East and West

Life at the End of Empire

Peak oil, mass extinction, catastrophic climate change. With every passing day, the signs are becoming more and more difficult to deny. But we deny them anyway. We swear we’ll curb emissions. We pledge to actively pursue an alternative energy policy. We don’t believe we have a problem. We can stop anytime we want. Just not today.

As any therapist can tell you, denial is the hallmark of addiction. Overcome with insatiable, indomitable need, addicts retreat to a place deep within themselves – a dark enclave of insulated existence where they are shielded from the blinding glare of objective truth. "I don’t have a problem," they will say. "I can stop anytime." Eyes unblinking and voice steady, an addict will look you straight in the face and perpetuate one of the most grievous lies we can tell ourselves as human beings.

"I’m in control."

The delusion of power in the face of addiction has proven to be the fatal flaw in an untold number of human tragedies. It is the lie that allows us to persist in destructive patterns of behavior while telling ourselves that we can stop, we will stop – just not today.

Western culture, argues TS Bennett in his recent documentary, What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire, is an addict in denial. Heavily hooked on oil, consumption and unchecked economic growth, our bloated culture of empire trolls the shadowy back-alleys of the global marketplace desperately searching for its next hit. And with every score, the gaping hole of need becomes wider.

Intrinsically, our needs are relatively slight – a point Bennett demonstrates with a poignant montage of his idyllic midwestern upbringing. Grainy home movie footage reveals the vast whiteness of winter marked by rosy-cheeked children sliding headfirst down snow banks. Summers are spent swimming in sparkling blue ponds. Food is grown in sweeping fields that extend beyond the horizon. Bennett is the offspring of an increasingly threatened American breed – the kind of people who live a relatively independent rural existence, free from the cycle of consumption that plagues larger metropolitan populations. But as cities grow and those metropolitan populations spread, fewer and fewer Americans are growing up in environments like that of Bennett’s childhood. An increasingly urban existence severs our connection to the earth, the process of living and, ultimately, ourselves. It is from this ever-widening disconnect that our sense of false need is born.

"What most of us experience when it comes to addiction is a pattern of continually seeking more of what it is we don’t really want and, therefore, never being fully satisfied," Sally Erickson, the film’s producer, told AlterNet. "And as long as we are never satisfied, we continue to seek more, while our real needs are never being met."

It is this definition of addiction that encompasses the Western human experience. Our insatiable modern appetites have created a civilization based entirely on consumption – of products, of resources, of space. But no matter how much we buy or how large we grow, we can never seem to fill the yawning expanse of collective need. And, like the addicts that we are, we live with the hope that satisfaction is just one more hit away – one more car, one more handbag, one more war to secure the resources vital to our diseased way of life.

The planet is giving us every indication that it can no longer support our habits. Peak oil, mass extinction, catastrophic climate change. With every passing day, the signs are becoming more and more difficult to deny. But we deny them anyway. We swear we’ll curb emissions, we promise to halt growth. We pledge to actively pursue an alternative energy policy. We don’t have a problem. We can stop anytime we want. Just not today.

48 comments on the article “Life at the End of Empire”

Displaying 41 - 48 of 48

Page 5 of 5

Anonymous

It's my own fear of living alone on a patch of earth disconnected from my friends and family that helps perpetuate me in my consumption lifestyle. Just a mere generation behind lacks the knowledge of self-sufficiency that I acquired as a child. My community is global and as such arresting my mobility cuts me off from the sacred connections I thrive on. The interconnectedness of global economies keeps me tethered to a war machine I despise yet am forced to interact with. It's just lamenting, but expression such as this becomes cathartic. I will change, I am changing as knowing can not shelter me from what is inevitable. Relax into the knowledge of the truth. If you fear it, lean into it, as fear suggests closeness to the truth.

Anonymous

It's my own fear of living alone on a patch of earth disconnected from my friends and family that helps perpetuate me in my consumption lifestyle. Just a mere generation behind lacks the knowledge of self-sufficiency that I acquired as a child. My community is global and as such arresting my mobility cuts me off from the sacred connections I thrive on. The interconnectedness of global economies keeps me tethered to a war machine I despise yet am forced to interact with. It's just lamenting, but expression such as this becomes cathartic. I will change, I am changing as knowing can not shelter me from what is inevitable. Relax into the knowledge of the truth. If you fear it, lean into it, as fear suggests closeness to the truth.

DominiqueMillette

ummmm... rural isolation means greater use of cars and trucks, which leads to more emissions. Because of population density, urban environments can be greener than rural ones, due to opportunities for public transportation and the ability to cycle everywhere (as long as you don't get flattened by traffic).

DominiqueMillette

ummmm... rural isolation means greater use of cars and trucks, which leads to more emissions. Because of population density, urban environments can be greener than rural ones, due to opportunities for public transportation and the ability to cycle everywhere (as long as you don't get flattened by traffic).

Squirrel

Denial always has been a psychological defense mechanism. It enables us to begin to accept incrementally that which we are incapable of accepting all at once.

Addicts have only taken it to an extreme. Good article and true in most points. The metaphor of addiction is a little dramatic.

The path we have gone down is one that we have been led. We have been told overtly and covertly our salvation lies in the world outside of ourselves. We eternally compare our internal feelings with what we see on the outside of others. We confuse the two. Since we believe the line we become willing participants and dedicated followers.

As a society / culture our expectations are far too high. We are incredibly spoiled and are obsessed with our own well being.

We need to learn to have realistic expectations, practice gratitude and satisfaction with what we do have and get out of ourselves by reaching out to others.

We also need to realize no material thing or any person will ever fulfill what it really is we are all looking for.

Do what you can one day at a time. That is the beginning and over time it can build in intensity and force.

Mapping Allentown 

Squirrel

Denial always has been a psychological defense mechanism. It enables us to begin to accept incrementally that which we are incapable of accepting all at once.

Addicts have only taken it to an extreme. Good article and true in most points. The metaphor of addiction is a little dramatic.

The path we have gone down is one that we have been led. We have been told overtly and covertly our salvation lies in the world outside of ourselves. We eternally compare our internal feelings with what we see on the outside of others. We confuse the two. Since we believe the line we become willing participants and dedicated followers.

As a society / culture our expectations are far too high. We are incredibly spoiled and are obsessed with our own well being.

We need to learn to have realistic expectations, practice gratitude and satisfaction with what we do have and get out of ourselves by reaching out to others.

We also need to realize no material thing or any person will ever fulfill what it really is we are all looking for.

Do what you can one day at a time. That is the beginning and over time it can build in intensity and force.

Mapping Allentown 

Pages

Add a new comment

Comments are closed.