Tuesday, June 22, 2010

In Avoiding Today's Pain, We Ensure Tomorrow's Agony

“It is too late to stop now.  Industrial civilization has developed gargantuan inertia.  Change is painful; the average person will not be willing to accept the pain.  The average person will fight to the death to keep their corporate shackles firmly in place.”

It is true that dismantling civilization is going to be inconceivably painful.  There is no way around that.  It will involve a magnitude of change beyond that of the most devastating natural disaster.  It will involve a disruption in the predictability of daily life currently experienced only by people living in active war zones.  As I write this, the media are reporting on the displaced fishermen and others in the Gulf of Mexico, struggling to come to grips with the loss of their livelihood as oil continues to gush from the ocean floor.  For many of them, the mere loss of connection with industrial civilization, the loss of their role, their place in the gears of the machine, their ability to continue to consume, is devastating to the point of suicide.   Imagine what will happen when civilization itself dissolves.

Wars, natural disasters—or greedy-oil-company-generated disasters, as the case may be—however, are not good models for what will happen as civilization starts to disintegrate.  First, regardless of the magnitude of suffering, wars, earthquakes, and oil spills remain local disturbances.  The global corporate infrastructure is unaffected by localized human or environmental tragedy.  Second, their impact beyond the very short term is largely restricted to the poor and powerless.  This is clearly evident in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti and in the wake of hurricane Katrina.  Then there is Somalia and Afghanistan and [insert your impoverished war torn nation of choice here], where the daily loss of human life is not granted even the courtesy of a dismissive shrug in the west.  Also, despite their long lasting impact on the local people and environment, they are nonetheless seen as temporary, ephemeral catastrophes that evaporate into the dark mists of memory after a few news cycles.

The disintegration of industrial civilization will not have a limited local or temporal impact.  And, not only will it not be restricted to the poor and powerless, it will erase entirely the distinction between rich and poor, powerful and powerless.  It will not be the kind of change that leaves any residual hope (or, eventually, desire) for a return to what industrial civilization calls normality.  

To say that dismantling civilization will be painful doesn’t even begin to cover it.  That people will resist is only human nature.  That some will be willing to die fighting for the right to continue live a dehumanizing existence is also human nature—how many slaves have willingly forfeited their lives in service of their masters over the centuries?


When it comes to pain, maybe we have three choices.  We can rip the bandage off as quickly as possible, and endure the intense but transient sting.  Or we can slowly peal it off, stretching the pain out, slicing it into small but manageable pieces.  Or we can let the wound remain under the bandage, festering and septic from lack of exposure to the healing air, until we lose the limb to gangrene. 

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