Culture Change
14 July 2024
Greeting the Fall of the Empire: a Message of Peace PDF Print E-mail
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by Jan Lundberg   
03 January 2011
ImageSelf-editor's note: I have been lagging on offering criticism of two popular revolutionary authors who have included me their books. I finally did it, within a more important context. - JL

Please join me in greeting the fall of the U.S. Empire, a healthy way to begin this new year. It is a positive sentiment among some thoughtful Americans. Their ungiddy feeling flows from observation of world developments and the state of the U.S. political system and economy. The timetable is fuzzy, but trends are clear. It's not pretty, but there is a thin silver lining.

These days are for many of us the winter of our discontent. Weird and dangerous weather on the rise, persistent fossil-fuel dominance, never-ending wars, unraveling of the social fabric, looming shortages of food and water, and lack of money for basic needs aren't just some unpatriotic ravings of those who want to put America down. Rather, the growing uncertainty of our survival, individually and for our families, has everyone's skull in a vice tightened by unseen or unknown hands. Those hands are actually of our own making: our dominant culture has been building up to a colossal, spectacular, global failure.

If the Empire's collapse and cultural failure sound extremely negative, you can cling to your privilege in a world "burning in its greed" (the Moody Blues, Question), or go back to hoping for a lucrative job. Or you might keep up the magical thinking that says things will work out without major pain. But even a hard realist or pessimist who sees the Empire now starting to fall ought to smile, for as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sang in Carry On, "Rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice. But to carry on." This can translate to "if you can't stop the fall, roll with it. Standing like a wall won't be wise."


As to the most visible part of the Empire: no one can tell how much more U.S./NATO military effort will bring about whatever result in Afghanistan or Iraq. Or in Pakistan, or wherever the 1,000 or so U.S. military bases sit on sovereign countries' soil. But the massive cost in taxpayer dollars, when the federal budget has gone way into the red with no sign of recovery back into the black, cannot be sustained -- even if the trillions spent on war and waste could be recalled. It is sad that there is less concern in the U.S. than anywhere over the ongoing loss in human life, in terms of soldiers on all sides and the citizens of invaded nations. Yet, the human and environmental cost of optional wars mounts astronomically and will be paid somehow.

Regardless of military victories or failures, or how blatantly corrupt the mercenary/contractor factor is, the overall inefficiency of our government and U.S. society cannot last. The breakdown of both trust and function in the financial sphere as well as in community cohesion-- as people work harder and harder (if they can) but cannot get ahead, mostly unable to help one another -- is becoming apparent to the average citizen. Just a few years ago, if a visionary brought up issues such as peak oil and climate chaos, the usual reaction from a mainstream person was incredulity or "What, me worry?" This is changing quickly, with a consensus growing that general weirdness, stress and uncertainty relating to our dysfunctional System are on the rise. Moreover, there is no let up in sight. Collapse seems nigh.

Lest you believe this is the only message of this essay, keep reading.

The corporate media and the politicians have to keep hammering on the idea of the economy's returning to infinite growth. But they don't address the fact that peak oil has come, and the substitutes for petroleum cannot do much more than assure prolonged electrical energy. Peak oil is a liquid-fuels/materials crisis.

Given that the supply of cheap, abundant oil is much depleted for sustaining a massive population of hapless consumers, and given there is no comprehensive, scalable technofix, one can safely predict the end of the U.S.A. as we know it. But even without fully understanding the oil industry, many people from many walks of life are picking up on the utter failure of the Obama Hope Movement to deliver -- ever. He is increasingly seen as just another puppet. This disillusionment would not be dispositive except that foreclosures are on the rise, the commercial real estate bubble will pop, and employment is not going up -- well, it's going up if you're in a lower-wage outsource nation for U.S. corporations that care nothing about the welfare of the U.S. worker.

By now you might be squirming with some outrage over such a dismal analysis and the apparent lack of any alternative. Ah, but there is an alternative. The future belongs to the simple-living closer-to-the-land folk who can utilize what is known as Appropriate Tech. Above all, they know they must work as a close community. This is the only way they will survive. If this new scene is inevitable, how can we speed it along?

Living the future now means ditching the car or sharing one vehicle with others, not buying anywhere near the amount gasoline or diesel we've been guzzling, and making sure one's trade and dollars go only to local people. If The System that churns along for now so inefficiently, while it is less and less able to provide for us, and is doomed, then should its collapse be hastened? I hasten to say "Yes" only if it is carried out consciously and in a planned, compassionate fashion. Chaos is not the goal, nor a means. Yet, recognizing that the global corporate economy will rapidly give way to local, bioregional economies -- linked across oceans and up and down rivers by a quickly assembled sailing fleet for trade and passenger service -- means walking away from The System as it crashes down around us. It's not pretty, but inevitable.

Revolutionaries who don't quite get it

Some who do not understand the peak-oil basis of collapse, believing oil extraction will last as long in its dwindling phase as it took to peak, are trapped in the politics and economic theories of yesterday. They see the power elite continuing to hold sway indefinitely. They see coal maximized until the planet is completely fried, although they don't take into account that coal cannot substitute for liquid fuels that have built the current petroleum-based infrastructure. So, these confused and despairing onlookers may place faith in a relic of 18th, 19th and 20th century social dynamics: class revolution. Or, they may believe in a social justice movement that may peacefully turn out the aggressors and the corrupt (perhaps via a "REAL Obama"?), redistributing the pie of consumption.

Two well known opponents of the present System are Ted Rall and Derrick Jensen. They seem to have little in common, but they share impatience, passion and radical rhetoric that have a significant following. I don't believe either writer will get far with their message, even if their followers grow in number. This is because their rage and desire for deep change are not sufficiently grounded in reality.

Rall, like Jensen, warns against positive thinking based on lifestyle change and ecotopian dreams. His cartoons are legendary, and in 2001 he helpfully led the way for anti-war activists' grasping the petroleum-related basis for the war on Afghanistan. The Culture Change magazine Late Fall 2001 issue covered his findings. But his latest book, Anti-American Manifesto, is disturbing aside from its questionable title. In the first chapter he sets me up as a straw man representing naive ecotopians and the peak-oil crowd:

"Deep-green types fantasize about a collapse scenario that will save the world without anyone having to lift a finger. They imagine an involuntarily deindustrializing economy that allows the earth to heal while people gather to form small clans and low-impact villages based on ideals of equality. Here is a quote from Jan Lundberg, a deep-green proponent of 'peak oil' theory: 'New social norms and tribal law will help break from the past and possibly outlaw incipient reversion to the failed system of exploitation of people and nature. In any case, the 'new' model of sharing and cooperation will outdo in productivity any vestiges of the old models of selfishness and trying to insulate oneself or one's family from the surrounding changed world."
I stand by what I said in that 2005 essay ("End-time for USA upon oil collapse", link below), but Rall took me out of context when he does not include my views on resistance, resiliency, oil, and ushering in the future. Anti-American Manifesto was excerpted generously in the popular website Altnernet on Nov. 10, 2010. Their title of the review was wisely not the title of the book, but rather "As the Country Falls Apart, It's Time for Our Revolution." I would echo Jethro Tull when they pointed out in their 1969 song, Living In The Past, "Now there's revolution, but they don't know what they're fighting." Rall, Jensen and others seem to forget who in U.S society is so well armed and organized -- militarized police and the military -- but just as blindly, these would-be revolutionaries don't quite realize who or what the enemy is. As Matt Simmons told a Pentagon audience in 2006, "Maybe the enemy is us."

Derrick Jensen was primarily known in the late 1990s and early 2000s for impassioned prose in defense of nature and for appreciating the rights of species (including people) to have viable habitats. His early books inspired tree-sitters in ancient redwoods to redouble their efforts. When I heard him speak in 2000 at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California -- in what some call Ecotopia -- he opened his talk with "When I get up in the morning I wonder if I should go blow up a dam." He said it with a smile, to get across a point that the ecosystem's time is running out. Even Bruce Babbitt was advocating the removal of dams. Jensen was then primarily a journalist, interviewing thinkers such as Thomas Berry and even me for The Sun magazine.

By 2006 he had changed into an advocate for violence against humans. He was still eloquent regarding the ecological crisis. But in speeches he also was pointing young anarchists in the direction of combating the police on the streets, since the police would seem to represent the big polluting interests' hold on society. In 2007 I saw that his t-shirts for sale on his website depicted images of shooting bad guys. (Jensen's webmaster responded to this article and said the images were never there.) I asked to sit down with him to discuss these issues but he wasn't interested.

Jensen says there is a militant Earth defense movement that anyone -- anyone who cares about species extinction -- should join. When I disagreed in a listserve exchange, where I called violence against human an infantile strategy, his response was to say if he knew I was going to attack his work he would not have put me in his books.

He does not seem to realize that not only is a militant Earth protection movement minuscule if it exists at all, and would be rejected or unsupported by the population at large when violent means would be employed; Jensen also seems to discount completely the potential for a Gandhian approach to transforming society to deal with lethal threats common to us all. He also ridicules lifestyle change as a strategy to save the planet, citing false analogies such as the French Resistance hypothetically having to fight Nazis on bicycles only instead of with cars too. Our "taking shorter showers," he says, will not save the world. What he doesn't see is that if lifestyle change were to spread quickly (voluntarily or involuntarily), and it resulted in few enough new cars purchased, the dominant economic and political system would fall quickly, more or less peacefully if done proactively. As with Ted Rall, Jensen's including me in his books made me dismayed. Why would I want to be known for being cited prominently in any book called an anti-American manifesto -- a bit divisive and vague, right? And more objectionable is an author's promoting violence against humans with my name used even indirectly, when violence against people or animals is the opposite of my message.

For intelligent writers to take increasingly extreme positions (mixed with valid points) that Rall, Jensen and others have, shows that we are in an era of rising desperation, confusion and possible mass violence. I don't believe that social movements, militant or not, can compete with a collapsing economy or with nature "batting last." So we need to be realistic about what's coming down and how the fundamental, wrenching transformation or destruction will come about. At the same time, resisting The System is entirely appropriate: people need to stand up for their rights and for healthy nature, in part because taking action outside the influence of corporate and state propaganda is all too rare. Plus, the healthy, alternative social-relations and structures that have been put into place (or that can be created soon) on a small scale here and there will become hugely useful and valuable as collapse sets in. The "bad guy," we'll see, will have to be a part of the local-economies new paradigm. It's an unpleasant prospect to think of population size crashing down to whatever our diminished ecological carrying capacity is. But when it shakes out there will be more land available, empty buildings, and sudden urgency to cooperate with our neighbors for food production, clean water, and rebuilding society with a culture that can sustain life.

A posting to the SF Bay Oil listserve on January 2, 2011 alleged that the Rockefeller Foundation was a big player in a conspiracy to control world agriculture and do away with the small farmer in the U.S. Comparison was made with Stalin's policies. What is missed in "pointing the finger at the bad guy" is that today's System breeds individuals and behaviors that naturally flourish in the increasingly manipulated, manufactured environment. We have almost 7 billion people today, half of them off the land completely. My response on the listserve was,

A slave (-equivalent) society is [apparently] more essential the larger the population is. And the larger the population is -- no matter how well provided-for it is or how free to vote for whomever -- the less ability there is for the average person to live off the land (ideally not as a serf or worker but a natural being) and be truly free.

There doesn't have to be an insidious, conscious plot by foundations and bankers to stamp out small farmers; the market system does it: as the world has found out, U.S. foreign policy has much to do with militarily forcing countries to be safe for democracy -- and corporate interests! Phil Ochs sang of it in a song released exactly 45 years ago, Cops of the World.

Cash-crops maximized to pay off national debt for "development" and to create jobs to "eliminate poverty" are generally a scam that hurts us all, including the entire ecosystem. And yes, the U.S. is well on the way to becoming a Third World nation in most of its sectors due in part to accelerated offshore hiring and outsourcing.

Another approach to fighting inequality, oppression and violence is from the impeccably logical Robert Jensen, journalism professor and author. He is a moralist and activist who calls upon us to do our best for our community. What set him off for his latest commentary January 2 was a column titled “Yes, the Greatest Country Ever,” by Rich Lowry of the National Review.

Robert Jensen's come-back was “'Greatest nation' rhetoric roars back". In it he points us to his 2004 book Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity that offers common-sense responses for us today as we get ready for a more right-wing Congress. In the book he deconstructs “the greatest nation” rhetoric and challenges the concept of patriotism. These are difficult subjects, but it helps that whoever tackles them knows, as Jensen happens to know, that collapse is upon us. In a 2010 essay he made clear that he feels collapse's thoroughly depressing aspect must be openly discussed. Once we do that and check out better lifestyles in community, there might be something to raise our glasses to: peace, and minimal violence and confusion.

* * * * *

References and further reading:

Matt Simmons's comments to a mostly Pentagon audience, reported in the Culture Change article dated June 24, 2006: The maturation of Matt Simmons, energy-industry investment banker

As the Country Falls Apart, It's Time for Our Revolution: A call to arms from Ted Rall's new book, "Anti-American Manifesto." (Six webpages)

End-time for USA upon oil collapse, Culture Change Letter #100, by Jan Lundberg, 18 June 2005
Dissolve the U.S.: an Option for Proactive Change before Collapse, by Jan Lundberg, 18 December 2008

Rockefeller Foundation and world agriculture ( -- search page for ‘farmers’ to find section)

Robert Jensen, whose essays have been on Culture Change:
Citizens of the Empire, City Lights Books, two chapters from that book:
CoEGreatest.pdf and CoEGreatest.pdf.

......_\ \>,

Comments (11)Add Comment
I think Derrick has it right: "In a 2010 essay he made clear that he feels collapse's thoroughly depressing aspect must be openly discussed. Once we do that and check out better lifestyles, there might be something to raise our glasses to: peace, and minimal violence and confusion. "
The problem is that in order to do so, community has to sell better than individualism, not buying has to sell better than buying, and barter has to sell better than money. The decisions people are making right now are based only on the monetary standard. "We know the price of everything and the value of nothing."
Value comes from our net future usefulness. How are we useful to the future? The discussions about peak and humanism and forms are all nice if you have no direct relationship with the future of the universe, because they only apply inside our imagined anthropocentric view. Jensen alludes to the universal view, but with too much of the violence against humans becoming a dramatic marketing tool. That alone demonstrates how we are failing: the reliance on coercion to chase the cats into a cage. Humans do stuff, they make up reasons for doing stuff. In that order. Discarding our delusion of Intention vs. random universe is the first thing that has to go, then we can rebuild our thought process based on localized usefulness. As long as we use the tools that are net consumptive, then we will be net consumptive. Any species that is net consumptive goes extinct.
Dan Conine
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Votes: +3
We all hope for happy outcomes, particularly for ourselves and loved ones. This is normal. We all want to be the observer from a safe distance -- the survivor. This is our common fantasy. Not all of us will be able to do that. Rather, most will be suffering miserably as we go through the great die off. The notion of being an 'exceptional nation' seems to be a mere extension of our notions of being 'exceptional people' who are above and beyond mundane participation in the collapse of civilization -- of course, both are delusional.

The idealistic notion of finding or instantly forming a utopia -- often dreamed of as some 'community' where equality and love reign supreme, and no one ever attempts to control or dominate others... well... all I can say is, been there, done that, and it just ain't so. I have lived in dozens of different 'communities' and in EVERY case, certain individuals have through skillful politics or by inheritance or crudely, assumed power and control. Insecure control freaks crop up everywhere. Leaving others with less power, or even quite powerless. Perhaps it's just 'human nature' but it seems de facto egalitarianism is little more than a pipe dream. I have scant hope for accelerated enlightenment as a cure for what ails us.

I fear we will pass through a savage, brutal era, on the death march to our extinction.
R. Dworsky
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I thought that Moody Blues song was 'Question'. :)
(I will have to take a listen to the unfamiliar, Cops of the World)

I can agree with Derrick Jensen insofar as violence is ok in self-defence, but of course, one problem lies where shades of gray creep in. And then there's chaos theory...

When 'our' government is mentioned, perhaps it should instead be mentioned as 'their' government, since it seems to have little bearing on true and democratic representation. When Obama came in from "left field", by the way, my immediate suspicion was; 'token'.

Employment: I think it's overrated, such as if little of worth (or less) is created, and/or land has been stolen/polluted/degraded.
Also, we don't need to work for 40+ hours a week. That's just plain inefficient, to say the least...

"Did you know that before the Industrial Revolution, the average person worked for about two or three hours a day? Studies from a wide range of pre-industrial civilisations show similar data-- it takes only about fifteen hours a week to provide for all of our basic human needs. And that's using hand tools."
~ Walden Effect

"Using the data provided by the United State Bureau of Labor Statistics, Erik Rauch has estimated productivity to have increased by nearly 400%. Says, Rauch:
'… if productivity means anything at all, a worker should be able to earn the same standard of living as a 1950 worker in only 11 hours per week.' "
"...Since the 1960s, the consensus among researchers (anthropologists, historians, sociologists), has been that early hunter-gatherer societies enjoyed much more leisure time than is permitted by capitalist and agricultural societies..."
~ Wikipedia

To echo Dan Conine's last sentence; yes, and I'm beginning to have my doubts that our species survives. To quote Bill Mollison:

"To accumulate wealth, power, or land beyond one's needs in a limited world is to be truly immoral, be it as an individual, an institution, or a nation-state."
Caelan MacIntyre
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One other thought I forgot to mention:

It may be in America's best interest to collapse/fragment/dissolve as a "specific unified nation-state", due to it currently being a target for great and dangerous animosity around the world.

I heard via Mike Ruppert's channel that they are apparently doing something like currently editing laws that will ostensibly help in each state being legally entitled to declare bankruptcy and, as such, to decouple from the union-- something like this anyway.
Caelan MacIntyre
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No, I’m not deriding the seriousness of the situation. Nor am I proposing a new Hollywood blockbuster.

Just a thought – to turn the impending apocalypse into an artwork, a possibility to materialise the human inventiveness and creativity to unbuild the industrial Mega-machine. As one of my shamanic teachers, Craig Gibsone, says, “If it’s no fun, it's not sustainable”.

Actually, this is a follow-up idea to a previously exposed one in Culture Change on dismantling the infrastructure using the expertise of scientists and engineers. Sadly, not many reacted so far.

Alternatively, I’ve come to an idea that it is poets and artists who must take the lead. And, gradually, all the rest will follow in their steps (Everyone is an artist inside). To formulate briefly, each one is to become an artist in unbuilding the current wasteful corporate globalised economy and its infrastructure. I take it that we have accumulated enough materials (tools, etc) to start re-building the environment. And I mean the immediate environment. You cease buying things made by others. (Although barter is possible) You begin creating things yourself from an old stuff (more fun). You become an artist, a creator. You acquire skills and expertise. You become independent, self-reliant, master of your life.

The whole economy is changing. You create films that you like, write books, paint, carve, grow food. No need to import things from abroad, or buy other people’s fancy stuff (that we usually don’t need at all). The amount of stuff radically contracts in the world.

The whole economy contracts and transfers to a local level. The Nature will rejoyce. The Collapse is cancelled.

Victor P
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This extremely comprehensive article delivers your point very well but I do believe you will not make any friends for your cause by asking how the demise of the United States of America could be sped along. Maybe I misunderstood something somewhere. We do need to carpool and ride bikes more often but then this is easy for those who have the means. This is a well-written article though poker sites
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I am the manager of Derrick's website and I am also the person who makes the t-shirts he sells. You write:

But in speeches he [Derrick] also was pointing young anarchists in the
direction of combating the police on the streets, since the police would seem to represent the big polluting interests' hold on society. His t-shirts for sale on his website used to depict images of shooting bad guys.

No such t-shirts have ever existed, nor has any image of "shooting bad
guys" ever appeared on Derrick's website. While your essay contains innumerable inaccuracies, this particular inaccuracy is dangerous, and needs to be corrected immediately.

Thank you.
Lierre Keith
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From Jan Lundberg:

Dear Dan, You quoted my discussion of Robert Jensen, not of Derrick Jensen.
Regarding Lierre's comment, I modified the article to say that I had seen the images, and that Derrick Jensen's webmaster denies they were there. I asked for more on the "innumerable inaccuracies" in my article but have not heard back in a few days. Lierre said he would forward my suggestion for "A clear new statement from Derrick" on violence against humans, that we would footnote for our article.
Philip Heikkinen
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George wrote:
"I do believe you will not make any friends for your cause by asking how the demise of the United States of America could be sped along."

Digital "friend" over here, if not by that sentence, but it doesn't hurt. :)

Relocalization, Transition (Network/Town) and/or regionalization are other previous additions I could have made, including the suggestion that, say, the 'centralized imperial civilization nation-state' doesn't seem to work, according to many, and seems to echo the expression, along the lines of; 'Insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.'.
The nation-state's repetition historically, appears as, ultimately, failure failure failure. What part of failure don't we understand?

I think success might be something more along the lines of some kind of neo or techno tribe, with the concept of tribe being a little broader than spears and painted faces. :)
Caelan MacIntyre
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I understand where the frustration and anger comes from with wanting to hurl molotov cocktails at police or blow up a dam but in the end it achieves nothing. Anyone, Jensen or not, who advocates violence without doing anything actually violent themselves is suspect to me. If he is such a big advocate of these things, then stop persuading others into doing it and get to it himself.

Our time can be better spent learning how to grow food, seed save, build homes, fix and repair things, building community and meeting our neighbours. I am not an advocate of "sending loving kindness" to our enemies as Jensen often says. I believe like Malcolm X said "self defense is common sense" but Id rather unplug from the machine and become as self reliant as possible instead of spending my time constantly attacking a monster that is already dying anyways.

The more of us that unplug, the better. We cant be ruled by a system we are not a part of. We cant change the world, that is naive. What we can do is change the communities we live in. Lets start there and then see what happens.
Patio Gardener
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This article is just silly misguided claptrap that will be certain to create an ineffective solution. I am not saying that Derrick Jensen or DGR's approach is guaranteeing success, but it is probably the best "hope" we currently have. It at least offers a pretty good strategy. I guess it all comes to down to how we view the current culture we live in. The author here feels that getting on that lifeboat and sailing away will save many of us and create a better Earth. That would be an alright solution if there wasn't such immediacy and scope behind the problem at hand. The author's solution is simply lazy and cowardly. Why is no one ready to stand up for this planet and the 200 species that go extinct every day. Why does everyone feel that the failed strategies of liberals will somehow work this time? Why I am even wasting my time on this site? Believe what you want. Your "strategy" is ensured to kill all the big fish, destroy all the old growth forests, kill most of the topsoil, and ensure an increasing militarized and controlling government that will not be afraid to make your little "alternatives" illegal in one way or another. I hope many will rise up and fight back, taking on the power structures that need to be dismantled instead of goodwilling them into dissolution. Love will lead people to defend this Earth. I hope we still have enough of it left. Good intention will destroy us all and possibly the planet with it.
Bigby S
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