Post Peak Career? Forget Law, Consider Geology

In 2007, Byron King was chatting with Mr. Wang, a marine geologist from China, and what he learned knocked his socks off:

“[T]here are about 40,000 or 50,000 students studying geology in China today at the university level. Maybe more, but I do not want to give you a number that is too high.”

That’s about 25 times the students studying in the US (and about half the US graduates are foreign nationals).

For every geologist in the US, we have about 50-100 lawyers, King estimates.

What about the population difference?  China has 4 times our population, but 50 times the number of geologists.

First year salaries:

Lawyers: $38,118 – $91,256

Petroleum Geologists: $44,385 – $106,4367857167_s



And geologists get longer vacation times and better bonuses, too.

Educational Requirements

Sixty-three percent of geologist have B.A degrees.

Match that to a doctoral degree you’d need for law.


The US Bureau of labor statistics predicts a 21% increase in need for geologists, vs 10% for lawyers by 2020.  We have a lot of retiring petroleum geologists with an average number of years in the biz averaging 19.  And their pay went up 13% last year.  Faster salary increases were seen for women.

It’s also a great profession for single women looking for men.  It’s a field that’s 90% men.


And hate your boss?  According to Oil on My Shoes,

“Good geologists need virtually no supervision, once they are told what the objectives of the company are.”

Job Satisfaction

And the same site reports 0ne poll that found that geologists ranked #2 in job satisfaction out of all professions.

After meeting hundreds of geologists over the years, I can say that people who fall into geology naturally (as most do) are extremely satisfied with their profession.”

So what’s the education?

B.S. in Geology OR make up the following course load:  Physical Geology (4 hours), Historical Geology (4 hours), Mineralogy (4 hours), Optical Mineralogy (4 hours), Petrology (3 hours), Stratigraphy/Sedimentation (3 hours), Structural Geology (3 hours), Geology Field Camp (6-8 hours), General Chemistry (8 hours), Physics (8 hours), Computer Science or Statistics (3 hours), Calculus (6 hours), and a possible foreign language requirement.


In the future scramble for understanding our world, and locating the last remaining resources available to exploit, or impacting how companies approach this exploration, we’ll need those who understand geology.


See more here


Saying Goodbye to Tomorrow.



Today is the last day on Earth, according to some New Age interpretation of the Mayan calendar.

This belief has caused endless suffering and useless expensive purchases by people trying to “beat the clock” and find somewhere safe to spend their last few hours.  Cheap places have suddenly become outrageously expensive, because someone said “Hang out there!” during your final hours.

This story caused one young woman to take her life.

However, saying “Goodbye to Tomorrow” has a long history that goes beyond this moment in time.  Humans are famous for planning the end of not only their own anticipated deaths, but because that is just too commonplace, they have to anticipate the death of everyone and everything around them.

The End of the World.  Or more modestly put, The End Of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI).

One psychologist got interested in one “Say Goodbye to Tomorrow” group, and actually hung out with them during their “final moments.”  He wanted to know how they cognitively justified it, when the end of the world failed to materialize.

He reported that great anticipation happened during the moments ticking up to “the end.”  Five minutes “after doomsday,” the euphoria of the group changed to anxiety.  After several hours, when the followers began to look doubtfully at their leader, he enthusiastically announced “We’ve done it!

In a twist of mental gymnastics, he proclaimed that given his followers’ prayers and preparations, they had successfully “stopped” the end!  But now he was in a bit of a dilemma:  If the whole raison d’etre of the group was the “end,” he needed another “end,” or what’s the point?

What I’m noticing is a disturbing trend that mimics this same pattern.  Saying “We’re screwed!” is a good start when you are trying to build enthusiasm, but not quite as good as “We’re screwed next Tuesday!”  When next Tuesday comes, and the “screwing” didn’t happen on cue, what do you do to maintain your credibility?

Again and again over the years, I’ve noticed that people have taken dramatic actions in anticipation of this or that “end.”  For some, it is the end of civilization.  For others, it is “goodbye to the global economic system.”  For still others, it is the end of the Earth as a livable planet.  For these intelligent, sincere individuals, their goal, despite their critics, isn’t making a fast buck.  Most of them make no or little money on their predictions.  They really believe in what they are predicting.  So, to live in congruency, they pack up, sell off, and move to some more “sustainable” or “safe” location, and try in earnest to live in keeping with their anticipated tomorrow.  They “do it anyway” as a friend of Sharon Astyk says.

But it causes some of them tremendous social hardship.

Nostalgia for the Present

For some, they start to miss their “old life,” that “yesterday” that they abandoned with conviction.  For most living in this “yesterday,” they weren’t nearly as wastefully as others.  They were already living lean, using a fraction of resources compared to the average person in Western Civilization.  And they, themselves, are products of this Civilization they’ve come to critique.  They are writers, intellectuals, scientists, and professionals. They often leave culturally rich environs to move to remote locations known for, well, known for nothing in particular that most people care very much about.  Let’s call that location “Rural Nowhere.”

Then they wait.  And wait.  And wait.

Rural Nowhere is not noted for great employment opportunities. They’ve often given up their jobs and their incomes as a matter of conviction and necessity.  No matter how long they anticipated their resources to last, as the months and years tick on, they see the bank accounts dwindling.  Some have sold their homes, bought an RV, and drove around believing the “end of oil” is upon us.  (Yes, I know…)

Plus, if they left an intellectually alive place for Rural Nowhere, they get lonely.  They get resentful.  They start to look back at all of their colleagues and neighbors, the “Sheeple,” that continue to rake in decent salaries and take in decent cinema, without driving a few hours.  They feel increasing disdain  and then increasing hostility.

If they confidently provided a timeline, their families begin to stare at them with their own impatient brand of “Sooooo?”  Few of us would move on the promise that “the end of tomorrow” will happen in 50 years.  Most of us drag our feet at dramatic lifestyle change if doom is expected in over 5 years.  So many are stuck with an accelerating Doomline, and a stubbornly “Todaylike” tomorrow.

What happens to your marriage, when you took her out to Rural Nowhere, and you have day after day of Todaylike tomorrows?  What happens when Tomorrow stubbornly refuses to leave?

The pressure is enormous.

As the clock continues to build, not only must Tomorrow be something that is going, it starts to mutate.  Despite the hardship, Today has got to go.

Evil Believers

It is one thing to be a Panglossian, who believes that nothing in the world could possibly go wrong.  Now, however, what about those who continue to believe in Tomorrow?  They are viewed in the worst possible light.  You want children? You’re pregnant?  Those bearing children become “breeders” who should be shunned.  You bought a new car, or iphone?  You are killing off the ecosystem.

3-E Hair Shirts

But caution is in order, because it is really very difficult to live purely, even in Rural Nowhere.  To resolve the hypocrisy, some proclaim “I won’t change, it is the corporations that need to change!” They say their contribution to Demise is hardly significant. So they go on living like they did yesterday, while predicting the end of tomorrow. The rest of us us still secretly driving to buy take-out, and are ashamed of ourselves or embarrassed when we’re “caught.”

We find ourselves lusting for that “really cool” gadget, then hating ourselves.  In an attempt to purify ourselves, no different than the saints who wore hair shirts or whipped themselves into trances to rid themselves of impure thoughts, these modern day Doomers also look for relief.

As if I haven’t created enough enemies in our community at this point, allow me to push forward.

 You either support our movement, or you take your place of shame with the Sheeple and be shunned…

Nudging Along the End of Today

If civilization is going to fall, and isn’t falling fast enough, it should now be nudged along.

The solution is also an old one.

A movement is gaining popularity whereby this nudging has taken on violent overtones.  The narrative is outlined in the starkest terms:  If you love the planet, there is only one recourse to those who are killing it.  You are either with us, or against us.  You either support our movement, or you take your place of shame with the Sheeple and be shunned.

Most often, of course, history has taught us that within these movements, there appears to be two classes of people:  The Leaders and the Followers.  The Leaders are often most valuable for continuing to do what they have been doing all along:  Thinking.  Writing.  Lecturing.  Pontificating.  They are justified in any eco-transgressions because, after all, they are the Leaders, and are attempting to gather more Followers to speed up The End of Tomorrow.

The Followers

The Followers also appear to be remarkably similar over the years.  They are usually much younger than the Leaders.  They have far fewer resources and often live lives much closer to “The End of Tomorrow” than the Leaders do.  They are often directly impacted by the worst parts of today, whether this is the crappy jobs during the rise of the industrial empire, or crippling student loans today.  But whether we are talking about the turn of the century or today, the role of the Followers are the same:  they are the handmaidens, the expendables.   They read the call to action and are ready to act.  They will engage in behaviors that cause them to either die or be put in cages for a very, very long time.


Sometimes we’ve learned, decades later, that the provocateurs were actually agents of the government who were seeking to discredit a popular movement that was gaining power.  They were “plants” who said: “We have to do this!” and yet, when everyone was imprisoned or dead, these “Leaders” safely vanished.  Popular movements become “unpopular” when associated with “senseless” acts violence.

Anyone who carefully studies human history will notice this trend.  And they will notice another mantra:  “Things have never been as bad as they are today.”  And usually they are right.  And dramatic actions are called for when we are talking about the End of the World.

They will also notice how slow the progress of change is, and how unpopular ideas seem to almost overnight, become popular ideas.  And despite how dire things are, no matter how bad today is, compared to all the badness of yesterday, remarkably, “today” continued to seamlessly flow into “tomorrow,” against all the odds.  And those who wrote the Doomline re-write the predictions, and no one seems particularly interested in the miscalculation.

Now I hate to have to be the one to write any of this.  What I’m saying is hardly revolutionary or new.  In fact, what I’m saying is easily what the most conservative endorsers of Today would say in response to social critics.  I’ve hardly been a cheerleader of Today, and don’t imagine Tomorrow will be swell, either.

But I care about young people, and I care about their passion and their enthusiasm.  And while I’m terrified of the future, too, I can’t imagine how violence that will mostly impact the poor and working classes will lead to a healthier planet.  I don’t see how spending decades of your life behind bars (“in a cage”) will somehow make the world a safer place for dying species.

And while most of these Thought Leaders proclaim how delighted they’d be to give their own lives for the future of a healthy planet, they live on.

They prep on.

They pontificate on.

And they tell us over and over that if we don’t “do something,” something increasingly dramatic as their Doomlines creep forward, we won’t have Tomorrow.

So for those who believe that Today is the last day on Earth I say:

”So long, it’s been good to know you.”

For the rest of us, let’s continue to work for change, with the utmost of care, and always anticipate that Tomorrow MIGHT come.

Alternate Energy – It may be closer than you think

It is obvious reading all the MSM articles on energy that they still are counting on technology to ride to the rescue of the declining oil age in the form of alternate energy on a white horse.  I wish I shared their optimism, but the facts don’t seem to support that rosy outlook.  I do believe we are closer to the alternate energy that no one wishes to think about.  It is time proven, inexpensive to implement, useful for growing crops, building or repairing houses, transporting you 10-20 miles, but nowhere as efficient as what we use today.  Where is this miraculous alternate energy?  Why it is in your very house.  Get up and go to the bathroom. Take a look in the mirror.  You are looking at the alternate energy of the future that you, your family, and neighbors will have to depend on—-you.

That’s right, you, that miraculous machine that takes in food energy and converts it into useful work.  Wait a minute you say, I am a pencil pushing paper shuffling e-mail dynamo, how is that going to be useful alternate energy in the world unfolding before us?  Well, in a few words, it won’t.  One of the mantras we have heard repeated during this economic downturn, is that to stay employed you have to constantly re-invent yourself.  Welcome to the biggest re-invention you will ever experience, the world’s newest (and oldest!) alternate energy source.  This alternate energy source already runs on bio-fuels without any need to convert its inner workings.  It will work in extreme heat or cold, just not as well as in moderate temperatures.

Uh oh, I think I hear the term physical conditioning coming.  Is this some kind of New Year’s resolution thing?  I don’t do well with those.  Well, those of us who have been to a Dr. in the last 10 years have already heard the speech, so I will dispense with it here.  What I would like to focus on is how we can make better use of this age old form of alternate energy in the future.  If one looks at a copy of an old Sears catalog from the late 1800’s, you will find all sorts of tools to multiply one’s ability to accomplish work.  Some are simple and still in use today, the crowbar and the pulley being two such items.  Others are a little more complex, such as the bicycle.  In order for these to be useful to you, two things must be in place.  First, you must understand how to use these tools in a manner for which they were designed, and their limitations.  Secondly, you must possess or have access to these tools when they are needed.

There is a second way to multiply this alternate energy when needed, recruit other alternate energy supplies to assist you with your task at hand.  This may be the biggest challenge to the new alternate energy.  We have lived several decades, at least one full generation, with the notion that to ask for help is a sign of weakness.  Our pride can be our undoing.  In order for this alternate energy of the future (and the past) to be effective, it will have to be a collective effort in many cases.  Unless you live in a very small community, calling your friend on the other side of town to assist may not be your best idea.  Instead, you will need to start cultivating the fields of neighbors right around you.  The sooner the better.   Not only can you acquire different skill sets by doing so, but you can come up with a way to multiply your tool access in the process.  It will usually be sufficient for there to be only one or two sets of certain tools among your group to accomplish most tasks.  It is very inefficient for everyone to have a copy of the same tool set, if it isn’t used very often.  Part of the process to break the ice, is to have an inventory of your own tools and skills  which you pass to each neighbor with the understanding that they are available if needed, and ask them to add anything to the list they might be able to make available if needed.  This is an early step in making “community” right where you live.

Up to now, this seems to be a “me and mine” or “you and yours” type of arrangement.  There is another group you need to realize your alternate energy will have to be used for.  In your “community of neighbors” will be those whose alternate energy has decreased to a barely functioning level, either by age or physical infirmities, who will have to depend on you and your neighbors to assist with, or in some cases completely take on a task of theirs which is beyond their capability.  In the future, giving them a phone number of a United Way agency or telling them to call an out of town relative for assistance will probably not be an option, and will not discharge your obligations to the “community”.

All of this prepping for the new alternate energy takes something all of us try to hoard, TIME.  Some of your neighbors today will see no reason to invest any of their time in any endeavor of this sort, because they don’t see a problem they can’t solve themselves or with a phone call……..yet.  I’m reminded of times when a strong hurricane is approaching shore, and the population has been put under a mandatory evacuation order, there are still those who want to do it all themselves and stay put, their pride won’t allow them to be anything but completely independent.  Unfortunately, they put others at grave risk trying to rescue them later.  You probably won’t be able to convince a large portion of your neighbor community to work at mutual assistance initially, but seeing it in action can be a powerful incentive.  Somebody from the city or the state is not going to come in to set up the kind of “community” you need, it will have to originate with YOU.  Will you start using your alternate energy productively today?  Let’s hope so.  It may be all we have available in a few years.


Chuck Willis

written by Chuck Willis on 1/9/11


The Charge of the Peak Oil Brigade

Over 150 years ago, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote a poem about a famous battle in the Crimean War. The poem was called “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and many of us had to read it in high school or college. One passage was called to mind this morning as I scanned my usual news sources.

Cannon to the right of them,
Cannon to the left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Today, instead of cannon, we can substitute turmoil. It seems that economic turmoil is firing volleys of bad news at us from one side, political turmoil fires volleys of bad news at us from the other side, and energy turmoil is loading up directly in front of us. Environmental turmoil continues to snipe at us from behind every rock.

Many of the Light Brigade 157 years ago knew their plight to be very dismal indeed. But as the poem said “Boldly they rode and well”. I have begun to see a weak connection between “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and those of us who have been on active duty in the peak oil community for a while.

There are many similarities between the “peak oilers” and the soldiers of Light Brigade. The Light Brigade was few in number, some 600, as recorded in the poem. We in the peak oil community find our number to be far less than needed for the magnitude of the energy shortage challenges approaching. Large caliber media cannons fire at us from every side. Governmental agency cannons fire at us repeatedly, from behind a very thick “smoke screen”. Corporate cannons fire at us from behind “smoke and mirrors media campaigns”. Our closest associates snipe at us from behind every rock. And yet, we continue pressing forward, for we know that there is no going back to the life of wasteful energy usage. Yes, we ride boldly forward with many of us having been wounded by ridicule, or apathy.

The Charge of the Peak Oil Brigade bears many similarities to the Light Brigade, and yet there are many differences too. The field across which we must ride recently filled with economic land mines, a problem the Light Brigade did not have to endure. We cannot anticipate what exact effect these land mines will have as we charge the challenges of peak oil. It is one thing to prepare for a peak oil future when the economic ground beneath our feet remains firm. It is totally another when we have to proceed with small steps, analyzing every inch of ground for fear that the path ahead of us may explode at any moment.

One trait common among the soldiers in the peak oil community is battle fatigue. The survivors of the Light Brigade knew this well. I think that on a regular basis, I really need to stop and step away from the issue a bit and rest, but I find myself drawn back to the issues and preparations like a moth to a porch light. Fighting a war on one front is hard. Fighting a war on two fronts is extremely difficult. We are engaged in wars on both the economic and energy fronts while contending with environmental issues as well..

I think that the large scale Occupy movement erupting all over the US, and now spreading to the rest of the world is a collective cry for relief from economic battle fatigue. Even those still employed are developing this malady, afraid to open emails from the boss on Fridays, afraid to watch the evening news, afraid to open the business section of the newspaper, afraid to look at their bank and credit card statements, and afraid to open their quarterly 401k statement.

What can we do to combat this battle fatigue? I find that working with my hands towards a long term sustainability goal is a great stress reliever. Peak Shrink has encouraged us to take a break from the talking heads on TV, as well as the peak oil sites when things seem to be overwhelming. Good advice. You can’t stick your head in the sand and leave it there like 98% of the population, but you must maintain balance in life. Like the old saying we used to hear; “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” The version that we need to consider is “All Peak Oil and no play makes Jack very mal-adjusted”.

We could combat economic battle fatigue by joining a protest movement like the Occupy group, but I think that beneath the surface we realize the economic battle fatigue has roots further down than the financial institutions, The energy monster is what we peak oilers most fear. Gathering in front of banks would soon be recognized as a fruitless venture for us.

How is our charge to proceed? Everyone can’t do everything, but everyone can do something. This statement will have to be our marching order going forward. We will need to build our community around us and share the things we can do with others, as they in turn share with us. This is our only practical formula for combating energy and economic battle fatigue.

All the soldiers of the Light Brigade had great fear for the immediate future before them, but they were determined not to be defined by their fears and battle fatigue.

Is your sword at the ready, or is it rusty?



Sustaining Our Better Angels

Walk with Angels by Amy White*

William E. Rees, FRSC is a man worthy of respect. He put forth the notion of an “Ecological Footprint” in 1992.  I had the pleasure of meeting him at a small dinner party when I spoke in Vancouver last year as part of my lecture tour. I read his latest piece: The Human Nature of Unsustainability, posted on Energy Bulletin with keen interest.

Planet Killers

In this article, Rees discusses how the scientific community has gone on record to tell us we are killing the planet.  He presents us with a dilemma:  If we know that what we are doing is bad for us, why do we keep doing it?  His emphasis in this article is to look at human nature, itself, to find an essential part of the answer.

According to Dr. Rees, humans are “K-strategists:”

“K” stands for the long-term carrying capacity of an ecosystem; K-strategists are species that tend to have relatively stable populations approaching that carrying capacity…Their individual survival and overall evolutionary success depend on competitive superiority at high population densities when resources are scarce.

Growth Memes

He points out the powerful impact that our collectively shared beliefs have on economic growth:

The entire world today is in the thrall of a particularly powerful “meme complex” whose effect is to reinforce humanity’s K-selected expansionist tendencies….This growth-oriented mythic construct has shaped the lives of more people than any other cultural narrative in all of history.

As an influential memetic construct, the growth imperative is actually just two generations old. Only in the 1950s did economic growth emerge from nowhere to become the “supreme overriding objective of policy” in many countries around the world.

In this discourse, the damage done to the planet by “Homo Economicus,” becomes a description of Homo Sapiens as a collective whole, and we humans are allegedly, a competitive, destructive bunch:

…we habituate to any level of consumption (once a given level is attained, satisfaction diminishes) so the tendency to accumulate ratchets up. This is particularly so if we perceive that another social group—or country—is “getting ahead” faster than we are.

In making his argument, Rees moves from genetics to evolutionary biology, neurobiology and cultural memes seamlessly, linking concepts of emotionality, competitiveness, irrationality and human selfishness as defining human traits we need to overcome.

From a systems perspective, we might say that our current “unsustainability” is a product of the natural system…

There are certain behavioral adaptations that helped our distant ancestors survive—and thus those predilections were passed on to us. But those same (now ingrained) behaviors today are decidedly not helpful in solving our sustainability crisis—they have become maladaptive.

According to Rees: We…cannot assume that global society will necessarily deal rationally with the data documenting accelerating global ecological change,” and, he reminds us, as we are all too familiar: “passion will trump reason in shaping one’s responses to emotionally charged or life-threatening encounters.”  Quoting neurobiologist Antonio Damasio, he argues that to survive as a species, we need to rise above our innate proclivities and employ:

…supra-instinctual survival strategies that have developed in society, are transmitted by culture, and require for their application consciousness, reasoned deliberation and willpower.

While he’s careful to add that “[T]his perspective is not rooted in genetic determinism;” and doesn’t deny that “other factors contribute to humanity’s sustainability dilemma,” he nonetheless argues that “unless we factor in the bioevolutionary contribution, our understanding of the modern human predicament will remain unintelligibly incomplete and any “solutions” hopelessly ineffective.”

He writes:

Humans like to think that we have arrived at the free-will end of this spectrum, but much of modern cognitive science suggests that this is largely illusion. Psychologist Robert Povine argues from the available evidence that the starting assumption in behavioral psychology should be “that consciousness doesn’t play a role in human behaviour. This is the conservative position that makes the fewest assumptions.”

…To reestablish cognitive consonance between ingrained perceptions and new environmental realities requires that affected parties engage in the willful restructuring of their belief systems and associated neural pathways. These efforts require conscious effort and will not always be successful: “There are indeed potions in our own bodies and brains capable of forcing on us behaviours that we may or may not be able to suppress by strong resolution.” Even when people accept that such a change in their beliefs and their thinking is necessary, the process can be lengthy, difficult, and unpredictable.

International Global Solution?

He ends the piece on quite a different note, arguing that while “[m]odern society has been paralyzed by cognitive dissonance, collective denial, and political inertia in dealing with the sustainability conundrum” his hope is that with “international agreement on the nature of the problem, a global solution is at least theoretically possible.”  His dreams are for a global centralized solution where by the force of “unprecedented political will,” and “creative engagement of modern communication technologies” the entire “world community” will develop a “commitment to a collective solution.”  The exclamation point at the end of this sentence implies that he, himself, sees little hope of that happening.  Yet, according to Rees,  “[t]hese are the minimal cultural tools needed to socially reengineer ourselves, and to educate the next generation from scratch, in a whole new sociocultural paradigm for survival. (emphasis added)

Will the Real Human Please Stand Up?

I suggest, however, that we must pause again to ask ourselves: “Which humans are we talking about?

For Rees, “Homo Economicus,” so involved as he is in world domination, is Homo Sapien. The hegemony of global capitalism is subsumed into “the expanding human enterprise itself.”  But does our understanding of the economic and sociopolitical dominance of “Homo Economicus,” inform all we need to know about human nature to motivate behavior change?

Consciousness Doesn’t Count?

In this argument, Rees puts front and center a quite powerful meme in its own right. The implication is that cognitive psychology is itself a “hard science” able to say anything as concretely as the absurd post-modern notion that human “consciousness doesn’t play a role in human behaviour.

As a clinical psychologist who maintains an interest in social, cognitive and evolutionary psychology, I’ve become increasingly hesitant to agree that rescuing the future survival of a livable planet rests so soundly on acknowledging the limits of free will.  While I often get a kick out of  the inventive conclusions my colleagues reach, based on the severely limited social science research they conduct, my amusement ends when these same conclusions are used to generalize these findings to all of humanity.

We Are the World, We are THE Humans…

As Steven J. HeineProfessor of Psychology, University of British Columbia points out, the field of psychology itself is a very narrow, ethnocentric place:

…both the people conducting the research and the people who are the targets of the research largely come from a select few cultural backgrounds. Here are some indicators of the narrowness of the field: A review of international scientific productivity found that American-based psychologists accounted for 70% of the citations in psychology, a proportion higher than any of the other sciences reviewed (and approximately twice the proportion of chemistry). The next biggest contributing nations are all English-speaking ones: the UK, Canada, and Australia, respectively.

Likewise, my colleagues, Joe Henrich, Ara Norenzayan, and I, have calculated that a randomly selected American college student is more than 4000 times more likely to end up as a participant in a psychology study than is a randomly selected person living outside of the West. These nonrepresentative samples wouldn’t be such a problem if people everywhere thought in the same ways, but the available evidence shows that in many key ways they do not.

Unlike chemistry, where the object of study is independent of the researcher’s political or cultural perspective, psychologists study people. They often get the inspiration for their ideas by their own introspections and by observing those around them. A narrow range of perspectives isn’t a problem if one hopes to explain just those people who share those perspectives. But often psychologists purport to be studying human nature, and when the field only attracts those with a limited range of political and cultural perspectives, they may produce an incomplete and misleading caricature of that nature. (emphasis added)

If we, then, recognize this cultural bias, what is the meme that goes along with First World culture?

Pragmatic Altruism vs. Violent Mindset

As Stuart Twemlow, M.D. points out, we in the US are exposed to an”endless deluge of unmitigated violence, in the media, on the Internet, and in print, which subtly and gradually helps to shape a defensive “violent mindset” that reflects in the way we treat each other.”  In this violent mindset, people attempt to “spend much time trying to win at any cost” and “gauge personal success by economic and material gain.”  Despite the overwhelming evidence of the harmful and shaping effects of exposure to violence and its cancerous effects on communities, a “debate” about the impact of violence on the psyche continues.  Dr. Twemlow compares the “debate” about these facts as similar to the lengthy antique “debate” about cigarette smoking and lung cancer.

The violent mindset vs. what he calls the “pragmatic altruistic” mindset impacts the collective community consciousness in areas of creativity, thought patterns, ruthlessness, economic prosperity, inner peace, outer peace, power struggles, greed, envy, contempt, materialism and narcissism.  This violent meme has so totally dominated the discourse in the USA, that inevitably, our habits and unconscious assumptions about what is “human nature” are debased.  Our children are taught through the media that “winning isn’t everything, its the only thing.”

For more than 30 million years, as Twemlow points out, we have another equally powerful and “evolutionarily based” nature:  altruism.  The notion of “pragmatic altruism” is ridiculed as soft-headed and idealistic, and hardly a shaping factor of human evolution.  It therefore seldom considered as  a viable pathway to resolve the problems we face.

Monkeys and apes engage in reconciliation and forgiveness.  And even our complete understanding of “dominance” as one that benefits reproduction among the great apes has to be questioned when females apes sneak away with less dominant males.  Alpha male apes are often under greater physical and psychological stress, and have much higher levels of glucocorticoid stress hormones in their blood, which can result in impaired immune systems.  Dominance has its costs.

This powerful meme too often misreads the “selfish gene” as the “selfish human.” As I have argued elsewhere, “[t]here is a political danger in who takes control of the narrative.”  Herbert Spenser altered Darwin’s biological theories to fit his own philosophical economic notions in 1864.  It turns out that this narrative of a nasty, competitive selfish world, is only based on partial recollections of the data, and not only doesn’t it tell the whole story,  it presents a political (power) explanation for oppression using biology as a justification: “Nature is selfish so I can be selfish.” It is a narrative of genetic classism. It is also a narrative of domination and imperialism.

In emphasizing, as he does in this article, the competitive, destructive, self-focused and unconscious, irrational elements of an elite group of wealthy humans, Rees not only duplicates this same error, but leaves the reader feeling hopeless as to any clear pathway out of this horror.

Hardly idealistic ramblings of social scientist dreamers, Twemlow, Sacco and their colleagues point to concrete ways to alter this dreary outlook on the future.  The solutions are local, not global.  According to these researchers, communities deteriorate in predictable ways, but they can also be healed systematically when the will to do so is present. “Comfort,” “belonging” and “protection” are features that all humans crave, and therefore there is no need for “supra-instinctual survival strategies.”

The values of Homo Economicus are deadly to the planet.  But it is dangerous to confuse the dysfunction of humans impacted by global free market capitalism, with the norms of human psychology or psycho-evolutionary biology.  Unipolar depressive disorders is the leading causes of disability worldwide.  Is this a normal human state?

Are Fragmented Communities Killing the Planet?

As Bruce Alexander, Ph.D. points out, we live in a civilization that has become psychologically fragmented. Free market capitalism, now the dominant ideological economic system, has systematically displaced people, fragmenting Third World attachment to the land, a sense of:

“..identity that comes from secure families, stable communities, and a predictable future; we lack the sense of meaning that comes from shared values and religious beliefs; and we lack the confidence that comes from being part of a nation, a civilization, or an economic system that warrants our deep respect. More and more people are finding that addiction and other destructive lifestyles the most effective ways they can find to fill the social void and control the anxiety. Addictions, whether they center a person’s life on drugs or anything else provide some kind of a substitute for real identity, meaning, and confidence. Having found a substitute for what they lack in their inner core, people cling to it for all they are worth – addictively.” link

Among these addictions are compulsive shopping and other forms of consumption.  When basic human needs for belonging are met, attachment happens not only between people, but to the land they live on, as well.

As Chief Seattle wrote of the invaders:

Your dead forget you and the country of their birth as soon as they go beyond the grave and walk among the stars. They are quickly forgotten and they never return. Our dead never forget this beautiful earth. It is their mother. They always remember and love her rivers, her great mountains, her valleys. They long for the living, who are lonely too and who long for the dead. And their spirits often return to visit and console us.”

Similar ecoes are expressed in Scottish singer/songwriter Dougie MacLean’s 1988 lyrics in Solid Ground:

It’s the Land. It is our wisdom
It’s the Land. It shines us through
It’s the Land. It feeds our children
It’s the Land. You cannot own the Land. The Land owns you.

Alexander points out that the highlands of Northwestern Scotland provide an Anglo example of the dislocating effects of free markets on traditional society.

Until the second half of the 18th century, highlands society was little touched by free markets. The local economy was a network of traditional obligations among people living in stable families and occupying well-defined social strata…. Although highland society suffered from famine in poor years, it offered psychosocial integration to even the very poorest, and emigration was uncommon.  After the last major armed uprising against British rule was defeated at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the British government began the systematic destruction of highland society.  The traditional bearing of arms was prohibited, as was traditional dress, including plaid, tartan, and kilt.

Group identity is maintained through “threads” of shared traditions and cultural characteristics of dress, celebrations, and customs.  Quoting songwriter Neil Young, I call this phenomenon becoming a “patch of ground people.”

Drs. Twemlow and Frank Sacco use of “pragmatic altruism” and “community stabilization systems” is transformative in a relatively brief period of time.  In a few years, a violent and degraded school in Jamaica, where truancy exceeded 70% and knife fights and rape were commonplace, became a peaceful place where former schoolyard bullies assumed a “non-bullying role, and even became “community helpers.” Montego Bay’s police force, once considered “animals” by the citizenry, were increasingly regarded as benevolent helpers and keepers of the peace.  These sorts of cultural shifts do not require neurological reprogramming, but instead, a consistent message of common purpose, community spirit, and what they call “mentalizing.”

With stunning examples of social change in dire communities drenched in violence, and with very little outside monetary input,  these people embraced and held onto their best selves.

We have a long history of attachment to each other, even in the “Me! Me!” USA, as I’ve outlined here.  This “hidden history of cooperatives and communialism,” is outlined in a riveting book by John Curl called “For All the People.”  But this long history didn’t simply disappear:

It was deliberately written out of history books, and now a powerful meme seeks to write it out of our conception of human “nature.”

While Dr. Rees maintains that the “influential memetic construct” of pursing  unrestrained economic growth as a matter of policy emerged in the 1950s “from nowhere,” I would argue that “nowhere” has never been a reliable source of ideas.**

As Alexander wrote:

“England successfully dominated the 19th century world, and English free market economics, with its intrinsic destruction of traditional culture, spread across the map of western Europe…Because free market society now dominates the world, the destruction of traditional culture has become ubiquitous. In an ultimate irony, tens of thousands of Latin American peasants, some of whom grew coca on their tiny farms, are currently being dislocated in the interest of preventing addiction through the War on Drugs.”

His point is that this very dislocation causes the very “addiction” the War on Drugs aims to eliminate.

The Better Angels of Human Nature

As Abraham Lincoln said in his first Inaugural Address, “the mystic cords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better Angels of our nature.”

We have no choice but to deal with these troubling times with either our best, or our worse selves.  I find it disturbing when brilliant thinkers suggest that our only hope lies with a dramatic change of heart among global elites who have, at this point, consistently demonstrated no interest in curbing their own rapacious appetites.  They have consistently used their influence in the media, government and the funding of social science research to not only shape the nature of the discourse, but to shape our collective values.

Our hope doesn’t lie with our leaders, Dr. Rees, or in looking to a few elites who can provide the needed “supra-instinctual survival strategies.”  As people living in the wealthiest of nations, we may have, as Dr. Rees suggests, sunk to our lowest selves, become lost and destructive, plundering the planet while drowning in our sea of “stuff.”  But this is simply a perverse and pervasive cultural meme promulgated by a powerful and influential oligarchy.

It is now time for careful thinkers to propose an alternative view of what it means to be fully human.  We may need to look outside The First World for new insights and broader understandings.

What we need are constant reminders in every media, school, and community throughout the world of another way of being.  Bullying and the acceptance of violence as a “natural human state” cannot be tolerated.  We have within us, the very innate altruistic qualities needed to work our way back to that simpler, communally-focused way of life– the 75% reduction that Dr. Rees said was possible–that will bring us back to our senses.  It is happening already.

Locally.  Methodically.  Little by little.  Step-by-step.


*Amy White’s artwork can be found at

**Richard Heinberg has done an excellent job of charting the pathways of growth in his book: The End of Growth

Beyond Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs


At the height of WWII, Abraham Maslow proposed a “hierarchy of human needs,” often depicted as a pyramid, where it was necessary for one need to be fulfilled in order to meet the next.  By the mid-1950’s he had written a book popularizing this same idea. The theory is that lower needs, like food and shelter, capture our attention until they are met.  Thereafter, “higher” needs, referred to as “self-actualization,” can then be attained.

Maslow’s notions became popular with marketers at a time when the USA was king.  We were one of the few industrialize countries left untouched structurally by the ravages of war.  Industry and advancement was an unquestioned good.  Oil flowed freely, and the GI Bill offered returning soldiers a chance to take advantage, to “self-actualize,” as they never were able to before.

WWII also gave a tremendous boost to the field of psychology, as many tests were developed to rank, measure, and place thousands of people along an imaginary grid of ability, intelligence, and leadership qualities.  In addition, the end of the war also gave a boost to clinical psychologists, who found a new group of patients, left violently impacted by the War, either through their experiences abroad or here at home, and now with new economic resources to spend in order to “better themselves.”

When we no longer had to concentrate on physiological need, the argument went, we humans could begin a journey toward self-discovery.  “Safety” (securing your ‘stuff’) could be reached after physiological needs.  Once that was secured, “Love and Belonging,” became a need to be realized.  This was followed by “Esteem” of self and others, and finally, “Self-Actualization.”

All but the last group were considered building blocks- “D” or deficiency needs, necessary for self-actualization, but arising from deprivation.  In contrast, self-actualization needs were “B” or “being” needs, “growth” needs, where notions of morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, freedom from prejudice, and “acceptance of the facts” allowed people to be free of the worry of what others thought, now possessing the capacity to live up to their “true potential.”

The distribution of wealth in the US, at the time Maslow wrote, was dramatically different than today.  Today, one percent of the population continues to expand their wealth, while the remaining ninety-nine percent sink, making us now an “Underdeveloping Nation.”

Many in the Peak Oil community accept Maslow’s paradigm without question, but this has serious implications for how we conduct our lives and our preps:

  • Does one set of needs have to be met before the next can be satisfied?
  • Does one improve one’s marginal existence first, or does developing community facilitate this improved standard of living for all?
  • Do we need to secure more “stuff” in order to build community?
  • Do poor people lack the capacity for creativity or self-pride?
  • If you are “busy putting on your oxygen mask first,” do you forget that a larger system supplied you with that oxygen mask to begin with?
  • Is property a more basic need than friendship, family, or sexual intimacy?
  • Does sex always precede sexual intimacy?
  • If we, in the wealthier countries, have the “foundations” for self-actualization, don’t we have an obligation to lead the rest of the world to do the same?
  • If some of us (wealthy/industrialized) have a superior grasp of the “facts” isn’t it our duty to shape reality for the remainder of the planet?
  • Are we so certain that bio-systems have no role to play in our self-actualization, that we destroy them without thought?

Another View

Development is about people, not about objects.  Manfred Max-Neef

These notions of human “nature” have led to increasing poverty throughout the world, not to prosperity and self-actualization.  While marketing theories have used Maslow’s work to promote increased consumptive patterns, this approach has resulted in massive debt and ecological devastation.

An alternative view proposed by Manfred Max-Neef, rejects the “hierarchy” notion, choosing instead to focus on a constellation of universal needs that are integrative and additive.  These include:

  • Idleness (Relax)
  • Subsistence (Survive)
  • Freedom (Choose)
  • Affection (Love)
  • Identity (Belong)
  • Protection (Protect)
  • Understanding (Understand)
  • Creation (Create)
  • Participation (Stand Up)

Greed should be among those who have nothing.  No. The more you have, the more greedy you become…          Manfred Max-Neef

Chilean economist Max-Neef, proposed that human needs are few, finite and classifiable.

While the strategies may change in an attempt to meet them, the needs remain constant throughout the world, and at all times throughout history.  In sharp contrast to a hierarchy, these needs are interrelated and interactive. This model replaces the notion that humans are driven by insatiable needs for consumption, replacing it with a notion of “satisfiers” which can either be genuine or false.

Max-Neef points out that an attempt to satisfy one need can inhibit or destroy others.  For example, an ‘arms race’ satisfies the need for protection, while destroying the need for subsistence, freedom or participation.  Materialism can express identity, while removing time for relaxation or subsistence of the biosphere.  We have to learn to calculate the real costs of our needs, not just the obvious price-tag.

Formal democracy, which is supposed to meet the need for participation often dis-empowers and alienates; commercial television, while used to satisfy the need for recreation, interferes with understanding, creativity and identity – the examples are everywhere.                                          Source

In contrast to satisfiers that violate or destroy, others are “synergic” where two or more satisfiers cooperate together for an even more gratifying outcome.  Think of examples such as preventative medicine, group sing-a-longs, or breastfeeding.  Every implementation of a satisfier has to be examined through the lens of its capacity to provide multiple benefits, or antagonisms to other satisfiers.  In other words, we need to grasp the trade-offs.  An essential feature of needs satisfaction is the evaluation of its benefits and costs.

While Western psychology has had a decidedly individual perspective, that model no longer fits the situation we’re facing.  Embracing “Maslow’s Hierarchy” no longer fits the problems we are confronting.  We have to get, on a cellular level, that run -away economic growth is no longer a possibility.  We either get, or reject, our place in the biosphere.   It isn’t some romantic notion.  It is preparation for a life that’s dramatically different from the one we are living now.

You  learn extraordinary things living among the poor.

” The first thing you learn [from people] in poverty is that there is an enormous creativity.  You cannot be an idiot if you want to survive.  Every minute you have to be thinking:  “What next?  What next right now What can I do here?  What’s this? da da da.  Your creativity is constant.  In addition there are networks of cooperation, mutual aid, all sorts of extraordinary things, which you no longer find in our dominant society. .. which is individualistic, greedy, egotistical, etc.

And sometimes, it is so shocking that you will find people happier in poverty than you would find in your own environment.  Which also means that poverty is not just a question of money, it’s a much more complex thing.” Max-Neef Video Here

These are more than the words of an idealist.  This is a comprehensive model of human “being”, a psychological view of humans that extend back well before the oil age, and will, if we survive, extend well into the future.  Like Max-Neef, I listen to the stories of the poor, stories of survival, creativity, community.  Unless we collectively begin to grasp the fundamental nature of this truth, and reject Petroleum-informed models of individualism–a belief that only wealth can bring tolerance and creativity–we will handicap ourselves beyond our imagination.

How to Be Maladaptive: Fourteen Tips for Mental Activities Guaranteed to Enhance your Misery during Bad Times

Those who learn about Peak Oil, climate change, and economic hard times show a series of short-lived symptoms of stress over several months, but these are normal and expected reactions to these stunning findings.  Roughly 50-60% of adults in North America are exposed to traumatic events, but only 5% to 10% develop maladjusted PTSD and related problems.  What sorts of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors promote the development of longer-term traumatic reactions? Read on:

1. Mess with your sense of agency:

Put yourself into double-binds where you are either totally responsible for everything that happens to you or totally helpless to modify the course of events.

“I’m Totally Responsible!”

If you choose this route, you should entertain any and all thoughts that suggest your culpability and negligence or that will intensify your feelings of guilt and shame: “I should never have gotten into so much debt! What could I have been thinking?!? I am such a loser!”

Let others in on your asinine behavior, prepping them with lines such as “wasn’t that really stupid of me?”  Choose people (such as those who hate debt) who will be more than happy to assist you in believing that you are, indeed, a loser, lazy or stupid. Their help will reinforce your thinking, making this a particularly easy option to accomplish.

“I have no control!”

Or, if you prefer to be totally helpless, repeat “I have no control over anything,” whenever you begin to feel a sense of direction, possibility, or purpose. This should be repeated like a mantra.  “I have no control over anything. I have no control over my feelings or thoughts. I have no control over my actions. I have no control over (fill in the blank.)”  Focus on ignoring the basics that are most impactful to people right after a disaster, such as food, water, shelter, coordinating the reunification with loved ones, and health care supplies.  Don’t think out possible outcomes, alternatives, and the like.  Remain as ignorant as possible to the areas of control you do have.

2. Perfect your paranoia:

Don’t let down your guard! Be hyper-vigilant, ruminating, and brooding.

There are two versions of this option you can choose from, depending on your natural bent. The first is the milder form and involves entertaining thinking that goes against countervailing wisdom just BECAUSE it is contrary.  Act counter to expert advice, even in cases when it agrees with your own best evaluation. Then, worry that you aren’t doing anything constructive.  Repeat.
The second version is for the more hard-core. This involves monitoring the “doomer news” multiple times every day and searching for deeper “meanings” or patterns in past and current events that will help you uncover the “why” questions for which there are no satisfactory answers. As an adjunct to this, continually share your most outlandish theories with family, friends, and strangers, especially during times of intense conflict and stress between you. Be sure to talk as fast as possible, as loudly as possible, as insistently as possible, and connect every conversation back to your theories. Be single-minded.
As Churchill reminded us:  A fanatic is someone who won’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.
Emulate this.
As your family, friends, and acquaintances begin to avoid you, tie this in as evidence of their involvement in the conspiracy or blame it on their utter “sheeple-ness.”  Feel free to share this opinion with them.

3. Focus on the personal “unfairness” of the situation:

Make yourself the victim:

“I’m a walking target!” “Other people have it better than I do. Why is my life so much worse than everybody else’s?” “Why do I have to have problems other people don’t have to have?” “What did I do to deserve this?”  “Why me?”  “Why now?”

Look at others whose situations appear better than yours and envy or blame them. “That jackass! He’s an idiot! What did he do to deserve a doomer retreat in the hills and a Prius while here I am stuck in a crappy suburb driving a gas-guzzling SUV?” You have to be capable of lots of self-deception to do this one well; rationality is your enemy.  If they have no retirement accounts, resent them that they’ve got nothing to lose if the market crashes.  “Ya, sure.  It is easy for them.  They’ve never had anything to lose, so what do they care!”

If you have ever engaged in sports or watched them on TV, you will have incorporated the winners and losers mentality, the competitive drive, which will assist you in this endeavor. Just feel your “Inner Loser;” this will motivate you to feel victimized, because after all, we all want and deserve to be winners.

Believe nothing positive will result from the experience.

4. Assume you are worthless or incompetent:

Emphasize how incapable you are of dealing with the new reality and how you can’t rely on yourself for anything. Reiterate over and over that you have no skills and couldn’t, for example, grow a garden if your life depended on it (and when you realize your life does depend on it, go on to Number 5).

Believe that anything you do to try to mitigate the effect of hard times will be inadequate, wrong-headed, and counterproductive.  See yourself as continually vulnerable and dwell on how your inability to cope will bring you and your family to the brink of utter destruction and beyond.

Reject any attempts at goal-setting as fruitless and if you do make a “Goal, Plan, Do, Check” approach, lose the list or don’t follow through with it.

5. Engage in “head in the sand” behavior:

Persistently pine for the days when you were ignorant of what was coming and believe that this ignorance was bliss.

Better yet, refuse to believe any evidence of current financial, cultural, political, or environmental degradation or devolution. When you have to come up for air, be sure to keep your eyes and ears covered; after all, as long as you can’t see or hear it, it is not a reality in your world.  TV is safe to watch, even the nightly news.

6. Don’t allow yourself to feel bad:

Instead, medicate stress

Drugs, alcohol, sleep, or lots of ice cream (or chocolate, if you prefer) and any other avoidant behaviors you can devise. Then, assume that you are overreacting to the stress that everyone else is effectively coping with better than you. Use more drugs, alcohol, sleep, and sweets to keep yourself from feeling bad about that.  You will have bought into a perfect circle of feeling bad, self-medicating, feeling bad, self-medicating…

Ignore relaxation-based interventions such as controlled breathing techniques or mindfulness strategies that have proven to be effective.  Ignore your ‘body wisdom.’

7. Focus on what other people think of you:

Be preoccupied with their opinions of you and be sure to assume the worst.

If there are people in your life who think well of you, you must discount their opinions, cut them short, reject a  complement, look down, and walk away with a scowl. It should be obvious they either don’t know you very well or they aren’t very bright. If they do know you well and they are bright, assume you have hidden the worst from them. Focus on the people in your life who you imagine think badly about you; hyper-focus on them. Then, be angry or rejecting toward them for what you imagine they must be thinking.  As you acquire more evidence for their negative opinions, obsess even more.  And, finally, allow what you imagine they think of you to dictate your behavior, so that you are acting counter to your own intuitions and truths. This will help to divorce you from your internal beacon of what is right or wrong and will  cause you to flounder about in indecision and confusion. It will cause you to distrust yourself. It will also help to deaden you emotionally.

8. Project future doom:

No matter how bad things get, always assume the worst is yet to come.

If you still have a job, imagine joblessness.  If you still have family who love you, imagine their death or abandonment. If you are hungry, imagine starvation will soon kill you. If you are cold, assume you’ll freeze to death.

This is the slippery slope option. Climb up and start on down.  Make no distinction between “then and there” and “here and now.”  Overgeneralize.   Assume an endless state of doom, a huge on-going collapse that will keep you in a permanent state of terror.   See yourself as the father in the movie “The Road” who never reaches the coast. Imagine not only what might happen, but how you will be particularly susceptible, vulnerable, AND helpless to impact it.  Don’t try to rein in your imaginings; really let yourself go.  Share these flights of fantasy with your nearest and dearest, especially those with tender sensitivities. This will hasten your abandonment and bring you evidence that you are right. And it is always nice to be proven correct.

9. Convince yourself that you are on your own:

Assume no one is safe, predictable, or trustworthy, especially those closest to you.

Include your spouse, relatives, and best friends. Better yet, assume that everyone is acting against your best interests. Give no one the benefit of the doubt. Twist something you overheard into a damaging accusation of you. Be courageous in your convictions. If  you can find no bad intentions or untrustworthiness, you can at least  believe that everyone around you is stupid and/or ignorant and makes bad decisions, so that you would be unsafe if you followed their ideas or advice. I mean, chances are excellent that those closest to you are incompetent and worthless, since they are associating with you, so that makes it doubly imperative that you rely on no one but yourself. And, I know there must be some people of your close acquaintance who are moody, volatile, changeable, and just flat out wacky. Assume you must come up with all the answers by yourself, must do all the work yourself, are all alone in the midst of a maelstrom with no anchor.

Ignore those who have survived hard times and don’t listen to their accounts of how they felt and what they did to survive.  Grieve and memorialize in private, assuming no one could possibly help you by engaging in social problem-solving or exploring meaning.

10. Be vigilant against change:

Believe nothing good will come from any attempt to improve any situation.

Counteract any thought that there could be positive benefits from making changes by projecting even worse outcomes for those actions. Be vigilant. Vigilance in this instance implies rigidity. Stand unbending; do not sway in the breeze like a tree. Rigidity means not just rigidity of posture; it means not just rigidity of action; it also means rigidity of thought. Keep your same beliefs, your same opinions, your same values, your same routines, your same activities, your same skills, your same abilities regardless of what changes in your outer world. After all, those changes are always for the worst, aren’t they? You’ve got plenty of evidence for that; just marshal your data and start spouting.  It follows, does it not…that change is a bad idea in ALL instances? Rigidity is the way of the vigilant future warrior who makes war against the future.

11. Be guided by meaninglessness:

Believe that life has lost all meaning and value.

Most of us have some family or cultural history, and some have religious faith to bolster our self-confidence.  Reject these as meaningless to the situation at hand.  Assume your higher power has rejected you. Wallow in depressive “What’s the use?” thoughts while lying on your bed and staring at the mottled ceiling. Count the cobwebs in the corners. When your loved ones try to roust you out of bed, tell them to  leave you alone; fight with them; drive them away. If you are of a studious inclination, read Nietzsche; embrace nihilism; throw out your moral principles; lose faith in everything. Or, alternatively, if you haven’t got the energy to give up, watch TV.  The twin goals of propaganda and distraction will dull you. Embrace shallowness, and allow meaninglessness to permeate your environment and your thinking.

12. Perfect the fine art of blame:

Whenever anything bad happens, don’t waste your time trying to come up with solutions; instead, ask whose fault it is.

Blame others by actively targeting your anger. Whose fault is it? The government’s fault?  The oil companies’? The corporations’?  Your employer’s?  Your in-laws’?  Your spouse’s fault?   You can while away many happy hours in this pursuit. Surround yourself with other people who share your villain, so you can reinforce each other’s beliefs.  “Those g-damn mother-f-king sons a-itches! If it weren’t for them, we’d still have a good life. We’d still have jobs; we’d still have houses; we wouldn’t be living in this tent city waiting for the next measly food hand-out.”

But, in the sad event that you can find no one else to blame, turn your hand around and point your finger at yourself; at least that way, you can feel guilt, shame, and humiliation and won’t lose out entirely. Whatever you do, don’t plan to take any action or cause any trouble.  Just complain.  It’s easier and safer.

13. Shun social support:

When facing crises, deny to others that you are experiencing any negative feelings.   Make up weird excuses as to why you are crying, kicking things, refusing to leave your room. If you get on a weirdness loop and stay on it, you will soon feel really crazy, and then you will act crazier, and then you will feel even crazier and, well, you get the picture. Or, alternatively, blurt out your feelings and thoughts without regard to the setting, picking the most unsupportive people to confide in, thus guaranteeing that they will fail to understand or empathize with you.

Cultivate an air of indifference, criticism, and “you’re an idiot” reactions to others. When they act in like manner to you, use that as evidence that you were correct in your loner stance.

Don’t tell your story about what happened to you and how you felt about it.  Assume you have nothing to learn from others and nothing to offer them.

14. Control every emotion & thought or none of them:

Actively attempt to control all unwanted thoughts either by dissociation, suppression, by engaging in repetitive undoing behaviors, or through magical thinking.  Alternatively, lose it emotionally.

Think positively no matter how negative the situation may seem. Let nothing less than perfect sunshine enter your consciousness. Use addictive substances, if necessary, to paint reality with a rosy glow; stick with your normal routine even though, by any objective standards, it has become irrelevant; continue to believe nothing bad can happen as long as you don’t believe it can.  Assume you are going crazy if you are unable to dissociate, suppress, or otherwise keep at bay these unwanted thoughts. At all costs, refuse to think about the possibility of lack of abundance, discomfort, deprivation, insecurity, pain, disease, or the death of yourself or a loved one.

Refuse to come to terms with any aspect of reality; this might lead to living in the here and now and enjoying the time you have, which is certainly not maladaptive behavior and, therefore, cannot be allowed.

If you can’t control all of your thoughts and emotions, try to control none of them.  Model emotional dis-regulation.  Laugh hysterically; then, cry pitifully.  Demand attention for no real reason. Make a nuisance out of yourself by taxing everyone’s patience and then crying out “Everybody’s mad at me!” Freak out under pressure, lose it over the slightest difficulty. (“We’re all going to DIE!)  Refuse to accept what is right in front of you and show little tolerance for things not being perfect.  Focus on the past or the future, but don’t focus on what is immediately in front of you.  When things begin to calm down, stir them up again by doing dangerous or thrill-seeking or sensation-seeking actions because “nothing matters anyway…”

But if you aren’t really into being miserable…

In a real crisis, survivors keep their heads while other people are losing theirs.  They set important personal goals and take incremental, purposeful actions to achieve them.  They not only offer help to other people, but they seek help themselves when they need it.  They engage in acts of kindness, connect with others, and don’t reject help.  They tell themselves they can get through it, while acknowledging full well that they may not make it.  They believe in themselves.  They see all experience as offering them something they can learn from.  They aren’t afraid to look at awful feelings, the worst in themselves, and still believe in the best they have to offer.  They actively prepare themselves for what they can realistically do, and prepare to the best of their abilities, incrementally.  They aren’t afraid of change, because they accept that it it inevitable.  They savor daily pleasures that they never knew were valuable before the disaster.  They see the disaster as having unexpected benefits like bringing people closer, accepting responsibility for other people, recognizing their personal limitations, and how things could have been worse than they turned out to be.  What is important to them changes.  They see new possibilities and goals to work on.  They learn about strengths they never knew they had, and chose life instead of death.  They don’t see themselves as ‘victims,’ and they don’t expect other people to rescue them.  They see their survival as having a purpose, and accept the responsibility to keep alive the memories and stories of those who did not make it.  They don’t see themselves as heroes or villains even when they did heroic or less than positive things.  They can put to words or in some other form of expression what happened to them without minimizing or hiding important parts.  They have learned how to be compassionate with themselves as well as others.  Their religious beliefs have been strengthened, not weakened, and they appreciate their lives more than ever before.

Footnote:  Donald Meichenbaum, professor at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, wrote a great article  on resilience in children and adults facing traumatic situations.  This post owes major credit from his section “A Constructive Narrative Perspective of Persistent PTSD.”

Backwardass Townies, Chicken Littles, and Learning New Tolerance

by Highplainsdrifter

It is my belief that whether we build our lives in a post-peak oil world in-place or move to another location, we are going to be faced with building closer relationships to the locals. A world fueled by cheap energy has provided the luxury of living in one location and working in another. A daily commute has become as common as toothpaste in our everyday routine. Without cheap energy, we will not have the luxury of living and working in two separate worlds. Separate parts of our lives will merge together more and more. Our next door neighbors will become our coworkers, business partners, bosses, employees, suppliers, vendors, marketing agents, accountants, lawyers, doctors and security guards.

A key skill in a post-peak oil world is the ability to gain rapport with the locals, gain trust, resolve differences and trade knowledge, resources and services with them. Folks that for whatever reason have not developed skills for self sufficient living will need this the most. And, you can’t count on sitting on a pile of fiat currency, jewelry or precious metals to buy your needs here either. You can’t eat any of those things.

While participating in a thread on another site, folks were discussing Michael Ruppert’s site, and the map of Lifeboat Docks. For those that are unfamiliar with the concept, collapsenet has a Google map of members and a list of skills they are willing to offer. So, you can see all the knowledgeable resources in your area, develop relationships and work toward the transition away from cheap energy. As of this writing, the website programming has some bugs and troubleshooting to do. I am confident that with time the programming will be functional. But, something about the tone of the comments on this thread made me cringe and worry. After fitful night of sleep over this, I woke up to recall an experience that explained my uneasiness.

This is a true story of the beginnings of a local foods in a small WY town. It all began with an ad in the paper and radio to meet at the local library.

Meeting #1:
There were about 50 in attendance, mostly ranchers and some quiet, old ladies from the local gardening group. The minority was a smattering of people from different backgrounds. The dynamic of this meeting was, in retrospect, heartbreaking. The ranchers were quiet, shaking their heads and staring at the floor in disgust. The garden folks were quiet and introverted. The ranchers and gardeners simply wanted to sell what they raised – excellent quality grass fed beef, lamb, free range eggs, pork, apples and garden veggies.

Bear in mind, due to elevation and climate, this town has a very short growing season. Truly frost free days are from June 15th thru August – the rest of the time requires a whole lotta skill and luck in extending the seasons and choosing varieties.

What eventually shook out to dominate the meeting and decided the direction of the group was one belligerent, condescending battle ax of a group moderator and a core group of five ladies that had moved into the area within the last 5 to 10 years, mostly from the west coast but one was from North Carolina and one was from Colorado. It was clear that they wanted a farmer’s market and a way to find local producers. I remember one of these ladies exclaim, “WE HAD A FARMER’S MARKET THAT WAS JUST SIMPLY FANTASTIC BACK IN PORTLAND. AND, I DON’T KNOW WHY THIS BACKWARDSASS TOWN CANT HAVE THE SAME THING!”

The ranchers and gardeners TRIED to explain to them that they had no interest in a farmer’s market. That there had been attempts in the past but it never took off because of the preparation time did not fit most people’s schedules. That most people didn’t want all of one variety of vegetable one week then all of another the next. This is a consequence of growing in a short season. It was not practical for the ranchers to haul their meat around, keep it frozen in the back of a pickup on hot day and just to sell a few steaks. That most people just wanted choice cuts and they needed to sell the whole animal.

Now, what is heartbreaking about this meeting, in retrospect, is, OMG what a lifeboat dock! There was a incredible wealth of knowledge there! A local, multi-generational understanding of a land that is, some of the most difficult to live in the Lower 48. Here was a group of people that not only knew how to survive and thrive on this land without all the benefits of fossil energy but some of them have actually LIVED into their 20s without electricity and tractors.

MEETING #2 (next week):

The belligerent battle ax got a bunch of phone calls afterward pertaining to her condescending attitude. She resigned. She was replaced by a soft spoken local guy who had a good reputation as an ex-legislator. That was a welcome change but the core group of 5 came with their friends. Among them were the county extension agent (who is considered by the locals to be a complete jackass), a zealous health inspector and a college culinary arts instructor. There were just two ranchers from the original group. There was one woman who had gotten fed up with the city life and started an organic vegetable farm on a small acreage. In this meeting, the minority became the majority. There were 12 or so consumers who want a farmers market and a way to find producers. And, um, three producers.

One important note in this story, three out of the core group of five were vegetarians. In this part of the world, a vegetarian living off the land here WOULD starve to death.

This meeting became dominated by the health inspector who quoted verbatim a bunch of health codified rules and laws. She said we could not just buy meat directly from a producer legally. She said producers had to have it processed by WY state approved facility which is different from an out of state processing facility. She explained that products like cabbage rolls, jellies, canned sauerkraut and pickles had to be produced in a WY state approved kitchen. (We looked into the cost of one of these kitchens. Price tag = $10K.) The culinary arts instructor showed off her cookbook filled with meatless dishes with vegetables that did not grow here. She explained that the sale of raw milk was illegal. And that we should be careful of all farm fresh eggs that are ungraded. The core group nodded in appreciation for her words.

One of the core group said to the health inspector that those regulations didn’t seem right because a Hutterite colony from out of state was selling produce in a nearby town and that their food was “Simply delicious.” The following week, the health inspector paid a visit and ran them out of town.

We now must drive to a pasture just a few hundred feet across the state line to get our meat and produce from them.

I attended two more meetings. None of the meat producers were at those. The membership fees were set. It cost $100 and $10 per table at the farmers market. The core group of 5 published a beautiful, full color, well written pamphlet with eight or so names of producers on it (who I wouldn’t buy a stick of gum from) and about a page and 1/2 about the benefits of whole foods. I heard a few of the Core group of five on the local radio station declaring their success. There was a farmers market from Memorial Day thru Labor day that had three to four tables in it, usually a honey producer, two people with crafts (leatherwork or baskets), one table with potted plants from a local high end greenhouse and the city to country gardener with a small table of maybe $20 worth of sick looking vegetables that my chickens would pass up. This was a few years ago, I have not seen or heard about the farmer’s market or the directory displayed since that first year.

What does this have to do with the concept of lifeboat docks and building a community to transition into a post-peak oil world?

First, we have people who can help build lifeboats all around us. They are self-reliant, resilient, independent folks who don’t call attention to themselves and quite frankly don’t need you. They know how to take care of their needs. If you are running around saying, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling! We need to build a lifeboat!” They are going to shake their heads in disgust, go to their own lifeboat boat, batten down the hatches, get a few more supplies for the ride, clean and load the guns.

For example, I have an 85 year old next door neighbor who can barely walk but has lived in my small town all her life. She grew up without indoor plumbing or electricity. She has been snowed in for up to three weeks in the recent past without electricity or access to grocery and services in a bigger town 20 miles away. She has three different ways to heat her house and cook. She gets some help from neighbors here and there but has more than a year’s supply of canned food from her garden. As old ranch woman who has grown up in a cowboy town with minimal law enforcement, I pity the fool who tries to bother her. She is a dear friend, an excellent resource of the local lore, but it took more than a year to get to know her and earn her trust.

My family has our own lifeboat dock. We have fruit trees, a greenhouse, chickens, rabbits, a shop full of tools and, between the wife and I, a multitude of skills for self reliant living. Some of those core group of 5 live nearby. They are the last people I want around me when things get tough. I don’t have time for them. I have what I need. I get excellent quality, locally raised grass fed beef, pork, wild game, raw goats milk, free range eggs and veggies from the greenhouse. I have friends throughout the community whom I share resources with – everything from produce to martial arts instruction to gunsmithing to chiropractic sessions. I meet up with the Hutterites (100 ft across the state line) for smoked chickens, hams, cabbages for kraut, cabbage rolls, sweet corn and melons. All of this is hedging around legalities and under the radar. If I supported all the fledgling beginnings of Codex Alimetntrus and the like, well let’s just say I might as well just live under a bridge in a cardboard box out of the friggin Walmart.

So, even though I support Ruppert’s efforts, there is a certain hard reality here that everyone out there needs to get.

If you want to trade and learn from the self-reliant, resilient community of people around you then I suggest that you:

1. Be open and listen with humility. Do not come with your own ideas of how things should be. If you don’t like it here, go back where you came from.

2. Avoid condescending someone’s way of life either indirectly, subtly or directly. Live and Let Live. If it is necessary to dress down like the locals or drive a crappier car, so be it. Today’s symbols of success will not insure tomorrow’s success. That greasy redneck next door neighbor may be your lifeline in the future – think about that.

3. Bring some useful skills or resources to earn your seat at the table. I’m sorry I don’t need the services of a retired pilates instructor, an interior decorator or a golf event organizer. A pilates instructor needs to learn how to build a fence. An interior decorator needs to learn how to refinish hardwood floors. A golf event organizer needs to learn how to get stuff that busy people don’t have time to find.

4. Avoid calling attention to people who don’t want it or threatening their way of life in ANY way. More often than not self reliant people are that way because they just want to live without any attention. Bear in mind….The last holdouts of the oil rich paradigm will be the government. I’m not advocating lawlessness here. I am saying that the laws which restrain people from being self-reliant are threats. The government will continue to legislate and enforce regulations that are impossible to follow in post-peak oil world. They will do their jobs with gusto because jobs in the private sector are becoming ever increasingly scarce. And the most dangerous aspect of all, these folks will do their job for your own good.

5. Be willing to work hard and get dirty. Nothing makes a better impression on these people than being willing to work and sweat. Even if you don’t know which end of the shovel to use, there is still plenty of little tasks that can be made lighter. And, I guarantee you that EVERYONE you meet will show you how to use a shovel!

My martial arts instructor reminds us frequently that our character is our first line of defense and greatest source of strength. Courtesy, humility, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit – these character traits are embodied in all of these suggestions.

To conclude, here are the hard realities of community building:

  • We need others in our community to survive or thrive. They can provide us with resources, skills and knowledge that will make our lives easier, safer and better.
  • You must earn rapport and trust with people first. Begin now because it takes time.
  • Self reliant and resilient people, by definition, don’t need you and they are hiding everywhere in plain sight. Learn to spot them and get to know them.
  • You must be able to give what you take – you must have something that people need.
    You will be avoided if you become a threat.


Highplainsdrifter hides in plain sight in a small town in WY. He grew up in a family of self reliant, resilient people in a farming community in SD. By day, he is an engineering manager working for a global fossil energy corporation. By night, he is the greasy redneck next door neighbor who does not want any attention.

Courtship, Cooperation & Negotiation: What Darwin Got Wrong about Human Emotions

Many social critics in the Peak Oil community are fond of saying “Men do what they do driven by the desire to please women.” But what if that notion is just plain wrong? Is there power in the narrative that redirects our energies away from helpful pursues believing that such striving are “against the laws of nature?”

In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed. Charles Darwin

Most of us in the Western world have accepted a story about sexual selection, and by extension ‘human nature,’ that goes something like this: Men are aggressive, and fight each other in order to win the chance to mate with desirable females. For the love of hot babes and Babettes, they burn a lot of fossil fuel, build a lot of corporations, rape and pillage other nations and destroy the planet in order to be powerful and desirable to us gals.

This, as the story goes, is for very specific biological reasons: They have small sperm, and lots of them, (making them “cheap”) so they can throw them around with very little “invested” in an attempt to impregnate females. From an evolutionary standpoint, this horn-dog behavior promotes their own gene pool, beating out some other guy’s gene pool. Men (and all males in general, to use Darwin’s terms) are “passionate” and women are less eager or “coy.”

Women are “coy,” because they have large eggs, and a whole lot fewer of them, and becoming pregnant requires a large investment of energy and time dealing with pregnancy and caring for the offspring that result. Their eggs are “expensive” to them, in evolutionary terms. Therefore, evolution demands that they carefully look over their choice of males and choose the “fittest” one for mating. Women do the choosing. So, as the theory goes, men compete with each other for females’ attention, and women have innate preferences about which males they choose to mate with…and may the best man win.

The female is less eager than the male,” Darwin wrote, “She is coy,” and when she takes part in choosing a mate, she chooses “not the male which is most attractive to her, but the one which is least distasteful.” (1)

Darwin’s World
Charles Darwin was a man who once lamented that his own fragile physical state would clearly prevent him from producing great works. He had multiple psychosomatic ailments that kept him from socializing without great cost to his health. “Darwin worked alone at home, leading the life of an independent scientist.”

His decision to marry was an intellectual one, as he weighed the pros and cons:

After drawing up lists of the benefits and drawbacks of marriage, he proposed to his first cousin Emma Wedgwood, whom he married on Jan. 29, 1839. She brought fortune, devotion, and considerable housewifely skills that enabled him to work in peace for the next 40 years.

Together they had 10 children.

He needed quiet during the day in order to work. She dutifully brought him meals and tea in his office, at which time she might request to borrow the key to the drawer where he kept all of the keys to the rest of the household pantries.

Although he considered all young people immature like adult females, at 39 years old, he considered his own wife “always the mother, never the child, Darwin always the child, never the father.” Darwin gave his wife the nickname “mammy”, writing, “My dearest old Mammy … Without you, when sick I feel most desolate .. Oh Mammy, I do long to be with you and under your protection for then I feel safe.” (2)

While Darwin began to write down his theories of evolution in the early 1840’s he was reluctant to make them public. “He was a beneficiary of this conservative English society, and his fear of ostracism was one of the forces that prevented him from publishing his theory sooner.“(3) The world was evolving and the political climate was welcoming to evolutionary notions. While still reluctant, on June 18, 1858, he received a paper that summarized his own twenty years of work, written by Alfred Russel Wallace. He shortly afterward presented a paper jointly with Wallace.

In 1871, Darwin elaborated upon the theory of sexual selection. Darwin observed that in some species males battle other males for access to certain females (“aggression”). But in other species, such as peacocks, there is a social system in which the females select males according to such qualities as strength or beauty, like a fabulous tail.

Beyond “He” and “She”
Darwin lived in a binary world of males and females, but today’s science tells us that these represent a minority of the Earth’s living things. We live in a complicated world of uni-gendered, bi-gendered, and even cross-gendered living species. You’ve got remarkable creatures like Clownfish (4) that are born male and turn female (called sequential hermaphrodites); you’ve got hermaphroditic fish. The world is full of homosexual, asexual or autosexual creatures, and gender behavior of all descriptions.

These aren’t just the exceptions to the rule, this IS the rule.

We can’t put labels like “coy” or “passionate” on these things. It doesn’t fit the vast majority of living things.

Beyond the Dating Game
Darwin’s analysis appeared to stop at mate selection. However, mating is the start, not the end of the genetic path to reproductive success. The “passionate” (later labeled “promiscuous”) male isn’t an example of evolutionary success, if most of those offspring die before they, too, get the chance to reproduce. The male who can raise the larges number of children successfully and brings them effectively into the next generation is the real genetic winner.

The male, to be maximally successful, is proactive in assuring that his offspring grow up and make it into the next generation.

The Peacock Boy’s Club
Even the species that were suppose to be perfect examples of sexual selections, like peacocks, aren’t, according to evolutionary biologist Joan Roughgarden. They are “failed poster-child species.” Take pea hens. They are supposed to prefer the highly ornamented tail of males, the larger the better, which, supposedly, indicated “good genes.” However, in a 2008 study that actually looked at this in the wild; (a) there wasn’t much difference between tails and (b) the females showed no real preference. They ignored the tails, when selecting mates.

What researchers found, instead, was that the tails were sort of a ‘ticket into the boy’s club’ of other male peacocks. In fact, it turned out that a lot of stuff Darwin thought was for the benefit of the female was actually a show for other males of the same species.

Mommy Dearest
What about the notion that can be summarized as “females almost always invest more energy into producing offspring than males, and therefore in most species, females are a limiting resource over which the males will compete”? This theory, called the “Bateman Principle” was the work of British geneticist Angus John Bateman – and it turns out to be wrong. His research was fraudulent in all sorts of ways, even down to basic arithmetic mistakes.

Roughgarden (4) asks: if females keep choosing males who are the fittest, why do bad genes still exist in nature? Aren’t females supposed to be eliminating them through partner choice? After twenty generations, the choice for bad genes should disappear. Why isn’t that happening? Darwin says, “Nature needs to keep renewing bad genes all the time.” Why is that? So females can continue to choose the best mate? What are the best genes in an ever-changing environment? “Most theorists don’t appreciate how great this problem is for the theory of sexual selection.” according to Roughgarden.

Family of Tarzan

Cooperation and Negotiation
Through courtship (perhaps too strong a word for some species), the male and female, negotiate the cooperative relationship through which to raise children. Their cooperation allows them to act as a unit, in a ‘two heads are better than one’ sort of arrangement. The fitness is assessed in terms of a “couple team” who are able to place a large number of offspring into the next generation. The mating couples have a common evolutionary bank account and an overlap of interest. This model suggests that cooperation, not competition is the cornerstone of reproductive success. Conflict happens when they don’t strike an effective bargain with each other or they have different opinions about “what’s good.”

“A family like a ‘firm’ Roughgarden says ‘and the produce of the “firm” is offspring.’ The paradigm is “family as cooperative system” rather than “family as a cauldron of conflict.”

Joy in Your Company
But it’s not all ‘love and happiness,” as a quick glance at the front pages of newspapers or time spent at a family holiday dinner will tell you. Nevertheless, we aren’t living in a world of competitive stand-offs, like John Nash’s (“A Beautiful Mind”) theory of Competitive Equilibrium – but more like his notion of “Cooperative Game theory.” Here the sexes “negotiate from a position of strength,” and establishes a “threat point.”

Taking his lead from labor negotiation, a crucial aspect of effective negotiation is that each has to believe that the other is willing to suffer and see the other suffer, before they are willing to hash out a deal. They also, however, have to see the other has having “utility,” and a “position of strength.” They have to believe that each of them has something the other person wants, and is willing to give up something else to get it, and they have to realize the point beyond which the other person is unwilling to bargain.

If either player increases their demand beyond this limit, both players receive nothing. If either reduces their demands too greatly, they will receive less than if they had demanded more.

What is the “position of strength” in reproductive politics? It is the mechanism where the animals can experience pleasure in each other’s company-friendship and physical intimacy (including sex).

Contextualizing an Idea
Survival of the Fittest” were not Darwin’s terms, but those of Herbert Spenser. It first appeared in 1864, in which he drew parallels between his own economic theories and Darwin’s biological ones.

There is a political danger in who takes control of the narrative. It turns out that this narrative of a nasty, competitive selfish world is based on partial recollections of the data. It doesn’t tell the whole story. But it presents a political (power) explanation for oppression using biology to justify it. “Nature is selfish so I can be selfish.” It is a narrative of genetic classism. It is also a narrative of domination and imperialism.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Famous Charles Darwin misquote likely from L.C. Megginson (the quote was also imbedded as in foot-high letters on the floor of the California Academy of Sciences, so I don’t feel so bad…

It is time the world abandoned that narrative and launch a new one. Our very survival may well depend on it. A high fitness requires working together in teams. It requires us to choose to invest our collective energies carefully and cooperatively, and that includes our reproductive decision-making in an age of overpopulation.

What we are learning about emotions is helping us to see that selfish and destructive tendencies in humans, so lauded as “natural” and “normal,” are the extreme subset of sociopathic individuals who lack a capacity for several basic emotions that are intrinsic in humans as social animals. And we’ve modeled corporate institutions, in this image, with disastrous ends.

The theory of sexual selection put forth by Darwin fit well with a culture that told us that the “best man” was white, Western, upper-class, and, so obvious a fact as to be overlooked, “male.” The theory of sexual selection fit that current dominant paradigm of the 1860’s. At a time when the industrial revolution was wiping out the entrepreneur, the independent farmer, the home craft producer, it became “natural” for men to aggressively eliminate one another’s livelihoods, push them off their native lands, and participate in genocide in order to push forward their aspirations for genetic empire-building. The ‘losers’ lost the chance to mate and reproduce offspring because, after all, they weren’t the ‘fittest.’ It was all quite “natural.” It wasn’t “evil” or “good” in any moral sense. It was simply “how things are.”

Gone were notions of cooperative and collaboration as “natural” to humans and animals alike. Even actions that could be viewed as “altruistic” had to be framed as “deviant” or discussed away as ultimately benefiting selfish ends.

People made all sorts of extrapolations from this, including the notion that being blind to suffering was also “natural.”

Genial Gene vs. Selfish Gene
So, Roughgarden (5) proposes, the metaphor of the “selfish gene” isn’t accurate anymore. The theory worked in the early 70’s, but now we know more. Notions of “survival of the fittest” and “savage competition” is replaced by the empirical argument of cooperation in nature.

Less than the Ape
While Darwin argued that human ancestry descended from the ape, others argued that human evolution caused our social behavior to depart from that of other primates. Edgar Rice Burroughs was fond of using the phrase, “the thin veneer of civilization” to describe mankind’s condition in relation to his more fundamental savage makeup. The phrase was repeated in The Return of Tarzan, which he wrote in 1912.

However, in his book “Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved” Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal used the term “Veneer Theory” to argue that the view that human morality as “a cultural overlay, a thin veneer hiding an otherwise selfish and brutish nature” is outdated, and that our morality and social relationships are also embedded deeply into our genetic make-up. We cannot live alone, and we, therefore, have within us the basic stuff it takes to figure out how to work together.

The last of Darwin’s sequels to the Origin, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), was an attempt to erase this last barrier presumed to exist between human and nonhuman animals–the idea that the expression of such feelings as suffering, anxiety, grief, despair, joy, love, devotion, hatred, and anger is unique to human beings.

Darwin connected studies of facial muscles and the emission of sounds with the corresponding emotional states in man and then argued that the same facial movements and sounds in nonhuman animals express similar emotional states. This book laid the groundwork for the study of ethology, neurobiology, and communication theory in psychology.

Paradoxically, it took neuroscientists beginning actively during a conference in 1995 to start focusing on a variety of these emotions we call ‘social emotions’ like embarrassment, shame, contempt, passion, admiration, pride, and guilt. These researchers suggest that in contrast to the notion that culture is a thin veneer, we are learning that what look strictly like ‘cultural’ features such as our rules of law are in fact, based upon the origins of these early pro-social emotions.

I’ll take that discussion up in greater detail in my next post.

1. In Descent:


3. In Descent:



Two Great Articles Worth Reading

I’ll comment here on two recent posts-one by Richard Heinberg and another by Rob Hopkins:

Just finished Richard Heinberg’s latest piece, and because I couldn’t find his email address to send this along to him directly, I’ll do it publicly:

Great job, Richard. After reading it, I feel like we’re now on the same path, not only on the same journey, and its great to have you walking my way. While I do agree with you that it was important to try with all of one’s might to change the direction of gov’t bodies, (despite the fact that this was not something I personally was suited to do), I’m glad you’ve changed your direction. There is so much that can be accomplished on a local level and you are such a powerful voice to encourage that sort of effort. Here’s a favorite excerpt:

I could take no satisfaction from these confirmations of the Limits to Growth and Peak Oil scenarios; being able to say “I told you so” hardly made up for the shock of knowing that our last opportunities to change direction had been missed and that the train of industrial civilization was now not merely still chugging toward a broken bridge, but was actually starting to plummet into the gorge below. We had succeeded somewhat in helping increase public awareness of an issue: due to the efforts of thousands of scientists, writers, and activists, “peak oil” had become a recognizable term in public discourse. But we had failed to budge government policy in more than very minor ways (I had, for example, assisted the City Council-appointed Peak Oil Task Force of Oakland, California, which produced a sensible report on which, so far, little action has been taken).

I personally want to applaud you, Richard, for your tireless efforts. It is time to stop, and, as you point out, you gave it your best shot.

But it is now too late to avert a collapse of the existing system. The collapse has begun.

It is time for a different strategy.

You point out that this is no time to toss up our hands in hopelessness (although I might add that this might be a useful stop along the psychological trail for some of us…). Instead, you rightly point out that “collapse” doesn’t mean “extinction.” There is a phoenix arising from that fire, if we’re smart enough to stir the ashes.

So few people recognize what Richard is emphasizing here: You have to get busy now impacting the environment all around you, because if you don’t you might not like the results. As one book title says “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.” And the only people who are going to be motivated to do that are those that have some understanding of what is happening and why.

Probably my only quibble (and it truly is that), Richard is your using Kubler-Ross’s tired old stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—to describe people’s Peak Oil adjustment. It isn’t what my own four years of psychological research is suggesting. And it’s bad psychological science, even for death and dying research. This insistence of ‘stages’ is just plain wrong.

But you are right on target that there is an intensifying movement, from all angles, that the global stage is “being set for an economic crash of epic proportions.” The shift is happening, and despite the usurping of the color “green” from everything from coal to banking, more and more people are catching on that “brown” is the right color to be.

You point out a few notable examples of the change, and end with this great kicker:

Individually, these initiatives and projects may seem to be on too small a scale to make much of a difference. But multiplied by thousands, with examples in nearly every community, they represent a quiet yet powerful movement.

You point out that few get media exposure, and I’ve pointed out why in a previous article: browns have nothing to sell, no advertising sponsors, no pro-growth agenda. If we wait for this “no growth” revolution to be televised, we’ll be waiting a very long time.

They understand something the media either ignore or deny. They’re betting on a future of local food systems, not global agribusiness; of community credit co-ops rather than too-big-to-fail Wall Street megabanks; of small-scale renewable energy projects, not a world-spanning system of fossil-fuel extraction, trade, and consumption. A future in which we do for ourselves, share, and cooperate.

They’re embarking on a life after growth.

Beautifully put.

I’d like to add other foundations to a “livable, inviting post-growth society: “that people will increasingly develop the capacity to accept that bad things do happen to people, without demanding that a positive lesson be gleamed from it.

“Happiness” should not be the requirement against which we judge whether this new post-growth society works for us. We should welcome a society that provides us both a livable planet and basic elements for what humans need in order to live. There will undoubtedly be moments of great happiness, but we’ll also need patience in our dealings with other people and tolerance in the face of upcoming hardship. We’ll need a deep feeling of gratitude for the capacity to contribute our skills to our local community and a solid grasp of our own values that will motivate us to fight against injustice. I want to see fortitude and simplicity as guidelines, and the capacity to keep jealousy and greed in check. And, perhaps above all, pragmatism and fellowship, not only with other humans, but with all living elements of the earth.

Thanks for all of your continued hard work, Richard.

Another post that I think deserves applause is a butt-kicking post by Rob Hopkins, who clearly slams one of my favorite villains, GM(O) crops. While I don’t have the credentials to comment on the body of his argument, he certainly expresses my sentiments powerfully and convincingly. He expands the limits of the writer who’s work he criticizes by including the 3 E’s: “Food security is about creating an agriculture which is more diverse, more intimately linked to local economies, and based on a more seasonal diet.”

I have long held that GM has no place in a low carbon farming system. This is not based on taking a moral high ground, or on intentionally rejecting science, rather it is based on taking a broader picture than merely whether it is harmful to eat or not. Does GM technology promote better soil health and carbon sequestration? Does it support farmers in creating sustainable livelihoods which they are in control of? Does it nurture healthier eating practices and a move away from processed foods? Does it improve and sustain biodiversity? Does it make us more or less dependent on cheap fossil fuels? Until the answer is yes to those questions, GM, for me, is out.

These are great questions, and Rob is in an important position to be able to influence people by asking them.

He ends the post powerfully:

“So why has Lynas had this turnaround? Of course, we can’t know, but I get a sense that in the desperate search for a solution to the crisis we are in, there is a sense that this is still a soluble problem if only that one big solution can be found to sort it out. I think that if there is a way through, it will be composed of lots of smaller solutions, driven by those that feel ownership of it. There is a huge danger in embracing large scale, untested, remotely-owned solutions, that we end up turning a problem into a predicament, not sensible when so many, time-proven, smaller scale solutions exist.

Two excellent posts from two leaders in this community.