I can't remember exactly how I met Mike Byron, but we encountered each other online a few years ago and immediately sensed that we were intellectual and political allies. Mike generously wrote an endorsement for the back of my book U.S. History Uncensored: What Your High School Textbook Didn't Tell You, and shortly thereafter, he sent me a copy of his first book, Infinity's Rainbow. After finishing it, as I recommended it and attempted to describe it, I found that I could best do so by calling it a catalog of the planetary emergency in which the earth community finds itself. Then Mike requested an endorsement from me for his next book, The Path Through Infinity's Rainbow which I was delighted to provide because it takes Infinity's Rainbow many steps further and offers options for individuals and communities in the wake of civilization's collapse.
Lest the reader erroneously infer from the words "infinity's rainbow" that either of these books are pieces of abstract, airy-fairy fluff, I hasten to assure you that they are not. Mike Byron is a professor of political science and history and in my opinion, has critically analyzed the complex relationships between the monumental issues of our time: Peak Oil, climate chaos, and the economic sea changes that "a world gone mad" is forcing us to address. In his words, The Path Through Infinity's Rainbow offers a guide to: "Navigating the coming years of crisis; surviving and transforming our world; and participating in the creation of a new, sustainable economy."
In this review, I'd like to share how the book skillfully does this along with my experience of immersing myself in the pages of its sobering information and compassionate wisdom. Dedicated to his wife and partner, Ramona, her presence enhances the book with several stories which provide a delightful right-brain complement to Mike's analytical research and commentary.
The Path Through Infinity's Rainbow is a blending of reality and vision. While it's true that the first page of the introduction states that "...the patient effort of five hundred human generations and the struggles of ten momentous millennia are in the process of being obliterated forever, as though they never occurred," it is also true that the very first paragraph states:
This book is intended to empower you to navigate through the coming years of crisis, to survive and transform, and to participate in the creation of a new and sustainable political economy. It is a guide for thoughtful, knowledge-based action. (xiii)
Fortunately, Mike doesn't convey any feel-good "hopeful, happy endings" but rather encourages the reader to seize her own opportunities for empowerment in the face of what some like Bill McKibben have called "the end of nature".
In Chapter 2, Byron states that "While learning is always continuing on an incremental basis, it is existential crisis alone that actually compels fundamental change if collapse is to be avoided." (20) I would argue, as does Byron in a later chapter, that collapse cannot be avoided because it is well underway, and I would also argue that collapse itself will produce monumental existential crises that will manifest the "memes" or "fundamental units of information that are linked schematically in an associative manner." (21) The example the author gives of a meme is the sight or thought of a rose leading to recalling by association "the scent of the flower, romantic occasions, walking hand-in-hand on a beach".
Memes lead to a common view of reality that results in a common culture. Thus, it seems to me that one of the basic causes of the collapse of Western civilization lies in the commonly accepted memes which have engendered stories that have brought us to where we are: that humans are superior to the other-than human world; that our survival depends on unrestricted, indiscriminate growth; that profit is more important than people and the earth community; that nature's abundance-which we have come to call "resources" are infinite and that humans have a fundamental right to privatize, use, control, and squander them. Collapse will unequivocally alter these assumptions and cause humans to create very different stories from the ones that have formed the underpinnings of empire.
But not only must the stories be changed, according to Byron, so must how we do things, and most importantly, "we must also fundamentally change ourselves." (23) Out of the ashes, he believes, could rise a sustainable civilization. While I agree, I also cannot imagine this happening in the short span of a few decades but rather requiring at least centuries. Humans are now visiting ecological trauma on planet earth that will take millennia, if not millions of years to eradicate.
Those who appreciate systems theory may revel in Chapter 2, "Concepts." As one whose eyes begin to glaze when delving too deeply into these principles, the most meaty portion of the chapter was the last page in which Byron combines both harsh reality with the promise of transformation.
"It is now far too late," he says, "to prevent our looming petro-collapse and all of its environmental consequences. Like the Titanic approaching the iceberg, collision with our attractor is now both inevitable and imminent. The difference is that, unlike the Titanic, we are actually speeding up as we approach our ‘iceberg'." (34)
This paragraph is so momentous, so poignant that the reader must ponder it carefully. Please let it sink in: We cannot prevent catastrophe, and the pace with which we are plummeting toward it is accelerating. When the impact of these two statements sinks in, how can anyone reading these words assume that his/her own or the planet's "business as usual" can continue?
But the author does not leave us there because he quickly adds: