Human Constructs: The Inspiration & Disaster of Myths


I still struggle every day to find meaning in a universe without meaning. Whom shall I serve? For now, I can serve individuals and society by teaching and acting as if a single life can make a difference in a world gone awry. For now, I can demonstrate the value and importance of relationships, relative to accomplishments. For now, I can be kind to individuals while forcing institutions to do right, even if it means being unkind to individuals who represent institutions. For now, I can serve people by criticizing society. And I can find meaning everywhere, in small observations and small acts.”—Guy McPherson

Going Dark

By Guy McPherson

“Saint Paul the Hermit,” by Jusepe de Ribera (1640), Museo del Prado, Madrid.

“Saint Paul the Hermit,” by Jusepe de Ribera (1640), Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Guy McPherson

SAN ANTONIO Belize—(Weekly Hubris)—January 2018—I was taught to believe a myth created by humans: A god will protect us. I believed this story through my teens. Now, I’m certain humans created God in our own image.

I later learned another human construct would protect us: science (and its outcomes, including technology). I held onto this myth through my early 30s. Now, I’m convinced that reason and techno-toys have brought us to the brink of extinction.

The life of a social critic has a significant cost: I have many acquaintances, but I’ve managed to offend most of my former friends. As an equal-opportunity offender ever willing to speak truth to power, I’m largely an ascetic. To an increasing extent, I live as we all must die: alone.

One result of my abstemious existence, as we venture into the dark days ahead, is that I spend considerable time reflecting on my life goals and evaluating—constantly re-evaluating—what I live for. I have abandoned vigorous attempts to right the sinking ships of civilization and abrupt climate change. But my inability to adopt a completely hermetic life leaves me pathetically seeking solace from an indifferent universe and you, my online comrades.

Obviously, it didn’t start out this way.

As a carefree child in a tiny redneck logging town, smack in the heart of the Aryan nation of northern Idaho, I didn’t have a clue. (According to the many email messages I’ve been receiving about a wide variety of topics, I still don’t. But that’s another issue.) I spent the 1960s and 70s in youthful ignorance, chasing athletic fame and the girls who came with it. In college, hormonal lust had me blowing off a decent education while I majored in basketball and women’s studies, even though Women’s Studies departments were rare. I wasn’t particularly good at either subject, and immature adolescence eventually gave way to a responsible life in avid pursuit of the “American Dream” of financial security.

To paraphrase author and social critic Daniel Quinn, the problem was not that I thought too highly of myself, or that I thought too little of myself, but that I thought constantly of myself.

As I was working hundred-hour weeks in graduate school and beyond, I was socking away the money and serving the cultural machine of Western Civil-Lie-Zation. I was simultaneously reading and failing to heed the words of Edward Abbey: “All gold is fool’s gold.”

Somehow, though, despite my best attempts to hide from reality, I discovered that relationships are far more important than accomplishments. Stunningly, the knowledge accrued even before I earned tenure. Not surprisingly, I learned it from my students.

I left the ivory tower to work for The Nature Conservancy, only to find more of the same. I came back a year later and immediately taught a colleague’s Conservation Biology course in the wake of his death. It changed my life. It was the best course I’d ever taught because it was populated with students from more than 20 different majors, from creative writing to biology, none of whom was required to be there. During the autumn of 2001, we applied art and literature to the newly emerging enterprise of conservation biology in an attempt to bridge the two cultures of C.P. Snow (and Socrates before him, and Edward O. Wilson after).

Needless to say, we failed.

Actually, we succeeded, in our own small way. Forty of us came together as a group, but society didn’t come along. We had our bubble, but reality kept sneaking in and thwarting our efforts. I learned something important, albeit small and personal: I had to serve, in my own small way, as a teacher and social critic and companion and friend and mentor. I had to bridge the two cultures, as if that’s possible, and I had to show others how to do the same.

Along with this realization, I lost my anchor. Until I discovered myself, in my 30s, I had believed science would save us. I had believed that rational thought was our savior. I believed that by abandoning fairy tales and magical thinking, we could find a secular way to enlightenment.

I failed to account for how badly scientists have lost their way. Science, as a process and a way of knowing, has unrivaled power. And you know what is commonly said about power and corruption.

Science has not lost its way, but scientists have. They have been co-opted by objectivity, failing to recognize the impossibility of the task. They are unwilling to sacrifice their objectivity, which they do not and cannot have, in exchange for doing the right thing. Like virtually everybody else, they are unwilling to make sacrifices to serve the common good. Indeed, many of them believe they are serving the common good, although most often they are confusing the common good with common culture.

Science is no longer my anchor. But teaching is, in any form. And I have another anchor: trying to live, for now, as though my life matters, as if it has meaning beyond the meanings I assign it. But I’m a lot more cynical and a lot less enthusiastic than I used to be about my tiny role in this grand play.

I still struggle every day to find meaning in a universe without meaning. Whom shall I serve? For now, I can serve individuals and society by teaching and acting as if a single life can make a difference in a world gone awry. For now, I can demonstrate the value and importance of relationships, relative to accomplishments. For now, I can be kind to individuals while forcing institutions to do right, even if it means being unkind to individuals who represent institutions. For now, I can serve people by criticizing society.

And I can find meaning everywhere, in small observations and small acts. I can find meaning, and mystery, in cliff swallows and butterflies, the kindness of strangers, and a child’s love.

But there’s no role for a social critic when civilization collapses. What then?

There’s no chance that any combination of technology and rational thinking will spare us individuals from dying or our species from going extinct. What, then, shall I do with my anchor of reason?

It’s too late to meet the three goals I had for myself as a teenager: Live fast, die young, and leave a pretty corpse. I’m too slow, too old, and too late, respectively.

What now?

To order Dr. McPherson’s books, click the cover images here below:

McPherson going dark cover

McPherson Walking Away from Empire - A Personal Journey cover

About Guy McPherson

Guy McPherson is an internationally recognized speaker, award-winning scientist, and the world’s leading authority on abrupt climate change leading to near-term human extinction. He is professor emeritus at the University of Arizona, where he taught and conducted research for 20 years. His published works include 14 books and hundreds of scholarly articles. Dr. McPherson has been featured on television and radio and in several documentary films. He is a blogger and social critic who co-hosted his own radio show, “Nature Bats Last.” Dr. McPherson speaks to general audiences across the globe, and to scientists, students, educators, and not-for-profit and business leaders who seek their best available options when confronting Earth’s cataclysmic changes.
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21 Responses to Human Constructs: The Inspiration & Disaster of Myths

  1. Thank you, Drew. I’ve not watched much television for a few decades. I keep hearing about Rick and Morty, so maybe it’s time …

  2. Jef says:

    The other day I came across an article about the physical health effects of loneliness.
    It forced me to accept that despite the fact that I still have some sort of life, family, a few part time friends and acquaintances, none have any hint of commitment to understanding what I call the greatest story in the history of life on the planet Earth.
    I know that sounds a bit over the top but when you understand all of the elements converging to collapse it is quite huge. Most if not all choose to act as if nothing will ever change so they certainly will not change. They want what they want when they want it and they damn well deserve it too.

    Every day in dozens of ways collapse is playing out, getting worse, and there is ZERO sign of anything getting better but none seem to care. There is nothing I have experienced in my 60+ years that comes close to making me feel as alone as this predicament. I am sure it has detrimental effects on my health but I can still find solace in nature such as it is here on our small farm. I am constantly derided by extended family for my lack of engagement in “modern society” and for not setting a more positive example for the younger generation. I respond by asking if encouraging them to participate in the soul sucking collective suicide of corporate capitalism is their example of good then I fully discourage them.

    I have spent my life focused on what is good and fair. Oh what a dupe I am. I spent 10+ years promoting localization, transition, equality, co-ops, food production, sustainability, etc. Bottom line I got my ass handed to me, lost all friends cultivated during this period, many who I helped lost everything, and no one is still doing ANY of it anymore.

    I am ashamed to say it but a part of me hopes I live long enough to see some of these folks finally seeing and feeling the truth of that which we all wrought.

    Sorry for the rant. I really do not blame humanity as a whole. I blame our bad behavior or the abysmal system under which we have allowed ourselves to be structured.


  3. Your story certainly resonates with me, Jef. Trust me, you’ll see. It’s all happening faster than expected by almost everyone.

  4. Dan Dourson says:

    Your voice is a gift to those few of us that will listen, a voice of rationale, a voice of authenticity but for most just another bothersome prickle in their side. Little do they know!

    A long time ago I fell out of favor with my family when I proclaimed “the most honest day in your life is when you stop believing in God” or “if I’m going to hell at least I’ll get there honestly.” Most of them never really understood what I meant by that.

    Then, I completely discarded the lifestyle I was raised in (suburbs) for life in a remote cabin in Kentucky without electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. I began to make choices based on how my actions might affect the environment. Nearly 30 years ago, I heard an NPR episode called “Fighting the Food Giants” where I learned about eating whole foods that were not overly processed and highly engineered . You can only imagine how those lifestyle changes went over with my family and former friends!

    It has always baffled me that when presented with new and scientifically based information, it’s so easily rejected. Unfortunately, most people are stuck in a quagmire of denial and are happy just the way they are, not just about climate chaos but about nearly everything that upsets the status quo: “born into captivity” as you say.

    I love that quote from Men In Black, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals”.

    Before my older brother Mike took a job as top scientific adviser to Scott Pruitt he asked me my opinion about taking the job. I responded by saying that he would be working for a system that refuses to admit it’s broken or even if it did, doesn’t want it to be fixed nor can it. He took the job anyway because he wholeheartedly believed he could make a difference. Perhaps he will on a personal level but as WE know it will not make a difference that will change the outcome of our limited future on this planet.

    As for me, I continue to write my books on biology, not because I think they’re making a real difference in people’s understanding of the natural world but because I enjoy doing it just like your desire to teach and inform. It’s what we do. When I reach a point of dissatisfaction or indifference to the world—well actually with people—I simply head to the woods for a dose of reality where worldly affairs become unimportant. This has been and continues to be my anchor.

    Guy, I very much enjoy your thought-provoking essays and scientific updates on climate chaos. Keep the passion, eat a little ice cream (ok a lot of ice cream) and enjoy the haunting calls of those magnificent howler monkeys in the Mountains of the Maya.

    A favorite quote:
    Most people are on the world, not in it — have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them — undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate ~John Muir


  5. Thank you, Dan. I look forward to your near-term visit to the Maya Mountains. We have much to visit about.

  6. Bob says:

    What role does solitude play in your life?

  7. Great question, Bob. Between nonstop guests in Belize and the occasional tour elsewhere, I spend 9-12 hours daily interacting with other people. That leaves early mornings and evenings for daily solitude. I meditate often. And there are occasional days when I’m comfortably alone with my thoughts.

  8. Shon says:

    Thank you so much Guy for all you have done. Your courage to pursue the absolute truth of the matter and sacrifice so much has been quite emotional for me. You being both an idealist and realist is not much appreciated by most in our world today. Nature, the stuff of us and everything else, has not been respected for so very long now. How unfortunate that our end and the end of probably all of nature won’t even be grieved when all is said and done. Through all of my own 45 years, at least the last 30, relationships have been very important to me. But not so for most others now in our modern societies. I have also had a passion for reality, even brutal reality, and find myself in almost a state of constant shock as I watch life disintegrate before us. The crying out from the rooftops is no longer necessary, hardly anybody cares anymore. But thank you Guy and a handful of others for caring enough to keep the light on until you can’t anymore.

  9. Devarshi says:

    Having followed your work since 3 years now and realizing that someone feels like i do gives me little comfort. Being born in conservative country like india where global warming is only mentioned as chapter in school books shows the kind of culture i am part of. Telling people that extinction is inevitable for humans animals for the horrors endured every day on other species has only brought me insults and name calling like psycho, loser etc. But i know i will have the last laugh on these people

    Thanks guy for not being a frog in a well and telling the truth that few like me want to know

  10. peter quartzel says:

    Over time the good Dr’s website has been like a cool, crisp, green salad oasis amidst a desert of disinformation junk food for me and many.
    Enjoyed the “St Paul the Hermit” painting atop today’s column as well as reader comments as usual.
    Re: the induced distractions to the website message content of late, regardless of those sources and attendant agendas – for now it may be best to heed the counsel of that veteran minstrel Dylan:
    “Don’t follow leaders and watch the parking meters.”

  11. Thank you for your informed comment, Shon. It’s a fine example of the kindness I seek and attempt to promulgate.

  12. Devarshi and peter, thank you for partaking in the discussion. Most days I wish I’d have taken the route of others and ignored the evidence. My life would be normal. I’d be happy. Lying doesn’t suit me. The costs have been great.

    The painting comes courtesy of the editor. She’s quite good at many things, to our benefit.

  13. Brian Fitch says:

    I’ve heard that climate change is not being taught in some schools. I teach it in my classroom, but I missed something. You said that the situation has gotten much worse since you made your 2026-2036 prediction. What made you revise it? You’re saying that human habitat will be gone shortly after we have an ice-free arctic. What mechanism(s) will come more into play then?
    With respect and Best Wishes Always, –B.

  14. Abundant evidence points to loss of habitat with collapse of the omnicidal heat engine we call civilization or loss of Arctic. Both are intertwined, and are coming soon. I’ve written and spoken much about these factors. Details are at

  15. Lucita Miller says:

    Thank you for having the strength to speak the truth, the courage to teach it and the guts to live it. Sending our love this holiday season…..

    George Orwell — ‘The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.’

    ‘People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.’

    “In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
    ― George Orwell

  16. Thank you, Lucita. It’s always good to come across another fan of Orwell’s writing.

  17. Jerry says:

    Hello, Guy! I’ve followed your information since I first discovered it while researching Abrupt Climate Change around 2014. Thank you, so much, for being even one small voice of sanity in this insane world!

    We have a couple of things in common: our age (late 50-ish) and I’m also from a rural northwest town (Humboldt County, California).

    I read “Autobiography of a Yogi” at 16 which lead me to independent study of Eastern Philosophy/Religion and other esoteric subject matter. It helped me to better understand my father’s atheism, i.e., his rejection of organized religion due to some personal experiences of the wanton hypocrisy.

    So, I can completely relate to the expression, “Man created God in his own image.” However, I learned from the study of other cultures/traditions (and my own intuition) that, while we certainly can exist without God, we can’t (and, thankfully, don’t) exist without Spirit/Consciousness.

    Along with the Eastern Mystics, this was discovered by a few westerners, too–Walt Whitman, Richard M. Bucke, Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), and others in an experience that’s been called, Cosmic Consciousness.

    Being is One. That’s a hard concept for the materialistic, Western mind to grasp, isn’t it? For myself included; I can’t begin to comprehend it purely by reason alone.

    Like Reincarnation, it just can’t be proven scientifically (although Ian Stevenson’s classic, “20 Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation” offers some compelling, albeit anecdotal, evidence). Yet, on a deeper, intuitive level, I simply know it to be so.–‘Belief’ doesn’t enter into it.

    I know I’m straying off topic, here, Guy. (But it does relate, if you’ll bear with me for a moment.) Your expression, “Only Love Remains,” sums it up quite nicely, in my opinion.

    Since we were created (in the Creation, not by a god, which is just a lofty human title for an ‘overlord’ or ‘handler’) with Love it seems quite fitting, doesn’t it, that we will go out the same way.

    The down side, of course, is that it won’t be very peaceful, painless, or quick enough for many billions of us, I presume. On the other hand, the religious fanatics will get to witness, first hand, the ‘Hell-On-Earth’ that is in store for us due to putting our trust in the wrong leaders.

    But what a pitifully small comfort, being able to say, “We told you so!” Much better would have been the occasion to say, “See, we snapped out of our money/power/greed addiction just in time and now we are all SAVED!”

    Alas! It was a nice dream. But now the dreamer has to awaken. Only Love Remains. Fortunately, Love is our Essence and what we return to after our material selves are gone.

    It may be thousands (or millions?) of years before the Earth will have recovered enough to provide a suitable biological habitat for our kind again. Maybe at that time our spiritual development will be more evenly balanced with our intellectual ability for a better outcome in this experiment with the Wise Ape.

    One can only hope. Keep up the great work, my friend! Doing what you do.

    Love (Remains),


  18. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Jerry. My version of love is consistent with the Merriam-Webster online dictionary: It requires no mention of consciousness, and god is a minor player (mentioned in 3 of 9 definitions by M-W, and none by me).

  19. Jan Wyllie says:

    Guy, Your candour is appreciated, and I see from other’s responses your experience is shared.

    In my case, I spent many years working as an “information scientist” / intelligence analyst, mainly trying to predict the development and significance of IT development and latterly the Internet. In 1997, our computing sources began to talk about the Y2K Millennium Bug. We won a contract to monitor was was being said on the subject across the British Press by a major British Supermarket. They wanted to know how shopping behaviour would change up to the witching hour. It amused me how all the panic caused by such a low probably event (especially compared with current complacency when faced with overwhelming odds).

    What I learned (as opposed to the food retailer who made a good profit selling plastic water bottles and the like at the right moment) was how very fragile our civilisation is. I already knew about its awesome destructiveness to everything outside its own self serving priorities driven by an absurd concept, called “wealth”. But I had thought of it (bought into it) as being all powerful and inescapable.

    Learning of its extreme fragility as an artificial, hyperconnected network, at that time, was empowering. I could jump ship. Get out now. Let it fall down. Become a place where another form of regrowth (known in the forestry world as ‘natural regen’) would be able to happen. So I cashed out and moved to Devon.

    Being of an inquisitive nature, I started apply my information analysis skills to news about the environment in the broadest sense, rather than boring and totally predictable high tech. It didn’t take me long to see the feedback loops, the unprecedented unprecedenteds etc. etc., all going off at once in so many different dimensions. By about 2002, I was convinced that the only way to dodge the bullet of extinction was large scale carbon sequestration.

    So I put all my money and heart into a broad-leaf woodland with the intention of showing the money men that it was the best, safest investment combining guaranteed capital growth with many different value added income streams. At the time, I still subscribed to the “Beat the fuckers at their own game” philosophy, as the only way to get anything done. In 2002, I was thinking in terms of the 250-year time frame which is where woodland “management” (much more like co-creation actually) has to work.

    But I also kept up the intelligence monitoring, now collecting more than 100 significant articles, every day and classifying them into one or more of 237 categories. The Database of Environmental Change (35,000 entries) is meant to be a contribution towards helping people understand what is happening. It advocates nothing — although its biggest single section is Solutions / Suggestions. It just reports on and draws inferences from what the sources are saying.

    So now I know that there is no way to have any influence on the sorry outcome. But still I am planting trees (Linden Lime and Sorbus to add more diversity into to its oak, hazel, dying ash structure), not because I have any realistic expectation that they will grow, but because the important thing is to live in the moment as much as possible. It always was, but we forgot.

    Another feeling that I have when contemplating this ultimate human tragedy is of a great unburdening. It is now clearer than it ever was that not just the “heat engine” of civilisation, but all the mental baggage of expectations and conformations which it demands can be dispensed with, leaving almost a sense of peace and freedom. It is time to relax and reconnect free of the bullshit … before impact. Also to stand together in dignity, love and respect with all our relations against the coming onslaught whenever it happens.

    Mitakuye oyasin.

  20. Elizabeth Boleman-Herring says:

    Jan Wyllie, as one of Guy’s publishers, I am immensely thankful for readers, and human beings, like you (and, of course, Guy): thank you for this response.

  21. Thank you for the very insightful comment, Jan. I love your approach and your actions.

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