Dystopians On Estrogen
By Carolyn Baker
26 January, 2009
This past week the New Yorker published "The Dystopians" by Ben McGrath, by whom I was interviewed back in October and who allowed me to make an appearance in the article with a brief mention of my forthcoming book. Sitting with this piece for the past seven days has been unsettling, not because I personally wanted more air time, but because of the article's paucity of references to the female perspective regarding the collapse of civilization. Although I greatly admire Dmitry Orlov and James Howard Kunstler, and while I feel camaraderie in particular with my friends in the Vermont Independence movement, Rob Williams and Thomas Naylor, I found "The Dystopians" to be an appallingly white male extravaganza.
The only other "dystopian" female referred to in the piece is Chellis Glendinning, psychologist and author from New Mexico and renowned speaker at the November, 2008 Vermont Independence Convention. Additionally, Sharon Astyk, who resides not far from Kunstler, author of Depletion and Abundance and her forthcoming A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil, and who was recently interviewed in the New York Times, as well as Kathy McMahon, psychotherapist and manager of Peak Oil Blues, were ignored in McGrath's piece.
My complaint is not about some notion of "equal time" but rather the consequences of omitting a uniquely female perspective from the discourse about collapse and the construction of a new paradigm of life on the planet. Despite my caveat, I know I will be accused of proclaiming the superiority of the female gender, but that is absolutely not my intent. In fact, quite the opposite. The conversation requires the distinct characteristics of both genders, and without it, only half the landscape of collapse can be viewed.
First, the very word "dystopian" is inaccurate. The dictionary describes "dystopian" as "a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding." I do not limit the collapse of civilization to this particular scenario. "Dystopian" also suggests the opposite of "utopia" which is an ideal place or state that is a vision of social perfection. What McGrath fails to fulfill in his report is a thoughtful exploration of the very nature of collapse-its origins, its essence, and its possible outcomes. Instead, the focus is on an implied eccentric Orlov who lives on a boat and Kunstler's quirky ways with other human beings. "Dystopian" is indeed a characteristically male term, assuming an either/or, polarizing approach, rather than a more inclusive outlook.
Many years ago I embraced the sensible and insightful gender perspective of the psychologist, Carl Jung, who argued that both genders contain qualities of the opposite gender, and that those qualities have both life-supporting and life-destroying aspects. Therefore, in Jungian fashion, collapse must be understood and explored from the perspectives of both genders. The typically male perspective would in the case of Peak Oil, emphasize things like facts, statistics, pipelines, percentage of supply, demand, and long-term consequences. It would instruct us, warn us, and suggest various courses of action.
From the female perspective, these concerns are in no way irrelevant or unimportant, but may motivate us to embrace an even larger perspective. By "larger" I do not mean more global but rather, a perspective that includes the body and emotions as well as the intellect. It isn't just about having a womb and the capacity to give birth. However, a woman's fundamental, bone-marrow connection to life and generativity is uniquely female. Perhaps this is the reason that in many indigenous societies, including the Iroquois Confederacy, the clan mothers' authority superseded that of the warriors who could not go to war without their permission.
What this is about is the pivotal aspect of the female psyche that is relational rather than combative or problem-solving. The feminine principle in both women and men asks: How can we connect with each other in a manner that supports survival and enhances our lives as we navigate the destructive aspects of collapse? How can we build alliances, join with neighbors and villages to sustain our families and communities? From the feminine perspective, the egos of certain "key players" matter much less than the collective lessons that the unprecedented phenomenon of collapse may be inviting us to learn.
The feminine principle always compels us to go deeper and rather than asking "if" the world as we have known it is really ending, asking instead: What is the essence of the project of civilization? What makes its continuance axiomatic? What compelling signals invite us to call it into question? Tom Petruno's January 24, Los Angeles Times article, "Economy In Shock: It's Failure Overload" opines that our problem is "failure", assuming that the success of civilization is the most desirable option, without of course, asking the more profound questions about the nature and consequences of civilization or whether or not its continuance is preferable to the alternative.
An empire constructed on conquest, hierarchy, and competition is inherently heroic and deems any opposite an abject failure. In its stultifying, constricted, superficial world view, there is no space or depth which might expand the conversation and eliminate the need for polarization. Characteristic of life-destroying male rigidity, civilization marginalizes those who question it without examining its own raison d'être, and of course, because it cannot include, only dominate, the feminine perspective is not part of the conversation. This is not to say that any particular reporter embodies "life-destroying male rigidity". Journalists in corporate media are parts of systems of empire whose interests lie in selling newspapers, magazines, and books which have never been about asking the deeper questions but rather perpetuating the fantasy that there is nothing more glorious and propitious than empire.
Chellis Glendinning, who makes a brief appearance in McGrath's article as I do, has written two glaringly relevant books regarding collapse: My Name Is Chellis and I'm Recovering From Western Civilization and Off The Map: An Expedition Deep Into Imperialism, The Global Economy, and Other Earthly Whereabouts. Her powerful address to the Vermont Independence Convention at the Statehouse is a must-watch.
In a 2007 interview, "Technology and Its Discontents", Chellis states, "This idea of ‘turning back the clock' expresses the basic assumption of mass technological society, which is that going forward is the deal. We always want to be going forward. It's scary to go back. But that assumption needs to be challenged. It doesn't matter what expression we use, whether we talk about going back, going sideways, going up or down. The important thing is to go back to wholeness. It's time for human beings to come into a sustainable world."
What leaps out at me here is that word so supremely characteristic of the feminine principle, wholeness. While males preparing for collapse are certainly supportive of wholeness, the feminine experience is in itself, one of wholeness. The female psyche is wholeness, containing the capacity to include, embrace, and hold a variety of opposites in our bodies and souls. In a collapsing world, is it not crucial to understand how this outlook is embodied and expressed in contrast with how males might respond to the unraveling? Is not the notion of sustainability itself a concept engendered by the principle of wholeness?
I cannot help but notice that in an article called "The Dystopians" which implies that people talking about and preparing for collapse are "doom and gloomers", the one and only quote from me referred to the exciting aspects of collapse which have to do with breaking down barriers and getting beyond labels. This is particularly ironic since I'm often perceived as a doomer, but perhaps there's something about a female voice in the discourse that could soften, expand, and temper the sense of despair which supposedly characterizes the dystopians.
Yet another aspect of the feminine principle, resilience, is now widely embraced by individuals and communities consciously preparing for collapse on a variety of levels. One man who exemplifies integration of the feminine principle alongside the masculine in terms of wholeness, sustainability, resilience, and interdependence is Rob Hopkins, author of The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependence to Local Resilience. From the experiment of Hopkins and numerous fellow citizens in a small UK community was birthed this extraordinary handbook for strategizing how individuals and villages can wisely prepare for powering down and living sustainably in a post-petroleum world. Curiously, the New Yorker article contained nothing about the Transition Town movement which is now sweeping the globe. As I stated in a recent review of the book, I do not believe that the Transition Town movement is a magic bullet, nor do I believe that its success is guaranteed. However, I do believe that it is planting seeds, some of which will invariably come to fruition at some point during the collapse process. Moreover, speaking for myself, regardless of the degree of success of the movement, it is, in the moment, an excellent place to direct one's time and energy constructively in preparing physically, emotionally, and spiritually for collapse.
My forthcoming book Sacred Demise: Walking the Spiritual Path of Civilization's Collapse, will explore in depth the psychology of transition--the emotional and spiritual aspects of collapse from the vantage point of the feminine principle while honoring and cherishing the deep, life-supporting masculine energies that must comprise the new paradigm that is now erupting out of the ashes of empire. Please stay tuned to the Truth to Power website for further details.