Skydiving the End of Cilivisation: In Praise of Ran Prieur

Anyone who has ever exited a plane using a parachute rather than the usual Steward/ess lined staircase will be familiar with that lovely feeling of unmovement you get, even though you’re actually falling through the sky towards a completely unavoidable encounter with Terra firma. With none of the usual reference points to rely on there is no way to gauge your position and speed in relation to the environment which your mammalian brain evolved to inhabit; for our earthbound mind movement has, quite literally, ceased to exist.

Gravity, however, has no time for dreamers and will work her attractions regardless of how much fun you’re having. Soon the ground is close enough to recognise everyday objects; things which our brains are more familiar with. This is when we are hit by a sudden ground rush; no longer floating, or even flying, we are falling to earth at a terrifying speed. The only question left is ‘What will the landing be like?’

The skydiving experience is a perfect metaphor for the state of modern, globalised, human Civilisation in the face of the now inevitable collapse of the Three EsEconomy (the current and ongoing crisis of capitalism), Energy (Peak Oil) and Ecology (Climate Change).

For much of the last few decades (since the warnings first began) those living in the midst of an advanced technological society have found that collapse is as hard to comprehend as movement is at 10,000 ft. We may have been able to prove acceleration scientifically – with a quick glance at the altimeter – but we found it very difficult to convince our co-fallers/collapsers of  Civilisation’s downward trajectory.

As the ground/collapse drew ever nearer more and more people realised that there was something very wrong, and they began to grow concerned – although until very recently there was still a sizeable majority who still believed that they could make their way back to the plane if only they could only flap their arms hard enough (or change enough light-bulbs). The rich and powerful (those with a vested interest in Civilisation) did everything they could to spread confusion; their ‘experts’ and lobbyists said: “Look around! Does this look like falling to you?” And too many people, mesmerised by the pretty clouds that surrounded them, thought: “Well if this is collapse then it doesn’t seem all that bad.”

In the 21st Century climate change deniers have become an ever more clown-like minority, and, with our understanding/acceptance of peak-oil and socio-economic collapse at a similar level as climate science was a decade ago, we are beginning to wise-up to the fact that the future is probably not going to what we expected it to be. The signs of ecological and economic crisis are becoming ever more apparent – ground rush is well and truly upon us.

There are those who dream of saving Civilisation with a parachute built from various shades of green rag (unfortunately there are also those who are seeking to profit from the sale of those rags at the expense of building a better parachute), but a growing number of people are getting used to (some even embracing…) the idea of collapse. The savvy are planning for a post-fossil-fueled existence – in our skydiving metaphor they’re bending their knees, guarding their ribs and (figuratively and literally) preparing to get a hell of a lot closer to Mother Earth.

The PermaFuture Project is an attempt to equip people with the practical skills needed to a) survive the landing and b) thrive in a post everything world. We were inspired in part by the Dark Mountain Project, which seeks to develop – through the creation of new mythologies (counter narratives) to replace the self-destructive stories we currently live by –  an adequate cultural response to collapse.

It was tweets from Dark Mountain co-founder, Paul Kingsnorth, which led us to the wonderful Ran Prieur. For the last couple of decades Ran has written about disconnecting from the ideals and expectations of Civilisation; the best example of his work, we feel, being the zine, ‘Civilisation Will Eat Itself’ (available online in three parts – PART 1, PART 2 & PART 3).

His website is incredibly extensive and full of insights like this…

Sometimes I feel like I’m in the middle of a war. There are bullets flying and explosions all around, and I’m trying to organize people on my side to fight effectively, and instead they’re just standing around saying, “Look, they’re shooting at us! I can’t believe they’re actually shooting at us! Look at those bad, bad people doing that bad, bad thing! Shame on th- (takes bullet in head)”

There’s only one place for morality in this world, and that is that your actions must serve the greatest, widest good that you can perceive. Beyond that, it’s all strategy and tactics. Applying morality to the actions of other people is a strategic error. I think this error goes back to our tribal ancestors. If one person does something to harm the tribe, the others will use shaming to bring this person into line. If this feels to us like a moral action, it’s because it was easier for our ancestors to mindlessly throw righteous indignation at the wrongdoer, than to carefully discern why a behavior is harmful and how shaming will correct it.

Now here we are in a world of high tech and giant systems, still reflexively following the habits of the tribe, possessing a magical tool that sends words and pictures around the world in seconds, and wasting it by pointing fingers at governments and corporations and their human servants, as if these unimaginably complex systems, berated by a shrill minority, will bow their heads and obey like little children pressured by everyone they’ve ever known.

We hope you that you enjoy Ran Prieur’s work as much as we did.

And don’t forget to check out his Landblog when it wakes up after wintering.

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