Materialism and the Human Habitrail



Some of you may be familiar with John Michael Greer's Archdruid Report.  I believe there's some crossover in readership though his audience is considerably larger than mine. Greer writes mainly about environmental issues and peak oil and for the past few years has become a bit of a Cassandra, predicting the collapse of modern civilization.

I read his work though I always don't agree with his philosophies. I think it's a bit ironic that he's become so apocalyptic in his thinking since he first appeared on my radar, when my publisher asked me to review his book Apocalypse Not, an entertaining look at failed apocalyptic prophecies. But a while back he said something in particular I did agree with.

He was talking about the current vogue for nihilism (aka Nu Atheism) and predicted that it would reach a certain degree of popularity but never become truly dominant. The reason for this was that people were going to have experiences that would challenge their materialist worldview, specifically paranormal experiences. It's been a while but if memory serves he cited the kind of encounter I wrote about back in 2010 after live-blogging (as it were) on Facebook.

I was thinking about this while walking the dog past the spot of the sighting this afternoon. There were people about and she did what she does anytime we encounter other people or dogs on our walks, namely bark her brains out at them. 

As I wrote, that was one of the aspects of that encounter that led me to believe it was something out of the ordinary, that my dog didn't go nuts when the figure came out of the woods as she normally would, but instead studied it intently as something entirely new to her world.

I was thinking about my paranormal experiences today and how odd and patternless they seemed, and how it took me a long time to recognize one of them as such (the one in question was my "swamp gas story" until I actually went and researched swamp gas). I thought about how few in number they are which corresponds with my personal belief that genuine paranormal experience is a rare thing, as Paracelsus reminded us almost 600 years ago.

But I began to wonder if the fact that we are living in captivity these days- in what I call the Human Habitrail- contributes to that as well. One of the ways urban sophisticates dismissed UFO sightings was the fact that they often occurred in rural settings, witnessed by people cityfolk don't usually consider fully human. The fact that people in rural settings have a better view of the sky doesn't seem to occur to the scoffers.

Nowadays you'd be hard pressed to find anyone willing to pull their eyes away from their cellphones long enough to look at the sky at all. People spend most of their time looking at one screen or another, why should they wonder if nothing unusual ever crosses their path? They wouldn't notice it even if it did.

I was thinking about this when listening to a recent interview with Mike Clelland. It occurred to me that his own paranormal experiences had a lot to do with being out in the wild, out in the Big Empty where the sky is your viewscreen. It seemed that experiencing the paranormal was like any other opportunity, showing up was half the battle. Or maybe shutting out the rest of the world allows you to tune into other, stranger channels.

But there's a deeper issue at work.

I was reading the various articles following the recent death of Lee Kuan Kew, the man who transformed Singapore from a colonial backwater into a futuristic citystate. The transformation was impressive and people there enjoy a very high standard of living. Materialistically.

I add that disclaimer because read that Singapore was voted one of the most unhappy places in the world and like many hyperurbanized societies it is also undergoing a demographic implosion, with birthrates running less than half replacement.

We're not far behind here. I am certain that America as it currently constituted will cease to exist within my lifetime, and some of the many faultlines are city vs. suburb and city vs. country. Schisms will continue to multiply, accelerated by the Internet. 

Many young people want to live in the city (as I did) but the major cities are becoming prohibitively expensive for all but the rich. We're also seeing people leaving coastal states for the interior and cost of living is a major factor.

I could see cities like New York becoming Singapore-like citystates with all that entails. But can the human spirit persist in the human Habitrails that our cities are becoming? Singapore is not an outlier, many urbanized countries are experiencing the same problems. Is China's increasing embrace of Christianity a rebellion against the dialectical materialism enshrined in its modern founding?

I read that Aum Shinrikyo has caused a backlash against religion in Japan but that country is facing an existential crisis like few others; the sale of adult diapers now outpaces that for infants. It's ironic that materialism- whose root word is mater, mother- is such a surefire road to a childless society.

California had its own formula for the future, a neo-Feudalism based on high tech and Big Agriculture. But now they've hit a bit of roadblock, namely the kind of catastrophic drought that the state had experienced before it was home for 40 million+ people. 

So what do they do if a rabbit doesn't appear in the hat and the state becomes uninhabitable for the next century or so? That's an issue that will effect everyone everywhere.

Our current materialistic worldview will last only as long as there's plenty of material for everyone. But once there is not, things will change quite rapidly. I can't begin to imagine what kinds of worldviews will emerge in a hungry future, but I do know what will happen to the gurus of materialism.

Maybe Greer is right.  Maybe we're stuck on a road that no one seems to know how to get off. Maybe we're headed for the breakdown lane. But one thing I do know is that materialism is not enough, it doesn't fill human needs, no matter how aggressive its propagandists may be these days. We've got plenty of data that proves that materialism doesn't bring happiness and the human Habitrail all too quickly becomes a catacomb.

30 comments:

  1. It's funny, if you read the paranormal subreddits, from time-to-time you'll read a Bigfoot/Sasquatch story, told by skilled hunter who has lived his entire life in rural settings, and invariably a skeptic will dismiss the sighting as "probably just a bear", as if the author had no experience with bears and hadn't already ruled that out.

    Funny thing about dogs, they kind of know the score. Several months ago one of my dogs was dying, and I consulted a pet psychic so I could do right by her. She seemed to know she would be crossing over soon, and in her goodbye, told me that I needed "to look at the sky more".

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    1. I'm sorry for your loss. That's a fascinating story. I'd recommend you keep your eyes peeled- I'm a big believer in reincarnation, and especially in animal reincarnation. We've had a few pets return. Sounds crazy but so is life.

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    2. Thanks, Chris! My sister believes the same thing, thinks two of her dogs were reincarnations of past dogs. And the similarities in behavior cannot be fully explained by breed.

      I do plan to keep my eyes out for her (I had a number of odd experiences in her last month that were suggestive of the Universe signalling the possibility of her return). Another oddity is that the morning after she passed she expressed her preference for burial over cremation by fussing with our heating system (causing a temporary problem that had never occurred before and has never occurred since).

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  2. This is a great post, thanks. I often read Michael Greer as well, and I wonder if the flip side of the materialist coin is the scarcity coin. It's still all about Mater.

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    1. Thank you- it's always great to hear from you, Michael. Just like old times.

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    2. I like Greer's work, but I agree that he seems very focused on scarcity in a way that seems to preclude the ineffable. He's very very intelligent, but there seems to be a dimension where he lacks ... imagination?

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  3. The other day, as I was out for my early morning walk, I notced a lunar eclipse. I walked by this dude who had his face burried in cell phone, as he was out walking his dog. I said, "hey, check it out, there's a lunar eclipse." The dude kind of looks around a bit dazed, mumbles something unintelligible, them plunges face right back into his phone.

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    1. Sounds like the perfect metaphor for our age. Unbelievable.

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  4. Always look at the sky. I live in the outermost of NYC's outer boroughs and light pollution is diminished somewhat. I just came inside from smoking a gasper out on the deck, where I observed a full (or almost full) moon from a point of view I just picked up on a couple of months ago--don't look "up" at the lights in the sky. Gaze at the moon, stars, and planets as if they are on the same plane as you--not up but "over at," or even down upon them. Takes very little practice but you'll appreciate the new perspective in a wonderful way. --Johnny Walsh

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    1. It's good to get away from time to time. Cape Cod near the tip is a great place to see the stars at night.

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  5. "Nowadays you'd be hard pressed to find anyone willing to pull their eyes away from their cellphones long enough to look at the sky at all."...indeed. I am glad I find myself constantly looking up when I am outdoors.

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    1. I study the birds in the warm months. There's a whole different world for you, right above our heads. No one even notices them.

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  6. Chris...

    In regard to the Neo-feudal State of California and "Industrial Agriculture" ...gov. Jerry Brown just announced a mandatory 25% reduction in water use, State wide... except for Big Agriculture, which currently uses 75% of California's water.

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    1. And fracking too, which absolutely should be required to use ocean water. I don't understand that state anymore. I just don't want its feudal system to spread.

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  7. I always look at the sky when I am outside. Unfortunately, I'm not outside as much as I would like. I don't own a cell phone and don't have any plans to ever have one (my significant other does, so I'm covered mostly........she almost never buries her face in it either, thankfully). We are moving to a more rural area, though our driveway will let out onto a fairly busy state route. Still, there aren't many buildings around and I suspect the view of the night sky will be better than what we have now.

    Most people I know don't really give a second thought to their materialism. I'm not sure they are capable of it, having grown up in a culture that prizes it so highly (even in the 70's, when I was a child, it was picking up speed rapidly, then the 80's sealed the deal so to speak, making it mainstream and part of the "culture"). Even people who feel that we have done irreparable harm to the planet with our consumerism seem to think that owning a Prius and recycling absolves them of blame, as they stare at their iPhone made by slaves in a place were starvation is common, and abject poverty the norm.

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    1. Well said. I think far too much time, effort and money goes into projects (often funded by the poor) that don't benefit the majority of people if anyone at all and that's whilst many are struggling. It's quite sickening to watch.

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    2. I love seeing people bragging about how environmentally conscious they are on their bumper stickers. The reason being is that I am certain that they are actually not. The planet will heal itself, whether it will put up with us is another question entirely.

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    3. Chris, one of the things I like about Greer is that he continually reinforces the point that there is no way we can do long-term damage to the planet. The question is whether our insults, temporary though they may be for Earth, will be too severe for homo sapiens to survive.

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  8. Lee Kuan Yew. With a name like that, he seemed destined to be a bit obsessed with eugenics, which he was, which is why Singapore has turned out the way it has ... good, bad AND ugly. In the way way old days, women would ritually eat from the fruit of the yew tree in order to have control over who the males were that they would have children by and who the males were that they would not have children by. Yes, an abortifacient seed in the fruit the yew tree has. This, of course, upset the patriarchy who quickly set out to take control of the that specific tree, which they did, by planting their churches next to ancient yew trees ... all across Europe ... and slowly, generation after generation, the folk-knowledge of the "yewgenic" medicine-power of the yew faded away from collective common-knowledge memory.

    So, with a name like Yew, he did seem destined to implement a very intensely focussed eugenics-type plan , which was laid out and implemented shortly after he took office in the late 60's. Unfortunately, it was not a plan that had anything to do with actual medicine-trees, except in (his last) name only.

    Yew did receive his college education in England where the ancient yew trees still thrive ... mostly next to those very old churches which were planted next to those "abortion" trees.

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    1. His name is actually Kew, not Yew. But all this yew symbolism around is very interesting.

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    2. No, really ... His name is Lee Kuan Yew ... spelled the same as the tree. That's why I went on and on about it.

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    3. Ahh, so it is. Where did I get that spelling? Thanks, Page.

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  9. A few years ago, several companies including Bank of America, Pepsi and Time Warner released this video for their vision of the future, where agriculture and water are tightly controlled, most of the population live in "megacities" and your career is chosen for you (probably by the "megacomputer in charge" mentioned in the video). The best part is that in this cashless society, "calorie rations" are given out so your movements are monitored and based around how much physical energy you have, as there will be no use for vehicles (or free will): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRFsoRQYpFM

    Thinking about the future is so bleak but I'm trying to find some light in the dark, cold, foreboding aeon ahead. People ask me why I am always looking at the sky at night because we can't see much of anything in the city but it's just a habit from when I lived in the country as a kid. I recently came across an interesting family crest motto associated with my first name when used as a surname: "Quae/Quod Sursum Volo Videre" meaning "I want/wish to see that which is above/beyond".

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    1. I watched some of that video. Wow. I don't know if we'll get to that point though. We might experience some kind of catastrophic event before we get there.

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    2. Am I misreading the video? I would have thought that it was being presented as a warning of what could come, not as a blessing. There were a few key moments that seem to hint at the horrors (only rich people can drive cars, you can eat meat only on your birthday, you have to interact with loved ones via hologram).

      Or is the general public that far down the path already?

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    3. Can you imagine that, any things possible. Great work by the way Chris, thanks it's refreshing.

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  10. "Maybe we're stuck on a road that no one seems to know how to get off. Maybe we're headed for the breakdown lane."

    There's a school of thought that says that extremely complex and interrelated systems can't really be changed, but must be torn down and replaced. The system is just too complex to understand and it's inertial too powerful. Our attempts at fixing it often just make things worse. That's our world right there.

    This isn't the link I was hunting for, but it's similar: http://250words.com/2014/06/what-does-it-mean-that-the-world-is-complex-read-these-5-books-to-find-out/

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    1. One major solar flare and we're back to square one. Or one major asteroid or pandemic or pole shift. But I don't try to predict the future because it tends to make fools out of prophets. Thanks for the link.

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  11. I think no matter what, there will be aspects of breakaway civilisation that will survive as remnants. Maybe Cheyenne Mountain, Battelle Memorial, Lawrence Livermore, Sandia, Los Alamos, et al.
    Fertile grounds for the common folk to deal with. Myths, and such.

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  12. I've become very interested in the topic of these competing epistemologies - the Death Metal Materialism thing -vs- New Age Flakiness and everyone in between just trying to sort out the actual Facts of the Matter. This seemed like a good place to ask (as well as the Facestalk groups) for links/leads to where the New Atheist thing comes from and who funds it, &c... It seems inextricably tied into the Silicon Valley Libertarian thing, but I am having trouble connecting dots. I'm in a polite debate with a friend about things like telepathy, &c., so I like to have good sources to cite about whose agenda suits what ends and the like. Thanks for any recommendations.

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