Wednesday, June 10, 2015

His Master's Voice



This is just a short rhetorical interlude about the tone of voice used on the various blogs, podcasts and sites that discuss issues surrounding collapse. Because, it occurred to me, that the tone of voice used represents a conundrum. The majority of the more widely-visited sites use an authoritative 'master's voice' i.e. "X is X because of Y, and don't you dare quibble with me." These are the guys who sell books and make a living by being collapse pundits.

Then we have the other flavour of collapse site which could be characterised as  being more open to discussion. The tool used to jemmy open the various complex topics and challenging subjects is one of enquiry, and there is a tacit acceptance that having a whole bunch of different educated opinions is more useful than having a single authoritative voice booming down from the impenetrable heights of Mount Collapse Blog.

I'm not saying that either is the correct approach. I'm more than grateful to those writers and thinkers out there who efficiently state their case with authority and clarity, and in fact I tend to lean towards them in helping clarify my own thinking. But it takes a kind of self-confidence that I am not in possession of to be able to talk that walk. One must have sound academic credentials, or have lived through a collapse, or be a professor of something in order to able to pull that one off.

And it's a puzzling thing too, because the more you learn, the more you realise how little you know about how the wider systems work and how they interact with one another. There's the irony. I've hobnobbed with a few of the grey-beards and privately they're a lot less sure of things than they sound when their words are printed on a page. Perhaps it's merely the charged atmosphere of the collapsosphere - the "my intellectual model of reality is bigger than your intellectual model of reality" mentality that is at play. I accept that. If one sounds uncertain of one's opinions then your enemies will seize upon this as a weakness.

Of course, there are some things we can all agree on - things where anything but an authoritative voice would be a cop out. Infinite growth cannot continue on a finite planet. Printing money is no substitute for creating economic value. Oil production will peak and fall over time. Pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will have a greenhouse effect. These are all indisputable facts that are often contorted and twisted in our age of illusions. We can agree on that, I hope.

I hope to be able to strike a middle ground. Not to be too wishy-washy, but I accept that there are many things out there that I don't understand or only have a limited understanding of how they interact with a wider reality. History is full of curve balls and sudden crashes. That's why I value the input and opinions of a variety of different voices, even if they sometimes conflict with one another.

Will human civilisation crash and burn in the next twenty years or will we simply evolve into new species and carry on for a few million years? Will this herd of short-sighted humans plunge en masse off Seneca's cliff or pass slowly into the twilight lowlands of simplified technology and minimal energy availability over the next few centuries? Who knows? Nobody really knows, but the fact that we cannot achieve intellectual closure on these issues doesn't make them any less interesting to consider. I have a friend who is into crop circles. He's been studying them for decades and, during that time, has seen people come and go from the field (no pun intended). These people have come onto the scene guns blazing, claiming to know what the circles are and what caused them - and inevitable they have left with their tails between their legs in a matter of months or years as their theories have been disproved.

My friend has maintained his position as an 'expert' merely by admitting that he doesn't know what they are. The more he studies them, the more he learns and - perhaps - the less he understands, but he has avoided taking the bait of intellectual closure. Instead he continues to research and learn, always with an open mind and wary of the fact that he is operating on the extreme intellectual margin. Ironically, in these times where reason trumps intuition, this makes him something of an expert.

So how much intellectual grasp do we need? And is this achieved through listening to some top-down authoritative voice, or by taking part in online bear pits where every opinion is equally as valid? What, in fact, are our objectives here?

Anyway, it's just something to ponder as you browse your favourite blogs.

19 comments:

  1. As the Proprietor of one of the "Bear Pits", I cast my Vote for this approach. :)

    RE

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    1. Not just bears, but lions and tigers too.

      You are the ringmaster :)

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    2. Don't forget the TROLLS! ;)

      RE

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  2. Since no-one can foresee the future in any detail, the best thing we can do is increase our resilience. If we consciously reduce our dependence upon banks, supermarkets, fuel companies etc., then we'll hopefully be less vulnerable to whatever unexpected changes come along in the future.

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    1. Increasing personal resilience is always worthwhile. Even if nothing serious happens, what have you got to lose? It's also likely to be more ethical.

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    2. This is a similar argument to the antifragile concept by Nicholas Taleb. Essentially he argues that if we set ourselves up to weather or possibly even gain from disorder, then we don't need to predict the future (nor should we.) It's a good plan.

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  3. I notice that a lot of what the collapse pundits yap about, the mainstream media gets around to about three years later. As for reading the tea leaves of the Internet, I've come to assume that no one knows much of anything, and many collapse pundits have admitted as much, but the Mainstream Media and the leadership they carry water for, know everything ;)

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    1. And when the MSM finally 'discover' something that we've been talking about for years, they inevitably treat it as if it were they who discovered it. And when the next big financial crash happens they'll say "Nobody could have foreseen this".

      It's like a stuck record.

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  4. The lack of a common voice among the collapse bloggers gives it one of its biggest advantages: dissensus. The greater number of different approaches to getting the message out there, the wider the audience.

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    1. I enjoy and recognise the value of dissensus. I'm not sure that everyone does, though - most people seem to be happy being led by someone with an answer to their problems.

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    2. From my POV, those of us who write on these topics and try to elucidate what is really going on need to work more in synergy, rather than at cross purpose too often. Dissensus has value, but there needs to be means and method to reach consensus also. That has not been achieved to date, and the cacophany of ideas pitched out by all of us is confusing to the typical reader. Who to BELIEVE? What to BELIEVE? How to RESPOND?

      If those of us who have chosen to become "Collapse Pundits" of one sort or another cannot find Common Ground, then HTF is it possible to get a consensus amongst the readership of these blogs?

      RE

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  5. Hi Jason. I'm genuinely troubled that there is a tacit understanding in our culture that every opinion regardless of its merit has equal weight. I don't know how that meme ever arose but it must have something to do with: a) consensus politics; and b) the simple fact that there are a lot of "ideas people" out there that don't get their hands dirty.

    No, seriously. I get well intentioned "ideas" people visiting here telling me to put in animal systems into the orchard. Then I say to them there are already animal systems in there, because the place is jumping with wildlife at night once us lot disappear. Then they go, no, that's not an animal system. Hmmm. And, they're quite adamant about it too.

    Anyway, pah, I've listened to people with PhD's talk with absolute authority here well outside of their area of knowledge and using that achievement to bludgeon me. It is not an endearing trait.

    You've tackled an interesting subject. When I was very young I thought that issues were reasonably black and white and very straightforward. Now I'm older a whole lot of things are very, very grey and most of the time I'm going: I dunno, let's see! :-)!

    I do know that ideas take a whole lot of effort and resources to implement... Sorry to hear that somehow you are having a few troubles up your way too. I'm starting to think that it is a sign of the times in that people are gaming others to maintain their perquisites or existing standard of living in a declining system. It could be argued that that is a rational approach to the problem, it is not as if we aren't doing that to the systems and infrastructure that support us.

    About the MSM, my take on that would be that zombies could be walking the streets of London - ala 28 days later style - and the MSM would still be spruiking a return to the times of glory. Gotta run and pick up the chainsaw - which strangely broke again, but was an easy fix (clutch springs)... What's going on?

    Cheers. Chris

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    1. Forgot to mention that I meant the word "jumping" literally. Think kangaroos and wallabies!

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    2. Hi Chris. I'm not sure where this idea of 'everyon'e opinion is equal (but some people's opinions are more equal than others)' came from. Perhaps it was during the rush to cram as many people into higher education as possible, over the last three decades or so.

      We've all met the bloke in the pub who shuts down any talk of peak oil or any other planetary limit with a single ill-considered statement. I suppose human discourse has always proceeded in such a way.

      As for systems - most experts get to define their own boundary around what constitutes the system in which they regard themselves as a specialist. By not considering the wild animals, the expert you met was merely highlighting his own ignorance, although he of course wouldn't see it that way. I think when you start to contemplate natural systems in a holistic manner there's always a danger of falling headfirst down Alice's rabbit hole.

      Oddly enough I'm also about to go and pick up my chainsaw from the repair shop. Mine was a clogged carburettor from mixing fuel and oil incorrectly - a major inconvenience as now all the wildflowers have grown up around the trees I cut down, meaning I'll have a hell of a job even locating the logs in all that foliage.

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    3. Hi Jason. Too true and of course. Glad the saw is working now too and you've learned the various 2 stroke fuel lessons. Yeah and not knowing where the timber ends and the ground begins means that the chain will be easily blunted in the dirt. I've been wondering about the relative merits of doing a video on chainsaws but people get a bit weirded out by them as they are primarily seen as a tool of destruction when they can also be a very useful and positive tool too. Dunno. Cheers. Chris

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  6. Being social primates, that whole alpha male or dominant male thing is a common behavior strategy, and I see it in all levels of human interactions and organizations. It's no surprise that it appears in blogs. From my time in industry, I found wry amusement in seeing the tallest, deepest voiced confident guy get promotions, set agendas, and "take charge" regardless of their acumen or track record. With many wrong decisions, it can take a while for repercussions to play out, so you can get decades of havoc and uncertain causality before someone finally screws up so bad they implode. And of course, the ultimate alpha male arena is politics, which partially explains our current predicament.

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  7. Collapse bloggers are modern day prophets in my opinion and as in the past are ignored by most people. Being that for most of us, our survival depends on our society, abandoning our society and striking out on our own is not an option even if we agree that our society is doomed.
    Besides that, with only one exception that I know of (Albert Bates), collapse bloggers are not out there organizing replacement communities that we can join in preparation of impending doom. It seems that most of us who have listened to the prophets and agree with their message are taking a wait and see attitude.
    Many people have already tried alternative communities and found them wanting and are not about to give them another try.
    One thing most humans understand clearly is that in order to survive tomorrow, you first have to survive today. And being social animals, we also understand that post-collapse, we will still be relying on others to help us survive and to the degree that we know how to get along with other people, we will figure out how to deal with new circumstances.
    The questionable ability of doom bloggers to predict the future may sell a few books now, but by and large does not make them experts on how to get by in a chaotic world. The do, however, provide a measure of intellectual entertainment.

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    1. I think you are right, Wolfgang. The best that any of us can do is peer into the gloom with a candle. That said, I tend to lean towards agreeing with what most of John Michael Greer writes purely because he has a strong grasp of history and is multi-discipline. Some other writers tend to pull ideas out of their backsides, with little or no historical precedent to authenticate them.

      As for alternative communities, it would seem that they are up against the system and are therefore more fragile and likely to fail. If I were to establish one it'd likely be somewhere remote, with only a few people and it wouldn't be idealogical in nature (other than the fact that it existed in the first place).

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  8. Hi Jason,
    Blind men and elephants. :) Tone is an interesting question. When young and preparing for academia, I was taught that one should have an authoritative tone to better convince the reader. Otherwise one doesn't sound as though believing what one is writing. And of course the authoritative tone is the stock in trade of the influential media, regardless of whether the "facts" presented are actually facts: a real problem here in the US.

    But yes, staying open, keeping beginners mind, knowing one doesn't know...and of course, one doesn't know, not really, fully or comprehensively--so that adds complexity to any story, any journey, any writing, any life.

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I'll try to reply to comments as time permits.