Well, another frantic holiday season is coming and going, and the dark clouds of larger issues remain despite all attempts at overconsumption, distraction and amusement. It's been interesting to have conversations with a wide variety of people over the past few weeks hypothesizing on what's in store for us as individuals, regions, nations, and cultures in 2009 and onward. Many people seem to believe that things will start recovering and that we'll be able to merrily carry on as we have for the past x years after the inconvenient bumps in the economic and ecological roads are passed and subsequently forgotten. A tenacious minority continue to believe that we're still being fed only a small portion of the truth as to the scale and spread of the problems we're facing and that things are going to continue getting markedly worse as we go forward into the new year. Any turnarounds that appear to be the recovery will be short-lived and temporary in the irreversible decline of our economy to a more reasonably-scaled and sustainable level, that is if the timing of everything goes right, otherwise it might end up at a level far below that.
I know I am one of many who doesn't really know what to do next. Everyone is maintaining a 'sit-and-wait' position because indicators are giving no clear suggestion of what would be the best course to take to recover income and investments lost, retain gainful employment, effectively steward our environment and set ourselves up for an economic reality in the future that may not look like anything we have been accustomed to and have accepted as normal and real over the past half-century. There is no will by any institutional leadership to tell the truth like it is...there is too much perceived power loss at stake therefore it is just easiest to maintain the status quo as long as possible until it is obvious that there are problems. By that time the leaders hope they are long gone from their prominent positions that someone else has to take the blame.
There is no doubt that our situation is complicated and convoluted. There is also no doubt that what we're facing collectively from an economic, ecologic, social and cultural standpoint is something as a species and civilization we've never had to deal with before -- at least not at the unprecedented scale of integrated global activity and consequence we see today. Things just can't be contained in a nation or region anymore. A ripple in the water in one area affects the whole pond now.
Personally, I've been going through an existential crisis of sorts for the past few months. I've been reading many differing viewpoints on what we might be heading into in the future for quite a few years now (thank you INTERNET - the best thing we've invented since the bicycle) and it seems to me that many of the viewpoints that were formerly considered to be on the pessimistic side of things (and were considered doom-and-gloom nonsense at the time) are now coming to fruition. This is why I think the more critical thinkers who are the ones that are bringing the more dour side of analysis to light are the ones that are probably confronting the truth more honestly than the talking heads who are only spokespeople for those who have the most to lose by leaving the status quo behind and finding a way forward that is more sustainable, humane and socially- and culturally-relevant.
A helpful way to look at the big picture is to realize that none of what has been stated as reality is neither doom-and-gloom or dour; it's simply the way things are. Happy or sad endings have no bearing on reality. It's just that humans don't like bad news and we are resistant to change because it is uncomfortable and risky, and we don't like either of those things. By denying that certain things are actually occurring or that they aren't monumentally challenging is only making matters worse because the conclusion is unrealistic; this can be very dangerous if we're at a point in time where there's no turning back or we lose control of the situation.
Take for instance the ecological problems we face today. It all boils down to too many people consuming too much stuff too quickly. This is taking an unprecedented toll on the global ecosystem because the changes are happening much too quickly for the natural systems and cycles to absorb and adapt to. As we technologically progress, we also find ways to monitor, measure and trend the things that are happening much more accurately, thus the information we have uncovers realities about our effects on our planet and the consequences of our behaviours in the past and present that we most likely had no awareness of even a few years ago or that were downplayed at the time because an accurate understanding of the scope wasn't fully realized at the time.
But if over-population, over-consumption and over-growth are the overriding issues effectively causing all other issues, why are we so afraid to have honest wide-scale dialogue about them? We cling to what we deem familiar reality even if it might kill us and everything else in the process. Talk about psychopathological addiction!
I think it is hard for some people to accept theories of climate change as being realistic because they are basing their understanding of the world on things that were considered fact and proof only a few years or decades ago (or were sorely lacking in understanding) but no longer apply or are no longer accurate because techniques for substantiating proof for one theory over another have become much more accurate and plentiful enough to substantiate one belief over another. This allows for acceptance and indoctrination of new beliefs different than what was understood as reality not very long ago. In human scales when considering technological advance and accumulation of knowledge, 30 years is a huge period of time, but in biological, meteorological and geological scales, this is merely a blip in the passage of time.
If there is almost complete unanimity among climatologists, paleontologists and biologists (um? hello? the experts talking here?) that anthropomorphic climate change is well on the way to radically changing the surface of the planet, why are there still those that deny it is happening? We should be far past this conversation already!
Cultural acceptance of something is also heavily based on the belief system of the people who have the power. Since the 1970s the media, political and economic leaders have been the ones who have maintained that unregulated free markets and an unrestricted economic growth model will decide what's best for the common good of humanity and the planet. It is only recently that we have collectively realized that maybe this model isn't perfect; that due to our growth and numbers we are reaching limits in many areas and that restrictions to growth are soon going to be inevitable. It is only recently that we have begun to realize that the economic systems we've had in place for well over a century were designed when limits to what the planet could provide free-of-charge were inconceivable. The entire system is built on the foundation that there are no limits (other than labour, right Adam Smith?) and somehow we're able to grow infinitely in a system that is effectively a closed one. Flawed from the start, but designed at a time when the consequences were minimal. And these tenets were taken as the undeniable truth. Not so much anymore, eh? It's hard for some people to grasp reality when the foundations have been shaken out from right underneath them. There are some new variables that desperately need to be written into the equation now.
I think there is a grassroots understanding of these fundamental flaws and that the only way to go forward is to re-vamp the rules we use to play the game, however the ones holding all the cards are the ones who are most heavily invested in ensuring that things remain the way they are.
Corporatism is sociopathological, psychopathological, and anti-human and the sooner we collectively realize this, the better. We have sacrificed so much of who we are and what we have as common heritage and birthright in order to achieve a perceived sense of security, bounty, power, control, and benevolence. The foundations for this path were laid many, many years ago. But is it too late to clean up the mess and alter course before the planet takes care of everything in its own way in its unyielding movement towards equilibrium? History carries on; it doesn't care whether anything in the path towards balance flourishes or flounders.
Systems theory states that as a system gets more specialized and complex, it loses flexibility and resiliency in addition to becoming more entropic. This is very poignant to what you see happening with the financial system problems and credit crunch. The system has become more and more dependent on geopolitical stability and consistent energy supplies at low costs in order to properly function. The oil price spike of last summer was probably the needle that poked the hole in the latest balloon, thus causing spectacular systemic deflation although the bubble occurring in the first place is the underlying issue. For the past fifteen years our economy has gone from one bubble to the next in order to prop up and sustain a faltering system that has a definite end point just a little bit longer. As we start over the side of undependable and fluctuating energy supplies, too many mouths to feed, and an entitled expectation of being able to get whatever we want whenever we want from a vast global production line, the system itself becomes undependable, erratic, and potentially terminal.
This can be akin to a couple of examples -- first, a natural one -- the polar bear. As much as I hate to see what is happening to this majestic species, they are extremely specialized and dependent on a stable ecosystem in one particular cycle of states. With the lack of ability for much adaptation, the demise of their stable environment will be closely followed by the demise of the species itself.
A technological example would be our insatiable desire for miniaturization of electronics. The parts that make up these components become more and more energy and production intensive to design, create, run, and distribute, and they have shorter and shorter lifespans because as one part fails, there is no resilience or redundancy in the system whatsoever and they suddenly become very expensive but effective paperweights or doorstops as soon as the weakest component in the unit fails.
"But what's wrong with that?" say the proponents. "Just buy another one!"
That is one of the big argument points of the intelligentsia today. Considering the natural world or the financial system or many of our social constructs, some believe we are far past tipping points in many areas with our only recourse to try to clean up some of the mess before everything falls apart; others believe we still have time to act to minimize the effects of our destructive ways. The argument is ridiculous. I don't think it really matters - either way, isn't affecting creative, thoughtful change (as opposed to panicked, reactive solutioning) modeling natural systems that have endured for eons going to be better move in the long run? Should we not collectively accept that prudent action is better than no action at all, no matter how dire the situation has become, whether it is obvious to us or not?
I write this all from a privileged narcissistic Western viewpoint. The people and societies of the Third World have been facing the realities of environmental and economic degradation for decades. Very few people will associate the resource-driven and culturally-divided upheavals in Africa and the Middle East for the past few decades to the fact that the foundations of our existence as a civilization have been deteriorating for some time now. The West has largely dictated the direction of this ship for the entire planet since the eras of colonialism and merchantilism. The past few decades have seen the trajectory of this activity and growth start to go exponential with worldwide impacts. It's only because the Third World (yet another Western construct) is more vulnerable and less elastic to these losses that it is happening to them first. In the 1960s and 1970s, the nations of Africa were players in the game of international energy and economic distribution and consumption but since then they have been priced out and have been forced to fold their cards. The Western nations forget about them because they aren't at the table anymore so they are forced to deal with the horrific after-effects on their own. What we see happening there should be a harbinger of things to come for us soon if we don't take action to change the things that are fundamentally flawed and/or unaccounted for in our civilization. It's only a matter of time before we will see similar problems in the 'civilized, affluent' Western societies. We need to find a better, more equitable, more sustainable, more humanitarian, more representational way to do things going forward.
What truly brings value and joy to human existence? Is it unyielding consumerism? Unending growth and transformation of our natural ecosystems? Is it one-upmanship on everyone else? Or is it our social connections? The way we negotiate our relationships with the people closest to us? The people that we love, the people that love us, the communities we are involved in that we have a desire to foster and nurture because healthy communities mean healthy people? The natural world and all the beauty, harshness, and awe it provides us while keeping us alive?
When considering our communities and our natural environments that sustain us, we are part of them and they part of us whether we want it to be that way or not. To make them better only makes us better. The hollow pursuit of material gain, hoarding and collection, and concentration of wealth is a misallocated zero-sum game and certainly not one of the central things that bring us identity, meaning, joy and fulfillment.
That was a lot of writing to get to a few points. I think many of us that are curious and critically analytical probably understand everything that I've just written. We also have a uneasy feeling and an sense of realization that things just aren't right anymore. What does that mean exactly? What is 'right'? Our belief that the way we've done things previously was the correct and justified way to achieve our end goals? I think we can all agree we have a sense that the tried-and-true that has worked rather well in the past isn't going to cut it going forward. We are constantly running faster and faster just to maintain our current position.
The hard part is trying to make sense of it all on a personal level. I've said many times that we are individually intelligent but collectively we're incredibly dense. In that light, I've also realized that there is no comfort (to me anyways) to depend on anyone else or any other institution to attempt to get myself to a point where I feel things are on the right path again. As I had stated earlier, I've found 2008 to be a very difficult year from an existential standpoint because I have been going through a renaissance of sorts, starting to realize that everything I understood as being acceptable and desirable in the past (and what I thought would make me happy) may be a complete ruse/deception or at least not the best way to approach life. The system indoctrinated me into believing that achieving this or that is what defined me as successful or as a contributing citizen therefore not meeting these narrow criteria meant I was not as valuable as another person playing the same game in the same system. It is only over the past few years that I've realized that those criteria are effectively what are the source of the problem and that what is deemed as success in our society is the opposite of (or at least conflicts with) those things that we accept bring us the most happiness and fulfillment as human beings.
I'm realizing that what brings me the most happiness are the intangibles -- maintaining my relationships with my family and my friends. Achieving personal excellence and satisfaction in my hobbies. Hearing the song of sparrows and bluebirds while on a bike ride in Springbank or the Bow Valley with no vehicles or subdivision building sites around. The smell of fall while running along the Elbow River. The deafening silence of a windless winter night and the unbelievable expanse of stars in complete darkness when visiting the family farm in Manitoba. Crossing the finish line at a race after putting my best effort into it. A picture-perfect summer day at a lake or park. A song that puts shivers down my spine and makes me want to dance. Doing work or completing commitments that are self-satisfying and I know are making a positive difference for myself, others or the world in general. These are the things that make me happy and fulfill me.
It seems simple to achieve these things, but I think I speak for many of us when considering that the system is on an incessant path to tear them all down, we obviously have got something wrong that needs to be corrected. To realize that everything you accepted as normal is precisely what is taking joy and fulfillment out of your life is a hard pill to swallow.
That is why I want 2009 to be a year of reckoning for me. I've anguished over the things that are wrong in my life for so long now that my friends don't want to listen to me talk about them anymore. It is time to put my words into action. We're all going through the same shit and only positive changes are going to be heralded as success. I intend to put the things that don't fulfill me or bring me happiness behind me. This is certainly going to be a challenge.
First off, set goals and make plans to achieve those goals. This approach has worked marvellously in the past specifically in my racing history and could very well be applied to all other facets of my life. I've noticed that over the past six months I've really lost my way, not been able to define any goals and thusly become more and more lost to the point where I am now - not sure what to do next in almost all facets of my life.
From a selfish perspective, things like my career which is based on a corporate model that does not care for my feelings or lack of enthusiasm due to its sociopathic nature need to go, but when considering that the last decade of my life has been an investment into what I'm doing now, it's a truth that certainly takes some actualization and reflection. Can I simply leave everything I've believed in and worked towards behind me to start something new that I believe will be more fulfilling and inspiring, yet is still fraught with risks and possible failure? Time to start gambling, taking some chances. I know I've never felt as little commitment or pleasure in what I've been doing in my career as I do at this particular point in time.
To absorb all of this takes time. I'm still a hairless ape deep down that is slow to change and the older I get the slower it gets. The problem is that I might not have much time to change before I'm forced to change. I'd rather have some control over the outcomes on a personal level than to have them dictated to me, and I think that's the mantra we all need to accept to affect the changes that are desperately required personally and collectively.
In my experience, change is a challenge but almost always results in a better outcome than theorized and certainly forces me to reflect on what I've done and what I'm about to do rather than become complacent with what I'm doing in the present and not think about the consequences of my decisions and how they might be affecting me in the present and the future. Especially if during the whole ordeal I'm not satisfied, happy, or fulfilled. What the hell am I doing?
The career thing scares me. I know I need a change if only for my mental state, yet I don't know what I want to do next. I could stay in I.T. but it would need to be in a capacity that is much more locally focused and team-oriented. I am trying to figure things out with that perspective in mind and have yet to figure out what to do. Eventually I will get the impetus to soul-search in earnest; I guess I just haven't gotten to that point of desperation yet. Part of me thinks that holding on to what I'm doing now in this time of confusion and insecurity is the most prudent thing to do until something clearly signals that a shift is mandatory (I also have a sense that if things get worse, a nice layoff package would be in the equation, but there's that ridiculous sense of entitlement rearing its ugly head again!). I also now that my distaste towards what I'm doing now is affecting a lot of other aspects of my life. It's not just the career either, there are a lot of interconnected things in my life that require some change, modification, or complete rebuild.
I'm trying to get my head around the risks associated with this type of hesitant thinking too....look at how our reluctance to see early signs of environmental degradation for what they are have gotten us to our current situation. I'd rather be (and up to now always have been) on the front-side of change when change was required because I took the signs seriously.
On a personal level and all levels above, I don't think the writing on the wall has been more clear. It's time to get involved with a community garden and re-learn how to grow fresh produce, time to 'consume', participate in, and support all things local and regional rather than national or global. Time to eat less meat. Time to consider waste as a part of the consumption cycle rather than an afterthought of it.
In this season of reflection, there is no better time to make plans, set goals and work towards a higher level of consciousness, a better, more effective way of doing things and approaching life. I plan to make 2009 a very important year for myself by moving myself onto a better path towards self-actualization and fulfillment shaped by the things I deem important in my life. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and despair causing inaction, I plan to effect change rather than wait for it to happen to me against my will. I know myself and everything around me will be better off for it!
Good luck to you all as you pursue figuring out your own path in this time of madness. Make 2009 the year you empowered yourself and realized there are much better ways to do things and achieve your goals.