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the Dharma of Civilizational Collapse
















Image Source: Dave Pollard's Blog- How to Save the World

Is the collapse of civilization imminent? This map was recently created by Dave Pollard in order to map current movements and political actors on the North American political scene with reference to their vision of the future.  According to him, each one of us can move around the map from day to day or year to year, and in fact we can occupy (no pun intended) multiple positions at the same time. On the Salvationists' side, are A) Deniers, B) Rapturists, C) Globalists and Ayn Rand-style Shock Doctrinists, D) Technotopians, Neo-Environmentalists, and Post-Humanists, E) Integrals and Reprogrammers, and F) Occupiers / meta movements and Human Consciousness folks.  On the collapse side of the spectrum are H) Deep Green activists, I) Communitarians, and J) Existentialists and Dark Mountaineers.  Straddling the line are G) Transition/Resilience movements, and K) Neo-survivalists. 

I usually read the news (typically Pam's House Blend, Towleroad, Al Jazeera, Huff Po, and Democracy Now) in the morning during my commute, and find myself at the H-I-J side of the spectrum.  I also work in the South Bronx, where on any given day I see amazing acts of resilience as well as corruption and dysfunction in most local institutions, rampant poverty, pervasive drug and alcohol abuse, and all sorts of problems with law enforcement.  The rest of the day is spent in my office or back in Brooklyn with my philosophy and politics bouncing between A and F with frequent excursions to J. 

Obviously, there are critiques of this conceptual map too.  The first question that comes to my mind is what is meant by "collapse" and "civilization".  Similarly, if you ask someone from the Tea Party and someone from Earth First! what exactly has gone to pot, you'll get different answers.  And as a therapist and as someone with a political consciousness, one of the most useful questions I've found is, "who does it benefit to define the problem this way?" 

I'm interested in how the Buddha's teachings can support us as agents of change, even if/when we define the problem in different ways.  So for anyone reading, I'd love for you to write a comment on this post sharing A) where you are on the map today, and B) how that interfaces with Buddhist teachings or your practice. 

I'll go first.  I'm Paul.  Hi.  For me, I'm feeling in an "I" place right now.  While I am deeply disturbed by environmental crises, I feel more disturbed by increasing oligarchy, decreasing rule of law, and blatantly unfair public policy.  The law has always been flawed, biased, and unevenly applied, but I think more and more people in the US are starting to feel the squeeze.  The poor and people of color are being subjected to policies like Stop and Frisk as well as harmful 3 Strikes laws; the legal right to an abortion is being chipped away at in many states; and bankruptcy laws no longer include defaulting on student loans.  On the other end, we have Too Big to Fail and a total lack of accountability for the super rich.  And while the US has, as the world's most powerful nation, never held itself to the same standards of international law to which it holds other nations, there has been an increasingly brazen quality to its disregard since 9/11 (drones, torture, etc.). As an aside, the bipartisan investigation into torture by the US gov't (that Obama has shunned) headed by former Republican congressman Asa Hutchinson concluded that the US indisputably used torture under the Bush administration.

I find solace in a belief in rebirth (moment by moment and after physical death); I feel supported by my deep belief in karma, not as a system cosmic retribution, but as a natural law in which even small positive actions matter; I find strength in the 4 Noble Truths' assertion that suffering is caused by confused view of what brings happiness and confused action to attain it--that there is no "evil".  I feel held up by the precepts and by my commitment not to have any enemies.  And I feel nourished by my meditation practices... by offering my broken heart again and again and again.     

May the wish to connect with an open heart arise in whom it has not arisen.  Where it has arisen, may it not wane but increase further and further. 




Thumbnail image referenced at: http://www.atomicarchive.com/History/twocities/nagasaki/images/H21.jpg

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Hi! I love this! I move


I love this! I move between A and F quite a lot, and sometimes over to I. Today I'm feeling a combination of F and I, like, together we can save ourselves and the planet by living more communally, sharing resources, working collaboratively, consuming less and coming up with more creative solutions! I feel that's definitely possible.

How does this meet Buddhist and my practice? It asks me to really walk the walk. To start living those qualities more and more, and to forge new trails where there are none. Does anyone know of community houses in New York, in Brooklyn, or nearby? What models do we have?

good question

The first place that comes to mind is Fire Lotus Temple in Brooklyn, but I bet there are others.  Let's find more!


Mike, thank you for such thoughtful comments! It feels nourishing to read. The myth of progress and myths about the end times often work their way even into the western Buddhist world. And these narratives can excuse, obscure, or reinforce the shortsightedness you articulate so well.

I wonder what our country would look like if more of us really had faith in the benefit of precepts (not just Buddhist ones).

Again, thank you for your comments!

Hi, my name is Mike...

and on most days, I feel like I fit somewhere between an "J" and "I", with a strong feeling that "J" is the condition for society to reach "I".

I disagree with one thing on this chart, though: to me, the existentialist position is the real post-humanist position. It comes down to this:

1. Investigating human interaction with the world, through the dharma or other forms of phenomenology, leads me to think that human "progress" as an illusion.I take my lead from philosophers such as John Grey or James Lovelock. Posthumanism is typically considered the altering of humanity through the development of a new interface with reality (technological or otherwise). But what part of that view is any different from any other form of failed, utopian humanism. Humanity thrives on the view that we can change our environment and our relationship with it in such a way that "everything will work out" in the way WE want it to. In 2,000 years of work I haven't seen any proof of that change, only growth in our ability to increase convenience and avoid pain. Both of those changes are important, but they have to do more with our own sense of things than the physical world.

2. We are also unable to to correctly gauge the negative and positive effects of our actions, especially in situations of large scale or over long periods of time. Global warming is the obvious example of this. While history paints a picture of societies developing technology in order to solve problems, a great deal of the important things we’ve discovered have come about randomly, or by accident. Somehow the technologies of the future are supposed to transcend all of this; I have serious doubts.

While this can all seem depressing, the truth is we all tend to misunderstand how the cause and effects of our lives connect with rest of the world (sound familiar?). Whatever form society takes in the future, I think its success relies on knowing ourselves, as people and as a society, on a deeper level than we do now. And from a Buddhist standpoint, it means understanding ourselves from a compassionate place focused on our Interdependence with the rest of the world, rather than a passionate one which indulges our drive to alter reality in the shape of human comfort.

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