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This Time We’re Taking the Whole Planet With Us

Posted on Mar 7, 2011
AP / Mahesh Kumar A.

People collect scraps from a garbage dump in Hyderabad, India.

(Page 3)

The desperate islanders developed a belief system that posited that the erected stone gods, the moai, would come to life and save them from disaster. This last retreat into magic characterizes all societies that fall into terminal decline. It is a frantic response to loss of control as well as despair and powerlessness. This desperate retreat into magic led to the Cherokee ghost dance, the doomed Taki Onqoy revolt against the Spanish invaders in Peru, and the Aztec prophecies of the 1530s. Civilizations in the last moments embrace a total severance from reality, a reality that becomes too bleak to be absorbed.

The modern belief by evangelical Christians in the rapture, which does not exist in biblical literature, is no less fantastic, one that at once allows for the denial of global warming and of evolution and the absurd idea that the righteous will all be saved—floating naked into heaven at the end of time. The faith that science and technology, which are morally neutral and serve human ambitions, will make the world whole again is no less delusional. We offer up our magical thinking in secular as well as religious form.

We think we have somehow escaped from the foibles of the past. We are certain that we are wiser and greater than those who went before us. We trust naively in the inevitability of our own salvation. And those who cater to this false hope, especially as things deteriorate, receive our adulation and praise. We in the United States, only 5 percent of the world’s population, are outraged if anyone tries to tell us we don’t have a divine right to levels of consumption that squander 25 percent of the world’s energy. President Jimmy Carter, when he suggested that such consumption was probably not beneficial, became a figure of national ridicule. The worse it gets the more we demand illusionary Ronald Reagan happy talk. Those willing to cater to fantasy and self-delusion are, because they make us politically passive, lavishly funded and promoted by corporate and oligarchic forces. And by the very end we are joyfully led over the cliff by simpletons and lunatics, many of whom appear to be lining up for the Republican presidential nomination.

“Are the events of three hundred years ago on a small remote island of any significance to the world at large?” Bahn and Flenley ask. “We believe they are. We consider that Easter Island was a microcosm which provides a model for the whole planet. Like the Earth, Easter Island was an isolated system. The people there believed that they were the only survivors on Earth, all other land having sunk beneath the sea. They carried out for us the experiment of permitting unrestricted population growth, profligate use of resources, destruction of the environment and boundless confidence in their religion to take care of the future. The result was an ecological disaster leading to a population crash. ... Do we have to repeat the experiment on this grand scale? Do we have to be as cynical as Henry Ford and say ‘History is bunk’? Would it not be more sensible to learn the lesson of Easter Island history, and apply it to the Earth Island on which we live?”


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Human beings seem cursed to repeat these cycles of exploitation and collapse. And the greater the extent of the deterioration the less they are able to comprehend what is happening around them. The Earth is littered with the physical remains of human folly and human hubris. We seem condemned as a species to drive ourselves and our societies toward extinction, although this moment appears be the denouement to the whole sad show of settled, civilized life that began some 5,000 years ago. There is nothing left on the planet to seize. We are now spending down the last remnants of our natural capital, including our forests, fossil fuel, air and water.

This time when we go down it will be global. There are no new lands to pillage, no new peoples to exploit. Technology, which has obliterated the constraints of time and space, has turned our global village into a global death trap. The fate of Easter Island will be writ large across the broad expanse of planet Earth.

Chris Hedges is a weekly Truthdig columnist and a fellow at The Nation Institute. His newest book is “Death of the Liberal Class.”

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By Anton, March 7, 2011 at 1:15 pm Link to this comment
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CO2 levels are well above 350 ppm.

391.19 ppm (Sources:,

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By Greetings, March 7, 2011 at 1:01 pm Link to this comment
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It appears now that the solution of how to live on this earth, which is,  harmony, compassion and love or a sense of oneness may only be known and lived after the pending ecological fallout.  But, maybe all the fallout messages will quickly bring about some positive change.  Thanks Chris.

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By TDoff, March 7, 2011 at 12:55 pm Link to this comment

Chris, when you right, you right. We’ll know Earth’s demise is imminent when the GOPers pass the bill authorizing the erection of stone statues of Sarah, Haley, the Huckster, and the Boner in the Capitol rotunda.

Which should be about next Tuesday.

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By Donna Muller, March 7, 2011 at 12:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’ve heard you on “Radio Times,” “Citizen Radio,” and several other podcasts
recently and admire your writing. I have the same thoughts as I travel the world
and stand on the layers of other civilizations. Tragic and excellent essay.

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By SarcastiCanuck, March 7, 2011 at 12:37 pm Link to this comment
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As always Chris,brilliantly articulated.No matter how hard you try though,I don’t think that you can overcome one of the most powerful forces in human nature.That is the force of human denial.As I have come to learn in my 53 years on earth,Mankinds ability to deny anything he doesn’t want his/her mind to deal with is monumental.We usually don’t have to look beyond our ownselves to prove this as true.Keep up the battle my friend because not everyone out there has marginalized you.I for one see you as one of societies consciences…

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By frank1569, March 7, 2011 at 12:28 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Although totally agnostic, I’ve done a fair share of
religious readings - and one in particular is as
prophetic as it is ignored.

After the Christian God flooded Earth, he told Noah
it was the last time He was wiping out sinful humans
and giving them another chance to get it right.

Next time, he warned, humans will wipe-out humans
themselves, and there would be no more chances given
after that.

So let it be written, so let it be done…

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By A. Benway, March 7, 2011 at 12:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Good ol’ Chris! Chaos makes detailed prediction impossible, and small unpredictable events can create large outcomes - also unpredictable. Chris is spot on, and we all, critters and plants - self-aware life - may soon be gone, but history also illustrates the “bolt from the blue” that changes everything.

Lets us assume, for example, that a plague dispatches 90 % of the human population in six months, starting now… Consider the new post hoc reality…

There do not seem to be any outcomes that are nice. None at all. But some outcomes are better than others. And in the last ice-age humanity was reduced to about 1,000 persons…

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By balkas, March 7, 2011 at 12:17 pm Link to this comment

it is, to me, more important to consider which of the two structures of society
[we only have two available] wld in the end prevail: an ideally personally
supremacistic or inegalitarian as exemplified by the one in u.s., or an ideally
idyllic one which we do not have yet, but cld develop in decades, centuries, or
once we develop or begin to develop an egalitarian society [not in utopian sense],
a pantisocratic and timocratic system of rule follows natch from it. tnks for ur L,
R, and deaf Ear

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By gustro, March 7, 2011 at 12:16 pm Link to this comment
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Noticed an error; on page 2, Chris means to say carbon is at 429 ppm, not 329.

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By RobertH, March 7, 2011 at 12:16 pm Link to this comment
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As always, Hedges’s analysis is disturbing and ominous. However, he states greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere are at 329 parts per million; they haven’t been that low since October of 1976. Currently (January of 2011) we’re at 391 ppm for CO2 alone without considering the impact of human-generated methane and ozone, which also contribute greatly to climate forcing.

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By pyrrhon, March 7, 2011 at 12:08 pm Link to this comment

We humans survived as a species because of our strong social bonds and yet this very source of our survival is now despised in America.  We cannot survive as a country without this social bond and it is now very apparent that because we are being taught to hate social ideals, we are falling into cultural decay.  Instead of working together to resolve the many issues that face us, we are sadly divided and blindly and greedily ignoring them, which defines what we are—stupid.

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By Druthers, March 7, 2011 at 11:58 am Link to this comment
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How true!
There is also the fact that as restraints on power are lifted all rationalisations are accepted for behavior that is purely self oriented.
Those who know no limits on their comfort and ability to self indulge come to believe they are exceptions, not part of the rest of humanity.  It is almost as though they imagine that the laws of nature to not apply to them since they are of a “different” nature and entitled to priviledged lives for themselves and their offsprings.
And unlimited power leads to unlimited vice.

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By weylguy, March 7, 2011 at 11:32 am Link to this comment

Two things I want to relate about human foibles:

First, it’s been a while since I read Jared Diamond’s Collapse, but I believe in the Easter Island chapter Diamond muses about what was going through the islander’s mind as he was cutting down the very last tree. It must have been one of two things: either the gods demanded total commitment before they would save the islanders, or all was lost anyway and the last tree was no going to help the situation. Either way, human stupidity was the cause of the collapse.

Second, physics professor emeritus Albert Bartlett of the University of Colorado at Boulder once stated that the greatest blunder of Homo sapiens is our inability or unwillingness to understand the exponential function of mathematics. This function describes growth, and in a finite world unlimited growth is impossible. It has been our misfortune to exploit resources until they’re gone, either out of pure greed or in the illogical belief that some supernatural entity will save us at the last minute.

I’ve read about half a dozen of Chris Hedges’ books, and I know he speaks as both a Christian seminary-trained humanitarian and sobered war correspondent. While he has often sounded pessimistic, I believe now he’s just being realistic: it’s over.

What to watch out for: when you see the elite start caching freeze-dried food, water, penicillin, guns and ammunition into their gated homes and onto their yachts, you’ll know collapse is imminent.

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By Big B, March 7, 2011 at 10:07 am Link to this comment

For anyone out there who was thinking of reading fat freddies comment, save yourself some time and just go to the Lyndon Larouche website to listen to how any power centralized by democratic vote is bad, and of course any regulation of “free markets” is absolutely evil! For in a totally free society we would all stand, hand in hand, corporations and private citizens, and sing kum-by-ya. Nobody would be poor, or sick. anyone who needs help would either depend on their family alone, or some magnanamous charity to come to the rescue.

“Wake up, Honey! It’s time to go to work!”

Sorry, I must have hit the snooze again. Wow, I woke up to a finance system that is already under-regulated and see that they still managed to game the system and all of us to the tune of trillions of dollars. I see big businesses using a relativly lightly regulated marked to game the system for the benefit of the very few, and the detriment of most. Inagine what these “robber barons” would be able to accomplice in a completely de-regulated enviornment. But we already know what that world would look like. It involved rich people in castles, surrounded by motes, and a countryside of downtrodden wretched people, living like animals. You know, the good ol days.

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By Fat Freddy, March 7, 2011 at 9:13 am Link to this comment

We need someone  to come around and save our asses.

Kidding aside. What do most of the historical examples provided by Mr Hedges have in common?

A strong central government, and religion. But, but, but, without a strong central government, we would be just like Somalia! According to this paper, Somolia is actually doing better than when they had a government, and just as well as neighboring countries. Imagine that! While I wouldn’t recommend living in Somalia (there are no roads wink), it should, at least, dispel some of the myths surrounding civilized anarchy, or Agorism. Perhaps, Konkin was right. An underground economy facilitates the collapse of the government, and becomes the foundation of a free economy.

The US has a long history of one banking crisis after another. It is the direct result of government interference. Banks are protected entities. Money, not oil, is how we feed our decadence and greed. That’s right. I said our decadence and greed. That means you! And the banks provide the money we need. Right! So, what is the alternative? More regulation? We have 200 years (since, at least the Panic of 1819) of government protecting banks. How can you possibly expect the government to “protect” us from the banks, when the vast amount of evidence shows that the government is only interested in protecting the banks?

Word of the day: Cognitive dissonance.

OK. That’s two words. So, sue me.

So, what is the solution? Perhaps, someone with an “open” mind could start here. Remember, criticisms are easy, solutions are difficult. Perhaps, we could just create another pandemic, like that of 1918, and wipe out about half of the World’s population. That’ll work, for sure. Let’s get Monsanto on it.

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By Frederick Glaysher, March 7, 2011 at 9:04 am Link to this comment
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I’ve just read Death of the Liberal Class and a few
other books by Chris Hedges, as well as looked into
most of his other books. I respect him, his intellect
and arguments, and the story of his life journey.
This article articulates many of his themes, yet
curiously neglects some of them.

“We will be saved only with the birth of a new and
militant radicalism which seeks to dethrone our
corrupt elite from power, not negotiate for better

In my view, that’s as quixotic and ladened with
fantasy as the rapture… and would only pour
gasoline on the fire. Let’s say, what if a “new and
militant radicalism” were successful? With what
vision would it replace the corporate state? If we’re
to learn from history, we shouldn’t forget the lesson
of the Jacobins; new Jacobins never make any
difference, but lead to greater loss of life.

The deeper, non-violent traditions touched on in some
of the books by Chris Hedges are represented by
Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, and the universal
values of the Ten Commandments. Unlike Freud, they
represent the *humane* and spiritual values that
create unity, compassion, and love among people, and
hence a willingness to care about and sacrifice for
the common good.

A “new radicalism” and militancy are modeled on the
same reprehensible tactics of the materialistic,
corporate and political elites and will lead only to
violence. Some may say with Lenin that one must crack
a few eggs, but Gandhi didn’t, Martin Luther King
didn’t, and Chris Hedges is making a serious mistake
to turn from the profundity of the religious
tradition, presumably out of desperation, if that’s
what he’s doing.

Along with Gandhi and King, a better, more realistic,
down to earth model would be to recall the rise of a
new vision of life out of the ruins of the Roman
Empire and how that was accomplished, global now.

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By still trying, March 7, 2011 at 8:51 am Link to this comment

Sad words Chris, but true. We are reaping the whirlwind. Solutions are still unclear. We can only keep trying. Thanks for your efforts.

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By Jim, March 7, 2011 at 8:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Please consider reading Derrick Jensen’s Endgame for an eloquent condemnation of civilization.

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By timmy, March 7, 2011 at 8:30 am Link to this comment
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Brilliant. Nearly every word of it. The only problem I have is the conflation of humanity with civilization. Thousands of indigenous cultures had(until they were wiped out by the civilized) and have (the scarce few that remain) learned perfectly well how to live sustainably on their land. For anyone who really liked this piece I would recommend the writings of Derrick Jensen, and the film END:CIV at

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By thebeerdoctor, March 7, 2011 at 8:30 am Link to this comment

1 year, 9 months, 14 days… so says the end of the ‘long count’ Mayan calendar. What is even more reprehensible than the sociopathic ways of the ownership class, are the syncophant actions of their enablers, such as the newly elected Governor of Ohio, who received over a half mil large for acting as a shill for Lehmann Brothers bank, convincing his Ohio bretheren to transfer $480 million of the state retirement pension into their hands, which they then invested wisely by losing every single penny. And now this corporate shill and political hack is the chief executive officer of this blessed state. Well, as the old saying goes: the clock is ticking…

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By superman, March 7, 2011 at 8:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hello again,

I guess my biggest question is..If collapse is imminent shouldnt we be talking
about what survivors should do when confronted with there own greed and how
can we learn from this past miss management? What should the new world look
like? Lets turn this grim reality in to a positive!

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By Ira Weisberg, March 7, 2011 at 8:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What a shame… that Chris Hedges is rapidly becoming the Glenn Beck of the left. His rejection of Marxism and his writing off of the American working class as a force of change, has turned him into a demoralized fatalist. Oh well, another talented left-leaning journalist bites the dust.

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By Superhuman, March 7, 2011 at 8:15 am Link to this comment
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I am fully aware that even as compassionate as i am I to can be greedy. I have
now more completely realized the idea that complete world reset is possible if
not indefinite. I fully believe I may have to rely on greed to live and provide for
my family when hell breaks lose. Am I destined to become a powerful force
scared to share resources and knowledge? Just like the humans that have
brought us to this boiling point. I am really starting to think that this cycle is
doomed to repeat over and over until the world is uninhabitable or gone.

Example: If you had to fight with another man for food so your family can
survive would you? most i think would say yes? Now providing i have won and there are others that want to fight me for my food with no dialogue whatsoever,
wouldnt it seem like the best idea would be to ensure you dont have to fight
again or atleast with less risk by taking any means necessary? lying, cheating, murdering etc.

Couldnt that be the ruling elites predicament as-well? Is it possible we all have
the potential to be just as greedy as them if we were the winners?

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By flickervertigo, March 7, 2011 at 7:21 am Link to this comment

“The inability to confront simple truths about human nature and the natural world leaves the elites unable to articulate new social, economic and political paradigms. They look only for ways to perpetuate a dying system.”

...more likely, isnt it, that this “global war on terror” is evidence that the elites are fully aware of the “simple truths of human nature and the natural world”...

the sociopathic elites are a self-fullfilling prophecy of themselves… and if the elites cant find actual sociopaths to commit crimes that justify the elites’ atrocities, then they will manufacture their own atrocities, and blame them on oily patsies.

the “war on terror” is the elites’ response to their “truth” about human nature, and acknowlegement that the natural world no longer can provide enough cheap oil.

so, fully aware of the impending difficulties, the elites embark on the grandest looting project ever.

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