Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bringing It Down To Earth

We’ve covered a lot of ground in the last two months or so, and at this point I want to summarize the territory thus explored and link it back into the core of this blog’s project—the search for a realistic understanding of the troubled future ahead of us, and a meaningful way to respond to it. One crucial part of that response, I’ve suggested, relates to that tangled realm where consciousness meets the unconscious drives that shape so much of our experience of the world: a realm that contemporary thought addresses, however incompletely, through the science of psychology, and that the older lore of magic approaches in a much more comprehensive and potent way.

That latter lore is only one part of the toolkit we’re going to need to deal with the storms to come, but it’s an important part, and it’s well suited to deal with issues most of today’s proposals for the future leave unanswered. Much more often than not, peak oil, anthropogenic climate change, and most of the other symptoms of our civilization’s head-on collision with planetary limits to growth are treated as technical problems that can be addressed with technical solutions. Bookshelves around the world have accordingly been piled to the breaking point with proposed technical solutions. Some of them are basically handwaving, others are attempts to shill for one or another industry or political movement, but a fair number are serious proposals that could do at least some good if they were put into effect.

The difficulty, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, is that none of these plans are being put into effect, and there’s no good reason to think that any of them will be. Quite the contrary: by and large, modern industrial civilization is moving the other way, following the same trajectory of overshoot that has terminated the history of so many other civilizations. What’s more, we’re not being dragged down that road, or forced along it by the pressure of circumstances; by and large, we’re going that way with whoops of enthusiasm. When the United States abandoned its last real attempt to head in the other direction, in the early 1980s, the collective sigh of relief must have been audible on the Moon, and anyone who didn’t join in the stampede along the road to overshoot—and I can speak here from three decades of personal experience—came in for a spectrum of nasty responses, ranging from spluttering abuse to scornful pity, from pretty much anyone else who noticed.

That is to say, it’s not the technical dimension of the predicament of industrial society that matters most just now. It’s the inner dimension, the murky realm of nonrational factors that keep our civilization from doing anything that doesn’t make the situation worse, that must be faced if anything constructive is going to happen at all. In a civilization that’s spent the last three and a half centuries trying to pretend that this inner dimension doesn’t matter, it was a foregone conclusion that most people’s inner lives would end up an unholy mess. It doesn’t help matters at all that plenty of political, economic, cultural, and religious interest groups, some of them with prodigious resources at their beck, have put a very large fraction of those resources into schemes to manipulate people’s minds using any number of nonrational hot buttons, in order to maximize their own wealth and power.

An effective response to this predicament, as I’ve proposed here, involves several unfamiliar steps. The first of them is to get out from under the collective thinking of our society and the manufactured popular pseudoculture that holds that collective thinking pinned firmly in place in the minds of most people, so you can make your own decisions about what goes into your mind, instead of letting huge corporations ante up millions of dollars to choose for you. (It still amazes me how many people never wonder why what appears on TV is called "programming.") This is a challenging task, made even more so by the blank incomprehension and active hostility of those who are still down there in the belly of the beast, but the payoff is worth it. The problem with thinking thoughts that you’re told to think by others, after all, is that the people who tell you what to think are doing it for their own advantage, not for yours; think your own thoughts, and doors open before you that the thoughts you’ve been told to think are meant to keep tightly shut.

The second step is to learn how to get along with the nonrational side of your own inner life. There are any number of ways to do that; various schools of psychology, philosophy, religion and magic all have their own toolkits for this kind of work, and what appeals to one person is certain to repel somebody else. I’ve discussed a handful of useful mental tools, drawn mostly from one tradition in which I’ve had some training, and they may be enough for those readers who don’t feel any attraction to the more intensive work on offer from the schools just mentioned. Those who do feel such an attraction can find more detailed guidance in whatever tradition they choose to study and, more importantly, to practice.

These two steps provide the neglected mental dimension that’s so often missing in attempts to deal with the future bearing down on us. Without them, with weary inevitability, proposals for change end up gathering dust on the overloaded bookshelves already mentioned, if they don’t simply mutate into yet another excuse for business as usual. Einstein’s famous dictum—"We can’t solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them"—is true, but it’s only part of the whole picture. You can change your thinking all you like, but if you don’t deal with the nonrational factors that drove your previous thinking, your brand new thoughts are going to head in the same old directions. Only if you distance yourself from the thaumaturgy that predetermines so much human thinking, and then come to grips with the mental automatisms and unthinking reactions within yourself, that you can pick the locks on what Blake called "the mind-forg’d manacles" and choose your own path.

Once all this is done, though, there’s a third step, which consists of bringing the work you’ve done down from the realm of mental phenomena into the realm of everyday life. That’s an essential element of magical practice, by the way; it’s a core teaching of the old occult philosophies that your magical work, however deep it may reach into the innermost realms of consciousness, has to be brought all the way down to earth, and anchored right here in the world of matter by an appropriate action on what occultists like to call the material plane. Put more simply, in magic as in anything else, it’s necessary to walk your talk, or the talk dries up into excuses and goes rolling away like tumbleweeds in the wind.

One question that needs careful consideration, though, is how to walk the talk we’ve been discussing over these last few months—or, to put the thing in more explicitly magical terms, how to choose an appropriate anchor for the movement of consciousness I’ve tried to set in motion in the last two months of blog posts. The careful consideration is essential here for several reasons, but the most important of them is that contemporary culture is well stocked with bad advice on this subject.

Thus it’s a very common notion, when the issue of walking your talk comes up, to think that it’s enough to engage in activism—in other words, to walk your talk by insisting that the government, or the big corporations, or other people in general, get out and walk theirs. Activism has its place, to be sure, and potentially an important one, but activism only matters if the people who are doing it have already followed Gandhi’s advice and become the change that they wish to see in the world. When that first necessary step doesn’t happen, activism fails. Those of my readers who have watched the self-destruction of the climate change movement have already seen how far activism gets when the activists show no signs of accepting the limits that they hope to impose on others.

Beyond that, there’s another problem with activism in this context, which is that it amounts to demanding that somebody else do something. There are times when this is an entirely appropriate thing to do—when, for example, it’s precisely the actions or inactions of a government or a corporation that need to be addressed. Not all the difficulties that beset a modern society come from such causes, though, and when a problem is actually being caused by habits of thought and action that are shared by everyone—even when some people engage in them more, or more profitably, than others—trying to make a handful of the worst offenders take the blame for everybody is not an effective strategy. Nor is it any more helpful to insist that a few people, however rich and powerful they may be, are to blame for changes that have their origin in factors entirely outside of human control.

The Occupy Wall Street protests that are still struggling gamely on as I write this, despite a rising tide of police repression, have fallen into both these latter traps. Though the culture of larceny that defines Wall Street these days amply deserves criticism—not to mention the legal charges of racketeering and fraud that the Obama administration has steadfastly refused to file, even in the cases that most stridently call for it—the misbehavior of bankers and stockbrokers doesn’t actually have that much to do with the decline of the American economy that has deprived a great many of the OWS protesters of the chance to earn a living. Central to that decline is, first, the unraveling of the American global hegemony that, until recently, funnelled some 25% of the world’s energy resources and 33% of its raw materials and industrial product to the 5% of humanity that lives in the United States; and second, the ongoing depletion of those same energy resources and raw materials, which is ending the abundance that made the American lifestyle of the 20th century possible in the first place.

No amount of protesting is going to refill the once vast and now mostly depleted reserves of cheap oil and other resources that gave America its age of extravagance, nor is protest going to do anything to stop the decline of America as a world power or the rise of competing powers. Blaming the results of both these processes on the manifold abuses of Wall Street is not going to help the situation noticeably—though seeing bankers and stockbrokers doing perp walks through the streets of Manhattan might do a little to restore public faith in the rule of law, which has taken quite a beating in recent years. Most Americans, ignoring these realities, still insist they are entitled to a standard of living that neither their country’s faltering position in the world, nor the hard facts of physics and geology, will enable them to have for much longer, or get back if they’ve already lost it. Until that sense of entitlement gives way to a more realistic set of expectations, nothing is going to solve the problem Americans think they have—that of finding a way to hang onto hopelessly unsustainable lifestyles—and nothing is going to be done to deal with the predicament Americans actually face—that of dealing with the end of abundance in a way that doesn’t finish shredding the already frayed fabric of our society.

Any attempt to walk the talk that we’ve been discussing here, in other words, has to begin with the individual, and has to start with the acceptance of a very significantly lowered standard of living. To return to an acronym I’ve proposed here already, any response to the future that doesn’t involve using LESS—Less Energy, Stuff, and Stimulation—simply isn’t a serious response to the downside of the industrial age. The toolkit of the Seventies organic gardening and appropriate tech movements, which I’ve discussed here at some length, is among many other things a very effective way of responding to the need to use LESS in a humane and creative manner.

By growing a garden and raising chickens in your backyard instead of buying packaged and processed vegetables and eggs that are shipped halfway across the continent, conserving energy relentlessly and getting as much as you can from local renewable sources, and sharply downscaling the pursuit of material excess in favor of a life that’s rich in experiences, relationships, and meaning, it’s possible to get by very comfortably on a small fraction of the energy, stuff, and stimulation that most Americans think they need. This isn’t simply a good thing on abstract grounds, though it is that. On the individual scale, such steps provide a margin of safety in hard times that the ordinary American lifestyle simply doesn’t have; on the community scale, those who embrace such steps are positioned to act as role models and mentors for those who decide to make the same changes later on, when the advantages of doing so are likely to be much more evident; on the wider scale, even a very modest movement in this direction, amidst the widening failure of the political and economic mainstream to do anything worth noticing in the face of the widening crisis of our time, might just possibly fill the role of a seed crystal around which a much larger movement could take shape.

Seen from another perspective, though, these practical steps also have a magical dimension: they serve to bring the changes in consciousness we’ve been discussing for the last two months all the way down into the world of everyday life. To complete the task of breaking away from the murky thinking and the tangled nonrational drives that dominate contemporary life in today’s America, it’s necessary to break away from the lifestyles and everyday choices that are produced by that thinking and those drives. Mind you, the same equation works the other way around: to make the break away from lifestyles that demand energy and resource flows we can’t count on getting for much longer—and making that break is perhaps the most essential task of the decade or so immediately before us—it’s going to be necessary to turn away from the thinking patterns and the unmentioned and usually unnoticed passions that make those lifestyles seem to make sense.

The recognition that these two transformations, the outer and the inner, work in parallel and have to be carried out together is the missing piece that the sustainability movements of the Seventies never quite caught. Significant steps were taken toward that discovery; books such as Gregory Bateson’s Mind and Nature and E.F. Schumacher’s A Guide For The Perplexed lay out much of the groundwork from which an analysis of the sort I’ve been suggesting in these essays could have been built. Some of the less intellectually vacuous movements in the alternative spirituality scene of the time were moving in the same direction from the other side of the equation. Still, it never quite came together; the engineers were too dismissive of the occultists, the occultists were too suspicious of the engineers, and when the Reagan administration came into power and hit the entire movement at its most vulnerable point—the flows of government and foundation grant money on which nearly all of it, appropriate tech engineers and New Age theorists alike, had become fatally dependent—the chance at that recognition went by the boards.

That could happen again. I’ve suggested more than once that the troubles looming ahead of us in the near term may well open a window of opportunity for the same kinds of effort toward sustainability that we had, and then lost, in the wake of the energy crises of the Seventies. If something of the sort does happen, once the immediate crisis is out of the way, there will inevitably be a backlash, and that backlash will likely wield the same tools of thaumaturgy that were turned on the appropriate tech movement in the early 1980s with devastating effect. Good intentions and idealism, it bears remembering, are not an adequate safeguard against systematic manipulation of the mass mind, especially when that manipulation moves in parallel with the desperate craving of a great many Americans to have the lifestyles they think they deserve and ought to get.

Meeting a challenge on that scale is a tall order. Still, any movement faced with a backlash of that kind can accept its short term losses, renew its commitments to its values and vision, keep on going straight through the initial waves of negative publicity, and carve out a niche from which it can’t be dislodged, and pursue a long-range strategy, knowing that the tide will eventually turn its way. With a few worthy exceptions, that didn’t happen in the twilight years of the early Eighties, but many other movements of many kinds have done it, and a noticeable number of them have passed through that stage and gone on to accomplish their goals. Whether green wizardry or the broader peak oil movement reaches that last milestone is up to the future; for the time being, though, while it’s vital that we be ready to respond if a window of opportunity does open for us, it’s even more vital that when the backlash comes, as the Who put it, we won’t get fooled again.


The Peak Oil Poet said...

"there’s a third step, which consists of bringing the work you’ve done down from the realm of mental phenomena into the realm of everyday life"

isn't "doing" (anything) and being completely one with the world in the doing of it the same thing as bringing it from the mental to the everyday?

isn't seeing them as separate the very thing we are being instructed to unlearn?

I know that you are trying to teach us to do and not talk about doing - but isn't that kindof separate?

Buddhism is really all about practice - doing.

Judaism, at least Orthodox Judaism, and the daily observance that seeks to find opportunities to make the appropriate blessings - is all about doing.

In fact it seems to me that it is only we hog-tied middle class types that can find ourselves led every which way by the "entertainment" we can consume that leaves us stranded without apparent meaning - searching for the bull while riding on its back.

Is then magic not just learning to unlearn wasteful involvement that leads to nowhere?



Not for the submissions but thought someone might like my latest science fiction short story:

The Model


ZenMouser said...

JMG, would love to hear what you think about the patent issue and/or what you view as the big hold up in terms of bringing new technologies to market. When Clinton recently appeared on TDS he stated that solar and wind are now cheaper than nuclear power. Coal, too, if you factor in coal's associated health costs.

So even if WS is not directly responsible (many contributing factors, including public-private partnerships, etc.), the anaology of diversifying our (energy) portfolio is apt. To whom would you assign responsibility for the continued monopoly on our energy portfolio? The less than freely-competitve energy market has essentially made it possible to manipulate markets for maximum profits and - at the very least - contributed to the global sense of being forced to the endure the wild fluctuations at end of one paradigm while scrambling to create the next before it's too late.

Even without knowing the details (we're all ears), one gets the intuitive sense that all that trading in futures might have something to do with it. How would you break it down & what will it take to diversify?

L. King said...

Aloha JMG:

I've been following The Archdruid Report for a long, long time and salute you for your work!

Truly, these last few posts cut to the core of the issue(s).

As I understand it, Buddhist teaching on the polarity one sees everywhere and which is paralyzing any further compromise is called The Afflicted View of the Transitory Composite. I will leave it to whomever reads this to research that further. I understand it, I think.

I astounded a Republican friend several weeks back when I told him I thought I might have found a "politician" I could trust. He looked at me quite quizzically (knowing my distaste for politicians in general) and then asked who it might be.

He was even more perplexed when I responded "Tenzin Gyatso."

He asked who that was and winced when I noted that he knew this person as the 14th Dalai Lama!

A saying attributed to HH is:

“Take care of your Thoughts because they become Words.
Take care of your Words because they will become Actions.
Take care of your Actions because they will become Habits.
Take care of your Habits because they will form your Character.
Take care of your Character because it will form your Destiny,
and your Destiny will be your Life “

Keep up the splendid work!

L. King

John Michael Greer said...

Poet, well, that's one way to go about it. It's also possible to see the mental and material as distinct, but link them up in deliberate ways. You're quite right, though, that most spiritual traditions recognize the need to make the connection with everyday life.

Mouser, er, if you get your energy analyses from politicians you're generally going to be led astray. The reason solar and wind aren't taking over from coal, oil, and natural gas is that they're not economically competitive in the real world -- whatever the fancy numbers churned out by promoters claim -- and that, in turn, is a function largely of the low net energy and very diffuse concentration of energy in sun and wind, as compared to the high net energy and highly concentrated energy in fossil fuels.

Right now the only thing that makes solar and wind viable is government subsidies -- of course that's also true of nuclear power and ethanol, just for starters. In the long run, sun and wind will be what we have when the fossil fuels are gone, but they're not a viable way to prop up our current unsustainable lifestyles -- only fossil fuels will do that.

Avery said...

JMG, this post is once again spot on the mark, and I'm amazed how you can touch on current events without letting them dominate your thinking. I recently saw news that Europe is nearing total financial collapse, and I wonder what exactly that means. What exactly could stop up the flow of goods if the earth is still giving forth and everyone is still willing to work? Well, I guess we're about to see.

In any case, this is the sort of crisis that inspires creativity, and I hope with your tools people will be able to channel that creativity into more sustainable and tougher communities.

Ruben said...

As I much as I like it, the acronym LESS is doomed to fail once it moves beyond this blog.

Several studies have found humans are twice as reluctant to lose as we are to not gain in the first place. So having LESS will be met with great pushback.

But I think you gave a better acronym in just the next paragraph:
Meaning, Organicgardening, Relationships, Experiences.

I will say, in case somebody thinks LESS can be a slogan of our secret society which will not be used beyond these walls, I have seen this tried and fail several times. First, the words you use affect your thoughts, and second, it is easy to slip up and turn someone off.

And to L. King--I just researched that quote; it was attributed to Gandhi. Perhaps it goes back further than either of them.

Draft said...

JMG - I'm a bit confused by two slightly irreconcilable preferences you have expressed recently. One is that you dislike the holier than though attitudes that come from some quarters such as San Francisco, about how they are more "green" than others, and so forth. The other is that we need to walk our talk so that others see that we do what we say. I agree that those who claim to be "green" or don't walk their talk are annoying.

But to most people I think these two preferences are contradictory. When I eat with acquaintances they are surprised to find that I'm vegan and tend to pack my own food that I grow much of myself. Mostly this is for convenience since there's little vegan food around. It's also because I can't raise animals. Just by virtue of being vegan I'm seen as a sort of weirdo. It gets worse when I'm asked why I'm vegan or grow my own food. I'm then elevated to a holier-than-thou/weirdo/threat. That's despite the fact that I am not pushy in any way.

Many trendy young people, for example, in places like New York and San Francisco have gotten into urban gardening, bicycling, making their own clothes and honey and beer and tools and so forth. And yet these people are generally annoying to everyone else, myself included. Maybe it is because they seem to be doing the "right" things for the "wrong" reasons? Or because of the fact that they are conspicuous about it? But isn't being conspicuous good?

carlosbenari said...

Zenmouser, Tom Murphy has a blog on that addresses most of your questions (and JMG already did in the last years of this one too). Good reading for engineers and others.

carlosbenari at

Raymond Wharton said...

For three years I have been working with a friend of mine on doing exactly what this weeks post discussed. Create a new way of life to live hand in hand with a new way of thinking.

We are renegade philosophers, who after a few years on the treadmill of academia decided to forge our own path. A self sufficient life style built around farming seemed like the best way to support a 'life of the mind' when we first considered the problem three years ago. Socrates recommends a simple life, the Epicureans tried to have it, the monasteries of Europe survived the fall, Nietzsche sought to be a gardener, Emerson, Thoreau, Wittgenstein became a gardener, Heidegger idealized peasants; the idea of building up from the simplest building blocks of human life a good livelihood has been bouncing around in philosophy for some time. Since that time issues like peak oil, economic instability, and the displaced peoples of the upcoming century have many times given new meaning to the project.

We have been saving money, collecting resources, learning the basics of self sufficient living (yay for wwoofing!) and continuing to reequip our mental tools kits (thanks for the recent talk on magic, I have found several useful 'tools' in those posts!); now we are getting ready to make our move and start land shopping once the weather warms in the spring.

During those three years many others have shown interest, but mostly only as a fall back plan in case their personal solution to keeping us on the track of progress goes bust, and only a few people are sincerely interested. A few is plenty to start with, forming community is nothing to sneeze at, so far as challenges to deal with go.

The final winter, waiting to make the decisive move of getting land and building a farm/school/thinkery/community looms and brings with it a restlessness, and the material realities of life often leave me with less to do that feels like a productive move then I would like.

Your way of discussing magic along side more familiar view points of philosophy, psychology, and science has been helpful in forming many useful connections in thinking to accompany the more down to earth skills I have been trying to acquire. Now thinkers from countless intellectual traditions seem to be presenting themselves with ideas to contribute to the project and solutions to some of the more entrenched mental befuddlements that I have thus far recognized. Thank you.

P.S. - I smiled when you mentioned Bateson, I was recently turned on to him. Many of his ideas have been seeping into my head, helping to connect things I would have never have thought to cross.

goedeck said...

John I just heard your appearance tonight on Coast-to-coast. I think the host had to run to keep up with you. I swear at the end of your discussion he misspoke and called your new book "Apocalypse Now" LOL.

Hwan Lewi said...

instead of letting huge corporations ante up millions of dollars to choose for you
What about the Cathedral, the great university-media-foundation-agency system which forms the underwater part of the government? You mention only the corporations, but in terms of influence on the mental plane the Cathedral dwarfs business (unless one considers Harvard and the NYT businesses — a laughable proposition, although true in a trivial sense). And the more intelligent the subject, the larger and more direct the Cathedral's influence over it. Business may work to make us want stuff, but it's the liberal arts departments that destroy the virtues and the family.

LewisLucanBooks said...

I listened to the broadcast tonight on "Coast to Coast" and then read this weeks post. Of course, the broadcast was mainly concerned with your book, "Apocalypse Not." But enough bread crumbs were thrown out there to lead interested people to this blog, the Green Wizards blog or your other books having to do with the long descent and the ecotechnic future. (As a side note, we'll know we've arrived when the spell check recognizes "ecotechnic.")

There was one part of the broadcast where you talked about yearning for apocalypse as a kind of wish fulfillment of some kind of more perfect future. But waiting around for one kind of apocalypse or another doesn't really take much effort or investment.

I had to poke around in that murky inner dimension, and not too deeply, to discover that some of my interest in peak oil is of the waiting for the apocalypse kind. Not a comfortable realization.

But I move forward with the plan to move out in the country, where I can have a garden space. Sometimes I just want to chuck it all and move into some nice senior citizens gulag. The easy path.

But other opportunities keep presenting themselves. A tight old two bedroom house (room for my aged father, if he likes) with a garden spot, overgrown herb garden and four old fruit trees in the front yard. Some drawbacks. Propane or electric heat and not much chance of putting in wood. All for $225 a month.

And yes, some kind of spiritual practice is important. I've had a small daily spiritual program for 22 years that has served me well. But it is small and I cast about for something ... more.

Yesterday was hard and sad. 12 boxes of the old life packed up and ready to hit the garbage tip early Friday morning. Money and time and waste. Oh, well. I'm 12 boxes lighter and don't have to worry about that "stuff" anymore. Going, going, gone.

hadashi said...

I've read (and no doubt many of your audience has too) the statistic of the USA being the 5% using up the 25% + 33% of the world's energy and material resources expressed as an even more startling fact: that if the USA were using up energy at the European rate then the country would still be able to export oil.

GuRan said...

Hi JMG and all,

Thanks for writing this blog, for all the considered comments, and most especially for the recent series on magic. I have to say I find almost every week an experience of light bulbs coming on and new connections made. I had some bits of my mind opened to magic years ago from some odd experiences in my own life, from Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger, and from Scott Adams of all people (author of the dilbert cartoons). Even though I sensed that there was something to this, I packed it up into a box and set aside because at the time I couldn't fit it in with the rest of my rationalist world view.

Enter Mr Greer, whose writing (especially the theory of catabolic collapse) convinces me that he's one of the clearest thinking and most rational people I've come across... who starts talking about magic! So I give him the benefit of the doubt and he proceeds to provide me with a way of understanding it that can sit comfortably in my mind along with the science and engineering. Sincere thanks, sir!

I've purchased Learning Ritual Magic and the Druid Magic Handbook - found myself reacting against the former, but the latter seems a natural and comfortable fit. I have a couple of "dumb questions", and while not expecting the forum to act as a "magical helpdesk" would nonetheless appreciate any opinions:

1. In the elemental cross part of the sphere of protection (and with directional aspects of rituals generally), should I reverse south and north as I'm in the southern hemisphere? (the fire of the sun is at my left hand when facing east, not my right)

2. It seems appropriate to me to invoke australian aboriginal gods and spirits (as they feel closer than welsh ones). Cherokee Organics you're in australia too right? Any suggestions or pointers to good sources for aboriginal mythology?

3. Would it be ineffective to invoke abstract concepts or virtues, such as truth, justice, compassion and mercy instead of gods with names?


Yupped said...

Beautiful summation, thank you.

It is indeed all about making the inner like the outer. When I look back at how so many of us climbed aboard the MORE train in the 80s (I was helping to lead the charge back then) you can absolutely see the power of the material drive backed up with mental commitment. But it's only really powerful when the mental commitment is essentially unconscious, and so goes unchallenged. I suppose it's obvious really - we'll only jump off a cliff if we don't realize we're jumping off a cliff.

I didn't start to change my approach until something shifted inside, and it was very painful at first. Reversing it takes time and perseverance, but I'm finding on this journey a level of happiness and ease that I never found in all of the stuff I accumulated in the 80s and 90s. Now I'm going to open up the chicken coop, light the stove, make some coffee and ponder how thankful I am for walking this path.

Your blog has been a wonderful resource to me in the last few years and for that I am truly thankful.

Penumbra said...

Preparations for the day have prevented me from giving this post the attention they always deserve. I will revisit it tomorrow when I have recoved from the narcoleptic effects of feasting. However I did want to take this moment to thank you for your work. I count your guidance as a personal blessing. It stands as a beacon of hope in a landscape of despair. I am so very thankful for the positive, constructive and deeply intelligent way you are helping to guide people to the new realities. I hope this day of thanks finds you and yours blessed in every way. Sincerely LKH

Unknown said...

"the core of this blog’s project—the search for a realistic understanding of the troubled future ahead of us..." Divination!!

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks for the post, I'm humbled to be able to have direct contact with you through this form of dialogue.

I spend quite a lot of time contemplating nature and wondering about how the ecology here works. I've wondered whether this is a form of spirituality?

Like you though, I'm not an activist.

It's been a weird week. Finished a massive and major project in my life (owner building my house). Lost an income stream. Had another article published. Received massive help from a neighbour and in turn offered advice to one and help to another neighbour. Must be something in the water?

Having trouble though with the gentle art of doing nothing. For a person who is normally really busy, it's very hard on me! I'd appreciate advice from anyone on the matter?

Thanks for the Blake quote too. Bob Marley was in good company then when he said, "Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds!". I don't think he was very nice to his lady friends which is a negative, although he was actually quite a good musician.

Hope you don't mind.... This is a rather shameless plug for a series I'm writing on food forests. Please feel free to have a read and leave a comment (it helps me get future writing gigs, plus the feedback is helpful for improving my writing skills). This part deals with economics, which I've made to be very entertaining. Hope you all like the title too! Regular readers may note it's origin!

Food Forests Part 1 - Ronald Reagans Day Off

I wasn't kidding, your chance humorous comment really did inspire me!



a said...

Great post. I'm getting ready to start bringing it into the real world.

I do have one technical disagreement- I believe ongoing advances in semiconductors and power-conversion electronics will continue to cheapen solar power for some decades, and thus continue to expand the part of the earth where it is cost-effective. A complete replacement for petrol? no. but enough to operate computers and communications around the world, and manufacture them in solar-rich places, if nothing else. We will probably have to be much more stingy with our use of steel as a structural material, and go to more ceramics/carbon/silicon/organic materials, and generally build things that are lighter and less sturdy.

Anyway the main thing i'm getting from your essay:

the doctrine of LESS applies to the USA. but as you say, we are only the 5%. So here's a big and painful mental leap to somewhere significant:

we, the "99%", are actually 99% of the 5%. Globally speaking, we are all the bad guys.

And accordingly, it is right and proper that we will get LESS, especially if we preach equality.

But the rest of the world at this time is actually getting MORE!

I'm thinking standard of living in third world countries, where even the lowest ranks of the working class can get cel phones, watch TV, wear cool T-shirts, not starve or get eaten, ride bikes and possibly motorcycles, ride on buses and trucks (shared with others, which is how we will do it too). Seems like that's about the per-human-being level of luxury we can afford, even if we can magically maintain today's energy/population balance. That's another reality check.

So the logical conclusion is, that we in America (or Europe or Japan) recognize that we are all the bad guys, we oughtn't try to stop our standard of living from falling. Yeah, that message sure is going to take some magic to spread (the soviets did it but they used force and look how it turned out).

Anyway, i'm concluding that we ought to help the collapse of easy-living along! If we have a chance to make energy MORE expensive, and reduce the rate at which it is extracted, we should take it. Probably the best way to do this is start some wars with energy-producing nations (Goooo 'bama!). Ok i'll stop now.

Keep it coming, JMG!

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG and everyone,

Ooops! I forgot to mention that the photo in the article is a from a small section of the food forest looking towards the chook shed and run. To put the photo into perspective some of the trees in the background are 40+ metres tall (I think that's about 130ft).



andrewbwatt said...

A good column this week. Thanks.

I have a scraps bin going in my kitchen now, and a small compost pile in the yard. My neighbors tell me it's all clay around here, so in the spring — if it looks like I'll be staying put for a while — we'll see about raised garden beds, and maybe a chicken coop if the landlady is amenable.

I wrote most of a short story, and then stopped: I found my story didn't come across as believable to me, and I needed to take some time to meditate about what I did believe about the future, and how we were going to get there. A useful exercise, even if the story didn't get finished.

In the meantime, a happy thanksgiving to you and yours!

Cherokee Organics said...

Hey Draft,

Nice to hear about your choice of being vegan. Hard work - much respect. I'm a mostly vegetarian myself which means being vegetarian at home and then whatever when out. We're all on a continuum about such things really. I'd be interested in your point of view, but I've always considered veganism to be a political choice. Perhaps it's this perception that gets you the reactions that you are getting.

When you get down to it though, we're both all on a continuum but at the same time we're all hypocrites too. For example, are you aware that Oil is actually comprised of dead sea creatures compressed and heated over many millenia? Yet I've heard vegan arguments about whether they'll purchase vinyl shoes (made from oil products) or second hand leather shoes? Go figure... It's beyond me.



Odin's Raven said...

Between the conscious and the unconscious lies the imagination.

Here's a site about the legacy of Henry Corbin

Maybe we should pay more attention to the great imaginative myths like the Grail.

ward said...


Okay, I get the main point; "You gotta free your mind instead." We have to work on the self and put that desire for praxis to work at home.

But I think you misconstrue the drive behind ows. Maybe the occupations are simply an externalized mandate for action. But there is a heck of a lot of occupiers and ows sympathizers that want corporations and their hand-maiden, the state, to take just ONE action; get out of the way.

When they do we can break the chains of complexity and privileged order (energy, currency, regulation, statute, etc . . .) and unleash the creativity to combine our various expressions of personal action as it relates to the new ecologically determined and circumscribed order. As it stands now that transition with occur in a haphazard and destructive manner.

The second reason that ows is important for the inevitable transition is in providing models and precedent for new, more democratic systems of organization, participation, and consent at the local and regional level.

As I see it, the new sensibility and a consistent expression of this new sensibility for each person is essential for an orderly transition. But ows is the vanguard of a new communitarian society.

Thanks for what you do.


Justin said...

Several studies have found humans are twice as reluctant to lose as we are to not gain in the first place. So having LESS will be met with great pushback.

Humans are also 100% likely to have subjective value systems that define gaining and losing in material terms relative to the structure of those systems. If your value system interprets a state of unsustainable consumption, likely in some form of wage slavery, with gaining and a state of sustainable and simpler living with losing, then you can change your values. Hence the advice to throw out the travelling salesman in your home, the television, and to distance oneself from the dominant culture that reinforces said value system, and to begin finding your own.

Gail said...

"No amount of protesting is going to refill the once vast and now mostly depleted reserves of cheap oil and other resources that gave America its age of extravagance, nor is protest going to do anything to stop the decline of America as a world power or the rise of competing powers. Blaming the results of both these processes on the manifold abuses of Wall Street is not going to help the situation noticeably..."
I agree with what you say but speaking as an Occupier you have misunderstood the movement. Not all, but many occupiers understand overshoot quite well, and the need to build a community that is sustainable and not based on endless growth and consumption...which is exactly what the occupations are trying to do. Furthermore, I think it is quite obvious that Wall Street, the government, the military and CIA, multinational corporations and even universities - the 1% - are for all intents and purposes one and the same. None of the them can function without the financial machinations of Wall Street, so having that be the first but by no means only occupation seems entirely appropriate.

Aside from that, an excellent summary! Happy Thanksgiving!


idiotgrrl said...

I'm going to make one comment on Stuff before we get into the high thinking and plain living, and that is the ongoing wrestling with the need to do just what you're saying, versus special needs.

Now, remember, I'm speaking as one of the generation that is not expected to survive the current Crisis Era. I know that and have accepted it, being past the 3-score and ten. However, while I'm here, some things are needful above and beyond. Some examples:

If your gums are likely to flare up without special attention, by Minerva, you get that sonic toothbrush and the precious little between-teeth heads and all the rest of that picky paraphenalia.

If your fingers develop a hard shell that cracks and starts bleeding in cold and dry weather despite lavish use of every cream and home remedy on the market and gloves besides, you don't experiment with keeping the house temperature in the mid to low 60s unless you can do handwork and writing in mittens.

And - from the serious to the risible - if you wear a Size 34DD bra, you grit your teeth and order more underwires.

That is to say, there are limits beyond which real hardship ensues. It will anyway; you don't celebrate your 6th birthday half a year before the end of World War II, or be taught by GI-generation teachers (or Lost Generation! Think Colonel Potter from MASH for a prime example)and escape knowing that.

So - like Martin Luther's drunken peasant trying to get home on horseback, one falls off on first the left side, and then the right side, and then the left side again, and call that the Middle Way. Except that the peasant could at least count on the horse having more sense than he did! So -- where do I get such a horse? (metaphorically speaking).

idiotgrrl said...

P.S. When you mention a post-Crisis backlash of Reaganite proportions, I beg to disagree. First, because I come from a perspective of the cycle of Turnings laid out in Strauss & Howe's book Fourth Turning and what happens post-Crisis is always a Recovery. Not a very good one at times, but a sound, solid one based firmly in the survivor's heartfelt "Never again!" and the steps they take to ensure that. The Reagan years were the start of an Unraveling, where the Crisis survivors are either dead, retired, or brushed aside as "standing in the way of Progress." I myself stood appalled as the lessons taught by the Roaring 20s repeated themselves in living color and 3D and nobody was listening to me.

Second is because you yourself said that after each of the Crises that mark the stairsteps we fall down, civilizations picks up and rebuilds quite strongly on what they have left. Or was it Tainter who said that? I'm quite sure it was you, though. So take heart - the true Reaganite backlash will come around much later in the 21st century than, say, 2024.

Granny Pat, yes, giving The Archdruid a good grannying here. But if you can't at my age, when can you? (And to think, mine was once called the Silent Generation! We haven't shut up in decades!)

Robo said...


Our culture is so absorbed with virtual things that we rarely get around to real actions or reactions.

Thank you again for the well ordered thoughts and carefully considered responses which are expressed here and refined in your many books.

Goat Path said...

This morning I went out at dawn with my dogs and goats. We went in the 1990 volvo that serves as my farm vehicle. 7 minutes away was the creek and 200 acres of old forest I have chosen as my home (part of a college campus). I went to some large rocks overlooking the creek and sat down to meditate.

I heard some crows and other birds. The goats loved climbing on the rocks and tried to push each other off. I threw some sticks for my dogs who enjoyed chewing on them.

I headed home an hour later, fed the goats, the dogs, my husband (who was on the computer as always). I went in the basement to my 50 gallon worm bin and harvested some of the castings for my (now indoor) citrus tree, and fed my collected discarded vegetables to the worms.

Then I sat down to read your post. I thought about Rudolph Steiner, and how he wrote a series of essays called "Bees".

It occurred to me that he must have had some way to work with the dimensions beyond rational thought- when he talks of clairvoyant knowledge, he is probably talking about his own experiences.

I decided to study "Bees" to see if I could understand how he worked with that dimension, just as I have studied Buddhist texts.

My heart is full of joy to have read your post and be validated on my choice of path, one that combines a study of magic, nature, and farming, that I have been following these past 6 years since I found you.

I no longer feel the alienation, confusion, acute loneliness that I did back then.

Chris Balow said...


I don't think JMG has criticized those who are actually walking the talk. Rather, I think he's pointing out that, while the majority of SF residents will profess "green" and "sustainable" ideals, very few of them are actually living in a sustainable way. I'm not an expert on this sort of thing, but look at the city itself: is a population density of almost 18,000/sq.mi. sustainable without fossil fuels? Sure, many of them ride bicycles--but they do so on streets paved by and for fossil fuel consumption. Is it mere coincidence that the bicycle and the automobile came into use at roughly the same historical period (late 1800s)?

magicalthyme said...

My favorite Peanuts cartoon of all time (forgive me if I get the philosophers backwards, never studied it and am trying to remember by rote):

Nietzsche says, "To be is to do"
Sartre says, "To do is to be"
Sinatra says, "Do be do be do"

My mind is so far ahead of my physical reality, I am grateful to see you put a bit of a timeline (within the next decade or so). My current minifarm was/is my hands-on learning experience, but fell very short of what I wanted and knew I would need when I moved here. Short of winning a lottery, I can't do what I need to do and can't seem to sell (even to the RE investor sharks that approached me last week and then vanished). Guess I just have to keep plugging along waiting for my breakthrough...but it almost hurts to read from people who either already landed where they need to be or have formed their nascent community and are about to pick out their land.

Ah well. Do be do be do...

Adrian Skilling said...

To pick up on one aspect, you say "those changes have a magical dimension: they serve to bring the changes in consciousness we’ve been discussing". I really feel this now after a few years of gradually living more sustainably.

Making any journey at all in the car that I could do on my bike feels wrong to my core now, and when our house is overheated in the winter it almost seems to make me physically sick I so can't stand it (I need to work on the family friction this causes). In the past I would have thought it comfy.

The other things is to get a definite thrill out of trying to live more sustainably (though I know most people feel it a burden). I feel freed by it and more resilient. I get an thrill out of making things, which grows as my skill level improves. It isn't that easy to convey these feelings to those who haven't felt it though (a point you've well made).

I need to work out a direction for spiritual change next. I will look at Buddism again, I found it too slipperly last time, may be it'll be easier this time.

VyseLegend said...

"No amount of protesting is going to refill the once vast and now mostly depleted reserves of cheap oil and other resources that gave America its age of extravagance, nor is protest going to do anything to stop the decline of America as a world power or the rise of competing powers."

precisely what I've been trying to tell people. All of the protests amount to little more than whining about not being able to have something for nothing – at least not anymore.

I struggle to think what it would take to 'awaken' the masses to that reality, or if they will simple avoid it until destitution hits. History tells us that large societies typically don't plan ahead – so I have to concur that someone needs to be ahead of the curve of the 'exodus' from the system just as they must have toward Rome's end days.

Cathy McGuire said...

Wonderful post today! Just the topics to keep in mind as I celebrate Thanksgiving with friends! I will make a longer response tomorrow, once the travelling and feasting are done, but I want to say I’m very thankful for this blog! And to all of you outside the US and our national stuffing day – bear with us as we talk turkey.

Goldmund said...

JMG, I've enjoyed reading your weekly essays for some time now and most of what you write resonates deeply with me. I'm a little perplexed, however, by your characterization of the OWS movements that have been springing up across the country (and around the world) as peopled by those who feel entitled to a standard of living we've all become accustomed to for the past several decades. From what I've observed this is no ordinary protest movement simply demanding jobs like some reinvigorated labor movement. By occupying public space and setting up permanent communities that are scaled down dramatically in terms of resource consumption it seems to me that we in the OWS movement are indeed walking our talk, being the change we want to see in the world and "sharply downscaling the pursuit of material excess in favor of a life that’s rich in experiences, relationships, and meaning" in your words. The level of brutality being directed at the OWS participants and the dismantling of their utopian encampments (not to mention the blizzard of ridicule being thrown at them by politicians and pundits)shows just how threatened the authorities- those who are deeply committed to the old paradigm- are by those who are paracticing in and helping to create the new paradigm in such an open, public and headline-grabbing manner. As imperfect as this movement is at times we should all be embracing it, nurturing it and welcoming it into the world. It is our future after all.

Adrian Skilling said...

@Ruben, I might have once agreed with you but you should read what JMG says on this exact subject in relation to "Voluntary Poverty" (renamed Voluntary Simplicity), see

The jist is that if you dress up the movement with a popular term it will become hijacked, meaningless and unrepresentative. Take this as politely as you can please, but renaming LESS as MORE is just about us unrepresentative as you could get.

Global Nomad said...


My reading list has consistently grown since I started reading your blog. Thank you for pointing us to so many rich resources.

I would love to see a core reading list that incorporates a sequential progression of development.

I realize there are many paths but it would be helpful to see the lay of the land from your point of view.

SLClaire said...

Just to remind bicyclists: in fact, cyclists were the first to work for paved roads, back in the early 1900s when cycling was big and before autos were. Bicycles of the time needed a smooth, hard surface to overcome their weight and thus the extra effort it took to ride them versus today's models. They did not have the features that make it possible for mountain bikes to operate off-road. The League of American Wheelmen (later Bicyclists) was founded to advocate for paved roads for cyclists to use ( Ironic, indeed, that their work benefited the cars that supplanted them.

Glenn said...


This is your third strike (for me), picking on OWS. I don't think any them who realize that globally they are part of the "1 %" are trying to divert attention to scapegoats. There are real villains in the U.S. society,and it strikes me that OWS is addressing distribution as well as justice. As you say, we don't think much of our government when those guilty of destroying the economy through greed are neither indicted nor tried.

And as you have said, we in the U.S. face a cut of 80% on our access to income and resources. If we don't equalize our distribution, most of us will die. I think this one thing OWS is trying to address.

It is a common place that revolutions consist of the poor, led by the disposessed middle class and rich. People are disparaging the young OWSers for being whiners who want more than they deserve. Yet they may be the disposessed middle class that lead this round. Whether it will end any better than the French or Russian revolutions is another matter.

When people point out to you that you primarily address the situation in the U.S. you have repeatedly said that since that's where you live and what you know, that's what you talk about. I'd say the same about OWS; conditions in say, Rwanda, are irrelevant to them, conditions in the U.S. are. It seems to me that you are criticizing OWS for limiting their perspective in exactly the same way you are limiting yours.

For the central topic, walking our talk. Right on. Been doing so for many years now, ever since Peak Oil finally made it onto my radar...

Marrowstone Island
Jefferson County
Washington State

Draft said...


I know what you mean. I think many vegans are vegan as a political choice and do go to absurd lengths.

There was a time when I had space for a couple of chickens and I was happy to eat eggs. I don't even describe myself to others as "vegan" in person. I just say that I try to eat only what I can or do grow, which is just fruits, veggies and the like. I am typically then asked whether I am vegan or vegetarian and then I say right now that means vegan. Basically I am trying, though not perfectly of course, to walk my talk as JMG says but it seems it causes the negative responses that I described and also might be in that holier than thou category JMG doesn't like either.

Odin's Raven said...

Here's a review of Peter Kingsley's latest work on the origin of civilization.

Kingsley believes that it is shamanic ecstasy that creates civilization: "Civilizations never just happen. They are brought into existence quite consciously, with unbelievable compassion and determination, from another world. Then the job of people experienced in ecstasy is to prepare the soil for them; carefully sow and plant them; care for them; watch them grow.....But not only are these people needed to bring new worlds into existence. They are needed to bring them to an end so as to help them make way for the new....The simple truth is that every single civilization including this western world, was brought into being from a sacred place to serve a sacred purpose. And when that purpose is forgotten, when its original alignment gets lost, when the fundamental balance and harmony of its existence becomes disrupted beyond a certain point, then nature has her way".

This seems to take green wizardry and gardening to a higher level.
The gardeners should perhaps be clearing away the remnants of the old civilisation, and seeking and planting the bulbs of the new. It requires a new spiritual impulse, not seeking to patch and extend the old, as the parable of the new patch on an old garment told us.

Ruben said...


All that you say is true, but if you are talking to someone in the dominant culture, you will be more likely to have successful communication if you don't flip their switches to the 'Off' position.


I am afraid I disagree that it is unrepresentative. JMG provided the words that form the acronym MORE--Meaning, Organicgardening, Relationships and Experiences.

MORE is the paradigm shift.

MORE is also in line with JMG's recent point that, "what you contemplate you imitate."

This is supported by Appreciative inquiry, which states:

The questions we ask will tend to focus our attention in a particular direction.

Some other methods of assessing and evaluating a situation are based on a deficiency model and ask questions such as “What are the problems?”, “What’s wrong?” or “What needs to be fixed?”.

Appreciative Inquiry takes an "asset-based approach." It starts with the belief that every situation has positive aspects that can be built upon. It asks questions like “What’s working well?”, “What’s good about what you are currently doing?”

So, by focussing on MORE, you get more of it. I believe that when you have MORE, LESS will automatically follow.

escapefromwisconsin said...

Unplugging our thoughts from the mass hallucination is a valuable message indeed, especially today considering we Americans are 48 hours away from being shown images of people trampling over themselves at malls around the country at midnight Friday in an orgy of consumerism that gets more desperate and crass with every passing year. Indeed, how else could this happen without manipulating unconscious and instinctive drives on a societal level? I'm sure my fellow Americans on this site are looking on with pity. Imagine if such impulses were channeled to compassion and temperance instead. I think this explains the current cultural preoccupation with zombies - we feel like we're living among them, and the eating of brains is a rather on-point analogy.

I think the Occupy movement was (is) about nothing more than saying that life in modern America is not all right, and that something is seriously wrong. It was simply a mass expression of discontent, and little else, but even so I think it is valuable. How to actually change things is beyond the scope of OWS at this point, but I would not be surprised if a number of people eventually do come around to the type of lifestyle you've described so eloquently here. Maybe not all of them, maybe not at first, but some will, and that's a good thing.

From an economic standpoint, it does play into Peak Oil, as it is finally dawning that once we cannot rely on eternal growth, we will need to wrestle with problems of distribution. Occupy is about people realizing that having the productive labor and taxes of the vast majority of people flowing to a minuscule wealthy oligarchy (the 99 versus the 1 percent narrative) is simply feudalism by another name. This has been covered up by the panacea of eternal fossil-fuel fired growth, and as that recedes, our declining resources will prompt more and more to seek more equitable distribution. How this will play out remains to be seen.

Finally, I think all of your readers will find this piece in the New York Times inspiring and apropos here: Thanksgiving Scripture

Cheers all,

Jason Heppenstall said...

Thank you for another great and insightful post. My Thursdays are now habitually spend chewing over the content of the ADR and reflecting on what lies ahead for us all.

Regarding 'coming down to Earth' - this is less of a challenge than most people realise. I had the happy experience of living a simple rural exisitence in Spain for a few years and it was certainly the happiest time of my life.

And taking living simply in accordance with nature a step further and committing to a ritualised practice, let's say Druidism, seems like a logical step. I recently read Schumacher's 'Guide for the Perplexed' and came away with the feeling that we modern types have been sytematically robbed of something that makes life worth living.

I suspect other readers feel a similar thing - that from Descartes on we have increasingly come to see the universe, and thus ourselves, as mere chemical reactions, albeit complex ones with iPhones. That was never going to end particularly well.

I remember a friend of mine years ago saying to me 'Isn't it great that religion is almost dead!'. The question has perturbed me ever since.

'But what will replace it?' was my gut reaction answer.

Yet it's only by reflecting deeply on the vital subjects you bring up every week that we are able to focus a powerful flashlight on the thaumaturgy that fogs our collective vision.

Thus, to sum up this rather rambling comment, in terms of coming down to Earth, LESS is definately MORE (Mindful Observation Releases Everyone) ;-)

John Michael Greer said...

L. King, I don't claim to be any kind of authority on Buddhism, so I'll take your word for it!

Avery, Europe could avoid total financial collapse by doing what Iceland did, allowing banks that have made unwise loans go bankrupt, make the depositors whole by way of deposit insurance, and draw a line under the whole affair. It's purely the fact that national governments are being bamboozled or browbeaten into guaranteeing the bad debts of private banks that's pushed the continent to the edge -- and once the defaults happen, as they will, and the banks go broke, as they will, new currencies will be issued and things will stabilize again in a year or two. More on this down the road a bit.

Ruben, I disagree. People told me that mentioning that I'm an archdruid, talking about decline, and discussing magic on this blog were all doomed to fail, too, and they've worked very well so far. I plan on using LESS precisely because nobody else dares to do so -- and I think a lot of people in this case, and in others, are ready to hear the thing that nobody else is willing to say.

Draft, I have no objection to the people in SF who actually walk their talk, and do it for its own sake rather than to prove as ostentatiously as possible just how much better they are than everyone else. It's the people who talk sanctimoniously about saving the Earth and then go on planning their holiday in Thailand, and who won't ride a bike or use public transit because it would take them thirty more minutes to get to work, that make me roll my eyes. Does that clarify things a bit?

Raymond, excellent. Yes, for the time being it's a path for the few; that may change down the road, but we'll see.

Goedeck, he did indeed. I managed not to chuckle.

Hwan, what you're calling "the Cathedral" is funded by, and thus a wholly-owned subsidiary of, the government, very large corporations, and the foundations and funds they control. I don't see it as a different thing, simply another end of the marketing industry.

Lewis, I think a lot of people who get peak oil have either a longing for apocalypse or a longing for progress somewhere down in the crawlspaces of their psyches; the key is to make it conscious and then do something more useful with the energy.

Hadashi, bingo. I'll be using that last point again in an upcoming post.

GuRan, the Ancient Order of Druids in America has a moderated email list that routinely fields questions like this -- you can get to it via the contacts page on our website at That's really the best place to ask about the details of magical practice.

Yupped, thank you! That's very encouraging to hear.

Penumbra, you're welcome! (BTW, a lot of people accidentally doublepost -- I've done it myself -- so no need to fret. Moderation catches 'em all.)

Draft said...

JMG - Thank you. That makes some sense especially about those who do not walk their talk, though I'm still confused on one point.

The line is very fuzzy between telling people about the more sustainable lifestyle one leads and being sanctimonious and appears to depend on the person you talk to. And worse than that I think many people take anyone living in a way out of the ordinary as inherently sanctimonious. I run into this frequently just from not eating meat even when I don't push anyone about it or even bring it up. Maybe this is a defense mechanism on their part. But many people get very uncomfortable or even hostile. I think to them I am sanctimonious.

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown, well, that's one way to go about it.

Cherokee, congrats on finishing the house! That's got to have been a huge amount of work; I trust it turned out to your satisfaction.

A, well, I wish I were that sanguine about solar power, but cost these days rarely reflects the real cost of energy inputs in manufacturing and sourcing raw materials, if that has to be done by renewable means. As for the rest of the world, they're getting more -- for the time being -- precisely because US global hegemony is breaking down, and with it goes the structural imbalances in the global economy that funnel so much of the world's wealth to us. How that will interface with the peaking of most of the world's nonrenewable resources is another matter.

Andrew, I've worked with clay soils before, and the answer is organic matter, organic matter, and more organic matter. If you can get fallen leaves in the autumn, work 'em in, add all your kitchen and yard waste, and anything else you can get. The more organic matter you can work into the soil, the quicker the clay is broken up into something more useful for gardening.

Raven, we should certainly pay more attention to myth -- I'll leave each of my readers to choose the mythic narratives that turn their crank.

Ward, well, I disagree. What I've seen and heard from OWS and its equivalents -- and no, I don't mean from the mass media; I don't watch or listen to the mass media -- suggests to me that the "new, more democratic systems" are the same failed tactics of manipulated pseudoconsensus that have been hamstringing activism in the US since the early 1980s; and the entire rhetoric of 99% vs. 1% was exactly what I was trying to critique in this post. Still, if that's what your heart tells you to do, by all means.

Justin, nicely put.

Gail, there again, I disagree. I'm glad to hear that some people in the OWS and its kindred movements get overshoot, but people from the peak oil scene who've visited the various encampments report quite consistently that the people they've talked to don't get it -- they insist instead that everyone could have a nice American lifestyle if only the rich weren't so greedy. Nor is it a useful strategy to insist that all your potential opponents are inevitably one and the same -- for heaven's sake, how are you going to divide them against one another (which is what every effetive movement for social change does to its opposition) if you insist that there are no differences along which they can be divided?

Grrl, good advice on stockpiling the things you need. As for the Reaganite backlash, though, I'm not a great fan of the Strauss & Howe theory -- from my perspective, they have to do a lot of lopping and stretching to force history into the Procrustean bed of their theory -- and I think it would be unwise in the extreme to assume that that sort of backlash can't happen. Forewarned, as one of my teachers used to say, is a Hindu deity...

Robo, nicely put -- and you're equally right about reactions, which are more important than I think most of us realize. How often do we really notice just how little actual comfort and pleasure we get from all the arbitrary symbols of comfort and pleasure that surround us?

My donkey said...

In the spirit of LESS, here's an idea for anyone who would rather not spend a boatload of money on Christmas presents: instead of buying material objects to give as gifts this year, how about handing out "service contract" vouchers to family, friends and/or neighbors?

The service(s) you're offering can be hand-drawn or computer-printed on plain paper or business card stock; for example, "5 babysitting sessions" (or lawn mows or snow shovelings or guitar lessons or storytelling sessions or computer cleanups or math tutorials or garden weedings etc.)

Gifts such as these cost nothing and I've found that the recipients actually appreciate them more than merchandise bought from a store. This is especially true of elderly people.

Ruben said...


Fair enough. Of course, just because some things have worked doesn't mean all things will work....

And, I would offer that things have worked very well on this blog, whereas I specified moving beyond this blog. The people who end up staying here are clearly receptive to your methods and message--I have read every post you have here. But, we have no way of knowing how many people never return, or hear the blog name and dismiss it.

There are literally thousands of studies on the importance of message framing, on the importance of who the messenger is, on the importance of worldview regarding willingness to hear new messages etc.

A good example is hope. I personally have no need of hope, and love the Dutch wartime saying, "Hope is not necessary to persevere," but research shows about half of people need hope or they are incapable of hearing the message.

I believe most people have an unspoken sense that our society is on the wrong path, that we consume too much energy, materials and life, that we must change how we live. And if you have ever run into a wall trying to talk to your friends, family or neighbours about this, you might want to try talking about MORE, not LESS.

John Michael Greer said...

Goat Path, Steiner was indeed talking about his own experiences, and he put a lot of effort into teaching people how to have the same kinds of experiences. It's intriguing stuff, and relevant to much of the work we're discussing here. Good to hear that your path is becoming easier to walk!

Thyme, Ernest Thompson Seton, who should probably be canonized as a Druid saint one of these days, had a useful mantra: "Wherever you are, with what you have, right now." Most of us are going to have to get through the next decade or so with incomplete preparations and sharply limited resources. You may just be a little ahead of the curve!

Adrian S., I know the feeling. Quite a bit of what passes for the comforts and conveniences of an American middle class lifestyle are uncomfortable and inconvenient for me, too.

Vyse, my guess is that most people will continue to cling to the fantasy that they can have a typically lavish modern lifestyle long after the last chance of anyone having that lifestyle has gone blowing down the wind with the leaves. That gap between perception and reality is going to drive some very counterproductive behavior in the decades to come, I suspect.

Cathy, thank you!

Goldmund, well, we'll see. So far what I've seen doesn't bear out what you've suggested.

(By the way, it fascinates me that when I've been expressing moderate criticism of the OWS business for weeks now, this week's post rather than any of the others has fielded the OWS pushback. It's either an interesting coincidence, or the OWS movement is gettng a good deal more sophisticated about media management.)

Nomad, that's a massive project, given the range of things I discuss on this blog. I might be able to put something together for the Green Wizardry project, but on a broader scale, you're talking about a reading list for a BA degree.

SLClaire, true enough!

Marrowstone Glenn, no. I'm criticizing OWS because, based on what I've seen and heard of the movement, it's not paying attention to the actual causes of the predicament we're in, and has instead fallen into the conceptual traps I listed. None of those have to do with other countries; all of them have to do with the direct consequences of American lifestyles on the American future.

Raven, Kingsley is an odd duck, and his writing combines some very keen insights with a tendency to hardcore binary thinking that I don't find useful.

Escape, I wish that people who use the word "feudalism" would learn something about it first. As I pointed out in a post quite a while back, it's not simply a snarl word meaning "rule by a small number of people one doesn't like." More generally, I wonder how many of the people protesting in America today would be willing to accept the huge decline in standards of living they'd have to experience if they no longer benefited from the imbalances that keep such a large fraction of the world's wealth flowing to America, and boosting their lifestyles among others.

Jason, I wish you could have pointed out to your friend that the only people who are isolated enough to believe that religion is almost dead are members of the very tiny minority of educated middle class intellectuals in the industrial world...

John Michael Greer said...

Draft, it's a touchy matter, and of course it's made more difficult in your case by the unfortunate fact that too many vegans in recent years have been not merely sanctimonious but abusive toward those of us who eat animal foods. I'm far from the only person I know, for example, who's had a total stranger throw a screaming fit in the middle of the organic grocery where we were both shopping because I had meat in my shopping cart. That's something that vegans in general are going to have a hard time living down.

Donkey, that's a good one!

Ruben, there will doubtless be tens of thousands of people trying to spin the sort of thing I have to say in ways that fit the model you're recommending, so I don't see any need to imitate them. I've found very consistently that when I go against that model, and challenge people, it works. I'm going to keep doing that.

KL Cooke said...

"Ernest Thompson Seton, who should probably be canonized as a Druid saint one of these days, had a useful mantra: "Wherever you are, with what you have, right now."

When I was a boy in the 50's, Ernest Thompson Seton's book "Two Little Savages" was one of my favorites. My mother had an old copy that included his sketches in the margins, though I think by then it was long out of print.

I find it strange to see him invoked now in the an Archdruid context, although he certainly was ahead of his time as a conservationist. If Seton, Beard and Baden-Powell could see how their organization had degenerated, they would roll in their proverbial graves.

Ruben said...


I sure hope you keep doing that.

And, except for differences in framing, that is what I do for a living. When I talk with senior bureaucrats about many of the topics you cover I can often literally see their shoulders raise and their breathing deepen, like an enormous weight has been lifted off them--they feel validated. It is like they heard voices, but couldn't ask if anyone else heard them for fear of being carted away to the asylum.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Thank you for your response to my post. I wrote it down and put it up where I can see it every day. Time to rip the skirting off the house and let a little light into the crawlspace. Chase the varmints out. Lay down a vapor barrier. Insulate between the floor joists.

Well, back to sorting and packing boxes. T-minus 2 months and 6 days....

escapefromwisconsin said...

Sheesh, that's the second time this week I've been criticised for a supposed lack of histroical knowledge in a comment. At least this was more courteous. All that time reading history books has been a waste of life. I think I'll have a bonfire this Christmas.

Yes, people tend to simply use feudalism as an epithet, much as they do with socialism (or capitalism) without knowing what those terms mean. I plead guilty - I should know better. Ironically, I've been reading a book about the transition from the Roman Era to the Dark Ages - Barbarians to Angels by Peter S. Wells (I know Late Antiquity is the preferred term, but Wells uses the former). Wells looks at the archaeological knowledge rather than written sources. When you strip away the laments of civilation ending coming from Classical sources and look at the evidence, you find that day-to-day life went on, just differently. Little actual evidence exists of massive destruction that some people assosciate with this time. Buildings were more humble wooden structures rather than monumental stone architecture, and beautiful works of art were still created. Even long-distance trade continued. Perhaps most facinating is the discovery of several feet of rich, dark humic soils all over Europe in this time period. A sign of people producing food closer to home, perhaps?

Here's just a thought for contemplation - it seems places with more equitable wealth distribution also have much more efficient use of energy. Denmark and the Netherlands are a great examples. How much of our profligacy is due to attempting to preserve status? Perhaps it means nothing; I really don't know the answer.

Susan said...

I have read that energy experts who know about such things say there is still enough mineable coal and frackable shale oil and gas in the US to provide all of our energy needs for at least a hundred years. I have no doubt that a President Perry or Gingrich or Romney would be only too happy to "drill, baby, drill" to try to get us out of our current predicament, so really, there's nothing to worry about in our lifetimes... right?

And even Obama, if he is lucky enough to be re-elected, will feel increasing pressure to do the same thing as more and more people see their energy bills go up and up, and as more billions of tax dollars get wasted on green boondoggles like Solyndra, and more ClimateGate emails come to light.

I'm sure our water filtration system can remove all those fracking chemicals before we drink it... right?

And even if we do end up ingesting some fracking chemicals, that's much more preferrable than actually having to cut back on the energy usage that makes us such a great country... right?

I wish I could move to a different planet, because this one is run by crazy people, and most of the rest of us are too caught up in the rat race to even think about making small changes in our lifestyles.

On a somewhat related note, I just finished reading a review of a new book called "Boomerang" by Michael Lewis, which explores the reasons why the financial collapse of 2008 (and other economic bubbles of the past) happened. The whole world was caught up in the frenzy, for perfectly understandable reasons. I'm afraid that our children are going to look back on the peak oil situation and just shake their heads, the same way we shake our heads at people who bought unafordable McMansions with no money down.

Thijs Goverde said...

Thank you, mr. Greer, for another great post.

Your thoughts on activism rang true with me: I walk some of my talk, but by no means all of it - and that might be part of the reason I don't engage in activism much. An instictive recognition that I wouldn't be terribly convincing.

So onward we plod, in the direction of the talk, as it were. (I'm currently looking for a plot of land to start a permaculture food forest. And thinking about a chicken coop for the backyard).

Thank you, by the way, for recognising psychology an philosophy as alternative means to the end (though I think you're selling psychology rather short, my S.O. is a psychologist and believe me: the thaumaturgy she performs is pretty potent stuff).

By the way, @ Jason:
leaving aside your mischaracterisation of Descartes - what is wrong with percieving the universe, and thus yourself, as a set of chemical reactions?
Isn't it a goal of many religions and esoteric traditions to see oneself as forming a whole with the universe, so to speak?

Really,I myself find the scientific myth a wonderful antidote to the idea that we humans are 'special' and therefore entitled to eternal progress / a comfortable lifestyle / what have you.
We're a set of chemical reactions, we're not entitled to anything, and if we want to go on being that selfsame set (more or less) we'd better recognise those very simple facts and take the steps necessary for our continued existence.

And who says a bunch of chemicals can't lead an emotionally and intellectually satisfying life?
I know for a fact that it can!

John Michael Greer said...

KL, it's rarely remembered that Seton actually founded a different organization, the Woodcraft League; it was briefly merged into the Boy Scouts, but that fell apart after a few years (that's a complex, murky story of its own); Seton relaunched his own program in 1916 and it still has some survivals today. (Interestingly, the Wikipedia bio of Seton doesn't mention the later Woodcraft movement at all.) It made room for people of both genders and all ages, and had a great many other features that might be worth reviving now. Woodcraft handbooks can still be found now and then on the used market.

Ruben, good! And of course, if you're having good results with the framing you use, by all means keep at 'em. We need as many people as possible, trying to get the message across in as many ways as possible; those who can't hear it one way may be able to hear it in another.

Lewis, happy crawlspace opening!

Escape, I'll check Wells' book out; for obvious reasons, that's a subject of great interest.

Susan, by and large, it's not the energy experts who say we have a century and more of coal and the like; it's the PR departments of coal firms, and economists. Especially economists. I'd encourage you to pick up a copy of Richard Heinberg's book Peak Everything; he covers the data about coal, and a great many other resources. I also read Boomerang, by the way -- a very lively, useful read!

Thijs, that's a great metaphor --"plodding in the direction of our talk." I'll credit you if I have occasion to use it.

Kevin said...

JMG, what resources specifically are now no longer being funelled into the United States in such quantities as previously due to a decline in American global hegemony? This is the first time I can recall you mentioning this as something that is currently happening rather than something that will happen. Is there some recent data that has brought you to this conclusion?

Hwan Lewi said...

JMG: I don't see it as a different thing, simply another end of the marketing industry.
This feels like saying 'the dog is simply another end of the tail' to me, but that's one way of looking at it. A perfectly fine way, I suppose, if one is not interested in understanding it and just rejects it wholesale!

Cherokee Organics said...

Hey GuRan,

Tough question, which I can't answer. Mostly my understanding of aboriginal culture comes through the anecdotal reports of European early settlers and explorers. Also ecological histories are an important source too. If you're interested in an historical investigation into how the Aboriginals became a sustainable culture I'd recommend reading, Dr Tim Flannery's book, "The Future Eaters". It's an easy and interesting read into the ecological history in this country.

The question is though, "Why don't we know much about the Aboriginal cultures?" - especially in the south of the country. Well, it's because disease wiped out about 90% of the population within two decades of colonisation. The remainder were rounded up and left to the care of the missionaries who were almost certainly in cahoots with the settlers as well as pursuing their own self interests. Unfortunately the missionaries weren't particularly good (for some reason) at documenting the Aboriginal cultures, society and practices.

This sort of thing is very common across the world history.



pasttense said...

Glenn said:
"And as you have said, we in the U.S. face a cut of 80% on our access to income and resources. If we don't equalize our distribution, most of us will die"

The vast majority of people in China and lots of other third world countries live on less than 20% of the income and resources as the average American--and they are not dead.

And here in the United States or whatever other advanced Western country you live in, Glenn, have you never in your life met someone who grew up during the Great Depression? They certainly lived on less than 20% of what Americans do today. And in fact those I have known seemed to have reasonably happy childhoods. They didn't feel all that deprived either back then--since all the other people they knew were in the same boat.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks. The house has taken me three years from trying to obtain the permits to allow me to build to the final inspection. This included a major change to the building regulations because of the Black Saturday bushfires right in the middle of the design process.

It's been a long haul and a massive project - especially because it is of a design that is non-standard. It works well so far, but I even had people in the alternative building community question the design - because it questioned their pet beliefs.

It's not easy doing something differently because I believe that the systems and processes that are in place within the building industry here have been captured by the big project house developers. They own and control the systems and weight them in their favour. Sad really, because any initiatives other than bigger and cheaper are layered in bureaucratic red tape and they produce such low quality housing en masse.

Still, mustn’t grumble!

As a general note to the readers here, with movements such as ows, if they were to be successful in over throwing the status quo, it would be mayhem. The reason is that few seem to be expressing their visions for a feasible replacement system. I would have thought that there is enough evidence by now that intentional communities have a very high failure rate. Why do people coming back to this theme?

The other thing is that if they were to be successful, how would your country bring in enough income and resources to maintain at least a minimal standard of living? Do they even realise what they are asking for? Any low energy future needs to put far more of a person’s effort into the domestic economy.

For example: Most people flick a switch to heat their house. I have to: fell a tree; move the saw logs; cut them into firebox lengths; store them so that they can season for a year or two; split them when seasoned; and then I have to move them from the storage area to under cover to dry out for few weeks before I can burn them. This is a huge amount of work to heat a house.

Smashing the system, means losing that switch. It's a big call and one I wouldn't make.



Cherokee Organics said...


I noticed in your comment to Gail that you mentioned the divide and conquer tactic.

It might be worth mentioning that the 1% that the ows people refer to may actually be united - galvanised so to speak - by the opposition to them. It would be a much better situation to set them off against each other. You wouldn't really want to be faced by their combined resources.



Jason Heppenstall said...

@JMG - yes, that's the response I should have thought of. Though it's perhaps forgiveable to conclude that religion is on the decline when so many churches are turned into pubs and people opt for non-religious weddings and funerals.

In Europe any politician evoking God would be labelled a wacko kicked out of office sharpish (according to Wikipedia 52% of Europeans believe in God - falling to just 20% in Denmark, where I live) - a sharp contrast to the US where it seems almost compulsory to do so (more than 90% believe in God). Maybe it's just a cultural difference...

@Thijs. Great to hear about your forest garden project. I myself am also looking around for some place to create one. Regarding being a bunch of chemicals, of course, that is what we are physically composed of. Schumacher's point (which I have adopted) is that it is taught to us that life originated from a few compounds 'deciding' to form a membrane around thmselves and replicate.

Try as I might I can't find any reasonable explantion from the scientific community about how this could have happened. The most honest admit that it's simply a mystery. So my point is that if enough people think there's nothing remotely supernatural about the existence of the universe and life within it then it follows they have no reason not to mess up our planet, like we are doing.

@escapefromwisconsin. I can't talk about Holland, but here in Denmark energy and money are fairly evenly distributed primarily because it is a small country with a very homogenous culture. Some people have even described it as being more of a tribe than a country and no politician here would ever be elected on anything other than a promise of wealth distribution equality - that would go against the grain.

It helps, of course, that it's a very rich country which has been able to quietly exploit Greenland's enormous mineral wealth without anyone noticing (everyone is too busy congratulating us on our bicycles and windmills!) and is kept afloat by the world's biggest shipping company - whose emissions are not included in the country's CO2 calculations.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hey escape,

The rich dark soils probably have more to do with the recycling of humanure. Traditionally, if you ever get the chance to look at the soil of a 19th century cottage garden, you will note that very little was wasted and the soils are deep. The whole concept of local treatment plants that are the norm nowadays are a bit of a disaster. They don't really tell you what happens if there is a flood either.... Not good for local creeks and rivers.

We can't really afford not to recycle our humanure. The whole system nowadays is like a good idea taken way too far.

I love my worm farm, nothing gets wasted here and I try to scare everyone who visits into having a peak into the system! woo scary! Actually it's almost neutral smelling (a little bit earthy) and looks exactly like a compost bay when you look into the hole.



Sorry everyone! I'm trying to take a physical break for a week or two before starting my next project. I'll stop annoying you all, promise! well, then again maybe not! hehe! Chris

kulturcritic said...

" bears remembering, are not an adequate safeguard against systematic manipulation of the mass mind, especially when that manipulation moves in parallel with the desperate craving of a great many Americans to have the lifestyles they think they deserve and ought to get."

JMG - This is the core of our crisis, as it has spread across the globe, and now infects populations in every developed and developing countries. It is functionally related to the hubris of domination and acquisitiveness that emerged with the earliest hierarchies in the ancient Near East 6,000 years ago. Our culture simply represents the apex of that consciousness, and the world (with the exception of very few outliers and extant non-civilized tribes) is driving with that self-understanding to a grand apocalypse.

hawlkeye said...

I recall a book I read sometime between Carter's sweater and Reagan's retro-grade called Muddling Toward Frugality, which could have been a manual for plodding in the same direction.

I just don't care for "plodding" with its connotations of awkwardness, cumbersome, slow and be-labored... A plodder just puts one miserable foot in front of the other, eyes on the ground and not the horizon. Granted, that's just the picture it conjures in my brain.

I much prefer "tracking" because it conveys a sense of widened perception to pick up the trail, stealth and clarity required to move forward, and a deepening knowledge of one's surroundings.

I know many readers here also track Dmitri Orlov's take on the steepness of the decline, and how it differs a bit from JMG's catabolic slide. But the most telling difference to me is the divergence of their respective remedies; idleness is NOT the antidote for over-achieverism. We really have no time to lose in learning critical skills and habits. "Do-nothing" is an industrial luxury.

Of course, most readers here understand that over-consumption as a source of personal identity is doomed. Yet I find myself deeply pondering the best use of any available resources, because there are lots of things I need to purchase before the easy supply chains dry up; tools, seeds, nursery stock, etc.

My ironic motto for such conscious consumption is Shop 'Til We Drop, a little koan to hold in mind on the weirdly, yet most aptly named, Black Friday.

hawlkeye said...

I started jousting with vegans when I learned they disdained honey and bee products, and wouldn't patronize local growers if they had a chicken coop, even though most of them made the decision to be a vegan in the supermarket. Moving from the meat aisle to the produce section doesn't cause any significant changes except in displays of self-righteousness.

But it stopped being sporting, so I quit. However, I'll throw y'all a bone here and say of COURSE industrial meat and CAFOS are heinous and atrocious. Yet the "moral" argument against eating all meat therefore, is not a very adaptive strategy.

Vegans tend to chafe when I point out that the appropriateness of a plant-based diet is a function of latitude; as long as you're in the tropics, no problem. But up here (or down there, Cherokee) in the more temperate climes, nature figured out a way to put the protein into critters that can walk around when there are no plants on the frozen ground.

I have yet to meet a vegan with a year-round greenhouse, or plans to build one, a project in which I would gladly lend a hand. "Vegetarian" and "meat-eater" are as false a binary branding as "liberal" and "conservative" and an even bigger trap among the re-inhabitors of Gaia...

Twilight said...

The last few weeks have been difficult, hard work. The “Halloween Storm” caused a lot of property damage, a week without electric power and the serious injury of one of our children (now recovering). The result for me was seemingly endless days of physical labor, a test of our ability to adapt, and a good trial run to illuminate our weaknesses. But in the end I think the simple reluctance to devote a lot of time and physical labor is often the main barrier to “walking the talk”. It also happens to be precisely the thing that fossil fuels have been doing for us.

It is well to contemplate these issues, and I think about them often in the times I spend working, but anchoring your ideas in the world of matter often requires a large amount of time and toil, and that is a step too many are reluctant to take. If there was a build of of organic soils throughout Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire (thanks escapefromwisconsin), then think of the human time and labor that went into making it.

Now I must go gather more firewood until dark. I'm way too late in the season, but there is no heating oil tank here anymore. By then I will be tired, but I will have had more time to think on this too.

Mister Roboto said...

Believe me, I remember what a trashy, no-class, dysfunctional decade the Seventies were, despite having been a mere lad at the time. I think the neurosis created by the fear of being forced to live more within our normal means had something to do with that unfortunate condition.

Robo said...

Regarding feudalism, maybe we're already there. It only takes a slight shift of perspective to see all consumer populations as the overlords and the 'undeveloped' others as the vassals who support them.

In particular, the United States maintains a vast and obscure underclass of agricultural and service workers who are kept in their place by manipulative immigration and welfare policies.

The long descent will involve a worldwide reorganization of the 'haves' and 'have-nots', and the OWS phenomenon is only an early glimmering.

Bill Pulliam said...

Goldmund re: Occupy...

You described your actions as "..occupying public space and setting up permanent communities that are scaled down dramatically in terms of resource consumption"

Permanent communities? Seriously? Whatever you may have done with your resource consumption, you have absolutely no resource production. This is neither permanent nor a community. You are a gathering, a festival, a camping trip. Your resource base is entirely what you are gifted by or brought with you from the larger economy. It feels warm and cozy, but it is just the festival fantasy that anyone who has attended any sort of alternative gatherings, rendezvous, etc. is familiar with. Crash the finance-petroleum-corporate world around you, and your "permanent community" starves and freezes within days. Here's a field mark to tell whether you are attending a festival or building a community: Which of the following is a more central activity: (a) drum circles (b) growing food. I personally enjoy and participate in both activities, by the way; but I don't get confused about their respective functions in society.

I would say keep your focus on where it started -- the problems of increasing wealth disparity and corporate corruption of social institutions. Forget the "building a new world from the ground up" fantasies; that will not ever happen on vacant lots an concrete plazas in urban centers.

nutty professor said...

Thoughtful and intelligent writing, and I am sending gratitude your way. Thank you. As a long time reader I am intrigued by the lovely green shoots of Hope that appear to be squeezing through the dense blog-soil of this post. You have made my day.

John Michael Greer said...

Kevin, the shifts are small at this point, but significant; watch the way that China in particular has been outbidding the US on fossil fuel reserves and a few other raw materials.

Hwan, no, I understood your comment; I disagree with it. By any meaningful measure, what you're calling "the Cathedral" is the tail; government and the corporate sphere, where the power and money are, is the dog.

Cherokee, exactly. A viable color revolution aims at finding schisms among the existing regime's power centers, so that important power blocs can be split off from the regime. Driving your opponents into a closer alliance with one another is a recipe for failure.

Jason, by the same standard, religion was on its way out in the late Roman world -- look at the number of temples that were being abandoned, and the decrease in oxen sacrificed to the gods! The rationalists among us fail to recognize that "religion" does not inevitably mean "the kind of religion we're used to" -- much less that their own beliefs fit any reasonable definition of that much-abused term.

Kulturcritic, oh, for heaven's sake. No, that isn't what I'm talking about, and in fact that peculiar historical mythology is something I've been critiquing here since this blog started. It's a source of wry amusement for me that so many people have to see their society as the fulfillment of some vast historical teleology, even if it's a negative one. And could we please, for a change, do without imposing black-and-white ethical dualism on the complex, messy realities of history?

Hawlkeye, it's an excellent book! Tracking is good, but for a lot of us, plodding is a more accurate description of the experience -- one foot in front of the other, repeated wearily in the knowledge that it's a long way to the goal.

Twilight, good heavens -- I hope your child makes a full and prompt recovery. That must have been harrowing.

Mister R., er, to the best of my recollection the Eighties and Nineties deserved the adjectives you used at least as much, and in many ways far more, than the Seventies did!

Robo, um, could you please read up a little on feudalism before using the word? As I pointed out to another poster not very long ago, it's not a synonym for "rule by a minority I don't like."

Professor, thank you!

Robo said...


Please correct me if I'm wrong, but it's my understanding that a feudalistic society incorporates a contract between a ruling class of landlords and a population of resident vassals who provide goods and services in return for support and protection. I do see a general similarity between this type of arrangement and the economic, political and military dynamic that currently exists between the consumer nations and the undeveloped ones. It is not a perfect parallel, of course.

Ozark Chinquapin said...

JMG said "Adran S., I know the feeling. Quite a bit of what passes for the comforts and conveniences of an American middle class lifestyle are uncomfortable and inconvenient for me, too."

I know the feeling as well. For example, I really don't like air conditioning. Even without considering its unsustainability, cost, and environmental impact, I just prefer living in the fresh air and not the stale artificial air the the air conditioners give out. It takes a bit of adaptation to get used to hot, humid summers, but I still have no desire for an air conditioner. Could say the same about TV as well as cell phones and all the other similar gadgets that have been popping up. Most people think that going witout these things is a sacrifice but to me it's a preference.

On the topic of meat eating and vegetarianism/veganism, I recently read the book "Meat: A Benign Extravagance" by Simon Fairlie, and he manages to address the subject with none of the polemics that are so often seen on this issue. He just discusses it from an environmental impact/sustainability point of view, avoiding the health discussions and for the most part avoiding the ethical discussions too. He has an agricultural backgrouns as well so can back up his ideas with experience.

Fairlie is British so focuses on what's most sustainable for Britain, but there's plenty in the book that applies to those of us in other places too. He eats meat and has the position that a certain amount of animals makes the system more sustainable and mre resilient, but that our current method of raising them is quite unsustainable and must change. He isn't against vegetarianism however, just those claims that it's always the best way for the environment.

There's a lot of useful thoughts about sutainable agriculture in general in Fairlie's book, and it's of the mindset of needing to use less energy too, no techno-cornucopian schemes. All in all, a good book to recommend to green wizards.

rylan said...

"It’s the inner dimension"

I started reading your report when theoildrum, I post under the name "ryeguy", dropped the campfire post. Campfire was a great place where as least some intelligent and thoughtful discussion could take place about the inner dimension issues.

I think this is the most critical issue we face. If our goal is to live in a peaceful healthy world major changes must happen here or likely all will be lost.

Apple Jack Creek said...

@ CherokeeOrganics: I have a suggestion for the discomfort of not being busy – consider the fibre arts. You live where wool is easy to come by, and the tools & equipment to do many useful things with it are also ready to hand. *Everybody* likes hand knit socks. Weaving is amazingly fast and actually quite simple (though it can get stunningly complex, it doesn’t have to be to produce beautiful and quite functional fabric). Felting requires no tools besides your hands and some hot and cold soapy water. I am one of those people who seems to have a bit of an overdose of Puritan Work Ethic, and knitting and the associated crafts keep me from feeling guilty about my down-time. Plus, it’s a tremendously useful skill to have and preserve, and has the added benefit of being meditative!

@ Draft: regarding the ‘vegan’ thing … perhaps you could try saying that you “avoid industrial food”. I was vegetarian for a lot of years but started eating meat again when I realized that in my part of the world, (as Hawlkeye so clearly pointed out) I couldn’t realistically manage a vegetarian local diet. I decided it was more important to eat locally, but wisely. I often tell people I only eat animals I know – which tends to get laughs, or “how could you? I could only eat animals I didn’t know” (which leads quite nicely into “nah, I’ve seen feedlots – I’ll stick with the ones I am certain went straight from pasture to butcher, thanks”). It doesn’t tend to come across as “I’m better/smarter than you” (at least not judging by the reactions I get, but then, I’m Canadian and we are terminally polite) … more like “I’m just terribly squeamish and I can’t stand the thought of feedlot meat on my plate”. A lot of people have seen “Food, Inc.” and could understand a desire to steer clear of industrial food (particularly industrial meats). Good for you for sticking with your beliefs. Oh … as for vegans and honey, you just have to get honey that was produced by free-range bees! (Yes, I saw that at a farmer’s market, loved it.)

@The Archdruid: Thanks for the encouragement (again) to do what I can with what I have where I’m at now. I have been thinking recently that although none of the little things we do in this household amount to a whole lot in terms of ‘saving the world’ (we conserve, compost, garden, raise some of our meat … but we’re still heavily reliant on the larger structures of our fossil-fuel-powered world and under no illusions of self-sufficiency) - perhaps the biggest effect of these actions is their magical ‘side-effects’. As PeakOilPoet mentioned above, one of the effects of the many rules and prayers of the Jewish faith is to provide you with multiple opportunities each day to bring God into your thoughts, to keep your faith constantly before you. Every time I put scraps out for the chickens, do the maintenance on the solar and wind power systems, open a jar of summer produce, or wash the ‘family cloths’, I am bringing to mind the fact of a low-energy future, continually repeating the counterspell “there is no brighter future ahead” while at the same time saying “but we can work with the future that is coming if we are willing to adapt”. It seems to me that not only does the mind-work have to have physical anchors in every day living, but that those anchors provide a supportive kind of feedback to the mind-work, making a nicely self-reinforcing cycle of growth. It’s working that way for me, anyway. :)

John Michael Greer said...

Robo, the model you've suggested isn't really an accurate reflection of the way feudalism works. Very briefly: first, in a feudal society, the logic of feudal relationships runs from the top of society all the way to the bottom -- dukes are the vassals of kings, while poor peasants may have other, poorer peasants as their vassals; it's not simply a relationship between one level and another. Second, the feudal relationship is always person to person, not class to class -- a given peasant, let's say, is the vassal of a particular baron, not to the aristocracy as a whole, and in fact may fight against other aristocrats in defense of his own liege lord if it comes to that (and in feudal societies, it generally does). Third, feudal relations are always mutual -- the peasant has specific rights as well as responsibilities vis-a-vis the baron, and the baron has responsibilities as well as rights vis-a-vis the peasant. None of those factors are to be found in today's plutocratic oligarchies and their international relations. I know I'm more than a little crabby about this issue, but "feudal" has come to be used as a scare word (like "fascist" -- and of course the two get used together, which is an absurdity on the scale of "dry water" or "five-sided triangle") so often these days.

Ozark, I can't stand air conditioning myself, and don't use it at home even in very hot weather. Thanks for the reference to the book! That sounds worth reading.

Rylan, I used to read Campfire fairly often and was sorry to see it go away. Welcome to the community here!

Apple Jack, it's that kind of simple, steady movement in the direction of the future that, I think, has the best chance of getting people through the looming mess. Thank you for the encouraging reflections.

Glenn said...

Pasttense said:

The vast majority of people in China and lots of other third world countries live on less than 20% of the income and resources as the average American--and they are not dead.

And here in the United States or whatever other advanced Western country you live in, Glenn, have you never in your life met someone who grew up during the Great Depression? They certainly lived on less than 20% of what Americans do today. And in fact those I have known seemed to have reasonably happy childhoods. They didn't feel all that deprived either back then--since all the other people they knew were in the same boat.

Accounting for inflation, they did not neccessarily live on less than 20% of what the mean income is now, and certainly not on less than 20% of what my family lives on.

I do live in the U.S., and my role models have been people I personally know who lived through the depression, including my parents, grandparents, and closest friends. I was also influenced by some of the recent "voluntary poverty" people I met in the mid 1980's while I was in the service.

We live below the poverty level, in less than 500 square feet. We do own 8 acres free and clear, and grow most of our own produce, but no grains, meat, oils, dairy or sugars, for which we depend on the larger economy. A reduction of 80% would put our income below $5000 U.S. per year. I don't think it would keep the three of us alive.

Should we have to make that reduction the obvious steps would be to ditch the car and the internet connection, expand the garden, clear an acre of woods for grain, another acre for pasture, and get a milk animal. That we have not yet done so is because my spouse would rather have the forest and neither of us is ready to be tied to a milking schedule yet. It is much easier to find neighbors willing to feed the poultry and collect eggs than it is to find those who know how to milk and are willing to do so twice a day.

We have ignored income and wealth distribution in the U.S. to our great peril.

Marrowstone Island
Jefferson County
Washington State
U.S.A. (So far)
11/25/11 12:05 AM

phil harris said...

I value all the comments I read here, but have lost track of the name of the person from Denmark who made the point that religious attitudes are very different in the USA comapared with much of Europe (and regions elsewhere). I think it would pay us all to read up a little on this point; not just on differences in religious attitudes, I hasten to add. I know JMG makes it clear that he is talking of the USA, but his erudition takes us back to old Empires and classical origins, to history, which is spot-on in my view. The USA unfortunately is notorious these days in thinking of itself as 'essential humanity'. (To give a ludicrous illustration, even the more sophisticated later Star Trek episodes were particularly unconvincing in this regard. Those Admirals! Those 'away-missions'!)

The USA is very different in many of its important shared attitudes. I make an unwinnable (and I can’t lose either) bet, however, that most of humanity's future will be decided not where you are, or by what you assume are shared norms. A pity in some ways: I have often been an admirer.

Here is a link with studies of American exceptionalism: worth a short meditation perhaps? The American-Western European
Values Gap


hawlkeye said...

Eating the body of an animal (or not) is less important than what comes out of the animal. Re-creating long-range local food supplies is largely a soil fertility building program, and sound livestock management is a critical tool for revitalizing played-out soils (everywhere) because manure happens.

The idea that killing an animal is necessarily an act of violence is absurdly myopic, and focused solely on the individual critter. Like so many heirloom varieties of vegetables, heritage breeds of livestock are close to the edge of extinction, and are invaluable allies to eaters in the temperate climes.

Folks who raise and serve these populations of animals as a species, as irreplaceable varieties, are doing us all a great service; they play the role of alpha through selection, and the role of predator through culling. Those heritage breeds are still on the planet only because some people have the courage to do the hard work of raising them. Which means killing and eating some of the extra males.

Seems to me all herd animals, wild or domestic, think like a group, and have long expected that some of them will be killed in the course of grazing; it's just part of the earth-deal. How many of us love animals so much that we're willing to cull some within the project of saving their species?

So I turn the vege-maxim on its head: Love animals? Eat them.

Because that's what it takes to save them. And maybe us, too.

Jennifer D Riley said...

The economy reminds me of a deck of cards that can be shuffled to produce random arrangements of 52 cards. Look at denim. Levi Strauss invented rivets and denim for gold miners. Today denim is a staple of culture, and no one is mining gold any more. Underscores JMG's statement we can't know the future.

Bill Pulliam said...

Re: feudalism -- the key really is that the power relationships are all person-to-person, face-to-face. To a first approximation, it takes the stereotypical patriarchal family organization and arranges these in a nested hierarchy (except that the connections are not necessarily defined by blood relation). Everyone has one and only one master. Corporate entities are not persons (no matter what the courts say) and they have no human face to be face-to-face with.

One of the closer approximations I have seen to a concept of real neo-feudalism (I mentioned this a few months ago) is Jeff Poppin's (a.k.a. The Barefoot Farmer) vision of one farmer supporting 50-100 happy hippies on his land. The happy hippies take care of the farm work and maintenance as needed (leaving plenty of time for sleeping in hammocks and strumming guitars on porches), and the farmer oversees the whole operation, owns the land, and makes sure everyone has what they need. Nest a bunch of these together, tie the farmers to a regional boss, and on up the line, and you have reinvented feudalism.

One thing I do wonder -- have the feudal bonds always been essentially for life, and difficult to break? Or were there times and places when they were more fluid, and a disgruntled peasant could chose to seek a new manor without becoming an outlaw?

Brother Kornhoer said...

Mr. Greer,

Your and other's comments on the demonstration tactics that the left has employed for the past few decades (since the 1980s) has struck a chord with me. I was on the receiving end of a demonstration in the 1980s when at college, and while I was somewhat sympathetic to the cause, the demonstration didn't further persuade me to join with them – it just seemed a noisy and clueless complain from someone who didn't know who or what I was.

Since then, I've followed lots of protest actions in the news – actions at the School of the Americas, the World Trade Organization, and so forth. Some things seem more effective to me than others – the nuns who protested at the School of the Americas seem more effective to me than the drumming and the street puppets and the other street theater that somehow came into vogue. I wonder what James Kunstler would say about the street theater types? Are they sending the not-so-subtle message that “this is a circus, we're clowns, don't take us seriously”? I contrasted those tactics to the tactics of the old civil rights movement, where people wore jackets, shirts, and ties, and gently sang instead of chanted. I am also reminded of Hunter Thompson's description of the protesters at the 1972 Republican Convention, most of whom he described as “a disgrace to the long tradition of public protest”, with the exception of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, who marched, rolled in wheelchairs, and hobbled on crutches, in platoon formation down the street, silently using hand signals just as they did in Vietnam, totally cowing the delegates, press, and the cops.

This all came into sharp focus for me due to a chance encounter last week. I'm still unsettled by it, both by what I saw and by my frankly emotional reaction to it. Our local Transition meeting (which is just getting going) met to discuss a couple of chapters of the Transition Handbook. As it so happened, the OWS General Assembly was meeting across the street, but got rained out, so the OWS crowd came into the place where we were meeting and met across the room. It was a motley-looking group of students, unsurprisingly. What so upset me was hearing some of the rhetoric – an angry shout about “charging the citadels of power” sticks in my mind. I cringed – this is the raw material with which movement is trying to effect political change? Clueless play-radical college students?

Furthermore, some of the OWS students sat in on our book discussion. Within five minutes two of them were spouting off about how the oil companies were suppressing some free-energy discovery. I cringed again, and thought how antithetical this message was to the message of Transition: instead of acknowledging scientifically-known natural limits, it pretends that there is limitless energy; instead of recognizing that we have to change our lifestyles, it conveniently scapegoats the oil companies for greedily blocking us from the energy utopia we unselfishly deserve (snark). It took a lot of self-control, but I managed to get out a statement that perhaps it was unwise to base public policy on the hopes of an unproven technological miracle. I wanted to yell out “Space Bats!!”, but no one would've gotten the reference.

So my impression of the OWS people locally is pretty hopeless. But I don't want to react the same way – so emotionally – next time – I'd rather engage and try to coax them to a better understanding. Any advice you or others have is welcome.

rylan said...

Just some thoughts on the need to accept “less”

At first I was thinking that this just came down to a positive reframe issue. Sort of like thinking about having to down scale to riding a horse instead of driving a car. The positive reframe would be to consider the value of developing a working relationship with an intelligent nonhuman sentient being who is much larger and physically more powerful than you are. Consider this vs the relationship you have with your car. Which has more life potential enrichment.

But then there is the rub. What defines life potential enrichment, more bluntly where do we get our ego blows from? Here I feel we have some growing up to do and it’s going to be a painful process because how we seem to feed our egos comes from some very unhealthy “food”. If we feed our enrichment from the “food” of power, control and win/lose games then we are going to define what is a lost and a gain quite different than if we feed ourselves from the “food” of cooperation, teamwork and win/win exchanges.

Jason Heppenstall said...

With regards to what Phil Harris says above about so-called American exceptionalism - I would also like to add that I've hardly ever met a non-American who has heard of the 2012 Maya Armageddon 'prophesy'. Even if they have heard of it most dismiss it with a chuckle as something Hollywood has cooked up to sell movies.

So if we're generous and assume that 25% of people in the US sincerely believe the world will end in about a year (i.e. they have stopped topping up their pension funds and started wearing sack cloths) , and that, say, 1% of the rest of the world do, then that means that just under 2% of people believe it.

I don't think these are the kind of numbers that create self-fulfilling prophesies - at least on a global scale.

At least I hope not ...

siddrudge said...


Bringing it down to earth indeed! Excellent post!

While clearing out a closet yesterday, I came across some papers I kept from my college days in the early 70's. The art school I attended was a stones throw from San Francisco, and I had the opportunity to attend one of the first (if not the first) "Earth Day" celebrations in that city.

The San Francisco Chronicle (if I recall correctly) featured this beautiful piece called "Celebration For a Small But Important Planet." by Harold Gilliam. It apparently touched my eighteen year old self so much that I felt the need to type the whole thing on my manual typewriter (there were no desktop copying machines or Kinko's back then :-)

Remember, this was the early 70's, but what strikes me about this wonderful writing is it's hopeful, optimistic tone and how it's just oozing with reverence for all things natural. I naively thought we were all on the same page back then.

I think this piece might reflect the high-water mark of the green movement, when we had, as you've often said Mr. Greer, the opportunity to profoundly change the direction of our society.

Nevertheless, the writing still inspires me today. I took the time to retype (rekey!) the text, and offer it to you all for your enjoyment and contemplation. I tried locating this online but had no luck. It probably resides somewhere in the "dead letter" files of the green movement.

Here is the link:

Here's an excerpt:

"We shall respect the processes of the earth,
the long cyclic chemistry that restores the soil
and renews the waters
and replenishes the ambient air.

We shall abet the forces of renewal. We shall
conserve the precious materials of the planet.
We shall waste nothing.
We shall return organic materials to the soil,
recycle the metals and the paper and the water.

We shall preserve ample areas of our land,
not for development or exploitation,
but for the replenishment of the species,
that we may learn from nature
its rich complexity and diversity,
its checks and balances
its perennial search for new possibilities,
that we may perceive supernal beauty,
feel a sense of community with all living things,
and create a society in harmony with the earth.

We shall take from frenetic urban pursuits
to contemplate a cloud, a tree, or leaves of grass,
to behold creation as it takes place before us each
day, that we may know wonder and exaltation,
and join with all men our brothers,
in celebration of the fellow creatures
with whom we share this planet. "


Robo said...


Thanks for the clarification about feudalism. I'll avoid the use of this particular term in regards to modern societies. However, if our future low-energy communities are to be based more upon direct one-to-one relationships than our current mass culture, is feudalism a template for things to come? Is there a base-level organizational mode to which humans naturally default when our elaborate civilizations periodically collapse?

mallow said...

Mr Greer, when European countries (like Ireland where I live)default, do you think that will mean civil servants (like me)just not getting paid at all, at least for a while? I've been working hard at using less and paying off my debts but I'm nowhere near ready for having no income for anything more than a couple of weeks. I just feel there's nothing more that I can do than I am doing to prepare, but it still can't possibly be enough.

beneaththesurface said...

Wonderful post!

As for myself, I feel I'm serious about walking my talk in my individual lifestyle choices, and the path of LESS is one I’ve taken very seriously in my life. Where I find I come into more internal dilemmas and uncertainty is how to individually behave and respond in group decision-making, in a way that is true to myself and my beliefs, while not being controlling.

I’ll be specific. I live in a group house with five other people, and the living situation is somewhat cooperative, though not to the extent of some co-ops. Compared to many other houses, we do use less energy and resources. We do not have air-conditioning. We compost. We caulk and put plastic on windows during the cold months, and keep are house at 62-65 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. We do not have dryer either, though there have always been housemates through the years who think we should, but some of us (including me) have so far sucessfully kept that from happening.

However, we do have a dishwasher, that was there before I moved in. I prefer washing dishes by hand for a variety of reasons. Others in the house prefer to use the dishwasher, but since it was already there, it hasn’t really been an issue I feel like raising. However, recently the dishwasher is not working (and doesn’t seem to be fixable this time as it has been in the past). At dinner tonight, it seems that my housemates are already looking into getting a new dishwasher (which the landlord, not us, would pay for if we decide we want it, so it’s not even an issue of being forced to pay for it). I’m the minority opinion on this issue (the only one who does not see a need to get new one and thinks we could all just go back to hand-washing).

I know there are some studies that suggest that dishwashers do use less water than handwashing. That may be true (though I think it depends how one handwashes) if one is measuring water usage once the dishwasher already exists. But somehow, I feel rather certain if one is taking into account the water used in all stages of the mining, manufacturing, and transport of the dishwasher machine itself (everything from water used in oil and other resource extraction, water used in transport and industrial processes and used by workers at work, water used in related industries that the dishwasher industry depends on, etc. etc.), that dishwashers waste more water than hand-washing.

And of course, the issue is not just water, it’s also about usage of energy and other resources, which I’m sure hand-washing would definitely win out. And also, even if dishwashers could be thought of as more “efficient,” handwashing definitely wins out by being more “resilient.”

Anyway, my opinion comes from a gut feeling, and I admit I don’t have any hard data or studies to support my opinion that dishwashers are actually wasteful. Does anyone have any good articles or sources that I could share with my household that might influence them?

Group living does have some benefits, but there are definitely challenges, especially when people’s values are different. Even with a small group of six people, consensus decision-making is difficult, so I definitely can agree with your critiques of the use of the consensus method in much larger groups of people.

Cathy McGuire said...

Okay, finally getting time to reply. This is a crucial issue, and as usual, you pull together the threads wonderfully well. Specific thoughts:
…it’s not the technical dimension of the predicament of industrial society that matters most just now. It’s the inner dimension, the murky realm of nonrational factors that keep our civilization from doing anything that doesn’t make the situation worse…

Not only do I see this in everyone around me, but I grapple with this over and over- as you say, the difficulty in bringing this down to earth are the inner gremlins that can sabotage the best of intentions. The gremlins of doubt, anxiety, shame (ie: ”I can’t do a good enough job”) guilt (“I’m not doing enough, so why do anything?”), etc – none of which are amenable to a good talking to. :-} When I review the methods that have worked on these inner resistances, they all involve some kind of imagery and action to directly address the resistance as a real thing. Lately, I’ve tried to ignore them and “stay rational” – nope, doesn’t work. Back to the visualizing and ritual – thanks for the reminder.

In a civilization that’s spent the last three and a half centuries trying to pretend that this inner dimension doesn’t matter, it was a foregone conclusion that most people’s inner lives would end up an unholy mess.

I love this line – will be quoting it, I’m sure! Yes, although there are exceptions, our society has waded in the shallows of the inner world for so long we don’t know there are real depths. Until the sea monster surges in… ;-}

It still amazes me how many people never wonder why what appears on TV is called "programming."

Love this line, too!! And I had ample chance to experience it again over Thanksgiving – not the direct tv, but the Maya created by it, as people who I considered generally self-aware argued the relative benefits of the latest “must have” technology! They admit they are gadgets (one woman even admitted that none of it was sustainable) and yet they said they planned to buy these trinkets & toys…

however deep it may reach into the innermost realms of consciousness, has to be brought all the way down to earth, and anchored right here in the world of matter by an appropriate action

And that’s where so much of the so-called New Age stuff falters. Having worked for a New Age publication and met some of these prophets when they were dealing with profits, I gotta say many did not walk their talk. But rather than judge, I used that to look at myself – where are my ideals and values in contradiction to my daily actions? It’s really difficult sometimes to walk one’s talk! And yet, there is much power available if you can. Jung used to talk about dream work that way – it was not enough to look at the dream and understand it. If you didn’t act on what you’d learned, the unconscious would cease the guidance. But if we act, amazing synchronicities occur.

Activism has its place, to be sure, and potentially an important one, but activism only matters if the people who are doing it have already followed Gandhi’s advice and become the change that they wish to see in the world.

It’s taken me a couple decades, but I’m finally getting that. :-} Not only is the power of a good example more potent than good advice, but it’s basically hypocrisy to advise others to do what you can’t yourself. It’s meant that I’ve become uncharacteristically silent over the past 5 years or so, until I can truthfully claim to be doing what I think is the right thing. And even then, I have learned, talking doesn’t do much unless the person is open. And I agree that LESS is where we need to go… but again, if someone isn’t open, they’re not going to hear me. So I just keep practicing in my own life. And I’m grateful to be able to do it gradually, rather than all at once. It’s taking a lot of practice!

Cathy McGuire said...

There have been many good comments, also; I wish I had time to join in all the conversations. Just one, though:

@Bill P: One thing I do wonder -- have the feudal bonds always been essentially for life, and difficult to break? Or were there times and places when they were more fluid, and a disgruntled peasant could chose to seek a new manor without becoming an outlaw?

As I recall, after the Black Plague in England, there were few enough serfs that they could run and get another master, no questions asked.

Ozark Chinquapin said...


I know some people who are into the whole 2012 thing, but it's still a definite minority evenhere in the USA. Not one of them have made any major changes in their lives because of it. In fact many use 2012 or similar scenarios as an excuse for inaction, because they think that whatever actions they take are meaningless in comparison to whatever disaster or mass change of consciousness or whatever they believe is waiting.

It is worth mentioning that I've never talked to anyone who has a deadset belief that winter solstice 2012 is the end of the world. Most just consider it to be an "important date". The vagueness is one of the more frustrating aspects of it to me. At least with predictions such as Harold Camping's rapture prediction, it was clear to everyone after it passed that it was wrong. I bet after winter solstice 2012 comes and goes, some people will take some event that happened around that time and declare it the fulfillment of the prophecy, even if it's nothing more major than you'd find any other year. They could also claim that there was really a mass change in consciousness that started on that date but just isn't apparent to most people yet. Who knows what sorts of things people who don't want to admit to themselves that they were wrong will consider fulfillment of such a vague prophecy.

When 2012 comes up in a conversation, my response comes from what you've written on the subject, JMG. Most often I just point out how the 2012 ideas going around now didn't even originate with the Mayans and that they referred to dates well after 2012 too. That does get people's attention more than anything else I've said, because everybody assumes the prediction came from the Mayans themselves. I only discuss the problems with apocalypticism in general when people are open to having a more in depth discussion.

One of my favorite things to say for a laugh when end of the world scenarios are brought up is in the nature of "The end of the world? That's already happened, there's just a msssive conspiracy by the powers that be to make you believe the world is still going."

RainbowShadow said...

Speaking about a sense of entitlement over goods, John Michael Greer, get a load of these two articles about people violently attacking or killing each other over those friggin' television sets:

THIS is what living in an era of "extravagant material expansion," as you put it, gets you.

If ever there was a need for the return of Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes and its messages against consumerism...

mpg4 said...


Would you consider adding a bibliography to the site? I try to keep up with your suggested reading. Many times that means requesting a book from my local library and getting it weeks (or months) later -- by which time I've often forgotten why I requested it!


Red Neck Girl said...

JMG said:
KL, it's rarely remembered that Seton actually founded a different organization, the Woodcraft League; it was briefly merged into the Boy Scouts, but that fell apart after a few years (that's a complex, murky story of its own); Seton relaunched his own program in 1916 and it still has some survivals today. (Interestingly, the Wikipedia bio of Seton doesn't mention the later Woodcraft movement at all.) It made room for people of both genders and all ages, and had a great many other features that might be worth reviving now. Woodcraft handbooks can still be found now and then on the used market.

Sounds like I should re-read my wilderness survival books by Tom Brown, (a contemporary of mine)! I also highly recommend 'The Backwoodsman' magazine (it comes out every other month). It was originally a 'Black Powder' magazine but it has a lot of "country living" suggestions, including a gun powder recipe.

On a related note I think I've got a chance at buying ten acres on the Oregon California border in the next county over. From the satellite map it's off the open high desert and up in the tree line. The price isn't bad, it would take a year and a little change to buy it on my current income. The bad news is the nearest large town is 26 mi's away. If the soil there is 'good enough' for pasture it might support a high country garden, with pit green houses for the more delicate food plants. I'm thinking hilly country, I could build a sand bag bank barn for my horses, the goats and some chickens. Then build my house on top of the barn to benefit from the natural heat from the stable.

If I bring my client/best friend with me it's a long way from a hospital but she would absolutely love living out that far! Both of us were country girls and we're tired of hearing traffic noises or the neighbors fighting in the complex and we both want a dog or two!

Wadulisi Tsalagi

Les said...

Been a while since I posted, moving from Sydney to a country town has been a bit attention grabbing. Have managed to keep reading, but no energy left over for proper digestion and contribution.

Thanks again for an interesting series of posts, JMG. One I was certain I was going to find difficult to swallow. Wrong again…
Summation of this week’s post: “Don’t just stand there like a bunch of empty lemonade bottles, do something!” – Have I got that right?

It’s been a really interesting experience, this getting out of the metaphorical Dodge. The aim has been to live in this small town, meet people, suss out the local microclimates and such, then buy some acreage. Now that we’re here, the people we have met are mostly all “doing less with less” and more than happy with the process. Sure there are some ostentatious w*nkers who want to do the big shot city type act, but they are soooo in the minority and the rest seem truly happy with their choices. We really feel we’ve made the right choice in selling up and coming here, no matter that some of our old friends keep calling us “courageous”. Thank you Sir Humphrey.

@Glenn – have you made friends at your local dairy yet? The big ones have a continual problem of what to do with poddy bulls. Some just hit them over the back of the head and compost them; others spend a significant amount of income raising them to selling age, when they get less than they’ve invested for the sale, due to dairy cattle not being acceptable for the meat industry. We’ve just put one set of dairy farmer friends in touch with another set of Holistic Grazing Management friends – result, two poddy bulls on one house cow, happy dairy farmer, happy HM farmer, house cow output down to 4 – 8 litres per day from > 18 litres, no need to milk every day, no need to train neighbours in cow milking should you happen to go away for the weekend. I’m also told that Jerseys (prime dairy cattle) grow fantastic tasting flesh, even if they’re too scrawny to sell to a butcher. It’ll be a year or two before I can confirm this rumour.

@All those in the veganism digression: HM, mentioned above, is a technique out of Africa for managing grazing lands in such a way that animal impact from herds (usually of cattle and sheep) actually improves the quality of the pasture, water retention, carbon sequestration, soil life, yada, yada, yada. Take the animals off the land in brittle environments (most of Africa, Australia and a big chunk of North America) and desertification is the result. Put the animals back on (managed holistically) and native grasses start to come back, soils deepen and the whole environment supports vastly more complex biota.
If the militant vegans had their way, fully one third of the world’s currently arable land would wind up as desert. Not namby-pamby New Mexico type desert – the full on Sahara/Gibson/Great Sandy type desert. It is therefore your duty to eat meat; only a little bit of carefully sourced meat.
If you live on the east coast of the US, go find Joel Salatin. Buy your meat from him, or someone who uses his techniques. Just don’t buy it from the evil empire.

@Cherokee – have you documented your house building anywhere? I’m trying to convince my better half that we could build, but she’s very reluctant. Mostly we hear about the failures, not the successes. OTOH, most of the houses on acres for sale around here are shoddy air-conditioned cr@p. Some inspiration from people other than those in Earth Garden magazine would be cool.
Congrats on the food forest article. Nice work and some interesting hints as to your journey so far. If ever I’m back in Vic, I’d love to catch up with a chat (ditto if you’re ever in the Manning Valley).


hawlkeye said...

"The end of the world? That's already happened, there's just a massive conspiracy by the powers that be to make you believe the world is still going."

This is funny, and partly true regarding economic collapse. I've heard it described as the "coyote moment" where the cartoon coyote chases the roadrunner off the cliff and runs there in place for a while. It's only after he REALIZES this is impossible that he plunges into the canyon below.

Evidently, the European moment lasts for months, while we're just starting to get our chase on... beep beep!

idiotgrrl said...

Beneath the surface - you have an ongoing setup and housemates who are actually down with your program, including keeping the house temperatures way down - I wouldn't mess with that over the dishwasher when it's 5-to-1, because housemates who agree with you over essentials are more valuable than rubies.

Redneck Girl - are you going to be anywhere near Klamath Falls? I have a friend there, Jean Lamb, and we've actually discussed how sustainable the town is or can be. It's just that there is no transportation other than car in or out of town.

John - last night at our Circle we were doing divinations. I mentioned to one of my friends who was using the Goddess Oracle deck* that I wanted a reading for "the road I'd been on most of the year." She had me draw a single card after the usual preliminaries and I got Artemis, drawing her bow level and true, with the caption "Selfhood."

Well, that's a message of such clarity it could have been sent Western Union!

*The artwork on this deck is beautiful, and the images call out very clearly.

And the Captcha reads "Bides". Biding our time? The Earth Abides?

Cathy McGuire said...

@Siddrudge: Thanks for that posting! I love the “celebration” – wonderful language, and it’s so sad that the juggernaut of consumption rolled right over it. There still are Earth Days, still attracting idealistic people (and some who walk their talk) but I’ll bet there was so much hope back then….

@Ozark C I bet after winter solstice 2012 comes and goes, some people will take some event that happened around that time and declare it the fulfillment of the prophecy, even if it's nothing more major than you'd find any other year. They could also claim that there was really a mass change in consciousness that started on that date but just isn't apparent to most people yet.

I can’t resist chiming in. You got it in one – and it’s already happening – Calleman and Hand Clow predicted Oct. 28th, 2011 as their “end of Mayan calendar date” – and check here to read the blather about how it really happened, just not in any way we can really see! They spin so well, they should be working for government! ;-)

Ceworthe said...

@Les- Having grown up on a dairy farm where our beef came from the occasional offing of one of the Jerseys, I can confirm they make fine eating as well.

Glenn said...

Les Said:

@Glenn – have you made friends at your local dairy yet? The big ones have a continual problem of what to do with poddy bulls. Some just hit them over the back of the head and compost them; others spend a significant amount of income raising them to selling age, when they get less than they’ve invested for the sale, due to dairy cattle not being acceptable for the meat industry. We’ve just put one set of dairy farmer friends in touch with another set of Holistic Grazing Management friends – result, two poddy bulls on one house cow, happy dairy farmer, happy HM farmer, house cow output down to 4 – 8 litres per day from > 18 litres, no need to milk every day, no need to train neighbours in cow milking should you happen to go away for the weekend. I’m also told that Jerseys (prime dairy cattle) grow fantastic tasting flesh,


Thanks, I'll bear that in mind when the time comes for us to take it to the next level. (You know, when groceries get so dear gardening looks like a living wage). We've got a few people on island already raising beef for sale. We didn't used to buy beef, my wife couldn't digest the industrial version well. We now buy either from farmers on the island or from an off island farmer my sister in law gets a special deal from.

I know about Jersey's, 30 years ago I used to buy milk from a neighbor who kept them. BTW should that be "Proddy Bulls"? I haven't heard the term "poddy" WRT bulls before.

Marrowstone Island

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ beneath the surface - Interesting about the dish washer. I'll be moving "out" the end of January. First i looked at a trailer on the place that was thrashed and unlivable. But, it had a working dishwasher!

Then we checked out the house that I will be moving too. The owner pointed out the dishwasher and garbage disposal with great pride and seemed a little down when I couldn't work up any enthusiasm. Neither will be used after I move in.

I'm quit a bit older than you, I think, but maybe it's because I've never really lived any place that had a dishwasher. And, it always seemed silly and wasteful to me that you had to practically wash the dishes anyway, before you put them in the machine.

I don't know where it came from, but even when I was younger, in the 70s, I really liked kitchen gizmos. My mother would always ask me what I wanted for a holiday or birthday, and it was usually something like an ice cream maker or a grain mill. But I always specified that I did not, under any circumstances want anything electric. I still have all that kitchen equipment and it's going with me, where it will finally get some use.

siddrudge said...

RE: Occupy Wall Street:

It's an intriguing movement and I've thought all along that these protestors have a lot in common with Herman Melville's "Bartleby The Scribner," which (ironically) was subtitled "A Wall Street Story." If you recall, Bartleby's famous response when repeatedly asked to leave his office was "I would prefer not to" . . . "I would prefer not to" . . . "I would prefer not to" . . .

Hmm, I wonder if Gandhi read Bartleby too!

Matt and Jess said...

Finally, both kids are asleep and it's not 11pm or later. Caught up on reading a little bit and read that post from 2007 on feudalism and fascism that you linked to. I think I started reading AR shortly after that? Anyway, good times.

I can see now why you're such a fan of our country, with constitutional government hanging on as defense against fascism and feudalism throughout the descent. Very interesting! I've learned a lot tonight. I was especially interested in wikipedia's description of one of the precursors to feudalism (located on wiki's Manorialism page): the struggling Roman Empire's freezing of the social structure. Workers of land were not to leave their land, sons were to take up their fathers' position, etc. I can see that we're not very close to that yet. While it's getting very difficult to increase your class or social status--or to even keep a middle class status--we still have a lot of personal freedoms that don't look much like feudalism.

Anyway, the future should be interesting. Here's to hoping that muddling through gets us through all right. My partner's going to be learning a combo of professional solar thermal/energy auditing/weatherization-oriented carpentry in the near future based off of the recommendations in the blog in the past. Hopefully we'll be able to make an income and help others live on less at the same time.

Les said...

@Glenn asked: 'BTW should that be "Proddy Bulls"? I haven't heard the term "poddy" WRT bulls before.'

Short answer: NFI... Poddy seems to be what the locals call the main by-product of the dairy industry, the calves (male and female) that are taken from the productive cows, as soon as the first bit of milk has been sucked out of the cow. Maybe I'm mishearing, maybe not. I have no idea if there is an internationally accepted term for these animals.


Red Neck Girl said...


"Redneck Girl - are you going to be anywhere near Klamath Falls? I have a friend there, Jean Lamb, and we've actually discussed how sustainable the town is or can be. It's just that there is no transportation other than car in or out of town."

Yes, it's 26 mi's from Klamath Falls. I'm not totally unfamiliar with the town. I had relatives live there years back when you could buy land around the lakes cheap! I think it will 'make it' since there's a lot of ranching around the area. And I don't think a certain amount of logging will ever go away completely, at least as long as the roads stay passable. I don't think it will be the 'bustling' town it is today by the time our civilization hits the ditch but there will still be a fair amount of people in the area.

26 mi's isn't that far for a good horse to cover in a day. I have one of those but she's my 'problem child.' Too many owners and some of them with abusive practices. You can't do that to very many Arabs (she's half) and not pay the consequences. But as a distance horse, it's hard to make her break a sweat!


"@Cherokee – have you documented your house building anywhere? I’m trying to convince my better half that we could build, but she’s very reluctant. Mostly we hear about the failures, not the successes."

Les, I suggest you take a look at this website. You might find it gratifying in that building is cheap and fast, (which means easy) not to mention pretty fire resistant! That definitely gets my attention! The cost here in this country depends on the size of house you want to build but is about $10 a square foot!

I've been thinking about a way to create an income that far out of town and at the moment Alpacas and cashmere goats look like a good idea! In that area it gets colder than a banker's heart with a foreclosure notice. There wouldn't be enough room in the barn for them but I think a covered, enclosed thirty foot round pen with a strong solid door/gate is an excellent idea. I'm considering that wolves are coming back to Oregon and I KNOW grizzleys are in the Siskyous south of me right now! (Not *officially* of course.) But good security makes good predatory neighbors!

Wadulisi Tsalagi

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Les - It would be good to have a chat and drink with a fellow ADR commenter. Being up in the Manning Valley I'd reckon you'd be turning away guests. What a great part of the world. As to building your own house, well, it's an interesting experience but you can apply the quality standards and design that builders just can't economically manage. You could save a bit of hassle by getting a truss company to make it all up off site too. Up your way I'd avoid concrete slabs and go for maximum insulation, double glazing etc because it can get both cold and hot there.

As to Earth Garden types - are you messing with me? I'm not stressed either way really, you did give me a laugh. If you look at page 22 of the summer edition, you'll see me staring back at the camera trying to look tough hanging onto the building frame. Hope you enjoy it. If you want just those pages - it was a good article - leave a comment with your email address on my blog site which I left the short story on. I won't publish your email address.

Apple Jack Creek - Thanks for the suggestions, I'd never thought about that and really appreciate the suggestion. My mum used to hand knit me woollen jumpers when I was younger and they were really nice - a good use of my time. I dislike the puritan work ethic but am burdened by it at the same time. Idle hands are the devils workshop I'm told! I've been sourcing second hand woollen blankets for some time now. It amazes me how few there are out there and they last forever.

Hawlkeye - Thanks for your thoughts. I'd never thought about that though - vegans don't generally grow their own food. Draft had a very well balanced non preachy take on the whole thing which I did like. In developing countries they usually only eat meat when Westerners turn up or at special occasions. I've never experienced frozen ground here in Australia even in the highlands of Tasmania (which is the large island to the south of the continent). I still get greens throughout winter and the girls still lay eggs most days of the year.

You did remind me of an interesting restaurant I ate at in the backblocks of Laos. On the menu they had:
Rice with chicken
Rice with beef
Rice with pork
Rice with vegetables
Rice with meat

Having seen the local markets I was a bit dubious about what meat actually meant!



GuRan said...

JMG, done! Thanks for the tip...


Cherokee Organics said...

Hey beneaththesurface,

Well done on share house living. There is no better way to get rid of the more difficult parts of your personality than co-existing with strangers.

As to the dishwasher - and for the record it's manual all the way here - you might want to look at the types of chemicals used in that machines cleaning products versus the garden friendly products you can use whilst manually washing. Here, anything that goes down the sink ends up killing worms and polluting the soil so it's in my interests not to pollute.

You may find that the dishwasher machine stuff is heavy on the bleach and sodium sulfates. All dishwashing products contain sodium to some extent, but some contain far more than others. If you use the dishwasher try to convince the household to spend a bit more and get the garden friendly products - if they have them.

Things that go down the sink don't generally disappear.

Don't stress too much about the water usage as there probably isn't too much in it. However, you'll be hard pressed to beat manual washing up for energy efficiency.



Cherokee Organics said...


For some strange unexplainable reason, I've been holding off checking further into what you were writing about a few weeks ago about Anton LaVey, Ayn Rand and the GOP.

It was like looking into a dark box full of disturbing thoughts and ideas. They obviously felt strongly about them too and had influence.

All I can say from my quick peek was that the messages they peddled have worked their way into our contemporary culture and I can see that what you were commenting on was truth.

I'm just left with the vague question of which came first, were they holding a mirror up to the darker side of culture, did they seek to become influential or did they act like an amplifier on culture?



carlgombrich said...


Excellent post. I am interested to see how you think the economics and politics of LESS can play out.

I agree with you that one should be bold and lead with LESS, not MORE. There is a lot of talk in the air of 'the economics of free', 'the economics of less' and so on, and it seems right to continue to lead with this.

However, the standard worry is that consuming less leads to deflation which, pretty quickly, leads to economic collapse. That is the more-or-less standard analysis of the origins of The Great Depression. I think it is Galbraith (but also certainly many others) who describes how capitalism relies on investment and the promise of the greater returns on one's invested money, which in turn drives industry to consume resources in the production of goods and services. To date, no-one sees a way of 'downsizing' without collapsing catastrophically.

This is particuarly relevant in countries like the UK which would struggle to be self-sufficient, unlike much of the US where you still have enough land and some other resources to make a go of a new agrarianism. For us, this type of move might be, literally, suicide.

Politically, too, one faces the problem of big-time free riders using the last of fossil fuel resources to give themselves power through weapons, better transport etc to drive through their agendas against those trying to live more sustainable lives. Though I suppose one could counter here
that, just as with Gandhi, no meaningful battle was ever won without suffering the aggression and hubris of one's opponents at some point.

In any event I await your analysis of the wider impacts of a substantial return to the land and to localism.

All best,


LewisLucanBooks said...

Here's an interesting article about Japanese young people returning to rural life from the cities.

Last week, somewhere, I read an article about the same thing happening in Greece. Young people leaving the cities and returning to rural villages.

Slorisb said...

What a great gift!
A todo list:
1. Get out from under the collective thinking….
2. Learn how to get along with the nonrational side of my inner life….
3. Bring it down to my everyday life….

A worthy goal: LESS

A complete set of references:

This blog entry and all of this blog

Books referenced throughout this blog

The Green Wizards Forum

Other books by JMG

Just add personal thought, work, time, energy, and resources and there you have it.

Great job. Thank you very much.


Tatanka Suta said...

A bag of tricks.

P said...

This comment is unrelated to this individual post. I would like to read the ADR from the beginning either via instaper or downloading the whole thing. Can anyone suggest an easy way to do this?



Innourish body & soul said...

This is exactly what I am preparing for: to become self-sufficient, to go deeply into Yoga. My question is - how do we create a parallel mass movement that can easily be transmitted/activated and connects us all to one another? The Word "Collective" came up as I was driving (the best place for these types of insights to come - that and the shower!) The Collective could be this years "word!" (last years being Occupy). Let's work together to create a template of how to do this that each person can come to centers where ever they are and learn these skills (permaculture !) and these cent
ers would be of no interest to those hanging on to the old system. Too much work!!! Magic is so much fun. I would love to meet you some day. I live in New Zealand.