Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Twilight of Meaning

This is not going to be an easy post to write, and I’m not at all sure it will be any easier to understand; I trust my readers will bear with me. I could begin it in any number of places, but the one that seems most important just now is the vestibule of the little public library six blocks away from my house. It’s a solid if unimaginative brick rectangle of Eighties vintage, one room not quite so full of books as it ought to be, another room in back for the librarians to work, a meeting space, restrooms, and a vestibule where books that are being discarded from the collection are shelved for sale.

That’s standard practice in most public libraries these days. If a book hasn’t been checked out for three years, or if it needs repairs and there isn’t a huge demand for it, it goes onto the sale shelf. Prices range from cheap to absurdly cheap; the sale doesn’t bring in a huge amount, but at a time of sparse and faltering budgets, every bit helps. The exception is children’s books, which aren’t for sale at all. They’re in a cart marked FREE, and if they don’t get taken in a month or so, they go into the trash, because there simply isn’t any demand for them. That was where, a few months ago, I spotted a copy of Kate Seredy’s 1938 Newberry Award winner The White Stag.

The vast majority of my readers will no doubt find the reference opaque. Still, back when I was a child—no, dinosaurs didn’t quite walk the earth back then, though it sometimes feels that way—winners of the Newberry Award, one of the two most prestigious US awards for children’s literature, still counted for quite a bit. Most libraries with a children’s collection of any size had the whole set, and most children’s librarians were enthusiastic about getting them into the hands of young readers. That’s not how I found The White Stag—I needed nobody’s encouragement to read, and Seredy’s compelling illustrations of galloping horsemen and magical beasts were well aimed to catch my eye—but find it I did, and that’s how medieval Hungarian legends about the coming of Attila the Hun wove their way permanently into the crawlspaces of my imagination.

So that was the book, one among dozens, that was awaiting its fate in the free cart at the South Cumberland Public Library. I already have a copy, and I decided to take the risk that somebody would find the one in the cart before it got tossed in the trash. As it happens, it was the right choice; the next week it was gone. I’ll never know whether some grandparent recognized it from his or her own childhood and took it as a gift, or whether some child caught sight of the cover, pulled it from the cart, and was caught by the magic of a tale that makes today’s canned children’s fantasies look like the pasty commercial product they are, but at least I can hope that it was something like that.

The White Stag was written the year my father was born. In my youth you could find books that old and much older, plenty of them, in small town public libraries all over the country. Nowadays, increasingly, you can’t. What you get instead are shelf upon shelf of whatever’s new, glossy, popular and uncontroversial, massaged into innocuousness by marketing specialists and oozing a fetid layer of movie, toy, and video game tie-ins from all orifices, all part of the feedback loop that endlessly recycles the clichés of current popular culture into minds that, in many cases, have never encountered anything else. In the process, the threads of our collective memory are coming silently apart.

I don’t think it’s going too far to describe the result as a kind of cultural senility. That concept certainly goes a long way to explain the blank and babbling incoherence with which America in particular stares vacantly at its onrushing fate. Without a sense of the past and its meaning, without narratives that weave the events of our daily lives into patterns that touch the principles that matter, we lack the essential raw materials of thought, and so our collective reasoning processes, such as they are, spit out the same rehashed nonsolutions over and over again.

It will doubtless be objected that we have the internet, and thus all the information we could possibly need. We do indeed have the internet, where sites discussing the current color of Lady Gaga’s pubic hair probably outnumber sites discussing Newberry Award books by a thousand to one. We have an effectively limitless supply of information, but then it’s not information that I got from reading The White Stag at age eight, and it’s not a lack of information that’s dragging us down to a sorry end.

The problem—for it is a problem, and thus at least in theory capable of solution, rather than a predicament, which simply has to be put up with—is the collapse of the framework of collective meanings that gives individual facts their relevance. That framework of meanings consists, in our culture and every other, of shared narratives inherited from the past that form the armature on which our minds place data as it comes in.

A couple of years ago, in a discussion on this blog that touched on this same point, I made the mistake of referring to those narratives by their proper name, which is myth. Those of you who know how Americans think know exactly what happened next: plenty of readers flatly insisted on taking the word in its debased modern sense of “a story that isn’t true,” and insisted in tones ranging from bafflement to injured pride that they didn’t believe in any myths, and what was I talking about?

The myths you really believe in, of course, are the ones you don’t notice that you believe. The myth of progress is still like that for most people. Even those who insist that they no longer believe in progress very often claim that we can have a better world for everybody if we do whatever they think we ought to do. In the same way, quite a few of the people who claim that they’ve renounced religion and all its works still believe, as devoutly as any other fundamentalist, that it’s essential to save everybody else in the world from false beliefs; the central myth of evangelical religion, which centers on salvation through having the right opinions, remains welded into place even among those who most angrily reject the original religious context of that myth.

But there’s a further dimension to the dynamics of—well, let’s just call them cultural narratives, shall we?—unfolding in America today. When the shared narratives from the past break apart, and all you’ve got is popular culture spinning feedback loops in the void, what happens then?

What happens is the incoherence that’s become a massive political fact in America today. That incoherence takes at least three forms. The first is the rise of subcultures that can’t communicate with one another at all. We had a display of that not long ago in the clash over raising the deficit limit. To judge by the more thoughtful comments in the blogosphere, I was far from the only person who noticed that the two sides were talking straight past each other. It wasn’t simply that the two sides had differing ideas about government finance, though of course that’s also true; it’s that there’s no longer any shared narrative about government that’s held in common between the two sides. The common context is gone; it’s hard to think of a single political concept that has the same connotations and meanings to a New England liberal that it has to an Oklahoma conservative.

It’s crucial to recognize, though, that these subcultures are themselves riddled with the same sort of incoherence that pervades society as a whole; this is the second form of incoherence I want to address. I wonder how many of the devout Christians who back the Republican Party, for example, realize that the current GOP approach to social welfare issues is identical to the one presented by Anton Szandor LaVey in The Satanic Bible. (Check it out sometime; the parallels are remarkable.) It may seem odd that believers in a faith whose founder told his followers to give all they had to the poor now by and large support a party that’s telling America to give all it has to the rich, but that’s what you get when a culture’s central narratives dissolve; of course it’s also been my experience that most people who claim they believe in the Bible have never actually read more than a verse here and there.

Mind you, the Democratic Party is no more coherent than the GOP. Since the ascendancy of Reagan, the basic Democrat strategy has been to mouth whatever slogans you think will get you elected and then, if you do land in the White House, chuck the slogans, copy the policies of the last successful Republican president, and hope for the best. Clinton did that with some success, copying to the letter Reagan’s borrow-and-spend policies at home and mostly toothless bluster abroad; of course he had the luck to ride a monstrous speculative bubble through his two terms, and then hand it over to the GOP right as it started to pop. Obama, in turn, has copied the younger Bush’s foreign and domestic policies with equal assiduity but less success; partly that’s because the two Middle Eastern wars he’s pursued with such enthusiasm were a bad idea from the start, and partly because his attempts to repeat Bush’s trick of countering the collapse of one speculative bubble by inflating another haven’t worked so far.

I’ve discussed more than once before in these posts the multiple ironies of living at a time when the liberals have forgotten how to liberate and the conservatives have never learned how to conserve. Still, there’s a third dimension to the incoherence of contemporary America, and it appears most clearly in the behavior of people whose actions are quite literally cutting their own throats. The kleptocratic frenzy under way at the top of the economic pyramid is the best example I can think of.

Back in the 1930s, a substantial majority of the American rich realized that the only way to stop the rising spiral of depressions that threatened to end here, as in much of Europe, in fascist takeovers was to allow a much larger share of the national wealth to go to the working classes. They were quite correct, because it’s wages rather than investments that are the real drivers of economic prosperity. The logic here is as simple as it is irrefutable. When people below the rentier class have money, by and large, they spend it, and those expenditures provide income for businesses. Rising wages thus drive rising business income, increased employment, and all the other factors that make for prosperity.

On the other hand, when more money shifts to the rentier class – the people who live on investments – a smaller fraction goes to consumer expenditures, and the higher up the ladder you go, the smaller the fraction becomes. Close to the summit, nearly all income gets turned into investments of a more or less speculative nature, which take it out of the productive economy altogether. (How many people are employed to manufacture a derivative?) This recognition was the basis for the American compromise of the 1930s, a compromise brokered by the very rich Franklin Roosevelt and backed by a solid majority of financiers and industrialists at the time, who recognized that pursuing their own short-term profit at the expense of economic prosperity and national survival was not exactly a bright idea.

Yet this not very bright idea is now standard practice across the board on the upper end of the American economy. The absurd bonuses “earned” by bankers in recent years are only the most visible end of a pervasive culture of executive profiteering, aided and abetted by both parties and shrugged off by boards of directors who have by and large misplaced their fiduciary duty to the stockholders. This and other equally bad habits have drawn a pre-1930s share of the national wealth to the upper end of the economic spectrum, and accordingly produced a classic pre-1930s sequence of bubbles and crashes.

None of this takes rocket science to understand; nor does it demand exceptional thinking capacity to realize that pushed too far, a set of habits that prioritizes short-term personal profits over the survival of the system that makes those profits possible could very well leave top executives dangling from lampposts—or, as was the case in the very late 19th and early 20th centuries, so common a target for homegrown terrorists that people throwing bombs through the windows of magnates’ cars was a theme for music-hall ditties. What it takes, rather, is the sense of context that comes from shared narratives deriving from the past—in this case, the recognition that today’s economic problems derive from the policies that caused the same problems most of a century ago would probably be enough.

Still, that recognition—more broadly, the awareness that the lessons of the past have something to teach the present—requires a kind of awareness that’s become very uncommon in America these days, and I’ve come to think that the main culprit at all levels of society is precisely the feedback loop mentioned earlier, the transformation of culture into marketing that exists for no other purpose than to sell more copies of itself. The replacement of The White Stag and its peers with the Care Bears and theirs is only one small part of that transformation, though it’s a telling one. There’s no tragedy in the Care Bears universe, no history, and no change, just a series of interchangeable episodes in which one-dimensional figures lurch mechanically through their routines and end exactly where they started, just in time for the closing flurry of ads.

The popular culture on offer to adults is by and large more complex, but no less subject to the pressures of manufactured popular culture. (The public library in Seattle, to my horror, once put up splashy ads asking, “What if everyone in Seattle read the same book?” Why, then we’d have even more of a mental monoculture than we’ve got already.) There the interchangeable unit is less often the episode than the movie, the novel, or the series. Whether the protagonist finds true love, catches the murderer, gets bitten by the vampire, saves the world from destruction, or whatever other generic gimmick drives the plot, you know perfectly well that when you finish this one there are hundreds more just like it ready to go through the same mechanical motions. Their sole originality is the effort to ring as many changes on a standard formula as possible—hey, let’s do another pirate zombie romantic mystery, but this time with Jane Austen! The result is like taking a loaf of Wonder Bread and spreading something different on every slice, starting with Marmite and ending with motor oil; there are plenty of surface variations, but underneath it’s always the same bland paste.

Business executives, you may be interested to know, read very little other than mystery novels and pop business books. I don’t know that anybody’s done a survey on what politicians read, but I doubt it’s anything more edifying. It’s really a closed loop; from the top to the bottom of the social pyramid, one or another form of mass-market popular culture makes up most of the mental input of Americans, and I trust most of my readers know the meaning of the acronym GIGO. Then we look baffled when things don’t work out, because we don’t know how to deal with tragedy or history or change, and trying to impose some form of Care Bear logic on the real world simply doesn’t work.

I mentioned earlier that this is a problem, not a predicament, and that it therefore has a solution. As it happens, I have no reason to think that more than a handful of people will be willing to embrace the solution, but it’s still worth mentioning for their sake, and for another reason I’ll get to in a bit. The solution? It’s got two steps, which are as follows.

1. Pull the plug on current popular culture in your own life. Cutting back a little doesn’t count, and no, you don’t get any points for feeling guilty about wallowing in the muck. Face it, your television will do you more good at the bottom of a dumpster than it will sitting in your living room, and the latest pirate zombie romantic mystery, with or without Jane Austen, is better off gathering cobwebs in a warehouse; you don’t need any of it, and it may well be wrecking your capacity to think clearly.

2. Replace it with something worth reading, watching, hearing, or doing. You may well have your own ideas about what goes in this category, but in case you don’t, I have a suggetion: go looking among things that are older than you are.

Yes, I’m quite serious, and for more than one reason. First, one of the advantages of time is that the most forgettable things get forgotten; there was a huge amount of vapid popular culture in the 19th century, for example, but only the most erudite specialists know much about it now. Your chances of finding something worth reading or watching or hearing or doing goes up as time has more of a chance to run its filter on the results. Second, even if what you find is pablum, it’s the pablum of a different time, and will clash with mental habits tuned to the pablum of this time, with useful results. When the visual conventions of a Humphrey Bogart movie strike you as staged and hokey, stop and ask yourself how current popular culture will look fifty years from now—if anybody’s looking at them at all, that is.

That, of course, is the third reason, the one I hinted at a few paragraphs back: current popular culture, like so much else of contemporary American society, is almost uniquely vulnerable to the multiple impacts of an industrial civilization in decline. Fifty years from now, the way things are going just now, the chances that anybody will be able to watch a Care Bears video are pretty close to nil; most of today’s media don’t age well, and all of them depend directly and indirectly on energy inputs that our society can scarcely maintain now and almost certainly won’t be able to maintain for most Americans for more than a decade or two longer. Beyond that, you’re going to need something more durable, and a great deal of what was in circulation before the era of mass culture will still be viable after that era is over once and for all.

There’s more to it, too, but to get there we’re going to have to take a detour through a conversation that almost nobody in America wants to have just now. We’ll get into that next week.


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Bill Pulliam said...

"the current GOP approach to social welfare issues is identical to the one presented by Anton Szandor LaVey in The Satanic Bible"

YEEEWAW!!! (yes that does have to be shouted) I have been mentioning this for years, and you are the first other person I have come across who notices this astoundingly close parallel. Ayn Rand's philosophy is almost word-for-word indistinguishable from LaVey's. I get a profound befuddled chuckle every time I hear a "Krishun" (as it is pronounced in these parts) espousing Satanism! Which is just about every day.

hadashi said...

This one is classic, dare I say 'vintage' JMG. Powerful, witty, erudite, convincing. The best I can remember reading, and I can hardly wait until next week.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, that makes three of us, then, as I had a younger friend and fellow occultist point it out a few days ago. It's really something that should get more attention.

Hadashi, thank you!

Paula said...

Maybe it's all the Newberry-medal-winning books I read as a child that insulate me from popular culture now....

rainman said...

Just checking some of the old books we have: Wadsworth and Longfellow, 1887 & 1886. Many others from 1850's through 1945.
I'm leary of those "Krishuns" and what they say about other's beliefs.

Night_Tripper36 said...

Beyond our contemporary culture's lack of complexity or meaning, the advent of Sparknotes has slowly been depriving classic literature of its very essence. The modern understanding of literature itself has been popularized and homogenized (how many creative writing programs in colleges across the country are catering to students looking only for creative vindication and immediate gratification?). We live in an age with more writers and writing than has probably ever existed, and yet we still are unable to learn from or appreciate the myriad of voices. Amazing post, Mr. Greer. Thanks!

Jeff Z said...

"The result is like taking a loaf of Wonder Bread and spreading something different on every slice, starting with Marmite and ending with motor oil; there are plenty of surface variations, but underneath it’s always the same bland paste. "

yowza! I really couldn't have said it better myself. Very Kunstlerian really. So long as you're not making predictions about the stock market, that's a compliment.

I also love the teaser at the end- "tune in next week for another episode of the archdruid report".

This post, and some of the previous have reminded me of a trilogy (written long before I was born, thanks) by Isaac Asimov- the Foundation Trilogy. I don't remember the individual names of the books but remember not being able to put any of them down.

The book focused on a group of people focused on preserving the accumulated knowledge of a dying culture in order to prevent a long dark age after the final fall. Post-fall, the antagonists search the galaxy for them but can't find them --becauase they've hidden in the heart of the beast- in the capitol of the former empire.

This was compelling science-fiction when I was 10 or 11, but now I realize that it's very truly the situation that we find ourselves in. The green wizard project is not unlike the Encyclopedia Foundation. Maybe this is intentional on your part. Even if it's not- kudos for doing the good- if hard- work.

I hope I don't give away too much of Asimov's book for those who haven't read it already (I'm guessing you have, JMG). It's a fascinating story. I found it at a small-town library a quarter-century ago. I wonder if it's still there.

GHung said...

And you won't read that book again
Because the endings just to hard to take...

I don't know where we went wrong
But the feelings gone
And I just can't get it back

If you could read my mind...

Julie said...

To start with, I love the Archdruid Report. Thank you so much for writing it. Gives me something to chew on during the week.

One teensy point (as the toad-like Dolores Umbridge would say): I googled "Lady Gaga's pubic hair" and got 674,000 hits, while "Newberry award books" got 4,090,000 hits. Just thought you'd like to know.

Also, an observation. I, too, have lamented the decline of intellectual chewiness in popular culture. But my children believe otherwise and have more or less convinced me. Online is where to look. Yes, there's lots of dreck. After all, anyone who feels like putting up a web page can do it (I myself have ten). But there's plenty of stuff out there that stimulates the mind and gives hope for the future. comes immediately to mind.

John Michael Greer said...

Paula, that'll do it. Many of them are still worth a read by adults, you know...

Rainman, good for you.

Night Tripper, that's an excellent point -- education functioning as another means of mental homogenization. Doesn't have to be that way, but try telling people to encounter the work (not "the text") directly, without Sparknotes, and the results will not be pretty!

Jeff, the titles are Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. It's well worth another read -- and yes, it's one of many influences on the Green Wizard project.

Ghung, now that brings back a whole other class of memories! Did you mean to link to The Oil Drum, though?

John Michael Greer said...

Julie, well, I did say "probably." As for the internet, well, enjoy it while it's here, because it won't be around indefinitely.

gordon said...

Congratulations JMG, this is one of your best, and I have read them all.

As for replacing popular culture with something worth reading; Yes!

May I take this opportunity to offer a suggestion, Edna St. Vincent Millay. She is my all time favorite poet, a master of the English language and one of the great poets of the twentieth century.

brierrabbit said...

Great essay. am a rather traditionalist, rather conservative, {think, Tolkien, Chesterton , Wendell Berry, Belloc, Russel Kirk, etc, rather than Limbaugh and Hannity, etc} Many quote" Conservatives" never actually seem to want to conserve anything, environments, good culture, small business, etc. If they can drive their beamers, put a big screen in every room, and etc, thats considered a fine culture of life to pursue, O.K...... I guess.... I actually work in a large antique store, { I repair antiques} so I get to see the influence of the past all day long. Parents, Grandparents come in looking for the old children's books of their childhoods for their own children. Early Little Golden Books are one example.
We sell quite a lot of older children's books. You mentioned how libraries in your youth, still had large collections of wonderful old books. I remember that too, very well. Wonderful things were shelved in dim quiet corners, that could keep the imagination, and daydreams of a 10 year lod lost for hours. Great essay, Mr Greer.

Brad said...

I really wonder sometimes how much of what I read on the web regarding cultural collapse, resource depletion, climate change and related doomerist topics (including perhaps in this blog, though I'd hate to think so) fall into that pop culture category you mention and carry the same predictable results on my brain structure. Probably the hardest thing about getting this information from web sites and blogs (to which your blog is a definite exception) is finding a coherent, consistent thread to the material considered. I don't find thinking all that easy to do anyway, but I know enough to recognize lazy, partisan, self-interested thought lines when I read them.

TV I can do without, but I am addicted to the internet. I am starting to wonder, though, what life would be like without it--if I only read books and talked to real people and fed my real sheep and my real chickens. Will have to try that.

BTW, I am a pastor of a small country church in Wisconsin--GO (away) SCOTT WALKER!! Half of my people are GOP loyalists. I gotta find LaVey's book.

GHung said...

"Did you mean to link to The Oil Drum, though?"

Whoops! the dangers of cut 'n and paste'n :-/

If you could read my mind


andrewbwatt said...

As a teacher, I found this week's issue kind of upsetting. I spent a lot of time this summer digging up primary sources to use in a history class for seventh graders... and, no, we're going back to the textbook. The same old textbook containing the same old abstractions that got us into the current mess.

Maybe we should read Mercy Otis Warren's 'textbook' about the American Revolution...

I find that most of what I read these days are books about or concerning brain structure, magic or history, with an occasional volume about growing a food supply on an urban farm — my own contribution, however small, to Green Wizardry seems to be assembling a library.

I'm reminded, reading this column, of one of the Beirut hostages. He was asked in the mid-1980s what would limit his boredom, and he asked for reading materials. For weeks, he got trash. Then someone brought him a book with a penguin on the spine. He told his captors, "bring me any book that has this on the spine." He got Wordsworth, Longfellow, medieval romances, Renaissance treatises on math, Classical authors... It's not a bad strategy, reading from the Penguin classics list.

Craig said...

Great points. It seems such sentiments are shared by a very miniscule fraction of a percent of the population. I fear that in ten years (if not now) the vast majority of developed world citizens below the age of thirty will no longer have the capacity to understand anything being discussed in this blog. Having become programmed cyborgs (via smart phones and an addictive need for constant internet data input). The actual concept of individual thought will be heresy. I often feel like an antique at 39.
"Age of information" more like being buried by a ton of pseudo knowledge.
As you say unplug. Format our own program. Great idea.

goedeck said...

When I was in my early teens I read the Hobbit and all three Lord of the Rings books; AKR can't hold a candle to JRRT, IMHO.

LasTablas said...

I've been reading this blog for a while, and JMG writes extraordinarily well. In particular on issues relating to critical thought and principled life choices.

That said, this posting reminded me, as forcefully as anything I have read in quite some time, of Blaise Pascal's annihilation of notions of human progress. Thank you.

wall0159 said...

...reminds me of when I noticed that (in general) the older the book, the better the language.

wall0159 said...

another thought: maybe the dumbing-down of books is related to the professionalisation of art in general, and the expectation that people should be able to consume art -- and that it shouldn't be too challenging.

Clarence said...

New reader here. I was directed here from LowtechMagazine; he covered How not to play the Game.

From my chair in front of my computer, i can see my copy of A Wrinkle in Time(second copy), a Newberry Award Winner of 1962. I read it right after publication, i was 5.

I've finished reading the archive, including all of the comments. A refreshing and informative use of time. The apocalyptic view of the survivalist community always seemed to fall short of engaging; the historical idea of a long descent fits much better with my understanding of cause and effect.

I abandoned the mainstream cultural miasma years ago and adopted voluntary simplicity; which means abject poverty to many. My last television is in storage 5 states away and is unlikely to be reclaimed or replaced. This computer is 5 years old and running an alternative operating system. The internet is an indulgence and access is by wifi.

Twilight is an excellent term for this next period of history. Meaning will suffer through the dark and reemerge into the light. Alas, the light will likely not see me as the dark will encompass the rest of my life. At least, for now, there is the comfort of the intelligent and genteel discourse i find amidst the noise of the electronic medium of the age.

I may not ever comment again but i will be reading for as long as possible.

Peace, Clarence

Paula said...

Oh I know, JMG! I've collected children's books for years and pull one down occasionally for fun. This link ( ) has the whole Newbery list, the Caldecott list (read a bunch of them) and the Middleberry list, with which I'm completely unfamiliar.

I'll be checking out the library for things to add to my collection. I'm thinking someday what I have on my shelves will be all I will have with which to entertain myself.

In the meantime, I confess that I'm addicted to Big Bang Theory.....

beneaththesurface said...

I grew up (in the 80s and 90s) watching almost zero television or videos. My family did have a TV, but it was an small old black-and-white TV that didn't work too well, and at most, I occasionally would watch public television shows about topics such ants several times a year. We didn't have a VCR either, so I grew up watching way less movies than my peers.

To grow up this way in contemporary society definitely makes one feel different and not "a part of things," according to peers. When I was overhearing classmates gossip about people I didn't know, sometimes it would take me a while to realize they were talking about television characters, not real people. I was sometimes embarrassed when I revealed I never had even heard of certain Hollywood actors and actresses. ("You don't know who Brad Pitt is? What planet are you from?" they might say.)

But, growing up this way has tremendous rewards. I may not know anything about popular TV shows and movies, but I can reference many books I've read. I do not know the names of every popular band or singer, but I can sing more folk songs by heart. More importantly, not being around manufactured images regularly in my childhood aided me in being able to visualize my own images. I think that is why that even today, I enjoy reading books way more than movies. I get really frustrated when I can't visualize things the way I want.

I'm amazed how few people are bothered by TV in public spaces the way I am. During my freshman year of college a gigantic television was put in the dining hall, and I was very upset about it. When I eat I like to be able to focus on the conversation of those with me, or if I'm eating alone, to be able to think my own thoughts without being bombarded by TV. I expressed my frustration by writing and putting a comment in the comment box. The person in charge of these decisions, the head of the dining hall, read it and invited me in for a meeting to hear more from me. I explained my frustrations more to him. What struck me, was that he couldn't even understand why a television being on while I ate would bother me. He then mentioned he and his wife loved television and that they had five TVs at home, one in almost every room, even the kitchen! They were even planning on putting an additional TV in another room. I try not to be unnecessarily cynical, but I remember in that moment I felt a surge of cynicism about the state of the world...

Lloyd Lincoln Clark said...

History. Without it culture has no foundation. Coherence. Minds made sieves instead of vessels capture nothing of the torrent. There's bitter irony in the dominant myth that meaning is entirely subjective and therefore nonexistent. Self-referential nihilism is not a cultural framework; it is an intellectual black hole. The vacuous shared experience derived from the aptly labeled boob-tube is largely and purposefully meaningless. The resulting pseudo-culture is worse than senility (which is essentially forgetfulness or dementia, an acknowledged cognitive disability) because it masquerades as robustly beneficial. Chucking the TV may help to address our collective amnesia, but it is short of solution to the problem of denial so rampant and pervasive in our modern social construct. The detour promised sounds promising.

Not surprising that the Archdruid's library includes Azimov's Foundation Triology.

SunsetSu said...

Our public library, which is strapped for funds, keeps cutting back its hours of operation. The prospect of being without something to read is alarming, so I’m building up my own library. I buy books at yard sales and at the twice-yearly library book sales - adult and juvenile fiction, poetry, plays, nature guides, do-it-yourself reference books and history. Not only will I have something to read, but I will have many sturdy hardbound books to lend out to others when the libraries close down.
We are also losing access to our classic movies. Netflix is moving from renting DVDs to selling online digitized films. Most of the old films won’t be digitized, which means younger people won’t be exposed to those movies. This will worsen the endless loop of mindless popular culture. In the olden days of the 1950s and 60s, there was at least one old movie on TV every night of the week. That meant our generation was able to share our parents’ cultural context. In Seattle, we have Scarecrow Video, which is a national treasure. Those in smaller cities and towns may be cut off from a century of American film.
Imagine the loss – no Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra, John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, or John Sayles movies. No Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Mae West or W.C. Fields.

Maybe I will keep my old TV and VCR player and start stockpiling old videos as well.

tOM said...

O tempora O mores!

I don't think we even recognise the diamonds being mined today. Rap music is today's poetry, and us semi-geriatric types aren't even listening.

Old stuff surviving is mostly by chance and the filters of current prejudice and whims more than darwinian selection. Have you read Aristophanes?

I think today is more intellectually alive than yesterday. The homogenization of network radio and network TV has been splintered. The millions of blogs, webpages, and their comment sections doesn't reinforce pablum. It reflects it a bit, but more voices are heard by more people.

Sturgeon's Revelation does apply. We just don't know which 10% is good yet...


Les said...

JMG: “a suggestion: go looking among things that are older than you are”
Excellent advice. Only yesterday I was loaned a copy of Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s “The Physiology of Taste”, originally published in 1825, with the author dating from 1755...
While the readable nature of the book probably owes a lot to the translator, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed an exposition of 18th century philosophy and gourmandism as much as this one.
“Aphorism XVII: To wait too long for an unpunctual guest is an act of discourtesy to those who have arrived in time.”
18th C philosophy -> 19th C pop culture -> 20th C oddity -> 21st C MIA.
Darwin’s original “Voyage of the Beagle” is worth a look too.

Spartiate said...

Not to mention that books are printed on very cheap paper today and will be crumbling messes in a few decades. Do publishers keep sturdier copies on hand? I've thought about printing out some of my favorite books on archival paper and keeping them safe, just in case, but I guess it won't matter too much at that point.

Kevin said...

I think you've hit upon a core feature of the debasement of political language (and hence of thought) with the examples of "liberal" and "conservative." Hardly anyone seems to recollect what these words properly mean, and I suspect this is no accident.

"it’s wages rather than investments that are the real drivers of economic prosperity"

How refreshing to encounter this straightforward and unfashionable truth after decades of Reagan-Friedman baloney grinding. It's a pity no one thought to engrave it in granite on the face of the Stock Exchange.

I have no TV of my own but my family members watch a lot of it. Its hypnogogic effect upon them is disturbing to witness. Unfortunately I am certain that trying to talk them out of it would be counterproductive, like trying to wheedle his fix from a junkie, and I haven't yet found a way to sabotage the sinister device undetected.

Every time I look for work the irony is borne upon me that with a dose of bogus enthusiasm and a couple of software packages I could readily get hired to work on video games, especially "social" games of the sort you often see people noodling around with on their cell phones. These games are of course the opposite of social, causing players to interact with no one and nothing but their iPhones.

After much consideration since I began reading this blog several years ago, I've concluded that the most reliable way for an artist or author such as myself to conserve his work is to produce it in hand-printed limited editions for collectorship. Only fanatical monomaniac collectors can be counted on to preserve such materials. Unless I learn to carve in stone, as with the aforementioned statement about the true basis of prosperity.

Rich_P said...


Perhaps the rentier class realizes, at least in some vague sense, that the game is up due to the convergence of peak oil, climate change, topsoil loss, etc. etc. and is merely wringing every last drop out of the system before it implodes. In doing so, of course, they increase the rate of collapse, but at least they’ll go out on top!

it’s hard to think of a single political concept that has the same connotations and meanings to a New England liberal that it has to an Oklahoma conservative.

And that wouldn’t be as big of an issue if the United States still had a vigorous federal system, i.e., the States not being totally subservient to the Federal Government. One of the great mistakes of twentieth century American politics was giving too much power to the Federal Government and distant corporations, largely at the expense of State Governments and local businesses, as the country’s population and geographic extent expanded. What we have today is an extremely powerful Federal Government that’s difficult to control because we lack the mechanisms to really do so in light of its expanded role in our day-to-day lives.

The number of representatives in the House, for example, hasn’t increased since the early twentieth century, and we now have an enormous class of career bureaucrats and military officers that outlast our elected officials. In other words, each representative is answering to more people, diluting your voice (unless you’re rich); this trend will continue as long as the population continues growing and Congress doesn’t increase the size of the House.

Folks rightly complain about the acrimonious political atmosphere in Washington, but what do you expect when you’ve got 535 men and women in Congress working on behalf of 300+ million people spread across a continent? The system hasn’t scaled very well, and we’re starting to see it break down.

Asimov, among others, believed that democracy could not survive in the face of overpopulation. I agree, and one of the benefits of “kicking down” government functions to the local level (when possible) is that you no longer have to consider an audience of 300+ million, but perhaps “only” a few million, or maybe even a few thousand.

Avery said...

Your political commentary is here spot on. My favorite quote on politics comes from Oswald Spengler: "Belief in program was the mark and the glory of our grandfathers; in our grandsons it will be a proof of provincialism."

We are those grandsons. A sense of divinely guided mission, ubiquitous 150 years ago, is seen as utterly foolish today. The closest thing we had was the Saganist mission to the stars, which just sputtered out about a month ago. Instead, we focus solely on what kind of economic bubble we can build to make the party last a little longer and what new technological gadget we can use to idle away that time. Both Republicans and Democrats are pursuing, in different ways, these petty and ignoble ends, while the last of the oil burns out around us.

jbucks said...

Fantastic post!

You write that a way to deal with this cultural situation is to shut oneself off from pop culture - perhaps it also makes sense for artists, filmmakers, musicians, etc, to stop producing it. It's so easy and cheap now to get music software, video software, etc to create pop culture, and even if you're involved in a non-digital medium like painting, it's easy to spread your work over the internet. On one hand it's great that people are able to make their own music or films easily, on the other hand, is the proportion of artists to say, farmers, out of balance?

jbucks said...

Also, this is pretty scary:

"We argue that consumers with high self-brand connections (SBC) respond to negative brand information as they do to personal failure — they experience a threat to their positive self-view."

The carp who jumped Hukou Falls said...

Well, what was difficult about that?

Books: I was also a devourer of books from my local library. I must have been very young when I started reading the myths of the Greeks, Romans, and Vikings (and let's face it, reading about Ragnarok at age 6 or so is mindblowing. Yes, kids, *everybody* dies!). Heh.

Then, on to two particular series of books that I still remember with great fondness - Rosemary Sutcliff's 'Dolphin' series, and Henry Treece's Viking trilogy. Both deal strongly with collapse and decline; in Sutcliff's series only the first (The Eagle of the Ninth) deals with an expanding and hopeful society; after that, it's all about managing decline, and trying to hold on to the best of what your ancestors achieved... Wait, that sounds familiar.... Treece's books have a very different code, but certainly encourage the young reader to be ready for the ravages of unkind fate...

And then, yes, Asimov's Foundation series; loved it in my teens, but I'm not sure I could re-read them now.

Gene Wolfe's 'Torturer' (?) series is great too; I should see if I can find my copies of that, and read them again... Lots of Byzantine influence in that, which I didn't realize for a long time...

Dode said...

Related to "That framework of meanings consists, in our culture and every other, of shared narratives"

I guess maybe worth following the points from Naomi Kleine's "shock doctrine". The shared narratives were / are a barrier to the brave new world of what is called capitalism today. I don't buy her narrative 100% but it is quite interesting theory. For those not wishing to invest the time Phineas Narco did I nice radio collage carrying the key narrative.

Cherokee Organics said...


Nice work, very eloquent!

Awhile back over here they had an atheists convention. I didn't attend, but read many reviews and opinion pieces. They had the fervour of true believers. A true atheist wouldn't bother at all with such nonsense, although I have noticed that ex-smokers tend to be of the soap box variety (FYI I've never smoked)! hehe!

I found the whole concept to be rather amusing, as it's kind of like the organised Anarchists rally that I read about in Germany a few years ago. Makes as much sense anyway. I'm still left wondering to this day how you could be an anarchist and attend an organised rally?

Well, you've also explained to me why films from the US tend to have happy endings. I've noticed that culture from over the other side of the pond from you doesn't seem to be as upbeat and I kind of like that - not everything in life works out well - we shouldn't try to insulate ourselves from it. Our films aren't even as upbeat as yours. I did like the film American Beauty though - thoroughly enjoyed it and no happy ending there.

Thanks for the term kleptocracy too!

As a species without a strong culture and tradition don't we end up having a short term perspective? I would say that this is a major contributor to current problems. Wisdom can only be learnt firsthand as it is very hard to transfer it to other people. The difficulty in transferring wisdom means that it can be lost very quickly between one generation and the next.

I still can't fathom how working class people have been conned into supporting political parties that espouse cutting services and welfare over taxing the wealthy? Surely they'll wake up one day, realise they've been had and then they'll be really angry. Must read The Satanic Bible for interest.

Years ago I read an article in the Australian Financial Review paper discussing a large well known surf brand and its marketing strategies. I must say they were both upfront and at the same time not particularly complementary about their customers. The point is though, that it's amazing how much information is out there right in front of people’s faces and yet they still believe differently.

By the way, I read that after the recent round of borrowings, the US debt is working its way up to around 100% of GDP. Well done people, disaster avoided - for now.

The derivative market is twice the size of the share market and yet you hear very little about it. My take on it is that it's a form of gambling for the wealthy. The bind that we are all in is that it feeds into the numbers that make up the GDP data. How can you realistically grow an economy and have a contraction of employment. One day the debt servicing will exceed the capacity of your government to pay or the currency will be devalued to the point in which the debt disappears. There are serious consequences to both courses and no easy answers.



Thijs Goverde said...

Well... that one was close to home! Meaning especially, of course, the bit about childrens' books and libraries. Public libraries over here, sadly, mostly fit your description.
Those that are still there, that is - our current government hinges on a guy who strikes all art and culture from any budget he can get his hands on. Because culture is a 'left-wing hobby'.
I wish I was making this up.

I personally take exception, though, to your rule of thumb. As a author, I'd be in quite a fix if everybody read only books older than they themselves were! (as would you, I guess)
A-and I like to think that my books may serve as a kind of antidote against the Care Bear Syndrome (as do you, I guess).

Except I wouldn't really be in a fix, of course, because if you write non-garbage, you're gonna earn a non-fortune. So I'll get by if that part of my income should suddenly vanish.

@JeffZ - yeah, this green wizardry business reminded me of the Foundation books, too.

There are several prequels en sequels, by the way. I haven't read them, but they're written by Asimov, so they're bound to be good.

Galeandra said...

Interesting post; as a teacher of English in NZ ( with a seriously literary bias at senior school levels) I don't share quite the concern that you do, but see the broad cultural processes you mention developing, for all that.

A question though. Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath was built around his own experiences during the Great Depression, and has a seriously documentary quality to it. He portrays a kind of coming together of the suffering poor which presumably he saw at first hand. As today's crises unfold, do you see the possibility of the grassroots regeneration of social and cultural values that he observed among the poor in the Hoovervilles?

russell1200 said...

George W. Bush was a constant reader, and he wasn't reading mystery novels. A number of the most dogmatic people that you can find are widely read: Ann Rand acolytes included. Reading does not broaden your views if you only read to reinforce your current beliefs.

Paradigm is the pc terms used today to (somewhat) describe your point. It is not exactly the same thing as what you mean by myth, but it has the same flavor. You could say that what you are looking for is that people be more open to paradigm shifts.

phil harris said...

You mentioned last week the riots and looting in England after a man from a minority in a poor area of London was shot dead by police "in a dubious manner".
Our Leaders first response was rioting was "nothing to do with un-employment, or cuts etc ..." [cuts for example in youth services and small educational grants for mid-late teens]. These particular leaders are from the very wealthiest segment of our society ... some of them were even known to have trashed restaurants for fun when at Oxford University (and pay for repairs later, of course). Similarly, very recently, some of our Members of Parliament were allowed to return many thousands of GBP they had wrongly claimed on MPs' expenses. Not an option for the "simply criminal" who loot shops. For example, some woman, who actually slept through the riots, is just given 6 months in prison for accepting a gift of a pair of looted pants. No excuses of course for people who petrol-bomb shops & houses, but I must point out that this is a fairly traditional top-down response to social disorder in Britain. (Round the Empire I think we used to just shoot looters.) No idea what these leading wealthy read as children, but our prisons have been overflowing for years (doubled over two decades) while 'senior management' takes home (or sends abroad to tax havens) the wealth-increase bacon. Sad?

Russ said...

There are some of us who would have agreed with you prior to your post and have no need to chuck the TV. We read books, yours included, and watch some TV for a good laugh.

Caaleros said...

have you ever noticed that the only thing that T.V. can't put into a positive light is watching T.V.,it is always presented as a mindless pursuit.
83% of Americans claim to be Christians but in my experience only bout 5% of us truly try to follow christ

flameskb said...

I found your blog via the Breadbin. I love this post!
"that’s how medieval Hungarian legends about the coming of Attila the Hun wove their way permanently into the crawlspaces of my imagination. "
Me, too, I'm half Hungarian and I love those stories! I have a huge book and it's been read to a raggedy mess.. had it since childhood.

nisarga1 said...

Nicely done, JMG. Well stated.

There was some talk of green wizards in St. Louis meeting up, at the end of August.


jlg4880 said...

"1. Pull the plug on current popular culture in your own life. Cutting back a little doesn’t count, and no, you don’t get any points for feeling guilty about wallowing in the muck. Face it, your television will do you more good at the bottom of a dumpster than it will sitting in your living room..."

But I'm using the TV as a monitor for a high def camera! I cancelled cable years ago, as I didn't see much point in paying/watching the endless propaganda, advertisements & drivel.

"2. Replace it with something worth reading, watching, hearing, or doing..."

Does a mandolin and resonator guitar count?

Jason said...

I have little to add, and have been depressed for ages to see what some of my family's kiddy generation is playing with. OTOH Dungeons and Dragons is still around, and it's still inspiring people to take up ch'i kung too... I think maybe the UK is better off here overall, too.

One thing I'll add is a thematic link to last week -- the inability of subcultures to comprehend one another includes the mainstream and alt medicine cultures.

Siani said...

Outstanding. Simply spot on.

Thank you for lifting the LaVey - GOP approach to social welfare into clearer light. I've been on about that for a long while now but no one here listens, or wants to listen. Unsurprisingly.

ChemEng said...

Thank you for a very interesting post. Three comments:

1) My wife and I grew up in England in the post-war years. In that society we were all defined by the narratives or "myths" that grew out of that war (which is why there is no need for me to define which war I am talking about). Even though the society was heavily class divided and had many very serious problems, "the war" provided a context for virtually everything we did; it unified our society.

It is noteworthy that the society of that time was very civil and courteous (in spite of its severe class divisions). I wonder if the recent riots, which are extreme examples of lack of civility, relate to the lack of a common narrative. (Whenever I return to England I find a high level of general anger that I don't recall from the past.)

2) In the year 1966 I purchased a copy of "The Lifetime Reading Plan". In it the world's "100 best books" are listed and a brief summary of each provided. The idea is that, however old you may be, you have a lifetime ahead of you, and you should spend serious time each day reading these classics. (A classic is a work of literature that survives over time, preferably a few centuries or more, c.f., your comment, "First, one of the advantages of time is that the most forgettable things get forgotten".)

I have just purchased a copy of the same book for my two year old granddaughter. The new edition contains works from a broader range of cultures, which is great. And the first work is no longer "The Iliad" but "The Epic of Gilgamesh". But, essentially, list has changed but little. Which is the way it should be.

3) Regarding your comments about politics, it seems to me that that a core loss is a sense of irony. Going back to those early post-war years, I recall visiting the Houses of Parliament for Prime Minister's Question Time. (There was no security in those days, if you have a ticket you just walked in.) What struck me was the use of humor in the political discussions; the M.P.s were talking about serious issues, but they were also having fun. I don't see any of that in modern politics.

As I review my comments I worry that I am falling into the "The Good Old Days" trap. In fact, our modern culture is superior in so many ways. For example, I work in industry and we do a much better job with regard to worker safety than we did thirty years ago. And we have made so much progress in civil and religious rights. But there does seem to be less unity and less irony than there was.

David Bennett said...

Do you not think that part of the problem is simply that we can have everything now?

We can make as many Care Bear books as we like. We have reached the point at which there is no scarcity.

At least, there is no scarcity of the things we can be taught to want and which are cheap enough to buy.

Susan said...

Hey, JMG, don't beat around the bush; tell us what you really think!

What, you don't like Little Women and Werewolves? You've never read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? Maybe what we really need is for civilization to collapse so we can get back to reading the classics by candle light...

I have a small nit to pick about some of your comments: Yes, Jesus told us to give to the poor, but He did not tell Ceasar to TAKE our wealth and give it to favored groups of disadvantaged people who just happen to vote Democratic (after taking a hefty cut for Ceasar's bureaucrats). It doesn't really help your soul get into Heaven if Big Brother forces you to subsidize the less fortunate; it only really counts if it's voluntary on your part.

I noticed as early as the 2004 election that the list of states that had the highest percentage of votes for the Democrat csndidate was almost completely the inverse of the list of states with the highest levels of voluntary per capita charitable contributions. Blue states like Connecticutt and Massachusetts (that voted heavily for Kerry, for example) had the lowest levels of charitable giving (even though they have lots of wealthy people who should be able to afford more charity), while less affluent red states in the South generally had the highest levels of giving.

My big beef with holier-than-thou liberals is that it's real easy for them to be generous with other people's money. Obviously it makes them feel good about themselves to be seen as being so generous to the poor, unlike those selfish, greedy, unfeeling Republicans who just want Grandma to eat catfood. However, it is generally Christians and conservatives who are more generous with their OWN money.

Simply giving to the poor without at least asking them to help themselves leads inevitably to the situation we've seen recently in England. I think a very strong case can be made that a more tough-love, conservative approach to the poor is better for them, and for us, than simply enabling them to continue existing (not really living) on our charity. All those liberal good intentions are currently paving the road to you-know-where...

So please be careful with the stereotypes about conservative Christians, okay?

Bill Pulliam said...

About cutting off pop culture...

If you don't understand mainstream culture, you don't understand your society, community, neighbors, politicians, or gun-wielding authorities (self- or government-appointed). And failure to understand all those things is a recipe for trouble. I see many would-be "world changers" who dismiss all mass culture as beneath them; it makes me wonder how they expect to change a world that they don't even pay attention to. The cultural narratives that dominate pop culture are the same ones that come to dominate religion, politics, law enforcement, economics, and everything else about the societies we are inextricably embedded within.

You don't have to participate in or become immersed in pop culture to keep in tune with what is going on around you. A couple of hours channel-surfing through cable TV will tell you an enormous amount about the American Zeitgeist. But I would strongly advise against completely tuning it out, just as I would advise against paying no attention to politics or the weather. Even if you intend to live a monastic life, you still might need to know what that torch-wielding mob marching down the road past your retreat in the middle of the night have on their minds...

Tiago said...

I have been doing your suggestion since I starting reading your blog: I discovered a wonderful world of ideas and joy in past writings. I was particularly struck by Chris Lasch "The True and Only Heaven": It seems that early 20th century was much more rich in alternative/competitive ideas (real alternatives) than the current desert. From that point onward my library has become much more varied (and a big portion of my expenditure has increased for books - at the lack of a proper public library system around)

But I've found the encounter with things different to bring in a serious problem: a vast increase in mis-understandings with my peers. Because I stopped having the same cultural references (at least partially) it is very easy to be mis-interpreted. One example: suggesting the advantages of the household economy immediately gets labels of being a "macho man".

There is a price to pay for such an option in terms of the care needed to interact with people around you who end up having a different cultural background. I price I pay gladly, but still a price.

dowsergirl said...

Thank you so much for "The Twilight of Meaning". This has hit me on so many levels today of all days. I am a librarian who is home sick with a nasty cold and packing up my books because I am moving to my new homestead. I am an avid reader of all non-fiction, although some stories creep into my world. Myths are another story indeed, as those who have read/listened to/watched Joseph Campbell will remember. We are all aspects of those heroic beings, and need to keep that in our collective memory. The saddest thing for me, though, is that libraries are no longer the keepers of art and literature. We are now the internet portal to popular culture, and my job is to help people access their desires instead of steering them towards enlightenment. What to do? I haven't had a television in years. I do read your blog. I don't know if I can wait until next week!

sgage said...

I just want to second what hadashi said above. This is one of your best.

hawlkeye said...

I've always felt like an anachronism within popular culture, as a kid wishing I'd been born a few hundred years earlier. "Who are these people and why do they do..." has been an endlessly running background bafflement for me.

So pulling the plug on the Clueless Machine was fairly easy for me because there are so many more interesting things elsewhere. But watch out if you've let your kids drink too much Murican Kool-Aid...

This month of August, we instituted a media-fast: no movies (already no cable) no videos, no computer screens atall, just books and music, playing or listening. For the first few days there was the expected whining and grumbling and "boredom". But then, it must be their brains, started kicking into gear, and that restlessness became grounded in more than a few explorations and creative outings (and "innings", hours with good books, not baseball).

In many ways it was easier for them; it was the grownups who had to come up with the missing pieces of...what, culture itself, it appears. When the parents find a rare window for "alone time" (with each other, of course) it's so much easier to activate the "video-sitter" as the cushion of privacy.

My favorite result, after only these few weeks, is a loss of reluctance to pitch-in with the household chores. It's no longer work (what-a-drag) or not-work (zombie-happy-zone) but more of a contributing spirit of "this is just what we do".

I anticipate a wild west climax where I convince my teenage boy to place the television about 50 yards out for target practice. As much as I would enjoy pulling that trigger, I suspect it will be more cathartic for him, and certainly more fun.

But I'll watch with my share of delight...and show him how to re-load.

Don Plummer said...

A few random thoughts:

First, wow, John!! You keep outdoing yourself. Almost every week I go away from your column thinking this was your best essay ever, and then the next week's column tops it!

Second, while reading this week's essay, I was reminded of poet Muriel Rukeyser's famous comment: "The world is made, not of atoms, but of stories." Indeed, we have forgotten our stories, whatever we wish to call them (myths, cultural narratives, whatever).

Finally, your comment about right-wing Christians and their attitude toward the poor paralleling what's found in The Satanic Bible: I don't understand the infatuation some Christians have with the writings of Ayn Rand. She was an atheist, she hated the teachings of Jesus, and her attitude toward the poor, that they are a burden and drag on productivity, echoes the attitude of the unregenerate Ebeneezer Scrooge ("If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.") much closer than the teachings of the man from Nazareth. You're right, also, that there's no reasoning with such individuals. Their political views have taken the form of an absolutist religion--a religion that, if Christian and biblical teaching be taken seriously--is actually idolatry.

Yupped said...

I agree with much of what you say; popular culture is an endless marketing loop, celebrating consumption and people who are famous just for being famous. There are some bright spots, even Harry Potter has something positive to say, but it’s floating on an ocean of pap.

But putting my Dad hat on for a moment, it’s pretty much impossible to really cut ties to it, unless your take your family into seclusion somewhere. We’ve done the things we can control – no TV, introduced lots of different cultural angles, made sure they listen to a wide variety of music, etc. And we’ve had some success with that, to a degree. But if you send your kids to public schools you’re going to be fighting a losing battle, because the endless stimulation/marketing/consumption-training wagon will catch up with your kids pretty quickly in the schools. We’re home schooling our youngest now, although it’s too early to see if there will be a difference, but the “popular culture” is pretty pervasive and difficult to completely turn-off.

Where I’m more optimistic, in a weird sort of way, is that I’ve seen with my kids and their friends how unsatisfying it all is to them, how they embrace the culture on one level but know that it really isn’t going to work, that something’s really wrong with it. You would think that this cultural machine is supposed to churn out happy-shiny-people, germ-free-adolescents, shopping-machines, or whatever. But many teenage products of this culture are anything but – there’s plenty of teenage of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, meanness, hyper-competitiveness and other unpleasantness to go around. As unwelcome as that is, it indicates a lack of satisfaction with their environment that I’m starting to see go to some good, healthy places now that my elder kids are getting themselves established. They’re waking-up, and the culture doesn’t seem to have snuffed-out their BS-detectors.

So as awful as it has been to raise kids in this culture, it’s good to see them realize that it doesn’t work, that a life of stuff isn’t going to do it for them. I see them doing the usual thing of rejecting their parent’s generation’s culture, although I’m not sure yet that I have any sense of what they will replace it with.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

I work at a big public library, at the main branch downtown. I've rescued a fair amount of discards from the waste bin. One of the most unsettling things to happen at this library was the establishment of the "Popular" library. Most of the great classical and jazz music collection we have was moved to the stacks. Not that it doesn't circulate, but people can't just browse through it as easily.
And there is great value in discovering something at a library through browsing.

Most of our old books are in the stacks, and I know this is partly for their preservation. At the same time though, people may not stumble across something of value to them because it is sequestered in the stacks. And since the card catalog is gone, you don't as often see titles of interest in a computer search.

It also amazes me what the library does buy, which means less money spent on books that would have lasting value to our culture. I'm astonished when people check out and watch a whole season of "Third Rock from the Sun" or "The Jeffersons". The administration has also instituted a policy of buying hundreds of books by the most popular writers, like Janet Evanovich or James Patterson. This means there is less room in the stacks for the midlist writers of fiction who generally have a lot more of value to say.

Among our two million plus items there is still a lot of value (including a fair number of your books), and I always make suggestions to the library as to what we should add to our collection (I'll ask that they stock up on some more of your newer titles).

Recently I started reading this blog from the very beginning, to get the full picture up to where I started reading about two years ago. This post ties in with so much of the ground work you layed down in your first few posts, especially the dangers of knowing only one story, worth quoting again:

"Knowing many stories is wisdom.
Knowing no stories is ignorance.
Knowing one story is death."

Thanks for your blog. While I'll keep my job at this library (there are definitely a lot worse places I could be) I'll continue to build my own.

Twilight said...

It's worth keeping in mind that Roosevelt's compromise of the 1930's was a near thing, and that many of his class never forgave him for it. Some have been chaffing against it ever since. At that time there were other organized and powerful social institutions that had been built up over time and that amplified the power of the working masses and the threat to the powerful. This does not exist now, as it was long since destroyed by the comforts derived of the fruits of empire and oil. This opposing force was actually a stabilizing one, as people shared at least some of the broader cultural narratives across the classes - it did not seek to tear apart the system, but to modify it.

I don't see that there is time now to rebuild such an opposing force. As there is less and less to go around, the rich will try to gather more and more of it. Without the pre-existing organizations there is no force to oppose them, so they will reach too far, until enough people are desperate enough to fight back. Then ad-hoc organizations will for, many at cross purposes and ripe for exploitation.

Maybe it's just me fitting everything into the same mold, but I see the energy of fossil fuels behind this too. Our fossil fuel energy slaves allowed us to live in isolation, without having to interact and depend on each other for labor. TV allowed us to be entertained without interacting. Without these the nuclear family has no other inputs but what corporations find profitable to provide them. You cannot fix this quickly as people need time to adopt new ideas.

Great post by the way.

Luke Devlin said...

Although I have much sympathy with some of what you write, I think it's also important to value innovation, and some of the things that are currently happening which are going to be immensely valuable in the event of catabolic collapse, and that were not available to previous generations. A few examples, there are others:

-the open source movement: of course mainly known for software, but now branching out into fabrication labs, with whole scenes of 'makers' getting things done and spreading knowledge: including, audaciously, the Open Source Ecology project to fabricate machinery needed for agriculture ( )- and it's not inconceivable that this kind of stuff could be critically important, even in a 'salvage' stage.
-off-grid DIY biotech for medical drug fabrication and synthesis (yes it is possible, despite last week's post: )

- the internet and computing was invented DIY style by nerds with no resources: I see no reason why it couldn't continue in some form, although drastically different and less stable. Google 'mesh networking': we wouldn't need to rely on the massive infrastructure and resources now needed to host blogs such as yours.

- totally with you on the no-TV thing and the vacuousness of much modern pop culture. You may be interested in this thought-provoking new post by Vinay Gupta, where he lays out a prognosis for the near future and makes the same suggestion re: TV:

thanks for the thoughts as always, even when I disagree it's stimulating!

Bob said...

My father is often happy to tell people that during the height of the McCarthy era, researchers went door to door asking people their opinion about a series of quotes. A great many found the ideas espoused to be likely derived from Communist propaganda, and were offended. The quotes were all from the Bill of Rights. While there may be many factual errors in this story, it is a myth I have no problem embracing. Just as the GOP are unwitting Satanists, Jesus' ideas about the redistribution of wealth sure do sound like the "dread" Socialism feared by the right. Of course, even if a person managed to get on a top news show AND managed to convincingly make that point without being shouted down, it would be distorted and forgotten within a couple weeks at most. While I agree with everything you say in this post, do not forget that there still does exist (for the time being) a genuine independent culture in all forms of media, and that New Society Publishers has its equivalent in the worlds of music, film, etc. I tend to be mainly a book and music nut, and there are plenty of both coming from people less interested in profit or promoting the status quo than genuine emotional and philosophical expression. Michael Pollan recently advocated that people should never eat any food that is advertised; I try as much as possible to extend this idea to what I feed my brain as well.

Justin said...

I politely suggest that you have a cartoonish understanding of anarchism if you think an anarchist organization is a contradiction in terms and makes no sense.

Excellent post. One of the side effects of withdrawing from pop culture is the sometimes amusingly awkward social interactions with those who are still in it. Having only a foggy awareness of popular movies and no reference for television commercials often leaves you on the outside of inside jokes.

A final observation is that I have realized how invasive pop culture is. I make a point not to pay attention to it, I don't have tv, I don't have any guilty pleasures, yet I still know individual cast members of shows like Jersey Shore. I know plot lines and characters from shows like Friends. I know that there have been approximately 8 Harry Potter movies. When you don't want this stuff in your head and actively avoid it, it feels like an invasion of personal space when it gets in there anyway.

Mean Mr Mustard said...

This stuff is way too profound to be wasted on kids... ;-)

Dr Seuss quotes

peacegarden said...

Thank you, JMG, for yet again moving me to tears. As a child, what saved me was my first library card (a the ripe old age of ten). If not for Miss Wells and the grand collection of Newbery and Caldecott medal winning books, as well as pretty much anything in print, I would not have survived my childhood. This is not hyperbole. Miss Wells observed my thirst for more, took me aside and whispered, “You can take books out from the Adult section if you like.” Get out of town! I was off and running!

Ah, GHung…Gordon Lightfoot and that song…more tears! This has been quite the Green Wizardry magical morning so far!

I have to get a copy of The Satanic Bible! It’s too funny that the so-called Christians are spouting the same ideas. Love the bit about conservatives not conserving and liberals not liberating.

Thank you for being an inspiration, all. Each weeks essay and comments provide grist for my mind (and heart).



Brad K. said...


"go looking among things that are older than you are".

I live near a couple of scrap yards. Scrap metal prices are fairly high, now (I think most is still going to China). The 30 foot high piles of cheap lawn mowers . . looks about right.

But the 50, 80, and 100 year old agricultural equipment, many still in useable condition, those pieces do bother me a bunch. Whether a horse-drawn plow, disc, or drag, or an older (pre-WWII) tractor or implement, they could serve a purpose in another ten years or so -- or for someone wanting to raise crops outside the mantle of modern agribusiness. Most of the lamentable bad implements are long gone, and what remains may be useful in the future.

We are throwing away, will-he, nil-he, generations of know how, as well as tools that may be irreplaceable soon enough. (My apologies to the modern manufacturer, Pioneer Equipment, that makes the hand and horse powered equipment some Amish communities, and others, still depend upon.)

I grew up on "Big Red" and "Rufus the Red-tailed Hawk", by Jim Kjelgaard. And "The Boy Scouts with the Cossacks".

"Farnham's Freehold" (Heinlein) popped into mind as I read this post.


sgage said...

Regarding being "out of the loop" of pop culture, and potential awkwardness resulting...

I haven't watched TV in 20 years, and all my friends and family know that I don't care about Lady Gaga's nether regions or what have you. I think they think it's kind of amusing, and I sure don't feel less a part of my circle. My nieces and nephews are particularly amused by ol' Uncle Steve.

Bill P. made the point that it is important to have some sense of the pop culture, just in order to understand the world you live in, and I agree to a point. I just don't think it's that difficult to maintain a sense of what's going on in that realm. I mean, I read the news and all, and I find that is plenty.

Odin's Raven said...

Nice one. Thank you Mr.Greer.

Taking myths as patterns of divinity being lived through society, it seems to me that the western world, especially the USA, is dominated by a negative Olympian trinity of Hermes - god of slick salesmen, lying politicians and all sorts of glibly cunning rogues; Hephaestus - engineering artificer of all sorts of gadgets, weapons and toys to provide a quick fix on which Hermes can make a quick buck; and in the background Ares - bullying the rest of the world and demanding that Hephaestus forge thunderbolts for him to rival Zeus.

The poverty which you prophesy may somewhat restrict Hephaestus and Hermes, but may inflame Ares.

As things change, what different concatenation of divine influences do you think will next come to dominate society?

My guess is that once a radical change of dominant mythical attitudes takes place, the people will no longer be Americans, although they may for some time use the same name and emblems.

Planner said...


I agree that nearly all popular entertainment is vapid. However, as a self-proclaimed music snob, I am impressed every now and again with the quality of so-called 'indie' music being created nowadays. You certainly won't hear it on the radio, and sadly, that itself could be the litmus test - if it's 'popular', it's probably garbage. In other words, good stuff is still being produced, it's just much harder to find!

Additionally, theoretically I admire the boldness of your suggestion to forsake popular culture completely. However, pragmatically I'm concerned that breaking away from popular culture will alienate and ostracize many friends and family.

I've mentioned this before, but I think it bears repeating: I question the wisdom of what I call 'living tomorrow today' - the idea that living today as if it were 50 years from now will adequately prepare you for that future, or improve the quality of your life today. For instance, of those Americans who subscribe to your outlook (I am one), many are not in a position to quit their jobs, sell their home and move to a farm in the hinterlands (regrettably). Similarly, for better or worse many Americans cannot cleanly severe their connections with the outside world without sacrificing their relationships with others. The attempt to 'live tomorrow today' seems to me to parallel how Karl Jaspers interpreted Jesus' behavior. During his life, Jesus denied the reality of every mundane thing in front of him and lived his life 'as if the Kingdom had already come'. I see parallels between this approach and the recommendations you give sometimes to renounce all aspects of the bumpy, messy energy plateau that represents modern American life. The fact is, for many Americans they must live in the world of today as they find it - at least until it no longer makes sense to do so.

Please don't get me wrong - I see the value in preparing today for the challenges of energy descent that are already manifest. Our family is taking measures to establish a household economy and break free of the spell of popular culture - we just can't do it overnight unfortunately.

Cathy McGuire said...

Wow – I can so resonate with this post!! I haunt the town’s used book store (yes, they have a whole store for library discards and local donations – I also donate there). The prices are from .25 to 2.00, and the books… well, like you say: What you get instead are shelf upon shelf of whatever’s new, glossy, popular and uncontroversial, massaged into innocuousness by marketing specialists and oozing a fetid layer of movie, toy, and video game tie-ins from all orifices, all part of the feedback loop that endlessly recycles the clichés of current popular culture into minds that, in many cases, have never encountered anything else.
I have noticed and grieved over this time and time again! Your “cultural senility” is right on! I’ve been horrified to learn how little historical background most people can bring to a discussion. It’s like they all think we sprung full-blown from the gods in this past century. However, it’s like digging in muck – every now and then a book comes in that is worth the others – an old carpentry book, or basic electricity, or some old set of essays.

You have too many topics this time to comment on all of them! :-} In the process, the threads of our collective memory are coming silently apart. Wendell Berry touches on the lack of collective meaning in his essays on community, and how a small town enables continued conversations over years, such that a topic can be fully explored and some real consensus (or disensus) arrived at.

The myths you really believe in, of course, are the ones you don’t notice that you believe. As someone who never goes to movies, all I have to do is review the narratives of the current ones to see what kinds of myths are being shoved at the public (and apparently the public is lapping them up). The recent plague of disaster movies is disturbing, in that the myth is that a group of deserving heroes (none of whom was aware or prepared for the disaster) survives – thus leading the audience into the belief that they will of course survive… without doing anything until crunch time!

it’s that there’s no longer any shared narrative about government that’s held in common between the two sides. And they have no desire to create one, apparently – that’s just as scary! Your critique of the Dems leaves out their disconnect between the rhetoric of “equal rights” and “equal opportunity” and what they actually promote with their actions – which is “let me get mine”. I do wonder if this is part of the dynamic of decline of empire – those generations who have lived with nothing but empire (whether Roman, British or US) can’t conceive of the loss of it, can’t conceive of the compromises that earlier generations made to achieve it – and thus they lose it altogether.

1. Pull the plug on current popular culture in your own life. I agree -- it has to be all tv, all movies, 90% popular printed stuff – otherwise you are still caught in the illusion. When I pulled out, I could see the insanity that I was reacting to.

2. Replace it with something worth reading, watching, hearing, or doing. Agree again – history is amazing, and reading the stuff written at the time of the events is both absorbing and eye-opening. The pioneer interviews; the descriptions of NYC during the Civil War – it’s not the way the history books tell it!! It becomes clear how similar are human responses through time, and yet how different the external environment can be.

Read the old newspapers!! You can get them on microfilm at the library – they are soooo much fun to read! And you get a real taste of the time. For example, the NY papers during the Depression sound a lot like today’s paper – full of daily optimism and not much discussion of the grinding poverty of the majority.

Thank you again for such an important topic – if more people could put this time period in context and be able to step back and view it objectively, we might be able to have some more substantial discussions.

photonX said...

Every performance needs an appropriately receptive audience. I thought we had reached a nadir when Bill Clinton, during the Lewinsky Tribulation, invited us to consider "what the meaning of "is" is". But no! Our descent into the void continues unimpeded, as numerical cash register keys are replaced with photos of burgers and cokes, and foreheads become ever more sloped.

Mister Roboto said...

Not only do I understand this post, it's probably your best ever so far. And it might interest you to know that I was recently pointed to the exit on a lesser-known liberal Democratic blog for having the temerity to point out what you said here about the Democratic Party (as well as saying that the usual solutions aren't going to work anymore simply because you can't have infinite growth and a finite planet). I'm not at all bitter about it and was actually happy to walk out that exit-door, because I knew it was a good thing for me to stop caring what the Democratic-Party Kool-Aid drinkers think, because those folks are just kidding themselves plain and simple. I'm still a knee-jerk left-liberal, but with my natal Saturn, Sun, Mercury, and Lunar True Node in my 11th House, I'm afraid that is something which is pretty much in the marrow of my bones. :-)

So does your first suggestion mean that I have to stop watching Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors cartoons on YouTube? Aw, come on, Jayce is hot...for a cartoon character anyway! (Sorry, I'm in an extremely goofy mood this morning.)

hapibeli said...

Thanks John. I told my daughters years ago, " Have NO TV in the home, especially if you decide to have children." It is the worse thing to happen to the world since white flour and white sugar! :-) :-) Oh wait! It IS the white death of knowledge! LOL!!

JDS said...

Susan, thank you for pointing out the correlation between higher per capita charitable contributions and those states classified as "red". Without church tithing, a major part of the charity in question, untold thousands of clergyman would be reduced to a life of poverty and many of the fine churches in the red states would have never been built.

team10tim said...

Hey hey the Archdruid,

Google has a search called Google Trends that tells one how often others are searching for a particular term. Here is the ranking for Lady Gaga vs Newberry and here is Lady Gaga vs peak oil.

The resolution is too coarse to tell whether Lady Gaga outranks by 100:1 or 1,000:1 but she definitely has a commanding lead.

johnny9fingers said...

I was directed to this via LiveJournal.

All I can say is indeed.

[Tips hat.]

William Hunter Duncan said...

It is astounding that we here in America have most of humanity's accumulated knowledge available to us, and yet there are only a comparative handful open enough to avail themselves widely of it. Blessings on a fine piece, and if you are going where I think you are going next week, here's some more blessings, because that is indeed a place Americans do not want to go.

dancegirl333 said...

"- the internet and computing was invented DIY style by nerds with no resources: I see no reason why it couldn't continue in some form, although drastically different and less stable."

Now, that's a myth (conventional sense).

The internet comes from DARPA - a department of defense think-tank. Computer came out of the Second World War - and the PC was a product of IBM.

Without an idustrial civilization, no one is going to be able to make as much as a four function calculator on their own.

Petro said...

Thanks for that Satanic Bible equivalency. I'm going to try and work that meme in my small way. Mr. Pulliam's Objectivism mention as well.

I read somewhere that philosophizin' in general is, more often than not, an attempt to justify selfishness, or something to that effect. As one who is of philosophical bent (and who definitely went through some selfish years), I have found it a valuable caution.

I wish I could remember who said that. Perhaps one of the fine folks here could give me a heads up?

GHung said...

Susan, gosh you make alot of assertions yet back none of them. Some links supporting your points would be nice. As for this:

"However, it is generally Christians and conservatives who are more generous with their OWN money."

Once again, no support for this position. My wife is a Jew and I have never seen a more giving group of folks. While not particularly wealthy by US standards, the family created a foundation long ago, supported by all when possible, that supports many causes without regard to creed or color. Since I married into their family they have put several kids through college (not all Jews) and supported many other causes.

A friend chairs an Atheist/Agnostic group who's only purpose is to give (anonymously) to aid those who demonstrate need.They quietly avoid notoriety and accolades for their hard work.

While I understand that Christian groups are giving by nature, my experience working with Christian charities has often been with groups supporting their own cause, quite evangelical in fact. Your assertion that they hold some sort of moral (or actual) high ground in giving is questionable at best.

May I suggest you visit and compare how Christian charities rate against Muslim charitable organizations.

sv koho said...

Wow JMG. You have had some good posts and even a few great ones which I bookmark in a folder called great essays. This one certainly goes there and I really wonder if this should not be submitted to one of the few thoughtful magazines or newspapers still alive like Nation, Harpers, even Sunday NYT? I think it deserves a wider audience than this coterie of loyal readers. The concept of endlessly repeating cultural feedback loops was particularly poignant and instructive. I have an observation as well that the Balkanization of the US is well under way aided by many factors you have listed and others such as economic inequality the coming collapse of globalization. This is of course not limited to just our continent. Eventually there will be no coherent union , no sharing of common purpose. Our future will be a localized future whether we embrace it or not. Longtime readers of JMG will be better equipped to deal with this end of empire and economic and social disintegration than the clueless multitudes. It is important to try to get the word out to the clueless but that task is notoriously difficult because of the mental boxes that we construct and live within. The sad part is that almost no one is talking about the barren landscape of our culture except you. The only discussions are economic ones. A slow or fast or stairstep collapse is upon us and it will drag down the popular culture. It is hard to wonder about Lady Gaga and her curlies when your stomach is growling and the room is cold and dark.

ruraldream said...

JMG - a thought-provoking post, as always.

I was thinking about this post while I was milking the goat this morning. We have no television or magazines, and only rarely listen to public radio (can`t stand the ads on private radio), so we are about as disconnected as it gets from pop culture. I find if I pick up a Cosmo or similar ladies` magazine, I instantly start to feel fat and ugly, despite being an intelligent, decent-looking, and generally self-confident person. It is amazing how `the machine` markets stuff by creating feelings of inadequacy in pop culture consumers. And that is just an hour with one magazine. I can`t imagine how anyone could feel good about themselves or satisfied with their lifestyle if they watched hours of TV every day. I think my withdrawal from pop culture is what has allowed me the mental space to do `untrendy` things like move to a homestead, follow creative pursuits, and be constantly learning and exploring new things. My husband and I read a ton, play board games, and actually talk to each other frequently. I think I am a happier person for it, as well as being more skilled and productive on all levels. I believe it is critically important to monitor what is going into your brain, as it affects not only what you think about, but how you think overall.

I enjoy reading your blog precisely because it offers a new way of thinking about some thorny problems (peak oil, societal decline) that I had already been grappling with, and a different framework (as opposed to the catastrophic sudden collapse crew) for understanding the problems and potential solutions. Thank you.

RainbowShadow said...

Susan, our problems are no more the liberals' fault than they are the conservatives' fault. As JMG has repeatedly told his readers, stereotypes and finger-pointing are never useful, whether the people you don't like are doing it or whether you're doing it.

JMG, fantastic post! I've already started building my own library for mostly the reasons you listed, and out of fear that America may lose its intellectual heritage entirely.

Thank you so much, again, for your blog pointing out what most of us are afraid to say aloud.

Steve said...

Two comments:

First, our local library did the "everybody read the same book" program, and I participated. The book was The Worst Hard Time, which was roughly a collection of oral histories about the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The library hosted a talk by the author and displayed photographs of dust storms and the hard life of those who stayed on the Plains during the period. I thought that was a great program based on the selection, but the previous book was Rocket Boys, and I sat that one out.

Second, the dumping of pop culture is excellent and well under way for us. My last library trips and used bookstore purchases have all yielded finds older than I am, except for the homebrew book that goes into depth on malting. Taking the "read something older than you" concept a bit further, we're practicing the experience of older technologies. Reading old books by lamplight, cooking a homegrown meal over the woodstove and hosting "19th century nights" where friends join us for dinner, games, and singing with the electricity shut off. With any luck, the pleasure of such experiences will help communicate some aspects of the long descent to folks who aren't interested in having the conversation about peak oil, etc.

Great post, by the way. For some reason, the references to Lady Gaga's short and curlies always makes me laugh coming from you.

Ruben said...


The greater donations to charities by 'conservatives' is well known.

The risk is greater donations go to the charities with the best marketing departments, not to the issues with the greatest needs.

'Liberals' tend to feel, in such a complex world, somebody should have a big-picture view, and direct some of the money to those who need it, but are not good at marketing.

Typically, the only people who try to have a picture that big work in government.

And so 'Liberals' do spend their own money, they just prefer to do it through taxes, which are collected by a body elected by the people and distributed with some attempt at equity.

Susan said...

I was just reminded of a little "experiment" we did at a science fiction convention several years ago. A bunch of us were sitting around in a hotel room, having a lively conversation about the prospects for space colonization and nanotechnology and whatnot, when somebody turned on the TV set with the sound turned all the way down and the channel tuned to a null station. So, there was only silent "snow" on the screen.

Within a few minutes, the conversation had mostly died out, and several of us were simply staring at the screen. Some of us might have started drooling, but then the guy who turned it on went over and turned it off, and said something like, "McLuhan didn't know the half of it."

The medium is not only the message, it is also a hypnotic narcotic that reaches the deepest parts of our ape brains with little flickers of movement: predator or prey? Even if there is nothing worth watching, we still watch anyway, because our brains are wired to do so.

I am absolutely convinced that the sooner we run out of fossil fuels and have to turn off our screens, the better off we will be. Of course, we'll all be working 18 hours a day, from first light until dark, just trying to grow enough food to keep us alive, so we won't have much time for Dancing with the Stars anyway...

When we no longer have more time on our hands than we know what to do with, and once the abundance that made things like teenage vampire fan fiction economically viable goes away, we might have to become a little more judicious with our limited time and resources and concentrate on stuff that's really important.

Villager said...

Our cultural "matrix of meaning" has been replaced by a silicon "matrix of mechanism." I don't find much concern about the cultural impact (as in a nuclear explosion) of these tiny bits of glass which execute billions of operations per second with essentially total accuracy. It is ironic in the extreme that at the same time our thinkers have declared "formal logic" a dead end in the pursuit of truth we have collectively rigged our society to run on machines driven by this very method. It is no wonder we are being starved of "meaning." Our machines have no use for it. It doesn't drive sales and it doesn't capture eyeballs.

We live in a man-machine chimera. Our machines are not independently "alive." But the combination of humans and machines in the corporate chimera is very much alive and functions with all the fierce intensity of a predatory amoeba - and on about the same timeline. "What have you done for me this quarter?" is the question on every stock holder's lips. And we wonder why corporations trash the future for short term profits?

This will come to a bad end but on the way the genie of computation will grant us our wishes just so long as they can be expressed in a language of syntax devoid of semantics. It is precisely this substitution that marks the death of "meaning."

Steven Talbot wrote a very provocative book called, "The Future does not Compute." It was largely overlooked since it criticized the role of computers in modern society. But I found his arguments quite convincing and I highly recommend it to the readers of this blog. The full version can be found at .

Talbot, an editor at Oreilly books, at the time he wrote this in 1995, eventually quit his position of editing high tech books and now lives in upstate New York pretty much off the grid. He ate his own cooking and I applaud him for it.

Autonomous Technology, a book written way back in 1977 by a then young Langdon Winner is a well written prophetic analysis of the political implications of our every expanding technologies.

All the forces I see around me are intent on destroying our humanity, such as it is. I'm not a teary eyed sentimentalist when it comes to the past. I think we're pretty bad animals overall - chimps on steroids. But the deadly life form of machine and human that we call the corporation makes us look like angels.

Unlike JMG, however, I see this as a predicament or pickle and not a problem. It may be a winning individual strategy to throw away the TV and the cell phone but it doesn't create a dynamic that will serve to correct a situation that is roughly equivalent to when Wiley Coyote looks down.

mthierauf said...

JMG - what exactly is being "given" to the rich... when you take less of their money in taxes you arent giving them anything that didnt belong to them in the first place... i hope your answer isnt that we "give" them less regulations because we are drowning in regulations as it is...

DavidB said...

Thanks JMG for the beautiful essay and to the discussants for adding to it.

JMG's library find occasions a thought about the relation between salvage and serendipity. From the 'less is more' dept. An example: I commute to work and have for a long time listened to audiobooks. I've also for some time resisted joining one of the audiobook sites like a very wide range of choices--instead limiting myself to my local library's small but admirable collection. There have been many occasions where I've not found anything I'd thought I'd "wanted." Since I MUST have an audiobook, though, on such occasions I just "settle" for something I wouldn't have thought to get were I not forced to it by the relative scarcity. To my delight what I've found is that this scarcity occasioned serendipity has turned me on to some wonderful reads that I never would have experienced had I been able always to get my way, to have my consumer choice honored. Now I've come to expect it, and in a way opened myself to a perpetually rewarding audiobook serendipity.

I offer this as an example of how a salvage context and mentality--premised upon material scarcity--can occasion fecundity. So scarcity is not simply a lack, a negative, but it also can be generative. I think of all our consumer choices, all our tv channels, websites, etc., in short, all this 'getting what we want', and how the range of choice actually debilitates. That South Cumberland Library, as limited as it is, BECAUSE of that limitedness, has perhaps more generative power than a day surfing the web. (So depressing to think that libraries are themselves complicit in degrading their own singular capacity by so ruthlessly "weeding" the older, non-shiny items.) I wonder if post-collapse our mentality might be jolted out of its accustomed shape in part by repeated experiences of serendipity of this kind. Salvage as salvation! (if one wanted a slogan!)

GHung said...

For all: There were some questions last week about providing text links to other sites, and other html stuff. TOD has a nice html tips primer here.

I suggest you copy your post, then preview and test your links, etc., something I'm guilty of not doing sometimes (as in my first comment, this post).

Odin's Raven said...

It used to be said that the Devil can quote scripture on occasion, to which someone I know responded; 'Why not. He wrote and has copyright on much of it!

noxpopuli said...

Greetings, and thank you kindly for publishing another thoughtful post.

I wonder, do you know the Traditional Crafts proponent Robin Wood? He is a woodcarver who makes historically-informed treen bowls and spoons, among many other things. In the messy media chum following the London riots I've found echoes of your insights in his posts, as he examines the long-term effects of distancing young people from the work of making things, while surrounding them with media advertising things which they can not afford.

You and he would get along, I suspect. In any case I am learning a great deal about living close to the earth, and close to other people, from both of you.

Again, thank you.


Danogenes said...

Thanks for getting into the very stuff of our mythology. Perhaps you would like to go on to discuss how we have created a structure of knowledge specialization that forces most folks to look at the world through myopic rearview mirrors. There is nowhere in which the idea of integrated knowledge can be discussed.
Even you talk about the need for "jobs" rather than investment, which sets the stage in a limited sphere where jobs must be created. Wouldn't it be better to talk about "work" and participation in community as a way of creating new wealth rather than maintaining the old hierarchies?
But still, the discussion of our cultural blinders is really the only useful conversation of this historical moment. One that is so tragic because of the gerbil sized attention span of most of the populace.
I will stay tuned for next week.

Project Director said...

"It may seem odd that believers in a faith whose founder told his followers to give all they had to the poor now by and large support a party that’s telling America to give all it has to the rich"

Selective reading of the Bible and simplistic distortion and misunderstanding of GOP actions and intentions. Oops.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Still reading, but haven't been commenting: too much cooking, canning and freezing.

Great post--agree wholeheartedly. Loved Kate Seredy as a child, passed on that love to my children (whom I raised reading and singing and cooking, not watching tv). Just got opera tickets for several productions: live frugally so as (in part) to be able to experience live classical music, that's my motto.

I'd love to see a post on the role families can play in preserving and carrying on vital, living culture--which is part of what the Seredy stories were about, after all. (Just to be clear, I do not mean this as touting an oppressive, authoritarian, Orwell-speak "family values" meme; and I do understand that some dysfunctional families must be escaped.) Maintaining a vital family culture, as my extended family does, seems almost subversive to me. It's something we all value and work to keep going.

To reference more old sf--Farenheit 451. Reading serious books on your own--whether literature, history, philosophy, or whatever else--is nearly always a subversive activity. Especially in light of how useless the humanities are considered to be in some official and educational corners.

Never heard of LaVey, but have sometimes thought the C. right is engaging in some kind of weird inversion--now I see why. The bible warns about people like that, Dante and C.S. Lewis, too. ;)

Gary said...

A lot to think about in that post! Trying to articulate the "mythos" then and now I come up with ideas like "civics" versus "consumerism" (a favorite Nader paradox since he really invented the latter term but was a proponent of the former). Our "family values" have been dissected by Lakoff into "strict father" or "nurturing mother" motifs, both coming from long Judeo-Christian traditions, but now being selectively appropriated by political interests for there own ends. There are also the myths of the "rugged individual" and the "renaissance man" competing for our brains and brawn. I'm sure other broadly shared mythos dichotomies could be listed as well. Where we collectively lie on these extremes of position sets the tone for the society we live in. The country seem to be lurching toward an anti-intellectual rugged-individual strict-father consumerism, with clarity you would expect from such a perspective.

PhilJ said...

@Kevin: "a way to sabotage the sinister device undetected": Stick a small pin through the centre of the signal cable. Anywhere along its length will do. (I hope you know the difference between the signal and the power lead!!!)

Cathy McGuire said...

Whoot! Your post inspired me to drop by my local library while in town on errands and I picked up both Asimov's Foundation Trilogy and Norton's Brother to Shadows. I met Asimov a couple of times in NYC in '75 - a really nice old gentleman, no matter how hard he tried to act like a dirty old man. LOL. His business card read "Isaac Asimov, Natural Resource" - seriously!

@Night Tripper: We live in an age with more writers and writing than has probably ever existed, and yet we still are unable to learn from or appreciate the myriad of voices.
Yes – it’s discouraging and appalling how many writers I come across (once I mention I’m a professional writer) who don’t read! They don’t seem to see the connection. Yikes!

@BeneaththeSurface: not being around manufactured images regularly in my childhood aided me in being able to visualize my own images. Oh, good for you, having had that background!! I know it does take you out of the mainstream (even in middle age, I feel some of that sting, as the gals sit around chatting about the latest “House”) but like you, having grown up with my own internal “movies”, I prefer reading (and heck, writing my own!) to the now transparently consumer-enticing commercial media.

I'm amazed how few people are bothered by TV in public spaces the way I am. Amen!! I can’t believe there are tvs in restaurants (I won’t go there) and just about every public space – do people not see the propaganda, or see how that makes them dependent on non-neutral sources to handle their moments of boredom? Sheesh!

@Lloyd: There's bitter irony in the dominant myth that meaning is entirely subjective and therefore nonexistent. Well said!

@TOm: Rap music is today's poetry, and us semi-geriatric types aren't even listening. It’s poetry, I agree – but I can’t listen to foul misogynist anger at high volumes. Maybe someone should collect the words into a chapbook, to be read at whatever volume one wishes. :-)

BTW, my word verification for this post is "ignite" -hmmm...;-)

John Michael Greer said...

Gordon, an excellent suggestion.

Brier, I'm delighted to hear that the Golden Books still have a market! Thank you.

Rev. Brad, of course you're quite right -- the internet is by its nature a better medium for blather than for serious thought. Thirty years ago I'd have published these essays as articles in a magazine, and they'd have been better for the attentions of an editor. Still, it's the medium I have available to me right now, and so I do my best.

Ghung, thank you. That's an old fave.

Andrew, that's a great story! I have a lot of penguins on the spines of books in my collection.

Craig, fortunately most of the human race can't afford cyborgization, and the number who can afford it is going to decline precipitously. At this point it's simply a matter of saving as much as possible while the wave crests and recedes.

Goedeck, who on earth is AKR? As far as Tolkien, though, no arguments there; I read the trilogy for the first time at age ten, and used to sign junior high school yearbooks in fluent Elvish.

LasTablas, thanks for the reminder! It's been way too long since I've read Pascal.

Wall, I'd say commercialization rather than professionalization -- the transformation of writing from an art, or even a craft, to the mass production of popular product.

Clarence, I was born in '62, thus had to wait a few years before reading L'Engle, but that was a major fave of mine -- also the novels of Joan North, who wrote a very similar kind of thing from an English viewpoint. You're quite right about heading into the twilight; it's a very challenging thing to face, but it's the hand we've been dealt and we might as well play it as best we can.

Paula, one of the things that's occurred to me more than once is that those of us who are collecting personal libraries now have some say about what will happen to those libraries when we're gone. The return of the old private lending library is by no means a bad idea.

Beneath, agreed! I loathe TVs blaring at me when I'm trying to have a meal and a conversation, or anything else, really.

dowsergirl said...

Whose Lady Gaga?

John Michael Greer said...

Lloyd, oh, granted, chucking the TV is only a baby step in the right direction -- though the flash and bang when the last one I ever owned hit the bottom of the dumpster two stories down was very satisfying. The thing I'd stress here is that denial is self-limiting; sooner or later, the thing you're denying rises up and eats you.

SunsetSu, the challenge there is that movies simply aren't to be had on a sturdy medium. DVDs and video tapes have a limited shelf life, and digital storage -- well, it lasts until the statistically inevitable accident. If the old movies are to be saved -- and I agree, it's worth doing -- somebody's going to have to put some serious work into devising a medium that's stable over the long term and can be used in the absence of high tech. A tall order; I hope somebody's up for it.

tOm, you're entitled to your opinion, but I hardly think you've made much of a case. By the way, without looking it up on the internet, do you know the source of the phrase "O tempora, o mores"? Because it fits what I'm saying a good deal more than it does your comment...

Les, I've never read Brillat-Savarin, and obviously need to remedy that! As for Darwin, though, no argument there at all. The Voyage of the Beagle is a classic -- and I wish that everyone who wants to say something about evolution, from the atheists through the New Agers to the creationists, could be made to sit down and read The Origin of Species first so they have some idea what the word means.

Spartiate, no, they don't -- they keep books as computer files. By all means print out a single copy of the books you care about on archival paper -- it's exactly steps like that that will make it possible for those books to survive.

Kevin, limited editions on archival paper are one good option. Stone is no doubt another, though it's slow. Me, I've basically come to terms with the fact that odds are not one word I write in my lifetime will make it through the dark age ahead of us, and am focusing on making my writings do what good they can before they recycle themselves into humus.

Rich, good. We'll be talking about that at some length in a future post.

Avery, very nicely put. We'll be talking about the gospel according to Carl Sagan quite soon, too.

Jbucks, good question. It strikes close to home, too, because I write for a living; it's not just a hobby for me, it's how I pay my bills, and that means that to some extent I end up feeding the beast. The challenge is always one of figuring out what I can get paid for that doesn't amount to whoring my pen.

Carp, you didn't see me sweating blood while writing it. The Wolfe series is The Book of the New Sun, and yes, it's a very elegant, thoughtful series!

Dode, the fascinating thing about Klein's "disaster capitalism" is that it's another good example of how the rich are cutting their own throats -- by the pursuit of maximum profit in the short term, they've produced conditions that wreck the system that guarantees those profits. The bill for that is only just now starting to come due.

GHung said...

While rare, occasionally something profound (profane?) does pop out of pop-culture. I've mentioned the shortlived TV series Max Headroom, @1987, a couple of times. I'm sure that it was cancelled because it hit much too close to reality for the mainstream:

"Max Headroom was the first cyberpunk series to run in the United States on one of the main broadcast networks in prime time, although it was not tagged with that label until some time after its cancellation. Like other science fiction, the series introduced the general public to new ideas in the form of cyberpunk themes and social issues. The series portrayed the Blanks, a counter-culture group of people who lived without any official numbers or documentation for the sake of privacy. Various episodes delved into issues like literacy and the lack thereof in a TV-dominated culture (for example, in the episode "Body Banks", Blank Reg says: "It's a book. It's a non-volatile storage medium. It's very rare. You should 'ave one." This statement also anticipates the mid-2000s controversy over the replacement of print by online and e-book sources.)"

IIRC, as part of the plot, it was illegal to turn off TV sets or disconnect from the networks.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, the US today is living on borrowed time. The immense heap of debt is only part of it. More on this in an upcoming series of posts.

Thijs, well, I didn't mean the rule of thumb as a universal principle, just as a way to get people thinking about something most people nowadays never think about at all -- namely, that someone might have done something interesting in the past. The politician you mention...oog. In the Netherlands, of all places, "when I hear the word 'culture,' I reach for my gun" ought to have a certain uncomfortable resonance!

Galeandra, good question. The people in Hoovervilles, most of them, came out of a society that had a strong respect for learning and relatively good schools. The inhabitants of tomorrow's Obamavilles, or Perryvilles, or whatever they get called won't have those advantages. It's an open question what they'll be able to do.

Russell, well, "paradigm" is one highly misused word these days. I'm less interested in "paradigm shifts" than in the ability to consciously consider the narratives one is thinking with, and recognize that narratives aren't true or false, just more or less useful.

Phil, yes, this is one of the things I had in mind when I wrote about the rich cutting their own throats. The more the upper class tries to maintain its own lifestyle on the backs of the poor, the more frequently explosions are going to happen, and the more likely they are to turn into violent uprisings that will shred what's left of the British economy. Really, it's just plain dumb.

Russ, in my experience the people who say they're just watching TV to get a laugh are staring at the screen for four to six hours a day like most other Americans, and have just as much popular culture in their heads. Try taking a break from TV and see what it does for your mind!

Caaleros, as I'm not a Christian I don't feel qualified to judge, but I certainly see a lot of people who call themselves Christians who are busily casting the first stone, praying loudly in public ("they have their reward"), and otherwise doing things Jesus criticized in no uncertain terms.

Flameskb, what's the book? I always wanted to find out more about the legends, and never found a source -- just Seredy's all-too-brief book.

Nisarga, the Green Wizards forum is probably the place to ask about that.

Jlg, if you've got something useful to do with a TV, by all means; just don't watch TV on it. A mandolin and a resonator guitar definitely count, too.

Jason, the situation does vary from country to country -- though I hear that "Care Bear" is spelled "Teletubby" on your side of the pond. You're quite right about mainstream and alternative medicine, by the way.

Siani, thank you!

DPW said...

JMG: A couple brief comments...I don't know how you keep up with all these now...

1) I think it would be good for those who aren't familiar to go back and read some of the 1940/50's literature around the "Red Scare" and get to know what was going on in that dark period of our history wrt. the arts and freedom of speech/press. Books like "The Outsider" by Wright and some of the history around the Beats and much of Arthur Miller and the lesser read works of Steinbeck are all very entertaining and informative. I could easily see a McCarthy-type reaction coming even stronger to these shores in short-order...even worse than the Patriot Act and the anit-Muslim sentiment.

2) I might recommend that people check out some of the newer translations of classic works: whether its Dostoevsky or the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, new translations are often much more accurate that the first attempts made earlier in the 20th century at bringing these masterpieces into English.

Jason Heppenstall said...

Thanks for another dose of brain food - I always look forward to them!

I'm reading Tolkein (The Hobbit) to my 6 and 8 year old daughters at present and I have to say their reaction is very positive (I was doubtful before we started). There's probably 1 in 3 words they don't understand (their first language is not English) but I think they appreciate the ambiguities and relative complexity, as well as the slower pace of the narrative. By contrast, all of the other mush they are exposed to on TV seems like candy floss on a plastic stick.

To carry forward a theme of one of your recent posts, older books are less 'efficient' with their narrative. And that's a good thing, I think.

Our next book is Beowulf.*

Like Craig, I too sometimes feel a bit like an antique at 39. I am, by nature, quite an ironic type, but I have found in recent years that younger people are quite incapable of understanding this kind of humour, so now I tend to only be myself with people older than me. If I use irony at all I have to make it explicit ... which kind of defeats the object.

Until fairly recently I worked in an office employing an assortment of youngish people in journalism. What I found was (and I hope nobody reading takes this the wrong way) generally speaking the Americans I ended up employing looked great on paper, were the most well presented, bright eyed and bushy tailed etc, but when it came down to the actual work they were like newborn babies, with quite shocking holes in basic, really basic, general knowledge.

These were basically intelligent and hard working people who somehow seemed to know all the right words to use to get them a job but beyond that seemed to have skipped education almost entirely.

That's not to say that the same forces that caused this effect are not at work here in Europe - where America leads we tend to follow.

Anyway, I'm having a hard time convincing people that the data storage media they now use won't be around forever. Most people seem to think that information will increasingly be 'on tap' and that books are outdated. I'm saving as many good books as I find - only trouble is I'm running out of shelf space.


* I was being ironic

Greg Belvedere said...

Excellent post. I'm a librarian and I have noticed these problems in our collection and the broader culture for some time. Few librarians seem to care or even notice. But you have done a great job of describing the problem.

I wrote a blog on a related subject a while back. Here is the link if you don't mind me posting it here.

The carp who jumped Hukou Falls said...

@JMG: And there was me thinking that the awen descended upon you, and the words flowed from you like the pure water from a spring!

Seriously, though: I was thoughtless in my phrasing - sorry! None of us who visit here regularly can be unaware of the thought and labour that goes into your work. Even my own blog posts often take me hours to compose, and they are neither as regular nor as profound as yours.

I meant, of course, 'how difficult could it be to understand?', and even that was meant to be tongue-in-cheek...

mthierauf said...

"they've produced conditions that wreck the system that guarantees those profits"

what are these conditions? Just like Karl Marx, you are light on examples when you talk about complex economic concepts... have you ever considered that the central planners in our government have fostered the malinvestment that needs to be washed away before real sustainable economic growth can happen?

if anyone is producing conditions that are ripe for collapse it is the government... decades of social programs and welfare have produced more people who are dependent on the government and welfare

John Michael Greer said...

ChemEng, thanks for the reference to the Lifetime Reading Plan -- that needs to be added to a future post. As for the rest, no argument.

David, except we can't have anything we want; we can have anything we want so long as it's profitable to manufacture and sell, which is quite another matter.

Susan, yes, I figured my political comments would raise the ire of my right-wing readers. You've provided a good example of the breakdown of communication I discussed in my post; what to you looks like Caesar taking your money looks to me like the people of a still more or less democratic republic voting to put a fairly small fraction of their tax dollars to work helping the poor. Most people in the blue states donate less to private charities because most of their gifts to the poor go by way of the state government, and majorities in the blue states support that.

Still, my point wasn't really to rehash that cultural divide, which will probably be solved only by devolving such arrangements to the states (as the Constitution arguably mandates), and it certainly wasn't to stereotype anybody, Christian or otherwise. It's simply that the marriage of convenience between morally conservative Christians and a Republican party dominated by the atheist (and vocally anti-Christian) ideology of Ayn Rand seems profoundly incoherent to me.

Bill, I find that it's easier for me simply to be an active member of a couple of local community groups with a broadly based membership, and listen much more than I talk, to keep track of what people are thinking locally.

Tiago, excellent. Yes, it does come with a price, but then wizards are always outsiders.

Dowsergirl, I've heard from a number of librarians here, and I keep on wondering whether finding some way to start and run a small subscription library of the Ben Franklin sort, to provide books that matter to the people who want access to them, might be one way of dealing with the debasement of public libraries. It's something that specialized groups have managed successfully all along -- I used to belong to a Theosophical library in Seattle and a metaphysical library in Ashland OR. Professional librarians such as yourself would be the obvious people to start such a project.

Sgage, thank you.

Hawlkeye, excellent! I didn't own a gun the day I dropped my TV two stories into that dumpster, but it was a delightful experience. A sledgehammer, good face protection and sturdy gloves also have their proponents. It's interesting to me that a very large number of people -- quite probably most -- actually have quite a store of rage against televisions, and if they let themselves express it, the result is usually a very thoroughly destroyed TV.

Don, I don't claim to be any sort of Bible scholar, but I seem to recall that Jesus had something o say about those who try to serve God and Mammon at the same time. I suppose you could translate that "God and Ayn Rand" just as accurately.

Wendy said...

We jettisoned the television some time ago, but are still, unfortunately, innudated with popular culture-crap via the Internet and my children's friends. That said, since we homeschool, it's muted and most of what we know of the current television offerings or the latest fads comes through our friends' after they've filtered and processed it.

Ha! I just realized that if we used the human body as a metaphor for the above comment, what my family knows of popular culture is that, mostly, it's sh*t (ha! ha! ha!). Talk about GIGO - the meaning of which, by the way, I had to google (*grin*).

At my local, very small library, there are several books my children have kept from the toss pile, because they keep checking those same books out over and over again ;). Two of their favorites are in the 100s section: one on Big Foot and the other about the Lochness Monster. I, finally, convinced my girls to stop checking them out, figuring at some point, the library would do just what you've said, and the books would end up in the Book Shed out back, and then, we could buy them for a dollar per book.

I'm on the Board of Directors at the library, and recently, a gentleman in the community offered to donate his very valuable, very extensive collection of rare (old) books to the library, but the library had to decline the offer, because he didn't want them to sell the books, but the library had no place to store them.

Such a shame, as more and more the offerings on the shelves are too much of that "shiny, flashy" modern ... pablum covered white bread.

MaineCelt said...

Thank you for your salience!!!

We had a great conversation about this morning's post, us two clergywomen, sitting in the pastor's office of a small rural church in Maine. My friend is a big fan of technology and uses pop culture to "keep people interested" in her sermons. I take a more traditional storyteller's approach, but both of us struggle with the question of one might best communicate ANY cultural narrative to ANY audience in such a way that that community may draw upon the myth's wisdom to build their "common sense" life together.

I used to get together regularly with a couple involved with the leadership of a Pagan congregation. While I admired (coveted?) their rich array of sense-awakening rituals, they longed for something resembling the sermons in my progressive Christian congregation! Why? Because, while many people were attracted to their congregation by the ritual acts of mythic re-embodiment, there was no regular "teaching time" in which leaders could link myths to the ethics of daily life. Thus, when ethical issues arose in their congregation, they found it very difficult to achieve any shared understanding of the most health- or life-giving ways to address those issues as a community.

Another angle on the problem of shared meaning: I belong to a denomination (United Church of Christ) that rejects creeds and other "tests of faith" due to their historical use/abuse as tools of control and exclusion. Without a unifying creed, our denomination struggles to figure out how we tell our own story in a way that doesn't exclude anyone. We constantly are challenged to re-evaluate, listen to others, and adjust our language/storytelling accordingly.

I understand why more conservative followers of various faiths tend to cling to the idea of one "true and unchanging" story, even (especially?) when that story doesn't mesh well with the zeitgeist. It is "conservative" in the sense of "requires less energy to operate." It's certainly less exhausting than the work of fielding all these competing narratives and those vicious feedback loops while we attempt to further our communities' mythic/ethical conversations!

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ Gordon - Edna St. Vincent Millay! My favorite. I keep her books around the store and turn on as many people as I can, to her.

@ Cherokee Organics - Movies. I don't know. I noticed a peculiar genre of Brit movie a couple of years ago. The local mine has been closed down (thank you, Margaret Thatcher) and the town is saved by: starting a brass band; rallying behind a child dancing star; doing a geriatric cheesecake calendar; the men become male stripers. It took me awhile to tumble to the fact that it was an actual genre.

How does popular culture filter in? I haven't had "TV" in years. Sometimes, I'll see the front of a magazine and wonder "who are these people?" Other times, I have no idea how I know about Jersey Shore.

Yes. Reading IS a subversive activity. I carry a book with me everywhere, so when I get stuck in a line, or cooling my heels some where, I pull out my book. I'm never bored. I have actually had hostility directed at me.

My childhood book? "Sailor Dog" by Margaret Wise Brown. A Little Golden Book. I recently found a copy. The colors are so rich and vivid. As I remembered them. I think it might be responsible for my hermitic inclinations. The dog gets shipwrecked and does quit nicely, thank you.

Harking back to last week, but also appropriate for this week, last night I was at my local thrift store. I scored a copy of "When There Is No Doctor" for $2!

Keith Covington said...

"the current GOP approach to social welfare issues is identical to the one presented by Anton Szandor LaVey in The Satanic Bible"

Does anyone care to put quotes from the Satanic Bible and Ann Rand side-by-side along with similar quotes from current politicians, and to spread them virally across the internet?

nutty professor said...

Dear Archdruid,

Just lavish praise from me to you this week. I find that your atavistic reflections on history are truly comforting, and they bring me less worry than thinking about the future.

I often wonder what kinds of myths we are creating now; what kinds of thought-forms and gods we are enlivening in this twilight period, or whether you think that this kind of thinking/creating is even possible in such an incoherent and chaotic thought-world that we find ourselves in. Yet, as you have argued, save for the spectacular excesses in wealth and technology, is our decline fundamentally different - especially with the myths that we form - from any other peak society in the history of the world?

leoeris said...

@Julie Your google search results are far less encouraging than first glance if you make them a ratio compared to time. The amount of time Lady Gaga has been publicly accessible versus the amount of time the Newberry medal has been around makes that a rather disheartening number.

Joel said...

Bill: May I recommend this great trilogy of blog posts from 2004: Brad Hicks' "Christians in the Hand of an Angry God." It's a controlled demolition of the bridge between economic conservatives and evangelical Christians, which presents a couple different lines of evidence. He focuses less on Satanic texts, and more on Christian ones, building a detailed case that "almost every evangelical and fundamentalist church in America [preaches] a false gospel," as a result of (from within Brad's interpretation of the Bible) a deal made with the Devil, for fear that we would lose the Cold War.

Justin said...

Your call to read older books reminded me of your earlier posts noting the rise of self-helpy type books like The Secret that were nothing more than the self-help books of the 20's in modern drag.

Could you point me towards any of the literature of the depression era that filled a similar role. I am really interested in finding the philosophical and inspirational work of the 30's but really don't know where to start.

btw, I thought of you as last night when my train stopped in Cumberland. Beautiful town.

On a tangent I was mulling over from a previous post, you mentioned that the scientific method was reaching its natural limits, and being stretched beyond in some cases. I think that is true in many disciplines, especially the sexier ones like Physics, but there are still many areas of scientific knowledge in their infancy, in which great strides could be made with modest effort.

It is funny that you mentioned biochar, because soil science stands out to me as a clear example of an underdeveloped field. We honestly understand almost nothing of the complex interactions forming and maintaining soil communities.

Another (related) example would be mycology, where it is estimated that only 10% of mushroom species have been named and identified (and even fewer of the non-mushroom fungi species). We have only the most basic understanding of the role fungi play in the environment, and that has changed radically in the last 30 years.

The problem is, those fields aren't glamorous, and don't draw many people or much money. The good news is that is it far easier to contribute to the body as an amateur mycologist than an amateur physicist, in terms of both effort and capital.

Mary said...

I gave up tv when they went digital. I did get a small, new one on sale a couple years later so I could keep an eye on blizzards; between farm with livestock and working in healthcare I need 'nuf time to prepare well in advance. But I only get 2 channels and both are PBS. For a short time I did get one other channel intermittently and could still watch Big Bang Theory, but the hiatus killed any interest. Or maybe the formula simply ran dry... Then I lost that channel during a storm and it never came back!

Anyway, after 3 years of reading nothing but textbooks, I finally have found time to start reading for myself again. Last weekend I pulled out the Tao Te Ching. Seemed like a good place to start.

The Ayn Randians amaze me. Not only her atheism versus their "interesting" take on Christianity, but the inconvenient fact that after a lifetime of smoking she developed lung cancer and was financially ruined. Ended her life on social security and medicare. Hmmmm...

Cathy McGuire said...

I’m supposed to be getting work done today, but I keep treating myself to reading these comments – great discussion, everyone!

@JBucks: On one hand it's great that people are able to make their own music or films easily, on the other hand, is the proportion of artists to say, farmers, out of balance?

As a writer and artist, I think about that a lot. I’ve lived through the proliferation of art and craft supplies and self-publishing options, such that every other person I meet seems to be trying to make a career out of creativity! There’s only so much art people will buy, folks – and that goes for writing, too. I am sure that as the economy slumps, there will be fewer who are able to be “professionals” in the creative fields, and only through catering to the ultra-wealthy who’ll be able to afford it. I’m trying to find a balance in my own life: not count on creativity to make me a living, but still enjoy doing it and sharing it and getting paid occasionally. :-}

@BillP: …you still might need to know what that torch-wielding mob marching down the road past your retreat in the middle of the night have on their minds... Probably nothing, if they’ve become part of a mob. ;-)
I understand the theory of staying in touch with pop culture, but the cost in ads ingested is too high – I’d rather talk with some of those neighbors and ask them what they’re thinking and seeing – that way I’m actually relating, not consuming.

@Yupped: But if you send your kids to public schools you’re going to be fighting a losing battle, because the endless stimulation/marketing/consumption-training wagon will catch up with your kids pretty quickly in the schools.
Yes, we have begun a mass experiment (well – not experiment; that would have had parameters. This is a free-for-all) with children’s minds. (beginning with my generation, I might add). No longer just getting what their parents, teachers and churches want them to have, kids have basically uncontrolled access to anything, and a lot of it. There are plusses and minuses to this. It remains to be seen what such uncontrolled input has on an adult’s ability to form a functional society.

Where I’m more optimistic, in a weird sort of way, is that I’ve seen with my kids and their friends how unsatisfying it all is to them, how they embrace the culture on one level but know that it really isn’t going to work, that something’s really wrong with it.
Yeah! Glad to hear that!

@PeaceGarden: Miss Wells observed my thirst for more, took me aside and whispered, “You can take books out from the Adult section if you like.” Get out of town! I was off and running! Me, too! Not Miss Wells, Miss Bauman- but same scenario – moved in 4th grade to a town with a library around the corner; it was my salvation til I got to high school, and I was one of very, very few kids who was allowed into the adult section (literally, you weren’t allow to go over there) because all the librarians knew me and knew that by 7th grade I had read pretty much the whole children’s section! :-) I discovered Rabinadrath Tagore in 8th grade and it blew my mind. I’m so grateful to caring librarians!

sofistek said...

Hmm, not one of your most readable posts, JMG. In my opinion, of course! I do get what you're saying about popular culture deadening the thinking process, though. I think I've extracted myself from that but I still watch the odd TV programme, to keep my wife company - I just can't see her willingly giving up her evenings in front of the telly, despite the dross that passes for entertainment.

A couple of things earlier on in your post perhaps coloured my view of it. Your seeming impatience with those who use modern meanings of words, rather than the meanings you wanted those words to retain, is a bit pointless. If people generally think of myths in a different way to you, then go use different words to convey the meaning you want.

The other point was the veiled attack on non-believers. It is akin to those claiming to hold religious beliefs who rail at non-theists, trying to argue that no belief is the same as a belief in the lack of a deity or deities. Your position seems to be that one should never argue against the beliefs of others, regardless of what those beliefs may cause others to do (or not do). The "God bless America" meme surely must have done more harm than good?

John Michael Greer said...

Yupped, that's promising to hear. My guess is that it's more important that kids encounter something other than pop culture than to keep them entirely out from its grip -- though if you can do the latter, good.

Justin, thank you. I thought it was all too typical when the Seattle Public Library built their new (and stunningly hideous) library downtown, and all the nonfiction stacks went into a middle section that's very difficult to reach from the main floor. It's as though all the facts had to be hidden.

Twilight, my take is a little different. I agree that the countervailing forces that made the Roosevelt compromise possible aren't there this time around, and it will take a long age of troubles -- like the one that extended from 1873 to the 1930s, which generated the last set -- to generate a new set. Factor in the end of US global hegemony and the end of cheap abundant energy, and you have a long harsh period of economic volatility and rank injustice. In all probability the US will not survive that period as a single nation, and large sections of it may enter the category of failed states. More on this -- much more -- in a series of posts to come.

Luke, er, you've just demonstrated one of my points, which is that a lack of knowledge of history makes many current assumptions nonsense. There's absolutely nothing new about the open source movement -- that sort of thing has been going on in avant-garde circles for generations; check out the way that organic gardening developed in the 1970s, for one example out of thousands -- and the internet and computers were not invented by geeks on their own nickel; both of them were massively funded by the US government and benefited from the massed technical expertise of huge corporations and government think tanks. Neither one became geekware until the emergence of the microcomputer and public internet access in the 1980s and 1990s respectively.

That being said, of course there are still some worthwhile things being created and invented today; I didn't say that there weren't. I simply suggested that those people who didn't already have a good idea of where to look for worthwhile reading material might want to check out things from before they were born; it's a simple and useful heuristic, but by no means the only one worth trying.

Bob, there again, I never said that there wasn't anything worth reading, watching, or listening to in current production; after all, I'd like people to read my books, too!

Justin, I must be more oblivious than most, then, as the most I know about Jersey Shore is that it's on TV -- I think. The faces and names I see on tabloids while checking out at the local grocery store are almost all a complete mystery to me. (What, for example, is a Kardashian, and why should I care?)

Mustard, thanks for the link! It's way too profound not to give to kids -- they're at an age where epigrammatic wisdom can sink deep.

Peacegarden, thank you. With me it was a whole series of librarians at the public libraries in the various south Seattle suburbs where I spent my childhood -- libraries, by the way, that were massively expanded when I was quite young, due to a major social-funding program pushed through by a liberal Republican governor. (Washington state had lots of liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats in those days; I wish there were some around now.)

Brad K., Jim Kjelgaard! Now there's a name that brings back memories. Swamp Cat was my favorite of his, back in the day; I first read it in the children's library of Eastern Washington State College (as it was then), where my parents were doing summer school, on a hot dry day with no shade anywhere.

artinnature said...

Bob--"Michael Pollan recently advocated that people should never eat any food that is advertised; I try as much as possible to extend this idea to what I feed my brain as well"

I still watch a little TV, I find that I have fallen into a pattern of refusing to purchase anything I see advertised there. Guess what, locally made stuff is rarely advertised on TV...hmmm.

So perhaps this is the best use of the TV until it flickers out for good, to guide our path away from consumerism and toward Green Wizardry, and to measure our "cultural temperature" as Bill indicated.

Great post JMG, better & better.

John Michael Greer said...

Sgage, true enough -- you can always become one of the local eccentrics. I've done that wherever I've lived by the simple expedient of walking everywhere.

Raven, thank you! Guessing which constellation of divine forces will come in with a new age of the world is always a tricky issue, and I'll save my guesses for a future post when I can explain my reasoning. Still, you're quite right that America as it's imagined these days is not long for the world. Really, in a lot of ways it's always been an imaginary country, as fictional as Oz; half of its problems have always come from the clash between the Utopian society most Americans think they inhabit and the really rather ordinary nation they do actually inhabit.

Planner, I don't recommend trying to live the lifestyle of fifty years from now today. I do encourage people to make as many changes as they can in the direction of ten years from now, since they'll need the practice -- and neither I nor others with whom I've discussed the matter have found giving up pop culture to be a huge difficulty when dealing with other people.

Cathy, exactly -- it's because people have no way to contextualize the present that they end up suggesting the same failed responses over and over again, or simply stare blankly at what's coming toward them.

Photon, start by becoming your own best audience, then reach out to others who are ready to listen. Dunno if it's a general rule but it's always worked for me.

Mister Roboto, well, you've got to make your own choices, but given my choice of cartoon characters I'd much rather have Rocket J. Squirrel over for lunch any time.

Hapibeli, "the white death of knowledge." That's a great line.

JDS, that's not really fair. A lot of the churches in red and blue states alike do an enormous amount of charitable work for the poor and disadvantages.

Tim, that's about what I expected.

Johnny, thank you!

William, that's among the most ghastly features of our time. We don't need a Ministry of Truth or a bunch of firemen to burn our books; we just discard them from our libraries and ignore them elsewhere.

Dancegirl, exactly. A slide rule, on the other hand...

Petro said...

@Keith Covington:

"Does anyone care to put quotes from the Satanic Bible and Ann Rand side-by-side along with similar quotes from current politicians, and to spread them virally across the internet?"

LOL. I've just downloaded a PDF of SB and will be working up a blog post at my place to do just that. :)

John Michael Greer said...

Petro, I prefer the Platonist definition that philosophy is a way of getting ready for death. Still, an eye toward potential rationalizations of selfishness is a good thing!

Koho, I'll keep that in mind -- might be worth trying. As for localization, much more on that in the posts to come -- and it's nowhere near as pretty as some of its current proponents like to think.

Ruraldream, thank you! Any comment that begins "I was thinking about this post while milking the goat" is guaranteed to make my day.

Rainbow, thank you also!

Steve, if hosting a 19th century evening gets people to notice how much more fun it is when you leave out the gadgets, excellent!

Susan, the funny thing is that peasants in the Middle Ages worked fewer hours than working class Americans (those that are employed full time, at least) do today. Maintaining so complex a society requires fantastic amounts of labor. As things wind down, there may be more spare time rather than less.

Villager, bailing out of popular culture isn't going to end popular culture; that's going to happen as the economic machine grinds to a halt due to fossil fuel depletion. What bailing out of popular culture will do is improve your capacity to respond to a very challenging future, so you can do something other than look mournfully at the camera and wave goodbye, a la Wile E. Coyote, when crunch time comes.

Mtheirauf, as the Declaration of Independence puts it, governments are instituted to preserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. None of that can be done for free, and so all societies require their members to chip in to cover the costs of maintaining public order and other public goods. The right to own private property is one of the major goods provided by the rule of law, and since the benefit that people receive from this corresponds to the amount that they own, it's both fair and generally accepted that how much you chip in depends on your ability to pay.

When a political system charges the rich a smaller portion of their imcome in taxes than it does the poor, accordingly, that system is conferring a free ride on the rich. Both US parties currently do this, which is why, for example, Warren Buffet pays a significantly smaller fraction of his income in taxes than I pay of mine. This is aside from the huge direct and indirect subsidies that the federal government pays for the benefit of big business, whether in the form of massively padded defense contracts or "mortgage insurance" that's basically a way of transferring tax dollars to very large banks, or any of the many other examples.

David, I've had the same experience with a small town library system -- I've ended up reading books I probably would never have picked up, and benefited from it.

Raven, well, I'm not going to get too deep into theology. ;-)

Nox, no, I hadn't heard of him. Thank you for the reference!

Danogenes, I discussed the distinction between work and employment at quite a bit of length in a series of posts on economics a while back; most of that material is now in print in my book The Wealth of Nature. Of course it's an important one, but there's only so much room in any single blog post.

Project Director, before you start making accusations about selective quoting from scripture, maybe you should reread the gospels and count how many times Jesus criticized the accumulation of wealth, as compared to the number of times he discussed such current preoccupations of the Right as, say, other people's sexual behavior. ("Let him who is without sin...") As for my characterization of GOP policies, I freely grant that it's unsympathetic and brief, but inaccurate? No, there I think you're quite wrong.

Ric said...

JMG: What, for example, is a Kardashian, and why should I care?

A Kardashian is one of the alien species in the Star Trek universe. IIRC, they were pathological attention-seekers with no morals.

(Did I get that right?)

Bill Pulliam said...

Keith -- the only catch there is that one cannot willingly spread something virally. It just happens, capriciously, and usually to things that support the prevailing mood, not things that challenge it.

John Michael Greer said...

Adrian, I'll have to leave it to somebody else to blog about the role of family in all this -- it's just my wife and me, no living children, and we're (intentionally) a long ways off from our extended families. Not that that's a good thing, just a necessary one.

Gary, one of the useful habits passed down in the modern Druid tradition is the idea that any binary is always in need of a third factor to bring it into balance. Those readers who have been following this blog for a while know already that that's a lot of what I'm trying to do. I'd encourage you (and anyone else interested) to take any of the binaries you've listed, find a third position, and try it out -- there's much to be gained by that.

Cathy, enjoy!

Dowsergirl, I think she's a Kardashian or something.

Ghung, oh, granted, there's still going to be the occasional gem. Again, going to the old stuff is a helpful heuristic, not a hard and fast rule.

DPW, two excellent points. Thank you.

Jason, most young Americans only know how to pass tests. That's literally all they're taught in school. So, no, you're not being biased. As for the Hobbit, it started out as stories told to children, and I've yet to hear of a child who didn't become entranced by it when it was read aloud. Have you ever heard a recording of Yolkien himself reading it? Stunningly good.

Greg, thank you for the link!

Carp, not a problem. Sometimes the Awen does flow, and sometimes it sits there and challenges me to reach for it.

Mtheirauf, given that it was a brief aside in a post on a different topic, no, I didn't pile up examples and footnotes. You can find those in detail in my book The Wealth of Nature, and the subject will also be covered from a different angle in a future book of mine that's tentatively titled Empire's End: The Twilight of Global Hegemony and the Future of American Democracy.

Wendy, that's another of the situations that just begs for somebody to set up a private lending library with a modest subscription fee. It used to be a very standard thing in this country and elsewhere, and it's free from many of the difficulties of dependence on public funding.

Mainecelt, I've often wondered why your end of Christianity doesn't avail itself of the huge wealth of sacramental ritual that's part of the Christian heritage. Frankly, it makes a great deal of Pagan ritualism look very pallid by comparison. I have friends in the independent Christian sacramental movement who have done all kinds of creative (and highly respectful) things with the ancient sacramenta and other traditional practices, but I don't know of anybody in the liberal denominations who's doing so. What gives?

Professor, as Toynbee points out, it's exactly in periods of chaos and disintegration that new myths and new religious forms take shape. Not only can we think in such terms, we pretty much have to, or nothing we do is going to go far. As for your final question, every decline and fall is different the way every childhood is different; the same broad transformations, but with infinite variation in detail.

whblondeau said...

I recently remembered a book I hadn't thought about for years. It was a children's book with the unfortunate title of "Grandpa Bunny-Bunny". I guess I got hold of it when I was about 5.

The illustrations were, as I remember, better than those in any other book in my collection. (I might have a different opinion if I saw them today, but the important thing was that they were compelling to a 5 year old kid.) But the story was what was remarkable.

Grandpa Bunny-Bunny was an artist. He got his start, as so many young rabbits did in children's books back then, painting Easter eggs. He was really good at it, and as he got older he started teaching other rabbits. He and his little students branched out when Easter eggs were no longer enough. They painted the colors on flowers, shadows on snowbanks, the dewdrops on grass in the morning, autumn colors on leaves. As he grew older, he became a better teacher and a better artist. He taught generations of artistic rabbits to be as good as their heart and talent would allow. They all had creative roles to play, creative responsibilities in throughout the year.

Eventually Grandpa Bunny-Bunny got very old. One day he told his students that he would teach no more, but that they were invited to watch him paint his masterwork. They assembled late in the day, and he painted the entire western sky with the most brilliant sunset that anyone had ever seen. Then he walked quietly into the heart of it and was gone.

Looking back, I'm gobsmacked that a story like that ever made it into a children's book. Art, life, responsibility, creative participation, transcendence and death... I'm sure that story, which I'd forgotten about for most of my life, had a big role in shaping my heart and soul and creating meaning in my life. If this isn't Myth in a very pure form I don't know what it might be.

I wonder if there's a single child in this world who has a copy of that book to read now.

John Michael Greer said...

Justin, start with Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich -- that was The Secret of that generation. As for your comments on science, no argument there; there are quite a few corners where a lot of filling in of details remains to be done.

Mary, I didn't know that! That's funny, and utterly typical, in the "no socialism, but I want to keep my Medicare" sort of sense. Petro, be sure to add Rand's fate to your viral post.

Sofistek, good. I was starting to worry that I'd been too hard on the Christians and not hard enough on the atheists; I try to slant my posts so they get roughly equal amounts of flak from both sides of any given binary.

Artinnature, thank you.

Ric, okay, that will explain it. I never watched anything but the original series. ;-)

John Michael Greer said...

Whblondeau, I think you've found a worthy quest. Find a copy of that book and see to it that at least one child in the current generation gets to read it. I'm quite serious; when something like that surfaces in your memory after all these years, there's a reason for it -- perhaps even a Campbellian call to adventure.

"Something hidden--go and find it.
Go and look beyond the Ranges.
Something lost beyond the Ranges,
Lost and waiting for you. Go!"

Petro said...


"Petro, be sure to add Rand's fate to your viral post."

Heh. I wish it would be viral, but a man can dream. I'll do my bit for the meme, though.

That aside, Ayn Rand is pretty well done regarding conservatism, as they don't seem inclined to demur from Rand. The Satanic Bible may be another matter, but perhaps I underestimate, haha. That said... I will definitely point out that hypocrisy if I find it fruitful to reference her crayon philosophy!

Plato, really? Ack. The father of cynicism, by my lights (Leo Strauss' and his neoconservative acolytes' embrace of The Cave, exhibit one.) Concern with one's own death... well, that would fall into my category of narcissism (selfishness.)


As I am loathe to appear at odds with any of your input... may I say that I think it would be appropriate to add "Natural Treasure" to your business card as Asimov did (per Cathy McGuire's charming anecdote!)

kayxyz said...

I need to read The Satanic Bible obviously. When Alan Greenspan and George W Bush and his Labor Secretary, Elaine Chao, Mitch McConnell's wife chirped "health sciences" as the only jobs left in the US, I raced into a health science program at a community college as fast as I could (earlier I wrote about the 60 mile roundtrip commute). What astounds me is that if Alan Greenspan, as the front of the private bank cartel (Rothschilds, Warburgs, Rockefellers, Kissinger) say "health sciences," then to me there should be FREE health science courses at zero cost. While you matriculate, your expenses should be zero-mortgage and all debt forgiven. It's a 2 or 3 or 4 year course of study to get into health sciences.

It's amazing to me there is no national, concrete, zero cost steps to convert the willing into health sciences. Satanic indeed.

MaineCelt said...

JMG-- Good observation about progressive Christians and our general disconnect from the rich sensory rituals of earlier Christianity. I understand some of the reasons for that disconnect--too complex to go into here--but mostly we just tend to be clueless about that rich symbolic and sensory elements of our tradition (successfully buried by earlier generations who probably felt it "smacked too much of papism."

That said, there are many clergy and laypeople who are reinvigorating the ritual life of our communities and reconnecting us to ritual expressions of our own cultural narrative(s): the "smells and bells," fire and water, palm branches and evergreen boughs, drumming and dancing...and then there's the small boy who released his homing pigeons--just as the sun rose--for a small congregation on a windswept Maine hill on Easter morn. Better rituals: we're working on it!

Hopefully, the more we engage the senses, the more people will understand--viscerally--why the care of the earth is such a sacred and needful and elemental thing.

Archivist/Cultural Liaison said...

I agree fully with your sentiments here. I think we can take the same approach to music. There is much great music out of fashion , not just classical , but older jazz all of which is quite out of fashion that is of worth. There is much music around the world that is fast disappearing that has been documented and worth our time in understanding others. Many books are ending up in the trash from libraries here. the fact that people might use them in the library is not taken into account.
to toss them away is little difference than economic book burning and as you say one cannot trust the internet or even the one copy kept of everything.

Apple Jack Creek said...

Whblondeau and Archdruid Greer - I HAVE THAT BOOK! :)

It is in one of a boxed set of Walt Disney storybooks I have had since I was small (I am 43 this year). It is in the "Fantasyland" book (the others being Worlds of Nature, America, and Stories from Other Lands).

It is a lovely story and I read it to the smallest children in this household not long ago. I find myself in tears at the end, every time, it is just so beautiful.

I found the book set listed on Amazon, here.

We have a lot of books, and we are always acquiring more - books are always welcome here. If we read one and decid it's not really to our taste, we donate it to the local library ... but that doesn't happen often. There's a lot of speculative and historical fiction here, both genres seem to encourage thinking about things 'differently', and I like that.

My Christmas present from my husband was a new bookshelf (which he built out of plain lumber from the store) and I couldn't imagine a better present (well, except perhaps the hooped row covers that my son built for my garden and managed to hide outside for a month without me noticing!). :)

GHung said...

Ric: Don't ask me how I know this stuff...I raised teenagers....

Cardassian: "The Cardassians are an extraterrestrial species in the Star Trek science fiction franchise. First introduced in the 1991 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Wounded", the species originating on the fictional Alpha Quadrant planet Cardassia Prime. Cardassians were the dominant species in an interplanetary empire known as the Cardassian Union, ruling over other species,..."


"Kimberly Noel "Kim" Kardashian (born October 21, 1980) is an American socialite, television personality, model, and actress. She is the daughter of late attorney Robert Kardashian, and is known for a sex tape with her former boyfriend Ray J as well as her E! reality series that she shares with her family, Keeping Up with the Kardashians."

I understand the confusion ;-)

I think I prefer the Cardassians..

Thomas Daulton said...

JMG, I found your post readable and extremely appropriate. I myself have often bemoaned to my friends the destruction of meaning -- "liberal" and "conservative" mean nothing these days besides gang colors -- somebody can call himself an "environmentalist" these days explicitly because he's in favor of nuclear power instead of fossils, etc. ...but in all fairness, that's not my original observation, it's hardly new, after all it was George Orwell whose character Winston Smith was working in an office whose explicit mission was to destroy the meanings of words.

@Petro, and JMG: I believe the quotation Petro was looking for is the following:
"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy: that is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." --John Kenneth Galbraith

Unfortunately this quote is politically partisan, so it probably doesn't serve Petro's goal of reining-in all philosophers neutrally.

Because JK Galbraith was a professional economist (sometimes people say he was the first "rock-star economist," a seat Paul Krugman currently holds), he didn't seem to truck much with real philosophy per-se. He lived in somewhat different times, back when distinctions still meant something; I expect he would also have some choice words about the faux-liberals residing in political offices today.

Galbraith is a wealth of pithy quotes, though -- look up one of his best-of pages sometime!

sofistek said...

Oh, people of all religious persuasions and no religious persuasion deserve some flak. No doubt about it. But flack because of a religious or pseudo-religious belief is a very specific sort of flack. Those who don't hold religious beliefs can hardly be chastised for that, since there is no religious belief that causes them to do anything. Those who hold religious beliefs, on the other hand often claim to be guided by some invisible hand or mouth (or that their country is protected thereby), and that is qualitatively different, I think. Of course, anyone can then have other beliefs that might cause them to behave in certain ways but that applies to all people equally.

John Michael Greer said...

Petro, in much the same way that the Devil supposedly can quote scripture to his own purpose, Leo Strauss has quoted (and misused) Plato. To be fair, I'm a good deal fonder of Plotinus and Proclus, who had the great good sense to ditch Plato's politics and refocus the tradition on the transformation of the individual, but please don't dismiss Platonism on the basis of a movement of clueless modern academics driven by a lust for unearned power and suffering from severe delusions of adequacy. As for my business card, at the moment it says "Wordsmith"; I hope one day to be promoted to "National Gadfly."

Kayxyz, er, when people like that make a comment like that, do you seriously think it's meant in your best interest? More likely than not the medical schools were suffering from a dip in enrollment and called in a favor or two.

MaineCelt, that's very good to hear. I've long thought that the first liberal Christian denomination to embrace a rich sacramental life without the dogmatic rigidity and toxic hierarchy of most of the sacramentally focused branches of the faith would become a major force very nearly overnight. Just a thought from outside the tradition...

Archivist, that's an extremely good point. It will be a bitter day if the last Thelonious Monk piece goes away for good.

Apple Jack, excellent. Seek and ye shall find.

GHung, I much prefer Ric's definition, and will probably stick with it.

Thomas, Galbraith was that almost unheard-of creature, an economist with a scintillating prose style and a wicked sense of humor. One book I'd like everyone to read one of these days is his The Great Crash 1929, which is the most hilarious work of serious economic history you'll ever read -- and which will permanently cure anyone who reads it and thinks seriously about it of any remaining vulnerability to the delusions that drive speculative bubbles. Get it, read it, treasure it.

Bill Pulliam said...

Actually, JMG, looking at the Kardashians' entry on Wikipedia is kind of amazing. They in one family seem to sum up the epitome of the contemporary cult of non-personality. There's even a tie in to the O.J. Simpson trial -- sheesh. Seriously, I thought they were Star Trek characters for the longest time, too.

I approach all this from a sociological standpoint, I guess -- what is interesting is not the Kardashians per se, but the fact that they are what the American mind has decided is important right now. Sure we always distract ourselves with something vacuous or another; but the nature of that distraction/obsession changes quite a bit from one era to the next. It's usually a vivid reflection of our fears and our fantasies -- subconscious laid bare; naked id; shadows dragged into the daylight. Plus a heaping helping of the truth about our racial, class, gender, etc. stereotypes and deeply engrained "-isms." Just last night we were discussing the fact that when Tim McGraw unbuttoned his shirt 3/4 of the way or strutted around on stage in a tight tanktop, that made him a stud. Meanwhile when his wife Faith Hill similarly showed off her chest and wore a skirt that was just a hairs-breadth lower than her crotch, she got characterized with a different word that begins with "s" that is much less flattering (they are both superstar country singers, I should explain for this crowd!).

These are the reason I find it interesting to keep a small part of one ear turned towards pop culture. It sure as heck is not for entertainment purposes!

By the way, one thing I have noted in all this in recent years that may become very significant -- young men are feeling increasingly emasculated and at a loss to even identify what "masculine" is anymore. Watch your headlines for the backlash against this in the not-too-distant future, I expect.

John Michael Greer said...

Sofistek, people with nonreligious or antireligious beliefs routinely do things, sometimes very silly things, because of those beliefs; look at Richard Dawkins. There are plenty of reasonable, caring atheists out there, but there are also a fair number of intolerant, judgmental types who, as William James said of an equivalent, "believes in No-God and worships Him."

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, I've also noticed that with young, and not so young, men. The question is which direction the backlash will go. It may not be any of the obvious options.

goedeck said...

Sorry JK Rowling :blush:

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- True; in the 1970s in response to feminism, young men just grew facial hair and wore their shirts open at the neck to reassert their masculinity.

Right now men seem to be just hanging back in confusion, wondering what happened to all the things that used to define manhood for them (well-paid jobs in the essential trades for some, corporate climbing and financial success for others, big cars, etc.); mostly they seem to be just watching TV or playing video games. I will be extremely curious to see what happens when they start stirring from this semi-slumber...

Calm Center of Tranquility said...

Thank you for this excellent post, which has kept me thinking all day and which I have shared as far as I am able.

I, too, am no longer a TV person - 15 years, it's been (I think) since I pulled the plug and I don't regret it. And as a writer and publisher, as well as a news junkie, I find I'm still sufficiently informed of the culture to participate in it, even if sometimes I only have the vaguest idea of what's being discussed (one of today's conversations - The Bachelorette? Is that right?)

I am a bit of a public health nut, and as a genealogist I am also an avid historian. So a thought for those 'conservative' commentators on this blog: much of the public health advances in the U.S., funded by taxpayer dollars, came about because the wealthy stood firmly behind them. They did so not out of altruism, but out of simple enlightened self interest. We do not live in this world alone. Cholera, for example, doesn't care if your neighbor is a lazy slob who doesn't maintain proper hygienic living - or if you are a hard-working, God-fearing person. It will multiply from the one, and pass itself on to the other.

If you don't believe in the rather radical liberalism preached by Jesus, and prefer, instead, the punitive Father approach of the Old Testament - you might want to give thought to the world you're willing to create for you and your children to live in, because there are consequences to choices. It's not really about what's right or wrong - sometimes, it's simply about what is.

SophieGale said...

Kids' books: I am a big fan of Virginia Lee Burton. Michael Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, The Little House, Katy and the Big Snow... You have to get the hardcovers, because paperback editions don't have the detailed (and totally fascinating)end covers. Burton taught design, and she and her students did wonderful things with textiles. (Google "Folly Cove").

And every kid should have a copy of The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes. It's about a sweet widowed Bunny with 21 children, who aspires to be an Easter Bunny (a male-only occupation). I was completely gobsmacked at couple of years ago when I discovered it was written by Du Bose Heyward, who gave us "Porgy and Bess".

I can't find the reference, but someone mentioned the movie American Beauty. I enjoyed it but I went home feeling I had missed something. The next morning at 6:00 am, I sat straight up in bed and said "Christine Pizan!" I am NOT a morning person, so it was a few minutes before I said "The Romance of the Rose!" Once I had my morning Pepsi it came to me that American Beauty was a riff on the Grail Legend.

Now, I got to sit in on a B&N online chat with screen writer Alan Ball: he freely admitted that he had used the framework Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces, but he was as bemused as I was to find out it was a Grail story. (Obviously I can only share this anecdote with a very, very small group of people. Everybody else kind of takes a deep breath and a step backwards.)

sealander said...

I went to the Rotary second-hand book sale recently, and they'd received so many copies of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" that someone had built a 2 foot high pyramid out of them. Which made me laugh, but then I wondered if the sort of stuff that would survive into the future would be the high volume publications rather than the high quality. I did find plenty of gems to take home with me though.....

Seriously missing the non-fiction section of our central library here, we've been unable to use the building since the February earthquake. The branch libraries have a reasonable selection of fiction but the non-fiction sections lack depth.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hey Justin,

Fair enough. I looked up the definition on the web free dictionary and it says about anarchy:

"1. Absence of any form of political authority. 2. Political disorder and confusion. 3. Absence of any cohesive principle, such as a common standard or purpose"

I've always interpreted anarchy in its literal meaning. I don't see any scope for organisation in the above meanings. I'd appreciate if you'd explain to me where I'm going wrong as it seems to be a contradiction in terms?

Hey Lewis,

hehe! That was pretty funny, I even got some of the references too. I'm quite fond of Brit films they show a quirky wit that is quite appealing.

I'm jealous about how cheap books are outside Oz. Bill Bryson commented in his Oz travels book (well worth a read) about how outrageously expensive new books are over here. It's cheaper for me to purchase second hand books from either the US or UK and get them posted over than buy them here. It's a very sad state of affairs.



Cherokee Organics said...


I look forward to your thoughtful analysis re the economy and I'm glad that you are tackling it.

Sometimes it seems as if people think that like pollution, it's something happening to someone else far, far away. Perhaps it is pollution? I'm always surprised by how few people here mention the economic issues. It gets mainstream press here.

Unfortunately for me, since reading Basic Ecology per your earlier recommendation, I now see linkages with every action and I can't now pretend that I don't understand. Perhaps therein lies the power of the Green Wizard project?

Strong magic indeed! I finally understood your incantation a couple of weeks ago and have since been digesting upon it.

As an incidental too, although I'm an atheist I read the Bible out of interest about two decades ago and realised pretty quickly that most believers don't actually understand the messages in it. I always find it strange when people identify themselves as "krishtun" and think that it's enough just to go to Church once a year. People are simply tribal in nature - they need to identify with something. A survival instinct is to look for differences and I think that this is their motivation - the need to blend in.

By the way, Asimov foundation series has a place in my library here. Really enjoyed it, although if the place as burning down and I had to save a particular authors work I'd rescue my Jack Vance complete collection. I understand why you're not overly fond of his writings as he wasn't particularly complementary about druids, but he writes a ripping yarn.



Chris Nicholas said...

Very prescient post. It reminds me greatly of a short book I just read called "The Abolition of Man" by CS Lewis. In this book Lewis similarly describes "the closed loop" referred to by JMG similarly as leaving the human Tao and having no reference points. The reason why I am referring to the CS Lewis book is in response to the sentence where you describe this as a "problem not a predicament" and therefore there is a solution. CS Lewis wrote "The Abolition of Man" in 1944 as he saw the use of language gradually change humankind's understanding of its own humanity. He postulated that if he was right than humankind would become extinct because it would have become something different by losing its anchor to the common Tao. I believe that JMG's post is describing this very thing, and that JMG only views it as a problem because he still personally understands what it is to be human (given his Druid tendencies). However I think CS Lewis is right and humankind is extinct, and that this post senses it somehow. It truly is a predicament of absolutely the first magnitude and there may not be a solution to it at all. In fact the idea that there can be a solution is probably just the myth of progress rearing its ugly head in this context.

RainbowShadow said...

JMG said earlier:

"it's both fair and generally accepted that how much you chip in depends on your ability to pay."

Too bad a lot of Americans no longer think that we even HAVE an obligation to "behave fairly."

Just recently, for example, Michelle Bachmann engaged in outright bribery to secure a victory:

and how much do you want to bet her supporters' opinion of her character will not be affected one iota?

For another example, when I recently tried (AGAIN) to spread your ideas to people online, they told me quite angrily that humans have no obligation to be fair, that the rich had no such obligation you mentioned to pay as much as they benefit, and by the way, was I a friggin' Communist, why did I hate America?

This is related to the whole collapse of narratives notion that was the theme of your essay, the twist I'm adding is that millions of Americans believe that being "successful" is everything, that even any remote idea of FAIR PLAY and honorable behavior must be sacrificed at the altar of "success", not just "learning and meaning."

Of course, as Morris Berman and Gore Vidal have pointed out, there IS something really humorous about it all, if you're not too personally invested that is. ^_^

So to that end, to say something productive after my ranting, I recommend to your readers that they look up the concept of "Jewish humor" for the coming twilight years, which could either refer to the idea of laughing because otherwise you would cry, or to self-deprecating the excesses of one's own group. They may find it very useful when things REALLY become unglued.

blue sun said...

What a gem! Simply exploding with insights! I guess it was not an easy post to write because it was so unbelievably rich! This was a deep one. How do you manage to write about so many topics at once?

I would even suggest—I write this seriously—that you repost this verbatim next week. You’ll get an entirely different set of comments!

blue sun said...

I’m not gonna jump into the fray of why some Christians sympathize with some Republican stated positions. Susan (and JMG’s response) did a good job of explaining that.

I do think it’s worth pointing out that JMG made a clear distinction between Republicans and conservative Christians. (Although not well understood, these are actually two distinct things.)

If you read carefully, he actually stated that Democrats *copy* the Republican platform and thus are also Satanists. There are actually millions of self-described Christian Democrats in America, who are thus perpetrators of the same hypocrisy, but we don’t acknowledge Christian Democrats in polite society (i.e. the mainstream media). But that’s a whole other topic.....

As for “Christians,” Christianity in America suffers from its own popularity. If (someone stated 83% so I’ll use that)......if 83% of Americans were Druids, there would doubtless be millions of Druids with “Keep Gaia in Solstice” stickers on the bumpers of their SUVs.

Are human beings hypocrites by nature? Does anyone see the irony in the dominant (dare I say “liberal”?) culture that devoutly professes a love for accumulating technical knowledge (“progress”) but is ever-ready to chuck accumulated cultural knowledge?

hawlkeye said...


I hear your point about isolation, and have seen the condescension toward the masses by those who imagine they shop above it all. I see this as another example of the camps talking past each other.

But pop culture is less a culture than a marketing device; you'd need one deep bucket of sand for your head to avoid it completely. I don't know how it can be side-stepped without heroic hermitic efforts.

Especially with kids; I agree with every word of Yupped ("a life of stuff isn’t going to do it for them") because wearing the Dad hat means you're the filter and cultivator of the essential budding inner BS detector. Arguably the most critical Wizardly tool in the whole bag.

But I do indulge a version of your surfing the cable for a taste of the Cool-Ade; when I'm driving around, I listen to Rush and Sean and Ilk just to try and grasp the framing of their world (and that of my neighbors). So I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me when one of those neighbors ended up quoting Beck word for word, never imagining I was also tuned in for a moment that morning...

The endless hammering of us against them is beyond ubiquitous, it has become the way far too many of us think. The constant training to binary brain-tracking is insidious, and there is nowhere to hide anyway...

Ah, the library...

Verification word: binodow

Buy-No-Tao? Hmmm...

blue sun said...

JMG, if I read you right, then the third form of incoherence is a lack of awareness that “the lessons of the past have something to teach the present.” I think there is another form of incoherence beyond this (maybe a fourth form) which is that ‘the language of the present has some usefulness in the present!’

We already have a perfectly serviceable phrase to describe what was discussed in Congress last month. It’s called “going deeper into debt”—and yet all we could talk about was a “debt ceiling,” which, like the emperor’s new clothes, nobody really knew what it meant but didn’t dare to ask.

And off we went—arguing back and forth about what—well, no thinking person was quite sure. I can imagine whoever coined that phrase (probably Satan himself) sitting back cackling while watching events unfold.

GHung said...

Bill P. noted:

"By the way, one thing I have noted in all this in recent years that may become very significant -- young men are feeling increasingly emasculated and at a loss to even identify what "masculine" is anymore."

Joseph Campbell discussed this in The Power of Myth, how societies had a sense of the importance of genderising their young and made provisions to instill these distinctions. The Australian aboriginals taught their boys the masculine skills and sent them walkabout. The Jews have the B'nai Mitzvah, etc. Not sure what 'rites of passage' western Christians have. The closest thing in my life may have been the Boy Scouts, acheiving Eagle Scout and it being made clear that I have certain responsibilities to society, am expected to conduct myself in certain ways, and that there is no longer any excuse to shirk these responsibilities.

It occurs to me that, when I was a child, we even had gender-specific book series, e.g. Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drew Mysteries.

I understand that the Nancy Drew books have been re-written to update their cultural slant, remove racial stereotypes, etc. I doubt they have the same meaning. Imagine removing racial stereotypes from Tom Sawyer, Joseph Conrad's books or Gone With The Wind.

gregorach said...

the flash and bang when the last one I ever owned hit the bottom of the dumpster two stories down was very satisfying

I'm sure it was, but that TV contained many recyclable resources and a number of toxic elements requiring specialised handling and disposal. Don't you have any recycling facilities which can handle waste electrical equipment over there? ;)

mthierauf said...

"governments are instituted to preserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" - well if thats all the government did then tax rates would be a fraction of what they are today...

when your latest book makes it to my local library i will read it!!

p.s. if you are going to respond with more central planning claptrap about "the rich" & "evil capitalists" then don't bother

gregorach said...

Oh, and I would very much second the recommendation for Robin Wood - I've interacted with him a bit on a forum I used to frequent, and in addition to being an amazingly skilled yet humble craftsman, he's a lovely bloke.

Zach said...

I've long thought that the first liberal Christian denomination to embrace a rich sacramental life without the dogmatic rigidity and toxic hierarchy of most of the sacramentally focused branches of the faith would become a major force very nearly overnight. Just a thought from outside the tradition...

You'd think so, but this describes The Episcopal Church to a 'T', and it's hemorrhaging both membership and influence, ah, "right and left." (Well, perhaps not as much left... :) ) So at the moment, that approach doesn't seem to be working out so well. Doesn't prove it can't be done, but so far, the only ones I know of combining traditional "smells and bells" with liberal theology aren't looking like a success story.


Don Mason said...

Re: Kardashian

My wife is a sales rep, and she always has the TV on when she’s doing paperwork. So she knows about popular culture. As for me, I’m blissfully unaware.

I asked her one day, “Who is this Kardashian?”

My wife said, “She’s famous. She’s on TV.”

“I know she’s on TV. But who is she? What has she actually done?”

“She hasn’t done anything. She’s just on TV.”

It seems that we may need to update Rene Descartes to “I’m on TV; therefore, I am.”

GHung said...

RainbowShadow notes: "Of course, as Morris Berman and Gore Vidal have pointed out, there IS something really humorous about it all, if you're not too personally invested that is."

Watching CNN last night (yes, I do still have TV) Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter told CNN's John King how his city is fighting back against "flash mobs." They have done a bowling night for kids, and are planning a roller skating party. Video here. His response to hopelessly disenfranchised youth had me rolling on the floor laughing; not sure why. I suppose that finding humor in absurdity is sometimes the best defence.

Note: the video is cut short before the bowling/roller skating comments. Sorry.

RainbowShadow said...

mthierauf, as JMG frequently complains to his readers, please try to respond to what he's actually saying.

In previous posts, he's strongly been AGAINST the idea that "it's all the rich's fault" and has chastised readers like "vera" who claimed that everything was all the fault of the elite.

mthierauf, didn't you read his previous post a few months ago about fantasies of elite omnipotence being unfortunately too common and something that needs to be combated against? That does not sound like your simplistic interpretation of his argument here.

JMG believes in balance, and he's balanced his previous posts (by telling liberals that no, it's not all the rich's fault) by admitting in this one that yes, the rich had some part (but not a complete part) to play in this disaster.

JMG did not claim that everything is all the rich capitalists' fault, he only claimed that in this particular case, they were "cutting their own throats."

peacegarden said...


No…no buy DOW stock market, silly!



cvncvbn said...

Thanks so much for another thought-provoking post. I'm not pointing this out to be tiresome, but rather to offer a glimmer of hope -- one of the best things about the Internet is the ability it gives us to quickly test assumptions. Google results for "Newbery books": 4.98M results. Results for "Lady Gaga pubic hair color": 1.26M results. :)

Cathy McGuire said...

Oh! Forgot to mention, in this context – Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” is a must-read! Published in 1984 (appropriate), it is prophetic, and scary to read – I just kept turning the pages, thinking, “wonder what he feels about all this now…” But in fact, I could find out – there is an info page about him, and he certainly hadn’t gotten any cheerier before his death in 2003. There are still copies around; highly recommended.

@Susan: …Within a few minutes, the conversation had mostly died out, and several of us were simply staring at the screen….
Yup. And go into any museum nowadays – the people there aren’t looking at the exhibits – they are watching video clips about the exhibits! If it flickers on a screen, they watch it.

Petro said...

@Thomas Daulton:

Thank you - that was it!

And thanks to both you & @JMG for pointing out the partisan context of respectively, Galbraith's quote and the "clueless modern academics."

Ben Bochner said...

You have really put your finger on something here.

I am reading a book called "The Great Upheaval," by Jay Winik. As one incredible bit of history unfolds after the other, I keep saying to myself, "Wow, this would make a great movie!"

But then I remind myself that these historical stories would never get made, because they don't fit into the cookie-cutter mold of movies that get made today.

Cultural senility, indeed. It's as if we have only one story we like to hear, and we demand that it be told over and over, with rising music at the end and Morgan Freeman's quavering voice pulling our heartstrings. Since movies must attract millions of viewers, all we get is the same sure-fire buttons being pushed over and over and over again.

What a loss. The story of Catherine the Great and Potemkin is a story that has every element of Hollywood drama, but it'll never get made, or if it does, it will be reduced to the same cultural clichés as every other historical drama.

In the satire "Idiocracy," we're introduced to a future where people go to movies that are one long 90 minute shot of a guy's butt. That future doesn't seem so distant...

Witter said...

Hello Archdruid:

From the ages of 25 to 30 (I’m 62 now) I was addicted to cigarettes. During that time, I tried to quit numerous time, finally succeeding permanently after four years of constant effort.

I started watching television when I was around ten, but didn’t realize it was an addiction until my late twenties. I’ve been trying to quit that addiction ever since, but with only limited success. I’ve quit many times, once for a full six months, but have always gone back.

The similarities between the cigarette and television addictions are amazing. Whenever I managed to quit cigarettes for a month, I could feel my health returning - my strength, wind, and energy. Whenever I managed to quit television for more than two weeks, I could feel my mind’s health returning - my ability to focus and get things done. I always enjoyed noticing the white noise (jingles, Seinfeld jokes, etc) receding from my mind.

With cigarettes, it was “I’ll have just one today. That’s no problem, one won’t hurt me.” I’d be back to a pack a day within a week. With television, it was “I’ll watch just one PBS show. PBS is okay.” I’d be back to my 3-hour a day habit within a week.

I could give many more examples. It seems the only difference between the two addictions is that television is much harder to quit.

Thanks for your article. It reminded me that it’s been quite a while since I’ve tried to quit. Maybe I’ll succeed this time.

Shawn said...

TV and movies and popular culture are incredible for right-brain awareness, which is necessary and vital after centuries of scientific and rational focus.

Did you call your essay "The Twilight of Meaning" with a cynical nudge to the uber-popular Twilight series? If you look at "The Meaning of Twilight" you can get a right-brain, archetypal view of how spot-on the popular culture is with the changing times, and how not-stupid it really is. A lot of it (including Twilight) isn't mindless, it's just less left-brain mind. Popular culture is speaking now more than ever through archetypes and symbolism, which is the important and vital role its playing. The appearance of zombies isn't just a reflection of lifeless brain-dead people... it's symbolic of the dead (the past you're talking about) being very much alive (to our detriment, even) and walking.

Your viewpoint to just turn the tv off and walk away is, to me, akin to a Democrat saying it's time to just turn the Republican view off and not pay attention to it anymore. Is that really going to work? A huge dilemma of our times, which nobody knows how to work through because we've never had to before (so it's nobody's fault right now), is how to live in a united world (literally!) where we can't just ignore the other side's opinion. Never before has the world been so united via consciousness. Trouble is, the left-brainers want everyone to follow what 'makes sense' which leaves right-brain awareness out of the picture. And the right-brain dominant popular culture really does need an appreciation for the left-brain at this point.

One of the important keys to the future is how to get important left-brain ideas into the popular culture, while also getting important right-brain sensibilties (which are arguably more important at this point) into the rigid left-brain consciousness.

I like reading your blog. Now I'm off to watch "Teen Wolf" on my DVR.

LewisLucanBooks said...

On the shelf life of content on the Internet. Years ago I stumbled on Clifford Stoll's "Silicon Snake Oil." He's an astronomer who also was an early adapter to the Internet. A self-described computer jock.

He has some major miss-givings about the Internet. One of the major problems is that the hardware changes and cannot "read" the software, anymore. Once the last "machine" is gone, the data can't be accessed.

Already, census records, military records and space exploration results are gone, or endangered. He has several examples in his book.

@ JMG - I worked in the old Seattle Public Library main branch when it was a new building. Gave me a bit of a turn when they decided it had outlived it's usefulness, tore it down and build a new one.

@ Cathy McGuire - Portland Public Libraries, Lombard Branch Library. It was a one roomer. By the time I was ten, I'd cleaned out the kid's section. So, I just picked out a pile of adult books and went marching up to the desk.

They called my mother who said "Give him anything he wants." And that, was that!

Stephen Lenhart said...

I like your two step solution. Elegant in its simplicity with the potential for providing those who choose to try it with an increased openness and flexibility of mind and heart. It seems to me that step two could include wandering outside the realm of human cultural artifacts and ideas. Not that there isn't much to be learned from classic ideas and stories, but there is also so much for us to learn from nonhuman sources. Going for a walk in the woods would be a fun place to start. Thanks for the eloquent post JMG...

John Michael Greer said...

Goedeck, no problem. Typos beset us all. I'm reminded of a play I once saw at a SF convention of that fan classic, "The Enchanted Duplicator," in which the Typos were fierce monsters who had to be overcome by the hero in his quest to publish the perfect fanzine...

Bill, you and me both.

Tranquility, that was also the basis for the compromise of the 1930s. Henry Ford was hardly a nice person, but he had the brains to realize that if he didn't pay his workers enough to enable them to buy his cars, he was facing the same crisis of overproduction that was beggaring so many industrialists at that time.

Sophie, I never saw American Beauty, but I'm tolerably familiar with the Roman de la Rose and the Grail legends, so I'll take your word for it!

Sealander, there are whole warehouses full of copies of books that were supposed to be bestsellers and didn't make it. I sometimes wonder what future archeologists will make of those.

Cherokee, by all means save Vance! William Blake wasn't always so complimentary about Druids, either, but I'd save Jerusalem ahead of a lot of other things.

Chris, I'm familiar with that book, and indeed with most of Lewis -- he's far and away my favorite Christian author. Where I part company with him is simply that my take on history is cyclical; the phase of intellectual degeneration is a standard part of the cycle. As Vico pointed out a long time ago, the "barbarism of reflection" is a necessary part of how things wind down.

Rainbow, just wait a bit. Those same people will be whining at the top of their lungs about fairness when they're the ones getting the short end of the stick.

Blue Sun, thank you! The only answer I can give you is that I read quite a bit, in many different fields, and have cantankerous opinions in most of them. ;-) As for American Christianity, well, human beings are human beings, and I hope nobody's under the impression that I think everything would be different if 83% of us were Druids; the modern Druid movement's been around since the 18th century, which is long enough to get over the pleasant delusion that enthusiasm is the same thing as divine influence, and that people will stop acting like people when they change the set of metaphors they use to talk about religious experience.

Oh, and I'd suggest "running ourselves deeper into debt" for the subject of the recent fracas. Or perhaps "going broke." Something like "Obama and the GOP held another round of talks today on digging America deeper into the hole" just sounds better, somehow.

Gregorach, it was in 1984; nobody was recycling electronics at the time. These days I'd do something more responsible, I promise.

Mthierauf, I'm firmly opposed to central planning. It invariably benefits the rich and politically connected at the expense of everybody else. As for capitalists, the American variety these days aren't evil, just dumb as bricks -- as I pointed out in my post, pursuing short term profits at the expense of long term survival is not very bright, now is it?

Gregorach, I'll keep that in mind!

Zach, the Episcopal Church has massive problems of its own -- in some ways it's got all the drawbacks of being a liberal denomination and very few of the advantages. I'm simply thinking of the people I know in the independent sacramental movement, who have an extremely lively, flexible, and increasingly popular scene operating out of living rooms and rented spaces, having ditched the dogma, politics, and hierarchy and focused on the sacraments and personal spiritual experience. It's always seemed to me that that's a model liberal denominations could follow.

John Michael Greer said...

Don, that's rich. I've long thought that we were very close to the point at which people would be famous just because they were famous, and would-be celebrities would compete for being famous just by acting like celebrities rather than by doing anything worth celebrating. Apparently we're now there.

Ghung, well, when you don't have any other ideas, I suppose random symbolic gestures are better than sitting with your thumbs someplace uncomfortable.

Cvncvbn, well, that's something. On the other hand, 1.4 million sites reference the color of Lady Gaga's pubic hair.

Cathy, that's a classic. Jerry Mander's Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television may also be worth adding to the list.

Ben, thanks for the book recommendation -- and of course you're quite right; most of history doesn't make the kind of butt-viewing movies Americans like to watch.

Witter, Marie Winn years ago wrote a book called "The Plug-In Drug" about TV's narcotic and addictive effects. The best way to quit is not to have one in the house, by the way -- and make sure you have plenty of interesting things to do as an alternative.

Shawn, you know, it would really help if you would do some research into left brain/right brain issues instead of simply repeating a set of outdated popular cliches on the subject. Popular culture isn't noticeably "right brain" in any meaningful sense, and it's also -- as I pointed out in my post -- manufactured for the sole purpose of making money; that's the source of its mindless vacuity. As for Twilight, well, let's just say I'm not a fan and leave it at that.

Lewis, I have reams and reams and reams of good memories from the old Seattle downtown library, and the day they leveled it left a hole in my life. My wife and I left town for good not much more than a month after the new monstrosity opened; that wasn't the reason, but I was just as glad.

Stephen, it could indeed -- but I normally save suggestions so unspeakably radical for Druid email lists, where you can say such things out loud!

sgage said...


"Your viewpoint to just turn the tv off and walk away is, to me, akin to a Democrat saying it's time to just turn the Republican view off and not pay attention to it anymore. Is that really going to work?"

That is really an absurd analogy. It doesn't really make sense on any level. It seems like a rationalization to just stay immersed in pop culture.

sofistek said...

JMG, if there were no deity beliefs, there would still be non-theists - in fact everyone would be non-theists. Yes, I cringe at some of the things Dawkins gets up to but at least he has detailed, in the rational way you do in this blog, the reasons why he would like to see an end to religious indoctrination.

In the end, militant anti-theists are only so because of theist beliefs, not, I think, because of their own non-beliefs. I don't think one can say that militant theists are only militant purely because of the beliefs of others, they have the word of their gods driving them on, instead, telling them that all people should live in one particular way. Of course, that way is different for each brand of theism.

I find it odd that you regard religion as an off-limits subject, when you are happy to plough into lots of controversial subjects and give your considered opinion on them. But religion you castigate and praise equally, but offer no real overall opinion on any of them. Is it part of our lives or not? Theistic religions generally place humans at the pinnacle of creation and as the dominator of all the rest of that creation. This narrative is, surely, partly the cause of the predicament we now face. To pre-empt a possible response, yes, there are certainly atheists who probably feel humans are the pinnacle of evolution, too, but that is not a core belief of atheists and is, in theory, subject to alteration by rational argument (i.e. if evolution is understood, it is clearly not true that humans are the ultimate evolved organism). Religious beliefs are not subject to rational argument.

Karen said...

Dear Mr. Greer,

All I can add is that two years ago we were on a two week vacation, no tv, no cell phone, no computer, we did not miss them. We came home, got rid of the tv in the living room, disconnected from the tv service and are doing just fine.

My cell phone is now "offline" after the work day and off on weekends. After the work day, no computer (unless it is to read your blog).

Everyone who visits, always ask where is the tv but what is most alarming are the children. They cannot imagine a house without a tv in living room and suddenly find themselves forced to find other ways to entertain themselves.

I do not miss it and have more than enough to keep me busy with my other interests and activities.

Unknown said...

JMG, your brief comment to Avery about "the Gospel according to Carl Sagan" immediately made me think of Huxley's Brave New World and the phrase "in the year of our Ford". I look forward to your comments on Sagan.

John Michael Greer said...

Sofistek, religion isn't all that relevant to the project of this blog, and it's become such a hot button issue in the US that I've chosen to leave it out of the discussion here in the interests of encouraging better conversations. As you probably know, though, I'm not at all sympathetic to atheist ideas; as the current head of a religious organization, and the author of a book arguing for polytheism as the best explanation of human religious experience, I'm arguably further from atheism than most people you'll encounter. I'd also caution you on drawing too many of your assumptions about theism on the basis of the Abrahamic religions; outside that very narrow sphere of religious traditions, a lot of the comments and assumptions you make (for example, humanity as the pinnacle of creation) simply aren't true. Still, that's a discussion for a different time and place.

Karen, tip of the Archdruid's hat to you! That's very good to hear.

Unknown, stay tuned!

siddrudge said...

When I'm really mindful about reading - - the very act of reading itself - - where I invite a writers thoughts into my head; a voice that might be centuries old but still potent; playing fresh with my emotions, to the point of changing my opinion, my mood, my very chemistry- - I am struck by the intimacy of the act - - where printed matter meets gray matter. What magic transpires there? What other human interaction can possibly compare?

We need to cultivate a reverence for this mysterious process and selfishly guard that hallowed place where thoughts converge, merge, gestate and sort themselves into ideas and action.

And then I consider the awesome power we mindlessly hand over to television. Make no mistake, these products are ubiquitous because they're incredibly effective in the ability to sway minds . Bad enough for adults -- impossible for children who are like raw meat for those in the shadowy business of persuasion.

Perhaps words have worn themselves out for humanity. Perhaps a new way of communicating will emerge someday that can cut through all the blather and reveal truth -- pure unadulterated truth.

For me, at this "Twilight of Meaning," there is nothing so beautiful as a person in possession of his own mind.

Lance Michael Foster said...

JMG, do you have any recommendations for books on agricultural magic?

Don Mason said...

Re: Ayn Rand and Frazzled American Political Incoherence

JMG wrote in a response: “…one of the useful habits passed down in the modern Druid tradition is the idea that any binary is always in need of a third factor to bring it into balance.”

Over the years, I’ve definitely found this to be true.

Back in the 1960’s, when I was 16, I read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”.

My brain exploded. It was the greatest book I had ever read. I couldn’t believe how many things I could see clearly that had confused me before.

I learned that the rugged individualist as a capitalist entrepreneur could overcome all obstacles to increased production.

I knew that I would never look at the world the same way again, and that I would be an Objectivist for the rest of my life.

Then I turned 17.

I learned about Karl Marx, Mao Zedong, and Peter Kropotkin.

I learned that the people united in socialist solidarity could overcome all obstacles to increased production.

Then I read Aldo Leopold; Ivan Illich; and Meadows, et al.

I learned that Ma Gaia puts very strict limits on growth: that neither the rugged capitalist entrepreneur nor the people united in socialist solidarity could overcome all obstacles to increased production.

Life was more complicated than I had thought at age 16: there’s individual freedom over here, and the needs of the larger society over there, and the whole game is played out within very strict environmental limits. And if you screw up, somebody dies – and maybe that somebody is you or someone you love.

For me, the Objectivist/Libertarian perspective of Ayn Rand formed a duality with the Socialist/Anarchist perspective of Marx/Mao/Kropotkin; and adding the third perspective of Environmentalism/Limits to Growth helped bring a necessary balance.

I find it impossible to analyze any major issue without using (at least) these three perspectives.
But it’s very hard to keep three radically different philosophies in your brain at one time.

Decisions, decisions.

- Continued Below -

Don Mason said...

- Continued from Above -

Today I ran across a New York Times article that summarizes some research about human decision- making: people develop decision-fatigue.

When faced with making too many decisions, the human brain becomes dysfunctional. The person reacts in one of two ways: he either makes a rash, impulsive decision; or he just shuts down and doesn’t act.

When suffering from decision-fatigue, a person often takes whatever solution is offered – no matter how inappropriate - just to avoid forcing his exhausted brain to make another decision. (Interestingly, this decision-making process is improved if the person gets a quick charge of sugar, since the brain runs on glucose.)

In our hyper-complex society, Americans today are forced to make many complex decisions quickly: they drive a car at 60 mph rather than plow a field with a mule at 3 mph.

If you have to keep (at least) three different world views in your head in order to make a political decision that has any hope of making sense, then it’s easier for most Americans to just parrot whatever the TV talking heads are blathering about: the predigested corporate version of either the liberal Democratic Party line or the conservative Republican Party line.

It doesn’t require the average American to make yet one more decision. They have already decided that they are a liberal Democrat/conservative Republican, so any political message immediately fits into the proper left/right slot without further thought.

So Americans can just sit on the couch and stare at the tube eating Ho-Ho’s and get on with the important work of getting really, really fat.

No further decisions necessary today.

Obviously, decision-fatigue isn’t the only political problem we’re facing. But it might be one small aspect of the puzzle.

It does imply that calming down the average American’s brain might help.

As John Prine sang forty years ago: “Blow up your TV…”

If this link doesn't work,it’s from the site for 8-19-11

Cloud said...

@Bill & JMG

As you are my two favorite commentors on this blog, I just have to say I'd really like to know how men could feel emasculated in the current culture of super star military action figure domination and gangsta rap... Is it just a subconsious premonition that it is too much to ask that any real human male live up to this? I've read all the 'men raised by single mothers' stuff, what's the problem now? I could understand 'performance anxiety', but emasculation? Come on!

Cloud said...

@Bill & JMG

As you are my two favorite commentors on this blog, I just have to say I'd really like to know how men could feel emasculated in the current culture of super star military action figure domination and gangsta rap... Is it just a subconsious premonition that it is too much to ask that any real human male live up to this? I've read all the 'men raised by single mothers' stuff, what's the problem now? I could understand 'performance anxiety', but emasculation? Come on!

My donkey said...

The pairing of motor oil with Marmite made me laugh out loud; the color and consistency of motor oil (especially used oil at 20 below zero) can be indistinguishable from Marmite.

I also imagine the pair fitting neatly into the title of a lighthearted book that discusses the succession of alternative energies/fuels available in a post-carbon world... "From Motor Oil to Marmite: Transition is a Many-Splendored Thing"

Shawn said...

John Michael,

You call my right-brain/left-brain comments cliche, as if telling people to turn off the tv and read a good book isn't cliche? That's been said for decades. Or, that people create popular culture to make money. Of course they do. Or reading a book older than you are. That's been said for as long as I've been alive.

I'm suggesting that there's a lot going on with popular culture that's important and shouldn't necessarily be dismissed just because you don't see it that way.

In the title of your post, the word "Twilight" is used, and it evokes a great deal of meaning on its own because of the meaning of twilight. You're addressing an important issue and you find the word "twilight" resonates with it, right? The popular culture series of the same name bears the same significance, just with a very different and very modern dialect. I'm not saying anyone has to be a fan, just that if people watch it from the perspective of what "twilight" means, it's very revealing -- but it's just spoken in a far more right-brain fashion. The symbolism of vampires is entirely apt, since in myth they come out at twilight, and I've read many of your blog posts in which I hear the same theme (the vampiric nature of the modern world) just expressed differently, expressed your way through your eyes. My point: it's the same theme. I can see the same points in the "Twilight" series that you address in your blog.

Popular culture is not as mindless as you make it out to be; it's just a different kind of mind and a different kind of voice.


Brad K. said...

@ siddrudge,

"where printed matter meets gray matter. What magic transpires there? What other human interaction can possibly compare? "

I believe that there is a spectrum,
beginning on one end with noises and gestures, progressing to body language (interpretation of gestures) and words (interpretation of sounds). Next comes dialog, conversation, then story telling.

The written story might fall on either side of story telling, depending on the skill of the author. Then comes poetry.

Each progression becomes increasingly expressive and increasingly dense in information.

Yes, reading is an intimate act. Storytelling, in oral traditions, is also an essentially intimate act. Almost all communications, before the advent of texting and email, are to some extent, a close tie between speaker and listener.

We learn to cherish those that share more with us.

hadashi said...

It's certainly worth reading down to the final comment.

@siddrudge Your words are worth framing, or at the very least quoting. May I?

@Don Mason 'Decision fatigue' - now I know what I have, although those Ho-ho's sound great. Amusing whenever I see Americans list brands of candy as if they are real foods.

and to JMG, thanks for allowing us to banter comments between one another, and for the latest, greatest game in town: predicting your next essay topic.

Justin said...

"The challenge is always one of figuring out what I can get paid for that doesn't amount to whoring my pen."

Have you thought about self-publishing some of the fiction books you've written and shelved? If you price an ebook at 2.99 on amazon, your royalties are 70%, and from what I understand 2 dollars a book is far more than most authors get. You only get about half that if you book is priced under that.

There are a number of independent authors that have had quite a bit of success, and if you have books already written, it doesn't cost anything to put them up. Granted you probably won't sell hundreds of thousands of copies per year unless you start writing YA vampire romance like Amanda Hawking, but I for one would love to see more of you fiction available, and I'm sure there are others.

Jason said...

JMG: Marie Winn years ago wrote a book called "The Plug-In Drug" about TV's narcotic and addictive effects.

Don't forget Harlan Ellison's The Glass Teat on the same subject -- and he's written for TV too!

I'm a good deal fonder of Plotinus and Proclus, who had the great good sense to ditch Plato's politics

Sure, although his description of how democracy becomes tyranny is still as worthwhile as ever I think.

On Proclus I'd like to recommend this site, Henadology by Edward Butler, if you don't already know it. Some of the most luminous Proclus scholarship and thought you'll ever see.

Don't get me started on the teletubbies!

Mister Roboto said...

and oozing a fetid layer of movie, toy, and video game tie-ins from all orifices,

Seriously, though, the cartoon I mentioned in my original comment ("Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors") was in at least some ways illustrative of the sort of thing you describe in this post. The cartoon was created to support a line of toys that Mattel, Incorporated was attempting to market in late 1985, which was pretty crass considering the toy-lines are usually created to support a media-based entertainment, for example the Star Wars toys every Gen-Xer can at least recall being advertised on television.

The creative people who were paid to make "JWW" into a cartoon-show actually did a halfway-decent job of turning it into something somewhat interesting and watchable. Back then, there were still some drops of real creativity remaining in the system. But however much the elementary-school kids of the Eighties might have appreciated "JWW", they didn't feel compelled to ask for the line of toys for which the series was created as Xmas presents. So when the sales figures for these toys proved to be disappointing, the cartoon-show was cancelled after just half a season of daily episodes. The whole crass thing, IMHO, really shows how the Eighties were the begining of the end with regard to the the unfortunate cultural trend about which you write here. Probably the only reason I find "JWW" even a little bit interesting is precisely the fact that it is such a relic of that misbegotten decade, and people in our culture do tend to be fascinated by the decade immediately prior to their age of majority.

Stu from Rutherford said...

Thank you.
I've been lurking on web blogs for ten years now and have not left comments before. I do not know why.

I've been very impressed with this blog for some time but only in the past few weeks started reading it *here* instead of a republishing point.
The comment stream here is the best on the web, so I'm breaking my "silence" to compliment everyone in this discussion for their hard work.
After I figure out the ins and outs of leaving comments I'll try to say something intelligent.
Whoever mentioned "The Machine Stops" last week - thanks; I just read this fascinating story for the first time.
This essay in particular is extraordinary; I not only want to survive during this century, but also to understand the world around me and this is very helpful.

Tony said...

Having moved two weeks ago to a city which, while not exactly as small or highly walkable as Cumberland, is a fair sight more human-sized than the sprawling Washington D.C. suburbs where I grew up, I have been scouring my new area for used bookstores. Much to my delight, I have discovered a cluster of no fewer than three wonderful places within 4 miles of my new place. One of them, cash only, has the most extensive collection I've ever seen of old medical and electronics guidebooks from the first half of the twentieth century, and an extensive history and mythology section. Inspired by recent posts/comments here, I wound up purchasing a copy of Bulfinch's Mythology, and a book on Spanish expeditions/conquests in Mesoamerica and what is now the American southwest in the 16th and 17th centuries. They've entered my reading list, as soon as I get through its current pre-existing pile (another one of those people always carrying a book around here).

As for trying to publish things that large publishers won't go for... someone previously mentioned self-publishing e-books, but I think there's a similar option for actual print books. A company,, exists which will take an electronic manuscript and make it available to buy on their website. Upon someone purchasing a copy, they will print said copy on demand, bind it, and mail it out, the company and author each getting a cut. As near as I can tell there are some upfront overhead costs - the time to prepare the manuscript of course, and money for extras like cover design and formatting if you want it (but I think you don't have to use them). I've bought niche-market books from there which couldn't get traditional publishers (and one that was outright rejected by about 6 publishers as unpublishable). Might be worth looking into – not exactly stable in the longer run, but it exists now and could get print versions of some of your ideas out into the hands of those that want them and know they are to be had. Might be able to make a little money off those shelved science fiction manuscripts too - I know I would buy one, having read The Fires of Shalsha.

Bill Pulliam said...

Cloud - it's the loss of conventional masculine roles at home and in society, primarily because of economic reasons. None of the men who live in my hollow have jobs, with their experience in various construction-related trades. The typical American male is heavily defined by his job. Take away the job and you take away the masculine identity. I think hypermasculinized super heros and gansters are an attempt at fantasy escape from the reality of being dependent on others to support you instead of you supporting others. Like everything else in the present day, image is used to attempt to substitute for unsatisfactory reality.

Bill Pulliam said...

On the analogy between TV and addictive drugs...

Drug-war and anti-alcohol propaganda aside, there are many people who are able to enjoy occasional indulgences with no tendency to addiction and no ill effects on their lives. This is even true for some of the supposedly "most dangerous, instantly addictive" drugs like nicotine and cocaine. Based on what I saw in college in the 1980s, the large majority of people who used cocaine (i.e. the large majority of people) never even got close to becoming addicted to it. Similarly, there are likely far more perfectly healthy occasional drinkers than there are alcoholics.

I think you need to allow for individuality in relationship to pop culture and TV as well. It's kinda silly to think that anyone who dedicates a small amount of their recreational time to watching a few selected series and some DVDs is rotting their brain and destroying their relationship to all that is truly worthy.

Where did dissensus go on this issue? This blog is not generally big on promoting "one-size-fits-all" fixes.

kayxyz said...

@JMG: I never realized Alan Greenspan might be talking to medical doctors only. Good point. I used a 60K nest egg to retrain in health sciences as fast as I could, earning a two year degree in 2006. From then to now, I've spent at least 15 months or so unemployed. Some days I wish I still had the 60K next egg. Too late. At least I know rudiments of farming and have land to fall back on...Completely agree with your wonderful essay. To me, Repubs and Demos cannot talk to each other. I know 3 unemployed Republican males, and they still think "tax cuts create jobs." I think in their macho way that can't admit they're wrong. I look forward to your essay next time.

John Michael Greer said...

Siddrudge, maybe it's because words are so large a part of my life and work, but I don't think we've worn them out; I think we've briefly allowed ourselves to be dazzled by flashing lights and gewgaws, and will be coming back to our senses by and by. But we'll see.

Lance, the best source I know is a new course by trad astrologer Chris Warnock; it's not a subject given much attention in recent years, but that seems likely to change.

Don, that's a great story. With regard to the Ho-Hos and all, though, have you noticed that the more obsessive Americans get about obesity, the more obese Americans get? There's an intriguing feedback loop there, too.

Cloud, action heroes and gangsta rap fill essentially the same role toward men that Playboy bunnies and Miss America pageants play toward women. Please look more closely.

Donkey, I have to say that I find them about equally palatable!

Shawn, I didn't just say that you were repeating cliches; I said that you were repeating cliches based on shoddy popularizations of outdated brain research. As for the value of popular culture, well, obviously I disagree with you; your claim that consuming shoddy commercial product manufactured and marketed for the sole purpose of emptying your wallet is somehow good for you, to my mind, is like claiming that a regular Friday night hookup with a streetwalker is the same thing as a successful marriage. Still, by all means do as you wish; just don't expect me to follow, or to refrain from rolling my eyes.

Hadashi, I try to be entertaining!

Justin, I'd thought of it, but none of my old SF novels are in electronic format; all of them were written in the 80s and very early 90s, when publishers still wanted a typed copy, and that's the form they're in. They would also take a great deal of revising before I'd be willing to have them seen in public -- a quarter century of hard work as a nonfiction author has taught me more than a little about prose style!

Still, if I ever manage to get something close enough to a bestseller to clear what's left of my debts and take it easy for a while, I'd like to revisit some of them, and I also have several new novels I'd like to have the time to write: an anti-Tolkienesque epic fantasy, a rather philosophical piece full of sex and violence set in ancient Egypt, and the one I'd really like the time to do, a five volume science fiction epic sprawling over three centuries or so in Dark Age America. We'll see if I get the chance to do one or more of those.

Jason, oh, granted, Plato still has plenty to offer. I simply find the Pagan Neoplatonists more thoroughly rounded; they and their predecessors had the time to work through Plato and get the bugs out. Thanks for the Proclus link!

John Michael Greer said...

Mister Roboto, understood -- and it's an interesting and unpleasantly familiar story.

Stu, welcome to the conversation! I've been talking about "The Machine Stops" on this blog repeatedly for years now -- I first read it in my teens in an anthology of old SF, and found it compelling stuff, even though the internet (which really put the icing on the cake) hadn't been invented yet.

Tony, that used book store sounds worth a trip -- where are you located? As for Lulu and all, my t'ai chi teacher in Ashland used that approach to get his book on t'ai chi into print, and had fairly good results. For the reasons I mentioned in my response to Justin, though, getting my old SF and fantasy into print won't be a fast process or an easy one, and I'm frankly more interested in using the time for new projects.

Bill, I know perfectly well that I'm shouting into the wind on this one, and that nobody who hasn't already decided to scrap their TV is going to pay the least attention to anything I say on the subject. Please allow me my occasional extravagances!

Kayxyz, and of course it hasn't occurred to them to notice that the US has been cutting taxes for decades now -- we pay a small fraction of the taxes, corrected for inflation, that we paid in 1960 -- and every tax cut has been followed by further losses in jobs. Faith-based economics is not a good thing.

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