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Review of William Kotke's "The Final Empire: The Seed Of The Future"

Author 3494
Message Carolyn Baker

We are proposing to create no less than a completely new human culture that relates to the earth in a completely different way....those who choose to respond in a positive way need gather the seeds of Natural cultures and the truly beneficial things created by civilization and carry them through the apocalypse.

            ~William Kotke~

Tending The Vision

In Part One of this review, I focused on the author's stunning explanation of collapse as a kind of time bomb imbedded in civilization. What I failed to mention is that Kotke wrote this book in 1993 which makes its contents all the more momentous. Likewise, his vision of alternative communities based on the principles of natural culture was ahead of its time in terms of defining how humans need to live in relationship with the more-than-human world.

At this point, I'd like to share how The Final Empire and the timing of its appearance in my life, in synchronicity with other concepts and events, informed my vision of possibilities.

On a chilly morning in Boulder, Colorado I sat in a circle with about 34 other individuals as we concluded a weekend of deep talking, deep listening, and deep feeling regarding the topic of collapse and the end of the world as we have known it. People began to cry and allow words and sounds of grief to pour forth, and not only grief, but fear and rage. My body softened, and tears flowed. Piles of used Kleenex accumulated under my chair, and I felt the deepest connection I had ever experienced with a group of human beings in my life, many of whom had been total strangers only 48 hours before. For several moments I knew as clearly as I knew that I was sitting in a chair in a room in Boulder that these fellow humans were my unequivocal allies and that in a world of famine or thirst, I would never allow them to perish, nor would they allow me to perish.

But not only did I feel a warm, intimate connection with the other individuals in the room, but in the pit of my stomach I experienced a sensation of being profoundly and palpably connected with the earth. For a moment I flashed on an experience I had over a decade ago in Yosemite National Park when a friend and I spent a morning in silence in a secluded meadow. We wandered about, sometimes in close proximity, but most of the time hundreds of feet apart, feeling ourselves joined to the grass, the trees, the birds, a quietly bubbling stream, the sky. While those hours yielded the most intimate connection I had ever experienced with the earth until that time, I felt something far more momentous occurring in my body while sitting in the circle. For the first time in my life I experienced the earth as my family-its other-than-human members as my siblings, parents, and children. Savoring viscerally my relatedness to my family, the awareness that my family is dying because members of my species are killing it, surged through my cells and opened a floodgate of yet more grief.

But grief was not the endpoint-not the final destination of this unprecedented experience. In fact, what I noticed is that my tears had literally cleansed the doors of perception so that I began to notice and nurture a vision of the kind of world humans are capable of creating before, during, and after the collapse of civilization. It did not come from my head or intellectualizing about what would be politically or environmentally correct. It was unequivocally natural, pristine, innocent, and real.

Before traveling to Colorado I had finished William Kotke's The Final Empire: The Seed Of The Future, and as the experience of intimacy with the earth flowed through my body, a plethora of images began to congeal into vision. However, the vision of which I write was not merely an optical phenomenon but rather something like a symphony of possibilities in which all of my senses were engaged. The "seed of the future" had been gestating in my consciousness and body, and it was being watered by tears-my own and those of the other individuals in the circle, and tender shoots of opportunity were sprouting.

Kotke writes that "Creativity, balance, adaptability, shared energies, unity-diversity, transformation, and relationship are modes of behavior that we find fundamental to life....When we create human culture that is patterned on these principles and integrated with the web of life than human thought and action will be consonant with the purpose of life on this planet."(356-57)

Sitting in the circle, informed and illumined by The Final Empire: The Seed Of The Future, I was blessed with an epiphany-one that did not force me to "have hope" but that I literally gave birth to effortlessly in which I experienced on a cellular level a principle that was not new and which I've been privileged to taste and savor at various sea-change moments in my life. But now, sitting in the circle, as with those other moments, it all made perfect sense.

Earlier in the weekend, when intellectual engagement was appropriate and necessary, we considered Peter Senge's Integrating Principle, explained in his article "The Leader's New Work," and Robert Fritz's Structural Tension Principle which honors the power of creative tension resulting from "seeing clearly where we want to be, our ‘vision,' and telling the truth about where we are, our ‘current reality'." As I sat with this principle I realized that I had been focusing primarily on current reality virtually to the exclusion of vision. Further, it became clear that even if my vision is unrealistic, naïve, implausible, and rendered moot by collapse, it is vital for myself, and for my community, that I continue to embrace it.

Why? Because from holding vision alongside current reality, creative tension emerges which allows for the dynamic realization of possibilities which could not have been created by fixating only on current reality or on one's vision. "Without vision," Senge says, "there is no creative tension. Creative tension can't be generated from current reality alone." Often we remain in analysis of the current situation to our detriment because as Senge notes, "All the analysis in the world will never generate a vision."

Conversely, "...creative tension can't be generated from vision alone; it demands an accurate picture of current reality as well." This is one reason I cringe when people talk about "preventing collapse" or refer to those of us who are willing to look deeply into the abyss as "doomers." They appear to insist on having the groovy, green, good times rolling endlessly or bypass feeling all of the painful emotions that collapse quite naturally evokes by quickly supplanting them with their vision. At the same time, however, staring into the abyss without vision may be equally unproductive.

In fact, Senge reminds us that:

The principle of creative tension has long been recognized by leaders. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind, so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths, so must we create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism."

But King was assassinated, and only part of his vision has been fulfilled. In the case of the collapse of civilization, cataclysm could result in the extinction of humans, and subsequently, millennia may be necessary for the earth to restore itself. So why have a vision? My vision may be nothing more than a pipedream, and if so, what's the difference between having a vision and taking Prozac? Well, if nothing else, perhaps fewer side effects.

Damn, This Is Hard Work!

However, as I contemplated Senge's principle, more than familiar to me from my veneration of Carl Jung, I understood that I need the vision not simply for "balance" but for the possibility, no matter how slight, that it might, just might, make a difference. Equally important, my community needs my vision, just as I need theirs. As Senge explains, individual visions become shared visions in a holographic or morphic field where their power has the opportunity to become exponential.

Now while all of this may sound very exciting, I want to emphasize just how difficult it actually is to hold in one's heart, mind, and gut these stark opposites-the current reality alongside one's vision of what could otherwise be. It is easier for anyone, any day of the week, to become absorbed in either one of the opposites because it requires much less work, but that absorption also holds much less potential for affecting meaningful change. Holding this kind of excruciating tension is not unlike giving birth-enduring brutal pain alongside the reality that a new life is in the process of emerging.

For me, holding a vision and wanting to fix the situation are two very different things. As stated in Part One of this review, I have no desire to repair civilization. In fact, my vision, I believe, can only be realized as a result of civilization's collapse, and that makes it much more challenging to keep alive. After all, it's much easier to nurture our vision when it appears that life as we have known it is just going to continue indefinitely.

As I've written many times, I have no idea how collapse will unfold or play out, but I have a vision. It's only my vision, and like all visions, it may ultimately prove illusory, but I choose to hold it alongside current reality-firmly enough to produce creative tension yet gently enough to allow it to expand or adapt.

What I envision as I struggle, and I mean struggle, to hold current reality along with my vision is a transformed culture, but not without suffering, before, during, and after collapse. I reiterate my belief that collapse is both a "long emergency" process with dramatic tipping points along the way. It will not be a singular event in time. It will almost certainly bring with it a massive die-off of humans. Unprecedented economic Armageddon, widespread energy depletion, catastrophic illness, mindboggling climate change, and calamities that we may not now be able to imagine will probably be in the mix. Urban and other highly-populated areas are likely to be decimated, but around the earth, myriad pockets of surviving individuals and communities will probably hold-but not without anguish. The individuals and communities that endure are probably going to be those that have prepared on a variety of levels for the cataclysm. But, if I'm going to be brutally honest, I must admit that the wild card is always a nuclear exchange, and in the light of that ghastly possibility, all bets are off.

Nevertheless, survivor groups are likely to be those that have consciously achieved a level of food security, community gardens, and drinkable water supplies. They will have learned some pre-collapse skills such as permaculture, game hunting, butchering, organic farming, water dowsing, the making of shoes and clothing, alternative healing and herbal medicinal techniques, and communication skills which involve deep listening and truth-telling. Upon realizing that paper money and government-issued coinage are worthless, they will probably have implemented their own forms of currency, and they will recall that during the Great Depression in the United States, hundreds, if not thousands of such currencies existed.

Because federal and state governments will have dissolved, survivors will have learned to organize simple but effective local creative economies. In the face of extremely limited resources they will have constructed makeshift and eventually sophisticated solar, wind, or water energy sources that provide minimal power and must be used very sparingly by the community. They are likely to implement some form of healthcare, particularly if healthcare professionals, both alternative and traditional have survived, and were sharing their skills in the early stages of collapse.

Levels of stress, depression, and PTSD will be unprecedented, and individuals who have learned some form of meditation or stress reduction techniques are likely to fare better. Likewise, those who have learned skillful communication techniques from experience and have practice in expressing their feelings authentically and compassionately will not only have an advantage, but may be frequently called upon to assist those who are emotionally fragile or devastated. It will become painfully obvious from the first traumas that practical preparations such as accumulating food, water, and precious metals and learning survival skills are inadequate preparations within themselves for the emotional repercussions of collapse in whatever form it takes.

In addition, in order for these communities of survivors to navigate their daunting transition, it will be imperative for them to retain and nurture humor, celebration, and moments of mirth. Music, art, dance, and other right-brain forms of expression will sustain them and provide release from what will certainly feel like overwhelming challenges.

Some form of heartfelt connection with the sacred or something other than oneself will be invaluable for these fledgling communities, not only to sustain individual psyches but to inform the quality of life the community ultimately orchestrates. Group and individual rituals are likely to erupt from their psyches and from the earth. Moreover, I envision pockets of surviving communities where all of the above is not merely theory but ongoing practice. I imagine that the going will be very rough in the beginning, but eventually, these communities are likely to thrive and ultimately blossom as outposts of sustainable, compassionate, dynamic, creative living where the very experience of being human itself will be dramatically redefined. Such communities could very well fashion the kind of world for which all citizens of empire have ached for centuries, whether or not they were consciously aware of their longing.

In "The Seed Of The Future," Kotke admonishes us from what was then a 1993, pre-collapse world, regarding our most urgent responsibility:

To be actively mobilizing toward setting up what might be called ‘seed' communities is the really significant action. If people don't actually get out of the money economy to a significant degree, if they don't create a new land based culture that aids the earth, all the other political and environmental efforts will ultimately be meaningless. (460)

Mobilizing toward setting up "seed communities"? During the past two years of Truth To Power's existence, a number of examples of vision have been featured on the site. It feels extremely important to mention some of those, along with others that we have not focused on.

Across the United States a number of relocalization movements are thriving or developing. In addition to the famous relocalization efforts of Willits, California, one of the most notable is the Boulder Valley Relocalization movement and another, the New York metropolitan area's Local Energy Solutions. Eugene, Oregon's Sustainable Business Initiative Task Force is working with the city council to create a sustainable Eugene by 2020, and Rutland, Vermont, along with a number of communities in that state, is making unprecedented strides toward food security and sustainability. Also, in 2007 I interviewed Lisa McCrory and Carl Russell of Randolph, Vermont-who operate "Animal Powered Field Days" each summer which highlights the use of draft animals in organic farming. And, last year in an article entitled "Ethical Markets: The Exuberance Of What Is Possible" I spotlighted the work of Hazel Henderson, a renowned author and expert on growing green economies. And of course, as Truth To Power readers know, I have over the years referenced and written about Catherine Austin Fitts's Solari model which focuses on financial literacy and "the vision that bringing intimacy to how money works transforms our world." A tireless visionary, Fitts has pioneered and prognosticated where others seemed unable to read the most obvious tea leaves. Much of her forecasting is now manifesting as economic collapse just as she suggested it would.

As part of my commitment to holding the tension of current reality alongside my vision, I will continue to spotlight those who are in Kotke's words "gathering seeds of Natural cultures and the truly beneficial things created by civilization" and carrying them through the apocalypse.

The Final Empire: The Seed Of The Future has brought me an unexpected gift of re-imagining both collapse and rebirth. And so I enthusiastically recommend it to you; after all, who knows what gifts it may drop in your lap?

Wm. H. Kötke is widely traveled and published. He is the author of Garden Planet: The Present Phase Change of the Human Species ( )and the underground classic, The Final Empire: The Collapse of Civilization and the Seed of the Future ( ) which has recently been reprinted. He has been a journalist, a radio script writer, a pamphleteer, a novelist, an essayist, and has had many articles published in periodicals. He has been an activist in the Civil Rights Movement (C.O.R.E.), the anti-Vietnam war movement (Labor Assembly for Peace), a labor organizer and staff representative (SEIU, AFSCME), Earth First!, and the movement of Native American Resistance. He lives in Geyserville, California and may be contacted at ' ); //--> This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it " title="mailto: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it "> This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it .

Last Updated ( Thursday, 07 February 2008 )
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Carolyn Baker, Ph.D. is author of U.S. HISTORY UNCENSORED: What Your High School Textbook Didn't Tell You. Her forthcoming book is SACRED DEMISE: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization's Collapse. She also (more...)
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