Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Waking Up, Walking Away

Last week’s Archdruid Report post, despite its wry comparison of industrial civilization’s current predicament with the plots and settings of pulp fantasy fiction, had a serious point. Say what you will about the failings of cheap fantasy novels—and there’s plenty to be said on that subject, no question—they consistently have something that most of the allegedly more serious attempts to make sense of our world usually lack: the capacity to envision truly profound change.

That may seem like an odd claim, given the extent to which contemporary industrial society preens itself on its openness to change and novelty. Still, it’s one of the most curious and least discussed features of that very openness that the only kinds of change and novelty to which it applies amount to, basically, more of the same thing we’ve already got. A consumer in a modern industrial society is free to choose any of a dizzying range of variations on a suffocatingly narrow range of basic options—and that’s equally true whether we are talking about products, politics, or lifestyles.

I suppose the automobile is the most obvious example, but it has dimensions not always recognized and these bear a closer look. To begin with, the vast majority of cars for sale these days are simply ringing changes on a suite of technologies that was introduced in the late 19th century and hit maturity close to fifty years ago. That’s as true of electric and hybrid cars, by the way, as it is of the usual kind—the hype surrounding the so-called “hybrid revolution” conveniently fails to mention that the same system has been used for more than sixty years in diesel-electric locomotives, and cars powered by electricity were common on American roads before the Big Three auto firms succeeded in getting a stranglehold on the industry during the last Great Depression. Steam-powered cars were also to be had back then—the Stanley Steamer was a famous brand; try finding one now.

What variations can be found nowadays are almost entirely a matter of style rather than substance, and this becomes even more evident when it’s recognized that the auto is simply one way to get people and light cargoes from one place to another. Are there other ways to do this? You bet, but none of them get the saturation advertising, the huge capital investments in manufacturing and distribution, or the vast government subsidies on local, state, and federal levels that cars receive on an ongoing basis. It’s a continuing source of amusement to listen to the pseudoconservatives who dominate the Republican Party these days denounce the very modest government funding that goes to passenger rail service and public transit. Ask them if they’re willing to give up Federal highway dollars, to name only one of the huge subsidies that autos receive, and you’ll very quickly hear a different tune.

It so happens that I don’t own or drive a car, and indeed I never have. Among its other benefits, that’s a good way to see the limits on the alleged freedom of choice that the consumer economy provides its inmates. In today’s America, you can live without a car, but most other choices you make are going to be sharply curtailed by that decision. When my wife and I decided a few years back to leave the west coast and settle in the Rust Belt, scores of pleasant towns we might otherwise have chosen were ruled out in advance because the only way to go from there to anywhere else was to drive a car, and our options for buying a house were just as tightly constrained by the need to be within walking distance of groceries and other necessary services. All those choices the propagandists of the consumer economy prattle about? They exist, but only if you give up your right to make any of the decisions that matter.

That same logic applies across the board in today’s industrial societies. What products would you like to buy? If it’s not something that a handful of gargantuan corporations want to make and market for you, good luck. Would you like a voice in the political process? Sure, but only if you agree with one of two or three major parties whose positions differ so little you’ll need a micrometer to tell them apart. How about a different lifestyle? Here’s the list of available options, every one of them a slight variation on the common theme of shopping for products and running up debt; if that’s not what you have in mind, sorry, we don’t have anything else in stock.

All this can be seen as simply one material expression of the thaumaturgy we discussed a while back in these posts, the manipulation of basic drives through the endless repetition of emotionally charged symbols that serves to swamp the thinking mind and keep the individual penned in a narrow circle of self-defeating behaviors. From another perspective, though, the torrent of material goodies that comes surging through the channels of the consumer economy is the payoff for cooperating with the existing order of things; so long as you want the things you’re supposed to want, you can have them in fantastic abundance. It’s no exaggeration to point out that average middle class people in the industrial world just now have access to material benefits that emperors couldn’t expect to get five hundred years ago. That’s their share of the payoff for acquiescing in the status quo.

That’s the great strength of the "magician states" Ioan Culianu talked about in Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, those nations—and if you’re reading this, you’re almost certainly living in one—that maintain control over populations by thaumaturgy rather than by brute force. The thaumaturgy is backed up by very real material benefits for those who cooperate. Those who don’t—well, my own experience is a case in point; by the standards of most of humanity, I lead an extremely comfortable life, but most of the people I know are horrified by the thought that if it’s raining and I have errands to run, I put on a coat and open up an umbrella and go for a walk in the rain. They’d be more horrified still to learn that I deal with summer’s heat and humidity without an air conditioner, and respond to cold nights in winter by putting on a sweater rather than turning up the heat, but I don’t go out of my way to bring those details to their attention; my car-free life is enough of a shock for most of them.

Of course there’s more to it than that. The more of the payoff you refuse, the sharper the restrictions you have to live with. Now of course the less privileged classes in the industrial world, and the vast majority of people elsewhere, live with those restrictions every day of their lives, but suggest to those who don’t that they might find it useful to accept those restrictions, and I’m sure you can imagine the response you’re likely to get. Still, this is exactly what I intend to suggest, because there’s another factor in the situation, and it’s the one this blog has been discussing for more than five years now.

The entire operation of the modern magician state, after all, depends utterly on uninterrupted access to gargantuan supplies of cheap, highly concentrated energy. The considerable amount of energy that goes to power the communication technologies that get thaumaturgy to its target audiences is only a drop in the oil barrel of the whole energy cost of the system. A much larger amount goes to supply and maintaining the infrastructure of thaumaturgy, and of course the largest fraction of all goes into produce that torrent of goods and services mentioned above, the collective payoff that keeps those target audiences docile. Now factor in the depletion of concentrated energy sources—above all petroleum, which provides 40% of the world energy supply and close to 100% of energy used in transportation—and the proud towers of the magician state abruptly turn out to rest on foundations of sand.

To understand the consequences of that awkward fact, it’s important to get past the rhetoric of victimization that fills so much space in discussions of social hierarchy these days. Of course the people at or near the upper end of the pyramid get a much larger share of the proceeds of the system than anybody else, and those at or near the bottom get crumbs; that’s not in question. The point that needs making is that a great many people in between those two extremes also benefit handsomely from the system. When those people criticize the system, their criticisms by and large focus on the barriers that keep them from having as large a share as the rich—not the ones that keep them from having as small a share as the poor, or to phrase things a little differently, that keep their privileged share from being distributed more fairly across the population as a whole.

Map the factor of middle class privilege onto the history of protest over the last half century or so and some otherwise puzzling trends are easy to understand. The collapse of the 1960s protest movement here in America, for example, followed prompty on the abolition of the military draft in 1972. The real force behind that movement was the simple fact that the American middle classes were no longer willing to send their sons off to Vietnam, and were willing to use their not inconsiderable political clout to make that change of heart heard. It was indeed heard; the draft ended, the US extricated itself awkwardly from the Vietnam war, and the protest movement popped like a punctured balloon, leaving a minority of radicals who believed they were leading a revolution sitting among the shreds and wondering what happened. Attempts to launch American antiwar movements since that time have foundered on the unmentionable but real fact that middle class Americans by and large have no trouble at all reconciling themselves to war, as long as someone else’s kids are doing the fighting.

It’s in this light that last year’s spasmodic outbursts of protest from within the middle classes need to be understood. Since the peak of conventional petroleum production in 2005, economies around the world—above all the economies of the US and its inner circle of allies, which use more petroleum per capita than anybody else—have been stuck in a worsening spiral of dysfunction, and the middle classes have abruptly found themselves struggling to maintain their lifestyles. Their annoyance at that fact is easy to understand. From their point of view, after all, they’ve kept up their side of the bargain; they’ve bought what they were supposed to buy, borrowed when they were supposed to borrow, lined up obediently behind one or another of the approved political parties, and steered clear of all the hard questions. Now the payoff that was supposed to be their reward for all this, the payoff their parents and grandparents always got on time and that they themselves could rely on until now, is nowhere to be seen.

The payoff is nowhere to be seen, in turn, as a result of processes sketched out more than thirty years ago in a forgotten classic of political economy, Paul Blumberg’s 1980 study Inequality in an Age of Decline. Analyzing the downward spiral of the American economy in the 1970s—the last time, please note, that soaring energy prices clamped down on an industrial society—Blumberg showed that while a rising tide lifts all boats, a falling tide behaves in a much more selective fashion, as those groups with more political influence and economic clout are able to hang onto a disproportionate share of a shrinking pie at the expense of those with less.

The decades since Blumberg’s book appeared have only sharpened his argument. One after another, nearly every economic sector has undergone drastic reorganizations that slashed jobs, pay, and benefits for everyone below the middle class, and a growing number of people in the lower end of the middle class itself. Now that everyone below them has been thrown under the bus, the middle classes are discovering that it’s their turn next, as the classes above them scramble to maintain their own access to the payoffs of privilege. Having nodded and smiled while those further down the pyramid got shafted, the middle classes are in no position to mount an effective resistance now that they’re the ones being made redundant. I can almost hear a former midlevel manager in an unemployment line saying: "First they laid off the factory workers, but I said nothing, because I wasn’t a factory worker..."

Of course that’s not the way most people in today’s middle class like to think of things, and the gap between the reality of middle class privilege and the sort of rhetoric the Occupy movement spread last year—the claim that privilege applies only to the 1% of the population who are much richer than the middle class—opens an immense field of action for zealots and demagogues. Make the claim that you can keep the middle class supplied with its familiar comforts and status symbols and you’ll be able to count on a following in the years to come. The demand for that particular form of comforting nonsense is already booming, and an increase in the supply is already forthcoming; human nature being what it is, it’s probably not safe to assume that all those who provide the supply will be harmless nitwits.

This is where the capacity to envision profound change mentioned at the beginning of this essay becomes essential. In order to make sense of the future bearing down on us, it’s necessary to recognize that the privileged lifestyles of the recent past were the product of the chain of historical accidents that handed over half a billion years of stored sunlight to be burnt at extravagant rates by a handful of the world’s nations. Now that the supply is running short, those lifestyles are going away, and since the decline in petroleum production is gradual rather than sudden, the way it works out is that some people are losing access to them sooner than others. The automatic reaction on the part of most people facing this challenge is to cling to their familiar perks and privileges like grim death; the problem with that reaction, of course, is that the deathgrip in question very quickly becomes mutual.

The alternative is to let go of the perks and privileges before they drag you down. That may be the least popular advice I could offer, but it’s also among the most necessary. Over the years to come, as the real economy of goods and services contracts in lockstep with the depletion of fossil fuels, the fight over what’s left of the benefits of a failing industrial system is likely to become far more brutal than it is today. In the long run, that’s a fight with no winners. The alternative is to walk away, now, while you still have the time and resources to do it at your own pace.

This doesn’t mean, it probably needs to be said, pursuing the sort of green tokenism that’s become the latest form of conspicuous consumption in some circles on the leftward side of American life: the overpriced hybrid car parked ostentatiously in front of the suburban house with a few grid-tied solar panels on the roof, and the rest of it. It means giving things up: for example, doing without a car, getting rid of the suburban house and moving to a smaller, older, more efficient home two blocks from the bus route that will take you to work every day. It means accepting limits, not in some vague and abstract sense (which generally means accepting them for other people), but in the painfully specific sense that applies to your own choices. It means doing without things you want, during the difficult process of unlearning the mental automatisms that make you want them in the first place.

Unpleasant as it seems, this strategy has two massive advantages. The first is that you’ll quickly find yourself saving a great deal of money. Sell your car, and what you now spend on car payments, fuel, maintenance, insurance, and the rest of it, can go to something with a future. Apply the same logic to the other money-wasting habits of the middle class, and the money adds up fast. Since getting or staying out of debt, and providing yourself with the tools and skills you’ll need to get by in an age of decline, ought to be among your core priorities just now, that extra money is a valuable tool. So is the spare time you’ll have—most of those money-wasting habits are also time-wasting habits, remember.

The second advantage is one I’ve mentioned here before. If you’re going to be poor in the future, and you are, you might as well learn how to do it competently. It’s entirely possible to lead a life that’s poor in terms of money, material goods, and energy consumption, and profoundly rich—far richer than most contemporary lifestyles—in human values. If you’re going to do that, though, you’re going to have to learn how it’s done, and the only school where you can study that is that ancient institution, the school of hard knocks. If you start cutting your energy use and your material wants now, before you’re forced to do so, you can get past the hard part of the learning curve while you still have other options.

Thus it’s time, and maybe even past time, to wake up and walk away. Doing that, though, is going to require confronting one of the core superstitions of the modern world; we’ll discuss that next week.

End of the World of the Week #5

You might think that the habit of predicting the apocalypse would yield a bumper crop of self-fulfilling prophecies. Convince enough people that the end is nigh, and you might just get enough of them to do something crazy enough to make some approximation to the end of the world happen, right? Over the three thousand years or so since the apocalypse meme started on its long and merry way through human history, there have been some examples of that phenomenon—but even then, things generally haven’t turned out the way the prophets thought it would.

One instance worth remembering can be found in the War Scroll, one of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, which were written right around the beginning of the Common Era in what is now part of Jordan, and was then a bleak corner of the Roman province of Judea. The War Scroll deserves its name; it’s a lurid advance account of the final conflict between the forces of light and the powers of darkness, and if you know your way around the Jewish apocalyptic literature of that period you know that by definition the powers of darkness spoke Latin and took their marching orders from the big cheese in Rome.

As apocalyptic literature goes, the War Scroll ranks well up there for sheer verbal color. "On the day that the Romans fall there shall be a battle and horrible carnage before the God of Israel, for it is a day appointed by him since ancient times as a battle of annihilation for the sons of darkness," it bellows. "The sons of light and the forces of darkness shall fight together to show the strength of God with the roar of a great multitude and the shouts of gods and men: a day of disaster."

It was prophetic harangues like this one, historians agree, that set the stage for the three Jewish revolts against Rome in 66, 115, and 132 CE. A great many Jewish people by that time convinced themselves that their Messiah would show up to lead them to triumph against Rome. That’s not how things worked out, though; the Romans won every round, and those on the other side who survived were either sold into slavery or driven into exile. The result was indeed "a day of disaster," but the disaster fell almost entirely on the heads of the Jewish people.

—story from Apocalypse Not


The Croatoan 117 said...

JMG,As always, an excellent post. I own a car but I walk to work everyday. It's about 1.5 miles each way. It is always funny to see peoples reactions to the fact I walk when I own a perfectly good car and can afford the gas. The reactions range from bewilderment to subtle hostility. Every now and then I'll get a "That's cool, I should walk to but it just seems like to much trouble. That's good YOU do it though." I am at the current advantage that I live and work close by. I'm in the Army and thus have little say in where I live and work so in the future I might not be so fortunate. I would love to walk away from my car completely though. So for now I walk when I can.
I find your analysis of the peace movement especially timely since I was discussing the same thing with my sister a few days ago. I stated that I didn't feel the peace movement of that era was completely sincere since it ended about the same time as the draft and our (US) involvement in Vietnam. It wasn't like wars ended. It seems anybody who held onto the ideals of the era was later ridiculed as being "stuck in the 60's". It seems it was less about peace and more about a strong desire not to get shot by some Vietnamese kid in some far off jungle.
I apologize because this might not be the right place to ask this but I wanted to make a donation and when I click the button it sends me to paypal. Can I pay this way, and if so what do I use as the recipient address? Thanks.

Charles Pye said...

"my car-free life is enough of a shock for most of them."
So true. When I first met my current housemates, and told them that I didn't have a car, they looked at me like I was insane. I think I might be the first person they've ever met who can afford a car and chooses not to buy one.

Draft said...

Make the claim that you can keep the middle class supplied with its familiar comforts and status symbols and you’ll be able to count on a following in the years to come.

I am curious if you have any numbers to back up your contention that this is not possible. I do not deny that we are all on a sinking ship, but do not agree with the notion that as a result the middle class should just accept increasing inequality. Since you observe that wealth during decline is disproportionately distributed to the top, does it not follow that the decline experienced by the middle class would be less severe if inequality were reduced to the levels seen in the past via policy changes?

In other words I think there is a third path, one other than accepting comforting nonsense as you rightly put it or alternatively accepting growing inequality and embracing voluntary poverty. The third path is to fight to restore economic equality while simultaneously embracing voluntary poverty and sustainability.

DC said...

"All this can be seen as simply one material expression of the thaumaturgy we discussed a while back in these posts, the manipulation of basic drives through the endless repetition of emotionally charged symbols that serves to swamp the thinking mind and keep the individual penned in a narrow circle of self-defeating behaviors."

Priceless! And elites would have us believe that it is our own discretion, or lack thereof, which makes us self-defeating-thus alluding to the fact that subjugation to "emotionally charged symbols" could likely be a form of victimization when the elusiveness of thaumaturgy is not yet realized by the victim. We, of course, do not have to take the bait, but it is a form of victimization nonetheless for children whom do not yet possess the aptitude or discernment to reject thaumaturgy at its source before they are penned to the rabbit hole of industrial society that could take them a lifetime to free themselves from. I fight corporate America day-in and day-out for my children's future (that is a future they decide) and I must say it is the most difficult challenge I have faced yet. Far greater than my own individual challenges to live a more simple and more self-reliant life.

Class war is evident and it doesn't take awareness of thaumaturgy to witness this process within the policymaking halls of elite society. Symbols and emotive behavior have their place in this process and set the tone and pitch, but are pale in comparison to the blatant attacks that well financed interests levy on the general population through so-called government reforms. Take the anti-piracy legislation(s), privatization of public amenities, the permanent war economy, destruction of the commons, denial of ecological limits, and on and on and you have a recipe for feelings and cycles of victimization.

Morrigan said...

I'm in the beginning stages of relocating to a new city and am considering - for the first time in almost 40 years - the type and quality of public transportation as one of the big factors!

I grew up in a city with nonpareil public transpo, then moved to LA before the rail was built but also before I owned a car. For five years I lived and worked near the bus stop; occasionally I'd bum rides and always offer gas money. I had some glorious adventures and some truly touching glimpses into human souls in those days. It was far from hardship. Only once did I get into a bind, but that could have happened walking to the car as easily as it did walking to the bus stop.

Anyway, for now I want to raise the idea of a compromise: I will live in the country, work in the city, and therefore use a truck for transpo; but now it will be with the sacred duty to farm that land, growing food and providing for the community, because it ain't playing now, it's serious. The truck will not be a frivolous luxury, but one of my farm tools.

I'm open to comment...

Luciddreams said...

The timeliness of this blog post is phenomenal for me. I just put in my two week notice to the corporate sponsored American hologram on Monday. My wife and I were prepared to walk away from our house to leave the insanity behind and move in with a relative (we had decided that staying here would essentially make us debt servants on parole for the banks since the mortgage was the only thing keeping us). The next day, due to a facebook post on my wife's part, we found a young couple who wants to buy our house. Then 14 acres of pasture land makes itself available directly behind the house we will be moving into. The owner is in his 70's and just needs somebody to tend the land to keep it in the farm program so as not to pay all of the back taxes. He doesn't care what I do with the land so long as it's agriculture.

Then today, I meet a local farmer who is switching over to organic methods and possible going to practice some cutting edge acquaponics. He's willing to take me on as an intern.

Even after all of that I still had a kernel of doubt because we have a toddler and we have to give up the medical insurance. My dilemma was that I didn't want to be selfish because my son comes first, and his needs are more important than mine. This is where most of my doubt came from.

This is just too much synchronicity for me to ignore. It's almost like you wrote this blog to ease my mind (although I realize this is not the case, it has that effect). I recently blogged about the myth of progress and in the comments of that blog I had a discussion with another of your followers about this very thing. That being how you seem to blog about things we are doing just after we do them?

It's as if just being aware of the synchronicity causes more of it to happen. Or is it the other way around? Coincidentally (or not if the synchronicity bit holds) enough I have just recently committed myself to the study of Druidry. All of this started happening the morning after my first Druid Journal entry. I never expected such a quick reaction.

Logan said...

It seems these peak oil essays (yours and others) are almost always directed at the middle class; people who actually have the option to save money by reducing their consumption, and do something constructive with it.

Well and good, but what about the poor: those incapable of savings due to low wages; or more and more, having no wages at all? I've no car, but that isn't exactly freeing up money for me, because I have no income.

Are we not addressed because we are simply screwed?

You raise a good point about the Occupy movement. From where I stood, however, it seemed to have more to do with anger that the financier class had actively defrauded the economy, and less to do with demanding a white picket fence and two-car garage for all.

Following Hubbert's curve, in a rough way we might expect to go back to the nineteenth century before we go back to earlier ones. So, though it's dismal to contemplate I know, the Marxian analysis and prescriptions may yet be attractive to the lower classes.

Swathorne said...

Your End of the World segment this week reminds me of an idea my Grandmother has carried for decades. She firmly believes China and the US will fight the war to end all wars and the winner will bring about some sort of New Age solidarity. Strange for someone who lived through a war which succeeded the original War to End All Wars.

JMG - You might be interested to know that I became an Entered Apprentice of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons this weekend. An experience i'll never forget. My class is 18 strong...the largest class to pass through the Lodge since shortly after WWII. I was happy to see that Freemasonry seems to attract a group of diverse but thoughtful men in general.

John Michael Greer said...

Croatoan, walking when you can is also a workable option; I know other people who own cars and rarely drive them. As for donations, the button ought to take you to a screen where there's a payment address already arranged. If that's stopped working, I'll see if I can get it working again. Thank you!

Charles, good for you. I hope your housemates have figured out some of the advantages by this time.

Draft, take the numbers for income inequality in the US, and then subtract from the share of the upper class the total value of US-owned derivatives and other hallucinatory wealth. It's a remarkable experience. There will indeed be less inequality, but not the way you're suggesting -- rather, all classes are leveling down toward poverty.

DC, er, did you read my comment about the rhetoric of victimization? The middle classes are being well rewarded for their complicity, you know.

Morrigan, it's not a matter of compromise -- it's a matter of deciding what you're ready to walk away from now, and what you're going to walk away from later. Don't assume that fuel for the truck will be there as long as you think you need it!

Lucid, it's an old magical teaching that when you start moving in the direction of the work that you're here to do, things just start falling into place. I've certainly found that to be the case in my own life, and am glad to hear it's also working in yours.

Logan, I'm not in the middle class; I don't make that much money. I don't have much to say to the really poor, because I haven't been there, and try to speak to my own experience, which is that of somebody making what used to be a working class income. If there's really no way you can decrease your dependency on the system below what it is now, in order to free up money and time, then it's possible that yes, you're screwed. On the other hand, you may not have considered all your options yet -- but that's not a judgment I can make, of course.

Bro. Swathorne, I'm delighted to hear it.

Joel Caris said...

Excellent post! The message isn't new, but some of your phrasing and contextual arrangement was and I found it very helpful. Loved your use of "inmates."

I think there are many people who understand the idea that certain oil-producing countries use a good chunk of the cash and energy from that commodity to keep their population acquiescent. It's written about in mainstream news articles. Turn that around and note that the United States does the exact same thing, though, and I imagine most people would scoff at the very notion. But it's very much true.

Thanks to your writings, I've made it a specific goal this year to further my life of poverty. I suppose I'm already there in comparison with the majority of the population, but I also have a ways to go. So this will be a year of intense gardening, paid farm work, studying, learning to do and create useful things with salvaged material and blogging about all of it.

I have an example that I think fits into what you're arguing for. I am soon going to have to move from the small farm/off-grid homestead that I've been living on for nearly a year. I have two jobs with local farms, though, and so am staying in the area. Having to decide where to live next, I considered one of the farms that I have a job with, which just happens to be a short walk down the road from my current residence. Yet, I wasn't thrilled with the idea of living there, due to a couple small inconveniences and the condition of the place I would be living. In other words, it wasn't ideal. I would likely be dealing with a few annoyances I prefer not to deal with.

But the more I thought about it, the more I couldn't say no. By moving there, I see multiple benefits. I will have pretty much as much room as I want to garden; I'll have access to plenty of manure for use in that garden; I'll already be on site for one of my jobs, eliminating a commute; I'll be able to pay my rent via work-trade rather than cash; and I'll be near the farm I'm on now, which will likely prove to be one of my main social outlets.

On the other hand, I could have looked for a "better" place to live (read: easier in the sense of eliminating some of the inconveniences I see on the farm down the road) and probably ended up in town. This would lead to a commute to both my jobs and my main social outlet. It would almost certainly cost more, and I would have to pay cash for it. I don't know if I would have gardening space and, if I did, I would have to find and bring in more fertilizer for it. All in all, it would be far more expensive, even if it provided me with an ideal space that I could control completely.

Coming to my sense, I chose the farm down the road. To not do that would be to engage in the sort of luxury that I can hardly afford and would be antithetical to my stated year's goals. By choosing the farm down the road, I'll have much more spare money, more spare time, and likely will grow more of my own food. I'll be able to pay off my credit card debt quicker. I'll be able to function more outside of the standard economy. I'm pretty sure I'll in all ways be better off. All it took was accepting that I may have to deal with a few more annoyances with where I live, but that seems a small price to pay for the enrichment I'll otherwise gain.


RainbowShadow said...

"The middle classes are being well rewarded for their complicity, you know."

My apologies, I must politely disagree. Or rather, to put it more precisely, I don't completely disagree, but I think that's too simplistic a way to put it.

I don't think the middle class "bargained" for police officers almost arresting 6-year-old girls just for selling lemonade in the "wrong" place, for example, or police officers stalking the hallways of public schools and universities and beating up students or tasering them (sometimes to death!) for the crime of "speaking too rudely or violating the dress code."

Yes, the middle class is getting a lot of benefits from commercialism, but increasingly the price isn't student loans but a ratcheting up of hysterical "overreactions" to "minor offenses".

Let me see if I can summarize the mindset I'm critiquing properly:

"Your little girls can sell lemonade and get the American Dream, but we'll take them to jail or at least threaten them to tears that we'll do so if they stand in the wrong selling areas!"

Maybe the middle class isn't being "oppressed," but if you read alternative news sources that don't get reported on Fox News, it's hard to argue with the fact that there's an increasing "vicious" element in our culture that's always been there but has increasingly been overblown as of late.

Robo said...

Voluntary poverty is a very hard sell for Americans. We have all been so diligently schooled from birth to obey the Dream.

Even with immediate family members, who hear the Descent discussed on a daily basis, the Dream dies hard. Give up the car? No way!

Then there are the new Dreamers who are coming late to the game. We know a woman from the Ukraine, resident in the US for ten years now, who was puzzled when she observed my wife making her own clothes. That's the kind of thing she left behind in the Old Country. The kind of thing she came here to get away from. Why not just go out and buy new clothes at the mall?

Stephen Heyer said...

John Michael Greer: “Now that everyone below them has been thrown under the bus, the middle classes are discovering that it’s their turn next, as the classes above them scramble to maintain their own access to the payoffs of privilege. Having nodded and smiled while those further down the pyramid got shafted, the middle classes are in no position to mount an effective resistance now that they’re the ones being made redundant.”

Unreal! So I’m not the only one who has noticed this!

This might also explain why so many of the working class in the USA vote Republican: They were long since “thrown under the bus” and see recent attempts by the middle class kind-of-pretend-to-be-left to recruit them to the fight as self-serving rubbish meant only to try to prevent said middle classes from suffering the same fate.

They may be right.

William Hunter Duncan said...


I walked away in 2008, at the same time the economy went into free fall. It was the best decision I've made in my adult life. Financial insecurity and life without a car, but in every way, I've been awakening to my place in this world, and the beauty of it.

I'm considering now another break from the culture, letting go and traveling the world, while there is still the liberty to do so. I have many of the skills I need to be useful wherever I am. I would expect to pick up a few skills along the way.

Let go, and see where it leads. And hopefully, someday before long, build the house and garden and life I imagine.

John Michael Greer said...

Joel, excellent! That's the kind of sensible choice that so many people are refusing to make these days; with your attitude, you're likely to come through the current mess in good shape -- which is a major achievement just now.

Rainbow, er, I've never watched Fox News; it came into existence long after television left my life. For that among other reasons, I'm having a hard time figuring how your comment has anything to do with my post.

Robo, Toynbee talks about the way that, once a civilization fails to deal with one of its problems, it keeps on failing to deal with that same problem until the failure tears it apart. You've just named one of the core places where our civilization is failing.

Stephen, they're right. The main class war in this country is between the middle class and the working class, and the middle class until recently won every round. There's been an amazing amount of twaddle written by liberals trying to explain why the working class in this country loathes what they stand for; the fact that the working class has consistently gotten the short end of the stick via the policies of the left is one thing you won't find mentioned in those discussions.

John Michael Greer said...

Croatoan (and others), the PayPal button had stopped working -- I've fixed it, at least for the time being. Once again, many thanks to all those who've put something in the tip jar!

Jeffrey Kotyk said...

This post is something I can very much relate to. I'm 26 and living in a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. I decided in my teenage years I would live a stoic lifestyle while cultivating myself in religious practice and scholarship. Despite being poor, I've actually been able to get by quite well (at least by my own standards). I studied languages, history and linguistics instead of commercially valuable fields like engineering or business, much to the mockery of some of my peers who would ask, "Well, what is that gonna get you?"

Contrary to expectations, my skills are actually valued by certain organizations who are happy to provide me with free food and accommodation (both here in Taiwan as well as in India and Japan) while I work for them. I basically get paid to translate Chinese and Japanese texts into English, which requires a very special skill set, but few people on the planet are qualified. I'm still poor by western standards, but I get by and wander the world as a pilgrim, scholar and translator. All my stuff fits into two backpacks which easily fit under a bunk on a train.

If I bought into the typical consumer lifestyle back home, I'd have a mortgage and car, and would have to work endless hours at a job where being laid off is always possible.

I'm actually contemplating taking vows and becoming a monk, which would mean an end to wandering, but such a monastic and stoic lifestyle would be incredibly rewarding while also being perhaps best given what the coming decades hold. Being happily destitute is actually a virtue in Buddhism. Monasteries are also resilient and in Taiwan their ability to salvage so much of what goes into the trash is amazing. We just spent hours cleaning up old plastic jars for reuse.

Believe it or not, your blog has actually fostered such inclinations in me since I started reading last year. Given that a career in mainstream academia is becoming impossible, perhaps being a Chan scholar-monk, adept at salvage and wet rice agriculture and teaching it to others, would be the best route to take. I gotta thank you for all your insightful posts. Last year in the Himalayas I downloaded the archive of this blog and read through it over several months.


Ruben said...

For those looking at moving to a place with greater walkability, you may find this to be helpful:

WalkScore - A Walkability Score For Any Address

John Michael Greer said...

William, if you're going to travel, do it soon, or not for a long time. My guess is that in the not too distant future it's going to be a very challenging time to be an American overseas.

Jeffrey, seriously cool. I'll be writing a post on monasticism in the not too distant future, but you're obviously well ahead of me.

Ruben, thanks for the link!

Bruce The Druid said...

@LucidDreams: "If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time." --Joseph Campbell

One more piece of the puzzle falls into place. Thanks!

It seems the things that blind people are: car, tv, fast food. These things work together to fog peoples brains and prevent one from thinking clearly.

Rich_P said...


Thank you for another great essay that nicely ties it all together.

Ivan Illich argued that automobile-dominated transportation networks are one of many "radical monopolies" imposed by industrial civilization:

"Traffic serves here as the paradigm of a general economic law: Any industrial product that comes in per capita quanta beyond a given intensity exercises a radical monopoly over the satisfaction of a need. Beyond some point, compulsory schooling destroys the environment for learning, medical delivery systems dry up the nontherapeutic sources of health, and transportation smothers traffic."

For another great critique of the car and suburbia, check out "The Social Ideology of the Motorcar" by Andre Gorz. As gasoline becomes more expensive, the car will, for a brief period at least, fulfill its original purpose: speedy, private conveyance for the well-off, without everyone else getting in the way.

Also, since you're one of the few writers who argues that we collectively blew it by abandoning the various back-to-the-land/appropriate technology movements of 1960s and 1970s, you might be interested in Back From the Land by Eleanor Agnew. It's a collection of stories about middle class folks who attempted to live in tough environments (Maine, Vermont) without really giving up their middle class pretenses, i.e., it was hard so they gave up and become librarians and academics instead.

sofistek said...

Just a note about the peak year. I notice you've mentioned 2005 quite a few times and for a few years that did seem to be the peak. However, a couple of years ago, the IEA said 2006 was the peak and, more recently, the EIA's data for conventional crude, including lease condensate, shows a peak in 2010. There isn't much in it and it definitely looks like a plateau but I think it helps to get the details right, especially if 2011 pips 2010. Now, it may be that you're not including lease condensate but then it's hard to find that figure anywhere. Do you have a link?


Meg said...

Maybe, being outside the U.S., I'm generalizing from different data, but I don't think Occupy is actually about standard of living at all. The language is economic, but from what I'm seeing, the content is all about power: how much of it a few people have as a function of their extreme wealth; and how little everyone else has, regardless of the other privileges they may enjoy.

The cynic's formulation of the Golden Rule is: he who has the gold, gets to make the rules. Even those with relatively little money can live in what is, by global standards, enviable comfort. However, it takes /astounding/ amounts of money to purchase a lobbyist, fund an ad campaign, make a credible bid for political office, win a court case, or otherwise access the trappings of contemporary political power.

Occupy is founded on the hope that, if a critical mass of the poor, the middle-class and the merely wealthy band together despite their differences, they might develop political clout as a function of sheer numbers. If you can't buy a lobby, /be/ a lobby.

It's almost certainly a waste of breath, and even if it succeeded would /still/ be a waste of breath, given everything this blog discusses. Self-determination is a worthy goal, but political influence isn't a likely means to that end anymore.

I find it ironic that, while thousands try to collectively appropriate the power of the ultra-rich, this post highlights the power available (much more readily) to the moderately poor.

Thomas Daulton said...

Another inspiring and quotable essay -- thanks, JMG!
I could use some inspiration this week, after one of the worst weeks of my life. And my problems have everything to do with the theme of your column. I just spent a week trying to help my mom and my family deal with splitting up and selling my late grandmother's estate.
We all know this is the type of event that often rends families asunder, and just for one reason: material avarice. The symbols of somebody else's past affluence somehow retain a mental hold on many people long after the actual items themselves have decayed and broken-down and the real wealth and happiness have fled.
Pardon the comment hijack, but... I would really like to hear your views, JMG, and any ideas from you and your readers, about what elder care is going to be like in the post-peak world... how it might be a sustainable part of public life, and what we relatively young spring chickens can do to prepare for it. Considering that survival itself will involve a lot more physical labor in the future than it does now, and everyone's capacity for labor diminishes quickly with old age. Because of course I see myself getting older, and I hope to face my own dotage with a bit more dignity and grace than my mom seems to be doing.
Obviously I'm not writing from an unbiased viewpoint, but it seems clear to me that everyone involved values my grandma's possessions far more than they value maintaining good relations with their own relatives -- betrayals and recriminations are flying around right and left. And my grandma was by no means rich in the monetary sense. Most of her estate is neither expensive nor practical nor useful; most of this stuff is just clearly junk, old or new.
Worst of all is my mom, who has absolutely declared that she wants to squirrel away every single cheap plastic necklace grandma collected over 99 years, every broken doll head and every cheap tin pot that nobody else even wants. (Of course, Mom has a bad back and bad joints, so she demands that her family do ALL the actual hard labor of moving, packing and storing this junk.) She tells me I can have grandma's generic white plastic patio chairs for myself, ($10 at any of a million Wal-Marts across the country), and then when I decide they're not worth the space and effort of packing and storing them, Mom goes running to the Salvation Army giveaway pile and claims them back. The house buyer is showing up to close escrow in three hours, the house is a total disaster in no condition to turn over to the buyer, and my mom is still picking through my grandma's costume plastic jewelry pile one item at a time, asking me "Tom do you remember what this little plastic lid is for? I think it's important." When you say that people have a death grip on their middle-class lifestyle, you are NOT exaggerating in the slightest. It is totally a form of hypnosis!
I am absolutely certain I'm not the only one with a story like this. It strikes me that there's a certain segment of the American elder population -- maybe not a majority, but a large plurality nonetheless -- who are besotted with a huge sense of entitlement to crappy plastic consumer goods, and who expect their descendants to work like dogs to keep their ersatz affluent lifestyle viable in a crumbling and overcomplex world.
I would love to hear JMG, and all the regular commenters, discuss how we can care for our own relatives like that, without (a) coming to despise them, (b) falling into their own trap of materialism ourselves, and/or (c) mortgaging our own long-term survival in order to prop up theirs... short of disowning them completely. What can we do to get back to the days when our elders offered us wise advice from their own deep life experiences, rather than just demanding to have material and consumer goods? And how can we avoid becoming like them ourselves when we get older? Obviously not all our elders are like this, but I hear the same story from other people over and over again.

hadashi said...

My wife and I have just returned from a walk in the rain in coats and umbrellas. Returned home to watch the live sumo on TV (the only time I have it on)and to find your post waiting on my laptop. Am now seated on my heated carpet reading paragraphs in between bouts. Indeed, the emperor of Japan would not have been able to enjoy all of this 500 years ago.

Hm "the characters didn't match the word verification"? Try 'porkslyp.

The Peak Oil Poet said...

Dr Druid

you answer to William:

"William, if you're going to travel, do it soon, or not for a long time"

I had been telling my children and children of close friends this starting about ten years ago. And other advice like to people about selling their houses at the "top" of the market (in Australia).

None of it has happened.

On closer inspection of various factors, like projected energy production and consumption, it's hard to see that there will be crisis anytime soon. The recent/current adjustment is quite likely to be just a passing blip. A blip on the way to a future collapse, sure, as we can see at this time, but we are talking decades not years and who's to know what decades may bring?

I would not be surprised if climate issues have a bigger impact on us, sooner, than resource depletion.

But who can say?

The point is that giving advise as if you have a crystal ball, no matter how sure you are, is, by very definition of physical science (and well supported by neuroscience), frankly, a lie.

I have come to accept a wait and see what unfolds attitude to life. Sure i try as much to have a small resource footprint, and sure i keep my eyes open for signs of real doom, but so far, in all the years since i was led to foresee impending disaster (starting way back in the 60's), so far none of it has eventuated. Of course for some there have been tough times and even i have lived them.

I've been reading two things a lot lately - neuroscience and economics - and they do often go hand-in-hand. Often it seems, people mislead not only others but also themselves. We do it all the time in lots of ways and at lots of levels but for a limited number of real reasons.

Much as i know about peak things and pending climate problems (which i have been reading about since 1972) and as much as i see the difficulties inherent in providing for billions of people, mostly i see the world improving. There is still the heinous crimes of the elites to address of course but largely it seems things are better today than they were at any stage during my lifetime.

Of course - i might be deceiving myself - no matter what i think is likely.

But i wonder if there is any real merit in asserting anything about the future to others - other than to posit "what if" scenarios more for entertainment and intellectual discussions over whiskey and cigars than for the purpose of preparing for the "end of times" that you seem to be convinced, like very many Christians, is not only on it's way but, is almost tomorrow.

It has a cult feel about it.

Hence my most recent (previous post) question to you about the effect on your readers who are mostly American and consequently prone to respond to evangelizing in a big way (it being very hard to abstract oneself from the formation influences of youth).

No insult or accusations of wrong (even the "lie" is not accusatory).

Just pondering.


Jason Heppenstall said...

I love the idea of voluntarily walking away from our collective consumer prisons. When I was recently down in Spain I got to see the effects first hand of the falling tide.

Most of my friends there, it is probably fair to say, are formerly middle class. Over the last four years or so they have gone from having plenty to having very little and now cannot even be described as working class as none of them have jobs.

First the cars went. Not all at once but by a gradual process of, as one person put it ‘descending into illegality’. When people could no longer afford the spiralling costs of tax, insurance and the yearly maintenance check, at first they took risks. The local police, always keen to raise money, handed out fines by the bucket load until people were brow beaten into giving up their perfectly functional vehicles – most of which now sit unused and dusty on drives – or are shared between groups who all chip in to keep one of them on the road.

With the cars went long distance trips to supermarkets. One woman has a weekly food budget of 20 euros which she takes to the weekly market and is able to come away with more vegetables, eggs and bread than she can carry. Supermarkets, all of a sudden, seem very expensive by comparison.

Next went the mobile phones. First the fixed contracts went and everyone went ‘pay as you go’. In short order people inevitably ended up with no credit and would never call you back when you left a message. Gradually people seem not to be bothering with them. For the price of sending a few texts you could alternatively buy a stick of fresh bread.

Plenty of other luxuries have gone down the tubes as well, of course. Foreign holidays are out, and so is talk about buying houses. Instead people are talking about banding together to buy some land and pitch yurts on it. “At least it’ll be a home,” one of them said.

My friends, generally speaking, are a rag tag bunch who to some extent chose to drop out anyway, so they are meeting the deprivations in good spirits (well, most of them) and are starting up various non-cash alternatives. Nevertheless, I think it has come as a shock to most of them the revelation of the extent to which they relied on the housing bubble (many of them are foreign builders, but even the alternative healers suddenly have no clients).

It was a useful glimpse of how things will be for many more of us in the not-too-distant future. I'm planning to write a more in depth blog post on this shortly.

Creighton said...


I've been profoundly influenced by your writing over the past year since I "woke up", and I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for it.

I appreciated Lucid's comment about synchronicity, as I had to smile at this post's discussion of cars and transport. I'm in my mid twenties and am working on entrenching myself in the permaculture community in Colorado and elsewhere after returning from a couple years in Japan. With some of your recommendations ringing in my ears, I recently moved into a shared house in Denver with the intention of cutting my overhead via bikes/public transit, gardening, and dumpster diving (this last one is no small mental hurdle for a child of the upper middle class).

However, my recently much more wealthy grandmother decided that I should have a car, and sent me a check to buy one. As I have several times in the last year, I felt torn between personal plans and ideals and a desire not to distance or unnecessarily offend those closest to me. Perhaps it was weak of me, but I did accept the money and bought a little used diesel car that I plan to convert to run on waste vegetable oil. This is absolutely a compromise, though, and I can feel the immediate loss of a certain kind of freedom. I'm not sure yet if it was worth it to make my grandmother happy, but I'd also rather not be an alienating, increasingly unapproachable grandson/son/friend/etc. I hope that's a worthwhile tack to take in the longer term, middling as it feels.

All that said, I've experienced synchronicity or grace or support from the universe or perhaps self-fulfilling perceptions of luck quite a bit recently, and it gives me confidence that my overall direction is truer than it has been in the past. Your essays regularly help keep me on track and inspired (and laughing).

Several months ago I wrote a poem called "Less" to reference your imperative of L.E.S.S. It's no great work, but if you're interested in reading it please email me at creighton (dot) s (dot) hofeditz (at) gmail. The layout and spacing is important so I can't really reproduce it here. Looking forward to all your future posts!

The carp who jumped Hukou Falls said...

@Jeffrey - I'm very impressed. Doing what you do, you must know of Red Pine, who started off much the same way. I met him a couple of years ago in Beijing, and was struck by how content he was, doing what he loves, living a very simple lifestyle. Only you could decide whether taking vows is the right thing for you to do; all I can say is that I spent some time helping out in Chan monastaries and convents in SIngapore. and was impressed by the contentment of those who had chosen to dedicate themselves to dharma. Sometimes I still think I'd like to do it myself,

Returning to the this week's post, JMG said:

Make the claim that you can keep the middle class supplied with its familiar comforts and status symbols and you’ll be able to count on a following in the years to come. The demand for that particular form of comforting nonsense is already booming, and an increase in the supply is already forthcoming; human nature being what it is, it’s probably not safe to assume that all those who provide the supply will be harmless nitwits.

I happened to have just read this article: Newt Gingrich: I would ignore supreme court as president.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

Copy of my comment on this post of TAR, posted on Medialens's Message Board (an important alternative source of sound information and analysis, based in Britain)

Posted by Rhisiart Gwilym on January 19, 2012, 9:39 am


This article (linked) is so full of prize pearls, I scarcely know where to start. READ IT! -

Amongst the gems that need to be underlined:

* The extraordinary benefits -- and strictly manageable limitations -- of living car-free.

* Ditto for embracing voluntarily, ahead of time, the much leaner, less fatuously-over-pampered lifestyle that's coming to most of us soon anyway, willy nilly: emotional shocks got over, learning curve well advanced, practical preparations made in good time, personal disposable income freed-up, and on and on...

[I should say that, like John Michael, I've been doing those things above for a comparable amount of time. And you know what? It's comfortable and easy, once you get acclimatised, and as Richard Heinberg constantly affirms, this way of life -- which we're all going to get anyway eventually, whatever we do -- is actually more happy and satisfying than being a consumer Matrixnik. Much more!]

* The laughable phoniness of ALL (sic; Paul too!) of the pseudoconservatives of the US Republican party. (Dealt with in just a few lines, in beautiful throwaway style). Come on folks, do stop wasting attention on that pointless, entirely unimportant clown show....!

* The utter absence of any genuine 'freedom of choice' in the consumer society.

* The slow, certain demise of that society from here on, even for the Pampered Twenty Percent minority of humankind who are ever going to sample its dubious delights.

* The pretty hollow attempt at privilege-protection for the middle-class, which is the main emotional driver behind the Occupy phenomenon.

* The laughable hollowness of the green tokenism of -- just a few -- of the PTP...

And on.

All of this presented in John Michael's lucid, courteous prose.

No wonder he's right out beyond the Pale of the official Western mainstream of narrow permitted public discussion/perception. More fool it! Miss John Michael's diamond-hard, utterly lucid dissection of our current existential plight, and what we have to do to deal with it, at your own and your loved-ones' ultimate peril.


Kfish said...

Robo, I've got a similar thing going with my grandparents, who have been farmers most of their lives. They're gratified by my interest in their skills and knowledge, but I sense some puzzlement - didn't they work hard and send their kids to university to get away from all this, so their grandkids could have a better life? Still, it gives us something to do together.

das monde said...

JMG, one line of your reasoning illuminates a curious correlation of debt burdens of EU countries and their dependence on oil; just look at the first graph here. There below, in the comments section, I took the liberty of "cristalizing" your argument - if that's ok.

Your essay offers several excellent points. The vast majority of the middle class was apparently indeed hypnotized (or corrupted) into wholehearted support of whatever supplies most goodies. The hallucinatory wealth of derivatives (etc) translates directly to debt burdens, though. Their owners won't have that much as their billions-measured scores show - but very likely, they are going literally own the world, with the others working hardest for them. It is fascinating to see yet another study (Bloomberg's) that tells what the world needs to know for all the time, but is largely unknown.

Now the wonder is why the system was so terrifically generous to the middle and working classes, especially until Reagan.

To change things, personal rejection of "best available" options and consumption traps is a must. Last year I spotted your call for science fiction short stories too late - and the last minute idea I pondered was the image (generously some 40 years later) of a bunch of San Diego well-off guys treking the desert towards the secluded Sedona, away from dirty urban madness and decay-era deceptions.

jean-vivien said...

Hello everyone,

I have checked some bits of the Beast Master on Youtube and I think it was treated way too unfairly.

The idea of a hero who can win thanks to his ability to cooperate with the non-human world is really good ! Certainly not original, but still... and the movie was not so badly done.

In general narratives that encourage cooperation instead of competition or hierarchical systems are more useful in my view.

tubaplayer said...

"Thus it’s time, and maybe even past time, to wake up and walk away."

Thank you JMG for anothr great post. As far as the quotation goes I woke up maybe six years ago or a little less. It will be four years in March that I actually walked away.

As regards your reply to comment last week that I should talk to people about the old ways and document it. Ah, if only. I fear my Hungarian is not quite up to that.

I learn by watching and emulating. I am lucky to have as a next door neighbour a lady some 91 years young. I suspect that she lives in the same way that she did as a young lady. Her work rate puts me to shame. How she deals with compost will amuse you. She wheels lots of little barrow loads into the garden and just tips them out in little heaps here there and everywhere. Then she lets the chickens in. They do the work for her. In a couple of days there are no heaps and the compost is nicely incorporated into the top layer of soil by the scratching about of the chickens. Green wizardry at work!

John Wheeler said...

Argh, just like pulp fiction, I find myself anxiously awaiting next week....

I woke up a long time ago and have been laying in bed most of that time. When I have tried to get up my fellow bedmates have dragged me back down. Now I'm at the point where I'm not sure I even have the strength to get up anymore.

I came here hoping to find that strength; I've been looking many other places, too. You did inspire me to start my own blog, where I mainly am trying to talk myself out of bed.

Jason said...

Love this post. Thx for the tipoff on Blumberg.

I also could never bring myself to own a car but here in urban Britain that's easier. Things are built closer together plus walking to the shops in the rain is practically a symbol of national identity.

Justin said...

If you’re going to be poor in the future, and you are, you might as well learn how to do it competently. It’s entirely possible to lead a life that’s poor in terms of money, material goods, and energy consumption, and profoundly rich—far richer than most contemporary lifestyles—in human values.

True, but that only goes so far; having a good quality of life when you can't get enough to eat is tough. :)

The part I just wrote about not getting enough to eat is exactly what you said to me when I tried to say the above in different words a few threads back. I am not repeating back what your words to be snotty though, its a moment of recognition and respect about what's going on here with the care that you are taking to introduce ideas that may seem like they are from Mars to an audience likely to be reading a blog.

In that light, I don't know anything about magic except what you have written, but whatever dispelling you are trying to do is working. I started walking away last spring, quit my corporate job in SF, returned to my family's homestead in NY and have am using my savings to set myself up for a life of voluntary poverty. Fortunately, I have been an extreme minimalist and had no debt to begin with, nor a car or mortgage. I know several people here who are doing, have done and are trying to do the same in whatever circumstances they are in.

I am not saying its all thanks to you, but you are definitely helping people like me return to their senses. It wasn't that long ago I felt trapped by the system, seeing only the binary alternative of homelessness and misery to careerism.

I have several ways to go forward right now and its hard to choose which one to follow. One you may find interesting to hear about, in so far that I likely owe a good deal of thanks to you for conceiving and is what I imagine in line with your hope for the ADR, is the following.

My brother has been a working blacksmith for almost two decades. He lives in a tiny town in upstate NY with a small population. He has two houses (which almost makes him a majority owner of the town’s real estate) and wants to turn one into a dorm to take on 2 or 3 apprentices for 2 or 3 years at a shot. He also has a business associate who cuts lumber and is doing the same thing. They both have living accommodations and their way of doing things. I am set to study under my brother as a beginning apprentice would for 6 months, and then shoot a 5-10 Youtube minute video explaining the setup, what he is looking for in understudies, what he can accommodate in his spare house for apprentices/family, what he has to offer, and I could explain the conditions and what its like to work with him through the program.

If I happen to know 2 craftsmen who have this need, then there must be hundreds of them all over the country, each with all manner of personal and local conditions. They are having a hard time finding people because they are working tradesmen, they don't have a lot of money and the unemployed coming to them want salary and benefits even though they don't really know how to do anything and will jump ship at the first 'real' job that becomes available. The working tradesmen are not generally savvy with the internet, and very unlikely to understand how to optimize search engine hits. The idea I have is to go try out their programs, work and study under them as a beginning apprentice would for a period of 6-12 months - long enough to get some of the basics down, and stay in whatever accommodations they have to offer, whether its a spare room, spare house, log cabin, tent or whatever (as long as I can bring the wife), and at the end help create an informed video of the setup that is one part their explanation and one part my review. My hope is that I can do more than the first one, what a great way to learn a bunch of stuff and see a bunch of places.

P.S.I won't be offended if you keep this off list since its not really on topic.

Yupped said...

Thanks for post, and all of the commentary and support over the last few years.

This was an interesting week for us. I suppose we started walking into poverty a couple of years ago, but we walked slowly at first and didn't raise a lot of dust. We're walking faster now, and its more noticeable. Somehow it seems recently like we're passing a point of no return. I still have a foot in my old life, and do various consulting projects to bring in income. But that's fading - after a time it gets very hard to have your head in both places (in my case building new IT stuff that I'm pretty sure won't be worthwhile or maintainable). I'd rather work part-time in the local book store at this point.

We know where we're going, and many synchronicities are occurring as we go. We don't have doubts. But it is a lonely path at first, at least in our town. I'm hopeful of seeing more people along the way. Last year we started a community garden which was a great way of attracting like minded people: it was fun mix of permies, paupers and Martha Stewart wannabes. It will be interesting this year to see how the mix is changing.

Justin said...

The third path is to fight to restore economic equality while simultaneously embracing voluntary poverty and sustainability.

Restoring economic equality may be mutually exclusive with embracing voluntary poverty and sustainability though.

The former implies organization and political action through legislation and enforcement of more equitable tax rates, better social services and so on to begin shrinking the gulf between rich and poor. However, embracing voluntary poverty means giving up any voice or power within the political system, money. Sustainability is the same with respect to the industrial economy and has the same effect. Being sustainable means things like growing your own garden, so now you are interacting less with the industrial food economy and are less important to it.

Money is such a factor at this point that Congressmen are openly apologizing to energy corporations that just poisoned the entire Gulf of Mexico for our questioning them. How can you realistically expect to get political traction in the current system at the level as would be needed to institute the raft of New Dealish legislation that might solve the inequity problem, or at least dent it, while at the same time you check out of the money economy and start taking up labor intensive projects like gardening without pesticide and raising chickens?

Justin said...

It may be a matter of finding some
way to get a little bit of income to buy the space to not be so dependent on the money economy. That likely means some grey to black markets and skill building that could translate back to the money economy.

For instance, a scrap metal gig could get some money and if you pay attention to what prices you get at the scrap yard, in doing so you could learn to discern quality steels. I.e. they make all street signs and axles of a certain low carbon steel, and frames of structures of a higher carbon. That kind of cognitive expertise could prove valuable in unexpected ways in a salvage economy that interacts with money.

October Moon said...

Anyone who cares to see a Stanley Steamer can do so at the Stanely Steamer Museum in Kingfield, Maine. Once or twice a year they fire one up.

I live in northern Maine, where everything is at least 10 miles from home. Life without a truck would be difficult. I am thinking a goat or ox cart. I did see a goat cart being used in Rangeley a summer ago.

Thijs Goverde said...

@Thomas Daulton - are you certain the irrational behaviours regarding the inheritance are caused by greed, by a desire to own material possessions?
People who have lost someone important often act in bizarre ways when it comes to the material shell of the vanished life. This is usually a way of evaluating their relationship with the person gone. An assertion of having loved, and having been loved in return.
Sounds a bit wet if I put it this way, but especially in families it often quickly devolves into a very fierce, nasty kind of competition - whom did Ma love most? That sort of question may open up the darkest part of peoples souls - there's no need to tie *everything* to the consumer culture.

@Mr. Greer: Thank you for another great post. I hadn't realised that thing about the draft you mentioned.
With us, the draft ended in '97 and funnily we now seem to have *more* discussions about whether or not to send our army out. Because now it isn't just costing us our sons, it's costing us money.
There's the Dutch for you, I'm afraid.

Mister Roboto said...

It’s a continuing source of amusement to listen to the pseudoconservatives who dominate the Republican Party these days denounce the very modest government funding that goes to passenger rail service and public transit. Ask them if they’re willing to give up Federal highway dollars, to name only one of the huge subsidies that autos receive, and you’ll very quickly hear a different tune.

This is such a good example of how spoiled and ignorant the mentality you describe in this post can make people of middle-class origin. Our now-infamous plutocratic governor in Wisconsin Scott Walker decided to massively cut funding to Milwaukee County's ailing public-transit system. (In fairness, part of the blame for this problem falls squarely on the county for mismanaging the system for many years now.) Had the county not been able to secure some available funds from the Federal government at the last minute, the transit system would have been gutted. The Scott Walker supporters here in Milwaukee who need right-wing talk-radio to tell them what to think no doubt would have cheered wildly. But an awful lot of people (myself included, though I would have had options in the form of help from friends had the worst happened) in the county rely on the bus to get around the area. I am nearly certain that these ill-informed pseudoconservatives have no idea what an economic catastrophe this would have proved for Milwaukee County as people lost jobs to which they wouldn't be able to show up anymore and would likely have been forced to flee the area permanently. I suspect that in their minds, the only people who take the bus are dark-skinned individuals who to their reactionary way of thinking deserve every bad break they get. (Apologies for the snarling, but these people really make it difficult to refrain from snarling at them at least sometimes.)

Odin's Raven said...

Surely, 'We' and our concerns are part of what is passing away.

Kunstler's "nation of tattooed barbarians" that will replace 'Us' is already coming to prominence. Crude and harsh people creating and adapting to a crude and harsh environment will have little interest in or sympathy for 'Our' middle class liberal concerns.

Luciddreams said...

@Thomas Daulton:

I'd like to comment on your questions. The first thing that came to mind while reading your comment was that it sounds like your mother (and probably your grandmother) is a hoarder. This has actually become a legitimate psychological disorder. I find it a very interesting one at that. It appears to be very much an American disease and a very fitting one at that. My wife has these tendencies from her mother who got it from her mother. It seems to have an origin starting around the great depression. The need to keep anything and everything because you may need it latter to fill a need that you won't have the money for. The main idea is an intelligent one of thrift and I get that. Why waste things that don't need to be wasted? However there is a fine line between keeping things that you may find a use for later and hoarding.

Hoarding, as a psychological disease, is more concerned with keeping things because of there sentimental value. They remind the hoarder of a specific memory, and they fear that losing the object will strip that memory from them. I think the important thing to glean from this is that it is a psychological disorder. I think it's the obvious end result from years of being considered consumers and all that that entails. This is simply a pathology that the insane and sick American way of life has created.

As far as taking care of elders, and their function as a wellspring of wisdom. It seems to me that as things contract and people start moving back in with family, the taking care of elders part will just sort of happen. After all, before the geezer freezers that are called "nursing homes" came into existence it was family that took care of family. This is what my wife and I are doing, moving in with an elder aunt of hers who has nobody to care for her and no company since her husband recently died. Her home is paid for and we don't want a mortgage. It's a win win symbiotic relationship. It's not without psychological damage to the aunt created by the American way. She is heavily medicated on prescription franken chemicals to deal with her crappy and lonely life. It seems this is part of the work we will be dealing with.

As far as getting that wisdom from the elderly. It seems that we have simply lost much of this due to the perverted American life style. It has left much of our elderly devoid of wisdom in many respects. How much wisdom can you glean from a life filled with meaningless consumerism? Not that they don't have wisdom to provide, but simply being elderly does not equate to having wisdom.

charlo49 said...

You might be interested in this. It's a nice essay on Gandhi's concept of swadeshi. I am involved in a project in Escondido, California, where we will be putting these principles into practice. This will be a residential eco-village centered on dairy cows with no rent and no private ownership.We are planning a worldwide chain of these communities.

Bert L. said...

An excellent and thought provoking post as usual.
While your introductory points about cars being all the same and basically unchanged for 50 years are well founded, I believe that you are mistaken in comparing the new Hybrid cars to Diesel Electric locomotives. Diesel electric drive for trains is a relatively simple system of a diesel engine running a generator which powers an electric motor which drives the wheels. It offers certain advantages in simplifying the drive mechanism and allowing multiple engines to coordinate, but probably gives no fuel savings.
The new Hybrid cars (Prius) on the other hand are complex systems in which the electric motor (generator) and the gas motor work symbiotically to drive the wheels. During coasting and braking, the gas motor shuts off completely and the wheels drive the electric motor, now working as a generator, to charge the battery. When high torque is demanded, the electric motor kicks in and boosts the output of the relatively small gas motor. While they can be faulted for their extreme complexity, some of the hybrid cars (Prius) do work well and do save gas. The large hybrids are a bit of a travesty.

Twilight said...

Oh dear, that doesn't paint a very flattering picture of the middle class, now does it. You're bound to get some outrage from the 99% who just happen to live lives of greater luxury than kings of old.

We didn't always have a middle class in the US, and Zinn's work points that out well. Up until the oil age got kicking really well and the US established a global empire after WW2, we were more of a two class society with constant conflict between the classes. But having a large percentage of the society heavily invested in it's preservation and serving as a bulwark between the very rich and the have-nots was a far more stable and cost effective way of maintaining order. The middle class will fight tooth and nail to preserve what they have, against the poor in their own societies and against the outsiders with patriotic fervor.

Of course you have to have the goods to keep them paid off, to maintain their investment in the system, and the net return of our empire is no longer sufficient to do that – and not just from an energy perspective, but also from the normal cycles of such things. So while an invested middle class may be the preferred method maintaining control, there are others. When you cannot bribe or fool people into behaving and supporting the state, and the accumulation of wealth by those at the top, then force and fear are the natural tools.

The accumulation of people in prisons, likely to soon include debtor's prisons, is one example of that. What people perceive as random violations of their “rights” is another. This is merely the existing system asserting it's power, while it still can, and the effects move through the society in many ways. It is likely what RianbowShadow is seeing pieces of.

There simply aren't enough spoils returning from our empire to maintain that middle class buffer anymore. Born in 1963, I'm very fortunate to have lived my life thus far in a time when there were, and before the costs of it all became so apparent. But there cannot be any doubt that it will change, and those who still believe they have power by virtue of their “rights” and that they produce something of value through their jobs commensurate to what they've been provided are in for a very rude awakening into a world where nothing is recognizable.

sunbeam said...

"Draft, take the numbers for income inequality in the US, and then subtract from the share of the upper class the total value of US-owned derivatives and other hallucinatory wealth. It's a remarkable experience. There will indeed be less inequality, but not the way you're suggesting -- rather, all classes are leveling down toward poverty."

What exactly does this comment mean?

My understanding was that the nominal value of derivatives dwarfed the world economy, so I'd bet that US held derivatives dwarf the US economy and it's "wealth."

Are you trying to say the 1% mostly has imaginary wealth?

Ric said...

We started the waking-up, walking-away process just over five years ago. The first tentative steps were gut-wrenching; subsequent steps have been easier, but not easy. The dream dies hard.

Croatoan: "The reactions range from bewilderment to subtle hostility."

While biking, I've had people run stop signs and red lights, drive on the sidewalk, cross the center-line, even drive on the wrong side of a boulevard just to try to hit me. I've had everything from loose change to half-full cups of Starbucks thrown out windows along with endless profanity. BAU, I guess.

A small data point regarding the unevenness of decline relating to class: My recent medical misadventures. Warning: intentionally somewhat offensive.

Glenn in Maine said...

Agree on all counts save one. I commute by bike or public transport, yes even in Maine where conventional wisdom would have it that’s simply not possible. Reality is that it’s by choice however, as the majority who do are there because they need to be. Biggest impact I’m trying to have is to raise my daughter in an environment where walking and public transport are normal, not novel, and it’s happening I’m pleased to say. It’s part of the overall integral urban house type effort, but one thing I’m puzzled about is your continuing dismissal of PV panels. We have a grid-tie system on our roof, along with DHW tubes, and it’s been wonderful, generating half our consumption. We’ve cut the load as much as is convenient at this point, and are fully aware of the eventuality that we’ll have to make those 2600 kwh per year answer for 100% of our needs. So why wouldn’t we as a community want PV systems on every suitable roof, to decentralize the supply, reduce the load and eliminate the need to increase conventional capacity?

Richard Larson said...

JMG, you are the only one in the whole world I will not challenge about advisiing such a lifestyle!

Am working on it, but these ideas have to work through the mind before they will have a desired effect, I am sure everyone is aware.

Don't know if I could ever give up the vehicle willingly. Golly, that is a tough thought. I can understand why location would be so important.

Brad K. said...


A part of your advice bothers me, turning away from the privileges of modern life.

The reason for my disquiet is that the intent is really to turn *toward* a life richer in personal satisfaction, opportunity, and comfort that is more likely to be sustainable through coming changes. You have shown time and again that what is counted as "success" and "riches" in the peak energy, highly marketed consumerist life style is unsustainable and shallow. You have shown, by example, that rejecting the marketed concepts of "need" isn't the same thing as not having needs met.

Baggage Reclaim's NML describes the dead weight and painful ties to the past as excess baggage. The trick is to identify what is of sustainable value and to be cherished (food, family, faith, and culture, community, skills, shelter, self-knowledge). By filling our lives with things of value and loosing ties to distractions and those artifacts most likely to be harmful in themselves or when they become suddenly or intermittently unavailable, we adapt, we grow, we gain in wisdom with our choices and our selections.

Identifying what will be left behind as the point of the exercise, though, seems so . . negative.

Blessed be!

Matt and Jess said...

Your post is making me think! My husband is currently *really* enjoying his newfound love of handyman work, carpentry, weatherization, solar thermal, and all the other things he's currently going to school for and learning at odd jobs. Now he's hoping to get lots of big tools and a truck or something to cart them around in. Most people, right now, don't want to pay someone to take many extra hours to do everything by hand, and using these tools is apparently much quicker and easier. So, the truck. We know that it's not something to be depended on, but I don't know how he'd work in the meanwhile without something to cart all his tools around in. It may be that we'll end up moving to a walkable town, selling our already quite old car and getting some kind of truck for his business and walk for all our personal needs. Unfortunately, on the Front Range, travel is usually necessary between other cities for these kinds of jobs--hopefully we'll be able to get out of this area soon though! I can imagine him carting around his tools in some kind of flatbed bike thingy, but that would only be workable in an extremely walkable place...

Gruff said...

Do you ever wonder how we've gotten to be who we are - sweaters and umbrellas and all - and people like Mitt Romney get to be like they are. (And I am nowhere near to you in having rid myself of the trappings of privilege.)

It was your review of Schumacher's ideas that clarified it for me. Guys like Romney believe that money controls everything. The real purpose of money is to buy energy; the more money you have the more energy you can buy. That this connection is not discussed results from either ignorance or delusion. It is hard for me to believe that the "best and brightest' are ignorant of the connection. After all, the B&B claim intellectual superiority and how could these superior minds ignore the true nature of their wealth - the earth's treasure. Do they really believe they will be immune from the travails of energy descent?

Herein lies the true nature of the conflict, the usurpation of control of the planet's treasure by the 1% via the control of money. Michael Ruppert continues to drum that point. This is the idea that could unite the 99%, the idea that the rigged financial system really is the mechanism to control the planet's resources and the 1% will bomb the hell out of anybody who gets in the way.

At Orlov's blog there is an essay featuring studies by serious people as to the true depth of the scourge of military spending. This information is obscure but if it were made widely known the outrage that would result should be deafening.

We allow the militarists to squander what remains of the earth's resources, energy and otherwise, to fight wars over these very resources. This is so insane that I can't understand how it can continue. And then I read your essay and resign myself to the reality that things are going to turn out poorly.

I've been a reader for a couple of years now; I've learned much. Today's installment is as good as it gets.



PS Sorry for the ramble. My catholic education rewarded me with an understanding of good writing and yours is among the best I've ever read. How many people read your stuff? Hundreds? Thousands? We're statistically invisible and that's why nothing is going to change until it's too late for most.

margfh said...

Thomas D,

I would echo your question regarding elder care. My in-laws (well into their 80's) will be moving into our home this summer. We have plenty of room but as we live 7 miles out of town I anticipate much driving to doctors etc. We added on to our very modest home in the midst of a crisis - had to take in three disabled brothers when our mother died. They aren't with us at the moment but they'll be back I'm sure our our social safety net disintgrates even more. How will I care for all these people as I'm 60 as it is already.

No way we can sell this house in the current market but at least we have room for relatives.

At any rate aging is really a worry for me on many levels.


LewisLucanBooks said...

JMG - Your post this week is a classic. So many pieces that fall into place with a clarity that is ... words fail me.

The comments are also of great value. Lots of "This is how I did (am doing) it." and "I'm adrift! Help!"

The place I'm moving to, in the country, also has some drawbacks. But, with a little time and thought, I think they can be worked around or alternatives can be found. Way more pluses than minuses.

As someone who has always lived my life in a pretty much "alternative" manner, I've often found the road a bit lonely. Someone mentioned being met with puzzlement or hostility. Check and check. But I'm old enough that over time, I accepted the loneliness and choose to call it solitude. "Loneliness is a desert. Solitude is a garden."

On diplomacy. One of my neighbors has very kindly offered to rototill up the space I am going to use for a garden. Well ... I plan to do a more organic, permicultural kind of thing. What to do? I thanked him profusely, said I was really going to start small, I'd be happy just to get a little lettuce this year, but was it possible that his goats could help me knock back the blackberries? Smiles all around.

ando said...


Were you able to find a Tai Chi class within walking distance in



DW said...

The more I think I've come to grips with all of this, the more I see how paralyzed I am with fear of what's to come and how to deal with it.

I'm looking at a likely promotion at work shortly and am closing in on a near six-figure salary...but am completely apathetic to what that "means" to me...where others would be popping champagne and leveraging up to a nicer car/house/vacation, I'm more confused than ever.

My wife, due to an insecure upbringing that has her worried about her ability to get by if something happened to me and having no access to higher-education when she was younger, is trying to deal with her options marketable skills outside the service industry, but also little drive/desire to put herself through 5 years of school with no guarantees on the other side.

We have no community and very few friends, mostly as a result of living in a city/area that is convenient, but devoid of anything we really care about, and despite feeling increasingly uneasy with the choices we've made, still just can't bring ourselves to pitch it all for something else...taking a chance on moving somewhere else or whatever an appropriate response to all this might be.

It's like we can't accept that the stories we've been told aren't real and that life for us isn't going to be the "green wet-dream" we see on the web/magazines/TV. We're still imagining careers that "make a difference" from a greener-liberal standpoint and considering what graduate degrees might get us there. We still dream of buying a house and having a nice little urban-homestead, despite knowing that there's no way we can afford that unless I keep my job and she gets a degree and somehow earns enough for us to be able to afford it together...

We're both stuck in this odd middle-ground where we know in our hearts that all of this consumer-culture/mainstream-ness is an illusion, but can't figure out how/when/where to create a different story for ourselves...beyond the small changes we've already done: trimming the budget, cooking from scratch, staying healthy, less car-dependent, saving instead of spending, etc.

Voluntary Poverty. Ok. How? Where?

Sometimes I wish a pink-slip would come, just to kick us in the arse and force our hand.

My one solace is the creative outlet I get from writing and spiritual contemplation...well, that and the fact that I do have an amazing partner I'm working through all this with. Maybe I'm simply at a catharsis point and all this will make sense one day. We'll see.


Jim Brewster said...

@Thomas Daulton, I was thinking today, in more abstract terms, about how different generations will deal with decline. My children will no doubt see as normal things that I will find hard to accept (what else is new...).

Elder care of tomorrow will have to look more like elder care of the past: fewer people will be living a long time with chronic disease, and they will be more accepting of death. But the transition won't be easy. For many of today's middle-class adults, and for those who must care for them in their dotage, I think a great deal of unpleasantness will be inevitable, unless they can embrace a less materialistic and more spiritual mindset.

Mark Angelini said...

This weekend I headed back to the library to further my research into the food system and life of people in the small town where I stay before 1900.

I came across recounts of the shoddy settler homes, built in the late 1840's from log, mud, grass, bark and whatever was at hand. The settlers warmed their home with a small fire place, over which the women would cook all of the food and do the washing . The roofs, assembled so shoddily (partly because I think settlers assumed life would get better in the future, allowing a better living arrangement) that they would wake up in the mornings after winter snow storms with two inches of snow on their beds and floor. Talk about poverty!

Amidst all that hardship, there were stories of culture, parties, and camaraderie. They lived quite literally by the vagaries of nature, crop yields, and amongst an uncharted wilderness. But they didn't let that damper their spirits. Of course, that was just life, not a fear ridden fantasy in their heads. And all of that is to mention nothing of the prior achievements of the Indian population.

From my experience, the largest obstacles are mental obstacles. I think Orlov's observation of American culture being substantially less adaptable to the future than Soviet Russia's ala late 1980's is spot on. From what I observe, the American Dream will not go out without a fruitless, in not dangerous, fight. But, humans are an adaptable bunch.

escapefromwisconsin said...

This trend seems to be gathering steam in various parts of the world that have seen an early onset of declining living stadnards, e.g. Japan:

[...] But it was the bursting of Japan's bubble in the early 1990s, coupled with this shift in the social landscape, that made the old model of Japanese manhood unsustainable. Before the bubble collapsed, Japanese companies offered jobs for life. Salarymen who knew exactly where their next paycheck was coming from were more confident buying a Tiffany necklace or an expensive French dinner for their girlfriend. Now, nearly 40 percent of Japanese work in nonstaff positions with much less job security.

"When the economy was good, Japanese men had only one lifestyle choice: They joined a company after they graduated from college, got married, bought a car, and regularly replaced it with a new one," says Fukasawa. "Men today simply can't live that stereotypical 'happy' life."

Yoto Hosho, a 22-year-old college dropout who considers himself and most of his friends herbivores, believes the term describes a diverse group of men who have no desire to live up to traditional social expectations in their relationships with women, their jobs, or anything else. "We don't care at all what people think about how we live," he says.

Japan panics about the rise of Gress-eating men (Slate)

Abd Greece:

Yiannis Makridakis, 40, a Greek novelist whose work touches on themes of tradition and regionalism, represents a different strain of refugee, with a more political tinge. He said he moved from Athens to Chios in 2010 as an act of defiance against a global financial system he found unsustainable. He bought property with a well and grows his own vegetables.

“I came to the conclusion that I want to live this insignificant life of mine as one human being among others,” Mr. Makridakis said on a sunny afternoon, looking down from his balcony on the rooftops of his village, Volissos, and the blue sea below. “According to the old ways, where people work to secure their basic needs.”

Others find the trend discouraging. In the walled medieval village of Mesta, Georgia Poumpoura, 73, stood under a grape arbor outside her small stone house and chatted with friends. She said she divides her time between Athens, where she raised her family, and Mesta, where she grew up in poverty and where her monthly pension, which has been cut by the government’s austerity plan, stretches further.

“I have three sons,” she said. “One is a civil engineer, one an electrical engineer, another a mechanical engineer. All three are unemployed. They’re having a hard time in Athens. Here we manage to make ends meet, but we spend less,” she said of herself and her husband, who is also retired.

But she said she would be disappointed if her sons returned to Chios. “I worked so hard to make my children and grandchildren go to college,” she said. “I don’t want them to come back. It would be a waste of all that effort.”

Amid economic strife, Greece looks to farming past (New York Times)

I emphasize that last part for a reason; it seems to be a common attitude among the aspirational poor, especially immigrants, who were hoping for a better life for their children. They did their best so that their children would be better off than they were, so why would their children be poor by choice? I suspect that being on the outside looking in to the lifestyles of their 'betters', they had no idea of the tradeoffs that implied, and their children are finding that out just now. As this article points out, a vast upper middle class has always been just a fantasy.

Cathy McGuire said...

Thanks for your insights! I particularly liked A consumer in a modern industrial society is free to choose any of a dizzying range of variations on a suffocatingly narrow range of basic options—and that’s equally true whether we are talking about products, politics, or lifestyles.
That’s so true that I’m constantly amazed that people don’t see it! When you point out 22 brands of cereal that is basically wheat, corn, oats, rice and much sugar, they grudgingly admit it, but don’t want their favorite brand removed.

The alternative is to let go of the perks and privileges before they drag you down. That may be the least popular advice I could offer, but it’s also among the most necessary. Over the years to come, as the real economy of goods and services contracts in lockstep with the depletion of fossil fuels, the fight over what’s left of the benefits of a failing industrial system is likely to become far more brutal than it is today. In the long run, that’s a fight with no winners. The alternative is to walk away, now, while you still have the time and resources to do it at your own pace.
And the other good reason to let go/walk away is that control over the circumstances of your life get more and more clear and simple when you detach from the wild complexities of our consumer society. One of these days, I’m gonna list all the dang accessories and updates needed to run some of our basic “tools”, especially the ones that have manual alternatives!

It means doing without things you want, during the difficult process of unlearning the mental automatisms that make you want them in the first place.
Excellent point! Once you learn not to want them, the “pain” goes away. But it is a learning curve and it does take time – or so I’ve found it.

And I wanted to share this – the ruinmen have arrived:
“One freezing evening we happened upon the young men in this film, who were illegally dismantling a former Cadillac repair shop. They worked recklessly to tear down the steel beams and copper fasteners. They were in a hurry to make it to the scrap yard before it closed at 10 p.m., sell their spoils and head to the bar.
Surprisingly, these guys, who all lacked high school diplomas, seemed to have a better understanding of their place in the global food chain than many educated American 20-somethings. The young men regularly checked the fluctuating price of metals before they determined their next scrap hunt, and they had a clear view of where these resources were going and why. They were the cleanup crew in a shaky empire. Somebody’s got to do it.
One of the men, who had come up from Kentucky to scrap after losing a job in a coal mine, stands out in our minds. Taking a short break from the action, he looked up and said with disgust, “All that’s left here are the remnants of what was.”
The next day we went back to check on the progress of their project. The entire building was gone.”

Cathy McGuire said...

@Thomas Daulton: Of course, Mom has a bad back and bad joints, so she demands that her family do ALL the actual hard labor of moving, packing and storing this junk.
Oh, boy - does that sound familiar!! I empathize with your difficulty; family’s one of the hardest groups to deal with, because you don’t want to disown them, as you say. I wonder if your Mom’s behavior is part of her denial of/ fear of death – it’s scary to become the elder generation (I’m on the edge of that; I’m it once my Mom, 81, dies). I confess that I moved far away from my family (who sounds similar in this area to yours) because I couldn’t find any other sane way of living near them. I have already decided that I will put no claim on anything my siblings want, and won’t fight if there are any inequalities in the will. Basically, I detached from the whole thing, while I’m still trying to be supportive and grateful to my sibs who live closer to Mom. We can’t tell anyone else how to live their lives; it’s possible our examples can be useful to them, though. That said, it will still be painful if at the end of Mom’s life, she puts demands on me that I need to resist. And how do we not get like them? Start now! I’m already working hard to be aware of death and aging, and be conscious in my acceptance of declining skills and declining “relevance” in the world. Not that I don’t do good things – I’m just stepping far away from the culture’s pretence of “never aging”, which puts people in terrible traps.

@Creighton: As I have several times in the last year, I felt torn between personal plans and ideals and a desire not to distance or unnecessarily offend those closest to me.
I also struggle with that, and like everything else in this adjustment, there are no hard and fast rules. Since I don’t live near family, and they seem not to “get” the simple, rural life I’m living, I cheerfully thank them for their gifts and give more than half of them to a thrift store where I get great used clothes and items that fit my lifestyle. I try to appreciate their loving attempts to “help” me without feeling the need to pretzel my life to fit them.

BTW- the word verification thingie is really glitchy today!

Don Stewart said...

I wonder if the 'Peak-End Rule' has something to do with the hold that consumerism has on most people.

That rule, as applied to a movie, says that the last 10 minutes is what people remember, and determines whether they recommend the movie to friends. Likewise, the peak event in a vacation is what is remembered. So 110 minutes of a boring movie followed by a fantastic 10 minute ending gets an A Plus rating.

Most people discount the daily pleasures of things like a walk in the rain or the crisp feel of Autumn on the cheek. What Hollywood and Pepsico and Kentucky Fried Chicken all know is how to give expensive, mundane experiences some sense of 'Peak-End' effect which causes us to remember them and keep coming back for more.

It is also true that a 60 second peak moment can outweigh an hour of pleasant experiences. For example, we may choose to drive an hour each way on crowded highways to the big waterfall, while we could walk down to the neighborhood creek and spend two pleasant, timeless hours listening to the birds and the water and perhaps napping in the sun.

Which leads me to the speculation that those who have learned to value the present moment, as is taught in Mindfulness, can be quite happy and content with very little, while those who are trapped by their 'Peak-End' proclivities are forever going to need more resources of all kinds chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

And which leads me to think that the discussion about whether the Middle Class is screwing the Lower Class or, alternatively, both are getting screwed by the One Percent is only accurate in the context of 'Peak-End'. If one expands the context to include the voluntary poverty of those in monasteries or Thoreau at Walden, then the class warfare fades as a valid explanation.

Perhaps more people should walk their dogs--who seem to me to be totally in the moment.

Don Stewart

Seaweed Shark said...

I expect your readership includes a number of people who don't own cars -- or will pretend not to own one, for the sake of appearances. I haven't had one for more than four years and it's a bloody nuisance, but perhaps you'd agree that putting up with bloody nuisances is part of the skill set of the poor.

Another part of that skill set is building connections with other people, because beyond all else, it's harder to be poor when one is alone. I miss the discussion of your experience with mutual assistance societies, which you spoke about quite a lot more than a year ago, but haven't mentioned recently. And you haven't said much about religion per se at all, to to my knowledge. One gets the impression that much of the thaumaturgy currently being served to the public comes via religious institutions, but at the same time religious institutions (properly functioning ones), and the human connections they support, would be an avenue of assistance out of the trap you are describing. Yet you don't discuss them much, and I guess that must be intentional though I've often wondered why.

someone said...

Good post, as always. The subject of voluntary simplicity – which, for me, means mental/philosophical simplicity as much as material simplicity – has always fascinated me. Then again, I'm not American, so I cannot really relate to the consumerism and addiction to superficial comfort that has been so rampant in the USA during the last few decades. I grew up in central Europe and still live there, and even though many people here have cars and iPhones and whatnot, the general attitude seems more down-to-earth. Hardship and famine are still present in our collective memory (think post-war years), even though most people living today have not experienced them first-hand.

Personally, my wife and I are trying to pursue a kind of "middle path" between excess consumerism and voluntary poverty (like moving to a farm without electricity, as an acquaintance of my wife has done). For us, this means owning no car (which is not uncommon however – four out of ten households in our city do not have one, even though probably three out of these four could easily afford one). It also means no TV, living in an apartment instead of a family home (shorter distances, better walkability), spending our yearly vacation somewhere we can get to by train etc. This has worked very well for us; it allows us to both work part-time, thus having more spare time to spend doing useful things, like cooking or playing with our one-year-old son.

I suspect, however, that living this way much easier in some parts of Europe than in the USA (we live in Vienna).

Kieran O'Neill said...

Thomas Daulton said:
I would really like to hear your views, JMG, and any ideas from you and your readers, about what elder care is going to be like in the post-peak world... how it might be a sustainable part of public life, and what we relatively young spring chickens can do to prepare for it.

JMG has a post from 2009 addressing exactly that.
(It's actually quite related to today's post, in terms of walking away.)

The way I can see things playing out over the next few generations, given falling birth rates and the end of economic growth, is something like this:

At first, there will be a large number of wealthy pensioners with nothing much to do but play golf and go on expensive holidays. At the same time, there will be a shrinking workforce of younger people producing anything to support the elderly, and with little prospects of ever having the kind of wealth they see in those well-off pensioners. We are at the beginning of this age now, as the baby boomers retire.

Eventually, two things are likely to happen, though I'm not sure which will come first.

Firstly, young people with no prospects will become increasingly angry at the older people with all the money, perceiving this as a gerontocracy (the money will also buy political power). This may manifest itself in the form of violence, abuse, voting patterns, etc.

Secondly, the pension funds that people entering their 60s depend on to make them comfortable and a little wealthy will start vanishing, in various economic crashes, either to hyperinflation or to toxic investment.

Together, this makes growing old a fairly scary prospect.

But here we can bring the discussion back to the theme of today's post. If you are young now, consider walking away from the idea of a pension fund, and think about how you might instead incorporate yourself into the household economy of some younger people as you grow old.

If you really want to put money away, it's better to invest in physical goods with value in your daily life. One idea might be to buy a house (assuming you can maintain a means to pay it off). Later in life, you can get some younger people to live with you in exchange for taking care of you.

Kieran O'Neill said...

That Walkability site Ruben linked to is quite something. At least in the US, you can get a listing of towns in a given State by walkability -- Cumberland apparently comes in 14th in Maryland. You can also view a particular town shaded by walkability. And they cross-reference Craigslist apartment searches with walkability. Definitely a very useful tool.

Oh, and another interesting point: If you look at walkability of all large cities on the map, there's a heck of a lot of red in the Southern states, and very little green. I wonder if this doesn't reflect some of the political narrative around energy and oil? Regardless, it speaks of especially difficult times to come for people living in the South.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

What a wonderful essay from JMG.

Yes, indeed, our life task is to walk away from this garbage. We are to walk away with all the determination of Gandhi, of Edith Stein, of Solzhenitsyn.

Thanks, Jeffrey, for giving us a window into monasticism.

Monasticism is a pre-eminent means for disengaging spiritually from the trash around us. We live amid lies an order of magnitude more dangerous to our personal core than the lies of the silly old CP-USSR.

Dear, dead little USSR!

There allegedly was a guy in the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic who believed the Generalniye Liniye of the CP-USSR. He genuinely thought, for instance, that dialectical-materialist processes were rendering a proletarian revolution in the West, plus authentic Marxist-Leninist Communism in the East, inevitable. The Estonian branch of the CP-USSR figured that anyone having such views must be a dangerous nutcase, and so (as I have heard it said, maybe in the kitchen of Toronto's Tartu College) they made sure this wackjob guy never got his Party card.

And the old USSR regime jokes! It is a telling fact that we in the West are so deadened, co-opted, and conned that we, unlike wide-awake citizens in the erstwhile East, do not tell regime jokes. We may joke about our individual politicians, but about our regime as such? Nyet, tovarishtch.

[posting continues in a second transmission, so as to satisfy
the server-imposed constraint on length of each individual transmission]

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

[second, final transmission, to finish this posting]

My own monastic affiliation is with the Archabbey of Saint Vincent in Pennsylvania, as a mere Oblate Novice. This is about as low as you can get, the first step to affiliating as a lay Oblate. I have been stuck in this step for the past decade. It admittedly does not help that Saint Vincent sometimes feels embedded in the outlooks and assumptions of the very Empire that it is our duty to walk away from.

What might be the duties of monastics not willing to embed themselves in the Empire? Radical pacifism is helpful, as is permaculture. Privately, I also try to study electronics and computer hardware nuts-and-bolts and physics and maths.

Additionally, those of us who are Catholics might want to work toward a more Hebraized Church, making our Catholicism a little less of a fossil of that previous big kinky Empire, the Empire that kept putting up those joyless "SENATVS POPVLVSQVE ROMANVS" adverts.

I bash away at classical Hebrew for just 10 or so minutes a day, 5 or 6 days a week, keeping timelogs on my Linux box:

__hic finitur lingua_hebraica

In pondering Hebrew, we might additionally want to note a counterpoint to JMG's (admittedly correct) point on the prophetic failure of the Qumran War Scroll.

The scariest thing I have seen in my life I saw a couple of years ago, in the Royal Ontario Museum, in a temporary exhibit from the Qumran scrolls.

Sobering as the glass-cased scroll fragments were, it was something else in the ROM exhibit that really registered.

The Israeli government had released for the ROM not only some scroll fragments but an inscribed slab from the Temple. This slab - the inscription was clear, and although I read the English translation, I perhaps could just about have got some of the meaning straight from the so-well-chiseled koine Greek - said: "Jewish precinct. Any Gentile venturing beyond this point will be held responsible for his own death."

What was scary was not the slab's so-ruthless wording, but the realization that this slab qua physical artifact was likely seen by the Rabbi Yeshua ben-Yosef himself, and by his apostles, when as good Jews they all strolled past it into the Temple's Jewish precinct in the Passover season of Anno Domini 33.

It was scary that this "apostolic" stuff, far from being dead, could extend an arm into 21st-century Ontario.

Even though (a) (as JMG points out) the War Scroll errs in envisaging a sudden battlefield destruction of Rome, nevertheless (b) (the counterpoint to JMG's point) the War Scroll is accurate in finding the Roman Empire doomed and its Judaic opposition viable.

If you walk, as I have walked, through central Rome, you see an 1800- or 1900-year-old triumphal arch on which a relief sculpture depicts a Roman triumphal procession. Hoisted high in the procession is a menorah or similar Jewish candelabrum, part of the swag from the destruction, unforeseen in Qumran writings, of the ancient Jewish urban fabric.

In the open space near the arch is desolation and waste.

The ruin is the work not of natural forces but of humans, of oafish late Romans who, caring not a fig for the now-departed glories of their SENATVS POPVLVSQVE ROMANVS, quarried their own Forum.

Rome is dead - o vae, cecidi cecidi Babylonia magna - and yet the menorah ceremonial, like much else from Judaism (including, arguably, Yeshua) lives.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo
www dot metascientia dot com

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Thomas Daulton--Your mother remembers her mother using many of these things. Your mother may have had some of these things around her when she was a child in her mother's home. These objects may not be useful or valuable but they are a tangible connection to your grandmother. I think your mother is trying to keep her memories alive by holding on to your grandmother's stuff.

When possessions belonged to a person who was close to you, the decisions about whether to keep, sell, give away or toss are going to be made at least partly for emotional reasons. All the more so if the death was unexpected and the decisions have to be made in the midst of grief.

DC said...


Thanks for asking. Yes, I did. You stated that with the following:

"The point that needs making is that a great many people in between those two extremes also benefit handsomely from the system. When those people criticize the system, their criticisms by and large focus on the barriers that keep them from having as large a share as the rich—not the ones that keep them from having as small a share as the poor, or to phrase things a little differently, that keep their privileged share from being distributed more fairly across the population as a whole."

I agree there is victimization rhetoric out there and some folks in the middle class are clueless about a number of things--including their own privilege, but I don't agree that we can blanket all those who feel victimized by our current mode of production as one trying to achieve the same riches as the top 1% or any other percent positioned above working class America. This seems a bit reductionist to me as I am aware there are many ways with which a learned helplessness of victimization may be interpreted. There is the internal and external meaning making at play here and it is quite diverse depending on a number of factors. I think most are tired of being ostracized, alienated and disenfranchised, to say the least, from the political process and feel the majority of Americans when acting in solidarity may achieve economic justice in the end.

I also disagree that the Occupy movement can be lumped into a single protest message such as upward social and/or economic mobility. Many people in the Occupy movement are using the latest scams and boondoggles by Wall Street and our corporate-dominated political system as a means to catalyze (maybe foolishly, but nonetheless) the creation of a new world in the shell of the old. Or, as the Zapatistas have famously quoted as their intent to "create a world in which all worlds may exist." I think for the most part the Occupy movement is a springboard for creating open and free spaces to counteract laissez faire, crony capitalism.

I agree with the class struggle analysis and abandoning wage slavery, but I do not agree that a socialist or capitalist mode of production--both being wholly dependent on infinite economic growth and the fantasy of progress-relying entirely on wishy washy technological advances to thwart or manipulate the circumstances that surround our current and future biophysical realities.

If there are any self-identified groups in America that are willing to give you and I a podium for speaking our views on peak oil, limits to growth, etc., it is the Occupy movement. We just need to reach out to them as we provide constructive criticism of their tactics or demands.

SophieGale said...

Peoria, IL: How I love this maddening, conservative, Republican, company town! It's shocking, I know, but the protest movement here DID NOT end in the 1970's. Rain or shine, there's been a peace-and-whatever-else-y'got rally at noon every Saturday since we went into Iraq.

Since 1983 the Peoria Area Peace Network has been taking on Blackwater and the School of the Americas, the Illinois death penalty, and Kentucky Fried Chicken--and showing up for those weekly street corner protests.

Jack Ryan is one of the quietest, least assuming members of PAPN, but he has quite a story:

All of the "lefty" groups overlap. Our Fair Trade store is a not-for-profit. The president of the board is also president of the local NOW chapter, a member of PAPN and a volunteer for Food Not Bombs. Again, one of the quietest, most unassuming people you'll ever meet--and, according to rumor, she was at Woodstock!

I think the dark wizards of the "magician states" WANT us to believe that the protest movement died out. I'm currently reading Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now--Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything by David Sirota. It's making me physically ill trying to unravel thirty years of powerful thaumaturgy, but I am determined to get through it.

BTW, I expect to freeze tomorrow, but I plan to be at the Occupy the Courts rally. To mark the 2nd anniversary of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission:

"Occupy the Courts will be a one day occupation of Federal courthouses across the country, including the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Friday January 20, 2012.

"Move to Amend volunteers across the USA will lead the charge on the judiciary which created — and continues to expand — corporate personhood rights."

Rallies across the country will be demanding a constitutional amendment to revoke personhood for corporations. Check the map for a demonstration in your area.

Justin said...


For those of you amused by Thomas Daulton's diatribe about his hectoring mother, we've been collaborating on a fictionalized version of these events, its got pictures and everything.

Apocalypse Mom

Luciddreams said...

@Thomas Daulton

after reading some of the comments above, and re-reading mine, I'd like to apologize. While I believe my points were valid, they don't necessarily apply to you and your family, it's just the first reaction I had. I'm specifically referring to the hoarding.

siddrudge said...

Alexander Solzhenitsyn said:

" Do not pursue what is illusory - property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade and can be confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life - don't be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is after all, all the same: the bitter doesn't last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. "

Repent said...

I've already lived near the bottom. I have a co-worker who travels 3 times a year by plane with their whole family to Mexico for vacations. The own 3 cars, a huge McMansion, and they have a summer cottage. Several other people I know live similarly lavish lifestyles.

I live very modestly. My family although we do own one vehicle, we use it for travel and utility purposes only. I haven't been on a plane in 17 years. Keeping a constant 2 month supply of food in the house is an ongoing priority. I know envy doesn't solve anything, but I often feel envious of the 'good life' I see others living around me.

I dread the thought of growing my own food. I planted a full garden last year and got only weeds; which is odd because I didn't plant any weeds? I have never been a farmer, my parents weren't farmers, my grandparents moved off the farms for the 'good' city jobs and never looked back. I've looked at the cost of buying farm land, the cheapest farm land is far from services and is still in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars of initial cost up front- way beyond my meager means for any foreseeable time in the future. At best I might be hired on to a corporate mega farm as an employee at some future point- land is too expensive to buy ever.

How to transition, doesn't appear so easy as you have suggested. All the cost scraping I might do will never afford me hundreds of thousands necessary to purchase farm land!

On an unrelated note, with my vision getting worse in my 40's; the unusual font you use in your posts is somewhat difficult to read. I would recommend Arial Black, unless there is a special reason that you use Trebuchet MS??

John Michael Greer said...

Rich, many thanks for the suggestions! I need to reread Illich in particular; it's been a while. I've just been rereading Gregory Bateson, so it's a timely suggestion.

Sofistek, I try to be very specific about what I'm saying -- no, condensate isn't included, or heavy oil emulsion, or tar sand extractives, or anything else but ordinary crude oil from ordinary wells. No, it's not an easy number to find; you basically have to take the C&C number, check the specific definition being used, and then start subtracting based on reports of the amount of other things being counted in. The result is a very rough figure -- but it's clear that the unconventional fuels are making up a growing share while total production is nearly flat.

Meg, I think it's definitely different data. Outside of a minority of professional activists, it's been my sense that the US Occupy movements would have ended in five minutes if somebody had gone out and offered nice entry-level middle class jobs to the people involved.

Thomas, I wish I knew what to say. I haven't been in that situation, and almost certainly never will be -- my family blew up like a hand grenade when I was ten, scattering fragments in all directions. I've heard the same sort of story many times from others as well, though, and the only thing I can suggest is that if somebody insists on clinging to a heavy weight when the ship goes down, you may not be able to do much.

Hadashi, good. I hope you arrange to watch sumo matches in person now and again!

Poet, the point of my comment wasn't to predict the end of the world, you know! It's simply that the chances are very high that in a few years, being an American overseas may not be very safe.

Jason, your friends are tracing out a trajectory a lot of people will be following in the years immediately ahead. Yurts sound like a sensible option.

Creighton, remember that you can always drive the car when Grandma's in town and leave it under a tarp the rest of the time. I'll drop you a note shortly about the poem -- thank you.

Rhisiart, thank you! Glad you enjoyed it.

Das Monde, many thanks for the link -- that's exceptionally interesting. The system's generosity to the working and middle classes until Reagan's era? Panic, based on experience in 1930s America and elsewhere, that the working class and intellectuals would go over to Marxism if they weren't placated.

John Michael Greer said...

Jean-Vivien, the concept was good -- it was either based on, or plagiarized from, a rather good novel by Andre Norton -- but I don't share your appreciation for the movie as it was produced!

Tuba, in your place I'd get to work on my Hungarian. Your neighbor is using a very old and highly effective method of composting; one of the many virtues of livestock is that they convert spare vegetation into the best fertilizer on the planet.

John, all the strength you need is present in you, right now. I know it sounds corny, but it's true.

Jason, you'll find Blumberg well worth a read.

Justin, excellent! Yes, and it's crucial to keep both sides of that paradox in awareness at the same time: the future ahead of us will involve immense suffering and privation for pretty much every one of us; the future ahead of us also has the capacity to open the way to a wealth of human values. It's easy to embrace one or the other of those, but to grasp both, hold them in the mind together, and understand what they have to say to each other -- there's the challenge.

Yupped, that's very good to hear. Yes, the road's always lonely at first.

Moon, now if somebody would just do for Stanley Steamers what's now being done for the world's smallest car, the Peel P-50, which is in production again...

Thijs, that's a great story. Thank you.

Mister R., I didn't hear a snarl. I wish we had some real conservatives here in the US who were willing to take on the free market Stalinists and Evangelical Jacobins who've usurped the label!

Raven, Jim's problem is that he doesn't get out and meet these alleged barbarians; he'd find, if he did, that they aren't the caricatures he's presenting.

Charlo49, thank you! This is a very solid essay, and about a very important subject.

Bert, my understanding is that the diesel-electric drive used on locomotives does indeed bring significant fuel savings -- that's why it supplanted all other rail engines in the late 1940s. Still, I'll look into it.

Unknown said...


In regard to your comment back to Bert about diesel-electric locomotives, I'll have to say that Bert is correct. The main reason for the setup is that it is the best way (mechanically least complicated) to transmit the power from the diesel engine to the driving wheels. Other setups have been tried (Southern Pacific bought some German made hydraulically coupled engines) but nothing works as well as diesel electric. The move from steam engines to diesel electric in the late 40s early 50s was driven primarily by the huge labor cost savings in all facets of operations, from providing fuel to maintenance, of the diesels over steam engines.

John Michael Greer said...

Twilight, nicely put. There will be a lot of rude awakenings in the years to come.

Sunbeam, excellent! Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. The mass production of imaginary wealth to prop up the otherwise collapsing financial support for the upper classes is the nonreported story of the last thirty years. They're basically padding their balance sheets with funny money to keep from facing the reality that the economic system that used to support them is bankrupt.

Ric, I make a point of walking mostly in the poor part of town -- that's where I live, anyway. A lot of people there walk, and drivers are relatively polite. It's in the relatively affluent parts of town that drivers become belligerent at the sight of a pedestrian.

Glenn, I criticize PV when it's presented, as it so often is, as a way to keep the age of abundance going -- because it can't. PV, as I've said repeatedly here, is a valuable transitional tool; when we get far enough down the curve of decline, they won't be manufactured any more, but in the meantime -- to produce small amounts of electricity for practical purposes -- they're great.

Richard, definitely think about it, mull it over, take some baby steps, go through the changes. In the Druid order I head, we advise new members to try making three changes in their lifestyle to cut down on the burden they place on the biosphere -- they get to pick the three changes, and stick with them for a year. After that, it's easier to see where to proceed.

Brad, in some posts I stress turning toward, in others I stress turning away. Both halves have to be grasped, grappled with, and then integrated; today's cult of self-indulgence is well enough ingrained in most Americans that renunciation has to be presented repeatedly to them before they get it.

Jess, if Matt needs a truck to do his work for the time being, he needs a truck. You make your choices depending on where you are and what you want to do.

Gruff, you're still falling into the dualist trap of believing that it's only the 1% that believe in the power of money. Most of the American middle class believes it, too, and will furiously reject any attempt you make to disabuse them, because they realize that their privileges depend on the money delusion just as much as Romney's do.

Margfh, that's becoming a reality for a lot of people. Do you have any younger relatives in good health who need a place to live? Bringing some of them into the household might help.

Lewis, nicely handled, and those goats ought to do a fine job on the blackberries. The only thing I've never seen them touch is nettle.

Ando, I'm actually certified to teach, though I don't; I practice by myself at the moment. There's a kung fu school in town that has t'ai chi clases, but those conflict with my Masonic meetings so I haven't checked them out.

DW, I think a lot of people are going through what you and your wife are going through right now. One bit of advice -- stay out of college! There's a huge bubble in student loans that's being inflated right now to give the banks a bunch of allegedly safe loan-backed securities, and college tuitions have been inflated to an appalling degree because of that. If you let yourself get sucked into that you will probably never get out of debt.

dennis said...

"lack: the capacity to envision truly profound change." When an individual does have the vision many of his projects are illegal. Raw milk, most homemade cars, most alternative building techniques, Heck even in many communities windmills are illegal. Even living ten miles from town a twenty mile walk once a month for groceries would still pay. Figure a two day trip against a $500.00 a month gas/car/insurance payment. Hard to see that being American, but heck $250.00 a day wages without taxes sounds sweet.

greatblue said...

Re dismantling Detroit, I find it horrifying that most US scrap metal is being exported to China. We will never get it back.

When you think of all the energy it took to create that metal in its current form (mining, smelting, creating specialty alloys, fabricating it, transporting it, installing it, not to mention dismantling it and shipping it across the Pacific against the prevailing winds), and the fact that the days of having that kind of energy at our disposal are drawing to a close, China is getting an unbelievable bargain at the prices they are paying.

It's an incredibly shortsighted activity on our part. We're throwing our wealth away with both hands.

Mean Mr Mustard said...

Hey JMG,

I once gave up a car in the US.

I was on holiday in OR, and returned a hire car to the yard on the main route just outside town. The guy was kind enough to offer a lift back to where I was staying. As it was only 1.5 miles, I explained that because I was British, I was used to walking short distances without difficulty.
How we laughed.

I hadn't considered the lack of pavement / sidewalks along part of the route. But I made it back ok.

Is it true that these days pedestrians are actually viewed with suspicion by law enforcement? 'Proceeding without a vehicle' (or at least a dog?) marking hapless walkers out as undeserving poor, or some psycho nutter likely up to no good...



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

Excellent blog, it chronicles our race to the bottom and provides sage advice. This week’s blog entry almost felt to me like a conclusion. It was clear and to the point, although you've hinted at mysteries to be revealed next week. This week really spoke to me.

To use your term, I got shafted way back in 1992 and it was a life lesson that was not lost on me and has motivated me from then to this day and will beyond too.

Your advice to "make hay while the sun shines" is excellent. For anyone considering producing a portion of their own food, then I can't agree enough with you! When I think back to some of the disasters I have had with chooks, vegies and fruit it makes me shudder. If I was relying solely on those systems for food then I'd probably be dead. Thankfully, for me at least there are other options whilst I learn and practice.

Alternative energy is identical too to the food problem. It's great as long as you don't expect your current lifestyle. Winter is a real drama for solar and I'm working towards 100% solar this winter (9 months of the year, I'm 100% self-sufficient on energy).

I'm not sure anyone has mentioned a benefit with poverty since I haven't read all of the comments yet, but poverty also provides a measure of independence.

PS: I'm so glad you mentioned vehicles as I've been watching the development of these for some time now. Australia has 60 brands on the market (the US has only 30 brands) and we still manufacture them here too. Vehicles are very indicative of our culture. I use them as a litmus test.

Electric vehicles are a great idea, but they make me laugh. A battery pack for an electric vehicle has a capacity of about 24kWh and costs about $1,000 per kWh. The reason I laugh is because I read an article recently which quoted economists (!) as claiming that the cost per kWh will come down to $200 within the decade. Wishing does not make something happen!

By the way, that 24kWh will probably only take you 160km (100m) at best case scenario - and remember not to use the heater and/or air conditioner too!

Also, I'm pretty certain that our electricity grid here could not produce that extra output 365 days per year. It would fail.

Oh yeah, it will probably take somewhere between 3 and 8 hours to recharge that battery too. Most people are incapable of planning, I will say no more...

An excellent electric vehicle is a push bike with the assistance of an electric motor. It doesn't get more efficient than that type of vehicle.

What people want and what they'll get in the future are two very different things.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

Oh yeah, it might be worth mentioning that in the middle east, harems (multiple wives) are an option for the very wealthy or the very poor - but not for the masses in the middle!

This is an observation only and not a comment of support or judgement.



sofistek said...

Thanks for that, JMG. It led me to look for data on the conventional oil peak. I found a couple of possible references. One is at Freddy Hutter's site,, which shows Regular Conventional Oil peaked in 2005 at 68 mbpd, with current production around 63 mbpd. A 2011 National Geographic article mentions the IEA statement of peak in 2006, with a plateau of between 68 mbpd and 69 mbpd. The latter reference is not clear as to what is included but does talk about "conventional oil". However, this is quite a bit more than estimated at Freddy Hutter's site, so it's still a bit confusing though it does seem reasonably clear that there has been a kind of plateau of the high EROEI stuff for 6-7 years. This should be hot news but I've never seen it mention in the main stream media.

EVdriver said...

Hello JMG,

I picked up a copy of Henley's Formulas, etc. book. It got me to think about where paint, nails, lumber, tar paper, shingles, water and sewage pipes come from. If we abandon the status quo industrialists then as we walk away we have to assume that the walkers will provide these types of materials to maintain a house. How do you keep your house painted? caulked?, shingled? replace a rotted board? keep pipes from freezing when the night time temps dip into the single digits?

Somewhere in your Green Wizardry is that foundation but the detail is lacking or maybe I have not looked close enough. Can you address this for someone who sees much of your writing taking place.

Maria said...

I was glad to read Luciddreams' comment and know that I'm not the only one who feels like they're living at Synchronicity's Grand Central Station, and who has noticed that you post exactly what I need to hear when I need to hear it.

I was fortunate to find your blog when I was already unemployed (still am, actually) and learning to live on less, which I was fairly happy to do given my former work situation. But even in what looks to society as tight circumstances, I've discovered that if I pay attention I can whittle down even more. I can turn my attention to things that will improve my future. I am not in a position to buy a house, sell my car, and start a huge garden, but I am in the position to make small changes that will eventually prepare me to do just that. I look at it as akin to getting in shape -- it doesn't happen all in one day, it happens gradually as a result of many small daily choices. I figure if I get used to making better small choices, I'll be ready when the big choices need to be made.

That's my take on it, anyway -- and it's helping with the feeling of being overwhelmed by what is before me.

Zach said...

So, in other words (paraphrasing Stewart Brand):

"We are as peasants and might as well get good at it."


Don Stewart said...

I have started reading Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. There are interesting tie-ins to the subject under discussion. Kahneman demonstrates that we think with two different systems: System 1 is our intutitive system which operates virtually instantaneously and without effort and is mostly what we rely on; System 2 is reserved for hard problems and requires effort. Humans don't like to exert effort, so the work of System 2 is frequently sub-optimal.

After previously demonstrating that practice makes System 2 tasks much easier (such as a Chess grandmaster analyzing the board vs. someone who has just been handed a rule book), on Page 42 he talks about the depletion of our capacity by hard tasks such as thinking in unusual ways or reconciling conflicting objectives. He states that doing something hard such as making choices which involve conflict or trying to impress someone depletes our store of energy and thus makes us more likely to do things which are not in our best interests such as eat a bad diet or splurge in our spending.

The lesson that I would draw is that, if the future holds less material wealth than we are accustomed to in the present, then it makes sense to become a Grand Master of Voluntary Poverty. Then, as we survey the chess board of possible moves in life, we will deplete far less energy than the novice, newly arrived in the state of material want, and will be far better equipped to choose wisely.

Don Stewart

margfh said...


"that's becoming a reality for a lot of people. Do you have any younger relatives in good health who need a place to live? Bringing some of them into the household might help."

Possibly but probably not until there is a crisis and they have to i.e. losing a job. I have a very large extended family and they support all we do here on our small farm but most are not learning skills themselves. The family owns 40+ acres adjacent to us and they all tell us not to ever sell as the family may all need to relocate out here. My husband and I wonder if they all expect us to teach them everything. At least most recognize what changes will be coming and I do believe we would get support if absolutely necessary.

Glenn in Maine said...

Thanks for responding. I don’t disagree with your assessment regarding PV and the ultimate long-term viability and its inability replace fossils while maintaining current usage levels. Clearly that won’t happen, so the imperative has to be use less energy overall, as you rightly say. I think it’s inevitable that people will be confronted by that fact, like it or not, so cutting consumption and conserving what remaining sources we have ought to be the first consideration. After that, whatever can be generated on site in as clean a manner as possible strikes me as useful. In my case, half of my need is produced on my roof. The remaining half is drawn from the grid. My grid mix supply is one third renewable (30% hydro, 2% wind and 2% bio-mass) and two thirds fossil or fossil dependent (23% nuke, 30% nat gas, 6% oil and 7 % coal). So theoretically, if the nuke/fossil component of the grid disappeared tomorrow, I’d need to reduce my usage by a third to have 100% non-polluting/sustainable electricity supply. Given a 25 year lifespan for the PV system, it seems an appropriate approach to easing the transition.

I could cut that one third use tomorrow if I eliminate the freezers/refrigeration aspect of our food preservation strategy and went 100% root cellar/smoked/canned, but at present the system works well (about 50/50), the alternatives are functioning in place and could be expanded. I’m content to follow a stair-step process to whatever equilibrium state we’re approaching, rather than jump straight down all at once.

Global Nomad said...

It seems like an ironic twist of fate that the pinnacle of success in the industrialized world, which in my mind is home ownership, has turned into an albatross around the neck. Even if you see the signs and want to downsize there is little chance of being able to sell your house for what you owe.

So what do you do? Walk away from your home and give it back to the bank? Or wait for collapse and/or go bankrupt?

What are the legal repercussions of walking away from your home and giving it back to the bank?

Nick Black said...

Dear Michael: I've noticed this a lot recently: bloggers (myself included) who've been talking about this for a long time are walking away. I'm in a cabin on the Pacific Coast.
I thought I'd share this link: It's the arrival of the "ruinmen" - in Detroit. 10 out of 10 for Predictive Ability...

Best wishes

Thomas Daulton said...

Many thanks to everyone who commented on my plight: thank you, Thijs, Luciddreams, Justin (as always), margfh, Jim Brewster, Cathy McG, Deborah Bender, Kieran O’Neill. Thanks very much, Kieran, the Archdruid’s article from 2009 is actually very helpful in terms of organizing the problem into Plan A and Plan B.

For brevity's sake (4096 characters per comment) I omitted a lot of information that would have helped you all understand my family (Gawd forbid you'd want to). Far as I know, Thijs and Deborah, my mom did not have that type of affectionate relationship with her mother (my grandma). These trinkets, I conjecture, don't really represent fond memories, but rather jealousy. "I've wanted that tacky china set for 40 years and Grandma wouldn't give it to me. Now that she's dead, I'm taking it!!" Maybe her sub-conscious mind is still striving to prove her love to her mother, Thijs, but that’s roughly the opposite of what her conscious mind is doing.

Grandma’s death was certainly not sudden or unexpected, though. She was 99 and had two different types of cancer. (Amazingly enough, she was more or less kinda taking care of herself up until a few weeks before the end -- she was so cantankerous that she’d never stand for anything else -- but we all knew for years that her time was fast approaching.) Part of my rage at my family is that we could have done this in a leisurely, organized manner if only we’d faced up to this years ago. Plus we’ve had almost two years after grandma’s death, we could at least have started throwing out / donating to charity the least valuable stuff. Instead, because nobody could agree on the disposition of anything, we put it all off until the last minute and we’re still sorting plastic Mardi Gras beads while the house buyer is standing there tapping his foot.

Absolutely no need to apologize, Luciddreams -- I seriously believe that you are actually closest to the truth. I don't think my mom is as bad as those people on the "Hoarding" reality shows, but there are definitely goat trails in her house. And you're so right about the fine line between thrift and hoarding. What caused the blow-up last week was because my mom was so obsessed with hoarding that she just literally couldn't understand we had a legal/contractual obligation to be out of the house -- by a deadline. Some of the stuff we had to throw away (/donate to the poor) might not have been utterly useless. But the Hoarding urge in my mom seems to have completely obliterated any concept of "triage". Plus of course it's VERY DAMN EASY to say "I want to save every single Tupperware lid" when SHE ISN'T THE ONE boxing up this stuff and lugging it around on her OWN back.

I really think there's something to Luciddreams' theory that many or most Americans have a low-level version of this psychiatric disorder, Hoarding, due to being raised in conditions of abundance (while hearing tales from their elders about the Depression). I'd love to hear JMG mention Hoarding in a column.

Thomas Daulton said...

Part of my point about how do we care for these people, is because it seems from my experience like today's elderly absolutely refuse to give up the authority they once had as heads of a vibrant household. Part of the concept of a "wise elder" is that he or she is offering advice to a younger, more capable person who is currently providing leadership and taking action. To be a wise elder, you have to give up the command authority first. By contrast, in my family -- I’m 45 and it’s time for me to be making some of these family decisions -- when I make a decision that has anything to do with one of my elder relatives or their property... they will fight me to the point where I'd have to physically assault them to prevent them from running and un-doing my decision (as was my mom with the white plastic chairs).

To put it in national terms for Americans, Donald Rumsfeld was running our American wars, arguably the single most powerful man in the world in terms of destructive force and weapons at his fingertips, right up until a handful of years ago. Now, I’m 45, I’m no longer young, and Donald Rumsfeld had already been a Senator for 2 years before I was even born. He probably has fond memories of the War of 1812! He fought the Iraq war with strategies that would have TOTALLY routed the Nazis, sixty years ago. But that was the wrong war. There is an elder who should have stepped down earlier than he did.

Part of the reason I wrote what I did in this thread was because, just a couple of weeks ago, I listened to some podcast or other (was it Kunstler?) who prognosticated that the enlightened elderly several decades from now might band together into "green" retirement homes, using renewable energy and growing some of their own food, hiring medical and personal care, and marketing what home goods they could produce, (such as lace or preserves or vegetables??) Man, that sounded like a crock to me. The idea that any of the elders I know would band together and make unified decisions was laughable on its face; and the idea that they would be interested in helping, marketing or contributing to their community was twice as ridiculous.

(Once again, this is the batch of elders that I know personally -- I'm sure there are plenty of elders out there who would be overjoyed to do something along those lines.)

Was it also Kunstler who once used the metaphor that petroleum energy does the work of hundreds of slaves for each of us -- so even though the South lost the Civil War, Americans still have a kind-of a slaveholder mentality? That's part of what I'm saying about how today's elders won't give up the reins of authority. These people grew up in the heyday of Petroleum, when Oil and Science made it seem like anything you imagined was possible -- without much sweat on your own brow. So they are very accustomed to giving orders and disassociating those orders with the sweat and labor it takes to carry them out. (Again, this is my own elders, not a general rule.)

When I wonder how we can avoid becoming like our elders, that's the sort of thing I worry about in myself. How much has that culture of easy energy really tainted my thought-processes, my expectations, my weighing of values and the worth of things?

DW said...

@ Don Stewart & Thinking Fast/Slow:

Funny coincidence, but I read the first half of Alan Watts' "The Wisdom of Insecurity" last night and he was saying very similar things in 1951.

Funnier coincidence, after the post I made yesterday on feeling quite helpless, I just happened to remember I had the Watts book on my shelf and decided to pull it down. Well, what do you know. All the questions I was asking are basically laid out right there and while they aren't really "answered" (since there isn't really an answer to be had when no problem/solution exists) they are formed in a way that gave me some ideas of how to wrap my head around much of this and go on with things.

It's a short read and one that I'll now add to my Psycho-emotional/spiritual prepping list of recommended reads alongside "Guide for the Perplexed" by EF Schumacher.

Further, I had a nice long chat with my spouse and we were able to get some decisions made and set some intentions for the next few months. In doing so, we worked through a couple false binaries we'd been creating. Good stuff.

Edde said...

Hy John Michael,

Bicycles, the most energy efficient form of human & lite baggage transport, extend the range of car-free operation from about 2-4 miles (1/2 hour to 1 hour walking) to 5-15 miles (1/2 hour to 1 hour cycling).

Bikes can increase your living place options significantly.

That could likely go out to 20 miles or more for the intrepid and/or those who exercise as a preventive health measure.

Good luck to us ALL!


Joel Caris said...


Here at the homestead I'm living on, we are off the grid entirely, using a mix of microhydro and PV for our electricity needs. Both are relatively small, so we use little electricity. As such, we probably couldn't run a regular refrigerator off the system--or if we did, it would seriously drain the supply in winter, when the sun pretty much entirely goes away (it stops hitting our land for a good chunk of that time) and we live completely off the microhydro.

Anyway, the solution we have is to use a chest freezer that sits on our covered porch and is rigged up to a thermostat set to around 40 degrees in the summer. It cuts the power whenever that temp is hit. The benefits are that, one, chest freezers are better insulated and more efficient than regular refrigerators and, two, when you open up the chest freezer, the cold air stays in rather than falling out.

You might want to consider such a set up as a way to keep your refrigeration while cutting your energy use. Chest freezers can often be had on the cheap and the thermostat set up would cost very little.

Not sure if that could work for your set up or you would even be interested in it, but just a small green wizard idea to throw at you.


DW said...

@ Framing things for these times...which are no different than any other time has ever been...

"For most of us this conflict [between the fixed "I" we take ourselves to be and the changing reality of the present moment] is ever gnawing within us because our lives are one long effort to resist the unknown, the real present in which we live, which is the unknown in the midst of coming into being. Living thus, we never really learn to live with it. At every moment we are cautious, hesitant, and on the defensive. And all to no avail, for life thrusts us into the unknown willy-nilly, and resistance is as futile and exasperating as trying to swim against a roaring torrent.

The art of living in this "predicament" is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past and the known on the other. It consists in being completely sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.

This is not a philosophical theory but an experiment. One has to make the experiment to understand that it brings into play altogether new powers of adaptation to life, or literally absorbing pain and insecurity. It is as head to describe how this absorption works as to explain the beating of one's heart of the formation of genes. The "open" mind does this as most of us breather: without being able to explain it at all."

p. 95, "The Wisdom of Insecurity", Alan Watts, 1951.

sofistek said...

Yes, lack of a car can be very limiting, in today's society. I moved to a particular town, in New Zealand, for various reasons, none had to do with public transport, which is almost non-existent outside of the main cities and their suburbs. This town has a single bus, at 6.25 am to the nearest big city suburb, with a return time of 5.50 pm. With a bus change, it takes two hours to get to the city, 45 minutes by car. There is no rail service and to get to the nearest rail station requires a 20 minute car journey. Few small towns are any better unless they are on a reasonably main route.

So, the choice is really to live in the suburbs or to really start living locally. I've chosen the latter (as much as I can) but, of course, our town isn't really set up for local living. People just assume you can get into a car, which is something I try to avoid, walking or cycling to the few places I need to go, unless I need to pick up something bulky. When friends and family also assume that the car is the transport option of choice (which it mostly is), it makes it particularly difficult to live locally.

Most people assume that society, and its attendant economy, will eventually return to "normal". I get so frustrated with news stories (the ones that aren't about celebrities, great and small) which have this implicit assumption in them. Let's plan for a different future, I keep saying to myself. Unfortunately, most of the time it is just myself I'm talking to. We still have road building plans and even city rebuilding plans. The city council has 5, 10 and longer period development plans. It's as though the environmental limits and problems are not there, or are someone else's problems. This led me to thinking about how any action we take that requires some use of unsustainable resources or some use of environmentally destructive methods, somewhere along the chain, is an implicit approval of everything that goes on in the chain and its impact. In effect, our lifestyles are an approval of all the abuse and exploitation of people and the environment. This is kind of depressing because I'd like to avoid environmentally destructive or morally suspect practices but that's a hard thing to do, even when trying to live lightly. Mind you, living lightly is difficult when friends and family aren't on board.

Sorry, starting to rant a bit here, so I'll leave it for now. Good post, though, I hope I can get my family to read it.


EchosRevenge said...

I must protest! Our goats will most certainly eat nettles, though they seem to prefer them in the fall after the seed-heads have dried (and after they've made the raspberry patch miserable all summer). The only thing ours seem to disdain completely are the thickest of blackberry canes, which likely has much to do with the fact that they're Miniature goats rather than larger meat breeds - my uncle's Boers will eat brambles right down to the root, but they're about three times the size of our little dairy herd. Indeed, we have occasion at times to wish the goats were LESS prone to eat everything they see, as we've a good deal of native plants in the Northwest that are in the mountain laurel/rhodedendron family - highly toxic and often fatal to goats. Anyone borrowing goats to clear land would be well advised to take a walk and remove anything from that family, as well as wisterias or alliums, from the area the goats will be in.

Kfish said...

Dennis: True, many of the homegrown produce has been outlawed for one reason or another. I'm still getting 'raw' milk, though, and shortly I'll be trading my non-approved eggs for it. The risk depends on the direct impact on others - I won't be getting a rooster in suburbia for a while yet, since the risk is much higher for an irritated neighbour to call the authorities.

Joe Dupere said...

Glen and Joel, we are living completely off grid with a PV system. We run lights, laptops, the boom box occasionally and a 12Volt DC refrigerator. The fridge is a chest type, (the brand is SunDanzer) and is really insulated well, and as Joel said, the chest type keeps the cold air inside when you open it. We are able to run it year round, it actually draws less amperage when it's running, than does any single one of our DC compact flourescent lights.

latheChuck said...

Here's one vision of gradual decline: communications. Suppose our telecom companies have placed big bets (that is, taken on big debts) on wireless voice and data infrastructure, and then the next stage of recession pulls the rug out from under their customer base? When you need to choose between Food, Energy, Water, Shelter, and 4G streaming of your favorite celebrity videos to your mobile device, which bill doesn't get paid? When the projected cash doesn't come in for a few years, how long can the companies keep the network going? How many of their technical people can they let go before they lose the ability to cope with aging equipment?

In my Washington DC suburban neighborhood, the "land line", the POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service), the "copper", is deteriorating. When we talked with the repair guy, he said that it's getting hard to find good spare pairs in the cable, and they aren't planning to upgrade it. At a recent trade conference, one telecom exec (I forget who) proclaimed that it was time to rip out all of the copper; it would be more profitable to sell the wire for scrap.

If wireless is our future, I'm glad I have my ham radio license!
The wireless future may diverge from the telco's dream.

All of my gear (HF, VHF, and UHF) runs on 12 volts or less (suitable for low-tech solar, wind, or treadmill).

barath said...

@sofistek and JMG -

I'm fascinated by Hutter's peak oil site - it may be the first oil cornucopian site that actually tries to lay data out and evaluate how well various models have worked out.

The thing that's bugging me is that I don't know enough about the relevant data and issues to know whether and why his arguments are bogus or not. Do you know whether his arguments are well justified? He seems to be saying that peak conventional oil is likely to decline very slowly, peak all liquids will only hit in around 2025, and as a result of this we won't face major oil problems and will avoid catastrophic CO2 emissions as well.

Glenn said...

Regarding Walkscore

Take it with a chunk of salt. I compared it to actual distance where I live, and it seems to be using "as the crow flies" rather than actual road distances; i.e. it consistantly underestimates. It also is not aware of our local bus system, nor the nearest store to where I live.

The previous version of this was either eaten by blogger, or deleted by JMG for reasons unknown to me.

Marrowstone Island
Jefferson County
Washington State
Former USA

Doctor Westchester said...

The question of why the working class leans toward the Republican Party has been one that has interested me for a long time. Obviously the policies of the Grand Old Party has been just as damaging to most people not in the top twenty to thirty percent as any the Democrats have had (although, as have been pointed out they usually the same). As Thomas Franks expressed it in “What’s the Matter with Kansas”, the Democratic Party perceives itself as slightly nicer than the other guys, so aren’t the working stiffs voting for them? Franks is to his credit noting the hypocrisy in that statement. And perhaps that is the answer. While the Republican certainly engages in enough cant and hypocrisy – the only administration in my adult life that actually appeared to shrink the size of government even slightly was lead by a Democratic President, they don’t generally present themselves as a group that wants to “help” the working class directly. The devil that you perceived as being honest with you is preferred to the one that you think is lying to you.

Draft said...

Stephen, Doctor and JMG, I must quibble with your claim about the working class. It reminds me of a blindness in the peak oil world that has frustrated me for years: it is blind to minorities. They do not exist. Take the contention that the working class votes Republican. That is true only if you look at white voters. I'd wager that racial and ethnic minorities comprise roughly half of the working class in America today. And very few of them vote Republican. I could care less what party they vote for, but the broader point is that there is a blindness to a whole swath of the nation.

I was happy to see at least JMG, Orlov, and others participate in a forum last year on peak oil and minority communities (was it in Georgia?). I hope something was learned and that peak oil writers will stop pretending that the nearly half the nation that is non-Hispanic white doesn't exist. This is especially relevant in discussions as to where to move. A minority person is unlikely to be welcomed with open arms in the sort of run-down small town or city it is often recommended one move to. And that is just the beginning of the differences.

John Michael Greer said...

Mark, excellent! That sort of research is crucial in order to get past the terror of ordinary human poverty that afflicts so many people.

Escape, thanks for posting those. Yes, this is a worldwide phenomenon; it's just that the media talks about it when it's overseas, and hushes it up at home.

Cathy, fascinating. I modeled the ruinmen in Star's Reach on what I'd read already of people who make their living off salvage, so it's a matter of life imitating art imitating life.

Don, that's interesting. Certainly the thaumaturgists of corporate marketing and advertising are good at playing off the mental habits of the unreflective.

Shark, I don't talk much about religious organizations here because it's one of those hot button issues that make most Americans' brains turn off, and since I have a vested interest in the subject, as a religious leader in a small minority faith, it's seemed helpful to avoid the subject where possible.

Someone, a lot easier. It's got to be an advantage to have had radical political, economic, and social change, not to mention a great deal of extreme poverty, within living memory.

Kieran, the thing with the South is that most of the cities were extensively rebuilt right after the Second World War, when prosperity bloomed south of the Mason-Dixon line for the first time since the Civil War. Most other American cities did a lot of their building out earlier, before the auto became quite so much of a fixture.

Tom, your Rabbi Yeshua also seems to have done quite a respectable job of predicting the mess that hit Judea thirty-odd years after his death; I've long thought that Matthew 24 and its equivalents was best interpreted in that sense.

DC, the experience of other peak oil people with the Occupy movements last fall was not promising. Nobody wanted to hear that the age of abundance is over; the free-energy folks got a much better hearing. Thus I don't think you're right to say that Occupy is likely to give what I'm saying any kind of podium at all.

Sophie, of course protests continue on a small scale; they continued through the 1950s, too. What ended in 1972, as I tried to point out, was the mass movement that shut down the Vietnam war. Still, the small protests also have value; I hope yours went well.

Sidd, Solzhenitsyn knew what he was talking about. An extraordinary man.

Repent, as far as I know I have no control over the font -- certainly I couldn't find any way to change it. You might go into your browser preferences, and hit the button that makes your preferences rather than the website's determine the font and size -- where that is will vary based on your browser; in Firefox it's in Options, Content, Fonts and Colors, Advanced.

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown, thanks for the info. I'll look into it.

Dennis, nobody said it was going to be easy. Still, I've managed to do the things I've done without violating any laws.

Greatblue, very true.

Mr. M., it depends on where you're walking. In a well-off suburb, you're basically asking to be pulled over by the police. In the poor part of town, nobody cares.

Cherokee, there's a huge amount of focus and fixation on vehicles just now. I prefer to rely on the mobility system that evolution gave me. I know that won't work for everyone, but I've found that a fairly large fraction of the people who insist they can't possibly walk could do it if they simply made a few changes.

Sofistek, yes, it should be front page news, but nobody wants to rock the boat.

EVdriver, that kind of information will vary from place to place and person to person. There's no way I can offer detailed advice for every case, not least because all I have to go on is my own experience and the reference sources I have to hand. Learning the things you need to know is part of being a green wizard -- and Henley's is one place to look.

Maria, exactly! It's precisely the small changes that matter -- that, and incorporating what you know into every decision you make, so that each shift takes you closer to where you want to be.

Zach, the best answer I know to Brand's profoundly arrogant slogan is "We are as human beings and might as well get modest at it."

Don, thanks for the reference! This is exactly what I was talking about in the posts on magic, when addressing the difference between the primate nervous system and the rickety structure of human consciousness built over the top of it. I'll check out Kahneman's book when I have the time.

Margfh, you might point out to your relatives that those who don't have any other skills will be the ones who are shoveling manure to fertilize those 40 acres, when it comes to that.

Glenn, that's certainly a valid option; as long as you recognize that PV won't maintain a middle class lifestyle, you're ahead of the game.

John Michael Greer said...

Nomad, it's called "jingle mail." if you look up that phrase online, you'll find the details at quite some length.

Nick, many thanks. The more people who walk away now, and in the near future, the better -- as Cherokee pointed out earlier in the comment thread, there's a lot of learning to be done.

Thomas, I worked in the nursing home industry years ago, and the
"green retirement home" business made me choke. Retirement homes require exactly the sort of huge subsidies for doing nothing that our society won't be able to afford much longer. As I see it, those elderly people who have practical skills and can get along with younger people will get by -- when daycare stops being an option and the school system begins to grind to a halt, having Nana at home to take care of the grandkids and do some cooking and cleaning is going to be a major economic asset to mom and dad. That depends, though, on Nana's willingness to get along and to accept the implications of living under someone else's roof, and by their rules -- and a lot of today's and tomorrow's elderly have far too much of a sense of entitlement to do that.

Edde, as a transitional technology, good. Do you have plans to pass on the knowledge of how to build them from scrap metal for the days when there will be no more factories to make them? What of tires, lubricants, etc.? Time to get working on that...

DW, good. I'll add Watts to the list of oldies but goodies I need to reread.

Sofistek, it's a justifiable rant. Things are going to get back to normal, mind you -- it's just that "normal" doesn't mean what most people today think it does. Normal is when 80 to 90% of people make their living growing crops using their own muscles and maybe those of an animal or two, and being well off means that you've got ample food in the cellar and maybe even an extra pair of boots. The last three centuries have been utterly abnormal.

Echo, fascinating. The goats I tended in my hippie farm days wouldn't touch nettles. They'd devastate blackberries, including the big coarse Himalayan ones -- they didn't eat the canes, but they expertly stripped off every leaf and bud until the canes died. The nettles went into our soup pot instead.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

I agree with you. The fixation on vehicles is a waste of time, I use them as a litmus test as to where things are at. They are a short term answer at best. I used to walk to and from work everyday which was about 5km each way. During my corporate days, it was the most peaceful time of the day. It was during this period that I realised how empty the streets were.

My dirty little secret is that I used to own a shopping jeep (ie. a two tier push cart) with which to go shopping or to the market. It was just like old nonna's!

Keep up the good work.



John Michael Greer said...

Chuck, excellent. You get tonight's gold star for paying attention to the details. That's exactly the way I expect things to skid downhill -- no maintenance, spare parts running out, stuff being stripped for metal and other valuables, poor neighborhoods being blacked out so that rich neighborhoods can keep power for a while longer, and it just keeps on rolling. As for ham radio, you're preaching to the choir, as I'm sure you know -- if we're going to have a viable communications net at the end of the 21st century, it's going to be created by hams and their descendants, using homebrewed rigs with QRP wattages, and a lot of operator skill and cooperation in place of fancy technology and legal-limit power.

Barath, my take is that his estimates for the amount of nonconventional fuels are way up there on the high side; he also ignores net energy and energy subsidies -- for example, you'll notice that he includes biofuels in the mix without including a correction factor to represent the amount of fuel needed to raise the crops, etc.

Glenn, it was apparently eaten -- I don't recall having to delete anything by you in quite a while. ;-)

Doctor W., the thing I'd point out is that what the Dems perceive about themselves is not necessarily the way they look to anybody else. What I hear from the working class people I know is that the Dems are the party of labyrinthine government regulation -- no, that's not the terms they use, but I try to avoid profanity here -- and policies that favor the welfare class at the expense of the working class. Whether or not that's strictly true, that's how they're perceived.

John Michael Greer said...

Once again, by the way, I'd like to thank everyone who put something in the tip jar. Your generosity means a lot to me -- and fresh greens in winter from that solar greenhouse are getting closer by the day!

Gaianne said...

Sofistek 1/20/12 3:15 AM--

The best source for oil information is probably the website The Oil Drum, which includes very readable articles by very knowledgeable people, including in-the-field techy types.

If you go back into their archives to around 2005, you will find very good articles about the imminent peaking of production of light sweet crude, which until 2005 pretty much was oil (the heavy and sour stuff being of little interest because it is more difficult and expensive to refine). It soon appeared that light sweet crude had peaked in November 2005.

In the years since a number of studies have been done and the year 2005 still stands as--though the peak is as likely to have been in May as November. But the exact date matters little.

However, by 2006 it was obvious to all oil industry insiders that light sweet crude had already peaked, or was about to, and this represented a problem. The solution, as in so much of American life where statistics are involved, was to fudge the base-line. So numbers started to be published as "all petroleum liquids" rather than light sweet crude, so that the "peak" could be postponed. By 2008 this number, representing crude production of all types, was also peaking so the number was changed again to "all liquids"--which included production from tarsands, natural gas condensates, biofuels, and so on and so on. By changing the baseline again, peak was again postponed, and "production" has remained on a bumpy, but basically flat plateau since.

The current debate, which seems to be wrapping up, is whether "all liquids" has also peaked. It seems that it has, and likely a gentle decline has begun.

Cornucopians generally avoid talking about production rates, which are too knowable and too telling, in preference for recoverable reserves, which are intrinsically guesswork and allow for rosier pictures, but are also less relevant economically.

You should not be surprised that you do not find good or clear information about peak oil in the media, as that would cut at the heart of continued belief in our industrial economy. Once you understand peak oil you understand that the game really is over--and very few people want that.

My own belief is that the media will never, ever, deal with peak oil but will attribute our decline to absolutely anything--gay marriage, hippies, lazy workers, or even deadbeat homeowners--else.


Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Poet,

Any response is basically valid. Your wait and see comment reminded me of peoples responses to the impending disaster of major bush fires. After the Black Saturday fires in 2009, people were shown to have had the following responses:

Unprepared and no idea

Wait and see and then act

Underprepared yet considered prepared

Prepared to defend

Left early

Your comments fit within the expected goal posts of society. It's a strategy for sure, but it doesn't provide for much buffer.

I once had an 82 year old neighbour who in the middle of a major drought used to water her garden by regularly flooding it - much to my dismay. When I finally asked her about it, she said she was old and no longer cared about such things. I'm interested to see what you have to say about this from a neurological perspective?



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Bert L,

Yes, you are correct about the difference in workings between a Prius and a Diesel Locomotive.

However, there is a larger question that you are overlooking. A Prius is actually a very complex response to a simple problem.

Yes, in urban areas it is relatively fuel efficient. It can travel up to 2km on electric power, whilst retaining a 1.5L petrol engine for recharging the batteries (we don't have the fully battery powered Prius here), powering the wheels (for most of it's life) and it can also recover energy into the batteries whilst coasting and braking.

Yet, my own vehicle which is a Suzuki Swift 1.5L has the same capacity engine has less complexity and far less weight and costs well under half the price of the Prius.

Given that fuel consumption is largely a factor of weight and engine capacity these days, then surely you can't keep a straight face and tell me that a Prius is an appropriate response.

I'm not knocking the Prius which is an amazing bit of kit, but you can't meet a simple problem (resource depletion) with a complex solution. Too often this is a path that we as a society follow and it is the wrong one among many.



Unknown said...

Another excellent post. My reflection on the matter is there is no one size fits all approach to dealing with the economic decline. As my Buddhist teacher says we all have to work with our own condition, which includes everything such as age, health, knowledge etc and with our circumstances, such as housing, employment, family situation etc. There is no point wasting energy on wishing these are otherwise but it is useful to think through the choices you have available given the possibilities and limitations of your condition and circumstances.

We live in a mid-terraced house in a mid-sized city in the UK, we live within 10 minutes walk of a good local shopping street and within 30 minutes walk of the city centre. We don't have a garden, just a small patio, but we do rent a half acre plot in allotments down the end of our street. We discussed a few years ago whether we should consider moving to living in a community in a rural location but decided to stay put and work towards reducing our dependence on the economy and becoming more sustainable over time. I work in the National Health Service, although cuts are now having to be made so I have to be prepared that I may not have a job in the future. My husband is a freelance performer who does stuff on environmental and heritage themes - he used to get a lot of work from schools but this has virtually dried up, so he has had to become what he refers to as an urban peasant - growing food and chopping wood for our living room woodburner, cooking and preserving etc, while I go out to work and pay the bills.

I have recently had a legacy and we have chosen to use the money to do stuff to the house we couldn't otherwise afford to do, including installation of solar PV to reduce our use of grid electricity. We still have some of the legacy left so we are on the look-out for a small piece of woodland within a maximum of 20 miles from here so we could still get to it by bike when private road transport becomes unaffordable or unavailable.

We have been taking a gradual approach to reducing our dependence on the financial economy including fossil fuels, which I feel is the best approach both practically and psychologically. One thing I am very aware of is the need to be able to look after our own health as the health service is going to become increasing unsustainable (my husband is in his early 50's, I am in my mid 40's), so I am thinking about doing a diploma on herbal and natural medicine so I am equipped to look after my own health and possibly have a marketable skill for a possible jobless future.

Keep up the good work - you are an inspiration to all of us who realise the need to adjust to the challenges presented by economic decline & peak oil. A book I would recommend is 'Do Good Lives have to cost the Earth?' by the New Economics Foundation, which is a collection of essays on how living more simply can be seen in a positive light.

Cheers, Anne

Ric said...

JMG: "...It's in the relatively affluent parts of town that drivers become belligerent at the sight of a pedestrian."

Your comment initially stumped me as I'm biking mostly in the poor part of town and bikes and pedestrians are common. I pass a dozen or so bicycles every trip to work. But thinking about it a bit, I realized that a fair chunk of the people here used to be middle class, which probably explains a great many other things as well.

Global Nomad: "What are the legal repercussions of walking away from your home and giving it back to the bank?"

Many and wide-reaching. Credit score (at least here in the US) has become the single number of merit by which all are judged. Landlords won't rent to those with low credit scores, employers won't hire those with low credit scores. There are also tax consequences. The IRS considers any forgiven debt to be income. Currently there is an exception for debt forgiveness up to a certain dollar limit on your primary residence if you meet certain conditions. But any other forgiven debt is treated as ordinary income. I've seen dozens of people trade being crushed by consumer debt for being crushed by IRS debt. Trust me; you would much rather owe money to the bank.

latheChuck: "When you need to choose between Food, Energy, Water, Shelter, and 4G streaming of your favorite celebrity videos to your mobile device, which bill doesn't get paid?"

Based on my experience here in central Florida, the important bills are the last priority. 4G and alcohol are tied for first with the car payment in a close second. I am constantly amazed when I hear a neighbor on their iPhone screaming at the power company for turning off the juice when they were "only" three months behind. I fear we need to tumble a bit farther down the stairs before the priorities change.

Mister Roboto said...

As long as I've brought up the subject of Governor Scott Walker, your post this week made me realize some things about the groundswell of popular opinion against him here in Wisconsin. About a year ago when the massive demonstrations against his anti-union policies were occuring in Madison, it was really good to see so many people caring about those issues, but I couldn't help but wonder why they were caring now and not thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago. And the answer is that Walker's moves against public employees are an assault on the middle class, whereas in the past, the policy-assaults were mostly on the laboring class. And this probably explains the puzzling number of white working-class people who support Scott Walker. On a level these people likely don't even entirely recognize, they are probably thinking, "You middle-class liberals didn't care when people like me were having our lives ground into sausage by those rich people!" I like to think that I cared at least at little, but I have pretty much been a rather marginalized and isolated person ever since being forced to realize that the denizens of the college "PC" scene weren't really my friends.

John Michael Greer said...

Draft, nonwhite Americans make up rather less than half the working class, since barriers to employment keep so many of them down in the poverty class. Still, your broader point is valid. I don't discuss the interface between peak oil and America's ethnic minorities very much, simply because -- to put things as bluntly as they deserve -- advice from clueless white folks is rarely of any use to anybody else. It would be good to see more people of color discuss their own perspectives on peak oil.

Cherokee, I think I need an Australian-American dictionary. Er, "two-tier pushcart"?

Unknown Anne, in your place I'd stay put and do pretty much exactly what you're doing. Moving to the countryside is not the best option for most people just now; settling in place and learning how to work with local resources in the place you know is very often the more sensible choice.

Ric, that might explain it. The poor end of Cumberland has been poor for more than a century, and the whole town has been poor for the better part of forty years.

Mister R., bingo! When the blue collar jobs were the ones being thrown under the bus, the middle class was babbling horseradish about the wonderful new globalized economy, and how everybody (meaning, of course, everybody in their class) would prosper in it. Now it's the turn of the middle class to go under the bus, and the survivors of the old working class are not impressed by the screams of outrage.

Jason Heppenstall said...

I'd like to chip in regarding the developing thread about nursing homes that is unfolding here. Two months ago me and my sister put our father in a nursing home in England as he could no longer cope on his own (our mother died some time ago) given that he has advanced dementia.

We had five days to clear out his house of all he had accumulated over a lifetime. As you can imagine it was no easy task, logistically or emotionally, and I tried to salvage anything of material or sentimental value, with the rest going to charity and the stuff even they didn't want going to the 'recycling' centre (to either be thrown into a China bound container or sent to landfill). It was here that I watched a man take a lump hammer to the family stereo system that my parents had bought with such pride in the early 1980s.

The whole operation was a meditation on the transience of wealth and status. But what really struck me was the cost of his care (5,000 pounds, or almost 8,000 dollars a month) - which is almost double our family income. It can only be paid for by his generous pension scheme.

Unfortunately, for reasons I'd rather not go into here, neither myself nor my sister is willing to take him in and look after him ourselves. I believe you, JMG, would call him a 'dysfunctional relative'. He was even expelled from the nursing home after a fortnight and now lives in a different one.

It just goes to show that in a post peak world it will pay to keep on the right side of your kids - I for one am certainly not counting on being able to afford to pay if I need care down the road.

Luciddreams said...

@Dr Westchester:

Not sure if you have ever heard of him or not, but was, but he tackled that very question about why the working class tends to vote republican against their own interest. It's largely what his first book "Deer Hunting With Jesus" was about, and don't let the name fool you. I'd highly recommend him if you haven't read him. He really is a joy to read just for entertainment value if nothing else. Here's his webpage. He recently passed on to the next level.

The Croatoan 117 said...

@Ric: When I spoke of subtle hostility I was referring to my coworkers when I tell them I walk to work. You are absolutely right about the naked aggression of drivers. There is nothing subtle about it. I think there is certain degree of caste system in most Americans eyes when it comes to walking/biking. Those who do are definately in the untouchable caste. I think people think that those who walk/bike have somehow failed at life and are not worthy of the respect of those who have automobiles. Of course on the occassions when I do drive people are quite aggressive as well. Perhaps we just feel more vulnerable when we aren't in our own little personal tanks.
@LewisLuncanBooks. Regarding the loneliness of taking the road less travelled reminds me of my favorite line from my favorite movie, The Thin Red Line (A great movie (and book) for those who haven't seen (read) it.) The line is: Q:"Do you ever get lonely?" A:"Only around people." ;)

sofistek said...


What John said, plus Hutter appears to assume that the acknowledged peak of regular conventional oil (around 2005) will have little impact on total oil demand moving remorselessly to 100 mbpd (and why he thinks demand will peak before gelological peak, when 3 billion people are rapidly trying to get to the level of consumption of the western world is beyond me). With the cheap oil already in decline, a total liquids supply starting to be dominated by low EROEI and ecology destroying alternatives, Hutter appears to believe that the costs of those alternatives won't be prohibitive to continued rising demand.

And he seems to think economic growth can continue whilst CO2 emissions decline, despite there being no evidence that this is possible.

Diane said...

Ah, could working class allegiance to the ruling class representatives the Republican Party be 'a touch of the forelock'. After all it has been this subservience that has kept the American working class at the top of the tree for the last century, the same as it did with the english working class when British imperialism dominated the world. There is even a view outside of the United States that Britain may still, in many respects, be the tail that wags the dog. :)

Diane said...

regarding nanna's, I do believe there will have to be some sort of collective considerations given to existing structures as the decline proceeds. I had the luxury of a good superannuation scheme, with a lump sum payout,which allowed me to retire at 55 and buy a small mountain cottage outright. a few years later my daughter had twins who are autists, and I have for the last 12 years been the main provider of childcare and support. My daughter moved to a different state and I now travel 4 times a year 14 hours by train to help out in the school holidays. I was fortunate. My friends younger that me, are mostly educated working class and work in white collar jobs, problem is Super funds like the one I was in have all been abandoned. Many of my friends have lost a lot of super in the 2008 fiasco, as well the australian goverment has been increasing the retirement age, so that many of my friends will not be of pension age until 67. There goes the idea of nanna being able to take on the childcare, unless the kids want to wait until 35 - 40 to start a family. This trend was well explored by the marxist/feminist movement in the 1970's, just google women and housework. I agree that most women adopted so called labour saving devices with great glee, but there was a hidden cost, and we are just now beginning to see the consequences. It may be an easy thing to let go of things like dishwashers and clothes dryers not so easy a thing, to be able to return to the role of homemaker, with no viable income. In my view, the ruling class, knows exactly what it is doing, has always done so, and it is going to take a great deal of skill and cunning to fly under the radar

GuRan said...

Thanks as usual JMG for a simultaneously entertaining and thought-provoking piece. A big thanks also to everyone who comments here: very high signal-to-noise ratio, probably just about the highest on the internet. Thanks to you guys I have something worthwhile to read all week :-)

Cherokee, I use one of those e-bikes to make my 30km commute to work each day. I get 1.09 kWh/100km ;-)

It paid for itself in offset petrol costs in under a year and although the trip takes about an hour each way by either e-bike, car or pubic transport, e-bike is by far the cheapest of the three options. Plus I get free air and sunshine instead of sitting in a metal box :-D


Matt and Jess said...

I second the idea of staying on the good side of your kids. My parents have gone the way of 15-year-old video game addicts, literally spending up to 18 hours per day on it. I believe that the most common thing my mom tells me is "Oh, hush!" and asking them to spend time with their grandchildren is like pulling teeth. ("I just spent 5 minutes with them last week!") They've been quite generous in letting us live with them while we're paying our debts off--we can't forget that--but have always treated us miserably, as people. Doesn't help that there's also mental illness of various forms in the family. We're going to be quite unhappy with the idea of letting them stay with us when they're old.

PS JMG as you've always been so helpful in addressing my questions especially regarding future careers etc. I'd love to tip and will do so when I've got more than $3 in the bank ;)

greatblue said...

Speaking of vehicles and building them from scratch, there was a very interesting and well-illustrated article recently on the Low-tech magazine site about Chinese wheelbarrows. Here's an excerpt:

"The Chinese wheelbarrow - which was driven by human labour, beasts of burden and wind power - was of a different design than its European counterpart. By placing a large wheel in the middle of the vehicle instead of a smaller wheel in front, one could easily carry three to six times as much weight than if using a European wheelbarrow.

"The one-wheeled vehicle appeared around the time the extensive Ancient Chinese road infrastructure began to disintegrate. Instead of holding on to carts, wagons and wide paved roads, the Chinese turned their focus to a much more easily maintainable network of narrow paths designed for wheelbarrows. The Europeans, faced with similar problems at the time, did not adapt and subsequently lost the option of smooth land transportation for almost one thousand years."


Link is

Rita said...

@Great Blue--when I was growing up my grandmother used to talk about sales of scrap metal to Japan before WWII and her personal prediction that "we would get it back, but not the way we'd like." We'll all hope that doesn't turn out to be true of metal sold to China.

As for hostility to walking--claim to do it for fitness, even if you are running errands you can say something like "I walk as much as I can to get in shape for the marathon." Any eccentricity can be forgiven in the name of exercise. Although when passing gymns with big windows I am convinced that if the Inquisition time traveled they would be convinced they had happened across an innovative branch office.

Another author on the subject of white working class politics is Jim Goad _The Redneck Manifesto_. He gets a bit carried away at points, but clearly conveys his belief that poor whites have been both lied to and lied about by the writers of textbooks and news. Interesting read.

I think another reason that the middle class was allowed to rise and prosper was that wealth and power passed from the landowners to the factory owners and merchents. Henry Ford realized that if he was going to mass market the automobile he needed to pay his workers enough to afford at least his low end products.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

A two tier shopping trolley has three sections:

2 x wire baskets. One of the baskets is slightly smaller than the other so that when stored, the smaller basket sits in the larger.

A collapsable frame with a push handle on one higher end and four wheels (one on each bottom corner). It all folds flat when in storage.

When the frame is extended, one wire basket sits above the other. Truly, you can easily get more than 20kg of fruit and vegie stuff into them and pushing it around is really easy.

If you looked at the frame when it is extended from the side on, it looks like an X with one top corner higher than the other for the push handle and the wheels at the bottom corners. When the frame folds flat it pivots at the centre of the X.

I found a photo on the Internet which is probably better than my description. The handle on mine is a bit higher and the front wheels are a bit more sturdy.

Two Tier Shopping Trolley

An awesome bit of technology and it's been in constant use for over a decade now.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Glen in Maine,

There is an implicit assumption in your continuing PV electricity supply that you are ignoring.

If the grid were to fail, then a grid tied PV system will produce no electricity for your benefit. This is to ensure that linesmen aren't electrocuted by your PV systems output.

The potential output is simply lost. From a scrap perspective, the panels are very worthwhile, but the rest of the system is probably worthless.

PS: Respect for generating that much electricity, but the greenest watt is the one that you don't use. I get by on 3.5kWh on average per day all year and this does include a full sized refrigerator. 14kWh per day is pretty good in relative terms, but you could probably cut back further without too much inconvenience.

I have to worry about these things because in the not too distant future on very hot peak load days they will disconnect the supply - for our safety to be sure - up my way. It will be an interesting issue to negotiate with my neighbours in the long term.



Kfish said...

A 'two tier pushcart' is a shopping trolley with an extra section on top for more fragile items. We are two countries separated by a common language.

While moving into our new second hand house (in parts of Australia, timber houses were plentiful enough after WW2 that there is now a small trade in trucking them to new sites rather than demolishing them) we had to do without a number of amenities, most of which horrified our family and friends. Voluntarily going a week without hot water, a month without a stove and a few months without a private washing machine are all signs of our eccentricity. All of this became normal, although I am very glad to have the hot water again.

Regarding elders, my grandparents are wrestling with the transition from controller to advisor. It's not easy, even with good will and compatible values on both sides. Ironically, what's giving them grief is not entitlement but extreme self-reliance developed during a long farming career.

sofistek said...


The Oil Drum is a great site but not so good if you're seeking information. It would take a long time to find articles that had data on regular conventional oil production. I'm still not sure how Freddy Hutter gets his RCO data but if someone like that admits that peak occurred in 2005, and with a hitherto (at least for the last decade) optimistic organisation like the IEA admitting a peak on conventional oil in 2006 (at around the same level as Freddy Hutter's estimate), then that's good enough for me to repeat the claim that the peak is in the past.

Adding all these other liquids of dubious EROEI and of variable energy content is just obfuscating the matter but the economy tells the tale.

Glenn in Maine said...

Joel and Joe, thanks for your comments, and same again JMG (I've no expectations about nor real interest in maintaining a middle class lifestyle). Joel, I have a chest freezer in the cellar and an upright freezer in the pantry. Also an all-fridge refrigerator in the kitchen. We store a seasons worth of local meat & processed produce on a rolling basis at any one time, eating it down throughout the rest of the year and replenishing it when back in season. Works just fine in conjunction with the root cellar and canning operation. Hence my commitment to producing whatever amount of power I can. Fits in overall with the theme of self-reliance. I'm in the city, so I'm aiming for that, not actual self-sufficiency.

Chris Balow said...

JMG, a lot of the transportation discussions I see here and on other Peak Oil sites seems to focus almost exclusively on the use of bicycles and walking boots in the age of declining fossil fuel availability. However, what I never see discussed is a form of transportation that has thousands of years of proven effectiveness, can travel faster and farther than a bicycle, and can even jump over obstacles: the horse. How far down the curve of decline do you see the horse becoming a major source of transportation again?

Don Stewart said...

I talked about Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking, Fast and Slow previously.

Here is another tidbit from it that might be generally useful information to have. Look on page 41 for the paragraph beginning The Busy and Depleted System 2. In brief, our brain uses a lot of energy in the form of glucose. When we are trying to solve a mentally taxing problem or trying to control ourselves or trying to impress others, we are putting a load on System 2 and depleting its stores of glucose.

Subjects are given a difficult mental task, and then given some lemonade, and then another difficult mental task. Half the lemonade is sweetened with an artificial sweetener and the other half is sweetened with glucose (sold as dextrose by Amazon). The people who get the glucose sweetened lemonade perform much better than the artificial sweetener group.

Studies of parole board actions reveal that they are much more likely to approve parole requests when they have just finished lunch and their brain glucose stores have been replenished. If you think about it, a parole board is considering the possibility that a criminal has changed their stripes. Evaluating a possible change is hard mental work, and our brain rebels if it is depleted of glucose. The brain reverts to System 1 thinking which reacts quickly and easily, but superficially. The superficial answer to a parole board is 'No'.

Why do I think this might be important to think about? All of us who read this blog are anticipating some major changes in our worlds. We think that some hard physical and mental work is going to be required for successful adaptation. The evidence is that the mental work requires that the brain be replenished with glucose pretty frequently--otherwise the brain defaults to superficial answers.

I will note that glucose is not metabolically the same as sucrose (table sugar) or fructose (the sugar in fruit). For an explanation of the metabolic fates of sucrose and fructose and high fructose corn syrup, see
where Dr. David Lustig talks for over an hour on the subject.

Also please note during his talk that glucose DOES NOT result in de novo lipogenesis. There is no storage of the glucose in fat. It is immediately sent to the needy organ--the brain if you have been thinking hard.

So my (non medical) conclusion would be that glucose is going to be more effective, with fewer side effects, than sucrose or fructose.

I will also note that caffeine gives me the ILLUSION of renewed brain performance. I think it just makes me jumpy. In other words, I have done nothing to replenish the brains depleted glucose, but I have made System 1 jump around a lot. Which probably just makes it harder for me to do anything coherent.

In short, if you are trying to do hard mental work (such as problem solving), then you want to pay attention to glucose depletion and keep some glucose (dextrose) around and have some quick and easy way to ingest it.

But please don't take my word for it. Check with Kahneman and Lustig and try it yourself.

Don Stewart

Cathy McGuire said...

@LewisLucan: said I was really going to start small, I'd be happy just to get a little lettuce this year, but was it possible that his goats could help me knock back the blackberries? Smiles all around.
Well done! I have similar issues with chemical-loving neighbors who see my organic commitment as flat out silly. I try to mostly stay quiet about it, for instance not complaining to them when diesel motors kick a nasty smell (and toxins) across my yard. Won’t do any good to complain; luckily it’s not a common occurance. Negotiate when I can.

@Repent: I planted a full garden last year and got only weeds; which is odd because I didn't plant any weeds?
Ah – that’s basically the definition of “weeds” – marvelously good at barging in where they are not invited.

@Jason Heppenstall: It just goes to show that in a post peak world it will pay to keep on the right side of your kids - I for one am certainly not counting on being able to afford to pay if I need care down the road.

I just read an article (couldn’t find the link, sorry) about how families did negotiate that sort of care before nursing homes – basically, that’s what wills were for. Take care of Dad and he’ll leave you the house and bank account; treat him bad, and you were out of luck. Makes sense. :-} Not sure what those without enough to make wills did for leverage.

Doctor Westchester said...

I should clarify that when I talk of the working class, I am primarily talking of people of Caucasian heritage.

@Luciddreams: We lost a very important voice when Joe Bageant died. I have often thought that had he and John met, some valuable ideas would come out of it.

I have also read Jim Goal’s work. Far more unpleasant and over the top – at least for people who consider themselves the dainty middle class and (until now) satisfied with the order of things.

John – your point on the support of poor over the working class is one I totally agree with, but didn’t mention in my earlier comment. Of course, no one thinks to ask who the black urban poor really are and where they came from anymore. Most of them appear to (to use a term that is accurate and very uncomfortable to think about) peasants who were thrown off their land, whether they own it or not. The fact that they did important work and had critical agricultural skills which has now been lost to their current generation is something that occurs to almost no one. That we will shortly very much regret that lost of knowledge is an ugly irony. For the early death that this loss of knowledge will at some point cause will not only strike at the urban black poor themselves (who are already very familiar with early death) but as John repeatedly tries to point out at many (likely most) in what are now the more privileged classes.

One critical point that Joe B. pointed out is that there is a (growing) white underclass that is in a similar boat as their black counterparts, except that this underclass tended to be more rural and suburban. Many of them, especially in the south, have also been pushed of their land and have lost their agricultural skills.

@Rita: Your point about the middle class prospering as power transferred from landowners to the factory owners and merchants is correct. What we are going to see is that process going in reverse with landowners regaining their previous power. One very limited way of looking at land is as an energy collection device. And when oil fields and coal mines no longer provide…

Finally, regarding the Occupy movement - my Transition group, being the closest one to Wall Street, has some members that are in contact with the people there. I’d never had the opportunity to do so, so my knowledge is second-hand. The good news is that Richard Heinberg’s “The End of Growth” is considered one of the five most important books to read in the movement. There are clearly many people in the Movement that do understand much of what is facing us. However, and this comes from someone in my group that does have a very clear understanding of our situation, in general the people with the best understanding don’t seems to be in the most influential workgroups, but in ones dealing with sustainability and the environment.
It is notable to me that so far the Occupy Movement talks about income inequality in general between the “1%” and the rest of us, but the things that would actually remedy this, like honest accounting and reimposing the rule of law (financial fraud is a crime after all), don’t appear to make up much of what seems to be talked about with the movement. Since Bill Black, of the S&L prosecutions, has been in communication with the Occupy Movement, they can’t say these ideas have not been presented them. Unfortunately, while doing these simple things would greatly reduce income inequality, as John points out, it would not be reduced in the way that the middle class, and the aspiring to be middle class, would want. Alas, the Republicans were half right again. Trickle down economics did work for the middle class, even if what was trickling down was mostly imaginary wealth.

charlo49 said...

Good post. I don't own a car either, which certainly raises eyebrows here in So Cal. Laguna Beach is a walking town so I can meet all my needs in walking distance. I ride a bicycle, and I take the excellent bus system to travel further afield (most people around here don't even know there is a bus system, and nobody I know has ever ridden a bus), and the train to go to LA or San Diego. I live comfortably on my SS of $750 a month, and I am able to save most of it, since I live rent free and I get most of my food from the food bank and the local Hare Krishna temple. I maintain excellent health through walking at least ten miles a day, the temple lacto-vegetarian diet, and frequent fasting of up to ten or more days, which I highly recommend. I thus have no health or medication expenses at age 62, and I'm certainly not interested in any kind of mandatory health insurance premiums to be paid to private insurers.

I've learned that my happiness is completely unaffected by how much money I have so long as my basic needs of food, clothing and housing are met. This is not hard to do so long as you contribute your time instead of money by showing up and getting involved. The temple feeds me because I show up for all their activities and participate, starting at 5 am everyday. The food bank collects date-expired food that would otherwise be thrown away. Clothes can be easily obtained from local thrift shops for trivial sums. I can live rent-free for just the modest cost of utilities since I have a relative with a rental property for which I act as caretaker.

I have no assets, and more importantly, no debt. I live in 200 sq ft, and that's more than enough. Of course I live alone, but I have also learned that attachment to other people is definitely not a source of happiness, and more likely a source of misery. I get plenty of association at the temple, at local coffeeshops and at our frequent Transition meetings. I'm in better shape physically and mentally than I have ever been in my life. I went through some serious misery some years ago before I learned these things.

A well-regulated life of serving others is the key to happiness. It has nothing whatsoever to do with material consumption.

The carp who jumped Hukou Falls said...

@Unknown (Anne)

I passed my exam just this afternoon in basic tui na (therapeutic massage in traditional Chinese medicine. I plan to move on to study herbs and acupuncture. Western medicine as it currently stands (hydrocarbon-based drugs produced in far-away factories and delivered by air) can't continue for too much longer (even leaving out the threat from the various volcanoes currently bubbling away). People will still get sick, though. I reckon you're on the right path.

Appropriately enough, the captcha is 'pandem', as in 'pandemic'. Who knew that Skynet would have such a sense of humour?

Ruben said...

@Don, re: brain glucose

I have been researching human factors and behaviour change for the past several years, so I have been following the research Kahneman talks about.

Another piece that I find perhaps more important, though which I have had a much harder time finding the original studies, is that our conscious brain may have an upper limit of work--perhaps a few hours a day. Once we exhaust it, we must use habits, rules of thumb, and social context to make decisions for us.

In fact, we use habits, rules of thumb and social context to make decisions quite a lot, in order to prevent exhausting our brain, in case we need it later.

I am currently trying to find research on the relationship between glucose replacement and whether their is a hard upper limit.

Of course, many people think they are wonderfully rational and insightful, but they are fooling themselves. We make tens of thousands of decisions each day, and only a couple of thousand of those are conscious.

Since you are interested in this, I strongly suggest you watch David Rock's Your Brain at Work. Very, very interesting.



Jason said...

@ Jean-Vivien -- I agree! I never meant to slate Beastmaster. :) The photography is wonderful. John Alcott shot it, fresh from his oscar with Kubrick and wanting to break into Hollywood. Not the least reason I appreciate it is the amount of silence, no longer possible in B-movies. Whole swathes of the film have nothing but quiet sounds of nature and the odd word.

GuRan said...

Ruben, re: David Rock - wow!
That ties in so closely with JMG's "Preparation for philosophy" and subsequent series of posts on magic. I've really got to start a reading list, and he'll be on it.


Edde said...

Good morning John Michael,

"Edde,(bicycles) as a transitional technology, good. Do you have plans to pass on the knowledge of how to build them from scrap metal for the days when there will be no more factories to make them? What of tires, lubricants, etc.? Time to get working on that..."

Bikes are often built by individual fabricators in small workshops with few power tools, now. I personally know several in my small southern USA city.

Frame tubes need not be metal, fully functional bikes are made with bamboo and other wood. However, as long as metal is re-worked from recycled materials, bike frames & components can be fabricated.

Hubs can be made using human or water powered tools, as can chains, brakes and other components. Wooden wheels are not out of the question.

Tires from natural rubber and cotton fabric can be hand made.

Lubricants can be cooked up from oily plants such as castor beans, as in the past. Animal fat may also work. Amounts required are miniscule as compared with motor vehicles or even machine tools.

Bikes are virtually indestructible if reasonably maintained (kept out of the wet when possible). The Vietnamese showed us that bikes can tote heavy loads over rough terrain in horrible conditions (air-war).

Looks to me that bicycles are excellent transportation vehicles for a resource depleted world.

As compared with horse transport, I suspect that bikes still carry an advantage...


DW said...


Thank you for the inspiring story that gives a bit of a autobiographical model of how this can work for certain people in certain situations. If more folks in your age/position followed a similar lead, we'd all be a bit better off...

I would point out though (and JMG will probably cover this at some point when we get into monastics) that nearly all simple-livers are connected and reliant upon the "system" to one extent or another. I'm sure you realize that, but for others reading, I think it's important to note the binary. We are all in this together and dependent upon all the mutually affecting causes and conditions of the world.

Namaste Sister-


Brian said...

I did just as you've said--I rented a 2 bedroom, 900sqft townhome built in 1911, less than a mile to the light rail. It took me about 3 days to rent out the second bedroom. I'm going to ASU (I know, waste of time), I'm studying urban planning. I also recently did an internship on an organic farm in Toledo, WA. I'm hoping I'll be able to find some work doing some urban planning somewhere. Most american cities and towns are very very poorly planned for life without a car, but I think some of it is fixable.

I have yet to give up my car, but I do take the light rail to and from work/school. When they finish the light rail in a few years I probably will sell it. My family lives on the north end of town, and I'm downtown. I'd like to be able to still see them. Eventually I'll convince them to move out of this desert wasteland to somewhere that gets rain and you can grow food. Food coming up from Mexico will likely continue on for at least the next decade or so, so I figure I have a small window of time.

Kieran O'Neill said...

In response to latheChuck, and to Ric's further comment: Bruce Sterling talks these days about the emerging trends of "favela chic" and "Gothic high tech" in the modern and future world. Favela chic can perhaps be epitomised in the form of the person who, when presented with the choice between "Food, Energy, Water, Shelter, and 4G", moves into a squat, gets an illegal power hook up, and dumpster dives for food before giving up their 4G.

Gothic high tech describes the rich and powerful clinging on to the vestiges of wealth (in the form of high technology) even where it thoroughly dehumanises and degrades them to do so. Examples include Steve Jobs hiding his pancreatic cancer for fear of its effect on Apple's share prices, or the future when the rich begin hoarding tech resources (electricity, electronics, medicine, etc) for themselves at the (potentially fatal) expense of the poor.

I don't think either are particularly desirable, but they do paint a picture of yet another false dichotomy (with lines being drawn, and battle coming down -- see SOPA) that green wizards should try to walk away from completely.

sgage said...

@ edde

"As compared with horse transport, I suspect that bikes still carry an advantage..."

The right tool for the job is the key, eh? Clearly bicycles are wonderful, and will be more important in the future than they are now, but...

I'm trying to imagine pulling logs out of the woods with bicycles, or plowing fields, or pulling large carts full of produce to market, or...

Your dig at horses seems a bit gratuitous - why even bring it up? We will need and want bicycles, horses, wheelbarrows, oxen, you name it. No need to rank them as to "advantageousness".

afterthegoldrush said...

Ruben - may I second the 'wow' with regards to the David Rock link. That's an amazingly useful introduction for me just now - and I suspect for many others wrestling with the choices they must make for their future. It really does tie in with much that JMG has been saying this last year - and will be a real help to us - thankyou!

I don't have much time to comment on here, but I always read up, and as ever I'm indebted to JMG and everyone else for taking the time to make this weekly dialogue so inherently useful. In the words of the David Rock video (and bearing in mind how isolated we can be with our world view), it increases our 'relatedness' massively - amongst other things of course.

I've been fairly paralysed recently in trying to navigate the changes needed in my life - and this is mirrored in many comments on here. Watching that video really struck home just how much energy we are using up thinking logically through our problems. In a very real sense, the thinking about it is actually stopping us dealing with our problems. Part of that is because they are really predicaments (and thus are unsolvable) and we are treating them as problems (as discussed by JMG previously), but nevertheless, it's very handy information to have in realising some alternate ways of looking at those problems/predicaments and simply letting our wider mind get on with dealing with them.

With regard to making the 'right' choices - and as a veteran cogitator on such matters (I'm sure I'm not alone on here), it seems clear that we waste a lot of time trying to come up with 'perfect' solutions. We need to think (some, but don't overdo it!), decide, and get on with it!, even though some of our choices will be 'wrong'. Otherwise by the time we fully have "woken up", we won't have the time to "walk away".

As an English person, I was frankly horrified to learn on here how people who choose to walk/cycle about in the US are viewed by car drivers. Oh my does that show some cultural differences! Over here if I see someone walking, it simply doesn't register. It kind of does explain my American friend's reaction when I visited her in SF some years ago when I told her that I would walk into town (2-3 miles at most) - she just couldn't believe it. Luckily I was blithely unaware of my dangerous situation on the streets and enjoyed my walk regardless ;)

Hey JMG - thanks as ever. I'll tip the jar just as soon as I'm able!


J9 said...

Please don't feel that you're just screwed.
I'm sorry this comment is late - I hope you still get to read it. I've been trying to think of something useful to say to you. your point was good (and of the sharp/pointy end of things) and possibly a lot of the other readers are like me - mulling it out to find something to suggest that isn't trite.
The best I could think of is that you're already outside of the box - explore further. The taboos and restrictions of the middle class (angst! guilt! Etc!) need not be your burden! Go forth and create new. You do have power and agency in the world. Make a plan for yourself and start on it, you'll be constantly surprised how many people, like docile sheep, just step out of your way - not challenging or arguing and maybe not helping either, but not actively obstructing.
Logan, try some ideas like Guerrilla Gardening, permaculture (here's a link that looks good ), dumpster diving, google frugal living, eat road kill, read Fight Club by Chuck Palhanik, be a ruinman, go feral, find a new way. Be brave brother, you are not alone on your path. Many of us are hiding behind your skirts.

EchosRevenge said...

@edde - the primary long-term advantage of horses (and other pack and draft animals, for that matter) over any mechanical device you care to name is this (to restate JMG's past point):

You can't put two Schwinns and a Huffy in pasture 'bout October and have four brand-new baby tricycles come February.

However, that's just what we did with our goats this year - increasing our herd size from 8 to (probably) at least 15 with no more inputs than hay, water, sunshine and a bit of human labor. Ultimately, any sort of technological machine takes construction, maintenance, repair, and eventual disposal - all of which must be done by humans. Your average ox is conceived, born, and grows largely without human output, works for 8-10 years with a few months of human training, and then feeds a VERY large number of people when it dies - and all of this from the *surplus* production of a dairy animal, the inevitable male calf.

Tractors don't breed. Horses do.


Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Guran,

Nice to hear about your ebike - very efficient! Top work.



Zach said...


I like your answer to Brand, too.

In the Distributist/Catholic Land Movement literature (although I can't remember if this was Chesterton or Belloc or McNabb), there is explicit the notion of a "new peasantry." I wonder if that was as hard to sell in the 1930's as it would be today. Perhaps not -- the thaumaturgy of advertising had had less time to work, and going back to the family farm during the Great Depression ("there was never much money, but we always ate well") was a more live option than it is today.

Plus, "peasant" is nicely contrarian. That is, I think, what you're talking about here, isn't it? -- learning a way to be poor with dignity in the face of decline.


Verification word: "cries"

Edde said...

Greetings John Michael & responders,

Apologies in advance, for beating a dead horse (pun intended)...

Sgage & EchosRevenge: please note what I actually wrote:"As compared with horse transport, I suspect that bikes still carry an advantage..."

I acknowledge the importance of using the right tool for the job at hand, which I narrowly identified as transport.

Notice I didn't mention plowing fields or pulling stumps, etc.

However, my experience with owning horses, over many years, is that they take an enormous amount of input, including veterinary care, large grazing area (more than an acre or two) and/or other feed, shelter, regular (hard)work (plowing with a mule or horse isn't easy work), cleaning & composting the manure, etc.

On the other hand, for those who intend to get into serious farming, a farmer's lifetime requires MANY work animals, sequenced over those years.

Large animal husbandry is real work, takes lots of knowledge & effort and isn't all that romantic.

Besides, with adequate (modest) maintenance, a bike will last a lifetime or more, so propagating new bikes isn't that crucial.In fact, looks to me that handing down the family bike(s) may well become a rite of passage and honor...

Yeah, I don't intend on becoming a farmer so I'll stick with bicycles for local transport.

Best regards to ALL,


sgage said...


"Large animal husbandry is real work, takes lots of knowledge & effort and isn't all that romantic."

Not romantic? Requires effort and knowledge? Forget horses, then.

Actually, I worked with horses for many years. Yes, it's work. Sometimes work is required to get a job done.

Fortunately, not everyone needs to be a farmer.

John Michael Greer said...

Fast note to all -- I'll be on the road for much of the coming week. Tomorrow's post will appear as usual -- it's written and uploaded -- and I've arranged to have posts moderated and put through, but I may not be able to respond much; we'll see. One way or another, have a good week, and we'll continue the conversation shortly.

Glenn said...

I've said this before, and I'm saying it again. In the transportation discussion, it's always horses that come up. There are a lot more options for animal traction for heavy work, some of which are more affordable or versatile.

Horses are best for plowing and harrowing light soil quickly, and for riding or driving fast. You can cover a lot of ground. But they are expensive to feed.

Other options include donkeys (most economic feeder per amount of work produced), mules (usually more economical and smarter than horses) and oxen, or cattle. Some breeds of milk cow can work up to 4 hours a day and still give milk, if sufficiently fed.

And historically, horses were not kept and used the way modern Americans do with cars. Quite frequently they were rented or borrowed when needed. Quite simply, they weren't affordable for everyone. Just as cars aren't; it's just that most of the current car owners are in North America, and most people who will never be able to afford them are in Africa.

If you're serious about horses or animal traction, see what Houyhnhnm has to say on the Green Wizards site. Unlike me, he's actually used horses; I'm just a historian.

Marrowstone Island
Jefferson County
Washington State
Former USA

GHung said...

JMG: "A consumer in a modern industrial society is free to choose any of a dizzying range of variations on a suffocatingly narrow range of basic options—and that’s equally true whether we are talking about products, politics, or lifestyles.

We have only one grocery store in our little town and it was enlarged/modernized a couple of years ago; now a "Superstore". The center (refrigerated) isle runs 85 feet (I counted the floor tiles) from the front of the store, is the largest section in the store, and is all ice cream. 85 feet by 7 feet high of ice cream. On the other side is "frozen pies, cakes and specialty deserts". It's only about 40 feet. The second largest section in the store is soft drinks. Lowly flour gets about 6 feet.

What a country!

Moncrief Speaks said...

Evidently Newt Gingrich is promising today that if he is president (or "when he is president," as he puts it), we will have permanent colonies on the Moon and have a man on Mars ""in a remarkably short time." It's just coming across Twitter now, but you should be able to find a link before long. Just thought it may be relevant to whatever post you're writing for tonight.

Ekkar said...

Once again. Thank you sir.

Monkey Arsonist said...

I came here really prepared to hate it: "Great, another peak oil doomer thinking we can all become Amish when the oil's gone." But you are much better than that (whether exceeding my prejudiced expectations is a compliment is up to you). Although I have yet to see anyone openly and frankly discuss the real problem of cheap energy (too many nothingdamned people), you do seem to have an even handed approach to the issues.

Except one. Granted, this glaring problem is ignored by even the doomers as is the population issue, but still, it needs exposure: living within walking distance of stores, shops, etc., entails living within walking distance of the soon-to-be dispossessed abandoned by the comforting and infantilizing myth of modernity. True, many will simply die with a whimper, but plenty will be irrational and violent (okay, MORE irrational and violent), and you either join in their reindeer games or you're next in the noose. This is what scares most about the post-peak crash, which in many ways could only be viewed as absolutely right and necessary.

Jim Brewster said...

Actually, Monkey Arsonist, I believe JMG has addressed both of these issues.

As far as population goes, it's true that the post-industrial carrying capacity will be much lower than today's population, but we don't need a catastrophic die-off to get there. A few generations of birth rate falling behind death rate can do it.

As for the destructive mobs of suburbanites, there may be some of that, but that sort of chaos is pretty unstable. More common would likely be localized forms of law and order that may be unpleasant for some, but should serve to maintain some semblance of social stability. One of the purposes of Green Wizardry as I see it is to be worth more alive than dead in your local community.

Demi W said...

I am an African American female "prepper" who lives in a largely Hispanic area (urban Phoenix, AZ). My take on the whole peak oil issue is that the average ethnic minority in this country most likely sees the peak oil issue as less of a threat to their way of life. IMO, for whites, the peak oil issue and overarching sustainability movement is about trying to adjust to life in a way that allows them to minimize the impact to their standard of living as much as possible and there will be MUCH resistance.

On the other hand, for many ethnic minorities, their struggle has always been about survival on the most basic level. They are not bogged down on whether or not they can live with downsizing to a smaller hour or going from two cars to one, as many do not and/or never have owned a vehicle or needed one for that matter, to get back and forth from their jobs to their suburban homes. Likewise, riding a bike or taking a bus wouldn't necessarily be a major transition for inner/urban city ethnic minorities, IMO.

In the end, I think that it is going to be hard for ethnic minorities to go off to some rural area or small town and feel accepted, especially during a crisis, because, from experience, I tried rural living in South Carolina,for a few years and I by no means felt "welcomed" at any point or time.

I think that the peak oil issue and any breakdown or collapse in a city, region or nation will break along the lines of class, before anything. So, middle class ethnic minorities - or those who were middle class prior to the start of the collapse, are aware of the issues that the U.S. faces. On the political front, there are even some Blacks that are now looking at Ron Paul as the candidate of choice for president.

On the other hand, IMO, the majority of poor/inner city ethnic minorities are in the dark about the entire threat to global civilization/end of empire/peak oil issue and will continue to live out their lives looking for the government to rescue them.The issue of self reliance, etc. is going to be the difference between survial or NOT, so sad to say, there will be TWO categories of people who may not make it in the long run: the poor, regardless of race and the masses of the unawakened Whites in suburbia.

On a final note, there are the religious sector of Whites, like the Mormons, in particular who see the issue and are going to be very prepared. I downloaded their "preparedness" manual put out by someone affiliate with their group. It is good, information wise, but I couldn't help to notice how many times they kept raising the issue of racial tensions that will be a threat to life, during a SHTF scenario. IMO, this is the driving force behind the incentive to prepare for "Bugging Out"...... which primarily would apply to Whites- to avoid being a target by some poorer ethnic minorities who might riot, etc when they realize that the U.S. Govt. won't save them (like Katrina).

Brad K. said...

Demi W.,

I think anyone moving to a different environment faces the same issues.

We tend to keep to our previous culture, the values, the rituals and celebrations we observe, the ways we do things, when we move to a new community. That is what makes an outsider, clinging to an outside culture rather that living within the dominant community culture.

I accept that minorities have different problems, or we wouldn't define a group as being a minor part of a larger community. But I think race is the least important aspect of the differing cultural choices that set one apart from their community.

Actions and words that are respected vary from community to community -- from culture to culture. The way we dress, the way we talk, who we work for, how well our family background is known at the local coffee shop -- these can each set us apart from a community we wish to join.

It seems harsh, to have to give up our identity, to redefine who we know ourselves to be, to accept a job or to move to a new community. We know that such a move or change always involves a period of depression, somewhat related to "buyer's remorse" that comes after a major purchase.

As the Tarot "death" card explains change, we have to let the old life die, to make room for the new life. Even just a new life in a new community.