YELLOW STARS and RED FLAGS
© Copyright 2006, From The Wilderness Publications, www.fromthewilderness.com. All Rights Reserved. May be reprinted, distributed or posted on an Internet web site for non-profit purposes only.
‘Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
when blackness was a virtue, the road was made of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
Come in, she said, I’ll give you shelter from the storm.
April 25, 2006 0900 PST – (FTW) - Trying to convince family members to take action regarding Peak Oil is like telling Jews they had better leave Germany while they had time before Hitler hit his psycho goose-stepping stride. I’m sure there were visionaries in those communities who could paint the picture of where all those little yellow stars were headed. They were able to see the writing on the wall and were able to rally their resources and place their families out of harm’s way.
Maybe they only made it to Poland, not quite far enough. Maybe they made it across some allied border, or by plane or by boat or by foot, somehow got away. Of course, many were so poor they could not, but my point is for those who would not. Ripping up roots is a radical choice to make; how many more would have chosen to flee if they knew Buchenwald was their next option?
Either way, it took an extreme level of awareness to perceive that threat accurately, and then it took a profound level of courage to act on that perception in a way that counted. When we look back on that dark chapter of history, we tend to focus on the Holocaust, the horrors that happened to those left behind. Yet we must also learn from the stories of those who dodged that bullet, the ones who got away.
Right now, we are all in a similar situation regarding our energy addictions. All the signs are there and are even easier to see, some would say; after all, the writing is now on websites instead of walls. We have a window of opportunity right now to take such drastic actions as if our lives depended on it, and they do. But we can’t see out the window if we refuse to pull the blinders; we’ll keep pretending there is no window, and we can see just fine by these new energy-efficient light bulbs, thank you anyway.
I just recently returned from San Diego where I helped my wife’s family bury her sister’s husband who died suddenly at 48. All her brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and parents live within an hour of each other. She and I are the only ones of the clan who have chosen to live more than one county away, way up north in another state.
We also live in another state of mind; long ago we rejected the burgeoning millions surrounding my wife’s “home town,” including the crime, pollution, and the lack of any realistic context for self-sufficiency, which is something we value now and forever as a condition for a life worth living. We’re not outcasts—we remain beloved by all—but we are outsiders to family members who feel personally rejected because we choose not to raise our kids with theirs in environments we judge to be insane. They’d rather imagine we think they are insane.
Do they ever come right out and say so? No, it oozes out in weird ways. And in my recent experience of death in the family, there is nothing weirder than grief. The ways people grieve are all over the map—let’s just say there’s lots of subconscious acting out; the social graces are the first to wear thin under crazy stress. Unspoken family dynamics find a voice; hoarse, choked and bitter, at times even without words, but the sound is unmistakable.
Underneath the grief are the pressing practicalities. Now that Buddy’s gone, can we keep the house? Who will take care of little Lulu while mommy’s at work? Can we even afford our life anymore? What kind of life can there be anyway without our Papa? At the worst of emotional times come profound questions of upheaval and change: What the hell are we going to do now?
You might think it would be simpler or more prudent to contemplate these questions before we experience a wrenching dislocation of the bones—fractures compounded by grief and loss. Certainly it would be easier to accomplish profound changes in our lives before such drastic motivations present themselves.
Talking to these relatives about Peak Oil has about the same effect as trying to get Uncle Buddy to quit smoking. Instead of warmth, embrace, and bonding, there’s more distance, alienation, rejection, and a wider gap between love and acceptance. Why is it we catch so much of the latter while we’re living, and only find the former at the funeral?
On one level, we all know we’re going to die, yet how many of us make friends with death and use that awareness to mold the way we live each day? Must we experience the death of a loved one to re-frame our love for the living?
The topic of Peak Oil is a death sentence. Death to our addicted way of life, death to our food supply, death to the summer road trip, death to the carpool, the recycling center and fitness gym. At the very least, it is death to the immediate conversation. Hmm, how ‘bout them Padres?
The whole subject gets misinterpreted as a personal judgment made against those in the “mainstream” by those who adopt “alternative lifestyles.” To those whose glasses are red and blue, the world they see is NOT purple, but more us and them. You’re either with us or against us, and there’s not a whole lot of ground to cover in-between.
When we’re all under “normal” amounts of stress, most of us maintain at least a veneer of civility, which means we bury controversial stuff and talk about the weather and sports. Yet when the stressors spike, the cracks begin to show, the truth comes out, rocky and raw and ready to snap at the first perceived threat. And perceptions through the lens of grief, even without the red and blue shades, are foggy at best.
Telling my family in San Diego that they live in the belly of the beast (no matter how it’s phrased) and ought to get the hell out and not just think about it, is a condemnation of all they hold dear. I can easily come across as a condescending, paranoid whacko, “liberal,” and worse.
I want to spare them the deep grief of getting caught in the crosshairs of ignorant energy policies made by people they trust. But they hear it as grief-lite, as if I was giving them grief for littering. No matter how kind or delicate or articulate I attempt to be, they hear me calling them idiots—fools for trusting their government any longer, and stooges for expecting their grocery store to be in business when their kids are teenagers (oh puleeze). Osama is the real threat, and oil addiction is the phantom, instead of vice versa.
Denial is a powerful force within an addiction. In a nation of oil addicts, the force of Kunstler’s “consensus trance” reaches the realms of the surreal. Maybe it’s even weirder than grief. Maybe it takes some deep grief to shatter the denial packages that keep us from hearing the inevitable jackboot march of history into our lives.
Peak Oil means death to the idea of the red, white, and blue; death to the illusion that “our” government works the way civics classes used to claim. There’s more than enough credible evidence that “our” government has become the tool of a very rich and powerful mafia. Yet most of us pretend to be Carmella while Tony calls the shots from a bunker under the Oval office.
It means death to all our life support systems. It means dealing with the fact that the modern American way of life is dead already while we refuse to even notice its shortness of breath, the sweat on its wrinkled brow, the trembling voice. But what about my career, my college education? Poke somebody’s hopes and dreams with a stick and you’ll wake up some resentment, at the very least.
Telling people about Peak Oil amounts to telling them they are already dead—their identities have been made null and void—their jobs, their sports teams, their pensions. How do we effectively communicate a notion that implies their whole world? Whether pimps or Protestants, crackheads or Christians, it’s all dust; pack it up and head for the hills—whatever hills may remain without condos.
“The end is near” was a cliché long ago. Someone has always preached doom-and-gloom, and it’s usually a bearded guy with a sign. It’s easier to dismiss the messenger out-of-hand than to take his message to heart and to find out if he’s a prophet or a freak. Who in their right mind contemplates the fulfillment of a cartoon?
Nobody wants to grieve loss-of-life in the fast-lane before it dies, before they read the conclusive obituary. We’d rather pretend the body (of people) will wake up from its coma (“what coma,” they say?) and peace and prosperity will return as if by magic to God’s Promised Land. Sorry, but it’s time to bury the body, pick up the pieces, and move on. America IS Terri Schiavo, yet how many people still don’t have a living will, and Schiavo’s story was in the news for weeks.
If you keep smoking, you’ll die before your time. This is widely known, yet smokers keep dying early. So now here comes Peak Oil, a point of view easily pigeon-holed as wildly apocalyptic, and without the under-pinning hope of a savior figure. It’s a tough and bitter nut to chew—you want me to swallow and digest it too? Fuggetaboudit.
It’s not that people wouldn’t want to know this most-logical analysis of where all our juice really comes from. It’s that if they knew, really knew, then it would require them to completely abandon the life they have worked so hard to build. And from a threat so vague and under-reported, we might as well quit our jobs because of “terrorists.”
Give it up or have it taken away. Maybe the only way we’ll give it up is to become convinced that it will be taken away. And that will take some convincing with all of the powers of articulation we can muster. For some it still won’t be enough. It won’t ever get that bad, will it?
And if I pass this way again, you can rest assured
I’ll always do my best for her, on that I give my word
In a world of steel-eyed death and men fighting to be warm
Come in, she said, I’ll give you shelter from the storm
“At a certain point for each of us, talk evaporates and words cannot bring love into the open. Only the soul’s presence coming from us can attract the soul’s presence in others.”
Scott McGuire is a plantsman and gardener, as well as a writer and speaker on Peak Oil and sustainability issues. He teaches classes and coaches emergent re-inhabitors on sustainable life skills at his backyard ranch in Ashland, Oregon, and can be reached at www.whitesagegardens.com.
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