by Lowell Bliss
Yesterday I sat down to watch a documentary that I thought was about peak oil, but it turned out strangely different than I expected. Collapse is directed by Chris Smith and features Michael Ruppert in a running monologue. (Technically, it's an interview, but the off-camera questions directed to Ruppert are few and muted.) At first I thought that Ruppert was an actor like Pete Postlethwaite, the archivist character in the climate change movie The Age of Stupid. But no, Michael Ruppert is real. He's the former L.A. policeman, former CIA thorn-in-their-sides, former investigative reporter, and former publisher of the newsletter From the Wilderness. He is a conspiracy theorist. What I thought were facts and statistics put into the mouth of a chain-smoking actor are actually the product of Ruppert's own lifelong research.
Ruppert does not come across sympathetically in his monologue. It's hard not to recognize the same bombastic flim-flam that we've always ascribed to crackpots. I would not care to link arms with this fellow even if his was the only bomb shelter that would welcome me. So what is director Chris Smith up to? Ruppert says few things (at least about peak oil) that I haven't read elsewhere from reputable sources. Smith also verifies many of Ruppert's outlandish pronouncements with images that appear in the background of the film. The only thing I can figure out as a theme for the documentary is this: How strange must our current environmental and political reality be if we find ourselves agreeing so readily with a known crackpot?
And of course this leads to another interpretation of the film. As a viewer, I am confronted with the question: of what am I more afraid: the future threat of peak oil, or the current threat of being labeled a crackpot? It reminds me of a scene from one of the great works of twentieth-century Christian literature, Walker Percy's novel The Second Coming. The main character Will Barrett resigns himself to being a crackpot, but he at least wants to be a sane one, not a crazy one. I'll dance around some of Barrett's offensive language by referring you to page 188-190 in the Picador USA edition, 1980, but at one point Barrett comments: "Take Christians. I am surrounded by Christians. They are generally speaking a pleasant and agreeable lot, not noticeably different from other people. . . . Yet I cannot be sure they don't have the truth. But if they have the truth, why is it the case they are repellent precisely to the degree that they embrace and advertise that truth? One might even become a Christian if there were few if any Christians around." Later he concludes: "It has taken me all these years to make the simplest discovery: that I am surrounded by two classes of maniacs. The first are the believers, who think they know the reason why we find ourselves in this ludicrous predicament yet act for all the world as if they don't. The second are the unbelievers, who don't know the reason and don't care if they don't."
And so I guess I'll join Barrett, the sane crackpot. He threw in his lot with the asylum escapee Allie; I may have to throw in mine with Michael Ruppert. Heaven help us!
Lowell is the director of Eden Vigil.