For you old-timers this should be a memory lane treat, and for you young’uns this will be an introduction to the one who started it all: Jay Hanson.
Jay Hanson hosted the first online discussion bulletin board for overshoot issues like peak oil and climate change. He devoted a large portion of his life to researching the genetic human behaviors that have caused our severe state of overshoot. Here is a nice overview of his work by Kurt Cobb.
Ten years ago Jason Bradford hosted a weekly interview format radio program on overshoot issues called the Reality Report. I still consider the Reality Report to be the most intelligent show of its type to this day. Today Jason Bradford manages a progressive investment company called Farmland LP that restores depleted conventional farmland into healthy sustainable organic production.
This 10-year-old interview, is to my recollection, the only audio interview done with Jay Hanson. A superficial look at Hanson’s website might lead you to conclude he is a nut job, but the fact is Hanson is extremely intelligent and well read, which this interview helps to reinforce by showcasing the voice behind the radical writings.
I drug this 2008 chestnut out now because the steadily increasing war drums we hear in the media reminded me of a specific prediction Hanson made in this interview that there would be a nuclear war in 10 to 14 years, meaning we are now in the window.
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As an aside, a few years ago I tried to introduce Hanson to Varki’s Mind Over Reality Transition (MORT) theory but was saddened when Hanson aggressively and unscientifically rejected the theory before understanding it. Perhaps even the most open-minded of us will deny unpleasant realities, especially when that reality might undermine a lifetime of work. By undermine, I do not mean invalidate, but rather I think MORT provides an umbrella theory to explain the numerous specific behaviors identified by Hanson and others that have contributed to our predicament.
21 thoughts on “By Jay Hanson: Reality Report Interview (November 3, 2008)”
I’m old enough to remember Hanson well. He sounds as intense as one might expect, though I was equally expecting a calmness that comes with terminal knowledge. His page does have a crank look with eccentric highlights but you know there’s wisdom behind it.
He reaches the same basic conclusion as the prophet Joe Rogan: We’re like mold on a sandwich and we won’t stop eating it. https://youtu.be/Zyc12-neTjM (also posted in 2008)
Said mold has taken on some spiky growths in recent decades that resemble staghorn lichen but are much taller.
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I frequently listen to the Joe Rogan show when he has an interesting guest. I have a concern with Rogan and almost all the other highly intelligent aware cultural leaders with big followings like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Jordan Peterson, Lawrence Krauss, Christopher Hitchens, etc. They spend the majority of their time discussing social problems and yet never mention overshoot as an underlying driver of these issues. Nor do they set good examples in their personal lives as we see Rogan prognosticating from the back seat of a giant limousine, and Sam Harris flying around the country every week.
Yes, Rogan can be all over the map and it’s hard to be sure where his moral compass is. Many people claim to understand the environmental predicament but go right along with it. It’s usually “I’ve gotta feed my kids” and/or “what else can we do?” Glib fatalism is more common than true concern.
If you haven’t seen it, a very unique piece on Man vs. nature was recorded by Alan Watts a few years before his death. He mentions an unspecified conference where top thinkers were at a loss to explain what could be done. https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=alan+watts+conversation+with+myself
I joined Hanson’s dieoff discussion group when peak oil was in its infancy and lurked for ages, being too overwhelmed by all the erudite posters to say anything. When I did venture forth it was to say something about the concepts in Quinn’s Ishmael which I’d just read and been blown away by. I assumed Jay wasn’t able to see what I saw because he squashed me flat. A telepathic gorilla wasn’t something he could agree with. Ah, those were the days! How far we’ve come!
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Yes, he can be a very unpleasant and intimidating person to interact with.
The dieoff site was one of the first I saw. I was a bit horrified but also enthralled. He did a fantastic job!
I feel for you that the MORT theory isn’t finding acceptance. I guess, hang in there! For all your fantastic work on this blog, and from which I’ve benefitted so greatly, I owe you an explanation for why it doesn’t resonate with me.
It has the feeling of a theoretical plaything, and doesn’t function as a tool I can use to make sense of (much less improve) my world. Through MORT, I feel I’m being told: your intelligence is riddled with denial (insert elevator pitch proof here). Please overcome it, and do what’s right for the earth!
Well, it’s already clear to me that I fool myself repeatedly. That I indulge in fantasy. That my culture does the same, and I usually go along for the ride. The fact that now there is a scientifically valid proof about this state doesn’t particularly impress me.
I also know that sometimes I get it right. I’m honest. I can deny myself ego satisfaction. But MORT wouldn’t give me any credit for this. Those experiences which I call meaningful don’t have any place in a grand theory of mind whose first chapter is that minds deny reality.
Secondly, we have a rich vein of cultural differences that provide explanations for why we are where we are. We know that our “taker” civilization has displaced all the people who sought to live in harmony with the land rather than at war with it. We can look at indigenous wisdom to glimpse a possibility for how to live. What does MORT say about these people…would it say they are unintelligent?
I’ve lived in this culture long enough and so often felt alien from it that I don’t believe that our infinite growth metaphor is a thing that “had to be.” I think the dice may have been loaded to fall a certain way, but choices were made.
I have other objections, let me just mention the last item in the hopeful elevator pitch: overcome the denial of reality, and save the earth! I think this is very naive…we’ve been asked to save the earth since at least the 1960s and it hasn’t worked. No…people are standing at the end of a long path-dependent chain of actions and events that got them to where they are and they will not change in their mass. Only singly, one-by-one, does an individual fall out of his or her story, into a more selfless path.
In my experience, those singular individuals are often motivated by a connection with the numinous. An experience with death, or a great failure of their “life plan.” Who knows what it will be. If I had a “theory” to promote, it would be to increase communion with nature. It would be to go into things deeply, especially those painful areas of your life you resist looking at.
Through this door, both tolerance for reality and understanding of why it is so gently increase. You can tolerate the grievous harm to your desired picture of reality because the forest, the mountain and the river feed you and bring strength even as you hurt. Growing strong in nature, you can love and identify with it. Soon you can afford to be honest. And then maybe, just maybe you will understand.
My “advice” stops there. I think that to understand is enough. This is an understanding with compassion, humor and room for where the others are, because you were there too.
What I’m saying is just a faint echo coming from indigenous traditions. It can be felt in Zen, and in western mystical traditions (of which Christianity was once an enthusiastic branch). This way doesn’t need a novel theory.
Will it “save anyone?” Will it “accomplish anything?”
No. There are no guarantees. I only know that in this perspective I am a) able to do less harm than before, and b) to accept what is. For me, this is already a victory, of sorts.
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“Only singly, one-by-one, does an individual fall out of his or her story, into a more selfless path.”
Authors like Morris Berman have used the term “New Monastic Individual” which matches that thinking. People will just have to stand up and do the right thing and not worry about impressing (or depressing) others. It will require many actions like the Florida students who got fed up with gun nuts and their selfish narrative. This is a fight against the reptilian brain, in a nutshell.
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Thanks kindly for taking the time to share your views. I had a quick look at your blog. Very nice! I’ll be back for more. Maybe I’ll ruin your reputation by posting some of your work here. 🙂
In the earlier days of this blog I hoped that discovering a solid scientific explanation for why we are unable to discuss, let alone act, on our overshoot predicament might provide a breakthrough. Perhaps analogous to how science finally prevailed in the tobacco debate and we collectively acknowledged that there are scientific reasons that nicotine provides pleasure, is addictive, and causes cancer. So we acted to curtail nicotine use, especially among young people.
But it seems you’re probably right that MORT is an interesting theory without practical application. I have made zero progress at building enthusiasm for the reality and utility of MORT, sadly, even among overshoot aware people that still seek some path to mitigation. I’ll probably go back and edit my elevator speeches to reflect reality.
For me now MORT is about providing satisfaction from understanding the insanity that surrounds me.
Many people share your view that there are examples of indigenous cultures that lived sustainably and so culture, not genetics, is the main driver of overshoot. I don’t share your view. I think most of our important behaviors are genetic and because all 7.6 billion of us descended from one small tribe 100,000 years ago it’s safe to assume that we are all the same. If there are examples of sustainable cultures like, for example, the aboriginals where I live on the west coast of Canada, their lifestyle was a result of circumstances and luck rather than wisdom: little land suitable for agriculture and no need for it due to abundant salmon and shellfish, and no luck to have easily extractable coal and iron. It seems they waged war as much as the unsustainable Europeans.
I agree it’s naïve to think a plea to save the earth will change people that were simply born into our predicament and are just trying to survive and be happy. But it is sad that we can’t even discuss a one child policy that would help with every one of our problems and still permit people to survive and enjoy their lives.
Finally, I agree with your thoughts about nature. I find walks in the woods and mountains deeply satisfying. But I don’t share your views on the numinous because I don’t have a spiritual bone in my body.
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Thanks for the reply, Rob! Inline stuff…
“Maybe I’ll ruin your reputation by posting some of your work here. ”
It would be an honor, for sure!
“In the earlier days of this blog I hoped that discovering a solid scientific explanation for why we are unable to discuss, let alone act, on our overshoot predicament might provide a breakthrough…”
This instinct to help…to offer the right metaphor to a world groaning under the wrong suppositions about the problem…I think this is one of the best things about people. I agree with you, and I think the best thing to do is keep at it.
“But it seems you’re probably right that MORT is an interesting theory without practical application. I have made zero progress at building enthusiasm for the reality and utility of MORT, sadly, even among overshoot aware people that still seek some path to mitigation…”
Ach, it’s good to have a record of the ways not to build a light bulb, should MORT fail to add to the toolbox. Our toolbox of collapse is full of deeply useful ideas that compress reams of data down to a story that can be played out in the imagination. When someone, for the first time, sits and works through the EROEI problem, then they own the concept and their world begins to look very different.
I think what I’m grappling towards is the idea that since we are likely to play out the “BAU” scenario, there is going to be tremendous trauma in the human system. I’m looking for a set of coping tools that can, for example, allow a father sitting in a room with his starving children, to continue being their father in a relationship of love and respect to the last moment. I think we’re (usefully) focused on workmanlike engineering metaphors to convince, but it’s undeniable that already, many are “in” collapse. It will be lived on a vast scale far before we first-worlders are deeply affected.
We know what the civilizational system will choose in the absence of an alternative story. The key in my view is: attack our civilizations primary belief about death. We see it as a meaningless end to a meaningless life. This idea leaves the personality grasping for compensation before it all goes dark. It fuels our consumer society. It creates dictatorships. Our society lives in fear of death, and that fear leaches our lives of meaning.
“Many people share your view that there are examples of indigenous cultures that lived sustainably and so culture, not genetics, is the main driver of overshoot. I don’t share your view…”
Circumstances and luck rather than wisdom? You sell them too short! There is evidence that cultures that didn’t take up mass agriculture were that way because they rejected certain ideas…mostly, they’ve paid for that rejection by being exterminated by our culture. I agree with you that we are all the same. If you put me in the center of a rapacious culture with little guidance, I’ll likely behave like those around me, sure. If I’m dropped into a Zen monastery on the other hand, I’ll adopt their patterns and the world will be better treated.
The notion of scale seems to matter when we talk about the ideas of a culture. If the number of people grow too great, then aggression comes to the fore, and though they may have many beautiful ideas, they simply aren’t practiced in sufficient number anymore to offset the damage. In that sense, “small is beautiful,” not only for it’s reduced impact but it’s greater effectiveness at keeping a shared story alive.
I’m digressing…but I want to say that if you don’t think it’s useful to look to older (often extinct) cultures for ideas about how to live, then indeed, you are forced to go to the laboratory and construct some ideas. This may work for you and people who think like you. But people are in many ways, merely animals. To really inhabit a story we need mythology and the active use of imagination. We need a story that gets reenacted in daily life. Now, neither of us are religious people…and we’ve grown up with many good reasons to decry the hypocrisy we’ve seen in that system. But in the end, have we found a better way to impart a story that supports the gross and the subtle? That offers an initial banal reading, which grows with the personality into a richer story that includes redemption and forgiveness?
I realize I appear to be arguing for Christianity here. I’m not. I’m just pointing at the mode of information transport, and the occasionally sublime and evolving nature of the information in the story. It is “a thing like that” which we need if we want the cultural transformation that would actually alter our physical patterns on the land. But as stated earlier, I’m not that ambitious. I’ll settle for a termination story that can let individuals accept the end of their lives with grace. (I’m also an engineer. I want an effective way to reduce suffering for this change we’ve been talking about, and am willing to look everywhere for it).
Nothing transmits more information across generations than myth. Myth also requires engagement, which raises consciousness. And it deals with the large questions.
“I agree it’s naïve to think a plea to save the earth will change people that were simply born into our predicament and are just trying to survive and be happy. But it is sad that we can’t even discuss a one child policy that would help with every one of our problems and still permit people to survive and enjoy their lives.”
I know…right? Recently I read both “Move Upstream” and “Manswarm.” The deletion of the population message from our mainstream environmental organizations talking points is tantamount to a great crime. We’ve grown unwilling to confront, and we’ll pay for that.
“Finally, I agree with your thoughts about nature. I find walks in the woods and mountains deeply satisfying. But I don’t share your views on the numinous because I don’t have a spiritual bone in my body.”
We are far more complicated than we understand. Your very effectiveness in the world is likely founded on your rejection of “some other thing” that might rescue you. Please continue…both in hard-nosed skepticism AND the occasional walk! Some years ago I climbed Mt. Slesse not far from you, sleeping on a tiny ledge, listening to the booming and crashing of an icefall…full of gratitude simply to be here, breathing this in. All of us here get that primary breath every day. No matter how gloomy our topic here is, it can’t crack the diamond of that fierce joy.
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Thanks. A lot of wisdom to digest. I’ll be back.
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Oh crap, not “wisdom.” That’s a thing you wrap in a tea cozy and put on a shelf. I think what I think because I don’t draw an arbitrary boundary.
Heck, we several are here because we don’t respect arbitrary boundaries. You know well the look of distaste you’ll get for bringing up the End of Things in the wrong household. “There is no way you can know!” you might have been told. Nonetheless, your imagination takes you there, and you certainly have prefigured some understanding. You know that, or else you’d follow that advice. (I’m speaking to all of us, myself included).
If anything is Taboo it’s discussing What Comes After. And yet we do it anyway. We have a large dollop of humility about it…if we want to keep our balance we have to be ready to be the fool. The one who underestimated “human ingenuity.” It sounds like Jay Hansen lost his balance, here.
If we continue to genuflect before the great standing stone of Death, which marks the edge of the known world, then we are more a product of the civilization we are willing to imagine beyond than we realize. Because it is a death-denying civilization. There are actually many books…many wisdom traditions (oh crap, tea-cozies again!), but our culture stamps them all as SUBJECTIVE/MISLEADING. So it is.
I don’t claim to have any guidance on that…I just want to say shutting down the brain at an arbitrary point is not like us.
There is one interesting book, by Barbara Ehrenreich, called “Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything.” Her book “Nickel and Dimed” woke me up to the subtle way systemic collapse begins by slowly squeezing working people more and more, while demanding that they continue to pay lip service to the “dream” of America. “Living with a Wild God” explores the way some highly subjective experiences gnawed at and drove her through a deeply useful life. Again…no answers, no guidance, only questions.
We wouldn’t have it any other way, being an independent bunch. 🙂
Thanks Rob for this fascinating discussion, for kicking it off and keeping it going. I’ve thought about it all week. These sad outcomes for Jay Hansen (regret, error) weigh on me, as some caution in this space…
Another very good interview with Jay Hanson.
Thank you for sharing the interview with Hanson. I enjoyed the discussion and insight thoroughly. Also a thank you for the discussion between yourself and Mike – also enjoyed.
With respect to motivations, all I can add is lead by example. If people are interested, then share; if not, then move on. For those that show interest, it is impossible to say how what is shared will filter through society. So, better to share than not.
At a personal level, my motivation is simple – minimize or do no harm. With advanced years, it is no longer about procreation. It is more about harmony and facilitation. From that perspective, I would encourage all to keep the light on and continue to explore future possibilities with as much grace and humility as is possible.
I know that I continue to learn and look forward to learning about what others have learned as well.
Hi res, thanks for dropping by. It’s satisfying trying to understand what’s actually going on. There probably aren’t too many species in the universe capable of doing that. Doubly amazing that we’re alive to observe at the peak of what’s possible on this planet.
Where is Jay Hanson now? His last group was America2.0 which he closed in 2016. He had a habit of starting and stopping discussion groups. Has he started another one or has he permanently retired? He regretted knowing what he knew because it prevented him from living in peace, so he said.
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I don’t know what Hanson’s up to. I left his group after I caught him behaving unethically. I think Nate Hagens is a close friend so he may know.
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I think “regretting what you know” is a dangerous pose. For one thing, it seeks to foster indebtedness to the poor soul who had to “know” so that you could be taught. If you’re ready to make others feel guilty for something, then you are looking at them mechanically…as machines that can be “fixed.” You’ll lose your humanity in that pursuit.
For another thing, the knowing is always good. The “given N, imagine N+1,” is a glorious sweep into a new playground, no matter how dark the sky.
Regrets are crocodile tears.
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RIP Jay Hanson
That’s too bad, and he had a similar computer-related bio to yours here. There’s a pattern of “doomers” who did well via capitalism but lost respect for the system. Seems like a fairly small fraction but I hope it gets more common.
Hanson (indirectly) succumbing to water reminds me of Doug Tompkins, who gained even more wealth but ended up spending much of it on land conservation, which may be the best pragmatic hope for keeping nature intact. Instead of just trying to get richer, the super rich could do some actual good in that realm.
James Cameron is buying up farms in my community and investing to increase their organic productivity.