May 23, 2007


With the nation hopelessly dependent on automobiles and runaway inflation pricing fuel ever more beyond the reach of lower-wage workers, the apocalypse is already here.


DENY IT AS VEHEMENTLY as you choose, the apocalypse is upon us. I have sensed its imminence since the still-unexplained regional power outage of 9 November 1965 -- I was riding home on the Eighth Avenue Subway when the electricity failed, and I was the young man, later mentioned in a couple of news reports, who organized and led the evacuation of the A Train that had died three cars into West 14th Street station. “Join hands so nobody gets lost,” I said, “and just like we’re finding our way out of a cave, we’ll go to where the fresh air comes in.”

There was no mistaking the apocalyptic prophecy of what we all came to call “the Blackout.” Emerging from the coalmine darkness of the subway station and seeing the entire de-electrified City nearly as dark beneath an ominously smirking full moon gave me a chill more intense than anything I’d ever felt, and my hackles rose again minutes later when I learned the outage extended north from the Ohio River deep into Canada, west from the Atlantic Ocean well into Indiana and Michigan. It remains the largest such technological failure ever known. Here thanks to Life magazine photographer Bob Gomel is what Manhattan looked like.

(Click on the picture itself for maximum enlargement. Gomel’s view is eastward across the Hudson River; the bright lines in the foreground are the headlights of vehicles on the West Side Highway, and the greens and purples in the darker areas are due to a condition called reciprocity failure, a characteristic of the old High Speed Ektachrome under extended exposure.)

Having already thus glimpsed the future of what was then the greatest city on the planet, I merely nodded when I began reading the conclusions of the male and female environmentalist Cassandras a decade later. I am after all a Celt: I had sensed the laughter of the Crone when I emerged from the subway -- note again that grinning moon -- and now intuition was confirmed by science. Even then, though, the apocalypse remained hardly more than an abstraction, something that would occur long after I had died.

But last weekend I saw the apocalypse first-hand. I saw it in the distraught face of a young mother in a Fred Meyer parking lot telling her two elementary-school daughters that “no we can’t drive out to grandma’s tomorrow because momma has to save enough ($3.45-per-gallon) gasoline to get to work all next week.” I saw it the nearly palpable fear of a man at the gas pumps, filling his automobile with $3.45 gasoline just as I was filling my own -- “quick before the goddamn price goes up again,” he said. I saw it in the body language at the bus stops, where people forced by the price of gas to abandon their automobiles now wait patiently for buses that run far too infrequently, their archetypically American faces -- white, black, brown, Asian -- united in dull-eyed resignation.

Most of all I saw it in my own huge gas-price anger at how the politicians have betrayed us to Big Oil and Big Automotive and -- with their decades of untold graft safely pocketed and banked -- have abandoned us to the socioeconomic and cultural equivalent of an everlasting Hurricane Katrina: the price of gasoline in now obviously permanent runaway inflation, the price increasing nearly a penny a day and sometimes much as five cents a day. By Memorial Day it will be close to $4 per gallon and maybe already above that. By Labor Day it could be $5 a gallon -- possibly $6 (and maybe even $7). Though the price will occasionally drop a bit -- another Big Lie tactic to falsely reassure us all is well -- the days of affordable gasoline and diesel are ended forever.

Though the yuppie environmentalists are already applauding this latest atrocity against those of us who have to work to survive, think for a moment about the disaster $5 gasoline (or even $2 gasoline) inflicts on people who, by deliberate decades of political and economic betrayal, have been denied adequate public transport: literally all of us everywhere in the United States outside the five boroughs of New York City.

When an already bitterly exhausting day at the McJob suddenly jumps from 10 hours to 14 hours or even 16 (because now that you can’t afford to drive, you have to get up two or three hours early to ride buses to the sweatshop); when now because of the cost of gasoline you have to shop by bus rather than car (and the buses run so slow and seldom it takes the entire weekend rather than just half of Saturday); when your life deteriorates into permanent exhaustion you suddenly recognize will be relieved only by death because the price of gasoline will never come down again; when you suddenly understand the politicians’ sudden promise to provide the public transport you so desperately need is just another Big Lie -- that now it will never be built because its costs are thrust ever more out of reach by fuel-price-driven inflation -- that is the apocalypse.

Its details are reflected in the fact I spent nine hours and drove 102 miles this weekend shopping for necessities. I burned 7.14 gallons of $3.45 per-gallon gas at a cost of $24.56.(With nearly 260,000 miles on its odometer, my carefully maintained 1992 Ford Tempo V6 -- a gift from a friend eight years ago -- still manages 26 miles per gallon highway but gets only 14 in town.) To accomplish these same errands here by bus would have taken a minimum of three days: one of the stores at which I shopped is seven miles away on a fairly direct line, a 20-minute drive but a bus ride of an hour and ten minutes; another is only four miles away but across town: again a 20 minute drive, but by bus, a trip of nearly three hours that includes two transfers. And these are one-way trips; the actual to-and-fro drive time is double, and the bus time -- given the unavoidable waits and the scheduled infrequency -- is at least triple and often more. By bus, the weekend’s shopping chores would have required four single-bus-route journeys, 17 hours total round-trip time including shopping, plus three multi-route bus trips, total time 21 hours including shopping -- 38 hours total. My three-day estimate of how long these chores would have taken by bus is thus no exaggeration at all.

In New York City, which has the only genuinely adequate public transport in the entire United States, I could have bought these same items with a $2 subway ride to Midtown Manhattan, spent at the very most two healthy hours of walking from store to store and then boarded the subway for another $2 ride back home, after which I would have had the rest of the weekend to spend as I chose, perhaps visiting museums and galleries with the eloquent, elegant and comely woman who is my once and future wife.

But here in arrogantly sprawling Pugetopolis -- the ecofornicated region around Puget Sound, where the ruling class promises us “Sound Transit” but delivers nothing save rhetoric, frustration and ongoing enslavement by Big Oil and Big Automotive -- we are afflicted with a pair of now-obviously-terminal illnesses, conditions that turn any sort of shopping into white-knuckled confrontation with societal collapse and political betrayal: i.e. the apocalypse.

One of the apocalyptic ailments is Mad Mall Disease, which is vectored by Big Oil and Big Automotive and causes the reflexive total destruction of all central business districts. While Mad Mall Disease is epidemic throughout the entire United States outside of New York City, here in Pugetopolis it is uniquely combined with another far more insidious but equally deadly local condition: Seattle Xenophobic Transit Obstruction, the radical anti-public-transport bigotry chronically frothed up by Seattle’s “stop-Manhattanization (we-don’-wanna-be-like-Jew-York)” xenophobes and “subways-are-for-criminals” racists, with the associated hatemongering secretly encouraged by turf-protecting bureaucrats and enacted into unwritten but now irrevocable law by mercenary politicians -- again of course all vectored and financed by Big Oil and Big Automotive.

Consequently the initial tremor of the apocalypse -- the runaway inflation of petroleum prices -- is already destroying men, women and children and threatening many more people -- myself included -- with inescapable ruin. And the human destruction, though notably worse here in forcibly non-Manhattanized Pugetopolis, is to one degree or another a nationwide disaster anywhere outside the five boroughs of New York.

Cuba, a socialist state with a genuinely Marxist grassroots consciousness, has coped very successfully with the same sort of crisis by developing localized agriculture and supplemental public transport as well.

But America’s one embryonic effort at localized agriculture, the Los Angeles South Central Farm (from which an entire ideology of economic democracy and sustainable farming might have grown), has already been destroyed by the bulldozers and jackboots of the corporate state -- a bitter lesson in brutally crushed dreams and aspirations that demonstrates beyond any question that such alternatives will be summarily destroyed anywhere else they might be attempted within the United States -- and possibly (note for example the again escalating official hostility toward Cuba) anywhere else in the world too. (For additional information on this atrocity -- the story was methodically suppressed by corporate media -- Google “south central farm” and “los angeles urban farm“)

Moreover Cuba was never a nation where violently grasping consumeroids battled to the death over the newest baubles, bangles, beads and gew-gaws, nor was Cuba ever a place where most of the population -- even many of the abjectly impoverished -- had been hypnotized to cling defiantly to their ever-more-unaffordable gas-guzzling automobiles and rage in tantrums of Transit Obstructus any time someone suggested there might indeed be a better way. The Cuban solution to the petro-apocalypse -- undoubtedly the most intelligent solution humans have yet devised -- will therefore never be the U.S. solution. Most of us are far too viciously selfish, far too selfishly sociopathic -- and now after decades of methodical moronation into the ultimate Moron Nation -- we are simply too stubbornly stupid to abandon the privately owned automobile until Gaia herself pries it from our cold dead hands.

But make no mistake: the biggest obstacle to adequate public transport -- never mind the Cuban-style socioeconomic transformation that might actually let us survive what is to come -- is the U.S. ruling class: the people who keep the Transit Obstructus types agitated and inflamed. The Cuban solution demands true community and genuine sharing -- from each according to ability, to each according to need. But that sort of thing will never be allowed here. The U.S. ruling class wants everything for themselves, with just enough left over to ensure the slaves are kept alive -- and so desperately hungry we’ll obey our masters without question.

The apocalyptic optimists have a somewhat more hopeful vision of course.

But the ruling class has already made it clear by its behavior in Los Angeles and New Orleans that we in the United States will never be allowed such humanitarian (and implicitly democratic) options. Thus “I can have it all” is vanquished forever, replaced by “will work for food” -- the emergence of the new American Dream.



THE TRAFFIC JAMS I see clogging the streets and highways of Pugetopolis -- increasingly the worst such congestion in North America -- are not, as the authorities constantly try to reassure us, merely temporary discomforts until technology rescues us yet again. What we are witnessing is the vehicular equivalent of the last frantic costume ball before the final debacle, not Waterloo, which merely marked a shift in power, but Arthur’s last battle at Camlannis, which signaled the end of an age and a plunge into centuries of darkness.

And this time every sociological indicator I can find suggests the darkness may not never lift again: the wholesale abandonment of basic protocols of courtesy as old as civilization itself, the chronic hatefulness expressed by the ever-worsening plague of bad manners that now afflicts U.S. society from top to bottom, the increasing incidence of checkout-line scuffles and road rage and gas pump brawls -- all this is not only far more prophetic than the decaying streets and crumbling public buildings but portends a descent into social Darwinist cannibal savagery of a magnitude that surely has no precedent. Even the pampered children of the elite sense the unspeakably brutish future that awaits us: note how the neo-tribal magnetism of gang life now reaches far beyond the ghetto to recruit youth from all but the most posh Caucasian schools and neighborhoods. Like post-Katrina New Orleans, such trends and incidents are glimpses of the grim tomorrow that skyrocketing fuel prices may bring upon us much sooner than we anticipate.

Meanwhile most of us have no idea just how bad things are. Corporate media ignored the apocalypse for years and now routinely minimizes it, reducing what amounts to a deadly plague of rabid grizzly bears to nothing more than a smelly but merely bothersome infestation of incontinent house cats. Thus terminal climate change is deliberately softened to “global warming” even as petroleum exhaustion is misrepresented as “temporary price instability.” And now that these problems are begrudgingly acknowledged, the primary theme of ruling class propaganda is reassurance: “don’t worry; this sort of thing has happened many times in human history -- and we’ve not only survived, but see how we have progressed to all these material comforts we have today,” always with the strong implication that any day now things will get better. A related variant is the deification of technology: “times will be hard for a while, but technology will save us -- and then it’ll be just like Star Trek -- we’ll go on to conquer the whole galaxy.” In either case, it’s the same old “restoration of the American Dream.“

But the shibboleth of “alternative energy“ is nothing but a great pacifier, another pie-in-the-sky scam. Google “the false promise of alternative energy” without the quotation marks and scroll at will: no amount of “alternative energy” can possibly replace the declining petroleum supply, precisely because our technology is not merely dependent on petroleum, but contingent upon it. Once the petroleum runs out, there will no be technology available with which to produce alternatives -- or anything else. The awful totality of our dependence -- which we are only feeling the first pangs of in the socioeconomic consequences of runaway fuel prices -- is precisely what makes the apocalypse unavoidable.

As always when cataclysms loom, many take refuge in theological fantasy: “after we have gone through this tribulation , we will be lifted bodily into heaven” or “after we experience this time of mandatory spiritual growth, we will all achieve collective enlightenment” -- the same palliative whether expressed as Old Time Religion or New Age mysticism, though surely no more misguided than most of the common secular responses. But there are other spiritual alternatives -- some of the emergent approaches to paganism for example -- that are neither compensatory Abrahamic fanaticism nor vapid New Age tomfoolery: the stern repudiation of Abrahamic nature-hating, a centerpiece of both Wiccan/ecofeminist and Druidical viewpoints, is in fact genuinely revolutionary. Detailed and thoughtful discussion of such alternatives is already underway. The following link -- scroll down to “Religion and Peak Oil: the Next Spirituality” -- is but one example.

Thus if we are fortunate, the spiritual quest prompted by our collective anxiety will give birth to an ethos that will guarantee a sustainable human community. The quest for such an alternative actually began at least 60 years ago with publication of Robert Graves’ ground-breaking work The White Goddess, which has since fostered a legacy of rediscovery and realization that will prove infinitely valuable if our species manages to survive.

Which is an ocean-sized if. The terrifying truth -- the truth the ruling class tries desperately to hide -- is that there is absolutely nothing in human experience to compare with the magnitude and totality of the disaster that has already begun.

What confronts us is in fact not one apocalypse but two: species failure -- or more accurately its consequences -- combined with terminal climate change.

Species failure is the total, self-inflicted destruction of human civilization due to the exhaustion of petroleum resources, the consequent end of technology, and the resultant political, economic and cultural collapse -- horrors substantially intensified by what I label “End Time Capitalism”: the tyrannosauric depredations of a ruling class frantic to hoard maximum wealth before Nature slams most of her doors closed forever. In other words, species failure is the complete breakdown of all human institutions, the debacle resulting from a series of suicidal errors culminating in a species hopelessly dependent on petroleum and thus unable to survive without it.

Terminal climate change -- itself largely self-inflicted -- worsens the consequences of species failure to the point the survival of H. sapiens sapiens may be impossible. It is “terminal” because, while our species has repeatedly survived cold and glaciation, there is grave doubt we can survive a global temperature increase so great the newest projections suggest it will make all but the polar regions uninhabitable by any life much more intelligent than centipedes and scorpions.

(I should point out I chose the terms “species failure” and “terminal climate change” very carefully and only after considerable reflection. But it seems nothing else adequately describes what is happening -- especially since both conditions are the cumulative and now unavoidable consequences of at least 2,000 years of increasingly ruinous decisions, each decision based on patriarchal contempt for nature. Likewise “End Time Capitalism” reflects -- correctly -- capitalism’s origin in Abrahamic doctrine, especially its overwhelming impulse toward theocracy and/or other forms of fascism.)

To elaborate:

While it is true many human societies have waxed and waned, the causes of collapse never before included the death of technology -- a cataclysmic event that itself has no human precedent. Technological failure -- by far the most terminal consequence of petroleum exhaustion -- is not only an entirely new affliction, but one for which, as we shall see, we have already moronically discarded our only possible antidote.

Though human societies are always destroyed by human folly, the previous mechanisms of such destruction were limited to economic failure (which includes the loss of the resource base essential to economic function); political failure (the inability to maintain public services and keep order); cultural collapse (the supplanting of one culture by another, often violently), or some combination of all these forces.

The Western Roman Empire died in the political upheavals of 476 CE, though its economy would continue to feed and supply Europe for another 200 years, until the first Islamic invasions wreaked such havoc the entire continent was flung into a dark age that reduced the population by as much as 75 percent (mostly by starvation) and lasted (depending on the definition) at least five centuries. The Mayan civilization cited in the link above failed economically, collapsing as it consumed its resource base.(A great deal has been written lately about the Mayans, most of it in service to reassurance campaigns.)

Destruction of the Minoan civilization centered on Knossos was inflicted suddenly and at the height of unprecedented achievement by the explosive eruption of Thera or Kallisté in approximately 1628 BCE. This civilization was at least a thousand years old (and probably much older), and the eruption that killed it was perhaps the most violent such event in human experience -- by some estimates equivalent to as many as 25 or 30 hydrogen bombs. It inflicted simultaneous political and economic collapse on the whole Mediterranean region, changed the climate of the entire world for decades and laid the notably peaceful and cooperative Minoan culture open to destruction by aggressively patriarchal Greek invaders. So perished the last matriarchal, goddess-centered civilization in Europe -- a civilization of women so breathtakingly organized for humanitarian purpose, they were able to evacuate all humans, pets, domestic animals and in fact all moveable goods from the cities within range of the eruption: a feat we could not (or would not) duplicate even today. But they had no defense against the devastating tsunami that followed the explosion -- by some estimates a wave nearly 500 feet high. Nor could they prevail against its long-term consequences -- the final extermination of an inconceivably ancient living-earth ethos that might well have saved us from the ecocidal excesses by which we have sealed our own doom.

Horrible as each of these earlier societal collapses were, basic human technology survived every one of them. Bronze gave way to iron just as flint had given way to bronze, but the tools and weapons all operated on identical principles: the blade, the hammer, the atlatl, the bow and arrow, the pulley, lever and inclined plane. Agriculture and transport remained dependent on draft animals. What complex machinery existed was driven by wind or water -- there is strongly suggestive evidence the Minoans had our species’ first genuinely trans-oceanic sailing vessels, and there is no question the Romans built the largest, most mechanically elaborate water-powered grain-mills in history -- which does not lessen the contribution of countless enterprises in which the sole energy sources were the intellect and brawn of human workers: free women and men in Knossos and throughout the Minoan civilization, mostly slaves elsewhere and ever after.

But in the past two centuries, all of this ancient technology -- technology dating at least to the Paleolithic and existing in rudimentary form even among the earliest pre-human primates -- has been swept away by the industrial revolution and the subsequent rise and triumph of the petroleum-based technology that now provides virtually all the essentials of modern civilization: not just fuel but items as diverse as permanent-press clothing, contact lenses, vitamin capsules, hearing aids, antihistamines, roofing, computers, compact disks and cell phones. Many of these items -- for example, computers, compact disks, cell phones and contact lenses -- cannot be made without petroleum. Nor can the insulation required for the function and safety of electric wiring. A world without petroleum will thus be a world without electricity, and in a world deprived of electricity, everything we take for granted will become useless junk. The resulting collapse will be absolute: political, economic, cultural (for today our only means of cultural transmission is electronic), and technological as well -- a species-wide collapse of a magnitude and totality that has, as I already said, absolutely no precedent. In other words and also again as I said, species failure.



CONSIDER WHAT HAPPENS WHEN a group of yuppies are caught by an unseasonably early blizzard on a late-season camping trip deep in the North Cascades back country. The storm destroys the nearest cell-phone transmission towers, making calls for help impossible. Even so, they are not worried. They have expensive sleeping bags and the latest model tent, and they are certain the phone service will be restored within a few hours. But they fail to reckon with the magnitude and destructiveness of terminal climate change: the storm persists for days, and the cell phones remain dead, now reduced to useless junk. Next -- though the campers carried extra supplies “just in case,” -- their food runs out, and they use the last fuel for their backpacker stoves trying to keep warm. Since they have no wilderness survival skills -- no knowledge of edible plants that yet might be found under the premature snow and no ability to hunt or fish -- they are soon starving. Finally however they discover a huge cedar stump protruding above the snow and manage to pry off enough wood to build and light a fire. But they have never made a fire without paper or the variant of lighter fluid called charcoal-starter and it takes all the matches they have left before they succeed. Finally the person they agreed would tend the fire -- the strongest of a group sickened by hunger and half mad with hypothermia -- carelessly falls asleep and lets the fire go out in the night. Now, without the ability to melt snow, they lack even drinking water. Soon they are all dead, killed not by the unexpected blizzard, not even by the lethal technological void into which they were hurled and abandoned, but by their ignorance of traditional human technologies and their consequent inability to adapt: the entire process a microcosm of species failure.

Contrast these ill-fated yuppies -- their story is a composite of wilderness disasters that happen every year -- with hypothetical refugees from the sack of Knossos, survivors of the collapse of Rome, Mayans abandoning their cities in despair. These displaced persons suffered horrific afflictions, but their technology never failed them. The woman from Knossos, though probably homeless and no doubt broken-hearted, can still make fire with a fire drill, can garden and fish and hunt and weave and perhaps even crew or skipper a sailing vessel and thus find employment. The retired Roman centurion rousted from his home by the Visigoths can apply the outdoor skills he learned in 25 years of campaigning; his swordsmanship will guarantee his survival, his skill with a lance will keep him fed and his knowledge of warfare is highly marketable in the post-Imperial chaos. The Mayans abandoning their crumbling city not only possess all the requisite knowledge of firemaking, shelter-building, hunting and fishing but no doubt have already learned the botanical and zoological potential of the lands into which they are withdrawing. In each example the vital and basic survival crafts of firemaking, hunting, food-gathering, making clothing and finding shelter all remain intact.

Until now, none of the cataclysms that periodically afflict humanity -- political collapse or economic collapse or cultural collapse or some combination of each -- was ever accompanied by technological collapse: humanity never lost its collective ability to kindle fires or cook meals, to gather edible plants, to seed and harvest gardens, to hunt wild animals, to fish, to raise and butcher livestock, to harness draft animals for plowing fields and hauling freight, to spin thread and rig a loom, to craft tools and weapons, to sing the songs and chant the lays that preserve and teach lore and wisdom and thus transmit culture from one generation to the next.

More to the point, the technological voids such as the one in which the yuppies died are unique to the world of petroleum. Thus today some degree of technological void follows every disaster, whether it is inflicted by Nature the Impersonal or Nature the Renegade Human. If the political and economic systems continue to function, the technological void is temporary, even if it is on a regional scale. For example a huge portion of Northwestern Washington state became a technological void after a January 1989 storm brought three feet of snow with record-breaking wind and cold -- 17 degrees below zero Fahrenheit for nearly a week -- and the wind so thoroughly wrecked electrical transmission lines that parts of the region were without power for a month or more. But the disaster-preparedness that is habitual among rural peoples combined with the cooperative mores of rural living to quickly compensate for the lack of electricity. In other words, rural culture prevailed -- even as urban peoples similarly stricken, including the residents of the wealthiest neighborhoods, were reduced to abject helplessness by the lack of electricity and running water. Literally frozen out of their homes, the thousands of victims quickly became welfare dependents: in the grim equality of the technological void, even the richest survived only because of public shelters and soup kitchens. Eventually of course the continued functioning of the political and economic systems restored the supply of electricity and water, and thus the void ended.

But suppose -- just as we glimpsed in post-Katrina New Orleans -- there is no restoration of technology. As with the yuppies stranded in the back country, there is no way to call for help, no way to re-light the fire, no way to stay warm, no way to get food and water. But now -- because the government can’t function and the economy is paralyzed -- the technological void becomes technological collapse, and it pulls the government and the economy down with it. And because today’s culture is dependent on technology so fragile, the culture too is dragged down to oblivion. What began as a technological void has become the socioeconomic equivalent of a black hole, pulling down a city, region -- or an entire civilization.

In local or regional variants of the technological void, the ruling class can theoretically step in at any time to rescue the victims and even prop up the failing institutions again, but in post-Katrina New Orleans it deliberately chose not to -- and it is now clear the choice was policy, not accident. What we witnessed is not merely a horrific and telling example of how the ethos of social Darwinism and the principles of Malthus provide the ruling class with the perfect rationale for doing nothing in such cases; it is also an unmistakable demonstration of how the ruling class responds (and intends to respond) to the apocalypse: the very reason (apart from greed) the ruling class is methodically destroying the social-service safety net just as it is ever more necessary for national survival. The more of us die, the fewer mouths to feed -- and the fewer voices likely to be raised in protest.

Contrast these two events, the abandonment of post-Katrina New Orleans by the most technologically advanced nation on Earth versus the Minoan rescue of all peoples within blast-range of Kallisté, a genuinely stunning truth only recently discovered by archaeology. What does that tell us about ourselves? What does it tell us about those allegedly “primitive” people who lived 3,600 years ago? Perhaps we should stop asking ourselves, “what would Jesus do,” and ask instead, “what would the Minoans do?”

We should also never forget that in the minds of the present-day ruling class, the lives that are so vital to ourselves have no more significance than the lives of cockroaches. Thus the people trapped in the technological voids of the future will predictably be abandoned to technological collapse and all that follows. As increasing men, women and children succumb to exposure, starvation, bad water, disease and myriad expressions of apocalyptic violence, their deaths return to the marketplace not only the food they would have consumed, but myriad other forms of windfall wealth -- all bounty for the hoarding and speculation by which ruling class becomes ever richer. Just as in New Orleans, the afflicted population cries out in despair, but this time there is total cooperation between capitalists and politicians, and the media is not allowed to report the carnage. Hence there are no last-minute New Orleans-style humanitarian concessions, and though troops are called in, it is merely to cordon off the death zone so that no one can escape to tell the tale. Malthusian doctrine prevails. If challenged, the ruling class responds as in Vietnam, “we had to destroy the village to save it.”

Eventually everyone trapped in the death zone dies as the yuppies died: no matches, no compensatory skills, no fire, no food: another (albeit much larger) microcosm of species failure. Such is the potential fate of nearly all the peoples of the world -- fate decreed by the fact that once the oil runs out and petro-technology no longer functions, there is absolutely nothing to take its place.

There are no replacements available now, and no replacements will be available ever again. There is simply not sufficient time for redevelopment. The basic technology itself, the skills and associated knowledge -- firemaking, toolcrafting, living off the land -- were the gift of our ancestors, the priceless legacy of 35,000 years of human experience and no one really knows how many millions of years of pre-human experience. They were skills that literally took lifetimes to master. And they are all gone, most exterminated by centuries of genocide, the remainder belittled to insignificance and thus methodically purged from human memory in our species most consummately suicidal act: slain and scorned and flung away in moronically premature celebration of petro-technological triumph, a global “Mission Accomplished,” a breathtakingly presumptuous burning of the one bridge by which we could have returned to the methods of our ancestors. Thus we have lost forever the one antidote to apocalypse by which we might have ensured our survival.

Our brainwashed resistance to this particular grim truth is itself suicidal. Explaining the fact of our technological plight to a very bright and normally well-informed colleague recently, he first tried to assure me such skills will preserved by the worlds primitive peoples. But all such folk are being methodically exterminated in the name of maximizing the profits of End Time Capitalism -- and until I pointed this out, my colleague had never connected genocide with the loss of knowledge; he was no doubt blinded by the fact that genocide -- which is always inflicted in the name of profit -- is typically either suppressed entirely by corporate media, or its reality and consequences are disguised as “progress.”

Horrible and true, he said, but information on “primitive” technology would still be no problem to obtain. “It’s been collected by anthropologists and most of it is stored in libraries -- recovering it is just a matter accessing a data bank.”

With what computer, when there is no electricity to power it?

“Well, from books then.”

From what book, when the library is 35 miles away and there’s neither gasoline nor horse to get you there? (Every estimate I’ve seen says rebuilding the national herds of horses and draft animals to their pre-automobile-age size will take at least 50 years and more likely twice that.)

From what library, when the significant libraries have all been destroyed by the rising sea? From what university, when all places of learning have been burned by vengeful Abrahamic fundamentalists, and all the scholars themselves flung screaming into the flames?

And even if the information were somehow found, what of the huge difference between reading how to make fire with flint and steel or a bow-drill and actually making such a fire under field conditions?

“Oh,” he said. “I never thought of that.”

And let’s not forget Gaia always bats last.



RECOGNITION OF THE ABSOLUTE horror we are facing -- realization too that we have signed our own global death warrant by discarding beyond recovery the traditional technologies and indigenous wisdom that are the only knowledge that could ever possibly have saved us -- comes slowly, painfully and hard. It is as with any other episode of Death and Dying, precisely as described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: first denial, then anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.

Meanwhile the transit system that might have rescued Pugetopolis will now obviously never be built.

The only adequate mass transit -- especially given the reality of petroleum exhaustion -- is mass transit that runs on rails and is powered by electricity. This not only would have insulated us from the runaway inflation and shortages that increasingly hamstring bus operations everywhere on the planet, but here in Washington state would have taken full advantage of the fact we have the second cheapest electric power in the nation.

Such a system should have been built as proposed in 1969 and 1970 and again in the late 1970s, when federal matching funds were available at up to 90 percent. But as I have already noted -- it is a point that cannot be made too often -- all such projects here in Pugetopolis were defeated by the anti-mass-transit reactionaries of Seattle and their rabble-roused supporters: Big Oil and Big Automotive make big bucks off buses but not a penny off electrically-powered rail transport, and the politicians respond accordingly.

Here of course is real reason for the deliberate destruction of the vast and effective electrical public transit system the United States once possessed: note the abandoned streetcar tracks buried under the pavement even in smaller cities. This is also why bus transport is the one mode to which the Third World -- which will soon include Pugetopolis and all the rest of the downsized, outsourced the United States -- is inescapably condemned. Bus systems enable ruling-class politicians to pretend they are serving the public while all the while slipping big bucks to the oil and automotive barons and collecting kickbacks in return.

Hence, as if we are both blind and stupid, Seattle continues to boast of its eco-consciousness, proclaiming itself the most “green” city in America -- unquestionably the greatest municipal hypocrisy in America and one of the biggest Big Lies ever told. It is also the most vivid example I have ever encountered of “adding insult to injury”: usually a cliché overused to meaninglessness but in this instance an accurate indictment.

Pugetopolis voters finally demanded a catch-up project, which was frantically cobbled together in 1991 and belatedly started in 1996. But it too has been repeatedly sabotaged by the same band of Seattle xenophobes, racists, bureaucrats and politicians -- as always with Big Oil and Big Automotive as the puppeteers -- so that the entire system, ironically named Sound Transit but hardly minimal even by the most forgiving Toonerville Trolley standards, is now nearly a decade behind schedule, its completion targeted for sometime in 2030. In other words, the saboteurs have won: long before the tracks are laid, the technological basis of the petro-culture will be dead as last winter’s salmon, and the petroleum dependent economy and its associated culture will have long since begun to collapse too. Indeed the petro-lords and the automotive autocrats continue to line their pockets even now that the collapse has indisputably begun.

As further proof of ruling class Malthusian intent, there will be no relief, neither affordable fuel for the single mother whose daughters wanted to go to grandma’s house in the country, nor adequate public transport for the rest of us in the growing legion of the poor. Our betrayal is forever.

For an enlightening glimpse of what real public transport looks like, click here.

Without such a system to compensate for soaring petroleum prices, what will eventually happen is that -- just as bread shortages and hugely inflated bread prices triggered bread riots in 1917 Petrograd (the spark that lit the Russian Revolution) -- so will gas-pump violence inevitably explode into petroleum riots in the 21st Century United States.

But here -- in a classic example of how when history repeats itself, it typically does so as farce -- there will be no sudden effort to achieve economic democracy (or even an effort to restore the political democracy already swept away by capitalism’s inevitable march toward fascism). People who murder one another over trinkets are simply not capable of the requisite empathy, much less the collective mindset -- especially given the consequences of three decades of deliberate moronation. Police and perhaps soldiers will machine gun some of the rioters to death; the authorities will gun, gas or cudgel many more into permanent disability, but in the main the people will do nothing beyond a mass sighing of present-day America‘s favorite response: “whatever.” The placid conformity enforced by moronation long ago imposed an ultimate taboo on the expression or even acknowledgement of anger, and in any case the combination of forcible disarmament, judicial denial of the right to self defense and presidential denial of military training (the real purpose behind Nixon’s abolition of the draft) has robbed the population of any genuine capability to survive -- and the inclination to resist extinction has thus died accordingly: precisely why I so often proclaim, “in these times, survival is a revolutionary act.”

Not that many heed: note again the resigned helplessness characteristic of the people in the Superdome and how it is already appearing on the faces the people I saw at the bus stop, the dawning realization of the basic Third World truth: that in a world where “will work for food” is the best to which we can aspire, the only real freedom is death.

The corporate media will meanwhile spin the fuel riots as just another expression of the American penchant for fighting to the death over material goods -- another episode in the post-Roman coliseum of television -- and then Britney Spears will again flash her shaven pubes and any collective memory of the entire incident will be drowned in a sea of tranquilizers (by those who can still pay for increasingly unaffordable prescriptions) or euthanized with all the other newly slain brain cells by a cascade of binge alcohol and illegal drugs (the only mood adjustment available to those too poor to have recourse to the ever-more-exclusive privilege of health care). Lastly -- just to ensure the proletariat remains anaesthetized to maximum passivity --some reincarnation of Timothy Leary will no doubt arise to again proclaim that intoxication to the point of mindlessness is the new revolution: “Hey hey ho ho the human mind has got to go”

Republic/Ratic politics -- the politics of dismay that alienate ever more voters from the electoral process -- will continue to shrink America into one-party despotism. The Republican Party will become ever more obviously what it has been since the 1930s -- the primary vessel of U.S. fascism -- and the Democratic Party will continue to play the role of shill, agitating false hope and repaying the faithful with methodical betrayal, just as it has done since the Carter presidency marked the end of New Deal humanitarianism and the advent of a new American theocracy.

Nor will there be, even “left of center/off of the strip” (as the remarkable Suzanne Vega so aptly put it two decades ago), any effective attempt to analyze the riots and their suppression in terms of class struggle and thus mobilize resistance to the ongoing collapse. The orthodox Marxists have already discredited themselves by holding to their claim the apocalypse is impossible because capitalism will always self-renew (a breathtakingly paradoxical expression of faith in the infinite resilience of an ultimate enemy), and the eco-socialists (who are such elitists they regard class struggle as irrelevant) will see in the petro-riots merely more proof that the real struggle is man against nature, with the rioters’ refusal to “live with less” the “real problem” and thereby providing another rationale for imposition of additional tyrannies: solve the transportation problem by requiring that we sleep at our counters, desks, and machines, with permission to go to our homes only on weekends or days off. Meanwhile the self-proclaimed “progressives” will continue to content themselves with slogans: “visualize abundance” -- no doubt an especially vital technique when one’s entire life is reduced to “will work for food.”

We intellectuals will of course continue our increasingly marginalized debate, until that too is silenced, probably not by some midnight band of secret policemen -- we are already too irrelevant for that sort of drama -- but when the last electrical generators suck down the last drops of fuel and shut down the last computers and break the last strands of the once-global Web and the last living relics of this dying civilization are silenced forever.

...There are perhaps a dozen figures seated around the low fire in the boulders below the hilltop, two more as watchers hidden among the towering Douglas firs on the crest and still two more, probably the youngest and yet unfeathered, guarding the horse herd in the broad meadow beside the swift murmuring River. The fire is deliberately kept small so it cannot be seen at any distance, but now a cedar-knot pops and flares, glinting on the ringmail worn by men and women alike and briefly making demonlight in the eyes of several formidable dogs sprawled near their human partners. Human, canine and horse, these are Swift Gray Wolves -- bearded men with weatherbeaten faces, wind-bronzed women possessed of that lithe self-assurance the 21st Century glimpsed only through the lens of ancient archaeology. They are warriors of the Nooksack River People, mountain folk who supplement hunting, fishing and subsistence agriculture by scavenging ruined cities and industrial sites for iron and valuables; the Swift Gray Wolves were riding southward down the trace of a vanishing highway toward the haunted desolation that used to be the Everett-Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia metropolis, and they have camped for the night. They have already eaten their trail rations of elk jerky and smoked salmon and fresh-picked blackberries, and now as the last of the blue Northern twilight slowly dwindles to total darkness, they set aside the blades and arrowheads they had been whetting and pass a skin of raspberry wine. One of their number draws a small harp from the saddlebags beside her and chords it with great skill; her name is Chellyn, and she sings old handed-down ballads of Scotland and Camelot and Troy, then another song that tells of an age when men flew like Eagles but in their arrogance slew the Children of the Earth and trod on Mother Moon, provoking her to drown all their cities, even the one guarded by the great bronze goddess they built to placate her fury. Finally Chellyn sings a long passage from the lament for glorious Knossos, an invocatory lay called “Time before Time,” protective and soothing despite its depth of loss, a bedtime prayer to ease all but the watchers into slumber. Earth is healing; the Mabon moon is rising full and triumphant above the cloud-high peaks of the Twin Sisters Who Give Birth to the River...

Such a world -- the half-medieval/half-aboriginal level of it’s primitivism is probably far too optimistic -- may seem centuries away. But most of us here in Pugetopolis where there is no public transport worthy of the name never suspected we’d see $3.45 gas in 2007.

Which brings me back to last weekend and the awful truth I so suddenly understood: that the apocalypse is already here, not only in the fuel we can no longer afford but in all the associated unemployment, bankruptcy, homelessness, starvation and disease that now looms. For far too many of us -- especially the kids drawn to gang life by an omnipresent hopelessness they can hardly name -- death already seems the only possible freedom.

But now suddenly I again remember the Blackout: perhaps we can join hands so nobody gets lost, and just like we’re finding our way out of a cave, go to where the fresh air comes in.

(Written 5-13 May 2007, posted only now due to an infinitely frustrating but naggingly unavoidable series of interruptions.)

Posted by Loren at 04:07 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack