Saturday, May 10, 2014

"I've Gone To The Dark Side": A Guest Post From The Mound Of Sound

I received this essay from Mound yesterday. He asked me to read it carefully before deciding whether to post it, given its dark, apocalyptic overtones. I acquiesced in the Mound's request and concluded there was no way I would not put it on my blog, dealing as it does with issues and truths that, as a species, we have far too long been willfully blind to. My philosophy has always been, 'Better a bitter truth than a sweet lie.'

So, just as Neo does in The Matrix, prepare to swallow a pill that will point you to the harsh realities of our existences:

I have fallen in league with The Dark Mountain.

If you read the final post on The Disaffected Lib you'll understand how effortless it was for me to convert. The Dark Mountain is a place for disaffected artists, writers and thinkers "who have stopped believing the stories our civilization tells itself."

Here (in italics) are excerpts from the Dark Mountain manifesto you may find helpful:

‘Few men realise,’ wrote Joseph Conrad in 1896, ‘that their life, the very essence of their character, their capabilities and their audacities, are only the expression of their belief in the safety of their surroundings.’ Conrad’s writings exposed the civilisation exported by European imperialists to be little more than a comforting illusion, not only in the dark, unconquerable heart of Africa, but in the whited sepulchres of their capital cities. The inhabitants of that civilisation believed ‘blindly in the irresistible force of its institutions and its morals, in the power of its police and of its opinion,’ but their confidence could be maintained only by the seeming solidity of the crowd of like-minded believers surrounding them. Outside the walls, the wild remained as close to the surface as blood under skin, though the city-dweller was no longer equipped to face it directly.

Bertrand Russell caught this vein in Conrad’s worldview, suggesting that the novelist ‘thought of civilised and morally tolerable human life as a dangerous walk on a thin crust of barely cooled lava which at any moment might break and let the unwary sink into fiery depths.’ What both Russell and Conrad were getting at was a simple fact which any historian could confirm: human civilisation is an intensely fragile construction. It is built on little more than belief: belief in the rightness of its values; belief in the strength of its system of law and order; belief in its currency; above all, perhaps, belief in its future.

Once that belief begins to crumble, the collapse of a civilisation may become unstoppable. That civilisations fall, sooner or later, is as much a law of history as gravity is a law of physics. What remains after the fall is a wild mixture of cultural debris, confused and angry people whose certainties have betrayed them, and those forces which were always there, deeper than the foundations of the city walls: the desire to survive and the desire for meaning.

Over the six plus years I maintained The Disaffected Lib I explored at some length this business of climate change and the impacts it would inflict on our world. That process led to a host of related realizations, an awareness that anthropogenic global warming, enormously dangerous as it may be, is but one of a matrix of challenges that must all be fixed if we're to resolve any of them.

I gradually became aware of the incredible fragility of this global civilization we have crafted and that its assumed prowess is illusory. As Joseph Conrad and Bertrand Russell warned, our global civilization indeed rests on a foundation of beliefs that, for several decades, have become detached from fact and reality. We have constructed our civilization on myths and probably lethal fantasy.

It's one thing to accept that mankind is using renewable resources at 1.5 times the planet's replenishment rate. It's another thing altogether to realize that our civilization has become dependent on that excessive consumption and that dependency is growing faster with each passing year. We simply cannot do without ever more of something, so many things that can only destroy us.

Proof of the mortal fragility of our global civilization is made out in this addictive dependency on excessive, utterly unsustainable consumption. The evidence is palpable, tangible, even visible to the naked eye from space. From the orbiting International Space Station we see rivers that no longer flow to the sea; spreading deforestation; desertification evidenced in dust clouds that rise in China and are carried on the winds across the Pacific to North America; the contamination of coastal waters from agricultural and industrial runoffs; the tailing ponds of the Athabasca Tar Sands. Satellites record surface subsidence caused by the draining of aquifers for irrigation. At our docks we have the measure of the collapse of global fisheries around the world. Around the world, air, water and soil contamination attests to the ease with which we now overwhelm the environment's capacity to absorb and cleanse our waste. These things, jointly and severally, stand as conclusive proofs of our steadily worsening addiction to excessive, unsustainable consumption.

This is the hallmark of the fragility of our global civilization. In the span of just two centuries, a blip in the history of mankind, we have grown our population sevenfold and we're proposing to extend that to 9 or 10 times or more. At the same time as we're adding new mouths by the hundreds of millions, we're increasing their per capita consumption.

We have grown our global population to such gargantuan proportions through our amazing ability to exploit cheap, abundant, non-renewable resources, especially fossil fuels. We never stop to ponder where those fossil fuels came from. We don't realize that they are the end product of organic life laid down over hundreds of millions, perhaps a billion years or more. How could dragging that resource to be burned at the surface over just a couple of centuries possibly destroy the environment? How could it not?

Growth. Growth, growth, growth. Growth in population. Growth in consumption. Growth in production. Growth in every way imaginable. We are slavishly addicted to exponential growth and it will be the end of us for ours is a decidedly finite planet with finite, life-sustaining resources that we're racing ever faster to exhaust. We have long ago outgrown our planet, our biosphere. If you don't get that, go back three paragraphs to the one that begins "Proof of the mortal fragility...".

I cringe whenever I come across climate change activists touting renewable, alternative energy as the solution to future growth. What growth? What can they possibly mean except growth in production, growth in consumption and, presumably, even further growth in population? When we're already dependent on consuming far more resources than our planet can provide where do we find the room to grow?

Never in the history of our species has there been such wealth. Yet a lot of the wealth manifested in modern luxury and indulgence has been stolen from the generations who will follow us. We're living large and they'll have to pay for it - socially, economically, environmentally. There's an enormous and ugly price they'll have to bear from the degraded environment we're bequeathing them through our selfishness, gluttony and indifference. Even the great Khan did not pillage the future.

Taking up with Dark Mountain is not, as Monbiot, Klein and others suggest, throwing in the towel on environmentalism. It is not capitulation. Does it negate the fight to salvage the environment? Not at all, far from it. The fact remains that, while we probably can't give our grandchildren much better than a severely degraded environment, we can make it far worse than it need be by our business as usual approach.

The fight - to decarbonize our society and our economy - must go on because the alternative is too horrible to tolerate. The fight, however, must not be allowed to eclipse the greater challenge of which climate change is but a part. That greater fight may already be lost before it even began. The fight that may have slipped through our fingers was the struggle to control and direct the means by which mankind shall be restored to harmony with our environment. It was never more than a fight to mitigate the suffering and dislocation in the transition to Mankind 2.0, the species that will survive to rebuild after our civilization collapses.

It is, it seems, our civilisation’s turn to experience the inrush of the savage and the unseen; our turn to be brought up short by contact with untamed reality. There is a fall coming. We live in an age in which familiar restraints are being kicked away, and foundations snatched from under us. After a quarter century of complacency, in which we were invited to believe in bubbles that would never burst, prices that would never fall, the end of history, the crude repackaging of the triumphalism of Conrad’s Victorian twilight — Hubris has been introduced to Nemesis.

...Increasingly, people are restless. The engineers group themselves into competing teams, but neither side seems to know what to do, and neither seems much different from the other. Around the world, discontent can be heard. The extremists are grinding their knives and moving in as the machine’s coughing and stuttering exposes the inadequacies of the political oligarchies who claimed to have everything in hand. Old gods are rearing their heads, and old answers: revolution, war, ethnic strife. Politics as we have known it totters, like the machine it was built to sustain. In its place could easily arise something more elemental, with a dark heart.

...Even within the prosperous and liberal societies of the West progress has, in many ways, failed to deliver the goods. Today’s generation are demonstrably less content, and consequently less optimistic, than those that went before. They work longer hours, with less security, and less chance of leaving behind the social background into which they were born. They fear crime, social breakdown, overdevelopment, environmental collapse. They do not believe that the future will be better than the past. Individually, they are less constrained by class and convention than their parents or grandparents, but more constrained by law, surveillance, state proscription and personal debt. Their physical health is better, their mental health more fragile. Nobody knows what is coming. Nobody wants to look.

Nobody knows what is coming. Nobody wants to look, indeed. Our prime minister doesn't want to look. He certainly doesn't want anyone else looking. His salvation is that his rivals aren't interested in looking either lest they be caught surveying the obvious. It is perhaps unfair to single out our country's political leadership when it's a universal failing that brings us to the edge and over.

We are the first generations to grow up surrounded by evidence that our attempt to separate ourselves from ‘nature’ has been a grim failure, proof not of our genius but our hubris. The attempt to sever the hand from the body has endangered the ‘progress’ we hold so dear, and it has endangered much of ‘nature’ too. The resulting upheaval underlies the crisis we now face.

We imagined ourselves isolated from the source of our existence. The fallout from this imaginative error is all around us: a quarter of the world’s mammals are threatened with imminent extinction; an acre and a half of rainforest is felled every second; 75% of the world’s fish stocks are on the verge of collapse; humanity consumes [50%] more of the world’s natural ‘products’ than the Earth can replace — a figure predicted to rise to 80% by mid-century. Even through the deadening lens of statistics, we can glimpse the violence to which our myths have driven us.

And over it all looms runaway climate change. Climate change, which threatens to render all human projects irrelevant; which presents us with detailed evidence of our lack of understanding of the world we inhabit while, at the same time, demonstrating that we are still entirely reliant upon it. Climate change, which highlights in painful colour the head-on crash between civilisation and ‘nature’; which makes plain, more effectively than any carefully constructed argument or optimistically defiant protest, how the machine’s need for permanent growth will require us to destroy ourselves in its name. Climate change, which brings home at last our ultimate powerlessness.

...Of all humanity’s delusions of difference, of its separation from and superiority to the living world which surrounds it, one distinction holds up better than most: we may well be the first species capable of effectively eliminating life on Earth. This is a hypothesis we seem intent on putting to the test. We are already responsible for denuding the world of much of its richness, magnificence, beauty, colour and magic, and we show no sign of slowing down. For a very long time, we imagined that ‘nature’ was something that happened elsewhere. The damage we did to it might be regrettable, but needed to be weighed against the benefits here and now. And in the worst case scenario, there would always be some kind of Plan B. Perhaps we would make for the moon, where we could survive in lunar colonies under giant bubbles as we planned our expansion across the galaxy.

But there is no Plan B and the bubble, it turns out, is where we have been living all the while. The bubble is that delusion of isolation under which we have laboured for so long. The bubble has cut us off from life on the only planet we have, or are ever likely to have. The bubble is civilisation.

Dark Mountain is a challenge of imagination. It is to imagine survival and going forward.

This is a moment to ask deep questions and to ask them urgently. All around us, shifts are under way which suggest that our whole way of living is already passing into history. It is time to look for new paths and new stories, ones that can lead us through the end of the world as we know it and out the other side. We suspect that by questioning the foundations of civilisation, the myth of human centrality, our imagined isolation, we may find the beginning of such paths.


  1. It's not easy to look into the abyss, Lorne, without flinching and turning away. Mound refuses to do that. Most of us lack his courage.

    1. Agreed, Owen. Confronting ugly truths can be deeply unsettling.

    2. .. with the passing of Farley Mowat there's a sudden void.. Perhaps nowhere in the indy North American blogging realm is a brighter, glowing, illuminating & accurate.. and fierce heart than Mound

      I often think that we need just 10 or 20.. ok. a hundred would be nice.. that are as fierce, bright, caring.. enlightened..

      We do have the 100 .. Thwap, Simon, yourself, Norm, Sask n all rhe rest.. so we need to duplicate, germinate, resonate..

      In a stagnating environment of parasites we desperately need exemplars like yourself and Mound, Damien Gillis, Suzuki, Alexandra Morton.. and we need the mainstream media to tune in to the truth, research & observations of the indy's

      As usual, i'll have to read and study Mound's perspectives several times.. just to get a grip... they're very comprehensive, studied..

      We're going down the road now.. but its our road.. the Canadian road.. its not the Harper road.. or his party's road, or his PMO road.. its far more valid n real.. a road that respects First Nations, children, elders, welders, citizens, voters, farmers, working folk, artists, biologists, teachers, parents.. yes the real nation builders.. not the partisan pretenders

    3. Thanks, Salamander. As always, your words bring us back to what is possible, if only we can realize our potential before it is too late, a formidable task, as Mound's post makes abundantly clear.