Friday, 6 March 2009

Cataclysm, anyone?

In today's Edmonton Journal, there is an article in the business section that advises people to brace for more than just a mere recession or depression. Instead, in the headline itself, we were warned to take heed of a coming cataclysm. The article in the paper is longer than the one provided online, but the final paragraph is the same:

"In the end, Hamon said, we will return to the way we used to live a generation or two ago. That means grandparents living with their children. Workers taking lunch pails to work instead of eating at [iconic donut shop]. One-income families. People raising their own children and cutting their own grass. Camping instead of cruising. "There will be a reduction in living standards," Brennan said."

This article struck me as both a good and bad thing. On one hand, I think it's good that the seriousness of the economic situation is finally being talked about in the mainstream media. And words like "cataclysm" certainly draw attention, and might serve as a wake up call to those still slumbering in the soporific stew of consumer culture.

But on the other hand, I don't agree that living the way we did a generation or two ago can be considered a "reduction in living standards." I already take my 'lunch pail' to work and I already cut my own grass. In fact I'm cutting it less and less often, and there is less and less to cut, as I let grassy areas grow wild. I already prefer camping to cruising, but don't even need to go camping really, since I've got a nice garden to putter about in, whenever I want. And, we've been weaning ourselves down to one salary for a couple years now, and could go further. None of this has been a hardship, and it certainly hasn't been cataclysmic.

A dictionary definition of 'cataclysm' is: "A violent upheaval that causes great destruction or brings about a fundamental change." Some synonyms for the word 'cataclysmic' are: disastrous, devastating, catastrophic and calamitous.

In fact I'd take the radical approach that what we have wreaked upon the earth in the past 50 -100 years has been the cataclysm, not what's happening now. I'm looking forward to things getting back INTO balance again. And for that I will happily keep packing my lunch pail and skipping the obligatory cruise.

Chapter 37 of the Tao Te Ching has something to say about this, about returning to basics and knowing when enough is enough:
The Tao never does anything,
yet through it all things are done.

If powerful men and women
could enter themselves in it,
the whole world would be transformed
by itself, in its natural rhythms.
People would be content
with their simple, everyday lives,
in harmony, and free of desire.

When there is no desire,
all things are at peace.
Tao Te Ching translation by S. Mitchell
Picture courtesy this website.

17 comments:

Desiree said...

Wow. Just wow. That article is deep, really deep. It's what we all need to hear. I'm starting my first vegetable garden this year from scratch, watching my groceries, and in the process of getting rid of all credit card debt. Although we still have two incomes, you don't know what tomorrow brings. The article sounds a little extreme, but it sounds very possible. The difference between the last hard times and now is that this time, the impact of the situation can and will be felt globally. I would love to see some of your future posts on how you have been working your dependency down to one income over the past few years. I think it would be something many of us need to hear and start trying to mimic.

Theresa said...

Desiree - yes, it was quite startling to see it printed there in the daily paper, when such things are not usually said out loud, let alone put down in writing for all to see.

As to the weaning down to one income, the main factors there are that the one income we kept is fairly decent, and we just stopped buying a lot of stuff. It's amazing what you don't need, once you stop wanting it. Hmm...I might post about it actually, because there are a few other factors and effects in there, now that I think about it...

Anonymous said...

More of this kind of thinking:
"Actually I think that with the proper preparations any individual, family or community stands a pretty good chance not just of surviving the coming changes but thriving in a new era."
http://poweringdown.blogspot.com/

I find it scary that people who realize that we are soon in crisis mode still are so naive.
EJ

SoapBoxTech said...

Interesting. 6 months ago, the only person getting any real coverage with this kind of forecast was Gerald Celente, and he was being called a kook for it...even after being so successful in major trend forecasting. Not so surprising tho, I suppose. They like to keep us scared, but only SO scared.

Speaking of keeping us scared, has anyone noticed the fact that for all the genius it took to create the current derivatives market (which eventually tripped the depression switch), apparently those same geniuses couldn't see this possible outcome. I don't buy it. Einstein and the other Manhatten project folks knew exactly what the outcome of cracking the atom would be, no one can tell me Greenspan and the others didn't have a damn good idea of the eventual devastation they were creating. All this should beg the question, "Why would anyone want to engineer a global economic collapse?".

The answer is that in every collapse, there are opportunities. It's the same old Shock Doctrine everyone was going on a few months back. What are we hearing out of this crisis? We're hearing leaders from all over the world calling for a New World Order, some kind of global financial governance, etc etc. We're seeing people everywhere becoming more and more willing to give up civil rights and liberties, just to feed themselves. And we're going to see a HELL of a lot more of this.

We aren't returning to pioneer type days. Not for some time anyway. Where we are headed is towards a new Dark Ages, an age that may well be significantly Darker than the last. Ponder the success of a French Revolution, where the serfs are armed with the same basic hand tool weapons (maybe the odd rifle and handgun here and there), but where the "Royal Guard" has satellite imagery, stealth weaponry, unmanned weaponry, GMO seeds, bio-weaponry, nuclear weaponry, etc etc. Ponder the European freedom movement of the 17th and 18th Century, without a vast and seemingly empty (and resource filled) New World to colonize.

Theresa said...

EJ - sorry, could you elaborate? Who's being naive?

SBT - the "New World Order" stuff is scary indeed. I have been hearing more and more about this aspect as well, and I do wonder about it - if there is truth to it or if it is overly paranoid. I guess I always go back to the fact that getting out of debt, growing my own food and learning practical skills is a good idea anyway, no matter what the economy's like and no matter who's in charge.

SoapBoxTech said...

I agree, Theresa, they are always a good idea. I guess my concern is whether they will be enough or not.

Theresa said...

Yes, I suppose we just can't know that with any certainty. I'm trying to get more comfortable with uncertainty.

SoapBoxTech said...

I agree that there will always be an amount of uncertainty. I just think that this is all the more reason to start putting real energy into intentional communities, be they urban or rural. By doing so, we stand a better chance of a positive overall outcome.

Or so I think.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Theresa said...

To the anonymous poster whose comment I posted then deleted, if you wish to resubmit your comment, please refrain from swearing. I just don't run that kind of blog.

In fact I'm going to turn anonymous posting off. I have a personal policy that if I wouldn't sign my name to something I've said, then it must be better left unsaid.

Theresa said...

SBT - intentional communities are a great idea - I agree! That would reduce the uncertainty in a lot of areas. It really is a way of life we need to get back to :)

EJ said...

Naive: people who discuss change but think thriving in a new era is a real possibilit. Such as poweringdown.blogspot.

Theresa said...

EJ, thanks for clarifying. I have not read that blog, so I don't know what they might mean by "thrive." I expect different people have different ideas about what that might look like, and what the means might be to get there. How do you define "thrive" and how do you see us getting there or not getting there?

If you are counting me among the naive in comparing my writings to theirs, that's fine. I don't want to give up all hope just yet.

Amber said...

I know I'm late to this discussion, but I'm catching up on my blog reading after being away for a few days and this post really resonates with me, especially with regards to EJ's feelings on the naivete of thinking that we will be able to thrive in a time of crisis.

Personally, I make the choices I do, live the way that I do and hope the way that I do, because I am living in the world the way that I want it to be, not the way that it is, nor the way that I think it might become, otherwise I'd just give up altogether.

I don't think this is naive, nor a denial of the reality of the situation. It's the best way I know how to cope, stay active and engaged and not be paralyzed by fear and hopelessness.

My friend Greenfyre has a post related to this called The Time of Fear is Over. It's specific to climate change, but applies to the economic crisis etc and I think it's worth a read, as are the comments.
Greenfyre says, "No doubt we will see more and more good blogs and sites sink into despair, and we will understand all too well why. After all, we have at most five years to make a 1,000 times more progress on the environmental front than we have managed in 50 years.

As we continue to slide into catastrophic climate change the issue of remaining effective and hopeful becomes both more urgent and difficult, and with it the crisis of purpose."

He goes on to quote from another blogger, "But I have a message for every nay-sayer and advocate of “there’s nothing we can do about it.” I refuse to resign. I do not accept the inevitability of failure. But the way I feel right now, it takes a lot of audacity to be hopeful.

I accept that global warming is going to be a lot of pain for a lot of people. But I will allow my intellect to overrule my anger because it knows that what we do does make a difference. The more we change for the better, the better the future will be. Although the future is not likely to be good, there’s no excuse for not doing what we can to prevent its being worse."

My only concern is that somewhere in all of this, the acknowledgment of the unbelievable suffering of margianlised, vulnerable people is at risk of being lost. (Having just spent time in a community for people with disabilities, I fear that my friends with complex [not to mention expensive and resource intensive] physical and emotional needs will not be able to thrive.)
However I've learned that not only do most people not want to hear about how bad things are, they definitely don't want to hear about how much worse it's going to be for vulnerable people.

So the question for me becomes, how do I frame the crisis (personally and publicly) that takes all this into account?

Theresa said...

Amber - thank you for saying what I was struggling to convey. I feel the same way, and try (almost) each day to counteract despair and fear with some measure of hope that a good life can still be had, somehow, someday, even though there will be much suffering. If that's naive then I guess I am that.

SoapBoxTech said...

I don`t mean to speak for someone else but I wonder if EJ isn`t speaking about naivety in regards to thriving under conditions of severe water, resource and arable soil depletion...all in the face of increasingly tyrannical control mechanisms.

I would not be so concerned about the mechanisms of control which are increasingly coming into place, if it weren`t for this situation of depletion. Certainly the time is likely to come when depletion is so great that these control mechanisms are no longer possible, but by then it is likely to be too late.

I commend the compassion that I hear in these comments and posts...and I tend to lean that way myself. But the fact is that as we acknowledge a need to return to more of a balanced existence with the natural world, we`re going to need to accept things like natural selection. This means having to accept the loss of a lot of both the vulnerable and the fit. I don`t think we can have it both ways.

It`s a cold and hard fact, but why should we humans have to face it any less than any other species, simply because we have the ability to create and wield complex tools?

Does this mean I am advocating cold hearts and ruthless dispositions, in order to try to ensure survival? Quite the opposite. Like always, I am just advocating balance in my own rambling way.

Theresa said...

SBT, you make a good point there. If that is what EJ is referencing, then a pleasant and optimistic naivete just won't cut it. Hard times are ahead, for certain, but like you say we have to get back in balance with the natural world. The natural world will insist on it.