Sunday, March 9, 2014

Letting Illusions Die

“We would rather be ruined than changed. We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the moment and let our illusions die.”

~ W. H. Auden

An unexpected trip to California ensued when youngest daughter required an emergency appendectomy.  She recuperated nicely, and since I was there anyway I took the opportunity, with Benjamin the Donkey, to meet Florence Windfall and David Oertel, who is President of the Humanist Hall in Oakland.  It was so exciting to meet in person people I only knew through comments on websites and facebook pages, I only took one picture.  Sometimes it's better to just be in a place and rely on memories.  Thank you David and Florence!!
On my last day in California we had lunch with Alice Friedemann, who is a long-time observer of trends and research about peak oil and climate change.
She gave me a copy of her excellent book, Crunch! - which you should order now, because from her recipes you can make nutritious, long-lasting, delicious food using a hand-cranked grain mill and no heat for when the grid goes down.  [note:  you can of course buy all sorts of milled whole grain flour at natural food stores; and get loads more info at her website:

She also granted me permission to share her edits to a lecture by Isaac Asimov.  Following are the excerpts she chose from the original link to the transcript of his presentation at Newark College of Engineering, way back on November 8, 1974.  His most pessimistic predictions have been proven to be prescient, and his forlorn hope expressed towards the end of his talk, that feminism might overcome the patriarchal march to destruction, must be seen as a moment of revolutionary giddiness unique to modern times.

Not only has feminism been undermined and unappreciated in many ways, it now appears to me that it only exists as a temporary luxury, the artifact of a civilization with vast surpluses created by dwindling reserves of fossil fuel energy.  I suspect those people who advocate for an accelerated collapse of civilization haven't really thought through what that will mean for females...or perhaps they base it on the ever-popular fantasy that our "better natures" prevailed in tribal or hunter-gatherer life long ago - despite much evidence to the contrary (see, for example, the book "War Before Civilization".)
A less academic and heart-rending window into the dark side of gender relations can be found at the interactive website "Too Young To Wed", which presents a dazzling collection of photographs and videos on the topic of child brides.
This practice - like sexual abuse and rape - is so widespread even in many cultures today, and so commonplace in history, that confronting it as starkly as it is seen in these testimonials gives the lie to fantasies of gender equality - a parity which rarely existed in the past and will soon be eliminated as the anemities of technological sophistication evaporate.
I highly recommend setting aside time to watch the film:

Following is the Asimov lecture as edited by Alice; the remaining pictures I took in the severely dessicated Arboretum at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where spring flowers on the exotic imports from South Africa and Australia struggle to bloom at the tips of leafless, barren stalks.  The trees and shrubs were in already well into terminal decline, from pollution, before the current drought, as documented in September, 2010 - but nobody was noticing.  Even now there is a conspicuous lack of perception that desertification and emigration are in the future of that region.
The Future of Humanity: a Lecture by Isaac Asimov

In 1933, I read a story called "The Man Who Awoke" by Lawrence Manning. In it, the hero wished to see what the world of the future would be like. So he invented a potion, which when he drank it, put him to sleep for five thousand years, and then woke him up a little hoarse, but otherwise OK. He found himself a vault in which he would lie undisturbed for five thousand years. And then woke up unharmed.  And he thought he was going to come out and see a very futuristic world with all kinds of extremely super-modernistic devices flying through the air, and magical food pills and all that. And instead, what did he find? He found a very constricted world. A world in which everybody lived rather...rather not very lavish lives. You know, they dressed in homespun, and they walked everywhere, and they worried a lot about what the next meal would be. And so he said to them "What is this?" he says. "You guys are leading such a constricted lives. What's all this futurism I expected?" So they said "Oh well, you don't understand." He said: "We're short on energy. Very short on energy because some thousands of years ago there was a generation or two of human beings who burnt up all the coal and oil on Earth, and left nothing for us." And our hero said "Strange you should say that". He said "I happen to be from the very generation that did this to you!"
And so they tried to lynch him, naturally. And he got back to the vault just in time, slammed the door, and took another potion to see if anything new happened five thousand years later still.
When I  was thirteen, I started thinking.  Major premise: The Earth's volume is finite Minor Premise: The total volume of coal and oil on the Earth is less than the total volume of the Earth Conclusion: The volume of coal and oil are finite.
You would think that this was so obvious! Now, let's start and make this conclusion the major premise of the next syllogism:
Major Premise: The volume of coal and oil are finite Minor Premise: We are burning some every day Conclusion: We will use it all up eventually

Well, I got that in 1933. And so you see how science fiction helps you escape. It helps you escape to the kinds of problems that'll keep you worried for forty years.

Well, here we are. We have just come through a thirty year period of mankind's maximum prosperity, on the whole. We've done very well since World War Two. We have...the world as a whole has eaten better, has lived better, has had a higher standard of living than it has ever had before. Now, you might tell me that through this entire thirty years there have been millions...hundreds of millions of people always hungry, always starving, with very little, and I'll say yes; it's been rotten. My point is that before now, it's always been rotten-ER. And we haven't really appreciated how temporary this is.
For one thing, we've had ample supplies of food, and part of the reason for that was that we've had an extremely good spell of weather for the last thirty years. In fact, there are some people who say that this last thirty years was the best thirty year spell of weather that we have had in the last thousand years. Now you may remember cold spells, and floods, and droughts, and all the rest of this stuff. But there has been less of it the world over than usual. In addition, just as we've had this good weather, we've also been applying energy at a far greater rate than ever before to farm machinery, to irrigation machinery.
In addition, we've been using insecticides and pesticides of various sorts, to sort of clobber those little beasties and those weeds who think they're going to get some of our food. And in addition to that we've also developed new strains of grain, so-called "green revolution", that grow a lot of protein very fast. And what with all these things put together, our food supply has been going up.
But now, look what happens.

The very thing that makes it possible for us to use more and more energy is our industrial technologized world.
It's getting hard to get energy. Energy is much more expensive than it used to be; oil prices are up. And that means that fertilizer is more expensive than it used to be. And it turns out that the green revolution depends on strains of grain that require...yes, they do what they're supposed to do...but they require a lot of irrigation; a lot of water, and a lot of fertilizer. And the fertilizer isn't there. And the irrigation machinery is hard to run now with expensive oil. And, of course, the pesticides are produced in high-energy chemical factories; their price goes up. Everything is combining to cut down on the food supply. And to arrange it so that in years to come, we may have trouble keeping our present level of food, let alone increasing it.
There are always people who think that all we have to do, after all is abandoned, all this foolish technology that we've made ourselves slave to, and go back like our ancestors and live close to the soil with the good things of nature. That would be great if we could do it. If we could go back to the way it was before World War II, technologically, we could support all the people that lived on Earth before World War II. The catch is that in these last thirty years one billion and a half people have been added to the population of the Earth. And we have been feeding them largely because of all these things that we have done in these last thirty years, the good weather, the fertilizers, and the pesticides, and the irrigation, and the green revolution, and all the rest of it. If we abandon that, we also have to abandon a billion and a half people; and there are going to be very few volunteers for the job.
And the second thing, if all of us decide to have wood fires the way our pioneering ancestors did, we'd better remember that there were maybe three million of our pioneering ancestors, and there are two hundred million of us. And there ain't enough wood. And the price will go up instantly. And there will be a black market. And the forests will be destroyed.
Well, throughout the history of life on Earth, there have been periods where a given species has, for one reason or another, spurted it's numbers upward temporarily. There's been a surprisingly good supply of food, the weather has been just right, somehow there have been no predators...something has happened, and the numbers went up. They always went down again, and always the same way; by an increase in the death rate. The large numbers of the species starved when the food ran short. They fell victim to some disease, when as a result of being on short rations they were weaker. They made good marks for predators. It always went down. And the same thing will happen to mankind, we don't have to worry. The death rate will go up, and we will die off through violence, through disease, through famine.
The only thing is, must we have our numbers controlled in the same way that all other species have them controlled? We have something others don't; we have brains. We can foresee. We can plan. We can see solutions that are humane. And there is a solution that is humane, and that is to lower the birth rate.
No species in the history of the Earth has ever voluntarily lowered it's birth rate in order to control it's population, because they didn't know what birth rate was, how to control it, that there was a population problem.

There is no need to decide whether to stop the population increase or not. There is no need to decide whether the population will be lowered or not. It will, it will!
The only thing mankind has to decide is whether to let it be done in the old inhumane method that nature has always used, or to invent a new humane method of our own. That is the only choice that faces us; whether to lower the population catastrophically by a raised death rate, or to lower it humanely by a lowered birth rate. And we all make the choice. And I have a suspicion that we won't make the right choice, which is the tragedy of humanity right now.
Well then, in the world of the 21st century in order to keep the birth rate down, we're going to have to give women interesting things to do that'll make them glad to stay out of the nursery. And the interesting things that I can think of that we give women to do are essentially the same as the interesting things that we give men to do. I mean we're going to have women help in running the government, and science, and industry...whatever there is to run in the 21st century. And what it amounts to is we're going to have to pretend...when I say "we", I mean men...we're going to have to pretend that women are people.
And you know, pretending is a good thing because if you pretend long enough, you'll forget you're pretending and you'll begin to believe it.

In short, the 21st century, if we survive, will be a kind of women's lib world. And as a matter of fact, it will be a kind of people's lib world because, you know, sexism works bad both ways. If the women have some role which they must constantly fulfill whether they like it or not, men have some role which they would have to constantly fulfill whether they like it or not. And if you fix it so that women can do what suits them best, you can fix it so that men can do what suits them best too. And we'll have a world of people. And only incidentally will they be of opposite sexes instead of in every aspect of their life.
See, I've been so shrewd that I fixed it so that I was born in 1920. Which means I'll be safely dead. Before the crunch comes!
But you guys will see for yourself. I hope you see a world in which mankind has decided to be sane. But I must say in all honesty that I figure that the chances are against it. Thank you.

I want to offer very special appreciation to Benjamin for welcoming me to Oakland - and writing some terrific limericks in quick succession.  I always wanted to be a muse!

Here is the wonderful limerick he wrote for my facebook group:

The Panic Room

Above the Earth’s beach of doom where
We dance in a circle of Air,
The land is on Fire,
The Water gets higher,
And we have this time left to share.

He wrote another in response to my comment to a post about actively trying to enlighten people: “I used to think that there was something we - as in collectively, humans - could do to slow, if not stop, catastrophic climate change and ecopocalypse. So in that case, it would be worth it to inform people who would prefer not to know. Instead we - humanity - seems to have decided to rampage as fast as we can to disaster. Which makes witnessing it purely a spectator sport.”

Spectator Sport 

It’s something that we cannot thwart,
So why not let people cavort? 
Try to stop what’s in store,
You’ll just get fucked up more, 
So doom is a spectator sport.

And yet another...Thank You Ben!

No Point

I’ve stopped trying to let people know:
It won’t help, and just makes them feel low;
They’ll find out soon enough
When the going gets rough,
But we all said “D’oh!” long ago.

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