Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Preponderance of the Small

I suspect many Americans these days are coming to appreciate the custom that places the peak of campaigning season in the days on either side of Halloween. This year, the usual and interchangeable Demublican political hacks trick-or-treating for votes have been joined on the midnight streets of the American psyche by a medley of mad hatters and March hares from a Tea Party as strange as the one Alice attended in Wonderland, with the spectral forms of thousand-handed robosigners and zombie banks looming over all. It’s enough to keep mere vampires and mummies cowering in their crypts.

There’s something very reminiscent of Halloween, too, in the way that the frightening and the funny have gotten all tangled together in recent headlines. The infighting that’s broken out among the moneyed classes of late is an example worth noting. The cause of the quarrel is simple enough: in the next few years, somebody is going to end up holding several trillion dollars in mortgage-backed securities that aren’t worth the paper no one got around to printing them on. Nobody wants to be the chump left holding the bag, and as a result, a once-sacrosanct consensus that kept the investment industry and the media alike from pointing and giggling at each season’s crop of rank fiscal absurdities is coming hastily unglued.

Now of course the implosion of America’s mortgage debt is no laughing matter. Millions of people have lost their savings, their pensions, and their jobs as a result of it, and the aftermath of the brief era of wretched excess that ended so messily in 2008 will continue to burden families and blight futures for a decade or more, even if every possible effort goes into mitigating the consequences for the bulk of Americans – and every policy proposal made by either party so far leads in the opposite direction. Still, there’s plenty of gallows humor to be had watching fund managers and pundits announce that they’re shocked, shocked! to discover the widely publicized problems with the mortgage-backed “securities” they themselves helped market so eagerly a few short years ago.

Still, the echo of Halloween I hear most strongly in America just now is one that goes to the heart of the holiday. We pretend to be scared of ghosts and vampires and non-financial zombies, after all, because it’s a way of coping with the real terror all these things represent, which is of course our fear of our own mortality. In the same way, I’ve come to think, a great deal of the fearful predictions now surging throuigh the blogosphere and the mainstream media alike are attempts at coping with a more immediate and real fear, which – again, like death – is hidden behind a flurry of euphemisms. The one that comes to mind just at the moment is “quantitative easing.”

Many of my readers will have heard the calm and sanitized announcement this evening that the Federal Reserve Board will be buying $600 billion of US federal debt over the next seven months. I’m not sure how many of my readers have noted that this is the amount of debt the US government expects to issue over the next seven months. I’m even less sure how many of my readers have noticed that the Fed will be paying for these purchases by exercising its legal right to produce US dollars out of thin air. In other words, the United States is now printing money to pay its bills.

There may be an example somewhere in the long history of finance when a country has done this without facing catastrophic economic consequences in the fairly near term, but I don’t happen to know of one. Once a country starts covering its debts by way of the printing press, the collapse of its currency and its economy is pretty much a foregone conclusion. The exact way in which the consequences come due varies from case to case; the hyperinflation made famous by Weimar Germany and, more recently, Zimbabwe is only one of the options, and there are good reasons to think that this isn’t the most likely outcome just at the moment.

My own guess, for what it’s worth, is that we’re headed into a state of affairs that might as well be called hyperstagflation: the economy and money supply both contract, but the demand for dollars drops faster than the supply as holders of dollar-denominated assets scramble to cash in their dollars for anything that might preserve a fraction of their paper value. As in the stagflation of the Seventies, but much more drastically, prices go up while employment goes down until the economy shudders to a halt.

Now of course that’s far from the only possibility; we could see a straightforward deflationary collapse; we could also see increasingly reckless use of the printing press overwhelm the contraction of the money supply altogether and tip us into old-fashioned hyperinflation. What we won’t see for very much longer, though, is what currently passes for business as usual. I suspect a great many people in the financial community are aware of that – a supposition that gains some support from recent reports that corporate insiders in a range of industries are selling off their shares of their own companies’ stock at a record pace. I suspect the rest of us will become aware of it, too, as we approach the kind of economic, social, and (inevitably) political disruptions that people later describe in hushed tones to their grandchildren.

All these considerations may appear unrelated to green wizardry — the home gardens, handicrafts, conservation measures and back-to-basics measures that have been central to this blog’s trajectory for the last several months. The seeming mismatch between the immense societal crisis unfolding around us and the backyard projects for individuals and families I’ve been suggesting here has been the topic of a fair amount of comment in the peak oil blogosphere, of course, and the Green Wizardry project has been criticized more than once for failing to offer some grand response that will solve the problems facing industrial society – or, rather, will make a comforting claim to do so, and so provide a tune for the whistling past the graveyard that seems to occupy so much effort these days.

I’m glad to say that not all the critiques of the Green Wizardry project have been on this level. At the other end of the spectrum is a very thoughtful discussion by Erik Lindberg of Transition Milwaukee of the debate a few months back between myself and Rob Hopkins. The essay is titled The Long and the Short of It: Existential Comfort in the Age of Hopkins and Greer; it’s in five parts -- Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 – and offers the clearest perspective I’ve yet seen on the differences that Rob and I tried to air in our contending essays.

One of the things that makes this interesting to me is that Lindberg founds his discussion on literary theory. He’s refreshingly attentive to the role of narratives in shaping visions of the future, mine and Rob’s among them, and uses a division of narratives into four types – romance, tragedy, comedy, and farce – to make sense of the differences between the Transition narrative, on the one hand, and the narrative of which the Green Wizardry project is a practical expression, on the other. The Transition narrative, he suggests, is romance, defined as a story where a heroic protagonist (in this case, the Transition movement) sets out to achieve an improbable goal and does in fact achieve it. The narrative that gives Green Wizardry its context, in his view, is tragedy, defined as a story in which a heroic protagonist (in this case, modern industrial civilization) is brought low by the inevitable consequences of its own arrogant and mistaken decisions.

So far, so good. Still, the Green Wizardry project itself doesn’t offer a tragic narrative. In a very real sense, it’s an effort to find a working alternative to the central dynamic of tragedy, the doomed attempt of the tragic hero to overcome the fate his own hubris has brought down on his head. Perhaps the one real misstep in Lindberg’s critique is that he managed to miss this, though it’s explained in so many words in a passage he quoted from The Ecotechnic Future, the book of mine he used to ground his discussion. (When an analysis of a text has to rest the full weight of its argument on a single exclamation point, as Lindberg’s does, that’s normally a sign that something has gone amiss.)

The narrative at the core of the Green Wizardry project, in fact, is a comic narrative. Put that baldly, the notion may seem horribly out of place. Still, the same logic that leads us to festoon our houses every October with terrors in which we don’t believe, in order to help ourselves come to terms with a terror in which we all unavoidably believe, is at work here as well. Comedy is the natural human response to tragedy. It’s for this reason that Shakespeare put comic turns cheek by jowl with the starkest of his tragic scenes – the gatekeeper’s soliloquy right after Duncan’s murder in Macbeth, the Fool’s ingenious nonsense punctuating the agony of King Lear. It’s for the same reason that in classical times, each trilogy of ancient Greek tragedies was finished up with a satire, and Japanese Noh plays to this day are divided by comic interludes.

To understand this, it’s useful to pay attention to the nature of the protagonists of the four kinds of narrative Lindberg discusses. The heroes of tragedy are always exceptional persons in exceptional situations. So are the heroes of romance – Luke Skywalker may look like just another Tatooine farm boy, but there’s an old man with a light saber in his future, and the Force is with him. So, on the other end of the scale, are the protagonists of farce, who make fun of our pretensions by being exceptionally foolish, greedy, lustful, or what have you.

Comic heroes are the exception precisely because they aren’t exceptional, and neither are the situations in which they find themselves. The protagonist of Comedy is Everyman or Everywoman, and the world he or she must confront is the same one we encounter in our own lives. This is why the great tragedies and romances always contain just enough comedy to draw the spectators in and undercut the distance they try to put between themselves and the tragic or romantic hero, and it’s also why the truly great comedies always dance on the edge of tragedy, romance, or both at once, pushing their protagonists right up to the limits of the ordinary but never quite across it.

In a gentler age, we might have the luxury of understanding the impact of history’s arc on our lives in the context of comedy pure and simple. Here in America, at least, that option has been foreclosed – or if it remains open, it’s only by way of the wry sort of comedy Cervantes made famous in Don Quixote, in which a very ordinary person becomes convinced he’s a hero out of romance, goes forth to seek some grandiose destiny, and runs headlong into one disaster after another until enough of the stuffing is pounded out of him that he heads home to La Mancha. Still, at least one other kind of comedy is open to us, and it’s the kind I’ve sketched out above, the kind that provides a counterpoint and some degree of relief to a larger tragedy.

The core plot of tragedy, again, is that an extraordinary person attempts the impossible and is destroyed. The core plot of comedy, by contrast, is that a completely ordinary person attempts some equally ordinary task and, despite all the obstacles the author can come up with, succeeds in winning through to some modest but real achievement. When it stands on its own, comedy gets its effect by reminding us that, no matter how ordinary we are, and how embarrassing the tangles we create for ourselves, we can reasonably hope to stumble our way through it all and achieve something worthwhile. When it functions as a counterpoint for tragedy, this same effect is even more powerful; as the tragic hero in all his magnificence crashes and burns, the comic counterpoint scrambles out of the way of the flaming wreckage and finds afterward that, like Candide, he can at least tend his garden.

Yes, I’m suggesting that this is basically the best we can hope for at this point in the turning of history’s wheel. If the promising beginnings of the 1970s had been followed up in the decades that followed, we might have had a reasonable shot at a narrative of romance; as the Hirsch Report pointed out, getting through peak petroleum production without massive economic trauma can be done if you get to work on it twenty years in advance of the peak. We didn’t, and those possibilities are now water (however oil-stained) under the bridge at this point. The world’s industrial nations chose, in effect, to embrace the role of the tragic hero instead, and they’ve worked at it with gusto; the current US administration’s decision to put America’s economic collapse on the fast track by paying its bills via the printing press is a grand bit of tragic action, the sort of deliberate flouting of destiny that makes hubris its own nemesis.

Those who want to play the role of tragic hero on a smaller scale, in turn, can certainly do so; embracing some romantic fantasy of salvation or other, with a heroic disregard for the hard constraints closing in on us here and now, is one very promising option. Still, this role has practical disadvantages, starting with the aforementioned habit of crashing and burning. It’s for that reason that I’ve suggested a more prosaic alternative, which is to set out to do the small things that individuals in a disintegrating society can actually accomplish to better their own lives, and those of their families and communities, while simultaneously handing down useful gifts to the future. That’s the central theme of the Green Wizardry project, though of course there are many other ways to pursue the same kind of goal.

It’s not accidental, I think, that the anonymous Chinese sages who assembled the I Ching – and who had plenty of opportunity to reflect on the rise and fall of empires – made room for this strategy among the patterns of change in that ancient text:

Hsiao Kuo, the Preponderance of the Small.
Success. Perseverance furthers.
Small things may be done; great things should not be done.
The flying bird brings the message:
It is not well to strive upward, it is well to remain below.
Great good fortune.

In this season, when the flying birds are headed southward with messages of the coming winter, this may be good advice to follow. In next week’s post, we’ll get back to the nitty gritty of following it, with some pointers on the dance of genetic information that’s set in motion by saving seeds.


Ryan said...

I heard about the "quantitative easing" this morning and, while not certain of its potential impact, I did not feel at ease with this action. It had a sense of the desperation in it. From a historical perspective, what are the usual timelines for the fallout from the "easing" to the next financial event?

The Onion said...

You've offered once again no grand solutions but this week's post gave us Demublicans, a new portmanteau as far as I'm concerned! Humorous and immediately useful in troubling times.

I find it funny that so many contend that this midterm result heralds the end of status quo. Hardly. The Tea Partiers won't amount to much anyway, I believe that they aren't really a genuine movement, more of a media spectacle.

I am put in mind of a video by speaker and author Scott Berkun, who, speaking on the topic of his book, The Myths of Innovation said that most people's conception of a successful explorer/hero type now is James T. Kirk. The first problem is that he is faced with a dilemma, you cut to commercial and then he comes up with the solution. What you miss in the mean time is the hours and hours of hard work and planning that went into it. Oh, and the second problem is that he's fictional.

The similarity with your discussion I see is that people think exceptional people just have a eureka one day, drawing on no other work than their own, and solve these problems in an instant. It's an enticing thought, and easily exploitable.

In closing...welcome back!In a way, your taking a break from the report for the month has been good, hopefully for you, but for me as well, I was forced to discover other things to read!

Ruben said...

Great to find you in my RSS feed again JMG. I hope the hiatus was productive and restful.

Also in my RSS feed was this new compilation of presentations by Bill Rees, a co-creator of the Ecological Footprint concept. I have had the pleasure of working with Bill, and sharing a beer with him, and he is truly a great human being.

Much of this will not be new to those on this board, but Bill touches on a few things relevant to today's post, and of course, to all the reasons I read this blog.

"Warning To the People of Earth" [VIDEO]

I watched it on Vimeo, but, also for your interest, I left it linked on Desmogblog, a great blog that focuses on the way Public Relations is used to cloud the conversation around climate change.

Charles Frith said...


I was pleased to read your description of old fashioned hyperinflation because I lost my cool a little earlier today on this blog post titled Quantitative easing 101. My comment is here.

My second smile was for the I-Ching mention. I didn't know about it until a year ago. Now it tips its hat for me every few weeks or so. Implying I might be on to something. Or a victim of the insane, as John Lennon once wrote.


Good to have your clear wisdom back in the blogosphere

Cherokee Organics said...


Hope you had a nice holiday.

I've noticed that in the past decade or so we (in Australia) have become a nation of people who are somewhat expectational. Grand responses seem to fall into this category. People seem to take up the cry "The government should do something". You hear it a fair bit now. It's a bit sad really because by the time a grand gesture is required it is often impossible to implement because of the clamouring objections and/or it is simply not feasible. Our recent government's seem more concerned with the responses of focus groups than with the production of actual policies or visions. I'm unsure how we got this way.

Whilst speaking of the printing of US dollars by the US government I will note that the largest holder of US dollars outside of the US is the Chinese government because of their massive holdings of foreign exchange reserves. This is due to their exceptional trade surplus with the rest of the world. If you look closely, it appears that US dollars are being off loaded around the world at the moment. The Australian dollar is at near parity with the US dollar and our raw material, energy and agricultural exports are booming. China and Japan are our largest trading partners. It's not good for us though because we continue to import more than we export but that's another story.

I have great respect for the Chinese and I am not sure, but I expect that they are reducing their exposure to the US economy and US dollar at the moment by converting it to other currencies and commodity imports.

I'm unsure that you can print your way out of a debt hole.

Jack Vance has some great works of tragicomedy. I love the Demon Princes and Lyonesse series. Not to mention the Alastor cluster series. I could go on...

PS: Just finished Basic Ecology and Engine Summer and I think we'll all be avvengers one day!

Good luck!

Jason said...

Ah, the sweet sight of I Ching hexagrams being applied to economic narratives -- the Archdruid has returned! Welcome back JMG!

Yes I noticed the presses being spun. Since there is no way out, I can't even criticize it, although I can criticize the selling of it as a way out. "Nature bats last" as they say.

I agree about the comedy thing, a view you have promulgated for a long time now. The 'muddling' approach is particularly suited to that kind of narrative. It's nice that Bilbo Baggins will probably reach the screen just in time -- his baffled 'heroism' is just the thing. I might make an exception and go to the movies one last time.

Any suggestions on how to manage savings right now?

John Michael Greer said...

Ryan, heck of a good question, but the timing of the consequences is up to the market, and thus inherently unpredictable. "Less than a decade" is about the only generalization that seems to work.

Onion, I haven't read Berkun and clearly I need to! Thanks for the reference.

Ruben, thank you -- and thanks for the link.

Charles, losing one's cool is not an inappropriate response; it's good to see that others are catching on.

Steve, thank you.

Cherokee, I'm certain we'll all be avvengers down the road, but hopefully won't be dressing up in scraps of an American flag -- I'll leave that to the politicians. I think you're square on target in terms of your speculations about the Chinese; they've played their hand extremely well.

John Michael Greer said...

Oh, and I should probably mention: yes, I had a productive time off. It was very much a working vacation; I finished one book, did page proofs on a second, and contracted two more. Somewhere in there I also found time to turn the rest of the backyard into garden beds for next years' vegetables, get the cold frames built in time to shelter a merry little crop of snow peas, turnips, radishes and kale from the season's first hard frost, and insulate the heating pipes in the basement. Still, I missed the conversations here and on the Green Wizards forum; it's good to be back.

Jason said...

@Cherokee: total agreement about Jack Vance. If there's one author who can make you ironically at ease with the human condition and what is necessary to get by despite it, it's he. A Jack Vance collection is a treasure trove of comedic acceptance and a great weapon against soul-destroying ruthless idiocy.

Jim Brewster said...

Welcome back, Archdruid!

The farce that's going on in Washington is truly leading to tragedy for the human race. I prefer the comedy of my home, garden, and children, and sometimes a little romance when there's time... ;-)

My last two blog posts touch a bit on the same issues:

In one I compare our predicament to the pivotal scene from Ghostbusters. Quantitative easing might be a bit like the Stay-puft Marshmallow Man of our time.

In the other I question the tragic/farcical efforts to defibrillate our economy when doing so is likely to exacerbate the underlying ecological crisis and distract us from the real issues.

More in the works. Must be harvest time...

Jason said...

On China, I enjoyed John Humphrys at the BBC today.

Most of the ordinary people I've been talking to [did not] seem terribly interested in western-style democracy. Not even a group of extremely bright young students, some of whom have spent years studying in foreign countries, including Britain.

Yes, they thoroughly enjoy their new freedoms and they want political reform to continue. And they also want their country to keep growing richer.

And so long as the Communist Party continues to deliver all that, they don't particularly see any reason to look for a different system.

They seemed genuinely baffled by my insistence that the ultimate freedom is the freedom to throw out the people in power if you don't like them.

"You do that in your country all the time," one of them pointed out to me, "and it doesn't seem to make much difference. What we want is stability - and that's what we've got."

[my emph.]

Yupped said...

Nice to have you back and thanks for another beautiful post.

I'm guessing the TPTB can keep the system running along for a good long while, enabled in part by people's apparent readiness to suspend disbelief for as long as it takes. 10% unemployment and trillion dollar deficits are kinda normal now, so why worry?

Reality will assert itself, and things won't end well. I just don't know when or how it will end. With a bang or a fizzle? God knows. But in the meantime I can keep canning and building out the beds for the spring. Am also experimenting in our small greenhouse this winter as well. We'll see.

dandelionlady said...

Glad to see you mention humor and comedy. Sometimes I think we're all to willing to jump on the tragedy bandwagon. I often see people bewailing the fact that most of the nation is busy burying their collective heads in the sand, but I've found that shrieking and loosing my cool never helps. It just shuts the conversation down completely. Comedy on the other hand allows people to look sidelong at the problem. It allows perspective.

Follow the comedy up with simple real life examples of the things you can do, ways to take control of the uncontrollable, and you have something truly useful.

John Michael Greer said...

Jason, thank you. I'm not a financial advisor -- I don't even play one on TV -- and my idea of good investments tend to focus on things like garden tools and an extra layer of insulation in the attic, so I may not be the right person to ask!

Jim, thank you also! That's good -- I get the mental image of a giant marshmallow man playing the role of the Commendatore in the final scene of Don Giovanni...

Yupped, granted, but it's possible for sufficiently drastic mishandling to push things to the point where business as usual ends all at once. Plenty of people expected the Soviet Union to stumble along indefinitely from one economic crisis to another, but we saw what happened there. Still, the canning and the gardening are more important at this point, anyway!

Dandelion, I sometimes think the reason that tragedy is so popular is that it makes us feel important. Comedy has this annoying habit of showing us our very modest place in the great scheme of things!

Andrea G. said...

For whatever it may be worth, the few economists who are aware of and able to acknowledge that the formal economy is neck-deep in trouble are predicting Japanese-style deflation. Japan has been running the printing presses continuously for more than a decade now, but that hasn't prevented both prices and employment from sinking.

John Michael Greer said...

Andrea, yes, I've seen comments along these lines. It's a possibility, but the Japanese weren't (and aren't) paying their bills by printing money; their version of qualitative easing involved lending money (from Japan's huge pool of savings) at low rates to the rest of the world in order to keep the yen undervalued.

The Fed tried that, with little success. The US doesn't have a culture that encourages savings, as Japan does, and we don't have a trade surplus either; instead, we've got catastrophically high levels of debt, no savings worth speaking of, and a trade deficit that amounts to a massive hemorrhage of wealth to the rest of the world.

That's why bond buyers elsewhere are backing off on US government debt. They've been doing so for some time -- there are persistent rumors that the Fed has been surreptitiously buying US debt for years now through off-book Enron-style arrangements -- but at this point it's gotten severe enough that the printing press is the only option left. Japan hasn't had to do that; neither have the other countries currently engaged in quantitative easing -- only the US, at least so far. Thus my less than sanguine view of where the US economy is headed.

Snoozepossum said...

"Quantitative Easing" . . .

Sounds like a brand name for lube . . .

Blindweb said...

I like Exeter's inverted pyramid as a representation of our financial situation. While it refers specifically to investments, it's an excellent visualization of the inherent instability of the system, and the big squeeze that is coming as wealth rushes down the levels. Gold will probably go way up in price, but so will everything else that's physical and useful. I'm currently buying the best quality hand tools I can afford.

I'm also remind of one of my favorite Tao Te Ching passages:
Not praising the worthy prevents contention,
Not esteeming the valuable prevents theft,
Not displaying the beautiful prevents desire.

In this manner the sage governs people:
Emptying their minds,
Filling their bellies,
Weakening their ambitions,
And strengthening their bones.

If people lack knowledge and desire
Then they can not act;
If no action is taken
Harmony remains.

Start with the fundamentals, something everyone can do. Reduce complexity. Build a strong foundation. There's no need to be the tragic hero. said...

Well, your supposition of a decade gives me hope. When I read about what the fed did I have been vaguely panicked thinking I had at best a year to prepare.

At least a decade gives me time to finish my NP degree. I figure if I'm still in my present location in 10 years (which I plan to be) then I'll be needed.

Cathy McGuire said...

Welcome back, JMG!

Glad to hear it was a productive break (lord, if I could accomplish that much in a month, I'd be ecstatic!)

Wonderful post - love the IChing reference - I've thrown the coins on several stressful road-forks and benefitted from the information. Did you throw the stalks in order to get this week's post?

And the mention of comedy - I knew there was a reason I've been going back and re-reading my favorite comedies! As you say, the comedic hero is much more ordinary; easier to identify with, and muddling through to some success is a goal to aim for!
And the point about shifting our fear and rage toward some more harmless target (as in Halloween) - spot on! I catch myself doing it often, and see it clearly in recent politics. But to give us all credit - it takes massive courage to view this impending multiple crisis head-on for even a little while.

Thanks for the links to Lindberg - I'll go check that out.
I've been working on organizing my new, simplified life and also getting everything ready for winter. Have had many opportunities to learn from my failures. :-}

Luciddreams said...

I agree with Onion, it's great to have you back but it was good to look elsewhere on the net.

I was surprised to see you comment on "quantitative easing" because I was just ranting about that on a PO forum I regularly post on. To me the term seems like a distant cousin to double speak. I just smell a dead rat with that type of verbiage. It's also why I don't take anything that politicians/economist/or news anchors say seriously. It's also why I try to not even have to hear their mindless blather to begin with.

In the insanity that we inhabit, having your commentary is priceless. So thank you.

Jennie said...

UGH, I did hear about the printing money to pay debts "plan". It scares me silly.
Welcome back! It's great to have my druid fix for the week.

Harry J. Lerwill said...

Good to see another Archdruid Report.

I have been watching the markets today; as I type, the DOW is up almost 200 points and similar indexes are doing well. Gold and silver are pushing new highs. I’m not sure why you think there is a problem with QEII. All the numbers are looking green to me.

Why would Joe Public pull themselves away from reality TV long enough to care? Insider buying means nothing to most and its a few weeks before the stag-inflatables with red noses come out, get tied up in strings of lights and stuck on the lawn.

QE II? Wasn’t that the cruise ship that Thatcher used as a troop transport for the Falklands war? Whatever happened to her? The RMS Queen Elizabeth II, flagship of the Cunard fleet? What did they do with her?

Oh yes. I remember. In 2008 they sold it to Dubai. For some reason I find that rather amusing.

between-the-lines said...

All this economics is more or less a foreign language to me, but even the OECD is now warning that the vast quantities of "money" sloshing around the overdeveloped nations will spill into the less overdeveloped ones and create new asset bubbles.

Is this what's called crisis economics?

John Michael Greer said...

Possum, that strikes me as a very apt description.

Blindweb, good. Lao Tsu is always apropos -- and I agree that good garden tools are an excellent investment strategy just now.

Tinfoil, that's a decade at most. It could be as soon as a couple of years.

Cathy, no, though I probably ought to have done so. I tend to use the I Ching as much as a book of strategies as anything.

Lucid, by all means keep tabs on the rest of the net! There are some excellent minds out there.

Jenny, thank you.

Harry, yep, everything's going up in price, because everybody's factoring in a collapse of the dollar. Mind you, there'll probably be some spectacular bubbles blown on the way there, but I don't recommend trying to time them; that's a good way to lose one's shirt.

Lines, I think it's called blind panic. Several governments, with ours in the lead, are trying to keep a crumbling system going with torrents of money, and it's tipping the entire global economy into chaos. Hang onto your hat -- it's likely to be a wild ride.

Thor of Oakland, OR said...

So happy to see this after your hiatus, Mr. Greer! Since finding your work about a year ago, you and Mr. Orlov have been my (virtual?) mentors. A career resulting from a masters in city planning is basically a bust. I've played a naive, tragic role as a bureaucrat, working in vain for equitable, progressive, Green policies that rarely trump our PR- and campaign $-obsessed politics. In the City of Portland, there's so much hype that nobody questions why a majority of discretionary city funding goes to a handful of wealthy real estate developers and business owners. Went to a few transition meetings last year and couldn't take the consensus-based plodding and plan-making: despite the rhetoric most in the US just want cheap gas and sweatshop-produced consumer goods, and the rest is for chumps.

The Green Wizard project has brought the fire back, and as a bonus I'm having a blast and the sense of humor is sprouting up amongst the anxiety and isolation. Planted my first seeds ever in July, started composting, harvested yummy squash and watermelon last month, and am hoping to construct a bat box this weekend! And not sure if you know this, but I think your book recommendations have a notable e-bay market effect: a huge price spike in 70's ecology textbook classics lasted about two days after you published that one article.

Sold my little house in Portland last year, and paid cash for ten acres of oak/madrone savannah with a tear-down house this Spring in the boonies. It's gas-fueled weekend adventure for now, but by July 2012 I move there to be a subsistence farmer, hopefully with a tribe of other outcasts, misfits, and fools. Plus some cargo bikes and a cider press. Plus a solar battery charger so I can watch my DVD of Brother Sun Sister Moon on a lazy day!

'In times of crisis, leaders appear'. Thanks again and keep it up!

Mark said...

Welcome back JMG -- It's nice to be around again.

Your mention of the I-Ching seems so serendipitous. I've become very well acquainted with it over the past two months, delving deep into the labyrinth. Amazing insight embedded in this ancient oracle.

Our best course of action seems to be to imitate or become like the mountain -- take on small tasks and changes. Allow the wind to blow to and fro and the rains to come and go. Stand strong, retreat. Each day, adapting more and more to and with patterns that look, feel and operate sustainably...

As always, a magical post. I look forward to more!

Andrea G. said...

JMG wrote: That's why bond buyers elsewhere are backing off on US government debt.

Do you have a citation for this? Not that I'd be surprised, but it's the kind of point that can't just be accepted as an assertion. The fact that U.S. bond yields are quite low right now indicates that demand exists somewhere, but it's not obvious where, behind the scenes, that demand is really coming from.

Twilight said...

OK, I just waded through Lindberg's five parts, and then re-read your response. At first I was impressed by the amount of effort he put into this analysis and thought it interesting, but by the end I confess I found it to be merely so much navel gazing. One can spend entirely too much time examining the structure and miss the message.

To be honest, I also found a bit of arrogance in the series, as if maybe we needed to be shown how the narrative worked, and that if he carefully deconstructed it for us then maybe we would not be so taken in. In fact, I am quite sure that many who relate to your writings and ideas are quite able to see the structure of the narrative - it's not as if you've hidden it. Rather, the ideas are more important than the narrative structure, and a five part essay that gets hung up in the structure becomes tedious and irrelevant. And are there not enough people blathering on about the horrors to come, and even if not are we perceived as too limited to imagine the various ways that our attendance at our own funerals might come about? That you did not waste your reader's time detailing that is considered a fault, or some form of trickery?

I specifically do not want to get caught up in a short term emotional buzz based on the kinds of manipulation he sited from the Transition romantic narrative. That cannot be sustained and will lead to despair eventually, which is why I want to maintain a bit of emotional distance from the process (the long view). Lindberg recognizes the difference in time scale between your narratives, but he fails to examine it beyond how it affects the narrative, and yet this is a key issue. If in fact this is going to play out over many generations (as I believe), then we as individuals need to be prepared for that and behave accordingly. That means we will not personally be participating in the end results, and we will not personally be basking in the warm glow of communal accomplishment and a job well done. Those who build their hopes on mistaken beliefs will face great difficulties in maintaining their motivation, while those who realistically accept that they will not be participating directly in a “bright future” have a better chance at persevering. That difference in time scales is not a feeling or perception or a gray area – both cannot be true, and by extension both approaches cannot be equally valid. That's not a consequence of narrative.

Don Plummer said...

The duo at The Automatic Earth, Ilargi and Stoneleigh, are confident that we're heading for a deflationary depression, and they predict it will begin within the next three months or so.

Are you familiar with their prognostications and the reasons for them? If so, could you comment?

beneaththesurface said...

“Comedy is the natural human response to tragedy.”

Yes, humor and tragedy are intertwined in complex ways in this world and they can’t be looked at separately. I often contemplate how I live in a world that is simultaneously too serious yet not serious enough, and that is one of the many paradoxes of our times. What do I mean by this? Well, as a society, we’re ultra-serious about things we shouldn’t be serious about (i.e. shopping, status, stock figures, etc., which in some ways are quite comical from a certain perspective) but not serious about (and make fun of) what we really should be serious about (i.e. living out our potential as humans, living creatively, working for a more sustainable society…)

I often think people who are concerned about peak oil and all related things don’t use humor enough. In my experience, I sometimes find that humor is what is needed for more people to understand the seriousness of things.

Btw, I heard you speak at the ASPO conference in DC, and I really valued your perspectives that you offered. As someone who studied anthropology in undergrad, I think it’s very helpful to look at the peak oil predicament from a cross-cultural and cross-historical perspective and I’m grateful that you have that perspective (something other speakers lacked in their analyses). I just purchased The Long Descent and I now plan on reading your blog regularly too!

Kevin said...

Good to see you back JMG. Once again your dire predictions are scaring me into a sense of urgency, and I find myself impelled to take some constructive action.

I'm inclined to agree with Twilight's take on the article, which seems too reliant on post-structuralist thinking, a mode of discourse I've always found too remote from tangible reality.

I love romantic narratives, and find some utopian dreams most inspiring. But as a rule they seem to work out better in fictional forms like novels, plays and the epic poetry of Shelley than in life. Trying to get large numbers of people on "the same page" and keep them there in order to achieve a collective long-term result seems to me fraught with pitfalls. I wouldn't want to stake my happiness on it, nor my survival. And I am particularly leery of projects which heavily depend on people forming and maintaining some particular kind of community based on shared values.

From the time I first read in this blog JMG's statement that communities, not individuals nor families, are the basic unit of human survival, I've found that idea convincing. According to physical anthropology, humans evolved in a tribal context on the African veldt, and we are consequently social by nature.

However I have something heretical to say on the topic. I don't really like that word "community." Whereas most people seem to get a warm fuzzy feeling from it, I feel a cold sense of dread. Upon hearing the word they seem to see kindly neighbors lending one another cups of sugar and helping each other out with barn raisings. What I think of when I hear it is that story "The Lottery," and what I see is a mob of enraged villagers hunting down some hapless recreant with torches and pitch forks: or, to take it out of the realm of fiction, the old-fashioned lynching in the town square. That is a community activity. The same can be said of a medieval-style witch-burning. So I do not take it for granted that whatever people do as a community is necessarily always constructive or pleasant.

I suppose that is one reason I am drawn to this blog rather than others. While John argues for the necessity of community, he also seems to retain a somewhat Taoist-like openness to non-ideological, non-fanatical individualism. There is room in his world view for nonconformists, non-joiners, and perhaps even the occasional crackpot: which suits me to a T.


If anyone wants to know what is my idea of an inspiring utopian vision, check out Aldous Huxley's final novel, "Island." It's not his most successful novel artistically, but inspiring it is. The crux of it is that every practice and operating principle that Huxley proposes for a sane society is something that has been tried, experimentally verified and shown to work, at least in certain circumstances, and at least once. Huxley was a dreamer, in the best sense, but a practical one.

nutty professor said...

How I MISSED you.
Weird. It's just a blog, right?

John Michael Greer said...

Thor, that's very good to hear. I hope you'll have some kind of cash income on the side when you move out to your land -- that's the thing that kicked so many would-be communards in the posterior back in the Sixties and Seventies; you have to be able to pay taxes and the like, at least until things unravel.

Mark, exactly! The Taoist approach is among the best options we've got -- of course, as a t'ai chi practitioner, I'm biased.

Andrea, I'm basing that statement on stats for Chinese and other overseas bond purchases, which are easy to check. It's a lot harder to gauge the broader market -- and there's always the risk that the government is buying its own bonds via sock puppets to keep interest rates down, as Tom Whipple among others has suggested.

Twilight, arrogance is part of the package whenever literary criticism is involved; the basic stance of the critic is that of looking down on the creative work from a superior height, and postmodernism is worse than usual in this regard. I found Lindberg's essay welcome, though, because he actually pays attention to the narrative structure I'm using, and thus invites questions of the sort you've asked -- which are not question I field very often!

Now of course you're right that it's all too easy for the structural analyst to get so caught up in structure that he forgets that a structure exists to fulfill a purpose -- like the architect who's so busy expressing his vision that he forgets to make a roof that will keep the rain out. Still, so few people in the peak oil scene to date have even been willing to look at narrative structures -- that's why the same old myths of progress and apocalypse keep on being rehashed -- that it was pleasant to me to see someone noticing that dimension of the debate.

Don, I'm familiar with their work, though not so much with the fine details of their reasoning. Myself, I think a little less certainty is a useful habit; they may be right, but economics is not an exact science, and things can spin in unexpected directions very easily.

Beneath, well put. Too many activists of all kinds, I think, misplace their sense of humor in the process of detaching themselves from the cultural mainstream. I'm glad you liked my talk; I've long felt that any attempt to predict the future without paying attention to what happened the last dozen or so times similar events took place is a fairly silly project.

John Michael Greer said...

Kevin, utopias are incredibly powerful and useful tools as long as you don't try to make them come into being here in the real world. If you do, you pretty much guarantee hell on Earth. Left as "patterns laid up in heaven," as Plato said, they become valuable tools for getting out of the herd-consciousness fostered by every human society. Most of the old initiatory traditions define some kind of utopia and work off the contrast between that and the world as it is; it's in that space between the ideal and the real that a universe of possibilities opens up.

As for communities, I tend to think that the core of the problem is that most chatter about community these days is about abstractions. A lot of people who talk in frankly maudlin terms about "community" have no time for the communities in which they actually live, or for any part of those communities that doesn't share their values -- which usually means most of their neighbors.

Real community means you learn to get along with the guy in your lodge or your church or your block who's a Tea Party supporter, because he's not going anywhere and neither are you -- and in the process, you find out that he's actually a decent and intelligent human being who just happens to approach the world on the basis of assumptions that differ from yours. That's not something many of the people who talk about "community" in the abstract are willing to do; they want a so-called community in which everyone agrees with them.

Professor, yes, it's just a blog -- but at the same time, knowing that there's somebody else out there who sees what's happening in the world more or less the way you do can be a huge source of relief; I know it is for me.

Houyhnhnm said...

I have yet to read the Lindberg articles, but I look forward to reading them tomorrow.

Here though, I quibble on a response.

JMG responded to Twilight thusly: "[A]rrogance is part of the package whenever literary criticism is involved; the basic stance of the critic is that of looking down on the creative work from a superior height, and postmodernism is worse than usual in this regard."


I agree about PoMo and disagree on the rest. Of course my MA in Eng. Lit. from UDub carries a 1970 date. Back then, under the aegis of heirs of Lionel Trilling and a few New Critics, LitCrit was more like indulging in high level gossip about one's neighbors, most of whom happened to be fictional.

As to the "stance of the critic," I've seen arrogance mostly in the few high profile performer-critics, those who want the focus on themselves rather than the work. On the other hand, like good teachers, good critics are like magnifying glasses in that they bring the work into sharper focus.

I've always liked the description of the critic as someone who has the map but can't drive the car--or at least THAT car (or horse or whatever). Both knowledge and humility are built into that definition.

Thankfully, PoMo is fading. Good riddance, I say.

Welcome back, Archdruid.


Cherokee Organics said...


One thing that acts in the US's favour is that most of the worlds trade is carried out in US dollars. People everywhere still need to trade them whether they like it or not. I expect (and have seen) international trades in Euro and Yuan and expect that these will occur more in the future. Interesting times.

Incidentally, most countries banks where they can are trying to drive down their exchange rates. I have read that Japan's central bank spends massive quantities of money to acvhieve this so that they can continue stable exporting.

China, holds it's exchange rate low and the US has been calling for some time now (with no success) for the Chinese to float their currency. I can't see them doing this.

Our problems are essentially self created and they echo the basic economic problem. Wants are unlimited whilst resources are.

I'm always surprised by the size of the US deficit and the clamour for lower taxes. The two concepts are mutually exclusive. You just can't have both.

You're spot on about community being an idealised concept and not matching actual or historical reality. It's an exercise in tolerance and communication, but there's upsides too.

Good luck!

Don Plummer said...

Snoozepossum wrote,

"'Quantitative Easing'" . . .

Sounds like a brand name for lube . . ."

Or a laxative, perhaps? :)

Dean said...


As you comment about the various forms of use, of a monetary system, ... reflect on, ... how much money a Tree must pay, for sunshine, air and water.


Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Welcome back!

Did read those Lindberg posts and found them most interesting.

It's the old argument of Rossini vs Wagner. So Lord of the Rings is a comedy (and Sauron the tragic figure humbled by fate in the guise of Frodo and Sam)? Ah yes, Sam the gardener, a true green wizard in many ways. As is the Odyssey a comedy, but not the Iliad, I suppose, and As You Like It a most serious farce.

Thus comedy and tragedy are inside-out versions of each other--or Janus faces pointing at two aspects of reality. I get it!

Congrats on your book projects and garden, and thanks for mentioning conservation measures as part of green wizardry--which I hope you mean in a land-based ecological way as well as conserving energy/water/culture.

Some residents of my town have been coming together to plan what are being thought of as practical sustainability projects, so I've joined them. No one says you have to practice green wizardry all by yourself.

sv koho said...

Yea, JMG is back, sounding refreshed and bushy tailed. Quantitative easing makes me think of my normal morning activity in the loo.
Hard for this knucklehead to see hyperinflation when most of what passes for money in our financial system is moribund or dying credit with a little cash in circulation thrown in of course. AS credit collapses and disappears, you see your "money" shrink and disappear which seems to me to be the very essence of deflation. Since credit is such a huge percentage of money, there is no way that Ben can keep up with that sucking sound of money disappearing unless he builds printing presses in every state. It might be easier just to issue the proper paper and software and put it on the net and we all can get into the act and print our own and he could go back to Princeton and resume his career as expert of the Great D(NOT).
Meanwhile back at the farm in DC the ruling class must be pretty happy with the new class of clowns coming to town to engage in irrelevant vacuous posturing. Finished your latest book and found it well structured and informative. I thought the Long Descent was good but your latest was especially fine. Keep insulating, the future looks cool.

John Michael Greer said...

Houyhnhnm, I haven't read Trilling, and should probably do so one of these days; I came of age right about the time postmodernism slithered out of the intellectual catacombs of Paris, and that may also have given me a jaundiced view. Still, authors have been criticizing critics for intellectual arrogance for a very long time -- if Kipling's right, since the Paleolithic! -- and from my admittedly biased viewpoint as an author, they often have a point.

Cherokee, good. The attitude that insists we can have lower taxes, lower deficits, and expanded government services -- all at the same time -- is one of the major idiocies making America's problems insoluble.

Don, good. This makes two entries in the "What Quantitative Easing Really Means" contest. I'd welcome more -- please keep 'em printable!

Dean, do a search on the phrase "Primary Economy" on my blog and you'll encounter quite a bit on that subject.

Adrian, thank you! I'd consider the Odyssey a romance rather than a comedy, though, since Odysseus is anything but Everyman -- he's exceptional even among epic heroes, notably for the possession of brains. Good to hear about the group forming in your town; green wizardry can certainly be practiced by groups of wizards. (What do you call a group of wizards? An interesting question for adepts in the art of venery.)

Koho, good! Yours is the third entry in the "What Quantitative Easing Really Means" contest; keep 'em coming. For what it's worth, I think hyperinflation isn't likely for the time being; even printing $1 trillion or so a year, it'll take a while to make up for the implosion of all that hallucinatory wealth. Still, markets are funny things, and can behave very unpredictably.

Kevin said...

Our culture is no more postmodern than it is postindustrial, no matter how much we outsource our textual interpretations or production capacity. I expect it will be, but perhaps not quite in the sense now commonly understood by most people.

Don Plummer said...

To Cherokee, re: government spending and tax cuts, some cyber-friends and I were having a discussion about the recent election results here in the USA. I posted a comment under the title, "Can they Govern?" One response I got was, "Anyone who believes that you can prosecute two 'wars' and simultaneously grant tax cuts should be classified 'unfit to govern.'"

We have a lot to learn, don't we?

ZenMouser said...

In this manner the sage governs people:
Emptying their minds,
Filling their bellies,
Weakening their ambitions,
And strengthening their bones.

If people lack knowledge and desire
Then they can not act;
If no action is taken
Harmony remains.

Um. Blergh. Bread and circuses for the masses? Don't we already have that?

With no attempt to account for Blindweb's taste in I Ching passages, it occurs to me that the answer for runaway cap!tal!sm is not the kind of flattening of human achievement that has characterized the algorithms of governance on the flip side of the coin.

While we may want to simplify simplify, I guarantee that doing so will give birth to a whole new complex set of relationships, although perhaps with less imaginary, farcical currencies.

Somewhere between a) lurching behemoth conglomerates, (which have, predictably, undergone the shedding of jobs for the purpose of "right-sizing" - which is not corporate speak so much as it is calibrating an organism's capacity) and b) lurching behemoth government, is a niche that has yet to be fully realized c) robust local governance & economies and entrepreneurship.

Quite probably, this next iteration will include forays into State's (and necessarily citizens') rights & economic due process - QUALitative easing for the quantitatively dis-eased, if you will. For example, Olbermann's case is ripe for the USSC, forcing their hand vis-a-vis their Citizens United case. BTW, as we meta-examine our over-reliance (addiction?) to pre-scribed narratives, Is that the USSC/MSNBC/Olberman quagmire tragedy, comedy, farce or plutocratic romance? Or is a just a perfect storm for redistribution of energy?

Similarly, the progressive mindset can anticipate that while the American public divorces itself from the expectation of either corporate employment or government intervention (either is less likely), companies are inclined to shed health care from their employment packages. Some regard this as tragic. I say, GOOD. This will put us in a position, perhaps better than before, to argue for single payer.
Already, more affordable urgent care clinics are popping up. Let's build on that. Further, logic dictates that we ask, what the heck does health care have to do with employment anyways? Another oppty for redistribution of energy that was heretofore pre-packaged and unwieldy.

It's not a matter of crash and burn (although our attention can rest there as a matter of sensory punctuation, if it so desires). It's always a matter of person-environment fit and the fact that people (and currencies, valuing, and the interaction of "economies") make up our environments is exactly what makes the extraction of narrative a rather fantastical exercise at the outset. On a meta level, our evolution would seem to rely upon our ability to extract ourselves from the narratives, thereby we can envision (re-imagine?) the Land of Opportunity.

between-the-lines said...

"A lot of people who talk in frankly maudlin terms about "community" have no time for the communities in which they actually live, or for any part of those communities that doesn't share their values -- which usually means most of their neighbors."

Too true here in the UK as well, sadly, and it really holds back positive change. It's like the politically correct and 'right on' are actively afraid that they will be somehow corrupted or polluted by people with 'nasty' ideas about gender/sex/race or whatever.

It's almost always class-based as well, with over-educated middle class greenies sneering down at working class people. No wonder environmentalism is failing to reach people!

"The core plot of tragedy, again, is that an extraordinary person attempts the impossible and is destroyed."

Sorry to be annoying, but isn't the core plot of tragedy exactly the Tragedy of Modernity, ie., where the protagonist is destroyed by the outworking of a mistake, hamartia, which he has himself made? (Incidentally, the same word is used in the New Testament and translated as "sin".)

PS Maybe all political parties are now Repocrats, with the emphasis on the Repo.

Tripp said...

How about a "potion" of green wizards? A potion draws on the individual strengths of each ingredient to create a synergistic whole capable of unexpected and perhaps even miraculous results. Something we will need if we are to see the other side of the keyhole.

Honored to be a new part of your community.

Tripp (of goats!)

John Michael Greer said...

Kevin, you'll get no argument from me.

Don, no, they can't govern!

Mouser, recognizing that narratives govern decisions and perceptions isn't "fantastical," it's the first step toward taking action that isn't just flailing at myths past their pull date. I'd encourage you to remember that crashing and burning is one form of fit between person and environment.

Between the lines, you're not being annoying at all, you're pointing up a central theme of these posts. William Catton pointed out years ago that the story of human success was shaping up to be a classic tragedy, with hubris -- otherwise defined as the overweening pride of the doomed -- in particularly high relief. The question is how to respond to that.

Tripp, nice. Certainly a good starting place for the discussion!

ZenMouser said...

recognizing that narratives govern decisions and perceptions isn't "fantastical," it's the first step toward taking action that isn't just flailing at myths past their pull date

Point being, these days, most narratives that are supposed to reflect reality are of the mythic variety, dropping out several relevant data points for the sake of fitting pre-scriptives, for the sake of comprehension and perhaps longevity. Of course, these narratives govern decisions. That's my point. There's a problem with that.

To wit, the recapitulation of Heroic saga almost predictably involves crash and burn. We seem to be conditioned to construe data points into these prefab narratives. That in itself creates an environment. A resource-sucking, alternative niche monopolizing environment.

One wonders if the recapitulation of the same basic 4 categories of narratives is a function of the 5 senses. A lot of stereo-types and not enough surround sound.

das monde said...

The more I watch this economic and political circus, the more I am convinced that it is kind of naive to assume that what is happening the last decade or few is a natural evolutionary process of blind short-term interests, good intentions gone awry, usual affair of survival struggle. I would take many of recent empirical suggestions with a pinch of salt. Take, for example, that Monster of Stagflation. While all mistakes of Great Depression were (and still are) willfully repeated, the fear of stagflation became a kind of tabu on many policies that were sensible around the Nixon times. But how terrible was that stagflation? How hurt were people then? It is not unthinkable by now to suppose that the contradictory condition of stagflation was a designed and blown phenomenon. Recently I read through a book titled “The 33 Strategies of War”. Undeliberately, it interestingly clarifies world’s political pattern today, illuminating once more who are real seekers with a Grand Strategy, who are anti-strategical imitators of governing and competition, how clues for rationalization and acceptance are provided, etc. For one thing, we have a nice class warfare going on, with the majority side divided and conquered, confused, terrorized and ambushed like Iraqi citizen. All strategic knowledge is there. The world is so corrupt - the Romans did not know it.

I have just a little sympathy to the no laughing matter of investments and pensions lost to the mortgage debt implosion. Were you supposed to retire on mortgage payments of young families, working their asses out to cover mounting de facto taxes on their education and basic life cycle? I heard frequently that young families are going to be in short supply in the relevant future. FDR’s Social Security was going to be broke (or not) in 2018 or so - but the Wall Street Social Security broke millions of retirements already now. A real tragedy is having no “green paper” rights to shelter and decent food for your children. Ben’s QE2 will only distribute more rights to still better life (and power of abuse) to elite strategists. Don’t count yourself as a learned investor among them if you are not in the top 10% of the financial food chain - higher proportion of tithe takers was never possible. For the rest, desperation of monetary obligations will only grow, so I do not see how to fear hyperinflation. Oh, QE2 will also irritate other (still) independent countries: “The object of warfare is a takeover of country’s land, raw materials, and assets and grab them. In the past, this used to be done militarily by invading them. Today, you can do it financially simply by creating credit, which is what the Federal Reserve has done.” This is my entry to the “Meaning of QE2” collection here.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Jason,

Great to see another appreciator of the works of Jack Vance. A couple of years ago I picked up most of his works on ebay as well as a great second hand bookshop just north of here.

One of my favourite Jack Vance stories is Maske:Thaery and it is quite an appropriate story for this discussion. It has everything: A entrenched plutocracy; resource depletion; expanding populations with no where to go; political intrigue; and an underclass.

Jack Vance was a well travelled and well read guy. I'd love to share a beer and a chat with him.

Hi Don Plummer,

Sacrifice is a thing that not many of us are being asked to do at the moment. But I think a time may come soon...


Thanks for the reference to Engine Summer. I really enjoyed Little, Big many years ago. Like Engine Summer I can see a second reading is in order down the track to suck out the essential pan juices of the story! Weeks later, I'm still left thinking about the imagery of the story. Nice work and good to see you back writing here after your break.

Good luck!

tom rainboro said...

I tried reading the Lindberg articles. Didn't get to the end.
1. The analogy used didn't work for me. It may have been very clever but it lost me.
2. There seemed to be too much emphasis on the two apparently different views of the future when the most important issue should be the means we are taking to our ends. Surely it is obvious that 'greenwizards' is not an organisation. In contrast the 'Transition Movement' is a global organisation franchised from a small office in Totnes, Devon, England by Transition Network. I've long been very wary of this organisation but recently I've also been impressed by comments on the greenwizards forum about 'meetings'. I'm more of the opinion now that the only good 'meetings' are those called for VERY specific purposes (e.g. our group of neighbours decides when and how to kill our pigs). The regular meetings of organisations like Transition Towns are prone to become events where the established officers of the organisation attempt to dominate
others and impose their views. At best it can be a waste of time and energy to attend if you have different views and, indeed, could find yourself subject to abuse.
3. In the second article the writer comments that he was surprised by the common use of the word 'return' in Hopkins writing. It now seemed to me that the writer didn't know that 'Obtain a Yield' or 'Obtain a Return' is a permaculture design principle. Now I've lost confidence in the depth of his knowledge of his
subject matter.
4. Also the writer refers to the 'Transition Handbook' a prime text of the Transition Movement but I think this will shortly be superseded by a text based on 'Patterns'. The linear 'one to twelve steps' approach has
not worked. Now Transitioners must march to a different drumbeat.
I have the gut feeling that we are ALL just a very small group of people arguing details with each other. I feel I need to get out more.

Garden Manager said...

As to a name for a group of wizards: how about "wizherd".

Jason said...

@Cherokee, actually Maske is one of the few I haven't read! I'll look out for it.

Jack Vance was a well travelled and well read guy. I'd love to share a beer and a chat with him.

Did you listen to this? Over an hour's interview with him. He's very much getting on these days of course, but there's a story about Frank Herbert's limited knowledge of piano playing that had me rolling on the floor.

marielar said...

Welcome back Archdruid,

I dont know if you are familiar with Buzz Holling work. He is one of the great ecologist of our time, and some of his prescriptions to go through period of crisis reminded me of your "muddling through" strategy

"There is need now, to get rid of the rigidities that block innovation, to try to stabilize the extreme structures, and to encourage a plethora of experiments that link people and processes in unexpected ways. Some, and perhaps many of those experiments will fail. But some will succeed and set ingredients for another swing of the adaptive cycle."

An Eaarthly Planner said...


Good to have you back. I confess I checked the site regularly.

I was especially pleased to see you take on a subject (smallness) which I myself wrote about recently on my blog, An Eaarthly Civilization (titled borrowed, in part, from Bill McKibben's book Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet). Here's a quote from the post, so you have an idea what I was writing about:

So: small is sustainable. With limited resources, one is forced to be creative, resourceful... small. If a mistake is made, terrifying amounts of wealth are not extinguished thereby; it remains a mistake, rather than a catastrophe: one is free to learn and try again. If one succeeds, then others, also of limited means, may learn of that good practice, adapt it to their particular circumstances, and try it themselves. Their success -- or failure -- contributes to the breadth and depth of our collective well of wisdom.

In the spirit of the helpful critique that one of your commenters already mentioned, I somewhat agree/somewhat disagree with your final statement:

...set out to do the small things that individuals in a disintegrating society can actually accomplish to better their own lives, and those of their families and communities...

As a regular reader, I know that you are, at best, neutral on the subject of the Transition movement. I want to put in a plug for that movement and say that being in it is one way an individual can "do the small things" and have substantive positive impacts on their own lives, those of their families and those of their communities. Not least of the positive impacts of my involvement in Transition Lancaster (PA/USA) has been the great many people I have met and brought together who otherwise never would have known each other. We've learned new skills and shared them with one another. We've raised awareness. We've empowered ourselves by doing things together on shoestring budgets that otherwise never would have occurred. And we've had fun doing it.

Maybe I'm just an adrenaline junkie, but I like striving upwards sometimes, even in my own small way.

An Eaarthly Planner said...

Sorry if I submitted my comment too many times. I kept getting an error message that it was too long.

brett said...

On the preponderance of the small...

I just received a recommendation of "The Long Descent." I haven't yet had the good fortune to stumble across a copy in the library or elsewhere, but I did find a fantastic video "The Twilight of an Age." (

While I never got a parachute before being pushed out of the plane, I'm fortunate to have a heart-shaped trampoline beneath me. In the future, I'd sure like to see a preponderance of them for the others in free-fall too.

Now, I'm left wondering how this guy did that off the wall backwards somersault (

Keep up the great work.

TG said...


You could always ask your friendly local librarian if a copy could be added to the shelves. ;-) I did, and The Long Descent is now available for everyone here to read. It arrived a couple of months ago, and I've seen it checked out at least twice.

--Tracy Glomski

sofistek said...

My focus would, and will, be on food preservation techniques that don't require an energy source other than the sun, or energy storage such as batteries. The only resources we can count on in the future is what nature provides.

So I think drying and fermentation will be the mainvtechniques I plan to develop.