One World, Many Myths

Indigenous peoples, or those human populations whose identity, sustenance, and well being often are directly derived from their surrounding environment, often maintain a close and intricate relationship with the natural world that is vastly different than the views and perceptions held by members of industrial, modern societies. Through various spiritual practices and beliefs, cultures such as the pre-Christian Scandinavians, the Australian Aborigines, and the natives of the North American Pacific Northwest hold world-views in which humanity is closely linked with the natural world. Through an analysis of various indigenous culture’s spiritual beliefs and how they relate to a cultures natural environment, we can gain insight and appreciation for aspects of the human condition that directly relate to the natural world.

The spiritual beliefs of indigenous cultures often hold cosmologies, or views of reality, that perceive the concept of nature as a whole with various interconnected parts. Specifically, indigenous populations of the Arctic regions view the world as divided into three parts; the upper, middle, and lower worlds. The upper world is seen to be in the sky, the middle world is the earthly realm, and the lower world is below the surface of the soil and sea. The spirits and dead are said to reside in the upper and lower worlds, and life there is quite similar to that of the middle world. These realms are said to be utilized in shamanistic practice, and that a shaman can make contact with the different worlds, (Helskog 1999). This belief places humans on a nexus between the different aspects of the natural world, and blends the spiritual world with the physical.

The aboriginal populations of Australia have a cosmology concept that is quite different than this three-world system of the Arctic peoples, but essentially performs the same service. Their way of viewing reality is called ‘the Dreaming’, a concept in which nature, time, or history does not exist. People are not separate from the whole of creation, nor is their separation amongst anything in existence. In effect, The Dreaming unites the self, the clan, the totem, the physical surroundings – all are indissolubly one,“ (Mol 1979). This is a world-view that unites humanity with the natural world, completely dismantling the borders between human and non-human life, uniting the spiritual world with the physical.

Besides maintaining cosmological frames as a way to relate to the natural world, natural forces are personified and revered. Amongst the indigenous Pacific North-west coast of North America, the natural world was compromised of spirits, and that every natural force had life, whether it was “the earth, rocks, trees, ferns, as well as birds and animals-even the hail which fell from the sky”, (Clark 1953). This concept, called animism, is one that was entrenched in the lives of the people of this region (as well as many other indigenous cultures), influencing the way they acted in reference to natural forces and places. For example, the Tlingit people of the pacific northwest call various spirits of the sun and sky the ‘Children of the Sun’, giving them anthropomorphic qualities and shaping masks in their image, (de Laguna 1987). Klamath Indians believed that the lake known as ‘Crater Lake’ was the result of a magnificent battle between the forces of the earth and sky, causing the mountain that was there to collapse and fill with water. The lake that was a result of this battle was shunned by the Klamath; only the spiritual leaders were allowed to see it, and any others who saw it risked death and disease, (Clark 1953).

The forces that were seen to pervade the natural world were used as a source of power for the populations of indigenous cultures, who used shamanistic and magical practices to communicate with these forces to provide aid for their people. A common way to communicate with the spiritual world is through the use of sacred areas, where spiritual forces were seen as most able to be contacted. “Spirits in other dimensions are ‘contacted’ by people in order to gain control over animals, resources, diseases, people, spirits, life or the spirits themselves initiate the contact,” (Helskog 1999). The Sami people of northern Scandinavia identified these sorts of areas with ‘seide stones’ – stones with unusual shapes, representing spirits, while the aboriginal Australians identified these sacred areas through the use of rock art, (Helskog 1999). Specifically, among the aboriginal Australians, the symbol known as the ‘Rainbow Serpent is depicted at natural sites where water is found. These areas were seen as places ‘liminal places’ in which the threshold between the physical and metaphysical worlds was found, (Helskog 1999).

Besides specific places having spiritual power, various animals and other life-forms are held to have significance among indigenous peoples. Among the Tlingit of the Pacific Northwest coast, creatures such as the bear, mosquito, otter, and devil-fish, are revered as shamanic spirits, and various masks are constructed to bestow their respective powers upon the wearer, (de Laguna 1987). Various other Pacific Northwest tribes say that either Raven or Coyote gave the gift of fire to humanity, and that twelve tribes were created out of a large beaver that was killed by the youngest of four wolf brothers. They also believe that “…the primeval beings are “animal people.” In a sacred myth of the Skagit Indians, Raven, Mink, and Coyote “planned everything with the Transformer, were in on all the arguments” they decided that there should be male and female in everything on the earth, that people should not live forever, that at death the body should go to the earth and the spirit to the spirit world,” (Clark 1953).

Amongst the Australian aborigines, the Rainbow Snake is whom healers and medicine-men receive their powers from. According to the aboriginal myths, quartz crystals, which are often used by these healers, were once vomited from the Rainbow Snake long ago, (Eliade 1967). In the belief of the indigenous northern Scandinavians, reindeer/elk, fish, and bird were seen as symbols for three parts of nature, those parts being land, sea, and sky, (Helskog 1999).

Indigenous peoples are also very connected to the seasons and weather. In Arctic societies, rituals involving the transition from winter to summer were performed when various signals of the coming of summer were observed, such as the awakening of bears from hibernation among the Sami, (Helskog 1999). Among several tribes of the Pacific Northwest, it was Coyote who arranged the seasons, and a being known as Thunder controlled the weather and had the ability to call forth lightning. Amongst other tribes, a being known as Thunderbird was known to bring storms. “The flapping of his wings caused the thunder; the pieces of flint which he threw or the flash of his eyes was the lightning,” (Clark 1953). Among the Tlingit, weather itself was something that the shaman was seen to have control over, being a mediator between the forces of nature and the tribe, (de Laguna 1987). Among indigenous cultures, weather and climate is something unavoidable, and various spiritual beliefs such as these allowed for adaptability and validation of its power.

Often, the spiritual beliefs of an indigenous culture allow for the moderated and respectful use of natural resources. Among the Chinook of the Pacific northwest, salmon were believed to be guided by spirits, who needed to be appeased in order to ensure the existence of the salmon run. Besides having myths to limit the amount of a salmon catch, at the beginning of each salmon season, the first salmon caught were placed back in the water with a specific sort of berry in its mouth, (Clark 1953). One might assume that this helped prevent the over-fishing of salmon, as well as allowing for a sustainable amount of fish for the next year.

This reverence for nature also manifested itself in the form totems, and other various animal symbols that were held by specific groups of people, or single individuals. Among various tribes of the Pacific Northwest, young people would fast and mediate in order to experience a spirit (often in the form of an animal) that told them their abilities that they would be gifted in their adult lives, often doing this at a places considered spiritually powerful, such as mountains.. Those who experienced this would often carry a symbol of their power animal with them throughout their life, (Clark 1953). Among the Australian aborigines, a similar system of animal totemism permeated the culture, with each individual, each tribe, and each group of ancestral descent having an animal symbol, (Mol 1979). These totemic symbols show that indigenous cultures held a respect for the life that existed around them.

I feel cultures native to a region develop spiritual systems and cultural practices that are environment oriented because of the close, consistent contact the people maintain with the natural world. These are peoples whose sustenance and resources are derived directly from the surrounding landscape, rather than a store or a distant faraway place. Just as those in our modern Western lifestyle derive their values and beliefs from a constant, steady source of information such as the media, it only makes sense that people would derive ideas from the things that they perceive nearly everyday.

Whether a people lived in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, the icy realm of northern Scandinavia, or the arid bush of western Australia, they developed practices and views that allowed them to relate their human identities with the landbases on which they depended. The reverence and power indigenous peoples assign to the natural world is a direct result of the close contact that they maintain with the environment. By developing knowledge of an indigenous cultures views of nature, we can learn to hold the same respect for the environment as our own indigenous ancestors, and through this practice we can maintain a stronger contact with the planet that we developed with.

References

Clark, Ella E. “The Mythology of the Indians in the Pacific Northwest.” Oregon Historical

Quarterly. 54.3 (1953): 163-189. Print.

de Laguna, Frederica. “Atna and Tlingit Shamanism: Witchcraft on the Northwest Coast.” Arctic

Anthropology. 24.1 (1987): 84-100. Print.

Eliade, Mircea. “Australian Religions. Part IV: The Medicine Men and Their Supernatural

Models.”History of Religions. 7.2 (1967): 159-183. Print.

Helskog, Knut. “The Shore Connection. Cognitive Landscape and Communication with Rock

Carvings in Northernmost Europe.” Norwegian Archaeological Review,. 32.2 (1999):

73-94. Print.

Mol, Hans. “The Origin and Function of Religion: A Critique of, and Alternative to, Durkheim’s

Interpretation of the Religion of Australian Aborigines.” Journal for the Scientific

Study of Religion. 18.4 (1979): 379-389. Print.

Meaning

Goddess

Anyone who has been exposed to the knowledge of what is going on in the world and really cares has probably found ourselves in a frame of mind where nearly everything we see invokes thoughts and knowledge of what is wrong with it.

 When driving between school, work, and home I couldn’t help but notice the pointless hurry that everyone seems to be in. Pick-up trucks with ‘Nobama’ bumper stickers swerving into my lane without signaling. Massive tractor trailers flying past. Headlights ‘riding my ass’ because five miles over the speed limit is not fast enough. Every one of these people is rushing for some reason – and risking their life and everything they know – but for what?
 I turn on the radio. Yet another ‘hit’ about living life ‘big’,  how love was lost, something about meaningless sex or how much better the singers life is than anyone else. The song stops and an obnoxious ad comes on about how the latest thing at McDonalds is amazing. I turn it off, or turn it to one of the cds of my favorite band – a Celtic folk death metal band from Switzerland that sings songs about natures beauty, or the ancient Gauls resistance against Rome.
 When I walk through parking lots (which in itself should be seen as a curse), I notice oil droplets in puddles and think of petroleum’s ubiquitous presence in nearly every nook and cranny of this world. I think of it polluting soils, streams, and oceans. I think of its burning polluting the air, causing shifts in climate regimes, affecting countless species. I think of it being made into plastic that floats in the streams and oceans of our mother Earth, as well as in the blood streams of every human I know. I think of how tainted and unhallowed everything has become.
 The readings hit to the heart of the lack of holiness for natural existence in modern society. Everything has become a means for acquisition and endless consumption, whether it be places, objects, or living things. It is the sole point of modern life and there is absolutely no questioning of it nor is there any hiding it. Why is this the case? How is it okay that we can’t even escape plastic, chemicals, or human technology? Why is it that our lives are completely the antithesis of how we evolved to live (if the horrible amounts of mental illness show)? How is it that I (and perhaps all of you) are the only ones that sometimes can’t sleep because we are too busy thinking of how crazy this all is?
 Take the book ‘American Gods’ by Neil Gaiman. Its an incredible novel that asks what a ‘god’ truly is. In the book, gods from various mythologies have been brought to America by immigration in various forms and are living as real, living breathing beings. Its shown that they need worship to have power, and the old polytheistic gods have waned in power due to the coming of ‘new gods’ – the gods of Media, Corporations, the Economy, the Internet, and so forth. Mr. Wednesday, the Americanized version of Odin of Norse mythology, decides to round up the main character and various other mythological entities to combat these new gods. Its pretty amazing.
 It got me thinking of the idea of corporations and the ‘invisible hand’ of the market as being very much like gods that our society has bent their lives to. We worship them through rituals of watching media and purchasing things, and it only makes them stronger. These gods are only bringing on the destruction of the world and of our lives, because we have all become their slaves – their ‘high priests’ being manipulative CEO’s, politicians, and scientists.
 Do we want nature – who has always shown to bring forth life from death, benefiting both herself and us, cycling through time immemorial – to rule us?  Or do we want the controllers and concentrations of power that are just as ignorant and flawed as ourselves to move us recklessly for their own benefit? Do we want meaning now or the endless pursuit of finding meaning in emptiness?

Identity

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I keep thinking about the idea that the root cause of nearly all problems today – whether they be ecological, societal, political, or those of human mental and physical health – seems to be a disconnect from reality. It seems to be a narrow minded, egotistical, addiction-like mentality where the needs and wants of the ‘I’ or ‘We’ are superior to the needs and wants of ‘You’ and ‘Them’. Industrial agriculture rests solely on this premise.

‘I’ or ‘We’ – whether defined as humanity, a corporation, a nation-state, a race – are always the ones that know better. The technologies we use and the activities we spend our time on are ideally focused on acquiring more power and enjoyment. Despite the vast amount of effort expended and possible repercussions that could occur, our shifting and amorphous goals are paramount. It may cost us billions of dollars, billions of human and non-human lives, and the very security we wish to maintain, but our goals of growth, production, and control in every facet of our lives are supposedly worth this cost and effort. The myths the author dispels show that industrial agriculture is nothing more than a big waste of time – better yields can come from smaller, more intensive and ecologically sustainable agriculture. Its them trying to bend reality to fit the system rather than the system fit reality.

The idea of what is best seems to be expressing our dominance over the ‘other’. Whether or not we really need the top of the line technology (despite its tendency to consume increasing amounts of time and money) or the most attractive mate (or lack there of) we as a society seem to drift towards whatever we feel will allow us the greater dominance over the existence that lies outside our bodies. We need to make money by focusing on easily mechanized cash crops. We need to be famous by building our company into a multi-billion dollar corporation. We need to push the threshold of ‘progress’ with genetic engineering. All to prove our worth and express our dominance over those who lack the wits, luck, or patience. Its gold, glory, and God (which seems to be either science or money) driving us again, as always.

In reality, this dominance of what lies outside our bodies must have to do more with maintaining dominance over ourselves within. We all have multiple identities – college student, son, daughter, boyfriend, girlfriend, citizen, consumer – the list can go on and on. Each of these identities is held up by the actions we perform and the beliefs we maintain, and to keep these identities we have to perform these actions lest the identities fall apart.

It might be that we identify with the wrong things. We identify with the myths of progress, fame and fortune. We identify with the artificial rather than the natural. We separate ourselves from the land, sea, and sky as well as all the non-humans that dwell within it. This isn’t a game with an end, but a cycle and a web.

Library of the Living : ‘TECHNO-FIX: Why Technology Won’t Save Us or the Environment’ by M. and J. Huesemann

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This is an amazingly thought provoking book with the main premise being that modern technology is over-rated, under-criticized, and often creates unintended and unavoidable consequences that promote the need for a complex series of counter-technologies. It is well researched, packed full of supporting facts and references that convince the reader of the inherent flaws in a ‘technotopian’ worldview.

The adoption of any particular new technology is shown to be wildly unquestioned within the industrialized world, such as the popularization of the car and its effects on society. (Did you know that when miles driven, cost of operation, and time spent in a car are taken into account, the average speed of a car is only around 10 miles per hour? All that money spent to go slower than a bicycle.) The neutrality of technology – such as the discovery of nuclear energy – is disputed, and the existence of ‘democratic’ (ex. pre-industrialized agriculture) and ‘authoritarian’ (ex. television) technologies in the vein of Lewis Mumford is revealed.

Techno-optimism and the myth of progress are analyzed, showing that the economic motive drives most inventions and discoveries. (Scientific discoveries actually peaked in the 1990s! Anything new has been an increase in efficiency of consumer technology!) They highlight the reckless pace of the yearly approval of thousands of chemicals in the United States, and their unknown effects are examined. The authors also question the use of Gross Domestic Product to analyze a country’s well-being, leading to the same perspective endorsed by Ralph Nader:

“You contribute to the GNP when you run your car into someone else’s: your contribution is still greater if you hurt people inside.”

Similar to Noam Chomsky’s critique of mass media in “Manufacturing Consent”, the authoritarian, hegemony-maintaining power of technology is examined, and the idea that the supposed democracy of $1.00 equals one vote is shown to be a means of maintaining the status quo.

In the  most eye-opening (and what many readers would find as the most subversive) chapter, the worth of modern medical technology and how the medical system works is examined with scrutiny. The authors discuss the process where by new medical procedures and drugs – whose efficacy may be worse than previous procedures and medicine – are rushed from trial to widespread usage, being capitalized on merely for their ‘newness’. Modern medicine is also shown to be a ‘counter-technology’ whose task is mainly to allow its patients to continue to mistreat their health – such as the concept of an anti-obesity pill.

All in all, the information within this is a powerful indictment against technological optimism and its effects on society. It is a near guarantee that this book will convince the reader that technology isn’t the solution to all of life’s problems, nor will it be the glowing messiah waiting for us in the emerging future.

For more information on ‘TECHNO-FIX : Why Technology Won’t Save Us or the Environment’ by Michael Huesemann and Joyce Huesemann, visit http://www.technofix.org/.

Library of the Living : What We Leave Behind by Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay

what we leave behind

As the first selection in my ‘Library of the Living’ series of book reviews, I cannot stress how profoundly inspirational, intense, eye-opening and infuriating ‘What We Leave Behind’ can be. The authors examine the concept of ‘waste’ – what it is within an environmental context, what it was to previous societies, and what it means to our culture today. What was once a circular path of regeneration has become a one-way path of destruction – spreading toxins, centralizing power, exterminating countless species and cultures – constantly and consistently turning the living into the dead.

Like many of his other works, he examines this modern cultures view of reality and proves its insanity. Grounded in the fact that infinite growth CANNOT occur on a finite world (despite what economists think), he describes the evolution of our current disposable culture to its current obsession with Sustainability™. He questions the benefits of technology, the ridiculous techno-fixes being contemplated, and the ‘Magical Thinking’  that seems to ensnare those whose world views don’t match with reality. He refutes the idea that ‘clean™’ and ‘green™’ technologies will save the planet or our culture, and ultimately proves the best course of action is to take action.

Derrick Jensen is one of the most passionate writers that has ever used the English language. From beautiful descriptions of nature, to harsh real-world facts and insightful anecdotes, his work – especially within the pages of ‘What We Leave Behind’ – is something truly unique and powerful.  There is something wrong with the reader who isn’t spurred by his words or had the flames of rebellion fanned within their heart.

I urge anyone who has any shred of compassion for both human and non-human life to read this book and be exposed to the harsh realities of this cultures effects on this planet and its life. Reading this, you will walk away a profoundly different person.

For more information on Derrick Jensen, ‘What We Leave Behind’, and his other works, please visit http://www.derrickjensen.org/.

Millenialism

Pardon me for being a little anti-establishment, Marxist, or possibly a little conspiracy theorist in my reasoning – but there are several observations I’ve made over the past few years that I really want to mention.

I am further coming to grips with my identity as a Millennial, and it bothers me. I feel as though my generation both gives and receives a whole lot of misdirected blame. However, could I maybe pose the question that this ‘underemployment’ and ‘narcissism’ is perhaps ‘the system’ working its own favor?

Its apparent that ‘the system’ is constantly trying to distract us, in order to acquire our time in order to get at our money. Facebook, the latest celebrity news, Twitter, video games, smartphones, pornography, new technological gadgets and services- the amount of weapons that ‘the system’ has at its disposal increases every day. All of these things create a sense of alienation between us as citizens, family members, relationship partners, and coworkers. In terms of ‘the system’ – this is a good thing.

Dividing us socially, creating certain boundaries that one needs to pass in order to be accepted – such as having to dress a certain way, own certain items, or modify ones behavior – allow new markets to open up. ‘The system’ has agreed that certain behaviors, items, and services are the ‘in thing’ and so we are required to acquire them in order to maintain some semblance of being content.

The need to acquire these fetishized items, services, and modes of behavior creates an anxiety in people. This allows for even further penetration of these countless distractions, so that those in control of these distractions can increase the amount of power that they already have.

This leads to the concept that a society’s values serve the ‘powers that be’ in some form. Isn’t it apparent that our society – that values instantaneous communication, instant gratification in relationships, and ‘excitement’ in the form of games – stresses only those things that sell and concentrate power for a decreasing few of people?

As a young man, I am encouraged to NOT settle down, to not be romantically or seriously attached to any particular woman. I am told to not get engaged, because its ‘rushing things’. I should ‘keep my options open’. It is almost the same thing as employment.  Isn’t this a form of cultural values serving the powers that be?

Its an excuse to help further extend adolescence, and make it so we think of the present instead of the future. If I am not investing in building a family, I am more likely to spend time and money on consumer goods. If I am not investing in my future, I can spend my money now and ‘build the economy’. If I am not attached to any one person, it makes it easier to market sexuality and ‘excitement’. If I am not attaching my fate to another persons, I am more easily able to not have any commitments, allowing those in control to take advantage of me. If I am not attached to any one place, person, or ideal there is no excuse other than to use me. Life is rendered meaningless so that we can be exploited.

This is essentially the same as the process of being ripped out of our hometowns and being processed in college in order to be a free-floating, unattached cog in a machine drifting towards the flow of money.

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Slowly into the Dark : Thoughts and Visions of the Future

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I am not a survivalist – nor would I call myself a passive bystander – but my views, as well as my interests, activities, and prioritization of the different aspects of my life – are somewhere in the middle between these two extremes. From what I’ve learned in my time spent working towards my bachelors in Environmental Studies (both in school and the plethora of reading I have done outside of class – most notably James Howard Kunstler‘s ‘The Long Emergency’ and Derrick Jensen‘s work) as well as the eye opening philosophical views I have exposed myself to (and the casually paying attention to the behavior of society at large) , I feel that I will witness the precipitous decline of western industrial -capitalist civilization within my lifetime. With that, I can safely say I wish I had been born after the actual ‘collapse’ occurs, because it definitely won’t be pretty.

I can narrow it down to three factors that will bring about the end of this mode of living: peak oil, climate change, and the inherent instability and flaws within the capitalist mode of production. These three problems are so deeply embedded within modern fossil fuel powered, industrial capitalist society that I feel there is honestly no hope trying to actively ‘change’ anything (at least nothing I myself feel I have the skills, hope, or charisma to do). They are ultimately problems with our cultures perception of reality, and trying to ‘save’ modern industrial capitalist society would be to save the problems with it. Its problems arise from its exploitative nature, just as civilization itself inherently is – particularly this civilization. Being at the receiving end of exploitation, bullying, and abuse from many different angles, I sympathize greatly for the human and non-human victims of it. I ultimately wish I could just be ‘human’ and live up to the potential I was evolved to live – to eat the foods I was meant to eat and live within a community and social structure I evolved to live in. I’ll keep out of everyone elses business if they keep out of mine – and I expect those others to keep out of everyone elses business too.

One could easily look at this through the Hegelian dialectic – the thesis being global industrial capitalism, the antithesis being the ecological limits, and synthesis being a new world of localized economies and political units. I don’t think a classic socialist revolution will happen (at least pan-globally, relying on the same industrial modes that might bring about a general overthrow of society) but that it may arise in several states as long as political hegemony is limited by limited fossil fuels and infrastructure. I could totally imagine the United States possibly being dissolved into different autonomous regions, similar to the division of the Roman Empire into Western and Eastern halves. Hopefully, people of different political mindsets who would more likely talk about whats pressing rather than the less important warm fuzzy sort of politics that seems to dominate our country today.

Ultimately then, I agree with Derrick Jensen in that life (being all life on planet earth) would be best if civilization was destroyed. With how entrenched we are within this mode of living, there is a possibility that we may see the end of what could be called civilization on the vast majority of the earths surface – ultimately a plus for biodiversity. Do I have the skills, charisma, or even the want to actively destroy civilization? I often imagine myself as some sort of barbaric figure (a modern day Brennus descending on Rome) but I don’t want to get involved in anything too attention grabbing, too complex, or too suicidal. I want a family and happiness (and ultimately the dream of every hobbit – reading books and tending to his garden in the Shire), but I also know that there is horrible injustice and outright insanity going on in the world, and to deal with that I intend to take a route more subtle.

Ultimately, this mode of living will destroy itself. There really is no hope to change the direction of this train wreck, either through changing the minds of those in power or the minds of the general public. (When people regularly complain to me about the price of $9 watermelons in January and the fact that they’re not American grown, there is clearly a disconnect between the average customer and reality) They value the unreal over the real, and so symbols and power structures will be favored over life, leading to a variety of frightening conclusions. What resource limit will come first, how intense will it be, and what will be the worlds reaction? When countries are threatening nuclear war over ideological differences, would they act on it over real problems? Whether it be peak oil, peak phosphate, or some other intense scarcity of a ‘strategic resource’, the implications of that scarcity are frightening.

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As I write this, my brother is playing a game I consider the most ethically redeeming one in existence, one I actually consider a work of art. The game – titled ‘Fallout 3’ – is one in which the player controls a character born in a self-sustaining, underground fallout-shelter community 200 years after a nuclear war between a nationalistic, communist fearing United States and an expansionist China over dwindling sources of oil. The character, having been born into an enclosed society isolated from any knowledge of the outside world, roams the irradiated post-apocalyptic ruins of Washington, D.C. scavenging bombed out ruins for supplies while fighting anarchic raiders, remnant US government factions, and mutated animals such as giant cockroaches. Going past the science fiction elements of the game, is a future like this (particularly with the current saber-rattling going on with North Korea) something my children or grand children will inherit? Playing the game makes me hope not.

What I find amazing about this game is that the creators really capture the bleak reality that such a situation would create, and that they show believable methods of governance and living that could arise in such an environment. Small communities are scattered throughout the wastelands, being housed in the ruins of buildings where simple subsistence agriculture and hunting are depicted. It is almost a ‘new dark ages’ – something similar to what I feel may arise after the looming collapse on the horizon. This idea of living in an generally anarchic land with a patchwork of localized societies and economies appeals to me. Different societies adapted to their own local environments, implementing close-knit community organization and localized means of production seems the most natural and realistic means of human living. I feel that this is how our society might live in the far future, though as the passing of time has shown us, societies evolve and change constantly when exposed to multiple environmental or social constraints. Obviously, some may become much stronger or technologically advanced than others – though with fossil fuels out of the way, there never will be another society as advanced or centralized as ours is at the moment – which is a very good thing.

I don’t think nuclear war is the most likely conclusion, but I feel that it is the most dreaded. I only can hope peak oil is what causes the real crises (though I argue that the Iraq war, the 2008 financial crisis, and the stagnant economy are all related to the peaking of its production) and that its worst effects come well after I am established on a piece of land not to far from civilization. If peak oil is the thing to come first, it may lessen the eventual horrible effects of climate change though its social, political, and economic effects could be quite frightening – racial, religious, political, economically and other driven conflicts could very well be initiated by some sort of oil scarcity.

Now, there definitely will be some sort of massive changes within my lifetime – oil price increases, a worsening economy, climatic shocks that will disrupt agricultural production – as well as the political instability that comes with this. My goal then is to get through these shocks as comfortably as possible, and to survive through it with a family and pass on my own views and cultural values to them. I stayed in Binghamton because I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, nor did I want to spend a lot of money figuring that out. I feel that its probably the best decision I ever made, despite what many would think.

I’ve worked full time while attending school, and now that I graduate I only owe around four thousand dollars. I’ve tried to keep in contact with my friends and family here, although the vast majority of my old friends got sucked into dead-end jobs, dropping out, and drug use, so I’ve been separated by them in terms of world view and aspirations. I’ve been with the same wonderful girl for about three years. We intend to get engaged, be married, and start having a family as soon as we can afford it. She’s currently still in school (at BCC for Dental Hygiene) and has a year left to go. She realizes how horribly things are in the world, and has come to her own conclusion that things will change quite drastically within our lifetime. She’s incredibly supportive of me, my views, and our ideas for the future, and I wouldn’t have finished up school without her encouragement to go back. Knowing something about teeth, she figures she would have at least some practical knowledge to carry through the craziness that will probably occur. We’ll probably live within several hours of Binghamton, either somewhere in upstate New York or northern Pennsylvania.

My brother is a 22 year old union carpenter, and my father owns and operates several apartments he rents to people in Binghamton and Elmira. He intends to get my brother and I involved in the operation, and my brother wants to start his own construction business renovating houses. His fiancee is graduating as a registered nurse this May, and intends to work at a hospital, preferably in the maternity ward. They are definitely the ultimate ‘SHTF’ couple to be related to! My brother and I have talked about purchasing land and living off it between the two of us, hopefully having our kids grow up being close cousins. He has heard everything I’ve ever thought and learned, and can see that something is coming sooner or later. My sister, who is just now graduating from high school, has done Animal Science at BOCES and intends to go to school for a veterinary related education. It seems her knowledge would also be very beneficial to have in a post-industrial dark age scenario. I have only shallowly discussed with her the plight of the world, but I ultimately think I have the best collection of close relatives I could wish for.

I’ve never desired to be rich, and I’ve never intended to be famous. I’ve never been very ‘pro-active’ with what I want to do with my life, and I’ve mainly allowed life to make my decisions for me. It may sound bad , but I feel that I’ve been very blessed, happy, and content, and the only things that make me unhappy are those things I have no control over. But I intend to find some sort of stable job, purchase land (whether it be that what my father owns or some I find myself) and live off it as sustainably and simple as possible.

In terms of self sufficiency, I am an amateur gardener, and I am extremely interested in the medicinal and culinary uses of both wild and cultivated plants, as well as traditional means of living. I keep a rabbit and a worm bin which make a very good combination, and I compost the scraps of home cooked meals I make at my apartment. I’ve spent a lot of time ‘in the woods’ being that my moms side is ‘country folk’ from out near Greene and I was in the Scouts when I was younger. I didn’t get my license or a car until I was 21, because I could walk everywhere I needed to go, which was only really in the Town of Chenango. I rarely ever watch television, and the only electronic media I deal with is the internet and Netflix, which limits my exposure to commercials. It is odd too in that my internet usage drops significantly when schools not in session. I think that I’ve at least jumped the first hurdle in a life without fossil fuels or complex technology in that I can imagine myself without them.

I am skilled with a bow and arrow, and I am a fairly knowledgeable owner of legal (and registered) firearms. I can’t say that I inherently like firearms – it truly is very much about the power in the item rather than the item itself that appeals to me. It isn’t about what the item itself can do, but more about the fact that people with much more wealth and political clout have them and will always have them, so why shouldn’t I -with little wealth and marginalized morality beliefs – own them? Gun ownership isn’t a very popular concept amongst us of the environmentalist leaning crowd, but I feel that if those in power can own them (or have people who serve them owning them) that it is absolutely necessary for those of us who are marginalized, who have ultimately the most to lose in a coming time of scarcity. I am quite skeptical of the united efforts of curbing ‘military style’ firearm ownership by civilians, because it really seems to be coming from positions of power (whom it ultimately serves). In times of scarcity, political and economic upheaval, can we really trust the establishment to be on our side, rather than whoever has the money? Illegal wars, Japanese-American internment, and the increasing centralization and policing of our society show that the system will do anything to maintain its control. Besides all this, firearm ownership ultimately serves a practical purpose as well. I intend to get my hunting licensing set up for this coming season, and I want to take it on as a tradition to pass on to my children one day.

No person can be an island, and in perilous times community becomes the single most important aspect of survival. This means that being more sociable with people and ‘networking’ with them (things that are not very natural to me) is something I will need to do. I haven’t done it very much at all throughout high-school or college, and so I intend to be a more active member of society after I graduate.

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There are a few ways I’m going to accomplish this – work, volunteering, and surprisingly, organized religion. I’ve always been very spiritual, and it has traced itself throughout my entire life. I’ve always been seeking meaning and truth, and it has lead me to read the written works of many different religions (mythologies from around the world, Catholic and Protestant versions of the Bible, the Koran, and Buddhist sutras) as well as the work of philosophers and the pursuing of an education in Environmental Studies. For the most part, I’ve been very antagonistic towards organized religion. I’ve been involved in neo-pagan spirituality for the longest period of time, being active in witches covens and the national Indo-European re-constructionist organization known as Ar nDraoicht Fein. I’ve had a multitude of phases where I was enamored with a particular belief system, whether it be Wicca, Norse shamanism, Celtic Druidic re-constructionism, Tibetan Mahayana practice, and most recently, Roman Catholicism and my own independent Christianity. This surprises many people who know of my previous interests and opinions, but I have come to think of it as being a misunderstood and misused belief system whose actual message is acceptance of a natural order as well as a need to equalize humanity. Previous religious paths offered me little of community, discipline, or sanity (particularly the New Age philosophies) and I especially value its emphasis on self sacrifice, charity, and its persistence through hard times. It lasted the fall of major civilizations before as well as countless other tumultuous events, and so I feel it – along with various other organized religions – would help quite well within the new dark ages as much as in the last one. Religion, especially when it is organized, can really allow for social cohesion and hope in the face of problems. (As an aside, my lifelong secular humanist best friend has for some reason become extremely polytheist leaning. I think it has something to do with him reading the Derrick Jensen books I lent him.)

The one problem with organized religion – particularly the less philosophical and more popular versions of it in the United States, specifically its fringe Protestant Christianity flavors – is its focus on the ‘end times’. What is very frightening to me is that a significant portion of the population makes decisions as though the Apocalypse will clean all problems away, and that also if their standard of living drops, it will be taken as the End’s immediacy. I don’t have much faith in people, and think their behavior will be bordering on insanity when the price of oil causes their worlds to shrink.

My two most pertinent and unanswerable questions in regards to the coming shift in paradigm are ‘1) How do I maintain an ounce of happiness and good humor in the face of all the bad?’ and ‘2)Where do I begin?’ With my impending graduation in a few weeks, these two questions have been on my mind constantly. I am worried about employment, about proving to my parents this wasn’t a waste of time. I have nearly nothing as a resume – having had to work my entire time in school hasn’t particularly allowed me time for internships or other extracurricular activities. I was in a Paranormal Investigation group at BCC, and an animal rights group with some friends from high-school – but these are things that won’t get me a job. So ultimately, I’m worried about being stuck in some dead end, environmentally destructive or socially irresponsible career. I have no idea where I am going to work to make more than minimum wage but feel like I am important and morally sound, and I can only hope to find something that fits my wants and needs within a reasonable distance from home.

How to keep my hopes up is probably the hardest part of it all, because in all honesty I have little hope. I guess the only hopeful thing I can think of is paper that Professors Richard Andrus  and Mike Kane passed in each class, with the quote from J. R. R. Tolkien’s ‘Fellowship of the Ring’ where Gandalf says So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

With what I feel may happen, my goal is to cultivate a means of living with a family where materialistic wants are what is valued least, and self sufficiency and deep ‘living in place’ are valued most. I don’t intend to do anything too drastic, nor anything flashy or truly active. I don’t want to communicate through electronic devices to people I should be talking face to face with, and I don’t want to have my family spend hours staring at moving pictures on a screen. I want to actually know my children and have them know me, rather than me not knowing what they are going to school for or thinking TV time is family time. I want the knowledge and wisdom of men dead for decades or even centuries to guide them rather than the latest fad media trying to sell them shallow bullshit. I want to not have money and its pursuit rule my life and deprive me of time from my family. I want to be ‘old fashioned’, and hopefully keep as many of mainstream societies physical and mental poisons out of my life as much as possible. I intend to ‘lay low’ and weather the storm as best as I possibly can, growing and guarding whatever knowledge I can gather to pass on to the descendants of my family’s house. I hope to go forward through the turbulent dark times ahead as if this were the end of the Third Age of Middle-Earth or the coming of Ragnarok. I hope the end of industrialization brings with it an age of real, true freedom.