Where are we now?

Sometimes when it seems the whole world is collapsing, I try to step back, hoping a wider perspective might help me understand. Unfortunately, doing so today just reinforces the global extent of chaos. I picture the world in flames.

I often return to reflecting on the term sensemaking as described by James Allen.

…there remains the most existential risk of them all: our diminishing capacity for collective sensemaking. Sensemaking is the ability to generate an understanding of world around us so that we may decide how to respond effectively to it. When this breaks down within the individual, it creates an ineffective human at best and a dangerous one at worst. At the collective level, a loss of sensemaking erodes shared cultural and value structures and renders us incapable of generating the collective wisdom necessary to solve complex societal problems like those described above. When that happens the centre cannot hold.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, originally published by Medium, June 18, 2019

I didn’t want to go over the list of disasters we are experiencing yet again. But a number of these are escalating. Recently India had experienced temperatures (124 degrees Fahrenheit) close to the point where humans simply cannot survive. We see the relentless march of severe weather across the land. Fierce wildfires. Water levels sinking below the point where water can be taken in at the Hoover Dam. Electricity cannot be produced, nor agricultural land irrigated.

A political party whose only goal is to gain power. An explosion of gun violence and mass shootings with no end in sight. A broken supply chain that can’t even supply baby formula.

Perhaps most concerning is the accelerating increase in gas prices.

As James Allen also writes in the article cited above, “the jumping-off point for this essay is a regrettable acceptance that a forthcoming energy descent combined with multiple ecological crises will force massive societal transformation this century. It’s hardly a leap to suggest that, with less abundant cheap energy and the collapse of the complex political and economic infrastructure that supports our present way of life, this transformation is likely to include the contraction and relocalisation of some (if not most) aspects our daily lives.”

“The contraction and relocalisation of some (if not most) aspects our daily lives” could be Mutual Aid.

I’ve met a great deal of resistance to the idea of replacing capitalism with Mutual Aid. When I asked a (Mutual Aid) friend why people had so much trouble recognizing the evils of capitalism, he said it was because they hadn’t experienced the failures of capitalism in their own lives, yet.

We are experiencing the failures of capitalism now.


The problems before us are emergent phenomena with a life of their own, and the causes requiring treatment are obscure. They are what systems scientists call wicked problems: problems that harbour so many complex non-linear interdependencies that they not only seem impossible to understand and solve, but tend to resist our attempts to do so. For such wicked problems, our conventional toolkits — advocacy, activism, conscientious consumerism, and ballot casting — are grossly inadequate and their primary utility may be the self-soothing effect it has on the well-meaning souls who use them.

If we are to find a new kind of good life amid the catastrophes these myths have spawned, then we need to radically rethink the stories we tell ourselves. We need to dig deep into old stories and reveal their wisdom, as well as lovingly nurture the emergence of new stories into being.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, originally published by Medium, June 18, 2019

What does it mean to radically rethink the stories we tell ourselves? This is influenced by who “we” are, what our culture is. But Allen writes of “shared cultural and value structures.”

The reason I have been led to experiences with Native people and my Mutual Aid community is because the stories, the value structures I find there are closer to my values than those of White people in general in this country.

What does it mean to radically rethink the stories we tell ourselves?

I believe that means to search beyond our comfort zone. To stop wasting time advocating for incremental changes in systems that are broken.

Radically rethinking involves searching for the truth of what happened in our history. The land theft, forced assimilation, and genocide of Native peoples. The many atrocities of the institution of slavery. White supremacy today.

And most radical is to change, or return to how we look for and interpret our stories. To embrace spirituality in ourselves and our communities.

Although we rarely speak of it, our shared spirituality is what I have found to be the deepest connection with my Native American and Mutual Aid friends.

This is where I am now.


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