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Dark Ecology
December 31, 2012 11:16 PM   Subscribe

If you think you can magic us out of the progress trap with new ideas or new technologies, you are wasting your time. If you think that the usual “campaigning” behavior is going to work today where it didn’t work yesterday, you will be wasting your time. If you think the machine can be reformed, tamed, or defanged, you will be wasting your time. If you draw up a great big plan for a better world based on science and rational argument, you will be wasting your time. If you try to live in the past, you will be wasting your time. If you romanticize hunting and gathering or send bombs to computer store owners, you will be wasting your time. And so I ask myself: what, at this moment in history, would not be a waste of my time?
posted by latkes (149 comments total) 74 users marked this as a favorite

 
what, at this moment in history, would not be a waste of my time?

I’m really hoping the answer is Metafilter, otherwise I’m screwed.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 11:34 PM on December 31, 2012 [54 favorites]


And so I ask myself: what, at this moment in history, would not be a waste of my time?

The actual answer undoubtedly involves listening to Bill Laswell jam out with Jah Wobble.
posted by Nomyte at 11:52 PM on December 31, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yes. Thank you. I wish I could argue these points half so eloquently as this. I am glad that the first thing I read in this new year is such a beautiful and powerful affirmation of my own half-understood convictions. I will be reading parts of this over and over again. Thank you for this wonderful thing.
posted by Scientist at 11:55 PM on December 31, 2012 [13 favorites]


And so I ask myself: what, at this moment in history, would not be a waste of my time?

My vote is getting over your heroic world saving kick and getting down to loving the people in your life.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:02 AM on January 1, 2013 [25 favorites]



And so I ask myself: what, at this moment in history, would not be a waste of my time?

My vote is getting over your heroic world saving kick and getting down to loving the people in your life.


What if love is making sure that they and their (and all our) descendants can live a life in a world not unbearably wrecked by the products of our greed and sloth and stupidity?
posted by lalochezia at 12:06 AM on January 1, 2013 [25 favorites]


Unfortunately all of our descendants are the product of greed sloth and stupidity since we've pretty much reached the point where them not starving or dying of exposure is more than the world can sustain.

But that's OK, because Ted Kaczynski had a plan for that too.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:26 AM on January 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


A sustainable future on a planet of 7 billion souls in the 21st century is either the most emphatically urban world in the history of our species or a world culled of at least six in seven of us. If your manifesto does not address the logistics of the cull, then by necessity it must be a discussion of cities. It is otherwise a footnote to Thoreau's solipsism, no matter how pretty.

Happy New Year, Nature Boy.
posted by gompa at 12:31 AM on January 1, 2013 [96 favorites]


His cogent critiques of modern environmentalism notwithstanding, he undercuts himself pretty badly in this essay when describing the level of skill and maintenance required to use a scythe effectively then ascribing the use of motorized brushcutters to some shamanistic belief in technology. Brushcutters are used instead of scythes for the same reason muskets replaced longbows; they were easier to deploy, required far less skill to use and maintain, and were generally more robust. A stray rock is not generally going to damage a brushcutter to the point that it requires skilled repair, it could easily do for a scythe. You have to stop once every few hours to fill up a brushcutter, rather than every five minutes to hone the edge of a scythe. If a brushcutter breaks fixing it is a matter of replacing parts, it does not require 5 years practice to even start to get good at lawnmower repair.

The Green Revolution is trumpeted by progressives as having supposedly “fed a billion people” who would otherwise have starved. And maybe it did; but then we had to keep feeding them—or should I say us?—and our children.

Kaczynski fully converted him I think. He's just hoping that the deaths that are necessary to achieve his vision of autonomous individuality will occur as a result of some historical inevitability.

When he talks about 'collapse to a lower level of civilization' what he's actually talking about is the death of billions of people, unimaginable human misery, and saying that the right course is to turn your back on it all and find a rural idyll where you can mow fields with a scythe.

We're here. There are billions of us, there are going to be billions more before the tide turns. We need to find a way to live that's not going to destroy the planet or condemn the greater part of those billions to poverty and starvation. I don't have the answers, and I'm sure I'm part of the problem; but I'm also damned sure that fantasies of yourself as a medieval monk tending the light of civilization as the deluded hordes starve and sink into the mire aren't the answer either.
posted by Grimgrin at 12:32 AM on January 1, 2013 [119 favorites]


And so I ask myself: what, at this moment in history, would not be a waste of my time?
My vote is getting over your heroic world saving kick and getting down to loving the people in your life.
What if love is making sure that they and their (and all our) descendants can live a life in a world not unbearably wrecked by the products of our greed and sloth and stupidity?


If that's his only conception of love then he is indeed out of things to do in life. But I suspect that's not the case.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:36 AM on January 1, 2013


There's something dangerously wrong-headed in nearly every paragraph of this piece.
posted by empath at 12:50 AM on January 1, 2013 [20 favorites]


I've been undergoing an intellectual conversion of sorts myself, and am in almost complete agreement with the author. I found the article's insight and sensitivity to be most timely. It reads as a very personal piece of writing, so I wouldn't be surprised that it doesn't resonate with some readers or that some might dismiss what he has to say. For one thing that impressed me was his rhetorical ability to frame his opponents as not being wrong, but being partly right and missing the bigger picture. I don't think I have enough patience or empathy do that.

My only criticism at the moment would be his reliance on the nature v.s. culture dichotomy in constructing his narrative; although there are several lines that might permit a more self-conscious interpretation, I didn't see any explicit examination of this assumption in the text.
posted by polymodus at 1:10 AM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


And so I ask myself: what, at this moment in history, would not be a waste of my time?

The actual answer undoubtedly involves listening to Bill Laswell jam out with Jah Wobble.


music in general. that beautiful thing we do when we run out of rational bullshit.
posted by philip-random at 1:11 AM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


You will not be saved by the Holy Ghost. You will not be saved by the god Plutonium. In fact, you will not be saved.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:19 AM on January 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


His cogent critiques of modern environmentalism notwithstanding, he undercuts himself pretty badly in this essay when describing the level of skill and maintenance required to use a scythe effectively then ascribing the use of motorized brushcutters to some shamanistic belief in technology. Brushcutters are used instead of scythes for the same reason muskets replaced longbows; they were easier to deploy, required far less skill to use and maintain, and were generally more robust. A stray rock is not generally going to damage a brushcutter to the point that it requires skilled repair, it could easily do for a scythe. You have to stop once every few hours to fill up a brushcutter, rather than every five minutes to hone the edge of a scythe. If a brushcutter breaks fixing it is a matter of replacing parts, it does not require 5 years practice to even start to get good at lawnmower repair.


Well I saw a more subtle argument than that. He talks specifically about human-scale technology as a standard for well-being, and again it is the total outcome that matters, and shouldn't be confused with the technology-as-object. He is interested in technological systems and their environmental impact, not merely the advantages for individual users. He talks a little bit about myopia and that's the same issue. I think we are in such a state of technological immersion that this distinction is often forgotten.
posted by polymodus at 1:19 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Most of what's worthwhile in Kaczynski, and by extension this piece, comes from Jacques Ellul.

I'm about as pro-civ and technophile as it gets, but I think it's important that anyone with my biases engage with this primitivist current at least a bit.
posted by phrontist at 1:20 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm voting for a bit of a throwback, getting to know the tools of the industrial revolution, and helping others to learn about and use them on a personal level. If we can re-use the stuff that's been mass-produced already, and better leverage the stuff still in the pipeline in the future, it's going to have a positive effect for myself and my friends, in this little corner of the world.

Makerspaces, online skills exchanges, and lots of things are possible thanks to the internet, and the sharing it enables. This technology is one that doesn't have to consume a large portion of the worlds electricity as it does currently, and can get better over time.

We're not trapped in a dead end, but we do have to think about things, and respond as adults, instead of listening to the emotional noise that we're pounded with by the culture we find ourselves embedded inside.
posted by MikeWarot at 1:23 AM on January 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


The main flaw in this piece is that he sees 'nature' as a thing which is separate from people, and as more real, more valuable and more good than what people create. It's nonsense. If he wants to talk about sustainability, I'm fine with having that conversation, but he's not talking about that. He's just drawing an arbitrary technological line in the sand and saying 'here and no further', and just kind of cavalierly dismisses what would be the deaths of billions of people if everyone listened to him. It's a completely morally depraved and inhuman essay.
posted by empath at 1:26 AM on January 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


Most of what's worthwhile in Kaczynski,

there's nothing worthwhile in that zealot's thoughts or actions. he murdered people.
posted by philip-random at 1:26 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


A sustainable future on a planet of 7 billion souls in the 21st century is either the most emphatically urban world in the history of our species or a world culled of at least six in seven of us.

exactly. And the good news about this is that a more thoroughly and densely urbanized world will also be a world that permits the preservation of more wilderness. It is various forms of sprawl that are the greatest threats to wilderness. None of this will be easy, population control is crucial as well. And the 'neo-environmentalists' he points to are full of shit as well. But the larger point is that we can only address this problem without mass death by using the tools of modern technology and social organization. If you have completely given up on those tools then yes, the only path is despair.
posted by zipadee at 1:28 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


The main flaw in this piece is that he sees 'nature' as a thing which is separate from people, and as more real, more valuable and more good than what people create.

He doesn't say that and I saw a few lines in the article that indicate a more sophisticated understanding of this obvious dichotomy. I would suggest giving him the benefit of the doubt...
posted by polymodus at 1:30 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


philip-random: I'm not holding up the Unabomber as a swell guy. I'm just saying he plagiarized from some people I think were very smart, even if I disagree with them, like Ellul.
posted by phrontist at 1:31 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd like to know where his hand-forged, pre-industrial birth control in the magnificent artisan worldview is going to come from. Because if you want to save the world, getting our numbers down is a far bigger deal than your stupid peened scythe.
posted by Jilder at 1:33 AM on January 1, 2013 [22 favorites]


Kaczynski and the likes with similar ideas are not only disillusioned in their own narrow way of seeing the world but are also doing more to avert any real social progress than any so-called right-wing force. They describe the political left that is far away from what the left is or what it's supposed to be. A working class popular front.

Rather than dabbling with non-sense of such ideas, one should take into account that a large part of the world is not a consumerist, techno-industrial society but rather regions of semi-peripheral/peripheral capitalism ravaged by a history of colonialism and suppression.

That said, political struggles that are needed are not any kind of false bourgeois left or Kaczynskian lunatics' actions.
posted by instinkt at 1:36 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


polymodus: At least with the example of the scythe and the brushcutter, he really doesn't:

Brushcutters are not used instead of scythes because they are better; they are used because their use is conditioned by our attitudes toward technology. Performance is not really the point, and neither is efficiency. Religion is the point: the religion of complexity. The myth of progress manifested in tool form.

He specifically asserts that people are using an inferior tool because they are unable to recognize the scythe as superior due to their belief systems.
posted by Grimgrin at 1:38 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


He specifically asserts that people are using an inferior tool because they are unable to recognize the scythe as superior due to their belief systems.

No, he is falsifying an attitude but not asserting its negation. It's a kind of deconstruction.
posted by polymodus at 1:43 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mr. Kingsworth, if what you say is accurate, then I would say that many people find a value in brushcutters, a value beyond utility. Sure, this is a little bit of a silly example, because they don't find much value beyond utility.

I believe that technology is beautiful. Dangerous, yes, but still beautiful. I think that parking garages are beautiful (I realize I'm something of an outlier here). I also think that trees are beautiful. And foxes, and crows, and racoons. In my semi-urban environment, those are the animals I'm familiar with. Fewer foxes, but they're more beautiful. Maybe for their scarcity.

That value that you find in nature exists in you. I don't think that lions even know the Amazon exists. It's disingenuous to claim that you value nature as it exists over all of humanity, because without you, that value doesn't even exist. You might claim that you value it over everybody except you though :)

The rest of us tend to value nature-as-it-exists as well, just not as strongly as you, or maybe it's just that we value brushcutters (and ipods, and mars rovers) more than you do, which is the same thing. I don't think there's any point in arguing values. They are what they are.

I agree, we are in a progress trap. Will we always be? Maybe. Maybe the trap will outrun us. Maybe, someday, we'll outrun the trap. Those agriculturalists had shorter lifespans for 3000 years, and then, they had longer lifespans. It's not a straight line, regardless of whether it's going up or down at any particular moment.

But it was never going to last forever anyways. It's not about making it to the end of all tomorrows. It's about making it to tomorrow, and the day after. There is no doubt that many animals have died so that humans can live (I ate meat for dinner). There is no doubt that the world is a different place than it might have been if our first ancestor had fallen into a river. It's likely that, if we kill ourselves off, we'll take many other species with us. But it's not likely that we'll take all of them with us.
posted by nathan v at 1:43 AM on January 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Population growth is the answer. The greenest people out there right now are large, usually Carholic families, all over the world. Yes, like the author says, convivial is human-scale and won't stop the marauding of large organizations, but the multiplication of people raised well, and raised to pass on raising well, will hopefully have a significant effect. If some insist on limiting population growth, I ask they do it only to themselves.

Also, I don't see the need of a scythe to mow when grass-eating animals exist. Scythes don't make fertilizer. Also, modern grass lawns shouldn't even be something a conservator has to maintain.
posted by michaelh at 1:44 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Slavoj Zizek - Nature does not exist
posted by Golden Eternity at 1:59 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Population growth is the answer.

To what question?

The greenest people out there right now are large, usually Carholic families, all over the world.

I have no idea if you meant "Catholic" or were saying car-holic = car addict. Either way I don't understand what would make those groups "green", can you clarify?
posted by dubold at 2:26 AM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


A loon and a potential mass murderer who finds inspiration in the writings of an actual terrorist. Happy fucking new year.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:26 AM on January 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Also, I don't see the need of a scythe to mow when grass-eating animals exist. Scythes don't make fertilizer. Also, modern grass lawns shouldn't even be something a conservator has to maintain.

You use a scythe to cut hay in order to feed the grass-eaters in winter. You use a scythe to cut grain to feed yourself. They're not just replacement lawnmowers.
posted by dubold at 2:27 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


You use a scythe if you're diddling around with these things (making hay, cutting grain) as a hobby, rather than a profession, or you soon realise why everybody else went on to better, faster, less labour intensive ways of doing the same.

It's only those who have not been proper farmers who think all this hard labour is romantic.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:36 AM on January 1, 2013 [36 favorites]


better, faster, less labour intensive ways of doing the same.

Yes! Better! Faster! Harder! Stronger! More Productive! Every! Day!
posted by deo rei at 2:43 AM on January 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Thanks, Martin, that was exactly what I wanted to say - I grew up on a farm, which is a statement only about 5% of the industrialized world can say, and there's a reason people shouldn't be condemned to operating a scythe every damn day of their lives.

I had a friend back in college who was the son of a General Motors manager in Spain. I visited, and he showed me around the country a little, and made a big thing about being more proletarian than I was because I wanted a shower every day.

Finally I managed to make it clear to him that yeah, I did want a shower every day, because I grew up in a house heated with wood and had spent more than one winter with no working water because the pipes had broken, and there was a period in my life where just the bathroom had frozen so we had to bath using a bucket of hot water we'd heated on the stove, and I was going to an engineering college and appreciating a daily hot shower because it hadn't been a choice for me. In other words, who the hell was he to say I was less virtuous for having sampled poverty and decided I didn't like it, when for him it was a hobby? I'd seen his villa by that point.

So yeah. Nice to say technological civilization isn't for you, and if people don't like it they should die and get out of your way - but back in reality, this is what we have. Just because you can't count to seven billion doesn't mean those people don't have just as much right to life as you.

If you want to hark back to the quiet of a pretechnological age, take up meditation. You can do that no matter who's building a road over the landscape you appropriated as you own, without bothering to buy it or contribute to society in any other way.
posted by Michael Roberts at 3:03 AM on January 1, 2013 [46 favorites]


I hear hippie back to nature bullshit daily and I usually counter with The Futurist Manifesto. Sure, it's literally fascist. But if humanity is going to end (and that's a big IF) its better it it ends through the full expression of its potential than by a bunch of delusional luddites wilfully cutting off our progress at the knees. This sort of essay does starkly illustrate how anti-human the environmental movement is.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:13 AM on January 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


From the article, regarding the steps he will be taking:
It will be apparent by now that in these last five paragraphs I have been talking to myself. These are the things that make sense to me right now when I think about what is coming and what I can do, still, with some joy and determination.
He is explicitly not prescribing any action for other people to take, he is more describing the current set of actions he intends to take as informed by his personal philosophy, for which he has outlined the point it is currently at and the path it took to evolve to this point. The kinds of actions he describes are good ones for continuing to evolve one's own personal philosophy, such as mindfulness around the use of tools and finding things worth preserving. On these grounds I don't think that he should be attacked as some of the commenters above have done as calling for a mass culling of humans. What should he be doing that is more useful that will help keep civilisation from collapsing? He clearly states that he is still trying to figure it out; his answers are not answers, they are interim.
posted by Joe Chip at 3:19 AM on January 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


Population control arguments are generally hemispheric chauvinist arguments because more children provide more economic benefits in the south, and of course the reins of global civilization that willingly starves them and co-pollutes with them are held by the north. The north fucks with the south willingly; the food exists and the north has proven it can lead industrial scale efforts to fix huge problems quickly, such as the need to kill large numbers of members of the Axis Powers or take southerners' stuff. The classist subtext in Malthusian twaddle is in your Dickens, for whatever's sakes, and it is more accurate to say that the problem is fundamentally a northern one, because we generally concede that the asshole causing any problem is responsible for it.

Neo-environmental arguments are often held by scientists, but but few if these ever seem to be real environmental scientists who study the relationships between living organisms within the biosphere as it changes. Neo-environmentalism is a new form of gynecology certified by the College of Cardinals. I've known many environmental scientists and all of them are stodgy old school environmentalists who are pretty sure if we don't change, lots of people are gonna fuckin' die, and know from experience how easily brute force technological solutions lead to stupid shit nobody ever thought of, like bph, rising autoimmune disorders in rich countries, and what caused these environmental problems in the first place. They are dismal because hey, the living planet is kind of complicated.

The analogy between scythe and longbow and their successors is interesting because it speaks to a moral priority based on the tool, not the person. It's more obvious when we go from bow to gun because we have obviously filled a desire to kill animals and enemies more easily, and we pretend that the ladder of progress is inherent in technology--that we are magically destined to improve murdertools as much as possible. But we ought to make decisions on a different basis than that.
posted by mobunited at 3:21 AM on January 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Certainly if we kill enough messengers, the message will go away.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 3:29 AM on January 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


You use a scythe if you're diddling around with these things (making hay, cutting grain) as a hobby, rather than a profession, or you soon realise why everybody else went on to better, faster, less labour intensive ways of doing the same.

It's only those who have not been proper farmers who think all this hard labour is romantic.


The point is not that hard labor is romantic. It's that hard work is a bottleneck that prevents the population from growing.

We are definitely going to be limited by something. Would we rather it be a little hard work with "only" 1-2 billion of us on the planet or would we rather it be a Logan's Run-esque dystopia with 100-200 billion of us?

Factory farming is only "better" after you've defined your desired end state.
posted by DU at 3:35 AM on January 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


I don't see his position as anti-humanist; it is more in the vein of the classic sci-fi tale "The Cold Equations".

Most people accept that there is some physical backstop to reality, which bounds what can happen (except fantasists or people with quite radical metaphysics). This essay (and most of the science of late, sadly) are just taking the view that physics will be less kind than we've been hoping, before we really looked at it.

He sees the mainstream the way the mainstream see Ray Kurzweil. Unless everything can be true at once, even contradictory things, there are some limits and the question is about what the best path is in a big constrained optimisation.

There may not be any paths left without lots of deaths; it is possible.
posted by larkery at 3:40 AM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I survive due to advanced technology made possible by a highly technological, urban society. I suspect there would be no room for people like me in his paradise. I'm one of the billions he would see die to have his "sustainable" future.
posted by happyroach at 3:43 AM on January 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Anything that opposes technology is anti-humanity and anti-progress. It is a refutation of what makes us a thinking, powerful species. And the scythe is part of that technology - its high-tech compared to what comes before it. I find the same meditative feeling the author gets with scything from surfing the web. It does remind me of the Ray Bradbury story of the farmer who scythes a plot and is also Death.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:01 AM on January 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


This reminds me of a passage from As Meat Loves Salt, which I'm currently reading:

But then there was that great fool Roger Rowly, a journeyman tailor whose own breeches were wearing out at the arse from a lifetime's sitting. He deemed it no hardship to plough, scatter, build, harvest, do everything ourselves, and the women, for all I could tell, to give birth in the open fields.

I grew up in a small semi-rural town in Switzerland. The headteacher at my school physically abused kids for decades. He would hit them, pick them up by their hair, or dangle them by their feet from the third-floor window over bare concrete. That he did this was an open secret, but nothing was done about it for many years, because he knew all the right people in town, and never laid hand on any of their children.

So don't talk to me about the intrinsic dignity of human-scale society.
posted by Zarkonnen at 4:05 AM on January 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


He quotes Ronald Wright:

"Easy meat meant more babies."

That's a strange way of saying "fewer people went hungry, suffered from hunger-related maladies, or starved to death."
posted by PCup at 4:13 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Walter Russell Mead: How To Save the Planet and Help the Poor in 2013

His answer? "Go on safari in Africa." And he makes a good case, I think.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:17 AM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


My granddad was a farmer. He wasn't a sentimental man by any means, but cutting wheat with a scythe, that's one of the few things he spoke of with some wistfulness. He loved it, the quiet, the rustling grass, the rhythm. Working in groups to flatten huge swaths of land over a couple of days. Of course it's backbreaking labor. And a machine does it faster. He wasn't blind to that. He could speak with enthusiasm and authority about the gains in productivity he witnessed over his life. But he never mixed up the inevitable with the lovely. Man does not live on bread alone.
posted by deo rei at 4:18 AM on January 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


The point is not that hard labor is romantic. It's that hard work is a bottleneck that prevents the population from growing.

This notion is ahistorical. The limiting factor on population growth was child mortality and adult death due to disease, war and famine. People died with much greater frequency in much more agonizing circumstances, they didn't sit around and say, "this hard work sucks, let's have fewer kids."
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:31 AM on January 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


We are definitely going to be limited by something. Would we rather it be a little hard work with "only" 1-2 billion of us on the planet or would we rather it be a Logan's Run-esque dystopia with 100-200 billion of us?

Neither option is acceptable; luckily neither option is on the cards. Worrying about the population boom is 20th century thinking. Growth worldwide is already slowing and will reverse by the end of the 21st. The maximum population will be in the ten to fifteen billion mark.

Going back to the past is not an option either, unless you want to starve or kill those eight to thirteen billion superfluous people? In other to save people from starvation we have to starve them?

The only real option is to muddle through.

But as socialists have been saying for almost two centuries now, there is enough wealth and food in the world to feed, clothe and house everybody in the world to the same sort of standard most of us enjoy in America and Europe; it's just that so much of the world's wealth is wasted thanks to that whole capitalism jag.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:34 AM on January 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


mobunited: The classist subtext in Malthusian twaddle is in your Dickens, for whatever's sakes

That sounds intriguing but I'm not sure what it means... quite vexing. Could you elaborate a little?
posted by deo rei at 4:39 AM on January 1, 2013


The limiting factor on population growth was child mortality and adult death due to disease, war and famine. People died with much greater frequency in much more agonizing circumstances, they didn't sit around and say, "this hard work sucks, let's have fewer kids."

I didn't say they did. If anything, they said the opposite. "This hard work sucks, let's have kids so THEY can do it."

The point is that food production is a limiting factor, which is why you said "famine". Except you are making it sound like world population grows, then there's a disease or famine and it drops back. That happens, but the curve isn't as spiky as you are making it sound, it's largely smooth, with the limits being food production technology, among other things.

Reduce the "efficiency" of that technology and population reduces as well. We are going to be limited by something. Why not a level that lets other species exist as well? For that matter, we are going to be at that level eventually anyway. Why not start now and save some our fossil fuels for things we really need?
posted by DU at 4:45 AM on January 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


He specifically asserts that people are using an inferior tool because they are unable to recognize the scythe as superior due to their belief systems.

And that is exactly where I stopped considering his argument. I may be the only person in this thread who has wielded a scythe for hours on end, in the course of a job. It is a tool of the devil. There is a reason you see traditional images of Death carrying a scythe, every hour swinging a scythe is two hours closer to your grave. A life filled with this sort of manual labor will break a man's spirit, and drive his bones into the ground.

I could not have picked a better symbol for technological progress than the scythe. The backbreaking labor of the scythe in agriculture was replaced by horse drawn threshing machines at the earliest time the technology was feasible. In fact, it was implemented quite some time before it was really practical. Huge teams of horses drew threshing machines through fields. On smaller farms that could not afford the economies of large scale, and still used the scythe, the cut grain was threshed by horses driven in a circle around a post, which drove a chain to power the threshing machine. In their desperation for relief from this backbreaking labor, even odder contraptions were used, like this horse-driven treadmill thresher were used.

Soon after that, coal and oil fired tractors took the place of horses, providing power by belt drive. And these machines are absolutely god damned dangerous. They were difficult to maintain, so boilers exploded frequently. People lost limbs in the machinery, were grabbed by belts and pulled into the machinery and got crushed, by just a tiny moment of inattention from workers standing inside the machines.

THIS is the technological progress the author rants against. But that battle was fought over a hundred years ago. Modern harvesting and threshing machines raised agricultural production to the point that we could not support earth's population without them.

Ah, but there is still a place for the scythe and old time threshers. It is called the Old Thresher's Reunion. They meet once a year to celebrate their antique machines and demonstrate them to an audience. They have a theme park, a quaint little village with historical re-enactors, you can visit their blacksmith and have him forge your very own scythe.

So the whole premise of this article seems ludicrous to me. I can understand the author's nostalgia for an imaginary time that did not really exist, a time when laborers thought of their scythes with a sense of romance, like a shining sword. I can even understand his hate for the weed-whacker. But I remember when the cord-reel weed whacker first came out, and it did the job in a tenth of the time. I hated the smell and sound of it, but it saved me from hours of backbreaking work. The author can keep his scythe. To him, it is a symbol of luxury. He doesn't actually have to use it, he chooses to do so, because he believes it connects him with the land. He has an income that affords him the luxury of time, which he can afford to waste on impractical hobbies like artisanal scything. But for those who had no choice but to use a scythe, it connected them to the earth in a different way, it put them in an early grave.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:49 AM on January 1, 2013 [64 favorites]


Brushcutters are not used instead of scythes because they are better; they are used because their use is conditioned by our attitudes toward technology.

Apparently a scythe is the tool for cutting strawmen. He goes on to say that this is inherent in our culture, but it wasn't how I was brought up - and as other have pointed out, he doesn't appear to take into consideration that other people can look at the task and select the correct tool based on their skill level, what needs doing, and the available materials. All people who use brushcutters do so out of religious awe, while people who use scythes know and understand their tools enough to select the right blade. He leaves no space for the person who says - "I willingly select the brushcutter, as I have appraised it on its merits."

A city is as natural as a termite mound.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:50 AM on January 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


In all seriousness, if you want to do something positive about the environment: get filthy rich, then pay for more college scholarships for women. Not men, only women. Educated women mate later, have fewer children, and are more likely to never have children.

If you can't get filthy rich, you could support services providing abortion and contraception: a little money there can make a difference, so this is more do-able. You could even campaign politically: you're more likely to contraception provision through than a complete dismantling of our modern civilisation, so you're not wasting your time.

You could also campaign for the lifting of restrictions on tobacco usage: although it doesn't help with growth - the diseases kill people after they have reproduced - it does reduce the population in total, and generally of non-productive old people. Ah, but old people vote to cut education spending and subsidies of childcare, and vote better pensions, which also decreases the birthrate - scratch that one, tobacco has to go.

Blowing up academics? That's just male primate posturing.
posted by alasdair at 4:56 AM on January 1, 2013 [17 favorites]


There's a really nasty implicit subtext of "Arbeit macht Frei" in that piece.

As if the only thing that can justify or lend meaning to our life is iron-age drudgery, because life is valueless without back-breaking labour and that is the highest and most sophisticated level of civilization at which an individual can aspire to Heinleinian omni-competence. (Even Heinlein's fictional heroes, who could apparently -- let's remember they're fictional constructs created in the pursuit of an ideological point -- do everything from composing a sonnet to building a boat, only reflected a very limited subset of the skills actually required to maintain the level of civilization in which he postulated them functioning. The reality is, if you want omni-competence you're stuck in the middle ages at best.)

It seems to me that he wants to condemn us to this dull and soulless scythe-wielding existence simply for the good of our souls. Without considering the other peripheral implications ...

He's a man. So it probably hasn't occurred to him that decent access to contraception, not to mention ante-natal care and, yes, abortion, is pretty much a necessity if you're a woman of childbearing age and don't want to be faced with a choice between a 50/50 chance of dying in labour during one of your ten pregnancies or clenching your knees together for life.

He's healthy. So it probably hasn't occurred to him that his dignity-of-manual-labour future is utterly inaccessible to those of us with health problems. (We're surplus to requirements for his environmentally sound future; me, I'm on the scrap-heap -- I'd be dead within three months if deprived of modern medicine.)

He's not a child. So it may not have struck him that living in a hut heated by a wood-burning stove isn't great in winter (small folks are more prone to losing body heat), and spending your pre-teen days watching the north end of a south-bound ox isn't a great way to develop an intellectual appreciation for the finer points of philosophy.

In fact, I detect a great steaming pile of unexamined male privilege underpinning this essay, from which rises an unpalatable aroma of ableism and blue-nosed, arrogant, joyless puritanism. In pursuing that which is good in life for himself, our essayist has turned a blind eye to the needs of everyone else.

Feh. I wash my hands of him, in the hot, chlorine-disinfected water pouring from my tiled bathroom's tap.
posted by cstross at 5:01 AM on January 1, 2013 [143 favorites]


Many angry people in this thread. Are you scared? Or is that the butthurt of shame? Look. Find peace. Go from there. Any thing done in anger or fear is half fucked up from the beginning.

Maybe you should go mow the lawn, or shovel the sidewalk.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:04 AM on January 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


As if the only thing that can justify or lend meaning to our life is iron-age drudgery

This is, in fact, a rather popular idea across the board - you see the same thing in a lot of conservative twaddle about the inherent improving effect of working twelve hours a day in a factory, and was also present in Soviet-era socialist propaganda. I remember reading a really good article (which I haven't been able to find again, unfortunately) about the switch-over in Marxist thought from the idea that freeing the workers from backbreaking toil was the goal of the revolution to the idea that being a work was inherently a morally superior position and that therefore everyone would become a worker in the socialist paradise of the future.

The great thing about iron-age drudgery is that it leaves everyone short of time and energy for civic life and, combined with an information-poor environment, maintains a barrier comprised of ignorance and exhaustion which in turn protects the status quo. Which is why it is a useful panacea for all sorts of different elite groups, throughout history, for the problem of social unrest and resource allocation.

Many angry people in this thread. Are you scared? Or is that the butthurt of shame?

None of the above, thank you. Just contemptuous.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:27 AM on January 1, 2013 [21 favorites]


cstross: Cannot favourite enough.
posted by Jilder at 5:30 AM on January 1, 2013


Many angry people in this thread. Are you scared? Or is that the butthurt of shame?
...
Maybe you should go mow the lawn, or shovel the sidewalk.


How about doing some manual labour instead of complaining about other people's complaining?
posted by patrick54 at 5:33 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


The only real option is to muddle through.

It's a comforting thought. That we're doing all we can. But are we really? Is this the best of all possible worlds? Is it alright that we're slaughtering a billion plus pigs yearly? I mean that's dozens of pigs every second. They're pretty smart creatures. They suffer. And that's just pigs. What about elephants? Great apes? Cod? They have no say in the destruction of their lives. We just look at that and shrug and move on, because well, maybe it isn't perfect but *ungh, blood spatters* we just have *ugh* muddle through *splatter*? And then when someone says, hey, wait a minute, this ain't right, we raise our blood-soaked hands in a helpless gesture, because unless we keep killing, billions will die? And, if it is true that that is the only plausible response, isn't that, in fact, kind of a fucking nightmare?
posted by deo rei at 5:35 AM on January 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


A growing number of people I teach, for example, are looking for an alternative to a brushcutter. A brushcutter is essentially a mechanical scythe.
....
It roars like a motorbike, belches out fumes, and requires a regular diet of fossil fuels. It hacks through the grass instead of slicing it cleanly like a scythe blade. It is more cumbersome, more dangerous, no faster, and far less pleasant to use than the tool it replaced.


Holy false dichotomy, Batman!

We have an alternative that combines many of the advantages of both the motorized brushcutter and the human-powered scythe. It's called a reel mower. They neither belch out fumes, nor do they require fossil fuels, and they're safer, more efficient, and less back-breaking than swishing an exposed blade through the air.

Would I inflict this remarkable tool on everyone? Of course not. Would I kindly suggest that my neighbor consider it as a viable alternative to cutting his fractional acre lawn with a riding lawnmower? Absolutely.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:35 AM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


It is otherwise a footnote to Thoreau's solipsism, no matter how pretty.

Derail, but:

To call Thoreau solipsistic and merely "pretty" is such a deep misreading that I'm not even sure where to start chiseling at it.
posted by ryanshepard at 5:51 AM on January 1, 2013


Ronbutnotstupid, I have a reel mower. I thought, when we bought our house, that I would put in a yard, and I would use a reel mower. I was all romantic about it. I didn't count on how busy I would be at work, or how I might not be able to cut the grass every weekend.

What I didn't know about that infernal contraption was that the second the grass gets long, the reel just pushes it flat, and the grass doesn't actually enter into the reel, and doesn't actually get cut.

They're wonderful for long strips of land without corners or edges, and for people who have the time to cut the grass every four or five days.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:51 AM on January 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


The problem is that the modern technological civilization is too big to fail.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:53 AM on January 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Is a bushcutter the same as a weedwhacker? Because if so, we used both on our yard depending on the need. Scythes aren't that great near fences (which I suppose are also a laughable affectation of culture obsessed with technology, or good for keeping up grape vines).

Also count me with the people that would be dead if not for modern medicine. Thx technology!
posted by jonbro at 5:55 AM on January 1, 2013


His essay is not nearly as opposed to modern technology as many seem to be taking it. He is not saying we need to go back. In fact, he explicitly examines and rejects that option. He is questioning the way forward.
posted by Nothing at 6:12 AM on January 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


He's just drawing an arbitrary technological line in the sand and saying 'here and no further', and just kind of cavalierly dismisses what would be the deaths of billions of people if everyone listened to him.

One: he makes it pretty clear that this is a personal reflection. Seven billion of us is a juggernaut, and there is no way that we are going to all listen to him.

Two: you write as though several billion of us are not going to die. We are in a full power dive directly into the mountain. The collapse is going to be within most of our lifetimes. When you realize that it really is too late - then what do you do? This is the question that he is reflecting upon.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:18 AM on January 1, 2013 [19 favorites]


Technology is not the problem. The problem is that we are using technology to make it easier to make more humans, which is literally the last thing we need. I believe that we're probably over our carrying capacity (does not exist as a pure integer, only a function of technological efficiency and exactly how lavish or impoverished a lifestyle we desire) by a bit over an order of magnitude. We're overshot.

That we're gently slowing population growth means nothing. You have told me that you have tapped your brakes. How nice, but we're five feet now from the concrete divider and we're still going at seventy miles per hour. We're going to hit.

Humanity has just about burned through its one-time inheritance. We're essentially eating into the capital which would have provided us dividends. Our civilization has thousands of bottlenecks. It isn't just a matter of having enough Calories on hand to put food in mouths, oh no. Every one of the metals we dig up and use, that is also a bottleneck. So you might ask, how long do we have left, just from a metallic viewpoint? How many other bottlenecks are we not even thinking of?

When the correction occurs, it's going to be painful, very painful, and enormous. All of the World Wars and famous flus won't even register.

We had some humane options about a century back. As of now, preventing the sort of scenario that makes Mad Max look like an aimless Sunday drive will be a miserable, grinding regime solely dedicated to easing humanity down, rapidly, to a population of eight digits with totalitarian control over who gets to reproduce and how much medical care we spend on people who aren't actively working, because the alternative will be gigadeaths. Imagine Easter Island as the entire planet.

That this guy is busy preening over his peening, discussing blades like he might casually drop the Aston Martin has has over in the GAH-raj, makes him a tool of a greater order than the ones he's busy whetting. It doesn't mean that we're not fucked.

So Happy New Year!
posted by adipocere at 6:22 AM on January 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


I have been thoroughly confused reading this thread, thinking all along this was an article from the Onion.

That clarified, & possibly a derail, but I've felt for some time that we are like cancer to the planet. We dig holes & suck stuff out that serves some purpose somewhere else in the complicated intertwining of systems - large & small - that make the planet work.

It's no wonder storms/earthquakes/climate change are here. Sounds like Earth's immune system, to me. What happens when there's nothing left for cancer to subsist on?

One other possible derail: I'd like to say as a childless by choice creature that I'm tired of hearing the "save it for the children/future generations" argument trotted out. Is it not enough to save the planet for the planet's sake?
posted by yoga at 6:23 AM on January 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


When Tzu Kung went south to the Ch'u State on his way back to the Chin State, he passed through Han-yin. There he saw an old man engaged in making a ditch to connect his vegetable garden with a well. He had a pitcher in his hand, with which he was bringing up water and pouring it into the ditch,— great labor with very little result.

"If you had a machine here," cried Tzu Kung, "in a day you could irrigate a hundred times your present area. The labor required is trifling as compared with the work done. Would you not like to have one?"

"What is it?" asked the gardener.

"It is a contrivance made of wood," replied Tzu Kung, "heavy behind and light in front. It draws up water as you do with your hands, but in a constantly overflowing stream. It is called a well-sweep."

Thereupon the gardener flushed up and said, "I have heard from my teacher that those who have cunning implements are cunning in their dealings, and that those who are cunning in their dealings have cunning in their hearts, and that those who have cunning in their hearts cannot be pure and incorrupt, and that those who are not pure and incorrupt are restless in spirit, and that those who are restless in spirit are not fit vehicles for Tao. It is not that I do not know of these things. I should be ashamed to use them."

At this Tzu Kung was much abashed, and said nothing. Then the gardener asked him who he was, to which Tzu Kung replied that he was a disciple of Confucius.

"Are you not one who extends his learning with a view to being a Sage; who talks big in order to put himself above the rest of mankind; who plays in a key to which no one can sing so as to spread his reputation abroad? Rather become unconscious of self and shake off the trammels of the flesh,— and you will be near. But if you cannot govern your own self, what leisure have you for governing the empire? Be gone! Do not interrupt my work."


— Chuang Tzu (369-286 BC)
The Chuang Tzu, Ch. 12: “The Universe”
translated by Herbert A. Giles
George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., London, 1926, pp. 124-125
posted by temporicide at 6:30 AM on January 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


The problem is that we are using technology to make it easier to make more humans, which is literally the last thing we need.

No, we're doing not. As I said above, population growth is forecast to slow (already happening) and stop during this century. Oddly enough, it also turns out that as a country gets richer, its people start having fewer kids. Even China (China!) is starting to worry about an aging, shrinking population.

This is not even to mention that technology in the form of cheap and cheerful condoms, birth control pills, easy (and legal!) abortion undsoweiter have made it much easier for people to control their fertility that would not have been possible if everybody was really into seed.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:39 AM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm very concerned about the sustainability of human life - and all other life - on this planet.

But at the same time, I do still find his view of the past excessively rosy. He talks about human autonomy. Maybe it's because I'm a woman, but this moment in time I have more autonomy than any of my ancestresses. But also more than most of my male ancestors as well - I've studied class and poverty and autonomy, and a worker in a modern factory in a democratic country has more autonomy than most of those who laboured in the past, and far more than the millions who were unfree (whether slaves, serfs or indentured). Production may have been more human-sized, but humans are really good at restricting each other's autonomy.
posted by jb at 7:04 AM on January 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


One: Withdrawing.

you can't - human civilization is so all-encompassing now that there's no place to get away from it - of course you can simply stop arguing about stuff in the public sphere, which may be the kind of withdrawal he's talking about - but it's not that much different than plopping yourself in front of the tv set and never voting

Two: Preserving nonhuman life.

there are millions of acres that governments set aside for this - a few more isn't a bad idea, but ownership is at the mercies of the economic and governmental systems

again, you can't withdraw, the system has its tentacles everywhere

Three: Getting your hands dirty.

physical labor as spiritual practice isn't a terrible idea but it's not an efficient use of one's time or resources - and working for the sake of working is one of the things that got us into this mess

protestant work ethic, anyone?

Four: Insisting that nature has a value beyond utility.

i agree with this

Five: Building refuges.

there's no place in a satellite watched and air force covered world where one can have a true refuge from our civilization and its mentality - and even if there was, it wouldn't work because as people i knew in the 70s found out, you bring it all with you - the beliefs, the methods, the perceptions, everything

ted kaczynski withdrew only to play out the role of 19th century anarchist bomber with the system at large, using the u s postal system - he didn't withdraw, he brought it with him

so the writer can indulge himself in his hobbies if he likes - i can't say i do much different - but i don't have a fantasy about how my personal activities are some kind of ethically superior means of dealing with the world crisis or liberating myself from being a child of 21st century civilization

if he's really withdrawing, why am i reading his words on the web? - because he hasn't withdrawn, he can't withdraw and he really doesn't want to withdraw
posted by pyramid termite at 7:08 AM on January 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm going to do my part by moving back to my netbook.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:13 AM on January 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


from the article:

Tolstoy, who obviously wrote from experience, explained it in Anna Karenina:

The longer Levin went on mowing, the oftener he experienced those moments of oblivion when his arms no longer seemed to swing the scythe, but the scythe itself his whole body, so conscious and full of life; and as if by magic, regularly and definitely without a thought being given to it, the work accomplished itself of its own accord. These were blessed moments.


There is a really huge difference between learning how to use a scythe when you are a teenage boy and your dad makes you do it to keep you out of trouble and then nostalgically doing it for a few minutes a week when you inherit the place and doing it sun up to sun down to scrape out a living from your Landlord / Serfmaster. Tolstoy's "experience" was no doubt great but his serfs hated that scythe I'm pretty sure.
posted by bukvich at 7:25 AM on January 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


MartinWisse, you must have actually stopped reading exactly after that sentence. I addressed that.

You're tooling around in your nice car with your buddy, Thomas. Okay, maybe he's not your buddy. Thomas is kind of a Debbie Downer. He thinks you're going too fast, but you're feeling too mellow to really take umbrage.

Thomas suddenly screams and points out the windshield. You are heading right for a concrete divider in the middle of the highway while you've blasted far past the fifty-five Sammy Hagar can't drive. When you're five feet away from the divider, you turn and say, "Hey, Thomas, don't worry. I finally took my foot off the gas pedal and I found the brakes! Relax, man, it's gonna be cool."

That's what's going on. We don't have enough braking power. Population growth stopping this century would be fantastic if we weren't wildly, wildly already overshot. It's imagining the concrete divider is a mile away. It's not. It's five feet away. We are not going to come to a screeching halt with a single flower petal held gently between the concrete divider and our bumper, just so.

A sustainable population isn't ten people by the end of the century, all of whom, by then, will want to live lifestyles that will render the current first-world per capita consumption Victorian by comparison.

Humanity is long past the .25 to maybe 1.0 billion (if we're being generous and not everyone wants to live like first-worlders) carrying capacity that's a conservative but not ridiculous estimate. We don't have until 2100 AD to stop population growth. We have maybe until 2060 AD to get things down to carrying capacity and have efficiencies undreamt of. No robots exploring Mars. It'll have to be robots digging through landfills for metals and robots supporting an aging population, because the pyramid scheme of having kids to take care of you eventually runs out of suckers.

Thanks to a wide-spread media, we have about 6.7 billion people who are now aware of the first-world lifestyle and they, too, would like to live it. Looks pretty nice and we spend a lot of time telling people who nice it is. Per capita consumption in those populations is going to skyrocket. Take a quick gander at China. What are they doing to their land, exactly? And that's with a one child per couple policy.

I compare it to a concrete divider because it doesn't have a lot of give. We could have avoided hitting it. Once we do hit it, everything starts to crush. One system after another fails as additional stresses are placed on the remaining structural members. We might not even have enough crumple zone because we're in the crumple zone right now. We'd hear metal screeching but we have the radio on. We'd see the hood starting to fold but we're busy texting instead of looking at the road.

But don't listen to Thomas, he's such a bummer.
posted by adipocere at 7:30 AM on January 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


if he's really withdrawing, why am i reading his words on the web? - because he hasn't withdrawn, he can't withdraw and he really doesn't want to withdraw

Very much so, see previously.

You know they guy who gets in an argument on an Internet forum, gets mad, says he's leaving, and then keeps coming back to comment? Yeah, that.

A quote from the previous article:

But this is fine—the dismissal, the platitudes, the brusque moving-on of the grown-ups. It’s all fine. I withdraw, you see. I withdraw from the campaigning and the marching, I withdraw from the arguing and the talked-up necessity and all of the false assumptions. I withdraw from the words. I am leaving. I am going to go out walking.

I guess he's back from his walk.
posted by zabuni at 7:40 AM on January 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


There is a middle path in all of this, I think.

I do indeed do some technological throwback things. I cook for myself from scratch for the most part, and rarely buy prepared food or takeout or go to restaurants. I try to experiment with the weird cuts of meat that people often don't eat (I'm toying with trying pigs' feet soon). I am a late adopter of a lot of new technological gadgets - I don't own an iPod or a smart phone, or an e-reader of any kind; I don't even have an mp3 player. For several people I know, I am more likely to knit something myself as a gift than I am to buy it in a shop. I'm a bit wistful that my Brooklyn apartment prevents me from starting a little potager garden out on the lawn or making a root cellar. My "gym" is the bike I use on the weekends, the kayak I use in the summer, and the hiking I'm going to start doing (I'm visiting Moab at this exact moment and have fallen in love with hiking).

However, I am very very aware of the fact that I do not have to also grow the food I cook, mill the grain I bake with, or spin the yarn I knit with. I am very aware of the fact that all of this food and yarn is paid for by using a high-tech mass transit system (well, high-tech-ish anyway) five days a week to take me to a job where I sit in front of a computer. The kayak I paddle (not my own, it is owned by the club I belong to) is made of plastic and was designed expressly to avoid much of what makes people shun kayaking in terms of stability and weight in the water, so I ride it knowing I will not have to paddle too hard to propel myself, and I will not tip over. I am also very aware that if I did have a potager garden I would most likely lose a good deal of time to combating weeds or pests, and would be then forced to choose between using my own labor or a technologically-designed series of tools meant to fight pests and kill weeds. I even know that a lot of my memories of my hikes this weekend are going to be preserved in part due to the pictures I've taken on a state-of-the-art digital camera, and that I'm telling you all of this thanks to a technology that was started within my own adult lifetime. The "throwback" choices I've made are only miniscule, and I realize that.

And yet, I've made them, and I maintain that they have a tiny impact. Feeding myself with pigs' feet instead of pork chops means that you need to kill one less pig on my behalf - if all I ate were pork chops, you need to kill more pigs. (I also eat less meat now than I did earlier, which means you need kill even less pigs - or cows or chickens - than you would have.) The food I cook by hand means I am one less person buying the prepackaged crap; and the some of the food I cook and share with others means they benefit as well, and some of my friends have come to welcome my gifts of food because they have to buy one thing less to eat as well, and also don't have yet another Thing hanging about their house.

There are technologies which we cannot live without. I am right now staying with two people whose lives would be dramatically impacted without medical technology, for instance (one friend would not be able to see properly without glasses and would be sick as a dog for half the year without allergy medicine, and the other would not be alive if it were not for open-heart surgery); and I would be lame right now if not for the x-ray that was used to diagnose my broken foot a year ago today. But I do not always get every technological advancement that comes along, and I prefer that - I get that from a frugal New England ancestry (why would I spend my money on an mp3 player when my Discman from 10 years ago still works?), but I also appreciate that in doing so, even if it is only in a very small way, I am also doing a tiny bit to stem the kind of charge over the tech cliff that some fear.

You don't need to abandon all technology. But you also don't need every single last gadget that they make either. My CD player works just as well as your mp3 player, so I don't need one of those. My french press coffee maker works just as well as a Mr. Coffee machine. I can't grow coffee, so I am grateful for the technology that permits me to purchase the coffee others have grown elsewhere in the world, but the Mr. Coffee technology to make it is something I consider superfluous for me.

For each of us, there is technology that is vital, but there is also technology that is superfluous. We each have to draw that line for ourselves. But even if it's only a couple of things you nudge into the "superfluous" column, if enough of us do that, it's still a big impact.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:52 AM on January 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hmm. From the thread next door: Choose an objective...
posted by sneebler at 8:05 AM on January 1, 2013


empath : The main flaw in this piece is that he sees 'nature' as a thing which is separate from people, and as more real, more valuable and more good than what people create. It's nonsense.

Unless you mean that as a semantic argument against considering "nature" a concrete entity, he has it right. We count as merely a part of nature. Putting our "stuff" - Our possessions, our brains, our collective knowledge - Above the right-to-exist of a Yellowstone wolf pack amounts to pure hubris. Yes, I prefer having a computer to taking down an elk; that doesn't make it "right", or "better", or to reiterate the argument at hand, sustainable.


philip-random : there's nothing worthwhile in that zealot's thoughts or actions. he murdered people.

So in your view, if Lanza had written extensively on the need for nationalized single-payer healthcare, would you join the Tea Party? Bad people can do good things. Good people can do bad things. Obama has killed far, far more people (by proxy) than Kaczynski - And I don't mean that as a political comment against Barry, just a statement of fact.
posted by pla at 8:28 AM on January 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Factory farming is only "better" after you've defined your desired end state.

Luckily it's not as though the sole two choices for life on earth are either subsistence farming with a scythe or huge industrial scale factory farming.
posted by elizardbits at 8:46 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


The great thing about iron-age drudgery is that it leaves everyone short of time and energy for civic life and, combined with an information-poor environment, maintains a barrier comprised of ignorance and exhaustion which in turn protects the status quo. Which is why it is a useful panacea for all sorts of different elite groups, throughout history, for the problem of social unrest and resource allocation.


Yes. Which reminds me of this Bucky Fuller quote:
We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.
Are we just squirrels who must spend all their time finding and storing away food for the winter, or are we creatures that can reduce the time needed for that essential but not sufficient function so that we can use the rest of our capabilities, the things that make life not just possible, but worth living?

I think we also need to rethink what constitutes "work". Are not poetry, philosophy, music, astrophysics, etc., at least as worthy as swinging a stupid scythe? "Not by bread alone", etc.
posted by Philofacts at 8:46 AM on January 1, 2013 [41 favorites]


Putting our "stuff" - Our possessions, our brains, our collective knowledge - Above the right-to-exist of a Yellowstone wolf pack amounts to pure hubris.

We live in an indifferent universe, not in a morality play. Things perpetuate themselves because they are good at perpetuating themselves. Human morality presumably arose because it helped bands of humans survive and reproduce. The "rights" of wolves can only exist in the minds of humans, it is not written in some cosmic book of nature. Humans are short-sighted and arrogant, but the notion that they will be punished for their "hubris" seems to stem more from a psychological desire for narrative balance than from natural law.
posted by leopard at 9:01 AM on January 1, 2013 [16 favorites]


Dropping out By Rain Prieur
posted by marienbad at 9:11 AM on January 1, 2013


I will never understand the cult of Ted Kaczynski.

I knew a book agent once who had come close to agreeing on a publishing deal with Ted to publish his allegorical short stories about how homosexual "fruits" were leading us down the path to ecological catastrophe by distracting us with their demands for "the right to suck cock."

The bosun spoke up: "Yesterday the first mate called me a ‘fruit’ just because I suck cocks. I have a right to suck cocks without being called names for it!"
posted by steinsaltz at 9:12 AM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


leopard :Humans are short-sighted and arrogant, but the notion that they will be punished for their "hubris" seems to stem more from a psychological desire for narrative balance than from natural law.

Heh, funnily enough, we agree completely, and if my choice of phrasing indicated otherwise, I apologize.

I don't mean to refer to some sort of divine or karmic punishment for our actions - Instead, simply to the basic mathematical fact that we can't indefinitely continue our present rate of growth and energy use.

As for the environmental angle - No, some wrathful Gaia won't smite us for replacing vernal pools with McDonalds; I do, however, recognize that our biosphere has far, far more complex interdependencies than we pitiful primates can fully grasp. Even at a basic level, our actions have consequences - Kill more wolves and they eat fewer deer; more deer mean more humans hit deer with their cars. Eventually, it will come down to a choice - Do we want a world with trees and fish and squirrels, or do we want to live on nothing but farmed algae that provides both our food and our oxygen, with virtually no other life higher than spiders left sharing the planet with us? We've already nearly reached the point where I hope you like jellyfish, because we've brought the populations of "real" fish to the brink of collapse - To which we merely respond by deploying bigger nets.

We "need" to live in some semblance of harmony with nature because we don't understand enough to fully master it. If we had a cheap source of near-infinite energy and could set aside the entire planet as a sort of "nature preserve" while we live in floating cities, I'd say splurge away, have 10 kids each, do whatever you want. In the meantime, in the reality of today, I run a fairly low-waste, environmentally friendly household, and still consume something like 10x as many resources (mostly in the form of energy) as I can possibly produce.
posted by pla at 9:27 AM on January 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


The weirdest thing about the primitivism-as-ideal is that it is effectively saying, "Humans have evolved as much as they can/should." That homo sapiens is some kind of end point.

Nuts to that.
posted by curious nu at 9:31 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


The great thing about reading this thread is seeing all the reactions that are discussed in the article itself.
posted by baf at 9:45 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was wondering what happened to the Khmer Rouge!
posted by NortonDC at 9:48 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The simplest way of defining our problem is that we've built technology that effects the world on a scale several orders of magnitude beyond what a human mind is capable of understanding, and now we're struggling to understand the consequences of that scale.

The world as a whole is thinking about that scale much more than it's ever thought about it before, because it's never really had to. That scale is not incomprehensible. It's difficult, but not incomprehensible. And the more people set to thinking about how the world works as a set of phenomenally large systems, the more of an understanding we'll be able to reach.

Technology is capable of doing more than just creating those large-scale systems. It's also able to break those systems back down, to make them more comprehensible, to make them run at the human scale once more. We've started to see it do that in a small way this decade, and some of the biggest companies of the last ten years are crude versions of what I think the companies of the future are going to look like: huge monolithic entities that specialize in breaking down their purview into something more workable and accessible, so that a large amount of data is transformed into something which an individual can comprehend. We've seen those companies emerge in the realm of digital communication and infrastructure, but the same approach that Facebook or Google or Apple takes can be applied to less abstract endeavors: to production facilities or politics or education or transportation or what-have-you.

Looking at society as it progressed pre-computer and concluding that our species is stagnant and therefore hopeless is misguided. To figure out whether or not we have a chance going forward, you have to look at the speed with which society has begun to change in the last thirty years. Or even more importantly, the rate at which that change is accelerating. It feels like more has changed in the last five or six years than changed in the decade and a half before that – a lot of nascent technologies came into their own and the result is a political and media landscape quite a bit different than existed before. I suspect that the rate at which things change, or more precisely the rate at which shocking and possibly revolutionary events occur, will keep speeding up, because each development, each innovation, makes the next one more likely to happen.

The 'unsettling' social development which gets criticized by writers like the OP here, in which people are retreating into their own little worlds and feeling apathy towards the world beyond, strikes me as a healthy one. It's a reaction to the fact that for over a hundred years, the average person has been gradually losing any semblance of personal power. Industrialization means that the systems of production and distribution, of media and politics, have been almost entirely in the control of the rich and well-off, not just in isolated clusters like you'd have had in feudal times, but in an increasingly unified global majority that has its feelers in everything. Department stores, industrial companies like BP and Monsanto, the major news networks like CNN and Fox, the Democrat and Republican parties... power consolidated into these large behemoths which were simply untouchable by anybody who refused to play the Byzantine game of attracting and amassing more global power. A game whose rules were defined in such a way that you couldn't act against them, because the more you opposed them the less power you had to oppose, and the more you acted to gain control the more you had to abandon your opposition...

But now we're seeing the emergence of systems which are truly in the hands of the people, more and more so as they grow more decentralized and niche. The systems are still global, but they gain power by the behaviors of the people within them, and transferring between systems is easy enough that systems now have to optimize, not for control, but for how much freedom they give people within them. When a large enough group of people grows dissatisfied with their options, they can opt out, and the opting takes away some of that system's power.

Of course people are more obsessed with social networks than with global society. It's not because they're apathetic. It's because they recognize how little control they have over the real world, and how much control they have over these worlds of their choosing. This isn't a new phenomenon. Herodotus recounts an eighteen-year famine during which people took to games and sport, to keep their mind off the starvation they couldn't control in any way. But the difference between our games and those games is that our games, our networks, have the potential to be directly connected to the workings of the world at large. We just elected a president who understood how technology could mobilize and organize people into an efficient political beast. We've seen Wikileaks and Occupy use the Internet in two quite different ways to create a considerable impact in the world at large (Wikileaks more than Occupy, alas).

These are still primitive instances; I'd say it's only in the last three years that the general public has started to realize how disruptive these digital systems can be for the entrenched physical ones, and we have no way of knowing what another decade of experiments and efforts will bring us. But it's safe to bet on the result being "more, much more, than we have already seen," because in any struggle between two systems of managing people, the one that gives each individual more freedom is going to be a lot more powerful.

What bothers me about writers like the OP is not that he fetishizes an ancient and brutal pers of human history, but that he fails to realize how inefficient and brutal the last century has been. We're barely more than barbarians; any "civilization" we have exists in small pockets amidst a world that's largely still pretty crappily off. So to look at the last decade or so of efforts and despair, assuming that things won't change pretty radically in the decade or two to come, is to miss entirely how much slower progress was fifty or a hundred years ago. What's happening now is relatively impressive. And there's good reason to believe it will become even more so.

There's a lot of talk about how having access to global news makes people depressed by giving them a perspective on how much more poorly-off the world is than we we in our own backyards. That global perspective isn't wrong; a lot of shit is horribly fucked, to paraphrase The Wire. But where our perspective fails us is in the notion that shit was any less fucked before. We've had a hundred years of horrible fuckery, and no good way of understanding it in any meaningful perspective. The things we thought were tragedies fifty years ago and took to the streets protesting pale in comparison to the enormous, incomprehensible horror that are the interlocking systems of suffering and ignorance and despair that we can now somewhat visualize. But they've always been there. And seeing them doesn't make them any worse; on the contrary, it allows us to see what we're really up against and respond accordingly.

It strikes me that some of the most cynical voices I hear on the left are those that still buy into a worldview that originally came into prominence during the 60s through 80s. Environmentalists like OP who seem to originate their thoughts in works that came into being during that era obviously look at where we've come now and conclude that we've lost, that we're doomed, that things have gone horribly wrong. But what they missed is that their approach was fucked from the start. They weren't grappling with the real intrinsic problems with society, they were looking at a problem which society has to meet and assuming (or hoping) that we'd be civilized enough to get right to meeting it. They made a huuuge mistake in hoping for that. But that doesn't mean we're any less civilized now than we ever more.

Yeah, our enemy now is more enormous and more terrifying than any we've faced. But we're seeing it more clearly now than ever before, and we have a network in place that dwarfs any other in human history. I can't say that means everything is a-okay, but I do think we've got more than a fighting chance. The bads are worse than ever, but don't discount the tremendous potential of the things we have going for us that we've never had before. Just as we simply don't know what horrible things lie in wait ahead, we similarly have no comprehension of what these new technologies will allow us to do in response. Nobody does. Exciting times ahead, eh wot?
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:48 AM on January 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


To call Thoreau solipsistic and merely "pretty" is such a deep misreading that I'm not even sure where to start chiseling at it.

To be clear, "pretty" refers not to Thoreau but to the essay in question and the great many other neo-primitivist screeds I've read that mistake vivid homage to pre-industrial manual labour for persuasive rational argument. As for solipsism, there's enough of it in Thoreau's work to have inspired 150 years of self-satisfied city-bashing and the like. Not implying it's
the dominant note, but I don't think it's out of line to suggest that Walden contains a certain amount of privileged navel-gazing.
posted by gompa at 9:49 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have no idea if you meant "Catholic" or were saying car-holic = car addict. Either way I don't understand what would make those groups "green", can you clarify?

Catholic, sorry. Rather a long explanation why; perhaps start by reading Aquinas and Chesterton and Newman.
posted by michaelh at 9:53 AM on January 1, 2013


Kingsnorth's article is the most bogus piece of claptrap I've had the displeasure of encountering in maybe a decade. It really is a piece of shit.

You're welcome.
posted by mistersquid at 10:35 AM on January 1, 2013


What a sick joke this article is
posted by KokuRyu at 10:38 AM on January 1, 2013


One of my professional colleagues was a victim of the Unabomber. As an electrical engineering graduate student at UC Berkeley, he picked up a package that contained a bomb. It "only" blew off most of one of his hands, which made him one of the more fortunate victims.

Sorry, this essay lost me when the author professed admiration for Ted Kaczynski.
posted by haiku warrior at 11:16 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I did not come away from this with the idea he admired Kaczynski. He seemed internally conflicted over the fact that he found himself agreeing with the arguments Kaczynski put forth. It was a point of concern for him that seemed one of the driving forces behind the writing.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:26 AM on January 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


Supply-side environmentalism is all about attacking the machines and raising the maintenance costs for the problems. Demand-side environmentalism targets population growth, imposing taxes to reduce the problems and fund solutions. The latter is absolutely hated by the former, because it democratizes technology and doesn't seek a shock solution in the lifetime of the authoritarian hero activist, and it doesn't deliver its moral punishment in order to invite PR problems. This last part is the key difference. Disturbingly, the PR disasters are completely welcomed and always miscalculated by people with the personality disorders who are leading their very personal anti-social crusades:

Kaczynski received numerous complaints and low ratings from the undergraduates he taught. Many students noted that he seemed quite uncomfortable in a teaching environment, often stuttering and mumbling during lectures, becoming excessively nervous in front of a class, and ignoring students during designated office hours.
posted by Brian B. at 11:26 AM on January 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


The population bomb is a solved problem. Free and widely available contraception and sane social safety nets. The countries that have the means to do this just need the political will and the countries that don't have the means will need support from the megarich. Funny that it's in the rich's best interest but they doubtfully don't see it that way until, like Bill Gates, they remember they have a legacy to create. Again, it's a problem of will and not a problem of resource. Fanatics are all detrimental to implementing the cure to the population bomb: religious fanatics, darwinian capitalists, and, yeah, primitivists all have their heads in the sand in one way or another because they aren't addressing how the reproductive drive and poverty interact.

Now, what really scares me is the idea that someday some zealot wil have access to some DIY technology like a synthetic biology kit or self-replicating nanobots or what have you and that fucker will decide upon his own final solution to the population problem and he'll have the means to do it. Freud argued after WWI that there was a death drive in addition to the libido. Once you've discounted rationalism as a solution, you've literally given up on rational solutions. That is, by definition, how you end up with the crazy, horrible, inhumane solipsism of mad bombers and murderous shooters.
posted by Skwirl at 11:27 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


This essay gives me the hives — it is axiomatically wrong. By which I mean both that any essay which blithely assumes the deaths of 6 billion humans is wrong, as well that I think the authors premises (from which his conclusions logically flow) are not true. His prose revels in the coming gigadeaths as humanity's just deserts, and smugly puts hobby-level subsistence farming as the savior for those people smart enough to flee to Galt's Gulch.

The correct conflict is not "environmentalists versus exploiters", it is those who believe in the possibility of a good future, and those who believe only in a good past. Let us consign the "dark greens" to the same dustbin as feudalism, militaristic fundamentalism, social darwinism, and apocalyptic cults.

I believe in the future. The author does not.
posted by pmb at 11:35 AM on January 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


It's not a bad article, and I for one would appreciate it if the community would read it with care* and actually try to address some of the author's concerns properly, rather than reacting defensively and dismissively.

One of the cases put forward in the article is a questioning of the mega-technological world that we have gotten ourselves into. It questions the "techno-optimist" (or techno-hopeful?) ideology that not only comes with it but also perpetuates it. It's just an avenue of inquiry, with a broad area of existing literature, and it is clearly stated in the article that the author doesn't have a final answer.

*Those who bothered to do this would see that most of the objections in this thread, the author has actually addressed in some form. The article isn't perfect but the response thus far weirds me out.
posted by polymodus at 11:39 AM on January 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


baf: "The great thing about reading this thread is seeing all the reactions that are discussed in the article itself."

Yes, I was noticing the same, funny.

I liked the essay and believe it makes some excellent points in an intentionally provocative manner.
posted by stbalbach at 11:44 AM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


The population bomb is a solved problem. Free and widely available contraception and sane social safety nets. The countries that have the means to do this just need the political will and the countries that don't have the means will need support from the megarich.

While contraception (and by implication, improving status of women) is one tactic, the real solution to the population bomb is reducing infant mortality rates, so families don't have to hedge their bets and have lots of kids just in case.

And you're right - it is a solved problem. Infant mortality rates continue to decline year over year. The shift to cities also comes with increased agricultural productivity - more people can be fed, and an urban population doesn't *need* a large family.

The big issue I have with this writer is selfishness - complaining that technology has made it possible to support 7 billion people, as if the 7 billion people on this planet were a different species that he is apart from, and should just fuck off and die.

There is room for 7 billion people on the planet. There is not room for a country with just 300 million people consuming 20% of the world's resources. The solution of course is to adjust lifestyle. Will it happen? Maybe the crash of 2008 and the underemployment of Gen Y will mark a shift.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:50 AM on January 1, 2013


There seems to be an awful lot of people who like individual humans but hate humanity in general. I'm the opposite; I love humanity but individual humans? Ehh.
posted by Justinian at 11:58 AM on January 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't mean YOU, of course. We're still buds.
posted by Justinian at 11:58 AM on January 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


The Brushcutter vs Scythe analogy is apt on several levels. At the top is the obvious one: the technology that supports the brushcutter rests on the extraction of petroleum. It affects society in manifold ways, and requires a mega-structure that's been historically based on conquest, greed, and a constantly expanding upflow of capital. The scythe requires the services of a village blacksmith for manufacture, and the learning of certain skills by the operator. The person swinging the blade should know how to sharpen it. But then, so does his partner, using her butcher knife to prepare meat, know how to maintain her tools. (I used the sexes representationally. Women can swing a scythe, men can butcher rabbits.) The distinction between the two societies is not a subtle one. In structure, the former is the descendant of the latter, with significant, periodic changes happening with the increase in scale.

His argument goes further, though. The scythe represents a techological, if arbitrary, starting point of what he describes as the "Progress Trap." Our failure of vision, it seems, is our ultimately fatal flaw. There doesn't seem to be room in our vision for appropriate behavior. It seems as though the skill to improve blinds us to making decisions about which things to improve.

I guess I see what he was trying to say about the Unabomber. Ted's solutions were inappropriate. That's a mild word for the misery he caused. But then the misery he was attempting to address has been monumental--even fundamental. One does not validate the other.

Kingsnorth tried to look at the bright side in his closing. His suggestions are inadequate, of course. If you go look at the places where people have stood in front of bulldozers, you'll see housing tracts. Maybe the best you can do is sigh. It seems like the act of a hypocrit to continue to use the tools of your destruction: we, some of us, can live "off the grid" but we still will remain cogs in the machine. Our society is globally interactive now. Ater 10,000 years nobody seems to have addressed the obvious question of how much? There was no golden age, but there may have been a period where our conceptual shortcomings didn't yet matter. Individuals comprise the society. The illusion of the powerful king and the democratic state both neglect the composit will of the society. Does a way really exist to guide the machine? It seems as though the industrial age (let's say) has made it impossible to even ask the why of any of this.

The cheetah got to be swift because if the gazelle. The gazelle got to be swift because of the cheetah. Neither of them ever sat down and planned this out. They had to settle for sharing their world, leaving the prospect of their extinction to rocks falling from space or clever humans. Maybe we are more clever than wise, and we'll leave our remains for the clever and evolved cockroaches to find and wonder about.
posted by mule98J at 11:59 AM on January 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


The authors main thesis is that technology sows the seed of it own destruction. It creates a progress trap which started with the agricultural revolution if not earlier. I tend to agree with this in the long-view of things - A Canticle for Leibowitz - but would take it further. The real problem started when the top level predators were no longer able to keep populations of homo in check. Normally top level predators are the keystone species for maintaining healthy ecosystems, if they are removed, other species will degrade the environment - the environment won't be destroyed, but it will be less healthy and diverse. This has been observed in Yellowstone with the wolves vs. buffalo, and anywhere else where top level predators have been removed. So the current situation we are in today began when homo's got the upper hand against cave lions, saber tooths and and other things. Nature will eventually fix that imbalance "in her own sweet way," as Edward Abbey said.
posted by stbalbach at 12:04 PM on January 1, 2013


The Brushcutter vs Scythe analogy is apt on several levels.

Yeah, but to take the philosophy to its full, logical extent, the scythe still represents human mastery over nature, which, according to the philosophy, got us into this mess in the first place. Iron and steel are huge technological advances; organizing an agrarian society is a huge socio-political advance as well, and, from the perspective of the philosophy here, not necessarily a good one.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:05 PM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


So the current situation we are in today began when homo's got the upper hand against cave lions, saber tooths and and other things.

I really question the assumption that homo sapiens have never been a top predator. We're homo sapiens because we can *think* and outwit what had been formerly top predators.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:06 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but to take the philosophy to its full, logical extent, the scythe still represents human mastery over nature, which, according to the philosophy, got us into this mess in the first place

I think that's perhaps an overly contrasted reading of Kingsnorth's words. He writes:

"This is what intelligent green thinking has always called for: human and nonhuman nature working in some degree of harmony, in a modern world of compromise and change in which some principles, nevertheless, are worth cleaving to."

I thought it was a very good piece. Still it is weird that he felt the need to drag Kaczynski into it. He needn't have done that and he shouldn't have done that. It gives pause, because what reason is there to want to invoke the sadness and frustration that man brought into the world?
posted by deo rei at 12:27 PM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Easy meat meant more babies."

Actually, it appears from the evidence these days that even with easy meat, not repressing women and allowing them equality means less babies, even with "easy meat." Overpopulation is tied up with patriarchy in a very fundamental way; easy meat (and bread) just meant that more of those coerced babies survived.
posted by emjaybee at 12:43 PM on January 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


I think Kingsnorth is trying to connect to something I wrote elsewhere in a somewhat different context:
Humans can't live without any technology at all; without fire and clothing the kindest thing that can be said of us is that our habitat would be severely limited. But there is one way in which primitive technology is markedly different from what we have done in the last few hundred years. Primitive technology gets used up. If you make a hundred spears you may learn to make the perfect spear; but eventually you will break it and need to make another. Eventually you will die, and your children will have to re-learn the skill.

Humans are good at this sort of thing. We like making things and we like the satisfaction of making things well. This adapts us well for a world in which we must supply ourselves with a continuous stream of clothing, hunting implements, containers, and so on. Part of our mental make-up is the motivation which would keep us supplied with the necessities of life in a world where they are not naturally available and constantly getting lost, used, or broken. Primitive technology is a continuous process.

Modern technology, by contrast, is a series of endgame projects. We expend a lot of energy to build things which we regard as "finished" and we get quite upset when we have to build them again because they got knocked down by a hurricane or blown up in a war. A lot of our projects are tools for making other projects easier. A hydraulic crane has no value on its own, but it is worth making and finishing one if your next project is to be a skyscraper.

In practice, these projects rarely connect us with a result to which we can relate. If you cut a sapling, shape it into a spear, use the spear to kill a deer, then eat the deer, you can perceive a direct relationship between the job of spear-making and your full belly. It's easy to work up the motivation to make another spear. But if you operate a lathe to make hydraulic cylinders, chances are you do that all day long without ever visiting the plant that installs the cylinders in a hydraulic crane, or the site where the crane erects a building. You may walk around in the building that was built by the crane that was powered by the cylinder you turned, but you will probably never realize it.

This is one reason so many people in industrialized countries hate their jobs. Think about that; we spend a large part of our time engaged in activities which are necessary for survival, yet there is no connection between those activities and the things we do in "real life." In exchange for our toil we are given an abstraction -- money -- which we then use in our "spare time" to get the things we really want. But it turns out that the things we want rarely give us much satisfaction, because they're endgames too. The joy of having a new thing is fleeting, and many of us have no way to deal with the emptiness that follows except to buy another new thing.
I wrote that about the rapture of the nerds, but it's also the true difference between the scythe and the bushmaster; the scythe requires a sustained effort and skill. We are wired to take satisfaction from operating such a thing if we know that it's the reason we will be able to eat in January and if we don't know the bushmaster exists.

But modern people do know the bushmaster exists, and just as we would often eat a donut instead of a healthy omelette we get a charge out of riding the bushmaster around for half an hour and then drinking beer while we congratulate ourselves on leaving the scythe in the garage. Kingsnorth is describing the technical activity counterpoint to a world full of cheap carbohydrates and empty calories, where real food is less desireable and more expensive than stuff that will make us fat, leave us hungry, and kill us young.

Just as we no longer have the ability to feed our entire population a paleo diet we don't really have a way to plug people into work that is fulfilling to our ancient sense of purpose. And not that such a thing is desireable or that anybody wants it, but some kind of omnicidal disaster is a very likely outcome of the only way we seem to be capable of acting now.
posted by localroger at 12:53 PM on January 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


KokuRyu: "I really question the assumption that homo sapiens have never been a top predator. We're homo sapiens because we can *think* and outwit what had been formerly top predators."

Did anyone say "homo sapiens" besides yourself? It really doesn't matter which homo species could be called a top predator, at some time that transition did occur. Was it the H. habilis, or the H. erectus, who knows, who cares, they are all homo to me.
posted by stbalbach at 1:08 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


We count as merely a part of nature. Putting our "stuff" - Our possessions, our brains, our collective knowledge - Above the right-to-exist of a Yellowstone wolf pack amounts to pure hubris.

The funny part of that, to me, is that I fully expect wolves to put their own stuff above our right-to-exist. They certainly put their own stuff over the right of prey to exist; and those prey put their own stuff above predators' rights to exist. If humans are proud and selfish, those are characteristics of all of our cousins as well.

I don't think humans are especially selfish: we're just especially talented when it comes to altering environments.

We don't really have a way to plug people into work that is fulfilling to our ancient sense of purpose

Yeah, but if you're right about what that ancient sense of purpose is, then our ancient sense of purpose is changing:

We expend a lot of energy to build things which we regard as "finished" and we get quite upset when we have to build them again because they got knocked down by a hurricane or blown up in a war.

Unless we were always this upset when we had to resharpen the scythe?

I think this desire to feel like things are done, now we can sit back and relax, is really pervasive, and really dangerous. I don't know if it's modern or not, but I see it in Mr. Kingsnorth's writing (sorry for getting the name wrong earlier!). Things are never done, and real, ultimate sustainability is a myth. This sense of running as fast as we can just to keep up with global warming isn't so hopeless: it's the same as it's ever been. Running as fast as we can, just to keep from starving. Just to keep the scythe sharpened. We'll never be done, and "band-aid" isn't a dirty word.
posted by nathan v at 1:11 PM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Unless we were always this upset when we had to resharpen the scythe?

Yes. See: Homer Simpson, who was funny partly because he had the epic childish meltdowns over tiny frustrations that we all were having, inside. If I was trying to get the damn field mowed before sunset, and kept having to stop and sharpen the goddamn blade and maybe slicing my thumb in the bargain, or stepping into an anthill or dungheap, I would have whatever the opposite of a peaceful zen state is.
posted by emjaybee at 2:04 PM on January 1, 2013


Catholic, sorry. Rather a long explanation why; perhaps start by reading Aquinas and Chesterton and Newman.

If you don't want to explain your statements, that's perfectly fine, and you're welcome to say so, but saying "read these authors" comes off as vague and a touch dismissive. I'd be interested to hear why you're saying "population growth is the answer".

Unless you mean "the population of people who agree with me needs to be larger", which I'm just guessing at based on the bit about the multiplication of people raised well, so feel free to correct me if that's not what you meant.

The thing is, belief is not hereditary, so you're better off trying to convince already-living adults, since you're not limited to one new conversation every 9 months or so.
posted by dubold at 2:30 PM on January 1, 2013


If by wasting your time (an entirely subjective question) you mean wasting your energies (far less subjective) then I'd suggest becoming thoroughly acquainted with the production of electricity.

It's a valuable metaphor. Consider the source of natural energy, the means of conversion to generate power, the efficiency you can expect to achieve, the means of distribution. The load must be matched to the available energies; too little or too much load leads to failure. The problems and results are well documented, as are the politics.

Then consider your various options in the light of that metaphor. Study your resources, the energies you can expect to convert, and choose a load that maximizes what you can reasonably expect to generate.

I don't agree that "technological progress is carrying us to inevitable disaster". It's a question of sustainable employment that strives to stay in harmony with the needs of all life on the planet. And it has been a problem of very, very questionable leadership as far back as history goes.

The word "progress" is subjective as is the word "inevitable". But clearly there's a great danger in harnessing capabilities to desires rather than needs. We currently live in a culture that strives to create desires (and profit from them) rather than creating a stable, sustainable environment. Limited planetary resources ensure that foolishness must, inevitably, fail. The scary result is 'inevitable' only to the extent that we continue to allow ourselves to be led in that direction.
posted by Twang at 3:14 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agree with cstross upthread, but I also felt very sad reading this essay. Kingsnorth's frustration permeates the piece in a way that makes me feel as though he believes he was driven to this point by factors beyond his control. He doesn't sound to me like a person at peace in the slightest. Let's hope that if he decides to break his own personal cycle, he doesn't take anyone else down with him.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 3:28 PM on January 1, 2013


Humanity is long past the .25 to maybe 1.0 billion (if we're being generous and not everyone wants to live like first-worlders) carrying capacity that's a conservative but not ridiculous estimate. We don't have until 2100 AD to stop population growth. We have maybe until 2060 AD to get things down to carrying capacity and have efficiencies undreamt of.

Uh. You're seriously putting forward the idea that we need to kill off through unspecified means approximately 9 out of every 10 human beings on the planet as well as start recycling crap at the bottom of landfills with robotic labor or... or I'm not sure what exactly. Extinction?

This reminds me of the end of Mass Effect 3. We need to kill 90% of humanity pronto or 90% of humanity might die!
posted by Justinian at 4:23 PM on January 1, 2013


Catholic, sorry. Rather a long explanation why; perhaps start by reading Aquinas and Chesterton and Newman.

I actually was raised Catholic and have read Aquinas and I still am not sure what connection you're making. Can you elaborate?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:24 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ok googling on the theme here led me to Derrick Jensen:

"Every morning when I awake I ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam."

That dude has anger management issues.
posted by bukvich at 4:51 PM on January 1, 2013


As I dwelled on recently in another thread, for me the thing that most makes me want to act out like my favorite metaphor for impotent rage—the disgruntled Burger Shack employee—is that there was time. Even within my lifetime there has been time to do something about the fact that now, after a thousand generations of progress, humanity has a limited window to create a technological future. Which puts me in the mind of two Arthur C. Clarke quotes:
There is no way back into the past; the choice, as Wells once said, is the universe—or nothing. Though men and civilizations may yearn for rest, for the dream of the lotus-eaters, that is a desire that merges imperceptibly into death. The challenge of the great spaces between the worlds is a stupendous one; but if we fail to meet it, the story of our race will be drawing to its close.— Arthur C. Clarke, Interplanetary Flight, 1950
If man survives for as long as the least successful of the dinosaurs—those creatures whom we often deride as nature's failures—then we may be certain of this: for all but a vanishingly brief instant near the dawn of history, the word 'ship' will mean—'spaceship.'— Arthur C. Clarke, quoted by Hugh Downs, Ad Astra, Fall 2008
As I've written in the past, nothing would please me more than to live to regret smoking, drinking, and eating more cheeseburgers than is good for me because humanity somehow found a way to a beautiful future. I continue with the smoking, etc. because I don't believe we'll get there and I'm not excited about the prospect of living through the fin de civilisation.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:55 PM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also Paul Kingsnorth himself is reading the comments on the Orion website if you click through to page 8 or so. So if you have a good question for him you might get an answer straight from him.
posted by bukvich at 5:05 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


My grandfather, a farmer, kept a scythe in his garage. As a kid, I pointed it out once and asked him about it. "That," he said, "we called that the Widowmaker." What with all the men who had heart attacks using the goddamned things.

I'm just sayin'.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 5:17 PM on January 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ok googling on the theme here led me to Derrick Jensen:

Yeah, I'm wondering when we'll actually get a full-blown ecoterrorist movement going, with actually body counts. The traditionally gentle environmentalist culture, combined with the fact that most of these guys seem to be isolated, well-off middle-class folks who much prefer to blow off steam verbally has prevented it thus far. But I fully expect to see some bombs go off within my lifetime, and Jensen's stuff will probably be found on whoever-it-is' bookshelves. With predictable and indiscriminate backlash.
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:08 PM on January 1, 2013


I'm wondering when we'll actually get a full-blown ecoterrorist movement going

Yeah, we could call 'em monkeywrench gangsters. No one would see that coming.
posted by localroger at 6:12 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Coming Gigadeaths are my least favorite Earth Crises cover band.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:33 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]



"Every morning when I awake I ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam."


Oh, hiLARious. No, Derrick Jensen does not have anger management issues - what he has is a pretty cushy position as a white, straight, finger-shaking male Important Intellectual who sells plenty of books. Dude is never going to blow up a dam - in fact, later in either that essay or another one, I forget, he says that his work as an intellectual is too valuable for him to be blowing up any dams. That is left as a problem for the reader, I guess.

Jensen has a habit in his writing that really frosts me - he'll report (writing as if from a transcript but really from memory) a conversation he had with a Well-Meaning But Clueless Person Who Is Not As Smart As Him, showing how he uses sound-bite wisdom to show how narrow, reformist and useless the Well-Meaning Person is. And of course, the WMP is virtually always a woman - our silly little brains just can't comprehend the need to go on speaking tours urging others to consider blowing up dams.

I want to like him much better than I do, because he's actually done some really good writing about his chronic health problems and history of abuse - writing that isn't a bunch of macho posturing but is actually pretty brave and feminist (in that he's not afraid to write about his straight male body as this abject, ill, injured, permeable, humiliated thing and he doesn't recuperate his own injury by writing a lot of macho posturing about how through guns or pushups or whatever he rebuilt himself into a Master of His World).

But in his other work he is so confident that he has the answer, he's smarter than everyone else, other people's problems would all be resolved if they'd just do what he says - not only is that very, very frustrating and uncomfortable to read as a queer person raised female, but there's actually pretty good historical evidence that White Guys With Answers do not actually make very good politics. I mean, I say this as someone who basically believes we'll see 4 degrees Celsius warming by mid-to-late in this century and that human life as we know it is pretty much doomed - but that doesn't mean I believe that a Single Issue White Guy has the answers.
posted by Frowner at 6:52 PM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


The population bomb is a solved problem.

Oh, snap!

...There is not room for a country with just 300 million people consuming 20% of the world's resources.

Which is less than the number of people in the middle class in the People's Republic of China already, by the way, and look what that's doing for the Tiger, the Elephant and the Black Rhino.

The solution of course is to adjust lifestyle.

And then talk the six billion seven hundred million rest of the world out of wanting to live at the level of consumption the world can't sustain for the 300 million. Good luck with that.
posted by y2karl at 7:15 PM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I find it strange to hear the arguments that the large growth in population is due to improved technology and reduced infant mortality, when the regions with the most technology, the lowest infant mortality, and the highest life expectancy (off hand I'm thinking Japan, US, Western Europe), are the very regions that are not growing. Their population is decreasing and the rate of decrease is growing (not taking into account immigration). I'll bet you find a lot more use of the scythe in areas where population is growing like crazy.

Maybe we need more technology.


And you don't need anyone to die an unnatural death to decrease the population. Heck, if everyone stopped having babies, the entire population would reduce to zero within a hundred years.
posted by eye of newt at 7:40 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Did anyone say "homo sapiens" besides yourself? It really doesn't matter which homo species could be called a top predator, at some time that transition did occur. Was it the H. habilis, or the H. erectus, who knows, who cares, they are all homo to me.

Ah, my apologies, I always thought that when we talk about human beings we are talking about homo sapiens. Apparently smarter people than me disagree!
posted by KokuRyu at 9:15 PM on January 1, 2013


This strikes me as just a much, much more intellectual version of the reality television show, Doomsday Preppers, which was recently featured on the blue.

I'm not sure why we're listening to one crackpot but dismissive of the others. I'm not trying to be snarky, but just because one is featured on a third rate basic cable TV channel and the other is a learned English writer that quotes Theodore Kacynski and is published in some acclaimed magazine means that they're different. Either both are correct, or both should be dismissed.

I'm personally betting on dismissing both, but since I don't even have a Youtube channel to my name, you can all freely choose to ignore me.

Also, I admit of a possibility of there being a third or middle choice, but to them, that would be dismissing their claims too because the future they are certain of is inevitable and not troubled by any nuance or degree.
posted by FJT at 10:00 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Haven't these ecological misanthropists been predicting the death of civilization for the last 40 years? Weren't we going to be seeing major famines in the U.S, by the 1980s? How is this different from the last time they took pleasure in pronouncing our doom?

Well if they keep predicting, they're bound to eventually be right purely by chance- Yellowstone will erupt or a comet will impact us, and it'll be all over. Until then though, given that I'm one of the people who couldn't survive in their brave new preindustrial world, I'm not going to buy into their highly anti-humanitarian philosophy.
posted by happyroach at 10:12 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


How is this different from the last time they took pleasure in pronouncing our doom?

I am just a layman with slightly above average attention to these issues. My answer to that question is: 1) we are getting better and better at tracking and predicting the large scale trends that are happening; 2) we now have data from the last 20-30 years that we can compare against past predictions; 3) it is becoming more and more obvious that even the worst case predictions about global climate change were conservative - we have overshot in terms of CO2 in the atmosphere, and current heating; 4) we are doing worse than nothing in terms of addressing the atmospheric issues - the Alberta tar sands, the industrialisation of China and India, etc., it's as though we are still accelerating when the brakes should have been applied 30 years ago; 5) it is starting to be visible, right now, to any attentive observer that the planet is changing very rapidly. Did you notice Greenland melting, and the Arctic becoming ice free in summer?

Swim, polar bears, swim!

I take no pleasure at all contemplating this. I have young children, and would love to see them thrive rather than die in a hellish apocalyptic famine or choke to death in a Venusian sauna.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:44 PM on January 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Humanity is long past the .25 to maybe 1.0 billion (if we're being generous and not everyone wants to live like first-worlders) carrying capacity that's a conservative but not ridiculous estimate. We don't have until 2100 AD to stop population growth. We have maybe until 2060 AD to get things down to carrying capacity and have efficiencies undreamt of.

So which of the superfluous 6 billion people do you want to kill? Because that's what you're arguing if you've decided that there are too many people now and "we" need to get them down to a sustainable level (whatever that is) by 2060, when of course quite a few of these superfluous people would still be around (heck, at only 47 years away, I plan to still be around myself).

You can't just say that we need to reduce population or doom, as any attempt to reduce populations at a rate slower than generational would entail mass genocide of one sort or another.

And then talk the six billion seven hundred million rest of the world out of wanting to live at the level of consumption the world can't sustain for the 300 million. Good luck with that.

Course, the North American lifestyle is particularly wasteful, even when compared to similar advanced economies like Japan or Europe. It's quite possible to live a first world lifestyle with much less wastage. There are things we can do to migitate climate change and the other nasty side effects of having (post-)industrial civilisation without having to give up the benefits of same, without requiring all of us to piss in haybales, as George Monbiot e.g. attempted to show in his book Heat.

The thing about climate change though is that, like the vast majority of twentieth century famines, it's not so much a natural as a political disaster, where any change in the status quo has been opposed by those with vested interest in keeping it going. For them climate change is something that will happen to other people.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:49 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of people are reading a bunch of stuff into this essay that I don't think was intended. Judging by the favorite counts here, what most people seem to be taking as the message of the article is "everyone should be a low-tech subsistence farmer because it's good for the planet and the human spirit"- a position which obviously has lots of problems which others have already pointed out, but I don't think it's actually what Kingsnorth meant to say with this piece. I kind of wish he'd left out the whole scythe/brushcutter bit, because I think that made it easy for those not already sympathetic to the position he's coming from to arrive at that reading, and I think what he was trying to say there came out rather muddled. (And the Kaczynski stuff was inevitably going to be inflammatory, of course, though I think he makes it pretty clear that he doesn't ultimately condone Kaczynski's actions- still, I'd say I agree with deo rei that he probably shouldn't have mentioned him.)

What I think is valuable in this piece, and which I had sort of hoped there would be a bit more engagement with in this thread, is the discussion of the state of the environmental movement of today, and how we respond to the current environmental crisis. His analysis of what seems like a near-universal turn towards what he calls "neo-environmentalism" is, to me, spot-on, and I think it's a phenomenon that warrants more thought and discussion than it's received. I should say that my politics tend towards a pretty deep shade of green- I am pretty much with Kingsnorth, in terms of the view I have of the non-human world and our ideal relation to it. Deep ecology is, more or less, the position closest to mine, and, pretty obviously, Kingsnorth's as well. This is clearly not a popular position on Metafilter, and I have to say that I don't recognize my own views or, I think, those of Kingsnorth, in the picture many have painted here of what ecocentric philosophy entails- but ultimately I think there's probably not much use in arguing about it, given that in many ways I think it's a matter of what axiomatic positions one starts with. I can no more understand or sympathize with the axioms that would lead someone to think that the Futurist Manifesto is the way to go and that humanity ultimately wiping out both itself and most of the rest of life on earth is something that in any way represents "progress" and the "full expression of its potential" than they could mine, and so it goes.

Back to neo-environmentalism, though- Kingsnorth is right that the ideology he describes by that term seems to be the dominant trend within the environmentalist movement (such as it is, these days), and there are, as he admits, areas where they are right, or at any rate serve as a corrective to errors that the movement has made in the past. But at the core, I think the entire thing is basically a capitulation. Kingsnorth quotes this, from Peter Kareiva (and knowing that he's the chief scientist of the Nature Conservancy is making me reconsider giving them any money in the future):

"Instead of pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake, a new conservation should seek to enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of people. . . . Conservation will measure its achievement in large part by its relevance to people."


I have a feeling most here would agree with that, but I think it ultimately represents a disastrous surrender. Kingsnorth's following paragraph pretty much sums up my feelings on that quote, but to offer my own views- to me, the ideology expressed by Kareiva there is one which has basically thrown the entire idea of conservation out the window completely. Even though this may not be the intention, if we decide that the value of biodiversity is what humanity puts on it and nothing else, what this is inevitably going to mean in a world where we have the system we do is that in any given question of conservation vs. capitalist interest, capitalist interests will prevail every time. It would not be at all difficult to argue that human interest is better served by clear-cutting yet another old growth forest (or whatever else) than to leave it in place, and in a world where conservationist groups have by and large accepted Karieva's view, as I see it they will always end up conceding that argument in the end. If this is the direction the environmentalist movement has opted to take, it is basically equivalent to waving a white flag, IMO. Even if you don't agree with the ecocentric view Karieva and the other neo-environmentalists are rejecting, think of it in terms of the Overton window.

On a final note- the sort of horror I feel at the thought of a world where, to quote pla above, we "live on nothing but farmed algae that provides both our food and our oxygen, with virtually no other life higher than spiders left sharing the planet with us?" is, I would say, equivalent to that which many feel here at the idea of going back to subsistence farming. I do not in any way exaggerate when I say that I'd much sooner be dead than live in that world. Even if you don't find any value in biodiversity, keep in mind that some of us do- and moreover, that all of us are very likely to find our quality of life far more dependent on a functioning biosphere than we may realize now. I don't believe that the more ecocentric view and the humanist view have to be set against each other- I think they, ideally, should go hand-in-glove, and though I could be wrong I think that this is ultimately Kingsnorth's view as well.
posted by a louis wain cat at 11:53 PM on January 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


a louis wain cat : I do not in any way exaggerate when I say that I'd much sooner be dead than live in that world.

Seeing a lot of straw-men flogged in this conversation, so just wanted to put this out here...

Make no mistake, I have no interest in going back to subsistence farming myself. I like computers, I like the internet, I like easy transportation, I like all the "toys" of modern civilization. A great many of those trappings, however, we can make rather a lot more efficient, both in their production, in their useful lifetime, and in their EOL processing.

I don't think we need to all become communal-living hippies growing turnips for food. I just think we need to proceed very carefully in the next 20-200 years. We can "have [99% of] if all", if we focus on efficiency, renewability, and reducing waste.

As for the population, yes, we need less. We don't need to OMG-pick-6.5 billion-people-to-kill, however; we just need a global "one-child" policy until the population drops below 500M.

As a (relevant) aside, just this past week on another news/blog site, I found myself arguing with one of the CFL-haters we all know and love over the new efficiency standards for 100W bulbs. It just amazes me that we still have people brazenly demanding their inefficient lighting, their gas-guzzlers, their 27 layers of plastic packaging around their processed frozen pink slime foodstuffs. It amazes me that my physical location has nothing to do with my job, yet the Old Guard of employers want me to burn two gallons of gas a day and then pay to heat and light a giant building just so once a week my boss can drop by my cube to say "hi". It amazes me that we have a Northwest Passage for the first time in recorded history, yet still have an entire major political party of climate-change deniers in the US.

The planet, and life in general will carry on just fine with temperatures 10C and oceans 15m higher. In the (geological) past, however, when things like that have happened, larger and more complex lifeforms vanished.
posted by pla at 3:48 AM on January 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


MAN
posted by stbalbach at 9:09 AM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


we just need a global "one-child" policy until the population drops below 500M

How do you expect to impose your global tyrannical dictatorship if not at the point of a gun? What should be done with women who have had a child but get pregnant a gun? Forcible abortion and sterilization?
posted by Justinian at 9:45 AM on January 2, 2013


the women get pregnant again, the do not impregnate guns. That would be hard to deal with, though.
posted by Justinian at 11:40 AM on January 2, 2013


How do you expect to impose your global tyrannical dictatorship if not at the point of a gun?
Cultural change. "Propaganda" for lack of a better word. Incentives. It would be a massive undertaking which would involve, at the very least, sweeping changes in gender perception.
But I think women would only benefit from that given the current situation in so many places right now. At the very least economic/career equity.

And the right to contraception is a human right. I'm not sure how denying them the right to birth control is somehow itself a right.
If a woman wanted more than one child she could easily make that choice. As it is now in many places, and throughout most of human history, women were deprived of that right.

There are plenty of cultural institutions which support misogyny and oppose family planning.
I'll pull Pakistan out of a hat, something like one in five women have (sporadic) access to contraception. And there are social mores which suppress contraception.
Plenty of other examples. Catholics of course.

The Indian government has made big strides in contraception. Still a lot of nasty attitudes towards women.
But all that can be fought through education, training, etc. with an eye towards making social changes.
It'd be nice if more women were allowed to read, no?

But, among the things I'd personally go to war for, human rights and equality for women, pretty high on the list.
As it is, I'd say there's already a tyrannical dictatorship in place that degrades women, limits their education and control over their bodies and reduces them essentially to chattel in many ways.
Kicking it's ass, unlike most of the wars we've fought lately, would be all gravy to me.


One of the things forgotten here is the stewardship of the land.
It's necessary to conservation that boundaries between human civilization and the wilderness remain in tact.
It's why Dick Proenneke is Dick Proenneke and not 200,000 other people too. If we want to shift to a lower ecological impact society, we would have to remain in the human-ideal lands we've already settled.
Not go off and displace more wildlife by trying to get away from humans. The animals that are there in the first place are there to get away from humans.

Among the many problems with Kaczynski is this romanticization of the wild. Like he's the only guy who understands it or loves it. And he suddenly gets upset because people are building a road through where he likes to walk in the wild. Here's the thing - he was disturbing nature too. Maybe not as much as a road. But certainly as much as any other human. The best thing he could have done is support it though conservation efforts and restoration and not live there.
Because then it becomes about ownership, not stewardship. Who "really" owns it. And you're not in harmony with it. You're just an exploiter of a different stripe. And that's another way people become major league assholes.

Kingsnorth puts it well:
The Amazon is not important because it is “untouched”; it’s important because it is wild, in the sense that it is self-willed. It is lived in and off of by humans, but it is not created or controlled by them. It teems with a great, shifting, complex diversity of both human and nonhuman life, and no species dominates the mix. It is a complex, working ecosystem that is also a human-culture-system, because in any kind of worthwhile world, the two are linked.... “Nature” is a resource for people, and always has been; we all have to eat, make shelter, hunt, live from its bounty like any other creature. But that doesn’t preclude us understanding that it has a practical, cultural, emotional, and even spiritual value beyond that too, which is equally necessary for our well-being.

If we're going to preserve it, we're going to have to focus on the land we occupy and on ourselves, not on the pretense that there is somewhere else, somewhere wild, we can go. We can't escape ourselves.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:37 PM on January 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Now this part is great. The Orion discussion board had some incendiary stuff about Kaczynski being some kind of hero and mother earth really needs some billions humans dying quick and a moderator there posted the following gem:

While we appreciate and honor the contributions of all of our commenters and value the diversity of opinions expressed here, we expect our readers to treat each other with the civility and grace that are called for in discussions where there are strong emotions and widely differing points of view. Words are powerful, and we expect all of our commenters to keep that in mind. Personal attacks have no place in this discussion.
posted by bukvich at 2:03 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Haven't these ecological misanthropists been predicting the death of civilization for the last 40 years?

In the case of climate change, they're the same people with the same message.

Weren't we going to be seeing major famines in the U.S, by the 1980s?

Citation, please. It's difficult to evaluate your claim until you provide some evidence.

How is this different from the last time they took pleasure in pronouncing our doom?

Could you be more specific? Which time? Who is 'they'?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:06 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Haven't these ecological misanthropists been predicting the death of civilization for the last 40 years?

Yes, and if people had listened back then, we wouldn't be in quite such a pickle.
posted by y2karl at 4:25 PM on January 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


*Those who bothered to do this would see that most of the objections in this thread, the author has actually addressed in some form. The article isn't perfect but the response thus far weirds me out.

I very much agree with this statement. I'm kind of surprised to the sort of knee jerk reactions here. Not that I expect everyone to agree with the author on everything (I certainly don't) but the degree of name calling and straw manning was surprising. It seem more of a journal from the depths of muddling through ideas instead of a manifesto of any sort. This is something I am glad to read, pat answers and prepared responses don't really move things forward.

Some of the objections people raised that weren't addressed in the (far from perfect, but not lynchmob worthy) article are addressed by the Wendell Berry essay 'A good scythe' that the author seems to have assumed would have already been known by his readers (and probably rightly with his target audience of people involved in the ecology movement who have become disillusioned with what has happened in the last 30 years or so). He is speaking from within a cultural framework that he references (E.F. Scuhmacher, Robinson Jeffers, Wendell Berry, etc) but doesn't really explain, which I hope is some of the reason for the speed and virulence of the response to this essay on here.
posted by Perfectibilist at 8:20 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I liked the essay and believe it makes some excellent points in an intentionally provocative manner.

If the points in question are the five he decided were not wastes of time, I think those above you in the thread have adequately countered.

If you're talking about the progress trap, the inevitable collapse of civilization and so forth--well, no, I've seen those made rather better elsewhere, and in any case you don't have to try very hard to convince this crowd (or that of Orion Magazine) that global warming will fuck our shit.

If you're talking about what he was using the scythe analogy for, the... ah, autonomy? spiritual presence?... well, I wasn't clear that it was a point he was making with that, although the essay's polemic elements confuse the issue and could easily give the impression that he thinks everyone should practice manual labor. Apart from the five anti-wastes of time, I found nothing here that really looked like a thesis that the author was arguing--that is, a "point".

There were lots of judgments and opinions without accompanying argument. That's not terrible; you need to assume such things in order to make arguments, and in any case there's need for simple reflection. This particular reflection mainly concerns the author's pity and contempt for neo-environmentalists, technological civilization (the whole thing?), and industrial grass-cutting equipment. I think that last was a metaphor for some broader class of industrial equipment. Not all of it, because it was contrasted with a scythe, but there's a lot of room for interpretation there.

So we have here: an eloquent jeremiad against something that an old-school environmentalist doesn't like, which includes but is not limited to various neo-environmentalist schools of thought, humanity's inability (not mere failure? he thinks it's inevitable) to self-regulate its growth, new technologies, wastefulness... there was probably some other stuff in there that I missed.

The prose is really good, though.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:22 PM on January 2, 2013


It is true that tools as we now experience them are beyond our capacity to fully understand.

I am not sure that the author really understands what went into mining, smelting, enriching, and forging his scythe blade. Still though: things today are complicated and getting moreso, and that is a genuine problem that needs addressed.

I'm going to work on making databases and accompanying analytic software to help people understand things that are otherwise too complicated.

Data visualization is good for that, including the case where you are trying to understand the computer that does the visualizing. Certain system monitor applications have helped me understand how RAM paging works, and I saw this one Commodore 64 emulator that actually showed you a diagram of the entire memory space during runtime.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:29 PM on January 2, 2013


Unfortunately the powers at work in the world do not want a well educated, rational civil populace; such people are not easily told what to think and cannot be trivially led. The world's leaders want people to be only smart enough to earn a meagre living and pay their bills in a timely fashion, and to readily hate who they are told to hate, and fight who they are told to fight.

To combat this effect, the most powerful thing we can do to make our species sustainable is to make sure everyone has an excellent education based in evidence-based rational thinking. Almost everything good flows from the power of rational thought.

Go forth and teach; light a fire against ignorance and those who take advantage of it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:56 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Haven't these ecological misanthropists been predicting the death of civilization for the last 40 years?
In the case of climate change, they're the same people.


They've been at it for more than 40 years. However, before 1970 our imminent death was coming from global cooling and the government was doing nothing to prevent the inevitable ice age if we didn't change our ways.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:54 AM on January 3, 2013


However, before 1970 our imminent death was coming from global cooling

And the earth is flat and god bless America.
posted by stbalbach at 10:48 AM on January 3, 2013


However, before 1970 our imminent death was coming from global cooling and the government was doing nothing to prevent the inevitable ice age if we didn't change our ways.

Sorry - are you suggesting that this was a position held by the scientific community?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:49 PM on January 3, 2013


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