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Excerpt from What We Leave Behind

Survivalism Isn't Enough (p. 276)

From chapter "Part III"

Those who’ve made it this far, past the pseudodespair and despair, even past this death and rebirth, can still get distracted from the real problems, and the real possibilities. Pretend you no longer (or never did) fall into (and for) the spectacles, the frenetic and meaningless attitudes and activities that keep so many people distracted from the murder of the planet, distracted from their own role (and more importantly acquiescence) in it, and distracted from themselves. Pretend you not only did not attack those who reminded you that the culture is killing the planet, but you also have psychically and physically survived attacks made upon you for this same reason. Pretend you understand that the damage this culture causes really is damage. Pretend you keep your magical thinking to a reasonable minimum. Pretend you understand that the problems are the culture’s fault, and not primarily yours. Pretend you do not take on what is not yours. Pretend you have felt and survived the despair that comes to any sane being even remotely honest about this culture and the horrors upon which it is based, the horrors upon which it has always been based. Pretend you’ve been able to break your identification with this culture. Pretend you understand that the culture won’t last much longer.

What do you do?

Some people, at this point, simply walk away, and consider that sufficient. Even someone as brave as Lewis Mumford ended his brilliant work The Myth of the Machine: The Pentagon of Power with, “On the terms imposed by technocratic society, there is no hope for mankind except by ‘going with’ its plans for accelerated technological progress, even though man’s vital organs will all be cannibalized in order to prolong the mega-machine’s meaningless existence. But for those of us who have thrown off the myth of the machine, the next move is ours: for the gates of the technocratic prison will open automatically, despite their rusty hinges, as soon as we choose to walk out.”

There are many people who, having gotten this far, “walk out” of the “technocratic prison” and then . . . well, then nothing. That’s as far as they take it, and they consider themselves done.

Unfortunately that’s not really helpful. There is, remember, a real world being killed, and from the perspective of the salmon, it doesn’t matter so much whether you continue to participate in the system or whether you psychologically and emotionally and spiritually “walk away.” It’s great for you that you’re out of the “technocratic prison”—except of course that you’re not: since this prison culture has enclosed the entire world, at this point you can’t walk away; you can only pretend to: when dioxin contaminates every mother’s breast milk, where would you go?—but the salmon need for dams to come down, and they need for oceans not to be murdered, and they need for industrial logging, fishing, and agriculture to be stopped, and they need for global warming to stop, which means they need for the oil economy to be stopped.

There are some who take it one step further than simply walking away. They begin to learn survival skills so they may personally live through civilization’s endgame. They learn how to make fires with flint and steel; how to catch, kill, and clean animals; how to identify local edible plants. They stock up on beans and rice, put caches of weapons and medicines in the forest so they can find them when trucks no longer bring food into cities. They’re attempting to be as ready as they can for this culture’s inevitable— and by now impending—crash.

None of these are bad things to do. As the economy—and then this entire civilization—crashes, I want these people on my side.

But preparing yourself and your family for the crash—a common phrase for this these days is “making a lifeboat”—is no more sufficient than walking away. Indeed, it’s merely a variant of the same thing. The people who do only this are doing nothing to halt this omnicidal culture. They’re not helping the land. They’re not acting such that the world is a better place because they were born. Ultimately, if their concern is primarily for their own safety and the safety of their families (me and mine) with no significant and primary concern for the land that gives them life, they are still, for all the work they’ve done, stuck in the same narcissistic, anthropocentric mindset that holds our own survival separate from and superior to the survival of the land. Rich people hoard cash, gold, and weapons in their gated compounds, ready to fend off the rabble they know will try to take their riches during the breakdown of civil society; and anti-civ survivalists hoard rice, beans, and weapons, then prepare to fend off the rabble they know will try to take their food—at least these riches are less abstract—during the collapse of civilization. Salmon, polar bears, and redwood trees ask, “What’s the fundamental difference?”

It’s not sufficient for us to break our identification with this culture, if we merely transfer our primary identification to ourselves: to do so is merely another variant of this culture’s narcissism. We must recognize that there exists something larger than ourselves, and it is not the culture. It is the land which gives all of us life. We must recognize that we have obligations—joyous obligations, terrifying obligations, deep and meaningful obligations—to this land. The real, physical, land. The real, physical, water. The real, physical air.

Survivalism isn’t enough. Nor is it enough to make a “lifeboat” that you hope will not sink through this culture’s chaotic collapse, a lifeboat designed to carry you and your family and your friends.

Far more important than our own personal survival is the survival of the land. Far more important than making a lifeboat for me and mine is doing something to protect the land where I live, to make it so that not merely I and mine will have a somewhat better chance of surviving, but doing something to make it so everyone—human and nonhuman alike— has a better chance of making it through that imperfect storm.