On Avoiding “Existence Failure”


I saw this term “existence failure” recently somewhere and liked the bland understated way it expresses the untimely end of an organism, organization, or individual.

We’re seeing existence failure in the news every day. Longstanding organizations go belly up. Corporations thought solid and unshakable collapse overnight like a deck of cards in a sudden wind. Nations go bankrupt.

Existence failure is a distinct possibility in our times.

But then too, so is existence perpetuation and vitality. But for that prospect, even the most short sighted and tradition-blinded CEO, governor and general can now see, it’s going to mean NOT doing things the way we’ve become comfortably used to.

Existence perpetuation of communities and towns, infrastructure and commerce, neighborhoods, churches, schools and stores into the turbulent future will mean growth amidst decline, success measured more in the realm of acquired resilience and adaptability than by the amount of physical expansion, units produced, investments spent or power acquired.

Whether we plan for it or not, change will come in a rush–by some estimates, a greater magnitude of change in perhaps as little as 20 years as has been seen in the past 100. And this change will be more in the realm of retraction than expansion. We are on the descending slope (watch What is Peak Oil?) of petro-power and have not made plans for what comes next.

Existence failure (or existence decay) is far more possible if we wait than if we plan. We can help nurture fundamental change or be overwhelmed by it. It’s a choice we’re making now, whether we are actively aware of it or not. Actively aware is better.

The Transition Towns core understanding of what is the problem and what is the solution seems a good place to begin to become aware and to make our plans just barely ahead of need.

So I’m distracted from blogging for the moment by trying to get my head around this matter of urgent self-education. I’d like to go from there to some wider education, perhaps at Earth Day, and maybe this is a great first opportunity to use Keynote to cobble something together. Stay tuned.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I am excited about your plan to write something thorough about Transition Towns for Earth Day. I sent your links to all my activist friends in So Cal.

  2. Thanks for noticing. This particular elephant is in everybody’s room and I won’t make friends pointing it out. I learned that 40 years ago. And being able to say “I told you so” is no comfort at all.

    I’ve been having vague recollections, in reading the Transition Initiative material, of a book I read in the early 70s. I just ran upstairs and miraculously found it (not even remembering its name but recalled the cover). The Diseconomics of Growth: There is a Limit to Economic Growth Imposed by the Limits of our Natural and Human Resources. Pub date: 1972

    What is facing us has been facing us from long enough back that we could have planned for it.

    We failed, our leaders failed, our scientists and engineers failed. Now we reap the whirlwind.

  3. One of my favorite songs is by Procul Harem and is entitled “In Held ‘Twas In I”. Early in the song, a spiritual seeker makes an arduous climb to the meditation retreat where the Dalai Lama is. When he arrives, the seeker asks the Dalai Lama the meaning of life. The Dalai Lama replies, “Life is like a beanstalk, isn’t it?” And then the song continues with a drum roll and instruments. What does this have to do with the failure to plan in the 1970s? Humans, like all forms of life, are beanstalks, reaching for the sun to grow, not caring about anything else but growth. And then, along comes the blight or the ant with sharp incisors ….