Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hope in a Cold Season

Last week’s post on the empty promise of December 21, 2012 and other apocalyptic fantasies fielded me a fair number of denunciations. That was predictable enough; the parallels I mentioned in that post between apocalyptic beliefs and bubble economics include the awkward fact that in both cases, those with the most to lose by buying into the delusion du jour are pretty consistently also the ones least willing to hear any questioning of their misplaced dreams.

Under other circumstances I’d simply have shrugged and filed the resulting tirades with the ones I get on a more routine basis from those who can’t stand some other aspect of this blog’s project. Still, one of this latest batch made an accusation that I found baffling at first glance, and then indicative of something worth attention just now. The commenter in question, to be precise, insisted that by criticizing the industry that has sprouted around the fake-Mayan prophecies of 2012, I was treating "love, joy, hope, and inner well-being" as so many delusions.

It probably needs to be said first off that this assertion involves a very odd definition of the concepts just named. Let’s imagine, to put the same logic in a different context, the plight of an unemployed single mother in today’s America during the holidays. She has, we’ll assume, barely enough money to pay the most basic expenses for herself and her children, and the clock is ticking on her unemployment benefits, which will run out after 99 weeks. Her desperate efforts to land any job at all have gone nowhere—that’s common enough these days—and it’s become plain, as the holidays draw near, that if she’s going to be able to afford to keep her children fed and clothed and housed into the new year, there aren’t going to be any Christmas presents.

What does she say to the children? According to the logic offered by my commenter, she presumably ought to insist to them that Santa Claus will show up on Christmas Eve with a big sack full of presents for all. It’s certainly true that this will fill the children with love, joy, hope, and a sense of inner well-being, for the moment. It might even seem like a good idea, as long as you don’t think about what’s going to happen on Christmas morning, when eyes that had been sparkling with delight the night before look up tearfully from the bare floor to their mother’s face.

I think most people recognize that the right thing to do instead in a situation of that kind is to tell the truth, or as much of it as the children are old enough to grasp, and do it early enough in the season that they can get past the inevitable misery and go to work making the best of things. Talk to people who grew up during the last Great Depression and you’ll hear stories of this kind over and over again—the holiday decorations pieced together from wrappers and scraps, the depressingly plain meal livened up with a few little touches or sheer make-believe, the little doll handmade from rags and burlap sacking that’s still treasured three quarters of a century later, and so on. If love, joy, hope, and authentic inner well-being are to be had in such a difficult situation, they’re going to come that way, not by way of making gaudy promises that are never going to be fulfilled.

Still, that sort of ethical clarity—so obvious to most Americans in the 1930s—is apparently far from obvious to a great many Americans today. The speculative bubbles of the last decade, again, offer an uncomfortably clear look at the popularity of delusion in American public life just now. When John Kenneth Galbraith wrote his brilliant and very funny history The Great Crash 1929 back in 1954, he noted that the best preventive for the miserable economic aftermath of a speculative bubble was a clear memory of just how miserable that aftermath had turned out to be. In 1954, he was quite correct; a generation raised in the Depression years kept Wall Street on a very tight leash back then, and indeed Galbraith’s own testimony before a Senate subcommittee in 1955 on the implications of the 1929 experience was enough all by itself to pop a stock market boomlet—a circumstance Galbraith recounted in wry terms in the foreword to the second edition. The memory of 1929 had an immunizing effect so potent that it took until the 1960s for the US stock market to blow its first very tentative bubbles, and it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that a really classic stock market boom and bust followed the traditional path, up with the rocket and down with the stick.

Consider today’s economic scene and the contrast is hard to miss. The tech-stock bubble inflated all through the second half of the 1990s and crashed to earth between 2000 and 2002. No sooner had the rubble stopped bouncing than an even more gargantuan bubble in real estate took off. That crashed in 2008, and even though the rubble’s still bouncing, it’s doing so right alongside a bouncing baby bubble in shale gas. If some clever promoter comes up with a way for ordinary investors to speculate in shale gas leases or something of the kind—and I’ll be surprised indeed if that fails to happen in the coming year—it’s a safe bet that millions of people will take all the money they’ve got left and plunge into the shale market, driving another economically devastating cycle of boom and bust.

Part of the difference between then and now is that the 1929 crash came on the heels of a spectacular bubble in Florida real estate, which crashed in 1925, and that followed another nasty little bubble and crash in the stock market in 1921; thus we’re only just now at the point where the idiocy of trying to get rich off bubbles should be sinking in. Another part of the difference is that the financial authorities in 1929 responded to the implosion of the bubble by letting investors crash and burn, where today’s basically wet themselves trying to make sure that investors don’t lose money, even if keeping them solvent means that the economy goes down in flames. Still, I think there’s more to it than that.

In 1929, America was still an expanding society, with an economy that was still producing something other than fiscal hallucinations, and a standard of living that had been moving raggedly upward for a good long time. The delusion that drives bubbles—the notion that it’s reasonable to expect to get rich on unearned wealth—could seize the population now and then, as it’s done since market economies got abstract enough that speculative bubbles became possible in the first place. Still, most Americans could reasonably expect that with hard work and prudence, they could expect to have a better standard of living in the future than they had in the past, and their children could expect to do better still.

Those days are long past. For the great majority of Americans, living standards have been declining since the early 1970s, upward mobility is increasingly a nostalgic dream, and it’s becoming harder even for government flacks to keep pretending that training prople for jobs that don’t exist will make those jobs miraculously appear. Ours is a contracting society, and outside of the narrowing circle of privilege—itself facing, a little further down the road, a far more drastic form of downward mobility—most people realize that hard work and prudence, the road to a better future in past generations, are merely a slightly slower road to impoverishment than the one everyone else seems to be taking.

Combine that with the modern cult of celebrity that showers randomly chosen individuals with brief but spectacular bursts of wealth for the most absurd of reasons—would anybody care to explain to me just what the Kardashians did in 2010 that was worth an income of $65 million?—and the frantic marketing of consumer gewgaws that pervades American culture, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for a society in which an increasingly desperate populace will gamble all they have at increasingly long odds for a shot at unearned wealth. That’s what drove the speculative bubbles of the recent past, and will drive those of the near future. It’s also what drives the fixation on apocalyptic events that will supposedly dump history’s ultimate jackpot into the laps of those lucky enough to draw the winning ticket, whether that ticket is marked "Rapture," or "Singularity," or "December 21, 2012."

Now it’s fair to say there are those—and the commenter mentioned above may be among them—for whom a fixation of that sort is readily confused with hope. It may even be that it’s the closest thing to hope that some of them have left. Still, it’s not actually hope in any meaningful sense of the word. To understand why, we’re going to have to take a hard look at just what hope is.

That’s a vexed question just now, and not only because the current US president used the word to get into office via one of the most monumentally cynical political campaigns of modern times. Even before it got stripped of its remaining content by Obama’s marketing team, the old virtue of hope had gotten tangled up in America’s culture of entitlement, and twisted completely out of shape in the service of cynical marketing disguised as cheap sentimentality. "When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires will come to you..." Readers of a certain generation will remember hearing that bit of doggerel out of the mouth of an animated insect. I knew a small boy who, after seeing the movie in question, took to singing, "When you wish upon a star, you don’t see things as they are." Like most children, he knew better, and hated being on the receiving end of lies. I sympathized, having had exactly the same reaction a quarter of a century earlier.

We have, to be more precise, confused hope with the facile optimism of the privileged, the sort of thinking that insists that nothing really unpleasant can ever actually happen, not to us. A great many Americans, for example, think that being hopeful in the face of the depletion of fossil fuels means assuming against all the evidence that some ample replacement will be found in time to allow us to keep our energy-intensive lifestyles running. A great many of us more generally think that being hopeful in the face of the limits to growth means trying to convince ourselves that those limits don’t apply to us, or that there will turn out to be some way around them, or that somebody or other will bail us out before our refusal to deal with those limits lands us in consequences harsher than we want to think about.

It’s interesting by contrast to consider the historical conditions that surrounded the evolution of the concept of hope in the ethical thought of the Western world. Like so much of postclassical Western culture, it emerged out of the creative collision between Greek philosophy and Christian religious ideas in the late Roman world. That was not an age of economic expansion and rising standards of living. Quite the contrary; as the Roman Empire ran up against its own limits to growth, and then drove itself into bankruptcy and collapse trying to defend borders defined in a more expansive age, economic crises and a soaring tax burden sent standards of living steadily downwards while the Empire lasted. Its fall in turn brought an age of chaos in which whole regions that had once known widespread literacy, busy market economies, and such amenities as central heating devolved into fragmented, impoverished and drastically underpopulated successor states in which eking out a bare subsistence was an achievement not everyone managed.

The current American concept of hope would not have lasted long in the protracted downward spiral of the Roman world. The concept of hope as an ethical virtue, by contrast, became universally accepted during that same downward spiral. Why? Because hope, to translate its definition out of the ornate moral philosophy of the day, isn’t a sense of entitlement that insists that good things will inevitably come one’s way. Rather, it’s the recognition that some good can be achieved no matter what the circumstances might be, combined with a sustained willingness to try.

Compare hope to any of the other ethical virtues celebrated in that harsh time and the distinction is even clearer. Courage, for example, isn’t a facile assurance that one is destined to win. It’s the quality of character and the act of will that does the right thing in the face of danger and fear. This is, among other things, the opposite of the conviction that victory is inevitable. That’s a logical point—if someone recognizes no danger and feels no fear, he’s not courageous no matter how many risks he unknowingly runs—but it’s also a practical one. One of the commonplaces of military history, for example, is the army that believes it can’t lose, and then collapses in panic when the battle turns against it because it has never had to grapple with the possibility of defeat.

In the same way, hope doesn’t depend on a sense of entitlement that insists the universe is obligated to provide us with whatever happy ending we think we want, and in any real sense, it’s incompatible with notions of that kind. Hope is the quality of character and the act of will that finds some good that can be achieved, no matter what the circumstances, and then strives to achieve it. The sense of entitlement, in turn, is precisely equivalent to the belief that victory is inevitable, and it produces the same sort of brittleness; it’s for that reason that it tends to collapse into despair, and it’s despair, ultimately, that feeds fantasies of the apocalyptic event that will make everything different.

It’s for this reason that apocalyptic fantasies always flourish in the aftermath of grandiose movements for social and spiritual transformation. Behind the current flurry of 2012 prophecies lies the New Age movement’s conclusive failure to create its own reality, just as the parallel flurry of Rapture prophecies mark the bitter endpoint of a trajectory that began with the buoyant optimism of the "Jesus freaks" and the Good News Bible, when enthusiastic young Christians believed they could remake the world in Christ’s image. Hubris disguised as one kind of hope always ends up giving way to despair disguised as another kind of hope. In the process, the concept of hope itself risks being discredited.

That’s profoundly unfortunate, because it’s when overblown ambitions crash to the ground that hope in the true sense of the word is most needed. Behind the rise and fall of the New Age and the Evangelical movements stands the vaster rise and fall of another attempt to build Utopia here on Earth, the attempt we call industrial civilization. Right now, as the limits to growth tighten around us like a noose and an economy geared to perpetual expansion shudders and cracks in the throes of decline, one of the things that’s needed most is the willingness, in a time of gathering darkness, to locate what lamps can still be found, and light them. To return to the metaphor I offered earlier, we need to listen to the voice that tells us, "Honey, I’m really sorry, but Santa Claus isn’t coming this year"—and having heard that, and done whatever grieving we need to do, we need to draw in a deep breath, accept the hard fact, and get to work to spread at least a little light and warmth in a cold season.

End of the World of the Week #2

Say what you will about the paired prophetic hysterias surrounding 2012 and the Rapture, not even their most extreme forms get quite as dotty as the apocalyptic beliefs retailed in the early 19th century by French philosopher Charles Fourier. One of those people for whom the word "crackpot" might as well have been invented, Fourier spent his working life as a traveling salesman and his off hours elaborating the Harmonial Philosophy, a dizzyingly complex theory of everything that included a set of colorful predictions about the impending total transformation of the Earth and everything on it.

There were many other thinkers in Fourier’s time who were convinced that their ideas marked a vast turning point in the history of the world. Nobody else, as far as I know, took it to the extent of thinking that the general acceptance of his philosophy would turn the oceans into lemonade. That was just one of the great transformations that, according to Fourier, would happen once a significant minority of the Earth’s human population embraced the Harmonial Philosophy and ushered in the era of Harmony, the fulfillment of Earth’s history. Torrents of "cosmic citric acid," he claimed, would then descend from heaven to turn the seas tart and tasty. Meanwhile four additional moons that ran away from Earth orbit—they were embarrassed to be seen with a planet whose inhabitants hadn’t accepted Fourier’s ideas—would come swinging gaily back to their places; lions would turn into cuddlesome, vegetarian antilions; and human beings, freed from drudgery by Fourier’s discovery that economic problems could be solved by "passional attraction," would devote their time to gourmet dining and orgiastic sex.

Odd as these ideas sound today, they were hugely popular in Europe and America, and something like a hundred Harmonial communes—"Phalansteries," as they were called—were organized by enthusiasts hoping to make the dream real. Alas, neither the cosmic citric acid nor the antilions showed up, and the communes folded promptly once it became clear that passional attraction wasn’t up to the task of producing enough food, clothing, and other necessities for even the most devoted believers. At its peak in the 1820s, the movement unraveled thereafter, feeding erstwhile followers still eager for Utopia into other radical movements of the time. There was a brief attempt to revive Fourier’s ideas in the 1960s—something about his ideas, not to mention his prose style, seems to mesh well with the popular drugs of the time—but outside of that, he remains one of the forgotten ancestors of today’s Utopian beliefs.

—story from Apocalypse Not


escapefromwisconsin said...

The BBC published a couple of great essays last week on similar themes. John Gray:

We seem to be approaching one of those periods of discontinuity that have happened so often in the past. It may seem unthinkable that the European banking system could implode, or that a global currency like the euro could dissolve into nothing.

Yet something very much like that was the experience of citizens of the former Soviet Union when it suddenly melted down, and there is nothing to say something similar could not happen again.

For believers in progress it must be a dispiriting prospect. But if you can shake off this secular myth you will see there is no need to despair. The breakdown of a particular set of human arrangements is not after all the end of the world.

Surely we would be better off if we put an end to our obsession with endings. Humans are sturdy creatures built to withstand regular disruption. Conflict never ceases, but neither does human resourcefulness, adaptability or courage.

The endless obsession with what might be

Sarah Dunant:

Peering over the precipice of our own economic meltdown and the language of disaster that comes with it, I have begun to wonder whether some kind of threatened apocalypse isn't in some way necessary to keep human society from its worst excesses.

Step out of a time machine to most moments in the past and you'll find that people have played with - indeed seemed to need - the idea that it will all end, not just in tears, but in mayhem and destruction, and if not in one's own lifetime then very soon afterwards.

Of course, there is an element of displaced ego in this. Since it is well nigh impossible for us to imagine the world without you, it is easier to contemplate its death rather than your own. But whatever the reasons - from second comings to endless Hollywood disaster movies - the apocalypse has a hold on us.

The Meaning of Debt said...

Thanks for this, JMG. I've been mulling what hope in a harsh future means and plan to write a post of my own on it, working off some of my comments in last week's thread. I think taking some time to sit down and work through those thoughts would be good--I've been feeling a little melancholy the last day or two when thinking about what kind of future may face us.

I spoke with my young niece on Christmas about working and life. She's barely out of high school, has a young child and was doing some retail work over the holidays that she may or may not be able to continue. She was talking about wanting to get a car but enumerating some of the extreme costs. I advocated she not get it--that it wasn't worth it, especially considering she's able to get around on the bus right now and buy a three month pass for $20(!) from her school. Car insurance alone would cost her over $100/month. I hope she'll think about my words a bit, because getting a car would crush the very limited maneuverability she currently has.

It's funny, too--she mentioned that she's been reading my blog. I've been fairly explicit on it of late that I don't see this way of life continuing much longer, with worsening economic realities coming down the pike. I wonder what she makes of that. I don't imagine she believes it and I have to wonder what she feels about the idea, having a child, in school, hoping for an eventual decent job, still living at home, just barely getting started. I'm lucky enough to be in a much more flexible position, with no one reliant on me. I can't imagine what it would be like to be considering such a future as a young mother.

All the more reason we need to hold onto all the honest hope we can find.


nutty professor said...

I said that I would not read your column anymore after last week’s snarky caricature of the "new age" mythology and yet here I am. I guess I do not know myself, or I just can't resist your writing. As for the concepts of love joy hope and inner wellbeing - I am sure that as a scholar and a druid you can find some philosophy or religion that takes these ideas and applies them usefully and productively to the vision of the declining world that you posit for us in such conscientious detail each week. Yet you don't, and I think last post I was left wondering why you don't. You are not an optimist. And what confounds me about this is that you are obviously a spiritual person. Still, as you remind us constantly, you wear your mage’s hat lightly in this forum, so I think that it might be too much to ask that you might offer those concepts as hermetic values, and speak a little to – yes, ineffable love and impossible optimism, regeneration, spiritual ascension – you know, the higher consciousness-new ager type things that you so cynically deconstruct here. As for the poor mom on Christmas morning – many of us mothers have been “her” in one way or another when it comes to not being able to provide fully for our children – I think it is best to offer one’s children whatever material sustenance there is, but not to be sparing with the food for the soul. (Love? joy? wellbeing?) It is the only thing that lasts when everything else is gone.

Lloyd Lincoln Clark said...

Thank you Archdruid. Your explanation of the relation of hope and courage is quite accessible. I expect to make good use of it.

chaosandconspiracy said...

Never mind the Mayans. What's coming involves not just "gradual decline", via peak energy, but a catastrophe via discrete political and economic vectors. The entire Eurosphere/Anglosphere economy is a vast debt sandwich, and we are soon going to choke on it. Combine Ponzi collapse with a late 2012 existential poltical crisis in the US - involving a Ron Paul Third Party bid, which will throw the election to Obama via the EC with less than 45% of the actual vote - and you have all the ingredients for a violent and protracted civil war...for which the Regime is clearly preparing. If a Black Swan precipitant is needed, try the Iran War, also coming down the pike. Instant "peak oil". In short, first Tuesday in November, 2012. Then: 60 days to Fort Sumter. Invest in lead.

John Michael Greer said...

Escape, fascinating! I missed both of those -- I've been finishing up a book project on tight deadline, thus haven't had a lot of time to keep up on my reading.

Ofthehands, that's excellent advice. I hope your niece isn't planning on taking on a bunch of education debt.

Professor, here again I find myself wondering why we seem to be talking past one another. Peace, joy, love? They're as available right now as they ever were, and they'll still be available at the bottom of the coming dark age, in the midst of the stark material poverty of that time; I've said that repeatedly here. For that matter, I've just explained at great length how the concept of hope applies to the difficult future ahead of us, and yet you post here wondering why I never apply such things to the vision I discuss here. What is it that you're expecting me to say?

Lloyd, delighted to hear it.

John Michael Greer said...

Chaos, and if every detail of your prophecy happens -- and I think we've all heard identical prophecies over the last few decades -- what happens when the civil war is over? The usual postcrisis process of stabilization and partial recovery, until the next round of crisis hits. You really ought to take the time to read up on what this blog has been discussing before coming on here and making a bit of a fool of yourself.

Robert said...

Thank you for this very much. It has clarified things for me considerably.

When I have railed against hope here in the past, calling it a perpetual deceiver, it has always been this "when you wish upon a star" hope that I had in view, this weird blend of facile optimism and stubborn denial that is so widespread now-a-days.

What you say about the older sense of the word hits home for me, and your comparison with the related virtue of courage seems spot on. In fact, I had been using the word "courage" for both virtues in my own thinking.

My own ancestors have been deeply tinctured with this Harmonial Philosophy and its offshoots in New Thought from at least the mid 1800s down to Norman Vincent Peale and the New Age. And it has been the source of one disaster to another in their lives for over a century. Each disaster became the subject of family stories, always with the hidden message "if only we had been more optimistic, if only we had been stronger in our affirmations (really, in our denials), . . ." then things would have gone well.

For an example of this sort of thing, see now Lucia Greenhouse's excellent "Fathermothergod: My Journey out of Christian Science." It shows what this kind of life looks like from the inside, whereas Barbara Ehrenreich's "Bright-Sided" remains an outsider's critique.

Robert Mathiesen

dennis said...

So we are really talking about spiritual bubbles when we talk about 2012 and Armageddon. That and the economic bubbles, hinge on faith and hope. "Yes We Can". I'm afraid we are also in a government and technological bubble. Government won't fix global warming but we need the hope and the faith that they will. "No We Can't" is not going to win any elections, but it sure would be nice to hear. If these all pop at once it will feel like Armageddon.

John Wheeler said...

Another excellent post. I've been saying for a long time that post-collapse, even with all the material deprivations, what will be in shortest supply is hope, and whoever can offer true hope, rather than false promises, will have the most value to offer his or her human beings.

I do want to address the Rapture/Apocalypse, as my beliefs are nominally compatible with those. I really like the analogy of bypass surgery -- heart or stomach, either works. After the surgery, the patient discovers that they still have to modify their behaviors in such a way that, had they done so previously, the surgery would not have been necessary. Similarly, after the Apocalypse, the Earth will still be in ruins. There will be no magical transformation. It will in no way resemble a paradise, even for the Amish. We will still have to do the hard work of restoration that, had we done so previously, would have prevented the collapse. I do believe eventually we will surpass what we have done so far in everything that truly matters, even if it takes 1000 years to do so.

chaosandconspiracy said...

Archdruid, I don't expect to be around "after the Civil War is over". And if we get rid of the Z.O.G., I'll die happy. And leave the rest to philosophers such as yourself.

Kevin said...

Lemonade oceans, the return of prodigal moons, predators turned pets, and - best of all - endless gourmet dining and incessant orgies: this is hard stuff to beat! No wonder these ideas were popular. It's the Garden of Earthly Delights with citron icing on top. It's certainly far more palatable than contemplating the realities actually bearing down upon us. I have thank you and M. Fourier for a great laugh. It really cheered me up.

Tomorrow, back to reality, however exactly we may define it. As for hope, I'd have plenty if only Obama had been elected.


Swathorne said...

Wow...i'm sure you are an intelligent and thoughtful person but you seem to have just completely whiffed on JMG's post yet again. Where in the world do you get the idea that he would not offer those children food for the soul, exchange of wisdom, and the bounty of love? I came away with the impression that those are exactly what he prescribes instead of material gifts. I'm at a you skim over the posts? Everything that you say you cannot find in JMG's writings....I find in PLENTY. I'm inspired and moved towards action by his writing usually. Interesting.

I was so happy to see this post tonight when I got home. It was very coincidental. I had just finished an outing and dinner with my lovely Nana (grandmother) a few hours ago. She has been on the New Age train for quite some time and blends those ideas liberally with those of her Irish Catholic upbringing. She is an eternal optimist and always responds poorly to me when I speak of things such as economic failure or Peak Oil. She proclaims that I am too negative and that I must stop speaking of those things....even when reluctantly admitting that they "may" happen. Well...tonight we had a delightful discussion where I used the same framework you used in this post to argue my position. My goal was to make her understand that I am not miserable, I am not resigned to doom, and I am not negative. It was a minor break through. She was very encouraged and even told me that she is sad that she may not live to see the changes we discuss here at The Archdruid Report because she desires the opportunity to apply real hope and courage in a great struggle once more before she passes.

Kevin said...

A word more about hope. Does art have any meaningful role to play in fostering it? In, say, a novel, can one offer a vision of a possible ecotechnic future and thereby legitimately offer hope, even if only for some remote posterity? Or is that just a cheat? What about the nearer future, not to mention the immediate present? What sort of vision, if any, could give people hope in hard times, in the sense of which you are speaking?

Mister Roboto said...

Thanks for reminding me of Jiminy Cricket's insipid little song. That and similar cultural messages likely had the effect of encouraging me to get way too wrapped up in my ego-fantasies, and then crushed by the resulting inevitable disappointment (and hence my own subsequent entertainment of apocalyptic fantasies).

billhicksmostfunny said...

I just love how other people are somehow able to decipher whether I (or anyone for that matter) have a worldview that would be considered optimist or one that is pessimistic. How is it that they know this?

Now I like to lean towards the optimistic, but overall I may fall slightly on the other side. But even I am not sure which side I truly am on. Things change day by day. Things are fluid and flexible and we must account for the facts on hand. Now if the reality of the situation is looking up, clearly I will be optimistic about things. If, on the otherhand, things just aren't going right no matter what reality suggests we be somewhat pessimistic.

But in the end I just hope people can realize that although a person may seem pessimistic that does not make it so. And if a person truly is pessimistic, they may simply be so temporarily. Though pessimistic now, they can potentially see a time when things turn around. Kind of like the ups and downs that naturally occur in everyone's lives. It just bugs the you know what out of me when people so flippantly label another person one way or the other without the slightest clue or understanding of what the reality of their mindset is.

Ah but hope springs eternal........

Draft said...

Here's a decent definition of hope:

But we always knew that hope is not blind optimism. It's not ignoring the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It's not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it and to work for it and to fight for it.

Which is another way of saying what you wrote above:

Because hope, to translate its definition out of the ornate moral philosophy of the day, isn’t a sense of entitlement that insists that good things will inevitably come one’s way. Rather, it’s the recognition that some good can be achieved no matter what the circumstances might be, combined with a sustained willingness to try.

Here's something odd: you and Obama define hope in much the same way, as that definition above is from his speech upon winning Iowa, probably the first time many people saw him speak about hope. I'm guessing you probably don't like me saying that, but it's true. Unfortunately too many people (including probably many of his critics and supporters alike) don't realize that. He repeated that definition (and many similar ones much like yours) throughout the campaign.

I hate to even make a political comment here in part because the chance of being misunderstood is too great. But I decided it was worth it to at least clarify this point. Now I'm not going to defend him on other matters because like every president except Carter he's ignored the energy challenges we face.

thought farmer said...

JMG, I must say your post from last week got me thinking so deeply that I was inspired to start my own blog about it. I am a scientist and college professor and have been following your writings, and those of Richard Heinberg, for some years. In fact I recently spoke with Dr. Heinberg about an idea he said was an excellent one, though you might be surprised that I not only wrote about it in the blog, but also about how crop circles have revealed themselves to be authentic, how that might have influenced the Mayan calendar itself (and why it may be telling us something about the sun and potential effects on us), and how hemp seeds as food might help us all in the future (no matter how it all plays out). I would be most honored if you gave it a glance, here is the link:

You are engaged in profound work, and I seek only to add the tiniest 2 cents of my own perspectives to it if it might help.

If I was not afraid of it sounding cliché, I would say that your writings are heroic. They might just lead to a butterfly effect, the softest whisper in the right place and time that could awaken key players before it is too late....

A thought farmer

Christophe said...

John Michael Greer, you have written another fascinatingly challenging post, filled with hope for the future. After being introduced to your blog last June, what seems strangest to me is how hopeful your writing is - not hopeful in the entitled sense, but hopeful in the optimistic in the face of any circumstances sense. That kind of hope requires acknowledging the harsh realities one is up against in order to know one’s response. You certainly do not shy away from illuminating the harsh realities of our collective choices, and you respond to them with hope for the good we can still accomplish. Hope can only grow out of realism, or even cynicism. Yves Smith, another hopeful blogger who led me to you, often references a study that found cynics to be more accurate judges of reality.

One of modern America’s most debilitating and hope-killing cultural straight jackets then is our false Positivism, born of unexamined confidence. How the trolls will come scurrying out of the woodwork, ingrained misconceptions in hand, at the slightest mention of unvarnished truth. And often with God on their side, preaching Positivism. Most Positivists are disturbingly pessimistic at heart, banishing any distress that dares disrupt their fragile fantasy of certainty. Anyone who cannot tolerate dissenting (read “negative”) views possesses little faith, hope, or confidence in a world beyond their control. They are hopeless and often quite embittered from it.

Thank you for restoring hope to a meaningful place in the dialogue. When it became a one-word slogan for political campaigning, the promise of presumed entitlement seemed to hijack its other meanings. And thank you for restoring so many other terms and ideas to places of significance for your readers. I will continue to read through your archived posts (currently up to 2008) and to ponder these things in my heart.

John Michael Greer said...

Robert, have you ever considered writing an account of your family's positive thinking with negative consequences, perhaps as a blog post? It would be worth reading.

Dennis, excellent! Exactly.

John, no argument there. We will do the work later, and in more difficult conditions, that we could be doing now...and we might finally achieve adulthood as a species in the process. Still, that's a task for the future.

Chaos, okay, that's twice in a row, and more than just a bit of a fool. Zog? The last king of Albania, and that's it. Now go back to your bridge.

Kevin, glad to hear it! As for art, yes, that's an option, and prophecy is also an option -- the important thing is that it not make absurd claims about the future. A prophecy that says "with a lot of hard work we can get past these troubled times and make a better world" is a valid source of hope.

Swathorne, that's really good to hear. I think it's possible to make communication easier with a lot of people by stressing the fact that this isn't about despair; it's about striving for the best in a hard time.

Mister R., grasshoppers are tasty fried. I tend to think that would have been an appropriate destiny for Mr. Cricket.

Bill, especially when the label is meant to devalue everything you might say, especially when it involves critiquing the claims used to prop up a delusion. No argument there.

Kieran O'Neill said...

@chaosandconspiracy: Not too long ago, a Norwegian named Anders Behring Breivik was expressing similar sentiments to yours, and acted upon them. I would urge you not to pursue that path.

Cherokee Organics said...


It may be a cultural difference, but the classical definitions of hope and courage have been my own definitions. I wasn't actually aware that they'd been co-opted. Fascinating stuff.

I'm with you, delusions shouldn't really be the basis of hope and joy. What are they thinking? Even at this stage of the game, people could accept a lower standard of living in exchange for a better future for the majority. Yes, a lower standard of living involves more work. What's wrong with these people?! Why people expect that they can earn a living off others, whilst doing very little themselves is beyond me.

Even now the European banks are parking money at low rates of return in the European Central Bank instead of buying government bonds or lending it out to commercial and domestic interests. Maybe no one told them that someone, somewhere has to grow food, produce goods, provide services etc...

Well, that's my rant and rave out of the way!

People with entitlement complexes should take a visit to a third world country sometime and get a proper wake up call by seeing how the 95% of the world live first hand.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hey NuttyProfessor,

Mate, I dunno. I've visited the killing fields in Cambodia a few years after the Vietnamese saw off the Pol Pot Regime. Love, joy, hope is not some sort of innate right. It is a possibility and a moment in time and that is it. Your world view may be coloured by a lack of inputs which is why you came back here to this blog. The inputs will do you good and expand your worldview. It may be worthwhile to also note that hope does not food on the table only planning and actual work does.



Jeffrey Kotyk said...

Great posting as always, sir.

One thing that comes to mind reading this is how here in India and elsewhere like in China where social upward mobility is clearly visible amongst the middle classes, people are quite enthusiastic about the future.

India is likely to be a truly sad story in the coming decades because the idea of peak oil is simply unheard of here. The assumption amongst middle class types is that India will grow, the infrastructure will eventually become like Europe and that the nation will regain its once prominent place in the world as a leader. They even have plans to build a Japanese bullet train system in the country. The reliance on petro-chemical for agriculture, the largely unrestrained enthusiasm for industrialization and the building of luxury flats and race tracks on fertile farmland will, in retrospect, look quite foolish when the nation can no longer pay for increasingly expensive petroleum imports from the ME.

Still, here and in China nobody sees this. There is a naive vision of the future where a lot of people (mostly the privileged middle classes living in cities) see their countries as having the same standards of living as in Europe or America if everyone just works hard enough.

The unfortunate reality is famine will probably claim over a billion lives or more in Asia and the social upheaval will reverse the development seen in the last half-century. Again, few here can even conceive of a reverse of fortunes. This kind of optimism is dangerous.

PhilJ said...

"take a hard look at just what hope is". I love this quote from author Rebacca Solnit: "Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency."
Andover, UK

Thijs Goverde said...

the vaster rise and fall of another attempt to build Utopia here on Earth, the attempt we call industrial civilization, eh? Well, the fall isn't completed yet and we may yet try to salvage some parts of the utopian project that have already come about.
Say what you will about industrial civilisation - it has made gender equality and racial equality possible. Neither of these is achieved, of course, but we as a society have wrapped our head around the possibility. Keeping it that way seems a worthwile project.

Yeah, I know, you're going to ask: 'Very well, what are you going to do about it?' Well, I'm doing my best to slip the mental tools necessary into my books. Educate the kids; the rest is up to them.

Thijs Goverde said...

By the way, I just googled Z.O.G., never having heard the term before.

Oh my, oh my!
Your blog is read by some scary, scary customers...

Especially with that "I don't expect to be around" and "I'll die happy" stuff. Sounds like another Breivik in the making. Brrrrr.

This week's End Of The World really made me laugh (hadn't heard of Fourier before) but then this fellow creeps out from under his bridge, to remind us that apocalyptic fantasies are no laughing matter at all

Cameron said...

Hello John, in the military we have a saying 'hope is not a method,' which I think summarises the gist of your post. I think this is a useful tool as it transfers responsiblity from the abstract them to the individual or small group. A responsibility which is sadly missing in so many places.


Rhisiart Gwilym said...

Thanks as ever JM. Excellent stuff. Don't know how you manage to be so tactful and patient with the steady trickle of loons and trolls. Respect from this grumpy old git.

ando said...


It does not get any "Truthier" than:

"we need to listen to the voice that tells us, "Honey, I’m really sorry, but Santa Claus isn’t coming this year"—and having heard that, and done whatever grieving we need to do, we need to draw in a deep breath, accept the hard fact, and get to work to spread at least a little light and warmth in a cold season."

Nicely stated..



carlosbenari said...

JMG, you watched, but maybe a troll sneaked inside nevertheless.

Z.O.G., says Wikipedia, means Zionist Occupation Government or Zionist Occupied Government.

Carlos Ben Ari, from Israel

magicalthyme said...

Nutty, there is 'food for the soul' and there is 'junk food for the soul.'

I suspect the Archdruid is cautioning against the latter in favor of the former.

And yes, many (if not the vast majority of) New Agers are plying junk food. Healthy nourishment is not all sweetness and light, and requires some work to prepare, ingest and digest.

nutty professor said...

My second apology in a week, this time for only browsing your post; I know that you work hard on your writing, and your efforts were not reciprocated. Like last time I did not give the blog an in-depth read once I felt that I got the gist of where you were going. I reacted to your words again this week, directed at my remarks, from ego, I suppose. Sorry to waste comment-space. I have been using Dr. Hawkins’ system for calibrating levels of Truth with kinesiology – I believe he would qualify as a New Age thinker to you – but often it means I have to read something very quickly before I decide to return to ingest it again. “The limitation of man’s consciousness to a level that is vulnerable to error is historically ascribed to the vanity of the desire for power and knowledge.” Having been a part of your blog community for so long, I find myself uncertain whether the future narratives/counter-mythologies/scenarios/thought forms that you are creating are of the most positive vibration (whoops – New Age term alert: how about “spiritual awareness” instead?) as we enter 2012, whether it brings a new alignment or not.

Cathy McGuire said...

A post worth thinking about! This might be an aspect of the Great Divide, though – between the optimists and pessimists (or, as we like to be called, “the realists”). (okay – that’s dualist; I’ll work on a 3rd option.) I have been fighting all my life against those who insist on believing “the best is yet to come” or “believe it, and it will happen”. Half the time, I have observed, they are simply trying to push away the conversation (whatever it is) – those aphorisms are just their way to shortcircuit discussions of problems they don’t want to look at. But there are those who really “believe” – and those seem to have made their lives contingent upon these beliefs being true. Occasionally I have had one blurt that “I just couldn’t live if I didn’t believe this!” – ie: there is no meaning in their lives aside from this belief in a Great Benevolence that will not allow them to suffer (or if they are suffering, will reward them proportionally at some future point). Been there, done that, hated the tshirt. Finally, because I simply couldn’t turn my back on the realities of my life, which did not reinforce these bubbles of hope, optimism, etc., I came to a detachment that accepted I am a small part of a vast cosmos and my meaning comes from appreciating the mystery and the beauty that is always around me. (Accepting most of the time – I’m not finished my inner growth.)

I have gotten a lot from the books of therapist James Hollis, (one is “The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning”) precisely because he does not promise impossible happiness as a result of inner work – he says once we discover our true selves, we discover our meaning, but that meaning could be full of suffering. I have never been able to accept those who promise happiness; they are far too likely to blame the victim if that happiness doesn’t arrive.

BTW, weren’t Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and the Russian writers of the time very influenced by Fourier? I believe I read that in a bio of Dostoyevsky.

@Nutty Prof: I am sure that as a scholar and a druid you can find some philosophy or religion that takes these ideas and applies them usefully and productively to the vision of the declining world that you posit for us in such conscientious detail each week. Yet you don't, and I think last post I was left wondering why you don't. You are not an optimist. And what confounds me about this is that you are obviously a spiritual person.

Optimists seem to think that theirs is the only valid point of view. I, also, am not an optimist and I also am a spiritual person. If by optimism you mean (as you seem to) that “all will be well”, then that is just one option. As a spiritual person, I believe this life has meaning, which is not the same thing as saying I believe I will be fortunate if I believe. The only possible valid versions of your listed spiritual values – “ineffable love and impossible optimism, regeneration, spiritual ascension” to me are about detaching from the ordinary way of perceiving the world and seeing ourselves as smaller parts of a Whole – but again that does not guarantee my being treated well or comfortably. You seem to be implying that by believing in the values listed, you will be spared pain, doubt and hard work (maybe that’s an exaggeration) and/or you will “get your crown in Heaven” – ie: you will eventually be “paid off” for the pain and thus the “economics of spirituality” (if I may coin a phrase) will be balanced. The key difference between “hope” of the ancients and the modern “hope” is who’s acting – the modern hope requires that some external being act (to love, to provide salvation) whereas the ancient “hope” is an internal act – one is reaching out to the everyday miracles and drawing sustenance from them. Perhaps that is a bit more clear?

BTW, another ambiguity is the fact that we use the word “hope” as a verb to mean “I want this to be true” as in “I hope you are feeling better”.

More in a separate post about the New Age apocalyptic visions.

Justin said...

The only hope I allow myself is the hope that as the industrial age passes and people lose faith that the crumbling institutions and systems of our age can provide answers, they reallocate that faith in themselves and one another.

Gavin said...

Hi John, and happy alban arthuan season.

Off the topic of this post, but you should be interested in what this European Commissioner is saying at - very much *not* in tune with what you've written in the past about the resilience-efficiency trade-off. Desperate times.

blue sun said...

It’s all about expectations. If we could take some children from the 1730s, put them in the depths of the 1930s Depression, and gauge their reaction on Christmas morning, they'd probably be quite thrilled with life. Or, if you prefer, swap some of today's recently-become-lower-income American children with Haitian children. Misery is to a great extent relative. (By saying this, it does not mean I believe all children would be better off living like its 1730s America or modern-day Haiti. And yet, many today would accuse me of being some kind of pessimist.)

Like JMG, I too have been labeled "not an optimist." Over and over again I stood speechless and began to think, "Well, maybe they're right." I have sought many years for an antidote to this strange spell, and I think it has to do, not with hope itself, but with the all-but-lost concept of gratitude.

I would like to share some practical advice.

One way to recalibrate your "hope meter," as it were, is by consciously practicing gratitude. I give credit to the author Sarah Ban Breathnach for the idea: she advised keeping a gratitude journal. Once daily before bed, write down five things you are grateful for that day. Her claim was to try it for a month, and it will change your life. Well, I thought that a bit fantastical, but I tried it anyway. I can report that it truly changed my perspective. (This was a couple years before the Archdruid Report. In retrospect I realize I may have inadvertently changed my consciousness in accordance with will. Hmm...)

But I would advise doing this discreetly, at least at first. It can be quite difficult in practice because we may not realize how "uncool" gratitude really is. There is a TON of pressure in America today to be UNgrateful for what we have. How many of us have had the experience of feeling embarrassed, or even being openly ridiculed, by admitting, for example, that we took time on Thanksgiving to actually be thankful? (How many of us even know what “being thankful” is?) Our own teenage children can shame us into thinking we are foolish to be grateful. What power they wield! In fact, many young political activists, supposedly the "beacons of hope" of our international secular culture, would eye us with suspicion if we admitted we were actually grateful for things as they are. As JMG noted in a previous post in reference to a book by Ioan Culianu, millions of Americans go to work each day with the task of making the world ungrateful for what it has. (The solution, of course, is always a product or service for sale. Perhaps that is why our current President seems to believe our current health care problems can be solved by forcing people to buy something...) But I digress.

I believe another important reason gratitude is taboo nowadays is its historically tangled relationship with religious thought. JMG could probably write an entire post about how that came to be, but for my part I offer this disclaimer. I admit my introduction to practicing gratitude comes from sources affiliated with the Christian tradition.

As another starting point I also must thank this essay by Mark Mitchell: To repeat my disclaimer, be warned that this article posits and makes reference to a singular higher power.

I recommend anyone to try keeping a gratitude journal or similar practice according to their own traditions and beliefs, and please note that it does not involve sending me any money but it does involve doing some work for oneself.

tickmeister said...

Lots of wonderful ideas lately, I've been reading without responding. I personally am trying my best to be a happy, hopeful pessimist. I'm not remotely smart enough to forsee the future, but I see that material living standards are in decline all around me. I have always tried to live low on the hog and yet I find myself laughing more than most I know.

On Christmas day, I read a book titled "Out of the Ice" by Victor Herman, an American Jew who was imprisoned in Russia through and after WWII. I don't remember a book that had a more profound effect on my thinking. Anyone who thinks he is suffering material deprivation needs to read what Herman went through.

Hierax said...

Great post, JMG. Loved the way you explained the virtues of Hope and Courage. What do you think of an entire post about the seven virtues? (or even better, seven posts? One can be hopeful...) They are very needed those strange days we're living, and their imagery is linked to the Hermetic Tradition, the Art of Memory and Tarot.

GHung said...

Another serendipitous post for me. I seem to be realizing that word, serendipity, a lot lately. It seems to be somewhat more positive than "coincidence", a bit like "hope" relative to "faith".

I spent yesterday with old friends (since third grade) who are looking for a small stake here in the mountains. I let them know when the nine acre homestead (two properties down the road) went into foreclosure, an excellent candidate for a sustainable family compound. Good bottom land, about five acres of hardwood, and the brisk little stream that rises on our land runs through the heart of the property. Good southern exposure as well.

The former owner was a friend who succumbed to ALS about 18 months ago, and I was sort of a mentor to him regarding things renewable. When he first broke ground I advised him on things that have worked for me and tried to steer him away from "free electricity machines" and such. He had built a small well-insulated home, a garden plot, a small spring-fed pond, a root cellar and a nice earth bermed greenhouse, before his symptoms became overtly evident. He was acting upon his hopes to become more self sufficient and resilient. During this time, his first wife died and he remarried.

The last time we spoke he had no idea who I was. I stopped visiting him shortly after that, though we did meet up occasionally in town before he died. He was only 63.

My friends came up from their current home, formerly a small town that has been devoured by the Beast that is metro Atlanta. I took them to view the property from the road and noticed that there was a car down at the house. I hesitated to go down, not wanting to seem like a scavenger circling above the remains of a compadre's life, a potentially awkward situation. Since my friends had made the journey to view the property we went down to the house. The widow came out, was very gracious, explaining that she was packing some things up, that the property was indeed foreclosed on, and she was looking forward to moving to a small apartment in town; returning to a more simple, basic life. There was no will for the remaining estate and she wasn't going to fight her step-children for what was left. She "hoped" to return to a quiet, affordable life, and it was clear she was acting on that hope.

I joined my friends in viewing the property and as I went behind the house noticed some changes since I had last been there. On the hill above the greenhouse and root cellar was a rather colorful shrine; painted crosses, large wooden hand painted tablets of the 10 Commandments, a huge rainbow embossed with with "JESUS SAVES", and other totems to "Christ Our Lord". In his last diseased days, my friend had remained quite busy.

The path that led up the hill created a distinct division between the garden, root cellar, greenhouse,, all the evidence of an active hope of building a better future, and the transition to a more passive faith that a better future was guaranteed in the afterlife. My once quite intellectual friend had become the empowered believer. The physical/spiritual demarcation was remarkable, deserving contemplation.

We thanked the widow and left, my friends expressing their intension to bid on the property. They returned to the suburbs as I settled in to read this week's Archdruid Report (coincidentally? published early). Thanks, JMG for another dose of understanding, and sorry for the long comment, as I work through another day in paradise.

Bilbo said...

After reading this post I couldn't help thinking about the Kobayashi Maru. The Kobayashi Maru appears in one of the Star Trek movies where cadets are placed in a simulated no-win situation as a character test. When Kirk took the test he changed the rules of the simulation so he could win because didn't believe in a no-win situation. This kind of thinking seems to predominate in our increasingly virtual world where realities such as the laws of physics are considered optional.

By the way, could the significance of the year 2012 be that this is year that a critical mass of people comes to the realization that Santa Claus is not coming this year? Could December 21, 2012 be the date that this realization occurs?

Caith said...

JMG: I'd love a fuller exploration of the differences between you and Ilargi (apart from area of focus and attitude towards idiots!). I also read you both every week and find you both beacons of sanity. said...


My niece has already started school. I'm not sure if she's taking on debt or not--I know she would qualify for grants and my hope would be that she's sticking to those. But I suspect she's taking out some loans, as well. That's too bad, as I can't imagine hers paying for themselves anymore than mine have.


I may be extrapolating from my own experiences too much here, but I do think one of the issues in our society is that many people are doing the wrong work, and their distaste for it leads them to think that all work is bad, unsatisfying drudgery. (And, of course, we have a popular culture that reinforces this idea.)

For instance, most of my standard working life was in retail. There was a stretch during which I liked it okay and I always had the luck of working with good people. But after a few years, I became progressively less happy. I wouldn't say that was all because of the job, by any means, but I certainly didn't enjoy the work or find meaning in it. At a certain point, recognizing this reality, I got out of it. I did a couple terms of AmeriCorps, went back to school for awhile and finally wound up farming. That has been a progression I've loved and has taught me how much I can enjoy doing good work. As it turned out, it wasn't work in general I disliked but the terrible work I was doing. In fact, it was physical labor that I found meaning and joy in!

I received a little confirmation of this change from outside, as well. After I started farming, I found myself back in town hanging out with old friends, one of whom I had worked with during my retail days and the other I had lived with for years during that time. They both admitted, in a moment of beer-fueled honesty, that they had not expected me to last farming. They thought I would hate the work. They thought, basically, that I didn't like to work. The word lazy wasn't spoken, but it think it was there in subtext.

I think many people, if they came back to work rooted in the earth and in their own sustenance, would discover that they really enjoy it and are happy to do it. In a context of unsatisfying and destructive work, I was unhappy and probably lazy. In the context of farming well, feeding people, connecting to the earth and helping to build my local community, I'm intensely happy and a good worker (though nowhere near as hard a worker than the woman who owns the farm I live on, I'll admit.) Context matter. The work itself matters.

For me, this is a big part of the context of hope. Right now, we live in a society that creates associations and judgements about work based on a very messed up standard of work. It's based on the system of slotting oneself into whatever job is available, no matter the work, often with little to no regard for one's particular skills and interests. And more often than not, that work is part of a system that's destroying this planet and tearing apart our culture and society. It's not surprising we have a large population of people who don't like work. The context is horrible.

People have to discover what good work is. When they do that, I think most will be willing to do more of it and will find more joy in it.


John Michael Greer said...

Draft, I have no quarrel with what Obama said. I'd just like to see him follow through on any of the things he said to get elected; so far, he hasn't.

Farmer, thanks for the link. I'll take a look when time permits.

Christophe, thank you for getting it! I see the ideas I'm presenting here as profoundly hopeful -- I'm assuming that it's possible for my readers to learn from history, to make realistic preparations for the mess our collective choices have made, and to get through at least the first stages of the Long Descent with our humanity intact and with knowledge and skills that we can pass on to benefit the future.

Cherokee, I have no idea why so many people think that lying to themselves is a good idea. That seems like a strategy of despair to me.

Jeffrey, understood. I hope that at least some of the nonindustrial world will catch on in time to the fact that the whole industrial model is self-terminating, and that those nations that haven't yet become utterly dependent on fossil fuels have much to gain by choosing another path.

Phil, excellent! I'd add: it's also the axe you use to split firewood, one cold winter morning after another, to keep the stove going.

Thijs, no argument there; the question is simply what we can hope to save. As for the ZOG guy -- yes, that's why I put his post through. A useful reminder...

Cam, I like that! "Hope is not a method." I'll have to have that put on the business end of a branding iron; there are certain people who could benefit from having that seared into their backsides.

Rhisiart and Ando, thank you!

Carlos, everybody in America knows what the acronym ZOG stands for. We had a bunch of homegrown terrorists a few years back, who tried to launch a racial guerrilla war and used that label for the government. Those who survived Uncle Sam's response are spending the rest of their lives in Federal prison. I put the guy's post through, as I mentioned to Thijs, precisely because it's useful to remember that there are some seriously crazy people out there, chasing their own versions of apocalyptic belief. said...


Thanks for the long comment. Great stuff, and indeed a story to be contemplated.

blue sun,

Thanks for your comments on practicing gratitude. A practice I picked up but only engaged in sparingly this last year was to find a cliff or some other kind of edge, pick up four small rocks, imbue each with something that had happened to me recently or an aspect of my life that I was thankful for, and toss those rocks off the ledge. I found it a great way to keep a certain amount of perspective on my life.

Interestingly, the first time I did it, I wrote "Four Stones" in the small notebook I carry, as a reminder that never proved needed. Sometime later, I used the other side of that piece of paper to write down something for a friend of mine. She happened to flip over the paper and questioned what the "Four Stones" meant and I explained sheepishly, after a moment of hesitation. I was a bit embarrassed by it. I don't know why, but I imagine it has something to do with the societal conditioning you speak of. My friend, however, thought the practice a nice one, so marks in her favor.


John Michael Greer said...

Professor, I'd like to pose a question for you. When the Buddha taught that the essential nature of life was suffering, was that a negative vibration? What about Jesus, when he stood on the Mount of Olives and warned his disciples -- quite accurately, too -- that within the lifetimes of some of them, Judea would be ravaged and depopulated, and the Temple flattened to the ground?

The notion that unhappiness is somehow unspiritual has been forcefully rejected by all the great spiritual teachers of our species. It's only in the beliefs of a pampered minority -- and yes, the middle class American audience of the current New Age scene fits that description to a T -- that such ideas could catch on.

Cathy, nicely put. I think that in a lot of cases, the people who use thoughtstoppers of the sort you've described are hiding from their own misery, as you've suggested. That's a profoundly human reaction, but it's also guaranteed to fail.

Dr. Juliet Ashley, who was the third Grand Archdruid of the order I head, and a classic American occultist of the old school, used to say that there's a surefire technique for dealing with suffering. The first step is to identify exactly what's wrong; the second is either to change it, or to learn to live with it. It really is that simple.

Justin, by all means allow yourself more hope than that! You might try hoping, for example, that your actions will make a positive difference in the shape of the future.

Gavin, and you'll notice that he's still trying to find some way to fit growth into a world of resource scarcity. Sheesh.

Blue Sun, that's an excellent suggestion. Meditation on any of the virtues -- which is how I'd describe what you did; gratitude is certainly a virtue, and an important one, and keeping a daily journal of personal reflections is an effective form of meditation -- is well worth doing; again, what you contemplate, you imitate.

Tickmeister, thanks for the recommendation! It's very often those who make an effort to live low on the hog, in your phrase, who do laugh more than others.

Robert said...

JMG wrote:

"Robert, have you ever considered writing an account of your family's positive thinking with negative consequences, perhaps as a blog post? It would be worth reading."

Actually, this is part of my next big writing project, a documented history of my mother's family's involvement in various alternative and liminal spiritualities on this side of the Atlantic over the last several centuries.

But I write slowly, party because life (even in retirement) is full of mundane tasks, partly because I am fussy about good writing. At the moment there are two thick logs that need to be cut and split down to stove size, and also laundry that must be done.

So it will probably be a few years until I finish the writing.

Robert Mathiesen

Draft said...

JMG, okay fair enough. Though again I think your counsel as to finding a third position in all situations applies: between Obama hasn't kept any of his promises and Obama has kept them all. Several independent sites have tried to catalog what promises he and others have kept, and it looks like he's kept many but by no means all of them.

Hal said...

I think it's interesting that the push-back you got was on the apocalypse du jour side of your comparison. When I read it last week, I took that as the "of course" side of the comparison. The comparison, I thought, was to shine a light on the more critical events happening on the economic bubble side, and to perhaps shout out a warning.

Maybe it was just me.

But your discussion of hope really struck a chord with me this week.

For most of my conscious life, I've been one who would probably be categorized as a political "progressive." Now, for a great deal of time, I and many others looked at that as meaning that we were part of a tide of history that was inevitable. Progress was manifest everywhere we looked, not just in material terms, but in human social terms. Who could have lived through the 60s and early 70s without at least thinking it might be a possibility?

I was able to keep that sense of historical imperative through the setbacks of the Reagan years, and even through the disappointments of the Clinton years, by looking to Green and other alternatives, getting ever fringier, but at some point I realized that my basic understanding of what it means to be a progressive had changed.

To have a political position, after all, is to be an advocate. To advocate something is to believe it is the best alternative, not that the alternative is inevitable. I would characterize my shift from one of thinking human social advancement is the natural progress of history, to simply believing it would be a good idea. And being willing to act and speak in ways that might help it progress.

Whether or not I assess at any particular point in time that it has a high probability of manifesting. And in the meantime, I can live my life in a way as divorced from the prejudices and shortcomings of the past as possible.

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ blue sun - Funny. About a month ago I started listing things I was grateful for when I'm all tucked in and ready to sleep. And the things I'm grateful for are the simple basic things. That I have a roof over my head, that I'm warm, that I'm not hungry. My close friends. That my health is reasonably good. That my truck runs.
It really does make a difference in my outlook on life.

@ JMG - Hmmm. Jiminy Cricket. The thing that keeps floating to the top of my mind after all these years is "Let your conscience be your guide." Reading your posts, I think I'd now also add "And don't fall into binary thinking."

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Many may find it helpful either to reread or to read for the first time JMG's fictional accounts of three festive seasons, which he uploaded a few years ago under the titles "Christmas Eve 2050", "Solstice 2100", and "Nawida 2150". This JMG triology highlights one of the forms that hope can take - the hope, namely, that some of the labours of our science predecessors (JMG focuses on maths) can be preserved, perhaps in a monastic setting, when civilization declines.
The first two of the three JMG pieces may be seen at l.

The third of the three pieces may be seen at

Some readers may additionally find it helpful to see a picture of a slide rule, since that numerical-calculations tool is central in JMG's three-part fictional narrative. I have taken such a picture today, from my own maths-work desk, and I have uploaded it to

The slide rule is from high school days in the late 1960s. Up to this point, it has been successfully preserved in the face of upheaval.
Although I do not really use the slide rule, the papers under it in the photo are authentic, unposed, papers from maths-in-progress. My work in maths, astronomy, and electronics is humble, below the level of any grad school. At the moment I am on a rewrite of the somewhat rushed Salas-Hille 1990-textbook proof of multivariate Chain-Rule-along-Curve. (Salas and Hille rushed their proof by failing to consider such possibilities as a not-quite-nice curve r(t), where r(t) is as usual a function from some real interval into the ordered triples of reals, and yet r(t) is discourteous enough to be constant over some subinterval of its domain.)
The obituary I perpetually keep over the far left of the desk commemorates calculus specialist M.Edelstein. I briefly discuss Prof. E's first-year maths teaching in the first chapter of "Utopia 2184", in the "Literary" section of Prof. E's life, which included escape from the Holocaust, was and is a tutorial in hope.
Maths is itself a school in the virtue of hope - specifically, in the hope that, with mathematical truth standing above the mere human mind as the sun stands above mere sunlit streets, glints of that truth become available to all who work diligently.
The same kind of hope drives work in physics and astronomy, concerning which parallel points could be made. I think that JMG hints at such points in some of his other fiction, "Star's Reach", at

Justin said...


I meant that as a positive comment. By hope, I meant the strange, albeit popular, type of hope you are talking about.

As for the type of hope you mean, I keep plenty on hand should it come in handy.

Kieran O'Neill said...

Yes, the phrase that came to mind on seeing the ZOG guy's posts was "textbook example", right down to "it won't matter anyway, as I won't be alive to see it".

On a lighter note, however, Charles Fourier's lemonade oceans and other transformations will now make me laugh whenever I hear people talk about the Fourier transform (actually a very powerful and heavily-used mathematical technique developed from the work of a contemporary of Charles' with the same surname).

Ruben said...

I have two hope snippets:

The first is a study I found in my research on behaviour change. The study found that about half of people "need" hope, and the other half don't. I don't know about the ratio, but I certainly see that in my life--some people keep fighting what looks like a lost cause, because they think it is the right thing to do. Other people cannot fight unless they think they have some hope of winning--whether that hope is realistic or not, they need it.

I think it is the first group that follows a quote I read attributed to the Dutch in WWII,--"Hope is not necessary to perservere".

I guess there is a third thing. I really enjoyed this article, "Abandon Hope". Sorry, I couldn't link straight to the pdf.

Bill Pulliam said...

What "ZOG" means in practice is "I'm an antisemitic white supremacist conspiracy theorist with a fondness for violence." I agree it's good to make sure people are aware that these belief systems are out there, and help them learn the field marks so they know when they have stumbled across them. On a related digression, I have heard too many subtle indications that at least a small subset of Occupy Movement "sympathizers" have begun to equate "the 1%" with "the Jews." Let's hope that at some point in the future "The 1%" is not right next to "ZOG" in the lexicon of conspiracy theorist recognition code words.

Odin's Raven said...

Wasn't Hope the last evil to escape from Pandora's box? Perhaps it meant delusion about what is possible or illusion that someone else will do the necessary work. When did hope become a virtue rather than an evil?

Regarding failed prophecies, will you be including the prediction by Nerbert W. Armstrong's Church of God that Jesus would return, or the world end in 1975? Having survived that, we may greet 2013 with all the more equanimity.

Yupped said...

I’ve read enough “New Age” thinkers to know that there is quite a wide variety of them. There are certainly many who put great faith in the power of positive affirmations, and seem to tend towards the whole positive thinking/Tony Robbins sort of thing. Of which I am not a fan at all. At the same time, there are some that line up with more of a Buddhism-lite or stoic approach, in which accepting reality for what it is and surrendering to it is the greatest spiritual practice. Eckhart Tolle, for whom I must confess some affinity, would be an example.

Becoming comfortable with reality, and accepting all of the uncertainty and change and possibility that it entails, seems to me to be quite a hopeful act. Letting go of the past, not worrying about the future and focusing on what can be done in the present moment will likely be quite a good habit to form in the coming years, just as it is a good habit today. I have enough experience with (practicing) to live this way that I can say confidently that positive things do flow from accepting reality as it is, even when that reality features various hoover-like attributes (ie. It sucks). But you have to put down your expectations, really put them down, and be open to what life is actually bringing along at the moment. And that is tricky, especially if you have developed the attention span of a small insect.

But in that basic openness to reality, acceptance of what is, I think there is the basis for real hope. Or at least for an interesting surprise.

ariel55 said...

Dear John, On December 21 this year, even contemplating next year on the same date, I found a humble hope, which brought me joy, that at least the daylight will increase after the solstice, and I thought of you! Thank you for your writings!--Ariel

John Michael Greer said...

Hierax, I'll consider that; a post on the seven traditional virtues as essential tools for the deindustrial world might be interesting -- and wouldn't that set some people's teeth on edge? Heh heh heh...

Ghung, many thanks for the story.

Bilbo, if a critical mass of people realize in the wake of Nothing Happened Day that Santa isn't bringing them a bright new world to replace the one they've been waiting for somebody else to fix, I'm not at all sure the consequences would be pleasant, but it would be an interesting spectacle.

Caith, that's a complex issue. My one major disagreement with Ilargi and Stoneleigh both is that they consistently underestimate the power of the tools the existing order can use to hang on; they've repeatedly predicted an economic fast crash within a short time frame, which hasn't happened, and I wish sometimes they'd draw what seems to me to be the obvious conclusion, which is that it's going to be a slower and more ragged process, with the current system using every bit of its considerable power to keep a fast crash from happening. There's more to it than that, but that's the major thing I'd point to.

Ofthehands, ouch. Most of the young people I know are condemning themselves to decades of poverty by being suckered into taking out student loans for education that will never pay back what it's costing them.

Robert, excellent! I'll look forward to it.

Draft, interesting. Thanks for the link.

Hal, I was also expecting more pushback from potential or current investors in snake -- er, shale -- oil. It may be a bit early for that; the gimmick that will allow Joe Public to plunge into shale oil speculation hasn't appeared yet.

Lewis, even a broken cricket -- er, clock...

Hal said...

JMG, were you being a little too agreeable with Draft over the Obama quote? (For the sake of avoiding a political argument, maybe or because, well, charity itself is another virtue...)

The way I read the quote, he's still promoting a fantasy.

"Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it and to work for it and to fight for it."

So we ought to carry a thing in us (maybe about the size of a cricket?) that tells us that as long as we really, really work hard for it, something better will be ours.

Now, I think working hard is a very good thing, but the take-home message I get about hope is a little more profound than saying we need to work hard. That even if you work very, very hard, there is no guarantee the good stuff will flow. Especially if we have a fixed idea of what "something better" looks like, and most especially if you think it looks like a deluxe version of what we've gotten used to.

I voted for the man, and with a certain amount of, I have to admit it, hope. Looking at the field of possible competitors, there's a good chance I will do it again, but not with any hope in anything more than averting the worst of outcomes, and that recognizing that I could very well be making a mistake.

Word verification is "filat." Ahem.

John Michael Greer said...

Tom, many thanks. Do you know how to use the slide rule? If not, I'd very strongly urge you to learn!

Justin, gotcha. Thanks for clarifying.

Kieran, good! I hadn't thought of Fourier transforms as the process by which sea water turns into lemonade, but it's a charming image.

Ruben, interesting. I wonder what other personality factors correspond to the difference.

Bill, I wish I could say that I was surprised. There's been a strong whiff of scapegoat hunting in the rhetoric of the Occupy phenomenon all along.

Raven, I hadn't planned on including the 1975 prophecy, though we will be talking about Comet Kohoutek...

Yupped, that's a valid point. The New Age scene is very broad, and includes diverse currents.

Ariel, thank you!

Hal, well, the question is, better than what? Most of the time, if you work hard to make things better, you will in fact end up someplace better than you will if you give up and do nothing. It may not be what you wanted, granted.

Christophe said...

There seems to be a great deal of confusion about optimism and pessimism in this comment thread, most of it stemming from binary thinking. While both terms are now standardly used in that either/or sense of anticipating the best/worst outcomes in this best/worst of all possible worlds, like “hope” they would be more useful redefined as qualities rather than grandiose expectations.

If the classic example holds any water (which it must to be half anything), an optimist would call a glass half full that a pessimist would call half empty. Both of these people are realists. Neither said the glass is completely full or empty, which would be false and based in complete fantasy.

Optimism and pessimism describe dispositions or outlooks, not an untethering from reality. People who imagine our energy resources will last forever are not optimists — they’re fantasists. Likewise, people who declare that our energy resources are used up and Armageddon is upon us are not pessimists — they’re exercising their imaginations, just like St. John.

JMG is not pessimistic in acknowledging the difficult situation in which we find ourselves regarding resource depletion nor in tracing the mythic roots of our dilemma. He is realistic and fascinated by the reality he sees. That fascination, that huge investment of time and effort to untangle the threads of belief that are matted into the substrate of our thinking, displays an optimism about human nature and our future that many miss. One might even call it hope.

Are humans half full or half empty? We aren’t perfect and we aren’t ruined. We are only half. Which half we focus on has a more profound impact on our lives than whatever outcomes we’re anticipating.

Edward said...

I think I'm getting it: If one can't find love, joy, hope, and inner well being in one's present situation, then one won't be able to find them in a future situation either.

This fits in with those notions that we can't control the future, but we can control how we react to the present. That is where we find those blessings.

Living in the moment is hard for me, but I get glimpses of how liberating it can be.

This realization is also strong preventative medicine against getting caught up in one of those bubbles.

Karah said...

JMG wrote: "A great many of us more generally think that being hopeful in the face of the limits to growth means trying to convince ourselves that those limits don’t apply to us, or that there will turn out to be some way around them, or that somebody or other will bail us out before our refusal to deal with those limits lands us in consequences harsher than we want to think about."

Harsh is a relative term. One of the haves (Kardashian) would feel the pea of not making her sales quota for the month under her 36" pillow top mattress of million dollar net worth. Yet, she wouldn't feel it harsh to dump her newly wed husband in 5 minutes after saying I DO.

Like he says, it's how people deal with loss that gives them a future. Don't really want to downplay the loss of the average person's net worth, yet, I fail to see the comparison to Rome. America is still and will continue to be one of the most wealthy countries in the world with an organizational structure (built on judeo-christian laws) that surpasses any other nation. What American mother is not able to feed her kids or get some kind of financial assistance? Even illegal immigrant mothers get aide. Show me this mother. She would pimp herself out before watching her children starve. She would work her ass off at 2.5 jobs. She is the epitome of depression era culture.

The dooms dayers are more in line with not wanting to get around it. They embrace the losses because the gains (although absurd) are better. I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss them, either. They are looking for a balance eventhough it looks like something born out of a las vegas pamphlet.

I think a lot of people are wishing for stuff they already have and don't see it right in front of them.

Morrigan said...

Hal, I think you nailed the problem - as Sir Mick so wisely teaches us, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need." People get disappointed when they don't get what they envisioned, and throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I get irritated with the type of hope that prompts my married friends to tell me, "There's someone out there for you!" when they can't name one eligible man they know (unless they feel I'm unworthy of him) and in spite of the fact that I've been alone for 30 years. I don't let it make me unhappy, so I imagine the idea is so horrifying to contemplate that they must deny it to me.

That's the very type of "hope" that tells a child in poverty that Santa is coming because she's been so good all year, and she "deserves Christmas". (This last phrase was lifted directly from the many e-begging posts on a well-known classifieds website.)

About living "low on the hog": something I've noticed in my travels is that people get quite irritated if in the course of a discussion, you say, "I have enough. I don't want or need more than I have." Irritated, and perplexed. Then they want to argue.

LewisLucanBooks said...

So, what is the genesis of Fourier's lemonade oceans? Well, the lemonade springs "In The Big Rock Candy Mountains." First recorded in 1928, versions of the song had been around a lot longer. Gosh, I like some American folk music.

Interesting timing that a hobo's vision of paradise was recorded just before the Great Depression, and became popular during the Depression.

Richard said...

Hope was the only evil NOT to escape from Pandora's box. But this 'evil' hope may be more of the Hindu kind - a desire for something that is not, and thus the cause of cognitive dissonance - human suffering. Regardless, I think we'll need a plethora of words to encompass all the valid understandings of the word 'hope'.

Keep up the great work JMG!

Source_Dweller said...

The comment by Hierax struck me, as I'm working on an essay which brings in the classic Christian virtues! The seven virtues I'm working with are:
diligence - of mind and body
as taken from Wikipedia as being the current list of the seven virtues in the Roman Catholic tradition.
The virtues are traditionally (in binary logic)seen as opposites to the current list of the seven deadly sins (in same order):
sloth, laziness of mind or body wrath
envy, and at the root of all,
Today's discussion has been about hope, which we see does not make the list, but figures prominently in Corinthians 1:13, a well known passage, where Paul, in verse 13 writes: "And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (King James version with "charity" rendered as "love")
(My personal take on this passage renders "love" as "compassion".)
But we see that charity (or love or compassion)is indeed a classic Christian virtue.
My essays often explore some point JMG has made, in this one I'm thinking about his reference to Aristotle's view of virtue, as well as his frequent depiction of the dominant faith in material progress as a religion. Always excellent food for contemplation. The theme I'm onto is the possibility of synthesis: a spirituality that fully embraces science and science that fully embraces spirituality. Perhaps with a little trinary or lateral thinking I'll muddle through! More likely, the answer is already staring me in the face. Always a delight to read the post and follow the discussion,Best in the New Year to all.

Cherokee Organics said...


I'm fascinated that commenters are trying to box you in with the optimist / pessimist binary. I don't recall you ever taking a position in either ideological camp.

What's even more fascinating is that you warned us all about such binary thinking! Truly, it is both amusing and scary to me both at the same time.

The thing I see is - and I may be wrong - that people latch onto this binary argument and forget the raison d'etre of the weeks post in the first place! It becomes an excuse for handwaving.

I would expect that you are very hard to box in. The technical word may be enigma?

PS: Good luck with the publishing deadline.



Now, back to reading the comments...

The carp who jumped Hukou Falls said...

Regarding education, JMG wrote in a reply:
Ofthehands, ouch. Most of the young people I know are condemning themselves to decades of poverty by being suckered into taking out student loans for education that will never pay back what it's costing them.

I work in the UK university sector, mostly teaching postgraduate students. Recently, I saw a former student on the TV news; he'd come back to university after a period of unemployment, taking a higher degree in Management in order to improve his opportunities. I believe that he took a loan in order to do so. Having obtained his degree he was still unable to find work.

What worries me is that he was one of the best students in his year: intelligent, inquisitive, hard-working, and articulate. Normally, I count myself lucky if even one student has prepared for class, or voices an opinion. The majority appear to have no interest in the subject they are studying, and are simply trying to obtain a qualification with minimum effort so as to boost their career opportunities.

As that past student shows: that probably won't happen. Eventually word will get out, and the students will stop coming. That'll be awkward, since we now depend on student fees for our funding. JMG's comment on last week's post was thus rather close to the bone:

Don't plan on the educational system being around in anything like its present state for much longer, and beware of it while it's here, since it's going to be much more interested in raking in money to keep itself afloat than in giving anybody an education worth the name.

For now, I can only feel sorry for these kids, adrift in a collapsing economy and taking on debt that will be a burden for many years. I'm more motivated every day to acquire useful, not theoretical, skills, and to make my home resilient while I still have a regular salary.

For UK readers who are thinking along the same lines, the following link may be interesting:

(I don't have personal experience of them, but it looks useful).

Leigh Christina Russell said...

Greetings John, I read your posts from time to time and always find them reassuring - in so far as you think well and in depth and not many do - and make me think (more) too! Thank you for that, and Hooray!!!

I have a slightly different angle on the notion that our beliefs can have a very direct influence on the physical world we live in - as they affect our actions and behaviour. I've written about this in a popular article in my blog "Rushleigh - the pursuit of wisdom chronicle". The article is "Climate change and the implication of beliefs in determining the future". The link is:

Also I owe you a considerable debt of gratitude for all you put into your book, "The encyclopaedia of the occult". It was immensely helpful to me when I was going through the worst time of my life - the deconstruction of long-held New Age belief structures. Few could comprehend quite how shattering spiritual dis-illusionment can be. I've written a great deal about this in my blog "Rushleigh - the Wasteland Chronicle" with the section on the Spiritual Wasteland being contained in posts for the month of April 2010. Since you were encouraging Robert to tell his story of his family's New Age entanglements, I venture to share part of my own story here, along with the link to an article which encapsulates much of the legacy I 'inherited' from my father: I've called it "What were all those spiritual books?" and the link is:

I've been meaning to write to you for some time to thank you, you can't know how much. Or perhaps you can. All the best anyway, and may your own work prosper, in the truest sense! It has certainly inspired me to put a lot of effort into mine. Smiles across the miles...

Fabrice said...

You say "upward mobility is increasingly a nostalgic dream" and we have to abandon hope. This is exactly why some people take to the street with Occupy Wall Street. The individualist world is replaced by a priviledge world. You are born without gifts from Santa and it's your faith. I see this shift in Hong Kong and it makes me sad.

John Michael Greer said...

Christophe, thank you.

Edward, exactly! That's ultimately the core problem with those belief systems that insist that someone or something else is going to plop you into paradise, whether that takes the form of the Rapture or "spiritual ascension" -- if you can't manage peace, joy, and love right here and now, you won't experience them in paradise, either, because they're the product of inner states, not outer conditions.

Karah, er, you need to get out more. There are a lot of single moms (and other people) these days whose 99 weeks of unemployment coverage have run out, and whose assistance checks from the government don't begin to cover the cost of food, rent, utilities, and other necessities.

Morrigan, excellent! By saying "I have enough, I don't want more," you're giving voice to what, for most Americans, is the ultimate heresy -- and you're also rubbing their noses in the fact that, in most cases, they're profoundly dissatisfied with their lives, and know perfectly well that another trip to the mall won't solve that.

Lewis, my guess it's the other way around; Fourier's first book was published in 1809, and his ideas were hugely popular in American radical circles in the 1820s and 1830s, giving them plenty of time to filter down into folk songs.

Richard, thank you. It's also worth remembering that Hesiod, who's the original source for the story of Pandora, was a cynical, misogynistic old git.

Dweller, the set of traditional virtues I have in mind are those that were canonical in the Middle Ages and Renaissance: the four civil or cardinal virtues of courage, justice, temperance, and prudence, and the three religious virtues (I always want to call them the ordinal virtues!) of faith, hope, and charity. It's the latter three that will occasion the spluttering, as none of 'em mean what most people nowadays seem to think they mean.

Cherokee, bingo. The labels "optimist" and "pessimist" are mostly rhetorical noise meant to distract attention from what's actually being discussed. As for the deadline, thank you; I'm on track to meet it.

Carp, exactly. I would encourage people who have things to teach to begin thinking about how they'll teach those things when the current education industry grinds to a halt -- an event a lot closer here in America then elsewhere, but on the horizon in a lot of places.

Leigh, a fascinating story! The realm of popular alternative spirituality from which the New Age emerged is a very mixed bag, as you noted, with some very good points mixed in with some complete toxic waste, and the bait of personal immortality (or at least extreme longevity) fed a lot of the latter in much the same way that the bait of apocalyptic transformation feeds equivalent pathologies today. I'm glad to hear that The New Encyclopedia of the Occult helped out with your journey!

John Michael Greer said...

Fabrice, er, no, I didn't say that anybody needs to abandon hope. I said that it's probably a good idea to understand what hope actually means. You're quite right, though, that a lot of what drives OWS is the clash between overinflated expectations and the hard realities of a society in decline.

Bill Pulliam said...

Re optimism, pessimism, and that dang glass...

I've always said it depends on what is in the glass. If it is water and you are thirsty, then calling it "half full" is optimistic. If it is noxious-tasting medicine you must struggle to get down to cure what ails you, then calling it "half empty" is optimistic.

"Pessimist" is too often a label used to brush off people who are trying to tell you something important that you don't want to hear.

Robert C. Guy said...

"...before our refusal to deal with those limits lands us in consequences harsher than we want to think about." reminded me of a portion of a conversation I had with someone years ago regarding the inevitability of being impacted by fossil fuel depletion on account of our reliability on it and, in the end, I was given an exasperated response of "What are we supposed to do then?" As if there were nothing that could be done besides regular patterns and habits employed for so many years. The main concern was how inconvenient life would become and the possibility or probability of diminished life spans (though not in all places equally inevitable; Okinawans and others have had tremendous life spans as far back as anyone has cared to record) and with the exasperated question I was a little fed up myself (it was a relative of mine) and said "We die, of course. All of us eventually and some sooner than others, but that will happen regardless. That doesn't mean we shouldn't take care for what we can see coming." but it took me until today to realize what I felt behind that statement: A quote I heard years ago "It's not the dying that hurts, it's all that trying to stay alive in the meantime." so the inner feeling was and is that of course life may be shortened on statistical averages but how we choose to try and live in the meantime is what makes the difference in the end.
I am sorry to flog a dead ungulate but gender equality is neither the creation nor sole property of any civilization industrial or otherwise. Perhaps it has made life convenient enough to make differences of treatment less visible and physical differences a non concern. As long as I am not asked to breast feed an infant I suppose my state of natural gender difference will not need to be easily observed. John, your comment to Noah just over 3 years ago sums up my feelings on it better than I am able and I hope I don't come across as offensive; I just get a little flustered inside when someone insists that the only reason we have A, B, or C is because 'it happens to be present in our lives and we happen to live in an industrial civilization so it must have been caused by this civilization'. It is absolutely not that I don't value equitable societal gender pressures, I certainly do, just I don't feel that saying the cause of our current state of gender relations is exclusively bound to industrial civilization is a useful or accurate thing.

Bobbi Walker said...

I enjoyed your post. And oddly enough, I had visions of H.G. Wells "Time Machine" popping into my head as I read about economic parallels. The reference to the Roman Empire I found particularly relevant... peaks have really nasty falls.
Dreams are for the sleepers, it's time to wake up, get messy, work hard and be ALIVE!

fyreflye said...

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

-Emily Dickinson

Source_Dweller said...

Thanks JMG, for your perspective. There are the catholic virtues as you described, including the four civic virtues known in Classical Greece; and the heavenly virtues in contraposition to the seven deadly sins. Temperance and Charity repeat, so 12 virtues to consider!

Regards, Robert

Gelfling said...

I have been reading your posts for a couple of months now, and have accidentally stayed up past 4am more times than i would like to admit reading all the lovely comments! Thank you for your wisdom and humor in troubling times.

As a woman in my young 30s trying hard to save up for a homestead before it is too late, i am trying to come up with the great "Plan" of how i should try to ride the coming storm. A burning question i have: All these folks in the 60s and 70s went back to the homestead. Why did so many leave it again? I know some communes failed for a variety of organizational reasons, but plenty of just plain folks didn't keep to the woods either. If i am part of a second exodus to the hills, perhaps i can learn from their troubles and be more prepared? I can find a lot of stories about what happened, but not a lot of reasons about why things happened the way they did. (And, ahem, trying to somehow tie my question into the topic: what happened to their hope if they had land and community?)

Please forgive me if you have told this story- i looked through blogs but haven't found it yet.

Zach said...

Hierax, I'll consider that; a post on the seven traditional virtues as essential tools for the deindustrial world might be interesting -- and wouldn't that set some people's teeth on edge? Heh heh heh...

Please do! This is something that has been on my mind lately, in large part inspired by this blog's discussion. Also, tangentially, inspired by your recommendation of taking up the Art of Memory, which lead me to Kevin Vost's Memorize the Faith! (and Most Anything Else): Using the Methods of the Great Catholic Medieval Memory Masters. Of course, one of the things to memorize is the list of the seven virtues and the seven deadly sins.

Hmm. A discussion of the Seven Deadlies could be very interesting, too -- as you note regarding the virtues, there is much misunderstanding of what they are. If discussing the virtues doesn't set enough people's teeth on edge for you, discussing the sins certainly would!


escapefromwisconsin said...

Since we've been speaking of shale gas, here's what I found this morning:

Fracking: Is there really 100 years’ worth of natural gas beneath the United States? Slate Magazine

But what is that estimate based upon? Those details haven’t been made freely available to the public, but their summary breaks it down as follows here and in the graph below: 273 tcf are "proved reserves," meaning that it is believed to exist, and to be commercially producible at a 10 percent discount rate. An additional 536.6 tcf are classified as "probable" from existing fields, meaning that they have some expectation that the gas exists in known formations, but it has not been proven to exist and is not certain to be technically recoverable. An additional 687.7 tcf is "possible" from new fields, meaning that the gas might exist in new fields that have not yet been discovered. A further 518.3 tcf are "speculative," which means exactly that. A final 176 tcf are claimed for coalbed gas, which is gas trapped in coal formations.

By the same logic, you can claim to be a multibillionaire, including all your "probable, possible, and speculative resources."

Assuming that the United States continues to use about 24 tcf per annum, then, only an 11-year supply of natural gas is certain. The other 89 years' worth has not yet been shown to exist or to be recoverable.

Even that comparably modest estimate of 11 years’ supply may be optimistic. Those 273 tcf are located in reserves that are undrilled, but are adjacent to drilled tracts where gas has been produced. Due to large lateral differences in the geology of shale plays, production can vary considerably from adjacent wells.

Fascinating article thoughout, and a useful corrective to the "100 years of Natural Gas" soundbite being pushed by the corporate media.

Happy New Year to all!

Mean Mr Mustard said...


Regarding the debate over half full and half empty glasses, an engineer friend reliably informs me that the correct answer is that the glass is double the size it needs to be.

Verification word, fount. Hmmm...

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, nicely put.

Robert, the "well, what are we supposed to do about it?" question is one I field now and again. Of course I have a lengthy answer, but I'm sure you know how well it goes over! As for gender equality, though, that's a complex issue; still, industrial societies have had a much better track record with providing basic civil rights to women than most others in human history, and that's a legacy worth trying to preserve, I feel -- thus the discussion about causes and consequences is worth having.

Bobbi, thank you! You're quite right, of course; dreaming of a five course banquet feeds nobody's children.

Fyreflye, many thanks for the quote.

Dweller, well, as I'm not a Roman Catholic I'll leave discussion of current Catholic moral teachings to those who are. The seven classic virtues keep me busy enough!

Gelfling, it's a valid question, with an answer that almost nobody wants to hear. The notion of fleeing to the woods is a standard trope in contemporary American culture, but it's also one of the worst possible strategies right now -- and it wasn't a very good one back in the late 60s and early 70s, either. The problem is simply that living in isolation is brutally hard -- you have to provide everything you need by your own labor, and unless you're up for unremitting labor from can't see to can't see right around the year, your chances of producing enough to make a go of it are minimal. In time of social disintegration, there's also the issue of vulnerability -- if the Skeksis come looking for you, so to speak, you don't want to be in some isolated place far from help.

This is why the community, not the individual or the family, is the basic unit of human survival, and by "community" I don't mean a dozen unrelated people trying to live together -- I mean a village, a town or a small city. That's why I advise people to consider where they live right now; if it's anything from a small town to a small city, has a stable water supply, and is near plenty of agricultural land, the best thing to do is usually to stay put; if not, choose a town where the cost of living is low and where, if at all possible, you've got family or friends, and move there; work on getting the skills you'll need to produce goods and services people want or need, so you'll have something to exchange in a deindustrializing economy; and learn to live on a fraction of your current income, so you can look at getting a home with a backyard big enough to garden, a basement big enough for a root cellar and a workshop, and all the other things you'll want to make it comfortably in a contracting economy. That's my best suggestion -- and it's also the strategy I'm following, for whatever that's worth.

Zach, I hadn't heard of Vost's book! That's really good to hear -- the more people who learn how to use their heads as something other than a rack to hang earphones from, the better off we'll be.

Escape, good. This is right along the lines of the saner analyses I've been hearing.

frubhouse said...

Here's another take on the word "hope", this one's from Vaclav Havel and was posted by the Post Carbon Inst today.
"Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Either we have hope or we don't; it is a dimension of the soul, and it's not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.... Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more propitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper the hope is. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."
-Vaclav Havel

Robert C. Guy said...

Gender equality is tremendously complex and industrial societies seem to have a good track record on most all accounts of alleviating tension between human beings where the nature of energy consuming industries have relieved pressure between groups of humans that would otherwise have to take advantage of each other in greater or lesser ways to achieve even a semblance of the comforts enjoyed by modern industrial citizens but they're not the only place where equitable relations between the genders have been achieved and I feel as though the one way of looking at gender equality in industrial nations that might be useful is not 'industrial nations gave us this' but 'this exists in observable industrial nations. Why. How. By what means and which of those means requires industrial energy concentration that we will loose sooner or later and need to find alternatives for?'

Roman Ženka said...

It is interesting to read about your views on people expecting apocalypse as well as people who appear to be complete lunatics, like Fourier. It however seems to me that you concentrate a lot on very extreme viewpoints - I understand you do that to make a point, but frankly, I do not care so much about people expecting doom in 2012 and I do not think that majority of people actually expects to see some kind of miracle that would resolve our problems. Also, I somewhat witnessed the Soviet Union "melting down".. it was not that tragic. A lot of wealth changed hands, some went down the drain, but as someone who did not really have much to begin with, my life remained pretty much the same. I do know people whose lifestyle drastically changed, people who lost millions of dollars, and they go on living one way or the other - it is not a tragedy. I suppose that our standards of living could decline quite far and people would still get by just fine - by fine I mean without a huge cataclysmic event that would wipe large percentage of the population out. I would be interested in reading more about issues and way of thinking of people with more moderate views, people who are not really looking for shocking magic or technology. 2012 doomsayers seem to be too easy target to give them so much thought.

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ gelfling - I happened to read this a couple of months ago and was lucky enough to find it again. It's not too long and the title is "Not one more winter in the tipi, honey."

I also seem to remember many pioneer tales of "prairie madness" due to isolation.

Petro said...

Just started to read the post, and wanted to jump in with this before continuing.

The saucy pro-pot libertarian Steve Kubby put up a thumbs-up link to the execrable "documentary" Thrive on his Facebook wall, and I was so moved to scribble a quick blog post at my place denouncing it. Which I then posted a link to in his thread. Which he deleted. Which I then asked him about censoring opposing points of view - him being libertarian and all. Which he then "unfriended" me.

Hopers gotta hope, I guess.


- I've generally liked Kubby over the years - especially his med-mar advocacy - but he's been getting increasingly nutty lately. Libertarians in general are getting nuttier, IMO - defensiveness is bringing out the ugly (he's the second libertarian to "unfriend" me in recent months - and while I find their philosophy a bit crayon-like, I don't really confront them on it directly. It's always some side-issue that gets them cranky.)

- What particularly chaps me about "Thrive" is its slickness in mixing the real challenges we face with elitist conspiracy nonsense (David Icke is featured, yeesh), along with our favorite bugaboo, zero-point energy (because the aliens told us about it, of course.) It really tugs at the optimistic heart-strings, and is just the sort of poison that we really don't need in the popular consciousness right now.

OK, now to go finish reading your post...

phil harris said...

I like your sensible practical advice. One of the pitfalls of New Age 'ideology' I saw was several good people here in UK denying themselves medical treatment and/or sensible lifestyle change that might have helped with serious illness. Their 'faith' although it counteracted one fear managed to reinforce others.

Mention of the Vost book on memorizing reminds me of Ivan Illich essay on memory and literacy in the mediaeval Church in his collection "In the Mirror of the Past" Alternatively, I know people who have memorized the entire recognition and habits of all British birds! And I have heard of Amazon tribesmen with 5000 names of forest flora, each with visual recognition, life stages, uses etc. Something to be said for having a pre-literate approach to the important things in life.

Cathy McGuire said...

Took me a while to get back to Part 2 where I talk about New Agers (but I had marmalade to make and wood to chop – and stories to write!). It is true that they are a diverse group, but the part that fascinated me, and is most appropriate to this posting, is that many if not most of them have changed their dire “predictions” about 2012 over the past few years! When I worked at a New Age zine back in ’05 (it was the only gig in town), there were many who were literally talking about the end of the world – with the “enlightened ones” raptured off (tho they didn’t call it that) by transforming to higher energy beings… and I have been fascinated (and a little appalled) that as The Date got closer and closer, those predictions morphed into an energetic transformation that still left their little bodies here on earth, and was safely invisible to the great unwashed. ie: you can’t prove nuthin’. ;-) To me, that says that even those who professed to be “sure” of energetic transformation truly couldn’t get close to the end of the world without cringing and shifting to denial of what they once believed (which, ironically shifts them closer to reality.) I probably could go back and find some of this in the old issues, but I’m not trying to prove it to anyone. Just thought I’d mention my observations, for what it’s worth.

Leigh Christina Russell said...

John, I don't know how you find the time to get around all of us contributors *and* write your books! I very much appreciate your willingness to do so.

Thanks for your response to mine above. If you feel inclined to make any other comments about that group of writings in the future. I'd be most interested to hear it. Few have the insight or interest to do so.

That comment from Dr Ashley about identifying the exact cause of suffering is profound: many times I have found that correctly identifying a problem, especially in what might be termed spiritual matters, results in their evaporation, I'm not sure how this is but I have certainly noticed this pattern. And in more worldly terms it's wonderfully practical.

A comment to Robert Mathieson: I hope you let us know when you've written about your family, if you decide to do so! All strength to you!

A comment to Gelfling: I agree with JMG's response to your question. I think too, that most people simply don't have sufficient skills or organisational commitment to make these things work for the long term. I found John Peterson's story as told by himself in the documentary "The real dirt on Farmer John" insightful and inspiring. He really has been through a tough time, and made a success of organic farming - not just for himself but including many others as well. I've written a brief item about it which you can find on this link:
You may also find the two companion articles useful, one on how Cuba has coped with its own peak oil crisis, and the other about renewable energy programmes in Germany.

A lot of my blogging hinges around sustainability issues, wholesome living, and about how to make do with *much* less. I've had to, and it gets easier with practice, so the thing is to start practising!

For me, living in a wholesome way includes caring for the world we live in. This needn't take monetary wealth, far from it, but it does take time and thought, and a willingness to change.

John Michael Greer said...

Frub, good. There's a man who had plenty of opportunity to test hope against some very harsh circumstances, too.

Robert, and that's also a useful way to look at it.

Roman, am I right that you're in Europe? Here in America, there are quite literally millions of people who believe in one or another apocalyptic fantasy, and the broader attitude that we don't have to solve our problems because someone or something else will take care of it is even more widespread.

Petro, I hadn't heard about that particular bit of propaganda, but it's a familiar schtick: real problems and fake solutions, all wrapped up in an emotionally manipulative format. Expect to see a lot more of that in the years to come.

Phil, literate societies of the past (for example, classical Greece and Renaissance Europe) also developed similar skills. The only reason we don't is that our culture has a machine fetish, and a fear of human possibility. More on this later.

Cathy, I saw (via the local supermarket book rack) that Whitley Streiber, who had some books out on 2012, now has one out claiming tat 2020 is the big date. And so it goes...

Leigh, Dr. Juliet Ashley was an astonishing person by all accounts. I never got to meet her -- she passed a good many years ago -- but I studied with several of her students. The "Ashley technique," as the little two-part formula gets called, is very much her style. There were a lot of people like that in the alternative scene that turned into the New Age, but they didn't become famous, because they didn't promise the moon; they simply said, here's a way to straighten out some common problems people cause themselves by their own tangled thinking, now get to work.

Kevin said...

I'm designing a perpetual motion motor that runs on passional attraction. Zero Point Lemonade Injection is the core engineering principal. Expecting a breakthrough any time now. Then the NYT is sure to give it a puff piece.

John Michael Greer said...

Kevin, a self-powered motor that runs on passional attraction? Hmm. I think you should market it to the Onan Generator Company...

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Joel,

Very interesting. I'm with you too, hard work - physical work - is quite good for the soul especially when you are working towards producing organic food.

My journey was from the big end of town which I stopped working for only a few short years ago. Way back in 1992, I was made redundant because of the economy (recession) and this had a large impact on my young self. After this point I worked towards achieving a measure of independence from the rat race. This objective was in hindsight, probably not compatible with the goals of the big end of town though!

However, it was the declining quality of food that led me on a journey through organic food production, resource depletion and eventually to this blog and my current activities. It's been a long haul.

Today, outside in the shade it was 35 degrees (95 farenheit) and I spent the afternoon cooking apricot + wild plum + wild apple jam - lots of it for the coming autumn, winter and spring. The plums and apples I picked by the roadside this morning. It amazes me how much free food is kicking around. Could I have foreseen all this 10 years ago? Probably not.

I'm at a fork in the road again and I'm unsure what to pursue next.



Kieran O'Neill said...

@Bill I would hope that they're just a tiny radical minority within the movement. From what I saw at Occupy Vancouver, the movement attracted all manner of fringe elements, from full-blown anarchists, to communists, to lizard-people-fearing conspiracy nuts. But the vast majority were fairly rational, mainstream people.

It was telling, while on a march, how chants of "We are the 99%", or "Whose streets? Our Streets" got taken up quite readily, with "police are the 99%" even featuring. But when the megaphone got around to an anarchist type who yelled out "No prisons, no borders, f*ck law and order", the first time around the response got as far as "borders" before dying completely, and the second time barely a single voice joined in.

I would agree with JMG's comment on scapegoating, however. There were certainly a few placards with witty but quite threatening comments about bankers. Again, though, I don't think that represents a majority of people backing the movement.

And the 99% phraseology certainly seems to have entered the lexicon, at least for British journalists (see the articles Escape linked at the top of the comments).

Cherokee Organics said...


I know why I moved where I am presently abiding and am not under any allusions.

However, I've also noticed that some people move from one location to another looking for something - who knows what? Until they address, accept, fix, or whatever, the core issues in themselves they don't improve their outlook.

I don't know whether I made this up or read it long ago (most probable) but I've thought that darkness of the soul is not alleviated by taking that soul somewhere else.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Gelfling,

What a great question about communes (multiple occupancies).

I reckon they fail for a number of reasons:
- Soil;
- Passengers;
- Organisational structure; and
- System shocks.

Soil - Easy enough. You can't grow vegetables in a forest environment unless you understand soil! Too many people think that dirt is just something that keeps plants upright. Read, read and when you are finished read some more. There is no substitute to this activity. People setting up communes probably had no idea about soil.

Passengers - I'm self-motivated and I see things through to completion. However, when I work in a group - any group - there are always a minority that want to passenger along. I'm cool with that. However, a small holding cannot afford to feed passengers. I think a lot of communes may have failed because they were big on talk and dreams and very small on activity.

Organisational structure - Think running the government is hard. Got complaints? You can't please everyone. Try doing all that when there are friends and family involved. Most successful village type structures involve clear lines of responsibility, plus everyone is accountable to each other. An intentional community can't achieve this, it must evolve at its own pace, time and relationships.

System shocks - As our host pointed out few people can live as individuals without the co-operation of others. I always relate this concept to stone fruit. Some years yellow peaches and nectarines do better than the white varieties. If you only had one variety then any system shock would mean that you didn't eat that year. Communes were vulnerable because they commenced all at the same time and any system shock they suffered knocked them out.

Our host says that a resilient system is not an efficient system and he is correct (I have 300 varieties of fruit trees here and the climate is about as variable as you'll get).



sekenre said...

Hi All:

Thought this comic would be appropriate for the topic of apocalyptic thinking:

Sinfest: End Times

Have a good New Year!

phil harris said...

Just a point about living through calamities, major or minor, as distinct from Apocalypse; it does depend somewhat. I remember living through one of the great 'smogs' of coal-fired London when 4000 extra deaths were recorded that week. It all seemed trivial inconvenience to this schoolboy.

Regarding the larger scale: a British medical journal The Lancet had a paper in 2009 analysing the leap in death rates across the Soviet/FSU during the 'great privatisation'. Perhaps the most interesting feature was the degree to which membership of a social organization ameliorated morbididty & mortality.
"Rapid mass privatisation [aka unemployment] as an economic transition strategy was a crucial determinant of differences in adult mortality trends in post-communist countries; the effect of privatisation was reduced if social capital was high. These findings might be relevant to other countries in which similar policies are being considered."

Bill Pulliam said...

A calendar question.. for those of us who might like to mark the rollover of the Mayan long count in a less apocalyptic manner, do you know when the Mayan day begins? Sunrise? Sunset? Something else? And do you know the most accepted reference point to align the long count with our calendar, to figure exactly which day we should be marking? Regardless of the end of the world, it's a date worth noting!

Bret said...

Blue Sun -- I just wanted to thank you for the thoughts on perspective and gratitude. I just figured out what my New Year's resolution is and it involves five entries a day in a journal! Appreciate it.

JMG -- you really are something special. I think I join most of the others who read you in pretty reliably experiencing a sort of gentle teasing apart of expectations and assumptions as a result of engaging with your material. It seems good for the heart, mind and soul. Thanks man! Happy New Year, cheers!

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ Kathy McGuire - I ran across a D. H. Lawrence quote a few years ago:

"I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It's amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor."

Wishing you a cheerful and prosperous New Year.

Thomas Daulton said...

Greetings JMG,
I'm not saying anything you and Noam Chomsky haven't said many times, but here's my side note to this week's column: part of the reason advocating a pragmatic, down-to-earth operational definition of Hope typically meets a lot of acrimony and bitterness is because Privilege is always invisible to the privileged. If you grow up with prosperity and authority handed to you on a silver platter, with other (lesser) people assigned the responsibility of seeing the details through, then the scope and character of your Hope are going to be markedly different from those at the bottom of the pyramid. Meanwhile, in American culture we have spent a hundred years promoting, paying, and lionizing the "managers", the Ad-men, the "idea men", the politicians, planners and bureaucrats at the expense of the actual workers, the trench-diggers, the farmers and craftsmen. In a national sense, personal security, sustainability, and self-sufficiency are viewed as passe and boring, hence not an object of hope. The only hope our culture has promoted for a century is that of the tycoon, the "game-changer", the "high-roller", the gambler. This is the result of a culture of privilege which has started taking its own privilege for granted; affluence taken as a given instead of appreciated. Of course that's hard for most Americans to hear when they're struggling with overpriced mortgages and rapacious bills. But as you always point out, the first step in a realistic assessment of one's situation is to turn your eyes away from pop culture and its keep-up-with-the-mythical-Joneses values.

wvjohn said...


Just a note of thanks for all your fascinating and challenging work this past year. I look forward to many more Thursday morning peeks at the blog!

On the topic of hope, it’s interesting and a bit sad to see people shooting the messenger for mentioning the Emperor’s new clothes. For my part, hope is essentially a spiritual quality, and is inextricably intertwined with my relationships with other people and the greater forces in the universe. The material world is, of course, always with us, and the dangers of substituting material things for spirituality have been trumpeted down the ages. What little of history I have read suggests that hope may in fact may in fact be closely related to times of great turmoil and change, because those times require a pruning of one’s “tree of life” to preserve those things that are truly important.

Jason Heppenstall said...

An interesting, and much needed, meditation on hope. It's had me analysing myself pretty deeply the last few days about what exactly I might have been hoping for in the past before I started thinking about the implications of peak energy.

As I write this the skies above Copenhagen outside my window are exploding with fireworks as revellers celebrate a new year and the news channels are full hope in the form of an economic 'bounce'. I'm slightly reminded of War and Peace where the citizens of Moscow party like it's 1812 as Napoleon's troops advance on them ...

Anyway, here's to everyone who posts comments on the ADR and, of course, to JMG himself - not just food for thought, more of a banquet.

And here's to it still going strong on Jan 1 2013 with Nothing Happened Day receding in the rear-view mirror.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, true enough!

Sekenre, thanks for the comic.

Phil, many thanks for the reference! Another bit of evidence for the point that the basic unit of human survival is the community, not the individual.

Bill, heck of a good question, to which I don't know the answer. December 21, 2012 is generally accepted by scholars (using the Goodman-Martinez-Thompson correlation between the two calendars) to be the same day as 4 Ahau 3 Kankin, the end of the current cycle, and the next day, 5 Imix 4 Muwan, is the first day of the new cycle of 13 baktunob, but you'd have to ask a Mayanist when exactly the Mayans mark the beginning of a new day.

Bret, thank you!

Thomas, privilege is exactly the problem here, in several different senses. The fact that most Americans have zero idea how much of their standard of living, not to mention their basic assumptions about the cosmos, are a function of systems of privilege that feed them favors most other human beings don't get!

Wvjohn, oh, this messenger is used to wearing Kevlar when delivering the bad news...

Jason, now that's a nicely literary comparison! I suspect, though, that a lot more people are partying like it's August 1914, or a little bit before then. Or, for that matter -- well, who was it who posted a reference here to the harrowing Al Stewart song, "The Last Day of June 1934"?

The best possible New Year to all! May your caulk guns and garden tools see plenty of use, and all the rubble bounce the other way.

Leigh Christina Russell said...

Anne Frank's father Otto has been quoted as saying:

"If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today."

In the midst of death he was still determined to choose life - a brave and powerful choice, bravo Otto!

I've very much enjoyed all the discussion, so thanks JMG and everyone and a Happy New Year!

afterthegoldrush said...

I'd also like to add my thanks to JMG for another year of wonderful writing, a banquet indeed - and a truly healthy diet at that!

Thanks also to the other commentators on here who take the time to discuss the weekly essays - my week wouldn't be the same without you.

I agree with previous comments on the nature of JMG's 'hopefulness' and find great solace in this weekly civilised discourse - truly a lamp shining in the dark of troubled times. It gives me hope for the future, that though the road we face is rocky and dangerous, all is not lost.

Happy New Year to you all - see you in 2012!


Cathy McGuire said...

@Cherokee: I don't know whether I made this up or read it long ago (most probable) but I've thought that darkness of the soul is not alleviated by taking that soul somewhere else.
I definitely agree—we bring our demons with us! Jung said it often, and I believe the Desert Fathers said it long ago.

@LewisLucan: I don’t know about scrubbing floors, but I agree about the marmalade! That golden yellow color is liquid sunshine! And a great New Year and successful move to you!

Happy New Year to all! And I'm hoping the tight economy keeps most of the neighbors from shooting off their guns at midnight! ;-)

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Frubhouse: Thanks for the wonderful quote from Havel. Havel correctly exhibits the inner essence of hope. Hope is something other than the expectation of success, i.e., is something other than the expectation that one's ambitions will be achieved. The essence of hope is not triumphalist. Hope is linked less to happiness than to joy.

Joy, a leading art critic has recently said, is a sterner thing than happiness.

An appropriate musical accompaniment to Havel might be the Israeli anthem "Hatikva" (literally, "the hope"). A rendition that correctly captures the note of somberly joyous interiority in "Hatikva", taken as a musical gloss upon Havel, is available at .

Toomas (Tom) Karmo
(Estonian in Toronto, Canada)

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

JMG: Thanks for prodding me, in your reply to a comment I made a couple of days ago, to learn to use a slide rule. I have now spent about four hours studying the device, and I think I understand all the scales on my duplex Faber-Castell 52/82. Further practice would now, admittedly, be desirable.

The arguably best of the approximately five slide rule books in open stacks at the Gerstein Science Centre at Univ of Toronto is J.N. Arnold, "The Complete Slide Rule Handbook" (Prentice-Hall Inc., 1954; originally published as "The Slide Rule, Principles and Applications"). When I visited the Gerstein stacks yesterday, I unfortunately did not find a book of high repute, Lee H. Johnson's "The Slide Rule" (Van Nostrand Company, 1949, with 1951, 1953, 1955, 1957 reprintings).

One of the benefits of the slide rule is that it rubs one's face in several practicalities of trig - that sin x changes very little over the range 80o-to-90o, that for angles more acute than 5.5o there is scant practical-engineering difference between sin and tan, and that for any angle theta (even negative, even obtuse, even reflex, even an angle turned through more than 360o by a rotating shaft) if eta + theta = one right angle then both cos eta = sin theta and (provided cot eta and tan theta exist) cotan eta = tan theta. (Hence, no doubt, the use of "co" in the trig-function names, since to say that eta + theta = one right angle is to say that eta and theta are "complementary angles". Schools seem not to stress the logic behind the "co" in the names for the trig functions.) The slide rule thus gets one closer to several mathematical realities than the pocket calculator does.

JMG again: You asked me a few weeks ago, on this blog, whether any monastic orders in the Catholic world are addressing the need for preservation-of-knowledge. I think the answer to this is "not really, not yet". A natural place to look for such an eventual movement in the Church would be the Jesuits - e.g., within the Jesuit-administered walls of the Vatican Observatory Research Group, at Castel Gandolfo and in Arizona.


Toomas (Tom) Karmo

SophieGale said...

It's been a very long time since I read about Pandora. As I remember the story, she had been given the box but forbidden to open it. Sheesh! In that Golden Age, the box contained all manner of suffering (which did not exist in the world)AND hope (which, presumably, was not yet needed).

When Pandora inevitably opened the box, all the suffering flew out--it's probably a value judgement to label all of it as "evil". Pandora then panicked and slammed the lid on hope. It was somebody's task--ours? hers? the gods--to open the box again and release hope. I suppose the pessimist could say that hope was another form of suffering, but I wouldn't call it "evil"!

Ruben said...

For those interested in the Hope and Optimism discussion, here is an article from today's Guardian.

The Optimism Bias

While healthy people expect the future to be slightly better than it ends up being, people with severe depression tend to be pessimistically biased: they expect things to be worse than they end up being.
People with mild depression are relatively accurate when predicting future events. They see the world as it is.
In other words, in the absence of a neural mechanism that generates unrealistic optimism, it is possible all humans would be mildly depressed.

Maria said...

Excellent essay, as always. Lots of food for thought, not just in the essay itself, but also in the comments. Im still doing a lot of thinking, still disoriented a lot of the time. But centered, if that makes any sense.

Happy New Year, JMG, and thanks for all your efforts throughout the year.

Ash said...


Very insightful series of posts, and a great idea to go over past episodes of failed prophecy during the course of the year. It reminds me of the quote by Marx - "history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce".

I wonder if some of the push-back you receive is from people feeling offended by having their "enlightened" prophecies compared to those of people predicting The Rapture, even though that's a very fair and almost literal comparison in this case. I wrote a short bit about this last summer and I'm sure your readers can relate.

The Post-Peak Rapture

It deserves a brief mention that May 21, 2011 came as expected and went the same way, without any massive earthquakes rapidly spreading around regions of the world as the Sun cast its light on their shores. The reason it deserves a mention at all is because it highlights the difference between the true doomsayers and the realistically "pessimistic" among us. The two groups are frequently confused, especially by those casually belonging to the dedicated tribe of "hopefully apathetic consumers".

These people thrive on mindless entertainment, so it is no wonder that they make a sport out of ridiculing anyone who dares to utter the word "conspiracy" or "collapse". They have a slightly easier time suppressing their condescension when the topic of discussion is "peak this" or "peak that", but still lose interest in such topics very quickly; in fact, almost immediately. Many of them, however, are not ashamed of conversing with their family and friends about the banality of "debt". While debt is obviously a very important issue in today's world, it is chronically misunderstood by mainstream society.


If you are brazen enough to throw the imminent issues of peak oil and climate change into the discussion , then you may as well go ahead and pencil in a date on your calendar for the Rapture to begin, so that the whole world can look and laugh. Immediately, people will begin conjuring up Hollywood images of fire and brimstone; death and destruction; utter confusion and chaos; digitally grafting those simple crowd-pleasers onto the remnants of your once complex and rational argument.

Welcome to our global society of "all or nothing", where either the world burns to the ground in a few weeks, at most, or things just muddle along in an entirely plain and mundane fashion for at least a few decades. What this binary logic fails to understand is that financial, industrial and environmental collapse will be a combined process of gradual deterioration, stabilization, slight "improvement" and rapid disintegration, coming to the surface of our consciousness in fits and starts. It will not necessarily follow that order, and will be extremely non-linear and short-term unpredictable.

Again, this is not to say you are confusing the two groups, because you aren't, but only that some people might erroneously feel that way.

Regarding TAE and I&S, I have come to understand that they do regret making relatively specific predictions about the timing of market events early on, which are actually very few and far between for them, and non-existent as of late. Such predictions are irrelevant to their general financial message, which is perhaps best summed up as - "much better safe than sorry".

However, in the terms of your last post, a relatively rapid market crash event is certainly not outside the possibilities of nature, and is indeed very much within them. It's not that the entire global financial system will disappear overnight, but that a lot of imaginary paper wealth can disappear over the course of only hours/days/weeks, and that can feed into the loss of productive wealth as well.

Thank you for the great posts as usual!

Kevin said...

There are reports that for the past few nights arsonists have been setting much of Hollywood and West Hollywood on fire by using cars as incendiary devices, rather similarly to what happened on a larger scale in France a few years ago. Not a good sign, methinks. A harbinger of things to come? It seems rather symbolic that the ultimate emblem of mass fuel consumption is both means and target. However much we may dislike our culture's foolish commitment to the automobile, I fancy that people who blow up other people's cars are not primarily motivated by hope.

John Michael Greer said...

Leigh, the obsession with results is one of the great barriers in the way of a lot of good things. Otto Frank recognized, I suspect, that a good thing is worth doing for its own sake, whatever the result happens to be.

Matt, thank you!

Tom, glad to hear it. If you can find a copy of Clyde Clason's book Delights of the Slide Rule, grab it -- to my mind it's the best book on the subject.

Sophie, now that's a version of the story I hadn't heard before. Nice.

Ruben, I suspect that if the world was less screwed up, that wouldn't be true. I.e., mild depression is an accurate reflection of the mess we're in.

Maria, it makes perfect sense. Becoming centered usually involves some disorientation, because we're not used to it -- we're used to having our mental center of gravity somewhere outside ourselves, and bringing it home can be a dizzying experience!

Ash, this is funny. If you go back to the early days of this blog, in 2006 and 2007, you'll find that I was hammering on exactly the point made by the article you quoted.

Kevin, well, this is sooner than I expected that sort of thing to start. Hang onto your hats, folks; it may be a rough ride.

John Michael Greer said...

By the way, several readers of this blog and my peak oil novel/blog Star's Reach have asked for a way to tip me, more or less, for the work of writing and posting these, and so I've added a PayPal donation button to the main page. It's entirely up to you, but if you feel inspired, it'll go into the fund to build my backyard solar greenhouse!

Cherokee Organics said...


Nature teaches humility. Today after a few days in a row of over 35 degrees (95 Fahrenheit), it is now 40 degrees (104 Fahrenheit) in the shade and it's almost 7pm (tomorrow 37!).

As for catabolic collapse, it might be worth noting that the legal system may be a factor. After the Black Saturday bushfires in Feb 09 hereabouts, a class action was brought against the company that owns and operates the electricity distribution grid. Well, apparently one claim has already been settled in favour of the people that brought the action against the distribution company.

I keep saying to people here that if the action is successful, then all the distribution company will do on days of extreme fire danger is that they will cut off the electricity grid - as a preventative measure to be sure - and they will provide no electricity.

They always come back and say, "essential services", blah, blah, blah - la la la I don't want to hear you...

Then I read this today.

Power cuts as state endures a scorcher

What they are really saying is that the distribution grid really can't handle the load in those rural areas. Power lines sag and fail when under load as the current in them is increased (ie. they get hot and expand). It is rarely just trees falling on power lines... The money required to be spent upgrading the grid in rural areas is just not there.



Leo said...

i just wanted to thank you for opening my eyes to peak oil and the other problems that as one of the younger generations will have to deal with. i have found the journey a rich experience and my understanding of the world has improved and am thinking of starting to self teach magic in a small way. thank you. and a fruitful new year.

hawlkeye said...

Looking back now, I'm perfectly willing to disparage the crystalline mauve fluff that became the "genre" of New Age. But there is at least one myth worth salvaging from the dross.

While tending the garden in front of the local New Age bookstore, I became enchanted with the Findhorn story. Here was a family who had collapsed from the height of luxury running a four-star hotel, to the depths of poverty in a trailer by a dump. Following spiritual guidance, they got off their channeling bums and built an extraordinary garden.

Compared to what was on the rest of the bookshelves, Findhorn appeared quite instructive and practical - it was the only story featuring real men and women doing real work in a real garden, striving to live in harmony with their place.

Then along came Machaelle Small Wright with her research using applied kinesiology and a "hands-on" approach to building Findhorn-style gardens everywhere. I was baffled why everyone wasn't rolling up their sleeves. Forget the silly ascension, what about the spirit in matter everywhere?

By the time I made my pilgimmage to Scotland's Mecca in the early 90's, none of the gardeners there practiced the nature attunement that put them on the map. So I taught them muscle testing and they let me play foreman with the visitors work crew for a week.

For over a decade after that, I used these same skills in my landscape practice to foodify local backyards (never the front; must maintain resale value, ha!, lotta good that did). Most clients had no idea I "talked to the plants" but the results certainly spoke for themselves. But it was still a struggle to earn a living without the mow, blow and go, despite all the cosmic greenie foodies who all loved the IDEA of transitioning from ornamentals to edibles.

But the garden in front of the bookstore was fun while it lasted. Big red corn plants and tall flowering tobacco right downtown; beautiful. I have to hope some seeds got planted anyway, to sprout in some future brain-pan when needed.

I think of hope as a seed; it takes a lot of work to arrive at that elegant, smooth little package of life, and it might not even grow. But then again, it most likely will when conditions are right. Now; what can I do to help it along...?

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, that's fascinating, but not at all surprising. One of the core points made by William Catton's new book Bottleneck is that industrial societies, as they become more complex, lose social cohesion to such an extent that it becomes impossible to get past the "I got mine, Jack" attitude and get essential tasks done. This business with power lines is a good demonstration of that.

Leo, thank you!

Hawlkeye, I certainly don't disparage Findhorn -- David Spangler is a friend of mine -- or, for that matter, the entire New Age scene; there are, or in too many cases were, some very positive things going on there. (A few decades ago, it's worth recalling, Gregory Bateson was considered a New Age author!) It's the dumbing down of the movement into 2012 fantasies and The Secret that's the issue, really.

Alice (offlist), thanks for passing that on. The PayPal button generator was set to produce a button that doesn't show the email to which payment is sent, to deter spammers -- you might try, if you're minded, a test donation of a buck, and see if it goes through anyway.

dltrammel said...

While not touching on the subject of Hope, I thought this article had an interesting slant on your continuing point that people not only don't get it, but in many cases actively ignore the future we have ahead of us.

"A World in Denial of What It Knows" by Geoffrey Wheatcroft

"Could there be a single phrase that explains the woes of our time, this dismal age of political miscalculations and deceptions, of reckless and disastrous wars, of financial boom and bust and downright criminality? Maybe there is, and we owe it to Fintan O’Toole. That trenchant Irish commentator is a biographer and theater critic, and a critic also of his country’s crimes and follies, as in his gripping if horrifying book, “Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger.”

He reminds us of the famous if gnomic saying by Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the United States secretary of defense, that “There are known knowns... there are known unknowns ... there are also unknown unknowns.” But the Irish problem, says Mr. O’Toole, was none of the above. It was “unknown knowns.”

What he means is something different from denial, or evasion, irrational exuberance or excess optimism. Unknown knowns were things that were not at all inevitable, and were easily knowable, or indeed known, but which people chose to “unknow.”

Unknown knowns were everywhere, from Wall Street to Brussels, from the Pentagon to Penn State. Ireland merely happened to offer an extreme case, where “everyone knew.” They just chose to forget that they knew — about the way that Irish banks ran wild, how easy credit fueled a monstrous explosion of property prices and speculative house-building. Bertie Ahern, the Irish prime minister at the time of the rapid economic growth, merely boasted, “The boom is getting boomier,” preferring to unknow the truth that booms always go bust.

Beginning in 2008, the skies were lighted up by financial conflagrations, from Lehman Brothers to the Royal Bank of Scotland. These were dramatic enough — but were they unforeseeable or unknowable? What kind of willful obtusity ever suggested that subprime mortgages were a good idea? An intelligent child would have known that there is no good time to lend money to people who obviously can never repay it."

Rita said...

I just finished watching the Rose Parade on television. Lovely, as usual. But I was struck by the irony that so many floats featured dreams of astronauts, given the unlikelyhood that currently dreaming 10 year olds will ever become space travelers.

I started my New Year with a Volkswalk in Sacramento, which has the potential to be wonderfully walkable. Mostly flat, many fine trees for shade in the summer, generally mild climate--roses in full bloom in January. But even the parts of town that have a concentration of apartments have no shopping to speak of. Some new urban infill with a dry cleaner or yogurt shop on the ground floor--but no major food market within walking distance, very little other shopping. The pedestrian mall initiated in the 70s has been a complete disaster and entire blocks of the former downtown are empty storefronts. And this is the state capital!

Davidintexas said...

Cherokee...I can empathize with your summer heat. I live just east of Dallas, TX and last summer was the hottest on record. We had 70 days that were 100F or higher,with our highest reaching 110F, and there were times that I thought trying to maintain a garden was merely for the sake of feeding the grasshoppers, which were horrendous for me. They ate everything to the ground except for the beets.

However, I trust it taught me some humility as well as a great respect for the pioneers who went through much the same or worse without pressurized water systems. I had purchased three 335 gallon polyethelene totes to use for rainfall capture and supplemental watering for the garden, but those quickly were drained during the rainfall-less summer. "Hoping" the best for you right now.


phil harris said...

JMG et al
Findhorn now?
Straight from the Findhorn Press.
I have no idea who Diana Cooper is but her offering is given wind in its sails (sales?) here

Trailer is here
"2012 offers the greatest opportunity for spiritual growth that there has ever been. Diana Cooper takes us through the ancient prophecies for 2012, what is expected to happen in that year and the incredible changes the world will see in the twenty years beyond. She offers forecasts for 2032, the time when new Golden Cities will arise and everyone will live in the fifth dimension. Diana concludes with practical information to help you prepare for your role in the incredible transformational shift the world is about to experience."

John Michael Greer said...

Dltrammel, thank you! It's good to see that ideas like this are getting some exposure in the mainstream media -- and of course the guy's quite correct. I'll be talking about that, I think, this week.

Rita, California is the Rust Belt of the 21st century, and Sacramento is the new Flint, MI. Not a pretty sight.

Phil, see my previous comment about dumbing down. Findhorn in the 70s was about growing great vegetables in lousy soil by tapping into some strange sides of human experience. Now it's delusions of "golden cities." Sic transit gloria mundi...

Richard Larson said...

I very much like the solar greenhouse idea, I have plans for one myself. This summer me thinks to get at it. But for now I am cutting firewood. An acquaintance thought with the price of natgas I was wasting my time, but having an ample supply (of wood) and having a ingrained routine will serve me well when the natgas bubble pops. Just wait, I will integrate the solar greenhouse with the wood burner. That will be something!

Interesting blog, I liked how you tied in the early christians into the Roman Empire.

I uploaded a youtube video yesterday, incorporated some JMG influence into it:

The Peak Oil Poet said...

Just a comment on "wishing on a star".

An old man once explained to me what "wishing on a star" actually meant. After years of watching various people become successful i've come to accept that what he told me was totally insightful.

A shooting star (that which we wish upon) appears for ever so brief a moment and it does so totally unexpectedly. You have maybe 1 second before it disappears from view again.

For your wish to come true you have to make it before the shooting star disappears.

Now i know that that will come as a surprise to most readers - that your wish only comes true if you make it before the star disappears - but if you think about it it makes a lot of sense.

Let's say that you are very focused on something you want to achieve - and that it fills much of your daily thoughts. You want to become a doctor say. You really want it. You do everything that you can to progress towards that goal. Reading medical material. Studying hard. Learning all you can that takes you where you want to go. You live and breath it.

Now, staring at the sky you see a shooting star - and instantly on your lips is the wish to become a doctor. It's totally automatic - there's no thinking about it or weighing this desire against that one. It's a crystalisation of all you are - a doctor.

How likely is it that your wish will come true?

Counter that with the WISHY-washy wish you might make if you can take as much time as you like to make the wish. Unless you have something that really drives you, defines you, you're likely to make any old sort of wish - like a new bicycle or to win the favour of someone or other. The wish will have no meaning and is likely to be forgotten soon after you made it - your mind wondering off on some tangent triggered by any arbitrary stimulus.

Wishing on a star works - if you are worthy of the wish.


Jennifer D Riley said...

Family i know made a corporate relocation from England to US in 1968 on their own dime. No travel, relocation expenses or anything. Moved in October. Christmas was a dismal orange and candy cane and that's all. They maximized life in the US. Whereas land in England is in the hands of the aristocracy, family ended up paying for two houses and a farm, mostly because they saved and absolutely did not use credit cards for anything.

siddrudge said...


I believe if hope were a drug it would be deemed a controlled substance. Too little hope makes for a dismal existence. Too much hope brings on delusional thinking. No hope -- well that's probably the most frightening and dangerous of all human conditions.

As an exchange from one person to another, hope can have extraordinary and transformative powers. If you've ever been able to offer someone genuine hope, you'll know what I mean. And who hasn't been on the grateful receiving end of a gift of hope?

But when offered by politicians hope becomes rather tinny doesn't it? I personally tossed a good chunk of it into my junk drawer before Obama even completed his first year in office. :-)

Hope is the essence of human optimism, and, for everything it represents-- from the crossing of ones fingers to the lighting of a votive candle, this little four-letter word might very well be the "god-particle" of all words.

Hope might be considered an equal opportunity bonding agent that holds together all human transactions and aspirations. It's the spackle that fills the gaps in faith. I may be wrong, but maybe In the face of absolute truth, hope isn't necessary. Maybe in the face of absolute truth, hope transitions into reverence and gratitude-- and isn't gratefulness a sublime state of mind!?!

As for the doomsday scenarios and apocalyptic fantasies so many people are obsessed with, I have a theory that this is all really a collective form of sublimated suicide by a species that has painted itself into a corner; domesticated itself to the point that it can't feel or recognize authentic human experience.

Technology has succeeded in creating a totally prophylactic relationship with life and, at some deep level of consciousness, people with any spark left in them, desperately yearn for authentic human experience. Maybe we should "occupy" life!

John Michael Greer said...

Richard, thanks for the link! Definitely keep chopping that firewood; we've got maybe five years of unreasonably cheap natural gas before the aftermath of the bubble hits.

Poet, fascinating. That makes complete sense.

Jennifer, an excellent story. I wish more people remembered accounts like that one.

Sidd, you may be right. Certainly some of the apocalyptic fantasies in circulation these days are pretty clearly polite ways of saying, "Things will get really bad, and then we'll just lie down and die, and it won't be our problem any more."

John Michael Greer said...

By the way, I've replaced the PayPal donation buttons, and they appear to work, at least from here. If anybody has any trouble with them, please let me know -- and a warm thank you to everyone who's put a tip in the tip jar, or tried to!

Karah said...

Jmg-- I do get out, its been sixty degrees all weekend! I've met a lot ofvarious people living on the edge but have yet to see anyone honest go without the bare necessities. Its in the bigger cities that I see lines for handouts. If those people had kids they would move to bettr conditions. Most of the city welfare are single and old. You'll never see welfare families on the street in line...that's just bad politics. Everyone knows the govt will bendover backward for families with minor children. Onlyother countries like india, argentina and brazil have street kid.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

I didn't know there were enough factories standing in California to support rust. The steel for the rebuild of the Bay Bridge came from China; our light rail cars from Europe, and the last auto assembly plant closed down in 2011.

Aerospace and shipbuilding are long gone. Printing, computer manufacturing and the garment trade moved to Asia in the Nineties. The manufacturing associated with Silicon Valley, the entertainment industry, pharmaceuticals and biotech happens out of state.

We've adjusted to the drying up of the defense industry money that fueled California's postwar boom. Perhaps we can adjust to rising energy prices.

You can grow anything here except tropical crops. Thanks to immigration, our population is relatively young; compared to the Midwest, it's shallow rooted. In other words, when there are no jobs, some people move away. I've lived in Northern California most of my life and I'm hoping (that word again) that it's not unrealistic that we'll carry on and muddle through for another forty or fifty years.

phil harris said...

Postscript on Findhorn.
Whatever 2012 fantasies and other delusions at Findhorn, there has been one enduring spin-off in Trees for Life. The latter (one young man actually)started off to restore large chunks of the original great Caledonian Forest. There were only remnants left 30 years ago and these were mostly senescent, and seed sources were not being renewed. Restoration not a bad thing to do as the means were still available (including current fossil fuel economy). The linked restored forests could probably do it on their own by now. A great company of people volunteered over the years and there was significant 'consciousness change' in some surrounding forestry management, in both private and official forestry. Upland Scotland is still largely managed on behalf of international rich with status ambition, it seems, but probably sufficient seeds are sown and in place for the longer term. The young man I met 30 years ago had a good vocation.

hadashi said...

"Occupy life" is a winner! More to say to JMG and others, but it will have to wait until the next post. 2012 - so far so good.

John Michael Greer said...

Karah, er, what "everyone knows" is no guide to reality, and the fact that you don't happen to know anyone who lacks the basic necessities is not really a basis to judge, you know. I'd encourage you to go volunteer some time at a homeless shelter, and get to know some of the millions of Americans who can't get a job and whose government payments -- if they get any; many don't -- don't cover the cost of the essentials. That's part of American reality these days, and trying to ignore it or pretend it doesn't exist does nobody any good.

Deborah, some outlying parts of California may get by, but the rest of the state is in deep trouble. My guess is that LA is the next Detroit.

Phil, that's excellent news! I'd heard there was some reforestation going on in Scotland, but hadn't heard of the Findhorn connection.

egfick said...

Not sure if you saw this article on the AP wire:

This is one snippet from Mr. Bogle the guy who was one of the originators of the "mutual fund" and index funds. This is the ruling elite basically agreeing with the crazy Arch Druid. How cute.

Q: What's the focus of the book you're writing?

A: That our financial system has gone off the rails. It's something we think of as providing capital for new businesses, that will enable people to finance new companies or add to the capital of existing companies. We do that to the tune of about $200 billion a year in financing through Wall Street, or through the financial system. And yet we do some $40 trillion worth of trading every year. I'm selling my investment to you, and you're buying it from me, and it creates no value for society. Indeed, it subtracts value, because the guy in the middle gets his piece.

Many mutual funds turn over 100 percent of their portfolios each year. When I got into this business, it was maybe 18 percent a year. This industry is a big part of the problem. What we need is a transfer tax on trading. We need to tame the trading and speculative element in our financial system.

jeffinwa said...

Yay, PayPal worked!

Ana's Daughter said...

@Karah --- no, you don't get out enough if you think that "only other countries like India, Argentina, and Brazil have street kid[s]".

Plenty of American towns and cities of all sizes have street kids. Seattle WA, population about 600,000 as of the 2010 census, has street kids. The city of Seattle has an entire government department devoted to the issue of homeless kids.

Ashland OR, population about 20,000 as of the 2010 census, has street kids; about 60 at last count. Oregon school districts keep track of how many students are homeless; for some of the figures, go here:

JMG was right when he told you to visit a homeless shelter. I'll add that if you want to know how many kids go without basic essential things like, say, enough to eat, spend an entire day at a food bank. I can promise you that you'll see dozens, if not hundreds, of kids who don't get enough to eat --- and their parents are even hungrier, because they give up meals to feed their kids.

Yes, hunger and poverty and homelessness are real for American children. No, the government (federal, state, county, or city) doesn't always provide a safety net. The safety nets provided by private charities are stretched to the breaking point. Here's an article about that from the Archdruid's home town:

It won't go away because you pretend it isn't there.

Leigh Christina Russell said...

Karah, here's some information about poverty in the U.S.: refer to the April 21st of 2010 screening of Idol Gives Back, of the American Idol series which I still have on tape. In the segment quoted here Ellen DeGeneres visits the Foothill Unity Centre in Pasadena, California, which provides food for over 4000 families a year. She said, and I quote:

"On any given day one in six Americans don't know where their next meal is coming from. These aren't only the homeless and it's not just in poor areas. I travelled to Monrovia, a middle class suburb, with my good friend David Arquette, who has been working closely with Feeding America for nearly three years."

David says: "Most of the people who come through are working Americans."

Back to Ellen: "I was shocked when David told me that this year more than 37 million people will be forced to turn to Feeding America to help keep their families from going hungry."

While she was there a couple with their three young children came in for assistance. The husband was a math teacher. Of them Ellen says "...who until recently would never have dreamed about using a food bank."

David says: "They're a perfect example of working Americans who found themselves in the need of a little food assistance."

Many of these people may not be visibly identifiable, but they are there.

A $10 donation makes it possible for the food centre to get 90 pounds of food.

As Morgan Freeman said later in the same screening "If you've got to change things you've got to jump in and roll your sleeves up"...
Now there's a challenge!

John Michael Greer said...

Egfick, no, I didn't see it -- thank you for the link! He's quite right, of course.

Jeff, glad to hear it. Thank you!

A warm thank you, too, to everyone who donated something to the tip jar! said...


It's indeed amazing the quality of the food when you're growing it yourself and doing it right, isn't it? How I eat now compared to just a few years ago is incredible.

Ten years ago, I never would have imagined myself in this position, either. It's quite interesting how we end up in different places than we expect. Life keeps subverting my plans. Luckily, those subversions have been good of late. They obviously won't all be, but I'll just have to ride with that.

Your jam, by the way, got my mouth to watering. Perhaps I'll try some approximation of that this year.


ando said...


Are you going to Vienna in May?
International ASPO conference?



John Michael Greer said...

Ando, I haven't been invited, and don't have the funds to do the thing on my own nickel, so as far as I know, no.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a book about what it takes to live on a full time minimum wage job without any outside help and concluded that a lot of the people who do are effectively homeless. I think the title is Nickeled and Dimed.

My two cents on homelessness and hunger in America, based on reading and some observation. All cities and many towns have some adults and youth regularly sleeping outdoors under doorways or under bridges or illicitly in city parks. Statistics on the homeless often include a much greater number of people who can often sleep under some sort of roof but have to keep moving, such as people living in their cars, people couch surfing, and people spending the night in a seasonal or temporary homeless shelter. Forms of low cost housing that used to be available to single adults, such as boarding houses and single room occupancy hotels, barely exist.

There is a great deal of hunger in America but not much outright starvation. The incidence of nutritional diseases of the rural poor such as pellagra is lower than it was during the Great Depression.

High calorie, low nutrient foods are widely available and relatively cheap. Adults and children suffer from food insecurity, meaning that they have to skip meals because the money is needed for shelter, transportation or other necessities. Some are malnourished, meaning that they aren't getting enough fruits, vegetables and protein, because they can't afford the foods they need, have no place to prepare them, or have to travel long distances to purchase them.

I suspect that because home economics is no longer taught in public schools, many of both the chronic and the newly poor do not know how to spend their food budget to the best result because they haven't been taught nutrition and don't know how to cook from scratch.

The North Coast said...

Dear Karah,

This is a late post, I know, but in the cities I and my family live in (Chicago and St. Louis)you can see entire families living on the streets. Minimum wage does not cover even minimal housing in these cities and here in Chicago, the CTA engages social workers to deal with families spotted literally living on the trains, hopping from train to train at the end of the line to get out of the cold. They often have three or four kids in tow.

When a family falls through the floor, it has to go through a lot of bureaucracy to line up any benefits. There's plenty of time to be evicted from your apartment and end up in the lines at food banks. Especially vulnerable are people who do not qualify for unemployment benefits, such as anyone working as an "independent contractor" or who owns a business that has failed.

I have a number of friends and acquaintances who have dropped from middle incomes, to lower incomes, to total poverty, mostly those over age 40 and 50 who have no parents and often no siblings they can turn to. It could easily happen to you or me. It could happen to anyone who isn't wealthy, especially if they have no savings. Most people in this country have no savings but do have massive stacks of debt, which goes into default when they lose jobs or businesses.

Paula said...

I once heard, many years ago, the saying, 'hope for hte best, expect the worst', which I guess I've taken to heart because I not only expect the worst, I'm planning for the worst, and have made a lot of changes in anticipation of all that. We now have a solar water heater and 4.5Kw PV system that we didn't have 6 months ago, and this year the plan is for a rain harvesting system to go with the new metal roof. I only have a quarter acre in a bedroom community but we're trying to learn how to feed ourselves from the yard- I already know that with our changing weather I need a greenhouse in these parts and if I really don't want to starve, rabbits will have to be part of the picture. We're also living on my income so that we can throw his income at the mortgage principal and get the house paid off, so this is requiring us to live leanly, which I figure is a good thing to get used to before we actually have too. I'm definitely expecting the worst.

I just hope it won't be as bad as all that.

Allan Mackinnon said...

I am reminded of the book "The Myth of Progress" by Tom Wessels with its' wistful cover art of a deer looking out the window of a parking garage. Wessels comments about the limits to growth and the 2nd law of thermodynamics but gratifyingly he touches on some of your trenchant points about the joys of human capacity unaided by machines, including our abilities to self-organize.