People must first be made to give up on the existing system before they will become receptive to fundamental change.
Michael Byron, Ph.D.
Last week a review of the documentary “What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire” was posted on Energy Bulletin and sub-titled “a review of a new doomer cult classic.” While the review was favorable, I must state that as someone who has seen the documentary dozens of times, who consistently shows it to my history classes, and who is a personal friend of the film makers, I was appalled at the use of the word “doomer” to describe the film. The reviewer’s use of the term was the culmination for me of the inappropriate use of “doomer” to label individuals who have rejected the soporific of “hope” with respect to the terminal state of planet earth. I am equally unnerved by those who consistently describe me as “negative” and obsessively attempt-almost beg me-to offer them “something positive.” Hence, the inspiration to write this article.
I’d like to begin with defining the word doom. My dictionary defines doom as: “fate or destiny, esp. adverse fate; unavoidable ill fortune.” When I consult a dictionary of etymology, I notice that the term had its origins in the early Christian era and is connected with the idea of divine judgment. Since I have made clear ad infinitum, ad nauseum that the “fate” of the planet is in our hands and that extinction of earth’s life forms including humanity is unequivocally avoidable, labeling me as someone who embraces “doom” is factually erroneous. Likewise, most people who know me well do not experience me as someone who walks around preaching divine judgment. After all, I published my autobiography earlier this year in which I described in vivid detail my exodus decades ago from Christian fundamentalism and all that “divine judgment” yah-yah that I grew up with.
Let me say again: The probable extinction of the human race and all life forms on the planet is absolutely avoidable, and it is not the product of an angry deity who will visit judgment on his naughty children. Only humans can reverse the lethal process they alone have set in motion.
Secondly, anyone who watches “What A Way To Go” to the end will be incessantly confronted with the notion of opportunity that the film makers insist the collapse of civilization brings with it. In fact, one could easily replace nearly every use of the word “collapse” in the documentary with the word “rebirth.”People locked into “doom” do not talk about rebirth; far from it-they are generally depressed individuals who may be looking to throw themselves under the next freight train or jump off the nearest cliff.
The Psychology Of Doomer-Labeling
I have asked myself repeatedly where this label of “doomer” comes from when applied to people who continue to talk about opportunity and rebirth, yet refuse to sell the snake oil of “hope.” I didn’t fully understand the “doomer” label until a friend called after having just heard an interview with Harvey Wasserman, co-author of HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA’S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008. What Wasserman stated in the interview and what he also implied in his article “Do the Neo-Cons Need Karl Rove When They Can Count on the Democrats?” is that overwhelmingly, the progressive left does not want to hear the irrefutable documentation of the stealing of the 2000 and 2004 elections-or the compelling evidence that the 2008 election is already stolen! It appears that if they were to fully comprehend the futility of voting in national elections, they might feel-oh dare I say it-drum roll-hopeless?
This reminds me very much of the alcoholic/abusive family system where abuse and addiction are rampant, and someone in the family breaks silence and speaks the truth about what is so. Immediately, that family member is scapegoated, labeled a troublemaker, incorrigible, ungrateful, or in the case of the abuse of the planet and the political systems that enable it, a negative-minded “doomer.” Even worse, in the abusive system, the truth-teller becomes the identified patient, that is, “this family would be just fine if it weren’t for the troublemaker.” Translation: Why can’t you stop being a “doomer” and just vote Democratic, buy a hybrid car, put some curly lightbulbs in your lamps, and think positively?
One result of this finely-tuned denial system is that the truth-teller ends up feeling the feelings that everyone else in the system refuses to feel. The other members of the system are numb or cheerful, but the truth-teller is wracked with anxiety, anger, or depression because he or she is carrying the emotional baggage of the entire system.
Pardon a little bit of ancient mythology, but I’m quite certain that Noah was called a “doomer”. Talk about negative! Talk about raining, so to speak, on humanity’s “perky party”! Truly an identified patient he was.
Derrick Jensen states that everything in the current system of civilization is set up to protect the abusers. Those who refuse to do so will be scapegoated-if not by the abusers, then by their “siblings” who beg them to be quiet and maintain faith in the system.
Please understand that I am not forbidding disagreement. If you can look squarely and rationally at the evidence for the likelihood that civilization has entered a state of collapse and knowing the evidence, disagree with the probability of the extinction of the planet and its inhabitants, that is your prerogative. What I resent is being scapegoated because I have a different perception and I refuse to look at the evidence and still support the enablers of the system that is murdering the earth and every life form on it or because I refuse to say that everything is going to somehow work itself out, that politicians will save us, that solar energy or carbon credits will provide the magic bullet, or that technology will come to our rescue. And-what is more, I refuse to accept the scapegoating of those who absolutely will not face the overwhelming evidence of stolen national elections or who, for whatever reason, expect me to carry the feelings they will not feel and who identify me as the “troubled patient” in their terminally toxic, hope-addicted reality.
Repeatedly, these individuals do not hear or see me when I refer to the opportunity that the collapse of civilization may afford us or the rebirth of human consciousness that could unfold as the old paradigm crumbles and a new one erupts. In my book in process, I am among other things, painstakingly taking the reader through a process of introspection regarding collapse and rebirth, inviting her/him to be aware of the feelings that loom or lie dormant around the end of the world as we have known it. I do not expect it to be easy for anyone to acknowledge the reality of collapse; it certainly has not been for me. I have only been able to open to its irrefutable truth because I have had the support of others and because of a deep and abiding sense of meaning that I experience in the demise of empire. For me, both are extremely “positive” forces in my life-more authentically positive than “hope” or “optimism” or voting for the Democratic Party.
When I speak of rebirth, this is not for me some airy-fairy fantasy about “positive outcome”. In my opinion, rebirth is absolutely the most apt description of civilization’s demise. For most women, birth is no walk in the park-it’s painful, bloody, and very uncertain. What is born may be healthy and intact, or it may be impaired. Whoever is born must be nurtured, tended, given structure and limits, and he or she will at some point (or many times) break one’s heart. Parents almost always admit that giving birth has changed them, and that as a result they will never be the same. Giving birth consigns one to a lifetime of responsibility and care for one’s offspring; sacrifices must be made, priorities re-arranged, personal comforts postponed, risks taken-all with no guarantee of “happily ever after.” From my perspective, rebirth and collapse are inextricably connected and consistently mirror each other.
Mimicking Mainstream Media
The “doomer” label belies the labeler’s inability to grasp the complexity of the person or position he/she is labeling. Had the reviewer of “What A Way To Go” mentioned above, thoroughly understood what the documentary is communicating, he would not have applied the label of “doomer” to it. Yes, the film maker lets us know that he is not interested in presenting any “happy chapters” that let the viewer off the hook, but he also repeatedly emphasizes the “new stories” that can be told and the new opportunities offered as a result of collapse, culminating in film’s pivotal and haunting question: Who do I want to be in the face of collapse?
Moreover, “doomer” labeling demonstrates a lack of capacity for comprehending paradoxes such as: Yes, civilization is collapsing, and that is an opportunity for rebirth-or one of my favorites from Derrick Jensen: “We’re fucked, and life is really, really good.” Paradox, two apparent opposites being true at the same time, complexity, holistic rather than black and white, either/or thinking appear to elude those who simplistically slap the unwarranted “doomer” label on whomever they choose.
Most egregiously, however, “doomer” labeling replicates the style of superficial mainstream and sensationalist journalism which refuses to deal with complexities and applies labels so that readers will not have to grapple with multi-layered reality. The prime motivation in this style of journalism is speed and brevity. As a result, readers are unable to view the rich and convoluted tapestry of an event, a story, a person, or a concept. Hence the old paradigm endures with no willingness to construct a new one!
Refusal To Admit That We Have No Government
A careful study of recent American history which I have endeavored to convey in my book U.S. History Uncensored reveals that although we may have a bureaucracy in Washington that operates myriad departments and provides services, in reality, we have no government. That is to say that what used to be the function of government has been usurped by corporations and centralized financial systems. Repeatedly, icons of the progressive left such as Jeremy Scahill in his brilliant book Blackwater, Naomi Klein in Shock Doctrine and in her latest article “Outsourcing Government“, and Arianna Huffington as she appeared on Keith Olbermann’s “Countdown” on October 19 are telling us that it is now virtually impossible to determine where government ends and corporations begin. Only a few years ago, these same individuals probably would not have acknowledged this reality which actually has its roots in the late-nineteenth century and came to fruition in the Reagan and Clinton administrations.
Perpetually rigged elections are one glaring characteristic of this reality. If there is no government, then there are no authentic choices in terms of political candidates because a candidate cannot even be nominated for the presidency unless she/he is owned by the plutocracy. The progressive left loves to deny the extent to which candidates are owned and persists in rationalizing: “But he/she has done so many wonderful things; he/she is so sincere; he/she has to appear conservative, but when he/she really sits in the Oval Office, everything will be different. She/he is the lesser evil.” Anyone who does not buy into this delusion must then be marginalized by labeling that person pessimistic, doomish, or even crazy. Moreover, this kind of marginalization mirrors the exclusion of individuals and groups by the political right that it finds intolerable, and thus I return to the thesis of Harvey Wasserman’s article: Why would neocons need Karl Rove when they have the Democrats?
Participation in the federal election process sanctions the lie that authentic choices exist in presidential politics and condones the use of the election chimera for the purposes of maintaining social control. It is progressive America’s method of choice for maintaining the dirty little secret of the toxic system-that Daddy is raping the kids, but we can’t talk about it! If we do admit this to ourselves and each other, we will feel hopeless, angry, sad, disempowered – unless, we accept that all of this is the result of the collapse of civilization, and that the most powerful act for any of us is admitting that collapse is real and beginning as soon as possible our preparation for it.
Overall, the Democratic progressive left refuses to acknowledge that not only do presidents and political parties not govern the United States, but they are in fact, irrelevant. The sovereignty of nations has been irreversibly eroded by corporatism and organizations such as the Bilderberg Group, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Trilateral Commission whose agenda is the dissolution of nation-states and the global dominance of corporations. Almost all of the candidates progressives tout as capable of reversing America’s descent into fascism are prominent members of one or more of these hegemonic organizations.
As Mike Byron states in the quote at the beginning of this article: People must first be made to give up on the existing system before they will become receptive to fundamental change. As long as we cling to the teddy bears of progressive politics, we embrace the old paradigm of civilization and paralyze ourselves so that we are unable to explore deeper layers of our current predicament. As a result, we allow ourselves to be distracted from the dire exigencies of collapse and any possibility of rationally preparing to navigate it, which only increases the severity of its repercussions.
Collapse/Rebirth Vs. Doomerism
I have written profusely about “the end of the world as we have known it“, but at the same time, I insist that the “endings” of which I write, are also beginnings. I have emphasized that the word “apocalypse” simply means “the unveiling” and that we are currently in the midst of a protracted apocalypse which is ripping the veil off all of civilization’s illusions. The result will be the dissolution of all of our institutions and the lifestyles of hubris and mindless consumption that permeate empire. What is also true, in my opinion, is that behind those is another reality that cries out to emerge in our consciousness – or, as author, storyteller, and mythologist Michael Meade has titled his forthcoming book: “the world behind the world.”
Characteristic of the culture of empire is its incapacity to appreciate paradox-a word inextricably connected with “paradise.” (Could it be that in order to ultimately experience “paradise”, it is necessary to appreciate paradox?) But in its typically polarized fashion, empire says that things are either alive or dead, ending or beginning, and that both cannot be occurring at the same time. Yet the origin of the word “end” is instructive because it originally implied not cessation but “the opposite side”. Nature, the ultimate teacher, perpetually demonstrates the “end” in the changing of the seasons such as we are currently experiencing, revealing that the falling leaves and withering grass are dying, but will be reborn in a different form in the springtime and come to fruition in the resplendent heat of summer. The world as we have known it is ending, only to regenerate and appear in some other form which we cannot yet imagine.
While that may sound gloriously reassuring to the hopeful and pathetically airy-fairy to the cynical, I emphasize that the metamorphosis of collapse into rebirth will not occur without enormous suffering. Yet one may ask, if nothing really comes to an end, why talk about collapse at all? Because in the real world, as opposed to the polarized delusional world of civilization, new beginnings cannot occur without endings, and the most adult response is neither denial nor doom. Rather it is the ability and willingness to acknowledge collapse on both the transformative level and on the human level. That is, we must understand its evolutionary significance but also prepare ourselves for the havoc it will wreak with our lives-our bodies, emotions, communities, families, economies, and the ecosystem.
In all transitions, the people who seem to weather them most effectively are those who can hold on to whatever is for them timeless and changeless. From concentration camp survivors to indigenous peoples who have lived through the extermination of their cultures, connection with that which they experience as eternal has facilitated their perseverance and survival. In other words, the capacity for finding meaning in the crumbling of civilization enhances one’s ability to endure and survive it.
The question I would ask those who assign the label “doomer” to those of us who irrepressibly speak of and write about collapse is: Can you allow yourself to become comfortable with paradox? Are your mind and heart large enough to hold the possibilities of rebirth alongside the reality of death? Can you withdraw from the drug of “hopeful politics” that prevents you from looking into the black maw of collapse with all its inevitable misery and uncertainty, yet at the same time entertain the potential that it may ultimately actualize for all of life on planet earth? I can do that; if you can’t, then please don’t call me a “doomer”.