A Polytheist Reflection and Response to Convenience, Consumption, and Peak Oil Part 4
I had not planned a fourth part to this series, however, I was hit by something as I was sitting and experiencing this beautiful rendition of The Sound of Silence. I went back to thinking about the series of posts that I have been writing lately on consumerism and peak oil. I was thinking in how my father and I were sitting in the basement while he was smoking after he teared up while listening to it on Youtube. He explained to me that he had had a lot of friends buried to that song, and it occurred to me to ask him a few things, among them, what songs he wanted to have at his funeral, and if it would be okay if I kept his skull. This song and yes were among his answers.
We have such an odd relationship with death and endings in this country. While there is a cyclical nature to my religion, there is a linear one in my father’s, and the predominant mythological/cultural narratives American society tells itself are, likewise, linear, for instance, the myth of progress. It is very hard for folks to envision things past a certain point. It’s not the main reason I connect The Sound of Silence to my work with peak oil, though. No, what I connect with is one the overarching messages I get from the song. That our things overtake our sense of self, connection, community, even the place of our Gods. The lines that stick with me the hardest are these:
And in the naked light I saw, ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never shared, and no one dared
To stir the sound of silence
and this one:
And the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they’d made
And the sign flashed its warning in the words that it was forming
And the sign said the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls, and whispered in the sounds of silence
This song sticks in my craw, especially lately, especially because of the dearth of silence I see in the needed conversations on peak oil and climate change. That we have become overtaken by our things, that our need to have things have supplanted our need for connection. That the very means by which we enjoy this very song, or as you, the readers read the words, or I as I type them, is all part of the collective death knell of modern human civilization. This is so discomforting, that, like conversations on death, it is a taboo, a thing we dare not speak or give word to, lest we sound crazy or we dare to step out of line and suggest that another world is not only possible, but absolutely fucking necessary. It is taboo, echoing in the well of silence.
The other reason this post kind of spoke up and said “Hey, write me,” is because of a comment from PSVL on Part 3. While I did address e in the comments, between being prompted by The Sounds of Silence and the comment itself, I felt that e was right. We do need to talk more about folks who aren’t able-bodied facing a future in which cheap, abundant fossil fuels are no longer available, and as a result, neither will our life-dependent medications. Some of this will be retread of the comments, and some will be me responding having stewed on things a bit.
I wanted to respond to eir’s first and last points to start with:
While I think this is all good, I’m still utterly unimpressed with–and am downright horrified by–the attitudes of JMG, and certain other anti-capitalists we know of in refusing to address the situation of folks like yourself and myself who rely upon medications produced by corporate capitalism for our very lives, that (at least in my case) I won’t ever be able to wean myself away from, short of a miracle, and those are thin on the ground these days. By JMG, when I brought this up, I was told “Well, everyone has to die sometime”; and by the other, I got outrage that I’d ask that question, was told I’d be taken care of, and then was given no details or anything on how that would actually take place in his self-congratulation over how caring and compassionate he was toward poor non-able-bodied sods like me (in ideal, anyway).
The amount of privilege that those who practically glorify this matter and their “responsible” lifestyle in response to it enjoy by being able-bodied (at least for the moment) in these discussions is quite frankly disgusting.
I wish someone would actually address that.
No one from the Peak Oil movement that I know of or consistently refer to takes any kind of pleasure or glory from this being the future. We can, however, enjoy the processes we go through to prepare for a power-down future, and make the Long Descent as pleasant as we are able in the meantime. We can connect with community, create art, learn skills, write books, teach, and pass on knowledge. To my mind, it would be better to glorify this responsible lifestyle than to pretend that the one that is touted by American society as ideal is at all sustainable or has a future.
I more or less stand by my original answer to em in this regard. There is no answer for us coming from established sources. Since we cannot control funding, research, dialogue, or the larger-scope top-down issues of addressing peak oil and climate change, or the associated complications of peak oil, climate change, and the therapies, medication, and other things that keep us alive, there are only local-level answers I could hope to give. Unless we do work on trying to find replacements for our medications now, or if we can attain some kind of homestasis in a sustainable manner that allows us to live in a powered-down future, a good number of us are outright screwed. The truth of the matter is, that I don’t think anyone in the Peak Oil communities, or the anarchists, the permaculturalists, the government, researchers, or anyone else for that matter, has an answer for people who are this dependent on medication, therapies, and so on that are only available to us because of the energy output of fossil fuels, and all the industries it is used to run and make products for. What methods there may be to address our needs in the face of peak oil and climate change, such as alternative therapies, herbal medicines, and tradition-specific medicinal approaches, may well have to be approached from a trial-and-error perspective rather than a rigorous scientific one if things speed up quicker than I am anticipating.
Addressing this from a different angle: what happens to the home healthcare industry (of which I am a bottom tier worker) when the downward slope of the Long Descent makes itself apparent? It will disappear.
The result of that is nothing short of horrible. There are clients, consumers, and patients within this industry that fully rely on people like me to give them care, to feed them, clean them, and so on. What happens when the means by which we are employed vanish? Some folks will soldier on, doing what they can until they have nothing left to give. Most will leave. This will leave the government and families a couple of options, assuming these folks have any family alive. They can take them into their homes, set up institutions or like apparatus again, at least for a while, or leave them where they are. Not an easy thought, and certainly not something I like to write about. However, there we are. Unless communities start coming together and addressing climate change and peak oil now, and addressing the issue of access to healthcare, this is the horrible reality we will be facing.
I’m paid about a dollar above what a crew member at McDonald’s is paid. When I/my community gets land and we’re established, my plan is to leave this industry. Not because the people I served don’t deserve the services, not because they are lesser than I, but because my tribe, my people come first, and the kind of work that will be required to make such a thing work, much less be successful, is a full-time job.
For those who stay in this industry, with as little investment as there is in health care, things will get even worse if communities do not actively come together to bolster and improve these services. Many of the local movements I addressed in Part 3 may be able to address needs on a local level if they plan for it. I don’t, however, think they will be able to address all needs.
Please, though, do not think I am giving folks a pass on this. This does need to be addressed. Taking care of the folks who cannot care for themselves is a humane thing to do, and it requires our consideration for how best to do so. It is also not a cruelty to say “These are our limitations due to budget, space, etc. What can we do to solve this problem? Who can we look to for help? How can we best serve these members of the community? If we lack the means to serve these people effectively, what can we do?” That, I think, is key: these aren’t just clients when this goes from a company and its employees doing a job into a community coming together to work on how best to serve these people. They’re community members. They have Gods who care for them, Ancestors who care for them, and live among the vaettir. I am no less than an able-bodied person for my diabetes. Likewise, those I serve in my current job capacity are no less a person than I.
I have a vested interest in seeing non-able-bodied and disabled folks taken care of. I’m a disabled person (diabetes, asthma, ADD), and so is my son and my wife. People I care deeply for, who are chosen family and friends are non-abled and disabled. Hell, if my tics (which I’m now taking an anti-seizure medication for) get any worse, I may need a lot of help someday. It’s in my interest and that of my families’ interests, and going outward from there, in my community’s best interests to have a vibrant, viable, and sustainable community that can care for its own.
The basic questions of infrastructure, and the points I raised in the previous three posts will still be factors that will need to be addressed in some manner. Without these addressed, the job of those who remain or become caretakers, home healthcare workers, and so on, will be that much harder. Transportation, medication, and compensation will all need to be looked at on a local level. The same with the costs of healthcare, short and long-term.
We will have to take a hard look at what we can afford to do with what we have where our communities are. We will need to do this now and in the future in a world where resources are already hard to find, becoming harder and more environmentally and financially costly to find, refine, and produce. We wouldn’t be seeing companies looking to hydraulic fracturing, deep-water drilling, arctic oceans, or tar sands oil if we had a whole lot of low-hanging fruit left. The EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested) doesn’t make sense without high oil prices, and all of them are incredibly environmentally destructive to boot. Look at the BP Oil Spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, the ongoing damage to Alberta, CA with the tar sands strip mining and extraction, and the ongoing damage being done in the Marcellus Shale area of PA. The only reason any of these more expensive, and thus lower EROEI methods of fossil fuel extraction, refinement, and use, have gotten any traction was the incredible explosion of oil prices and dropping supply.
When/if a big crash comes during our lifetimes, we’ll be some of the first casualties, as soon as the last of the insulin in the fridge runs out. Simple as that, unfortunately. Nothing anyone has ever said on these topics convinces me of any other possibility, because no one has ever floated any other possibility (other than the idiots I heard several years back who said “That’s why we’re raising cattle, so I can go on beef insulin.” Uhh…unless industrial levels of beef slaughter are taking place, not enough insulin will be produced, dummy, to sustain your life, and your little herd of twenty cows will not last you even a year for that) which is remotely viable.
As I said in my comment, I’m of the opinion/understanding it is not a matter of if, but when. I see one of two general outcomes. The first, is that the economic house of cards comes to crash and all the lack of investment our country has collectively made in its infrastructure comes home to roost, as we’re seeing in places near where I live such as Flint, MI or the poisoning of the Kalamazoo River by Enbridge Energy. The other is that peak oil will slowly suck what life remains from the country via increasing energy costs exacerbated by our lack of investment in infrastructure, and lack of preparedness for a powered-down future. I believe a combination of these two scenarios over a period of 20-50 years, maybe longer if more folks get on-board, is most likely, since the economy is almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels to do anything.
The only way that massive volumes of insulin are able to made is because of the meat and medical industry. We can only do so much on a local level, especially in a powered-down future where the fossil fuels that helped a lot of folks to live goes away. There’s only so much folks are going to be able to do, grow, or make.
And that you, I, and all of the polytheists in the U.S. and the world can’t actually do anything to stop or change this situation, no matter how local and active and right-relational we get with other things related to this situation might be, makes me absolutely angry and hopeless over this situation.
I liken this situation to Fimbulvinter and Ragnarök. This is a situation that may have once been preventable, but it is one that we now face without that ability. We can look forward, grim or joyful, but It is coming to meet us and we, It, through the weaving of Wyrd. The big difference between The Long Descent and Ragnarök is that the Aesir, Vanir, Jotun, our Ancestors, and the landvaettir are with us should we be willing to ally, and will help us face this future if we are willing to do what we can where we can. We’re not just living for our survival. We will help to leave a world in which Lif and Lifthrasir can survive and thrive in.
So, I make of my anger, and times where hopelessness hits me, an offering to my Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and communities. I make of my education on how to live better with and upon Jörð and my other Gods, my Ancestors, and the vaettir, as an offering. I make of the work I put my hands to as an offering. I will keep going on, and do what I can to this end for as long as I can. It is my duty.