• Paul Kolberg

Around the Campfire

It’s Spring in the year 2028. Twelve months earlier, a catastrophic man-made event reached its crescendo and all but annihilated the entire species of what is ironically labelled homo-sapiens; “wise man”. A small group of men, women and children are huddled together around a campfire. They are living in a small clearing in a forest. A canopy of stars including the Milky Way drifts slowly over head, clearly visible against the inky dark, unpolluted sky.

They gaze in awe at the sheer vastness of the Universe and rejoice at the silence, interrupted only by the occasional crackle from the fire and some surviving animals in the nearby woods. During night-time, the sound travels easily, and cows can be heard crunching on grass in a neighbouring field.

There is a lake nearby with clear, cool, fresh water, fed from a waterfall and stream tip-toing its way from the distant mountain range: available to them is an abundance of fish, vegetables and livestock. This particular group had fled to isolate themselves from what they called, the Event. So far as they are aware, they are the sole survivors of the human race.

They find themselves in broadly the same circumstances as the humans that existed 12,000 years ago when, unknown to this group, the Earth’s civilisations had similarly almost entirely been wiped out by floods of water.

The Event was a similar, but different type of flood. Unlike the Great Flood, this hadn’t arisen from a sudden and dramatic collision from a meteorite, melting the ice caps and sending water surging through the land, in a violent, merciless, and unstoppable tsunami. No, the Event unfolded in a gradual submersion, from endless waves of misery, depression and suffering born out of one thing; fear. The Event was the accumulated effect of selfish human behaviour that manifested itself through disease, famine and finally, world-wide war. People had drowned under a ceaseless flow of fear and unhappiness.

The Group” (for that is what they called themselves), wanted to understand how this devastation came to pass. Despite their challenging circumstances, the Group are trying to evaluate for themselves the meaning of life. Having seen and experienced so much suffering, and sensing that their current happiness might be lost in a future cycle of man-made destructive behaviour, they ask: “What’s the point?”


Since there is no longer electricity, any communications through the internet, television, and mobile phones are gone and inaccessible. Even if they were available, they would choose not to use them. They have found that they are much happier since they are no longer subjected to the false propaganda and extraneous information that had undermined the pervasive bleakness and distrust leading ultimately to and culminating in, the Event.

In their discussions, they are confined to their own rational thoughts and memories, personal experiences and observations. Their discussions are truly democratic. Everyone has a voice. Everyone is engaged. Everyone listens.

They each recall a constant struggle to survive, discussing in detail their unhappiness and misery under the regime of the “Old Way”. In fleeing for their lives, the group took what were the most immediate and pressing items and possessions with which to survive and exist. Religious books were not a high priority. They are, however, fortunate in counting doctors, nurses, farmers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, sewage workers, labourers and mechanical engineers amongst them. With hindsight, it was now apparent that the value of such people under the Old Way (with the exception of the doctors and musicians), and of course many others, was perhaps under-appreciated and much less than they deserved.

While enjoying a communal meal, the group reflect on the nature of their existence and what life was like before the Event occurred. They are having this particular discussion for fear of repeating such an event and to avoid whatever it was that brought them into their current precarious existence. All of them want a better life not just for themselves, but for each other and their descendants.

Having established a new community, with mutual support, mutual goals and a more stable basis of meeting their basic needs for food and shelter, they have time to reflect. They are aware that during the time of the Old Way, people had tried living in communes and off the grid, but those that did weren’t appreciably any happier and eventually resorted to and were subsumed by the majorities consensus and society’s demands. Would the same fate befall this group too?

They realise that they all enjoy sharing and helping one another, working towards common and mutually beneficial goals. They wonder why this community lifestyle hadn’t formed part of the Old Way. Everyone now seemed if not ecstatic, then at least much happier than before the Event. It was obvious that when people talked to one another, they really cared. It wasn’t superficial chit-chat. They realised they liked caring because it made them feel better. The effect was so obvious that they were perplexed as to why the Old Way hadn’t embraced that?

They know that if they are going to build a new and sustainable society, they hereinafter need to think, speak and act differently. The Old Way hadn’t worked and ultimately, destroyed itself. This particular congregation are diverse in many respects but in one important respect entirely similar; they share a strong desire to get a unanimous view as to how things must and will be different going forwards. No one person or group is going to impose their view. They are anxious to ensure that whatever answers they find will be universal truths and will stand the test of time.

Even if they had access to them, which they do not, they are unfamiliar with complex philosophy, theoretical physics or mathematics. Religion and philosophy had virtually ceased to exist before the Event. The authority of all religions had been undermined by the scandals and hypocrisy of its leaders, and the alternative religions of the masses: “social media” and shopping. Philosophy had failed to address the decline of societies and had been marginalised to a select but irrelevant few.

The group knew virtually nothing of what religions had taught. Their only recollection is from school history lessons which taught of religions’ slow decay and how it had fallen into gradual but inexorable desuetude after the turn of the millennium. Similarly, during the process of decline of the Old Way, it became obvious that the large 21st century capitalist corporations and governments seemed only to exist for themselves and each other. Save only with a few exceptions, they simply exploited people for their own ends. This was not per se a criticism since the Group had come to understand that even members of religions and large organisations were just as susceptible to unhappiness as everyone else. They too had been ignorant of any viable alternatives. They too were victims of the Old Way. Philosophers had found themselves funded only at Universities where they were compliant with what capitalist decided should be the orthodox – namely, that which supported the status quo.

Despite the blame game that the political leaders had often played, it was obvious that the Event was entirely of man’s doing. Thus, they are concerned not to succumb to humans past mistakes, and instead ensure that in their discussions they provide answers that are concise and readily understandable, not just for themselves, but for future generations. The Group could see that the previous way of living hadn’t worked.


Under the Old Way, there were hardly any winners and many, many losers. The group had seen and remembered how vast swathes of the world had been exploited by the very few, remote and selfish exploiters.

What was it, or rather, what is it about humans that had created the Old Way? Everyone in the group knew that only when pressed by the poor majority, did the rich even attempt to address or attend to the many symptoms of inequality of wealth, health and justice. Towards the end, the disparity between those that had wealth and those that did not, increased and stretched beyond breaking point.

Regrettably, positive action and change was only made when an oppressed majority rose up and forced them to do so. Even so, it was obvious that any change was executed in such a way that the rich still profited; capitalising whenever there was a crisis. The rich didn’t share for altruistic reasons. In fact, they didn’t share or give anything to anyone, unless it was for their benefit – and that isn’t giving at all. It’s an exchange: a deal between unequal participants.

Under the Old Way, virtually everyone (including the rich) had succumbed, by some degree or other, to the illness known as - unhappiness. Even doctors did not know the root cause of unhappiness. It became apparent that the best anyone could do was treat some of the symptoms. In this way, at least some degree of temporary relief was achieved. People would self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, food, shopping, sex and many other forms of activities they deemed fun and pleasurable. These were but short-lived distractions, and the suffering and unhappiness would come flooding back.

The doctors prescribed ever increasing amounts and variations of drugs, and of course, in the process, more and more people became gravely ill. Unresolved and untreated despair had led to ever increasing rates of suicide, homelessness and despair. Inequality and depravation thrived. Eventually, it slowly began to dawn on everyone, that ultimately these chemical concoctions created far more harm than good and in fact, benefited most those who manufactured the drugs and those who invested in them.

Despite the Old Way ensuring that the rich became richer, even the rich hadn’t been happy or fulfilled. No amount of money could buy happiness, and no one understood why. Without ever realising it, even the rich were victims of the Old Way.

Indeed, it seemed that the more money people had, the less chance they had of finding what truly mattered; happiness. The failure to share their wealth in an equitable way, only served to push them further away from where they really needed to go. Ultimately, money came to be of at first little and then no value as less and less people either couldn’t work and the jobs did not exist any way. Artificial Intelligence (AI) eventually replaced all but a few jobs and the wealth that was generated stayed with an ever decreasing so called elite. As a result, the widespread demand for goods and services disappeared.

Of course, from a materialistic point of view, for a long time, the rich were more comfortable in their unhappiness than most, but material comforts were never fully satisfying. Why was that? Only when it was too late, did everyone realise that any feeling of happiness could never be bought.

In the end, the rich were so unhappy in their efforts to protect their money, that they too resorted to their usual addictions and in the process, because they could afford more and appreciate less, destroyed themselves. They had failed to understand that any true happiness was derived from giving and sharing, not exploitation and taking. By the time they became aware of their own fears and what caused them, it was too late.


The lower and middle classes weren’t much better. It’s true that they had less material wealth, but they were seduced by the same desires as the rich, and like the rich, they were never satisfied with what they had. Even if they had secured as much money as the rich, the evidence was clear: they would have fallen prey to the same disease of unhappiness. The acquisition of wealth was only ever a remission.

Those that had moved from the ranks of the poor to the rich or relatively rich, had forgotten or chose not to remember what it was like to be poor and had little or no sympathy for those they had left behind. How could that be? Surely, they would be the most understanding?

On the contrary, the newly rich felt aggrieved at the prospect of sharing their wealth with anyone, unless they were coerced, or it was in their interests to do so. They concluded that if they could drag themselves out of the mire, everyone else could do so, even though they (the bourgeois) consciously or unconsciously helped to ensure that their efforts were undermined.

Moreover, they convinced themselves that if people didn’t want to get richer or weren’t working, it was because they didn’t want to, out of choice. From fear of what they might be required to do, they refused to see that it was possible that the real poverty that most people suffered, was the poverty of opportunity and with that, the worst poverty of all – the absence of hope.

Almost everyone wanted to have gainful employment that produced a reasonable standard of living. The Group knew from experience that being active and making a positive contribution to society was a core ingredient of happiness. Under the Old Way, those that hadn’t participated in society were mostly mentally ill, physically disabled or were simply ignorant of the benefits of working, crushed by generations of ill treatment and a distinct lack of self-worth. The Group asked why people already afflicted and vulnerable should have been punished still further?


Those that prospered under the Old Way didn’t understand that what they possessed wasn’t theirs anyway. Everything had been a gift. Intelligence, dexterity, good looks, athleticism Being driven and highly ambitious was a product of the opportunities and genetics given only to the lucky few. Everyone had seen how many of those in the elite who had something to be motivated about, failed (much to the dismay of their parents and themselves) to seize their opportunities. If people didn’t have these qualities of drive and ambition, why did the Old Way view them as lesser beings and treat them with contempt? They did not seem to comprehend that the best way to find happiness was in helping others – especially the vulnerable and less well off. Such people weren’t a burden on society, they were necessary for everyone else to find their own true happiness: by giving and sharing their time and resources.

When the Earth was formed, there weren’t any borders. The decision to seize and exploit the resources of the world for the commercial benefit of the few, at the expense of the many, as well as the Earth itself, simply just to meet personal needs, was a symptom of the human condition and had culminated in the Event.

The Group know that people can be selfish, angry and unhappy. But why? It’s all very well identifying the symptoms, but what is the underlying cause of the symptoms? That’s what they want to understand. For the Group, it’s not enough to say you should do this and do that. They want to know why their decisions are advantageous to their collective health, well-being and happiness.


As they warm themselves around the campfire and gaze in awe and wonderment at the night sky, they try to understand why humans behave like they do from a deep and fundamental perspective. It’s not just a question of psychology. They want to go deeper than that, to the true underlying reasons.

For the Group, it is obvious that the Universe didn’t just appear from nothing. It must have an ultimate source. What is that source and why are we part of the Universe? Why are we like we are, and can we do something that will create a better experience and give some meaning to life for everyone?

As they begin to settle down, one of the Group reveals that she has discovered a short book which addresses the Group’s very concerns. They all listen attentively as she turns the first page and begins to read aloud from a little book entitled: “What’s the Point?”. It seems there are answers to this fundamental question and above all, hope for a better future. They all listen attentively.

Paul Kolberg

July 2020

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© 2020 Paul Kolberg