What We Must Do

What it comes down to is that the only way forward is alone or in small, like-minded, groups. If the Great Many remain lost in the confusions and denials delivered by those who are seeming to gain from the destruction of the world, then there still is a way, not the way we might wish, not the way that clearly sustains our present ecosystems and the hard-won balances of land, air and sea, but there is a way that can result in a salutary life lived.

What we will desperately need is a new way of thinking – not really a ‘new’ way of thinking, but new things to think!  Here are some of the new things that may help bring the madness of our present way of living in the real biophysical world into a bit more sanity. 

1) All of life is important: Buddhism is nice and all, and if that is your path to this idea, fine enough, but I like the ecological understanding: all life is integrated into ecosystems that supply ‘free environmental services’ so long as the living things receiving the free services compensate the ecosystems in some way that matters.  You say this doesn’t sound free? How right you are.  The energy, material and service exchanges are more complex than the wiring of the space shuttle: the tit for tat is four billion years old, continuous in time and space; there would be no life on earth without the organizing function of evolved mutual compensations: All life is important.

Humans are one of more than 10 million other species of living things that are all the result of the same 4 billion years of unbroken DNA replication.  The assumption that we humans are special as living things is a complete misuse of what actually makes us special.  Using our remarkable capacities to overpopulate, dominate and make unlivable our living space is ultimately unremarkable, a behavior common to bacteria, but using our Consciousness System of Order to imagine and implement ways to both use and limit our powers, to live within the compensation requirements of sustaining ecosystems would be to demonstrate the full capacity of this incredible new adaptation.

2) The value of a life is in the daily living of it, not in the tallying up of duration – like adding up the value of a savings account, that, when at its most abundant, is foreclosed.  A life lived fully every day can end any day without regret.  A life lived every day in regret for the absence of a life fully lived must be clung to in the hope of someday actually living in the fullest experience.  There is in this way no living the life of another, but rather the discovery of the self in the fullest relationship with community and nature.  Though the opportunities of our present time limit to some considerable extent, it is still possible and rewarding to make the greatest effort.

We will have to accept not living long.  The very notion that a long life is somehow a measure of a successful life is ludicrous.  The only value that is positively spoken to by long life expectancy is general health and nutrition – both are quite positive but not because one lives long, but because each day can be lived with some adventure and accomplishment.

3) No one is to live from the fruits of another’s labor; everyone must do the work of meeting the most basic living needs: growing and gathering food, cleaning and carrying water, preparing place for human comfort and safety.  And everyone must do the work of the mind as well as the body, to strengthen the mind and grow and share its base of knowledge.

If this sounds unreasonable, consider these two facts: 1) people lived and prospered by these ‘rules’ and values for over 150 thousand years; and, 2) the divisions of responsibilities and specializations on which our present societies depend also have led to economic inequities that result in the greatest pain and suffering in the history of life: 3 billion of our fellow human beings are living with malnutrition, inadequate and dangerous water supplies and often with low and high tech military actions taking their children and otherwise dominating their lives.  And at the same time these same actions have led us all, including ‘innocent other species’ to the brink of domino-like ecological collapses.

4) We must not make the assumption that the ‘life style’ (really level of consumption) that is average for the highest consuming population is the one we should adopt as our standard. I have suggested a beginning value for consumption should be an ecological footprint of 5 hectares per capita and that this not be made up of an average with most people struggling at the very margins of possibility on 1 or 1 ½ hectares and a privileged elite “suffering” along with 50 hectares per capita.  The societal expectation for all should be simplicity, frugality and life in its living not in objects. Finding social devices that encourage or even enforce these expectations with socially learned sanctions is a tool we need to rediscover.

5) We must finally come to a socially and intellectually mature relationship to religion.  The basis for religious systems – in their functional origin as the motivating devices for adapting social behaviors to the ecological community in which the human community lived – was strongly reality driven; that was essential to guide behavior in its interactions with the environment.  Since these adaptations were taking place before a consistent and organized science, the “facts” were accumulated by adaptive functionality; i.e., trial and error, the successful actions stored and empowered by religious stories. 

Today there is  only one generally available tool to support religious behaviors and that is science.  We cannot all learn all that is science and have no need to, but we do have need to be informed and guided to actions that are the most suitable for our sustaining relationship to our world.  Religions are motivating systems and short cuts for those actions.  Today’s major religions are still telling the stories that were functional thousands of years ago; it is no wonder that they are, not to put too fine a point on it, batshit crazy.

But there is no point in trying to reject the whole idea of religion because, should we do that, we will just replace the exact same needs and designs with a new name that will then need to be rejected soon again.  Better to understand the thing itself.

6) In this understanding, the money economy is to be in the service of all human beings and All Living Things, not in the service of an elite few; it is utter madness for life to be in the service of money.  But it is a madness that has come to dominate the world’s societies, and a madness that will not easily be cured.

Once a money economy comes into place, and socially established norms are no longer defined by direct or indirect relationships with the biophysical space, then we should not be surprised by social norms coming to be defined by the most powerful valuing device around.

Conclusion: These are many of the things that we need to think and incorporate into how we live our lives if we are to either live in, and through, the coming changes or, in the best case, give such hope and guidance to enough others that the thing begins to snowball.  It is a small chance, but it is the only way.  If enough people begin to feel the heat of the coming conflagration, its most damaging potential may be avoided.  But that cannot be the reason to live in respect of life itself.  So living has to be, and is, its own reward.

This is the third part of a three part essay.  Parts one and two can be found on my website.

James Keye is the nom de plume of a retired academic and small businessman living with an Ecological Footprint of 1.6 earths. He can be reached at jkeye1632@gmail.com. Read other articles by James, or visit James's website.

13 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. mike3 said on March 18th, 2010 at 3:02pm #


    But there’s one thing that I take a little issue with:

    “We will have to accept not living long. The very notion that a long life is somehow a measure of a successful life is ludicrous. The only value that is positively spoken to by long life expectancy is general health and nutrition – both are quite positive but not because one lives long, but because each day can be lived with some adventure and accomplishment.”

    However, the longer the life, the more good stuff that can be done with it. Though a long life that is crap is certainly not better than a short one lived well, but we should not diss long living either. Ultimately it’s the amount of good that matters.

  2. James Keye said on March 18th, 2010 at 3:18pm #

    MIke3, I wondered at this way of presenting the idea and came to the conclusion that the most direct was the most honest: a consequence of these actions would almost certainly reduce average life span typical of developed countries, in transitional times, perhaps quite a bit. With that as caveat, I agree with you.

  3. Don Hawkins said on March 18th, 2010 at 5:11pm #

    I know many will read this James and say can’t happen oh it’s on the way one way or the other. I need to see like many others just the next few years and we will know the road we are on. Here in the States to watch our so called leaders is not reassuring. The climate bill here in the States is still a joke on the human race and there is still time with total focus. Either way tuff day’s ahead. So much better to try and if we are soon is a good word.

  4. Danny Ray said on March 18th, 2010 at 5:25pm #

    James, Very interesting, what you are suggesting is we all go back to Iron Age technology. I always knew I would be happy with all my meager belongings on a travois; my ancestors did it for many years. Besides chasing Tatonka ( yes I used the Lakota word instead of the Comanche, regretfully I don’t know the Comanche word) beats the hell out of chasing Haji. However, I have one question. What is going to happen to the other six billion people that the world will not support in this fashion? Yes, we will need smiths, potters, small holding farmers. However, according to the best sources I can find, the world will only support around one billion (and that may be a stretch) in this manner. I have said here many times, that those six billion will not go quietly into the dark. The best we can hope for is a damn big plague.

  5. bozh said on March 19th, 2010 at 7:23am #

    To me, the most important questions appear, Shld WE change present structure of society? Are our structures of societies iniquitous? And to what degree? Will present, what to me are, asocialistic structures of societies, get worse or better?

    Shld WE [keep im mind that we are not THEM] change the structure of society from an asocialistic to a socialist-gregarious one?
    Do THEM want to do that? Are THEY aware that change is necessary to US? Or do THEY know this, but priviledge being an addiction-illusion, impossible to give up voluntarily?

    Now, we need to find out who these THEM are and how many of THEM are there! Do these THEM totally or partially control cia, fbi, city police, drug flow, army, judiciary, congress, WH, media, schooling? And 98% of all wealth in US?
    And how ab WE? We own 2% of america, ooo1% of army-cia echelons, judiciary, congress, etc.

    Do WE writet laws? Who then writes them? THEM, of course! Against US and for THEM? How ab finding out of ab any of this?
    Wld ever one of US be ever allowed on L.King show to pose these questions? more cld be said. tnx

  6. Don Hawkins said on March 19th, 2010 at 7:47am #

    Ohhh! Great warrior! [laughs and shakes his head]
    Wars not make one great!

    “You must unlearn what you have learned.” “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will…”

    Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh! A Jedi craves not these things.

    “You will know (the good from the bad) when you are calm, at peace. Passive. Use the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack. ”

    You know I like this one Bozh and Use the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack. ” That’s defense and in the course of human events the defense has never been needed more. It will take a lot of us and so far that is not happening. Much knowledge now and we all have it use it.

  7. Don Hawkins said on March 19th, 2010 at 7:51am #

    Oh the darkside there worst enemy is the truth knowledge and if we use it they will fold like a house of cards on a windy day. A lot of us and think of this as kind of a war.

  8. Max Shields said on March 19th, 2010 at 8:37am #

    I have become thorough convinced that “we” will not change anything. The forces that will change “us” are out of our control. We will scamble to adapt as the chatter subsides and existence becomes central.

    It is not “we” who will do “something about “climate change”. It is the radical changing of climate with will radical change our living patterns, our community awareness, our cultures and economies. We are entrenched in the here and now and the change we need is out of our grasp; try though some of us might.

  9. bozh said on March 19th, 2010 at 9:19am #

    Well, the way i see it, there’s been since ca 10k yrs ago THEM and US. Thus, US cannot change anything if we think-behave like pavlov’s dog. I think Don just said the same idea-plan: change ur thinking!

    And the THEM will always change things; to THEIR liking. US cannot change our minds because, methinks, we were told by THEM [for 10 k yrs] that the THEM are the annointed ones; appointed by god to lead THEIR sheeple; the US or sheeple being incapable of rational thought, proper behavior; who wld quickly revert to canibalism, disorder, murder, theft, incest, etc., if it wasn’t for the honest-wise-just watch people.

    And US believed it- for 10-15 k yrs ago. And we believed the priestly-nobility story of how bad the barbarians that surround them are: they eat their young, have sex with their daughters, live in mud houses; know of no laws, tools, morality, order, culture, etc.

    Oh, how bad are talibans, iraqis, palestinians! The words cannot describe how primitive these people are. Oh, how much they hate us! Our way of life, democracy, ideals, etc.
    Nevertheless, only 95% americans believed it. The other 5% are traitors, etc.

    But, the THEM in venezuella, vietnam, cuba appear to be majority of people in those countries. Fisrt time ever in recorded history. And these THEM people in those countries are hated with passion by the THEM in canada, US, india, pak’n, much of europe.
    Why do THEM in US hate THEM in cuba? And mightily fear? Is it because these examplars [good models] threaten THEM. Anybody knows? tnx

  10. Don Hawkins said on March 19th, 2010 at 9:26am #

    There is still time not for ruff times ahead to late but it can be slowed just not on this present path.

  11. James Keye said on March 19th, 2010 at 10:25am #

    Danny Ray, I am not suggesting going back at all, but rather that the future must be much more integrated into ecological reality. This would include simplicities of relationship with our primary needs – like times in our past, but would not exclude the low energy communications and other thoughtfully selected technologies. There would, of necessity, be a slowing down of the rates of change that have been “out of control” for so long. BUT, as Max Shields says, the greatest likelihood is that we will crash and burn on the present trajectory. My message is that there is a way to live the life, even as the Great Many begin the fall off the cliff (as they/we are beginning to do right now). This way of living also happens to be the model for what would mitigate the horrors to come. Living as fully as a member of the species as we can in this time (I call it specieshood) makes many of the destructive events over which we have no control trivial. There are many reasons to live in community and nature, and while if we all began to live thus (and began a globally honest fully resourced education project to reduce population), this old world might pull through this time with some cuts and bruises, I agree with Max that the chances are miniscule, the best reason to so live is that it is just better.

    As to what will happen to the 6 billion, or more, as we wind our way to carrying capacity (over the next 30 to 100 years)? First of all carrying capacity will be seriously challenged by the destruction of environment as the Great Many claw out the remaining calories – I think that .5 billion is quite a high estimate for the number that might remain; I am thinking more in the hundred million or less range. No reason to go into details here, it would not be pretty. But even if this is the most likely future, there is no reason not to live in the best way there is that at the same time supports the possibility of actually coming through is without an even more major extinction event.

  12. Danny Ray said on March 19th, 2010 at 10:47am #

    James that sounds even better, Iron Age with DSL internet and penicillin. Sign me up. But my wife is not going to be to happy with a laptop on her travois. I gave her the article and she was all for going back to the plains.

  13. Wingnut said on March 26th, 2010 at 11:40am #

    Hi gang! I’m kind of late getting here, aren’t I? Good to see you all again… and good thinking/writing here!

    THIS post won’t meet that criteria whatsoever… so I hope its optional. 🙂

    Ok, those must must must “policies” that the author has proposed… MUST have a whole lot less MUSTS in them. We “must” ASK people to come to work on Team Earth, NOT “must” them into doing it. Lets not fall into the same trap as capitalism with its MUST get a job (servitudal duty) aboard that competer’s church OR ELSE. Or ELSE, or starve, or you’ll never get to own anything, or you’ll be unhappy, or you’re fired, or you’re terminated… those are all extortion. You can’t FORCE people with “or else’s”… that’s illegal.

    And in #3, keep in mind that MANY will live off the fruits of others’ labor. Elderly, non-able-bodied, etc etc, “must” be lovingly and proudly cared-for (wellbeing’d). We love to adopt things… its easy to care for each other in communes. Ask the USA Team Military’s moneyless, ownerless, one-for-all, all-for-one supply’n’survival system. Those guys all take care of each other… all on the same “team” (commune). Shared luxuries/toys, too… via the military’s recreational services toy repository… equally shared by tribal elders and newbie scouts. No monetary discrimination! OMG!

    Now over to Danny Ray. You, are super interesting, and although I didn’t totally understand what you were saying, it looks to me like you’re talking about communes and feeding the planet using such systems. And yes, it CERTAINLY can be a commune that’s e-wired together by the debris of a soon-to-collapse capitalism pyramid scheme-o-servitude and demented rat-racing festival. Why not? The routers are sitting there idling. After all, its Team Earth, and inventory management and resource distribution/tracking systems will be in FULL BEEF. The “World Needs” tv network will also be in full swing, and we “ables” watch it every morning to see where panic inventory levels are, so we can volunteer our brawn and expertise to fix that panic… voluntarily. No wages, no timecards… but you DO get ribbons/colors to wear on your Team Earth uniform when you respoind to panics… and so you are held in high esteem by mentor-seeking children and TV watchers. When you wear the colors of a highly-critical inventory need/dept such as Team Food division of Team Earth, you’re automatically a spearheader/elder/wiseman. You’re a hero, and the television cameras are all over you. The kids want to “be like Mike”… if Mike has lots of Team Earth hero ribbons. THIS… is the ONLY motivation/wages/profit to be had from laboring for Team Earth. The “profits” will come, because in giant team operations based upon caring and love… what goes around, comes around (spirography).

    Inflation and bill-a-thons like capitalism, also show spirography. The more ya bill others, the more your own cost of living goes up, which means you have to bill harder, which causes your own cost of living to go up, etc. I think the capitalists call it growth/inflation, and its not overly smart to wish for the growth of cancerous tumors such as economies. Abolish economies and the man-made-up phenomena of ownership, immediately, gang. Hurry.

    Ok, back with Farmer Dan. Um… I don’t believe that it is right to kill plants (or animals). SO… ponder feeding the population of the world (and its animals) with ONLY fallen fruits/nuts/grains, etc… and NEVER killing ANYTHING in order to eat it (we instead catch things in gentle “fall nets” beneath the plants). We CAN use animal meat when it has died of natural causes or old age… but NEVER any other way. So, the naturally-dead animals would likely be used to make seasoning powders at best… to help flavor vegetarian-ish dishes that we all eat in New America. I THINK… we can be about twice as healthy as we all are now… via eating ONLY fallen foods. I THINK… if we plant the world about 3/4 full of groves and orchards and the like… we can easily feed the entire planet, including the woodland critters and bacterial friends.

    Now, NO MORE PICKING OR SHAKING! We “must” wait for the food to FALL, as the season’s name tells us to do. That means nets. Everything is vine-ripened, and thus… picking green and trucking stuff… is avoided.

    And HOW do we get the food to the people IF we can’t truck it? We instead, move the people to the food, as the very smart herding/roaming animals do. AND… the people will live and love amongst the orchards, and must share the fruits with the woodland critters and insects… so we must be willing to eat partially-eaten fruits, nuts, seeds, grains. And you know where I’m going with this, yes? NO PESTICIDES! Also, we gotta be careful of our fertilizers. Boy, that was just packed with musts, and even a gotta! Yikes! I’m a fascist! 🙂

    You say roaming human herds causes mass automobile/busing motor pollution? You bet. And so, we will be using these wonderful highways of ours… to carry great sailbuses and solar-powered-tractor-pulled LONG LONG LONG hayrides. Max speed on the interstate? 15 mph. We are no longer in any hurry, and slow road-trips would be very common. It would not be unusual for a trip across the United States… to take 4 months. No speeds faster than bicycles allowed, end of discussion. Its a “must”. 🙂

    Wheeled sailing schooners, sail tractors, solar tractors, bikes, herds wisely moving to the food supplies, not carrying tons of owned things with them… only meaningful personal items like other roaming herds. Stuff will be available on the way, including un-waitered/waitressed food warehouses, sleeping provisions, toiletries, but not luxuries. Team Earth custodianed luxuries live in the luxury repositories for all to share equally… in moderation.

    Danny, I got a plan. First we need to get rid of capitalism. Use the USA military’s criteria for differentiating a need from a luxury/toy, and generally model the whole she-bang like the USA military commune/socialism, or like the socialism seen with the USA public library system. All custodianships, no more ownership or money. Not a single other living creature on the entire Earth… uses economies or entitles of ownership. Such are man-made-up things… herd control devices… bandwagoning and railroading devices.

    See, I told you it’d be a goofy illogical post. Or is it?

    Want to get into the thing where we ponder the difference between nuts and seeds, and ponder if we humans would be getting in the way of plant proliferation if we eat the fruit of a plant that contained its seeds? I have done SOME research on the subject, and at least SOME seeds CAN pass through the human digestive system, and still remain fertile. So, at least under CERTAIN circumstances… seed shells are designed to withstand stomach bile and poopification. Yay lifeforms! Come crap in my garden!

    Once when describing someone, my buddy Murel Kidd said “He’s okay, but he shits too close to his own house”. 🙂 Well hell, in New America, it will be the “in” thing to do! Poopy Seeds!

    But don’t go overboard, now, kids. I’m pretty sure burnt marijuana seeds will prove to be mighty infertile.

    Anti-capitalism-ist in Michigan’s UP