Survivalism, dissent, conspiracy beliefs

The upshots of viewing Collapse, an illustrated interview with Michael Ruppert, fall into the category of lifestyle change – see the end of this post – and an undertaking to kill myself rather than fight another human being in order to feed myself (though this may be complicated by dependants, my capacity for murderous rage etc).

Such are the limits of my engagement with Michael Ruppert’s views and plans. I’ve seen enough of his patterns of reasoning and argument not to feel that I would gain much from investigating him any further. I feel very compassionate towards him – his experiences with the LAPD (which should have been unimpeachable) refusing to respond to illegal activities within the CIA (ditto) would probably severely damage anybody’s ability to trust authority. Cultural theorists like Mark Fenster talk about conspiracy beliefs as disaffection, a deep and painful concern about the state of the world, feelings of political estrangemement from the power bloc and at the same time, responsibility and a desire to be involved. Coming at things from a different direction, psychologists like Karen Douglas say of unfounded conspiracy beliefs that if you hold one you probably hold many, and you probably also hold machiavellian views of the world, believing in conspiracy because it makes sense to you. So, I draw certain conclusions when I find that Michael Ruppert has written in an earlier book that Dick Cheney actively colluded with the perpetrators of 9/11. From a subsequent interview (source

“Few have done more detailed investigation of the 9-11 attacks than I have. Even though Rubicon is in the Harvard Business Library and has sold around 100,000 copies in two countries, it has never even been acknowledged by my government. 9-11 was a predictable event and it was motivated precisely and solely by Peak Oil and nothing else. I believe I proved that conclusively in Rubicon which has never been challenged; only ignored. It is absolutely too late to go back and seek justice for the crimes of Richard Cheney and George W. Bush. I believe they were counting on that. It would be literally a waste of energy. Oil and natural gas can only be burned or consumed once. The present crisis is so severe that we cannot waste oil, natural gas and the limited energies of human consciousness to go back there.”

Formerly a self-employed investigative journalist, Michael Ruppert is now a survivalist  primarily concerned with (he says this) his own survival during the decline of oil production. Early in the documentary we are informed that he used to be an insider – his father was an aviator in the USA, other family were in the CIA and he himself grew up to become an exemplary LAPD narcotics officer. To summarise the story he told of his life, his career foundered when he tried to use official channels of the LAPD to expose a drugs ring within the CIA. Confronted by the reluctance of those official channels to disrupt the criminal activities of power-holders, he resigned in 1978 and adopted a more troublesome approach to the authorities which attracted the attention he is positive led to his targeting by assassins. When he received news that a whistleblower in not dissimilar circumstances to his own had been “suicided”, he began a newsletter probing political cover-ups which rapidly gained readership. Realising that he had a talent for writing, he subsequently authored a large number of texts, including the book he promoted during the video link-up after the film was shown.

One of the things I wasn’t so clear about (from the documentary) was how he made the transition from outrage at the corruption of the LAPD and derelict closing of ranks against its whistleblowers, to his apocalyptic predictions around the demise of humanity after peak oil.

I thought he was particularly strong on illustrating the extent of humanity’s reliance on oil and the relationship between oil and the population spike which has led to the often-quoted observation that for the current population of planet earth to live as Americans live would require two further planets. However, I dispute that Michael Ruppert has said much that hasn’t been widely accepted in policy-making circles for many years. For example – peak oil is self-evident knowledge. Oil comes from former forests, and nobody says there have been infinite forests. It’s an inconvenient truth which continues to be confronted with a holding pattern by lobbying oil companies. The blockage – illustrated by Iain Stewart in the BBC documentary series Earth: the Climate Wars – is the stalemate of power and economic interests which has left this knowledge un-acted upon. Humanity is indeed vulnerable to power interests.

While my hunch is that Michael Ruppert is right about the threat, at the same time I don’t find him qualified or credible. It’s as if I, with my English literature degree and multidisciplinary practical doctorate, had become frantic, angry and extremely motivated to research a subject, grow a following, write some books and commission a documentary in which I wove together a narrative about a lot of things I have no authority to speak on glued together by a theory of peak oil, to which I attributed overarching explanatory power. Who would find me credible? People who wanted to believe me, or who already held the same views. In order to earn credibility, I should pursue the society – preferably in a professional capacity – of academics at a university which excels in energy studies and subject my thinking to their and their international peers’ scrutiny. If they ignored my work, I should assume this was a matter of rigour rather than politics.

Instead Michael Ruppert cites Cynthia McKinney and George Galloway, both of whom I consider analytically poor and ethically compromised. By way of asserting his authority, he tells us that one of his books is in the Harvard Business School library, and that many government officials and elected representatives read his newsletter. But why should we suppose they consider him an influence, rather than an example of an important but ultimately misguided social movement? He also exaggerates – I don’t think that troubled and bankrupt Greece is having a revolution and nor does my Greek friend who was watching next to me.

Other observations.

One question I’d have asked is what he left out of his presentation in order to avoid alienating his audience. Some of the things he avoided mentioning were the 11th of September and Afghanistan (although he rapidly dispatched his case that Iraq was an oil war) and the role that animal farming plays in the depletion of resources. One of the most interesting things about this film and his responses afterwards (and I don’t know his earlier work, perhaps he has adapted recently) was that he didn’t appear to be scapegoating. So, trade unions must stop behaving as if there were a national pie to divide equitably; left and right would become irrelevant; all religions would be judged according to their relevance to the dire reality in which people existed. And the enmity he predicted between humans was behavioural or bestial (and well-worth considering in the light of Rodney Barker’s 2008 discussion of enmity at Gresham College) rather than anything targeted at a culprit. For him, peak oil has sufficient explanatory power, in itself. Most, if not all, of what he believes now can be hung from that – or you get this impression from the film.

Another question I’d have asked is how many weapons he owns. He predicts that people who leave their plans for survival too late will be the victims of those who have not, and he is surely one of the early ones. On more than one occasion he explicitly and implicitly reveals his anger with people who are “like deer in the headlights” or “zombies”, as well as the oil companies and those who collude with them for personal gain. This reminded me of a (beery) conversation with some survivalists among the technical people where I work, the upshot of which was that I could join the group as long as I could demonstrate my contribution. No contribution, then they would defend themselves against any attempt I might make to penetrate their fortifications. It was a lifeboat situation they anticipated – unless you have something which improves the buoyancy of the lifeboat then you jeopardise the existence of the people already on the lifeboat. This is bloody stuff he predicts, and I found one of his strategies of coping with his burden of knowledge – to take his dog out and count the number of smiles they could create – very hard to reconcile. As somebody with a lot of cognitive dissonance myself I was very interested in this.

Other examples of cognitive dissonance. He is an almost iconographic smoker. He has a very smart-looking barbeque and a guitar which are almost certainly painted with an oil-based lacquer. He addressed us live via a video web-link showing what would have looked like the pinnacle of material well-being to most people on the planet, being much worse-off. His physical stature suggests he consumes a surplus of energy. He keeps a dog. Although all these things depend on oil, from this I’m guessing that he doesn’t find them profligate. And yet he has identified them as part of the drain, things we have to change our mind about – things which can form no part of the world he envisages when oil is unobtainable. He emphasises the urgency of change; we are to take our cues from him. I don’t dispute his sincerity, but his lifestyle undermines his predictions. He permitted himself to be filmed with a barbeque and hasn’t managed to quit smoking – sympathetic as I am to self-medicators, this doesn’t fit.

This may be related to his unconcern for social (as distinct from criminal or political) justice. He doesn’t seem to be giving any consideration to protecting the rights of vulnerable groups – women, people with impairments, for example. Most of us have seen or read enough apocalypsia to understand the nature of social breakdown when resources are scarce. Those who understand the impending collapse should be working on a framework of law and distribution to maintain cohesion and cooperation, and to keep the ground we have gained in civil and human rights. Michael Ruppert seems willing to surrender all this as yet another illusory oil-gain. He says that religions, political parties, trade unions are all part of an obsolete paradigm which should be abandoned.

He says he hates money, considers it the root of all evil. At the same time, he recommends we buy up gold and consider alternative currencies (such as organic seeds). Money is clearly a means of material security here, and not the root of all evil. I wish he hadn’t dealt so rapidly with money, but had given some attention to how extortion could be avoided in the circumstances of social meltdown. But sadly I don’t think it would be out of character for him to suppose that extorting from those of us who stupidly failed to take his advice would be justifiable.

So, what are Matt and I doing? We’re collecting our piss in the receptacle we use at festivals and pouring it onto the compost heap and soil (and frantic spiders). This makes us feel quite eccentric but what the hey. We’ll attempt to temper our thoughtless (though, scarily, much less thoughtless than most people I know) relationship with oil-based plastics with more sustainable substitutes. (What I am going to do about my second favourite food, crisps, I have no idea – perhaps substitute with more of my first favourite food, pastry? Anyway, as Richard Herring would say – or did of people who leave their TV on standby, in his peerlessly revolting and excellent stand-up show, Menage a Un – “it’s a small price to pay”). The last thing is that we’ll investigate permaculture for the garden. None of these are new ideas for us – they are mainstream thinking in the columns I read about the environment – but they’re ones we, our government, and our vendors have allowed to stall.

While Rome burns

Work is so intense at the moment that spare time is spent with friends or the seductive cocktail of Matt and the idiot lantern. What with the coming election, the marginal status of my constituency and the activities of the BNP in Hainault, this rampant hedonism must surely stop. But for now, specially for Barkingside 21, here is something lovely from last weekend when we showed some visitors, old friends from Barnsley-way, a good time in Claybury Park with a solar airship from the Science Museum.


A belated birthday present from Matt, last Friday we boarded the  Calendonian Sleeper from Euston to Glasgow, departing at 23:15.

Lying on my front in the top bunk of a moving train took me back, right back, to the movements my dad must have made to get me to sleep against his chest. I couldn’t sleep, and listened to Elbow’s Seldom-Seen Kid, Spiritualized’s Amazing Grace, Apparat’s Walls, and Jane’s Addiction’s Ritual de lo Habitual.

When we arrived, the roads around Central Station were so quiet that you could stand in them to take pictures. From the top of West George Street, we could see snow on the hills to the north and the south. I’m not sure what we did to deserve this but the air was mild and the skies clear.

We dropped off our bags and set out looking for breakfast. We walked to the West End – nothing. It was early. We ended up in Starbucks. Starbucks sells Fairtrade coffee and a vegan sandwich. You could do worse. We were there for about an hour in easy chairs, reading the paper.

Then I got out my splitter, hitched myself to Matt and we listened to an audio walking tour I’d downloaded. It started in George Square where the birds find the monuments friendly.

On the way I looked up, saw this:

We suspended the tour at the Cathedral and lost ourselves in the Necropolis.

Late in the afternoon we had lunch at Stereo, part of a family of vegan restaurants in Glasgow. I’d defend these places to the hilt – they are wonderful – but my calzone dough wasn’t cooked.

From there to our hotel and a shower. I booked tickets for Four Deaths at the Centre for Contemporary Art. We fell asleep. Both of us are dog tired most of the time.

I racked my brain over Four Deaths. Four performance artists from Slovenia’s Via Negativa enviously fabricated and enacted death upon their overbearing predecessors and literally cleared the stage for their own creative lives. Update: it was the literary critic Harold Bloom who first came up with this idea of the ‘anxiety of influence‘ – the worry that predecessors have already used up all the original ideas, leading to repossess the patriarchs by retelling their stories in sequels, prequels, or alternative outcomes. Four deaths performs the anxiety of influence.

We were part of an intimately involved audience. Drunk Matt decided we would sit in the front row. Pina Bausch’s performer took my chin in her hand, gazed deep into my face for a long time and pronounced “Frieda Kahlo” before moving on through the audience to finger a Chaplin, Reifenstahl, and others. These days I assiduously pull out the fearsome quantities of hair between my eyebrows, but it wasn’t always the way, I am blessed with very thick shiny black eyebrows and she’s not the first to find a similarity.

After that we were ravenous and ate in Pizza Express, where I had a customised Bosco (i.e. no artechokes instead of mozzarella). Then, on a friend’s recommendation, we went to a pub called the Black Sparrow, where we sat in a little eyrie up against the elaboratedly moulded ceiling and watched the party-goers. We didn’t stay out much longer.

The next day we listened to the portions of audio tour which took us to the Museum of Modern Art.

There I watched some video art from Videonale 12, racking my brains again over Hapless, Helpless and Hopeless by Rob Kennedy and Peter Dowling, 34 minutes pieced together from commercials, and Tom Dale’s Shot Through. Then when I read the accompanying book, I realised that the racking had arrived me in more or less the intended place. Nobody said you didn’t have to work at this art thing – my tendency is to overmystify it if anything.

Next I looked at Multi-Story, an exhibition about Glasgow Housing Association’s Red Road flats. Soon to be demolished, they house the city’s asylum seekers as well as local tenants. Matt was downstairs, where he’d seen something dull about the Palestinian territories. In my spheres you’re never more than hours away from a reference to the Palestinians. For me, particular attachment to a notional Palestinian cause (mostly about our giving, our protest; rarely about what it is to be democrat or a citizen in the circumstances of volatile politics) is a marker of convergent thinking among this intellectual set of people. It’s the first I ever noticed, which is why I feel so suspicious about it and disappointed by it. While we were there, news broke that three people, who may have had applications for asylum refused, tied themselves together and jumped to their deaths. It was the first I’d heard of the Red Road flats, and it remained in mind when I stood looking up at the smashed and open windows of the Gorbals flats later that day.

We ate at Stereo’s sister, 78. The chips were translucent with fat.

I didn’t want to go to the Kelvingrove Museum, but it was lovely. Suddenly a gigantic organ sounded, the beginning of a 30 minute recital which reverberated the whole building. I saw a wonderful portrait of Gorbals children by the photographer Joseph MacKenzie. There was an exhibition of colourists known as the Glasgow Boys, and a room dedicated to the work of Charles Rennie MacIntosh.

Then we walked some miles to the Clyde. The sun was warm!

We crossed to south of the Clyde to see the Gorbals where my Grandpa grew up. Since the ’30s the insanitary tenements he’d have known have been replaced by colossal high rises, now themselves condemned to imminent demolition.

Crossing back across the Clyde we found ourself near Stereo’s second sister, Mono. We had (vegan) cheesecake, beers over the paper and, after a lengthy, soundcheck Second Hand Marching Band crowded onto the stage and faced off against the audience, which they practically outnumbered. I had a little dance. To my great regret we had to leave part way through Aidan Moffat’s set, missing Burnt Island entirely.

Onto the Sleeper and straight to bed, rocked and jiggled to sleep by mama train, rudely deposited at the beginning of the working week around 07:40. I went to work.

Glasgow is a cracking city and if for some reason I was run out of London, it’s where I’d set up home.