Ducking doomer porn

Meh. I have spent way too much of my life gaping at various spectacles civilization churns out. The attempt to leave them behind has turned into yet another trap. Mother Culture is nothing if not wilier than Wile E. Coyote himself. Last summer and fall into winter, my spectacle of choice was linked to my growing self-identification with the doomer community. As I gradually made my exploratory inroads into the doomersphere, perhaps as the natural extension of my previous fascination with the unfolding economic shenanigans, I spent more and more time reading jolting essays attempting to wake people up and build a meaningful narrative encompassing all the various crises humanity is facing. I thought I finally found a community of kindred folk who were obviously out of denial and into clear seeing. I hungered to be with other people who were past denial! My local friends note the bad news du jour but rarely venture into bold analysis, much less into preparing for a radically changed world.

As the months wore on, I became aware of a certain compulsive quality in my daily search for yet another rousing doomer post. Since I am a ferret by inclination, I first attributed this directly to my excitement with having a new idea-community to explore. Eventually, though, I had to admit there was something else going on. My daily life was suffering from spending so much time glued to doomer websites, aghast, paralyzed by the sort of appalled fascination that – once I began to reflect on it — seemed akin to what the Puritan parishioners of Jonathan Edwards must have felt attending his fire, brimstone and damnation sermons. I recoiled from this image, surprised more than anything. I never would have thought myself susceptible to the allure of Calvinist gloom!

So it came to pass that I turned to fellow doomers, sharing my insight and looking for a sympathetic understanding and correction. None was forthcoming. Puzzled and frustrated, I began to counter those regular doses of climate and other doom as panic-mongering, hoping for a less shrill and more nuanced understanding. It got me labeled as a skeptic, and evidently, in doomerworld, skepticism is not a good trait. It was at this time that I began to notice an occasional fellow traveler complaining about family members scoffing at their “doomer porn.” Hm… could this be a clue to my own predicament?

You may well ask, what exactly is doomer porn? Unfortunately wikipedia does not yet have an entry for this phenomenon. Scouring the web, I have congealed a number of people’s meandering opinions into one less-than-pithy definition: In brief, it means overwrought or unrealistic forecasts and predictions of shit hitting fan. More narrowly, it involves wrenching stories of global disasters that threaten the extinction of the human race; all is assumed to be lost except for a scant remnant of humanity.

Obsessive dwelling on and morbid fascination with the mind-boggling, terrifying and plausible images of coming destruction brings on satisfying feelings of grim exhilaration. Fantasies abound of outwiting the Four Horsemen, surviving all the desperate zombies and marauding hordes and entering a cleansed world. Doomer porn plays on base emotions and thrills — anxiety, fear, and fright and the urgent need for sudden climax — all for the furthering of someone’s agenda. This agenda is usually a mix of apocalyptarian messianism and salesmanship, although some purveyors seem to do it for the thrill of salvific prophecy alone. Such sky-is-falling storytelling has the same sort of can’t-look-away quality of a car crash or pornography, seducing its fans into seeking repeated addictive fix.

This sensationalist, distracting, time-wasting blight induces an urgency to DO SOMETHING, usually translated into buying someone’s books or reports, although the purveying of lecture gigs, precious metals and survival paraphernalia plays a role as well. Images of impending doom are obligingly served up by people whose internet readership and often financial well-being depends on my thrall. In other words, kidz, a good chunk of doomerism is BAU, dressed up to fool those of us longing for an “out of denial” moment of truth. Doomer porn is but one of the many freak side shows of the empire.

Hanging in the doomersphere is kinda like hanging with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (though admittedly much more fun). There are all these people scurrying about constantly yelling at each other and the world out there that we are finished. Methane? Doomed! Warming? Ice melting? Doomed! CO2? Doomed! Debt? Doomed! Food supply? Doomed! Peak oil? Peak everything? Doomed! Even Sharon Astyk, otherwise a paragon of pragmatic thinking, feels it necessary to come out with an obligatory “doomed!” thrill for her fans a few times each month.

After several months in the grip of delicious dismay, I finally had the sense to investigate a little and make up my own mind. One of my reality checks was a look into so-called peak phosphorus. P is an element absolutely crucial to soil fertility. What I found out was that while mineral phosphorus deposits were indeed being depleted, there are vast supplies of phosphorus in all living bodies. This bioavailable phosphorus is daily eliminated via urine and excrement, while the rest of the phosphorus can be made available to the soil by utilizing animal bones. There is absolutely no shortage, and never will be. There is only a disconnect between available phosphorus and its delivery to the soil. For this I got all worried?! Apparently, some folks are in the business of pulling crises out of a hat.

One of my regular haunts of late has been Guy McPherson’s blog. My enjoyment of the professor’s thoughts and doomstead doings was rudely interrupted by his announcement that there will be no cars on the roads of America by 2012, and the return to stone age would be completed by 2018. That really was the final straw. After doing my usual pooh-poohing of such crass predictioneering, I went into the blog’s archives to understand better what was going on. What I found was not only a staunch commitment to prophetic utterances based on wishful thinking, but also very clear determination to ignore more moderate voices and to insist on certainties that were pure figments of overheated imagination. (IMHO, of course! ;))

And so it finally dawned on me I’d been had. What I had seen as an unfortunate aberration, a mistaken zeal, is in fact part and parcel of the psychological underpinnings of the doomer gestalt. While enjoying the shared understanding of the crises facing humanity, I had unwittingly allowed other, less savory elements in through the same gate. And in so doing, I had became hooked on doomer porn.

I count Kunstler’s very upsetting alarum regarding an acute food crisis in 2010 as a particularly egregious example. I followed the links provided. What I found was an obsessively documented web site of someone who translated the various troubles U.S. farmers had as a results of a very wet last year, and the difficulties connected with a late harvest and drying the grain crop with propane (that this is a ridiculously unsustainable and foolish system, there is no doubt) into an imminent disaster. A compelling profusion of data… echoing endlessly over the internet. It was fortunately debunked by the comments of farmers, silo workers and other local observers coming online to provide corrective actual experiences and understandings. One of the readers was kind to note that this person had made a similar prediction the year before! Apparently the strategy panned out well in terms of his PayPal donations. 😦 Increasing food prices in 2010? Definitely. Empty store shelves in America? I don’t think so. At first, I thought Kunstler had gone lazy, no longer researching his claims. Now I see the overblown nature of those claims as the intended effect, even coming to wonder if the resident troll regularly abusing all and sundry on his blog and keeping the melee going is really Kunstler himself or a hireling. If it bleeds it leads! Even if it’s a bleedin’ lie.

It is one thing to be sharply critical of empire and this civilization, and to keep one’s eyes open to its disturbing actualities and prospects. Quite another to create an alternative reality of phony certainties, shrill frantic claims, manipulatively frightful forecasts, and magic circles of wishful thinkers who long for these forecasts to come true and to be among the Remnant who avert a total disaster.

I am henceforth taking the doomer community with a large pinch of salt because I see its reliance on repeated doses of doomer porn and true believerism as an integral aspect of the doomer worldview. Understanding its cheap-scare hijinks as entertainment of a rather dubious sort, I am calling doomerism on its brazen hype overlay and point to its BAU nature of “selling more stuff.” (This delightful piece from Mother Jones illustrates that collapsitarianism is prone to the same hijacking. New tribalism had been stolen by the hucksters a few years back.)

My kind of community has clear awareness and acceptance of the multiple and converging crises we face, the understanding that cornucopian techno-salvationism is not the path forward, and heavy focus on the need to go back to basics: local food and manufacturing, a sane economy, self-reliant frugal living, community, and common sense. But alongside, it also understands the perils of groupthink, cultish solipsism, gurus who cloak same-old same-old authoritarian posturing behind a façade of prophetic utterance, and yank-my-chain self-promoters who use the community of would-be Babylon escapees as another way to get ahead.

“Feed your worries” here, says ecoshock radio. But wait a minute: isn’t it common sense that what you feed will grow? I submit to you that feeding our worries has always been good business, also known as “business as usual.” Wanna be a rebel? Tell the worry merchants of all stripes to stick it.

[next installment: Doomer mania II]