Monday, September 29, 2014

Five Stages of Awareness? (or is it Six?) ~ a Guest Post by Tim Murray

Tim Murray has graciously allowed me to post his recent correspondence.  If you think this is as brilliant as I do, you might want to later check out the marvelously irascible Dave Cohen's tour de force series, Adventures in Flatland Part I and Part II  ...(III is yet to be published).  They make for excellent companion reading to Tim's article here - and between them, I can hang up my hat when it comes to the immutability of human nature, the futility of activism, and the absurdity of life in general.

Untitled, Oil on Canvas ~ Judith Fouser
Wit's End Collection

Five Stages of Awareness?
(or is it Six?)
   ~ Tim Murray

I don't know if I have met anyone who is not, at some level, in a state of denial, including the guy I see in the mirror. Call it an essential human 'coping mechanism'

Reflecting on my own "evolution" (without any implication that I am 'improving' or 'progressing' forward), I am now of the impression that many of us follow these stages, or get stuck in one of them.

Stage one
: Ignorance. We don't know enough to realize that this civilization is headed toward an imminent collapse, taking a lot of non-human species down with it.

Stage two: Knowledge: We know enough to realize that this civilization is headed toward an imminent collapse etc.

Stage three: Activism: We know enough to realize that this civilization is headed toward an imminent collapse...etc. But we don't know enough to realize that we can't stop it, so we invest our time in blogging, preaching, demonstrating, rallying, and marching.

Stage four. Resignation and Commiseration: We know enough to realize that this civilization is headed toward an imminent collapse etc., and finally realize that activism (blogging, preachin', demonstrating, rallying, and marching will not make a significant difference. We either call it a day and drop out, or we write endlessly about how we're "f***ked, and spend years "trading turds" (as Kurt Dahl termed it) on list serves--- until we get mad or frustrated and demand to be taken off the list.

Stage five. Displacement Behaviour or a Sense of Moral Obligation: Despite knowing that we are "f**ked, we persist with our activism, blogging, preachin' , rallying, and marching because:

 (a) we need to "do something" (displacement behaviour) to distract ourselves from any focus on our hopeless predicament. Like Richard Attenborough's example of a bird who suddenly realizes that he is in striking distance of deadly snake and that neither fight or flight will save him, so instead he preens his feathers.


(b) we would feel morally remiss if we didn't try to do "something". At least re-arrange the deck chairs or leave our cabin room tidy. Case in point.  I saw a young woman in the middle of a frigid alpine lake (Moraine Lake in the Rockies) cry for help after her canoe capsized. The lake was like an echo chamber. We could hear her screams and words as if she was ten feet away. But she was in fact 500 feet away. We knew that even if we could immediately grab a boat, we couldn't get there in time. But a couple of us tried to do it anyway because we felt we had to do "something". It wasn't even a case of wilful optimism. It was an attempt to deal with our anxiety and horror. Of course, as we expected, this poor, unfortunate woman disappeared long before anyone got to her.

 Imagine, though, if someone on the shoreline, someone like Chris Clugston, using math and physics, quickly proved  what we at least subconsciously knew to be the case--- that it would be impossible to save her? Suppose he handed us a sheet of paper that presented his iron-clad data.  That truth-teller would be greeted with anger or outright denial. "If you really belief it's hopeless, why are you bothering to write about it?" or "If people believe your message, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy..... We don't need Cassandras, we need motivators, morale-boosters not truth-tellers...."

Jack Alpert has experienced this reaction. People see his video on "How much De-growth do we need", but they simply dismiss his assessment of our scale of overshoot, even though they can't challenge his math. Why? They want to believe, they need to believe, that the planet can carry many more people than he estimates because they think that they can't "sell" their population reduction diet program if it calls for that amount of sacrifice. Better to cling to Eco-Footprinting Analysis. Better to focus on bio-capacity and ignore diminishing non-renewable resource stocks. Better to shop the WWF's Living Planet report because it says we only need another 4 planets to carry on BAU, not get down to Alpert's population level of 50 million.  The message, after all, must be "marketable". And like so many salesmen, they---to use Stephen Law's words---come to "believe their own bullshit." Bottom line, Cassandras are either dismissed or reviled, even if their conclusions are evidence-based.

 That, my friends, is the position that people like Chris Clugston are in. People don't want to hear the raw, brutal and complete truth.  They want hope. They can only take a limited, even if heavy dose of reality. That's why readers and publishers want manuscripts and books to end on a note of hope, however absurd. They want a happy Hollywood ending, even if it runs counter to all the evidence and arguments that lead up it.  A non sequitur. A conclusion that doesn't follow from the premises. Just like the way McKibben, Suzuki, et al argue. Like bible-punching preachers, they tell us that we're going to hell, that things are very, very bad, but wait....there's hope yet! The window is quickly closing but it's not too late! There is still time to repent! So keep your love money rollin' in , because my NGO (church) needs to pay the bills and pay its staff--I need you fund my crusade."

 Curiously, one notices that 20 years ago, many of these preachers said that the window would soon close way back then, the same way Oral Roberts used to do---in Suzuki's case, before the decade was out (the 90's are the "Turn-around Decade"). But apparently the apocalypse got another stay of execution because they are still talking about a closing window. The goal posts keep getting pushed further back. Ah yes, hope. "We must give them hope...."

BTW I went through all of these stages, and it took me damn near three decades to do so. I am currently stuck at Stage 5, but "hopefully", I will eventually  revert to Stage 4, chill out, and try to enjoy the downslope, maybe play another hand of poker before the ship goes down, or join the orchestra at the stern....Nah, I think I will just keep on fightin' and writin' (uselessly). It's in my nature. As William of Orange put it: "It is not necessary to hope in order to undertake, nor to succeed in order to persevere."
But hey wait...maybe there is yet another Stage. As Chris Clugston asks, 

“Can there be Stage 6 - something like "Acceptance" (like reaching Nirvana?!) - which would be different than Stage 4? Where you realize, "hey, no hard feelings; nothing personal; nothing to get hung about..." Just go and enjoy Strawberry Fields Forever - for however long that turns out to be... But I mean really LET GO, and not keep reverting to either stage 5 or 4? “

OK Chris, so here it is:

Stage 6:  Acceptance and just LETTING GO.

Tim Murray
September 26, 2014


  1. “Can there be Stage 6 - something like "Acceptance" (like reaching Nirvana?!) - which would be different than Stage 4? Where you realize, "hey, no hard feelings; nothing personal; nothing to get hung about..." Just go and enjoy Strawberry Fields Forever - for however long that turns out to be... But I mean really LET GO, and not keep reverting to either stage 5 or 4? “


    I lost an adult child to clinical depression, so let me use that as an analog to this situation. I would say that for most parents who endure that particular loss, there is no such thing as truly letting go and moving on. You do move on (if you are fortunate and do your grief work thoroughly and honestly), and you come to accept the loss. But that doesn't mean your grief goes away, and you remain vulnerable to cycling back through the various stages of grief, feeling some or all of the bad feelings grieving people feel.

    That's just the human condition, and we don't help ourselves (in my opinion) by setting the bar too high with some sort of unattainable ego ideal.

  2. Thank you Paul - I am so sorry to hear about your child. I was very close to losing one myself from cancer. Often I have thought the same of divorce - you never get entirely over it. A facebook friend asked me this morning which stage I am at, and I wrote: I think I'm exactly like Tim, which is why I loved his essay - I vacillate between four and five and wish I could be at 6. I kinda doubt I ever will be though. It's almost not human, I think we are programmed to care and when we stop, we may as well be dead...and probably are.

  3. To Tim Murray,

    I ran across your remarks here, and I'm impressed. (That doesn't happen often.)

    And I believe you, in part because your remarks reflect my own experience. For example, when you said--

    "BTW I went through all of these stages, and it took me damn near three decades to do so"

    Very good, That's tells me you went through a process, that process was REAL, and it was very hard. My own experience reflects that. Virtually nobody on Earth has gone all the way down that road.

    Otherwise, I've got Good News: There is a stage 6 ;-)

    very best,

    Dave Cohen

  4. hi dear Gail (and hi Tom!!)
    these women are our age and are already in hell for ever
    Of course they are far from the only ones, they are today's ones.


    1. Seeing how shocked they are I thought perhaps it is good after all to be a doomer. I won't like it any better but when the devil comes to my doorstep I won't be surprised. I will open the door wide and say, "I've been expecting you".

  5. Thanks for this Gail, a good piece from Tim Murray, and I wasn't familiar with Dave Cohen's work; the Adventures in Flatland are, as you note, at tour de force, which I'm now working through and digesting. I'm rather fond of stages like these, but human consciousness is remarkably recursive and tends to go looping back through them, albeit in different orders, given the right stimulus. We frankly have far too many psychological defense mechanisms, coping strategies and well-entrenched biases to stare too long into the abyss without blinking.

  6. Perhaps delineating stages is useful because it gives us a narrative so we can measure how far and how often we deviate from the story, as we try to make sense of the incomprehensible.

  7. Hey everyone! Great essay Tim, super comments by Gail and her readers. Surprise from Dave, whose site i can't comment at because he doesn't want to hear anything i have to say (like at Robert Scribbler's site - my comments get 'moderated' out of existence). I've read his essays and enjoy them, but don't agree with everything he says (again - who cares). None of this matters. Six stages, the road to Nirvana or sudden enlightenment - it's all for naught and doesn't add up to shit on a planet gone to hell via human tendencies that won't stop even when exposed and shown to be deadly. The whole game of life will be shown to have been wonderful before we got here, steadily getting worse each year humanity remained, and finally we'll have killed it off despite our so-called intelligence. If there is a god, he's a lunatic to have created us. If not, nature 'made a mistake' by creating it's own destruction. Like all other species, it's our turn to go extinct. Write all you want, do what you feel - it all ends up in the same place in the end - nowhere.


    1. Thanks Tom. I've kind of lost count of how many blogs have banned me! Heh. RobertScribbler's is the latest.


    1. I am astonished that there are no comments to that post! The song is perhaps the best from Tears for Fears.

      And I find it kind of funny
      I find it kind of sad
      The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had
      I find it hard to tell you
      'Cos I find it hard to take
      When people run in circles it's a very very
      Mad world

      Of course, it is not the world that has gone stark, raving, bat-shit insane, merely the preponderance of the ultimate-predator species.

      Mr. Murray's post is quite poignant, thanks for sharing, but I think there is one more stage he, and many others, have yet to discover.

    2. As Dave has often noted, hopeless has a miniscule audience and even fewer comments!

  9. Tim (and Gail),

    I can relate with what you've written. And, as much as I would like to puff up and say I'm at stage 6, it's more realistic to say that I go back and forth all the time - sometimes even in the same day. But, as anonymous Tom pointed it, it doesn't really matter either way. :-)

    Thanks for sharing.


  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Having read probably everything both Tim and Paul have written over the past several years, I rather doubt they are even aware of each other - they seem to inhabit separate spheres.. Either way, Tim would never do a "bit of a rip-off" of anyone. As you can see from his writing, he gives full credit to the people he has read, Clugston and Alpert. Further, he is far too highly principled and honest to, let's call it what you seem to allege, plagiarize.

      Let's just say that with 7.1 billion people on the planet, there is probably not a single thought that isn't replicated somewhere, by somebody. Calling it a rip-off is sad.

    2. Sorry, Gail. I changed it just as you were writing. There are plenty of memes going around, and inventions do get developed in parallel on occasion. I just thought the first part was almost identical, and I asked myself, "where have I read this before?"

    3. S'okay Lidia!!! Thanks - No worries. I happen to know that Tim has been the recipient of a lot of hostility as does anyone who doesn't offer hope, even to the point where places that used to publish his excellent writing will no longer do so. He has as much integrity as anyone I have ever met, virtually or in person.

  11. This reminds me a lot of Paul Chefurka's piece here:

    "Climbing the Ladder of Awareness"

    1. It's OK, Tim and I are now iFriends, and nobody's toes are being stepped on. The Kubler-Ross model is very powerful, and is amenable to reinterpretation in any number of ways. More people than Tim and I have used it as a framework.

      I really like Tim's model. I especially like Stage 5 - naming Displacement and Moral Obligation helps me understand why more people don't just "walk away" at that point, like Paul Kingsnorth did.

      I also agree with Stage 6 being "Letting Go". Perhaps this is why the ranks of the collapse-aware are so well-stocked with Buddhists, Taoists and Advaitins. The Eastern non-dualist philosophies have a lot to teach us about letting go. It's like they started practicing for this moment 2500 years ago...

      I'll toss in one other idea for Stage 6 (or would it be 7?) I call it "Finding the Gift". It involves looking for those opportunities that only become visible when one has completely digested the situation both intellectually and emotionally. These gifts are usually ideas or insights that are obscured by veils of emotion at the lower stages. Letting Go seems to be a prerequisite for this. In order to let go one must lay aside one's emotional baggage, and unless that has happened the kinds of gifts I'm talking about tend to remain hidden.

  12. IMHO, this is an important contribution. I’m not sure it doesn’t knock Kubler-Ross out of the box.

    1. Now coming from YOU, BtD, that is very high praise indeed! Tim take note! Maybe someone should send this to Carolyn Baker for her hospice work.

    2. Eh, who knows, maybe I’m overreacting. :D

  13. Kubler-Ross’s stages are psychoanalytically-based abstractions; Tim Murray’s stages are what you actually experience.

  14. As has repeatedly been noted on doomer boards, anger, bargaining, and depression do not follow in rigid sequence, and we keep “returning” to earlier ones. Tim Murray’s divisions are much more properly labeled “stages.”

    I dunno, I just think it’s more user friendly. Not a final version, plenty of discussion left for what happens at the tail end, and Kubler-Ross’s concepts are still vital (along with a few she doesn’t include, like cognitive dissonance), but simpler and maybe more useful for doomers?

  15. Also, an activism stage, while important for many of us, probably won’t last long for people who will be moving more directly from ignorance to panic.

  16. For additional intellectual distraction, we might translate between points of view, e.g., “activism” as a form of the more introspective “bargaining,” or, for a younger audience, “run in circles, scream and shout.”

    1. This is why god invented southpark: (actually tonight!)

    2. After watching that new episode last night, which I did find hilarious, I have to ask, in my 'best' Sterling Archer impression, "Wait... what?!"

  17. I hate to categorize stages as humans have this need to simply complex systems but wouldn't there be a final stage that you constantly go through all these stages and then reach a stage where you just live life within some set of cultural boundaries around you as ethically and morally as possible? Otherwise I guess depending on numerous external factors including family, you would just drop out of society and then none of this matters, that would be in theory the sane thing to do?

    1. Yes it's funny isn't it how humans have this urge to catalogue, name, organize and simplify everything, I suppose it lends the mirage of control. Sometimes I wonder how many doomers have just dropped out and we don't hear from them on the internet blogs and social media, they are just...gone. Glad you posted a comment - I keep meaning to add your excellent GlobalRiskReport to the Library, can't think how I forgot originally, so I will do it right now.

  18. Well, I got so excited about how well activism and subsequent resignation described my experience and probably that of many other doomers, I forgot that not everybody will go through this. For example, most people won’t need activism to tell them when TSHTF, they’ll be seeing it all around them. Oh well, so it goes.


    Presenting doom’s features combined
    Most likely will get you maligned,
    But I’m more inclined
    To find peace of mind,
    So that’s why I’m feeling resigned.


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