Wednesday, September 9, 2020

New Blog - Beyond the Wasteland

Greetings all!

I have started a new blog over at Beyond the Wasteland.

It's a bit like 22 Billion Energy Slaves but will be more wide ranging in its content. I'll probably archive this one at some point soon.

Check it out - hope to see you over there! 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Ruminations on a Seven Year Glitch

It’s hard to believe – or so I tell myself – that it’s been seven years since my family and I upped sticks and moved from Denmark to Cornwall. We hopped across the North Sea with all of our belongings as well as three cats and two guinea pigs (of which only one feline remains) and bought an old house in a quirky old town in the extreme SW of the British Isles.

Anyone who has been following my on/off blog for that long will recall that we made the move because I was worried that some sort of unexpected shock could knock industrial civilisation onto its back in a single punch. I wanted us to be in a place that would be (hopefully) less hellish than other places whenever that black swan appeared, whatever form it took. Even if it wasn’t some big event but a series of smaller ones that became more irksome with each passing year, I thought it wise to be somewhere that would have its consolations and would be more resilient than where we were.

What was clear after 2008 was that the series of financial rackets that keep modern life going were not as robust as had been assumed. By about 2010 it was clear that nothing had been fixed following the ‘great hiccup’, and that despite all the media bluster about things getting better, in fact they were heading south at a speed of knots. The matrix had glitched, but people were content to pretend that all was well again. Yet while they were reburying their heads in the sand, those who refused to drink this Kool-Aid considered our options and began to look around for life rafts on which to escape this Ship of Fools (I think that’s enough metaphors for one sentence).

For a quick recap, the story goes that I quit my safe-but-boring office job as a copywriter for a tourism company in Copenhagen, loaded up a large trailer and drove to Cornwall. This coincided with my father dying, which meant a sum of money allowed me to buy a seven-acre piece of woodland. The plan was that I would learn to be a small-scale coppice forester, and make things such as charcoal, hurdles, bean poles and other woodland products. To hustle for money, I’d also have a side-line as a translator and my wife would do upholstery jobs for clients, which is what she is skilled at. This, I hoped, would allow me to have one foot in each world i.e. the world of earning money using what I considered to be fairly pointless skills (translating, writing) and the world of learning useful new crafts that would act as a sort of guarantee for the future.

As John Michael Greer advised around the time, “collapse now, and avoid the rush.” That was the plan, anyway. But how has it worked out?

Seven years can pass in the blink of an eye, and I thought maybe it was time for a moment’s reflection on what I did right and what I did that was not quite so right during this time. Overall, by the way, I’d give myself 7/10 for achievement. Fairly average with a ‘could do better’ written at the bottom. But then I’m often pretty hard on myself, so maybe I should award myself an extra half point for effort. I don’t have any major regrets about moving to Cornwall, even if it does rain far more than I anticipated (this winter it rained almost six months solidly: I hate too much rain as it makes me depressed). Anyway, here’s what I got right in the last seven years, in my opinion:

- The woodland. Absolutely no regrets about this, even though I sensed doubt in the minds of others that it was the right thing to do. Since I bought it, I have completely transformed it from being a barren field surrounded by a plantation of oak and chestnut trees. Now, it is akin to a wildlife reserve, bursting with flowers in the spring and filled with birds, frogs, newts, foxes, hedgehogs … and even deer. I chain sawed a section down and turned it into a forest garden (having done a course with Martin Crawford in Devon), dug out a large pond by hand (now visible on satellite maps of Cornwall), planted an orchard of 35 apple trees (including rare Cornish varieties for cider making) and started a coppice rotation to provide us with so much firewood there’s always a big surplus. This and a whole lot more.

- Wrote three books (so far). My first book, The Path to Odin’s Lake, remains the most popular. Before moving to Cornwall I didn’t think I could write a whole book, but being surrounded by people who are writers and artists and other creative types somehow makes the idea of being a writer seem about as unusual as being a plumber in, say, Birmingham. Cornwall is full of places that provide inspiration – I even started another blog about it which I hope to add to this year (another side line I hope to develop is as a walking guide) – so if I am stuck for ideas I just need to go for a walk along the cliffs or on an empty beach. I’m writing another one now.

- Studying and learning. The house we bought had enough space for a study in the attic to house a lot of my two thousand or so books. Over the past seven years I’ve been up there most evenings, sitting in a comfy armchair that’s been passed down through my family, and reading an awful lot of books. I’m mostly hooked on metaphysical and esoteric material, but I still find time for a good horror novel or the latest from, say, Jim Kunstler or Dmitry Orlov. In terms of other studies, I’ve been doing a course in herbalism since last year, and have even produced my first tincture for sale (an antiviral based on elder leaf). I’ve also completed a sea kayak navigation course, done a night school class in wood carving, taught myself the basics of arc welding, figured out how to strip down a carburettor and mend a chainsaw, learned how to sharpen and use a traditional scythe, and am currently learning beekeeping, basic astronomy and how to play the mountain dulcimer. I’m really quite busy learning new things when I think about it, and hope to still be learning new things when I'm 80.

So far, so good, but what about the things that haven’t fared so well …?

- Community groups. When I arrived here, I was keen to throw myself into the Transition Towns scene. Knowing what I knew about industrial civilisation’s appointment with the grim reaper I really wanted to connect with like-minded people who felt the same way. This, to a great extent, turned out to be a mistake. Without going into too many details, what I found was that people tended to have deep-seated agendas, and that the ‘Transition’ thing was just the latest garb they were wearing in order to attain some sort of minor power over other people. After trying this out for a year or so I decided to create my own community group based around the simple concept of trees and woodlands and orchards. This was a great success … for a while. I met some nice people and we did a lot of skills swapping and had some great social events. But this too reached its apogee and began to die around the time of the Brexit vote – a reminder that the Culture Wars have so much power to destroy any sense of a coherent community. So it goes.

- This old house. Our house (here's a post I wrote about it at the time - it's barely recognisable now from the photos as we have done so much remodelling work on it), a stone-built Victorian terrace house close to the centre of town, has some good things going for it. It’s large, it’s convenient for schools, work and shopping, and it’s got a sunny back yard. It was quite cheap to buy and we’ve been working on it continuously since we bought it. Still, it doesn’t have a garden (it does has a sunny back yard, that was a carport, which we are certainly appreciating in this period of lockdown), it suffers from black mould during the winters, it’s poorly insulated, the cheap plastic framed windows all need replacing and it’s often hard to sleep with all the street noise (boy racers speeding past and drunks fighting outside the front door during the summer months). Still, it’s a home, and I’m thankful to have it, even if it does demand constant – often costly – maintenance. If I could do it again, I would go for something smaller and with a garden. Even my wife agrees with me on this point (now).

- Work life balance. I’ll admit that it’s been hard earning money since we arrived here, even though I feel like I'm working constantly. Although we live somewhat frugally, we still have had a few foreign holidays, and we run a car. Perhaps because of this we are almost always broke. We’ve even run up some consumer debt, which I said I would never do. My wife works as a carer in the local hospital (the upholstery business never worked out), while I have had a whole range of contracted employment since I moved here, including boutique hotel barman, coffee shop barista, film extra, building site labourer, financial services content editor, woodland worker, and holiday let cleaner (spot the odd job out in that list). Yes, I’ve had a whole range of jobs in Cornwall from literally scrubbing shit off rich people’s toilets to managing a team of journalists in a global FX corporation. At the same time I’ve been working freelance as a journalist/editor/copywriter/translator/proof-reader (basically, anything with words - a word whore), selling my authored books, making and selling herbal tinctures, chopping and selling firewood, making charcoal and growing woodland mushrooms and – on one memorable occasion – making a massive circuitous trip to Scandinavia in a van to buy vintage furniture with a dealer friend. Nobody said collapsing now to avoid the rush would easy … I’m probably just slightly ahead of the curve compared to many people I know who assumed their cosy office jobs would last forever (and are right now wondering if that is indeed the case).

So, all in all, I’ve no major regrets. Our kids are happy here, away from the overly materialistic culture they would have been surrounded by if we’d stayed in the city, and I’ve got great plans for the woodland (the latest one being bees). The skies are blue at the moment, the roads clear (for now) and there’s blossom on the apple trees – what more could one ask for?

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Living in the Long Emergency, and Other Things

The universe demonstrated its sense of ironic timing the other week when I was informed by Amazon that my copy of James Howard Kunstler's new book Living in the Long Emergency had been held up. Apparently it was deemed a non-essential item in these times of emergency. This sucked, as I'd had the book on order for some time and had been looking forward to getting hold of a copy. Luckily - and perhaps this was just another sign of crossed wires and systems overload - my copy arrived on time anyway.

I'll get onto my review of it further down, but first I wanted to say that my fictional 2016 novel This Seat of Mars has been re-released as an eBook. The story concerns a mysterious event that throws a spanner in the works of the modern world, and follows a series of protagonists as they attempt to navigate this new and unfamiliar landscape they find themselves tossed into. It's mostly set in the UK where a sweating, overweigh old-Etonian is notionally the Prime Minister (until he becomes sick and can no longer function), although he seems to be controlled by a sinister bald-headed man with a different agenda.

Chaos ensues as people are stranded in remote locations and unable to get home, the army puts people on lockdown and key workers are asked to report for duty by text message. Conspiracy theories abound. We follow the fortunes of an anarchic young prepper with a penchant for survival (and revenge), a teenage goth girl who finds herself flung into a web of deep state intrigue and a millennial city couple who - stranded on holiday in Cornwall - are forced to decamp to a makeshift commune far outside their comfort zone.

It's a breezy story, not without its lighter parts, and I'm planning to release a follow-up as soon as it's written. This Seat of Mars eBook is all yours for the dirt cheap price of £2.99 / $3.60.


Okay, now onto Living in the Long Emergency. For many, James Howard Kunstler needs no introduction. His reputation as one of the cadre of original writers who delivered the unwelcome message about peak industrial civilisation was cemented back in 2005 when he published The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century. Kunstler's contention is that we've over extended ourselves, plastering the landscape with an unserviceable suburbia that has destroyed small town America, while beholden to an over-financialised economy that delivers benefits unevenly and produces almost nothing of value except for those at the top of the pyramid. He followed this book up in 2012 with Too Much Magic, a critique of modern culture's obsessive focus on technological solutions - including renewable energy harvesting methods - to predicaments that demand radically different ways of thinking. To demonstrate his projections in narrative form Kunstler went on to write a well-imagined set of novels - the World Made by Hand series - which vividly described what life might look like after a cataclysmic sudden end to the unstable edifice of techno modernity.

This latest book completes a trilogy, with the author travelling across America to seek out people who took his original message seriously and have either radically altered their lifestyle accordingly, or simply adapted in place by making the best of what resources are available to them. It's more than that, though, with Part 1 providing a kind of recap of our predicament (the first chapter is titled: Hey, what happened to peak oil?), and Part 3 (entitled: Now what?) offering an explanation as to what has been happening in the realms of energy, economics, politics, society and the biosphere as a whole since he wrote The Long Emergency, and what happens next. Sandwiched between all of this is the real meat of the book, that is the characters who have set out to deal with this overarching set of challenges in a range of original ways.

We get to visit Mark Shepard, who jacked in his job in a research lab firing bullets at Kevlar helmets and moved to the wilds of Alaska, only to return to Wisconsin and set up a model of silviculture (that is, using fruit and nut trees in an agricultural manner) that he hopes can reverse the ruination exacted on the land by modern agribusiness. There's also the woman who set up an off-grid bakery against the odds, a man who battled bureaucracy to establish a low-impact whisky distillery, and an odd couple of musicians who set up a permaculture farm above Puget Sound.

It's not all rural escape however, with one chapter following the life of a black man in inner city Baltimore, who says: "We need a common "American" culture based NOT on what you look like, but how you act (behaviour)." Josh Wickett (not his real name), a musician living in the ghetto, had found meaning in and was structuring his life around the teachings of Neely Fuller, in particular a code of conduct that seeks to avoid the psychological mind games that serve to split and fragment peoples who should ordinarily band together. He sees social media especially as a way technology is being used to weaponise people against one another. Wickett lives in a kind of post apocalyptic ruined house with rubble in the hallway (to deter looters) in what he calls "the black undertow of ghetto dysfunction" and yet maintains a mostly positive personal outlook, despite his bleak forecast for our collective future.

Another chapter follows KMO (Kevin Michael O'Connor) - Gen Xer, sci-fi graphic artist, ayahuasca partaker, original Amazon employee, radio presenter and friend of Kunstler - who some readers will be familiar with for his podcast The C-Realm. KMO, a liberal who found himself voting for Trump, finds himself living in Bellows Falls, Vermont, eking out a living in the post financial crash American landscape and counting himself lucky to have got this far. He explains the delusional outlook held by many: "... if you're doing well in a system which is collapsing, it's in the interest of your own psychological comfort to imagine the collapse is a fairy tale, that it's really just lazy people who should get to work and stop complaining."

KMO was the person I related to most closely of the ones Kunstler chose to include. As a Gen Xer myself, I too have felt for some time I've had one foot in the 'old' materialist world created by the boomers, and one foot in the 'new' paradigm of straitened energy dynamics and lowered material horizons that we are moving into. Also, like KMO, I have found myself bouncing around from pillar to post, never quite being able to make jobs work out or to earn a living from my own piece of land, and instead being forced to inhabit a kind of liminal limbo land where radical ideas of 'escaping the system' are dreamed of but tend to evaporate due to the way our over centralised systems reward efficiency and penalise the smaller players.

Jim Kunstler was an editor at Rolling Stone back in the 1970s, as well as an op-ed writer and journalist for the New York Times and Washington Post, and as such his pedigree as an old-school journalist could be considered pretty solid. What's more he has a reputation for going places others don't dare, and it's perhaps for that reason he included a white nationalist as one of his character study vignettes. The man, known as Rob, lives in a flyover Massachusetts region which Kunstler observes as: "... factory villages where the elegant Victorian redbrick mills with their once-proud cupolas stand empty and abandoned, wistfully evoking a bygone America of people who had something to get up for in the morning. A striking sample of the folks I saw on the streets in these places looked dishevelled, pushing shopping carts along the sidewalk, far from wherever the shopping carts originated."

It's in these decrepit and forgotten places that unsavoury politics can grow like mushrooms, bursting forth from the damp leaf litter of cultural decay. The author - himself Jewish - meets with Rob, who amongst other conspiracies claims Hitler was a British agent, and delves into his past to discover why he holds such opinions. As with all his other subjects, we are treated to a sometimes lengthy back story that shows their path through life and attempts to make sense of the choices and actions that brought them to where they are today. In the case of Rob, an intelligent and thoughtful man with convoluted views on race, had had a rough childhood and an adolescence in which his friends had once tried to sacrifice him on a fire in a Satanic ritual. It would seem that Kunstler included him as an illustration that in a society where the centre cannot hold, more extreme points of view will become more normalised. For anyone who has followed Kunstler's blog Clusterfuck Nation, they will be well aware of his contention that one day we might see a "corn pone Hitler" voted into power by disenfranchised and forgotten voters willing to trade liberties for security.

For the most part, however, it was the stories of the back-to-the-land folks I found most instructive. Nobody should imagine that the type of skills we would need to learn in a post-fossil fuel abundance world will be easy to come by, although perhaps we can hope the bureaucratic hurdles to making a living in a sustainable manner will be lowered. Kunstler himself indicates this in the last chapter when he writes about his own journey from New York City to a small, economically battered upstate town, and his travails with growing his own food (spoiler: the wildlife had other ideas).

I enjoyed reading Living in the Long Emergency. It deals with the converging nature of the crises we have, for the greater part, sleepwalked into, but reminds us that not everyone was asleep. It's reassuring to know there are people out there who are 'practical intellectuals', and Kunstler defines the term intellectual to be someone willing to engage in an idea and take action on it. These are the people who are searching out new modes of living that don't rely on the hyper-complex yet fragile industrial model we have come to think of as normal. Furthermore, these pioneers have taken a long and hard look at the situation, realised that salvation is not going to come in the form of a government handout, an economic miracle or even Elon Musk's brand of techno-narcissism, and decided to take matters into their own hands.

I'll be honest, there were sections of the book that I found myself skipping over. There is a fairly lengthy section towards the end on the minutiae of recent American politics, focusing on the political dishonesties on both sides of the aisle that I, as a non-American, found a bit tedious. But this was only a minor point in an otherwise decently-constructed, timely and well-written book. And Kunstler's eloquent prose is a marvel to behold, keeping the story flowing from page to page and raising the occasional chuckle. For example, here he is describing the rise of Donald Trump:

"History is a prankster. You order a Gray Champion, and cosmic room service sends up a casino developer and New York real estate mogul with a laughable hairdo, a big mouth and no experience running a government. And yet here he is, a rococo crypto-monarchist in gilded plastic trappings, living in the White House, oddly representing the most hapless segment of the electorate, the dispossessed, flyover deplorables, who had been cruelly ejected from a secure and comfortable middle-class existence when so much US industry was loaded on that slow boat to China."

To wrap up, this latest book from one of the elder statesmen of collapse could be a template for others to follow. When the hysteria surrounding the current COVID-19 panic subsides, and people realise that the economy has fundamentally changed while they were looking away and will not be returning to normal again, they'll be looking around for inspiration about ways to inhabit this planet whilst earning an honest income and maintaining their sense of human decency. Surprisingly upbeat at the end, Living in the Long Emergency might be just the book to dispel and sense of complacency and open people up to the numerous possibilities that still remain available.

Living in the Long Emergency is available here (UK) and here (US)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

New Book - The Olive Press: News From the Land of the Misfits

The Olive Press: News From the Land of the Misfits

For those of you who may have been wondering what I’ve been up to for the past few months I can reveal that I’ve been writing – and publishing – my latest book. The Olive Press – News From the Land of the Misfits is my third and most ambitious book yet, and it took over 10 years to surface.

The book is a kind of a memoir of the time when I lived in a small farmhouse with my family in the mountains of southern Spain. I soon discovered that the idea of trying to be completely self-sufficient by growing my own food and producing my own energy using solar panels was an unrealistic one. With a young family to feed I had to also find a way of making money, so I hit on the idea of starting a newspaper.

The Olive Press was a kitchen table effort, and I had no journalism or editing experience to fall back on. Luckily, I met someone who said he was a journalist and so the two of us put the gears into motion and began to produce a small newspaper for the local area. The name came to me when I was listening to one of my neighbours complain about the poor prices he was being paid at the local olive press. Aha – I thought – what a great name for a newspaper.

It was somewhat peculiar and very beautiful region of Spain we were living in; a land of mountains and rivers, and of bountiful orchards and chestnut forests – in other words, quite unlike what many people assume Spain to be like. It was also one of those places that seemed to attract square pegs who had not managed to fit into any round holes elsewhere – these are the misfits of the title. Incidentally, I considered myself a misfit too. La Alpujarra, as the region is called, is situated between the Mediterranean sea and the Sierra Nevada mountains, just south of the lovely city of Granada. It was here that the Moors held out against the Catholics after 1492, creating a kind of earthly paradise by using their advanced knowledge of irrigation. It's an ethereal region of whitewashed villages and clear light where old traditions linger on and the 21st century lies just out of sight behind the mountains. There are buddhists and sufi mystics and all sorts of other misfits living peacefully in the hills there.

La Alpujarra is a place of clear light and peace

I found myself moving there having read a book called Driving Over Lemons, by Chris Stewart, which detailed how the author ‘escaped Thatcher’s Britain’ and lived the life of a penniless hill shepherd. It was that kind of place where everything seemed possible. At the time, I was feeling like I needed to escape the treadmill of tedious jobs I’d found myself on, and I wanted to move somewhere our kids could roam around and be free instead of suburban Copenhagen.

We started off living in an old (haunted, we discovered) stone house village high up in the mountains, but after about a year we bought an old tumbledown farmhouse in the lower foothills and set about converting it into a liveable building and a smallholding. 

Our farmhouse in the lower foothills

Not long after setting up the newspaper we discovered just how difficult it was to make it pay. We employed a professional salesman, and he at least managed to save us from going bust inside the first year - although there was a cost to pay. I should probably have mentioned that The Olive Press was an unusual newspaper in that it exposed corruption and was all about protecting the local environment from the numerous businessmen who wanted to cover the entire region in plastic greenhouses, golf courses for the rich, and concrete 'urbanzations'. The anti corruption focus came from my journalist business partner, while the ‘green’ agenda came from yours truly. In retrospect, we were too idealistic to run a business, and it's a wonder we lasted as long as we did.

Our salesman brought in some big-paying advertisers, but the price that we had to pay was that we couldn’t be so controversial. We tried to behave but to be honest, we didn’t know what we were getting into. It wasn’t long before eyebrows were being raised and angry real estate agents were dumping our newspaper into bins and calling us ‘commies’ (we weren’t!). They said our focus on the wanton destruction of the environment by big agribusinesses was putting off investors in the region.

Another journalist came on board – this time a qualified one with a Fleet Street pedigree. He dragged our minnow of a newspaper into a much bigger pond, and it wasn’t long before we were involved in several high-profile spats – including one that could be reasonably identified as one of the first dominos that would topple Tony Blair’s government. All of a sudden we were in hot water and the pressure we were under led to internal conflict.

I bowed out after a couple of years, selling my share and doing whatever work I could find just to keep our heads above water. For the most part I earned money by working on building sites and delivering newspapers. We grew and ate what food we could but the financial crisis was beginning to bite and this had huge knock-on effects around the region.

Eventually, of course, the crisis of 2008-2009 engulfed almost everyone and we ended up almost losing our shirts. We found ourselves back in Denmark again (where my wife is from), sharing a single room and working jobs that we both hated. After a few months we were allocated a council flat and it was around this time – having experienced first-hand what an economic crisis looked like – I discovered the writings of Michael Ruppert, John Michael Greer, James Howard Kunstler and others, which led to the creation of this blog. Indeed, my brush with collapse had provided me with invaluable experience of what happens when the rug is pulled out from under you.

When life gives you lemons ...

I wrote most of the book soon after, but couldn’t find a publisher who would let me mention peak oil or the various environmental problems that spurred me on to produce the newspaper in the first place. Discouraged, and with other projects on the go, I saved the story on a memory stick, stuck it in a drawer and forgot about it.

I rediscovered it last year, and found myslef chuckling as I read the various chapters which had survived (many were corrupted – ironically by oil that had seeped into the chip from the surrounding casing - which was an advert for Hanover Airport with a floating toy airplane in it). Given that self-publishing had come a long way in the intervening decade I set up a small imprint and went about re-writing the book. This proved more arduous than I had thought, and there were legal implications for detailing real-life events. I had to re-write the entire thing at least twice, adding in extra chapters and cutting out large parts. At one point the manuscript was over 500 pages, so I had to slim it down quite a bit to make the story more readable. I even quit my job so I could focus on getting the book completed.

So anyway, The Olive Press – News From the Land of the Misfits is about that wild ride, but it’s not in any way a gloomy book. In fact there are parts of the story that are very funny. Oh, and it isn't just about my story; in the book I chronicle some of the inspiring and remarkable people I met who are working to regenerate the natural environment in Spain, as well as various other interesting people I got to hang out with, such as an on-the-run chef and a few famous and not-so famous personalities. Of the (so far few) people who have read it, they have all given it five stars and recommended it – I couldn’t ask for more.

Incidentally, the newspaper is still going strong and is now the largest foreign publication in Spain. It has four offices dotted around the country, including one in Gibraltar, although I can’t claim any credit for its success as it has changed quite a bit since I waved goodbye.

If you’d like to read The Olive Press you can buy it at all the various Amazon sites, as well as download the ebook, and - for those who want to avoid enriching Jeff Bezos even further - I believe it should also be available on sites such as Barnes & Noble in the next few weeks. 


Monday, July 1, 2019

Prodigies of Peace

I’m not sure what to write about. I’ve been stuck in a kind of mental turmoil, my thoughts frozen on the event horizon of a black hole of catastrophe. Logic and reason can only take you so far and then you end up being snarled up by your own inconsistencies. For example, it’s pretty clear that civilisation is killing the planet – and by civilisation I mean our own one – the one that decimates ecosystems, poisons our mind and bodies, and hates nature.

So do I want this civilisation to crash and burn? You bet! But then that would likely mean the death of many of the people I know and love (including, probably, me) – and isn’t it a bit hypocritical to write such a thing on a computer and share it over the internet instead of scrawling it in charcoal on a piece of dried bark and parading around town with it on a stick?

So then, I think, maybe civilisation can be reformed. Perhaps we can all re-learn how to live in harmony with nature, stop fighting wars and filling the oceans with plastic. We could all listen to Greta Thunberg or AOC and demand a Green New Deal and everything would be all right again – capitalism with a nice shiny layer of green paint on it.

Or maybe not.

For some reason, and I’m not sure why this is, but for the last year or two I have been waking up in the mornings with music playing in my head. No, I haven’t fallen asleep with my headphones on, the music seems to be coming from somewhere inside. Perhaps it is because I have spent the last 18 months sitting in an office watching the hours and days tick by and my subconscious mind has been screaming at me to escape (which I did, last week, BTW). 

It’s a different track every morning, and it could be anything. Two days ago it was a pop song from the 1980s – Into the Groove by Madonna – whereas yesterday it was the theme music to the sci-fi series Westworld by Ramin Djawadi.

This morning, when I woke up, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were performing a concert between my ears. They were playing Righteous and the Wicked, which includes the lyrics:

The righteous and the wicked
War and peace
The killing fist of the human beast
P.O.P., prodigies of peace
Hear me when I'm calling you
From my knees

I am playing for a better day
Playing for a better day, anyway
Oh yeah, I'm playing for a better day
Holy Mother Earth
Crying into space
Tears on her pretty face
I thought she had been raped

Killing your future blood
Fill her with disease
Global abortion pleas
That is what she needs

Perhaps my subconscious has got fed up with being too subtle, eh?

So what can we – I mean I, or each of us individually – do about this everlasting shit show?

Well, I suppose we can fight it.

But how does one fight against this nebulous, all-encompassing beast that we all live in the belly of? It seems pretty obvious by now that it’ll fight to the bitter end – it would rather kill every last man, woman, reindeer, tree and stag beetle than give up even an inch of ground. That’s the nature of, what my friend Thomas Sheridan calls the Psychopathic Control Grid (PCG) and Dmitry Orlov calls the Technosphere, that is effectively what our civ has become. It will take down the planet rather than relinquish control.

And just who is ‘us’. I seem to know a lot of people who are all of a sudden proclaiming themselves to be environmentalists. Lit with the fire of fervour, these people are demanding that the guvmint reduce carbon emissions to zero, practically overnight. Their strategy seems to involve wearing facepaint and glitter, stomping around in the streets holding up placards and drawing chalk outlines around children whilst shouting ‘Extinction!’

Are these privileged people? Sure. Do they demonstrate their commitment to their cause by curtailing their own impact on the environment? Maybe some of them do, but not that I’ve seen. Have any of them done a bit of research into how feasible their demands are if they were to be turned into public policy and what that would mean to society? Ummm …

Here’s another question: do I feel bad for mocking them? And the answer is: yes, I probably do. I mean, from my point of view they are likely being exploited by ‘green’ capitalist corporations who are trying to inflate a bubble of ‘renewable’ energy (not that such a thing exists, of course, unless you are talking wooden windmills and passive solar energy to heat your house) so that one last big money bubble can be blown up before everything comes crashing down.

But from the protestors' point of view they are fighting an evil tyranny of fossil fuel companies who are dead-set on being dastardly and evil because they are … dastardly and evil. Never mind that their form of protest – publicly having fun and dressing up – is a media-friendly gift to governments and corporations who can now claim to ‘have listened to the people’ and will gladly cut off the energy supply to the bottom 90% of said people (preserving, of course, their own privileges) and will then proclaim in truly Orwellian fashion that all CO2 emitters are bad, but some CO2 emitters are less bad than others.

The PCG is endlessly tormenting, that's just how it rolls. 

So what to do about the killing fist of the human beast, as the Chili Peppers put it? How exactly do we fight back?

Well, here’s a thought that I’ve been having, and it starts with three premises:

Premise 1: Like a virus, ‘civilisation’ (aka the PCG) attempts to colonise all life forms, including, and perhaps especially, humans.

Premise 2: When it does so it undermines an organism’s ability to live its life in a manner to which it has naturally evolved – leading to fields of GMO plants growing in chemically saturated substrate (‘soil’), animals reared and killed in giant factories, and humans confined to perfunctory roles in office cubicles and retail outlets, while being harvested for their profit potential.

Premise 3: The PCG is addicted to expansion and control and will not voluntarily stop this expansion until it has turned the planet into an unliveable wasteland.

Premise 4: Its expansion is enabled by abundant and cheap fossil fuels, which as everyone who has studied peak oil will know, are now becoming less abundant and less cheap.

Premise 5: As it senses its expansion and therefore its survival is under threat, the PCG will attempt to consolidate its power at the centre, sacrificing all extraneous and ‘unproductive’ sectors, such as me and you and the oceans and the remaining forests.

Let’s be clear, the PCG is what most natural non-industrialised cultures would recognise as a ‘demon’. In the observable world it manifests as a huge interconnected mass of corporate, military, pharmaceutical hardware, that isn’t under the control of any particular human being, but just exists to sow mayhem and death seemingly with an emergent intelligence of its own.

But given Premise 2, that it colonises organisms and that it needs space to do so, one small way that it can be fought is to get to work on the one thing that you have control over (for the time being) i.e. yourself.

Decolonising your own mind and body would seem to be the beginning of fighting back against the PCG. If you refuse to play along to whatever extent that you are able, then you become a useless cell in the bloated body of the PCG.

It's intuitive that all organisms have the right to live their within their own gods-given biophysical limitations and to the extent that their free will allows, without having to be dominated by others. This is necessary for full-systems integrity, so you could say it it a type of natural law rather than a human-invented 'right'. 

But how can we decolonise ourselves? I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know. I don’t think there is a book somewhere entitled “Decolonisation from the Psychopathic Control Grid for Dummies” and even if there was it’d be printed by a company owned by another company, that's owned by a media conglomerate that is part of the PCG, and it would contain dud information that'd get you killed. As I said, that's the way the PCG rolls: everything is coopted for its own advantage. 

So for the most part we’re going to have to use the one thing that the PCG cannot ever commoditise: our innate intuition.

My innate intuition tells me, for example, that people in industrialised societies like the one I live in used to live close to the land. They hunted, fished, gathered berries and herbs, were reverent to the sun and the seasons, respected the limitations of the soils and knew that when it was all over their own bodies would nourish the plants and therefore the animals that they had borrowed from during their own life span.

And so one way I am going to fight back against the PCG is to get to know intimately the land where I live. This will involve a lot of learning; about plant lore, human (and animal) history, sleeping under the stars, walking through it, nurturing it and writing about it. 

Really, at this stage in the ongoing train wreck of our civilisation it’s one of the few options left open to us.  Sure, we can all eat vegan diets, protest to career politicians, drive less, fly less, consume less … and that’s all well and good, but from the perspective of the PCG it couldn’t care less about our small individual actions as it simply allocates the resources we don’t consume to somewhere else on planet earth where they can be consumed more efficiently. 

It does this by getting the recently colonised (in ‘developing’ countries) to pick up the slack by offering them cheap credit and enslaving them that way. Let’s remember that every single government in the world is committed to infinite economic growth within our delicate planetary ecosystem, and that any serous challenge to this ethos is met by tanks and bombs and prison sentences.

But we don’t have to be slaves. If we each took a bit of control back and related to the patch of planet earth in our immediate vicinity new pathways of being could – and I reckon will – emerge. 

So, to go back to the Chili Peppers, we can but try and opt out of helping the Killing Fist of the Human Beast, instead be Prodigies of Peace.

I will have more information soon on my efforts in another blog. 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Chinwagging with the Doomstead Diner

A few days ago I had the privilege of joining RE through the magic of the internet at his remote Alaskan hideaway to discuss what's going on in Europe with regard to the Yellow Vests and Brexit, among other things.

The accompanying article can be found here - it's worth a look as RE rustles up some mouth watering food to accompany the discourse, or you can just watch the video below.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Brexit Betrayal: Time to get out the Umbrellas?

“Only a revolution can save us now,” said UK independence maven Nigel Farage this morning. Indeed – it’s starting to look that way.

Today, March 29th 2019, was supposed to have been the day that the UK left the EU. ‘Brexit Day’ was a date pencilled into many a diary and wall calendar – the date the UK would either experience the joyous state of elation that comes with full independence – or the day that Armageddon finally kicked off – a depending on your point of view.

Instead, all we have is a heap of broken promises, a mass of frustrated and aggrieved voters and a dispiriting display of parliamentary shenanigans that would put a chimps’ tea party to shame.

So, what next? Well, apart from an undignified political free-for-all and a raft of new ‘meaningful’ (meaningless?) votes, as well as an endless series of parliamentary amendments (assuming the Remain-voting Speaker John Bercow deigns to allow them to be debated) – it seems like it will be a continuation of business as usual, with the political class doing everything in its power to ensure the status quo is not threatened in any way.

How will this go down with the electorate? More specifically, how will it go down with those who voted for Brexit and now feel a deep sense of betrayal? If nothing else, Brexit has shone a light on the way power works in this country and revealed to a great many people the limits of the democratic system. How, many people ask, can such a seemingly simple thing as leaving a trading bloc have morphed into something so contentious and difficult?

One thing is for sure: anger and dissatisfaction is mounting as the disconnect between voters and their representatives in Parliament becomes clear.

I’m thinking of France’s Yellow Vests and wondering if the same thing could happen here in Britain. The Yellow Vests, by and large, are a grassroots movement of regular working people who have an acute awareness that they are being thrown under l’autobus by the elite strata of society which has done so well out of globalised capitalism. Just like people who supported Brexit, the Yellow Vests have been on the receiving end of a tirade of abuse by the national media, in the case based in Paris. They are routinely called troublemakers and ‘right wing activists’ and are looked down upon by the folks who, just over two centuries ago, would no doubt wonder why this noisy rabble couldn’t just eat some cake and quieten down.

But the Yellow Vests have been very successful in their protests against President Macron and all that he represents. By refusing to back down, and being willing to have their fingers blown off by police grenades, their heads caved in by riot batons and their eyes blown out of their sockets by rubber bullets, they’ve proved that they are a different breed from the internet clicktivists that governments everywhere are so fond of precisely because they are so easy to ignore. The Yellow Vests have even forced their petulant president to bring in the army with orders to use live rounds on their own citizens, at a stroke reducing him to the status of a tin pot dictator.

And the bright fluorescent yellow vests worn by the French protestors are entirely appropriate. They are cheap, highly visible and all motorists must own one by law. In fact, it is one of the burgeoning laws foisted upon the French public that has made them feel they are suffering from death by a thousand cuts. What’s more, the vests are a blank canvas for writing slogans upon, and you can’t be arrested for wearing one. They might be armless but they’re far from harmless.
Is there a British equivalent symbol of protest?

Why, of course there is – the humble umbrella. Consider its properties as a symbolic motif for the building sense of frustration with the political class.

· It’s portable and utilitarian
· It’s inclusive – you can buy one for £1
· The very term ‘umbrella’ symbolises a unity of disparate causes, bound together under one overarching principle
· You can’t be arrested for carrying one
· It has defensive some properties if you find yourself under attack
· It’s a blank canvas on which to display your individual message or cause – you can even pimp it with technology such as webcams, or strap it to a drone and make it fly
· It’s an ironic statement, given that the umbrella is perhaps most associated with images of civil servants, City bankers and other members of the London elite classes who govern and otherwise set the rules the bottom 90% of the populace must live by
· More people are likely to turn up to protests if it is raining

Of course, it’s not an entirely new concept to protest using an umbrella – a movement in Hong Kong used it in 2014 to object to China’s lack of democratic reforms.

So any British Umbrella Movement would need to distinguish itself.

Perhaps that’s what they could be called – the British Umbrella Movement – or B.U.M. – the bottom 90% of society.

I expect to see plenty of BUMers on the streets if this political impasse persists any longer.