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It's Too Late Baby, Time's Up

A Book Review By Carolyn Baker

28 October, 2009

“In short, we are prepared to die in order to live a life that is killing us.”
–Keith Farnish from Time’s Up: An Uncivilized Solution to A Global Crisis

I live in Boulder, Colorado where the buzz among eco-activists who attended a recent lecture by Vandana Shiva is her chilling statement that if the human species continues on its present destructive trajectory, it has no more than 100 years of life on this planet. At about the same time this bomb was dropped on Shiva’s audience, Keith Farnish’s amazing book Time’s Up: An Uncivilized Solution To A Global Crisis arrived in my mailbox for review which was about the same time that Keith reviewed my book, Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse. I visit my local movie theater and see trailers for the next series of post-apocalyptic movies such as “2012” and “The Road”. Five years ago the notion of “endings” was not reverberating in the collective unconscious with the fever pitch we’re witnessing today. What’s up? Quite simply: Time is up.

I would say that the real crux of Time’s Up is the challenge of how to keep the human race from continuing to commit suicide. The first 82 pages of the book are devoted to a painstaking explanation of the inextricable connection between humans and all other life forms. The fundamental reality of the connection is that “nothing is so dependent upon other forms of life as humans, the ultimate consumers.” Likewise, “everything we do has the potential to disrupt something, knock if off balance as we negotiate the finest of lines; yet that line we are repeatedly stepping over.”

Anyone who argues that humans have nothing to do with climate change needs to read these 82 pages because they unequivocally silence that illusion.

Central to Farnish’s book is the premise that everything hinges on connection—the human species’ connection with everything else. Unfortunately, it is something we must be taught—something that must be explained in words, but something that indigenous peoples know instinctively and need not spend years thinking about.

“It is nothing great and mysterious”, says Farnish, “it is simply the necessary instinct that ensures we do not damage the ability of the natural environment to keep us alive. Failure to connect is the reason humanity is pulling the plug on its life-support machine.”

Unlike the indigenous person, “the majority of people in the industrial West who identify most strongly with a hyper-consuming way of life, learning how to reconnect out of necessity is a struggle: most of us have never experienced anything but the disconnected lives we inhabit.” However, Farnish reassures us, “we have always been connected, we just need to recognize how natural and comfortable it is to be this way.”

Farnish reassuringly holds our hand while he helps us take baby steps toward understanding the essence of connection. He leads us into some very personal experiential, contemplative exercises that engage the right brain and allow us to feel connection rather than simply thinking about it.

Civilization, Farnish says, has put us in a “constant state of sensory deprivation; kept in that state in order that we can be willing participants of Industrial Civilization. If we connect with the real world permanently, then the spell will be broken: we will no longer be ‘viewers’, ‘customers’, ‘consumers’, ‘voters’, ‘citizens’; we will just be us.”

The author reminds us that:

“We are in the terminal stages of the greatest addiction humanity has ever seen. We live in a constant disconnected haze; drip-fed a cocktail of proto-choice, dreams, lies, fear, abuse, and hope. We are users of this culture, and it feels good—until we need another dose.”

Unique to Farnish’s analysis is a list of The Tools of Disconnection, that is, ten techniques for keeping us disconnected from each other and the earth, which of course, keeps us disconnected from ourselves:
Reward us for being good consumers, store managers, marketing executives, investment bankers
Make us feel good for doing trivial things—local politicians, writers, therapists
Give us selected freedom—national politicians, judges, dictators
Pretend we have a choice—vehicle salespeople, travel agents
Sell us a dream—advertisers, educators, missionaries
Exploit our trust—scientists, military officers, office managers
Lie to us—economists, government ministers, public relations officers
Scare us—journalists, broadcasters, customs officers
Abuse us—soldiers, police officers, property developers
Give us hope—religious and spiritual leaders, environmentalists

Whether or not you agree with the occupations Farnish has grouped with these tools of disconnection, the tools themselves make perfect sense. They have been and continue to be remarkably successful in achieving their intent: to keep us in the disconnection addiction.

So what about the “uncivilized solution” contained in the subtitle of Time’s Up? First, the author insists, we must face a very difficult reality: Each of us is the system. “You are part of the system; you have to take responsibility for your part of the problem: how does that feel?” The good news, however, is that each of us is far more important than the people higher up in the web because we are “the engine, the energy source, the reason for its continuation.” Without our cooperation, our faith, the system would have no energy and then it would cease to exist.

Farnish is adamant that Western civilization is in the process of collapsing, as is the ecosystem. However, each of us can help the process along and thereby minimize the damage by initiating collapse within an economy. This collapse, of course, is already happening because the public is losing confidence in the economy. “The need for confidence is a psychological feature of Industrial Civilization….” The system is extremely fragile because it is desperately dependent on faith in itself.

Two things we must do: Concentrate on the Tools of Disconnection—notice them, avoid them, and live our lives in a manner that abdicates them. Equally important, we must “ensure that useful information stays out there—in the minds of as many people as possible.” Beware of the seductions of corporations, especially the oxymoron of the “green corporation.”

Farnish states that “It is possible to create a situation where civilization is left to crumble gradually, reducing the impact on humanity, and the sooner this is done, the less the global environment will be harmed. He makes three stellar points that must not be missed:

1. Reconnect with the real world, so that we can understand our close relationship with it in everything we do. The more you connect, the more you will realize how unreal civilization is.

2. Live in such a way that we do not contribute to the expansion of the global economy, reducing our impact on the natural environment in the process. Be aware that authority figures within the system, such as political leaders and corporations, will attempt to provide you with ‘green’ advice: this advice is designed to ensure that civilization continues, and should be ignored.

3. Create the conditions so that others may also change through education and, even more importantly, undermining the tools that civilization uses to keep us part of the machine. Don’t waste time protesting; this changes nothing—that is why it is legal.

A future outside civilization is a better life; one in which we can actually decide for ourselves how we are going to live.

Farnish provides a clearly organized list of “Key Skills For Going Beyond Civilization” in the short-term, in the long-term, and in the medium-term. He emphasizes that “We need people to discuss plans and ideas with, to help us get things off our chests, to laugh and enjoy things together, to just be there when we are feeling low.”

I’m thrilled that Farnish perceives civilization through the lens of addiction and consistently coaches us to enrich and enlarge our deeper humanity. However, I fear that he has nearly written off the spiritual dimension of our being as hopelessly contaminated with religion, faith, and submission to authority. With this I must take issue because the very connectedness he counsels us to develop is in itself, in my opinion, the fundamental nutrient of the human soul and is nothing less than a spiritual practice. Navigating collapse and creating a species that is intimately connected with all others, is absolutely contingent on inner, as well as outer, transformation which has nothing to do with swallowing “faith as fact”. It is rather about applying the connectedness principle internally as well as externally and experiencing in every cell of the body that there is something greater than the human ego. Unless we become deeply intimate with that “something”, we are doomed to create nothing more than a pathetic sequel to the nightmare that Western civilization has become.

In the end, Time’s Up leaves us with a momentous choice:

“We can look at the results of the experiment called civilization and feel helpless, or we can look at what we have in ourselves, and what remains undamaged on the Earth and think, ‘We can do better.’ The future is still ours if we have the determination to survive it and, whether you like it or not, the future will be determined by the decisions you make.”

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