British classical scholar Peter Kingsley is widely known for having achieved mainstream academic credibility in his field before launching out in a new direction by writing several books in which he argues that (in the words of Wikipedia) “the writings of the presocratic philosophers Parmenides and Empedocles, usually seen as rational or scientific enterprises, were in fact expressions of a wider Greek mystical tradition that helped give rise to western philosophy and civilization. This tradition, according to Kingsley, was a way of life leading to the direct experience of reality and the recognition of one’s divinity. Yet, as Kingsley stresses, this was no ‘otherworldly’ mysticism: its chief figures were also lawgivers, diplomats, physicians, and even military men. The texts produced by this tradition are seamless fabrics of what later thought would distinguish as the separate areas of mysticism, science, healing, and art.”
Here he is talking to the editors of Parabola magazine in 2006 and saying things that resonate in some ways with my semi-ad hoc musings on the philosophical and spiritual side of the apocalyptic-seeming events of recent days and years here in America and elsewhere:
Every civilization comes into existence and lasts a few hundred or thousand years and then dies. We think we are different, but I’m sure the Babylonians felt the same way and the Egyptians and the Romans. Every culture is a certain experiment. Civilizations don’t just happen. As Rumi says, look back to the origin of every science and culture and you will find revelation or divine guidance at their source. We reject revelation in favor of reason, but what we have forgotten is that reason and logic are themselves gifts from the gods and have a sacred purpose. At the beginning of the Western world it was understood and taught that before you can start to learn chemistry or biology or astronomy or anything else you have to learn to breathe consciously, you have to learn a certain quality of attention and respectfulness. That is what Empedocles and other ancient teachers tell us. Reason, logic, the scientific disciplines, were all brought into existence from another world into this one as divine gifts and with certain warning labels attached: before attempting this, read the manual. Learn common sense, what it really is. Learn that everything given you is to serve a cosmic purpose.
So has this been a failed experiment? I don’t think it’s right to talk in terms of failure or success. What I do know is there is a certain quality of consciousness that appears at the beginning of civilizations which has to come back and be present at the end of civilizations. To me it is quite obvious that this is the end of a certain period in world history. We’re going through a period of huge transition from what used to be Western culture into something new. And now a certain stock-taking is needed. A return to the essence is required. The essence of each civilization needs to be carried consciously from the past into the present for the sake of the future. The legacy of the West, its true legacy, is a tradition now calling out to be redeemed. The spiritual impulse that originally gave rise to our Western culture is still present in its genes, its DNA; and if we ignore this impulse I think we are doomed. We will walk into the future empty-handed. There is a sacred purpose behind this culture and if we forget it we can import every other spiritual tradition in the world but nothing will make up for the dying, shriveling roots of our own culture.
More: “Common Sense: An Interview with Peter Kingsley” (pdf)
“When we get past the chaos, the horror, and the paradoxical hope of all that’s unfolding, what we’re talking about and living through is apocalyptic collapse as a spiritual path.”
Last Thursday I noted that we were then living through a week of apocalypse here in America. The very next day saw the first-ever police (and military) lockdown of an entire U.S. city in the service of a massive manhunt for a single (so we’re told) suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings. This prompted the Associated Press to produce its own article about the sense of collective calamity that had engulfed us:
Moment after nail-biting moment, the events shoved us through a week that felt like an unremitting series of tragedies: Deadly bombs. Poison letters. A town shattered by a colossal explosion. A violent manhunt that paralyzed a major city, emptying streets of people and filling them with heavily armed police and piercing sirens. Amid the chaos came an emotional Senate gun control vote that inflamed American divisions and evoked memories of the Newtown massacre. And through it all, torrential rain pushed the Mississippi River toward flood levels.
. . . America was rocked this week, in rare and frightening ways. We are only beginning to make sense of a series of events that moved so fast, so furiously as to almost defy attempts to figure them out.
. . . In 2001, we could walk away from our televisions. In 2013, bad news follows us everywhere. It’s on our computers at work and home, on our phones when we call our loved ones, on social media when we talk to our friends. “There’s no place to run, no place to hide,” said Dr. Stuart Fischoff, a professor of media psychology at California State University in Los Angeles. “It’s like perpetual shock. There’s no off button. That’s relatively unprecedented. We’re going to have to pay the price for that.”
. . . “Is this week feeling a little apocalyptic to anyone else?” tweeted Jessica Coen, editor in chief of the Jezebel.com blog. “Boston. Poison. Explosions. Floods. Tomorrow, locusts.”
— Jesse Washington, “Across America, a Week of Chaos, Horror — and Hope,” ABC News (AP), April 20, 2013
And so now we’re living with the open — and troubling — question of what the Boston phenomenon in particular may mean for life going forward: Read the rest of this entry
Chris Hedges has brought a lawsuit against President Obama for signing into law Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Here’s his explanation of what’s at stake. Read slowly and carefully, the better to take it in.
The section permits the military to detain anyone, including U.S. citizens, who “substantially support” — an undefined legal term — al-Qaida, the Taliban or “associated forces,” again a term that is legally undefined. Those detained can be imprisoned indefinitely by the military and denied due process until “the end of hostilities.” In an age of permanent war this is probably a lifetime. Anyone detained under the NDAA can be sent, according to Section (c)(4), to any “foreign country or entity.” This is, in essence, extraordinary rendition of U.S. citizens. It empowers the government to ship detainees to the jails of some of the most repressive regimes on earth.
… If we lose, the power of the military to detain citizens, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in military prisons will become a terrifying reality. Democrat or Republican. Occupy activist or libertarian. Socialist or tea party stalwart. It does not matter. This is not a partisan fight. Once the state seizes this unchecked power, it will inevitably create a secret, lawless world of indiscriminate violence, terror and gulags. I lived under several military dictatorships during the two decades I was a foreign correspondent. I know the beast.
… “The stakes are very high,” said attorney Carl Mayer, who with attorney Bruce Afran brought our case to trial, in addressing a Culture Project audience in Manhattan on Wednesday after the hearing. “What our case comes down to is: Are we going to have a civil justice system in the United States or a military justice system? The civil justice system is something that is ingrained in the Constitution. It was always very important in combating tyranny and building a democratic society. What the NDAA is trying to impose is a system of military justice that allows the military to police the streets of America to detain U.S. citizens, to detain residents in the United States in military prisons. Probably the most frightening aspect of the NDAA is that it allows for detention until ‘the end of hostilities.’ ”
… Five thousand years of human civilization has left behind innumerable ruins to remind us that the grand structures and complex societies we build, and foolishly venerate as immortal, crumble into dust. It is the descent that matters now. If the corporate state is handed the tools, as under Section 1021(b)(2) of the NDAA, to use deadly force and military power to criminalize dissent, then our decline will be one of repression, blood and suffering. No one, not least our corporate overlords, believes that our material conditions will improve with the impending collapse of globalization, the steady deterioration of the global economy, the decline of natural resources and the looming catastrophes of climate change.
But the global corporatists — who have created a new species of totalitarianism — demand, during our decay, total power to extract the last vestiges of profit from a degraded ecosystem and disempowered citizenry. The looming dystopia is visible in the skies of blighted postindustrial cities such as Flint, Mich., where drones circle like mechanical vultures. And in an era where the executive branch can draw up secret kill lists that include U.S. citizens, it would be naive to believe these domestic drones will remain unarmed.
— Chris Hedges, “The NDAA and the Death of the Democratic State,” Truthdig, February 11, 2013
Well, there you have it.
Using scientific theories, toy ecosystem modeling and paleontological evidence as a crystal ball, 18 scientists, including an SFU professor, predict the Earth’s ecosystems are careering towards an imminent, irreversible collapse.
In “Approaching a state-shift in Earth’s biosphere,” a paper just published in Nature, the authors examine the Earth’s accelerating loss of biodiversity, increasingly extreme climate fluctuations, its ecosystems’ growing connectedness and its radically changing total energy budget. They suggest these are all precursors to reaching a planetary state threshold or tipping point. Once that happens, which the authors predict could be this century, the planet’s ecosystems, as we know them, could quickly and irreversibly collapse.
“The last tipping point in Earth’s history occurred about 12,000 years ago when the planet went from being in the age of glaciers, which previously lasted 100,000 years, to being in its current interglacial state,” says Arne Mooers, SFU professor of biodiversity. “Once that tipping point was reached, the most extreme biological changes leading to our current state occurred within only 1,000 years. That’s like going from a baby to an adult state in less than a year. Importantly, the planet is changing even faster now.”
Mooers is one of the paper’s authors. He stresses, “The odds are very high that the next global state change will be extremely disruptive to our civilizations. Remember, we went from being hunter-gatherers to being moon-walkers during one of the most stable and benign periods in all of Earth’s history. “Once a threshold-induced planetary state-shift occurs, there’s no going back. So, if a system switches to a new state because you’ve added lots of energy, even if you take out the new energy, it won’t revert back to the old system. The planet doesn’t have any memory of the old state.”
— “Study predicts imminent irreversible planetary collapse,” SFU News Online (Simon Fraser University), June 8, 2012
The Nature study was of course reported elsewhere, with some exceptionally detailed information about it appearing in an article from Wired (“Is Humanity Pushing Earth Past a Tipping Point?“). But the SFU article wins the prize for most hair-raising title.
It also contains this admirably Armageddon-inflected and horror-filled final paragraph:
“In a nutshell, humans have not done anything really important to stave off the worst because the social structures for doing something just aren’t there,” says Mooers. “My colleagues who study climate-induced changes through the earth’s history are more than pretty worried. In fact, some are terrified.”
In the dark light of such things, we might do well to recall that James Lovelock, the father or grandfather of climate science, who made waves a few years ago by issuing some starkly doom-laden statements about the civilization-ending effects of climate change that he expected to play out over the course of this century and last for a millennium, reversed his position earlier this year and said that he and other scientists had been caught up in an attitude of undue alarmism.
So, who to believe? Given the manifest increase in wild and terribly destructive (and deadly) weather around the world, as seen on an epic scale most recently in the United States with the monster that was Hurricane Sandy — whose problematic aftermath is still unfolding and will continue to do so for a very long time — one can’t help thinking that at this point, on a practical level, it’s prudent to bracket out the scientific side of the question, bet on the negative outcome, and batten down the hatches.