Industrial Civilization’s Psychotic Break

Picture: Jeylina Ever (CC)

Picture: Jeylina Ever (CC)

Carolyn Baker writes:

The most deadly criticism one could make of modern civilization is that apart from its man-made crises and catastrophes, [it] is not humanly interesting. . . . In the end, such a civilization can produce only a mass man: incapable of spontaneous, self-directed activities: at best patient, docile, disciplined to monotonous work to an almost pathetic degree. . . . Ultimately such a society produces only two groups of men: the conditioners and the conditioned, the active and passive barbarians.

~Lewis Mumford, 1951~

Until you can ‘see’ yourself, you can’t be yourself. Or perhaps more accurately, once you can ‘see’ yourself, you can’t any longer be somebody else, the person you’ve pretended to be, that you thought you were, that others want you to be, somebody you’re not.

~Dave Pollard, “How To Save The World” Blog~

 This past week I have been intrigued by several articles that have surfaced across the Internet which appear to substantiate what many of us have known for more than a decade, namely, that industrial civilization is in a rapid downward spiral of demise. In his August 2 article on Alternet, Noam Chomsky argues that “America’s Imperial Power Is Showing Signs Of Real Decline,” in which he cites an international terrorist campaign by the United States as the reason that countries around the world are viewing it with increased suspicion in general and that in particular, the US has destroyed the notion of Latin America as its reliable back yard.

Earlier this week, psychologist Bruce Levine argued in “Why Life In America Can Literally Drive You Insane,” that mental illness in our culture is now epidemic for a number of reasons, including the over-diagnosis of it by mental health professionals. Levine succinctly summarizes the pathology of modernity in this way:

Underlying many of psychiatry’s nearly 400 diagnoses is the experience of helplessness, hopelessness, passivity, boredom, fear, isolation, and dehumanization—culminating in a loss of autonomy and community-connectedness. Do our societal institutions promote:

  • Enthusiasm—or passivity?
  • Respectful personal relationships—or manipulative impersonal ones?
  • Community, trust, and confidence—or isolation, fear and paranoia?
  • Empowerment—or helplessness?
  • Autonomy (self-direction)—or heteronomy (institutional-direction)?
  • Participatory democracy—or authoritarian hierarchies?
  • Diversity and stimulation—or homogeneity and boredom?

Similarly, in her BBC investigative video report, Reeta Chakrabarti asks, “Is Modern Life Killing Us?” which highlights the maddening pace of modern life and the toll that it takes on our bodies and souls. But as Levine points out, it is more than just the tempo of modernity that deadens us. It is also a lack of aliveness, passion, community, and autonomy.

What the scions of the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment philosophers before them were unable to grasp was that a society established on the principles of separation from itself and the earth community; a society that reveres the accumulation of wealth and status as its raison d’être; that pompously assumes that the earth’s resources are here for our use only and that they are infinite; that esteems rugged individualism as a hallmark of holiness; and that assumes that reason and intellect should be the fundamental guiding principles of relationships with all beings—a society based on these tenets is destined to fail miserably. Why? Because these assumptions are inherently emotionally and spiritually toxic for humans and all life forms within their purview.

Read more here.

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45 Responses to Industrial Civilization’s Psychotic Break

  1. Virtually Yours October 16, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    She claims that “a society based on these tenets is destined to fail miserably” and lists this as one of the tenets: “[a society] that assumes that reason and intellect should be the fundamental guiding principles of relationships with all beings” I would like to live in a world where reason and intellect are fundamental guiding principles of ANYthing! Sadly, reason and intellect seem to be in short supply these days, whether it is in regards to our relationships with other beings, the planet on which we reside, or with ourselves.

    Perhaps I am nitpicking…she isn’t saying that these things aren’t ever necessary, just that they shouldn’t be The Fundamental Guiding Principles. But I would argue that we live in a world which hardly ever utilizes either, and that is significantly worse. A balance of empathy and logic would seem to be the ideal mix for a harmonious civilization, yet we seem to be lacking both.

    Also, it’s interesting that she mentions M. King Hubbert (in regards to his research on peak oil) but then goes on to say: “Certainly nothing can be done to stop the collapse of industrial civilization.” In response, I would point her towards this quote from Hubbert: “Our ignorance is not so vast as our failure to use what we know.” What we already know…

    Because we know that there are alternatives out there. So what is stopping us: fear or laziness? I would say it’s not “or” but “and”. Also, there is the Corportocracy Beast to contend with. And that is a beast which requires immediate slaying. Some might argue (via an article like hers) that the beast is in the process of committing suicide, and that of course is problematic because it stands to take all of us down with it. There needs to be an alternative in place so that when it does die, not only do things not fall to shit, but they actually start to get better for everyone, everywhere…

    • Ted Heistman October 16, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

      We are in the Civilization Phase of Western Culture according to Oswald Spengler’s model of the “Decline of the West” the shits all going over the dam. When money interests and soldiers run shit that means our culture is about to shit the bed. Don’t just take Spenglers word for it take it from Lao Tzu.

      The people who think everything will be fine once everyone has health care, they are the fucking death knell believe it or not. Its not that I begrudge anyone health care I am just saying if we have no higher value than comfort and security its means we are decadent.

      • Virtually Yours October 16, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

        Via Wiki: “According to Spengler, the meaningful units for history are not epochs but whole cultures which evolve as organisms…The final stage of each culture is, in his word use, a ‘civilization’…In Spengler’s depiction, Western Man is a proud but tragic figure because, while he strives and creates, he secretly knows the actual goal will never be reached.” I wonder what his thoughts would have been regarding Uploading and/or the creation of a conscious Hive Mind, either of which would (if successfully achieved) represent a further step in the evolution of the Cultural Organism. On a more practical level (perhaps) what about a civilization which was able to achieve the status of post-scarcity? That would also seem to be a significant game-changer…

        “…if we have no higher value than comfort and security its means we are decadent” I agree with you on comfort-as-decadence if we are referring to things that are not necessary for our survival, but healthcare is a bit tricky because our survival revolves rather significantly around our health. We can take care of ourselves up to a certain point but then there are those pesky moments when doctors and hospitals tend to come in rather handy…

        I am curious, though: why do you say security-as-decadence? Because even if we were to wake up tomorrow and discover that everything had been magically fixed overnight (ie: world peace declared, poverty abolished, food/water/healthcare for everyone, etc.), we still have to acknowledge the fact that Yellow Stone could erupt five minutes later or we could get hit by a giant, hurtling asteroid or [fill in the blank of doom...]

        My point being, I guess, is that it would be extremely difficult to guarantee safety from all of these potential negative outcomes, but as a responsible and proactive species, shouldn’t we be doing everything within our collective ability to try and prepare for these sorts of things or – ideally – to prevent them from occurring in the first place?

        I don’t see that as decadent, but as being tied to the most fundamental of evolutionary drives: that of survival. Unless I have misinterpreted your use of the word “security” (in which case, I apologize!)

        • Ted Heistman October 16, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

          I think transhumanism stuff is all just further expression of the same tragic Faustian culture. Survival is always important, its just that it doesn’t justify a High culture. When every goes into mere survival mode that’s the beginning of the end.

          For example, we live in a cynical age, but believe it or not there have been some brave, courageous self sacrificing mother fuckers in ages past, that really weren’t just trying to get rich.

          • Virtually Yours October 16, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

            “believe it or not there have been some brave, courageous self sacrificing mother fuckers in ages past” I do believe it, and am also open to the possibility that every individual possesses that same potential, though perhaps that is just me being hopelessly idealistic/naive (I do not deny that either is possible…perhaps even probable :-)

      • Virtually Yours October 16, 2013 at 11:28 pm #

        Jacque Fresco has a slightly different take on the phases of civilization, and his theory provides an interesting balance to that of Spengler: “We talk about civilization as though it’s a static state. There are no civilized people yet; it’s a process that’s constantly going on. As long as you have war, police, prisons, crime, you are in the early stages of civilization.”

    • pneumerology October 17, 2013 at 10:28 am #

      Perhaps she meant the bullshit that tries to pass itself off as reason, which is far more common than actual reason.

  2. Ted Heistman October 16, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    This mumford guy sounds like Nietzsche. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_man

    • Simon Valentine October 16, 2013 at 7:29 pm #

      i guess eugenics kind of happened after N-man, soo…. royal blood must have been a dark cloud with silver linings.

      good call. parallels is like the agriculture of thought.

      to think that “thought civilization” on “the thought plane” would go through ‘the pattern’ instead of civilizations on earth… just has me picturing infinite humans making computers which monkeys are typing on (at the same time as the making)… and we’re all trying to figure out … oh i dunno … every single mathematical proof as it applies to the physical constitution of the universe? lol >.<

  3. CatRocketship October 16, 2013 at 2:08 pm #

    Read this at the same time I had this open in another tab: “Want to Make Hunter-Gatherers Irrational? Expose them to Free Markets” http://bigthink.com/Mind-Matters/want-to-make-hunter-gatherers-irrational-expose-them-to-free-markets

  4. BuzzCoastin October 16, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

    fortunately for humans
    empires & societies come and go every few thousand years
    at most
    Rome lasted about 1000 years before it disappeared
    China has hung in for several thousand years
    but is about to make a break
    America has no “culture” at all

    and it’s little fit of genocide & war mongering
    is about to come to an abrupt end

    • Andrew October 16, 2013 at 9:23 pm #

      Define “culture.” It seems to me that to say America has none is to say that America’s ways of doing things are more basic and universal than culture.

      • BuzzCoastin October 16, 2013 at 9:27 pm #

        live within a 5000 year old culture sometime
        then ponder American “culture”
        at best it’s Pop Kulture
        if that’s what your eluding to

        • Monkey See Monkey Do October 17, 2013 at 9:59 am #

          Give USA time. There a young civilization built on the domination of indigenous people whereas China is an old civilization built on the domination of indigenous people.

          • Ted Heistman October 17, 2013 at 10:18 am #

            You are half joking but the way I see it, the Indigenous people resisted domination and were thus destroyed (fore the most part) with genocide. They were never really exploited. The slaves were exploited.

            Not every people group can be enslaved. Some would rather die first and indeed that’s what many Native Americans did.

            Most of the European settlers were descendants of people who decided to live on their knees rather than die on their feet.

          • Noah_Nine October 18, 2013 at 9:08 am #

            i live on an indian reservation… there are still a lot of us around….

          • Ted Heistman October 18, 2013 at 10:02 am #

            about 2 million tops in a country of almost 300 million people. Do you take that as a slight? Also Indian Reservations are not crowded places. This is just a fact. Not intened to be offensive. anyway I have some Mohawk blood and my ancestors lived in Indian land for more than a hundred years.

          • BuzzCoastin October 17, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

            around 500BCE
            some 2500 years into Chinese civilization
            Confucius began a reform movement
            to restore the old ways taught by Fuxi
            the Lao Tzu also appears around the same time
            to balance out Confucian thought
            3000 years after Fuxi & 500 years after Confucius
            Western culture begins
            about 1500 Europe began to shit itself of people
            and aMerkin culture was born

    • Noah_Nine October 18, 2013 at 9:07 am #

      rome thrives on through the catholic church…. sadly it never completely crumbled….

  5. kimsbutt October 16, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    Read The Invisible Plague.

  6. Simon Valentine October 16, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

    analysis of basic illusions which fails to dispel them often takes the form of pseudo comparative categorical denial game playing. where’s Nash? not here. where’s the Norse crown? not here. where’s the monkey? not giving a shit about a keep-away circus.

    binary dispositions are functioning as catalysts of mental explosions, sure. that anyone with any “set of personality traits” (*coBULLSHITugh*) can still be a saint or a nazi is closer to the heart of the problem (NoProb).

    *edit*
    i apologize for my hotheadedness. binary searches can be extremely effective tools for good, but performed on or among people they can be entirely too invasive.

  7. osb October 16, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

    Things never worked out for me the way I hoped they would. I like to think I’m one of the more lively ones around and I do that for others. Deep down though I want to shoot myself in the head a lot of the time.

    • Virtually Yours October 16, 2013 at 11:21 pm #

      I have such thoughts/feelings from time to time, and it makes me wonder if there are perhaps alternate versions of myself that actually went through with it? If I could have one wish granted, it would be to simultaneously experience the combined lifetimes of every other version of myself…not so much because I regret the choices which I have made in this life (though there is no denying that that is definitely a part of it) but mostly because then I would Know exactly what it meant to be a complete and whole version of myself. All of the good I could ever do and all of the hurt I could ever cause, experienced in one instantaneous flash of awareness. If I were a “god” and this was all just some sort of bizarre self-experiment/test, then at least that would seem to be a more sensible way of teaching lessons and making sure that they stick, because you would in fact be learning from and teaching yourself :-)

      Also, I hope that these sorts of thoughts/feelings are never so deep-down within you that you are then unable to recognize them as such, because that is when they risk manifesting as other nasty, negative shit in your life. As long as you can stare down the darkness and acknowledge it for what it is, then you should be fine. I suspect that more people than not experience these kinds of thoughts/feelings from time to time, and it is one of the (many) reasons why I would like to experience a Hive Mind, because it would be like the ultimate group-hug therapy session…an infinite embrace of compassion and understanding with no interruptions or misinterpretations, while simultaneously acknowledging that everyone is equally scared but also (and most importantly of all) equally equipped to let that fear pass right on through.

      • pneumerology October 17, 2013 at 10:46 am #

        maybe what you describe is already true, but the apparent separation of the individual physical entities obscures it. It actually sounds a lot like the Buddhist concepts of self and SELF

        • Virtually Yours October 22, 2013 at 10:45 am #

          Do you happen to know if there is anything mentioned within Buddhist teachings that would suggest how one might go about dissolving such a separation? The only thing I can think of would be to try and imagine all of the possible outcomes of each and every choice you are presented with, and always trying to make the most balanced decision which you are able to perceive. Meditation is supposed to clear the mind of clutter and distraction, so I guess that would allow one to perceive a wider range of available choices…but what about split-second decisions when you don’t have time to pause and meditate? That is when a simulation app might come in handy: run a sped-up sym which allows you to experience a plethora of possible outcomes, before reconstituting your fractured virtual selves and allowing you to make the best possible decision.

          • Calypso_1 October 22, 2013 at 11:20 am #

            It has been my experience that the more skilled you become at meditation, that in split second decisions you either simply find yourself 1) free of deliberation and flow through a course of action that in any hindsight was approaching or even exceeding your maximum conceptual mentation. Or 2) in the case of even more critical processes, life-threatening or extreme peak experiences, you may actually disassociate; acting without any awareness, and find yourself observing from outside or even as a flashback if the event was too rapid to perceive in the moment.

          • Virtually Yours October 25, 2013 at 10:10 am #

            I have not had much luck when it comes to meditation, though admittedly I have never stuck with it for any extended period of time. I get distracted rather easily and find myself thinking about all of those “other” things I could be doing with that time. I hear people make claims about meditation like the ones you mentioned and – like Mulder’s poster – I want to believe (that it would be worth the time/effort/energy required in order to achieve a similar level of purity/balance…)

          • Ted Heistman October 25, 2013 at 10:34 am #

            That’s actually what is supposed to happen in the beginning. Keep at it. You are on the right track. There is no luck involved. You can do it while you walk too. Works best if you can walk alone in a natural area. Also swimming laps in a pool can be a time of meditation.

          • Virtually Yours October 25, 2013 at 11:03 am #

            I love hiking…any excuse to be outdoors and as far removed from the influence of advertising/media/etc. Those are the closet moments to Transcendence that I have experienced…when you close your eyes and look at the sun and the only thing you hear is the wind blowing through the leaves. But eventually you have to open your eyes and start making your way home (for me, in a city). You try to bring that moment of purity back with you, but it’s almost like a dream that starts to fuzz and fade on the edges…

          • Ted Heistman October 25, 2013 at 11:30 am #

            Nice prose. You a writer?

          • Virtually Yours October 25, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

            Thanks! I have dabbled a little bit with creative writing but have never actively pursued it…guess this ties back into the above conversation about focusing on goals and intentions.

          • Calypso_1 October 25, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

            You can start by simply observing your thoughts. You can mentally verbalize what you are observing- such as “I am experiencing thoughts of other things I could be doing”.
            Eventually the thoughts will diminish, underlying emotions will emerge that evoke such thoughts and you observe those – “I am experiencing anxiety…”. Never, “I am anxious, angry”, etc.
            The “I” you are creating is separated from this.
            There comes a time when you no longer need the verbal counter and the observing self allows all thoughts & feelings to exist but is unattached & they flow through you. Then the flow quiets and the observing self is left….the observing self can begin to vanish as well & really interesting things begin to happen.

          • Virtually Yours October 25, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

            “I am experiencing thoughts of other things I could be doing” I never thought of meditation as being so meta…I like it :-) It sounds like you are quite advanced at all of this…did you have a teacher or a friend who helped you along when you were first starting out?

          • pneumerology October 23, 2013 at 9:32 am #

            Calypso_1′s response to your question is pretty good. It mentions the non-rational (or Zen) aspect of decision making. Non-rational is of course different from irrational, though the distinction is often hard to make, because they might look identical to an observer.

            From a rational perspective — which is the other part of your question — you can never know all the variables or possibilities. Therefore, no program can give you the absolute “right answer”. Probabilities is as good as it gets.

            We’re all guessing. And our guesses are based on incomplete knowledge and often contain some misinformation we have accepted as fact. In my understanding of it… one of the main goals of meditation is to refine and clarify our intentions.

            And the practical goal of that is that our decision making will be driven by a clean intention… rather than neurosis, confusion, bad information, hidden motives, or excessively linear thinking. One can try to do no harm… but one can’t entirely succeed.

            Life is uncertain and ultimately unpredictable. Accepting limitations like that are one of the challenges of being human… developing a tolerance for uncertainty… not being driven mad or paralyzed by the large degree of unknowns… and not trying to defend oneself from this uncertainty by adopting false beliefs that appeal because they look simple and absolute (there have recently been articles posted here which discuss that phenomenon).

            That’s life on this mud-ball. You just have to do the best you can with it.

          • Virtually Yours October 25, 2013 at 10:35 am #

            “one of the main goals of meditation is to refine and clarify our intentions” I really need to focus on this. I have no end of ideas in sight but they are rarely (if ever) practical and honing in on a particular intention would probably be a good first step toward whatever far-off goal it is I have set forth in my Mind. And always being open to the possibility that that “goal” could change along the way…

            “and not trying to defend oneself from this uncertainty by adopting false beliefs that appeal because they look simple and absolute” I try to remain agnostic about most things, whether it is religion, politics, science, etc. This stems from being raised in a cult-like setting where everything was portrayed as Absolute, and finding the courage to question that which was being presented as unquestionable…

            Perhaps that is why I have the desire to Know as much as possible, so as to be able to make the best or most informed choice that is available at the time. But yes, also being open to the possibility/probability that new information will come along and render former opinions moot.

            “That’s life on this mud-ball.” I like to think of it as the glorified hunk of spinning rock that we call home…for now :-)

          • pneumerology October 25, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

            Yes, its home, and I kinda like the place. Maybe there is reincarnation or heaven, maybe there ain’t. I don’t concern myself about that because I have my hands full just dealing with the present existence I have. I see it as an opportunity — maybe a once in a lifetime opportunity — a great gift to be alive at all, even once.

          • Virtually Yours October 25, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

            Absolutely! I sent the following to my dad on Father’s Day. For context: he is a young-earth creationist and earlier that day we had been discussing the code that was discovered in String Theory…

            Whether we are Divine Manifestations or imaginatively curious representations of far-flung quantum super-equations (or perhaps something else entirely…) I thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me the chance to experience – and the ability to appreciate – this bizarrely beautiful thing that we call Life, the Universe, and Everything :-)

      • osb October 17, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

        Wish we could all be like the bonobo, wouldn’t living be so merry.

        • Virtually Yours October 22, 2013 at 9:55 am #

          The bonobos kind of lucked out…by winding up in an area that had lots of food and few predators, it makes sense that they would be more content and less aggressive. In order to mimic the way in which their society evolved, we would have to be able to ensure that everyone within our global community was provided for and taken care of on an equal basis. No easy task, to be sure! But this is why I am a proponent of Jacque Fresco’s idea for a resource-based economy: ALL of the world’s resources are the inherent birthright of everyone and they need to be distributed as such. I don’t pretend to think that it would be easy to set up and then maintain such a system, but the potential results – a worldwide (bonobo-like) community based on cooperation instead of competition – would seem to negate (or at least balance out) any nuisance and/or hassle which might occur along the way.

      • osb October 17, 2013 at 7:41 pm #

        I do grok what you say!

    • Shakynavelbones October 19, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

      I think euthanasia is a wise thing. Altho if you can still breathe well, eat, sleep, shit and move; then surely there’s great work to be done.

  8. Ted Heistman October 17, 2013 at 8:44 am #

    I read the whole thing and it loses steam towards the end. She is a Derek Jensen fan apparently. She has absolutely no vision. I think all this stuff is old news to be Frank. The diagnoses of the Problems of Western Civilization is over. What’s needed now are new visionaries

    • Monkey See Monkey Do October 18, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

      There is nothing worse than someone shouting in your ear that the boat is sinking when that’s already been made apparent. All I want to do is talk to the people who want help bucketing the water out of the boat, want help reading the compass towards land, or want help mending the boat.

      • Calypso_1 October 18, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

        There is a reason Haldol is on the WHO list of essential meds.

        Same as a potential drowning victim. It’s better to knock them out then to let them drag you under.

      • Ted Heistman October 18, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

        Yeah lets swim for a desert island and build a new boat! I really think a new culture is forming and I think its related to permaculture, building communities and DIY projects. No that everyone has to be a back to the land type hippy. But there are people doing things they find fulfilling. Many people are way beyond waking up and realizing suddenly that TV, Wal-mart, fast food and sub urbs suck.

        Derrick Jensen is like a walking honey pot for homeland security. He wants to sink the boat and has no vision for a new boat. But mostly he wants to get paid to give speeches about how to sink the boat.

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