Living in Truth: When the Emperor Has No Clothes

It is truth that liberates, not your effort to be free.”
~ Jiddu Krishnamurti, The First and Last Freedom

Work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.”
~ Václav Havel

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” ~ Maya Angelou

Picture from the film "Beast of the Southwestern Wild"
Picture from the film “Beast of the Southwestern Wild”

Humanity has always depended on stories: even earlier tribes would share stories among their members to prevent or encourage certain behaviours.

Stories have been used to have a sense of identity and order or control (both at social and individual level) over an otherwise chaotic, unpredictable, uncertain and many times scary reality.

But many times through history, stories have been based on lies and entire countries or even civilizations have “lived within a lie” : in Nazi times, many “knew” that certain things were wrong but they would still continue with their lives and traditions, supporting a regime that was killing thousands. The same happened during the many South American coup d’états of the 60’s and 70’s were so many were tortured, incarcerated, “disappeared”, displaced, separated from their families or murdered. The list is almost infinite if we add both ancient and current affairs around the world: “good” and decent people would shut up and turn their heads (and hearts) to the atrocities happening in front of their eyes.

Today we have many, many lies, but one of the worst ones is that climate change is “just another problem we can solve”. I’m not going to go further, but there are many other lies within or around this huge lie: that it doesn’t really exist; that is something affecting the distant future; that it won’t be so bad; that technology and ingenuity will save us; that it will only affect some species and poor people; that we can continue with the raping of planet Earth as long as our abuse is “green” and “sustainable”…or even that climate change is the “only” predicament we have.

Margaret Klein, from The Climate Psychologist wisely points out how we are all accomplices of this terrible knot of lies: as long as nobody screams really loud that this is ethically WRONG, that we are all RESPONSIBLE (in different ways and levels, I accept) and that we all have a duty of DOING SOMETHING, we are just sleepwalking to cliff and NOBODY knows exactly whether there is water, rocks or just nothing on the other side…

My own end of year 2014 has been a long, rocky and winding road full of potholes: I’ve though a lot about what’s my own position around all this. I have explored Permaculture and Transition and glimpsed at the feelings and thoughts of the very real possibility of NTHE (Near Term Human Extinction)…with many courses and readings on climate change on my back, I feel I have a better idea of how to evaluate all this; at least much better than many “mainstream” people who choose not to read beyond the mainstream media headlines…

And here are my thoughts. Thoughts that may change in the future as experience has told me that we are never “certain” of anything and that anybody trying to convince you that he or she holds “the truth” is very likely to be trying to convince you of living within a new lie…

 

The Dangers of False Optimism/Delusion
False optimism sooner or later means disillusionment, anger and hopelessness.”
~ Abraham Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being
Optimism is not a bad thing…when is based on reality, facts and provides room for choices.

When we welcome false optimism (“Let’s all hope for the best”, “Everything will be OK”) we are inviting magical thinking and delusion. We are also being very unfair with those who are truly suffering, as false optimism minimizes their pain and loss.

False optimism also limits our options: we deny ourselves to explore the possibility of real danger or bleak hopes.

An example of this is continuing the lies of “clean energy”, “renewables” and “sustainable development” which only extend the pain a bit further by not looking into real causes or interconnections. You just need to ask the right questions (but false optimism won’t allow you to do that: where are all the resources for a “green economy” and scale-up of renewable will come from?; why if they are a realistic option they have not been developed fast enough in all these years but we pretend they will be ready by 2020?; is it even ethical with Nature to continue using resources and allowing overpopulation as we have done so far?; Don’t “renewable” also produce waste and abuse nature as their life cycle is not so “clean” as they are painted?…

False Tokenism

Margaret Klein also talks about “environmental tokenism”: the belief that creating small changes in our lives we are “contributing” and are now “safe” to continue with our lives and “business as usual”.

While I agree that we all (individuals, families, communities, etc) need to reduce our consumption and make ethical choices about what we use, how and where, I also agree that only when BIG CHANGES, RADICAL changes are demanded from EVERYONE in this planet (including and specifically from governments and corporations) some difference may be noted…until then, anything individuals or families do will only be “ethical” but they will NOT make an important difference in the big picture of the planet’s systems…

The other problem with environmental tokenism is that people feel that they can justify some behaviours by negotiating through other (behaviours): for example, climate activists and negotiators think it is “OK” to travel around the world because “after all, they are trying to fight for a good cause”…I don’t think emissions will care about what your actual intention or goal for flying is…

The Slippery “We”

I’ve seen many using what author George Marshall calls the “slippery ‘we’” to try to include us in their own plans, goals, stories…but they may cause exactly the opposite!

This is what Margaret Klein produces in me with her call to action: while I agree with most of her assertions and feelings, I don’t feel included when she calls us to “save civilization” or uses language and frames that may be valid for some US citizens but not for all (and certainly not for me, who don’t live in USA)

Instead, I propose every single person who reads this blog to do their own research and observations, if possible to start a journal of what’s happening with the world (climate, resources, power relationships, financial, political, etc) and then make their own ethical decisions.

Most of us (and I use “us” on purpose here) care for similar things: we tend to care for those we love; we tend to care about community, food, water and so on…in any case, even those who may not care about any of those things still fall in a bigger group: ALL OF US need fresh air, clean water, food and a relatively stable climate to SURVIVE…we also need land and some “resources” to make shelter and protect ourselves from the elements.

If we want to be truly inclusive, we just use a “we” that goes straight to the heart of most people in this planet…not to only those who are like-minded. Preaching to the choir or trying to convince people of things they don’t want to believe (no matter how fact-based they may be) is useless…

Saving Civilization?

Sometimes you can break something so bad, that it can’t get put back together.” ~ Hushpuppy (main character from “Beast of the Southern Wild” movie)

Civilization, according to Wikipedia definition is defined as “centralized, stratified, and urbanized structure”… civilizations have created beautiful art and important science, they have “elevated” us from many things: thanks to the industrial revolution in particular (a product of this civilization) we have electricity; have been able to travel around the world; own screens that allow us to know in seconds what’s happening across the ocean, communicate with others, learn almost anything, play, work and many more…thanks to industrial revolution we have extended the life expectancy of many, have almost eliminated ancient illnesses and other ailments such as child mortality and labour mortality…have also allowed people to be free from drudgery work on the fields and enjoy things that earlier humans have never dreamed about…but WAIT:

Civilization has imposed hierarchies, spreading the lie that some humans are better than others and that some somewhat “deserve” to be in power; civilization has separated us from Nature, telling us the lie that we are “different” and that “the sky is the limit” for us human beings…forgetting our connection with not only start-dust but also with this soil and its other inhabitants; civilization has spread the lie that only wars can bring resources and peace to everybody and that “our side” is always the one that’s right. And industry revolution has brought a lot of “good” things…to a small, “elite” group of humans while has promised much but delivered nothing to many more…it has killed entire cultures in the name of “progress” and it has spread the worst lies of them all: that “our” lifestyle and values are the “right” ones and that they should be imposed on all because all of them want to live like “us”…

So no, I don’t want to save civilization…if the outcome of the convergence of all the predicaments we are facing is the end of civilization, I am just OK with it…

On the other hand, if this converge is also threatening (as it actually is!) all life on Earth, starting by those who can’t fight or speak for themselves and continuing with the most vulnerable among us humans, then I do care. A LOT.

NTHE

As I mentioned in other posts, a growing group of people (among scientists, activists, authors, researchers, those aware of the facts around climate change and other predicaments and even among mainstream people) are starting to think, feel and even talk about the real possibility of NTHE or NTE. Some call it the Sixth Extinction and this last one is well underway and caused by human beings and their behaviours.

I am no scientist but I have studied and read a lot, almost obsessively, about all these predicaments. Life has also provided me with enough experiences to put things in perspective and be able to see the many interconnections and the big picture.

And this is what I can honestly say: I don’t know. You don’t know. And anybody who pretends to know for sure is just spreading other type of lie…

Although the confluence of climate change, resource depletion and economic, social and political events is truly scary and pointing to many possible collapses, nobody can know for sure when exactly or how exactly things will unravel…not even scientists, activists or religious leaders. NOBODY.

Are the feelings of pain, agony and despair around NTHE real and should we pay attention to them? YES!

For me, it was similar to an epiphany: I finally connected all the dots, and reading just one article put all the things I’ve been exploring together. It was so painful that I thought my chest would explode: I suddenly saw the huge damage that an invasive and mainly careless species (us) has done to the planet and all the other beings…I saw the injustices caused to other humans and the immense dependency many of us have on fossil fuels, consumption and all this around that we take so much for granted…and then I saw the proportion of what’s coming and the inability of both leaders and followers to come up with plans on time to avoid catastrophic consequences…I just KNEW that there already is but there will also be lots of suffering and devastation…the loss is already immense, but the one to come is even bigger…

Accepting this very tough but deep and real feeling has made me more human, more aware and more compassionate with all around me…and has made me love life even more than before.

Facing the Beasts

In “Beasts of the Southern Wild” , five year old Hushpuppy finally decides to face the beast she and her people feared the most…they were truly scary, but she walked with them…

Burying our heads in the sand may make some of us’ lives a bit “happier” for some time, but will make many others’ lives miserable. Also, the beasts will attack randomly, nobody is safe as we share THE SAME PLANET, so turning away won’t really help in the long term…

Beasts of the Southern Wild - 6
Hushpuppy facing the beast in “Beast of the Southwest Wild” movie

 

Permaculture and Transition

This is, after all, a blog about my own adventures with Permaculture in the city…many would expect practical advice about design, harvesting water or planting vegetables.

Although I care a lot about those things (and try to practice them in my life, teaching others about them), I acknowledge that there are plenty of websites about practical Permaculture, full of videos, pictures and details.

My point here is to explore my own experience with both Transition (first) and Permaculture (second) as both have the same roots and their intention is to build resilience in the face of the convergence of climate change and resource depletion…their goal is also to regenerate (and, in the case of Transition) to allow for the creation of different social structures that better respond to the needs of local communities trying to adapt to an uncertain and very difficult future…

My experience with Transition has included ups and downs: I have observed how people use transition (as they use any other social structures out there) for their own agendas: some brings politics, some can’t see or understand what Transition is for, some look for power, some for lights and celebrity…there are many great people as well, like those who fully understand the goals and care for communities’ well-being, or those who look for moral and emotional support and learning/sharing practical skills.

While I received full Transition training and have participated in meetings and events (even organizing some of them as part of a team), I have seen that Transition do not fully respond to the severity and size of the predicaments ahead…if you want to explore Transition, you can visit the main website. There are now thousand of Transition initiatives around the world…and also many disillusioned…time to change Transition? May be that, or may be just that human beings are too diverse and lives too complex (and the predicaments too) for a single frame to address all the needs.

Permaculture is a bit different: Transition was born from Permaculture (although many transitioners ignore that) and was also born as a response to all the predicaments we face (many permaculturists also ignore this)…many say Permaculture would have saved life in this planet (and humankind) if implemented 50 years ago, but that now the damage is too profound and it may be too late…

I have a question for both those who doubt Permaculture and Transition (or similar movements): if you are diagnosed with terminal cancer, what would your response be? Give up to death? Fight with all you have? Live your last months or weeks enjoying life and making those around you happy and resilient so they can live well when you are no longer here? Deny that the diagnosis exist and continue with business as usual? Pretending that following the same lifestyle, diet and behaviours you had will somewhat make your life longer and happier?

What Can We Do?

Everybody loses the thing that made them. It’s even how it’s supposed to be in nature. The brave men stay and watch it happen, they don’t run.” ~ Hushpuppy (five year old character from “Beast of the Southern Wild” movie)

Don’t expect answers, as I have none…

I have stopped driving decades ago (yes, I was also a horrible driver, but never truly liked cars and saw them as I see them today: as a very inefficient, dangerous and wasteful use of energy for doing stuff we may not need or may do through public transportation)

I stopped flying 10 years ago when I moved to Canada: not only because I don’t have the money for a ticket, but because I feel it terribly unfair that one may travel for leisure when others can’t even move from war or destroyed zones and when our travelling is causing them suffering.

I have made many small and big changes to my life and that of my family, including the biggest of them all: Permaculture.

I have voted for candidates that had small chance to win but had the head and the heart in the right place about climate change and true sustainability. I have participated in rallies and protests against pipelines and signed hundred of petitions…I have written posts about these predicaments and tried to inspire awareness, compassion and change…I have started conversations and kept myself informed.

I have (still am) doing all these things and also provide free workshops on disaster preparedness, Permaculture and so on…

However, none of this is enough: governments and all those in power keep pushing for more exploitation and extraction. Big and small companies continue raping the planet and abusing the poor and the voiceless in order to create stuff and “dreams” for those of us who can pay…banks continue creating “money” from thin air and providing credit to those who can’t pay so we get into debt and can’t stop the rat race we are in; entire peoples around the world fight for lies only they believe and kill others (including the environment) in order to fulfil their “goals”…millions walk as automatons through shopping malls to buy “gifts” and clothes and food to celebrate the birth of the most compassionate, poor and simple of beings 2014 years ago…things just don’t make sense and the whole thing, this entire lie we have been supporting is sending all of us (along with many innocent species of plants, animals, fungi, insects, entire ecosystems) to extinction…

Somebody asked me how I can be aware of all this and still keep my heart full of compassion and active hope.

The answer is in the words of a five year old girl who faced the beasts:

I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right.” Hushpuppy (main character from “Beast of the Southern Wild” movie)

Hushpuppy walking along with the Beast
Hushpuppy walking along with the Beast

If you have read so far…May your future (2015 and beyond) be full of awareness, compassion and active hope.

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster” Nietzsche

6 thoughts on “Living in Truth: When the Emperor Has No Clothes

  1. It’s such a difficult realization that I feel overwhelmed too. I think environmental and social injustice combine (and this is what I want to explore more deeply). Land grabs, imperialism and ‘development’ intertwine to create disasters for people in the form of violence against women, cultural imperialism, genocides and social injustice. It resulted in cultural heritages which were declared obsolete and the forced removal of people from the land. And it involved the exploitation of the land in the name of resources.

    Wars still seem to me to be about resources. Andy Fisher says that what has been done to nature has been done to humanity too (because we are a part of nature). And this is the time for great change, and the time to see possibility and to learn from the future (or the crisis which is looming) in order to create a new mindset which works for social or environmental justice.

    As I see it, all of us who add our voices and who do the work are able to bring about a deeper sense of critical mass. As more people recognize the importance of earth and gather together, creating change, bringing new ideas forward and bringing possibility to life (like rhizomes) we may be able to create a new awareness for humanity and a new consciousness. May be able to. And perhaps a deeper awareness that there has been too much development and it is time to go back to different ways of being.

    As Naomi Klein says, climate change impacts on everyone in a way that social injustice didn’t. Hopefully, this awareness and the crisis it brings is enough to show humanity that the spectres of the past must be put to rest so that we can work towards a more equal (and less hierarchical) earth.

    We must try, even if it doesn’t work, we have to try.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As always, you have raised the most crucial issues of our times, Sylvia. Are we at the point of near total human extinction? It’s a very real possibility. As you know, I have often asked “What can I do about it?” As I reflect, I realize that time for me has become a synchronized interweaving of past, present and future. I remember the childhood sanctuary that helped me survive chaos and abuse – a forest, brook, and pond of indescribable peace, wonder, and beauty. It ceased to exist in the real world decades ago – turned into a chemical dumping ground and then, a crowded housing development. I grieve the loss more deeply than I have words to convey, and yet, it is still there in my memories. It is an inextricable part of who I became. It influenced the lives I touched on my journey and the foundation my daughter and grandchildren inherited. I don’t know what the future will bring. What I feel in my soul, however, is a sense of peace when I accept the fact that I can only do what is front of me. I cannot control others even if I wished to do so. We are on this journey together. Just as my decisions affect their lives, their decisions affect mine. I have had to make peace with the fact that I can only live simply with love, compassion and an undefined hope for the future rather than with fear and anxiety. I choose to live as simply and fully as I can – to learn, to love, to laugh, to play, to care for dirt and plants and people. And to be grateful for fiends like you who ponder deep issues and enrich my life immeasurably.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Carol…
      You have done so much and had so many beautiful memories that I enjoy reading: it is like reading a common story, the story of a life being lived in truth, no matter what. We may have made and still make many mistakes, but we seek truth beyond that…you are one of the few living the truth my friend…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Kirk for the link. Wonderful words I rescue: “This is a process, not a product.”…did you get my email? I answered yours.
      Take care 🙂

      Like

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