Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pepperspraying The Future

A whiff of pepper spray rising from a suburban big box store, a breathtakingly absurd comment by an American politician, a breathtakingly cynical statement from a Canadian minister: three scraps of data sent whirling down the wind unnoticed by most of today’s disinformation society, which are also three clues to the exceptionally unwelcome future the industrial world is making for itself. Let’s take them one at a time, in reverse order.

On Monday, as a new round of climate change talks got under way in Durban, Canadian environment minister Peter Kent confirmed earlier media reports that Canada will refuse to accept any further cuts in its carbon dioxide output under the Kyoto treaty. Since Canada is one of only two countries on Earth that uses more energy per capita than the United States—an impressive feat, really, when you think about it—you might be tempted to believe that there was room for some modest cuts, but that notion is nowhere in Kent’s view of the universe. Those same media reports claimed that Canada was preparing to extract itself from the Kyoto treaty altogether; Kent dodged that question, but as Bob Dylan sang a good long time ago, you don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.

The week before, in a debate among candidates for the GOP’s presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich responded to a question about oil supplies by insisting that the United States could easily increase its oil production by four million barrels a day next year, if only those dratted environmentalists in the other party weren’t getting in the way. This absurd claim was quickly and efficiently refuteded by several peak oil writers—Art Berman’s essay over on the Oil Drum is a good example—but outside the peak oil blogosphere, nobody blinked. Never mind that the entire United States only produces 5.9 million barrels a day, that it took twenty years for the Alaska North Slope fields (peak production, 2 million barrels per day) to go from discovery to maximum output, or that the United States has been explored for oil more thoroughly than any other piece of real estate on the planet; the pundits and the public alike nodded and went on to the next question, as though a serious contender for the position of most powerful human being on the planet hadn’t just gone on record claiming that two plus two is whatever you want it to be.

All of which brings us inevitably to a Los Angeles suburb on Thanksgiving, where a woman seems to have peppersprayed her fellow shoppers to get a video game console to put under her Christmas tree.

To be fair, the situation seems to have been a bit more complex than that sounds at first hearing. If you’re still thinking of Thanksgiving Day in America in terms of lavish turkey dinners and visits from relatives, think again. Nowadays it serves mostly to mark the beginning of the year’s big shopping season, and stores on the cutting edge of American marketing open their doors Thanksgiving night to give shoppers their first shot at whatever overpriced gewgaws the media has decreed will be the hot item this year. The store where the pepper spray incident happened was one of these. There, the mob that formed, waiting for the sale to start, turned unruly; there was apparently shoving and shouting, and then the pepper spray came out. According to witnesses, the woman who used it incapacitated enough of the competition to get to one of the video game consoles that were the center of the agitation, hurried off with it to a checkstand, bought the console and got away. Twenty people, some of them children, needed treatment by medics at the scene.

A fair amount of self-important clucking in the American media followed the incident, though I don’t think anyone quite had the bad taste to point out that at least this year nobody was trampled to death by mobs of shoppers—yes, this happens every few years. Stephen Colbert, as usual, landed one in the bull’s-eye by pointing out that the incident would make a great video game. He’s right enough that I wouldn’t be the least surprised if Black Friday, in which shoppers punch, spray, stab, and shoot each other to get choice gifts for Christmas, turns out to be the hot new video game sensation next year, and no doubt inspires pepper sprayings and tramplings of its own.

What all these three news stories have in common is that they display an attitude—it could as well be described as a belief, or even a religion—that treats the satisfaction of short term cravings for material goods as the only thing that really matters. The shopper with her pepper spray, the politician with his absurd claim, and the government with its blind disregard for national survival, each acted as though getting the stuff is all that matters, and any obstacle in the way—whether the obstacle was other shoppers, the laws of physics and geology, or the fate of Canada’s future generations—was an irrelevance to be brushed aside by any available means.

In recent years, there’s been a fair amount of intellectual effort devoted to the attempt to prove that this is inevitably how human beings will act, and this effort has had an influence well beyond the borders of, say, cognitive neuroscience. Glance over anything the peak oil blogosphere has to say about the absurdity of today’s public policies on energy, the environment, or the economy, for example, and it’s a safe bet that somebody will post a comment insisting that this is how human beings always behave. In point of historical fact, though, this is far from true. The popularity of the monastic life across so many cultures and centuries is hard to square with such claims; it has not been uncommon for anything up to ten per cent of the population of some countries and times to embrace lives of poverty, celibacy and discipline in a monastic setting. Clearly, whatever drives push our species in the direction of the satisfaction of short term cravings are not quite as omnipotent as they’ve been made out to be.

More to the point, those of us who had the chance to get to know people of the generation that came of age in the Great Depression have a solid counterexample to mind. A great many Americans who lived through that long ordeal came out of the experience with a set of attitudes toward material goods that were radically different from the ones we’ve just been discussing. They were, to judge by the examples I had the chance to know, as materialistic as any other American generation has ever been, but the shadow of 1929 lay permanently across any notion that pursuing short term gains at the cost of long term disaster could possibly be a good idea. It’s not accidental that the gutting of regulations on banks that made the current economic debacle possible did not happen until the generation that had witnessed 1929 had passed from public life—nor that it was the generation of the Baby Boom, the first to grow up after depression and war had definitively given way to Pax Americana, that first put today’s culture of short term satisfaction into overdrive.

The behavior of a society, in other words, has at least as much to do with its recent experience of the world as it does with the deeper but more diffuse influence of the biological drives its members share with the rest of the species. Ironically, Gingrich’s response in the presidential debate pointed this up, though I suspect he himself will be the last person on the planet to realize this. He insisted that just as the United States was able to crush the Axis powers in the Second World War, a mobilization on a similar scale guided by the same optimism and can-do attitude could overwhelm any conceivable petroleum shortage and crash the price of oil. It’s a common metaphor—how many times have people in the peak oil scene, for example, called for a new Manhattan Project?—but in the present context it’s hopelessly misleading.

The Second World War, if anything, is a textbook case in what happens when optimism and a can-do attitude runs up against the hard facts of thermodynamics. All things considered, the Axis powers had better generalship, more disciplined military forces, and a much keener grasp of the possibilities of mechanized warfare than the Allies had at first, and Germany, at least, was ahead of the Allies in advanced military technology all the way through the war. What they did not have was secure access to fuel—and lacking that, they lost. Russia’s Baku oilfields and the immense US petroleum deposits in Texas and elsewhere more than made up the difference, providing the Allies with practically limitless supplies of energy, and thus of troops, weapons, mobility, and everything else that makes for victory in war. Having those things, they won.

It’s all the more ironic in that a similar struggle had a similar result on Gingrich’s home turf a century and a half ago. No one can possibly accuse the Confederacy of a shortage of optimism or can-do attitude, and the chief Confederate generals were incomparably better than their Union rivals. What those same Union generals finally figured out, though, was that the North’s larger population and vastly greater economic base meant that generalship didn’t matter; the North simply had to force the South into one meatgrinder battle after another, because even if the Union losses were larger, they could be replaced and the South’s could not. Appomattox followed in due order.

One of the points that needs to be drawn from these examples, and the many others like them, is that optimism and a can-do attitude are in large part effects rather than causes; or, to put matters a little differently, they are relevant to certain circumstances and not to others. In the twentieth century, a nation with abundant supplies of coal, oil, and iron ore could well afford boundless optimism, and got along better with boundless optimism than without it, because the resource base was there to back up that optimism and give it muscles—and, when necessary, teeth. A nation that lacks such resources but still sets out to act on the basis of boundless optimism, on the other hand, risks ending up in roughly the same condition as the American South in 1865 or Germany and Japan in 1945. Such a nation needs to foster entirely different qualities than the ones just mentioned: circumspection, patience, and a keen sense of the downside risks of any opportunity come to mind. Equipped with these, it’s possible for a nation with few resources to distract, dissuade, and ultimately outlast its potential enemies. That’s the secret of Switzerland’s survival, to cite one example among many.

The wild card in these calculations comes into play when shifts in technology, on the one hand, or the depletion of nonrenewable resources on the other, changes the status of a nation faster than its internal cultural shifts can adapt. Britain’s history is a case in point. Britain’s empire happened to come of age just as the Industrial Revolution was dawning, and coal—of which Britain had huge and easily accessible deposits—was the essential fuel of that revolution, powering the steam engines and (in the form of coke) the iron and steel foundries that were essential to economic and military power in the 18th and 19th centuries. With the dawn of the 20th century, though, petroleum—far more energy-rich than even the best anthracite coal, and irreplaceable as fuel for gasoline and diesel engines, which were busy putting coal-fired steam power out of business—elbowed coal out of the way. Britain had next to no petroleum supplies of her own, since the offshore drilling techniques that made the North Sea fields accessible were still decades in the future.

The result was a tremendous new range of vulnerabilities that next to nobody noticed in time. Twice in twenty-five years, accordingly, Britain blundered into a land war in Europe and found itself abruptly scrambling for survival. In both cases, it had to turn to its erstwhile colony, the United States, to bail it out, and the price tag on those bailouts finally included Britain’s empire and its status as a major world power. (There were several other countries just as eager as we were to buy Britain’s empire and status, but—well, basically, we peppersprayed them and left the store with our prize.) Optimism and a can-do attitude counted for very little, for example, when German submarines could throw a noose around the British islands that Britain alone couldn’t break.

The end of the age of petroleum promises another set of upsets on the same scale, but this time it’s not because some more convenient and concentrated resource has suddenly come on the scene. It’s because the world’s production of conventional petroleum peaked in 2005 and has been declining ever since. A desperate scramble to fill the resulting gap with what appear on the charts as "other liquids"—ethanol, biodiesel, tar sand extracts, you name it, if it can be poured into a fuel tank and burnt, it gets counted—has filled in the gap, at least for now, but all these "other liquids" require much more energy to produce than ordinary petroleum does, and of course those energy inputs aren’t accounted for in the totals. Thus, on paper, we’ve been chugging along a bumpy plateau for six years now, while in the real world—because of the rising energy inputs demanded by the "other liquids"—the supply of fuel available to do anything other than produce more fuel has been steadily sliding.

The problem we face right now is that it’s only been a few short years since world petroleum production was expanding, and next to nobody has begun to think through the implications of the shift. Neither the United States nor anybody else has the vast supplies of energy and other raw materials that would be needed to back up the confident, brash optimism of an earlier day, and yet we still cling to the notion that those attitudes are the appropriate response to any crisis, because that’s the approach we know. Patience, prudence, hard realism, the cold-eyed assessment of potential risks—those are foreign concepts to the leaders and the populace alike in most of the world’s industrial nations, and especially so here in America, where the cult of enthusiastic optimism has been welded solidy in place since before the birth of the Republic. It has always worked before, and most Americans at every point on the socioeconomic spectrum are firmly convinced that it will work again.

But it will not work again, because the resources that would allow it to work again no longer exist.

That is why, dear reader, if you happen to live for another few decades, and have the chance to look back from that vantage point on the years just ahead of us, you are likely to see those years littered with the scraps of any number of grandiose plans meant to overcome the rising spiral of crises taking shape around us right now. None of them will have worked, because none of them will deal with the driving force behind that spiral of crisis—the hard fact that we’ve exhausted most of the easily extracted, highly concentrated energy sources on this planet, and are going to have to downscale our expectations and our collective sense of entitlement to fit within the narrower and more burdensome limits that dependence on renewable energy sources will impose on us. Quite the contrary; every one of these projects will start from the assumption that optimism and a can-do attitude can overcome those limits—and the tighter the limits press and the more obvious it becomes that the limits aren’t budging, the more passionate the claims that one more heroic effort will defeat them once and for all.

Those claims will come from every point on the political spectrum, and will wrap themselves in every conceivable scrap of rhetoric that comes to hand. Before all this is over, I expect to see people who now call themselves environmentalists advocating for the stripmining of our national parks—in an environmentally sensitive manner, to be sure. We’ve already seen erstwhile environmentalists such as Stewart Brand and George Monbiot championing nuclear power; how poisoning the biosphere with radioactive waste makes more sense than flooding the atmosphere with carbon dioxide may well puzzle you as much as it does me, but straining at greenhouse gnats and swallowing nuclear camels is apparently a job requirement in their field these days.

What neither the pundits nor the politicians nor ordinary people are willing to consider, in turn, is the one option that offers a meaningful way forward: learning the old and necessary lesson that our desires need to be held within the bounds that the universe provides for us, and that long term goals and values need to trump short term cravings, especially where material goods are concerned. We can no longer afford the sort of attitude that insists that it’s okay to pepperspray our fellow shoppers to get that brand new video game console, or pepperspray the laws of physics and geology to get that extra four million barrels a day of oil (or, more precisely, to get the presidency by pretending we can get that extra four million barrels a day of oil), or pepperspray Canada’s grandchildren to get the right set of pretty figures on the national balance of trade and federal budget. Still, for the foreseeable future, pepperspray will be popular in the corridors of power and the corner tavern alike, and it will take a certain number of unnecessary disasters before that ends and people in the industrial world begin to come to terms with the new reality.

This, finally, is why I’ve spent the last year and a half passing on what I learned, decades ago, of the do-it-yourself green wizardry of the Seventies, and why I’ve supplemented that over the last two months with some of the basic elements of magic—the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will—which I also began to learn in the Seventies, and which had rather more than a nodding acquaintance in those days with the movements focused on appropriate technology, organic gardening, and the rest of it. During the years immediately ahead of us, unless I’m very much mistaken, the political, economic, and cultural institutions of the industrial world can be counted on to do just about anything other than a meaningful response to the crisis of our age, and any meaningful response that does happen is going to have to come from individuals, families, and community groups.

During those same years, I suspect, every available effort will be made to convince as many people as possible that the nonsolutions on offer are actually meaningful responses, and the things that might actually help—using less, conserving more, and downscaling our burden on the planet—are unthinkable. That’s the sort of thing that happens when the world changes, and structures and institutions adapted to an old reality turn out to be hopelessly unworkable in the new one. Next week we’ll talk about what might follow that period, and wrap up the discussion of green wizardry and magic alike for the time being.


Those of my readers who enjoy modern dance and are interested in supporting what, as far as I know, is the world's first peak oil-related dance performance may be interested to know that choreographer Valerie Green and her dance troupe, Dance Entropy, are seeking sponsors and donors for their upcoming piece Rise and Fall, which is based in part on my book The Long Descent. It's a worthy cause, and certainly has more to recommend it than dodging pepper spray in a big box store...


Ceworthe said...

As bizarre and disgusting as the pepper spraying for a game console was (one report I heard a fellow shopper said the perpetrator had bragged ahead of time about having it as a strategy, btw) I was roflmao when I saw the title of this weeks entry. It never ceases to amaze me how oblivious people are to reality and consequences of their behavior, especially in all three of these circumstances. I just hope the waking up process is fast enough so that some of the human species may survive. I will miss the discussions on green wizardry and magic, but I look forward to whatever adventure you will take us all on next. said...

Pepper spray certainly does seem to be the antidote-du-jour for all kinds of contemporary nuisances. How appropriate that it showed up on Black Friday.

Your mentioning, JMG, of the advocating of nuclear power by certain environmentalists reminded me of a small revelatory moment I had not that long ago when reading Chris Clarke's blog post about why he wasn't voting for Obama in 2012. In railing against Obama's environmental record, he noted the eagerness to give away untold acres of public land--desert, largely--to banks and energy companies to build massive solar plants. Which would, of course, murder those tracts of land and wreak havoc on those desert ecosystems. I was a bit embarrassed to have never thought through this inevitable outcome of massive solar plants--even though, at that point, I had already realized the folly of my early peak-oil dreams of an industrial future run on solar and wind.

This just seems to reinforce your call for circumspection in these times. The sense of entitlement in our society absolutely astounds me--and I mean that in the sense that, in keeping with one of the themes of your posts, so few people can seem even to comprehend a society organized in a far different manner and consuming far less. This entitlement seems to be how we get to well-meaning people proclaiming that it's some kind of human right for everyone to have their own computer (or internet device) through which they can connect to a vast, energy-devouring network of information. Which seems to me to be one more indication that we've seriously distorted our view of what is and is not a human right. (Or perhaps that we've taken a certain broadly-applicable idea--access to information or knowledge--and confused it with something very modern and specific--the internet, in this case.)

Of course, considering I'm writing that while on one of those aforementioned computer--and nursing a Fort George Cavatica Stout, to boot, while sitting in a heated house in Portland--well, the irony is thick. Perhaps that's one of the reasons monasteries have been so common and consistently popular: because people like me find themselves coming to realizations about all the ways in which their lives, cultures and societies fail to make sense and then find themselves trying to figure out how to change their own behavior to something more sensible while still having to live in said culture and society. It's a tricky proposition and one I continue to struggle with. I'm thankful to have this blog as one voice of guidance in that struggle.


The Peak Oil Poet said...

Another great post Druid.

I wonder if there's a meme here that is spreading throughout the worlds educated population and consequently is seeping into (at least some of) the fabric of humanity.

I saw a Chris Martenson vid recently
(here: that reall nails home a lot of what you have written here.

There was quite a lot of discussion around one of the consequences of the transition back to what depression era folks understand intrinsically (ie austerity) on John Quiggin's blog (his blog here: It's very interesting to see just how out of touch anyone post 29 crash is with the consequences of reality slapping you round the face a bit.

I tried to capture some essence of this in yet another short story inspired by your space bats - (here: but instantly met with aggressive denials by some readers.

Along the path of the last few posts from you and the effect they have had on me i have started to wonder about you. I sometimes get the feeling that in a way i might describe you as someone who is offering a rescue pattern to the disenfranchised Christians of the world. The Christian faith, unlike Buddhism and Judaism and even Islam seems to have had so much of its foundation doctrine shot to hell that millions of people who i would call Christian by background or osmosis are struggling with a faith they can use as a foundation for negotiating every day life. Along comes JMG with something akin to a whole belief system well forged by years of reflection and study on top of obvious practical experience. It is there for the taking. It's not a free ride and the effort invested then becomes part of the emotional commitment that leads to a faith.

That line of thought has led me a few times to wonder how you personally would feel about it being suddenly picked up by your acolytes and becoming something bigger than you and unstoppable - like many religions have started.

How do you feel about that?


carlosbenari said...

JMG: "This, finally, is why I’ve spent the last year and a half..."

Archdruid, it sounds like you're preparing to leave us, summarizing your blog. Well, it won't do. I am already addicted to your weekly fix of info + insights, and the recurring changes in my reading list and meditation themes, not to mention longer time plans and aims. Please keep the good work. I can't think of anything better happening today in the blogosphere than your Report.

carlosbenari at

Red Neck Girl said...

The country is stuck on magical thinking and you're right, it will take a few major disasters before the country as a whole figures out that 'there is no brighter future ahead,' a wise man once said something to that effect. However there will be a lot of weeping and wailing and I've no doubt a few suicides by those who finally realize that the only way for our standard of living to go is down. Frankly with some of the 'advancements' they keep proposing I can't WAIT for our standard of living to go down in those aspects. I'd like a few private thoughts to remain my own not to mention my choices in regard to food and livestock.

Living a monastic / cloistered life way out in the middle of nowhere is looking more and more attractive. Especially since at this moment I'm listening to a Rush Limbaugh commercial on the radio which makes me think he's looking in a mirror! 'A tool-' 'wrong-' 'listening to garbage-,' indeed!

Wadulisi Tsalagi

Raymond Wharton said...

Seems like high time to develop the technology (in every sense) of the 21st century monastery.

I hope that the recent trend toward using violence that dehumanizes those who are in the way doesn't continue as far as I suspect it will. I must say that in the last few weeks this trait, long visible just under the surface, has become shockingly bald faced.

Even as people throw their support into plans discongruent with reality, I often suspect that they, at some ineffable level, feel this tension, this plot hole. I would say that has been my experience in my own life when ever I found my narratives the world showing plot holes. But in a more panicked situation, where I didn't have the luxury of going in my back yard and pacing for a few hours until my narrative changed, without the habit of always trying to modify and undercut my story of things, where plot holes become wonderful clues for potential changes, in a more panicked situation it would feel very natural to rush down a dead end. So, if the current dead end to shot the messenger, as seems to be the case in some of the other peppery spray incidents of recent news, continues it will cripple a lot efforts to do good. There is, in the people I know, a resistance to confront the facts; the resistance seems stronger in the public figures of power.

I suspect that there are many figures in positions of power that are as able to see the writing on the wall as any of us (though likely in better resolution thanks to access to restricted information,) but if there are they are keeping quite about it. Even if you have a powerful political station or great wealth, what could you do? Even a powerful well informed group might find it difficult to have any control over the way things play out on a grand stage.

But for us, each of us with our own set of limited resources, we have to work with in our limits, try to create safe territories (not necessarily literal territories) of what ever scale is within grasp. Work together to create these places when appropriate, and go solo when we have to. Living as the mortals we are, with limited the resources and understanding we have. So be on the look out for people worth knowing, needing help, and able to help[you or others]. These human networks are the (comparatively) safe territories we will have to create and live with; be they rural communities, urban groups, tribes, regional resource shares, coops, or even widely spread information sharing networks.

seeker77 said...

Hi Mr Greer,

As a long-time lurker and first-time poster, I’d first like to thank you for the wealth of ideas, information and food-for-thought which you pack into your weekly essays.

Regarding the following:

“Glance over anything the peak oil blogosphere has to say about the absurdity of today’s public policies on energy, the environment, or the economy, for example, and it’s a safe bet that somebody will post a comment insisting that this is how human beings always behave”

I think the issue here is not how human beings as a whole always behave, but about how leaders in particular tend to behave. To my mind, the salient question is “What kind of person would want to be in a position of political power, and willingly engage in the posturing, subterfuge, compromising and mudslinging that are inevitably required in achieving that power?” The characteristics that spring to mind are “power-hungry”, “control freak”, “narcissist”, “sociopath” and “megalomaniac”.

If, generally speaking, this is the quality of person whom we elect to make decisions and act on behalf of ourselves, our children and their children, is it any wonder that our leaders decide and act in the irrational, short-sighted and self-serving ways that they do?

Even if leaders start out with mostly noble intentions, or the position of power is thrust upon them, the idiom, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” so often proves true. Of course there are exceptions, recent examples being Ex-President Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and, it goes without saying, a certain Grand Archdruid!


Sam McKinley said...

I have several comments:

Newt's reference was probably to the "Bakken Shale Play." My dad sent me an email claiming that the Sierra Club was keeping us from realizing 5 million barrels of oil a day. I finally got pissed off enough to do 45 minutes of research and told him, with references in scholarly geological papers:

- Geologist have written about this since the mid-70s.
- It still doesn't make any economic sense, as it's too difficult to access.
- It would take at least 5 and probably more like 10 or so years to ramp up significant production.
- Even at its peak, 15 or 20 years out, it would only produce 2 million bpd at best.
- I'm on the Executive Committee of my local Sierra Club and have never heard of any campaigns to stop such a thing.
- And finally, that he's probably the person most responsible for my critical thinking and I wish he'd use his own before sending such tripe.

One other thing that I think counts in a "long descent" is that the US has a lot of slack to take up. European and other industrialized societies use, what, 3/4ths less energy per capita? That's the slack we could let go without even feeling it. I'm almost 45 and was quite comfortable in the '70s with our energy consumption - including some weirdo parents-of-friends who were working on the Small Is Beautiful ideas - and so could very easily stomach sliding back to that.

Finally, the main impetus to my environmental awareness is that I come from a centuries-long line of cheapskates! It just plain galls me to waste resources.

Unknown said...

Long lived & shorter lived & the inability of the latter to sense the operations of the former.

I wonder, what is a magical take on Nyquist formulation?


Jason Heppenstall said...

This ‘can do’ attitude, for which America is famed, is only possible in times when energy is cheap and plentiful. In Europe we have a kind of ‘might be able to do’ attitude, which can often frustrate Americans (and most MBAs) as they equate it with sullenness and even laziness. Last week I went for a beer with a friend of mine from Chicago and, pretty soon, he got onto the topic of the perceived lack of drive here in Denmark.

What frustrated him most was the Danish phrase ‘S├ądan er det det bare’ which roughly translates as ‘that’s just the way things are’. My friend admitted that the oft-used phrase made his blood boil and said Americans were hard-wired to reject such notions of limits (albeit in less polite words).

But I don’t think phrases like this are unique to Europe (in Britain we say ‘Mustn’t grumble’ with an accompanying shrug) – in much of the East they say ‘yes’ when they mean ‘no’ and in India they wiggle their heads from side to side. You even have your own one in the US in ‘that’s just the way the cookie crumbles’. All of these phrases and gestures, it seems to me, imply some kind of inherent acceptance that may as well be paraphrased as ‘I am saying that it might be possible within the limits that unavoidable outside forces permit it’ … which could be a bit of a mouthful!

Another thoughtful post! If I may be forgiven for shameless self promotion I have also started my own blog which focuses on many of the ideas discussed here in the ADR but comes at it from a northern European perspective.

Cherokee Organics said...


Nicely put.

Herculean efforts are probably a bit late anyway. I'll qualify my opinion by stating that the US, like Australia, has spent the past two decades gutting their manufacturing industries. Particularly heavy manufacturing.

If a country is borrowing to pay for its energy and the importation of a large percentage of its manufactured goods, then that country is in trouble. This is especially so, if that country is also in the process of devaluing its currency.

If that same country then decided to undertake a large scale effort to reduce its dependence on imported energy then you have to ask the questions as to where the funds, skills and resources are going to come from to undertake this task?

I saw this wishful thinking recently in a youtube video from the makers of the Story of Stuff project. It's called the "Story of Broke" and they seemed to claim that you could readily swap spending on subsidies and the military for spending on health and education. Sounds good in theory, but they glossed over the practical realities which makes their claim sound good, but is actually somewhat absurd. Surely this is wishful thinking? You can't take a fitter and turner and turn them suddenly into a teacher / doctor / nurse and vice a versa.

Story of Broke

Sad really.

PS: Thanks for the tip off about Ayn Rand and her influence on neo conservatives.



Cherokee Organics said...


Err, human rights is a legal concept and has no basis in biology / ecology. You can also see across the planet that it is a relative concept which varies from country to country (ie. jurisdiction to jurisdiction). I think the term raises its head as a result of the expectational nature of the population in the industrial world.

Solar power has so much to offer as long as you accept its limitations which few seem to be able to do.

I'm not having a go at you, but merely raising some interesting side issues that are relevant to the discussion.



ChemEng said...

Mr. Greer:

Your comment “Clearly, whatever drives push our species in the direction of the satisfaction of short term cravings are not quite as omnipotent as they’ve been made out to be” struck a nerve.

I am a member of St. Cuthbert’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas. Earlier this year I ran a series of adult Sunday school classes on the theme, “Cuthbert: The Saint and His Times”. My ostensible purpose was to describe the life and circumstances of this man who gave his name to our church. But my second reason for running the classes was to think through how men such as Cuthbert (634-687) managed the transition from a time of relative plenty and order (the Roman Empire) through what we now call the Dark Ages to the glories of the High Middle Ages (around 1100).

The transition of his time was not associated with a decline in sources of low entropy energy such as we are facing now. Nevertheless, what they did and how they did it may bear some useful lessons for us.

Some conclusions that I came to are as follows:

1. Cuthbert and many of the leaders like him took monastic vows (poverty, obedience, chastity). In those days everyone lived a very basic and limited life style, but Cuthbert and leaders like him went beyond that. For example, it was common for them to fast during the day time, and to have just one light meal in the evening.
2. Their monasticism was not one of isolation; they were very much involved in society. Cuthbert himself was a bishop, and he worked closely with society’s secular leaders.
3. They were deeply committed men of faith: their religious beliefs were front and center.
4. The people of that time had no reason to anticipate a better material life; they rested their hope in their faith and a life after death.
5. Although they were living in what we would call a time of transition, there is no indication that they saw it that way. They lived in the moment.
6. Theirs was a time of decentralization and deurbanization. Authority rested with local war lords rather than national governments.

Moreover, the more I read about this man the more I felt that our use of terms such as “The Dark Ages” is rather patronizing. Any society that can produce the Lindisfarne Gospels is not totally dark. (Similarly, the people of the “Middle Ages” didn’t realize that they were in the middle of anything).

Regarding your comment, “optimism and a can-do attitude are in large part effects rather than causes”, I think that a can-do/positive attitude is important (see my comments to do with Cuthbert), but that attitude must, of course, be rooted in reality. Like you, I attended ASPO-USA this year. One of my take-aways from that meeting was that we need can-do leaders such as Cuthbert to help define and create the post Peak Oil world. I believe that some of that leadership can come from engineers and technologists – people who fully understand the Second Law and who readily pick up rate concepts such as EROEI. With that thought in mind, I have started a series of posts of the topic of “Peak Engineering”.

Finally, Mr. Gingrich really does need to give some credit to the Russians, the British, the Chinese and many other nations for defeating the Axis powers. It was a team effort.

Devin Martin said...

Mr. Greer,

Although world production of conventional crude peaked in 2005 and will be on the long and winding road down from here 'til kingdom come, I sincerely hope that you have not yet peaked in your ability to turn out intelligence-dense posts each week. Judging from the excellent comments here, I'd say you still get a high enough intellectual EROEI to keep the project going strong for some time yet.
I became an occasional Archdruid reader in college back in 06, and have been a religious reader for the past two years or so, eagerly looking forward to your blog with the same zeal that I had with the latest installment of R.L. Stine "Goosebump" books when I was a kid in the 90's. But I must say, these past few months have been top-notch. I've been a bit busy lately preparing for and now raising my newborn son, Finley Gene Martin, but I almost tried to unearth some time to compose and submit a story for your peak oil compilation. Your fascination with and knowledge of history, sci-fi, and esotericism remind me that it's OK to let your Freak Flag fly. And like Ceworthe, I too have enjoyed your most recent foray into magic tremendously, and will be sad to see you leave the topic, but also thirsty for your next cycle of subject matter. I hope you still have a bit more spare production capacity to squeeze out during these very interesting next few decades.

I'd like you to know that your writing has had a profound impact on me, some of my friends, and apparently many of your readers. You've gotten this self-avowed libertarian-socialist to study the life and ideas of Edmund Burke, for crying out loud. That, and to make an honest effort to improve myself, to regularly practice mindfulness and meditation, and to circumscribe my desires and keep my passions in due bounds with all humankind.
This evening I'm taking a big step forward in that effort, and it wouldn't have happened without your virtual initiation and subtle magic. For that I thank you.

Sixbears said...

I live in New Hampshire, currently a land overflowing with politicians and tax free shopping.

Both the politicians and the shoppers make me a little sad. The shoppers because their life has devolved into a frenzied quest for things they can get.

I sigh when thinking of the politicians because they pander to people's lowest desires. They are either lying through their teeth or dumb as a box of hammers. The contenders seem to have a good assortment in both camps.

My response has been to turn my back. On Black Friday, I spent the day with family. In fact, I'll do very little Christmas shopping at all.

When the politicians come by, I literally turn my back to them. I can't deny them corporate money, but I can deny them attention, which is just as important to them. Actually, it felt really good to turn my back -better than anger. If paying attention gives something energy, I've denied them that. Plus, my attention can be directed to real and useful pursuits.

Mister Roboto said...

I have noticed that there are way too many people who think the entire universe is a massive Ptolemaic sphere that revolves around their ego-whims and petty desires, and have wondered how they can fail to realize the only way that can end is straight into a brick wall at 100 MPH.

CSAFarmer said...

"any meaningful response that does happen is going to have to come from individuals, families, and community groups"

That's the challenge Mr. Greer has set for those of us who 'get it' i.e. to move past the outrage and sorrow at the state of the union and take action now.

Getting the systems, skills, networks and resources in place to help our families and communities survive won't happen by accident. Each of us needs to put preparation on 'project status', with defined goals, a plan and a budget.

I've got two kids and hope to have grand-kids; gives me a strong incentive to do what I can to assure their survival. Both my kids know to retreat back here to the farm if TSHTF.

We also need to recognize that, as handsome, smart and talented as the readers of this blog obviously are (and I'm not much better myself ;-) no one can do it all.

We need to actively seek out like minded folks, and plan and take action cooperatively where it makes sense to do so. This is how communities will survive.

Robo said...

In my observation, many young Americans just now coming of age have already adjusted their expectations to a much less expansive future.

One sign of this is their singular focus on the virtual world enabled by personal communication devices. High tech though these things may be, they are orders of magnitude less capital intensive and expensive to maintain than the powerful automobiles and air-conditioned suburban castles that their parents lusted after.

The miniature electronic realms and relationships to which these devices afford instant access are infinitely more portable, expansive, attainable and instantly gratifying than any unpayable thirty year mortgage will ever be.

Smart phones are still black holes for consumer dollars, but they are very small ones. Maybe that's why you see people pepper-spraying for video games, but not for automobiles.

Politicians like Gingrich are fantasizing on behalf of the petroleum generation, not their children. These old folks will pass away, just like their Depression-scarred parents did, leaving the cybernauts to maneuver through a diminished future.

Many US college graduates are starting their adult lives already shackled by tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in college debt that will surely displace most other forms of lifetime mortgaging, even if cheap credit or secure employment were readily available.

Imagine how the liquid fueled 'can-do' spirit of the Baby Boomers or the Greatest Generation would have been tempered from the very outset by the that kind of lifelong economic burden.

American enterprise springs eternal, though. I read just last night that one of the hottest trends in internet marketing is the meteoric rise of websites that hook up wealthy men with attractive young women who are willing to trade sex for money in order to pay off their college loans.

By God, alert Newt Gingrich! This is the great American 'can-do' spirit in action!

Thijs Goverde said...

You've culled some very bizarre facts and statements from the news for us this week, mr. Greer. And they are very telling indeed.

Love this post! I've known about the nazi push for the oilfields in the Caucasus for a long time, but no one ever pointed out the connection between the British empire and the British coal deposits to me before. Many thanks!

One point about monastic life: I've always understood that many boys were 'called' to that life by virtue of their being a second or third son.
European monasteries were quite rich (not in gold, but in land), so joining a monastery meant you got a great deal of material security, if not a lot of comfort.
So there were very good short-term reasons for choosing that life.

Which still doesn't mean than all human beings must always act only on short-term impulse, of course.

By the way, if I may ask a self-interested question: are there any developments in the short-story-anthology-department yet?

Don Stewart said...

My parents came of age during the depression. I was born at the tail end of the depression. In some sense, the depression for our family never ended because my father was in poor health. He rode the rails as a young man. When I asked him about work during the depression, he said 'there was always farm work, but who wanted to do that?' My translation: 'I grew up in town and my family was above farm work'. When he inevitably lost a job during the late 40s and 50s, his first reaction was to go out and buy a luxury item we could not afford--using the last of our savings. My translation: 'I am still somebody!'.

So what WAS different during the depression and the first decades of the postwar years? Institutions were conservative with money. One of my first jobs was sweeping the floor in a Savings and Loan. I was paid a dollar. The manager of the office asked me what I was going to do with my money. I didn't know. He said I should always save ten percent, and he opened a savings account for me with my dime. The manager explained to me that 'we don't gamble in the stock market with your money, we put it into good farmland, which will always be valuable'.

I remember 1955 when it became possible to buy a car on credit. A boyhood friend's father owned a car dealership. He was very much opposed to selling cars on credit, but when sales increased by double digits that year, he swallowed his misgivings.

Two days ago all the Central Banks in the developed world banded together to send a message that the Big Banks will not be allowed to fail. They will give the banks enough of the taxpayers money to get them through so that they never have to pay for their mistakes. And a message to all those gambling that Bank of America and the like will go bankrupt was clear: 'We will print more money to save the bank than you have to gamble against it'. And stocks rose strongly because the Central Banks had reaffirmed the primacy of corporations against taxpayers.

So what do I make of all this? First, everything I heard from my parents generation says that they were, as you say, materialistic. Women, when they gathered for conversation, would openly talk about whether Sally or Mary had made a good catch or a bad catch--which was defined in some mix of character and money. More money could definitely offset a few character flaws. Second, humans are seldom capable of following purely rational strategies. We are overly swayed by things like status and the urge to instant gratification. Third, corporations ARE capable of following purely rational strategies. Exxon doesn't spend a lot of time agonizing about Peak Oil. They steadfastly focus on making piles of money. Peak Oil offers opportunities to make piles of money. Fourth, corporations have learned an immense amount about manipulating materials and advertising to take advantage of the innate predispositions of humans. For example, I read some flavorings expert's opinion that children's 'strawberry flavor' should have a strong bubblegum component. Actually feeding children strawberries is nowhere on the corporate agenda. Fifth, corporations have learned to bend governments to their will. It is no accident that a bankrupt corporation just walks away from their debts, like American Airlines, but a bankrupt 20 something with student loans can never walk away from them. And it is no accident that Obama's latest plan to save the underwater homeowner involves changing the debt from something guaranteed by the house to a debt in perpetuity which can only be lifted by death or payment.

The sum of all those observations is that the individual human is mostly quite a weak person, while the corporations are ruthlessly rational and also quite skilled in the manipulation of humans and governments. Therefore, with the exception of those smart enough to read your blog, the corporations will get what they want to the ultimate detriment of the humans.

Don Stewart

Justin said...

The United States as an entity, operating under the dynamics of delusion JMG refers to, is going to thrash around a lot before facing the reality. Part of that will be following every last crackpot scheme to its end, wasting valuable time and resources. And part of that will be more military adventurism, as it strains to hold together its military-economic empire and its inequitable share of energy from that.

The so-called greatest generation fought and won a massive world war, how do we top that? By not fighting any wars in spite of the times of turmoil, what is sure to be scapegoating, and rearranging of global affairs and systems. And that is up to us as individuals.

It's an incredibly exciting time with great potential. I wouldn't choose to be alive and relatively young at any other time.

Dain said...

Just when I thought you couldn't possibly write a better essay, you write and even better essay. I am a long time reader and first time poster. Thanks for your work, very much appreciated.
Our family is currently working on a Green Wizard approach to living on our 200 acre farm in the Ozarks. Water.Land.Heirloom Seeds.
And be ready to make it by hand.
Thanks again for your work.


Yupped said...

Thanks again, and please don't go! Or at least tell us what's coming next. Otherwise Thursday's will be shot and I'll probably have to go to the mall to keep myself occupied.

hari said...

John Michael Greer, Thank you for another good weekly post. I've been reading your stuff for about 1 1/2 years now, starting with The Ecotechnic Future. You've had and I'm sure will continue to have a big influence on me and my thinking. I also read The Long Descent, it's within arm's reach as I type this. I'm also immensely enjoying Star's Reach and looking forward to when I have enough money to shovel a small bit more in your general direction.

I've also been influenced a fair bit by another author that I become aware of about a year ago, Derrick Jensen. I'm curious about what you think of him. I listened to the long video on Youtube of you talking on Coast to Coast last week about Apocalypse Not. You said something to the effect that you're not at all impressed with Derrick Jensen. I'm not sure what to think of Derrick Jensen myself and would appreciate whatever clarity you can bring to my understanding of his ideas. I ask because, although I find myself agreeing with much of what he writes, I'm left feeling somewhat uneasy with it all. I actually went through the exhausting process of being accepted to the forum named after him, which has added a fair bit to my disillusionment with his thinking. Would it be fair to say that he's practicing thaumaturgy by shocking people with alternating images of beauty and ugliness? Or would it be fair to say that he's limiting his understanding of society by always only seeing it as stratified, and in the meantime shifting blame to those higher up in the hierarchy? These both seem fair enough but I still don't feel like I can quite put my finger on it.

I'm sorry if I might be putting you in any kind of awkward position by essentially asking you to talk smack about another author who obviously has an at least partially overlapping readership. I trust that you will respond to this question as you see fit. Thank you. And thanks again for all your work!

John Michael Greer said...

Ceworthe, I have no doubt that Homo sap. will survive the present mess; we're one of Nature's supreme generalists, right up there with rats and cockroaches, and about as difficult to exterminate. Mind you, I think we're going to find out the hard way that Gaia packs some mean pepper spray.

Ofthehands, excellent. Yes, it's all too easy to turn solar power into yet another massive, centralized industrial project in the service of collective fantasies of entitlement; the one drawback is that sunlight is so diffuse that it's not really going to be economically viable, except as a way of vacuuming up federal subsidies. Homescale solar for space heat, hot water, and the like, on the other hand, is perfectly viable, but it won't support the lifestyles we think we're owed by the cosmos. As for rights, well, we'll get into that down the road a bit.

Poet, well, I'm glad to say I have a surefire preventive for becoming the focus of a mass movement. I expect people who work with me to do exactly that: work. I've found as a teacher of magic, for example, that roughly 19 out of 20 people who come to me claiming they want to be personal students aren't willing to put in the half an hour a day or so of meditation and ritual that magical training requires; when I make it clear that that's the one nonnegotiable requirement, they vanish. I hope to see green wizardry grow the same way -- if you get into it, you're committing yourself to actual work, not just sitting around and talking about how cool a backyard garden and solar water heating are.

I suspect that this is also what's going on with a lot of the people you've called "disenfranchised Christians." Actually following the teachings of Christ is one heck of a lot of hard work, which is why so many people who call themselves Christians prefer to sit on their backsides listening to Rush Limbaugh and waiting for the Rapture. I doubt they'd be any more interested in the hard work of the path I follow!

Carlos, not at all. I'm just wrapping up the most recent series of posts. I plan on continuing to write weekly posts here as long as the internet stays viable, and if it falls over before I do, I've got plans in place to go to a print newsletter or a column in a larger publication. Stay tuned for many more posts to come!

jean-vivien said...

Hi Mr Archdruid,

could you give us some consistent historical example - not necessarily in Europe - of people choosing voluntary poverty or embracing monastic life in a way that did not require support from the religious institutions and thereof from the local, working peasants and labourers ? Here in Europe that is the first image coming to mind when we evoke medieval monastic life, so a bit of putting in perspective might be necessary here.

Besides it has occured to me that the decline of industrial production in Europe has left a magical void - a mental universe of classes, structured around factories, big companies and unions, blue-collar life and activities, but also ideologies and politics - a void which had to be filled by something else. Today's post gives me one element of answer as to what exactly has filled this void. The seasonal frenzies on Christmas decorations is certainly one very strong magical ritual related to our materialistic view of things We will see what else will replace materialism once it becomes a worldview too expensive for us to maintain.

Robert Magill said...

John Michael Greer said...

'Ceworthe, I have no doubt that Homo sap. will survive the present mess; we're one of Nature's supreme generalists, right up there with rats and cockroaches, and about as difficult to exterminate. Mind you, I think we're going to find out the hard way that Gaia packs some mean pepper spray.'

I put up a blogpost titled End of Evolution: a Retrospective arguing that

if mankind goes broke, as it appears likely these days, and has not indemnified the costs and expertise well in advance, then Gaia will forfeit sovereignty to radioactivity.

If we bumble along as we have always done, the 25,000 nuclear applications and devices around the globe will be left in hands less competent and prepared than Homer Simpson. Fukushima will be everywhere and we will envy the blissful ignorance of the rats and cockroaches.

Brad K. said...


"Patience, prudence, hard realism, the cold-eyed assessment of potential risks"

It feels to me that learning to regard a peasant lifestyle as "middle class" is going to be near the crux of what will come about as the dust settles. Convincing politicos, marketing types, and public schools of that delays the inevitable, and makes the transition more dire.

An MSNBC piece on the Waldorf School (elementary grades) in Silicon Valley ( show that our children are entirely capable of learning a non-tech, low-marketed lifestyle. If the adults around them have responsible values.

Blessed be.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Hello JMG and Greetings to All

Whew! you're not leaving--though it would be understandable if you were, considering your schedule. I can only say that in the several years I've been reading and interacting with you and all the thoughtful, insightful people in this online community, I have learned a great deal and my life has changed in many ways as a result.

This question of action is interesting, since, partly as a result of this blog I have gotten much more active in my community and at my college--I think by magic became the sustainability center coordinator in October, paid a living wage to infuse green wizardry into my college community (!)--yet holding to the monastic idea (which is also the Quaker ethos as I understand and live it).

And now Druidism--once some time ago a friend designing a role-playing game based a character on me: that of a druid warrior princess--pretty funny since I'm always looking for the peaceful resolution of conflict : ). Yet here I am learning to pronounce nwyfre, have gotten my meditation up to fifteen minutes most days--currently still meditating on the idea of "you become what you contemplate" (I'm a slow thinker).

Meanwhile, my husband, who emphatically does not believe in magic, and whose character you have described well in your phrase

patience, prudence, hard realism, the cold-eyed assessment of potential risk,

this weekend put extra installation in our attic, and plans to build me a cold frame--he did eventually buy a new tv, but after all those weeks without, he barely watches--so he was, I guess, detoxed.

I'm looking forward to seeing where this blog goes next.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...


Most interesting comment re St. Cuthbert.

Nice idea--peak engineering--eco technics? You, Ghung and Cherokee organics should get together.

I think scientists, engineers, humanists, artists, farmers and conservationists all have something to contribute as regards leadership, even if it's leadership people don't recognize as leadership--remember what St. Paul said about the body of Christ.

I'm so far from being an engineer people laugh at my efforts in the math department--yet I am spending large chunks of every day helping move my community college in a post peak, climate change cognizant direction. People like me understand the Second Law and EORI imaginatively or conceptually rather than however it is that you engineers understand them.

So our director of facilities is doing things to increase the energy efficiency of building operations--he told me yesterday the college is installing devices that will enable them to monitor the amount of electricity each building uses so as to manage and reduce, reduce, reduce electricity use (JMG's LESS in action); while I am working through workshops and communication to help change the college culture and curriculum to one that engages with and embraces sustainability.

Not everyone there understands about peak oil--but if the college can move in a post-peak direction, descent hopefully will be managed a little better.

andrewbwatt said...

A good piece this week, Archdruid. Like your other readers, I hope you're not planning on stopping any time soon — though I know that you have other pressing demands on your writing schedule...

I think it's interesting how many of your readers bring up the life of monasticism this week, and how many wish to retreat from the cities to a life in the country. The best one is @ChemEng's discussion of Cuthbert, though (who sounds much like a Druid who made it through the conversion with his training intact).

As a practicing druid(-candidate) and 'magician', I'd like to remind readers that the word Monk actually comes from the Greek word monachos meaning 'solitary one'. One doesn't have to take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to live the life of a hermit — one just has to bow out of certain parts of the rat race of modern culture, as the Egyptian Fathers (and Mothers!) did, and as Benedict and Cuthbert did...

Increasingly, my life looks like that: I get up early to do some yoga and ritual work, do some lectio divina (deliberate, conscious reading), and then go to work. In the afternoon and evening, I usually eat a meal alone or with friends, and avoid music, television, and movies (I was persuaded to go to the Muppet Movie, and I enjoyed it — but I also spent two days afterwards driving the music from the film out of my head... brain worms, all brain worms!)

I hope that not all the monks retreat to the wilderness, though. I thought long and hard about where to move two years ago, and I chose a small city in the upper northeast — 30,000 people, some open farmland nearby, access to rivers suited for industry and transportation, and lots of local timber. It's too close to a nuclear power plant, of course, and too close to the submarine base in Groton, and... and...

Perfect? No, not by a long shot. But this state is my home, and it is where I'm choosing to make a difference right now — as a teacher of young people, and as a druid(-candidate), and as a monachos urbanus, a city hermit.

Remember that the cities will be as much in need of good examples as your wilderness hideyholes, please.

Doug W. said...

What you are describing is all too familiar. Last summer I read Ponting's A GREEN HISTORY OF THE WORLD. It seems like business as usual for a civilization in decline to be unable to respond to its mounting challenges. A few years back I was part of a peak oil group and after a very short time it became apparent we were preaching to the choir and not reaching a broader audience. Individual action, as you advocate, is just about the only game in town at this point. I don't find that entirely satisfactory, but it is what it is.

JohnGoes said...

Between you and Mr. James Kunstler, I get in two blogs a massive amount of food for deep thought. (And actions as well.)

I loved the way you tied three seemingly disparate events into a theme that in some parts speaks to the blatant materialism that pervades western culture. I had the good fortune to stumble across a related article on "Of Two Minds" where the author, Zeus Yiamouyiannis, speaks in the 2nd part of his articles on debt forgiveness to the generational nature of the current Materialism bent, and speaks of his observation that the newest adult generational group appears to be eschewing joy of materialism for joy of experiential living through social contacts. I hope this new generation whether implicitly or explicitly understands that there is no way for humankind to sustain BAU of the current generation. (Which implicitly sates that I've kind of given up on my (boomer) generation making that leap.)

On Gingrich's statement - Over the last few years I've observed that the modus operandi of politicos is to get before the camera/interview and throw out whatever bald-faced lie or grandiose statement that gets the tickle-the-base reaction because retractions and refutations seldom occur in the base's limelight.

Finally, I find myself in the disenfranchised Christianity camp. My reading and understanding of the words of Jesus don't mesh with the actions and words of those who stand tall on their bibles and try to mold us into their concept of morality. I find myself fascinated by your writings about magic and have bubbling around in my head vague notions that perhaps Jesus was a master practitioner of "magic" as you have described magic in your writings. I find myself wondering if there's a way to use the tools of magic as you describe them to deepen my studies and understanding of Jesus teachings. Personally, I would love to learn more from you about the tools of magic in the context as tools to improve my critical thinking about God, the world, and how to change how I live my life. (Man, would that suggestion throw some Christians into apoplectic fits!)

Bobo the Dorkboy said...

Could the encouragement of the "monastic life" by a society be that society's way of making sure that a portion of its peacefully-inclined members sequester themselves and do not reproduce?

DPW said...

@ Joel:

"Old Dust", by Li Po -

The living is a passing traveler;

The dead, a man come home.

One brief journey between heaven and earth,

Then, alas! we are the same old dust of ten thousand ages.

The rabbit in the moon pounds the elixir in vain;

Fu-sang, the tree of immortality, has crumbled to kindling wood.

Man dies, his white bones are dumb without a word

While the green pines feel the coming of the spring.

Looking back, I sigh; looking before, I sigh again.

What is there to prize in the life's vaporous glory?


Ft. George Stout is mighty hard to resist...I must concur.


nutty professor said...


I always find your writing very timely. As a long time reader I thank you for addressing my personal concerns and questions - i have especially enjoyed your discussions of magic and spirituality that supplement the materials in your excellent books. Although I know you distrust divination and to an extent, astrology as an exact science of prediction, as we start the month of December I wonder if you will you be providing us with any prognostications on 2012, singularity, paradigm shift, etc., or any of the wonderful alternative myth- visions of the future that we might enjoy? Please?

Mark Angelini said...

I came across an amusing project recently: the re-taxonomization of Homo sapien sapien (the wise wise human) to our current and widespread sub-species of Homo sapien domestico fragilis -- the house trained and fragile species attempting to prolong fossil fueled life support systems. Basically an environmentally un-adapted selection of the species. Maybe pepper spraying and short term craving satisfaction could be a character trait to key out this sub-species? The authors of this project have identified an emerging sub-species: Homo sapien neo aboriginalis -- humans capable of adapting in place and living within the physical limits of one's envrions. I thought it was worth a thought and a chuckle! Might be useful for taxonomy geeks looking to see this through a different lens.

Kieran O'Neill said...

I think a little bit of the realisation that growth cannot be infinite is slowly seeping into the public stream of consciousness.

Just yesterday, the Guardian published an article by none other than Richard Heinberg. At the same time, this fairly deep economic analysis from the BBC points out that the most optimistic projections show the current "economic downturn" lasting until 2014, and being about equivalent to the 1930-33 depression (shallower, but longer). And those are the best projections, assuming heavy austerity measures (which the public aren't buying), and no further international economic shocks. The result has been that even the relatively far left Liberal Democrats have announced that they will be willing to accept even stronger austerity measures than they have in the past (in their coalition with the right-wing Conservatives).

Meanwhile, on the topic of climate change, I came across a fascinating article in the local newspaper from my home town (which happens to lie 80km = 50 miles from Durban). The article talks about the traditional Zulu calendar, which is lunar rather than solar, with about 13 months of 28 days each in a year, each named after a natural event corresponding roughly with that time (the return of the yellow-billed kite, the appearance of the first shoots, the lighting of the Winter fires). The article points out that at least some of these are falling out of correspondence with the natural world as the climate changes -- the month of uNhlaba was named for an aloe (inhlaba) that bloomed around April-May. Today the aloe blooms in June or even July.

Lloyd Lincoln Clark said...

The work, as you say JMG, is the necessary, though its' relative degree of difficulty is surely but a matter of perspective. Your work here for example has in the past seemed such a Herculean effort that few, and much the less myself, could reasonably aspire to like accomplishment. Indeed, as I moved beyond the simple gratification of a weekly confirmation of a shared view and began to learn, I became increasingly concerned that the time committed was inappropriate, competing with the very wizardly labors necessary to establish resiliency. The short story contest was the tipping point. I've not read a single submission, yet, let alone written anything. Thus was a change of consciousness effected, a reordering of priorities, from study to practice. That the invitation to spend yet more time at the keyboard willed me to just the opposite was illuminating. I can always write a story, or read, this blog for example. That option does not disappear. But if I don't get my butt outside and dig the potatoes, they will. Neither activity need be difficult, or hard work.

What I have come finally to understand is that what is difficult initially, is making a decision from among reasonable options without inadvertently precluding too many of them. With practice however comes skill, and with applied skill, accomplishment. The continuing guidance afforded in this forum is much appreciated. Much previously daunting now seems possible. A Druid has worked some splendid magic.

Jason said...

What about non-exuberant behaviour even when you have the resources to be exuberant? Does that ever happen?

Nick Dahlheim said...

Seeker 77,

I think there is an interesting corollary to the Lord Acton quip that "absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely." You are right that power draws the psychologically disturbed, and it is rare that people select wise rulers or are able to discern. And that says something about human nature, at least as it has evolved in terms of its social expression in high complexity, hierarchical societies. But Frank Herbert (via Paul Atreides I think) in Dune had sad “Absolute power does not corrupt absolutely, absolute power attracts the corruptible.” The mental construct of absolute power may be part of the issue at stake here.

Nick Dahlheim

Karen said...

In my neck of the woods (Germany) recognition of limited resources,and the need to recycle/reclaim materials is starting to gain traction along with phasing out of nuclear energy.

Also in certain quarters, living with less is also being discussed; it is a beginning.

Time will tell how it all develops.

Ceworthe said...

I was listening to a webinair presentation recently Wind Energy Issues: Aesthetics, Property Values, Sound and Siting sponsored by The New York Wind Education Collaborative (NYWEC) is a joint effort of the Pace Energy and Climate Center, Citizens’ Campaign for the Environment (CCE), and Alliance for Clean Energy New York (ACE NY), and co-sponsored by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) when I realized at a gut level how short-termed the massive wind farms are. During the presentation they mentioned that the wind generators would have to be replaced every 30 years.
I thought, how are they going to be able to produce such massive generators 30, 60, 90 years from now? Transport would be an issue as well (though the ones in the tug hill area of NY were transported via the St Lawrence). Localized wind and solar for each homesite are much more feasible. I've seen people make their own wind generators, including wooden blades.

escapefromwisconsin said...

Well, I for one am counting on microwaving coal to save us:

I’m joking of course, but seriously, see that article for the kind of heroic measures and wishful thinking this post is talking about. Has it really come to this?

And there’s one exception to the happy talk and wishful thinking coming from the U.S. Government. Any military general that believed in happy talk and wishful thinking over cold hard reality would soon find himself dead and his army gone. Thus, unlike the government which is run mainly by corporations dedicated to propaganda, the military actually has to deal with reality, no matter what. And what is the military saying?

In fact the U.S military has already made massive plans to use biofuels and solar, far in advance of anything the civilian economy is doing.

The contrast with what the politicians are telling the general public is striking, no? I leave it for you to discuss the futility of powering a war machine to secure our access to energy supplies with biofuels in a world of food scarcity.

John Michael Greer said...

Girl, I'd happily embrace the harshest monastic lifestyle in existence if the alternative was listening to Limbaugh!

Raymond, exactly. Still, I'd say the 21st century monasteries will do best if they evolve out of exactly those social networks you mention.

Seeker77, be careful. Carl Jung used to comment that when he asked a patient to describe the worst characteristics of the people who bothered him most, the patient inevitably described his own worst characteristics. Nowadays it's very popular to use politicians and the like as convenient inkblots onto which to project our own hunger for power, megalomania, and so on, but that's the same sort of scapegoat logic Jung had to confront in his patients -- and until they got past that, and realized that they were projecting their own bad habits onto a hated Other, the patients remained stuck in their problems.

Sam, excellent. I hope your father pays attention.

Unknown, er, I have no idea; perhaps you can explain a Nyquist formulation in plain English.

Jason, glad to hear of your blog! I've been hoping to see more people get into this sort of commentary with reference to where they live.

Cherokee, bingo. I've long thought that the sort of easy answers being marketed by "The Story of Broke" and the like are lullabyes, meant to soothe rather than to solve.

ChemEng, that's very good to hear! The monastic institutions of the Dark Ages, like their equivalents in similar periods in China, Japan, etc., had immense influence partly because they were local and flexible enough to survive in very difficult times, and partly because they attracted most of the intellectually gifted people of their times and places. Using them as models for the deindustrial future strikes me as a very sensible plan.

Devin, thank you! I don't think we're anywhere near peak archdruid yet, for whatever that's worth.

Sixbears, that's a very elegant bit of magic. Removing your energy and attention from something can be a remarkably effective way to weaken it, especially if the habit spreads.

Mister R., I wonder the same thing fairly often.

Farmer, sounds lika a plan. One of the things I like to suggest is that people look at actual communities -- rural towns and small cities -- or simply adapt in place, getting to know their neighbors and making connections where they are; it's rather late in the day to wait for the imaginary "perfect community" to show up.

Ruben said...

There are lots of comments about monasteries this week, so....

The Ecostery Foundation

John Michael Greer said...

Robo, I just hope they can adapt to social interaction without the high tech toys. The likelihood that those are still going to be cheap and readily available to most Americans 20 years from now seems remote to me.

Thijs, as the Dark Ages gave way to the Middle Ages, the monasteries and nunneries did what institutions always do, and slid from their original ideas to become a cog in the social machinery; their role as dumping grounds for unwanted children became so much of an issue that by the late Middle Ages, you generally had to pay a significant sum to a nunnery to get your daughter in. The Dark Age context was very different. As for the anthology, I'm reading and rereading the stories; I've selected enough to fill maybe 3/4 of the finished volume, and will finish sorting the rest in the next couple of weeks, if all goes well. Then it's time to contact the lucky ones and start the editing process.

Don, that's why I and others working along the same lines are making sure that individuals have the tools they need to parry the thaumaturgy, think their own thoughts, and do something more useful with their lives. An individual equipped with the tools I've been discussing over the last few months is far from weak.

Justin, thank you for the cheerful note at the end! I had a visionary experience some years back -- yes, I have those now and then, although I don't often discuss them publicly for obvious reasons -- that suggested that when crunch time arrived, those who were willing to face the realities of the time would find it an exhilarating challenge, while those who refused to do so would find it a spiral of total failure ending, as often as not, in death. As with any such experience, it's anyone's guess whether there's any literal truth to it at all, but it's an interesting idea.

Dain, excellent. That's very good to hear.

Yupped, I'm not going anywhere. What's next? I've mentioned more than once that we're at the intersection of two massive historical shifts -- the end of the industrial age, on the one hand, and the twilight of America's empire on the other. I've talked a lot about the former. Now it's going to be the latter's turn.

Hari, I'm not a fan of Jensen's work. It seems to me that he insists on reading the entire cosmos through the lens of his own experience as a survivor of child abuse, with civilization in the abstract playing the role of the Bad Parent. The angry dualism and the advocacy of aimless violence that come out of that seem hopelessly unhelpful to me.

Jean-Vivien, monasteries in the Dark Ages were self-supporting, raising their own food by the labor of the monks themselves; the same was generally true of Buddhist monasteries in early medieval China and Japan, and you might also check out the Shaker communities in 19th century America, which were wholly self-supporting, and make one of the better models for an indigenous American monasticism. As for your other comment, you're quite right; some new set of social forms will unquestionably evolve to fill the void, though it's hard to guess in advance what they will be.

A Forest Farmer said...

Thank you for your article on Pepper spraying the future. While I agree with most of your observations, I did have a comment on Monastic orders. If I recall correctly from my High School Psychology class, (I know, it's not a real science) altruistic acts can be motivated by self interest and be perceived to provide the giver with short term benefits. This can be a very different meme than what you might find in say a native american consensus meeting about the effects of decisions unto the seventh generation. While I can't deny that there must be plenty of monks that have good intentions at heart, Evan D. G. Fraser and Andrew Rimas make some very interesting observations in their book 'Empires of Food' about medieval monastic orders, (among many other fascinating implications for our own civilization). According to their research, the growth of some of these orders was about keeping ones belly full. Some of these orders became rich selling food to the starving masses, and even formed the foundation of successful trade routes. To a hungry peasant, hard work and a bit of celibacy might sound like a good deal if it represented personal survival instead of starvation.

While pepper spraying people to satisfy materialistic impulses is personally inexcusable, it is the not so surprising logical climax of consumerist brainwashing. According to my collage course in marketing of many years ago, the whole point of marketing is to create wants where non existed before. It turns out that 'wants' can be a much more powerful motivator than 'needs'. Clearly, it is working. Indeed, I might argue that the whole #OWS movement is about wants, not needs. The problems we are facing are going to be putting empathy and altruism to the test. Food is the one need that will trump any want. I shudder to think what will happen to our food system when actual fuel shortages develop given how utterly dependent we are today on diesel. One only needs to look at the Middle East to see what people become willing to do if they can't afford to feed their immediate family. It doesn't have to be violent, but their are far too many examples of population decline given in 'Empires of Food'. Perhaps I'm being too cynical, but most people are going to have a hard time thinking about yet to be born great great grand kids if they have survival challenges in their lap. The trouble for us now in the developed countries of the world is that what most people 'believe' constitutes survival (think market defined lifestyle), has little resemblance to the reality of human life. said...

Chris / Cherokee Organics,

Your point on the myriad definitions of human rights is well noted. I don't know how clearly it came through, but I was writing that the idea that having access to the internet is some kind of human right--an idea which I have certainly seen bandied about--seems a bit silly to me. I would be surprised if the internet on any scale that we know it today continues to exist throughout my lifetime. Saying there is a human right of access to information or knowledge is something that makes more sense to me. But as you write, that is something within the legal and human realm, and not really a function of biology and ecology. It's more about what kind of societies and cultures we want to have as human beings. Point taken.

As for solar, I imagine we largely agree, as well. Massive, centralized solar plants built on subsidies to enrich powerful interests and attempt to maintain an outsized American lifestyle don't make sense to me, and strike me as little more than destructive. On the other hand, I live on an off-the-grid farm that deals in quite a bit of solar energy, despite its location on the Oregon coast, in an environment with 100 inches of rain a year. Despite these climate shortcomings, we still get a chunk of our limited electricity through a couple solar PV panels (the rest through a more important micro hydro generator) and a significant amount of our hot water comes from passive solar. So believe me, I agree that solar has its place (particularly when taking hot showers on cool summer nights after a long day of farming.)

Of course, the PV panels seem to me little more than a bridge and bonus based on our current industrial society. I can't see those lasting any longer than the internet, except in salvage mode. But passive solar is brilliant and will have a significant place in our scaled down future. Why every building in this country that uses hot water doesn't have solar hot water panels on it (but almost all do have water heaters powered by gas or electricity) is one more indication that, as a country, we're not serious about sustainability.


John Michael Greer said...

Robert, there are going to be a lot of deaths and sicknesses down the centuries as a result of the placid stupidity with which we are littering the landscape with nuclear devices of various kinds. A quarter of a million years from now, those things will still be able to kill. Thus my lack of sympathy with the handwaving of Brand, Monbiot et al.!

Brad, I don't worry about convincing people of anything; those who have an ear, to borrow a very old phrase, will hear. My goal is simply to hand out tools to the ones who are willing to pick them up and use them.

Adrian, all this is very good to hear. When you get the cold frame, try spinach -- plant it in the fall, harvest it in early spring; it tends to do very well under cover.

Andrew, a very good point indeed. There's a lot to be said for a less structured monasticism or, to use what used to be the standard term, a regular rather than a secular clergy, in movements such as contemporary Druidry. In fact, AODA is getting ready to launch (or, more precisely, revive) something along these lines in the new year. Stand by for details!

Doug, individual action is the foundation. Once it's solidly in place, individuals who have changed their own lives can work together on a wider scale, and network from there. One step at a time...

JohnGoes, the book you want is Experience of the Inner Worlds by Gareth Knight. Knight is a Christian operative mage, one of the major figures in contemporary magic, and this book of his is a guide to magical practice for Christians. (It has a lot of value even for people outside that particular faith, for that matter.) Aside from that, if you'd like to talk shop about magic with me, drop an email to me c/o info (at) aoda (dot) com one of these days.

Bobo, the interesting thing is that there's no sign that having monasteries lowers the IQs or the cultural or intellectual innovation of a society -- quite the opposite, in fact.

Professor, well, I've already put my thoughts on that subject in print in my latest book, Apocalypse Not. Still, I'll see what I can do. I might even consider a yearlong celebration of failed apocalyptic predictions, to lead up to the next example of the species when the 13th baktun rolls over without incident on 4 Ahau 3 Kankin, December 21, 2012.

Mark, I'll believe "neo-aboriginalis" when I see an example of the species. Right now we've got a lot of people engaged in roleplaying games, if I may be blunt. The species I want to see is Homo humilis, "humble human."

Kieran, good heavens. That's very good news about the Guardian. Thanks for the link!

Lloyd, you're welcome! Digging the potatoes isn't hard work. Reaching the realization that you have to dig the potatoes, because the supermarket fairy isn't going to leave them in your refrigerator for you, is the hard work.

Jason, rarely, but it does happen. We call some of the people who do that "saints," and others "nutcases."

John Michael Greer said...

Karen, that's very good to hear. Merkel's decision to shut down Germany's nukes was one of the best pieces of news I'd heard in a while.

Ceworthe, I helped build a small wind turbine in college! A simple, relatively easy project, and it worked tolerably well. You're right about the big ones, though; they'll be torn down for scrap not too far in the future.

Escape, yes, it's come to this -- and I've noticed the military's common sense in this matter also. They've got to know that if they can't get fuel, they and their country are screwed.

Ruben, thanks for the link!

Forest Farmer, I tend to think that contemporary psychology is as much a hostage to contemporary ideology as any other of the "soft" sciences, but of course there's a point to what you've said. Food is always the sticking point in an age of decline -- thus the stress on growing at least some of your own in previous posts here.

Robert said...

@ Nick Dahlheim

What Lord Acton said is slightly different:

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certanty of corruption by authority."

The context of this famous quote was the 19th-century Catholic proposal to ascribe infallibility to ex cathedra pronouncements by Popes. Despite the limitations of its original context, Acton's principle is still worth serious thought: "great men are almost always bad men," and the likelihood increases as the great man's power becomes more nearly absolute.

Frank Herbert (or Paul Atreides) is seriously mistaken, I think, when he supposes that such a thing as an absolutely incorruptible human being has ever lived or ever will live.
I very much like the Archdruid's mighty counter-spell, "There is no brighter future."

And so I offer a second one:

"There will never be any incorruptible leader on whom we might rely in our current predicament. It is up to each of us, fallible and corruptible as we are, to do what we can." said...

Thank you for the lovely poem, Dan! Now you have me perusing Li Po, whom I'm otherwise unfamiliar with. And yes, Fort George Stout is hard to resist. Their Vortex IPA is even harder.


ChemEng said...

Messrs. Fisher and Batt:

Let me expand on the "Peak Engineering" concept a little. While I totally agree with Mr. Greer's comments to do with unjustified optimism and the can-do spirit, I am also uneasy about the opposite attitude, which can easily become fatalism. (I am a first-generation American and I believe that the American willingness to adopt other people and cultures will be an enormous strength moving forward. In this context, my favorite American is probably Al Davis: "Just win baby, just win").

In an earlier essay Mr. Greer discussed the dangers of a binary approach, and that is where I am coming from. There is a "Synthesis" of a new world, and I believe that engineers can help us achieve that synthesis. This is not the same as maintaining what we have now - that won't happen. But, while it's important not be too naive, it's equally important not to be too cynical or skeptical.

My concern about ASPO-USA was that there was very little talk about the creation of this new world. Although I totally endorse the local community/self-sufficient lifestyle approach advocated here, surely we can do more than that?

I don't know if this blog accepts hyperlinks. My first musings on all this are at My first essays are:
(1) An Engineer's View of Peak Oil: Synthesis, and (2) An Engineer's View of Peak Oil: Leadership. More to come!

I am striving to understand an eco-technical future. It will involve an alignment between disparate skills such as spiritual leadership (St. Cuthbert), high-tech (Steve Jobs), brazen confidence (Isambard Kingdom Brunel), understanding the equation dS=dQ/T (chemical and mechanical engineers), and growing cabbages.

My personal challenge is to co-opt engineers into this program because engineers are very good at solving problems (and maybe even predicaments).

Finally, I definitely agree with Mr. Martin about the quality of the comments at this site.

Richard Larson said...

I didn't realize pepperspray held so much potential!

That cold-eyed assessment of the risks is what gets me in trouble with my hope-filled friends and neighbors.

Meanwhile, I allow a major part of my garden to grow wild to build soil tilth - a long term plan for the future - and get castigated on a homesteading forum as being lazy and neglectful.

So even the erstwhile homesteaders are lacking..

Richard Larson said...

"I've found as a teacher of magic, for example, that roughly 19 out of 20 people who come to me claiming they want to be personal students aren't willing to put in the half an hour a day or so of meditation and ritual that magical training requires; when I make it clear that that's the one nonnegotiable requirement, they vanish. I hope to see green wizardry grow the same way -- if you get into it, you're committing yourself to actual work, not just sitting around and talking about how cool a backyard garden and solar water heating are".

Well, that isn't so bad. I handed out 30,000+ business cards at shows and fairs to people who said yes to this question, "Have you ever thought about using the sun's energy for heating"?

Out of this I booked about 500 assessments and sold about 100 systems, before I burnt myself to a crisp. Even now I no longer do the 7 day a week thing. Well, no longer do 1 day a week either.

But, on the other hand, the interest calls very slowly keep coming in.

So, careful mage, don't do yourself in like I did.

Eric said...


I'm curious what your take on Thorium Nuclear energy is. It's both concentrated and abundant. Conveniently, it also has none of the negative side effects of conventional light water reactors (which I agree are an environmental disaster).

Nick Vail said...

Thanks so much for another amazing post.

The latest issue of Conservation Biology has an article by the Karmapa that is very much related to many of the topics you discuss here.
Here's a short excerpt:

"I believe that the very future of life on Earth depends on those of us who are privileged to live more simply. To live simply is to be compassionate to yourself and to the world. A life full of material goods and barren of compassion is quite unsustainable from an ecological and karmic point of view. Of course, advertisements are always telling us that the path to happiness lies in purchasing the goods they sell. How is it that the advertising convinces us even when we are skeptical of its message? Our attachment to our own happiness, possessions, family, and self creates a lack of perspective that makes us susceptible. However, if we can be mindful of the emptiness of self, we can create a space for choice rather than habitual consumerism. We don't have to live a life that is sold to us—we can make the brave choice to live simply."

madtom said...

JMG, Chris, and others who responded to my unfortunately one-sided comment about our evolved imperative to Grab-It-Now - I have done more reading and thinking as suggested, and want to modify that position.

There *is* such a mechanism pretty much hardwired into the behavior of organisms for just the reasons I mentioned, but it gets overemphasized. I saw it just this morning in some seagulls, a pukeko and some mynahs scrapping over food the neighbor throws on the grass. Grab as much as possible, right now, or lose out. Chase and bash others as required.

But that is binary thinking, when the reality is far more complex. There is also real value in cooperation, moderation, and rational planning, and we have evolved quite strong drives and abilities in those directions too. While anything from an amoeba on up can grab like a champion, these later strategies are best implemented using that later-evolved feature the brain, and the even later addition called culture. Perhaps compassion belongs at the top of that hierarchy.

But evolution doesn’t just junk the old when something new comes along. It builds using the old, and on top of the old, and often makes the old a part of the new. The old Grab-It-Now is still with us, still strong, and just as useful as, say, the proverbial hammer: great for driving nails, but for computer repair or making a friendship feast, not so much.

That’s where I hope that JMG’s real magic can help. Procedures that change consciousness can predispose people to favor using the later developments of cooperation, moderation and rational planning, instead of reverting to the older Grab-Bash-Consume imperative.

But as JMG notes in this week's post, teams of very accomplished thaumaturges will be promoting attitudes that can only lead to conflict when they steer the populace into a wall. The more that can be done to counter this unrealism, the better for all. So I’m still reading with great interest.

Jason said...

JMG: Jason, rarely, but it does happen. We call some of the people who do that "saints," and others "nutcases."

Heh. I only ask because all through the boom times there was never any doubt amongst people trying to make healthy humans that getting everything you wanted didn't work.

It will be long before the sheer exceptional nature of these past centuries is really understood.

Talking of which, how is the Tao Te Ching coming? Very relevant to this post I feel.

BTW if you haven't yet had a chance to look at Pregadio's Encyclopedia of Taoism" it's a fantastic piece of work.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Picked up the copy of "Apocalypse Not" that I had on hold at the library. Heard the interview on "Coast to Coast." Looking forward to a few evenings of pleasurable reading.

I was also going to pick up a copy of your "New Encyclopedia of the Occult" which my branch was supposed to have sitting on the shelf. It has apparently gone missing. Due to the size, it would be hard to miss.

No real surprise. Way back when I worked in Library-Land, the attrition rate of anything to do with metaphysics or the occult was very high. They're going to ship me in a copy from another branch. If they're there. I also noticed that about half the copies in our system are not circulating copies, but are part of a branches reference collection. Library use only. Not that they don't go missing.

escapefromwisconsin said...

Someone on Club Orlov brought up the Anastasia movement in a comment. This seems quasi-monastical to me. I did a little research into it - apparently it began in Siberia and is based upon a series of books called the Ringing Cedar series by Vladimir Megre. It is a back-to-the land movement concerned with community relationships and self-sufficient living, and seems to having quite an impact. There are indications that such ideas may be spreading beyond Russia as well. Information in English is sparse as yet, but there is a Wikipedia entry on the author which gives some indication of the ideas:

Vladimir Megre

Fabrice said...

What a vision ! Thank you

Dennis D said...

As a Canadian, I actually find it refreshing that the Government of Canada actually admits what it is actually doing (very little). The previous government party signed all sorts of treaties, and then did nothing more than pat itself on the back while not doing anything significant about the problem. As a side note, if you take Canada’s emissions and back out those directly attributable to direct exports to the US, you will find that we are at or below those of the northern states which share a similar climate to Canada. This is not to say that we are so wonderful, but that there is very little real difference within a couple of hundred miles of our common borders (most Canadians live within 200 miles of the border)

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Jeepers, our Canadian government is bad, as you, JMG, rightly point out this week.

How can we best disengage from the empty values of our sterile, and now dying, civilization? How can we best do, in the teeth of "Black Friday" consumerism as detailed in this week's blog, what the Sakharovs and Solzhenitsyns did in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War?

Or, to take a different, and in some ways more telling, parallel, how can we do what Benedict of Nursia and Patrick of Ireland did during the crumbling of Rome?

Sometimes one feels paralyzed by fear and grief.

But it helps a little to think of real monasteries. Among the problems of the Greater Toronto Area, where I live, is the lack of monastic beacons. Such monastic foundations as exist here are small, almost to the point of invisibility.

That said, one can get a bit of solace out here by pondering the Archabbey of Saint Vincent in Pennsylvania, I think reachable from Toronto with a straightforward sequence of buses, and in the present state of cheap communications easily enough contacted by telephone.

This morning I opened the latest papermailed Oblate newsletter from that monastery and found in it a sincere, dignified layman's poem, praising the massive Saint Vincent basilica as an emblem of sanctuary and stability. Such things help restore courage, making it easier to ignore the clowns in Ottawa who are purporting to serve us.

Anyone who shares my grief and my attempted responses, and wants to talk privately about the Rule of Benedict, the Liturgy of the Hours, Catholic Worker, the helpful New Monasticism movement in the Protestant USA, etc, might want to get in touch by e-mail via Toomas.Karmo at or by phone via the number visible at the foot of my homepage, www dot metascientia dot com.

And is there SOME Catholic other than me out there in the blogosphere who is learning Hebrew? One dreams some day of a Mass and a Church-wide liturgy of Morning and Evening Prayer that incorporates at least a bit of Hebrew. It is striking how easily the words "Jerusalem" and "joy" couple in the mind, and how hard it by contrast is to couple the concept of joy with Rome. Jerusalem makes one think of Hava Nagila, of bagels, of klezmers, of celebration. Rome makes one think of tramping legions, of the Catiline Conspiracy, of "Vivit, vivit, et ad Senatum venit" ("He lives, he lives, he comes to the Senate" - said by Cicero of some influential crook), and of the current miseries of our ever-so-sad Church. Oi veh.

Finally, I am hoping that there will be somebody out there who agrees with me on the importance of preserving some specific cathedrals of Industrial-Era thought, namely the salient Industrial-Era achievements in maths and physics. Does someone, in a week when so many blog commentators are referring to monasticism, agree with me on the desirability of doing this in a neo-monastic setting only loosely coupled to our now dishonest, now business-promoting, universities?

What is important is not so much concrete scientific results as the spirit in which the results were obtained - the spirit, namely, of formal cleanness, the spirit that expects fuzzy concepts like "limit" to be explained in epsilon-delta definitions, the spirit that refuses to be satisfied with, say, Newtonian mechanics until everything gets written out in ways that are dimensionally kosher. In particular, to be dimensionally kosher is to see to it that sin, cos, and ln get fed as arguments only quantities that are pure numbers: as soon as we find "sin x" in a context where "x" is a displacement, canonically measured in metres, we know that there is bacon on the matzot. And let calculus, especially the differential equations, be purged of the facile and obscurantist "df/dx" notation: let a first derivative be, forever, plain sober "f'(x)", without the perilous, facile, unclear upstairs-and-downstairs-d.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo

Susan said...


"The popularity of the monastic life across so many cultures and centuries is hard to square with such claims; it has not been uncommon for anything up to ten per cent of the population of some countries and times to embrace lives of poverty, celibacy and discipline in a monastic setting."

I hate to come across as nit-picky, but that means that the other 90-plus % of "some" countries and times did NOT choose to live in poverty, and well over 90% in all the other countries and times in recorded history behaved similarly. We are just whistling past the graveyard if we honestly think that a significant % of people are going to voluntarily give up their existing lifestyles in order to save the planet.

We're all going to go there eventually, but most of us are going to end up living in poverty INvoluntarily. We're all stuck playing a world-wide game of musical chairs, and if only "up to ten per cent" of us try to get out of the game voluntarily, that will still not be nearly enough to prevent catastrophe. Hopefully some of us can save ourselves by dropping out of the rat race before it's too late, but we will still be at the mercy of vast historical forces beyond our control.

We've been busy growing and canning as much of our own food as possible, and we are going to "unplug" Christmas this year, but if (actually, when) the Euro collapses, my boss will be out of business, and I will be unemployed, and when the US government runs out of money (or prints so much that it's worthless), my husband's Social Security is not going to be sufficient to pay our bills). So, yeah, that whole monastic thing is a definite possibility...

The leaders and citizens of China (and India and every other developing country) understand that fossil fuel driven economic growth is the only way to escape from the poverty that has plagued them for, like, forever. Thus, they are not going to voluntarily give up their only reasonable hope to catch up to the industrialized West (and in fact many of them see well-meaning Western environmentalists who want to cut carbon use as nothing more than White racists who want to keep the colored peoples of the third world UNdeveloped, and therefore poor forever).

There is definitely a good correlation between per-capita energy use and physical standard of living (the USA and Canada are good examples), and the rest of the world wants to get a piece of that action sooner, not later. And if they don't get it at all, they will not be very happy.

Now, the fact that the world will run out of oil before they are all able to achieve a high-energy Western lifestyle is sort of beside the point. China, for example, is currently busy trying to snap up as many resources as possible in Africa, South America, and the Pacific. The world may run out of several vital resources in the near future, but as long as it's everybody else who is left standing when the music stops, the leaders of China will be relatively okay. If the US doesn't build the Keystone XL pipeline, China would be more than happy to pay top dollar (which they have a lot of, doncha know) for that nasty black goo from Alberta, and they WILL burn it. So, we can all just forget about Kyoto, okay? If it were up to us humans, I'm afraid the planet is just going to have to save herself.

Susan said...

Speaking of World War II, remember why Japan attacked Pearl Harbor? It all had to do with access to the oil from the Dutch East Indies; they had to have a secure route to the home islands, which meant eliminating the US Navy's ability to come charging across the ocean to cut it off.

Admiral Yamamoto famously understood that the US would inevitably win in the end, but the leadership believed they really had no choice; without the resources from Manchuria and Korea and SE Asia, resource-poor Japan would be impoverished, so when the US embargoed oil (in an effort to force Japan to relinquish its earlier conquests in China), they decided to simply take the oil.

I have absolutely no doubt that the next world war will be fought for the same reasons as the last one, and will probably be fought with the same kinds of weapons that were used to end the last one. But look on the bright side: a little nuclear winter will pretty much put an end to all that global warming nonsense...

Have a nice day :-)

John Michael Greer said...

Richard, one of the perennial experiences on this path is that a lot of people just. don't. get. it. As for business cards and running oneself ragged, that's one of the good things about writing books; the people who write or email me asking to study with me are already prefiltered, because they have to go to the trouble of figuring out how to send me a letter or an email. Thus the 1 in 20 rate, as opposed to one in thousands.

Eric, thorium is vaporware. Every other nuclear power system looked really good before it went into production, too.

Nick, if that speech is anything to go by, he's doing an excellent job of living up to his status as an incarnation of the bodhisattva of compassion! Thanks for posting.

Madtom, bingo. Remember that thaumaturgy makes you stupid; the amount of thaumaturgy that's being deployed to sell video game consoles (and other pieces of shoddy sweatshop-manufactured trash, to be sure) these days more or less guarantees that a great many people are going to behave in very stupid ways. Our task is not to do so.

Jason, the systems-theory Tao Te Ching has ended up temporarily on hold due to other projects having to come first. It's still going to happen -- I have a couple of long train rides coming up, which should be helpful.

Lewis, that's something I've heard from a lot of librarians.

Escape, interesting. I know the books have been translated into English, but haven't gotten around to reading them yet.

Fabrice, you're welcome!

Dennis, oh, granted -- but Canadians still use significantly more energy per capita than Americans do, and I think last time I checked, you were just a bit above Australia, the other nation that has a higher per capita use than America.

Tom, good to hear from you. Maybe one of the Catholic monastic ordere might be interested in following the lead of St. Leibowitz?

Susan, it fascinates me that so many people respond so vehemently to the suggestion that people can and do give up wealth and privilege in exchange for other benefits less easily reduced to cash terms. Mind you, we're all going to give up a great deal, and not too far in the future, either; the point of a neomonasticism is to do it by choice rather than necessity, and thus retain the ability to choose what you give up and what you have some shot at saving.

Ozark Chinquapin said...

One disturbing trend I've noticed in the last few years is the increasingly narrow focus within environmentalism on carbon. Not that carbon isn't important, I do consider global warming a very major issue, but it seems some are focusing on that one issue so heavily that the rest of the environmental issues are being squeezed out of people's attention. Narrowing people's focus to carbon alone goes well with the agenda of Monbiot and his ilk.

Anyone else noticed how the "ecological footprint" seems to have been largely replaced by "carbon footprint". While I think the ecological footprint concept is flawed in some ways, it still serves as a useful idea for people looking to change their lifestyles. In my opinion, the change to carbon footprint is a step in the wrong direction, at least the ecological footprint was an attempt to think more holistically about our impact on the environment.

I personally think the effects of nuclear energy will be worse in the long run than those of global warming. The planet has many times in the past had CO2 levels well in excess of any of the realistic predictions I've seen, but it has never had nuclesr waste strewn around. I think we likely have a number of decades to go before the nuclear effects get real bad in a lot of places, as maintaining the reactors will likely have enough priority to get through the first half of catabolic collapse before large numbers of them fail because they can't be maintained. However, wars could certainly destabilize the situation enough for lots of radioactive caontamination to happen sooner, and Fukushima shows that radioactive incidents can happen in current times too. I see the reactors as like ticking time bombs, but much more insidious. People know of Chernobyl and Fukushima, but few know about Chelyabinsk, Russia where nuclear accidents during Soviet times have left a very sickened population, as the Soviets kept it secret for several decades.

Bill Pulliam said...


"those who were willing to face the realities of the time would find it an exhilarating challenge, while those who refused to do so would find it a spiral of total failure ending, as often as not, in death"

That sounds like a basic truth about all encounters with the limits of life in the physical plane, and one that we should tattoo in our own minds in a place we will see it regularly. Just a teeny nitpick with your muse, though, who should know full well that all our personal paths end in death whether we embrace them or not -- the ultimate limiting reality of physical existence.

Also worth remembering that part of what makes a challenge exhilarating is often that it is also frightening, even potentially deadly.

Gweb said...

There is, in the people I know, a resistance to confront the facts; the resistance seems stronger in the public figures of power.

As Raymond Wharton says, there is indeed a resistance to confront facts because these facts are too painful for most people to confront. And it's especially true for those in public power. They owe their power largely to their ability to "get the stuff", whether via pepper spray or any other means. When there's no more stuff to be got, that kind of power will evaporate like pepper spray in a hard rain.

Although, speaking of things getting much worse before they get better, I wouldn't be surprised to see people calling for martial law and public execution along with the strip mining of national parks. In the face of unfamiliar suffering outside the range of our experience, we humans tend to cling to familiar solutions that no longer work simply because they ARE familiar.

We don't really need anyone else to pepper spray us; we'll likely do that very effectively ourselves.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG and everyone,

I kind of liked the story of stuff, it was a cute idea, but they always seemed to promote – as you say - the idea that you can have your cake and eat it too!

Much respect for your reading and responding to all of these comments, it takes me ages to work my way through them. The words used by commenters and their individual writing styles and thoughts tell so much about the individuals. For me, it's sort of like watching a growing garden.

So, I'm reading all of the comments and into my head pops this strange thought: collectively we sort of get the political and economic system that luck, energy, resources and culture throw our way. Take away one of those components and things get sort of squeezed which is what is happening now. Add in high expectations and you get a volatile mix. But, we are the culture component.

I'm saying this because, well, there's a bit of hand-waving going on here in some comments. Yeah, we don't control the system. Yeah, corporations act in self interest. Yeah, politicians act in self interest and are also possibly corrupt. Yeah, the environment is getting trashed. You could go on...

But, here's the naughty bit though. We benefit from the scraps that are thrown our way. The mere fact that we can collectively comment here via the Internet should be evidence enough that the decisions being made on our behalf - as toxic and as short term as they are - are actually benefiting us.

I'm not saying that I agree with those decisions or actions, but I certainly acknowledge that I personally benefit from them.

Which brings me to the conclusion that with so many enjoying so much, it would be very unlikely that the powers that be would actually want to move away from the status quo, even when the system is falling apart at the seams. Look at the effort going in to avert a default with the heavily indebted nations in Europe.

The inevitable will happen.



Rhisiart Gwilym said...

"the United States was able to crush the Axis powers in the Second World War"

What, all on their own, JM. Don't you think that the Red Army might have had just a smidgeon of influence there too...?

Cherokee Organics said...

Hey ofthehands,

Too true and respect to you.


Cherokee Organics said...


Sorry to mention this, but, I'm now picking fresh strawberries and some cherries (other varieties of cherry are still ripening). Yeah, it's summer here.

I'm not trying to make you Northern hemisphere people jealous, but I had this weird realisation which I'll try to explain.

In previous years I'd been purchasing local organic strawberries for about $15/kilogram (a kilogram is about 2 pounds). However, over the past 12 months, I've been collecting heritage strawberry plants from here, there, everywhere and splitting out the previous years runners into separate plants. I now have a over 150 plants with space for more.

However, without putting much thought into it somehow I've ended up spending the money on mulch and compost instead.

Not bad economics really. Half a cubic metre of mulch or compost for the price of a kilogram of local organic strawberries. Long term thinking in action.



phil harris said...

A few minor miscellaneous points to add to an excellent summary.

An account of monasticism integrated in to a culture, mostly by neccessity, is to be found in this detailed human geography study (interesting on uses and limitations of polyandry as well). Excellent on farming, diet and interesting because of high levels of general mental health in these traditional settings.

British coal peaked around 1913 at just under 300Mt per year. We exported about 100Mt of this, which presumably helped pay for the food. UK has imported the majority of its calories for a long time, and even now with modern cereals yields, farming does not remotely feed the country (too little arable land).

St Cuthbert's Lindisfarne is a short cycle ride from where we live. Tradition round here stresses his hermit preferences (for example his move to a small islet to avoid the acolytes) and to his needing to be pressured in to a political role in the face of wider threats to the region. Early monasticism along this coast was overwhelmed by military raids.

Glad to read everybody's thoughts

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Susan,

I'm sorry to here about your troubles.

It may surprise you to know that the majority of the human population already lives in what you may describe as poverty. Still, they lead rich lives in many other ways and also at the same time very difficult lives. It is we in the first world countries that are set to fall - not them.

Yes, I also think that the Euro is doomed. It may however have a bit of life left in it yet though, but ultimately what they are facing is structural problems on a scale that is not fixable.

Don Stewart mentioned the banks banding together to stabilise the economy and I want to point that this was also tried in 1929. Ultimately they found they weren't big enough combined to solve their own lending issues and eventually fell to trying to save themselves.

Still it's not all doom and gloom. People need to eat. Collect open pollinated seeds, bring in compost and mulch, have a poly tunnel, and can more. Put your energy into action rather than worry.



Justin said...

In your conception of a hierarchical behavioral intelligence hiearchy, with grab like a champion at the bottom and cooperation strategies toward the top, is valid, and I think it is an interesting model, then the process of turning the species with the highest evolved cooperative behaviors, that is the one with the most innately social animal whose socialability is a part of its physical nature, into grab like a champion amoeba's is a terrible feat of repression.

Bill Pulliam said...

I think there's a corollary to the notion that people are inevitably driven by short-term desires that shows up in individuals' assessments of their own characters. I am thinking of the common self description of the form "I am so I don't ." This statement is made as though this is a concrete inevitable nonmalleable truth. I am not talking about adjectives that reflect hard realities ("I am 4 feet tall so I don't easily reach the top shelf without a stepstool"). I mean expressions like "I am lazy so I don't do physical work" or "I am distractible so I don't finish projects." These feeling are presented as simple facts, even justifications. Once upon a time these sorts of attributes were viewed as challenges within our characters to be overcome through discipline. Now they seem to be worn almost proudly as validations for our actions.

I'm sure I have told this next story before...

A few years ago I spend months out on a scaffolding meticulously scraping, sanding, repairing, and repainting our 1886 vintage Carpenter Gothic front porch, the only surviving example of its kind in the entire county. All the others have succumbed to the quick-fix and been replaced by boring 20th century stuff bought at the Big Box Home Center. At one point one of our neighbors driving by stopped and hollered out the window "That's so beautiful! I would never have the patience to do something like that." To which my unspoken reply was "Yes, and that is why you will never have something like this." She just took it as a given that she was an impatient flake, that's all there is to it, and she is almost proud of this fact.

Apparently in the modern world character is simply what you are born with, and you can no more work to change it that you can grow a third arm. This is especially odd given how much mass culture likes to glorify those who overcome extreme physical challenges, such people with no legs who compete in marathons. But modest individual personality quirks? Just accept them, indulge them, revel in them, and expect the rest of the world to accommodate to you rather than cultivating the teeniest drop of self-discipline within your own constitution.

Maria said...

Your essays, and the time I spend thinking about them, continue to make changes in my consciousness. At times I feel disoriented -- as if life is going on one way for me and another way for most of the people around me. My mind is still up to no good a lot of the time (especially now that the holiday season is upon us) but I seem to be catching it at its antics a little more quickly. I'm also catching other people at their manipulation attempts a little more quickly, checking in with a couple of trusted friends if I need to, and then politely disengaging. I have no idea if the general population is highly manipulative or if I just attract that type, but I'm not getting hooked as often.

I'm delighted that we haven't reached peak archdruid! I have so much more to learn and I thank you for your willingness to teach.

ando said...


Off subject abit..I was re-reading "Descent.." last night. You are not very optimistic about the prospects for the suburbs in the next two decades (at my age, that is all I need to consider).

Seems I read (from a source other than you) that you consider Cumberland and similar towns to be a viable alternative. Is the river a consideration?

Have you written on that, or will you? I am considering flight from the 'burbs.



Brad K. said...

Bill Pulliam,

"Apparently in the modern world character is simply what you are born with, and you can no more work to change it that you can grow a third arm. "

I read a report of research, years ago, that claimed "personality" is formed in children by the age of four. I have seen nothing that disputes that in today's world.

It was said, back in the day, you could tell a man's character by his horse and his dog. I believe the assumption was that the man trained, through ownership or by raising them, the dog and horse.

I think what we are seeing in the industrial/mass media world is the substitution of parenting skills with mass media bombardment. Infants and young children don't get enough time, forget the drivel about "quality" time, with parents of character and skill in nurturing and instilling in their children the essence of character and integrity, of industry and discipline, and of the values and lore of family and (non-media) culture. Too many generations of the average parent were raised without effective parenting, and just don't recognize the difference.

What I see in my community is that there are still families that maintain the character and skills of effective parenting. I don't believe that the future is universally lost to all; merely making more people aware that there are better ways to raise children could have a profound impact on the next generation.

Culture, the values and lore of the life of the community, is simply a personal choice, after all. 'Else there could be no "Occupy" gatherings, no Green Wizard community, no one would change religious affiliation, immigrate to another state, region, or nation and learn to "fit in". We couldn't learn to do a new job, adjust to a new community, new school, or find a new favored author.

Mark Angelini said...

Fair enough, and I think you are correct about many engaging in roleplaying right now. Especially in the way you described last week -- folks starting to make changes, but then sliding toward instant gratification and comfort as the realities of a "harder" life make themselves present through practice. I observe it and did my fair share of preaching-before-practice in the past after my peak oil initiation, if you will. So, yes, maybe Homo humilis is the more useful imaginative -- we've got a heck of a learning curve ahead of us!

What I take from your message and my own experience is that right now it is easy to make lifestyle changes and (especially) easy to talk about it, because we feel the limits very faintly. When those symptoms become acute, I think lifestyle changes will start become mundane -- because it will not be voluntary, at least for the wise. We'll see! Practice is not easy, and not for everyone. Thank you for your piercing work -- I find it immensely timely and useful.

BTW -- I just started watching The Great Work. Coinciding quite well with all of this study/practice!

Justin Patrick Moore said...

A number of posts back you mentioned your interest in Stoic philosophy.
Then at work -in the library- I came across an excellent book, "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy" by William B. Irvine, a professor of Philosophy at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio (not far from my Cincinnati).

In any case I have started reading it, thinking that this Stoic philosophy has a lot to recommend itself. Though written by an academic, the main point of the book is in offering a "life philosophy" instead of philosophical theory. Stoic tenets could serve us all well, now into the years ahead. I heartily recommend it.

Alongside that I've been reading "Reinventing Collapse" -also available from my public library. This book, which you cited in one of your own, is also excellent. What strikes me is how he talks about how hard drinking people become as the empire they live in (in this case he is talking about the Soviet Union, for those not familiar with the title) falls apart.

I was born in '79. Does my generation drink more alcohol and drug it up more than others? I'm not sure. This is another area though, where Stoic philosophy can come to aid. I enjoy alchohol, but don't like getting sick and drinking to excess. Stoic ethics would have us temper those short term cravings. Besides, there are better responses to the coming crises than trying to drink them away.

I've been enjoying the posts the past few weeks even though I haven't commented. Meanwhile I put insulation on my hot water pipes... lot's more to be done. On my own christmas list I would like to find a good axe for wood splitting. Bought a dutch oven to go with our black skillets a few months back. Otherwise, I'm trying to avoid the pepper spray.

Kieran O'Neill said...

Regarding the COP summit, I think this cartoon by a renowned South African political cartoonist speaks a thousand words:

Howard Zapiro -- COP OUT

All it needs is John Pike walking nonchalantly by with his tactical can of pepper spray. (Maybe later on I'll do just that.)

Richard Larson said...

Just. Don't. Get. It.

I wish someone would have impressed that into my thick skull before I decided to become a hero..

Bobo the Dorkboy said...

Well, that's encouraging. Surprising, definitely, but encouraging. Thanks. Not to flog the horse too much, but does it, over time, make the society less peaceful?

Tom Roark said...

Gingrich's comment, of course, is not unique. My feeling is that some, maybe all, of them know better.

A friend of mine sketched the curves of oil drilling and oil production for me. Dramatic drilling efforts in the eighties and recently barely slowed the production descent. The more recent effort was more successful. I believe it must have been because of deep water wells, which were an unexpected gift.

About workers' objections to being asked to come to work in the middle of the night after Thanksgiving, our local paper, the Minneapolis Star and Tribune editorialized that they should quit whining and be glad they have jobs.

I've been pretty much of the permaculture-lifeboat, libertarian camp. But recent readings of the three Limits to Growth books has convinced me we need policy to steer the descent.

Ozark Chinquapin said...

I have the same frustration as you about the attitude of people being unwilling to even try to change their own character or improve themselves. What's most upsetting to me is when people feel they're entitled to everything at the same time while unwilling to put in the least bit of effort towards it. I'm personally enough of a minimalist with regards to my living spaces that I have no desire for something as ornate as a gothic porch, but that's a choice that I make, and I respect the different choice you've made.

Another thing I've noticed that's on a similar note is the tendency for the media to overplay genetics. I have seen this in regards to diseases, where an article headline will state that a study shows X disease is genetic, then if you read the article it actually states that it's really only that a gene has been linked to a higher incidence of the disease. However, the headline says the disease is genetic so plenty of people are convinced to think lifestyle is unimportant. A good example of a purely genetic condition is Down's Syndrome, where everyone who has the abnormality has the condition. Many other "genetic" diseases are much less straightforward. Some are genetic in the sense that you need to have the responsible gene in order to get the disease, but not everyone who has the gene gets it, as the gene needs to be activated. Many others that I've seen labeled in the media as genetic aren't dependent on any particular gene to occur, all that's been found is that a particular gene leads to a somewhat higher incidence. Yes, genetics is important, but it really seems to me that many people want to believe it's all about what they are born with, so as to excuse themselves from any attempt to take charge of their own lives. Of course that mindset plays right into the hands of the pharmaceutical industry, too, and so I think that could be considered another instance of thaumaturgy.

Benjamin Walker said...

Wonderful; just wonderful, JMG!

I've been waiting for a post of yours that I can provide to friends and family, appropriately summarizing a majority of concerns and abstractions -- I believe this is just the one.

Thank you so very much, for this, your past, and your future endeavors. I would proffer a hug, were I in physical proximity to your person.



I can't remember where I came across this resource, but, again, I think it's something that might prove interesting to yourself and my fellow readers/commentators:

Let's Re-Make!


To all who may read this comment: If you live in the Seattle/Woodinville (WA state, USA) area, appreciate what JMG posts here every week, and would be interested in befriending an introspective recluse who has no like-minded people with which to socialize and put to practical use the recommendations contained within this blog, please contact me.

Hopefully that won't sound too desperate. It's not meant as a cry for help or suchlike; no razor blades at my wrists.

Benjamin Walker

Cherokee Organics said...


I like a pop culture reference and this one can be taken as a metaphor for mental health issues as well as the societal bigger picture which Bill referred to. I really like this quote, it's from the 1999 film Girl Interrupted:

Dr. Wick: Quis hic locus?, quae regio?, quae mundi plaga? What world is this?... What kingdom?... What shores of what world? It's a very big question you're faced with, Susana. The *choice* of your *life*. How much will you indulge in your flaws? What are your flaws? *Are* they flaws?... If you embrace them, will you commit yourself to hospital?... for life?

Dr. Wick: Big questions, big decisions! Not surprising you profess *careless* about them.

Susanna: [very upset and uncomfortable] is that it?

Dr. Wick: For now.

I had a mate years ago who was inordinately proud of not being able to assemble an IKEA bookcase. The quote is just as applicable to him.

I'm quite horrified! I re-read my comment to Susan from yesterday and noted both spelling and grammatical errors! Mental note to myself - No commenting whilst imbibing vodka!

Actually, I had a lovely conversation today with an older couple that operate their own still came away with many ideas. This year will be a bumper potato crop here. Mmmm...

Regards all!


A fellow traveler said...

Greetings Grand Archdruid Greer,

I am sorry you are suspending the Green Wizard course. You can never know how much your essays and the comments from your other readers have given to me. It has been comforting to find a teacher and companions who share many of my thoughts and values and are preparing for a future which is going to challenge us all. To me it has been like a being a part of a community where I could go to the town meetings on Thursday and listen without the obligation to speak. If the attendee who has been privy to your Green Wizard course lectures does not implement the material or profit from your wisdom it is his/her loss, not yours. Thank you for giving the gift of your time and wisdom.

I would like to share a poem with you and your readers. It is LXXIII from The Gardener by Rabindranath Tagore:

Infinite wealth is not yours, my patient and dusky mother dust!
You toil to fill the mouths of your children, but food is scarce.
The gift of gladness that your have for us is never perfect.
The toys that you make for your children are fragile.
You cannot satisfy all our hungry hopes, but should I desert you for that?
Your smile which is shadowed with pain is sweet to my eyes.
Your love which knows not fulfillment is dear to my heart.
From your breast you have fed us with life but not immortality,
That is why your eyes are ever wakeful.
For ages you are working with color and song, yet your heaven is not built,
But only its sad suggestion.
Over your creations of beauty there is the mist of tears.
I will pour out my songs into your mute heart, and my love into your love.
I will worship you with labor.
I have seen your tender face and I love your mournful dust, Mother Earth.

A fellow traveler.

Goat Path said...

My greatest fear is being embroiled in a future living situation where I have to act in a way that causes harm to others. I am not a historian, but it occurred to me that a monastic choice was one of the only ways to avoid violence throughout the ages. I'm guessing that the reason there was also an emphasis on martial arts was for self protection and preservation of a peaceful way of life. If the monks learned to fight with their hands, they could remain effective without weapons. Weapons can be taken away and require technology to make.

TheRavingLoon said...


This is Matt. I've got a radio show here on local radio "Ask the Astrologer". Wanted to see if you'd be interested in being a guest. some topics:

Neptune and the Apocalypse: Liz Green writes about this in her book on Neptune. That Neptune themes are intertwined in the apocalypse. You know your astrology and your apocs' so you'd be a good peson to chat with about this.

Does a person's mercury placement indicate how they will communicate about PO? Chris Martenson has mercury in Libra and he writes in a way very in line with that sign. Diplomatic, not wanting to offend too much even as it is very direct (cardinal.) My mercury is in Cancer, more to the emotions.

Does a person's childhood influence which of the various narratives they're likely to adopt? Parents who suffered and sacrificed, for instance, might make for a person who is attracted to PO/GW because "the earth is suffering" while somebody whose dad was a total tyrant might be more attracted to the "it's all he fault of the a-hole Wall Street bankers" narrative. somebody whose parents just mysteriously disappeared might be into the "UFO free energy technology will save us when it eventually shows up" narrative"

I have other ideas, those are just a taste. Dec 22nd at 10 am is a current opening if that works for you.

Global Nomad said...

"Pepper spraying the future" seems to sum it up so nicely.

I have no idea how humanity will get over the "I'm gonna get mine" attitude. It certainly permeates the American culture from top to bottom.

I had the unfortunate experience of being in between Koreatown and downtown during the Los Angeles riots in 1992. From what I saw everyone was out for themselves be it looters, shop owners or the police for that matter. The veil of "civilization" has always seemed incredibly thin to me after that experience.

I hope the long decent goes a smoothly for all of us but in the back of my mind I fear that Mr. Greer may be too much of an optimist.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Benjamin Walker - Well, Benjamin Walker, I live down in Centralia. I'm in the midst of closing out my bookstore and in January will be moving out in the boonies, 15 minutes SE of Chehalis. People keep asking me "what I'm going to do." My stock answer is "I'm moving to the woods, becoming a hermit and will plant potatoes."

Drop me a line:

afterthegoldrush said...

It is certainly interesting to watch current events through the 'awareness prism' of the crisis of our times - conclusions tend to be very different to the mainstream understanding.

A couple from the UK this week:

I watched a news program on the TV (I still use it sparingly) which featured a reporter following on from our Prime Minister’s assertion that what Britain needs is to ‘re-industrialise’ i.e. to move away from growth (still growth, always growth) in the financial services, and move back to manufacturing. The reporter presented his report from the first canal which was built in the North West of England (my birthplace), beneath a derelict cotton mill. It was an interesting piece of history and ended with the question, “so what is to be the new cotton?” Implying that all we needed was some new material to make and sell and leaving aside the rather more pertinent question of ‘where is the energy going to come from to make, well, anything?’ The only example they provided of the stuff Britain is going to have to make to compete in the global market place (blah, blah, blah), was Graphene – that’s right, technology will save us.

On the same program we had the ‘honour’ of the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (I think that’s right) – the head military honcho anyway. The main thrust of the feature was that the US military is going to have to dramatically reduce its expenditure because of what’s going on in Congress (debt basically) and how was it going to cope. The interviewer’s opening question was rather telling (I’m paraphrasing): “So what is it like navigating through this period of decline?” To which the guy laughed out loud and of course denied it was a decline and that their military capability would not diminish, that the US would always be able to fight two wars AND all options were still on the table regarding Iran. It was an exercise in imperial bluster (he was in full dress uniform of course, with medals glinting) as an imperial power worthy of the name never has to answer questions about its ability to use that power – it’s a given.

Once again my thanks JMG for your on-going work, it really does help people and it’s a great comfort to know that Peak Archdruid is not upon us! (though I worry for us poor Europeans when the internet goes down in terms of getting our weekly ADR).

And I second the call for you not to give up on the systems theory Tao Te Ching – that publication is eagerly awaited!

Peace to All

Steve said...

When you first hinted that an upcoming topic would be the future of the American experiment, I was anxious for you to wrap up the Green Wizardry series. Now, however, I wish that the magic series would continue for at least a few more lessons. I know that you've painted the broad strokes and that it's up to each reader to fill in the details if and as we choose, but the discussion has been as fascinating as it has mind-opening for me. My only lament is that many of the books you've recommended for further reading on magical practice are not available in the library, and I'm at a bit of a loss where besides Amazon to look for used copies.

Anyhow, I am still excited to read about your predictions for our country's future among the decline of material living standards; the failure of our social, political, and economic institutions; and the breakdown of our cultural myths in the face of all of these events. Speaking of these breakdowns, is there a list that you know of where those of us who wish to subscribe to whatever offline TAR might arise in the wake of the internet can leave our addresses and any subscription fee?

p.s. Now that it's largely wrapped up, I am looking forward to purchasing whatever book comes out of the GW series of posts. Thanks for a thoroughly enriching year-plus of reading and learning!

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Ozark,

As to the genetics references you should check out eugenics. It's a concept that keeps raising its head every now and then. It has a dark history and some strange supporters.


I'm always disturbed when I start seeing links to social darwinism etc. Bunch of nutters...

I think you may also find that a couple that both have Downs Syndrome can have a baby not affected by Downs Syndrome. They may be a carrier though.

Hi Tom Roark,

Just out of interest and I promise not to argue with you. How do you balance the concepts of permaculture ethics with libertarianism? They seem at odds to me.



John Michael Greer said...

Ozark, I've noted the same thing. It's all part of the broader trend of gelding environmental awareness so that it doesn't get in the way of a lifestyle of crass conspicuous consumption -- the sort of thing that spawns SUVs with ecological bumper stickers on them.

Bill, I don't claim any kind of infallibility for visionary experiences! For what it's worth, though, the context suggested that "ending in death" was meant to imply "in fairly short order," or at least "earlier than would otherwise be expected."

Gweb, true enough. Those currently in power owe their positions, not merely to their ability to get the stuff for themselves, but to get it for influential others as well; when nobody can get the stuff, because the stuff isn't there to be gotten any more, the whole current system of influence and authority may come apart in fairly short order -- though what will replace it may not be an improvement.

Cherokee, and of course that's the thing nobody wants to mention -- the vast majority of the people reading these posts are receiving very concrete benefits from the system that so many of them insist they despise. As for the mulch, good for you!

Rhisiart, that's what Newt said. You'd be amazed by the number of people on this side of the water who have never heard of Stalingrad or Kursk -- or, for that matter, El Alamein.

Phil, all very true. Monasticism needs good defensive walls -- a trick that the Chinese and Japanese traditions developed into a fine art, with martial arts as a first rate backup. That might be a lesson worth learning this time around.

Bill, you've just identified one of the most powerful dimensions of thaumaturgy -- get people to embrace a limiting self-image, and you can all but guarantee that they won't do what you don't want them to do. (Such as, say, doing things with their own hands, instead of buing prefab junk from you.)

Maria, excellent. The disorientation is a fairly common experience at first.

Ando, it depends on the individual suburb or river town, but yes, as a very rough generalization, I expect a lot of suburbs to do much worse than a lot of small cities and towns on what were once good transport corridors. You might find this post a useful intro to my logic.

Mark, right at the moment it's easier to make lifestyle changes than it will be down the road a bit, because the resources to make those changes are still relatively easy to come by, and the pressures of day to day survival aren't what they will be down the road a bit. Of course it's always easier just to talk about it!

Justin, insulating your pipes is one of the basic, initiatory practices of Green Wizardry -- good to hear. As for Stoicism, by all means read modern stuff if you wish, but don't neglect the original sources -- especially Epictetus, whose writings are like an ice cold wet towel across the face. To my mind the classic stuff is still far and away the best.

Kieran, funny! Thanks for posting the link.

John Michael Greer said...

Richard, I don't know anyone who hasn't learned that lesson the hard way. I certainly had to figure it out by experience!

Bobo, er, does what make society less peaceful?

Tom, I think some of them know better, and others simply can't get their minds around the concept of limits. Most Americans can't.

Benjamin, glad to be of help!

Cherokee, the people who take pride in being helpless -- we have a lot of them here, too -- have made a trap for themselves that they will almost certainly never escape alive. By all means learn as much as you can from the couple with the still -- that's a major growth industry in times of decline, you know.

Traveler, I'm not "suspending" the Green Wizards posts; I've said what I have to say about the subject, and am handing it over to the Green Wizards forum on the one hand, and to my publishers on the other. No one person is an expert on everything that might go into a green wizardry toolkit; I studied organic gardening, energy conservation, homescale solar energy, and hand crafts back in the day, and those are the things I'm competent to write about. Now it's the turn of other people, while I turn to another set of subjects relevant to the overall theme of this blog.

Goat Path, good. Martial arts of the kind practiced in monastic traditions also tend to focus on weapons that are very, very easy to make -- wooden staffs, for example.

Loon, posts here don't come with an email address attached, even if you use an email address to sign into them. Please drop me an email via info (at) aoda (dot) org and we'll talk.

Nomad, where did you get the idea that I expect catabolic collapse to go smoothly? I've been saying all along that it's going to be a very rough road.

Matt, I haven't abandoned it. It's simply that like most American authors, I took a financial hit from the recent bankruptcy of the national Borders Books chain -- the billions of dollars in unpaid bills from publishers that they went broke owing amounts to a lot of royalties nobody is ever going to see. I'm doing better than many, because I also have a lot of foreign sales, but I've had to concentrate a bit on projects that will pay my bills.

Steve, I don't expect the internet to come apart any time soon. Down the road a bit, once internet access starts going sharply up in price (the likely first sign of trouble), I'll launch a newsletter service parallel to the online Report, and we'll go from there.

Mary said...

While I've enjoyed the sojourn through mental magic, I look forward to the feet on the ground, practical magic to come.

A monastic lifestyle works for me, perhaps along the lines of Green Gulch. I remember when I was very young, perhaps 7, looking at the rows and stacks of toys and realizing that this can't last. By the time I was 10, I was sure that social security would not be there for me...but that it would be ok. But how, I have wondered ever since, will it be ok? Now I begin to see...

I expect nothing of things like Kyoto. Not because you'll never get everyone to sign onto and follow it, but because the sheer idiocy of a bunch of people deciding that a 2 degree rise in temperature is 1. ok, and 2. controllable. As if they have only to order the temperatures around, or have any clue what new tipping point lies just around the corner. Not to mention really know what disasters lie in wait. Already, diseases are moving northward and here in Maine moose numbers are declining due to extended tick season killing off the young.

Anyway, I just keep learning skills that will help people now, and will make me more useful and welcome somewhere when the time is ripe.

And in the meantime, I've had my eyes out for something to convert into a fireless cooker. I'm happy to report that, during a week of nonstop clouds and rain, I had a "well, duh!" moment. My waterproof, insulated solar cooker should fill the need. So I found some instructions online, soaked a couple pounds of homegrown, dried soybeans overnight, dug out a cheap little quilted coverlet I bought on sale for $5 or so years ago, which has been waiting in the linen closet to find a use ever since, and VOILA! It worked! The quilt was exactly the right size, the solar cooker doubles beautifully as a fireless cooker, and 2 pots of soybeans - one savory and one boston-style - cooked perfectly using 10 minutes total of propane plus 8 hours inside the cooker.

I was also happy to discover that I like dried soybeans, which have a slightly nutty flavor, as much as sweet "lima-style" baby soybeans.

Onward and upward. Next Saturday will be my "interior storm windows" workshop.


Global Nomad said...

"Nomad, where did you get the idea that I expect catabolic collapse to go smoothly? I've been saying all along that it's going to be a very rough road."

My apologies if I have misunderstood your ideas.

It seems like you have put forth the idea of a very slow collapse. Taking decades to unfold. Society feeding on itself. Salvaging what it can. Populations dispersing naturally, migrating to other areas and adapting to new ways of living. I consider this an optimistic point of view.

My point was that a mob mentality can change the balance of a situation in the blink of a eye. I sited my own experience in the Los Angeles riots but there are many other historical examples.

I just worry that the major "population adjustment" accompanying the fallout of de-industralization might happen quickly in a lot of areas due to wars, famine, disease, and general overshoot of resources.

This would be more like a very fast descent followed by a gradual leveling off of the population.

John Michael Greer said...

Mary, excellent! That's a good way to save effort and resources, too, since the same device can be used for solar cooking and fireless cooking. In the difficult years ahead, that sort of multiple-use device will likely be valuable to many.

Nomad, one of the points I've been making all along is that the binary between "slow decline with plenty of time to adjust" and "fast collapse where everything comes crashing down all at once" is based on bad logic and a poor grasp of history. The most likely future we face, to judge by past examples of collapse, is a "stairstep collapse" in which abrupt crises hit, but are followed first by drastic coping mechanisms, then by temporary stabilization at a lower level of prosperity, population, and social and economic integration, then by more crises and a repeat of the process, moving down a step each time.

Your example of the LA riots is very relevant here; sending in soldiers in full battle gear to stop an urban riot is a very mild example of the kind of coping mechanisms I'm discussing. There's an enormous range of things that governments can do to stop collapse in its tracks over the short term, and no imaginable reason why they would sit on their hands and not do anything, as most fast-collapse models require.

Now of course the coping mechanisms will only work over the short term; after a period of relative stability, something else will go haywire, and then we get another crisis, more death and impoverishment and breakdown of infrastructure, more desperate expedients, and another period of relative stability followed by another crisis from some other quarter; rinse and repeat over one to three centuries, and you're in the next Dark Ages. That, not some sort of gradual decline, is the model I've been talking about for the last five and a half years on this blog, and it's a source of some annoyance to me that so many people can read that description over and over again and still not get it, because it doesn't fit our culture's preferred binaries.

hari said...

Thanks for the response to my question about Derrick Jensen. I mostly agree with you, but I'm still curious about some things.

There are two issues. The first one is that we would benefit from purposefully simplifying. That's how I (perhaps too generously) understand his calls for what can fairly be called ecoterror. I don't want to be involved with that myself and I think that for the most part simplification will happen whether or not anyone tries to push it to happen, whether they push gently or violently. So that's probably a moot point.

The bigger question, however, is about civilization. That's the thing about Derrick Jensen that has influenced my thinking the most, it's a line of thinking that I've been ushered towards by other less extreme thinkers as well. Jared Diamond (The Third Chimpanzee) and Christopher Ryan (Sex at Dawn) are the main people I have in mind when I say that. I would briefly describe it by saying that people evolved in circumstances much different from the ones we find ourselves in now, are much better suited for those circumstances, happier in them, and in better cooperation with the rest of life when in them.

Can I ask you, John Michael Greer, what you're own personal understanding of civilization might be? What meaning might there be to it? I have a hard time dismissing such a big endeavor as meaningless, but I also have a hard time accepting all the ugliness it's created.

I can recognize a binary in my thinking. Civilization vs. Pre-agricultural human life. It's also related to valuing nature vs. valuing humanity. Can I also ask how magic, as the study of the human mind (roughly anyways, as I understand it), and druidism, as the worship of nature (again, my understanding being very far from what it could be), go together?

hadashi said...

JMG, whenever I read about the stairstep collapse that you envisage, I can't help but think of a Grobschitt LP that I used to own, one of the tracks of which seemed to portray a rock band tumbling down a staircase with drums bashing, cymbals clashing and voices yelling out in panic.

Draft said...


I just watched this interview with Chris Martenson and had a severe doubt tingle up my spine. Within the first two minutes Martenson appropriates your 'predicament not problem' framing and seems to be lifting a mishmash of material from you and others and boldly claiming it as his own thinking. This isn't the first video I've seen him do this, but it's the most recent. But more than that he seems confident in his analysis. Too confident even: like a CONfidence man. He and others are both extremely confident and extremely pessimistic. Martenson and these others seem like they have latched onto some simple notion and are bellowing it with supreme confidence at every chance. (Studies have shown that those who are overconfident in their predictions tend to be wrong more than those who admit room for error.)

I wonder: is Martenson the flip side to Newt Gingrich-style hucksterism?

Bill Pulliam said...

Ozark -- Re: minimalism etc., it's worth mentioning that we essentially got this house for free, after paying for the land it sits on, because it was in such a state of neglect. I view it not as a thing of affluence so much as a thing of beauty, an artifact from a time and aesthetic system that our mass culture abandoned in favor of cheap manufactured pseudo-utilitarian crap long ago. It's made of wood that was logged and milled on-site, and was built in a way that allows just about anything that breaks, rots, or wears out to be easily repaired or replaced. It's a different sort of minimalism, that was not designed or built assuming the eternal existence of a massive industrial supply chain. And of course had we not bought it, someone would have probably wound up using it to hide a meth lab and burned it to the ground by now.

JMG -- in the time-honored religious tradition of using other people's visions as a jumping off point for one's own ramblings... perhaps we're in the realm of the ideas of a "good death" versus a "bad death," a death that feel unwelcome, like a failure, versus a death that feels like a completion, the end of a worthy journey. And of course that difference is almost about entirely in the mind of the person who is facing it.

Edward said...

At Cherokee Organics, JMG, and everyone:

Handwaving: I love that term although there are different kinds of handwaving.

First I see someone jumping up and down at a concert, waving his hands at the rock star.

Second, I see an elementary student wiggling in his seat, waving hands so the teacher will call on him.

Third, I see someone quietly giving hand signals surrepticously tring to get the attention of another.

I'm not always sure which one (or it it's another) that is intended here.


Ah, Epictedus! Never has there been so much packed in such a small package as the Enchiridion. It was a turning point in my life, knowing to only be concerned about the things within my own control, and that the only way someone can truly hurt me is if they cause me to do something unjust.

Lance Michael Foster said...

Your model of societal decline JMG also corresponds more to biological evolution and geological change, in the stairstepping combination of gradualism and catastrophism which is punctuated equilbrium.

Lance Michael Foster said...

In the stairstepping model then, there will be a series of descending "steps" over centuries until we get to a new medieval-like setting.

The "catastrophes" which are the "punctuation" in the "punctuated equilibrium model" are a combination of natural events (disease pandemics, sea level and climate change) and societal actions and responses (peak oil, war, migration) to those events. A drop, then rebuilding in new circumstances as "the dust settles."

So while it is important to think about 300 years from now, the question for most of us in our situation is, what to prepare for now? What does our 10-20 year future look like and how to prepare?

I would suggest that those of us who live in the poor side of town (like me) have experiential knowledge for those who are currently middle class, ...while those of us who are poor (like me) can learn a lot from the poor of the Third World. I certainly learned a lot about what to expect (increase in crime, sporadic electrical outages, water and sanitation issues, having to forge new social relationships to cope, alternative health remedies, and getting tougher) from my short time in Nigeria.

Also, I think people who "aren't getting it" as far as this not being the "end of the world" but just a diminishment, a paucity, with new struggles, should take a look at JMG's "Apocalypse Not."

Cathy McGuire said...

It’s taken me a while to respond to this wonderful post, because I’ve been involved this weekend in attempting to sell my crafts and my soon-to-be-released poetry book. And while writing this, I’m listening to some Estonian guitar virtuosos, and in general beginning to mourn the possible loss of such wonderful creativity (at least, loss of access to it). The crafts have pretty obviously become luxuries in the rural county where I live now, and poetry gatherings have always been luxuries – I know there will be local arts and crafts as things settle out, but I will mourn the richness of global creativity the way I will mourn the loss of bananas and coffee (if it happens in my lifetime) – accepted as a wonderful icing on a unsustainable cake. :-}

One of the points that needs to be drawn from these examples, and the many others like them, is that optimism and a can-do attitude are in large part effects rather than causes; or, to put matters a little differently, they are relevant to certain circumstances and not to others.

I try to point that out to optimists, but either they are biologically incapable of understanding the realists’ POV, or they are in denial… but anyone who reads history, and especially written-at-the-time history, can see that attitudes change when there is widespread loss of opportunity. And I love the next line, too – and it’s a fact that someone with teeth and muscles has cause for optimism! ;-)

Such a nation needs to foster entirely different qualities than the ones just mentioned: circumspection, patience, and a keen sense of the downside risks of any opportunity come to mind.

This brings to mind conquered nations (such as my ancestral Ireland), which also need to be wily in order to get out from under. Luckily, I believe many Americans have these traits, no matter how rusty they might be. Those who have been hit by the decline are already polishing them up.

As a side note, One of the manifestations of this “growth mania” that I’ve been noticing lately is that even craftspeople and non-profits seem unable to stay at the level they are comfortable – there’s too often a push for expansion, until they look and sound just like the myriad cloned businesses in the US! I get so discouraged when some group or craftsperson I really like gets “infected” and becomes unrecognizable (coming up with a motto or canned sales pitch is a typical sign)…

Another random thought: one of the other advantages of learning to live more simply by cooking from scratch is that you re-learn how to plan ahead. Instead of instant decisions about meals, a day or two of advance choice is needed. It's a fairly easy practice that has positive effect on other parts of life.

Also lots of great comments already! I’m only halfway through them, but I want to post this today before I go to finish up the crafts sale. My brief opinion of those in power: many people with hammers seeing a lot of nails!

@Richard Larson: That cold-eyed assessment of the risks is what gets me in trouble with my hope-filled friends and neighbors.
Yes, I have that problem also. Now that they are finally at the stage of admitting there might be a problem, I’ve progressed to acceptance that it’s a predicament, so I’m not willing to discuss “solutions” anymore – unless they include making do with less!

@ChemEng: Good points! I will check out your blog. The way to make the link live is to use the < a > and < / a > (remove the spaces).

RainbowShadow said...

Absolutely fantastic post as usual, John Michael Greer!

However, I don't think our phenomenon of "pepperspraying" is limited to oil or consumer goods.

In my opinion, it's infested our entire culture.

Seeker77 commented about sociopathic Wall Street executives.

You then reminded him not to project his shadow onto them.

However, with all due respect, I'm not so sure he was wrong about sociopathy.

Not of the executives, of course, but of ordinary American culture.

Look how popular television shows such as Survivor or Hell's Kitchen are, and they're all about who to vote off and/or symbolically "kill" for the purposes of "self-advancement so you can win the big prize."

Or look at how our culture celebrates someone's downfall (more attention devoted to Michael Jackson the "wacko" than devoted to heroic and rational people like John Michael Greer), or look at how we constantly clamor for endless wars (Guatemala, Vietnam, Iraq, etc.).

Meanwhile, we have a huge bullying problem in our workplaces and in our schools, and we have politicians who cannot obey basic human civility because "the other side was rude fiiiiiiiirst!"

God FORBID anyone should ever believe that politeness and civility and empathy and unselfishness are virtues "whether or not your opponent does it."

The fact of the matter is that the "screw you I'll hurt you so I can take what's mine" mentality has BECOME what American culture is all about. Life as constant Lord-of-the-Flies struggle, where everyone is your enemy or rival.

That's what I've been trying to communicate to you all along, I don't know whether or not I've succeeded. That it's become "water the fish swims in, the last thing the fish notices is water."

And our fellow Americans, our ordinary friends and neighbors AS WELL AS the executives on Wall Street, endlessly push this sociopathic ideal as though it were the "only way to live."

We complain about people pepperspraying each other to get something from Wal-Mart? Heck, maybe we should take a look at ourselves and how we relate to each other.

Anyway, thanks again for another brilliant post!

Matt and Jess said...

hari, I've had the same questions about Derrick Jensen, because my husband has always enjoyed reading his books. I don't know if JMG will mention this author, but I learned about him from this blog a long time ago: Lewis Mumford and his Myth of the Machine (and Pentagon of Power) really helped me to understand a history of civilization a little better in a maybe fairer and more honest way. I hope that helps, those books are really gripping! I also find it extremely annoying that DJ has no problem telling others to do these big crimes like blowing up dams but obviously no intention on doing anything himself. I think I'd have much more respect for him if he got into trouble for doing something for once. I also find that when you read DJ you get a binary: "civ is murder" vs "everything else." It's possible to disagree with the ways our society has done things while still, well, not being a fan of DJ.

Plus I get so tired of envisioning him making love to everything. (I hope that gets through the filter, if not I'll resend it and leave that out!)

Cathy McGuire said...

Speaking of pepper spraying as a strategy, that reminds me of one of my favorite Frye and Laurie songs:

Warning - they use one word that might not be for kids under 8 yrs old (not that they haven't heard it)

Red Neck Girl said...

I love the natural world, from its wide meadows cupping buttery sunlight, blending into the filigree shadowed game trails winding between the moss draped gray and brown pillars of guardian trees.

I love the sweet taste of the wind bringing the perfumed scent of juicy grass, astringent green pines and the elemental tang of a passing thunderstorm.

I enjoy with drowsy contentment the rhythmic chant of crickets singing a long introduction to the jazz of a mockingbird before it sings a sentinel song in the tree by my bedroom window on it's nightly rounds.

I cherish the graduated blues of hills rolling into distant mountains in the summer twilight as the cooling breezes of night groom the pines of loose needles.

I see more beauty and hear the sweet and precious sounds of and in the natural world. I feel only passing sorrow in the loss of our progressive civilization. I think we'll gain far more by the demise of our mechanical technology then in any struggle to save it. Its too discordant for our natural internal rhythms, too psychically abrasive in its utter disallowance of personal dignity.

To me, it should be quietly celebrated with each harvest of the garden, in each loaf of home baked bread. It should be acknowledged with a smile at the darting flight of a dragonfly or the long feathered fingers of a soaring hawk on an crisp fall morning.

There's an abundance of things I won't miss of this technological world, that I needn't go in to. I look forward to the richness of a world with a slower pace and more personally satisfying rewards.

Wadulisi Tsalagi

Cathy McGuire said...

@Bill Pulliam and Brad K
"Apparently in the modern world character is simply what you are born with, and you can no more work to change it that you can grow a third arm. "

I read a report of research, years ago, that claimed "personality" is formed in children by the age of four. I have seen nothing that disputes that in today's world.

It’s an intriguing question, nature vs. nurture, and Bill, I agree with you that many seem to be using modern science of personality more as excuse than challenge, but I also believe that after a certain number of decades, it’s possible to see what aspects of oneself are not very amenable to change (assuming one has been trying) and what still might be targeted. I was startled into confirmation of this recently as I had a chance to see movies of myself from infant to age 4ish, and noted that not once in any of them did I smile or laugh, though children around me at similar ages did, and my younger sister, when she showed up, also did. I have to assume that my serious and introverted nature was either something I came in with or was cemented by the time I was christened at 3 months! :-} Even though I overlaid that with a gregarious persona, underneath I don’t think I’ve changed in 50 years… I’m not saying we can’t change or try to address personal limits, but I am saying that some folks more easily fit certain situations and I see no reason why we can’t allow diversity to ease us into situations we’d be best at. (And Bill, you know, I’m sure, that some of those “I’m not…” comments are their “polite” way to say, “You are just nuts, in my opinion!” ;-} At least, when I hear them, that’s what I hear).

@Benjamin Walker: Have you been to the greenwizards site and seen the location map yet? Looks like at least one “pin” is stuck in the Seattle area? This should be the link:

Cherokee Organics said...

Hey Edward,

Nice point!

I ripped this definition from wikipedia for handwaving. It sums my up understanding of the term:

Handwaving is a pejorative label applied to the action of displaying the appearance of doing something, when actually doing little, or nothing. For example, it is applied to debate techniques that involve logical fallacies. It is also used in working situations where productive work is expected, but no work is actually accomplished.

Hope this helps.



Ruben said...


Joseph Tainter says, "A civilization is the cultural system of a complex society." (p. 41 The Collapse of Complex Societies)

Lei said...

Mostly well said, but as far as monasteries are concerned, I would be much more realistic than the author of the blog is. They were so popular both in Europe and for example in China for materialistic reasons: they simply offered a way out of the worst poverty and education "for free". One would not have to pay taxes, one was fed on a regular basis and usually lived in much better conditions than if one struggled as a serf or one of ten sons of of poor peasant. And for this reason the motivation for persecution of Buddhism in 9th century China, a famous case, was almost wholly economic. Therefore, I would not exaggerate the willingness of people to choose frugal life, though I do not contest the fact that frugality was encoded in premoderdern cultures in a very different way than today and that it could have a very important position.

Ozark Chinquapin said...

I was not meaning to imply that your porch was a symbol of affluence. I'm not an expert by any means on porches so don't have a clear picture on what yours looks like. I have the picture in my mind of one that has many intricate designs, and had the impression that they would me more difficult to maintain than simpler designs, but I really don't know since I don't have any experience with them. I respect that you saved that house from ruin.

Hari, Matt and Jess,
On the Derrick Jensen discussion, I feel the same way as JMG, not at all impressed. I ran across this recently,

He actually believes that a few computer hackers could "bring down civilization". I'm not enough of a computer person to know how much damage those hackers could actually do, but I do know the obvious, civilizations have been around for thousands of years before computers, and even if hackers could take down the whole internet it would not come close to bringing down civilization.

I don't consider lumping all of civilization together to be helpful at all, nor do I consider lumping all primitive peoples together any more helpful. Is it not enough to just say that humans are capable of creating an incredible diversity of cultures. The circumstances of some cultures are better for ourselves and for the environment than others, but I still wouldn't say it's all a matter of civilization versus primitive, Can Jensen and his ilk not imagine any other alternative, maybe one that incorporates aspects of societies past and present as well as new aspects that haven't even been dreamed of yet.

I can respectfully disagree with someone like Daniel Quinn, who has the same dichotomy as Jensen but much less destructive suggestions for people. However, Jensen's "solutions", if ever followed through by a significant number of people, only will make things much worse. The sort of violence he advocates would not accomplish his goals of bringing down civilization, but only lead to more misery, and with more people in fear, that would probably lead to an increasingly authoritarian government that people would support to end the terrorism, the opposite of what Jensen hopes for. To top that, Jensen rallies against people being the change they wish to see in their own lives, insuring that his followers will remain hooked to the system and feeding it while dreaming of destroying it.

Jensen himself refuses to do anything which he preaches to others to do. I think he desperately wants this violent revolt against civilization, but doesn't have the guts to do anything himself, so just hopes that if he's writes about what he wants done enough, others will do it for him.

Edward said...

@ Cherokee Organics:

Thanks! Due to the context, I figured that the definition would be something like that. However I have often felt like an elementary school student here on this blog!

Bobo the Dorkboy said...

Sorry. This is why YOU write this stuff instead of me... you can get your ideas across clearly. :-)

Does the voluntary sequestration of the more peaceful members of society (and the fact that they then do not reproduce, via vow of celibacy) make the society any less peaceful?

Richard Larson said...

Yes indeed, Cathy McGuire. I have found myself using that predicament description a lot myself lately.

Imagine that! :-)

Jason Heppenstall said...

Getting back to 'can do' attitudes again, I noticed this article today that talks about a rift between American and European scientists over the proposed use of geo-engineering to 'solve' our planetary 'problems'. The bit that stuck out for me was this one:

"The Promethean dreams of the geo-clique – perhaps expressed most starkly by its sometime mentor, Pentagon "weaponeer" Lowell Wood, when he declared: "We've engineered every other environment we live in, why not the planet?" – are harder to defend in Europe.

In Europe, and especially Germany, geoengineering is treated with much more circumspection and nervousness. In short, the complexity and capriciousness of the Earth are accorded a much greater respect, and there is a historical reservoir of mistrust for the good intentions of humans intoxicated with technological power."

Obviously geo-engineering is going to take an awful lot of resources and energy so it is my sincere hope that these arrogant projects will never get off the ground.


Bill Pulliam said...

Re: Jensen... to me he is a hypocrite, pure and simple. He preaches against industrial civilization while indulging in its fruits. This is a very common phenomenon among gurus but it still doesn't make it acceptable. I've mentioned this before: Why doesn't he have a beard? Last I checked razors did not grow on trees.

John Michael Greer said...

Hari, one of these days I'm going to have to do a post about the wilderness of abstractions in which so much of contemporary thought is hopelessly lost. "Civilization" is one of those abstractions. It's simply a label for societies that fall toward the upper end of the spectrum of human social complexity; there's no rigid line separating such societies from the rest, much less the sort of Gnostic dualism offered up by Jensen, Quinn et al. -- or for that matter the equal and opposite Gnostic dualism offered up by true believers in progress.

As for the intersection of magic and Druidry -- well, do you think that the human mind is somehow separate from nature? In what possible sense could it be? Human nature, after all, is part of nature in general...

Hadashi, thank you! If The Long Descent ever gets turned into a documentary, I'll see if I can't talk the producers into using that Grobschitt piece in the sound track!

Draft, I wouldn't go that far. Chris is very confident in his model of the future -- to my mind, more confident than he should be, given the usual cussedness of history -- and I'd encourage people to take his predictions with a grain (or a shaker) of salt, just as I'd encourage them to sit back and assess what I say, rather than taking it on faith. Still, I don't think he's a huckster -- simply someone who sees that our society is about to run off the rails, and is yelling himself hoarse trying to warn others.

Bill, true enough. Still, there's also the difference between death as an unavoidable reality that comes at the end of one's lifespan, and death in fairly short order as a wholly avoidable result of hopelessly self-defeating behavior patterns.

Edward, Cherokee's comment further down sums up my definition. As for Epictetus, he got me through the most difficult time of my adult life, the months after the death of my son. As a way of facing life that stands up to whatever life can fling at it, Stoicism stands up very well indeed.

Lance, exactly! One of the basic principles of systems thinking is that complex systems of all kinds behave in parallel ways. I think of it as a corollary of the Emerald Tablet's dictum, "As above, so below."

Cathy, good points all. I've seen the same sort of growth mania across the board, and it's ruined more good businesses, nonprofits, or what have you than I care to think about. There's a reason why AODA's policies deliberately put up barriers to fast growth!

Shadow, if you'd like to suggest that the American people in general have some sociopathic qualities, I'm not going to argue. My point is that blaming the so-called "1%" for behavior that's common throughout our society is probably not a helpful habit.

John Michael Greer said...

Girl, nicely put.

Lei, I already addressed that. Every human institution starts off with its own ideals, and then slides away from them -- monasteries no less than any other. The monasteries of the Dark Ages, which is what I was talking about, were very poor, offering a life that was impoverished even by the standards of the time. Of course after a few centuries of donations nd the like, laziness crept in -- and that's when new monastic orders were founded, returning to the old strictness and poverty. Doubtless the ecosteries of the 26th century will be known for their cushy lifestyles, but we have a long hard road to go before we get there.

Bobo, the people who go into monasteries are not necessarily any more peaceful than the people who stay outside them. A lot of aging knights retired to monasteries after a career of bloodshed, and for that matter, I suspect you've heard about the Shaolin Monastery! Nor does there seem to be any tendency for societies with monasteries to be more violent than societies without them.

ando said...


Kunstler mentioned it in his endorsement of "Descent..." and I agree. Your kindness and generosity of spirit are good examples for aspiring green wizards. It is a pleasure reading the books, the essays, and the comments.



RainbowShadow said...

Speaking of military responses to social collapse like the riot gear in LA, I don't know whether or not anyone knows this, but the Senate just passed a bill called S1867 that declares America a battleground on which the military can act with impunity, arresting or detaining citizens without a warrant. It doesn't technically apply to Americans, but it can "if we want it to."

I thought you should all be warned, you especially John Michael Greer because you're about to write a series of posts on the decline of the American empire, and even calling America an "empire" these days can make people think you're dangerous.

SophieGale said...

During the '70s I hung out, from time to time, with the Ecumenical Institute in Chicago which was, at its core, a family religious order.

I even flirted briefly with the notion of joining the order, but I was Pagan and didn't know it yet. Still, my experience with EI was rich and eclectic; I was exposed to St. John of the Cross, Kierkegaard, Carlos Castaneda, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Just this evening I came across the reading material from one of my Academy courses: "Revolutions as Changes of World View" by Thomas S. Kuhn, excerpted from his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It Fall 1972, and the first time I ever heard the phrase "paradigm shift."

The Ecumenical Institute morphed into The Institute for Cultural Affairs about 1976, but I am sure the religious order is still in the toolbox somewhere ready to be taken up at need. It's no surprise to me to see that ICA is now involved in permaculture and peak oil. A year ago they were involved in the development of Transition Chicago.

Right now they preparing for their 50th anniversary by archiving all their history. It should be an incredibly rich resource for the future.

Cherokee Organics said...


Sorry to hear about the hit that you took from the Borders debacle. It's kind of weird because I commented last week that I also took a hit to my income recently. Perhaps this is what the coal face of decline looks like? As they say in the Middle East - death by a thousand cuts. I feel for the unemployed in the US that fall off the radar after a period of time.



hari said...

Matt and Jess: It's a little reassuring to hear that I'm not alone in being a reader of this blog who has questions about Derrick Jensen and perhaps about thoughts that are in part inspired by him.

Ruben: I seem to have gotten myself in a fair bit of trouble by using a fairy loaded term without discussing which of a whole truck load of meanings I was personally attributing to it. More on that a little lower.

Ozark: I'm not sure about the purpose to that link. I'm guessing it is to illustrate how dangerous Jensen is. I remember that excerpt from that book. I don't remember responding to it when I first read it the same way I did while briefly glancing through it just now, which seems noteworthy. I'd like to point out that I'm not very concerned with Derrick Jensen at all right now. I asked that question. It has led to related but separate questions that seem to me to be much more important, questions about civilization and about the relationship between humanity and nature.

John Michael Greer, Thanks again for your response. It really is very impressive how you respond to everyone of us.

Permit me to quote you shortly, "It's simply a label for societies that fall toward the upper end of the spectrum of human social complexity". With all due respect, I'm afraid that you're assuming that I meant something other than I did. My use of the word civilization may very well have been misleading, but I knew what I meant. I understood civilization to refer to all societies ranging from the most complex to anything agricultural and settled, no matter how simple. I suppose you could say I have less of a binary of "civilized societies" vs. "uncivilized societies" and more of a binary of "agricultural societies" vs. "pre-agricultural hunter gathering societies".

I'm sorry to have used a misleading term but I believe that the question I asked is still useful and helpful. Let me state it again. It seems to me (I cited sources earlier, although do admit the list seems a little sparse) that the dawn of agriculture was a very regretful affair and has continued on downhill from there. As I said before, I have a hard time dismissing such a huge endeavor as meaningless. What meaning might there be that might compensate somewhat for how very regretful agriculture seems to have been?

About my question regarding nature and the human mind and your answer to it: my question was very vague, you do an incredible job responding to everyone, I already spent some of your attention on another question and, like I said, the question was vague. I'm a little embarrassed to have thought that I might have gotten a more in depth answer. But, I do have to say (and I hope you take this humorously), that I feel a little like I might if I were to ask Obama about the relationship between race and politics but only heard from him something along the lines of, "Yeah, they're related, what did you think?" In any case, I think I need to continue thinking about how to express that bit of curiosity I have more clearly.

Robert said...

Saudi Arabia may already have peaked

Jon said...

I was trying to find what other country besides Canada uses more energy per-capita then the United States.

Instead, I found several countries. Which makes me ask. Where is your source for data and what am I missing?

year 2006:

2,065.8 Gibraltar
1,851.4 Virgin Islands, U.S.
1,023.3 Qatar
769.9 Trinidad and Tobago
695.4 Bahrain
695.0 Netherlands Antilles
577.6 United Arab Emirates
568.6 Iceland
482.1 Brunei
476.8 Singapore
469.8 Kuwait
427.2 Canada
424.1 Luxembourg
410.8 Norway
334.6 United States
276.9 Australia

146.2 Europe

US versus Europe energy per capita:
334.6 / 146.2 = 2.28
... not quite 3x, but still plenty of fat to trim.


artinnature said...

Wonderful post JMG, and great comments all, thank you.

A couple of off topic comments on catabolic collapse and thaumaturgy, for those here who no longer watch TV:

A recent TV news item here in Seattle described how the state decided not to do routine maintenance on the capitol building in Olympia due to being broke, and as a result the capital dome is leaking. Sounds like catabolic collapse to me.

And on the thaumaturgy front...There is apparently a new TV quiz-style game show (and I wish I was kidding here) the name of the show is "You Deserve It".

You can't make this stuff up.

gordonsson said...

Yep, you got it in one, Mr Greer. I wish I myself could write/talk about it with the same clarity. Cheers.

Bill Pulliam said...

I was afraid things might start to go this way... I wondered if all the talk about "the 1%" was going to start to connect with the latent anti-semitism throughout the Western world. Well, here we go. Just in the last couple of days I have heard two different callers to NPR talk-news shows equate "the 1%" with "the Jews" and even (I am not making this up) "the International Jewish Bankers' Conspiracy."

JP said...

"Hari, one of these days I'm going to have to do a post about the wilderness of abstractions in which so much of contemporary thought is hopelessly lost. "Civilization" is one of those abstractions. It's simply a label for societies that fall toward the upper end of the spectrum of human social complexity"

I think I like Spengler's approach to cultural analysis better.

I think of civilization as a specific mode of human culture where the thoughts and art of that culture are bound by a specific "fractal" concept, such as the "Faustian" reaching toward infinite space approach of the West. It needs a certain population or certain level of truly human energy (as opposed to physical energy) to get off the ground.

I'm a fan of long waves, so I like culture/civilizational waves. Always fun to think about. I use longer waves for investing/speculating. Zero returns as far as the eye can see!

However, these ideas cannot be *imposed*, so the new culture that arises from the old cannot be predicted in advance, or forced, so to speak. It can only be experienced and only later recognized and defined.

Also, did the Greeks/Romans have monks? That was something I never thought about before.

DPW said...


It would be wise to remember that for a very long time the monasteries in China and Japan were places of hard work and meager existence. It wasn't until much later into the rise of the more formed state that enough taxes were collected and patronage paid to allow for the cultivation of more refined states of mind absent the necessities of providing for one's daily livelihood. Hence "chop wood, carry water". They actually did.

In my limited role as a Zen student, I see this as having a positive impact on their spritual development. Living hand to mouth has a way of begetting honest about the nature of things in a way that pure navel-gazing may miss.


Amongst White Clouds - Documentary of Taoist/Zen monks still doing their thing in remote Chinese mountains

The Road Less Travelled and Zen Baggage - Two books by Bill Porter, aka Red Pine...a divine translator of Ch'an and Taoist poetry and historical works...these are travellogues and glimpses into the hermit life today.