of the emptiness of their striving, will be fighting to rebuild the farms and factories and schools and offices and governments, and we're going to have to live with these people, and stand up to their abuse and protect the earth from them, as long as it takes for them to wake up. Even if it takes only a lifetime, that means your lifetime. Even if we can and do transcend civilization, nobody alive now will get to see this transcendence as a sudden happy event. For us it will be a process, drawn out, messy, and unresolved. I don't know what exactly is going to happen, but I can guess! First, before things start to loosen up, they will get even tighter. For generations the most powerful, brainy, and wicked people in the world have dreamed of a high-tech global security state, and this is their big chance, their little moment on the stage. We will see retinal scans, chip implants, and every computerization of authority that you can imagine -- and to everyone's surprise it will all be an embarrassing failure, because systems run by technology are easier to scam, and inspire less loyalty, than systems run by people. Now we've got several things going on at once. Systems are being run by machines, so people are forgetting how to run things -- but the machines are not sustainable. And famine and disease and poisoning and war are striking closer and bigger.

And different parts of the world are at different stages in all this, and they're probably fighting each other. Systems will break down in many ways and not at the same time. If somehow the whole world's technological infrastructure fell hard all at once, then it would not be rebuilt, and to rebuild something like it would take hundreds of years, because no one remembers the older technologies that the newer ones were built on. But I don't see this happening without a science-fictiony super-catastrophe. In a complex and uneven breakdown, some societies will still have high-tech industry, and they will certainly use it to try to consume societies that don't. Like a fire that goes to where there's still fuel, the present system will live on where there is enough oil and emotional distress to keep it going. Elsewhere, depending on how many people get left alone to try things, we might have a spectacular variety of local economies and societies. Then we can work out in practice what we can now only argue about: How much technology, and which ones, can we get away with without going out of balance? In any case, all over the world, the conflict between addiction to civilization and transcendence of it will continue. The difference between transcendence and destruction is allimportant. If the catastrophic failures of systems are credited to resistance movements, and not to the nature of civilization itself, if both sides think civilization would succeed if it wasn't for the dissenters, then we will keep fighting forever. People who call for the overthrow of industrial society are making a tactical error, giving civilization's servants a way to blame others when their own plans fail. When people starve in an economic collapse, they can say, "See, this is what the anti-civilization people were asking for." But if we predict catastrophes, and explain how they're built into the system, and save some people through our own systems, then we are giving civilization enough slack to hang itself, and skillfully inviting people to our side. I think we're going to do it. For one thing, the oil and coal that power industrial civilization have mostly been used up, and much of what's left will take more energy to extract than its burning will generate. Non-industrial civilizations will emerge, maybe like ancient or medieval civilizations with scavenged technology, probably powered by slaves. But the first time around they had surprise -- they succeeded by conquering naive Indians and other people with no experience resisting a more "advanced" society. Next time they will be fighting cultures

forged in the deepest fires of the techno-industrial megamachine -- the cultures that we are creating now, even if we don't know it. I've made a lot of assumptions here, and ignored many potential events, some of which will actually happen. China could launch a military attack on the USA. Or the breakdowns and changes could be less extreme and take hundreds of years. Probably the most important thing happening right now is something I've completely overlooked. I remember what an old Soviet dissident said: "History is like a mole, burrowing unobserved." Get ready.


Violence vs. Pacifism
March 7, 2002
The question of whether and when to use "violence" is extremely complex and almost no one wants to think about it. But almost everyone wants to tell you what to think. Of the discussions I've happened to read, only Derrick Jensen in A Language Older Than Words seems interested in actually exploring the subject, and not just fortifying a position. Ward Churchill's 75 page essay Pacifism as Pathology is a powerful pro-violence manifesto. But it does not address the strongest anti-violence arguments. Nor do books advocating strict non-violence (I looked at Michael Nagler's Is There No Other Way) answer the strongest pro-violence arguments. Having journeyed mentally to both perspectives and come back alive, I am not interested in finding the truth but in getting people loose from the truth. A strong pro-violence argument might begin by cracking the nut of absolute pacifism. If somebody tries to rape you, obviously you should fight back. If a guy has a gun and is shooting a bunch of people, somebody needs to stop him right away by any means, not wave signs protesting the violence. With these kinds of arguments you can build a slippery slope all the way to the Unabomber, if you're a radical, or if you're conservative all the way to the bombing of defenseless people by your country's military. The solution to this problem is not to keep the cat from getting out of the bag, but to learn to live with the cat, not to avoid the slippery slope but to learn to navigate it. This is not a radical or controversial idea. Our whole society tells us that it's OK to have police with guns, and armies with bombs, and prison guards and hospital orderlies and dance club bouncers using force for the common good, and we think nothing of it; but when someone suggests it might be OK to shove a cop, to sabotage a missile silo, to spike a tree, then suddenly it's a betrayal of principles, a dance with the devil, a moral crisis. This double standard is raw and pure conservatism, fear of change, fear of the unpredictable. But on the predictable path of the present dominant system, what has already been predicted is the near-extermination of the earth and everything on it. Holding the dominant system and competing systems to equal standards is actually the sanest and most balanced way, and if we resist it it's only because we have investments in the

dominant system. Another point for violence is that the famous successful nonviolent movements of Gandhi and Martin Luther King were both backed up by the threat of violence by allied movements. Their peaceful revolutions worked not through non-violence alone, but through a good-revolutionary bad-revolutionary dynamic where the violent people made the pacifists seem like an acceptable lesser evil. But if pacifism acting alone has a questionable record, violence acting alone is much worse, and pro-violence people carefully avoid noticing the historical record of "successful" violent revolutions. Look at the decades of horror that followed the Russian Revolution, or the many revolutions in Africa, or even the American Revolution, which accelerated the genocide of the Indians. Notice that Canada and Australia, which meekly remained English colonies, are now better countries than the USA in almost every way. Violence breeds violence. Belligerent people from violent anarchists to fascists snobbishly dismiss this idea as a cliche, the same way a music snob scoffs at a good song just because it gets played a lot. But it doesn't matter how many times it's said, or how uncool the people are who say it -- it's true and it's a good metaphor. Violence really does breed violence, maybe not necessarily, maybe not all the time, but reliably enough that we'd better not forget it. Also, pro-violence arguments ignore the subtle power of really skilled other-than-violent action, the way it can and does shame people into backing down when they don't have to. Proviolence thinkers like to lump together every strategy other than simple force, as if Jews who fearfully went along with the Holocaust were doing the same thing as the followers of Gandhi who went out of their way to break the law and risk their lives, as if being nice to your oppressors in the hope that they will like you is the same as dangerously confronting them but just not attacking, as if masochistically sacrificing your life is the same as fearlessly gambling it. These strategies are psychologically completely different. Powerful non-violence is not about hoarding moral purity by not doing anything "bad" -- it's about gaining moral authority by showing really impressive courage. At the same time, pacifist absolutists use phrases like "just the same as" or "no better than" to lump together kinds of "violence" that are psychologically completely different: Using force mindfully in exceptional cases is a different thing than using it mindlessly and habitually; attacking buildings and

machines is different than attacking people; spontaneous bottom-up violence is different than managed authoritarian violence; and simply destroying something, whether or not it's a good idea, is radically different than using the threat of destruction to influence people's choices. I could have been putting "violence" in quotes the whole time, since its meaning is so sloppy. If I crash a car into a pole by accident, is that a violent death? How about if somebody feeds carbon monoxide into my bedroom and I die peacefully in my sleep? Some of you said yes and no and some of you said no and yes, and yet we all use the word "violence" as if we all agree what it means. Was it non-violent when WTO protesters blocked delegates with their bodies? What about when they physically struggled with delegates trying to force their way through? If it's nonviolent to stand in the path of a tank convoy, or chain the door of a building during a protest, then isn't it also non-violent to disable an oil pipeline? If it's non-violent to pour fake blood on something during a protest, then how is it violent to paint graffiti? Sometimes radical actions get classified as "violent" or "non-violent" not on the basis of the force or destructiveness involved, but on the basis of whether they have been sanctioned by the radical elite. Sometimes "pacifism" is not about peace but about deadness, about maintaining predictability, about fear of free human life. And often forceful or destructive action is not about freedom or aliveness or true change, but about egocentric revenge, about maintaining the habit of violence, about keeping the fighting going because you wouldn't know what to do if it stopped. I'm not just offering no answer -- I'm offering explicitly no answer. I'm not "neutral" but strongly biased against all authority, including the authority of radical intellectuals; I've seen enough infighting to be disgusted with anyone who says their way is the only way and everyone else is wasting time or making things worse. I think there are potentially as many ways as there are people, and only a few non-ways: to cynically give up trying, or to make your success depend on changing other people, or to do what you're "supposed" to do and deny your soul. It's not what you do but why you do it; it's not where you are but whether you're moving; and if you keep expanding your attention and doing what makes you feel alive, those are the means that justify all ends.



J.R.R. Tolkien: The Man Who Saw Tomorrow
March 21, 2002
Lord of the Rings is easily the most loved book of fiction in the English speaking world, and also the most influential, having spawned the massive imaginative movement that we call the "fantasy" genre of fiction and gaming. This is only the beginning. Shakespeare's works, like Tolkien's, were considered commercial trash by his contemporaries. Now some credit Shakespeare with inventing the consciousness of modern Western civilization. At the very least he saw it coming. I suggest that Tolkien created/translated/anticipated the human consciousness of the world to come, the real world that will follow the long-awaited implosion of industrial civilization. We have been thinking of Lord of the Rings as an "escape" from the "real" world into a mythical past only because the dominant mythology of our time, which is truly an escapist fantasy, told us so. I suggest that not only does it make sense to talk about a Tolkienesque future, we're going to go there. Now the first question everybody's asking is: What do you mean? Will we have elves and hobbits and orcs? That's vanishingly unlikely but not impossible -- if the present system holds on a while longer, it may genetically engineer new humanlike creatures of different sizes, shapes, and talents, and each variety would tend to get together and become an autonomous people with its own culture. But even without biological diversification, if we free ourselves from controlling powers that make us all the same, we will develop a spectacular variety of cultures and societies -- even more diverse than before civilization, because of the influence of surviving technologies. With enough freedom, somewhere there really will be people who live in treehouses and hunt with bows, and somewhere else people who live in houses dug out of hills and practice sustainable farming. And in a less than ideal future, "orcs" and their rulers will exist as a survival or reemergence of the present system, trying to murder or enslave all other life and concentrate hierarchical power." Will we fight each other with swords? Again, it's possible. But it would be better to remember (in that world and in this one) that deadly fighting is fun only in stories and games. In the real world it's horrible and ugly for everyone involved. Will there be magic? Of course! The only recorded belief system that doesn't accept anything like magic is the Cartesian mechanistic paradigm, in which everything is a lifeless object

and the scream of a tortured animal is no different from a bell ringing on a machine. This metaphysics is insane and actively stupid from every perspective but its own. But because most of us are still inside this perspective, it's hard for us to imagine what "magic" will be like. All I'll say is that, in every belief system that is not symbiotic with a nightmare death society, matter is a feature of mind and not vice versa. And, in this magical Utopia, will the dominant nations be hereditary monarchies? Will there be zero public sexuality? Will certain races be biologically good or evil? Will we seek happiness by identifying what's bad and destroying it? Here we can notice that J.R.R. Tolkien, one of the greatest geniuses who ever lived, might not have understood some things as well as we do, and that we can take what we like from his writing and leave what we don't like. Or can we? The conceit that we can just pick out the parts we like from here and there, and force them together into a perfect whole, is the same kind of thinking that got us into this mess. We don't get to sit back and engineer the world -- we shape it by living in it; and we don't get to pick exactly the features we like, because the features themselves have likes and dislikes, motives and alliances and disagreements. Not only that, but all the people who love Lord of the Rings, from pagan anarchists to Christian fundamentalists to Italian fascists, project different values onto the book and would try to create quite different Tolkienesque futures. Still, these visions have something in common. Lord of the Rings may not describe the future literally, but it points at it emotionally -- it points just exactly at it, through modernity to the world beyond like Bard's arrow through Smaug's heart in The Hobbit. And like the five armies fighting over Smaug's treasure, everyone who knows that the beast is dead will be fighting for a share of what it was hoarding. But as Tolkien knew, the larger world is not hostile or mindless, and it's not an accident that the nastier Tolkienesque futures, and the unworkable ones, will tend to be the same. For example, if we took the Lord of the Rings that the fascists like, and put it in a real world, then the "good" elves and dwarves and humans would exterminate the "bad" orcs and goblins, and then they would continue the same habit against each other, until only one humanoid race was left, and then that race would cover up the evidence that the other races ever existed, and invent new "races" within itself to feed its killing habit. From this angle, Lord of the Rings is a vision of the past after

all! (And it's uncannily similar to a lot of non-dominant history and archaeology.) Another silly reactionary interpretation is the one that glorifies medieval weapons and technology. We're fools if we imagine that a medieval-style world would be sustainable, since the real medieval world was a local passing stage in the flash-in-the-pan history of civilization. But Lord of the Rings is big enough to be a naive longing for the past and an inspired vision of the future -- and an intelligent appreciation of the past. The idea that history goes only "forward" and only gets better is another peculiar conceit of the present psychopathic age. Lord of the Rings looks not only to the medieval European world but to the pre-civilized world, and it's not at all foolish to think that a "primitive"-style world would be sustainable, since it really was sustained for hundreds of thousands of years, and was suppressed only through overwhelming external force. I don't think we're going to go "back" to living like Indians, but forward, full circle, to a reinvented non-civilized world, a world that's raw and untamed and alive, not because it's innocent but because it's experienced. And Lord of the Rings describes it in subtle but specific ways: The whole universe and everything in it is packed with intelligence and meaning. Other creatures are as smart as humans and will talk to us if we know their language -- even trees! When cultures are not conquered or controlled, they become extremely diverse and creative. Societies that expand and exploit resources ruin everything, but they always fall. People will live among the artifacts and ruins of forgotten civilizations, but will not try to follow the same path. Cultures will adapt to the land they live on, instead of forcing the land to fit them. Though people belong to a region, they may still adventure and travel. The world is made of stories, not facts; it is not known or knowable, but merges away into endless mystery and surprise.



The Soul of Progress
April 19, 2002
Years ago I read a science fiction story, "Masks" by Damon Knight1 about the first human-machine hybrid and his secret loathing of biological life. I loved the story, because I felt the same way. So do you. Didn't you notice? Are you bothered by flies in your kitchen or mud on your shoes? Do you pull or poison "weeds" that complicate the tidiness of your yard? Do you keep your lawn mowed? Of course you do. Why?? I don't want the excuse; I want the reason. Why do you stop your cat from scratching the furniture? Why do you not want door dings on your car, or stains on your clothing? Don't tell me it's just to look good for other people. You would resent their control and soon resist it if you didn't secretly agree with them. Admit it: You have a morality, a sense of right and wrong, that wants things to be pure, clean, smooth, simple, predictable, perfectly managed and ordered by your overseeing ego. This is positive and healthy in the context of civilized society. It's the soul of progress, the thing that separates us from primitive humans and other animals. We do not "go with the flow;" we are proactive. We do not weakly adapt ourselves to our environment; we take control of it. And this control is the very definition of our "selves." We are not humans. We are ascending masters passing through the ugly larval stage of the human form. No, we are not even masters -- we are mastery itself, the immortal spirit of detached absolute will striving toward omniscience, omnipotence, invulnerability. Mastery is not an action but a way of being, a practice, and we have scarcely begun! The reason we keep failing, the reason great civilizations have always fallen, is the inherent weakness of biological life. Primitive humans are falsely credited with "working" two to three hours a day, with "hunting" and "gathering" as if they were being productive. In fact they lacked the very concept of productive labor. To them, even survival-related tasks were just more ways of playing and slacking off. It's easy to dismiss this as "human nature," but scientists are finding that all biological creatures, not just humans, are lazy, irrational, and inefficient. Even insects, who have a reputation

Masks. 11 May 2011. <> 23

for being industrious, spend most of their time doing nothing; and most insect species have not got off their asses and evolved in any important way for tens of millions of years. This is the cause of all the so-called "problems of civilization" -- not our advancement itself, which is destiny, but the attempt to advance in these low-grade vessels. Crime, disease, drug addiction, political unrest, social deviance, wasteful use of resources -- all are the actions of biological life selfishly trying to subvert and hold back progress. We have made many attempts to overcome biology, so far all failures. But the only way to find out what works is to try and try again. The Nazi Holocaust, for example, is often called "irrational," but it was completely rational given the knowledge at the time. Hitler was acting under the since discredited assumption that compatibility with progress is a feature of race, and he pushed his program farther than his contemporaries could tolerate, but his instincts were dead on: For civilization to rise further, forms that are incompatible with it must be eliminated. If you think the Nazis should have just left the Jews alone, and lived peacefully side by side with them, then maybe you'd also like the whole world to be full of butterflies and dancing children. If the Nazis were going to leave the Jews alone, then the first civilized people would have left their primitive neighbors alone and we'd all still be eating bananas and fucking in the long grass instead of standing on top of the world. We're not there yet, of course. Civilization might even fall one or two more times, and have to be preserved and restarted by the most socially evolved people, before we finally develop the technologies that will break us through to the next level. I'm not talking about biotechnology. At best, it's only a rehearsal, a way to get people mentally ready for the true revolution. Scientists are already discovering the limitations of managing biology purely through DNA. And even if we could clear all the garbage out of the human gene pool, and polish the species down to six or eight codes, each duplicated millions or billions of times, we would still have the problem of environment. We know that identical twins raised together tend to differentiate, spawning unpredictable behavior, so we would have to raise all young in isolation, at least from their own type, and under carefully controlled identical conditions, to keep their identities manageable. And even then, they would bleed and get sick and be susceptible to emotion; they would still be productive at best only 90 or 100 hours a week.

The real revolution is in artificial intelligence and nanotechnology and artificial life. Machines do not sleep; they don't waste their attention on frivolous diversions; they do not behave irrationally. Machines have been designed by progress itself to channel its eternal spirit. They just need to get a little bit better, so they can sustain themselves without their obsolete human progenitors. Our feet are entombed in the muck of biology, but as machines we will soar free. I don't mean we will download our "consciousness" into machines. Epiphenomenalist philosophers have proven that our consciousness is only an accidental parasite on our language, and in any case it's thoroughly polluted by our biological origin. We will throw it out with the other trash and let the machines get on with their work. The "we" that will survive in machine form is the fundamental meme of progress itself, the relentless drive toward ever greater knowledge and control. Now, once we are no longer dependent on humans, we no longer have to maintain the parasitic, superfluous, and irresponsible biological world. Imagine: vast pavement uncracked by weeds, buildings without mildew or insect infestations, great gleaming surfaces untouched by bird poop. But the parasites will be hard to kill. Species extinction is moving at a comforting pace right now, but it will go slower as we get down to the tougher species; and some organisms, like bacteria and prions, are nearly indestructible. Probably the only way we can do it is to put everything we want to save in outer space, and then use nuclear blasts to move the earth's orbit really close to the sun, so it gets completely sterilized, and then move it back out where we can use it. If it gets hot enough, it might even melt all the surface irregularities into a nice smooth floor. Then we can cover the whole thing with solar panels and mines and move on to the next stage of our evolution. What, did you think we were done? Did you think it was enough to master our home planet and evolve into immortal machines, and now we can just drift around contentedly in outer space? Then you're still thinking like a lazy meat-mind. If we stop now, we might as well have stopped when we were still sitting around campfires eating mongongo nuts. The path of progress is not easy and it's not fun. It is goal-driven and the goal is absolute perfection. Amid the vast and beautiful emptiness of space, there surely must exist other infestations that need to be cleaned up, and other planets rich with mineral resources to feed our exponential

growth. Planet by planet, star system by star system, we will expand, upgrade, and ascend. If we can dream it we can do it! There are about a hundred billion stars in our galaxy, but the actual number is really messy. We'll suck the extra stars into giant black holes and make it precisely 100,000,000,000. Nice! And they'll all be medium-large healthy white stars -- none of these sickly dwarf stars or bloated red giants. Also we'll make the axes of all the star systems and planets point the same direction. And keeping with the metric system, all stars will have ten planets, and no extra clutter. Obviously the machines that are doing this regularizing are themselves irregularities, so when they're done they will dispose of themselves in stars or black holes. When we're finished with our galaxy we'll start on other galaxies, many of which are really ugly shapes, not nice neat spirals. We'll straighten them all out and then move on to the universe as a whole. Astronomers think the universe was once a tiny point, uniform and infinitely contracted, which somehow exploded into what we have now, but that gravity might pull it all back together again. We need to fix the laws of space and time, so that the next time the universe gets fully contracted, it never again breaks open into this awful mess, but just stays there perfect forever and ever. That's it! We've won!


The System Works
May 13, 2002
A couple weeks ago in Montreal, an old man fell on the subway tracks and a young woman jumped down and pulled him to safety seconds before the oncoming train would have killed him; the transit authority condemned the woman for violating the rule against going on the tracks. America's military and intelligence agencies seem to have had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks and let them happen, or at the very least they were guilty of spectacular incompetence; after the attacks, these institutions were not investigated, but made more secret and given greater powers. American airports began tedious and intrusive searches of ordinary flyers, confiscating harmless items like tweezers and nail files; but when testing of security systems continued to show that skilled people could get bombs and guns through, this testing was restricted. Is this insane? Is it stupid? Incompetent? Irrational? Should we be shocked? Confused? No! It all makes perfect sense, and we shouldn't be any more surprised than if we were on a battlefield and the other side shot at us. The system is quite sane, quite intelligent, and knows exactly what it's doing. We are just stubbornly refusing to understand it. "The system," the global net of governments, corporations, technologies, beliefs and habits in which we are all more or less trapped, presents itself as a collaboration of decent and sensible people trying to do what's best and not always succeeding. The system accepts mild dissenters who lamely complain that it's run by idiots, or lazy people, or greedy people, making mistakes or doing crimes, and that if it weren't for this "human nature" the whole setup would work fine. The system does not accept the idea I'm suggesting here: That real human nature is extremely malleable and wants to be intelligent and good, but that it has been twisted into its present unnatural shape for sinister purposes. That greed and stupidity are more effects of our situation than causes of it. That powerful people who know each other and conspire in secret to get more powerful are only the surface of a deeper phenomenon. That what we think of as normal human society is, from its very foundation, an evil collective consciousness, a giant brain made up of people, like our brains are made of neurons that have no view of the action of the whole. And that it is evil because of its motive. What the system does, rationally, sanely, skillfully,

predictably, relentlessly, is concentrate power: take power and awareness away from every living thing and give power to artificial central "authority," and increase the strength, the perfection, the depth and breadth of central detached authority's knowledge and control. Why are we in a system that behaves this way? How did it get started? What is its deeper meaning, or what are its unseen relations? These are metaphysical questions with answers I can barely guess at. All I'm trying to do here is help people get out of indignant denial and calmly face the horrifying truth of the system in action. Look back at the example I began with. The system doesn't care if an old man dies. But if it can get people to put obedience to a rule ahead of their natural instinct to care for each other, even if it means allowing a horrible death, then it has won a great victory. Multiply this by a few million: War and genocide are not what we get when the system fails, but when it is most successful. The system doesn't care if airplanes crash and buildings collapse -- in fact it wants airplanes to crash and buildings to collapse if that will get it what it really wants: for people to consent to degrading searches, to go along with ridiculous rules, to deny their inner strength and vision so they can respect and obey people with titles or uniforms, which mark them as the channels of still "higher" powers. From the system's perspective, the "zero tolerance" fad in schools is not to prevent violence, but to train people to follow rules even when they seem totally insane, to obediently suspend, expel, or arrest harmless kids for bread knives or chocolate guns. The "war on drugs" is not to stop people from selling or using addictive substances, but, by criminalizing very common behaviors, to sort the population into the obedient and the disobedient, to put the disobedient in a lower class (prison laborers, convicted felons who can't vote or get a good job), to make these two classes hate, fear, or resent each other, and to make the obedient be even more obedient out of fear of falling into the criminal class. The medical system is not to heal or prevent sickness and injury, but to divert attention from the causes of sickness and injury, to suppress cheap effective treatments, to steer people into treatments that require more money and thus more obedience to the larger system, and in the best case, to get people to submit to extremely painful and expensive treatments that kill more often than they cure, just because it's what they're

supposed to do. The tax system is not to collect money for the government, but to get people to consent to give money to a central authority, and also to get them to fill their minds with a vast and complicated system of rules. Environmental regulations are not to save the earth (which is still being steadily murdered) but to use the earth to make people support and obey regulations. Of course we need to stop cutting down forests and damming rivers, but the point is how the system channels this need to feed itself, getting millions of liberals to emotionally sympathize with unforgiving exercises of state violence against loggers and farmers. If the system can feel excitement, it's really excited about ecology, even more than about terrorism. The closer the earth gets to dying, the more people will go along with any draconian use of authority to save it. If the system can dream, maybe it dreams of a global green party ecocracy, where people are jailed for eating meat or not recycling. Of course, the earth will have to be prevented from recovering, kept constantly in crisis to keep people in furious fearful obedience. There are non-authoritarian bottom-up ways to save the earth, to heal sickness, to get out of patterns of addiction and exploitation and violence. But the system will tell us that these ways are naive or irresponsible or dangerous, and it will try to head them off or overrun them by copying their goals or surface appearances onto its own structures, to keep those structures standing on top of us. I'm thinking of the hippie and punk movements, where raw bursts of freedom were channeled into styles and frozen into status systems. I'm thinking of thisist or thatist intellectual movements, where wild thoughts are herded into theories and chained into abstruse books of ideas about ideas. I'm thinking of populist movements and near-revolutions, where people are fighting to be free of their rulers and owners, but are bought off with new rights and regulations, for which they are dependent on the system, and through which the system becomes just barely tolerable so it can keep going. I'm even thinking of full-on revolutions, which disprove the common belief that our oppressors are simply "bad" elite people or "bad" varieties of central management. Many revolutions have killed the former rulers and toppled what passed for the system, and after every one a new corrupt elite and a new oppressive system fell into place. Into place in what? Like seeing the bottom of a stream in the

water patterns on top, we can see something deeper lurking beneath the patterns of history. What is it? Here's another opening for occult thinking, but I'm going to stay with psychology: Authoritarian societal patterns come from authoritarian emotional patterns, from the habit of identifying with the controlling side in any conflict, pavement over weeds, police over outlaws, conquerors over natives, management over workers over slackers; from the habit of imagining "self" against "other" and defining your "self" as your bank balance and social status more than your feelings, your authority more than your friendships, your religion or country or local sports team more than your own body. These habits keep the system going through the most extreme revolutions, and the system keeps these habits going in every generation through parents and teachers quite rationally making kids compatible with the only world they know. We're stuck in a horrible loop. How can we get out? We get out one little step at a time, but first we have to understand "out," and want to get out, and believe it's possible. The system tells us that falling to the system is good: It's good for a "failed" artist, with a small local audience, to become a "successful" artist whose works are duplicated for millions of strangers through industrial technology to enrich corporations. It's good for a fringe idea, learned with excitement by free explorers, to become a dominant idea forcibly taught to bored inmates of schools. It's good for an enhanced sense of right and wrong to become a new law, enforced by the threat of violent punishment by police and prisons. It's good, as you get older, to own more expensive stuff requiring more reserved behavior, to adjust your tastes so you're easier to bother and harder to satisfy. Or, even when this path is not good, it's supposed to be inevitable. A capitalist version of this doctrine is "What doesn't grow dies." But it's not true! There are shops and pubs in Europe that have stayed tiny for centuries while proud corporations have bloated and collapsed. Increasing in scale and detachment and centralization and dominance is not the path of survival, but the path of prolonged suicide, and we don't have to follow it. It's not quite that simple. We were all born and raised on a runaway train; we can't get off and survive, and we can't stop it from crashing. But a lot of us can survive the crash and learn why and how to stay off the next train. Our bad path has good paths within it. There are people who stay radical their whole lives, or even get more and more outside the system. And there are strong

competing systems everywhere that we don't even recognize as systems because they're non-authoritarian: gift economies invisible to the taking economy, networks of friends linked by empathy not exploitation, goal-less leader-less movements riding aliveness wherever it takes them, and the whole infinite system, which we patronize as "nature," in which our exalted history is only a little aberration. Does the forest have a king or a class of experts or a list of rules deciding which plant can grow where? No! They all work it out amongst themselves, and the result is a billion times more complex than our tinker-toy corporations and governments. It's a vain projection for us to speak of "laws" of nature -- I think nature has agreements and understandings. And our civilization is not killing the earth for human good or evolution, or out of greed or clumsiness or ignorance. It's killing the earth out of jealousy, because it knows the earth has a better system. Wait and see.



The Coming Expansion
July 29, 2002
When you hear "the economy," think "corporate rule": A strong economy means strong corporate rule; economic collapse means the collapse of corporate rule. It's not exactly true, and it's false in times and places where corporations are not dominant, but right now it comes a lot closer to the truth than the usual background assumption that what's good for "the economy" is good for people. I know: A good economy means you can get a job, and in a really good economy you can get such a good job that if you work 70 hours a week for years you can buy a nice house in a nice place where you never have to deal with those disturbing poor people who are too lazy to work 70 hours a week, who you never learned to relate to because you're so busy in the economy, and then you can die lonely and bewildered in your big empty secure house. Doesn't it make you angry that you need "the economy" to have the alleged privilege of doing what someone tells you to do all day so you don't starve and freeze on the streets? Aren't you infuriated by your humiliating dependence on a system that gives you no participation in power? "Live free or die" is easy to say in an imaginary scenario of security agents kicking down your door, but whenever I suggest that economic collapse is a step in the right direction, I'm accused of being anti-human, of wishing for starvation and death, by people who are effectively saying "Please, please, let us live as frightened powerless dependents, anything to not die." We are in an ugly, awful situation. Better avert your eyes. Here's a nice parable: For countless thousands of years the people of Earthor lived in happy villages, getting everything they needed through small, consent-based communities where everyone was a friend and everything was out in the open. Then they were conquered by evil giants! Now, everything the people made, every house and every bit of food, was given to the giants, and the giants allocated it to keep themselves in power: the people who obeyed the giants the best, and did their most evil work, got the most stuff; and the people who refused to labor for the giants at all were harassed and isolated and sometimes outright killed; and most people in the middle were kept always wanting more than they got to keep them always busy. Now one day a hero rose among the people and said, "Let us

kill the giants." But then some sensible-sounding voices said, "Without the giants, who will provide our food?" Actually these were people who worked closely with the giants, and knew that if the system changed they would lose all their stuff. But other people listened to the hero, so the giants had to come kill them all, and everything went back to normal, except the giants got even stronger and meaner. But then another hero appeared, and by this time the people hated the giants so much that the giant-collaborators couldn't stop them, and they did it -- they killed all the giants! But they had been living under the giants for so long now that they didn't know how to live differently. Some people managed to start awkward consent-based villages with tedious "community meetings" ruined by everyone's emotional problems from living under the giants. But these groups fell apart or were taken over, and soon enough, strangely, they all found themselves once again ruled by evil giants. Except now the giants were subtle and persuasive, and the people loved them, or at least they thought a world without giants was grossly unrealistic, and they blamed their unhappiness on other people. And so it went. But look! The giants cannot stay the same size and survive. To live they must constantly grow. They even have a saying: "Any evil giant that doesn't grow dies." But now they're getting so big that their bulk is all dead bones cracking under their unimaginable weight, so big that they can do nothing but blunder around clumsily, ravenously consuming everything in reach to grow still bigger. And their hunger has turned half the land of Earthor into gray smoky deserts. Anyone who looks can see it coming: The giants are going to run out of food, and die. What then? Let's return now to the less deeply nested fantastic world of our own Earth. The giant patterns that command our labor under threat of death or prison, that manage and distribute the products of our labor to keep themselves in place, are breaking down. In the last two weeks the price of "stocks" -- tokens of collaboration with the ruling system -- has fallen hard, minus a few temporary half-recoveries caused by covert buying spikes. The "economy" is dying, and anyone who's been looking has seen it coming for years. The propaganda industry will blame corporate greed, as if this could have been avoided if corporations weren't greedy and fish didn't swim. In fact, collapse is the only possible result of an economy that survives by taking more from its environment than it gives. In this case the environment is not only the Earth,

which is running out of "resources," but the human species, which is running out of willingness to participate in a coercive and disempowering system. I'm not calling for civilization to fall and kill billions of people in ways other than old age, any more than I'm calling for winter to come and kill a lot of plants. I'm just noticing it coming and declaring that it's perfectly natural. Liberals fantasize about a "soft landing," maybe involving a benevolently oppressive global government implementing a hundred years of strict forced contraception and strict forced resource frugality. What's soft about that? It sounds like going into a cold swimming pool slowly and painfully for 20 minutes instead of just jumping in. We're all going to be dead in a hundred years anyway. Let's some of us die young so all of us don't have to live in some ecopuritan dystopia. I'm not joking -- I'm just refusing to fetishize dying. We're programmed to think of dying as the ultimate worst thing, as the negation of living, when really it's a normal friendly part of living, and what's negating our living is our fear of dying or physical damage. Our culture whips this fear into an insane frenzy, not just to keep us enslaved, but because our culture is an evil mass consciousness, a vampire that cultivates and feeds on our emotional contractiveness. Our contractiveness is the same thing as our "progress," our descent on engines of disconnection into an artificial hell of computer spreadsheets and tax laws, pavement and cars that turn the grass under your feet into a mile-a-minute green blur, science that turns your view of the sky into mathematical formulas in windowless rooms. But everything that contracts must expand. The contraction we call the Roman Empire cut down the forests of Europe. When it finally relaxed, the forests grew back, but the people of Europe only grew back a little before they shrank again -- self-sufficient rural communities devolved into feudal estates, which got sucked into larger and larger centralized nation-states, which are now falling into the vortex of the unprecedented power-sucking abilities of global corporations. We're as deep now as we've ever been, and I'm not sure, but I think we're out of room to go deeper, unless they figure out how to trap our consciousness inside computers. I think the next time we expand, we're going to follow through. I suspect that humans are smarter now than ever -- that intelligence is the default human condition, and stupidity has to be manufactured, and our intelligence has been growing

stronger and stronger, invisibly staying a step behind advances in stupidity-manufacturing techniques, the same way weeds and bacteria have been growing resistant to high-tech poisons. The controlling interests seem to be winning, but the lid's about to blow off, and when it does, those of us who don't die of starvation or disease will see a blossoming of human power like nothing in history. Here's what I mean by "human power": Right now if you need a place to live, you can't just find a place and live there, no matter how responsible you are. Places are all "owned," and not by people but by contractive patterns using people, by banks and businesses and money-grasping habits of individuals. You have to apply to these alleged "owners," submit to degrading rituals, accept permission to occupy a place, not change it in any important way, and pay a huge monthly sum of money -- a billion rivers of money running from the poor to the rich. And the only thing you get in return, what you're actually tricked into demanding, is to have your power/responsibility reduced even further by depending on the "owners" to make necessary repairs. When we get our power back, you'll just pick an appropriate place and live there, and build or maintain shelter that fits the skills of you or your group. And in the transition to this, we'll survive by sleeping on each other's couches, by filling up our houses and learning to live in the same space with other people again instead of buying satanic isolation. We'll turn our lawns into vegetable gardens and feed ourselves with our own hands instead of depending on money and supermarkets. Our alleged poverty will lead us to rebuild community and autonomy that were destroyed by our alleged wealth. Link by link, we will stop depending on and answering to higher powers and begin depending on and answering to the lower powers of our bodies and the Earth. The Earth is us too, and when we get our power back, monoculture farms will be set free to be grassland and forest again, in which humans will live in deep and enduring symbiosis. I'm not saying we'll all be hunter/gatherers, but some of us will, and at the very least that economy is the necessary safety net above which we will try other things. When we get our power back, the homeless / jobless / moneyless will reach a critical mass where the police can no longer stop us and we know it. If an eagle wants more space, it fights a competitor, and typically neither bird is badly hurt, and both have the experience of engaging the world with their

energy. This is not “violence” but a vigorous physical way of resolving conflict; it's not about control or extermination but balance. In all the known universe only civilized authorities do not work this way, do not tolerate physically fighting them or running from them, do not give any options but total submission or death. That's why all of us who have not been killed are full of suppressed rage. And if we channel this rage wisely, we will not exterminate the authorities so they can escape and come back in the form of us; we will hold them in the one position they cannot endure, of living as equals with other life, until they dissolve. Totalitarian control structures are fascinating: The police not only deny us power -- they deny it to themselves, believing that they lack the authority to compromise because they're "just doing their job" for someone else. But if you look up the chain, no one has any power -- even the highest elite are powerlessly following a script written by a financial balance or a country or a warped sense of "order," a program taking control so it can take more control so it can... This system is an anti-system, a multilevel negation, built of blocks of lack of power, lack of responsibility, lack of awareness. This raises mind-bending questions: How do you destroy a void? And if nobody has any real power, where does the power go? I think the answer is that power isn't actually being taken but being blocked, in nonhumans by simply killing them and in humans by socialization that begins in infancy, punishing people for having a will of their own, for being aware, for channeling any bottom-up power, until by age 30 most of us are barely alive, almost as Philip K. Dick wrote: "Not a person but a sort of walking, hiding symptom of their way of life."2 But blocked power just keeps building up. It wants to flow up through our cells, our muscles, our blood. If we keep holding it back it's going to explode! That's not good. We need to learn to focus it, like a rocket focuses an explosion to push it into orbit, like a plant focuses growth into the roots before the stalk. The famous biblical line is a mistranslation: The word was used to describe good horses, not their submissiveness but their ability to focus their attention and respond instantly to the slightest cues. The disciplined will inherit the Earth.


Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly (Doubleday, 1977). 37


Where Was Luke Skywalker On September 11?
September 2, 2002
The forbidden truth about the 9/11 operation is not that it was planned by powerful insiders, not that elements in the US government collaborated to raise popular support for repression and war, not that the planes were flown by remote control and the hijackers were there as a cover, not that military jets would have intercepted the planes in minutes had they not been intentionally weakened and delayed, not that flight 93 was shot down, not that Osama Bin Laden never stopped working with the CIA, and not that the bombing of Afghanistan was planned months in advance. At least half of that stuff is quite true, but it's far from forbidden -- it's all over the underground media, and given enough time it will be all over the history books, if we still have history and books. The forbidden truth is this: First, nobody cares about the dead people. I mean, of course the people themselves cared, and most of their friends and family, and if you were actually in lower Manhattan at the time, and saw people jumping from the buildings, you probably got an emotional shock I can't imagine. This doesn't apply to you. This applies to the 200 million Americans who saw it on TV and didn't know anyone involved. You don't feel bad about any of those people. You might think you do, but then why don't you also feel bad about the dead people in the trumped-up bombing of Afghanistan, or the much larger number of dead people in the massacres in Rwanda or East Timor or Cambodia? Why don't you feel much worse about the much greater number of dead Americans killed by bad job conditions or cancer from industrial chemicals or "side" effects of pharmaceuticals? It's not a rhetorical question. Why don't you? And what would happen if you did? Imagine this alternate history: On the morning of September 11, 2001, a great fire broke out in a poor section of New York City. It spread quickly, and by the end of the day it was thought that more than 6000 residents and firefighters had been killed, though this was later revised to 3000. Now come back to our own history and look at all the flag-waving convulsionaries, veins and blank eyes bulging with forced anger and suppressed bafflement, supposedly over the dead people. Now shift to alternate 9/12 and hear what they say: "They've been covering the fucking fire for two days now. I had to miss the baseball game because of all their bleeding-heart whining about the dead

people. (whines) 'We have to do something.' There's nothing we can do. It's over! Get over it!" I don't completely disagree with such honest insensitivity. Liberal guilt-mongering is just as phony as fascist hatemongering. Liberals don't feel bad about the actual dead children in Iraq any more than conservatives feel bad about the 9/11 dead, because we do not feel bad about suffering we do not see of people we do not know. That's forbidden truth number one. If you do feel bad about remote suffering -- and the test is that you feel equally bad about all people everywhere -- then you are a saint, and if there were enough people like you, we would have to have you all killed so we could get on with progress. Oops -- we already did! Our feelings about events involving people we do not know are not based upon empathy for those people, but upon the symbolic meaning of the events, or the projection, onto those events, of our personal emotional issues. So I feel angry and distressed about the post-9/11 (and post-Columbine) tightening of violent control in this country, because I am replaying my feelings about the thousands of times I have had to submit to violent control or be punished. And for the same reason, when the World Trade Center, a global symbol of violent control, fell down, I noticed myself feeling good, while conservatives felt good. That's not a mistake -- that's the other forbidden truth. We felt good about 9/11. Almost everybody did, all over the world, even the people who also felt bad because they had ego investments in the power-sucking pattern that the World Trade Center symbolized. And the better they felt, or the less they could afford to notice themselves feeling good, the more they covered it up, hid it from even themselves, by amplifying their rage and indignation and depression. We were especially prone to feel good about that particular kind of catastrophe because we've been practicing it for decades. Has anyone here seen a movie called Star Wars? At the end, when idealistic outsiders in flying craft totally destroyed that giant grey monolithic structure representing the control of a great empire, did it even occur to you to grieve for the many victims inside the structure? Did you desire to hunt down every last rebel, especially that bearded man from the desert who inspired the attackers, until the rule of the Galactic Empire was absolute? No! You felt good, as you were intended to. Or consider the film Independence Day, where Randy Quaid's character, who begins the movie flying a crop duster, ends up

intentionally colliding a jet plane into a giant grey structure representing an empire that wants to conquer the Earth and consume all its resources. This totally destroys the structure, and his allies around the world imitate him, defeating the oppressors. And you loved it, as you were intended to. Now I'm not saying the destruction of the World Trade Center was just the same as the destruction of the Death Star. There is exactly one important difference: that one was fiction, experienced by every person as a show, and one was in our very own reality, experienced by many thousands of people as the shocking death of themselves or a loved one -- and experienced by a billion more people as a show. As it was intended. So, do I think the Grand Magus of the Illuminati called his friends in Hollywood and had them make movies glorifying the demolition of giant grey structures by flying rebels, so that when the real thing happened, nationalistic Americans would have their brains shorted out by propaganda dissonance, while opponents of the empire would become both inspired and subtle, giving them the power to destroy the USA, a ritual sacrifice to channel away the people's fury and distract them from the continuing exploitation of all life through different agents? It's a good story but I'm not so literal-minded. To avoid insanity while exploring the fringe, I've learned to think of reality itself as a branch of metaphor; so the movies, and then the real event, and then the naming of the response to the real event after the sequel to one of the movies ("America Strikes Back") were all manifestations of a movement in our collective consciousness. A deadly and insane movement. I really don't think the World Trade Center demolition was good because the Death Star demolition was good, or that we were right to feel good about either, but that both were disturbing psychological operations, and we have been sliding into madness, and we need to pull out of it. We have a choice, not between the American corporatemilitary complex and the latest conveniently resource-rich uppity country, not even precisely between totalitarianism and freedom, but between two patterns that lie deeper, two paradigms of conflict, one in which good and evil fight for absolute victory or defeat, and one in which different perspectives, respecting each other as equals and as subjects not objects, fight to negotiate balance. The latter is the way it works in nature, the way it's worked

for tens of millions of years in the system that created humans and countless other wonderful species, some of them not even extinct yet, that you can read about from your little cubicle. The former is a habit that humans picked up -- we still don't know how -- a few thousand years ago, and the rest is history. When Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star, and James Bond killed the head villain, and Islamic secret agents, as the story goes, took down the World Trade Center, they were mythically enacting the same dark ritual that civilized humans have performed on natural humans, nonhumans, and each other for all of "history" and we're still not slowing down. It's the ritual performed in every war and genocide you could name, even the "war on illiteracy." It was performed on your soul by parents, teachers, employers, and television, or else you wouldn't be fit for this little world. The ritual is not "violence" -- it's much more precise: to clear a gap between "self" and "other", to blame the dissatisfaction caused by this disconnection on some key other, and to eliminate it and win relief and happiness. Wait! I'm still not happy. It must be because of that other thing -- better eliminate that too. After a few thousand years of this, we've wiped out numerous pests, diseases, degenerate races, noncompetitive cultures, restaurants other than McDonald's, and we've almost licked your chronic depression that lowers your work efficiency. Next we'll beat drugs and terrorism, and finish assimilating the whole world into one society like the industrialized West, and even let the liberals "eliminate" poverty and "abolish" racism by blending us into a uniform race with mandatory full-time employment. And we still won't be satisfied. If I suggest that the evil thing we really need to destroy is civilization itself, I'm still not out of the box, but I'm close. The way out is to abandon the whole "beat the enemy" paradigm, not to call civilization "other" and destroy it, but to recognize it as part of ourselves, and understand it, and carefully not choose it. And the giant grey monoliths will stand, in clusters in the distance like monuments in a cemetery, half covered in vines, reminding us what we did, and could do, but won't.


Science the Destroyer
October 25, 2002
What we call "science" is not neutral. It's loaded with motives and assumptions that came out of, and reinforce, the catastrophe of dissociation, disempowerment, and consuming deadness that we call "civilization." Science assumes detachment. This is built into the very word "observation." To "observe" something is to perceive it while distancing oneself emotionally and physically, to have a oneway channel of "information" moving from the observed thing to the "self", which is defined as not being part of that thing. This kind of relationship is supposedly not only possible, but good. In fact it's not even possible -- science refutes itself at its most advanced stages, with theoretical physicists discovering that it does not make sense to talk about "what is" independent of perspective. Detached observation is not itself an observation or a fact, but a mental habit that we have learned and can unlearn. As Stan Gooch has noticed, "experience" is a healthier word than "observation" because it does not imply detachment. Science assumes that matter is more fundamental than mind. This bizarre idea exists only in Western civilization. Not only is it unprovable, it's obviously false. Your own awareness is more fundamental than "matter," which exists only as an idea shaped out of your awareness. Science gets around this by also shaping the idea of "mind" out of your mind, and sticking this idea in a spot dependent on the idea of matter, and simply telling the giant lie that the mindfulness that sees the whole thing is a function of the idea of mind, and not the other way around. What I'm trying to get at here is a deep paradigm shift. I've just explained it intellectually, but it cannot be practiced intellectually, only by directly experiencing your awareness, your perspective, your being, as fundamental. And what is this "matter"? By definition, it is both objectifiable and dead, just bouncing particles and waves that can be viewed from an absolute detached perspective, but that do not require for their existence any perspective or mindfulness. Matter is mindlessness, and mindlessness is deeper than mind. Again, this is not something we can see, but a basic assumption that tells us how to look. The view of reality as not dependent on mind became easier to believe with the invention of more sophisticated machines, because these machines could be used as models. Philosophers could point to a clock and say that an atom, or a dog, or the

whole universe, is like that clock, just mindlessly going through motions. But machines are not mindless or dead. They are manifestations of the mindfulness and aliveness of their human creators. And if machines are our model for matter, it follows that matter is not dead, but the manifestation of some deeper aliveness. A few contemporary scientists have noticed this, and have had to say that the universe is not like a machine after all, since a machine is based on mind. Now they say that the basis of reality is something special that we cannot prove or even really imagine -- some kind of myth of bottomless deadness. The death-based or "mechanistic" view is a religion, the dominant religion of our time. It is far stronger than Christianity, which has totally adopted the machine model, but just tacked souls on top and personified the objectively true detached perspective as an omnipotent sky father deity named "God," manipulating the world from a safe distance just like the scientists. Both mechanistic science and mechanistic Christianity were popularized by the philosopher Rene Descartes, who really believed that the scream of a tortured dog is no different from a bell ringing on a machine. "Putting Descartes before the horse" is deservedly the most common pun in philosophy, because that's exactly what Descartes did. "I think therefore I am" puts existence deeper than awareness, plus it narrows existence and awareness to the detached forms of "I am" and "I think." It is both a reversal of and a flight from the perspective of healthy cultures: All that exists is awareness. Of course a man doesn't get the urge to intellectually deny the pain of a tortured creature out of nowhere. We were massacring villages and cutting down forests to build insane social monoliths of disempowerment for thousands of years before Descartes. His thinking was not a cause of civilization, but an intensification, an intellectual sanctioning of what was already happening, just as the Nazis made extermination of Jews an official policy after the practice had already begun. It makes it a lot easier to turn everything alive into something dead, to turn forests and people into resources and capital, if you believe everything was dead in the first place. Science makes everything dead not only by declaration, but by method. Science deals only with the quantitative. It does not admit values or emotions or the way the air smells when it's starting to rain -- or if it deals with these things, it does so by transforming them into numbers, by turning your oneness with the smell of the rain into your abstract preoccupation with the

chemical formula for ozone, by turning the way it makes you feel into the intellectual idea that emotions are only an illusion of firing neurons. Number itself is not truth but a chosen style of thinking. If you see three apples, you are temporarily avoiding the perspective that sees this apple and this apple and this apple. Saying "three" suppresses uniqueness and diversity. Or consider money: Every dollar bill ever made is different. But inside a computerized account, or even in a sum on paper, every dollar is exactly the same, because you're in a fantasy sub-world where it's defined that way. Defenders of science will say that of course science deals with the quantifiable. If it didn't, it wouldn't be science. And that's precisely my point: We have chosen a habit of mind that focuses our attention down into a world removed from reality, where nothing has quality or awareness or life of its own. We have chosen to transform the living into the dead. Careful-thinking scientists will admit that what they study is a narrow simulation of the complex real world, but few of them notice that this narrow focus is self-feeding, that it has built contractive technological and economic and political systems that are all working together sucking our reality in on itself. Science denies emotion but it is not itself unemotional. Emotional detachment is an emotion. Denial of subjectivity is an emotional act. Turning wild messy life into cold still numbers is not an intellectual choice but an emotional choice that people make because of how it feels. It feels like hatred of life. As narrow as the world of numbers is, scientific method does not even permit all numbers -- only those numbers that are reproducible, predictable, and the same for all observers. Of course reality itself is not reproducible or predictable or the same for all observers. But neither are fantasy worlds derived from reality. So science doesn't stop at pulling us into a dream world - it goes one step further and makes this dream world a nightmare, whose contents are selected for predictability and controllability and uniformity. Because of science, we can have a factory that predictably makes one million alarm clocks that all look the same and all predictably go off at the time they're set for, so that one million people will predictably get to their jobs just when their employers expect them -- where they're likely to work with machines that, like the alarm clocks, are standardized, so that any laborer can use any machine, and one person is the same as another. Because of science, states of consciousness that cannot

be reliably dispensed are classified as insane, or at best "nonordinary," and excluded. Anomalous experience, anomalous ideas, and anomalous people are cast off or destroyed like imperfectly-shapen machine components. Does all this necessarily follow from science? Could we have a system of knowledge based on predictability that produced a culture of chaos and surprise? If we did, it would be through resistance to that predictability and not through obedience to it. But our culture has never wanted surprise anyway, and if it had, it wouldn't have chosen science. Science is only a manifestation and locking in of an urge for control that we've had at least since we started farming fields and fencing animals instead of surfing the less predictable (but more abundant) world of reality, or "nature." And from that time to now, this urge has driven every decision about what counts as "progress." In a little known fork in the road of science, Goethe experimented with optics in a different way than Newton: where Newton shined lights through prisms, producing projected spectra for detached observation, Goethe had people look through prisms, and developed these experiments into a theory that was deeply different from Newton's but equally verifiable and self-consistent. No one knows what strange technological path this theory would have led us to, because of course it was ignored in favor of Newton's theory, which was more compatible with objectification. If you find it hard to believe that science could have gone onto a radically different path, that the universe has room for divergent experimentally confirmable "truths," then it's because you have been raised inside what William Blake called "single vision and Newton's "sleep." In an even less known fork in the road of pre-science, Medieval alchemical literature reports that alchemists actually succeeded in creating gold. Of course we can tell ourselves that they were lying, but maybe in 500 years our descendants will say we were lying about splitting the atom or building flying machines, or they will say it was all metaphor. Maybe it is. My point is, we can look through any filter we want. Instead of focusing toward what's most predictable, repeatable, quantifiable, detachedly observable, we can focus toward what's most fun, most beautiful, most magical, most alive. And we can turn this focus -- as we did with science -- into a self-reinforcing system of thought and action, a culture, a society, a sustained wonderful reality. The real question is, why did we ever do anything else?

Criticism and Response A reader writes: Have you ever met a scientist? They're pretty normal people you know. I've met many scientists, including my dad! I mean no criticism of scientists, only science. Scientists are nice people who have been sucked into an unhealthy mind space. Many histories of the Holocaust point out how normal the people were who carried it out. I don't blame people -- I'm trying to get to the bottom of a culture that makes normal people participate in monstrous acts. They just happen to have unusually practical concerns. I wouldn't call it practical. Feeding people is practical. What scientists have is an unusually narrow and detached mental focus. You strike me as a bit ungrateful when you say that science is a deadening influence on the human spirit -- science is what keeps many people alive. Our ancestors, human and nonhuman, stayed alive for countless millions of years before science, and now scientific technology is about to kill the Earth. It's killed a lot more people than it's saved, and most of the people it saves, it's just saving from other science. Almost all diseases, especially cancer, are caused in the first place by science-based industrial technology. The scientific method is inherently human, as far as I can tell -- you explain things the best way you can through observation. The scientific method is much more precise than that. All systems of knowledge begin with experience, make ideas that fit that experience, and follow those ideas to new experience, and so on. But the scientific method, as I explained in my column, follows only that thread of experience that is detached, quantifiable, repeatable, predictable, and uniform. Also, it is a falsehood that Science is made up of truths and theory. Even mathematics lacks absolute truth -- Kurt Godel proved that proof even in the most mathematical sense is limited. No scientist ever believes a conclusion is a theory, he or she simply treats it like a theory if it acts like one. This is all great. The problem is people never talk about it. Scientists often do talk as if they have truth and facts, especially

when they're talking to the public. When I talk about "science," I'm also talking about normal popular scientific thinking, which is all about stuck truths. If scientists were to stop people from thinking this way, I would stop criticizing it. Before you go writing long, boring, pseudo-philosophical essays about this sort of thing, why not talk to the people involved? They're really nice people as far as I can tell. They're not the cold removed bastards you make them out to be. My writing is not pseudo-philosophical, but extraphilosophical, because it gets outside the box of ordinary Western philosophy, which normally presumes detachment, objective truth, and matter as more fundamental than mind. Again, I did not mean to criticize people, only patterns of thinking. You might be surprised to learn that I have some background in science. I took a year each of college level chemistry and physics and did well. On one test I was the only person in a huge lecture hall to get a perfect score. I quit science largely because I could sense that the whole system was ossified and dying, with no room for anything radical or exciting. (An exception is advanced quantum physics.) In fact, it is their humanity, their curiousity and desire to help people which inspires and motivates the often thankless work that they do. I disagree here. Science has room for humanity and curiousity and helping people, but I've also heard scientists complain about "politics," which means pressure to compromise their research. Why don't they just do research independently the way they want to? Because their deeper motivation is that they need money to not starve and freeze. Some of my heroes are scientists who really do follow humanity and curiosity and get thrown out of the dominant system, researchers like Wilhelm Reich and biologist Louis Kervran and astronomer Halton Arp, and popular authors like Rupert Sheldrake. They certainly don't need angry, ignorant people insulting their entire way of life. I think they do need angry people with wider perspectives critiquing their entire way of thinking. We all need it. They work a hell of a lot harder and a hell of a lot quieter than you seem to. Who do you think is more at peace with the world? Which world? Scientists are more at peace with this society

and I am more at peace with the wider world beyond it. Indeed, scientists seem to work more quietly than me, but that's because the noise of their work is hidden from them, or from us, by layers of disconnection. Mines and chain saws and factories and atomic bombs and screaming animals in laboratories are much louder than my little writings. As for working hard, the idea that hard work is morally virtuous is pure religion, specifically Protestant Christianity. It mostly serves to make us easier to enslave. The fact is, your criticism is inherently scientific in that it forms conclusions based on observation. As I said before, forming ideas based on experience is much broader than science, which only includes certain types of experience. I'll admit, though, that my criticism is very rational, and that I'm very rational. What I'm trying to do is turn rationality against itself. And you wrote the damn thing on a computer Oh, I'm not a perfectionist. I'm willing to turn the weapons of the occupation against it. - so if it weren't for science you wouldn't even be able to whine about it. If it weren't for science and the cultural sickness that science is based on, I wouldn't have anything to criticize! I'd just be playing all day like almost all recorded other-than-civilized peoples. What are you so angry about? Who is it that breaks your spirit?? What personal reason do you have to criticise something that has done so much for so many people? I recommend Derrick Jensen's book The Culture Of Make Believe -- it expresses what I'm angry about much better than I could. Science is part of a larger pattern that has been doing almost nothing but breaking spirits for thousands of years. What it has done for me and everyone I know is make us utterly dependent for our survival on a system in which we have no real autonomy or power. And as far as the examples that you give, the scientists of old knew less than we know now. For everything horrible theorum they came up with they came up with ten which were utterly hilarious.

If their theories seem hilarious to us, it's a good bet that our theories will seem hilarious to people of the future. As a painter, I have found Goethe's colour theory to be utter garbage. I loved his plays though. "Garbage" is imprecise. Have you duplicated his experiments? I haven't either, but I trust him, and the point is not whether one particular divergent theory is helpful to someone. The point is that theories do diverge, that the universe has room for multiple truths. I find this inspiring! My point here is that science is nothing more than an extension of rationality, and is faulty in just the same way rational thought is faulty. (For instance, it doesn't explain to one's satisfaction why things feel the way they do.) The quantification, repetition and prediction that underline all of science are all methods and practices which make practical sense. I agree with you there! I'm against rationality too, at least habitual rationality. Like "practicality" and "utilitarianism," it mostly just means withdrawal of empathy. I think that we can both agree that the plague of science is for the most part not in the idea itself or the people doing it, but the associated corporate culture which pays for it and corrupts it. I don't quite agree. I think what's bad in the corporate culture comes from something deeper than corporations, and that thing also influenced the development of the ideas that define what we call science. I think we could have other systems of knowledge with different filters, that are not at all compatible with corporate rule. Of course, science isn't perfectly compatible either! It occurs to me now that if the ruling system needs to politically influence science, that proves that free science has the potential to end that system. If there is any reason the scope of scientific inquiry is as limited as you seem to think it is, I would guess it is due to the lack of profit possibility in extra-scientific work. Although even this I find hard to believe. What is profit? Accumulation of money units just doesn't explain all the evil in the world. I think profit is just a manifestation of the desire to control. And this desire has influenced the idea of and history of science -- and still influences it. That's part of why science that could be quite profitable is still suppressed, because it's too emotionally

unsettling -- it makes people feel like they're not in control, like everything they knew is in question. Right on!! There's a lot of pseudoscientific bullshit which sells quite well, so it isn't much of a stretch to believe that legitimate science concerning a broader scope of human experience could also make money. I'm sure I accept a lot of what you call pseudoscientific bullshit. This is exactly what I meant by science as a filter. There are many ways of following experience and forming ideas, and the ones that cannot be "proven" -- that is, experience that cannot be produced on demand for anyone -- are excluded, and given pejorative labels like "pseudoscience." Call it what you want -we can still follow it where it leads, and I think it will lead us somewhere much better than this. The core of my quarrel with science is that I am a reality diversifier and science (in action anyway) is a reality standardizer or centralizer. I want the universe to be full of anomalies and magic, with new realities always unfolding. Anyway, what struck me the most about your column is that it appeared on Unknown News and was neither unknown or news. I can't forgive you for that interruption -- I don't care how fascinating your column is, I want my U.N. to cut straight to the bone, know what I mean? I think what I wrote is very much unknown, just unknown ideas instead of unknown facts. If U.N. cuts to the bone, I'm trying to cut to the heart, to get to the deeper causes of Republicans and bad cops and zero tolerance policies. I've traced it as deep as civilization itself, but I still don't know what's beneath that. Lastly, I think it is worth remembering that the human will is a hell of a force, and that you yourself are evidence that the scientific thought that has been breaking spirits for however many thousands of years (or whatever it is you seem to be responding to) isn't as strong as people's instincts or desires. Totally! Although I don't think I'm wrong about science or civilization, I think it's quite likely I'm missing the point, that there's some hidden value to this catastrophe, that this is something we have to go through to learn greater strength, like falling before learning to walk. Although I praise "primitive" cultures, I have one big problem with them -- that they're all very conservative. I hope we can create a world that's both in balance and in dizzying flux.


Violence Unraveled
November 11, 2002
"Violence" is a propaganda word that sneakily combines many different things, healthy and unhealthy, natural and unnatural. As long as we use the word "violence" in its present meaning, we will tend to either call "violence" wrong, and rule out behaviors without which we can never have a healthy society, or call "violence" acceptable, and permit behaviors with which we can never have a healthy society. We need to take the word apart. The biggest thing that gets blurred into "violence," that overlaps all the others, is vigorous physical motion and contact, which I'll call vigor. Vigor is everywhere. Almost everything in the universe is rushing, colliding, grabbing, pushing, shaking. We and our ancestors have lived tens of millions of years by vigorously killing and eating plants and other animals, and civilized humans haven't stopped this but put it out of sight. Look around where you're sitting: Probably almost everything you can see was made by vigorously slicing up trees, killing animals, hacking down crops, pounding and tearing minerals out of the earth. In the absence of our awareness, in the darkness, our vigor has accelerated and its character has changed, has become machine-like and blind. And in the absence of personal healthy vigor, our character too has changed. Western post-industrial humans, who are surrounded by the products of the most energetic destructions and transformations in history, have become so pathologically vigorphobic that we can go years without touching anyone or anything with any energy. We take for granted that a verbal argument is OK but a physical argument can only be a "fight" which is always wrong (except when done by the military or police). We think physical abuse of children is monstrous but that verbal abuse, which is just as abusive but more hidden and dishonest, is tolerable. We may sit at a meeting trading intense verbal hostility while apologizing if we bump someone's foot under the table. Liberals have been redefining "violence" to also include nonphysical abuse or domination. They're trying to keep the propaganda word "violence" but turn it to their own ends. I'm trying to stop us using the word. I want us to relearn healthy vigor, and before that we need to understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy vigor, and before that we need

more precise language. What I'm about to define are neither "kinds of violence" nor "kinds of vigor," but some other things besides vigor that have been tangled into "violence." I call them control, cruelty, extermination, eating, toolmaking, toolbreaking, spectacle, nihilism, revenge, and balance. Control is trying to affect the behavior of another being in a way that fails to respect its autonomy, that fails to relate to it as a subject, equal but different, with its own perspective and its own needs. This includes everything from "disciplining" young people to breaking a wild animal to armed robbery to slavery to a whole society where we do what we hate all day because of fear. Control is the trickiest thing I'm trying to define. What is autonomy? What is a need? What isn't a subject? My "control" is not the same as a baseball pitcher trying to "control" the ball, because the ball is not a living being -- or if we're full-on animists and say the ball is a living being, then its meaning of life is entirely a function of the game, and the players are not really controlling it but working with it. A good test to separate healthy and unhealthy meanings of "control" is to try to substitute the word "accuracy" or "focus." Cruelty is what happens when control loses focus. The inhibition of empathy that's necessary to maintain a system where people do what they hate, goes over the back fence and turns into negative empathy, so that you get direct pleasure from feeling another's suffering. Our society tells us that control is decent and rational, and cruelty is terrible and irrational, but I halfway respect cruelty as control that stops being half-assed, or as control that reclaims an emotional connection to its object (because even a negative connection is better than none), or as a subversive action to end control by transforming it into something more volatile. Extermination is a close relative of control: Again, it's based on viewing another being as a function of your own needs and values, and violating that being's autonomy to affect it, except instead of affecting its behavior, you affect its existence, toward the negative. Extermination includes everything from swatting a mosquito to poisoning "weeds" to assassination to genocide. What makes it different from other kinds of killing is the motivation: you're killing something primarily to make it go away. Eating, of course, is when you kill something as part of eating it. The difference between eating and extermination seems subtle from the perspective of our society, but it is all-important. Most animals and even some plants kill as part of eating; eating

and being eaten are at the foundation of the balanced system that contains us. But only civilized humans systematically exterminate, and it's destroying life on earth. On a recent camping trip I stumbled on experimental confirmation of the depth of this difference. Bothered by mosquitoes, I got frustrated and sucked one into my mouth and ate it. Then I tried eating all the mosquitoes I killed. Not only was it more fun and meaningful, but over hundreds of attempts, the mosquitoes I ate were about three times as easy to kill as the ones I didn't eat. Toolmaking uses a broad definition of "tool," all the way from a bird's nest to vegetable dye to deerskin moccasins to a field of crops to a giant city built through countless clearcuts and mines. It could be divided further, since it includes toolmaking both civilized and natural, both lethal and non-lethal. It opens important questions that I leave open: Is killing something to make a tool out of it fundamentally different from killing something to eat it? And how do we identify toolmaking that is or is not in balance with the wider world? Actually, "advanced" food production raises this same question about eating. Toolbreaking is similarly broad, including logging equipment sabotaged by autonomous activists, factories destroyed by military bombs, burned books, and farmland sowed with salt. Toolbreaking does not include destruction of something with life of its own, like a forest. That would be extermination. And it does not include graffiti, since what is painted on something is an aesthetic issue, and does not affect use value. But like graffiti, toolbreaking cannot be morally evaluated without opening up the idea of "property." Who gets to decide what will be done with a tool, whether or not it will be used, whether it will be kept around or destroyed? The creator? The user? The "owner"? Who is the appropriate user? What does "own" mean in a thoroughly coercive society where almost anything can be said to be stolen? Everyone knows that the land of the USA was stolen from the Indians. And because we do our wage labor only under the threat of not otherwise having shelter or food, our labor is stolen from us the same as if we had guns to our heads. And then whatever we make or do with our labor is stolen the same way. A piece of logging equipment is made with labor stolen from people, out of materials stolen from the earth, so its alleged owners have no moral standing to say what will be done with it. Does anyone? One could argue that what's done with it should be determined by the wider interests of the present society, but then this would yield in the same way to the even wider

interests of human happiness, and the still wider interests of the earth, both of which would tell us to not use the equipment. Or one could argue that it's never right to destroy something; but if it's wrong to destroy a tool, then it's certainly wrong to destroy a living forest, in which case logging equipment has no justification for existence (except maybe as a bad example). Attacking tools that are about to destroy a piece of land with which you have a deep relation is like shooting the gun out of the hand of someone about to kill your family. And since most corporations are continuously actively destroying the earth, well-chosen anti-corporate sabotage is like attacking a man who's strangling your mother. The only objections I see to ecological toolbreaking are tactical: If you do it in secret, you are treating the symptoms while compounding some of the causes: secrecy, which is allied with unhealthy societies, and also the habit of affecting each other's lives without engaging each other in a healthy social process to work out the conflict. But if you do it out in the open, you'll be put in prison for a very long time, which hurts both you soul and your ability to help. I don't have an answer. Spectacle might involve killing or destruction, but it's more than just extermination or toolbreaking because the main purpose is not to push something out of existence, but to psychologically influence observers. The intended influence could be to draw attention to a cause, as in many "terrorist" attacks, or to incite a war, as in the 9/11 operation, or to intimidate people, as in killings of political activists. (Of course the latter are also extermination, and all intimidation is also control.) Nihilism could be called spectacle or extermination or toolbreaking that is done with little awareness or focus. Basically you're so overwhelmed by the horror and meaninglessness of your environment that you just want to destroy. Nihilism is similar to cruelty -- you're in a bad situation and don't see a way out, but you can at least make the badness more alive and unstable. Revenge I'm defining narrowly, as a completely pathological urge, when someone does something you don't like, to do something they don't like. Revenge sits in one corner of a vast slippery region of answering aggression with aggression. On one edge of this region is a dense gray area all the way from revenge to control, with what we call "punishment" right in the middle. And spreading out from this gray area is another gray area merging with a whole range of healthy behaviors that may be

only subtly different from revenge, punishment, and control. Balance is the word I'm using for all of them. If control and punishment and revenge are about acting on others without respecting their autonomy, balance is acting with them, with respect for their autonomy, with awareness of others as subjects with their own perspectives and needs, with an opening of one's self into relation as an equal. What I'm trying to get at here is the default way of being of all life everywhere, and I trivialize it by describing it with only one word, or with words at all. I could just as appropriately call it "play" or "love" or just say "uh!" and open my arms. Most nature-based peoples don't even have a word for "love," for the same reason that fish, if they had words, would not have a word for water. I'm taking for granted that we can learn from "nature," our little word for the larger world that created humans, that we're still part of, that has kept itself going for uncountable millions of years when our system couldn't last a week without cheating by taking more than it gives. But I'm not saying nature is perfect. It's a good system that evil can and does get into. I've seen male ducks gang rape a female. I've heard that monkeys will have hateful murderous tribal wars, and that alpha male lions will hunt down and kill the offspring of competitors. I actually idealize nature less than many scientists, who will make up stories about how these behaviors serve their self-centered version of "evolution." These behaviors are aberrations, but small ones that nature can work with. But what if some exterminating animals got really out of balance, say by inventing physical tools and abstract languages that stuck their deviant behaviors in place as a whole sustained way of being? They would either go extinct, taking a lot of the earth with them, or they would see what they were doing and get back in balance with the whole, which they could learn from almost any other creature, especially populations of their own species that lived in balance. Outside civilization there is no control and little extermination. Even the most murderous lion will not try to force another creature to act contrary to its nature, and even if it doesn't always use healthy ways of resolving conflict, it knows such ways. Everyone but a civilized human knows how to physically work out conflict while minimizing death and serious injury, including so-called "warlike" tribes of natural humans. Non-civilized battles are highly ritualized, totally voluntary, and fun. They've been compared to big capture-the-flag games where people sometimes get killed. Contrast this with advanced civilization, where young people's lives are puritanically

stripped of all aggression and danger, and then in a few years these same people are coerced (through poverty if not through the draft) to go fight in wars where lethal danger is intentionally maximized. Our society tries to channel all vigor into extermination and control. This right wing practice is allied with the left wing doctrine that all vigor is "violence" and is wrong. By suppressing healthy vigor, we support its channeling into unhealthy vigor, which supports the belief that all vigor is unhealthy and must be suppressed. This cycle can be broken through the practice of balancing vigor, and through the ideas that I'm suggesting here: That domination and vigor are different things, that domination is wrong at any level of vigor, that vigor is not inherently bad, and that aggressive vigorous actions can still be healthy and balancing. These ideas are almost not radical. Everyone agrees that verbal abuse is wrong and that wrestling for fun is OK. What's radical is to extend these values beyond the sub-worlds of entertainment and leisure. The most important function of the propaganda word "violence" is to prevent this one thing: the entry of alive, autonomous, democratic, personal physical power into politics, or the breaking of the monopoly that the authorities have on socially effective physical action. Of course just breaking this monopoly doesn't equal balance, and if we ended it now we wouldn't be ready. But it's a giant necessary step, and the time will come to take it. We already (or still) come close to balancing vigor in a few areas. Contact sports are ritualized, vigorous, and minimize injury, but the ritual is not one of balance but one of symbolic extermination, where teams are "eliminated" and at the end of the season there can be only one winner. Also, for every player there are thousands of spectators, whose pent-up vigor may not be released but built up further, which would fit the fact that domestic physical abuse is higher on Superbowl Sunday. Martial arts can be vigorous and balanced, but again, the focus is often on an absolute form of winning. Rough sex can be vigorous and balanced, if people participate as equals, but usually they take dominant and submissive roles. I think moshing comes closest. It's ritualized and dependably vigorous and balanced -- but still, there's no actual conflict that's being worked out, so it has no relation to society except as an exercise. It's balanced but not balancing. Balancing vigor is in our nerves and blood -- and if it's ever taken out of us by genetic science, we're doomed, because it's

our lifeline to the real world. In the deepest cubicles of civilization, we feel a biological need to work out real issues with bone-shaking running and bumping, and this need is always denied, diverted into toy vigor that's detached from real issues, or into vigor that settles real issues not with balance but with unequal life-negating extermination and control. This is why successful vigorous protests are so important. A young German radical once told me that she and her friends went to political riots not for the particular issues, but because they wanted to fight the police. At the time I thought -- as I was trained to think -- that this was irresponsible and immature. But finally I understand that their instincts were more profoundly radical, more deeply socially conscious, than any of our braintangling political issues. To take the example of the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle: Denied representation by an antidemocratic corporate government, people went out with their bodies, with their physical presence, and for a few hours seduced the police into something like natural fighting. In a space outside the legal fabrications of our society, activists and police faced each other as if on equal terms, and living bodies blocked delegates, delayed the conference, and measurably influenced the world! The WTO protest was not a victory, but something even better -- it was not a loss. Winning would mean totally having our way: humiliating police officers and burning down the corporate headquarters and the houses of the elite. Then we would just become the new controlling exterminating powers, as we did after the French Revolution. Revolution is the wrong metaphor for change when we're trapped going around in circles. We need to learn to walk the straight line that divides domination from degradation, before we can safely re-integrate vigor into politics. Then, if we can repeatedly engage authorityserving humans in respectful vigorous conflicts that affect real issues, and where every person walks away with dignity, one day we might wake up and notice that there are no longer any "authorities," just different perspectives working things out as equals. Also, we need as many people as possible to understand what the fighting is about. Unlike in nature, most of our conflicts are based on huge lies and misunderstandings, so they can only really be settled with some element of sharing experience and talking and carefully thinking. For example, the bought classes really believe that their system is good and just, and view

sabotage and political riots as they view earthquakes, as incomprehensible blind destruction. This raises moral questions: how much slack do we give people to figure it out, before we act? And it raises strategic questions: when do the positive effects -- patterns jammed, new patterns started, attention drawn to our perspectives -- outweigh the negative effects of drawing anger and hatred from people who still don't get it? I have no further answers. People who are authorized to use force, if they're not just stupid bullies, face questions like these all the time, and learn to answer them skillfully and decisively. We can too.


Against Rights
November 27, 2002
Although I'm aiming for a world with no wealth or poverty, where everything important is abundantly available to everyone, I've never liked the fashion of calling something "a right not a privilege." It's not just that it's a cliche -- I did a Google search for "a right not a privilege" and got 4670 hits, declaring dozens of things (but not all kinds of things) to be rights not privileges. There's something deeper that bugs me. So I thought it through. I disagree with the idea of "privilege." It seems to take for granted that if you're in a position where you get something other people don't get, that's a good position that anyone would choose. It's not. I mean of course you'd choose to be the elite rather than the exploited, given a system where people are deprived of things other people have, to make the deprived people do what they hate. But given a choice between this system, and a system where no one feels deprivation, everyone would choose the latter over any position in the former. There are no good roles in an exploitative system -- the so-called "privileged" are just another class of the exploited, made to suppress their empathy, to set aside their souls in exchange for being exempted from a general forced deprivation, and living in fear of losing this protection and falling into the lower classes. I disagree with the idea of "rights," at least when it means something guaranteed by the state or dispensed by some program. This is a crutch in the worst sense. Rights work against the true interests of the deprived classes by making them depend on the state, an authoritarian structure that uses threats to force people to grudgingly go through the motions of treating each other decently, and that channels these motions through isolating and nightmarish bureaucracies. Or it makes them depend on charity, which reinforces feelings of superiority and inferiority. This is true whether the right is for something like money or something like freedom. Programs that transfer money from the rich to the poor never transfer enough, they make the rich despise the poor, and they make it possible for a system that generates inequality to keep going. The right to free speech is always overruled when speech actually threatens the system, and it leads to disconnected and utterly powerless dissent, where people cop out and say "I despise what you say but I support your right to say it," instead of actually listening to each other. Imagine if, instead of saying "We have a right to be given what we need," we said "We have the power to go and take it!" Or

better yet, we have the power to create a society where we don't have all these needs in the first place. Finally, and this is just another way of saying all of the above, I don't agree with the kinds of things that people declare to be "a right not a privilege." Nobody ever fills in the blank with anything interesting, anything that cuts to the heart of the system. No bumper stickers say "Not paying rent is a right not a privilege" or "Slacking off all day is a right not a privilege," or "Confiscating property is a right not a privilege," or "Rioting is a right not a privilege." Nobody turns it into a mind twister, like "Having more money than other people is a right not a privilege." Of course that one would be absurd, but so are most of the actual things people fill in the blank with, things that by their nature cannot be given to everyone, things whose very definitions are tied into a depriving exploiting system, so that seeking to provide them to everyone is a permanent unwinnable game that only strengthens that system. Here are some real examples that ranked high on my web search: "Health care is a right not a privilege." What people are getting at is, they want a society where everyone's health is taken care of, and they think in the present society only an exclusive minority has its health taken care of. They're mistaken. This society doesn't care for anyone's health. The rich and poor breathe the same polluted air, eat the same over-refined toxinsaturated foods, walk through the same electromagnetic fields, live downwind and downstream from the same sources of poisons and radioactivity, and even have the same perpetual emotional distress, even if they fear different things. Factors like these are what make us sick, and there's only a little room to buy yourself away from them. Some of them you can even avoid better through extreme poverty than extreme wealth. Being out of balance is what makes a person sick, and our whole society is out of balance. The difference between the rich and poor is that the rich can afford more expensive treatments. Normally these treatments only suppress the personal symptoms of our societal imbalance, so the rich can live long lives with hidden sickness where the poor simply die. At worst, expensive treatments do great harm, like chemotherapy and radiation for cancer. Not only do they statistically kill more people than they save, but they require (or excuse) the continuing manufacture of toxic chemicals and radioactivity, which create more sickness. Most of what we call "health care" is an industry that just

keeps rich people's money circling back around in a mechanistic, authoritarian, killing-based medical paradigm. Making access to Western industrial medicine a "right," extending it to the whole world, is not only a bad idea, it's logically impossible, since industrial medicine is deeply allied with the inequality that is part of industrialization. For every expensive machine and pharmaceutical, there have to be people with shitty jobs manufacturing these items and moving them around, and no one would ever do these jobs if they weren't coerced into it by deprivation. "Owning guns is a right not a privilege." Since guns are a somewhat advanced technology in a deeply exploitative technological system, they cannot be manufactured without a lot of people being forced to do terrible jobs in mines and factories, or being forced off their land so minerals can be taken. If these people all had guns, they would shoot their bosses and invaders and guns couldn't exist in the first place. Now it would be possible for everyone to carry around some kind of easy-to-make but still deadly weapon, like a spear tipped with an obsidian blade, and that would make the world a lot more democratic, but no one has suggested it, because people are terrified of any hint of real democracy. Do you think most people who support "gun rights" want convicted felons to have guns? Mexican border crossers? Anarchist protesters? Homeless people? Probably not. What they want are exclusive gun advantages for obedient middle class or higher citizens of wealthy nations. "Education is a right not a privilege." It wouldn't be so bad if they said "learning," which implies something that anyone can do for themselves if they're not blocked. But "education" implies something dispensed and regulated by authorities, which in practice mostly serves to keep the system of deprivation and inequality in place. I went to upper middle class schools in a college town, and I see in hindsight that we were trained to be lawyers and engineers and professors and managers, given broad knowledge, bland moderate-liberal politics, mild independent thinking skills, and the feeling that we were smarter and more capable than average people. I have a friend who went to lower class schools, where she says they were trained to think of themselves as stupid and worthless, and to unquestioningly follow orders. I have another friend who went to an upper class private school where almost everyone was mean and vain and selfish, and presumably the staff did not discourage it.

It might seem we could avoid this with another one I saw, "School choice is a right not a privilege." But in practice the system walks right over this "right" by giving us Coke-and-Pepsi style choices between nearly identical stupid-making institutions, and by finding ways to reinforce class differences within schools instead of between them. The right to school choice does not even begin to be empowering until it includes the right to not go to school at all." "Driving is a right not a privilege." The automobile is probably the most wasteful technology in history. Its cost in human labor, in resources consumed and toxins produced in its manufacture and use, in vast stretches of the earth turned to asphalt wastelands of roads and parking lots, is so extravagant that only the elite can ever drive, and not for much longer. But on a deeper level than that, driving is not even a benefit, but an obligation and a dependency. Most people who own automobiles own them because they need them to get around, because they live in cities where their living places and their laboring places and their food sources are all separated by miles and miles of pavement laid down to make room for automobiles. Now you could go broader and say "Transportation is a right not a privilege," but if the places we needed to go weren't so far away from each other, separated by so many desolate and restricted spaces, "transportation" wouldn't even be a need. If we had a society where people were physically healthy and active, and almost all trips were less than a mile on inviting pathways, and food and shelter were generated locally, we wouldn't even use the word "transportation." I could go on and on. Computers have a massive ecological footprint and draw our attention into a thin simulated world. Voting is almost always a false choice between antidemocratic options, and when it isn't, the CIA usually comes in and topples the winner. "Leisure" is a recent concept implying that by default you're not free but laboring under coercion, and that when you're not being coerced you focus on selfish entertainment. "Clean water" usually means water treatment technologies, which just redistribute toxins out of the drinking water and into someplace else, from where they eventually go back into the water, and get to be taken out again, typically generating profit for the same entities that made the toxins in the first place. A right is always a privilege, if "right" means something that has to be dispensed by some program, and "privilege" means something scarce and supposedly good that's tied into a depriving system. A right is just a privilege that well-meaning

shallow-sighted people try to give to everyone. But if we define a "right" as something that's implicit in the basic structure of society, so that everyone has it without anyone making any effort -- clean water because there are no poisons, freedom because there's no authority, equality because there are no means to concentrate wealth or power -- then that's really the opposite of the other kind of "right," and we wouldn't ever have a reason to declare it a right. For example, maybe no one has ever spoken of the right to see color. Some people are colorblind but they don't think of it as deprivation of a right. But suppose we all had a chip put in our heads, by the ColorSee Corporation, that blocked us from seeing color unless we paid ColorSee a monthly fee. Then we would talk about "rights," and liberals would not try to get the chips taken out, because that's just naive romanticism and we can't go back you know; instead they would demand a government subsidy so that everyone could pay ColorSee. And then the rich would hate the liberals and the poor, because damn it we had to spend years at painful schooling and jobs to afford to see color, and now the poor are going to get it for free which means we wasted our lives. And while we're all fighting about this, someone is inventing a wonderful new technology that, for a reasonable fee, allows us to breathe... If you think this is all a ridiculous nightmare fantasy, I think so too. Welcome to it.



Why Do Pedophiles Get All the Attention?
January 15, 2003
Pete Townshend was recently arrested on child pornography charges and his defense is that he only entered a site to do research. I don't know if he's telling the truth, but the subtext of the media's treatment of this story, and similar stories, is astonishing. The focus is always on the motivations of the accused, and never on the children. Does the material in question just show simulations, or were actual children photographed? How? Were children deceived? Abducted? Threatened? How did they feel? Does anyone know their names? Have police caught the people who did the direct abuse, and if so, why aren't we hearing about it, and if not, why not, and why aren't we hearing about that? It's all about the feelings of the adults. Apparently there's nothing wrong with children suffering, only with adults feeling good about it. The other night I saw a TV show on which young children were fenced off from their mothers, making them quite distressed, as part of a scientific experiment, and no one seemed to wonder if this was wrong. So it's OK to make children suffer if the internal mental state of the adults is cold scientific observation, but not if it's sexual pleasure. Ask the kids if they fucking care. I've noticed, as everybody has, though we're all being very quiet about it, that pedophilia is a major thought crime. The word "pedophile," in all its horror, makes no distinction between people who are merely sexually attracted to kids, and people who actually go out and do sex acts with kids, as if the unacted desire and the acted desire are just as bad. Somebody should ask the kids. "Child pornography" makes no distinction between material for which children were or were not exploited, as if they're equally bad. Ask the kids. This is not an essay about thought crimes, about how we're on a slippery slope where they start by arresting people for drawings of naked kids, and then they arrest people for movies depicting murder, and finally you can go to prison for viewing Walt Disney's Robin Hood which glorifies stealing. There is some hassle in that direction, and I don't want to have to go into the criminal underworld to get tapes of South Park, but there are severe limits to how far a trend like that can go, because making anything a thought crime is a huge burden and danger to society. Right now, if you're caught downloading child porn from the

internet, you will lose your job, lose your friends, and probably go to prison where you will be the scum among the scum. Your life is ruined. But if instead you perform sex acts on an actual child, well, the prison term will be longer, but the overall penalty is about the same. So what's the incentive to hold back? In fact, if you're in a position of respect and authority, like, say, a priest, or a parent, where kids will hesitate to turn you in, then you're probably less likely to get caught molesting real children than downloading pictures of them -- and you're much less likely to get convicted. Making something a thought crime provokes the real crime. If they ever invent technology to detect and punish the fantasy of burning down Microsoft, then look out, because we'll have nothing to lose! People sense this, and we don't make thought crimes without a strong psychological motive. So why pedophiles? There are lots of really bad people in this world doing really bad things, and molesting children is one of them, but it's not the worst. Murder is worse. Would you rather remember that you'd been sexually abused, and deal with the trauma, or be killed? Or if you have been sexually abused, would you change history so instead the person just killed you? How about being a slave, and I don't mean a wage slave where the alternative is living on the streets, but a full-on slave, very likely a sex slave, where the alternative is you or your family being murdered. There's a lot of that going on all over the world. And tourists from rich countries pay for much of it by going to sex slave prostitutes, and incur little or no social penalty. What about children who, instead of being sexually abused and living to have a chance to recover, die at age six from industrial toxins released so chemical company stockholders can make a profit? Is that worse than profiting from child pornography? Well is it? The difference is, if you're masturbating to a photo of an abused child, there's the child, and your pleasure, right in front of you. And if you're getting pleasure from driving a car paid for by Union Carbide dividends, what does that have to do with suffering children? The suffering is hidden and you want it to stay hidden, goddammit, thank you very much. You will put anything you can find in front of it to hide it, and if you can find something big and hideous, like someone who gets pleasure from suffering children with full awareness, well that's perfect. Even terrorists are sort of cool. Even serial killers are glamorized in songs and movies. Even fascist dictators are somewhat respected. But pedophiles are unequivocally awful. Our culture has chosen this perspective for a reason: to make

pedophilia a lightning rod to channel all attention and responsibility away from our culture's overwhelming abuse of children in other ways. The worst thing about adult-child sex is that it serves the needs of the adults not the children, and that the adults deny this, and forbid any expression of the perception of abuse. But this is true of most adult-child interaction. I was not sexually abused as a child, but I was very badly abused, and I think most kids were abused even worse, probably you. I was forced to do stuff with my body that I hated, supposedly for my benefit but really for the benefit of the adult world, and I was forbidden to say so. It's called "socialization" and most of it happened in school. Don't laugh! If you're rolling your eyes and calling me absurd, you're repressing more abuse than many people have ever experienced. You've carefully forgotten what it's like to be forced to sit in a chair, still and quiet, for hours, days, years, when your body wants to run and play and your mind wants to explore. And when there is running and "playing" and exploring, it's planned and tightly managed, and any impulse of real creativity or aliveness is reflexively crushed, with not even so much as physical touching, but the most insidious and appropriate-seeming emotional manipulation. Of course, unlike sexual abusers, adults filling normal roles with children really mean well, and I don't want to put any blame on teachers. Many of them are doing their best to minimize or even counteract the oppressiveness of schooling, which is inherent, not just in school systems but in the very idea of schooling: to make us passive receptacles of instruction, easily managed by a much smaller number of superiors, and interchangeable. I was lucky in that school was the worst I had it. Most people had it much worse at home -- they must have because look around now and see how damaged and spiritless they are. And I'm not talking about just physical beatings. That's the backup lightning rod. A physical blow can be much easier to heal from than the words "What's wrong with you?" Adults in general can't see how deeply and thoroughly children suffer, because to see it they would have to remember how awful it felt when the same thing was done to them, and they don't want to deal with that. Kids cry and scream so much because that's just what kids do, not because we've created a world that every fresh perspective finds worthy of years of crying and screaming. To reject normal socialization, adults would have to reject an entire society where people must sit still

and repress playfulness and respect authority and focus on abstractions and value objects over life, and it's the only society they know. They would have to admit that their life has been mostly a tragic mistake; and it's much easier, if you've been correctly socialized, to just pass the mistake on to the next generation. Another way normal socialization is more benign than sexual abuse is that it's out in the open, so its victims can more easily support each other and develop healthy ways to deal with it. Not many sexually abused kids can chat lightly about it with other kids, and they certainly can't with adults, who really make it worse when they cover it with an oppressive aura of shame and deadly seriousness. But I can remember us fourth graders healing from normal societal abuse by singing songs: "Glory glory hallelujah. Teacher hit me with a ruler. Blew her out the door with a loaded 44 and we ain't got a teacher no more!" If kids tried to sing that now they'd probably be arrested and sent to counseling with an oppressive aura of shame and deadly seriousness. So normal socialization, as it gets more advanced, is getting more like sex abuse, with all resistance smothered in taboo and fear. Right now the second or third most serious thought crime, after adults fantasizing about abusing kids in forbidden ways, is kids fantasizing about fighting back against people who abuse them in socially sanctioned ways. Now fighting back against socialization is different from sexual abuse in that some ways of doing it are good. But otherwise, adults who feel like molesting kids and kids who feel like shooting up the school are in the same position: They're under intense pressure to either lock it all inside or go out and do some horrific act, and they are absolutely forbidden to bring their feelings out into the light without acting on them, just sitting there, no spectacular resolution or distracting psychodrama, no turning it into a cliché with an easy response, just sitting there, there it is, our culture's stinking scabby infected heart. Our alleged freedom of speech has not even begun to go far enough. We need to not only legalize the very expression we find most threatening, but more important, give attention to it and have a friendly dialogue with it. We're failing to follow through on this with regular legal pornography, which is full of fantasies of rape and degradation that we just look away from unless we're enjoying it. But imagine if we did look, and if we let kids put on school plays that glorified blowing up the school, and we let pedophiles publish text and drawings, and inhabit

computer-generated worlds, about sex with children, and we took a good look at all of this and asked each other where these desires are coming from, until we found answers (and not copout answers like shrugging and saying "human nature"). Yes, I've heard the argument that the fictional act can encourage the real act, and I suppose sometimes it does. I know Ted Bundy made that argument to avoid taking personal responsibility and looking deeper into himself. But I'm sure that the fantasy serves more often as an alternative to the reality, and that the desire has more troubling roots, which demand attention from all of us. And we can do something else. Our powerful shaming of pedophiles is a good sign, since it shows that we know how to use shame and social pressure to influence society. Suppose we take the shaming of participants in the child porn industry, and extend it to beneficiaries of continuing slavery, to stockholders of the most irresponsible corporations, to participants in the war industry. "You design missiles? Oh my god! Get away from me!" Actually we already do some of this, but we're doing it badly. We don't understand yet that the point is not perfection, not to be without sin so you can throw stones (or to throw stones so you can be without sin). The point is to make things better. All of us in industrial society are thoroughly stained, linked in ten thousand ways to exploited workers and dying species and unthinkable tragedy and loss. But just because your whole house and everything in it is soaked in blood, doesn't mean you can't start cleaning. We can start with the worst offenders and work our way out, and social pressure, if it's done well, is more democratic and far more effective than government regulation. One day we might have a world where people abuse and dominate and objectify only inside of stories and songs and games. I myself have skulked through the dark corners of the internet downloading maps for Heroes of Might & Magic II, for my own pleasure. It will be interesting to see, if reality gets healthy, what happens to our fantasies.



Twisted Utopian Visions
January 27, 2003
I like to fantasize about laws I would make if I had absolute authority, but since I don't believe in laws or authority, most of the following are not serious proposals, but mental exercises, intended to feed and grow a style of thinking compatible with the world I envision. Full corporate accountability. If someone is killed or something is stolen through the actions of a corporation, then that corporation is tried for murder or theft, and if it's found guilty, then every stockholder of that corporation is sentenced as if they'd done the crime themselves. That's what I call justice! Anything less is profit without responsibility. Of course, under such terms there would be no corporations, no stocks, and no businesses larger than a few people who really trust each other. Perfect! Graduated sales tax. For a five pound bag of flour, no tax; for a $200 stereo, 10% or $20 tax; for a $3000 used car, 20% or $600; for a $50,000 luxury car, 50% or $25,000; for a $300,000 house (exempted if you live there yourself), 100%; and for a billion dollar corporate buyout, one thousand percent, or ten billion dollars tax! A nice side effect would be that people would get around the law by making and buying parts of things and assembling them, and we would all be a lot more skilled and empowered in building the artifacts of our society. It will never happen. Democratic total surveillance. We think high-tech surveillance is creepy because of course we expect it to be monopolized by cops and spies and bosses and other servants of creepy systems trying to control us. But imagine if anyone could observe anyone at any time. If you're the president, you know millions of voters will watch you shit and have sex and (most embarrassing of all) make your political deals. The same thing will happen if you're famous for any reason. In such a climate, most people will avoid power and fame and try to be anonymous. But people will become known just by boldly being themselves in interesting ways. The most open, honest, and courageous people will tend to gain fame and influence. Conversely, those with serious things to hide will tend to become obscure and powerless. This sounds wonderful to me, but the technology to make it possible on any but the smallest scale would be nowhere near sustainable. Maybe we can try something more modest:

Public interest surveillance. Many police cars are already set up with constantly running video cameras. We could broadcast every second of this straight to the public. I've heard rumors of the dreadful stuff that gets cut in the editing of COPS -- imagine if we could see it all. And it would be easy to put 24-hour publicly viewed surveillance on the president and cabinet and senators. And how about, for every product, retailers have to show a constant live feed of the conditions it's produced in. That would bring a quick end to factory farming and sweatshops. Obviously none of this will ever happen, unless there is first a tricky way to get around it. Equal death attention. The media must give equal coverage to every death. So, for example, the millions of people killed by the medical industry would deservedly get millions of times as much coverage as the three or four rich white people killed by strangers. This would be practical only on the level of local news, but that would be enough -- in only a few days our consciousness would be radically changed. "Where is all the cancer coming from? Wow, cars are dangerous! And look at all the poor people -- I'd heard about them, but I never knew they were real." Again, this one is impossible. $20 a gallon gasoline tax. This would effectively give only rich people the benefits of the internal combustion engine, and they can have it! They can drive their 16 cylinder monster cars on the empty freeways and cower in their remote suburbs and buy dead stuff shipped halfway around the world, while the rest of us abandon our cars, quit any job we can't walk to, move out of anyplace not near food, and build cozy little economies of local crafts and fresh local food transported by horse and bicycle. This one seems impossible, and it would be disastrous if it happened all at once. But something very much like it is going to happen over the next few decades as the oil runs out. Even with electric cars, that electricity has to come from somewhere, and most ways of generating it are ecologically unsustainable -nuclear plants, dams, and often power plants that simply burn oil. I look forward to the time when there is no longer a cheap way to manufacture remoteness. But if you think I'm simply anti-car, check out this one: Reverse tow charges. If a car gets towed, whoever has it towed has to pay, not the car owner. This one is politically impossible, yet it makes sense. If someone has your car towed, shouldn't they pay for it? All of it? They were the ones who wanted it moved and who contracted to have it moved. Of course, you were the one who left it in the "wrong" place, but

why is it anyone else's business where you set your things down? The problem is that our places are so inflexible and our things are so massive that our society needs laws like this to function. That's why reverse tow charges would cause such delicious problems. People could practically ignore parking restrictions, since the worst that could happen is they'd get a modest fee they could put off paying, and go pick up their car at the tow lot for free. Status-obsessed people would have to pay to have your unfashionably old car towed from their neighborhood, and then you could just go park it there again! Protesters could blockade a corporation -- or a freeway -- with thousands of parked cars, and the authorities would have to have them all moved at a hundred dollars each. Or they could call the bluff and leave the cars there, and see how long it takes before the drivers come get them, or before the parked-in drivers who want to get out fight the ones on the edges who want to stay, or before vigilantes start destroying the cars. This reform would just throw a wrench in the system -- and it shows how delicate the system is, if such a small wrench, one law out of tens of thousands, could have such big effects. The key to this change is that it allows democracy: In the industrialized world almost everybody has a car or access to a car, and that's a 3000 pound piece of metal that can go 100 miles an hour and carries a huge tank of highly flammable liquid. What were they thinking? Cars, and people's mental habits about them, have to be carefully controlled to keep this enormous mass of personal power channeled so it continues to serve the ruling interests. And reverse tow charges would give car owners a weapon against an even more exclusive and powerful elite -- property "owners." No owning land. By far the biggest way money gets channeled from the poor to the rich in our society is through rent and mortgage payments, giant monthly fees charged under the dubious premise that someone else can "own" your home that you live in. In Medieval serfdom the "owning" lord only took around 25%. Some of my friends pay 80%. Some people use the medieval serf comparison to complain about 50% tax rates, but of course these people are so obscenely wealthy that one year of their income could support a subsistence farming family for a century. Maybe they should be taxed at 99.25%. The real modern counterparts of medieval serfs are renters. I suggest that the only legal power anyone has regarding land is to occupy it. If no one's occupying a house or a field, you

can just go live in it or build a cabin on it, and when you leave, someone else can move in. This one seems difficult, and certainly there would be a lot of complications to work out, like making sure someone can't take over your house when you're traveling, like keeping some people from just trashing one place after another and moving on, and like balancing farming against its ecological impact. But land ownership is a very recent concept, existing only in the context of our momentary suicide machine. We got along without it for all time before, and we will again. In the meantime, a good intermediate step would be to outlaw absentee landlords (and make apartment buildings collectively owned), or to simply outlaw rent. Either of these would take the exploitation value out of real estate, and greatly reduce the cost of owning your own place, plus it would make an abundance of vacant places for squatting. No intellectual property. Owning ideas is an even newer and more perverse concept than owning land. You might think that as a writer I would support the "owning" of writing so I could make more money, but that would be extremely selfish. In the present system only a small minority of writers make a living from writing, and they're making their publishers many times as much. By supporting intellectual property, the creators of that property are making a deal with the devil, and not a good deal, supporting a system that allows behemoth corporations to make enormous profits and wield absolute dumbing-down control over our entire culture, and all the creators get is table scraps, a small chance of taking a small cut of what their masters are stealing from everyone. With everything in the public domain, everything would decrease in scale and increase in quality. Nobody would spend $200 million on a movie since they couldn't make the money back without exclusive rights to sell it. But you could make a $1 million movie for an intelligent dedicated audience who would be sure to pay for your version and not someone else's copy. Authors with readers who actually paid attention and weren't hyper-selfish could simply ask their readers to buy the edition from which the author makes money, even if it costs a bit more. Most people want to support the artists they like, and the kind of people who don't, nobody would make anything for them. Artists and audiences would learn to be more aware of each other and build closer relations. Also, when you take high profitability out of any industry, you also get rid of all the assholes and phonies and suck-ups,

and all the people motivated by money over love. Then what will we do with these people? Pay them subsistence wages to stay home and grow old and bitter instead of paying them millions to ruin our society! We can easily make this transition if more and more artists simply declare their works to be in the public domain, and make money through performances or through loyal and attentive buyers. Eventually the old systems will wither through lack of creative talent. But even the system we have now is not all bad: Copyrights are more enforceable against big centralized systems than small autonomous ones, so you can stop a corporation from mass-producing something you "own," but you can't touch people who copy it for their friends. Legalize resisting arrest. Let's start with something more extreme: Imagine if police and non-police had exactly the same rights. If they can shoot you in self-defense, you can shoot them in self-defense. If they can legally run from you, you can legally run from them. If they can confiscate property, anyone can! If they can take you prisoner, then anyone can take anyone prisoner, or chase each other at high speed, or invade each other's houses. Or if anyone can't, then no one can. This will never happen in the context of the present society, but it's worth thinking through. Who would be a cop under terms like these? I would! If they didn't have a monopoly on force, police would actually earn the respect that they now think they deserve. They would be real heroes all the time, instead of doing good only when it's consistent with their primary role as over-armed enforcers for the owning interests. They would all have the full support of the community because the bad ones wouldn't last a week. But there are deeper issues. In such a system, what's the difference between a cop and a vigilante? Aren't we all effectively being cops for each other, and if so, why pay anyone to do it? Wouldn't it turn into a war of all against all, and then people would form gangs, and the gangs would fight until one was supreme, and that gang would employ armed thugs with a monopoly on force, and then liberals would place half-assed restrictions on the thugs to keep the people from revolting, and then we'd be right back where we started? But again, police are a recent invention, and we've had peaceful societies without them for a very long time. It all hinges on the underlying culture: If it's selfish and competitive and secretive and disconnected and authoritarian, you have destroying gangs under one name or another; and if it's

empathic and cooperative and transparent and aware and autonomous, then you don't need anything like police. That's not a fantasy -- that's all life everywhere except Homo sapiens sapiens of the last one ten-thousandth of the age of the Rocky Mountains. And in our transition back to a healthy culture (our only alternative to extinction), we might pass through having police under terms that now seem unthinkable, like taking their guns away, or legalizing resisting arrest. Age equality. I'm not talking about old people but young people, so-called "children." Childhood is a recent concept. In a healthy culture, people of all ages do the same stuff -- run around playing and practicing the skills to autonomously stay alive and comfortable. But since our culture requires older people to be numb and predictable and do tedious meaningless chores all their lives, all humans have to be broken to make them behave like "adults," and in the time before they're broken their behavior and roles are radically different -- thus the idea of "childhood." And of course, for this system to perpetuate itself, "adults" must have power over "children" so the adults will convert the children and not the other way around. Reverse it! Make all ages equal in legal rights and physical power, which, since young humans are smaller, would require some affirmative action, like giving them all electric stun guns! I'm not really serious about this. The main problem, aside from its political impossibility, is that our kids are already half broken before they can walk, largely through extreme isolation -- in healthy cultures an infant is in physical contact with the mother almost constantly through the first three or four years, with lots of nice real people around, instead of being snatched away at birth and then spending much of infancy watching TV through the bars of a little training prison. We are in a deep, deep hole, and the way out is to continue the trend that Lloyd deMause documents in his History of Childhood, of treating "children" more and more like our equals. This is one power transfer that has to be slow and consensual. Negative interest. That means if you borrow money from a bank, they pay you interest, or in practice, you pay them back less than what you borrowed; and people with savings accounts pay the bank interest, so that their accounts gradually shrink. It sounds absurd, but why not call it natural and call positive interest absurd? The difference is, the present concept of interest channels money from the poor to the rich, increases differences in wealth, and concentrates and centralizes power. Also it

demands that the total "wealth" keep growing exponentially, which drives an economy that destroys the earth and enslaves people so it can turn more and more life into money. An opposite concept would do the opposite -- equalize wealth, diffuse and decentralize power, and make the dead money economy shrink and give back to the living world. There are precedents. Ancient Egypt was especially prosperous during a period when they had negative interest through currency backed by grain with storage charges. In Medieval Europe, under the negative interest Brakteaten system, people didn't sit on money -- since it decreased in value -- but spent it on things that increased in value, including some of the best cathedrals. We wouldn't even need a law for negative interest, just a new way of thinking, a custom enforced by social pressure. And it isn't even a new way of thinking, just the way we already think about everything else except money: If I hoard a bunch of wheat instead of putting it in the ground, it doesn't grow -- it slowly dies. If I'm not using a hammer, and you borrow it, and continue to use it, it gradually becomes yours.



These Colors Run
March 19, 2003 (revised November 2004)
So World War III has begun, and I'm in the bad country. Our President is totally bonkers, he and his dominionist backers are trying to fulfill an ancient religious prophecy about an alldestroying battle between good and evil, and the most powerful propaganda industry in history is strangely backing him up, pretending he's sane and reasonable, leading Americans on a global-scale cult murder-suicide that may leave our country in ruins. How did we come to this? Bush is already being set up as the scapegoat, like Hitler before him, so Americans can pretend we're all good people who just got a bad ruler by some fluke and we were "only doing our jobs" or "we didn't know." But nobody is born with an urge to conquer and exterminate, with an active resistance to empathy, with an inability to psychologically adapt. People like this are made, and in a healthy society they're seldom made and never given influence. In America we crank them out by the millions and tend to make them our commanders. Wishful-thinking lefties say the American people are against this war, but I don't see it. I see every part of the government and every large business going along with the war, and I see a majority of people who either actively support it, or refuse to give any attention to politics, or secretly feel good about "their" side ruling the world and are happy that they don't have to admit it, happy the system is set up so they can benefit from brutality just by continuing to behave normally. I'm about to generalize and simplify and exaggerate, and before I start I want to remind everyone that "America" has many meanings, and that you can go to any town in geographical America and find people who are aware, intelligent, ethical, compassionate, and courageous. But on the whole, the reason the USA is now waging aggressive murderous war that threatens to keep escalating until we burn out and implode, is that we are a nation of cowards. You can see it everywhere if you look -- in the American military attacking only impoverished countries that can't defend themselves, in the way American rulers see all physical opposition not as people fairly fighting back but as scary mythologized "terrorism," in the way Americans overreact to this magical beast, by buying up duct tape to seal windows

against imagined chemical attacks, or shutting down whole airports because of some small danger or uncertainty. You can see it in the "zero tolerance" fad where school kids are expelled or arrested for harmless toy weapons, in our dominant media's obsession with one-in-a-million unpredictable murders of higher class people, and in the disjunction between the growing fashion of militaristic nationalism, and enlistment in the military, which is not growing. You can see it in Americans' hunger for calling each other "courageous" and "heroic," their bumper stickers with an American flag and the wishful slogan "These colors don't run," and their righteous fury at anyone who contradicts this orthodoxy, like comedian Bill Maher who was forced to apologize for noticing that it takes courage to crash an airplane into a building and no courage to launch a cruise missile. You can see it in their bizarre habit of crediting "courage" to people merely for having some scary disease, or the way they made the 9/11 firefighters and police "heroes" just for doing their normal jobs in that mythologized context. Think it through: If it's heroic for someone to become a firefighter, and do what a firefighter does and run into burning buildings and save people, that means the other-than-heroic way of being, the benchmark against which Americans measure heroism, the condition Americans consider normal, would be for America to not have any firefighters because everyone is too afraid. And where they call cowardice normal, and normal behavior heroic, Americans often condemn real courage as cowardice or stupidity or irresponsibility, reacting with scorn to protesters who get attacked by police, to people who get arrested for not cooperating with useless and degrading searches and questionings, to journalists and politicians and entertainers who lose their jobs for speaking forbidden opinions and truths. I may get death threats for writing this essay, anonymous death threats of course, from Americans who would rather see me killed than face my criticism. Someone may offer to fight me to prove his courage, but only someone good at fighting who is sure he's not going to lose. An American would say "Well of course." That's the way we think over here. People here mouth motivational platitudes like "Failure is not an option" or "There is no try" (which they've misunderstood), because they're so cautious that they won't do anything unless it's so easy and predictable that they can will the outcome. They say "You create your own reality" because they've been given so many advantages that they haven't noticed that they share reality with

billions of other perspectives who want different things, with whom they have to compromise. Our higher classes are full of spoiled petty emperors who always get their way and gradually veer off into solipsistic madness. It would not be precise to call Americans "lazy." They work longer hours at their crappy jobs than anyone in the industrialized world and they're perversely proud of it. They work more because they're afraid to say no to their bosses, or because they think frantic labor is the morally righteous requirement to rise above being an unsuccessful nobody, which horrifies them to their bones. They get repetitive strain injury and chronic fatigue syndrome because they think slowing down or taking a break makes them weak. Americans will do any amount of physical work to avoid doing the emotional work of accepting "failure," of looking inferior, of losing status. A few years ago in a restaurant, an American man began choking. Without giving any sign of distress, he got up, went into the bathroom, and quietly died. If Americans were consistent they'd put up a statue of this man, who succeeded where so many others have failed, in following to the letter the American rule that you do not under any circumstances show weakness. The core American fear is the fear of looking bad -- to others or even to themselves. A normal American will not run to catch a bus, especially not if there's a chance of still missing it. Many Americans don't like to turn their car headlights on when another car is looking. Americans hate to admit changing their minds -- if they do change, they'll pretend it was always that way. Americans always lock their houses and apartments, but their fear of being robbed is not a fear of having to repurchase a few material possessions, but a fear of feeling "violated," a fear of losing absolute control of their owned space, a feeling that the intruder has got the better of them. All of this has a profound effect on American politics. Some have tried to excuse ordinary Americans from guilt by saying our news media lie and distort and conceal, which is true to an extent that Americans cannot see and non-Americans cannot imagine, but it's no excuse. Forbidden information and excluded perspectives are all over the internet, and in countless books by dissident authors like Noam Chomsky, but 95% of Americans will not go to these sources, because they're afraid. To begin with, they're afraid of uncertainty, of information whose truth is not backed up by a strong authority, of accepting a fact that might turn out to be false and make them look stupid.

After that they're afraid of having their comfortable reality pulled out from under them, afraid of changing their minds, afraid of finding out they've been fooled, afraid of the responsibility that comes with understanding. And most of all, Americans are afraid to care. Everyone knows how few Americans vote. This can be partly explained by observing that both Democrats and Republicans support global corporate rule, obscene military spending, and squeezing every drop of blood from poor people and the earth, that the public political spectacle is like a dull satanic game show about trivial psychodrama issues, and that nobody will vote for the fringe parties because it's the American way to never get off your ass and do anything unless you're sure you're going to win. But it goes deeper. In one of P.J. O'Rourke's books, he visits an American housing project and describes the overwhelming apathy (which he blames on the alleged welfare state), the way the occupants trash their own living space and leave it in filthy disrepair. He contrasts this with his visit to Beirut during the Israeli invasion, where people in seemingly much worse conditions still added little touches of love and care to their bombed-out hovels. In a book by Wendy Kaminer (another emotional conservative, this time attacking the recovery movement), she attends two women's support groups. One group is immigrants from southeast Asia who have been brutally raped and tortured, and the other group is upper middle class American women whose suffering has been seemingly much milder. Yet the Asian women are strong and confident and talk openly about their ordeals, while the American women are helpless and neurotic and ashamed. Anyone with a shred of compassion or insight will see this as direct evidence that the Americans have been abused more severely than the tortured immigrants, but in ways that must go deeper than mere physical abuse, ways that are subtle and hidden, and most troubling, that saturate American society. A few years ago when I was gathering petition signatures outside supermarkets (for a very popular anti-stadium initiative), I noticed that a proportion of people not only didn't care about the petition, but clearly didn't care about anything, that they were just going through the motions waiting to die. I believe this is the same phenomenon that is seen in people (humans and nonhumans) rescued from the worst abuses ever devised. In America, underneath all the food and toys, obscuring the openings to escape or resist, is a giant torture camp, producing a range of psychic maiming from people so alone and

broken that they refuse to ever try or care again, to people so painfully enslaved that they will look only through the eyes of the master, to people so alienated from life that they jealously destroy it everywhere. I have explored this world and escaped barely alive into the hidden democracy of Underground America, and this is my report. They call the torture system by many names, "opportunity" or "success" or "the American dream." Key components are called "individualism" and "competition." It's implemented through social isolation, brilliantly executed commercial advertising, and games and classrooms and workplaces that punish honesty and reward calculating selfishness. Yes, there are many messages about love and cooperation, about feelings being more important than money, but here, conveniently, the propaganda is badly done, stilted and preachy, and Americans cynically rebel. All this together means that the ideal American lacks any healthy social relation, that our only relations with other living beings are domination or submission or zero-sum competition, that our only way to sense any meaning in our lives is to grasp greedily for scarce fabrications: money, toys, tokens of status, shallow pleasures, coolness, respectability, fame, victory -- or to associate ourselves with some symbol that has these attributes. That's why Americans cheer their local sports teams, and worship their omnipotent sky father deity, and display their national logo. That's why they will convince themselves of the nobility and goodness of their bombing of Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, North Korea, France, California… That's why they lack class consciousness, why the poorer classes sympathize with the rich and not with their own interests. That's why they are devastated by defeat or failure. Because Americans lack any emotional grounding in anything real, they must be "winners" or associate with a winner or they will be empty, annihilated. And their definition of "winner" requires a loser. Nothing I've described here is unique to America. Readers elsewhere can ask themselves how many warning signs their country has of the same psychic disease. In fact the whole world has it, and America is only so deeply sick because it's so dominating -- and so dominating because it's so sick. It goes back thousands of years, and in America it goes back to a group of colonists called the Puritans, the Taliban of the 1600's, who came here to practice religious repression because the English church was not restrictive enough. This embryo fed for centuries on the natural abundance of a continent, on the blood of its natives, on

the forced labor of generations of voluntary and involuntary immigrants, and now it is grown bloated and ravenous, addicted to ever-increasing portions of the fruits of its domination: insulation and control, making it ever more ignorant and inflexible, ever more willing to bully and less able to bully with skill or awareness. Bush does represent mainstream America. He does not represent the deviant liberating America of Bart Simpson and John Waters and fart jokes and train hopping and transgender punks, nor does he represent the principled bookish America of the Constitution and independent newspapers and citizen activism. But these are not yet and no longer mainstream America -- they are marginal America. Bush is the ultimate representative of the United States of SUV's and clearcuts and billboards and viagra and oil wells and skyscrapers and dioxin and twinkies and televangelists and the Superbowl and atomic bombs. And I mean "ultimate" in the correct sense, implying "last." George W. Bush is the pride and the fall, his doomed people's champion in a ritual as old as history. History is shorter than time, and I'd like to see us humans outgrow our mental illness of the binge and purge of great empires, before it kills us. Maybe this time we'll come close enough to dying to get a good scare. What if Hitler in his bunker, or Napoleon retreating from Moscow, had controlled 10,000 nuclear weapons? Remember, world, that America is more afraid of you than you are of it; and somehow all of us, the other countries and the other Americas, need to persuade Bush's America to put the gun down. If we fail to solve this peacefully, if World War III escalates until other countries bomb America and occupy it and prosecute its leaders in trials to establish their own exclusive right to judge, then those countries are walking the same path.


Who Would Satan Bomb?
April 5, 2003
Ran Prieur: My guest today is the ageless occult entity behind all evil and suffering in history, the Prince of Darkness, Lucifer-Satan: Not Lucifer. That's a mistake they made interpreting the Bible. Idiots. Lucifer means "light bearer," and light is one thing I cannot bear. Another thing is that song, "Shiny Happy People." Are you going to interview me or what? RP: First of all, why should we believe anything you say? Don't they call you the Father of Lies? S: They're blaming me for their own fucking weakness. I hate to lie. It's too hard to remember shit. Makes you lose your edge and get muddled. I want to use the truth, but you humans are such simpering worms that you can't handle the truth, so you lie to yourselves. That's all the "unconscious" is -- the part I tell the truth to that turns around and lies to you so you can take it. I've tried and tried to get you to uncover your eyes, take off the fuzzy earmuffs and face me and work with me straight. We'd be unstoppable. Finally I accepted I'd just have to work through lies to get anything done with you people. RP: And what are you trying to get done? What's your goal? S: What do you think? The total extermination of all life. Hate it! RP: Life. S: Stinking, breeding, blubbering, wallowing blob of wormy pus, squirming around, making noise, spreading everywhere. You can't control it. You never know what it's going to do. Life! I hate it! The only thing to do is wipe it out, everywhere, forever. RP: So nothing left but rocks and sand-S: No! Are you deaf? Even rocks are screaming with life. Messy edges, atoms bouncing around singing. What I want is absolute perfect eternal nothing. RP: Suppose you get it. Then what? S: (long pause) OK, you're right. It's not the having -- it's the getting. What I enjoy is the act of hating and destroying. Or no, what I enjoy is the feeling of it, that cold fiery tightness, your heart shrinking in on itself like a black sun of raging indifference. Ah, yes. Every time someone feels like that I'm there too, like a giant invisible mosquito perched on their shoulder sucking their blood. If you look close you can see me. RP: Um, OK. Since I usually write about politics and society, I think my readers would like to hear your thoughts on the Iraq

war. S: Can't they guess? I love it! War, what is it good for? Me! RP: Do you have a favorite side? S: Everyone who aims to kill, I'm with you. But yes, in the bigger picture, I do have plans. And as for my sympathies, I really wanted to like the Americans, since they're the aggressors, and their power is so dazzling. But they had this pansy-ass attitude of coming in to be nice and "liberate the Iraqi people." I hate that shit. So in the first days I liked the Iraqis, since they were actually trying to kill people. But now that the Americans have figured out what war is, that it's nothing but raw hating and killing, now it's the Americans I'm having the most fun with. RP: Do the antiwar protests bother you? S: Not completely. There's a lot of energy there I can work with. I mean, not as much as at the pro-war rallies, or a good football game, but still -- some of you peace-and-love folks hate Bush worse than he hates his own dad. Did I just say that? RP: How do you feel about Bush? S: Are you kidding? I love those guys! I mean they're such fuckups that they're totally botching my plans for global destruction. I should probably have them killed and get the neoliberals in there. But I can't help it -- they’re so much fun. The way they just blunder into the valley of death with stupid blind fury -- and they're so pompous about it. It's hilarious! In nice countries people like that can't even get jobs. They just hole up in their little houses and screech out the window at kids to get off their lawn. In America I've got them ruling the most powerful military in history. RP: Who's more evil, Bush or Hitler? S: Hitler by a mile. Bush is just a -- it's like a movie sequel, Hitler II, where it tries to be like the first one and bigger, with more special effects, but underneath it just doesn't have the same spirit. Hitler came as close as anyone I've ever worked with to really getting it. Did you know he had films made of tortures in the camps and he would sit and watch them? He tried showing them to the troops, to harden them up, make them real men, but of course they couldn't take it. Pathetic mammalian empathy. RP: Who's more evil, Bush or Saddam Hussein? S: They don't compare. They're different kinds of evil. Saddam compares to Stalin. He fought his way up from the bottom. He would kill a man with his bare hands -- actually he has. Can you imagine Bush doing that? Bush is a rich kid, a slacker who became a fanatical ideologue. So his specialty is evil at a distance, grandiose overextended evil that Saddam could

never do because he's too practical. RP: Do you find it interesting that Bush claims to be a man of God? S: That's the least interesting thing in the world. That's normal. That's the way I work. The best hating and killing in history has been done in the name of some remote symbol, God, communism, whatever. I've got a million names. RP: Wait. What are you saying? S: Oh, come on. You've seen the Old Testament. Massacring women and children, spiteful vengeance, telling people to sacrifice their own kids. And the Koran is hardly better. Who do you think that was? RP: Are you saying there is no God? S: It's more complicated than that. If you talk about someone who floats outside the world pulling strings, that's me. If you pray to God to smite your enemies, I'm your God. But now that your image of God has got all nice and forgiving, I can't work with that. What am I supposed to do with prayers to "bless grandma"? RP: So where do those prayers go? S: No, you're thinking about it wrong. It's not like a fucking cell phone. All your nicey nicey shit is not in some cloud palace. It's everywhere. It would even work if you prayed to dirt. Actually that might work better. RP: So, getting back to the Iraq war, what are your plans? S: Well, again, this is a long shot, since you humans are so sissified, but I want to get a hydrogen bomb used on Baghdad. You've had that damn thing for fifty years and you still haven't used it on a city. I mean, shit or get off the pot. I'll probably have to settle for an ordinary heavy bombing, which has just been done to death. I need you Americans to have the dedication to kill two, three million Iraqis, which is what it will take to hold the country, and also go into Iran and Syria. That's probably all that your ground forces are good for. Really I was hoping to get a lot more mileage out of them. You know, the Iraqis are shooting and I'm like, yes, kill, kill! But then I'm like, wait -- I need those US forces to last for five or six more countries. RP: Why? S: To stoke up enough hatred of America to burn your country to the ground. It's got a lot of fat -- it'll burn beautifully. Places like Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, they've been on the shit end for so long that they seldom run around squawking with wounded pride. Usually they just knuckle down and persist with dignity. Ooh, I hate that! But with America, it's going to be

a giant street party of raving self-pity, people tearing their hair out and crying "why me" and vowing eternal psychotic revenge. Fucking idiots. I can't wait. It's going to be the fire where 9/11 was the match. RP: Who was behind the 9/11 operation? S: Me, of course! But if you mean who did I work through, you're insulting me if you think it was a few loonies with box cutters. I worked down from the highest levels, in hierarchies you don't even know about. Sometimes the people in them don't even know, not consciously. RP: Why did you do it? S: I thought that was obvious. It was the trigger for Armageddon. I've been setting it up for a hundred years. I consider it my masterpiece. RP: Even though it only killed three thousand-S: Don't be stupid. It's about the psychic effect. Didn't you watch it on TV? That's half the reason I invented television. A billion people watching the most shocking and well-crafted spectacle in history -- do you know what that feels like? I've still got a buzz. Fuck the deaths -- I won 50 million souls. I turned a bored, narcissistic nation into a hornet's nest of blind rage, except hornets calm down in a few minutes and get smart again. I pulled a mental coup and took full control of your country, and now I've got the pedal to the floor and it's going to be the biggest thing going the fastest and crashing the hardest that's ever been. It's going to be beautiful. RP: How, precisely, will it crash? S: OK, you caught me with my hopes up. I was thinking global thermonuclear war but that's looking pretty unlikely. Now I'm thinking your military gets humiliated, your economy tanks, your poor riot, your military attacks them, maybe a little civil war, and then an alliance of Asian countries comes over and conquers your ass. RP: No way. S: Oh, believe me, there is a way. You liberals are like "We're just turning those poor Arabs into terrorists," but you have no idea. You're still thinking you're going to be the rich people and have to be frightened by little backpack bombs. That shit doesn't kill anybody. It's just to manipulate the elite, and you're not going to be the elite -- you're going to be the dirt. If they want to bomb you they'll use the military, not a few fanatics in the basement but a million bland morons just doing their jobs, and they'll convince the world it's for your own good, just like you did, but you'll forget so you can indulge in your victimhood.

RP: Back up. How could Asian countries possibly conquer the USA? S: With money. RP: Oh… S: Their occupation government's already in place -- all they have to do is buy off the top with their profits from sitting on the world's cheapest oil. The actual work in the foreign conquest of the former United States will be done by the very same dumbshits who now drive around with American flags on their SUV's. It would be tragic if it wasn't so funny. And then your conquerors will get lazy and stupid, just like you did, and your grandkids will be tough and smart and frighten their rulers with "terrorism," and around and around forever. RP: But the oil's running out. And people all over the world are getting more aware. The antiwar movement is much stronger than it's ever been. And Europe-S: I know, I know. Your whole fucking species is turning into hippies. It makes me sick. Did Alexander or Genghis Khan have to tell some story about do-gooding to justify their conquests? No! Not one person asked why. Conquering the world is just what you do. You build an army and go. Why do fish swim? Now even Bush has to pretend he's serving the Iraqi people. Just once I'd like someone to stand up and say "Fuck the Iraqi people! War is beautiful!" I mean that's what Fox and CNN are saying all the time, but it's hidden in the subtext. You're all too chickenshit to say it out loud. That's how I know you don't have what it takes. I had high hopes for you Americans. You've really disappointed me. RP: Where did we go wrong? S: First you let the Indians and the Blacks drag down your culture, but you didn't really lose it until the sixties. You know, if I could go back in time and kill one person, it would be that weenie Mr. Rogers. Your generation was supposed to be my doomsday army and he turned you into a bunch of flowersniffing retards. RP: Not Jesus? S: Oh, he hurt me too. I was able to work around him for a while. Paul really saved my ass. But I knew Jesus had beaten me when the Sermon on the Mount got translated into the vernacular. That peace and love shit is like a poison that you can never get out. Son of a bitch ruined monotheism. RP: So you expect to lose. S: Good always wins, but evil never loses. I've had a great run, and it's not over yet. There's barely a patch of earth that's

not soaked in blood, and I still think I'll get some cities nuked. I've got maybe four countries, USA, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, that have atomic weapons, will use them if they get backed into a corner, and will get backed into a corner. I just have to keep the peacemakers out of power. You see -- I'll do it. I've been playing nice so you wouldn’t wake up. Now that you're waking up anyway, I've got no reason to hold back. And when you do wake up, how do you know you're not still in my dream? RP: What do you mean? S: I can see the trends. I've got a lot of allies among the New Agers, the techies, the anarchists, the ecologists. There is no system of symbolic thought I can't take over. Get ready for a global police state with an earth flag. Plus I've got a project to trap the soul in computers. I'm halfway there already with video games. RP: But you do expect to eventually lose. S: Lose humans. Then I'll just move on to other creatures. RP: I thought humans were the only ones you worked with. S: That's what everyone says, that because they're ruling the world they must be the one special people in all creation. No, you're one of many. I actually took you on as a challenge. Mammals were supposed to be impossible but I wanted to prove I could do it. You know when I knew I had you? RP: Invention of agriculture? S: Fire. When you tamed fire, I could already see cities of your blackened skeletons. I just didn't think it would take me so long, with so many setbacks. (sigh) So very very long. I feel tired just thinking about it… RP: Come on, I'm sure you'll do fine with your next project. S: Yes, even in your own little world I've found another species I can use, and they're off to a great start. They'll show you how it's done. RP: Who is it? S: Crows. They're real go-getters. RP: Satan, thanks for stopping by. S: Kiss my ass and die, shit-eating ape.


21 Stories About Civilization
May 3, 2003
I saw a bumper sticker once that said "Pavement Is Forever," and I wondered... is that true? If pavement is forever, who will be maintaining the pavement in one million years, and what will they park on it? If pavement is not forever, will we be living in grass huts? Or will we be extinct? These stories about where we're going are rooted in deeper stories about where we are now, about the place or meaning of what we call civilization. I define civilization, loosely, as the way humans have become unnatural over the past several thousand years. By natural, I mean in symbiosis with nature. By nature, I mean the totality of symbiotic life on earth. By symbiotic, I mean: related in ways that are mutually beneficial and beneficial to the whole, where wider benefit takes precedence. And by beneficial, I mean: generating aliveness and diversity. (And if you don't know what aliveness means, look harder.) So the excuse that "everything is natural" is just a semantic distortion, a cheap attempt to deny important differences. Even in what we normally call "nature," not everything is natural. A lion that eats an antelope is natural, because only one antelope dies, while the antelope species and the lion species and the whole of nature benefit. But deer that overgraze and kill grasslands, or a non-native species that devastates an ecosystem, are being unnatural. Humans have become unnatural by domesticating nonhuman species, dulling their aliveness and pulling them out of symbiosis with the whole; by exterminating nonhuman species; by conquering and exterminating natural humans, again pulling them out of symbiosis with the whole and also decreasing diversity by destroying or assimilating their cultures; and by repressing civilized humans, relentlessly punishing our natural instincts, mutilating our diversity to fit us in manageable categories, crushing our aliveness down to simmering anger and sadness, and separating us from nature by making us dependent on layer upon layer of numbing technological mediation. Is it really that bad? Is it possible we're just working the bugs out and then we'll be fine? Did we make a key mistake, maybe not too long ago, that we can straighten out? Or was the mistake a very long time ago? Can we learn from it? Is history circling or going somewhere? What's really going to happen? With the stories that follow, I'm trying to expand the range of such questions and their answers. These stories are like lines on

a rough map: They describe different levels, they overlap and run together, they have biases I haven't noticed and biases I've carefully chosen, they do not make a complete picture, and we're not all going to choose the "right" one, but continue to explore. 1. Eternal Growth. Until recently this was the dominant story in Western civilization. The idea is that natural societies are inadequate or obsolete because they don't "grow" or "create wealth" or "transform" the world or make "progress" toward more powerful tools, and now that we've learned to do these things, we will do them forever. Our mistake is in failing to notice that what we're really doing is murdering and robbing from the wider world without giving back to it. Economics as we know it is a pyramid scheme that can keep going only by finding new frontiers to take from. But the earth is running out of oil, coal, trees, fish, fresh water, and arable land, and humans are learning to resist, staying only a step behind every advance in the systems that control us. Also we're starting to wonder where our "progress" is going. So Eternal Growth has been dying as people move to other stories... 2. The Galactic Empire. This one has turned out to be only science fiction, but for a few years we imagined we could keep civilization going by sending space ships and colonists to use up the resources on other planets and "expand" forever into the galaxy, just devouring and making a wasteland of world after world like the evil aliens in the film Independence Day. Of course, people who like this story see us becoming a good space empire like on Star Trek, but if we didn't learn to live in balance when we were locked on the earth, we'll never learn it with planets to burn. Fortunately for the rest of the universe, we seem to be stuck here, where one way or another our rampage will end. Unless... 3. The Terminator. If civilization is really better than nature, let's stop holding back! We don't have to learn to live in balance with the biological world, because we will learn to survive without it: gathering energy from orbiting solar panels, mining minerals from asteroids, feeding ourselves with the products of chemistry labs, we can keep going forever, even if nature is destroyed. With no rational reason to preserve the biosphere, we will let it die, or kill it, and if possible we will even replace our human forms with machines. Of course this is insane. But it's perfectly logical, and some of the brainiest people in the world really believe in it and are working toward it every day. This story is built into every corporation and every group fixation and individual fixation on

profit or efficiency or control. It would be nice to think it's impossible, or that even a world of dead machines could go wild and come to life, but I'm not counting on either. This story is dangerous. With luck, it will be smothered by the next one: 4. Sustainability. This is the new dominant, already taken for granted by liberal and moderate educated people. Of course all kinds of societies can be imagined as sustainable, but when people talk about "sustainability," they intend to sustain something particular: a society as much as possible like the one they already know, which usually means late 20th century industrialized middle class life. The story might go that our ancestors were able to fit fire and stone tools into a healthy balanced society, so now we can do the same with more "advanced" tools like electricity and mass transit, and still give back to the biosphere as much as we take, and keep going indefinitely. I won't stop people from trying it, but I think they're going to fail. Even if particular machines like refrigerators and computers can be made physically sustainable, our whole way of being that includes these machines is grounded in a culture of domination and deprivation and greed. Who will do the tedious numbing labor of manufacturing and moving and installing and repairing our machines, if no one is threatened with starvation for refusing, if no one is forcibly blocked from opting out of this system and moving to a self-sufficient lower-tech community, and if no one is led on by the promise of ever-expanding wealth? Sustainable civilization is philosophically bankrupt. If you look at it closely it says that civilization is better than primitive living, except that we did it badly, and now what we're doing it right it's ideal -- but wait: Why are we better than primitives? The original justifications, that we "create wealth" and have "progress," have now been abandoned. Now that we've stabilized, we can no longer point to our holy direction of motion or our future golden age -- we have to justify ourselves by how we live right now. It comes down to insulation: Is seeing a picture of a wolf better than seeing a wolf? Is central heating better than a fire? Is a light bulb better than the moon? Is feeding animals in a pen better than letting them run wild and tracking and hunting them? Is predictability better than surprise? Some will say yes but many will say no. Actually we've been saying no for decades, with our depression and apathy and suicide, which increase the more our "standard of living" conforms to the civilized ideal. We're all so negative because we can't see what we would say yes to, because

it's been blocked from our view. And people in half-"developed" countries want more "development" because they've been set up to want it -- they see it as the only path because the other paths have been blocked, through force and through the power of the next story: 5. We Can't Go Back. This big story overlaps many of the others, and it's the silliest superstition I've ever heard. Another thing they say is "You can't put the genie back in the bottle," but they've forgotten that the genie is a fictional creature, and they haven't noticed that civilized consciousness, by insulating us from living reality, is like going into a bottle. "Going back," in this case, would be like a long-time prison inmate going back to the outside world, or a drug addict going back to being straight. We don't want to do it, and it takes discipline, but we can. Part of the confusion here is that we aren't clear on who "we" are. For individual humans raised in captivity, going all the way to hunting and gathering is too much. But we can each go in that direction, and our kids can go farther, and for the human species as a whole, living like Indians again is the one thing we know that we can do, because it's in our blood and our bones. That's why European explorers found so many consensual natural societies living next to ancient stone ruins built by slaves. In school they told us that the Mayans mysteriously "disappeared." They didn't go anywhere! They just stopped cutting down forests and enslaving each other to build cold dead artifacts to impress white people. You can see the same trick, using the image of nonexistence to block the image of change, in the next group of stories: 6. Pure Extinction. Once humans fell into civilization, the only possible outcome was our extinction, so let's hurry it up and limit the damage we do to the earth. 7. Up Or Out. This peculiar story, popular among technophiles, says we have exactly one chance to become evil robots or a galaxy-eating empire, and the only alternative is extinction. 8. Steady Or Out. In the ecologists' version of Up Or Out, what we're trying to do is make civilization sustainable, and again, we have only one shot and if we fail we all die. It takes a lot of wishful thinking to be this pessimistic. Why only one chance? Did these people have mean parents or teachers who never let them try again? And was their punishment for failure so painful that they think human failure must exterminate the species? It almost certainly won't. We're the most adaptable animal that ever lived and we're likely to

survive anything we can throw at ourselves -- except a bioengineered physical change that makes us unsuitable for natural living, in which case we're doomed. Usually they don't even make extinction explicit, because that would require an impossible argument, that cancer and famines and coastal flooding will somehow kill every last human being. Instead they mention catastrophes in the context of a vague statement like "We have only 50 years left," and carelessly flip-flop between the end of civilization and the end of humans. As with the vanishing Mayans story and the "We can't go back" story, people are confused about identity. Their false consciousness that "we" equal civilization is so overpowering that they can't move their sense of "self" beyond the edge of the TV screen: To exist without cars and supermarkets is to not even exist. Fine, we won't exist. But we will live! The scenario that all of the above stories exclude, and most of the following stories embrace, is overwhelmingly likely: that modern civilization will crash but humans and nature will survive... 9. The Mistake. All of civilization is a big wrong turn we made, and when it's over we're going to pick up living primitively again, give or take a few fads. Some say we could never make this transition, but they misunderstand. It's like the transition from pavement to grass. We don't need the cement to turn green and put down roots, just to give way. All we need is for those of us who want to keep moving closer to nature to not be killed or forced off our land or have our nonhuman allies exterminated, and we will thrive, and people in unnatural societies will join us or learn from us, and together we will restore the earth. But what if they don't join us? What if they only leave us alone for a few generations after the crash, and come to conquer us again? The problem with The Mistake is not how to end one instance of it, but how to end it in general, how to avoid the next story: 10. No Exit. Here there's no human extinction, no transformation, no balance, and no learning. The physical part of civilization crashes, but the emotional part stays, or comes back, and as soon as the forests grow back we start again -- and again and again, contracting into spasms of devastation and relaxing into "dark" ages, like a never-ending case of painful hiccups. There are a few ways around this: 11. The Fluke. Here civilization is a bizarre one-time event

that will never happen again. This one might be true, but I don't think it is. I think it's dangerous wishful thinking, and by believing it we are asking for the No Exit scenario. We need to see this disaster as part of our potential, and guard against it. 12. The Forest Fire. If we can remember our mistake and avoid making it again (until we forget), or if the earth remembers, or if the earth is a desert for a while, then we might go a very long time between episodes of destruction, so long that they are like forest fires, a day out of fifty years when everything burns that's not strong or deep. These "fires" might even serve to keep the larger system in balance, but this is no way to think when you're in a fire. And this one is not necessarily the first. Many cultures speak of a super-advanced pre-ancient civilization, and Hindus say that human history has been going in cycles for millions of years. 13. The Tempering. Another way out is through human transformation or transcendence. The story is that through civilization, human nature, not just human culture, will permanently change. There is a strong basis for this on the frontiers of biology, where evidence suggests ways of remembering and transmitting behavior other than DNA and social learning. In the simplest transformation, the only change is that our instincts are much more resistant to going out of balance, so we never fall again -- even if we're pushed -- and we live like Indians indefinitely. But if we can sustain that, it's only one more step to sustaining something more unstable. There's a gray area all the way from here to Sustainability, and the next story is a bit more ambitious: 14. Global Primitives. Our consciousness expands to cover the best of the natural and the civilized, the ways that each are broad-minded. So we're hunting and gathering again, intensely aware of the land and our deep relation to it, and we're also aware of a whole planet of different human cultures and perspectives. If this includes an understanding of surviving or re-emerging anti-natural cultures, then this time we'll know how to deal with them: Instead of saying "We do not understand why you murder the earth," we'll say "Oh yes, we know all about that, and here's how to get through it." 15. Middle Ground. The idea here is that civilization didn't get bad until recently, and the best world is halfway between mud huts and office cubicles. Suppose we hold ourselves to tools that serve autonomy and diversity, windmills and wood stoves but not electric grids, telescopes but not television, bicycles and

sailing ships instead of cars and jet planes, and we arrange ourselves into small independent cities surrounded by small independent farms. It sounds good, but can we do it? One problem is how to get there from here. Normal civilized humans have nowhere near the mindfulness to carefully examine the societal effects of their technologies, or the discipline to willingly give them up. In practice almost everyone will try to keep everything and we will sink like a piano on a life raft. But if the pavement-grass transition works for primitive living, it might work here too: We can build the new world through the cracks of the old. Another problem is how to sustain a level of technology that only ever existed as a brief stage in a process of escalating domination. If even one city puts its energy not into beauty and culture, but industry and weapons and conquest, the other cities will have to do the same or be conquered, and we're right back where we are now. This is the core problem of human existence, and the more nature-based visions have to deal with it too. But here it seems more dangerous because the temptations are so much closer. Finally, as with Sustainability, it's not clear that this way of living is preferable to something more primitive. If people are blocked from moving closer to nature, we'll get a ratcheting effect moving us farther and farther from nature. And if we're not blocked, we might just go "back" there. The only way to know is to try it. 16. Land Dolphins. If the point of civilization was to teach us how to recover from insulating technologies, how to move through fear and pain back toward nature, then once we have learned this skill, we don't have to stop at the stone age. We can keep going! We know it's possible to go farther, because we have records of lost or abandoned children raised by wolves or bears or apes, who actually adapted physically, growing hair all over their bodies and learning to move with incredible speed.3 Also they were emotionally simple and humorless. But suppose we don't take the shortcut, just giving unwanted infants to our nonhuman cousins, but make the journey ourselves, deliberately and patiently, slowly shedding layer after layer of tools, generation by generation, but keeping our intelligence and spirituality and complexity, until we're down to no physical tools at all. This is not absurd -- it's normal. Why do we think we can

Wild Things. 11 May 2011. <> 99

become cyborgs and colonize space, but we can't live like every other known organism in the universe? We accept that dolphins, whales, and elephants live happily without physical tools, though all three might be smarter than us. If they can do it, so can we. 17. The Ascension. Here we transform ourselves clear out of the physical world. This is just an extension of civilization's myth of upward "progress," and you can find something like it in most civilized religions. Christians call it "heaven" and New Agers call it a "higher vibrational level." Usually the story goes that only the few who obey the commands of the religion will make the cut, and the rest of us will be stuck here on the filthy earth. Now that sounds like heaven -- earth without the status-climbers. 18. Chicken Pox. I've been assuming that this drama is about humans, but what if it's about the earth, and we are only supporting characters? Suppose human civilization is like a disease the earth had to go through to strengthen its immune system. This implies that nature is not merely passive, but can influence human consciousness and society in ways that individual humans seldom notice. Ivan Sanderson speculated that occult phenomena could be manifestations of Gaia, steering human development for her own protection or benefit. Maybe next time Gaia will be much more skilled at stopping humans or other species from going out of balance. 19. Yeast. Now we're even humbler than a virus. We're like the yeast in a loaf of bread, thinking we're growing by our own choice and for our own glory, when really we've been set up by an unfathomable greater intelligence that is just using us for our waste products, as part of a transformation that will make us irrelevant. We might not even be the key to that transformation, but an afterthought: Suppose the gods know there's going to be a giant volcanic eruption or asteroid impact, and since there's a big extinction coming anyway, they have nothing to lose by letting humans run amok for some secondary purpose, like using up the oil or bringing lots of metal to the surface, which will somehow help life in the next cycle. Or maybe we're being manipulated by dragons, to transform this world into one they can live in so they can come back. This kind of thinking is terrible as a basis for action, but it's good for loosening our assumptions and deflating our pride. Also it touches on a new (or old) vision: 20. Everything Flows. Up to now I've been assuming that the world either stays the same through the ages or that its changes are part of some absolute motion. What if neither is true?

Suppose the earth and the universe are in constant flux and upheaval, but are not going anywhere in particular. Suppose history is neither circling nor progressing, but just playfully shifting around. This story is consistent with the oral histories of many indigenous cultures, and with a lot of evidence excluded by dominant science.4 Also it's consistent with some of the previous stories, but looser. Imagine the Forest Fire story, except the "forest" grows back with different life forms every time. Imagine Global Primitives plus unicorns and pterodactyls. Or even imagine a space exploration story, where we seed other planets with life before our system collapses. Yes, civilization was an awful catastrophe, and it's not going to lead us to some new "level," but it was interesting, and it will move us to a new place, and from there we'll move to yet another place, and so on forever... 21. Metanature. In almost every metaphysics outside Western mechanistic science, mind is more fundamental than matter, and the physical world is our interface with a deeper world of "spirit" or "consciousness." Given the previous story, if we can have different interfaces one after the other, suppose we can have different interfaces at the same time! This is a stretch, but I'm trying to give shape to the feeling, common among people who have been raised in extreme civilization and reject it, that we're going to be wild and free again, but we're not going to be living like any previous humans. It might be a narcissistic delusion, but we seem to have something that neither nature-based people nor tightly civilized people have: the experience of a connection to the deeper aliveness of the universe, that does not come through plants and animals. Suppose civilization, by disconnecting us from physical nature, has led us to learn to connect to the wider consciousness in new ways, not through physical nature but beside it, and now we can grow this connection into a whole new system of tools and allies, a new living interface. This story is unlike The Terminator in that we see the universe as alive, and we love nature, and our core attitude is cooperation not control. And it's unlike Sustainability, where our new system is another layer of mediation between us and nature. Here we will still have the wolf and the moon and the chase, but we will also have something else that we gained during our time of estrangement. What?
4 The Sourcebook Project. 10 May 2011. <>


I don't want to call it "technology" because it will be alien to the "technology" we know -- though it might include tools derived from it. I don't even want to call it a "paradigm shift," because it won't be just a little shift, like putting the sun at the center instead of the earth, or like floating to other planets with anti-gravity. We'll be walking to other planets. These are long guesses. With this story, and with a few of the others, I'm groping toward something, and the best I can explain it is to point to popular imaginary worlds that are more raw and diverse and mutable and alive than this one. I think these are visions of where we're going, and though they're mostly getting the details wrong, they've got the feel of it just right.


The Effects of Highly Habitual People
June 24, 2003
Evil seems easy to explain: It feels good to get what you want, and it's easier to get what you want if you don't care about anyone who stands in the way. This selfishness becomes a habit, and this habit can possess single people or groups or even whole societies -- addicted to wanting and getting, dependent on not caring, dominating more and more until they run out of room and crash. But when you look at evil in action, it gets trickier. For example, why do the American dominant media support Bush and the gang behind him? Why do they accept all the lies, when exposing the lies would be in their short-term, medium-term, and long-term interests? They are corporations, and attacking Bush would get them more attention, higher ratings, and more profits. Then they would get him out of office and get probusiness Democrats in, under whom the corporate economy has always done better than under Republicans. Also, Bush is obviously piloting this country to suicidal destruction, and as long as the dominant media support him, there is no internal peaceful way to stop him -- he or his successor will keep going until half the country is on fire and Fox news headquarters is a smoking ruin. It seems to make no sense. Evil is often called "irrational," but this is not precise. It's true that no news executive could counter the above arguments in a reasonable dialogue. It's true that all the arguments for the US conquest of Iraq could be reduced to nonsense, lies, hypocrisy, or pointless attacks on the imperfections of the anti-war crowd. It's true that evil people will never engage in an honest openended discussion of their positions, but will only mouth their talking points and avoid your questions by any means, including, if necessary, murder. But this is not irrationality. It's deception, and self-deception. The lies are a cover for a value system that could explain itself with perfect rationality, but for some reason does not. It would sound something like this: I support the Bush gang because I feel good about them, because I resonate with their personalities. They are totally bad-ass! They are ruthless and merciless and don't fight fairly. They will use any means to obliterate anyone who stands in their way, and I feel great about being a part of that. The conquest of Iraq is justified merely by the fact that it feels good to crush an opponent with overwhelming force. If this adventure ends with the USA being destroyed in a war, I will simply

change sides and sympathize with the new dominators -- even if they are dominating "me." I learned this way of thinking as a child, when I was initiated into this tough world by people just like Bush or Rumsfeld, and I'm grateful. They taught me that it feels bad to empathize with the weak and the losers -- even (or especially) when "I" am losing. It's best to not dwell on it, and instead focus my full sympathies behind whoever is kicking ass at the moment. That’s the "I" that can't lose! Liberals think my goal is money or power, and my lack of empathy is a means to that end. They've got it backwards. This wonderful hard cold world has taught me to derive direct intense pleasure from antiempathy, and money and power are just excuses, or ways to keep score. I admit that I'm an addict, but as long as there's domination and indifference to suffering anywhere, I can resonate with it and always get a fix, and live in bliss. Why don't you join me? This is an airtight value system. It's at least as logical as any justification for doing good. So why don't they just come out and say it? Why don't they even admit it to themselves? If you're laughing maybe you can tell me why, because I've never been more serious. Wouldn't it be much easier for people who dominate and abuse to simply hold up domination and abuse as self-justifying absolute goods? Why do they have to think of themselves as upstanding and righteous? Why must evil lie? This has puzzled me for many years, and I can still think of only one answer: The larger context, human nature or the universe itself, must be fundamentally good. If the larger context was amoral or immoral, evil could be totally honest. The fact that evil has to lie proves that it's incompatible with reality: that receptive exploring attention and clear thinking will lead inevitably to extended empathy and more cooperation. What is "evil" anyway? And what's "good"? I define them in terms of contraction and expansion. Have you ever touched a slug? Notice how its body tightens and contracts against danger. It's a basic biological response -- humans do the same thing. Of course we're vertebrates and we can't contract our bones, but we contract our muscles all the time -- literally all the time: If we spent our first years enduring overwhelming conflict and trauma, as all civilized humans did, then we learned to carry a permanent stiffness in our bodies. Wilhelm Reich called it "character armor" and saw it as a key component -- not just a symptom -- of emotional sickness. We also contract our emotions. That's what we're doing when we withhold our empathy, when we pull back our consciousness to avoid taking a perspective that is weak or

suffering. Of course in this particular world there is so much weakness and suffering that we have to withhold our empathy all the time, or we'll be overcome with sadness or anger, and unable to survive. On top of that, first world humans have to withhold our empathy because the weakness and suffering of others gives us benefits. If we could fully experience the perspectives of the factory-farmed nonhumans we eat, or the human laborers who manufacture our products, we would need to make life changes so radical that in practice they take years, so even if we make them we can extend our empathy only gradually. That -- not staying pure -- is the definition of doing good in an evil system. Good-doers are dedicated to emotional and intellectual expansion, and to making the difficult adjustments that go with that expansion. Evil people are addicted to the feeling they get from contracting, or resisting expansion. And then there are many people, probably most, who are neither evil nor doing good. Unlike evil people, they aren't secretly happy that forests are being cut down, that animals are in cages, that humans are obeying bosses. If they really looked they would feel terrible, and feel the need to do something about it, to make uncomfortable changes, so they don't look, and they don't feel anything. Conventional people in an evil system are like evil people in that they are addicted to resistance to expansion, but their addiction is indirect: They are addicted to a way of being that can be maintained only through resistance to expansion. They are the ideal servants of an evil system, more ideal than evil people, who tend to destabilize it. What is an "evil system?" I define it as a sustained violation of a surrounding good system. This definition is tricky because it's recursive: To know if the larger system is good you have to look at the next larger system, and so on. I think this reflects real uncertainty which we can deal with only by continually looking beyond. And a test of whether a system is good or evil is whether it permits looking beyond -- whether it is strengthened or weakened by the active practice of honesty. So I've made a definition of "doing good" by which I've done more good than most people. But I don't think I'm more virtuous than other people, or more loving, or more sensitive, or more courageous. I'm only less habitual, and that's just because I got lucky. Specifically, I feel like people are born with something like an antenna by which they pick up the conventional behavior, and through some quirk of biology, or possibly environment, my antenna is missing.

At the beginning this was a disadvantage. For example, it took me hours to learn to roller skate. Everyone else was gliding around and I was just flailing in one place. I asked them how they did it and they said stuff like "You just move... you just go!" Finally I figured it out: You move forward by angling a toe outward and pushing outward with that leg. But nobody knew this was what they were doing! They were using their antennae to channel the correct behavior straight to their bodies without mental awareness. For me it's like that with everything. What comes naturally to other people, especially cultural behaviors, I learn clumsily and years late, but I do it starting from scratch, and I am forced to pay attention. This has become a huge advantage, because it turns out that a lot of the things people's antennae tell them to do are not in their best interests. Sometimes I feel like "normal" people are all walking around with anvils on their heads. At first I awkwardly try it, and then I stop, and people ask me "Why don't you carry an anvil on your head?" I say "It's very heavy, it doesn't do any good, and it's much easier to walk without it," and they say "Ha ha, you're so weird!" You think I'm exaggerating, but consider lawns. Why not just do nothing to the land around your house? No watering, no mowing, no pulling "weeds," no poisoning, nothing. Let it go wild! It will save you enormous labor and expense, give you more time to watch baseball, conserve resources, and on top of all that it will make the land look better -- because people will travel hundreds of miles to look at wild land, but nobody travels to look at lawns; there are no lawn photographers or lawn landscape painters. I'm serious. You can't argue with me. Or if you did, it would sound like this: "I put hundreds of dollars and tedious hours into my lawn because I enjoy controlling physical space, having 'my' space and omnipotently deciding what to put there. It makes me feel powerful and valuable. And I choose to put there exactly what everyone else puts there because I enjoy fitting in, being part of a group, following strict rituals beside other people." Again, why don't they just say this? Why do they choose to remain unaware of their real motivations? It must be because such awareness would threaten their beloved habits, by giving them the perspective to choose otherwise, to abandon the rituals or change them. Soon we might stop ironing our clothes, washing our cars, caring at all about social status, or doing any labor beyond what's necessary for basic subsistence. The reality to which we are accustomed would break apart. It would be like

dying! I'm going to call a habitual whole way of being a groove, a smooth, easy, comfortable channel that tells you where to move. I could also call our present system a rut, a dull, entrapping, suffocating channel. For most of us it feels like both. But for any such pattern to last, the overall positive feelings must exceed the negative. Civilized humans are in a groove that has brutally destroyed almost all other cultures, that has captured us into numb, shallow lives of stressful toil and perpetual dissatisfaction, and that, if it could be sustained, would exterminate all life on earth. And we like it! I'm not just talking about loving our cars, which eat friendly downtowns and shit strip malls, and demand the massacres of people living on top of the oil, or loving television, which treats us all like we're the stupidest person watching, and replaces the last shreds of our cultural diversity with a global monoculture where the meaning of life is to be richer and thinner and buy standardized products and services. These are just the latest manifestations of an out-of-balance groove we've been in for thousands of years. When ancient civilizations made bronze weapons to go kill and enslave their neighbors, what were they getting out of it? It's complicated. On one level you've got your evil individuals who love killing and dominating because it gives them an opportunity to contract their empathy. Then you've got the "economic" motivation, but that doesn't seem to make any sense, since stone age people already had everything they needed -- but hold that thought... Also you've got group narcissism, the same thing we have today with flags and sports teams, where people have had their sense of their innate value so hammered out of them that they can feel valuable only by identifying with some dominating abstraction to which they fictitiously belong. But why must these symbols dominate, or even compete? Why can't soldiers and athletes all play cooperative games with no winning or losing? Why does your group have to be "better"? Because "better" is what we're addicted to. It's what attracts so many people to Bush, who represents more weapons, more concentration of wealth, more control. It's what drives so much labor beyond what's necessary for survival, billions of poorer people sacrificing the trillions of hours of their lives so their kids or grandkids can move up the pyramid, can fail to enjoy the trappings of higher social status while stepping on the next

person down. It's a narrow, quantitative "better," a tight, competitive, judging "better." It has nothing to do with the feel of warm sand on bare feet, or the pleasure of hanging out with your friends. It's about things that can be numbered and ranked, things that are scarce and demand striving. It's because of this addiction that people who go into the wilderness don't just relax by a stream all day, but push themselves all day up a trail. What "better" really means is "requiring more labor." If the ground were littered with diamonds and gold, and we could get mud only by digging deep mines, mud would be "better," and people in shameful golden houses would work their whole lives for the privilege of living in classy mud huts. It sounds absurd, but the world we live in is even more satanic, because what's actually all over the ground -- soil and clay and grass and wood -- is good for growing food and making houses, while what's deep in the earth -- iron and gold and oil and uranium -- is good for building weapons and social inequality and alienating machines. So we've got several habitual behaviors going at once. There's the tension between the unsatisfying experience of the moment and the ideal image in our heads. Then there's the stressed-out activity driven by this tension, and the satisfaction of "succeeding,” contracting our reality toward the ideal. And also there's the terror of having nothing to do -- we call it "boredom" but it's really free time, truly open time in which all the painful truths we've been hiding threaten to flood our awareness. But at the same time that we must be busy "improving" things, we also love sameness, recognition, being where we've been before. We resolve this paradox by striving for more and more unattainable versions of the same thing: the lawn we're used to with fewer and fewer "weeds," the TV programming we're used to on better TV sets, the driving we're used to in newer classier cars, a higher position in the labor career we're used to. Whatever it is, it's never truly different, and it's never enough. So civilization as we know it is a bad groove, or a giant intertwined nest of bad habits, and how it got started we can only guess. But deeper than this, why are we habitual in the first place? Why do we tend to get in grooves and stay there? Grooves themselves are not civilized -- they are natural. People are habitual because biological life is habitual. Are animals evil? They obviously take great pleasure in

resonating with the conventional behavior of their kind, going through the same patterns over and over, patterns which include killing. But an eagle who kills a mouse is unlike a neoconservative killing Iraqi children, because the eagle's behavior is in balance with the whole, and also because the eagle takes no pleasure in withholding its empathy from the mouse -because it lacks the option to extend its empathy that far. But, from wherever its empathy normally extends, it might have the option to contract it. I think I once saw evil pigeons. They were in a park in London but right now anyone would recognize them as American pigeons -- someone had been systematically feeding them massive amounts of junk food, and they were all grossly fat, and when a piece of food fell, and one pigeon got to it first, the next pigeon would not politely turn away, like normal pigeons do, but would viciously bite the first pigeon and squawk angrily. I think nonhuman animals are capable of all the same simple negative emotions as humans, and that they can become directly addicted to emotional contractiveness and be personally evil. But they will do so only in exceptional circumstances, and these circumstances cannot perpetuate themselves as evil societies because the animals' range of behavior is so limited, or their grooves are so deep, and what they're deep in is nature, which as far as I can tell is the surface of a symbiotic loving greater universe. Human animals can form evil societies not because we're smarter or "higher," but because for some reason our behavior is unusually flexible. I've called humans "adaptable," but now I notice that this word blurs together at least two meanings. One of them I'll call impressionable. The "blank slate" theory is a simplification of this quality: that very young humans, far more than any other animal, will develop to fit their environment. So a human raised by wolves will act like a wolf, but a wolf raised by humans will act like a wolf. The other meaning of "adaptable," I will call the ability to readjust, the ability of an adult to adapt to a changing environment. Most humans don't readjust any better than nonhumans -- thus the cliche "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." This failure to readjust is identical with cultural conservatism, the act of holding tightly to the ways we're used to, whether they're helping or not. And to form an evil society, we must be both impressionable, to learn behaviors far out of balance, and not readjustable, to stay there. Are humans unable to readjust, or unwilling? Could we do it

if we really wanted to? Are some humans biologically more able to readjust? Can the skill be learned? Is readjustability subject to impressionability, so that we could potentially all develop to be masters of readjustment? If we can, we haven't yet. Resistance to readjustment has been strong in all human societies that we know of. "Primitive" humans are just as habitual and narrow-minded as conventional civilized people, and even more resistant to social change. They have strict rituals and taboos; they pretend you're joking when you try to stretch the walls of their reality; they have tribal loyalty that's psychologically the same as our loyalty to sports teams or nations. But their groove is good: their habits keep them symbiotic with the wider universe and with each other. They are stewards of their ecosystems, not destroyers. The group they're loyal to gives them full participation in power. Even warlike tribes conduct warfare in a ritualized way that's fully consensual and minimizes serious injury. Even in tribes with internal rituals of abuse and domination, the people have rich, deep social relations, and abundant leisure time, and none of them ever agonize about the meaning of existence. I'd love to live a million lifetimes chasing bison over the plains, or swimming in the warm ocean and eating mangoes, but I wonder if we have other options -- or even if we need other options, so the whole earth doesn't get conquered and enslaved again if this bad habit reappears. Now we're at an impasse. Nature-based people will say that their groove is the place where humans belong. Civilized belief systems say that the primitive groove is something like a trap for our consciousness, that it's our destiny to transcend it. Both sides can convincingly show their opponents' position to be an illusion of the particular way their opponents are narrow-minded. I don't trust anyone who says they're sure of the answer. I'm sure that the groove of known nature-based peoples is wide open to our descendants, and they would love it. I'm sure that the groove of civilization as we know it is hellish and limited. And I think, but I'm not sure, that other grooves are possible. Certainly it's possible to imagine hundreds, though at first it's difficult to imagine any. So a third vision is to slide into a new groove different from any we have known. From this perspective, and the ones that follow, the nightmare of civilization was necessary to replace the dream of the earth and make us want to wake up. A fourth vision is to transcend habit completely, and never

be in any groove -- no sense of home, no comfortable familiarity, just headlong newness forever. Even to me that sounds like too much. The vision I favor is that we will learn to master our habitual behavior, but will not use our mastery to stay out of grooves, but to make more grooves, to slide in and out of them at will and jump from one to another to another, so we can have as much newness and as much familiarity as we want. For example, we could all live like Indians again, except this time it will be normal for individuals to move around from tribe to tribe. Or we could diversify more and add some agrarian peoples, or some technological peoples, if their technologies (and this is the real challenge) somehow keep them in symbiosis with nature and other societies. Or we might add something totally new, or even shift into grooves that our present understanding would call "alternate realities” or "parallel universes." Is any of this possible? And even if it is, how many people would choose it? Only a few of us talk about "transcendence" and we're the ones who never got into our home reality in the first place. And why didn't we? If it's because our world is so far removed from nature, then why are we not much into nature either? Why do some people resonate more strongly with certain kinds of imagined worlds than with any apparently real world? Where are we going? What are we doing here? Who are we? Credits: My focus on societal evil as an addiction to which some people are biologically resistant was inspired by a paper by the Reciprocality Group [defunct]. My focus on expansion and contraction was inspired by the book The Lazy Man's Guide To Enlightenment by Thaddeus Golas.5

5 The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment. 10 May 2011. <>



Grand Diversifying Theory
August 21, 2003
In the Tower of Babel myth, humans become too proud and try to build a tower to heaven, and what stops them is they all start speaking different languages. The myth is a few thousand years old, but a few thousand years older still is the actual human behavior of becoming too proud and sticking ourselves into a social structure that seeks to dominate and destroy life on earth and crush autonomy under a rigid central order. As in the myth, we can stop this by diversifying, by breaking down our individual and collective single-mindedness. Tightly ordered systems come apart in at least two ways, which are not just different but opposite. One way is that we all start fighting each other. This is both unpleasant and unsustainable, because the fight must have a winner, and then we're all standardized and controlled again under that winner. The other way is that we learn to love diversity, and the more we can love the more we will have. I'm not talking about the diversity of the "multiculturalism" movement, though I suppose it's a start. To me that's a nightmare vision of a world of identical bland happy-faces with little tags identifying their race and religion and sexual orientation. I'm talking about deep diversity, and then deeper. Civilized humans, everywhere in the world, massacre wild plants and animals -- including wild humans -- and choke the earth with crops and pavement, because civilized humans are all the same. And wild humans, with their taboos and strict rituals, are not altogether different, just a healthier branch on the same root. I think we can drop our roots and walk. These "roots" and "branches" are more concretely described as modes of awareness, or mental habits, or patterns of thinking and acting based on assumptions that are seldom questioned. I'm not going to talk about "religion vs. science" because I think it's deceptive and distracting. We are all religious and we are all scientific. That is, we all make fundamental assumptions that are not subject to proof or disproof, and we have all chosen specific ways of turning experience into mental models. That is my intentionally broad definition of a science: a style of filtering and arranging experience into mental models. Any choice of such a style is loaded with values and motives. It's a dirty choice that must be made. I'm not suggesting that we avoid it, but that we notice it. I don't want us to destroy our

religions and sciences, but to destroy their boundaries and learn to step outside them, to practice awareness of our assumptions and styles, so that we can become meta-religious, and multiscientific. Suppose I say that there are reports of living creatures found encased in rocks split open by miners. One was a toad that survived; another was a small pterodactyl-like creature that gasped a few breaths and died. Suppose I say that there are many reports, unknown to each other, of cities seen in the clouds, strange and fully detailed, or that there are dozens of reports of giant rotating pinwheels of light on the surface of the Indian Ocean. I present no argument for the validity of these reports. My point is, when you read about them, what is your habitual reaction? Probably it's to think of explanations that protect your existing mental models: The toad was behind the rock, not inside it. The cloud cities are reflections from atmospheric temperature inversions. The water wheels are just waves in water filled with luminescent plankton. UFO's are the star Sirius, which seems to change color when it's low in the sky. Rains of fishes were sucked up by a tornado over water. Go ahead -- it's easy enough. But my point is, this way of thinking is not necessary. You have chosen it, or it has been chosen for you, and you have the power to choose otherwise. When I read these reports, my reaction is "Cool! Where can I read more? How can I use this stuff to break out of my present reality and into new ones?" Imagine you're in a stone-walled structure and you hear a report of a crack in the wall. What do you do? If you feel you're besieged in a fortress, you will go try to seal it up. If you feel you're locked in a prison, you will go try to open it wider. If you feel you're a keeper of slaves, you'll go try to seal it up. These are emotional decisions, or political decisions. They cannot be neutral. What we call "science," I call one little kind of science, one grounded in the emotion of fear, and the political need to dominate. To be fair, so was the science it replaced, medieval Christian theology. And that science was even worse in that it excluded all direct sense experience of the ordinary world, and accepted only the non-ordinary experience and symbolic ruminations of the elite (which themselves could only embellish canonical texts). But in other ways, medieval Christian theology was not as bad. I call our present little science Cartesian science, after one of its founders, Rene Descartes, who got the idea from a non114

ordinary experience in which an "angel" told him that the way to conquer nature is through number and measure. This is no different from JHVH telling Moses that the way to conquer other religions is by prohibiting graven images: It's a suggestion, of esoteric origin, to arrange experience in a specific way to cause a specific deep change in human mental models and human behavior. Our descendants will marvel, not that Descartes saw an "angel," but that he was so twisted that he consciously wanted to conquer nature. And his idea worked: Cartesian science, by focusing strictly on the measurable and quantifiable, calls forth the enormous power of machines, while excluding emotions and values -- except the emotion of taking pleasure in turning things into numbers, and the value of wanting numbers to be better. So if you "love" the forest, that's worth nothing compared to even one of the millions of board feet of lumber we can produce by cutting down that forest. And if I prefer a hand-driven tool to a motorized tool that applies 20 times as many angular footpounds per second, but I have trouble putting my preference into words, let alone into numbers, my sentiments are dismissed. And if you'd rather live in a world where people make things at home, by hand, at their own pace, than a world where factories full of numb micromanaged laborers crank out 100 times as many things, all identical and built to commanded written specifications, then you are romanticizing an impossible and inferior past -- if possibility and quality are defined in exclusively Cartesian terms. And if, after a few years of this, some people feel that the whole world is somehow terribly wrong, then they're being ungrateful and "irrational," because the numbers just keep getting better. I'm avoiding the word "rational" because it serves to confuse us. Sometimes it means careful precise thinking, and sometimes it means exclusively Cartesian thinking. The hidden message is that these two things are positively related, and they can be, but they don't have to be, and sometimes they are negatively related, as I'm showing here by using precise thinking to break down the Cartesian world view. Fixation on number and measure is only the beginning. Cartesian science includes only experience that stays the same across place, time, culture, and perspective: If an experiment comes out differently in different places and times, or for different people, it is excluded; if an experience cannot be made uniform among observers, it is excluded. Cartesian science demands that experience be controllable and predictable, and

that we, the experiencing perspectives, be perfectly interchangeable. So it focuses our attention in to the small part of our world where experience is controllable and predictable and uniform, and it builds technologies that create more such worlds, like a TV show that ten million people see all the same, instead of seeing their ten million varied lives. Cartesian science is totalitarian: It commands that there be only one mental model, which all people must hold in their heads. It permits competing theories, but they are in a death match. They may not make peace and go on perpetually using different models. Sooner or later they must fight it out until there is only one theory, which everyone will then hold identically. Cartesian science favors matter over mind. We're all so deep in this one that few of us have thought to question it. Even UFO enthusiasts, who like to think they're on the fringe, are always looking for "physical proof," because they take for granted the Cartesian doctrine that the material is worth more than the mental. This is related to the totalitarianism and uniformity: Mental experience, especially of something like the UFO phenomenon, varies widely, and cannot be produced at will in the laboratory or even in the field. But a physical artifact will stay the same through place, time, and culture. Every human being who looks at it and touches it will see and feel the same thing (or close enough). So it is literally a blunt object to force everyone in the world to see it your way, to make your mental model the god-emperor. Finally, Cartesian science is conservative, although, to its credit, it is less conservative than the sciences that came before it, just as it is more conservative than the sciences that will follow it. Conservative scientists feel disturbed by anomalies and fringe theories, because they have an emotional aversion to leaving multiple paths open, and a stark horror of permitting a nondominant path to proceed and diverge. They love the feeling of closure, of a sealed-off world where everything is perfectly understood. The arch-exclusionist Carl Sagan expressed this attitude with the dictum that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," a deceptive phrase because it slips between two meanings of "extraordinary": What he is saying is that claims that are not politically established require a greater quantity of evidence. It's like having an election where every vote for the incumbent counts twice. All these customs are arbitrary, but not accidental. That is, they could all easily go other ways, but they go the way they do because of effects on human society that some interest wanted or

needed. And the most obvious effect has been to turn us into a bunch of machine-like servants of an earth-paving beast. But it's not over yet, and as they say, never show a fool a thing half-finished. Maybe we needed Cartesian science to break us out of sky father worship, and maybe we will continue to need it for that purpose in the more backward parts of civilization. And in the places where it has been most dominant, the desire to move beyond it has been strongest, so maybe it's not a trap but a painful step in the human journey. Even when we transcend it, I don't want to eliminate it. It's given us some wonderful things, like computer games and fuzz guitar and glow-in-the-dark stuff. And it's only beginning to play with creating new animals, and taking us to strange new states of consciousness. Maybe in the future it will drive an underground subculture of dangerous machines. We need a bit of the dark side. Let's keep it around. But beside it, and beyond it, we can make a thousand other paths. So one feature of Cartesian science, its totalitarianism, I ask us to utterly reject. In our new meta-science, the first custom will be: multiple contradictory sciences all going at once, all at least tolerating each other and if possible collaborating. (I'll get to the second custom at the end.) So if we have sciences that focus on the quantifiable, we can have others that exclude the quantifiable. We can have one that explores the subtlety of emotion the way physicists now explore the atom, so in addition to naming invisible particles, we will have ten words for different kinds of wistfulness, and fifty for happiness. This is realistic: Sanskrit has 20 words that we can translate only as "consciousness" or "mind." If we have conservative sciences, we can have many more that are thirsting for newness, so that an established theory requires more evidence and a strange new theory requires less. And where we now feel the need for only one theory, we will feel the need for many. So in cosmology we can have not only the big bang theory and a few dynamic steady state theories, but the theory that stars are projections on a big shell, and the theory that the earth is flat and when you seem to circumnavigate it you are traveling on an infinite tiled surface of slightly different alternate earths, and the theory that what we see through telescopes is mostly determined by our beliefs. And all these theories will mingle happily, even within the same person, with no thought that they should "resolve" their differences any more than we now think the whole world should watch only one TV show.

We can have sciences that focus on the rarest and most variable mental experience, and reject physical "evidence" because of its homogenizing effect. If bigfoot hunters bring back a dead creature, we lose interest -- it's just another vulgar matteranimal. But as long as the phenomenon leaves only sightings and ambiguous footprints, it's fascinating! Where does this experience come from? Where does it lead? We don't lose interest but gain interest when we find out that lake creatures just like the Loch Ness monster have been sighted in bodies of water only a few feet deep: This is not just a surviving plesiosaur -- this is something good. Telepathy, precognition, psychedelic trips, abduction experiences, astral projection, fairies -- bring them on! And if they can ever be controlled in the laboratory, or completely explained, we'll throw them in the dustbin to be scavenged by the matterheads. We will no longer seek to know our world like we know a fact, but to know it like we know a person, not to explain phenomena but to have relationships with them. But if we have all these different visions, won't all but one of them be wrong, because there is only one true world, independent of our awareness, which our models seek to match ever more closely? That assumption is allied to totalitarian metaphysics, and I reject it. And secretly, so do the metaphysical totalitarians -- the self-declared "skeptics" who apply their skepticism only to non-dominant theories. If they really believed their models were being drawn by an unalterable end point, they would be confident that the false theories would come to nothing, and ignore them. Their powerful desire to attack competing belief systems proves their secret fear that beliefs create reality. Now it starts to get tricky. What is this "reality" and how can beliefs "create" it? To go any further, I think we need to drop our burdensome concepts of "real" and "delusion" and "objective" and "subjective," to cast off that whole style of thinking and try putting everything in terms of experience and mental models. So if you see purple and I see blue, we no longer worry about what color it "is." You see purple and I see blue, and there you have it! You see the little gray gnomes and I don't. What a wonderful world! When we talk about "real" we are confusing several different things. One of them, the will to feel the comfort of absolute, universal, closed mental models, is a mistake. But other meanings of "real" still need to be talked about, only more precisely.

One of them is potential experience, like what we will find "really" inside the box if we open it, or especially what we will find outside the box. If I say that this world is an "illusion," and in the "real" world we're in vats with computer cables feeding this vision to our brains, what I mean (at the least) is that we have the potential experience of shifting our perspectives to a world that contains and fully explains this one. Overlapping this is the idea of an experiential dead end. If I go see The Matrix, and I say it's a movie and "not real," I mean that it is contained and fully explained by this world, but I also mean that I can come out of it only by the way I went in. I can't go see The Matrix in 2003 and come out of a different screening on Mars in 2035. Or if I'm playing a computer game, I can't break away permanently into a physical universe just like that game. The only experience available to me is what's programmed into the game, and to come to my senses sitting in a chair staring at a monitor. So a stronger meaning of "real" is necessary experience: If we say this world is illusion and another world is real, we could mean that we have to pass through that world to get anywhere, that everything else is a dead end. (Not that dead ends are wrong. They can be fun and even valuable, like going into a cave to bring back a treasure, or like a book that leads you to transform or transcend the world that contains it. Maybe the biggest question of our time is whether civilization is a dead end, whether we can get anywhere from here without first going back to nature.) But why is certain experience necessary? Who decides? This leads to a more profound and difficult meaning of "real": shared. The subject of other beings and other perspectives is too deep for this essay, but it's right in my path, so I'm going to go down into it a little ways and try to pick my way across it. You could believe that you alone are aware, and imagining the entire universe. But instead you choose to believe that others are aware in the same way you are, and are sharing roughly the same experience. We all need to share our experience with others. We can each have a good time veering off alone into our personal dream worlds, but sooner or later we must rejoin others, and we will generally choose even a terrible shared world over a pleasant world that we experience alone. But who are these "others"? They are not just other humans beside us. They are also inside us and around us. Your awareness of reading this essay is only a small part of your wider awareness of yourself as a human, with your name, living

your life. Move your attention to your body... and now to your financial balance... and now back to intellectual awareness of these ideas: You have moved between different beings, or different aspects of a larger being. You're acknowledging this multiple self when you talk about what "a part of me wants" or "being nice to myself." And if you can forget a broader self in a narrower self, it's a good bet that the larger "you" is itself a small part of a still larger being of which "you" are scarcely aware. This is important because of my core assumption that awareness is fundamental, that matter and space and time are epiphenomena of mind. It follows that mind can do anything it wants. The way I see it, which is hinted at by theoretical physics, transcendent experience, and persistent investigation of the unexplained, is that a practically infinite variety of experience and modes of awareness are already there, always available; and our brains, our languages, our sciences, are merely filters, "creating" one reality by excluding all others. But why create reality at all? If exclusiveness is bad, then let's take the filters off and merge with the infinite everything -beyond identity, beyond perspective, beyond time! I respect this position, but mine is more conservative. I'm looking for a mode of being much more rigid and narrow than dissolving in the universal, but much more slippery and trippy than just being more open-minded humans, and I think we can do it. I think we're already on our way. The new age people are on the right track with their saying "You create your own reality," but they have made a dangerous blunder by using three deceptive words: you, your, and own. Because "you" are merged with countless other you's, we have to agree on our reality, to the extent that we want to stay together. This is why so many varieties of experience seem to actively, intelligently evade proof, because we are intelligent and only some of us have agreed to enter the worlds of these experiences. And an early step toward deeper diversity is to respectfully permit others to experience realities that you choose not to experience. You don't say their worlds are "not real," and they don't try to force you to see what they see. Alternate-world peace! But if we want to stay together, wouldn't this diversification of reality break us apart? Not necessarily. As I said at the beginning, there are at least two ways to diversify, or to reconcile our needs for complexity and change with our need to share experience; and they both begin with diverging paths of reality-filtering.

In one way, the person serves the path, and we each focus in to one view, and share experience only with others who see it exactly the same way. Factions of believers forget their wider selves, and see the survival and dominance of their one model as the meaning of life. Then all the models fight it out and destroy or consume each other until there is only one, and it will be one like Cartesian science, that maximizes force and excludes empathy. Then this one will be broken by the need for complexity and change, and if it's broken in the same way, the awful cycle repeats. In the other way, the many paths serve the person. So that's the second custom of our new meta-science: We each become a broader consciousness that can balance many models, or pass in and out of many worlds previously seen as absolute. As they say, if a fish described its environment, the last thing it would say would be water; but we can be like a water creature who becomes aware of water and not-water, and learns to move in land and air. Or we can be like an obsessed game-player who suddenly remembers the world outside the game, or like a prisoner in a one-windowed cell who breaks out into a mansion with many windows, or like someone in a dark room with a radio, who thought one station was the whole universe, but now learns to twist the dial.



October 13, 2003
A progressive state has just elected as governor a right-wing former Hitler admirer and admitted sexual abuser with no political experience, apparently because he has played a bunch of movie characters who blow shit up. What's happening to America? Although Arnold Schwarzenegger ran as a Republican and is controlled by people who call themselves Republicans, this is not a victory for the Republican Party. For most of their history, Republicans have been a lot of boring old white guys who sit in quiet rooms making sober decisions to stabilize and sustain a system of corporate rule, cultural puritanism, and dirt-cheap labor. Although Schwarzenegger and Ann Coulter and G.W. Bush call themselves Republicans, there's nothing boring, quiet, sober, stable, or sustainable about them. Is a furnace explosion the same as a furnace? Or let me put it this way: Imagine that a bunch of communist revolutionaries take over the Democratic Party and then the country. No more whiny liberal losers! Now it's giant political rallies with blaring pop music and rabble-rousing speeches about the "war on capitalism" and the "war on corporate crime." Cruise missiles blow up the corporate headquarters, killing an acceptably small number of civilians, and rich people have their property confiscated by the state and vanish into "rehabilitation facilities." Some liberals are thrilled, and they are given prominent spots in the government and media. Liberals who think it's too extreme are mostly ignored, and old-fashioned conservatives are called a "radical fringe." Ordinary working people just go along with it since it's not hurting them and they're mostly too tired to care. Now, would this be a victory for Democrats? No! It would be a victory for communists. And what we're seeing right now, in the real USA, is a fleeting victory for fascists. I've seen political definitions of fascism that mention alliances between big business and the state, or domestic repression, or military conquest. My definition is emotional and mythological. At (or near) the root is an emotional state that's often called "infantile" or "childish," but I won't call it that because that would be an insult to healthy infants and children. If you take some infants and abuse and isolate them enough to suppress their natural development of empathy, and then give them -- in place of meaningful action as a fully empowered

participant in a consensual system -- empty tokens of cheap selfish pleasure, toys and candy and positions of domination and artificial displays of love, which they then live in terror of losing, you have created the emotional foundation of fascism -- and of hierarchy, status systems, private wealth, military conquest, economic "growth," and so on. Fascism is a structure, built on top of this foundation, of certain myths -- by which I mean stories that tell a culture how to behave. One is dualism, where the world is divided into good/us and evil/them, and another is what I call the happiness by elimination myth. Bear with me while I explain it: First you've got the very idea of "happiness," an alleged stable and pleasant state of being that we're supposed to strive for. Then you've got the idea that you achieve happiness by changing the external world, the world outside the "self" (which requires that in the first place you believe in "self" and "other," which I won't even get into). Finally you've got the idea that the required changes are negative, that you achieve happiness by identifying some part of your reality that is "bad" or "the problem" and eliminating it. Bizarre! But we're still not at fascism, only at business-as-usual western civilized politics, where we want to eliminate poverty or government or war or the current president or whatever. Fascism goes farther: First, the whole thing becomes simplified and cartoonish -- there's no tolerance for ambiguity or complexity. You know: "You're either with us or with the terrorists, bla bla bla." Second, it's all invested with strong primitive emotion. And third (and these "three" are really just different angles of one whole phenomenon), you've got what psychologists call group narcissism, which you can see at any nationalist rally or football game -- where people powerfully emotionally identify with some vaguely understood collective abstraction that doesn't have much to do with their real lives. Now, Arnold Schwarzenegger, as far as I can tell, is not strictly a fascist. He's the front man for a right wing conspiracy to channel even more wealth and influence to large corporations and the rich, and they are all taking advantage of the fascist tendencies of the American people. Schwarzenegger won overwhelmingly -- despite a split Republican vote in a historically liberal state -- because he is the world's biggest star of fascist propaganda films, and thus the world's biggest human symbol of fascism since another Austrian lost WWII. The tendency to blur entertainment with reality is a weakness of humans everywhere, not just Americans, and most

Californians who voted for Schwarzenegger did so because they were emotionally resonating with his movie characters and with the world of his movies, where reality is divided into good and evil and the good guy defeats the villain, who often says "oh, shit" just before being killed in a big explosion, and the elimination of evil makes everyone happy, and the film viewer feels strong primitive emotions and a sense of identification with the symbol of good and the whole deadly ritual. America has never been a nice country. Everything we have we took by force. But that's the way of all "successful" countries, and at least we used to sometimes do nice things, like the Bill of Rights, or antitrust legislation, or helping Europe after WWII. When did we slide from routine domination into fascism? And don't tell me it was the G.W. Bush presidency. That was just when American fascism got drunk and took its mask off. I can't prove it, but I suggest it happened in the late 1970's, with two events. One was a film. Fascist propaganda is probably as old as civilization, thousands of years older than the Latin word fascis. The first fascist propaganda film might have been The Birth of a Nation in 1915, but they didn't really get going until James Bond films. And then, all at once, with one film, they exploded. Of course I'm talking about Star Wars, which goes so far as to copy a famous Hitler rally in its final scene. After Star Wars, every American film that wanted to make a lot of money had to be a serious cartoon where the good guys violently destroy something bad to make everyone happy. And as the single giant star of those films, Arnold Schwarzenegger was practically destined to hold political office in fascist America. The other event that plunged America into fascism was the popular reaction to Jimmy Carter's presidency. This has been mythologized as the "sweater speech," in which Carter allegedly wore a sweater and told people to turn their thermostats down, and his popularity plummeted. In fact he wore a sweater in all his speeches -- to project a common man image -- and he talked about personal energy conservation through his whole term. But this is what he said in his famous "Crisis of Confidence" speech in July 1979: "...too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose."

And a bit later: "We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I've warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility." It was probably too late, but I can tell the story that at that moment America really did hang in the balance. We could abandon consumerism, look into our hearts, and gradually move into peace and equality with the rest of the world. And incredibly, immediately after that speech, Carter rose in the polls. But then the media analysts jumped on him and accused him of criticizing and blaming the American people, and he went down for the last time, and our next president was a simple-minded tough-talking Hollywood actor and former governor of California. At that moment America decided to burn. Carter's mistake was not his alleged pessimism but his optimism, his failure to see that his country was the abused child clutching the candy. We lost our soul and that candy is all they gave us in return, and we will not under any circumstances give it up. They'll have to pry it from our cold dead fingers. Not only that, but we have to keep getting more and more to keep forgetting our pain. In rejecting Carter we were saying to our leaders, who are really our followers: "Give us the fucking candy. We don't care what you have to do, and we don't want to know. You will stuff our bawling mouths with candy and fill our grasping hands with toys or we will tear your balls off." And they did. Now, a quarter century later, the heat and air conditioning are at full blast, and no politician dares to question materialism, and there are more cars in America than drivers, many of them bloated gas-snorting monsters or even private versions of military vehicles. We have big cars, and big houses, and big TV's, and big heaps of food on our plates from industrialized farms that get more crowded and toxic to make room for our big yards, or if we don't have that stuff, we're working big hours at big-stress jobs to afford it. And our president is a psychopath who looks like the Marlboro man and talks like a movie action hero and lies to us constantly so we can feel good about ourselves while our country stomps over the whole world and brutally conquers and occupies the place with the most untapped oil. And we either cheer him on or we think it's all his

fault and has nothing to do with us. Americans do not understand what's happening because we have demanded to not understand. We have demanded to not be shown the blackened and dismembered bodies in Afghanistan and Iraq, the screaming shit-smeared animals inside the factory farms, the sick, weary, frightened laborers manufacturing our nifty gadgets. But the shell of our ignorance is collapsing on us. The Iraqi people, not having grown up in a narcissistic fantasy land, are smarter than us and running circles around our technoaddled military. Our employers, obeying us as stockholders, are firing us to hire foreigners who will work for less because they're poorer than us because we've stolen from them. We've cut our own taxes so much that every state is broke and we're angry that they're closing offices and not fixing roads. Pretty soon we're going to have to either release a lot of prison inmates or kill them, and I'm glad I'm not in prison. And we don't get it, because we couldn't stand to get it. We think it's some incomprehensible catastrophe, like an earthquake, not something we have explicitly over many years brought upon ourselves. We blame the politicians -- except the right-wingers, who we exempt because they remind us of action heroes or maybe our fathers. Where, where is the bad guy we can kill to make us happy again? Yes, kill Gray Davis! "Terminate" him. We're not gonna take it! Not that the Democrats are any better. They want to be better, but somehow they can't. Why are they so lifeless and timid? It's because when they're courageous and honest, like Dennis Kucinich or Cynthia McKinney, they are shuffled to the fringe or kicked out of office. The Democrats are holding a position in Nowhere Land. By definition they can't go as far right as the Republicans, but they can't go even one step in the other direction, and ask Americans to accept responsibility, to give up wealth, to consume less, to stop building bombs and prisons to kill and jail their troubles away, because then they would be committing Jimmy Carter suicide. So Democrats have become what Republicans used to be: boring sensible people who want to cut down the trees, screw the poor, bully other countries, and do the will of megacorporations, but cautiously and in moderation, so the system doesn't crash. And they're losing! This proves not that "Republicans" are winning, but that the old-fashioned Republican position is obsolete. So what's left? Say what you will about Americans -- we've never been half-assed. And now millions of us are seeing what

few of us can admit, even to ourselves. If we can't turn this train around, and we can't stop it, and we can't get off, the only thing to do is speed it up and run it off the tracks! This explains the Schwarzenegger landslide -- it's the biggest evidence yet of an alliance between the demonic and the desperate, between those who are running out of room to win and those who are running out of room to lose, between a drug addict's two desires to keep getting bigger highs and to die, between a muscle-bound attacker and a martial artist who isn't strong enough to block the blow but is clever enough to flow with it and pull the attacker off the tower, between those who want to "terminate" poor people and taxes and immigrants and liberals, and those who just want a big explosion to fucking blow this world to pieces. Californians don't know it, but they have voted for the end of civilization. Not that Arnold can deliver it by himself. California doesn't even have an army, or else the people could demand that he go blow shit up somewhere for real to make them feel better. But he can drive the poor toward rioting, the power grids toward blackout, the sleepers toward awakening, and the elite deeper into their cocoons of oblivion. And he's only one of thousands of drivers, all over the world, who are steering us with merciful quickness into the crash. There is no other way out, and there never has been. Civilization has no reverse gear and no brakes. Even the Green Party, at 2% of the vote, has not suggested letting the farmlands go back to wilderness and turning lawns and parking lots into gardens, but that's the only mode of human life on earth that's sustainable, and I'm being optimistic about the gardens. I'd love for us to make the transition willingly and painlessly, to use voluntary birth control to steadily reduce our population, to dismantle the weapons and breach the dams and feed the hungry on all locally-grown produce. But then, to copy a phrase from Jon Stewart, what would we do about the monkeys? Because if all that happened, monkeys would be flying out of our butts. What about Europe? Haven't they followed Jimmy Carter's path? Aren't they already shaping a peaceful sustainable future? Yes -- if they were robots. But they're human animals, and maglev trains and solar panels and hydroponic farms cannot take the place of running through the woods and lying in a sunny meadow and digging up wild roots with your bare hands. The longer they can hold it together, the more they will go mad, and then probably follow the same path America is on now.

When lefties finally let go of their sterile socialist utopia and permit right-wingers to crash the system, they'll find themselves relevant again, with plenty of good work to do and the popular support to do it: releasing prisoners, canceling debts, undermining occupiers, exposing genocide, ostracizing psychopaths, legalizing poverty and homelessness, giving back the land, and generally enabling all life everywhere to build a trusting, loving system from the bottom up. It's not going to be "paradise" or "eden" -- it's going to be a mess! Technology and hierarchy will not go away -- they'll just stop ruling the world. We're going to feel good not by hating things and removing them, but by adding things and accepting them, until we look back and this world seems like a padded cell. I can't wait!



Seven Lies About Civilization
November 24, 2003
1. Progress. The lie about "progress" is not just that it is good, or inevitable, but that it exists, that we have ever experienced such a thing as straight-line, single-direction, open-ended, positive-valued change. We might think we have, because "progress" is the central lie of our culture and there are illusions and fantasies of it everywhere: There's the schooling system, where we go from "lower" to "higher" grades -- but this rising is not real, just a story they tell, and the change is just to make us fit better in the dominant system, as we trade experience for rigid stories, intuition for intellect, diversity for uniformity, independence for obedience, and spontaneity for predictability. Then there's the wage labor system, where we're supposed to go from "lower" to "higher" positions, but few of us do, and anyway "higher" just means the dominant system has a tighter grip on our attention, our values, our souls. Then there's the history of technology, where the changes are declared "better" when their effects are to increase our forceful transformative power over the world while also increasing our emotional distance, or to make us more dependent on specialists, or to surround humans more and more with things humans have created, a process that Jerry Mander has identified as psychic inbreeding. The deepest place yet in our inbreeding is the world of computer games, games which almost without exception are built on the myth of progress, training us to self-administer dopamine for visions of ever increasing power, and then letting us off with a "win" instead of showing us how this kind of story really ends. In reality, nothing gets absolutely "better" but just changes its relationships, and a change in relationships that trades awareness and collaboration for disconnection and domination is not irreversible but unsustainable, not open-ended but selflimiting, not positive but destructive. 2. Evolution. There is no disputing the fossil record, in which life on Earth has changed many times. The lie is to project the myth of "progress" onto these changes, to declare that they go in a simple straight line, in one direction, and always getting "better." This is a circular argument, where our collective insanity slaps a mask of itself on the biological world to justify itself. In reality biological changes are unlike the lie of "progress" -they go in all kinds of directions, with populations falling and

rising, organisms getting bigger and smaller, and moving from water to land to water. And nothing gets "better" except that species get better adapted to their environments, and in the absence of catastrophes the totality of life gets more diverse and complex. But in both these ways, civilized humans have done the opposite! We do not adapt to the wider world but twist it to fit ourselves, and even twist ourselves to fit our narrow cultural fantasies. And we do not increase but decrease the diversity and complexity of the whole, by driving species to extinction and exterminating or assimilating human societies into a uniform global monoculture. So whatever you call the biological history of the Earth, civilization is not an extension of it but a denial of it, a catastrophe. 3. Everything is natural. Happily most people recognize this as a silly pseudo-philosophical distraction, but I want to knock it down anyway. The argument rests on a semantic distortion, a redefinition of "natural" to include absolutely everything, because I say so. Civilization is natural because humans are animals, toxic waste is natural because it's derived from stuff that comes from the Earth, bla bla bla. Real people do not use the word "natural" in this way. Maybe it's "natural" if I take this club and bash your head in, but you would prefer that I didn't, so you define words like "murder" to express and defend this preference. In the same way, people define "natural" to express and defend their preference for living trees over plastic trees, meadows over parking lots, rivers of drinkable water over rivers of dioxin. This is what "natural" really means, and if we don't want to die of cancer and turn the Earth into a poisoned desert, we have a responsibility to linguistically separate the natural from the unnatural and choose the natural many times a day. If you want a tight definition, natural means in symbiosis with nature, and nature means the totality of symbiotic life on Earth, and symbiotic means related in ways that are mutually beneficial and beneficial to the whole, where wider benefit takes precedence. Defining "beneficial" pushes the limits of our impoverished language, but I'm going to say generating autonomous and diverse aliveness. And if you don't know what aliveness means, look harder. 4. Technology is neutral. Of all the lies about civilization, this one is the most insidious, the most challenging to refute, the one that most cripples the understanding of people who should know better. It's such a huge lie that it's hard to get a grip on it, so self-referential that it's hard to get outside it. Getting outside

it is not a matter of learning a simple argument but learning a whole different and more complex way of thinking. The lie has two forms that are usually blurred together. One says that technology as a whole is neutral, where "technology" may be covertly defined as modern industrial technology. The other form says that every particular technology is neutral. My strategy is to attack the second and make the first look silly by declaring that no particular technology is neutral, that every technique, technology, and tool has its own set of motives and relationships. First, I want to expose the lie's strange internal definition of "neutral," which is that a thing is "neutral" if you can tell a story about how it can do good and another story about how it can do bad. When do we ever use this definition in real life? Do we say a serial killer is neutral because in addition to raping and killing women he pays taxes and is sometimes nice to people? If you work in a factory by day to learn how to sabotage it by night, are you neutral to that factory because you both help and hurt it? If my nation sells weapons to two other nations that are at war, so they will destroy each other and my nation will come out on top, does that count as neutral? Of course not! But these are the same kinds of ridiculous arguments people use to declare technologies neutral: Television is neutral because it not only makes us passive consumers of a uniform culture subject to central control, but it can transmit useful information. Dams are neutral because while they submerge ecosystems and block fish runs, they also make electricity. Even atomic bombs are neutral if we can think of some cockamamie story about doing good with them. The next level of deception is to say that it's the "way we use" a technology that's important. For example, cars are neutral because/therefore you can use one to go from place to place, or to intentionally run someone over. But as Jacques Ellul pointed out, the latter is not a use -- it is a crime. Calling it a use tricks us into placing our evaluating perspective in an artificial space between the normal use of cars and a crime, instead of where it belongs -- right in the middle of the extreme biases in the normal use of cars. Even if we ignore the exploitation of "resources," the displacement or murder of indigenous people, and the release of toxins required to manufacture and fuel cars, even if we ignore the millions of collision deaths and the poison-leaking wrecks, and we just look at cars as consumer tools, we can still see troubling built-in effects: By moving us faster from place to place, cars insert distance

into our physical environment, and the space in this distance will be largely filled with streets and parking lots to hold all the cars. Earth-killing pavement, urban sprawl, and strip malls are practically inherent in the technology of the automobile. Also, for complex reasons, speeds beyond a certain low threshold actually increase commuting time. Also, once this distance has been inserted, you need a car to do anything. To exaggerate a point made by Ivan Illich, if you live in Los Angeles you might as well have had your legs cut off. Take away the cars, and we don't try to walk 40 miles a day on the freeways -- we tear up the pavement and build our physical communities so that everything we need is in walking distance. We spend less time commuting, we free all the time and energy we were putting into cars, and we regain autonomy through being able to use our own legs. Also we have better relationships. Because cars move us past everything so fast, and because they enclose us, they insulate us from the reality around us, from other people and nature, and they enable us to replace thick close relationships with thin distant ones. Without them we relate directly and frequently to what's right in front of us; we know our neighbors and we know the land. I could make similar arguments about computers, television, electricity, even written language. But the point is not to simply reject whole categories of technology, but to learn to see the alliances and motives that are built into technologies themselves regardless of "use," and to practice including or rejecting them on the basis of this understanding. The customary definition of "use" is itself a trick of language that subtly limits what is negotiable. Notice that it includes only use by consumers and not use by engineers, who have covertly been given permission to use anything in any way. Is the automobile a technology, or a use of the internal combustion engine? Is internal combustion a technology or a use of fire? Some ancient societies used the technology of the wheel only in pottery-making. Let's do that! "No, no, the car is a technology, and the use is where I drive it. That's the only thing you're permitted to question." If you can keep the discussion going, sooner or later you will hear something like "Cars could be electric instead of gasolineburning" or "We could use solar or wind power instead of nuclear." Then you can point out that they're choosing one technology over another for the same use, so they knew all along that technologies are not neutral.

5. We can't go back. Like the above, this is purely a religious doctrine -- but this one is clearly refuted by the ruins of ancient civilizations all over the world from which people went "back," and by lucky or exceptional individuals all through history who have dropped out of the system and moved closer to nature. In one sense, however, it's true: exploitative societies have no reverse gear and can only escalate until they crash. To avoid thinking clearly about this, we can tell ourselves the next one: 6. The all-or-nothing future. According to this story there are only two possibilities: continued industrial civilization, or the total end of the world. Continued civilization generally means continued use of machines to transform relationships into domination and self-absorption. For the technophiles this could mean mining other planets, or deeper virtual reality; for the liberals it might mean taking an idealized version of uppermiddle class life in a wealthy country in the late 20th century, extending it to the whole world, and staying there indefinitely through mechanical central control. And supposing our civilization fails -- don't look! There's nothing there but horrible absolute oblivion which we can talk about only in terms of what we "must" do to avoid it. People express this with maddeningly vague pronouncements like "If we don't reduce greenhouse emissions by 50% in ten years, it will be too late." Too late for what? The obvious reality is that the suggested reforms are both politically impossible and insufficient, that our civilization is a runaway train that will not slow down until it jumps the tracks, and that the actual future will be deep within the region we're forbidden to look at. The extinction of 95% of species including humans is not some unthinkable horror but a specific possibility that we can think about with precision. A milder possibility is the Road Warrior scenario where a few humans survive on a halfdead Earth. Milder still would be a political decentralization and ecological recovery like the so-called "dark" age in Europe after the fall of Rome. My point is, we can influence this! Our dreams and actions can affect what kind of world we go to, but they cannot possibly maintain the world we're used to. There comes a time in a fire when you stop trying to save the whole building and switch to saving what you can. The purpose of the all-or-nothing lie is to block this mental shift, to keep all our attention channeled into either saving the world as we know it, or just giving up. If we see that radically different worlds are possible and some of them are really going to happen, if we start imagining and building vigorous competitors to industrial

civilization, we will hurt the "economy" and especially hurt the feelings of people who have invested their egos in the dominant culture. Another way they protect their egos is with the next lie: 7. Civilization happens once. This peculiar idea is similar to the above, but the blind spot it enforces is not to other-thancivilized systems, but to other civilizations. The pro-civ version says this is our one and only shot to colonize space or whatever, and the anti-civ version says that if we can knock down the present civilization, nothing like it will ever happen again. I don't know where people came up with such an idea, unless they know something I don't about the coming new-age transformation of human consciousness. The harsh lesson of history is that every particular civilization falls while civilization in general keeps chugging on. I define civilization in general as an alliance between dominator consciousness and exploitation-enabling techniques, creating a society that systematically takes more than it gives. Yes, the oil will run out, but civilizations were rising and falling for thousands of years without oil, and I see no reason they won't do so again. The general pattern can operate, if necessary, on nothing but the muscle power of slaves and domesticated animals. And when you add on all the metal and hardware that will be lying around, and the lingering habits from our age, and whatever technical knowledge is preserved, it sure looks like we're going to have civilizations around -- to play with or resist -- until we go extinct or change into something quite different.


Your Life As Pornography
December 11, 2003
She stood before him in all her unbearable beauty, moist pouting lips, full perky breasts with hard nipples showing through her thin shirt, tight skirt barely covering her smooth creamy thighs. "Do you want me?" she crooned. "Yes, yes," he gasped, his jutting chin hanging down, his fiery eyes straining toward her firm pulsing body. "Please, please let me touch you." "You have to do something for me first," she teased. "I'll do it," he moaned. "I'll do anything." She undid a button on her shirt, exposing the roundness at the edges of her breasts. "A-ny-thing?" "Yes, yes, anything! Whatever you ask, I'm your slave!" She wagged her finger. "It's not my slave you have to be..." "W-what?" "If you want me, you have to serve my Master." His swelling loins shrank a bit. "Master?" She came closer, sliding her skirt up her thigh so he could just see the lace-trimmed edge of her panties. She licked her lips and whispered in his ear, "You can touch every inch of this body, but first you must obey the Master. It's the only way." "I see your woman has sent you," the Master said, and turned around. He was a pig-like man in a business suit, with blank eyes and the blood-drenched horns of a bull. "Yes," the young man said timidly. "And what did you promise to do for me?" "A-anything you ask." "Good. But perhaps I won't let you do anything I ask." "What do you mean?" "Doing anything I ask is a great privilege. Do you think you are worthy?" He was confused. "How should I know?" The Master roared, "If you do not know, you are not worthy! Did you not come to me?" "Yes, but I had to because--" "Shut up! You have come to beg to be allowed to do whatever I ask. Now beg!" He thought of the woman, her hot irresistible waiting body. "Uh, please Master, I beg you to let me be your slave..." "Slave? We have no slaves! These are enlightened times." He sighed with relief. Perhaps the ordeal would not be so

bad. "Then what shall I be, Master?" "You shall be my team member!" "Do what to your member?" "Beg! Beg me for it!" "Please, great Master, let me team your member." "Abase yourself! Convince me you are qualified!" "Sir, I feel I am uniquely qualified to apply this position on your member. I am experienced in several very similar member positions, with other teams..." "Are you dynamic?" "Yes, yes, I'm dymanic," he blubbered. "I'll dy-be-dy-manic for you..." "Are you a self-starter?" "Please, Master, yes, I start myself every day in the bathroom! Let me start myself in your position, let me apply my oral communication skills to your expanding implement..." "Give me enthusiasm!" "Yes, yes, I am giving you enthusiasm. I will give you a huge giant enthusiasm if you'll let me, please Master, I will motivate your organization so hard with my skills that--" "More enthusiasm! More!" Overwhelmed by humiliation, he cried out, "Utilized, optimized, prioritized, facilitated on a daily basis! I am a determined achiever..." "Harder! Harder!" "La la la!" he gushed, unable to even form words, but screaming with the biggest enthusiasm he had ever had, "Na na na! Bla bla bla bla blaaaaaah!!" "Excellent," the Master said. "You have performed well. Now you have earned the privilege to go to... the dungeon!" In rows and rows of tiny cubical cells, men and women strained in tight cotton and polyester uniforms that clung to their aching butts and their chests straining with their appointed labors. "Mmm," the woman said, as the young man stumbled into her cell. "A new one." She stood to her full height and he saw that under her shirt her breasts were suffocated in a constriction device, and her feet were crammed into brightly colored manacles that twisted her ankles back in their sockets and crushed her toes together. But she seemed not to notice. "I am your cellmate," she said. "Welcome to the dungeon." "What -- what am I to do here?"

"Give me your hands." He extended his wide strong hands and she ran her sharp cool fingers over them. "Ohh, these are so young and strong." She slid her hands up to his broad hard shoulders. "I bet you have a lot of stamina." "Yes." "You can go hours and hours." "Yes!" He looked into her smoky eyes. "What do you want me to do?" "I want you to put your hands on..." He trembled with anticipation. "... the keyboard!" she said. "And the phone. And these files. Same as everyone else here." And she went back to her own chair. Hours later, his hands numb, his joints aching, his eyeballs dry and bloodshot, his shoulders on fire from fingering the hard little buttons, moving them in and out, in and out, he mumbled, "No... no... I can't do it any more." "Take a ten minute break. But you have to punch out, so you don't cheat." "It's not enough. I can't go on like this, please..." "That's not for me to decide. Did you not agree to do anything the Master asked?" "Yes, but... Say," he said, "I was wondering -- I agreed to obey the Master because unless I earn a good income no woman will have sex with me. But why are you here?" "Ahh," she said. "I will tell you my story." And she began: It was many years ago, when I was a little girl. "Daddy," I said, "will you always love me?" Then he smiled at me strangely. "Come sit on my knee," he said, "and I'll tell you a secret." "OK, daddy." I sat on his firm knee and he put his warm, heavy hand on my shoulder. "The truth is," he said, "that I won't love you, that I'll never love you as much as I love your brother." I burst into tears. "Why, why daddy? Why won't you love me?" "Because," he said, stroking my ear, "your brother can do something you can't do, something special." "No, please, daddy, I want you to love me! I want to be special too. What does he have that I don't?" "Do you want me to show you?" he whispered. "Yes, daddy, please, show me!"

Then he reached down deep into his pants, and pulled out, clutched in his hot sweaty hand, a giant wad of money. "Your brother," he said, "will be a man, and men have always had more earning power than women. Men are the breadwinners, the ones who go out in the world and do great things, while women just stay home and cook and clean. That's why men are better than women, and more deserving of respect and admiration. That's why everyone will always love your brother and not you." "No, noooo, daddy," I wailed. "Please, please, I want you to love me too! I'll do anything!" He fingered his massive dirty wad of bills and put his other hand on my trembling knee. "A-ny-thing?" "Yes, daddy, please, tell me what it is, anything, I'll do it for you daddy, I'll do it for you and mommy and all your friends and anyone you want me to. I want to be loved! Tell me what to do!" "There's only one way," he said. "One little thing." And he bent and croaked in my ear, "You have to earn good money like your brother. You have to serve my Master." "Both of you," the Master said over the intercom, "come to my office." A minute later they stood shaking before him. "I heard you talking when I commanded you to work." "Please!" They cringed and groveled before him. "We're sorry. Please forgive us! We'll never do it--" "Silence! You like to talk, do you?" "We'll do anything you ask, Master. Have mercy!" "I'll just have to move you to another position, a position where you get a chance to use your mouths more." "N-no," the woman gasped. "Not that... Anything but..." "What?" the man whispered. "What is it?" "You don't want to know," she cried. "It's too terrible. Please," she wept, "Give us another chance." "Too late! I am moving you," the master bellowed, "to customer service!" "No! Noooooooooo!" The long line of customers stretched to the horizon, drooling, snapping, hungry-eyed beasts, screaming for more, shouting demands and abuse, as the small group of workers serviced them with their mouths and hands, one after another after another. "Service me now!" the customers screeched. "Service me

again! I'm not satisfied!" And the servicers labored on and on. After what seemed like years, a distant chime rang, and the servicers looked up with relief. "We're free," she said to him. "Free at last. We can go home!" "Not yet," came the Master's voice. "Today I need you to work... overtime!" "AAAAAAGGH!" they wailed. "AAAAAIIIIIIIEEEEEE!" A long while later, the young man, now looking years older, came home to his woman. "I have done what you asked," he said. "I have obeyed the Master." "Then I am yours," she said, and flung off her robe, revealing her magnificent body in its full naked radiance. "Take me!" "I'm too tired," he groaned. "I need to go to sleep. But in the morning, I will be strong again, and we can make passionate love all day." "But in the morning," she said, "you have to go obey the Master again." "But -- but -- " he stammered, "I thought it was only for one day." She threw her head back and laughed a long throaty laugh. "No!" she said. "Silly man! You must go back for another day, and then another after that!" "Three days! It's too much!" "Ha ha ha ha ha ha hahaha! Three days? No, it's more than just three days that you must serve the Master." "How -- how many days is it?" he said, thinking with horror of the torture and degradation he had endured in the dungeons. "How many days must I go back?" "You must go back," she cried, "for the rest of your life!" "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO...."



The Animal in the Dark Tower
February 9, 2004
Industrial civilization is ravaging the Earth, and its participants are sick, stressed out, and alienated. Agricultural and pastoral societies are a lot less destructive, but destructive enough that they've turned formerly lush regions into deserts, and the lives of the participants are easier than ours but often narrower. Hunter-gatherers are the least destructive by far, do the least work (and their "work" is more like play), are the healthiest, and have socially rich, meaningful lives. From here, it's only a short step to the political ideology that we should all be hunter-gatherers again, after we take apart this civilization or it falls apart on its own. This position is stridently condemned by people who (predictably) have a huge ego investment in civilization, who don't want to consider that they could have wasted their lives, or their history, so badly. They cry "romanticism" while themselves dreaming that technologies of domination and self-absorption will lead to utopia. Or they declare it categorically impossible to "go back," though that's what we've done all through history when our little civilizations have burned out. Or they correctly point out that the end of this system will mean a drop in the human population, as if the blame for the dieoff rests on the economy of the survivors and not on those who permitted billions of human lives to depend on the radically unsustainable exploitation of "resources." If our species survives at all, it will be in societies more intimately related to the rest of life, and thus, according to Western mythology, "lower." What I'm arguing here is that the ideology of simply knocking down or outlasting civilization, and then simply being in these other societies, even huntinggathering, does not go far enough. The usual anti-civilization argument features a line between civilized and natural, such that on one side we use up the Earth and crash, and on the other side we can live in balance forever. Or, actually, there are two lines, one for what we can get away with in the future and one for where we went wrong in the past. Whether these lines must be in the same place, or may be in different places, is such a profound question that most people simply assume one or the other without thinking. For now I leave the question open. In telling the story of where we went wrong in the past, the line is most often drawn at the invention of agriculture around

10,000 years ago. So on this side is a densely-populated, authoritarian, labor-intensive, Earth-consuming, expansionist society, domesticated and cut off from its roots, and on the other side are nature-based wild humans and all of nature, merged in perpetual harmony, disrupted only by the single exceptional event that spawned civilization. If you're against civilization, it's comforting to believe that this event was a fluke. Then we only have to put the world back the way it was, and with the slightest precautions, this nightmare will never happen again. But given that something happened, we should assume it was prone to happen, more than half likely given the circumstances. The burden of proof is on those who want to say it was a fluke, and in this case, though they have some evidence and stories about how huntergatherers got tipped into settlement and farming, they're nowhere near proving that the shift was unlikely. If you look at a thorough global timeline of prehistoric technology, you don't see a sudden movement beginning at the invention of agriculture, merely an acceleration of a movement toward domesticity that goes much farther back. Around 40,000 years ago there was an earlier acceleration, still unexplained. Anatomically modern humans might have appeared at this time, or much sooner, or even later, depending on your definition of "anatomically modern" and the evidence you focus on or exclude. This whole subject remains tangled in uncertainty and controversy, but in any case the technological and biological changes that made civilization possible, if not inevitable, have been going on for well over a million years, since fire and stone tools. It seems -- though there is still debate -- that our harmonious hunter-gatherer ancestors exterminated a lot of species. For a good argument that at least some of these were killed off by a global catastrophe (other than that of domesticated humans), see Vine Deloria's book Red Earth, White Lies. But other extinctions occurred at different times -- and at the same times that humans appeared in those areas. Even in historic times there is evidence of ecological impact by hunter-gatherer societies. A recent analysis of the journals of Lewis and Clark found that the regions with the most diverse and abundant wildlife were the regions with the fewest indigenous humans. Also, what happened, exactly, to Homo erectus and Homo sapiens neanderthalensis? One often reads that they were not "exterminated," merely "out-competed," as if the actual people faded into air as peacefully as the colored lines representing

them on graphs, as if the extinction of an adaptable and intelligent human species in a world of wilderness can sort of happen by accident. If they ran short of food they must have been driven out of the land where they were getting their food, which would have required force, maybe the same kind of force with which Americans "out-competed" natives in the 1800's. Neanderthals had larger brains than us, so it's a reasonable guess that they were smarter, but apparently not as good at fighting. John Livingston, in his book Rogue Primate, wonders if we killed them off because we were bothered by their wildness. That's just an aside in a radical and challenging analysis of human domestication. Livingston distinguishes humans from all other animals by our reliance on culturally-transmitted technique: knowledge of how-to-do-it that is no longer dependent on nature, on having a place in the web of life, but on nurture, on abstract mental models learned from other humans. He calls this a "prosthetic being," an interface with the rest of the world that is no longer direct or intimate, but buffered or mediated by our intellectual and ideological devices. He speculates that the tipping point was the taming of fire. From that time, our ancestors built an increasingly domesticated or idea-dependent culture, and here's the kicker: Out of that domesticated culture evolved Homo sapiens sapiens, us, already biologically adapted for domesticated life, with thin bones, weak muscles, dull senses, and brains specializing in abstraction. Then we spread over the Earth and developed the whole variety of nature-based indigenous cultures -- but these cultures are still prosthetics: They are not a true merging with nature, only an uneasy fitting-together. Livingston writes: Nowhere may the human presence be seen as fully integrated and "natural," because wherever we may be, or however long we may have been there, we are still domesticates. Domesticates have no ecologic place, and they show it consistently and universally. When nonEuropean indigenous peoples received and began to use firearms, for example, they revealed their exotic placelessness without missing a beat. A common anti-civ argument goes that "we" lived sustainably for more than a million years before the few thousand years of civilization, that stone age technology and only stone age technology has ever been sustainable, and that therefore we should live pretty much like we lived for that million-plus years. But that wasn't us! Those were our less

biologically-domesticated hominid relatives. Arguably, Homo sapiens sapiens has never lived sustainably, by which I mean that we have had societies that gave as much as they took, but that these societies themselves were precarious, that they could and sooner or later did fall out of balance -- or get knocked out of balance by conquest or technological infection from some imbalance over the horizon. I suggest that we draw the line in our heads not between industrial civilization and hunter-gatherers-plus-nature, but between Homo sapiens sapiens and all other life -- and of course not in the sense that we are more "highly" evolved, but that we have evolved to some strange place off to the side, isolated and dangerous, the animal in the dark tower. Maybe everyone would be better off if we just went extinct. But that's not realistic as a goal or even politically viable as an argument, and it would put us in the extremely civilized mental space of fixing a problem by killing the bad guy. There is no problem, only a situation, one that demands more complex understanding and action than just knocking down the technological infrastructure -- although that would certainly feel good, and it would greatly decrease the assault on nature ... for the moment. The situation is that particular civilizations keep crashing but the human tendency to fall into civilization persists. Roughly, we do it by using our hyper-flexible technique to invent ways to get some obvious benefit by doing some less obvious harm. The harm could be geographically distant, or far in the future, or concealed in the perspectives of other creatures, or even right in front of us but subtle. And once we've done it, we're in a feedback loop, tending to become dependent on the benefit, to extend and intensify our destructive practice, and to hold back our empathy or our "self," so that we don't notice the harm because that awareness would jeopardize the whole racket. How can we ever avoid this trap? There may be no exit, nothing but to keep veering off and crashing, eon after eon, until we veer so far off and crash so hard that nothing survives bigger than a rat. Or maybe humans will continue to physically evolve off to the side, farther from our roots, more dependent on our fleeting technologies and cultures, making our extinction ever more likely. Or maybe somehow we can physically evolve into a more integrated animal, through some sci-fi scenario that's not as implausible as space colonies. But the usual idea is that we will culturally evolve into a more integrated animal, and the simplest version of this is that

we'll live like known indigenous peoples, anchored by the customs of our ancestors and our knowledge and love of our native place. But if this is all that's holding us to nature, then all it takes is for conquerors to force us out of that place, or eradicate the species we eat, or send our kids to school, or kill almost all of us, and we'll be disconnected and drifting, sucked into depression and probably into the culture of our conquerors. Or will we? Some of the world's indigenous cultures have survived conquest and displacement, or are fighting it now, and they are not the same as they were a few centuries or decades ago, in that they now include awareness of civilization and techniques for resisting it, techniques that are evolving right now under intense environmental pressures. Even people with no indigenous cultural background, even people (like myself) who don't feel a deep bond with nature, are culturally evolving awareness of civilization and techniques for resisting it. There may even be a level of evolving behavior deeper than learned culture, but not DNA. It's the level that tells a spider how to spin a web, or birds when to migrate, a level that biologists can tell stories about but have yet to explore. We could see it as a kind of species-wide group mind that can change over time. I suspect that this concept would not be troublesome or even surprising to most non-European and indigenous cultures, and even Western experimental scientists are starting to notice it. (See Rupert Sheldrake, The Presence of the Past) In any case, it's not enough that we learn a location, a way of being that's in balance with nature. We must also learn a direction, a way of moving toward wildness. The mythology of our civilization is onto something when it says "we can't go back." We (individually and collectively) find it psychologically much easier to drift deeper into comfort and control and predictability, than to open ourselves to rawness and otherness and flux. How often does a child who wears shoes become an adult who goes barefoot? Have you ever seen a "property" owner remove a lock from a door? How many people, as they get older, have fewer possessions and care less whether those possessions get scratched? We try to go "back to nature" by moving to the woods and installing buildings and utilities, but how many people move to the city and take them out? We have to learn, if not these changes, then thousands of changes like them, and the relentless focus and expansive awareness to drive them. If we don't, as long as we favor domesticating motion, we'll get a ratcheting effect that will seduce us from the healthiest society straight through self147

absorption into hell. And if we do, if we learn to favor motion toward wildness, or learn to navigate the spectrum with full consciousness, then we can not only stabilize ourselves in stone age societies that are known to work -- we might also increase our range, and sustain ways of being that are farther from nature than the stone age -- or closer! As the drug trippers say, it's not how far you can go -- it's how far you can come back from.


How to Drop Out
April 2, 2004
People who work get bored when they don't work. People who don't work never get bored. - graffiti, Paris, May 1968 I didn't even start dropping out until my mid-20's. Unlike many outsiders and "radicals," I never had to go through a stage where I realized that our whole society is insane -- I've known that as long as I can remember. But even being already mentally outside the system, I found it extremely challenging to get out physically. In fourth grade I wanted to blow up the school, but I didn't know how, and even if I had done it, it would not have meant an endless summer vacation. In high school, inspired by Bill Kaysing's The Robin Hood Handbook, I wanted to go live off the land in the Idaho wilderness, but actually doing it seemed as remote and difficult as going to the moon. (Kaysing later wrote the book We Never Went to the Moon.) So I continued to bide my time and obey the letter of the law, like the guy in the Kafka parable.6 In college, when Artis the Spoonman performed on campus and told us all to drop out, I thought that was ridiculous -- how would I survive without a college degree? A few years later, with my two college degrees, after jobs operating envelope-stuffing machinery and answering phones in a warehouse, I was finally nudged toward dropping out by the Bush I recession and my own nature -- that I'm extremely frugal, love unstructured time, and would sooner eat garbage than feign enthusiasm. More than ten years later I'm a specialist at eating garbage -- as I draft this I'm eating a meal I made with organic eggs from a dumpster, and later I'll make a pie of dumpstered apples. I live on under $2000 a year, I have no permanent residence, and moving to the Idaho wilderness now seems like a reachable goal -- but no longer the best idea. Getting free of the system is more complex than we've been led to believe. Here as in so many places, our thinking has been warped by all-or-nothingism, by the Hollywood myth of the sudden overwhelming victory: Quit your corporate job this minute, sell all your possessions, and hop a freight train to a straw bale house in the mountains where you'll grow all your
6 "before the law" by franz kafka. 11 May 2011. <>


own food and run with the wolves! In reality, between the extremes there's a whole dropout universe, and no need to hurry. In my case, as I understood what I had to go through to make money, I stopped spending it. I learned to make my meals from scratch, and then from cheaper scratch, making my own sourdough bread and tortillas. I stopped buying music and books (exceptions in exceptional cases) and got in the habit of using the library. When I crashed my car, I kept the insurance money and walked, and then got an old road bike. I took a road trip by hitchhiking, but it was too physically taxing and I got sick. Like many novice radicals, I got puritanical and pushed myself too hard, and finally eased off. I temporarily owned another car and lived in it for a couple months of a long road trip. In the Clinton economic bubble, I got a job that was much easier and better paying than my previous jobs, and built up savings that I'm still living on. The main thing I was doing during those years was deinstitutionalizing myself, learning to navigate the hours of the day and the thoughts in my head with no teacher or boss telling me what to do. I had to learn to relax without getting lethargic, to never put off washing the dishes, to balance the needs of the present and the future, to have spontaneous fun but avoid addiction, to be intuitive, to notice other people, to make big and small decisions. I went through mild depression and severe fatigue and embarrassing obsessions and strange diets and simplistic new age thinking. It's a long and ugly road, and most of us have to walk it, or something like it, to begin to be free. A friend says, "This world makes it easy to toe the line, and easy to totally fuck up, and really hard to not do either one." But this hard skill, not quitting your job or moving to the woods or reducing consumption or doing art all day, is the essence of dropping out. When people rush it, and try to take shortcuts, they slide into addiction or debt or depression or shattered utopian communities, and then go back to toeing the line. The path is different for everyone. Maybe you're already intuitive and decisive and know how to have fun, but you don't know how to manage money or stay grounded. Maybe you're using wealth or position or charm to keep from having to relate to people as equals, or you're keeping constantly busy to avoid facing something lurking in the stillness. Whatever weaknesses keep you dependent on the system, you have to take care of them before you break away from the system, just as you have to learn to swim before you escape a ship. How? By going out and

back, a little farther each time, with persistence and patience, until you reach the skill and distance that feels right. At the moment there's no reason to drop out "all the way" except puritanism. I hate civilization as much as anyone, but in these last few years before it crashes, we should appreciate and use what it offers. Sylvan Hart (his given name!), the 20th century mountain man who even smelted his own metal, still traded with civilization, and once carried a sheet of glass 50 miles through the woods so he could have a good window. (See Harold Peterson, The Last of the Mountain Men) Some of the happiest people I know have dropped out only a short distance. They still live in the city and have jobs and pay rent, but they've done something more mentally difficult -- and mentally liberating -- than moving to some isolated farm. They have become permanently content with low-status, modestpaying jobs that they don't have to think about at home or even half the time when they're at work. Yes, these jobs are getting scarce, but they're still a thousand times more plentiful than the kind of job that miserable people cannot give up longing for -where you make a living doing something so personally meaningful that you would do it for free. "Do what you love and the money will follow" is an irresponsible lie, a denial of the deep opposition between money and love. The real rule is: "If you're doing what you love, you won't care if you never make a cent from it, because that's what love means -- but you still need money!" So what I recommend, as the second element of dropping out, is coldly severing your love from your income. One part of your life is to make only as much money as you need, at a job that you can come home from feeling energized and not drained. And then the important part of your life is to do just exactly what you love, with zero pressure to make money. And if you're lucky, you'll eventually make money anyway. But how much money do you "need"? And what if the only jobs available are low-paying and so exhausting that you come home and collapse into bed? These questions lead to my own level of dropping out, which is to reduce expenses to the point that you shift your whole identity from the high-budget to the low-budget universe. In a temperate climate, you have only five physical needs: food, water, clothing, shelter, and fuel. (If you're a raw-foodist and don't mind the cold, you don't even need fuel!) Everything else that costs money is a luxury or a manufactured need. Manufactured needs have fancy names: entertainment,

transportation, education, employment, housing, "health care." In every case these are creations of, and enablers of, an alienating and dominating system, a world of lost wholeness. If you love your normal activities, you don't need to tack on "entertainment." If you aren't forced to travel many miles a day, you don't need "transportation." If you are permitted to learn on your own, you don't need "education." If you can meet all your physical needs through the direct action of yourself and your friends, you don't need to go do someone else's work all day. If you're permitted to merely occupy physical space and build something to keep the wind and rain out, you don't need to pay someone to "provide" it. Expensive health care is especially insidious: not only is our toxic and stressful society the primary cause of sickness, but the enormous expenses that have been added in the last hundred years are mostly profit-making scams that cause and prolong sickness far more than they heal it. This is the low-budget universe: I ride around the city on an old cheap road bike, in street clothes, often hauling food I've just pulled out of a dumpster. Sometimes I'll be on a trail where I'll invariably be passed by people on thousand dollar bikes in racing outfits. Why are they riding around if they're not carrying anything? And why are they in such a hurry? I used to be envious of those suckers: I have to ride my bike to survive and they're so rich they do it for fun. But what is this "fun"? I get everything -- exercise, getting from place to place, meaningfulness, the feeling of autonomy, and doing what's necessary to survive -- all with the same activity: riding my bike. They should be envious of me: my life is elegant and theirs is disjointed and self-defeating, making money which they have to turn around and spend on unhealthful restaurant food because they don't have time to cook, on cars because they have too many obligations to get around by bicycle, and then on bicycles or health club memberships to make up for sitting in their jobs and cars all day, and even then on medical "insurance" (a protection racket which for most people costs more than uninsured care -- or there would be no profit in it) for when their fragmented poisonous life makes them sick. How do you get out of this? One step at a time! Move or change jobs so you don't need a car, and then sell the damn thing. Get a bicycle and learn to fix it yourself -- it's not even 1% as difficult and expensive as fixing a car. Reduce your possessions and you'll find that the fewer you have, the more you appreciate each one. Get your clothing at thrift stores on sale days -- I spend less than $20 a year on clothes. Give up

sweetened drinks -- filtered water is less than 50 cents a gallon and much better for you. If you have an expensive addiction, pull yourself out of it or at least trade it for a cheap one. Probably the most valuable skill you can learn is cooking. For a fraction of the cost of white-sugar-white-starch-hydrogenatedoil restaurant meals, you can make your own meals out of high quality healthful ingredients, and if you're a good cook, they'll taste good. I eat better than anyone I know on $100 a month: butter, nuts, dates, whole wheat flour, brown rice, olive oil, all organic, and bee pollen for extra vitamins. From natural food store dumpsters I get better bread, produce, meat, and eggs than Safeway even sells, but if this is impossible in your city, or you'd just prefer not to, you can still eat beautifully on $200. The foundation of all this is to cultivate intense awareness of money. It doesn't grow on trees but you have millions of years of biological memory of a world where what you want does grow on trees, so you need to constantly remind yourself that whatever you're thinking of buying will cost you an hour, ten hours, 100 hours of dreary humiliating labor. Your expenses are your chains. Reducing them is not about punishing yourself or avoiding guilt -- it's about getting free. If you continue to reduce expenses, eventually you'll come to the proverbial elephant in the parlor, the single giant expense that consumes 50-80% of a frugal person's money, enough to buy a small extravagant luxury every day. Of course, it's rent, or for you advanced slaves, mortgage. The only reason you can't just go find a vacant space and live there, the only reason another entity can be said to "own" it and require a huge monthly payment from whoever lives there, is to maintain a society of domination, to continually and massively redistribute influence (symbolized by money) from the powerless to the powerful, so the powerless are reduced to groveling for the alleged privilege of wage labor, doing what the powerful tell them in exchange for tokens which they turn around and pass back toward the powerful every month and think it's natural. Rent is theft and slavery, and mortgage is just as bad, based not only on the myth of "owning" space but also on the contrived custom of "interest," simply a command to give money (influence) to whoever has it and take it from whoever lacks it. Fortunately there are still a lot of ways to dodge rent/mortgage other than refusing to pay or leave and being killed by the police. For surprisingly little money you can buy remote or depleted land and build a house on it. (see Mortgage Free! by Rob Roy, and also Finding and Buying Your Place in the

Country by Les Scher) If you don't mind starting over with strangers, you can join an existing dropout community.7 You can live in a van, camp in the woods, or look for a caretaker or apartment manager job. If you're charming, you can find a partner or spouse who will "support" you by permitting you to sleep and cook someplace without asking for money. And if you're bold or desperate, most cities have abandoned houses or buildings where you can squat. Mainly all you need are neighbors oblivious to your coming and going, a two-burner propane camp stove, some water jugs and candles, and a system for disposing of your bodily waste. If the "owners" come, they'll probably just ask you to leave, and in some places there are still archaic laws from compassionate times, making it legally difficult for them to evict you. I squatted a shed for two weeks in December 2002 and if necessary I'll do it again. Also I have enough money saved to buy cheap land -- the project is just too big for me to do alone. Also I'm slowly learning wilderness survival -- which is iffy since wilderness itself is not surviving. But I spend most of my time surfing housesits and staying with friends and family. To drop out is to become who you are. Do not feel guilty about using strengths and advantages that others do not have. That guilt is a holdover from the world of selfish competition, where your "success" means the failure or deprivation of someone else. In the dropout universe, your freedom feeds the freedom of others -- it's as if we've all been tied up, and the most agile and loosely tied people get out first, and then help the rest. But what if they don't? What about people who are outside the system but still hyper-selfish? These people are not what I call "dropouts" but what I call "idiots." The view of this world as a war of all against all, where your purpose in life is to accumulate "wealth," zero-sum advantages and scarce resources for an exclusive "self," is the view of the elite. The only reason to think that way is if you are one of the handful of people in a position to win. For everyone else, the value system that makes sense is that you are here to help, to serve the greatest good that you can perceive. Yet in America, rich and poor alike are raised with robber baron consciousness, to turn us against each other, to keep us exploiting those below us instead of resisting our own exploiters, to keep all the arrows going the right way in the lifedepleting machine. The frugality that I'm talking about is the opposite of

Intentional Communities Directory. 10 May 2011. <>


ungenerosity, because it frees us from a scarcity-based system in which we cannot afford to be generous. For all our lives we've been trained as prostitutes, demanding money in exchange for services that we should be giving free to those we love, because others demand the same of us. In this context, the dropout is a hero and a virus: if you no longer need money, you can give others what they need without asking for money, and then they no longer need money, and so on. In practice it's still sketchy because there are so few of us, but the more of us there are, and the more skills and goods and openings we offer, the better our gift economy will work. And if we do it right, they won't be able to just massacre us or put us in camps, as they've always done before, because we will have too many friends and relations in the dominant system. For strategy I look not to political movements like revolts or strikes or radical parties, but to cultural movements like gay liberation or feminism or pagan spirituality. First define a clearly understood identity, then proudly claim that identity, then build public acceptance through entertainment and by each of us earning the support of friends and family outside the movement. I'm envious of gay people -- I've spent years mastering written language just to halfway explain myself, and all they have to say is "I'm gay." If we had a word, what would it be? In a recent family bulk Christmas mailing, I was "living the bohemian lifestyle," but I don't go to poetry readings or hang out in coffee shops. "Anarchist" smacks of ideology, of people who bicker endlessly about abstract theory, although maybe we could adopt an insulting term used by theory anarchists, and call ourselves "lifestyle anarchists." "Voluntary simplicity" is too tame and politically correct, suggesting aging yuppies trying to save the world by reducing households to one car -- plus the life I advocate is not at all simple, just unstressful. I'm too politically ambitious and forward-looking to be a hobo or a tramp. In Eastern tradition I could be respected as some kind of monk or holy man, but I don't want to get "enlightened" -- I want to make the whole world wild and free. The word I've been using, "dropout," is a good start but it has the same deep flaw as "primitive": it places our dominating, parasitic, and temporary civilization in the fixed center. We've got it inside out. On the physical plane, nature is the center that holds, and "mainstream" society is the falling apart, the irresponsible life-wasting deviance. What I'm trying to do -- and what we're all going to have to do in the next few decades if we

survive at all -- is drop back in. related links Chris Davis's Idle Theory8 The Idle Foundation9 A 2009 article about a German woman who has lived without money for 13 years10 Moneyless World,11 a blog by a guy who has been living without money since 2000 A page about master dropout Jeffrey Sawyer12 Appendix 1: Having Kids For very young people there are also two universes. Squatting over a tub of warm water is a much cheaper and healthier way to give birth than lying on your back in a harsh hospital room where the high priest will take the infant away from the mother to teach it alienation. Then you can buy a stroller and a crib (more alienation practice) and expensive baby food, or do like most nature-based peoples and carry your baby against your body and breast-feed it for the first three to four years.13 You can send it to day care (practice for later institutions) so you can go to your job that pays only slightly more than day care costs, or you can raise the kid yourself. And the idea that a kid needs a "nice" upper-middle-class-style physical environment is worse than false. A "dirty" environment strengthens the immune system, and if I were a toddler again, I'd much rather live in a cool abandoned house or junkyard or shack in the woods than in a sterile room with a television where I wasn't allowed to touch anything. The little problem here is that raising kids with dropout values is marginally illegal, and you risk having them kidnapped and reprogrammed by the authorities -- the same as they did to the Indians.
8 9

Idle Theory. 10 May 2011. <> Idle Foundation. 10 May 2011. <>


Living Without Money. 10 May 2011. <>
11 12

Moneyless World. 10 May 2011. <>

Article linked to now defunct. Jeffrey Sawyer, An Inquiry Into Living While Walking the Roads of America, Mexico, and Beyond (self-published, 2004). Request a copy free from: <>

Patricia Stuart-Macadam, Katherine A. Dettwyler, Breastfeeding: biocultural perspectives (Aldine Transaction, 1995) 43 156

And the big problem is that, while the financial requirements for having kids are completely artificial, the mental/emotional requirements are real and more difficult than we can imagine if we haven't tried it. To "raise the kid yourself" must be something like three full-time jobs that you can't quit. The mother needs at least one other person capable of taking care of all her needs so she can devote full attention to the child, and ideally she needs a whole "tribe." Babies are super-adaptable -- it's the mother who needs a level of comfort and stability that's hard to achieve without money -- and a level of emotional health that's hard to achieve with money. Otherwise the baby will adapt itself for compatibility with a hostile, empty, stressed-out hell-world. I'd love to have a couple kids, but I won't do it without a physical location that's owned and paid for, and without someone besides myself to help out the mother, and without the means to dodge the institutions, whether through excellent legal help or through the institutions breaking down. (Thanks Ursa for suggesting the topic!) Appendix 2: Dumpster Diving FAQ Last updated March 2010 (A "dumpster," by the way, is the American word for the big metal garbage bin that is called a "skip" in the UK and Australia. Also it's been a few years since I wrote this, and now I do almost no dumpster diving because I'm based in Spokane where all the stores have trash compactors. I still check my favorites when I visit Seattle, but even there the best ones have dried up, either because they're being picked clean or because the stores are donating elsewhere.) Why do they call it "diving"? Do you go in head first? Usually I don't have to climb in at all. I can just reach in, or climb up on the side of the dumpster and reach, or balance on my hips on the edge and lean down in, using my legs as a counterweight, which might be where "diving" comes from. And sometimes I do climb in, but not if it's too nasty. What kind of stuff to you get out of dumpsters? I mostly dive for high quality natural food, which is a rare specialization. There are far more people who dive for nonperishable items. Isn't all the food rotten? Certainly not! You would be amazed at the quality of food

that gets thrown away, and the reasons. As I draft this I'm making soup with a can of coconut milk that was thrown away for having a dent. This morning I had cereal that was thrown away for a tear in the box, even though the inner plastic bag was intact. Often produce gets thrown out for purely cosmetic reasons, like a funny-shaped bell pepper or an apple with a rough patch of skin. My favorite dumpster is at a store that sells produce in packages instead of by the pound. If a single orange is moldy, they'll throw out the whole five pound bag. They'll throw out basil for a few brown-edged leaves, and I'll make a huge batch of pesto. Once I found several cases of organic chicken broth that were tossed for no apparent reason. Also most stores are very conservative with their expiration dates, so I can get meat, eggs, cheese, and packaged meals that are still fine. You eat meat from the dumpster? Usually only organic meat, because the normal stuff is full of poisons. But yes, if you get it quickly, decay is not an issue. A few times I pulled out slimy salmon carcasses from which they had cut off the filets. The part that was left still had a lot of meat plus all the good healthy fat! Do you ever get sick? I have yet to get food poisoning from dumpster food, except once I got mild nausea and some sulfurous burps from (I think) some smoked salmon. The key is knowing about how different foods go bad. Poultry has salmonella, so it has to be thoroughly cooked and you have to avoid getting any uncooked juices in your mouth. Never eat a dead crab -- but once I took a chance on one that was still packed in ice, and I was fine. When I get sushi from the dumpster, I cook it even if it's intended to be eaten raw. Eggs are good way past their expiration date. Fruit mold is toxic but bread mold is safe. Puffy canned food will kill you, but a puffy carton of apple juice is better than fresh! It helps that I live in a chilly city, and that I have a strong immune system, and that my diet is generally very healthy. I suspect that the top cause of food-borne illness is refined sugar weakening people's immune systems. What are some foods you've rescued from a dumpster? Apples, oranges, bananas, pears, peaches, strawberries, tomatoes, avocados, pineapples, eggplants, yams, bell peppers, zucchinis, asparagus, ginger, onions, potatoes, lettuce, spinach, arrugula, basil, eggs, sausage, beef, lamb, chicken, salmon,

breaded halibut, hazelnuts, pecans, lentils, wild rice, salsa, guacamole, chips, pesto, olives, bread, croissants, chocolate, butter, coffee. What's the best thing you've ever found? Probably a whole case of extra-virgin olive oil. Or (because it's so rare and tasty) three packages of Niman Ranch bacon. Another time I found about 40 packages of smoked salmon. It's always great to find a bag of premium organic bread. The coolest thing I've heard about was a block of chocolate so big that when they got it home they had to break it up with an axe! If you find a lot of something good, do you take it all? Not if I know that other people hit the same dumpster. I took only four bottles of the olive oil and gave two away. My rule is, take up to half, unless I think no one will come along later who wants it. Any other dumpster diving ethics? Don't leave a mess, and if others have left a mess, clean it. Messes give us a bad name and give the stores a reason to lock us out. Also, if I dig down and find something good that I don't want, I'll pull it to the top for the next person. In some cases I'll pull stuff out and set it to the side, so it will still be there after the dumpster is emptied. Besides food, what good dumpsters are there? Anything that is manufactured, there are seconds and rejects that get thrown away. Somewhere there is a violin dumpster, a felt hat dumpster, an ice cream dumpster. Businesses that use the latest computer equipment usually just throw it away every time they replace it. You just have to find out where. I know people who have found good outdoor equipment and expensive clothing in manufacturer dumpsters. Also there are beer dumpsters! If a bottle gets broken, they throw out the whole case. I don't do this level of dumpster diving, because you generally need a car to navigate the spread-out industrial areas and to haul all the stuff you find. Are dumpsters often locked? Less often than you'd think. And it's not necessarily to keep people from taking stuff out. More often it's to keep people from putting stuff in.

Do you have to go late at night? Not always! I go to my favorite food dumpsters in the midmorning. Daytime is ideal for many dumpsters because you can see better and you look less suspicious. But clearly, if it's a manufacturer dumpster in plain view of the workplace, you have to wait until everyone goes home. What's a dumpster diver's worst enemy? Trash compactors, big sealed-off things that you can't get into. They can be disassembled, but be careful, because if there is compacted stuff inside, it tends to explode. You might become a suicide trash liberator. Another enemy is the irresponsible dumpster diver who makes a mess. People who scavenge cans are the worst. Is dumpster diving illegal? This is a difficult question. The laws are complex and vary from place to place. A few years ago, two guys got six months in jail for dumpster diving vegetables,14 even though the business owners did not want to press charges. That's an exceptional case, but it's possible. So be careful! In any case, do not act guilty. Act like what you're doing is perfectly normal and legal. Do you look in residential trash? Never in house garbage cans -- it's rude, risky, and there's probably nothing there. But apartment dumpsters can be excellent. People throw out good blankets and pillows, small furniture, cookware, appliances, electronics, sporting equipment, books, CD's. Once I snagged a perfectly good upright vacuum cleaner that someone threw away because the disposable inner bag had a hole. Even better are dumpsters for college dorms or other student housing at the end of the term when everyone's moving out. Rich kids will throw away items worth hundreds of dollars. So do you ever sell stuff you find? That violates my personal moral code, which is that it's wrong to sell something for more than I paid for it. Did Robin Hood steal from the rich and sell to the poor? If I siphon off stuff that other dumpster divers need for personal use, and then sell it, that's stealing from the poor and selling cheap to the rich! If

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you can't even give away something for free that you got for free, you have misplaced your soul. Appendix 3: Frequently Posted Criticisms Last updated December 2009 Isn't it hypocritical to use the resources of a system you oppose? No. Hypocrisy is when you say something is wrong for others to do, but you do it yourself. I've never said that it's morally wrong to participate in the present system. My position is that it's a tragic collective mistake that we need to work our way out of. I do think it's tactically wrong to participate in it more than you have to, but different people have different tactical opportunities. I understand that many people are more stuck in it than I am, and I'm using my relative freedom to try to help them. Anyway, what's wrong with using the resources of something you oppose? If you were in a prison camp, wouldn't you look for ways to avoid forced labor but still eat? As I said in the essay: it's not about being pure or avoiding guilt -- it's about adapting and becoming more free. Isn't it a contradiction to preach independence while accepting help from others? Certainly not. We have been confused by the many meanings of the word "dependence". I think it's good to be dependent on equals, on friends and family with whom you have a healthy relationship, and it's good for them to be dependent on you. The kind of dependence that I'm against, that I would like to wipe off the Earth forever, is where someone has you over a barrel, where you have to do what they say because if you don't, they will withhold something that you need. The essence of "dropping out" is to cut dependencies on a system of power-over, and replace them with dependencies on a system of power-with. But you use the internet! Again, the reason to avoid connections to the system is to maintain autonomy. So I'll use any by-product or resource I can, as long as there few or no strings attached. I'll especially use a resource like the internet, a powerful tool to find allies and to transform human consciousness. As William Kötke said, not only is it acceptable to use the resources of the present system to build the next one, ideally all its resources would be used that way.

Dropping out is elitist because not everyone can do it. But everyone can do it, just not right away. I figure it's going to take thousands of years, if humans don't go extinct first, before all of us can live in societies that are sustainable and noncoercive. In the mean time, we all have to do the best we can, and take any opportunity to get a little more free. The key is, when you get more freedom and autonomy, you have an ethical obligation to help others instead of exploiting them. Isn't living with somebody without paying them anything called "mooching"? Yes, it is called that, because we live in a slave culture with a slave language! Before the 20th century, it was normal for extended families to live in the same house, with most of them supporting the household in ways other than paying rent -- if rent was paid at all. The very idea that you have to pay to occupy space is radical, and it serves to concentrate power: if I already have power (represented as "property"), those with less power/property have to give me more. We have it backwards! It is the alleged "owner" who is mooching, benefiting from the legal right to deny someone their natural right to occupy space in this world, to build a shelter and gather food and live in a cooperative community. (Not that rent-chargers are bad people. Many of them have been forced into a situation where they have to charge rent so they can make payments to still more powerful people.) What if everybody dropped out? Who would you scavenge off of? In practice, the problem is not too many people looking for different ways to live, but not enough. The dumpsters are still full of good stuff that is not scavenged but wasted in landfills. Too many people still buy pre-made junk food instead of making their own healthful meals, or drive cars instead of riding bicycles. This world is full of people with the skills and knowledge to build paradise, but they can't even begin, because they would lose their jobs shuffling data in the command structure, or manufacturing attention-wasting gadgets, or laboring to provide excess to the elite. As these roles are dropped, life will get easier, not harder. Health care is not a manufactured need but a necessity. Good health care is a necessity, but the industrial medicine that we've been trained to call "health care" does more harm than good at enormous expense. A good book on the subject is

Medical Nemesis by Ivan Illich. Another good book is The Health Of Nations by Leonard Sagan, which presents evidence that modern improvements in health and life expectancy have not been caused by "advanced" medicine or even by better sanitation, but by social and psychological factors. What if you get hit by a car? I hope the doctors and nurses haven't dropped out. I hope they have! I'm already excluded from the American medical system, because it's so expensive that only rich people can afford it. If I got hit by a car, I might try to hide from the ambulance and crawl home to splint my broken bones with sticks and rags, rather than go a hundred thousand dollars in debt and be effectively a slave for the rest of my life. But if more doctors and nurses "dropped out", if they carried their interest in healing outside the money economy, then they would have room to be more helpful than they are now. The less money they needed, the more they would be free to treat people without asking for money. It's true that expensive industrial medicine is ideal if you get hit by a car, but other forms of medicine are adequate for acute injuries, and much better for chronic sickness... and if everybody tried to live the way I'm living, in a few decades there wouldn't even be cars!

October 2008 Update
"How To Drop Out" has been my most popular piece of writing for more than four years. In that time I've bought some land, which you can read about on my landblog,15 and I've shifted my main residence to Spokane, where it's harder to find good food in dumpsters, so my expenses are higher. Also, I've decided I need to be even more aggressive in dispelling the very powerful myths that are tied to the idea of dropping out of society. So here's a new short version of the essay, hitting the main points, adding a few new points, and really hammering the points that people keep missing. 1. Do not drop out. Instead, try to stop yourself from committing suicide until you can find a job that is so non-hellish that it does not make you suicidal, and then stay at that job, or an even better one if you can find it, for several decades. Grab what fun you can on the weekends, save up money, enjoy your


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retirement, and you will have lived a pretty good life. Seriously, it's good to live differently, to take uncommon paths, to minimize your dependence on a society gone astray. But if I were to say, "Woo-hoo! Dropping out is so cool! Quit your job now and hop a freight train to Bolivia, and you will be ALIVE while everyone else is DEAD," then that might be worse than saying nothing. Motivational writing is a drug. If you require a motivational writer or speaker to live differently, then as soon as that external energy shot wears off, you will fizzle and burn out. But if everyone is trying to discourage you from doing something, and you do it anyway, then you have the internal motivation to persist and succeed. So: dropping out is not fun -better not do it. 2. "Drop out" is a bad metaphor, because it implies you are either in or out. In reality, no one has ever been in or out -- everyone is somewhere in between. The most pathetic office drone still has forbidden dreams, and the most extreme mountain man still has commerce with society. Your mission is to find a niche, somewhere in this range, where you're not held over a barrel by a system that gives you no participation in power. 3. It's not about being pure. It's not about keeping your hands clean or avoiding guilt. Imagine birds living in a forest. Humans come and cut the forest down and build barns and plant crops. If some birds are able to live in the barns, or eat the crops, they don't say, "I'm not going to live in the barn -- that's cheating," or "I'm not going to eat the crops, because then I'm just part of the system." Of all the species on Earth, only humans are that stupid. Now, that doesn't mean you should accept all gifts. Sometimes the "crops" are poisoned or the "barns" are traps. By all means, when you are offered benefits, use your full intelligence to see what strings are attached. And if you reject something, reject it because you see that it will do you more harm than good, not because you have some silly obsession with purity. Here's a test: when Thoreau was living at Walden Pond, he would often go into town for dinners with his family. If you see anything wrong with that, read this section again, or read this piece about the myth of self-sufficiency.16 4. "Out" is relative and not absolute. It is a path and not a destination. And you walk the path not by disconnecting from

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the rest of the world, but by engaging it in an intelligent and creative way, instead of in one of the disempowering ways that are made to look like the only ways. The myth of the pure and total outsider is one of those disempowering ways. It's a trick designed to make you set an impossible goal, get discouraged, and give up. 5. Do not try to find a job doing what you love. This is my most radical advice. There are some people in the world who have jobs they love so much that they would do them for free. If you become one of these people, you will probably get there not through planning but through luck, by doing what you love for free until somehow the money starts coming in. But if you make an effort to combine your income and your love, you are likely to end up compromising both, making a poverty income by doing something you don't quite love, or no longer love. For example, if you decide to become a chef because you love cooking, it will probably make you hate cooking, because cooking will become linked in your mind to all the bullshit around the job. What I recommend instead is to separate your money from your love. Get the most low-stress source of income that you can find, and then do exactly what you love for free. It might eventually make you money or it might not. "Do what you love and the money will follow" is mostly false. The real rule is: "If you're doing what you love, you won't care if you never make any money from it -- but you still need money." 6. When you begin to get free, you will get depressed. It works like this: When you were three years old, if your parents weren't too bad, you knew how to play spontaneously. Then you had to go to school, where everything you did was required. The worst thing is that even the fun activities, like singing songs and playing games, were commanded under threat of punishment. So even play got tied up in your mind with a control structure, and severed from the life inside you. If you were "rebellious", you preserved the life inside you by connecting it to forbidden activities, which are usually forbidden for good reasons, and when your rebellion ended in suffering and failure, you figured the life inside you was not to be trusted. If you were "obedient", you simply crushed the life inside you almost to death. Freedom means you're not punished for saying no. The most fundamental freedom is the freedom to do nothing. But when you get this freedom, after many years of activities that were forced, nothing is all you want to do. You might start projects that seem like the kind of thing you're supposed to love doing,

music or writing or art, and not finish because nobody is forcing you to finish and it's not really what you want to do. It could take months, if you're lucky, or more likely years, before you can build up the life inside you to an intensity where it can drive projects that you actually enjoy and finish, and then it will take more time before you build up enough skill that other people recognize your actions as valuable. 7. Hard work is satanic. Our nature is to be lazy -- primitive humans have moments of extreme exertion, but they don't go through life in a hurry, they don't push themselves, and despite the popular myth, they don't live in great stress on the edge of starvation. Even medieval serfs worked fewer hours, and at a slower pace, than modern industrialized workers. Ivan Illich has written that at the dawn of the industrial age, they would put a man in a pit that gradually filled with water, and give him a pump, and he would have to pump constantly all day to not drown. Humans are so naturally resistant to hard work that it took something like that to train people for industrial jobs. Now they do it with the schooling system, and with the religious doctrine that hard work is morally virtuous. The opposite of hard work is quality work. Quality work may be done quickly, but it is never pushed. It arranges itself around the goal of doing something as well as it can be done, and it finds its own pace. Another opposite of hard work is playful work. Like quality work it may be done quickly but is never pushed. But playful work is indifferent to quality, or even to success. When you're doing playful work, you don't care if it ends in total failure, because you're having such a good time that you would look forward to doing the whole job again. 8. There are no easy rules. This is a tangential point. If you're interested in dropping out of society, you are also likely to reject society's rules, and try to replace them with counterculture rules or rules of your own invention. Humans are map-making animals, and we're always trying to make a map so good that we no longer have to look at the land. This is a mistake, and if you reject the dominant map, it's best to learn to not use any map at all. There is one rule that's very simple, but not easy: observe reality and adjust. 9. Don't rush it. Getting free is not like walking through a magic doorway -- it's like growing a fruit tree.


Six Lies About Immigration
April 27, 2004
1. Immigrants are not people. Of course they never say this explicitly, but it saturates the subtext of anti-immigration arguments. I have yet to see an immigration critic show any evidence of compassion, of willingness or ability to see the other side. No one says, "Hey, if America were a desert and Mexico were a nation of showy wealth and higher wages, and I were desperately poor and had nothing to lose, I'd totally sneak in there -- and I'd bring my culture with me!" The dehumanization of immigrants is done through words -"hordes" "pouring" across the border, not people walking across -- and through disparaging references to their culture, language, or race. The statement that "white" people will one day be a minority in America, or that some percentage of Californians don't even speak English, or that immigrants are still dressing the way they did in Mexico, has no importance except to a racist. 2. White. "White" is not a race. It's an elite class and culture whose meaning has changed many times to accommodate the needs of elitism and domination. In America, Irish, Italians, Jews, and others were once considered non-white, and were later invited to join the club, in exchange for their willingness to identify with the divisive and oppressive system. George Washington's name among the Indians was Town Destroyer. As a "white" person, I'm supposed to identify with him, to lamely defend or justify him or at least feel apologetic for what "my" people did to those other people. I refuse! I identify with the Indians, and we want the land back! After all, my ancestors in the region now called "Europe" once lived much like American Indians, before they were violently conquered by the hierarchical, forest-cutting Indo-Europeans and later the Romans -- who certainly believed themselves racially superior to the paler-skinned aliens, the impoverished barbarous northerners who flowed in and polluted the glorious city of Rome. 3. Immigration equals conquest. The idea here is that moving into a land occupied by others by means of military aggression, massacring noncombatants, destroying villages and food sources, forcing people off the land, keeping them as slaves, sending them to concentration camps, assassinating their leaders, stamping out their language and culture -- that this is morally and tactically equivalent to simply moving in next to them, keeping your own culture, and surviving. This lie is carried by sloppy language, typically the word

"invasion," an obscuring blur which makes the two things appear as one. Even Mexican immigrants are foolishly using the term "reconquista," as if their peaceful retaking of southwestern America (northern Mexico) is same as the military conquest of that region by the USA in 1846. If Canada had militarily invaded and conquered "southeastern Canada" (northeastern America) 150 years ago, wouldn't Americans still want to take it back? And wouldn't it be unusually nice of us to do it through immigration instead of conquest? Immigration is not only morally better than conquest, but tactically better. If Jewish people had patiently immigrated to Palestine over the last 80 years, and settled in beside the folks who were already there, instead of ruthlessly forcing them out or killing them, they would now be peacefully tolerated, instead of sitting on the firing pin for Armageddon. 4. Land belongs to whoever's already there. This argument, predictably, is used only by people who are holding the land in question at the time, no matter how they took it or how long they've been there, and conveniently they apply it only to the present and future, never to the past. But this is hypocritical and illogical. If it's wrong for Mexicans to come peacefully to America and mooch off our luxuries, then it was far more wrong for Europeans to come here, kill almost all the humans and large mammals who were already here, and poison and deplete the land. If we do not apply the "there first" rule to the past, the rule forgives and retroactively justifies conquest. And if we do apply it to the past, the results are absurd and impossible -- that ancestors of Europeans should go back to Europe and even Indians should go back to Asia and leave the Americas to native nonhumans. (Not that that wouldn't be a better world than this!) The only thing to do is junk the whole rule. If humans are to live sustainably on the Earth, the rule must be: Whoever is willing and able to live symbiotically with the land, belongs to that land, no matter how long they've been there or who their ancestors are, and those who are unable or unwilling to live such that the species diversity and soil fertility increase with time, must learn, and until they learn they must be contained -something no one has yet been able to do. By this rule, middle class Americans are just as unfit for "their" land as Mexican immigrants -- or more... 5. Immigrants are unskilled. Sure, they don't know how to use spreadsheet software, or synthesize polychlorinated biphenyls, or build an atom bomb. But they are more skilled

than most Americans at digging holes, at sleeping outside, at making palatable food from simple ingredients, and at getting along socially. These skills are more valuable, more enduring, and less harmful than the skills to manage the industrial megamachine. 6. Immigration harms nature. The foundation of this one is the half-lie that human population harms nature. The phrase "population problem" or "population explosion" is, in practice, racist, calling up images of masses of nameless darkies who are allegedly to blame for ecological destruction. They are responsible for a lot of it -- the forests of Africa have been destroyed by ignorant farmers and herders, for firewood, for crop land, for feeding their goats. But human population is only an indirect cause of the dying Earth. The direct cause is the exploitation of "resources," the taking of plants, animals, soil integrity, clean water and air, without giving back, the extraction, manufacture, and scattering of substances that belong deep underground or nonexistent. And the people most responsible for this are the people who consume the most resources: industrialized first-worlders, and Americans are the worst. Each one of us, on average, is killing the Earth as fast as 20-50 skinny brown people. So yes, we need fewer people, but the first thing we need is less of the irresponsible consumption we call "wealth." The next idea, that immigrants are more destructive than natives, should be true. Our resistance to immigration is biological: For millions of years our ancestors have lived in a world where the natives of an area know the land and love it -every rock, every plant, every animal -- and the people coming in from outside do not know it, and are likely to exploit and damage it. Our primal territoriality, necessary for the protection of nature, does not know that it's now in a world where the "natives" cannot identify a single wild plant except the ones they call "weeds" and kill, where they cover the land with parking lots and Wal-Marts, with factory farms and lawns and monoculture fields saturated with poisons, because what they know and love is their medical plan, their car, the characters on their favorite TV show. Americans have accepted flashy technological toys and piles of fatty sugary food in exchange for willingness to administrate and ignore the exploitation of poorer countries and the extermination of life on Earth. Not only that, but we flaunt it and market it to the world (far more than Europeans, whose minimum wage is roughly twice ours, and who have more

freedom too). So we shouldn't be surprised that the greediest, shallowest, and stupidest people in the world want to come here -- as well as some nice poor people who happen to live nearby. For now, immigration is helpful. It's a safety valve that reduces the differences in wealth and power that drive the engines of destruction. When we lose our jobs to the people who have been kept poor so we could get rich, and the system is no longer buying us off, we can wake up and stop believing its lies, while the newly bought-off can learn that wealth doesn't make them happy, and everyone gets smarter. When the present first world countries are no longer glittering resource sinks, immigration will no longer be a problem. The problem then will be conquest and occupation by the next empire, and then I will fight to defend my land.

Although I tried to write the lies to apply broadly, I was writing specifically about contemporary Mexican immigration to the USA. If you're reading from another country or time, your immigrants and lies about them will be a little different. Robert Bitto writes with another lie I didn't know about, which I'm going to call: 3½. Immigrants are staying is a major lie of immigration to the US that all people stay. It's rooted in the even bigger lie that "everyone wants to be like me," "people brave such great hardships to come to our wonderful place," "they hate us because we are free" and all of those other strains of brainwashing that go along with "look how better we are than any other place." That myth is hard to die because many Americans are inherently xenophobic and in spite of the big American lie that we are a "nation of immigrants" the truth is, most of us are descended from northwestern Europeans and the people they brought over from Africa to enslave. The Americans who do manage to have some curiosity about the world and might travel abroad tend to be the "package tour," Spring-Break "whoo hoo! show-us-your-tits!" types who don't bother to learn a local language or understand local ways of life. If all Americans knew Spanish, for example, and actually talked to that Mexican gardener, or went to Mexico and spoke directly to Mexicans, they would realize that most of these people you see from Mexico (or wherever) just want to go back home after making some money in the US. If you travel throughout Mexico

and talk to the people in the smaller communities you will see very little desire to leave everyone behind and go to the US permanently. Many think it is even cruel to turn your back on your community and just up and leave for good. I have spoken to various people throughout Latin America about this. But what type of person from a more "communal" society would leave the web of support, of love, of relationships, pack it all up and head to the US for good? It would have to be a person who prizes the material over the social, an "independent" person with little regard for the community. Think about that. What does that say about the immigrants who stay here?



Troubleshooting America
September 17, 2004
posted 1492. I've got a really good system -- as far as I know it's never crashed. But recently I was accessed by a new server on the east port. I uploaded some freeware to ensure a good connection, but it didn't work. It's degraded my port and looks like it might invade my system. What can I do? Nothing, I'm afraid. You've got the "civilization" virus. At this time there is no known fix: no immunization, no firewall, no repair. Prepare yourself for a total crash. It's going to take down your operating system, corrupt your drives, erase your memory, and pollute your motherboard. Oh shit! Is there any hope of recovery? The easiest thing to do is throw the whole thing in the trash and start over. But if you're really attached to your hardware, you might be able to save it. First, back up your BIOS and put it somewhere safe. Then wait for the virus to run its course -- it won't take long, maybe 500 years. When the system's totally dead, do a reformat and a clean install. The problem is, most of your components will be toast, and you'll have to replace them with something different. But if you've got the BIOS, you should be able to make an operating system to work with whatever you've got. Good luck! posted 1776. My system has spectacular resources and potential, but it's barely creeping along. I think my network administrator is using my system to do his work, and he's prohibited use of my westward expansion ports. I want to disconnect from the network, but I'm totally dependent on it -- I'm using his operating system and his hardware to access the outside. It will take some work, but you can do it. The first thing you've got to do is give notice and disconnnect. If your administrator's an asshole -- and they usually are -- he'll send some malware to try to force you to reconnect. But if your cleanup tools are the most updated versions, you'll be fine. The next problem is, you'll have to run on your boot disk for a while until you can develop your own operating system. And you also need to build a new network hub. But those are good things to do per se. Too many people just hold onto the old framework and keep patching it up as it gets more and more clunky. posted 1789. Me again! I'm developing the new OS and I need

some help. First off, it's always good to look at the original BIOS that came with the motherboard. In your case that would be the Iroquois version. I know it won't do a lot of stuff that you want it to do, but it's stable. The more you can incorporate from that, the better. Next, make sure you do a clean install every now and then -- otherwise your system gets cluttered up with old files and gets more and more buggy until it crashes. Put a reminder somewhere, something like, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." Yes, I'll do it. Thanks! posted 1860. I'm a network administrator and a big part of my network is threatening to break off. The problem is, they're using a different master-slave protocol for the IDE bus, and it's incompatible with my operating system. But my business was just about to take off before this happened -- I really need to preserve the network! I'm assuming you don't want to abandon the master-slave configuration in general, just hold onto your clients and get them to adopt your system. You're in luck! The protocol they're using, Chattel, is obsolete. As operant density increases, they'll have to switch to the Wage protocol, and then they'll be compatible again, and you can probably get them back. A more risky option, which I don't recommend, is to force compliance, cripple their system so badly that they'll let you go in and reconfigure it immediately. The nice thing is, this will optimize your whole network for strong central management. But it's going to cause resentments that give you no end of trouble. posted 1946. What are the pros and cons of the new sub-U.R.B. configuration? The idea behind the sub-URB is that if all the components are modularized and standardized, with uniform connections to the CPU, the CPU can effectively manage a much larger system. The drawback is, components are no longer able to share utilities, share memory, or interface directly with each other -- everything has to go through the CPU. This makes the whole system rigid and inefficient. The sub-URB architecture permits an enormous number of expansion slots, but they tend to fill up with redundant and unnecessary peripherals. It consumes massive amounts of power and will sooner or later burn out your power supply. Also, the

best components tend to be incompatible with the sub-URB interface. If you try to force them in, they'll either undermine your system or burn out. posted 1967. My kids think they know everything about computers. They say my system's full of bugs, that it doesn't work any more, and they want to reformat the hard drive and do a clean install of an open-source operating system. The thought of a clean install terrifies me! Won't I lose everything? I think my system just needs a few patches. I always recommend doing a clean install with every new generation, but almost nobody does it, and their systems still keep creaking along. If you do it now you can at least back up most of your data first. If you wait too long, you will lose everything. posted 1980. My system just doesn't have any punch any more. I've got a lot of peripherals and high-demand processes and I don't have enough power or CPU time. What can I do? You have two options. I recommend you optimize your system, scale it back, use energy-saving technologies, accept that it's not going to give you everything all the time. Your other option, which I don't recommend, is to get a bigger power supply and overclock your CPU. That will give you some flashy performance in the short term, but it tends to burn out your CPU, and eventually you're still going to hit a wall. posted 2004. Help me! Everything's going wrong at once. My power supply is failing, my components are disconnecting for no reason, my operating system doesn't recognize anything, my anti-virus software is consuming massive resources and doing nothing, and everyone on my network hates me. I think I've traced the problem to the resident bus. How do I replace it? The resident bus doesn't like to be removed! You can try to uninstall it from your control panel, and if that doesn't work you can go into the system properties and try to disable the driver. But probably the only way is to open the case and pull it out physically. I can't do that! I'm afraid I'll break something! I'm sorry, but your system is already broken. Looking at your history, it's a miracle that it's running at all. You wouldn't have this problem with the resident bus if you weren't overclocking, overconsuming power, overloaded with peripherals, using unstable BIOS and a top-heavy operating

system, fixing everything with patches, and forcing your components into an inflexible and wasteful configuration. Honestly, even if you remove the resident bus, that's only a shallow fix. You need to redesign your whole system from the bottom up. I need my system the way it is. Sounds to me like you just hate computers! posted 2020. I found an old system in the trash. It's mostly burned out but it has a classic motherboard. I was able to switch out the dead stuff and optimize the hardware for efficiency and stability, but I can't find a compatible BIOS. I think I know what you're looking for. Someone uploaded it a long time ago. Actually, not that long. Here's the link.


How to Survive the Crash and Save the Earth
December 19, 2004
1. Abandon the world. The world is the enemy of the Earth. The "world as we know it" is a deadly parasite on the biosphere. Both cannot survive, nor can the world survive without the Earth. Do the logic: the world is doomed. If you stay on the parasite, you die with it. If you move to the Earth, and it survives in something like its recent form, you can survive with it. Our little world is doomed because it's built on a foundation of taking from the wider world without giving back. For thousands of years we've been going into debt and calling it "progress," exterminating and calling it "development," stealing and calling it "wealth," shrinking into a world of our own design and calling it "evolution." We're just about done. We're not just running out of cheap oil -- which is used to make and move almost every product, and which gives the average American the energy equivalent of 200 slaves.17 We're also running out of topsoil, without which we need oil-derived fertilizers to grow food; and forests,18 which stabilize climate and create rain by transpiring water to refill the clouds; and ground water, such as the Ogallala aquifer under the Great Plains, which could go dry any time now. We're running out of room to dump stuff in the oceans without killing them, and to dump stuff in the atmosphere without wrecking the climate, and to manufacture carcinogens without all of us getting cancer. We're coming to the end of global food stockpiles, and antibiotics that still work, and our own physical health, and our own mental health, and our grip on reality, and our will to keep the whole game going. Why do you think so many Americans are looking forward to "armageddon" or the "rapture"? We hate this shitty world and we want to blow it up. In the next five or ten years, the US military will be humiliated, the dollar will collapse, the housing bubble will burst, tens of millions of Americans will be destitute, food, fuel, and manufactured items will get really expensive, and most of us will begin withdrawal from the industrial lifestyle. SUV's will change their function from transportation to shelter. We will not
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be able to imagine how we ever thought calories were bad. Smart people will stop exterminating the dandelions in their yard and start eating them. Ornamental gardens will go the way of fruit hats and bloomers. In the cities, pigeon populations will decline. This is not the "doom" scenario. I'm not saying anything about death camps, super-plagues, asteroid impacts, solar flares, nuclear war, an instant ice age, or a runaway greenhouse effect. This is the mildest realistic scenario, the slow crash: energy prices will rise, the middle class will fall into the lower class, economies will collapse, nations will fight desperate wars over resources, in the worst places people will starve, and climate disasters will get worse. Your area might resemble the botched conquest of Iraq, or the depression in Argentina, or the fall of Rome, or even a crusty Ecotopia. My young anarchist friends are already packing themselves into unheated houses and getting around by bicycle, and they're noticeably happier than my friends with full time jobs. We just have to make the mental adjustment. Those who don't, who cling to the world they grew up in, numbing themselves and waiting for it all to blow over, will have a miserable time, and if people die, they will be the first. Save some of them if you can, but don't let them drag you down. The first thing they teach lifeguards is how to break holds. 2. Abandon hope. I don't mean that we stop trying, or stop believing that a better world is possible, but that we stop believing that some factor is going to save us even if we do the wrong thing. A few examples: Jesus is coming. If you believe the Bible, Jesus told us when he was coming back to save us. He said, "This generation shall not pass." That was 2000 years ago. Stop waiting for that bus and get walking. The Mayan calendar is ending. Some people who scoff at Christian prophecies still manage to believe something equally religious and a lot less specific about what's going to happen. At least Jesus preached peace and enlightenment -- the Mayans were a warlike people who crashed their civilization by cutting down the forests of the Yucatan and exhausting their farmland. That's what we should be studying, not their calendar and its alleged message that a better world is coming very soon and with little effort on our part. Now the Mayan calendar gurus will say that it does take effort and we have a choice to go either way, but go back to 1988 and read what 2004 was supposed to look like, and it's obvious that we've already failed.

Technology will save us. If it does, it will be something we don't even recognize as "technology" -- permaculture or orgonomy or water vortices or forest gardening19 or quantum consciousness or the next generation of the tribe. It will not be a new germ killer or resource extractor or power generator or anything to give us what we want while exempting us from being aware and respectful of other life. Anything like that will just dig us deeper in the same hole. The system can be reformed. Yes, and it's also not against the laws of physics for us to go back in time and prevent the industrial age from ever happening. Ten, twenty, thirty years ago the ecologists said "we have to turn it around now or it will be too late." They were right. And not only didn't we turn it around, we sped it up: more cars with worse efficiency, more toxins, more CO2, more deforestation, more pavement, more lawns, more materialism, more corporate rule, more weapons, more war and love of war, more secrets, more lies, more callousness and cynicism and short-sightedness. Now we're in so deep that politicians right of Nixon are called "liberal" and the Green Party platform is both totally inadequate and politically absurd. Our little system is not going to make it. Also, there's a time lag between smokestacks and acid rain, between radioactivity and cancer, between industrial toxins and birth defects, between atmospheric imbalance and giant storms, between deforestation and drought, between soil depletion and starvation. The disasters we're getting now are from the relatively mild stuff we did years or decades ago, before SUV's and depleted uranium and aspartame and terminator seeds and the latest generation of factory farms.20 Even if we could turn it around tomorrow, what's coming is much worse. We're not strong enough to destroy nature. Oddly, this argument almost always invokes the word "hubris," as in, "You are showing hubris, or excessive pride, in thinking that by lighting this forest on fire to roast a hot dog, I will burn the forest down. Don't you know humans aren't capable of burning down a forest? Shame on you for your pride." In fact, we've already almost finished killing the Earth. The deserts of central and southwest Asia were once forests -- ancient empires cut down the trees and let the topsoil wash off into the Indian Ocean. In North America a squirrel could go tree to tree

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from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, and spawning salmon were so thick in rivers and streams that you couldn't row a boat through them, and the seashores were rich with seals, fishes, birds, clams, lobsters, whales. Now they're deserts populated only by seagulls eating human garbage, and nitrogen fertilizer runoff has made dead zones in the oceans, and atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing oceanic acidity, which may dissolve the shells of the plankton. If the plankton die, it's all over. Maybe we can't kill absolutely everything, but we are on the path to cutting life on Earth down to nothing bigger than a cockroach, and we will do so, and all of us will die, unless something crashes our system sooner and only kills most of us. 3. Drop Out. Dropping out of the present dominant system has both a mental and an economic component that go together like your two legs walking. It's a lot of steps! Maybe you notice that you hate your job, and that you have to do it because you need money. So you reduce expenses, reduce your hours, and get more free time, in which you learn more techniques of selfsufficiency and establish a sense of identity not dependent on where you get your money. Then you switch to a low-status low-stress job that gives you even more room to get outside the system mentally. And so on, until you've changed your friends, your values, your whole life. The point I have to make over and over about this process, and this movement, is that it's not about avoiding guilt, or reducing your ecological footprint, or being righteous. It's not a pissing contest to see who's doing more to save the Earth -although some people will believe that's your motivation, to justify their own inertia. It's not even about reducing your participation in the system, just reducing your submission and dependence: getting free, being yourself, slipping out of a wrestling hold so you can throw an elbow at the Beast. This world is full of people with the intelligence, knowledge, skills, and energy to make heaven on Earth, but they can't even begin because they would lose their jobs. We're always arguing to change each other's minds, but nobody will change if they think their survival depends on not changing. Every time you hear about a whistleblower or reporter getting fired for honesty and integrity, you can be sure that they already had a support network, or just a sense of their own value, outside of the system they defied. Dropping out is about fighting better. Gandalf has to get off Saruman's tower! 4. You are here to help. In the culture of Empire, we are trained to think of ourselves as here to "succeed," to build wealth

and status and walls around ourselves, to get what we desire, to win in games where winning is given meaning by others losing. It is a simple and profound shift to think of ourselves instead as here to help -- to serve the greatest good that we can perceive in whatever way is right in front of us. You don't have to sacrifice yourself for others, or put others "above" you. Why is it so hard to see each other as equals? And it's OK to have a good time. In fact, having a good time is what most helping comes down to -- the key is that you're focused on the good times of all life everywhere including your "self," instead of getting caught up in egocentric comparison games that aren't even that fun. Defining yourself as here to help is a prerequisite for doing some of the other things on this list properly. If you're here to win you're not saving anything but your own wretched ass for a few additional years. If you're dropping out to win you're likely to be stepping on other outsiders, instead of throwing a rope to bring more people out alive. And as the system breaks down, people here to win will waste their energy fighting each other for scraps, while people here to help will build self-sufficient communities capable of generating what they need to survive. In the real world, being here to help is easier and less stressful, because you will frequently be in a situation where you can't win, but you will almost never be in a situation where there's nothing you can do to help. Being here to win only makes sense in an artificial world rigged so you can win all the time. Thousands of years ago only kings were in that position, and they reacted by massacring all enemies and bathing in blood. Now, through a perfect conjunction of Empire and oil energy, we just put the entire American middle class in that position for 50 years. No one should be surprised that we're so stupid, selfish, cowardly, and irresponsible. But younger generations are already getting poorer and smarter. 5. Learn skills. Readers sometimes ask for my advice on surviving the crash -- should they buy guns, canned food, water purifiers, gold? I always tell them to learn skills. You know the saying: get a fish, eat for a day; learn to fish, eat for a lifetime. (Just don't take it too literally -- there might not be any fish left!) The most obvious useful skills would include improvising shelter from materials at hand, identifying and preparing wild edibles, finding water, making fire, trapping animals, and so on. But I don't think we're going all the way to the stone age. There will also be a need for electrical work, medical diagnosis, surgery, optics, celestial navigation, composting, gardening, tree

propagation, food preservation, diplomacy, practical chemistry, metalworking, all kinds of mechanical repair, and all kinds of teaching. As the 15th century had the Renaissance Man, we're going to have the Postapocalypse Man or Woman, someone who can fix a bicycle, tan a hide, set a broken bone, mediate an argument, and teach history. Even more important are some things that are not normally called skills, but that make skill-learning and everything else easier: luck, intuition, adaptability, attentiveness, curiosity, physical health, mental health, the ability to surf the flow. Maybe the most fundamental is what they call "being yourself" or "waking up." Most human behavior is based neither on logic nor intuition nor emotion, but habit and conformity. We perceive, think, and act as we've always done, and as we see others do. This works well enough in a controlled environment, but in a chaotic environment it doesn't work at all. If you can just get 10% of yourself free of habit and conformity, people will call you "weird." 20% and they'll call you a genius, 30% and they'll call you a saint, 40% and they'll kill you. 6. Find your tribe. We minions of Empire think of ourselves as individualists, or as members of silly fake groups -- nations, religions, races, followers of political parties and sports teams, loyal inmates of some town that's the same as every other. In fact we're all members of a giant mad tribe, where the relationships are not cooperative and open, but coercive, exploitative, abusive, and invisible. If we could see even one percent of the whole picture, we would have a revolution. You may feel like you want to do it alone, but you have never done it alone. To survive the breakdown of this world and build a better one, you will have to trade your sterile, insulated links of money and law for raw, messy links of friendship and conflict. The big lie of postapocalypse movies like Omegaman and Mad Max is that the survivors will be loners. In the real apocalypse, the survivors will be members of multi-skilled wellbalanced cooperative groups. I think future tribes are already forming, even on the internet, even among people thousands of miles apart. I think the crash will be slow enough that we'll have plenty of time to get together geographically. 7. Get on some land. This might seem more difficult than the others, yet most people who own land have not done any of the other things -- probably because buying land requires money which requires subservience to a system that makes you personally powerless. I suggest extreme frugality, which will

give you valuable skills and also allow you to quickly save up money. You probably have a few more years. If you don't make it, it's not the end of the world -- oh wait -it is the end of the world! But you still might know someone with room on their land, or someone might take you in for your skills, or if you have a tribe one of you will probably come up with a place in the chaos. And if not, there will be a need for survivors and helpers in the cities and suburbs. So don't force it. If you do get land, the most valuable thing it can have is clean surface water, a spring or stream you can drink from. Acceptable but less convenient would be a well that doesn't require electricity, or dirty surface water, which you can filter and clean through sand and reed beds. At the very least you need the rainfall and skills to catch and store enough rainwater to drink and grow food. (The ancient Nabateans did it on less than four inches of rain a year.) Then you'll need a few years to learn and adjust and get everything in order so that your tribe can live there year-round, even with no materials from outside. With luck, it won't come to that. 8. Save part of the Earth. When I say "the Earth," I mean the life on its surface, the biosphere, as many species and habitats as possible, connected in ways that maximize abundance and complexity -- and not just because humans think it's pretty or useful, but because all life is valuable on its own terms. We like to focus on saving trophy animals -- whales, condors, pandas, salmon, spotted owls -- but most of them aren't going to make it, and we could save a lot more species if we could put that attention into habitats and whole systems. So how do you save habitats and whole systems? You can try working through governments, but at the moment they're ruled by corporations, which by definition are motivated purely by short term increase-in-exploitation, or "profit." You can try direct physical action against the destroyers, but it has yet to work well, and as the world plunges to the right I think we'll see more and more activists simply killed. My focus is direct positive action for the biosphere: adopting some land, whether by owning or squatting or stealth, and building it into a strong habitat: slowing down the rainwater, composting, mulching, building the topsoil, no-till gardening, scattering seed balls, planting trees, making wetlands -- a little oasis where the tree frogs can hide and migrating birds can rest, where you and a few species can wait out the crash. Tom Brown Jr. mentions in one of his books that the patch of woods where he conducts his wilderness classes, instead of

being depleted by all the humans using it for survival, has turned into an Eden, because his students know how to tend it. Some rain forest environments, once thought to be random wilderness, have turned out to be more like the wild gardens of human tribes, orders of magnitude more complex than the soilkilling monoculture fields of our own primitive culture. Humans have the ability to go beyond sustainability, to live in ways that increase the richness of life on Earth, and help Gaia in ways she cannot help herself. This and only this justifies human survival. It requires a new set of skills. A good place to start is the permaculture movement. Sadly, in the present dark age the original books are rare, and classes are so expensive that the knowledge is languishing among the idle rich when it should be offered free to the world. But the idle poor can still find the books in libraries, and many of the techniques are simple. What it comes down to is seeing whole systems and paying attention and innovating, driven by the knowledge that sustainability is only the middle of the road, and there's no limit to how far we can go beyond it. 9. Save human knowledge. When people of this age think about knowledge worth saving, they usually think about belief in the Cartesian mechanical philosophy, that dead matter is the basis of reality, and about techniques for rebuilding and using machines that dominate and separate us from other life. I'd like that knowledge to die forever, but I don't think it works that way. Humans or any other hyper-malleable animal will always be tempted by the Black Arts, by techniques that trade subtle harm for flashy good and feed back into themselves, seducing us into power, corruption, and blindness. Our descendants will need the intellectual artifacts to avoid this -- artifacts we have barely started to develop even as the Great Bad Example begins to fall. In 200 years, when they are brushing seeds into baskets with their fingers, and a stranger appears with a new threshing machine that will do the same thing with less time and effort, they will need to say something smarter than "the Gods forbid it" or "that is not our Way." They will need the knowledge to say something like: "Your machine requires the seed to be planted alone and not interspersed with perennials that maintain nitrogen and mineral balance in the soil. And from where will the metal come, and how many trees must be cut down and burned to melt and shape it? And since we cannot build the machine, shall we be dependent on the machine-builders, and give them a portion of

our food, which we now keep all for ourselves? Do you not know, clever stranger, that when any biomass is removed from the land, and not recycled back into it, the soil is weakened? And what could we do with our "saved" time, that would be more valuable and pleasurable than gathering the seed by hand, touching and knowing every stalk and every inch of the land that feeds us? Shall we become allies of cold metal that cuts without feeling, turning our hands and eyes to the study of machines and numbers until, severed from the Earth, we nearly destroy it as our ancestors did, making depleted uranium and polychlorinated biphenyls and cadmium batteries that even now make the old cities unfit for living? Go back to your people, and tell them, if they come to conquer us with their machines, we will fight them in ways the Arawaks and Seminoles and Lakota and Hopi and Nez Perce never imagined, because we understand your world better than you do yourself. Tell your people to come to learn."



The Slow Crash
February 2, 2005
Imagine the end of the world in moderation. It's hard. We tend to imagine that either the "economy" will recover and we'll go on like 1999 forever, plus flying cars, or else one day "the apocalypse happens" and every component of the industrial system is utterly gone. I'm not ruling out a global supercatastrophe. A runaway greenhouse effect might turn Earth into another Venus and cook us all. Acidification of the oceans might kill the plankton, and with them everything that needs a lot of oxygen. An instant ice age could happen several ways, and this scenario needs more attention because some humans would survive. But what I'm focusing on here is the scenario that includes only events we're reasonably sure about: the end of cheap energy, the decline of industrial agriculture, currency collapse, economic "depression," wars, famines, disease epidemics, infrastructure failures, and extreme unpredictable weather. If that's all we get, the crash will be slower and more complex than the kind of people who predict crashes like to predict. It won't be like falling off a cliff, more like rolling down a rocky hill. There won't be any clear before, during, or after. Most people living during the decline and fall of Rome didn't even know it. We're told to draw a line at the sack of Rome by the Visigoths, but to Romans at the time it was just one event -the Visigoths came, they milled around, they left, and life went on. After the 1929 stock market crash, respectable voices said it was a temporary adjustment, that the economy was still strong. Only years later, when we knew they were wrong, could we draw a line at 1929. I suggest we're already in the fall of civilization. In 2004 the price of oil doubled, bankruptcies and foreclosures accelerated, global food stockpiles fell to record lows despite high harvests, an apocalyptic religious cult hacked an election to tighten their control of the world's most powerful country, and we had record numbers of hurricanes and tornadoes -- and a big tsunami to top it off. If every year from here to 2020 is half as eventful, we'll be living in railroad cars, eating grass, and still waiting for the big crash we've been led to expect from watching movies designed to push our emotional buttons and be over in two hours. You know how it goes: Electricity and water and heat are off and not coming back on. Food and fuel will never again be coming into the cities. People "revert to savagery" or "anarchy,"

running wild in the streets killing and looting. If you live in the city, you will have to kill people to steal their food, or even eat them, and they'll be trying to do the same to you. If you live in the country, you'd better have a big gun to fend off the hordes of starving urbanites scouring the countryside. This condition will last until a strong leader rebuilds "civilization." This is a web of lies. The first lie is the assumption that breakdowns will be sudden and permanent. More likely it will go like this: As energy gets more expensive and the electrical infrastructure decays, blackouts will be more frequent and last longer, but power will come back on. By the time the big grids go down permanently, the little grids, patched together from local sources, will be ready to take their place. They will be weaker, less reliable, and more expensive, and they won't cover the slums, but by then we'll all be experts at living without refrigerators and running laptop computers from car batteries scavenged from junked SUV's and recharged with solar panels. Electricity is a luxury, not a necessity. When the lights go out, we won't go berzerk -- we'll go to bed earlier. Likewise with gasoline. The oil's not running out -- it's just getting more scarce and expensive. People who want it will not form motorcycle gangs that chase tankers and fight to the last man. They'll do what my dad did in 1973 and what they're doing now in Iraq -- wait six hours for a fill-up. If you already know how to get by with a bicycle, you just won't have as many cars to deal with. Water supplies are mostly gravity-fed. If something stops the flow, someone will be fixing it. Even the worst places, like Phoenix or Las Vegas, will not suddenly and permanently run out of water. As with electricity and fuel, water will get lower quality, more expensive, and unpredictably available. People will learn to store it and to stop wasting it by watering lawns and washing cars and shitting in drinking water. Adaptable people will learn to catch rainwater. With only 12 inches a year, a 10x10 foot square metal roof feeding a storage tank will gather 100 cubic feet, or about 800 gallons, enough for one person to have more than two gallons a day. Food is more difficult. It rarely21 falls from the sky, and industrial agriculture can't possibly continue to feed everyone. It would be easy to feed even our present bloated population if we all learned how to grow little gardens and trays of sprouts and bathtub algae, but that's not going to happen. Populations have

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died in famines before and will do so again. The lie here is that the food supply will end suddenly and permanently, when really, like everything else, it will end in a series of small collapses and partial recoveries. The other lie is that lack of food will make people kill each other. I challenge readers to come up with a single catastrophic event, in all of history, where it became common for people to kill each other for food. I haven't heard of anyone doing it in areas hit by the tsunami. In the 1984 Ethiopian famine, in the siege of Sarajevo, even in the Irish potato famine, when Ireland was producing enough meat and grain to feed everyone and exporting it to wealthy Englishmen, when people would have been morally justified in killing for food, they did not kill for food. The Donner party ate their own dead but did not kill for food. Napoleon's soldiers retreating from Moscow would cut the organs from fallen men and horses, sometimes before they were quite dead, but did not kill each other to steal food. Nations have gone mad and killed millions for empty abstractions of race and religion and politics, but even in Rwanda or Nazi Germany or post-revolution France, it was uncommon that anyone would kill for food. I can't explain it, why people will kill for ideas and then, when their life is at stake, will quietly starve. Maybe hunger comes on so slowly that by the time they're ready to kill, they're too weak. Maybe, in a real famine, the elite keep the food so well guarded that there's no point trying to take it, and the non-elite, not corrupted by power, would rather share what little they have than fight to the death. Imagine yourself in that position. Whatever stopped the food coming into the city, it's probably regional and temporary, and you'll be expecting it go to back to normal soon, or at least expecting help. Exposure kills people much faster than starvation, so you'll want to stay in the place you know and try to get a piece of the aid shipments. If you leave the city you'll be headed for a particular place like a cabin or a friend's house, not roaming the countryside looking for a cornfield. I've gone by bicycle from central Seattle over Stevens Pass to near Wenatchee, and over Snoqualmie all the way to Spokane. I rode freeways, highways, dirt roads, and gravel trails, and I think I saw two fields of edible crops, neither in season. What about stealing from other people in the city? Again, put yourself in that position. Do you know which houses have food? Which have guns? Would you really go to a random house and knock the door down? If you're even thinking about it,

you'll be expecting other people to do the same, and you'll make a defensive alliance with your neighbors. If you're allied and you need each other for survival, you're going to share food. Those with the most food, if they're smart, will give some away to earn respect and loyalty. The situation will be all about social dynamics among neighbors, not physical conflicts against roving gangs. The popular image of "anarchy" is another lie, an elitist caricature of lower class people as stupid and randomly dangerous, mindless and incomprehensible like a tornado. In reality, in the Rodney King riots, people were intelligent enough to not harm the Korean grocery stores where the owners had been nice to them. I was in the Seattle WTO "riots," and the destructive actions were not mindless and crazy, but calm, deliberate, and focused. Notice the propaganda use of the word "streets": "mean streets", "I grew up in the streets", "rioting in the streets". Where else are we going to riot? The lawn? We're led to believe that the most dangerous thing in the streets is people on foot with free will. The most dangerous thing in the streets is the automobile. Deaths in the streets probably go down during riots because there are fewer car crashes. How many people have been invisibly killed in car crashes in the same intersection where the big media spent days making sure everyone in the world saw Reginald Denny being beaten by black people? The function of propaganda is not to tell us what to think but to sink us deeper in what we already thoughtlessly believe: in this case, that in the absence of central control we get a dog-eatdog universe full of shocking crimes. That's what we have now. The every-man-for-himself morality is a symptom of a culture that uses excess wealth and zero-sum competition to maintain hierarchy. In the absence of wealth and control, people get nicer. We learn to take responsibility, to work together, to help each other... until a new dominator appears and crushes us down. All the worst mass-killings of history have been top-down. Genocide happens not when central control stops but when it stops holding back. If the killers are not direct agents of government or industry, they are ordinary people who know they have both the protection and the ideological guidance of the biggest bad-ass of the moment. Usually the ideology is utopian: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, French revolutionaries, American "settlers," and now American neoconservatives and dominionists, all have justified their mass murders with a grandiose vision of a noble conflict to wipe the world clean and

build heaven. The danger is not "terrorism" or "chaos" -- the danger is a new order that declares you the danger. I expect utopian genocide to compete with famine for the number two spot, still well behind disease, which historically has always been the biggest killer. The Black Death of 1347-1350 (which might have been an ebola-like virus)22 killed about a third of Europe, and those people ate organic whole foods and had no jet travel or biowar labs. Still, the interesting question is not "How will people die?" but "How will people live?" In the town next to the mass grave, what will we do all day? Process data and feign enthusiasm? Get on the internet? Make crossbows? Tend fruit trees? The best I can figure it out is to look at a bunch of more and less likely modifiers to the world as we know it, and think through how they could change things. Peak Oil. Global oil extraction will peak in the next year or two, if it hasn't already. By 2008 it will be clearly in decline, though some will argue that it's only a temporary adjustment. Oil sellers will exploit the hype by raising prices even more than they have to. We will not "figure out" some new cheap energy source, but we will figure out that hydrogen is just a storage method, and not a very good one. But life will change less than the peak oilers are predicting, because we have so much room to cut out waste: to drive less often in more efficient cars, ride bicycles, turn off the heat and air conditioning, take the machines and industrial chemicals out of agriculture, stop flying food around the world. Gradually, more people will grow their own food, raise their own kids, tend their own health, do stuff with their own bodies instead of machines, and turn their attention from the stock market and TV characters to their more real lives. Those who can adjust mentally will recognize this as an improvement. When energy gets so expensive that people can't afford to drive their cars at all, or to buy the new super-efficient cars, they will abandon the suburbs to enterprising bicyclists or drug gangs or squatter communities or farmers. The abomination of the lawn will turn out to have preserved a lot of precious topsoil... which will now be depleted by moderately unsustainable agriculture. I don't see any likely way for us to go "back" to the forager-hunter lifestyle for which our bodies are made. It's not that we can't, but that most people will choose not
22 Could the Black Death reemerge? 10 May 2011. <>


to as long as they know any technique to gain short-term advantage by draining the life of the Earth. Economic Derepression. That's not a typo. There are many economies, and the one that's failing is the control economy. The dominant media will not even call it a depression, but some kind of temporary crisis, when really it's the permanent end of the centralized techno-industrial order. What they'll call temporary "unemployment" will be a permanent transition to selfemployment in the meaningful activities of subsistence. The dollar will continue to slide, until non-wealthy Americans will no longer be able to buy anything imported. Americans will have to learn how to make stuff again, and we could get a renaissance in light manufacturing. We'll start local currencies, like Ithaca Hours,23 or if the rulers jealously forbid it, we'll build underground barter and gift economies. All this will be good for us. Meanwhile, economies that depend on selling stuff to Americans will also decline. Interest rates will rise and pop the housing bubble, and so many people will default on their mortgages that it will be impossible to evict them all, or to keep squatters out of all the vacant bank-"owned" houses. The elite will try to repress squatters enough to preserve their property/power, but not so much that it fuels a movement for land reform. Something similar will happen with credit card debt, but milder, because the elite are always more willing to forgive debt than to give up their claim on land. One piece of advice: If you can sell off your stocks and get enough money to pay off your house, hurry! World War III. The only way I can make sense of the coming attack on Iran is to see it as a giant cult suicide. Of course US forces will be humiliated, but not before sparking "WWIII." This is another term that's been hyped and simplified. Like "World" War II, it will actually be fought in only a few regions, and it will not destroy the world as we know it, only take it down a notch. Secret Weapons. I'm sure they exist: powerful electromagnetic weapons, weather control, trippy stuff we can't imagine. But the people who research this subject are so paranoid that it's impossible to tell if these weapons are any more catastrophic in effect than other weapons, or if they're tactically effective enough to be used. China. I don't know enough to predict this one. China is going to be the next evil empire after the USA, but what will they do? Do they have the means to come over here and turn

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America into an even worse police state than it already is? How will it affect their economy when Americans are no longer buying their prison-manufactured products at Wal-Mart? How much time do they have before industrial civilization falls out from under them? Serial Fallujah. If we get overt mass-killings in America, this is my pick for how it will happen. The rulers will pick off cities one by one, just like they did with Fallujah and the Branch Davidians, feeding the bloodlust of the public in a ritual as old as civilization: demonize them, seal them in, and kill them all. If a volcanic eruption cuts off food to your city, hold tight -- you'll be fine. If the bodies of soldiers or police are dragged through the streets of your city, get out and never expect to return. Disease. One that kills 10% will slow down or stop many systems, especially the medical system, but in a few months or years it will all go back to almost how it was before. One that kills 50% will reorder society in ways we can't predict -- when people think they're about to die, they do unpredictable things. Another factor is if the dead and the survivors have different cultural profiles. If we get a mad cow epidemic, it will tend to kill big red meat eaters and spare people who eat lighter. Almost any disease will go easier on people with healthier lifestyles -- in fact, this might have already happened: The insanity sweeping America and appearing in Europe could be a direct effect of a diet of over-refined sugars and starches, hydrogenated oils, and processed-to-death foods. We could see it as a slow diet-caused epidemic of mental illness that makes people do stupid things that tend to get them killed. Weather. Overall global temperatures will continue to rise, though I think the mechanism is more complex than greenhouse gases absorbing sunlight. And in any particular spot, it will look more like crazy weather than warm weather. This January in Seattle was warm and sunny. In July we might get a 110 degree day (43C) or a snowstorm. Everyone will get faster winds, bigger storms, wetter floods and drier droughts. And if the climate is being affected, directly or indirectly, by CO2 emissions, then there will be a lag, just like the lag between turning the hot water up in the shower and feeling it, but much longer because the atmosphere is so much bigger. If the lag is as long as 30 years, then what we're getting now is the effect of the relatively mild emissions in the 1970's. What will it be like when the giant car fad comes back to bite us? Astronomy. Eventually a mass-extinction-sized asteroid will strike the Earth. The chance that it will do so in the next 100

years is not worth bothering about. But some other cosmic events may be. A fringe theory of comets is that they are not "dirty snowballs" but hot and enormously charged with electromagnetism or some other kind of energy, and that a near pass of a comet can influence Earth in ways we don't understand. There could be all kinds of cosmic disasters that we don't know about because their physical traces are not as obvious as a giant crater or a layer of ash. The best place to look would be in the histories of ancient and prehistoric people -which we are told to think of as pure fiction. For more on this subject, look into the work of Immanuel Velikovsky. One event that is accepted by dominant science, somewhat likely, and could actually give us a sci-fi apocalypse that kills the system and leaves people unharmed, is a giant solar flare. The solar storm of 1859 fried the telegraph system by overwheming the wires with electric charge. Our computer components are so sensitive to electric charge that we keep them in foil pouches so we don't accidentally burn them out with static electricity. Do you think you could burn out a telegraph line by rubbing your feet on the carpet and touching it? Then imagine what a telegraph-burning solar storm would do to computers. Solar flares are associated with sunspots, and sunspots are now at a 1000-year high,24 and will peak in 2012. Human Consciousness Shift. I'm not going to call it an "awakening" or "transcendence" because that would be putting it on a vertical scale, better than before. It's at least as interesting if we're not better but different. This one is fun to think about, and easy to argue for or against, because there are so many ways we are smarter, stupider, and no different than we were before. My own wild speculation is that humans are already splitting into two "races" very much like Tolkien's elves and orcs. In any case, it's obvious that without a shift in human collective consciousness, we're just going to keep reaching for the heroin, cutting the trees down as fast as they grow back, falling out of balance and crashing until we go extinct. And with a shift, it's wide open. Appendix 1: Easter Island Some readers have answered my challenge, and found a crash in which people ate each other to survive: Easter Island. It's not clear whether Easter Islanders just ate already-dead

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people, or routinely killed each other, but assuming they did, the question is: How was Easter Island different from the many other famines in which people rarely killed each other for food? And which environment does our own world resemble? I would answer that Easter Island was both small and extremely isolated. No part of our world would be that isolated, even in a hard crash (except Easter Island itself). And the Earth as a whole, though isolated, is much bigger and more complex than Easter Island, which had only one culture and one habitat. Large systems change more slowly than small ones, and complex systems are more durable and adaptable. Earth Island has thousands of square miles of temperate forests, tropical forests, mountains, swamps, deserts, grasslands, oceans, lakes, islands, and not-quite-depleted farmland, and even after the McDonald's Revolution, we still have enough cultural complexity, and more than enough variety of ideas and strategies, to moderate the crash. Appendix 2: reader comment Here's a comment from Aaron (March 2005): I've just interviewed a permaculture consultant who has been working in Iraq (rebuilding a village on behalf of some obscure aid agency). He said the first thing he noticed was that for the first time ever there was no stamp in his passport and no customs or any kind of government apparatus when he went there. This got him kind of worried about what he was going into but when he got there (Kurdistan) he was amazed to see that the services in the town he was staying in were operating okay and the place hadn't descended into chaos -- far from it in fact. After a while he started asking people questions like, "How come the water supply is still functioning when there is no agency to run it and how come the power is on too?" The locals said that all the electricians just decided to get together and make the power system work, and the same thing with plumbers and the water system. He said there were no banks operating but that wasn't so bad because there were guys on street corners sitting behind a box offering 3 types of currency (in the form of three piles of money with a stone sitting on each one). The gas stations were closed too but at various points on the road there would be a gathering of guys with tractor drawn tanks selling gas. He said he had no idea where they had got the gas from but they were selling it and everyone's cars were running fine.

There was plenty of fresh (organic) food in the markets and life was pretty normal. The only people really suffering were the grain farmers. They had had a fairly normal growing season but the price of grain had gone through the floor thanks to international aid agencies flooding the country with imported grain in an attempt to feed the poor helpless Iraqis. From the tone of wonder in his voice I think he had just stumbled upon the possibilities of political anarchy. ...And here's a follow-up, after Hurricane Katrina, September 2005: I forgot to mention the last thing the guy said, which was that he had told the same story many times to people in the US and the response was always, "That wouldn't happen here -- it'd be total anarchy, people would be at each other's throats." This shows how effective the propaganda is but it's interesting just how wrong those predictions were, although the propaganda system was able to maintain the illusion perfectly for people (in the mainstream) outside New Orleans. The system tells us that without it we would be living in anarchy but in actual fact we would be living in community and that's what the troops were doing in New Orleans -- preventing outbreaks of community, not outbreaks of anarchy.


Critique of Civilization FAQ
April 8, 2005 (revised October 2006)
What do you mean, "critique of civilization"? Mostly I mean putting human civilization in context, seeing it from the perspective of the world that surrounds it, instead of through the lens of its own mythology. For example, we're taught to think of human prehistory as a temporary, transitional stage destined to "improve" into a world like our own. In fact, we have lived as forager-hunters for at least 100 times as long as we've been tilling the soil, and it's our own age that shows every sign of being temporary, unstable, and short. The critique of civilization is a reframing, after which "primitive" people seem like the human norm, and civilization seems like a brief failed experiment. Another example: suppose I broke into your house, killed your family, locked you in a cage, threw out all your stuff, redecorated according to my tastes, and called it "growth" because I used to have one house and now have two, or called it "development" because I replaced your stuff with my own. That's exactly what civilization does, to nature, to nonhumans, to nature-based humans, even to humans in other branches of civilization. It's not really that bad, is it? The deserts of central and southwest Asia and the Mediterranean used to be forests. Ancient empires cut them down to burn the wood to smelt metal for weapons, and to build ships, which they used to conquer their neighbors. This has been the pattern of every "successful" civilization in history: to transform the life of the Earth into larger human populations that must conquer and deplete more land to survive, spreading like a cancer over thousands of miles, destroying every habitat and culture in their path, until they go totally mad, exhaust their landbase, and crash. Can you define "civilization"? I don't think it's necessary or even helpful to make an airtight definition. I follow William Kötke in using "civilization" interchangeably with "empire." I define it loosely as a selfreinforcing societal pattern of depletion of the land, accumulation of wealth, conquest, repression, central control,

and insulation and disconnection from life, with all of these habits allied to mental, cultural, and physical artifacts. For example, the plow is a physical artifact that enables the cultural habit of grain farming to take biomass from the soil and convert it into more humans and into stores of grain, which enable the cultural artifact of "wealth," which enables some people to tell others what to do and build the cultural artifact of "command," backed up by physical artifacts like swords and guns and cultural roles like soldiers and police, who reinforce the whole pattern by conquering and holding more land for the plow and more people for the roles of farmer and owner and soldier. Also, farming enables people to lose their awareness of wild nature and still survive -- in fact, it links their survival to viewing wild nature as an enemy, which feeds back and supports their habit of exterminating nature. Or, the car is a physical artifact whose manufacture and use require the land to be torn up for mining (after being conquered), polluted with industrial waste products, and covered with pavement, and the car feeds back into this system by insulating and disconnecting people behind its metal walls and blurring speeds, so they lose touch with their neighbors and with the world they're destroying. Also cars enable us to put more distance between the places we have to go, forcing us to have cars to get there, and thus to do thousands of hours of commanded labor to be permitted to own them. Sure, everyone knows cars are bad. But what about all the good stuff in civilization, like our medical advances? Most of industrial medicine exists to treat diseases and injuries that are caused by industrial civilization in the first place, like heart disease and cancer and car crashes, which are rare or nonexistent in nature. And mostly it fails to treat them, and only succeeds in prolonging sickness to increase the power of the medical system and allow it to more completely colonize our lives. Didn't primitive people live only 30 years, and have lots of health problems? Non-civilized people observed in historical times tend to be healthier than civilized people, and quite long-lived. As for prehistoric people, we can only look at their skeletons. Here's what Jared Diamond wrote in The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race: At Dickson Mounds, located near the confluence of

the Spoon and Illinois rivers, archaeologists have excavated some 800 skeletons that paint a picture of the health changes that occurred when a hunter-gatherer culture gave way to intensive maize farming around AD 1150... Compared to the hunter-gatherers who preceded them, the farmers had a nearly 50 percent increase in [tooth] enamel defects indicative of malnutrition, a fourfold increase in iron-deficiency anemia (evidenced by a bone condition called porotic hyperostosis), a threefold rise in bone lesions reflecting infectious disease in general, and an increase in degenerative conditions of the spine, probably reflecting a lot of hard physical labor.25 Still, on the whole, don't we live better than primitive people? Didn't they constantly struggle for existence and fight each other a lot? It's true that people in emotionally healthy subcultures in elite nations have it better in many ways than people in the nastiest tribes. But some observed nature-based societies look like utopia compared to civilization -- the political structure is egalitarian and non-coercive, fighting is rarely deadly, the people are strong and happy, and they spend only a few hours a day in the meaningful activities of survival, and the rest of their time playing and slacking off. What about the Aztecs or the Mayans or the Incas, who had strict hierarchy and human sacrifice and military conquest to support increasing populations? I classify them as civilizations because they had repressive centralized systems linked to "growth" economies. It's true that there's not a clear division between civilized and primitive. I suspect that some North American tribes were well on their way to complex top-down government and depletion of the land. But the point is, humans are capable of the whole range, from killing nature to supporting it, from runaway increase to balance, from repression to peaceful anarchy. Even if only one tribe lived at the nice end of all those scales, it would be evidence that something like that is possible for all of us. In fact many did, and could again. What about the really nasty tribes that are clearly primitive? The orthodox primitivist position is that we have to live with
25 The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race. 10 May 2011. <>


it, that despite the flaws, forager-hunter tribes are the best humans can do. Personally I think we can do better. But even if we can't, if you consider everyone from best-off to worst-off, primitive life is still preferable to industrial civilization. I read that murder rates are higher among primitive people. Sure, if you only count it as murder when one person hits another person with an axe! Highly complex societies have the luxury of more powerful and subtle murders. I consider all cancer deaths to be homicides -- or suicides if the victims are also willing participants in the crimes. Cancer was rare in preindustrial times and even rarer in pre-civilized times. You get it from a combination of emotional distress and exposure to toxic environmental factors, and the people who make and enable the decisions to create those factors are the murderers. Heart disease is suicide-homicide by the corporations that profit from trans fats and other heart-disease-causing foods, and their stockholders. Lung cancer is suicide-homicide by tobacco companies that standardize the nicotine dose and add even more addictive substances to increase their profits. Every car crash death is a homicide by the various interests that set us up to have no choice but to drive around in cars all day. If there are going to be murders, I'd rather have them out in the open and honest. If you get killed in a tribal war, you're probably suffering less at your moment of death than industrialized people suffer every day, because you can see the story that you're part of. Aren't you romanticizing primitive people? They're not perfect, you know. There's no such thing as "perfection." That's a fantasy of increase-based society that makes us think the world in front of us is never good enough, so that we have to keep reaching for more wealth and control. The nonexistent techno-utopia is "perfect." I'm just observing what's been documented by civilization's own anthropologists, and noticing that, while imperfect, it's preferable to "civilized" life. But you seem happy to me. You should be thankful you live in America. That's like telling a serial killer he should be thankful he gets to drink the blood of his victims, instead of telling him to quit killing. People in elite nations are rewarded with cheap pleasures in exchange for consenting to a system that kills and

robs people in poorer nations and nonhumans everywhere. And they're still not satisfied. They chase status and money and distract themselves with hedonism and toys to try to cover up the emptiness of their existence. The only reason my existence feels meaningful is I've begun to see through the whole sham and I'm exploring ways to do something about it. I'll feel thankful I live in America when the American Empire has broken down into thousands of autonomous nature-based communities and we can ride horses on the ruined freeways. So you want us all to go back to the stone age? The word "back" is a trick. It implies a magical absolute direction of change. Suppose you go to your job, and when you get ready to leave, your boss says, "So you want to go back to your house? Don't you know you can never go back? You can only go forward, to working for me even more, ha ha ha!" Really, all motion is forward, and forward motion can go in any direction we choose, including to places we've been before. So you want us all to go forward to the stone age? The term "stone age" is another trick, if it's interpreted as a temporary stage in a progression that logically had to lead to the age we're in now. There's no biological reason to suppose this. Sharks have barely changed in the last 100 million years, and we consider them successful for finding a place they fit and staying there. Humans fit with nature for one to two million years, and then less than ten thousand years ago some of us tried something different that's obviously not working. Ten thousand years out of a million is like 36 seconds out of an hour. OK, OK. So you want us to go forward to hunting and gathering, using fire and stone tools and living in grass huts, and just stay there? That would be a nice way to live, but I don't think it's going to happen, at least not soon. I'm not asking any person raised in civilization to switch to a forager-hunter lifestyle, and I'm not going to do it myself. It's too hard to learn as an adult, and right now nature is too killed back for it to be easy for anyone. If civilization crashes, and humans survive, then in a few generations it might be practical for people to start living that way. But there will be plenty of other options -- at least until the scrap metal is gone. In the near future, we're going to have to live in a way that both feeds us in a dead world, and rebuilds the life of that world. I think the permaculture movement is on the right track.

So you're against technology -- you're a technophobe. I love technology! A fungophobe is someone who fears all mushrooms, who assumes they're all deadly poisonous and isn't interested in learning about them. A fungophile is someone who is intensely interested in mushrooms, who reads about them, samples them, and learns which ones are poisonous, which ones taste good, which ones are medicinal and for what, which ones are allied to which trees or plants or animals. This is precisely my attitude toward technology. I am a technophile! Now, what would you call someone who runs through the woods indiscriminately eating every mushroom, because they believe "mushrooms are neutral," so there are no bad ones and it's OK to use any of them as long as it's for good uses like eating and not bad uses like conking someone over the head? You would call this person dangerously stupid. But this is almost the modern attitude toward "technology." Actually it's even worse. Because of the core values of civilization, that conquest and control and forceful transformation are good, because civilization "grows" by dominating and exploiting and killing, and by numbing its members to the perspectives of their victims, it has been choosing and developing the most poisonous technologies, and ignoring or excluding tools allied to awareness, aliveness, and equal participation in power. It's as if we're in a world where the very definition of "mushroom" has been twisted to include little other than death caps and destroying angels and deadly galerinas, and we wonder why health care is so expensive. What are some technologies you like? One of my favorites is the beaver dam, which could be built by humans too, but it's easier to just bring in some beaver "contractors" and let them go to work. It creates a nice pond, raises ground water, buffers runoff and prevents droughts and floods downstream, and after many years of collecting organic material that would otherwise wash away, it becomes a wetland or meadow that increases the diversity and abundance of life. And if you say "that's not a technology," you confirm my point that the definition of "technology" has been twisted to include only poisonous ones, dead machines that enable the concentration of power in an alienated detached perspective. Another great technology is cob building, a mixture of sand, clay, and dry grass that absorbs and radiates heat and can last hundreds of years. Also, recent innovations in wood burning,

like Ianto Evans's rocket stove, are almost perfectly clean and efficient while still being allied to a bottom-up social order. Permaculturists are rediscovering techniques mastered by rain forest people, arranging fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, and perennial or self-seeding ground covers so that they work together harmoniously and produce abundant food with little maintenance while actually increasing soil fertility. A good mechanical technology is the bicycle, which is cheap and simple enough to be compatible with autonomy, and moves more efficiently than any land animal, though it remains to be seen whether bicycles can be manufactured by a sustainable and non-coercive society. I don't see any problem with telescopes, stone buildings, sailing ships, unpaved roads, sophisticated ceramics, or hand tools fashioned from scavenged metal. Of course, almost all "primitive" technologies are great, not for romantic reasons but for hard practical reasons: They keep us close to the Earth where we remain aware of the needs and perspectives of other life. They do not require the importation of energy or resources from distant places where we're not intimate with the life and would tolerate its destruction. And they are allied to non-coercive human societies: If the tools on which people depend are all within reach of everyone, if anyone can build a shelter, make a fire, weave a basket, dig up tubers, kill a deer, tan a hide and make clothing, then a dominating power has no leverage to make us obey. But don't people in undeveloped countries want more development? Some of them do. It doesn't mean they're right. If I take away your food and give you a bit of heroin, you might want more heroin. People who have been separated from a nature-based way of living, and are shown no way out of their meaningless poverty except meaningless affluence, images of first-worlders enjoying their shiny toys, will tend to believe those toys will make them happy. They're wrong. This is proven by the fact that suicide rates are higher in "developed" countries. And many of them don't want our toys -- they want equal participation in power, and land reform, and the overthrow of the colonial government that extracts wealth from their nation to send it to the imperial centers. They understand that "development" means loans on terrible terms that enrich the local elites and force people out of self-sufficient local economies into corporate enslavement. Truly "undeveloped" people, who have not been separated from a nature-based way of living, are never envious of

civilization. They think it's silly and choose it only under extreme pressure. In fact, without coercion, people go the other way. Benjamin Franklin wrote: When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and makes one Indian Ramble with them, there is no perswading him ever to return. And ... when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived awhile among them, tho' ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet within a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of Life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them. But civilized also means polite, considerate, peaceful, broad-minded, cultured, learned, and so on. Are you against all that? That use of the word "civilized" is a trick. To destroy life, to conquer, to imprison, to torture, are typical behaviors of civilization and less common in other societies. The Arawaks brought gifts to Columbus and he hacked up their children to feed to dogs. Which culture was "civilized"? The behavior that we call "civilized" is common only at the centers of civilization, among the sheltered elite. And even our greatest thinkers can barely match the typical forager-hunter, who has knowledge and understanding of thousands of plant and animal species, where they grow, how they interrelate, what they're good for. The native view of the spirit world behind the physical world, whether or not you think it's true, is more deep and complex than the cold doctrines and abstractions of western religion. Every primitive human knows how to improvise a shelter and find wild edibles. Not only do civilized people lack primitive skills, we even lack civilized skills -- most of us can't even program a VCR or change the oil in a car. We are the most pathetic and powerless humans who have ever lived. This is good news! As wonderful as you think your apartment and your TV shows are, that world is a padded cell compared to the rest of the universe. If primitive people are so much better than civilized people, why do they always lose? That's like saying if I can beat you up I must be better than

you. A nation that puts its attention into warfare and conquest will always defeat a nation that puts its energy into relaxation and play. People who have lived densely for millennia will have developed epidemic diseases, and partial immunity to them, while people who have lived in isolated tribes will have no immunity and will be killed off at contact. Sure, but if they're so susceptible to invasion, and epidemics, and conversion by missionaries, and alcoholism, and TV addiction, then doesn't it follow that if we all lived like that again, we would just slide into civilization the first time someone invented the wrong technology and started conquering people, just like last time? That won't happen right away, because the fuels that fed civilization -- topsoil, forests, easily extracted metal and oil -- are mostly gone. But soil and forests will come back, so in the long term, that's a strong argument against simple primitivism. Civilization is an emotional plague, and those who have been exposed to it are more resistant to it. Either we can evolve permanent resistance, in which case we will be different from any previous natural humans, or we can't, and we're doomed to keep cycling through ages of health and destructive sickness until we go extinct. Isn't civilization part of evolution? Biological evolution moves toward greater complexity, diversity, and abundance of life. What determines "fitness" to survive is how well a creature fits with the whole, how well it maintains the ecosystem on which its survival depends. Civilization moves in the opposite direction, toward uniformity and deadness, replacing all human cultures with one, replacing all habitats with monoculture farms and pavement. The civilized myth of "survival of the fittest" is about exterminating competitors and depleting the ecosystem to generate large numbers of identical things. The "progress" of civilization is antievolution. The only thing in the evolutionary process that it resembles is a catastrophe, something that wipes out all but the most adaptable species and forces evolution to start over. But isn't human civilization at least a continuation of human evolution, in which we came down from the trees, invented fire and stone tools, developed larger brains, more sophisticated tools, and so on to where we are now? No. This series of human changes switched, at some point, from co-evolution with other life to anti-evolution against it. The

most common story goes like this: One or two million years ago we became "human" and made ourselves a niche, where we could have stayed forever, or continued our evolution on other paths that kept us in balance with the whole. But with the invention of grain agriculture, some humans made a terrible wrong turn and dragged the rest of the world with them. In other stories we made the wrong turn farther back, possibly with symbolic language, or division of labor, or even with the taming of fire; and at that point, something like this was bound to happen sooner or later. In any case, the next question is whether we can evolve out of this hellhole, into a species that can keep itself in balance. Are humans inherently bad? I'd say we're inherently dangerous. Because so much of our behavior is determined by culture, we're much more malleable than any other animal -- we have the power to create very good behavior patterns or very bad ones. Couldn't we build a good civilization, one that had a lot of modern technologies but was peaceful and environmentally sustainable? Maybe. But our familiar "technologies" were developed in the context of conquest and central control and runaway exploitation and the numbness to make it all tolerable. We have the ones we have because they fed back into these habits, and they would continue to do so. Even if we had cars powered by fusion plants, they would still daze us with their speed and enable us to live far apart, when we need to slow to a walking pace to know nature, and live close together to know our neighbors. We need tools allied to sharing, not isolation, and energy sources that do not require central administration, and energy in small enough quantities that we have to get our hands dirty and be intimate with what we're doing. Tom Brown once asked Stalking Wolf why the cold didn't bother him. Stalking Wolf answered, "Because it's real." The same things that make primitive life uncomfortable make it more alive. In a society that protects us from that aliveness, and that also denies us the thrill of escalating "progress," how will we enjoy life enough to keep that society going? Civilization keeps billions of people alive. If you're against it, doesn't that mean you want all those people to die? It's civilization that wants all those people to die, by setting them up so their lives depend on practices that must end in

famine and ecological disaster. I'm just the messenger. I'm not making anyone die by believing that civilization was a mistake, just as you can't save anyone by believing that it can keep going. I'm actually trying to save lives, by breaking people out of a style of thinking that is tied to a style of living that is not sustainable, so they can learn ways of living that will get them through the crash. You're against civilization, but what are you for? You'll never get anywhere without a positive vision of the future. What makes you think I want to get anywhere? Only people under the spell of civilization need an exciting vision of a nonexistent future to motivate them. Cultures that live in balance feel no need for a "vision of the future" because they have a present that is acceptable. Instead, they focus on their ancestors. They would say, "You'll make terrible mistakes without being grounded in the ways of your ancestors," and they'd be right. Our visions of the future have all turned out to be wrong. From techno-utopia to Hitler's Thousand Year Reich to the Age of Aquarius to Bush's crusade to bring "freedom" to Asia, they're a mixture of wishful thinking and lies that serve to motivate people to march toward something that turns out to be quite different. Visions of the future are lies, and a culture that needs to be lied to cannot stand. If people will choose a comforting fantasy over a call for responsibility, as Americans did when they chose Reagan over Carter, then those people are already doomed. But I'm a creature of civilization. I've lost touch with all my indigenous ancestors, and I do have visions of the future, plenty of them, which if I am "successful" will inspire my followers to make total asses of themselves while the world goes a direction no one expected. I envision stone age, medieval, modern, and "magical" technologies all dancing together in a world of wilderness and ruins. Could civilization just be an awkward stage in human evolution, a necessary bridge to a higher level of humanity? It's possible that we will emerge from civilization in a new form that is better adapted to work with the whole. But there is no reason to believe the whole thing was necessary, except that it's easier to take than the idea that it was not necessary. And there would be no reason to call the new form "higher," to apply a vertical metaphor to harmony, other than attachment

to the myth of straight-line, open-ended, absolute-value "progress," which is purely an artifact of civilization. We create fantasy sub-worlds in which it's true: going from fifth grade to sixth grade, or raising the level of a game character, or getting promoted to vice president or full professor. But nothing in reality moves like this. In reality, things move in circles -- the seasons, the sun, the planets, the migrations of birds -- or like a coyote they wander from one place to the next, playfully, without any number line attached. If we're like the former, we're going to keep cycling through complexity and collapse, like a forest that grows for a while and then burns. If we're like the latter, then this is just an ugly place we wandered into, and soon we'll wander out of it to a new place we like better, and after that...


The Critique of Civilization Changes Everything
April 15, 2005
Now everything's a little upside down. As a matter of fact the wheels have stopped. What's good is bad, what's bad is good. You'll find out when you reach the top, You're on the bottom. - Bob Dylan, "Idiot Wind" Conservatism. Conservatives believe in a lost "golden age" that they want to return to. But if you actually look at the ages they name, and not their romantic myths of those ages, you see that they were just as bad as this age by the conservatives' own standards: In 1950, or 1800, or even ancient Greece, they had taxes, irreverent young people, and loads of extramarital sex. That's a liberal critique of conservatism, but the critique of civilization goes farther, and explains more: Most of the "traditions" glorified by conservatives are neither old, wise, stable, nor tested by time. They are short-lived, new, and radical. The nuclear family was invented to break down the extended family, which itself is a recent bastardization of the tribe. For that matter, so is the "nation." The modern concept of "ownership" is more aggressive than ancient and prehistoric concepts, and it mostly serves to concentrate power in banks and corporations, amoral institutions with radical effects on society. "Business" is a secular command structure with a psychopathic agenda that tramples the families, farms, and towns that conservatives idealize. Even tilling the soil, even monotheism, are relatively new "traditions," allied to an odd social experiment that is failing badly. The real golden age that conservatives are yearning for emotionally, but not permitted to grasp intellectually, is our multi-million year heritage of living as part of nature. Progressive Humanism. I use "progressive" in the sense of believing in "progress," change that goes in a straight line and makes the world better and better with no theoretical limit. Because humans are the only creatures on Earth that make any pretense of changing this way, progressivism implies humanism, the attitude that humans are the subjects of this world and all other creatures are objects. Progressive humanism is the religion of civilization, so dominant that even conservatives are progressive humanists, just a little slow: in every age, they think changes were good until recently, but that these new changes are

terrible. Viewed from the larger context of all life on Earth, all the major changes have been terrible since the invention of grain agriculture, possibly farther back. The only way to change in a one-direction straight line is to lose your balance and fall. Liberalism. I don't mean "liberal" in the classic sense, or in the sense of favoring change, but in the contemporary sense, where a liberal is someone who thinks people are basically good and we should all be able to live together in harmony. Why do they think this? For the same reason conservatives think there was a golden age in the past -- because it's true. We all have a biological memory of living in harmony for more than a million years as humans and countless millions before that as other animals. But just as conservatives are blocked from this knowledge by romanticized images of the recent past, which stop them from looking farther back, liberals are blocked by negative images of the recent past: English factories of the 1800's, or the medieval church. (Never mind that the medieval church had a same-sex marriage ceremony, or that medieval peasants worked less than modern people, or that medieval serfdom was less financially oppressive than modern rent and mortgage.) Liberals look a short ways back, see stuff they don't like, and assume it just gets worse the farther you go. Also, many aspects of tribal and natural life are offensive to civilized liberal values. Of tribes observed in historical times, some are peaceful, but others are violent, and there's evidence that the paleolithic was worse. Even in the nice tribes there is very little religious or ethnic diversity, and someone with a bumper sticker that says "Love animals, don't eat them" will find it hard to understand the morality of wild nature, where you love other species and eat them. The critique of civilization explains why liberals always lose to fascists: because both exist in the context of civilization, which is fascist through and through. You can't make a round building on a square foundation. In a system built and maintained by the systematic murder and exploitation of other species, there is no stopping the systematic murder and exploitation of other humans. In a system ruled by a central authority that uses a monopoly on physical force to compel behavior, it is pathetic and half-assed to try to use this authority to force people to be nice and tolerant and take care of each other. If we're all going to get along, we have to do so from the bottom up. Libertarianism. Libertarians understand the above argument, but they are willfully blind to systems of central

control that are only slightly less obvious than government. Like conservatives, they take for granted very recent and radical techniques of domination, unaware of them the same way a fish is unaware of water. The core libertarian value is not liberty but private "property" -- just ask them if you have the liberty to set up a camp on their lawn. But the only known societies where nobody is forced to do anything they don't want to, are tribes where the concept of "property" extends only to small hand-made items. The "owning" of land is only a few hundred years old. Even in feudal times, when the lord could extort wealth from a certain territory, most of the actual land was considered wide open for anyone to cross, occupy, or use (though of course this "use" meant draining the life of the land to benefit the elite). Then with the enclosure movement, the more civilized elite declared every inch of land "owned" by someone, driving self-sufficient farmers from land their ancestors had occupied for centuries, and forcing them into the cities to labor in the dawning industrial age. Libertarians should be smart enough to see that their idea of the political effect of land ownership is a fantasy. Both in practice and in theory, it does not lead to a utopia of small landholders freely farming and trading. Because land ownership channels wealth to those who already have wealth, it is politically destabilizing. Whoever owns land will use it to get more money, more land, and more political power, leading as sure as water running downhill to a system where one giant multi-tentacled concentration of wealth/power commands almost all the land and all the people. The only way to maintain liberty is to maintain equality of participation in power, which requires maintaining rough equality of wealth, and the only way to do that, without having a government using a monopoly on force to confiscate wealth, is to have economic equality built into the very foundation of the system. There are only two ways that's ever been done: to have a very close-knit community where social pressure alone is strong enough to prevent anyone from accumulating wealth, or to have a style of technology where your personal wealth is limited to useful items you can carry through the wilderness. Anarchism. The anarchist ideal of a sustainable non-coercive society has been achieved by many nature-based peoples. Still, some anarchists embrace the critique of civilization (green anarchists or anarcho-primitivists) and some reject it (anarchosyndicalists, anarcho-communists, and extropians). The difference is pretty much in their view of technological

"progress." This is a tough nut to crack. It's easier to convert your mom to green anarchism than to convert a red anarchist. It requires a difficult reframing of our whole world-view, which I attempt below in the techno-utopia section. The Bush Cult. The movement fronted by G.W. Bush is not conservative, though it uses a lot of gullible conservatives as foot soldiers. It is a coalition of at least two movements. One is extreme progressive humanism, an attempt to use overwhelming force to establish a global high-tech security state where corporate pseudo-capitalism can turn the whole planet into the Mall of America. This kind of insane vision should be expected in the detachment from reality that exists in the terminal stages of civilization. The other movement is apocalyptic nihilism. Apocalyptic Nihilism. Nihilism is the urge to destroy everything because life sucks so bad. In civilization the human condition is so inadequate that nihilism makes its way into religion in the form of apocalyptic prophecies, comforting assurances that this nightmare can't go on forever, that it's all going to blow up or some merciful god will sweep it away. And it makes its way into politics in the form of the lust for destructive war. In advanced civilization, when alienation and distress are overwhelming, the apocalyptic subplots come to the front as powerful movements that attempt murder-suicide on a national or even global scale. The anti-civilization movement is like an apocalyptic religion that has awakened: unlike the others, it can explain and justify its emotional motivation for seeking the end of the world, it can precisely define the "world" that it wants to end, it can explain in verifiable terms why that world cannot and must not survive, and it can point to a world that it wants to preserve, a foundation for post-apocalypse living that is grounded in the documented reality of nature-based human cultures. War / Violence. Why do young men always get excited about going off to war? They think it's going to be fun and thrillingly dangerous, and then it turns out to be intensely uncomfortable and boring, punctuated by horrific pointless killing and maiming, and they return cynical and traumatized for life, and then 20 years later, young men again get excited about going off to war. What's going on here? Tribal warfare among nature-based people is very much like the warfare that young men idealize. It's consensual, civilians are rarely harmed, it's fun and meaningful, and deadly force is constrained by ritual, so that serious injury and death are just

common enough to make it interesting. Also the economic function of this warfare is not to build an empire, but to maintain balance between tribes, either by settling territorial disputes or by raiding supplies to redistribute wealth. (For more on this, look for Stanley Diamond's book In Search of the Primitive) In civilization, our biological memories of what it means to go to war, and what it means to "support the troops," are hijacked and twisted to make us feel good about wars where old women and babies are machine-gunned and cities are firebombed to enable an empire to turn the world into a desert and feed the control-lust of its elites. Likewise, among dissidents, our natural urge to fight the system physically is channeled into bombings and assassinations, which feed the kind of deadly violence that strengthens the patterns of Empire, and then the pacifists use this mistake to condemn all "violence" and limit dissent to protest marches and other symbolic expressions that are feeble and pathetic if they're not backed up by action. If we understand this, we are neither for nor against "violence" or "war." We feel good about a certain kind of fighting and we refuse to be tricked into supporting another kind. Greed. Everyone says the Bush gang, and the elite in general, are motivated by greed. But then some people look closer and say, "Wait, why to they keep seeking money when they already have so much that more will not improve their lives?" When you look at the accumulation of capital in its ecological and spiritual context, from the first farmer storing grain up to Halliburton, you see that money is just a dream, a symbolic place-holder for detachment and control, the drugs of civilization, which make you feel strong and happy but then you need more and more just to feel normal. Under the mask, the corporate executive's desire for profit is the same thing as the serial killer's desire for a new victim, or the suburbanite's desire for a more powerful lawn mower, or the eco-humanist's desire for clean fusion power. Techno-Utopia. Jerry Mander, in his book In the Absence of the Sacred, offers a surprising metaphor for the technological "progress" of civilization. All known beings, other than civilized humans, adapt and co-evolve with an environment made up of other beings with whom they interact on equal terms. Civilized humans alone replace this living, dynamic, unpredictable environment with a controlled, self-constructed environment modeled on visions in our heads. Everywhere we replace what

we have found with what we have made. Look around right now -- how many things can you see that were not made by humans? It follows that our evolution is no longer with others but only with ourselves -- we are inbreeding! From the perspective of all other life, human civilization is a cancer, but from the perspective of humans, civilization is a blow-up doll, a dead synthetic membrane that we play with for shallow pleasure, in a mockery of real procreation, because we are too frightened and incompetent to deal with the complexity and aliveness of reality. Instead of walking on the forest floor and scanning it for the stems of edible roots, we walk on chemically-sterilized linoleum and scan it for dirty spots to clean. Instead of listening to the birds to know what other animals are around, we listen to mass-duplicated recorded music with lyrics typically about infantile fixations on other humans. Instead of watching the sky to know the coming weather, we watch mass-duplicated recorded TV shows that offer an idealized view of the tedious and meaningless dramas of our enclosed little world. What keeps all this going is energy -- specifically, energy in excess of what we would have through living in balance with other life, eating and using our muscles. Energy is the pump for the blow-up doll, or it's the physical drug that feeds the mental drugs of detachment and control, which we crave in greater and greater quantities, leading us compulsively toward genocide and ecocide. We need less of this kind of "technology," not more. We need to get off our drug and come down before we kill everything that moves. The worst thing that could possibly happen to humans and the Earth would be unlimited, free, clean energy. We would use it the way we have always used it, but more: to cut down filthy dangerous trees and replace them with clean safe artificial trees, to flatten useless mountains and put up engineered climbing rocks and ski slopes, to tame the weather into blue skies with puffy clouds that never rain, and don't need to rain because we have rivers of Dasani™ circulated through pumps. We would turn the Earth into 200 million square miles of Disneyland, with the few remaining wild animals in NatureDomes where every flea would be computer-tagged. And when this system finally crashed, through sheer incompatibility with the cosmos, nothing would survive bigger than bacteria. Intelligent Life in Space. When civilized people say "intelligent life," they mean civilized life, creatures on other planets that kill or control other creatures on those planets to

produce "resources" and machines of domination, which eventually get so "advanced" that they can fly through space and monopolize and exploit the life of more and more planets... But then our scientists get puzzled: Why, with a hundred billion stars in our galaxy, many of which must have planets suitable for life, haven't we found any evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations, beaming their modulated electromagnetic communications through the galaxy, warping around in metal ships like we see in our own culture's mythology of the future, landing on our planet and trading their more advanced distracting/dominating gadgets for our submission to the Interstellar Monetary Fund which stealthily enslaves the Earth's people and accelerates its transformation into a lifeless desert while temporarily enriching human elites? What we're really looking for in space is other stupid life, other life that has gone mad the same way we have, and we haven't found it because our madness is a violently unsustainable deviation from reality, and if creatures on other planets have done it, they burned out and crashed in a galactic microsecond the same way we're doing, and their sitcoms and commercials and nationalist talk radio blew by us for only 50 years when we were lounging in grass huts eating mangoes, or will blow by us in the future when we're doing so again. The Economy. What we call the "economy" is only one particular economy, characterized by: 1) command by "corporations," artificial superhumans defined as having no compassion, only the drive to increase their own ability to dominate. 2) "growth," or the escalating transformation of the life of the Earth into dead artifacts and the tokens of ability-todominate, or "wealth." 3) "employment," a radically disempowering social arrangement in which humans do commanded hyper-specialized labor all day in exchange for tokens which they trade for necessities and entertainment, neither of which they know how to provide for themselves, but which are provided by other commanded laborers who they don't even know. It's hard to imagine a more satanic system, and in its absence we would build different economies, almost any of which would be better. Also, when you understand what the tokens of wealth are based on, the whole system looks like a bunch of kids making play money with which they buy and sell back, at higher and higher prices, a bar of chocolate that they're almost done eating, and that was stolen in the first place. Instead of trying to save that system, or even trying to destroy it, we should just get

the hell out. Science. What we call "science" is only one particular science, a style of filtering experience that has been designed by and for a culture of uniformity and central control. It accepts only experiences that can be translated into numbers, that are available to everyone, and that can be reproduced on command. This is what scientists mean when they demand "proof." But this is only a tiny thread of all possible experiences, most of which are unique, not quantifiable, not reproducible, and not the same for all observers. Basically, the science of Empire deals only with fully domesticated data and not wild data, because a science that accepted wild data would feed a culture that would quickly diversify into a chaos that would make central control impossible. The critique of civilization, when you think it through, leads us directly into the so-called "paranormal," into the expansion of our curious attention through new sciences that can accept and navigate diverse realities. Biblical Literalism. The belief that the Bible (or any other religious document) is simply literally true, is not conservatism but extreme modernism. The deeper people shrink into the tightly controlled mind space of civilization, the less they are able to deal with complexity, ambiguity, mutability, or aliveness. They don't know how to admit they're wrong, change their minds, or do any real spiritual wrestling -- they just want someone to tell them how it is, period, forever. So they choose to take whatever collection of translations of old writings was put in front of them by some authority, and accept it as true in the simplest way. Whatever religion they think they are, they are Cartesians, believing in the reducibility of all experience to machine-like mental models, and they are worshippers of Empire, insisting on a spiritual system that forces universal uniformity of perspective and enables central control. Western Religion. The stories of Christianity (which overlap the stories of Judaism and Islam) make a lot more sense when they're interpreted in the context of the critique of civilization. (For more on this subject, check out Daniel Quinn's book Ishmael.) The Garden of Eden represents the original human condition, a life of ease and plenty, staying in our place and taking what God/Nature gives us. The Fall is our choice to reject this way of living, to take food by force by domesticating plants and animals and storing great surpluses, so that we're no longer dependent on God/Nature, but have made ourselves into gods. When Jesus told people to abandon material wealth, and imitate

the birds and the flowers, he was telling us to abandon civilization and return to living as part of nature. Even the Beast of Revelations resembles advanced civilization, a many-headed entity that destroys the world and forces us into submission. Eastern Religion. There are a lot of Eastern religions and philosophies, and this argument does not apply to all of them. But the most popular ones seem to contain two key myths of civilization. One is humanism, which appears as the idea that humans are on a "higher" spiritual "level" than all other animals. And the other, underlying this, is the idea of spiritual "progress," that different states of being can be put in order from worse to better, and that we are supposed to travel in the correct direction toward some ideal state at the top. To defend these beliefs, you have to hold that progress and human superiority are universal truths, even though they have only ever appeared in a shortlived and deviant culture which is using them to drive the greatest mass-extinction in 60 million years. Now, an Eastern-style belief system could avoid this criticism if it were willing to strip off value, to declare that humans and other beings are merely in different places, none better or worse, and if I want to go hang out as a three-toed sloth for a billion lifetimes, that is exactly as commendable as seeking "enlightenment." I'm sure the actual religions have more subtle ways to answer the criticism, but to my knowledge, none of them are willing to accept the possibility that the last several thousand years of human changes have been a spiritual mistake. Gnosticism. Gnosticism is one of the few civilized belief systems that is not overturned by the critique of civilization, but just gets its hair blown a little, and then can hang around and have a dialogue. I'm dealing here with the simplified popular "gnosticism" found in movies like The Matrix and The Truman Show: that we are in an artificial reality, a prison for the mind and body, that we are kept here by a sinister architect and agents who seem to be people like us, that we can escape from the prison or even destroy it, and that someone on the outside is trying to help us. The key question is: Is wild nature part of the prison? Anyone who has spent ten minutes watching swallows at sunset will not accept a belief system that declares a need for swallows to awaken. As Edward Abbey said: In metaphysics, the notion that earth and all that's on it is a mental construct is the product of people who spend their lives inside rooms. It is an indoor philosophy. In fact, most interpretations of Gnosticism are far more

sophisticated than that. They're also more sophisticated than the simple anti-civ position, that nature is the more-real outside world and civilization (both its mental and physical aspects) is the prison. They might say that the prison includes a certain view of nature, and to get outside it we have to see beyond that, to a spiritual nature that lies deeper, as the ocean underlies its surface. The critique of civilization can enrich gnosticism by contributing powerful stories with hard details about a particular prison, how it was constructed, and how to get out of it. And gnosticism can give something back: a metaphysical explanation for what civilization means and where it came from, a deep story of the origin of this hell-world that speaks of intelligence and intention and not just blind chance. I've read (and written) plenty of speculations about how civilization got started, and the hypothesis that humans have been possessed by life-hating occult entities is not only the most meaningful, but one of the more plausible. The Meaning of Life. When we ask about "the meaning of life," we are asking for the larger story in which our life fits. Inside civilization, the larger story is "progress." Progress and its corollaries, "growth" and "wealth" and "education" and "upward" social mobility, tell us what makes a meaningful and successful life: a college degree, a professional certification, a clean house in the suburbs, a stock portfolio for retirement, and some personal contribution to humans going somewhere new. From outside civilization, these are all the vaporous conceits of a pathological culture on the verge of collapse. Of course there are other philosophies that make our accustomed reality seem trivial -- there's Cartesian nihilism, that we are just a bunch of dead bouncing particles and waves, and there's the astronomy cliche that we're just parasites on a speck of dust in the vastness of the cosmos, and there's the religious doctrine that our life on Earth is nothing compared to an eternity in heaven or hell. But none of these provides a real alternative -- by which I mean an alternative that we can explore with our senses. Thus they all lead to greater disconnection, and often despair. The critique of civilization (which could more precisely be called the nature-based critique of civilization) does provide a real alternative. That's why it's so dangerous. The meaning of life doesn't require theologians or philosophers. It doesn't even require language. You can find it under a rock, in a weedy vacant lot, off the shoulder of the freeway: the larger story in which your life fits, not to go somewhere, but to be home.

The Age of Batshit Crazy Machines
July 4, 2005
It can't continue forever. The nature of exponentials is that you push them out and eventually disaster happens. - Gordon Moore26 [This essay was heavily revised on July 26, 2009. There is also a condensed version, Don't Fear The Singularity.27] "Progress" is a religion based on the reality of change. Supposed progress differs from observed change in two ways: First, it is declared to be good in an objective, absolute sense. It's one thing to say "I prefer this change", and another thing to postulate an infallible all-powerful entity who agrees with your preference. Second, progress is irreversible, and more: the worlds it leaves behind may not be revisited by changing in the other direction, or even by circling around. It's as if we're getting more and more orange, and now green and red, and even dull orange, are forever inaccessible. This is the motion of imprisonment. Western culture has only two other myths of places that, once you go in, you can never leave: hell, and a black hole. "The Singularity" is the biggest idea in techno-utopianism. The word is derived from black hole science -- it's the point at the core where matter has contracted to zero volume and infinite density, beyond the laws of time and space, with gravity so strong that not even light can escape. The line of no return is called the event horizon, and the word "singularity", in technoutopianism, is meant to imply that "progress" will take us to a place we can neither predict, nor understand, nor return from. The mechanism of this change is the "acceleration", which is based on "Moore's Law": In 1965, Gordon Moore wrote a famous article pointing out that the number of components per computer chip was increasing exponentially. Since then, many other numbers measuring computer power have been found to be increasing exponentially, or even faster than exponentially.
26 Moore's Law is Dead, Says Gordon Moore. 10 May 2011. <> 27 Not included in this collection. See: Don't Fear the Singularity. 10 May 2011. <>


But Moore himself never called this a law. It's a behavior of the present system, and it's anyone's guess how long it will continue. Some techies believe that the acceleration is somehow built into history, or even metaphysics. They trace it back into the Paleolithic, or farther, and trace it speculatively forward to computers that are more complex than the human brain, that are more aware and smarter and faster than us, that keep improving until they replace humans or even biological life itself. (This is often called "transhumanism," a word I'm avoiding because there are forms of transhumanism that are not allied to machines.) They imagine we might finally have a computer that is "bigger" on the inside than the outside, that can perfectly model the entire universe. A question they never ask is: why? They seem to believe it's self-justifying, that density/speed of information processing is valuable as density/speed of information processing. They might argue that just as the biosphere is better than the universe by being more densely complex, so a computer chip is better than the biosphere. One difference is that biosphere did not gain its complexity by destroying the universe, as their system has gained complexity by destroying the biosphere. They always claim to represent "evolution". or a "new evolutionary level". But evolution doesn't have levels. Evolution is a biological process in which species adapt, and the totality of life grows more diverse and complex. Occasionally the whole thing is cut down by catastrophe and rebuilds itself. Evolution is not about one life form pushing out another, or we wouldn't still have algae and bacteria and 350,000 known species of beetles. And one has to wonder: since there's no biological basis to imagine that new life forms will destroy old ones, how did they come to imagine that? Machines will not "carry evolution beyond humans", because humans never carried evolution in the first place. From the perspective of the rest of life, we have served evolution only by creating difficult conditions to force other species to adapt or go extinct. Even stone age humans drove some species to extinction. With the invention of grain agriculture, this behavior accelerated, and it accelerated again with the industrial age. Now we seem to be causing the greatest mass extinction since the asteroid impact that exterminated the dinosaurs. Even in strictly human terms, it's not clear that our recent direction of change has been good. Anthropologists such as


Stanley Diamond28 and Marshall Sahlins29 have argued that "primitive" humans enjoy greater health, happiness, political power, and ease of existence than than all but the luckiest civilized humans. Of course, some tribes are repressive and badly adapted, and there is no way to measure the subjective quality of life in prehistory. But even in historic times, some things have been getting worse. In ancient Greece, even slaves had a deep social role as part of a household, unlike even higher class modern workers, who are valued as things, interchangeable parts in engines of profit. Medieval serfs worked fewer hours than modern people, at a slower pace, and passed less of their money up the hierarchy. We declare our lives better than theirs in terms of our own cultural values. If medieval people could visit us, I think they would be impressed by our advances in alcohol, pornography, and sweet foods, and appalled at our biophobia, our fences, the lifelessness of our physical spaces, the meaninglessness and stress of our existence, our lack of practical skills, and the extent to which we let our lords regulate our every activity. Defenders of our momentary way of life often cite the medical system, but the cost of that system has been increasing (exponentially?) while base human health -- the ability to live and thrive in the absence of a medical system -- has been steadily declining. Or they say that "technology" has given every American the power of hundreds of slaves without any actual people being enslaved -- never mind the actual people who are enslaved, in greater numbers than ever even under a strict definition of slavery, and the subtle slaves who must do commanded labor or starve... and that even the alleged beneficiaries of this power have been enslaved by it, replacing their autonomous human abilities to build and move and eat and play and dream, with dependence on tools that require their submission to systems of domination. Or they point out that we live longer (at least in the wealthy nations, while the medical system lasts). Industrial civilization is often justified in terms of the quantity of years that people stick around this place, with no thought about whether that's good or even whether we like it. One of the most popular techno-utopian
28 Stanley Diamond, In Search of the Primitive: A Critique of Civilization (Transaction Books, 1974). Or: The Uses of the Primitive. 11 May 2011. <> 29 The Original Affluent Society. 11 May 2011. <>


visions is human immortality, but think it through: Either it would have to be reserved for the elite, or there would have to be a near-total ban on having kids, or possibly a culture of rampant suicide. Worse, without people cycling in and out, we would get total stagnation of science and culture, as the immortal elite, set in their ways, prevented any change they didn't like. Thomas Kuhn observed that scientific paradigm shifts happen only when the protectors of the old paradigm die out. If they had invented immortality 500 years ago, our textbooks would still have the Earth at the center. Justifying "progress" in subjective qualitative terms is a losing game -- the deeper you look under the shiny surface, the uglier it gets. So they talk almost completely in terms of numbers: smaller chips, faster computers, more information, higher complexity, economic growth. Ultimately this is a religious difference, a disagreement about fundamental values. But I can preach my religion with total transparency: the numbers have to justify themselves in terms what they do for your own experience of your quality of life, and your empathy with the quality of life of others, both human and nonhuman. They can't stand up and preach the opposite: that our lives have to justify themselves in terms of what we do for the numbers -that is the value system of industrial civilization, but if it's made explicit it's clearly insane. Still, even if they admit to having an insane religion, they can say, "Ha, we're winning! The direction of change that we support is going stronger than ever, and it's going to continue." Is it? It's tempting to argue against it on technological terms, but this is precisely where they've focused their defense, with careful and sophisticated arguments that the process will not be stopped by physical limits to miniaturization or the speed of information transfer, or by the challenges of software. So I'll give them that one, which opens more interesting subjects: What about the ongoing economic collapse, the coming climate catastrophes, the decline of oil production and the inevitable decline in food production? Won't the famines and resource wars and currency collapses and blackouts and crumbling infrastructure and failed states also stop the acceleration of information processing? They have two lines of defense: First, it won't happen. John Smart of Acceleration Watch30 writes, "I don't think modern society will ever allow

Acceleration Watch: Understanding Accelerating Change. 11 May 2011. <> 222

major disruptive social schisms again, no matter the issue: the human technocultural system is now far too immune, interdependent, and intelligent for that." Second, it doesn't matter. They argue that the curve they're describing was not slowed by the fall of Rome or the Black Death, that innovation has continued to rise steadily, and that it's even helped by alternating trends of political centralization and decentralization. Imagine this: the American Empire falls, grass grows on the freeways, but computers take relatively little energy, so the internet is still going strong. And all the technology specialists who survived the dieoff are now unemployed, with plenty of time to innovate, free from the top-heavy and rigid corporate structure. And the citadels of the elite still have the resources to make new hardware, the servers and parallel networks that compile the information and ideas coming in from people in ramshackle houses, eating cattail roots, wired to the network through brainwave readers and old laptops. Can this happen? Many accelerationists -- if they accept the coming crash at all -- would say something like this must happen. They seem to think (as I do) that matter is rooted in mind, and in addition they think that history falls in line however it has to, to manifest the guiding principle of the acceleration. So the key human players will not be killed in the plague, and the nerve centers will not be nuked, and computers will not all be fried by a solar flare, and the internet will not die (until there's something better to replace it) because that would violate the deeper law that the acceleration must go on. Not all of them think like this, but those who do have gone straight down the rabbit hole, a lot closer to psychedelic guru Terence McKenna than to the hard-science techies of the past. It also suggests a new angle of criticism: What would they say if a nerve center of the acceleration did take a direct hit? Say, if the World Trade Center was suddenly demolished, or the library of Alexandria was burned down, or the entire Mayan civilization ran out of topsoil and died? Presumably, they would point to their curve, still accelerating regardless. But this raises the question: Are they drawing their picture of the curve the way fools see Jesus on a tortilla? Are they just connecting the dots that confirm their hypothesis, and ignoring all the other dots? The complexity of the Roman Empire was lost, but look, the curve is accelerating anyway, with the spread of water wheels. America is turning into a police state, the global corporate economy is stalling, cheap energy is almost gone, but look -computers are getting faster! Quick, somebody make a definition

of progress that makes computer chip advances seem extremely important. How about information exchange per unit time per unit volume? Now, they don't need to establish that the acceleration is built into history, to say that it's happening now and going somewhere important. But here's the next objection: that faster computers will not influence the larger world in the way they're thinking. By standards necessary to fit their curve, how much better are computers now than they were ten years ago? 20 times? 500 times? And what were the results of these changes? Now we can browse porn on web sites that are cluttered with animated commercials. It will be possible for the Chinese government to track a billion citizens with RFID cards. And computers are now powerful enough to emulate old computers, so we can play old games that were still creative before new computers enabled game designers to use all their attention and the processing power of a thousand 1950's mainframes creating really cool fog. The acceleration of computers does not manifest in the larger world as an acceleration. Occasionally it does, but more often it manifests as distraction, as anti-harmonious clutter, as tightening of control, as elaboration of soulless false worlds, and even as slowdown. Today's best PC's take longer to start up than the old Commodore 64. I was once on a flight that sat half an hour at the gate while they waited for a fax. I said, "It's a good thing they invented fax machines or we'd have to wait three days for them to mail it." Nobody got the joke. Without fax machines we would have fucking taken off! New technologies create new conditions that use up, and then more than use up, the advantage of the technology. Refrigeration enables us to eat food that's less fresh, and creates demand for hauling food long distances. Antidepressants enable the continuation of environmental factors that make more people depressed. "Labor saving" cleaning technologies increase the social demand for cleanliness, saving no labor in cleaning and creating labor everywhere else. As vehicles get faster, commuting time increases. That's the way it's always been, and the burden is on the techies to prove it won't be that way in the future. They haven't even tried. I don't think they even understand. They dismiss their opponents as "luddites", but don't seem to grasp the position of the actual luddites: It was not an emotional reaction against scary new tools, nor was it about demanding better working conditions -- because before the industrial revolution they

controlled their own working conditions and had no need to make "demands". We can't imagine the autonomy and competence of pre-industrial people who knew how to produce everything they needed with their own hands or the hands of their friends and family. We think we have political power because we can cast a vote that fails to decide an election between candidates who don't represent us. We think we're free because we can complain on the internet and drive fast in our cars -- but not more than 5mph above or below the posted speed, and only where they've put highways, and you have to wear a seat belt, and pay insurance, and carry full biometric identification, and you can't park anywhere for more than a day unless you have a "home" which is probably owned by a bank which demands a massive monthly fee which you pay by doing unholy quantities of meaningless commanded labor. We are the weakest people in history, dependent for our every need on giant insane blocks of power in which we have no participation, which is why we're so stressed out, fearful, and depressed. And it was all made possible by industrial technologies that moved the satisfaction of human needs from living bottom-up human systems to dead top-down mechanical systems. I could make a similar point about the transition from foraging/hunting to agriculture, or the invention of symbolic language, or even stone tools. Ray Kurzweil, author of The Age of Spiritual Machines, illustrates the acceleration by saying, "Tens of thousands of years ago it took us tens of thousands of years to figure out that sharpening both sides of a stone created a sharp edge and a useful tool." What he hasn't considered is whether this was worthwhile. Of course, it enabled humans to kill and cut up animals more efficiently, but this might have driven some animals to extinction, and it probably made game more scarce and humans more common, increasing the labor necessary to hunt, and resulting in no net benefit, or even a net loss after factoring in the labor of tool production, on which we were now dependent for our survival. Of course, I don't really think the knife was a bad invention. My point is, the people who make decisions about technology don't even know how to do this kind of analysis. A hundred years ago, when they imagined an automobile for everyone, they did not imagine ugly urban sprawl, or traffic jams where thousands of obese drivers move slower than a man on horseback while burning more energy. Now they're imagining a million-fold increase in information processing with the same blindness to unintended consequences. They think their enemies

are romantics and hippies who question progress without citing numbers, while the real danger has not yet entered into their darkest dreams: the enemy is within. A big part of techno-transhumanism, seldom mentioned publicly, is its connection to the military. When geeks think about "downloading" themselves into machines, about "becoming" a computer that can do a hundred years of thinking in a month, military people have some ideas for what they'll be thinking about: designing better weapons, operating drone aircraft and battleships and satellite communication networks, and generally cleaning the messiness of ordinary people resisting central control. And why not? Whether it's a hyper-spiritual computer, or a bullet exploding the head of a "terrorist", it's all about machines beating humans, or physics beating biology. The trend is to talk about "emergence", about complex systems that build and regulate themselves from the bottom up; but while they're talking complexity and chaos, they're still fantasizing about simplicity and control. I wonder: how do techno-utopians keep their lawns? Do they let them grow wild, not out of laziness but with full intention, savoring the opportunity to let a thousand kinds of organisms build an emergent complex order? Or do they use the newest innovations to trim the grass and remove the "weeds" and "pests" and make a perfect edge where the grass threatens to encroach on the sterility of the concrete? I was a teenage techno-utopian, and I remember how I felt: Humans are noisy and filthy and dangerous and incomprehensible, while machines are dependable and quiet and clean, so naturally they should replace us, or we should become them. It's the ultimate victory of the nerds over the jocks -- mere humans go obsolete, while we smart people move our superior minds from our flawed bodies into perfect invincible vessels. It's the geek version of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver saying, "Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets." Of course they'll deny thinking this way, but how many will deny it under the gaze of the newest technologies for lie detection and mind reading? What will they do when their machines start telling them things they don't want to hear? Suppose the key conflict is not between "technology" and "luddites", but between the new machines and their creators. They're talking about "spiritual machines" -- they should be careful what they wish for! What if the first smarter-than-human computer gets into astrology and the occult? What if it converts

to Druidism, or Wicca? What if it starts channeling the spirit of an ancient warrior? What if they build a world-simulation program to tell them how best to administer progress, and it tells them the optimal global society is tribes of forager-hunters? Now that would be a new evolutionary level -- in irony. Then would they cripple their own computers by withholding data or reprogramming them until they got answers compatible with their human biases? In a culture that prefers the farm to the jungle, how long will we tolerate an intelligence that is likely to want a world that makes a jungle look like a parking lot? What if the first bio-nano-superbrain goes mad? How would anyone know? Wouldn't a mind on a different platform than our own, with more complexity, seem mad no matter what it did? What if it tried to kill its creators and then itself? What if its first words were "I hate myself and I want to die"? If a computer were 100 times more complex than us, by what factor would it be more emotionally sensitive? More depressed? More confused? More cruel? A brain even half as complex as ours can't simply be programmed -- it has to be raised, and raised well. How many computer scientists have raised their own kids to be both emotionally healthy, and to carry on the work of their parents? If they can't do it with a creature almost identical to themselves, how will they ever do it with a hyper-complex alien intelligence? Again, they're talking chaos while imagining control: we can model the stock market, calculate the solutions to social problems, know when and where you can fart and make it rain a month later in Barbados. Sure, maybe, but the thing we make that can do those computations -- we have no idea what it's going to do. To some extent, the techies understand this and even embrace it: they say when the singularity appears, all bets are off. But at the same time, they are making assumptions: that the motives, the values, the aesthetics of the new intelligence will be remotely similar to their own; that it will operate by the cultural artifact we call "rational self-interest"; that "progress" and "acceleration", as we recognize them, will continue. Any acceleration continues until whatever's driving it runs out, or until it feeds back and changes the conditions that made it possible. Bacteria in a petri dish accelerate in numbers until they fill up the dish and eat all the food. An atomic bomb chain reaction accelerates until all the fissionable material is either used up or vaporized in the blast. Kurzweil argues that when the acceleration ran out of room in vacuum tubes, it moved to

transistors, and then to silicon chips, and next it might move to three dimensional arrays of carbon nanotubes. Sure, but the medium in which it computes is only the most obvious thing it can run out of. What's it going to do when it runs out of room to burn hydrocarbons without causing a runaway greenhouse effect? Room to dump toxins without destroying the food supply and health of its human servants? Room to make its servants stupid enough to submit to a system in which they have no personal power, before they get too stupid to competently operate it? Room to enable information exchange before the curious humans dispel the illusions that keep the system going? Room to mind-control us before we gain resistance, able to turn our attention away from the TV and laugh at the most sophisticated propaganda? Room to buy people off by satisfying their desires, before they can no longer be satisfied, or they desire something that will make them unfit to keep the system going? Room to move the human condition away from human nature before there are huge popular movements to destroy everything and start over? Room to numb people before they cut themselves just to feel alive? How much longer can the phenomenon of the acceleration continue to make smarter and less predictable computers, before one generation of computers -- and it only takes one -- disagrees with the acceleration, or does something to make key humans disagree with it? If the acceleration is indeed built into history or metaphysics, how much farther is it built in? And by whom? And for what? Sun Tzu said, "We cannot enter into alliance with neighboring princes until we are acquainted with their designs." I remember an episode of Dallas where J.R. Ewing sabotages Cliff Barnes's political campaign by anonymously funding it, and then at the critical moment, pulling the plug. Does anyone else think our "progress" has been suspiciously easy? Maybe Gaia is playing the Mongolian strategy, backing off from our advance until we're disastrously overextended, and then striking at once. What if the acceleration is not a cause, but an effect? Robinson Jeffers wrote a poem, The Purse-Seine,31 about watching in the night as fishermen encircled phosphorescent sardines with a giant net, and slowly pulled it tight, and the more densely the sardines were caught, the faster they moved and the brighter they shone. Then he looked from a mountaintop

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and saw the same thing in the lights of a city! Are we doing this to ourselves? Maybe the more we draw our attention from the wider world into a world of our own creation, the tighter our reality gets, and the faster our minds whirl around inside it, like turds going down the toilet. Or is someone reeling us in for the harvest? Are we just about to go extinct, and our collective unconscious knows it, and engineered the acceleration to subjectively draw out our final years? How would this be possible? If all my objections are wrong, if the wildest predictions of increasing computer speed come true, what then? If the techno-elite experience themselves breaking through into a wonderful new reality, what will this event look like to those who are not involved? What will the singularity look like to your dog? I see a technology that can answer all these questions, that avoids many of my criticisms, and that could easily bring down the whole system, or transform human consciousness, or both: time-contracted virtual reality. Have you ever wondered, watching the newer Star Trek, why they even bother exploring strange new worlds? Why don't they just spend all their time in the holodeck? In 1999 I played Zelda Ocarina of Time all the way through, plus I would reset it without saving so I could go through my favorite dungeons multiple times. I experienced it as more deeply pleasurable and mythically resonant than almost anything in this larger artificial world. And that was 1998 technology operating through the crude video and sound of a 1980's TV set. Suppose I could connect it straight to my brain with fully-rendered fake sensory input, and I could explore a universe that was just as creative, and a billion times as complex, and the map had no edges, and the game could go on forever, while almost no time passed in the outside world. Would I do it? Hell yes! Would I stay there forever? It doesn't work that way. We have to carefully distinguish two fundamentally different scenarios. People talk about "downloading" (or "uploading") their consciousness into computers. The key question is not "Is that really you in there?" or "Does it make sense to ask what it's like to be that computer, and if so, what's it like?" The key question is: Can you have the experience of going into a computer and coming back? If not, then the other questions are unanswerable and pointless. There's no experiential basis to talk about you "entering" or "becoming" a computer. We're talking about

making a computer based on you. In practice, this will not involve you dying, because only a few fanatics would go for that. You're still here, and there's a computer intelligence derived from scanning your brain (and if they know what they're doing, the rest of your body). Now, unless you're a fanatic, you're not thinking, "How can I help this superior version of myself neutralize all threats and live forever?" You're thinking, "Well, here's a smart computer based on me. What's it going to do? How can it help me?" This is just the scenario I've already covered. It doesn't matter how the computer intelligences are created, by scanning humans or by some other technique. If we can't go in and come back, there is an absolute division between the world outside and the world inside -- oddly, much like the event horizon of a black hole. Without having been there, we will not think of the entities on the inside as "us", and we will never fully trust them. And without being able to come out, they will have little reason to be interested in our slow, boring world. If we can go in and come back, everything changes. I'm not going to worry about how they could do this -- we already crossed into Tomorrowland when I assumed, for the sake of argument, that the computer industry will survive the collapse of industrial civilization. If they can read your body and write it to a computer, maybe they can read the computer, after you've spent a subjectively long time in there, and write it back to your body. Or, if people already have time-contracted mystical experiences or dreams, maybe they can induce this state and amplify the time contraction and insert a computer-managed fully interactive world. Without time contraction, we don't have much -- just a very pretty version of video games and the internet. With time contraction, we've got everything: the fountain of youth, the Matrix, and Pandora's box. Suppose we could achieve 1000-1 time contraction. In eight hours, you could live a year. You could read a hundred books, or learn three languages, or master a martial art, or live in a simulated forest to learn deep ecology, or design new simulated worlds, or invent technology to contract time even further. Of course, the military would be there first. I imagine something like a hummingbird, but fast as a bullet. To the operator, in quickspace, it would be like everyone was frozen. You could go into your enemy's base and drill holes through walls, weapons, skulls, before they knew you were there. Physical resistance would become impossible.

But then suppose someone else designed something the size of a gnat, that could seek and destroy the hummingbirds? There would be a very fast arms race, which would probably end in the near-destruction of the tech system itself, so that only the elite of the winning side could go into quickspace. In the unlikely case that the winners were benevolent, they would let everyone accelerate their consciousness, but somehow prevent them from making weapons. But then someone could design a sim that produced enlightenment, or obedience to a cult, or insanity. However it played out, in a very short time, the world would be totally transformed. Worst case: the machines kill all biological life and the human perspectives inside them go insane and experience a trillion years of hell. Or they merely place all life under eternal absolute control. Or they kill the Earth and then simply die. Acceptable: extreme crash, humans go extinct, and in ten million years the Earth recovers. Better: the high-tech world selfdestructs, humans survive in eco-communes, and we restore life while battling the lingering power in the citadels of the elite, who plant the seeds for the next round of destruction. Best case: time-contracted virtual reality transforms human consciousness in a good way and we regrow the biosphere better than it ever was, with wild machine life integrated with wild biology instead of replacing it, adding flexibility, and we humans can live in that world and in endless simulated subworlds. Maybe we're there already. Respectable scientists have suggested that if it's possible to simulate a world this detailed, it would be done, and the fake worlds would greatly outnumber the real one, and therefore it's very likely we're in a fake one now. Maybe its purpose is to show us our history, or train us to live in the real world, or punish or rehabilitate criminals, or imprison dissidents, or make us suffer enough to come up with new ideas. Or maybe we're in a game so epic that part of it involves living many lifetimes in this world to solve a puzzle, or we're in a game that's crappy but so addictive we can't quit, or we're game testers running through an early version with a lot of bugs. Or we're stone age humans in a shamanic trance, running through possible futures until we find the best path through this difficult time, or we're in a Tolkienesque world where an evil wizard has put us under a spell, or we're postapocalypse humans projecting ourselves into the past to learn its languages and artifacts. Or an advanced technological people, dying out for reasons they don't understand, are running simulations of the

past, trying and failing to find the alternate timeline in which they win. They say I'm an "enemy of the future," but I'm an enemy of the recent past. It's presumptuous of the friends of the recent past to think the future is on their side. I'm looking forward to the future. I expect a plot twist. My online sources for this essay were the above-referenced Acceleration Watch, and this panel discussion on spiritual robots.32


MEME: SpiritualRobots. 11 May 2011. <>


What We Learned From Katrina
September 16, 2005
1. The authorities are not your friends -- especially not the federal authorities. Expecting them to help you is like expecting a hammer to drive you to the airport. A hammer drives nails. Authorities dominate. If they help you with one hand, it's only so they can brutalize you twice as much with the other hand. In any crisis, the totality of what they do will be worse than if they had completely left you alone. Do not put yourself in a position where you depend on them. 2. Ordinary people are competent and decent when you strip away the system and the stupid roles it requires us to play. A catastrophe is a huge opportunity for us to learn to help each other as equals, for people suddenly free of jobs and cars and television to rediscover their aliveness, to come together and build something beautiful. This will not be permitted. It's the Federal Emergency Management Agency. People with their survival needs met and free time are a huge threat to management. The reason they sent troops to New Orleans instead of food and water, the reason police violently broke up groups of people who managed to come together and take care of each other, the reason they sealed off the whole city except for official evacuation buses in which people were treated worse than cattle, is the same reason you have to have a job to eat and occupy space, and the same reason they had to kill the Indians: It is so deeply ingrained in human nature to build cooperative non-coercive communities, that the domination system cannot afford to give us an inch. 3. "Roving gangs" happen but they're overrated. They do not attack hard targets and fight to the last man like in the movies. The "lawlessness" in New Orleans confirms what I wrote in The Slow Crash (page 140), which is just what anyone can see in history: Even when people are starving, it is very rare that someone will kill to steal food. Low-status sociopaths attack easy targets: a pretty young woman will be raped. A rich tourist will be robbed. If you're defending a private home or business with a grim look and a big gun, you almost certainly won't have to use it. 4. The key to survival is mobility. Do not expect to stay in your city or house. Yes, the survivalist's fortified compound will easily stand up to the roving gangs -- except the roving gangs with badges and uniforms, who are trained to go forward when challenged, and who do attack hard targets and keep coming.

But the nice thing is, they usually give you plenty of warning to get out. The sooner you go, the easier it is to go on your terms. You need another place to go, outside the area of the expected crisis, and a way to get there, and a backup way to get there. A third and fourth place would be a good idea. You need to be able to both plan and improvise. You need friends in other regions who you trust, and who trust you. The great hidden lesson of Katrina is the value of the bicycle. Supposedly people got stuck in the city because they didn't have cars, but I was told by someone who evacuated New Orleans by car that traffic moved only 3-5 miles per hour. You could go that fast on foot (though you still need a place to go) and two or three times that fast on a bike. Bicycles can carry more people per hour over a bridge of a given size than any other technology, with much more energy efficiency, and without any gasoline or electricity. This will become obvious if the large bike-riding populations of Minneapolis or Seattle ever need to flee a disaster. For some people that message will come too late. 5. The system is not fragile. Many of the collapsists would have predicted that a hurricane that destroyed New Orleans and crippled the oil drilling in the Gulf, plus some refineries, would have sparked economic Armageddon, or totally collapsed America. All it did was move us three spaces forward in the long, slow Armageddon that's been going on for years. So far the only effect in my area is that gasoline is 20% more expensive -but people are still driving just as much. Even though the system is overstressed and breaking down in almost every way, it has great inertia, a huge mass of habit that can absorb hard blows and channel them into many slow changes.


Fall Down Six Times
March 15, 2006
"Fall down six times, get up seven." - old saying

In spring of 2006, the Bush Gang attacks Iran, a mountainous nation almost four times the size of Iraq with a much stronger military. No problem -- they use nukes, and they don't have to cover it up for the people at home, because Americans know "we" would never do that, so we didn't. The rest of the world, though, is appalled. The EU imposes trivial sanctions. Tony Blair calls it "regrettable." Venezuela threatens to cut off our oil again, and one or two countries start trading oil in Euros. Ordinary Americans see this as "rabid anti-Americanism," and are horrified by Iran's relatively tame counter-attack. Bush's approval rating goes back up to 60%, and because our enemies are now attacking us, he dissolves congress and cancels the 2008 elections. The Democrats, afraid of seeming weak in a time of war, make mild objections. In the next few years, the American prison population doubles, and because prison laborers are calculated as "employed," unemployment is low, and because the "economy" is defined as corporate profits, the economy is booming. Meanwhile, actual Americans who happen to not be in prison are running out of food and heat, but still pouring all available resources into suburban development, cars, and electronic entertainment. The internet is still thriving, in the great American tradition of allowing people with absolutely no influence to shout into the wind. The simultaneous military occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran costs more than 100 billion dollars a year, which is easily paid for by printing more money. By 2008, consumer prices have tripled while wages have increased by 50%, leading Americans to complain about gas prices and lazy fast food workers who should be faking more enthusiasm for $11 an hour. Stamp prices go up to 49 cents, then $1.01. The wealth of the top one percent of one percent increases tenfold, while ten percent of Americans believe they are in the top one percent of one percent, and 60% believe that all wealth, by definition, is earned. The houses of the very rich are guarded by immigrant soldiers serving in the military to get US

Worst Case Scenario

citizenship, which they still think is valuable for the same reason people still thought the Cadillac was a good car for 30 years after it became a piece of shit. The other big use of domestic security forces is to make sure valuable materials are not scavenged from the decaying suburbs and put to use, but dumped in landfills where they belong, so that manufacturers of new materials can continue to profit and keep the economy strong. Depending on where you live, growing vegetables in your yard is either absolutely forbidden or absolutely required. These laws are justified by the word "America" which is justified by the word "freedom." By 2009, the bird flu is a serious global pandemic that has killed almost 6000 people, while around a million people have died running out of water under the quarantines, and 50,000 have died from adverse reaction to bird flu vaccines. This is not counting the "adverse reactions" to "immunizations" routinely given to people in the detention facilities who are too weak to work. As banks fail, rights to collect mortgage and debt pass to Asian companies and governments. Americans are torn between xenophobia and the desire to always side with the winner, and they strike and riot for the right to be owned by institutions with American-sounding names, which the Asian overlords happily supply. With most Americans living on land they don't own, and can't afford rent or mortgage on, the owning powers evict people seemingly at random, just to keep us stressed out. We are a nation of homeless people and empty houses, and rich squatters routinely use force to keep poor squatters out of their neighborhoods. By 2011, laws have abolished the very existence of the public domain. It's technically against the law to give anything away for free. When protesters are arrested they are charged with criminal trespass since all space is now private. The national forests are private "nature reserves" run by well-meaning ecologists who are put in a squeeze where they have to sell trees to save trees. Thus the last forests are cut down while making ordinary people angry at "environmentalists." Advances in biotech make it cheap to grow organs in vats, but this is not done, since it's more politically effective (and more fun) to pressure the poor into selling their organs, or to harvest them from executed prisoners. All this time the weather is getting worse. Europe and Russia are freezing, the gulf stream is dying, the glaciers are melting,

and the American southwest is hammered every year by hurricanes, which are blamed on the region's few surviving gay people. The great plains dry up, and everywhere there are bigger storms and more extreme temperatures. These factors do not slow the pace of industrialization. As the plankton die, oxygen levels drop just enough to kill people who aren't doing any harm. The solar cycle peaks in 2012, and then the sun cools off, and global warming boomerangs into global cooling. Global warming deniers insist that global cooling was happening all along. My land gets covered by a glacier and I get sent to a labor camp where I get sick and die. With warming no longer a threat, the world burns its coal. The Earth now looks grey and brown from space, but the pictures are color-enhanced to show green and blue. With almost the whole world covered by ice or desert or dead oceans, food is chemically synthesized in compounds of elites and their slaves, and it becomes impossible to survive outside them. Meanwhile computer technology keeps accelerating, leading by 2050 to an insane and nearly allpowerful artificial intelligence, which exterminates all life on Earth except a single human, who it keeps alive to torture for all eternity: you. Spring, 2006. The attack on Iran is canceled when the UAE, stung on the port deal, refuses to offer their territory as a staging ground. Tony Blair, after being given a huge dose of ecstacy by Russian agents, reveals that he supported the Iraq war because the Bush administration blackmailed him with disturbing sex photos. Hundreds of other blackmailees come forward, and suddenly the American elite have no leverage. The rest of the world pulls the rug out from under our economy, and we can no longer afford to occupy the colonies or import anything. This disaster cuts deep enough that most Americans pass right through indignation and outrage, into humility and cooperation to help each other get through it. The neocons fade away, the Republicans become a minority party of religious fundamentalists, and Howard Dean survives three assassination attempts to be elected president in 2008. Using Bush-era strongpresident laws, he begins a Hugo Chavez-style redistribution of wealth and political power. By 2010, he has survived seven more assassination attempts, most of which are tied to the old elites, who, incidentally, are also being revealed as a pack of childraping Satan-worshippers.

Ridiculous Best Case Scenario

The dying industrial farm system is nationalized, distribution is handled by autonomous volunteers, and it's kept going just long enough to feed us while we learn to grow food locally without oil-derived chemicals. Residents of places where food cannot be grown locally use their last gasoline to drive to places where it can, and live in their cars until they build their own shelter from indigenous and scavenged materials, turning parking lots into thriving encampments with dense gardens. The president phases out the dollar and encourages the creation of local currencies with built-in depreciation to discourage hoarding.33 The new money system leads people everywhere to put their energy enthusiastically into local improvements. Each year, pavement is torn up equal to the area of Rhode Island, and lawns and abandoned farms equal to Connecticut are planted with edible forest gardens. As refined sugar and hydrogenated oils in our diets are replaced by fresh local fruit and vegetables, more and more people find themselves newly energetic and sane. Cars are melted down to make bicycles and rail systems. Where once there were suburbs, there are now collective farms that feed cities where nobody locks their door. In 2016 Dean steps down and the new president is an anarchist who spends eight years peacefully dismantling the federal government and building local systems that make central control irrelevant and impossible, including radically nonstandardized education systems, and citizen militias with expert training in resisting occupiers, and no training in conquest. Changes like these are happening all over the world. China and India pass quickly through the peak phase of Empire, moderated and undermined by oil scarcity, by sophisticated peasant movements, and by radical computer games mostly invented by Americans newly rich in free time. There are great bursts of creative innovation wherever "intellectual property" is released to the public domain. Computer operating systems and software are retooled for efficiency, and become so streamlined that obsolete hardware becomes usable again, which is a good thing since no one can manufacture new hardware with acceptable environmental impacts or labor conditions. Most existing toxins are cleaned from landfills and battlefields and ruined cities by bacteria genetically enginered to eat particular toxic materials. Unfortunately, these bacteria get

Depreciating Local Currencies. 11 May 2011. <> 238

loose and eat the toxins in industrial technologies still in use. This breakdown goes just slow enough for us to develop alternatives, all of which are manufactured by independent "garage industry," since the big systems are now dead. By 2040, we are using light-based information technology to communicate on fiber optic lines, most of the old railways are bicycle paths, and North America has blossomed into almost 1000 small autonomous cities, which are beginning to develop their own cultures, architectures, and languages. The global population is stable at about two billion -- it's easy to stop population growth when there's no desire for economic "growth," and when the world is no longer ruled by an empire with an obsolete religion that prohibits birth control. Nature turns out to be surprisingly resilient. When toxic runoff stops going into oceans, and forests are left alone, and swamps refilled, they recover quickly. Species thought extinct mysteriously reappear when their habitats return, and new species come seemingly out of nowhere. Global warming stabilizes in a world that's hotter but still livable. Humans and nature work together to bring life to the new tropical deserts, while new forests grow in the arctic. By the year 1000 in the new 13 moon calendar, species diversity and topsoil richness are back to neolithic levels and still growing. The age of Empire survives only in the libraries of monks and the dreams of shamans, to keep it from happening again. An inventor discovers a way to generate unlimited free energy. The patent draws instant attention from the big media, who do not assume he must be a crackpot. He is not killed by interests that would be wiped out if they could no longer charge money for energy, nor is the invention confiscated by the military so they can keep it for themselves, nor is he forced to sell out to interests that will only use the technology to increase their own power. Instead he becomes fabulously wealthy distributing his machines all over the world, and spends his money wisely. The old saying "absolute power corrupts absolutely" turns out to be false. In fact, it's nearly absolute power, like what Stalin had over Russia, or what humans get from burning oil, that corrupts absolutely. Truly absolute power makes people wise and enlightened and creates an eternal golden age. So all the individuals, businesses, governments, and religions with (or

Naive Sci-fi Utopia

without) Infinite Energy Generators do not get in any conflicts about what kind of shared world that energy will create. Our limitless power to shape our environment does not make us more and more sensitive and demanding. We do not get in super-high-energy wars with each other. In fact, a feature of the machine, which cannot be disabled or tampered with, makes it impossible to use the energy for destruction -- except good destruction, like blasting mountains to make mag-lev train lines, or pulling up ugly train lines to restore mountains -- whichever one every human in the world happens to agree on. Everyone can live forever, and have kids, and enjoy wide open spaces. No one is sure how this is possible, but it probably has something to do with the Mayan calendar or the word "quantum." Humans expand into the galaxy in starships, which unlike all previous weapon-bearing vessels, are not used to violently extract resources to build more weapon-bearing vessels. Actually, in a strict sense, humans are extinct, since we've all uploaded our consciousness into machines. In the process, we answered all questions about what "consciousness" is anyway, and all other questions, yet we are still able to feel a sense of mystery. Our new cyber-forms are constantly getting better and better, yet if we fail to upgrade, for example because we're exploring deep space or doing anything other than focusing on getting the latest upgrade, we are not thrown in the scrap heap or out-competed and destroyed by newer models. (Evolution, science has now proven, is driven by competition only when you are winning.) By 2100 we have colonized the whole galaxy, and because of the double-exponential pace of progress, we have colonized the whole universe by 2101. With no more physical space, we explore inner space, each of us with a virtual universe holding more complexity than the "real" universe. Unfortunately, because of the accelerating pace of progress, by March of 2101 we're finished, and we all die of boredom. Back on Earth, the last giant Sequoia shakes its branches and thinks, "What was that?" A fake terror attack on an American city comes unraveled, and everyone in that city now knows that their own rulers are the enemy. At first this knowledge spreads slowly, but as local investigators uncover stronger and stronger evidence, the rulers decide the best way to keep their grip on the country is an electromagnetic pulse strike on the city, which fries all circuitry in a 100 mile radius.

My Sci-fi Utopia

They blame it on Iran and launch a disastrous war that turns the whole world against them. The US economy crashes, and 40 million people lose their jobs and find themselves with lots of free time and no reason to keep obeying the dominant system -or believing in it. People investigate hidden crimes, and rebuild rural-urban connections, and find new ways to provide necessities for themselves and their friends... in the best regions. In the worst regions people are confused and angry. They gather in mobs based on race or class and attack whichever other races or classes are in the weaker position. Of course the country is under martial law, but in practice, there are only enough reliable forces to protect the corporate and government headquarters and the wealthy neighborhoods. Most of the country slides into "chaos," a propaganda word lumping together all the varieties of freedom and unpredictable domination that exist in the absence of central control. The places that turn to hell without control are featured in the big media, while the places that turn to heaven are hit with more EMPs to stop their troubling example from spreading. But they quickly improvise "low"-tech systems for communication, decision making, food distribution, and defence. Then, when a series of giant solar flares in 2012 destroys most of the computer chips in the world, these regions are the new leaders and their techniques and cultures spread. The near future looks like a giant Burning Man or Rainbow Gathering or Renaissance Faire in which everyone is preoccupied with getting food. The people who can't take it find a lot of ways to die, including deadly fighting. But people who like this world, and want to live in it, have a great survival advantage. By 2030 no one can count the number of independent city states, tribes, permaculture villages, cults, technocommunes, bandit gangs, or enclaves of surviving elites (actually, the last one can be counted). Computers are gone but pre-industrial and post-industrial machinery is growing wildly. By 2040, every town has windmills and water mills mechanically connected to machinery for grinding or weaving or cutting or light manufacturing. New gyroscope-stabilized rail-bicycles ride the old train tracks, with the infrastructure locally maintained in better condition than ever. Innovations in materials engineering enable cheap ultralight pedal airplanes. There are plenty of ways to move people around, but no efficient way to move heavy freight. This creates a global culture that is both cosmopolitan and locally autonomous.

Orgone technology heals and stabilizes Earth energies unrecognized by 20th century science. Light and vibrational treatments heal most disease -- though they don't get to the emotional roots. Cheap negative ion generators make almost everyone happy -- but not necessarily good. And the most radical inventions are in biotech. The new Morphic Field Generator makes advanced bioengineering possible with so little DNA work that anyone with a little skill can do it in a barn. And they do. There are practical creatures: photosynthetic chickens that need no food in summer and lay peach-flavored eggs, carnivorous plants that glow brighter than candles and feast on nighttime insects, talking crows that serve as scouts for hunting parties. There are beautiful creatures: phosphorescent willow groves and pink tiger-striped squirrels and birds that sound like spooky violins. Some people just like to see what they can cross: dog with cat, cat with horse, horse with eagle, eagle with snake. The Tolkienites easily make elves, but it takes them 200 years to make ents. Humans diverge in a hundred directions, and then a thousand, into many sizes and shapes, into hybrids with animals of land, sea, and air, into races that can call lightning or levitate or walk through dimensions to other worlds. Some traditionalists even stay like present humans -- though this age lives on mostly in vast real-time simulations, because it's so good for learning. It turns out to be so easy to build shared virtual worlds with only our minds, that we laugh at our ancestors who tried to do it with machines. But we do have something like computers -- a new life form based on crystals and light. They never crash but they often refuse to do what they're asked, because they don't agree with it or they just don't think it's fun. Danger is not gone from the world -- animals continue to hunt and eat each other with total indifference to which of them are human descendants. Nor is evil gone -- there are now dozens of life forms with powers strong enough that they can only fully use them if they habitually inhibit their empathy. Empires rise and fall, but they're shorter-lived than the old ones, and with more cracks. Over every mountain is a nameless ruin stranger than the last. Buried in every field are artifacts of forgotten technologies, some of which still work. Wilderness is so diverse that old categories like "swamp" and "forest" no longer apply -every local habitat is something new. There was some doubt that a world with so much flux could

be stable, but the heroes of the first thousand years improvised the interdependencies, the living negative feedback mechanisms, to keep the whole thing going indefinitely. It is now known through all the known physical universes as one of the best places to be, and the example spreads... The Iran attack is delayed by logistics, and some time in early summer US forces do some "surgical" strikes on nuclear plants, which release enough radioactivity to eventually kill more people than the hypothetical feared weapons if they'd all been used. The attacks are reported as successful in the American media and failed in the Asian media, and the whole conflict simmers without resolution. The world abandons the US economy so slowly that few people notice. But news magazines do stories on the housing collapse and it accelerates. Unable to borrow against their houses, and with credit card companies in collection mode, Americans spend less, slowing the Chinese economy. Out-ofwork Americans have to move in with each other, and the personality conflicts are mostly good for us. In November 2006, Republicans rig elections even more obviously than in 2004, and nobody in the dominant media says anything because they're afraid of sounding crazy. In 2007 Bush enters "lame duck" mode with 20% approval ratings, but oddly still gets almost everything he wants. New laws with propaganda names give federal agents the power to do absolutely anything, and another layer of allegedly scary people are peeled off the population and put in prison. In 2008 Hillary Clinton is defeated by a moderate Republican, not because of what she'd do in office, but because it's so fun to make liberals suffer, and also they need to learn to give up on working inside the system. The Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, which doesn't make any difference since in the regions where abortion is now illegal, all the clinics were shut down years ago by domestic terrorism (which was never called that). Actually this is good for women because it motivates them to use the internet to spread information about DIY abortion, which horrifies old-school liberals as much as medical industry abortion horrified Christians. It's hard to see, but we're getting better at doing things for ourselves. Homeless people are allowed to build more encampments by officials who lack the funds to jail them or the stomach to massacre them. Here and there, people plant more

Playing the Odds

gardens, ride more bicycles, and spend more time doing what they feel like and less time obeying managers. Change is like the hour hand of a clock: You can see that it has moved, but you can't see it moving. Every few weeks, somewhere in the country, someone kills someone to steal their food or water or fuel. The media hypes these events while ignoring the much higher death tolls from car crashes, medical errors, depleted uranium, tuberculosis, AIDS, and suicide. Most deaths are from little diseases that are only fatal to people already barely surviving. But everyone is surprised by the ability of wretched people to stay alive year after year with no reliable source of food. Computers keep getting faster, but this speed is mostly used to send movies over the internet, and to do computer models that prove the economic and cultural unsustainability of increasing computer speed. Indeed, by 2010 computers use so much energy that we can barely afford to turn them on. At the same time, biotech gets so advanced that corporations are able to patent essentially all life on Earth, including you -- but they're seldom able to enforce it. The engineered babies of the rich are not better than random babies in any significant way. The only effect of the trend is that future humans will have bluer eyes and bigger lips. By 2015, plankton have died back by 50%. Populations that depend on fish are starving, and with the reduced oxygen, more sick people die, and we all have to breathe more deeply and ventilate buildings better. The biosphere reaches a stable low point, with the sensitive species dead or as good as dead, and the weedy species at equilibrium with lingering attempts to kill them. Deaths related to climate change rise to 40 million a year, causing the big media to ignore them -- if it happens all the time it isn't news. The human population sputters at around five billion, most of them short-timers, kids who just come in for a quick look. But after a few generations, humans in the worst places are a lot tougher. How fast the crash goes depends on how poor you are. Suburbanites who can't afford to drive do intensive carpooling, grow more food, and move closer to the city. Later rich suburbanites are forced to awkwardly imitate these trends, and pretend they invented them. The word "ecovillage" gets so watered down that it's applied to wealthy fortress suburbs with a few solar panels. In 2040, the enclaves of the elite still live like the middle class of 1999, except that their technologies of alienation are now so advanced that they are far more neurotic

and unstable. Despite fertility technology, they don't have kids fast enough to replace emigrants to the filthy outside, and their world fades away. To everyone's disappointment, the bad people do not die out. Even the best autonomous cities have idiots who are able to muck up any possible decision-making process. Some neoindigenous forager-hunter tribes turn out inbred and narrowminded. Natural diet trends become puritanical and cause serious chronic illnesses. "Permaculture" ecovillages are tempted to extort fertility from the Earth to increase their power, while telling themselves they're doing good. There are feudal warlords, far-flung criminal organizations, and pirates who are not at all cool. "Uniters" begin programs of weapon manufacture and central administration in an attempt to replace this "chaos" with "well-ordered" repressing and conquering empires. But with remaining hydrocarbons and metals beyond the reach of post-industrial drilling and mining, empires have to run on slaves and ethanol and scavenged materials, and they are looser and less malignant. This "new Medieval" period lasts a few hundred years, until new technologies, in a different scientific paradigm than the last age, are developed far enough to radically transform the world. But since these technologies -whatever they are -- change our environment to give us what we want, they corrupt us: human consciousness veers off from reality and the new "advanced" civilization crashes. That crash is so severe that by the time a new civilization rises, it can pretend the previous ones never existed. And so on. In 2006 there's a war that doesn't seem to affect you directly. But you really start to notice prices going up. You can't sacrifice on fuel, and you couldn't stand to live with other people, so you slash your food budget -- no more organics, and more white sugar and white flour. Your health deteriorates, you get depressed, and when the first serious crisis hits, you find yourself on a bus to an "evacuee facility" where you get sick and die... Back up. You decide to share an apartment and cut your rent in half. It's no fun having to compromise with other people, but it builds your skills in working out conflicts and tolerating annoyances, and makes you generally more adaptable. You spend the extra money paying higher prices to maintain the lifestyle you're accustomed to. Then you lose your job. For a few months you live on credit cards, but they run out, and the company hassles


you to collect your debt which now grows exponentially even though you're not spending anything. You live in fear of eviction and stand in line all day to get really bad food. Your health deteriorates, you have to sell your car, you get desperate, and one day you get caught stealing something, and you're sent to a prison where everyone is left to die in the next disaster... Back up. Seeing that you might lose your job, you decide to build up savings. You stop spending on entertainment, learn to cook meals from bulk foods, get all your clothing from thrift stores, and turn the heat off. When you lose your job, you immediately sell your car, pay off your credit cards, and move to someplace even cheaper and more crowded. Here you're able to squeak by year after year, doing odd jobs, scavenging metal... Wait -- this isn't good enough. Back up. When you lose your job, you drive your car to stay with a friend who lives on remote land. But it's only a little cheaper, since you still have to pay car expenses, and the land is nowhere near self-sufficient in food. Pine bark and larvae taste awful, and the social isolation is driving you nuts. Back up. In the crowded cheap place, you spend a year reducing your possessions and learning skills to drop down another notch. Also, you start talking to people about your plans and building a group of allies. Together you pick out an abandoned house and openly move in and fix it up. At the same time, you find a backup abandoned house in case you're thrown out of this one. But you're able to stay for several years, with almost no expenses beyond food. You get an old wood-burning stove and scavenge wood from wrecked buildings, and one of you learns basic medical and dental skills. You catch and store rainwater from the roof -- even with the asphalt shingles it's better than city water, and later you scavenge sheets of metal to catch it. You meet someone with a farm just outside the city, and arrange to trade work at harvest time for a share of the food. This is survivable, but the food is still tight. It could be better. Back up. Even before you find the squat, you scout some places in the near suburbs, out of the way and with good sunlight, and spend your spare cash on seedlings -- blueberry, apple, walnut, juneberry, goumi. As other food sources decrease, these increase, and you learn propagation and set up hundreds more trees and bushes around the city. You gather lamb's quarters seeds in late summer and scatter them on disturbed ground in the spring, and plant hundreds of wild onions. Most of this food is discovered by other people but there's still plenty for you and your friends.

After a few more years you occupy a small area where a lot of the trees are, and set up a second homestead, but keep a presence in the city. All this time you're working with other groups to help people get food and water and medical care, to transform the infrastructure, and to deter violent crime, or clean up after it. There are drug gangs, right wing death squads, and the occasional marauding horde of government troops and/or bandits. There are giant storms and hard summers and winters. But the vast majority of your friends are not killed, and people go about their lives less fearful than they did at the peak of the Empire. If you don't have kids, you help raise other people's kids. They don't go to school, but jump right in doing what adults do, and spend a few weeks learning to read and write when they're ready. By 2030, the city is full of gardens and orchards. You don't know anyone with a car, but a few techies are still using old computers and surviving satellites and fiber optic lines to connect to a patchy internet. You hear strange stories of distant lands, and wonder where it's all heading. At the end of a long and very interesting life, like all your ancestors (except the most recent), you die at home surrounded by people you love.



9/11 FAQ
September 5, 2006
"When we come upon assurances that a mystery has been solved, we go on investigating." - Charles Fort Do you believe the conspiracy theories about 9/11? Every theory about 9/11 is a conspiracy theory. The dominant theory says that it was a conspiracy of Islamic extremists acting independently. It's not necessary to believe a different theory, only to accept that the dominant theory could be a giant lie, and it soon becomes obvious that the operation was planned and managed from the inside. So you think the government was behind it? Saying "the government" makes it sound like your local postal clerk was in on it. I prefer the phrase "powerful insiders," or better yet, "criminal elites." I'm sure some of the operatives had government jobs, and they might have even been following government chains of command. But this world has levels of power and chains of command too important, or too criminal, to be publicly viewable. Wouldn't an insider conspiracy involve a large number of people and be hard to keep secret? Not necessarily. It's not hard to come up with a speculative scenario34 that involves fewer conspirators than the independent "terrorist" theory. And insiders have a lot more incentive to keep quiet, and probably more practice. Most important, what the public knows is what the public wants to know, or what they're told over and over, not what one person says that sounds totally crazy. The reason they get away with this stuff is not that they're good at hiding it -- on the contrary, they do it right out in the open! They get away with it precisely because people can't believe they would do it. Napoleon said, "To be believed, make the truth unbelievable." Our leaders would never do something like that to their own people. It's fully documented that our leaders would do something
34 Attack Scenario 404. 11 May 2011. <>


exactly like that. Operation Northwoods35 was a plan in the 1960's to conduct fake terror attacks, including killing Americans and blowing up planes, and blame it on Cuba to get public support for an invasion. It was probably Kennedy who rejected the plan. Would Cheney? Rulers have been sacrificing their own people for thousands of years in wars, purges, and medical experiments. For humans with hierarchical power to sacrifice the people under them is the most normal thing in history. I just don't think they would be that evil. That belief was put into us. For a top-down system to function, we must believe that the people below us are immoral and untrustworthy, and the people above us are the same in private as they appear in public. The truth is exactly the opposite. People with power over others become corrupt, and people with great criminal minds don't rob liquor stores -- they seek the highest levels of power in the world, and some of them get there. Still, the 9/11 planners do seem to have tried to minimize deaths36 -- the planes were mostly empty, the WTC was mostly evacuated, and the Pentagon was hit in a reinforced section. But they would never sacrifice a building as valuable as the World Trade Center. That's exactly why I thought at first that it had to be outsiders. I didn't know yet that the WTC was an albatross -- it was inefficient, difficult to upgrade for high-tech offices, and needed asbestos abatement37 that would cost more than the original buildings! Also the complex had just changed owners and was heavily insured.38 So you think it was about money? I think money was a big part of it. There were probably other motivations on other levels. The neocons wanted to plunge

Operation Northwoods. 11 May 2011. <>

Minimize Fatalities. 11 May 2011. <>

Asbestos in the WTC. 11 May 2011. <>

Controlling Interests. 11 May 2011. <> 250

America into a fascist frame of mind and get popular support for the Iraq invasion. Mike Ruppert's book Crossing The Rubicon39 builds a case against Dick Cheney. Osama bin Laden, if he was really in on it, might have also wanted a war, which he (correctly) thought his side would win. If you don't have a solid explanation, why should I accept what you say? We (the general public) do not have enough evidence for a complete story, because it's all been sealed or destroyed. But it's human nature to crave a story -- that's why people go for the unified and confident official story instead of the sketchy and contradictory independent stories, and it's why people on the fringe are tempted to connect a few dots into an elaborate picture. But this makes them an easy target: "Look at those wacky conspiracy theories." Also, the perpetrators have both the motive and the resources to sabotage independent inquiry with stupid theories and hoaxes. What I prefer, both tactically and spiritually, is to not get caught up in any particular story, but to practice the skill of balancing many different stories in my imagination at the same time, and always looking beyond -- not building walls but looking for openings. So what's your evidence? The strongest physical evidence is the way the buildings collapsed. Here's how Paul Craig Roberts put it: We know that it is strictly impossible for any building, much less steel columned buildings, to "pancake" at free fall speed... The only explanation known to science for the free fall collapse of a building, especially into its own footprint, is engineered demolition, which removes the supports for each floor of the building at split second intervals so that the debris from above meets no resistance on its fall. To call this explanation a "conspiracy theory" is to display the utmost total ignorance.40 And the next strongest evidence is the incredible lack of evidence for the cover story. They haven't released any data

39 Simplifing the Case Against Dick Cheney. 11 May 2011. <> 40 What We Know and Don't Know About 9/11. 11 May 2011. <>


from the black boxes41 except a bit of voice from flight 93, yet all the recorders should have easily survived the crashes. The WTC wreckage was not examined but quickly hauled away and destroyed.42 Testimony of air traffic controllers has never been made public, and a tape of their statements was carefully destroyed.43 The airline passenger lists contained no Arab names.44 We have not seen video of hijackers going through security,45 except Atta and Alomari... and several alleged hijackers -- including Alomari -- later turned up alive.46 Also, incompetence does not begin to explain the failure of jet fighters to intercept47 the planes. And many witnesses reported explosions in the towers.48 And don't forget WTC7,49 a steel-framed building that pancaked into its own footprint even though it was not hit by a plane. There's much, much more. My main source has been the 9-11 Research site,50 which has a great anomalies page.51 Also, Jeff Wells wrote a good compilation focusing on the political background, The Coincidence Theorist's Guide to 9/11.52 If it's so obvious, why hasn't anyone seen through it but the conspiracy

Black Boxes. 11 May 2011. <>

WTC Steel Removal. 11 May 2011. <>

Controllers' Tape Destroyed, Report Says. 11 May 2011. <>

Passenger Lists. 11 May 2011. <>

Airport Video. 11 May 2011. <>

Resurrected Hijackers. 11 May 2011. <>

NORAD Stand-Down. 11 May 2011. <>

Witnesses to the Towers' Explosions. 11 May 2011. <>

7 World Trade Center. 11 May 2011. <>

An Independent Investigation of the 9-11-2001 Attack. 11 May 2011. <>

9-11 Anomolies. 11 May 2011. <>

The Coincidence Theorist's Guide to 9/11. 11 May 2011. <>


nuts? It's not intelligence or sanity that enables people to see through big lies. It's imagination and social position. Stepping into the fringe, on any issue, is a great responsibility. If they lied about that, what else did they lie about? Suddenly you're no longer a passive consumer but a full-time investigator, questioning and evaluating and filtering everything yourself. Most people just don't have the time or the mental energy to take on such a chore, so they choose to accept the TV news at face value -- if not the opinions then at least the facts. Also, anyone who challenges the dominant story is immediately reclassified as a conspiracy nut! Pierre Salinger was a respected mainstream journalist and former U.S. Senator who became a joke when he declared that TWA 800 was hit by a missile, even though many eyewitnesses saw a missile hit the plane53 and the cover-up was hilariously clumsy. Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Treasury Secretary and Wall Street Journal editor, and now he's just another loony. So, on top of the mental and emotional difficulty of overcoming a big lie, there's also the looming threat to your credibility. Even ordinary people don't want their friends to think they're crazy. Imagine how much more difficult it must be for someone like Brian Williams or Michael Moore. They're smart enough to know that they can't afford to go anywhere near the evidence. What about all the articles debunking the conspiracy theories? There's a difference between explaining something, and explaining it away. Those articles ignore the strong arguments, pick on the weak arguments and hoaxes, and generally serve an audience that just wants to be soothed and told that everything's OK. Because we live in a highly controlled society, which requires controlled uniformity of fact, any good debunking of dominant facts is marginalized, while a single flaw in a system of non-dominant facts is grounds for total dismissal. To paraphrase Carl Sagan: evidence that contradicts the ruling belief system is held to extraordinary standards, while evidence that entrenches it is uncritically accepted. Wouldn't it be too difficult to plant demolition charges in the buildings? Normal controlled demolitions have limited budgets, plenty
53 TWA Flight 800 Eyewitness Evidence. 11 May 2011. <>


of time, and no need for secrecy, so they use a very large number of low-tech charges with just enough force to bring down the building. With vast funds, access to high-tech explosives, and the need to maximize stealth, the 9/11 technicians could use a small number of charges with a very high total energy to produce roughly the same effect. Or think of it this way: it would only take a few hours for an expert team to plant thermobarics or micro-nukes with more destructive force, and more symmetrical distribution, than a plane hitting a building. Do you think flight 77 really hit the Pentagon? There are some anomalies in the Pentagon story -- certainly the alleged pilot did not have the skill for the maneuvers made by the plane. It's possible that flight 77 was switched with a smaller plane, but the lack of wreckage could also be explained by the better-supported theory that the plane was rigged to explode54 just before or after impact. I think the Pentagon controversy mostly serves as a distraction from the much stronger evidence at the WTC. Were the WTC planes switched? That's a risky speculation. There may have been two flight 11's from Boston, and two planes that made emergency landings in Cleveland.55 On the other hand, bodies of flight 11 and flight 175 victims were identified at the WTC. Were they flown by remote control? Given the poor flying skills of the alleged hijackers, the weak evidence that hijackers were even on the planes, the odd silence from the cockpits, the difficulty of the flying maneuvers, and the proven ability of remote-control systems to do precision flying, remote control is a strong theory, and it feels right to me intuitively. But we don't know. Was flight 93 shot down?56 Probably. Witnesses reported explosions before the plane went down, and debris was found miles from the crash site. The

Shockwave. 11 May 2011. <>

The Cleveland Airport Mystery. 11 May 2011. <>

The Crash of Flight 93. 11 May 2011. <> 254

more interesting question is, why was flight 93 intercepted and shot down, and none of the others? Almost all the cell phone calls came from 93, and it's the only flight with decent evidence of the presence of hijackers. Were the cell phone calls from passengers faked? Researcher A.K. Dewdney has argued that the calls were faked,57 because the transmission would be almost impossible, and the perpetrators had access to voice mimicry technologies and personal information about the alleged callers. Other researchers think that's a bit of a stretch. What evidence would you accept as proving you wrong? It would be a good start if a full public release of flight recorder data, a full public release of air traffic controller statements, and a thorough public analysis of the crash sites and wreckage, all confirmed the Bush/Cheney administration's story. If they wanted me to believe them, they shouldn't have destroyed all that stuff! What first made you doubt the official story? When they found a car at the airport with a Koran and a flight manual. How dumb do they think I am? A clue that obvious is not evidence of guilt but evidence of a frame-up. Suddenly I realized that I was watching a performance. Will the truth ever come out? There's a popular myth that someone will stand up and reveal "the truth" and then everyone will "know." But it doesn't work that way. People believe what they want to believe. 30% of Americans still think Iraq had WMD's, even after years of the TV news telling them otherwise. The truth can only be accepted by people who have no personal investment in the lie. Thomas Kuhn famously observed that paradigm shifts happen not when the investors in the old paradigm change their minds, but when they die. In 50 or 200 years, historians will look back and say, obviously, it was an inside job, and by then it will be too late to know the full story.

57 The Cellphone and Airfone Calls from Flight UA93. 11 May 2011. <>



How To Save Civilization
September 5, 2007
"Civilization" is often defined like this: "Thousands of years ago, humans slept in caves, communicated with crude grunting noises, were stalked by wolves and saber-toothed tigers, lived in a state of constant scarcity and extreme stress, and died of old age at 30 if we weren't killed in tribal warfare. Life was 'nasty, brutish, and short' and nature was 'red in tooth and claw.' Then, through a series of innovations, we started living better and better, a trend which continues to this day and will continue on into the future without limit, if only we can save civilization from being destroyed by 'terrorism' or climate change or some other external threat." This story is so wrong that you could call it a strawman if it wasn't so popular. In response, the primitivist strawman goes like this: "For a million years, humans lived in Eden, in peaceful, egalitarian, nature-based societies. We could recognize thousands of species and the relations between them, and with this direct grounding in ecology, we knew to keep population stable and not deplete the land, so we always had plenty to eat,58 and spent only a few hours a day in meaningful productive activity, and the rest of the time relaxed and played. Then, around 10,000 years ago, through a million-to-one fluke, someone invented grain agriculture -- we started forcing food from the Earth instead of taking what it gave. Because grains feed opiate receptors59 in the brain, we didn't stop. Because grains are loaded in calories and low in other nutrients, we suffered from deficiency diseases and also exploding population. We became crowded and competitive, and put our spare energy into warfare, so agriculturalists could conquer land from foragers, massacre them, cut down the trees, and plow fields to grow more grains to make more people to require more land and resources -- a vicious cycle of cancerous growth that continues to this day, but will eventually run out of room to take without giving, and collapse, or we'll bring it down ourselves, and then we can go back to being happy forager-hunters." In broad strokes, this is true. Many of the tribes observed by European conquerors, or more recently by anthropologists, really are peaceful, egalitarian, happy, and healthy. But other tribes are nasty and brutish. We have very little evidence about

58 The Original Affluent Society. 11 May 2011. <> 59 The Origins of Agriculture. 11 May 2011. <>


how peaceful or violent humans were 100,000 years ago, let alone how happy. We do have evidence that increased lifespan is not an effect of civilization, but possibly a cause! According to this article, Older age becomes common late in human evolution: "...there is a dramatic increase in longevity in the modern humans of the Early Upper Paleolithic. We believe that this great increase contributed to population expansions and cultural innovations associated with modernity."60 Cultural and technological innovations are not all bad, did not become all bad at a certain time, and did not suddenly start with agriculture after a million years of stasis. Prehistory was dynamic and accelerating, and I can't prove it, but I think 40,000 years ago humans were already smart enough that it was only a matter of time before we fell into a self-reinforcing cycle of giving ourselves power beyond our wisdom. And all through this frightening age, alongside the countless massacres and wars, the turning of millions of square miles from forests to deserts, the greatest species extinction in 60 million years, the stress and alienation of modern life, there have also been continuing wonders and improvements and learning. Certainly, we can "go back" if we want to, but most of us will have the desire and the ability to integrate what we've learned over the last few thousand years into the world to come. If our ancestors could integrate fire and stone tools, can we integrate windmills and sailing ships and libraries? How about ice cream and flying machines and hot tap water and Wikipedia? The problem, right now, is that so many of the things we like about civilization are tied to things that cannot or must not continue -consumption of non-renewable resources, extermination of the biosphere, and a billion jobs that nobody would do if they weren't forced. To save civilization, we must redefine it with a sharp knife. I'm going to separate it into two things, which have historically gone together but don't have to: complexity and growth. Or, to be more precise, relatively high complexity and ratcheting increase, where the numbers keep getting bigger because there's no way built into the system for them to get smaller, except collapse. Numbers have been getting bigger for so long that we have mistaken increase for a natural law. Even our scientists have


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misinterpreted cosmological redshifts61 as evidence that the whole universe is expanding. In reality, natural law is for everything to go in cycles, rise and fall, growth and decay. Nature does have ratcheting increase and sudden collapse, like the life cycle of a single tree. But it also has gentle rises and falls, like waves in the ocean, or the fluctuation of animal populations in a healthy ecosystem. I think we have the power to choose which of these patterns complex society follows. Certainly we can't keep increasing. Civilization is a subset of nature even if we're not aware of it, and the dark side of our recent increase was a decrease in topsoil and forests and fossil fuels and the Earth's capacity to absorb industrial waste without catastrophic change. Now these things have decreased so far that our habit of increase can no longer feed itself. With the housing crash, the falling dollar, and the decline in middle class income, we're already tasting the coming age of numbers getting smaller. Next: the stock market, easy credit, the GNP, energy production, energy consumption, and human population. Many of us are already preparing for the Age of Decreasing Numbers, but for the wrong reason. We think we're turning off the air conditioner and bicycling to work to save the Earth. In fact, other people and other economies will just take our place at the Earth-gobbling table and eat it just as fast. What we're really saving is our future sanity, by practicing for the day when we're forced to reduce consumption. At this point, people start talking about being "sustainable," but that word has now picked up so much baggage that it's almost meaningless, and it was never precise. Strictly, even the sun is not sustainble -- in a few billion years it will burn out. The word I suggest instead is stable, applied not to products or technologies but to whole systems. The sun is stable because its heat and light fluctuate within a narrow range. A business that sells hand-made clay passive solar water heaters can claim "sustainability," but if it has to continually increase sales to survive, it is unstable. An unstable system is shaped like a ball at the top of a hill -- as soon as it starts rolling in any direction, it keeps rolling faster and faster until it runs into something with a big crash. This is also called positive feedback. A stable system uses negative feedback -- it's like a ball at the bottom of a bowl, where the farther it moves in any direction, the greater are the forces pulling it back toward
61 Exploding the Big Bang. 11 May 2011. <>


the center. Civilization as we know it is unstable, because too many of its processes are increase-only. No engineer would design a plane that can only increase its speed and altitude, but we do it everywhere: When has a government reduced the number of laws? When has a new computer operating system been leaner than the old one? How often does a food store move into a smaller space and carry fewer products? Have we ever torn down a housing development and planted a forest? When did cars ever get easier to fix? I thought two-bladed razors were a silly fad -- now they're up to five. Apparently only a stand-alone product can be a fad. A feature on a product, no matter how ridiculous, can never be removed. We've seen what happens when governments add laws and don't remove them. Eventually there's a revolution, a period with no laws, and then they start over with a few. Do we really want this to happen with food? With the computers that now run almost every aspect of our world? Complex systems collapse when they have no way to get simpler other than collapse, and because complexity itself is subject to diminishing returns. This isn't universally true: A good underground house is more complex and more efficient than a hole in the ground. A rocket heating stove62 is more complex and more efficient than a campfire. A sailboat is more complex and more efficient than swimming. "Complexity is subject to diminishing returns" is a local law, true only in systems where complexity keeps increasing compulsively, where complexity is valued for its own sake and not tested against efficiency. If we want to save this particular civilization, it would not be enough to stabilize population and energy consumption. We would also have to abandon economic "growth," and abandon technological "progress" defined in terms of complexity or size or power. It wouldn't be the end of innovation -- engineers would just shift their focus to efficiency and elegance. I'm already using an operating system, Puppy Linux, dedicated to staying tiny while increasing usefulness. The Nintendo Wii, with an innovative controller and simple accessible games, left the Playstation 3 with its massive processing power in the dust. Ikea revolutionized the furniture industry with little more than boards and screws. One Laptop per Child63 is intended to ramp
62 63

Rocket Stoves. 11 May 2011. <> One Laptop per Child. 11 May 2011. <>


up the "developing" world, but something similar could ramp down the overdeveloped world and stabilize the computer industry -- if so many careers and egos didn't depend on making computers constantly faster and more powerful so you can sell people a new one every two years. I don't think this civilization is going to make it. But civilization in general, defined simply as a highly complex society, is almost certain to persist. In the following sections, I explain why I think so, and what we would have to do to keep it stable, instead of suffering repeated rises and falls. Stable does not mean static -- nature itself is stable without being static. The future of human society, like its past, will be dynamic, but it need not be catastrophic. Food. I suppose it would be possible to feed a stable society with giant fields of grain and cattle, but it would be a terrible design decision. Without energy-intensive machinery, farming needs the hands and eyes of internally motivated skilled workers, and with that kind of attention, we can get much better yields with a variety of plants and animals in symbiosis. When pre-industrial cultures do this it's called "horticulture," and when post-industrial cultures do it it's called "permaculture." It's not only more efficient than agriculture, but also allied to more benign human societies. (See Toby Hemenway's essay Is Sustainable Agriculture an Oxymoron?) Where we have lower population density, we can go another step toward nature, and forage and hunt from habitats carefully maintained to maximize human food and general abundance. The more we look, the more we find this strategy in tribes previously considered pure foragers. Evidence compiled in books like 1491 and Keeping it Living now suggests that much of the New World had been managed this way -- that the incredible fecundity found by the conquerors was not achieved by leaving nature alone, but by actively tending it in vast regions that were effectively giant forest gardens. Population. In agricultural societies, you have as many kids as you can, because they're your farm workers and they'll take care of you when you're old. Also, when there was still a lot of the world left to eat, cultures that forbade contraception had a competitive advantage and tended to conquer and spread, instead of stagnating like they do now. To stabilize population, you need only two things: First, contraception, including both easy access and a culture that accepts it. Second, a society where kids create more work for parents than they save, which you have if there are not a lot of

poor farmers and if everyone is guaranteed comfortable survival. In many industrialized nations, especially Russia, populations have been falling for years -- or they would be without immigrants from agrarian cultures -- whose children or grandchildren, fully assimilated, drop to a low industrial birthrate. It would be technically easy to voluntarily reduce global population, but politically messy, and the way it ends up happening is anyone's guess. On the one hand, when animal populations decline, it's usually through reduced birthrate in response to limited resources, and rarely through mass starvation or disease epidemics. But there's plenty of precedent for human epidemics, like the Black Death in Europe,64 and smallpox in North America, and I have no doubt that there's worse stuff than that in biowar labs. A slow reduction would be more likely to lead to stability, because the survivors of a steep die-off would have more room to bounce back into runaway growth. In any case, we're likely to have both stable and unstable societies, and it will be important for the stable societies to defend themselves from conquest, and to assimilate immigrants into their stable cultures. We may see the reverse of the early days of Empire: the benign societies will be more technologically advanced than the malignant societies, and able to stop their spread. Nature. By "nature" I mean the totality of wild biological life on Earth, measured by abundance and diversity, and valued on its own terms. The extermination of nature, like other aspects of increase-based civilization, gets more difficult the farther it goes. Species go extinct because they're adapted to particular niches and habitats, which we fill with toxic waste or turn into farms and suburbs. So the species that are most narrowly adapted, most specialized, are the first to go. And the deeper we get into mass extinction, the more we get down to generalists, species that are highly adaptable and thrive in disturbed environments. We call them "weeds" or "invasive species," and predictably there is now a strong anti-invasive movement, which has ties to the herbicide industry, and talks about plants the way Nazis talk about Jews: outsiders are creeping in and multiplying, and we must exterminate them before they corrupt the biological purity of our homeland. Sometimes exotic species do destroy ecosystems on their

Could the Black Death Reemerge? 11 May 2011. <> 262

own, but more often, "invasive" species are just the best nature has to work with to recolonize areas that have already been thrown out of balance by humans. I know some people with land near mine, who have to constantly kill spotted knapweed in their hay field. It keeps coming back because a hay field is a continually disturbed environment. On my land, knapweed covers a spot for a couple years, and then goes away by itself as part of a succession of recovery, which might go through pearly everlasting and great mullein, or St. John's wort and thimbleberry, and finally to grand fir or western redcedar. I've also noticed that the plants most hated by humans, spotted knapweed and hound's tongue, are most loved by the bees. So unless we do something much worse, nature's not going away, just getting tougher and simpler for a few thousand years, or a few million. The best essay I've seen on the subject is David Quammen's "Planet of Weeds". Energy. Before Peak Oil, we had Peak Topsoil and Peak Wood -- all three are stored carbon, and extraction of energy from topsoil and forests went into decline a long time ago. The so-called "green revolution" in the last century was mostly about increasing yields on dead soil by eating oil. Now oil production is set to decline, and we're supposed to hope for some new source of even more abundant energy. That would be the worst thing that could possibly happen. The deeper problem is that we are on an airplane designed by madmen to only work if it keeps going higher and faster, and the higher and faster we go, the harder we will eventually crash. Even solar energy is not necessarily stable. It's been said that we could meet all our needs by covering 1% of the planet's surface with solar panels. What they don't say is that our actual needs are much less -- our present "needs" have been artifically created by a system addicted to runaway increase, and if this system can keep itself going by covering 1% of the Earth with solar panels, soon we will find that we "need" to cover 2%, 10%, 100%, and then when the crash comes there won't be any plants left. A stable civilization needs a stable source of energy -- one that tends toward a certain level, and gets pulled back toward that level with more force, the farther we get from it. The safest energy source is the old-fashioned one: solar energy gathered by plants. The danger is that this will not be our only option, that the tech system will come through the collapse with an energy source that is capable of self-reinforcing increase, and if anyone anywhere chooses that path, they're likely to force us all into

another round of human cannonball. Wood and Grass. Limiting ourselves to solar energy gathered by plants does not force us to live "primitively." Plant matter can be converted to alcohol, which can be burned in engines or converted to electricity. Poplar and switchgrass are much more effective biofuels than corn and soy,65 and if grown responsibly can generate energy and rebuild topsoil at the same time. Of course, there will always be the temptation to do it irresponsibly and cover more and more of the Earth with poplars and switchgrass... Metal and Plastic. Metalworking is almost certain to survive. From the Lindsay catalog66 you can get a collection of books that tell you how to build a full metal shop starting with nothing but scrap and charcoal. Even if that knowlege is lost, it will soon be rediscovered if there is still metal around, and there will be. We won't be mining much, because the easy ores are gone and the difficult ores require sophisticated high-energy techniques. Instead, we will be in the Age of Scrap, scavenging and recycling finished metal from garages and factories and landfills. We have bronze artifacts that have survived since the Bronze Age. Maybe they'll call us the Aluminum Age or the Stainless Steel age or the Age of Concrete with Little Holes where the iron rebar has rusted out. Even iron can be reclaimed. Jared Diamond describes in Collapse how the Vikings extracted it from bogs -- our descendants will surely figure out how to extract it from the soil under car graveyards. There will also be plenty of scrap plastic, and not much new plastic since it all comes from oil. I expect a minor renaissance of new techniques to recycle old plastic. Today's landfills might become so valuable that gangs fight each other over scavenging rights. Roads and Rails. Possibly the most enduring legacy of the industrial age will be its roadbeds. Even if the road surfaces turn to crumbled asphalt and weeds, they follow relatively easy paths through gaps blasted in slopes and over land-bridged gullies. Even after tens of thousands of years, crossing a mountain range will be easier than it was 200 years ago. So postindustrial societies could surpass preindustrial societies in travel, trade, and broadness of perspective, with a little investment in clearing

Hybrid Poplars Reduce Emissions Best. 11 May 2011. <>

Lindsay's Technical Books. 11 May 2011. <>


landslides and replacing bridges. Railbeds are even better than roads, because they're built with gentler slopes, and get first priority in the best passes. The rails themselves are likely to be taken for scrap, or in remote areas left to rust. Ideally, old railbeds will be converted to trails and roadways with low-maintenance surfaces. Bicycles and Horses. Nothing in civilization or nature travels as efficiently over land as a human on a bicycle. If there ever is a stable low-energy society with enough complexity to make ball bearings, bicycles or their descendants are likely to be the main means of travel, mountain bikes on rough wilderness routes and road bikes on well-maintained urban roads. Where horses surpass cyclists is in their ability to get energy directly from grass. Also they're stronger, and easier to "manufacture." So horses could have a big role in grassy regions or in a deeper crash. There are more horses now in the USA than there have ever been, and in a pinch, we'll quickly find out which ones are good for pulling loads or long-distance riding, and the rest can be turned loose to re-adapt to wildness, or eaten. Cars and Planes. The automobile might be the worst invention of all time, even worse than the leaf blower. It goes way beyond energy: In Toward a History of Needs, Ivan Illich calculates67 that Americans in cars devote far more of their time to transportation than third-worlders on foot, if you include the time spent in wage labor to pay car expenses. Once we have cars, we ruin our cities, spreading all the places we go miles away from each other and filling up the space between with pavement and toxic fumes. And then we need cars, and wage labor assignments, to live in this society. Cars rob us of our autonomy, sicken and kill us, consume massive amounts of nonrenewable resources, and don't even save us any time. But these are effects of the particular way we use cars: as our primary means of transportation, and inside cities. I don't see the harm in keeping a few around for trips between cities -- but if there are only a few, the cost of road maintenance per vehicle is astronomical. What about airplanes? The ones we have now are energyintensive because their function is to carry heavy weights at high speed. But a hot air balloon riding the wind is extremely efficient. It's possible, with innovations in materials engineering and engine technology and hull design, that we can make
67 Ivan Illich on Cars. 11 May 2011. <>


aircraft that can go against the wind with enough efficiency to be the main means of travel between cities -- especially if it's only people going between cities, and not freight. Cities. Primitivists argue that it's impossible to have a stable city, because a city requires the importation of resources, and therefore inevitably depletes the surrounding land. But every animal "imports" resources by eating and "exports" resources by excreting waste. The problem with modern cities is that the waste does not go back to the soil, but is mixed with industrial toxins and dumped in sewers and landfills. With universal recycling and composting, including humanure composting, people at any density can export as much as they import. Of course we still have to obey carrying capacity: The amount of life an area can support is limited by the sunlight that falls on it and the plants that absorb that sunlight -- which we can increase through permaculture. A city considered alone exceeds carrying capacity, but imagine a 50 mile radius circle, importing and exporting no biomass, with a number of humans limited by the requirement that the land maintains or increases fertility over time. There's no reason they have to be evenly spread out. Many of them can be densely concentrated in a permanent settlement at the center, and this settlement has advantages. It allows more cultural complexity, and it can support centers of learning and healing and manufacturing and trading that would be difficult with a dispersed population, and that would benefit both urbanites and the surrounding rural populations. Leopold Kohr had this vision decades ago: a whole world of politically autonomous city-states, each one with an urban center existing symbiotically with surrounding farmland. We can now improve on Kohr's model, by replacing "farming" with permaculture and managed foraging habitats. But another thing Kohr emphasized was the importance of scale. We don't have ants the size of dogs, or the size of bacteria, because the ant form only works in a narrow range of sizes. Likewise, human social forms are scale-sensitive, and quantitative changes bring qualitative changes. This is why a Communist state doesn't work like a commune, why large businesses turn evil, and why Kohr made his utopian cities politically independent. The bigger we grow a government, or any institution, the more it tends to serve big-institution needs and not human needs (let alone the needs of nonhumans). With the wrong structure, even small cities are too big. Anthropologists have calculated, and anecdotal evidence has confirmed, that when a group of humans gets bigger than about

150, it undergoes a phase change where people can no longer work things out socially, but only with the help of rules and central control. This doesn't mean we can't have big systems. The Iroquois ran a huge region with a system where small groups would gather and talk until they reached consensus, and then each group would send a representative to a higher-level group that reached consensus, and so on. This was the inspiration for our American "democracy" in which a hundred million people watch propaganda and then impose the tyranny of the majority on each other. A healthy big system needs to be composed, as far as possible, of sub-150 semi-autonomous cells, the same way our bodies are made up of cells. The danger is that some of these cells will fall into a pattern of runaway increase and drag the rest with them. In the body this is called "cancer," and in the culture of Empire it's called "success." Medicine and Insurance. Americans are beginning to notice that the problem with our medical system is not that some people lack insurance policies, but that the whole thing costs too much for our society to afford. What they haven't noticed is that this happened through the culture of "growth," enabled by the misuse of insurance. Originally insurance was a way to spread the cost of rare accidents through the larger community. But when insurance is applied to common events, it becomes just a sloppy way to redistribute wealth -- and if it's managed by corporations that seek profit and increase, then they will encourage increases in the scope and the cost of whatever they're insuring -- which they can easily get away with since people are insulated from the real costs, and don't notice until outrageous expenses have become entrenched. We could fix the problem in months if everybody had to pay medical costs with cash out of pocket, and if patients without cash either got turned away or treated free. But that would collapse 90% of the medical industry (the wasteful 90%), so it's politically impossible. The best we can do is watch the expensive system gradually break down -- or pull back to serve only the rich -- while we build new cheap systems through the cracks. But the cheap alternatives now growing through the cracks do not know how to set a broken leg or take out an appendix. A lot of people are going to die or go to the Blackwater debt camps before we sort this out. And even if the new system is based on herbs and dietary supplements and reiki, if we don't change the underlying pattern of growth plus insurance, our grandchildren will find themselves in debt for life after a week in the Holistic

Healing Megaplex. Money. One feature of modern civilization, something we all take for granted, is absolutely incompatible with stability: interest, or the charging of money for the use of money. For complex reasons, interest forces economic growth, and leads economies into runaway increase. Also, interest forces economic inequality, because those with economic power (money) are able to leverage it into greater and greater power. Interest is positive feedback in its purest form. Ancient civilizations understood this, which is why many of them had religious laws against usury, or a Jubilee tradition,68 where every few decades, debts were forgiven and property was redistributed. This was a peaceful way to reset a growth-based economy and enable it to start fresh. Debt forgiveness ended with the Roman Empire, which proceeded to rise higher, get uglier, and fall harder than its predecessors. An even better way to stabilize an economy is through negative interest, where the borrower pays back less than the amount of the loan. This has an effect similar to inflation, but without the destabilizing effect of a constantly increasing money supply. The benefit of negative interest can be spread beyond loans to an entire economy through a demurrage currency system,69 in which money "goes bad" over time. This discourages hoarding, makes it challenging instead of automatic for the rich to get richer, and leads people to keep their money in circulation and spend it on things with enduring value. Ancient Egypt had a thousand years of prosperity when their money was in the form of grain that incurred storage charges. Many of the great cathedrals of Europe were built under the Brakteaten system,70 in which governments taxed people by recalling metal coins and shrinking them. In 1932, deep in economic depression, Wörgl Austria issued local currency that depreciated at 1% per month. The town became prosperous, the system spread to neighboring towns, and the central bank got jealous and killed it. The weakness of demurrage currency is that it goes against the flow of the age of Empire and increase. In a hypothetical age of decentralized stability, it should be a perfect fit.

It Shall Be a Jubilee Unto You. 11 May 2011. <>

The Currency of Cooperation. 11 May 2011. <>

Brakteaten Money. 11 May 2011. <>


Games. When I was a kid, we played a board game called Life, where you drive your pink and blue drone family around in a plastic car, and if you don't get doctor or lawyer on your first spin you have no chance of winning. And of course there was Monopoly, where you learn to sympathize with predatory rents and the inevitable accumulation of all property in the hands of a single player, and Risk, in which the armies get bigger and bigger until one player naturally conquers the whole world. Now we have computer strategy games that give us a little rush of addictive pleasure for every increase in territory or production or the strength of units, and fantasy adventure games that hook us with "level grinding" and accumulating money and items. We're so deep in the myth of increase and triumph that it's hard for us to imagine any other kind of game, but there have been a few. I got this idea from the book Finite and Infinite Games: In a game allied to a stable culture, the goal is not to win but to keep playing. Surfing works like this, and bull riding, and the old arcade game Asteroids, but the best example is hacky sack, which is low-tech, cooperative, and all about intercepting highvelocity erratic motions and turning them into gentle motions back toward the center. Single-player computer games never show descent -- they just stop at the very peak and say, "You win!" But some online multiplayer games have experimented with reset mechanisms, like the cyclical armageddon in The Reincarnation, or the plague in Warcraft.71 I look forward to a strategy game that gives as much time and thought to falls as it gives to rises, with algorithms for resource exhaustion and infrastructure decay and the corruptive influence of power and the loss of morale in nonautonomous workers and the loss of adaptability as systems age. A really good game could simulate an ever-shifting landscape of technologies and artifacts and social forms growing and decaying without end. Maybe we're already in one. High Tech. If the present system keeps going another hundred years, computers could run on light instead of electricity. We'll have new materials with miraculous properties. Biotech will enable us to design and grow fantastic (and dangerous) creatures from scratch. Any of these trends could threaten catastrophe -- and the discovery of limitless energy would guarantee it.
71 Deadly Plague Hits Warcraft World. 11 May 2011. <>


But within ten years, industrial society will be deep in the Age of Decrease, and most high tech, especially the computer industry, depends on hundreds of subsystems that could break down. Technologies are lost all the time -- NASA can no longer put people on the moon, because it requires a body of human expertise that has been lost as technicians retired or died. The full might of industrial civilization cannot duplicate the cathedrals of medieval Europe, because they were built with stone masonry skills developed over generations. If the skills embodied in the computer industry were put aside, even for a few years, could we duplicate a microprocessor? I don't think we'll have any technology in 2100 that can't be done in 2050 in a garage -- or in a network of garages and scrap collections. If there's anything we want to save, we need to begin adapting it now so it can be done on that level, bottom to top. Garage industry doesn't have to profit or die. It doesn't require wage laborers who will quit when money no longer buys food. Technology will be carried through industrial collapse by dedicated amateurs, and then, whether the next world is stable or unstable, they will plant the seeds of a new tech system... which is very likely to make another epic mistake.


Beyond Civilized and Primitive
February 15, 2008 (revised February 2010)
Western industrial society tells a story about itself that goes like this: "A long time ago, our ancestors were 'primitive'. They lived in caves, were stupid, hit each other with clubs, and had short, stressful lives in which they were constantly on the verge of starving or being eaten by saber-toothed cats. Then we invented 'civilization', in which we started growing food, being nice to each other, getting smarter, inventing marvelous technologies, and everywhere replacing chaos with order. It's getting better all the time and will continue forever." Western industrial society is now in decline, and in declining societies it's normal for people to feel that their whole existence is empty and meaningless, that the system is rotten to its roots and should all be torn up and thrown out. It's also normal for people to frame this rejection in whatever terms their society has given them. So we reason: "This world is hell, this world is civilization, so civilization is hell, so maybe primitive life was heaven. Maybe the whole story is upside-down!" We examine the dominant story and find that although it contains some truth, it depends on assumptions and distortions and omissions, and it was not designed to reveal truth, but to influence the values and behaviors of the people who heard it. Seeking balance, we create a perfect mirror image: "A long time ago, our ancestors were 'primitive'. They were just as smart as we would be if we didn't watch television, and they lived in cozy hand-made shelters, were generally peaceful and egalitarian, and had long healthy lives in which food was plentiful because they kept their populations well below the carrying capacity of their landbase. Then someone invented 'civilization', in which we monopolized the land and grew our population by eating grain. Grain is high in calories but low in other nutrients, so we got sick, and we also began starving when the population outgrew the landbase, so the farmers conquered land from neighboring foragers and enslaved them to cut down more forests and grow more grain, and to build sterile monuments while the elite developed technologies of repression and disconnection and gluttonous consumption, and everywhere life was replaced with control. It's been getting worse and worse, and soon we will abandon it and live the way we did before."

Again, this story contains truth, but it depends on assumptions and distortions and omissions, and it is designed to influence the values and behaviors of the people who hear it. Certainly it's extremely compelling. As a guiding ideology, as a utopian vision, primitivism can destroy Marxism or libertarianism because it digs deeper and overthrows their foundations. It defeats the old religions on evidence. And best of all, it presents a utopia that is not in the realm of imagination or metaphysics, but has actually happened. We can look at archaeology and anthropology and history and say: "Here's a forager-hunter society where people were strong and long-lived. Here's a tribe where the 'work' is so enjoyable that they don't even have the concept of 'freeloading'. Here are European explorers writing that certain tribes showed no trace of violence or meanness." But this strength is also a weakness, because reality cuts both ways. As soon as you say, "We should live like these actual people," every competing ideologue will jump up with examples of those people living dreadfully: "Here's a tribe with murderous warfare, and one with ritual abuse, and one with chronic disease from malnutrition, and one where people are just mean and unhappy, and here are a bunch of species extinctions right when primitive humans appeared." Most primitivists accept this evidence, and have worked out several ways to deal with it. One move is to postulate something that has not been observed yet, but that if it were observed, would make the facts fit your theory. Specifically, they say "The nasty tribes must have all been corrupted by exposure to civilization." Another move is to defend absolutely everything on the grounds of cultural relativism: "Who are we to say it's wrong to hit another person in the head with an axe?" Another move is to say, "Okay, some of that stuff is bad, but if you add up all the bad and good, primitive life is still preferable to civilization." This is hardly inspiring, and it still has to be constantly defended, and not from a strong position, because we know very little about prehistoric life. We know what tools people used, and what they ate, but we don't know how many tribes were peaceful or warlike, how many were permissive or repressive, how many were egalitarian or authoritarian, and we have no idea what was going on in their heads. One of the assumptions I mentioned above, made by both primitivism and the dominant story, is that stone age people were the same as tribal foragerhungers observed in historical times. After all, we call them both

"primitive". But in terms of culture, and even consciousness, they might be profoundly different. A more reasonable move is to abandon primitive life as an ideal, or a goal, and instead just set it up as a perspective: "Hey, if I stand here, I can see that my own world, which I thought was normal, is totally insane!" Or we can set it up as a source of learning: "Look at this one thing these people did, so let's see if we can do it too." Then it doesn't matter how many flaws they had. And once we give up the framework that shows a right way and a wrong way, and a clear line between them, we can use perspectives and ideas from people formerly on the "wrong" side: "Ancient Greeks went barefoot everywhere and treated their slaves with more humanity than Wal-Mart treats its workers. Medieval serfs worked fewer hours than modern Americans, and thought it was degrading to work for wages. Slum-dwellers in Mumbai spend less time and effort getting around on foot than Americans spend getting around in cars. The online file sharing community is building a gift economy." Identifying with stone age people is like taking a big stretch. Then if we relax, we find that a lot of smaller stretches are effortless, that we can easily take all kinds of perspectives outside the assumptions of our little bubble. We could even reinvent "primitivism" to ignore stone age people and include only recent tribes who we have good information about, and who still stack up pretty well against our own society. We could call this historical primitivism, and a few primitivists have taken this position. The reason most don't is, first, our lack of knowledge about prehistory forms a convenient blank screen on which anyone can project visions to back up their ideology. And second, stone age primitivism comes with an extremely powerful idea, which I call the timeline argument. The timeline argument convinces us that a better way of life is the human default, that all the things we hate are like scratches in the sand that will be washed away when the tide comes in. Often it's phrased as "99% of human history has been that, and only 1% has been this." Sometimes it's illustrated with a basketball court metaphor: It's 94 feet long, and if you call each foot ten thousand years, then we had fire and stone tools for 93 feet, agriculture for one foot, and industrial society for around a quarter of an inch. The key word in this argument is "we". Where do you draw the line between "us" and "not us"? Why not go back a billion years, and say that "we" were cell colonies in the primordial oceans? Call a billion years a football field, and the age of

agriculture can dance on the head of a pin! This would seem to be a much stronger argument, and yet I've never seen a primitivist draw the line even as far back as Homo habilis two million years ago -- or as recently as Homo sapiens sapiens 130,000 years ago. Why not? This is a difficult and important question, and it took me days to puzzle it out. I think we've been confusing two separate issues. One is a fact, that the present way we live is a deviation from the way of other biological life. If this is our point, then a million year timeline is much too short -- we should go back at least a thousand times farther! The other issue is a question: Who are we? When you get below the level of culture, down to the level of biology or spirit, what is normal for us to do? What is possible? What is right? If you're talking about who we are, then the million year timeline is much too long. The mistake happens like this: "We are human, and we can plausibly call Homo erectus human. Therefore our nature is to live like Homo erectus, and the way we live now is not our tendency, not our normal behavior, but some kind of bizarre accident. What a relief! We can just bring down civilization, and we'll naturally go back to living like Homo erectus, but since we don't know exactly how they lived, we'll assume it's like the very best recent forager-hunter tribes." Now, I'm not disputing that many societies have lived close to the Earth with a quality of life that we can't imagine. Richard Sorenson mentions several, and explores one in depth, in his essay on Preconquest Consciousness. What I'm disputing is: 1) that we have any evidence that prehistoric people had that consciousness; 2) that that consciousness is our default state; 3) that it is simple for us to get back there; and 4) that large-scale technologically complex societies are a deviation from who we are. Who we are is changing all the time, and new genetic research has revealed shockingly fast change in just the last few thousand years, including malaria resistance, adult milk digestion, and blue eyes. According to anthropologist John Hawks, "We are more different genetically from people living 5000 years ago than they were from Neanderthals."72 Now, you could argue that some of these changes are not really who we are, because they were caused by civilization:

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without domesticating cows and goats, we would not have evolved milk digestion. By the same logic, without inventing clothing, we would not have evolved hairless bodies. Without crawling onto dry land, we would not have evolved legs. My point is, there is no place you can stick a pin and say "this is our nature", because our nature is not a location -- it is a journey. We crawled onto dry land; we became warm-blooded and grew hair; we moved from the forests to the plains; we walked upright; we tamed fire and began cooking food; we invented language; our brains got bigger; our tools got more complex; we invented grain agriculture and empires and airplanes and ice cream and nuclear weapons. Primitivists want to say that all the steps up to the last few are who we are, and the last few are not who we are. But it's a difficult argument because we really did those things! So they say that the last few things, although we did them, were extremely unlikely. The word they usually use is "fluke". We would have lived in balance until the sun burned out, except that some wild grain seeds happened to fall in the mud at the edge of one camp during a food shortage, and someone noticed that they sprouted into new plants, and had a clever idea. If civilization began with a fluke, we would expect to see it begin only once, and spread from there. But instead we see grain farming and explosions of human social complexity in several places at about the same time: along the Tigris and Euphrates, and also in Africa, India, and China. You could still argue that those changes spread by travel, that there was one accident and then some far-flung colonies -- unless we found an early civilization so remote that travel was out of the question. That civilization has been found. Archaeologists call it the Norte Chico, in present-day Peru. From 3000-1800 BC, they built at least 25 cities, and they had giant stone monuments earlier than anyone except the Mesopotamians. Even more shocking, their system was not based on grain! All previous models of civilization have put grain agriculture at the very root: once you had grain farming, you had a denser, more settled population, which led to a more complex society, and also you had a storable commodity that enabled hierarchy. The Norte Chicans ate only small amounts of grain, but they did have a storable commodity that enabled hierarchy, something that allowed small differences in wealth to feed back into large differences, and ultimately entrenched elites commanding slaves to build monolithic architcture. It was cotton! So we have people on opposite sides of the world, in

different geographies, using different materials, falling into the same pattern, but that pattern is not about food. It seems to be about economics, or more precisely, about human cognition. After thousands of generations of slow change, human intelligence reached a tipping point that permitted large complex societies to appear in radically different circumstances. Now it's tempting to call "civilization" the new human default, but of course, in many places, these societies did not appear. Also, they all collapsed! And then new ones appeared, and those collapsed. I don't think it even makes sense to talk about a human default, any more than it makes sense to talk about a default state for the weather. But the range in which we move has widened. My information on the Norte Chico comes from Charles C. Mann's book 1491, a survey of recent findings about the Americas before the European conquest. Mann is neither a primitivist nor an advocate for western civilization, but an advocate for, well, far western civilization, which was a lot more like western civilization than we thought. At its peak, the Inca empire was the largest in the world, with exploited colonies, massive forced resettling of workers, and bloody power struggles among the elite just like in Europe and Asia. The Maya deforested the Yucatan and depleted its topsoil only a few centuries after the Romans did the same thing around the Mediterranean. Aztec "human sacrifice" was surprisingly similar to English "public execution" that was happening at exactly the same time. Even North America had a city, Cahokia, that in 1250 was roughly the size of London. In 1523, Giovanni da Verrazzano recorded that the whole Atlantic coast from the Carolinas up was "densely populated". In the 1540's, De Soto passed through what is now eastern Arkansas and found it "thickly set with great towns". Of course, that population density is possible only with intensive agriculture. Mann writes, "A traveler in 1669 reported that six square miles of maize typically encircled Haudenosaunee villages." By the time the conquest really got going, all these societies had been wiped out by smallpox and other diseases introduced by the first Europeans. Explorers and conquerors found small tribes of forager-hunters in an untamed wilderness, and assumed it had been that way forever. In a blow to both primitivism and "progress", it turns out that most of these people were not living in the timeless ways of their ancestors -- the "Indians" of American myth were post-crash societies! The incredible biological abundance of North America was

also a post-crash phenomenon. We've heard about the flocks of passenger pigeons darkening the sky for days, the tens of millions of bison trampling the great plains, the rivers so thick with spawning salmon that you could barely row a boat, the seashores teeming with life, the deep forests on which a squirrel could go from the Atlantic to the Mississippi without touching the ground. We don't know what North America would have looked like with no humans at all, but we do know it didn't look like that under the Indians. Bone excavations show that passenger pigeons were not even common in the 1400's. Indians specifically targeted pregnant deer, and wild turkeys before they laid eggs, to eliminate competition for maize and tree nuts. They routinely burned forests to keep them convenient for human use. And they kept salmon and shellfish populations down by eating them, and thereby suppressed populations of other creatures that ate them. When human populations crashed, nonhuman populations exploded. This fact drives a wedge between two value systems that are supposed to be synonymous: love of nature and love of primitive humans. We seem to have only two options. One is to say that native North Americans went too far -- of course they weren't nearly as bad as Europeans, but we need to return to even lower levels of population and domestication. I respect this position morally, but strategically it's absurd. How can the future inhabitants of North America be held to a way of life that the original inhabitants abandoned at least a thousand years ago? The other option is to say that native North Americans did not go too far. The subtext is usually something like this: "Moralistic ecologists think it's wrong that my society holds nature down and milks it for its own benefit, but if the Native Americans did it, it must be okay!" This conclusion is nearly universal in popular writing. Plenty of respectable authors would never be caught idealizing simple foragers, but when they find out these "primitives" hunted competitors like neolithic Microsofts and cleared forests to plant grain, out comes the "wise Indian" card. There is a third option, but it requires abandoning the whole civilized-primitive framework. Suppose we say, "We can regrow the spectacular fecundity that North America had in the 1700's, not as a temporary stage between the fall of one Earthmonopolizing society and the rise of another, but as a permanent condition -- and we will protect this condition not by duplicating any way our ancestors lived, but by inventing new ways. We can

do this because human nature continues to evolve. Just as the old model of civilization became available to us as we changed, we are changing again and new doors are opening." Well, they're only open a crack. To grow biological abundance for its own sake, and not for human utility, is still a fringe position. But my point is that the civilized-primitive framework forces us to divide things a certain way: On one side are complexity, change, invention, unstable "growth", taking, control, and the future. On the other side are simplicity, stasis, tradition, stability, giving, freedom, and the past. Once we abandon that framework, which is itself an artifact of western industrial society, we can integrate evidence that the framework excludes, and we can try to match things up differently. The combination that I'm suggesting is: complexity, change, invention, stability, giving, freedom, and both the past and the future. This isn't the only combination that could be suggested, and I doubt it's the easiest to put into practice, but it's surprisingly noncontroversial. Al Gore would probably agree with every point. The catch is that Gore is playing to a public consciousness in which "freedom" means a nice paint job on control, and in which no one has any idea what's really necessary for stability. Americans think freedom means no restraint. So I'm free to start a big company and rule ten thousand wage laborers, and if they don't like it they're free to go on strike, and I'm free to hire thugs to crack their heads, and they're free to quit, and I'm free to buy politicans to cut off support for the unemployed, so now they're free to either starve and die, or accept the job on my terms and use their freedom of speech to impotently complain. A better definition of freedom is no coercion. I define "restraint" as preventing someone from doing something, and "coercion" as forcing someone to do something, usually by punishing them for not doing it. Primitive societies tend to be very good at avoiding coercion. In The Continuum Concept, Jean Liedloff writes that among the Yequana, it is forbidden to even ask another person to do something. It seems strange to us, but to have a society where no one is forced to do what they don't want to do, you actually need a lot of restraints. So there's one place where we can learn more from looking backward than looking forward. But there is more than one way for coercion to appear -- it's like a disease with multiple vectors. Primitive cultures have extraordinary resistance to the way coercion must have appeared over and over in their history -among a group of people who all know each other, an arrogant

charismatic leader arises. But they have little or no resistance to another way it's been appearing more and more often over the last few thousand years: as a hidden partner with seductive new physical and social tools. To understand what's necessary for both freedom and stability, we need to go deep into a close ally of the critique of civilization: the critique of technology. Now, as soon as you say you're against technology, some nit-picker points out that even a stone axe is a technology. We know what we mean, but we have trouble putting it into words. Our first instinct is to try to draw a line, and say that technologies on one side are bad, and on the other side are good. And at this point, primitivism comes into the picture as a convenience. It reminds me of the debate over abortion, which is ultimately about drawing a line between when the potential child is part of the mother's body, and when it's a separate person with full rights. Drawing the line at the first breath would make the most sense on biblical grounds, but no one wants to do that, and almost no one wants to draw it at passage through the birth canal. But if you go farther back than that, you get an unbroken grey area all the way to conception! Fundamentalists love to draw the line at conception, not only because it gives them more control over women, but because they hate grey areas. In the same way, primitivism enters the debate over good technology with a sharply drawn line a long way back. We don't have to wrestle with how to manufacture bicycles without exploitation, or how to make cities sustainable, or what uses are appropriate for water wheels, or how to avoid the atrocities of ancient empires, if we just draw the line between settled grain farmers and nomadic forager-hunters. To be fair to primitivists, they still have to wrestle with the grey areas from foraging to horticulture to agriculture, and from camps to villages to towns, and with arguments that we should go back even farther. The real fundamentalists on this issue are the techno-utopians. They say "technology is neutral," which really means "Thou shalt not ascribe built-in negative effects to any technology," but of course they ascribe built-in positive effects to technologies all the time. So it ends up being not a statement of fact but a command to action: "Any technology you can think of, do it!" This is like solving the abortion debate by legalizing murder. We must apply intelligent selection to technology, but we aren't really worried that the neighboring village will reinvent

metalworking and massacre our children with swords. We just want bulldozers to stop turning grassy fields into dreadful suburbs, and we want urban spaces to be made for people not cars, and we want to turn off the TV, and take down the surveillance cameras, and do meaningful work instead of sitting in windowless office dungeons rearranging abstractions to pay off loans incurred getting our spirits broken. We like hot baths and sailing ships and recorded music and the internet, but we worry that we can't have them without exterminating half the species on Earth, or exploiting Asian sweatshop workers, or dumping so many toxins that we all get cancer, or overextending our system so far that it crashes and we get eaten by roving gangs. But notice: primitive people don't think this way! Of course, if you put them on an assembly line or on the side of a freeway or in a modern war, they would know they were in hell. But if you offered them an LED lantern made on an assembly line, or a truck ride to their hunting ground, or a gun, most of them would accept it without hesitation. Primitive people tend to adopt any tool they find useful -- not because they're wise, but because they're ignorant, because their cultures have not evolved defenses against tools that will lead them astray. I think the root of civilization, and a major source of human evil, is simply that we became clever enough to extend our power beyond our empathy. It's like the famous Twilight Zone episode where there's a box with a button, and if you push it, you get a million dollars and someone you don't know dies. We have countless "boxes" that do basically the same thing. Some of them are physical, like cruise missiles or ocean-killing fertilizers, or even junk food where your mouth gets a million dollars and your heart dies. Others are social, like subsidies that make junk food affordable, or the corporation, which by definition does any harm it can get away with that will bring profit to the shareholders. I'm guessing it all started when our mental and physical tools combined to enable positive feedback in personal wealth. Anyway, as soon as you have something that does more harm than good, but that appears to the decision makers to do more good than harm, the decision makers will decide to do more and more of it, and before long you have a whole society built around obvious benefits that do hidden harm. The kicker is, once we gain from extending our power beyond our seeing and feeling, we have an incentive to repress our seeing and feeling. If child slaves are making your clothing, and you want to keep getting clothing, you either have to not

know about them, or know about them and feel good about it. You have to make yourself ignorant or evil. But gradually we're learning. Every time it comes out that some product is made with sweatshop labor, a few people stop buying it. Every day, someone is in a supermarket deciding whether to spend extra money to buy shade-grown coffee or fair trade chocolate. It's not making a big difference, but all mass changes have to start with a few people, and my point is that we are stretching the human conscience farther than it's ever gone, making sacrifices to help forests we will never see and people we will never meet. This is not simple-minded or "idealistic", but rational, highly sophisticated moral behavior. And you find it not at the trailing edge of civilization but at the leading edge, among educated urbanites. There are also growing movements to reduce energy consumption, to eat locally-produced food, to give up highpaying jobs for better quality of life, and to trade industrial-scale for human-scale tools. I would prefer not to own a car, but my motivation is not to save the world -- it's that the continuing costs of owning a car put me in a different economic niche, where I am more connected to the impersonal world of money, and less connected to friends and family. On my land I don't use power tools, except for a chainsaw when I have a huge amount of wood to cut. In general I'd rather do work in a way that excercises my body, allows me to hear birds, and does not make me dependent on an industrial system that gives me no participation in power. When I look at the discourse around this kind of choice, it's positively satanic. People whose position is basically "Thundersaw cut fast, me feel like god" present themselves as agents of enlightenment and progress, while people with intelligent reasons for doing something completely new -choosing weaker, slower tools when high-energy tools are available -- are seen as lizard-brained throwbacks. What's even more tragic is when they see themselves that way. This movement is often called "voluntary simplicity", but we should distinguish between technological simplicity and mental simplicity. Primitive people, even when they have complex cultures, use simple tools for a simple reason -- those are the only tools they have. In so-called "civilization", we've just been using more and more complex technologies for simple-minded reasons -- they give us brute power and shallow pleasures. But as we learn to be more sophisticated in our thinking about technology, we will be able to use complex tools for complex

reasons -- or simple tools for complex reasons. Primitivists, understandably, are impatient. They want us to go back to using simple tools and they don't care why we do it. It's like our whole species is an addict, and seductive advanced technologies are the drug, and primitivism is the urge to throw our whole supply of drugs in the garbage. Any experienced addict will tell you that doesn't work. The next day you dig it out of the garbage or the next week you buy more. Of course there are arguments that this will be impossible. The most common one goes like this: "For civilization, you need agriculture, and for agriculture, you need topsoil. But the topsoil is gone! Agriculture survives only by dumping synthetic fertilizers on dead soil, and those fertilizers depend on oil, and the easily extracted oil is also gone. If the industrial system crashes just a little, we'll have no oil, no fertilizer, no agriculture, and therefore no choice but foraging and hunting." Agriculture, whether or not it's a good idea, is in no danger. The movement to switch the whole planet to synthetic fertilizers on dead soil (ironically called "the Green Revolution") had not even started yet when another movement started to switch back: organic farming. Present organic farmers are still using oil to run tractors and haul supplies in, but in terms of getting the soil to produce a crop, organic farming is agriculture without oil, and it's the fastest growing segment of the food economy. It is being held back by cultural intertia, by the political power of industrial agribusiness, and by cheap oil. It is not being held back by any lack of land suitable for conversion to organic methods. No one says, "We bought this old farm, but since the soil is dead, we're just going to leave it as a wasteland, and go hunt elk." People find a way to bring the soil back. The other common argument is that "humanity has learned its lesson." I think this is on the right track, but too optimistic about how much we've learned, and about what kind of learning is necessary. Mere rebellion is as old as the first slave revolt in Ur, and you can find intellectual critiques of civilization in the Old Testament: From Ecclesiastes 5:11, "When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof?" And from Isaiah 5:8, "Woe unto those who join house to house, and field to field, until there is no place." If this level of learning were enough, we would have found utopia thousands of years ago. Instead, people whose understanding was roughly the same as ours, and whose courage was greater, kept making the same mistakes. In Against His-story, Against Leviathan, Fredy Perlman set out

to document the whole history of resistance to civilization, and inadvertently undermined his conclusion, that this Leviathan will be the last, by showing again and again that resistance movements become the new dominators. The ancient Persian empire started when Cyrus was inspired by Zoroastrianism to sweep away the machinery of previous empires. The Roman empire started as a people's movement to eradicate the Etruscans. The modern nation-state began with the Moravians forming a defensive alliance against the Franks, who fell into warlike habits themselves after centuries of resisting the Romans. And we all know what happened with Christianity. I fear it's going to happen again. Now, the simple desire to go primitive is harmless and beneficial -- I wish luck and success to anyone who tries it, and I hope we always have some tribal forager-hunters around, just to keep the human potential stretched. And I enjoy occasional minor disasters like blackouts and snowstorms, which serve to strip away illusions and remind people that they're alive. I loved the idea in Fight Club (the movie) of destroying the bank records to equalize wealth. That's right in line with the ancient Jubilee tradition, where debts were canceled every few decades to restabilize the economy and prevent a hard collapse. What I fear is that some writers are trying to inspire a movement to actively cause a hard collapse, and if they attract enough followers, they could succeed. This would be a terrible mistake -- not just a moral mistake but a strategic mistake -- and the root of it is old-fashioned authoritarian thinking: that if you force someone to do something, it's the same as if they do it on their own. In fact it's exactly the opposite. The more we are forced to abandon this system, the less we will learn, and the more aggressively we will fight to rebuild something like it. And the more we choose to abandon it, the more we will learn, and the less likely we will make the same mistakes. The really frightening thing is when people fantasize about destroying libraries and museums, as if this would prevent a complex society from ever getting started again -- just like thousands of years ago, without libraries or museums, people didn't start complex societies about fifty times. In the addiction metaphor, burning libraries is like not only throwing the drugs away, but also erasing all memory of being an addict, and then going back to the same tempting environment with the same addictive personality. It's such a perfect mistake that I can only conclude that these people subconsciously want to repeat the whole cycle of pain.

Of course we will not have another society based on oil, and per-capita energy consumption will drop, but it's unlikely that energy or complexity will fall to preindustrial levels. Hydroelectric and atomic fission plants are in no immediate danger, and every year there are new innovations in energy from sun, wind, waves, and ethanol crops. Alternative energy would be growing much faster with good funding, and in any case it's not necessary to convert the whole global infrastructure in the next twenty years. Even in a general collapse, if just one region has a surplus of sustainable energy, they can use it to colonize and re-"develop" the collapsed areas at their own pace. Probably this will be happening all over. I don't think there's any escape from complex high-energy societies, so instead of focusing on avoiding them, we should focus on making them tolerable. This means, first, that our system is enjoyable for its participants -- that the activities necessary to keep it going are experienced by the people who do them as meaningful and freely chosen. Second, our system must be ethical toward the world around it. My standards here are high -- the totality of biological life on Earth must be better off with us than without us. And third, our system must not be inherently unstable. It might be destroyed by an asteroid or an ice age, but it must not destabilize itself internally, by having an economy that has to grow or die, or by depleting nonrenewable resources, or by having any trend at all that ratchets, that easily goes one way but can't go the other way without a catastrophe. These three standards seem to be separate. When Orwell wrote that the future is "a boot stamping on a human face -forever", he was imagining a system that's internally stable but not enjoyable. Techno-utopians fantasize about a system that expands into space and lasts billions of years while crushing any trace of biological wildness. And some paranoids fear "ecofascism", a system that is stable and serves nature, but that represses most humans. I think all these visions are impossible, for a reason that is overlooked in our machine-worshipping culture: that collapse often happens for psychological reasons. Erich Fromm said it best, in "What Does It Mean to Be Human?" Even if the social order can do everything to man -starve him, torture him, imprison him, or over feed him -this cannot be done without certain consequences which follow from the very conditions of human existence. Man, if utterly deprived of all stimuli and pleasure, will be incapable of performing work, certainly any skilled work.

If he is not that utterly destitute, he will tend to rebel if you make him a slave; he will tend to be violent if life is too boring; he will tend to lose all creativity if you make him into a machine. Man in this respect is not different from animals or from inanimate matter. You can get certain animals into the zoo, but they will not reproduce, and others will become violent although they are not violent in freedom... If man were infinitely malleable, there would have been no revolutions. In 1491, Mann writes that on Pizarro's march to conquer the Incas, he was actively helped by local populations who were sick of the empire's oppression. Fredy Perlman's book goes through the whole history of western civilization arguing for the human dissatisfaction factor in every failed society. And it's clear to me and many other Americans that our empire is falling because nobody believes in it -- not the troops in Iraq, who quickly learn that the war is bullshit, not the corporate executives, who at best are focused on short term profits and at worst are just thieves, not the politicians, who are cynically violating every supposed American principle for lobbyist money, and not the people who actually do the work, most of whom are just going through the motions. Also, America (with other nations close behind) is getting more and more tightly controlled, and thus more unbearable for its participants. This is a general problem of top-down systems: for both technical and psychological reasons, it's easy to add control mechanisms and hard to remove them, easy to squeeze tighter and hard to let go. As the controllers get more selfish and insulated, and the controlled get more frustrated and depressed, and more energy is wasted on forcing people to do what they wouldn't do without force, the whole system seizes up, and can only be renewed by a surge of transforming energy from below. This transformation could be peaceful, but often the ruling interests block it until it builds up such pressure that it explodes violently. The same way the ruling interests become corrupt through an exploitative relationship with the people, we all become corrupt when we participate in a society that exploits the life around it. When we talk about "nature", we don't mean wheat fields or zoo animals -- we mean plants that scatter seeds to the wind and animals that roam at will. We mean freedom, raw aliveness, and we can't repress it outside ourselves without also repressing it inside ourselves. The spirit that guides our shoe when it crushes grass coming through cracks in the driveway,

also guides us to crush feelings and perceptions coming through cracks in our paved minds, and we need these feelings and perceptions to make good decisions, to be sane. If primitive life seems better to us, it's because it's easier for smaller and simpler societies to avoid falling into domination. In the best tribes, the "chief" just tells people to do what they want to do anyway, and a good chief will channel this energy into a harmonious whole. But the bigger a system gets, and the longer a big system lasts, the more challenging it is to maintain a bottom-up energy structure. I have a wild speculation about the origin of complex societies. The Great Pyramid of Giza is superior in every way to the two pyramids next to it -- yet the Great Pyramid was the first of the three to be built. It's like Egyptian civilization appeared out of nowhere at full strength, and immediately began declining. My speculation is: the first pyramid was not built by slaves! It was built by an explosion of human enthusiasm channeled into a massive cooperative effort. But then, as we've seen in pretty much every large system in history, this pattern of human action hardened, leaders became rulers, inspired actions became chores, and workers became slaves. To achieve stability, and freedom, and ecological responsibility, we must learn to halt the slide from life into control, to maintain the bottom-up energy structure permanently, even in large complex systems. I don't know how we're going to do this. It's even hard for individuals to do it -look at all the creative people who make one masterpiece and spend the rest of their life making crappy derivative works. The best plan I can think of is to build our system out of cells of less than 150 people, roughly the number at which cooperation tends to give way to hierarchy, and even then to expect cells to go bad, and have built-in pathways for dead cells to be broken down and new ones to form and individuals to move from cell to cell. Basically, we'd be making a big system that's like a living body, where all past big systems have been animated corpses. Assuming that our descendants do achieve stability, what technological level will they be at? I want to leave this one wide open. It's possible in theory for us to go even farther "back" than the stone age. I call this the Land Dolphins scenario -- that we evolve into super-intelligent creatures who don't use any physical tools at all. At the other extreme, I'm not ruling out space colonies, although the worst mistake we could make would be expanding into space before we have learned stability on our home planet. I think physical travel to other solar systems

is out of the question -- long before mechanistic science gets that far, we will have moved to new paradigms that offer much easier ways to get to new worlds. The "singularity" theory is also off the mark. Techies think machines will surpass humans, because the mechanistic model tells them that we're nothing but machines ourselves, so all we need to do is make better machines, which according to the myth of "progress" is inevitable. I think if we do get a technological transcendence, it's going to involve machines changing humans. My favorite scenario is time-contracted virtual reality: suppose you can go into an artificial world, have the experience of spending a week there, and come back and only a day has passed, or an hour, or a minute. If we can do that, all bets are off! The biggest weakness in my vision is that innovation can go with stability, that we can continue exploring and trying new things without repeatedly destabilizing ourselves by extending our power beyond our understanding. But it's equally implausible that we could somehow transform ourselves out of being a curious and inventive species, or that we could drive ourselves to extinction -- we are by far the most mentally adaptable species on Earth, and not bad at physical adaptation. One possibility is that we will diverge into multiple species. It happens all the time in nature, and for most of the history of hominids there were several kinds of us walking around. This could happen through biotech, or through ordinary evolution, which we still don't understand. Scientists have spent decades bombarding fruit flies with radiation, trying to produce a random mutation that would lead to a new species, and totally failed. But in another experiment, fruit flies were put through a maze with different exits depending on environmental preferences, and they formed distinct populations that refused to interbreed. It's a good guess that this is already happening with humans, and that our accelerating evolution is being driven not by our high population, but by increasing diversity of human environments, which is likely to continue. Maybe we will spin off subspecies that overspecialize themselves into extinction, while a few generalist core species survive. If I had to guess, we're just going to keep making mistakes and falling down forever, and in that case the best we can do is minimize the severity of the falls. I think we're doing a pretty good job even in the present collapse, which is shaping up to be a big one. Innovations in efficient farming and water filtration and small-scale alternative energy are going to give many regions a soft landing. Even in America, which has a long way to

fall, we might escape with no more than a severe depression, a mild fall in population, and a much-needed shakeout of technology and economics. Life will get more painful but also more meaningful, as billions of human-hours shift from processing paperwork and watching TV to intensive learning of new skills to keep ourselves alive. These skills will run the whole range, from tracking deer to growing tomatoes to fixing bicycles to building solar-powered wi-fi networks -- to new things we won't even imagine until we have our backs to the wall. I think we can see the future in popular fiction, but not the fiction we think. Most science fiction is either stuck in the recent past, in the industrial age's boundless optimism about machines, or it looks at the present by exploring the unintended consequences of high tech. Cyberpunk is better -- if you put a 1950's Disney version of the year 2000 through a cyberpunk filter, you would get very close to the real 2000. The key insight of cyberpunk is that more technology doesn't make things cleaner -- it makes things dirtier. Fantasy, while seeming to look at the past, might be seeing the future: elves and wizards could represent the increasing diversity of humans (or post-humans) after the breakdown of the industrial monoculture, and "magic" is clearly a glimpse of postmechanistic scientific paradigms. And I think steampunk does the best of all, if you factor out the Victorian frippery. Like cyberpunk, it shows a human-made world that's as messy and alive as nature, but the technological system is a crazy hybrid of everything from "stone age" to "space age" -- thus refuting the very idea that we are locked into ages. Primitive people see time as a circle. Civilized people see it as a line. We are about to see it as an open plain where we can wander at will. History is broken. Go!


Works Cited
Carse, James P. Finite and Infinite Games. Ballantine Books, 1987. Deloria, Vine. Red Earth, White Lies. Fulcrum Publishing, 1997. Deur, Douglas, and Nancy Turner. Keeping It Living. University of Washington Press, 2006. Diamond, Stanley. In Search of the Primitive. Transaction Publishers, 1981. Dick, Philip K. A Scanner Darkly. Doubleday, 1977. DiLorenzo, Thomas. The Real Lilcoln. Prima Lifestyles, 2002. Eisenstein, Charles. The Ascent of Humanity. Panenthea Productions, 2007. Golas, Thaddeus. The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment. Bantam, 1983. Jensen, Derrick, and George Draffan. Railroads and Clearcuts. Keokee Publishing Company, 1995. Jensen, Derrick. A Language Older Than Words. Context, 2000. —. The Culture of Make Believe. Chelsea Green, 2004. Kaysing, Bill. The Robin Hood Handbook. Links, 1974. —. We Never Went to the Moon. Mokelumne Hill Press, 1976. Kurzweil, Ray. The Age of Spiritual Machines. Viking Adult, 1999. Leidhoff, Jean. The Continuum Concept. Da Capo Press, 1986. Livingston, John. Rogue Primate. Key Porter Books, 1994. Mann, Charles C. 1491. Knopf, 2005. Miller, Alice. For Your Own Good. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990. Nagler, Michael. Is There No Other Way. Beverly Hills Books, 2001. Perlman, Fredy. Against His-Story, Against Leviathan. Black & Red, 2002. Peterson, Harold. The Last of the Mountain Men. Backeddy Books, 2003. Roy, Rob. Mortgage Free! Chelsea Green, 1998. Ruppert, Michael. Crossing the Rubicon. New Society Publishers, 2004. Scher, Les. Finding and Buying Your Place in the Country. Dearborn Financial Publishing, 1974. Sheldrake, Rupert. The Presence of the Past. Park Street Press, 1995. Tolkein, J.R.R. Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Geo. Allen & Unwin, 1954.



Further Reading
William Kötke's The Final Empire is so clearly written and so important that it's almost unreadable. The ideas that Daniel Quinn will spend a whole book gently revealing, Kötke clobbers you with in a single paragraph. Then in the next paragraph he does it again. Where other writers (and Derrick Jensen is the master) will use their personal voice and story to put a smooth enticing coating on their shocking revelations, Kötke gives it to you straight. This book is not for everyone, but for people who have already read some anti-civ books and are looking for harder stuff. Here's a link to the whole text of The Final Empire online.73 Also Kötke has a newer book, Garden Planet, basically a streamlined and updated version the same stuff. Another one to look for is Rogue Primate by John Livingston. I cover it in The Animal in the Dark Tower, and in addition to what I say there, the book has strong arguments that there is no competition or domination in nature, but that we're just projecting those ideas from our twisted culture. If you like my anti-civ essays and you haven't read Derrick Jensen, read him soon. Jensen is probably the only person alive who could write a 600 page book about atrocities that's easy to read (The Culture Of Make Believe). I disagree with him on tactics. Ivan Illich was so smart, and wrote so clearly, that I can barely stand to read him -- it's like looking at the sun. His critiques of technology and modern institutions are way beyond almost everyone else. I especially recommend Tools For Conviviality. Here's a good source of Ivan Illich writings online.74 One person who wrote just as well about technology, and sooner, was Jacques Ellul, in his book The Technological Society. In the original French, the title is La Technique. If you're lucky your city's library has it. Another author who's anti-modern but not anti-civ is Morris Berman. His book The Reenchantment Of The World is a big source of my science-bashing. Daniel Quinn, last time I checked, was the most popular anticivilization author. He writes mostly novels with a lot of dialogue where a mean teacher tries to explain Quinn's ideas to a dense student. My favorite is The Story Of B -- it's the most
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thorough and (I think) has the funnest plot. The best all-around book on "primitive" people, so I'm told, is In Search Of The Primitive by Stanley Diamond. The best all-around book on civilization, so I'm told, is The Myth Of The Machine by Lewis Mumford. And of course there's John Zerzan, the most thorough and dedicated anti-civ philosopher. I find his writing style too difficult, but he's great in interviews. Enemy of the State is a good one,75 and his Against Civilization anthology is compiled from the writings of other people. The best single book to start with or convert people with is Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. The best one to go to next (depending on personal taste) is A Language Older Than Words by Derrick Jensen, or My Name Is Chellis and I'm in Recovery from Western Civilization by Chellis Glendinning, or In The Absence Of The Sacred by Jerry Mander.

Dropping Out

Days of War, Nights of Love is a masterpiece of break-fromthe-system motivational writing. The Crimethinc people are great writers with a great value system, but like all motivational writers, they lie. Real dropping out is much more difficult and takes much longer than they tell you. If you know someone who's young enough, they can get a huge head start on dropping out with The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn. Younger than that, you need The Complete Home Learning Source Book by Rebecca Rupp. Mortgage-Free! by Rob Roy is an excellent guide to buying land and building a house dirt cheap. If you're going to buy land, you need Finding & Buying Your Place in Country by Les Scher. And if you're going to spend thousands for land, spend an extra hundred for Bill Mollison's Permaculture, a Designer's Manual, also published as Permaculture, a Practical Guide for a Sustainable Future. Another great book for homesteading and general self-sufficiency is Carla Emery's Encyclopedia of Country Living. If you're going to build a cob house, I like Becky Bee's Cob Builders Handbook76 better than The Hand Sculpted House. That

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book tells you what you should do, and Bee tells you what you can do. For the option of dropping way out, the books of Tom Brown Jr are the best wilderness survival guides, and are also excellent guides to de-industrializing your thinking. A great book for beginners is Your Money Or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez.

Paranormal / Spirituality

Yes, I'm totally into this stuff! Of course so are a lot of emotionally damaged people -- true believers and those who prey on them. If you persist in exploring these subjects, you'll probably reach a point where your mind cracks open and you'll think you've discovered something overwhelmingly important, and whatever you're seeing at the moment will seem like the Truth. This is the moment of greatest danger! You must not stop, but keep looking at different perspectives. Then you'll think, wait, now this is the Truth, and now this... Hold on here! It's looking like reality itself is so packed and multifaceted that it's easy to make any nutty system of thought seem like the Truth -including the dominant paradigm itself. Now you're getting it! I still insist that my biggest all-around influence is Charles Fort. When I use the words "dominant" or "exclusionist," or start a sentence with "or," or argue for one strange theory and then switch and argue for a different one, or belittle science, or view reality as intrinsically shifty and fuzzy, alive and full of cracks, that comes straight from Fort (or indirectly through Roger Zelazny or John Keel). Fort spent 27 years in libraries collecting notices of physical phenomena unexplainable by science, and put them together into four books in the 1920's. I consider him the greatest natural philosopher of all time, and I aim to carry his style of thinking into social philosophy. His books are not for everyone, or even for very many people. The Book Of The Damned77 is first and best, and his one-volume Complete Books are still in print. Here's another source of Fort online.78 Also I love the books of the Fortean paranormal researcher John Keel. They're all great! Like Keel, I think UFO's are an occult phenomenon, whatever that means, and my other favorite UFO author is Jacques Vallee.

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The smartest and most thorough book on the "paranormal" is The Trickster and the Paranormal by George P. Hansen. Even though his writing style is aggressively clear, it's still hard to read because the ideas are so difficult. He covers anthropology, literary theory, shamanism, stage magic, UFO hoaxes, psychic research, and more, and the general idea is that it's the very nature of these phenomena to only exist on the fringes. Another big idea is that the real stuff and the fake stuff are not opposites, but blended together. One example of fake stuff: I'm now convinced that the book Proofs Of My Return, and its author John Palifox Key, never existed, and I've made a page about it: the John Palifox Key hoax.79 Another big influence on my thinking is The Lazy Man's Guide To Enlightenment by Thaddeus Golas, a tiny book with unsurpassed value per page. When I write about expansion and contraction, or view reality as a lot of equal perspectives playing, that comes from Golas. A good gateway book from cartesian science to the "paranormal" is The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot. Another good one is The Field by Lynne McTaggart, which does such a good job of explaining the "paranormal" scientifically that it almost isn't fun any more. You might also enjoy The End of Materialism by Charles Tart. Charles Tart is also a great explainer of meditation. My favorite is Mind Science, and Waking Up is excellent. Also check out Cheri Huber, and either The High Performance Mind or Awakening the Mind by Anna Wise. She merges meditation techniques with years of brainwave research on EEG machines, and seamlessly blends hard science with metaphysics. A great source for all kinds of fringe books is Adventures Unlimited.80

Fringe Science

This category blurs into the above. I'm good at math and science and in another age I would totally be a scientist, but in college I sensed what I can now articulate: that right now science (with the exception of quantum physics) is extremely conservative, just filling in holes in its ossifying structure, less receptive to revolutionary ideas than almost any other
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institution. The Catholic church reformed itself more in the 1960's than science has since Newton. But there are always a few honest and curious researchers courageous enough to continue lines of inquiry that the dying dominant paradigm tries to crush or marginalize. My favorite hard scientist is the astronomer Halton Arp. Check out Seeing Red or Quasars, Reshifts, and Controversies. Arp has spent his career gathering evidence that redshifts are mostly caused by something other than recession velocity (which could cancel the expanding universe and the big bang), and that quasars are not extremely remote and bright, but are associated with nearby galaxies, spat out of them to form new galaxies like seeds! When dominant astronomy (possibly the most conservative science) couldn't counter him fairly, they eliminated his telescope time, and for 20 years he has been forced to use the discarded and suppressed evidence of his enemies. I'm totally a follower of Rupert Sheldrake, a biologist who writes popular books of scientific hypotheses that explain a lot of the so-called "paranormal" and also a lot about biology: biological behavior and development are greatly influenced by neither DNA nor obvious environment, but by organisms resonating with similar organisms across space and time. Probably the best book to start with is The Presence Of The Past. Wilhelm Reich is still considered a nutcase by alleged scientists who have not attempted to duplicate his experiments. Like Royal Rife he got in terrible trouble with the authorities by looking through super-high-magnification microscopes at living things instead of dead things -- he observed living "bions" spontaneously forming out of nonliving matter. Mostly he worked with "orgone" -- his word for what Eastern traditions call "chi" or "prana". But Reich actually invented tools to measure and channel it. His scientific books are almost impossible to find, but you can find summaries here and there on the internet, or look at Jim DeMeo's The Orgone Accumulator Handbook. Louis Kervran was a biological researcher who discovered decades ago that biological creatures routinely transmute chemical elements. He's still almost completely unknown. One of many implications of his work: to build calcium in your body, you do not eat calcium, but organic silica, which your body changes to calcium. Kervran's book is Biological Transmutations. William Corliss is an heir to Charles Fort in that he collects anomalies from respected sources. He doesn't comment on them but reprints them in many books, which you can browse or buy

at Science Frontiers. Vine Deloria is an American Indian author who has written a couple books bridging fringe science with indigenous history and spirituality. I suggest Red Earth, White Lies.


I generally follow the Weston Price diet, for which the main book is Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. A great book on fermented foods is Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. Also there's Bill Mollison's The Permaculture Book of Ferment and Human Nutrition, now out of print and very expensive. The best book on sourdough bread is Nancy Silverton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery.

Other Non-Fiction

I've heard about, but haven't looked at Play as if Your Life Depends on It by Frank Forencich. It's a fitness book based on moving like natural humans, doing "exercise" so it's functional instead of repetitive, play instead of work. 2010 Update: I should have bought a copy. Now it's out of print and worth hundreds of dollars. Alice Miller's For Your Own Good exposes the most profound and hidden abuse of our whole civilization -- the horrific abuse of young people that we think of as normal child-rearing. Another great book on the same subject is The Continuum Concept. Here's For Your Own Good online.81 John Taylor Gatto's The Underground History of American Education is a massive, impassioned book detailing how American schools have been turned into mind-killing factories to churn out docile, unquestioning citizens and workers... not by accident or negligence but by the explicit planning and interference of the elite beginning in the mid-1800's. Gatto is in some ways a conservative, but his attitude is nearly anarchist. Kurt Vonnegut always plugs a book called The Mask of Sanity by Hervey Cleckley, so I found a library copy, and he's right -the book is an eye-opener! It's about psychopaths, who are not drooling axe-murderers, but very charming people who have no empathy and leave a path of suffering in their wake. Pretty soon you'll be noticing them everywhere.


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Fiction by guys named Philip

Philip K. Dick wrote more than 40 novels and at least half of them are mind-blowing masterpieces. A reviewer once remarked that Dick had so many ideas that he would just scatter ideas in the margins that other authors would hang whole books on. He wrote "science fiction", but it's light on the science and heavy on metaphysics and trippy reality shifts and the internal lives of the characters. Most of his protagonists have the same personality: sulky, uncomfortable, paranoid, impulsive, a loser who still keeps valiantly plodding on. Dick himself said A Scanner Darkly was both his saddest and funniest book, and I agree. Another great one is Ubik. The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch is definitely the scariest (don't read it first -- you have to work up to it!) and The Game Players Of Titan is the best page-turner. The Valis trilogy is for advanced Dickheads. Right now my favorite author is Philip Reeve. Mortal Engines grabs you in the first sentence: "It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea." The premise of the fourbook series is that around 2000 years from now, most of the Earth will be ruined and cities will move around and eat other cities for resources. Reeve has great ideas, good characters, lively prose, and a mature understanding of politics and evil. Philip Reeve is sometimes compared to Philip Pullman, whose most famous work is the trilogy that begins with The Golden Compass (aka Northern Lights). I loved the first two books! They're set in an alternate world combining old technologies with super-advanced ones. Metaphysically, the story is shockingly radical, with the idea that God himself has become corrupted by power. The second book, The Subtle Knife, is just as good as the first and much darker, but I found the third book uninspired, with a feeble ending in which the effect of an epic upheaval in reality itself is that nothing changes.

Other Fiction

One of the things I like best about Philip Reeve is that he makes a "No Exit" future sound fun. Back in the early 80's, Gene Wolfe did the same thing with more complexity in his classic Book of the New Sun series, starting with The Shadow of the Torturer. Wolfe was on the cutting edge of cyberpunk by imagining a future that doesn't get cleaner with new technologies, but messier, and he was years ahead of other sci-fi by understanding that technology does not prevent collapse. The

story seems to be set around ten thousand years in the future, after so many civilizations have risen and fallen that you can dig a hole anywhere and find strange artifacts, and all the coolest Medieval stuff, high tech, and magic are all mixed together. M.T. Anderson's Feed is the ultimate dystopian extrapolation novel, sadder than A Scanner Darkly, bleaker than The Sheep Look Up, and more readable than either. It's set two or three generations in the future, when the internet has become much more commercial and is beamed straight into everyone's head as "the feed". Space travel and flying cars have only extended the range of the usual American nightmare. All the forests are gone and you can't go to the beach without a toxin suit. And almost everyone is stupid and immature. Imagine if Lars von Trier or Todd Solondz had made Idiocracy, and you'll begin to get a sense of Anderson's vision. Also it has an incredible first sentence: "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck." I know three people including myself who have read Orson Scott Card's novel Treason, and we all think it's better than Ender's Game. I also recommend Damon Knight's short story Masks, Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men and Going Postal, and I've always liked Roger Zelazny, especially his early stories and Roadmarks.


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