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Peak Moment 169: The Sacred Demise of Industrial Civilization (transcript added)



As a historian, Carolyn Baker has a keen eye for current events that are indicators of the collapse we’re seeing all around us. But she’s also a psychologist concerned about how we personally navigate the turbulence and find meaning within it. The author of Sacred Demise: Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse, she describes the old story that isn’t working anymore (humans are separate from nature), and the new story we must live by for real sustainability. Her Speaking Truth to Power website is a rich collection of articles reflecting both collapse and preparedness action. (carolynbaker.net/site).

Download the audio for this episode here.

JD: (Janaia Donaldson) Your book title Sacred Demise holds an interesting tension in those two words. Tell us about it.

CB:(Carolyn Baker) It was my “intension” to “insert the tension” in the title. I have long been a fan of the famous psychologist, Carl Jung, who believed that the universe is comprised of infinite opposites—light/dark, good/evil/, joy/sorrow, etc. And before Jung, the quantum physicists argued that the universe is a dance of opposite forces. All of the great wisdom traditions of the world agree. Jung taught that opposites should not be polarized but rather integrated and that in order to integrate them, we have to hold the tension of them in our minds and bodies. In doing this, a third option eventually arises which facilitates the integration. In more recent times, the organizational development wizard, Peter Senge, teaches the same principle, that is, hold alongside the current reality, a vision of new possibilities.

With respect to the title Sacred Demise, the first principle to understand is that industrial civilization is currently in a state of total collapse. This is a process and not an event. It’s a protracted process that will take several years with numerous tipping point events which will exacerbate the process. Life as we know it, based on cheap and abundant fossil fuels and endless economic growth will cease. The consequences of this will be daunting and perhaps horrific—AND, at the same time that we know and prepare for this, I believe it is crucial to hold a vision of a new paradigm and a new way of living in a post-collapse world that will be the opposite of all of the things that have created the collapse over the past 5000 years. This is what I have attempted to explain in Sacred Demise.

JD: What do you mean by collapse?

CB: I mean that every institution you can think of in industrial, Western civilization is now crumbling. Examples: Public education, religion, government, finance, transportation, healthcare, law enforcement, culture—all of these are in a state of demise. They are not just changing or struggling, they are coming to an end. Every parent who has a child in a public school knows that public education is circling the drain. We’ve already had one major financial cataclysm in the fall of 2008, and the most learned economists who have never heard of Peak Oil or the Long Emergency are using the word “collapse” regularly to describe the state of the world economic system. Economic analyst, Paul Farrell of Marketwatch wrote in October, 2009 that “Collapse is Inevitable” and on March 9 of this year, he wrote that the collapse of the American empire will be silent, swift, and certain.

Some people like Mike Ruppert in his new movie “Collapse” and Richard Heinberg in his many writings are confirming that the concept of endless economic growth has just hit a brick wall called reality. Endless growth is by definition UN-sustainable.

This means living in a world where the only schools may be the ones that groups of parents create in their homes; the only government may be the ones that local communities hammer out together to create some semblance of order and structure in a chaotic world; it may mean that the only healthcare available will be alternative modalities offered by individuals or groups of people who have very limited equipment or supplies in order to do their work. Most certainly in a collapsing world there will no longer be a money system as we know it but rather, exchange will be based on an alternative currency or barter, and there will be an extensive underground economy.

We have one glaring model of collapse of an industrial society and that is the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 80s and 90s. Many of your viewers are familiar with Dmitry Orlov who lived through that collapse and has written extensively about it. His observations and recommendations are very instructive.

JD: How did we get here?

CB: I’m so glad you asked that question because I’m an historian having taught history in the college classroom for 10 years, and I know that if one knows the history of how something occurred, it makes dealing with an event much less baffling and paralyzing.

The original subtitle of my book was “Restoring Life on A Dying Planet.” In the word “restore” you hear the word “story.” The collapse of industrial civilization is a glaring example of a failed story—a story that doesn’t work, a story that is unsustainable. There are several components to this story such as: Humans are separated from nature; humans are superior to nature; some humans are superior to other humans; because humans are superior to nature, nature is there for them to conquer and use as they wish, and furthermore, those resources are endless. If you believe that earth’s resources are endless, then the next thing you are likely to believe is that your economic model can and should grow endlessly and without limits.

From these stories we make up other stories like: Some people are entitled to the resources, while others aren’t; there isn’t enough of “my” resources for everyone, so I’m going to build walls and establish armies around my resources, and how you get your resources isn’t my problem; OR—because I’m disconnected from nature, I’m disconnected from you. If I’m disconnected from you, then I don’t have to have a relationship with you or communicate with you. In fact, I can dominate you, use you, or ignore you. OR—bigger is better, and the more nationally or internationally the scale on which we operate, the better. From this comes the madness of globalization rather than the sanity of localization.

This failed story actually began when some humans began ignoring or attempting to eliminate the wisdom of indigenous peoples. Now besides the fact that indigenous wisdom is grounded in a deep connection with nature, one of the core principles of indigenous wisdom is the initiatory experience. That means that in order for the tribe or race to survive, young people must experience a rite of passage or initiation ceremony at the age of puberty which takes them to a deeper connection with themselves, the earth, and the community. It is the responsibility of the elders of the community to make this possible and to keep it happening for all youth in every generation.

The initiation is a life-altering event, and almost always a brush with death which changes the young person forever. Industrial civilization has rejected the validity of the initiatory process, but that didn’t eliminate it. Some people, including Jung, believe that the initiatory impulse is part of us, is even in our DNA, if you will. Jung argued that if you take away the initiatory experience contained in the community, initiations will happen anyway, but instead of happening in the containment of the community, they will happen through individual and collective adversities.

What I’m trying to say in Sacred Demise is that the collapse of industrial civilization is a collective and individual initiation and that it must be approached and appreciated in this way. I go to great lengths in the book to explain what this means for each one of us and for the world.

JD: What would a new story look like?

CB: It would be very much the reverse of the story I’ve just described, beginning with, I am not separate from nature but am a part of nature. The elements that make up that tree that I’m thinking about cutting down are the same chemical components that are in my body. This air that I’m pumping carbon into is the air that I breathe and that billions of other people breathe. In that air, we are all connected.

Part of the new story is that bigger is NOT better because bigger is not sustainable. Smallness of scale allows for more sustainability, more connection with nature, more connection with ourselves and each other. CONNECTION is the fundamental underpinning of the new story. It is the opposite of separation, conquest, and globalization.

I have an entire chapter in Sacred Demise on the new story, and one of the highlights of the book is 2 and ½ pages in that chapter of a hypothetical new story that I wrote as I considered the aspects of the old story that I have just been sharing. I’ve had some readers tell me that they have printed it out and keep it in a prominent place where they can read it every day. Part of our work in the collapse process is to make that story and make it happen.

JD: What is sacred about the demise?

CB: First, we need to look at the word “Sacred”. One of the meanings of sacred is “set apart.” In other words, something that is not ordinary, something that is unlike anything else. So the first thing to understand is that this demise is not just another “recession” or “downturn” or even “crisis.” In fact, a couple of weeks ago, New York governor David Paterson said, “We’ve crossed the rubicon. We have entered something way beyond a recession.” The collapse of industrial civilization is unlike anything that humans have experienced on this planet throughout their history.

Another meaning of sacred is that the sacred thing is connected with something greater than itself. Sometimes people are put off by the word “sacred” because they immediately assume that it has something to do with religion. Instead, it is more synonymous with the words cherished, hallowed, or revered. For me, there is a reverence and an awe when I speak or think about collapse because it is a phenomenon like a ferocious hurricane, a tumultuous earthquake, or a towering tsunami. It is unprecedented, it is global, it is unavoidable, and it will change everything, including perhaps earth’s geography. This is not so far-fetched when we consider that the recent 8.8 earthquake in Chile actually moved the earth’s axis a bit.

Some people erroneously call this an apocalypse as if collapse were the end of the world. What many people do not know is that the word apocalypse comes from a Latin word meaning “the unveiling”. Notice how many things right now are getting unveiled in unprecedented ways. It is not an ending, but an unveiling which can very well lead to a new beginning. Because the human race has never experienced anything like the collapse of industrial civilization, it stands, I believe, at an evolutionary threshold—an unprecedented opportunity to remake itself in terms of values, priorities, and how it relates to each other and the earth. I can’t think of anything more cherished, hallowed, or revered than this.

Our work now is to do two things: 1) To prepare ourselves logistically—and also emotionally and spiritually for this collapse, and 2) to find meaning in it. If we don’t prepare emotionally and spiritually, we are likely to succumb to profound dysfunction or even emotional breakdown. If we do prepare, we may be able to persevere when others who have no idea what is happening are unable to do so.

In terms of finding meaning, I need to say that I do not see human beings as machines or organisms that exist without meaning or purpose. Rather, I see humans as connected with something greater than themselves, and this connection, whether we are aware of it or not, gives meaning and purpose to our lives. The more conscious we are of that connection, the more tangible our purpose becomes.

Without question, collapse will result in suffering for the entire earth community, but Jung said that suffering in itself is not the worst thing that can befall a human being. The worst thing that can befall us, he said, is MEANINGLESS suffering. Nothing in history made this clearer than the Nazi holocaust of which survivors like Victor Frankl wrote that the people in the concentration camps who were most likely to persevere were those who were able to find meaning, no matter how small, in their day to day existence. Those who could not find meaning more quickly succumbed to despair and death.

It is the discovery of meaning, our willingness to pass through this initiatory process because we know it holds meaning for us, that is the sacred aspect of the demise. It is the opportunity to become a new kind of human being, a new kind of earth community that collapse is presenting us with. What could be more sacred?

JD: How do we create a new culture?

CB: I’m very glad you asked this question too because one of the realities of collapse is that many people will not survive. We’ve heard scientists like Albert Bartlett and William Catton tell us that the earth must shed several billion people in order to sustain itself. So the question becomes, not “how do I survive?” because many people won’t, but rather “What can I contribute to the initiation? What seeds can I plant for those who will survive—for those who will carry on? What does my species and the earth need from me? What are they asking for?”

Our work now is to enter collapse consciously with very clear intention of what seeds to plant and where. For myself, I am planting seeds with my books and at this point countless articles of my own and from others which are published on my Speaking Truth to Power website at www.carolynbaker.net. Sacred Demise as well as my other books can be ordered there.

Also in relation to my website, I publish a subscription-based Daily News Digest, seven days a week year-round unless I’m traveling or just not available—which is rare. Even when I’m traveling I usually manage to publish daily. The Digest is a collection of carefully selected, bundled alternative news stories pertaining to collapse and collapse preparation, that is, options for navigating the enormous changes ahead. When I began the digest four years ago, most of my stories were from non-mainstream sources, but the realities of collapse are now everywhere—in both mainstream and alternative news. Those involved with the Transition Movement may be aware that I am contributor writer to Transition Times, which is an online newspaper based here in Boulder, CO, and covering Transition issues here in Colorado and worldwide.

I am also offering local and long distance Transition Counseling for people who might be experiencing things like foreclosure, bankruptcy, job loss, loss of benefits or retirement or other Transition issues. This is not psychotherapy but counseling regarding navigating these changes and finding one’s purpose amid the loss. For further information, email me at Carolyn@carolynbaker.net.

In addition, I am offering Sacred Demise workshops which consist of Levels 1 and 2, providing people with an opportunity to come together for a weekend and go deeper into the initiatory process as individuals and as a group. These are powerful workshops for healing and support for collapse-aware individuals. Anyone interested in having one of these workshops in their area may email me and again the address is Carolyn@carolynbaker.net.

And very importantly, beginning April 24, I will be teaching a four-Saturday online course for Post Peak Living on “Navigating The Coming Chaos” which will go more deeply into the contents of Sacred Demise and related collapse studies. It will be a phenomenal opportunity for people to not only hear the lectures but to discuss their concerns with other students and with me and to really feel supported in their preparation for collapse. There is a significant discount for registering for the course by April 10, and the place to do that is at the Post Peak Living website which is www.postpeakliving.com.
Editorial Notes: Thanks very much to Keith Mac Cuish for turning the transcript around very quickly on this one. -KS

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