Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Departures and Arrivals

There's nothing like a voyage by rail for giving a little perspective. In the last two weeks, between poring over museums of Métis history in St. Boniface, Manitoba, glimpsing red-tailed hawks soaring below the train as we crossed a Saskatchewan river, and climbing the forested mountains above Vancouver with my relatives, I've had chances to reflect on this business of wizardly writing. What exactly am I doing here, and why?

The past three months have been great fun, but if truth be told I remain unconvinced. In one sense of the word I'm not completely convinced by my own analysis of the thermodynamics of civilizations- there are important elements left out of the story I've told thus far, elements that the historian in me is itching to go back and account for.

On the other hand, I'm not convinced that people come to internet weblogs in order to be convinced of things. As much as I'd enjoy spending another three months hammering out the mechanics of this or that theory of collapse, better minds with better funding have done so elsewhere to better effect. My role as an apprentice wizard, I think, is not to provide more analysis but rather to connect analysis to experience, and thereby turn hard information into stories we can use to navigate the confusing times we live in. A kind of alchemy, if you wish.

Thus far I've been dealing lightly with the heaviest of matters, and that was intentional. There's so much writing out there encouraging us to fling ourselves into orgies of despair over this issue or that (one of my favourite old wizards used the term 'apocalyptic randiness') and I'm tired of it. It's not that I think despair is irrational; it's just that I have no time for it.

I spoke briefly in my last post about my own experience of mental illness, and at the risk of turning this blog into a private confessional (no, that's not what I'm doing here) I think it's worth touching on again. Why? Because I know that I am not alone in that experience. When I look around at the people of my generation I see many of us either partying ourselves into oblivion or struggling with a form of depression that current mental health professionals have limited means to treat. In my experience, doctors, psychologists, and counsellors simply aren't equipped to address the very rational anxieties that come with understanding the state of the world we inhabit. As specialists in a field focused on personal rather than global issues, why would they be?

On the other hand, current mental health professionals do have some very good ideas about how to address anxiety and depression on a personal scale, and thus I'd still strongly encourage seeking out professional support if it's available to you and if you feel the kind of dread weighing you down that I struggled with alone for far too long.

One of the key insights of modern mental health research is that depression and anxiety basically consist of thinking too much about things that get you down, while recovery consists of acting to change your situation incrementally, as well as your reflexive responses to that situation. For me, acting to improve my own state of mind involved physical exercise, keeping good nutrition and sleep habits, and some assistance from medication, but most importantly it involved sharing what I was wrestling with and finding a way to turn thoughts into actions. Hence this blog.

Like other things I've written about here, that explanation of anxiety and depression is simplistic, but it gets at the bones of the issue I mentioned in my last post: knowledge without action is disempowerment, while knowledge with action leads to empowerment and greater capacity for informed action.

I'm not saying that we can change our situation simply by concentrating on the positives and blocking out the negatives- anyone who tells you that is trying to either sell you something or buy your vote. It's more a matter of looking at a situation, acknowledging that it contains more darkness than light, and then deciding how best to fight for that light, knowing that darkness and light move in cycles like everything else in this amazing world we inhabit. That, in a nutshell, is my view of humanity's next two hundred years.

Writing is a limited form of action, but it's certainly helped me. My larger purpose is to encourage conversations about the future that are built around constructive hope rather than anxiety, and to do that it's important that we assess honestly what parameters that hope will operate under. After all, the future is already within us, in the words of Laura Erb of Neuberlin; it's a living, breathing reality shaped by the choices we've made and are making. I think it's well worth our time to get acquainted with times to come, at least as well as we can considering the paradoxes involved in time travel. (Thank goodness for science fiction.) So without further ado ladies and gentlemen, all aboard, because our next stop is the year 2213.


  1. Since I am significantly older than you, my generation was scared about different things. We were scared about being destroyed by nuclear weapons. We watched documentary movies about the effects of nuclear war, and there were air-raid sirens everywhere in St. Catharines that were tested regularly. I really thought the world as we knew it would end with a mushroom cloud before too long.

    And we were scared about pollution...especially water pollution. We would not have water to drink if we were not careful. But there's the rub. In both these situations there was a solution, and action needed. Don't use the nuclear weapons...protest the making of weapons, and elect people who do not further the arms race. Change your laundry detergent to phosphate free, and clean up our lakes. And by and large this seems to have worked, in that we have not faced nuclear destruction and we are still drinking out of the Great Lakes. (Mind you, the threat of nuclear weapons hasn't vanished, it's just it's not so prominent a fear).

    All this to say that my generation has gone through the fear and despair about the environment, and lived to tell the tale, which is why it is hard for us to enter that space again. The things we are worried about are bigger (global warming). And people of my generation are concerned, but we just don't get quite as distraught or consumed by the fear. My take on it, at least...it would be good to ask other people of my generation if that is their impression.

  2. Thank you for your comments, Carol, it's heartening to receive feedback on what I'm putting out there.

    I've had a difficult time talking to other people of your generation about world issues and the future. One person mentioned the same fears growing up that you did, of nuclear war and environmental degradation, and likewise indicated that these problems had been largely solved.

    My guess is that the generation gap these days is between young people, on the one hand, who are learning the latest distressing environmental developments in school as well as what they imply for global security, and middle-aged people, on the other hand, who have experienced some major social and environmental victories in their time and feel they can now turn their attention to other things.

    But we are in greater danger now than we were in the seventies and eighties. I see global warming as the leading edge of a single worldwide predicament, not a collection of problems or issues, social or environmental or political. The predicament has its root in the way we relate to energy, and it can't be 'solved' except by reassessing that relationship. That's my take on it.

  3. Hi Dylan,
    Thank you for sharing so much of your thought (and emotions).
    I have heard very positive feedback from people that worked with Joanna Macy with their desperation for the planet. If you don't know her work maybe you can do some research.

    Love reading your blog.

  4. Thanks for the tip, Natalia, I'll make sure to check out Joanna Macy.

    Carolyn Baker is another person whose website has great resources on 'inner transition'. I was so glad to learn that there are people working on this.