Flexible Fed Chairman and A Tale of Abu Dhabi Santas

I love words, don’t you? Words can be so fun when you put them together in funny, fun ways. Take, as an example, Mr. Bernanke’s latest remarks:

“We at the Federal Reserve will have to remain exceptionally alert and flexible as we continue to assess how best to promote sustainable economic growth and price stability in the United States.”

Oh, no! Mr. Bernanke. I’m confused. You said “sustainable” and “growth.” I didn’t think we could put those two words together to make a sensible sentence. Or maybe he means “sustainable” like “growth and growth and growth” all at the same rate. But isn’t that exponential growth?

He didn’t read my piece yesterday, that the next NEW NEW THING is NO GROWTH.

But don’t worry. Mr. Bernanke is going to remain “exceptionally alert and flexible” as he tries to figure out how to BEST promote that growth…” Remaining just everyday “alert and flexible” isn’t adequate. These are exceptional times that call for exceptional alertness. And why is he so remarkably alert? CNN says it’s all because of us. He’s worried about the strength of our (consumer) spending.

I think we should all be “exceptionally alert and flexible” about our spending, too. My hunch is that we’ve gotten so good and strong at spending that maybe we should become more alert about whether or not we spend strong at all, this holiday season. It would take a lot of “strength” to reign in that sort of spending, wouldn’t it?

Golly, I just love Fed Chairmen, don’t you? They are sitting there, all alert and flexible, just watching and ready to help. Mr. Greenspan helped us with all of those flexible mortgages and now here’s Mr. Bernanke wanting to help us out as well.

But I have my own concerns, right now, and I’m just worried as all heck about Citigroup. They need money. Do you owe Citigroup any money? Any outstanding mortgages or credit card debt? I think it is all time we, those caring consumers, send in bigger payments to Citigroup this holiday season, and be the US version of their Abu Dhabi Santa. But don’t be a Scrooge. If you owe other big banks, send them what you can spare, as well.

Bo Brownstein, an analyst covering financial stocks at Cambiar Investors in Denver, Colorado, tells us: “Citi is big, it’s widely followed, and when people see confidence in it, it should mean something.” Let’s see, what should it mean to people? Maybe it means that we should be strong and flexible and spend money this holiday season!

Everyone seems to want to help Citi and even Abu Dhabi is competing with Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal to become Citi’s largest shareholder. But WAIT! We citizens of the US are generous too, because 60 percent of that 11% interest AbuDhabi gets is tax-deductible. So I guess we are tax Santa’s!

Oil countries just seem to be in a sharing mood, or at least that’s what Wall Street hopes. Maybe since they got tons and tons of money from that five-fold increase in the price of crude oil during the last six years, they might be in a giving mood. We hope and hope that if OPEC will decide to play Oil Santa this December, and pump more of that oil that all Panglossians are sure is just begging to be pumped out, the price will drop and we’ll all have a very Merry Christmas. Open your pumps and we’ll open our wallets!

“No,” said the reluctant Oil Giants. “…we may not give you more oil. You have been a bad, bad dollar. You keep pretending you are worth more than you are! More oil will not resolve your problem. Even if we give you more, you will keep running up the price and won’t refine all that crude in a timely manner.”

“Please, please, raise production” the hungry traders cried, like baby wolves jumping at Mommy’s face after her hunt.

“Maybe we will decide to raise production, maybe we won’t.” OPEC replied.

Maybe they will tell us after the holidays, after we’ve opened up our wallets.

“Pump it!”

“No, Spend it!”

“No, You Pump First!”

“No, We’ll Tell You AFTER You Spend!”

We are so happy that oil has slumped to the low, low price of under $90 a barrel. It’s so cheap now, we should all be driving more! But wait, isn’t a slump a bad thing?

Well, it doesn’t matter, because we all must hope that the OPEC Santas HAVE more production to give, and they aren’t just crying “Wolf!”

What a Way to Go? Nah, I’m not headed there. I gut my GPS Up and Running!

 

(Or, from the TV show Extras: “Don’t Go Down There! There’s Doomers Down There!”)

Have you read Sally Erickson’s brilliant post? You’ll want to read her first, and check back here if you have time. Find her here.

She’s one of the creators of ”What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire,” and in her blog entry, talks about the audience’s reactions to watching the film:

Erickson: “Most, even after they see our movie, continue to think there’s time to create a mass awakening, a popular uprising, a reformation.”

Yes, there is a herd mentality that says “I’ll get other people to change, and that will motivate me to,” or “why should I change if they don’t?” It is such a shock to believe, as I do, that it happens one single individual at a time, on their own, standing up and saying “No, not anymore. I can’t keep living like this.”

We are used to thinking in the dichotomy of “individual” or “group” which is part of our cultural norm. There are “humans” and there is “the earth.” But aren’t we all connected by an invisible elastic band? Don’t we feel depressed because we are destroying the earth around us? Haven’t we noticed that the stuff we get at the holidays leaves us feeling the same or worse the day after? As we make that sudden shift, that willingness to feel discomfort reverberates down the connection.

Erickson: “They continue to think there’s decades yet ahead in order to turn away from catastrophe, that it’s possible to solve our energy and climate and ecological holocaust. But you don’t solve a holocaust. At best, maybe you survive it.”

Woody Allen had people tell him: “I liked your funny ones (movies) better.” “If you cannot bring good news, then don’t bring any” to quote Dylan.

Survive it? Is she joking? Look around. We’ve got our internet connection and iPod, and the malls are brimming with holiday gifts. We’ve heard that “Boy who cried Apocalypse” once too often, and we know better now. It always gets better. We all remember Y2K. I peed, again, in the pool, and you see? No one noticed. Nothing bad happened. Nothing WILL happen, because we are the King Babies of our world, and we SAY SO!”

Erickson: “We were not naïve about the lack of awareness. We were naïve about the lack of desire for that awareness. People don’t really want to know. And a surprising number of people acknowledge that. They don’t want to know because they realize they are already depressed. They are depressed and discouraged. And they believe they would rather be numb and distracted. They don’t see a way through the depression and discouragement so they turn their backs and resolve not to look.”

We’ve been taught passivity in all quarters, and now we wait. We wait for a mass uprising. We wait for an informed and powerful leader. We wait for clues from our environment that it’s really gotten “that bad.” But of course, even the words that it has really gotten “that bad” are surrounded by our Christmas presents. We hardly notice the coal in our stocking. We’ve lost 1/3 of our polar ice cap, but Hurray! We can now drill there for oil! Hurray! We can take cruises there! Watch the Polar Bears swim! Swim, Polar Bears, Swim! Let’s build them a plastic moat so they can have someplace to land! (Please send your donations to the address listed below…)

Erickson: “…the movie actually becomes part of their sophisticated denial system. Having seen it they believe what is not true, and what is true seems to go right over their heads. Maybe it’s too smart. And paradoxically, maybe it’s too compelling. Most people don’t seem to want to think that hard. And they don’t seem to want to feel that much, either. So they don’t watch it again and again, as we have, so they won’t go back to sleep.”

“What do you want from us, Sally?” we ask. “Can’t you see we are already having a rough time? The USA’s middle class has been eroded away. Our retirements will soon be a figment of our imaginations. We’re over-mortgaged and under-saved, and we’ve even blown the largest transfer of wealth from one generation to the next. And have you seen the price of gas?”

And what DO the Sallys and Tims (and Kathys) want from their audiences and from themselves? We are asking ourselves to tolerate discomfort. The opposite of being “asleep” isn’t “being awake.” It is the willingness to tolerate pain for growth. Pain we got, and plenty of. The question is not “pain or no pain?” The question is pain with a purpose or more of the same.

Sally is right. We might be willing to DO something, if it fits within our paradigm. We can buy something. We can use something. We can donate to something. We might even read something. But now you ask us to feel uncomfortable, and frankly, we are already uncomfortable. The very way we live makes us so profoundly uneasy, that we have to deny that it does. We love having centralized air and heat. We love the selection at the Supermarket. We are hedonists! We love our computer toys, and we love to call ourselves “awake,” and those other people over there “asleep.” We can even come to believe it, because, look here, we’ve left our homes and drove here to watch your movie, Sally. Aren’t you a bit ungrateful? Don’t we get to be considered “honest and smart” that we can even tell you that “we don’t want to know?”

Erickson: “They wanted to believe that because the movie had been made it was an indication that things are getting better. They wanted to don a blank, hopeful, smile and declare weakly “People are waking up!” Other people. Because it’s always other people that need to wake up. Not us.”

I think the frame of “waking up” and “being asleep” is the wrong one, Sally. I can wake up for an instant, and claim I’m awake. But awake or asleep, we can still remain unchanged, and it is the discomfort in changing that will bring us to repeated consciousness.

“Discomfort as we change.” It’s the ‘hit upside the head.’ It is the next “New, New Thing.”

My discomfort connects me to this planet. Is my house comfortably warm? Turn down the heat. Do I feel content about the amount I drive? Reduce it by half. Do I feel I’ve brought my spending under control? Reduce it by three-quarters.

We ask you, Sally “What should I do?” but please, give us an answer we’ll like. I want to feel good about myself and know that I’ve changed enough. Done enough. Made an impact. You depress me when you say their might be no hope, because I already feel hopeless, so you need to feed me hope. Of course, hopelessness allows me not to have to change, so I suppose that is a bit comforting. I don’t have to be uncomfortable if I’m hopeless and helpless. Like Scarlett O’Hara, I’ll just have to think about that tomorrow. Or maybe like “God in a Box” something will pop up and rescue us at the last moment.

Erickson: “We are the choir. We don’t need preaching to.”

Yes, we do. We do because we label ourselves the choir, and we don’t want to be preached to. We are the ones telling other people what to watch, or what not to buy or what not to use. We are telling you not just how to “survive” but how to “thrive” (see front page of www.peakoilblues.com) I blog, Sally, therefore I am.

“YOU still use a CLOTHES DRYER? How UNSUSTAINABLE!”

I don’t want to silence myself. I want to preach. I don’t want to talk about the coffee I drink that’s imported thousands of miles I want to point out what you aren’t doing and brag. Humble myself? No, damn, prostrate myself, and then watch how I want to be that guy in the Temple who says to his buddy “Look who thinks he’s not worthy.”*

I’ll do it if it is the next New New Thing. But where do I get the recognition for all of my discomfort?

Erickson: “When people don’t want to wake up to the nightmare, but are faced with an accurate and compelling assessment of their condition, they can, and will, relegate that experience to the file they’ve created in their heads labeled ‘Horror Movies and Other Things I Don’t Want to Believe Are True.’”

I had a woman I never met preview Sally and Tim’s movie, and afterward, she said “I tried ‘going back to the land,’ and I didn’t like it. The work was too hard and everyone was too tired after picking blueberries all day to want to socialize with each other. I prefer to have the time to be thoughtful and intellectual.” I thought about her statement for a few days, and considered the assumptions it contained. (1) She thinks she has a choice and; (2) she sees “work” and “socializing” as two separate activities. This is a bizarre notion to most of the people on this planet. We have the luxury, you and I, right now, to watch “What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire,” and say “Boy, I’m glad that’s over. That was SCAREY.” But for how long?

I’m sure I’ll know when I’ve really got to do something, won’t I Sally? Won’t it be on the evening news? Oh, wait, I do remember hearing about something along those lines, but then the commercial came on, so who could take THAT seriously?

It is time to stop saying “them and us,” because folks, we are them and them is us. I woke yesterday in the middle of the night, and all of it was dark. I stumbled to find candles, and went down to call the electric company, type in my account number, and hear the automated voice tell me “We don’t know when your electricity will be restored but most outages are resolved within 2 hours” and it was. Surprise! It was! But will they change the message when most are resolved in 4 hours, 24 hours, a week? I was grateful for that outage, because I started to wonder what was left undone (a lot.)

Erickson: “Just Another Horror Movie. And, having filed the experience away, they then go back to sleep. They step into the fantasy that “green business” is selling: the solution to our environmental and social and resource problems is to be good consumers and to buy more stuff, green stuff. After all, people vote with their dollars don’t they?”

Or we act from our “consciousness” and our “feelings.” That’s the myth I’ve embraced, isn’t it? “Not Surviving. Thriving.” We can all thrive when we feel our feelings, watch that movie 30 times, and go buy that hybrid. We feel, therefore we are.

No. Feeling isn’t enough. Awareness isn’t enough. We have to do something, probably much more than any of us want to do. Thriving means to “prosper by shrinking down.” Being “successful by failing to become successful.” Conducting the daily tasks of living smaller and being increasingly grateful. And, paradoxically, like an onion, the more layers you peel off, the more you see underneath to peel. Cutting back and cutting down and cutting out is the new frontier. And no, we won’t buy the book or the instructional video that will teach us how to do it. We’ll just do it. Like that sneaker commercial.

Thanks, Sally for that Whack upside the Head. Keep it up.

_____________

*There are two guys, a doctor and a lawyer, who go into a temple on Yom Kippur. The doctor cries “Lord, I am not worthy!” The lawyer looks at him and cries even louder “Lord, Lord, I am not worthy!” In walks a pauper, and takes a seat. A few moments later, the pauper called out “Lord, I am not worthy!” The lawyer looks at the doctor and says “Look who thinks he’s not worthy!”

Psychologist Lives Clean Off the Grid for 30 Years

Dear Peak Shrink,

In the late 60′s, after finishing a degree in Anthropology, while fishing on a causeway in Biscayne Bay looking at the Miami skyline, I had the realization that civilization as we know it could not endure. Although a seemingly highly adaptable and flexible animal, I believed then and now that civilization took away too much of our humanity by both
removing us from other life forms and stuffing us into pockets with too many of our own kind. At that point I started a quest to go “back to the land” which took me to Mexico, Oregon, Hawaii, Ozarks and finally Minnesota. During that time, Limits to Growth came out reinforcing my assumptions from a resource point of view. Further reading reinforced it from a ecological and environmental point of view. Then I studied energy, ran the first low income weatherization program in [the MidWest], developed, installed and had dealers for a solar hot air panel and was active in the Minnesota renewable energy scene.

I lived off the grid for 30 years in Minnesota. (I was born and raised in [the South] and didn’t see snow until I was 18 in the USAF) The first 10 years were without electricity because I personally think nuclear waste is no legacy to leave the future. The next 20 my electricity came from sun and wind. I cooked with wood and heated with wood and yes, I know wood is a problem but I used as little as possible, well dried with the best stoves.

For the first ten years I pumped all my water. Visitors were told they could use as much as they wished, they only had to pump their own. It is amazing how fast they conserved when it was both their responsibility and their labor.

I got my psychology degree and license using kerosene lamps. I cooked with wood (a 1935 copper clad wood cook stove) and heated with wood (a stove I built). Then I got both wind power (a story in itself) and solar panels. I lived on less than a kilowatt hour a day for the next 20 plus years. During the 70s, I manufactured a solar hot air panel and installed many 1000 square feet. Was involved in state and federal renewable activities. After 1983, I began using my degree and was in private practice as a licensed psychologist for the next years until 2003.

In 2003 was diagnosed with lung cancer and given a few weeks to live. Survived radiation and chemo and am doing fabulously. I sold my land in central Minnesota and moved with my partner to a lake home she owned. There I set up a 3kWh grid-tie system. We recently are buying a piece of land near by that we are beginning to develop a two acre orchard. We put our first trees in this fall. This will be a slow but sure process. We did all the fencing. We reconditioned the little home on the place and will use it as a retreat later. Just had a well put in that will drip irrigate the orchard. I am using a pump jack so that I can set it up with a 12volt 1/2 hp motor run by solar panels like I had at my other place. We will also capture water coming off the small barn on the place that has a salt box roof. The water will go into a reservoir. I have lined up an old fire truck pumper as the reservoir. I plan to build an ice house for block ice cut off the lake next summer. Will use modern materials for insulation.

As mentioned I had both wind and solar panels. The solar panels were the main source for me. Although I love the esthetics of wind generators turning in the wind, I prefer solar because of longevity and no maintenance. At low light levels of winter, I conserved or rarely used a small 1000 watt Honda generator. With my present set up here at the lake, I do have batteries as back up as well as a 3500 watt gas generator all run through a transfer switch.

The two things I found really important with electricity was a 1/2 hp motor and lights. The motor allows you to pump water, run power tools, vacuum, etc. The lights allow for more comfort during low light times.

I understand that many feel despair when faced with the various peaks and challenges of the future. It really is an adventure. Here is asynopsis of the talk I gave:

The theme is hope. To me Hope is Doing. I am a back to the land hippie from the 60s. During treatment for the
cancer, I was splitting wood because I needed to cook and heat. My neighbors did do most of it but I still need to do some. For me, hope is not words all though the kind ones and the prayers are welcome. Hope is not statistics. Hope is doing. It is doing the things you have to, for me like splitting wood. And it is doing the things that arise in you and
really are doing you. First, for me it was talking to kids all around Minnesota about not smoking. Now it is putting in an organic orchard for future food for people. This isn’t heroics: it is living.

Energy Shrink

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Dear E.S.,

I have deep appreciation and admiration for the life decisions you’ve made.  You’ve seen your own decisions within the context of your fellow humans and the planet you inhabit.  Your efforts have benefited both, and I find this letter personally inspirational.  Thank you for writing it and sharing it here.  If our entire profession duplicated your actions, we’d truly be modeling “mental health.”  I’d welcome your comments anywhere else on this blog.

Thank You.

Peak Shrink

Petrochemical Engineer Convinces Family & Friends, Offers Survival Options

Dear Peak Shrink,

I first became aware of Peak-Oil nearly two years ago after I went looking for a site to disclaim a preposterous abiotic oil claim in a debate I was having with an American about the obvious reason behind the Iraq war (I’m an Australian). I found the lifeaftertheoilcrash.com site and was immediately informed and enlightened (a link from there took me to you). I’d worked in engineering in petrochemical plants for a decade and suddenly understood the reason so much maintenance had been so miserly.

At first I was in shock and desperately began to search for every site/book related to the issue only to find the naysayers had much less legitimacy and poorer math than the proponents. I must admit I became depressed when I found it difficult to get even family members interested in such a pessimistic future event, but, I’m a particularly tenacious type and managed to convince everyone close, including friends, that disaster looms.

Then, of course, I had to deal with their shock and horror; the only way to do this is was to offer them various options for surviving the fall, something that I’ve been constantly studying and reworking since I became aware… I’ve pretty much joined every group there is around the world, helping to educate and inform others of the impending crises in the near future, and, preparing for changes both locally and nationwide.

I may have become an optimist of a sort, at least when it comes to the survival of those nearest and dearest – geographical isolation being one small bonus. My own wife was one of the last to join the “believers” so, clearly, convincing others is always going to be difficult.

My life has certainly changed since awareness. All geopolitical events are now shaded and jaded and I spend less time arguing moot points and now only look at the big picture. For instance, I absolutely detested G.W.Bush until I realised that his murderous war and destruction of the American standard with state-torture etc. was just the frantic reaction of an informed oil-man, now I couldn’t care less. America will not be spared the collapse and will likely suffer more than most other western nations, sadly I have some American relatives who are harder to convince and who may not make it during or after the collapse. While there is virtually no hope for most, there remains some measure for those who take stock and make preparations. Despair only comes when all hope is lost, so don’t despair.

Persuasive Petrochemical Engineer

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Dear PPE,

I think most of my readers would be interested in knowing how you finally got your wife on-board, and what the experience was like before that happened. How did it strain the two of you to be on “different pages” so to speak. I’m also curious about what changes you’ve made that you feel best about? Which recommendations would you make to anyone in your area or in your situation?

Finally, I’m curious, if you’re willing to share, what types of approaches you’ve used to discuss peak oil with family and friends and which were most effective/least effective. What kind of “survival options” were they most open to hearing about? I know these are questions so many of my more isolated readers are interested in knowing, in order to connect with their own doubting family and friends. Many have been deeply discouraged in their attempts.

Thank you so much for writing, and I look forward to any additional insights you’d care to share.

Best,
Peak Shrink

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Dear Peak Shrink,

I don’t know if I’m able to advance an approach that’d be easily used by others when trying to “convert” them to Peak-Oil and the ramifications that follow. I believe it was easier for me because of who I am; one who is normally optimistic and who is also pragmatic to a nearly absurd degree – I’m not the sort of person who suddenly starts to declare “the sky is falling and we’re all doomed” without exploring all the possibilities.

Thusly my wife was shocked to here the “news” initially and tried to avoid discussion until it was unavoidable (I spend an inordinate amount of energy on this topic and it’s hard to escape when you have to live in the same house.), eventually resignation set in and she had to deal with the knowledge in her own way. That’s a very personal thing to do and each of us deals with it in their own way, I think I skipped several of the downward “steps” myself, even with concerns over my children’s future, though most others wouldn’t.

Some friends had difficulty taking it in, or even believing it, while others were quick to assimilate; interestingly it was those friends with higher education who found it easier to believe (I have a very strange circle of friends by anyone’s measure, some are heavily credentialed while others are decidedly not.).

Nonetheless, I’ve been able to get them all into the circle, albeit with a degree of difficulty. With those who didn’t take to the information as quickly I was able to describe various shifts in oil prices and economic movements beforehand, eventually they decided to take a closer look. At the same time, I must say, several of those who were finally convinced took a fairly defeatist attitude saying that they’d “go down with the ship” until I pointed out “the options”.

The best recommendation I can give regarding conversion is to approach the uninitiated carefully but surely. Don’t give up when they lose interest in the topic, wait, then bring it up as often as other related topics, such as the price of gas or oil, pop up. When the topic does arise make sure you have facts and figures ready. Also give them options when they “bite”, plans A to C or Z, these can include everything from preparation for a powerdown to storing supplies for the crunch and relocation in the event of societal collapse – people don’t like having zero choices. There are no approaches that are better than others as they all depend on too many factors, such as how well you know the other person and how they’ll deal with bad news.

I’d say the best survival options are all of them. Fortunately, here in Australia we have a lot of public transport with an electric rail system that could be used for food movements and we have a lot of natural resources to draw on. I’m able to point this out when a look of dread passes across the face of a new local convert. If they live near the coast they have access to fairly decent fishing. If they live inland they may or may not have access to arable land and fresh water, if not they can relocate when it hits the fan. Preparations can include storing non-perishable food to adding water tanks to buildings, there are many things that can be done though there may be some things we’ll have to do that will be very hard to do when the time comes, a lot will depend on how much mass hysteria interferes with the best laid plans.

I hope this has been helpful, I remain hopeful,

yours,

PPE

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Have you had success speaking with family and friends about the need to ‘power down’?  Send us your story at PeakShrink@peakoilblues.com

Want to read more letters and stories?  Click here.   Want to read all posts?  Scroll down.  You can find a variety of categories to read particular subjects by clicking the Archives tab at the top of the page and clicking “All Categories.”

Expectant Dad with a Moldy Superman Complex

Dear Peak Shrink,

I guess I have known about PO for some time, maybe 5 years now. I have been living a double life for awhile. Knowing the truth and pretending not to know, just to fit in. In the last few years I have been getting more vocal about my beliefs. Nobody wants to hear it. I lost a friend by bringing it up to much. Other friends tell me to be quiet, now I have evolved (this is the part I hate about me). When someone else brings up the topic, I tell them not to bring it up because I know it will just get me going and it will turn ugly. Not because I get aggressive, the subject just sucks especially when others start getting defensive or telling me I don’t know what I am talking about. The worst part is my family and friends don’t believe or care about anything really. I try to talk about real world things like peak oil, 6th mass extinction, global climate change, water pollution, air pollution, consumerism, and basically any worldly topic, and they think I am nuts.

Also my wife has erased any carbon savings I may have made in the last 5 years. She sells mary k, goes to arbonne parties, and some jewelry club. It sucks. I do have a lifesaver though, believe it or not my mother in law. Wow. Who would have thought. She is actually listening and is concerned. This is nice because she is a horticulturist with land, and I am a hunter and a biologist. We are planning big things while the others seemingly coast through their fake lives. Some days I wish I would have taken the blue pill and not learned the truth, but most days I tell myself my depression is worth it and I am proud I learned the truth, and in the end my pain will be justified by possibly saving my family and my closest friends. Yes, I have superman syndrome.

Clark Kent

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Dear Mr. Kent,

Oh, man, that sounds like a tough spot. Have you tried to hook up to others in your area involved in Peak Oil, climate change, or sustainability? Maybe your Mother-in-law has a connection or two? Even a group of heavy organic farming types are more likely to be on the same page. If your friends are mostly in one profession, they might feel that they are immune from these changes you talk about. You might need to find a new circle to socialize with.

I’ve heard stories like the one you told about your wife, and here, I think the issue is quite serious. Having a different vision of the future is tough on a marriage. What kinds of attempts have you made to have a serious discussion with her about your vision? Is she likely to take you seriously about most other areas of life you share, but just not receptive to this one? Will she read or watch a movie with you about the topic and discuss her feelings?

A lot of it, too, has to do with your stage of life. How old are you two, and do you have children who are small? School-aged? Teens? Sometimes a person who is overwhelmed at the though of such massive cultural shifts either haven’t thought about the kids or HAVE thought about them, and the thought is intolerable to them.

I also wonder if you can sit down and just focus on something concrete, like developing a savings plan, or an attempt to dramatically reduce debt (if you have any…) If she’s developed habits that are destructive, like mall shopping for entertainment, you both might need to cultivate other things to do.

I want to emphasize that everyone feels like their need to “talk heavy” about peak oil will never end, and it doesn’t as long as you have Panglossians to talk to. When you have a group of people that all support and add to your vision and life plan, the talk starts out ‘Doomer’ but goes on to more practical matters like how to grow food, what to grow, how to store it, what’s important, etc. Then, my experience is, the humor starts, and we all realize that we are Bozo’s and just need to let go and enjoy our connections. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be with people, all living within a hike from you, all sharing your vision of the future, (as grim as that might be) and all starting to cooperate about how to get through it together.

If you are in the US, you might want to take faith and push on to find a group of like-minded, even if it means starting one yourself. It takes someone seeing something 7 times before they remember it, so decide what you think might be a way to go (I can give you examples) and just do it. I promise you, you’ll be glad you did, once you make the connections. And you’ll be a heck of a lot happier.

I’m interested in hearing more if you are willing to share.

Thanks for the email,

Peak Shrink
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Dear Peak Shrink,

I guess I may have been too hard on my wife. She is not as bad as I made it sound. What I do is try to juggle, how much I can take spending for her “perfect life” she envisioned as a child and my vision of protecting our future. I must add she is due this winter. what a time to have a kid, but I thought now or never right. Still this poses many other worries for me. She does listen to me about what I know, but she, I believe is in denial and hopes I am wrong. She tells me, “you take care of your end and I will take care of the rest,” which has been working out rather fine lately.

My biggest concern is my older parents, uncles, aunts, and my arch nemesis(my sister). Now we are all pretty educated so when we get together it’s a battle of wits. My thoughts, based in the real world often get laughed at because they don’t fit the majorities unreal vision. It drives me nuts. My biggest problem is I won’t give up on them, and they wish I would.

I am in my mid-thirties and a science teacher. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to teach science to classes year after year who haven’t the slightest clue what is happening in this world. Most don’t even seem to care, I guess because they don’t see any worldly problems in a small town of 3000, it must not be happening then, and this science guy is nuts. You cant blame the kids I guess, I blame the media for making us idiotic consumption zombies. I get so pissed, I change my lightbulbs, then swing buy a department store and see their lighting section with 1000 bulbs burning 24/7 and that’s one store. you cant make a dent. So I go on ups and downs caring then not giving a @#$%.

I came up with this unpopular analogy one night at a bar. Humans are like mold on bread. Mold consumes with reckless abandon, multiply, spreading spores to occupy other regions of the bread until it is gone. It hopes some of the spores reach a new slice, to start the process again. With humans however there is only one slice, one earth. Do you think there was one individual mold that thought “wait second we should think this through” he was either laughed at or eaten himself. That is me (and you) I guess. My biggest hate/embarrassment/pain is that humans with all the knowledge and power in the world are no wiser than mold.

Clark Kent
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So, Mr. Kent,

You are a science educator. Therefore, you have a better sense than most about what we face. You are a “leader” so to speak, in that role. You also are facing your toughest experiment yet, this winter. You both are.

So, I guess, the first thing is to lay out a set of questions that outline the problem, and then to apply your knowledge to systematically attempt to create solutions that are doable. You can’t shut the lights off at the Superstores. You can’t get your relatives to change anything about their lives. But you will, I promise you, have one very angry teenager asking you in 14 years “What the #5!@ were you thinking? What did you do while you had the chance to help me out!” (and of course you are right to say, whatever you do, won’t have been “enough…”)

So what if you were to take a step into his/her future in 5 year intervals, and assuming you are staying in the same town, same wife, same relatives, what are the challenges you are facing? Age 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35. Bring it up the the age you are now, and see where your mind brings you. Use that trained mind of yours to actually attempt to shape that kid’s future, making the assumptions you will logically make and can realistically do. Also, remember, that child is going to look directly at you, and will have little sympathy if you tell him/her that you got no help from other people. He/She is going to look at all the resources at your disposal and ask you what you were doing with that $3.00 gas, money in the bank, warm home, stable community, running tap water, stocked grocery store shelves, etc. Let me know how you react to this “future vision” and if you are willing to do it, I’d find it fascinating to read. It will take enormous courage to write it, with all the facts in place.

I’d say to write it for the child, and update it every few years, modifying your plans and vision. It would be a document anyone would treasure getting from a parent, and, I believe, will improve your planning strategies.

Below, also, is the Great Grandparents Test you might want to look at, and see how many questions you can answer, and if your relatives can help. Nothing brings an oil-depleted future alive like remembering that our ancestors never had any.

Take your time with these questions, and I’ll alert my readers to check back here, when you post again!

Best,

Peak Shrink

Great Grandparents Test

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Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder? or Economic and Planetary Collapse: Is it a Therapeutic Issue?


I have spoken elsewhere about the label “Doomer,” and I’ve come to believe that this frame is outdated. Instead, I would like to suggest that we must stop asking ourselves, given the lateness of the hour, why there are those pessimistic about the future, and begin asking, instead, why there are those still blindly and enthusiastically optimistic about it. Could this be a disorder, in itself? Here’s my proposal:

Panglossian Disorder: “The neurotic tendency toward extreme optimism in the face of likely cultural and planetary collapse.”

Panglossian Disorders and Their Subtypes

Temporal Subtypes:
Scarlet O’Hara-ism- “I’ll just have to think about that tomorrow.” A strategy of denial that allows the person to temporally compartmentalize the feared event(s).
Futurism: “Sure, that will happen, but it will occur after all of us are long dead.” A belief that something that might happen in the distant future is no concern in the present.
Y2K features: “They said everything would collapse with 2000, and it didn’t.” A belief that any prior concern about societal problems that didn’t occur demonstrates the impossibility of any others happening in the future.

Angry Subtypes:
Rhett-Butlerist Features- “Peak Oil? Planetary Collapse? Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Aggressive denial of information not in keeping with one’s world view.
Kill the Messenger Redirection: “Why are you telling me this? What kind of sicko focuses on these kinds of facts? You need help!” The belief that those who bring bad news are doing it for malevolent reasons.

Narcissistic Subtypes:
Rigid Cheney-ism: “The American Way of Life is non-negotiable.” The belief that any undesirable change can be avoided by a sheer act of will.
Survivalistic features: “Hey, if the rest of the world is doomed, I don’t worry about it, because I’ve got mine.” A belief that personal preparation is adequate.

Religious Subtypes:
Religiosity: “God/The Planet/Mother Nature loves humans. He/She/It would never permit massive die-off.” Or “If that happens, I just put my faith in my Savior.”
Neoliberal Econo-manic Tendencies: “The market will sort it out.” A belief that market forces control all— including geological realities.
Nascarian Features: “People love their automobiles. A solution will have to be found to keep us driving.”

Subtypes with Denial or Minimization as the Central Feature:
Pure Denial: “That can’t be right. It’s just impossible.”
Minimalization as a primary defense: “There may be some shortages, but I doubt it will be as bad as you say.”

Subtypes with Histrionic, Helplessness, Acquiescence or Submissive Features:
Submissive Features: You’re probably right. [Shrug]” Too hard/scary to think about… A response that acknowledges the reality of the threat, but is emotionally frozen or unwilling to devote emotional time and energy to the matter.
Histrionic Features: “I just don’t know anything about that. Oh, Golly, I hope you’re wrong. That’s all I can say. Oh Golly, I just can’t think about it.”

Subtypes with Delusional or Magical Thinking:
Meglomanic Features:“This simply won’t happen to me.” A belief in one’s specialness, which will save them from the consequences affecting those around them.
Paternalistic Features: “The government/corporations will sort it out.” A belief in the infallibility of organizational structures to resolve problems they aren’t willing to even acknowledge.
Doubting Thomas Features: “Peak Oil is a scam by the Oil Companies to raise prices!” Minimizing the possibility of the crisis by the belief that some one or some group has ultimate control over its happening.
Pure Cornucopian Features: “The more we need, the more they’ll be.” A belief that continued progress and provision of material items for mankind can be met by advances in technology.
The Flintstonian: “The stone-age didn’t end because they ran out of stones.” A belief that modern innovation is eternal.
Frank Zappa-ism: “As soon as things get really bad, they’ll come up with something.” A belief that necessity is the mother of invention.
Magical Thinking: “Don’t worry, we can build a car that can run on air!” Proposes solutions that are clearly outside the realm of physics.
MacGyver-ism Features – A belief that massive planetary problems can be solved with ordinary/common items found readily at hand. Eg.: “Pig dung will be the next fossil fuel.” Or “Coke Cans can be turned into solar panels.”

The Panglossian View

Borrowing Voltaire’s character Pangloss in his novel Candide, we might speak of a Panglossian Disorder as the belief that “all is well and everything in the world is for the best.” In adopting a Panglossian philosophy, Candide accepts situations and tries not to change or overcome obstacles. Instead, he passively accepts whatever fate has in store, and shrugs off his personal responsibilities. The name Pangloss is actually a pun: pan = Greek for ‘all’, relating to the whole universe (English); and ‘gloss’ (English) = both an explanation and an interpretation, which is deceptive in its external appearance. There is also a medical definition: Panglossia: abnormal or pathologic garrulousness, usually of a trivial nature.

While I was initially rather ‘tongue in cheek’ in proposing a new diagnostic category called “Panglossian Disorder” which I defined as “the neurotic tendency toward extreme optimism in the face of likely cultural and planetary collapse,” the more I thought about it, the more sober I became. We can easily see why those who might be gloomy about the future could feel hopeless and take the path of inactivity. On the other hand, this same fear of disaster can motivate constructive action in an attempt to mitigate the effects. Not so, however, for those who see no NEED to take action, because they live in the best of all possible worlds. Indeed, I might argue that it is the very blind hopefulness and inaction of the masses that leads many of my readers to assume a more hopeless posture toward world events.

A Panglossian perspective denies the need for constructive action, and leads to complacency and a worsening of our world’s woes. I’ve come to think about the Panglossian perspective as not optimism itself, but as a defense against pessimism. This defense takes many forms, as I’ve described above, and I’d like to describe why so many of us NEED a defense against pessimism, and how, unfortunately, my profession of psychology has been so instrumental in fueling that defense.

Depression as Epidemic

Depression in the US has reached epidemic proportions. In contrast to a half-century ago, when it began well into adulthood, we now see depression in our children and adolescents. We can speak of clinical elements such as feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Basically, depression is a disorder in which a person feels thwarted or is thwarted in pursuing her or his most important life goals. Unlike simple unhappiness, depression can be thought of as a sort of ‘burst balloon’, in which inflated desires are deflated fully and completely.

There are those who argue that this condition is caused by a radical imbalance between the “I” and “We” of our culture. As we’ve shifted away from a connection to our communities, our natural environment, and the responsibilities these entail, and focused increasingly on consumeristic and narcissistic pre-occupations, we’ve become cut off from a sense of meaning and richness. Paradoxically, we’ve also become more cut off from self-directed community aspirations that build virtues not found in modern psychological language—features such as “character” and “soul.”

Self-Esteem

Education, according to Herbert Spencer, “has for its object the formation of character” and yet today, our focus is not on building the character of our nation’s children, but settling instead for promoting their “self-esteem.” Whereas character is a complex of attributes that determines a persons moral and ethical actions and reactions, self-esteem is a feeling of pride in yourself and your inherent personal worth. While character is an active process of development, self-esteem is a passive satisfaction with what one has already achieved. Character is interactive with the world, while self-esteem is internal satisfaction with oneself.

The problem with this frame in our self-congratulatory back-slapping, is that while it promotes an “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” attitude,” it overlooks the question of whether collectively, WE’RE Okay, and if we aren’t, what is our social responsibility to change it.

In other words, the message “feel good about yourself” appears to be removed from why someone SHOULD feel good about themselves and the cultural imperative to do something to feel good ABOUT. This is a perversion from what true self-esteem is: a positive feeling in RESPONSE to effective action. What is being promoted is what Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D. calls “unwarranted self-esteem:…feeling good as opposed to doing well in the world.”

In the US, self-esteem is the primary outcomes assessed in youth development intervention evaluations today, and questions about self-esteem are the only positive (versus problematic) measures of mental health currently included in national surveys, according to Dr. Seligman. We want to know, essentially, “How do you feel about yourself?” rather than asking “How do you engage with the world around you?” We’ve come to believe that children who feel good about themselves will come to care about the people and planet around them. This has proven to be a faulty, incomplete analysis, but one that works well if our goal is to encourage consumers to buy products that make them feel better about themselves. Our schools tell our children how important it is that they feel good about themselves, and the television commercials they watch tell what to buy that will make them feel better and even more ‘special.’

The Exalted “I” and the Problematic “We”

The imbalance between the “I” and the “We” has shifted so dramatically, in fact, that we blame our families and our developmental milieu for thwarting our “potential.” Pop psychology is filled with popular bestsellers that have told us for twenty years how to get the love we want, how to overcome toxic parents and how to triumph over the effects of our wounded past. This focus on the historical forces that have limited us, sends us the implicit message that the “We” in our world has constricted the unfolding that would have otherwise taken place, and is central in understanding our current troubles in life. Implicit in it, is an image of some idealized culture, family, planet that is loving, patient, reliable, safe and kind. It’s a world that loves us and all we are capable of, and we are mad or sad that we didn’t grow up in it.

Because of this ‘loss,’ we can’t be all that (we imagine) we are capable of, because we’ve suffered damage as children. We know, from research, that the rate of things like suicide attempts, drug abuse, smoking, drinking, and being overweight are all elevated in those who have experienced abuse as children. Therefore, we make the leap that says that if we have been badly treated as children, and continue those self-destructive acts, we are not to blame. We are victims of circumstance. And if we turn inward, and away from the world in an attempt to recover from such a cruel series of events, who can blame us?

Psychological ‘Cure’

We’ve become a society of “discontents,” looking for satisfaction. We turn both inward and gaze backward in our attempt to find a ‘cure.’ Our view is fixed, frozen, and reified. It is both suffocating and reassuring. We don’t seek to participate in the world, because the world is to blame as the source of our troubles. “Lifestyle” is what we start to search for, as a trade for being stuck with a “life.” We cling to our professional identities because they provide us with a sense of self. We project a “professional image” because image becomes more important than who we actually are.

We read books to assure ourselves that “bad things happen to good people,” because these “bad things” appear somehow to be an undeserved punishment that someone else has inflicted on us, instead of just “what happens.” We attempt to distract ourselves from feeling anxiety and discomfort, with television, movies, music and internet. Cybersex and ‘mind fucks’ take the place of messy entanglements. We seek out those that will match us in our values, social class, religious beliefs, our fashion sense, our views, and we scorn those who fail to mirror us. We get married hoping to find someone who will “really know us,” and we divorce when they actually start to, and have the nerve to tell us what they see. We look for a community to worship that is equally “fitting” of us and what we need and expect our spiritual leaders and our God to be sympathetic and undemanding. If not, we keep looking.

We are freed from the constrictions of being born in a particular place, during a particular time, in a particular climate, growing particular foodstuffs, surrounded by a set of particular people. We are free to be You and Me, and we get to mold it, as if we are the creative force itself. We no longer have to believe in a creator, because WE are IT.

The Anxious Creator

Yet, we are an anxious, restless creator, always trying to tweak our self-created images. When we imagine that there is such a thing as a Magic Muffin,’ and the world we currently live in, isn’t it, we happily join a “Second Life” that will show us pictures of rain forests so we can pretend we aren’t losing the real ones. We can construct our world of make-believe friends and make-believe communities, because the face-to-face kind are just too much trouble or require social skills we just don’t have. We can always click off or change our screen names or change our image if we run into make believe interpersonal difficulties. That’s harder to do in “real life.” And, as if to make it all more real, we have Second Life Shrinks we can visit to talk over our Second Life problems.

We reject the notion that we are “stuck” with a genetically impacted body type and we diet and exercise, or seek out plastic surgeons to shape our body to “look just right.” We reject the aging process or the dying process itself, and instead choose the magic of the knife or the “fast freeze” to save our special selves until we can live forever. And always we are told that true contentment and satisfaction comes from this special candy bar, this marvelous diet, this fabulous lifestyle, this new therapeutic approach.

And yet, we still aren’t told that if we do succeed in ‘healing our wounded child,’ we still remain children–frightened, lonely, isolated, misunderstood. And so we keep looking for the right therapist and the right cure.

The Insanity of Being Our Own Creator

Therefore, if the real world collapses around us, it isn’t our fault and it isn’t our problem. We don’t ask if what we do and what we devote our lives to, is “sane,” and whether or not it ultimately benefits not only ourselves, but also our world. We only want reassurance that we aren’t “crazy.” Fitting in and not standing out is a hard enough job. So many of us have lost an internal compass that is grounded in an external reality, and have settled, instead, for trying to believe other people when they tell us over and over “You are really okay.” And, as long as we don’t look outside or don’t believe those who tell us that our world is dying, we just might believe it.

This stubborn self-focus and pathologizing people and actions become culturally endemic. We begin to see all acts of great charity as a “reaction” against a cruel parent or early poverty. Social activists are “angry people” with a “father complex” they try to resolve by trying to change the world. We diagnose Mother Teresa as having a “Savior Complex” or worse. No one works so hard to heal and repair the world, Tikkun Olam, unless they have some sort of psychological disorder. A notion of a common commitment to the civic good is a distant, quaint concept. We do so only if our “neurosis” drives us to it. And we’ve watched the show “Survivor,” so we know that nice guys and gals finish last.

The Matrix Around Us

It is, therefore, while simmering in the pot of this cultural soup, that my readers write to me at www.peakoilblues.com. They describe a sensation of having lived in a ‘Matrix,’ an illusionary world constructed in a movie by the same name, and have woken up to find themselves in a very different reality. Unlike those who continue to mourn the “paradise lost” of their pained childhoods, my contributors have woken up to confront real troubles in the world in real time. They have stopped looking into their past, and started to see a future that is both horrifying and compelling. Instead of seeing a “wounded child,” they see a wounded planet that they are killing.

In contrast to the Panglossians among them, who find such a view all too much to bear, they look directly into their futures and feel the despair. For indeed, when we absorb the full impact of our current world situation, and our place of having contributed to it, the sane response is, at least initially, despair. Doom, dreadful fate, or utter ruin, isn’t a view that they embrace joyfully, but one they are left with, when they recognize that the solutions are not individual, but collective ones. Here, we feel ill equipped, because collective solutions seem to fly in the very face of our “I” world views. Those “I” solutions, like changing a light bulb, appear inanely inadequate, and the more they are put forth as collective solutions, the gloomier my readers become. They recognize that we won’t “buy” our way out of this one.

It shakes them to their very core, as they realize that they ARE an element of their planet, and THEY are fully responsible for their futures, even more so then their past. They shake, they grieve, they feel the shock. Gradually, then, they wake up to realize that they are still standing on the same wounded planet. They begin to face and learn to manage the anxiety they feel. They start to grow themselves up. No, they soon won’t be able to eat bananas on their cereals if they live up North. No, there is no single solution they can buy, to remove the Great Turning. They do not live in a Magic Muffin, but here on the Earth, in a particular place, in a particular time, and they are surrounded by a particular set of people. They have a body, a set of skills, a set of world views and no one will rescue them. They don’t need to believe in a god, only that they aren’t him/her/it. What a shock to realize that we are born in such a unique place and time, and that our wealth has left the rest of the planet barren, starving, and terribly polluted. We overlook the fact that it takes intense strength to feel so vulnerable, so blind, so frightened, so inept. And for many, they do look inward once again and they grieve hard, for months or sometimes years. But the grieving subsides and in its place remains the multiple decisions about how to act now, in the real world.

Most have attempted to enlist the cooperation of those around them in examining the extent of the problem, and pondering the solutions. Many have been met, instead, with a variety of Panglossian defenses. They see that for so many of their loved-ones, they cannot allow psychological room for the inevitable despair and pessimism, without feeling overwhelmed. These wounded souls, “at risk” for pathology, wounded as children by an unkind planet and careless parenting, cannot bear to view that which is outside themselves—TPTB, government, Big Daddy, the planet—as deeply flawed. And, if it is flawed so dramatically, it isn’t their fault, and it isn’t their problem. We are okay, and the world is okay. It has to be. We have enough to worry about, thank you very much. But what’s wrong with YOU?

And as our economy falters, oil supplies shrink, and the climate chaotically changes, our Panglossian world becomes even more steadfast in denying the change. Our job loss, political or banking scandals, mortgage defaults, are all “individual problems,” that have individual solutions. We want to discuss them in the privacy of our bedrooms or our therapists’ offices.

“But please,” we beg our therapists, “Don’t wake us up. Don’t tax us in confronting the real world around us. We are too overwrought to look outside ourselves. We are too worn out. And besides, none of what you say is on the television, so how can it be true? Help us, instead, to manage this anxiety we feel, that has no name. It floats all around us, depresses us, and depresses our children. We tell our children that they are Okay, but still they feel pained, anxious, worried, upset. We need a cure, Doctor, a pill, a meditative chant, and we need it now!”

As conditions worsen, fear or simply laziness may prevent us from examining whether in our individual case, the “personal is political,” and to reach out to those around us in both discussing our pain and brainstorming solutions that go beyond our individual problems.

Meglomanian Panglossia

Alternatively, we remain like the battered child, convinced that ultimately, WE have caused the abuse, and, as a result, WE have the power to stop it, if and when we feel strong enough or well enough to do so. If we get around to changing that light bulb, or buying that hybrid, the Tsunamis will stop. If we stagger our toilet flushes, the drought will stop. As soon as we find our next job, land that promotion, get back on our feet financially, the US dollar will recover and the depression will lift. If we encourage subsidies of ethanol, our addiction to oil will lessen. Getting back to “normal” is right around the corner. The Emperor has fine clothes, after all.

We do not, and cannot step back and connect the dots, because we might not like the picture that emerges.

Therefore, what I’m proposing is that unlike true optimism, a Panglossian perspective is a reaction to pessimism itself. While a true optimist can consider and plan for a negative outcome, a Panglossian perspective cannot. They aren’t wearing rose-colored glasses, but dark sunglasses that not only block out the harmful rays of the sun, but the sun itself. The view is rigid and unyielding. For some, the Panglossian view is an angry one, once more denied their ‘paradise lost.’ For others, the Panglossia takes the form of helplessness and vulnerability. Still others insist that they are ultimately in control of the entire planet, and what happens to it, is up to them.

Being Sane Is Not Enough

Now, for those of my readers who ask whether or not they are going crazy, as they see a gloomy future when those around them see “the best of all possible worlds,” I’d like to suggest that you are asking the wrong question. Being “sane” is not enough. Your actions are what matters now. Imagine yourself like Herr Shindler in Shindler’s List, looking at your watch and saying “I could have sold this. I could have saved more.” (Thank you, DRS, for that powerful metaphor.) You are living in an insane time, and you can’t use the thinking of those around you to guide you in what to do. You have to start thinking and acting for yourself. You have to start looking around you for like-minded souls, and to be able to accurately identify those who are wrong-thinking, not to pathologize them, but to recognize them as living in a dream-world created for them by psychopathological corporate forces.

As you sit at your Thanksgiving table, open your ears and your hearts, as you listen to the Panglossians among you, and speak your simple truth, without attempting to alter this powerful delusion. It is not your job to fight this delusion. You cannot. But you can speak only for yourself and say what you see, and then listen. Maybe this year, maybe next, you may be thought of as the sane one after all, and they may come to you asking again for how you think, what you know, what you’ve done. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Mental Illness and Sanity
Ultimately, it is important to look beyond whether someone is optimistic or pessimistic about the future, and ask, instead, whether this perspective leads an individual to self-directed action, and whether this action ultimately benefits the planet. It isn’t enough to live in a binary world of the “mentally ill” and those “not otherwise specified.” Looking squarely at personal or planetary problems requires more than people who aren’t crazy. A focus on mental illness will not bring us to a greater understanding of what is sane, even if it does provide mental health practitioners clients and grant monies. To define sanity, we need new and larger questions involving notions that go beyond profits and unlimited growth.

We need to be able to calm ourselves down and stand apart from our cultural norms. To be truly sane, we need the ability to grieve hard for the damage done all around us, to focus in on the Party Train as it speeds toward the abyss, and to work for collective change without any assurance that it will do a bit of good. We only adopt such a label when we develop that internal compass that directs us both inwardly and outwardly. It also, to quote airline advice, requires us to put on our own oxygen mask before convincing others to do so.

Sanity, to paraphrase John Seed, is pulling our legs back away from the bus tires, and not calling it being “good to our legs.” It means shrinking our Global Footprint and not calling it being “good to the planet.” We ARE a part of the planet, even though the planet is not us. Learning to live as part of the global community sanely is no longer an option. To paraphrase Matt Savinar: if we don’t deal with our global reality, it will inevitably deal with us, whether in Panglossian delusion or not.

We, as therapists, do not need to be heavy-handed in our approach to our Panglossian clients, but neither must we remain silent about what we know and predict is coming. Here is where our therapeutic orientation and skills come in. Depending on their theoretical perspective, some of my Peak Oil savvy colleagues will approach these issues differently. Some, fearful of the impact on their clients (and themselves), will decide not to approach these issues at all. Should we speak up if a client tells us their plans to build a house on swampland, but don’t know it? Will it destroy the therapeutic milieu to usher real life into our offices?

In psychoanalytic therapy, Panglossia may be regarded as an obstacle to progress that must eventually be confronted and interpreted at the right time. These therapists might want the client to appear emotionally ready or have some degree of insight into their problems before confronting them with TEOTWAWKI. In the Humanistic and Existential therapies, Panglossia might be seen as part of a cyclical pattern of life, death and rebirth, and clients may be helped to understand their place in this cycle, and their roles and responsibilities. In cognitive-behavioral therapies, Panglossia would be seen as another in a set of mal-adaptive behaviors used to cope with a stressful situation. Therapists would assist individuals in examining their current thoughts and behaviors and devising strategic ways to make changes. In all cases, the Peak Oil savvy therapist must be clear about the fact that Panglossia IS a defense, and to be firm that such denial IS acting against the best interests of their client.

Panglossia isn’t limited to clients, however, and it effectively dulls therapeutic skill. Increasingly, those who are aware of the coming dangers report seeing therapists who are, themselves, suffering from the Panglossian condition, and ask me what they might do to help snap their therapists out of it. Friends, this isn’t your job, any more than it is to educate your therapist about racism, sexism or homophobia. Therapists will begin to take these issues seriously when you begin to entrust your therapeutic dollars to those who do. Ask yourself how a Panglossian-diluted therapist can discourage you from some actions and encourage you in more useless pursuits.

Physicians and psychotherapists, Heal Thyself! Ask yourself whether your bright optimism is designed to help your clients or to help keep your own spirits up. Don’t expect to be able to be effective in Peak Oil if you are in your own chaotic state after just finding out about it. Take some time to go through your own turmoil and grieving process, and develop your own internal compass about how to proceed.

Confronting major life changes such as Peak Oil, Climate Change, and Economic Collapse is, but a first step in helping the client assess their current life situation and design a new life plan. But as always, put on your own oxygen mask first, find your own sense of sanity and self-direction, before you begin to treat others. Model sanity.

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