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November 18, 2012


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Iis it possible (even in theory, let alone practice) for a central power (the almighty government in this case) to actually decentralize? It seems a conflict even in the logical definition of the terms, not mentioning if it "could theoretically", let alone practically, be done.
Any solutions, even in theory, must come from the bottom up, methinks, central powers don't decentralize themselves, not even in theory.


An interesting and somewhat similar explanation comes from transpersonal psychologist Stanislav Grof. According to him humanity has a deep wish for an inner transformation of consciousness, a kind of death and rebirth experience regularly encountered in deep psychotherapeutic and spiritual work (which he explains in great detail in his books).

Anyway, humanity at large is suppsoedly being driven by this force BUT we're projecting our need for this inner species-wide psychological death and rebirth into the outer material world. We are creating an Armageddon scenario in real world, which can only lead to our final demise and not through a spiritual rebirth we belive it might. That can only happen through an inner psychological experience of each one of us.

Paul Chefurka also came to similar conclusion at his interesting blog Approaching the Limits.


Once we cut away the emotional limitations of greed, egotism, anthropocentrism and, most of all, existential fear, what you say George rings absolutely true.

Of course, those very limitations mean that your conclusions will be dismissed wholesale by the myopic wishful "thinkers" who, through their conduct and inaction, clearly number the overwhelming majority worldwide, including the president and his string pullers. (That's if they ever allowed their eyes to read your words in the first place.) This number must include just about any American who cast a vote two weeks ago.

The conundrum is that for those of us who already agree with your conclusions, there is little we can do but observe the ride, as you have said before. I for one see no possibility of my being able to affect the outcome one iota. Even if I could personally inspire a local surge in permaculture, which would be hard enough given the majority myopic inertia, all this would do would be to provide a teasing target for nearby violent do-nothings once the international food chain crumbles.

Our destiny certainly is self inflicted. Anyone with the ability to rise above the limitations mentioned above can't expect anything other than major recalibration of life on earth.

On the rational basis that we can only die once, I am at peace with this.

Bodhi Chefurka

Humans don't have a death wish. What we have is a hyperbolic discount function.

It's not that we want to die, we just have this wonderful ability to diminish problems that will happen later.

It's a useful quality, except it lets us do things we want to do right now without worrying about later consequences.

From an evolutionary perspective this sort of prioritization of immediate, concrete concerns over future, abstract concerns makes a lot of sense. If one is eating a freshly killed rutabaga and sees a saber-tooth across the valley, it makes sense to keep eating one's meal and not worry about the tiger until it's close enough to be a real threat. After all, the tiger might lose interest or find other prey between now and then.

To see this discount function in action on a personal level, think of smoking cigarettes. On a global level, think about smoking coal.

It's not about greed or any other moral failure. It's not even about stupidity. This response is hard-wired. We would need a lot more species-wide self-awareness to short circuit an evolutionary mechanism like this.


Bodhi Chefurka - Your final sentence is exactly the point. After millennia of collective experience and the onset of education, we should have more species-wide self-awareness by now, but we don't, and that is why "death wish" is a useful term to describe the outlook.

The keep-consuming-don't-worry-about-long-term-threat is a cute description for savages, but it's a statement of failure for 21st century Homo sapiens. IMHO.

Paul Chefurka

Oliver, I see virtually no difference between "savages" and 21st century Homo Sapiens. The wiring is identical. We really haven't evolved that much in the last 20,000 years - we've just had a little longer to plaster a layer of conceit on top.

There is no death wish, there is simply a natural tendency to deal with the most immediate issues first. Redefining it as a "death wish" is part of the conceit.


I feel that there is a build in by default death wish in our group mindset. That unless this changes we are doomed. The change itself would be rather straight forward but all appearances show rather long odds on it happening.

It is so simple really, change the group mindset from a competitive (win/lose) to a cooperative one (win/win).

Paul Chefurka

Mark, I didn't see your comment before. Thanks for reminding me ;-)

I don't know if all of humanity has an inner desire for transformation, but many of us do. I've noticed what seems like a correlation between active searching for personal inner transformation and the willingness to accept what's happening in the outer world. It may be that the practice at being truthful about who one is lends itself to the search for truth in all things.

Robin Datta

"Who" "one" "is" is a mound of identifying labels, some of them exceedingly subtle. To find out who one is, one has to undertake the task of peeling off the labels, a process that can be quite painful. The task is not finished until there are no labels left.


Paul C - Is your assertion proven that "the wiring is identical"? I tend towards ryeguy's position, i.e. I am by choice cooperative, not competitive. If I can make this choice, how can my wiring be the same as the typical Alpha male (proto-plutocrat) who deeply offends me with his me-me-me approach to life?


PS - "Dealing with the most immediate issues first" seems like a death wish to me. Where are the smarts to avoid future catastrophe that really endangers survival?

Bodhi Chefurka

By "the wiring is identical" I mean that our genetic makeup hasn't changed appreciably. It has always been expressed in a range of behaviour and ability, though.

The aggregate behaviour of the species in this case seems to be ruled by those within 1 or 2 sigma or two of the genetically defined mean. That means that people who get all excited about future problems are rare enough that they don't influence group behaviour.

Alphas lead, Deltas follow. If the Alphas don't care about climate change, the Deltas assume it's not a problem. Until it hits them in the face, anyway.

The smarts we would need to avoid future catastrophe appear to reside in individuals who are not inclined to lead large chunks of civilization. And none of the rest are inclined to listen to them.


Regarding the death wish, I was reminded some short while ago by a psychologist friend that among the inbuilt human urges the sex drive and the death wish are the strongest. Since I didn't believe him regarding the second, he explained that if I had the choice between being eaten by a lion, to fight or to jump over the cliff, the cliff jump might be the choice I feel driven towards most.

Unfortunately he didn't give me any sources but I can ask.

Now imagine, whole societies having a death wish, throw in some nukes and you have a recipe for disaster.


George - On this day when modern Americans gorge themselves with feasts, I wonder what Native Americans make of the 'death wish' concept discussed here.

I have always thought it's a strange kind of celebration that gives thanks for the moment in history when immigrant zealots seized the land and its bounteous resources at gunpoint from the current inhabitants, and consigned the latter to concentration camps with the Orwellian name of "reservations".

The rest, they say, is history. The descendants of the land-grabbers with their beautiful dominant genes have created a global system that codified theft by imperial conquest, reaching its apotheosis with the Grand Larceny of Wall Street post-2007.

Those of our fellow planet dwellers who have always been shut out from the feast may feel just to have been born is a de facto death wish.


Paul, I too have noticed the correlation between quest for personal inner transformation and the willingness to accept what's happening in the outer world. I do what you can, and the rest is - as always was - in the hands of something higher than myself (God or fate or what ever one prefers to call it).

I still belive humanity at large has an unconscious wish to transcend itself in its current form and not necessarily commit mass suicide. Even people who planned to kill themselves and instead had an inner psychological death and rebirth experience later reported that on unciousnesss level this is what they were truly looking for -- their suicide wish was in that light found to be an unrecognized misunderstood and distorted need for transcendence. Grof talks about this a lot based on his clinical work. Jung in some parts too.

kt256, sex (libido) and death drive form the basics of Freuds theory in psychoanalysis. See any of his earlier work.

George Mobus


I just posted a comment in the 'who will win' blog summarizing my perspective on universal evolution and why we humans are maximizing energy dissipaters in our current state of development. My reference to a 'death wish' is actually based on this perspective. I meant it more as an allegory for why our species seems hell bent on full steam ahead, devil take the hind most, even when we know what the inevitable outcome will be. In a sense, all species of living things have this propensity to use up resources because that is a mandate from our biological being. Under ordinary biological/ecological circumstances we would have been held in check by some limiting factor long before it got to this point. But owing to our elevated cleverness sans elevated sapience, we broke that mold and are forging new ground.

It's an experiment in evolution.



Great essay and wonderful comments.

Watching this slow motion train wreck in the making without any ability to steer away from it (or even "prep" for some kind of survival) has freed me from worry about the mundane and financial doings of the present. Knowing full well that there isn't going to be a miraculous "fix" at the last possible minute and that this industrial civilization is incapable of change (in time to reverse or stop what's going on) leaves me in a state of calm. Of course i keep trying to stop the shale gas drilling and fracking in my state (PA) and others, and continue with expanding my garden, but it won't matter once this on-going collapse grows into the bottleneck event that will severely diminish the global population (via violence and deprivation, disease, natural earthquake and volcanic action and probably nuclear radiation too - from all the Fukushima's-to-be around the world that won't be decommissioned in time).

Anyway, i give thanks for this site and others (that i see some of you commenters frequent) that have grasped the truth of our human adventure, about to come to an end. Nice to be among kindred spirits, even on our way out.


Thanks, Mark, for the insight. Regarding Stanislav Grof, the wiki article states: "...He continues this work today under the title "Holotropic Breathwork".

Which immediately reminds me of the local new age crowd I occasionally spend some time with. Remarkably I met a person from the local Transition Town group there as well.

I'll never cease to be amazed how such a parallel universe can exist in our society besides the mainstream. Beyond that, Paul's suggestion that the truth seeking leads people to seek sort of everywhere rings a chord with me. I started with energy and promptly I'm pulling up a net of things, more by accident as it seems, and the connections are startling.

Being an electrical engineer (in Germany) I'm out of depth in the field of psychology, but I do entertain a sense of wonder, so thanks again.

Paul Chefurka

About 5 years ago I was in the depths of a classic Dark Night of the Soul, precipitated by my realization of the converging predicament in all aspects of the human endeavour, and a dark vision of the coming collapse of civilization. I was even starting to think about an early exit.

A friend talked me into attending a 3 day New Age/Buddhist/Depth Psychology retreat. On the second day we did a session of holotropic breathwork as developed by Grof. At the climax of the exercise I had a vision lasting maybe one minute. During it I saw clearly and objectively the mistake in my thinking that had led to my despair, as well as the correct way of viewing what was coming.
The despair and depression that had gripped me for four years vanished in that minute, and has never returned. This has allowed me to continue deepening my understanding of what we're facing, without any fear, resistance or denial.

I owe Stan Grof a very deep debt of gratitude.


Paul thanks for sharing that. I've read about your Dark Night of the Soul experience on your blog, but I was not aware you were able to find a breakthrough using holotropic breathwork.

Very interesting. If you ever feel like sharing that experience in greater depth on your blog, I for one would love to read about it.

HB is one of the practices I too personally use, although I find Stan's originals work even more useful (although unfortunately now illegal through most of the world). And although it helped me tremendously, I'm still kind of waiting for my (final) breakthrough.

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