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2 Sep 2009

2012 and the Return of the Alarmingly Gullible

sunrise2I spent a few days last week at the Sunrise Off the Grid Festival near Shepton Mallet.  I had been invited to go and give a talk, and went along with the Hopkins family en masse.  It was a small and intimate affair, with some great things; the Transition area in the Tin Village was fantastic, the talk I gave went fine, the weather was mostly kind, and it was all quite relaxed and pleasant.  I haven’t been at a festival since 2007’s Big Green Gathering, and there was one key thing I noticed that has changed since then, and which left me feeling very uneasy and with a profound sense of disquiet, so I wanted to give it some attention here.  It was the alarming rise of the 2012 doomsters….

There were many workshops and talks at the festival about this idea that 2012 is somehow significant and that, depending on who you talk to, the world will either end, transcend to a higher plane (or plain?), get smashed to pieces by a comet, or some other deeply meaningful, world changing event will occur (check out websites like this, for the kind of drivel that 2012 devotees swallow down whole…) . The bookshops were full of 2012 books, and on the way home we went to Glastonbury town (which makes Totnes look like Slough) where every bookshop seemed to have a 2012 section, full of books with titles like ‘Planet X Forecast and 2012 Survival Guide’, ‘Beyond 2012: Catastrophe or Ecstasy – A Complete Guide to End-of-time Predictions’ and ‘2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl’.  As I sat in one of the tents while the gear was reorganised for the following band, a song played over the PA which was a quite groovy, upbeat tune, but the words were all about 2012, and how ‘the positive energy will heal the world’.

Now the alternative scene has always offered a particularly safe bolthole for the alarmingly gullible, but this 2012 stuff really gives me the heebygeebies.  Some of the speakers, who elsewhere wouldn’t even be given the time of day but at an event like Sunrise are hailed as sources of great illumination, mix 2012 stuff with conspiracy stuff with spiritual warfare David Icke type stuff and whatever other daft nonsense is in vogue that week.  It is the 2012 stuff though that is most alarming, and here’s why.

Firstly, it is, of course, utter nonsense.  The idea that 5,000 years ago, the Mayans (good astronomers, but fairly brutal and unpleasant in many other ways) were able to predict that on December 12th 2012 something of extraordinary significance was definitely going to occur is bonkers.  Here’s how my logic goes anyway.  Everything that happens arises based on the causes and conditions that preceded them.  Nothing happens without something causing it to happen, whether it is chance, random chaotic occurences, or conscious interventions and actions.  What happened to me today was in part predictable, and in part entirely random.  Thinking about what might be happening next week is like the long range weather forecast, it may turn out like that, but the best laid plans oft go awry…

As for a year ahead, we may have aspirations and desires, but the elements of chaotic intervention are such that we really have no idea.  Great sequences of unimagined events can intervene, complex patterns of events arise chaotically, and with all the best intentions, we find ourselves doing completely different things.  Life changes course regularly, sometime subtly, and sometimes dramatically. The idea that someone 5,000 years ago had the supernatural powers to be able to predict definitely what would happen 5000 years later is thoroughly illogical.

Of course people have been predicting the end of the world almost since it started.  The Religious Tolerance website has a great list of all the predictions that the world was going to end in 2006, including one from the book ‘The Bible Code II’, which you may have seen in remindered bookshops recently, that in 2006 there was meant to be a world war and a nuclear apocalypse.  I must have missed those.

Adam Rutherfold, writing in the Guardian last year, pointed to the absurdity of two more of the 2012 predictions.  The first is that ‘the Earth and the sun will come into alignment’, when surely, he writes, two objects are always in alignment with each other?  As he puts it, “if the sun and the Earth are coming into alignment in 2012 what the deuce have they been doing for the past six billion years?”  The second is the idea that the Earth’s magnetic poles will shift, leading to huge tidal waves and all kinds of wild meteorological carnage.  The Earth has actually shifted its poles many times thoughouts its history, and it has never caused any significant problems for anyone, other than perhaps a few birds getting slightly lost and water going down the plughole the other way.

One could dismiss this, of course, as a load of harmless, fanciful nonsense which gullible folks inclined towards New Age/alternative culture thinking will immerse themselves in with no real detrimental effect on anyone else.  But as I sat there in a field in Somerset, I felt concerned.  We are 3 years away from December 2012, yet already for some people this is a big deal.  I met people there making their financial decisions around the thinking that they had to be ‘ready’ for 2012, and when it is woven in with some of the other conspiracy stuff that was doing the rounds, it all gets quite alarming.  When people think that beyond a particular date there is either nothing or there is chaos, then all kinds of behaviour become acceptable.

In 1969, Charles Manson managed to convince his acid-addled followers that end society was about to dissolve into chaos, and that their role was to help bring it on.  The results were dreadful.  There have been many others, the sarin attacks on the Tokyo underground, the mass suicides of Jim Jones, and the Heaven’s Gate suicides, when followers of a cult in the US believed the Haley’s Comet was being trailed by a huge spaceship and they had to leave their bodies in order to get to it (the idea of there being a spaceship behind the comet was a popular one on New Age/conspiracy websites at the time).  When there is a perception of no future, any kind of behaviour becomes acceptable.

Feels to me like this 2012 thing is something with a powerful attraction to some, yet it is something that is easy to refute with just a small amount of logic.  Problem is that Hollywood is now gearing up for 2012 too, with the film, 2012, doing for 2012 what The Day After Tomorrow did for climate change.  Check out the trailer below, fantastically absurd, there is, of course, nowhere near enough water in the world to come even close to doing anything like this, but it makes great cinema.

What was of gravest concern to me, as I looked at this event that supposedly represented ‘alternative culture’, was what a huge distraction this whole 2012 thing is from what we actually need to be doing.  Here was an event which supposedly represented ‘alternative culture’, which believes that it holds most of the ideas and thinking that actually know best what society needs.  There was recycling, it was off grid and so on, but at the same time there was all this 2012 stuff.   Peak oil, climate change, actually doing things, actually rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty, can all end up being dismissed.  As the song I heard playing put it, ‘positive energy will heal the world’.  Not that we need to do anything, you understand, we just all have to tune in to it, be in the right space for it, be ‘conscious to the changes’, and magically we will enter some kind of transcendent world where everything that we always believed in somehow has magically come to be everyone else’s reality too.

Sorry folks, the future we create will arise from the results of the actions we have already done and from what we do now, not thanks to some great cosmic forces beyond our influence (and beyond the understandings of any kind of scientific thinking).   In terms of climate change, it is not December 2012 we need to worry about, but December this year, when the Copenhagen talks take place.  As to when we need to start living in a carbon constrained way, that was about 15 years ago.  In terms of peak oil, was it last year, next year, or 2013?  No-one yet knows for sure, although official estimates continue to creep closer, but again, the sooner we start building local resilience and getting on with it, the better.  There are no cosmic forces that are going to do all this for us, it is down to us.  Some arbitrary date on an ancient calendar is not going to magically reduce concentrations of atmospheric CO2, refill the world’s fast depleting oil wells, overcome challenges of water, resource and land scarcity, rebuild genetic and biodiversity, rebuild depleting soils, feed the starving and overcome the very real constraints of a population with expectations of perpetual abundance living on a finite world.

What ideas like 2012 do, is to allow an abdication of personal responsibility.  “There are greater forces at work and we just have to go with it”, “it’s out of our hands”, “all bets are off as to what is going to happen”.  No mystic space people, nor some ancient powerful energy, are going to come to our rescue.  It is down to us, here, now.  It is a huge distraction, one much easier to believe (because at the end of the day that’s all it is, a belief, an article of faith) than to believe that we need to actually do stuff in an organised way.  I look forward to December 13th 2012, when it will be clear that the whole 2012 industry was another spectacular waste of paper, bandwidth and human energy.  Unfortunately by then, due to the inactivity of the preceding 3 years, the world will be 43 months from catastrophic climate change, the UK may well be experiencing blackouts, and those gullible enough to have spent their time ‘preparing for 2012’ (a difficult task as none of the people who write or speak about it have the foggiest idea what might happen, other than that it is ‘something big’) will emerge blinking into a world that is actually still just the world, albeit an increasingly fragile one.  We must challenge this nonsense with logic and reason wherever we encounter it.

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.

94 Comments

Ed Straker
4 Sep 10:09pm

“I have as much need to stay away from people who have the urge to explain everything”

Stay on topic. Transition doesn’t seek to explain everything. It only seeks to try to get humanity on a sustainable path, and unfortunately there ARE aspects of many if not all religion that lead people into unsustainable behaviors.

Look at the Duggars, for instance, who have just done their part to further strain the earth’s carrying capacity, to be felt the worst post-peak.

http://www.nj.com/parenting/carrie_stetler/index.ssf/2009/09/michelle_duggar_to_have_19th_c.html

If part of not being able to “explain everything” involves an ex-deus-machina or some other eschatology, then that also flies in the face of what Transition is trying to do. Why transition when God will sort through whatever mess humanity makes of things?

Dave Dann
4 Sep 10:16pm

“Why transition when God will sort through whatever mess humanity makes of things?”
Surely Gaia theory suggests that balance will be restored after humanity’s mess? Why bring your God into it?

Graham
4 Sep 10:33pm

Ed and Dave:
“Lovelock himself is a scientist and Gaia theory is not a cult.”
Lovelock’s original formulation of Gaia did indeed appear to be teleological, ie he proposed as an explanation for life a kind of overall intelligence that regulated the Earth system and was in some way leading life on earth to a sort of pre-ordained goal or direction.
Dawkins famously shot this down in “The Extended Phoenotype” and Lovelock graciously accepted the amendment and agreed that the Earth as a self-regulating system has no independent consciousness or intelligence- it just happens that way through evolution.
This is actually a good example of science learning and changing its views according to evidence and reason- not something you see much of within religion.

Dave Dann: I feel that you, and Gray and many others here still wont accept the basic idea of science- whether you want to explain everything is another matter- all science does is provide a methodology for investigating things. It is a question of evidence rather than faith, that’s all.
Yes, there are ideologies that are associated with science- “endless growth”; “technology will cure all”; “humans have a destiny to control the universe”.
These are ideologies in just the same way as religions have ideologies.
The scientific method is not an ideology however- it is simply a way of collecting evidence and verifying or falsifying same.
You are correct that reality did not change after Newton- but our understanding of reality did change, came closer to seeing it clearly. The insights of Newton were modified by Einstein- he showed how they can be made even more accurate- but in general still hold true. There is no reason to think they will ever be disproved.
It is useful I think to see scientific progress as like a child growing up. In Newton’s day it was just a toddler. Einstein swept it through adolescence into adulthood. Now it has come of age and we do in fact understand a great deal about the Universe- and about our inner psychology, all using the same method.
Whether we have the moral maturity to use this knowledge wisely is another matter- IMO, religion, and apologists for religion, are holding us back.

Ed Straker
4 Sep 11:20pm

“Surely Gaia theory suggests that balance will be restored after humanity’s mess? Why bring your God into it?”

The laws of thermodynamics imposes limits to growth, regardless of what you want to name it. Name it overshoot, gaia’s revenge, end-times, etc…

There is no bargaining to be had against the laws of physics.

Dave Dann
4 Sep 11:41pm

At this point I feel that I should apologise to Rob, for taking up so much of his space, and to any others to whom this debate may have become tedious. I love a good argument and don’t get the chance for many nowadays! There are certainly not many Friday evenings when I will be sat at my compurer. I hope we can amicably agree to disagree here.
I can’t see how you can separate ‘science’ from the fallibilty of scientists who do it and their methods and interpretation of the evidence.
I notice that there was an assumption earlier that I agreed entirely with ‘Transition’. This is not true. My casual observation of humanity is that it has entirely messed things up. I can’t see any evidence to disprove this. I can’t see any scientific evidence that humanity can reverse its actions. It seems to me that science suggests that the human population should not be more than maybe 1.5 billion whereas it is now 6, 7 or 8 (I can’t keep up). What is the scientific justification for the continued prosperity of a greedy ape? How is Transition going to reduce the population again?
My real interest is with that part of humanity that is not just a greedy ape. We need each other and we should stick together because times will be hard soon.
Now I’m going to bed, the moon is big and high and shining through my bedroom window. Good night! “The good life is only the natural life lived skilfully.”

John Mason
5 Sep 9:31am

I love discussions like this and they’d be great to have sat around a table with a good supply of guinness or affordable plonk!

What a lot of us seem to have in common is that for many years we have questioned the world we live in and its values rather than simply accepting them with blind faith. For me, science is the means of explaining the natural environment and its properties: whilst nothing is absolute, it works by building up overwhelming physical evidence. It seems to fall short when it comes to humanity because of the complexity of that system: I am sure many of us here came to the conclusion that you cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet many years ago: however perhaps that is simply because we are more influenced by the scientific procedure than by other thought-processes, be they 2012 or christianity or, most significantly at present, TV consumerism. Here in the West, it seems to me that the latter is very firmly in control, so that one comes across many who exist in a kind of bubble, remote from the realities of Earth. They have never paused to think critically about their guiding myth: indeed it is the single most dangerous creed on the planet, for the simple reason that, unlike any other belief-system, it has the demonstrable capability to cause the extinction of our and countless other species at worst and at best to inflate the bubble of civilisation to the point that it bursts.

This in turn may well be a reasonable explanation why, in a rural town such as this one, the ideas behind Transition are relatively easy to get across to the environmental movement, to those working on the land and to the over-60s: to many others, they are anaethema, an unwanted intrusion into their consumer lifestyle, because of that engineered disconnect with the physical world around them. The shock they will feel once flow-rate depletion starts to get underway will be profound.

Cheers – John

Graham
5 Sep 10:09am

Dave Dann:
“It seems to me that science suggests that the human population should not be more than maybe 1.5 billion whereas it is now 6, 7 or 8 (I can’t keep up). What is the scientific justification for the continued prosperity of a greedy ape?”

Science doesnt deal in justifications- that is the realm of politics, ethics etc.. All science does is try to establish the facts as accurately as possible. The scientific method is designed to try to overcome bias- for example by using controls, blinds and double blinds (and even triple blinds where even the person counting the data is not told which group is which); peer review; repeatable experiments and many other sophisticated tools designed to find out the truth about objective reality. It is truly one of our most amazing achievements because as you say, we all have built in bias, scientists included.
But the method has found ways around that.
If you question this, why do you believe the “scientific evidence” for overpopulation – or for GW for that matter?
Ask yourself how you know things about the physical world- does the sun circle the earth or the other way around? How many people are there in the world? Is there an invisible world of microbes? Is oil a fossil energy made millions of years ago- or is it abiotic, constantly renewed by an ever abundant inner core of the earth?
Ask yourself whether, if you think you know something about these issues, from where you got this knowledge- deep meditative trances? direct transmission from a guru? did you read them in the Bible? did you dowse the answers with willow sticks?

John Mason:
“For me, science is the means of explaining the natural environment and its properties: whilst nothing is absolute, it works by building up overwhelming physical evidence”

Aren’t you being a little tentative here John, perhaps throwing an olive branch to the cultural relativists who think science is just another opinion? Surely science doesnt just work for you, but has revealed universal truths which we cannot escape from. As Ed Strickland says, you cant negotiate with thermodynamics, these laws will win any day over the gods.

“indeed it [TV consumerism] is the single most dangerous creed on the planet, for the simple reason that, unlike any other belief-system, it has the demonstrable capability to cause the extinction of our and countless other species at worst and at best to inflate the bubble of civilisation to the point that it bursts.”

A rival for mass destruction could be a failed fundamentalist Islamic state for example that gets its hands on nuclear weapons. This could finish us off much more efficiently than the slow grind of consumerism.

Actually, Im not sure I agree with you in any case- consumerism can be seen as an ideology, but it is really just an expression of our evolutionary heritage- we evolved in times of scarcity and have not adapted to a world of abundance.
Also, “consumerism” in terms of its environmental impact should never be discussed separate from population which is increasing for two main reason:
1)Human profligacy- we are evolved to keep breeding, again a throw back to harsher times;
2) Religion- which opposes birth control, and oppresses women, and in some cases (the catholic church in Africa eg)actively promotes rapid population growth to grow the numbers of the faithful.(See Ed’s example of the Duggars above).
Religion also plays a big role in promoting consumerism- eg evangelical churches in the US. It is not just a secular activity by any means.
In secular culture we at least have the opportunity to hear many voices and discuss the evidence; this is inevitably much harder in any religious group- they are not likely to want to look too closely at evidence that might question their ideologies, no matter how liberal they may otherwise be.

Graham Burnett
5 Sep 12:58pm

> Ursula LeGuin said (I think) – “Excess is excrement. Excrement retained in the body is a poison.”

It wasn’t U LeGuin, it was Odo the anarchist thinker that helped to catalyse the colonisation by anarchists of Annares in order to stave off revolution on the planet Urras in LeGuin’s book ‘The Dispossessed’ (one of my all time favourite novels BTW, and a great speculative study of how a post-high energy, post capitalist non-(officially at any rate) hierarchical society might function)

John Mason
5 Sep 5:43pm

Graham,

Lots of stuff to think about there and I have just returned home having earlier walked from Mach to the beer-festival at Corris! I’ll therefore reply in the morning!

Food beckons!

Cheers – john

Brad K.
5 Sep 6:32pm

john,

No, no! Please do reply immediately before leaving the beer-festival. It is amazing sometimes what the looser thinking will churn out, while under the influence. The onus is to identify the 6%-10% worth keeping, and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

At the least – take notes!

(I like to drink a glass of water between each serving of beverage. This helps to keep my water-to-substance ratio in balance.)

John Mason
5 Sep 6:44pm

Brad,

Unfortunately, likewise with my colleagues, such common sense was abandoned. I have to report that some of them are still up there, but I’m only a semi-pro!

But something interesting involving the chanterelles we picked along the walk is in the oven and smelling good!

Cheers – john

John Mason
6 Sep 7:16am

Graham,

“Aren’t you being a little tentative here John, perhaps throwing an olive branch to the cultural relativists who think science is just another opinion? Surely science doesnt just work for you, but has revealed universal truths which we cannot escape from. As Ed Strickland says, you cant negotiate with thermodynamics, these laws will win any day over the gods.”

I should have been a bit clearer here. What I meant was that science does not work in terms of “black or white” or “yes or no”, but by the overwhelming weight of evidence. Sure, physics has basic laws to which things adhere, but the myriad variables and feedbacks in any realtime, complex system (e.g. global climate) mean that there are generally no black-or-white answers. This is exploited e.g. by AGW deniers who delight in telling the non-scientific majority of people that since AGW cannot be proven, it does not exist. As unscientific a sytatement that it is possible to make! (The accurate way to sum up AGW would be to say that its validity as a theory is overwhelmingly supported by the evidence – despite one glacier out of how many thousand going the wrong way or a puddle in someone’s back yard freezing over a month earlier than it did last year.)

“A rival for mass destruction could be a failed fundamentalist Islamic state for example that gets its hands on nuclear weapons. This could finish us off much more efficiently than the slow grind of consumerism.”

I very much doubt that. Sure, they could cause mayhem on a regional basis, but to “finish us off” such a regime would need to get their hands on a lot more technology and resources than currently looks even remotely likely.

“Actually, Im not sure I agree with you in any case- consumerism can be seen as an ideology, but it is really just an expression of our evolutionary heritage- we evolved in times of scarcity and have not adapted to a world of abundance.”

I think what I call “TV consumerism” is as strong a behavioural system as any religion, past or present, and possibly stronger, because of its resemblance in many ways to addictive behaviour: witness the open hostility with which suggestions involving its curbing are received. This is why environmentalists are highly unpopular in many quarters!

We live in what can be described as a “throwaway economy”, where we are trained to buy to excess and throw away that which we cannot consume in the time before it spoils – 6.7 million tons of food in the UK alone every year. Built-in obselecence in manufactured goods in order to keep the spare parts industry going is another example. Another is the promotion of the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality – seen especially in the electronics industry – things like mobile phones for example, or digital cameras. Some people upgrade their DSLRs every time their manufacturer of choice announces a snazzy new model. Their photographs don’t improve simply because they fail to realise that it is the photographer that needs to learn how to take a good photograph, not the camera! But they carry on upgrading nevertheless!

“Also, “consumerism” in terms of its environmental impact should never be discussed separate from population which is increasing for two main reason:
1)Human profligacy- we are evolved to keep breeding, again a throw back to harsher times;
2) Religion- which opposes birth control, and oppresses women, and in some cases (the catholic church in Africa eg)actively promotes rapid population growth to grow the numbers of the faithful.(See Ed’s example of the Duggars above).
Religion also plays a big role in promoting consumerism- eg evangelical churches in the US. It is not just a secular activity by any means.
In secular culture we at least have the opportunity to hear many voices and discuss the evidence; this is inevitably much harder in any religious group- they are not likely to want to look too closely at evidence that might question their ideologies, no matter how liberal they may otherwise be.”

Yes – all animals have an evoluntionary motive to keep breeding, agreed. This is of course based on the premise that only a certain percentage of a species’ offspring will reach sexual maturity due to predation, disease etc (the female cod for example releases several million eggs). The religious aspect to this is certainly problematic though, given that overpopulation in the face of depleted resources necessary to maintain that population is guaranteed to lead to overshoot/collapse. That would be the case, however, in either a religious or secular society, because neither currently (with the exception of China) dares to suggest to its people that they pause for a moment to consider the consequences if they add more to an already burgeoning population.

Here in the UK we have campaigns that state things like “think before you drink before you drive”, but can anyone imagine “think before you breed” appearing on posters? Not in a consumerist culture in which the term “designer baby” has already come into use!

No, in my view consumerism has become such a powerful force that it merely uses other religions for promoting itself where that seems appropriate/feasible.

Cheers – John

Graham
6 Sep 1:22pm

Sorry I missed the beer festival John the refreshments may well have helped lubricate the discussion!

“This is exploited e.g. by AGW deniers who delight in telling the non-scientific majority of people that since AGW cannot be proven, it does not exist. As unscientific a statement that it is possible to make!”

And the exact same argument is made by “vaccine-deniers” alternative therapists and pseudoscientists of all kinds to promote their beliefs.

“I very much doubt that. Sure, they [religious extremeists] could cause mayhem on a regional basis, but to “finish us off” such a regime would need to get their hands on a lot more technology and resources than currently looks even remotely likely.”

You are probably correct- still, the main difference is crucial: from within an extremist religious state dissent or freedom of speech is all but impossible. At least in the consumer west dissenting voices are not automatically imprisoned or worse- otherwise Transition, with its very radical anti-consumer message would not stand a chance.

“Here in the UK we have campaigns that state things like “think before you drink before you drive”, but can anyone imagine “think before you breed” appearing on posters? Not in a consumerist culture in which the term “designer baby” has already come into use!”

Well, we are talking about transition here, so the hope is that things could change- it is all about what we promote. It is definately a discussion worth haveing, why does transition not campaign for “Think before you breed” posters- surely this is just as important, and no more radical, than the overall anti-consumer/powerdown message.

“No, in my view consumerism has become such a powerful force that it merely uses other religions for promoting itself where that seems appropriate/feasible.”

You are correct of course- but the theoretical relationship between religious and secular ideologies probably needs more work- I suspect that in the US as regards TV evangelism the two ideologies are so close as to be indistinguishable.

But my general point is, it is not the specific beliefs but the methodology that separates science from religion. That is what should be accepted as universal- the scientific method, rather than just something that “works for me”.
In my view it is crucially important for transition to promote scientific understanding without which we are really not in a good position to make good decisions.

Thanks! Graham

Ed Straker
6 Sep 3:06pm

why does transition not campaign for “Think before you breed” posters- surely this is just as important, and no more radical, than the overall anti-consumer/powerdown message.
———

Oh, I think you are dead wrong about that. Reproduction is the ultimate taboo and Rob Hopkins, while acknowledging it as a problem, has chosen to omit it from the scope of Transition movement.

A transition town filled with Duggars won’t amount to much, no matter how many fruit and nut trees are planted.

BdG
6 Sep 3:40pm

Does this mean we don’t have to fix the clock in Linux (due to wrap back to zero in 2038)?

John Mason
6 Sep 4:29pm

Ed,

Regarding Rob & overpopulation: this is my take on the topic.

The broad principles of Transition are something that are emerging and evolving through time: but one thing they do not involve (and I do not think they should) is telling people “Thou shalt not”. The most frequent complaint I have heard on “the outside”, regarding the environmental movement, is its perceived tendency to lecture people, to tell them what they shouldn’t do. Clearly that does not work: people behave according to incentive rather than prohibition (or even the suggestion of it) as a good rule of thumb. Ironically, the greatest incentive for the majority to adopt the things identified as survival tools for severe post-peak depletion will be as that starts to manifest itself (although just as in today’s society you will have some folk who simply can’t be bothered). At least though, there will in any community with a Transition initiative additional people to facilitate that through what many of us have taught ourselves already (such as my crash-course to vegetable self-sufficiency within 6 months – I knew very little about growing until this year).

Graham,

We seem to hold many similar views! The methodology as you say is the whole basis on which science works, and should be clearly seperated from “belief”. It is how things are, plain and simple.

However, to me, that does not mean that to be a scientist you have to have the mind/personality of a logic-driven emotionless robot. Like many, I variably get a spiritual kick, solace, a feeling of being and place from activities that involve working with the Earth: activities such as storm-chasing, fishing, growing or gathering – all of which involve a quantity of science (observation/deduction/conclusion/application) in order to be successful. Perhaps this is the real spirituality, based on the simple appreciation and, in time, understanding of real things and their importance to our lives. This is, of course, the exact opposite of TV consumerism, which (intentionally or unintentionally, I suspect the former) decouples us from the “real things” – just as religions do to varying degrees. That is a major reason why I put religion and consumerism in the same basket, because they clearly attempt to create a variety of alternative realities that have succeeded in getting us to this rather challenging point in our evolution.

Cheers – John

Brad K.
6 Sep 4:39pm

@ Ed Straker,

About “Think before you breed” – I would give that a second thought.

A family is a microcosm of culture, a deliberately (or mostly so!) blending of the traditions, beliefs, and values of two parent families, combined with choices made because of experiences, and goals of a couple. A family is the unit that combines with others to make up a community.

The surest way of preserving culture is to produce offspring. I would posit that if you hold values and traditions, you will be driven to produce offspring.

Leo Fankowski in his Conrad series of SF novels pointed out that improving the “standard of living” invariably results in a lower birth rate. What if the standard of living is but a side effect, and the driver is a weakened focus on culture, values, traditions, and goals within the family? What if blending the family into a “cosmopolitan” community is the reason for less emphasis on children?

One can play pig farmer to the world, and mandate that fewer mouths to feed is a better way to match resources to needs. Historically the evidence is that children today are the soldiers of tomorrow. And showing up for tomorrow’s battles without warriors is a short path to a quick end.

We can tout metaphysical children as the students of teachings, in formal and informal instruction and debate settings.

But if your beliefs are truly sincere, if they actually drive one, then the evidence will be that you form that microculture at home – a fecund family.

I recall when Zero Population Growth was a by-word of the socially conscious in America. Then, as now, those concerned about surviving, the poor and those striving for their goals – continued to reproduce. Frankowski, again, pointed out how the celibate church in historical Europe attracted the brightest young men, the best thinkers, to the church – and genetically removed then from the population. Did this have an overall effect of turning the gene pool? Undoubtedly. What of the practice of reverence (and sexual exploitation) of the nobility? Did that tilt the gene pool toward aggression and ambition? Likely so. These practices persisted for hundreds of years, a lot of generations.

So when you advocate “Think before you breed”, consider what that implies about the culture and values of those that respond, and what it means for the efforts into the next generation.

Because those drilling for oil, tearing down rain forests for farmland and charcoal, and those building factories sure aren’t holding back on their family plans.

John Mason
6 Sep 5:04pm

Just as a clarification re – population growth, of course if every woman on Earth decides not to breed, we are gone in a century. A bit like oil dependency, the problem is the degree to which the population is expanding due to the numbers of families with high-multiple offspring. In former times, say 200 years ago, to do this ensured (as with the cod) that one or two would likely make it to say 25 years of age. Two centuries of progress in medicine and workplace safety, coupled with a lull in “cannon-fodder” style warfare have, at least in the West, rendered such notions obselete for now, and greater population densities are a consequence.

Cheers – john

Brad K.
6 Sep 5:27pm

@ John,

When listing the causes of improved life span, consider the advances that made geometric improvements, rather than slight incremental changes – sanitation. Medicine might have discovered and described germs and microbes. It is the sanitation department, the flush toilet, digging latrines away from water sources, that reduced the incidence and severity of plaques, dysentery, cholera, etc. Medicine saves lives; sanitation preserves communities.

John Mason
6 Sep 5:38pm

Good point Brad – yes I shouldn’t have omitted that! As you say, as important as anything else!

Cheers – john

Mike Grenville
6 Sep 9:33pm

From my understanding of what Rob is saying here (and what I have been saying for a while) is something that Adrienne hinted at above. This is that in addition to the 3 future scenarios that we talk about (Apocalypse, technology, and greening) there is another that I call Divine Redemption.

A number of different groups use Divine Redemption as a reason for carrying on with life as normal (jetting around the planet, consumer lifestyle etc). They believe that because they are focused on a spiritual path and that a transformation of consciousness is what is going to save us they don’t need to make personal changes themselves.

Into this group go all kinds of meditators, (and I speak as someone who has meditated twice daily for 40 years) and spiritual seekers, 2012ers, fundamentalist Christians who believe in the Rapture (Jesus will come on clouds and the chosen ones will be lifted up into the sky), some Shia Muslims (including President Ahmadinjead of Iran) who also believe in an imminent second coming of the Prophet that will sort everything out.

Personally I am not so dismissive of 2012 because I have a strong sense that a transformation of consciousness is actually happening and that is what many 2012 predictions are about. There is a global awakening happening on all sorts of levels, something Paul Hawken spotted and has called the other superpower.

The issue is not with the belief itself, but with the thinking that follows that there no need to do anything because the angels or the Divine will sort it out. There is an Arabic saying ‘trust in God and tie up your camel’. If you are interested in it investigate it and then move on and do something.

What clicked for me some years ago was that whatever angle you looked it was becoming clear that we were heading to a big crunch. Whether one looked at economics in the Financial Times, energy constraints on Energy Bulletin, Climate Chaos, water, food production, etc etc or from a spiritual angle; they all seemed to be predicting a crunch of issues around about the same date. I found that a pretty compelling reason to get out there and do more! As the joke goes – ‘Jesus is coming. Look busy.’

For me Joanna Macy’s three actions sums up what we need to do: resist destruction (direct action), build new ways of living (transition initiatives), transform consciousness (inner transition). None of them on their own are enough and we need to engage on all levels.

For me a little knowledge of 2012 ideas is just an added motivation to do more for Transition Initiatives, not an excuse to leave it all up to cosmic forces.

Graham
8 Sep 11:16am

Interesting discussion on religion and climate activism here:
http://badscience.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=11541

Ed Strickland:

“Oh, I think you are dead wrong about that. Reproduction is the ultimate taboo and Rob Hopkins, while acknowledging it as a problem, has chosen to omit it from the scope of Transition movement.

A transition town filled with Duggars won’t amount to much, no matter how many fruit and nut trees are planted.”

I totally agree with the last bit but i think you are being a little unfair to Rob here- he is not the ruling voice of transition, it is up to all of us to bring the issues we feel are important to the fore.I also take issue with Rob on this mind you, but I thought the Transition Timeline does a good job on population overall;
although it does take the same view of John Mason above, ie that consumption is a more serious issue- I still doubt that. For example, John talks about the insane habit of buying a new camera every year. This is surely a problem and easy to rail against because we see this culture all around us; but even if we were successful at combating this, there is still another 80-90 million mouths to feed on the planet EVERY YEAR. And they will all want a decent standard of living- and have a right to it- but there wont be enough resources even if they never own a single camera. That is why I think population and consumption are really two sides of the same coin and should always be considered together.
(One of the reasons we dont is because it seems easy to try to reduce consumption, while population is apparently intractable).
John:
“Regarding Rob & overpopulation: this is my take on the topic.

The broad principles of Transition are something that are emerging and evolving through time: but one thing they do not involve (and I do not think they should) is telling people “Thou shalt not”. ”

I just dont get this John. A “Think before you breed” bumper sticker is no more saying “Though Shalt Not” than is any of the Transition messages. Doesnt matter how you phrase it, any suggestion that people might consider changing- however subtle and tentative- will be met by some as being dictatorial. Transition is all about changing the culture, there are many ways to do this but if we were apply what you say about Rob and population to all the other messages of Transition we would not have a movement at all! No books, blogs, meetings, forums or bumper stickers at all!

” The methodology as you say is the whole basis on which science works, and should be clearly seperated from “belief”. It is how things are, plain and simple.

However, to me, that does not mean that to be a scientist you have to have the mind/personality of a logic-driven emotionless robot. Like many, I variably get a spiritual kick, solace, a feeling of being and place from activities that involve working with the Earth: …”

Absolutely- but I would avoid the word “spiritual” in this context- most people mean by it the existence of some other kind of reality populated by invisible beings which care about them personally. These delusions are a natural human evolutionary legacy, but clearly will not help us how to cope with issues like AGW or PO; the last thing we want is to have people with such beliefs writing policy or influencing our decisions. (I know- it’s too late!!)
It is tragic that people dont realise how a scientific understanding of the world will likely bring much more of a sense of awe and wonder than religious/ “spiritual” views. See Dawkins “Unweaving the Rainbow”.

I still await with baited breath how Rob thinks he is going to “mesh” with the “cultural stories” of the religious. Most of these cultural stories are completely loopy- you could just as easily re-write Rob’s 2012 piece but replace 2012 with beliefs of, say, the catholic Church or any other religion, viz:
“Check out the Bible for the kind of drivel that Christians swallow down whole”.
What is interesting about this forum is that some commentators (Mike Grenville) have done a good job of actually defending the 2012-ers on the basis that they could be right!!

John Mason
8 Sep 5:23pm

Interesting points as ever, Graham!

Regarding the use of the word “spritual”, I can refer to its hinting-at in the brilliant essay by Jim Perrin, “Black Earth, Black Light”, where he recounts:

“I was sitting with my back to the summit cairn and facing east. It was an evening of absolute clarity and stillness, the sun was going down behind a shoulder of Snowdon and the cwm at my feet was inky with shadow. I was in that perfectly peaceful and harmonious state where you are so still that the gentle throb of blood around your body is as tangible, as audible, as the ticking of a clock. The whole outlook seemed of transcendent beauty – the green hills and woods and soft, low light, I was, in Simone Weil’s phrase, “annihilated by the plentitude of being”.

This I have occasionally experienced myself: the last-but-one such time almost 12 months ago, climbing back up the slopes from the rock-ledges atop Bardsey Sound after a day’s fishing. The late-evening sun was at a low angle, and its light depicted the ancient ridges of the field-systems that existed at one time, centuries ago, where sheep now graze the thin turf and invisible during most points of daylight. Across the sound, Bardsey and the ocean beyond drew my gaze. I had to stop and simply take it all in. It was nearly dark when I left in the end. To me, that is as deeply spiritual an experience as anybody can have. Likewise see my account of finding a 4000 yeard old arrowhead up in the mountains here – http://www.geologywales.co.uk/storms/summer09d.htm

By contrast, a familiar tap-tap on my front door this morning turned out to be what are commonly referred to in these parts as “God-botherers”. Feet firmly on the doorstep, I was advised as to the means of aquiring an eternal life via a translated and simplified version of manuscripts millennia in their age.

I said to him – “if you mean by eternal life that we as a species manage to get through this current crisis and learn to live side-by-side with the other occupants of the planet, fine!”

He then turned to God and punishment of the profligate, and the emergence of a new and perpetual Garden of Eden (yes he was keen!), to which I added how inherently blinkered TV consumerism was, which he agreed with. My final reposte was “fine let God come and extract his revenge – so long as he leaves my veg garden alone”. It was gently tended, after all.

Well, if there is a god up there, he can do me another favour by blasting the caterpillars of cabbage whites (most on the decoy-crop of nasturtium, but some requiring attention amongst the broccoli), but I’d ask him to not get too carried-away when he sees the clumps of stinging-nettles, not yet consinged to plant-food because Commas have pupae dangling from them in places, and after they have all emerged I will cut them back hard, to see new soup-shoots emerge next April 🙂

Cheers – John

Graham
8 Sep 6:12pm

Beautiful John, thanks.
Sam Harris has interesting points to make on this in this interview with Bill Maher:
http://reasonweekly.com/atheism-and-religion/sam-harris-on-real-time-with-bill-maher

Harris argues that religious beliefs are a kind of cultural pathology- they are clearly nonsense but taboos surrounding discussing this allow them to continue. He also makes the very important point that beliefs are not harmless things that keep to themseleves- knocking on people’s doors is the least of it! Apparently 80% (did i hear that right?!) of Americans actually believe in Jesus and the second coming. Beliefs by their very nature are acted on and people really do make their choices based on what they believe including political choices.
BUT he acknowledges that the core of religion- that we can transform ourselves, and that we can have experiences such as you describe that may take us out of ourselves as it were, is something we should be interested in- but we have to cut through the mumbo jumbo first.

Jason
9 Sep 2:44am

Missed a big ruckus here evidently, been away from my machine.

Just so my own views are clear — I don’t dismiss ‘2012’ because it is spiritual (my whole life is dedicated to spirituality really), but because it is based on a supposedly ‘Mayan’ revelation of some kind which I think has no real scholarship behind it, but which has been grabbed hold of and used by a cultural movement in what seems a rather obvious manner to me.

As far as ‘cutting through the mumbo jumbo’ is concerned, it’s a rather interesting phenomenon that. Many people who begin with the attitude that ‘religion is bunk but states of consciousness may be interesting if investigated scientifically’ (which is where Graham is and where I was 10 years ago) tend to change their mind on the reality of religion as they go forward, if they start having certain kinds of experiences. Not that you ever become a parrot.

Others choose to develop wholly non-religious frameworks for what they discover about mind — or think they do anyhow! As a Stoic/Hermetic with a strong interest in modern psychology, I guess I cover all the bases there.

Personally I’m not a fan of social effects of the limited religions that are mostly on offer in the world. But the idea that there is nothing at all behind them is not one which personal experience would support in my case. My experience of religion has been almost entirely *not* of the kind with which we are normally familiar in the west.

Ed Straker
9 Sep 5:39am

“people behave according to incentive rather than prohibition”

OK.

Thou shalt not breed becomes “wear a condom”

“The surest way of preserving culture is to produce offspring.”

ADOPT.

Graham
9 Sep 8:14am

Jason:
“Just so my own views are clear — I don’t dismiss ‘2012′ because it is spiritual (my whole life is dedicated to spirituality really), but because it is based on a supposedly ‘Mayan’ revelation of some kind which I think has no real scholarship behind it, but which has been grabbed hold of and used by a cultural movement in what seems a rather obvious manner to me.”

and the Hebrew revelations of the Bible of virgin births and second comings have real scholarship behind them?! and are not being “grabbed hold of and used by a cultural movement in an obvious way” ? Or maybe the Koran is the One True Book?

“Many people who begin with the attitude that ‘religion is bunk but states of consciousness may be interesting if investigated scientifically’ (which is where Graham is and where I was 10 years ago) tend to change their mind on the reality of religion as they go forward, if they start having certain kinds of experiences.”

and many people go the other way, especially if they start investigating their experiences scientifically rather than through the lens of a particular cultural form. The scientific investigation of “spiritual” experiences is one of the most exciting and fecund fields of study right now, a relatively new idea which replaces the mistake of taking our experiences on face value.
Everyone has “experiences”- but if we believe them to be factually true, then you are into beliefs and religions- that is how many of the main religions started.
Which “religion” do people change their mind on do you think?
Atheism is the fastest growing minority in the US at least, possibly in Europe as well.

Shane Hughes
11 Sep 1:43am

Just wanted to be clear before i start that I’m not a scientist but got a masers of science about 10 years ago and see myself as a lover of science. So my questions below are not against science but rather compelled by Graham’s scientific extremism. Anyhow here’s some questions for anyone who cares to answer them;

Do you agree that science in itself is not quite as important as the worldview that we derive from science?
Do you think that we should build our entire world view on science alone?
Do you agree that science is limited?
Do you agree that every century/milenia our scientific evidence evolves adding new layers of depth, complexity and understanding and in some cases renders useless our previous reading of the “pieces” of evidence?
Therefore, do you agree that at least some of our current pier reviewed scientifically proven evidence based beliefs are actually describing part truths and so future generations will end up looking back and saying we were nothing short of being wrong?
Perhaps even, and dare i say it, is it at all possible that our current science is wrong about alternative therapies?
Do you agree that science (or perhaps our human interaction with science) has to some degree been feeding our current world view and predicament?

Graham,
Do you agree that anyone that doesn’t agree with your science built point of view is wrong?
Do you think there may be times in this thread where your need to win the argument stops you listening to points people are making, rather a kind off old school search for flaws in peoples points in an attempt to undermine their perspective?
Do you agree that if you were one of the core people responsible for promoting transition we’d be screwed as you’d alienate as many as you engage?
Do you believe that only through science can people think for themselves?

Graham
11 Sep 3:53pm

Hi Shane
First of all a question to you: why do you say “Graham’s scientific extremism” ?Why “extreme” and why “Graham’s” ? This is a very common kind of attack on science, which cannot, by definition, be extreme: it is just science, period.
Now a stab at your questions:
“Do you agree that science in itself is not quite as important as the worldview that we derive from science?”
No comprendo. What worldview do you think “we” derive from science?
“Do you think that we should build our entire world view on science alone?”

No. But when you are talking about causal relationships – eg “Does x cure y”?” -then science is your only man (or woman).
“Do you agree that science is limited?”

Yes. Science is a methodology, it’s not magic (which is of course unlimited!). Is religion limited IYO? Is making things up limited?

“Do you agree that every century/milenia our scientific evidence evolves adding new layers of depth, complexity and understanding and in some cases renders useless our previous reading of the “pieces” of evidence?”

This has happened of course- science has made very real progress, but if you look at my comments above you will see that I think it is more useful to see science as something that has grown from childhood to adulthood, to maturity.
What is absolutely not true is that science randomly flits from one view to another. This is a persistent myth, but completely false. The basic insights of Archimedes and Newton still stand, they have not been overturned nor is there any expectation that they will be in the future.

“Therefore, do you agree that at least some of our current pier reviewed scientifically proven evidence based beliefs are actually describing part truths and so future generations will end up looking back and saying we were nothing short of being wrong?”

Now you’re going to tell me that in the future we will believe the earth is flat. It is a meaningless statement you are making- all science says is, do the studies, follow the peer-review protocols to avoid bias, be transparent, dont start off with ideological assumptions and try to fit the evidence to suit.

“Perhaps even, and dare i say it, is it at all possible that our current science is wrong about alternative therapies?”

And maybe they will stand forever. You are asking the wrong questions Shane- anything is possible, the question should be, what is likely? 200 clinical trials on homeopathy for example show it is just a placebo, which is hardly surprising because it is just water. Do you think that science could be wrong about pigs flying? Just because the first million pigs they looked at couldnt fly doesnt mean the next one wont!

You are missing the point about alternative therapies- most people who sell such stuff have no interest in evidence -it simply doesnt come into it.. A treatment that has evidence is called “medicine”. Alternative “medicine” is by definition a treatment that has no evidence for it working. But dont let that stop you selling it to people whom Rob would refer to as “alarmingly gullible”- there is one born every minute and that is great for business!

“Do you agree that science (or perhaps our human interaction with science) has to some degree been feeding our current world view and predicament?”

For example? Not really sure what you mean. I think our predicament comes down to evolutionary features which have made us out-compete everything else- our problem is that we have become too successful. It should be noted that without science we would not have any idea about what our predicament is viz AGW and PO. Many of us wouldnt be alive without science.
I also think that a bigger problem right now is that very few people understand the first thing about science- they have absorbed quite distorted views about it from the media and the New Age movement. Im afraid I have to say that your questions indicate you have bought into this particular meme hook, line ans sinker.

“Do you agree that anyone that doesn’t agree with your science built point of view is wrong?”

And do you agree Shane that anyone who doesnt buy into your woo-woo beliefs is wrong? If you have an argument to make, you need to be specific- what are you actually trying to say?

“Do you think there may be times in this thread where your need to win the argument stops you listening to points people are making, rather a kind off old school search for flaws in peoples points in an attempt to undermine their perspective?”

And do you think that this might apply more to you Shane? I dont think you have even read the thread- you certainly havnt understood the points Ive made on it. Many of your questions have already been answered, not just by me.

“Do you agree that if you were one of the core people responsible for promoting transition we’d be screwed as you’d alienate as many as you engage?”

Do you think that by promoting pseudoscience and “spiritual” beliefs Transition is alienating as many as it attracts? What kind of people might be alienated by the promotion of religion Shane? Do you want to alienate them? Why would Transition be in the business of actively promoting New Age beliefs while at the same time undermining scientific understanding? Seems to me most people come to Transition because of the scientific evidence for AGW and PO, not because they think they will find a safe haven for their fairy beliefs.

“Do you believe that only through science can people think for themselves?”

Science actively encourages thinking for oneself; religion, alternative therapies and pseudoscience rely on people’s gullibility and lack of ability to think critically. Transition should no more be promoting this than it should promote Islam. Or 2012-ism for that matter.

HotConflict
15 Sep 11:21am

Is there a real change coming in 2012. What did the Mayans understand about the Dark Rift? Is the world going through an evolutionary change. The prophet Muhammed told the believers about the Changing direction of the sun and the coming Ascension !

http://www.hotconflict.com/blog/stories-of-the-prophets.html

Jason
20 Sep 1:52am

lol Graham,

<>

In the sense that the Hebrews or Christians really did believe in those things, yes.

<>

As I say, that’s where I was ten years ago. I’m very familiar indeed with the current spiritual sciences, and myself (as I think I have said before) practice no form of religion. But if you go for personal experiential knowledge yourself your perspective can often change in many interesting ways. I find a great deal of value in the current spiritual sciences, but personally, very much less value in the idea that those sciences in some way definitively devalue religions of all kinds simply by existing. But people can make up their own minds if they are familiar with the research.

Jason
20 Sep 1:53am

… woops!

First quote:

and the Hebrew revelations of the Bible of virgin births and second comings have real scholarship behind them?!

Second quote:

and many people go the other way, especially if they start investigating their experiences scientifically rather than through the lens of a particular cultural form

Jules
21 Sep 6:21pm

It is amazing, that blog was filled with subjective viewpoint with
absolutely no substantiation. there is a distinct anti-spiritual vibe in many of the activists groups i detect, a militant atheist
anti-enlightenment rhetoric:

This:

“The idea that 5,000 years ago, the Mayans (good astronomers, but fairly brutal and unpleasant in many other ways) were able to predict that on December 12th 2012 something of extraordinary significance was definitely going to occur is bonkers.”

Is such an ignorant asinine statement, betraying such a personal
prejudice it fills me with anger. So now we can’t predict that every 28-32 years Saturn returns to the same spot in its orbit around the sun?

That is a prediction, and the Mayans understood the complex
inter-relationship of planets and the galaxy we inhabit, possessing knowledge which is difficult for our scientific materialist logic to comprehend. They were aware of planetary cycles and 2012 represents the return point of a major cycle that Mayan astronomy was aware of. Do some research.

And this

“Adam Rutherfold, writing in the Guardian last year, pointed to the absurdity of two more of the 2012 predictions. The first is that ‘the Earth and the sun will come into alignment’, when surely, he writes, two objects are always in alignment with each other? ”

Actually the alignment is with Earth, sun and the galactic centre.
Adam Rutherford is a blatant Guardian hack who wears his prejudice on his sleeve. He gets his commissions writing deliberately provocative anti-spiritual tripe. It doesn’t matter that he does little or no research. As long as you write for the establishment, you can make any number of journalistic errors and no one seems to pull him up on it.

Quite frankly, he’s full of shit!

And this:

“I look forward to December 13th 2012”

In fact the suggestion is that it is December 21st 2012. Not even the barest hint of proper research. Just rabid prejudice. God there is so much to contend with. If this represents the peace movement (and i know it only represents one section), then there is no movement.

That is not to say that there is not an industry growing around this that is exploiting people’s fears. Like alternative therapies, there are charlatans, as there are in any walk of life. but this kind of wishy-washy prejudice seems to be acceptable in the so-called “established” view. where science demands evidence, it seems that those who back the limited scientific materialism pushed by Dawkins et al seem quite content, like Dawkins himself, to attack anything resembling a differing world view.

I think the 2012 phenomenon and indeed the limited world view of scientific materialism should be a topic for discussion, because i feel that any people’s movement that attempts to ignore this growing sense of change, where the interface of science and spirituality is coming to is making a serious error of judgment and failing to see where the problem lies.

Many scientists in the fields of quantum physics, genetics and biology are putting forward radical world views. They are being ignored, because the old order makes money out of people’s suffering. take a closer look at the link between the pharmaceutical industry and the BMA.

As well as regimented church-based religion, it is the old order of scientific materialism that is in its death throes and we would do well to realise how capitalism owes much of its power and ignorance to the ideology of scientific materialism. Both Marx and Darwin are lauded, yet one can be said to have led to an oppressive regime that ignored the spirit of the people, while the other can be said to have influenced colonialism and eugenics.

It’s time we moved past the old regimes, recognise the positives that came from both ideologies, but recognise also that the spiritual nature of indigenous cultures throughout the world also
had world views that served them for centuries. It is ignorant
Eurocentrism to view these cultures as purveyors of supernatural mumbo jumbo. And I notice that the more spikier elements of the activist movement slip very readily into this sterile, limited world view.

Recognise your own prejudice and subjective belief systems before criticising others, without putting forward a shred of evidence to support your case.

Josef Davies-Coates
21 Sep 7:34pm

Graham:

As a devil’s advocate I wonder why you say:

“a failed fundamentalist Islamic state for example that gets its hands on nuclear weapons”

And not, e.g. US who already has them and is the only nation to have actually used them, twice. Or Israel, who spend more on weapons per head than any nations on Earth, by many orders of magnitude.

What unfounded cultural stories have you been swallowing lately?

More to the point:

Can you please substantiate, using the scientific methodology, your claim that:

“irrational belief of any kind will get-and are getting in the way of transition” ?!?

While you are at it, perhaps do a survey of statistical significance of all transitioners, permaculturalists, allotment keepers and urban gardeners on their religious beliefs.

If you find, as you surely will, that many of them are religious then perhaps you can explain how their pro-active efforts are “getting in the way of transition”.

You might also like to do a similar survey on scientists. Are you aware than some scientists are also religious? How does that fit in with your oh so very empathetic world view?

Maybe you will discover in your research that Roger Bacon, recognised at one of the earliest advocates of the modern scientific method, was himself a Christian.

Or that Copernicus, the first astronomer to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology, which displaced the Earth from the center of the universe, was Catholic. So was Galileo. And Descartes.

Or what about the Russian mathematician who defended religion during the Soviet era, was imprisoned as a “religious sectarian.” and died of a hunger strike in protest, Dmitri Egorov.

Even Charles Babbage, for forefather of modern computing was reportedly and Anglican.

And despite saying “the faith in miracles must yield, step by step, before the steady and firm advance of the facts of science, and its total defeat is undoubtedly a matter of time” Max Planck, winner of 1918 Nobel Prize in Physics and founder of Quantum mechanics was an elder in his church to his death.

Or Charles Hard Townes, another winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics who in 1966 wrote “The Convergence of Science and Religion”.

Or John Polkinghorne, British particle physicist and Anglican priest.

Or Francis Collins, director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute.

Or, my favourite example, how about John T. Houghton who was the co-chair of the Nobel Peace Prize winning IPCC scientific assessment working group and lead editor of first three IPCC reports?! Did you know he is the former Vice President of Christians in Science?!

Are Sharon Astyk’s religious beliefs getting in the way of her transition related work?

Did Martin Luther King Jr’s religious beliefs get in the way of the civil rights movement? Or was his connection to faith communities one of the movements biggest strengths?

Did Gandhi’s Hinduism hinder his work?

I could go on and on and on. And on.

Frankly I find your claim that “”irrational belief of any kind will get-and are getting in the way of transition”” to be preposterous, arrogant and rude.

BTW, I agree that many (most!?) of the beliefs held by religious people are utterly ludicrous but there is absolutely no doubt that many people do great work because of those very same beliefs. Strange, but true.

NOTE: you can dismiss anything I say/ write/ believe, because I am certain that homeopathic remedies have helped to heal my cuts and bruises faster than they otherwise would 😛

Josef Davies-Coates
21 Sep 7:40pm

PPS – in short, I agree with what Kate Murry said 🙂

Josef Davies-Coates
21 Sep 7:46pm

BTW, my friend Rob says:

“the sum of all you can know (even a whole society, even a society as advanced as ours) is ALWAYS infinitely less than the sum of all that can be known”

“majik is just physics for which we have forgotten the logic”

Fair points.

Brad K.
22 Sep 1:17am

There are two “2012”s in my life. The first is the movie coming out in November this year – and yes, I did sign up for the “lottery” at TheIHC.com. What can it hurt? Sony pictures are so tyrannical and underhanded I doubt I am handing them any access or information they didn’t already have. Besides, the last trailer shows John Cusack in the flic – and that usually makes for a good outing.

The other 2012 is more problematical for me. I mean, Yeah! The Mayans predicted the end of their calendar . . . yet managed to overlook, and fail to survive, a bunch of roughnecks in wood boats.

Personally I find the KGB analysts predictions of 2010 more enlightened – that California and New York will refuse to surrended collected taxes, leading to a fragmentation of the US. I presume there would be disarray about the world, since I cannot conceive of any single fragment of the US that would fail to shout, “Collect the national debt from them guys!” There are also the “sometime in the next 15 years” guys looking at the exploding debt to GDP ratio of the US, and advocating a voluntary deflation collapse now, instead of waiting until it gets worse later. There are the Peak Oil and Global Warming arguments, and I recall the Harmonica Virgins celebrations (Apologies, I make light of something I held but lightly at the time, the Harmonic Convergence of the Solar System.) I recall that fluorocarbons were depleting the ozone layer, about the time Dow Chemical’s patents ran out on R-12 refrigerant, but a newly patented alternate formula wasn’t a problem at all, so we should just keep on expending energy with refrigeration and air conditioning. I recall that many credible people were deeply affected by concerns over these matters.

I also recall the era when people were building bomb shelters intended to ride out an intercontinental nuclear exchange. As far as I know, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and maybe Venezuela, would just as soon the US still felt the chill of that nuclear umbrella.

I guess what I am getting at, is the world has been ending for a long time, and many of us have faced the end – and the unpredictability of the end. Sometimes the arguments again ring persuasive, other times skepticism holds sway. I am even getting proclamations, this week, that the free world produces so few babies they cannot persist another 25 years – while the Muslim cultures and nations are producing four times the number of progeny to maintain their population for generations to come.

Younger folk, those that were shielded by community, work, or family from the full brunt of earlier crises are perhaps more susceptible to proclamations of the end of the world. I don’t think gullible is the only explanation, and seems disdainful and disrespectful of those following other drummers. Where preparation for meeting multiple concurrent dooms – which our politicians seem intent on bringing about – can be accomplished through cooperation, that seems a worthwhile prospect.

If I am drowning, I don’t need someone of my faith, or my race, or my political aspirations – I just need someone willing and able to help. It makes sense, then, to try to be that helpful one when we are able.

Graham
22 Sep 3:12pm

Im glad to see the 2012-ers coming out in force!
They are using exactly- and I mean E_X_A_C_T_L_Y- the same arguments against rationality as the homeopaths!
I’m beginning to think that, far from being gullible, they are the only ones talking any sense at all around here!

[…] first, and I think biggest, obstacle Sharon, Peak Oil, and Transition movements face is the big lie. When the government and leaders states something, that statement becomes an […]

Graham
24 Sep 10:09am

Josef:
“Graham:

As a devil’s advocate I wonder why you say:

“a failed fundamentalist Islamic state for example that gets its hands on nuclear weapons”

And not, e.g. US who already has them and is the only nation to have actually used them, twice. Or Israel, who spend more on weapons per head than any nations on Earth, by many orders of magnitude.

What unfounded cultural stories have you been swallowing lately?”

This is a big topic and clearly controversial! Im not going to attempt to deal with the whole issue of Islamic-Western relations here, and Im not saying that “western” irrational values are any better than “Islamic” irrational values; however, I think the western liberal meme has hugely underestimated the threat from medieval Islamic values in our midst; Islam is committed to spreading its ideology throughout the world, and is in conflict with the hard-won western liberal values of the west which presumably you hold as dear as I: freedom of speech,gender equality etc.. Part of our distorted cultural story is fueled by the retarded and irrational belief that 9-11 was an inside job done by Cheney and the CIA; I also used to entertain such beliefs, and enjoyed watching the “Loose Change ” films with Rob when they first came out.

However, since my beliefs around this were not religious, I was able to change as new information came to my attention. I recommend Lawrence Wright’s “The Looming Tower”. This whole issue throws down the gauntlet to western liberalism: how do we deal equitably and justly with other cultures who do not share our values of equity and justice? (Naturally, irrational fundamentalism from the Christian right may be just as bad and should be challenged for the same reasons -its not rational.)Another highly recommended read on this is Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s “Infidel” where she describes the inability of the liberal Dutch government to even accpet the problem of Muslim honor killings amongst immigrants: they couldnt even count them as honor killings because “that would be racist”.

“While you are at it, perhaps do a survey of statistical significance of all transitioners, permaculturalists, allotment keepers and urban gardeners on their religious beliefs.

If you find, as you surely will, that many of them are religious then perhaps you can explain how their pro-active efforts are “getting in the way of transition”.”

It would be a good survey to do, and would be fascinating to see what the ideological make up of transitioners is. My guess is that it would have a disproportionate number of new Agers, croppies and alternative therapists, and scientists and critical thinkers might be thinner on the ground. But to address your point we would have to define what being “pro-active for transition” actually means.
Obviously I am not saying that religious people are not able to participate in transition- my whole point is, unless we engage with this debate more fully, they are likely to have a disproportionate influence on the shape that transition actually takes, to everyone’s detriment. And this may already be the case.

Thus, there might be people who have religious or faith-based views who indeed accept AGW and PO as threats, but their responses may not be the best because they are not very rational, eg they may say we should pray more. Some may say the calamities coming to us are acts of god because of moral degradation. The whole issue of population and burth control is a hugely problematic area for some religions.

Some may become 2012-ers! The irony around the 2012 issue seems to be lost on you Josef! As it is on Rob: I repeat what i said before, the thinking behind 2012, 9-11 conspiracy theories and blind belief in alternative therapies have much more in common than people wish to acknowledge. They all stem from the same anti-science, anti-rational basis.

(A couple of years ago I did come across a website that was transition-inspired, nicely laid-out pages on PO and AGW, and the entire rest of the site was dedicated to every new age fantasy under the sun from homeopathy to shape-shifting lizards, and yes, you guessed it! The cult of 2012).

So if influential people in TT are only “rational” when it suits them, the actual paths we take to respond may be quite irrational, and because TT has no mechanism for deterring irrational beliefs- indeed it actually encourages them and, as with your stance, actively discourages a more critical approach, it has no way of contending with the darker sides of religion and superstition.
The whole problem with beliefs is that people really believe them and they inform their action by them. How many people attracted to TT are at least sympathetic to retarded ideologies like “The Secret” ?
My concerns here are not abstract theoretical ones; I come across people all the time who, while sympathetic in a general way to “environmentalism” are quite suspicious of AGW- they dont accept the science and tend to think it is a scam of some kind; they believe in “free energy machines” and extreme kinds of techno-fantasies; they are often inherently anti-science which they have no understanding of.

Many such people are involved in TT, and their responses of hanging pyramids in the garden to make the veggies grow, talking to nature spirits (“If you talk to God, that’s religion; if God talks to you, that’s psychosis”)are not just a waste of time, but discredit the movement in the eyes of the more conventional rationalists who from the outside may say: what a load of hippy nonsense.”

In the case of alternative therapies, one of the negative effects of their promotion is the return of measles. On this specific case, I think the “Heart and Soul” groups should make a point of informing people truthfully about the safety of the MMR vaccine.
Re your other points:

“Maybe you will discover in your research that Roger Bacon, recognised at one of the earliest advocates of the modern scientific method, was himself a Christian.

Or that Copernicus, the first astronomer to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology, which displaced the Earth from the center of the universe, was Catholic. So was Galileo. And Descartes”

In those days EVERYONE was religious- there wasnt any other option on offer. Science was as you say in its infancy. This was the beginning however of the rational challenge to religion, a struggle still going on. (Pre-Darwin it was very hard to dispute the God Hypothesis; it was only with the establishment of evolution as fact that science could reject it definitively). Planck may have been a member of his church, which again in those days was much stronger , but this may not reflect on his actual beliefs.

Of course I know lots of scientists were and are religious, that doesnt discredit my arguments in any way! Proportionately though, scientists are far less likely to be religious, and there is a REASON for that. The fact that some still are does not mean it is a good thing or harmless.

So what about Houghton? While his science is impeccable, his religion is unlikely to help chart a clear path for an effective response. I am obviously not saying religious people are always going to make irrational decisions, but their beliefs are going to be a hindrance rather than a help, and may lead to quite reactionary policies.

Ghandhi- one of my early inspirations and a real Holy Cow of liberalism and environmentalism- is widely held responsible for the partition of India. Because of his rigidly held religious beliefs he was unable to compromise in the way a secular leader may have been able to. (Ironic indeed that he was killed by an even more extreme religious fanatic.)

Even Martin Luther King similarly may have done better had he been more critical of the religion which did not serve his people well.

I am not intolerant of religious people, nor do I have any problem with working with them. What I have consistently argued is that irrational beliefs and religion should not be actively
promoted by Transition in the way that they are; and that the understanding of science should be a much stronger priority.

Instead, people’s already shaky understanding of science is constantly being undermined from within transition, including on this forum, by simplistic, ignorant ideas like “science has been wrong before”, “science doesnt know everything” “science is rigid and closed to ‘new’ideas” (like Medieval superstition!). f you really believe these things about science, why would you give credibility to climate science? And while some people are able to hold the two ideas together apparently without conflict, many others do not.

These obvious fallacies are just excuses for making things up whenever we feel like it.

Your last comments from your friend Rob actually support my case- it is not science that rigidly claims to know everything, its religion! Its faith! Isnt this completely obvious?

It is not my views which are arrogant and rude, Josef, but those of religion and superstition, which unlike science and rational thought have no mechanism for learning or opening to new evidence. They just know for sure they are right, and this attitude I am arguing is very, very dangerous.

Edbert
26 Oct 12:52pm

I only have four capitalized words to say….. IT DOES NOT MATTER!

Even if the world is coming to an end or NOT, we should just sit back and relax, spend our time with our family and loved ones. We can’t predict the future, we are HUMANS! If the world is ‘coming to an end at 2012’, we can’t stop it. And if it does not, then so be it. Spending time with loved ones isn’t so bad anyways and can be ‘fun’ at times. =.=

THE END OF STORY! XP

Love,
My Opinion

Brad K.
27 Oct 2:47pm

Edbert,

Unlike some, I have come to the conclusion that we are, and must be, driven to raise children.

The home, the place that a couple makes into a place to live, is an establishment of culture. The traditions, rituals, the amenities, beliefs, and definitions of right and wrong often reflect the values of the community and families of the couple (or assemblage of adults).

If you value and identify with the culture that raised you, how can you not also identify with the need to both parent in your own turn, and to preserve your culture, your beliefs and values, into the next generation?

What I don’t understand about your comment about just “being with” family, is that the cultures that created and produced you and your family should also be driving you to focus on raising and nurturing your children – for the generation to come. If you aren’t striving to build or maintain that environment, how can you be true to the cultures that produced you?

The Biblical stricture “Honor thy mother and thy father”, is, I think, interpreted too strictly. I find this passage – remember, it ends with “that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth” – ties one into beliefs and culture, binds one to the stream of time from parent to child, to the next generation unending. I don’t think one is permitted to say, “Here I am. Let the world take care of itself.”

But then, written that way, it starts to look like the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player Manual, 2nd Edition. You know, in the appendix on player alignment, the difference (in the game) between good and evil. “Good”, in AD&D, is the habit of making decisions by considering “What is the best for the group; that is the best thing for me,” and evil turns that around to “What is best for me at the moment? Anything else would hurt the group.”

Look at this another way. The observation in social and biological sciences is that organizations and individuals “grow or die”.

It is by trying to transition that we learn what transition means. It is by building, and gardening, and raising children that we learn who we are. There just isn’t time to sit and wonder what comes next.

Daniel Hurring
11 Nov 9:45pm

Hi all,

Bit sad to read this article as I do think it shows a dismissive tone that isn’t befitting of Transition. Wish I had seen it before.

Shane Hughes mentions discussing this subject with an organiser of Sunrise in the past. This was me, some 6 years ago, in a different stage of my life. I agree there is an element of religion in, in particular, the ‘Dreamspell’ groups – the main disseminators of the 2012 ideas – but that shouldn’t be ascribed to everybody who has an interest in this subject.

2012 ideas have been around since at least 1987, nearly twenty years prior to Transition, and it is a movement that has matured over time, as Transition has and will. Most of those who initially proposed the ideas have moved on, and others now embrace 2012 as a useful nodal point or something similar. The recently released ‘Everything Guide to 2012’ kindly embraces Transition as one of the solution-finding organisations on the planet. Hopefully the many thousand of readers, particularly in the Americas, will not be as dismissive of Transition as Rob has sadly been of 2012.

Personally, I neither subscribe to 2012 nor dismiss it, just as I refrain from judgement on the dominant ideas on Climate Change or Peak Oil. Everything is simply hearsay or an educated guess unless you have experienced it or know all there is to know about it. 2012ers, if we can call them that, come in many shapes and forms, from those choosing to use it to motivate planetary change (i.e. Worldshift 2012), to those deciding to build bunkers in the Pyrenees and go underground for two years.

I myself choose practical action, involvement in organizations like Transition and working to provide spaces for ideas to be openly discussed. Many people that I know who are intelligent folk, lights in our communities, still have a passing interest in 2012 and the potentials of what lies ahead. Its far from the dominant belief that the world is going to end or any such thing. That is Hollywood.

For an example, the movie trailer shown above is as accurate to the beliefs of the 2012 movement as a Hollywood movie about Transition would be – Rob Hopkins played by Val Kilmer, a gun-toting hero of a post-apocalyptic oil-free world.

Transition is capable of embracing a belief in world changes such as 2012, just as the 2012 movement can share a belief in Transition.

[…] in poverty, that’s plenty to be getting on with. 2012 is “a huge distraction”, as Rob Hopkins wrote recently. It can lead to pointless fretting (as if even NASA can do anything about the actual end of the […]