Archive for April, 2006

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A Media Moment

April 27, 2006

I have to recommend this post from Rigorous Intuition about media reporting on the Iranian situation. Try combining it with this one from Deconsumption where I left a comment at the bottom.

It doesn’t surprise me any more that professional journalists are such willing and able servants of empire, it doesn’t even surprise me that they’re so good at serving the status quo that they make it look like they’re active members of a conspiracy. It doesn’t surprise me, but it does take my breath away at times.

What does still surprise me however is that these journalists actually think they’re doing a good job. I had a brief email exchange on the subject of GE with a senior journalist at New Zealand’s biggest newspaper The Herald. He appeared to be simply reprinting biotech PR so I got in touch and suggested he talk to a couple of independent scientists that I had interviewed as I thought they would provide a credible counter to what he appeared to have been told about GE. To my utter astonishment he replied that he talked to one of these scientists on a regular basis!

He then went on for a bit about how he likes to talk to people on both sides of an argument so that he can better inform his readers and also said that his job as a writer was not to take sides. The usual standard stuff.

He seemed like a nice guy – I was too scared to email him back and explain where he was going wrong. If he couldn’t see it for himself there was no way that I was going to be able to get through to him and being involved with people who are so clearly deluded kind of freaks me out.

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Denial

April 26, 2006

The price of petrol down here is now pretty much double what it used to be a few years ago and because of that rising oil costs are now a common conversational topic. Because of this I have stopped being careful about how I bring up the subject of the coming crash and have accidentally confronted a few people with the idea.

In some ways it’s been fascinating because without exception everyone I have spoken to has gone into immediate denial. I’ve never been witness to such a clear example of the sub conscious mind steering the conscious mind – it’s kind of like there’s a gravitational force that pushes the conversation away from scary topics.

I wasn’t completely confrontational either. One couple I spoke to exist mostly in the fringy world I do, they’re good vegetarian, home-schooling, co-sleeping, alternative types but nonetheless the mention of the crash was immediately dismissed. Another person I talked to was someone I respect greatly who had just bought up the subject of the ‘end times’, we spent a couple of minutes with him coming up with alternative fuel solutions and me pointing out their flaws before I stopped when I realised he was starting to get a bit grumpy – something I have never seen him do before.

Another common response was to refer to a documentary that had been on TV a week earlier about the oil sands – it seems to have served as a reassurance that ‘things will be OK’ for a lot of people and must therefore stand as a truly masterful piece of PR/propaganda.

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Everything is political

April 18, 2006

Everything is political

We’ve finally got a copy of Teach Your Own here and somewhere near the start John Holt recounts how the parents of a student in his class (when he was teaching in schools) were worried that he was enjoying school too much and that this wouldn’t help him as an adult because he would have to do things then that he didn’t enjoy.

I wonder if this is really an act of compassion by parents, or something else in disguise. There are plenty of parents who use this argument to justify directing spiteful behaviour toward their kids but there’s also a terrible sense of hopelessness about it too. The parents have lost so much hope that they can’t imagine that anything else is possible. Mind you, I also think it would be too much for them to bear if their own children proved them wrong by going on to have enjoyable lives and maybe there is a subconcious desire to prevent this from happening. Either way there is a hint of the inter-generational pattern of abuse in the whole thing.

More simply, the parents have learnt that the role of all participants in a hierarchical system is to reinforce the hierarchy. Despite society’s best efforts though, some people get through without properly internalising all the rules. For them school and childhood is just something to be endured and then they can get on with living a genuinely creative life.

My friend Alastair is like this. He came from a relatively normal family in England (and his brother has gone on to follow the usual sensible options) but for some reason Alastair has gone on to create a ‘career’ for himself that revolves around his interest in rock climbing. It’s basically just an excuse to spend as much time as possible on rocks, up mountains and generally mucking around as he sees fit. Of course the whole family/mortgage thing has reigned him in a little bit, but it’s not noticeable when compared to most other normal people.

What is interesting about Alastair is that he is very open minded, you can talk to him about a wide range of potentially controversial topics without ending up in a major disagreement. I think because he’s never had to kill off many of his aspirations or make any ethical compromises there aren’t many topics that bug his sub concious or remind him of the ideals that his younger self once had.

You can see at this site what he does for a ‘career’. The word career is totally innapropriate but I’m not sure if there actually is a word for this type of lifestyle. It’s just as hard to describe what Ran Prieur does. People sometimes use the word vocation but that just describes someone lucky enough to have a career with some elements that are genuinely satisfying. They’re still at the beck and call of the system.

You’ll notice that Alastair’s website is completely non political (it’s a commercial site in fact).

Or is it? There’s an argument that says that in a political world every act is political whether we like it or not. That every time we choose not to confont something or even if we merely follow mainstream modes of behaviour we’re making a vote for the current system. Ran Prieur is overtly political about his lifestyle choice where as Alastair is not. One thing is for sure though, if too many people started living their lives like either of them the elites in our society would start to get very concerned. Both have a healthy disrespect for the norms of our hierarachical culture although it would be fair to comment that Alastair is more likely to get drawn into that culture because he is partialy involved in the economic system.

Surely though, if we want to mess with the system giving our kids hope for their future is really good way to do it.

Incidently Alastair’s website appears on my ‘Not Very Related Sites’ list. It’s also where you can see a video of me mowing chest high noxious weeds, should you so desire.

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Religious Nutters

April 15, 2006

There’s been some interesting discussion on the Continuum Concept list lately. Someone has discovered some awful people called the Pearls (as in Mr and Mrs) who use the bible to justify their appalling treatment of their children and they’ve even written about it. It’s so bad I’m not going to reprint it here although I will freak you out by telling you that they advocate the whipping of 3 months old babies. Apart from that I’m going to refer people to some other parenting sites written by Christians who appear to have actually noticed that Jesus talks a lot about love in the bible – just so you know that such people really do really exist.

I’ll also refer you to a petition site where you can register your horror at this madness

I guess it’s the difference between fitting your life around what you read in the bible compared to fitting what you read in the bible around your life.

While we’re on the subject of screwed up religious types I want to talk about the followers of Rudolph Steiner. Before settling on homeschooling we explored the idea of giving our children a Steiner education. After reading a book about it we really liked the ideas and concepts that Steiner promoted and were keen to check out a school. That’s when it started to get weird. First of all the teacher we went to see wouldn’t let us observe a class in action and then when we talked to her after the class was finished she kept referring to Steiner the way people talk about a religious figure. “We do this because Steiner says to…” sort of thing. It was like no one had bothered to develop Steiner’s concepts any further since he died.

She also said “I feel I should tell you that I believe in reincarnation”. She didn’t say that it was a core part of the curriculum or relate it back to teaching techniques so I still don’t know why we needed to know it so badly.

It turns out on the list that a lot of people have had similar experiences. Reincarnation wasn’t universal though – one school had a huge painting of Mary and Joseph on the wall. The same school held that root vegetable were the ‘devils food’ which is pretty mad. Worse though, the idea that appeared to be central to Waldorf education – that the child only proceeds to the next level when they are ready had been turned into bizarre rules. It became that all children were ready to go to the next stage at the same time. Like when their eye-teeth were through or when the teacher had decided. It was supposed to be that the teacher looked out for signs that the child was ready to move up a level but somehow it seems to get twisted around to the teacher determining when the signs are there.

I’ve always thought that a child is often ready for new things when they ask for them but some of the people involved in Steiner education seem to have taken that idea and turned it into rules about when a child is ready. The child is ready when the teacher says so. This is a perversion of intent that the institutional church would be proud of.

As one person said; If they wanted a religious education for their child they would have taken them to a religious school. Really, all it is, is that the civilised teachers have taken their role as defenders of civilisation seriously enough to bring it into the classroom – good servants of empire that they are.

All this is not to say that there aren’t good Steiner schools out there but I doubt that it is possible to have any kind of institution without having to be constatnly on guard against this sort of thing.

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Crashblogger

April 14, 2006

There were some great comments by Ran yesterday about the power of words:

The best I can do with words is help people get their minds in a place to better navigate these interesting times, to see opportunity instead of horror, to see opened doors instead of closed doors.

This is actually something Ran excels at. His last essay, a collection of post crash scenarios actually succeeded in lifting my mood for the rest of the day – not necessarily the easiest of things to do I might add.

My fear is that the people who see an apocalyptic horror coming our way in the future and are preparing for it (a sizeable proportion of the peak oil community) will bring it about because there’ll be all these people around the place with bunkers full of tinned spam and defensive munitions waiting for the hungry hordes to come and attack them. Hopefully they’ll all find their way to Ran’s site soon/

Ran also wrote:

I think it’s actually helpful to admit you’re looking forward to the crash, because that puts out in the open something that a lot of people think in secret. It breaks a taboo that prevents us from seeing opportunity in catastrophe. I think pretty much all crashbloggers, even the most “pessimistic,” are craving something, anything, that loosens up this tight, tight world, even if it kills them. As I once wrote:
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.

That last sentence is fabulous but I want to add that amongst the anti-civ sites I’m hanging out at online it also feels taboo to admit you like civilisation. The truth is I’m going to miss it, I’m going to miss hot showers, rock concerts and the fabulous technical doodads that I’ve bought over the years. I’ve got my life to a point where it’s reasonably disconnected from civilisation and I’m able to pick and choose what I participate in more than most people can. I like having groovy civilised stuff at my disposal but I’m also going to miss the world I grew up in. Even though I know how damaging it is, civilisation’s imminent demise makes me sad.

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Here we go again

April 11, 2006

I first learned of Toby Hemmenway’s new essay during a visit to the Anthropik site. After reading their review of his work and the associated reader comments I was in full agreement with the idea that Toby had pushed things a bit far this time. However when I actually read ‘Apocalypse Not’ I discovered that there were whole sections that had not been referred to in the review. They’re sections that I think are incredibly important because they apply some critical analysis to Peak Oil dogma. They’re also sections that are liable to get a guy branded a heretic.

Something that has bothered me about the peak oil movement for a long time is the almost religious dogma that goes with it. It’s a dogma that a guy might challenge at great risk to his reputation within the movement. It’s no surprise that Toby Hemmenway is the one to make the challenge. As a permaculturist his reputation has been made (and can only be broken) in areas other than peak oil. Since I have no reputation to defend I too will come out in support of his ideas – despite still feeling the subtle pressure to fall in line (just don’t mention abiotic oil OK?).

To be fair there are bits of the new essay that don’t handle the scrutiny but I’m fine with that because there are whole other sections that raise important challenges to the peak oil mythology and that’s more important to me.

Ultimately what’s up for debate here is how fast we crash. I think a lot of the time people haven’t agreed on the definition of ‘crash’, or of ‘fast’ either. What Toby has shown in his essay is that the down slope from Hubbert’s peak will possibly be shallower than we might have thought. This is an important consideration because the gentler the slope the more time we have to adjust and the less chance there is of total chaos resulting. Will there, for instance be enough time for mass conversions of farm land to organic production – or even batter staggered conversions to organic agriculture.

Once again, I remind readers that I don’t think that organic agriculture is going to deliver us into paradise – only that it will provide a useful step on the descent back to the stone age – a useful step that will help prevent a lot of carnage.

The whole issue of time is important too. I’ve often come away from peak oil discussions thinking that disaster is imminent and that panic was the only option available to me. According to what I had read in the past I had thought the crash would be a lot more advanced by now. It could be that the crash is preceding at a fast pace considering the history of human affairs but that in comparison to the time scale of my life it is quite slow. For this reason I recommend Steven Lagavulin’s Timeline for Unfolding Crisis of Mankind since it’s written by someone who understands well the operation of our current economic system.

Of course there is the whole issue of environmental collapse which has the potential to make peak oil irrelevant or at least of compartively minor importance. I’ve seen a little of the article* I mentioned in the last posting and although I knew my country was in denial about it’s clean green image I have to admit surprise at just how bad things are here. Once again I reiterate, if this stuff is making it into the mainstream (without the usual ‘balancing’ with industry funded viewpoints) then it really must be too late.

Sleep well everyone.

 

* Only shows the first two paragraphs

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More Loosening

April 9, 2006

Following the previous posts discussion of the mainstreaming of the environmental crisis – now that it’s too late – This week’s New Zealand Listener came out with a front page screaming “New Zealand’s Dirty Secrets” The 10 worst eco-crimes and how they endanger us all.And still on the front page; “The hot spots – From Auckland’s toxic child-care sites to Alexandra’s polluted air”.

The front page ends with a reference to an article inside about the Rolling Stones who also are not what they used to be. Theres a picture of Keith Richards and he just looks terrible.

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Grip Loosening

April 5, 2006

People keep saying that you know it’s all over when mainstream media finally get round to reporting on the issues and I’d have to say that there is increasing evidence of that. Here’s a blurb for a TV documentary just shown here:

INSIDE NEW ZEALAND
Thursday 30 March 8:30pm
We cling to the notion that we live in a pristine country – New Zealand is clean and green, but research shows this may not be the case, find out on Inside New Zealand: Our Dirty Little Secret, screening Thursday, March 30 at 8:30pm.

Conducting our own scientific tests and drawing heavily on the most up-to-date research, we discover that New Zealanders are actually exposed to a myriad of harmful pollutants – chemicals now dominate all areas of our life, the air we breathe is killing us, toxins now rule the beach and waterway ecosystems, bacteria and viruses lurk submerged and as a people we are now amongst the worst polluters on the planet.

25 million cigarette butts wash into our foreshores each year… 80 tonnes of pollutants enter Auckland’s harbours over the same period… and we hide our dirty little secret by telling the world we’re 100% Pure.

And yesterday morning the front page of the ludicrously conservative New Zealand Herald had this article* about how it’s almost over for our central North Island lakes – they’re suffering from toxic overload.

Add to this is the fact that our leading current affairs TV host at the moment is a guy (John Campbell) who is so left wing that his employers have asked him not to state publicly who he votes for (we have proportional representation here so there are what you’d call genuine left wing options available). He also reads Chomsky and about 10 years ago, along with Nicky Hagar climbed security fences at the NSA controlled Waihopai spy base in order to film through the windows to see what was going on.

How he got to such a powerful position in our media is anyone’s guess. It’s great he’s there but it can’t be a good sign that they haven’t tried to shoot him down. Lately he’s been doing a few shows on peak oil and most recently one on the genetically engineered terminator genes which made a big splash with the ‘man on the street’.

Maybe I should interview him.* If the link doesn’t work go to www.nzherald.co.nz and  type ‘toxic heritage’ into the search option. The photo you see took up most of the top half of the front page.

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Catchment Plan

April 2, 2006

I flicked over to Anthropik this morning and discovered what appears to be the beginnings of a debate between Jason and Steven from Deconsumption. This is not the first time I have had this impression. Jason himself says that he likes to get into a debate to see what comes out of it but as has happened in the past I don’t think there is actually a debate here. 

Steven posted his thoughts on how to choose a small town to move to in preparation for post peak collapse and Jason has responded by saying that small towns are no good because we’re going back to the stone-age (that’s extreme paraphrasing btw). The reason I think there is no actual debate here is that I believe Steven’s posting was about what to do next. Not what to aim for. Jason is talking about what to aim for but seems intent on reaching the end target at about the same time Steven will be getting to his next target. 

Jason’s posting implies that small town’s surviving successfully on the agricultural model will have 100 years to prepare for the step where they go past agriculture to more sustainable survival techniques. His statement that they won’t be able to stay with agriculture for ever gets no argument from me and in fact this end goal of arriving back at the stone age is something I attempt to build into every bit of future planning I do. I presume that this is something that Steven also does (without stating it explicitly every time). 

The real trick with all this I think (and this is something I have tried to emphasise before) is that for most of us going directly to stone age living is not an option. In fact I would have to argue that only childless and probably unmarried people in their 20s could contemplate it. I certainly know having a young family means I’m not in a position to do that. It’s not that the kids couldn’t cope – in fact I’m sure they’d be fine. The problem is me. 

And I should add that (based on my own personal development) I wouldn’t expect a community of childless, possibly relationship-less people to last long. I had not achieved a sufficient level of personal growth at that stage of my life to be able to contribute to a tribe. I would have been a liability and so would most young civilised adults. This is not an indictment on them so much as the parenting techniques of civilisation. 

Despite being well versed in the possibilities of the coming crisis I also know that I am not ready to walk away from civilisation, in fact I’m not ready to do anything different at the moment.  Nuclear Family Hell (to borrow someone else’s phrase) is not a strong position to do anything from – it’s a position to endure. If it wasn’t I would already be preparing to set up a village. It doesn’t end with me though. I hardly think I could convince my parents to walk away from civilisation, so I need a better plan if they are to see out the rest of their natural lives. 

In actual fact I don’t know anyone who I could convince to walk away from civilisation and join a forager tribe.  So I need another plan. 

At first I thought my old idea of living in an ecovillage might be the way but it soon became obvious that an ecovillage couldn’t absorb an influx of permanent visitors very well and it certainly couldn’t handle difficult security issues. 

Therefore I’ve given myself the same advice people are trying to give to George Bush (if only he would listen). True security comes from catering for the needs of all the people. I’d like to aim at preparing my entire catchment to be ready for post peak living and if that goes well, to use that as a model for other parts of New Zealand. I know that last bit is a little ambitious but I figure it’s worth a try. 

The first step in the long descent is actually to implement measures that will enable civilised life to continue pretty much as-is. This does sound a bit contrary but bear with me, this is possibly the most important phase. The main reason people aren’t ready is because they don’t know they need to be ready. They won’t know until it’s too late. 

If I stand up today and tell everyone the sky is going to fall in they’ll laugh at me but after the sky has fallen I’m pretty sure they’ll be keen to listen. If a few measures like setting up a green dollar system can be implemented now it will provide a cushion during the period when the economy is passing from recession to depression to total collapse. During this time it will become apparent to more and more people that things are changing for good and they will be more inclined to walk away from modern ways of living. 

But why do we bother with a bunch of civilised people who are in many ways the enemy of the earth? Because, in my view, to write them off is to be less than human.  To write them off is to take the ‘civilised’ approach. To write them off is to be supremely rational and isn’t that one of or problems at the moment? 

Of course the flip side of altruism is that it has a self-serving quality to it. Joe Polaischer mentioned in his interview with me that once people get desperate it’s too late. They stop caring for the environment and just look for the next meal to eat and the next tree to burn for warmth. It’s something he has seen in those parts of the world that are already in crisis and it’s something he is anxious to not see again. 

Something else I don’t want to do is to write-off organic agriculture. Sure, it’s the food source of empire and sure, it still depletes the topsoil over time but once again it’s a step – and a pretty good step too. Talking to the organic farmer who presented at our GE hearing the first thing a farmer must do when they convert from conventional agriculture is to get the soil functioning again. They take an active part in this over a period of several years. 

It’ll be a hell of a lot easier for the earth to repair itself if we’ve already done a lot of the work and it’ll be a million times easier to prevent chaos around you if the land is under organic ‘management’. I don’t care if we have to use capitalist arguments to convince people to farm organically – the more the merrier. It’s also a good way to turn farmers into activists which can’t hurt. 

Anyway, once people really understand that the world is changing, and truthfully I still find it hard to believe, they will be ready to move on to those next steps. None of this will happen if I turn primitive and head for the hills. If I do that I shouldn’t be surprised if the part of the world I depend on follows the pattern that has already been set in the more desperate parts of the third world which is to fall apart under me.

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