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Ernest Callenbach: Last Words to an America in Decline

Posted on May 7, 2012

(Page 3)

Organize. Much of the American ideology, our shared and usually unspoken assumptions, is hyper-individualistic. We like to imagine that heroes are solitary, have super powers, and glory in violence, and that if our work lives and business lives seem tamer, underneath they are still struggles red in blood and claw. We have sought solitude on the prairies, as cowboys on the range, in our dependence on media (rather than real people), and even in our cars, armored cabins of solitude. We have an uneasy and doubting attitude about government, as if we all reserve the right to be outlaws. But of course human society, like ecological webs, is a complex dance of mutual support and restraint, and if we are lucky it operates by laws openly arrived at and approved by the populace.

If the teetering structure of corporate domination, with its monetary control of Congress and our other institutions, should collapse of its own greed, and the government be unable to rescue it, we will have to reorganize a government that suits the people. We will have to know how to organize groups, how to compromise with other groups, how to argue in public for our positions. It turns out that “brainstorming,” a totally noncritical process in which people just throw out ideas wildly, doesn’t produce workable ideas. In particular, it doesn’t work as well as groups in which ideas are proposed, critiqued, improved, debated. But like any group process, this must be protected from domination by powerful people and also over-talkative people. When the group recognizes its group power, it can limit these distortions. Thinking together is enormously creative; it has huge survival value.

Learn to live with contradictions. These are dark times, these are bright times. We are implacably making the planet less habitable. Every time a new oil field is discovered, the press cheers: “Hooray, there is more fuel for the self-destroying machines!” We are turning more land into deserts and parking lots. We are wiping out innumerable species that are not only wondrous and beautiful, but might be useful to us. We are multiplying to the point where our needs and our wastes outweigh the capacities of the biosphere to produce and absorb them. And yet, despite the bloody headlines and the rocketing military budgets, we are also, unbelievably, killing fewer of each other proportionately than in earlier centuries. We have mobilized enormous global intelligence and mutual curiosity, through the Internet and outside it. We have even evolved, spottily, a global understanding that democracy is better than tyranny, that love and tolerance are better than hate, that hope is better than rage and despair, that we are prone, especially in catastrophes, to be astonishingly helpful and cooperative.

We may even have begun to share an understanding that while the dark times may continue for generations, in time new growth and regeneration will begin. In the biological process called “succession,” a desolate, disturbed area is gradually, by a predictable sequence of returning plants, restored to ecological continuity and durability. When old institutions and habits break down or consume themselves, new experimental shoots begin to appear, and people explore and test and share new and better ways to survive together.


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It is never easy or simple. But already we see, under the crumbling surface of the conventional world, promising developments: new ways of organizing economic activity (cooperatives, worker-owned companies, nonprofits, trusts), new ways of using low-impact technology to capture solar energy, to sequester carbon dioxide, new ways of building compact, congenial cities that are low (or even self-sufficient) in energy use, low in waste production, high in recycling of almost everything. A vision of sustainability that sometimes shockingly resembles Ecotopia is tremulously coming into existence at the hands of people who never heard of the book.

* * *

Now in principle, the Big Picture seems simple enough, though devilishly complex in the details. We live in the declining years of what is still the biggest economy in the world, where a looter elite has fastened itself upon the decaying carcass of the empire. It is intent on speedily and relentlessly extracting the maximum wealth from that carcass, impoverishing our former working middle class. But this maggot class does not invest its profits here. By law and by stock-market pressures, corporations must seek their highest possible profits, no matter the social or national consequences—which means moving capital and resources abroad, wherever profit potential is larger. As Karl Marx darkly remarked, “Capital has no country,” and in the conditions of globalization his meaning has come clear.

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By Marian Griffith, May 12, 2012 at 2:28 pm Link to this comment
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And another opportunity of discussing the immediate and moderate future of the USA and the entire world in fact, has been lost to pointless bickering.

Mr.Callenbach’s final words were not about who is most at fault for the current state and he clearly lost some of the youthful optimism he had when he wrote Ecotopia.
What he wrote is about how unless we manage to change things the USA and the economic system it has forced upon the world is bound to self-destruct, and if we are very luckly it will do so by imploding quietly and not by setting the entire world on fire. The phrase ‘the usa is becoming the world’s best armed third world country’ does not inspire confidence.
Mr.Callenbach also identified a number of traits and characteristics that are going to be essential to see ourselves through this decline and will help us build something new from the ruins. The key ones being that we can only survive if we work together and share fairly. The opposite of what the money driven hyper-capitalism is forcing upon us all.

As the financial parasites in their mad dash to produce goods ever cheaply (and keep an ever larger amount of the wealth for themselve) hollow out the ability of the people to purchase things we are getting ever closer to the point where the whole thing just collapses. What is the point of having slaves build cars cheaply when the world is divided in slaves and factory owners. The first can not buy cars and the second can not keep a factory profitable.
And the breaking point is much nearer than we like to think. As oil prices go up so does the unsustainability of the global economy. If the oil price doubles (which could happen very rapidly indeed) China no longer can ship their goods at prices that the impoverished American and European population can afford. Demand collapses, China slides into a recession and the USA in particular has insufficient industry to produce its essentials (nor might I add can afford to ship the food to its hungry cities from halfway the continent. And that is if the global warming does not destroy the viability of agriculture in the midwest).

This seems to me to be a slightly more important issue than who has the biggest epeen.

And I think we might start with being more kind to each other (because if not us then who will?)

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By americanme, May 10, 2012 at 10:58 am Link to this comment

No, you should shut up and get a GED.

This article was about the impending doom of the planet—are you such a desperate wannabe gringo that everything on this planet has to do with silly gringo volunteer program ideas?

You are an insulting little twit, in my opinion, and nothing you have said causes me to have doubts about my opinion.

You recommend mowing lawns for oldsters like myself, and reading the newspaper to them—those are solutions to the current planetary crisis?  Besides, you are a hypocrite, as you have insulted this oldster.

And who told you that all oldsters were either illiterate or blind?  I didn’t pull my PhD out of a box of Crackerjacks.

I can’t think of too many activities that would be more fatuously irritating to me than to have some undereducated kid try to read the news out loud to me in the seven languages which I read!

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By americanme, May 8, 2012 at 1:44 pm Link to this comment

Look kid, I posted what I posted because I live in Mexico and my post very accurately responds to your pie in the sky foolishness.

I am an american—A Native American who lives in Mexico, in the American hemisphere.

And I am not some undereducated nitwit who doesn’t even know what paranoia is.  I am not paranoid.  If I were I would certainly not come to this site and receive virtual death threats because I am not white—and infantile screeds like the one you just posted to me.

This OLD WOMAN whom you just insulted sees you for the hypocrite you are.  You didn’t bother to take the time to treat me with courtesy, even!

With insulting twits like you posting your cursi crap here it’s no damn wonder I am not optimistic!

And I do not fish!  Like many non-coastal Native Americans, I am allergic to fish and shellfish.

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By americanme, May 8, 2012 at 12:39 pm Link to this comment

And those three activities are going to change the world?

You wouldn’t last long with those capers in Mexico.

1.  No lawns except the very rich folks.

2.  The city hall jokers pocket at least 25% of the money for materials to repair potholes so that they can start building their mansions and so that the holes will open again in 3 months.  They would run your ass out on the end of an AKJ-47, and you’d be lucky not to do jail time.

3.  Newspapers are a luxury—you’d have to buy the paper, too.

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By exoevolution, May 8, 2012 at 6:35 am Link to this comment

a luminous
world awaits
a dawn
when darkness
is illuminated.
when ignorance
is educated.
when hate
becomes love.
when all is One, something to be dreamed of
everyone, everywhere is One.

a glowing
reality breathes
a thought,
consciousness heartbeats.
soaring upward
consciousness informs.
diving inward
consciousness transforms. 
becoming love… without end… be love… be love…
consciousness when all is One, something to be dreamed of
everyone, everywhere is One.

across the universe,
suns are born,
stars explode,
light-gods that give everything,
  lighting the darkness, awaking the void.

consciousness kisses the lips of creation.


the sun is so beautiful.

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By prisnersdilema, May 7, 2012 at 8:04 pm Link to this comment

I don’t disagree with what he said, good advice, and lately I have noticed that
some of my neighbors are raising chickens…Along with many proud gardens.

The day may come when someones book on raising chicken’s reaches number one
on the NY times best seller list, it will be more shocking to some, than the fading
away of America’s heartland, and industrial base.

Still the loss of Japan as an industrial nation, will be difficult for the economy of
the world to absorb. The question of where will the Japanese live, may take
generations to resolve. Their end, if the world survives the resultant release of
cesium, that is already killing many Japanese through heart attacks, will serve as
an eternal testament, to the madness, stupidity, and lies of our leadership.

Just as hope is better than despair, in facing life’s issues, reality is much better
than pretty lies.

In a 100 years of dark times, mankind’s survival will be uncertain, cooperation,
and acceptance, will help tip the odds in our favor, and certainly those that survive
by the dint of that cooperation and acceptance, will be most worthy.

Of the things on his list, there are a few I know how to do. I will have a lot more to
learn as time goes on, I hope I am up to the challenge.

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By Randall Smith, May 7, 2012 at 7:37 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Google Burningman, read the FAQ for new Burners, and learn about radical self-reliance.

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By Randall Smith, May 7, 2012 at 7:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We are way past the point of no return; the Bush-43 election.  The collapse from the Lehman Brothers meltdown would have FORCED immediate change.  But alas, the change is just postponed.  Now we get a president that postpones the hard decisions.  The crazies are not in control of the House of Reps.  The collapse will be MUCH bigger when it come.  Just learn new skills, like most people with sales skills that are no longer needed.  Maybe in 100 years things will be better.  The rest of this century will be trying to create a new form of goverment and economy, one without oil.

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By americanme, May 7, 2012 at 1:10 pm Link to this comment


And WHAT, may I ask, is that way to soften the ire and dilute the fear?

I don’t see it being put into practice anywhere.

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By americanme, May 7, 2012 at 12:57 pm Link to this comment

I can see why this would speak to white people in the US.

Doesn’t say diddly squat to those of us who are not white, and who are nevertheless victims of the white settler colonial state.

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By gerard, May 7, 2012 at 12:48 pm Link to this comment

Surfboy:  “..soften the ire and dilute the fear.”  Absolutely.  Every specific contribution is needed now, and valuable.

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