[I wrote this post on February 27, 2017, shortly after having the relevant dream.]
The other night I dreamed: I was on an upper level of a multi-story structure; I needed to reach the ground. Descending a winding exterior stone stair, I stopped short at a great gap. Was there any way I could safely jump to the next step? No, there was not. I would need to try something else.
Then I was indoors, on what seemed like a lower level of the same structure, still seeking a path down. How about that thick rope, just beyond a railing? Or the rope ladder a few feet farther away? The rope, in both cases, looked like jute or hemp – light brown, furry, likely to fray. Someone I’m inclined to trust on such matters (a builder from Earthaven) assured me the rope in the ladder would hold my weight. Still. Either I simply wanted additional options, or the risk seemed too great. I ventured further into the building’s interior, seeking another way.
There I found a white, high-backed swivel chair parked beneath another cut-off stair. The vertical gap was reasonable; I felt confident that I’d be able to lower myself from bottom step to seat. I thought, maybe this could work; maybe this is my solution. Even though, at best, it could offer only dependable passage between levels – not passage to the to the ground.
I believe this dream stems from my recent reading of three books addressing descent from, or the collapse of, industrial civilization. In metaphor, I’m seeking a fathomable way down.
The outdoor stair – of graying, even blackened, marble or sandstone or granite – recalls Roman ruins, Roman-style collapse: The empire explodes like an over-inflated balloon, the tribes melt back to the hinterlands. But by now most tribes have dispersed or disappeared, and we’ve ravaged (“developed”) the bulk of what once was hinterland. With whom, to what fertile haven, would we melt back?
The length of rope evokes the choice to hide out, hunker down, prepare to take care of yourself when the Matrix blinks out – while the rope ladder represents, perhaps, skilling up in community, in anticipation of the fall.
Of the four options my dream offered, I was most attracted to the stairs, and the chair, in the hall.
The stair ended in a boldly colored alcove, with a hot pink back wall and touches of bright green and yellow. Maybe light orange as well. The white of the chair matched the white edges of the steps. This path – well-lit, protected, fully visible and comprehensible, adorned beyond utility – may represent the art we make in quest of more than mere survival (though it may also be true that without beauty, form, and story no human can survive).
Which brings me back to the three horsemen of my current understanding of apocalypse, and their stories: Dmitry Orlov (Shrinking the Technosphere); Derrick Jensen (Deep Green Resistance); and Ted Kaczynski, aka “The Unabomber,” who is not crazy after all (Technological Slavery). (Rebecca Solnit, author of A Paradise Built in Hell, may well be the fourth horsewoman – more on that some other time.)
Orlov believes we can choose better and worse ways of engaging with technology, on and beyond the road to (inevitable) collapse. Jensen (along with co-authors Lierre Keith and Aric McBay) believes that large-scale technology (including the grid) and all fossil-fuel infrastructure must be destroyed by the resistance ASAP, before it chomps what’s left of the living. Kaczynski believes no compromise with technology is possible: Like a light switch, it’s either on or it’s off. He further believes that our best hope of avoiding ever worse oppression by machine is to destroy the techno-industrial complex through revolution (that is, obliterate current structures of control so thoroughly that they cannot be restored). Unlike the others, he does not see total ecological collapse as inevitable; perhaps, he says, the techno-industrial system – which wants above all to preserve and expand itself – will keep Earth alive, as a support matrix, while annihilating human dignity (for example, by reducing all or most humans to some form of slavery).
Orlov recommends becoming a nomad, or buying a boat, or moving to Siberia with what essentials you can haul on your back.
Do these options sound bleak? Wait till you hear what’s behind the other two doors!
Jensen et al say, join the race – either above or underground – to bring down the grid and halt fossil-fuel flows, before the fabric of life frays beyond repair. Kaczynski says, start laying the groundwork now for a revolution that may not manifest for decades.
As I write, I imagine wandering Orlov’s future, heading north each spring to avoid being broiled by the legacy of global warming. I imagine stumbling upon fellow humans, sharing tales of upheaval, revelation, survival. I imagine the colors brightening, the soul connections deepening, thanks to the passages we share.
Don’t we all secretly wish for crisis? Collapse? Maybe we’d like it to wait a little while – till our book’s in print, till we make our first million, till our kids grow up. But wouldn’t it be both thrilling and relieving to feel the sudden break of all our chains? To shift reliance from “large organizations” (as Kaczynski calls them) to self, family, community, tribe? What if the walls crumbled, between us and our neighbors? What if their kitchens and gardens became our kitchens and gardens, their bellies the storehouse for our excess? What if we regained capacity to provide, for ourselves and others, in a material way? What if our muscles sang with the joy of hard, necessary work? What if our entire village sang, during planting and harvest? What if we reclaimed ourselves, as sovereign beings? What if, with all our tender strength, we took each other back?