Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The World After Abundance

It has been nearly four decades now since the limits to industrial civilization’s trajectory of limitless material growth on a limited planet have been clearly visible on the horizon of our future. Over that time, a remarkable paradox has unfolded. The closer we get to the limits to growth, the more those limits impact our daily lives, and the more clearly our current trajectory points toward the brick wall of a difficult future, the less most people in the industrial world seem to be able to imagine any alternative to driving the existing order of things ever onward until the wheels fall off.

This is as true in many corners of the activist community as it is in the most unregenerate of corporate boardrooms. For most of today’s environmentalists, for example, renewable energy isn’t something that people ought to produce for themselves, unless they happen to be wealthy enough to afford the rooftop PV systems that have become the latest status symbol in suburban neighborhoods on either coast. It’s something that utilities and the government are supposed to produce as fast as possible, so that Americans can keep on using three times as much energy per capita as the average European and twenty times as much as the average Chinese.

Of course there are alternatives. In the energy crisis of the Seventies, relatively simple conservation and efficiency measures, combined with lifestyle changes, sent world petroleum consumption down by 15% in a single decade and caused comparable drops in other energy sources across the industrial world. Most of these measures went out the window in the final binge of the age of cheap oil that followed, so there’s plenty of low hanging fruit to pluck. That same era saw a great many thoughtful people envision ways that people could lead relatively comfortable and humane lives while consuming a great deal less energy and the products of energy than people in the industrial world do today.

It can be a troubling experience to turn the pages of Rainbook or The Book of the New Alchemists, to name only two of the better products of that mostly forgotten era, and compare the sweeping view of future possibilities that undergirded their approach to a future of energy and material shortages with the cramped imaginations of the present. It’s even more troubling to notice that you can pick up yellowing copies of most of these books for a couple of dollars each in the used book trade, at a time when their practical advice is more relevant than ever, and their prophecies of what would happen if the road to sustainability was not taken are looking more prescient by the day.

The irony, and it’s a rich one, is that our collective refusal to follow the lead of those who urged us to learn how to get by with less has not spared us the necessity of doing exactly that. That’s the problem, ultimately, with driving headlong at a brick wall; you can stop by standing on the brake pedal, or you can stop by hitting the wall, but either way, you’re going to stop.

One way to make sense of the collision between the brittle front end of industrial civilization and the hard surface of nature’s brick wall is to compare the spring of 2010 with the autumn of 2007. Those two seasons had an interesting detail in common. In both cases, the price of oil passed $80 a barrel after a prolonged period of price increases, and in both cases, this was followed by a massive debt crisis. In 2007, largely driven by speculation in the futures market, the price of oil kept on zooming upwards, peaking just south of $150 a barrel before crashing back to earth; so far, at least, there’s no sign of a spike of that sort happening this time, although this is mostly because speculators are focused on other assets these days.

In 2007, though, the debt crisis also resulted in a dramatic economic downturn, and just now our chances of dodging the same thing this time around do not look good. Here in the US, most measures of general economic activity are faltering where they aren’t plunging – the sole exceptions are those temporarily propped up by an unparalleled explosion of government debt – and unemployment has become so deeply entrenched that what to do about the very large number of Americans who have exhausted the 99 weeks of unemployment benefits current law allows them is becoming a significant political issue. Even the illegal economy is taking a massive hit; a recent NPR story noted that the price of marijuana has dropped so sharply that northern California, where it’s a huge cash crop, is seeing panic selling and sharp economic contraction.

What’s going on here is precisely what The Limits to Growth warned about in 1973: the costs of continued growth have risen faster than growth itself, and are reaching a level that is forcing the economy to its knees. By “costs,” of course, the authors of The Limits to Growth weren’t talking about money, and neither am I. The costs that matter are energy, resources, and labor; it takes a great deal more of all of these to extract oil from deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico or oil sands in Alberta, say, than it used to take to get it from Pennsylvania or Texas, and since offshore drilling and oil sands make up an increasingly large share of what we’ve got left – those wells in Pennsylvania and Texas have been pumped dry, or nearly so – these real, nonmonetary costs have climbed steadily.

The price of oil in dollars functions here as a workable proxy measure for the real cost of oil production in energy, resources, and materials. The evidence of the last few years suggests that when the price of oil passes $80 a barrel, that’s a sign that the real costs have reached a level high enough that the rest of the economy begins to crack under the strain. Since astronomical levels of debt have become standard practice all through today’s global economy, the ability of marginal borrowers to service their debt is where the cracks showed up first. In the fall of 2007, many of those marginal borrowers were homeowners in the US and UK; this spring, they include entire nations.

What all this implies, in a single phrase, is that the age of abundance is over. The period from 1945 to 2005 when almost unimaginable amounts of cheap petroleum sloshed through the economies of the world’s industrial nations, and transformed life in those nations almost beyond recognition, still shapes most of our thinking and nearly all of our expectations. Not one significant policy maker or mass media pundit in the industrial world has begun to talk about the impact of the end of the age of abundance; it’s an open question if any of them have grasped how fundamental the changes will be as the new age of post-abundance economics begins to clamp down.

Most ordinary people in the industrial world, for their part, are sleepwalking through one of history’s major transitions. The issues that concern them are still defined entirely by the calculus of abundance. Most Americans these days, for example, worry about managing a comfortable retirement, paying for increasingly expensive medical care, providing their children with a college education and whatever amenities they consider important. It has not yet entered their darkest dreams that they need to worry about access to such basic necessities as food, clothing and shelter, the fate of local economies and communities shredded by decades of malign neglect, and the rise of serious threats to the survival of constitutional government and the rule of law.

Even among those who warn that today’s Great Recession could bottom out at a level equal to that reached in the Great Depression, very few have grappled with the consequences of a near-term future in which millions of Americans are living in shantytowns and struggling to find enough to eat every single day. To paraphrase Sinclair Lewis, that did happen here, and it did so at a time when the United States was a net exporter of everything you can think of, and the world’s largest producer and exporter of petroleum to boot. The same scale of economic collapse in a nation that exports very little besides unpayable IOUs, and is the world’s largest consumer and importer of petroleum, could all too easily have results much closer to those of the early 20th century in Central Europe, for example: that is, near-universal impoverishment, food shortages, epidemics, civil wars, and outbreaks of vicious ethnic cleansing, bracketed by two massive wars that both had body counts in the tens of millions.

Now you’ll notice that this latter does not equate to the total collapse into a Cormac McCarthy future that so many people like to fantasize about these days. I’ve spent years wondering why it is that so many people seem unable to conceive of any future other than business as usual, on the one hand, and extreme doomer porn on the other. Whatever the motives that drive this curious fixation, though, I’ve become convinced that it results in a nearly complete blindness to the very real risks the future is more likely to hold for us. It makes a useful exercise to take current notions about preparing for the future in the survivalist scene, and ask yourself how many of them would have turned out to be useful over the decade or two ahead if someone had pursued exactly those strategies in Poland or Slovakia, let’s say, in the years right before 1914.

Measure the gap between the real and terrible events of that period, on the one hand, and the fantasies of infinite progress or apocalyptic collapse that so often pass for realistic images of our future, on the other, and you have some sense of the gap that has to be crossed in order to make sense of the world after abundance. One way or another, we will cross that gap; the question is whether any significant number of us will do so in advance, and have time to take constructive actions in response, or whether we’ll all do so purely in retrospect, thinking ruefully of the dollars and hours that went into preparing for an imaginary future while the real one was breathing down our necks.

I’ve talked at quite some length in these essays about the kinds of preparations that will likely help individuals, families, and communities deal with the future of resource shortages, economic implosion, political breakdown, and potential civil war that the missed opportunities and purblind decisions of the last thirty years have made agonizingly likely here in the United States and, with an infinity of local variations, elsewhere in the industrial world. Those points remain crucial; it still makes a great deal of sense to start growing some of your own food, to radically downscale your dependence on complex technological systems, to reduce your energy consumption as far as possible, to free up at least one family member from the money economy for full-time work in the domestic economy, and so on.

Still, there’s another dimension to all this, and it has to be mentioned, though it’s certain to raise hackles. For the last three centuries, and especially for the last half century or so, it’s become increasingly common to define a good life as one provided with the largest possible selection of material goods and services. That definition has become so completely hardwired into our modern ways of thinking that it can be very hard to see past it. Of course there are certain very basic material needs without which a good life is impossible, but those are a good deal fewer and simpler than contemporary attitudes assume, and once those are provided, material abundance becomes a much more ambivalent blessing than we like to think.

In a very real sense, this way of thinking mirrors the old joke about the small boy with a hammer who thinks everything is a nail. In an age of unparalleled material abundance, the easy solution for any problem or predicament was to throw material wealth at it. That did solve some problems, but it arguably worsened others, and left the basic predicaments of human existence untouched. Did it really benefit anyone to spend trillions of dollars and the talents of some of our civilization’s brightest minds creating high-end medical treatments to keep the very sick alive and miserable for a few extra months of life, for example, so that we could pretend to ourselves that we had evaded the basic human predicament of the inevitability of death?

Whatever the answer, the end of the age of abundance draws a line under that experiment. Within not too many years, it’s safe to predict, only the relatively rich will have the dubious privilege of spending the last months of their lives hooked up to complicated life support equipment. The rest of us will end our lives the way our great-grandparents did: at home, more often than not, with family members or maybe a nurse to provide palliative care while our bodies do what they were born to do and shut down. Within not too many years, more broadly, only a very few people anywhere in the world will have the option of trying to escape the core uncertainties and challenges of human existence by chasing round after round of consumer goodies; the rest of us will count ourselves lucky to have our basic material needs securely provided for, and will have to deal with fundamental questions of meaning and value in some less blatantly meretricious way.

Some of us, in the process, may catch on to the subtle lesson woven into this hard necessity. It’s worth noting that while there’s been plenty of talk about the monasteries of the Dark Ages among people who are aware of the impending decline and fall of our civilization, next to none of it has discussed, much less dealt with, the secret behind the success of monasticism: the deliberate acceptance of extreme material poverty. Quite the contrary; all the plans for lifeboat ecovillages I’ve encountered so far, at least, aim at preserving some semblance of a middle class lifestyle into the indefinite future. That choice puts these projects in the same category as the lavish villas in which the wealthy inhabitants of Roman Britain hoped to ride out their own trajectory of decline and fall: a category mostly notable for its long history of total failure.

The European Christian monasteries that preserved Roman culture through the Dark Ages did not offer anyone a middle class lifestyle by the standards of their own time, much less those of ours. Neither did the Buddhist monasteries that preserved Heian culture through the Sengoku Jidai, Japan’s bitter age of wars, or the Buddhist and Taoist monasteries that preserved classical Chinese culture through a good half dozen cycles of collapse. Monasteries in all these cases were places people went to be very, very poor. That was the secret of their achievements, because when you reduce your material needs to the absolute minimum, the energy you don’t need to spend maintaining your standard of living can be put to work doing something more useful.

Now it’s probably too much to hope for that some similar movement might spring into being here and now; we’re a couple of centuries too soon for that. The great age of Christian monasticism in the West didn’t begin until the sixth century CE, by which time the Roman economy of abundance had been gone for so long that nobody even pretended that material wealth was an answer to the human condition. Still, the monastic revolution kickstarted by Benedict of Nursia drew on a long history of Christian monastic ventures; those unfolded in turn from the first tentative communal hermitages of early Christian Egypt; and all these projects, though this is not often mentioned, took part of their inspiration and a good deal of their ethos from the Stoics of Pagan Greece and Rome.

Movements of the Stoic type are in fact very common in civilizations that have passed the Hubbert peak of their own core resource base. There’s good reason for that. In a contracting economy, it becomes easier to notice that the less you need, the less vulnerable you are to the ups and downs of fortune, and the more you can get done of whatever it is that you happen to want to do. That’s an uncongenial lesson at the best of times, and during times of material abundance you won’t find many people learning it. Still, in the world after abundance, it’s hard to think of a lesson that deserves more careful attention.

97 comments:

hapibeli said...

Thanks as always JMG. I would wish that my children would read your posts and the posts of those who read you. If the current muddling of the USA will continue for another 3-5 years, they may begin to accept the copies of your blog I send them now and then. Assuming the "net" stays in place. That they love and respect me is some comfort, but that they would begin to listen even more closely would be better. I and my wife will continue to work toward petroleum free self sufficiency and provide what example to our children that we may.

greatblue said...

JMG said:
Monasteries in all these cases were places people went to be very, very poor. That was the secret of their achievements, because when you reduce your material needs to the absolute minimum, the energy you don’t need to spend maintaining your standard of living can be put to work doing something more useful.

Poverty not only conserves energy, but it also creates a less desirable target for marauders. Some of the longevity had to be due to that.

Appearing to be impoverished might prove to be a useful skill...

Hotspringswizard said...

I just commented at the Trout Clan Campfire about how much I respect your work John. And Freeacre there said that Michael Ruppert called you " the new kid on the block ", and she said that was just " stupid ". I agree with her very much. I always consider it highly valuable time reading your thoughts and appreciate that you share your well thought out knowldedge with others, clearly as an endeavor to help those around you in such a non selfish way!

Babaji said...

We, or more precisely our spiritual master, saw this coming almost forty years ago. Although he instructed all his disciples to create self-reliant ecovillages, my handful of disciples and I are among the few that have actually done it. We raised some funds, moved to South India, leased some land and are building a monastery. Yes, a real live monastery, next to a sacred river and a temple with a Deity more than 10,000 years old. We have been completely assimilated into the culture here and have the full support and protection of the village council. We have more than a year's stock of everything we can't yet grow or build, from soap to spices. Plus we can grow more than enough staple foods to feed our monks. We are building a machine shop that can operate without electricity or petroleum, so we can build and maintain our water supply and other tools. If you think that's extreme, write us in 2013. Hare Kṛṣṇa!

Tim said...

Very nice, very nice. I learn a lot from your blog posts, although I agree most with the apolitical ones. I saw you speak in person once and you were great then too -- on the topic of the "authenticity" of the modern Druid movement. One thing you seem to harp on in this blog that no one else I've read does is this "middle of the road" apocalypse scenario. On a related topic, some fear as a species we're far too overpopulated, and some say we're nowhere close. Either way, depletion of resources in relation to population is soon self-correcting. From a vantage point outside humanity (and perhaps a lot of species whose livelihood is too intertwined), it doesn't matter much either way. The tragedy isn't the loss of the resources, it's the method of inevitable correction.

spottedwolf said...

Beautifully stated and argumentably correct. I realized in my teens we have a civilization which cannot cope emotionally with the speed of its techno-philosophical speed. Expansionism of man-made sort is an extrapolation of the "go forth..be fruitful..and multiply" kind. Where was it 'they' said, "OK you can stop"
The comparison of lemmings makes a fine analogy to the 'industrially-conditioned mind' and believe me when I say I've seen the 'writing on the wall' for 40 years but that carries no weight in the laws of average because the only true'god' of existence is the breathing entity we stand on. All else is speculative imagery and opinion. This old 'earth-mother' will have her way as she sees fit and maybe...just maybe...it IS the deep subconscious recognition of that fact....which keeps adherence to the dogmatic approaches to solution. It'll be interesting to those who live thru this period....deadly interesting.

Blagroll said...

You've hit upon a number of inter-related issues about Westernised society, whatever its given trajectory happens to be in a moment in time, but your last observation on choosing to live frugally as an explicit and overt choice appears to be the most poignant. Through my formal training I'm taking what appears to be a somewhat quantifiable and rational choice about risk and reward. By paring our corporate utility costs to the bone; upskilling on growing vegitables, making butter, cheese, bread, etc.; and living a debt free life; we're certainly making a choice about our material lives. What most people view as essential, I view as wasted labour and it's close relative time. Many of our activities can be explained through the formal language of the ecological movement, which most people of heard of at this point and sort of accept topigraphically. Still, most people view our activities as eccentric, or when push comes to shove, as down-right loopy.

In Ireland, I would be considered a worthy individual if I spent loads of money on a gym membership, but I'm thought particularly bafoonish to hand cut turf; thereby obtaining valuable fuel, saving money, and getting much needed exercise (for free).

I can't but see the frugal and skilled lifestyle as a win, win situation. Even if we can keep some semblance of middle class lifestyle alive for a few more decades (or longer), the frugal lifestyle has a hidden benefit. Freedom. Freedom from clutter, from government interference, and the freedom to learn and use new skills that the primary economy can't eviserate. Sure, I'm also making a choice about my old age. I won't be able to pay a nursing home to take all my assests, few though they are and will be, to care for me. There's no free lunch, and hard choices have to be made. Whatever the relatively short timeframe outcome of this transition, I'd still make the old age choice if I continued to live the comfortable middle class lifestyle. It seems freedom, whatever that means to each individual, requires one make some tough choices.

MisterMoose said...

JMG:

Wow. Back in 2001 my wife and I both worked at jobs that each paid over $70,000. We had a nice house in a nice suburb (with a mortgage that we could afford), and life was good. Within a year after 9/11 we were both laid off, and our family income was reduced to sporadic contract jobs that paid a lot less than what we were used to.

We lived off our savings, and tried everything we could think of to keep it all together, but then got hit with some big medical bills (after the COBRA insurance ran out, of course). We maxed out our credit cards, sold the house to move into something more affordable, blah, blah, blah...

Well, to make a long story short, we were forced into bankruptcy, lost the new house, and ended up moving in with my sister until we could start over. This entailed moving from Chicago to Arizona, where there were still plenty of jobs in construction (my chosen field). That was good for a while, until the housing bubble popped.

This sort of thing happens all the time, and most of us survive. We've been broke before, and we've come back before, and we expect to come back again (although I'm not quite sure about exactly HOW we'll come back this time...). That's because we're always willing to do whatever is necessary, even if it means taking a minimum wage job in retail, which I did. But now, at age 63, I've even been laid off from that, because the local job market is so bad that even the retail sector (traditionally the job market of last resort) is struggling. I'm taking courses at our local community college in the hope that I can teach this old dog some new tricks that will eventually bring in some more money...

We now make only a fraction of what we used to (my wife still works, while I am "retired" and doing whatever odd jobs I can find). We have no credit cards, drive an old car, and are living in a rental house about half the size of the one we had ten years ago.

And you know what? We are surviving. We have less stuff (mainly because we have less space in which to put the stuff), and we are growing some of our own food, which tastes better than most of what we can get in the local stores. But, because we have no credit, we also have no debt, which is not a bad thing. We have discovered that a simple, downscaled life can be just as enjoyable (or even more so, in many respects) than the life we used to have.

So, looking on the bright side, I guess we're just a little bit ahead of the curve, and everybody else will be joining us in reduced circumstances in the not-too-distant future, thanks to peak oil, competition from China, a looming global financial meltdown, and all the other things that are beyond our control.

Is this really the wave of the future?

Nathaniel said...

I too have wondered at the fascination people have with the so called “doomer porn” that inhabits so many television shows, movies screens, and blog postings (present company excluded) these days.

I have a theory: by taking the general sense of unease and foreboding that I think so many people feel these days (you have to be particularly oblivious to totally miss the indicators of major systemic economic, environmental, and political dislocations underway) and focusing it on obviously ridiculous and often scientifically impossible scenarios, people can project their feelings onto an external story and purge them once their suspension of disbelief is lifted. My guilty confession is of a love of zombie movies – I easily get wrapped-up in the most ludicrous of plots and feel genuine fear as the film progresses; however, as soon as the lights come up, the spell is broken and I feel a profound sense of catharsis. I wonder if even the semi-plausible doom stories don’t serve the same sort of function, giving people a silly place to direct their fear and thereby allowing them to compartmentalize that fear out of their daily lives. In enabling them to direct and then release/ignore their fear, doom stories might serve the same function as the baseless optimism of the cornucopians – allowing people to purse “business as usual” despite all of the warning signs. Again, myths of progress and apocalypse become two sides of the same coin.

Of course, as you point out, the cost of doing this is the distraction from genuinely productive actions that could mitigate the impact of the series of mini-catastrophes that are likely to populate the coming decades.

Conchscooter said...

Through the curtain of gloom and fear that surrounds my acceptance of the end of the age of abundance I sometimes see the vague possibility of the chance at a better life. It is a tenuous hope that things could actually be better if and when we learn to adapt, but child-free though I am, I cling to the hope.

jean-vivien said...

hi JMG,

I have followed your blogs for a few years now...

in one of 2008's posts,
http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2008/11/looking-for-roong-thisdara.html
you emphasized the uncertainty inherent to this particular time in History.
However you seem to have refined, and maybe better defined, the still vast range of possibilities regarding that same future. This is not a contradiction with said earlier post, yet I wondered if you also had that feeling that you managed to refine your view of the times ahead.

Second question : I live in Europe, from my grandmothers' lives in the countryside I have got a better idea of what a materially simpler life might be. Myself I easily walk 30 mins or one hour a day. And when I hear what way of life here in the USA is threatened, I am many times amazed. But what is your take on Europe's range of future possibilities ? You have mentionned earlier the "tradition" of war and dictatorships we have had in the past - knowing French History is quite educational in this respect - and we dont have as much free space as you do in the USA. On the other hand our already much more sober lifestyle might play out as an advantage. Overall I do not know whether to be optimistic or pessimistic about the likelihood of success in future hard work in my continent.

That is why hearing from older people like you or Sharon Astyk would be helpful in a way.

thanks and keep up the good work. Yours and Matt Savinar's page are daily (quick) readings for me.

galacticsurfer said...

Cost reduction strategies to get out of the dependency on income producing jobs which are more and more difficult to get. Cut to the bone and then go back and find more to cut at the next round. Its a new life and welcome to me so that I have more concentration on my self and my family.

Simon said...

For those struggling to put some of this into context I recommend reading the dhammapada by Eswith Easewaran. The buddist approach may have much to commend it in these interesting times. It certainly helps one to prioritise preparations and responses to the many issues one must deal with.
Many thanks JMG for what is one of the best efforts at cogent thought I have seen in many years.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

The apocalypse scenario often touted and imagined is reasonably unlikely. I tracked down an old remembrance of the Great Depression years written about life around these parts and thought a brief summary would be of interest to your readers:

The below refers to life during the Great Depression (think 30% unemployment here - not good I've seen 10% in my lifetime which was unpleasant).

Once unemployment kicked in the federal government issued surplus army gear (especially coats) dyed black to the unemployed as a charity. It became a symbol - not a good one either.

Many were employed by the governments for a pittance on various projects. For example 10,000 men were sent to fossick abandoned gold fields and after eight months hard work they had dug out an average of one ounce of gold each. Not much but it kept them occupied and therefore out of trouble I suspect.

The government provided a dole to people who could not earn money and lacked all means of support. This did not include the people working on the projects mentioned above who were essentially paid subsistence wages. The dole was enough to pay for food - not rent and many people were evicted often forcibly.

Many homeless people sought refuge with relatives. Others took to the open roads (usually by foot) searching for work. Most work was repaid for by way of food and drink.

It was reported that many children went to school barefoot and left it early to assist their families eke out an existence by growing their own vegetables and cutting timber. It was considered exceptionally lucky to have cows and/or horses on your property.

The above was from a document prepared for the local historical society.

I am aware of people who even today live (by choice) down the back paddock of friends.

The simple answer is that we will all be too poor to worry to much about rampaging zombie hordes!

Hi Brad K,

Thanks for the insight. I'm always interested to see how other people and cultures view the world.

Jason said...

Also the message of the Epicureans. Isn't it interesting how the actual meanings of all these philosophical terms ("Stoic", "Epicurean", "Cynic", "Platonic") have been squeezed into meaning something narrow and silly by our culture, which mostly hasn't investigated the original writings at all?

(Maybe those of a Christian persuasion think the same has happened to them, I don't know...)

The usefulness of Epicurean tenets ("The ingratitude of the soul makes an animal greedy for unlimited variation in its lifestyle", "Death is nothing to us", "The unjust life is full of the greatest disturbance"...) in attaining ataraxia or untroubledness inspired a certain Diogenes to carve his 80-metre, 25,000 word inscription around the marketplace in Oenoanda, in time to help in the Great Downturn of his era.

The value of thinking carefully about being happy whilst not needing much is timeless and satisfying, but easier to remember in times like those upcoming. The only question I have is, what would the effect be of thinking (and feeling) in those terms all the time? Is it even possible? Can we build civilizations that know the real treasure is not physical? Can we build on this earth without becoming hypnotized by the 'magnificence' of our own efforts?

groundswell said...

love your work
- long long tome reader
first comment!

Coco said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rudi said...

I've often found myself thinking that a "new monasticism" could be a solution to many problems, notably healthcare. What if we had a movement of voluntarily poor "monastic" healers, informally educated (i.e., "unofficial"), a vision out of Ivan Illich, perhaps? But all of this implies a spiritual gravitas out of the range of doctrinaire liberal and conservative American religion alike. We'll see if such gravitas comes to birth through the suffering that's coming down the pike.

Karen said...

Dear Mr. Greer,

You have become my guide on this road to a world after abundance.

I will be forever grateful for ongoing insight and analysis.

William said...

I really enjoyed this post, JMG. It reminded me that, for many years, my dream vacation (never realized) was to work hard in the gardens of a monastary that did not allow speech! Except for one monk who read prayers.

Now I raise cattle and chickens, and intend to add gardens. I try constantly to reduce dependence on fossil fuels by using more labor intensive technologies, such as small square bales fed by hand during deep winter instead of large bales delivered by tractor, and by extending the grazing season at both ends with stockpiled, rationed grass after growth stops. I use a breed (Dexter) that grazes efficiently and can provide meat, milk or be trained for draft.

I experience recurrent tension with my beloved significant other, who does not believe the age of abundance will end in our lifetimes.

Shiva said...

Thanks for another great post. I look forward to every Thursday morning. This post really resonated with me. My girlfriend and I have been simplifying our life more and more over the past few years. I bought a yurt (and later added a schoolbus) because it was a house I could afford without a mortgage. We're down to about 6 pieces of furniture and could move our household in a large van (or a small moving truck if we included our house!) We just bought a small piece of land in the smoky mountains and are busy making a permaculture plan for it. What I've found is the less I have, the less I need or even want. The one we don't compromise on is our food...we eat the very best foods we can find including lots of superfoods (maca, goji berries etc). This keeps us in excellent health and gives us lots of energy. It's by far our largest expense, but I'd rather have radiant health than a bunch of crap I don't need. One set of books that I have very inspiring lately is the Ringing Cedars (Anastasia) series. It's not very well written unfortunately but is a fantastic source of ideas and inspiration whether you believe the story is true or not. Anyway thanks again Archdruid and keep on writing! (btw loving Stars Reach too)

Steve said...

"The closer we get to the limits to growth, the more those limits impact our daily lives, and the more clearly our current trajectory points toward the brick wall of a difficult future, the less most people in the industrial world seem to be able to imagine any alternative to driving the existing order of things ever onward until the wheels fall off."

This reminds me of a study I heard about when I moved above a dam in the mountains. Researchers surveyed residents living below dams on watercourses, asking how worried people were about a dam failure. Starting far downstream and moving up, people generally responded with increasing levels of concern, right up to a critical point. Above this point, people responded with no concern whatsoever, as if the thought of the dam failing was simply unthinkable. Perhaps we passed that critical point with Reagan and Thatcher, and society is now so firmly glued in the "I can't even imagine..." mindset that it will take the horrors you mentioned to wake people up. I hope not.

Thanks for pointing out the possibilities and keeping the discussion going, JMG!

Edde said...

Greetings John Michael,

Perhaps your most profound lesson yet. Thank you.

Your message that less is better, less is safer, less provides time for other tasks besides acquisition, makes great sense that we would all do well to heed.

'60s & 70's taught me this lesson so I live close to the ground since. Learned many life skills and built a home based on principles of frugality & self-reliance, as you advocate.

Thanks again & best regards,

edde

David said...

Excellent essay, John Michael.

For readers searching for copies of The Journal of the New Alchemists, here is a link to a website that has PDF copies of its seven issues for downloading:

http://www.thegreencenter.net/

Links for issues 4 and 5 aren't working, however.

Ariel55 said...

Dear John, It is for me quite a joy to "have an Archdruid on staff" for Thursday mornings. May I add that for me, the idea of "political correctness" which pervaded the last era of history effectively disarmed anyone interested in "truth", so as to avoid confrontation. It always thrills me to observe that you survived that. Best regards and thanks.

Hari said...

In light of the comments by JMG about austerity, the following article contemplating "whether" Europe would "accept" austerity is interesting to read =>
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/8706936.stm

Thanks for another great essay,JMG !

DPW said...

As everything is a study of one, I'll share mine:

Moving to a small rented condo within walking distance of my work in a genteel urban setting, a block from a transit center, two blocks from a library, three from a natural grocer, and two from a farmer's market. Maybe we'll grow some herbs on the patio.

Job seems relatively stable...company isn't thriving, but its in essential services, so as long as things muddle on for a while, the check should keep coming.

Wife is going to pursue a community college degree in child care/social work. We can afford the tuition and learning to meet the needs of disadvantaged children seems like a fine way to spend one's time...maybe not lucrative, but I can think of worse things.

I'm likely going to use my company's tuition reimbursement to pursue a low-cost MBA at a progressive, non-traditional school. Seems there are worse ways to spend one's time and the extra letters on my resume might help me keep a paycheck longer and maybe have the power to push mainstream things in a less-bad direction on the long descent.

So that's our life. That's how we're muddling. We can't afford any land and aren't ready to quit employment to find a life in the country.

Beyond that, we sit meditation retreats and cultivate the Dharma. Save what we can and try to live lower on the ladder, preparing mentally for what may come, but still enjoying all the simple joys this world affords us. We donate to causes and give patronage to museums. Smile to baristas and tip 25% to the struggling servers when we happen to take a night out.

In the times where things start feeling dark, we try to remember that everyone is just doing the best they can; from us to you. We are products of this culture and authors of the future. May we accept what's come before and not be too willing to give up on what lies ahead.

Cathy McGuire said...

(Part 1)Excellent post, again! There’s a lot of meat to this, and it’s really helpful for me to read someone else’s assessment that tallies with mine, since almost all my friends and family are still in the illusion. I’m commenting on a few points, but they were all excellent:

It’s even more troubling to notice that you can pick up yellowing copies of most of these books for a couple of dollars each in the used book trade, at a time when their practical advice is more relevant than ever, and their prophecies of what would happen if the road to sustainability was not taken are looking more prescient by the day.

Funny, I was just thinking that, when I picked up a copy of “The Voyage of the Spaceship Beagle” by Garrett Hardin for a quarter… and yes, it’s so sad to see that this information was clearly available in the 70’s and we’ve (most of us) wasted 30 years ignoring it.

That’s the problem, ultimately, with driving headlong at a brick wall; you can stop by standing on the brake pedal, or you can stop by hitting the wall, but either way, you’re going to stop.

That’s exactly the analogy I used to use when I worked on a teen psych unit: I was not creating the wall, I was merely pointing it out to them. And since those years, I have notice way too many adults acting just like surly teens – acting as if the messengers were creating the problem!

Most ordinary people in the industrial world, for their part, are sleepwalking through one of history’s major transitions.

I have to wonder how much it’s exacerbated by manufacturers who have found that illusion is great advertising; who have discovered the short term advantages of making people crave stuff they don’t need, and – since they are likely fooling themselves also – are ignoring the long term consequences of that route. Much as I want to put heavy responsibility on each person, I have to say that advertising, movies and media in general are so powerfully persuasive (probably we haven’t evolved enough to be anything but overwhelmed by the onslaught) that it is an uphill struggle for anyone immersed in that culture. It’s one big reason I’ve stayed away from movies, TV and most magazines for almost 20 years… if you let them in your head, it’s like the camel with its nose in your tent (old Arab story). Some friends my age are starting to wake up to that, and limit their exposure, but anyone who lives in town and city can’t avoid most of it. I have begun to loathe shopping because of the incessant ads spliced into the musak (which is bad enough) and the visual ads posted everywhere – including on the floor now, so you can’t even look down and avoid them! Online, I have minimized how many ads I see, and when I can’t do that, I just avoid that website.

I’ve spent years wondering why it is that so many people seem unable to conceive of any future other than business as usual, on the one hand, and extreme doomer porn on the other. Whatever the motives that drive this curious fixation, though, I’ve become convinced that it results in a nearly complete blindness to the very real risks the future is more likely to hold for us.

That is a known psychological response to the unknown, especially a negatively charged unknown. If you can make it seem wildly improbably, then it’s not as likely to hurt you – so the unconscious denialist pattern goes. In fact, even movies have picked up on this human trait – in the disaster movies, there’s always a couple characters who say, “Monsters? What monsters? There’s no such thing as …. Arrrgh!!” Nathaniel’s comment nails it when he says it’s about catharsis – move the fears into the fantasy realm, then assure yourself it’s “nothing but”. But, as you say, it blinds them to real danger.

Cathy McGuire said...

Part 2 - wow; this post inspired me to "run long"...

Did it really benefit anyone to spend trillions of dollars and the talents of some of our civilization’s brightest minds creating high-end medical treatments to keep the very sick alive and miserable for a few extra months of life, for example, so that we could pretend to ourselves that we had evaded the basic human predicament of the inevitability of death?

I agree, in fact I’ve just finished a short story based on that issue. I think science started off with the best of intentions, and if people can be grounded and mindful of their actual goal (to live a good life, not just a long one), such assistance, in the right cases, can in fact make a good life somewhat longer, to the benefit of many people, not just one. But we ran up against the same denial mechanism that you mentioned earlier – people refusing to grapple with the actual facts and real choices, instead trying to avoid any thought of “what will this actually accomplish?” and the real fact of death, for as long as possible. And when you have denial, the process itself gets out of control, as it has now, and even those who have thought it through and don’t want that kind of artificial extension fight an uphill battle for a decent end (I’m watching this happen in my family right now, and it’s one reason I live across the country from them). And part of the reason is that death has been “removed” from our society and no discussion or training about the end of life happens, so it becomes a nightmare at the end.

One point I’m not sure you mentioned is that getting back to basics has the added advantage of grounding us in a way that bypasses the conscious mind and aligns the senses with what is really there, which creates a sense of wellbeing and calm. The more I let go of what passes for civilization, the more I move into this life of gardens, chickens (they’re in the coop now! Yeah!), silence and simplicity, the better I feel. It seems my whole life has been yearning toward this simplicity, although I let myself be influenced by others for too long into thinking it was foolish or wishful thinking. It’s not – it’s more real than what passes for culture these days. Yes, grappling with what is really under your nose is more “painful” that blissful illusion, but illusion won’t last.

As an aside to those commenters who keep asking you “how long before…?” It think it’s important to realize that even when a pattern is clear, that doesn’t mean an exact timeframe can be determined. It depends on what trips us over the edge – it could be fast or slow, depending on what system(s) gives out first. That’s why it’s important to focus on the pattern, and focus on changing your lifestyle to something sustainable within that new pattern.

Bill Pulliam said...

I've found the difference in the American populace's reaction to the two spikes in oil prices curious. In 2007 it was the end of the world as we know it; in 2010 it hardly got noticed -- been there, done that. I wonder if this shows the pattern of how society will respond to each of the "apocalyptic" shocks on the way down? Each is incorporated in to a "new normal" and within a few years people hardly remember when it wasn't that way.

Of course, the absolute numbers for energy prices are meaningless out of context. What is important is the affordability of energy to individuals, households, businesses, industries, militaries, and governments. $80 a barrel during affluence may effecively be cheaper than $20 a barrel during depression-era conditions. Right now prices are depressed a bit because demand is down because of the global economic problems. Does this mean that energy costs are less of a hardship for the average household, who is also suffering financial hits in other areas? Probably not.

About willingly embracing poverty -- this has always been more popular when there hasn't been a whole lot of affluence to go around in the first place. The monastic life looks a lot better to the average Joe and Jane when contrasted with subsistence homesteading, urban poverty, and miserable marriage prospects than it does when contrasted with McMansions, dining out every night, and all the internet porn you can squeeze through your pipe. If for no other reason than this I would expect to see a resurgence of that segment of society as the Age of Ungrounded Affluence ends.

Óskar said...

A slight counterpoint to the virtues of frugality if I may...

What we can agree on is that today's extravagance is unsustainable madness and that tomorrow's extravagance is today's frugality, so to speak.

But extravagance as an expression of surplus, prowess, and success, is a very natural thing. In fact it's all around us in the natural world and accounts for a lot of the beauty we appreciate. Colorful plumages, fragrant flowers, oversized frog throats and chimpanzee butts (and human breasts!), complex mating dances and songs... all those and many more are natural expressions of extravagance. You notice that they all have a key motive in common: sexuality. Nature expects surplus energy to be devoted to reproduction; therefore surplus, signalled by extravagance of some kind, is intimately tied to sexuality.

In other words, extravagance is "sexy", frugality is not.

That's strictly relative of course - in a poor, unsophisticated community, a "display of wealth" is just something slightly less poor and slightly more sophisticated.

It's therefore no coincidence in my view that monasticism also comes with celebacy. Deliberate frugality is mutually exclusive with mating, and the energy requirements of mating are incompatible with the motives of monasticism. I'm all for monasticism in the role that JMG describes - but lets not pretend that monastic frugality can or should extend to the whole of society.

I've learned all this the hard way as a young man (I'm 30 now) concerned with the ongoing industrial decline. I've gone to extremes of frugality only to realize that I would have no chance whatsoever of finding a woman under those conditions! That was a line I was not prepared to cross, so you might say I've struck a bargain with consumer society. I'm not talking about going to dates in a Limousine, just meeting some basic expectations in clothing and occasional entertainment.

Jennie said...

One thing that won't run out anytime soon, the abundance of cr*p we made that won't politely compost away. Good or bad, some of this stuff is here for the long haul. Maybe the government will put people to work mining dumps for resources.

Andrew Brown said...

I used to teach an anthropology course on utopianism, and as a final project they had to design their own utopia (which I defined as the best possible society). It was always striking just how hard it was for students to imagine a radically different world than the one they were already presented with. In fact, I think most people find the whole envisioning a better society thing to be somewhat "unserious" and even embarrassing -- as though they were being naive utopianists rather than being hard realists (!) (Apparently realists are those who accept that things can't be changed.) Among other things, I believe that this is tied to consumer capitalism's gargantuan effort to create a base of passive consumers who are meant to express every human impulse through a consumer choice of some kind. Making stuff up on your own (or with your friends) is something you're supposed to set aside along with your high school rock band.

John Michael Greer said...

Hapibeli, sometimes all you can do is keep on doing the right thing, and hope that the people you care about will figure things out.

Greatblue, true enough, but the best way to appear impoverished is generally to be impoverished.

Wizard, well, compared to Ruppert I am a bit of a new kid on the block, at least when it comes to blogging; he'd been posting stuff about peak oil for years when the Archdruid Report debuted in 2006.

Babaji, good. That's one advantage of being in a faith that has a living monastic tradition.

Tim, thank you.

Wolf, that's rather an unnerving thought!

Blagroll, here in the US it's much the same; people cut their grass with riding lawnmowers and then drive to the gym to get the exercise they could have gotten with a push mower. I'll stick with the push mower, for as long as I have grass to mow -- more than half of it has already been converted to garden beds, and the rest is en route. Keep cutting that turf; you'll be the one laughing before long.

Moose, yes, that's the wave of the future -- or rather the first wave of many rolling in. Get used to it.

Nathaniel, that's very plausible.

Conch, I think a better life is possible, at least for individuals. Not a more prosperous life, no, but a better life.

Jean-Vivien, I think the range of possibilities has narrowed quite a bit over the last few years. It's still impossible to know the fine details in advance, but here in the US, at least, we've backed ourselves so tightly into certain corners that being stuck there is a pretty safe bet for the future. As for Europe, it helps that the average European only uses a third as much energy as the average American, and it helps even more that the human geography of Europe still largely follows patterns laid out in the pre-petroleum age. The big questions, it seems to me, are political, and those are very hard to judge in advance.

Surfer, exactly!

Simon, whatever your faith, now's the time to get more active in it. More on that next week.

Cherokee, that's pretty much what things were like in the US. At the bottom of the depression about a third of our workforce was unemployed, and there was very little organized government aid to be had -- not even spare army coats.

Jason, don't play with that fire; you'll get burned. The hope of a society that will enable human beings to live like angels has given rise to more misery and horror than any other single cause I can think of.

Groundswell, thank you!

fourpie said...

Johm,From where I sit pulling on my oar in the galley of civilisation, I don't not hear the drummers beat slowing down. This ship is just not able to turn. If I get up and leave my seat, someone else takes it and I feel the lash of poverty. So I prefer to keep rowing, shackled as I am to a mortgage combined with societal & family expectations. Your blog provides the only glimpse of daylight through a tiny porthole, that hardly anyone else can see through.

John Michael Greer said...

Rudi, unfortunately, that's not likely to happen until people are willing to turn their backs on literally everything our culture defines as a good life for the sake of their faith.

Karen, thank you; just remember that your own heart, mind, and conscience are better guides than anyone else could be.

William, I've heard from a lot of people who are in the same challenging predicament, with a spouse who believes in the future promised by our society. I wish I had a solution, but predicaments don't have solutions! Do what you can, and remember that opinions are most easily changed by avoiding argument and letting circumstances prove your point.

Shiva, good for you. I've suspected more than once that the yurt might become a common form of shelter in post-industrial America, so you may just be ahead of your time.

Steve, thank you for that metaphor -- very plausible indeed.

Edde, it's good to hear from someone who didn't forget the lessons of those years!

David, thank you for the link!

Ariel, despite getting a BA from a university that had a bad case of political correctness and a worse case of postmodernism, I somehow managed to duck both of those, as well as the equal and opposite ideologies of the right. Must have been lucky, I guess.

Hari, thanks for the link!

DPW, there may be some more frantic muddling to be done down the road, but I think you've got the basic principles down.

Cathy, that would make a decent blog post of its own! The one response that I'll make is that those people who ask "when will this happen?" have missed the point. It's already happening, and it will continue to happen for the rest of their lives.

Bill, I expect to see a lot of "new normal" in the years to come. It will be interesting to see how far things can change without anyone quite allowing themselves to notice.

John Michael Greer said...

Oskar, the interesting thing there is that my habit of frugality was one of the things that endeared me to the woman I married -- and we've been married now for almost 26 years.

Jennie, landfill mining and ruin salvage will be growth industries for many years to come.

Andrew, that's fascinating -- all the more so because it follows an era in which some pretty wild Utopian schemes were circulating. I'm not sure what to make of it. I may write a utopia one of these days, but I promise you most people won't find it particularly utopian!

Fourpie, keep rowing if you must, but keep an eye on the porthole; when the ship hits a rock, you don't want to keep on rowing when it's time to swim for your life.

John Michael Greer said...

By the way, as always happens when I mention The Limits to Growth, I received a flurry of comments from people who reiterated the usual straw-man treatment that book has been getting for almost thirty years now. If you're one of the people who tried to post along those lines this time, go back and read the book. It does not say what you think it says. If you want to argue with it, argue with what it actually says. 'Nuf said.

Óskar said...

JMG, in regards to your marriage, I consider you lucky! I knew you would say that though.

This may be my perspective coming from a small country where there isn't the social diversity to allow for alternative lifestyle folks to mingle and hook up. I'm sure I'm not the only one of your readers in that situation however.

After trying to stick to my principles for some years I'm changing to a more compromising approach. Going to extremes in lifestyle changes has been a useful experience to me personally but also served to estrange me to my family, friends and potential mates. My current principle is to live in the *present* for the most part, while accounting for the future in my choice of education, hobbies, and housing.

Regardless, my main point above was: displays of extravagance for mating purposes is very natural and universal. By "extravagance" I just mean anything beyond what's needed for subsistence. While frugality and simplicity make for great virtues, the desire to "spice things up" in life is not a sin, and not something only humans do!

bryant said...

"Limits to Growth... If you want to argue with it, argue with what it actually says. 'Nuf said."

Thank you! It is incredibly frustrating to repeatedly deflate the misleading propaganda surrounding these books.

Tony said...

The rest of us will end our lives the way our great-grandparents did...

Given that the life expectancy of an average American, 100 years ago, was around 50 years, I have a hard time looking forward to this circumstance. By that standard, at not even 30 years of age, I'm well over the hill!

Not that I intend to contradict your analysis, but a little less blithe disregard would be nice.

Red Neck Girl said...

When you mentioned Medical help there were two things that sprang to mind that I think could be useful in a future without our current medical organization. Being a reader of SciFi and Fantasy since grade school I early found and fell in love with Andre Norton's books. I miss Mary Alice's stories since her death a few years ago.

I recall two of her books that had monastic or another religious organization to meet two needs in a medieval society that I think would be very handy to have.

The first was from her book "The Moon of Three Rings" and was a monastic organization that dealt with the mentally disabled or insane. It can be very difficult to care for such an individual, they often need structure that may be hard to maintain for a family with a near subsistence standard of living.

The second was from her "Witch World" series and would be a woman's religious organization that deals with pregnancies and birth. Specifically a place centrally located, built and maintained to support women in their reproductive health. It could also be a training center for midwives as well as a place for traveling doctors to rest and see patients.

I know that I have added far more to her premise on the birth center but without the ability to travel great distances and maintain the more extreme technical skills now used today it would be a way to preserve a higher level of medical and obstetric expertise than otherwise.

I know, 'who bells the cat,' and it won't be me because I have no medical training above first aid and don't have the inclination to learn more. Not at my age anyway. But perhaps you have followers of this blog, in those fields that would take this to heart and begin compiling manuals or learning that could be passed down through our clarifying, cleansing times.

Perhaps that is a 'religion' we should practice, sensible medical care based on the world and environment around us. Compassion is an emotion we should never discard or we would lose our humanity.

Laura said...

About the usefulness of survivalism: actually, some survivalists are starting to cotton on. Not many, of course, but on some survivalist fora, I'm starting to see articles about "long-term survival after TEOTWAWKI". These articles often focus on gardening, home health care, and community-building.

Of course, it's still a small portion of what's out there. Most of what I see either has to do with surviving a finite natural disaster (which is also useful), or with doomer porn (great phrase, I think I might vike that!).

sofistek said...

JMG,

You're right that the future must be somewhere in between the two extreme views (BAU and apocalytic collapse). At least, on average. Don't you think that both of those extremes could exist, for a time, at the same time, as the future unfolds in a very haphazard way?

As the expectations and aspirations of almost everyone hit the brick wall, people will react in different ways. In some cases, isn't it possible that marauding gangs could arise as well as there being enclaves of previously rich folk trying to cling to their toys (and succeding for a time)?

Though I definitely agree with you, on average, I think we have to be prepared (or some of us have to be; it's easier to imagine some places breaking down more completely than others) for some aspect of the doomer porn that you think is impossible.

pgrass101 said...

I do wonder why so many people are sleepwalking not just through the transition but through their lives as well.

People seem to expect a sudden collaspe overnight and not one that takes decades or longer. I cannot seem to convince them that Rome did not fall in a day.

I do try to educate but at times I just throw my hands up and walk away. The only problem is that i cannot do this if I want a reslient community that is able to remain intact as we powerdown.

John Michael Greer said...

Oskar, granted! You're quite right that even people that we'd consider deeply impoverished in material terms find ways to make things a bit more lively; equally, monasticism isn't for everyone. Still, I was struck by the contrast between your experience and mine.

Bryant, the way that The Limits to Growth has been shouted down over the last thirty-odd years is an embarrassment to a society that claims to be able to think its way out of a wet paper bag. The (il)logic is always the same:

1. The book predicted that we'd run out of (insert resource here) by (insert date here);

2. We didn't;

3. Therefore everything it had to say can be ignored, because it didn't take into account (insert comforting bromide here).

Now of course the argument falls flat from point 1, because The Limits to Growth made no dated predictions. That wasn't what the team who produced it was trying to do. They were trying to model how unlimited growth interacts with a finite planet given a wide range of policy choices. It so happens that their standard run has turned out to be a very close fit to the way things have turned out from 1973 to the present, but it galls me to see a very thoughtful analysis of the problems of growth brushed aside with frankly mendacious rhetoric. (Yes, I'll get down off my soapbox now.)

Tony, it's not blithe disregard; it's a recognition of realities, and a certain lack of appreciation for sentimentality. I'm about to turn 48, for what that's worth. One point worth mentioning, though -- the average lifespan in America a century ago was 50 only in a statistical sense. A lot more people died of epidemics, childbirth, and workplace injuries, remember; death from old age didn't occur a lot earlier than it does now.

Girl, I was a major fan of Norton's SF in my teen years, and in fact her Witch World order is one of the things that fed into Circle, which fills a similar role in my online novel Star's Reach. Still, somebody's going to have to bell the cat if anything like that is going to happen.

Laura, for what it's worth, I think that a lot of what goes on in the "prepper" end of things is good and useful -- and it's very good to hear that there's some attention being paid to the long term. As for "doomer porn," I borrowed it from an Oil Drum post, so by all means!

Mr. Kowalski said...

I just came across your blog, and it's instantly become my favorite. Your insights and beautiful use of the language are impressive.. I'm a fan ! I also completely agree with you on your point that we are now exiting the Age of Oil and will shortly be entering the Dark Age.. but I dare say that we as a nation are a resourceful lot and after a period of extreme poverty and violence we'll find a better way forward. I think one's location when this all happens is of paramount importance.. a place like Las Vegas with no food or water nearby will be in serious trouble; but a lovely, boring farm village in Iowa will make things much easier. If we as a nation cannot export food, vast tracts of the third world will go hungry and feral shortly thereafter. Wisely learning how to be gardeners and how to do it with real seeds instead of the frankenseeds Monsanto pushes on us is a terrific start. I'm starting this year on my garden. May all who read this blog be well in the times to come.

Here's my version of the economic collapse: http://themeanoldinvestor.blogspot.com/2010/05/update-523-worst-case-scenario.html

Cathy McGuire said...

@Rudi: I've often found myself thinking that a "new monasticism" could be a solution to many problems, notably healthcare. What if we had a movement of voluntarily poor "monastic" healers

Rudi, if you check out the names of many hospitals, they have religious affiliations -- because not too long ago, many of our medical centers WERE run by "voluntarily poor healers" ie: nuns or similar, who were not paid, but worked as part of their order! It truly was only a few generations ago that we "ran out" of these charity-based organizations, or they morphed into corporations that keep up the pretense of the older community. But I'm not sure you can run the clock backward on this one -- convincing folks to work for nothing when others are making big bucks... however, if there is a crash that takes down the current healthcare organization, possibly something would evolve again.

Christophe said...

Hi JMG,

Fun read as per usual.

Would be very curious as to which books you'd recommend on monastic history/life.

Bill Pulliam said...

Re: Life expectancy -- it is always relative to a starting age. Life expectancy at birth might have been 50, but if you already made it to 30 your life expectancy was considerably longer. A woman who is already 80 now in the U.S. can expect (statistically) to live to 88 or 89; but once she successfully makes it to 85 her expectation rises to about 92.

KevinC said...

Here's my theory on the BAU/Doomer Porn dichotomy:

As soul-sucking and mundane as BAU can be, it's also comfortable. The relative comfort BAU provides is the psychological equivalent of a ball bearing in a bowl. Any realistic move away from it is a move toward discomfort, so it's easier to just stay put.

Apocalypse promises misery, but at least it's exciting. It meets the requirements of heroic fiction. If you're blasting away at a horde of zombies or lifting off in a Cessna as the continent you were on slides into the ocean, you're not exactly happy, but it's got to be thrilling--at least as a fantasy. It's such a complete break from BAU that there's no climbing up the sides of the bowl. The ball bearing gets lifted out entirely.

The problem with a muddle-of-the road Decline and Fall is that it's both mundane and miserable. 12 hours of back-breaking labor for the local warlord to earn yourself and your family a can of cat food each, so you can have the energy to get up and do it again tomorrow, or being part of a homeless, jobless proletariat isn't a future anyone wants to envision.

The Great Depression, Only Worse (for the rest of your life, until the Visigoths come and usher in Horses-and-Swords, Forever) would be too grim and depressing even for Steinbeck to write about.

So, from the ball bearing in a bowl perspective, it's much easier to pull the covers over your head and hope BAU continues somehow. Or failing that, at least hope for Apocalypse, so you have the option of glory and excitement blazing away at the zombies until the shotgun shells run out. If the zombies pull you down at the end of the day, at least you had a good run re-enacting every popcorn action flick you ever saw. Plus there's no lifetime of grinding poverty and passing even worse poverty on to the kids.

As intellectual justification, the doomer can say, "Well, if our society is so ineffective at responding to the current crisis, it's not going to be any better at it when things are ten or a hundred times worse! So when things get really fecoventilatory, the Powers That Be won't be able to stop the tailspin and level out for years at Great Depression levels. Instead, failure will cascade upon failure so that we can start the Zombie Apocalypse within some fairly reasonable period of a few months or so and I can get on with laying the minefields and boobytraps around my doomstead. Or better yet, maybe Jesus will beam me up with all the other Real Americans and I'll get to watch everybody else go through the Zombie Apocalypse from the box seats in Heaven!"

I don't know if the BAU/Doomer Porn dichotomy exists in Europe and elsewhere or not. In America's case, there are only two modes of living that are familiar and "real" in our culture: the modern car/suburbia culture, and the Wild West. So, for visions of a non-BAU lifestyle, Americans are pretty much limited to Little House on the Prarie. It's either the suburban McMansion, or a "Teeny Little Farm". Both are pretty much iterations of the same ideal, except that the suburban McMansion has cars instead of goats.

Other countries have the advantage of possessing functional Traditional Cities--that is, cities built for humans, rather than cars. If your country has fine old cities like Venice, Paris, or Barcelona, then you know it's possible to have a pleasant life without a car or a quarter-acre suburban lawn around a farmhouse-without-a-farm. Your history offers you working models of cultures and places that worked without fossil fuels.

America doesn't have that. Even this blog, as much as I enjoy it, doesn't have much to say to the 80% or so of people for whom living on a mini-farm and raising vegetables, goats and chickens isn't an option.

straker said...

"near-universal impoverishment, food shortages, epidemics, civil wars, and outbreaks of vicious ethnic cleansing, bracketed by two massive wars that both had body counts in the tens of millions."

I get the sense that, by putting forth a more protracted collapse that merely matches some of the low-points in prior history rather than rising to the level of a Cormac McCarthy extinction event, that you're somehow delivering some sort of muted "pep-talk" for hardcore doomers. Is that true?

Most of us, even doomer veterans, are not so brazen (or should I say stoic) that we can face even the above challenges without just about as much dread as we would the apocalyptic world of "The Road".

Whether or not such events reasonably classify as "the end of the world" or not doesn't mean we aren't entitled to feel that dread.

I'd say the classification of doom on the scale from bad to worse to apocalyptic is largely a semantical battle, and not that useful outside of the echo chamber of doomers blogging to other doomers about the many shades of doomerism and how they are oh-so distinct from each other.

Obviously, nobody's _entitled_ to a bright future. Life is unfair. But I detect a hint of chauvanism.

It's like, "if MY vision of doom is milder than YOUR vision of doom, then I'm going to marginalize you for being more upset about the future than I am."

This is basically the pecking order. Each doomer subcategory (from JD at peakoil debunked on down, assuming you include JD as a doomer) denigrates the subcategory underneath as over-reacting.

So you have Kunstler who doesn't even classify himself as a doomer who berates Olduvai theory, and yet at the same time in his most recent blog is talking about pestilence and death!

You can't control how people are going to feel about the future. There are nihilists out there for whom the end of the world is of no consequence. And there are spoiled brats for whom the loss of the big screen TV is TEOTWAWKI. But it's fair to say that a natural response to determining the future to be your long descent (punctuated by crushing poverty and violence) is not that less traumatic than the Zombie Horde(TM).

Houyhnhnm said...

As Andrew Brown notes, capitalism exerts "gargantuan effort to create a base of passive consumers who are meant to express every human impulse through a consumer choice of some kind."

A major part of the problem begins here. Being presented with a menu limits imagination and stunts curiosity. Those who accept the consumer mentality forget how to cook for themselves.

Those who lack the skill to imagine other scenarios become fearful at the thought of change. For them, conformity and uniformity provide status, comfort, safety, and even a fabricated sense of self. For example, I actually overheard someone say, "I drive a yellow Hummer; that's who I am!"

For me, the supreme irony is that so many American consumers continue to think of themselves as rugged individualists when in reality they merely select any item on the menu.

I smile when I think of Leslie Neilsen in _Airplane_. Asked whether he had the steak or fish, he says, "I had the lasagna."

Houyhnhnm

John Michael Greer said...

Softisek, I've been saying all along that there are going to be some extremely rough patches in the future, just as there have been in the past. My objection to doomer porn is its encouragement of apocalypse machismo -- "I can imagine a more devastating cataclysm than you can!" -- and a related tendency to foster universalized worst case scenarios that embrace the entire world.

Pgrass, keep on trying to talk to people. There are quite a few out there willing to consider the middle ground.

Mr. Kowalski, I don't know about a "better way forward" -- forward to what? Still, thank you.

Christophe, it's been long enough since I did most of my study of monasticism that I'd have a hard time coming up with a reading list. The crucial thing is to include cross-cultural examples, i.e., not just Western Christian monasticism.

Bill, a good point.

Kevin, that's quite plausible. Still, I think you're mistaken in thinking this blog is about mini-farms; I've used household kitchen gardens as a convenient example, since a very large number of Americans live in homes that have yards that can be converted into gardens, but if you page back a bit (or hang around a bit) you'll find plenty of other examples that don't require that. By the way, household kitchen gardens were very common in traditional cities in Europe and elsewhere.

Straker, not at all. I'm trying to define my own way of thinking about the future in distinction from the two main narratives that shape most of our cultural stories about the future -- on the one hand, the narrative of perpetual progress; on the other, the narrative of imminent apocalypse. My point is simply that those two narratives are at the far ends of a spectrum that includes many more likely possibilities, and plans for the future that only take one or the other into account may be less useful than they look.

Wordek said...

JMG
Dont know why but you brought out a touch of vitriol in me again

“unable to conceive of any future other than business as usual, on the one hand, and extreme doomer porn on the other”
There are essentially two “universes” in my head that I use when trying to understand “stuff”
#1 is a static universe where work is required to create change.
#2 is a fluid universe where work is required to prevent change.
Its interesting how any scenario changes automatically as I flip them back and forth between universes. After mixing it up a bit:
An apocalypse where all the chosen people go to hell and the sinners get paradise
An “all doomers are doomed” movement
Excited BAU shouted through a megaphone.
Dont bother repenting!! the end isnt coming anytime soon as far as I can tell - and I have been checking fairly assiduously this whole time let me tell you!!! Return to your homes and put the kettle on!! I will be around shortly with that Hugh Grant DVD I was telling you about – no, not the one with the bear, the good one!! Do you have any biscuits?!?!

Fun for the whole family

“the easy solution for any problem or predicament was to throw material wealth at it.”
Yep..Instead of throwing your adaptable brain and some time at it.
But wait! Thats what we pay “experts” for right? To know all kindsa clever stuff so we wont have to. I dont need brains or commitment, I can afford a consultant to tell me what I would do if I was smart folk! Stupidity as a luxury good. Ignorance as a status symbol. Where do I sign me up for those funtimes!! I'm gonna get me some respect at last. Hand me the blindfold and earmuffs Nancy, we're finally moving up to a better class of incumpetunce!!

“Did it really benefit anyone to spend trillions of dollars”
I assume the people who got their hands on some of the trillions arent complaining.

“civilization’s brightest minds creating high-end medical treatments”
Ahem? Brightest minds? Or most coddled minds? I would have thought the definition of civilizations brightest minds would be those who actually served civilization for the better. I guess that depends on your definitions of 'civilization' and 'better' . Me - I say screw Pfizer, is there another Semmelweis in the house? Promise we'll treat you better this time Ignaz.

Or were you being ironic?

“Quite the contrary; all the plans for lifeboat ecovillages I’ve encountered so far, at least, aim at preserving some semblance of a middle class lifestyle into the indefinite future.”
Thats because they are “middle class” ventures (whatever middle class means – Everyone seems to claim middle class status these days. Im assuming it means you have a few quid in the bank).
In contrast when a group of tramps sets up an eco village with cardboard and newspaper they get called squatters and evicted. I suppose its fortunate that "the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges" otherwise that could have been our working baseline. ( Though I did try sleeping in a hedge one night... Sign me up for a middle class ecovillage please )

“the energy you don’t need to spend maintaining your standard of living can be put to work doing something more useful”
Plus you generally have nothing worth pillaging and (hopefully) no one worth raping. (Those mediaevals werent quite as vanilla as Disney likes to paint them.)

“Now it’s probably too much to hope for that some similar movement might spring into being here and now”
My money is on the tramps...

Mr. Kowalski said...

"The dole was enough to pay for food - not rent and many people were evicted often forcibly"

My idea about "the collapse" would be far different than the last Depression.. I have to believe that by now the US Govt has a plan in place for just such an event, primarily in the interests of keeping themselves in power.

I remember reading about a plan on abovetopsecret (yeah yeah I know and agree) where the nation is essentially divided into 435 military districts (Congressional districts) with each having a military governor who's job would be to 1: Maintain Order and then 2: Assist Federal takeovers of "vital industries" and 3: Distribute basic food and goods as best he can. The plan assumes that the entire banking system and currerncy are worthless. It calls for a new currency and banking system to be established. People would be unable to get assistance if they moved from their districts. Illegals would be rounded up and shipped back home. People will own their homes as long as they're homesteaded; the military govenor has rights to any other housing such as hotels and un-homesteaded houses.

Under such a scenario, an unemployment rate of 60% is easily imaginable as agriculture and basic utilities employ only a small percentage of our population.

Going forward.. we as a nation would be debt free and will have learned to live within our meager means. Most of us will slowly (and on bicycle) regain small jobs. I do believe the electric grid and nat-gas system will hold together, but petrol will be something most people will learn to live without; new cars will literally have no value; GM and Ford become symbols of an Age gone by. Golf carts become extremely valueable. Luixuries such as coffee, booze and cigarettes slowly return. The worst among us would've likely been "dealt with" by the military governors. We all return to a much more simpler life, with golf carts, bicycles and meager jobs. House purchases and regular banking slowly return. But in many ways I dare say better; we'll have more time to spend with our families and we may even begin to know our next door neighbor's names. Watch the 1930s version of The Wizard of Oz.. everyone rode bicycles and ate basic foods.. and still they lived.

But in other, less fortunate places on the earth, life will become very difficult; many places in Africa subsist only on foreign food aid; many others can afford to import it, but indeed need to because their lands are incapable of growing food. Its in these places that live and death become very ugly.

Robin Datta said...

There are some aspects of high-tech medicine that add substantially to the duration of a functional life. Bill Clinton without his coronary artery bypass grafts might have been a "cardiac cripple" if not felled by a heart attack. Likewise Steve Jobs without his liver transplant could have been severely handicapped before succumbing to the condition.

In the Age of Scarcity Industrialism these will become progressively less available to the general population: when the technological underpinnings fall away, they will be history for everyone.

Old / antique textbooks of medicine carry insights that are largely forgotten today, but which will be useful again in the low - tech world. Yet many aspects of today's knowledge could still be useful - as in the case of society carrying over knowledge derived from a high-tech age to form an ecotechnic society, so too we may have ecotechnic medicine.

pfh said...

The mystery, that our culture can't imagine how growth systems climax smoothly to mature at their peak of health and vitality, is how I phrase the puzzle behind our blind obsession with growth.

It's a mystery!! The further mystery is also that the answer is so obvious from some points of view. So it's also a mystery others don't inquire about those points of view....

From the investor's view, what produces your returns, and allows them to multiply without work, is the synergy of what amounts to a living organism, your society and it's use/enjoyment of the earth. To keep getting reliable positive returns on investments, an investor simply better not keep adding their winnings to their own bets, as that naturally exceeds all sustainable limits of the system you're part of. It's that simple.

To treat your society as a casino, one that continually multiplies it's loosing bets in your service, does *look* like "making money" from a selfish point of view. From the society's point of view it's endlessly multiplying its unsustainable obligations, to you.

Our culture, teaching us to represent the world around us from our private world views, despite all good intentions, doesn't let us switch perspectives to that of the system in which we have become uncontrolled growing parasites...

All it takes is imagining what effect it has on your world for us all to depend on institutions for perpetually multiplying our take.

Christophe said...

"The crucial thing is to include cross-cultural examples, i.e., not just Western Christian monasticism."

yeah, that's what you were doing in your post, and i was hoping you'd know of a good book which did just that. but, no worries.

"I don't know about a "better way forward" -- forward to what?"

GK Chesterton: “We must go back to freedom or forward to slavery.”

"since a very large number of Americans live in homes that have yards that can be converted into gardens"

Holmgren has done some good work on precisely this problem:

http://bit.ly/bycSBS
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cjhQWdbqE4

pentronicus said...

Re: "I’ve spent years wondering why it is that so many people seem unable to conceive of any future other than business as usual, on the one hand, and extreme doomer porn on the other."

I think that one reason we gravitate to the extreme ends of the future fantasy spectrum is that these extreme scenarios are easiest to imagine. Both the techno-cornucopian future and the zombie apocalypse fantasies have been well covered in film and print. Is there anyone left on earth who has not seen at least one of the Star Wars and Mad Max movies? Survival in the apocalyptic future is easy to think about: If a man threatens you, then you either kill him or run him off, or if he is bigger than you, then you do the running. Just like in the movies.

Thinking about mid-spectrum scenarios requires first of all narrowing down what’s likely to happen, and that takes some knowledge of history, human nature, and the state of the world. Then you have to think, which is an activity many people try to avoid. Then you get into all kinds of squishy questions, like “Would I join a Nazi-like organization to feed my children?” or “How do I tactfully and safely bribe corrupt town officials?” Or how about this one: “Could I ever kill and eat someone’s pet?”

Really, who wants to actually think about that stuff? It’s much more fun just to fantasize about starships and shotguns.

John Michael Greer said...

Houyhnhnm, there are times when I think Leslie Nielsen might be a workable patron saint for today. More people need to choose the lasagna.

Wordek, I'm not being ironic at all. The folks who created modern medical technology include quite a few genius-class intellects. The fact that so much of their intelligence has been used to prop up an utterly corrupt medical-industrial complex and put into the service of a hopelessly inadequate conception of human life doesn't make them any less smart; it merely reminds us that there's a difference between "smart" and "wise."

Mr. Kowalski, and if there were such a plan, would you be able to read about it on frankly crackpot website? Sigh.

Robin, granted. I'd like to see a knowledge of basic sanitation and some good sustainably produced formulas for disinfectants hang around, for example.

Pfh, not all growth systems have a smooth climax! Overshoot and collapse is a very common pattern in nature as well, and I sometimes suspect that human societies have evolved to follow that pattern. If that's the case, it's an interesting question to see if that evolutionary programming can be overridden, or if it's hardwired into human social existence.

Christophe, I wish there was a good book on comparative monasticism. It would make a very solid dissertation topic for a Ph.D. candidate in history, if any of those happen to be reading this!

Pentronicus, it's certainly more popular to think about starships and shotguns just now, but that's just part of the problem. It's not too hard for me to imagine Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope, for example, writing some utterly readable books about life in a declining civilization. Why aren't we seeing that sort of novel?

Cathy McGuire said...

It's not too hard for me to imagine Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope, for example, writing some utterly readable books about life in a declining civilization. Why aren't we seeing that sort of novel?

Where would you get it published? The publishing houses want Thrillers and Doomporn -- as an author, I've heard all the horror stories... publishing is as bad as film for wanting the stereotypical plots! :-( I have my hopes on the Dark Mountain group... I'm looking forward to getting their first anthology (which I see you are in!).

Houyhnhnm said...

JMG said, "Houyhnhnm, there are times when I think Leslie Nielsen might be a workable patron saint for today. More people need to choose the lasagna."

Or the home-grown spinach salad with hard-boiled eggs from backyard fowl!

And my apologies to Leslie Nielsen for misspelling his name.

Houyhnhnm

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Such an interesting post and so many worthwhile and thoughtful responses.

I've lately found that if one frames the future not in terms of ultimate and proximate causes and effects but in terms of--"you know oil is getting more expensive, what do you think we should do? What do you think is likely to change?"--it's easier to have productive conversations with many people.

Perhaps practical response to an immediate threat is easier to imagine for many folks?

Partly because of reading this blog, for the last several months I've been meditating on how everything in our society is oil dependent, and what the real ramifications of getting "off our oil addiction" would be (no matter whether because of peak oil or climate change).

So many people focus on transportation but our entire material culture will have to change in even the most seemingly trivial aspects (no more plastic wrap or water bottles). As you've been pointing out. But to really consider what that means is breathtaking in the extreme.

Just learned to sharpen my own gardening tools, though not very skilled at it yet. And have started propagating plants. One step at a time is how we go forward.

Monasteries.Yes. People of diverse skills banding together to create a community. My impression is that in some of the medieval monasteries, the monks lived pretty well. Better a monk or nun than a serf?

mczilla said...

And so it is. Discussing and "planning" for collapse and all its many possibilities has become another spectator sport and growth industry in itself, and some how a natural, if slightly ironic, extension of the status quo. As you continually point out, it's happening anyway, all plans aside. The big changes always seem to come the hard way, and soon even Prius drivers will hit a brick wall.

But no one really knows exactly how it will play out, and as things drag on, a certain jadedness is creeping into the scene. And those already in abject poverty (a sizable fraction) will hardly notice anyway. Fortunately there are close to 7 billion of us now, so there will almost certainly be enough folks left to pick up the pieces and try again. Somehow.

straker said...

"It's not too hard for me to imagine Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope, for example, writing some utterly readable books about life in a declining civilization. Why aren't we seeing that sort of novel?"

Seems to me the best you could do would be something like Candide.

Brad K. said...

@ Mr. Kowalski,

. . if there were such a plan . .

I read your 435 district plan with a shudder. It has all the earmarks of a marxist-type, secular solution, at rifle point of select "authority" - with an attendant death of spiritual life. It would signal a true utopia, if for the first time in history "the worst of us" weren't selected by political expediency.

@ william,

On adapting with your cattle, do check into rotational grazing. Dividing the pasture into three or more small areas gives the entire pasture more time to recover before rotating the livestock back in. Some estimate tripling the livestock "load" a given pasture can sustain, just by doing what horse books said some 30 years ago - turn them in when the grass is six (6) inches high, take them off when it is three (3) inches high. Matron of Husbandry discusses on her blog, rotating daily. She gets to target the enrichment of each little parcel (droppings) and adapts to amount of growth in each piece of grazeable land. Oh, and the Small Farmers Journal of Sisters, OR, has had articles on training and using oxen. Also Rural Heritage, I believe. Happy Droving!

JMG,

I think that change is measured in pain. If there is no pain, the change is very minor. Training aspires, usually, to minimize pain. Stress reduces the ability to think and thus reduces the amount of learning that takes place.

I think the Doomer Porn comes from an assumption of a decline faster than training or education could prepare the populace for. The business as usual paradigm is the natural human tendency to adhere to what is working at the moment, which is the basis for addiction, work ethics, and habits – a mixed blessing.

And I assume there is a silent group stretched between those two poles of thinking, worried about what is likely to happen, and muddling along as best they can. If only this were the larger group . .

@ Óskar,

Here I come the neo-feudalist again. While you are donating and living frugally - consider taking in some domestic assistants. This used to be a refuge for maiden aunts, for the destitute, for aged parents.

As long as you can reliably produce the food needed, you should be able to set another place at the table. If you can keep the arrangement non-monetary - so much the better. "Servant" didn't used to be a term of disrespect - until industrial marketing taught everyone that eternal social climbing and ambition were "normal". By the tone of your character, and those you choose to bring into your home, you have the opportunity to develop community, a moral haven, and a household robustness beyond what a single couple could achieve.


@ Cathy McGuire,

About how long it takes.

I think that the zombie horde scene assumes a universal, singular and all encompassing event that drives the big change - like a volcano eruption, a massive earthquake spanning the continent, or an asteroid hitting Iowa. The flip side for the BAU crowd is the assumption that the collapse will follow a pattern similar to our current round of debacles – and would likely be indistinguishable from current “minor” adjustments, or be avoided.

That makes the question "when will the wheels come off" a two part question. Do you mean when the wheels come off at your town - or when the overall "change" occurs? If you ask about your town, the answer is an unequivocal "it depends" - on where your town is located relative to other major contributors (each town and city will generate negative aspects that threaten nearby communities as they decline), and how susceptible they are to the particular declines of concern at the moment.

Like gardening and other zones, the decline/collapse is more likely to advance organically than as a dramatic day-to-night eclipse.

Red Neck Girl said...

JMG said:

Robin, granted. I'd like to see a knowledge of basic sanitation and some good sustainably produced formulas for disinfectants hang around, for example.


JMG, I have a memory, I'm above average intelligence, not a genius but not slow either, except in perhaps a few blind spots because my head just doesn't 'work that way.'

At any rate one disinfectant is made using pine needles. You have to get the essential oil out of the needles just as you would out of flowers for a perfume. A big enamel pot on the stove with a cup sitting on top of an inverted bowl, water just below the cup bottom and the domed lid inverted over the top so the oil collects on the lid and drips into the cup. The green pine needles placed in the bottom of the pot surrounding the inverted bowl. Simmer, keep an eye on water level and replace fresh needles as needed.

If done right you have your own pinesol. I'm good on theory, I just have to start practicing some of these old skills.

I also know how lye can be extracted from wood ash.

On a note about old skills, not that this link will necessarily help those outside the US, but I highly recommend, http://lindsaybks.com/
This site even has technical books on English metal working from the early 1900s. Do you want to make your own machine shop from scratch? They have a set of booklets describing how for about $60.00! And Goddess knows how handy making your own tools and parts could be! At least on the way down anyway.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Oskar,

"Going to extremes in lifestyle changes has been a useful experience to me personally but also served to estrange me to my family, friends and potential mates."

I've said it before, but to challenge the status quo is a difficult thing. I understand however where you are coming from though.

We have challenged the "norm" ourselves by not having children in the midst of a baby boom in Australia that exceeds that after WWII. As such we have placed ourselves consciously in a minority without having understood the difficulties that this presented.

In short and to speak the simple truth, to act outside the norm, you put yourself essentially outside the norm. This presents obvious limitations as to your social acceptability which in turn limits your social opportunities.

I've noticed and previously commented on that family units seem to me to appear more introverted in recent times than has been the case in the past. Houses are also physically getting larger here in Australia on a square meter basis. In fact it was recently reported that we now have the largest houses per capita in the world now.

I find all of this to be quite disturbing and it is also contributing towards the movement away from our once egalitarian society.

So what has this got to do with you? Well if you are outside the norm, you need to communicate and make friends with others who are like minded and also don't expect them to come to you. I think that it probably takes around 2 years of interactions before easy rapport with others settles in.

One of our better prime ministers in recent times said "no one said life was meant to be easy". Good on him! Community is something that is built, it doesn't just occur naturally without effort.

Good luck!

quantumskunk said...

some serious doommer porn here, almost like one finds on the oil conundrum.

my solar panels generated 15 KWWH on may the 25th. WAH-HOO! of course my 3 air conditioners used that up and more.

i work in a sheet metal factory with out heat in the winter and without AC in the summer. talk about barbaric. they use sledge hammers to straighten 1/2" think plate steel after welding. it is one step advanced from olde tyme black smithing. i am living the future and the future stinks.

address this, the rich stole all the money via goobermint bail outs yet make no investments in anything to mediate society's
continuation except their own. what does that tell you?

by the by, my 3 kw solar pv system cost $25,000. way too much money. it is only for the rich. not practical until 9 kw system available for same amount. i wish i had that money back.

money is still worth something and i wish i had more of it. things wont change until things change.

(editor's note: cant figure out if first click sends post or second. please excuse double posting)

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

I did a bit of browsing for "comparative monasticism", and found some potentially interesting stuff, listed below, but the most poignant facts I found were:

1)Thomas Merton's premature death occurred in an electrical accident when he was attending a 1968 conference on comparative monasticism in Thailand.

2)from the biography Keith Richards: Satisfaction, by Christopher Sandford. "Keith had never had a steady girlfriend, and lived in an atmosphere of comparative monasticism....He took a few uppers, liked a beer and a smoke, but his only real addiction was to music. It particularly pissed Brian [Jones] off to seek Keith composing a song. Whereas Jones would take seven days to write a three-minute song, it actually took Richards three minutes to write a three-minute tune."

Now the books, etc.:

A Case Study in Comparative Monasticism: Songgwang-sa S on Buddhist Monastery, Korea and the Abbey of the Genesee, Cistercian Monastery, United States of America. Simon Young-suck Moon.Dissertation Abstracts International Section A The Humanities and Social Sciences (1996).University of Toronto. "On the basis of my comparative case studies, I conclude that monasticism is an 'alternative way of life' to secular, worldly norms. This conclusion is presented as a corrective to the views of many modern scholars who simply view monasticism as pessimistic, world denying and otherworldly."

Virtuosity, Charisma and Social Order: A Comparative Sociological Study of Monasticism in Theravada Buddhism and Medieval Catholicism. By: Ilana Friedrich Silber, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Richard Keyser (History) and Jeffrey Samuels (Religious Studies) have twice co-taught a course on Comparative Monasticism: Buddhism and Christianity at Western Kentucky University. One could ask them for a syllabus or reading list.

PanIdaho said...

"Not one significant policy maker or mass media pundit in the industrial world has begun to talk about the impact of the end of the age of abundance; it’s an open question if any of them have grasped how fundamental the changes will be as the new age of post-abundance economics begins to clamp down.

Most ordinary people in the industrial world, for their part, are sleepwalking through one of history’s major transitions. The issues that concern them are still defined entirely by the calculus of abundance. Most Americans these days, for example, worry about managing a comfortable retirement, paying for increasingly expensive medical care, providing their children with a college education and whatever amenities they consider important. It has not yet entered their darkest dreams that they need to worry about access to such basic necessities as food, clothing and shelter, the fate of local economies and communities shredded by decades of malign neglect, and the rise of serious threats to the survival of constitutional government and the rule of law. "


This is a source of IMMENSE frustration for me. Although there are several forums that ostensibly address these issues, they are so clogged by endless political bickering and tinfoil posts that it is difficult anymore to even find the few practical, reasoned discussions of how to go about doing what we need to do to cushion our steep descent into sustainability.

All the ongoing blather I see on most forums (not so much on this one, thank the gods...) about "how fast, how long, how sharp" the descent will be wastes energy and keeps people from actually putting ANY sort of plan into action. Most folks would rather focus on debating all the things we can't know rather than focusing on the one major certainty that matters most - due to the convergence of peak oil, peak resources, climate change and economic collapse, Business As Usual AIN'T coming back and we'd all better get a move-on if we're going to soften the blow of that change for ourselves and our families.

Muddling isn't going to be a popular option, but I agree that it's our only real hope left. We've simply picked the nits on this issue for far too long to implement any other plan.

Houyhnhnm said...

Mention of Jane Austen, Keith Richards, and pasture rotation. Where else could I find three of my favorite topics mentioned in one set of blog comments?

I love how JMG's essays inspire articulate, often remarkable responses.

Houyhnhnm

Marguaritte said...

I am thinking of cultures within America that are good examples of sustainability,knowing how to live quite well without cars, electricity & consumerism, and surprised no one has mentioned the Amish communities. Maybe they should start hosting workshops on how they do it. Also I am thinking of the Native American culture, though admittedly have been assimilated, yet they are not so far from their roots of living off the land that they couldn't draw from their history of subsistence skills: hunting, corn planting, indigenous medicines, shamanic rituals etc.

das monde said...

Yes, in the 1970s we had more intelligent global observations, discussions and policies. But did rational concerns disappear just because everyone had to go crazy about making money and not worrying about anything else? How did this shortsightedness catched on that effectively?

I do not think that we already see a crash into the brick wall of ecological limits. The rape of Earth did not reach its peak yet, though we are certainly close. We are only short of money, as yet. The coincidence of oil peak prizes with financial meltdowns is more a symptom than a real gauge. The 2007 just had to be time for an exceptional real estate bubble and a few years of financial schemes to conceal it to pop (just like the 1929 crash was materialized by an overwhelming trust fund mania). The upcoming series of downgrades of sovereign debts is more a game of fickle investors than particular straits of institutional debtors.

Do any significant policy makers grasp how fundamental the post-abundance changes will be? If they would, how would they tell us? Wouldn’t they just pretend a global business as usual for as long as possible, as they do now?

Rather ironically, other futuristic opus of the 1970s, Future Shock by Alvin Toffler, appears to be a rare instance of on-spot prediction (for so far). The main thesis of ever-accelerating change in technology, lifestyle, communication, learning is already a common wisdom. His technological elaborations are way too optimistic for the context of this blog, but... if there will still be people that would not have to worry about basic needs, the plastic, genetic and all other fantasies would still continue to come true for them. The current social dynamics certifies this possibility.

The more I read Toffler’s book, the more it looks like a social project that is being faithfully followed like a bible. He acknowledges increased social stratification occasionally - and acceptance of this futuristic norm has a long cinematographic tradition as well.

By the way, I found an interesting item of poverty history in Tom Holland’s book “Millenium”. Read the chapter on castles and knights (and how Cluny Abbey imposed a code of honor on them): Castles appeared in France as strongholds of (basically) robbers and abusers of local peasantry; they went as far as forbidding foraging to those poor souls. “Astute” peasants started to serve as knights to the castellans, as the choice was either be mean to your peers or eat dirt yourself. (I guess that masses of unsuccessful mortgage debtors get now similarly divided between debt stooges and no-way-out suckers.) Talk about leveraged poverty beyond any provisions of nature. The book “Millenium” should be fascinating to JMG, as it describes how many of characteristic attributes of the Western culture sprang up from awaiting the Christian end of times.

ezab said...

Blogger Red Neck Girl said:
> perhaps that is a ‘religion’ we should practice, >sensible medical care based on the world and environment around us.

For those who want to learn more about practical, home-based medical care, a good book is:
Where There Is No Doctor

This is published by the Hesperian foundation:
http://www.hesperian.org/publications_download.php

They describe themselves as a “publisher of educational materials that help people take the lead in their own health care.” Where There Is No Doctor is a book designed for people working in many different countries; it’s full of practical advice, aimed primarily at people in villages where there really is no doctor.

I just visited their web site, and discovered they have many additional materials available, including “Where There Is No Dentist.” These materials are available as free downloads, as well as printed books.

Another book that might be useful, on a very different level, is The Healthwise Handbook, which is designed for people who do have a doctor available ... it helps you figure out which ailments you can treat yourself, which really need a doctor, what to watch out for. Older editions are available at low cost. A good deal of their material is also available online at many hospital and health plan web sites.

hapibeli said...

I just found this site for all who need help extricating themselves from the consumer society;

http://frugalhomesteads.blogspot.com/2009/12/home-made-all-purpose-cleaners.html

tristan said...

JMG,

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/click_online/8711747.stm

T

Patz said...

JMG you often decry what you call “doomer porn” in your posts, suggesting that some people have erotic fantasies around apocalyptic collapse. But I think we can at least agree that no one can accurately predict how things will actually play out in the coming decline of industrial civilization.

What we are facing has no historical precedent. We are not just a culture, or society, or nation facing the limits to growth. It is the whole world.

A great many ecologists and other scientists have put the carrying capacity of the planet at half a billion on the low end to 2 billion at the high. How would we get to those numbers even over several generations in a peaceful, non-violent fashion, especially when the population numbers are still trending upwards from 6 billion?

I hope the movement towards rational transition takes hold and becomes a powerful force but I also know there are great problems in achieving that. Geopolitically a nuclear exchange remains a frightening possibility, which would be all she wrote for homo saps. Even without going nuke, times of great depression/deprivation usually bring about war and genocidal tendencies in societies.

I generally agree with you and people like Charles Hugh Smith that the best we can do is work to strengthen community and work towards self-sufficiency in the basics of food and shelter. But I am not at all confident that it will work for all or even large numbers of people.

John Michael Greer said...

Cathy, oh, granted. It took me twenty years to get my science fiction novel published, and then only with a tiny publisher, largely (I suspect) because it's not copying any of the current trends in SF.

Houyhnhnm, I'll take one of those, please! With a mug of homebrewed beer.

Adrian, quite possibly, but remember that becoming a monk or nun in the Dark Ages meant that you were even poorer than a serf.

Mczilla, the jadedness is worth watching. A lot of people find fantasies of destruction appealing as long as the reality isn't breathing down their necks; expect to see a lot of erstwhile doomers becoming loudly public cornucopians as soon as it stops being a head trip.

Straker, not at all! The situation all but cries out for a wry comedy of manners.

Brad, my guess is that it is the larger group. The folks at the ends of the spectrum simply make more noise.

Girl, I love Lindsay Books! That's where you can get books on how to make working vacuum tubes out of canning jars and pieces of brass stock from the hardware stores -- just for starters. If I were twenty years younger and a little more dextrous, I'd order every book Lindsay has on steam power, become an expert on the subject, and spend my career building solar steam engines using Augustin Mouchot's 19th century design.

Cherokee, good. In a society that's got the pedal to the metal on a one-way road over the cliff, the choice is between being the odd one out or being in the car when it zooms into thin air. Take your pick.

Skunk, I've already addressed that. As for old time blacksmithing, the sooner you learn how to do it, the better positioned you'll be for a future where that's high tech.

Charley, thanks for the references! I'll be sure to look those up.

PanIdaho, you aren't the only one who finds it frustrating, not by a long shot.

Houyhnhnm, that's one of the things that lets me know when I'm doing something right.

Marguaritte, the thought of the local Amish (we've got quite a few of them not far from where I live) deciding to host a workshop is, well, funny. Not their style at all! Still, you're right that they've got lessons a lot of us could handle learning.

Das Monde, I've discussed the political pressures behind the abandonment of sustainability at the end of the 70s in quite a bit of detail here, and in my books. The short form is that "conservative" parties -- the word belongs in quotes; what on earth do they conserve these days? -- discovered that they could cut their liberal rivals off at the knees by claiming that the free market would solve the problem of the limits to growth, without the already unpopular costs and restrictions that were involved in the transition to sustainability. Short term advantage, as it so often does, trumped long term survival.

As for Millennium, er, I'd encourage you to read serious works of history instead -- Holland's book is a piece of popular entertainment that retails most of the common cliches about the dark ages instead of doing any kind of serious analysis.

Ezab, thanks for this -- Where There Is No Doctor belongs on just about every bookshelf these days.

Hapibeli and Tristan, thanks for the links!

Patz, what we're facing has plenty of historical precedents. A difference of scale does not equal a difference in kind; plenty of earlier peoples experienced the decline and fall of civilization all over the known world. Granted, that doesn't make it possible to predict exact details, but as I've argued before, the kinds of things that are very likely to happen can be predicted in pretty fair detail. That's one of the things I'm trying to do in this blog.

Florifulgurator said...

I'm one of those advocating lifeboat "monasteries"...
My views in short (sorry, I got just 10 min.) :

1) Methinks you can indeed have (and should have) much fun living in "extreme poverty". It is of course an art and needs some devotion/mindfulness: Most people (even these who try) can't even tend a decent fireplace - which could indeed be a very comfty and extremely luxurious place for cooking and socializing...

2) Regarding the classic vows, poverty and chastity: Today the inescapable moral corollary to the state of mankind and biosphere is:
2.1) Do not multiply (replacing the vow of chastity)
2.2) Live carbon negative (replacing the vow of poverty)

((The simplest technique to achieve carbon negativity is flushing the fireplace embers with waters, thereby activating the char, then putting it into compost and always pee on the compost.))

3) How to attract novices? By having maximum fun! (Plus providing food security without money). The fun should be one of the supplementary vows.

4) A "spiritual basis" (based on nature, not heaven) would be necessary for motivation and to keep minds and group unpoisoned. (E.g. prevent fall-back into magical thinking, keep up scientific knowledge, prevent group coercion etc. etc.)
For that I suggest some enhancement of Buddhism:
4.1) Buddhism has the best theory of mind
4.2) The biophysical situation is a profound challenge to the Bodhisattvayana: Not carbon negative, no Bodhisattva. (Conclusion: No Bodhisattva exists today) I'm not sure this is yet fully grasped by the Rinpoches... :-)

Ariel55 said...

Dear John, An interesting e-book, author Rick Callingwood, title: Go Deep/ website: www.mindmotivations.com

seems to access what you advise. You're a deep person!--And you are performing a fabulous work at helping me--thanks so very much!

Scott Martin said...

@Cathy: Emma Bull's novel Bone Dance offers an interesting portrayal of what JMG would probably call "salvage culture" in a post-nuclear Minneapolis. The means of getting to that state are somewhat farfetched, but the society she portrays offers an intriguing look at a possible resource-limited urban culture.

PanIdaho said...

JMG said:

"PanIdaho, you aren't the only one who finds it frustrating, not by a long shot."

Oh, I absolutely realize I'm not the only one who feels like they are screaming into the wind these days. Your blog posts here on the ADR and the reasoned responses they draw are definite proof that I'm not alone in my concern and frustration.

I think what triggered a lot of this current round for me is the situation in the Gulf of Mexico. The regulations and oversight that will be put into place after this (if we're lucky) will seriously lower the EROEI for this type of well, bringing the day we slide off the next big cliff to the lower-energy step below that much closer. If we're not lucky, the regulations that will be created in response to this disaster will have little to no effect on the risk of this horrendous event occurring again, because we're just to the point that the difficult and dangerous oil is most of what we have left.

The fact that BP apparently can't contain this mess they've made is a huge wake-up call that we've probably surpassed our limits of technical (and moral) competence when it comes to deep sea oil drilling. The dreaded Peter Principle strikes again. Except that when you are operating above your level of competence at work, that generally just means you are ticking off your co-workers and slowing down your company's productivity. In this case, it means destroying an entire marine eco-system and devastating several local economies in the process! It means leaving future generations a scarred and poisoned environment to deal with, just so we can keep pretending limits don't apply to our species and we don't have to bother to keep a check on our appetites.

What we should be asking ourselves at this point is "how can we reduce our dependency on fossil fuels enough so we don't have to risk this happening again?" Yet, all I see going on so far is more of the same totally impotent blather and debate about how this supports one particular crash scenario or another or doesn't mean anything at all, or how one political group or another is really to blame for it occurring. Or worse, I read about people trying to figure how they can game the system and make money off of it! *insert lunatic screaming face here...*

das monde said...

JMG: So, why are "conservatives" are free of any responsibility of free market fiascos? Their anti-liberal success came remarkably cheaply.

As for Holland's Millennium, I agree that it is written for entertainment. But what I read there is not a bunch of cliches, but rather challenges to "serious" cliches. For me, novelty of knowledge (be it contentious) there was substantial. The book may offer disagreeable suggestions, but the usual educational or cliche view is seriously superficial.

Did you discuss Tofflers' books in your blog?

MisterMoose said...

I just found a dog-eared copy of Limits to Growth at our library and read through it enough to realize that you are unfortunately correct. Oh, well...

On the topic of doomer porn, I think the most nightmarish scenario does not involve nuclear war or an EMP attack or mutated plague virus, or Mad Max. To my mind, it would involve something like what happened in Weimar Germany crossed with the aftermath of the French Revolution: loss of freedom, tyranny, labor camps, etc. I can almost accept the concept of dying in a gun battle protecting my garden from hungry marauders, but I definitely do not want to end up in a distopian society where I am forced to work in a government-owned garden (and we have always been at war with East Asia, if you know what I mean...).

We'll probably see some sort of financial meltdown first: another banking or real estate bubble, a major stock market crash, or widespread bankruptcy and default by governments, followed by the kind of wheelbarrow inflation that many people think will be the inevitable result of our massive deficit spending (or, massive deflation as the whole world slides into a second Great Depression after the markets collapse). There will still be food and fuel available, unlike after a nuclear war, but no one will be able to afford to pay for such things, so we'll all be standing in bread lines at the National Guard soup kitchens.

I have no idea which way it will play out, but I have no doubt that powerful entities such as multinational corporations or power-grabbing politicians will try to take advantage of the crisis in a way that will be to our disadvantage.

Does that make sense to you? My understanding of history and the nature of human nature leads me to believe that the end result will be much worse for most of us than it needs to be.

Instead of living like peasant farmers on a couple acres of our own in a post-oil world, I'm afraid we'll end up more like landless slaves forced to work on some wealthy warlord's plantation, and anyone who steps out of line will just sort of disappear in the middle of the night...

The current tea party movement actually gives me some hope. Unlike the government workers in Greece who are rioting to keep their unaffordable lifestyle, a large number of Americans seem to prefer a future in which we are not all wards of a benevolent (but all-powerful) nanny State.

If the choice really is between liberty or death, I know which one I would choose. I just hope I never have to.

Joel said...

Babaji, I'm surprised to read that you don't yet grow soap. I understand soap nuts are common in the North, near Nepal, but there might not be a local source. If not, two other possibilities come to mind:

First, you likely can grow fenugreek. If you follow the traditional Yemeni methods to process fenugreek seed into hilbeh, the saponins are extracted as a by-product: the bitter, sudsy water that rises to the top could be used for washing.

Second, a plant from my part of the world (California) called soap root is adapted to warm riparian regions, and might do OK in your climate.

Saponins might need to be removed from wash water to protect fish in the river, but a reed bed or similar would probably do so.

Bill Pulliam said...

Patz --

No one can foresee the future, of course, but it's easy enough for me to envision how population decline happens without massive famine, plague, war, bloodshed, etc. All it takes is for the same old ancient sources of mortality to return in the ways that humanity has experienced them for most of its existence. No access to medical care means no vaccines, no antibiotics, no sterile technique when repairing injuries. Hence higher mortality from infections and run-of-the-mill diseases. Cut your hand on a manure-covered shovel and you might die from the resulting infection before the month is out. It also means much higher infant mortality and no treatment for mid-life and old-age diseases. Heart attack? You just die. No helicopter to the heart center where millions of dollars worth of machines wait to keep you alive.

All these sources of mortality, especially the ones that strike people in the early years and primes of their lives, don't have to increase to astronomical levels in order for population to drop steadily. Half the people you know right now might not be alive if it had not been for modern medicine helping at some point in their lives.

Meg said...

A riddle, from an old tomb:

Earth goes on the earth glittering like gold
Earth goes to the earth sooner than it would
Earth builds on the earth castles and towers
Earth says to the earth, all shall be ours

*

Oskar,

Your link between displays of extravagance and sexuality is well supported. Standards of attractiveness for any given society tend towards what the wealthy people look like - pale because they don't labour outdoors, tan because they can afford foreign vacations, fat because they eat a rich diet, thin because they can afford fresh produce, or what have you. The word 'luxury' in Shakespeare's day meant 'lechery,' and there's still the shared connotation of sensual overindulgence.

Tony and Bill,

Averages are a much abused form of statistic. In most nonindustrial societies the curve looks like this: the majority of all deaths are toddlers, because they have weak immune systems. They die from the sort of things we now vaccinate against. Some cultures give you a nickname until age seven or so, and then a real one if you make it past that milestone. After that there's another burst of mortality in the late teens or early twenties - childbirth, military service, doing heavy labour with more enthusiasm than experience. Make it past that hurdle and you're probably safe until about seventy, barring sheer bad luck.

Red Neck Girl,

See the following link for a possible method of making ethanol sanitizer gel from moonshine. They carefully note the various ways this project could go wrong, but it looks promising.

http://www.appropedia.org/Ethanol-based_hand_sanitizer

Endif said...

"It’s even more troubling to notice that you can pick up yellowing copies of most of these books for a couple of dollars each in the used book trade,"

If you can find them! Alchemist isn't available on Amazon, and Rainbook costs.. $72 used. 0_o

So do please share if you have a better source.

LS said...

Hi JMG. You posed the question in this post of why: "so many people seem unable to conceive of any future other than business as usual, on the one hand, and extreme doomer porn on the other"

Perhaps both reactions are a form of self defense? BAU is easy to understand, but then, so is a "fast crash" because it is SO much less scary to contemplate than the truly horrible thought of a "slow decline" with the specter of forced labour, tyrannical corporate/government rule, environmental devastation, (and as you said) large scale war, epidemics, famine and ethnic cleansing.

If I have to choose a future, then I want crisis over and done with in weeks or month. That future I can face, if not with hope, then at least with some courage. The middle road though, between that and blind optimism is a very, very scarey place.

So perhaps like everyone else, us doomers just can't face the true horror of the future?


I wrote a much longer, more detailed reply expanding on this idea, but decided to save you and your other readers the pain. I may post it on my blog in due course.

mageprof said...

@ Endif

Look at www.addall.com for almost anything. Right now there are several copies listed of _The Book of thre New Alchemists_ and _Rainbook_ at reasonable prices.

DPW said...

@Florifalgurator:

Instead of pouring in more
better stop while you can
making it sharper
won't help it last longer
houses full of treasure
can never be safe
the vanity of success
invites its own failure
when you're work is done retire
this is the Way of Heaven

Lao-Tzu's TaoTeChing
Translated by Red Pine

Seems the Tao knew the Way to sustainability many thousands of years ago...then came ritual and the West and *poof*...factories of plastic.

What would it mean to give up the world of the red dust today and wander off to the mountains?

Brad K. said...

@ Bill Pulliam,

About "Half the people you know right now might not be alive if it had not been for modern medicine helping at some point in their lives."

My understanding is that it is public health - the food inspector, the sewer works - that have been the most influential in adding to the average life span.

Heart attacks can be fatal - but most tended to restrict people to bed, not kill them. In affluent times, "debilitating" diseases and injuries were a home cost. In times of scarcity, of course, harsh choices would be made.

I note that various peoples in various times have expanded their population levels, without our "modern medicine". The AMA, patent protection, and government intervention preclude applying what may well come to be the norm, once the energy black-hole of ten story hospitals and emergency rooms pass into the realm of "Oligarchs Only" restricted use. That is, midwifes will assure that the most viable children survive births. People looking to mate or wed or otherwise form families will assess the genetic history of their intended(s) - by looking at whether parents and grandparents are vigorous, bedridden, or kept locked in the upstairs room (traditional for feeble minded and "strange" behavior).

Much of what modern medicine accomplishes is to benefit the individual life, rather than the population as a whole. In an era of cheap energy, we have been affluent enough to disregard the genetic consequences of preserving certain genetically dysfunctional characteristics. That is one more of the changes we face.

As long as we understand about making alcohol and soap, and using maggots and other techniques for managing infections, don't assume every injury will be a ticket to the grave.

I imagine that in the times to come "family medicine" will come to mean "keep people in work-ready condition", as opposed to the "preserve a pain free and active life for those with enough money" object of so-called "modern" medicine. Today we assume that most people will be "working" at sedate types of activities. We don't think of sweat shops, the assembly lines where manual labor is the norm - those are "failed" people, with no college, and no ambition. That kind of institutional arrogance is holding us back. We need the guys loading pallets and trucks, horsing around the bags of feed and sand, digging ditches, and working the fields every bit as much as the marketing directors and advertising execs. And the amount of money that we assume in medicine today - and the targeted population to support - will have to change. The protectionism and ivory tower arrogance of "internal medicine" must yield to the needs of post-transition people - cheap, effective, and useful. The era of six office visits and hundreds of dollars of lab tests for general practice must end, except of course for the wealthy.

And most of us won't be counted among the "very wealthy" when all is said and done. We will be fortunate to be among the "content".c

qibender said...

HiJMG,

Friend connected me to your mention of RAIN. Yes, us folks are still trucking along, weaving energy and spirit, showing how to reduce housing costs by 80%, do net-zero-energy affordable housing, recreate wholeness in our hearts and worlds. Check for recent articles, etc.

Cheers,
Tom Bender, former co-editor of RAIN

JustOriana said...

Simply brilliant. Especially your crisp thoughts on the trillions wasted on high-tech health care chasing the illusion of immortality. Among so many other trillions wasted on foolish dreams! A question for you: did you move from Ashland, Oregon to Baltimore for reasons relevant to preparing for 'the long descent', or was the decision a personal, family-driven move?

Neil B said...

The posts here are excellent, erudite, and rationally non-optimistic rather than indulgent in pessimism for its own sake. That's good and honest. However I think there is still too much the impression that there isn't much we can do about these problems - or maybe I just misunderstand that Mr. Greer means "we" the collective can't solve them as a society but "we" each can in our own way or if enough of us choose to.

In any case I want to remind him and other readers there are answers, even his own as e.g. Principle of Subsidiary Function So we should be thinking of better ways to cope, and how to get the message out. Maybe something as banal as Mr. Greer getting interviewed by Charlie Rose would help ...?