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Adbusters' Fables of the Reconstruction
Chris Coldewey, 4 Aug 04

Kalle Lasn, editor of Adbusters magazine, just sent out a recent communiqué to the Adbusters Culture Jammers Network soliciting creative submissions for their next issue. The premise is to imagine a serious financial crash and subsequent meltdown of globalized society as we know it, and to envision the world after that. How would we live? What would we do? How would we shape this new world?

"Imagine this... you wake up tomorrow morning and find out that the Dow Jones has just plunged 2,000 points. Trading has been halted. Over the next few weeks:

* Major stock markets around the world crash
* Banks close
* Supermarket shelves are half-empty
* Power is intermittent, gasoline hard to find, email sporadic

Violent gangs and bandits roam the streets. People move to the country - if they can. Governments try to maintain order, yet it appears that the old globalized order is gone, if not forever, then for a long, long time.

Six months later, you hear that Adbusters is working on a post-crash issue. We are sending out word that we can see a positive trend in what happened: innovative survival strategies are emerging, along with thriving local economic sytems; borders are being redrawn on bioregional lines. We have a chance to create the new world that we've always dreamed about."

It's a laudable effort, but I'd like to step back and look at the premise of the exercise. It's curious to me that we so often need to imagine something bad happening before we can imagine something good. It's a seductive and persistent pattern of human thought, and has been with us at least since the Book of Revelation and the first millenial cults. I see it as akin to the car-crash magnetism of "terriblisma" -- awe inspired by the horrific -- and to archetypal heroic desires to overcome challenge and hardship.

While imagining vivid disaster scenarios is certainly captivating, I haven't found it actually empowering. During my time as a corporate scenario planner, I've found very few groups that have successfully ended up working with doomsday scenarios, and I think it is precisely for this reason: there are very few handles on them. People tend to shift their course of inquiry from an initial Worldending approach of "What if things go wrong?" to the direction of "How might things evolve?" -- often a question with more to grab onto, and I would say more aligned with Worldchanging.

Since the earliest days of billboard liberation and remixed logos, Adbusters has always recast the stuff of global, corporate society into its own alternative vision. I'm surprised that they would jettison these tools in their search for a better future. Global market crashes, violent gangs and bandits on the streets -- is this our world? Sporadic email? God help us. What about developing world capital flowing to cleaner energy solutions, or collaborative resource allocation easing scarcity concerns? Cheap cell phones overtaking cheap AK-47s?

In my view, the positive changes that Adbusters would like to see are best brought into the world by harnessing and subverting existing tools and infrastructure. Nothing wrong with big dreams though, and Adbusters' aim is indeed to topple existing power structures. To be fair, Lasn expands on his initial catastrophic premise with more nuanced details:

"Can you take a mental trip into this strange future? Can you imagine what life would be like? Where did you end up? How did you survive? What are you doing now? Send us a lament, a vision, a poem, something mystical. What are the best post-crash jokes going around? What have you seen or heard in your neighborhood?

Or send us a how-to tip. How do you cook, clean your teeth, keep your computer running? How do you kill a chicken?

No more than 250 words please: be creative and be authentic. The next issue will be a compilation of the best stories sent in, and each published contribution will receive three brand new Adbusters 2005 calendars.

Email your nuggets to kalle [at]"

Worldchangers -- this is right up your alley. Let's make sure this disaster story has a few good ideas that don't need a global apocalypse to get some traction. As seems to be so often said around these parts, "Another world isn't just possible, another world is here."

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I applaud the attempt to redress the balance away from "terriblisma", but surely, whether it's a compulsion or a tactic, disastrous scenarios dates back well before the Bible. A key milestone may be the asteroid from 65,000,000 BCE. Didn't we ("higher mammals") evolve as the biosphere struggled to come to terms with that? We don't need Velikovsky to see what would happen when less disastrous events happened when we'd evolved the ability to think (and worry) ahead.

Yin-yang shows us that opposites are contained within extremities. It's natural that fascination with (and propensity for) disaster is rife in our luxurious, security-obsessed culture.

I'll be over the moon if/when we found a way to get through this bottleneck, but the way I see it now, we're only able to scoff at visions of disaster because of the (relatively) easy time we've had of it recently thanks to fossil fuels. And isn't it the dwindling supply of these resources, or the ecological impact of such rapid use of them, that is behind the scenarios envisioned here by Adbusters?

Just some late night thoughts...

Posted by: Gyrus on 4 Aug 04

One reason "terriblisma" is so popular is that it's an opportunity to smite your enemies (fictionally, of course). The collapse scenario lets you play out fantasies of revenge and punishment.

It gives a chance to say "I told you so!" and enjoy the scenes of suffering.

In the case of Adbusters, it lets their core demographic fantasize about the fall of global capitalism, and relish the idea of all those CEOs starving to death.

Posted by: Mithra on 4 Aug 04

Another good reason not to bother reading Adbusters. It used to be fun. This is just silly. Labeling a loss of local governance as something caused by the breakdown of multinational boogey men is for the birds. Besides, who is going to publish print media and distribute it when it would take everything you have to get food and clothing to people? Setting up a solar wireless P2P network to replace the net is the thing to do. "Re-educating" graphic designers who use valuable bandwidth is another good idea comrades. People who waste live on both sides of the tracks.

Posted by: bob_c on 4 Aug 04

I like the Adbusters thought-exercise and feel that it's a useful way to freely envision alternative futures.

In my Buddhist training, we sometimes visualize our own death, not because we're morbid and hope to die soon, but because we hope to awaken ourselves from our slumber and get to what really matters. The Adbusters' concept is pretty similar, on a societal level.

In my eyes, it has nothing to do with the Bible or academic philosophy. If we're to bring up the duality of Yin and Yang, we need only note that destruction and creation are two sides of the same coin, therefore there's nothing to either fear or desire in destruction, it's just the winter before the spring.

Visualizing apocalyptic scenarios might help some people free their minds from our society's current structures. It might also help focus their energies and galvanize their current efforts to bring about the future they hope for.

No need to recoil in fear, folks, it's just a thought-experiment. No need to be so superstitious: visualizing your death doesn't mean you're about to die, and refusing to visualize your death doesn't mean you're not going to die.

If this particular thought-exercise doesn't work for you, then go ahead with other thought-experiments that stimulate meaningful creativity for you, without having to judge what works for others. No big deal. What works, is good.


Posted by: Kai on 5 Aug 04

I guess, on a simpler side, that those guys at Adbusters just thought that big changes would come faster if a desaster were to trig them as in our everyday life...

Just think of all these decision that were taken after somebody died in a particular situation or event - the action against the Talibans after 9/11 is without question the best exemple of that type of reaction.

I do belive in progressive changing but i must admit that i'm not so sure that progressive thoses changes will come before our present way of life takes us to the dark abysal depths of that capitalism logic.

Posted by: jpm on 5 Aug 04

If you want to see what really happens in thoroughly trashed societies, check out Afghanistan and Haiti.

Yeah, lots of opportunities their for progressive change. Lots of opportunities, not a chance in hell of them actually happening.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 5 Aug 04

It's odd to see this. The USA had a major disaster on 9/11. Though there was some nobility in the original responses, there has been a a dramatic increase in the fear level in our society, and a dramatic empowerment of would-be "protectors"--the bad cops and the militarists are having a field day. And, of course, that's the likely reality of any global disaster scenario--global panic leading to global authoritarianism. Followed eventually by recovery, but in a very long time.

Posted by: Randolph Fritz on 5 Aug 04

Mad Max.

Posted by: Jo Ma on 5 Aug 04

Adbusters' terriblistic approach may be representative of a problem on the U.S. left, right now: adjusting the Western liberal worldview to encompass the reality of the jihad movement, while retaining that worldview ("9/11 convert" is a description I hear every once in a while, of a person who was basically a liberal becoming reactionary in the wake of the attacks).

It's a deep challenge to hold on to postive, progressive courses of action when we've been confronted so lethally and effectively with hate.

In this case, we know things have to change, and we want to imagine possible scenarios for change. Imagining a violent crash of capitalism is, yes, "Mad Max." It's entertainment, it feeds some sort of primal pleasure we take in destruction, AND it's beating up the bad guy--all at the same time! It's Aragorn against the Orcs!

It seems like it would just be so UNCOMPLICATED that way.

Posted by: Emily Gertz on 5 Aug 04

All people have to do is leave the developed world and live in the developing world.

I may have to write them on this one... lemme see where that deadline is...

Posted by: Taran on 5 Aug 04

"One reason "terriblisma" is so popular is that it's an opportunity to smite your enemies"

Without actually engaging in the dangerous practice of confronting them.

i.e. "terriblisma" is a sign of cowardice. Kind of like Kerry shooting a man in the back. Unless of course he lied.

Posted by: M. Simon on 7 Aug 04

Tearing it all down, before it can be rebuilt ....

H. G. Wells had the same idea, in The Shape of Things to Come. In his vision not only was there a World War II (he wrote around 1933 I think) but also a third, much worse war. One of his ideas matches up with quite recent thinking. The movement which leads to global regeneration is one which is organised locally -- individuals teaching and helping each other, rather than something imposed from the centre. (Eventually though there is a World Council, I imagine the dreams of Empire were still too strong in those days).

I've made real life arguments along the same lines concerning World War II. Attitudes to racial prejudice were surely changed by the excesses of the Nazis. And for all its numerous faults, the EU was created to curb military excess, but also seems to be doing good work in the areas of human rights and the environment. One could also say that the development of the electronic computer was hastened by wartime development. Before you compose replies with exclamation marks and capital letters in, I'm not saying that World War II, or any other disaster is a good thing. I would make the point, though, that those who 'want' a disaster to shake up or destroy the current state of affairs could no doubt find some encouragement for their beliefs in history.

Personally, I advocate gradual change, preferably discussed first over a cup of tea.

Posted by: Alisdair on 8 Aug 04

I sent adbusters a letter describing, in detail, how to kill a chicken. Those of you who want to dismiss this thought exercise as apocalyptic nonsense, check out that staid, conservative publication, National Geographic. Their recent cover story, "The End of Cheap Oil" begs the question: how is your world going to be affected as the oil runs out? Call me and Kalle Lasn Chicken Little if you'd like; we'll call you ostrich with your head in the sand. Peace. I'll send you one of my free calendars.

Don Stevens
Charlestown, RI

Posted by: Don Stevens on 23 Aug 04



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