The Cassandra Club
The collapse of American Empire is wonderful news for the many species and cultures with which we share the planet. And probably for our own species, since the fall of civilization might allow our species to squeeze through the global-change bottleneck. I doubt it. But it's the only chance we've got, and I'm an optimist. — Guy McPherson, Nature Bats Last
You know things are moving quickly when you get to be a prophet and an historian all in one lifetime. — Tim Bennett, What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire
Cassandra image from an Athenian red vase from 5th century BC:
Cassandra falls victim to the usual destiny of those who tell inconvenient truths.
There have been a number of Dharmagaian Cassandras who have tried to alert the world to the perils we are facing, and who have faced harsh criticism, at least, for doing so. John Muir, Rachel Carson, and Paul Ehrlich stand out as examples, and were significant influences in my own journey. In the ancient Greek myth, according to Robert Graves, Cassandra was given the gift of foresight or prescience by Apollo, but then cursed because she wouldn't have sex with him. The curse was that no one would believe her predictions, and she would in fact be reviled and punished for speaking the truth.
In Cassandra's curse: how "The Limits to Growth" was demonized, Ugo Bardi gives us an example of Cassandras' curse in our time, accompanied by the poignant image and caption above:
Cassandra's story is very old: she was cursed that she would always tell the truth and never be believed. But it is also a very modern story and, perhaps, the quintessential Cassandras of our age are the group of scientists who prepared and published in 1972 the book titled "The Limits to Growth." With its scenarios of civilization collapse, the book shocked the world perhaps more than Cassandra had shocked her fellow Trojan citizens when she had predicted the fall of their city to the Achaeans. Just as Cassandra was not believed, so it was for the "Limits to Growth" which, today, is still widely seen as a thoroughly flawed study, wrong all along. This opinion is based only on lies and distortions but, apparently, Cassandra's curse is still alive and well in our times.
Cassandra © Grace Roselli
There are now many blogs that specifically express and address unpopular or ‘inconvenient’ truths about the future that we are collectively facing—truths such as the Earthly limits to growth and the likelihood of civilizational collapse. The term “crashwatch blogs” has been used in more than one such blog, and it seems fitting; for such blogs ‘watch’ and comment on the debacle of disintegration as it unfolds in real time. Because Peak Oil is perceived to be the most imminent threat to civilization and human survival, many crashwatch bloggers comment on issues related to Peak Oil as well as other converging crises in the political economy, environment, and climate. They also seek and explore sane ways to respond to these crises—the alternative to remaining in denial or despair and paralysis. (If you Google “surviving peak oil” you get over sixteen million results.)
Many such bloggers have been reviled and attacked for stating what others do not want to hear. Although seldom referred to as “Cassandra’s curse,” this phenomenon is often noted in crashwatch blogs and on Peak Oil sites, such as Energy Bulletin and The Oil Drum, at least as of this writing in 2008. Bloggers who now assume that collapse in one form or another is inevitable often respond to the "curse" with questions and speculations about the mechanisms of denial that motivate people to attack those who express unpopular, unwanted truths.
I’ve been asking ‘What’s it going to take to wake people up?’ for over 20 years, so mechanisms of denial have been a topic of great interest to me for at least that long. My concern over those years has been the preservation of biodiversity—a losing battle, I’m grieved to say. However, I have welcomed the proliferation of crashwatch blogs since I woke up to Peak Oil in January 2005, because I see awakening and paradigm change occurring through these blogs. The acceptance of positive disintegration is an important dynamic within the Great Turning, to which this Dharmagaians site is dedicated.
Mutual or collective learning about mechanisms of denial—and how to deal with them—is probably one reason that crashwatch bloggers read and comment on each others’ posts, and sometimes post them on their own sites. And perhaps that is also why many who are not bloggers also read and comment on these posts. The number of Cassandras seems to be increasing, and they are meeting in cyberspace to commiserate and share experiences, viewpoints, and learning.
People with foresight, who are prescient, often feel alone and isolated within the dominant society - especially in North America and Europe where it is still taboo in 'polite society' to talk about the converging crises and the signs that our civilization is already in decline. (For a fascinating exploration of why the majority of humans are present-oriented, lack foresight, and have an antipathy to warnings about the future, see Living for the Moment while Devaluing the Future by Nate Hagens.) Anyone who tries to talk about these things in ‘polite company’ may come face to face with Cassandra’s curse. Cyberspace seems to be the only safe space where we can talk about these things—‘safe’ at least as of this writing.
That is the reason I have come to think about crashwatch bloggers and anyone else who has the courage to write about “collapse”—whether in books, articles or comments—as the “Cassandra Club.” After I wrote this little essay to introduce the crashwatch blogs as the “Cassandra Club,” I was amused to see Richard Heinberg declare himself to be “a card-carrying member of the Cassandra Club” in Timing, which reviews some of the prominent warnings about the current crises that have been issued by Cassandras since at least the early 1970s.
The Conversation © Mark Bryan
Cassandras are people who have foresight and the courage to speak/write unwelcome truths about the future. Because they often meet with disbelief, disapproval or condemnation in one form or another, some crashwatch bloggers have developed an ironic prose style that I appreciate. And they give readers and each other the gift of courage to express what society denies. The gift of fearlessness is one of the most precious gifts, a gift that we all need in these times—the courage to wake up from the cultural trance and speak the truth that we see.
I have started a Cassandra Club in Amsterdam in order to provide a safe space to dialogue about observations and speculations about collapse, sane ways to respond and personal plans for coping and/or getting out of the way. I encourage others to form Cassandra Clubs in their own locales.
The blogs that keep my interest incorporate systems thinking. They are (usually) well written and connect the dots between Peak Oil (and other depletions), the American and global economy, human overpopulation, fascistic moves in the US and elsewhere, and Gaian issues such as climate change, species extinctions, soil and water depletion, and other ecosystemic crises. These are the blogs I value for their focus, depth, and forward momentum:
The Archdruid Report by John Michael Greer - Weekly blog specializes in erudite speculations about “the shape of the future” from an historical perspective, in a delightfully ironic prose style.
Carolyn Baker: Speaking Truth to Power - News feed on all aspects of collapse, including economic meltdown, signs of emerging police state, examples of sustainability, and psycho-spiritual considerations.
Peak Oil Blues by Kathy McMahon - Exploring emotional reactions to Peak Oil, hosted by a psychotherapist.
The Fourth World by the late Juan Santos
Culture Change by Jan Lundberg
Resource Insights by Kurt Cobb
John Feeney - Environmental writing, ecological truth.
Approaching the Limits by Paul Chefurka
Nature Bats Last by Guy McPherson
Eco-Anxiety by Sarah Anne Edwards
Chatelaine's Keys by Sharon Astyk
Club Orlov by Dmitry Orlov
The Great Change by Albert Bates
Chip Ward Essays on the environment and economy
Tom Atlee - random communications from an evolutionary edge
Chris Hedges' Columns on politics, culture, war and psychology
The Automatic Earth on economics, politics, and disintegration of empire by Nicole Foss.
Honorable mention 1:
What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire
In 2007, this documentary was the most honest, courageous, profound, and encompassing treatment on film of the process of waking up to and facing the decline and disintegration of our civilization, and it may still be. It gives you the facts, but also the personal, inner experience of facing and telling the truth of things as they are in the world. The narration is eloquent. The filmmakers, Sally Erickson and Tim Bennett, traveled around the U.S. to screen the documentary and hold discussion circles with viewers after the film. Sally’s and Tim’s blogs begin before the DVD’s release in August 2007, and continue after their screening tours.
Honorable mention 2:
The Dark Mountain Project and Blog by Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hines - Launched in July 2009 - The Dark Mountain Project is a new literary movement for an age of global disruption. We aim to question the stories that underpin our failing civilisation, to craft new ones for the age ahead and to write clearly and honestly about our true place in the world.
Of all races in an advanced stage of civilization, the American is the least accessible to long views… Always and everywhere in a hurry to get rich, he does not give a thought to remote consequences; he sees only present advantages… He does not remember, he does not feel, he lives in a materialist dream. —Moiseide Ostrogorski (1902, 302-303)
Spectators © Michelle Waters
©2010 Suzanne Duarte