Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Rite of Passage

Greetings Peaksters

      Doomer Dan has a cryptic phrase he utters occasionally, to wit:  "It's all free!".  My first reaction was, "No no its all getting more expensive! "  But slowly I believe I am coming some understanding  - i.e that the current crop of humans has available  huge quantities of energy, machinery are entertainment - and they have access to all this stuff by working - but working much less than any humans before us.   So its all so cheap, it might as well be free.

      So, having gotten used to this increasing luxury, we are in a panic when we discover that our opulence is about to shrink.  And we are doing hand springs to get out more oi, to build our turbines and solar.  But perhaps there is another way to approach the issue.  
     So, I stumbled across this article , which starts out with a nice discussion of energy and economy, and the decline rates and feasibility of alternative.  Al standard stuff.  All laid out quite logically with footnotes.  But towards the end he veers into psychology  and he has a nice way of looking at the future.   
      When you think about it, the person in society  who gets everything for free, and doesn't have to work is the child.   And we have gotten used to that role, and cling to it.  But we need to to move to different role, the role of the adult, who knows what things cost, and that nothing is free, and everything has trade offs.  But its difficult to make this move.  We need a rite of passage. 

Here is the concluding passage:


The Impending Rite of Passage

Believe it or not, I’m a friendly guy with a great sense of humor and a positive outlook on life, both for myself and for others. Friends constantly ask me how my upbeat demeanor coexists with my downbeat energy outlook. No, I don’t suffer from multiple personality disorder or have a superhuman capacity to cope with cognitive dissonance. The answer is simple: I see an easy way out.
Fossil fuel depletion and the inadequacy of alternative energy technologies to fill the resulting energy supply gaps at reasonable prices aren’t inherently problematic. Outside of civilization supplies of key resources rise and fall, and the ‘affluence’ of species that depend on those resources rises and falls with them. Despite the cyclical nature of life outside of civilization, animals generally don’t descend into depression or go psychotic. Perhaps my single most powerful revelation came when I realized that, growing up in an industrialized nation like the United States, I’d become so spoiled by the rising availability of cheap resources and had so infused the notion of perpetually increasing affluence into my identity that my worldview left no room for declines.
worldview encompasses a person’s conception of how the world works, what’s possible, and what’s desirable. A key maladaptive feature of the worldview I grew up with is that I defined my success by the growth of my standard of living, the growth of my country’s economy and the growth of my country’s influence more generally. A look through history shows that growth in any metric is a fleeting part of the development of societies [9]. As I woke up to the realities of fossil fuel depletion and its economic consequences, I realized my first task would be to design more realism into my worldview.
In some societies children go through a rite of passage during which the child’s worldview – defined by rapid physical growth, no responsibilities and instant gratification – is extinguished [10]. As their rite progresses their worldview is re-formulated to accept the roles and responsibilities of adulthood in their community, whatever those might be. I can’t help but wonder if the growth fetish I found hidden in my worldview was a childish way of thinking that, psychologically, I never left behind in my transition into adulthood.
Over the past decade I’ve muddled through a series of informal rites of passage, each including the archetypal stages of preparation, severance, crossing a threshold, return and reintegration. Preparation involved recognizing that my worldview had some shortcomings, and taking stock of the physical, financial and community resources I had at my disposal. Severance involved articulating relevant parts of my current worldview and opening myself up to leaving them behind. Crossing the threshold demanded that I ask hard questions about how the world works, about my goals and intentions, and about what path forward was worth committing to. My return involved using the answers to these questions to design for myself a new worldview, and reintegration involved turning this worldview into habits and stories to help me avoid repeating past mistakes and falling back into old patterns. The process isn’t over. While large chunks of my old worldview have been extinguished and replaced with more adaptive beliefs and patterns, there are still a few relics I keep working on and I expect the work to continue throughout my adult life.
My emerging worldview places less importance on my income and consumptive habits as the basis for my identity, and more on the connections I create and nurture in my community. My goal in life is still growth, but not so much in the physical or monetary realms. In those areas I’m quite content with ‘enough’, and I’ve noticed that ‘enough’ tends to shrink over time on many fronts. I’ve stopped investing in the stock market and similar schemes, and instead invest surplus income collecting practical skills, starting hobbies that I can scale up to earn another income stream if needed, and building community with others who share my goals of creating resilience and adaptability.

Parting Thoughts

Earlier in this article I asked why we can’t seem to escape from our current economic recession, and answered with discussions of emerging fossil fuel supply constraints, declining net energy returns, and the inability to replace scarce fossil energy with alternatives. I noted the growth fetish hidden in my old worldview and the value of sculpting it into something more adaptive, something more in-tune with reality. That sculpting led naturally to a range of lifestyle choices that, overall, have given me a much greater sense of personal security and a higher quality of life.
When just one person follows this path it doesn’t help much. We need millions of people to jump on board, millions to muddle through their thresholds and millions to return to their communities with more adaptive worldviews and visions of how they can meaningfully contribute. Civilization itself needs a rite of passage, and perhaps the economic consequences of fossil fuel depletion will deliver exactly that. I can’t pretend to know the particulars of how the coming years and decades will progress, but I trust it will be powerful, enlightening, and certainly interesting. Perhaps more interesting than we’d prefer, but then we live in interesting times, so go figure. 


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