Dear Peak Shrink,
Please don’t use my name in this post, if that can be avoided.
I learned about Peak Oil a few years ago, but it has only recently dawned on me that it is really for real, really happening, and really not good, especially taken together with all of the other peaks, and environmental degradation. I am fairly hopeless, especially as all of my skills are pretty standard tech civilizational, and because of the topic that seems to be third-rail on some of the more compassionate peak oil forums, which is to say: overpopulation and the inevitable struggle that will ensue between people who are now of good will, as things deteriorate.
This has really caused me a lot of pain, because it is so out of whack with everything I was raised to believe about life. I’ve also been reading some of the Reg Morrison stuff about the evolutionary basis of spirituality/mysticism, and this has left me feeling that the spiritual refuge, which is something I generally lean on, is just a bunch of lies. But I have ordered the book “Sacred Demise” and I’ll see if that has anything to offer me.
All of this is just about trying to cope with this intermediate time–dealing with the anxiety of knowing sh*t is coming before it’s actually hit the fan, but in a moment where you can still walk down the street, drink a bottle of wine, listening to a ballgame–all of the things I love.
I sometimes have moments of terror when I get an intimation of what things will be like when it actually starts to unravel full throttle. I have to confess, and maybe this is why I don’t want my name mentioned most of all, that it makes me wonder how I could kill myself with the least amount of pain and terror, rather than suffer things I can’t even imagine.
In the meantime, I don’t feel like I’m getting much joy out of life, nor to I feel I am either preparing for, or forestalling the inevitable. Some talk-backer on this site referred to this kind of conversation as being like scared ducks pooping in a lake, and that made sense to me. This kind of talk doesn’t seem like it’s building anything, but just trying help us manage the fear and uncertainty. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, necessarily.
It has also occurred to me recently that “feeling good” is a part of the problem–when we are feeling good, we think everything is a-ok. So I feel like I’m not allowing myself to feel good, and even wonder about the efficacy of sharing my feelings with a group like this, that seems like a support group, because if I feel supported then I’ll relax my guard, but then I wonder–why not relax my guard and just drink in some pleasantness while it can still be had? I’d bet anyone dealing with this stuff is familiar with this particular mindf*ck.
The hardest part might be that I got married a month ago, to a wonderful woman who I love very dearly, and who really wants to have children. I love her a lot, and she is the most important person in my life, and it is very clear to me that she has not begun the journey toward seeing how bad things actually are, and does not want to. I have mentioned my concerns to her, and she has found some fairly conventional ways to assert that they are unfounded, though at the same time she does seem willing for me to explore agricultural and foraging information and such. But it has already put a strain on our relationship, which is hard for me to bear. I think, in the end, if we are able (we are in our mid-to-late thirties) we will have a child, because I do not want to lose her, when it comes down to it. And, if we have a child, I will bear the guilt for as long as I live of whatever suffering comes to that child in these times we’re heading towards, because I knew better. So this feels like a crucifixion. I know everyone else must be going through similar shit. It’s all crazy, and feels very unreal. I think we’re going to get more experience of the feel of unreality.
Thanks for listening.
Dear Grim Newlywed,
I never use names in my post. No worry.
Here are some of my thoughts on what you’ve written, and hopefully you’ll have responses to them. I prefer dialogue rather than monologue, anyway.
I guess I always ask myself specifically what a person is hopeful or hopeless ABOUT. If you are hopeless that the future isn’t going to be looking like the present, that’s sensible. But there is a lot of “bad stuff” that makes this present not so great, anyway. Something has to give, and Peak Oil looks like as good a thing as any.
Hope,as a general concept, is over-rated. If you take action, you need a lot less hope. Seriously assess your current living situation. What did your city or town look like in the 1850’s? How many people? How did they get their food? What work did they do? Then ask yourself whether that place will weather the changes poorly or not. Remember, your assessment is not simply for you and your current lifestyle. You have mentioned having a child. Think about how your grandchildren will live. And the grandchildren of those you love.
It is easy to think in black and white, all or nothing at all terms. Try to think about things over a time-line and to anticipate what changes are next. Your gift of knowing about PO and believing it will make you prophetic to those who either don’t know about this stuff or refuse to believe it. Put into action changes that are both simple, cost little or nothing, and solve multiple problems.
>>This has really caused me a lot of pain, because it is so out of whack with everything I was raised to believe about life.
Yes, the attitude adjustment is a long-ongoing process. I think it takes two years of knowing and believing it, to find a sense of equilibrium.
“overpopulation and the inevitable struggle that will ensue between people who are now of good will, as things deteriorate.”
GN, we will definitely see a shift as people get poorer, and those in the city are forced to move or die an earlier death, perhaps by rising sea levels. But I’ve been inspired by the writings on the Great Depression, and try to draw some lessons from them. I’ve read stories from people who said their parents gave them NOTHING for the holidays, and other stories where the parents gave their child a “dream gift” of refreshing an old doll with horsehair and flour sack clothes. Personal resources are going to be the turning point for how grim things get, I believe.
>>…especially as all of my skills are pretty standard tech civilizational
I can tell by your writings that you are an intelligent man, and what you need to develop new skills is a willingness, motivation (and PO should provide that) and time.
Ask yourself what your ancestors did generations before oil, and see if you have interest in any of that. Take up “hobbies” you enjoy. Pick something quite different than what you do for work. If you work with your mind, try working with your hands. That sort of thing. You may find it a big help to your mental health to learn something new and get physically moving.
>>…this has left me feeling that the spiritual refuge, which is something I generally lean on, is just a bunch of lies.
I don’t know his work, but I like what AA says about Higher Power: You don’t need to believe in a Higher Power, you just have to believe YOUR not IT! I find that tremendous hardship connects people to things that are more meaningful, while prosperity and wealth causes many to feel adrift. As I live among domesticated animals and birds, and grow a garden, I’ve come to believe that the entire planet Earth has profound wisdom and when smart men and women paid attention to it, they learned something.
When I lived in a city, I was so profoundly disconnected from the rhythm of life, and I still, having grown up and lived in cities most of my life, am recovering from civilization, as Chellis Glendinning says. If you feel no relief in your spiritual path at this moment, my hunch is that you are listening to your head and not your heart. The fact that you lay yourself down at night and rise in the morning is not a lie, but it is a miracle of sorts. This civilization we are all a part of is NOT life. It is a brief blip of time in the history of humanity. Our intellects as well as our emotions can remove us from deeper understanding.
There is a guy who’s been writing about the link between spirituality and evolutionary psychology. I found his writings compelling: Experimental Theology He’s a research psychologist trying to integrate theology with data from the experimental social sciences. He writes interesting stuff. If you do, scroll down the right-hand side of the page until you get to his section: Theology and Evolutionary Psychology. Those articles, to me, were most interesting.
>>it makes me wonder how I could kill myself with the least amount of pain and terror, rather than suffer things I can’t even imagine.
I think you should make a serious examination of your assumptions here, especially in light of the fact that you are considering having a child. You have many, many options available to you to mitigate the impact of what is coming in your own life and in the lives of those you care about. You can’t do everything. You aren’t a miracle worker…but you can make intelligent, rational choices based on what you know and what you predict is likely to happen. To not take action is insanity. If you remain frozen, and you don’t act on what you know to be true, you may feel increasingly bummed out. If you keep focusing on suicide, you need to get some help, GN, from someone trained to help you get some perspective. People who are unsuccessful at killing themselves are glad they didn’t do it. If that thought is bouncing around as more than an extremely occasional idea, please get some help.
>>This kind of talk doesn’t seem like it’s building anything, but just trying help us manage the fear and uncertainty.
Here’s the point of what I do: Yes, bad things are coming. Yes, it will be an extremely rough ride. Now, do you believe yourself and start doing something? Or do you ignore what you believe and feel anxious and upset? Managing the fear is not enough. You have to DO SOMETHING. You have to take ACTION. You have to take yourself as seriously as a heart attack. You can’t get caught up in whether this is the “right” or “best” thing to do. Start with small steps, and avoid drastic life changes without the counsel of people you trust.
And you have to have enough perspective to realize that things unfold, at varying rates. You have to have some clue as to what the signs and symptoms MEAN. If you ignore what you know to be true, you are going to feel crazy, and perhaps start acting that way. “Not acting crazy” in this sense, means removing yourself from the tracks when you hear the train coming.
As far as the ‘talk-backers’ go, 5% of the population are sociopathic or sadistic and they enjoy inducing paralyzing fear in other people. Besides, ducks and geese poop in the lake to lighten their load to fly. That’s why they digest things so quickly, to be able to take off when they need to. If you are scared, you might want to do make some movement of your own. Perhaps that’s what you are doing in writing to me. I agree with someone who wrote on the LATOC forum that we’re got mostly Armchair Doomers out there, and some have rather elaborate fantasy lives, filled with excitement, revenge, hot babes that they “get” with a can of beans and a toothless smile…that sort of thing. Don’t let them scare you.
>It has also occurred to me recently that “feeling good” is a part of the problem–when we are feeling good, we think everything is a-ok.
Now you are on to something. When we feel good, we can continue to act “normal” and continue to buy and get into debt and don’t notice how dramatically different things are now then they were 10 years ago. But feeling good isn’t actually the problem. We can “feel” good or “feel” gloomy, but these are just emotions that exist on a bodily level. Do we become brain-dead when we “feel good” or do we just enjoy the good sensations? Do we ignore what we believe to be true, deep down, or do we just go on auto-pilot? Feel good or feel gloomy, but take action, then self-correct. If you find that you just bought a lot of crapola over the holidays, return it! Or stop buying now!
>>So I feel like I’m not allowing myself to feel good, and even wonder about the efficacy of sharing my feelings with a group like this, that seems like a support group…
You can tell how serious you are by the people you talk to about which sorts of feelings. For example, if your mother was all happy about you getting married, and your father was against it, and you talk to Mom, it suggests that you want to feel better about the marriage. If you talk to Dad, you may be looking for the doubter’s take. Notice who you talk to about what, to get some clue about what types of opinions or support you might be wanting.
When you talk here, you are talking to people who are likely to share a particular set of stories and beliefs. They are a rare group, as groups go. If you said “It’s all going down!” to a group of dentists or engineers, you’d get completely different feedback, especially if they were expecting their first child! No one here is going to say “It’s crazy to worry about the future!”
>>because if I feel supported then I’ll relax my guard…
My friend calls that need to keep up her guard “fresh hate.” I think you mean that you need to stay motivated to actually DO something, instead of just talking about it, and YOU DO!
>>…why not relax my guard and just drink in some pleasantness while it can still be had? I’d bet anyone dealing with this stuff is familiar with this particular mindf*ck.
They are quite familiar with it, as am I. So what you might be missing is that right now, you can do everything you need to do the “easier” way (but not as easily as you might have four years ago). The longer you wait to start changing things, the rougher things will get.
Timing IS important. When resources are abundant, you can get quite a bit done. When gas is $4 a gallon, you start feeling the limitations…or when you lose your job. Drink in pleasantness, by all means. That is your right as a human being on this earth. But don’t just do that. Recognize that you are at a unique point in history, and next year you’ll have less to work with than you do this year. Just ask the person who was “thinking” of moving their stock portfolio, but didn’t. How do they feel?
>>The hardest part might be that I got married a month ago, to a wonderful woman who I love very dearly, and who really wants to have children. I love her a lot, and she is the most important person in my life…
I am very happy for you. Having a good spouse is essential in surviving what’s coming. But you have a big job to do. If she loves you as much as you love her, you must see eye-to-eye on this very important matter of the future. Your shared vision and goals for the future will bring your house in harmony. A divided vision and working at cross-purposes will bring nothing but heart-ache.
>>it is very clear to me that she has not begun the journey toward seeing how bad things actually are, and does not want to. I have mentioned my concerns to her, and she has found some fairly conventional ways to assert that they are unfounded, though at the same time she does seem willing for me to explore agricultural and foraging information and such.
It is scary to face what you have been facing. You love her and don’t want to scare her. But she must, if you are to have a harmonious life, be willing to investigate adequately. It is not enough for you to be the “preparer.” It isn’t enough for her to allow you to be the “eccentric.” On the other hand, don’t expect her to want to sign up for your future if you tell her “We’ll be lying on a gutter eating our own flesh!” She’d be silly to want to join you in that vision. So, your job, if you choose to accept it, is to outline what you see calmly and rationally to her.
Outline what the limitations and positives are, and what steps you think have to be taken to avert the bad things you see coming. In other words, you have to envision a future worth living in, but that’s only the first step: You have to figure out how to go step-by-step into that future WITH her. And you have to help her to understand that she’ll be giving up a lot to change her lifestyle, and that you understand and sympathize with that. And she will. And you will. And she is the other side of your ambivalence helping you to stay the same – frozen with indecision. I’ll have more to say about this stuff later.*
>>But it has already put a strain on our relationship, which is hard for me to bear.
This strain will, unfortunately, be the first of many. Be clear about how you want to be and act towards her when you disagree about something, and remain true to that way. But understand that you do neither her NOR you a favor by allowing her to be the bright side, while you remain the dark side. You need her optimism. All is NOT lost for those with the courage and wisdom to act. She needs your vision of a future that YOU find worth living in. She’ll be willing to tolerate the pain if it will lead to positive growth, not just more pain.
>>I think, in the end, if we are able (we are in our mid-to-late thirties) we will have a child, because I do not want to lose her, when it comes down to it.
That is a popular, but terrible reason to be a father. If a woman told you that she was going to have a child in order to “keep her man” would you applaud? I doubt it. You’d say any man who’d pressure her into having a child isn’t worth keeping. If you make a conscious decision to bring a child into this world of strife, you had better be fully prepared to provide a decent future for them.
>>And, if we have a child, I will bear the guilt for as long as I live of whatever suffering comes to that child in these times we’re heading towards, because I knew better. So this feels like a crucifixion.
It is a crucible, not a crucifixion. It is a trial, pressure that will either crack you or transform you. I hope the latter. If you believe yourself, if you actually DO know better, than I’m curious to know just what you plan to do. Is your plan to keep those children and grandchildren safe and happy, or face into your conscience and work with your wife on a different (childless or perhaps adoption) plan for the future and suffer her deep disappointment at not having a biological child?
>>I know everyone else must be going through similar sh*t.
You are definitely not alone in this,, and that’s why you want your story heard. You want to know that other people are dealing with this and are working through it. You want to know that this is something a person CAN work through…that it is something a marriage can survive.
>>It’s all crazy, and feels very unreal. I think we’re going to get more experience of the feel of unreality.
Actually, GN, I think the opposite. I think we’ll increasingly have the feeling of things getting very very real. The only “unreality” will be the stories they tell us on the television news. These will be increasingly out of whack with what our own lives and the lives of people around us tell us. That’s why we all need to Shut that TV OFF!
I am interested in your response to what I’ve written, and in knowing more about the details of your situation, if you care to share.
If not, I’ll thank you now for this most interesting letter. I’m sure it will resonate with many of my readers, especially the marital issues piece.
I wish you great wisdom and strength in the future.
P.S. Baseball doesn’t need fossil fuel. Are you on a team?
* I’m working on, what I believe to be, an important post on marriage between what I call “Convinced Spouses” and “Skeptical Spouses.” I will outline the types of issues that are common, to this type of marriage, but this post will do more. It will attempt to describe the sorts of emotional shifts that need to happen in both people for healing and reconciliation to begin. It will be directed at the general reader, as well as the professional couple’s therapist.
I’m inviting people who may be interested in reviewing my drafts, and commenting on them, to contact me. I’m particularly interested in reviewers who find themselves in that sort of relationship dynamic (Convinced/Skeptical). If you’d like to be a reviewer of this piece (and don’t worry, I’ll be hitting up the ‘usual suspects’) write to me at peakshrink AT peakoilblues DOT com.
Here’s a sample:
Strained Social Networks
The Convinced Spouse may now merely “endure” the “endless chatter” about “trivial things” that captivate the interests of their mutual friends. Social activities like new purchases, dining, vacationing, and other leisure activities now seem like a dreadful waste of time. If the Convinced Spouse does go along, the “false smiles” it may be obvious to the sensitive Skeptical Spouse. Obviously, one can’t ‘insist’ that the other enjoy themselves, but the lack of true pleasure often taints the fun of the Skeptical Spouse. Fights may follow. What was once an area of mutual pleasure and joint renewal and refreshment has now become filled with tension.
If new Peak Oil social networks are created, these prove to be equally “alien territory” for the Skeptical Spouse. If they found one person full of “doom and gloom” talk, now they must tolerate a hornet’s nest full of them…