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The Philosophy of Decline and Collapse

2017 March 27
by Ian Welsh
By Zhang Bo

By Zhang Bo

For those who think ahead, for those who are empathic, for those who work for justice or kindness, the world can be a horrible place.

We look around and we see the decline of nations. We see people dying, being tortured, being raped who need not die or suffer. We look to the environment and we see that species are being killed so fast we’re in the middle of a great die-off; or we look to the biosphere and the oxygen cycle and we worry that we could see a collapse of both.

We know that much of the suffering in the world is needless; that there is more than enough food to feed everyone, that many wars are wars of choice which hurt many to enrich a very few, and we know that many who brutalize others are receiving no security or even money in return. We look at how prisoners are treated in jail, and we know that the primitive lust for vengeance is creating monsters for we understand the cycle of abuse: Those who are abused, become abusers.

We see the rise of a surveillance state that may eventually cause the Stasi to look like amateurs and which is already more sophisticated than anything Orwell imagined. We see that the masses of the people in the developed world are being impoverished; generation after generation. And worse, we see our own efforts at stopping all of this fail. We worry that our efforts are not even slowing the worst of it.

And for many of us it hits home closer. We, or our loved ones, are among those suffering: losing their lives, homes, livelihoods, or living lives of despair.

For years, I lived in a state of rage. Not even anger, but rage. Rage at those like Bush and Blair who were mass murderers. Rage at those who did not stop him who could have. Rage at those who believed all the lies: Whether those lies were about economics or war or crime.

I see many who come to my blog, a place where scenarios are explored which are both bleak, and often, very likely, giving into despair or rage themselves. The world is big, the powers that are leading it to ruin are overwhelming, and we look out on a future which seems to get worse and worse the further ahead of us it is. Even countries now on the rise, like China, will suffer massively in the decades to come.

It is perfectly natural to be angry. It is even useful to be angry. Anger or rage are adrenaline shots to the system. They push you to do what must be done; to tell the truth; to push ahead, to tackle the big enemies.

But they are toxic in the long run. Like adrenaline, they are useful for shots of energy, but if you are angry all the time at anything, it will hurt your body and eventually your mind. You will burn out, and if you aren’t lucky, you may burn out permanently or you may die.

Despair is also rational. I am aware of studies which show that depression is about 10X more frequent today than it was about a century ago, based on methodology I find reasonable. Life today sucks. We are almost all close to powerless in our daily lives: We work for wages, without those wages we will suffer greatly, and to get those wages we must do what our bosses say, no matter how noxious what they demand is. It takes two people to earn a living where it once took one, and wealth and income are collapsing in the first and most of the third world ex-China; while the Chinese are under the immense pressure that industrialization produces.

Anger gets us going, until we burn out. Despair enervates us. We turn often to drugs, whether pharmaceutical or to more subtle opiates live television or computer games. Too often we do not change our circumstances: We see no way out, and en masse we aren’t necessarily wrong. Leave one job, and even if you find another, it will be run by the same sort of people who run almost all of Western business, outside of a few European countries.

All of this is understandable. In a certain sense it is even rational.

But a hot cup of chocolate on a frosty night is still sweet.

As bad as things are, so much of the world is as it always has been. The still contentment of sitting with one you love, saying nothing is still available. The sunset is still beautiful, and if there are fewer birds, their trills still delight.

The flowers are as beautiful, the russet and scarlet leaves of fall still adorn the trees, and a clean drink of water still refreshes. Children playing still bring a smile to my face, and I still enjoy pulling a comforter up and cracking open a new book. There are still beautiful women and handsome men, there is still kindness and charity in the world; there is still art to make and books to write and songs to sing.

In a myriad of ways, there is still beauty and happiness to be found in the world. We are not the first culture to face decline. The Roman Empire went through multiple periods of decline and stoics and epicureans debated how to live the good life in an evil world. The Chinese practically had dealing with declining and corrupt imperial eras and warring states periods down to an art: When no good could be done in the world, one returned to one’s private life to write poetry, drink wine, and care for those close to one while refusing as much as possible to be complicit in the evil of the times.

Others strove still to be of public service, to hold off the rush of night for a few more years, or even a generation, knowing that what came after would be worse.

But I say to you now this: Endless anger or despair, or a mixture of both do you no good. Soon, they do do your enemies no harm (and yes, they are enemies) and they serve not whatever cause you’re interested in unless you’re willing to risk permanent burn-out.

And besides, where’s the fun in being miserable?  No matter how bad the times, there will always be good periods,  moments and beauty and happiness in which to delight. The wine is as sweet in evil times as good; love is perhaps even sweeter in times of despair; and beauty never dies and can always be found, if only, sometimes, in our own minds.

It’s banal to say we’re here for a short time, but it’s true. Fight the good fight, to be sure, but then delight in the sensual pleasures and love this world offers.

And give yourself permission to quit. There are seven billion people in the world. It’s not on all on you. The graveyards are full of essential men: The world will continue without you, and it’s not all on you. Take the breaks you need, even quit if you must. Above all, don’t let the bastards see you sweat, and don’t let them take away your enjoyment of the real pleasures that life offers.

(Originally published October 27, 2014. Republished.)


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66 Responses
  1. Formerly T-Bear permalink
    October 27, 2014

    Spot on.

    The happiest, the most alive, the richest people are most often those with the least. They are the ones who will inherit the earth (or so it’s said).

  2. October 27, 2014

    Thanks, great post, I needed that.

  3. sanctimonious purist permalink
    October 27, 2014

    I was trying to say something like this to the spousal unit just yesterday. Per usual, you said it much better.

  4. Dan H permalink
    October 27, 2014

    Wheres the like button?! 8)

  5. Connor permalink
    October 27, 2014

    Thank you Ian, I really needed that today. Probably will be a good post to come back to in days to come also.

  6. maurice permalink
    October 27, 2014

    That was beautiful!

  7. Brian Reed permalink
    October 27, 2014

    I like. Not only that, but it’s disempowering and futile to try to force the ‘elites’, or those in charge, to do what you want. Either make definite plans, or just enjoy your time. The earth has suffered much worse catastrophes then what is happening now – such as the comet impacts.

  8. Eugene Graziano permalink
    October 27, 2014

    You are whistling in the dark. Yes, there absolutely is a God, and he/it is a Sadomasochist. Also the world will never be better than it is or ever was because every generation starts at point zero, and brings the same old human nature along with it. We are created very flawed. It all means absolutely nothing, “Much ado about nothing,” and NOTHINGNESS is always where we are and what we are….. and actually, that is the up side to it all: when you can BE nothing at all, you will be happy.

  9. October 27, 2014

    Winnah!

  10. Jeff Wegerson permalink
    October 27, 2014

    Very nicely put.

    I used to hitch-hike a lot. I was reminded Saturday night while talking with another old hitch-hiker of the importance of presenting one’s happy demeanor because who wants to pick up a sad-sack. If one of our goals is to increase happiness, then it helps to be able to enjoy life as you remind at least some of the time. Being happy makes those around us happy in that moment as well.

    Of course, try not to get depressed if you can’t be happy.

  11. abynormal permalink
    October 27, 2014

    a comment from someone at nakedcaptialism to a young person grieving about their future:

    Comfort is overrated – it leads to dulling of the mind and body, which in itself leads to decline in family and society, which then leads us to where we are now in the west. I remember thinking back in the 90′s that the “success” of America at that point was nearly the worst that could happen to us, and look where we are now…. This could not happen to a people who were not collectively dull in mind and weak in spirit, not to mention short on critical thinking skills (also caused by not needing to think about much in a life of ease)

    struggle brings good people closer together and crises focus the mind, so you can look forward to that. You are still quite young and life rewards strength of mind and body in ways that are not immediately obvious – so all I can say is enjoy good moments when they come, which they will no matter what else is going on. There will be pain that comes with transitioning from a weaker to a stronger condition, but this is a worthy pain that will result in a good feeling once you have passed through and stand on a higher plateau.

    Good luck, you have the chance to be a hero. Somebody invariably will be – not everyone has to be cannon fodder.

    (i’ve pasted it onto small pieces of paper and leave it around or hand it off…amazing the deep breaths it brings)

  12. Linda J permalink
    October 27, 2014

    “The graveyards are full of essential men.” That is probably from some ancient tome and passed on to us, but I still must quibble. Or should I rejoice. Being a woman and all. Perhaps we are not folly to the same delusions–that we are essential.

  13. October 28, 2014

    Very uplifting post. Thank you. Hatred is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.

    Reminds me of Robert Lion’s letter called ‘doing better with less’ which ends with.

    “Let’s stop claiming to dominate nature and the world; let’s stop making possession a superior end. Let’s put our cherished deviancies, such as the manufacture of desire and its bulimic satisfaction, back in their place.

    Today’s progress must be situated on the side of being rather than of having.

    Moreover, tending toward equitably-distributed wellbeing compatible with our planet’s capacities at home and toward helping the most destitute to live better supports rational growth. The measure of this new growth must be taken according to scales integrating the human and ecological impacts.

    Let us dream: A politician takes the side of talking to us about the world as it is, as it risks becoming; he or she forecasts not sweat and tears, but difficult tomorrows; she or he proposes that we talk about it, as responsible citizens, and allows us to perceive robust paths along which to advance, with a smile, towards the era of less … A less that will consequently take on the character of better.”

    Mr Putin seems to be only world leader talking this way, see:
    http://vineyardsaker.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/putins-speech-at-valdai-club-full.html

  14. October 28, 2014

    We have the penchant to think we can fix all that breaks and when we can’t it drives some to anger, rage even madness. Not that we shouldn’t try but always with the understanding that some things do not always need to be fixed. A better mouse trap has never stopped the mice population from growing. The answer of course lies in better hygiene but how much easier it is to believe we can market, profit from and consume our way out of everything.

    A thoughtful piece Ian. Well done.

  15. Celsius 233 permalink
    October 28, 2014

    …exhales long and deeply, yes…

  16. Christopher Dobbie permalink
    October 28, 2014

    Loved the post, a kind reminder to enjoy the beauty that there is.

    I’ve passed this way some myself somewhat and it reminds me to recall that which I’ve distilled; Left is that which nurtures, Right is to exploit and even though I am a heterotroph and I must destroy to live I do prefer the Left, to see what emerges from love is a blessed thing.

  17. markfromireland permalink
    October 28, 2014

    Ian thank you for this.

    There are things you can fix and things you can’t, an individual is unlikely to be able to change “the system” alone. BUT if you want to make a huge difference to someone and leave a lot of happiness behind you then please take a child or children who need it under your wing.

    You can adopt.

    Or you can foster.

    Or you can be a mentor.

    Or you can sponsor a child.

    There are huge numbers of children who desperately need an adult who will care about them The level of what you can do is up to you but believe me you’ll get back so much for what you put in.

    To encourage you further:

    Most of my children are adopted and in fact my grown children to my wonder and delight have followed me in this and now have more adopted children than kids they made themselves. This is a family tradition one can take great satisfaction in.

    I was recently approached about adopting two further children and did so. (Which means that I now have grandchildren who are older than some of my children. This is a wonderful way of confusing the hell out of people and provides a lot of amusement to the children involved).

    I don’t have any words to describe the love and joy that is a huge part of my life now that those children are in it. You get to think of and love them as your own very very quickly. And there’s no feeling on earth like hearing your son correcting his teacher’s description of you as “your dad” to “no, he’s my forever dad”.

    As I say it doesn’t have to be adopting it can be as little as committing to meet a teenager for a cup of coffee and a walk in the park once a week. The level of care and commitment is up to you, you won’t change the world for the better for everyone but I guarantee you you’ll change it drastically for the better for the kid you care for.

    mfi

  18. J. Random Hacker permalink
    October 28, 2014

    Damn. That was inspiring to fight the long fight. To recognize that even in chaos and despair, there are small treats to savor and appreciate.

  19. Ian Welsh permalink
    October 28, 2014

    Yes, Mark, I think that’s good advice.

    As for myself, I’m a lot calmer these days.

    I have arrived

  20. S Brennan permalink
    October 28, 2014

    Beautiful Ian…nothing to add, thanks.

    S Brennan

  21. Tom Robinson permalink
    October 29, 2014

    A kind, thoughtful, and heartfelt reminder to us all, Ian. Thank you.

  22. markfromireland permalink
    October 29, 2014

    @ Ian.

    I’m sure you know this one already:

    Look round our world; behold the chain of love
    Combining all below and all above.
    See plastic nature working to this end,
    The single atoms each to other tend,
    Attract, attracted to, the next in place
    Form’d and impell’d its neighbour to embrace.
    See matter next, with various life endu’d,
    Press to one centre still, the gen’ral good.
    See dying vegetables life sustain,
    See life dissolving vegetate again:
    All forms that perish other forms supply,
    (By turns we catch the vital breath, and die),
    Like bubbles on the sea of matter born,
    They rise, they break, and to that sea return.
    Nothing is foreign; parts relate to whole;
    One all-extending, all-preserving soul
    Connects each being, greatest with the least;
    Made beast in aid of man, and man of beast;
    All serv’d, all serving: nothing stands alone;
    The chain holds on, and where it ends, unknown.

    For those not familiar with it the whole thing can be read here:

    280. An Essay on Man. Epistle III-Of the Nature and State of Man with Respect to Society. Alexander Pope. 1909-14. English Poetry I: From Chaucer to Gray. The Harvard Classics

    The punch line, if I can call it that, is unbeatable:

    So two consistent motions act the soul;
    And one regards itself, and one the whole.
    Thus God and nature link’d the gen’ral frame,
    And bade self-love and social be the same.

    mfi

  23. Lisa FOS permalink
    October 29, 2014

    There are in this world things that are true and things that are false; there are ways that are right and ways that are wrong; there are good men and bad men. And on one side or anther we must make our stand; one or the other we must serve…We can only secure a better world, and abolish war, by having better men and women; there is no other way and no short cut..

    Field Marshall Montgomery (Monty)

  24. Ian Welsh permalink
    October 29, 2014

    MFI,

    I hadn’t read that particular lovely passage before, but I know what it speaks of is true.

  25. Lisa FOS permalink
    October 29, 2014

    People can (and do) pontificate to others about ‘good’ and ethical behaviour all they want, it is your personal actions on a day to day level that counts. The extreme example of that is the preacher who goes on and on about ‘being good’ …who then rapes little boys….regularly. Another is the ‘liberal’ (in the US sense) that goes on about poor people…then votes to cut benefits for them….

    My transitioning has really opened my eyes to a heck of a lot of people, some in a good way, some in a bad way, some in a horrible way. Some, who would claim to be ‘good’ are by their actions really quite horrible.

    I’ll give a personal example (since they are always the best). One thing I have been amazed at (and been very hurt by) is the anger at me by some people that used to be very close friends by my transitioning. As though I stole something from them. One accused me of being very selfish in doing it, which is true to an extent, but so is the reverse in that they were also being very selfish in wanting me to remain as miserable (even suicidal at times) as I was to make them feel comfortable, but that is impossible for them to accept. I suspect some of them would have preferred for me to die, rather than make them uncomfortable, or maybe that is too black a thought, or maybe it is true.

    I now realise I was a ‘shade’ to them, someone that did a role that they liked, rather than being a real person, with real feelings. As soon as I broke that ‘model’ then their reaction was anger and rejection, even strong feelings that I have betrayed them or taken something from them.

    I think that one measure of a person is that if you cannot suppress your negative feelings about an aspect (harmless of course, not them being an axe murderer) of another person, so that they can have some happiness by a small, cost free action of yours…then you are yourself are a bad person. Because your selfishness is paramount to you..

    I’ll give you another simple personal example of that.

    My closest friend of 35 years has totally rejected me. When I was at my lowest ebb (pre transitioning and his rejection) his lovely little dog changed my life, he gave me a reason to live and at that time I had none whatsoever. Now that little dog is dying and I’d love to see him again and say goodbye. I have told his partner that (he wont communicate directly with me). But he and his partner won’t let it happen (she might, but is too scared to cross him).

    It is such a trivial thing to him but so important to me and he knows it too and it could easily be organised without him actually having to see me. And I know if the positions were reversed I would do it, how could you deny that, a simple human action.

    But his selfishness, or anger, means he cannot do it. Maybe he is just paying me out, I stole something from him so he taking something from me? Whatever the reason 35 years of friendship, through thick and thin, means nothing compared to his own internal feelings.

    And that is a bad person and in many ways is the very definition of a bad person.

    If you can’t do good things at the simple personal level to people that are, or once were, close to you, what hope can you have when trying to do them at the larger ones to total strangers?

    None whatsoever because, in the end, your selfishness will drive you to do what makes you personally feel good, not what makes others feel good.

  26. Ian Welsh permalink
    October 29, 2014

    I’m sorry to hear that Lisa. Terrible behavior from one you thought you could trust.

  27. Sandman permalink
    October 30, 2014

    Apropos of nothing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOEIRI5HSuQ

    (Talking Heads – “Nothing but Flowers”)

  28. October 31, 2014

    Rage is a dubious luxury. Very nice piece, Ian.

  29. Brian permalink
    November 1, 2014

    I thought that pain and truth were things that really mattered
    But you can’t stay here with every single hope you had shattered

    I’m not expecting to grow flowers in a desert
    But I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime

    In a big country, dreams stay with you
    Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
    Stay alive

    ~ Big Country

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOgCjTXVnWk

  30. Jerome Armstrong permalink
    November 1, 2014

    Watched this movie tonight. One I thought I’d seen before, but on watching it I couldn’t remember even seeing it, or that I was confusing it with another movie… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tj8BjW2_eTQ Beck – Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime

    I haven’t read it yet, but I’d like too soon, Smiley’s book on MLK’s last days… supposedly he was obsessed about death, talking about it with everyone. I’ll probably be disappointed by Smiley, but I have low expectations. Tomorrow, we are going to walk memorials, and I’ll linger the most at MLK’s, that defiance chiseled out of stone looking across the pond.

  31. realitychecker permalink
    September 19, 2016

    Great post, great message. Whatever you do, don’t ever be so unevolved as to even imagine a world where somebody might simply have killed the killers.

    P.S. Staying home and masturbating is also something they will never be able to take away from us. That’s enough for most of us.

  32. September 19, 2016

    Right on partner…, write on.

  33. Gaianne permalink
    September 19, 2016

    Beautiful.

    Thank you, Ian.

    –Gaianne

  34. September 19, 2016

    Thanks Ian – needed this today. Long time reader, first time commenter.

  35. mike permalink
    September 19, 2016

    Hi. I think your worldview is unnecessarily negative and pessimistic. Nihilism basically. The world isn’t in anywhere the kind of shape you think it is. For instance, in the US we are witnessing, after so many tragic years and so much needless suffering, the end of the Bush and Clinton dynasties. A great thing and something to celebrate if you ask me. There are plenty of good things happening and lots of progress being made. You just choose to ignore them.

  36. V. Arnold permalink
    September 19, 2016

    mike
    September 19, 2016

    Whatever you’re smoking, drinking or eating; I want some…

  37. Ian Welsh permalink
    September 19, 2016

    Sadly, my trendline predictions have been right far more often than wrong.

    But perhaps the world will turn up daisies and we’ll avoid the worst of what I believe is coming down the pike.

    In any case, this post is for those who do think as I do, a large cohort. If you think the world’s a great place getting better then this medicine is not for you.

  38. Duder permalink
    September 20, 2016

    @mike
    I think what Ian Welsh is writing for here is the exact opposite of nihilism. This is an essay for life, against the nihilism and death driven logic of modern politics.

  39. markfromireland permalink
    September 20, 2016

    @ mike September 19, 2016

    Nihilism basically.

    Why don’t you go away and find a dictionary and look up what the word “nihilism” means. While you’re at it, check out “nihilist” and “nihilistic”.

    Once you’ve done that you could try looking up those words in a thesaurus. Had you done so before making that remark you could have saved yourself the embarassment of making it perfectly clear that you were using the word without actually having any idea of what it meant.

  40. Anthony S. Burkett permalink
    September 21, 2016

    A wonderful article… and I agree wholeheartedly with what you’ve said and in the spirit in which you’ve said it… but one thing you said… just a small quip really, but one that stood out to me nonetheless… really bothers me… “Rage at those like Bush and Blair who were mass murderers.”… Please! Do not single out two murderous lying thieves while leaving all of the rest of the murderous lying thieves unaccountable… Name them all! Obama included… or better yet, for brevity, indict an entire system of murderous lying thieving bastards… because they all are part and parcel to a murderous lying thieving system that holds the world’s population in slavery and ignorance… that’s all… Happy International Peace day…

  41. Tom permalink
    March 27, 2017

    Well its about to get worse.

    Euphrates Dam is in danger of collapse. US and SDF deliberately targeted it in an attempt to seize it by Coup de Main which failed. The control room is destroyed and none of the slipways can be opened. Turkey has already tried to reduce flow further upstream, and Tishrin is also working, but the levels are rising and CENTCOM refuses a truce to get the control room back up and functional.

    IS already ordered civilians to begin evacuating Raqqah and stopped attacks in Deir Ezzor. 3 million plus new refugees are likely and there is a chance that a cascade failure could arise by over-topping the Haditha Dam further downstream, though its highly unlikely, but the Iraqi Dams further downstream are already heavily damaged and lacking maintenance.

    This is what intervention in a war we should have just stayed out of or intervened in massive force to swiftly end, has wrought.

    But hey the US people voted against bombing Syria and Obama and now Trump ignored their voice.

    Oh and Sangin in Afghanistan was retaken by the Taliban after hundreds of NATO troops died taking it and thousands of Afhgan Troops died defending it.

    Ah fuck it. I’m just going to kick back and watch it burn.

  42. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    March 27, 2017

    The benefits of hate. It depends on who you ask.

    Hate keeps a man alive — it gives him strength.

    Row well and live!!

  43. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    March 27, 2017

    The Slaughter of Innocents. Moloch demands it. How else can you describe such Madness?

    Trump is keeping his Campaign Promises, or at least the Campaign Promises he really meant and didn’t televise. Statistics like this make Tzar Putin very happy & proud. His quisling is acting very Russian and drawing inspiration from the successful paradigmatic military operation in Katyr Yurt. In his own words, Donald Trump will never lose a war, non-combatant (a euphemism meant to replace innocent because no one is really innocent, are they? — especially those little children with their original sin) lives be damned!!

    Civilian Deaths From US-led Airstrikes Hit Record High Under Donald Trump

    “Almost 1,000 civilian non-combatant deaths have already been alleged from coalition actions across Iraq and Syria in March – a record claim,” the statement said. “These reported casualty levels are comparable with some of the worst periods of Russian activity in Syria.”

    Revealed: Russia’s Worst War Crime In Chechnya

    Vladimir Putin is the new hero of Russian democracy, courted by Western leaders. He is also responsible for one of the most savage atrocities since the Second World War. John Sweeney is the first journalist to reach the devastated village of Katyr Yurt, where 363 people were slaughtered by Russian forces .

  44. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    March 27, 2017

    And here I thought, and you thought, March Madness only referred to college basketball. Hardly, you sillies. It also, and especially, refers to record “non-combatant” (but certainly no longer innocent) deaths.

    Strong leaders murder Innocents with impunity without batting an eye or flinching whatsoever. It’s trial not by fire, but by blood.

    To lead effectively and to remain in Moloch’s good graces, a great leader must bath themselves in The Blood of Innocence/Innocents. Donald is doing just that despite the distracting Tweets.

  45. Bruce Lulla permalink
    March 27, 2017

    Ian, do you know of this work?

    for example —

    “Therefore, if there is to be an end to all the wars and crimes, the terrorism and hatred of all kinds, the jealousy and the criminality as well as the murdering and torture, the altercations, the outbreaks of anger and rage, and also an end to the acts of Gewalt of all kinds, the cheating and thievery, the human trafficking and the pathological cravings and vices and other terrible things of all kinds, then it is the individual who is called upon, and indeed in such a wise that individuals must first bring under control within themselves all the terrible things and their baleful thoughts and feelings and clear them up, in order to lead their lives in fairness and in full responsibility and conscientiousness.”

    http://www.figu.org/ch/files/downloads/buecher/figu_kelch_der_wahrheit-goblet_of_the_truth_v_20141021.pdf

  46. V. Arnold permalink
    March 27, 2017

    The Stephen Miller Band
    March 27, 2017

    You are so fucked up as to defy understanding.
    Please go away and free up this quality blog, instead of clogging it up with your garbage.
    You’re a troll! Trying to hog all of the dialogue to your own favor.
    Yell, scream, and hollar to the heavens; your shit is still shit!
    Bye asshole…

  47. Etnograf permalink
    March 27, 2017

    This post reminds me of a touching Iranian movie by Abbas Kiarostami, The Taste of Cherry. The movie is based on the story of a man searching for someone to bury him. The delicious taste of cherry, however, a metaphor for the small sweetnesses that abound in everyday life even amidst despair, is proposed as a reason to continue living.

  48. realitychecker permalink
    March 27, 2017

    @ Ian

    I know you are trying in good faith to comfort your ‘flock,’ and it makes sense short=term to do so, I guess, but I can’t help but think that the Masters would very much like for everyone to take your advice. I think they know, or at least believe, that only rage, and the undiluted commitment to act on it, can ever threaten their position.

  49. Ian Welsh permalink*
    March 27, 2017

    Anger and rage are fine, if they are brief. When they last for months to years they burn out your body.

    Voice of experience.

    Turn it on when you need it, turn it off at all other times, and you shouldn’t need it all the time, or every day or even for more than a couple hours a day.

    If you can’t turn it off, be wary of turning it on.

  50. realitychecker permalink
    March 27, 2017

    @ Ian

    I understand what you are saying, and practice the same myself, because it seems so reasonable, but still it seems to me that only ‘unreasonable’ people will ever step up and do the fighting that might be necessary to get us out of this mess, so where are they supposed to come from?

    ‘Tis a conundrum.

  51. Ian Welsh permalink*
    March 27, 2017

    Be unreasonable when necessary. I spent over a decade being unreasonable and it nearly killed me, and did nothing to improve anything. I’m perfectly willing to die for a cause, but I’m not willing to die for nothing, while my enemies grow more powerful.

  52. Ché Pasa permalink
    March 27, 2017

    Things are more awful than they ought to be; less awful than they have often been. Lower population does not necessarily result in better lives for marginalized populations.

    That doesn’t justify anything that’s gone wrong, nor does it mitigate the evil in the world.

    We’re always on the cusp of something better — or something worse. We should do what we can on behalf of our fellows, but what any individual can do is limited.

    I read your piece and thought about some of my family background. Not poor or particularly downtrodden, lucky them. My mother’s father was “cut in two” in a rail yard incident in St. Louis, and her grandfather was murdered by his mistress. My father lost his wife — not my mother — in childbirth, and their son was severely brain damaged as a result.

    Yet they did not suffer economic hardship during the Depression, they were were kind and generous (most of the time), and for both my parents, World War II was liberating, not the horror most of us know it must have been.

    These are the kinds of things that influenced the individuals, families and communities of previous generations. The coming generations face many more hazards, worse in some ways than any previous ones. But mitigations — for some at least — will make them survivable or better.

    We do what we can.

  53. Willy permalink
    March 27, 2017

    So I show up late (as always) expecting petty mudball fights over details and I find this? What the hell is wrong with you people?

    Actually, there’s a lot to be said for setting personal goals, planning carefully, and working efficiently and well to get there in record time. And after getting there, wasting time watching Burning Man videos telling yourself you’re being efficient avoiding the hassles of dusty anus syndrome.

    Until the wingnut hordes show up to launch severed heads over the walls of my gated community, that’s my gig. If I lived in a gated community…

  54. MojaveWolf permalink
    March 28, 2017

    Absolutely great essay! I apparently missed this the first (two?) times(s) around; thank you for posting again.

    To contribute my own little bit to making life more pleasurable for whoever views this thread in the future, I give you the following link:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5WXyadtoZ0

    (a pair of eagles from birth to one of them pre-flight getting fishing line wrapped around an ankle in the nest and nearly dying–and being rescued and restored to the nest by humans, doing something good! we can be, when we want, sometimes–to learning to fly; it’s about 4:36 iirc)

    And my new thing for the last year or so, whenever all seems lost, is to think on this:
    (start at the 2:54 mark and notice someone in red waaaay back who just gets further back as we go along waiting to switch runners)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVhjAXEyjMI

    When all sane hope is gone, keep trying and maybe just maybe, something good will happen.

    By the same token, I’d also remind everyone of two previous sporting events:

    2004 Red Sox, down 3-0 to the Yankees in the best of 7 ALCS when no team had ever come back from 3-0 deficit and the Red Sox hadn’t been to the world series in like 100 years, trailing 4-3 in the 9th inning and the Yankees had arguably the best closer in the history of baseball pitching in Mariano Rivera, and the best hitters in the Red Sox lineup had already gone down in the 8th inning. Somehow, they came back, and brought it into extra innings. And it kept going and going into the 12th when David Ortiz won it for the Red Sox. Which still seemed futile because no one had ever come back from that deficit. And then the next game went to 14 or 15 innings, and the Red Sox won again. And again and completed the comeback sweep and then won 4-0 in the world series for their first championship in forever after overcoming seemingly hopeless odds.

    I think it was the 88 World Series (I actually never watched baseball except the playoffs and only halfheartedly then, but the sport does lend itself to great moments) the Dodgers were down to their last out in the 9th inning of the first game against the A’s, and sent a badly limping Kirk Gibson out to pinch hit. This was basically win the game on a homer or lose, because he could barely walk, and I’m not exaggerating. It went to two strikes and he kept fouling it off time and time again. Doesn’t sound that dramatic here, but he did indeed knock in the home run, dirving in the tying run and hobbling around the bases for the victory. The Dodgers went on to win the series after that, as well.)

    Yeah, it’s sports, not real life, but the lessons are applicable (and sports are part of real life for the particpants) (and stuff like this helped me come back or get through all sorts of more “real” and unpleasant bits of real life, so hoping it will help for some others)

  55. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    March 28, 2017

    The point you don’t want to reach, because it effectively means you’re dead for all practical purposes, is the point beyond rage and despair, where you’re desensitized and inured from the suffering and carnage. I’m approaching that point. I know it. I tremble. But it’s coming, I believe. The body will still function but the spirit is gone. This life does this to you. It keeps chipping away in all its myriad ways and forms until you’re dead before your time. The Zombie Resurgence in popular culture is symbolic. There are so many Walking Dead, I believe they’re now the majority.

    It reminds me of the Kitty Genovese rape case in New York City. Many of the neighbors who heard the screams and cries for help were former Holocaust Survivors. They didn’t mention this as an explanation in the following documentary about it, but I believe it’s the explanation for their inaction. They heard the screams and cries for help. The incredible blood-curdling pleading. And they did nothing. Why? Because they were effectively dead as I mentioned above. They were inured & desensitized to the pain & suffering of others. They had long ago moved well beyond rage & despair. They had been exposed to such heinous suffering on a daily basis for so long, they reached a point they could no longer process it. They broke on through to the other side — to Midnight Black Earth.

    What a terrible place to be — to effectively be dead yet the body continues to live. You’re a meat sack and life means nothing to you any longer except breathing, eating and defecating.

    The Witness

    Midnight Black Earth

  56. realitychecker permalink
    March 28, 2017

    What I think people ought to consider more fully is that it takes tremendous focus and dedication to ever go up against ‘The Machine’ in any risky way, and The Machine knows this very well, and systematically introduces a steady stream of stimulation designed to break and dilute that focus so that it never reaches critical mass.

    This strategy has been tremendously effective, and probably will continue to be so. And they are constantly finding new ways to improve on the strategy. Because they know how necessary it is for their continued dominance over regular folks.

    All the nice people I know insist on remaining in denial about this obvious truth.

    I don’t know what the good answer is to this, but I do know that being in denial about it is the wrong answer.

  57. anon y'mouse permalink
    March 28, 2017

    TSMB- you obviously did not really watch “The Witness” because it came to an entirely different conclusion than the one you are touting. that particular narrative–the decay of the American character into a sort of callousness that cares not what happens to their neighbors–was cooked up nearly wholesale by the news manufacturers of the day. it tied into the overall theme of that time–white flight to the safe, sane suburban enclaves, away from the crime and ugliness of the city.

    her brother, who was the motivating force of that documentary, goes back to interview some of the few remaining real people who were there and peruses witness statements. what most heard was a single cry in the night which didn’t repeat and, so they went back to sleep thinking nothing out of the ordinary was happening. it did lead to a lot of Social-psych research on the Bystander Effect, which may well have contributed (if the consensus of an event, signified by the actions of other witnesses around at the time, is that nothing requiring action is called for, then all witnesses are less likely to react. after all, if it were a “real” emergency then someone would jump forward and do something, right? so, no one is doing anything therefore -i- don’t have to, because it must not really be a true emergency, etc). the attack did not lead to tons of wailing and shrieking that all heard and simply ignored.

    the attacker stabbed her and kept walking, at first. she screamed and may have even been confused about what had happened (this is a common thing when attacks like that happen, and there are quite a few instances of women being stabbed by a passerby in a public place, and then collapsing without really knowing what had just been done to them), then stumbled into a building where he came back and finished the attack. some neighbors did call the police. some even responded to her cries for help, but could do very little except hold her hand. it actually sounds like a lot of accounts of the Jack the Ripper murders, honestly.

    but you are mis-characterizing the occurrence when you depict people sitting smugly in their apartments listening to someone being brutalized. only a handful of those neighbors with windows pointing in the correct direction were even in those parts of the house at the time. noise of all kinds (including domestic disturbances) was a normal part of life there. although some were victims of WWII, by far not all were. and if you really did watch the documentary, this leads a reader to one possible conclusion–your comprehension of such things is suspect, as it could not have been more straightforward.

    my apologies to Mr. Welsh and the other contributors for this aside.

  58. realitychecker permalink
    March 28, 2017

    @ anon y’mouse

    I find it touching that you are so ready to accept a 38 year later investigation by an interested party as being authoritative.

    That was a major shaping event of my young adulthood. I paid close attention to all the reporting and investigations around that event. Tons of detail.

    I don’t share your view about it.

  59. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    March 28, 2017

    anon y’ mouse,

    I didn’t say what you said I said about the Kitty Genovese rape and I didn’t imply it either. For example, you said:

    …but you are mis-characterizing the occurrence when you depict people sitting smugly in their apartments listening to someone being brutalized.

    I didn’t say that or imply it. I said there were a material number of Holocaust Survivors living in the buildings surrounding the physical location where Kitty was raped & murdered. If you watched the documentary as I did, what happened that night, at least from the point of view of those who heard Kitty’s cries for help, is inconclusive despite her brother trying to find some sort of understanding & closure by making via the documentary. In fact, it seemed obvious to me that a number of the people he was interviewing were lying and didn’t even know they were lying — kind of like Donald Trump.

    If you watched it as you say you did, you would remember the comment made about the Holocaust Survivors and the reason the person who brought it up gave for their paralyzed inaction was because the Holocaust Survivors were afraid to summon the authorities because when they did in Nazi Germany, they were often the ones who got punished. I think that’s true, but I don’t think it was their reason for not acting that night. I think my explanation is a better fit and it describes The Netherworld that resides just beyond despair & rage. That’s why I said the following which is quite different from what you said I said. This is not smug uncaring apathy, this is the death of spirit. I don’t blame the Holocaust Survivors if this was indeed the case. I blame the Monsters who destroyed their spirits and The Monsters who seek to destroy my spirit and your spirit and anyone else who still has a spirit left to be destroyed.

    They heard the screams and cries for help. The incredible blood-curdling pleading. And they did nothing. Why? Because they were effectively dead as I mentioned above. They were inured & desensitized to the pain & suffering of others. They had long ago moved well beyond rage & despair. They had been exposed to such heinous suffering on a daily basis for so long, they reached a point they could no longer process it. They broke on through to the other side — to Midnight Black Earth.

    When despair & rage start to get the best of me and deposit me on the doorstep of The Netherworld just beyond them, I go slaughter my chickens. I name them after all the Monsters I despise & loathe. I don’t like slaughtering animals, so this makes it more palatable. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve slaughtered approximately a hundred chickens — all of them named Donald Trump.

    We do what we can.

  60. realitychecker permalink
    March 28, 2017

    You don’t have to be a Trump hater to understand that public apathy toward crime victims was indeed a big problem in New York City at that time. I lived right nearby the Genovese crime scene, and can attest that apathy was a major issue of the day. Openly acknowledged by all New Yorkers as a matter of fact.

    The Genovese case was the crescendo of that wave, IMO. For many, like me, the shame of that incident made it impossible to witness violent crime afterwards without helping the victim.

  61. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    March 28, 2017

    Once again, I’m not talking about smug indifference and apathy. That’s abominable and I have no doubt some of that was in play that night Kitty was raped and murdered. I’m specifically talking about a theory as to why Holocaust Survivor, considering they knew suffering more intimately than most anyone and everyone, would ignore Kitty’s desperate pleas for help.

    My theory directly applies to this blog post because it speaks to the next stage, like Kübler-Ross stages of death & dying except in this case it’s the stages of caring, after rage & despair. It’s not acceptance as in Kübler-Ross’s theory, it’s complete incapacitation. It’s The Walking Dead Stage because the person afflicted with who reaches this stage is irrecoverable. They can no longer feel empathy or sympathy for others because that part of them was ultimately destroyed, and let’s face it, when that’s destroyed, you’re destroyed.

    For proof I need look no further than the old black & white footage from the Warsaw Ghetto where people lay dying & dead on the sidewalks and their fellow Jews would walk right past them seemingly oblivious to the horrific spectacle and specter of suffering & death. When you live in a World where there is no longer any possible constructive reprieve from rage & despair like we’re discussing here, you will inevitably move to the final stage which is psychical/spiritual death.

    It’s a World that is fast approaching The 1st World. It hasn’t visited in a while and it’s feeling nostalgic, hence, Donald Trump and his House of Usher since he’s ushering it in.

  62. realitychecker permalink
    March 28, 2017

    @ STMB

    I’m not disagreeing with your thesis generally, just saying not everyone in NYC in the 1960’s was a Holocaust survivor, but all seemed to be subject to the deplorable blanket apathy I referred to.

    As to your thesis, one has only so much energy to put out–when all of it is required just to make it through your day, you have none left to direct toward outside horrors, no matter how horrible they are.

    That rule applied in the Holocaust camps, but we are not quite there yet in America, although I agree we may well be on our way in that direction.

    I was amused by your zombie references–I’ve often thought the whole zombie craze is preparing us for what is coming, i.e., not zombies, but mindless savagery as we at the bottom struggle for survival after a systemic crash.

  63. James Wheeler permalink
    March 28, 2017

    Great post Ian.

    I accepted that our industrial civilization would decline and collapse nearly a decade ago. Acceptance is a healthy thing.

    I focus on my personal world and the circle of friends and to a certain extent the wider local community… the rest of the world will have to look after itself.

    Focus on what you can actually change in your own little world and don’t worry too much about the rest of it. Greater forces are at work.

  64. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    March 28, 2017

    RC, I’m not taking umbrage with your observation & experience concerning 1960’s New York City. I was just trying to clarify why I made the point I did and how it relates to this blog post about rage & despair.

    Apathy is the fertile ground for Malevolence to take root & grow bountifully. Once Malevolence grows to the point it’s superfluous, as was the case in Nazi Germany, then there is no place to run to and no where to hide. Malevolence will force a choice upon you, almost as though it’s a decision tree. You can quickly adopt an attitude of apathy, the same apathy that allowed Malevolence to flourish to begin with, and act as though nothing’s happening until it happens to you, or you can rage & despair and use that intensity to resist & fight the Malevolence and die trying or, if you don’t die trying, move on to the next stage — to The Netherworld beyond rage & despair where you are irrevocably damaged.

    I grew up in upstate Eastern Pennsylvania in proximity to a small town called Dallas which is on the backside of one of the mountains flanking Wilkes-Barre and the Susquehanna River in the valley below. The neighborhood was replete with apathetic mothers (with a ton of kids) who didn’t give a shit about anything, or so it seemed. Mother’s Little Helpers comes to mind. They escaped to somewhere, or maybe they were never here, but either way, their indifference and apathy allowed Malevolence to flourish and that Malevolence manifested through the actions of their demonic children who were effectively wild animals gone wrong.

    My parents were strict disciplinarians and when we did something wrong, we paid a yuuuge price. But the other kids in the neighborhood? They were cowardly thugs. It reminds of The White Ribbon and how the children, collectively, went wrong in that small German village.

    Ironically, the families involved were both of German and Jewish origin and they were Monsters and Monstrous. One of them solicited my then ten year old sister to take her panties off for a cookie. She reported it to my parents and they summoned what was called The Law in those parts and there was nothing The Law could do — it was he said she said. There was no apology and no indication this pedophile rapist’s parents took the scum to task for his degeneracy. Why my father didn’t knock this teenager’s teeth slap out the backside of his head is a mystery.

    Anyway, these families, or I should say the children of these families, decided to engage in a vendetta against my family and essentially terrorized us until we moved several years later. They broke multiple windows in our house on numerous occasions and they would chastise my father and get him to come out of the house where they would sit like cowards on our fence at the far end of the yard taunting him and calling him all kinds of names. I so wanted him to kill them. At that age, I wanted him to kill them. If I was older, I may have, but I was very young and they terrorized me too. If we had stayed there, I probably would have gone to jail because I would have delivered my own brand of Justice to the freaks. I came very close one day to throwing a large rock through one of the culprits picture windows (he had broken our window the week before). I’ll never forget Eleanor’s face, this prick’s mother, when I started the motion to throw the rock through her yuuuge picture window in her dining room. She was screaming and flailing and imploring me not to do it. I didn’t do it not because she protested so emphatically, but because I knew my father would beat the shit out of me if I did. He wouldn’t beat the shit out of them, but he’d beat the shit out of me. That’s still a bitter pill to swallow after all these years.

    I guess my point with all of that about my childhood from the late sixties and early seventies is to say, it wasn’t just New York City that was screwed up. It was all over to include the Norman Rockwell hinterlands. I still have rage when I think about those freaks. I looked one up just last week, the pedophile’s sister who tried to run my sister over with her car several times after her pedophile brother tried to molest my sister, and I saw she had passed away several years prior. I was feeling rotten prior to seeing that and then, suddenly, I felt relieved. The Wicked Witch was dead. Anyone who could do what that bitch did, blame a ten-year-old girl for escaping the clutches of a pedophile and reporting it, is a diseased and toxic person who tarnishes all humanity. It’s good she’s dead. I feel better that she is and I’m not ashamed to say that.

  65. realitychecker permalink
    March 28, 2017

    @ TSMB

    Sorry you had to live that history. Mine wasn’t perfect, either. 🙂

    All the things we both bemoan stem from the same place–a total lack of a sense of or an appreciation of community, both its benefits and its obligations.

    It may be too late to fix that. Those who benefit from dividing us up, and their countless minions, have done their job very well, and continue to do so every single day.

    I truly believe that only death or the fear of death will ever make them stop, but that solution is not on the table from what I can see. That’s just analysis, not advocacy. Those who expect to have a long future are the ones who need to be motivated to fight for it. Not old, childless guys like me.

    But who knows how little future generations will be willing to settle for?

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