Thursday, July 14, 2016

Host Your Own Cascadia Guild Meeting

I know that there are a number of people who are intrigued by the ideas I have been discussing here, yet who live too far from Edmonds to have made the trip to be at our first meeting. If you are reading this and fall into this category, I would encourage you to instigate a get-together in your area. The beauty of this is that it really isn't very hard, and to make it even easier, I will provide you the Cascadia Guild Meeting Instigator's Handbook. The entirety of the handbook is as follows:

1) Identify an appropriate venue. This could be the public meeting room at a library (most libraries provide these for free); a room at a community center (nominal fee may be attached); a bar or coffee shop (check out ahead of time that it will be not too noisy - I fell short a bit on this point at our meeting); or other easily identifiable public space.

2) Pick a date and time.

3) Advertise it. Most of the response I received was via advertisements I posted on The Archdruid Report, but also think about emailing people you know who are interested in causes like this, posting on other peak oil or deindustrialization related blogs. Be creative and get the word out.

And then show up. For initial meetings, no agenda is required; I am of the opinion that it is better to start off with an opportunity to meet people, find common interests, and identify things that we may want to work on together. Agendas, organization, and structure can come a bit later in the process.

One final lesson learned from our meeting Tuesday: If you have your meeting in a public venue like a bar, restaurant, or coffee shop, bring a centerpiece, or other identifying marker, as many of your attendees may have no idea who else will be there or what they look like. We learned the hard way of this necessity.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Cascadia Guild's First Meeting

The first get-together of The Cascadia Guild happened yesterday evening. There were nine of us in attendance. I took some notes, but nothing resembling meeting minutes, so this post and several to follow will mostly be summaries and ideas that were triggered by the discussions. Also, since this group doesn't have any formal existence to speak of, everything I write here can only be characterized as my impressions, and not as a coherent group policy or position.

That all being said, here are what seemed to be the most important things to come out of the meeting.

1) An awful lot of the Archdruid's readership does not often get a chance to meet with others who are interested in or engaged with the subjects that ADR likes to tackle, so just having a group to discuss these ideas seemed important to many of the attendees.

2) The majority of the attendees are already making concrete efforts to actually do things in response to the dilemmas posed by peak oil, resource depletion, and the long descent, and everybody that was there seems genuinely to want to do concrete things in response to these issues. In particular, the  idea of "collapsing now and avoiding the rush" is something that many seem to be taking to heart. This is very heartening for me.

3) I composed a list of things that people who attended seemed to want to develop, and which a group or network of like minded people could help with. These are, in no particular order:
  • Developing skills appropriate for a collapsing world, and even more importantly, finding students who would like to learn the skills and teach them what we have learned.
  • Developing trade/barter/gift economy relationships and generally exploring how to demonetize to the maximum extent possible.
  • Creating demonstration projects that will help us identify areas in which we still have more dependence on the industrial economy and/or current economic arrangements.
  • From this, we can identify and fix (or at least plan for workarounds of) vulnerabilities that we as individuals and as communities. Vulnerabilities, in this instance, are defined as things that are dependent on large, complex, and/or energy intensive economic or social systems and which are therefore more vulnerable to collapse or disruption.
  • Have a place where we can discuss with others who are interested any of these sorts of issues.
I will be writing more in future posts and expanding on some of these ideas. In the meantime, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments, and if you were unable to attend yesterday's meeting, please feel free to instigate your own meeting in your own town or city, and I will definitely help advertise it for you.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

About the Cascadia Guild

Currently, The Cascadia Guild is mostly just an idea. The idea is that it will be a society of those who can see the road that industrial civilization is heading down and want to do something constructive that, while it will not prevent the unraveling of our current civilization, will preserve some things of value from our culture and lay the groundwork for a rebirth of successor cultures and civilizations.

The work of The Cascadia Guild would be broken up into two broad areas, with a number of subordinate disciplines in each. These are:
  •  Craft Guilds
    • Organic Gardening
    • Solar Thermal Technology
    • Sustainable Forestry
    • Sustainable Health Care
    • Letterpress Printing
    • Electronics-free Mathematics
    • Sailing and Navigation
  • Arts Guilds
    • Performing Arts
    • Visual and Decorative Arts
    • Literary Arts
The original inspiration for the Craft Guilds was from John Michael Greer's post, Seven Sustainable Technologies, and I basically took that idea and ran with it (with a few modifications). The original inspiration for the Arts Guilds is The Dark Mountain Project, which is dedicated the idea that writing and art have a critical role to play in shaping our cultural response to the reality of our converging crises. The Arts Guilds differ from that project in two ways: first, The Dark Mountain Project is primarily a literary project, and I want to expand that to include a wider variety of artists; second, the other role I see for the Arts Guilds is to nurture a regional cultural identity distinct from that of our larger industrial civilization.

The Cascadia Guild has a regional name, and that is not an accident. Although many of these subject areas are relevant beyond the confines of Cascadia, one goal I have is to emphasize local and regional applicability of these various disciplines.

I envision The Cascadia Guild primarily as a network of practitioners in these various ideas. This blog, for now, can serve as a common meeting ground, but the actual work of the Guild is in actually learning about and participating in these areas. One of the main things I hope to see posted here is information about ways people can actually become involved in and participate in making these areas into living practices.

I personally am particularly interested and have some knowledge in the areas of Sailing and Navigation and in the Literary Arts (in my case, writing), and I will be posting primarily on those subjects. I am looking for others who would like to post about areas of their expertise as well.

As I mentioned, The Cascadia Guild at this point is mostly an idea. Bringing this idea to life will require the participation of others. I hope there are some out there who are interested.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Hymn: Ode to Joy

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is one of the crowning achievements of western classical music. Part of the last movement was adapted as a hymn that is still quite popular in churches even today. On Sunday's service at my church, we sang this hymn, and I was inspired to adapt the lyrics to more closely reflect my religious sensibilities (and to get rid of anachronistic language, such as "thee"). Here is the result.
Joyful, joyful, we proclaim you Lord of Life and fount of love,
hearts unfold like flowers before you, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of shame and sadness, drive our fear and doubt away;
giver of our vital gladness, fill us with the light of day.

You are giving and creating, ever blessing, ever blest,
well-spring of the joy of living, mother of all healing rest!
Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
chanting bird and flowing fountain, call us to your jubilee.

Humans join the happy chorus; stars of morning take your part;
grace divine is reigning o'er us, telling us of wisdom's art.
Ever singing, move we onward, making peace in place of strife
joyful music leads us sunward in the glorious song of life.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Book Review: Let Us Be Human by Sam Charles Norton

This is a repost of a book review that I wrote several years ago.

A few years ago, I led a study with an adult Sunday School class at my church of Sharon Astyk's Depletion and Abundance. My intention was to explore the issues of peak oil, resource depletion, and the limits to growth, and to discuss what an appropriate Christian response to these issues might look like. Even though it is an excellent book, spiritual concerns are, at best, tangential to the main topic of Depletion and Abundance, and as a result the book was not a good fit to the purpose of the study. In Let Us Be Human: Christianity for a Collapsing Culture by Sam Charles Norton, I have finally found a book that really speaks to the subjects that I had wanted to explore with that Sunday School class.

A nice, concise summary of the topics the book covers can be found in the introduction, which, conveniently, was published in full by the author on Energy Bulletin (see Let us be Human: Christianity for a collapsing culture). As that is already conveniently available, I won't attempt to summarize the contents again. Instead, I offer some of my own observations of aspects of this book that I found particularly striking.

Although Norton is in some respects quite traditional - for instance, his use of He, His, and Him (capitalized, no less!) when referring to God might be somewhat irksome to more progressive Christians who sometimes go to great pains to not assign a gender to God - he is not even remotely fundamentalist or literalist in his understanding of scripture or theology. He understands that much of scripture is metaphorical or poetic, and quotes Tom Wright to emphasize this point when discussing apocalyptic literature (a popular genre of Jewish literature of which the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation are the best-known examples): "there is virtually no evidence that Jews were expecting the end of the space time universe. There is abundant evidence that they knew a good metaphor when they saw one, and used cosmic imagery to bring out the full theological significance of cataclysmic socio-political events."

Norton directly confronts some of the more pernicious ideas to emerge from religious discourse in recent years. In a discussion of poverty, he states "There are still debates about what is the best thing to do about poverty, but it is impossible to be a Christian and not work for social justice." (Contrast this to calls in recent years from some right-wing leaders that Christians should leave churches that promote social justice.) He also condemns the "prosperity gospel" that has become popular in some evangelical circles, and condemns the doctrine of dispensationalism, which forms the foundational premise for the Left Behind series of novels. Progressive ideas are not immune from his criticism, either: private judgement (the idea that, quoting Norton, "this is what I choose to believe and no-one has the right to criticise me, because my choices are inviolate") and liberalism (again in Norton's words, "the idea that Jesus is a very nice man, a good human teacher, let's try and follow his teaching") both suffer under the assault of Norton's pen.

The author is an excellent writer, and he manages to explain fairly sophisticated theological concepts in a manner that is accessible to the average reader yet not oversimplified. One of my favorite examples of this is when Norton discusses the concept of realized eschatology. I have encountered this idea in several other books, but Norton's explanation is the first one I have found that is actually clear and understandable.

Let Us Be Human might not be of much interest to the non-religious, but I would highly recommend this book to anybody seeking to explore the spiritual ramifications of the crises our industrial civilization faces. It is concise and well-written, and possesses the unique strength of being written by one of the few people I am aware of who has an equally solid grounding in Christianity and theology on the one hand and in the issues of resource depletion and the limits to growth on the other.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Scavenger (Part 3)

Read Part 2.
Start reading at the beginning.

"So you want to see my junkyard?" asked Feikung after they were out of earshot of Ferald.

"Is that what you call it?" asked Renald cautiously.

"Well, that is what it is." Feikung led the way back into the complex of ruined concrete structures, in an area mostly overgrown by blackberries and Scotch broom. Following a twisting trail through the scrub, they arrived at a metal door set in the side of one of the more intact buildings. Feikung produced a key and unlocked the door, and smiled at Renald. "After you, sir."

Renald entered the building, and after his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, saw that he was in single large room, lit only by windows on the opposite wall. The windows looked out onto a large courtyard with a wall surrounding. Most astonishing, everywhere he looked, both in the room and out in the courtyard, were piles of computer equipment of every sort of description. "What is this place?" he asked in astonishment.

"This whole area used to be the campus of North Seattle College, back in the old days. As far as I can determine, when the Renunciation was proclaimed by the priestesses, some of the last scholars gathered everything electronic from the campus and stored it in here. I found it some years back, poking around in the ruins. There were radiation warning signs around this entire area, but I didn't find any evidence of radiation. I figure maybe the signs were used to scare away the priestesses, who would have destroyed all this stuff if they found it."

"All of this is just from one college?" The equipment was stacked nearly to the ceiling. "That's hard to imagine."

"Well, you have to remember the scale that people did things on in the old days. Also, the ubiquity of electronics. Everybody had them everywhere. So, do you think there is anything worth trading for here?"

"Is there ever . . ." Renald looked around, not entirely sure where to start. "You know, old man, this could be very profitable for both of us."

To be continued.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Scavenger (Part 2)

Read Part 1.

Renald emerged from the forest and entered a large open area surrounded by the hulks of several large concrete structures; leftovers from the old times, by the look of them. A few moments later, the man from the dock also emerged, and looked around. Renald found a ledge of concrete, pulled off his pack, sat down, opened the pack, and started pulling out some food.

"You're just stopping here?" queried the man from the dock.

"This is where my contact is to meet me, so I figure he will be along shortly. That, and I'm hungry."

He started to eat, and presently the man from the dock sat and pulled out his own food and started eating. They sat and ate in silence; not exactly companionably, but more just tolerating each others' presence. Just as he was finishing up his lunch, a man emerged from one of the buildings.

"Are you Renald of Skyway?" the man called out.

"I am," answered Renald. As he came slowly toward them, Renald saw a man who appeared to be about sixty years old, with gray-streaked black hair and a neatly trimmed mustache. He walked with a pronounced limp, which accounted for his slow progress across the field.

"I figured, seeing as this character was with you. Our esteemed local commander seems to find a reason to poke his nose into everything, even those things that aren't his business. What's the flimsy reason this time, Ferald?"

The man from the dock returned this greeting with a scowl. "The commander just wants to make sure this visitor to our lands stays safe."

"That's a load of crap and you know it," rejoined the old man. "Now get out of here - you know he's perfectly safe here. Run off and report to your precious commander!" He smiled a broad smile at Renald, and gestured to him to follow as he started limping back to the derelict building he had emerged from.

Renald, ignoring the scowling man he took to be Ferald, followed along. "You must be Feikung. They told me you were quite the cantankerous sort."

"Only when it comes to the thugs the commander calls his troops," stated Feikung blandly.

Renald didn't say anything, but watched the other man thoughtfully. Most people would be risking at least their limbs, if not their lives, telling off the troops of one of the local commanders like that. "There's more going on here than meets the eye," he thought to himself.

Continued in Part 3.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Scavenger (Part 1)

The following is the first part of a work of speculative fiction. I was inspired to write this, in part, by the Space Bats Contest, which to date has resulted in three published short story anthologies and two more in production.

The captain of the sloop Salish Mosquito called down to Renald, who had taken shelter in the cabin of the small freighter to get out of the sun, which was already becoming oppressive even though it wasn't even noon yet. "We're almost there, sir. I see the dock now." Renald grabbed his pack and headed back up onto the deck, and squinted into the distance. Now visible was what was apparently their destination; one long spindly looking dock at the head of a narrow inlet from Washington Sound. Like most docks in this part of the world, it had a distinctly ramshackle and temporary feel about it. With the propensity of the sea level to fluctuate dramatically over the past centuries, mariners couldn't be blamed for not investing any more than the minimum effort in building moorages. It certainly wasn't like the old days, which were now all drowned.

A man emerged as the sloop approached the dock, and presently lines were heaved across the gap and the ship made fast. "Welcome to Thornport," the man said as Renald stepped onto the dock, which swayed slightly under his weight. It was even flimsier than the usual construction. "We don't have many outsiders come here."

"I should think not, here in this land of pirates and bandits," thought Renald, but outwardly his only reaction was a brief nod. He looked back at the captain of the sloop. "It may take me a day or two to get back. You'll be safe here . . . ?"

"Well, they did assure us that we would get a safe passage. I think we'll be ok."

"Very well, then." Renald turned and strode up the dock.

Unexpectedly, the local man who had met them fell into step beside him. "Do you know where you're going? This isn't really a region where people travel alone."

Renald turned and looked at him. "I have a map, and I have assurances that the person I am meeting is expecting my arrival. I'll be fine."

"Well, my commander has asked me to make sure you stay safe, so I'll just tag along, if you don't mind."

"Suit yourself." Great, a minder, or a spy. Renald had dealt with situations like this in the past, but it still irked him. "Nothing to be done for it now, though," he thought, and starting heading west at a brisk pace.

Continued in Part 2.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Poetry of Cascadia

A Haiku

O Cascadia!
A land of many mountains
and the Salish Sea.

I should say that I generally detest Haiku. It is like the Twitter of the poetry world. You can make lots of pretty noises with it, but you can't really say anything, because it is too limited. I wrote this, not so much for literary quality (I am pretty sure it has none), but to lay down a marker of my intention to write poems and stories that are connected to Cascadia, the land where I live.

I would eventually like to be able to produce something worthy of being published in, for instance,  Windfall: A Journal of Poetry of Place. I really like the idea behind this journal, and it seems like we desperately need more of what it offers; namely, an effort to reconnect culture with the places where we live. In my own small way, I am trying to nurture that reconnection with regards to the culture of Cascadia.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Homecoming in Popular Culture

About two and a half years ago, John Michael Greer wrote a post describing the new religious sensibility that he saw emerging into the culture. In that post, he wrote:
The emergence of this new religious sensibility has been, as such things always are, a gradual process. Historian of religions Catherine Albanese in her useful 1990 study Nature Religion in America has traced it back in American religious life to colonial times, and its roots in older European cultures go back considerably further still. That said, it seems to me that the last few decades have seen the new religious sensibility approach something like a critical mass.
In the months and years since he wrote this, I have started to see examples of this emergence in popular culture that proclaim this new sensibility with all the subtlety of a thunderclap.

The most recent, and most in-your-face example of this trend has been The 100, a TV series based (extremely loosely) on the book of the same name (and its sequels) by Kass Morgan. In this story, the survivors of a nuclear war have been living for centuries on a space station, and the story begins with their return to Earth. Earth is an uncertain and dangerous place, but the longing for the characters to return to their natural home is palpable. There is no desire for an escape from life, as is evidenced in the older religious sensibility, but a deep desire to embrace life, in all its beauty and pain.

I would recommend the books to anyone interested in examples of the new religious sensibility in pop culture. The science is a little sketchy at points, but the story is generally fairly good, at least as far as young adult fiction goes. The TV show, as I mentioned, is only loosely based on the books; unlike the books, which generally aim at a feeling of realism, the TV series features the usual dystopic tropes of zombies and vampires (both dressed up in sci-fi drag) and rogue AIs. Still, the notion of humanity escaping the human condition and going to the heavens plays no part in the TV series. (At least not yet; who knows where they might take it?)

I think it is telling that one of the strongest example of this new religious sensibility comes from young adult fiction; the abandonment of the notion of an escape from the human condition seems most advanced among younger people (even though they certainly have plenty of reasons to want to escape from the human condition, given the future our society has created for them). This fact alone seems strong evidence that Greer is on the right track about both the trend and the timing of the emergence of this new religious sensibility.

As I explore these topics related to religion and my own beliefs and practices, I should say that this new sensibility has appealed to me for a long time. When I was growing up, the only heaven that ever made any sense to me as a reward for a life well lived came in the form of a vast untrammeled wilderness with unlimited opportunities for adventure and exploration. As I reflected more on this over the years, I came to the realization of the immanence of that heaven in the real world. I am exploring, in a number of ways, how to reform and transfigure my understanding of Christianity to meet these new understandings and the demands of our current age, and it seems clear to me that this process will necessitate changing almost everything about our religion, from our understanding of the divine down to the details of our practices and rituals. It should be, at the least, quite an adventure!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Coal For China

This is a repost of a blog post I wrote a few years ago, and the specific issues have changed (very dramatically in the case of China's demand for resources), but the underlying point remains germane. We must change how we live if we want to change the world.

Environmentalists all around the Salish Sea have been campaigning for the past few weeks to try and block development of a proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point near Bellingham. I am in agreement that it is a colossally bad idea on just about every level, and the sole justification for this activity, which is just a larger part of the ongoing assault on the biosphere, is to further enrich a small group of people who are obscenely rich. However, I also have trouble seeing much point in putting my own limited time and resources into doing anything about it.

I have better ways to use my time in order to make myself, my family, and my community ready for the adverse changes that will be coming in the future. Even supposing this bad idea were stopped, it would represent a great deal of effort that could have been directed towards much more tangible goals that would increase our society's resilience. Stopping the coal trains will not change China's desire to import and burn more coal, and they will probably get it from somewhere else (or even get the same coal via a different export terminal - say on the Gulf Coast where local opposition would probably be much, much lower). Stopping the coal trains will not discernibly affect the course of climate change. And stopping the coal trains will not matter if our society continues to prize hyper-mobility via privately owned cars, inexpensive consumer goods (mostly produced in China), and a steadfast refusal to make any significant alterations to our lifestyles.

And the last point directs us to the real problem. Almost everybody I know, including the self-styled environmentalists, puts thousands of miles each year on a privately owned car, spends a significant portion of their income on consumer goods and the energy required to make those consumer goods work, eats fresh produce out of season that has been transported hundreds or thousands of miles, and generally wastes energy and material in a very extravagant manner. (And I am not attempting to adopt a holier-than-thou stance: this criticism is as much an indictment of my own behavior as it is anything else.) The environmental movement has made an art form out of challenging the bad behavior of XYZ corporation and maintaining that if we could control corporate greed and misbehavior then all would be well (and by the way, ordinary people are mostly blameless for our current troubles). The only problem with this narrative is that it is not true, and even worse, it absolves us from looking seriously at our own lifestyle choices.

If Americans weren't buying consumer goods by the container ship-load from China, then China would probably be a lot less interested in burning coal from Wyoming to power their factories. If Americans were making serious efforts to reduce private automobile usage, then we might have the moral high ground to criticize the dramatic expansion of China's auto fleet. And the examples could go on.

So, rather than spend my time, energy, and resources trying to stop the coal trains, I will use them to find and implement ways to reduce my own resource usage and try to live a richer, fuller life as some sort of being other than a "consumer".

Monday, March 14, 2016


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
by Rudyard Kipling
One of my favorite poems, which fortunately for me is in the public domain, so I can publish it here. It may be a little dated in tone, and is unfortunately written in a way that is now viewed as sexist (it was written in 1895, and I am generally opposed to applying the standards of the present to historical figures, so I can let the sexism slide), but the main thrust of the poem lays out a way to live and to be that I think is still valid and valuable.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Being Cassandra

In Greek mythology, Cassandra had the power to foretell the future, but she was cursed by the god Apollo to never be believed. I don't know anyone who is seriously engaged in the study of the end of industrial civilization who hasn't personally experienced the curse of Cassandra, oftentimes through their own families and friends.

The inspiration for this post was a post on The Economic Collapse blog titled If You Don't Warn the People, Their Blood Could be on Your Hands. Although I think the title is a bit overdramatic, the point is valid. So what should one do when one has bad news that nobody else wants to listen to?

One consideration is that families have splintered over disagreement over about what the future holds. (I am not exaggerating here, many other people who have engaged with Peak Oil and similar subjects can cite examples.) When one's spouse or children, or siblings or parents, refuses to heed the warnings that you bring, and more to the point, refuses to accept lifestyle changes that would make your family's future more survivable, what should you do?

Even more than many questions, the answer to this one has to be intensely personal. There is no map that I have ever heard of for navigating this particular wilderness. So, what follows is simply my response, and not intended as advice. Food for thought, perhaps, but not advice.

For me, I have concluded that maintaining strong relationships with my family and close friends is more important for increasing the chance of my family and community surviving and prospering than worrying about whether we have selected the optimum lifestyle. Also for me, my current income derives mostly from being a real estate agent, and in that line of work, having a public persona that is wildly out of step with popular culture is not a profitable route to success. This issue of a public persona is also why this blog is published under a pen name.

To summarize, when cast uncomfortably in the role of Cassandra, I stay mute much of the time. I do a little that I can to improve the resilience of my lifestyle, I keep track of what's going on, I write this blog, and I try to prepare psychologically at least for the future that seems likely. And, most importantly, I continue to try and maintain strong relationships with those around me. The future, as I have mentioned in previous posts, is highly uncertain; it may be that many of our preparations are for naught and that having many people around us who we know well and trust implicitly might make up for some of the lack of preparation.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Resurrection of Meaning

When Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed the Death of God in the 1880s, I don't think he was proclaiming a victory. Rather, he was mourning a loss. The loss was the matrix of meaning, formed by medieval Christianity, that had bound together and animated European society from the time of the Crusades until the Enlightenment. With the coming of the Enlightenment, this matrix of meaning was slowly but surely shredded, which wouldn't have been a huge tragedy except for the small detail that the Enlightenment really had nothing to offer to replace the hole in meaning that had been left behind.

We are still grappling with the consequences even now. We, as a civilization, are very much like Oscar Wilde's cynic who knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing. The Enlightenment destroyed the coherence of the old values without offering a replacement, and now we live in a society that has no commonly shared values.

Although the secular world does not like to hear this said today, the surest and most stable route to commonly shared values is a common religion (and by this, I don't mean a civil religion; I mean a full-blown religion that acknowledges the spiritual world as being a key part of our lives together). We need a new religion; or more likely, we need a powerful revival, reformulation, or synthesis of one or more existing religions. This new religion is our best hope for resurrecting meaning in a world in which it has been destroyed. I propose that this is the central challenge of our times, because, as a number of writers have observed, the crisis of industrial civilization is not primarily a problem that can be solved by technical means, but a spiritual crisis.

I have fantasized about creating a new religion, more or less from whole cloth, which would, I hope file off the rough edges and incomprehensible aspects of religions as they exist in the real world. Much reflection has convinced me that this, even if I had the time to pursue it (which I don't), would be a doomed project, for a number of reasons. Instead, I will invite people into discussion and reflection on this topic, and spend time examining and writing about the building blocks of a future possible synthesis: values, practices, and traditions. I don't expect to complete the work of resurrecting meaning in our culture, but I can at least prepare the ground and plant some seeds.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

What Does it Mean to be a Cascadian?

This is a very large question, and one that I do not even pretend to have a full (or perhaps even partial) answer to. I ask it not because I expect anybody to provide an answer, but because it is a question that I feel is crucially important to grapple with as we ponder a future in which industrial civilization and all that goes with it is in decline. Many writers and commentators have discussed re-localization in a variety of ways, and occasionally the idea of revitalizing some aspects of pre-industrial cultures gets some play.

In most parts of the world, including a significant fraction of the United States, there is or was a pre-industrial culture that most of the current inhabitants are descended from. These pre-industrial, indigenous cultures were generally reasonably well adapted to the needs of their geographical place, and while many were not terribly sustainable, they were much closer to sustainable than modern industrial civilization. Discussions about how to adopt a more sustainable way of living, in many regions, therefore have a model (flawed though it may be) of what this more sustainable life might look like.

In Cascadia, on the other hand, the vast majority of the current inhabitants are not descended from the indigenous population. So, although there is (or was) a pre-industrial culture here, most of us have no real connection to it, and I personally think it quite unlikely that this culture will be a usable model for us as we struggle to create a culture that is capable of enduring in this place. Even worse, non-natives did not arrive in this area in significant numbers until after the industrial revolution was in full swing in England and the northeastern United States. As a result, essentially from the beginning of non-native habitation of Cascadia, the region was fully integrated into the industrial civilization, first as a resource colony, and then later as an industrial center in its own right. No non-industrial frontier civilization, such as that found in Appalachia, was ever able to develop here.

What this means to us is that we have essentially nothing to fall back on culturally that has been adapted to our region. This is one of the reasons I feel that the Dark Mountain Project may have something to offer for Cascadians as we contemplate the unraveling of industrial civilization. The Dark Mountain Project is, on one level, about discovering, or rediscovering, what it means to be human and how to have a culture that fits in the context of our particular circumstances. For those of us in places like Cascadia who are effectively cultural orphans, finding the answers to these questions assumes a whole new level of importance.

So: What does it mean to be a Cascadian? And how are we to build a culture that is adapted to Cascadia and not dependent on industrial civilization?