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What a Way to Go - Life at the End of the Empire
Thursday, 01 March 2007 08:59
by Carolyn Baker
A REVIEW OF THE DOCUMENTARY "What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire", by Tim Bennett and Sally Erickson  
If anything is not easy to watch but absolutely the truth down to one’s toenails, it is Tim Bennett’s and Sally Erickson’s doggedly transparent documentary, “What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire.” Nothing less than a 123-minute cat scan of the planet and its twenty-first century human and non-human condition, this documentary is indeed, “in your face” but with reverence, poignancy and solemnity yet sending world-class denial artists running to re-watch “Little Miss Sunshine” another one hundred times. While viewing it, I could see in my mind Carl Jung puffing on his pipe and pensively whispering under his breath, “Human beings can only handle so much truth.”


What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire - Movie Trailer

I didn’t way it would be easy; I just said it would be the truth.
Morpheus, from “The Matrix”
Divided into four parts, Waking On The Train, The Train And The Tracks, Locomotive Power, and Walkabout, the film begins with Tim Bennett’s personal saga of awakening in the eighties from lifelong slumber. Recounting the realities he has subsequently discovered is a tedious litany of human and planetary horrors that only those ready to awaken with him are likely to endure. To their credit, Bennett and Erickson offer no “happy ending chapter” at the end—no list of quick and painless fixes. Nothing about the world humans have created in the past several thousand years is painless, and nothing they might contemplate doing to remediate it could ever be quick. “What A Way To Go” is nothing less than two physicians presenting a diagnosis of terminal cancer to a patient who currently feels and looks “just fine”. Still another metaphor might be the one that Bennett and Erickson present in the documentary’s first chapter, namely, that of a suicidal individual standing on a ledge at the top of a very tall building, contemplating jumping to his death. It is an image to which the filmmakers return several times as the film progresses.

Known and very popular cialis coupon which gives all the chance to receive a discount for a preparation which has to be available and exactly cialis coupons has been found in the distant room of this big house about which wood-grouses in the houses tell.

The issue of denial is addressed head-on as the documentary’s numerous interviewees name it and its consequences. Those individuals include: Thomas Berry, Richard Manning, Stuart Pimm, Ran Prieur, Paul Roberts, William Schlesinger, Richard Heinberg, Chellis Glendinning, Derrick Jensen, Jerry Mander, and Sally Erickson. Specifically, Derrick Jensen speaks of the energy that it takes to remain in denial, and how humans who stop clinging to it discover that as a result, an enormous amount of energy is freed up to do whatever work the planet’s terminal state calls them to do.

“What A Way To Go” names Peak Oil, climate change, mass extinction, and population overshoot, as the four pivotal and daunting challenges that humans must address and resolve if any species are to remain on planet earth. Equally terrifying, in my opinion, are two symptomatic offshoots of these four: nuclear holocaust and global economic meltdown.

So how do humans—that species which unlike all the others, is in the process of rendering earth uninhabitable—reverse the nightmare we have created? While for many of us, it may seem like a no-brainer, Bennett and Erickson emphasize that unless the issues are unveiled and talked about, no hope for solution exists. Given the documentary’s unrelenting reminders of the lethal trajectory to which the human race has committed itself, the filmmakers’ insistence on breaking one’s own denial system is a crucial first step to all others.

As an historian I particularly appreciate Sally Erickson’s assertion in the film that in order to begin addressing the issues, we must develop a historical perspective and understand how we arrived at this point in human history. This is exactly what I have attempted to do in my recently-published book U.S. HISTORY UNCENSORED: What Your High School Textbook Didn’t Tell You. Americans in particular are loath to investigate causes and prefer to hastily “move on” to solutions; however, without understanding causes, it is impossible to construct viable solutions.

Especially validating for me was the perspective this documentary lends to the issue of Peak Oil in relation to climate chaos. While experts on hydrocarbon energy such as Richard Heinberg leave no doubt in the viewer’s mind that Peak Oil is a frightening reality, those same experts, including Heinberg, acknowledge the gargantuan climate change monster that could surpass Peak Oil not only in its consequences but how quickly those consequences manifest the collapse of civilization and make the planet uninhabitable.

As for the tiresome “technofix” argument—you know, the one that says that because humans are the superior specie and have created such highly sophisticated civilizations, we will ultimately invent technology that will adequately reverse the “Big Four” pivotal challenges, Daniel Quinn, author of Ishmael and The Tales Of Adam, compares humans living in developed countries to people living in very tall brick buildings who every day go to the bottom of their building and remove 200 bricks and bring them to the top of the building. Obviously, such ludicrous behavior is unsustainable and will inevitably result in the demise of the building’s foundation and its collapse.

Ultimately, “What A Way To Go” meanders into the root causes of our planetary nightmare: our disconnection from ourselves, each other, and the earth; the cultural stories that have been forgotten and replaced with newer, self-destructive ones about growth, domination, and hubris; the systems we have created and the addictions that feed those systems, and of course, our denial.

In Part Four, “Walkabout”, we are given not hope, but the challenge of creating options, the first being, the decision to grow up, forsake our denial, and become adults. Richard Heinberg reminds us that, “We have been so infantilized by civilization that we can no longer survive without it. As all of this starts to shift and change and disintegrate and collapse there’s the opportunity, in fact, to come back to ourselves. To grow up, fundamentally, as people and as a culture.”

Both Erickson and Bennett have incorporated their own children into the documentary with brief comments from Erickson’s daughter and Bennett’s son. Erickson herself states that in terms of future generations, “I think they’re going to look back and shake their heads and say, ‘What happened to those people? How did they lose sight of such basic things.’?”

Earlier I used the analogy of two physicians announcing to a patient that she/he has terminal cancer, and it is appropriate here to ponder what cancer actually is, namely, the growth of cells out of control, thus the more archaic reference to a cancer as a “growth.” Growth has become for Western civilization a cancer that is destroying its inhabitants, the ecosystems, all other forms of life on earth and the planet itself. Or as the author, William Kotke notes, “Civilization is a mental/material world of culturally transmitted illusion.Growth must cease, and it will cease, whether we choose to participate in that process or whether we don’t. Civilization will collapse, and that collapse offers opportunity as well as crisis. It may occur suddenly, or it may transpire as the economies and infrastructures of developed nations are hollowed out over time.

Appropriately, Bennett and Erickson have chosen the subtitle, “Life At The End Of Empire.” In his recent book Nemesis, historian Chalmers Johnson notes that an empire and a democratic republic are inimical to each other. Where one exists, the other cannot. If a nation chooses empire, its democratic republic will dissolve and ultimately perish. Should it choose to retain democratic republic, it must forsake empire; it cannot have both. The United States has chosen empire, and its citizens are allowing the shredding of its Bill of Rights and the evisceration of its civil liberties. All empires inevitably collapse, and everyone reading these words is living that collapse in this moment.

At this writing, world financial markets are reeling from yesterday’s sell-off bloodbath in China and Europe. The day before, a U.S. government auditor warned that U.S. debt to other nations is spiraling out of control. Virtually every project of Western civilization is unsustainable, especially its debt. An equally frightening but enormously important documentary that every thinking American must see is “In Debt We Trust” which illumines another locomotive out of control, imminently headed for a bottomless chasm. While I don’t wish to prognosticate that this week’s plunge of financial markets is the beginning of that economic train wreck, I know that the centralized financial systems which manage the United States government are behaving like the individuals mentioned above who carry the bricks from the bottom of their building to the top of it, leaving the foundation in peril of collapse. The fundamental difference is that when the American people behave in such a manner, they remain in the building and will be victimized by the collapse, whereas members of centralized financial systems have helicopters waiting at the top of their buildings which allow them to abscond with the bricks, turn them into gold, and deposit them offshore.

While no one wishes to jump off the ledge like the one on which the man at the beginning of “What A Way To Go” has perched himself, there is a sense in which all of us must either jump or have something far more momentous than our physical existence annihilated. The documentary quotes Andre Gide:

One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very longtime.

In the final moments of the documentary, Bennett offers an invitation to the viewer: “Let’s jump off the train and build a boat…a lifeboat, an ark, a galleon of adventure and imagination destined for unknown lands. Build it now. The ice is melting. The waters are rising. We’re going to have to let go of the shore.”

Bennett concludes the documentary by stating that he doesn’t know if he will survive the collapse but that he is committed to showing up in the world and telling his truth. It’s almost as if his physical survival is much less urgent than that commitment—in which case, I must concur with his and Erickson’s message: What a way to go!
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Comments (3)add comment

a guest said:

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment
The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature.

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

Subject : In a fast society slow emotions become extinct.
Subject : Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys the planet.
Subject : Environment can never be saved as long as cities exist.

Emotion is what we experience during gaps in our thinking.

If there are no gaps there is no emotion.

Today people are thinking all the time and are mistaking thought (words/ language) for emotion.

When society switches-over from physical work (agriculture) to mental work (scientific/ industrial/ financial/ fast visuals/ fast words ) the speed of thinking keeps on accelerating and the gaps between thinking go on decreasing.

There comes a time when there are almost no gaps.

People become incapable of experiencing/ tolerating gaps.

Emotion ends.

Man becomes machine.

A society that speeds up mentally experiences every mental slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A ( travelling )society that speeds up physically experiences every physical slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A society that entertains itself daily experiences every non-entertaining moment as Depression / Anxiety.

Fast visuals/ words make slow emotions extinct.

Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys emotional circuits.

A fast (large) society cannot feel pain / remorse / empathy.

A fast (large) society will always be cruel to Animals/ Trees/ Air/ Water/ Land and to Itself.

To read the complete article please follow either of these links :



March 03, 2007
Votes: +0

a guest said:

I am thinking of cashing in my 401K NOw..paying off debt.Taking the tax hit .(only a small amt left on mortgage.Rest will be to buy a used Toyota)
March 05, 2007
Votes: +0

People Power Granny said:

Check out my review and poll regarding What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire
Check out my post on What a Way to Go, and participate in my poll on saving the human species. I'm at http://peoplepowergranny.blogspot.com.
January 19, 2008
Votes: +0

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