This post begins with a sense of melancholy born of a reluctant realization that both Ernest Becker and Richard Heineberg are correct in their respective analyses. Becker synthesized the insights of the master cartographers of the human condition and took the all important step of moving from the individual’s experience of existential terror and necessary repression to how that looks when writ large in culture. He demonstrated the connection between our sacred symbols, customs, and ideologies and our penchant for violence, both active (war) and passive (neglect). Anyone who has read Ernest Becker has had the thought, “Why does he have to be so right about this?” Similar thoughts attend the work of Richard Heineberg.
Actually, I’m using Heineberg as a representative for a collection of writers on the topic of the physical limits humanity is running up against. These writers include James Kunstler, Colin Campbell, Dmitry Orlov, and Matthew Simmons. Along with Heineberg, these writers have crunched the numbers on our natural resources. Specifically, they’ve analyzed energy supplies, the cost of extraction, and the viability of energy alternatives. Their bottom line conclusion is that we can no longer continue to grow, grow, grow. In this brief space I really don’t want to rehash their arguments. Suffice it to say that I am drawn to their work because they use hard science such as geology to make their case. Just as Becker demonstrated the impossibility of removing ourselves from the human condition itself, so too Heineberg and company demonstrate the impossibility of skirting the laws of physics. I encourage you to judge their work on its merits. Their bottom line conclusion is that our future success lies in the direction of local responses and greater self-sufficiency. The current economic downturn is not seen as cyclic, but rather the bumpy plateau as we descend the energy curve. Things will get tougher.
What do we see as we survey our social landscape? We see a lot of social dislocation, frustration, anger and above all, fear. There is a growing apprehension of entering new unknown territory. As Becker would predict, we see a rise in ideologically framed arguments, less reasoned debate and more finger pointing. The values of The Enlightenment appear impotent against the demagogues. The better angels of our nature look to be on the verge of getting their winged asses kicked. The harder times get , the more people will seek security in their symbol systems. The western credo has always been one of expansion and now our myth is proving toxic. Death by story.