Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Actively Participating

An urban garden. Having a local, self-sustaining food system is just one aspect of Transition. (source)
"Transition is a challenge to be an active participant in the unfolding of our collective future."
What is Transition? We start out by asking people to see the world as it exists, rather than as they'd like it to exist. Then we invite them to imagine the best possible future, for the whole community, within that reality. Third, we challenge them to figure out how to get there. And finally, we say: go there, it's up to you.

What's actually occurring in most of the world is exactly the opposite. Most of us are fed a media diet of the world as they — or someone, anyway — wants it to be, rather than as it is. Then, there is no vision for their future, but rather a passive and thought-destroying extrapolation of present perceived trends. The only challenge we are expected to face is surviving the daily grind with enough cash or credit left over to buy the latest iToys, whose only purpose is to provide a distraction from the soul-crushing weight of the meanness and meaninglessness of most of modern life. And, finally, we are not encouraged to go anywhere or do anything. Life is "a ride," which we are "along for." We are told to "enjoy it", "it" presumably being allowing someone or something else to control, determine and direct the greater course of our Earthly existence.

It is pathetic and sad what we've come to accept; and the corollary is that, as playthings of the power elite, our only remaining "freedom" is the freedom to be thrown away, just like Woody and his gang, when we're all used up or out-grown. It is no wonder so many of us are apathetic, even in the face of the most Earth-shaking changes ever to occur in human history. This is the necessary result of the triumphant marriage of our disposable culture with the "ownership society."

So these are our choices: to passively accept our lot as throwaway commodities with no more ultimate value than our precious electronica, or step up, as adults, to the challenge of collectively determining the course of our future.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Psychology of Unemployment

William Hogarth, A Rake's Progress (source)
One of the worst impacts of the new economy is the psychological impacts that permanent unemployment is having on individuals. Feelings of valuelessness, depression, disillusionment....

People need to know that, when they can't find employment, this is not a reflection on themselves personally. The Age of Growth is over; the Age of Contraction has begun. Jobs simply do not exist in the numbers they would have to to support greater employment.

Of course, work still needs to be done: just don't expect to be compensated for it in the traditional manner. This will remain a problem for as long as we rely on elements of the system — landlords, banks, grocery stores — that still require traditional remuneration for their services. This predicament points to a possible way forward, which is to take strides to limit one's exposure to the orthodox system, thus limiting one's requirements for money.

But that's a digression. The main point is that you should not take it personally if you can't find work. For one thing, you are not alone — in Pennsylvania, in May, payroll surveys estimated that 14,000 people were laid off or fired. The official unemployment rate also dropped by one-tenth of one percent, which is interesting. We've entered a bizarro realm where more people can be unemployed while the "unemployment" rate yet falls. This is thanks to statistical manipulations (in place for a few decades) that won't count you as part of the labor force if you've given up looking for work (12,000 people were kicked out of the labor force in May) — or count you as "employed" even if your new job is part-time and pays half or less what you once made.

I think it's a damn shame that highly-skilled, -talented, and -educated people should be made to feel like shit because our unsustainable, perpetual-bubble economy is hemorrhaging  jobs as it deflates. It's even worse that they were sold a bogus bill of goods when they (we) were still in high school: that school debt was "good debt", that digging ourselves into this financial hole was a good thing because it meant we'd make way more than if we didn't. They didn't bother to tell us that what this really meant was that we'd have to make way more than if we didn't go to college, because that would be the only way to fill in the gaping chasm that would become of our finances for the foreseeable future. It'll be interesting to see what happens when the College Bubble collapses.

Final word: this unemployment situation is permanent. It will get worse. Learn to make the best of it. You may as well default on your debt now, too, because you're never going to be able to pay it back, anyway. Best to get rid of it now, before they've reinstated debtors' prisons.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Planning for a Future That Will Not Exist


I was flipping through my journal earlier, and came across the following entry from January 4, 2007:
My critique of planning is this: it is no good at preparing for the uncertain future. It takes current events and extrapolates. And extrapolation is taking the crazy-curved line of our past reality and making it seem straight — then projecting that false history into the future. The problem with planning is that it doesn't plan for anything interesting! At best it assumes that the next 30 years will be like the past 30 — only better. Who's planning for global eco-collapse? Global warming? The collapse of national and global economic systems, global and national food networks? Who's planning for peak oil? Who's planning for our transition into an entirely new Earth? Who is planning for a graceful exit for us?
For those that don't know, I am employed as a professional planner for local government. I wrote this during winter break before my final semester at grad school. I earned my Master of Science in Urban & Regional Planning in August 2007. Four years later, this critique still holds. Most planners have no idea what's actually happening in the world. They have no clue of the gravity of our collective situation. They still plan by projecting the past into the future. Worse, they assume the past few years are but a blip, an outlier that will be quickly forgotten once "the recovery" takes hold. If they had a longer perspective, they might realize that it's not just the past four years, but actually the past 60 (post-war) or past 150 (since the first oil well was drilled) years that are the true outliers.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I saw Saturn and Messier 13, the famous Hercules Globular Cluster, from my backyard tonight.
The heart of Hercules Globular Cluster;
Credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA (source)
About what Saturn looked like through my 6" scope. (source)
Next step: somehow eliminate all the light pollution in my backyard.