Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Blood of the Earth, or Pulp Nonfiction

Some of my readers have wondered aloud why it is that I’ve devoted so much time in recent weeks to the current flurry of 2012 prophecies and their close equivalents. One reason is that there’s good reason to think that we’re going to hear quite a bit more about these prophecies in the months to come; unless I miss my guess, the apocalyptic bubble that’s inflating now, and will pop this coming December 22, is going to be one for the record books. Still, there’s at least one more reason to pay close attention to that bubble just now.

It’s not often remembered these days that the literal meaning of the word "apocalypse" is the revelation of something hidden. The term got its modern meaning because most of the prophecies that have been so labeled claim to reveal one hidden thing in particular, that is, the imminent end of history; but there’s another sense in which the word is even more appropriate, and that sense seems worth exploring just at the moment. The presence and popularity of apocalyptic beliefs, I’ve come to think, reveal something important about any society in which such beliefs occur.

Apocalyptic thinking, after all, doesn’t come out of nowhere. It has an extensive history behind it, a point I tried to make in my recent book Apocalypse Not, but it also has roots in the collective psychology of any society in which it becomes popular. Epochs awash in apocalyptic beliefs are also full of intense social stress, but there are stressful periods in which very few people spend their time feverishly getting ready for the end of the world. What seems to do the trick is a particular kind of stress—specifically, the kind that happens when the narratives a society uses to make sense of the world no longer work.

I’ve talked more than once in these essays about the immense role that narratives play in our mental and social lives. As human beings, we think with stories as inevitably as we eat with mouths and walk with feet; the stories we tell ourselves about the world define the way we make sense of the "blooming, buzzing confusion," in William James’ phrase, that the world out there throws at our sense organs. In what we are pleased to call "primitive societies," a rich body of mythology and legend provides each person with a range of narratives that can be applied to any given situation and make sense of it. Learning the stories, and learning how to apply them to life’s events, is the core of a child’s education in these societies, and a learned person is very often distinguished, more than anything else, by the number of traditional stories he or she knows by heart.

More technologically advanced societies often, though not invariably, move away from this, consigning their inheritance of stories to children—think, for example, of the role of fairy tales in nineteenth- and twentieth-century industrial societies—while narrowing down the range of stories adults are supposed to think with, until all that’s left are variations on one narrative. Serious thinking in these societies is by definition thinking that follows the accepted narrative. To be a respectable thinker in the heyday of the Roman Empire, for example, was by definition to filter the world through a narrative that described how original chaos was reduced to order, peace and prosperity under the paternal rule of a benevolent despot. Roman religion applied that narrative to the cosmos, Roman philosophy applied it to the relation between mind and body, and so on. The difficulty, of course, came when the world started throwing things at the Roman world that couldn’t be made to fit the narrative.

We’re in much the same situation today. Our core narrative, the story into which every serious thinker is required to fit his or her thoughts, is the narrative of progress—the story that defines all of human existence as a single great upward trajectory from the caves to the stars, and insists that the present is better than the past and the future will inevitably be better still. The problem with that narrative, of course, is that for most people the present is significantly worse than the past—standards of living for most Americans, for example, have been declining for more than thirty years—and the future promises to be even worse than the present. The narrative of progress has no room for that perception; in public life, the only way in which it’s possible to bring it up at all is to suggest that someone or something is to blame for the temporary lack of progress, and then offer a plan to get the obstacle out of the way so that progress can get under way once more.

Politicians, pundits, and serious thinkers of every kind have been making exactly this argument for a good many decades, though, and it’s started to sink in across a very broad range of the social spectrum that something has gone very wrong. There have been, so far, two main responses to this recognition. The surge in apocalyptic prophecies is one of them; the logical response when one narrative fails to make sense of the world is to look for another narrative that does a better job, after all, and the narrative of apocalypse—more precisely, the religious narrative of paradise, fall, and redemption in which apocalyptic prophecy has its natural habitat—is one of the very few alternatives that most people in industrial societies are willing to take seriously.

The second response to the recognition that the narrative of progress has failed is to rehash it over again in an even more extreme form. The poster child for this second option just now is a video titled Thrive, which is doing the rounds in the alternative scene as I write this. Those of my readers who are connoisseurs of meretricious nonsense may find it of interest, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else; we will all be hearing far too much like it over the years to come.

The basic message of Thrive is that we all ought to be living in a wonderful Utopian world, and would be doing so if evil corporate conspiracies weren’t suppressing the inventions that would have given us limitless free energy, cures for cancer and, well, pretty much anything else your heart desires. Evidence? We don’t need no steenking evidence—and of course, in an entirely pragmatic sense, Thrive doesn’t; all it has to do is hammer over and over again on a set of emotional hot buttons until the viewer’s ability to reason is overwhelmed, and if the video fails at this, it’s certainly not for want of trying. It’s a pity, in a way, that Thrive wasn’t yet in circulation when I wrote last year’s posts on thaumaturgy; it would have been educational to go through it scene by scene and talk about the crassly manipulative tactics it uses to get its effect.

Anyone interested in a thorough critique of Thrive should read Rob Hopkins’ cogent essay on the subject. For our present purposes, the point I want to make is that Thrive is an all-out effort to uphold the narrative of progress in the teeth of the facts. The narrative of progress says that we ought to have cheaper, more abundant energy with every passing year; in fact, the industrial world’s supplies of cheap abundant energy are running out fast, with predictable effects on price and supply, but those effects and their causes simply can’t be squared with the narrative of progress. Enter a flurry of accusations of conspiracy, which make it possible to insist that progress is still continuing but its fruits are being withheld from the people. The claims that cures for cancer are being suppressed has the same role with regard to the ongoing collapse of public health in America and elsewhere: we ought to be getting healthier, but we’re not, so a scapegoat has to be found to justify the widening gap between the narrative we prefer and the reality we get.

For all the problems with apocalyptic thinking, then, the prophets of apocalypse have at least gotten the first step right; having noticed that the narrative of progress doesn’t work any more, they’ve gone looking for an alternative, and it’s simply their bad luck that the alternative they’ve chosen doesn’t work either. Of course that raises a challenging question: if the narratives of progress and apocalypse don’t fit the world in which we’re living or the future that’s looming ahead of us, what narratives do?

Mulling over this question a few days ago, I started making a list of the more obvious features of the story in which we find ourselves at this point in the turning of history’s wheel. I encourage my readers to follow along, and see whether or not the answer that struck me occurs to them as well.

• We live in a world dominated by a vast, slowly decaying empire that gets quite literally superhuman powers by feeding on what we may as well call the blood of the Earth;

• That empire is ruled by a decadent aristocracy that holds court in soaring towers and bolsters its crumbling authority by conjuring vast amounts of wealth out of thin air;

• Backing the aristocracy is a caste of corrupt sorcerers whose incantations, projected into every home through the power of the blood of the Earth, keep the populace disorganized, deluded and passive;

• Entire provinces of the empire are ravaged by droughts, storms, and other disasters caused by the misuse of the Earth’s blood, while prophecies from the past warn of much worse to come;

• Meanwhile, far from the centers of power, the members of a scattered fellowship struggle to find and learn the forgotten lore of an earlier time, which might just hold the secret of survival...

It was more or less at this point that the realization hit: we have somehow gotten stuck, all seven billion of us, inside the pages of a pulp fantasy novel.

Those of my readers who are significantly younger than I am, and missed the vast outpouring of cheap fantasy novels that played so large and disreputable a role in shaping my youthful imagination, may benefit from a bit of history here. The runaway success of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings in the late 1960s inspired publishers, who are after all in business to make money, to look for ways to cash in on the same market. One obvious gambit was to dredge up older fantasy fiction, and much of what was readily available was the pulp fantasy of the 1920s and 1930s, when H.P. Lovecraft’s overheated prose and Robert Howard’s overheated gonads filled the pages of Weird Tales magazine and the imagination of teenage America with musclebound barbarian heroes, tentacled horrors from three weeks before the beginning of time, and most of the other modern conveniences that have furnished fantasy fiction ever since.

Lovecraft and Howard were, alas, both dead when the late-Sixties fantasy explosion arrived, and so their ability to produce new works was somewhat limited. For a while, accordingly, it was possible for almost anybody who could write a literate English sentence to get into print as a fantasy novelist. Most of what flooded onto bookstore shelves in the years that followed was remarkably atrocious, with two-dimensional characters, engagingly bad prose, and utterly unconvincing plots duking it out in a loser-take-all contest. At the time, I wasn’t a stickler about quality—I was in the market for anything more colorful than the two-dimensional blandness of an American suburban childhood—but I did prefer those who could write well; Tolkien’s trilogy was one of those favorites, and so were the products of the busy pen of Michael Moorcock.

These days Moorcock counts as a serious novelist, having clambered up out of the mosh pit of pulp fantasy fiction into the rarefied balconies of literature. Back in the day, though, he was among the leading figures in the pulp fantasy revival. Better than any of his rivals, perhaps, Moorcock recaptured the flavor of the gloriously trashy Weird Tales era, penning sprawling sagas about a succession of heroes who were all iterations of one Eternal Champion, destined to hack his way forever through an infinity of parallel worlds. And the backgrounds against which Elric of Melniboné and Corum Jhaelen Irsei and Dorian Hawkmoon and the rest of them suffered, swaggered and fought? More often than not, they were vast and crumbling empires propped up by supernatural powers, ruled by decadent aristocrats who conjured various things out of thin air, full of corrupt sorcerers, whole provinces ravaged by disasters, and—well, I suspect you get the point by now.

Aside from the colorful details just mentioned, though, there was something else woven into the pulp fantasy of that era, Moorcock’s and otherwise. The worlds of pulp fantasy are by and large worlds in decline, strewn with immense ruins and scattered with artifacts no one can duplicate any more. The heroes of pulp fantasy are caught up in the undertow of decline, and their battles and quests are generally defined by legacies of the pre-decline past that have to be preserved or destroyed before the future can begin to take shape. Interestingly, that was as often true in the Weird Tales era; Conan the Barbarian, who was placed by his creator Robert Howard somewhere in the conveniently undocumented past between the fall of Atlantis and the beginning of recorded history, spent much of his time dealing with the half-remembered legacies of the assorted drowned continents that Howard borrowed from Theosophical literature.

J.R.R. Tolkien, whose name I’ve invoked a couple of times already in this essay, worked with the same theme. There’s been a great deal of literary criticism of Tolkien’s work down through the years, but I don’t recall seeing any that’s talked about the extent to which Middle-Earth was influenced by the pulp fantasy of the 1920s and 1930s, which Tolkien (like his friend C.S. Lewis) read eagerly. One of the things that makes Tolkien’s work so inventive is the way that he plopped a bunch of hopelessly middle-class Englishmen dressed as hobbits into a world full of pulp fantasy clichés, complete with heroic survivors of drowned Atlantis—excuse me, Númenor—and an evil wizard-king who rides a tame pterodactyl into battle. Framing this arguably satiric dimension and the story as a whole there is, once again, the theme of decline: the twilight of the elves, the last hurrah of the heirs of Númenor, and the end of a sad and tangled story that had been winding down since the Elder Days. Middle-Earth is not a place where progress happens, any more than Conan’s Hyborian Age or age of the Young Kingdoms in which Elric wielded the black sword Stormbringer.

A brand of fiction commonly dismissed as sheer escapism, in other words, provides narratives more useful to the current state of the industrial world than the supposedly serious narrative of progress that still shapes every detail of contemporary public discourse. I’m not sure how far to take that point, though I have to admit that if Mabelrode the Faceless, Demon Lord of Chaos, were to be named as CEO of Citibank, I’m not sure I would be surprised. (On the other hand, maybe he already has been; it would explain a few things.) It would arguably have been better for us all if, when Edwin Drake and his men went to drill the first commercial oil well at Titusville, Pennsylvania back in 1859, they had found an ominous standing stone there carved with glowing runes:

THE BLACK GOLD IS THE BLOOD OF THE EARTH
THE FORCE IN THE BLOOD IS THE FLAME OF THE SUN
TO DRINK OF THE BLOOD IS TO MASTER THE WORLD
BUT THE FATE OF THE EARTH AND ITS BLOOD ARE ONE

Still, we missed that warning, and so have never quite gotten around to noticing that the world around us has much more in common with pulp fantasy fiction than it does with what passes for serious thought these days.

By this point, though, I suspect that you, dear reader, are wondering about one detail. If we’re actually stuck inside the pages of a trashy fantasy novel, as I’ve suggested, and all the details of the setting and the plot are in place, where is the protagonist? Who is the hero or the heroine who will turn the pages of the long-lost Gaianomicon, use its forgotten lore to forge a wand of power out of the rays of the Sun, shatter the deceptive spells of the lords of High Finance, and rise up amidst the wreckage of a dying empire to become one of the seedbearers of an age that is not yet born?

Why, you are, of course.

************************
End of the World of the Week #4

Some apocalyptic prophecies have a more embarrassing outcome than others, but for sheer anticlimax it’s hard to beat the end of Thomas Müntzer’s prophetic career in 1525. Müntzer was a defrocked Catholic priest who converted to Martin Luther’s newborn movement in the heady early days of the Reformation, then went right on past Luther into that peculiar region of thought where it seems as though divine omnipotence needs a helping hand.

In 1520, Müntzer became convinced that the Kingdom of Heaven would appear promptly just as soon as the righteous, whom he identified with the peasants, rose up and slaughtered the wicked, whom he identified with everybody else higher up the social ladder. He spent five years wandering through Germany preaching his bloodthirsty gospel and publishing a series of pamphlets—the 16th-century equivalent of conspiracy websites—in which he denounced everyone who disagreed with him as slaves of the Antichrist. Most people dismissed him as a mental case, but he built up a small following.

In 1525, though, peasants in much of southern Germany rose up in revolt against the local barons, and Müntzer suddenly found himself in command of an army. After some preliminary skirmishes, his army and that of the nobility came face to face on May 15. In his speech to his troops before the battle, Müntzer insisted that he would catch the barons’ cannonballs in the sleeves of his coat. Moments afterwards, a rainbow appeared in the sky, and the peasant army cheered wildly, convinced that this omen proved that God was on their side.

The other side chose that moment to open up with all their artillery. In a matter of moments, those of the rebels who weren’t killed or wounded took to their heels and ran. Müntzer himself was caught hiding in somebody’s basement a few days later, and died an unpleasant death.

--story from Apocalypse Not

197 comments:

escapefromwisconsin said...

There was a clever post in the New Yrok times Economix blog about how narratives play into politics and people's class perceptions: Overclass vs. Underclass

Greed is often personified by vampires, strong, sexy superhumans with mesmerizing powers who suck the life blood from their unwitting victims.

In 2004, The Village Voice published a cover image of George W. Bush sinking his fangs into the neck of a fainting Statue of Liberty, inspiring a similar image on the April 2011 cover of Mother Jones. In the pages of Rolling Stone, the journalist Matt Taibbi famously described the investment bank Goldman Sachs as a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

Sloth and incompetence are often personified by zombies, the living dead, mumbling, stumbling creatures that gain strength only in numbers. These are less a threat to specific individuals than to civilization as a whole.

Jason Mattera’s recent book, “Obama Zombies,” asserts that “Barack Obama lobotomized a generation.” A local Republican group in Virginia aroused controversy at Halloween by publishing an image of the commander in chief as a zombie with a bullet hole through his skull. One conservative blog post explicitly refers to African-American entitlement zombies.

Government employees are often tagged zombies, and Ron Paul, a Republican presidential candidate, applies the term to those who pay income taxes without complaint.

Charles Pye said...

Wonderful writing! Though I have to ask- if oil is the blood of the Earth, what does that make Coal? Its poop?

AA said...

I'm a great fan of both "Lord of the Rings" and the Conan tales and it's interesting to hear how they're relevant to the situation we find ourselves in today. Quite agree with you that the bulk of fantasy fiction is third-rate crud with no redeeming qualities.

Texas_Engineer said...

Wonderful, as ever, JMG. Sometimes you just surpass yourself.

I got more excited the more I read, recognizing most of the pulp fantasy writers you mentioned - and especially being hooked on Tolkien.

But you really got to me when you mentioned Thomas Müntzer. I just finished reading about the 16th century apocalyptic episodes of Müntzer and the Peasant Revolt (1525) as well as the Rise and Fall of the Anabaptist Kingdom of Munster (1535).

I think you are right - December of 2012 will be an orgy of apocalyptic revelry.

John Michael Greer said...

Escape, good. The thing that's got me thinking hard about vampires and zombies is that they're both ways of romanticizing death, and it's a very curious thing that so many people should be pursuing that right now.

Charles, that suggests a rather dubious identification for natural gas...

AA, Sturgeon's Law applies with at least as much force to fantasy as to science fiction. When I was twelve, though, even the least impressive piece of fantasy pulp was more interesting and less wretched than my life, and so I retain a certain fondness even for the really lame stuff.

Engineer, glad to hear it! We'll be talking about the Anabaptists before the "End of the World of the Week" series is over, too.

ofthehands.com said...

What a wonderful post this week, JMG. I chuckled multiple times and love the idea of all of us being stuck in a pulp fantasy story. Perfect ending line, as well. I think the somewhat lighthearted take on a very serious subject is good for me this week--I've been feeling a bit melancholy the last few days, thinking of the future we face. I worry for my friends and family, for my community, for this entire odd collection of people we call humanity. Not to mention the rest of the earth and its inhabitants.

I still have yet to read The Lord of the Rings, but I have seen the movies. I realize that won't warm the cockles of your heart, given your respective opinions of the books and movies. I'll make it a point to read the books this year. Somehow, I never really got into fantasy. I was too busy reading trashy young adult horror, which I loved. (Christopher Pike being my absolute favorite.)

I'm curious about your expectation of apocalyptic mayhem over the course of this year. I haven't really seen much of anyone who is taking any 2012 doomsday scenarios seriously. It gets talked about on an abstract level, yes, but no one is really running with it yet. But I'm not as plugged into regular society these days, either. Are you seeing much of this happening already around you or is it something you expect to kick in later, as we get deeper into the year? Anything in particular you expect to trigger it? Say, a certain presidential election or some new economic chaos or just the general stresses and harsh realities of our decline?

Thanks,

Joel

EchosRevenge said...

As the kid who showed up for the first day of third grade toting a copy of "The Mists of Avalon" that probably weighed more than I did, thank you for this post! I have often had the sneaking suspicion that learning to hunt pigeons and rabbits with a sling (and spit roast them, too) may have been one of my more ultimately useful pastimes as a kid. (yes, I was a weird kid)

As a knitter, gardener, spinner, weaver, goat herder, sock darner, and one who often cooks on a hearth with open flame...well, let's just say job-hunting today involved turning to my partner and wailing "but all of my skills stopped being marketable 400 years ago!"

I re-blogged-about-it/told everyone I know to read it, over on <a href="www.septembersvirtue.com</a>September's Virtue</a>. Thanks for bringing some levity to a very sober topic. When gallows humor is all you can muster, that's most likely when you most need the laugh.

Bill Pulliam said...

Thinking about your thesis stated in paragraph 3, and the primary apocalyptic fantasy I am surrounded by down here in the fundamentalist bible belt (where John the Revelator seems to be everyone's favorite)...

So, one might hypothesize that the early Christians quickly adopted an apocalyptic belief system because of the demise of their Messiah? For countless generations, their cultural narrative told them that the Messiah would lead them to the promised land. Instead, he was tried, convicted, and executed, leaving them right where they had always been, with the same Romans and Pharisees in charge. No other choice but to think the world must be about to end, I guess? Sure some will point out that Jesus himself is quoted as espousing apocalyptic views... except than all the existing manuscripts were put to paper long after his death and after the unanticipated fate of the Messiah was already known.

I just also wondered if the recently reported uptick in consumer debt is not a sign of increased consumer confidence, but a sign that a significant fraction of people are taking this 2012 nonsense seriously enough to figure they can spend whatever they like and never have to pay the bills...

J. Vorwald said...

Lately, I've been wondering if some of the appeal of apocalyptic bubble represented by "peak oil", "too much debt", "bond collapse" has more to do with fulfilling a spiritual void than addressing a wide spread problem. For example, in discussing peak oil, years into the discussion, the focus continues to be whether peak oil is true or not. The discussion hasn't really moved onto identifying the leading indicators, what are the risk areas, evaluating risk mitigation actions, or reviewing potential public and private policy reactions regarding security and well being.

It's almost as though the reason to discuss a problem is not to try to understand and evaluate potential solution, but rather, to gather followers by invoking widespread fear.

Hence the conclusion that the apocalyptical movement serves to fulfill a spiritual void... To allow a gathering of people to express vague ramblings over a commonly (mis)understood event that potentially could change the future of mankind.

Sean the Sorcerer said...

Brilliant post! The parallels you draw between pulp fantasy worlds and our time really resonate with my own perceptions. Of course, if Lovecraft’s worldview is more to your taste than Tolkien’s, then the answer to your last question is: Absolutely no one!

Since you brought up Lovecraft and Howard, I feel compelled to mention the third of the great Weird Tales triumvirate: Clark Ashton Smith, visionary of fallen civilizations and eldritch empires and easily the best writer of the three. You might enjoy this tale, for example: http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/short-stories/35/the-dark-age , set in a future dark age in which the last custodians of Science have retreated to a mountain citadel surrounded by the barbarian tribes below. Enjoy!

Joel said...

Regarding the discussion of vampires and zombies, as well as the horrific CEO, I recently made the following comment on Reddit:

"I wonder if people in the far future, who learn only a little bit about corporations, will think of them as a particularly powerful class of undead monster, somewhere between the Borg, a vampire, and a flesh golem."

("Flesh golem" is role playing game jargon for the general class of monster that Frankenstein created one of.)

The scary think about corporations is not that there are monsters controlling them, but that a corporation can be an atrocious, terrifyingly powerful, immortal monster, although it is composed of ordinary people.

I think typical fantasy fiction narratives are mostly "safe" for the current system, though: the protagonist tends to go it alone, more or less, and to rely of forces that he (this being a typical narrative) doesn't understand. I think, even among fantasy fiction narratives, it might be worth choosing carefully to find one where the actions taken are of a sort that might be effective in this sort of predicament.

John Michael Greer said...

Ofthehands, I don't expect mayhem so much as a mass movement building up around the prophecy of a great change on December 21. People who expect the world to end, so long as they don't think they're supposed to end it, tend to be fairly passive about it all.

Echo, your skills were useful a lot less than 400 years ago -- my father-in-law and his brother helped get their family through the Great Depression by hunting and fishing in the swamp back behind the tarpaper shack where they lived -- and they'll be useful again in a lot less than 400 years, too. Sounds like you're fairly well prepared, in fact.

Bill, Judaism was awash in apocalyptic prophecy long before the time of Jesus -- the great contradiction there was between a theology that insisted that Israel ought to be the most important nation on Earth, and the historical reality that it was just one little nation among hundreds. As I see it, it would have taken more clarity than human beings generally have for the early Christians, many of them raised in a Jewish setting, to shake off that background.

J. Vorwald, you're almost certainly right -- and it's one of the things I've tried to get past here, by talking about causes, consequences, and appropriate action, rather than rehashing the non-question of whether peak oil is real or not.

Sean, many thanks for the link -- it's been a long time since I've read that story.

Joel, nobody who grew up reading fantasy fiction in my generation will be confused by "flesh golem." I was playing Dungeons and Dragons when it still consisted of three staplebound pamphlets. As for the potential for a fantasy narrative to be "safe" or "unsafe" for the existing order of things -- that division seems like a very blunt instrument to me. Depends on what you are trying to do, and how you are trying to do it...

DeAnander said...

Vampires, zombies, and the romanticisation of death...

Chris Hedges in a recent long interview talked about nations/cultures occasionally taking a dive into the cult of death, a sudden fit of death-worship. In a sense industrialism *is* a kind of death-cult (a worship of dead, manufactured stuff as more intrinsically worthy and valuable than living beings who, increasingly, are considered strictly as feedstock or pseudo-machines).

I've been haunted the last week or two by an axiom that seems to sum it all up -- inescapably, I fear -- "Industrial wealth equals biotic poverty." And that's where we are right now. Industrially wealthy, though maybe not for much longer... and biotically so impoverished, pathetically impoverished, and with so little preserved knowledge that we don't even realise what we have lost or how poor we are. Scary.

LOTR weaves so many themes together -- some of which, as an adult and more critical reader, I find less palatable than I did at 10 or so on first reading. But one that still resonates strongly for me is the cost of industrialism, as represented by Saruman who had "a mind of gears and wheels" (or wtte) and cut down trees with a real modernist ferocity. Saruman's attempt to bring fossil-powered industry to the Shire is foiled, and repairs (tikkun olam as some would put it) are made, biotic wealth is restored: The Scouring of the Shire, one of the most moving and satisfying moments in the story (and one which the film version glibly omits, which irritated me almost as much as turning Legolas into a skate punk / surfer-elf).

Rather like those returning hobbits, I think we find that the work before us -- not so much old fogeys like me, though we should do our share, but the next generation -- is all about cleanup, repair and healing of trashed biota. Topsoil building is perhaps the most obviously urgent need (it hits us in the tummy, which generally gets our scatty primate attention) but *everything* needs cleaning up, bandaging and feeding and freeing and restoring.

Repair and cleanup are just not as exciting (particularly to average adventurous young males) as Boldly Going and Expanding and Discovering and Conquering and whatnot. Boring stuff, maintenance and repair and first aid; "women's work" in patriarchal terms -- but it desperately needs doing. Those who do it best will thrive best.

While we're on the Tolkien nostalgia theme, I just need to air a pet peeve. Why, oh why, is it that almost no one can resist *mis*quoting the pivotal poem about Aragorn? Note to all those manufacturers of fridge magnets and other imprinted tchotchkis -- what dear old JRR wrote was "Not all those who wander are lost" -- not "Those who wander are not always lost" or "All those who wander are not lost" or "Those who wander are not all lost" or "The peripatetic are not coterminous with the disoriented" for gosh sakes. OK, sorry, I just had to vent. Civilisation may be collapsing, but for some reason I still want people to quote accurately.

Guardian said...

Dear JMG, What a wonderful post, right up my street.

I always assumed Moorcock's Elric stories where a satire on the decline of the British Empire. Which of course makes the US the upstart nation Pan-Tang, foolishly summoning the gods of chaos (global high finance) to bring about the end of history...

I could go on but I'll save it for my private reveries.

Many, many thanks for the inspiration!

. josé . said...

I never thought I would finish reading one of your columns doubled over in laughter. This one was wonderful. Sometimes you manage to teach using very powerful tools. Laughter is one.

Thanks again!

Robo said...

I had no idea that C.S. Lewis was a pal of Tolkien. That explains a lot about Lewis' science-fiction books. As a teenager I was particularly fond of the first two of his "Space Trilogy" novels: 'Perelandra' and 'Out Of The Silent Planet'. I've not yet read the third book, 'That Hideous Strength', but it apparently features a power hungry technocratic institution that wants to rule the world and climaxes with yet another apocalyptic event that involves angels and demons.

Beyond the obvious Christian themes, there's a vast sense of time and space in those stories. Perhaps the 2012 conclusion of the Long Count is so resonant and troubling to modern technocratic humankind because it's a reminder that there's something out there that goes way beyond weeks or decades. In both directions.

Andrew said...

Not really relevant to today's post I'm afraid, but probably you and your readers will find it interesting nonetheless:
"Poor US Citizens Barter Their Way to Health"

It may be a hopeful thing to see that initiatives to bypass the money system are already functioning, or a very sad thing to see that it has already come this far, depending on your viewpoint.

bleepr said...

I look at culture in terms of archetype. For example, in the previous election Obama was portrayed as a savior figure, which was appropriate given the loss of faith in politics after the Bush years. Bush for me was the clown or cowboy. In pop culture, celebrities and the famous are real-time mythological figures/archetypes. The minutiae and ups and downs of their lives becomes the stuff of legend in the press/tabloids etc. 

Jung wrote about the blind, headlong rush into the future, never stopping to understand what our forebears had learned. In part it's the death wish again, expressed in the desire to become something other than who or what we are. It's easiest to see this on a cultural level with something like the transhumanist movement...
It's the fact we don't recognize our cultural narratives as myth that makes the myth real...

Philosopher said...

Very interesting post! There are some similarities between "The Lord of the Rings" and Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged", see: http://mises.org/daily/2617. This could have some interesting consequences for the evaluation of this libertarian novel.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

If only it weren't true, it would be funny. I read the review of the film Thrive that you linked to and I must admit that I was laughing to myself for quite a bit of it. Unfortunately, I know people who would take this seriously. Must remember not to mention it to them.

I've always had to clean up after myself and it has made me disinclined to make the mess in the first place! Oh well.

I've enjoyed both the stories of Tolkien and Moorcroft. You're spot on - they are both set in a declining phase of a civilisation. The last hurrah of Numenor and the elves is so true. The background tales to the Lord of the Rings story (and there are quite a few) about the elves tell of paradise lost (corrupted really). Heroic efforts keep their civilisations grinding along, always at a slightly lower level than previously, but never on an upwards trajectory. The wolves (err Orcs / trolls / Balrogs etc.) were always at the door just waiting for an easy snack.

I always assumed that Tolkiens experiences during WWII and the decline of the British empire were what gave his writings their melancholy tone? It's all the same though...

Regards

Chris

knutty knitter said...

I have to admit to liking trashy sf and fantasy too although my skills tend to the spin/weave/knit home economy stuff rather than the epic hero stuff :)

Reading economic stuff does seem rather surreal these days and certainly doesn't appear to relate to me as a human being except for the 'paying the tax' bit. It certainly does seem to be trashy fantasy in every sense of the words. On the other hand, I have no real desire for the epic heroine role. I think I might make for a half way decent 'Yoda' though:)

'Now young knitter, the casting on of the stitches we must have for the garment to be started....'

viv in nz

Matt and Jess said...

Would be awesome if the commenters could throw in a favorite fantasy fiction title/author here or there. I've got a few favorite authors that I've read to death and need some new ideas. I enjoyed Freda Warrington's Elfland recently. Will have to check out Moorcock.

shiningwhiffle said...

I had the good fortune to read this post alongside this article by Charles Eisenstein: http://www.realitysandwich.com/rituals_lover_earth

Eisenstein discusses how the narratives of our society (what he calls the narrative of the Ascent of Humanity) are failing and he proposes a new narrative based on "Lover Earth": rather than seeing Nature as an all-giving mother, he proposes we now see ourselves as its lover, and try to work with it rather than against it.

I'm about halfway through his book, Sacred Economics, which deals with the same theme. So far his suggestions seem too optimistic, and to assume far more political will than I think we'll be able to muster, but his focus on our narratives and on the spiritual side of the descent is really refreshing.

For my own part, I'm reminded of a theme I've seen in some fantasy worlds. If the decline is portrayed to its end, in many cases the loss of the accustomed powers is followed by the return of more primal forces.

You alluded to this when you mentioned the "forgotten lore of an earlier time," but the thing that stands out for me is the spiritual nature of the powers in the examples I'm most familiar with. The emphasis in Sacred Economics on spirituality in the sense of the consciousness expressed in our personal lives and our society is part of my attraction to it despite its more questionably optimistic ideas. If, as I think and he thinks, our progress- and material comfort-worshipping society is making us miserable, its demise may provide opportunities for (shorter, more arduous, far less comfortable but) happier lives.

As a Type I diabetic, I'm acutely aware of the hardships that we're going to face in the hopefully-distant-enough-that-I-can-die-of-something-else future. I am, in a sense, a dead man walking, born in just the right flicker of history that I don't have to die. But I also feel the disconnect from nature and from community that our society basically forces on us. If future generations can get away from that, the decline won't be all bad.

Karim said...

Greetings all!

So we are stuck in the middle of a pulp fantasy novel! WOW! That's a grand idea! I dare not ask who the author of that novel might be! Our collective selves surely. Or is it? We are both writer and character. Interesting situation.

What interests me also is that in my little country of Mauritius, there is so little concern for the 2012 fantasy. I guess this is because we are still, collectively, in the grips of the narrative of progress. Furthermore given that the financial crisis since 2008 has had so little impact here and that standards of living and consumption are still rising the narrative of progress is still alive and kicking. No need of apocalyptic fantasies yet. I guess that I ought to watch out for the emergence of such fantasies as it could be a maker that the previous narrative is running out of steam here.

A few years back when a group of friends and myself began trying to raise interest in energy issues here, we realised that we would achieve little in way of change (the narrative of progress being too strong a spell!), however it was still important to talk and act because we were, in effect, sowing seeds of change that might or might not sprout when the rains came.

We came to believe that our world which we called the ancient world had begun to die away, the world to come, the new world was yet to be born, the transition would be difficult but not impossible!

Kfish said...

I went to Youtube, and looked up this 'Thrive' video. The narrator's name is "Foster Gamble". No joke.

D&D still continues, by the way, both in tabletop and online versions. I flatter myself that 'storyteller' is a green wizard subclass.

Thijs Goverde said...

After the third paragraph I thought 'allright, enter "the myth of progress"'. Well I was only off by one word, wasn't I?
What bothers me about these phrases is that there doesn't seem to be an actual myth or narrative of progress. Our culture is pervaded by the feeling that things should and will get better than they were - but that's not actually a narrative is it? Not what you'd call an actual mythology.
The statement that the belief in progress is a narrative, let alone the narrative that defines our culture, seems a bit too easily made.

I haven't got any valid candidate for present-culture-defining- mythology either, mind you. I'm not sure there is one. Which might actually be one of the great problems of our age.

However, I absolutely loved the comparison between our present predicament and pulp fantasy! Loved it on many levels.
It may interest you to know that I am engaged in a(nother) competion at the moment. This one is about another kind of story: it's from a bunch of people looking for a setting/background/plot for a series of large (1000+ people) LARP-events.
I've been interweaving High Fantasy, Dying Earth and Green Wizardry!
The idea of a hundred 'elves' diligently building Solar Cookers to gain XP is mind-boggling.
I do hope my idea gets picked. I'd love to see those elves actually do it!

Les said...

Nice! Thanks JMG for a post that leaves a smile on my dial for a change…

Maybe it’s just that we’re in the last stages of the negotiation for a small farm that makes us feel some affinity with your closing sentiment :-). Mind you, that brings on a whole new world of nervousness, as we try and work out what we are going to do next. But it’s all fun.

Cheers,
Les

Siobhan Blundell said...

Well, Mr Gandalf, aka JMG, you weave a potent spell, to be sure. And humorous to boot!

Kirby said...

JMG, I know that this blog tends to reflect your current thread of thinking (and often your next book), but I have my doubts about how effective it is right now at its goal of spreading your message. Specifically, I think that for those who have been following for some time, the current material is an elaboration of a detail about how to best characterize the current mythology of apocalypse. For myself, I'd rather be learning about raising chickens, because that is what I can do about the situation. I think that a new reader would have a very hard time grasping what this blog and your message are about, and would find the current discussion to be very esoteric. I think it is interesting, myself, but I have two degrees in philosophy and my head in the clouds too much for my own good. And even for me it seems a bit like making exact mechanical drawings of the deck plan for the Titanic, while it is sinking.

It's your show, of course, and I don't mean to tell you how to run it. I just thought you may value reader reaction.

Source_Dweller said...

Greetings, JMG & fellow readers. Following this entertaining thread back to Dec 21, 2011, I must enter a plea not to abuse December 21 as Nothing Happened Day. I predict, with absolute certainty, that a solstice will occur on that date in 2012. Peak oil cognoscenti, including astronomers, astrologists, neo- and meso- and plain pagans, passive solar fans, etc., will no doubt find the suggestion that solstice is insignificant painful in the extreme.
With some help from Wikipedia,here are some alternate suggestions, as we seem to be in the mood for deep winter humouring:

January 7, 1800, Millard Freemore, 13th President, was born. After serving his term, he joined the "Know-Nothing" Party. Works well with contemporary mainstream media.

January 11, 1919, Romania reincorporated Transylvania. Works well with a vampire theme.

February 6, 1911, Ronald Reagan was born. He is "credited with generating an idelogical renaissance on the American political right". Unfortunately, Americans had forgotten the Depression era humourist Will Rogers, who correctly observed that wealth trickles up, not down; and elected Reagan and "voodoo economics". Works well with a zombie theme.

My proposal, however, for Nothing Happened Day is October 21. Ignore please Tokugawa's victory in 1600, or Nelson's at Trafalgar in 1805, both significant events. Focus rather on the birth of Kim Kardashian on October 21,1980.

A sleekly groomed form devoid of ethical and intellectual content is, I contend, a perfect symbol of the nothing (good) that is happening in the BAU oligopolies around the world. Works well with black hole and vampire squid themes.

dltrammel said...

I, like many here, include JMG grew up on that heroic fantasy of the 50s and 60s. Having a bit of literary skill, I started writing some of my own during college.

One lesson that I always kept in mind was Poul Anderson's classic article "Thud and Blunder" where he pleaded that writers use a bit of common sense in their fantasy worlds.

Here's a link to that article:

"Thud and Blunder"

I almost think we need a new edition of this, which sets out the "facts" of a declining world and the future that it will bring, so the crop of apocalyptic descent fiction soon to appear, will be something other than a waste of cyberspace.

Oh wait, there is this blog, lol.

Yupped said...

Great post. Putting this in the context of some of last week’s comments, it seems that increasingly my generation (I just turned 50) will be looking to the next generation of teens and 20-somethings as those protagonists of change. To some degree my generation got stuck in the bogus political narrative of which side (liberal or conservative) could run industrial society most justly or efficiently, and how the spoils should be distributed. Most of us decided to hang in there a while with the system rather than drop out. Only a few were willing to look at a naked emperor. If anything comes out of 2012 it would be nice if this election year showed decisively that the old political story isn’t fooling anyone anymore. Well, I can dream.

So the next generation will have to be engaged in the more bracing narrative of leaving the old system and starting to build up new ones that could actually work for our resource constrained future. I spent some time yesterday getting my teenage son enrolled in a permaculture course for this coming summer, and was really inspired by the reality-based outlooks. Not much pining for a dead system; mostly just a lot of focus on hard work and working with what nature offers readily.

So for those members of the younger generation frustrated by a lack of resources, perhaps the bright side of that dilemma is that you may at least be more free to think anew and write the next chapter without one foot being stuck so firmly in the old system. You can rewire your expectations a lot more easily than my lot can.

Finally, while the apocalyptic way of thinking will surely attractive for many, there are going to be plenty of people who cling to the progress story hand over fist. Perhaps the various Titanic narratives might have some applicability here as well - refusing to believe in ice bergs, rearranging the deck chairs and going down with the ship.

russell1200 said...

Of course in Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and in the Dying Earth series, as well as the mentioned Conan, the heroes mostly just noodle around.

So the question to my mind is: Are we living in the high fantasy of Tolkien, or the low fantasy of Leiber.

JP said...

I doubt that apocalyptic fervor will manifest itself in 2012. I think a lot of people are still emotionally exhausted from the dot.com bubble, Y2K, the housing bubble, and the terrorist bubble. Maybe if 2012 had come back in 1996.

Anyway, I think cultural stories ossify because they work very well for a certain number of generations. The cheap energy progress age has been around long enough that it works quite well for everyone.

One random though I have had is that the Modern Faustian West excels at creating (physical) ephemera. Let's record all our information on fragile storage devices and use plastic for everything!

Compare this to ancient Egypt which, as anyone can see, excelled at creating (physical) permanence.

Justin said...

"...I’m not sure how far to take that point, though I have to admit that if Mabelrode the Faceless, Demon Lord of Chaos, were to be named as CEO of Citibank, I’m not sure I would be surprised.

You mean like having a Bush, Colon, and Dick ruling the world together at once? Or having guys with hammy, WWII era comedy skit sounding names like Charles Kraut-hammer yammer on about war in our news papers, women called things like Power and Slaughter arguing full-throatededly for just war? Kind of funny, that's why everyone, no matter what their beliefs, agrees that satire is dead. I think if you think about the implications of that cliche you get to the same point in this essay about narrative.

I wrote something last night thinking about our exchange in the last thread, I wasn't intending on posting it in reply, it was more for me to sort it out. But I am because it's already the long form of what I would have left in the comments here if I had not written it first.

Jason said...

JMG: What seems to do the trick is a particular kind of stress—specifically, the kind that happens when the narratives a society uses to make sense of the world no longer work.

That's brilliant... this time is all about having the real stories ready and the worldviews attached to them. People don't realise how viscerally they attach to those worldviews until they are taken away.

A key in my playbook here at the individual level is the set of Milton Erickson techniques designed to help people change ideations for themselves. As he says:

When you understand how man really defends his intellectual ideas and how emotional he gets about it, you should realize that the first thing in psychotherapy is not to try to compel him to change his ideation; rather you go along with it and change it in a gradual fashion and create situations wherein he himself willingly changes his thinking

And the counter-thaumaturgy of fantasy was one extremely effective way to do that, especially since it gets to the self that is ready to listen, the 12-year-old in anyone.

"Thrive" is really ghastly. Heavens above. It's sheer torture to watch. Like seeing a bunch of kids overdosing on sugar and alcopops to overcome the pain of realising their parents are no-good losers, or something like that.

I never got into Moorcock but there were plenty of other calques of the situation that were good enough. Jack Vance's Dying Earth of course works beautifully in the context pointed up here.

Heck, even Hawk the Slayer, a bad movie on any normal measure, convincingly depicts a world where dark sorcerers rule, the great glory days are gone, the world has become dark, "wolves hunt where there were none before", and the price of justice is always high.
Filmed when Catton had just written Overshoot, by 'coincidence' a sequel may suddenly be in the works after thirty years.

Re-alliance with nature and magic are important themes in the fantasy I used to like. I agree that the usefulness of a set of fantasy images depends very much on who is using them and what they trigger in that person. I'd like to see some 'analog-style fantasy' as mooted in another 'Report comments page... maybe a second set of short stories? :)

What will it take? It will take getting Ron Paul elected as President and exposing the Jewish Zionists who have seized control of the planet!

-- commenter on "Thrive" YouTube page. That's another nice box to tick on cue, antisemitism! Have a look at what's going on in Hungary right now for more of the same...

Justin said...

I'll add one more thing about you being the hero.

One thing to keep in mind as an individual is that the narrative for the hero in our fantasy fiction also conforms to the narrative of progress. The hero fights, struggles, defeats his enemies and gets to win fortune and fame. Things go as expected in a progressive material advancement.

A different potential narrative structure as the inverse of the hero narrative is an an Anonymous and event driven one. That is how old world stories are remembered today, rambling, characters come and go, divergent events, non linear storytelling. That is the more likely plot ahead, we aren't going to vanquish the Darth Cheneys and restore balance with our commitment to whatever we believe. We are going to try to outlast their failing, artificially propped up bodies and we'll likely never be any more visible to them than ants are to us. I guess what I am saying is that the dangerous thread you left dangling here is to give the idea that they can literally save the world if they work hard enough and get widespread credit and recognition for our work and effort in reward, which is how fantasy is structured, but not how reality works for the vast majority of us.

hawlkeye said...

I especially like the rune...

I wondered if you were going to touch that execrable film; loved how you washed your hands after watching. It's been quite revealing; far too many starry-eyed contemporaries challenge my politeness as I stutter "Are you ahem kidding me?" And similar epithets, of course.

I'm not so familiar with this particular pulp genre; I went in for the frontier-type tales. And the current free energy narrative clogging up so many air passages these days reminds me of the Ghost Dance phenomenon.

For anyone interested, I just did a blogpost on it, influenced in part by the manifest sanity found here at the ADR. Many thanks, JMG!

Free Energy is Our Ghost Dance

www.scottallenmcguire.com

(verification word: snaman)

Greg Reynolds @ Riverbend said...

I'm sharpening my sword. The Organic Seed Alliance meeting is in Port Townsend, WA next week. We are taking the train out...

Greg

Wolfgang Brinck said...

Thank you for a very perceptive analysis of the apocalyptic vision in our society and its role as a counter narrative to the narrative of progress.
There are of course counter narratives to that of progress and apocalypse, yours among them, and I find that perhaps a greater number of people subscribe to the counter narrative than we are aware of, primarily because the mainstream media are so invested in promoting the narrative of progress in all its forms.
When I talk to young people of the generation that follows me, I am often surprised at how many of them share my pessimism about the vision of eternal progress.
Quite often, these young people are already living what their so-called high buck career trajectory peers would call marginal lives. That is, they are living lives that are poor in the material but rich in community.
Even where people haven't explicitly renounced the vision of progress, there is nevertheless a good-sized pool of resourceful individuals, craftsmen and women, artists, performers who have the skills to build the world that follows the one of progress.
For instance, I work in a large space, a former gatling gun maintenance facility on a decommissioned Navy base. I share the space with other craftsmen, welders, aritsts, blacksmiths, machine repairman etc. We seldom or never have discussions about progress or the apocalypse, but we are doing what we do, which is making a variety of things and in the process, inspiring each other and building our confidence that we can make just about anything with the limited means at our disposal. By anything, I don't mean satellites or smart phones, but certainly more simple, practical things like hammers, nails, shelter, boats, bicycles, hand carts and so on.
On the other end of the spectrum, my daughter is a musician and one of her jobs is as the piano player of a circus troupe. If the smart phones would stop working, her troupe would certainly be able to entertain and bring laughter to an internet-less world.
What I find encouraging is that there are already a good number of people out there choosing simpler, poorer lives by choice and not necessity and in the process working out the details of how to lead satisfying lives without the benefit of the fruits of progress.
Let the new narrative begin.

Bill Pulliam said...

Please, now, since blood is a vital fluid not a waste product, how about we generalize the metaphor with coal (and other minerals) being the Bones of the Earth, and natural gas being the Breath of the Earth. Living things don't generally mind if you steal their poop (etc.), but they get very upset at attempts to steal their blood, bones, or breath!

Justin said...

Roman religion applied that narrative to the cosmos, Roman philosophy applied it to the relation between mind and body, and so on. The difficulty, of course, came when the world started throwing things at the Roman world that couldn’t be made to fit the narrative.

Another interesting point, Roman history also conformed to this narrative as it was recorded. It was, by definition, a narrative history that couldn't handle the things being thrown at it that the rest of the Roman mind couldn't grasp. This would be an interesting explanation of why the fall of Rome is such a mystery and subject of debate. All of the source text and history was written at a time when the historians were strained past their breaking point to explain what was happening. Those who found new narratives were inaccessible and unpopular, if they existed at all. Their records are lost.

Consider the Huns. We remember Attilla as sort of the King Hun, the one guy you have to remember to know the huns because he was so vicious, savage and tough. He more or less singularly stands against the Roman Empire. I've read about the Huns, they sound like fierce, tough people with no clear leadership structure, most similar to my mind to the Comanche Indians. They were probably all more less like Attilla physically.

One problem the Europeans had with Comanches and Indians generally was an inability to understand there was no master commander. They would make treaties with a big chief that they assumed would be honored by every member of that chief's tribe, but that wasn't how it worked. He spoke only for the people who agreed with him, which meant those who disagreed would 'violate' the treaty conditions whenever expedient. Nonetheless, we wrote the history of Indians selecting specific individuals who gave us the most problems and we imparted upon them great and mysterious powers of influence over their people. We conquered the Indians though, so the narrative of progress works well enough. Compare the coherence of that history to the incoherence of our war on terror.

No matter the subject you choose, none of the major narratives make much sense. The environment, world events, domestic situations and so on are full of self-contradictory nonsense like Green Technology, or Rehabilative Incarceration.

Imagine trying to piece together why we fell apart in a few hundred years, using bestsellers like The World is Flat and Newsweek as primary documents that talk about stuff like that. You'd come away believing that we were engaged in some kind of all out, existential threatening war against an invasive , monolithic, global enemy with a constantly changing master mind and top heavy structure, yet hardly any mentions of the enemy actually carrying out any successful strikes, every 10 years or so some thing happens. You could argue based on reading our popular history that the war on terror is an existential threat that we are constantly losing or that its really nothing more than an afterthought, something that actually affects us less frequently than getting hit by lightning, and far less frequently than getting hurt and killed by our vehicles. Both would be right. You could also focus on our diets and related health problems and use that as the explanation, the industrial lead in our water so to speak.

M said...

Hello, I'm a fairly new reader of your excellent blog (I've been staying up late reading through the archives.)Much of my concern about the future was centered on global warming, but in the last 6 months I've come to realize the more relevant "story" is peak oil.

Seeing past a no-longer-functioning narrative veil to come up with real possibilities for meeting our predicament is like the advice giver who seems to be able to help everyone except herself: we are often more clear-eyed when dispensing suggestions and ideas to others. A case in point is a recent op-ed in the NYTs, Haiti Can Be Rich Again, which urges the country to return to its history of decentralized, small farms with inter-crop agriculture.

Of course, that same excellent advice would help the U.S. soften the blow of decline if implemented as a top-down policy here, but our narrative of progress that's coming off the tracks includes the idea that the U.S.A. is TB(AI)TF (Too Big [And Important] To Fail). A solution rooted in something as primitive as small farming will work for a backward, unimportant country like Haiti, but heavens, not for us! We need something appropriately sophisticated--pass the Quantitative Easing, please.

Perhaps the rank and file of OWS should be whittling wooden stakes. Me, I don't go to the bank any more without having first eaten a meal heavy on the garlic.

Andy Brown said...

Now that was a delicious post -- but no mention of Barsoom's dessicated plains? But then again, I guess John Carter is the man of progress plunked down as an alien in a decayed world.

Marty said...

JMG, you have the only blog I actually set aside time to READ and essays like this one are the reason why. I'm not sure the connection is very direct, but Austin Tappan Wright's _Islandia_ is a bit of "escapist fiction" with a very different (and more useful) story for us (IMHO) ... I have a copy from my mother's shelf that I'm saving for the grandkids to read. Another that I've dwelt on numerous times is Christopher Morley's _Travelling Parnassus_ (or something like that). Morley provides another narrative alternative to the warrior myth.

Confidence, satisfaction, and health to all!

Andy Brown said...

I had an interesting conversation with someone the other evening who's more "optimistic" than I am -- mostly because of faith in some transcendentalist hokum. I don't think she was ready to give up faith in progress despite her otherwise clear-sighted understanding of the current human predicament. But when I took the tack that the collapse of our civilization would mean "progress" (if we defined progress as leading more satisfying, less frantic, more socially significant lives) she was much easier to engage. I wonder if you think that the narrative of progress will be "re-purposed" at least as a tactic for ameliorating the defensiveness that comes about from narrative collapse. (Or does that smack of the thaumaturgy you dislike?)

GHung said...

JMG: Your earlier post on binary thinking/dualism was good groundwork for where we are in this post. While the idea of absolute choices: heaven or hell; progress or collapse; "the best and the rest"; eat or be eaten, is something I rejected early on, it seems to be an artifact of our evolution that still dominates our narrative. Over at TOD, we often see incremental and imperfect changes being rejected as inadequate. Folks are still looking for a silver bullet to replace fossil fuels rather than admit it is their world view and behavior that must change. The prevailing idea, the false choice between business (growth) as usual and total surrender seems to leave little room for the idea of a partial withdrawl. The western narrative especially, presents the concept of "giving ground" as a false choice.

There are, however, some signs in this political cycle that reality is creating cracks in the armor of progress. While I in no way endorse Ron Paul, and share few of his views, his following so far is indicative of some acceptance of his message of falling back and regrouping. Too bad that those who embrace the changes he's espousing also seem to be those who think they will be the least affected. Still no wholesale realization that it won't just be someone else's pound of flesh that will be required.

Until folks make the headshift of removing themselves (or are removed) from the current narrative and create a new less binary one for themselves, useful progress will be rare indeed. I agree with Kunstler on this one; reality will give them new stories to tell, likely ones they won't be prepared for.

CSAFarmer said...

good one, JMG

I'm trying to be the Conan in my own personal Hyboria, but my wife flat-out refuses to wear the chain-mail bikini!

I suspet she sees me as more of a Cugel the Clever type character, a "charming rogue who overestimates his own guile".

I'll settle for charming if I can't have smart, I guess.

On the topic of Conan, there have been a few good modern fairy tales which carry the story past 'happily ever after', and reveal the lives of the characters after the traditional narrative ends. The recent 'misadventures' of Arnold Schwarzenegger - the movie Conan who subsequently married the 'princess' and came to rule the 'kingdom' - sure reads like one of those.

Gotta be a 'movie of the week' script in there somewhere ;-)

Lucas Durand said...

JMG,
I laughed when I read your realization that we had landed in the pages of a fantasy novel.

It's a theme I've been mulling over myself for a while now. More specifically, the extent to which the "heroic monomyth" can be applied in understanding our times.

In particular the metaphor of "the belly of whale" seems an appropriate way to understand the future - ie it will be a time of metamorphosis - but to what end, who can say?

The idea that one crosses a "threshold" of some sort to enter "the belly of the whale" is interesting to me because it suggests a point of no return - which again seems very appropriate to current circumstances.

The heroic monomyth also describes (among other things) the "call to adventure" and the "refusal of the call"... I had been musing recently that if we cast humanity in the role of the "hero" then it seems to me that there was no real "call to adventure" and therefore no opportunity for "refusal of the call".

Our "hero" in this case seems more like a young englishman who got too drunk one night and is about to wake up to find that he is at sea aboard a fighting warship headed for the coast of France...

I wonder what his reaction will be?
What do you think?

Robb Davis said...

Mr Greer - Thanks for the important reminder of the actual definition of "apocalypse". By this definition you are, arguably, one of the most apocalyptic writers of our time (and I say that sincerely, not sarcastically).

Your writing today about how modern narratives are created/supported reminded me of something French social critic Jacques Ellul wrote in "The Technological Society" about propaganda. In this quote he notes how propaganda--which he felt was as big a problem in democratic societies as well as totalitarian ones (he wrote in the Post WWII period):

"Propaganda technique, moreover, creates a new sphere of the 'sacred'. As Monnerot puts it: 'When an entire category of events, beings, and ideas are outside criticism, it constitutes a sacred realm, in contrast to the realm of the profane.' As a result of the profound influence of the mechanisms of propaganda, a new zone of the forbidden is created in the heart of man, but it is artificially induced, in contrast to the taboos of primitive societies. When there is propaganda, we are no longer able to evaluate certain questions, or even discuss them. A series of protective reflexes organized by technique immediately intervene."

Keep it up and thanks.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Edwin Drake and his men would probably have kicked the stone over, and kept on drilling. Or, sold it to a curiosity museum.

Another meme floated to the surface of my mind while writing this. Also from lore and stories. "Don't go in the basement!" Of course the hero or heroine always do. Lured by curiosity or potential gain.

Brad K. said...

@ Charles Pye,

"what does that make Coal?"

Oh, so literal! Coal, natural gas, oil, these are all the results of sunlight deposited on the face of the earth, coagulated and trapped beneath the skin.

Think "zits".

Oil, coal, and gas have little to do with the life and health of the Earth, except to poison life when it spills free. It is only the parasites of humanity that exploit the trapped deposits of . . accretion.

For my money, the "blood of the Earth" is magma. Oil is a leftover by-product of life on the skin of the Earth, fit only to generate wealth in the modern world.

Susan said...

In Niven and Pournelles's classic end of the world story Lucifer's Hammer, millions of people use their credit cards to buy up all the survival supplies they can to prepare for the coming disaster. When the disaster comes, most of those millions end up dead anyway, but there are some survivors who do benefit from having the survival gear and food stores without having to worry about paying off their maxed-out credit cards.

So, what happens when millions of wanna-be survivalists max out their credit cards to buy beans, bullets, and band-aids, and the end of the world does not come? In that scenario, in January, 2013, there will be hell to pay, and not enough money with which to pay it. Won't that be fun?

Refugee from Cheeseland:

We're seeing some of that Overclass vs. Underclass stuff right now with the demonization of Mitt Romney for his stint at Bain Capital. Yes, a few of the failing companies that Bain invested in ended up being liquidated, with thousands of workers laid off, but most of the companies they funded were ones like Staples that grew and hired thousands of workers. The actual facts don't really seem to matter to most people, however; the narrative of the corporate vampire squid has taken hold in their minds, and they would be only too willing to punish the rich vampires by re-electing Obama and his zombies.

On the other hand, have you seen the number of new construction cranes dotting the skyline of Washington, DC? While the rest of the empire crumbles, the imperial capital prospers, sucking the life blood (tax dollars and unpayable debts) from the rest of us. And don't even get me started on how many guys from Goldman Sachs work in the Obama administration. It's pretty obvious to me that no one in our government is looking out for anyone's best interest other than their own.

Frankly, I wouldn't mind seeing all of the manipulators, crony capitalists and socialists alike, put up against the proverbial wall and liquidated...

My husband, who had long hair and a beard at the time, was down in Grant Park in Chicago in August, 1968. He was wise enough (or coward enough) to not get beaten by the cops during the Democratic convention. This year, the Democratic convention will be held in Charlotte, N.C., headquarters of Bank of America. Oh, the possibilities for political violence are endless...

Yeah, 2012 is going to be a very interesting year!

Bob said...

Am I the only one picturing JMG in a pointy wizard hat, sending us off on our quest to roam the countryside with a map, a stack of his books, and a spell of good fortune? Instead of bows, maces, and broadswords, we are carrying rakes, hoes, trowels, caulking guns, and duct tape.

Cathy McGuire said...

Why, you are, of course.

Oh, dear, and I’ve forgotten to bring my pocket handkerchief… ;-)

Thanks for reminding me of old novels I enjoyed as a child… need to re-read, especially since I’m struggling with a novel-length post-everything story and the fantasy masters’ atmosphere of “no progress” will be worth re-visiting. It’s amazing how hard it is to keep modern sensibilities out of a story set in another time/place, but you know about that! ;-)

This has to be a fast first posting, since I got up late (after dawn), it’s 22 degrees here, but sunny – so there’s green wizard work to be done! From what I can see, mainstream media so far seems to be making fun of the 2012 prediction, and yet the tone is like one I recall from the schoolyard, when kids make fun of campfire horror stories, but are half afraid that they are real… There’s a horrified fascination with it that comes through even the mockery.

I know this is not like the others but must mention: when it comes to fantasy novels, I always liked Megan Lindholm’s “Wizard of the Pigeons”, set in Seattle, where the wizard in question is a homeless man whose wizardry is having people open up to him. Need to re-read that; I forget the ending now.

One thought I had while reading your post is that, as a child, I hated reading about endings, and sometimes I put the book down before the end because I couldn’t bear to read about something ending. That memory helps me explain some of my depression and paralysis now… but finally growing into a sense that endings and beginnings are two sides of the same coin has helped me move forward with the task of making my life simpler. It really helps that I love the domestic crafts of past generations and really love experimenting with yeasts and soils and watching nature to see what happens!

sunbeam said...

I thought this was a very perceptive article.

I think you compare the current situation to the wrong works of fantasy literature though.

We are not in the Lord of the Rings.

We are in the Eye of Argon.

Kieran O'Neill said...

Further to EscapefromWisconsin's mention of vampires and zombies as overclass and underclass, and on the theme of modern life as fantasy novel, is the curious rise of the "paranormal teen romance" genre (of books; I hesitate to say "literature").

This has always been around, in one form or another, but in the last four to five years has become sufficiently mainstream that Barnes and Noble has an entire section dedicated to it. It seems to be particular popular with teenaged girls, and, if the Twilight books/movies are anything to go by, tends to involve weak female characters winning the hearts of very teen pop culture vampires (or werewolves, ghosts, zombies, etc).

And this is not just appealing to Goth kids (who I think mostly have better taste in their supernatural literature). I've heard very ordinary looking teenagers on the street gossiping about the latest television episode of "The Vampire Diaries". I think it's pretty mainstream with people not otherwise particularly interested in death or the supernatural.

Perhaps it's some sort of wish-fulfilment for modern youth: you're poor, disenfranchised and not particularly in control of your own life, but just maybe you can snag that evil and dangerous investment banker/vampire, and turn him to good.

It is a most curious sign of our times that a good part of today's teenaged girls are fantasising not about living celebrities (sports stars, musicians, royalty, etc) but about the undead.

I'm still not fully sure what to make of it.

SLClaire said...

Maybe because I'm female, I didn't read pulp fantasy novels as a child, or for that matter as a grown-up. When I read your description of the narrative, what I thought of was the first Star Wars movie, the one that premiered in the mid 1970s when I was in college. It doesn't exactly fit the narrative form as you've described it, but it's close enough that it might explain at least in part why the Stars Wars franchise was so successful.

The fantasy narrative I preferred as a girl wasn't any better. I loved the Pippi Longstocking books. Pippi was a girl of about 10 who possessed superhuman strength - not up to Superman's level, but she was quite capable of lifting very heavy objects, for instance. She lived alone in a city or suburb. If she had a mom, she never mentioned her. She loved her dad but for the first couple books he was out of the picture, living on an island in the Pacific. Pippi's two friends were the very conventional children next door, a boy and girl of about her age. The books describe their adventures together and in the third book, their trip to visit Pippi's father.

What I remember most about these books was the childrens' perception that the adult world was one that was completely unappealing to them. They wanted no part of it. In one of the books, Pippi concocts a spell to keep all three of them from becoming adults. I saw the adult world in much the same way at the time and wished I could take the same spell.

Perhaps this narrative, in the form of not wanting to grow up and face adult problems, is also one of the narratives that some people are caught in which create trouble for them and others. I think I've freed myself of it; in fact I enjoy my fifties much more than childhood and generally find life gets better as I become older. I think coming to grips with our current situation and acting from that perspective actually enhances the enjoyment. But it seems to me that part of the thaumaturgy of our time intends to keep most of us as powerless children, unable to make hard decisions and act on them.

Verification word: hooke

Edward said...

There is a lot to be said for the point by point comparison of the world we live in to a pulp fantasy novel.

However in the novels, don't the actors such as the the decadent aristocaracy and the corrupt sorcerers all serve an evil master?

In our world, I don't believe that there is an evil master behind the scenes pulling all the strings. That would bring us to yet another story - that of the conspiratory theorists.

In our world, it seems that all the actors are serving no one but themselves, but in doing so still manage to fill these roles very well. So is the evil master in our world some sort of a tyranny of the self?

Don Plummer said...

How I love this! I was never a big reader of pulp fantasy, but the saga of Middle Earth has been a huge influence. In fact, when I first read your "blood of the earth" metaphor here, I immediately thought of the web of industrialized tunnels under Isengard. Your imaginary runes at the site of the first oil well in Pa. reminds me of another rhyme:
"One Ring to rule them all..."

Regarding apocalyptic prophesies, it seems that with all the interest in the Mayan calendar turnover, the quatrains of Nostradamus have been forgotten. Am I wrong?

LewisLucanBooks said...

Boy, am I the odd man out. I just never liked much fantasy (sci-fi is another matter.) When asked why I don't read fantasy, my stock answer is "Too many names with too many consonants." Same reason I never made it through "War and Peace."

Actually, I think it has more to do with Demon Rum wiping out large chunks of short term memory in my misspent youth.

I do admire Tolkien. I have read enough material around LOTR to see the connection he made to Finn mythology and folk tales. Being half Finn with a touch of Laplander (Sami), I appreciate the connection.

John Michael Greer said...

DeAnander, I'm rather fond of "the peripatetic are not coterminous with the disoriented." Or, perhaps, "...the misplaced."

Guardian, I suspect it was very easy to imagine decaying empires in Britain in the 1960s!

Jose, you're most welcome.

Robo, good heavens, yes. Lewis and Tolkien were best friends and drinking buddies at Oxford, as well as SF and fantasy fans.

Andrew, to my mind that's a very positive sign -- it's crucial that people ramp up the process of meeting their needs outside the money economy sooner rather than later. Thanks for the link!

Bleepr, exactly. Societies and people that are mythically literate understand the distinction between narrative and reality; unsophisticated societies like ours lose track of that very important distinction.

Philosopher, I'll pass, thanks. Rand's fiction isn't to my taste, and her pseudoconservative agenda -- well, no need to get into that just now.

Cherokee, whether you mention it to them or not, they'll hear of it. My guess is that a lot of the claims in Thrive are going to be all over the place in the months and years to come.

Knutty, I hereby officially proclaim you the Yoda of the fiber arts Jedi. May the yarn be with you!

Jess, by all means.

Whiffle, I don't know that I care for the "lover earth" model any more than the "mother earth" one -- both grant humanity far more importance than it deserves. I'd suggest that it's more useful to think of ourselves as cells, and not especially important ones, in the body of Gaia -- and thus utterly dependent on her life for our own.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

Excellent essay! I have a soft spot for Elric myself, as well as the other denizens of Moorcock's Multiverse.

(I wrote some of my own observations about the useful aspects of his fiction, specifically his novel The Dreamthiefs Daughter -useful to the living now -in a blog post here:
http://sothismedias.com/2011/01/29/soul-noir-dreaming-with-the-dreamthiefs-daughter/)

On another note, although I work at a Public library with over two million items, today I joined the cities older, membership based library, The Mercantile Library. It's not named that because the people who run it are aristocratic sorcerers, but because the original founders were all Cincinnati businessmen who hoped build up the literary culture in Cincinnati. I did this in part, because of a dream I had, and also because of my love for libraries and the ideas you outlined for the Sheneset Project. I realized it would be an easy step to go ahead and join the preexisting member based library already in town since 1835 -and do my part, somehow, to add to its continuity in this age of decline.

It didn't hurt either that Seamus Heaney will be speaking their later this year, and that I've joined their Poetry Society as well, this year studying Irish Poetry... which I consider to be part of my Bardic Green Wizard training.

Home Economics is the other area I'm engaged in, and I go to get my Amateur Radio technicians license this Saturday. All in all, moving forward with ideas I put into my own fiction.

Unknown said...

You write with exquisite precision, but, given that fossil fuels are generally made of atmospheric carbon sequestered by life itself, I am struggling to accept your, dare I say it, crassly manipulative “blood of the earth” analogy. Life put it there, so it hardly follows that life needs it to stay there to survive. Humans maybe, but not life in general.

Kind regards,

Matthew

John Michael Greer said...

Karim, I'm gathering that the 2012 business is primarily an American fad. That shows the superior common sense of the rest of the world -- or maybe it's just that we're facing the steepest part of our own decline here in the US, and that's what's got so many people wigging out.

Kfish, he's the heir of the Proctor & Gamble fortune. That is to say, this guy who's aiming all these sweeping denunciations at the corporate elite is himself a member of the corporate elite. I'd encourage you to bring that up with anybody who buys into Thrive.

Thijs, I've misplaced the reference to the article -- it's been a few years now -- that pointed out that textbook accounts of "the rise of Man" (note the phrasing) map onto Joseph Campbell's monomyth of the Hero's Quest point for point. Progress is indeed a narrative myth, with Homo sapiens as its collective hero -- hearing the Call to Adventure on the African savannah, venturing forth, and so on.

As for elves building solar cookers -- now that's seriously cool.

Les, congratulations!

Siobhan, I do my best.

Kirby, there are plenty of blogs talking about raising chickens, and there are plenty of other sources about raising chickens. There are too few people, to my mind, who are trying to place our current experience of decline in a meaningful context and help readers make sense of their own lives in a way that contradicts the nonsense the media is pushing on them. Thus the focus of this blog.

Dweller, I plan on celebrating the solstice that day, but I predict -- gazing into my crystal ball -- that it's going to be an ordinary day at the beginning of winter, and the squirrels and juncos will be going about their business in perfect unconcern toward the latest crop of human daftness.

Dltrammel, fun! Been a while since I read that one. You're right, of course, that a new edition needs to be prepared.

Yupped, true enough -- most people are going to stay stuck in one of the two standard narratives of progress and apocalypse. My hope here is to get a decently sized minority thinking in other terms.

Russell, well, that's why I proposed the third option -- the pulp fantasy of Howard, Moorcock, et al.

JP, well, we'll see. I suspect it's going to be much bigger than that.

Twilight said...

Ahh yes, and Andre Norton too, who's stories were always set amongst the ruins of some ancient and powerful people, and so often about re-discovering their old (and often dangerous) powers. The mystery implied by the ruins always added to the attraction for me. Sad to think about how many in years to come will succumb to the lure of bringing back the power and glory of this age, never understanding how it was driven by the “blood of the earth” and how impossible that dream will be.

Or maybe the lack of obvious ruins from ages past in North America is part of the problem. Is it easier to believe in endless growth when the ruins of the past aren't constantly getting in the way?

Oh well, I'd rather be living a pulp fiction novel than I would in “The Road”. I'll willingly preserve some of the naivete from my youth than wallow in hopelessness. I guess I don't see anything wrong with thinking of our lot as an adventure. Maybe some kid some day far in the future will learn some important bit of knowledge passed down by one of us, and feel much like one of those kids in an Andre Norton story. Yeah, I could like that idea.

Mark Angelini said...

Ha ha! I was sort-of waiting for you to bring up this awful film. When I saw the trailer a while back I literally laughed until I cried -- I couldn't believe the hokey nature and finger pointing. I knew folks would gobble it up. And I was convinced they had hired Tim & Eric to direct it.

Ever since reading The Long Descent I've been thinking long and hard about narratives and observing them in my own life. Several nights ago I found myself at a horrible music venue, and I spent most of my time thinking about the narrative that brought folks there, inspired the terrible music, and what narrative convinced me into the mix... Thank you JMG.

Also, to tag along on a comment I saw last week about what 20-something year-olds ought to do. I am one of those 20 somethings. I had a hell of a time extricating myself from the momentum and noise of progress, which ended me into the noise of apocalypse, and then onto something new... The hero of this tale, I suppose. I see in my friends and peers so much confusion. Most go to college, gleaning some hope, but then graduate and find that the future that was promised doesn't exist. I see a lot working like its a religion and spending like its salvation -- fancy phones, gizmos, and cars.

I work for myself and scrape by, doing as much as I can to need less and less money, but being an entrepreneur affords that... I wouldn't call it luxury, but maybe, perk? Instead of college, I opted to stay home and work on my mothers property, trading small rent and sweat labor and investing in a family project. I encourage my friends to at least get out of debt, stop drinking crappy beer and soda, and grow a garden at the very least. Most live in apartments or rented homes and don't have the ability I do. Luckily a good number of the folks that I know are in the farming and food world already, and are not afraid of getting dirty or sweating. The most important aspect I've observed in creating a more hopeful, resilient narrative is to watch the money flow and invest in local resources -- food, soil, wood, etc. That's my 2 cents, for what its worth.

Laura said...

So instead of being a pulp science fiction novel, we're in a pulp fantasy novel. Interesting. I also find it interesting to note that within fandom, fantasy overtook hard sf in popularity at least a decade ago. Perhaps this shift was more prescient than escapist after all? I'm not sure how to read the current popularity of steampunk, though -- a desperate re-casting of Progress in less realistic terms, so people can still enjoy it for awhile longer? Or a useful enshrining of a Can-do, Build-it-yourself ethic? I've seen several potential narratives told within a steampunk aesthetic, but I'm not sure if a canonical one has emerged.

Also, if the 1970s saw a brief emergence of the pulp fantasy narrative, but the 1980s saw the re-emergence with a vengance of the pulp science fiction narrative -- I wonder how much this clash of narratives subconciously influenced the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. I was born in 1980. My family was very mainline Protestant, yet the Satanic Panic still influenced my childhood. Too much involvement in "utter fantasy" was considered, not demonic, but vaguely "unhealthy". ::snort::

The mention of the Blood of the Earth put me in mind of Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series (which I didn't much like). Drinking the Earthblood would give the drinker the power to command the world, even to break natural laws. The human who does, instead of setting things right, breaks the Law of Death and makes things worse in the process or some such. Fairly apt.

As for fantasy novels, I actually suggest Christopher Paolini's Inheritance books. There are some interesting explorations of themes like the role of religion in a world rich with objective knowledge, the preservation and transmission of knowledge, the nature of power and responsibility, and the causes and effects of war, from a post-Boomer perspective. Sometimes a thinly veiled perspective, but it's still a good read.

@SLClaire: You're exactly right. George Lucas was explicitly inspired by the narrative of the epic hero as described by Joseph Campbell. As for the narrative of perpetual childhood, yes, I've noticed something similar: the abhorrence of any kind of child work-for-pay as "robbing them of their childhood"; the fascination with child prodigies; the enshrining of the twentysomething years as the pinnacle of life; the idea of "cougars" as older women who can still act like twenty-somethings; the beauty products to make you look and feel younger. And I don't get it. Perhaps it's because my own teen and twentysomething years weren't particularly bucollic. But I've found my life to be a string of phases, each new and different and full of things to learn and do and be and not a phase has gone by that I didn't appreciate in some way.

word verification: waygar. I wouldn't wagar my daughter's future on oil.

Ruben said...

shiningwhiffle said...
I had the good fortune to read this post alongside this article by Charles Eisenstein: Rituals for Lover Earth

JMG said...
Whiffle, I don't know that I care for the "lover earth" model any more than the "mother earth" one -- both grant humanity far more importance than it deserves. I'd suggest that it's more useful to think of ourselves as cells, and not especially important ones, in the body of Gaia -- and thus utterly dependent on her life for our own.

***

JMG, you perform amazing feats each week; first writing a post, then reading all the posts linked in the comments, and responding to them.

I found Eisenstein's article to be very interesting. The key point to me is that rituals are meaningful only when they are seamless expression of our worldview--the ancestors watch over us, this wafer is the body of Christ.

My work is very involved with behaviour change and cognitive frames. Frames are certainly stories, as Eisenstein describes, but I had never considered behaviour as an expression of a frame. Eisentstein points out recycling is a ritual of a certain worldview. Insulating your home is a ritual of a certain worldview. So, when we do those actions, we are, for a while, living in a different world.

After reading your comment I re-read Eisentstein. My initial thought was that he had not expressly valued the human relationship with Earth over, say, the ant relationship. But I don't think that is what you mean. I think you mean the notion of a relationship with Earth is too grand for the reality--which is that we are just a few of the cells in this organism. That would be like E. Coli writing blogs about the relationship with our gut. Have I understood you?

If I have understood you, are you aware of any cultural stories which place humans in the relative position of intestinal fauna?

And, apologies for the long post, but I have another question. Again, I found the notion of rituals losing their power if they are not seamless expressions of worldview to be very interesting. Eisenstein says:

"I hope that the reader someday has an opportunity to be in the presence of someone who can invoke the ancestors for real. Such a person will never say, "I would like to invoke the ancestors...," which is two steps removed from a true invocation, or even "I invoke the ancestors, " which is one step removed. He will address them directly, and in his invocation you will hear truth. You will feel the ancestors' presence, and while your mind may doubt your heart will not. That feeling is unmistakable."

Since you are an expert in magical and lodge ritual, can you tell me if there is any practice to not give people new ritual until they believe in it? Don't give them the wafer until they know it is the body of Christ. Don't ask them to address ancestors until they know the presence of ancestors.

Thank you.

DeAnander said...

One of my "overlooked classics" of SF was Judith Moffat's couple of books about some aliens (the Hefn I think they were called -- sorry about the consonants!) who come to earth to Save Us. But they don't bring us gee-whiz technology as in the Star Trek narrative. They don't usher us into a grand new world of stripmalls among the stars. They tell us to clean our room and live with our means, and it's not a very comforting narrative. But gripping.

I think the first volume was called "The Ragged Rock" (I see it's now titled "The Ragged World" which shows either that my memory is failing or there's been a change of heart on someone's part). The 2nd was "Time Like an Ever Rolling Stream". I see by her web site that she has written a third volume which should be worth a look. She also wrote a book about Quakers founding an interstellar colony -- Penterra -- which I can't remember too well; it didn't grab me like the Hefn novels. They were all about coming to grips with limited resources and the urgency of repairing the frayed biotic world. Fierce, small, powerful Yoda-like teachers were a handy plot device :-) standing in for the greater conscience that we wish we had.

tubaplayer said...

Well JMG, your post this week raised more than a couple of chuckles from me but I think that this quote from replies to comments resonated the loudest:

"I'd suggest that it's more useful to think of ourselves as cells, and not especially important ones, in the body of Gaia -- and thus utterly dependent on her life for our own."

Leo said...

just a question about the myth of progress. is it only defined in terms of physical goods, comnsumption and so on. because i always assumed it included culture, arts and other things as well.

EchosRevenge said...

@Andrew, thank you for posting that link! We are moving to Portland/ish in a few months, it is wonderful to know they are so far ahead of the curve in adaptation!

@Matt and Jess - Some of the authors my partner and I have enjoyed recently are S.M Stirling, Robin Hobb, and George RR Martin (the books, please, not the TV show - it's good, but oh so not the books). Stirling in particular has a very pithy style with the set of post-apocalyptic Arthurian stories set in the Willamette Valley of Oregon - it helps to read them if you are at least familiar with the imagery and basic plot of Tolkein's novels, as there are several scenes in the books made richer by those references.

@Karim...when sowing seeds of change, I find it helps my sanity to remember that they sprout about like the old English grain-planting rhyme: "one for the rook, one for the crow, one to let rot, and one to let grow" - so about a one-in-four ratio, if you're lucky. But don't stop planting, or none at all will sprout!

@Thijs - what do you call the Horatio Alger stories, 'bootstrap' ideologies, and the Settling Of The West, if not the stories and legends underpinning the mythology of progress in a specifically American context?

Kfish said...

@ Ruben: Speaking as a former Christian, I think the ritual comes before the belief, and is intended to reinforce it. Certainly the uninitiated are allowed to watch others go through the ritual, and part of the initiation process is the explanation of what to believe. That's the intellectual part. The ritual is the nonintellectual, symbolic part that is designed to pull the heart in after the mind has already signed on.

Bill Pulliam said...

In the interest of keeping up with the zeitgeist, I did check out Thrive a bit. Same old manure pile, different shiny tarp thrown over it. I wish someone would compost that manure and grow something good from it, instead of just shoveling it around from one heap to another. I like the secret formula shown briefly in the trailer, which is of course the formula for the volume of a torus, familiar from high school geometry. Apparently, though he believes in free energy, he does not believe in free information, as he is aggressively pursuing anyone who tries to circumvent his $5 fee for viewing the movie. I find these things sad.

I guess this philosophy of abundance (that the universe can and will provide us as much of everything as we could possibly want if we figure out the secret codes) is a critical foundation pillar of the church of unlimited progress.

Another pair of great festivals of this church have been making the news this week, the big consumer electronics and automobile shindigs. I was hearing today about the incredible future of the automobile, where it will become eternally connected to The Web and The Cloud, learn to anticipate your every need, be constantly aware of everything around it, the routing and traffic conditions, the weather, the positions of all the motherships of our benevolent alien overlords. Eventually it will drive itself of course -- though we at least seem to have given up on the fantasy that it will fly. Even those who were critical of this vision (safety, connectivity, all lost of little techie issues) never even hinted at the one big question that to my mind underlies all of this: What will these cars run on? Unicorn poop and faerie farts, apparently. The question is not even in these people's solar system, much less anywhere near their radar screen.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

JMG,

witty, indeed! Especially after --perforce--coming in over Chicago-metro by air at night and meditating on all that coal and uranium burning to keep the sodium vapor lights lit for the 8 million souls in residence, not to mention airplane fuel...

...and, the thing is (I think, maybe), the narrative structure would be a little different, since in some sense the idea of the hero--even when fighting bad guys-- is part of a dominant narrative of expansive, conquering humanity.

Perhaps the seedbearers will be those able to put that fantasy/myth aside, eschew the notion of achieving great power, whether personal or collective, and embrace the story of helping create a living-earth-centric culture. Home-makers and -dwellers not conquerors. Distributed heroism, if you will.

wvjohn said...

“[T]entacled horrors from three weeks before the beginning of time....” My hat is off to you, good Sir, for this wondrous phrase.

I think it is also worth mentioning another form of the “classical” fantasy fiction you describe which is very much alive and well in a more modern form...the genre of computer games which include RPGs such as the Elder Scrolls series (Role Playing Games) and MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games). They are all set in mythical worlds that contain all of the elements of the classical fantasy fiction but allow personal interaction with that world through gameplay that can be highly immersive. 10 million people play World of Warcraft. Over one million people (including me) bought Skyrim (the latest chapter of the Elder Scrolls) at the end of last year.

To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of these games is the ability of the player(s) to change the storyline by making choices within the games. In Skyrim, for example, the ultimate stated goal is to rid the world of the dragon threat. There are however, literally infinite variations in the way one might reach that goal, revolving around how you develop your character and how you interact with the pre-existing characters and factions. Stated simply, the player is empowered to control their destiny in a way that seems unlikely to ever happen in the normal “apparent” world. In the multiplayer games like WOW, your ability to reach the stated goal (kill the most powerful enemy) is entirely dependent on your ability to learn your skill set and then work cooperatively with a fairly large group of others to accomplish that goal. Down the years, I have belonged to guilds in WOW and Dark Age of Camelot, that were comprised of hundreds of people scattered all over the world who came together to slay mythological creatures.

If one accepts the proposition that the current “opium of the people” is the thaumaturgically supported culture of television, mass consumption, and endless growth, I wonder how these games might be classified - in either a positive of negative sense . I know by experience that they do attract some of the most agile minds. I am sure more than a few of the readers here have played these games and would be interested in hearing the opinions of others.

Pat said...

Following similar interest in the apocalypse, I ordered from www.thegreatcourses.com the lecture series by Prof Craig R. Koester called "The Apocalypse: Controversy and Meaning in Western History".

Koester is a theologian translating from the original Greek who stresses that 'apocalypse' means 'disclosure' and the prophets were actually trying to get the people of their era to wake up and see things as they really were so that hope for dealing and coping with things could be realized.

This is quite different from the cataclysmic interpretations of the futuristic thinking that seems to be publicly evident today.

Under the meaning of the original Greek, you may well be legitimately regarded as the prophet of our time with the same goals.

Taranaich said...

Interesting stuff there. That said:

Middle-Earth is not a place where progress happens, any more than Conan’s Hyborian Age or age of the Young Kingdoms in which Elric wielded the black sword Stormbringer.

I wouldn't say progress doesn't happen, so much as progress is frequently undone. The Hyborian Age is full of barbarians founding civilizations, becoming decadent, and falling to a new wave of barbarians, who found civilizations, become decadent, fall to a new wave of barbarians, who found civilizations... and continue onward like that.

Middle-earth in all its history was constantly beset with natural disasters, wars, plagues, and calamities. Each age usually ends with nothing short of a cataclysm that alters the very shape of the world, something which surely can't be said for human history.

ladyimbriumsholocron said...

A thoroughly enjoyable rendition of what's currently wrong with the world. Well done, sir.

shady said...

It's a battle of the narratives. In the Red corner Ayn Rand's heroes and in the Blue corner J R Tolkien's heroes. May the best story win.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Brilliant essay. I think the high tide of fervent belief in Progress was the Edwardian era. Not coincidentally, that was nearly the end of the most rapid period of technological advancement in history, as you observed in the comments section of an earlier post.

The useless carnage of the Great War destroyed many people's belief in the inevitability of progress (along with belief in the value of self sacrifice for a greater good). You can see moral disillusionment in serious postwar novels like All Quiet on the Western Front and A Farewell to Arms, but pulp fantasy fiction was probably also an attempt to cope with a great cultural shock.

Odin's Raven said...

Another nice one, thank you Mr. Greer.

(Let's remember that the third member of the Inklings along with Tolkien and Lewis was Charles Williams.)

Regarding American fantasy and science fiction, the story I most liked was Greg Costikyan's 'First Contract'
http://www.amazon.com/First-Contract-Greg-Costikyan/dp/0312873964
It is wonderfully amusing, cynical and 'American'.

Jeffrey Kotyk said...

Speaking of narratives, I imagine you are aware of how in many Asian cultures the traditional perspective on time is one of gradual degeneration rather than progress. In Hindu schools of thought and Tibetan Buddhism the word "kaliyuga" is used while in Buddhist East Asia the expression "dharma ending age" (the Buddha's Dharma slowly fading from the world and the world falling into chaos and hardship) is employed.

This is naturally quite the opposite of the religion of progress. Oddly enough in Asia people have abandoned such a perspective in favour of rampant industrialization and a supposed bright future of consumerism and progress.

Still, I've found that adopting a perspective of degeneration puts a lot of the world's history and social developments into a narrative that makes more sense than seeing things as being from caves to extraterrestrial colonization. It also makes life a lot easier because with such a perspective, particularly in our present day, one won't be emotionally invested in the mainstream narrative which is highly unstable and bound to end up a disappointment for most of us.

As you said some months ago, there is no bright future ahead. I think some of these ancient perspectives of time will prove useful in the coming decades, provided the disagreeable religious elements don't get sanitized away.

If you or some readers are interested, reading the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, which is short and concise, will prove rewarding:

http://srimadbhagavatam.com/sb/12/2/en

Thomas Daulton said...

In contrast, (with all respect), to Laura's comment above me -- I _do_ recommend the Thomas Covenant series by Stephen R. Donaldson. It won't be everybody's cup of tea, but it has a lot of relatively unique aspects that set it apart from fantasies in the pulp model, and those differences may be worth considering if we are modeling our own era on that of a pulp fantasy.

(Who was it who said "We live in the materialized fantasies of our forefathers"? I think that was Philip Slater.)

Thomas Covenant, like Elric, is a very early and iconoclastic example of an "Anti-Hero". Somebody who does exactly the opposite of what a Conan-type pulp hero would do. But Thomas Covenant does so in a completely different way than Elric.

(Like Justin, I believe times today call more for Anti-Heroes than Heroes. The Hero narrative, as Justin says, is about progress, and also about individuality and autocracy; we need to focus more on community and harmony, especially harmony with nature. In fantasy novels you rarely see the lone musclebound hero starve to death in a famine, or freeze to death in a snowstorm; and those sorts of challenges ought to be nearer to our minds during the Fall of our culture, than hacking monsters with swords. Famines and snowstorms happen to Anti-Heroes much more often, they certainly happen to Thomas Covenant several times.)

Thomas Covenant tries his best to refuse and reject both political and magical power, whenever it is thrust upon him. Plus, you have whole societies of people who revere Stone, or Wood -- and all magic comes from the Earth itself. Seems like something a Druid would enjoy reading.

Then in the Second Chronicles, the "Sunbane" has always been a concept that's stuck with me. It forces the land to be more fecund and productive, but in doing so it sickens and damages the land -- it's a false, forced 'productivity'. A metaphor for petroleum use, or technology in general.

Plus in those books you have the Giants, who are a sterling example of maintaining optimism, geniality and humor in almost every dire circumstance they run across. Almost.

I would be very curious to know whether you, JMG, have read any of the Thomas Covenant novels.

mirror said...

Here's a fortuitous and - terrifying -narrative I came across this week: Global Dimming. I can't get it out of my head. The video is nearly an hour long and so far I don't see any way out.

BBC Global Dimming Documentary About Geoengineering & Global Warming
www.youtube.com
(A BBC documentary about how unintentional increased reflectance due to man made pollution has actually hidden the affects of increased carbon dioxide in the...)

Jennifer D Riley said...

Thanks, the many posts here made me just realize Peak Oil becomes difficult because we never actually see it. When's the last time you saw an oil field? a geologic survey map? liquid gasoline? Gasoline spends its time hidden in a container flowing through a nozzle, like magic.

You can see a glass of water and tell the level. You never see actual gasoline as a liquid. You can tell a lake dried up by drought. Not so petroleum during its mining and refining processes. Oil may be a true modern day act of faith and hearsay.

Kfish said...

@wvjohn, I've also thought about the role of RPGs in developing skills such as cooperation and persistence, though my area is more tabletop, pen-and-pencil gaming.

On one hand, it involves hundreds of hours of cooperation and striving for a common goal, which is good practice.

On the other hand, though, the game is designed to provide frequent micro-rewards and bonuses in a way that the real world isn't. Particularly when I'm running a game, I notice that the story is structured so there is always a solution, always a way forward if you work hard enough. I worry that real life doesn't always do that: I read one blogger who described reality as a 'broken MMORPG' because of this feature, and thus I fear that most gaming reinforces the idea of endless progress.

Ironically, when a player generates a character in D&D, they're usually asked to invent a reason why they went adventuring, rather than staying safe and peaceful at home. Characters' backgrounds therefore usually include some form of being tossed out by family or rejecting their tribe. Then, of course, they get together in a small group to pursue a common goal and learn to coexist. Even in high fantasy roleplyaing, community is taken to be the norm and individualism is the aberration.

John Michael Greer said...

Justin, yes, I figure we'd just about have to have a Lord of Chaos in office to top the unintentional self-satire reality keeps serving up to us.

Jason, Hawk the Slayer sounds quite astonishingly bad. Does it belong on the same shelf as The Warrior and the Sorceress, probably the worst of David Carradine's many bad films?

Justin, no, not at all! Progress doesn't simply mean that somebody manages to survive, and achieve something in the process. The narrative of progress demands that the world at the end of the book or the movie must be better than ever before. That's emphatically not the standard pulp fantasy plot -- in pulp fantasy, victory means only that the worst case scenario gets prevented.

Hawlkeye, excellent! You get tonight's gold star for a cogent comparison.

Greg, "seek for the seed to be planted; at Port Townsend it dwells..."

Wolfgang, that's very promising to hear. Thank you.

Bill, well, it's a pulp fantasy metaphor anyway!

Justin, the amazing thing about the Huns is that they weren't a nation -- none of the barbarian warbands were by then. They were a nearly random assortment of people gathered around a very successful leader, including Greeks, Romans, and Visigoths -- "Attila" is a nickname, in fact, meaning "Daddy" in Visigothic. (We have no idea what the guy's actual name was.) By then, the model of a benevolent despot who could bring order out of chaos had broken down so totally that attempts to enact the myth generally produced malevolent despots who produced chaos out of order.

M, I like that. Wooden stakes and hammers as an emblem of protests could make a very powerful statement.

Andy, I was never much of a Burroughs fan, but of course you're quite correct.

Marty, you're thinking of Parnassus on Wheels -- a fave of my wife's. Islandia's another thing entirely, a very different kind of fantasy!

ofthehands.com said...

Ruben,

I like your intestinal fauna metaphor. Another way of thinking about it that I've come to over the last few years is recognizing that we are but one of many, many species on this planet, and we occupy a presence of similar importance. Yes, you can get into long debates about how much we've effected the world in comparison to other species and other such ideas, but that's largely irrelevant. We're not special. We're not better. We're not worse. We're just another species and, as a species, we have engaged in a wide variety of behavior both good and bad and, I suppose, neutral. But in the end, we're just a species here on this planet.

If we could collectively wrap our minds around this idea, I think it would help tremendously. We might be more realistic about our place in the world. We might engage in more responsible behavior. We might realize that we are imminently expendable and that there's no higher presence whose job it is to guarantee our survival. We can fall, we can thrive (ahem) we can most certainly die. It's a matter of how we act within the world as it exists, not as we want it to exist or hope it exists.

This mind frame has helped me tremendously and once you settle into it, it becomes all the more clear how insane and entitled we tend to be as a society. We think we can't fail, that the cards must, in the end, fall in our favor. That's a weird way to think about things and it provides the base from which we can evade responsibility. At the end of the day, though, that's bound to come back and bite us because we're not special or better or the golden species. We're just another one amongst many, dealing with the same world all the others are dealing with.

As such, one of my plans for the new year over on my blog is to write a series of posts on encounters with and observations of other species in the hopes of promoting this world view. I think we have a lot to learn from the other species on this planet, who seem to deal with our world on much more realistic and wary terms than we do. Observing that behavior, learning from it, and mimicking it would serve us well, I imagine.

Joel

John Michael Greer said...

Andy, a lot of people are going to be trying to retool the myth of progress in the years to come, so I don't see that as a task I need to do. I'm more interested in moving on to new and more useful narratives altogether.

Ghung, Kunstler's warning is a good deal more dire than I think even he realizes. We'd better get some stories of our own before the future hands its own picks to us, because its choices are not likely to be welcome at all.

Farmer, nicely put. "An' to hear duh lamentations of duh Democrats" just didn't cut it, after all.

Lucas, I think the call has been sounding with deafening force for years now -- it's just that most of us are wearing headphones cranked all the way up in an attempt to pretend we don't hear it. Thing is, there are no collective heroes; it's up to each individual to answer the call, or not.

Robb, one of the issues I have with Ellul is that he seems to forget that it's possible to refuse to submit to propaganda, or any other form of thaumaturgy. There was a lot of defeatism around totalitarian social systems back in the day, with people assuming that their triumph was inevitable. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet bloc, those ideas need rethinking.

Lewis, of course! And then you'd have the classic backstory of the pulp fantasy novel, in which someone dabbled in powers far too great for them and unleashed a terrible evil on the world...

Susan, I expect to see a fair amount of the business with the credit cards, not to mention people quitting their jobs, defaulting on their mortgages, etc. December 22 is going to be an interesting day.

Bob, heh heh heh...

Cathy, excellent. I wasn't a great fan of Lindholm's novel, but that was mostly because I lived in Seattle at the time. As for endings, don't worry about them -- the ending of this story is far off, and none of us will be around to see it. It's just our part of the story that we have to attend to.

Sunbeam, the only possible response to that is "Mrifk!"

John Michael Greer said...

Kieran, it concerns me deeply that so many people are trying to work out ways to project fantasies onto being dead. When you think about it, after all, Twilight is basically about a young woman who has to choose between bestiality and necrophilia, and opts for the latter.

SLClaire, that may well be true. I loathed Peter Pan when I was young; when it came down to it, what kept me going through childhood was a clear sense that I'd grow up -- if I'd believed back then that childhood was the best time I'd ever have, I'd have thrown myself under a truck.

Edward, no -- the one big evil master was Tolkien's contribution to the genre. In most pulp fantasy, the decadent aristocrats are in it for themselves, just like, oh, Lloyd Blankfein.

Don, I expect we'll start hearing about Nostradamus again as soon as 2013 comes around.

Lewis, Tolkien read Finnish fluently, and you're quite right -- he drew heavily on Finnish legend; the story of Turin Turambar is based on that of Kullervo, for example.

Justin, congratulations twice over! Once for helping to support a membership-based library -- we're going to need a lot more of those -- and once for pursuing a ham radio license.

Matthew, I used the "blood of the earth" metaphor precisely because it's the kind of over-the-top thing you'd find in pulp fantasy fiction. If you don't like it, well, that's not really my problem, now is it?

Twilight, good! Very good, in fact, and of course you're quite right -- Norton loved stories that centered on the secrets of the Old Ones, of one kind or another. I must have read everything of hers in print in my teens.

Mark, it's very good to hear from someone in your generation who made those choices, and is continuing to make them. Keep at it.

Laura, I'll have a few things to say about steampunk down the road a bit.

Ruben, you've understood exactly. As for magic, the sequence is exactly the opposite: first the student goes through the ceremony of initiation, then he or she practices the rituals and meditations that work off its symbolism and meaning, and finally he or she understands -- and it's not about belief; it's about integrating a new way of seeing and understanding the world, which is not the only way, simply a new way that allows new things to be understood and done.

Robert said...

All this reminds me strongly of Terry Pratchett's Theory of Narrative Causality:

"People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it's the other way around. . . . . . Stories etch grooves deep enough for people to follow in the same way that water follows certain paths down a mountainside. And every time fresh actors tread the path of the story, the groove runs deeper. . . . . . This is why history keeps repeating all the time."

A wise man, that Pratchett!

Myself, I grew up on the Old Norse sagas and similar stuff. Here the master narrative is one of slow, inevitable decline. The oldest swords, the work of long dead master smiths, are stronger and sharper than any sword a smith can make in the protagonists' current age; the same holds for armor. The land is littered with traces of a greater past, even ruins of great stone buildings beyond the ability of anyone to match today. The warriors of the present cannot, as a rule, hold a candle to the heroic ancestors from whom they are descended. And the protagonists usually have died by the end of the saga, died without permanently solving any problem they faced, or securing any lasting peace for their descendants. All their best efforts merely slow a little the approach of mankind's inevitable doom. Indeed, the gods themselves will perish in a great final battle.

So much fantasy and science fiction seemed wrongheaded to me, with its narrative of progress. But I must except Tolkien from this judgement, for obvious reasons. Also, I must except Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels. I am surprised than no one else has mentioned Darkover here. The world she created seems to me to resonate with the things we have been discussing in this blog.

John Michael Greer said...

DeAnander, I don't think I read those -- if time and circumstances permit, I'll look for 'em.

Tuba, good. It's a point I'd like to communicate more widely.

Leo, indeed it does -- but notice that it assumes that culture now is somehow better than culture in the past. That isn't even remotely true, of course, and most people recognize it, which is why current iterations of the myth of progress stress all our technological toys and ignore the extent to which our arts and literature, to say nothing of little things like basic literacy, have been sliding downhill for a while now.

Bill, if Americans ever realize right down to their socks that they aren't going to have their cars any more, you will see a national nervous breakdown on the grand scale. Those mechanized metal penises are nearly the only thing propping up the national psyche these days.

Adrian, except -- as I pointed out to Justin earlier -- they're not. Most pulp fantasy heroes are on the defensive full time, trying to keep a worst case scenario from happening, and only just succeeding. (When they do succeed; they don't always.) One of the things that makes the old pulp fantasy so fascinating to me is that it stands so many of our expectations on their heads, taking the figure we expect to be a conqueror and putting him on the losing side, replacing progress with decline, and so on.

Wvjohn, heck of a good question. I haven't played any of those, nor expect to, so have no basis on which to make an educated judgment.

Pat, that's a fascinating analysis. I'll have to see what I can find from Koester.

Taranaich, but that's exactly what I'm suggesting. Progress isn't just temporary improvement; it's the notion that improvement is always additive and the future will always be better than the past. The Hyborian age follows a cylical theory of history -- I wonder if Howard might have read ibn Khaldun? -- in which kingdoms and civilizations rise and fall more or less in place.

Lady I., many thanks.

Shady, now find a third option to resolve that binary into a ternary!

The Croatoan 117 said...

I think that the narrative of progress has become the true religion of our times irregardless of stated religious affiliation. In this narrative, growth and progress have usurped the god/gods of the past. I think people are unwilling to admit that progress and growth are over because that would in effect be denouncing their god. Much like the early Christians, they would rather die than betray their faith.
As far as the 2012 phenomenon goes a common belief I see is the idea of some global awakening and a birth of spiritual utopia. I wonder if when Nothing Happened Day happens and nothing happens, if it will be a wake up call for some (I am sure plenty of people will be angry/depressed). Perhaps those who heed it as a wake up call will tighten up their boots and get to work. At what point did Gilligan and the castaways give up on being rescued? At some point they had to accept that they either had to build a really good boat or give up on getting off the island and fully embrace island living.

Robert said...

Also:

Egg Shen: "Black blood of the earth."
Jack: "You mean oil?"
Egg Shen: "I mean black blood of the earth."

Perhaps we have enjoyed the same movie . . .

Robert Mathiesen

John Michael Greer said...

Deborah, that's an interesting hypothesis, and one worth exploring. Of course there were a lot of other things feeding into both of the waves of pulp fantasy, between the wars and in the 1960s and 1970s, but you may have a good point.

Raven, true enough.

Jeffrey, very much so. Hesiod gives a parallel account in his Theogony, with ages of gold, silver, bronze, and iron, the latter being ours. It's a common ancient way of thinking about time -- to my mind, as one-sided as the myth of progress, but to each their own.

Thomas, indeed I have. I read the first trilogy when it first came out, and found it a mixed bag but worth multiple readings, as an interesting reworking of standard themes. The second trilogy didn't impress me much, and I haven't even looked at the third one, which iirc is in the process of coming out right now.

Mirror, any way out of what?

Jennifer, that's a fascinating point, well worth thinking about.

John Michael Greer said...

Robert, the Norse sagas were of course much of where Tolkien got his esthetic, and it's important to remember that the sagas were an accurate reflection of the post-Roman world where they took shape. In the Dark Ages, seeing the world as having undergone a great decline was entirely accurate.

Croatoan, unfortunately, I think you're quite correct that a lot of people will die before they renounce their faith in progress. That faith will more or less guarantee that outcome, if it's taken far enough in defiance of the facts.

Robert, not in this case -- which movie are you discussing?

Morrigan said...

Oh, let's see, I've been unemployed for 7 months and have a bad head cold right now, so everything seemed dull and gray till I read the last sentence of this wonderful post which had me smiling in the first paragraph!

But look, if I'm to be the protagonist, I'm going to need high cheekbones, aquiline nose, strong yet feminine jaw so I can wear long, flowing red hair as I wield my sword. Oh, and a substantial and uplifted chest! If you can arrange for all that, we're good to go.

Nice to see C.S.L. mentioned too. His trilogy gave me nightmares though it had far less bloodshed than Tolkien's: "It looked at Ransom in silence and at last began to smile."

Diane said...

reading this made me ponder on gender differences, to my mind they are real, and not necessarily a negative or bad thing. I find the books men read hard to comprehend, I think Tolkin, is this peculiar religous nut, I did try and read the Hobbit but was just bored. The books in this genre I prefer are Doris Lessing's, Shrikastra series, and Marge Piercy, Women at the edge of time, and especially the Man of Glass. It appears to my subjective view that men are more orientated towards the hero narrative whether this is nature, nurture or a combination of both, I don't really know.
Re Thrive, Charles Eisenstein, who generally does not appeal to me, did a review on Reality Sandwich and Gamble was quite offensive in response.
Oh and on Znet today, Fidel Castro Ruz has an article on climate change and especially fracking which is very good
Diane

Diane said...

reading this made me ponder on gender differences, to my mind they are real, and not necessarily a negative or bad thing. I find the books men read hard to comprehend, I think Tolkin, is this peculiar religous nut, I did try and read the Hobbit but was just bored. The books in this genre I prefer are Doris Lessing's, Shrikastra series, and Marge Piercy, Women at the edge of time, and especially the Man of Glass. It appears to my subjective view that men are more orientated towards the hero narrative whether this is nature, nurture or a combination of both, I don't really know.
Re Thrive, Charles Eisenstein, who generally does not appeal to me, did a review on Reality Sandwich and Gamble was quite offensive in response.
Oh and on Znet today, Fidel Castro Ruz has an article on climate change and especially fracking which is very good
Diane

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Do you reckon anyone has noticed how Fairy Tales - which to my mind are instructional tales - have been watered down? I have been told that in the recent remake of the Little Mermaid, her sacrifice was that she loses her singing voice. Big Deal. Most people can't even sing a note...

In the original story it left the Little Mermaid having the effect of walking on knives. Surely the watering down of the sacrifice diminishes the whole impact of the story?

Hey Russell1200,

Just read Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser (Fritz Leiber) in the past 12 months and the Dying Earth series (Jack Vance) is an absolute favourite. How wrong is Cudgel, if anyone could end up in mischief it would be him!

Regards

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG and all,

Down Under, we have noted that you over in the US are coming into another Presidential election campaign thingee. Reading a few of the comments here plus articles in the newspaper you get a small sample of some of the vitriol involved in this campaign process.

It might be useful for readers to note that the policy box of potential policy options for the US has been significantly run down in the past decade or two. It might be worthwhile reflecting on why the campaigns are so vitriolic. If they had coherent policies and vision surely they would not need such low tactics?

Years ago, I used to worry that an incoming government that didn't conform with my ideals would change the face and tone of the country. Yet, after witnessing several changes of government, the only thing that I note is that the fundamentals really stay the same regardless.

In case I haven't been blunt enough, stop boring us all with your political opinions. A change of government at this stage will produce little discernible change in the status quo. You must all accept that politics has been purchased by the highest bidders (think super PACS) and stop worrying about it – it is too late.

Regards

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi wvjohn,

Mmmm. Those games! I've lost quite a few friends to those games and they have sometimes lost their families to them (I'm sure the games are a symptom). I suspect they offer returns/rewards with no risk and therein lies their success. The hours spent on them are better spent in the real world.

Regards

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

As to David Carradine, I recall him from the excellent Kung Fu TV series I watched as a kid, but he did also do a role in Revenge of the Nerds as the character "Snotty". Very entertaining stuff!

Regards

Chris

favonius said...

You might be interested in an outstanding sample of the blissful apocalyptians: 2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal"

Robert said...

"To drink of the blood is to master the world" reminds me of Wagner's Ring of the Niebelung. As the Woodbird says to Siegfried " If Siegfried takes the Tarnhelm he will be able to change his shape at will. If he takes the Ring he will become the master of the world" The Ring of course brings death and destruction to all its owners.

phil harris said...

JMG
I agree with not clinging to the notion of Progress. Some things were better whenever and much was learned that has now been lost. (Think of some of those lovely people - a long way down-wind tonight. Catch them while you can if you find they are still here.) Survival is not a criterion of value.
In 'our' culture I suppose Peak Utterance in English could be about the time of Shakespeare (hyper-literate integrated with demotic speech?). Peak Violins was also a while back - Stradivari. Peak European Music back in the early 19thC? Peak American Music? Perhaps Black American early 20thC?

All agrarian societies I notice.
Still some good stories and songs around and there will always be plenty where they come from.
I too appreciated Hawlkeye little story of the Ghost Dancers and his using it as a simile for our own time.

When on the Isle of Skye one can not but help notice the absence of those many who worked that landscape. Sometimes I fancy I almost heard the clink of their spades. So much work. There are ghost traces though in the manners of the present people. The kind of people of the Scottish islands that the Poet tried to write of, including one of their proverbs: 'Every force evolves a form' and "Difficult to describe, But easy to recall to anyone Who has stood in such a room And been disturbed by the certainty That those who once inhabited it Were sure of every thought they had."

I also like very much Hawlkeye's gardens at his website.

Jason said...

JMG: Jason, Hawk the Slayer sounds quite astonishingly bad. Does it belong on the same shelf as The Warrior and the Sorceress, probably the worst of David Carradine's many bad films?

That shelf marked 'could not attain the benchmark set by The Beastmaster", you mean? For certain.

In my opinion anyhow. But judge for yourself:

A Bit of Hawk the Slayer

The part beginning at 2:50 or so was always my favourite at the age of 9...

Justin said...

Progress doesn't simply mean that somebody manages to survive, and achieve something in the process.

Nonetheless, there is still an incredibly powerful, capable hero at the heart of these stories who manages to have adventure, excitement, and survival. What I am trying to point out is that your fantasy narrative is extremely powerful and applicable, but one of the potential narcotic side effects is to put into the mind the narrative expectations of the heroes in that genre. My point is that we are not saviors, we are not Frodo. We are not going to throw the ring in Sauron's maw and win. A very common complaint of despair and despondency I have heard from activists is whether they should do anything at all because maybe it will all go to hell anyway and they have no idea how much they can really do in the big picture.

The pulp stories still have the promise and payoff of an extrinsic reward as a direct consequence of the hero's efforts, that is a dangerous place to put oneself psychologically. i.e. Jim Jones syndrome.

Maria said...

Once again, JMG, you have helped me in my personal challenges as well as how I see the more global challenges.

I've never been a sci-fi/fantasy fan; I'm more a myths and legends girl. Even that had to be smuggled into the fundamentalist household I grew up in and read after my sister fell asleep.

For the past week or so, by odd coincidence, I have been thinking of myself as a middle-aged warrior with a tired sword arm, whose old jousting scars act up from time to time, sitting in his tent on the eve of battle and wondering if he has any fight left.

Yes, I really think like this. I can be a bit dramatic.

But reading your post shook me out of my torpor. We know from legends that the knight DOES go into battle, and usually dies, and the battle is either lost or it's won. But the winning or losing isn't the point. The death isn't even the point. The point is the effort.

In addition, your post inspired me to look at some of my personal challenges -- many of which involve, just now, realizing that things aren't as I thought they were -- and applying a new narrative to them. A ternary, if you will. It has helped enormously. Thank you.

Honyocker said...

Thanks for all you do. I eagerly await your post every Wednesday.

It's interesting that I started to read Huston Smith's book "Why Religion Matters" on the day your post came out. The first part of the book closely parallels your post. I'm starting to believe in synchronicity because it seems that often when I read something that opens my eyes to a point of view that I haven't previously considered, I find another source of the same point of view appears in my life immediately. In this case, by randomly picking a book that looks interesting from the library shelf.

Don Stewart said...

Dear JMG
I read your response to Ruben:
Ruben, you've understood exactly. As for magic, the sequence is exactly the opposite: first the student goes through the ceremony of initiation, then he or she practices the rituals and meditations that work off its symbolism and meaning, and finally he or she understands -- and it's not about belief; it's about integrating a new way of seeing and understanding the world, which is not the only way, simply a new way that allows new things to be understood and done.

I am also reading The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good. By David J. Linden, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins. Oversimplified, its all about releasing some 'feel good' chemicals in the brain.

I am unclear about the 'ritual' aspect. Let's take as an example the Fatty Food (actually, fat, sugar, and salt in a partially predigested package as formulated by the Big Food industry to activate our feel good chemicals in the brain. Is it the actual abstention from such foods which is the ritual? Is the ritual the regular habit of thinking about the mechanics by which those foods work, the damage they do, and visualizing a more productive relationship with food? Is the ritual some initial 'swearing off' of such foods?

In short, if a person were addicted to such foods, or anything else which can cause harmful addictions, what methods can one use to bring to mind the proper world view?

thanks...Don Stewart

andrewbwatt said...

Hi, JMG... I've read the last few weeks, but felt little need to comment. You're saying what needs to be said.

I've been doing a bit of writing, as a bit of a cure for pulp non-fiction, I've been reading Shirley Toulson's book, The Celtic Year, and writing poems about the listed Celtic saints. It's amazing how easy it is to find druids in each story. The Celtic landscape seems absolutely *littered* with hermits and monastics who are running schools or monasteries or solo programs of various sorts, ready to take in the children of nobility and foundlings alike. I've begun my year by writing poem-prayers in honor of some of them, and maybe your readers will like them:

For Nathalan
For Fillan
For Saint Dermot
For Kentigern

I plan on keeping up with this for a while. It's good mental exercise, and while Shirley may be pablum, she's helping me to think back to another era of revival, when Ireland and England and Scotland were pulling themselves out of the collapse of Roman Britain. The lessons are instructive so far — an abundance of bad men doing bad things, while claiming leadership by right of force; and an abundance of good men, resisting through poetry, ethics, and placing insistent demands on 'good-ish' men with weapons. It seemed to work in favor of the Light, at least until the vikings showed up.

Anyway, enjoy!

Thomas Daulton said...

If I may natter on a bit more about the Thomas Covenant novels by S.R. Donaldson... here are a couple more of the relatively infrequently-copied memes from that series which have interesting applications to our modern times. (Very, very minor SPOILERS for those who haven't read them.)

At the end of the third novel of the first trilogy, the main bad guy, Lord Foul, is revealed to be not so much "Eeeeeevil" as he is simply a "perfectionist". The Land is filled with beauty and wonder and miracles, but it's just not quite perfect, and for that reason alone, Lord Foul wants to kill everyone, wipe away everything and replace it with something he believes is perfect. There's certainly an interesting lesson there about the Myth of Progress, and about the meme of the strong-individual, iconoclast Hero fighting for his own personal "Vision".

(Me personally, I really hate that aphorism about "The Perfect is the enemy of the Good", so I prefer to draw the lesson that no one person is entitled to define unilaterally what Perfection -- or even Good -- is for everybody else.)

I also note in the second trilogy, that it turns out not to be magic per se, but simply the sheer power of verbal propaganda and tradition -- what JMG basically calls "thaumaturgy" -- that has prevented the long-suffering people of the Land from healing themselves with Aliantha berries, or entering the healing land of Andelain. Lord Foul simply taught everyone to fear those things; anyone who wants to try is considered crazy and suicidal, so almost nobody tries, and when the protagonists do try those things, they are not believed when they tell everyone else. No magical mind-control compulsion involved (or rather, it's JMG's "thaumaturgy").

(No, JMG, I haven't read the third trilogy either...)

mirror said...

" Mirror, any way out of what?"
Sorry JMG, I tend to speak in shorthand! I was referring to the incredible forecast of the weather scientists in this video:

BBC Global Dimming Documentary About Geoengineering & Global Warming


The scenario parallels any doomer's vision of the future - yet presented in the most calm & rational manner by weather scientists, the Cassandras of our time who are only reading the signs, or entrails, of what is coming upon us. And like Cassandra, they are generally ignored. I found it quite relevant to the subject of this weeks Blog. If you have any interest I'd suggest you carve out an hour of your schedule and try watching it. I'm by nature a cheerful person, yet this prophecy has through its alchemy turned my vision of a challenging future into something much more dire, horrifying, and seemingly inevitable. The tipping point has already passed, in an unforeseen way.

RPC said...

Hmmm...so this unlikely community of Druids, Wiccans, Distributists, feminists, and who knows who else is actually the Fellowship of the Ring?

Kieran O'Neill said...

On the topic of the popularity of the romanticisation
of death, here is a fascinating analysis I found of the psychology of the middle class in trying to maintain their lifestyles in the face of scarcity:

http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2011/12/08/acting-dead-trading-up-and-leaving-the-middle-class/

The author posits that the middle class are following a behavioural "script", programmed into them by reinforcement from their peers, which performs very well in times of prosperity, but does extremely poorly when the economy crashes and the middle class disappears. The result is that members of the middle class continue on autopilot with extravagant behaviours they can no longer afford, while being frugal with aspects of their life they should not be (e.g. compromising their diet for the sake of luxuries).

And breaking free of that script is a painful but quite necessary process, which much of the middle class historically have not managed to do in times of crisis. Instead they become a kind of "walking dead" -- maintaining outward appearances, but barely alive (physically and psychologically) inside. And this because making the transition is more painful than the wretched existence they create for themselves.

I see Green Wizardry as a means of facilitating that -- an alternate script, with an alternate community to reinforce it. And making the (painful) change in scripts while still comfortable financially is likely to be far less painful than trying to do it at short notice in a time of need, as you often point out.

As an aside, it's also interesting to apply the "dead great-grandfather test" to Green Wizardry. (Are you doing anything better than your dead great-grandfather?) Components of it (conservation) do not pass -- your dead great grandfather uses far less energy than you ever could. This does not make energy conservation intrinsically a bad thing, just insufficient on its own, which is much in agreement with your points about SUV environmentalism. But the parts of Green Wizardry that revive the home economy most certainly do pass the test, and are in fact "generative" behaviours, as the author of that essay calls them.

Anyway, the article is worth reading, if coming from quite a different perspective.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Speaking of narratives, I've often wondered why it is that the religions that arose in desert environments have a narrative of subjugating nature? Is it because that is how they display their strength?

Regards

Chris

knutty knitter said...

Diane - I was bored by the hobbit too and didn't even try the Lord of the Rings for ages because of it. When I did I found a far superior thing (especially after the first 100 pages or so) and was very sorry I hadn't read it earlier.

Gender stuff is real and I do get really irritated with some fantasy stuff just because no one ever seems to consider our take on things.

One of my favourites is 'A choice of gods' by Clifford Simak. Layer upon layer upon layer of meaning hidden in there :)

viv in nz

Joan said...

The trouble with using LOTR as a metaphor for our times is that it suggests that there is a One Ring out there somewhere, a single object that is the Empire's Achilles Heel; destroy it and all the polluting and uprooting and brainwashing will stop, freeing us to get on with the clean-up. It's the sort of thinking that leads to assassinations.

On the other hand, I think there's something instructive in the fate of the Shire. At some point in the first book, in Rivendell I think, someone said something to the effect that the Shire was being constantly watched and guarded by the Dunedan, and most of the hobbits had no idea how protected they were. I can't help seeing this as Tolkein's reaction to England when he arrived from South Africa, where he'd grown up, and where English-speaking society lived surrounded by the peoples, both Boer and black, that they had conquered and displaced within living memory, where no one was ignorant of the price that society paid for its survival. At the heart of the empire, I suspect that he found plenty of ignorance and complacency, rather like what you'll find in the heart of the American empire today.

Robert said...

@ JMG

The movie from which I took the quote about "Black Blood of the Earth" is called "Big Trouble in Little China" (1986).

I enjoy it particularly as a nostalgia trip: it captures so well the Anglo mythology of a hidden world within San Francisco's Chinatown, which was current in the Bay Area when I was a growing up there in the '50s and early '60s.

To be sure, this Anglo mythology was highly offensive on more than one account, and hugely inaccurate to boot. No argument there. But one's past remains forever powerful in one's own life, even when one now rejects its premises.

GuRan said...

Thanks JMG, for another entertaining post.

I'd come across the idea of peak oil back in 2003 / 2004 and not really understood the implications. It wasn't until my "peak oil initiation" in July 2005 that I got it after reading the oil drum for a while.

Reflecting back on this now, the reason why this had such a psycholigical impact was because that was the point where I realised that the narrative of progress (although I didn't call it that at the time) itself was threatened. For me this was almost an existential threat. Particularly distressing for an engineering academic, whose purpose in life after all is to push the cart of progress forward. I accept, at least itellectually, that I will die one day, but surely my story doesn't have to die too?

It took me a couple of years following that realisation, of thinking "maybe there's a way", to come to the point of accepting there almost certainly isn't a way. I've since managed to build a new narrative, really parallel to that of the green wizard, of the engineer's role in helping manage the change that's upon us. Of appropriate engineering that might help a more, rather than less orderly decline / collapse.

GuRan

mirror said...

BBC Global Dimming Documentary About Geoengineering & Global Warming


Hope I got it right this time.

John Wheeler said...

This week's article particularly resonated with me. Since discovering Hubbert in the late 1970s, I have felt like John the Baptist, a voice crying in the wilderness. I have spent my whole life preparing and still feel my story will end as a tragedy of not being prepared enough.

What I would really like to address is the film Thrive (okay, I just saw the trailer). Just for the sake of argument, let's grant that there are aliens who have free energy devices. If they wanted us to have them, do you really think any power on Earth could stop them? Of course not. So if they exist, what are they waiting for? For us to pass some kind of test, perhaps? To show a certain level of maturity? To prove that we can control our base impulses and learn to take care of the planet we have already been given?

For Green Wizards to take over the world?

barath said...

Well the free-energy folks of the Thrive ilk are going to be excited by the new news out of NASA discussing their work on low-energy nuclear reactions. I don't know what to make of the science, but NASA tends to be pretty well grounded and so I won't dismiss that there might be something real behind it. Of course I'm also reminded of the Nine Challenges of Alternative Energy, and how even if this pans out it'd have to overcome those and more to arrest our energy descent.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

The reason I wrote the comment about political comments was because a few commenters here used the word zombie to describe your President. Well, I thought to myself, these things have happened before. I remember visiting the Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh in Cambodia where the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge regime described it's female victims as "she animals".

People, be warned, it's a slippery slope. When you begin to use words to describe other people as non-human (ie. zombie), then you are one step away from wickedness yourselves. Shame on all who promote such thoughts.

This is an old trick. Have a look into the Rwandan dramas. I think "cockroach" was the word there and I'm pretty certain it's a trick that's been used plenty of times before. It has a long history.

Regards

Chris

phil harris said...

Whoa Mirror!
Re: "Global dimming" and the BBC documentary of that name.
Check out Real Climate where one scientist involved in the work gives (2005!) a carefully judged account of the background: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=105
and
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/01/global-dimming-ii/

He is not too fond of, quote, "biblical and apocalyptic language", which gives the real attention that deserves to be paid, a bad name. The relentless increase in CO2 continues but many pollution factors are at play and this weeks issue of the journal Science has an article focussed on the additional undesirable effects of global black carbon and ozone, not only on climate warming but on human health and crop growth. Suggests some things might be done in mitigation, but I am not holding my breath for those. JMG covers pretty well the picture of slow degradation punctuated by the usual calamities.

mallow said...

Thanks for your blog Mr. Greer. I've been fascinated for years by why people do what they do and I looked to things like cognitive sciences and sociology to understand. Your blog has filled in all kinds of gaps that they never even addressed, the biggest for me being the sense of responsibility, the morality of using what I'd learnt to influence people in one direction or another. I don't know if I'd ever have confronted the unease I felt about that if you hadn't challenged me to.

More than that though, when I first read the idea that progress was the religion of the world I live in, I thought that I understood and happily applied it to people I know and how they react to things like peak oil and climate change. Now though, it's finally sunk in that it was my faith too. It took actually experiencing the pain of that loss of meaning to really get that. I've been doing all the practical things to prepare for the future for myself and for my family, who don't get peak oil, when they need it. But now I realize I'm in no position to help anyone if or when they face this kind of crisis.

I'm a little lost now basically. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for that because it's usually a sign that some certainty that needed to go is on its way out, but I need some direction. I'm not sure exactly what my problem is but where I think I'm stuck is - it feels strange to consciously choose or create a new story, a new meaning for my life. It's like picking a religion from a menu. Surely whichever one I choose is arbitrary at the end of the day. They're all no more real than any other thought in my head and just as fragile and changeable. I could pick a new one every day. It feels lonely too because everyone around me is likely to have a different story. Somehow that doesn't feel real to me.

I guess I want the universe itself to have a meaning, I want it to come from outside of me, or other people. It's almost like having too much freedom - it's paralyzing me a bit. I hope this makes some sense to you. Where do I go from here?

Cathy McGuire said...

Trying to keep up with all the intriguing comments! This morning a peachy light suffuses the trees, all is quiet, and it’s not quite as hard to step out of the modern narrative and see all our stories as small windows into the greater Mystery.

@Thijs Goverde :Our culture is pervaded by the feeling that things should and will get better than they were - but that's not actually a narrative is it? Not what you'd call an actual mythology.
Myth can be subtle – the Greeks didn’t see their stories of the gods as “myths” the way we define the word – they told those stories as truths. Just so, we tell the stories that “science will lead the way out of this mess” and “we deserve a break today” until they have the ring of unshakeable truth… but they are myths that in the length of time will vanish with our culture.


@Yupped: To some degree my generation got stuck in the bogus political narrative of which side (liberal or conservative) could run industrial society most justly or efficiently, and how the spoils should be distributed.

I think to some extent every generation gets “stuck” in some similar difficulty – I have begun to see it as waves washing up a beach… it’s a smaller progress than we ever thought we’d make (I’m 56) and then we wash back out again… and the next generation begins its surge… but waves do sculpt a shore eventually.

@Justin: One thing to keep in mind as an individual is that the narrative for the hero in our fantasy fiction also conforms to the narrative of progress. The hero fights, struggles, defeats his enemies and gets to win fortune and fame. Things go as expected in a progressive material advancement.

Well said – and that reminded me of LeGuin’s wonderful Earthsea series, where the individual hero is in fact remedying a grievous wrong he himself brought into the world! It’s a brilliant counter-story to the “individual glory” tale… again, I need to re-read that.

@Kieran: It is a most curious sign of our times that a good part of today's teenaged girls are fantasizing not about living celebrities (sports stars, musicians, royalty, etc) but about the undead.
Not just teens! I know several middle age ladies who are in the same boat! ;-) Truly, that yearning after an all-powerful animus figure (the term is Jungian, think Logos) and/or the yearning to just put the problem in someone else’s hands is a strong one these days.

@Pat: Koester is a theologian translating from the original Greek who stresses that 'apocalypse' means 'disclosure' and the prophets were actually trying to get the people of their era to wake up and see things as they really were so that hope for dealing and coping with things could be realized.
That doesn’t jive with the words of John’s Revelation- he definitely was seeing a huge upcoming final battle! See the possible consequences? But not “things as they are”…

@Odin’s Raven:(Let's remember that the third member of the Inklings along with Tolkien and Lewis was Charles Williams.)
I have most, if not all, of his novels! I thought I was the only fan. :-} They are odd but very interesting, and certainly seem unique in their approach. Unless you know of other novelists like that? And the group bio “The Inklings” is a great history if you can get your hands on it.

@JMG: Kieran, it concerns me deeply that so many people are trying to work out ways to project fantasies onto being dead.
Undead is just a new way of saying “immortal”, IMO, and the fantasy of being immortal has been with mankind from the start.

Cathy McGuire said...

@Cherokee: In the original story it left the Little Mermaid having the effect of walking on knives. Surely the watering down of the sacrifice diminishes the whole impact of the story?

No, in the original story, it ends with her turning into foam, because the oaf prince still married the princess in a typical merger of noble domains. The movie has nothing of the real story in it, to my mind… and it grieves me to see my niece and nephew so fond of it… it’s like brain candy.

If they had coherent policies and vision surely they would not need such low tactics?
Good point. There did used to be a time when presidential elections had long debates full of information… but now they are choreographed advertising. I’ve stopped watching them.

@Don Stewart: In short, if a person were addicted to such foods, or anything else which can cause harmful addictions, what methods can one use to bring to mind the proper world view?

As someone who’s recognized the addictive substances in junk food and strives to stay off them, I notice that I have to put new rituals into my life to replace the old ones (the old ones like “now it’s time to relax on the couch with a book and some potato chips”) I can’t just take the substances out of the ritual – in my case, I move to absorbing activities that don’t allow eating (ex: I spend the evening making fun art or crafts) until I have grounded that new ritual in my life. And I recognize that the chemistry of the junk food can compel a relapse simply by eating it once or twice - so I try hard not to! Probably the same with other addictions – avoid the substance and make new rituals.

Justin said...

(I tried posting this yesterday, but I think the internet blinked me. Apologies if its duplicated.)

I'll take a shot at thinking about the zombies and vampires. It doesn't have to mean anything or be completely right to be interesting for speculation, we're all just inventing constellations anyway.

Zombies represent masses of people. In our fiction, they represent the unruly, dangerous and mindless mob. Vampires, at least as they are represented now in crap like Twilight movies/books or Blood Dawn on HBO, are young, sexy, mostly white, wealthy, sophisticated and eternal. There is also a conspicuous lack of technology in their power, it originates from magic. They seem to me like a projection the recurring search for the fountain of youth, and in our current iteration has been promised by science and demanded most vigorously of late by the wealthy in the form of Singularity type fantasy. The deliverance of that gift has been treated as an inevitable outcome until recently.

The Singularity movement actually believes that humanity will converge with technology and allow infinitely long lives with technology enhanced levels of activity and unending physical comfort. The worst part is that this their version of utopia! And the 'they' in question are all the people many of us also consider super genius visionaries like Steve Jobs and numerous lesser smart guys that are on Mensa lists and read Science magazines.

The one problem is that they/we didn't count on running out of energy to power all of this into eternity, but now that they are, that we are, our fiction is reflecting a different sort of vision.

The immortal beings in these new stories are either elite archetypes, or mindless masses, but they are all human. Take in the fiction of the 80s-90s that had immortal beings, they were primarily cyborgs, robots and humanoids. The utopia and dystopia of those pieces hinged on how it turned out the singularity turns out for humanity, a Matrix like dystopia or a Star Wars like awesomeness. All those movies accepted the premise that whatever the outcome, good or bad, we would achieve singularity. Those type of movies are no longer awesome, they are schlock like Transformers. Schlock is not necessarily bad. There is popular schlock, which is what Terminator was and True Blood is now. There is marginal schlock, which is what Transformers is now and Willow was back in the 80s.

What is the difference between marginal and popular schlock? None save the difference in our expectations. Our interesting or good fiction is beginning to more realistically reflect a fundamentally human future of earth bound creatures rather than space racers. They still contain ridiculous plot elements though, magic supernatural powers rather than magic technology like a death star that can blow planets up with a laser. Our fiction only seems to be doing supernatural powers without magic technology more interestingly now because that is what our changing expectations of the future are becoming as a result of growing awareness about our less energy dense, less technologically advanced, future. As you say, the subtext of all the techno, political movements promising energy salvation is that there is no energy salvation.

That it resolves into survival as a means of enduring teaming masses of humanity or being one of the few ultra awesome, successful, benevolent and conflicted about their superiority and wealth elite persons is kind of interesting.

Justin said...

@Cathy
the Greeks didn’t see their stories of the gods as “myths” the way we define the word – they told those stories as truths.

How do we know that? Moreover, couldn't they have been both myth and truth to the Greeks? Fictional stories that contain applicable lessons to real life? As for me, I don't take much if any of our religion literally, but countless passages like Ecclesiastes 12:12 still contain applicable information for me.

mirror said...

phil harris said...
"Whoa Mirror!
Re: "Global dimming" and the BBC documentary of that name.
Check out Real Climate where one scientist involved in the work gives (2005!) a carefully judged account of the background: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=105
and
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/01/global-dimming-ii/ "

Yes I'm aware of the many factors included in ongoing climate degradation. if I had more time I'd keep up with all the latest scientific papers but as my days are limited (I'm pretty old:) I am focusing my energies on a new creative path that takes up by far the greater part of my waking hours.

What will happen must happen, I see no turning point in world awakening until it is too late. These images of mass starvation, drought and chaos are nothing new to those who have foreseen them in dreams and visions. My long-since-grown children have more immediate concerns to distract them, and I do not wish to preach.

Meanwhile sanity is best maintained by applying ourselves to whatever strengths and talents we
have each brought with us into our world. This it seems to me, clears the mind and provides strength and example to all who have eyes to see (and ears to hear).

Matt and Jess said...

Cherokee, you would be pleased to know that a whole lot of parents are interested in the original fairy tales. In Waldorf education in 1st grade they're an essential part of the curriculum. There are many great websites you can go to to see more on this if you're interested...this blog just now put out a post on this subject that you might find interesting!

http://cedarringmama.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/choosing-grimms-tales-for-the-waldorf-inspired-first-grade/

David said...

Great post! I'm a newcomer to your site and books, and I'm a big fan of both. I'm not very familiar with the sci-fi or fantasy genres, but your parallel to them was insightful and got me thinking. Your last paragraph, concerning the protagonist's (me!) place in the story, unearthing a "forgotten lore" to overcome the evil decaying empire... What is the real-world parallel for that fantasy literature stand-by? Is it simply the amalgam of peak oil discourse or do you have something more specific in mind? (Like the plans for a torus-based free energy machine!... j/k)

David said...

Great post! I'm a newcomer to your site and books, and I'm a big fan of both. I'm not very familiar with the sci-fi or fantasy genres, but your parallel to them was insightful and got me thinking. Your last paragraph, concerning the protagonist's (me!) place in the story, unearthing a "forgotten lore" to overcome the evil decaying empire... What is the real-world parallel for that fantasy literature stand-by? Is it simply the amalgam of peak oil discourse or do you have something more specific in mind? (Like the plans for a torus-design free energy machine!... j/k)

shiningwhiffle said...

I just remembered a book I read years ago, called Returning the Ring by Jungian analyst Craig Jarman. One of the things he emphasizes is just how different the Lord of the Rings trilogy is from comparable stories and myths.

A lot of stories involve a larger-than-life hero recovering ancient power to defeat evil and bring blessings to his tribe. In contrast, LotR is the story of an everyman who has to get rid of an ancient power that tempts everyone who holds it. Really, he even fails to even do that (it's Gollum who saves the world, albeit unintentionally), and in the end he's left broken and world-weary.

I've always thought that, in a sense, Samwise is the real hero of the story. In the terms you've been discussing here, Sam seems like the model green wizard who volunteers for the quest out of love. Frodo's more like the well-meaning but guilt-ridden "SUV environmentalist" who isn't quite willing to let go of the corrupted power -- and Gollum's final act is the reality that it's going away anyway.

Jason said...

@shiningwhiffle -- a propos of "Gollum, saviour of Middle Earth" you might like my blog post comparing the ending of LoTR with those of other famous fantasies in which the hero meets his Jungian shadow:

Shadow Climaxes

Richard Larson said...

I have already tried that hero bit, no one is yet interested.

John Michael Greer The White!

John Michael Greer said...

Morrigan, good. I disliked Lewis' fiction when I was younger, and still don't like the Narnia books much, but his SF trilogy and Till We Have Faces have become faves of mine.

Diane, of course gender differences exist, but I'm not at all sure how much of literary taste they explain; I know plenty of women who enjoy Tolkien, and plenty of men who can't stand his fiction and enjoy Doris Lessing as much as you do.

Cherokee, well, that's typical for the Dark Lord Disney and his minions. Whatever that firm touches turns to sludge. As for political opinions, er, that's my call, you know.

Favonius, yes, Ray Kurzweil is really setting himself up as the Harold Camping of the computer geek set, isn't he?

Robert, excellent. Perhaps this commentary on the consequences of petroleum production...

Phil, exactly. Thank you for getting it.

Jason, true enough -- there's bad, and then there's The Beast Master. I think of the latter as the Plan Nine from Outer Space of schlock heroic fantasy.

Justin, what you're saying amounts to the claim that you can't be powerful, capable, and able to have an effect on the world around you. Insist on that, and no doubt it'll be true, for you. Still, may I suggest that there are other ways to approach the world and your potential place in it?

Maria, you're welcome -- and it's entirely appropriate to think like that. It's ironic that your comment came in the stack right after Justin's insistence that he isn't willing to imagine himself as a hero! It's those who are willing to see themselves as capable and potentially powerful who will go on to accomplish things in the world.

Honyocker, synchronicity or not, it's a much more common experience than most people nowadays let themselves notice. Enjoy it -- and learn how to use it.

Don, the first thing to do is to ditch the modern medicalization of behavior that redefines habits as "addictions" and insists that you have no power over them. Next, spend some time exploring what role in your emotional economy the habit fills -- for example, do you reward yourself with the foods in question, and for what? Do you use the habit of eating such foods as proof of your own unworthiness, and if so, why? Do they have a different role entirely? How has your relationship to them changed over time? Finally, having understood what role they play, make a single change -- not a global one, just one single change, such as replacing one food you don't want to keep eating with something else that fills the same emotional role, and stick with that change. Rinse and repeat until you've brought your life into harmony with your will. That's the magician's way of dealing with it. at least.

John Michael Greer said...

Andrew, "always, after a defeat and a respite, the shadow takes shape and rises again." The Vikings were the next round.

Thomas, somewhere in Tolkien's late papers there's an essay about the psychology of Morgoth and Sauron that interfaces neatly with Donaldson's Lord Foul. Sauron is the archetypal technocrat; he wants to rule the world because having it just sitting there managing its own affairs is just so inefficient!

Mirror, climate change happens. I'd encourage you to read some good up-to-date science about the drastic temperature changes that hit the planet when the last ice age ended -- it's more drastic than anything current scientists are predicting, and yes, our ancestors lived through it.

RPC, nah, that's far too classy a fantasy. We're trapped in a trashy pulp fantasy, remember?

Kieran, most interesting. I'd say that energy conservation can pass the test, if it's done as drastically as it needs to be done -- say, getting your energy consumption down below that of your great-grandfather's. That's by no means impossible, and indeed it's going to be necessary.

Cherokee, I suspect it's because if you live in the desert, nature is usually your enemy.

Joan, that's one of the reasons why, as I pointed out to RPC, we aren't living in Middle-Earth; the fantasy novel we're stuck in is something far closer to 1970s pulp, in which there's no one gimmick that'll solve the whole problem -- just one crisis after another that the hero or heroine and his or her merry band of sidekicks have to slog their way through.

Robert, fair enough -- that's not a move I saw.

GuRan, that seems like a far more useful narrative to me, too.

John, my guess is that they're waiting for us to prove that we're smart enough not to need limitless energy -- then they'll go back to Zeta Reticuli and take their toruses with them. ;-)

Barath, oh, I think it's entirely possible that there's something behind the whole electroweak reaction theory -- I've suspected for years now that that's what alchemy was originally about, with electricity from simple chemical batteries triggering the reactions that converted mercury (atomic number 80) to gold (atomic number 79). Still, another source of energy with its own problems and challenges is not equivalent to a free ticket to limitless energy!

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, fair enough. I tend to think that part of the popularity of zombie movies is that watchers get to wallow in fantasies of mass murder without feeling uncomfortable because, after all, the zombies are already dead.

Mallow, if I may put on my archdruid's hat for a moment, it's the human habit of imposing our own culturally or personally manufactured meanings on the universe that keeps us from perceiving the meaning the universe itself creates. To begin to catch that latter meaning, it's necessary to let go of our assumptions about what that meaning ought to be, and wait for the universe to show us what it means. That requires a fair amount of patience, and an ability to tolerate the "feeling lost" you describe. So you're most of the way there; all you have to do is wait patiently, and not let yourself get decoyed either by some new human-manufactured pseudomeaning, on the one hand, or by the delusion that there is no meaning on the other.

Cathy, I'm by no means sure that's all there is to it.

Justin, that's most interesting! You're quite right, of course, that the glossy finish has worn off the fantasy of technological empowerment, and the recognition that real power doesn't have to depend on manipulating machines is coming back into fashion. I'll be talking about that in a future post.

David, I've discussed that at quite a bit of length in previous posts. Read this one and then go on from there for the next year or so, and you'll get a good sense of what I'm suggesting.

Whiffle, a nicely handled allegory! I'd say, rather, that Gollum is the part of us that wants to keep getting the rush we get from fossil fuel energy, and keeps using it...and uses it up.

John Michael Greer said...

Richard, not at all -- the Green, maybe.

Apple Jack Creek said...

I get to be a hero! Cool! I feel all inspired.

The Fellowship of the Spade!

The Clan of the Caulking Gun!

The Great And Mighty Warriors of the Garden!

Oh yeah. I'm in. :)

(heh - verification word "fossel" ... as in "not enough fossel fuels to keep up this kinda life, time to invent something new!")

mirror said...

"Mirror, climate change happens. I'd encourage you to read some good up-to-date science about the drastic temperature changes that hit the planet when the last ice age ended -- it's more drastic than anything current scientists are predicting, and yes, our ancestors lived through it."

Sure they did. And their lifestyles & cultures were entirely different than ours. And there weren't 7 billion & growing, of them. Personally I am not worried about survival, having followed a rather nomadic path that taught me (not always happily) the true priorities of life. It's the growing unease among those invested in our highly technologically-advanced world who will spread panic, terror, and blind attempts to co-opt resources for themselves "& for the common good" we can hear them say). We are still abusing Nature unmercifully, and there must be consequences.
BTW I've subbed to a climate list from Canada for a number of years & read widely.

Justin said...

what you're saying amounts to the claim that you can't be powerful, capable, and able to have an effect on the world around you.

That is far from my intended meaning. I mean to say that one should understand the scope of one's power and capability is most often limited to the immediate world around you, in fiction like LOTR, the range of the heroes power is global in scale. I am warning against Messianic complexes, not advocating powerlessness.

By the same distorting lens, what you are saying amounts to what the unabomber told himself; that he was a powerful capable hero who could save the world around him from wicked people against all odds. I don't really think that is what you are intending to say amounts to, nor is your interpretation of me at all what I mean.

The meta fictionalization of our world you are proposing is no doubt applicable, but to place oneself too literally into the fantasy narrative is to lose touch with reality. If you are going to walk an alternative path because you think its going to save the world in one apocalyptic climactic moment of triumph and reward, then its going to be a disappointing and frustrating walk.

Maybe the key here for us to understand one another is to say it another way, in fiction a character can dispel evil spells on behalf of others. In reality, you can dispel them for yourself alone. I'll leave off after this, but if you still insist that what I am saying amounts to saying that we are powerless, then I will try to reconsider the thread and my thoughts to see if there is an implication to them that I am overlooking. I have no vested interest in maintaining self-defeating patterns of thought.

dragonfly said...

If I may be allowed to sloppily mix metaphors:

"Oooo.... pretty, shiny torus... my prrrecious..."

(Yes, I watched Thrive, and now have a bad taste in my mouth and feel like I need to take a long hot shower. Humour seemed like a good response.)

John Michael Greer said...

Apple Jack, the old man pulls a strange implement out of his robe, and says: "This is your father's caulk gun. Not so clumsy or random as an oversized furnace: an elegant tool of a more ecological age." Yes, you're in.

Mirror, granted, but then every culture that ever went through a massive ecological upset was different from every other, too. My point, put simply, is that it's not the end of the world.

Justin, fair enough. I'd suggest, though, that the range of action of a potential hero in the pulp fantasy we're in may extend beyond the individual; there's a wide spectrum between the personal and the global, and the potential reach of a sustained and focused effort is hard to predict in advance -- as the history of this blog demonstrates!

As for the Unabomber, the test that matters there is ethics. Killing people with mail bombs is wrong, irrespective of motive: ends don't justify means. If he'd put the same degree of focus and effort into some positive action, Kaczynski might have accomplished quite a bit of good on a scale beyond the personal.

The point I'm hoping to make here is that we have all been raised with an unrealistically shrunken notion of our ability to make creative change in the world. I'll be talking about this in more detail shortly, since it has a lot to say to the predicament of our time.

Dragonfly, nice. Very nice. The nature of the One Ring, after all, is that it gives the wearer access to limitless power...

Leigh Christina Russell said...

The term 'progress' usually seems to be applied to a permanently receding set of goal posts which lead us ever on to 'better things'. My point of view is different in that I see progress simply as movement and change, a dynamic which is always going to include good times as well as difficulties, rough as well as smooth. I see success as simply doing the best I can according to the resources and circumstance of my life. Success is not a goal.

In this brief presentation, Alan Watts illustrates this point using the parallel of musical compositions:
Music and life, a brief presentation by Alan Watts
He says that "In music one doesn't make the end of the composition the point of the composition..."

The challenge of living out one's life as usefully and 'successfully' as possible remains with each of us despite prophecies, cataclysms, international collapse and World War Three. We have to have the will to do what we can; that's all we can do.

The other evening I watched a lengthy television documentary about the Norwegian explorer
Fridtjof Nansen
He spent three unbelievably gruelling and isolated years exploring the Arctic in the hope of reaching the North Pole. The story of his and his shipmates survival staggers belief. The years were 1893-96. He in particular could so easily have given in to madness or certain death, but he and the others all soldiered on! Their will to problem-solve and live was extraordinary...

Like others who have commented I find the theme of vampirism in contemporary culture deeply disturbing. It seems very death-ist, and likely to be linked to the alarming rise of the culture of dis-embodiment and what looks like an increasing disconnect with our physical bodies and the natural world.

I see the greatest danger to us all as being complacency, the hiding behind the belief that someone else will fix things or that the people who gain the most news time must be right because they should know or say they do.

I don't think we have yet moved on from feudal times: we still have the emperors and the barons, just in different guises, and until we break free of that we are going to be stuck with it.

Democracy as we know it is far from perfect and it's difficult, but if we expect it to function at all, we all have to be involved in it to some degree. If we leave it to the power-hungry we are always going to be subject to their whims and selfishness.

The complacency I see probably arises from weariness, or in being just comfortable enough to make believe that the good times will continue based our limited life experiences. A lot of people are just plain tired. Just going from day to day is all many people have time or energy for.

Regarding apocalyptic fantasies, the ones I've read, Philip Pullman (Dark Material series), for example, and even Susan Cooper, who I regard as first rate and a better writer, all seem to be somewhat unconvincing in their depiction of the climax of 'end game' scenarios, which seem either simplistic or hopelessly confused. This may be because we are in times of acute crisis, but naturally don't yet know how we will come out of it, or if we will come out of it at all.

Well, in the meantime it makes sense to build good practical skills and help others where possible, and to enjoy and care for the natural world as much as we can. Life passes.

I do my best to bear in mind the following quote:

'Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, wine in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming
"WOO HOO what a ride!" '

(There are other variations of this quote, the souce of which is unknown to me.)

Brad K. said...

@ John Wheeler,

You asked, "For Green Wizards to take over the world?". I cannot answer for anyone else. I like the way C. Dale Brittain explains the relationship in the (silly) fantasy, "The Witch And The Cathedral" -- that nobles, wizardry, and the church rule. The church protects the soul, wizardry manages the magic, leaders lead. Or something like that.

Green wizards might *save* a small bit of a corner of a lucky neighborhood. But leaders ultimately serve at the will of the people, even tyrants. And Americans of late haven't seemed ready to notice the differences between those in leadership roles and actual leaders. So saving the world in absence of leadership is a real poser, and taking over the world would likely only be a momentary reprieve.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Perhaps we as a society have hit Peak Debate? I imagine future political debates could potentially be drowned out by the noise of the claims and counter claims rather than actual policy debates and initiatives. To debate the issues means that the politicians may have to address the issues themselves? Who knows?

This blog format of dialogue can sometimes be difficult. It does remind me a bit of having a discussion on a CB radio with a very long delay in between responses. I look forward to the day it is on a printing press, it should be interesting - I'd subscribe to cover the cost of overseas postage. It should be far more permanent too. The quantity of digital data that will be lost one day is quite a staggering thought. Digital data, like words are wind.

Regards

Chris

Ruben said...

@JMG

Regarding your conversation with Mirror...

Indeed, it won't be the end of the world, but for many people it will be the end of their world. Even if they don't die, the death of the worldview of progress and growth will seem, for many, like divine punishment.

I believe your guess is, after it all shakes out, there will be about half a billion humans. So, saying the death of 93-95% of humanity is not the end of the world seems a bit disingenuous.

So, I think we agree that it doesn't really matter whether our particular evolutionary branch lives or dies; Gaia will continue to create great beauty with or without us. But I do think saying the "World won't end" needs to come with a bit of a definition of what you mean by the end of the world.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Cathy,

Yes you are correct, the mermaid became foam after being rejected by the Prince because of the deal she made. The knives was about the sacrifice made by the mermaid to dance well to attract the Prince in the first place. Seems like he didn't really like dancing though...

As to vampires, I'd never thought that it was an immortality thing, but it sounds right. Good pickup. I've watched some of the True Blood series because I enjoyed the Six Feet Under series years ago and the whole "Sookie is mine" thing sounds like some sort of rescue fantasy. Needless to say I don't watch True Blood anymore (nor any other TV for that matter).

As an interesting side note, a "sook" in Australia is someone who whines and whinges a lot!

Hi Matt and Jess,

I'm really glad to hear that. The Brothers Grimm tales are full of wisdom (I've got an old compendium of them here). I worry about the future of digital books.

Regards

Chris

hadashi said...

JMG, I can't get enough of your blog. On the other hand, each post seems to inspire me with far too much to think about and respond to in timely fashion (as do your readers' comments). Occupational hazard, I suppose. How on earth do you do it?

In this post I'm very taken with your idea of developing alternate narratives. True thought experimentation, that, and it would have made a great objective for the recent short story contest. Round two, anyone?

Regarding the weekly gold star that you award to the person of the week that best 'gets' it, you might consider instituting a gold torus equivalent for the person who . . .

chrisroy said...

Mr Greer, allow me to humbly submit that the graven stele says exactly how i 've felt my entire life; you have given me the words to express it, exactly. I absolutely, in the strongest sense, believe your (forgive me,) poem is the wisest, most era-appropriate and important- all around The. Smartest. Thing. I. Have. Ever. Read. or heard, for that matter, ha ha...No hyperbole or apple polishing either, just a statement of sincere gratitude and respect.

John Michael Greer said...

Leigh, I haven't read Pullman's trilogy, but I certainly agree about Susan Cooper -- the final volumes of The Dark Is Rising series were coming out when I was in my teens, and I found the last volume very disappointing. It's interesting to compare the endings of older fantasies, which don't have that same plop-and-its-over feeling.

Cherokee, one of the reasons all these posts get turned into raw material for books is that I have a very clear sense of how little digital data is going to be around in not too many years. I don't want to take the blog to print media before I have to, because of the additional expense and complexity, but I'm making initial preparations for the time when it becomes necessary.

Ruben, every one of us is going to die anyway. The only change that the end of the age of cheap oil makes to that scenario is that a lot of us will die somewhat sooner, and our chance of leaving living biological descendants will be a good deal smaller. It seems crucial to me to see the changes ahead as "business as usual" in the wider sense of that term, so that we can approach the future without projecting so many emotionally charged fantasies onto it.

Hadashi, the anthology of stories from round one is still in the works -- I had to put it very temporarily on hold to get some other stuff out the door (notably the book on peak oil and magic, which has a publisher -- more on this soon) but I expect to be contacting people about edits fairly soon. Mind you, if people want to write more short stories, by all means!

As for the torus, for reasons that I suspect Freud would have appreciated, I keep on thinking of it as a kind of abstract representation of a sphincter...

Chrisroy, thank you. I modeled the words on the imaginary standing stone after a bit borrowed from a Michael Moorcock novel, filtered through memories of an adolescence spent up to my eyeballs in pulp fantasy. Still, if it speaks to you, excellent.

mirror said...

"Mirror, granted, but then every culture that ever went through a massive ecological upset was different from every other, too. My point, put simply, is that it's not the end of the world."

If I believed it's "the end of the world" I'd be out there Occupying Something for sure, butting my head against the wall and shouting slogans:)

Richard Larson said...

John Michael Greer The Green....

The Wizard of Conservation...

Interesting. You do have credentials!

Ruben said...

Ruben, every one of us is going to die anyway. The only change that the end of the age of cheap oil makes to that scenario is that a lot of us will die somewhat sooner, and our chance of leaving living biological descendants will be a good deal smaller. It seems crucial to me to see the changes ahead as "business as usual" in the wider sense of that term, so that we can approach the future without projecting so many emotionally charged fantasies onto it.

I agree with you completely. Maybe it is because I have spent so much time surrounded by bureaucrats that I feel hyper-aware of the binary. Many people, when you say "The world won't end", will think, "Phew, business as usual", meaning progress and growth and the whole bag. But what you mean is the ternary--many people will die younger, of simpler causes, leaving fewer children, until we reach carrying capacity. The reduction of overshoot is big-picture business-as-usual, as far as the planet is concerned.

So, rather that a simple "the world won't end", I just think a lot of people would benefit from a deeper articulation of your ternary, with the clarity and metaphor you do so well.

Joseph said...

JMG, given that this an empire in decline, do you have any advice for a young person today? Particularly, the fresh new bath of college graduates for whom employment perspectives are very gloomy.

Kieran O'Neill said...

Ah - the dead great grandfather test is subtler than that. The point Sterling was making when he came out with that was that conservation behaviours can be depressing, because you can never do better than if you were dead. Your dead great grandfather uses less energy than you ever could, and he is constantly recycling/composting *himself*.

Which is not, I think, to speak out against conservation activities, just to point out that on their own, they can lead to an existence that feels like it is striving towards death.

In both Sterling and that other authors' essays, their point is that you should be frugal, but also be "extravagant" about things that count. ie: get yourself a quality bed, or quality everyday items that you find useful, rather than buying expensive things purely for image. I think they are also saying that you need to do things that feel and are productive.

I think it is an important part of the balance of Green Wizardry that a person be engaging in productive activities (home economics, productive/marketable skills in a tougher future) while practising LESS.

Quos Ego said...

JMG and others, I don't expect us dying earlier before a long while (except if the system really implodes), because of simple facts: The average citizen of Sri Lanka goes with one twentieth of the oil used by the average American, and yet, life expectancy there is more than 70.
Even with only a little bit of oil (say a few million barrels a day), we can still potentially feed a lot of people. Humans will be a lot poorer, that's for sure. But you can be poor and enjoy quite a long lifespan, as long as you have access to clean water (which is the reason we live so long by the way, not advanced medicine!) and enough food.

mallow said...

Thank you, that makes a lot of sense. I do find myself torn between those two choices, but then I can't live with either, so I suppose patience and living with the discomfort is my only option really. I'm tending towards nihilism but, since I can't bring myself to adopt some new human made meaning to make up for lack of it in the universe, I'm pretty sure that would just leave me miserable.

Am I being really slow about this? Have most other people, at least on this blog, got this figured out already? I feel like some big historical conversation must have passed me by. Maybe that's what I get for finding philosophy too boring and abstract all these years. Or do most people manage to just switch from one story to another when the first stops working without wandering off in this direction? I do feel a bit useless while rudderless. I don't know what to focus on or what to think about lots of things. Sorry if these questions are more appropriate for your archdruid hat than for this blog!

Glenn said...

Joseph,

"Go not to the Elves for advice, for they will say both yes and no."

In this case, go not to the Archdruid for advice, for he values dissensus.

Glenn
Marrowstone Island
Jefferson County
Washington State
U.S.A.

Meg said...

I'm surprised that no-one but Echo has brought up Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series. It describes a world where each season lasts anywhere from a year to a generation. The story opens towards the end of a decade-long summer of peace and prosperity, and follows the steady Balkanization of the kingdom as winter creeps up on them. The political infighting destroys the remaining food supply and prevents any kind of collective response to the crisis. The declining sunlight is also drawing eldritch horrors out of the woodwork, but the educated class refuse to seriously discuss the evidence, while the political class are either in outright denial or think their woefully underfunded border guard will rescue them. The story follows the diverse ways in which the characters respond to the end of business as usual.

mirror said...

I must apologize for not following more closely this discussion, since most of my waking hours are devoted to artisan jewelry work. Nevertheless I detect a certain restlessness and lack of focus among many of our group. Let me recommend a writer who, like Dion Fortune, has been ignored or at best dumped into the occult/new age underground by those literati who fear ridicule if their peers saw them peeking into such Nonsense.
The lady is Jane Roberts, author of 'Seth Speaks' I imagine some of you have heard of her. 'SS' is the best introduction to her writings. Also very interesting is 'The Afterdeath Journal of an American Philosopher: The World View of William James'.
There are many more still in print I think, if not at your neighborhood bookstore then certainly via Amazon.

ww said...

Big Trouble in Little China is a hot narrative about sudden shifts in consensus reality.

LewisLucanBooks said...

The great grandfather thing ... It brought to mind Michael Pollan's food rules. "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." By "eat food" he explains that you should eat things that your grandmother would recognize as food. I'm sure my grandmother's would be quit puzzled by what passes as food in our supermarket.

As far as personal mortality goes, I made peace with that a long time ago. As someone who hasn't had insurance in tears and refuses to go into debt, I probably won't live as long as some. My father is 92 and his quality of life is pretty good, but he had the, what seems to be standard, bypasses and such. Maybe it's because I did a bit of hospice work, years ago. Death isn't such a mystery.

So, in the meantime, I eat well and get enough exercise. I'm one of the few 62 year olds that I know who isn't on something from the pharmacy. A few over the counter supplements, but that's it. Every day is a gift. And, I can still be amazed and entertained by the world around me. I went out to my new place at night a few days ago. The stars! Oh, my. I've held onto a couple of book about the night skies, and am looking forward to exploring them.

Someone was talking about habits. Over the years I've developed a way of eating ... the things I eat ... that are healthy for me, and in healthy quantities. But that was an evolution over a few years. Drop this, add that, do this differently. It wasn't a big effort. It just evolved.

Rita said...

Just a brief comment on the Inklings--there is an academic group devoted to the study of the Inklings and related fantasy. They sponsor a yearly conference and a journal. The Mythopoeic Society -- www.mythsoc.org.

Another thing about vampires--most of them are effectively aristocrats, but chosen rather than born into it. They are aristocrats in the sense of being richer and with a deep connection to the past. They also look down upon mere mortals. In these days in which the Royals go out of their way to be human and approachable (at least for the cameras) it is hard to remember the distain with which the upper classes of Europe traditionally regarded the lower classes. Peasants were written of as beneath contempt--more like talking animals than actual fellow humans. Rather like white slave owners talking of their slaves. Can't think of an instance to cite right now. The divide narrowed somewhat when titles became something one could earn through economic service to the Crown ("job creation anyone :) rather than mainly thorugh noble acts such as winning battles or leading expeditions. At least that is one way of looking at it.

Brad K. said...

JMG,

Reading the responses to this post raises a thought for me. It seems that the grief process we each encounter over the loss of a loved one applies to all surprise changes, for individuals and for groups and communities.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) I think I read it somewhere as denial, rage, negotiation/rejection, depression/immobility, and the healing stage, acceptance.

The stages fall more-or-less in order, with many repeats of any or all stages possible, depending on the person suffering the loss of a part of their lives/world view.

I imagine we can anticipate the chaos of the impact of massive change on communities, on leaders, and on each other will necessarily precede effective response and recovery or adaptation.

I am reminded of the Major Arcana Tarot card XIII, the "Death" card, as a symbol of change. The old life is cleared away to make a place for the new life taking it's place. (And we don't get to peek ahead or undo the change if we "change our minds".)

Plans or recommendations for adapting or remediating the greater community should include allowance for the grief process among those surprised that the world is already changing.

Leigh Christina Russell said...

Hello Rita, you make a very sweeping generalisation about the attitude of aristocracies to the 'lower' classes and peasants and wonder what you base that on. I don't see that as a fair representation at all. From my own reading I've noted widely differing values and attitudes both from one individual to another and from nation to nation.

Michael said...

I'm not completely sure what to make of this, but I've noticed that fairy tales are making a comeback in pop culture.

Two popular TV shows, "Grimm" and "Once Upon a Time" draw on these tales for their storylines, and there are at least two movies coming out this year also drawing on fairy tales -- Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk. That comes on the heels of a movie from 2011 based (very loosely) on Little Red Riding Hood.

Pop culture tends to reflect undercurrents of mood in society, and there seems to be more going on than a simple case of Hollywood trying to pile onto a trend (though there's doubtless some of that going on too.) If there is a new zeitgeist emerging around the reinterpreting of these old, familiar stories, it might be wise to figure out what's driving it.

Sean the Sorcerer said...

Great discussion this week! Your response to mallow really piqued my interest:

"It's the human habit of imposing our own culturally or personally manufactured meanings on the universe that keeps us from perceiving the meaning the universe itself creates."

As one who tends to think that "meaning" is itself a human construct, I would be very interested in learning more about this "meaning the universe itself creates" of which you speak. Perhaps a claim of this magnitude deserves some elaboration?

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Not another ....... comment! This is my final post for the week - promise.

Today, I have had time for reflection and have to admit that I am in fact very grumpy which is an unusual state for me. I apologise to yourself and your readers if I have offended with my many posts ranting on about the world in general. I appreciate your measured responses too, it does you credit and me shame.

In the past week or so, I have been in the process of dismantling an illegally built shed which the local council has ordered me to demolish. Add in a hot summer and truly this is among one of the most disheartening jobs that you can undertake. Fortunately, I'm also saving the materials to resurrect that same shed (albeit a little bit smaller and thus not captured by certain legislation) at a later date not too far into the future. I'm thinking of building some WWOOF accommodation.

I agree with your post, particularly the final bit. The actions of individuals are certainly important - they are the heirloom seeds of the future. A collective response is now too late. I've never joined Green activist groups because their visions of a renewable future with this many mouths to feed in an industrial setting are implausible. If we don't save ourselves, who will? Certainly no one that I personally know.

Therein lies the real difficulty for me with the final bit of this weeks post. I've spent the week in denial and anger about this very issue.

During my late 30's, my friends scattered to the wind because of economic reasons and their domestic situations. Not fearing change, I moved to a rural area hoping to find a more cohesive community and it is to be found here in only small pockets and only for some of the time.

The truth is that you are right and that most people seem to be in some sort of denial.

Yet I'm still looking for community and am actually a bit lost on that front. I look to you for some spiritual guidance. I would appreciate some help.

I'll also note that I read today that in the Detroit motor show, vehicles with engines as small as 1.4L were being feted as the hero vehicles. Surely, if ever an indicator was available to show that we are on the downward side of the peak that would be it. Interestingly too, over here, insurance premiums for houses in flood prone areas (5% of the state) are being reported to have increased by as much as 1,000%. Yes, you read that number correctly. The federal government legislated that insurance be provided in flood prone areas (historically flood damage was not covered for obvious reasons) and so up go the premiums (as much $5,000 per house, I have read) with no option to opt out of that type of coverage (because of recent ex-gratia payments made by the insurance companies out of the generosity of their hearts).

Chop wood, fetch water... It would be nice sometimes to have someone to talk to face to face about it all though.

Regards

Chris

Thardiust said...

The decline of industrial civilization can be seen as either a collapse or transition. Unfortunately most individuals will look upon it as a collapse since, the prevailing culture has conditioned many people to sit in a corner and mumble to themselves in fear instead of realizing that they're in a never ending movie that they can choose to start directing if they'd gradually begin the painful process of learning from their fears instead of shunning, or ignoring, them.

RainbowShadow said...

John Michael Greer, speaking of the decline in basic literacy and the arts, try telling most Americans we're in a decline at ALL! Or try telling Americans that basic literacy and the arts are important and that we might benefit from something other than the "mental monoculture" of television you once criticized in a previous post.

Here's the response, in the form of an attack on the movie "Idiocracy", you're likely to get:

http://xkcd.com/603/

Notice how in this comic the person expresses his distaste for "people like YOU" (i.e. non-utopians like John Michael Greer), thereby embracing the very snobbery he is accusing the film critic of being, while rejecting "out of hand," without fair-mindedness, the possibility that parts of American culture might be self-destructive and that we might have decline in the future instead of progress.

He says it right in the comic, actually: he rejects "out of hand" the idea that we might be in decline, and insults the other person by saying that the only thing that causes damage is "fears of decline."

He essentially bullies the other person into not saying more, thereby embracing (through the myth of progress) the very narrow-mindedness he accuses Idiocracy of preaching.

This is the reason WHY the arts and literature are declining. Because we live in a culture that can basically be summarized, not as treating dissidents as wrong, but treating them as if they have no right to even "speak up."

"How DARE you SAY that!!! How DARE you SAY that, even if you're right!!!"

Matt and Jess said...

I've had such a hard time getting into A Game of Thrones. I've tried to start it twice and it just hasn't caught my interest. I'll try a third time...

Malcolm Smith said...

"I still have yet to read The Lord of the Rings, but I have seen the movies. "

well, The first one novel of the trilogy, Fellowship of the Ring is inspired.

The whole thing sort of falls apart in the middle of the second novel.

The last novel rushes along as Tolkein, now bored with the whole plodding mess the story has become, just wants to put it out of its, and his own, misery.

barath said...

Well it's good to see the NASA scientist himself speak up and say he's curious but skeptical about LENR. That's the appropriate response until, as he puts it, extraordinary evidence is presented.

mirror said...

(Sean the Sorcerer):
' "It's the human habit of imposing our own culturally or personally manufactured meanings on the universe that keeps us from perceiving the meaning the universe itself creates." '
'As one who tends to think that "meaning" is itself a human construct, I would be very interested in learning more about this "meaning the universe itself creates" of which you speak. Perhaps a claim of this magnitude deserves some elaboration?'


Perhaps it's time for a Zen approach to the whole question? Imposing duality on what is beyond our comprehension will not bring enlightenment.
What is the 'meaning' of a tree? What 'meaning' do the mountains outside my window convey? I cannot say more.

mirror said...

...Oh and one more: "what is the 'meaning' of my brain?" You see where this leads? Removing yourself from yourself. Wandering through a wilderness without end.
Maybe some of you will get it.

Ruben said...

@Cherokee

Personally, I think the salvation of humanity lies in potlucks.

hawlkeye said...

Sometimes a torus is just a torus...

ofthehands.com said...

Chris,

May I heartily recommend you build yourself some WWOOF accommodations and give the program a try. We had over 50 WWOOFers come through our farm this year and it was a real joy. Most of them were fantastic people, eager and optimistic, quite curious to learn. They provided a lot of good energy. While there were challenging aspects at time, it was no doubt worth it. And if you're searching for a bit more of a social aspect to life, that's certainly a decent way to go.

One of the WWOOFers we loved this year, in fact, made clear he wanted to come back this summer and stay for a few months, which the farm owner was perfectly fine with. Sure enough, he intends to follow through, having contacted us recently to confirm that he still planned to come in June.

I think most WWOOFers are intrigued by the farming/homesteading world and eager to learn more, to get a bit of experience with it, but then intend at some point to go back to something resembling "regular" life. But they're still a joy to have around, to give you a new perspective, to provide a bit of renewal in helping you to remember all the wonderful aspects of the life you've chosen. And you'll get the occasional one who may just be as committed as you and perhaps you'll fine someone who might have a place in your place.

Again, highly recommended. And it provides opportunities for people like me--fairly young, cash-poor, but wanting to get in on this life and hoping the willingness to lend an eager hand might help provide a place. It's been working for me of late and I'm eternally grateful to have had farming internships available to make it happen.

Joel

Jason Heppenstall said...

Okay, I'm late into the fray again and must apologise but I have been down in Spain in somewhat low-tech conditions where I learned that - sadly - some of my friends have been bitten by the Mayan bug and are now wide-eyed and 'preparing'.

Nevertheless, I did want to chip in with my two pennies, fantasy fiction having formed my young self to an extent. I too grew up living and breathing D&D after becoming drawn in by Tolkein - a bit of a local hero. I grew up in Warwickshire, which is basically the Shire, and later in Hall Green, where J.R.R spent some of his formative years. In his day it was a quaint village some distance from the industrial city of Birmingham, but today it has been consumed by urban sprawl and is part of a hinterland of run down graffiti sprawled estates, pollution choked ring roads and some areas where the main spoken language is Urdu. It's not hard to see where he got his inspiration from if you visit.

By the time I had turned into an annoying teenage goth I could quote Lovecraft to order - and still retain a certain fondness for the Necronomican (and have almost finished a Lovecraftian short story based on peak oil).

And of course, I'd read any Michael Moorcock novels I could get my hands on and read them almost as fast as he could write them (apparently he wrote his quickest in a single day). (BTW here is s great radio interview he did a couple of weeks ago in which he despairs of the current state of fantasy/sci fiction).

I do sometimes wonder whether all this journeying into imaginary non physical realms somehow allows us to break away from, as you put it, our often dull two dimensional existences and create a space in the mind where the modern myth of progress is unable to take root.

As to your last sentence, the word verification generator has responded with 'whous' - to which I'd like to add a question mark.

Matt and Jess said...

Michael, that's interesting! I think that with the popularity of certain young adult series (Twilight) and the fascination with vampires and so on, turning to the darker side of fantasy and looking at the original fairy tales in more of an adult light is a fairly natural step. I think there's also this society-wide awareness of something that we've lost, a little bit of mystery and nature in our lives, that's helping to make these things popular. I think it goes along with the increase of people interested in paganism and wicca, and even older crafts, as well. I haven't seen the TV shows but learning to go back to these older stories, not all with happy endings, will surely do good in the years ahead...

Lance Michael Foster said...

"...not let yourself get decoyed either by some new human-manufactured pseudomeaning, on the one hand, or by the delusion that there is no meaning on the other. "

I have read and explored various systems of human-manufactured meaning for decades, including several magical systems.

The hermetic magic of western tradition was based on the understanding (including science) of the universe of the ancient and classical worlds.

What if magic got an update? I often wonder what a magical system based on contemporary understanding (notably science) would look like? After all magic is a map of the territory not the land itself. So wouldn't a more accurate map be more effective?

For example, how about a magical system based on, instead of the Four Elements of Water, Air, Fire, and Earth of classical science, the Four Fundamental Interactions of Particle Physics: electromagnetism, strong interaction, weak interaction (also known as "strong nuclear force" and "weak nuclear force" respectively) and gravitation. Quantum Mechanics as a better model for Magic?

I have wondered about this for years... and so just now I googled it and saw someone had written this article! http://www.ecauldron.net/quantummagick.php

SophieGale said...

I've mentioned it before but it's worth mentioning again. If you want to ponder the meaning of vampires and zombies in pop culture, you ought to read Stephen King's Danse Macabre.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danse_Macabre_(book)

[King] creates a template for descriptions of his macabre subject. Entitled "Tales of the Tarot," the chapter has nothing to do with the familiar tarot card deck. Rather, King borrows the term to describe his observations about major archetypal characters of the horror genre, which he posits come from two British novels and one Irish: the vampire (from Dracula), the werewolf (from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), and the "Thing Without a Name" (from Frankenstein)...

King then turns to two separate chapters of horror in the motion pictures. In "The Modern American Horror Movie—Text and Subtext," the "subtext" he refers to consists of unspoken social commentary he sees in the films.


The archetype continually shifts with the subtext. The meaning of the vampire, the werewolf, or the zombie/thing with no name shifts from writer to writer, reader to reader, era to era. Laurell K. Hamilton wrote 20 volumes of the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series in eighteen years, and I think I can count at least three shifts in the subtext of "vampires."

Early on they were monsters, plain and simple--though some of her vampires were victims/simple schmoes who remained schmoes... In the middle books, Jean Claude and the performers in his nightclubs echo the history of Middle European Jews who fled persecution at the beginning of the 20th century and went into movies and theater. And as that story arc progressed, we had the classic American story of the talented, boot-strapped immigrant (vampires) rebelling against the corrupt, blood-sucking European aristocracy. And in the last books there has been on the one hand, a battle of all Hamilton's sapient creatures against eons old forces of Chaos, and, on the other hand, deep questions about who exactly is the Monster.

In the series Vampire Earth series by E.E. Knight, it's easy to see heroic survivalists pitted against our blood-sucking, tax-and-spend "guv'ment." The vampires in Cronin's The Passage are more like The Thing with No Name: mutants created by the dread Military-Industrial Complex.

Likewise, the "werewolf" is always shifting. I don't think you need to read deep into the Twilight books: nice Mormon lady writing about romance with sparkly vampires and big hairy wolves... Yes, there is still a fate worse than death--ooh!

In Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson books, the werewolves are basically mercs--paramilitary types--some for Truth, Justice, and Corporate America and some just for fascism or anarchy. Rambo was an '80s embodiment of the werewolf archetype.

On the other hand, in the early Anita Blake books and in the Harry Potter series and fear of the werewolf is subtext for AIDS/the fear of homosexualty!

And the zombie? In the 50's the Pod People were code for the threat of communist mind-control. In the Stepford Wives, fear of Patriarchy... These days the zombie seems to flip between media brain-washing/mindless consumerism and unidentifiable "dis-ease", a fear that we have poisoned the earth and unleashed some kind of wasting contamination that will consume us. Killing zombies is about detox...or mockery.

To say that this current fascination with vampires and werewolves is about "embracing death" misses the mark.

SophieGale said...

Completely OT:

"Mind the Science Gap is a a science blog with a difference. For ten weeks between January and April 2012, Masters of Public Health students from the University of Michigan will each be posting weekly articles as they learn how to translate complex science into something a broad audience can understand and appreciate.

"Each week, ten students will take a recent scientific publication or emerging area of scientific interest, and write a post on it that is aimed at a non expert and non technical audience. As the ten weeks progress, they will be encouraged to develop their own area of focus and their own style.

"And they will be evaluated in the most brutal way possible – by the audience they are writing for! As this is a public initiative, comments and critiques on each post will be encouraged, and author responses expected."

http://www.mindthesciencegap.org/about/

siddrudge said...

JMG -

People seem to like their hard truths served to them in the form of fiction. It's just easier for them to swallow. We kill the messenger in our society. Remember the reaction when Jimmy Carter tried to have "the talk" with the American people back in the seventies?

I've unsuccessfully attempted to approach the topic of 'the end of progress' with some people. Forget it. It's like trying to explain the concept of wetness to a fish, and then, expect them to understand how they'll be flapping around in the mud as they'll have to adapt to bouts of dryness.

You may recall that old joke about the guy who went on vacation and left his brother home to watch his cat? The cat fell off the roof and died. When the brother called to ask how his cat was, his brother said, “I’m sorry to tell you that your cat just died.”

The brother was really upset and said, “You don’t just come out and say something like that. You should have prepared me. You could have said, ‘The cat’s on the roof, I’ve called the fire department, we’re trying to get him down’. That’s how you prepare someone for bad news: something like that.”

Then he asked his brother, “By the way, how’s mom?”

“She’s on the roof…”

***
As the protagonist in my pulp non-fiction story, I feel more like Zorba The Greek in a world of Willy Lomans!

But you JMG, as a calm voice of reason, bring the same dignity, grace and respect to our present dilemma as Atticus Finch did with the problem of racial inequality. And I admire how you're masterly preparing us for a very different future in a way similar to how Atticus brought Boo Radley out of the shadows -- not to be feared, but to be understood and accepted for what it is. "Hey Boo!"

Thank you JMG for all your hard work! I wish I could have put more in your tip box-- you certainly deserve at least a solar greenhouse for your efforts!!!

-Sidd

ando said...

JMG,

Have been reading "Small is Beautiful." Fritz was an unusual econonomist with a "spiritual" take on work and fincance, well ahead of his time, and seems to have influenced a certain Archdruid.

I recommend the book. Sure beats TV.

namaste,

ando

William Zeitler said...

Hmm, as I read these blogs and comments, the thot pops into my head that we as a culture are behaving as a population of addicts--addicted to cheap fossil fuels and Entitlement and all the rest. Classically, addicts are in complete denial that they have a problem until they 'touch bottom'.

Laura said...

@mallow: It only took me about a decade to switch from one story to another. (I say "only" because, from the perspective of economic collapse, ten years is a very short time! :-) I took several years to be exposed to new ideas, several years to realize that my old ideas didn't work for me and stop identifying with them, several years to investigate these new ideas, and several years trying on new ideas until I found one that really seemed to fit. Sometimes the stages overlapped.

It might help organize your thoughts if you keep a journal. I started my journal with "this is where I came from, these are the things I liked about it, these are the things that didn't work so well for me."

Fantasy fiction: "Song of Ice and Fire" is really good, but a slow slog. Also, in my defense, I never said I thought "Thomas Covenant" was poorly told; I didn't like it because I couldn't sympathize with the protagonist. I really liked the world-building, and several of the secondary characters.

@Ruben: I heartily agree! Many of my friends pride themselves on being able to collectively put together a "proper midwestern potluck".

DW said...

For those who still have cable and get the Travel channel, you might enjoy the show "Off Limits". Last night I caught the St. Paul/Minneapolis episode that saw the host exploring the later 19th century flour mills, dams, courthouses, and banks of the area's by-gone days. Watching it all through the lens of Archdruid-ry, it's hard not to shed a tear at the wanton waste of the years that passed between factories built largely by hand, using water power, and courthouses of majestic, timeless design...and the society that built the superdome...

And yet, it's also easy to see the whole trajectory laid out; for once you move to mass production and employ machines while men go hungry for want of work...well, the future we pushed for is what we got. One man is lauded for bringing "efficiency" to the milling of flour; amassing a fortune while others are put out of work.

It also strikes me that there will be no going back, at least not with this generation. When I look around, I see no-one willing to climb under sewers to build brick-buttresses for 14 hours a day on subsistence wages. We have a long period of correction ahead after a gross swing to the far side of the mid-line.

Be well.

DPW

http://amusingself.wordpress.com

Les said...

@Cherokee – Caught by the ten square metre limit for sheds? Bugger… Do you have a neighbour that does not like your strange alternative approach to agriculture?

I’ve seen plans for a place near Bendigo for 5 x nine square metre sheds arranged around a hexagonal deck (with three centimetre gaps between, to ensure they are separate buildings). There are ways and ways…

Re community: It’s bloody hard work getting into a new community, especially if you’re given a bit to reclusiveness. My wife now calls me “Mr. Havachat,” which is not at all natural for me. We moved in the middle of Wingham three months ago and have spent the time talking to people, helping out at the various community events (I was even the short order cook at the local rodeo – never worked physically harder in my life, nor smelled worse afterwards!). We hang around at the local landcare office too. There’s a holistic farm management course running at the local TAFE, so we signed up for that as well. Now we seem to have found a reasonable sized group of like-minded souls, as well as bucketloads of advice when it came to which farm to buy.

OTOH, there are loads of people in the community we wouldn’t care to hang out with. We still try to help them, if we can, and listen to them when they talk at us, ‘cos that makes the social capital worth something.

Anyways, if you want to chat, les{dot}mulder on Skype or 65570820

Les

tigerinaspotlight said...

I just came across your blog a few days ago, and am working my way through the archives. I haven't run across anything yet on the use of alcohol as a fuel. I'm wondering how that might fit in with your vision.