Teeming Links – April 4, 2014

FireHead

The International Business Times has become a worldwide online phenomenon with its network of different news sites that reaches (or so it claims) 40 million people. Now it owns Newsweek. And, as explained by Mother Jones in an extensive article, IBT is anxious to hide its ties to an enigmatic religious figure.

Are you someone who, like me, has watched the movie Groundhog Day repeatedly? If so, here’s some good news from political scientist Charles Murray (best known as the co-author of the classic and controversial The Bell Curve): now you don’t have to read Aristotle’s Ethics, because the movie imparts the same truths.

What if we all decided to resist and rebuff the insufferable cult of productivity that has taken over our lives? What if we decided to create a society and culture where we work less so that we can live more? Robert Anton Wilson’s RICH Economy,” anyone?

Some are saying America’s recent flood of apocalyptic science fiction and fantasy movies indicates that Hollywood hates humans. Consider the new Noah movie, which radically transforms the Genesis story into a parable of divine wrath at humanity’s destruction of the natural environment.

On the other hand, maybe a different and very popular type of science fiction apocalypse sends a different message: this week Bill Clinton told Jimmy Kimmel that, as in Independence Day, an alien invasion might unite the human race:

Forget about offloading human intellectual power onto computers. Over at the always excellent Archdruid Report, John Michael Greer argues that, given the epic atrophy of America’s collective intellect in this age of ubiquitous, media-driven, partisan-powered hype and jingoism, and with all of us staring down the barrel of an energy-starved deindustrial future, there will be plenty of job openings for real-world versions of the hyper-intelligent mentats — humans with super-trained intellects — from Frank Herbert’s Dune.

And speaking of the human intellect, have you ever reflected on the awesome and mysterious power of naming? Consider:

The act of naming is one of the central mysteries of human cognition — it is the visible tip of an iceberg whose depth below the surface of conscious thought we have only just begun to plumb. . . . Maybe the story of Rumpelstiltskin, in its cryptic way, is trying to tell us two intertwined tales. On the one hand it is telling us that unnamed powers lurk in the shadows: capricious spirits that can both help and harm us. Like stories themselves, these powers may be infinite. Perhaps our rational concepts can never fully account for them. But on the other hand, it seems to be telling us that when malevolent or irrational forces manifest themselves, we can — if we’re lucky — name them and tame them. But maybe I’m wrong about this. After all,

The Tao that can be expressed
Is not the Tao of the Absolute.
The name that can be named
Is not the name of the Absolute.

It turns out that we have a quantum reality problem: “When the deepest theory we have seems to undermine science itself, some kind of collapse looks inevitable.”

Could our quantum crisis have a bearing on why physicists make up stories in the dark? Here’s science writer Philip Ball, from an article where he calls out the close relationship between the history of science and the history of spiritualism, psychical research, and more:

Before science had the means to explore [the realm of unseen realities], we had to make do with stories that became enshrined in myth and folklore. Those stories aren’t banished as science advances; they are simply reinvented. Scientists working at the forefront of the invisible will always be confronted with gaps in knowledge, understanding, and experimental capability. In the face of those limits, they draw unconsciously on the imagery of the old stories. This is a necessary part of science, and these stories can sometimes suggest genuinely productive scientific ideas. But the danger is that we will start to believe them at face value, mistaking them for theories. A backward glance at the history of the invisible shows how the narratives and tropes of myth and folklore can stimulate science, while showing that the truth will probably turn out to be far stranger and more unexpected than these old stories can accommodate.

Finally, while we’re talking about stories in the dark we would all do well to recognize the influence of Victorian mysticism and occultism on subsequent Western culture:

[The larger cultural tapestry is] an interweaving of mysticism, technology, and art that began at the turn of the last century and is still with us in the twenty-first. . . . One strand wove into the history of science and technology; another became the New Age Movement; another is emerging in the techno-utopian transhumanists of Silicon Valley, who (seemingly unwittingly) borrow themes and aims from theosophy. It’s hard to say where it all will take us. But it seems fair to say that Besant and Leadbeater played a small but intriguing role in shaping the globalized culture of the twenty-first century, which weaves together East and West, mysticism and rationalism, sound and sight.

 Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Uncanny impact: The paranormal implications of the missing Malaysian airliner

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I presume that at this point we’ve all heard about the (apparently serious?) speculations by a CNN personality that a black hole or an unspecified supernatural force might be responsible for the disappearance of Malaysian Flight MH370. Weird as this is, it’s only slightly weirder than the recent and sudden decision to radically relocate the search for the missing jetliner only a few days after the Malaysian Prime Minister issued an official statement confirming that the flight had gone down into the Indian Ocean, with “all lives lost.”

With all of this in mind, and on a much more subtle level of discourse than CNN’s spontaneous foray into fringe supernaturalism, here’s writer and independent scholar of religion Joseph Laycock offering some nicely penetrating thoughts on the possible paranormal implications of Flight MH370′s singularly strange disappearance. His thesis is that anomalous events like these tend to open people up, both individually and collectively, to a sense of the truly mysterious and uncanny, which in turns invites  both a profound transformation of worldviews and the mercenary attention of individuals seeking to make a profit by claiming some sort of paranormal power or authority.

Joe begins by noting that both the Israeli psychic Uri Geller (yes, that Uri Geller) and the Malaysian bomoh (shaman) Ibrahim Mat Zin recently claimed to have been contacted by government officials with requests to help with the search for the aircraft by using their supernatural / paranormal / psychic powers. Then he says this:

When an unprecedented event like the disappearance of flight MH370 occurs, it creates a vacuum of meaning. New models of reality are created almost immediately to account for it. The anthropologist Clifford Geertz gave the classic example of a “uncanny toadstool” — an unusually large toadstool that grew unusually quickly in a Javanese village. Villagers gathered from miles around and offered various explanations of how and why it had formed. The toadstool’s uncanny-ness had to be accounted for. Disasters are essentially the uncanny toadstool writ large: They present a similar threat to our understanding of the world. They also present an opportunity to reorder our model of the world and to introduce something new.

In some circumstances, a community’s need to make sense of the world in the wake of a mystery or disaster gives rise to seers and prophets. Charisma, among other things, is the ability to make claims about the way the world is and have them “stick.” This, I propose, is why the mystery of flight MH370 is so attractive to career-minded shamans and psychics. On some level these figures must sense there is some “ontological wiggle room” surrounding these events, which they can use to enhance their authority.

MORE: “Why the Disappeared Malaysian Airliner Brings Out the Paranormal

Image courtesy of photomyheart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

That Occulted Part of Ourselves: Interview with John Langan

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John Langan

John Langan is a professor, a literary scholar, and the author of the superlatively excellent supernatural horror collections Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Tales and The Wide Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies, as well as the equally excellent supernatural horror novel House of Windows.

In 2010 I interviewed him for Demon Muse. Then in 2013 I shut that site down after a four-year run because of repeated bot hacks, and because most of its aspects had basically been incorporated into The Teeming Brain anyway. But that meant John’s interview was lost.

This regrettable situation is now remedied and reversed, because as of this moment, John’s interview is republished here to join the ranks of the other Teeming Brain interviews that I’ve conducted over the years.

Here’s an illuminating and illustrative excerpt:

JOHN: As I see it, weird fiction is shot through with a deep ambivalence about human knowledge, which may well encode a kind of skepticism towards the Enlightenment’s general faith in rationality. After all, the figures of learning in these narratives are just as likely to unleash the supernatural threat as they are to contain or expel it. The anxiety over epistemology that lies at the heart of what may be my favorite Lovecraft story, “The Call of Cthulhu,” is something that the academy has been struggling with for the better part of the last four or five decades, in the wake of Derrida, Foucault, Lacan, Deleuze, etc. So it’s another level of convergence that I’m only too happy to exploit.

. . . One of my favorite quotations about human consciousness comes from D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature; in it, Lawrence, arguing with Ben Franklin, asserts that his self is a clearing in a dark forest into which strange gods come and go. I can remember sharing this with a particularly brilliant friend who said that if you could live as if this were true, your life would be remarkable. I can’t say that I’ve succeeded in living such a life, but I’ve remained convinced of the importance of that occulted part of ourselves.

FULL INTERVIEW: “That Occulted Part of Ourselves: A Conversation with John Langan

Photo courtesy of Ellen Datlow

Teeming Links – March 28, 2014

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It turns out that right as I was putting together last week’s Teeming Brain doom-and-gloom update, a new “official prophecy of doom” had just been issued from a very prominent and mainstream source: “Global warming will cause widespread conflict, displace millions of people and devastate the global economy. Leaked draft report from UN panel seen by The Independent is most comprehensive investigation into impact of climate change ever undertaken — and it’s not good news.”

Did President Obama really just try to defend the U.S. war in Iraq while delivering a speech criticizing Russia’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine? Why, yes. Yes, he did. (Quoth Bill Clinton at the 2012 Democratic Convention: “It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.”)

What used to be paranoid is now considered the essence of responsible parenting. Ours is an age of obsessive parental overprotectiveness.

FALSE: Mental illness is caused by a “chemical imbalance” in the brain. FALSE: The DSM, the psychiatric profession’s diagnostic Bible, is scientifically valid and reliable. The whole field of psychiatry is imploding before our eyes. (Also see this.)

And even as mainstream psychiatry is self-destructing, the orthodox gospel of healthy eating continues to crumble — a development now being tracked by mainstream journalism. Almost everything we’ve been told for the past four decades is wrong. In point of fact, fatty foods like butter and cheese are better for you than trans-fat margarines. There’s basically no link between fats and heart disease .

Meanwhile, researchers are giving psychedelics to cancer patients to help alleviate their despair — and it’s working:

They almost uniformly experienced a dramatic reduction in existential anxiety and depression, and an increased acceptance of the cancer, and the changes lasted a year or more and in some cases were permanent. . . . [Stephen] Ross [director of the Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse at Bellevue Hospital in New York] is part of a new generation of researchers who have re-discovered what scientists knew more than half a century ago: that psychedelics can be good medicine. . . . Scientists still don’t completely understand why psychedelics seem to offer a shortcut to spiritual enlightenment, allowing people to experience life-changing insights that they are often unable to achieve after decades of therapy. But researchers are hopeful that will change, and that the success of these new studies will signal a renaissance in research into these powerful mind-altering drugs.

Don’t look now, but the future is a social media-fied video game:

In five years’ time, all news articles will consist of a single coloured icon you click repeatedly to make info-nuggets fly out, accompanied by musical notes, like a cross between Flappy Bird and Newsnight. . . . Meanwhile, video games and social media will combine to create a world in which you unlock exciting advantages in real life by accruing followers and influence. Every major city will house a glamorous gentrified enclave to which only successful social brand identities (or “people” as they used to be known) with more than 300,000 followers will be permitted entry, and a load of cardboard boxes and dog shit on the outside for everybody else.

Deflating the digital humanists:

[To portray their work] as part of a Copernican turn in the humanities overstates the extent to which it is anything more than a very useful tool for quantifying cultural and intellectual trends. It’s a new way of gathering information about culture, rather than a new way of thinking about it or of understanding it — things for which we continue to rely on the analog humanities.

Science and “progress” can’t tell us how to live. They can’t address the deep meaning of life, the universe, and everything. So where to turn? How about philosophy, which is unendingly relevant:

We are deluged with information; we know how to track down facts in seconds; the scientific method produces new discoveries every day. But what does all that mean for us? . . . The grand forward push of human knowledge requires each of us to begin by trying to think independently, to recognize that knowledge is more than information, to see that we are moral beings who must closely interrogate both ourselves and the world we inhabit — to live, as Socrates recommended, an examined life.

Take this, all of you scoffers at Fortean phenomena (and/or at Sharknado): “When Animals Fall from the Sky: The Surprising Science of Animal Rain

Finally, here’s a neat look at the evolution of popular American cinema in 3 minutes, underlaid by Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”:

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Rebranding Giordano Bruno: How the new ‘Cosmos’ spins the history of religion and science

The updated/remade version of the classic Carl Sagan series Cosmos has been drawing lots of attention in the past few weeks, both positive and negative, and one of the areas that has come under the most scrutiny is the show’s inaccurate portrayal of Giordano Bruno, the sixteenth-century philosopher, occultist, mystic, and proto-scientist whose life and death (he was burned at the stake for heresy in 1600) have been exalted to legendary status in the Western cultural narrative of the war between religion and science. (This is despite the fact that the man’s name and memory have remained relatively obscure in mainstream popular awareness.)

Bruno held and taught a heliocentric view of the universe whose scope exceeded even Galileo’s attempt to build on the Copernican model, and the story that is commonly told today — including by the new Cosmos — is that he was a martyr for science in an age of benighted and militant ignorance, when religious authorities waged a merciless campaign against freedom of thought.

Many observers have weighed in on the problems with this approach to Bruno in the past few weeks. The chatter has been extensive enough that it has even drawn a response from one of the series’ co-writers.

One entry in the conversation that I find to be especially astute and important comes from the pen/word processor of Daily Beast writer and editor David Sessions, who argues that the Cosmos portrayal underscores our tendency to rewrite the past to conform to currently fashionable biases, ideologies, and cultural narratives — in this case, the very narrative of the “war between religion and science” itself, with religion framed as the villain and science as the hero:

Bruno, according to Cosmos, wandered around Europe, arguing passionately but fruitlessly for his new explanation of the universe, only to be mocked, impoverished, and eventually imprisoned and executed. Catholic authorities are depicted as cartoon ghouls, and introduced with sinister theme music. [Host Neil Degrasse] Tyson explains that the church’s modus operandi was to “investigate and torment anyone who voiced views that differed from theirs.”

What Cosmos doesn’t mention is that Bruno’s conflict with the Catholic Church was theological, not scientific, even if it did involve his wild — and occasionally correct — guesses about the universe. As Discover magazine’s Corey Powell pointed out, the philosophers of the 16th century weren’t anything like scientists in the modern sense. Bruno, for instance, was a “pandeist,” which is the belief that God had transformed himself into all matter and ceased to exist as a distinct entity in himself. He believed in all sort of magic and spirits, and extrapolated those views far beyond his ideas about the infinity of the universe. In contrast to contemporaries who drew more modest conclusions from their similar ideas, Bruno agitated for an elaborate counter-theology, and was (unlike the poor, humble outcast portrayed in Cosmos) supported by powerful royal benefactors. The church didn’t even have a position on whether the Earth orbited the sun, and didn’t bring it up at Bruno’s trial. While the early-modern religious persecution certainly can’t be denied, Bruno was killed because he flamboyantly denied basic tenets of the Catholic faith, not because religious authorities were out to suppress all “freedom of thought.”

Cosmos’ treatment of Bruno as a “martyr for science” is just a small example of a kind of cultural myth we tell ourselves about the development of modern society, one that’s almost completely divorced from the messy reality. It’s a story of an upward march from ignorance and darkness, where bold, rebel intellectuals like Bruno faced down the tyrannical dogma of religion and eventually gave us secularism, democracy, and prosperity. Iconoclastic individuals are our heroes, and big, bad institutions — monarchies, patriarchies, churches — are the villains. In the process, our fascinating, convoluted history gets flattened into a kind of secular Bible story to remind us why individual freedom and “separation of church and state” are the most important things for us to believe in.

The real path to our modern selves is much more complicated — so complicated that academic historians still endlessly debate how it happened.

. . . [T]hat Cosmos added an unnecessary and skewed version of Bruno — especially one skewed in this particular way — is a good miniature lesson about our tendency to turn the past into propaganda for our preferred view of the present. There are cultural, religious, and even political reasons that the story of scientific progress and political enlightenment are [sic] so attractive, and filter down even into our children’s entertainment. It allows us to see ourselves as the apex of history, the culmination of an inevitable, upward surge of improvement. It reassures us that our political values are righteous, and reminds us who the enemies are. The messy, complex, non-linear movement of actual history, by contrast, is unsettling, humbling — even terrifying.

MORE: “How ‘Cosmos’ Bungles the History of Religion and Science

For more on the subtle history of the relationship between religion and science, and also the whitewashed/propagandistic mainstream secular narrative about it, I recommend David Metcalfe’s Teeming Brain column De Umbris Idearum, whose title is in fact drawn from the work of Giordano Bruno. See especially “Humility and Silence: Where True Science and True Spirituality Meet” and “Science, Philosophy, Theology: If the Mirrors We Make Are Monstrous, So Too Are We.”

The Cultural Sounds of Apocalypse

Sounds of Apocalypse, Part Two

The_Walls_of_Jericho_Fall_Down_by_Gustav_Dore

“The Walls of Jericho Fall Down” by Gustave Doré

This is Part Two of contributor Dominik Irtenkauf’s four-part essay “Sounds of Apocalypse.” Before reading it you may want to read Part One, “Roar of Creation and Destruction,” in which Dominik lays the explanatory groundwork for the theme he is pursuing.

The word “apocalypse” derives from the Ancient Greek language and originally meant “the unveiling of secrets.” But since the canonical Christian document by St. John refers to this revealing as the overture to the end of the world as we know it, the idea of the apocalypse became colloquially linked to this very idea: the end of the world. Human beings are able to predict events to a certain degree, and even more, they can imagine worlds and states they haven’t experienced before. However, the mash-up network of fiction and truth, real experiences and second-hand representations (either in personal experience, films, or books), doesn’t really entail different levels of fear, because fear erodes any distinguishable borders. It’s the sheer will to survive which remains intact.

Augmenting this with a term from Georges Bataille, we see that we can almost reach the reality of imaginary events by means of “inner experience”:

I call experience a voyage to the end of the possible of man. Anyone may not embark on this voyage but if he does embark on it, this supposes the negation of the authorities, the existing values which limit the possible. By the virtue of the fact that it is negation of other values, other authorities, experience, having a positive existence, becomes itself value and authority. (Bataille, p.  7)

So can we experience the apocalypse as living beings simply by imagination? The cultural products of the apocalypse meme tell us that it is very possible. Read the rest of this entry

Is the unconscious the door through which the divine speaks?

Fury_of_Achilles_1737_by_Charles-Antoine_Coypel

From an engaging discussion of Julian Jaynes’ bicameral mind theory by writer and philosophy commentator Jules Evans, at his website Philosophy for Life:

I’m particularly interested in the link between voice-hearing, dissociation and creativity, and in the incidence of voice-hearing among creative individuals like novelists Marilynne Robinson (who occasionally hears a voice inspiring her novels), comedians Graham Linehan and Jonny Vegas (both of whom hear or have heard voices), and musicians like Lady Gaga and David Bowie (the former says she heard voices and started to act them out as personae, while the latter likewise embodied and acted out radically different personalities and has a history of schizophrenia in his family).

Not to mention the dissociative capacity of gifted actors to become other people (Le Carre called Alec Guinness’ ability to become someone else a ‘complete self-enchantment, a controlled schizophrenia’); or all the many poets and song-writers who say their poems came to them from a voice / presence / spirit / muse.

What Jaynes fails to address, I’d suggest, is the value of these ‘vestiges of the bicameral mind’. When we seem to feel or hear messages from the beyond, it’s not just a primitive throwback to Homeric times. These messages sometimes tell us something useful, beautiful and wise, something our ordinary consciousness does not know. They are often sources of moral inspiration or consolation. I’d suggest the right hemisphere is still not entirely accessible to our ordinary consciousness, and there is a value in learning how to access it through things like meditation, trance states or techniques of ecstasy (though of course there are risks as well, particularly if you end up with an inflated or Messianic sense of self).

To go a step further into the mystical, if we do receive inspiration through the right hemisphere, does that mean the origin is definitely purely material or neurochemical? Could we not consider William James’ hypothesis that the right hemisphere / unconscious is the door through which the divine speaks to us? Such has been the suggestion of various spiritual critics of Jaynes’ theory, from Owen Barfield to Philip K. Dick.

Still, the voice-hearing network is fascinating, from a theological perspective, because in some ways it suggests a very modern attitude to the gods. We hear their commands, and yet we don’t have to obey unquestioningly. We relate to them less as a child to their all-powerful father, and more like a friend to their equal, rather like Lyra’s friendship with her daemon, Pantalaimon, in Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials. Happiness, then, is eudaimonia: having a friendly daemon to keep one company in life and through death.

Very well, says my daemon, looking over my shoulder as I write. But who made the daemons?

MORE: “Gods, Voice-Hearing, and the Bicameral Mind

Image: “The Fury of Achilles,” 1737, by Charles-Antoine Coypel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Teeming Links – March 21, 2014

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why great artists need solitude: because it “heightens artistic receptivity in a way that can be challenging and painful.”

The Obama administration aggressively prosecutes leakers. It electronically spies on those who might speak to journalists. It deploys its own counter-media to confuse and evade scrutiny by the press. It is, in short, “a closed, control freak administration.”

Michael Dirda on the lessons provided by the late Cornell scholar Lane Cooper for both life and literature:

[I am a reader] with a passion for “low” literature, for adventure stories and fantasy and science fiction and mysteries and romance. And yet. And yet. Something in me deeply responds to, even if it cannot wholly emulate, such men as Cooper and Bongiorno. I envy their wisdom, their beautiful souls, their serene and noble spirits. Because of them I try to write about books that matter, whatever their genre, and, as often as possible, to urge the rediscovery or renewed appreciation of great works from the past.

The dystopian death spiral of American higher education: In the age of predatory corporate capitalism, faculty are slave labor and students are lambs for slaughter. “Ours is the generation that stood by gawking while a handful of parasites and billionaires smashed it for their own benefit.”

The Network-Based Interpretation of Dreams: By mapping the links between themes that appear in dreams, network scientists reveal the connections between dreams in different cultures for the first time.

As it turns out, the 2012 apocalypse almost literally happened (but a few months ahead of the putative Mayan schedule) due to a massive solar flare.

The I Ching is an uncertainty machine: “The I Ching repeatedly prompts me to go beyond false certainties and to create new and unexpected possibilities. In this way, divination might not be the enemy of rational thought but could be a means to its fuller flourishing.” (Also see “Meditation, the daimon muse, and the I Ching.“)

Did the U.S. government pay a Hollywood special effects expert to create fake alien bodies for a disinformation campaign against the Soviets? Nick Redfern makes a compellingly suggestive and suggestively compelling case:

So, we have one man claiming to have made alien bodies to fool the Soviets and (in a fictional setting) we have a government creating a monster to fool the Germans. There is a Billy Wilder tie to both issues (in the sense that the source of the above-story worked with Wilder, and Wilder himself directed, produced and co-wrote The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes), and both Wilder and the man behind the “alien dummies” ruse worked with the Psychological Warfare Department on Death Mills. Somewhere, in this convoluted saga, I suspect, there is a big secret just waiting to be uncovered.”

Richard Smoley on Colin Wilson, Faculty X, and waking up from the trance of everyday existence:

It is this self-remembering, this awakening, deliberate or inadvertent, that Wilson discovers in many accounts of mystical experience. Gurdjieff might have agreed. When asked once what higher consciousness was like, he replied, “Everything more vivid.” For Wilson, this awakening is the gateway to what he calls Faculty X, which he calls “the power to grasp reality,” and which “unites the two halves of man’s mind, conscious and unconscious” . . . . If we are to win the war against the sleep of everyday life, it will not come out of technology nor even from political or social reform, as much as this may be needed. It will come from the liberation of individuals who awaken from the dreams that pass across their televisions and computer screens — and their minds — and are able to say, “I – here now.”

 

Video: Christopher Walken can’t stop dancing

Yes, I talk a lot about the damnability of the Internet’s inbuilt capacity for destructive distraction, but damn, sometimes the whole thing is hugely useful for circulating a dose of pure fun. And if this mashup of nearly 70 movies featuring a vigorously dancing Christopher Walken, set to a very familiar and appropriate song, isn’t pure fun, then I don’t know what is. It also integrates a smattering of archetypal Walkenisms — various verbal intonations, facial expressions, and bits of body language — that any consumer of movie and media culture in the past 40 years will find familiar. (Note: Beware a few faint, fleeting moments of NSFW imagery.)

Kudos to Ben Craw, video editor at The Huffington Post, for this wonderfully conceived and created slice of entertainment. You can see a full list of the movies he used here.

Collapse and dystopia: Three recent updates on our possible future

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It looks like we can forget about “collapse fatigue,” the term — which I just now made up (or maybe not) — for the eventual exhaustion of the doom-and-collapse meme that has been raging its way through our collective public discourse and private psyches for the past decade-plus. I say this based on three recent items that have come to my attention spontaneously, as in, I didn’t go looking for them, but instead found them shoved into my awareness.

ONE: Just a couple of weeks after James Howard Kunstler asked “Are You Crazy to Continue Believing in Collapse?” — and answered, in sum, “No” — we now see that

TWO: a new collapse warning of rather epic proportions and pedigree has begun making its way through the online doom-o-sphere, starting with a piece in The Guardian:

A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution. Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common.”

. . . By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.

These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”

. . . Modelling a range of different scenarios, Motesharri and his colleagues conclude that under conditions “closely reflecting the reality of the world today . . . we find that collapse is difficult to avoid.”

FULL TEXT:
Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for ‘irreversible collapse’?

The study highlights, in a manner reminiscent of dystopian science fiction, the specific way this division into Elites and Masses not only might play out but has played out in the histories of real societies and civilizations: Read the rest of this entry