The Hubris of Modern Civilization

aka The Grand Illusion – Part II

“Hubris” is one of my favorite words. You sound so intelligent when you use it! In fact, if you use it you probably have ‘hubris’ which is a bad thing by nature. The wikipedia definition of hubris is “extreme pride or self-confidence. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.”

I know what you’re thinking …  this perfectly describes the writer of this blog! I fully admit to a strong sense of self-confidence but I also readily admit to being extremely humble about my good fortune. I am grateful to have been born when and where I was. I am grateful for my health, and my family, and friends. I’m grateful for the great comments we get on our blogs! And I am grateful to those that went before me that invested their time and emotional capital in causes, such as universal healthcare, which have given me such freedom in my work choices. I will admit that in 2007 when we decided to commit full time to publishing books about sustainable living I may have suffered some degree of hubris. Let me assure you that the economic collapse of 2008, and the fact that we now earn next to nothing from our publishing enterprise has been a hugely humbling experience. Forces beyond our control can have a great humbling effect on all of us.

So I read two unrelated articles last week that I somehow managed to see the relationship. One was in the Globe and Mail newspaper about the downfall of Canadian tech giant Nortel. The articles concludes:

“The collapse of telecommunications giant Nortel Networks Corp. was caused by ‘a culture of arrogance and even hubris’ that led to numerous management errors and weakened the firm’s ability to adapt to changing customer needs in a fast-paced industry, according to a new in-depth analysis of the company’s final decade of operations.”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/culture-of-arrogance-doomed-nortel-analysis-concludes/article17521736/

There were few Canadians that were not affected by the collapse of Nortel if not by owning shares directly that at one time topped $124/share, to their participation in pensions that held the shares, including the Canada Pension Plan that all took a massive hit. A hit because of “hubris.”

Then there was a study from the NASA scientist about society’s propensity for collapse.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/mar/14/nasa-civilisation-irreversible-collapse-study-scientists

I thought it was strange that the best coverage I found of this study was in Canada’s “National Post” newspaper, a kind of a beacon for capitalism and the elites that the study says are part of the problem.

I found it even stranger when they followed up with a story that suggested we needed to elect Green Party Leader Elizabeth May as Prime Minister to ward off collapse. As a Green Party candidate I found this a huge boost to my humble ego!

http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2014/03/22/kelly-mcparland-nasa-backed-study-indicates-its-elizabeth-may-or-mass-extinction-your-choice/

I’m hoping the boring title of this blog dissuaded my daughters from reading it, because I’d rather they not, but hey, when they’re home they see my bookshelf. I have often discussed professor Joseph Tainter’s “The Collapse of Complex Societies” which is like the idiot’s guide to this topic. His theme is that complex civilizations deal with problems by adding layers of complexity on to the bureaucracy. Ever tried to get a permit for anything these days? Any questions?

But essentially it all comes down to ‘hubris.’ We think we’re different. Our leaders tell us we’re different. Elect them and they’ll keep it all going. Oh and how about that jet that disappeared? We think it will be different this time, that we’ll come up with some techno fix to deal with too much carbon and methane in the atmosphere, too many people competing for too few resources, not enough fresh water, not enough fossil fuel energy, and on and on and on.

Sure pundits have making this prediction since humans started living in groups. But I do believe that it’s different this time. No species has ever strained the resources of this finite planet more than we have. No species has actually been able to change the climate, and  in such an alarming way.

I do hope we’ll all vote for The Green Party and take some radical steps to stop the madness. But I believe social inertia may not allow that. So you need to make sure you don’t get caught up in the hubris that deludes you into thinking that the next decade, or the next few years will look anything like the past. They will not.

Over the next few blogs I’m going to discuss some suggestions incorporated into our book “The Sensible Prepper.” I understand the inclination of some people who just want to tune the whole thing out and eat potato chips and watch reality TV. I get it. I love chips. I love TV. But the next time there is a large-scale dislocation in our society that affects you that you surprisingly weren’t prepared for … flood, icestorm, drought, wildfire, economic collapse … don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Reminder: We are offering our full-day workshop here at Sunflower Farm on Sat. May 3.

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8 Responses to “The Hubris of Modern Civilization”

  • penelope:

    so when do i get to buy the book? i’ve been waiting 🙂 you’re the only one i know that can help me take it up a notch without telling me to buy a bunch of guns

  • Laura:

    I’ve been coming across an increasing number of people who are very aware of and concerned about these issues, but feel totally powerless to do anything about it. The momentum of this society/ culture seems to be too great. And no one has the ability to really step back and see the big picture– though, in their hubris, they may think they do. And act like they do.

    Still, I am a little inspired that my generation seems to be getting it. I seriously meet at least one person each week who is doing something to plan for the collapse. At least some of us are concerned! Probably not enough of us. But… it’s better than none.

    This blog is inspiring me to get to work on my cabin!

  • G. Baloghsma:

    Oh, I get it: prepper, love watching TV, hubris and the “Green Connection”, Plum Hollow shopper, never heard of Pioneer Maid cook stoves… There is a lot here to be concerned about. If you are musing over the junk food of the soul on television and genuflecting the Yuppy ethos, how do you distinguish wise actions from the disinformation of our times?

  • Gerrit:

    Quite agreed Cam. We’re Green Party members also. We’re up against two guarantees of collapse: society’s propensity for complexity-building that far exceeds the supporting base and abrupt climate change due to the expanding number of secondary feedback loops.

    Funny you should bring up Nortel. I recently bought an old Northern Telecom rotary phone on Kijiji; remember the ugly old squat, black office phones? I think the rotary phone is the phone of the future. And when the need for it comes, there will be no more maddening “press 9 for French, 1 for Spanish, and hang up when you finally realize you’ll never reach an actual human.” We’ll go straight back to the neighbours listening in on a the old farm line 🙂

  • John:

    Hence… Bureaucracy feeds bureaucracy. Would love to read The Sensible Prepper.

  • Paul:

    Great article Cam, a bit depressing of course after all we are all on the same train even with growing your own and living “off grid”. You can delay the inevitable but you can’t stop it. Human Nature is what it is and we have the fatal flaw that brought down the previous civilizations… thanks to our inventiveness we can now take down the whole planet. The good news is that the cosmos is vast and somewhere, sometime a species has evolved without this fatal flaw and has learned and advanced to harmonious sustained living. Could be one of your or mine atoms in there somewhere too… Keep up the good work. ps Watch out for large asteroids too, they do the job equally as well.

  • John de Vries:

    Good article Cam, Go for it with the Green Party, Kick the hubris out of the old line parties, it’s way overdue.

    Move to Alberta and you have 2 more votes.

  • Hubris has been one of my favourite things to think about for the past few years. That’s an odd thing to say now that I think about it but it’s very true. It’s depressing to see how much of our society is run via hubris… how much we (as humans) think we have the ability to control everything, especially (though not only) in regards to nature.

    I remember my Papa once watching a documentary about the Titanic. During the show, they had an “Expert” saying that had the Titanic been built today, it definitely would have been unsinkable. My Papa’s response? “And nature would have come up with a bigger iceberg.”

    Thanks for the post!

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Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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