Are There Any Good Choices Between Klingons and Cylons?

Sharon May 30th, 2008

 In the future, airplanes will be flown by a dog and a pilot. And the dog’s job will be to make sure that if the pilot tries to touch any of the buttons, the dog bites him. - Scott Adams

Growing up  in the last half century, most of us spent a lot of time exposed to imagined visions of our future.  We encountered them in science fiction novels, comic books, or on TV, and we’ve spent much of the last hundred years with our necks craned as far as possible, trying to see into the future.  And the future, as portrayed in almost every one of these visions, is progressive, moving forward, solving problems and making things better. 

Think about it - from the Jetsons (where’s my flying car?!) to Star Trek, all problems except the Klingons have essentially been conquered.  There have been projections by medical and technological journals which describe how magic technologies will fix everything, and economists and their reporters who saw us moving towards a perfect, globalized world, united in capitalism.  All of the visions of the future with which most Americans are familiar entail going forward as we are, but becoming better through advancements that make us more homogenized, more technologically advanced, to the logical culmination of our perfection.  As Rob Hopkins points out, this fantasy is still alive and well. 

Or, they aren’t.  In the same genre, there’s Battlestar Galactica, in which the remnents of a decimated population have to seek a new world after an apocalypse.   For every novel that imagines us enjoying our leisure with robots that do all our work, there’s a reciprocal novel like Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic The Road which imagines us wandering hopelessly in an utter wasteland.  

Eric, who teaches the history of Space Exploration to literally thousands of excited students every year sees both sides of the fantasy in his classes.  He tries gently to lead his students to the reality that a future is space probably won’t happen - and to remind them that earth, too is a planet, and that exploring and understanding it in a deep ecological way is also a frontier.  But every year as he talks about the barriers of energy and environment, he unintentionally sends students away who, if they dreams of space are destroyed, lose hope.  This is both sad, and deeply unnecessary, but the narrow bounds of our imagined futures contain many of us. 

Ever since we realized, in the 1940s, that nuclear weapons meant that we really could destroy the entire world, we’ve been fascinated by this flip side of our progress - the ability to utterly annihilate ourselves, the logical contrast to the idea that we can become the perfect species, Homo technologicus, roaming the galaxy in our faster than light spaceships, civilizing other peoples on other planets.

Thus, it is perhaps no great surprise, then,  that if you ask most people about the problems we face, you will find that most of us  place a great deal of faith in  growth market solutions and new technologies, and a smaller, but equally certain group feels that we are bound for complete and utter self destruction.  After all, those are the choices that our culture has given us.  Virtually everyone living in Western society grew up with those alternatives presented to them as starkly as possible.

But as we discussed before, market and technological solutions are beginning to fail, and show no signs of being able to solve our problems.  Does that mean we’re bound for an inevitable disaster, an absolute and utter apocalypse?  Some people think so.  For example, Gaia-hypothesis creator, scientist James Lovelock imagines that within a hundred years human beings will be limited to “a few breeding pairs at the poles.”  No wonder most people prefer to believe that something- the market, scientific solutions, divine intervention, extraterrestrial technologies- something will fix our problems.  After all, what is the point of contemplating the absolute and utter destruction of everything?  Why not deny that there are problems at all, or perhaps place our hopes on any anyone who says hey can develop another technology if just given enough money?  Moreover, what possible incentive could any of us ever have for overcoming our trained faith in capitalism and technology if the best alternative we can be offered is a chance to hole up in a bunker with some spam and an automatic weapon?

But like all dichotomies, the choice between “rely on technology and growth to perfect us”  vs. “accept the end of the world” is a false one.  There are other options but we have not been taught to see them.  We have been told for so long that all we have is to go forward as we are or accept absolute annihilation that we have come to believe that we cannot change our course, and move in some new and different way.  But this is not true, and the first step in recognizing this is to learn to see false dichotomy for what it is - then we can begin to look around at alternatives.

Writer and activist Maria Mies writes in her seminal book (written with Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen), The Subsistence Perspective, about the fixity with which many people believe that these are the only choices.  She talks about attending a panel in Germany with a number of scientists prognosticating an absolutely bleak future for the world, and then goes on to answer them by observing,

“I looked at the audience: all young people with worried faces.  They had come on this Sunday morning to get some orientation from these famous speakers for their own future.  But they only painted an apocalyptic picture gloom and hopelessness.  The gist of their presentations was that there was no alternative, that we could do nothing.  I could not tolerate this pessimism any longer and said, ‘Please, don’t forget where we are.  We are in Trier, in the midst of the ruins of what once was one of the capitals of the Roman empire.  An empire whose collapse people then thought would mean the end of the world.  But the world did not come to an end with the end of Rome.  The plough of my father, a peasant in the Eifel, used to hit the stones of the Roman road that connected Trier with Cologne.  On this road where the Roman legions had marched, grass had gown, and now we grew our potatoes on that road.  I wanted to say that even the collapse of big empires does not mean the end fo the world; rather, people then begin to understand what is important in life, namely our subsistence…The image of my father behind the plough on the old Roman road stands for another philosophy, another logic.  For most…scientists this subsistence logic is difficult to grasp.  It is neither expressed in the slogan that ‘life will go on by itself’ (nature will regenerate herself, grass will grow by itself) nor by the attitude that we humans can control nature and repair all damage done by our master technology.  The difference between a subsistence orientation and scientific omnipotence mania is the understanding that life neither simply regenerates itself, nor is it an invention of engineers; rather, we as natural beings, have to cooperate with nature if we want life to continue.”[i]

Here Mies begins to articulate the possibility of something in between apocalypse and progress, a new way of thinking.  She and Bennholdt-Thomsen call this “the subsistence perspective” but it might also be described as a return to cyclical, rather than linear thinking and living.  What she describes is the idea of our integration into history and nature, rather than a choice between our mastery over both forces or our utter destruction at their hands.  This is not simply a rhetoric of “everything will fix itself” but suggests that we could be a part of a partial solution.

We so desperately need expressions of this other vision - I was thinking about this when as I read the discussions on about the possibility of hitting 1000 ppm.  The discussion vibrates wildly between the choices we’ve been given - denial, technologies, doom…doom…doom.  Most of us recognize that the technofixes won’t work - or at best, are a long term solution.  And certainly, doom is a possibility for many of us.  Joseph Romm has discussed the potential harm of the melting of the permafrost, and its capacity to get us rapidly from 450 ppm to 800 or 1000ppm. 

But, just as the leap between technologies and doom seems to have no gaps, we can stop and say “umm…what was that middle thing again?”  You know, that place between the Klingons and the Cylons? 

 Don’t expect me to have any better ideas about how to get there than I ever have before.  But I do sometimes think that the first step might be just pointing out - there is a middle thing.


48 Responses to “Are There Any Good Choices Between Klingons and Cylons?”

  1. Lisa Z says:

    Did you mean Cormac McCarthy’s _The Road_? I’m thinkin’, who the heck is Carson McCuller?…

    I love the “subsistence perspective”! I’m tiring of the LATOC site and others with so much gloom and doom. I’m here (in the middle of the country, yes) just working for the middle. Sometimes you like to make us panic, Sharon, but mostly you’re about working on solutions. Love that!

    Lisa in MN

  2. Cynthia says:

    The future is now… I am blessed with a creative, intuitive and perceptive mind. My voice, my two hands and my two feet. Everything else is a tool. Cynthia

  3. Sharon says:

    Lisa, thanks for correcting my typo! Carson McCullers is a great novelist and short story writer, but ummm…very different than McCarthy ;-) .


  4. AnnaMarie says:

    I also recently stopped reading LATOC in favor of Backwoods Home Forum which focuses more on “how to” rather than “TEOTWAWKI”.

    A wise man once told me to draw three circles one within the other. The inner circle was my family and daily life. The second circle was my impact on the world and my surroundings. The third circle was how everyone else impacted the world. Since I was in ulcer and high stress territory at the time he told me to concentrate on the inner circle, think about the next circle and be aware of the last circle but realize I only had control over the inner circle, could slightly impact the second circle and had no control over the third circle.

    I don’t have any major stress issues anymore and I tend to think about how everything I do impacts my family first and then the rest of the world.

    Day by day I keep trying to improve my impact on the second circle but I know the first circle is what is truly important.

  5. Verde says:

    The Via Media, so right on.

    I’ve posted my independence days update at my blog,

    I look back and sometimes operate in panic mode but I’m not sure I’d be doing anything differently but the feeling would be different.

  6. Brad K. says:

    Interesting. Jane the Sane talks today about how her parents thwarted her desired career plans - college and Marine Biology. Which got me thinking about the difference college makes in a life.

    College changes focus from how to live in the community, to participating in how the community lives in the world - a change in focus. Studying current and historic thinking, philosophy, discovering just how much history and detail can be discovered about the most seemingly minor topic changes our understanding of self, community, and society.

    Then you mention the distinction between exploring and conserving. Those focused on exploration need to be aware of where the resources come from that make their efforts possible.

    But those that want to improve their own back yard first (hah! as if anyone ever really achieves ‘complete’ solution of their own problems) should remember what exploration and even wars (accelerated exploration) have produced. From plastics to microwaves - the ovens as well as the cell phones and wideband techniques to Tang breakfast drink, exploring brings *unanticipated* windfalls.

    Will establishing orbital communities, colonies on the Moon, Mars, and in orbit in the Asteroid Belt or Venus cure our dependence on oil? I don’t know. Look at what Europe experienced after Christopher Colombus’ voyages - the boat loads of gold (swiped from Aztecs and others), a place to send criminals and misfits and poor, potatoes and new people to infect with their diseases and war mongering (although war mongering was popular among the people they found here, too.) Europe also found an alternate center of thought. Americans and other nations in the New World developed different philosophies. In the World Wars, resources and efforts from the New World changed the courses of history. How could efforts in space have any less effect?

  7. Hamster says:

    “But like all dichotomies, the choice between “rely on technology and growth to perfect us” vs. “accept the end of the world” is a false one.”

    This dichotomy reminds me a little of what George Monbiot (I think) said about how we went from not believing in climate change to believing it was too late to do anything about it, and how, conveniently, both situations free us from the responsibility of having to do anything about it. And with this dichotomy, either we wait for the scientists to save us or we’re all doomed, so get your gun and your baked beans and wait for The End. Conveniently, either way, we don’t have to do any of that boring, hard stuff, like learning how to grow veg, or mending clothes, or pruning apple trees, or walking to work, or evaluating your life and making tough choices, or insulating your loft, or drinking less tea and coffee, or going out and talking to your neighbours even if you don’t really like them very much…

  8. Sharon says:

    Brad, the chances of us going into space are very, very, very small. I happen to actually live with an expert on this subject, and some of the reasons are discussed here.


  9. Zach Frey says:

    Jase helpfully points out that space exploration functions as a religion for some people, and it can be a jealous god.


  10. Space is getting smaller « Kerrplunk says:

    [...] The admirable Sharon Astyk writes: …it is perhaps no great surprise, then,  that if you ask most people about the problems we face, you will find that most of us place a great deal of faith in growth market solutions and new technologies, and a smaller, but equally certain group feels that we are bound for complete and utter self destruction.  After all, those are the choices that our culture has given us.  Virtually everyone living in Western society grew up with those alternatives presented to them as starkly as possible. [...]

  11. Brian M. says:

    Hey Sharon, did you see that Stephen Hawkes replied to your space article several weeks after the bulk of the other discussion on it tailed off?

  12. Sharon says:

    Jase, I’ve deleted your comment, because you don’t seem able to express your distaste for my ideas with civility. You are free to try again - but if you keep it up, you and all your multiple names will be banned. I’ve no time for 14 year olds playing on Mommy and Daddy’s computer who can’t think of anything better to do than troll about and namecall.


  13. Sharon says:

    Hi Brian - I did, and emailed him asking when his paper would be out, but got no reply and haven’t seen it.


  14. Lisa Z says:

    And how are we going to get to “Space”? Forgive my ignorance, but doesn’t that take lots of oil and/or other energy?

    I think I’d rather see my bones buried in this good green earth before I’d ever consent to living in “Space”, somewhere out there.

    Lisa in MN

  15. Jase says:

    “… 14 year olds playing on Mommy and Daddy’s computer…”

    “…anything better to do than troll about and *namecall*…”

    Guess you’ve got nothing going on then.

  16. Sharon says:

    Jase, I reiterate, you are welcome here if you can maintain basic civility. My observation is that most people who disagree with me strongly (and there are lots of them in the world, and I’ve *never* had to moderate any of them before, despite their strength of their disagreement) are able to maintain the same standards. The ones I run into occasionally who don’t know how to make arguments without childish things like namecalling are teenagers - and I’ve come to suspect that you are one. I used to teach college, and I still teach Hebrew school to people too young and ignorant to understand how to express opinions appropriately - and they sound a lot like you. If you aren’t a child, act like it. This will be my very last point on this discussion, and if your next post isn’t productive and polite, and on some topic other than you, it will be your very last one.

    I will note that in 4 years of writing this blog, I have never moderated any posts, except spam, and I’ve never had to ban anyone - even people accused in the past of trolling have turned out to be people capable of participating in adult discourse. I’m sort of sad that that long run seems to be over, but I fear it is.

    Try again, or go away.


  17. dewey says:

    Lovelock is either both senile and hypocritical, or a maniac who prefers complete human extinction and would say anything to help make it happen. He’s like Frederick Seitz: he may have been a good scientist once, but now he’s just a driveling loony. There is no reason we should pay any further attention to his ranting.

  18. Greenpa says:

    “We so desperately need expressions of this other vision - ”

    yup, it would help. I’d like to vote against the phrase “subsistence” here, just as I continue to vote against “energy descent”.

    Yes, technically they’re both true/correct; but I can’t sell them to my neighbors, and I need to be able to. They’ll quit listening immediately.

    Actually - Rob Hopkins has already got a couple good chunks of answers here; his “Transition Towns” movement is really quite a spectacular start- and a darned good alternative vision. In the infant stage- but healthy and kicking, and moving. And, he’s already provided what I think is the right alternative phrase for energy descent- which would be “Energy Transition”. What is important is not that so much less is available- but that we will become SO much smarter in how we use it. Transition from brute force approaches to sophisticated elegance.

    THAT- we can sell. :-)

  19. Nettle says:

    Jase’s (deleted) comment was obviously rude, and I understand why you chose to delete it, but it still raised an interesting point, though perhaps not the one intended. As Zach Frey pointed out, there seems to be a religious feeling behind the insistence that we must colonize space. It was an interesting enough point to me that I went looking for more on the subject (yeah, it’s a slow Friday), and found this review article on the history of space exploration that gave an overview of the whole Manifest Destiny/Chosen by God mythology that has surrounded the space program from the start:
    Roger D. Launius, Underlying assumptions of human spaceflight in the United States, Acta Astronautica Volume 62, Issues 6-7, , March-April 2008, Pages 341-356. doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2007.06.001

    Anyone at an institution with Science Direct access can get to it online that way. It’s probably all old news to someone like your husband, but I found it enlightening.

  20. Sharon says:

    Greenpa, I think the language thing is one of those that varies a lot. “Subsistence” has poor valence in some places, good in others - my dairy farmer neighbors use it very positively, as in, Grandpa was a subsistence farmer, but at least he wasn’t going out of business, and that maybe we need to get back to some subsisting ourselves.

    My observation is that people complain about any new term to them, and then, you give it enough valence, and they stop hearing it the way they used to.

    I love the Transition towns movement, but to me, the term “transition” sounds like mealy-mouthedness, sort like calling something “special.” But I’m happy to get used to thinking better of it.


  21. Cherenkov says:

    The dualistic choices presented are best thought of as relational. The doomers are often those who see their world, a technological world, being destroyed, and that destruction is a just punishment for those who have destroyed the earth for a handful of techno-trinkets. To them, it is the end of the world as they know it. To those on the other side, the techno-fantasists, all we have to do is ignore physics, a deep and troubling irony coming from the usual clique of scientists and engineers, and believe that we will be able to keep our exothermic ways and techno-trinkets, ignoring the self-evident limits to growth. Yes, we will be driving flying cars and eating nano-gmo-artificially grown food substances and our lives will be BETTER than ever!!!

    In between these groups are people who realize that “not” killing the planet is a GOOD thing, that life will be actually quite a lot better once the mass energy balance equation is rectified. They also realize that the moral component of punishing the offenders is a blind sword that cuts all on the planet. Yes, many people will die once the fossilized sunlight begins to dwindle. In order to have gotten where we are now, we had to use sunlight collected over millions of years in order to live as if we had at our disposal three earths to lay waste to. Without this energy crutch, this artificial life support, people will find themselves with hard choices and, sometimes, no choices. To be any less than realistic is to pump false hope into the argument. Those in the middle see this as a great opportunity to effect change towards a more humane and natural world, a natural world where people are fitted to the patterns of nature and not nature to the patterns of people. The question is how we approach that change.

    If the goal is to save the excess population on the planet without doing something about the growth rate, then we are truly screwed. What we need is immediate land reform, a permaculture program designed to churn out instructors as fast as possible, voluntary resettlement to the land along with teaching of community planning. We need to redirect the world’s wealth towards achieving the end state which we KNOW is coming. Why fritter away this cheap energy on a paradigm that is dying. Use that energy to plant and plan, to teach and learn.

    And, above all, be prepared for significant losses in the population. Be prepared to institute population control on a mandatory basis once stasis is reached. The steps towards a sustainable human population that does not leave the planet worse than it finds it are many. Let’s take the first steps now. Each step up the mountain towards the cliff only makes the fall more profound and destructive.

  22. Greenpa says:

    Sharon- ah, language, variations, and communication! My favorite labyrinth.

    Sure the words have very different weights in different places. Maybe we should run a “focus group” to determine… :-)

    Ok, not really serious, but that’s why focus groups are used- too many conflicting opinions. Regarding “subsistence” - I think the word is almost synonymous with “grinding poverty” for most of the consumer oriented folks we hope to have listen some day. Sure, that’s not the technical meaning at all- but.

    You surprised me that “transition” had some negative connotations for you- it hasn’t any for me, but I’m coming from ecology/chemistry/evolution kind of places- where it means change- and often forward moving change. A good strong muscular word! Nothing mealy about it! :-) In my worlds.

    Which background does it get the “mealy- mouthed” aspect from?

    I’ve used natural-science lexicon words before, and had them blow up on me. Once used the word “plantation” to describe - a planting; of, like, plants. But my audience was Southern; more than I realized, and they cracked up. Standard usage in my world; but totally different denotation for them.

  23. dewey says:

    Octavia Butler’s Earthseed stories proposed a religious motivation for going to the stars, but in the context of what was envisioned to be a saner and more sustainable future society. I don’t think the goal is necessarily a destructive one - whether or not it is attainable now.

    “Subsistence” to me is suggestive of mud-hut living, rice with rice for dinner and no shoes; it suggests a lifetime of hard work with each day’s result being just enough food calories to get you through another day of hard work. That’s not inspiring. You want some term suggestive of adequacy combined with contentment or satisfaction, as opposed to endless striving for “more.”

  24. Sharon says:

    I know a lot of people don’t like the word subsistence - but words get reclaimed all the time, and I do like it, particularly its origins in the Book of Common Prayer. You’ll all have to forgive me if I take it back. I think it means precisely what Dewey says I want, and that’s its great virtue. And I’m arrogant enough to think that I have enough rhetorical power to reclaim words ;-) - a friend of mine once told me that “swaraj” was something of a dirty word too before Gandhi took it back (note, I am making no comparison other than that it was possible to reclaim a word into benign context, I’m no Gandhi, obviously).

    The whole “transition” thing, which I highly approve of as a movement, mostly just seems linguistically boring to me - yes, you are right, it just means “change” - and I would say that “Change Towns” or David Korten’s annoying “Great Change” is boring too. The problem for me is that shifting the emphasis towards the change itself, and away from *what* is changing carries to me, the connotation that we’re trying to avoid discussing what’s actually happening.

    But then, y’gotta call it something, and I’m sure in a decade, Rob will have managed to make it sound normal - that’s how language is. Anyone want to bet I can make subsistence sound good to a lot of people? I like a challenge.


  25. Sharon says:

    If I’m remembering correctly, though, Dewey, her reasoning is pretty much “I’m convinced we ought to go to the stars, so we ought to.” Works great for religious justifications, but it isn’t very reasoned. I’ve yet to see a really ecologically conscious case for spacefaring, although I’d be fascinated (and so would my husband).


  26. dewey says:

    Well, it did have something to do with making sure that the wonderfulness of us was preserved and shared with the rest of the universe. :) Stephen Hawking would say that it’s insurance against getting hit with a comet. If you found a completely dead world and terraformed it, you would not be commiting any crime against ecology, but helping life spread. Most “nice” planets, I suspect, would have some sort of life, and that would then raise the issue of whether the chance of wiping it out was ethically acceptable.

  27. Sharon says:

    Ah, thanks for the reminder.

    We’re many, many technological jumps from terraforming a dead world. If we get to the point of being able to do that, I’m sure that future generations of ethicists will be able to do a better job than I.

    I should be clear - I don’t object to space exploration at all, if we had/someday have the resources to do it, and can do it without being destructive. I object to the narrative that has our destiny there, and the people who stay behind somehow left out of destiny ;-) .

    The comet issue is a real one - but if we were worried seriously about that a. we’d be devoting more than the tiniest percentage of our space budget to looking for them - there are fewer than a dozen fulltime astronomers looking for near-earth objects, even though we know that they are a bigger danger than we thought, and b. it would make more sense to work on ways of keeping us from getting hit and c. either work on on-planet survival strategies (bunkers under the sea, ice caps, etc…) or short term space habitats in orbit that could allow people to leave the planet temporarily and come back after the worst settles down. The thing is, unless the planet is literally cut in two, the odds are better for survival on earth, even a hugely damaged earth, than they are on any planet we know of.


  28. Greenpa says:

    So- are you familiar “Ringworld”? :-)

  29. Greenpa says:

    “The problem for me is that shifting the emphasis towards the change itself, ” - ok, see, and I’m an evolutionary ecologist… so it’s the change, itself- that is the focus! :-) That’s where the canker g-naws.

  30. Greenpa says:

    Sharon-”Anyone want to bet I can make subsistence sound good to a lot of people? I like a challenge.”
    :-) , yeah, we should bet. Whaddya wanna bet? And who judges what “a lot of people” means? I’ll bet ya a duck, and two rabbits.

    and- you like a challenge?????

    What!? You don’t already have ENOUGH!!????
    :-) !

  31. Sharon says:

    Uh-uh, I want trees, man, trees. What do you want if I lose? I’ve got four kids ;-) - I could probably spare one ;-) .

    Hmmm…let’s see, how about “I bet I can get a major newspaper to use the term “subsistence” in a positive light within the next decade” (and not quoting me).

    That ought to make it challenging enough - I’ll get right on that.


  32. Greenpa says:

    Oh, pooh, you can sell ANYTHING to some reporters… :-) And we could still wind up quibbling about “a positive light”- I think we need a jury. And then there’s “major newspaper”… lol

  33. LaVonne says:

    Meanwhile, going back to basics doesn’t look too promising either:

    Freight train traffic heads into congestion ‘calamity’

    “While the nation’s attention is focused on air travel congestion and the high cost of fuel for highway driving, a crisis is developing under the radar for another form of transportation – the freight trains used to deliver many of the goods that keep the U.S. economy humming.

    The nation’s 140,000-mile network of rails devoted to carrying everything from cars to grain by freight is already groaning under the strain of congestion, with trains forced to stand aside for hours because of one-track rail lines.”

  34. Kati says:

    Just gotta throw out there…. Here in Alaska, “subsistence” is how we “whites” view how the natives regard and gather their food. It’s their seasonal visits to their fishing camps for as much salmon as they can harvest on their fish-wheels and with nets, and drying it in open-air huts. Berry-picking and drying while in fish-camp as well. It’s the autumnal hunting for caribou and moose (and, I’m sure some whale and seal if it’s coastal native villagers) and preserving that meat for the winter. Unfortunately, there are tales (whether true or not, I don’t know) of over-hunting of moose and caribou. My Father-in-law tells of taking a truck-load of fuel to one of the more local (and very few drivable) villages and seeing a pile of moose carcasses that was only partially harvested for the meat. He said that a lot of the meat was still on the carcasses of well over a dozen moose, and rotting in the sun. Right ticked him off when he’s lucky if he can get a single moose a year, and he even goes so far as to use the liver and heart (though the rest of us are a little too squeemish for quite that), and to see so much moose going to waste. But again, a story from my F-I-L…. Not really sure whether he was over-reacting or exaggerating. (And, for the record, it’s been about 5 years since any of us in the family have had any success in our moose or caribou hunts.)

    Those are the types of things I think of, having grown up in Alaska, when I think of subsistence. Some of it good, some of it living off and with the land. But, there’s also the thought that subsistence may sometimes mean misuse when it’s supposed to mean harvesting the land responsibly. That it may mean being irresponsible with the resources because one has been given the permission to use them in a subsistence manner.

  35. Sue in the Western Great Basin says:

    Although I personally like the word ‘subsistence’ and use it myself in a positive context, I do understand that to the general first-world populace it tends to have an unpleasant connotation, suggesting ‘bare survival with nothing extra’, life of drudgery and suffering.

    As for ‘transition’, I agree that the literal meaning of ‘change’ is useful/appropriate, but I have a negative (or at least skeptical) interpretation of it as well. I have backgrounds both in federal government employment (land management agencies) and also in the ‘human potential movement’ of the 70s-80s. In both contexts there is often much language used to suggest “wanting something to happen” rather than “it’s actually happening”. In the government bureaucracy in particular, there is a tradition of constantly announcing new approaches, which take up the time and energy of employees without actually making any useful changes in the content of the work. It’s either a make-busy technique or it’s a sequence of failed attempts to address real problems by trying something essentially the same as what didn’t work last time, but with this one tiny difference…

    So ‘transition’, for me, has a ring of “positive thinking” psychobabble, on the one hand, as well as “more bureaucratic illusory nonsense” on the other.

    There’s nothing wrong with the word itself, just that it’s been applied too many times to changes not actually made, that it’s started to sound fake to me. But then that’s just me, perhaps.

  36. Kiashu says:

    “But I do sometimes think that the first step might be just pointing out - there is a middle thing.”

    Welcome to my world, Sharon :)

    Discussions, especially online discussions, too often have a flight to the extremes.

    “I believe in the death penalty.”
    “What?! So we should execute people for jaywalking?!”
    “I am against the death penalty.”
    “What?! So we should just let them all go?!”

    Between global apocalypse and the jet car technotopia is the sane middle ground we’re much more likely to find ourselves in. Of all solutions to our problems, none is perfect, all we can do is choose the least worse. I find myself mentioning these things again and again…

  37. Sara says:

    Hello Sharon, i just found your blog, and I have a word I’m trying out- Sussy, and it is like Yuppie was, it’s the Green is the new Black and Sussy is the sustainable subsistence movement’s media release name- Gathering rights, Sunshine Rights, Clean Water Rights… the Right to Life—- and The Flag is a Tree with a root, shaped like a snake with the Motto: Don’t tread on Me! I think it’s real “rooted” American, and I planted 800 this year (trees) and I’m working/ playing with this Edible Forest Vision, and I want to stop Mountain Top Removal Yesterday, and I figured out how.

    it has to do with that venn diagram mentioned above, personal influence here and this is the outside world where I have no leverage- and pull the pocket inside out, because that’s a lie,and the truth is out: it’s the Jungian thing about Collective Consciousness or what was Unconsciousness, it’s the Collective Meditative Inertia that will roll back the time bomb on Doom’s Day, and it has already been planted.
    Picture the diagram, but put a seed ball inside it, add water, and watch the baobobs grow so fast the circle that tries to say it’s outside our influence just disintegrates!
    I’m tired of fighting, I’m tired of arguing against ignorance and arrogance of the Affluenza Consumerist Addiction and the environmental rape and community genocide that feeds it. I will still go to the DEP Public Hearing, but I think the real action is in BELIEVING in the Garden, in growing soil, in growing mycelium, in growing worms, in throwing seedballs, and living in the garden and out of the rat race!! So I’m going off the grid again, and focusing on perennials, and as far as that going into space idea- it is real- creating MicroClimates, considering the same factors you would in outer space- really looking at the essential ingredients to sustaining life and the “Heart” in Silent Running- garden before all else…
    and the person who says there is a chance of people misusing the land, that’s a laugh! King Coal is taking down three ridges (Mountain Ridges) a week and dumping them into the valleys!! in the most biodiverse areas aside from the Amazon Basin- check to see what I mean, or fly over on SouthWings, even if 80% of the people went and over-used the land, it is nothing compared to what they are doing by using electricity from Coal-fired plants right now- with lights, lights, city lights, traffic lights, all night lights, electric can-openers! give me a break, towel warmers! blankets! don’t let me get started, so I’m digging into the woods and living off bitter herbs until it’s either better or I think of something else, but I am done being part of the problem.

    Thank you for listening.

  38. Sara says:

    Ps. You can’t get much poorer than Appalachia, with families “on subsistence” for three generations, the working poor, where work and welfare together leaves you poor- but they did this on purpose to make us quiet, so they could continue to rob us of what is our heritage: our land, our forests, rivers, mountains… “our culture is a culture of survival” Maria Gunnoe
    Living off the land, living poor isn’t anything to be ashamed of, these people of civility, with their chemicals and appliances, vinyl shoes, twinkies… I want for nothing, and yall are the ones never satisfied. I re-read some of these comments, I think of the guy who can’t live without shitting in his water, spraying bug spray on his largest organ, and putting antibiotics in his food- and he thinks I’m crazy?

  39. Greenpa says:

    Hey, Sharon- you’ve got a fantastic set of readers put together here. Very cool.

    Sue ITWB- ah! Ok, I get it, and I’m familiar with that bureaucrap babble dialect- I’m pretty sure this is where Sharon got her response to the word, yes?

    I think- and I’m not sure- that Bureaucrap may be almost the only dialect with that connotation- in Suburbanese, and Biznese, I think that weight is not there. We may find out.

    Sara- I like “Sussy”! Neologism, which means you can start without too many preconceptions; catchy, like “hippie”. Although, it’s also a diminutive, which is likely to be taken as derogatory.

    Could end up one of those words that is ok within the community, but not from outside. In any case, a good suggestion!

  40. Rebecca says:

    Hey Sharon,
    For what it’s worth, I do think we will go into space eventually. When I say eventually I mean maybe in several thousand years. It’s more than technically possible, and if we don’t kill ourselves or meet our end first, then our remote descendants will have to do that eventually to avoid roasting when the sun swells up. As for going to other planets to “civilize” them, I think we need to civilize ourselves first!

    I think Lovelock’s problem is that he’s old, he sees the Long Walk coming up, and he translates that onto everything else. My grandmother is about the same age and has been a lifelong activist -civil rights, peace, environmental, you name it, she’s done it -and over the past few years she’s gotten more and more pessimistic. She’s now convinced that the world is going to get worse and worse until we kill ourselves and everything else off. I’m thinking about this now because I just had this disucssion with her today. Again. *sigh*

  41. Robbyn says:

    Sharon, I love your site, and have for some time…particularly loved this post!

    For the record, I prefer the term “subsistence” for the simple reason that many of us are being forced to re-examine the traditional wisdom modern Big Ag and consumerism abandoned in favor of “progress”…

    Whatever the term conjures, to me it’s positive in that I have a new appreciation for the “old,” which seems to be lacking altogether in the mainstream corporate-driven machine in which there is no individual solving his own problems with his own two hands, one hand tool at a time.

    I’m not eloquent and I’m often intimidated coming here because I’ve not had the same academic exposure, and am most times better not trying to join the conversation…but just letting you know I so appreciate your thoughts…they’re fodder for many conversations between my husband and me as we plan our near futures.

  42. Robbyn says:

    Sharon, I love your site, and have for some time…particularly loved this post!

    For the record, I prefer the term “subsistence” for the simple reason that many of us are being forced to re-examine the traditional wisdom modern Big Ag and consumerism abandoned in favor of “progress”…

    Whatever the term conjures, to me it’s positive in that I have a new appreciation for the “old,” which seems to be lacking altogether in the mainstream corporate-driven machine in which there is no individual solving his own problems with his own two hands, one hand tool at a time.

    I’m not eloquent and I’m often intimidated coming here because I can’t participate in the academic conversation…but just letting you know I so appreciate your thoughts…they’re fodder for many conversations between my husband and me as we plan our near futures.

  43. Robbyn says:

    Sharon, I love your site, and have for some time…particularly loved this post!

    For the record, I prefer the term “subsistence” for the simple reason that many of us are being forced to re-examine the traditional wisdom modern Big Ag and consumerism abandoned in favor of “progress”…

    Whatever the term conjures, to me it’s positive in that I have a new appreciation for the “old,” which seems to be lacking altogether in the mainstream corporate-driven machine in which there is no individual solving his own problems with his own two hands, one hand tool at a time.

    I’m not eloquent and I’m often intimidated coming here because I can’t participate in the academic conversation…but just letting you know I so appreciate your thoughts…they’re fodder for many discussions between my husband and me as we plan our near futures.

  44. Robbyn says:

    Uhoh, computer problems…please delete the repetitive re-commenting of the one comment of mine that got sent 3x…lol thanks!

  45. Madelene says:

    I don’t know what to state except that I have savored reading.

  46. Collin says:

    This is what I’ve been thinking too. The problem is that your Casaubon’s Book site doesn’t portray this image (not that I have any better idea). Specifically, I think you should get rid of that chicken. It gives the unfortunate impression of yelling “the sky is falling”, based on the folk-tale of Chicken Little. I think I may have made that connection unconsciously at first, causing my negative reaction to your site.

  47. John E says:

    I offer as counter-point, the alt-text to

    “The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there’s no good reason to go into space-each discovered, studied, and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision.”

  48. Sorting out possible scenarios for the future « UKIAH BLOG says:

    [...] Unfortunately, most of the time we imagine only a few of them. Most Americans are caught up in the Klingons/Cylons distinction in ways that are destructive - the default assumption is a techno-utopianism that [...]

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