Sunday, March 18, 2007

Ishmael (warning, dismal post ahead)

I just finished reading Ishmael last night. I'm probable the only one here that hasn't read it yet, but if you haven't I highly recommend it. It is a book that gives you a lot to think about. It has made me totally re-think this culture we live in and the impact it has on the earth as well as our own mental and physical health. Lying awake last night thinking about all this, I got pretty down. I don't see a way out and I don't really see how it can get better. I can't just opt out of this culture (at least not if I want to remain in a family with my husband and son). And I don't see that any changes I make are really going to make a difference to the world as a whole. I can reduce my impact and I've been working on doing that, but really I'm just doing that to make myself feel better.

I picture our culture as a stampede heading toward a cliff and most of the herd doesn't even see the cliff. And I vary between letting myself be swept along with the herd because it is easier and going to the back of the herd and stopping. However, the herd is still dragging me along. Does it really matter if I'm fighting it or not, I'm being dragged by the majority toward the cliff. I guess if enough of us stop, those near the back may stop and that may make more stop. But if the rest are dragging us all, can we get enough to stop before we are dragged over the edge? Is it possible that only those near the front will go over the edge and those of us in the back will be left balanced on the edge but not going over?

Why am I learning to be more self-sufficient? Why do I want to get a homestead going? According to Ishmael, it is still the wrong way to be going, it is still agriculture and playing god. And I'm not sure it is enough to prevent the rest from going over the edge. I guess I'm hoping that if most go over the edge, maybe some of us won't be dragged along and we will be able to survive. If I'm able to live on less and do more for myself maybe my family can survive if we aren't dragged over the edge?

I don't have any answers. Somedays I just want to totally opt out and move to the jungle somewhere and live with the "primitive" people. I'd love to hear other thoughts on this.


Crunchy Chicken said...

Well, that's no small philosophical question you're pondering there, so I can see why you don't have any direct answers.

Having not read Ishmael, I'm commenting a little blind here, but suffice it to say that I believe pretty much every generation has felt like their culture is a stampede heading toward a cliff.

If you think of 100 years ago the U.S. was in the midst of the industrial revolution, people were overworked, unhealthy (the average lifespan was around 47), and heading into two world wars.

It may seem (at least it's easy to romanticize previous times) like things have gotten worse, but I'd argue that they are better. Less people are in severe poverty, infant/child/maternal mortality has dropped considerably (infant mortality has dropped 90% and maternal mortality has dropped 99%).

Ok, so enough of statistics. You are probably more concerned with moral issues. Well, I'd argue again that things have gotten better. More people are educated at a higher level (literate) and are better equipped to make more educated decisions based on easy access to information.

It's easy to get depressed by what we see in the media, because it's the media's job to deliver entertainment. When you step back you see that the supposed divide between individuals isn't so bad.

I think there's a lot of stupid stuff happening in the world and in our own country, but that's par for the course. I would rather choose this time to raise my children than any other time in history. The opportunities for them are so much better now than at any time in the past.

Finally, I think that every little thing you do counts. Every action you take may just influence another person to stop and think for a moment about their impact on the environment or other people.

There are a lot of considerate people out there like yourself, they just aren't as vocal. They network among others who feels similarly and I think, can make change happen. It does happen all the time. It's just hard to compete with the Britney Spears-style antics out there :)

Christy said...

Thanks for the comments! It is good to read other more optimistic comments. I tend to be a pessimist.

I was thinking more of global warming and peak oil, things that have the potential to totally change life as we know it. Things we have done to ourselves and as a society have no intention of changing anytime soon. Like I said, I'm a pessimist and I do believe we are heading toward a huge collapse, and I believe nothing I do will change that.

I do believe that overall our life now is much better than ever before in history. I'm just not sure how long our current lifestyle can survive.

Overall, I don't wallow in depressing thoughts. I do what I can to make my impact smaller and try to find the joy in life everyday. Reading that book just brought all the thoughts into the forefront of my mind.

I appreciate your viewpoint! Thanks.

Wendy said...

I haven't read the book either, and so I went on Amazon to find out what it was about.

I think I agree that our civilization is on a crash course. Historically, all civilizations eventually fail. Right now, I think we, as a society, are too dependent on the government. Afterall, good or bad, we give credit to the decisions our leaders make and rarely to how well we are living our own lives.

Maybe it's all media hype, but it seems like people expect the government to "fix" everything. Where is personal responsibility?

That's where you (and I) come in. You are taking responsibility for your life. You're learning skills that will serve you whether or not you have electricity or abundant cheap oil. You're learning to live with less. You're learning to live without. You're learning to take care of yourself.

Maybe it won't make a difference in saving this country, in saving this "civilization", but ultimately, it may save you, your progeny, and the people in your immediate community.

I guess I think that just because I have very little hope for our culture, I have great hope for humanity. We are, afterall, one of the most adaptive creatures on earth - after roaches and rats ;).

I see a future that is a happy marriage of old and new. I see fewer cars and more urban homesteads, an end to cheap cashmere sweaters and more folks with homemade clothes they're proud to wear. I see people using bicycles or horse-drawn carriages as their primary transportation, happily chatting to friends on their cell phones. I see us giving up things like fast cars and SUVs, and oranges, bananas and pineapple in Maine, so that we can have the Internet and cable television in our homes. I see more telecommuting and the world being just as small, but with people not as "mobile."

Maybe with the change, we'll relearn the definition of "community."

Maybe it's that I have sought out and found like-minded people, but the people I know both on the Internet and in real life all seem to be moving in the direction of self-sufficiency and being concerned with decreasing their footprint on the earth.

I know a lot of urban homesteaders who eat local and wear homemade clothes.

At any rate, you're not alone. There are a lot of us walking in the same direction, and we're all doing what we can, if not to save the world, at least to carve out a piece of paradise in our own little corner ;).

Christy said...


I like your vision of the future and hope this is the way things end up. I'm still living in a huge suburban neighborhood and while I know there are people out there changing their lifestyle and doing more for themselves, it definitely isn't happening where I am.

I just hope we all don't get dragged down with the majority. I really want to get onto our homestead and really get things setup for the long term.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Maybe it's because where I live it seems like the majority of people I know are like-minded, trying to reduce their footprint and be carbon-neutral. Or, at the very least, the rest are thinking about it.

Between the citizens, the Mayor and County Executive and State Governor all working far ahead of the federal government on reducing carbon emissions and working with local farmers and builders, my outlook isn't so bleak.

And I am usually quite pessimistic!

But, then again, I chose to live where I do because of that mentality (versus suburbia).

arcarpenter said...


I felt very similarly when I read all of Daniel Quinn's books a few years ago.

The best thing that came out of that reading was that we really took the leap and started unschooling.

That's been a path to seeing more and more that we can do.

Also, if you read more of Daniel Quinn, he really loves civilization in a way. He loves his computer and his Internet -- so do I! :)

So he's not asking us to drop out of civilization. He's recommending that we learn to think in terms of systems, and in terms of a bigger history than we've been taught in school.

At some point, I realized I could be really pessimistic about what I'd read, or that I could choose to add positive energy to the world and to the efforts to change the way we relate to each other, to Mother Earth, and to power. That's what I've been doing for the past 4 years -- that's where you and I have met.

Be the change you want to see, Christy. I really do have faith that it's working, in so many ways, just under the surface.