Limericks about global warming, peak oil, nuclear meltdown, human nature, fate, and the Sixth Great Ext
Here's how the book's back cover describes it:
Limericks about global warming, peak oil, nuclear meltdown, human nature, fate, and the Sixth Great Extinction.
The usual fodder for limericks, no? "There once was a climate a'changin..." The final limerick from the book more or less explains why the author wrote and compiled the poems (originally published in the comments sections at Guy McPherson's blog Nature Bats Last):
I went to look into the abyss, Hoping to find me some bliss; Its stare had me beat, So I had to retreat And write wretched drivel like this.
Benjamin the Donkey won't be publishing his work in The Kenyon Review any time soon, but if his point—that we're doing so much damage to the planet that it is affecting said planet's ability to keep 7 billion H. sapiens alive—is correct, that really doesn't matter. With gallows humor as matte black as the it's cover, this book helps ya look into that abyss. Doesn't fix anything, or pretend to fix anything, just shares grief via a chuckle, lightening the existential load....more
A libertarian-conservative reenvisioning of the New Deal and its connection to the Great Depression, in graphic format. Argues that the New Deal did nA libertarian-conservative reenvisioning of the New Deal and its connection to the Great Depression, in graphic format. Argues that the New Deal did not help end the Depression and in fact actually extended it by creating regulatory regimes that benefitted big corporations at the expense of small businesses, more or less the "forgotten men" of the title. I don't know enough about economics or Great Depression history to know whether or not that Shlaes's argument has any merit—according to Wikipedia, conservative critics think it is spot-on, while liberal economists like Paul Krugman think it is balderdash—but I do agree with the book's other thesis, that a federal and executive power grab happened under FDR, the consequences of which remain with us today. I was also frustrated at the attempt to paint FDR as a communist archvillain, always sitting in shadow, smoldering cigarette in teeth-clenched holder. Mwahahahahaha!! ...more
TL;DR version: The Apology of Plato for the age of peak everything and castrophic climate change
"We're fucked," Iraq War veteran Roy Scranton says aboTL;DR version: The Apology of Plato for the age of peak everything and castrophic climate change
"We're fucked," Iraq War veteran Roy Scranton says about our present position as a globalized species and civilization slamming into our planet like a slowmo asteroid. "The only questions are how soon and how badly." (p. 16) His argument
is that we have failed to prevent unimaginable global warming and that global capitalist civilization as we know it is already over, but that humanity can survive and adapt to the new world of the Anthropocene if we accept human limits and transience as fundamental truths, and work to nurture the variety and richness of our collective cultural heritage. Learning to die as an individual means letting go of our predispositions and fear. Learning to die as a civilization means letting go of a particular way of life and its ideas of identity, freedom, success, and progress. These two ways of learning to die come together in the role of the humanist thinker: the one who is willing to interrupt, the one who resonates on other channels and with slower, deeper rhythms. (24)
Here is where I interject and say, wow, someone finally attempts to answer the question that has been hovering around me like an irksome insect, which is to say, what is the value of the humanities in the age of bloating universities, shrinking budgets, dazzling technoscience hype, and changing climates, geophysical and otherwise? Though I've always dug math and science, my formal educational background is primarily in the humanities, and this is also where my career meanderings have brought me thus far, so I have something of a horse in this race. Many of my colleagues scratch their heads and ask why the humanities disciplines, along with the arts, are the first on the chopping block, but also take umbrage at any questions about the importance, if not the usefulness, of the humanities in a "21st century education" (by which of course is meant an education for the present, as if the folks in 1916 could've planned in any meaningful sense for a "20th century education"). Scranton provides a provocative answer to those questions, but he does so by assuming equally provocative propositions (e.g. "we're fucked") that are typically off the table in all circles, academic and otherwise, where the dominant faith is still in the god Progress.
Our choice is a clear one. We can continue acting as if tomorrow will be just like yesterday, growing less ad less prepared for each new disaster as it comes, and more and more desperately invested in a life we can't sustain. Or we can learn to see each day as the death of what came before, freeing ourselves to deal with whatever problems the present offers without attachment or fear.
If we want to learn how to live in the Anthropocene, we must first learn how to die. (27)
Scranton argues that the humanities, and in particular the sort of detached, critical awareness that comes with the study and practice of philosophy, provides an important counterbalance to the political and social media technologies with which we communicate and contend. These technologies perpetuate our habits of reaction and compulsion, at the cost of corresponding habits of critical reflection, and do so within a system that renders these reactions and compulsions politically impotent, in terms of connecting to power or effecting change.
Instead of reacting habitually to these stimuli, the humanist philosopher, analogized to a bee, an "aberrant anti-drone," by German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, slow-dances
to its own rhythm, neither attuned to the collective beat nor operating mechanically, dogmatically, deontologically, but continually self-immunizing against the waves of social energy we live in and amongst by perpetually interrupting its own connection to collective life.... Interrupting the flows of social production is anarchic and counterproductive, like all good philosophy: if it works, it helps us to stop and see our world in new way. If it fails, as it often and even usually does, the interrupter is integrated, driven mad, ignored, or destroyed. (87)
Philosophical humanism in its most radical practice is the disciplined interruption of somatic and social flows, the detachment of consciousness from impulse, and the conception of conceptual truths out of the granular data of experience. It is the study of "dying and being dead," a divestment from this life in favor of deeper investments in a life beyond ourselves. In recognizing the dominion of death and the transience of individual existences, we affirm a web of being that connects past to future, them to us, me to you....
Learning to die is hard. It takes practice. There is no royal road, no first-class lane. Learning to die demands daily cultivation of detachment and daily reminders of mortality. It requires long communion with the dead. And since we can't ever really know how to do something until we do it, learning to die also means accepting the impossibility of achieving that knowledge as long as we live. We will always be practicing, failing, trying again and failing again, until our final day. Yet the practice itself is the wisdom. (91–2)
Scranton goes on to quote Zen master Dōgen Zenji, but he could just as easily have referenced Socrates, Paul of Tarsus, Gautama Buddha, Zhuangzi, or the many others who've called us to stop and to look deeply into our hearts, minds, bodies, and lives.
Stopping, interrupting, detaching, accepting—all afford a sense of panoramic awareness, to borrow a phrase from Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa. Scranton reminds the reader of how the study and practice of the humanities can open our eyes to new possibilities through other ways of being-in-the-world:
The comparative study of human cultures across the world and through time helps us see that our particular way of doing things right here, right now, is a contingent adaptation to particular circumstances, yet at the same time an adaptation built with universal human templates of meaning-making and symbolic reasoning, with tools and technologies we have inherited from the past.... The record of that wisdom, the heritage of the dead, is our most valuable gift to the future.
The study of the humanities is nothing less than the patient nurturing of the roots and heirloom varietals of human symbolic life. This nurturing is a practice not strictly of curation, as many seem to think today, but of active attention, cultivation, making and remaking. It is not enough for the archive to be stored, mapped, or digitized. It must be worked. (98–9)
As I keyboarded that in, I could not help but get caught up in the gardening imagery. As someone who is increasingly exploring green wizardry, primarily through vegetable gardening (for now), I don't think his choice of metaphor is haphazard. Gardening means getting your hands dirty in the most literal sense but dirty with rich, loamy life that must be worked.
As biological and cultural diversity is threatened across the world by capitalist monoculture and mass extinction, we must build arks; not just biological arks, to carry forward endangered genetic data, but cultural arks, to carry forward endangered wisdom. The library of human cultural technologies that is our archive, the concrete record of human thought in all languages that comprise the entirety of our existence as historical beings, is not only the seed stock of our future intellectual growth, but its soil, its source, its womb. The fate of the humanities, as we confront the end of modern civilization, is the fate of humanity itself. (109)
This novel is based on story first sketched out a series of blog posts called "How It Could Happen," referring to the collapse of the US empire in theThis novel is based on story first sketched out a series of blog posts called "How It Could Happen," referring to the collapse of the US empire in the wake of peak oil:
Greer extrapolates today's geological, ecological, political, and social trends into the near future to provide a chillingly plausible (probable?) view of a post-American world. Those familiar with Greer's blog and nonfiction work (on peak oil and our responses to the conundrums it lays before us) might not be surprised by the directions in which this story goes, but I am sure they will enjoy it nonetheless. (His strengths as a writer as as evident here as they are in his nonfiction work.) Those who are not familiar with his work in this vein, and the work of others like James Howard Kunstler or Richard Heinberg, might be surprised and even shocked by Greer's vision of tomorrow, but this too is a good thing.
Although I have stopped reading Kunstler's blog because of his tiresome tirades against tattoos and black Americans, I still think his overall thesisAlthough I have stopped reading Kunstler's blog because of his tiresome tirades against tattoos and black Americans, I still think his overall thesis about the "long emergency" is an accurate one. Plus I really enjoy the world he has made (by hand!) in these novels. A History of the Future, the third in this series, was as enjoyable a read as the first two novels. It also (finally) provided a look at what happened to the world outside of upstate New York, as recounted by a prodigal son who barely survived his voyage through what remains of the United States. Barge travel, unskilled labor, horse traders, local whiskey, indentured servitude, racial politics, neo-Confederates (i.e., "corn pone Nazis"), and the treatment of the mentally ill by a justice system in tatters are a few of the topics that Kunstler explores here. By the time I finally put this book down, I couldn't wait to see where this imagined future is headed next. It will be a hard world in any case, but not one without beauty and humanity. And lots of locally produced alcohol, which cannot be a bad thing. ...more
Four hundred or so years from now, the landscape of North America has changed dramatically. Memfis, a port city on the Gulf of Meyco, is the largest cFour hundred or so years from now, the landscape of North America has changed dramatically. Memfis, a port city on the Gulf of Meyco, is the largest city in Meriga, if not in the world; ruinmen and their guilds combine urban exploration with resource mining, turning rebar and I-beams from decrepit structures into much needed raw materials; and people still remember stories about the times a half-millennium before when their ancestors not only spoke with beings from other worlds, but landed on a few of those worlds themselves.
In this setting, Greer tells the story (in a voice at times reminiscent of Huck Finn's) of one of these ruinmen, Trey sunna Gwen; the ancient map he discovered in the hands of a mummified corpse deep in a ruin in Shanuga, Tinisi; Star's Reach, the place the map took him and his friends, where earlier human beings had indeed communicated with extraterrestrials; and the larger world in which this voyage of discovery unfolds. Greer includes a painfully ironic comment on the role of today's science fiction in perpetuating what he calls the Myth of Progress, and his acceptance of the reality of intelligent extraterrestrial life is tempered by a sobering revelation from the galactic community (view spoiler)[: that all technologically advanced species out there have experienced similar resource overdrafts and civilizational collapses as those facing 21st century H. sapiens, and that, in spite of all of the advances of all of these species, FTL interstellar travel remains an impossibility. What does exist could be described as an interstellar community of ham radio enthusiasts who endure lifetime-long lags between broadcasts. (hide spoiler)]...more
The stories in this collection were surprisingly good considering that most were written by amateurs. Two brought me to tears, and the concluding taleThe stories in this collection were surprisingly good considering that most were written by amateurs. Two brought me to tears, and the concluding tale by the Archdruid himself vividly illustrated his theory of catabolic collapse and the themes discussed on his blog....more
Chris Martenson's Crash Course presentation was one of the first sources of information for me about the converging predicaments our species faces inChris Martenson's Crash Course presentation was one of the first sources of information for me about the converging predicaments our species faces in the coming decades. This, his subsequent book of the same title, does an admirable job of expanding on those 3-plus hours of online video. It provides a primer for those who want a deeper understanding of what he calls "the Three E's": energy, economy, environment, and on what these three factors mean for our collective future.
Martenson brings serious academic and professional credentials, including an MBA, a science PhD, and a past-life as a corporate VP, to the discussion, which makes him more difficult for some to dismiss than, say, the Archdruid John Michael Greer.
For newcomers to the Peak Oil conversation, and to the conversation of sustainability more generally, this book is a great place to start. I would also recommend it to those who are of a "conservative" bent (i.e., not "tree hugger" types) because Martenson provides hard data to support his contentions, hard data that may sway those who aren't already signing in the choir, so to speak.
The next 20 years will definitely be different from the last 20 years, but with authors like Martenson providing what information and assistance they can, that difference need not necessarily be a negative one. ...more
This is another winner from the Archdruid, in which he expands on one of the foci of his blog, the topic of "green wizardry."
After he begins with a dThis is another winner from the Archdruid, in which he expands on one of the foci of his blog, the topic of "green wizardry."
After he begins with a definition of "wizard" that turns Gandalf on his pointy-hatted head (if you're curious, wizards in the Early Middle Ages were, according to Greer, "freelance intellectual[s] whose main stock in trade was good advice"), Greer briefly recaps his previous New Society Publications titles, summarizing both the principles on which green wizardry is based and the predicaments our species faces which make the study and practice of green wizardry indispensable.
The bulk of the book comprises examples of the sorts of skills that a green wizard should have in her toolkit, skills which revolve around two essential subjects: food and energy. While you won't learn any of these skills from the book, you'll have a greater idea of what sorts of skills will be necessary for surviving and thriving in the, ahem, challenging times ahead, and Greer conscientiously points the reader toward further resources for actually learning these skills and putting them into practice.
The book is well-written, convincingly argued, and worth multiple readings. I have come to expect no less from the Archdruid. ...more
I found this book more powerful than Dr. Baker's previous book, Navigating the Coming Chaos, although that might be a function of the intervening yeI found this book more powerful than Dr. Baker's previous book, Navigating the Coming Chaos, although that might be a function of the intervening year-plus of business-as-usual in the face of worsening predicaments(i.e., maybe I need to read what Baker has to say more than I did last year) instead of an objective assessment of the merits of both books.
The first half of this book comprises a series of essays that Baker initially wrote for the blog of the late Michael Ruppert, and while it reveals the piece work nature of those essays, their content remains a valuable assessment of our current situation as a species and of the role that the world's wisdom traditions have to play in helping us endure and perhaps even flourish.
More important, at least to me, is the book's second section, a collection of 52 weekly "meditations" on death, suffering, and transformation that draws on a diverse set of sources to provide unflinching yet compassionate commentary on the growing challenges we face individually and collectively. (A photocopy of these meditations now resides in my "transition/collapse" binder, next to the gardening books.) ...more
The theme Greer develops here will not be unfamiliar to regular readers of his blog: peak oil, a phenomenon discussed in several of his other recent bThe theme Greer develops here will not be unfamiliar to regular readers of his blog: peak oil, a phenomenon discussed in several of his other recent books, means that the global, industrial economy is in for a sustained economic contraction, resulting in great reductions in our standards of living and the frustration of expectations that we have long-taken for granted. This sense of entitlement, however frustrated, comes with what Greer describes as the "civil religion" of Progress and means that,
industrial societies around the world behave as though a future of continued technological advance, economic expansion, and global socio-political integration is guaranteed, and projects that will only make sense if such a future were to happen...proceed apace, even in regions where by most measures decline has already begun. (42)
He uses the typology of Kübler-Ross's "five stages" to describe the ways in which we are responding—or failing to respond—to the implications of peak oil. I don't think too many readers would meet his definition of "acceptance," and I cannot completely give up my own utopian hopes and dystopian fears. You might not agree with every one of Greer's arguments, but he is a reasoned, thoughtful writer who will definitely challenge deeply held assumptions....more
José recommended this book for me back in 1998 or '99, when we were browsing through the titles in the Gregory Village Shopping Center Goodwill in PleJosé recommended this book for me back in 1998 or '99, when we were browsing through the titles in the Gregory Village Shopping Center Goodwill in Pleasant Hill, CA. He also recommended The Gulag Archipelago, which I didn't take up and read until almost ten years later. I don't remember what I purchased (though I think it was a tattered Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon) but I know it wasn't either of his recommendations.
José's recommendations count though, and so this book was always on my radar. I finally found a trade paperback copy in the late 2000's, which promptly vanished into my fiction stacks, until I read an Archdruid Report post entitled "The Glass Bead Game," at which point I moved the book to the "to read" pile.
So what is it about? I was afraid you would ask that, because it really isn't about much. It is literary fiction, the novel for which Hesse won his Nobel Prize. It is science fiction, in the sense of describing a far future society on a far future Earth, if not in the sense of cowboys-in-space operas, alien invasions, or gritty corporate cyberstuff. It is a hagiography of one Joseph Knecht, Magister Ludi, written, or more correctly, edited, by an anonymous disciple. ...more
I was very early in life inoculated against the triumphs of technology and imprinted instead with a respectful hypersensitivity for its implications..
I was very early in life inoculated against the triumphs of technology and imprinted instead with a respectful hypersensitivity for its implications.... [and] this conditioning has led me much later in life to take an extremely skeptical view of what is commonly regarded as "progress." By an odd coincidence, I have also found myself later in life in a society that is crumbling under the weight of its investments in technology (and tortured by the unintended consequences and diminishing returns of these investments), not to mention the agony of its ongoing fantasies about a technological rescue from the very predicaments already spawned by the misuse of technology. (pp. 243-4)
If you find yourself resonating with any of those sentiments, you may want to check out this collection of informed rants by the author of The Long Emergency and the "World Made By Hand" novels. Many of the topics will be familiar to readers of his blog—peak oil, peak finance, the cultural cul de sac of Happy Motoring, the bankruptcy of modern architecture and urban planning, the implications of climate change, the failure of contemporary party politics, the future of race relations in the US, and the sorry implications of the ubiquitous tattoo. He even has a chapter on Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity, which Kunstler sees (with some good reason) as a sort of religion. Not much of the information here is new, and I don't always agree with Kunstler, but the book is decently written and oftentimes pretty funny. ...more
Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline, the third installment in his trilogy on the collapse of the USAmerican empire (beginning w3.5 stars
Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline, the third installment in his trilogy on the collapse of the USAmerican empire (beginning with The Twilight of American Culture and continuing with Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire) is vintage Berman. His highly readable rants against the many failings of contemporary USAmerican society locate the deep cause of our nihilism and ennui in a tradition of "hustling," of seeking nothing but commercial and financial success, that extends back to the days of the hallowed Founding Fathers. According to Berman, this driving ideology of the US--that freedom to succeed and to prosper, whatever the consequences for those around you, is the only freedom worth pursuing--has been dominant since the inception of the nation; it goes a long way to explaining why the US is an artless cultural wasteland where wars are regarded as football games and torture is celebrated as a valuable tool in the "War on Terror."
In the most challenging section of the book, Berman asserts that there was an alternative, countercultural tradition in the US, counterpoised to the Yankee emphasis on progress, technology, ingenuity, and acquisition, but that this counterculture of virtue, civility, gentility, and tradition was defeated once and for all in the Union victory over the Confederacy in 1865. He repeatedly argues that the U.S. Civil War was, in the final analysis, a good thing, and that a way of life based on slavery, was, regardless of its virtues, an abomination, but this notwithstanding he also thinks that the aristocratic, European way of life of the South, defeated in the U.S. Civil War, was the first casualty in the United States' century-and-a-half, Borg-like imperial expansion of the "freedom to hustle." My take-away from this is that the U.S. is rooted in two diametrically opposed, and yet equally problematic (abominable?), cultures: one that valued the humanities and meaningful lives while being built on involuntary servitude, and one that values the individual and freedom, but without any guidance as to what that freedom is for beyond the endless accumulation of stuff. Sounds like Uncle Sam was damned in one way or another from the get-go.
With this sort of background, it probably shouldn't surprise that Berman's assessment of our national future is even bleaker than in his two previous works (if that is possible). As well, he continues to insist on the "monastic option" (first discussed in The Twilight of American Culture) as the only course for those who swim against the current in the U.S. In other words, the alternative traditions in the U.S., lacking any political power whatsoever in a "culture" that values nothing but the almighty dollar, need to be preserved on an individual and communal basis by those of us who think that the good life boils down to something more than dying with the most toys. He also talks about being an expat, encourages his readers to join him in his exodus from this sinking ship, and openly says that he doesn't think there is any hope for the U.S. to awaken from this nightmare, because there never really has been much of a national "inner life" to be awakened.
Challenging, infuriating, pessimistic as hell, and impossible to put down, it is, like I said, vintage Berman....more
I'm a sucker for any science fiction or detective story set in San Franciso. It is the loveliest of all the USAmerican cities I have seen, and I am faI'm a sucker for any science fiction or detective story set in San Franciso. It is the loveliest of all the USAmerican cities I have seen, and I am familiar enough with its landmarks for the descriptions to be really vivid and meaningful. This novel, by one of the creative folks behind the Exploratorium, is a magical realist tale set in a post-apocalyptic City where different sorts of armies engage in a uniquely Californian struggle for the future. It was was especially fun to read because I was reading it along with my father-in-law and his lifelong girlfriend, both of whom have been Californians since the 1960s. I took a paperback copy with me on our spring 2013 vacation to Modesto/Woodacre/Lakeport, left it in the last location with Jon and Marlene (who both loved it), and checked this hardcover copy out from the Urbana Free Library. If you're a hippie at heart and really believe love, truth, and beauty have some heft, check this one out. ...more
I literally could not put this one down. Baxter presents an unfolding situation of such awesomeness and implacability (simply outside the scope of ourI literally could not put this one down. Baxter presents an unfolding situation of such awesomeness and implacability (simply outside the scope of our technoscientific fixes) that it staggers the imagination. The explanation for the titular flood was less than fully satisfying, but I think that misses the point. The planetary flood, with its inconceivable enormity, is a reminder to the reader that nature bats last, and that some problems are really predicaments (to use the terminology of John Michael Greer) which don't lend themselves readily (or at all) to solutions. While the book was not without its flaws, it has haunted me since I finished it. ...more