by Ernest Callenbach Published on May 7, 2012 by TomDispatch.com
Ernest Callenbach, author of the classic environmental novel Ecotopia and Ecotopia Emerging, among other works, died at 83 on April 16th, 2012 -- leaving behind this unpublished document on his computer
As I survey my life, which is coming near its end, I want to set down a few thoughts that might be useful to those coming after. It will soon be time for me to give back to Gaia the nutrients that I have used during a long, busy, and happy life. I am not resentful at the approaching end; I have been one of the extraordinarily lucky ones. So it behooves me here to gather together some thoughts that may prove useful in the dark times we are facing. But let us begin with last things first, for a change. The analysis will come later, for those who wish it.
Hope. Children exude hope, even under the most terrible conditions, and that must inspire us as our conditions get worse. Hopeful patients recover better. “Yes, we can!” is not an empty slogan, but a mantra for people who intend to do something together. We cannot know what threats we will face. But ingenuity against adversity is one of our species’ built-in resources. We cope, and faith in our coping capacity is perhaps our biggest resource of all.
Mutual support. The people who do best at basic survival tasks are cooperative, good at teamwork, often altruistic, mindful of the common good. In drastic emergencies like hurricanes or earthquakes, people surprise us by their sacrifices -- of food, of shelter, even sometimes of life itself. So, in every way we can we need to help each other, and our children, learn to be cooperative rather than competitive; to be helpful rather than hurtful; to look out for the communities of which we are a part, and on which we ultimately depend.
Practical skills. With the movement into cities of the world’s people, we have had a massive de-skilling in how to do practical tasks. When I was a boy in the country, all of us knew how to build a tree house, or construct a small hut, or raise chickens, or grow beans. There was widespread competence in fixing things. We all need to learn, or relearn, how we would keep the rudiments of life going if there were no paid specialists around, or means to pay them. Taking care of each other is one practical step at a time; survival is a team sport.
Organize. We like to imagine that heroes are solitary, have super powers, and glory in violence. But of course human society is a complex dance of mutual support and restraint, and if we are lucky it operates by laws openly arrived at and approved by the populace. We have even evolved, spottily, a global understanding that democracy is better than tyranny, that love and tolerance are better than hate, that hope is better than rage and despair, that we are prone, especially in catastrophes, to be astonishingly helpful and cooperative.
Learn to live with contradictions. It is never easy or simple. But already we see, under the crumbling surface of the conventional world, promising developments: new ways of organizing economic activity (cooperatives, worker-owned companies, nonprofits, trusts), new ways of using low-impact technology to capture solar energy, to sequester carbon dioxide, new ways of building compact, congenial cities that are low in energy use, low in waste production, high in recycling of almost everything. A vision of sustainability that sometimes shockingly resembles Ecotopia is tremulously coming into existence at the hands of people who never heard of the book.
We live in the declining years of the biggest economy in the world, where a looter elite has fastened itself upon the decaying carcass of the empire. It is intent on extracting the maximum wealth from that carcass, impoverishing our former middle class. But this maggot class does not invest its profits here. End result: something like Mexico, where a small, rich plutocracy rules over an impoverished mass of desperate people. Barring unprecedented revolutionary pressures, this is the future we face in the United States, too. The U.S will stand out as the best-armed Third World country, its population ill-fed, ill-housed, ill-educated, ill-cared for in health, and increasingly poverty-stricken: even Social Security may be whittled down, impoverishing tens of millions of the elderly. We live in a dark time here on our tiny precious planet.
[This is an edited version of the first part of this document, well worth reading in its entirety. It can be found at http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/05/07-0 ]