Fukushima, climate change, near-term extinction: Resignation vs. surrender


Photo: sky#walker/Flickr.

All things die and all things live forever;
But our task is to die,
To die making roads,
Roads over the sea.
Antonio Machado

Recently a reader of my website asked me to clarify the difference between resignation and surrender. When faced with catastrophic climate change, near-term extinction, and the worst emission of radiation in the history of the world from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, how should we respond?

The reader found himself swimming in deep despair and feeling very much like giving up—perhaps even ceasing the breast strokes of vigorous swimming, plunging further into the despair, and intentionally inhaling as deeply as possible. Well, that would be suicide, and he didn’t feel ready for that—at least not in that moment, and the word “surrender” kept coming to mind, but isn’t that the same as giving up?

Waiting for Fukushima

nuclear symbol

Image: www.freestock.ca/Flickr.

A recent Guardian headline reads “Fukushima Warning: Danger Level At Nuclear Plant Jumps To ‘Serious’,” and the Wall St. Journal states unequivocally that ‘TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) Has Lost Control.’ Just a few days ago I posted on my site Guy McPherson’s latest piece “19 Ways Climate Change Is Feeding On Itself,” and Washington’s Blog screams, “West Coast Of North America To Be Hit Hard By Fukushima Radiation,” complete with a detailed map of the ocean current called the North Pacific Gyre which is bringing Japanese radiation to the West Coast of North America.

Why would I not want to give up? Why would I not want to ingest a large dosage of ‘Fuckidall’ or go eat 700 pounds of chocolate? Go to the gym today? Are you freakin’ kidding me?

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I occasionally hear people saying things like, “Well, we’re not going to be here after 2030 by which time near-term extinction is ‘guaranteed’ so what I eat or drink or smoke or do or don’t do doesn’t matter.”

That’s called resignation or giving up, and from my perspective, indulging in it, even if I feel compelled to do so, is a cowardly, delusional kind of devil’s bargain that essentially affirms that I have no purpose here except breathing air and ingesting food and water. Resignatio in Latin connotes submission, acquiescence, and compliance. Is this not the same as surrender? Actually, it’s not.

Hopefully, everyone reading these words, like me, is not willing to go gently, quietly, or complacently into the abyss that our species has created. If we do—if at this unprecedented time in the history of our planet we resign ourselves to defining our existence only in terms of the physical plane, as if we have absolutely no connection with anything eternal or constant, then we are inexorably as foolish as the purveyors of industrial civilization who are engaged in rendering this planet uninhabitable.

The courage to surrender

Surrender is fundamentally different from resignation because unlike the latter, it is not a passive act. Surrender is always a choice, and in our “dead man walking” status on planet Earth, we may be able to change nothing in the external milieu, but we have agency in how we meet our fate. Certainly we have the option and the right to muddle our way into oblivion like comatose inebriates, and countless millions will choose and are choosing that path.

Mentally, I keep returning to Nazi death camp survivors and the unspoken, seemingly feckless choices they made on a daily basis that allowed them to prevail. Perhaps a drawing made in the mud or jokes they furtively told to one another or a decision that every day they would find meaning somewhere, somehow in the hellish drudgery and brutality of their lives.

Giving up is easy. Surrender takes enormous courage and self-regard—an abiding conviction that one’s human dignity is worth it, even if one is bereft of family and friends.

Surrender acknowledges that in the last half of 2013, the human species is marching obliviously in its own funeral procession and that perhaps one can choose instead to march consciously, all the while asking questions that matter. Questions like: What is left for me to do here? How do I most wisely use the time I have left? What is my work in these remaining years? What gifts do I have that I must give? What brings meaning to the lives of people around me? What brings meaning to me?

Beyond ego, peace

As people approach their own demise, life review is crucial. How did I live? How did I love? What were the very best moments? What were the worst? And most importantly: What did I learn? Who did I become as a result of the wise choices I made and the ones that weren’t so wise?

Invariably, there will be grief, and impending funerals are the exact venues where it must erupt. But as William Blake said, “The deeper the sorrow, the greater the joy,” and if we allow and follow the grief, joy will inevitably emerge from its depths.

At this moment we are confronted with a horrendous reality. Not only is climate change decimating the planet, but added to that catastrophe is one that, unlike climate change, we cannot measure because the facts pertaining to it are concealed. Fortunately, we have a plethora of data regarding climate change, but foolish and frightened humans have been concealing the realities of Fukushima from the world for more than two years. Our sense of powerlessness grows exponentially by the hour. Fukushima is out of control, and so are we.

In World As Lover, World As Self, Joanna Macy refers to the work of Polish psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski who speaks of “positive disintegration” or the cracking of outgrown shells which he argues “permits the emergence of higher psychic structures and awareness.” What disintegrates in times of catastrophe is not the essence of who we are, the deeper self, but rather, our defenses, our notions about who we are, that is to say, the ego. I say, bring it on. No, not psychosis or madness but an authentic decomposition of ego.

While the human ego gets a lot of bad press, the reality is that we need one. I would ask anyone who tells me that they have lost their ego how it is that they can find their car keys or the door to the restroom. We cannot live without an ego, but unbeknownst to the fathers of industrial civilization, the ego is only one small aspect of who we are. Near-term extinction and Fukushima are the best and the worst that the ego can produce, and left to its own devices, the ego will always replicate such horrors.

Settling your affairs

The human ego has reached the end of the line, and our struggle with the difference between giving up and surrendering is to be celebrated as its last death gasp. It has taken us to the jaws of death where we must choose to die to at least the old paradigm, and yes, perhaps, choose to die literally.

Thus, it is now time to stop investing 90 percent of our energy in logistical preparation and 10 percent in emotional and spiritual preparation—if we have time and if we feel like it. In fact, now these proportions should be reversed.

For so many reasons—go ahead and count them—we are marching in our own funeral procession. There is enormous work to be done emotionally and spiritually in preparing for what appears to be our certain demise. If anyone feels uncertain about what I’m referring to, please contact me.

The termination of the three-dimensional, Enlightenment-engendered, patriarchal, soul-murdering, planet-annihilating paradigm of industrial civilization is upon us, and we should not be railing and raging against it if we are not willing to do the emotional and spiritual work to buy out of it and transform consciousness as we surrender to the inevitable.

What we all need now is not another permaculture course or another bucket of barley but rather, the soft touch and locked eye contact of each other. We need our hearts to be broken open and our tears to water and soak the earth and wash away the encrusted filth of civilization that pollutes and paralyzes our souls. That, dear reader, is not about giving up, but choosing to rise to the unprecedented, Herculean challenge of healing and transformation that the current catastrophes have thrown in our faces.

It may be time to die, but let us, as the poet Machado says, die making roads over the sea.

Reposted from Speaking Truth to Power.

— Carolyn Baker, Transition Voice

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  1. Auntiegrav says

    “if we allow and follow the grief, joy will inevitably emerge from its depths.”
    No, no it doesn’t. Sometimes, we just get more fucking grief, more pain, and more goddamned PEEEEPUL running around and telling us that we are wasting our time talking or even thinking about reality. In a world where all decisions are made by the mean Mean and justified by monetary pricing, the only practical effort for a future of survival is one where we walk away from civilization and try to build something in an off-grid alternative way. Well, I’m too tired and angry and cynical to do that now. It requires people who have some kind of social gland that secretes crap like poetry and music and all of the other bullshit answers to real questions that need to be answered, like “What are people FOR?” and “How many people do we need to get that job done?” and “What have you done for your own future resources lately?” In answer to these questions, we get pandering and more advertising and more marketing of emotional manipulation that leads to coercion into wars.
    Yes, I do see the value of a bottle of Fuckidol, but that would only eliminate ONE destructive human from the planet. I would rather dump a truckload of Fuckidol into the water supply than take one pill myself. The needs of the future outweigh the wants of the present, regardless of numerical quantities. Sometimes, anger is enough to keep an ego going and going. Look it up: angry people live longer.
    Most of the angst people face about transitioning to a new attitude comes from their inability to admit that they have to let go of the comforts of this deluded existence and accept the risks and fears and dangers of the natural world as the only actuality.

    • says

      Poetry, art, music, dancing, are not bullshit answers. There ARE no answers, but there is the other side of our humanity, and if we don’t balance the rot with that other side, then we are doing nothing less than rolling over and letting civilization destroy us. When Blake says that the deeper the sorrow, the greater the joy, he implied that our grieving must be intentional. We don’t just walk around feeling depressed and wearing the Big V for victim on our foreheads even though we HAVE been victimized. Rather, we grieve intentionally, rage intentionally, and then passionately throw ourselves into all that is beautiful, whole, and good and celebrate that. The choice of how we want to live these remaining days of our lives is up to us.

      • Auntiegrav says

        What if the only thing people find beautiful is a video game, and they throw themselves into that?
        It has poetry, dancing, music, art, grief, etc.
        If we passionately throw ourselves into what is good and whole, the civilized pyramid scheme will sell it to the majority and the schools will teach our kids to participate. That’s how we ended up with pasteurized milk and medicine that kills us at a profit, wars to spread democracy and extract oil and fight “comm’nizem”.
        You’re right, there are no answers. We are fools to think so.

    • says

      While there are no answers, there are practices that we can develop to help us navigate the madness, and that is what my work is ALL about. Just because industrial civilization, what’s left of it, will co-opt beauty, poetry, etc. does not mean that we should not throw ourselves into it. We enjoy it, share it, and work to help our communities throw themselves into it as well, and we learn how to be discerning. Yes, someone develops a video game that quotes Rumi. That’s bunk and is clearly co-opting something beautiful, but we don’t have to buy into it. Discernment is a skill that we develop with practice—yes, spiritual practice.

      Here again, we have a both/and. “They” out there are co-opting beauty, and we fight to stop that, but that should not prevent us from throwing ourselves into it personally. I have never believed in “answers,” but I do tenaciously keep myself open to options and ways to live that allow me to survive and sometimes, if I’m fortunate, thrive amid the madness. While I am vigilant about what “they” do, I am equally vigilant about deepening my own consciousness.

  2. Dan Hanrahan says

    The article assumes the future is written – in fact, pre-written. It is not. And the author should know that, in fact, taking a permaculture class is a very great gesture of moving beyond ego dominance. Engaging in the struggle to pull the Earth back from the brink, if engaged in as a spiritual as well as material pursuit, can and should grow us into post-ego-centered-capitalist consciousness. The two endeavors go hand in hand: Our psycho-spiritual growth depends upon our recognizing the members of the non-human (and human) world as subjects to be listened to and not objects to be exploited, to paraphrase Derrick Jensen.

  3. says

    The future is not written—in stone or anywhere else, but the science regarding NTE and what is happening every planet-murdering second in Fukushima is extremely compelling, and we would be foolish not to consider the “hospice” perspective as one of many with which to meet these crises. I am not putting down permaculture. I’m a huge fan of it. I was trying to make a point regarding the urgency of our situation and the dire dilemma in which we find ourselves. If you read my other writings and particularly my books Sacred Demise and Navigating The Coming Chaos you will see enormous emphasis not only on “recognizing” members of teh non-human world but our becoming deeply emotionally and spiritually connected with them. Yes, permaculture can be an excellent spiritual practice, but we need so much more in the wake of the likelihood of NTE.

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