Saturday, 7 January 2017

Dark Age Ahead by Jane Jacobs

I'm reading one of the new books I got for Christmas, Dark Age Ahead by Jane Jacobs. For those of you who aren't familiar with who Jane Jacobs was, she was a specialist in urban studies and has been called "guru, philosopher, thinker, elder...radical" by the National Post. I've read some of her other books about city planning and the collapse of civilizations. Dark Age Ahead is one of those books you can't put down, but you have to pause every couple of sentences and just breathe and think about all the information she packed into each segment. She chooses words carefully and concisely and manages to convey huge thoughts in a simple line.

For example, this phrase brought me to this keyboard just now to try to capture all the thoughts it suddenly produced in my head: "...circumstances may have allowed cultural destruction to drift to a point where the jolts of correction appear more menacing than downward drift."

All kinds of examples of this come to mind. Sometimes it's easier to carry on with a mistake or follow a path you know isn't good for you than it is to repent or do what it takes to change direction. You let it go on for too long and then any possibility of correction becomes too huge and difficult to contemplate. As a society, for example, we know that oil is a finite resource and isn't good for the environment and is on a collision course...eventually. A day we think is way in the future. But to stop using oil is unthinkable because we've gotten so used to it in the last hundred years that we can't imagine how life was before it. The idea of what massive changes would have to happen to get us off of fossil fuels sounds too radical and uncomfortable. We would have to sacrifice and change. That sounds like too much. So we stick to our fossil fuel path even while knowing it leads to ruin.

We make political choices...or let them be made for us...and before long we find ourselves in a spot we hadn't meant to reach. We aren't quite sure how we got there. But changing it, backing up, moving in a new direction all sound too difficult, or perhaps we can't even see how we could get out of it. Or we're so used to it we don't see a need to change anything, or even realize anything is wrong. Or we figure the fallout will be so far in the future that either a) we won't be around to have to deal with it, or b) some benevolent flip of fate will swoop down to rescue the situation, or c) humans have always figured out how to survive so no doubt someone will come up with a saving idea eventually. So no worries. Or maybe even d) we think the world has gotten so bad that we don't deserve to be saved and we'll get what's coming to us, which is the sort of thinking a drug user or gambler may reach when he hits rock bottom and sees no hope.

I've heard devout Christians expound essentially the same concept---that the world is destined to become evil and then will be rescued---partially (and they assume they'll be part of that portion)---by the Second Coming, which will correct all wrongs and punish the guilty. They make it sound as if this nicely relieves us of any responsibility because it's all in God's hands. I've even heard some who sound like they're looking forward to watching the destruction of society because it's a Sign of the Times...except they're reveling in the destruction of people. Good or bad, these are your neighbours, folks. Your friends and family. Maybe you. I believe in a Second Coming, but I don't think it relieves us of any responsibility toward our society. If anything, it increases the urgency of acting compassionately and wisely toward people and the earth.

These arguments don't work. Sometimes the fallout is swift. And the pendulum doesn't swing back. And no one comes up with a new technology or philosophy to save you. And things collapse. Not just the Roman civilization, or Mesopotamia. But little cultures and civilizations and pockets of the world are lost too. Individual lives collapse. And sometimes the world just shrugs us off like a dog shaking off fleas and starts over.

And if you do decide correction must be undertaken, which way are you to jump? Ditch everything and retreat to a bunker in the bush? Just change over your lightbulbs and get a hybrid car? Demand a re-election? Write to your member of parliament? Take up subsistence farming? Organize a protest? Boycott Nestle and Monsanto? What can we really do and how many of us have to do it to be effective? And more importantly -- is it too late to stop the tide?

Such vast thoughts all knocking around in my head this morning! And I'm only on page 22!

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