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Recession, Depression, Collapse: What's Fear Got To Do With It?

By Carolyn Baker

15 April, 2008

Interesting, isn't it, that mainstream economists need a so-called economic guru like Alan Greenspan to confirm that the U.S. economy is in recession? If the maestro says it is so, then it is. If he doesn't, then the "downturn" has a silver lining. And now we have the Treasury Secretary, Hank Paulson, stating what the American public has known all too well during the past year: "The economy has taken a sharp downturn." Gee, Mr. Paulson, you get the understatement of the year award because what Americans have also discovered is that the middle class is now almost extinct after only a few decades of having one-thanks to you and your friends at Goldman Sachs.

No one walking away from a foreclosed home, no one declaring bankruptcy, no uninsured person staring in the face tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills needs a maestro or any other member of the ruling elite to tell them that not only are we in a recession, but we are on a fast-track to a depression that is going to make 1929 look like living in the lap of luxury. It's called the collapse of Western civilization, and it is well underway.

Oh, you don't like my use of the word "collapse"? Then please listen up.

One of the most inspiring but also heart-wrenching stories I've seen this past week when Truth To Power was in the midst of its spring fundraiser and was not reporting much news was the CBS report on Tennessee-based Remote Area Medical's efforts to bring health and dental care to the uninsured or underinsured not only throughout the world, but now more than ever, in the U.S. As I watched this must-see video clip, my heart soared, even as I wept. What was confirmed in every cell of my body was that the American healthcare system has already collapsed, and that every other institution in this nation is rapidly succumbing to the domino effect of empire's unequivocal unraveling. Watch the CBS report for yourself, and I'm certain you will agree.

In looking honestly at these realities, it is impossible not to feel fearful, and some may once again accuse me of fear-mongering. However, I argue that fear is not necessarily a negative emotion or an unproductive waste of energy. I'm not talking about fear for the sake of fear, but rather, fear as a motivator-fear as a force that compels us to act.

Gavin De Becker's 1997 book The Gift Of Fear was written to assist readers in detecting violent behavior in the workplace, in the street, or in the home, for the purpose of protecting themselves. In contemplating collapse we are not dealing up close and personal with violence-at least not in this stage of collapse, as much as we are attempting to read the signals it is sending so that we may wisely prepare ourselves for navigating it. Among the author's suggestions are:

Recognizing the survival signals that warn us of impending danger
Relying on our intuition
Separating real from imagined danger
Moving beyond denial so that one can tune in to one's intuition

As we witness collapse and experience its impact on our lives, the fundamental concept of De Becker's book may serve us well. He argues that fear is an evolutionary gift imbedded in our DNA for the purpose of assisting our survival. Becoming overwhelmed with it or wallowing in it is indeed not useful, but neither is attempting to hermetically seal ourselves off from it. In fact, as De Becker argues, fear helps us move out of denial so that we can really tune into our intuition which facilitates our becoming proactive on our own behalf. What we need is not exemption from fear but a way of integrating it into our current reality in balance with other emotions.

What I want the reader to understand is that collapse is already happening. Your resentment of the word doesn't change the fact that it is occurring. Like Greenspan and Paulson, we all have the option of masking the realities of meltdown and continuing to wait for someone or something to "prove" to us that the world as we have known it is over.

Is talking about collapse scary? You bet. Does that mean we should avoid the word or "re-frame" it into something more "acceptable." Only if we insist on living in denial. If we feel fear about collapse, does that mean that we are "living in fear"? Only if we feel nothing else about it except fear and allow the fear to paralyze us.

OK, so collapse is happening, it's real, and it's going to get worse. So now what? How can I utilize that fear to take action? Keeping in mind that this is all scary to talk about, let's feel the fear and keep talking.

The first step, in my opinion, is to take a long, hard look at what action, in the face of the collapse of Western civilization, is realistic and truly useful. I believe we must approach this on two levels. First, what will actually make a difference in the world at large? Will using cloth shopping bags, changing my light bulbs, or shopping locally make a difference in the macrocosm? Quite frankly, probably not, although these may facilitate one's adaptation to a drastically new way of life and make that transition less traumatic. But then I must ask myself what my intention is. Am I trying to prevent the collapse that is already in progress? Am I trying to make it less severe than if I did nothing? Do I think I have some control over the collapse missile now that it has been launched and probably has a life of its own? If I don't have control-if control of the macrocosmic outcome isn't even possible, how does that feel? Even more scary? OK, so let's step back from the macrocosm for a moment and make this more personal.

Let's address the second level, my personal and immediate milieu. Who and what is in my personal world? Who do I love and trust and want to share my life with? What fears come up as I think about this? Fear that I can't talk to them about collapse? Fear that I will lose them, and they will lose me? Fear of separation from loved ones? Fear of making major changes like relocation, scaling down, bankruptcy, losing insurance, quitting a job or losing it?

Ooops, I think we've hit the big one: Fear of death-well, maybe not literal death, maybe not the "big one" but fear of the "little deaths" of loss which may feel like the "big death" of our own extinction. OK, time to take several deep breaths.

As we hit this rock-bottom fear, we must now ask ourselves if our ultimate objective in facing, talking about, and preparing for collapse is pure survival, or if it's larger than that. You see, this is the part that many people who are talking about "collapse preparation" fail to discuss. It's much easier to talk about stockpiling food and water or where one is going to invest one's money or how one is going to purchase precious metals or what skills one needs to learn for survival. It is far more risky and scary to talk about emotional and spiritual preparation for collapse. All of the other preparations are pretty much about making rational decisions based on adequate information. But when we begin preparing our souls for collapse, we're in a completely different dimension, and I argue, the most frightening as well as the most replete with potential. Potential for what?

The moment we begin discussing collapse and the notion of preparing for or surviving it, we enter the territory of meaning and purpose. Like someone stranded on a desert island or trapped in a downed airplane miles from nowhere, we are faced with those troubling "Who am I?" and "Why am I here?" questions that civilization has so masterfully assisted us in escaping. It is because humans have evaded and avoided dealing with those questions that we have created cesspools of government and financial corruption, the depletion of virtually all of earth's resources, the extinction of 200 species per day, oceanic dead zones the size of some states, the horror of genetically modified foods, and the destruction of our own and the earth's immune systems.

In a recent teleseminar offered by Life After The Oil Crash, Dmitry Orlov, author of the forthcoming Re-Inventing Collapse and a series of articles highlighting the similarities between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the U.S., stated that more important than figuring out where we're going to put our money or deciding where we might relocate is our psychological preparation for collapse. If we are not working on that aspect of preparation, then we are likely to discover that other forms of preparation do not fortify us in the ways we had hoped.

If we continue to avoid dealing with the reality of collapse, we get to escape those troubling "Who am I and why am I here?" questions a little longer and thereby perpetuate the underlying cause of the nightmares we have created for ourselves and for succeeding generations. On the other hand, if we are willing to talk about collapse, live and work with it alongside all of the other aspects of our lives that bring us joy and meaning, we open ourselves to a stunning opportunity that we may never have discovered were it not for the end of the world as we have known it.

There is very little we can do about collapse, but there is much that we can do with it. That does not necessarily mean that we can create a clean, compassionate, just, humane planet in our lifetime. I believe that to presume we can do so without the demise of Western civilization is an illusion. Unfortunately, empire has set the earth community up for dissolution, and collapse will bring forth the "great sorting out" but hardly in ways we'd prefer.

Bearing in mind the poet's political incorrectness around gender and possibly the reader's sensitivity to the "G" (God) word, I offer the words of Rilke:

At once the winged energy of delight

Carried you over childhood's dark abysses,

Now beyond your own life build the great

Arch of unimagined bridges.

Wonders happen if we can succeed

In passing through the harshest danger;

But only in a bright and purely granted

Achievement can we realize the wonder.

To work with Things in the indescribable

Relationship is not too hard for us;

The pattern grows more intricate and subtle.

And being swept along is not enough.

Take your practiced powers and stretch them out

Until they span the chasm between the two

Contradictions...For the god

Wants to know himself in you.

The world we wanted to have is not within our reach; the world we deeply dread is upon us. Meanwhile, the world we have known, ugly as it may be but nevertheless familiar, is vanishing before our eyes. Herein lies an opportunity to experience deeper layers of who we really are and what we are really made of. Collapse is compelling us to confront these issues, whether we want to or feel ready to do so or not. While I do not welcome the suffering this will entail, I do welcome the transformation of human consciousness and thus the evolutionary quantum leap it may offer us. For a deeper understanding of this metamorphosis, I highly recommend an article that Truth To Power sent to subscribers earlier this week by Sarah Edwards and Linda Buzell entitled, "The Waking Up Synrdome." It confirms that instead of being the enemy, fear may be a powerful ally. If we can face the fear and take action, we may be able to "build the great arch of unimagined bridges."

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