Carolyn Baker, author of “Sacred Demise: Walking the Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse” writes in a recent article that we are all experiencing some sort of psychological trauma because of what we have seen unfold in the last decade. The shock of 9/11, Katrina, neighbors losing their homes, resource depletion, endless war and increasing personal hardship has made us all suffer from a form of PTSD. Whether we know it or not, whether we believe it or not, we are psychologically affected by what we are seeing, experiencing and hearing each and every day.
I, too, feel traumatized and changed by everything I’ve been learning in the last several years. Four years ago, I thought the only thing standing in the way of having a better and better life each year was my own ambitions and motivation. I looked forward to always having more: more happiness, more prosperity, more money, and more fun in the future. After I learned about the realities of Peak Oil, climate change and resource depletion, my world turned up-side down. I could no longer assume that life would just keep getting better and easier—not for my family nor for society.
I had what’s called a “peak moment”—the moment that comes right after fully understanding the predicament humans are in on the planet and realizing that you can no longer go back to assuming things will be normal again. This is the moment when you see the futility of the paradigm of western culture—the paradigm that economic growth is necessary and good and must always be the focus of our collective talents and energy. Endless growth in a finite world is physically impossible, and the limits to this growth have already started to manifest around us. Here in the Denver area, it’s not difficult to see the end result of building too many strip malls and having too much development. Businesses are closing left and right, home prices have been dropping, and vacant retail buildings have started deteriorating after a decade or more of disrepair and exposure to weather.
And yet, despite the obvious evidence, there are two new WalMarts being constructed within 12 miles of where I live. And yet, city councils of five adjoining towns are considering a proposal from a developer to build a major freeway on the far west of town, where they hope to also build more strip malls, more office buildings, and more homes.
This is insanity. We live in a culture that doesn’t see how completely insane its actions are. We assume what we’re doing makes sense. We see it as “progress.” We listen with hope and impatience to mainstream media give us updates weekly on how fast we’re recovering from this economic blip and getting back to normal.
But what is “normal”?
Is normal going back to building more strip malls and tract home neighborhoods where there was once farmland? Is normal pushing mortgages people can’t really afford? Is normal encouraging people to take on more and more debt (individually and on a public level) that can never be repaid because we won’t have the resources to fuel the growth that is necessary to pay off that debt?
I don’t live in a normal world anymore. I live in two worlds, actually. One world is the world I grew up in and have been socialized by. It’s the world that’s telling me it’s ok to believe that technology will solve all our problems and that if we’re not making more money this month than last month, there’s something seriously wrong with the picture. The other world is the one where I see the reality (kind of like Neo finally sees The Matrix). This is the reality where our unexamined assumptions have led us to polluting 70% of our waterways, turning fertile soil into a chemical sponge, exterminating species, and basing our entire survival on a resource that is getting more and more challenging to find and extract. In this reality, the world has a different future than the one that’s being advertised on T.V.
In my world, in the way I hope it will be, the future is where people matter more than money, where everyone realizes the intrinsic value of nature, and where every problem isn’t automatically solved with some object that can be mass produced, marketed and distributed (with the lowest cost basis and therefore highest profit margin possible).
These two world views are completely in opposition, and yet I must live my life believing both.
Living in these two worlds has made me feel traumatized. It has affected me deeply. I began to feel that my job had no meaning, that writing marketing copy was just one more way I was contributing to the insanity. I listened to the directives to work harder to make more profit and I wanted to laugh the hysterical laugh of the lunatic! I was being told to believe the destructive lie, to live it, to embrace it as my mantra. I tried, but I failed to see any other vision behind this besides the mindless striving for more—the disease of modern society.
Whenever I feel the trauma creeping up within me, I know that I have to go get grounded—fast. I escape from the chatter and noise of this insanity and go off into the mountains or into the woods. This is where I can finally exhale out the pent up tension and fear and clear my head. Nature doesn’t require anything of me. The trees stand quietly, embracing me in their shadows. A squirrel trills out a call that sounds like a cross between a joyful proclamation and a warning (depending on my mood). The wind descends down the valley and cancels out all other sounds for a few seconds. There is peace. I am enough.
This place has been here long before the age of industrialization. It will be here for a good, long time after industrialization finally sputters and runs out of steam. The trees don’t care about profits and politics. The mountain could care less how many gadgets I own or if I’m wearing the most fashionable technical gear. This is where I come to just BE, this is a place where I belong because I, too, am nature.
There are many good ways of dealing with and tending to our trauma for what is happening in the world. We can get together with friends and envision what world we want to see in the future. We can prepare for the worst and hope for the best. We can teach others what we know about gardening, canning, chicken-keeping and other “lost” skills. We can talk about our feelings—the more we do so, the better. And finally, we can just go and be— in the woods, in a meadow, on top of the mountain. We can find that place in our soul that longs to connect with the land from which we were created.