The choice between "grim" and "positive" (but hopelessly unrealistic)?

Some people (notably in the Transition Towns movement) are saying we need to give people a positive message, not too grim and frightening, or they will give up rather than be inspired to action.

I don't find this concept at all persuasive. I suggest some good analogies for the transition process may be the experiences of polar explorers and record-setting mountaineers, along with the many millions of soldiers who have entered into battles, and the many civilians who have found themselves surviving in dire straits after wars had devastated their countries. All these groups of people have in common that they were faced with the knowledge of very real possibility that these challenges would be not merely very unpleasant and arduous but with very high probability of utter failure, ending with their deaths. And yet they faced up to these challenges nevertheless.

I would add to this list of analogy examples one more crucial one. That is the experiences of those obscure individuals and groups who founded civilisations. It is in the nature of things that we tend to see the ends of civilisations relatively clearly, with names of rulers and their circumstances clearly recorded. By contrast, the origins are relatively hidden in obscurity. And yet as Arnold Toynbee explained, there is good reason to reckon that these civilisations originated in response to severe, life-threatening adverse circumstances. For instance the growth of the Sahara desert putting the hunter-gatherers in prospect of starvation. They would thus have been forced to descend into the treacherous swamps of the untamed Nile valley, where they would have to cope with not only daunting huge floods but also the existing inhabitants such as crocodiles and snakes. We can only guess at how many millions may have died rather than survived to go on to create the ancient Egyptian civilisation in that once-terrible land. And yet such can be the way to the future of human community.

Some people cannot cope with a terrible prospect of the future. They may become suicidal, psychotic, depressed, paralysed by anxiety, obsessed with delusory false hopes, or too stressed out physically or overloaded mentally to be able to go on. They may lack the imagination to forsee specific key problems, they may lack the judgement to see what solutions may work and which may not. They may lack the necessary experience or training to prepare them for the tasks they must undertake for survival. They may lack the personal qualities required for survival in a group of people who find they must selflessly cooperate or else die.

For these reasons, such persons are liable to be fore-doomed to not survive the challenges they face. That's life. Regardless of how kind and empathic you and I are it remains the case that That's life.

If siamese twins share one heart between them, we can wish that they could have a separate heart each; we could even have a group session of envisaging them having a separate heart each, but that wishing and envisioning is not going to change the fact that they do not.

What all those grim example groups abovementioned have in common is that they went forward with no illusions that they were going to go down a safely predictable or comfortable pathway into the future. In many cases they even chose to enter into such challenges. And note that none of those survivor groups had any emotional therapy workshops or treatments, before, during or after their ordeals. That's life. Here to illustrate this principle is a photo of a homeless family of three living in the freezing ruins of Stalingrad in a hole in the ground with the desolation all around.
And the elegant city they had lived in.


  1. Sharon Astyk always calls it war footing. There's room for another example: how people worked together during the war, whose shortages and rationed economies would otherwise have depressed them.

    The point is to mobilize those feelings. People have to feel, 'We can win this war.' What war are you going to tell them they're fighting? It's got to be one they can feel is winnable, and necessary to win. Then they will go through the hardship.

  2. I agree with the example of working together during the war.
    But win what war? The thing is that in this case the "enemy" will be disappearance of cheap easy oil. And we can't fight a war against that. Better to put aside the war word, and think rather in terms of preparing to survive a disaster. I'd say we have a chance of surviving the disaster and coming out as the great survivors. But only if we pull together rather than just give up, in which case we certainly wouldn't "win".

  3. Agreed. This leaves you with the problem that most don't believe a disaster is coming and aren't psychologically prepared, never mind physically.

    So: how many people can 'pull together'? And how? I suppose I ought to wait and see what you are proposing...

    A thought I have seen recently: putting together a community, not too isolated, which can become self-sufficient to some extent, requires money. So how about subscriptions to it? Some people begin work in the place, financed by people who are still out working in the regular economy, whose payments buy them a ticket to come and work on the farm when TSHTF.

    This was mooted on 'The Archdruid Report', a good place to visit. I mention it because you are cynical whether an entire community could ever 'adapt in place' -- or perhaps, you are only cynical whether a TT community could adapt.

  4. cynical whether an entire community could ever 'adapt in place' -- or perhaps, you are only cynical whether a TT community could adapt.
    The TTers big thing is a film about Cuba which shows that adapting in place can succeed in certain conditions, even for a large city. But there are significant questions as to how well Cuba translates to areas which differ greatly in terms of genetic/cultural unity, government directiveness, level of prior dependence on energy and corporate support, and climate.

    Some small remote villages in the uk might be able to adapt tolerably if not too degraded into commuter dormitories, and have retained enough of their traditional resources, mental, physical and social. A big city like London I just can't begin to imagine how it is going to remain fed once oil gets significantly more expensive and the corporate life-support starts to fail. Somewhere in between lies the credibility threshold. And it depends on quite how the descent is going to proceed. Difficult to make these judgements but we have to.

    most don't believe a disaster is coming and aren't psychologically prepared, never mind physically.
    ....which I think you'll agree is one of the key problems in itself, and the reason for the ark/lifeboat idea.
    Money is not certainly necessary. There are thousands of farmers who are not going to be able to work their land once their fuel supplies end. They would have nothing to lose by taking on penniless people to help them with transitioning their land and community, especially if the transitioners can bring useful knowledge, skills, talents, etc.

  5. I agree with some of your ideas and attitude, will be reading as you go further. On London, it's obvious that it will split into component boroughs again.

    Look forward to more.

  6. I'd like to see any worked out plans of how London is going to get its food supplied, once oil becomes more expensive again while the Londoners become progressively poorer. Instead we are bizarrely seeing plans for a grand Olympic Games and a third airport. London and other big cities would need to set out on a huge project for planning such food supply but they don't seem to be even recognising the issue. The 'recession' is now supposedly ending. Meanwhile the economic squeeze will be on government agencies and population alike, raising questions about public order (as per my article about collapse and others' writings on the same theme, Dmitri Orlov, Carolyn Baker etc.), and hence whether it will make sense to grow food within the urban area itself.